by Julie Duffy

JulieDuffyHeadshot200x300

No longer simply a genre of heaving bosoms and discreetly closing doors, Romance burst into the digital age as one of the broadest, most forward-looking—and profitable—genres in the publishing business. Harlequin was the first major publisher to make all its books available as ebooks. Romance titles represented $1bn in sales last year, or 13% of the adult fiction market.  Academic conferences on Romance as a genre have been held as such august institutions as Princeton University.

There couldn’t be a better time to be writing Romance, so whether you’ve ever hidden a Harlequin between the covers of the latest Pulitzer Prize winner, or if you have no idea what all the fuss is about, prepare for a brief encounter…with Romance.

The Basics

A Romance story has two crucial elements, according to Romance Writers of America (RWA), who should know what they’re talking about:

  • A central love story
  • An optimistic ending

The Central Love Story

Romance comes in many flavors (and many sub-genres: Contemporary Romance, Historical, Paranormal, Regency, Multi-Cultural), but every story must have a central love story between two characters.

Marcy Kennedy, author of A Crash Course In Romance Sub-Genres, points out that “those two ‘people’ don’t have to be human.” This is certainly the case in the popular sub-genre of Paranormal Romance, where the love story can be between a human and a supernatural creature (think “Twilight”).

The most important thing is to show readers why these two characters belong together. “We need to know why they belong together,” says Kennedy. “Even if they don’t see it at first (and they shouldn’t)…you’d be surprised how many authors forget that they can’t just tell the reader these characters are perfect for each other—they need to show it too.”

Unless you’re writing erotica, there has to be more to the lead characters’ attraction than just lust.

Readers of Romance want to relive the rush of falling in love. More than that, Romance readers want to feel “emotion, emotion, emotion,” according to Kat de Falla, editor of Romance Flash. For a central love story to work, the writer has to combine the escapism of meeting and falling in love with the agony of all those near-misses, all those obstacles that come between the lovers, before they ultimately end up together.

The Optimistic Ending

Ah, the happily ever after…

Well, it turns out that Romance doesn’t require a Happily Ever After. In fact, in flash fiction, you’re unlikely to have time to construct a Happily Ever After (more on this later). Instead, Romance, according to RWA, merely requires an optimistic ending. The possibility of a Happily Ever After. This is good news if you’re a writer who doesn’t want to end every story with the characters getting together in the second last paragraph. Instead of consummating the relationship at the end, you can leave your characters on their way to a happy-for-now ending and still satisfy dedicated Romance readers.

Marcy Kennedy shares one more definition, though:

“If you have an ending that’s sad or bittersweet, you’re probably writing women’s fiction (think Nicholas Sparks) rather than Romance.”

Romance Sub-Genres

There are many well-defined sub-genres in Romance. While some can cross over (like Contemporary and Paranormal, or Historical and Mystery Romance) others cannot. Regency, for example, is set in a strictly defined time and place (the 1790s-1820, in Great Britain) and couldn’t be mixed with Contemporary Romance. Fans of Regency Romance are looking for Jane Austen-esque wit and banter, social scandal and innuendo, not sex scenes, whereas Contemporary Romance fans are probably looking for a more realistic kind of escape.

You can find a good definition of many of these sub-genres both at the RWA site and in Marcy Kennedy’s primer, but if you really want to know what these sub-genres’ audiences expect, there is no substitute for reading it yourself.  Luckily, hundreds of new Romance stories are published ever month, in every conceivable sub-genre. However, before you get excited about the size of the audience and decide to switch to Romance and cash in,  LaShaunda C. Hoffman, editor of Shades of Romance, has a word of caution.

“As a writer you have to find the sub-genre that you are comfortable writing in.  If you pick something you don’t care about, it will show up in your writing.

In other words, even if Paranormal Romance was still the new big thing, it would be dangerous to try to write it if you weren’t reading (and loving) the sub-genre.

How To Woo Romance Readers

“Romance readers are idealistic believers in eternal love and in the incessant search for one’s soulmate,” says Kat de Falla of Romance Flash. “If an author can elicit an emotion from a reader, they are doing their job.”

Just because there is a formula of sorts to a Romance doesn’t mean your writing can be formulaic. Characters must be rounded. They must have character traits that make them attractive and inner demons that cause problems. The settings must be well-researched and there must be tension…lots and lots of tension.

