What makes for successful micro and flash fiction?

24 Jun

While I slow-walk my blog duties, here’s a great article on the magic of compression in short fiction.

After a taxing couple of weeks of training for a part-time position I’m starting in August, yep, I’m stalling on last week’s promise to review Penny Guisinger’s chapbook Postcards from Here. I’ll revive Fiction Friday next week. Instead I aimed my shrunken brain at some of my favorite websites in search of something worth sharing, and Lit Hub delivered.

Olivia Clare argues that compression is a great tool for creating momentum in a short story, and I agree—it’s no surprise I love the same three short story writers named in the piece as masters of compression, Welty, Paley, and Hempel. From my perch as a fan in particular of micro and flash fiction, I read the appeal to distillation as not just a suggestion but an imperative. And I appreciate the insight that the powerful punch I consider the mark of successful very short fiction is probably achieved not so much because the author landed on the one right plot line or imagery or ending (there are always myriad good choices) but via the breakneck speed of an entire well-crafted piece—maximum momentum, you might say.

My favorite part of the article is Ms. Clare’s remark that not all readers appreciate compression:

The impatient reader—impatient for backstory, for full explanation and character motivation—will not be satisfied. Hempel is for the reader who is willing to embrace unknowns. When was the speaker’s friend in “In the Cemetery” diagnosed? How old was she? How did she feel when diagnosed? Does she have more friends? A love life? These are questions some fiction workshops would urge the story’s writer to answer and unpack.

The more you write micros and flashes, the more some of your reader friends will urge you to fill the gaps you intentionally left. Sometimes, of course, they’re right. But often they’re just not the readers you’re looking for. I needed this reminder that compression is not just an art but also a chosen, preferred style. Some don’t enjoy it, even when executed by a master. If you’d say no to Grace Paley—and, inexplicably, many do!—then I don’t have a chance. Thank you and excuse me, I’m going to try that side of the room….

If you’re trying your hand at short fiction and especially if you’re thinking of going very short, this one’s a useful read.

Back soon with a Market Monday and then that promised Fiction Friday review. Happy compressing!

Spring Blooms! Tulips, Irises, Penny Guisinger

13 Jun

When I need color most, Maine blooms. And reminds me of a local master of very short prose.

I continue to despair over our ongoing national catastrophe. At the end of April I hit the year mark on a difficult and painful family episode that will continue to unfold, no good news in sight. I’m gritting my teeth through a dry spell in writing life accomplishments—all writerly things I control are in a state of unruly, uncertain making, and those deeply important things I do NOT control aren’t breaking my way. In short: I’m in a funk. Which made me slip quietly away from this blog, social media, much of my usual routine.

As May opened up, I couldn’t see the end of my fog, so I did a lot of sighing and frowning (and, um, ill-advised eating) and kept my head down. Then one morning I looked out my bedroom window to see the first handful of tulip blooms—bright yellow and a shy blush of soft coral-pink. I thought, “Hello and thank you and aren’t you gorgeous.” Then: “Where’s that little book I bought at that workshop…??”

In March, when I and the tulips were still pushing through the final weeks of Maine’s winter, I took a workshop, offered through the Maine Writers and Publishers Association, on writing flash creative nonfiction. I had signed up for it on a whim. I’ve toyed with the idea of writing personal essay or memoir, but I’ve never known how to make a start. I didn’t expect marching orders from a 4-hour session, but if I could buy myself a bit of inspiration in a genre I know little about, that would be well worth the fee.

I’m a scalp-to-toes introvert, which means when I have a morning appointment, I tend to wake up grumpy and get mad while I get ready, and that day was no exception. I do my best to put on a good face and bring the good will when I get there. Fortunately, Penny Guisinger swept into the room in a spirit of cheerfulness and warmth, jokingly complaining about the lack of coffee and the frigid morning, all down-to-earth, approachable, big smile, we’re all just writers, here. I more than got my money’s worth. In fact I did leave with the genesis of marching orders. And something else: Her lovely chapbook of vignettes, Postcards from Here, published by Vine Leaves Press.

Over these last four or five weeks, I’ve rested my worries while pulling weeds around the early, middle, and late spring tulips, then tidying the beds of exploding bearded irises, then bringing the same attention to the delicate unfurling of Siberian irises and baptisia—thrilling me by blooming exactly together, as I’d hoped. And most days I followed up the calm earned in sweat with a few moments of the quiet wonder that comes of reading Guisinger’s tiny, beautiful things.

Blooms are short-lived, so you must feast on them. All day throughout spring and summer, whether outdoors or sitting by a window, my eyes are set on “gobble.” Guisinger’s prose, however, should be tasted. Savored in the small bites she’s plated on every page. Which is how her little book has kept me in such good company through these weeks of mental stillness.

IrisbaptisiaI’m welcoming myself back to the writing life today, a strangely hot Maine Tuesday, bad news still raging nation- and world-wide, family still finding its feet, the last two tiny plots of late tulips shedding their petals just yesterday. Thanks to mother nature’s insistence on pretty, frilly things, and a shining chapbook of word-presents, I’m on the path.

I’ll bring back the Daily Shorty words “Fiction Friday” next week when I review Guisinger’s book. Happy spring-almost-summer, Everyone.

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Spotlighting Another Giant of Short Prose: Wigleaf

24 Apr

On Market Monday I’m turning over an old leaf.

Apologies for skipping Market Monday last week—I was hosting my big sister from Saturday to Saturday, and wanted to devote all my attention to her. Today’s market is worth two Mondays, I promise, so take special note!

I mentioned in my post on Cleaver Magazine that I have now covered all my favorite publishers of very short fiction. I turned the spotlight on Wigleaf in December, when I gushed about this model micro by Deb Olin Unferth. But I haven’t done the standard, thorough, Market Monday post on Wigleaf, so I’m filling in that gap now.

Do I like what they publish? This is another magazine that offers a wide range of voices, so most of us will find work here that we admire. In addition to Unferth’s delightful micro, I am completely in love with “Companion,” by Helen McClory, a story I have been meaning to highlight in a Fiction Friday post (somehow Fridays never seem to dawn these days in DailyShortyLand, but soon, soon). And try this more recently published plain-faced, monotone, dry-voiced story by Ashley Hutson, “Advancements,” a piece that held me spellbound in a way I can’t explain, which might be my favorite kind of happy reaction to a story.

Do they do justice to the published work? For me, Wigleaf’s is the rare site that functions so well as a direct entry to the work itself that I almost don’t even notice the aesthetics, and yes, that’s a compliment. When you click a link on the homepage, the story comes up in a different background color, totally set off from the page and contained in its own window. This has the same power to grab my full attention as opening a book, a rare thing to encounter on a website. They also publish from some of their authors quirky “Dear Wigleaf” bits that serve as a kind of “PS” to the published flash, which is a nice way to add interest to the story. And they bring an enormous amount of attention to their site (and therefore anyone published there) by annually selecting their favorite 50 flashes published online—check out their archives for all their lists.

Do their guidelines speak to me? “Impossible to say what we’re looking for,” they write, which is amply supported by, again, the wide range of voices they publish. I am most attracted by sites that either explicitly invite weirdness in their guidelines or put out an “All are welcome” sign, and Wigleaf has done the latter. They take up to 1000 words in a story, and allow 3 stories in one submission.

Wigleaf is another member of shorty royalty. If you have a strong interest in very short prose, you must become familiar with their site, and don’t hesitate to send along your best pieces. They take submissions in the final week of each academic month (excluding December) then take a break in May, June, and July. Which means you have, what, 6 days before their next break starts, so get going!
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Your Assignment: An Ad Story!

10 Apr

It’s Market Monday and I’m crafting micro “ad stories” by the light of a match….

My plan for today was to post my picture of a favorite birthday cake, then wish myself a happy birthday and take the day off at Daily Shorty. But on a random Web jaunt, I stumbled over a delightful submissions opportunity that I have to share: The online journal matchbook is calling for “Ad Story” submissions, deadline April 30.

For the fourth time (where have I been??) “matchbook will publish very tiny stories in the form of Google Ads found next to search results and on websites in an attempt to use the advertising system to work for art rather than against it.” WHAT?! Oh my goodness. I’m smitten.

