Flash Fiction Isn’t Just a Flash in the Pan!

The short-short story has been around for decades but flash fiction (prose works between 500 and 1,000 words or less) is all the rage these days. And for good reason.

For the reader, the benefits are numerous. It’s immediate, accessible, and offers a variety of voices in one setting. For the writer, the benefits are also myriad. It offers the chance to experiment and the opportunity to do something with the fragments of other ideas that may not work for a poem, novel or traditional short story. This doesn’t make it any easier, however. The less words you use, the more carefully you must choose them for maximum impact. And while you don’t need to resolve all loose ends in a piece, you still need to produce a satisfying story for your reader.

For me, flash fiction is just plain fun! It’s been an effective and rewarding outlet for my quirky sense of humor. I’ve enjoyed experimenting with forms such as memos, emails, online chat dialogues, blogs, even shopping lists. The sky’s the limit!

Because the pieces take up less room, publishers are able to publish multiple authors. This means that there are so many more outlets for writers to get published. All major literary magazines are seeking flash fiction these days, and just as in poetry, you can submit multiple pieces for consideration.

I’ve had the joy of taking several workshops on flash fiction by celebrated author Ruth Moose through the Central Carolina Community College Creative Writing Program. She does a terrific job of choosing pieces for inspiration and then asking us to put pen to paper. So you end up with a solid start and an immediate audience—your fellow classmates!

These lessons have paid off for me and my friends, who have had several pieces accepted for publication. And just yesterday, I’m proud to say that my own piece, “All-Inclusive Vacation for Pessimists,” just appeared in Issue 7 of Brilliant Flash Fiction, a British online publication. (To read it, scroll down the page to about halfway through. Look for the picture of a beach at sunset!)

I hope to read this piece at the CCCC Open Mic at the library on the CCCC Pittsboro campus on October 23 at 6:30 p.m. This is yet another benefit. Flash fiction is perfect for open mics because more people have the chance to share their works. And this is why I think flash fiction is here to stay!

Hope to see you on October 23!

“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are…..”


Inspirational quotes, favorite writing books, and stimulating quotes decorated the scene.

Today marked the annual celebration of our little writing group—an event we relish every year. This is the time when we gather to share writing inspiration and celebrate our victories. And what a year! Between field trips to the forest, classes at Central Carolina’s Creative Writing Program, and multiple story and poem acceptances for publication, we had many reasons to celebrate. To paraphrase the words of poet e.e. cummings, our little group is investing the courage to become who we really are, as a group as well as individuals.

We were especially excited to learn about Michele’s recent acceptance to the Room of Her Own Foundation’s week-long writing residency/retreat next month in New Mexico. Not only will she be hobnobbing with fellow emerging writers, she’ll also get to to meet celebrated writers such as Janet Finch and Maxine Hong Kingston! In addition to soaking up the collective wisdom, Michele will also be presenting a one-hour workshop on “Tone Your Creative Core: 5 Secrets for Artists.” Way to go, busy lady!

As part of the meeting, we traded our writing for the month, gave feedback, and each of us committed to taking a CCCC writing course for the fall, as these experiences only reinforce our own commitment to the craft.

My beloved group members also indulged my love of charades and kindly participated in a special version, where we all acted out our favorite literary works. As in keeping with our support of each other, even with a little friendly competition, our two groups (me and Robin vs. Michele, Nancy, and Linda) tied with two wins each. But as it turned out, everyone won as nothing could have been more fun than watching Linda acting out a “bear” for “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” (guessed by Michele!) or Nancy going for broke in gesturing for “Far from the Madding Crowd.” Perhaps it wasn’t fair to ask the competition to act out “Troilus and Criseyde” but smart women aren’t easily intimidated, and here Michele cheerfully gave it her all.

We also took the chance to nosh on hummus and carrots, guacamole, mango salsa, spinach dip, bruschetta, and Robin’s famous deviled eggs. We finished the event with a special dessert—s’mores ice cream with warm chocolate sauce, what I hope was a fitting tribute to a gathering of truly extraordinary women.


Wanna make it? The recipe is in the July issue of Cooking Light magazine.

Ode to My Ironing Board

Ever wondered what to do with your ironing board when you’re too lazy to fold it up? Or even too lazy (or, as I like to say: “too busy”) to iron?

