Posts in "Musings" Category

Bay to Ocean Writers Conference: Flash Fiction Resources

Yesterday I had the pleasure of presenting “Tiny but Mighty: How to Write Amazing Flash Fiction” at the Bay to Ocean Writers Conference at Chesapeake College in Wye Mills, Maryland. As I promised attendees, I’m posting my handout here of some resources for flash fiction writers, some of which was adapted from an earlier handout for a novella-in-flash panel created for the Conversations and Connections Conference in Virginia.

In addition, here are the stories I read aloud or mentioned during the presentation: Soap by Katrina Denza, Nightstands by Cole Meyer, and Gravity, Reduced by Kara Oakleaf.

Tips, Prompts, and a Reading List from Tiny but Mighty: How to Write Amazing Flash Fiction

A Bay to Ocean Writing Conference 2017 panel by Tara Laskowski

 

Tips for Writing Flash:

  • Start at the flashpoint—by definition, flash begins at the moment of conflict, when all the action is nearly complete.
  • Focus on the powerful image(s)—Find one or more powerful images to focus your story on.
  • Hit them where it hurts—go for an ending that offers an emotional impact. Play against expectations with a sense of narrative mystery or devastating twist, a poignant implication or declarative last sentence that leaves the reader breathless, and going back for more. Not an “aha” moment or a punchline. An ending more nuanced than that.
  • Strive for the concrete. Eliminate the word “thing” or “something,” for example. Replace that word with an actual concept, image, noun, etc, that explicitly participates in the image you are portraying.
  • Write the whole story, then eliminate useless words.
  • Stay away from punchline endings or “joke” flash fiction.

Some Flash Prompts:

Fictionalize a true moment: Start a flash piece with a specific memory of your own grounded in the five senses (touch, smell, feel, seeing, hearing) – For example: the feel of an aunt scratching your scalp or the smell of your child’s bedroom. This memory should be specific enough to work into a moment. Find the story from there.

Use pictures, paintings, or music to inspire a flashpoint.

Tell the story backward or play with the idea of memory and nonlinear time in a story.

Think of writing a flash piece as a scene when working on something longer, say a longer short story or as a novel chapter.  Flash is inherently raw with emotion. When wanting to draft a pivotal moment, take the time to draft a flash piece – with a beginning, middle and end — to represent that moment between your characters.  Break down the action to its bare essentials for more impact.

Write a story only using dialogue. Use no dialogue tags.

Find a dictionary. Open it to a random page, close your eyes, and point to a spot on the page to select a word. Do that several times to generate a list of random words, then write a flash that includes all of those words.

For Further Reading

Flash Guides

The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction edited by Tara L. Masih

The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Nonfiction edited by Dinty W. Moore

A Pocket Guide to Flash Fiction edited by Randall Brown

Brevity: A Flash Fiction Handbook edited by David Galef

What If? Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers edited by Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter

Flash Fiction Collections

Mad to Live by Randall Brown

Severance by Robert Olen Butler

A Kind of Flying by Ron Carlson

The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis by Lydia Davis

The Coast of Chicago: Stories by Stuart Dybeck

Whiskey, Etc. by Sherrie Flick

Wild Life by Kathy Fish

Maybe Mermaids and Robots Are Lonely by Matthew Fogarty

Surrounded by Water by Stefanie Freele

Truck Dance by Jeff Landon

Modern Manners For Your Inner Demons by Tara Laskowski

Lust by Susan Minot

May We Shed These Human Bodies by Amber Sparks

 

Journals That Feature Flash

Smokelong Quarterly

Brevity

Every Day Fiction (open to genre)

Gamut Magazine (paying market, genre)

matchbook

Monkeybicycle

Nanofiction

Necessary Fiction

District Lit

The Collagist

The Short Form

The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts (paying market)

Wigleaf

Whiskey Paper

Shotgun Honey (crime fiction)

Gay Flash Fiction (LBGTQ)

Shimmer (diversity)

Abyss & Apex (speculative fiction)

Cease, Cows

Aphelion (science fiction and fantasy)

