Posts in "News and Events" 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

Happy book birthday to Modern Manners for Your Inner Demons

Once upon a time I thought of a title for a story: “The Etiquette of Adultery.” I liked that title so much that I wrote it down on a piece of paper and carried it around in my wallet with me for about a year. One day I decided to write the story, wondering what an etiquette guide for adultery would really look like. I sent it off to Necessary Fiction, and editor Steve Himmer wrote a nice note back saying he loved the concept but thought I should expand the story a bit more.

That note made sense to me and sparked something inside me that became the catalyst for this book. An editor’s job is mostly thankless–I know, having edited SmokeLong for almost seven years now–but I also don’t think that editors often realize how much impact a kind, encouraging, honest rejection letter can have on a writer. Sometimes a sentence or two or a quick suggestion can help solidify an idea or start someone off on another path with a story. In this case, Steve’s note didn’t just help make “Adultery” a better story, but it also started me on the trail of a series of etiquette stories, which eventually created a book.

The thing is, the stories were so very fun to write. Most of them teeter on the edge of flash-fiction-length–the longest story tips just over 2,000 words, I believe–and the form allowed me to play around with all sorts of fun experiments, creating an unofficial guide to our darker selves.

The first edition of Modern Manners For Your Inner Demons was published by Matter Press in 2012. It sold out of its print run and was only available as an ebook for the last few years, but now–now!–my friends, it’s back. And cuter than ever.

The newly revised Modern Manners, published by Santa Fe Writers Project, includes two new etiquette stories (“The Etiquette of Voyeurism” and “The Etiquette of Gossip”) and comes in paperback in an adorable, stuff-it-in-your-pocket size.

Here are some kind things folks have said about it:

“Sly, clever, original take on the sad, bewildering, dead-on truths of being human.”

— Kathy Fish, author of Wild Life and Together We Can Bury It

 

“The anxiety-ridden instructees of Laskowski’s stories tap dance their way through various awkward situations ranging from adultery to dementia. It’s fun to laugh at them, but by the end of each story, you can’t quite remember why you thought they were so dumb in the first place; these characters have problems and deal with their problems with dignity. Each of these stories start out in a sarcastic vein, yet the problems they address are heartbreaking, and each and every one of them realizes a protagonist, fully formed, with a past, a present, and a future.”

— L.W. Compton The Collagist

I’ll also be celebrating Modern Manners‘ birthday at the AWP conference Feb. 9-11 in Washington, D.C. Check out my events page for more information about readings and panels and things. Hope to see you and your inner demons soon!

Cold, Dark Flash at AWP

I’m pretty excited about this one, guys. SmokeLong Quarterly and D.C.’s Noir at the Bar will present an off-site AWP reading “Cold, Dark Flash,” an evening of noir flash fiction. I mean, really, what can be better than noir-themed flash fiction on a cold February evening in D.C.? I hope to see you there!

Cold, Dark Flash
Saturday, Feb. 11, 2017
7 p.m.
Wonderland Ballroom
1101 Kenyon St. NW
Washington, D.C. 20010
(Three blocks from the Green Line Metro)

With readers:

Matt Bell
Tara Campbell
W. Todd Kaneko
Jennifer Pashley
Amber Sparks
Art Taylor
and hosted by:
Tara Laskowski
E.A. Aymar

Music by DJ Alkimist

Books for sale, raffle prizes, music, and more!

The Rumpus Saturday Interview and a great reading at Politics and Prose

This weekend was a writer’s dream! My chat with the wonderful Tyrese Coleman was published in The Rumpus on Saturday. Q&As seem pretty easy to conduct, and we see a lot of them around. But conducting a really good interview is an art. It’s one thing to send some generic basic questions to an author and let them ramble on. It’s another to do research, read their works, and craft really interesting questions that would be of interest to someone who has read the book as equally as someone who hasn’t read the book. And I thought Ty did an excellent job with it. I so appreciate her efforts here, and I hope you’ll also go check out her writing as well. She’s a force.