Read the full guidelines (the requirements are very specific) then check out their archived Ad Stories for inspiration.

Some of these story bits read like poetry, others like jokes, still others like lovely or jarring hints at full narratives. I would link my favorites, but they’re all collected on that same archives page, and anyway they’re so short, you can eat all of them up in only a few minutes. Enjoy! And then wrangle yourself some little bitty stories.

They’ll take as many as four, so get busy!

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Cleaver Magazine Wants Your Flash

3 Apr

Market Monday’s got me racing through the digital litworld with A CLEAVER!

I found Cleaver Magazine in one of the Best Small Fictions anthologies but hadn’t checked it out until tonight. As of last week, I’ve covered my entire list of favorite very-short-fiction publishers in my Market Monday and Fiction Friday posts. Now I’m slowly working through unexplored journals on my long list, and as I find one I want to submit to myself, I’ll spotlight it here. Tonight I read the work of five journals that didn’t spark my interest. Then I landed at Cleaver Magazine.

The disadvantage of my current approach is that I might not have time to fully investigate the richness a site offers before I have to write it up. And this is definitely one of those times—mea culpa, but don’t let my flagging resources stop you from jumping in over there. In addition to art and all the usual genres, the site offers interviews, craft essays, book reviews, an editors’ blog, an advice column, travel essays, a podcast, and … *wait for it* … radio plays! Can I personally recommend each of these features? No I cannot, not yet. Am I going to romp around that site, sampling everything they’ve got, as soon as I have a bit more time? Hell yes.

Do I like what they publish? This is another journal to celebrate for the wide range of voices represented in their flash. The power of Nadia Laher’s low-key “Snake” sneaks up on you, Kaitlyn Burd’s delightful “Fictitious Forces” feels like it was born of the urge to reassemble a family of words in a new place, in a different order, with more color, and I’m plain in love with the indescribable “Seven Pieces” by Karen Donovan.

Do they do justice to the published work? I love the art paired with each story, which makes the flash feel so well tended. And some of my reading tonight reminded me that we shouldn’t take the professional, typo-free, nicely formatted presentation of the published work at CM and my other spotlighted markets for granted.

Do their guidelines speak to me? The guidelines are straightforward (but include the quirk of requesting that prose pieces be single-spaced, which is a good reminder to ALWAYS read these notes carefully), which I always appreciate, and there’s a warm, writer-friendly vibe, for sure. But they don’t say anything that attracts me in particular. It was the special attention to flash and then the aforementioned range of voices and plethora of accompanying features that got me excited to submit.

Seriously, if you’ve got some great flashes, this magazine has to be on your list. Just read the pieces they’ve put up in their last few issues and you’ll see that they aren’t looking for any particular kind of voice or approach. There’s nothing more writer-friendly than that.

Let me know if your work lands on this site so I can offer my congrats!
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Work-It Wednesday: Spotlighting Newfound

29 Mar

On my hopefully one and only Work-It Wednesday, I’m grooving on niche.

I’m scrambling over here in DailyShortyland this week, and didn’t have the stillness nor focus to do my Market Monday duty. So today is “Work-It Wednesday,” my make-up date with you, reader, if you’re looking for markets worthy of your best, very short prose. I give you Newfound, a journal devoted to work that “explores how place shapes identity, imagination, and understanding.” And oh, how well they do that.

Do I like what they publish? Their flash pieces, which they define as no more than 1,000 words, are rich and varied. And unless I missed something, they don’t mark their flashes as fiction or creative nonfiction, so they get to sit wherever they want in your imagination. Really good micros and flashes are bursting at the seams with subtext, and the current issue’s “An Ode to Delmar” by Jamie Wagman gleefully pops stitches from top to bottom. I love the focus on one narrow subject, which of course serves as the window into a world of subjects, in Issue 3’s (Vo. 7, Fall) “In the Epoch of the King Salmon” by Paul Vega. And the compression and fierceness of that same issue’s “Verily, Verily” by Sarah Kathryn Moore makes me weak with admiration.

Do they do justice to the published work? They make it easy to find and access each flash published online, in current and previous online issues, and each piece lives on its own, tidy page.

Do their guidelines speak to me? When I first checked out Newfound, what excited me right away is their very brief statement of what they look for in flash prose: “Flash fiction, micro fiction, and hybrid work—if it’s brief (<1,000 words) and cutting edge, we’re publishing it.” I’m always interested in magazines looking for something outside traditional, realist fiction, because I often write this kind of fiction and I love to read it. And note that here they do specifically use the word “fiction,” but they also refer to “hybrid work,” which must be at the root of why they don’t label the flashes. I could be misunderstanding their intent, but if so, I’m glad. This stated openness to “hybrid work,” and the lack of labels for the flash prose—they allow a clean approach to each flash, that, for me, acts on the work, making it fill more space and suggest more meaning.

It all makes me rue my tendency to very rarely give place any attention in my work. What about you? If you’ve got a flash that focuses on place, fire it off to Newfound. They accept submissions year-round. And if they publish it, please report back here so I can applaud.

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Weird and Wonderful Flash: Hermeneutic Chaos Journal

20 Mar

It’s Market Monday and I’m advocating Chaos.

Last week Hermeneutic Chaos Journal published its March issue, and I’m lucky enough to be included. I discovered HCJ in one of the Best Small Fictions collections, and immediately fell in love with their voice. I have only twice read stories at a magazine and concluded that my work is an obvious match—the first time with the Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, then with HCJ. In both cases I thought of a particular story immediately that might be right for the magazine, and in both cases the editor said yes to that submission within two days. Lightning should strike only once, really, so I now must accept that this particular brand of serendipity will never happen for me again, which makes my publication at HCJ especially sweet. Would you like to join me, there?

Do I like what they publish? Very much indeed. I’ve already highlighted a story from HCJ on a Fiction Friday, and I’ve got another HCJ flash I want to revel in some Fiction Friday coming in the next few months. In the meantime, here’s Sara Barač’s spare and evocative “Former Yugoslavia, Former You” from the current issue, and Jennifer Maritza McCauley’s sad, quiet “The Girl We Forgot” from Issue Sixteen.

Do they do justice to the published work? I love the art at the top of HCJ’s homepage, and each piece chosen to grace an issue page. So that—the arresting images and colors—grab me first. When I click on the link to a story, I get a soft, spacious white page with the story laid out simply, a minimalist presentation that lets the work speak for itself. As a bonus, any author who’s willing provides an audio file to accompany the story, so you can close your eyes and be read to, if you like. I’d never been asked to provide a reading of a published story before, and I enjoyed doing it. I don’t know why more online magazines don’t take advantage of what the Web allows.

Do their guidelines speak to me? They had me at this: “We admire all forms of experimental, hybrid and avant-garde literature, collaborative writings, visual and graphic outpourings – anything that literature is capable of.” That’s speaking MY language for sure, but the proof is in the reading. As it happens, I connect with, enjoy, and admire the work published here, and that’s the proof. I also appreciate being able to submit up to three pieces of prose at once (up to a total of 3K words).

So maybe invite a little literary chaos into your life and send a story or three their way? Let me know if you get published at HCJ so I can congratulate you!

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Spotlighting Rejection Letters

13 Mar

It’s Market Monday and I’m wondering how you’re dealing with the inevitable rejection that accompanies the work of submissions.

I can’t lie to you. Somehow the fact that it’s Market Monday escaped me entirely until a half-hour ago. I thought about it yesterday, and it’s on the damn calendar, so how exactly did that happen? I think it’s because I’m pushing hard on submissions this month, but these last few days I’ve been in one of my little spirit-dips, when I focus a lot on the rejections I’m getting. Reader, I’m moping. And I’m distracted.

So in honor of my own demons, and because I assume you have similar ones, on Market Monday I’m going to absolve myself of the duty to spotlight a market, and instead I’m spotlighting the rejection letters I receive from all these magazines I’m recommending. I hope this means neither one of us need think about rejection at all, for, oh, at least another week.

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Some of my writer friends love the No, but rejection letter. No, we don’t want to publish your story, but it’s strong writing and we wish you luck placing it elsewhere. No, your story isn’t a good fit for our magazine, but we enjoyed reading it, and thank you for thinking of us. No, this story doesn’t quite work for us, but please submit again. This last is the best No, but. And it’s the one I hate the most.

