STAFF


by Andreé Robinson-Neal

If it were possible to have your eyes closed as you read, it might also be possible to feel, smell, and hear the story. You might be saying to yourself, “I can hear the story if I buy an audio book,” but that is not what is meant here.

Anjali’s fingers were hard despite the softness of the cream she was kneeding into Reena’s face. They were a worker’s hands, the hands of a woman who washed clothes, did the dishes and cooked the meals for the family along with her work as a beautician.

Abha Iyengar’s Many Fish to Fry is filled with touchable, smellable, hearable moments on each page. She takes us to Paharganj, a neighborhood in Delhi, to meet a variety of memorable characters, including Reena Vardharajan (which was shortened to “Rajan” because “Vardharajan” is so long, isn’t it?) and her family; Parvati, Reena’s part-time maid (who is a barely tolerable and weak replacement for Murali, the former full-time servant); Anirban Dasgupta and his wife Proteeksha, the Punjab/Bengali couple who live next door in Flat No. 69; jewelry maker Sanjay Singh and Neeru his wife; and the ever-effervescent private detective Harinmoy Banerjee. There is also the matter of fish, interwoven intricately throughout.

Thanks to her beautician, Reena’s love for jewelry making has been rekindled. She meets Sanjay as she embarks on her new career as a part-time business woman. Making jewelry provides her an outlet, something her traditional mother, traveling businessman husband, and busy children struggle to understand. She takes over the dining room table to craft her designs and spends afternoons visiting Sanjay and other merchants in the roadside shops to the dismay of her husband.

When [Reena's] seriousness with her work began to interfere with her attention to the little details around [her husband Anand], thing she had taken care of earlier because she had nothing else on her mind, he expressed his disapproval.

“You are getting too involved. Why do you need to do all this running around at your age? … I miss the hot rotis you make for me. you have no time to talk to me … and the dhobi just can’t iron shirts like you do … did.” …

She had expected him to be highly supportive.

But when a Hilsa fish shows up unexpectedly on her doorstep, followed closely by an unexpected meeting with Harinmoy Banerjee, a colorful private investigator and self-labeled Super Sleuth who rings Reena’s door looking for Proteeksha, the next door neighbor from Flat No. 69, Reena embarks on an adventure filled with intrigue, laughter, tears, and gossip. And of course, fish.

Iyengar skillfully mixes language and cultures into a delicious stew that will suit any taste. She intermingles traditional Hindi and Bengali words and phrases (there is a glossary of terms in the back for the less initiated) with Western terms familiar to any English speaker of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Her words come off the page to tickle the palate. The sound of the traditional words and phrases, when read aloud, are lyrical to the ear: phrases such as Na rehega bans, na bajegi bansuri (“If there is no bamboo, there will be no flute,” meaning “If the source of the trouble is removed, then the trouble won’t occur,” according to the glossary) and Daane daane pe likha hai khane wale ka naam (“On each morsel is written the name of the person destined to eat it”) are just two examples.

As Chris Galvin Nguyen, the writer of the book’s forward indicates, Many Fish to Fry examines Indian social issues and suggests what it is like to move beyond tradition through the use of “real-life trends of language and culture in India.” For weeks after reading it, you will be challenged not to end every sentence with Harinmoy’s classic Is it not, dear?

This is not Iyengar’s first book, but it is her first with Pure Slush. She has a number of other published works worth checking out and can be found at www.abhaiyengar.com and www.abhaencounter.blogspot.in.

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Andree-New

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 Sarah Crysl Akhtar

Sarah Akhtar

I’ve often taken the powerful emotions triggered by real events and turned them into fiction, and find that a pretty successful recipe.

And I’ve almost always managed to steer clear of the Polemical Palisades and Sentimental Canyon while doing it.

But recent world events had enraged and frustrated me, and before I knew it, I was writing A Story with a Message.  And I was so moved by what I’d written, I made myself cry.

Danger, Will Robinson!

Even as I began to suspect it was dreck, I submitted it to the site most familiar with and welcoming to my voice.  And for good measure, sent a copy to a friend, whose intellect is boundless and whose judgment is sterling.