Daily Science Fiction

Narratives-in-Flash

Matt Bell, Cataclysm Baby

Chris Bower, Margaret Patton Chapman, Tiff Holland, Meg Pokrass, and Aaron Teel, My Very End of the Universe: Five Novellas-in-Flash and a Study of the Form

Aaron Burch, How to Predict the Weather

Sandra Cisneros, The House on Mango Street

Evan S. Connell, Mrs. Bridge

Matthew Salesses, I’m Not Saying, I’m Just Saying

Lex Williford, Superman on the Roof

Presses that Publish Flash Collections

Curbside Splendor

Jellyfish Highway

Matter Press

Rose Metal Press

Press 53

Stillhouse Press

Flash Stories

The Heiress by Tara Laskowski: matterpress.com/journal/2015/03/02/the-heiress/

The Cage in the Woods by Joe Lucido: wigleaf.com/201509cage.htm

Cravat by Roseanne Scott: www.smokelong.com/cravat/

Conjugation by Jen Michalski: www.smokelong.com/conjugation/

Bartleby Snopes contest (2000 words or less): http://www.bartlebysnopes.com/bartleby-snopes-issue-14.pdf

Transplanting by Lisa Smithies: http://www.smokelong.com/transplanting/

Dive by Dawn West: http://www.smokelong.com/dive/

Marriage by Anna Lea Jancewicz : http://www.matchbooklitmag.com/jancewicz.html

I stayed away from my phone and laptop for 24 hours and lived to tell the tale

As part of my #RetreatRepeat New Year’s resolution, I successfully spent 24 hours away from my computer and cell phone this weekend. It doesn’t sound like much, or a great accomplishment, but it was difficult to do nonetheless.

I did this as part of National Day of Unplugging, a U.S. initiative sponsored by Reboot, a group that “affirms the value of Jewish traditions and creates new ways for people to make them their own.” The idea is to create a day of Sabbath for your devices. It was a last-minute decision for me to participate, so I didn’t sign the pledge or get my cell phone sleeping bag. But that made it easier in some ways, because I didn’t have time to talk myself out of it or make any elaborate plans. I just put my phone away when I got home from work and didn’t look at it again until the next evening.

So how did it go? The first few hours were the hardest. Only two hours in, I had a terrible urge to sneak a look. But I resisted. After that first night, the next day was easier. And even though it was only 24 hours, I learned a lot about my online triggers and addictions.

Here are some things I learned:

It’s ok to be alone. My greatest urges came when I found myself in a room alone or sitting at a traffic light. All those times when I would naturally pick up my phone to distract myself, play a quick game or check Facebook, I instead worked on a crossword puzzle, read part of a book, or in the case of driving, found a song to sing along to.

Not allowing myself to do any work made me not think about all the work I had to do. It was a busy weekend. I had a presentation to prepare for a conference the next weekend, a grant to apply for, and writing to do. But knowing that I couldn’t do any of that on Saturday—that I ‘wasn’t allowed’—also gave me the freedom to not care about it. Normally I would’ve been stressing out. Instead of enjoying my walk outside with my son or watching a silly show, I would’ve felt guilty that I should be working. But I felt free of that with my pledge, telling myself I would have designated time on Sunday to do the work I needed to do.

Nothing was on fire. When I finally broke down and checked my messages, I realized that there were no urgent matters waiting for me. It was a relief, and also a wake-up call: I’m not going to miss any opportunities or be missed at all, really, with a 24-hour break.

Check messages when you have the time to do something about them. When I pick up my phone and browse through in at a traffic light or while waiting for my train, I often see messages that I need to reply to but don’t have the time right then. Those messages get marked as “read,” and the next time I log in, my eyes will often skip over them. They get pushed down into the ethers of my un-organized inbox and I forget. So unplugging, especially when I’m busy doing other things, will actually help me be more productive. If I don’t read my email until I’m actually in a place where I can respond to the messages, I’ll be able to take care of things more efficiently and with less stress.

I can’t promise I’m going to disappear from the Internet for 24 hours very often, but I will definitely try to be more conscious of my decisions to stare at my devices. Sorry, Angry Birds. But I’ll miss you.

