by Aliza Greenblatt

JC Towler

J.C. Towler, the second place winner in our String-of-10 contest, is in the market for a gently used Time-Turner or Transmorgifier. He has been an editor at Every Day Fiction since 2010, but wears more hats than you could possibly be interested in knowing about.


Private Lessons
by John Towler

 Orderlies barged through the entrance of triage, dropping their litter on the table with an unceremonious bump.  The wounded soldier reeked of the battlefield, burnt gunpowder and mud.  Her left arm dangled like a pendulum in decline, blood running down fingers traced chaotic patterns on the once white floor.

I performed a rapid assessment of her injuries, as Costas snipped away uniform remnants.

“You safe now…” He paused over her name tag.  “Private Gomez.  Estás seguro.”

He hooked her to a cardiac monitor then brushed a few strands of hair from of her staring, unresponsive eyes.

Dr. Kerns marched in, razor creases and polished shoes rivaling any rear echelon four-star.  A stateside doctor on voluntary rotation, he’d tried to join every branch of the service but kept getting four-f-ed over because of mole-like eyesight.


“Two thoracic GSW’s, through and through. Bilateral pneumothorax.  BP’s dropping.”

Kerns peered down at chest of the dying soldier through Coke-bottle glasses.  His nose crinkled in disdain.

“Those are exit wounds.”


“Running from the fight, no doubt.”  He poked at the injuries.  “She’s done. Save the effort for someone deserving.”

“Sir, this soldier has a rhythm.”

He grabbed her chart began writing.

“Injuries incompatible with life,” he said.

Orderlies returning with another wounded soldier interrupted my possibly career-ending reply.  A platoon sergeant followed behind.

“Gomez in here?” he asked.  I nodded.

“Do your best for her,” he said.  He jerked a thumb at the wounded man.  “She was carrying him.”


Aliza Greenblatt: Congratulations on placing in the String-of-Ten Contest! Can you tell us a little about how this story evolved? What were some of the challenges of writing a 250 word story?

JC Towler: My brother, Blake, just retired from a military career (24 years in the Navy and Army).  One of his assignments had him flying medevac choppers on a tour in Iraq 2.0 and he’s a real hero.  So the military was on my mind. I work with several women in my primary job (law enforcement) and while things have come a long way, there are still a few social Neanderthals – like Dr. Kerns in the story – who have some reservations about women in “men’s jobs”. It all coalesced into the theme and plot of Private Lessons.

Flash is a challenge because you’ve got to incorporate all those elements common to any sort of creative writing that make a reader want to spend time with your words. A 250 word story is just four times more challenging to write than a 1000 word story.

AG: You’ve been an editor for EDF for several years as well as a dedicated fiction writer. What do you think is the key to writing an effective flash piece?

JCT: Be interesting. Your title must be interesting.  Your opening sentence must be interesting. Your characters must be interesting.  As long as the reader is interested, they’ll stick with your story short of an unexpected natural disaster in their immediate vicinity. But even if their reading is interrupted by a natural disaster, your story should be so interesting that, as soon as they pull themselves from the rubble or find high ground to escape the rising flood waters, they should get back to turning pages.

AG: What I find interesting about this story is there’s a pivotal moment where several characters’ life courses are going to be decided. One is obviously Private Gomez and the others are the doctor and the narrator whose decisions could be career shattering. Being that you didn’t have a lot of time (in terms of word count) to build the story, was it a challenge to find the correct balance of tension and information to bring that moment to life?

JCT: Yes. First draft: 517 words.

The narrator wound up losing the most time in the story, but in some ways the loss became a gain. Less defined (to the point where even the gender is a bit ambiguous) the narrator is more of a shell that the reader fills in with their own personality. It’s like telling a story in the 2nd person without the force-fed “you” point of view. It’d be hard to do with a longer piece, but with flash it worked okay.

AG: There is the theme in this story of the people who seem to have honor and the people who actually do. The doctor should – and appears to have it – but it’s the nameless narrator and the private who make the honorable choices. Do you think the doctor will change from this experience? Will the narrator?

