by Jim Harrington

jimharrington2

Markets Added

IDK Magazine (750, quarterly) Open to most fiction and poetry – visit site, view guidelines

Bangalore Review, The (800, monthly) Open to most fiction and poetry – visit site, view guidelines

Fictionvale ($, 1000, quarterly) Open to most fiction / issues themed – visit site, view guidelines

Lamplight: A Horror Magazine ($, 1000, quarterly) Speculative fiction / horror only – visit site, view guidelines

Alive Now ($, 400, bimonthly) Christian fiction and poetry – visit site, view guidelines

Maudlin House (500, monthly) Transgressive and absurdist fiction – visit site, view guidelines

The Tishman Review ($, 1000, unknown) Open to most fiction and poetry – visit site, view guidelines

 

View the complete list.

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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 (http://www.everydayfiction.com/flashfictionblog/). Jim’s Six Questions For . . . blog (http://sixquestionsfor.blogspot.com/) 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 Julie Duffy

JulieDuffyHeadshot200x300

Continuing in our series of writing for genres, this month we’re talking about Humor. Or Comedy. Or both.

Comedy Or Humor?

Kurt Luchs, founder of The Big Jewel and a writer whose humor has been featured in The New Yorker, The Onion and McSweeney’s, knows a thing or two about the topic. He makes a distinction between humor writing and comedic writing.

“Humor to me is something written by a humorist, which is to say something funny, yes, obviously, but also something smart and exhibiting some sense of literary style based on a deep knowledge of literary history,” says Luchs.

“Telling jokes and sort of stringing them together until you fill out the page or you feel like stopping, does not constitute humor writing. That’s what Dave Barry does. Is it funny? Quite frequently. Is it comedy? Definitely. Is it humor? I would say no, because it’s got no sense of literary style, no layers, no nuance, no form. For that reason I doubt people will still be reading him in the next century, but I bet they’ll still be reading Benchley, Ian Frazier and Veronica Geng.”

If we agree to draw this distinction between comedic writing and literary humor, does that mean Humor is the only kind of funny writing that has any depth?

Perhaps not. Eric Bosarge of Eric’s Hysterics was quick to remind us that, “comedy is really just drama in disguise,” which helps to explain the peculiar ability of humor to make serious point—something we’ll talk about a little later in this post.

Christopher Fielden has a more broad definition of the genre:

“Humor is a genre that should bring a smile to your face while you’re reading it.”

Milo James Fowler agrees and reminds us about the role of the author’s intent.

“Writers of humor want readers to enjoy themselves.”

There is, of course, an audience for both literary humor and for ‘stories that make you laugh’, but Luchs’ definition is a useful one to bear in mind as you try to find homes for your writing.

Reasons To Be Cheerful

Why write humor?

Sometimes the answer is simple:

“It’s more fun to write than any other genre,” says Fielden, who likes fun so much that he created a uniquely silly prize for his literary contest: the winning stories are bound into an anthology, strapped to the front of his motorbike and driven from his home near Bristol, in the southwest of England, to Hull, on the opposite coast, and back—a round trip of almost 500 miles.

Sometimes the motivation to write humor is a reaction to events in the news, or to problems in society. Consider the Ezra Pound quote supplied by Kurt Luchs:

“Journalism is news. Literature is news that stays news.”

Sometimes it can even be a reaction to the prevailing tone in your favorite genre.

Milo James Fowler’s comic science fiction hero, Captain Bartholomew Quasar is pompous, ridiculous and hugely popular. He recently won Fowler his first book contract. So why write funny science fiction stories?

“A lot of today’s science fiction is pretentious, bleak, and nihilistic. Where’s the fun in that?”

But there is also a more serious side to Captain Quasar’s adventures, says Fowler.

“The fallibility of human nature is something we all can relate to. We should laugh at ourselves on a regular basis.”

Christopher Fielden agrees, “[Humor] can allow you to tackle sensitive subject matters in a way that people can relate to and appreciate.”

Just as long as you don’t forget to bring the funny, says Fowler. “There may be serious societal issues or thinly disguised current events at the heart of the story, but laughter is the ultimate goal.”

Making Funny Stories Funny … And Stories

Inspired to write a humorous story? Stop! Read on for tips from our experts about how you can write humorous stories that are more than a wannabe stand-up routine.

Humor is there to enhance a story, but the story itself is still the most important thing,” warns Christopher Fielden.

Eric Bosarge had a similar comment.

“I look for the piece to be grounded by a clear narrative thread and for the story to progress.”

And beware trying too hard:

“Some writers try and be funny for the sake of being funny, or try and be laugh-out-loud funny with every word. This can lead to melodrama, an overuse of exclamation marks and poor story structure,” says Fielden.

Fowler agrees. “Don’t go for a punchline. Readers can see one of those coming from a mile away.

Kurt Luchs offered this guide through the process of writing and revising a humor piece:

“Every single sentence needs to be either a setup to a joke, the joke itself, or a follow-up joke that may itself become another setup. There can be sentences without laughs, but no paragraphs without laughs.