This month Carolina Woman published my poem Ode to My Ironing Board on their website. Unfortunately, through no fault of the page designer, the formatting looks a little wonky. It was intended to be a “shape poem,” and it didn’t translate well to html formatting. Just for reference, here is a link to Ode to My Ironing Board (in pdf), the way it was intended to appear.

This is one of those poems that, thanks to the modern ingenuity of word-processing and graphic design, takes its shape from the theme of the poem. A famous example, and certainly far superior to mine, is Swan and Shadow by John Hollander.

It’s a challenging form, as you must work very hard to make sure the shape of the poem doesn’t paint you into a corner. Start first with the text and then, only then, gently nudge it into a shape. It’s never a bad thing to whittle a poem down to its bare bones and an easy way to do this is to give yourself a restraint (like a shape) of some sort. If you can’t make the shape happen, no worries. Just turn it back into a traditional poem through regular stanzas. However it turns out, you have created something to be proud of.

Forms that might be easy to try and create through basic word-processing are things like circles, hearts, stars, trees, flowers, and for the more adventurous like Hollander, even cats and dogs. Whatever you do, as I always say, have fun!

The End of the Road – Day 8

“Keep your face toward the sunshine,” wrote Walt Whitman, “and the shadows will fall behind you.” These words are a fitting introduction to the last day of our literary tour, as we navigated the tricky traffic of the greater New York metropolitan area for our last scheduled stops.

We spent last night at the gracious home of Jen and Pat (otherwise known as Jenny-Pat) in Darien, CT. Thank you so much, Jenny-Pat, for your hospitality and kindness (wine, snacks, and breakfast!). Once on the road, we first made a pitstop in Tarrytown, New York at Sunnyside, Washington Irving’s home. This was the place of his retirement after a lifetime of travel, letters, and writing best-selling stories such as Rip Van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Not surprisingly, as the authors on our tour moved in very small circles, Irving served as a mentor to Poe, Melville, and Hawthorne and even corresponded with Dickens. Due to the timing of the tours, and the extent of our travels, unfortunately, we weren’t able to go inside Sunnyside, but we did catch a glimpse of the beautiful landscape bordering the Hudson River. This is on the agenda for next time, for sure.

We next made our way to the birthplace of Walt Whitman, one of the primary poets who (along with Emily Dickinson) ushered in the era of contemporary poetry through works such as Leaves of Grass. The home is a very simple colonial farmhouse in Huntington on Long Island, New York (picture one, below). He lived here only three years and therefore there are only scant remnants of his life at this location, but the inside of the home includes period furniture meant to replicate his time in the house. His home in Camden, New Jersey, which includes more personal possessions, may be a better reflection of the poet but the visitor’s center here features a helpful timeline and a couple of things, such as a rare first edition (autographed!) of a work titled Two Rivulets (picture two) and the desk he used during his stint as a teacher in New York (picture three).




We were lucky enough to end our travels at the same place we began–the home of the wonderful Kretchmars in State College, PA. Although we’re sad to end our literary extravaganza, we’re proud to say that we covered five states and a total of 19 actual sites! And Ann, Jen, and I will return to North Carolina tomorrow with a renewed appreciation of our favorite authors and more inspiration for our own creative endeavors.

Since some of you have kindly asked, next time I’ll post the full itinerary of our journey, along with a few details of our more serendipitous pitstops. For now, good night, and I hope you are curling up with a good book!

“I Wrote What I Did Because…. Day 7

as a woman, as a mother I was oppressed and broken-hearted, with all the sorrows and injustice I saw, because as a Christian I felt the dishonor to Christianity – because as a lover to my country I trembled at the coming day of wrath.” ~ Harriet Beecher Stowe

Today we visited the homes of Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811 – 1896) and Mark Twain (1835 -1910) in Hartford, CT. Both homes were right across from each other in a place once known as Nook Creek. Interestingly, although the writers came from very different backgrounds, their work shared a similar world view.


The garden-style cottage where Harriet spent the last years of her life and also the place of her death.



Although most famous for her landmark novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which brought the horrors of slavery to the masses, Harriet actually penned 30 books over the course of 30 years. In addition to being an ardent abolitionist, she was also an animal rights’ activist and one of her novels, A Dog’s Mission, featured a hero named Charley, the same name of Jen’s dog!