“We know,” says Marcy Kennedy, “the couple in a Romance will end up together. It’s a Romance after all. But as we’re reading, we should feel like there’s no possible way for this to work out for them. Part of the fun in reading a Romance is in the agony that comes from worrying they won’t end up together after all and the emotional release when they finally do.

She adds that one of the ways to add tension is, “..whether you’re building toward a kiss or much more, drag it out. Give them a couple of “almosts” before the actual act. Torture them and your readers.”

But just throwing obstacles in their paths (or removing them) isn’t enough. Remember that every development should further the plot by developing the characters. Kennedy explains,

“Every time your characters are physically intimate—regardless of whether that’s holding hands, hugging, kissing, or sleeping together—it needs to forward the plot. It should mean something more than simply the physical act. The ripples from that touch should be felt across their relationship, across their relationship with others, and across the external circumstances in the story. A touch is never just a touch in a truly great Romance.”

Romance In A Flash

In Flash Fiction the challenge is in the constraints: what to include and what to leave out. Now that you know the two essential ingredients for Romance (the central love story and the optimistic ending) it’s a little easier to make those choices.

The challenge now becomes how to, as Kat de Falla says, “make us believe these two people belong together” without “rushing a story just to keep your word count,” a pitfall highlighted by LaShaunda Hoffman. “Readers can tell when a story is rushed.”

One suggestion on how to handle the shorter length comes from Marcy Kennedy who suggests that you write a story about a “meet cute”: the moment a possible romantic duo first meet. This moment should be unusual in some way—awkward, embarrassing, funny, oppositional—and then, “The tension in the story should come from whether or not these two characters will come through that moment with a desire to see more of each other.”

Follow this advice and readers will fall for your writing, in a heartbeat.

 

Further Reading

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Julie Duffy is a writer of short fiction and host of the annual creativity challenge StoryADay May.

By Jim Harrington

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As part of the 2014 National Flash Fiction Day-New Zealand, a contest was held for the best flash story of 300 words or fewer. Below I interview the winners–Sarah Dunn, First Place for Islands and Cities; Tricia Hanifin, Second Place for With Our Eyes Closed We Begin to Dance; and Sue Kingham, Third Place for Just My Luck.

Flash Fiction Chronicles: What draws you to flash fiction?

Sarah Dunn2

Sarah Dunn: It’s an interesting new shape. I didn’t give the form much thought until it occurred to me that flash fiction could be treated like a hybrid between poetry and traditional short stories, and there’s a lot of fertile space between those two poles.

Partricia Hanifin

Trisha Hanifin: A number of things: the challenge of brevity and intensity, and the sense of intimacy such intensity can create; the process of finding what is essential in a story and what is superfluous; and the condensed nature of flash makes it a close relation to poetry.

I’ve always liked Frank O’Connor’s argument that short stories represent a struggle with time, that they’re an attempt to reach some vantage point from which past and future are equally visible. I think this is especially true of flash fiction because what you often see on the page is a mid pointor flash point—between the past and future, both of which are not mentioned but are somehow made visible by the tiny, spotlighted moment of the story.

Sue KinghamSue Kingham: I am a student on the Hagley Writers’ Institute first year course in Christchurch. This year I began entering writing competitions and submitting my stories to the Flash Frontier website. I enjoy writing flash fiction and the length has enabled me to produce a number of stories in a short period of time.

FFC: Once you decided to enter this year’s NFFD NZ competition, what was your process for developing a story to submit? Where did the idea for your story come from?

Sarah Dunn: I might get into trouble for telling you this, but when I’m writing short pieces, I like to email early drafts to my work inbox and then leave the replies open all day so I can fiddle with them whenever I have a spare minute. For me, there’s a bit of a bell curve effect that governs how much effort I can successfully put into editing without sending the story off into wild and hostile territory, so addressing the job in short intervals keeps everything low-key.

The idea for Islands and Cities came from a combination of two pieces of media: Andrea O’Neil’s 2013 news story from the Dominion Post about the Spicer Landfill’s real-life seagull problem; and a majestic clip I saw on a David Attenborough documentary showing thousands of white seabirds plummeting into the sea all at once. Bird (and human) societies are fascinating.

