Tag Archives: flash fiction

Summer rain, summer magic

We woke up to bright sunshine, but in true July fashion, a sudden summer storm surprises us at Whale Tail Road. Perhaps my bougainvillea will dreamily shake her blossoms, Sara Teasdale-style.

Today two of my flash fictions make their appearance in the July 2018 issue of The Birds We Piled Loosely. Read “Etymology in the Neighborhood” and “We Are So Sorry”  by clicking on the cover of the magazine and scrolling to pages 15 and 25.

All of the work is distinctive in its own way, particularly poems by Emily Parker, Rich Ives, and Ally Young as well as evocative image-text pieces by Emma Sheinbaum.

This past month I’ve kept busy revising stories that I began in May’s “Story A Day” Challenge and already I’ve submitted several shorter pieces for publication.

Last week I wrapped up a one-week class offered by One Story: Write a Story with Hannah Tinti. I’ve taken online classes before but this was one of the most engaging I’ve ever experienced. It focused on structure, something I don’t always think about when in the heat of composing a story. And in just six days, all participants had the opportunity to craft, day by day, a solid draft with a viable structure. More importantly, it was FUN!

But today, as rain pounds our roof, I’m thinking more about poetry. I’m going to comb through my word boxes and see what magical combinations arise….I’ll be building dandelion suspension bridges, kitten-heeling my way into a sunset altar, and exploring the sovereignty of cookies.

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Tantalize with a title

chekhov2We discussed first lines already, but we ought to back up a wee bit. Let’s talk about story titles.

When you finally finish that first draft of a story, don’t slap a thoughtless title on top. You’ve worked hard already, so why not invest just a little more time to hook your reader from the very beginning with a tantalizing title?

Take a look at the titles of the books featured in the picture to the left. Don’t they tempt you to at least open up the books?

As a former judge (I judged a high school literary contest for three years) and as a writing instructor, I have seen far too many stories saddled with ho-hum titles. Such as “The Table”, “The Painting” or “My Family.” While not offensive, these titles suffer from an extreme case of “run-of-the-mill-itis.” They could be the title for hundreds of similar stories. They don’t make the reader want to read them.

In contrast, take a look at some titles below, all from recent stories, most of which are available online.

“Howard’s Girl” ~ Jane Zingale, New Flash Fiction
“When Gorillas Sleep” ~ Frankie McMillan, New Flash Fiction
“Mr. Switzerland” ~ Marguerite Floyd, New Flash Fiction
“Sleepwalking in Texas” ~ Nicholas Cook, New Flash Fiction
“All the Sea in the Fish” ~ Rob Bockman, Tin House
“My Co-Worker’s Obituary Photograph” ~ Annie Hartnett, Tin House
“Christmas Alligator” ~ Reiser Perkins, Tin House

All of the above titles immediately drew me into the stories. They took me from the world of the general to the specific. Not surprisingly, the stories themselves did not disappoint. Below is a story title for the record books, one of the longest titles and most intriguing stories I’ve ever read.

“A Perimenopausal Jacqueline Kennedy, Two Years After the Assassination, Aboard the M/Y Christina, off Euboea, Bound for the Island of Alonnisos, Devastated by a Recent Earthquake, Drinks Her Fourth Bloody Mary with Mrs. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Jr.”
~ Michael Martone, Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction

A snazzy title is even more important for poetry and flash fiction, which are defined by brevity. Every single word must pull its own weight….and then some. And an exciting title is as inspirational to the writer as it is to the reader. A writer who can write a tantalizing title will undoubtedly work harder on that story, don’t you think?

 

Wrapping up the Story a Day challenge

I did it! Foblack raspberryr each day of May, I drafted a story every morning. This means I ended up with 31 rough drafts, more than enough to see me through a summer and fall of solid writing.

It wasn’t as easy as picking black raspberries, but I’m so glad I did it.  Most of the stories are still rough drafts but I now have at least 10 viable starts to longer pieces. And yes, looking back, there’s a little bit of “chaff” that may never see the light of day. Uh, what was I thinking?

So how did I do it? In the beginning, I leaned heavily on writing prompts from other sources. One of my more finished pieces is based on a mythological story–a love triangle resolved through clever debate (Thank you, Fred White, author of The Daily Reader.). Another one is based on a prompt from Story A Day, Write a Letter (Thank you, Julie Duffy).  I also pulled out a few latent ideas of my own that I’d been hoarding. Many ideas, however, seemed to just spawn themselves, a freaky synthesis of my own experience and writing mind, if that makes sense. One idea ended up yielding two separate stories!

Having worked on longer pieces for so long, I was a little out of the habit of generating new ideas. So I found the discipline of this effort extremely useful. As they say, we first make our habits, and then our habits make us. Not surprisingly, the more you write, the more ideas you get.

I also managed to make a little jam (strawberry and early peach). And yes, as another reward, I’ll  be treating myself to William Trevor’s collection of last stories very soon. And for now, I’ll be revising, revising, revising….

 

 

Another evening of story-telling…

scuppernong books

I’m reading “The Dave Department” — my short flash about waiting for a call-back from a service tech who seems to always be at lunch. (Photo credit: Anne Anthony)

Last night was rich with literary delights: writer-reader connections, stories galore, and scintillating conversation all within the charming Scuppernong Books in downtown Greensboro.

It was the final official leg of the book tour for The Collection: Flash Fiction for Flash Memory. I read two stories and we heard from six other authors, including our dynamic co-editor Anne Anthony. Each one of us had the opportunity to speak about what inspired our stories, which made the event particularly interesting. Want your own copy?  Order it here.

