REVIEWS


by Rumjhum Biswas

Robert Vaughan

They say one should never judge a book by its cover. However in Robert Vaughan’s chapbook of prose,  Diptychs + Triptychs + Lipsticks + Dipshits, it’s the cover that speaks for the book, announces what it’s going to be for the reader, eloquently. The cover design by Joseph A W Quintella, is a slick black and white collage of faces and captions, which one is tempted to blow up and display as a work of art. When you are done reading, you realise that you had been given a window view of what’s to come even before you’d read a line. Speaking of which, one (line) from the cover itself, seems to haunt, float through the twenty eight pieces in the book: “he’s a ghost. There’s nothing he can do for us.” There is a finality to it from one angle, the nothingness beyond death; but flip it over and a vision of a crowd appears, pushing its way forward, as if disregarding the keeper of a crypt. This to me is the crux of Vaughan’s whole text. The Janus-headedness. The simultaneous presence of dual possibilities. The presence of conflicting truths.

In the first, “10,000 Dollar Pyramid”, the story is trisected according to each word of the title, creating word panels that in turn present moving pictures from Cleo’s life, and yet leaves many things unsaid. The end result is a character etching that is as sharp as flint. The second piece is “Hexagon of Life” is a love triangle told in a way love stories are never told. To quote a line from the story “But some of love was hideous, like Roy’s slouched decline.”And another “ A paradigm of domination.” “Two Smiles,” the third story is a good example of Vaughan’s “Janus-head style,” where the smoke billows out along with the thoughts of a woman, indicating her addiction to more than one thing.

“ABC” is also portioned into three parts, and appears to be the disjointed musings of a man through various activities in a day, when he’s flossing his teeth or looking out of a window. His thoughts flit from Marie Antoinette to his own life, and the course of his thoughts reveals his nature, the person beneath. “Black & White/Colour” traces a surreal, an almost Escher like landscape to paint the tragic life story of its protagonist. And, like many of the flash fiction written these days, the lines are blurred between poetry and prose. “Reckless/Abandon” explores a man and a woman connected by their individual abilities to hurt and be hurt, with the man bungee jumping from sharp objects, and the woman skimming like an amoeba across quicksand.

“An Occupy Trifecta” is a poem. It’s a poem so intense that it almost crosses over into a state of consciousness. Not culminating in, but taking the reader forward with Take my hand before the wind blows you from the rampart. And in the very next piece, “A Time of Revolution,” love is the only way forward.

In “Part of Life: Two Ways” the story splays out in the form of conversations or little monologues, except that one gets the impression of being part of the group listening in, watching the horror unfold. “3 Cs” did nothing for me, though there are some sharp sentences in it. And “Spring is like a Perhaps hand: Two Ways” is a poem, which once read pans out, leaving some unnerving images inside one’s head. “Three for Carol” opens with a line from a Joni Mitchell song – Both Sides Now, and moves on at a lyrical pace creating a love song in its turn with fragmented images that come together like the blurred edges of a water colour… “this is how you left me, as night crashes down and the never heard song begins to play…”

“The Three Stooges” is a story in three panels about three characters – the stooges – Larry, Moe and Curly. Losers, all of them, with a spark of humour. In “Seven Shades of James,” Vaughan weaves unrequited love in seven tight paragraphs or stanzas. “Going to Reseda on the 405” is a story in four sentences chronicling the lives of five desperate people. “Ten Notes to the Guy Studying Jujitsu” is an unsentimental narrative about a failed relationship. “Modern Day Symphony” is a wry look at current society, with a Charlie-Chaplinesque cadence to the narrative flow. However, there is no happy or hopeful ending; it’s a bleak landscape.

The 16th story “Mother/ Father/Clown” explores relationships in a disjointed family, or is it just the mother with vengeance on her mind and callous about the impact on her child? In the next story, “Neighbours,” horror lurks in genteel neighbourhoods. It’s not canine fangs that one should be afraid of here, but gentle, guinea pig-stroking hands. In “Common Password Profile Users: God, Love, Lust, Money and Private” there are five password users, all of them with fractured lives and none entirely innocent.

