STAFF


by Aliza Greenblatt

blunk_team

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 Sarah Crysl Akhtar

Sarah AkhtarLong ago, in a universe far, far away, I was just a hapless high school girl hoping to survive ’til graduation. If we had to read it in English class, I hated it.

Lucky for me, my best friend’s mother was a librarian, and I liked her, so reading recommendations from that household were nontoxic to me. I did learn to love some of the Brontës before I got out of school.

But I couldn’t stand Dickens. Even then, I had a strong allergic reaction to the sentence containing 350 words when it only needed twenty. Later, it all became clear. If you’re paid by the word, economy ain’t your mantra.

Many, many years later, someone gave me a partial set of those Great Books for the masses that ate up a lot of trees in the first half of the twentieth century. And desperate for something to read one grim afternoon, I finally picked up Dickens’ A Child’s History of England. It seemed to be the least awful choice.

I loved it.

With the simplicity of a father explaining universal concepts to his children while tucking them into bed, Dickens made us understand the extraordinary gift of the English to the world—the concept of Common Law, to which even the monarch was subject. The courage of people who had little but that hunger for justice and fairness, struggling against the powerful who had every imaginable weapon to use against them—this was one of the most thrilling stories I’d ever read.

I still hate Great Expectations. But Dickens—a little less so. And I wonder how he’d have written those novels if financial considerations hadn’t so influenced his prose.

You can find plenty of naked potentates shivering their way through the art and literature universe. And plenty of mockery for the person who says “I don’t know nuthin’ about art, I just know what I like.”

Well, I don’t know nuthin’ about music, and I’m as close to being innumerate as anyone can be who still manages to balance her checkbook. But I don’t need an understanding of complex mathematical structure to be able to love Bach. His genius was to compose music, so sophisticated in form that it seems like an instruction manual for the creation of the universe, yet expresses universal human emotion. Something, as they say, for everyone.

Do scholarly explanations of his achievement enhance my enjoyment of Bach? Not really. I can’t understand them. I already feel how much that music contains.

And I know why I don’t like Chopin. Pathetique indeed!

I’m neither a barbarian nor a cognoscenta. I just trust my own taste.

Do I enjoy learning more about an interesting text? Yes, and I’ll read both the afterward and the foreward, afterwards.

It’s helpful to have a guide to a written work that may contain possibly-obscure wordplay and cultural references; whose plot and character motivations require an understanding of cultures or historical events or timeframes we may be unfamiliar with; we might miss the hilarity if we don’t understand an in-joke, or not comprehend the insult if we don’t realize the import of passing a piece of bread with one hand, or the other.

But sometimes an academic’s analysis seems intended to kick all the joy right out of the reader’s hand.

My copy of Pride and Prejudice is so fragile now that I really shouldn’t touch any page I don’t actually need to read. But one evening, drunk with recklessness, I pushed past “The End.”

Talk about a wrong turn!

You’d never have believed, after plowing through that learned afterward, that Jane Austen had a lively sense of humor, a fine eye for the ridiculous, and that the book was, in fact, a hilarious skewering of class pretensions, the devaluing of women as individuals and the idiocies of British inheritance law.

Thank God that these days the common man has the internet. In those dark lonely hours when you doubt your own judgment, you can find comfort and validation as you discover that even some sophisticates didn’t like Hemingway or thought Gertrude Stein was full of sawdust. That there are, in fact, varied, sometimes contradictory opinions about every work of literature, and you needn’t feel ashamed of your own.

Tastes are planted, nurtured and shaped; they’re informed by our life experiences; what makes us cry at fifteen might make us laugh at fifty. That boring paperback you tossed away at twenty might really seem to contain the secret of the universe when you read it as a grandparent.

But all of us have strong instincts that can smell out the fraudulent beneath the fashionable, or truthfulness wrapped in an unspectacular package.

Don’t be afraid to decide for yourself what’s “good.”

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Sarah Crysl Akhtar’s 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 onEvery Day Fiction, Perihelion SF Magazine, 365tomorrows and Flash Fiction Online.)

by Andreé Robinson-Neal

Nancy Stohlman

Have you ever read something that made you feel the space of the characters, like what you’re reading isn’t about someone else—some fictional them—but a very real and present you? Nancy Stohlman’s The Vixen Scream takes you there, whether you want to go or not.

The room smells musty, like wet clothes were shoved and left to die in all the corners. (Death Row Hugger)

Stohlman offers a you a seat on a rickety coaster ride—not one of those break-neck affairs that rushes you from start to finish and leaves you unsure of what happened, but that one ride at the carnival you’ve always been afraid of because there are things in the dark that sneak up and grab you unawares. What do you say about falling in love with a homunculous of your boyfriend? If you’re Lazarus, do you long for Jesus or the tomb? What is the “regular life” of a Jehovah’s Witness like?

I’m not saying I’m proud of how it all went down. But maybe if those collection agencies hadn’t been calling me all the time. After avoiding another 800 number last Saturday morning, I looked over at you sleeping, lips pursed, eyelids fluttering, all mussed up like a baby koala, and I thought: there are plenty of people out there who would pay good money for that. (I Pawned My Boyfriend for $85)

vixen-cover-final

The prose is hauntingly beautiful, to the point you bite your lip because you know something is coming, but you don’t know what and the anticipation is killing you and then, there it is: the vixen, ehem, just had fox babies and let them run off. Of course it’s fantastic, unbelievable, impossible, but is it really? If you read The Quickening, you’ll believe. Stohlman answers every question you’ve ever thought to yourself in the darkest night, including “what’s the cost of a broken heart?” and “what would a sculpture of my spite look like?”