“There should be running gags that ratchet up the premise in some interesting fashion, or even parallel sets of running gags that intertwine and conclude in some unexpected but satisfying way. The thing should both climb and cohere.”

A good humor piece is as tightly and carefully constructed as a sonnet.

Humor In A Flash

Happily, humor is one of the genres that lends itself to flash fiction the best.

“The longer a piece of humor is, the harder it becomes to sustain and the harder it becomes to keep building into a fitting conclusion by topping itself right up until the end,” says Luchs.

He describes the natural limit of most humor pieces as 500-1000 words, but that doesn’t mean that all short, funny tales are good flash fiction.

“A flash-sized tale is not an oversized joke,” cautions Fowler. “Weave the humor throughout your piece.”

And don’t forget to revise rigorously, says Bosarge. “[Writers] should look over the story and ask themselves, ‘did I miss any opportunities for a laugh’ before hitting send.”

Ending On The Right Note

“Endings are hard, and hardest of all in humor,” says Luchs. “Ideally the ending should be the funniest—or one of the funniest —parts. Again, if the piece has been cleverly constructed, and the writer has several plates spinning in the form of running gags, an ending will often emerge naturally out of that. Circularity, returning to the beginning in some way, can work, especially if there is some extra twist.”

Another option is to amplify the humor—or the satire—by changing the tone at the end. Luchs explains,

“Sometimes it’s better to let the ending twist away from humor a bit, if that fits with the premise. There is a reason that many albums by the audio comedy troupe the Firesign Theatre end on a wistful or tragicomic note instead of a punchline.”

An ending he can’t abide is the ‘shaggy-dog story’, where the entire story is a set up for a single punchline.

“We have an editor whose only job is to hunt down the authors of shaggy dog stories and put them out of their misery. It keeps him busy year round.”

We can only hope, here, that Luchs is being humorous.

On Selling Humor

Selling humor is hard. It was the one thing that everyone I interviewed agreed on. It doesn’t pay well and there aren’t enough markets. (Santa, are you listening?)

“There are perhaps half a dozen outlets worth being seen in,” says Luchs, “and even they don’t pay.”

It’s also hard because humor is such a personal taste.

“Not all funny bones are created equal,” admits Fowler, who had his own run-in with commenters at Every Day Fiction, not all of whom appreciated his sense of humor in Future Tense / Present Perfect.

“…. I just keep sending my work out there until an editor snatches it up.” Fowler adds. I can almost see his wry smile, even over email.

Christopher Fielden felt so strongly about this that he started his own humor contest. Luchs edits his own humor publication. Fowler has gone with a small publisher to bring out his first Captain Quasar novel.

“My advice is,” says Kurt Luchs, “if you don’t love this thing, if you aren’t passionate about it for its own sake, stay away.”

If you simply can’t help yourself, then take some encouragement from the words of the often-published Milo James Fowler:

“Some stories take a couple rejections before finding a good home; others take a couple dozen. I’ve sold 97 short stories so far, and I haven’t lost hope on any of my homeless tales yet.”

How does he recommend we follow his example?

“Weed out as many unnecessary words as possible. Polish until shiny. Rinse and repeat. Dunk and swish. Line dry. When ready, submit to a publisher as weird as you are. Then go write something new—and funnier.”

Now, doesn’t the thought of that make you smile?

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

by Mary-Jane Holmes

Mary-Jane Holmes

In 1696, Willem de Vlamingh, a skipper for the Dutch East India Co., was sent from his native Holland to Australia to look for survivors of a ship thought to have been wrecked on the continent’s west coast. Despite all his efforts, he never found the vessel or any of its crew but he did come across something else: the presence of black swans. Many strange and exotic species were being discovered in these uncharted territories at the time but this sighting was of particular importance, for up to this point in history it was thought that only white swans existed. So adamant was this belief that a popular proverb had circulated in Europe since the Roman satirist Juvenal wrote in 82 AD: rara avis in terris nigroque simillima cygno (a rare bird in the lands, and very like a black swan). This term was used ironically, in the same way that today we talk of pigs flying or pink elephants. The black swan was a metaphor for all that could not exist, until of course, due to an intrepid sailor, the impossible became possible. Once this happened the term’s meaning transformed: the black swan became a symbol of the improbable.

Nice story, you think, but what has this got to do with writing flash fiction? Well, quite a lot actually. The improbable, the random, the unexpected are what drive stories. If we followed a character who went about his or her daily business without a deflection of any kind, we wouldn’t muster much narrative tension or impetus, but when we lift that character out of certainty, introduce a glitch, a challenge to the status quo, then we assert enough pressure on them to reveal something insightful to the reader.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, in his book The Black Swan, The Impact of the Highly Improbable, explores this idea by looking at how society deals with seemingly random happenings and suggests ways to make our world black-swan-robust; in other words a society where we reduce the impact of events such as the market crash of 1987, and exploit the positive ones such as the internet.

Taleb defines the phenomena as something that:

  1. is a surprise to the observer,
  2. has an impact on their life,
  3. but with hindsight could have been expected.

