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August 19, 2019 SmokeLong on the Road
We’re excited to announce that on September 20 and 21 SmokeLong Co-Editor-in-Chief Christopher Allen and submissions editor Helen Rye will be in Manchester and Birmingham to lead workshops on writing and editing compelling flash fiction.
The Manchester workshop will focus on generating and drafting story ideas, finding the heart of the story, rhythm and pacing and much more. Participants should come away from this morning workshop inspired and motivated to write the stories they need to tell the world. Participants will also leave with a more solid understanding of what flash fiction is and what it can do.
Date: September 20
Place: Friends’ Meeting House, 6 Mount St, Manchester M2 5NS, UK
Price: *£50 — To reserve your place, send £50 to firstname.lastname@example.org via Paypal. If you do not use Paypal, please contact Christopher Allen via email@example.com and other arrangements will be made.
There will be TWO workshops in Birmingham on September 21. The morning workshop will be the same as the Manchester workshop above. The afternoon workshop will focus on editing flash fiction. We will look at purpose, concept, voice, image, precision, and of course compression with the goal to create honed and emotionally affecting flash fiction.
Date: September 21
Times: 9.30-12.30, 1.30-4.30
Place: St Luke’s Community Hall Great Colmore Street, Lee Bank, B15 2AT
Prices: *£50 half-day, *£80 full-day. To reserve your place, send *£50 or *£80 to firstname.lastname@example.org via Paypal (if you are booking a half-day workshop, please specify morning or afternoon). If you do not use Paypal, please contact Christopher Allen via email@example.com so that other arrangements can be made.
*We have several half-price places for writers on a low income (self-defined). If you would like to apply for one of these places, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Earlier this year, Christopher and Helen led similar workshops in Norwich and London. Here’s what some participants had to say:
“I was able to sneak into the London workshop last month. Not only did I walk away with a new feeling of inspiration and a ton of ideas—the other workshop attendees, Christopher Allen and Helen Rye were awesome. All for $60 US. One of the best writing workshops I’ve done. Sign up ASAP!” — Amy Barnes
“The flash fiction workshop was AMAZING. I came away with heaps of story beginnings and ideas and felt so charged. You should go to this. It will be exceptional. I left floating. You folks are so wise and lovely and inspiring! Thank you thank you.” –James Smart
“Thank you to Christopher Allen and Helen Rye for the brilliant SmokeLong flash fiction workshop at The Writers Centre in Norwich today. Met some great people and learned so much. Thank you.” –FC Malby
“I can’t recommend this fun and practical course highly enough. Chris and Helen — two of the best writers and editors of Flash Fiction on the planet — lead the sessions with passion and humour, sharing invaluable hints and tips for writing better Flash. SLQ is, of course, the gold standard for Flash Fiction; this, therefore, is gold straight from the horse’s mouth (although I still need to work on my metaphors).” –Tim Craig
Christopher Allen is a translator, freelance editor and the author of the flash fiction collection Other Household Toxins (Matter Press). Allen’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Best Small Fictions, [PANK], Indiana Review, Jellyfish Review, Longleaf Review and others. He is the co-editor of SmokeLong Quarterly.
Helen Rye lives in Norwich, UK. She has won the Bath Flash Fiction Award, the Reflex Fiction contest and third place in the 2018 Bristol Short story prize. Her stories have been nominated for Best Small Fictions and the Pushcart Prize, and shortlisted for the Bridport Prize. She is a submissions editor for SmokeLong Quarterly and a prose editor for Lighthouse Literary Journal, and she helps out from time to time at Ellipsis Zine and TSS Publishing.
August 12, 2019
SmokeLong’s Global Flash Series endeavors to spotlight non-Anglo writing communities around the world. Until November 17, Kristine Ong Muslim will be reading submissions in Filipino and will choose one story to feature in our December issue. As always, the Global Flash story will be published in the original language as well as in English.
Kristine, thank you so much for the work you’ve already done in preparing for the Filipino call for submissions at SmokeLong. I’ve known you for several years and have read and reviewed your work, but I’ve only recently visited The Philippines. It was a very short, yet amazing trip to Palawan. Can you tell us something about The Philippines that most people don’t know?