There are tales that will make you laugh and then immediately look around in wonder, because it might not have been appropriate to giggle at such an experience. To wit:

One morning Mr. G woke up without his penis. It was just missing. There was no blood, no struggle. He tried to remember when he’d last seen it. Certainly he’d gone to the bathroom before bed? Yes, the unflushed toilet confirmed. (Missing: Reward)

The snickers are sure to continue as Mr. G looks for his lost appendage in the bedsheets, piles of clothes, and ultimately in the butter dish. There are moments that will make you wonder if you should stop and cry, or simply agree and keep reading. And just when you’ve gotten in the groove with the vixen and the fox, there are real fox statistics to make you think. Yes, Stohlman educates as well as entertains.

But there is an underlying something that adds a shiny brilliance to each piece. You want more, but the stories are so very complete. Of course you want to know what happened next to the magician’s assistant, but psychically, you already know. As you let out the breath you’ve been holding for a hundred-plus pages, you realize you’ve reached the end, and you want more. Find it at www.nancystohlman.com.

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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 Andreé Robinson-Neal

Andree-New

The crew at FFC jumped into 2015 with both feet. Jim Harrington rang the year in with some thoughts on dialect and reminded us that while we understand those phonetic spellings, our readers might not. We may want our stories to evoke emotion — confound, upset, tickle, tug — but the last thing we want to do is “confuse the reader.” To underscore this point, Sarah Crysl Akhtar‘s treatise on poor word choices is a wonderful example of how a single word can be fatal to the emotion of the story. James Claffey‘s post on the turned phrase may give you pause as you ponder your latest writings — as he (as per his wife) says, “words can be fractured things, awkwardly spliced and stitched together.” However, as our three staff members suggest, it’s about craft: not stringing any old word to another, but precisely drawing together the perfect piece of flash.

Kaye Linden gave us a handout that should help us get our almost-ready-for-submission writing in order with a 37-point list of tips on flash fiction (and a set of bonus poetry points too) and Rohini Gupta shared her reasons for writing flash fiction. The reminder of the infinite possibilities that we can create within a handful of words should get you excited to continue writing (or to get started) this year.

Need some tips to enhance your writing? January had a bunch to offer.

Dino Laserbeam gave us five solid points for writing twist endings, including a reminder that a twist isn’t always necessary in flash. Gloria Garfunkel gave us a glimpse into the far-reaching aspects of flash fiction and what you can do with it if you try. For you audiophiles, Jeremy Szal offered 5+1 do’s and don’ts for podcasting your story. RK Biswas reviewed Shellie Zacharia’s flash collection, Not Everything Lovely and Strange is a Dream, which you might want to pick up for added inspiration. Take a careful read through “Get Thee Hence” from Sarah Crysl Akhtar and remember: be true to your expression, follow the tenets of grammar, and “keep writing til you get it right.” Incorporate all the tips and tricks offered throughout the month and maybe you’ll be one of EDF’s top authors, like Amy Sisson, who was interviewed by Aliza Greenblatt.

No matter where you are in your writing career, FFC’s staff is here to give you the latest craft, genre, and inspirational information. Be sure to connect regularly as there is something new each month!

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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

Can sophisticated palates coexist with a hankering after Cheez Whiz™ on white? Mais oui, dude.

Popular fiction can be great—even superb, like a freshly-made soup from a good deli department—and be worth more of your money and your time than anything the cognoscenti might be touting.

I’ll take John Le Carré, Elmore Leonard or Eric Ambler over most literary prize-winning authors any day. I like something I can get my teeth into and savor, without vaporously yearning characters spouting five hundred pages of angst. I admire authors who can make every word of spare lean prose do the heavy lifting where someone else might inflict a fifty-sentence paragraph on me.

And I’m not ashamed of enjoying a well-worn Agatha Christie paperback either.

There’s some stuff, though, that I can’t choke down even if I’m climbing the walls for something—anything! to read. There’s Cheez Whiz™, and then there’s Cheetos™, and even with a rumbling stomach I find that there is a junk food too far.

A lucky few writers have become very, very rich from truly awful books. And with tears in my eyes and a ragged throat I cry “more power to them,” even if I find it more pleasurable to read the text on an orange juice carton than a chapter in any of their works.

What does all of this mean?

Before you can write bad stuff for big profit, you need to learn how to write well.

You need to know the difference between a commercial decision and an inability to produce good prose.

Publishers are always looking for their new blockbuster flagship author. There’s plenty of competition. They don’t have time to deal with amateurs who think it’s got to be easy to do a knock-off of Mary Higgins Clark. They want professionals who can grasp not just that something sells, but why. Who can write to an editor’s request or a division’s need.

Fellow readers often respond to my critiques on comments threads as though I’m Attila the Hun’s cranky sister. Why must I be so picky? Yeah, someone’ll say, the story had a few holes in it but heck, I gave it five stars anyway!

That’s a fine way of encouraging a young, hopeful writer not to get any better.

Maybe this is your first publication, or your third, and your critique circle and your MFA instructor have all been incredibly encouraging, and finally you can call yourself an author. And now all these readers out there are patting you on the head. Except for the mean one who’s managed to find an absurdity or some slightly overheated prose, and call you on them.

People read stories for a lot of reasons, all of them equally valid. Some just want a quick entertainment that hits the mood of the moment. Some hope for something memorable and moving. Others are trying to refine their own craft, and the story and the reactions to it are both valuable.

For real writing success, you need to know what’s good, what’s bad, and why, and then reach for the audience that suits you best.

____________

Sarah Crysl Akhtar’s 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, 365tomorrows, Flash Fiction Online and Perihelion SF Magazine.)

 

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