STAFF


by Jim Harrington

NSLF Organizing Committee

2014 NSLF Organizing Committee

I learned about the National Schools Literature Festival a few months ago and contacted them for further information. Below Sharon Quek, the media and communications contact for the group, provides responses. Pictures from the event can be viewed on their Facebook page. More information can be found on the NSLF website.

FFC: What is the National Schools Literature Festival? Where did the idea come from? What is its purpose? When did it begin?

Sharon Quek: The National Schools Literature Festival is a ground-up initiative developed by Literature teachers in Singapore who want to encourage the study of Literature as an essential subject in the national curriculum. It started in 2004 when a group of Singapore Literature teachers came together to organise competitions at the national level, in which students could participate to sharpen their skills in critical reading, debate and dramatisation. The festival allows teachers and students to network with their peers, jointly build their understanding and interpretations of the Literature texts they are studying, and deepen their understanding of and love for Literature.

FFC: There are six sessions listed in the programme. Do students participate in each one, or do they get to choose?

SQ: Students can participate in any of the six events (Debates on Unseen Texts, Set Text Debates, Poetry Slam, Book Trailer, Book Parade and Flash Fiction). To allow more schools to have the opportunity of participating in the festival, the organising committee has requested each school to send a maximum of two teams (one each for lower secondary and upper secondary) per event.

FFC: The list of participants includes 80 schools. How many children from each school participate? How are they chosen?

SQ: An average of about 20 students from each of the 76 schools participated in the festival this year. The selection of student participants is left to the schools. In the last seven years, the number of student participants has been in the range of 1,000 to 1,500.

FFC: One section is for flash fiction. Why flash?

SQ: Flash Fiction is a new event organised to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the National Schools Literature Festival this year. The event seeks to encourage students to write in a succinct and original manner that will engage the interest of readers.

FFC: Stories must be exactly 200 words. Why 200?

SQ: 200 words is an appropriate length for students to include sufficient details in a story while sustaining the attention of any reader. The organisers hope that the word limit will also challenge students to think carefully about their choice of words.

FFC: What else should we know about the festival?

SQ: Ten winning flash fiction stories were selected by a review committee. These were subsequently published in notebooks that were given to every participant at the festival.

Currently, the festival caters to secondary school students in Singapore. We hope to expand the festival to include primary school students in the future to promote a love of reading and Literature among the younger students too.

FFC: Thank you, Sharon, for responding to my questions, and thanks to all the teachers who organize and participate in this wonderful effort to bring literature to their students.

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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 Andreé Robinson-Neal

Andree-New

Like the tinder box that it is, FFC kept things all a-glow during the month of July. Jim Harrington got us started by sharing thoughts around the answers posted to the Facebook FFC New and Emerging Writers Group about music and the muse it draws or chases away. Susan Tepper ignites our collective spirits of justice in her UNCOV/rd with Pat Pujolas as they share around his book, jimmy lagowski saves the world.

And speaking of sparks, Sarah Crysl Akhtar took us back to a gem that caught her eye (and breath) in this month’s From the EDF Archives. She gives us a tantalizing sample of a morsel called Jellyfish. Go check it out for yourself.

We got a glimpse into the writing persona (and more) of Christine F. Anderson in a July publisher’s interview, where she shared her thoughts on marketing. John Towler then did a bit of marketing for Every Day Fiction, by way of a personal top 10 list of memorable stories (note that he passed the 5,000-story mark back in March!). Len Kuntz got us to the middle of the month with an insightful Why I Write Flash Fiction, in which he reminds us of the value of creamy bullets.

So, why do you write? Rohini Gupta answered the question in a way that delights writers: she answered it with more questions, each of which was insightful enough to spawn a post of its own.

Writers worth their salt will tell you that an important part of the process is reading. Fortunately for us, Gay Degani provided a list of readings that will certainly inspire. She offered a 103-entry list of readers’ choices from the 2014 Short Story Month entries.

Resist the urge to slap something on your story because you’re facing a deadline or just want to mark it as completed. You don’t want any child you love to go out into the world ill-named.

Now if that bright flash of wisdom did not get your attention, you need to go read all the others offered in a post that was chock-full of goodies from Sarah Crysl Akhtar about naming your story. As the month moved toward its end, we met Krystyna Fedosejevs, who shared her thoughts on what happens after you name that story and what her journey has been like in the world of flash fiction.

As you plan your next submission, why not learn something about Submittable? Christopher Bowen got some time with Submittable’s co-founder, Michael Fitzgerald. If it’s been a while since you have used the platform to send in manuscripts, you’ll be interested to read what Michael and his team have planned for Submittable’s future.

