by Elizabeth Maria Naranjo

Elizabeth-Naranjo-71

First, breathe.

It’s not easy being edited. When you first view your work with an editor’s changes/comments/criticisms, there will be a moment when your heart freezes, and then it will start to burn. This is normal. Do not respond.

Throughout the day, you will compose imaginary emails and engage in silent conversations where you defend your art against the insult of Track Changes. Because obviously this editor just doesn’t get you. You meant to be evasive in paragraph two; you wanted to sound ironic in your closing phrase.

Go ahead and rant silently. Your children may stare in confusion as you mutter and burst into occasional mirthless laughter, your spouse may disappear into the bathroom. They know you’re a writer, that you’re a little strange sometimes. They’ll forgive you.

As the evening goes on, you’ll whittle down your editor’s suggestions to the ones that bothered you most; they’ll play over and over again and the thought of implementing them will make you feel like crying. Pay attention. These are the changes you have to make.

The others—the ones that don’t hurt or merely sting—will categorize themselves:

  • Confirmed—I knew that sentence didn’t feel right.
  • Enlightened—I didn’t realize this wasn’t clear, but I see the problem.
  • Embarrassed—Did I actually write that?
  • Opposed—I see what she’s saying, but this phrase is important.

It may take a few days to get to this point. Wait until you’re there. If you have to, send your editor a polite email explaining that you’re reviewing her comments and working through them. She’ll understand.

When you can think of her with gratitude (she did save you from using the word “just” three times in one page) and remember that she wants your work to be its absolute best (it is also a reflection of her, after all), then you’re ready to respond.

While you’re drafting your reply, don’t be surprised to realize that out of the dozen changes you thought you couldn’t live with there are now only two.

And when she answers you, don’t be surprised if she says, “I can live with that.”

What’s your experience working with editors? How long do you wait to respond?

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Elizabeth’s short fiction has been published in The Portland Review, Hospital Drive, Literary Mama, and SLAB Literary Magazine. Her debut novel, The Fourth Wall, was released in June. She loves hearing from readers and other writers; visit her at  www.elizabethmarianaranjo.com.

 

by Andreé Robinson-Neal

Andree-New

It’s time for us to take a look back over the month of costumes and candy corn now that we have stepped over the threshold into the domain of Arctic chills and turkeys. The month of October was certainly full of sweet treats and if you missed any of these tasty morsels you will want to pop over to Flash Fiction Chronicles and savor each one in full.

Susan Tepper got us off to a delicious start with her Bonnie ZoBell UNCOV/rd interview. We aren’t sure how Bonnie is able to cram all her awards and books, including her newest—What Happened Here: a novella and stories—into her home, but Susan managed to give us a nice tour of both the neighborhood and Bonnie’s writing inspirations.

Part of the fun of October is all the yummy sweets and Sarah Crysl Akhtar went back into the EDF Archive to bring us a wonderfully palatable tale called She’s a Biter. From the perspective of a child, we learn about family ties. And zombies. The story was close to receiving triple-digit votes and is certainly a perfect piece for the month of monsters.

Cameron Filas brought us back to (one of) the reasons we’re here with his piece on what to do when your accepted submission appears to have dropped off the cliff. He reminds us that we should put on our most endearing smile and send off a short note of inquiry. You might have snuggled down and expected a fright from T. Gene Davis since his article was called Hook the Skimmers, but his piece is not a Halloween tale. Rather, he treats us to his three-step method for taking those casual lookers and turning them into dedicated fans of our work.

Meg Tuite shared how she has attempted to “escape the  flesh canvas” and delights us in her honest (and not-horror-related) Why I Write Flash Fiction article. Thomas Kearnes does manage to give us a bit of a scare though: his title is Leaving Flash Fiction Behind and fortunately he added For Now to keep us from a panic. He talks of the seduction of flash and the challenge of stepping into the experience of writing longer works. And for those of us who need to strengthen our relationship with flash, Angela Rydell gave us a list of five online courses that will help us flex those mental muscles.

If your mental goodie bags are nearly full, be sure to leave room for the last few treats of the month. Sarah Crysl Akhtar circles back around to the things that go bump in the night and gives us links to five stories designed to properly inspire the chills. Jim Harrington provides a list chock full of markets ready for those polished stories, while Dr. Suzanne Conboy-Hill reminds us of what a mouthful (eyeful?) flash should be and how to properly use it to bait your hook for readers. Aliza Greenblatt closes the month with the EDF’s Top Author for September, Joanna Bressler, who shares about her multifaceted writing influences.

As you book your dental appointments and get ready for holiday shopping, be sure to stop through Flash Fiction Chronicles during the month of November. There are plenty of articles, reviews, and markets waiting for you to carve up and dig into.

