by Andreé Robinson-Neal

To be “taken to school,” a phrase that is perfect for March Madness basketball fans. It evokes images of one team or player being trounced by the other. In a less athletic context, to be “taken to school” suggests a new level of learning or insight gained through an unexpected opportunity.

Readers of The Fatherlands will know that Michael Trocchia has not only taken them to school but has guided them through a graduate-level study of emotions and relationships. He is kind enough to provide a few guideposts—notes about certain inspirations—but not until after the last page. Fatherlands offers 33 glimpses into 33 rooms and each is its own diorama of relationship, conflict, love, pain, confusion, joy, and life.

The man and then she turned to the two in the corner, finding one lifeless body on the floor, the string of his kite tight round his neck, and the other body waiting there, humming a tune that all but strangles the room. (“XII”)

Trocchia offers lessons about the relationships that revolve around the man, who is sometimes friend, sometimes husband, and always father.

He’d want to believe in the color of his daughter’s eyes the way he believed in hers. (“XIX”)

He is an uneven man, his speech is uneven. His walk is uneven, he leans out of windows on Sunday. He smokes a few cigarettes a week. He keeps things, such as this, from his wife. He arrives home from work in the dark part of the day and he squints to see the faces of his children. (“XXVII”)

Each piece is a snippet of life, an exhale or held breath that captures the raw and unsullied life as it orbits the father, rotates about the fatherless, and dreams of futures past.

Readers will feel wiser and older when they reach the author page at the end of The Fatherlands and will anxiously await the next opportunity to be “schooled” by Michael Trocchia. Find out more at monkeypuzzlepress.com.

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Andree Robinson-Neal 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 Susan Tepper

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Nathaniel Tower is a writer, teacher, runner, coach and juggler. He is the founding editor of the literary magazine Bartleby Snopes. His short fiction has been published in over 200 online and print journals and has been nominated for numerous awards. You can read more from Nate on his blog.

Susan Tepper:  So what are you like to live with?

Nate Tower: I’m not hard to live with. I’m not the type of person who leaves the toilet seat up or tosses knives slathered with peanut butter in the sink. I try to be tolerable. Yes, I spend too much time on the computer, listen to loud music, and sometimes keep strange hours, but I do my best not to bother anyone. Honestly, I think living with me is pretty easy. Every roommate I’ve ever had has found me agreeable.

Nagging Wives

ST: Hmm… I often wonder how the toilet seat up became a  yardstick for what is  a good or bad husband? At any rate, you wrote a  story collection  titled  Nagging Wives, Foolish Husbands that  I would call dramatically funny. I’ve never used this term before but I like it for your book. Are you naturally funny? Does your wife laugh at you? With you? At you in secret?

NT: Dang, what a loaded question. Let me address the toilet seat first. I’m not sure why anyone would ever leave it up. Think of all that goes on in that bowl. Do you really want your whole bathroom constantly exposed to that? Toilets aside, I can now focus on how funny I am. I taught high school English for 9 years, and my students thought I was hilarious. At least one told me that I should’ve been a comedian instead. Looking back, maybe that student was just telling me I was a lousy teacher. If I did a stand-up act, people would demand a refund. But I wouldn’t give them one. But being a comedian isn’t about being naturally funny. I guarantee that 75% of the people I’ve met have laughed. My wife is one of those people. She laughs with me at least twice per week and at me at least once per week. I’d feel confident saying that 50% of my jokes make at least one person laugh. I’d also say that people laugh at me when I’m not trying to be funny with at least 50% success.

ST: Well, you certainly have your stats in order. Since we’ve never met in person, I can’t vouch for your on-site funniness. But I can vouch for the book’s funniness, which totally slayed me. Political satire is at work in this collection. I’m going to “mask” one of your story titles, so as not to give a spoiler alert.

In your story The A Party, a husband and wife attend a particular event at the wife’s insistence. She seems a most modern gal, while the husband is rather conservative (at least by Northeast Democratic standards). You split husband and wife into two dissenting political ideologies. That not only made the story brilliant, and original, but added the ingredient most crucial to all fiction: tension.

NT: I’ve so rarely gotten political in a story, yet several people seem to think this is the best story I’ve written. My intent was never to write a political story though. I was focused on the challenges presented in the relationship. Of all the stories in the collection, this one probably has the most potential to offend. It has the equal potential to offend both sides of the issue. And maybe that’s the best way to write a political short story.

ST: Love is all about politics, though, isn’t it? Who wins which domestic war, who defends what principles (like the toilet seat), who gives up territories in acts of appeasement. You, as the writer, know this instinctively and that’s why these stories play out so well. Conceptually bringing to mind that film “Enemies: A Love Story.”