Julie Duffy brings us in sight of the end of July with her “nuts and bolts” approach to understanding genres. This month’s offering provides some thoughts on science fiction: what it is, what it isn’t, and what it can be.

It was a full month to be sure, and FFC never closes on a low note. Aliza Greenblatt interviewed Jessi Cole Jackson, the EDF Top Author for June. Jessi shared insight on her flash fiction work, as well as what it really means to live in the Garden State.

Be sure to stop by Flash Fiction Chronicles to catch up on all the articles, advice and information from last month and get ready for an exciting August!

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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

My kind of horror story: a quiet progression towards doom. Nothing’s harder to write. One false note in the voice and the mood vanishes; built-up tension can’t be reclaimed. I haven’t seen it done better than in Lydia S Gray’s In Return (1/8/12).

Gray states the impossible right at the beginning of her story, which takes confidence and nerve. She doesn’t answer any of our questions but we can’t stop following, wondering and dreading right alongside the narrator.

I love when the writer respects the reader’s intelligence, knows that life doesn’t tie itself up in neat resolutions.

The story earned a respectable 3.7 stars after 57 votes; twenty readers commented, most of them finding In Return creepy and effective. A few found it flat, and some wanted more details. I think it’s considerably underrated.

The inexplicable is at the heart of horror fiction. Yet readers sometimes accept rampaging zombies and the inconveniences caused by monthly full moons without a quibble, but insist on being told the “why” of less gory but more atmospheric stories.

Remembering it this long after my first read, and revisiting it, my pleasure in Gray’s story hasn’t diminished. I think In Return is worthy of a place in any anthology of great ghost and horror tales–alongside masterworks by M. R. James and Algernon Blackwood.

Take a look for yourself–see if you agree.

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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 Susan Tepper

RStratten

Robin has been a writing coach for almost 25 years. Her first novel, On Air, was a finalist in the Indie Excellence Book Award. She is the author of Of Zen and Men and In His Genes, and co-author of Then She Ran. She also has two full-length collections of poetry and short fiction: Dealing with Men and Interference from an Unwitting Species. A three-time Pushcart Prize nominee, she’s been published in Word Riot, 63 Channels, Antithesis Common, Poor Richard’s Almanac(k), Blink-Ink, and many others. Her short story, “Ma Writing,” was a finalist in The Lascaux Review flash fiction award, and appeared in their 2014 Anthology. In her spare time, Robin edits the Boston Literary Magazine. Learn more about Robin at http://www.robinstratton.com/

Susan Tepper: Your novel In His Genes opens in a most unique way. What underlying forces or personal drama drew you toward a medical-mystery as the book’s focal point?

Hiding in Plain Sight — the elusive Carina Dwarf Galaxy

Robin Stratton: It’s a bit of a long story… I have had a passion for genetics for years, and I read a book called Decoding Darkness by Dr. Rudy Tanzi – about the race to figure out what gene mutation causes early onset Alzheimer’s Disease.

ST: A pretty heavy topic.

RS: Tanzi’s book, which I highly recommend, is also his story as a young researcher, and the story of a family stricken with the disease… the early onset type can begin in your late 30s… and if you’ve got the gene, not only are you absolutely going to get AD, but there is a 50% chance that you’ll pass it on to your children.

So I contacted Dr. Tanzi, and asked if we could work together on the movie of his book. He said yes! And so we did… I got most of the way through before the family who’d been featured in the book got cold feet. I think Rudy did, too. Anyway… so I had to let go of the project.

ST: Oh what a pity! I hate to see good work go down the drain.

But your book In His Genes is also a love story. Did you find it difficult placing genetics into the context of a love story? Or, are genetics also about love? Or is it the other way around?

RS: This is the perfect question for this book, Susan! I think romance and love are essential in any novel about human dynamics, which is the topic I prefer, and so there was no question that there would be a romance. Cassandra (Cassie) is very much like me (all my female leads are) and so when I crafted her love interest, I described the man I would be in love with— scientific, kind, warm, great conversationalist, and passionate.

FRONT COVER(1)

ST: The title is great, though I must admit I kept thinking jeans…

RS: I really wanted a blockbuster title, and I had a lot of trouble… there were these three things going on: the science of the story, the romance, and the supernatural theme. I wanted a title that would reflect all those things. When I hit up In His Genes I felt that it was reminiscent of that old book, In His Steps— it directly referred to genes, and it had that nifty sexual innuendo. 