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Andreé Robinson-Neal got bit by the writing bug back in the late 1970s while watching Rod Serling and reading Ray Bradbury–both of whom are everyday inspirations; although she has worked in education for more than a quarter-century, she has never been cured of her penchant for speculative fiction. Find some of her flash fiction at starvingartist.com. She writes under the name AR Neal, who will hopefully one day be identified as a famous NaNoWriMo participant.

 

by Susan Tepper

Richard Fulco
Richard Fulco received an MFA in Playwriting from Brooklyn College. His plays have been either presented or developed at The New York International Fringe Festival, The Playwrights’ Center, The Flea, Here Arts Center, Chicago Dramatists and the Dramatists Guild. His stories, reviews and interviews have appeared in The Brooklyn Rail, Failbetter, Front Porch, Bound Off, The Rusty Toque, Full of Crow, Nth Position, the Daily Vault and American Songwriter. He is the founder of the online music magazine Riffraf. There Is No End to This Slope is his first novel. Learn more about Richard at the following: www.riffraf.net, www.wampus.com, and www.richardfulco.com.

Susan Tepper: You’ve titled your debut novel There Is No End To This Slope. It’s a compelling title that could be interpreted in many ways. Does it imply optimism or the other direction for you?

Fulco_book_cover

Richard Fulco: Well, the novel shifts back and forth between Staten Island and Park Slope. Hence, “slope.” While I was working on the novel, the image of John Lenza lugging a suitcase filled with textbooks up and down the slopes of Park Slope, Brooklyn was a powerful one. For the most part, I envision John going uphill, never quite reaching the top.

>The Myth of Sisyphus played an instrumental role in the development of the novel. Whereas Sisyphus eventually rolls the boulder up the hill, only to have it roll back down, I don’t think John ever makes it to the top of the precipice. He doesn’t allow himself the opportunity to embrace the journey. Perhaps he’s so fixated on the destination, but for him there is no destination either. One must have a task before venturing out. John doesn’t know what his task is.

Some might interpret the slope as John’s descent, but he’d have to arrive somewhere first before having a drop off and I don’t think he reaches the pinnacle of anything other than his own misery.

ST: Your protagonist, John Lenza, I see as a decent guy wearing two little females on his shoulders: the angel-female (Stephanie) and the devil-female (Emma). He is man in the middle of a conundrum when the book opens. It’s cool, and grabbed me right away. It forces the reader to take a side and become involved.

RF: Thank you, but it wasn’t my intention to coerce the reader into taking a side. John idealizes his long lost friend, Stephanie. After she died, he harbors guilt for more than twenty years. When he and Emma break-up, he even idealizes her. This is what John does. It’s his modus operandi.

John is an emotionally unstable individual who is unhappy with the present, so what does he do? He delves into the past where it’s dependable, unchanging and glorified. This is the way he operates. Stephanie’s death consoles him. Therefore, as a middle-aged man he writes letters to her. His finds solace in his divorce, so while he’s in Seattle, thinking about leaving Brooklyn behind, he writes poems about Emma.

ST: In a scene between the unhappily married John and Emma, he does a silly dance in his underwear and tries to convince her to have sex with him. Emma blows him off. Internally he is thinking: Even though I was approaching middle age, the need to be needed was as intense as ever.

I found this interesting in the sense that it seems to be the driving force behind John and the life choices he makes. I don’t sense this emotional quality in Emma at all.

RF: John is not unique in his desire to be loved and needed and adored and celebrated. All of us crave these things. We all want to be superheroes. The only problem with the desire to be a superhero is that most of us are just ordinary, average blobs of flesh (and I mean that in the kindest way possible).

Ordinary folks rarely do extraordinary things, and in John’s case he focuses on external things, things that are out of his control rather than stuff that he can get a handle on such as his job, writing and addiction problems.

John needs help. He’s not willing to ask for it. He’s not willing to accept it. But he is more than willing to live in this imaginary world that he’s built in his mind. Fantasy sustains him whereas reality disables him.

ST: Despite the protagonists ‘angst’ over his dead love, and his difficult wife, Emma, there is a lot of humor in this novel. To me, there’s a Woody Allen aspect to John, in that he’s a tad neurotic about, well, a lot of things. The scene in the doctor’s office when John is getting a rectal exam threw me into spasmodic laughter. Your delivery was so deadpan, which made the scene work so well.

RF: Thank you, Susan.

I hope that readers sympathize with John Lenza and laugh with him (or at him). He’s a fool. He’s Yorick not Prince Hamlet. He’s not even J. Alfred Prufrock or Woody Allen.