I went to a talk on how to manage the submissions process when I was getting my MFA. I learned that I should be delighted whenever a rejection includes a personal note. And a rejection obviously composed entirely for you? That’s gold. It means you’re almost there. If a magazine suggests you send more work, you’re a fool if you don’t. Which means I’ve been a fool many times over.

I would like to be a fan of the No, but. My No, but friends are smarter than I am, more big-hearted. My small mind would much rather read, “I just don’t get you,” rather than, “I get you… I just don’t want you.”

Other friends like the No, because. No, we have decided to decline your story, because it has a darker tone than we’re aiming for. Because to us it feels unfinished. Because we’ve published too many stories with park rangers in the last year. My No, because friends like having a solid reason for the rejection, and feel the because can actually help them re-think their work. That’s sweet.

I’ve only received two No, because rejections and they pissed me off. Just like you, Editor, don’t want me to explain my story in my cover letter, I don’t need to hear your thoughts about what does and doesn’t work in my story. It’s condescending. Or… not. It’s not, of course. It’s an editor wanting to write a letter that doesn’t feel so goddamned arbitrary, and it comes from a warm spot in that editor’s heart, and I so wish I could properly appreciate that. But I leave appreciation to my No, because friends.

Me, I’m a “Because I said so” kinda gal. I was raised well before the term “helicopter parents” was invented, in an era when parents expected you to do what they said because otherwise, where are you going to sleep? Who’s going to feed you? My parents never insisted they were right about any particular question about my behavior, they never won an argument by insisting they knew better. They simply lorded it over me and my siblings with their pure authority over little things like breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Which means I was always free to think whatever I pleased, I just needed to behave a certain way when in sight.

Whatever you think of this as a parenting philosophy, it seems to me the perfect editorial stance for a rejection. I’m not saying your story isn’t genius. I’m saying I didn’t understand or enjoy it. Done. There are so many publications I neither understand nor enjoy. So I get that. It’s a matter of personal taste. And you, Editor, happen to own the key to the lock on the front door, so yours is the taste that matters just now. I can live with that.

All of which is to say that I feel the least distressed by a rejection that comes as a plain, polite, No, full stop. Which is dumb. Because it means the editor had zero interest in my work and wants to ensure I don’t sense a molecule of encouragement in her letter, because if I do, good god, she might have to read something else I’ve written. Why would I prefer to see THAT in my inbox? Because a woman who reviews rejections, e-mails her friends about them, categorizes them, writes about them… is a woman who takes rejection way too seriously. And personally.

Yeah, but so what. Every age of my life seems to come with a great gift. In middle age I’m letting go of worrying so much about how I feel. Whether it’s justified, whether it’s sensible, whether it’s constructive or destructive. How I feel is how I feel, and I’ve got too much yard work and too many Chopped episodes, and, yes, too many stories to revise and submit, to waste time worrying about it. So if a No, but and a No, because make me mope, fine. Because moping requires a pause. And categorizing rejections requires close attention.

A No, full stop doesn’t bother me, so it doesn’t slow me down. Which is great, because how many times do I need to get a No, full stop before I stop trying the same magazine? Typically twice, sometimes three times, if it’s a sterling favorite. But a No, because, that’s more information I can use. Maybe, given what I now know, this magazine is the right home for a couple of stories I hadn’t before considered right for them. And a No, but, that’s screaming for more attention. When I said I’ve ignored the call for more work many times over, I was talking about habits well in the past.

In short, moping and categorizing do tend to focus the (rejected) mind on where I should send my next submission. I dearly hate a No, but. The whole damn time I’m selecting the next story I’m going to send to that editor, I’m just hating it.

I was asked recently for submissions advice by two beginning writer friends who have never submitted their work. Write this down, I said. If you see something personal, that’s gold. And if they ask you to send more work? Well, you’re a fool if you don’t.

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Publishing Your Micro & Flash Fiction: A Master List

7 Mar

This week rather than spotlight a personal favorite shorty market, I’m using Market Monday to present a long list of magazines that favor very short fiction.

There’s no shortcut to discovering the right markets for your work. You have to search and read, search and read, search and read. I can’t help with reading, except to point to model micros and fab flashes I’ve encountered online, and highlight the good work my favorite shorty markets are publishing. But I can help with the searching.

You have to start somewhere, and my somewhere was Google, Poets & Writers, AWP’s Writer’s Chronicle, and word of mouth. Over time I pulled together a list of markets that request very short fiction in their guidelines, or run contests for very short fiction. I researched each and submitted my micros and flashes to the magazines who publish work I like and seems to fit well enough with my own.

When I discovered The Best Small Fictions 2015, I was introduced to quite a few additional publications that specialize in shorties, and I consider representation in that collection an automatic reason to give a market careful attention. The 2016 version included more.

At this point my master list is quite long, almost 100 titles. Of course my personal list, which I am forever refining, is much shorter, because I don’t submit to magazines if I don’t care for what they publish or if I think their aesthetic is so far from my own that they could never be interested in my work. You’ll discover the right markets for your own submissions by doing that reading reading reading I mentioned. Check out the magazines on my list and soon enough you’ll find your favorites.

You’ve got to start that research somewhere. If you don’t have a list already, why not start here? Good luck!
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Shorty Royalty: SmokeLong Quarterly

28 Feb

On Market Monday* I’m considering my next submission to a giant of very short fiction.

smokelongqThe number of magazines where I’ve submitted more than twice is pretty low, and SmokeLong Quarterly ranks high on that shortlist. I keep knocking on the door because their home has so much love for very short fiction—they publish exclusively flash fiction no longer than 1000 words, and support the form in other powerful ways—and the range of voices they publish is so impressive.

Do I like what they publish? I talked about how much I enjoy a diverse selection of voices when I spotlighted River Styx last Monday. SQ is another rare magazine who finds gold in a variety of approaches and aesthetics. “Straight Lines” by Ryan Werner is a great fabulist flash, and I would label the equally great “Gravity, Reduced” by Kara Oakleaf as speculative fiction. I love this beautifully poetic flash from their Issue Fifty-Four, “The Body’s Amen,” by Brigitte N. McCray. Read that entire issue—you will find realist fiction, more fabulism, a fairy tale, a meta-fiction. Enjoy.

Do they do justice to the published work? Yes, they do a very nice job of setting off each story, but what truly thrills me is their devotion to flash fiction, apparent everywhere you go on that site. You’ll find a high-quality and well-maintained blog with reviews of flash collections, essays about flash fiction, and flash fictions written by children (yep, that’s what I said, see their blog posts marked “Fridge Flash”). They’ve recently launched a “Global Flash Series,” publishing flashes written in other languages alongside English translations. They even offer an annual fellowship (I’ll be applying this year, want to join me?) Like I said: Shorty Royalty, these people.

Do they nominate their authors for awards?** Their History page lists all the usual awards.

Do their guidelines speak to me? Again, they publish a wide range of voices, so this isn’t a magazine that’s going to get you excited about finding a perfect match to your work because of the way they’ve hammered out their wants. But the answer is HELL YES the guidelines speak to me, in that I have rarely come across such sincerity and warmth on a guidelines page. Their dedication to flash fiction shows here as a commitment to the authors they’re eager to publish: Their version of the “We’re writers, too” statement is relatable and friendly, and despite their wide-ranging aesthetic, they take a shot at clarifying for submitters what kinds of stories have a better chance of being selected. Best of all, they ask that you remove identifying information from your ms, so they’re apparently using a review process that is more or less blind. I respect and very much appreciate that approach, and continue to wonder why it’s not more widespread.

If you love very short fiction, you will love this site, for one reason or another. Send SmokeLong Quarterly stories, meditations on flash fiction, and your kid’s latest refrigerator masterpiece. They’re game for it all.

As always, if I’ve inspired you to submit here and your story is accepted for publication, please let me know so I can congratulate you!

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*Yes, I know, it’s Tuesday. I got a little mixed up over here in DailyShortyLand. Don’t be such a stickler!

