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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?


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.


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.