 

Let’s #RetreatRepeat for the New Year

2016 was a very forward-facing year for me, and it was exhausting. Fortunately, most of this forward-facing was also quite exciting—events related to the release of Bystanders—and I’m above all grateful and stunned for all the opportunities I had to read and present and write guest posts. But being an introvert, I felt like the year was very energy-draining. The political climate in the U.S. was very upsetting in 2016–and continues to be so for the unforeseeable future. Art and Dash and I didn’t have a single vacation or getaway that wasn’t tacked on to some kind of writing event or other obligation. I constantly felt like I was being chased by an eternal to-do list that, rather than getting shorter, kept seeming longer and longer and longer the more things I checked off it.

So here we are on the last day of the year, and reflections and proclamations abound. Frankly, I’m tired. And my new year’s resolutions and thoughts seem to reflect this. Therefore, I’ve got a new mantra for 2017:

#RetreatRepeat

Say it with me…

Retreat

Retreat, as in pull back, move inward, chill out. Not retreat from fighting the good fight, but rather stop and reflect, focus on priorities, be smarter about my time choices. I gave a lot last year, and this year I want to be much more selfish about my time. I want to concentrate on writing, producing creative work, daydreaming. I’m working on a longer writing project right now and it requires more focus and energy than writing flash fiction. If I don’t give myself permission to focus and say no to other things, I don’t think I’ll ever finish it. And I really want to finish it.

But even more than writing, I want to spend time with friends and family because I want to, not as tacked-on to a self-made book tour. Retreat to me doesn’t necessarily mean become a hermit. It means to make the effort to spend quality time with people who are important to me, in ways that are fulfilling, fun, relaxing, and present. It means calling an old friend on the phone rather than scrolling through Facebook newsfeeds and getting depressed at all the terrible shit going on in the world. Emailing someone a thoughtful hello message rather than getting in a Twitter fight with a total stranger. My energies have been very distracted this year and I feel weary by all of it. I need to retreat in order to protect my emotional health.

Repeat

Repeat, as in seek out the things I’ve read, watched, done before and found joy in. Re-reading the classics, the books I fell in love with years ago. I first read The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis when I was in second grade, and throughout the years I’ve re-read the series and always discovered something new about it and got something new out of it. I’d love to revisit other texts that I loved years ago and see if I can learn new things or, at least, remember why they spoke to me so strongly the first time.

The same goes for my favorite movies—Art and I have DVDs collecting dust on our shelves of movies that we never re-watch because it always seems there are so many new films we haven’t seen . But I’d like to take some time to relish in old friends in 2017 and dust off those shelves. We recently re-watched Star Wars: A New Hope with our son, who was watching it for the first time, and seeing it through his eyes was a delight.

But beyond movies and books, repeat to me also means spending more time doing things that bring me joy. Things that aren’t obligations—crafting, putting together puzzles, just having long conversations with people I love. Putting down the phone and computer more. Connecting offline more than online.

 

Want to #RetreatRepeat with me? I’ll try to make a list of books, movies, etc. that I’ve read, watched, done throughout the year, and I’d be interested to hear what other folks repeat as well.

Happy New Year to everyone, and may 2017 be your best year yet.

2016 Wasn’t All Terrible

There were a lot of really rotten, awful things that happened in 2016. I won’t dwell on them here, because I think we all know a lot of them and have been dealing with them for quite a while now. But 2016 wasn’t a complete stinkfest. In my attempt to cast things in a more positive light in the new year, I’m listing, in no particular order, some pretty awesome stuff that happened to me or just in general out there in the world over the past year. What are yours?

Jennifer Egan blurbed Bystanders. Jennifer Egan’s been my hero since I read Look at Me, and it’s only gotten more obsessive since then. So to get her stamp of approval on my new collection of stories was truly the best literary thing that’s ever happened to me. This also happened in January, which meant that the year was doomed to go down from there…but hey, start high!

And speaking of…Bystanders arrived into the world. Happy birthday, you crazy little book. (Buy it here! Or if you already have it, please consider giving it a quick, honest review!)

