STAFF


by Jessi Cole Jackson

Profile

Brian Toups lives part time on Earth, part time in the multiverse of fantasy. When not telling stories, he enjoys meeting new characters, both real and imaginary, and counts Aragorn, Kvothe, Pi Patel, and St. Thomas Aquinas among his confidants. He has a background in philosophy and quotes Aristotle frequently, to the dismay of his few devoted friends. His favorite sport is Ultimate Frisbee.

Jessi Cole Jackson: Could you talk a little bit about the inspiration behind “The Unwinnable Fight“? Do you have experience with soldiers coming back from war?

Brian Toups: I’ve often been told: write what you know. Never having been a soldier myself, I focused primarily on the emotions and memories I have in common with the main character, Isaac. I also relied heavily on the experiences of friends and family. My uncle Joe served in WWII with a glider division. It was a hard job because mid 20th century gliders would often lose wings and crash into forests. They were called flying coffins. My uncle Francis served with the marines in the Battle of Iwo Jima. I have also paid close attention to the stories of my peers who are currently in Berlin, Baghdad, and Okinawa.

The bit in “The Unwinnable Fight” about Isaac painting C-130s with a tiny paintbrush is real. I’m told, when a marine’s paint sprayer breaks, he or she just keeps on painting.

JCJ: You mentioned in an email you’re primarily a speculative fiction author, what drew you to Isaac and this literary story in particular?

BT: It’s true, most of the stories I write are speculative fiction, and I feel at home in that genre. I knew it would be difficult to write a literary story, but I never realized how much it would stretch my imagination. Every time I wanted to introduce immortal gods or a few good-natured dragons into the plot, I had to resist.

Some say that returning-from-war stories are worn out as an old combat boot. I wanted to write a story that treated a character, not so much as a soldier, but as a man and a son. The story, as a result, does not have much to do with the war itself. In a lot of ways, it’s easier for Isaac to risk his life overseas than risk his masculinity and his emotions facing his father. He prefers to serve and follow orders, rather than traverse the truly dangerous terrain of his own insecurities and his mother’s absence, the ever-present lack that deceives him into thinking he has no home.

JCJ: Would you tell me a little about your writing process?

BT: I always start with a character. It’s usually something vague at first, like a name or an odd habit or unusual job. In this story, I started with Isaac. At first, he was just a guy standing on a sidewalk with a bag over his shoulder. He looked more like a runaway than a soldier. Next, I figured out who he was and what he wanted, and then I went from there. Isaac’s identity as a soldier has shaped him profoundly, but not so much as his identity as a son.

JCJ: According to your blog, you’re going on a roadtrip at the end of the summer! Where are you headed? What’re you most looking forward to on your trip?

BT: I’ve spent the last four autumns in Tallahassee, FL studying creative writing. I’m excited to wake up in a different city every day and write. Changing places, seasons, and faces always get me inspired. I write every day, no matter how poorly, but when I’m traveling the quality of my work is much better.

I am ready to be spontaneous with this trip, so my current destination is west of here, the obvious limitation being the Pacific Ocean. There are plenty of friends and family along the way to keep me sane.

As a writer, sometimes I feel burdened with glorious purpose and think I have something meaningful and profound to offer the world. Other times I realize, with no small measure of humility, I am just making things up and writing them down.

I think this road trip is about doing something and hoping for something I know not what. “Chasing the wind” as Kvothe would say in Patrick Rothfuss’ incredible book The Wise Man’s Fear.

JCJ: I loved the tension in your story, particularly that it’s primarily internal–Isaac’s not fighting with anything or anyone but himself in the moments we see. What do you think it is about Isaac that readers, even those of us who have never been in the military, can relate to in his struggles and indecision? What is it about returning home that can be so very hard?

BT: He is deeply wounded by loss and by his childhood experience with being powerless. He is afraid of things he can’t control. I think, in that sense, Isaac could be anyone. There are specific details of his struggles, how he runs away from home by going to war, how he tries to break out of the crippling sameness of his town.
I think there’s another reason, too. When he’s out there, the adrenaline is kicking, he doesn’t think too much about home, and it’s easier if he thinks he has nothing to go back to. But he needs a home, and he can’t keep telling himself his home is the war, or else he’ll die inside, having nothing good and noble to fight for.

I pray for our soldiers every day. I think being a warrior or a protector is a noble profession, and it’s important to remind our men and women in the armed forces that they are invaluable, even when certain members among them make mistakes. No amount of paper or ink will ever do justice to those who serve, to those who preserve freedom on the battlefield while peace remains elusive. There is not a breath of mine that they can’t claim as their own.

JCJ: Based on twitter retweets, it appears you’re a fan of C.S. Lewis (I am as well!). Does Lewis’s work influence your writing? Who are some of your other favorite authors or thinkers?

BT: It’s good to meet another Lewis fan! C.S. Lewis is my favorite author. He beats out J.R.R. Tolkien and Ursula K. Le Guin by a lion’s whisker.

C.S. Lewis is a superb example of a man who was both an artist and a philosopher. I’m inspired by his life, partly because he was so honest about his faults and failings. Whenever he had struggles, he wrote about them. He was open about his ideological shifts: his journey from childish belief to agnosticism, through atheism, back to the Christian faith. He knew how to evoke emotion with the simplest language, and I think the use of a child’s words to explain complex ideas is the mark of true genius.