The response from both quarters was what I dreaded even at the moment I hit send.

I’m grateful nobody sent me dentist bills for the throbbing toothaches my story must have inflicted on those first readers.  Instead of powerful emotion and throat-catching moments of universal human suffering and sacrifice, I’d written The Big Rock Candy Mountain of almost unbearable sentimentality, and we all knew it.

The story needed a heart transplant and four follow-up surgeries.  At one point I almost pulled the plug on it, convinced it wasn’t worth keeping alive.  But It was accepted after the third revision, with the gentle observation that I still had time to find its true soul.

I was still working on it almost up to publication date.

More tears were shed over that story–but this time by readers who found it extraordinary.

I suspect I could have placed the original somewhere.  There’s certainly a market for the Hallmark Hall of Fame genre, too.  But sentimentality is like bonded leather–a cheap substitute for the real thing.  Don’t dazzle yourself with an ersatz product, even if you’re pressed for time.

If you find your eyes welling up when you read your first draft, remember that a holiday commercial can accomplish the same thing.  Get up from your computer, mop your eyes and make a strong cup of tea.  Then get back to work.

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Sarah Crysl Akhtars shtetl forebears gifted her with the genes that impel her to make much from little. So of course she writes flash fiction, cultivates orchards on her windowsill and bakes fabulous shortbread. Her son gives her what’s immeasurable—the best of all possible worlds. (Less miraculous fruit of her labors has appeared on Every Day Fiction, Perihelion SF Magazine, 365tomorrows and Flash Fiction Online.)

 

by Jim Harrington

Suzan Palumbo

Suzan Palumbo lives in Brampton, Ontario with her husband and two daughters.  Originally from Trinidad and Tobago, she is an ESL teacher who loves Alfred Hitchcock, curry, music and growing tomatoes.  Her stories are often inspired by clashes of culture and the gap between expectations and reality.

 

Roots
by Suzan Palumbo

Emily retraced the route she used to escape her parents’ biases. When the memory of her father’s fist cracking the kitchen table threatened to make her turn the car around, she glanced at Zoe asleep in her booster seat and continued down the old familiar roads.

Her mother’s prophecy had been half true. Zaid left but he had not used Emily and flung her aside. They were separated by the hot wheels and flesh distorting metal he used at work. Emily held Zaid’s hand, surrounded by wires and tubes, until he let go. Then, she clung to Zoe, whose pecan coloured skin and quick smile solidified his fading existence.

In her parent’s driveway she woke Zoe and let her skip down the path to look at a peach tinted flower. Emily’s mother came out from the side yard.

“Hello, are you lost?” She was confused at finding a small child in her garden.

“No, mom, she isn’t.”

Emily’s mother stood quietly staring at Zoe and then crouched down next to her.

“Would you like to help me plant a flower?”

“Yes!” Zoe flashed Zaid’s smile.

Emily’s mother showed Zoe how to dig a hole and not damage the flower’s roots. When they were done she wiped Zoe’s hands with a handkerchief and invited them both inside. Emily nodded and Zoe ran towards the front door.

“What about Dad?” Emily asked her mother.

“He’s been trying to fix the kitchen table.” Emily’s mother stepped aside and let them in.

***

Jim Harrington: What was it about the contest prompt that led you to write Emily’s story?

 Suzan Palumbo: I zeroed in on the word bias and saw the image of Emily returning home with Zoe, hoping to prove her parents wrong. I also liked that the word route, as a homophone, has opposing meanings.  Roots keep you grounded; they also don’t let you move, whereas a route is a course we use to leave.  I felt these contrasting meanings did a good job of symbolizing the conflicts Emily has been struggling to overcome.

There are aspects of my own life in Emily’s story.  My husband and I are from different cultural and racial backgrounds.  We’ve never experienced the level of intolerance that Emily and Zaid encountered, but there have been a few people who were skeptical that we could find any commonalities on which to base our lives. Emily knows that Zoe has the ability to shift her grandparents’ perspective better than any well reasoned argument.  Zoe is the commonality that this family needs to come back together.