The book did pretty well. It got some lovely reviews, I did some lovely readings, people said they liked it. Grateful to everyone who was a part of that journey.

Stranger Things. Seriously, have you seen it yet? It was the best television that happened to me in 2016. Spooky stuff, 70s/80s throwback, a kick-ass complex female hero, and all in an easy-to-binge miniseries package. Can’t wait for more.

One of my very best friends moved back to D.C. from Florida. And now we work together! In an increasingly scary world, it’s nice to be surrounded by folks you love. And be able to have movie nights together.

I paid off my student loans.

I bought my very first new car. (She’s so cute, isn’t she?)

I saw Bryan Adams in concert. Teenage dream realized, people. He’s just lucky I didn’t bring my crinkled Teen Beat poster for him to sign.

My husband won a bunch of awards. His first novel On the Road with Del and Louise won the Agatha Award for best first novel and was a finalist for the Macavity and the Anthony awards. The anthology he edited, Murder Under the Oaks, was an Anthony Award winner.

All of the photos from my son’s bowling birthday party are blurry. Which means those crazy kids were having too much fun to ever stop moving.

Why does this literary festival give me the blues?

What is it about Fall for the Book that makes me sad every single year? I’ve been asking myself this question all week.

I love this literary festival, held every year on George Mason University’s campus. I “grew up with it” in some ways, having attended it since my very first year in the MFA program there. I’ve seen and met amazing writers each year and had great experiences presenting at it myself.

But every year I get this hollowness in my chest. Every year I get the Fall for the Book blues, and when it hits, it hits big.

It hit last week, after I presented on a publishing panel for Santa Fe Writers Project. The panel itself went well. We had a small audience, which was probably in part due to timing and bad weather, but they were engaged and interested. We even sold a few books.

But later that night, I started to get the sadness. Those feelings of inadequacy, of hopelessness.

Maybe it’s tied to the fact that I “grew up with it,” that the nostalgia of the festival brings out some deep-seated anxieties or at least highlights them in a different way. When I was first attending FFTB, I was an unpublished writer desperately wanting to be a published writer. I listened to accomplished authors with their amazing books and felt like I would never get there. I remember attending a panel of Mason MFA alumni and thinking, ‘Wow, they went through this same program and now they have books and a career. Will this ever happen to me?” It was panic-attack-inducing at the same time that it was inspiring.

It got worse after I graduated from the program and started to see my own classmates and writer friends get published. I’d attend their Fall for the Book events and though I was ecstatic to see them succeed and be awesome, that same inadequacy for myself started creeping in. Will I ever get there?

And then I started publishing things, but never in The New Yorker. And then my first book came out, but it was “just with a small press.” And then I won an award, but it wasn’t a Pushcart. And it goes on. Will I ever get There?

What I’ve come to realize—even though I have to continue to tell myself this over and over and over again—is that the truth is, there is no “There” to get to. Each new level of success we reach or accomplishment we earn opens a whole other world of challenges to conquer, a whole other set of demons and confusions and expectations to navigate. And you can drive yourself crazy battling them.

I think it’s a universal feeling to always feel that wherever you are is not good enough. Especially for writers, perspectives, goals, and aspirations shift as we move forward. I think about myself twelve years ago, and how I would’ve gladly stuck my tongue out and gotten it run over by a tractor trailer to have a book published. I think about Merritt Tierce’s recent piece in Marie Claire about book sales and not being able to live off her writing. She’s been scorned by some people, but I have to say I kind of get it. The higher you get on the publishing ladder, the farther it feels you can fall. The inadequacy feels even more looming—”Well, surely, if I was able to do this, it can’t really mean all that much.”

I’m not trying to get all woe-is-me on you. I feel very fortunate that I’m able to continue writing and have success doing so. I’m grateful to all the wonderful writers and editors that I’ve met and built friendships with who keep me going every day. I’m proud of all the hard work that both my husband and I put in to our writing and editing, and totally fine with the sacrifices we make to continue doing this insanity.