He is deeply neurotic, insecure and nebbish and I can see that he is Woody Allen-esque. However, I’m not sure that John shares Allen’s intellect. Woody Allen’s character, in say the earlier films – Annie Hall and Manhattan – might be somewhat sympathetic, but by his later films – Whatever Works and Midnight in Paris – you just want to string the guy up. He’s detestable, infantile and idealistic. The same could be said, I guess, about my protagonist. By the end of the novel, I suspect most readers will be fed up with John’s shenanigans.

ST: It’s interesting to hear an author take a strong stance ‘against’ a character who is, after all, their creation. I have always felt rather close to my most vile characters. Personally, I’m not remotely fed up with what you call ‘John’s shenanigans’.

Over the course of the winter I began reading James Baldwin’s Another Country. It’s filled with pretty vile characters, but they are ‘human in their frailties’ and I believe it is their weaknesses that draws the reader. I found the same with your characters, even the most annoying such as Emma. I think you write your characters from the empathy section of your brain and that’s what makes this book so good.

RF: The truth is, I’m not the most sympathetic person in the world, so in early drafts Emma Rue and Dawn Bello don’t come across as sympathetic characters.

As I continued to hone both characters, I found more compassion for both of them. I was careful not to demonize them or John (for that matter). Frailties, flaws and shortcomings are what makes us human. All three of them do vile things, but that’s the way life works. Good people do vile things. Good people either rectify those vile things, forgive themselves and others and move on. Or in John’s case, they struggle to move on.

I hope that Emma, Dawn and John’s weaknesses are what makes them captivating characters. In the drafting process, it was extremely gratifying to watch them develop.

ST: I’m glad you seemed to like them all by the book’s end. I feel it’s a good thing to like our characters, despite how they might strike the readers

_______________________

Susan-Tepper200w

Susan 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 R. L. Black

RL Black

Writing a story that sends shivers down the spine of your reader is a challenge. Doing it in 1,000 words or less is more difficult than it sounds. One would think, less words, less effort. One would be wrong. And one would end up with a mediocre story at best.

Here are my tips for writing a super spooky story in a flash:

Let’s first talk about what makes a good flash.

  • Flash fiction is defined as a story that is told in 1,000 words or less.
  • A good flash story is a snapshot of a bigger story. I always know my story works when someone reads it and says to me, “This would make a great beginning for a novel.” An excellent example of this is Ernest Hemingway’s famous six word story: “For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn.” It’s only six words, but with those six words you can see a bigger story.
  • Your beginning is important in any story, but especially in flash. You really want to go for it here. Wow your reader with that first sentence.
  • Likewise, your ending is crucial. You need to pack a punch here. Twist endings are popular with flash stories, and it’s okay to do them. I use them myself. What’s not okay is to stick a twist ending on an otherwise poorly crafted story. It won’t save it. It’ll only disappoint your reader. And if you do throw a surprise in at the end, you need to make sure the rest of the story reflects it upon hindsight. You don’t want your reader to feel cheated. You want them to think, “Oh, man, I should have seen that coming. It was all right there.”
  • The word limit in flash fiction won’t allow for subplots. One plot is all you have room for.
  • You want to pay special attention to things like repetition and the overuse of adverbs. In flash fiction, every little thing is going to stand out. And remember, if something draws the reader’s attention, it takes them out of the story and out of the horror you are trying to create.
  • A flash piece needs to be complete. Even though you have a word limit, you still need to have all the elements of a story present. Ambiguity is one thing, unfinished is another.

Now that we know how to write flash fiction, here’s my one and only tip for writing horror:

Write about what scares you.

Yep, that’s it. If it scares you, write about it. If it doesn’t, forget it. Seriously. Every story I have ever written following this rule was accepted for publication. It’s like a magic formula. If it scares you, it’ll likely scare your reader.

The last thing is for you to put it all together.

Sit down and make a list of five things that terrify you. Then pick the one you find most frightening. It doesn’t have to be big stuff, like ghosts or vampires. Maybe you’re scared of spiders. I knew a lady who was scared of buttons.

You’re ready now. Go, write a story, 1,000 words or less, about that thing that spooks you. Make it complete. Start with a bang, follow through with an engaging middle, and top it off with a strong, unforgettable ending.

You’ll scare the crap out of your readers, and you’ll do it in a flash.

Sample stories

Below (http://flashesinthedark.com/2014/09/19/below-by-r-l-black/) is a great example of writing about what scares us the most. I have a huge fear of basements, and that fear inspired this story which found a home right away at Flashes in the Dark.

The Monster in the Woods (http://www.trystlitmag.com/flash-fiction/the-monster-in-the-woods-by-r-l-black) is an excellent example of how a twist at the end is okay but should be something the reader can go back and see was there all along.

