by Aliza Greenblatt

Audrey Kalman

Audrey Kalman has been writing and editing professionally for more than 30 years. She has published short stories, poetry, and flash fiction, as well as the literary novel Dance of Souls. She currently serves as editor of the Fault Zone anthology published by the Peninsula branch of the California Writers Club. Her blog about writing appears at She lives northern California with her husband, two children, and two cats.

Aliza Greenblatt: Your blog says you’ve been writing professionally for over thirty years, but have only recently started fiction writing. What inspired you to start? Did you begin by writing novels or short stories?

Audrey Kalman: I guess I’d better edit my blog… I’ve actually been writing fiction since I was seven, when I wrote my first “novel”—a complete rip-off of My Friend Flicka by Mary O’Hara. I was a creative writing major in college and wrote a novella as part of my thesis. Then I took up writing professionally after getting a journalism degree. Fiction became my hobby and I switched to short stories for a while. Dance of Souls, which I published in 2011, was my fourth novel. The other three are in a desk drawer where they belong.

As for inspiration, writing is a bit of a nervous compulsion for me—I can’t not do it. I began all those years ago out of a desire to both inhabit other worlds and understand my own world better, and that’s still my motivation.

AG: Can you tell me a little about your writing process?

AK: Do you know the Longfellow poem “There Was a Little Girl?” The end goes:

When she was good,
She was very good indeed,
But when she was bad she was horrid.

That’s kind of how I am with my writing process: sometimes very disciplined and sometimes not at all. To finish my last novel, I made a writing date with myself every weekday morning from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. Sometimes I’d go longer, but I always forced myself to write for at least an hour. It worked magically. Since then, my commitment has been more sporadic but I’ve still managed to complete six short stories. Also, in terms of process, I’m very much a “panster.” I don’t outline. I let the unfolding process of writing guide me. It feels a bit like sculpting—feeling my way toward the work hidden inside the stone.

AG: What were some of your favorite parts to write in Now You Are a Public Nuisance?  What were some of the more challenging?

AK: My favorite part to write was the end, when the narrator “comes into her power,” as they say in the self-actualization circles. It felt thrilling to step outside the rigid boundaries of the suburban sidewalk with her and do something subversive. The most challenging part was getting the voice right. I don’t usually write in second person. I started writing the story that way, then rewrote the whole thing in first person before deciding that second person suited it better.

AG: There is a running theme in the story of appearances versus reality. In some ways, the wildness of the narrator’s garden was the only public thing of hers that wasn’t trim and neat. Do you think the narrator was waiting to rebel, but didn’t quite know it? Do you think she will keep on rebelling in the future?

AK: To me, the story is very much about the conflict between acceptable social constructs—conformity—and the assertion of individuality. Where and why do we draw those boundaries, and who keeps us inside them? I think the narrator knew she was not like others in her tidy neighborhood but never dreamed that she could do something so renegade. In her world, thinking outside the box is acceptable, but acting outside the box is in a different league altogether. I think her rebellion definitely surprised her.

I hadn’t thought about whether her act of defiance with the hedge trimmer was the first of many. Perhaps it will be her first step down the road toward becoming a criminal—or a social activist!

AG: The narrator seems to be looking for happiness and yet she stresses the disappointments in her life, like she stresses the words that mislabel her. Why do you think the narrator chose the wrong things and why do you think she changed?

AK: I don’t believe her choices seemed wrong to her at the time. Conformity and comfort have much to recommend them and she couldn’t quite imagine living a different kind of life. Only in retrospect does she realize those choices led her to a place she doesn’t feel comfortable inhabiting. Although we don’t know her exact age, she is somewhere near mid-life. That’s a time when engaging in retrospection is common, and regrets—no matter what choices you’ve made—are inevitable. Her act of defiance at the end is an act of hope. It’s never too late to reclaim a lost part of yourself.

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

AK: My novel Dance of Souls is available on Amazon. I have finished another novel that I’m shopping around to agents and small presses (alert: agents and editors, please feel free to contact me). And I’m putting together a collection of short fiction. EDF has been good to me, having published two pieces in the last couple of years. I’ve also had a short story, Tiny Shoes Dancing, published in The Sand Hill Review, and flash fiction in Punchnel’s: Forget Me, Forget Me Not.