JCT: For the doctor, probably not. There are a certain people in this world whose egos will not allow them to accept personal error or admit to bad judgement and a large percentage of that group are represented by politicians, Fox News Personalities, and surgeons.

I hope the narrator would be more assertive the next time something like this happens, but as a subordinate to the doctor in both military rank and in the operating room hierarchy, it would be tough. Laws protecting whistleblowers are completely inadequate and in reality when somebody is faced with “doing the right thing” the “right thing” takes a back seat to career, family, and reputation.

AG: I’m always curious what drives writers to become writers. Why do you tell stories? What keeps you writing? What type of stories do you prefer to write?

JCT: I’m principally a fantasy and science fiction guy (which is odd in that both times I’ve placed in the String-of-Ten contest, neither piece has been in that genre). Honestly, my writing has taken a back seat to work, family and my second job as a videographer.  I’m very visually and sound-oriented, to the point that when I write I have to remind myself “Don’t forget the other three senses” and video work appeals to me because those are the primary mediums of expression.  (My latest effort is about the rescue and rehabilitation of a hummingbird.  You can watch it here:

AG: Thanks for taking the time to talk with us.

JCT: Thanks for the questions.


 Aliza profile-pic-2Aliza 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 Andreé Robinson-Neal 

Andree Robinson-Neal

Did you open the window? If you hadn’t noticed, it is spring. You’ve probably had your head down, hands to the keys (or pad and pen), writing away for your next submission; now is a great time to pause because you may have missed some great information, interviews, and updates from your fellow writers at Flash Fiction Chronicles.

The month started with Sarah Crysl Akhtar‘s tips to banish writer’s block. She covers everything from mythical beasts to birthing babies; don’t worry–every tip relates to writing. Susan Tepper gave us a glimpse into the head of someone who seems like he never had writer’s block in her UNCOV/rd interview with Stephen V. Ramey, who shared about his new collection, “Glass Animals,” among other tidbits.

If you’ve been locked to your desk for too long you may have missed the announcement for the latest “String-of-10″ contest. You will have another chance to enter the next one, but in the meantime, read about the list of winners and Jim Harrington’s Q&A with Gay Degani, the finalist judge. Gay is a prolific writer herself and in March had one of her collections serialized over at Every Day Novels.

Nancy Stohlman gave us a reminder about that manuscript from November (remember NaNoWriMo, 2013?) in her overview of NaNo’s youngest cousin, Flashnano. If you need to do something with all that flash you’ve written over your winter hibernation, Bonnie ZoBell‘s interview with Mike Young from NOÖ Journal and  Magic Helicopter Press might be just the motivation you need to prepare a submission or two. If you need inspiration from some fellow flash fiction writers, check out a list of “why flash” from the mind of  Randall Brown.

Jim Harrington  offered some serious words to writers about conquering self-doubt (hint: self-reflection is quite an elixir!) as well as great tips on ending well (or at least ending at an appropriate place). Aliza Greenblatt interviewed Audrey Kalman, EDF’s Top Author for February, where you can find great pointers on commitment to writing. The month ended with a reprint of a 2009 FFC article on hint fiction; Robert Smartwood shares his thoughts on meeting your reader halfway along with a number of reasons why being a traditionalist is overrated.

As you see, FFC was busy in March and there is always more to come. Sarah, Susan, and others have already gotten started with April; get those windows open, let some light in, and get reading.


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 She writes under the name AR Neal, who will hopefully one day be identified as a famous NaNoWriMo participant.


by Gay Degani

Caroline Hall, Winner of String-of-Ten 6Caroline Hall, this year’s String-of-Ten Six First Place Winner with her story, “Snowman Suicide,” was raised by English majors during the Nintendo generation. Now a teacher-on-hiatus, she has attended ten schools and worked at seven. She is a compulsive hiker and a New Englander who says “wicked awesome” and used the same window fan until it caught fire.  She writes short stories and flash fiction.

