Andrew Stancek placed third in the String-of-10 FOUR Flash Fiction Contest sponsored in February 2012 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: JAR-MOSS-GRAVITY-EDGE-CAST-STAND-ORGAN-TIRE-BITTER-WAGE. An aphorism was provided for inspiration, but not necessarily to be used in the story. Here is the one for this contest: “Freedom is a possession of inestimable value.” –Marcus Tullius Cicero.
To find out more about the contest, go to String-of-10 FOUR Guidelines.
Nothing Left to Lose
fiction by Andrew Stancek
’m buzzing, on edge. Third day without a cigarette. Everyone at the poker game smokes, everyone but me. I chew gum, gobble chips, take bigger risks. I lose a hundred bucks holding two sevens, call it a night, stop at the Kwikie Mart to get three packs of withdrawal gum.
The citrusy cloud around the woman in front of me is familiar, as are her gestures, but in the first three months I thought I saw her at least a hundred times. This woman is shaking a jar of gumballs, raspy voice mutters, “Come on, blue, come on.” She half-turns to apologize for holding me up and my intake of breath is so sharp my throat feels scorched.
One of her eyes is grey, the other green. She shows no surprise. “So, Don, you still bitter?”
Four hundred and thirty-seven days ago she was getting into her car in our garage when she told me she was leaving me for Ellen. She needed someone with human emotions, she said. The glittering orange-handled screwdriver was on the worktable and then it was through each of her tires. When I picked up the hammer, the glint in her eye showed she wasn’t sure how I’d use it. She flipped her cell open and as her windshield was shattering she called not the cops but a taxi.
I look at her wet lips.
“Freedom suits me,” I say.
Interview with Andrew Stancek
by Robin Meister
Andrew Stancek’s story, “Nothing Left to Lose,” placed Third in FFC’s String-of-10 Four Flash Fiction Contest held in February. His writing has appeared recently in River Poets Journal, The Linnet’s Wings, Pure Slush, Thunderclap Magazine, THIS Literary Magazine and other venues. His series of interconnected short stories is nearing completion.
Flash Fiction Chronicles: “Nothing Left to Lose” stuck out to me right away with its crisp imagery and character revelation. Describe the process of writing this story.
Andrew Stancek: I enjoy writing to prompts. Sometimes one sparks an idea immediately, other times it takes four or five stabs before a story begins to take shape. In the case of this contest, I saw my protagonist, the basic premise and the concluding line almost immediately. After that it took only about twenty revisions, guidance from my home Super Editor, a workshopping session with gifted flash writers and a week of tossing and turning before it seemed right. It’s just so easy to write effective flash. (laughs)
FFC: Your commitment to the writing process is apparent in the finished product, for sure. With regard to the 250-word limit for the String-of-10 contest, was compression a big part of your revision process? How many “darlings” did you have to murder?
AS: Certainly compression is a key component of the process. I study the masters who do it so well. In early drafts it’s easy to fall in love with one’s own cleverness. The knife has to be brutal. Distancing from the creation, the baby, is essential.
FFC: Who are your favorite “masters?”
AS: I have a life-long love for William Saroyan. I reread Chekhov constantly and have written an homage series called Forgotten Russian Classics. Flannery O’Connor blows me away. I had the honor of studying with Alistair MacLeod, a legend. William Trevor inspires me, makes me believe I can write a novel. Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad leaves me breathless. I could go on and on. In flash I have grown by studying Bruce Holland Rogers and authors who have come to be friends: Len Kuntz, Kathy Fish, Randall Brown. And of course so many others.
FFC: Like the notable role models and mentors you list, your writing is layered in detail, from the “three packs of withdrawal gum” to the “orange-handled screwdriver.” How conscious are your word choices?
AS: Randall Brown says “make your details so vivid and so real that they take on the quality of dreams.” Yes, these details are very conscious.
FFC: That quote fits so well with flash fiction, as many flashes read like dreams. You recently took a trip to Europe with 46 teenagers. Capture the essence of this experience in a thirty-word story using at least three of the following words: sock, roll, leaves, cup, spin, examine
AS: 30-word story:
Our cup (is that joy?) overflows: we examine the Sistine Chapel. Chuckles: Michelangelo leaves crafty Biagio spinning among the damned of The Last Judgment. We roll on; Sockrates’ city beckons.
FFC: A beautiful piece, Andrew, and an especially inventive use of the work “sock!” You blend fiction and poetry so eloquently. How do you know whether a piece is a poem or a flash?
AS: Thanks for that compliment, Robin. I love poetry but am certainly a fiction writer, not a poet. I am proud of my poetic piece in The Linnet’s Wings. I have translated a fair bit of Czech poetry. On occasion, a compressed piece of flash can straddle that fine line. Let me leave you with a little piece which appeared in 50 to 1 as flash fiction, but could have been tweaked into poetry.
Eve stretched, plucked the radiant apple off the high branch and bit. Tart juice oozed down her chin, lingered, rolled down one breast. She bit again. She glanced at her sleeping companion and his snake. She shook him, thrust the apple into his hand. “Eat.” She realized they were naked.
FFC: Straddling that fine line, indeed. Thanks so much for sharing the poetic “Juicy.” What are your goals as a writer? In other words, what do you hope to accomplish, large or small, through the written word?
AS: I am grateful that over the past eighteen months I have been able to connect with many readers and provide them with some enjoyment. I hope that will continue and grow. I have so many stories bursting to get out, in many formats: flash, short stories, novels. I expect to finish my novel-in-stories before the end of 2012. My background is somewhat exotic: growing up in communist Czechoslovakia, seeing tanks occupying my country, dealing with resettlement. I have several lives worth of material and am working on having my stories read by the largest numbers of readers. I am thankful to you, Robin, for the interview, to Gay for all she does at Flash Fiction Chronicles, and Robert Swartwood for selecting my story as one of the winners.
FFC: Andrew, your audience is waiting.