I also want to recognize that this is also part of Zaid’s story. It was difficult writing about his death, as I felt I connected with him on a cultural and emotional level. He is definitely a character I’m going to explore further in the future.

JH:  Final Judge Meg Tuite commented on the “beauty of its language and the use of dialogue to tell the story of three generations.” Many authors struggle with getting the dialog just right. Do you have a secret to writing effective dialog?

SP: Whenever I write dialogue I try to keep the question, “So, what’s your point?” in the back of my head.” If what the character is saying has no impact on the plot, character or meaning of the story, I try to take it out or rework it while trying to keep the exchange realistic sounding.

Moments of silence are also important.  In my personal life I don’t always have a snappy, well thought out answer when I’m trying to have a meaningful conversation. People dialogue without speaking all of the time and I think it’s important to include aspects of non-verbal dialogue in our writing.

JH:  I like how the story circles back to the father and the kitchen table. What did you hope the show the reader by doing that?

SP:  Emily’s father realizes his anger and intolerance have cost him his daughter and family.  He wants to rectify the situation but doesn’t know how.  I hope one day this family can sit around their kitchen table and eat and laugh and talk.  Of course, Zaid will be missing and the crack in the table will never completely disappear.  This absence will always be present when they sit down together.  I don’t think reconciliation is going to be easy; there are going to be missteps, but I wanted to show that they were all willing to try.

JH:  Writing a captivating story in 250 words or less is a challenge. Do you write stories of this length or shorter regularly?

SP:  Yes. I’m currently working on a series of one hundred word stories.  It’s challenging but I like that the length forces me to consider the effectiveness of each word since each word may need to fulfill more than one function.  I’m also working on a piece that’s around 1500 words.  I tend to stick to pieces that are under 3000 words.

JH:  Do you have other works online that we can point our readers to?

SP: This is my first published piece.  It’s been a very rewarding experience.   Thank you for your thoughtful questions and for organizing a great contest.

____________

jimharrington2

Jim Harrington began writing fiction in 2007 and has agonized over the form ever since. 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 http://jpharrington.blogspot.com.

by Jim Harrington

jimharrington2Markets Added

Market Change

______________________

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 http://jpharrington.blogspot.com.

by J. Chris Lawrence 

Martin Chandler

Martin Chandler is a writer from Halifax, Nova Scotia. He is currently perfecting his car-dodging skills, and running a blog at littleweestories.wordpress.com.

 

The Handkerchief Tree
by Martin Chandler 

The tradition began with a sad old man. To some it was a memorial, to others a tourist attraction.

The old man owned a small field that, over a lifetime, he had worked into an orchard. He eventually lost his son to a car accident, then his wife to cancer, and finally all but a single pecan tree in his fields had died, from what it didn’t matter.

As the old man felt God’s bias against him, he walked to the lone surviving tree, which sat near the edge of a cliff, looking out on the ocean. He tied his damp handkerchief to the tree, leapt over the edge, and ended his existence on the rocks below.

The executor of the old man’s will, a tired, lonely woman, saw his handkerchief blowing in the breeze, and tied her own to the tree while inspecting the property. She then returned to her work of handling the man’s terse, succinct wishes: Everything to the local land trust, for conservation.

Over time, the route to the coast transformed from a dirt track into a paved highway, the area around the tree from a green lawn to a paved parking lot. The long dead pecan trees were torn out, replaced with scraggly bushes. More handkerchiefs accumulated on the tree until there was little trunk left to be seen; only cotton blowing hope in the breeze.

 ***

J. Chris Lawrence: Congratulations again on winning second place in this year’s FFC String-of-10 contest! Some of the features of your story that really resonated with me was how it revolved around the tree itself, how it survived so much change, and how its persistence affected so many people. Did this concept play a role in your planning or did it come about organically?

Martin Chandler: Thank you very much! The concept of the tree came pretty organically. I sat down with the words and just started writing. “Route”, “scraggly”, and “coast” all built an image in my mind of a lone tree with a road leading to it. The rest built up from there; I had to answer why the tree was alone, what it was doing, and what significance it had. The words given all helped in that.