I read every day, usually fantasy, but I try to keep that balanced with philosophical, religious, or moral works, and I even inject some secular Vonnegut or Hemingway every now and then. I’m inspired by Leo Tolstoy’s philosophy of art, and what it is to be an artist. I never make it two years without re-reading Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea.

JCJ: Do you have any writing projects currently in the works? Could you point readers to anything else of yours, either forthcoming or published?

BT: I am currently seeking representation for my debut novel Star Kin.

The plot follows Ava, an evening star, after she is taken from the sky as a child. Human in appearance and raised in the wilderness by a dragon, she has legitimate identity issues. She meets Oberon, a renegade angel, and together they have to stop a mysterious enemy who is draining the light from the world.

I never stop writing. I can hardly spend three days editing my older novels without feeling the desire to invent a world or sketch a character. I hope to have more stories published in the future with Every Day Fiction and others.


Jessi_Cole_Jackson-150x150

Jessi Cole Jackson lives and works in New Jersey, though she’s not from there. By day she builds costumes for a Tony Award-winning theatre. By night she writes stories, questionable poetry and lots of abandoned outlines. When she’s not working she enjoys cooking, reading, and exploring local farms. You can read more about her sometimes exciting (but mostly just normal) life at jessicolejackson.com.

We are thrilled to announce that Michael Mattson is the new managing editor for Flash Fiction Chronicles.

by Jessi Cole Jackson

Profile

Olivia Berrier is often clueless and always shoeless. She left behind many footprints at Hollins University in Virginia, where she studied Creative Writing and Mathematics. After college, her bare feet have carried her through many experiences, but her life remains anchored by writing. Olivia writes fantasy fiction, sometimes with a mathematical inclination, and has been dropping stories like breadcrumbs across the Internet since 2007. 

Jessi Cole Jackson: On your blog you talk a little bit about the inspiration behind The World As Seen By Angels. Could you tell FFC readers a bit about where your story began?

Olivia Berrier: Absolutely! This story began with a bracelet I received from my aunt a while ago. I’m not sure why, but I love playing with this bracelet while I’m thinking (it just has a nice weight to it, I think) so I decided I wanted to write a story involving both angels and beaded bracelets. A few false starts later, I had the ‘seeing in metaphors’ idea, and the rest of the story took root from there.

Bracelet

JCJ: Would you tell me a little about your writing process?

OB: I do most of my best writing in the early morning, from about 4:30 – 6:30 before I go to work. My morning sessions involve tea, three writing candles, soft music, and if I’m lucky I have a kitty cat named Dickens on my lap. It’s deliciously distraction-free, and since I just woke up, my mind is still in ‘dream’ mode, which is very similar to writing mode.

 

JCJ: I loved how the story’s clear details clashed with our inability to understand what beads and knots represented for the men and women. Yet the Angel specifically understood the young man’s struggle in real world terms. Why focus on depression, out of all of life’s struggles?

OB: I have some personal experience with the challenges of depression, and it took me many years to understand that the time I spent fighting for my mental health isn’t wasted time as I once believed. I think the turning point for me came when I stopped trying to carve this problem out of my world and started learning to live with it. I know there has been a lot of movement in recent years towards ending the stigma and bringing these topics out to really talk about them, and I saw an opportunity with this story to be part of that movement.

JCJ: You mention in your author profile on Amazon that you studied mathematics and you memorize the decimals of Pi for fun. Does your love for math and telling stories intersect at all? Also, how many decimals are you up to?

OB: At the moment, about 60 decimals. My goal was to crack 100 by the end of the year, so I should probably get moving on that… But, yes! I do have some math-writing crossovers. The only one currently published is my short story featured in the No More Heroes Anthology, which has a mathematician main character who specializes in Julia Sets. In the recesses of my computer, I have others in the works as well. They haven’t yet found publishers, but I’m hopeful. One of my goals as a writer is to help bring math to people who might not have enjoyed it otherwise.

JCJ: What are you reading? Who are some of your favorite authors?

OB: At the moment, I’m reading a lot of Dean Koontz. I find that his incredibly concise writing style helps me improve my own. Some of my literary heroes include J.R.R. Tolkien, Tamora Pierce, Jonathan Stroud, and Brian Jacques.

JCJ: What projects are you currently working on? Can you point readers to some of your other stories, either forthcoming or published?

OB: Why, yes I certainly can! I have a list of all of my published fiction here on my blog. I’ve been published by Every Day Fiction four times, as well as other online and print venues. However, the thing I am most excited about is a fantasy web serial which I am posting on my blog every Wednesday. The story focuses on a world where magic is created by dancing, and both have been outlawed due to a mysterious 300-year-old tragedy, but my main character hopes to unravel that mystery and bring dancing and magic back. We’re only a few segments in, so if anyone wants to hop on board the story I’d be thrilled to have you! (https://oliviaberrier.wordpress.com/web-serial-dancing-and-magic/)

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Jessi_Cole_Jackson-150x150

Jessi Cole Jackson lives and works in New Jersey, though she’s not from there. By day she builds costumes for a Tony Award-winning theatre. By night she writes stories, questionable poetry and lots of abandoned outlines. When she’s not working she enjoys cooking, reading, and exploring local farms. You can read more about her sometimes exciting (but mostly just normal) life at  jessicolejackson.com.

 

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.)

 

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