** It’s clear to me that if a magazine doesn’t have the presence (and the editors the presence of mind) to nominate their authors, then neither of us should be considering them at all, ever, for our submissions. In other words, nominations isn’t just a plus, it’s a necessity. So I’m dropping this criterion from my Market Monday posts. If you see a magazine recommended for your submissions at Daily Shorty, you can be sure that magazine nominates its authors for awards.
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River Styx: Microfiction Contest

20 Feb

It’s Market Monday, my reminder to spark your ambition. And mine.

If you’ve got all the confidence and energy you need, and you just want an introduction to a new market for your very short fiction, skip to the Market Monday details below. If you’re in the thick of the winter doldrums, if like me you’re so sick at the state of our country you’re finding it hard to show up to the writing (and submitting) desk, if you’re doubting yourself and your work for any reason… read on.

2017 is going to be a year of self-talk, that’s becoming very clear. And that’s what a blog is for, first and foremost, whatever we bloggers like to think: I’m helming this Daily Shorty ship, and these posts are my captain’s log.

Today the captain is heartsick. Just as I was on December 5, when I talked about election dejection, then four weeks later, when I had to remind myself why I write, and then four weeks after that, when I used the words “election dejection” again. The captain’s heart veered from its pattern today because it has been only three weeks since the last time it cracked. This, the captain hopes, is a fluke.

In four weeks, in three weeks, every day, whatever. The solution is work and connection. For writers, work and connection amount to the same thing—writing. But on the other end of the connection is a reader. And no one can read your work if it’s not published.

So you must write. And you must publish. Both of which require ambition. And it’s tough to nurse ambition when you’re heartsick. Today I need a little help. So to follow through on this Market Monday blog post, I ignite my ambition by turning to my mother:

Over and over, as a girl-then-teen-then-very young adult, far too many times to guess at a count, over and over like the caption to the picture of my face, like a motto taped to the fridge, like theme music for the sitcom starring the nice-enough-but-comically-bumbling me, my mother said, “Ambition is unattractive in a woman.”

Oh, you were expecting encouragement? She’s not that kind of mom. But you’re in luck, because I am that kind of blogger, and I hereby offer this toast, which I have silently made to myself for many years now, every time I need to light a fire under my own ass: Here’s to being ugly.

Here’s to wanting to be seen and heard. Here’s to wanting your words to live in the world, your stories to linger in the mind of someone you will never meet. Here’s to answering the call, to donning your superhero costume, to screwing up your who-cares-if-it’s-pretty face and howling at the moon (at 10:00 in the morning, if that’s when you find time to work, the moon is out there like always, I promise). Here’s to doing your job.
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Spotlighting River Styx’s Microfiction Contest

I could have picked a better season to talk about River Styx’s microfiction contest, given its December 31 deadline, but I vowed to highlight on Market Mondays my preferred magazines who have published my own micros and flashes before moving on to my hopefuls. I’ve got a flash coming out in March, but until then, River Styx is the last journal that fits the bill. Well, you can’t say you don’t have time to prepare a submission.

Do I like what River Styx publishes?  Yes, and what’s more, I think most would agree, given the wide range of voices RS publishes, something I’ve found rare in my review of litmags. RS is living on a new site and they haven’t yet populated all their archives pages, but I quickly found some live links to shorties I love, including Allison Alsup’s “Pioneers,” Ethel Rohan’s “That Mama,” and Amina Gautier’s “Minnow.” All stories about material I would never address and in a voice I would never come close to adopting, yet I was published here, too. I really appreciate that kind of diversity.

Aesthetics? Again, River Styx is unusual in that they produce lovely print journals but also maintain a very polished and substantial online presence.

Do they nominate authors for awards? Yep. All the usual ones accounted for on their About page.

Guidelines? As I’ve noted already, there’s no particular aesthetic the magazine appears to be aiming for. Instead it’s apparently all comers welcome, and your modest entry fee (only $10 if you don’t want a subscription) gets you three bites at the apple. They limit their contest entries to 500 words.


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The personal is the universal, we writers like to say. It reminds us why our stories matter. If my protagonist finds solace by the end of the story I give her, a reader, somewhere, may find that same solace. Or inspiration or justified anger or cathartic bleakness—whatever was my goal, my ambition, for the story. The personal is the universal, so I keep a captain’s log in the hope I tell you something about your writing life, or—talk about ambition, wish of wishes—I give you a small tool to help you on your path.

Today I am heartsick. But just that little bit more ambitious from having written this post. I hope it’s catching.
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AWP Note: Women Who Submit

13 Feb

The AWP Conference and a Maine blizzard scotches a proper Market Monday. Instead I’ll point you to a resource for building submissions energy and support.

womenwhosubmitlogoMy every-minute-packed trip to the Association of Writers & Writing Programs conference in Washington, D.C. was extended by a day on the front end so I could get out before a snow storm, and extended yesterday on the back end by nail-biting hours of travel home through a pre-blizzard snow storm. Today, blizzard. And unpacking, scrounging didn’t-prepare-for-the-blizzard meals from leftover crackers and chunks of cheese, a leak in the dining room. Tomorrow, digging out. In short: I am tired, lazy, and feeling irresponsible. So tonight I eschew the labor of putting together a proper Market Monday post, and instead introduce you to far more responsible folk.

Women Who Submit put on a lively and inspiring panel at AWP, where they introduced me to the idea of a “submissions party.” A group meets at a member’s house or a suitable public space, everyone brings food and drink to share, and Let the submissions begin! The more experienced members of the group show others the ropes, assisting with the language of cover letters, introducing markets, answering FAQs. They even line up speakers like journal editors and other members of the writing and publishing community. Sounds wonderful, and just the thing I needed when I first got started submitting my short stories.

The best part? They call it a submissions party because the bulk of the event is spent actually doing submissions. And every time someone hits “send” on an electronic submission or slaps a stamp on snail-mail, everyone applauds.

The group was founded in Los Angeles, but there are other groups around the country, and the panelists said they’re happy to hear from anyone interested in finding or starting a group—see their “About” page for e-mail addresses. Or, if you’re like me and you already have a submissions schedule that works for you, just surf their website and absorb the badass energy of these women. And think about connecting with one or more writing friends to develop your own support-and-celebrate routine to energize the work.

I’ll sign off with an anecdote shared by one of the ladies at the panel, founding member Dr. Ashaki M. Jackson. She said a writing friend who happens to be a submitting machine once told her she’d submitted to the same journal 15 times before they accepted a story. When asked about this tenacity, she replied with the astonishing, “Well, I knew they’d accept something eventually.” Astonishing because apparently she said it like “Duh” and because confidence like that among my writer friends is… well, not just rare, I don’t have any writer friends with that confidence. But I should, and I should have that confidence myself. So should you.

I’ve decided to stop being astonished by someone else’s faith in her own work, and use that energy to double my submissions efforts. As soon as it stops snowing. Join me?

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Mid-American Review’s Fineline Competition

6 Feb

On Market Monday I get to talk about my very first literary magazine crush.

When I first got serious about my writing—or to be more accurate, in the first phase of the very long process of getting serious about my writing—I’d often meet with my friend Kelly at a cafe-bakery in Durham, North Carolina, both of us toting a fat, Post-It-note-bedecked Writer’s Market and a handful of the latest literary magazines we’d sampled, to help each other figure out submissions. We’d talk favorite stories and essays, then move around some Post-Its, then eat salads scattered with candied pistachio nuts. Most distinctly I remember the slabs of fancy cake I’d bring home to share with the husband, and Mid-American Review.

I hugged an issue of Mid-American Review to my chest and declared it the first literary magazine I had read with rapture from cover-to-cover in one sitting. And as it happens, it’s the only literary magazine I have ever read that way. “If I could get published here,” I said then, tapping the cover…. Well, there was no reason to finish the sentence because this was the stuff of fantasy.

MARcover35_1.inddYou know where this is going, so I’ll spare you the details of how many years it took for me to feel confident enough to submit to MAR, then how many times I got a “this was so very close” rejection that made me soar then crash in the space of about 40 seconds… and just break for the finish line: In the fall of 2014, MAR published my micro “Three Things” as part of a special issue celebrating very short prose. I drafted it during my Daily Shorty year on March 18, and barely changed a word before I submitted it to MAR’s Fineline Competition. So I can’t say sweet writing-world-luck has never given me a kiss.

