Process


by Aliza Greenblatt

amybw01

Amy Sisson is a writer, book reviewer, crazy cat lady, and former librarian. Her fiction ranges from Star Trek work for Pocket Books to the short stories in her Unlikely Patron Saints series, which have appeared in Strange Horizons, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, and the Toasted Cake podcast site. She enjoys making artist trading cards, studying German and Japanese, attending Houston Ballet performances, and traveling with her husband, Paul Abell. Her story, On Not Noticing a Bear, was EDF’s top story for December

Aliza Greenblatt: I’m going to start this interview with an assumption so, correct me if I’m wrong, but if I read your blog correctly you started off as an avid reader (and still are) and picked up writing later. When did you decide to become a writer? Was there one particular story or moment for you?

Amy Sisson: In college I double-majored in English and Economics: English because I was thrilled that I could get a degree by simply reading books and then saying what I thought about them, and Economics to try and be a little more practical. In my junior year, I got it into my head that I wanted the “romantic” writer’s life—I thought I would strike forth on my own to live on the other side of the country, work odd jobs while I polished my masterpieces, and so on. (I may have been on a John Steinbeck kick at the time.) But I found out that I really didn’t have that much to say in my stories just yet.

I never gave up the idea of being a writer, but I decided to get a graduate degree in Space Studies, both so I could get a decent day job in that field and to gain some background knowledge for writing science fiction. Later I also got a library degree. None of that was my original plan, but now I can’t imagine a different path to my writing.

AG: When you sit down to write a new story, what is your process like?

AS: For me, most stories start with voice. Sometimes I know what the voice will be ahead of time, and other times I just type a first sentence and let the voice decide itself. I’ll admit that I’m not one of those writers who have fifty different ideas to work with at any given time—ideas that are big enough to become complete stories are really hard for me to develop.

The process for every story is different. A few of my stories seemed to just write themselves in a few hours, but on the other end of the spectrum, I have one story that I worked on over the course of fourteen years! The end result has very little resemblance to the story I started with, but I think it has ended up being one of my best, and I’m currently sending it out to markets.

AG: I really liked the versatility of this story. On one hand, it felt like a children’s fable but there were also deep undercurrents of adulthood worries, such as workplace unhappiness and loneliness. Was that your intent or did you have a particular audience in mind for this story?

AS: On Not Noticing a Bear is based on one of my favorite James Christensen paintings, which is literally titled Lawrence Pretended Not to Notice that a Bear Had Become Attached to His Coattail (Google for the image “lawrence notice bear” and it will come right up). It hangs over my piano and it was the most natural thing in the world to write about why that silly little man might try so hard to ignore the bear. And of course I wanted them both to have a happy ending. Oddly enough, my other Every Day Fiction story, The Lion Tamer’s Sock, is also based on a Christensen painting and it also has to do with a companion animal and with getting out of a rut.

AG: The thing that drew me into the story immediately was its voice. How did you develop it? (Or did it find you?) Was it a challenge to maintain the storytelling style within the flash fiction length?

AS: This was one of those stories that I started with a sentence and it just flowed from there. The original version was actually 1500 words, but I realized that I could take it down to flash length without losing anything important. I also think that this sort of affected writing style works best with flash fiction, because you don’t want the reader to get tired of the voice before they reach the end of the story.

AG: Can you tell us a bit about your Unlikely Patron Saints Series? Are you still adding stories to the collection?

AS: This series of stories is about little miracles, and people who discover they’re meant to protect some unlikely group of creatures or people through some small magic. The first one I wrote was about city squirrels, because I was in library school at the time and there were so many squirrels on the downtown campus that I was always petrified I would see one get hit by a car. So I made up someone to protect them. I called that one number three in the series even though it was the only one I’d written, as a way trick myself into eventually writing more of them. I’ve had four stories in the series published in different venues, a few more still unpublished, and a frame story to go around them for an eventual collection. I think I’m likely to write a few more, but I want them to come naturally instead of trying to force them so I’m in no hurry.

AG: What other projects are you currently working on? Are there other stories of yours, either upcoming or published, that you can point readers to?

AS: I recently left librarianship to concentrate on writing full-time. My two main goals are to finish a young adult novel (I’m about a quarter of the way through) and to have a minimum number of short stories out looking for a home at any given time.

My favorite of my Patron Saints stories, Fella Down a Hole, is available free in the Strange Horizon archives and as a Toasted Cake podcast. Another one, Minghun, is also available free at Strange Horizons. And Waterfall, a standalone science fiction love story, is available free at Khimairal Ink.