Thank you for having me here, Chris. I’m glad to hear you’ve enjoyed your trip to Palawan. That part of the Philippine archipelago has been popularized as the ‘last ecological frontier,’ so it’s a shame there’s recent news of Palawan residents rightfully opposing the construction of a coal-fired power plant, a project that has been given a go-ahead in the form of an environmental agency compliance certificate by the Duterte government.
I’m not so sure if this tidbit of information about the Philippines is widely known, but we have over 150 languages here, and most Filipinos, if not all, are multilingual. The concept of Filipino identity itself is complex, and may be hard to define even in broad, encompassing terms. This is why I’m excited about and thankful for this rare opportunity to select work to translate for the Global Flash Series. I’m looking forward to negotiating the meanings of compressed Filipino-language source texts that are likely to hold all sorts of code-switching and linguistic facility challenges for presentation in translated form to SmokeLong Quarterly’s readership.
Judging by the response to your initial tweet about this call for submissions, your literary community is thriving.
It is, thank you! And I’m thankful the initial announcement received relatively good traction. There has been growth, too, most especially in the Philippine independent publishing scene. It is thriving, not just in terms of increasingly diversifying aesthetic sensibilities that embody the present and the future, the future being a bleak prospect because of the climate crisis. Also, I’ve seen—and maybe I’m lucky to see it because I want to be part of its propagation—a shift away from the formalist vacuum, which is heavy on prettified language and the weight of tradition, a source of prestige, but short on what matters: an attempt to interrogate the role of one’s literary practice in relation to actions that destabilize the unjust dynamics of power in the world. And, this is very difficult to do, even impossible, because it demands consistency. It demands consistency in values, in one’s public stand on issues. It demands consistency even in cases when one’s personal interests need to be pushed aside to clear the path for justice. It also demands refusal to self-identify mainly as an author, but to demystify, to demythologize the author’s importance, because it is far more important to be a citizen of the world. Thanks to numerous small presses and writers’ collectives in the Philippines, more and more younger Filipino writers turn to writing that seeks and is driven by sociopolitical engagement, and sincerely try to be discontented with writing as their only method of participation in the community’s struggle.
The Literature section on The Philippines’ Wikipedia page lists only male writers. I assume this is an egregious oversight. Could you correct this for us here?
That list is likely outdated. Also, some Filipino writers may not be interested in creating and getting approval for their Wikipedia shrine page. However, yes, there is, indeed, an imbalance in gender distribution. The country’s most prominent writers are men; the Penguin Classics representation of the Philippines, for example, does not have a book authored by a woman. But I believe many stakeholders in the Philippine literary community are doing something to correct this imbalance. There’s already a national creative writing workshop for Philippine LGBTQ fiction. Add to that a literary resistance movement in the form of the small press, Gantala Press, which publishes books by women.
In Philippine graphic literature, the most critically acclaimed graphic novelist is the pseudonymous Emiliana Kampilan. The poet Conchitina Cruz wrote essays that have attracted a lot of interest in recent years; Cruz’s paper, “The (Mis)Education of the Filipino Writer: The Tiempo Age and Institutionalized Creative Writing in the Philippines,” continues to generate necessary discourse and has been influential to me. Two of my most favorite Filipino short story writers are Francezca Kwe (for English) and Mayette Bayuga (for Filipino), and I hope their works receive more attention. I am also working with some friends, who are also writers and editors, in editing and translating stories for a possible series of Philippine fiction anthologies, and one of our goals is to find great work by women writers for translation into English. One notable example is John Bengan’s brilliant translation from the Visayan of the short fiction of Joy Serrano-Quijano, an indigenous writer. I can’t wait to see it published in one of our book projects and in an upcoming Words without Borders issue where I am guest coeditor.
You co-edited Sigwa: Climate Fiction Anthology from the Philippines. When is this coming out and how can people buy it?
Sigwa: Climate Fiction Anthology from the Philippines will be released either towards the end of 2019 or in early 2020. Our publisher, Polytechnic University of the Philippines Press, is a state-funded university press, and the distribution of Philippine-published books is normally limited to the Philippines. But we’ll see about finding ways to reach people outside the country who want to buy copies of the book.
