Process


by Jessi Cole Jackson

Ani King

Ani King lives in Lansing, Michigan with her husband and two very tall children. She has a fondness for short stories and long summers. You can find her at thebittenlip.com.

Jessi Cole Jackson: You mention in the comments following “Butter Face” at EDF that all of your stories tend to be sad and “[butter face] is one of my least favorite expressions ever, so I had to use it.” What draws you to telling sad stories and embracing unpleasant expressions? How do you go about tackling such weighty issues as rape in as few words as flash fiction allows?

Ani King: I can’t seem to stay away from the more uncomfortable elements of life. In some ways it’s probably therapy, a way to excise the past without telling my own specific stories. In some ways I’m trying to give my younger self a stronger voice, and fiction affords the opportunity to find and tell stories that don’t leave me so exposed as the autobiographical would.

In some ways I think flash fiction affords perfect length for stories about terrible things. By nature flash requires that your point or story be concise, almost densely packed. I think the more difficult thing is discovering which angle to tell the story from so that you’re not just using the shock value of the situation to make impact. I don’t care for stories that turn people who have been victimized into two-dimensional plot devices, and with flash, authenticity is something that is immediately noticeable.

JCJ: Would you tell me a little about your writing process?

AK: I’m the least organized writer. I have this ridiculous “Ideas” document on Google Drive that I constantly add to and edit from. Once a story seems to have enough flesh I move it to its own document and then, depending on the story, ignore everything and devote myself entirely to its care and keeping. That part isn’t true all. Between work and family and too many hobbies I pretty much write whenever I get a chance, unless that chance comes easily. Ten minutes between meetings—yes! Whole day off with nothing planned? Nope. Gonna sit here and watch Netflix in my bathrobe. In terms of research I tend to wikipedia-hole myself, but that often leads to more ideas.

JCJ: One of my favorite aspects of your story is your protagonist’s voice and the juxtaposition of her outward strength and size with her inability to fight back, either physically or verbally. Even retelling her story to us, she comes as almost timid. It made me, as a reader, want to fight for her. Is this something you did intentionally? Did you hope readers would respond in a particular way? How did you find her voice?

AK: I started weight lifting a few years ago to combat some joint and back pain due to a long hours desk job. I’ve never been particularly athletic or coordinated, so getting to a point where all of that clicked—the controlled movement, the awareness of what your body is capable of, was a really cathartic thing. I’ve never been interested in bodybuilding, but I’ve seen the effort and control it takes, and I started thinking about how difficult it would be to suddenly feel as if all that work were for nothing. Female bodybuilders in particular are ridiculed by people for their physiques, even in very subtle ways, so I feel like that must tie in even more with those societal expectations for beauty. We also tend to assume that outward strength denotes aggressiveness and so on, so in some sense, yes, the juxtaposition was very intentional.

I think the reaction I most wanted from readers was for them to feel connected to someone who frequently is presented as a caricature. Finding her voice was a lot easier than expected—I’ve talked to a number of other rape survivors, and there tends to be a sense of wryness after a while. Particularly with women who are not considered conventionally attractive and who have been greeted with a mild sense of disbelief, or even a hint that maybe they should consider themselves lucky that such a handsome man was interested in them. It’s revolting, and a lot of us use darker humor to stave off the real horror of hearing those offhand comments.

JCJ: What was the hardest part of writing “Butter Face”? Do you have a favorite part of the story?

AK: Writing the actual rape scene is a close second to writing the ending. I wanted to convey what happened with enough sense to make readers feel it, but without being graphic. Being in that headspace is hard. It’s an icky place to be. As far as the end, that’s always where I struggle. Where does this part end? Where do I leave her? Is she ok? Do we need to know that?

JCJ: What are you reading? Who are some of your favorite authors?

AK: Oh! I love this question! I’ve been reading a lot of short story collections lately: St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, by Karen Russell, is fantastic. The title story is incredible.  Also, Get in Trouble, by Kelly Link, and The Wilds, by Julia Elliott. Stone Mattress, by Margaret Atwood definitely has some teeth to it, and her take on aging is so beautifully done. I also tend to read a lot of online magazines and journals: Every Day Fiction, of course, and freeze frame fiction. Apex, Clarkesworld, Pank, and so many more. I love how accessible the internet has made literature as a whole. I tend to gravitate towards authors like Lidia Yuknavitch, Neil Gaiman, Catherynne Valente, Margaret Atwood, and most recently the Phryne Fisher series by Kerry Greenwood.