“Plains, Trains and Automobiles” is as much about a woman’s sexual liaisons as it is about her engagement with cramped spaces. “The Thief” is a lyrical dreamscape where Vaughan seems to explore whole universes in molecules. And stanza three in this piece is a prose poem that needs to be read over and over. In “Betrayal” the narrator’s self-disgust spills out like a “pool hissing with piss.” If words could eviscerate, commit hara-kiri or clobber like a club, there would be perhaps less need for poetry.

“Elements of K” is a moving story of an unusual woman as narrated by her child. A woman who “could be kinder to strangers than loved ones.” A woman who represents more than fire, earth, air and water.

In the 24th story “Lawyers, Guns and Money” images like ‘they followed it like a piece of trash floating on a slender breeze” linger long after this morsel of a story is read. The 26th story, “Moving to Los Angeles A Screen Play in Three Acts,” is not one of the better pieces in the whole collection, despite its thriller movie pace. “Three Episodes: Myopic, Chains, Mission” is another evocative piece of prose that doesn’t quite carry it through to the end or provide a more lasting impression. “Gauze, A Medical Dressing, A Scrim” is the 28th and last is a metaphysical story of emotional abandonment; it resonates with the peal of church bells, except that it’s dark, dark, dark.

In many of the pieces in this collage like book of prose and poetic pieces, Vaughan’s mastery over words constructs sentences that continue to shine even after they’ve been plucked out of their narratives and set aside. This is where Vaughan scores, in spite of the unevenness of the whole book, and some pieces that leave an unsatisfied feeling after reading them. But then again, perhaps he meant it to be that way.

by Karen NelsonKaren Nelson Outdoor

I love September because I can go all month singing Green Day’s “Wake Me Up When September Ends“.   (The 9/11 Tribute video is gripping.)  If you slept through any of Flash Fiction Chronicles’ great articles on the writing craft, here’s a recap – and wake up!

We had some pointed advice from Jim Harrington to help us refine our writing through Word Choice (be specific!) and using Inciting Incident and Character Arc to add dimension.  Jim takes apart some sample writing to really examine the nuts and bolts of a piece, and I think you’ll find more than a few ideas for improving your work.

Ever revisit a favorite book and find it, somehow, lacking?  You’re not alone.  In “Writing Ruined My Reading” Sara Crysl Akhtar shares her struggles with Asimov, but finds a redeeming genre that will surprise you.

Beth Lee-Browning gets us digging into our journals and discovering our own potential with “If You Build It, They Will Come“.  Her highlights are worth another look.  (Go ahead, I’ve already clicked on them 4 times… )

•    Savor life – live with humor, joy, and passion.  Use feelings as fuel for creativity and creation.
•    Make something of yourself – do something, be something, make something.  Be who you are and continue to strive to become who you were meant to be.  Don’t be afraid to try, don’t be afraid to fail, and don’t be afraid to succeed.
•    Accept yourself – be yourself, trust yourself, be childlike, own and understand your relationships, be aware and follow your instincts, be accountable, and last but not least, be kind to yourself.
•    Have faith – ask for and accept help, be teachable, life is spiritual, art is spiritual and it is healing. Follow your dreams and treat them as real.
•    We commune through art – when we create from the heart and not from the ego we experience a clarity of purpose and feelings of joy.

INTERVIEWS

For people who like writing, authors sure love to talk!  And FFC has visited with some of the best in the business.  Check out these conversations with industry professionals, and gain insight on the world of publishing…

UNCOV/RD: Susan O’Neill – author of Don’t Mean Nothing

Roxanne Gay – Tiny Hardcore Press

Sumanth Prabhaker – Madras Press

Milo James Fowler – EDF’s Top Author for August

BOOK REVIEWS

Success for one is success for all, and FFC loves to celebrate our colleagues’ success!  Our own Bonnie ZoBell burst into 2013 with her collection of stories The Whack-Job Girls (Monkey Puzzle Press).

