STAFF


by Aliza Greenblatt

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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 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 AkhtarStill haunted by your high school English teacher? Elmore Leonard can help. Print out his Ten Rules for Good Writing and invoke as often as necessary.

I was already–uneasily–employing Nos. 3 (“Never use a verb other than ‘said’ to carry dialogue.”) and 4 (“Never use an adverb to modify the verb ‘said’ . . .”) in my own writing, and I was thrilled to have had my instincts validated by a master.

To be a competent writer you must understand the rules of grammar and apply them appropriately. No matter how brilliant you are, you’ll be a bit hampered in life if you can’t write a decent business letter or error-free resume.

But great, compelling writers use language to capture essential truths; to paint vivid pictures; to thrust us into worlds we’ve never known existed and make us believe in them; to get inside the heads of anything that can even remotely be regarded as sentient and make us feel what motivates them.

The writing of young children is often remarkably effective because it’s unconstrained by rules. When you don’t know you “can’t” do something, your creativity soars.

But those rules aren’t intended to beat all the life out of your expression. They’re just an armature from which you build outward.

Part of becoming a fine writer is learning when to ignore good advice and follow your instincts. It’s dreadfully frustrating, because there’s such a very fine line, sometimes, between awkward misuse of language and the stunning power of authentic feeling.

Just keep writing til you get it right.

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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 on Every Day Fiction, Flash Fiction Online, 365tomorrows and Perihelion SF Magazine.

by RK Biswas

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Not Everything Lovely and Strange is a Dream
by Shellie Zacharia
Published by Monkey Puzzle Press
38 Pages

The title of this slim collection, plucked from one of the stories – “Fairy Tale Perhaps,” sets the tone right at the beginning. The reader is about to enter dreamscapes that are not exactly dreams. Imagination flies slantwise. Often reality is a glimpse through the corners of one’s eyes, where boundaries blur. The sixteen pieces flash and shimmer; flit past. Some leave, a sense of disquiet trailing behind them.

In the first story, curiously and also aptly entitled “She Calls it Storytelling,” a woman makes up stories about her guitar. Her husband isn’t fooled and tells her so. But that doesn’t stop them from playing the game, letting the music grow.

In the second – “The Artist’s House” – a voyeur spies on an intimate scene between an artist and her lover. The piece is a paragraph long sketch that reveals a lot about the artist. The narrative raises two questions in the reader’s head: who is spying on the artist, and why?

“Metamorphosis,” the third piece, is a fable about a woman. On the surface it seems to be another story about a woman emerging from a bad relationship, but something about it, makes one look again, and that’s when one catches a glimpse of the blossom, gets a whiff of something floral, and sweet. What remains behind is a picture of hope.

“Fairy Tale Perhaps,” true to the title it provides for the collection, is surreal and sublime. A sleepless man, at once a poet and dreamer, manning a 24-hour convenience store, gets a visitation. But this strange encounter is hardly a dream, or so the writer wills us to believe. For the protagonist, it is a life altering experience.

“Thirteen Sentences and One Fragment” is literally made up of thirteen and a half sentences. The protagonist falls in love with a poet, who tells her that her sonnets need not rhyme. This is a beautifully written piece, neither poetry nor prose, but something in-between, lyrical in its device.

In “Two Women in Blue,” one woman dyes her hair blue for a boy/man at a music store, holding on to hope as she offers up a strand. While the other in need of a new colour for her bedroom, gathers courage enough to ask the man behind the counter about his. Two separate pictures, but the narrative makes them part of the same canvas.

The seventh story – “After Your Big Sister Calls You an Immature Nuisance” is a list story much like list poems.

The eighth, “Call Becca” is about over-protective older sisters who can’t accept the changes in their brother’s life. This piece is written more in the style of a conventional narrative, but what makes it blend in with the rest is the pathos, left behind like skid marks of a reversing car.
In “Sid’s Music Cavern,” a woman (in search) drives north and wanders into a music store, and there, where the story ends, is where her song begins.

