by Thomas Kearnes

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I haven’t written a story under 1,000 words in well over a year. Even then, I wrote only one new flash during all of last year and just two new ones in 2012. I’ve published older pieces here and there, either sprucing up something previously left for dead or remarketing a piece after its original online home went dark. That said, I’ve definitely kept busy. I crank out roughly three short stories a month, maybe four or five if they’re on the shorter side (say, 2,500 words). If school and work eat up my leisure time, I feel secure in the knowledge I have enough shorts available for publication that I needn’t worry about running low and missing an opportunity.

None of this, however, explains why I’ve drifted away from flash in the last couple of years. The discipline was certainly good to me. I’ve found homes for far more short-shorts than I have traditional shorts. Part of that, though, is due to the fact I’ve written far more flashes than longer pieces. To decompress after tearing through a new first draft, I scanned the last couple of years of FFC. I paid special attention to revered flash writers (like Randall Brown and Meg Pokrass) explaining the appeal of the discipline and what they believed made flash a discipline unto itself as opposed to just a really short story.

I’ve come to the conclusion that despite whatever flash publications backed my work, I was never really a flash writer. At least, not in the vein of those I’ve been learning about through their own explanations and their work itself. My most dramatic difference with what I assume is the prevailing wisdom on flash is that I refuse to embark on a first draft unless I have a three-act narrative securely in mind. (Yes, sometimes I outline my longer shorts.) Depending on images and sounds and unicorns to convey my message to readers freezes my heart with terror. Narrative is the backbone of my fiction, the base from which all other elements originate. I admire flashes that eschew conventional storytelling, but I’ll never pretend to understand how they work.

I kept plugging away at the discipline, however, and I’m not proud of my reasoning. Simply put, I considered a 1,000-word story far less of a gamble of time and energy than a 20-page marathon. If a flash fails, you’ve only lost an hour or two. If a story five times that length fails, you’ve lost one or two weeks. The arithmetic seduced me. Also, there are scores more venues seeking flash than short stories, at least online. If a particular flash was reasonably well-executed, marketing was sometimes a breeze. Contrast that with having to pound the pavement for a year or longer with a short story, even a terrific one.

Also, it’s only recently that I acquired enough confidence to hop from one longer piece to the next. I’ve received enough positive feedback from peers and editors to believe I can pull off a work of fiction that’s 4,000 words or longer. My problem now, and what will continue to be my problem, is selecting the most compelling premise of the dozens I have swirling inside my head. (There are plenty of bad ideas in the mix, of course.) Still, it’s a huge relief to know I can construct a narrative of enough complexity to run past 15 pages.

Perhaps another reason I clung to flash fiction so long without truly understanding it was that I was too nervous about striking out in new directions. As any of you familiar with my flash fiction can attest, I had a basic formula: let one scene in kitchen-sink realist style play out in real time. Occasionally, I experimented with second-person narration or quasi-prose-poem affectations, but well over three-fourths of my flash stories fell under the “one-scene wonder” category. It still humbles me to realize that all along, I was submitting to editors who likely viewed scene-driven flash as the mark of the amateur. (I should also mention that back then I rarely read flash publications or flash writers discussing their craft. I was petrified I’d discover everything I was doing was wrong, wrong, wrong.) What can I say? I was an amateur, and my one saving grace was a knack for conjuring lapel-grabbing premises.

Also, flash fiction allowed me to rummage through all the baggage of my romantic and sexual pasts and still convince myself that I was creating actual art instead of psychotherapeutic dribbling. Yes, I know, a couple of years ago, I encouraged all of you to excavate your personal histories for flash. If you decide to do this, however, I’d caution that you embark on that particular first draft because you firmly believe general readers will enjoy it, not because you just need to vent.

All this said, I will forever be thankful I toiled at flashes for as long as I did, because it gave me a crash course in several aspects of fiction writing and publishing. Most importantly, I learned to line-edit, cutting every unnecessary word, every deadwood phrase. This skill has served me well with my longer fiction, often allowing me to excise as many as 750 words from a first draft. Secondly, I learned how to conduct myself with editors far more quickly than if I’d been submitting only longer pieces.

I’ve learned that speculation about my future as a writer or about the future of publishing itself is a waste of time. Maybe flash will continue to rise in prominence. Maybe flash will hit a dead end once faced with a general readership that has no clue how to appreciate it. Maybe scene-driven flash will come in vogue. After all, even unicorns can overstay their welcome.