ST:  I wasn’t going to bring up the supernatural theme, don’t want to give too much away… but since you already gave us a whiff…  did you know at the outset you would bring the supernatural into the book?

RS: My boyfriend is a UFO freak and buys into everything alien, and when we started going out, he wanted me to write a book about an alien titled “My Boyfriend Wasn’t From Here.” I am not a big alien believer, but thought it would be interesting to have a character that leaves people thinking, Is he… or isn’t he…. ? For a little while that was the working title, until my writing partners begged me to change it. My boyfriend had to settle for a short poem I wrote with that title that was published in my chapbook Dealing with Men. So, yes, I began with those two intersecting/contrasting themes: rigid scientific testing of data vs. faith without evidence of any kind.

ST: That’s a very cool contrast of themes in a book since they are (traditionally) diametrically opposed. I was captivated by this character you introduced, Palmer, but also leery of him. I am leery by nature. I wasn’t born that way, but over time… I think one tends to grow leery and time-worn. Too many struggles and let downs and you just start to see things differently.

Do you feel your protagonist Cassie becomes leery or time-worn as the book moves along?

RS: I think the whole point is that she starts out by being leery. Cynical, I guess is the word I’d use. To me, she’s a reflection of people today who are cautious about allowing mystery and beauty… what if you’re wrong about something? You’ll feel so let down! Best to just doubt everything.

ST: It is a tough world out there in a lot of ways. Trust can be difficult. It’s sad.

RS: Yes, and that’s typical of a particular scene when her car won’t start, and this guy Palmer (who she just met) comes outside of the bar to see if he can get it going. All she can think about is how she always complains that no one wants to help and yet when someone does… it all becomes suspicious! So her character arc had to involve learning to trust— without using scientific data which is the nucleus of her work life and her thought patterns.   

ST: This book, with its unusual and compelling focus on science, also manages to be character driven. I found Cassie an endearing character. She is flawed like all of us, yet she allows us into that dark space that most people (in real life) work hard at covering up. Do you, as her creator, identify with her?

RS: Cassie is a woman who hasn’t been able to find The One, and is mystified at the ease with which all her friends have accomplished this romantic feat. Like so many single women, she got ditched by her friends when they got married. I think of her as very strong and independent. She’s smart and knows what she wants. Her dedication in the lab and her passion for genetics would have happened even if she weren’t madly in love with her boss.

ST: Ah… her boss. A strange fellow in many regards, because he feels so ‘perfect’… (may I have his number please.) And speaking of please, she goes out of her way to please his every whim, or so it seems.

RS: I think that Cassie was raised to think of others first, the way I was, but I don’t think she goes overboard. She’s not suffering in silence about anything; I think she acts out of love. I sandwiched her between an older sibling and a younger sibling so that age wouldn’t be an “excuse” for her station in life, ie, no money, as compared with her “successful” brother and sister. I wanted to touch on the idea that success doesn’t have to mean money or a great marriage and kids. It can be about personal fulfillment. In fact, it should be about personal fulfillment. (But money and a great marriage are nice, too!)

ST: Not too many people would argue that point, Robin. No spoiler alert here: I just want to say I found the characters and plot fascinating. This book really held me. As we all want to be held.

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 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 2014, 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. www.susantepper.com

By Andree Robinson-Neal

Andree Robinson-Neal

Back in January, Bonnie ZoBell interviewed Pure Slush founding editor Matt Potter and because FFC readers were interested in learning more about him and the Pure Slush chapbooks and authors, your intrepid FFC staffers grabbed Matt and threw a few more questions at him. Also, a number of his authors from the Year in Stories series came along for the ride.

First off, let’s hear from Matt:

So Matt, what was the seed for the idea of the Year in Stories project?

I was reflecting on my wish to have Pure Slush publish a book a month in 2013, and realizing very early in the year that this was not going to happen. I first thought one story a day, 365 writers … and then thought, no. But 31 writers each taking the same day of the month, allows writers to develop longer stories across a wider arc. And it snowballed very quickly from there, and the next day, I think, I sent emails asking writers to be involved.

We are now about halfway through the project; has it gone as you envisioned?

As of April, there were 92 stories yet to be submitted and signed off, so while 2014 June Vol. 6 was released in early April, 273 of the 365 stories have been written and accepted. Parts have been more difficult – writers saying “Hey, I need to change something in a story I submitted some time ago” – while other parts have been easier. Five of the 31 writers have finished all their stories, with a few not far behind. Some however, are still only half way through writing all their stories. How best to approach these writers and hurry them along is individual, and a challenge. Sometimes it feels a little like I’m cracking a whip.