But despite all that, my own worst inner critic never goes away. And sometimes I think it’s important to acknowledge that beast. To yank it out and stare at it and say, “Ok, fine. I get you. I’m not perfect and sometimes I feel sucky.” And then put it away, and crank up your computer and get back to work.

After the panel last week I had a young woman come up to talk to me. She was excited. She said she’d never heard of flash fiction until that night, and she’d been writing all these one or two page stories and not having a clue what to do with them. She thanked me for mentioning it and we talked for a bit about all the amazing journals out there that want those very stories.

And you know what? That was enough. That was worth it. That is why I keep doing what I do, year after year, even when the demons get me down.

Metaphors for Flash Fiction, with ‘Sex’ Substituted for ‘Flash’

Last year when we opened up application submissions for the Kathy Fish Fellowship at SmokeLong Quarterly, we asked writers to send a brief essay about why they like flash fiction and what they hope to get out of the fellowship if they win. We got a lot of really great responses to this question, and many many metaphors for what flash is like. After reading hundreds of these essays, though, my brain started to fire in different ways—namely in that ‘twelve-year-old-boy-sense-of-humor’ kind of way.

We’ve done away with that question for this year’s round of applicants, replaced by a few other more targeted questions. But in homage to all the great responses we got last year, I present to you excerpts from a few essays with “flash fiction” replaced with “sex”:

  • Sex provides pressure, a quick release of energy.
  • I thrive in these tight spaces.
  • Sex appeals to me because I can do so in one sitting, on a device like a laptop or smartphone, and because I often find that it makes me think about the nature of storytelling.
  • I love that sex is palpable, always in bite sized pieces and how it never leaves me with a sense of wanting more or less.
  • I like sex that is quick, visceral and unapologetic.
  • My strongest sexual encounters have been the ones where I didn’t sit down with a plan and a goal.
  • Sex is a bursting blossom from a poetic bud.
  • The kick in the teeth lures me as much as the wonder I experience when I have sex.
  • With sex, a single word can make or break the emotional tone overall.
  • I’ve had an appetite for sex since I was fourteen.
  • In the same way the straw wrapper winds up an accordion on the diner’s table or my wife touches each knob on the stove exactly once before leaving, I have sex.
  • One of the best parts of sex is knowing I can enter someone’s reading space, tell them a humorous anecdote or swiftly punch them in the gut, and then leave them comforted or haunted long after I’ve left.

There you go! By the way, application submissions for the 2017 Kathy Fish Fellowship open on July 15, 2016. For more information on the prize and guidelines, check out this page.

*Photo by Juhan Sonin and used via Flickr Creative Commons.

Blah. Word Thieves.

I’ve been bummed out this week after hearing about the massive plagiarism accusations against B. Mitchell Cator, including several pieces from SmokeLong Quarterly that were apparently lifted and published in a book under different titles. For now, Cator has been largely silent, except for a few emails he’s sent to some of the writers and journals that he stole from. We have not heard from him at SmokeLong.

This makes me angry, and it also makes me sad. Angry because many of the writers I know are struggling to find time to write and publish in between other jobs and family obligations, and hardly getting paid anything for their work. Angry because flash fiction, especially, is a form that is brilliant, but largely misunderstood—each time I do any sort of presentation on the form, inevitably someone in the audience will say it’s the first time they’ve even heard of it—and plagiarizing these stories for profit seems like an even bigger ‘FU’ to me for some reason. Now, I say ‘for profit,’ perfectly understanding that chances are Cator’s self-published book on Amazon wasn’t selling like hotcakes before the news broke anyway. I wouldn’t be surprised if his total royalties were less in dollars than the fingers I have on my hands. But even if he made 5 cents on the book…WRONG. But it’s also sad to me that he felt the need to put this much effort into plucking stories, paragraphs, sentences from other people and collaging it together to call it his own. I’ve seen many comments along the lines of: It probably would have been easier to just write his own book. But he didn’t. Why? Can we find some sympathy in this situation?