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Thomas Kearnes holds an MA in Screenwriting from the University of Texas at Austin. His two collections are Pretend I’m Not Here (Musa Publishing) and Promiscuous (JMS Publishing). His fiction has appeared in Litro, The Adroit Journal, The Ampersand Review, PANK, Word Riot, Eclectica, SmokeLong Quarterly, wigleaf, Storyglossia, A cappella Zoo, Spork, The Pedestal, Digital Americana Magazine and elsewhere. His work has also appeared in several LGBT venues, such as Diverse Voices Quarterly, Diverse Arts Project, Educe Journal, and the Best Gay Stories series. He is studying to become a drug dependency counselor. He lives near Houston.

by Meg Tuite

me:mirror:roadtrip:2014 Flash fiction was immediate love at first sight when I read some chapters of The Decameron, Edgar Allan Poe, and The Blue Octavo Notebooks of Kafka’s, but that’s not a genre I was writing. I wrote long, long stories that moved closer to novella terrain and when I was a kid I tried to write a novel. I have no idea how many pages I made it through, but I remember furrowing my eyebrows when at my desk, and seeing a huge pile of paper next to me. It was probably mostly blank, but my memory tends toward that as well. I’ve been writing for over twenty years to unleash myself from the flesh canvas that I cannot possibly get away from. That sounds ominous, I’m sure, but I hope that other writers will get it. We write in order to release and come to know ourselves better. At least, that is the case for me.

While my Mom was actively dying and hospice was called in and coming to our trailer I found I couldn’t stop, nor did I want to stop writing whatever I was able to put on the page. This was something that had teeth in it and a voice that couldn’t be fisted into silence, because it ran on its own time and energy. I am sure that it was how I survived that year or whatever amount of months or years it was, because during that period of my life, time was some kind of truant clock that ticked like a plant slowly dying. You could never actually catch it clawing for air or water, but the remnants of its loss were apparent in shriveled up appendages. After Mom died, I saw how the words were able to twist the scars I had into some kind of art that was not framed by anything but hope for sanity.

I tried and still try to find some way to exist in this strange, gluey world we are placed in. I started with that exquisite lust for reading. It had me before I knew what it meant to trust. Every word I read from those jasmine-magnolia-scented writers was like running through the hot sand into the cold-ass water screaming all the way! I was far, far away from any place that could crush or banish me. I was smoky musk, saber-tooth badgers, an invincible avenger who could create an earthquake just by a look or a hum on an elevator that could squelch injustice between its toes.

Invisibility was something most appealing in a house where being seen was not a trophy or an affirmative of any kind. To fall through the cracks was a beautiful endeavor, like that white space in a flash piece. You are moving along with the story and all of a sudden the single-spaced prose surrenders into a deeper density of double-space unsaid and you are quivering trying to figure out what exactly happened between those lonely spaces. Did the protagonist wear his mother’s face? Did he lick the floor, literally, or just admit that he’d been playing in mud for so damn long that each step was a throbbing wasteland of squeezing from kitchen to living room to bedroom?

Flash fiction has allowed me to capture particles of my past and express them sporadically as they come back to memory. My childhood migrated like some strange culture that bid me to get up, get out of bed and get on with something, as though adulthood was any different.

Flash offered my pen up to a community of poignant moments that found unshaven lawns and a cancer of dandelions a sure sign of lurking pedophiles behind closed drapes. Plaid shorts and withered chitchat were about ‘whose kid was going to make the cut in T-ball,’ and every scrupulous connection between neighbors was all wagging flags and x-rays that relayed Aunt Mallory’s lack of bowel movements into her desire to eat gym socks.

My brother used to launch foot-long rockets into space. It was expanse made manifest in a world that could have been the size of a school locker. No. Our family packed into our pastel blue checker cab car once a month and drove out to a field that had lots of room for the shadows and hell we never spoke of. We unloaded ourselves and roamed around looking for the perfect place to situate this upheaval. Brother was untainted by ego and agreed with the sibling who found the smoothest ground, the sweetest plain, the place of picnics and photographs.

All of us huddled around his being. His hands were as exact as microscopes. They zeroed in on the cadence of the unseen. He looked up into a sky placid with clouds and all of us squinted our eyes and searched above for some space that wasn’t gray. Brother shook his head at us. What color was tinsel? We all backed off, only as far as he made us. Our eyes widened, internal organs illuminated candles on a birthday cake somewhere on a planet inside us. The flick of at least five or six matches waxed and waned before ignition. A flame blasted from beneath this plastic, white beacon. The sound was as vast and addictive as discovering that something in this world actually worked. We laughed, screeched, howled, twirled and lived some kind of us that we rarely got to flash. We watched this physical brother-made being, manifested in our basement, shoot up into the atmosphere until it was barely and surely as large as a universe.