Have there been any surprises?

The biggest surprise is the unprompted diversity in stories and styles. Each story cycle really is different from all the others. If I was to do this again (and I’m not) I would start even earlier, 10 months earlier rather than seven months earlier.

What hints (topic ideas, voice, etc.) can you give the readers (and perhaps those who would like to contribute their writing) to your next project?

Come prepared to work on your stories. If a requirement is that the stories be written in the present tense, then write them in the present tense! Keep to deadlines and communicate with the editor. Once the twelve 2014 volumes are complete, I will be returning to 2 smaller projects I have put on hold for much of the last year.

There are plans for something new online in 2015, and another large print project in 2016 … so stay tuned. And in the meantime, Pure Slush is still accepting submissions for online publication in 2014. The theme is travel, and you can find details here: http://pureslush.webs.com/themessubmissions.htm#831675008

The Year in Stories would not have been possible if it weren’t for the authors who, well, wrote stories. We asked a few questions and here are the thoughtful responses from some of this year’s writers:

Why did you want to be a part of this project?

Mandy Nichol: First off it’s a terrific concept, and Matt is fabulous to work with. I usually write very short stories, so to continue to write about the same characters, to get to know them more than I usually would, seemed like a great way to push beyond my normal. I’ve always played it pretty safe and felt it was time to have a peep over the parapet. Now there’s no way I’m jumping out of an aeroplane but with this project I thought hey, this could be my leap into the blue yonder.

Shane Simmons: Quite simply, I noticed the initial posting on the Pure Slush Facebook page, which outlined the idea for the project and was calling for participants. My first thought was “I love this idea!” My second thought was that it seemed ridiculously ambitious! A single person (Matt Potter of Pure Slush) collating and editing THREE HUNDRED AND SIXTY FIVE STORIES himself (!) but the opportunity to get involved alongside thirty other creative minds, all working on this mammoth project was the huge attraction.

What’s been the toughest challenge?

Vanessa ParisFor me, the toughest challenge has been maintaining the narrative while ensuring each individual story can stand alone. It’s harder than I expected, because each time I start a new month, I have to think, “Okay, what do I have to make sure is included – or at least implied – or risk losing the reader?” Sometimes it’s easy stuff, like making it clear that two characters are in a romantic relationship, but other details are more subtle. In those cases, not only does it have to be conveyed again, you have to find a new way to do it so it doesn’t get redundant over the course of months. Also, there were points where I wished I could go back and tweak a detail or two from previous months, so it would work better with the month I was working on, but that wasn’t possible.

Jessica McHugh: I’ve encountered a handful of challenges along the way, but I think I’m experiencing the toughest right now, at the end. I’ve written the last two stories in my serial, but I haven’t revised them yet, partly because I don’t want to let go. Unlike most short stories, the serial allowed me to spend as much time with my main character, Edward McKenzie, as I do with novel characters. I know him. I care about him. Edward was plucked from a failed piece I wrote when I was nineteen, and after so many revisions that still led to rejections, I thought I might never have the chance to introduce him to the public. But thanks to 2014: A Year in Stories, he’s experienced more than ‘a day in the sun.’ It gave me the opportunity to explore his personality so much more, and I’m incredibly grateful for that. It going to be tough saying goodbye.

Was there a point where you thought “I must be crazy for agreeing to do this?”

Michael Webb: Towards the end of the project, it got more difficult to come up with events for each story that were plausible and compelling in and of themselves while still furthering the overall yearlong growth of the characters. It was like playing chess against multiple opponents at once.

What, if any, affect has this project had on your writing?

John Wentworth Chapin: I thought this would be a side project. It’s not. It’s a tremendous project, and it has swelled like a gas to fill its container: 2014. I am excited to see where it ends up. Moral of the story: be prepared.

Lynn Beighley: I’m more of a short story writer than a novelist, and while these are essentially connected short stories, there is a feel of the novel about them. I’m learning.

What was the best piece of advice you received from Matt about your work through this project?

Gill Hoffs: I wish I could remember – to be honest, I usually absorb what Matt says so it’s hard to bear particular comments in mind.  When I first worked with him he sent me a lengthy email full of tips and advice which I printed off, highlighted, and taped inside my workbook.  I used to tell Matt working with him was like a mini-MFA!

But wait! There’s more!

Each writer answered all of these probing questions; Matt will be posting the full interviews soon so keep an eye on Pure Slush and his blog for details.

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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.

 

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