“Respect. This is the bedrock of all the stories in Bonnie Zobell’s “Whack-Job Girls.” Her characters demand it, regardless of their situation, social standing and ethos. In fact, ZoBell’s characters come across as people who would sooner hit the reader with a hammer than be pitied.” – Rumjhum K. Biswas

Linda Simone-Wastila shares her thoughts on why Elliot Sanders’ Distance was one of the finest short stories she read this year.  Take a moment as she walks you through the author’s expert use of voice, tension, detail, and theme.

Circle Straight Back by Noel Sloboda just went on my must-read list… if only for the intriguing idea of selling secrets in an online auction.  Don’t miss Andree Robinson-Neal’s fascinating commentary on this unusual book.

Of course, when submitting your flash piece for publication, you want it to look its best.  EveryDayFiction offers these insider tips that will get you that much closer to sharing your work.

The month wound up with a little fun, in Top 10 Reasons to Write Flash Fiction.  Our staff collected their favorites, but we’re still hearing from you on your best – or craziest – reasons to write flash.  Leave yours in the comment section – we’d love to hear it!  And now that September has ended, get ready for a fabulous Fall at Flash Fiction Chronicles!

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Karen Nelson is a writer and teacher in Southwest Missouri, specializing in educational and nonfiction works. She is a staff writer for Flash Fiction Chronicles, Curriculum Coordinator for Goldminds Publishing, author of four books and numerous stories and articles, and serves on the boards of various writing and literacy organizations.  When staring at a computer screen gets to be too much, Karen wanders outside to her chickens, rabbits, and miniature horse, who are always good for gaining perspective.

 

 

by Rumjhum Biswas

The-Whack-Job-Girls-Front-Cover-260x390  The title of this slim collection and the cover design, as well, are arresting enough to draw a casual book browser into its pages. At less than a 100 pages long, “The Whack-Job Girls” appears to be a quick read. Don’t be fooled; the stories are sharp enough to cut deep and plant themselves within you. The long list of endorsements, however, produces a kind of gagging effect and can make the reader feel that there is little room left for her/him to form an opinion. And I won’t rule out a nagging doubt about the book not being able to live up to all the praise either. Thankfully, the book does not disappoint. There are ten stories in the collection, including the title story, which turned out to be my favourite. Bonnie ZoBell writes powerfully, making every word count in her sliver-sized stories about women. The result is a vivid collage of strongly etched characters and sharp images.

The book begins with “Nonnie Wore no Clothes,” where a mother invokes The Virgin Mary as she grapples with her alcoholism. This was my least favourite story. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the narrative, and was able to empathise with the mother-son relationship.  In the second story, “Black Thumb,” the telephone is a thing from a dark place that keeps a widowed mother away from her daughter. In “You are Not Langston Hughes,” I was moved by the lyrical account of a night in a young woman’s life, when almost down to her last dollar, she tries to find her feet in New York.  “Deep Sea Dive” is another moving story about yet another mother, and her family comprising animals she has taken in, and rescued, and her son too, but whom she cannot rescue.

“The Whack-Job Girls” is the fifth story in the book which bears its title. Here ZoBell veers away from the tone of the previous stories, with the sentences spiked with humour. But this is hardly a funny story. A group of spunky women, close friends, get together, and take charge of their lives in a male-dominated world.  Despite the humorous undertone, ZoBell gets the bleakness across with clarity, and with characters so alive they almost jump off the page. The other stories too share the same liveliness, and more strong female characters follow.

In “Rock Star,” narrated in a matter-of-fact manner, a woman faces a life altering health issue. Her life the way it is at that time, isn’t exactly a bed of roses, but not surprisingly, she displays grit and a curious defiance, qualities that call for admiration rather than pity for her. A couple watches TV in “Serial,” an ordinary enough scenario, except that they seem to be addicted to watching violent programmes about serial killers, rapists and torturers, as they “idle unthreatened in their living room.” “The Writer as A Rapist” is an unusual tale, in which ZoBell takes ‘writerly’ voyeurism to an altogether new level. Written in the first person, a writer stalks a mysterious interloper, who is also a creative person. The narrative follows a seamless path pulling in the writer’s reality along with the real world beyond. “Graveyard,” also written in the first person, is narrated in a spare style that discourages soppy empathy. Here a young woman, a student of anthropology, works nights in an upmarket hotel. As a member of the housekeeping staff, it is her job to literally clean up after guests. What she encounters is the stuff of nightmares, but like the rest of ZoBell’s characters, she endures with the kind of strength that elicits respect.

