Flash Photograph! Two Sisters in Sepia

two girls_edited1000 Words

From the shoulders up we are nearly the same, our corseted torsos in similar stiff poses. Your glossy brown hair is arranged in the same pouffy waves of fat rolls as mine. Those little girl bows, made from Momma’s scraps of white satin, forever perched on top; yours on the left, mine always on the right, as if our heads were presents to be opened. Our small gold lapel watches came from Mason’s on the square, Daddy’s gift to all his girls when they turned sixteen. They shine a bit in the old photograph, the only light on those dark, heavy dresses, holding time still.

Our eyes look the same of course; generations of Jackson women reflected in that sideways glance, left brows slightly raised, as if always asking. Same noses, familiar cheekbones but a subtle difference, perhaps, hinted at around our mouths. We were so close, this worn picture says, the best of friends, two serenely smiling, secret sharing, sepia sisters.

Locked in two dimensions, only I know what lived below the spotted grey paper frame’s oval window; your sharp little fingers, curled in a claw, pinching my compliant arm.

A. Kissel
‘DIY’ Flash Fiction Class: 03-03-18

Editor’s Note: Masterful. Though the title of this piece is “1,000 words,” a play on the old expression about a photograph being worth 1,000 words, the author succinctly captured the essence of this image in just 212! Make note of the ending. Here her imagination truly soared as she projected “beyond the photograph” and delivered conflict and tension, so essential to effective flash. Bravo!

Stay tuned for more exciting stories from our March 3rd flash fiction class at Central Carolina Community College. I’ll post these regularly. And let your own mind wander a bit. Dream. Imagine how this one-of-a-kind Creative Writing Program can help your own imagination take flight.


Flash Fiction Marathon Weekend…


Photo, Mary Barnard

What a weekend! From spending time with other writers and supporters, to reading and writing, this past weekend was a veritable smorgasbord of literary delights. Can we just repeat this entire weekend, please? Pretty please?*

First, on Friday, I was honored to help launch The Collection: Flash Fiction for Flash Memory, a book of 60 flash fiction stories from 49 writers across the globe at a special event at Orange County Public Library in Hillsborough, where I joined a panel of area writers to read from our own contributions. The book is edited by Cathleen O’Connor and Anne Anthony (a poet also, by the way, who is on fire these days!).

audienceNow available on Amazon (and a best seller, no less!), the book includes three of my stories, and I chose to read “Saving Cedric,” a piece I first drafted during a class led by Ruth Moose at Central Carolina Community College! And what a surprise it was to see her there, along with dear friends/mentors Mary Barnard, Linda Johnson (another author!),  Allison Legge, and Martin Eagle. It was truly a magical night, in more ways than one! It was a full house.

The very next day, bright and early I must say, we drove to CCCC in Pittsboro, where I led a six-hour workshop on the vibrant form itself–short, short fiction averaging 750 words or less. We had 13 participants, dynamic women (plus one very special man!) who each had compelling stories and imaginations to draw from. With fresh brownies and warm banana bread in hand (thank you Mary and Ruth), we read current and past examples of flash fiction, then tried our hand at our own, and everyone ended up with at least three drafts of solid work in progress. They also, I hope, ended up with a valuable “DIY” kit for future inspiration.

The feedback was immediate — and for this I am so grateful — and due to popular demand, yes, yes, yes, we will be doing this again in the fall. We will likely have two sessions and this time, we’ll carve out a segment on revising and submitting for publication.

For more information, please stay tuned. As a teaser, we’ll soon be posting actual samples from the class for our “Photograph” prompt along with the images themselves. Fun, fun! Let the momentum continue….

* Calls to mind a favorite poem of mine by Carl Dennis, titled “Repetition” in the Colorado Review, 2015.  Marvelous idea, even better poem.


March on to Great Flash Fiction….


Read along with me and march into 60 vignettes filled with memorable characters and unexpected plots that fill an emotional landscape.