You can’t ask for a more respected magazine to be associated with, and you certainly can’t ask for kinder staff, who send friendly e-mails keeping you up on the publication process, and maintain a blog where they will do whatever they can to promote the authors in their pages. I listed the Fineline Competition on my micro and flash contest page, so a quick peek tells me the deadline is June 1. You’ve got plenty of time to polish three micros of 500 or fewer words. Good luck!

And now to check off the Market Monday boxes:

Do I like what MAR publishes? I’ve answered that, but here I’ll focus specifically on the Fineline micros they’ve published over the years. Unfortunately, MAR publishes very little work on their site, but they do have the 2013 Editors’ Choice micro, Anika L. Eide’s wonderful “Some Parents,”in their sample contents. And after spending far too much time playing Google, I’ve tracked down two other lovely Fineline pieces available online: Jennifer Cheng’s 2013 winning piece from her Letters to Mao; and Andrea Witzke Slot’s “Panoply,” which was published in the same issue as my “Three Things.” You will not find more impressive company for your own work.

Aesthetics? Up to now I’ve looked at markets that publish their work online, but MAR is a print journal. Like almost all print journals, they do a very nice job of presenting the published work. I love their blog, where they post bits and pieces to promote the writers they’ve published. Here’s an interview they did with me, for example. And do yourself a big favor and search their blog for “Pets with MAR.”

The last two are easy: Yes, they nominate their authors for awards; and the guidelines of a contest that lets me submit 3 pieces of micro fiction at once make me very happy indeed.

You just can’t do better than Mid-American Review. When I read any other literary magazine cover-to-cover in one sitting, I’ll be sure to let you know that you should submit there, too. In the meantime, if you’re a lucky Fineline winner or editors’ choice, let me know so I can congratulate you. Happy writing!

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An Embarrassment of Riches

3 Feb

My 3rd Fiction Friday and already I’m changing the rules. If you love model micros & fab flashes as much as I do, this post pays for my sins.

I love Daily Shorty. It’s my digital home and my digital voice, and the best way to share what I know with other writers and fans of very short fiction. But I need to reserve writing energy and time for my fiction. When I do that, I can count on delivering only one or two substantive posts per week. If I do both a Market Monday and a Fiction Friday every week, I’ve hit my max, leaving me no time, ever, to talk about anything else. So Fiction Friday will have to be a monthly, rather than weekly, feature.

best-small-fictions-2015-coverToday I’m making up for an undelivered Fiction Friday post by bringing your attention to two wonderful anthologies, The Best Small Fictions, 2015 and 2016 (well, and I see 2017 is coming soon). I was ecstatic when I discovered the 2015 collection, and it didn’t disappoint. I got 2016 for Christmas and haven’t yet read it—when I do, I’ll do a post about it. Tonight I get to talk about the 2015 inaugural edition of this series.

Robert Olen Butler is the guest editor of The Best Small Fictions 2015. His Google-able accolades are many and very shiny, but I’m a fan because his story “Jealous Husband Returns in Form of Parrot” is one of my all-time favorites, and Severance, a collection of the final internal monologues of victims of decapitation (victims both imagined, such as Medusa, and real, such as Anne Boleyn) is a wonderful collection of micro fiction. Each micro is limited to 240 words, a number derived from the claims that (1) a severed head retains consciousness for 90 seconds, and (2) human beings think 160 words per minute when in a hyper-emotional state. Gruesome, yes, but I’ve yet to come across a more thrilling conceit.

So the man knows his shit. In particular his short shit. He proves it immediately in his lovely introduction that defines a small fiction as “a lone wolf of a lie,” and then he proves it over and over in the subsequent pages. Anyone skeptical of what very short fiction can achieve needs to read this book. But don’t let me persuade you—the stories below will do the job for me. These are a few of my favorites from the book (the first is my very favorite) that also happen to be available online:

“A Notice from the Office of Reclamation,” by J. Duncan Wiley

“Happiest White Black Man Alive,” by Dan Gilmore

How To Disassemble Your Father’s Ghost (Winter), Jonathan Humphrey

Amazing what one little lone wolf of a lie can do, yes?

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600 Words for The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts

30 Jan

Market Monday reminds me to focus, and then, when I resist, has the nerve to interfere with my angry stupor. Election Dejection, Take II.

More writing cure, that’s what I need. Maybe you need it, too?

On December 5, I marked my return to Daily Shorty with the declaration that in the face of undispelled election dejection, “I would prefer to be animated and productive while I shake with anger and fear, rather than depressed and dithering.” Let the record show that “depressed and dithering” didn’t rear their ugly heads until Sunday. I didn’t overreact—I just went dark as I quietly absorbed the awfulness in the news. But today depressed and dithering tried to take root.

matterMarket Monday, my weekly spotlight on a magazine worthy of your very short fiction, asserts itself. It’s our reminder of my one superpower and yours: Words. The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts would like to see no more than 600 of them. Randall Brown, founder and managing editor, will treat your words well, as he did mine.

Do I like what JCCA publishes? That site is a treasure trove. Just a few gold coins to get you started here, here, and here.

Aesthetics? I like JCCA’s minimalist presentation, and I love the way the site’s organized, with easy access to archives on its homepage.

Do they nominate authors for awards? Why yes, yes they do! Check out that righthand side of the homepage.

Do the guidelines speak to me? This is one of those rare times when guidelines that articulate a vision beyond “send us your best” resonate with me. A strict word limit of 600 demands the kind of focus writers of very short fiction learn to master, but it’s the call to compression in particular—short doesn’t necessarily mean compressed—that shapes the voice of this journal. And I love it.

Let’s change the world for the better by publishing more truth with our stories. If you grace JCCA with your work, please let me know so I can congratulate you.

In the meantime, if you’re fighting continued election dejection, too, here’s the smartest political piece I’ve read in a long time. And I’ll sign off with a quote from America Ferrera, from the Women’s March on Washington, that gives me hope:

If we—the millions of Americans who believe in common decency, in the greater good, in justice for all—if we fall into the trap by separating ourselves by our causes and our labels, then we will weaken our fight and we will lose. But if we commit to what aligns us, if we stand together steadfast and determined, then we stand a chance of saving the soul of our country.

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Testing Writing Rules: A Fab Flash

27 Jan

It’s Fiction Friday and I’m celebrating with a story that reminds me of one of my least favorite writing rules.

I’m all for breaking the rules of writingcraft. I love to engage in a furious bout of TELLING rather than showing, thank you very much, and I wonder sometimes if I’m capable of writing any other kind of story than the “zero-to-zero” Jerome Stern outlawed in Making Shapely Fiction. But the rule I most like to break? The one that makes me snarl? “Write what you know.”

I get it. The rule actually means “Use what you know.” And that’s good advice. But when you’re first starting out, and everywhere you turn someone’s advising you solemnly to write what you know, and then shoving Carver and Hemingway at you, not to mention Updike, not to mention Philip fucking Roth (notice a pattern?) you find yourself thinking, well, I don’t spend my evenings staring at a shot glass or swapping angry silence with a spouse or toting a gun or rushing off to dark corners to either masturbate or get it on with somebody else’s spouse, so I write about… what… Scrabble? Cats?? Wait, I know! My parents’ divorce or that time my brother almost lost a finger because there was suffering, people suffered.

Rule BookI’m just saying: If you limit your fiction to the things you know—things, then, you already understand—why on earth are you writing in the first place? Build a brick oven or make a suit of armour. Do something creepy with papier mâché. Writing is about discovery. The whole point is to write what you don’t know—what you can’t know, in fact, until you write it.

So that’s me, being right, and sharing my rightness with you. Except when I’m wrong! And today I’m wrong. A little. Because the fab flash I’m celebrating is built, I’m certain, on intimate knowledge. Of insomnia. And how do I know that? Because I used to suffer from insomnia. I know how it feels, what it looks and smells like, the particular ways in which it rubs away at your smarts and senses. And I recognize it in a beautiful flash fiction published at Hermeneutic Chaos Journal.

I’d bet money Tessa Yang wrote “Peripheral” from the experience of having suffered from insomnia, or she knows well an insomniac who told her all about it. And so, I would say, she used what she knows, which is why I’m only a little wrong. OR I’m even more right than ever (win-win!) because maybe she just did a little research and then imagined herself, like a champ, into it. Either way (1) Please break writing rules whenever you can, and (2) Read this terrific, quiet, shifty little story ostensibly about one thing but really about something else and then something else again….