AG: Thank you very much for taking the time to chat with us. Best of luck with all your writing endeavors.

__________________

Aliza profile-pic-2

Aliza T. Greenblatt works in a firmly non-writing field when the sun is up and writes under a desk lamp at night.   Fueled by a sheer love of books and a tyrannical imagination, she writes the stories that appear over her morning coffee and won’t leave her alone until they are put down on paper.   She writes, raves, and blogs at http://atgreenblatt.com. and on Twitter  @AtGreenblatt.

 

by Rohini Gupta

Rohini Gupta

So, there you are, trying to write another flash fiction story. You have written hundreds of them—surely it is easy? It’s not easy. It’s not difficult either. The best way I can describe it is—strange.

It’s like waiting for sleep to come. Some nights you are overwhelmed and lost in seconds, on others you count early morning bird calls and try not to look at the clock yet again.

Neither sleep nor story will come to heel on demand. They are, in fact, impervious to demands.

The best you can do is tidy up a bit, clear the clutter, make some space in your mind, and hope the weather is right. The mind needs to remain as blank as the page, but it’s an exciting blankness into which an idea can come softly, shyly, tiptoeing on silent feet, lingering in the dark, just out of sight.

A story is a wild animal, like the delicate footprints in Ted Hughes’s The Thought Fox poem. All you can do is wait patiently for it to emerge.

That is what I love about flash fiction—the risk. Never knowing what lurks in the thought forest until it comes out into the white sunlight of the page. Till then you can only guess, and whatever you guess will be way off the mark.

What will it be?

Which genre?

What voice?

Whose viewpoint?

Which words will come pouring out like a crowd of jostling, unruly children?

Who knows? And that is the beauty of it.

You will never know beforehand but one thing is certain.

It will surprise you. It will not be what you expect, barely even in the range of what you can imagine.

There is nothing small about flash fiction except the word count. In the tiny playpen of 1000 words or less, lies a universe of infinite possibility. With flash, and with short stories, every day is a new adventure. The longer forms of writing may not take you so close to the edge. Flash leaves you gasping in the rarefied air, with nothing but a crumbling cliff under your feet. That is the beauty, the sheer breathless risk of it, the dizzying jump off that ledge into depths unknown.

As you teeter at the edge, something will spark. A memory, an image, a character. From the mist, ghostly forms will come. Let them take you.

Fall.

Go ahead, let go. You won’t fall in the same place twice. You won’t even fall in the same world twice.

And, there is usually a story at the end of it.

So, that is what I like most about flash fiction—living dangerously, never knowing the face of that stranger in the deep shadows—your next story.

____________

Rohini Gupta is a writer living by the sea in Mumbai, with a houseful of dogs and cats while working on short stories, poetry and a book. Her blog is at http://wordskies.wordpress.com.

 

by Andreé Robinson-Neal

Andree-New

Happy 2015! Wait … we still have one 2014 loose end to tie: the Month in Review! In case you were tied up in wrapping paper or long lines, we want to give you a recap of the many bundles of joy our writers offered last month that you might have missed.

Mary-Jane Holmes got us into the spirit with one swan (as compared to seven) and shared how this lovely, creative, random, and original creature can develop into the best flash you’ve ever created. While we might have hoped for six geese to go along with Mary-Jane’s swan, Julie Duffy’s “A Funny Thing” did provide six delightful tips on how to craft a good comedic write. Or was it humor? Go check it out and decide for yourself.

We had no pear trees either but were treated to a peach of a list of flash fiction markets that each offered treasures of their own. Hopefully in between your holiday dinners and gift-giving you had time to write and these markets anxiously await your work. However, if you’re still agonizing over what you got down on that napkin between courses, know that you aren’t alone: James Claffey shared his thoughts on writing flash fiction and you might be re-inspired by his colorful explanation of his relationship to the genre. But if, like those ten lords rumored to have been jumping around for part of last month, you are leaping to submit your collection of flash fiction, check out the ten interview snippets from Bonnie ZoBell, who got the inside scoop on what some flash fiction editors and publishers say about story order. On the other hand, if you’re a few stories short of a collection, why not consider submitting one story to the Queen’s Ferry Press anthology? Jim Harrington got the particulars from editor Tara L. Masih, who shared that these anthologies collect the best and most innovative stories in a given year.