Interested in learning more about the exciting form of flash fiction? Sign up for one of two daylong workshops I’m leading this fall at Central Carolina Community College.

September 22, 2018: Flash Fiction Bootcamp. Think you don’t have time to write? Anybody has time for flash fiction, and by the end of this class, you’ll have five finished pieces. Bring your favorite writing gear (notebook and pen/pencil or laptop) and get ready for some prompts, new inspirations, and instant feedback. Atten-hut!

October 13, 2018: Flash Fiction: Revision and Publication. Now that you’ve written your first flash fictions, you’re ready to show them off! Bring a story of your own and learn how to revise, prepare and submit it for publication in online or print magazines, and how later to create a book-length collection and find publishers.

We’ll talk more about craft elements soon, such as the importance of a title…..

First cherries, first lines

cherriesOut of our four young cherry trees, we ended up with just a handful of tart cherries this year. Our Montmorency tree (left), the first one we planted three years ago, yielded the most fruit.

The first line of a story should be as memorable as the taste of a tart cherry–tangy, sweet, then tangy again. It’s almost lemony, but there’s something else–the flavor of early summer, morning breezes, balmy nights, the eerie song of the wood thrush in the hollow.

“One fine evening the no less fine office manager Ivan Dmitrich Cherviakov was sitting in the second row of the stalls, watching The Bells of Corneville through opera glasses.” (Anton Chekhov, The Death of a Clerk)

“Miss Matt was at least partially conscious that she looked like the teacher everyone has had for English in first-year high school; she was small and pretty, in a rice-powder fashion, with a great mass of soft dark hair that tried to stay on top of her head and straggled instead down over her ears; her voice was low and turned pleading instead of sharp; any presentable fourteen-year-old bully could pass her course easily.” (Shirley Jackson, The Sorceror’s Apprentice)

“Hazel Morse was a large, fair woman of the type that incites some men when they use the word ‘blonde’ to click their tongues and wag their heads roguishly.” (Dorothy Parker, Big Blonde)

Does your first sentence sing with vivid language? Mystery and intrigue? Does it draw your reader deeper? As I revise the stories I drafted this past month, I’ll be cognizant of the work of the masters in the first sentences of their stories, as quoted above. There’s a trick here, and these authors do it. That first sentence must hint at the plot and the universal truth (or unique vision) that caused the author to write the story in the first place.

As we approach the end of my story-drafting blitz this month, (three more to go!) I was delighted to receive a note from the editors of  The Birds We Piled Loosely, a hip online literary magazine, that they accepted two of my short humor flashes: “Etymology in the Neighborhood” and “We Are So Very Sorry” for their July issue.

Come to think of it, submitting work for publication is also a bit like growing cherries in the south. It’s unpredictable, a little scary, (will a late frost hurt those flower buds?) but the scarcity makes the few cherries you do harvest that much more delicious. So keep it up…both the cherry growing and submitting!

 

Flash Memoir!

There are so many exciting literary forms available these days that it (almost) makes a creative writer scratch her head before penning a new piece. Found poetry, lost poetry, nanofiction, six-word stories, speculative memoir, you name it.

The cousin of one of my most favorite forms (flash fiction) is the emerging form of flash memoir. And there are countless markets for these short, true-to-life stories that can end up connecting people across time and space. And the good news is that you can earn money for these stories.

Here’s one way to get started. Make a list of ten of the most exciting or momentous things that ever happened to you. Choose the one experience that speaks the most to you and recount it in fewer than 500 words. Just write it in the same way as you’d tell the story to a friend. It’s that simple.

One of my husband’s pieces (with a photo) was just published in the May issue of Carolina Country, a local print and online magazine mailed to over 2 million people in the rural electric cooperatives across North Carolina.  Ever the reluctant author, Johnpaul told me he doesn’t have time to sign autographs right now. He’s too busy installing the floor of our library.

Read the story of the paperboy and the piano teacher here.

 

Final Flash Photo! A Story of Four Girls

 

revival_edited

Youth Night, Revival Week, July 1965

New girls brought instant novelty, even Deirdre’s own tired moss green dress seemed fresher walking beside them.

The eldest girl, Sally, had been an easy victory. When Deirdre caught sight of the Bible in her tote bag, right as Sally was leaving the IGA, she invited her to Youth Night at Revival that very same evening. “I’ve got two younger sisters,” said Sally. “Is it okay if they come too?”

Of course it was. But as soon as Deirdre met the middle girl, Anne Marie, who at 15 had a savage self-confidence and rather mature beauty, she knew she would bring trouble.

She behaved herself during the service, even the prayers, Deirdre observed, peeping through the steeple of her fingers. But who knew what she was thinking?

At the end of the night, instead of walking home with her family, Anne Marie immediately sidled up to Doodle Hayes, a farmer’s son with a tendency to hunch his fingers into the pockets of his jeans and teeter on his heels whenever Deirdre spoke to him. And now he teetered next to Anne Marie.

Ashley Memory
~182 words
3-3-2018

What fun you can have from photographs, especially when you have no idea who the people are or where they’re from! This gives you the freedom to truly imagine, and conjure an original plot from the simplest of details. And because it’s flash fiction, you have to keep it short, less than 750 words, which helps you pare it down to the absolute essentials. I actually wrote 364 words in my first draft and ended up cutting it in half. Honestly, I think it’s better now!

For even more fun, stay tuned for more prompts, and of course, more details on future workshops I’ll be leading at Central Carolina Community College in Pittsboro in Fall 2018.