[NOTE: The story appears today at Every Day Fiction.]

Gay Degani: I’d love to know what your first reaction was to the list of words: LITTER-ENTRANCE-SAFE-SPIRITUAL -SPOTLIGHT-BOOKMARK-CATASTROPHE-RAZOR-FAULTY-ULTIMATE and the aphorism: “I prefer the errors of enthusiasm to the indifference of wisdom,” from Anatole France.  How did you approach the prompt?

Caroline Hall: My immediate response was that a number of the words on the list–razor, faulty, ultimate, and catastrophe—seemed to cluster together naturally.  To my mind, they grew organically from the concepts of depression and suicide.  I also knew I wanted to use the word “spiritual” because I love it!

When I looked at the list, the word “razor” practically glowed. A few years ago, I had surgery for a bizarre and not-so-threatening cancer.  After I was declared “fine,” I got strangely depressed.  I spent a lot of time in doctors’ and therapists’ waiting rooms that year.  I wrote a poem about waiting rooms and the endless string of medical appointments.  In the poem, I described patients with eyes like pills and mouths like razor blades.  Forty or fifty drafts later, the poem still didn’t work.  But when I saw the word “razor” on the list of words for the String-of-10 competition, I knew the setting and mood of “Snowman Suicide” instantly.  I was glad to get the chance to resuscitate the image and pleased that the story was much better than the original poem.

For me, writing “Snowman Suicide” was about balancing passive and active.  As a patient, you spend a great deal of time passively waiting, and I wanted to capture that feeling.  But I’ve also met a lot of people who fight back against their illnesses and circumstances with spunk and humor.  I wanted to make sure that some of their creativity, intelligence, and strength appeared in the story.

GD: You mentioned your goals for this story included balancing passive and active, so what other elements do you keep in mind when you are working on a piece of writing?  Characters you’ve touched on, what about structure and theme?  What do you handle these?

CH: My successful stories usually begin with an object—in this case, a snowman.  Characters start out being me and evolve as they interact with the object.  They develop slowly, which makes for some embarrassing drafts.  But getting to know and—sometimes— slowly fall in love with my characters is a joy.  Sometimes, it surprises me which characters I fall in love with and how big an impact they have on my life. Workshops and readers are helpful for clarifying the conflict in stories, for finding spots that don’t make sense or feel true.

I studied English and am a closet Classics geek, and my tendency was—and still is—to write Latinate or Victorian-style prose.  My first stories were designed to be analyzed rather than read. Finally, I realized that I could have a vital message, but that didn’t matter if readers needed a pot of coffee to survive the first paragraph.

As a result, I work hard at paring stories down to their cores.  I started writing flash fiction by accident; flash fit the funny clumps of time I squirreled away for writing better than longer stories did.   It was a happy accident.  Forcing myself to adhere to strict word limits has made my sentences stronger and leaner.

GD: You mention “paring down.”  I’m wondering what you look for when you edit your work.  What are your go-to moves?

CH: I spent a few years writing terrible poetry, so my main rule is “if it sounds the way your poetry sounded, it needs to go!” I love alliteration and repetition, but I have to make sure they don’t hijack the story or become distracting.  I’ll turn clauses into phrases.  In early drafts, I tend to stack adjectives and details.  I’ll have three or four when I need one.  In the first paragraph, my snowman initially went through five different diagnoses; three was enough.

GD: As I said in my interview with Jim Harrington, what drew me to this story, was a lot of things: “The title, the first line, the humor, the surprise, its clarity. ‘Snowman Suicide,’ who wouldn’t want to read that story?”  All this makes me want to read more of your work.  Can you tell me where to find other stories of yours and what you are working on now?

