by Andreé Robinson-Neal

Andree-New

The crew at FFC jumped into 2015 with both feet. Jim Harrington rang the year in with some thoughts on dialect and reminded us that while we understand those phonetic spellings, our readers might not. We may want our stories to evoke emotion — confound, upset, tickle, tug — but the last thing we want to do is “confuse the reader.” To underscore this point, Sarah Crysl Akhtar‘s treatise on poor word choices is a wonderful example of how a single word can be fatal to the emotion of the story. James Claffey‘s post on the turned phrase may give you pause as you ponder your latest writings — as he (as per his wife) says, “words can be fractured things, awkwardly spliced and stitched together.” However, as our three staff members suggest, it’s about craft: not stringing any old word to another, but precisely drawing together the perfect piece of flash.

Kaye Linden gave us a handout that should help us get our almost-ready-for-submission writing in order with a 37-point list of tips on flash fiction (and a set of bonus poetry points too) and Rohini Gupta shared her reasons for writing flash fiction. The reminder of the infinite possibilities that we can create within a handful of words should get you excited to continue writing (or to get started) this year.

Need some tips to enhance your writing? January had a bunch to offer.

Dino Laserbeam gave us five solid points for writing twist endings, including a reminder that a twist isn’t always necessary in flash. Gloria Garfunkel gave us a glimpse into the far-reaching aspects of flash fiction and what you can do with it if you try. For you audiophiles, Jeremy Szal offered 5+1 do’s and don’ts for podcasting your story. RK Biswas reviewed Shellie Zacharia’s flash collection, Not Everything Lovely and Strange is a Dream, which you might want to pick up for added inspiration. Take a careful read through “Get Thee Hence” from Sarah Crysl Akhtar and remember: be true to your expression, follow the tenets of grammar, and “keep writing til you get it right.” Incorporate all the tips and tricks offered throughout the month and maybe you’ll be one of EDF’s top authors, like Amy Sisson, who was interviewed by Aliza Greenblatt.

No matter where you are in your writing career, FFC’s staff is here to give you the latest craft, genre, and inspirational information. Be sure to connect regularly as there is something new each month!

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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 Erin Entrada Kelly

Erin Kelly

Choosing the right words to tell a story is an art, and the greatest artists make it seem effortless.

Let’s face it: If you want to learn how to build a boat, you have to study the shipbuilders. So let’s take a look at a successful piece of flash—Kenneth Gagnon’s Liar—and find out what made this story strong enough to win the highly competitive 2013 Best of the Net prize for fiction.

First, the opening paragraph:

I think things went south because I was a habitual liar, especially about the story of how we met. I have an active imagination. I considered it charming, and for a time – a long time – so did you.

Gagnon doesn’t waste any time. (You can’t waste time in flash, after all). He tells us right away that things went south and gives us boatloads of information about himself and his relationship, in only three sentences.

When I balanced Jonathan on my knee in the glow from the tyrannosaurus lamp, for instance, I told him I leapt four hundred feet in the air to catch you as you plummeted from the whitest, softest cloud. In light emanating from the mouth of the fiercest of all dinosaurs, he asked: Was mom an angel?

Absolutely. And unbelievably clumsy.

Again, a ton of information. They have a small child, Jonathan. And while the narrator might be a “habitual liar,” his lies aren’t of the evil variety. He’s likable, sympathetic. This is important, because it gives the rest of the story unique resonation.

As the 500-word story unfolds, we travel with the couple to a company Christmas party, where the narrator tells his wife’s boss the real story (or maybe-real-story—nod to the unreliable narrator) of how they met. This clever thread unites the playful-kid scene with the work-party scene.

The narrator then senses tension in the air and perceives that his wife is trading side-glances with one of her co-workers, “a Greek with eyebrows and hair so thick they looked painted.” His suspicions escalate on the ride home.

I regarded the headlight-lit, winding road, certain now we were bound for a shadowy, unexplored country. I pictured jaguars and deep green vines.