These three criteria mirror closely the ingredients that a story moves through—conflict (surprise), deflection (impact) and resolution. The last condition is particularly interesting; this idea that the event was predictable. From the relative privilege of retrospection, we can work out the reason why wars start, why empires collapse, why economies crash. Often, the mark of a successful story is how, when looking back over the series of actions and choices the character has undergone, the outcome feels inevitable. With hindsight we say ‘of course!’ rather than ‘where did that come from’?

Whereas in the real world we strive to reduce the impact of negative black swan events, as writers we want to harness their power. Of course, this is flash and whatever surprise we present the observer/character, it has to be kept to scale so here’s an exercise[1] in Black Swan generation:

Start with a character immersed in their daily routine and have them find a physical object which threatens their status quo either physically or emotionally. Keep the setting small—a room, the car, the garden shed, a cupboard. The object should create a strong reaction in the character, strong enough to change the course of their trajectory within the scene you have placed them in and act as a conduit to reveal something meaningful to both the protagonist and the reader. For example, a woman racked with remorse for an affair she had years ago, finds an earring in her husband’s sock drawer. And of course the outcome needs to fit within the whole; however slight or subtle, every twist and turn of the action must support the ending.

This idea of randomness and uncertainty can help in the creative process of writing itself. Much of the art of storytelling involves making connections between details that don’t seem to have any link. It is the tension created in this process that causes the reader to think “I must know how this is resolved.” If you are struggling for inspiration, try developing a story combining a character from one of your story ideas with a predicament or setting from another. This may be enough to produce that single and interesting rare action that will push your character and story deeper. If you are at a loss for a seed idea, use a plot generator site (there are a variety of them on the web) for the same reason.

And remember that creativity thrives on the impossible. What you might think is difficult to achieve today will no-doubt become possible in the future and that includes producing a crafted and original work of flash fiction. So persist and you too may create your own positive Black Swan.

[1] Adapted from Michelle Brook’s Rattlesnake In The Drawer writing exercise.

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Since 2009, Mary-Jane Holmes has been chief editor of Fish Publishing Ireland, an organisation committed to supporting emerging writers. She is the director and co-ordinator of the Fish creative writing and mentoring programs including the longest running online flash fiction course in Europe dedicated solely to the genre. A passionate Flasher herself, her work has been published and anthologized in various places. Recently, she was shortlisted for the 2014 Bridport Prize for Flash Fiction and won the 2014 Dromineer Flash Fiction Prize.

 

by Sarah Crysl Akhtar

Sarah Akhtar

This one’s a cautionary tale for protagonist and author: know when to stop.

Melissa Nott’s Lifeline (1/26/13) had a wonderful manic lunacy that kept this reader hurtling on to the inevitable disaster ahead.

Nott did the enviable—wrote an all-dialogue story that worked—and then tacked on an unnecessary epilogue that deflated the impact like a punctured airbag.

Most of the nine commenters enjoyed the slapstick humor here, but after 31 votes, Lifeline ended up at only 3.2 stars.

What were the potholes cracking this story’s axles? In my opinion, only that final paragraph—which wasn’t enough to dim the headlights for me on a hilarious read.

Perhaps farce built around an all-too-frequently-these-days tragedy was hard for readers to handle. But that’s what dark humor is—taking some of life’s most awful moments and making us laugh while we shudder. I thought Nott handled this well—creating vivid, individual characters whose fate we apprehensively anticipate—while ramping up the black comedy.

Lifeline is worth reading—as a damned good story and as a perfect example for writers on why less is so often more.

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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, Perihelion SF Magazine, 365tomorrows and Flash Fiction Online.)

 

by Jim Harrington

jimharrington2

I began writing fiction in January of 2007. In October of 2008, I created a blog where I posted a quote and then wrote about what the quote meant to me as a writer. Honestly, the daily posts were intended for myself. They were a way to force me to think about each quote and how it might change my writing. If people reading my comments gained from them, so much the better. I’m going to post a few of these as I wrote them—even if feel differently now. Feel free to agree, or disagree, or add your own take on the quote and what I said. Here’s today’s article.

***

Fugedaboudit (first published 2/15/10)

Forget symbolism, forget literary theory, put aside your desire to be anthologized. Tell the most authentic story you can, with as much attention and sensitivity to life as you can muster. — Randall Silvis Write to Connect With Readers. [The Writer, January 2010]

It’s all about the story.

Beginning writers, and those somewhat beyond the beginning stage, struggle to find their writing voice. Sometimes the struggle is such that the writer stops writing. In other cases, writers attempt to copy voices from novels and short stories they like. My guess is this doesn’t work out very well. Understanding how a writer writes and being inside the writer’s head when he does are two separate things.

I don’t remember struggling with voice. I probably did. It’s always been about the story with me. If a piece failed, it wasn’t because of the voice. No, it was because I wasn’t invested enough in what happened to the character to be able to write the tale.

I like today’s quote. Why? Because it tells it like it is. Forget about similes and metaphors. Forget about writing “fancy” prose. Forget about getting published and being famous. Just write the story. If the writing is good and true to the characters, the rest will take care of itself.

______________________

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.

 

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