Mark Twain (the pen name of Samuel Langhorne Clemens) was known as Sam to his friends. He lived in a grander home that was actually decorated by Louis Comfort Tiffany. He spent some of the happiest times of his life in this house. In fact, after the death of his daughter Susy in Europe, he and his wife Olivia could not bring themselves to return to the same house because of their grief.

Much is known about the life of Mark Twain through his witticisms, novels, and short stories, but we learned quite a few new tidbits that surprised us. He, like Harriet, adored animals and his house was full of cats and dogs. Even these creatures weren’t immune to his humor, however. He named his cats things like “Sin” and “Pestilence.” He had three collies that went by the names “I Know,” “You Know,” and “Don’t Know.” Because there are three of us on this trip, we each chose one of these as our sobriquet.  Jen immediately chose “Don’t Know” as her name, letting me and Ann quibble over “I Know” and “You Know.”


Because of poor investments, the Twain family had to temporarily leave Hartford and vacate this house, instead moving to Europe, where the cost of living was much cheaper back then!








We ended the day on a serendipitous note,  finding out that Thornton Wilder (author of the plays “Our Town” and “Skin of Our Teeth” and the novel “The Bridge of San Luis Rey”) actually built a house in Hamden, CT, and is buried with his family in Mt. Carmel Cemetery in the same town.


We found this house on the real estate site Zillow and learned that it recently sold! Can you imagine living in the house of a Pulitzer-prize winning author?









Wilder is buried next to his beloved sister Isabel.

A Very Little Dickens and a LOT of Sun! Day 6

In all the craziness of yesterday, I neglected to mention that one of our stops in Boston yesterday was at the Omni Parker Hotel, the place where Charles Dickens first read The Christmas Carol in America.

Below is a picture of the key to his room (520) where he stayed. While scarce other details exist of his time here, we do know that he consorted with the other Boston-area literati for a few weeks as a special guest of the Saturday Club at the Parker Hotel.







Today our travels took us to to Cape Cod, through Plymouth (yes, the Plymouth rock really does exist) and then onto the 1620 site of the first actual Pilgrim landing near present-day Provinceton, Massachusetts. This delightful town, with its requisite fudge and Christmas shop, is a teeny bit touristy but decidedly more chic than the usual beach spot.

It’s full of art museums, walkable streets, and people sporting T-shirts that say: “If my dog doesn’t like you, I probably won’t either.” Needless to say, Jen, our beloved curmudgeon, has already disappeared and Ann, sporting a fashionable new beach hat, is also making her way through the streets.










mcmillan pier

A view from MacMillan Pier, back toward town and the Pilgrim Monument, dedicated in 1910.





As for me, I perched on a bench outside the Public Library, and enjoyed a bit of gelato before moseying inside to capture a shot of the half-replica of the Rose Dorothea Schooner, which is permanently wedged inside and surrounded by bookshelves.

rose dorothea

You’ve heard of ship in a bottle, but how about “ship in a library?” Only in P-town…





Other literary points of note include the nearby homes of Norman Mailer and poet Mary Oliver. Supposedly, and maybe Jen has found it already, there once was a shack on the beach where Tennessee Williams put the finishing touches on A Streetcar Named Desire and where Marlon Brando auditioned for the part of Stanley.

We’re headed for Connecticut tomorrow so we only have one night in P-town, but we’re delighted to be staying in the most charming B & B of the trip, A Secret Garden Inn. Below is a view from our balcony, where you can hear birdsong, accordion music, and feel the sweet ocean breezes.

secret garden









The graciousness of our host, Michael, is best summed up by the handout he gave us when we checked in. “Check-out is no later than 11 a.m. Regretfully, this time is inflexible, as a courtesy to our next guests who are, like you, unique snowflakes…”

A Little History, a Little Hawthorne, and a LOT of Rain: Day 5!

Today was a busy day! We actually arrived in Concord, Massachusetts yesterday, and even though we didn’t have much time, we went to Walden Pond first, where Ann and Jen hiked to the site of the cabin of Henry David Thoreau (THAR-ow — yes, they do say it like that, repeat after me: THAR-ow). I sat on the beach and tried my best not to shiver while other people actually swam in the cool water. At dusk, to save time, we rode over to Sleepy Hollow Cemetery to gaze on the graves of Louisa May Alcott, Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Ralph Waldo Emerson.