CH: “Snowman Suicide” is my first published work.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.  Earlier, I mentioned that my friends from the mental health community—if you can call it that—inspire me constantly with their intelligence, wit, candor, and kindness.  I am proud, grateful, and honored to know them and to have a chance to represent them in this story.  I hope I’ve done them justice.


gay 2Gay Degani has published fiction on-line and in print including her short collection, Pomegranate Stories. She is founder of EDF’s Flash Fiction Chronicles, a staff editor at Smokelong Quarterly, and blogs at Words in Place. She’s had three stories nominated for Pushcart consideration and won the 11th Annual Glass Woman Prize. Her linked-story novella is part of Pure Slush’s 2014- A Year in Stories anthology and her her serialized novel, What Came Before, is currently online at Every Day Novels.

by Andreé Robinson-Neal

To be “taken to school,” a phrase that is perfect for March Madness basketball fans. It evokes images of one team or player being trounced by the other. In a less athletic context, to be “taken to school” suggests a new level of learning or insight gained through an unexpected opportunity.

Readers of The Fatherlands will know that Michael Trocchia has not only taken them to school but has guided them through a graduate-level study of emotions and relationships. He is kind enough to provide a few guideposts—notes about certain inspirations—but not until after the last page. Fatherlands offers 33 glimpses into 33 rooms and each is its own diorama of relationship, conflict, love, pain, confusion, joy, and life.

The man and then she turned to the two in the corner, finding one lifeless body on the floor, the string of his kite tight round his neck, and the other body waiting there, humming a tune that all but strangles the room. (“XII”)

Trocchia offers lessons about the relationships that revolve around the man, who is sometimes friend, sometimes husband, and always father.

He’d want to believe in the color of his daughter’s eyes the way he believed in hers. (“XIX”)

He is an uneven man, his speech is uneven. His walk is uneven, he leans out of windows on Sunday. He smokes a few cigarettes a week. He keeps things, such as this, from his wife. He arrives home from work in the dark part of the day and he squints to see the faces of his children. (“XXVII”)

Each piece is a snippet of life, an exhale or held breath that captures the raw and unsullied life as it orbits the father, rotates about the fatherless, and dreams of futures past.

Readers will feel wiser and older when they reach the author page at the end of The Fatherlands and will anxiously await the next opportunity to be “schooled” by Michael Trocchia. Find out more at


Andree Robinson-Neal 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 She writes under the name AR Neal, who will hopefully one day be identified as a famous NaNoWriMo participant.

by Susan Tepper


Nathaniel Tower is a writer, teacher, runner, coach and juggler. He is the founding editor of the literary magazine Bartleby Snopes. His short fiction has been published in over 200 online and print journals and has been nominated for numerous awards. You can read more from Nate on his blog.

Susan Tepper:  So what are you like to live with?

Nate Tower: I’m not hard to live with. I’m not the type of person who leaves the toilet seat up or tosses knives slathered with peanut butter in the sink. I try to be tolerable. Yes, I spend too much time on the computer, listen to loud music, and sometimes keep strange hours, but I do my best not to bother anyone. Honestly, I think living with me is pretty easy. Every roommate I’ve ever had has found me agreeable.

Nagging Wives

ST: Hmm… I often wonder how the toilet seat up became a  yardstick for what is  a good or bad husband? At any rate, you wrote a  story collection  titled  Nagging Wives, Foolish Husbands that  I would call dramatically funny. I’ve never used this term before but I like it for your book. Are you naturally funny? Does your wife laugh at you? With you? At you in secret?

NT: Dang, what a loaded question. Let me address the toilet seat first. I’m not sure why anyone would ever leave it up. Think of all that goes on in that bowl. Do you really want your whole bathroom constantly exposed to that? Toilets aside, I can now focus on how funny I am. I taught high school English for 9 years, and my students thought I was hilarious. At least one told me that I should’ve been a comedian instead. Looking back, maybe that student was just telling me I was a lousy teacher. If I did a stand-up act, people would demand a refund. But I wouldn’t give them one. But being a comedian isn’t about being naturally funny. I guarantee that 75% of the people I’ve met have laughed. My wife is one of those people. She laughs with me at least twice per week and at me at least once per week. I’d feel confident saying that 50% of my jokes make at least one person laugh. I’d also say that people laugh at me when I’m not trying to be funny with at least 50% success.