A North Carolina spring can be capricious. Whether it’s a late frost or an unseasonable surge of hot weather, she likes practical jokes. But even when it’s good, it seems spring is all too brief.

So why not prolong the season by celebrating flash fiction? After all, this emerging literary form is as joyous as a North Carolina spring. It’s short, it’s refreshing, and it’s simply irresistible…..so let’s “march” on to some great flash fiction….

As a reminder, on Friday, March 2, just in time for the Read Across America campaign, Anchala Studios, headed by Anne Anthony and Cathleen O’Connor, will be launching The Collection: Flash Fiction for Flash Memory!  I’ve been honored to be invited to read, along with other featured contributors, at the launch event on March 2 at the Orange County Library in Hillsborough. It will run from 6 – 7:30 p.m. Not only can you buy a copy of the book here, you can also enjoy refreshments and fellowship! Food + friends + a great book = smiles all around. For more details on this event and others, check out the recently updated website.

Now that you’re inspired, why not “march” ahead and write your own flash fiction? You can get a jump start by observing all that’s going on around you. What trees are starting to bud? Are your jonquils popping up? What memories does spring provoke for you? The best stories are a blend of fact and fiction. As Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter, the authors of What If? (one of my favorite writing books) say: “It’s not just what you know, however, it’s how you see it, shape it, and enhance it with your imagination.”




Welcome Breath O’Spring!

breath of springIn spite of wintry weather, these lovely branches of “breath o’spring” are flowering. We brought these into our house when they were fat with buds, but they may be blooming in the wild very soon as well. I wish you could smell them. In my poetry, I’ve described the scent as “lemon and vanilla riding on the breeze that blows through a pine forest after rain” but my words fall far short of the real thing…..

What’s perking you up about spring?  The Collection: Flash Fiction for Flash Memory will be out in the world in just one month — March 2 — and I’ve been honored to be invited, along with other featured authors, to give a reading at the Seymour Center in Chapel Hill on March 24.

And on March 3, as many of you know, I’ll be leading a workshop at Central Carolina Community College in Pittsboro on how to craft your own flash fiction.  The class is full, but if you’re interested, please, please keep checking the registration page to see if any cancellations arise and for a future date of a repeat event. Due to high interest, I’m hoping to give it again, perhaps in the fall.

Leading a workshop brings me great joy, for many reasons. First, I get to spend time with people who love writing as much as I do, and second, I find the experience enormously stimulating as a writer. Right now, even as I plan for the class, I’m polishing up a number of short stories of my own and submitting “late-blooming” poetry.

Last year, I wrote one poem each day in the month of April as part of the Tupelo Press 30/30 Poetry Project. A handful of these recently made it to the second round of consideration in a national poetry competition (note the positive phrasing here — I did not say rejected :), so I plan on continuing to revise and submit until they find a home.

Here’s wishing a great start to  your own spring. For inspiration, read what fellow writer, Arthur Plotnik, author of  8 books, including Spunk and Bite, a contemporary writing guide (and one of my favorites) has to say: “You write to communicate to the hearts and minds of others what’s burning inside you.  And we edit to let the fire show through the smoke.”



What’s Buried in Your Winter Garden?

broccoliImagine my surprise when discovering that our broccoli plants had survived the six inches of snow that covered them for several days. After the thaw, I peeled away the dead, soggy leaves and lo and behold, check out this bright green head.

This lesson — never give up hope —  was reinforced when a short story, Running with the Bulls, was recently accepted by the editors of the 2018 Hardball Times Annual. This story was written almost 4 years ago, many years after the events inspiring the story first occurred. (A belated thank-you goes to Jonathan and Robert for their help with this piece.)

Do you have any old stories or poems that never found a home? If so, dust them off and see if any new markets have emerged that might be crying out for your work. Additionally, consider re-thinking any longer stories that might be shortened. While it’s not a true flash fiction, coming in at 2,440 words, Running with the Bulls underwent many revisions through the years, and every time, surprise, surprise, it ended up being shorter and shorter.