Speaking of a force, Politics and Prose is one of the best independent bookstores in the country. I had an event there on Saturday afternoon with novelist Michael Landweber, and it was fantastic. Kudos to the professional and kind event staff at P&P who make you feel very welcome and who know how to draw in a crowd. It was a pleasure to hear Mike read from his new novel Thursday, 1:17 PM, about what happens to a teenage boy when time suddenly stops and everything is frozen except him. Thanks so much to everyone who came out to hear us read. It was truly a pleasure.

Author Elizabeth Hazen and publisher Andrew Gifford at the Grubb Road Book Festival.
Author Elizabeth Hazen and publisher Andrew Gifford at the Grubb Road Book Festival.

On Sunday, Santa Fe Writers Project hosted the first annual Grubb Road Book Festival in Silver Spring, Maryland. Local book publishers including Paycock Press and Possibilities Publishing were on hand to chat with readers and sell some books. It was a beautiful summer afternoon.

So…a whirlwind book weekend! I continue to feel fortunate in so many ways.

Bring your babies to book launches

My husband Art Taylor and I have been bringing our son to literary events since he was a baby. Last week, I had the pleasure of writing about this for Publisher’s Weekly. It’s not always gone smoothly, and it hasn’t always been pleasant, but we are pretty excited that Dash thinks that book launches are regular weekend events to attend. Here’s an excerpt from the essay:

When I was a kid, I remember how endless Sunday Mass used to feel, listening to the priest talk about things I didn’t understand. I had to sit still and be quiet. And yet I was aware that there was something important going on, something special and significant, and it was nice to be part of that.

I don’t equate readings with church (although good ones can be a spiritual experience in their own right), but my husband and I see Dashiell picking up on the specialness of the events we take him to. During one reading, a woman recited a long poem while Dash parked his cars in the back of the room. But when she started firing off a list of names in a rapid succession, he looked up and started laughing at the rhythm of the words. Another time we were at a friend’s reading, sitting in the children’s section flipping through picture books, when he looked up at me and whispered, “She just said ‘son of a gun’! That’s not a nice thing to say.”

You can read the rest of the essay here.

And, to put my money where my mouth is, Dash traveled with us this weekend to Pennsylvania where I had my Bystanders hometown launch at the Osterhout Free Library in Wilkes-Barre, PA. Dash sat in the front row and handed out Bystanders bookmarks to everyone in attendance (and photo-bombed some of the pictures, as you can see.) It was a really lovely event at a beautiful library, and I was so pleased to be able to read at a place I loved to go as a child myself. Circle of life?

**

This weekend I get to fulfill a dream I’ve had since I started graduate school at George Mason University in 2002. I’ll be reading at one of my very favorite bookstores in the world–Politics and Prose. I remember seeing some very fabulous writers read there over the years–Alan Cheuse, Susan Shreve, Paul Auster and Richard Russo, to name a few. It’s truly an honor to get to stand at the podium myself!

I’ll be there on Saturday, June 25 from 1 to 2 p.m. with novelist and friend Michael Landweber, whose book Thursday, 1:17 p.m. was released on May 1, 2016. Please come join us if you’re in town!

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

Book festivals and sand castles and other stuff going around

The Washington Independent Review of Books column I wrote last month was about the types of people you’ll find at book festivals. You know, anything from the creepy fans to the writer whose work you fall in love with. I now have one to add to my list, thanks to my own poor judgment: the person who thinks it’s ok to bring their toddler to a reading and watches in horror while he proceeds to do snow angels on the floor while a poet is expressing grief in a series of sonnets on stage. Oops.

Fall for the Book always puts me in a weird mood. I find myself excited about all these writers in one place, but it also inevitably makes me feel inadequate about my own writing and writing career and where things are going. I seem to have to recharge myself after a book festival or writing conference. I wonder if this happens to a lot of writers. We’re always comparing ourselves to other people even if the successes that happen to other people really have no bearing on what we are doing and how our work is received.