Ann (5 foot, 1 and a half inches tall) as scale model in front of a replica of Thoreau’s cabin at Walden Pond

Today brought us rain, darkening both the sky and our literary ambitions. The Old Manse (built by Emerson’s father and home to Hawthorne and his family for a while) and The Wayside (the only house actually owned by Hawthorne) were CLOSED! We compensated with a little historic detour, driving over to the site of the Battle of the North Bridge, otherwise known as the “shot heard round the world.”

Fortunately, the Concord Museum opened at 9 a.m., and there we saw one of Paul Revere’s lanterns and Emerson’s actual study, which had been completely reassembled (books and all) within the walls. We also toured The Orchard, the house owned by the Alcott family, and I stood inches away from the desk used by Louisa as she penned the bestselling Little Women. We gently snickered at the way our Northern friends pronounced Raleigh (RAWL-eee).

Hungry for more Hawthorne, we decided to drive to Salem, the place of his birth and where he lived for a while. There we toured The House of Seven Gables, the house of his cousin Susanna and where he drew inspiration for his famous novel. While the incidents in the novel were fictional, the eventual restorer of the site took great pains to honor the novel by representing how the house may have appeared in the tale, even inserting a secret staircase in the chimney which might have been used by Clifford, one of the main characters. A highlight for me was seeing the actual desk where Hawthorne wrote another masterpiece, The Scarlet Letter. 


The inspiration for The House of Seven Gables

Being 3 p.m. and safely out of the rush hour traffic, we decided to next try our luck in Boston, a little ahead of schedule. I was a useless navigator for our driver, brave and dedicated Jen, who persevered against the rain and unyielding drivers to get us safely to our destination.

(Drivers beware. If Jen calls you “buddy” or “sweetheart,”  such as “Get out of my way, buddy!” this is not a term of endearment.)

Although the rain did not cease, Boston still gleamed. Here history and literature converged again. Forgoing a tour of Paul Revere’s house, Faneuil Hall and much more, we focused instead on just a few literary highlights, as you can see below. See you tomorrow, as we make our way to Provincetown.

sylvia plath

9 Willow Street in the Beacon Hill neighborhood of Boston. Sylvia Plath lived briefly on the sixth floor of this building.












ee cummings

The grave of poet e.e. cummings, who might not be happy to see the use of capital letters on his marker. Hint: If you’re in Forest Hills Cemetery and want to see this for yourself, look for the Clarke family headstone just below the slope on Cherry Avenue.










The grave of Anne Sexton, one of the first confessional poets, known for her courage to write about what most people at the time considered taboo.







“Are You Too Deeply Occupied….Day 4

emilyto say if my Verse is alive?” wrote Emily Dickinson in 1862 to Thomas Higginson, the author and editor who would soon become her literary mentor. Today’s journey was primarily centered around this young poetess whose work (along with that of Walt Whitman) would launch the modern poetry movement.

Starting off in Amherst, we visited the Homestead, the site of the Emily Dickinson Museum, which was the first brick house in Amherst and also the place of her birth and death. In spite of her chronic illnesses, she produced an astounding amount of poetry (nearly 2,000 poems) known for its depth of emotion and unusual punctuation.

homesteadAmazingly, we had the same tour guide, Marianne, who led us through the house 3 years ago on a previous visit. Today’s visit was as instructive as before, when we learned that Emily’s white house dress, what she was known for wearing most of the time, was the modern-day equivalent of a sweatshirt and sweatpants. Jen was thrilled to hear this tidbit: “I live for things like this!” The tour also included a visit to The Evergreens, the house of her brother and sister-in-law. The later part of Emily’s life was marked by grief at the death of her beloved nephew, whose little suit is displayed in The Evergreens.

Marianne concluded our tour with a reading (This is My Letter to the World) in the garden, which was also dear to Emily. Here she spent many afternoons musing about nature accompanied by her Newfoundland Carlo.

emily grave






I Have Drunk the Wine of Life at Last – Day 3

Today we journeyed to Lenox, MA, to The Mount, the home of writer Edith Wharton. Just like Millay, she defied social expectations for a woman of her time and pursued her intellectual ambitions to the highest degree.