These days, I’m also taking a new look at older pieces, particularly poems. Because I’m primarily a narrative poet, I have plenty of work that might work for flash fiction. This is one of the strategies we’ll be covering at my March 3rd workshop on the exciting field of flash. Interested? Visit the CCCC website and reserve your seat today.

In the meantime, never give up hope. Is there broccoli in your garden? As a dear friend and mentor once told me, and this wisdom never fails to inspire me: A good story will always find a home.


What’s in Your Writing Kit?

writingkit2My mother gave me a lovely box many years ago. It’s covered with inspirational writing in a lovely gold script, and it’s become my nesting box for those little snippets of inspiration — favorite new words, quotes, articles, even bits of random conversation I happen to overhear. It also includes old postcards and pictures,  like the daguerreotype of a young married couple, circa 1840….

When my creative well dries up, this is the first place I plunder. My “writing kit” is particularly helpful for flash fiction because those “flashes” of inspiration can lead to instant stories. It has recently led the way to many new pieces, including poems in The Gyroscope Review (Summer 2017), “Party Etiquette for Insects Recently Transformed into People” (Honorable Mention,  Women on Writing, Summer 2017), and most recently in The Collection: Flash Fiction for Flash Memory, to be released by Anchala Studios on March 2, to coincide with the Read Across America campaign.

Participants attending my daylong flash fiction workshop on Saturday, March 3 at Central Carolina Community College in Pittsboro will receive a starter kit for what I hope will inspire their own creative plundering. Right now, in preparation for the class, I’m compiling the most delicious prompts, tips, samples, and vocabulary words, all of which will help germinate our individual kits and lead to even more stories in the future.

Spots are filling quickly! Hope to see you there! To reserve your seat, visit the CCCC website.


Seeking a Refuge from the Cold? Write!

Got cold weather blues? Anxious about the holidays? Or are you just in a rut? If you’re like Baby Dog, you might just needbaby to surround yourself with your own creature comforts. In her case, it’s a nest of cushy autumn leaves. Can you find her?

For you, have you considered taking advantage of the comforts offered by writing? According to writer Edna Ferber, who wrote in her 1963 autobiography: “Life can’t ever really defeat a writer who is in love with writing, for life itself is a writer’s lover until death – fascinating, cruel, lavish, warm, cold, treacherous, constant.”

So why not embrace life by signing up for a creative writing course at Central Carolina Community College in Pittsboro? We’re offering a wide range of opportunities in Spring 2018 that are sure to lift your spirits!

In fact, I’ll be leading a one-day workshop on Saturday, March 3 on flash fiction. Flash fiction is irresistible; a joy for both reader and writer. Opportunities are better than ever, with a virtual explosion of contests and publications specializing in the form. Read some of the best, experiment a little, and leave the class with a complete “kit” of your own for future inspiration.

CCCC offers many other valuable classes and workshops this spring–including a workshop to help writers achieve publication led by recent novelist Michele Berger. I also recommend you consider the weekly course offered by the celebrated poet Mary Barnard titled “Write to Heal.”

For the complete list of offerings, and to sign up, visit the CCCC website.


Find the “Write” Tools to Heal!

Last week Johnpaul built a ramp for our beloved Buster, whose legs are too short to jump into the truck on his own. Guided by a treat at his nose—and the cheers of his brother Finn—Buster quickly mastered the “mountain” like a champ.

This little ramp is so much more than a slab of poplar. It symbolizes what it takes to recover from a traumatic experience that might be holding you back. With the buster“write” tools, and the support of loving friends, you too, can easily triumph over the obstacles of life.

Based on research by Dr. James Pennebaker, “Write to Heal” offers 21 different expressive writing tactics (or tools) in an upcoming 8-week class at the Pittsboro campus of Central Carolina Community College beginning Monday, March 5, 2018.  A pen and notebook is all you need for writing in timed sessions on assigned topics.  Most importantly, you do not share what you write, it’s for your eyes only.  Registration begins in December 2017.  Just search for CCCC Creative Writing Program and click on “View the Online Schedule.”