Trisha Hanifin: This particular story developed out of an older, much longer story I’d been working on for a couple of years. I’d tried a number of different versions and lengths and never felt happy with them so this competition was an opportunity to try and find the core of the story again. In a more general way, a lot of my ideas for stories come from an imagined intersection between images, emotions and characters from popular culture and the character’s life in the story. Often I use songs, but in this instance, it was the Peanuts cartoon. I’m fascinated by the way in ordinary life, music, lyrics, images and symbols infiltrate our imaginations, become attached to our emotions and memories and become markers for important phases of our lives. I’ve always loved the qualites of sadness and bewilderment Charlie Brown has, and Snoopy’s joy and imagination, and I wanted to suggest all those possibilities and qualities in the story.

Sue Kingham: I frequently get ideas from reading the newspaper. I spotted the name Rowdy in an article and in the same paper I read a quote from someone who said they thought they were cursed although they didn’t believe in God. Creativity is a blending process, and these ideas were in my mind when I opened a photograph album with the intention of writing a story based on an old holiday. The image which caught my eye was of a South America street performer dressed as Jesus. My story came together from these three prompts.

FFC: Is your approach different depending on the length of story you plan to write? (Do you have an idea in advance how long a story will be?) For example, in the case of this competition the maximum word count was 300. What if the max was 1500?

Sarah Dunn: Whenever I’ve asked my chief reporter how many words she wants on a particular news topic, the answer has been: “Write it for what it’s worth.” It’s very difficult trying to craft story to fit a particular word count, but some ideas are worth more words than others. You get a feeling for which ideas might work with different shapes.

Trisha Hanifin: Mostly when I start writing a story I have no idea how long it will be or what will happen, I’m just exploring a mood or an emotion—sometimes I’ll have particular words or a voice in my head and I just try and follow that. I write very slowly over a long period of time, trying to find the center of the story. Writing flash fiction is often a process of removing everything unnecessary, no padding, no flab, so it’s a great writing teacher, a great discipline to learn. It’s enabled me to go back and look at longer stories and ‘flash’ sections of them—cut and shape them—until they’re clearer, cleaner, tighter. Less is, by definition, more in flash.

Sue Kingham: With flash fiction I enjoy capturing a specific moment in time while hinting at a complex backstory. There is little room for character development or a large cast list. If the maximum word count had been 1500 words, I would have been able to show some of the protagonist’s home life with his mother and Rowdy. However, the joy of flash fiction is that less is always more.

FFC: What other works have you published? What does your crystal ball say about your writing future?

Sarah Dunn: Working in the newsroom sucks up a lot of time and energy, and so far, all of my major writing achievements have been in journalism. I’ve just returned from six weeks reporting in South Korea, thanks to a grant from the Asia New Zealand Foundation, and I’m looking forward to seeing the material I gathered in Seoul and at the Demilitarized Zone published as long-form articles shortly.

I’d love to eventually see my work in fiction and non-fiction evolving a little more in parallel, but as long as I’ve got interesting things to write about one way or another, I’m content.

Trisha Hanifin: I’m quite new to flash fiction, I’ve only been writing it for a couple of years. This year I’ve had pieces published in Turbine and in Flash Frontier. In the past, I’ve been shortlisted in longer short story competitions in New Zealand and I completed a Masters in Creative Writing in 2010. I’m currently trying to complete a novel that I’ve been working on for a long time but often get sidetracked by writing other things. I love flash fiction because I get to finish something!

Sue Kingham: My other two published works have been flash fiction. My story, Family Outing, was chosen for Flash Frontier’s February 2014 collection, and in May I won the Scottish Literary Trust’s 50 word competition with a piece entitled The Twitcher. I am currently working on a YA science fiction novel and my dream is to make a career as an author. I appreciate this is a long shot – my crystal ball must be second-hand, because it refuses to reveal anything beyond this year.

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Sarah Dunn is a journalist who lives in Nelson. She graduated from Wellington’s Victoria University with a B.A. Hons in English Literature and Religious Studies. She is 26.

Trisha Hanifin has worked in adult education and adult literacy for over 25 years teaching a range of subjects including reading and writing at both foundational and academic levels. She has written on the nature and extent of adults’ literacy issues in Facing the Challenge: Foundation Learning for Adults in Aotearoa New Zealand, (Dunmore Press, 2008). In 2010 she gained a Masters of Creative Writing at Auckland University of Technology. Trisha writes short stories, flash fiction and is currently working on a novel, Ghost Travellers. Her stories have been shortlisted in a number of New Zealand competitions including the BNZ literary awards. This year her flash fiction has been published in Turbine and Flash Frontiers.