I know many Filipino writers who want to talk and write about climate change, because these are some of the ways to seek accountability and discuss solutions. Filipino writers are also uniquely positioned to talk about the ecological crisis, because we are, more or less, on the front line. Philippine seawater levels are going up three times more rapidly than the 3.1 cm per decade global average rate, and the Philippines has the world’s highest death toll for environmental defenders.
The collective energy of the Philippine literary community can be put to good use. In fact, a novel that offers an unflinching look into the chaotic emotional landscape of environmental disaster trauma was just released by the Ateneo de Naga University Press. The title of the novel is Remains, and it is by Daryll Delgado, who has a story in Sigwa: Climate Fiction Anthology from the Philippines. Daryll Delgado’s Remains is made up of fragmented accounts with some sections written in Waray, one of the native languages in the Philippines, and is narrated to mirror the anxious gasps, the realities of people finding their way out of a dark memory tunnel.
What are the challenges of translating Filipino into English? How is Filipino influenced by the other languages spoken in The Philippines?
There are many Filipino words and concepts that are difficult to translate, and it is not only because they lack English equivalents. Their context is specific only to Filipino culture, which does not occur as a homogenized packet of attributes and is hard to pin down. As for the influence of other languages in the Philippines in the formation and evolution of Filipino, I barely understand even the basics of the linguistics involved, but on the surface, Filipino’s grammatical structure is based on Tagalog, and it is—hypothetically—fortified with terms adopted from other native languages in the country, as well as terms borrowed from various disciplines such as the sciences. Tagalog, which forms the basis of Filipino, occurs in different versions across the country. There’s a version of Tagalog here in the south, one that is stylized with English, Cebuano, sometimes even blended with Ilonggo. Additionally, the southern version of Tagalog is different from, say, the Tagalog of Manila.
What kind of story will you be looking for the next couple of months?
I don’t know, probably stories that demand close attention and are revelatory at every turn—I love flash fictions that maximize their constrained length this way. Here’s one example by E. San Juan, Jr. No sentences are wasted. Even the arrangement is well thought out and designed to disorient, escalate to a crescendo—and understandably, difficult to translate. I’m sure the submission queue would yield great material for translation.
Kristine Ong Muslim, guest editor for Filipino, is the author of nine books, including the fiction collections Age of Blight (Unnamed Press, 2016), Butterfly Dream (Snuggly Books, 2016), and The Drone Outside (Eibonvale Press, 2017). Her short stories have been published in Conjunctions, The Cincinnati Review, Tin House, and World Literature Today. An editor of two anthologies—with Nalo Hopkinson for the British Fantasy Award-winning People of Colo(u)r Destroy Science Fiction and with Paolo Enrico Melendez for Sigwa: Climate Fiction Anthology from the Philippines, Muslim has translated the work of Mesándel Virtusio Arguelles, and soon, the poetry of M. J. Cagumbay Tumamac. She grew up and continues to live in a rural town in southern Philippines.
August 5, 2019
The submission period for the SmokeLong Flash Fellowship for Emerging Writers is officially open. A few things are different this year. The first big change is that we’ve increased the award to $1000. The second: Writers previously published by SmokeLong Quarterly are now eligible for this year-long, virtual fellowship!
The winner of the fellowship publishes four stories with SmokeLong, one in each quarterly issue during their appointment. Fellows will work with SmokeLong staff, reading and commenting on stories in the SmokeLong queue, and participate in online writing workshops. We are searching for a writer who is passionate about workshopping their stories and working intensively with our staff for one year.
Writers 18 years or older who do not have a published chapbook or book-length work in any genre (or are not under contract for such) are eligible to apply.
July 29, 2019 Fridge Flash
Today’s Fridge Flash comes from 7-year-old Emi from London. We are providing a translation here, with the original handwritten story below. And we are aware that Emi’s work is a powim, but we are making an exception this time because we love this. We love all of it.
this is for you
all for you all
this happyness is
for you all of it all
of it all of it.