Accomplished writer and workshop leader Mary Barnard, certified in 2016, has led 3 sessions for cancer survivors at Waverly Hematology Oncology in Cary and one session at CCCC in Spring 2017.  You can make a positive difference in your health and well-being by giving “Write to Heal” a try!  One cancer survivor said she used to dread coming to the clinic, but now she smiles when she walks in the door.

As a reminder, on Saturday, March 3, 2018, I’ll be leading a separate, daylong workshop on Flash Fiction at the same location. We’ll also be providing the “write” tools to turn your experience and ideas into memorable short fiction pieces. Every participant will leave with finished writing and a “do-it-yourself” kit of inspiration for future works.

Hope to see you at one of these events, or both!




Mark Your Calendar: A Workshop on Flash Fiction!

flash fiction

“A small fiction is a lone wolf of a lie, sometimes hounding the truth across a field but oftentimes simply sitting on a hilltop to raise its face to the moon and howl of love or loss….” Robert Olen Butler

On Friday, I was honored to learn that 3 stories of mine were accepted by Anchala Studios for an upcoming anthology called Flash Memory. It’s a collection of flash fiction intended for memory-impaired readers, but the book may appeal to anyone who has limited time and just needs a quick fix of fiction (might this be you?). Stay tuned for the details.

I’ve written about flash fiction and its growing popularity before, for both readers and especially writers. I’ll actually be leading a workshop for Central Carolina Community College in Pittsboro on this very topic on Saturday, March 3, 2018 from 9 a.m.- 3 p.m.

Flash fiction stories (usually 750 words or less) are irresistible, savory nuggets of human experience at your fingertips. Opportunities for writing and publishing are better than ever. Participants will read some of the best, experiment a little, and leave the class with a “kit” for future inspiration. Bonus: The editors of Flash Memory have also kindly agreed to share with me some of the insights they gained while reviewing and selecting these stories, and I plan to share their wisdom during the workshop.

Interested? Registration deadlines will be available soon at the CCCC website.


Happy Holidays from Janet at Lifeline!

On Friday night, Johnpaul and I participated in the annual Fall Open Mic sponsored by the Creative Writing Program at Central Carolina Community College. The event was kindly hosted by the Joyful Jewel, a vibrant arts and craft gallery in the heart of downtown Pittsboro.

The optional theme this year, fittingly enough, was holiday angst, and we heard a variety of creative works featuring the joy and occasional madness that marks the holidays. We heard the travails of a real working Santa (featuring local Santa Al Capehart), fiction by Robin Whitten, Kim Overcash and Linda Johnson, and poetry by Judith Stanton, Bonnie Korta, Ruth Moose and our emcee Mary Barnard, among many other delightful voices. We also had the honor of hearing Michele Berger read a poignant essay on her mother that was published in “Letters to My Mother,” a book which featured the voices of other celebrity and national personalities. Yes, Michele is our own celebrity!


Johnpaul and I couldn’t resist the opportunity to read a “re-mix” of “The Suicide You Prevent Might Be Your Own.” In this version of our darkly humorous 3-minute play, innocent sports fan Russell Huggins is unlucky enough to accidentally call Janet, a stressed-out suicide prevention counselor, while trying to order a pizza for the Peach Bowl party he’s hosting on New Year’s Eve.

As with all of the open mic events sponsored by the Creative Writing Program, the roster invariably features a wide variety of talent and the full spectrum of human emotion–from laughter to tears to joy.


We hope to see you at one of our events soon, but in the meantime, stay tuned for the spring catalog of creative writing courses offered by the College. These classes will not only sharpen your writing skills, but they will also introduce you to terrific people who, like those I’ve been privileged to get to know, may become lifelong buddies.


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