JCL: You managed to use most of the prompt words in your story, which is certainly no small feat. How did these words affect your process? Did you choose how to use them prior to beginning the story, or did they evolve as part of the process?

MC: The words really inspired the process for me. I worked more from those than the quote given, though I’m sure that was twirling around in my subconscious as well. And I actually tried to make use of all of the words. I think I managed it, though had to adapt a few to circumstance. “Exist” became “existence”, for instance. I didn’t plan it all out and then write. Instead, as I developed the story, I kept looking back to see which words I hadn’t used yet. They really helped drive its creation.

JCL: Writing Flash can certainly be a challenge. While working on this story, what part of the process did you find most challenging?

MC: I think the much smaller limit than normal was the greatest challenge. Editors all define Flash differently, from anything under 1000 words, which I’m used to, to less then 250, as in this case. I think most of my previous Flash stories have tended toward the 400-500 range, and even then it can be argued if I’ve really “told a story”. It was very educative, as well, choosing what needs to be said to tell more. You mentioned reading the change around the tree itself, its persistence, and its affect on so many people. I’m happy I managed to say so much in less than 250 words.

JCL: While on that subject, what is it about flash fiction that you find most appealing? What drives you to create short shorts like this?

MC: I think it is the paucity of Flash that I really enjoy. With so little space, you have to say as little as possible, but still create the world for the reader. It’s very interesting how much of the story is created by the reader themselves. A reader isn’t a passive actor, just reading the story; instead they are as active as the writer, building ideas and worlds, finding meaning in words. I think that’s what I find interesting about writing in general, but the limit of Flash really accentuates that.

JCL: Are there any specific themes or genres that speak to you?

MC: For themes, I’m not certain. I think, when writing, we assume we’re creating a particular message, but once it’s written, it’s up to the reader to really define what that is. I’ve written a book that I’m in the midst of having edited now, and I think I wrote an underlying theme. I’m curious to see if my editor reads the same theme, or something else entirely. Similarly, if I’m able to get it published, I’d be very curious to hear what future readers think.

In a broader context, though, themes that really resonate with who people are, how they are, and what they find meaning in is something I enjoy both in my reading and writing.

In terms of genres, if you had asked me ten years ago, certainly I could narrow it to one or two. I grew up reading almost exclusively science fiction and fantasy. In the past few years, that’s been expanding more and more, especially into more historical and experimental fiction. Italo Calvino is one of my favourite writers lately, just for the interesting and quirky stories he created, and I think that’s inspired some of my writing.

JCL: So, what can we expect next from Martin Chandler? Are there any other projects you are currently working on?

MC: Many projects! I have a number of short stories out to publishers now, and a couple of them I’m very hopeful about. And, as I mentioned I have a science fiction book that I’m in the pre-publisher editing phase, and a historical novel about the first Confederation meeting, which I’m now on the second draft of editing. I’m more hesitant on the historical fiction, in part because people tend to think, “Oh, Confederation? How boring!” but it really wasn’t! Especially at the first conference, there was intrigue, romance, attempted power grabs…a lot more can be read in some of the primary sources than we hear about in school.

JCL: Finally, what advice would you like to give to aspiring authors out there?

MC: I think the main thing that’s kept me going is not to get discouraged. Every writer gets a large pile of rejection letters; it’s part of the territory. Just give your work another edit, and send it off to another publisher. Maybe they’ll like it, or maybe they’ll send you another rejection, in which case read it again, and send it off.

And keep your eyes open for interesting contests; ones like the String-of-10 can really push you to try new things, which can help build your writing skills.

____________

 j chris lawrenceBorn in the Blue Ridge Mountains of West Virginia, J. Chris Lawrence  spent much of his youth traveling and exploring the various cultural facets of American life. He currently lives in the Los Angeles area with his wife, two sons, and two cats. You can find more of Chris’s work online at jchrislawrence.com, or follow him on Twitter (twitter.com/JChrisLawrence) and Facebook (facebook.com/JCLFiction).

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