Metaphors are tricky. If you try too hard, they come off cheesy and overworked. If you use them too often, it’s gimmicky. And if you sacrifice them altogether, you rob yourself of an effective prose technique. Gagnon’s smart. He threads “shadowy, unexplored country” with a follow-up metaphor of “jaguars and deep green vines.” This adds a distinct layer of richness to Gagnon’s prose. It’s also interesting how he embeds the word “now.” Consider how it changes the context of his sentence when the word “now” is removed.

I regarded the headlight-lit, winding road, certain we were bound …

This is an example of how one word makes a world of difference, even if it’s not immediately apparent (remember: good writers make it look easy). The word “now” tells us that there is finality in the narrator’s thought process—that he had suspicions that were validated at that moment. Before that moment, he was uncertain. But he is certain now.

Gagnon continues with I was drunk at the helm, in which the word “drunk” could have double meaning. I’m not sure if that was intentional or not, but it works.

Then this perfectly placed, eloquent metaphor:

I saw in your eyes the cold ocean’s floor, and the Greek there, swimming ghostly amongst a hundred faceless others.

So, here is a man who is suspicious of his wife. But remember—we like him. When we’re introduced to the narrator, he is bouncing his son on his knee and telling him a whimsical story about his mother being an angel. At the company party, he makes jokes with the company COO and attempts to kid around with his wife. Imagine how different the story would be if our narrator were abusive, or an alcoholic, or a philanderer.

In 500 words, Gagnon has crafted an eloquent piece of fiction with a clear story arc and textured, three-dimensional characters. Not an easy task, but he makes it look effortless. That’s when you know it’s good.

Read Liar, by Kenneth Gagnon at Drunk Monkeys.

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Erin Entrada Kelly has published more than 30 short stories and essays in publications worldwide. A two-time Pushcart Prize nominee, Kelly was a 2011 Martha’s Vineyard Writer in Residence and a finalist for the Philippines Free Press Literary Award for Short Fiction. Her debut novel BLACKBIRD FLY will be released by HarperCollins/Greenwillow next month. She is also the author of HER NAME WAS FIDELA, a novella-length collection of flash fiction. Learn more at www.erinentradakelly.com.

 

by Kyle Hemmings

METornEdge

First of all, let me say what inspired me to write at all. Of course, there were precedents in childhood. I liked the poets, such as Lorca, Rimbaud, the poems of Poe, even the verse and lyrics of Leonard Cohen and Jim Morrison. That’s not to say that I understood at a young age a Rimbaud or Lorca, but I fell in love with the sound of their words, the connotations. So poetry for me was always a first love. In more recent years, since I joined Zoetrope and fell under the spell of the great poet, Lisa Cihlar, I became enamored of the prose poem.

In the early 80s, I stumbled upon a collection of stories called The Gold Diggers, by Robert Creeley. Now here was a book of prose/fiction written by a poet. It was published very early in his career, around the early 50s and at least one story, The Unsuccessful Husband mirrored his situation, living in Majorca with his first wife. She was the breadwinner, while he was pursuing the writer’s romantic dream of making great literature that grappled with relevant themes: solipsism or the difficulty of communication, the problem of identity and whether any moral imperatives still exist in a world where old values, such as conformity, were being questioned or overturned. In the story, the husband and wife are caught in a loveless tug of war, she, wanting him to conform to society’s standards of what a good husband should be like. And he, trying to resist or sabotage her efforts. By the end of the story, the wife is dead by attrition and despair, a kid of murder in slow doses. In real life, the strain of their relationship caused Creeley and his first wife to divorced.

The reason I bring up that collection is because it alerted me to the possibilities of language, how a writer can use style to bolster a theme. Many of the stories did not have a traditional narrative arc but employed voice and a skewed vision to grapple with a certain truth of the moment. In fact, looking back, I think some of those stories could now be called flash fictions. Whatever, the collection is a mesmerizing one and still haunts me.

I should also cite as another source of inspiration the rock bands of the mid to late 60s. I studied the lives of some of these tragic or not so tragic figures, musicians such as Roky Erickson, Arthur Lee, Skip Spence, Tim Buckley and even wrote a chapbook of flash and poetry loosely based on their lives. Music always had a big effect on me, and I suppose those pre-punk garage bands, psychedelic bands, will always stay with me. Sometimes a title or a lyric from one of their songs will work its way into my work or inspire me to a new riff.