JCJ: What projects are you currently working on? Can you point readers to some of your other stories, either forthcoming or published?

AK: I’m currently working on a series of linked shorts inspired by a magical realism piece I wrote last year: http://roseredreview.org/2014-winter-ani-king/. Also a sci-fi short story loosely inspired by the Pig Prince fairytale, and a literary fantasy novella. I have upcoming publications in freeze frame fiction’s YA Volume, Pidgeonholes, which is newer and really lovely, and a poem in Spry Volume 6. All of my previous publications are listed on my very low traffic blog.

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Jessi_Cole_Jackson-150x150

Jessi Cole Jackson lives and works in New Jersey, though she’s not from there. By day she builds costumes for a Tony Award-winning theatre. By night she writes stories, questionable poetry and lots of abandoned outlines. When she’s not working she enjoys cooking, reading, and exploring local farms. You can read more about her sometimes exciting (but mostly just normal) life at  jessicolejackson.com.

by Jeff Switt

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Are you struggling with your short fiction pieces? Those stories in the 500-word to 1000 range. Are you receiving less-than-glowing remarks from your contemporaries? Too many revision requests from site editors? Maybe flat-out rejections? Perhaps it is time to go back to shorter stories.

“Every word must count.” Right?

But what about those adverbs you dearly need to follow those verbs to make sure the reader feels the impact of the moment. The adjectives thrown in like sprinkles on a cupcake to make the setting perfect.

Yes, that’s what I’m writing about.

Let me share my experience with writing flash fiction.

I started short. Really short. 25-word short at a site called Nailpolish Stories, where the task is writing 25-word stories using the colors of nailpolish as the titles. Piece-o’-cake you say? Maybe. Maybe not.

It is not a simple task to pen twenty-five words which have a beginning, middle, end, a character(s) and something resembling a plot.

“Every word must count.”

Those words haunted me (in a good way) as I wrote my first drafts. Then I questioned every word, one word at a time as if through a microscope. Out with that word; in with a new. Then, looking for better words. Out with clichés; in with original thinking. Bad adverb. Bad adjective. Bad dogs!

I finished a handful of stories and submitted. One was accepted. I was elated. In a few months, a few more stories were accepted and published. From there I moved on to a 50-word story site. Then to sites with 100-word limits.

As I expanded the length of my stories I approached each paragraph with the same care and diligence as I did my 25-word stories. Tight. Tighter. Tightest.

Now I am writing 1000-word stories with some success and satisfaction. When other writers remark that I packed so much story using so few words, I know I have accomplished a critical short-fiction goal. One of my favorites is Going Nowhere at Every Day Fiction the story of a carjacking romp going from bad to worse.

Let me close with a quotation from a forgotten source: “If you’re happy getting what you’re getting, doing what you’re doing, then there’s no reason to change.” If you would like to “get” more recognition from your writing, “get” more satisfaction, why not give writing 25-word stories a try. How long can that take? ?

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Jeff Switt is a retired advertising agency guy who loves writing flash fiction, some days to curb his angst, other days to fuel it. His words have been featured online at Every Day Fiction, Out of the Gutter Online, Dogzplot, Boston Literary Magazine, Shotgun Honey, and several other short fiction sites. His latest venture is A Story in Three Paragraphs.

 

by Charlie Latan

charlie-latan

Where really do butterflies of imagination fly? And who assigns their trajectories?

But fly these butterflies do. And sometimes the culmination of our intellectual endeavors (the WORK) grants us abstract nets, modes of netting our indwelling captivations. I use the word netting because the artist, over time, learns how to gracefully contain these bursts of inspiration.

The artist, when great, may put these moments on display. Ideally, the enjoyment of viewing them is bestowed upon the observer, while the pains of harnessing this brilliant insect is obscured.

There was a week period in which I drafted iPhone (scheduled for May/June 2015 publication in Litro Magazine)—a short short vignette about an iPhone that houses a tiny Chinese man who, like a perpetual motion machine, makes miniature iPhones, over, and over, and over. Our narrator carries the phone with him everywhere, encouraging the worker to take a break. But the tiny man just keeps working. Eventually the narrator has to flip the phone over so he can pleasure himself.

The story has no plot, no conventional narrative. One could hardly call it a story. Instead, this piece of flash functions as a fictional portal into a space without motion. A space where ideas like harmony, compassion, empathy can exist, vectorless, free from the bickering forces of reality.