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

AK: Thank you.


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 and on Twitter  @AtGreenblatt

by Jim Harrington


Today, I want to comment on two quotes by William Zinsser in his book On Writing Well. Even though he’s commenting on nonfiction, these quotes apply equally to fiction.

 Surprisingly often a difficult problem in a sentence can be solved by simply getting rid of it.

I know you’ve experienced this. So have I. You read through your story and always get stuck on the same sentence. It might be the rhythm, or a word meaning, or a phrase that doesn’t seem to fit. You try changing the offending word or phrase, sometimes successfully, other times not. Often, there isn’t a word to express what’s required by the story. It’s a metaphor or simile that’s needed. And occasionally, the solution is to get rid of the word or phrase (or maybe the entire sentence) altogether, even though it is the best phrase/sentence you’ve ever written. If the latter is the case, save it for another time. There’s a story out there somewhere that’s a perfect fit. You just haven’t written it yet. Or maybe that wonderful phrase is the perfect title to kickstart another narrative.

There’s not much to be said about the period except that most writers don’t reach it soon enough.

This is one of my favorite sentences in the book. I’ve read a number of stories lately in various critique groups where the only problem with the piece is that many of the sentences are so long and convoluted they get lost within themselves. From my point of view as the reader, it seems the easiest way to correct this is to get to the period sooner.

Yes, there’s a place for long sentences. I use them to set the mood of a story or to drag out a feeling just that little bit longer to build tension. A good mix of long and short sentences can provide an excellent reading experience. However, writing long sentences isn’t easy.

There may be times where that mammoth rolls through the fingers and onto the page with ease and makes perfect sense to you, the author. Now, how about the reader? What is that experience going to be like? I’ve read a few sentences that I’m sure make perfectly good sense to the author. After all, that’s the one person who knows the entire backstory of the character and the events that occur in the story. At least, I hope that’s true. But from the reader’s side, there may  be something missing. Perhaps this something, the purpose for the sentence say, would become clearer if the author broke the ideas presented into smaller, more digestible chunks. Doing this also helps the author ensure nothing is omitted unintentionally.

The other thing to consider when writing long sentence after long sentence is boredom or angst on the part of the reader. The mind needs frequent places to pause and digest–at least mine does. When reading a series of sentences containing phrase after phrase after phrase, I tend to fade out the longer the sentence goes on, wondering when I might finally be given a reprieve, when the sentence finally reaches its end point and I finally get to take a breath, as indicated by the period. Truth time: raise your hand if you began to wonder when in this millenium that last sentence was going to end?

I’ve mentioned my musical past before. Back in the seventies, I played trumpet in a number of local big band concerts (think the music of Glen Miller, Tommy Dorsey, and Count Basie). One evening, the drummer de jour played an extended solo; and as I listened, I realized something was missing–silence. The drummer had excellent technique and performed many technical riffs; but as a listener, I never got the chance to (figuratively) take a breath. While a good musician, the drummer didn’t realize silence is a musical note, too. If you listen to any of the great jazz drummers, you’ll notice they use silence to enhance the experience. In writing, this is the period’s job. It offers the reader the opportunity to take a breath and assimilate what has happened to this point before moving on.

I’m not suggesting you never write long sentences. On the contrary, they have a place in many stories in setting the mood and, as noted above, adding to the suspense. I am suggesting you consider such sentences carefully to make sure they are doing the job of moving the story along and not turning the reader off. As an example, here’s a one-sentence story by Len Kuntz I thoroughly enjoyed –


Jim Harrington began writing fiction in 2007 and has agonized over the form ever since. His stories have appeared in Every Day Fiction, Liquid Imagination, Ink Sweat and Tears,  Near to the Knuckle, Flashes in the Dark, and others. He serves as the Managing Editor for Flash Fiction Chronicles. Jim’s Six Questions For . . . blog ( provides editors and publishers a place to “tell it like it is.” You can read more of his stories at

by Nancy Stohlman

Nancy Stohlman

Rewind to October 31, 2012. It began like this:

Are you doing Nanowrimo this year?