I’ve heard from lots of writers and editors, and we’re all sort of reeling in puzzlement. What makes someone do something like this? How could he think he could get away with it? And the thing is, I wouldn’t be surprised to find that this issue is much more widespread than we think. Perhaps not to the systematic, serial level that Cator conducted, but smaller violations. Stories previously published elsewhere, contract violations, lines and phrases lifted, even unintentionally, from other places. The online journal writing world, the flash fiction writing world, is a small one, and one that I feel is bound together in some ways by trust, collaboration, and support. Many journals, operating with small volunteer staffs and little to no budget, don’t have the time to extensively scour the Internet to verify stories accepted are the works of the author and don’t appear anywhere else. Editors are overworked, under-thanked, and usually juggling a million other things, and they trust that writers are going by the honor code. It’s not an excuse, but it is often the reality. Clearly that can easily be taken advantage of.

At SmokeLong, we’ve been discussing this issue and trying to decide what actions to take. I believe in the next few months we will be changing our editorial process slightly to give room to vet stories accepted and ensure as much as possible that we are publishing the highest quality and original works by writers. To my knowledge, we have never discovered plagiarism in any of our published stories, but that doesn’t mean it can’t happen or hasn’t.

It’s been a sad week for writers, but also a good wake-up call for us as well. Here’s hoping it will make us better, more original, and more vigilant with our words.

How Michael Czyzniejewski can cure the book blues

For whatever reason, I’ve been feeling a little blue this week about writing and whatnot. Which is odd, since it’s the week that my book is officially released out into the wild. But, I suppose, wherever you are in your writing career, there are always new challenges, doubts, and worries, and you never know when they’re going to sneak up on you.

Which is why I was so pleased to see Michael Czyzniejewski ‘s write-up of “The Monitor,” one of the stories in Bystanders, on his awesome Story366 blog this morning. In case you’ve missed it so far, Mike is writing about a different short story every day for the whole year. Ambitious! Awesome! Check it out.

His review of “The Monitor” is great, and much appreciated. But more than that, it got me thinking about the way that writing friendships work, and the way that encounters and generosity and a little bit of luck open up opportunities and connections and friendships.

Way back when in grad school, I would read Mid-American Review. Mike was the fiction editor then, and a damn fine one with a stellar reputation. The publication was on my bucket list. I sent him anything I vaguely thought might be worthy, and got a lot of rejections back. Some with handwritten notes, others not, but trust me, I remember those little scribbles. They were a sign of an actual person behind this mysterious process.

When I finally got a story accepted by him, it was like I’d made it. I remember dragging my coworker to the bar in the middle of the afternoon for a sneaky celebratory drink.

Later, that story was included in my first collection. Later, I met Mike in person at AWP. I became the editor of SmokeLong Quarterly, and actually got to publish some of his stories. Then he read for us at an off-site event in D.C. (The picture with this post is us, circa 2010! Look how happy we look!) We chatted occasionally on social media.

A few years ago, Mike interviewed one of our authors for the quarterly issue, and the interview was so great that I jokingly told him he should just be our interview person. Not only did he say yes, but so did his amazingpants wife Karen Craigo. And so goes the weird, crazy, wonderful, sometimes frustrating but always interesting circle of writing life: the faceless editor I used to spam with my work in grad school now works with me on a publication.

This is not a particularly unusual or special story. I’m sure most every writer has a similar experience to share, probably dozens of them. But I needed to reflect on it this week in particular, when it seems like the writing world is too big. That there are too many of us trying to do the same thing, that it’s hard to write and even harder to get that writing in other people’s hands.

All of that is true, but it’s precisely those reasons why its worth it as well. Yep, there’s a lot of us. But that’s all the more to “get” what we’re trying to do and sympathize. It’s all the more to meet and learn from and have beers with. It’s all the more who spend what little free time they have to write a review or send you a quick note or slog through submission queues to publish your work and give you a voice.

So thank you, Mike and all of my other writing pals out there–too many, thankfully for me, to name–for your friendship and for all the opportunities you’ve provided to me throughout the years. And thank you for being amazing writers and editors and support groups. I feel quite lucky to have you all and to be able to call you friends.