Your story Skydivers and Pornographers is a total humdinger. It is completely off-the-wall, yet I bought in to every word, every bizarre sexually charged scene. I wanted to meet Marcus, myself, by the time it was over. Can you give us a hint of where this story came from within yourself?

NT: Every writer needs a story where the main character is a porn star, right?

ST: If you say so, Nate. You have brainwashed me into going along with any story idea you develop.

NT: As for its origins, I think it follows a similar line as The A Party. You take two characters with very different ideologies/backgrounds/lifestyles. There’s your tension. You throw in some porn elements. Just imagine what it would be like married to a porn star. Seriously. What percentage of people would feel comfortable in that situation?

ST: None that I know! Or at least who’d admit it.

NT: Of course, that topic in itself isn’t wild enough. So we need a porn star who can “act” while performing astounding feats of physical endurance. Again, a story with what are essentially two so-called ‘enemies’ trying to work things out together, or gain the upper hand.

ST: I bet it was fun to write.

NT: A great deal of fun.

ST: What will come next from the inspiration of Nate Tower? Or do you prefer Nathaniel?

NT: In my daily life, I much prefer people call me Nate, but I like using Nathaniel when I am in author mode. It sounds more distinguished, doesn’t it?

ST: It does! Like Hawthorne, at the very least.

NT: Yes! I could see people, years from now, talking about Nathaniel Tower’s 21st century classic. But I can’t see anyone talking about the work of Nate Tower. Can you imagine a teacher asking his students, “So what do you think Nate was really trying to say with this talking wildebeest?”

As far as the next round of inspiration, I have a few things in the works. An on-going serial novel up at JukePop, Misty Me and Me, which, coincidentally, is kind of an adventure porno story. But not as dirty as it sounds. I also have a novel I’ve been tinkering with for almost 5 years now called The Funeral Attendee. Maybe I will get that all polished up this year. Lastly, I am trying to figure out what to do with my mini-novella, One-Time Use. It’s about a revolutionary new procedure called The Stas Penis that is billed as the future of sex: it enhances pleasure (for both parties), prevents STDs, and has a special feature to keep unwanted pregnancies to a minimum.

ST: Maybe you should get it patented.

NT: It may end up being the feature story in another collection this year. That new one would be a bit more wild than Nagging Wives, Foolish Husbands. If you can believe that.

ST: I believe… I believe…

_______________________

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 2013, 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 Sarah Crysl Akhtar

Sarah Akhtar

Good editors should be like God:  bringing forth miracles without showing their hands.

Do bad editors think they are God?

Do writers sell their souls in order to sell their work?

Are some writer-editor collaborations dishonest?  Is work marketed as Carveresque when it’s really Lishy?

Should there be two bylines?  Should the byline be the editor’s, “from an idea by…?”

I haven’t read Raymond Carver, but I recently read up on the controversy around Gordon Lish’s editing of Carver’s short stories.

It’s hard not to feel that Lish found the voice Carver was struggling towards.  The qualities in Carver’s stories that earned such widespread praise seem to be the work of Lish’s scalpel–or sometimes meat cleaver–with some purely Lish additions.

So–who was the great writer?  Is Raymond Carver, the author, a mythological beast, a chimera?  Or did Carver the writer just receive the appropriate therapeutic treatment that enabled his work to thrive?

It’s been said in columns here that writing is a business, and everyone involved–writer, editor, PR departments–are partners in marketing a work.

That’s true if you want it to be–if your overriding goal is to be published.  It’s urgently true if you’re trying to make a living by what you write.

In letters, Carver expressed anguish and deeply-conflicted feelings about his collaboration with Lish–and how his reputation as an artist depended on its continuance.  Recent reissues of Carver’s work, with the oversight of his wife/literary executor, present some stories in their original form and question some of Lish’s actions and choices.

Did Lish save an alcoholic writer’s flashes of talent and turn them into art?  Did he hijack Carver’s own vision but help both of them get rich?

I’d say the only truly honest way to reissue Carver’s stories would be by including an additional byline.  Lish took raw meat and turned it into a prime steak dinner.  To be angry about that now–after the accolades and the money–is like sending the plate back to the kitchen after you’ve polished off the meal.

I’m not likely to get rich from my writing.  But I have what Carver didn’t–editors who tell me straight-out what doesn’t work, suggest how I might approach the problem, and never alter  my own voice.  Thank you, EDF.  That’s treasure that can’t be quantified.