The February 2011 earthquake shook a love of writing back to the surface of Sue Kingham’s life: a case of literary fiction as opposed to liquefaction. She joined Helen Hogan’s WEA creative writing class in Christchurch and went on to become a member of the South Island Writers Association. Sue has attended several short writing courses and is currently a first year student at the Hagley Writer’s Institute. She has written poetry, a play for children, numerous short stories and she particularly enjoys writing flash fiction. She is currently working on a YA science fiction novel. She is married and is a busy mum with two primary aged children. When she’s manages to grab a spare moment, she can usually be found with her nose in a good book.

**Ms. Dunn’s picture taken by Marion van Dijk.

by Sarah Crysl Akhtar

Sarah Akhtar

It takes nerve, attempting a clever riff on a classic story, and genuine wit to pull it off. I thought Simon Barker’s The Non-Opening Window (7/16/12) captured the mood and voice of Saki’s (H. H. Munro’s) original perfectly and seamlessly updated it.

Saki’s characters live to take the mickey out of the credulous, unwary, or overbearing. That plot device can go off the rails pretty quickly if not steered with exceptional skill.

The frothy meringue of Saki’s humor didn’t disguise his contempt for an often vapid and hypocritical society. We laugh, but we get the point too.

Barker’s story has gentler barbs. His hapless victim is on a first date arranged via the internet, not an already fragile young man recovering from nervous prostration, but the storyline is faithful to its source.

With this sort of humor, either you like it or you don’t. Commenters familiar with The Open Window mostly enjoyed what Barker did here. Nine out of seventeen loved it. Those who didn’t know Saki’s story were mostly left cold. A couple of readers seemed offended that Barker borrowed his plotline, though he gave his source right up front.

The story certainly provoked significant response—33 readers took the time to vote. But it ended up with only 3.2 stars.

Take a look at The Non-Opening Window. I hope you’ll find it as tasty a confection as I did.

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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 and Perihelion SF Magazine.

by Susan Tepper

Gay Degani

Gay Degani has published fiction online 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 novel, What Came Before, is live in serialized format at Every Day Novels. It’s also available from Barnes & Noble and Amazon.

Susan Tepper: Your debut novel What Came Before has been called a crossover book. Its primary scope is that of a literary novel, yet it also contains many elements that appear in the suspense genre plus it’s ripe with plot.

Did you know in advance of the writing that the book would go in this direction?

What_Came_Before

Gay Degani: I always have a plan, but nothing ever turns out as expected. This is what makes writing an adventure! The “plan” for this novel had been to make it a comedy, something along the lines of Compromising Positions by Susan Isaacs. I’d been writing screenplays—comedies, one about a weapon of mass destruction hidden in the main character’s gold crown, one about a playboy who owes a ton of money and ends up as a Tupperware Man, another about a housewife/mother/banker who gets cloned. I realized I didn’t have the personality to succeed in that industry so I decided writing a novel would be the better choice for a house-mouse like me.

ST: I’ve heard this scenario before, but the important thing is that you kept the book going in a direction. And you chose a direction you are comfortable with, which to my mind is key to the success of any book.

GD: So, What Came Before started as a broad comedy, but as it developed, I began to see deeper possibilities to it and it blossomed into a hybrid: comedic-suspense à la Susan Isaac’s with the mother-daughter relationship thrown in. It was when I made the decision that the half-sister to Abbie Palmer should be African-American that the heart of the story evolved.

ST: It was definitely a dramatic choice that influenced how the novel would proceed.

GD: Writing the back story to the romance that happened in 1949 also touched on so many of the things I love—history, the movies, and the unique niche I felt my generation of women fills. That change in the female ideal of June Cleaver and Donna Reed to Gloria Steinem and Erica Jong. So many ideas about what the book could be stymied me for years. The original version was told from three different viewpoints: Abbie’s, the “villain’s,” and Billy’s—Billy’s as a memory device to tell the story of what came before.

After many conferences, festivals, groups, and residencies, I accepted the fact that the book was way too complicated, and therefore pared it down to Abbie’s viewpoint. This left the book with most of the elements, the original humor of Abbie’s voice, the suspense created by both the murder and the mystery of the past, and the angst of my particular generation.

ST: Your book is structured in short flash-fiction chapters, a form I also have used and like very much. What made you go this route rather than a continual flow, with marker breaks, or the traditional longer chapters many novelists use?