Some of the best gifts you’ll find in FFC are Susan Tepper’s UNCOV/rd pieces. Be sure to check out December’s offering with Harvey Araton, because it will be the last. Don’t worry — Susan will be back this year with something new, but in the meantime, enjoy her conversation with a journalist-author-who-writes-about-a-journalist.

And speaking of newspapers, Sarah Crysl Akhtar‘s piece on inspiration was inspired by a recipe in the New York Times. Well, more to the point: the NYT recipe inspired a story and the whole experience inspired the piece. Get it? As Sarah said, inspiration comes from anywhere and you are sure to ponder the sources of your own as you read her December offering.

As our 2014 clock tick-tocked its way to a close, Aliza Greenblatt took a moment to introduce us to the EDF November top author, Angela Hui, whose story Birthday Girl got rave reviews. Before we close the book on 2014 and send our eleven pipers and twelve drummers back to the band, end your year with a laugh: Sarah Crysl Akhtar’s EDF Archive selection is a great topper from Samantha Memi.

Thank you for making 2014 a great year and we hope you’ll join us for more in flash fiction for 2015!

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Andreé Robinson-Neal got bit by the writing bug back in the late 1970s while watching Rod Serling and reading Ray Bradbury—both of whom are everyday inspirations; although she has worked in education for more than a quarter-century, she has never been cured of her penchant for speculative fiction. Find some of her flash fiction at starvingartist.com. She writes under the name AR Neal, who will hopefully one day be identified as a famous NaNoWriMo participant.

 

by Aliza Greenblatt

Angela_Hui

Angela Hui is a part-time student and full-time procrastinator who occasionally writes stories. She enjoys cramming for finals, reminiscing about her prep school days, and making the inedible edible. You can read about her (and her mommy’s) culinary exploits at hungryempress.com. Angela’s story Birthday Girl was EDF’s top rated story for November.

Aliza Greenblatt: I usually like to start interviews by asking the authors a little about themselves. What made you want to start writing? Is your focus primarily on short stories? Your bio mentions you are a student, what are you currently studying?

Angela Hui: I’ve loved writing short stories since I was in preschool. It’s fun, and I love the feeling of creating an entire universe from scratch. And I prefer writing flash fiction over, say, novels or longer short stories, because I just don’t have the stamina and patience for anything too long. After a while, I start to hate anything I produce. The more I read it, the worse it gets. I usually manage to finish writing a work of flash fiction before I want to delete the whole thing.

Right now, I am triple majoring in pre-med, English, and nutrition. Just kidding, I’m a junior in high school. I don’t know what I want to study later on.

AG: When you sit down to write a new story, what is your process like?

AH: It really varies. When I wrote Birthday Girl, the process was something like this: it was around 3am on a Sunday morning, and I’d just finished binge watching five episodes of SVU. I started having one of those moments of panic that we kids tend to have every other hour, and I thought, my goodness, I’ve accomplished nothing, I’ve become so lazy and stupid, it’s like I’m not even Angela any more! It’s like I’m an impostor. And then I thought, hey, what if someone also felt like she was just impersonating herself except it were actually true? What if a little girl were kidnapped but she didn’t know it? So in a wild frenzy, I typed out my story in about 45 minutes, completely neglecting all my homework. But at least I accomplished something!

AG: I found the reader comments on this story fascinating; there seems to have been some very different takes on who the narrator was and what her situation was. Can you tell us a bit about how you created the voice for this story?

AH: Well, “Jenny” is a child and so am I, so it wasn’t too hard to create a voice for her. I was truly intrigued by all the different interpretations as they stretched so far beyond what I had intended; that’s the beauty of literature, I suppose.

AG: I recently saw an adaptation of Dickens’s Great Expectations. This story reminded me of Miss Havisham’s character, whose heart breaks so badly she decides to freeze her life at that one particular moment. The difference here is that the narrator is the victim and doesn’t want time to hold still. So, if you could give this character the birthday present she always wanted, what would it be?

AH: If I could give her the birthday present she always wanted, it would be the one wrapped up in the old box that “Momma” never let her have. Other than that, she probably doesn’t know what she wants for her birthday because she doesn’t exactly go out much. Jenny’s pretty much a blank slate, to be honest, so she is whatever the reader wants her to be.

AG: What were some of your favorite parts about the story? What were some of the challenges in writing it?

AH: I know that my least favorite part is the ending because it felt awkward to me. I liked the very beginning, maybe the second paragraph, because I think it adds the most complexity to the kidnapper character. She’s not just an evil person who brainwashes and locks up a little girl. She’s so obviously crazy and delusional that it’s really pitiful and pathetic.