ST: Well, you certainly have your stats in order. Since we’ve never met in person, I can’t vouch for your on-site funniness. But I can vouch for the book’s funniness, which totally slayed me. Political satire is at work in this collection. I’m going to “mask” one of your story titles, so as not to give a spoiler alert.

In your story The A Party, a husband and wife attend a particular event at the wife’s insistence. She seems a most modern gal, while the husband is rather conservative (at least by Northeast Democratic standards). You split husband and wife into two dissenting political ideologies. That not only made the story brilliant, and original, but added the ingredient most crucial to all fiction: tension.

NT: I’ve so rarely gotten political in a story, yet several people seem to think this is the best story I’ve written. My intent was never to write a political story though. I was focused on the challenges presented in the relationship. Of all the stories in the collection, this one probably has the most potential to offend. It has the equal potential to offend both sides of the issue. And maybe that’s the best way to write a political short story.

ST: Love is all about politics, though, isn’t it? Who wins which domestic war, who defends what principles (like the toilet seat), who gives up territories in acts of appeasement. You, as the writer, know this instinctively and that’s why these stories play out so well. Conceptually bringing to mind that film “Enemies: A Love Story.”

Your story Skydivers and Pornographers is a total humdinger. It is completely off-the-wall, yet I bought in to every word, every bizarre sexually charged scene. I wanted to meet Marcus, myself, by the time it was over. Can you give us a hint of where this story came from within yourself?

NT: Every writer needs a story where the main character is a porn star, right?

ST: If you say so, Nate. You have brainwashed me into going along with any story idea you develop.

NT: As for its origins, I think it follows a similar line as The A Party. You take two characters with very different ideologies/backgrounds/lifestyles. There’s your tension. You throw in some porn elements. Just imagine what it would be like married to a porn star. Seriously. What percentage of people would feel comfortable in that situation?

ST: None that I know! Or at least who’d admit it.

NT: Of course, that topic in itself isn’t wild enough. So we need a porn star who can “act” while performing astounding feats of physical endurance. Again, a story with what are essentially two so-called ‘enemies’ trying to work things out together, or gain the upper hand.

ST: I bet it was fun to write.

NT: A great deal of fun.

ST: What will come next from the inspiration of Nate Tower? Or do you prefer Nathaniel?

NT: In my daily life, I much prefer people call me Nate, but I like using Nathaniel when I am in author mode. It sounds more distinguished, doesn’t it?

ST: It does! Like Hawthorne, at the very least.

NT: Yes! I could see people, years from now, talking about Nathaniel Tower’s 21st century classic. But I can’t see anyone talking about the work of Nate Tower. Can you imagine a teacher asking his students, “So what do you think Nate was really trying to say with this talking wildebeest?”

As far as the next round of inspiration, I have a few things in the works. An on-going serial novel up at JukePop, Misty Me and Me, which, coincidentally, is kind of an adventure porno story. But not as dirty as it sounds. I also have a novel I’ve been tinkering with for almost 5 years now called The Funeral Attendee. Maybe I will get that all polished up this year. Lastly, I am trying to figure out what to do with my mini-novella, One-Time Use. It’s about a revolutionary new procedure called The Stas Penis that is billed as the future of sex: it enhances pleasure (for both parties), prevents STDs, and has a special feature to keep unwanted pregnancies to a minimum.

ST: Maybe you should get it patented.

NT: It may end up being the feature story in another collection this year. That new one would be a bit more wild than Nagging Wives, Foolish Husbands. If you can believe that.

ST: I believe… I believe…


Susan-Tepper200wSusan Tepper has authored 5 published books. The latest is a novel in stories called The Merrill Diaries, from Pure Slush Books. She is a named finalist in storySouth Million Writers Award for 2013, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in fiction (2010), and nine times for the Pushcart Prize. Tepper is a staff editor at Flash Fiction Chronicles where she conducts the interview series UNCOV/rd.

Next Page »