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R.L. Black lives in Tennessee and enjoys writing flash fiction and short stories. Most of her work has some sort of dark or strange theme. She is also a reader for an online literary magazine. You can find out more about the author and her publications at rlblack.weebly.com.

by Andreé Robinson-Neal

Rolli is a writer, illustrator and cartoonist hailing from Canada. He’s the author of  two short story collections (I Am Currently Working On a Novel and God’s Autobio), a book of poems (Plum Stuff), and the middle grade catstravaganza Dr. Franklin’s Staticy Cat. His cartoons appear regularly in Reader’s Digest, Harvard Business Review, Adbusters, The Chronicle of Higher Education and other popular outlets. Visit Rolli’s website (www.rollistuff.com) and follow him on Twitter @rolliwrites.

Photo by Tea Gerbeza.

If you happen to run into Rolli on the street, you might want to stop him and ask the question: “What do you mean ‘working on’?” His recently published flash collection, I Am Currently Working on a Novel, is six novels in one volume. Each piece of flash is categorized within different themes and each theme is a literary work that stands on its own merit.

In Hollywood, Rolli offers multiple glimpses of the City of Angels. Where else could a serial stalker, a Mulhulland Drive murderess, and a mermaid all live in relative anonymity? The stories run the gamut from horror to comedy. Is Dracula real or a superhero? What happens when beauty dies? How can a utensil bender practice his craft when his wife won’t let him in the kitchen? And what can we do with a broken soldier searching for Hollywood?

It doesn’t stop raining in Hollywood. But this isn’t even Hollywood. I can’t find Hollywood.

When I thought it was Hollywood, I walked everywhere, but I couldn’t find the stars. I couldn’t ask anyone. I felt like getting sick. I hadn’t had water in a long time. (Dear Hollywood II)

Rolli’s descriptions are crisp and strike with a thud of reality that is as disconcerting as it is eloquent. The Golden Weekend is a Polaroid that provides moments frozen in time. The characters live in the moment and scrape the reader’s emotions raw. The narrator of I Am a Robot will keep us out of the ocean, while the voice on the other end of The Seaphone will make you want to lift the receiver of every pay phone you see. Chances are strong that you would be very thirsty like the narrator in I Have a Crusty Tongue if you too lived in a well.

It was during the war—which war, I don’t recollect—that the children came to Beige House. Twenty-four dingy, bug-eyed children, half of whom, evidently, had never made the acquaintance of a hairbrush, the other half of soap and water. (The Golden Weekend: Horrible Summer)

The Drowned Woman takes a more somber tone. Each piece is a glimpse into a bruised soul that exudes crushed spirits and broken psyches beneath facades of strength. The faces on the kitchen wall in Tears and Cake and the exclamation point-filled pronouncements in Hee Hee I’m the Toof Fairy! leave chills that are worse than nails on a chalkboard.

To prove the point, there is the following section: The Impossible Man (An Evaporated Novel), which proves the opening comment that is not ‘working on’ a novel but has, like the narrator in Vivian Jackson Bean, already written many. This evaporated tome is bursting with women and animals, sometimes alone but more often entangled in a complex dance of words.

More pages reveal more emotion. If child-like wonder could be placed in a blender with grotesqueness, curiosity, pleasure, and wonder, the result might be found in Candy Island. The story of the same name is pleasantly unpleasant. Nothing short of such a recipe could create a story like There’s a Swan in My Scrotum. Stories like Thumbs cause feigned looks of concern that hide laughter behind closed lips. And whatever you do, don’t wheel under the Bee Trees.

It seems fitting that Rolli would close out with a section titled The Graveyard. After all, that’s typically the end of things. However, sometimes death is not what it seems.

It seems funny to say, but I live in a piece of paper. It seems funny to say—but not so funny to live. It’s a great square of paper, twelve feet square, that I dragged into an alley between one art gallery and another art gallery. Every night, or in the daytime, even, when it’s cold, I roll up in it, like tobacco in an enormous cigarette. (The Great Swanzini)

At best, death means finding paradise, like the quiet room of The Poe’s Private Library. At worst, death probably means not having the money for burial and meeting The Cemetery Bird.

No spoilers here but when you reach the last page, you may desire a second chance to run into Rolli in the street. If you do, be sure to nod, tip your hat, and wish him well. Writing a novel is hard work. In the meantime, check his progress at www.rollistuff.com.

____________

Andree-New

Andreé Robinson-Neal got bit by the writing bug back in the late 1970s while watching Rod Serling and reading Ray Bradbury–both of whom are everyday inspirations; although she has worked in education for more than a quarter-century, she has never been cured of her penchant for speculative fiction. Find some of her flash fiction at starvingartist.com. She writes under the name AR Neal, who will hopefully one day be identified as a famous NaNoWriMo participant.

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