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Meg Tuite‘s writing has appeared in numerous literary journals. She is the author of two short story collections, Bound By Blue (Sententia Books, 2013) and Domestic Apparition (San Francisco Bay Press, 2011), and three chapbooks, the latest titled, Her Skin is a Costume (Red Bird Chapbooks, 2013). She won the Twin Antlers Collaborative Poetry award from Artistically Declined Press for her poetry collection, Bare Bulbs Swinging (2014) written with Heather Fowler and Michelle Reale. She teaches at the Santa Fe Community College; lives in Santa Fe with her husband and menagerie of pets.
Her blog: http://megtuite.com

 

by Andreé Robinson-Neal

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It’s time to dust off your holiday hats, scary masks, leaf project centerpieces, turkey decorations, and sleigh bells as Flash Fiction Chronicles moves into the last quarter of 2014! And what better way to start off our September in Review than with a holiday. Gay Degani began the month by sharing Kiwi Flash Fiction Day and an interview with its founder, Michelle Elvy. Michelle offers a poignant reminder for all of us: “Because life is short. And so is some of the best fiction.” What a great sentiment!

And in case you needed another reason to celebrate, Susan Tepper brought our own Gay Degani right back for UNCOV/rd. Be sure to read the interview, which will encourage you at those times when your story isn’t going according to plan. Gay also reminds us of the possibilities in our writing; one way to reflect on the possibilities is to “remember what came before” and we do that well here at FFC. Sarah Crysl Akhtar takes us back to check out some dazzling pieces from the EDF Archives. This month’s find was The Non-Opening Window by Simon Barker. The story was a tasty treat and a perfect comedic appetizer for the rest of the month.

September is not often identified as a month of holidays but before we had reached the midway point, we found ourselves knee-deep with a second: New Zealand National Flash Fiction Day Contest and its winners, Sarah Dunn, Tricia Hanifin, and Sue Kingham. They offer invaluable tips for those who plan to submit to writing contests and gave us a peek into their process for crafting a submission.

Speaking of submissions, Julie Duffy continued her exploration of genre and reminded us that romance matters (and sells, to the tune of $1bn!). For those who may try their hand at crafting a romantic tale, Julie offers tips from the Romance Writers of America, including a detailed description on sub-genres and audience.

If you don’t have time to write the next million-word prize-winning passion play, Christopher Allen shared why flash fiction writing is a perfect solution for time-strapped scribes. However, if you are time-strapped because of distraction, take a hint from Rohini Gupta, who reminded us of the things that can take our focus off the goal and what we can do to get back to work.

We rounded the corner into the last part of the month with RK Biswas, who took us on an imaginative tour of William Todd Seabrook’s The Imagination of Lewis Carroll. Like falling through the rabbit hole, this review will capture your imagination just as the chapbook captured the reviewer’s.

Sarah Crysl Akhtar provided a talisman that we each should tuck away when the dark clouds of doubt rear their ominous heads. In her discussion about believing in our own gifts, she reminds us to surprise ourselves, trust our instincts, and not be afraid of the eraser or backspace button. And when our instincts do not lead us to publication success, Jim Harrington gave us reasons to appreciate and learn from those rejection blues.

In case you have been held back by the rejection blues, or distraction, or doubt, there were some great flash fiction markets and resources to help you get back to the hard work and joy of writing. Aliza Greenblatt closed out the month with August’s EDF Top Author, Marisa Mangione, who reminded us to look for the golden egg, even in the mundane.

October is off to a great rustling start, so be sure to visit FFC for the latest interviews, markets, and tips.

 ____________

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.

 

[This article first appeared at http://tgenedavis.com.]

by T. Gene Davis

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Congratulations! An editor loves your prose. You’ve sold your story. Feel wonderful. You should.

After the euphoria collapses, you wonder when the fan mail and comments will start pouring in. Experienced authors acknowledge, selling the story is only one of many steps necessary when building a fan base.

Selling your story to readers begins before you get the editor hooked. You must write your story for your market—the web skimmer. Most magazines publish or advertise stories on the web, and most users of the web skim. Close to 80% of all people visiting your story or story’s advert will skim the page, rather than read the page.

Gaining readers is the act of converting skimmers into readers through a three-step combination of hooking them with a great title, convincing them to read on with an engaging first sentence, and pulling them into the story with a compelling first paragraph. I’ve heard this approach summed up with the words, “Catch, grab, and keep.”

Skimmers are embryonic fans. Convert skimmers into readers by catching their attention. Your title must stop the skimmers’ eyes from roaming the page. Story titles are critical to readership. Trite as it may sound, your title can make or break your story. A catchy title is your first hook. If your story’s title stops the skimmers, you now have the chance of converting them into a reader.

Catch the skimmers’ attention with a title that fills them with wonder. They need to wonder if the rest of the story is as good as the title, or they need to wonder what the title is describing. Either way, you have one title to create an unfulfilled need in that skimmers. You must create a desire in the skimmers to read your first sentence.

Follow up the title with an amazing first sentence. Realize, your story’s first sentence must keep those skimmers from going back to their unhelpful skimming ways. Opening with a shocking or humorous statement may catch their attention. The first sentence must interest the readers, and leave them hanging. If your readers doesn’t have at least one unanswered question because of the first sentence, they may go back to skimming. The key, again, is creating unfulfilled needs in the readers. The readers must feel a nagging desire to know what happens next.