And also, in contrast to some writers who seem to still struggle with an episode or issue in childhood, much of my impetus to write comes from a more recent period of my life where I became addicted to the NYC club scene in the late 80s, early 90s, the Ed Koch period spilling over into the Dinkins era. Times Square was not cleaned up. There were so many people I encountered living on the fringe. I spent many nights on a dance floor, drunk, spinning myself into oblivion until 4 a.m. And there were the incredible hangovers. It was in some way an unreal world, a form of escape. Some of my chapbooks of flash/poems were born from the struggle to deal with that experience, Chapbooks such as Cat People, Avenue C, and Zin! were testimonies to that dizzying surreal experience.

And lastly, as to why I write flash fiction, I think it’s because it’s a brother/sister of one of my favorite forms—the prose poem. In a flash you can turn things on a detail. In such a short amount of space, every word or detail has to weigh. I think this is true in the great work of a Kathy Fish or Randall Brown. It’s something I still must learn to master. And whereas the longer short story places more emphasis on developing a linear narrative, flash can develop a tremendous depth, a kind of horizontal depth in a snapshot of the life of its characters.

Which is not to say that flash can’t have a narrative or elements of plot and action. It often does. But what I like about the form is that in the best flashes there is not so much the danger to plateau as can happen somewhere in the middle of a novel or longer story, where the reader’s attention begins to flag.

I like flash because it can hit you good and fast and hard. It can hit you in the gut like nothing can. It can stay with you like a song.

____________

Kyle Hemmings lives and works in New Jersey. He has been published in Your Impossible Voice, Night Train, Toad, Matchbox and elsewhere. His latest ebook is Father Dunne’s School for Wayward Boys at amazon.com. He blogs at http://upatberggasse19.blogspot.com/.

string-of-10-logo7

The String-of-10 contest runs from February 8, 2015, at 12:01 A.M. PST to February 15, 2015, at 11:59 P.M. PST. The winning entry will be the best 250 (or fewer)-word story written from a randomly selected string of ten words.

NOTE: Stories are read blind. Do not include your name with the story.

GUEST JUDGE

I am pleased to announce that this year’s Guest Judge will be Meg Tuite. Meg’s writing has appeared in over 300 journals including Berkeley Fiction Review, Epiphany, Superstition Review, JMWW, One, the Journal, Prick of the Spindle, Monkeybicycle and Boston Literary Magazine. She has been nominated nine times for the Pushcart Prize and has been a finalist in the Glimmer Train short story writer’s contest twice.

GUIDELINES (Please read carefully)

The contest is open for eight days only. Anyone may enter. All entries must be in English and submitted through our Submission Manager. Our regular daily prompts will be suspended during the length of the contest.

FURTHER DETAILS

  • The prompt for String-of-10 SEVEN will be available at 12:01 A.M. on Sunday, February 8, 2015, here at FFC.
  • There is no entry fee.
  • Submit stories up to 250 words. The title is not counted in the 250 words.
  • Submit only one story per author.
  • All stories must contain a minimum of four words from the String-of-10.
  • You can use any tense of the words and any recognizable form. For example, if the word is “jar,” “jarring” and “jar-like” qualify, while “jargon” does not.
  • You can use a prompt word in the title.
  • Seamless integration of any four of the prompt words is the goal.
  • The quotation is given for thematic inspiration but is not required to be part of the story.
  • As we have done for the past three contests, we will give out a special prize, The Patricia McFarland Memorial Prize, for the story that best incorporates the theme. Any submitted story is eligible for this prize, including the first, second, and third place winners.
  • Entries must be received by 11:59 P.M. PST Sunday, February 15, 2015.
  • All decisions made by the FFC staff and our guest judge are final.

CONTEST SCHEDULE

2/08 Contest begins
2/15 Last day for submissions
3/15 Winners announced
4/02 Interview with Meg Tuite posted at FFC
4/07 Winning story posted at EDF / Author interview posted at FFC
4/09 Second place story and interview published at FFC
4/14 Third place story and interview published at FFC
4/16 Patricia McFarland winning story and interview published at FFC

(With the exception of the submission dates, the schedule may change without notice.)