GD: Publisher Camille Gooderham Campbell wanted my book for Every Day Novels, a new website Every Day Publishing was launching. Because the Every Day Novel concept was to serialize a book and have it appear chapter by chapter Monday through Friday just as Every Day Fiction did with short stories, the flash-sized chapters were absolute.

This adherence to word count proved to be a blessing. It helped me focus on the purpose of each chapter: how does the character feel, what does she want, what stands in her way, what does she do to get what she wants. Just asking myself these questions as I worked through my lengthy and sometimes convoluted chapters made the writing easier. It forced me to move things around, look for additional information if a chapter’s event was light, and to take out bits that didn’t have a purpose.

ST: The situation with her half-sister fascinated me. I’d like to quote a little from the text here:

A few minutes pass and then I turn and ask her soberly, really wanting to know, “Makenna. Will you tell me what your mother was like?”

I wait a long time and realize with mild surprise, there’s nothing else I’d rather do than wait. She says, “She was afraid of elevators.”

To me, this is such a perfect example of how extreme and dramatic we often view personal aspects of life, when, in fact, just the opposite is true. Life is mostly mundane, with the drama sprinkled into the flour like chile powder.

GD: “Life is mostly mundane, with the drama sprinkled into the flour like chile powder.” Beautifully put, Susan. And what we strive to do as writers is hone in on the chile powder, the little details that make each human being unique, and of course the context of the detail is what gives it that charge.

Abbie, my protagonist, is one of those people who is always “there for you.” People call her up to know about the best place to buy lamb chops, how to get to the downtown public library, and can you go with me to this event so I have someone to talk to. She’s spent her life saying “yes,” and as soon as she finds the grit to say “no,” Makenna shows up in her life. Makenna happens to be part African-American and this gives Abbie a path to follow to find out about herself and her own mother. She can’t say no, though for a while she thinks she can. Makenna has been raised to know her own mind, to deal with her problems, to be independent and capable of saying “no.” I wanted them to have a believable dynamic, not one that was exaggerated. I wanted it to feel as if they were people who live next door to us, facing problems as we all do.

ST: You mentioned earlier two female forces (Gloria Steinem and Erica Jong). Do you feel the women’s movement factored into Abbie’s decision to part from her husband? If the women’s movement had not occurred, do you still see Abbie leaving him to go out on her own? Because she is facing a big economic ‘turndown’ from what she’s used to in terms of style of living.

I quote from the text: “The Tiki Palms Apartments are as far away from my house on Woodbine Street as I can get without changing cities.”

This was very interesting to me. She left him, but not radically. A radical move would be across the country, for instance, or across the ocean. What gives?

GD: I have always felt that women of my generation—say born in ’46 through ’56—could be called a “watershed” generation. Our mothers, for the most part, understood that things were different after the war, after Rosy the riveter, but for the most part, in what was perceived as the gentler prosperous “golden fifties,” tended to conform, still embracing the standards their mothers embraced: staying at home, raising their children, and if they had a job it was to be a teacher, a nurse, or waitress. Not saying there weren’t women who were striving to have serious non-female careers in journalism, business, and so forth, but that wasn’t how it was across the nation.

This is the world I grew up in, and the world Abbie grew up in. But then in the sixties, what we thought was iron-clad began to melt and disperse, reshape and become something new. Most women wanted to be a part of this revolution, but only in some way. Most did not burn their bras, but they began to push against the barriers. Some were confused because to push at barriers seemed to mean giving up something precious. Abbie found security, love, and a comfortable life with Craig, but she gave up her own aspirations to make it work. She was afraid to push at barriers because she was afraid of what might be on the other side. However as she grew older—and felt her own time running out—she realized that so many women, her generation and those younger, were managing to fulfill some of their dreams. She takes her first tentative steps at the Tiki Palms. Going across country to do the same thing, would have felt too permanent, too final.

ST: I envy young women today because they are less entrenched in marriage. If the marriage sucks, many will get out fairly quickly as opposed to Abbie’s generation, and those earlier, who hung in ‘for better or worse.’

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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 Gay Degani

Michelle Elvy

 Michelle Elvy is a writer, editor and manuscript assessor based in New Zealand and currently sailing in Southeast Asia aboard Momo. She edits at Blue Five Notebook, Flash Frontier and Awkword Paper Cut, where she also curates the Writers on Writing column. She is an Associate Editor for the forthcoming Flash Fiction International (W.W. Norton, 2015), and has guest edited at Smokelong Quarterly and lent her reading eye to a number of competitions. Her poetry, flash, nonfiction and reviews can be found in numerous journals, most recently in JMWW, Word Riot, The Linnet’s Wings, Takahē, Ika, Html Giant and PANK. More at michelleelvy.com and Glow Worm.