July 22, 2019 Reviews
by Emily Webber
Always Never Speaking: 50 Flash Fictions, with Commentaries by the Author by Joseph Young (RowHouse Press, 2019) gives voice to dreamers and drifters and people just trying to get by in life. It offers the reader a voyeuristic view into conversations between strangers, friends, and loved ones. The voices populating these vignettes are like the best kind of people watching—overheard snippets of conversations that leave a person wondering about what they overheard long after. All of these stories are very short, offering a quick glimpse into a small moment of someone’s life. Most of these stories succeed, the few that don’t seem more like sketches—not giving the reader enough to care about. When Young pulls it off these stories are heart-rending and insightful. By putting these intimate conversations on the page, Young shows how people search for signs in the world around them, where people find hope, and how when people get lucky, they can find a moment of magic in ordinary interactions with others.
At the end of each story, there is a line of commentary offered by the author on flash fiction such as: Flash fiction’s white space is full of ghosts. Half of flash fiction is the absurd. Remember, in flash fiction dialogue sows confusion. These commentaries seem to say that flash fiction is everything and nothing. That rules should be broken, and that writing should involve play and experimentation. It is a good message and one that shape Young’s writing. He lets his stories run wild and he’s not afraid to experiment. But the commentaries, while they break up the many different voices encountered in this collection, serve mostly as a distraction and the reader is left trying to puzzle out the meaning before dipping into the next story. There’s no doubt that Young has an eccentric and unique approach to creating his art and a view into his creative process would be valuable but may have been more successful in a different format.
In the best of these stories, Young is not afraid to show the reader the dull moments, the moments of despair, but mixed in are brief flashes of grace and a hint of something beautiful. In “Cat,” two former lovers have a chance meeting in a park. At first, it doesn’t go well, but then:
“Ha!” she said, tossing her hair. “Of course it is.” I followed her eyes as she looked out over the park lawn, bright with hundreds of dandelions. The clouds running overhead threw patterns of warm, deep light onto the ground. Then she turned back to me and smiled. “Hi, Paulie,” she said.
In 2018, Young installed text on the surfaces of his home to tell the story of a fictional family that lived there, and these stories deliver something similar. It is as if the reader is looking in on someone’s home, a glimpse into their lives. Young crafts beautiful sentences that beg to be read out loud and are paired with startling images, often bringing in the landscape that the characters inhabit. The story “Simple” is only a little over than ten sentences long, but Young manages to evoke a feeling of both longing and indecision between two people in language that surprises: “She turned away, tasting the snowflake on her lip. And all this, she thought, the dirt frozen in the roots of a fallen tree, the open ice of the lake. They stood that way in the quiet, backs to one another. The simple blue of the woods crept toward them.”
Young also understands people and what gets in their way. A character in “Twelfth Night” vows to look at things differently, but he says: I could already feel reason piling dust on my heart. In the stories “The Day’s Surge,” and “Found,” and “Empty Room,” Young masterfully conveys how people try to keep each other safe in the world and how we find comfort. In another story “Safe” a young boy longs to tell his beloved brother that he can fly. Young uses beautiful images to capture the spirit of a boy trying to understand his world and break free: “There was plenty of room between its warm, upward arms, 50 feet up. He floated among the leaves, brushed them softly with his feet and hands, surprised the birds with his silence. He wanted to rise above, into the unfettered blue, but he wasn’t sure. What would happen should someone see him?”
“Rainbow Joke” ends with the following lines: He sat on the porch and watched the people go by. Such a big place, he said, such a funny world. This sums up Young’s collection well. Spending time with the people that populate Young’s 50 flash fictions show what a wonderfully weird world this is, and that there’s magic to be found even in the most ordinary of moments.
Emily Webber was born and raised in South Florida where she lives with her husband and son. She has published fiction, essays, and reviews in the Ploughshares Blog, The Writer magazine, Five Points, Maudlin House, Split Lip Magazine, and elsewhere. She’s the author of a chapbook of flash fiction, Macerated, from Paper Nautilus Press. Read more at www.emilyannwebber.com.
July 15, 2019 Artist Spotlight
Interviewed by Paul Bilger
Who are some of your influences?
Degas. I’m not talking about the ballerinas. I’m thinking of a startlingly intimate painting (for that time) of a man trimming his wife’s toenails. “La Pedicure.” Also, “Portrait of the Bellelli family,” where a mother and two daughters stand facing the seated father. The mood is formal and tense. A story below the surface (I think).