____________

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 Robert Swartwood

FFC published this article by Robert Swartwood in April of 2009 about a form of flash Robert named Hint Fiction. He then ran a contest that led to the publication of hint fiction: An Anthology of Stories in 25 Words or Fewer. Robert recently announced a new contest. Submissions are open for the month of April. The link to the contest appears at the end of this article. –Jim Harrington

robertswart

Flash fiction isn’t anything new. It’s been around since the time of Aesop.  Why it’s becoming more prominent and popular today is because of this nifty digital age in which we now live.

Modern men and women have established severe forms of ADD — they don’t like sitting still for extended periods of time, and looking at long lines of text on a computer screen? Forget it. Twitter just proves this new disorder by giving 140-character updates of just about anything — there is even an online magazine published in the Twitter format, and one author has even begun to serialize his novel using the application. I wouldn’t be surprised if in the next year or two a new service is invented, a complete knock-off of Twitter, that displays updates of only 70-characters, because, let’s face it, 140-characters is just TOO MUCH.

Actually, the question I want to present now isn’t what’s too much.

It’s what’s too little.

Nearly everyone is familiar with Ernest Hemingway’s six-word story: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

The legend of where this piece came from varies in detail, but basically Hemingway was challenged to write a story in just six words; he came back the next day with that little ditty, what he supposedly claimed was his best work.

Now do those six words constitute a story?

Some people think so; some don’t.

Some argue that there is no protagonist, no conflict, no beginning, middle, end.

Some argue that you don’t necessarily NEED a protagonist, conflict, a beginning, middle, end to make a story.

What is a story, after all? I’m not going to try to debase it by dissecting its Merriam-Webster definition. Everyone has his or her own skewed opinion of what it means.

Some are hardcore traditionalists who require the beginning, middle, end, protag, conflict, the whole nine yards. To them if any of those pieces are missing, then it’s not a true story.

Others are more lax. They understand inference plays a great part. After all, imagination IS key, but at what point does a writer depend too much upon a reader’s imagination?

Personally, I’ve always believed a writer should try to find a strong middle ground in his or her storytelling — a place where they can meet the reader halfway, just giving enough detail that the reader’s imagination is then able to fill in the rest. Those, I believe, are the best type of stories, because the reader becomes engaged in the process.

Good flash fiction demands this of its readers.  It only gives so much, enough that the reader can fill in the blanks, help finish the painting, and then, at the end, can marvel at its brilliance.

But what about those really, really, really, really, REALLY short stories?  The, you know, six-word stories.  Are they considered flash fiction?  If not, what should we call them?

Me, I want to coin a term, so I’m going to do it here and now: those very, very, very, VERY short stories should be called Hint Fiction. Because that’s all the reader is ever given.  Just a hint.  Not a scene, or a setting, or even a character sketch.  They are given a hint, nothing more, and are asked — nay, forced — to fill in the blanks.  And believe me, there are a lot of blanks.

What is the word limit of Hint Fiction?  Well, if a drabble is 100 words, and a dribble is 50 words, then how about we say Hint Fiction cannot be anything more than 25 words.

One of the biggest hints in Hint Fiction is the title.  It’s like the setup to a joke, and the “story” is the punch line.  Without the one, the other won’t work.

For those of you wrinkling your noses right now, try to relate this to abstract art. Is a painting of three joined panels — one blue, one yellow, one red — art?  You’re probably thinking no, but I guarantee you there are some who would pay thousands for such a piece.

Here’s another question: Is Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night art?

Almost all of you will probably agree that it is.  And why do you think this?  Because ever since your very first art class in school you were told that it was art.  You were told that van Gogh was a genius and that The Starry Night is one of his masterpieces.

Let’s face it, art is subjective.  Either we like it or we don’t.  The same goes with flash fiction and, now that I’ve coined the term, Hint Fiction.  We can argue about Hemingway’s six-word story, or any piece of Hint Fiction, until we’re blue in the face.  In the end we won’t change any minds. We know what we know and we think what we think and nothing is going to change that.

If you haven’t realized it yet, I’m far from being a staunch traditionalist. I like trying new things. I think writers should be encouraged to try new things. It’s not always going to work, of course, but at least you tried, and that’s the important part.

As Samuel Beckett said: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

Now go out there and spread the good word about Hint Fiction.

Just remember to tell them who sent you.

 

Here’s the link to a follow up article we published in April of 2010, and here’s the link to the contest.

______________

Robert Swartwood lives in Pennsylvania.  His Hint Fiction has appeared in elimae, Lamination Colony, and The Northville Review.

by Aliza Greenblatt

Audrey Kalman

Audrey Kalman has been writing and editing professionally for more than 30 years. She has published short stories, poetry, and flash fiction, as well as the literary novel Dance of Souls. She currently serves as editor of the Fault Zone anthology published by the Peninsula branch of the California Writers Club. Her blog about writing appears at http://audreykalman.wordpress.com. She lives northern California with her husband, two children, and two cats.