Although deceptively simple and incredibly short, iPhone is political.

VICE online had been promoting a story about FoxConn workers in China who’d committed suicide but left behind haunting prose of arguably literary merit. These were powerful poems, written by anybodies doomed to lives of endless redundancy and increasing pressures to produce efficiently. What a nightmare! (Note: I’ve no clear recollection of the piece’s actual publication date.)

Ironically, I read the article on a computer possibly made by one these workers. This content, of course meant to incense, shock, cajole, harrow, etc. and elicit “engagement”—this being a term of fabulous endearment for those practicing the dark art of media in the 21st century—and I found myself, intellectually, in my head, pacing around a dark garden, deliberating, ineffectively, under the moonlight, allegorically of course, constantly checking my smartphone, in both this vivacious assemblage of orchids and ferns, and physically, in reality.

I then began to write a long-form poem that could be likened to a searing pitchfork. An object of reddened scorn one might jab into the fleshy mass of Western society.

But these moments of poetic outrage only reinforce our subservience. In fact, I believe, when we yell at something, we further bond ourselves to it. We invigorate our “already” dependencies.

But back to iPhone as kind-hearted flash fiction.

We, the West, are surrounded by objects made by invisible people who live in invisible places, factories. Fiction, though, is a place where we can glimpse into these dangerous realities. The purpose is to read the fiction, enter a world that does not exist, per se. If written effectively, the reader may fall under a spell, and feel something, soothing, a hush. Perhaps they perceive certain connections, sense something that was otherwise invisible before. The reader should feel rewarded for having read.

In the case of iPhone this hush is elicited when the narrator senses that the small Chinese man is, besides working nonstop, also eavesdropping on the narrator’s conversations with his mother. It’s implied that these conversations do not go well, and that the worker empathizes with his possessor, hence causing the calls to mysteriously “drop” whenever the mother expresses unnecessary vitriol.

As for physically writing this story, I did so at a cafe in Los Feliz. Late one night. It’s those butterflies I mentioned. If you can see them in your mind, see them flapping, they eventually produce a tiny wind. This silent breath of creativity. I follow it when I write. It slows my breathing. Stabilizes my pen. Solidifies my posture. Perhaps this is a holy moment (a comical one, though, were you to see me from the outside, drooling, bent over a pad of paper).

It is then that I may lean over my notebook and allow the fiction to reveal itself on the page. iPhone was a rare catch. A lepidopterous wonder made of soft blue wings punctuated with tiny polychromatic stitches. Typically, my writing is tedious, precocious, involving deranged iterations of editing, rephrasing and—but here was the exception.

It was as if the tiny story existed on the page all along. I flattened this creature’s wings. Then carefully blackened the excess, as tracing the outline of a container. Within this container, a moment, harmonious.

Minutes later I had the story. I was with a friend in a booth (I failed to mention the friend, she’s a quiet withdrawn girl). I stopped and read it to her. She hushed aloud at its conclusion.

Writers, may it be known, that sound, that physical release, air spilling from the listener’s lungs. That’s perhaps the only way we may perceive the effect of our labor. A magical moment indeed. Keep searching for it. Don’t be afraid to mangle a few abstract wings in the process. To jar even one of these precious fabrications, and be permitted its holding, its showing, its sharing, this, this is why we write. To add another jar to these infinite shelves of wisdom and folly, tragedy and humor… Go!

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by Aliza Greenblatt

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Dan Blunk is an aspiring fiction writer who loves stories of all kinds, golf, the outdoors, and a nice bourbon on the backyard deck as the sun goes down behind the mountains. He lives in northern Colorado with his wife and dog.

Aliza Greenblatt: What inspired you to start telling stories? How old were you? Who are some of the authors that influenced you? Favorite books?

Dan Blunk: My family was pretty book-crazy. My mom was a librarian and so some of my favorite parts of my childhood were going to the library with my two younger brothers and reading and letting my imagination run wild. I was pretty young when I thought I wanted to be a writer, probably seven or eight. Around that time I started a ‘novel’ a time-travel story with dinosaurs and adventure and a daring male protagonist. I’d go up to my room, write a couple chapters, and come down and give them to my parents to read. They must have thought I was nuts, but they really encouraged me. I read a lot, but one book that I really connected with as a kid was a book called The Missing Persons League by Frank Bonham. It’s a dystopian story about a high school kid trying to track down his dad, who is missing. I was in fourth or fifth grade when I read it and it blew me away. I was so entranced I said to my mom how cool it would be to actually talk to the author about it. She got the publisher’s address and told me I should write him a letter. So I did, and he wrote back! It was really exciting, I was such a nerd, I thought that was the coolest thing ever. It was a formative experience in my life. We carried on a correspondence for a while, it just made me want to write more. Other authors I love are Ray Bradbury, Raymond Carver, Ursula K. LeGuin (Earthsea Trilogy is amazing), Michael Chabon, Stephen King, so many others. I’ll read anything that interests me.