##

And speaking of awesome writing people, I wanted to give a quick shout-out to Chris Irvin, Paul Tremblay, and Erin Fitzgerald for making our panel at the Newburyport Literary Festival this past weekend look good. We chatted about violence in literature (and the occasional movie), and I really enjoyed it. I also enjoyed Paul’s reading later that afternoon–which was given to a SRO crowd. If you haven’t checked out A Head Full of Ghosts yet, you need to. Just don’t read it late at night.

 

Flash Fiction Prompts and Readings–Handout from Conversations and Connections DC 2016

I had a lovely time presenting at this year’s DC Conversations and Connections conference with Tyrese Coleman, editor of District Lit, and Abigail Beckel, publisher at Rose Metal Press. Our panel, The Long from the Short: Turning Flash Fiction Pieces into a Series or Novel, was so well-attended that we ran out of handouts! As promised, I’m posting our tips, prompts, and further reading list here.

Also, here are some relevant links:

District Lit

Rose Metal Press

SmokeLong Quarterly

Also, thank you to the folks who asked about Modern Manners For Your Inner Demons. I should’ve mentioned the book is currently out of print, although it is being re-released in early 2017 by Santa Fe Writers Project. You can still find it on Kindle right now if you’d like to check it out.

Cheers!

Tips for Writing Flash:

Start at the flashpoint—by definition Flash begins at the moment of conflict, when all the action is nearly complete.

Focus on the powerful image(s)—Find one or more powerful images to focus your story on.

Hit them where it hurts—Go for an ending that offers an emotional impact. Play against expectations with a sense of narrative mystery or devastating twist, a poignant implication or declarative last sentence that leaves the reader breathless, and going back for more. Not an “aha” moment or a punchline. An ending more nuanced than that.

Strive for the concrete.  Eliminate the word “thing” or “something,” for example.  Replace that word with an actual concept, image, noun, etc, that explicitly participates in the image you are portraying.

Write the whole story, then eliminate useless words.

Stay away from punchline endings or “joke” flash fiction.

 

Some Flash Prompts:

Fictionalizing a true moment: Start a flash piece with a specific memory of your own grounded in the five senses (touch, smell, feel, seeing, hearing) – For example: the feel of an aunt scratching your scalp or the smell of your child’s bedroom. This memory should be specific enough to work into a moment. Find the story from there.

Use pictures, paintings, or music to inspire a flashpoint.

Tell the story backward or play with the idea of memory and nonlinear time in a story.

Think of writing a flash piece as a scene when working on something longer, say a longer short story or as a novel chapter.  Flash is inherently raw with emotion. When wanting to draft a pivotal moment, take the time to draft a flash piece – with a beginning, middle and end — to represent that moment between your characters.  Break down the action to its bare essentials for more impact.

 

For Further Reading:

Narratives-in-Flash

Matt Bell, Cataclysm Baby

Chris Bower, Margaret Patton Chapman, Tiff Holland, Meg Pokrass, and Aaron Teel, My Very End of the Universe: Five Novellas-in-Flash and a Study of the Form

Gwendolyn Brooks, Maud Martha

Aaron Burch, How to Predict the Weather

Sandra Cisneros, The House on Mango Street

Evan S. Connell, Mrs. Bridge

Lily Hoang, Changing

Tina May Hall, All the Day’s Sad Stories

Lance Olsen, Anxious Pleasures

Lance Olsen, Architectures of Possibility

Kelcey Parker, Liliane’s Balcony

Mary Robison, Why Did I Ever

Matthew Salesses, I’m Not Saying, I’m Just Saying

Sarah Shun-lien Bynum, Madeleine Is Sleeping

Jean Toomer, Cane

Lex Williford, Superman on the Roof (forthcoming Aug. 2016)

 

Flash Guides

The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction edited by Tara L. Masih

The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Nonfiction edited by Dinty W. Moore

A Pocket Guide to Flash Fiction edited by Randall Brown

 

Journals That Feature Flash

Smokelong Quarterly

Brevity

matchbook

Monkeybicycle

Nanofiction

Necessary Fiction

District Lit

The Collagist

The Short Form

The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts

Wigleaf

Whiskey Paper

Links to flash stories/examples of flash forms:

How to Sit by Tyrese Coleman: pankmagazine.com/piece/sit/

If the Woodcutter Were a Junkie by Tyrese Coleman: queenmobs.com/2015/11/if-the-woodcutter-were-a-junkie/

Liner Notes for the Debut Album From the Band We Never Formed by Amorak Huey: brevitymag.com/nonfiction/liner-notes/

The Heiress by Tara Laskowski: matterpress.com/journal/2015/03/02/the-heiress/

The Cage in the Woods by Joe Lucido: wigleaf.com/201509cage.htm

Narrative Flash:

Cravat by Roseanne Scott: www.smokelong.com/cravat/

Conjugation by Jen Michalski: www.smokelong.com/conjugation/

Dialogue-only flash:

Bartleby Snopes contest (2000 words or less): http://www.bartlebysnopes.com/bartleby-snopes-issue-14.pdf

Flash with long time span:

Transplanting by Lisa Smithies: http://www.smokelong.com/transplanting/

Present-tense flash with amazing drive:

Dive by Dawn West: http://www.smokelong.com/dive/

Good microfiction:

Marriage by Anna Lea Jancewicz : http://www.matchbooklitmag.com/jancewicz.html

Ways I’ve Learned to Survive Winter

I’ve always used one word to describe the winter season: Ugh. I’d much rather be hot than cold. I cannot stand being cold; it makes me miserable and unproductive. I can handle the first part of winter because of all the holiday festivities, but once New Years Day comes and goes, it’s pretty much bleakness through to mid-April for me.

However, the past few years I’ve tried (note: tried) to have a better attitude about the whole thing. If only because there’s no real way to avoid it, save moving south somewhere. And with a better attitude comes a new way of looking at our coldest season. There’s something kind of nice about that first snow day, that equalizing feeling that comes with everything shutting down for the day, of everyone taking a break, slowing down. There’s something nice about warm sweaters and blankets, a cozy fire crackling. Hot chocolate.

So with that spirit, I offer up a few things that have gotten me a little more pleasantly through what is still my least favorite part of the year:

  1. A good coat. Never underestimate the power of a good down coat. What used to be me freezing on the train platform in what I thought was a good warm coat is now me laughing at the old self as I wrap myself in puffy feathers, warm gloves and a scarf. It makes the walk a little more bearable. (A little more.)
  2. Grapefruit. It is best in the winter, and it is a delightful treat. It’s also the kind of fruit that you eat ceremonially. It takes some time. It takes a special spoon. It takes some digging and some work to get it out. And it’s delicious with a sprinkle of sugar on top.
  3. A SAD light. It’s so terrible to arrive at work in the dark and leave work in the dark. I purchased one of those seasonal affective disorder lights a few years ago and it’s made all the difference for me. I use it for 30 minutes a day and I don’t burst into tears quite as often for no real reason.
  4. New Years cards. We haven’t sent Christmas cards in a while, but I always feel guilty about it. I like writing notes to folks, but I just don’t have the time in the mad rush before the holidays. So I’ve thought about doing New Years cards in January, once everything has calmed down and it’s too damn cold to go out anywhere anyway. I can’t promise anything, but I’ll try!
  5. Orion. No doubt about it, the winter sky at night is the best sky. The first glimpse of our sky hunter grounds me, and on a clear night in the winter you can see so much beauty. It’s worth bundling up and heading down to a dark spot for.
  6. Cashmere. It’s soft, unlike scratchy wool. It’s light, unlike heavy wool. It’s warm, really warm, unlike all the rest of the sweaters in my closet. It’s expensive, sure, but it’s SO WORTH IT.
  7. Key lime pie. I have a fantasy of taking a tropical vacation during the winter. Of escaping to Key West for a week at the end of January or in the middle of the worst month of all (February, in case you were wondering) and sitting on the beach eating key lime pie and flipping a big middle finger to the arctic winds and polar vortexes. It hasn’t happened yet, but a girl can dream, right?