No, are you?

No, I don’t have a novel in me right now. I’m writing flash fiction.

Me too.

Maybe I should just write a flash story a day, you know, in solidarity.

I would do that if someone sent me a prompt every day.

And so Flashnano was born—30 stories in 30 days during the month of November, in solidarity with our novel-writing NaNoWriMo brothers and sisters.

I’ve participated in and greatly enjoyed NaNoWriMo many times, hitting the 50,000 mark twice. Mostly I love the marathon of it—writing that much material that fast is a really effective way to elude the inner critic. Granted, much of the material is throwaway, but within that big lump of clay are usually some really interesting insights, twists, phrases, ideas, and places that we may not have written ourselves into if we had gone about writing in our “normal” way.

The same is true with Flashnano—not every story is a winner, but participating in and embracing such a heightened outpouring often midwives stories into existence that may not have been created by other means.

Says first-time participant Nicholas Morris: “One of the great things I got out of Flashnano was that it forced me to live up to all of the creative writing advice I give my students, namely ‘Give yourself permission to write badly’ and ‘Try to write every day.’ It’s very easy to give that advice, but it’s much more difficult to follow it.” 

And for those of us already in love with flash fiction, getting to play is one of the particular thrills of the form—since the stories are short, you are more inclined to take risks, trying things you might not try in a longer story or novel. Says participant Yvonne Rupert, “I took chances with my writing, approaching each day’s prompt with a ‘let’s try it and see’ attitude—regardless of what happened the day before.”

In 2012 I posted the daily prompts on my personal Facebook page just for fun. In 2013, when I realized it was creating a bigger buzz than I had anticipated, I got more organized and created webpages devoted to the prompts on both social media and my personal website. I would estimate that 200 writers took the plunge with me this past November.

The most common question I get asked about Flashnano is whether I read everyone’s stories. Absolutely not—whew! I wouldn’t have time to write myself if I did. Participants are certainly welcome to share and ultimately submit the work they produce during November, but I am only the facilitator. And just like NaNoWriMo, there is no judge or jury—ultimately this November contract is between you and your personal writing god.

So mark your calendars: This fall I will again challenge flash fiction writers everywhere to write 30 stories in 30 days. And whether you “win” or not, you are guaranteed to feed off the excitement of a flash fiction marathon and write a whole lot of material that you might not have otherwise written. To me, that’s a win.

Check out prompts from 2012 and 2013 here:


Nancy Stohlman’s books include The Monster Opera (2013), Searching for Suzi: a flash novel (2009), Live From Palestine (2003), and three anthologies of flash fiction including Fast Forward: The Mix Tape (2010), which was a finalist for a 2011 Colorado Book Award. She is a founding member of  Fast Forward Press, the creator of  The F-Bomb Flash Fiction Reading Series in Denver, and her work has been nominated for The Best of the Web.


by Aliza Greenblatt

Rohini Gupta

Rohini Gupta is a writer who lives by the sea in Mumbai, India. Rohini says: “I have published nonfiction and poetry books and am now writing fiction. Flash fiction is keeping me happy while writing longer stories.” Rohini’s blog is at

Aliza Greenblatt: Usually I open these interviews by asking what inspires people to write, but you had a blog post on the subject that had one of the most eloquent answers I’ve read. “You write because without words to express it, the world is brittle and prickly and almost unlivable. You write to survive and you write to become. Most of all, you write because it gives you wings.”

Do you find yourself writing about the same themes to better understand them or do you enjoy exploring new ones?

Rohini Gupta: I have been writing and keeping a daily journal for so long now that I cannot imagine a life without writing. Writing has been my most constast companion and it’s been a life raft when the years were one unending thunderstorm.

I do like exploring and that’s the beauty of flash fiction. Because of its brevity you can try out all kinds of styles and genres which I might never do in a longer piece and even less in a novel. I can write a literary story one day and a fantasy story the next, or try my hand at a thriller – all with very little commitment of time.