AG: You mentioned on EDF that Rig #9 was your first published story. Congratulations! What a great way to start your fiction endeavors. Can you tell me about your writing goals, both some long term and short term ones?

DB: Thanks! It was a pretty exciting thing for me. I’ve always kind of thought of myself as a writer, but only in the last two years or so have I gotten ‘serious’ about it. I started taking classes at a place called Lighthouse in Denver, it’s an outstanding community of really talented teachers and writers and going there has really energized me to actually apply myself. They have really taught me to have fun but to take responsibility for developing myself as a writer by reading a lot, critiquing the work of others, and just keeping at it, never stopping. I fell in with a group of writers and we started our own writing group (Knife Brothers!) and it’s a lot of fun. We get together every month at someone’s house and have some wine and some food and chat and share and critique each others’ latest stuff. That has been really energizing for me, it forces me to work hard because I don’t want to show up with nothing for the group to talk about! As far as goals, I would like to keep working on short stories and flash fiction, which I really love, but eventually I’d like to try writing a novel or screenplay.

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

DB: For me, things start with a kind of day-dreamy ‘what if’ chain of thought. I have always had a very active imagination, and I’ll see something in real life and that will spawn a chain of questions. For example, I’ll see a guy walking out of an assisted living facility wiping tears from his face and I’ll just imagine, ‘what happened in there? Is his dad sick? How do they get along? Did they argue all the time when he was growing up?’ And it will just go on like that, I’ll have this spur-of-the-moment exploration of possibilities in my own brain. That starts way before I ever actually write anything down. I have a day job that I really enjoy and that challenges me a lot. In order to make time to write, I started getting up around 5:30 and spending 45 minutes or so. I’m not that great about doing it every day, it’s a tremendous feat of discipline and I really admire people who can stick to a regimen like that.

AG: One of my favorite parts of this story was the voice. Immediately from the opening line, the mood was set and it was clear that even though the narrator is an old hand at this business, he also has a good grasp on literature and the local history. How did you find the voice for this piece? Or did it find you?

DB: Thank you very much. This piece started with my wife wanting to go for a drive. We live in northern Colorado and there are a few little ghost towns to the east of us, and as you get away from the mountains you get into the windy, flatness of the western Great Plains. It’s a hauntingly beautiful place, with the tall grass and the wind and the open sky, but it’s incredibly inhospitable and it feels hostile and alien and it just struck me as very powerful and it just got my creativity flowing. So we went out to see one of the ghost towns and it kind of started the day in the creepy old-West way. Then we drove to a really cool hiking place with all these big rock formations and while we were out there I started seeing all these oil wells pumping. So then it was a little bit of a lightning strike moment for me, I imagined this old oil rig worker dealing with something that had happened to him that he couldn’t really explain, but I wanted him to be trustworthy and intelligent, someone who is more than just a simple roughneck because I wanted to present the nuance that I imagined when I heard him in my head. So I think the voice came from a deep connection I had with that place and it kind of flowed from there.

AG: What were some of the challenges of writing this story? What are some of your favorite parts?

DB: I would say my main challenge was making the voice of the main character ring true. The first part kind of came to me, but I had to work hard to maintain the voice and keep momentum going in the story and, hopefully, give readers a payoff in the end. My favorite parts are probably when the narrator is at his gruffest when he talks about what an idiot the Kid is, and the way the birds gather together to form the shape of the Kid, that image just bubbled up from deep in my subconscious and frankly scared the hell out of me.

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?

DB: I am working on a couple short stories, I am due to submit one to my writing class in a few weeks, so I’m working hard to get that into shape. I’m also working on a few flash pieces that kind of came out of a trip we took to Florida during the holidays. I haven’t submitted in a while, but I should have some things ready to submit by spring.

 

ED: This is Aliza’s last EDF Top Author interview. I want to thank her for her time and effort in providing us with these interviews and wish her well with her future writing endeavors. Beginning in March, Jessi Cole Jackson will take over these duties.

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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 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.

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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.

 

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