Henry Darger is an influence—the drive to create these beautiful, playful, frightening paper doll narratives—all in secret. Again, an embrace of the personal, though shame kept it hidden until his death. Anselm Kiefer (the early, figurative work) and Neo Rauch. I generally love German painting. Frieda Kahlo, of course. Wholehearted embrace of the personal. David Lynch; he is never burdened by what others might think. I learned a lot by watching him work. Also, the importance of contrast and tension in composition. Giotto and Hieronymus Bosch. Again, the personal perception. And many more.
I noticed that you reject the word, “surrealism,” in your artist statement. Why do you reject that label? Can you tell us more about what you mean by “extreme realism”?
Surrealism has come to mean reality made weird. People think of surrealism as imagery from dreams or drugs or some deep unconscious or altered consciousness. My paintings are my lived, conscious, experience—even though they may not present actual or factual situations. The image feels true in the sense that I “recognize” it. Yes, that’s what I mean.
Buildings and desks and spoons and shoes and people buying cars and jewelry and eating French fries and soup are “reality”. I love and require this kind of ordinariness in my paintings, but it does not feel like life until there is a rhinoceros or an angel or a whaledog. I’m not saying the rhinoceros and the angel and the whaledog are visible to me and not you; I’m saying that they show aspects of reality that are there, visible or not. They are not added to reality to make it weird. Without them, it is not reality.
I think a more accurate way of describing my work (as opposed to surrealistic) is “personal.” The wholehearted embrace of personal perception.
How do you experience the reality of a whaledog?
Whaledogs (or whatever a particular painting calls for) make visible something present but otherwise not visible. It’s a feeling.
It reminds me of being on a hike in the local woods. I felt like I was being watched, and then I came across the form of a little man in the moss. It was just random moss, but it gelled the experience for me. In other words, there are feelings of presence that don’t reduce to the everyday things we can point to as part of our so-called ‘reality,” is that it?
It’s not so much about experiencing a thing that is invisible. It’s that the painting isn’t right or true or complete until the Whaledogs are there.
So it’s a matter of following the singular logic of the painting?
I guess you could say that.
But I think of it as an understanding or perspective that is present but invisible —— until its incarnation to Whaledogs.
Is there a painting that posed a particular challenge for you? What did you learn about yourself in the process of overcoming that challenge?
“When the whaledogs come back” was originally a completely different painting; it was going to be about Genesis 15 where Abraham asks God: “How do I know I can trust you?” God responds like a pragmatic businessman and says: “Go get a heifer, a ram, a goat, a dove, and a pigeon. Cut them in half lengthwise and when you and I walk together between the lined-up halves, that will be our blood covenant.” Abraham slaughters and lays out the animal parts according to God’s instructions. But when God is ready to walk, Abraham is deep asleep. So God—in the form of a “blazing torch and a smoking firepot” — establishes the covenant by walking alone between the “pieces”.
My plan was to place this in a 1950s kitchen, with Abraham’s wife, Sarai, mopping up the blood and Abraham asleep in front of a TV.
I had a wood panel made especially for this painting, 28” x 70”. I started work on it, but had not gone far when I realized I was way past being excited about this idea.
I knew too much about what the painting would end up being. I need to have enough curiosity from not knowing where I’m going to stay excited and energized throughout the process—especially on such a big painting.
When I wiped off imagery I had roughed in, I noticed, in the smeared paint, a shape on the right that resembled bluffs above the ocean near our house. So from then on, those were bluffs.
To the left, I painted houses like the ones on the street in Philadelphia where I grew up. Childhood memories always carry a charge. I wanted the houses to be populated, so I painted out the stone walls, doors, and windows, and created rooms for people to live in. What would the people be doing in their houses? Things they didn’t want their neighbors to see. So: the seven deadly sins.
I wanted the earliest forms of life to be emerging from the sea. I did some research and found some micro-organisms that qualified— unfamiliar and delicate and beautiful. I was going to draw them in with oil crayon; micro-organisms—but bigger— rising out of the sea and floating over the houses.
But micro-organisms did not create the right feeling. They looked both creepy and frivolous. Worse yet, they flattened out the painting, and even worse yet, with all the complexity of the sinners in their houses, the micro-organisms duplicated that complexity. I needed simplicity and space off to the right.
It might have been that same day that I heard Terry Gross interview a marine biologist who declared that at one time whales had walked on land. That was all I needed to hear.