The underlying themes which are important to me will show up, somehow, in every piece, but the stories can vary wildly.

I think the experimenting is an essential education, at least for me. Once upon a time, when I was struggling to learn the story form, I wrote a story a day for six months. Naturally it could not be the same story, so I went wild and tried out all kinds of styles. All unpublishable, of course, but that’s an education quite as valuable as any formal one.

I feel the best way for a writer to find a voice is to play around with flash – try everything and see what fits. It’s never what you expect. Where else can you try out every theme, style, and genre and fall right off the cliff and still, maybe, have something to publish at the end of it.

AG: What draws you to flash fiction? For you, how is writing prose different from poetry? Do you know what form the words are going to take before you start writing or do they tell you as they progress?

RG: I started with poetry, wrote it for years and published books of poetry too. In some ways flash fiction – and flash nonfiction – is not so different. The brevity means you can work with every word just as you do in poetry and yet, its a complete story.

However it’s a different mindset. I cannot write poems and flash at the same time – it just does not work. I write haiku too – I am editor on a major haiku magazine – and that is a third mindset. In poetry the emphasis is on words and rhythm, in haiku on image and a single moment, in flash it is on character and plot.

It’s sometimes difficult to write various forms and lengths. I have to be very clear before I begin that I am writing a story or a poem, so that the muse, like water, can flow into the structure I want.

Then it’s the highway of surprise. I never know what is coming. Even if I have begun with an idea, a character or a situation – even then, it rarely goes the expected way. I may end up in another country altogether and that is the fun of it. It’s totally unpredictable and does not happen on demand. Some days you are blank and some days the muse floods you out, wanting to finish ten stories at once!

I know it’s working well when I have to ask, where on earth did that come from?

AG: Can you tell me a little about your writing process?

RG: I do like writing by hand, especially for poetry. I like writing down ideas, lines, openers or even a quick short story by hand before I take it to the computer. If I get stuck I go back to the notebook to get unstuck.

Of course, the actual writing, editing and rewriting is done on a computer. I don’t belong to the ‘no rewrite’ school. I do many drafts and poetry has taught me to work with every word and make sure it fits. Every story I submit is edited, strengthened, rewritten many times, and polished like a poem.

I have daily and weekly schedules and keep a planner to track my progress. The creative process is so fluid that I find I need a schedule to keep me going – but a flexible one. I have learned the hard way not to have too tight a schedule otherwise I won’t do any of it. Keep it comfortable and easy and the work will flow.

Being part of a group like is a huge help in keeping me writing and submitting every week. Writing is a lonely business so a friendly and supportive group like that makes a big difference and I highly recommend it.

I am not as prolific as many others. Quality is more important to me than speed. It may take me twice as long to kindle a fire in a piece but I need to feel I have gone as deep as I can go in that story.

Perhaps the most important thing I have learned about writing over the years is this – keep writing every single day. No excuse or procrastination. Don’t think, just write. Edit later but very thoroughly.

I have seen enough writers to know that the ones who don’t succeed are also the ones who don’t write.

AG: Resolution is about trying to keep one’s promises to oneself, even when no one else is watching or holding you to it. Why do you think it often takes another, like a helpless kitten depending on you, for people to want to make a change for themselves?

RG: Late in December some friends were discussing New Year resolutions. My resolutions were all work related – I will write so many stories in the coming year, submit one a week etc. Theirs were all about staying with a diet and not getting depressed. I knew very well that one week later it would all be history.

Change is the hardest thing in the world and very few do it willingly. A crisis may turn everything upside down but normally a resolution will not make a life shifting change. So what if it was something else, something which touches the heart – the only way I know to make a really deep change.

So, I wondered is there a resolution we can keep?

I knew there was a story there, but it was not yet clear. For me, a good flash story needs two or more dissimilar elements to thread together (a bit like haiku) and I had one end of the two, the need for change with New Year resolutions – but I did not have the other.

In the mysterious way of the muse, the kitten came into it. I don’t quite know how that happened. It suddenly appeared and jumped very firmly and determinedly right onto my page. That kitten just hijacked the story!