Which is really all to say that the one true-blue writing rule you can forever depend on? Reading well leads to writing well. Enjoy.

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CHEAP POP Wants Your Micros!

23 Jan

It’s Market Monday! Grab your quirky, amped, oddball micros. You know, the ones that *POP*.

screen-shot-2017-01-23-at-6-31-01-pmI discovered CHEAP POP, home of the offbeat micro, when reading the excellent anthology The Best Small Fictions 2015. More on this little treasure and her 2016 sister in an upcoming post. For now I’ll thank the editors for bringing this terrific magazine to my attention just when I happened to be looking sideways at a handful of micro drafts I’d yanked from my Daily Shorty year. I liked them—I liked them a lot—but who would want them?

Do I like what CHEAP POP publishes? I read Leesa Cross-Smith’s “All That Smoke Howling Blue” in the anthology and thought, hmm. Is that story… finished? I read it again. Stopped to savor strange word-pairings that shot tension or was it joy? into the piece, thought hard about the sentence, “My name, a begging blue prayer,” so sad… or was it so eager? It’s a strange, jumpy or settled? little story, a slice-of-life piece if the lamplight’s flickering and the TV screen keeps going to static and you’re not sure if maybe you keep hearing that same ringing note, low, in your left ear, are you getting tinnitus or is that a memory??

After reading Cross-Smith’s piece, and then this one and this one and this one, I thought CHEAP POP might just appreciate my quirks, so I asked and they answered by publishing my micro “Just Asking,” originally drafted on April 26 during my Daily Shorty year. Many thanks to the editors.

They will like your quirks, too.

Does CHEAP POP nominate its authors for awards? Here’s their awards page.

Aesthetics? CHEAP POP does a great job of showing off an awful lot of pieces. If they didn’t have such a clean and balanced approach to page design, the collection of links would look too jumbled.

Do the guidelines speak to me? As someone committed to the craft of very short fiction, I love their devotion to micros—they take pieces 500 words or less, full stop. They couldn’t be more clear about how to put your submission together, which I very much appreciate. And this speaks to me for sure: “We don’t differentiate between Fiction, Creative Nonfiction, and Prose Poetry, nor do we have restrictions on genre—if it pops, it pops! What we want to see is good writing, your best writing, and that’s it.” Yes!

If you publish at CHEAP POP, please let me know so I can congratulate you! If CP doesn’t speak to you, just move on to the next. There are so many magazines worthy of your best work, I’m sure I’ll spotlight one you like soon enough. Good luck!

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Genre Blur: A Fab Flash

20 Jan

Introducing Fiction Friday! A weekly signpost to a stunning micro or flash, waiting, somewhere online, for your eager eyes.

Last month I posted about discovering a terrific micro while doing what, researching submissions, of course. Stopping in the middle of my own submissions slog to marvel at someone else’s work, hitting “Publish” with the belief that I was surely sending ONE grateful person to that delightful piece, made my writing day. Then I went back to my slog.

I post about submissions so much because as an apprentice writer, I spend far more time actually doing them. It’s a grueling part of my writing life, and the reward of publication comes too infrequently to properly support all that labor. Daily Shorty provides! I’ve created regular rewards I can deliver unto myself, now, something besides a latte or a chunk of chocolate, here in my digital home.

Tangible reward #1: Market Monday, introduced here, is my weekly spotlight on a magazine worthy of our best shorties, and ensures my hours of research amount to something other than my own efforts at publication.

Tangible reward #2: Fiction Friday, starting today! Each week* I’ll point the way to a shorty gem living out there in the vast online wilderness, a story and author known only to the lucky few, for the simple reason that this is the way of our literary world. Fiction Friday will promote a writer working in the usual writerly obscurity, delighted to have published a cherished piece but wishing that publication had changed her life. Let’s change it just a little, shall we? By giving our lonely writer-in-the-garret just a bit more reader-love. If we do that, I can thankfully say once again that my hours of submissions research matter to someone besides my-in-my-own-garret-self.

I am thrilled to highlight today a flash fiction that blurs genre lines, Shannon Peavey‘s “Millepora” at Flash Fiction Online.

I don’t tend to read science fiction. Given my adolescent crush on Mr. Spock (Mr. Nimoy, you are missed) and during those same years my attachment to Ray Bradbury’s short stories, I wonder why I don’t. In any case, excepting anything porny or gory, I haven’t met a fiction genre I can’t love. If what I’m reading is just damn good work, then I’m going to be happy. The sci-fi-like “Millepora” makes me very happy indeed.

I don’t know how the Smart Ones define “literary,” and I refuse to appeal to dictionary authority. I define it as beautifully written, fully imagined, and speaks to universal truths, and this story accomplishes all three in a flash. “Millepora” met my gold standard—I immediately read it to the husband. He loved it, too.

I don’t agree with the complaint I hear and read so often, that most work in literary magazines is bland and contains workshop DNA, that literary publishers only accept elegantly crafted stories about nothing. I see proof that this is wrong literally almost every day. But I will say that I wish there was more range of subject matter and style than I generally see in literary short fiction, more widespread willingness to be strange or outrageous or freaky. And I know this: If more readers celebrate stories like “Millepora,” more magazines will publish them.

 

*Feb 3 Update. Fiction Friday will be a monthly, not a weekly, feature.

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Micro & Flash: The Citron Review

16 Jan

Introducing Market Monday! Each week I’ll spotlight a magazine worthy of your micro & flash fiction submissions.

cropped-water-splash-on-lemon1829We apprentice writers have to keep the submissions going almost as much as the writing. Almost every day I’m thinking about submissions, researching markets for submissions, doing submissions. The process can be grueling, and it helps to have support.

I focused on contests for fiction chapbooks at the end of 2016, then contests for individual stories. Now I’m working on general submissions, and I’ll be very pleased if others can benefit from all this doing. So: Want to know where to submit your micros and flashes? Daily Shorty to the rescue!

As a thank you to the editors, I’ll be covering in my first Market Monday posts the magazines that have been kind enough to publish me. Today I’m spotlighting The Citron Review, which published two of my micros this past summer, “Waiting” and “Unwritten.”

You will have your own criteria for judging markets. I look for these things:

Do I like what the magazine publishes? Here’s a micro at TCR I really like, and oh look here’s another. And hey don’t miss this flash, and take a long moment to savor this one.

Is the website aesthetically pleasing? If the work is published online, does the magazine do a good job of highlighting it? I like the minimalism of TCR’s site, the eye-catching banner atop every page, the straightforward menu bar, and the overall clean but stylish look. Each piece is printed simply and clearly in a pleasing font against a soft background that doesn’t tax the eyes.

Does the magazine nominate its authors for awards? See here TCR’s nominations for the 2017 Pushcarts.

Do the guidelines speak to me? TCR’s guidelines are my favorite kind–plain, clear direction on how to submit–so this question doesn’t really apply. When applicable, I’ll note in these Market Monday posts the sort of work the editors are calling for, because when there is such a call, it can carry a lot of decision-making weight. If the editors say in their guidelines they strive to publish work that showcases the invitational splendor of generational micro-divisions, or they pine for stories that comment on the residual soul-mannerisms birthed by our primal makers… I’m outta there.

If you submit to The Citron Review and your work is accepted for publication, please let me know so I can congratulate you here. If TCR doesn’t move you, have faith–there are so many lovely places wanting your work, and I’ll be showcasing many of them.

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Maine Writers: Apply for this!

2 Jan

This writing award is definitely worth your time.

Just a reminder to Maine writers to apply for the Egen WEX award. The application is SO simple, just a form with contact info and a work sample. The reward is a trip to New York City to meet publishing bigwigs (among a couple of other treats), so that’s a huge win for very little effort. There’s just no excuse to ignore this one, so let’s go!

Click here for application details and the form you need.

Why We Write

1 Jan

Or: Why a pan of black beans is like burnt orange toile is like a poem. And why we need them all.

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Textile art by my friend Patty (using my Daily Shorty method).

Not too long ago, I spent an afternoon cooking a meal for friends struggling with a very painful loss. I was reeling from the news myself, which I’d received the evening before. The only thing I know to do for someone in pain, besides listen, is to feed them. So I went through my pantry, came up with a dish I could make, and started cooking.

