Thu 21 Apr 2011
Karolyn J. Reddy placed third in the String-of-10 THREE Flash Fiction Contest sponsored in February 2011 by Flash Fiction Chronicles. The contest challenge was to use four out of ten prompt words in a 250 or fewer word story. Those words were: DUST-SUSPECT-VIRGIN-COOL THINGS-CRACKLING-UNWRITTEN-FEEDER-QUARREL-DOGGED-JAM. An aphorism was provided for inspiration, but not necessarily to be used in the story. Here is the one for this contest: A man is but the product of his thoughts what he thinks, he becomes. –Mohandas Gandhi
To find out more about the contest, go to String-of-20 THREE Winners.
Fiction by Karolyn J. Reddy
No matter how much dirty sex we have, I’ll always be virgin to your whore. In the unwritten history that crackles between our bodies I remain untouched, whole, waiting for someone whom you refuse to be. All of my delicious embarrassments – the reality of fluid and sweat and bruises and bite-marks–don’t exist in your vision of me, where I am only a pale set of wings lifting me above our bed, the car, the couch, my office, the tent, the earth. I doggedly contort my limbs into the shapes I think you want, but those shapes are out of reach, impossible for a terrestrial being let alone for me, the resistant angel. My muscles won’t conform, my joints fail me. Even my tongue won’t cooperate. My mind can’t think its way out of a celestial box that doesn’t belong to me, and so I become what you think I am. Virgin to your whore.
Not until years later will I understand that you are the one waiting, waiting for a return to a self you gave up on long ago, a self who believes as much in dirty sex as she believes in the raw purity of love. Then you will finally become an earthly being, equal parts virgin and whore, whole and broken, wingless and winged.
Interview with Karolyn J. Reddy
Interviewed by Michelle Reale
Flash Fiction Chronicles: Tell us a bit about the evolution of this piece.
Karolyn J. Reddy: “Wingless” evolved quickly. I hadn’t done any non-academic writing in a long while, so when a friend posted about the contest I decided to use it as a motivator. Perhaps it worked out that I’d written nothing by the deadline because I had no time for the usual self-doubt or internal criticism; I simply had to write in the moment. Since I’d recently argued about the speciousness of the virgin/whore binary I took virgin from the list of words and ran with it. The basic elements of the story emerged in a flurry and I uploaded it after a few hours of fine-tuning. Of course I later did more tuning so it’ll be strange to see the original again!
FFC: How does writing to a prompt differ from generating a story from your own idea?
KJR: I find prompts liberating, in part because I see them as inroads into my own ideas rather than as something separate. They help me open up to the stories I want to tell by redirecting some of the pressure – instead of feeling lost in the immensity of my desires and dreams as a writer, I can work within the boundedness of specific guidelines. Plus if what I write to a prompt doesn’t turn out well, I can move on from it more easily because I have less invested in the source than when I start with my ideas alone.
FFC: What challenges does the compression in these small pieces create for you, the writer? For the reader?
KJR: I always struggle with perfectionism, but especially when working on short pieces. Physically seeing the whole story on one page challenges my capacity to let go and to remember that I’ll always have more and better things to say, whether in two hundred words or in two hundred pages. In terms of reading, I think small pieces challenge us to slow down and spend time with nuance. Flash fiction works superficially well with a rush-rush-rush pace, but (as with many things that move fast) we miss so much if we fail to pause and take in all that the work offers. And for both writers and readers, I love that small pieces encourage us to experience the richness of the miniscule.
FFC: All of the winning stories left me wanting more, in part, because all of them had amped-up imagery which kept me engaged. Take one of the images from your story and tell me how it came about
KJR: Hmm. Well, one of the first images in the story came directly from the prompt, with unwritten and crackling – “the unwritten history that crackles between our bodies.” I wrote the piece soon after enduring an unexpected and painful change, a change that underscored for me how the histories and identities we imagine for ourselves exert as much power as do our lived realities. If that particular image succeeds in leaving readers wanting more I’ll be thrilled because it honestly bears with it multiple unwritten histories.
FFC: Tell me about averages per story:
· average time to write a story
KJR: Anywhere from a few hours to a few years. Depends on the story, I guess!
· average number of words
KJR: Around five or six thousand for stories, but usually no more than a few hundred for poems.
· average number of re-writes
KJR: Innumerable tiny revisions – obssessions over this word or that word – but probably three or four larger re-writes.
· average number of people you share it with for feedback
KJR : My three sisters are my first readers, so at least that many. Ideally, I like to workshop pieces with a handful of writers.
· average number of places you submit one piece at a time – Ask me in a year – “Wingless” was my first submission to anything beyond my college literary magazine, and I graduated more than a decade ago.
FFC: Which writers inspire you the most?
KJR: Wow – such an impossible question to answer! Today, the first who comes to mind is Gloria Anzaldúa. I’m teaching her in my class this week and I never cease to learn something new from her work. The same goes for bell hooks, Toni Morrison, Eduardo Galeano, Meena Alexander, and Mary Oliver. I return most often to Rilke and Austen, and Rachel Guido deVries was one of my first mentors and she inspires me to this day. Really, the world surrounds me with beautiful writers and beautiful writing of every sort.
FFC: Which book have you read that you wished you wrote?
KJR: Ruth Ozeki’s My Year of Meats. It weaves together so many of the things I care about in writing and in life, and even though I haven’t read it in a few years it stays with me in the best way.
FFC: Make a 30 word “story” with the following words:
· cough drop
· hair band
No match for my nerves nor never-to-come government cheese, I wrap a Dalmation-dyed rag of a hair band round my wrist, bite into my cough drop, keep waiting.
FFC: Have the last word: Give us your thoughts on being one of the winners—and again, congratulations!
KJR: Thanks for the congratulations and for your work on the contest! The unanticipated delight of placing third couldn’t have come at a better time – just the experience of sending something out into the world meant so much, let alone sending it out into a world of generous readers. And it’s kept me connected with FFC, a reward in and of itself.
Karolyn Reddy has a day job involving writing of a different sort: she teaches introduction to composition and studies literature, critical theory, rhetoric and composition at the University of California, Davis. Before entering graduate school she worked in social justice and community organizing, and she sees her recent return to writing fiction and poetry as a way of uniting all of these interests.
Look for the String-of-10 Three 2nd place winner this coming Monday.