Then I chose Delhi as the setting. Mumbai, where I live, has a winter hardly worth the name. Delhi never goes to zero but it does get into single digits. And it’s a colorful city.

I wrote the story, rewrote it three or four times, edited it and then I almost did not send it. I was worried it might be too sentimental. So then I thought, what’s one more rejection, and submitted it. Unexpectedly, it worked and the responses I got were very positive and some even said it was not overly sugary.

AG: According to your blog, this story was inspired by an actual little kitten. Did you find him under similar circumstances and how is he doing now?

RG: Yes, there was an actual kitten which had appeared out of nowhere. It came in a very famished state, still on milk. I put up pictures on my blog and have also put an update. The kitten is doing very well, growing up now, no longer skeletal, pouncing on the other cats, chasing their tails and getting into all kinds of mischief.

When it came to naming him, my sister said, let’s call him Resolution.

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

RG: I am hoping to publish a collection of flash fiction this year and am writing longer stories too. I am also working on a nonfiction book. I have quite a few submissions pending at various places. Later this year I will also be teaching flash fiction and haiku at a local college.

All my work is linked on my writing blog,

Resolution was my fifth story up on Every Day Fiction and I also have three writing articles up on FFC.

Of course, plenty more to come. I’m having so much fun that this party will go on for a very long time.

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

RG: Thank you, it’s been delightful.


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 and on Twitter  @AtGreenblatt


by Angela Rydell

Angela Rydell

 The very short story writer compensates like a blind man navigating the world with his all senses heightened—empowered because of it, not beaten down.

Flash writers confront a challenge unique to the genre. We’re not just short story writers but “very” short story writers, keepers of the koan-like question, “How do you get more out of less?” The answer requires not just craft but craftiness. Fewer words expand rather than diminish the possibilities for creativity—as long as you’ve got a few tricks up your sleeve. The very short story writer compensates like a blind man navigating the world with his all senses heightened—empowered because of it, not beaten down. We take advantage of what we’ve got to work with, including the mystery of ambiguity.

Visual artists understand this mystery well. We’ve all admired the artist who skillfully creates a line drawing. My husband recently said of an artist friend of his, “In one line—barely picking up her pencil—she can draw a baby jumping over the moon.” This is the “less is more” we strive for.

A colleague of mine, Laurel Yourke, teaches ambiguity by invoking that classic optical illusion of the vase and the faces. The picture captures more than one image simultaneously, depending on your perception. But the lines are clear, as are both interpretations. They might take you a little while to find, but they’re both there. Ambiguity isn’t vagueness. The Latin ambi translates as “on both sides” or “both ways.” That’s the kind of ambiguity we need in a flash—clarity and mystery simultaneously. A few well-defined lines invoke multiple interpretations, and the reader’s imagination fills in the rest.

So what are some techniques we can use to make that happen? Here are seven suggestions for finessing ambiguity in a flash:

1) Maximize both denotation and connotation. A single word can provide more than one meaning. Consider the title of Nicky Drayden’s three sentence story “Pushover,” from Hint Fiction. Here’s the last sentence: “He’s worn me down, weaker than that railing at the canyon’s rim.” Our mind bridges the gap between title and the implications of “worn down.” Picks up on that weak railing, the significance of “canyon’s rim.” Meaning expands as we fill in the blanks, make the connections, and imagine an implied conclusion.

2) Focus image. Home in on a central image or object that stands for more than one thing. In “79:PM,” a story in Amelia Gray’s delightful first collection AM/PM, the protagonist admires her partner’s unusual gold leaf tattoo which makes “a pattern of fish scales across his spine.” She tells him it’s beautiful, and he responds in kind:

“You’re beautiful,” he said, turning his head halfway.
“Not as beautiful as a gold flake.”
He considered it. “Maybe not. It was a very special process.”
“Must have been,” Tess said. She felt sure she would die alone.

The story hinges on the tattoo, and conversation around it. That last line, delivered succinctly, resonates emotionally because each character reacts not just to each other, but to what the image represents. It’s less a question of beauty than where their relationship’s headed.