Respect. This is the bedrock of all the stories in Bonnie Zobell’s “Whack-Job Girls.” Her characters demand it, regardless of their situation, social standing and ethos. In fact, ZoBell’s characters come across as people who would sooner hit the reader with a hammer than be pitied. This is the world ZoBell leads her readers into. A hard world, which she populates with hardy people, telling their stories with carefully picked words that make each sentence work harder within its tightly allocated space. So after you are done reading, you are left to have your own conversations with ZoBell’s gritty people, from stories you would want to re-read.

The Whack-Job Girls
by Bonnie ZoBell
Available from Monkey Puzzle Press
Also available on Amazon and digital download at Google Play

Chapbook: 58 pages / Fiction
Published: March 2013
ISBN-10: 0-9851705-7-3
ISBN-13: 978-0-9851705-7-8

 ___________________________Rumjhum Biswas

Rumjhum K Biswas has been published all over the world, and won prizes and accolades for her work. In 2012 she won the first prize in Anam Cara’s Short Story Competition. “Culling Mynahs and Crows” her first novel will hit the stands in the fall of 2013, followed by two separate collections of her short stories. She blogs at Writers & Writerisms – http://www.rumjhumkbiswas.wordpress.com

 

 

 

 

by Andree Robinson-Neal

There are occasions when reading flash fiction is much akin to eating a gourmet meal: the initial taste is not what is important but rather the underlying flavor, the notes and hints of what makes the recipe special. Robert Vaughan’s Microtones, recently released by Červená Barva Press, offers up tightlywound, fast hitting flash stories and poetry that tackle the intricacies of relationships—between lovers, friends, neighbors, family members, as well as between the conflicted parts of a single individual—in a style that is more than linguistic. Beneath the surface of each offering is an underlying mixture of pain, surprise, angst, and discomfort that pop onto the reader’s palette unexpectedly. His combination of imagery must be savored and explored; this work is not for a singular read but rather must be explored from various angles. Joe nearly passes out, not from the pain, but from the lack of pain. He can barely stand it (“Sometimes He Feels Like It’s Numb”).

Microtones clearly showcases Vaughan’s love of the arts in that he deftly combines his inspirations within its pages. He suggests that although he has been writing and harboring a love of reading since he was young, music was a first love that still serves as muse. There is a lyricism that comes through his poetry (“Semaphores,” “Before and After,” “Legacy”) and in the ebb and flow of the stories as well.  When the trees flamed, I split, like leaves, one limb, then another. My heart was last to go (“Summer of ’66”).

It takes those not faint of heart to taste unfamiliar fare and occasionally such forays into the unknown yield enjoyable surprises. Each page in this collection offer revelations that reveal the plethora of Vaughan’s motivations; the power of his passion for writing is evident and his prose has been sharpened through the support of his writing and public reading community. He is unafraid to tackle tough subject matter, such as the juxtaposition of pregnancy and war (“Buried”), issues of health and illness (“Part of Life: Two Ways,” “A, B, C”), and the kaleidoscope of addictions (“Wrestling with Genetics,” “Recollection”).

This is Vaughan’s first published collection. For more of his work, visit www.robert-vaughan.com.

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 Beginning today, FFC plans to publish book reviews for collections of (primarily) flash fiction on a quarterly basis. Each post will contain one or two reviews of around 500 words each. At this time, we will not review self-published or vanity press volumes. Go to our About/Submit page for further details.