“Follow” is an allegorical tale of a pair of flip-flops leading a woman towards romantic adventure.

A young woman spends time with her grandmother, who she hasn’t seen in a long time in “Wind Chime.” Both have aged, changed, and their shared memories need bridges. This is a quiet story; one that conceals a sob and cracks hearts open like pistachio shells.

The twelfth piece in the collection – “Two Short Pieces in Which Birds (Real and Imagined) Appear” needs, in my opinion, a better title. The narrative comprising two parts – “Sleeping in the Summer Rental” and “Paper Crane” – are more prose poem than flash fiction. Delicately written, like water colours through words, they capture dreams and portray dreams of hope through bird motifs.

“Yesterday My Dog Talked” is a surreal piece, strange like a fall through Alice’s rabbit hole. But the dog, a teller of tales fantastic, desires something very ordinary.

“We have a Bear” is the story of a couple, who could be elderly and going through an empty-nest-syndrome or childless. The bear is real though, as real as deep need and/or vacuum can be. There is a taste of honey in the narrative; for didn’t Shelley say: “Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought?”

In “Of Course I will Return It” the narrative begins from the title itself. But what is it that the protagonist intends to return? In the story she describes the life of a woman whose blue bicycle she intends to take; an easy thing to return. One comes away with the feeling that there is more to it, and there is something else that needs to be returned.

The final story has a title that sounds like a story in itself – “This is not the Start of a Joke: A Monkey and a Banana were riding a Tandem Bicycle.” Here, Zacharia shifts away from the dreamscape tone of the preceding stories, and gives us a tightly woven narrative about budding romance, spiced with humour. The conclusion works well, both for the story as well as for the collection as a whole:

“We ride off into the sunset,” he said.

She looked at the sky. Orange. Pink. “Let’s ride.”

And ride we do, with the trail ends of each piece still fluttering somewhere in our minds. After all, this was a strange and lovely cruise, at the end of which one is left contemplating as the narratives merge with the horizon.

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 Rumjhum BiswasRK Biswas’s novel Culling Mynahs and Crows was published by Lifi Publications, India in January 2014. Authorspress, India published her short story collection—Breasts and Other Afflictions of Women—in December. Another story collection from Lifi Publications, New Delhi is due out in mid 2015. Biswas’s short fiction and poetry have been published in journals and anthologies, both in print and online, all over the world. Her poem Cleavage was long listed in the Bridport Poetry Prize in 2006 and also was a finalist in the Aesthetica Contest in 2010. In 2007, her story Ahalya’s Valhalla was among Story South’s notable stories of the net. Her poem Bones was a Pushcart Nominee from Cha: An Asian Literary Journal in 2010. In 2012 she won first prize in the Anam Cara Writer’s Retreat Short Story Contest. She blogs at http://www.rumjhumkbiswas.wordpress.com.

by Andreé Robinson-Neal

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Happy 2015! Wait … we still have one 2014 loose end to tie: the Month in Review! In case you were tied up in wrapping paper or long lines, we want to give you a recap of the many bundles of joy our writers offered last month that you might have missed.

Mary-Jane Holmes got us into the spirit with one swan (as compared to seven) and shared how this lovely, creative, random, and original creature can develop into the best flash you’ve ever created. While we might have hoped for six geese to go along with Mary-Jane’s swan, Julie Duffy’s “A Funny Thing” did provide six delightful tips on how to craft a good comedic write. Or was it humor? Go check it out and decide for yourself.