3) Use dialogue that does double duty. Look at the excerpt from Gray’s story again (quoted above). There’s no chit-chat or extraneous information. The dialogue’s got more than one job to do: It delivers theme. Delivers character. Provides surprising turns. Bare essential plot tensions—that “yearning, challenged or thwarted,” Robert Olen Bulter calls for in his essay in the Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction. Dialogue, too, is best when it shows rather than tells.

4) Milk metaphor. In Robert Schuster’s “Eclipsed” (from Jerome Sterns’ classic Micro Fiction collection), the 250 word story opens with the central metaphor, which cuts to the heart of the story—fear of death:

“Anxious not to miss the coming darkness, Gavin woke early and watched Dad construct the viewers from boxes. Behind his pile of aluminum foil, cardboard and glue, Dad said: ”You see, when the moon passes in front of the sun, like this,” he held up his hairy fists before his eyes, ”my head, the earth, gets dark.”

The story centers on the eclipse, a strong symbolic core, as a young boy contemplates his father’s mortality. Double meaning abounds from beginning to end—the literal eclipse and the metaphorical.

5) Exploit contrast. Throw a purple pillow on a yellow couch, and because the colors are opposites on the color wheel, the pillow pops. In “Athens by Night” by Sandra Jensen, barely a line goes by without some kind of intriguing contrast. The setting embodies opposition: It’s Valentine’s Day, yet there’s a break up. They’re at the Athens Hilton—high status. But the young pov character is “drinking Coca Cola.” “Demitris the millionaire” proposes to the pov character’s mom, and the scene toys with highs—it’s a rooftop bar—and lows, plummeting at the end to the blunt, “We remained poor as dirt.” The juxtaposition inherent in good contrast allows readers to see distinctions even more clearly and intensely. Opposition’s implicit, and writers say more with less.

6) Nail irony. Reality’s hard to pin down, even in a three-hundred page novel. But irony, the ultimate literary contrast, nails incongruities between expectations and the realities we’re confronted with. Much good flash fiction thrives on it. Another memorable story from Sterns’ Micro Fiction collection, Maryanne O’Hara’s “Diverging Paths and All That,” finesses double irony as distracted Dollar Saver customers watch “Nixon resign on twenty TV sets” while a boy filches “Hershey bars and Bic pens” and quips, “I really save my dollars here.”

7) Embrace context. The phrase “context clues” might sound like a blast from the past, a high school English teacher telling you how to suss out meaning. But think of it in reverse. What clues are you going to give your readers so they can figure out what’s happening in the brief light of your flash? Too few, and readers scratch their heads, unsure whether a story that starts “shots pounded around him” is about a guy in a bar or a war zone. If the story doesn’t clear that up pronto, it’ll fizzle fast. Yes, you want to leave room for the reader’s imagination to fill in blanks. But you mustn’t leave too many blanks or too few clues to bridge gaps. A few context clues can make all the difference.

Whether or not Hemingway penned the classic six worder “For sale: baby shoes. Never worn,” the story’s stayed with us in part because the context (implied in “for sale”) allows readers to interpret the underlying tragedy. Like the clean structure of a good joke, very short stories need set up. But set up doesn’t mean a lengthy or even brief explanation of who’s who, where characters are and why readers should care. Often immersion’s the way to go. Let context clues orient the reader as the story unfolds, even if the whole story’s just a sentence or two. Subtly offer readers just enough clues to the mystery that lies ahead.


Angela Rydell is a poet, novelist, short fiction writer, and writing instructor. Her stories and poems have appeared in journals both in print and online, including The Sun, Indiana Review, NANO Fiction, Flashquake, Crab Orchard Review, Alaska Quarterly Review and elsewhere. Angela’s flash fiction won the Portland Review’s inaugural Flash Fiction Friday contest, was a finalist in the American Short(er) Fiction Prize, and received honorable mention in the New Millennium Writings Awards Flash Fiction Contest. She lives in Madison, WI, where she teaches creative writing courses in UW-Madison’s Division of Continuing Studies, including the online workshop Fiction in a Flash.


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