As I tasted the black beans that were an element of the dish, as I added a little heat, some acid, a bit of floral sweet, my breathless anger—why should they have to endure this?—settled into a quiet, productive sadness. I could think past the awfulness. I could ask myself: What will feed them well?

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My friend Cheryl made this.*

Because I was making something, and because I had to call on what I know of flavor and texture to build it from scratch, I was, in those hours, more whole than I had been since receiving the news. Because I was being creative, I could shift my energy from the horror, and focus instead on what could be done. I could focus on their need and try to fill one small piece of it.

Around the same time, another friend was mourning the loss of her mother, a troubled woman who had lived more than her share of pains. They had a complicated relationship, and part of her grief has consisted of processing that relationship. As she does that, she reminds herself to focus on the things she admired about her mother, including her skill at sewing and making crafts. She told me about the fabrics her mother had stored in her basement sewing space, a staggering range of colors and designs, everything from plain white cotton to orange toile to extravagant prints.

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My friend Beth made this beautiful card.

When my friend’s mother was making things, she seemed to come into a self that wasn’t weighted by years of grief and disappointment. She wasn’t wracked with resentment and anger at a world that had not treated her well. When she was at her sewing machine, she was, simply, more whole. And by gifting the things she made to her daughters and grandchildren, to neighbors and friends, she made them more whole.

Writing, cooking, sewing. My brother tells me he loves to forge iron and fire cannons—WHAT?? Okay, add metalwork to my list, add a blast of smoke and fire, and note my sister’s needlework, a close friend’s beautiful handmade cards. We all need to make things, to be creative. Gardening, tinkering with an old car, reinventing old furniture (my mother-in-law’s latest specialty). Even crafting an e-mail has calmed my spirit, shown me a more glittering truth.

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My sister stitched this 20 years ago.

This is not news. To be creative is part of being human, we know this. But I’m not sure we always understand that to plant a new row of Queen of Night tulips adds to our wholeness, or to fire a cannon makes life feel that one instant less short. That to spend an hour making cards is an act of mental health. And generosity.

It sounds so lofty to say—as I have many times—that writers write to make ourselves more whole. Or maybe I mean it sounds pretentious. But I’m just saying what we all know already. To be whole we must make things. We confused, distracted humans need and love both attention and intention. So my wish for us all in 2017, writers and non-writers alike? Less worry, more action. Less news, more connection. Less spending, more making.

Dig in. Stop time while you cut a strip of pretty paper or hold a piece of metal over a fire, when you discover that exactly right line-break and groove on the white space. Make a story a poem a pair of mittens a birthday card a Christmas ornament a pan of lasagna. Make something. And then share it.

 

*You can pre-order Cheryl Wilder’s chapbook What Binds Us here.

Going Meta: A Model Micro

22 Dec

When reading for submissions morphs into panning for gold.

One of the joys of all the labor involved in submitting stories—okay, there are only two joys—is the inevitable discovery, while cruising magazine sites, of terrific work. Stories I immediately read to the husband even if he’s eating, watching hockey, walking away. Stories I wish I had written.

wigpegliveTypically I dislike stories about writers and writing. On the other hand, I groove on anything “meta” when it’s done well (and despise it when it’s not). Deb Olin Unferth’s meta micro “Draft,” at Wigleaf, first held me spellbound, then made me laugh, and in the end made me wistful for all my unrealized visions. Before I’d finished reading it to the husband, that wistfulness somehow shifted into excited hope for all the visions and the realizing to come. For a piece just over 150 words, that’s quite a feat.

And the second joy that comes of working on submissions? Oh! Realizing all those glorious visions sitting on my hard drive.

Working on submissions begets tinkering, and tinkering begets writing satisfaction. There’s nothing like figuring out, finally, why I’ve always given the side-eye to that last sentence of a shorty that’s very good, deserves a home, yet… something isn’t quite right…. AHA! Wrong verb, and it needs another beat. Ahh. Just look at it now.

A story about writing-dissatisfaction made me want to submit to Wigleaf. And that drive to find the right work for the submission made me tinker. Which ultimately led to writing-satisfaction. For a writer-geek like me, that’s irony gold that had to be shared. In writing.

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Maine Writers: Award Opportunity

13 Dec

Poets & Writers invites Maine writers to apply for the Maureen Egen Writers Exchange Award.

“Each year, Poets & Writers considers applications for the award from writers in a selected state. This year, that state is Maine. The judges are Tania James for fiction and Cynthia Cruz for poetry.”

Deadline January 9. There’s no reason to not apply, folks. This award comes with a trip to New York to meet editors, agents, and publishers, as well as well-known writers. Your job is as simple as filling out a form and printing off a writing sample. Details here.

Good luck!

Micro & Flash Fiction Contests

12 Dec
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Making it to the final round often results in publication.

I go on and off contests. Sometimes I get upset about the fees and stop submitting to them for a while, but I always come back. The primary appeal is the guarantee that the submission will be read and fairly considered in a blind judging process within a reasonable, specified timeframe.

Ordinary submissions to literary magazines and presses, despite the best efforts and highest ethical standards of Those In Charge, may never get more than a glance at the first paragraph, if your submission is not passed along by an agent or you haven’t somehow caught the attention of the reader—say by publishing something widely read and admired, or sharing an appetizer with the right person a week ago last Saturday. You can’t even blame the readers for dismissing your work without due consideration, because everyone in literary publishing, including the volunteers, are over-assigned and under-rewarded. But it’s frustrating to be the writer on the other end.

As for timing, my first literary magazine acceptance took eight months. I’ve received rejections well after a year from submission date, including from magazines that don’t allow simultaneous submission. And these timeframes are not at all unusual. With a contest, you know when the decision will come, and it’s typically within a quarter of submission.

Favorites Diamonds

All your cut diamonds need a home!

And I’m happy to know that my contest fee will fund the usual cash reward that goes to the winner, who likely earns next to nothing from her writing.

I’ve had good luck with contests—I’ve published six stories by entering them—and I want to pass along that good luck. So I’m sharing the fruits of my own search for worthwhile contests where you can submit your micro and flash fiction, knowing at least one person will give it a careful read. My modest list is here. There are plenty more to try, if you’re especially eager, but this will get you started. If you have enough publishable micros and flashes to put together a fiction chapbook, you’ll find a list of chapbook contests here.

What are you waiting for? Go!

My Published Stories

11 Dec

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This image best represents the way I feel when a magazine accepts a story. The chance to share my work with people who would never otherwise see it… well. That’s a gift.

I’ve finally created a page here at Daily Shorty noting the title and first line or two of each published story, as well as the name of the publication that put me in print. When the full story is available online, I’ve linked to it.

Now back to the writing trenches….

Practice Grace AND Confidence

7 Dec

Writers! It only now occurs to me that practicing grace is an act of self-confidence. As writers who spend so much time alone with our words, we need a lot of both.

Fellow Maine writer Karen Maffeo Creamer blogs today about how to be graceful in response to one of the many small (and large) cuts we writers suffer.* Her story reminded me of a cut I once received—a very slight one, yet it felt like a shiv to the kidney.

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If I had the confidence my Willa finds between her toes, I’d be set for life.

Newly minted MFAers are told to expect a good two years before publication. I was ecstatic when nine months after graduation, a highly respected literary magazine accepted my story (but I would pay the rest of my time-dues and then some, before fate smiled again). I shrieked and threw my hands up when I saw the e-mail, then ran outside to my husband’s waiting car—by coincidence, he was on his way to pick me up for something when I got the acceptance—shouting as I bounded down the outside stairs of our apartment building, at first alarming the poor husband. That high lasted for weeks, and that publication was an extremely important piece of early validation. Which made the knife months later hurt that much more.

“Your piece came so close,” the gentle rejection read. “Unfortunately, it’s just not quite right for us.” They wished me luck with the story and invited me to submit again. And by “they” I mean the very same magazine, and by “the story” I mean the very same story that had in fact been published already and was living in its colorful, shiny, pristine package on one of my book shelves. Yep. The same story was both accepted and rejected, both published and gently pushed away, by editors at the same publication.