Flashes of War, by Katey Schultz

reviewed by Andreé Robinson-Neal

Loyola University Press has released a book of short and flash fiction by new writer Katey Schultz. What makes Flashes of War different is that each of her 31 fiction stories relate to the Iraqi and Afghan conflicts. Schultz is able to capture the mood of war in a gritty and realistic way through her use of military slang and acronyms as well as through local colloquial language and description of the customs and practices of everyday citizens that, when combined into each story, guide the reader from rural America to downtown Baghdad.

The author describes herself as someone who makes sense of the world through storytelling. She developed the book by comparing her own experiences growing up and living in the United States to the experiences of American, Afghan, and Iraqi men, women, and children in the Middle East. An examination of the unique language associated with war and the power she felt was contained in those words led her to further exploration through images, films, and nonfiction texts.

Schultz has never been to war but her ability to capture the nuances of wartime experiences are somewhat jarring. Her descriptions and imagery carries the reader into the environment:

 We walk home slowly that night, passing the ball in short punts across the narrow streets. Hadir likes to aim for the base of streetlights, aligning the ball so it will bounce in my direction and set me up for the next, easy pass. A few stray dogs linger behind, limping and skinny. They’d probably eat Hadir’s soccer ball if we left it. Nights like this, I can almost forget our dim-lit city was the center of a warzone. (Into Pure Bronze)

Each story includes a furtiveness and energy that is both uncomfortable and accessible. There are many topics covered, including US immigration issues (The Ghost of Sanchez), intercultural affairs (Pressin’ the Flesh), relationships and connections (The Waiting: Part I, The Waiting: Part II), and coping (Home on Leave, Getting Perspective). Schultz is able to create tensions regarding the complex nature of war (My Son Wanted a Notebook) in an effort to transport readers into the many worlds of war.

Although this is Schultz’s first published book, she has other writing and writing-related credits to on her resume. Visit http://www.kateyschultz.com/ to learn more.

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 Pomegranate, by Gay Degani

reviewed by Rumjhum Biswas

Pomegranates are luscious, sweet and tart and carry within each seed the brightness of rubies. Given these qualities, it is necessary to linger over pomegranates when you eat ‘em. Pomegranate, Gay Degani’s chapbook of short and very short fiction demands a similar exercise. Take a look at the very first line of the title story:

“When I was seven I was stolen by gypsies.”

One crisp sentence is all. And, the reader is already plunged into the story. This story is one of the longer pieces in the collection. The narrative of the girl’s life in captivity and the long distance mother-daughter relationship has the staccato rhythm of a van lurching down a country road. The story, like the fruit, leaves behind a layered aftertaste. You are not sure where you can go with it. The story lingers in your mind, and almost unconsciously you find yourself reading it again.

The eight stories in this collection explore the relationships of women incisively, cutting straight to the point, like a sharp knife piercing one’s jugular. Gay Degani conveys her stories through sentences that are sharp enough to continue to surprise even during the second reading. It’s as if she has pulled the canvas so tight across its frame that the scenes and characters want to jump right off. The human foibles and emotions depicted in her stories pull and pull until the muscles of your heart feel taut. Whether it’s about a woman driving home to meet her dying father – Dani Girl’s Guide to Getting Everything Right, or a woman with a dysfunctional life on her way to the airport to pick up her very organized mother – Listing Lisa,  a basketball crazy young girl’s last and tragic vision – Rim Shot, two sisters with their terrible secret – Spring Melt, a mother’s grief so intense that it has turned ice-cold – Monsoon, a wedding guest’s relationship with her mother-in-law – Hawaiian Hairdo, a scene at a writing workshop – Chair Girl, or a kidnapped girl’s feelings for the husband her captors got for her and her subsequent reunion with her mother – the title story Pomegranate, Gay Degani’s stories have something more to say even after they have been read. Her narrative is quick, but like the juicy pomegranate fruit that drips and runs the minute you bite into it, and you have to be ready to deal with a sticky hand, these stories, too, stick to the mind long past reading. And then, there’s that tight feeling, even after you’re done, much like the lingering astringent aftertaste of pomegranates.

You can read Pomegranate by ordering direct from Lulu, or at Amazon.com.

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