Writer Matthew Burnside recently posted a status on Facebook that I found comforting: “Sometimes you feel like you’re not being nearly productive enough as a writer and then remember this shit isn’t a race it’s a tedious shaping of sandcastles on the beach and all that matters is the integrity of the mold before the tide comes crashing in.” Truth!

Some other stuff going on right now this minute:

For a sneak peek at the novel I’m working on, you can check out the short section of it that Wigleaf published recently. Fingers crossed I can pull this off.

I also read a lovely set of novellas by Michael Ruhlman, In Short Measures, and reviewed it at Washington Independent Review of Books.

Love this super creepy story I read recently at matchbook.

And Art Taylor won an Anthony Award this past weekend at the Boucheron mystery convention. (And I found Sherlock.)

Word.

7 Reasons to Marry another Writer

I began my stint as a columnist at the Washington Indepedent Review of Books last month. Art and I are sharing the column, trading off month to month to discuss all things short fiction, and some things not short fiction. For my first post, I decided to go all Buzzfeed on you all and do a top 7 list. My 7 Reasons to Marry a Writer can be found here, but here’s a teaser for you:

2. You can do nerdy literary things. Like name your child “Dashiell” and be giddy when strangers get the reference. Or have a literary-themed wedding with library-card invitations. Or read aloud all of the Sherlock Holmes stories, laminate your hardcovers with that plastic stuff libraries use, and nibble your pancakes into the shape of modernist novelists’ heads. (Okay, I’m making up the last one, although I’d like to see Art’s version of Virginia Woolf.)

The post was the most popular for the month of April, which pretty much guarantees I’ll never have another column that successful ever again.

Fall for the Book Starts This Week!

This week starts the annual Fall for the Book festival at George Mason University. Since my husband is the marketing director, I also am a Fall for the Book widow this week. Thankfully, my lovely mom is here to help out with Dash.

So, if you’re in the D.C. area, you should take a look at the web site and come to some of the events. I’ll be reading on Friday at 1:30 p.m. as part of the Washington Area Women Writers panel. Here are some of the other readings/panels I’m looking forward to:

Wednesday, Sept. 26

7:30 PM – 9:00 PM
Shirlington Branch Library 4200 Campbell Avenue, Arlington, VA
Kenn Budd, author of The Voluntourist: A Six-Country Tale of Love, Loss, Fatherhood, Fate, and Singing Bon Jovi in Bethlehem, reads from his book where he embarks on a quest to help others—from post-Katrina New Orleans to a special needs school in China, from climate change research in Ecuador to projects in Kenya, Costa Rica, and the West Bank.

Thursday, Sept. 27

10:30 AM – 12:00 PM

Sandy Spring Bank Tent George Mason University, 4400 University Drive, Fairfax, VA

Novelist Clifford Garstang and Short Story Writer Edward Belfar

3 p.m.

Mason Concert Hall

Three decades after the publication of The Color Purple, Alice Walker reflects on the novel’s lasting legacy and discusses her other writings and her social and political activism.

Friday, Sept. 28

5:30pm-7:00pm

Grand Tier III, Center for the Arts George Mason University, 4400 University Drive, Fairfax, VA

Neil Gaiman — whose works range from the cult DC Comics series Sandman to books including Coraline, Anansi Boys, and American Gods (Au Diable Vauvert) — accepts the 2012 Mason Award, presented to an author for making extraordinary contributions toward connecting literature with a wide reading public.

Saturday, Sept. 29

6 to 7:30 p.m.

Sherwood Center, Performance Hall B 3740 Old Lee Highway, Fairfax, VA 22030

Bestselling, award-winning mystery writer Laura Lippman debuts her latest novel, And When She Was Good, about a lobbyist and soccer mom who has a secret life in the world of high-price prostitution. Sponsored by the Fairfax Library Foundation.

Sunday, Sept. 30

6:30pm-8:00pm

Concert Hall, Center for the Arts George Mason University
Novelist Michael Chabon — whose works include the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, and most recently, Telegraph Avenue — accepts the 2012 Fairfax Prize for literary achievement.