I roughed in the Whaledogs and I had that feeling of recognition, this is right.
Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions!
You are welcome, Paul. Answering questions about one’s painting is part of being an artist. Declining to answer is one (perfectly legitimate) response. But in this case I found the thought and writing process enlightening. Thanks for asking.
Peggy Reavey‘s paintings tell old stories from crooked angles–often from inside a story looking out at a world that did not exist when it was first told. She paints new stories that evolve as she paints them, and intends for them to continue to develop after she finishes with them. Her work strives for a realism beyond simple visibility. Thematically influenced by sources as diverse as Darwin, Anne Frank, and scripture, her work engages hidden aspects of the past and future on both personal and universal levels. Her work has been featured in individual and group exhibitions across California and internationally.
Paul Bilger’s photography has appeared at Qarrtsiluni, Brevity, and Kompresja. His work has also been featured on music releases by Dead Voices on Air and Autistici. When not taking pictures, he is a lecturer in philosophy and film theory at Chatham University. He is the art director at SmokeLong Quarterly.
July 8, 2019 Reviews
by AnnaLee Barclay
One of my favorite things to do is have long, winding conversations with a good friend, conversations that explore themselves as time passes by and ideas are spoken aloud. It could start with discussing a particular book and end with marveling at crow intelligence. There are no objectives, no arguments to be made, no point to reach. Conversations that feels like a slow Sunday morning, even if some of the material is heavy or alarming. Reading The After-Normal by David Carlin & Nicole Walker (Rose Metal Press, 2019) feels like sitting in on one of these conversations as a silent observer, and what a joy it is.
Written in the form of brief essays that alternate between Carlin and Walker, the authors follow the alphabet for each essay’s prompt. Starting with Albatross, they work their way to the end, to just ‘Z,’ forming a collection that presents a startling but engaging, humorous, and sentimental look at anthropogenic climate change and its effects on all life. By using the precedent of an established and known alphabet, there is a certain norm, an expectation of what is to come, as it’s a system we’re familiar with. A, then B, then C, so on. This precedent is then subverted throughout the collection, as sometimes the authors misspell words (Walker’s essay “Xtinction,” instead of “Extinction,” fittingly places the end of a “normal” environment and its creatures at the end of the book) or do more than one essay each for a letter.
It could be said that the use of the alphabet of a framing device represents our naïve conception of a “normal” world—one in which the climate is as it’s always been in our memory and that the animals we have loved since childhood aren’t starving on the brink of extinction. This is, of course, a narrow and inaccurate placement of nature, climate systems, health, economics, biology, and everything in their own unchanging vacuums. One of the tragedies of this sort of thinking is that in not recognizing the connectivity between all facets of life and existence, we collectively sever our connection to the others at the ultimate detriment of ourselves and our home, this planet. There are those who have always known this but we are only just now seeing large populations of ordinary people waking up to this nightmare, albeit too late for “normal” to continue. David Carlin nails this sad reality in his extremely short essay, “Death,” when he asks: “So soon? But we were only getting started.”
But what do we do then—how do we reconcile knowing and accepting the gravity of this situation and still continue to live day-to-day? It isn’t enough to sit and speculate, or complain, or have a constant panic attack until your body shuts down. There are chores to be done, jobs to be worked, bodies to be fed and cleaned and taken care of, time to be enjoyed for sanity’s sake. Carlin & Walker, to the benefit of us all, recognize this and use these micro-essays to tackle this seemingly contradictory existence. In one of my favorite essays, “Individual,” Walker writes about eating sardines for health and brainpower, something that will benefit her life in a multitude of ways. But she’s aware of the multitude of ways eating sardines harms marine life, such as pollution from transporting seafood to Walker’s landlocked Arizona, bycatch in large fishing nets, and taking the actual sustenance that other animals rely on (which, let’s face it, we don’t rely on sardines, even if they’re good for us). The beauty of this essay is the raw honesty in recognizing the contradictions and hypocrisy within those who are very aware of the current and impending ecological crises.