Gay Degani: Somewhere on the Flash Fiction Day site or your own blog spot, I saw this quotation: “Because life is short. And so is some of the best fiction.”I love that. Are you the founder of National Flash Fiction Day in New Zealand or is there a group who decided to launch this enterprise?

Flag_of_New_Zealand Michelle Elvy: I am the founder. National Flash Fiction Day was born on the road between Northland and Auckland one day in early 2012. I had tremendous support in the first two years from Sian Williams, who also was the first co-editor at Flash Frontier: An Adventure in Short Fiction. Since 2012, National Flash Fiction Day has grown, and we now have a committee of five in our creative brain trust, covering the whole country and making it a truly national project – from Northland to Auckland to Wellington to Christchurch.

That quote – our tag-line for NFFD – came flying out of my mouth one day and stuck. I like the idea that some of the best things in life come in small packages.

GD: You say that National Flash Fiction Day has grown.  Can you talk a little about some of the things you’re doing to make this “celebration” fun and informative?

ME: It feels like a grassroots kind of thing, growing from one starting point and spreading out from there. I hatched the idea, sure, and I still run the national competition and serve as a central contact point for the various events around the county, but in the last three years, NFFD has become a celebration within smaller writing communities as well, so there is both a national component as well as a local rallying around flash every June, with regional activities and competitions as well.

During our first year, we were mainly Auckland-based. This year, we saw three events occur simultaneously in our three main cities, Wellington, Christchurch and Auckland. The success of those events was hugely due to the organizers on the ground in each place. I helped co-ordinate from afar, but all went smoothly with our regional co-ordinators taking charge. Our two judges this year were from Wellington and Christchurch, respectively, so they were able to extend their congratulations in a personal manner.

We put a lot of effort into running the national competition as smoothly as possible and lining up details so the winners would be announced at all three events simultaneously. It is quite a lot of work, since it’s not only a national competition occurring online, but a series of real events with readers, judges, readings, prizes, celebrations, etc. I’m grateful for the people who make it happen as it grows bigger and more complex each year.

GD: What is your definition of flash fiction?

ME: Flash fiction is a complete story (emphasis on complete) compacted down to a tiny space – the space of a page or the palm of your hand. A good flash story contains the essentials, and then something else too – something that is often hard to put your finger on but that makes the story feel full, even if the word count is sparse.

GD: What are some of the wrong assumptions new writers make about flash?

ME: Here are five quick notes. I offer more at The Lascaux Review.

  • Flash is not accomplished in broad strokes and it’s not for the lazy writer. It’s an extreme sport, requiring extreme attention to detail and intense concentration.
  • It is not a venue for dumping your emotions, and it’s not merely a vignette. The best flash contains a subtlety and intricacy that reads like poetry.
  • Humor is wonderful in flash, but leave the gimmicks out. Flash is not about the gotcha moment or the aha ending.
  • You can’t cut corners just because it’s short.
  • Writing with an economy of words is hard work. Don’t be fooled by writers who make it look easy. Flash requires as much editing as longer works.

GD: Who are some of the best Kiwi writers of flash?  Can you provide links?

ME: At the top of my list are Frankie McMillan and James Norcliffe. As an Associate Editor for the forthcoming collection of international flash (W.W. Norton 2015), I’ve had the honor of reading an enormous number of talented flash writers from around the world – and was pleased to see two New Zealand writers in the final table of contents. Both have been involved in the National Flash Fiction Day campaign (McMillan as one of our 2014 judges and Norcliffe as a member of our central committee).

I like the way McMillan’s story “Truthful Lies” (selected for the Norton anthology) handles emotional depth with a sense of control and detachment (read it here).Norcliffe writes with breakneck speed and wit (and clever dialogue that hits you sideways) in colorful, delicious prose. “Kissing the Sky,” originally published in Sport, can be found here, and was later anthologized by Richard Peabody in Kiss the Sky: Fiction and Poetry Starring Jimi Hendrix.