If your title and first sentence engaged the skimmer, you’re ready for the power play—your first paragraph. You have almost turned a skimmer into a fan. Don’t blow it with a boring first paragraph.

Your first paragraph must make your readers care, and leave them wanting something. If the first paragraph fulfills the readers’ needs and answers all their questions, it must introduce more questions and needs. Remember, unfulfilled desire keeps your reader reading. When your reader stops wanting something from your story, you lose your reader.

One rule of thumb I’ve heard, is to give your reader no less than three reasons to keep reading. If you’re skilled, the readers might care about one of the reasons enough to continue reading. At this point, you have turned a skimmer into a fan.

Catch the skimmers with an amazing title that makes them want to know what your story is about. Grab them with an engaging first sentence. Keep them reading with a paragraph that gives them answers, but leaves them asking even more questions.

That’s what you need to do to hook the skimmers.

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T. Gene Davis writes speculative fiction, poetry, articles, books, and computer software. In the 1990s, he spent six years editing and publishing the zine, Of Unicorns and Space Stations. These days his zine mania has morphed into three blogs: one for speculative fiction (tgenedavis.com), another for hobby farming (davishobbyfarm.com), and yet another for shogi and computer programming (genedavissoftware.com). Follow his daily exploits on Twitter @TGeneDavis or visit Gene’s speculative blog at http://tgenedavis.com.

 

by Cameron Filas

Cameron_FilasYour writing is accepted for publication, but then you never hear back.

Sadly, this phenomenon does occur occasionally in the world of writing. You craft a brilliant piece of work, polish it through countless revisions, seek out the perfect publisher, submit, and get an acceptance letter. The letter might include something to the effect of “we’ll contact you in a month or so with a firm publication date.” You rub your hands together in gleeful satisfaction and begin writing more works of genius.

Then a month or so passes and you’ve heard nothing. Have they forgotten about you? Was your work misplaced? Could it be possible your work was never intended to be published and they sent you the acceptance letter by accident? Improbable thoughts and scenarios begin flooding your mind. But here’s what you can do when this happens.

Don’t panic! Just keep in mind it’s not personal. A good majority of the time, editors are just too overwhelmed to keep up with their own timelines. Many online publications are volunteer-based so the staff has to juggle personal lives and regular work with the running of their magazine or journal. Even when publications are paid, and the staff is full time, there is a high chance they are drowning in the sheer volume of submissions they receive. This is not to say you should not take notice or action when they don’t get back to you in a timely manner.

Remember writing and publishing is a professional business. If you take a publishers’ failure to keep up with their own timeline personally and opt to rant about them on your blog, or send them a nasty email, chances are you will find you are not welcome to publish with them ever again (and might even have your original work’s acceptance redacted). The proper response to a situation like this is to craft a concise professional email, or correspondence through their website, which objectively inquires about the status of your work. Something like this is a good starting point:

Dear Editor(s),

I am emailing to check on the status of “My Wonderful Story” and see if you have picked a publication date. Thank you.

Sincerely,

Your Name Here

It’s as easy as that! Chances are they will get back to you shortly and let you know either 1) the publication date they’ve selected, or 2) they still need more time but will get back to you shortly. This usually is all it takes to show the editors you are engaged and to give yourself peace of mind. However, in rare instances you may never hear back.*

Sometimes, no matter how many queries you send regarding the status of your work, you’ll never hear from the editors again. This could happen because you just have awful luck and the publisher decides they can’t keep up with their hobby of running an online magazine. It could also be the result of extremely lazy or unprofessional editors (yes, even in the world of writing there are lazy unprofessional people). The good news is this is an opportunity!

If the publisher you submitted to shut its doors or is too unprofessional to get back to you, that means you have an opportunity to submit your work somewhere better. The best part is your piece was already good enough to be selected for publication once. Use that glass half-full mentality as a drive to seek out other venues to submit to knowing your work already caught the eye of someone before.

In short, when publishers don’t get back to you right away it’s probably them not you. If they never get back to you, there’s no need to yell at your houseplants or cry yourself to sleep. Pick yourself up and submit somewhere else!

*Don’t forget electronic communication sometimes has bugs and you may have overlooked something in your spam folder (or vice versa for the editor). However, after two or three follow-up emails it’s probably a lost cause.

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Cameron Filas is an avid reader and novice author of short fiction and other various work. Though he has enjoyed writing from a very young age, he has only recently begun a serious pursuit of the craft. Cameron lives in Mesa, AZ, with his girlfriend, a dog, and a demon cat who he is pretty sure is plotting to kill him. You can visit his corner of the web at cameronfilas.wordpress.com.

 

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