Although most of her relationships with men (including her husband Teddy, whom she later divorced) were unsatisfying, she did have a few brief moments of happiness. As the quote in the title of this blog implies, she reveled in the good times. She cherished her friendship with ex-patriate writer Henry James, with whom she enjoyed a true marriage of the minds. They possessed “a sense of humor and irony in exactly the same key.”

Having only read Ethan Frome (Ann and I) and The House of Mirth (Jen), we were amazed to learn that Edith penned 40 books in 40 years!


Her first book was actually on interior decorating but she penned many other non-fiction books in addition to countless novels such as The Reef, Summer, and The Age of Innocence, which earned her a Pulitzer Prize.

Edith’s philosophy and intellect are reflected throughout The Mount, which made the visit all that more interesting. In contrast with other mansions of the Gilded Age (think Biltmore), The Mount was full of intimate spaces and natural light. We adored our tour guide, Cecily, who was charming, funny and smart. Cecily encouraged us all to read The Age of Innocence, claiming it was Wharton’s most accessible novel.

During the tour, we learned that “Edith liked her tables round, her lighting low, and the conversation sparkling.” Being dog lovers (Edith considered cats “snakes with fur”), we were thrilled to see that dogs played an integral role in her life. Her dogs slept on cushions under the table and dined from bowls of Chinese porcelain by the fireplace.

french gardens






Her gardens were equally impressive, with French- (above) and Italian-inspired designs. Not surprisingly, she even had a pet cemetery where several of her little darlings now rest in peace. Unfortunately, our visit did not conclude with a view of her grave, as she is buried in France where she spent the latter years of her life.

We next went to the nearby homestead of William Cullen Bryant, a writer and naturalist who was most famous for penning Thanatopsis, a mediation on death. While his home is now a National Historic Landmark, unfortunately for us, it was not open today. But we did peek inside the picturesque barn, which still had the individual house stalls and troughs.







Our tour for the day concluded in Northampton, where we strolled the grounds of Smith College, which prides itself on building generations of independent young females. Seeing a young woman seated by the Mill River Dam, where she laughed to herself as she leafed through a book, Jen quipped: “Now there’s a young woman who thinks for herself.”

And on that subject, tomorrow we’ll go to Amherst, the home of the notoriously independent-minded Emily Dickinson. It will be quite different from The Mount, as Emily never reached the fame of Edith in her lifetime, but given her talents, we expect to be equally delighted.

Edna St. Vincent Millay and Herman Melville: Day 2

Yesterday while making reservations for a tour of Steepletop, home of the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay in Austerlitz, NY, the tour director, Martha Rafterty told us to be prepared to be blown away. And we were not disappointed. The home and gardens are simply exquisite, the perfect homage to the life of this free-spirited and talented woman.


Ann, Ashley, and Jen posing in front of the main house at Steepletop.











Millay, known as “Vincent” to her friends, earned a Pulitzer Prize for her work and was most known for her 1912 poem “Renascence.” In the twenties, she earned as much as $800 for her readings and frequently travelled the world until her untimely and mysterious death in 1949. Afterwards, her sister Norma moved into Steepletop and kept the estate intact, preserving items such as her clothes, furniture and books. Even today the gardens remain authentic, featuring blueberries, peonies, lupine, and her trademark strawberry shrub, the subject of another beloved poem.


As hard as it was to leave Steepletop, we kept to our itinerary and travelled to Pittsfield, Massachusetts and Arrowhead, the home of Herman Melville, most known for his epic novel, Moby Dick. His literary fame was mostly posthumous, however, being more popular in his lifetime for real-life adventures among the cannibals of the South Pacific.

arrowheadArrowhead marked the height of his literary output, the location where he finalized Moby Dick and other novels and short stories, one of which, Billy Budd, remained unfinished at the time of his death. Although plagued by insecurities and alcoholism at the end, his granddaughter Eleanor became his literary executrix and thanks to her perseverance, Moby Dick finally received the recognition it deserved.

Although little original furniture remains, the estate includes the fireplace, which is inscribed with Melville’s writings and the study where he secluded himself to write and escape the mayhem of his four children. Arrowhead overlooks a whale-shaped mountain in the Berkshires (Mt. Greylock), which reputedly inspired Moby Dick.


Melville’s study with a replica of his writing desk.











The adventures continue tomorrow with a short drive to Lenox, home of The Mount, the extraordinary estate of Edith Wharton, famous novelist and interior decorator. Stay tuned!

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