We had no pear trees either but were treated to a peach of a list of flash fiction markets that each offered treasures of their own. Hopefully in between your holiday dinners and gift-giving you had time to write and these markets anxiously await your work. However, if you’re still agonizing over what you got down on that napkin between courses, know that you aren’t alone: James Claffey shared his thoughts on writing flash fiction and you might be re-inspired by his colorful explanation of his relationship to the genre. But if, like those ten lords rumored to have been jumping around for part of last month, you are leaping to submit your collection of flash fiction, check out the ten interview snippets from Bonnie ZoBell, who got the inside scoop on what some flash fiction editors and publishers say about story order. On the other hand, if you’re a few stories short of a collection, why not consider submitting one story to the Queen’s Ferry Press anthology? Jim Harrington got the particulars from editor Tara L. Masih, who shared that these anthologies collect the best and most innovative stories in a given year.

Some of the best gifts you’ll find in FFC are Susan Tepper’s UNCOV/rd pieces. Be sure to check out December’s offering with Harvey Araton, because it will be the last. Don’t worry — Susan will be back this year with something new, but in the meantime, enjoy her conversation with a journalist-author-who-writes-about-a-journalist.

And speaking of newspapers, Sarah Crysl Akhtar‘s piece on inspiration was inspired by a recipe in the New York Times. Well, more to the point: the NYT recipe inspired a story and the whole experience inspired the piece. Get it? As Sarah said, inspiration comes from anywhere and you are sure to ponder the sources of your own as you read her December offering.

As our 2014 clock tick-tocked its way to a close, Aliza Greenblatt took a moment to introduce us to the EDF November top author, Angela Hui, whose story Birthday Girl got rave reviews. Before we close the book on 2014 and send our eleven pipers and twelve drummers back to the band, end your year with a laugh: Sarah Crysl Akhtar’s EDF Archive selection is a great topper from Samantha Memi.

Thank you for making 2014 a great year and we hope you’ll join us for more in flash fiction for 2015!

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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 AkhtarWhen a fictional protagonist has suffered the death of a child, the writer needs about as much artistry as an AP news bulletin to get readers on her side. Anything more is gravy.

I think I’m fairly sophisticated, but just describing poignant stories I read forty years ago can make my voice tremble.

I can reread a book–even a mystery–until the pages disintegrate–and I’m forced to buy another copy. But I’ll never go near Ruth Rendell’s The Tree of Hands again, though I consider it one of her finest works. The scene in which Rendell’s protagonist walks out of the hospital where her small child has just died is something I cannot revisit.

Thomas Cromwell is regarded as one of history’s least beloved figures, but Hilary Mantel, in Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, gives us a man loyally serving the purposes of his king while enduring the anguish of a bereaved father. To make someone who’s been a villain in countless historical novels understandable in all his complexities was a stunning achievement.

So why did I find a recent flash fiction story about a mother’s grief hilarious?

The author turned her protagonist into an idiot with some dreadful word choices:

Unfortunately, a wave rolled the vessel, trapping Nicole in the compartment.”

In writing about the most unspeakable experience a human being can live through, less is more. That “unfortunately” trivialized agony. It’s unfortunate to lose one’s job. It’s unbearable to lose one’s child.

Later, the bereaved mother imagines a journey to the site of her child’s death.

“Instead, Sharon walked down the hill to the rocky shore. If she swam far enough, dove deep enough, would she see her daughter again? She didn’t understand the currents the way her daughter had, however. She would never find her way to the Bering Sea.”

Had the author stopped after the second sentence of that paragraph, she’d have left readers with a powerful image of loss and longing.

She leaves us with a foolish one, instead. That word “however” turns grieving reflection into what reads like a possible plan thwarted only by the fear of getting lost.

We all understand the protagonist isn’t actually thinking of leaping into the Atlantic Ocean (the story is set in New England) and performing the prodigious feat of circumnavigating the globe til she finds her daughter’s watery grave. So why put that silly imagery into our heads?

This cannot be said too often, whether you’re writing flash, poetry or novels. Every word matters. One misstep can blow the whole thing up.

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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 on Every Day Fiction, Flash Fiction Online, 365tomorrows and Perihelion SF Magazine.

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