STRING-OF-10 SEVEN FLASH FICTION CONTEST PRIZES

1st Place: Winner will have his or her story published at Every Day Fiction and be paid the standard payment of $3.00. In addition, the winner will receive a $50 Cash Prize from Flash Fiction Chronicles, a choice from Every Day Publishing’s Book List, a copy of a book written by Guest Judge Meg Tuite, and a copy of What Came Before by Gay Degani, Managing Editor Emeritus of Flash Fiction Chronicles.

2nd Place: Winner will have his or her story published at Flash Fiction Chronicles in April. (There is no payment for publication at Flash Fiction Chronicles). A $20.00 cash prize will be awarded as well as a copy of a book written by Guest Judge Meg Tuite and What Came Before by Gay Degani.

3rd Place: Winner will have his or her story published at Flash Fiction Chronicles in April. (There is no payment for publication at Flash Fiction Chronicles.) A $20.00 cash prize will be awarded as well as a copy of What Came Before by Gay Degani.

The Patricia McFarland Memorial Prize: Winner will have his or her story published at Flash Fiction Chronicles in April (there is no payment for publication at Flash Fiction Chronicles) and will receive a cash prize of $25.00

STRING-OF-10 SEVEN PROMPT

SCRAGGLY-PECAN-ROUTE-SUCCINCT-ACCUMULATE-HANDLE-BIAS-EXIST-COAST-HANDKERCHIEF

We cannot teach people anything; we can only help them discover it within themselves.
Galileo Galilei

SUBMIT YOUR STRING-OF-10 SEVEN ENTRY HERE.

We wish you all good writing and good luck.

Jim Harrington
Managing Editor
Flash Fiction Chronicles
jpharrin@gmail.com

by Sarah Crysl Akhtar Sarah Akhtar

Can sophisticated palates coexist with a hankering after Cheez Whiz™ on white? Mais oui, dude.

Popular fiction can be great—even superb, like a freshly-made soup from a good deli department—and be worth more of your money and your time than anything the cognoscenti might be touting.

I’ll take John Le Carré, Elmore Leonard or Eric Ambler over most literary prize-winning authors any day. I like something I can get my teeth into and savor, without vaporously yearning characters spouting five hundred pages of angst. I admire authors who can make every word of spare lean prose do the heavy lifting where someone else might inflict a fifty-sentence paragraph on me.

And I’m not ashamed of enjoying a well-worn Agatha Christie paperback either.

There’s some stuff, though, that I can’t choke down even if I’m climbing the walls for something—anything! to read. There’s Cheez Whiz™, and then there’s Cheetos™, and even with a rumbling stomach I find that there is a junk food too far.

A lucky few writers have become very, very rich from truly awful books. And with tears in my eyes and a ragged throat I cry “more power to them,” even if I find it more pleasurable to read the text on an orange juice carton than a chapter in any of their works.

What does all of this mean?

Before you can write bad stuff for big profit, you need to learn how to write well.

You need to know the difference between a commercial decision and an inability to produce good prose.

Publishers are always looking for their new blockbuster flagship author. There’s plenty of competition. They don’t have time to deal with amateurs who think it’s got to be easy to do a knock-off of Mary Higgins Clark. They want professionals who can grasp not just that something sells, but why. Who can write to an editor’s request or a division’s need.

Fellow readers often respond to my critiques on comments threads as though I’m Attila the Hun’s cranky sister. Why must I be so picky? Yeah, someone’ll say, the story had a few holes in it but heck, I gave it five stars anyway!

That’s a fine way of encouraging a young, hopeful writer not to get any better.

Maybe this is your first publication, or your third, and your critique circle and your MFA instructor have all been incredibly encouraging, and finally you can call yourself an author. And now all these readers out there are patting you on the head. Except for the mean one who’s managed to find an absurdity or some slightly overheated prose, and call you on them.

People read stories for a lot of reasons, all of them equally valid. Some just want a quick entertainment that hits the mood of the moment. Some hope for something memorable and moving. Others are trying to refine their own craft, and the story and the reactions to it are both valuable.

For real writing success, you need to know what’s good, what’s bad, and why, and then reach for the audience that suits you best.

____________

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

 

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