It wasn’t too challenging to write the story itself, but it was hard to work up the courage to submit it for publication. I didn’t think anyone would like it, but I’m glad some people did.

AG: What other projects are you currently working on? Are there other stories of yours, either upcoming or published, that you can point readers to?

AH: I am not working on any other literary projects at the moment, but I’m taking a fiction seminar next semester, so hopefully I’ll produce something worth reading. My main project right now is my family food blog, hungryempress.com.

AG: Thank you very much for taking the time to chat with us. Best of luck with all your writing endeavors.
__________________

Aliza profile-pic-2

Aliza T. Greenblatt works in a firmly non-writing field when the sun is up and writes under a desk lamp at night. Fueled by a sheer love of books and a tyrannical imagination, she writes the stories that appear over her morning coffee and won’t leave her alone until they are put down on paper. She writes, raves, and blogs at http://atgreenblatt.com and on Twitter  @AtGreenblatt

by Andreé Robinson-Neal

Andree-New

Hopefully you all survived the three most momentous days of November: Gray Thursday, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday. And if shopping and eating were not on your list of to-do’s for the month, Flash Fiction Chronicles had more than enough to keep you occupied. The month began with a visit with Rolli and a review of his latest book, I Am Currently Working on a Novel, which is enough to distract you from whatever else you planned to do online today. R.L. Black added to the distraction by giving us fantastic tips about writing spooky flash fiction. She points us to the things that make great flash but takes it further with one primary pointer for writing horror flash: “write what scares you.”

Some might interpret the slope as John’s descent, but he’d have to arrive somewhere first before having a drop off and I don’t think he reaches the pinnacle of anything other than his own misery.

That wonderful line is from Susan Tepper’s chat with Richard Fulco for November’s UNCOV/rd. He’s talking about the main character of his debut novel, There Is No End to This Slope. You will most certainly want to slip your credit cards away after you pick up this morsel.

For many parts of the world, November is a solid mark of fall—brown leaves, cooler temperatures—and drives writers in front of their space heaters or fireplaces to conjure unplagiarized versions of dark and stormy nights. Elizabeth Maria Naranjo gets us in the mood for what comes next: the editing process. Many writers hate self-editing but hate having their work dissected by someone else even more. If you came up with the next best seller during the month for NaNoWriMo, give her article a once-over so you know how to react when you take a first look at the mark-up after editing. But before you click “send” to get your tome into the hands of your editor, consider Cameron Filas‘ suggestion to make notes from previous rejections and comb through that manuscript first. He takes us old-school by suggesting sticky notes, but he advises we can keep it high-tech, too. And before you decide to chuck the idea of using a third-party editor (instead of your best friend), give Sarah Crysl Akhtar’s piece on what a real editor will tell you and how it helps your writing a good once-over.

If you are not a flash fiction writer but want to give it a go, Mark Budman offers practical points and examples of how it’s done. He even reminds us that “flash writers are the enemies of fat.” Perhaps his article should have come along in January when we make our New Year’s resolutions … Fortunately RK Biswas’s review of  My Very End of the Universe – Five Novellas-in-Flash and a Study of the Form is a giant bellyful of flash and skill-builders. Rose Metal Press offers this hefty volume, not just for our reading pleasure, but to help us learn the what’s and how’s of “doing flash.”

Speaking of how to do flash, Aliza Greenblatt introduces us to Jeff Switt, the EDF Top Author for October, whose piece “Halloween Coming Out” gives us a sample of someone who has a handle on this flash business. Gila Green offers us a step-by-step for building character-driven flash in which we cut the fat and get on with the enjoyment of writing.

As we neared the end of November, Jim Harrington brought back an interesting quote for us to sink our teeth into. The point is something that serves as a main ingredient in most of the posts from the month: tell the story. And the period on the sentence? Sarah Crysl Akhtar‘s share from the EDF Archive, in which the author offered a great story that, as she says, is also “a perfect example for writers on why less is so often more.”

Hopefully our November offerings satiated your mental hunger pains for flash and more! Be sure to visit for more this month.

____________

Andreé Robinson-Neal got bit by the writing bug back in the late 1970s while watching Rod Serling and reading Ray Bradbury—both of whom are everyday inspirations; although she has worked in education for more than a quarter-century, she has never been cured of her penchant for speculative fiction. Find some of her flash fiction at starvingartist.com. She writes under the name AR Neal, who will hopefully one day be identified as a famous NaNoWriMo participant.

 

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