Aliza Greenblatt: Your blog says you’ve been writing professionally for over thirty years, but have only recently started fiction writing. What inspired you to start? Did you begin by writing novels or short stories?

Audrey Kalman: I guess I’d better edit my blog… I’ve actually been writing fiction since I was seven, when I wrote my first “novel”—a complete rip-off of My Friend Flicka by Mary O’Hara. I was a creative writing major in college and wrote a novella as part of my thesis. Then I took up writing professionally after getting a journalism degree. Fiction became my hobby and I switched to short stories for a while. Dance of Souls, which I published in 2011, was my fourth novel. The other three are in a desk drawer where they belong.

As for inspiration, writing is a bit of a nervous compulsion for me—I can’t not do it. I began all those years ago out of a desire to both inhabit other worlds and understand my own world better, and that’s still my motivation.

AG: Can you tell me a little about your writing process?

AK: Do you know the Longfellow poem “There Was a Little Girl?” The end goes:

When she was good,
She was very good indeed,
But when she was bad she was horrid.

That’s kind of how I am with my writing process: sometimes very disciplined and sometimes not at all. To finish my last novel, I made a writing date with myself every weekday morning from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. Sometimes I’d go longer, but I always forced myself to write for at least an hour. It worked magically. Since then, my commitment has been more sporadic but I’ve still managed to complete six short stories. Also, in terms of process, I’m very much a “panster.” I don’t outline. I let the unfolding process of writing guide me. It feels a bit like sculpting—feeling my way toward the work hidden inside the stone.

AG: What were some of your favorite parts to write in Now You Are a Public Nuisance?  What were some of the more challenging?

AK: My favorite part to write was the end, when the narrator “comes into her power,” as they say in the self-actualization circles. It felt thrilling to step outside the rigid boundaries of the suburban sidewalk with her and do something subversive. The most challenging part was getting the voice right. I don’t usually write in second person. I started writing the story that way, then rewrote the whole thing in first person before deciding that second person suited it better.

AG: There is a running theme in the story of appearances versus reality. In some ways, the wildness of the narrator’s garden was the only public thing of hers that wasn’t trim and neat. Do you think the narrator was waiting to rebel, but didn’t quite know it? Do you think she will keep on rebelling in the future?

AK: To me, the story is very much about the conflict between acceptable social constructs—conformity—and the assertion of individuality. Where and why do we draw those boundaries, and who keeps us inside them? I think the narrator knew she was not like others in her tidy neighborhood but never dreamed that she could do something so renegade. In her world, thinking outside the box is acceptable, but acting outside the box is in a different league altogether. I think her rebellion definitely surprised her.

I hadn’t thought about whether her act of defiance with the hedge trimmer was the first of many. Perhaps it will be her first step down the road toward becoming a criminal—or a social activist!

AG: The narrator seems to be looking for happiness and yet she stresses the disappointments in her life, like she stresses the words that mislabel her. Why do you think the narrator chose the wrong things and why do you think she changed?

AK: I don’t believe her choices seemed wrong to her at the time. Conformity and comfort have much to recommend them and she couldn’t quite imagine living a different kind of life. Only in retrospect does she realize those choices led her to a place she doesn’t feel comfortable inhabiting. Although we don’t know her exact age, she is somewhere near mid-life. That’s a time when engaging in retrospection is common, and regrets—no matter what choices you’ve made—are inevitable. Her act of defiance at the end is an act of hope. It’s never too late to reclaim a lost part of yourself.

AG: What other projects are you working on now? Are there other stories of yours, either upcoming or published, that you can point readers to?

AK: My novel Dance of Souls is available on Amazon. I have finished another novel that I’m shopping around to agents and small presses (alert: agents and editors, please feel free to contact me). And I’m putting together a collection of short fiction. EDF has been good to me, having published two pieces in the last couple of years. I’ve also had a short story, Tiny Shoes Dancing, published in The Sand Hill Review, and flash fiction in Punchnel’s: Forget Me, Forget Me Not.

AG: Thank you very much for taking the time to chat with us. Best of luck with all your writing endeavors.

AK: Thank you.

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Aliza profile-pic-2

Aliza T. Greenblatt works in a firmly non-writing field when the sun is up and writes under a desk lamp at night.   Fueled by a sheer love of books and a tyrannical imagination, she writes the stories that appear over her morning coffee and won’t leave her alone until they are put down on paper.   She writes, raves, and blogs at http://atgreenblatt.com. and on Twitter  @AtGreenblatt

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