Another Kiwi writer I admire for stories and poetry is Mary McCallum, the other judge of the 2014 NFFD competition (you can read her story “Dead Space” here). Other writers I should mention from this year’s competition are the top three winners – all of whom you can read in a special issue of Flash Frontier. I admit that I’m especially fond of the way Patricia Hanifin plays so cleverly with Charlie Brown themes in the second place story.

Flash has been on the rise in New Zealand, made accessible first by the anthologies assembled in the 1990s by writer/editor Graeme Lay. These books provide a good foundational introduction to the short short form in NZ writing, and include nationally recognized writers such as Kevin Ireland, Vincent O’Sullivan, Witi Ihimaera, Frank Sargeson and Patricia Grace, as well as many others. Many newcomers now play with the genre, some quite experimentally. Take Reuben Todd, for example, whose story “Miri” (long-listed in this year’s NFFD comp; scroll down the page and read it here) tickles me each time I read it.

I’m also a fan of Elizabeth Welsh’s writing. She can be found in the June Flash Special at Blue Five Notebook(which includes, coincidentally, Mary McCallum as well, plus a handful of US writers). Other NZ writers whose work has stood out recently at Flash Frontier and/or Blue Five Notebook include Nod Ghosh, Rebecca Simons, DR Jones, Kate Mahony, Janet Pates, Mike Crowl, Alex Reece-Abbott, Jane Swan, Raewyn Alexander, and Celine Gibson. There are many more – too many to name here. It’s a small country with plenty of writers packing a solid punch.

For excellent and current writers of flash, I recommend Flash Frontier (naturally), as it’s the only zine in NZ dedicated to the craft of writing extremely short prose. Some of our issues are focused entirely on Kiwi writers, like our scattered issue from April 2014, guest edited by James George, and dedicated to Auckland writer, Miles Hughes, who passed away in February. Then there are the international issues, such as June’s sugar issue and the forthcoming September falling issue, guest edited by Christopher Allen. In each edition, there’s a real diversity of writers tackling one theme – playing the game with a good deal of enthusiasm and discipline.

GD: How did you discover flash?  Can you give us links to one or two of your stories?

In 2010, I had been working on several longer projects and also travel articles written as a part of our sailing routes around the Pacific – and I wanted to shift focus in my discipline, to drill down to each word. Also, I wanted to push myself to write more creatively, to experiment beyond my comfort zone. I set up a challenge for myself: to write a story a week for a year, and to limit the word count to 250.

I shared this idea with high school pal (and present-day writing instructor) John Chapin, and he said – quite unsolicited: “I’m in.” We set up a website and called it 52|250: A Year of Flash (52 weeks, 250 words every week). And the rest followed: in a very short time, John and I found ourselves in the middle of a wonderful writing community, with nearly 200 people participating in the project. Soon Walter Bjorkman came on board and helped manage the website, which grew in complexity every week: more contributors, more reading, more editing – alongside our stories every single week.

That discipline – writing a story a week for a year – seemed to fit my life so well. This love I feel for small things – sometimes subtle, sometimes explosive – is an extension of my own reality. Seeing the world in my slow-travel way as we meander around the world on our sailboat (Momo has been our home for eleven years), taking life in small doses, glimpsing reality a day at a time: flash fiction fits.

Incidentally, the novel and the travel writing still happen, but flash is deeply embedded in my heart, and the things I’ve learned from focusing on flash have changed the way I write, read, and edit.

As for my own work, a story written for the 52|250 challenge and read on Radio New Zealand in conjunction with National Flash Fiction Day in 2012 is “Nothing Happens at Sea.” The sea figures rather centrally in my world. Another more recent one – originally longer, but tweaked into a 1000-word experiment and presently under consideration by an editor I greatly admire – is “Cornfield,” which is decidedly different in tone and pacing than my little sea story.

And yet… it’s an unlikely sea story, too, because, well, there’s Cape Horn right in the middle of that mess, and it’s the opening chapter of the series I wrote for the  2014: A Year in Stories project (a project where our paths cross, Gay!). The 2014 project has been a wonderful inspiration for me, along with other things in the works, because it has also offered a set of guidelines steering the work over the course of a year and unleashed larger things in my writing track. For me, in fact, 2014: A Year in Stories feels akin to 52|250: A Year of Flash – and I’m grateful for both.

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gay deganifor WCB choice 3Gay 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 novel, What Came Before, is live in serialized format at Every Day Novels. It’s also available from Barnes & Noble and Amazon.

 

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