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She doesn’t exactly embody grace, but I can’t post a pic of Willa and NOT one of my Tillie.

A more confident me would have laughed, felt embarrassed for the magazine’s overworked staff, and notified them of the mistake in hopes they would discover what went wrong with their review process before doing something like this to another author. The me of the time signed into the magazine’s submissions log to stare at the title of my published story with a big fat “Declined” next to it.

I would like to say that this bothered me only for a couple of days. I would like to say I never signed into that database again to stare at “Declined.” I would like to be an accomplished pianist, a retired prima ballerina, and a singer known best for my a capella performances.

Fortunately, I am lately bored by my own reflections on why I take things on the chin when I don’t have to, why I can’t laugh at the Universe’s jokes—the same story, the same magazine, “just not quite right” while it sits on my shelf—so rather than spraying more words about this incident, I will instead appreciate Karen’s reminder that Grace is the writer’s friend, and Confidence is properly measured by the good work we do, not by the one person who said No to it… OR the one who said Yes.
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*Karen’s doing an author talk and book signing in York on Tuesday, December 13, so please drop by if you’re in the area, details here.

Election Dejection: Writing Cure

5 Dec

It’s been precisely four weeks, now, and I’m not over it. I don’t think anyone should get over it, but that’s a topic for another place.* No, I’m not over it, but I would prefer to be animated and productive while I shake with anger and fear, rather than depressed and dithering.

One day too soon, Reader, you and I might be fighting in the streets with sharpened spoons over a can of tuna we can’t open. Until that day, let’s put our heads down and do the work we were made for. And let’s do it together.

letterThis past week, I put together a chapbook of micros and flashes for Rose Metal Press’s annual chapbook contest. This weekend I found a few other such opportunites I might pursue in the coming weeks, and thought to share them here, in case you write very short as well, or have writer friends who do. Note that you must check websites very carefully for current information if you wish to submit—my list is merely your first road sign.

It has never been more important to work, and to build community. I have just one superpower: Words. And I have only one writing home to share. Come back anytime.
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*Next day update: Mary Lou Bagley pointed me to this article by Quaker Parker J. Palmer, which makes the only good case I know for getting over it: Get over it so you can get on with it. Well… yes.

Love from Mid-American Review

17 Jun

MARcover35_1.inddMany thanks to Mid-American Review, first for publishing in their beautiful anniversary issue my micro fiction “Three Things”–written during my Daily Shorty year and submitted to MAR’s 2014 Fineline competition–and second for giving me a shout-out from their website with an author interview. I used to do interviews like this with authors when I was an editor at Hunger Mountain, so it was fun to be on the other side. What a great, great magazine, and what an honor to be a part of it.

But enough about me! Enjoy from MAR’s archives this stunning micro by Anika L. Eide, 2013 Fineline editor’s choice, “Some Parents.” I love the surrealism of this piece, especially as delivered in what I would call a sort of deadpan tone of voice. Here’s the first sentence to get you hooked: We are granted only so many lies before we become liars. Ahh, yes. You just know this is going to be good….

Not writing? Take an ice bath.

27 May
A clip from Podio.com's infographic,

A clip from Podio.com’s infographic, “The Daily Routines of Famous Creative People.” *

Have you seen Podio.com’s infographic breaking down the daily routines of some much-admired creative people? I stared at it for at least ten minutes, trying to divine color-coded inspiration from all those rectangles. But all I see is a collage of the banal–John Milton spent a chunk of every day walking in his garden–with a bit of the bizarre for spice. Did I need to know that Victor Hugo’s daily breakfast consisted of 2 raw eggs and coffee? Is that going to inspire me to keyboard magnificence?

Books are always my go-to place for guidance, so when I started writing with serious attention, I read an armload of books about writing. And what I realized as I slogged through chapters on how to set up a creative space in my home, or how to access my dreamscape (my WHATscape??) was that of course I wasn’t reading about writing at all. I was reading about some of the things that some writers do. And the more I fretted over where my writing space should be and what inspirational quote I should tape to my bathroom mirror, the less I wrote.

It’s natural to want guidance from those who have succeeded in the same art you’re called to do. And even through all those boxes of color, that guidance comes through, it’s just both obvious and boring. We’d rather know that Kafka had trouble sleeping (big surprise) and Auden fueled his writing with Benzadrine. We can savor those little treats, we can pass them along in conversations about writing. But the real take-away from that graphic is something we know already. Just look at all that pink. That’s the color marking the time these lovely creative people were working on their art. If you want to be a productive writer, you need to make the time to do it. And you need to do that almost every day. Damn.

My year continues to slap me with unexpected challenges–medical concerns, domestic issues, and a host of good friends suffering terrible loss. I should have written through it all, but I haven’t. Do you think if I take an ice bath on the roof, that will help? Worked for old raw-egg Hugo.

I have written about this before and surely I will write about it again, because when a lesson is hard, when I don’t like it, I just have to keep re-learning it: There is no map. There is no checklist. No perfect routine, no ideal creative space. There is only me, my addled brain, and a keyboard or pen. And always–ALWAYS–yet another opportunity to start again.
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* Image here, full infographic here.

Give that lady an apple!

8 Mar

AppleWriter friends, I tried to care. A week ago, a former creative writing professor reignited the are-we-really-talking-about-this-again “debate” over MFAs–stifling or inspiring, valuable or a waste, dirty trick or transformative validation? I can only assume it’s been a year, more or less, since the last gleeful festival of Who Gives a Shit, so we were due.

Ex-prof wants to spread a little hard-earned truth about MFA programs and writing, in what some are calling his “screed” or “rant.” But a screed has a pulse; a rant careens. I sensed no passion in his same ol’ same ol’ opinions and insensitive remarks, which might be why he failed to light the fire of commentary in me, despite my disagreement with just about everything he said. I finished the piece unmoved and wondering why this guy didn’t take his own advice, and decline to write about something he doesn’t understand: teaching. Which brings me to what inspired this post.

I was writing about something else when I stumbled over a response to “Things I Can Say…” that did make me care. Not about the same, warmed-over insults to writing students, certainly not about the perennially stupid argument about the value of an MFA. But about the glaring subtext of Ex-prof’s piece, which is that a man so full of contempt for students and their apprentice work should never have been teaching in the first place.

I can’t and won’t try to write something thoughtful about teaching, because I don’t have the experience to do the subject justice. But Laura Valeri does. Her reply to Ex-prof, “Those Who Teach, Can,” reminded me forcefully of the extraordinary writing teachers I have studied with, all of whom treated me, my apprentice work, and my particular version of writing ambition with profound respect. In Valeri’s post, I felt passion–for teaching and for her students–in every line. Some of my favorites:

* …the true challenge of teaching is that we want to reach every student, not just students who already have success spelled on their foreheads and were already self-motivated to start early.

* I could never be satisfied taking a salary paid in large part from student tuitions and resign myself to “making them better readers.” This has been the standard, pass-the-buck response of too many privileged writers who were assigned their teaching positions based on the record of their publications with little to no scrutiny given to their teaching philosophy and approach to the classroom.

* If you fail, it’s on you. Don’t blame the students. They showed up. Did you?

If you have any desire to teach writing, you should do yourself the favor of reading her thoroughly excellent post.

All hail good writing teachers. They are GOLD.

Writing Revelation

5 Mar
Cynthia's foot.

Cynthia’s summer foot.

In the spirit of my friend and former colleague Cynthia Newberry Martin’s current writing project, here’s one true thing about me: I detest baby showers.

Cynthia’s year-long writing challenge is such a terrific idea that I’m almost jealous I didn’t think of it for myself. Almost, but not quite, because I’m enjoying her work far too much to let it be tainted by anything negative. Her project is as simple as it is rich: She’s sharing one true thing about herself every day for a year at her blog Catching Days, where she also blogs about books, shares thoughts about the (mostly novel-) writing process, and posts an in-depth “a day in the writing life” piece about a different writer every month. Sometimes a “true things” post is just a line or two, other times she writes a mini-essay. All are good reads. Here’s the contents page for the project.

And here’s another revelation: I am incapable of telling the truth if you ask me about your new haircut and I don’t like it. You can say all you want that I should be honest and that you really want, even need, my opinion. I will nod and say of course and smile and lie my ass off. And you will believe me. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in this.