This book is a necessary addition to the dialogue surrounding environmentalism and the future of humanity as we move forward into the After-Normal, as Carlin and Walker have coined our dangerous and uncertain future. Throughout the collection, they return to the idea set forth by feminist scholar Donna Haraway, which is to “stay with the trouble.” That is, they want to explore the problems we’re facing with honesty, but also humor and compassion for the human condition.
I’ve never read anything quite like this book, as anything collaborative can sometimes be messy or inconsistent. Rather, these essays feel like a collection of letters between close friends who understand each other’s brains and souls. While the alternating perspectives generally don’t follow each other linearly, at times the authors address each other with the second person “you.” But what happens is that the reader feels addressed and is suddenly confronted with their role in this situation: How am I culpable? How aware am I as to what is happening, and how am I going to embrace the changes I need to make to contribute to a more tolerable future for me and others, including non-human life? How can I still laugh and fall in love and carve out a piece of land for myself? There are no simple answers, but as David points out in his essay “World.” “One thing leads to another once you start asking questions.” Sometimes, asking the question is more eye-opening than finding any right answer.
AnnaLee Barclay is a photographer and writer from Long Island. She was recently a member of The Lie Factory, a 12-week long fiction workshop taught by Lidia Yuknavitch and Chuck Palahniuk in Portland, OR. She has read for The Southampton Review and her work has appeared in SmokeLong Quarterly, Atticus Review, and Pretty Owl Poetry. You can find her on Instagram and Twitter @annaleebarclay.
June 17, 2019 Playlists
Looking for a soundtrack while you read the new stories in Issue 64? Don’t worry. We’ve got you covered.
Read more about why our authors chose their songs:
Mary Kane, “Practice” – “No. 1 Green Street” by Grant Green
My song for the playlist is Grant Green “No. 1 Green Street.” It’s a song the characters in my story listen to often in the evenings. And the dog, who doesn’t exist, likes it too.
Brooke Randel, “Concepts Like Brian” – “Our Bodies” by Emil Landman
I love the upbeat rhythms of this song and almost-ethereal chorus. The dreaminess reminds me of how the narrator tries to keep things light between her and Dane. She doesn’t want to engage in anything heavy. The chorus repeats “our bodies will collide” in the future tense, showing nothing is happening yet. It’s all out of reach.
Krys Malcolm Belc, “My Body Double Begins the Whole 30 Diet” – “Pretty Pimpin” by Kurt Vile
This little weirdo of a song begins with the lyrics “I woke up this morning/Didn’t recognize the man in the mirror/Then I laughed and I said, “Oh silly me, that’s just me”” which pretty perfectly captures the bewildered feeling my protagonist often experiences acting, and existing, alongside his body double.
Jennifer Wortman, “In Darkest Sky” – “Sway” by the Rolling Stones
At first glance, this story seems to warrant a trippier, more frantic song,
but “Sway” captures both the debauchery and the underlying tenderness of
the piece. Plus, it’s one of my favorite songs and pretty much all I
listened to for a while, including when “In Darkest Sky” was written.
Jen Julian, “Flyover” – “Black Heart” by Calexico
Like a classic prison ballad, this song tells the story of someone suffering at the hands of a higher authority: “One man’s righteousness is another man’s long haul.” It’s so heartland noir — creeping darkness mixed with a sense of surreal, lawless wonder, exactly the tone I was going for.
Jennifer Howard – “Flat Stanley trusts” – “Let Your Love Flow” by The Bellamy Brothers
I chose Let Your Love Flow because, unlike my story, it insists on
shameless joy without ever taking it back or getting clever, or nervous, or
over-explaining. I aspire to someday be comfortable with the dumb sincerity
of this perfect song.
Caits Meissner, “Shallow Water” – “Road” by Nick Drake
This album reminds me of cozying up in an arm chair, watching the mountains on rainy days in the town I spent my summers in. The music is raw and warm and intimate—I imagined my story into this location, this song in my character’s headphones.
Jake TS Wryte “The Space of a Decade” – “Wayfaring Stranger” by Johnny Cash
This song, especially the original, is one of my favorites because of its melody and also because it captures the very core of my beliefs. It is both a sad and hopeful song, and it works great to establish the tone and atmosphere I prefer when writing.
Lucas McMillan, “ESL” – “One More Cup of Coffee” by Bob Dylan
This song perfectly captures that bone-deep tiredness of wanting to stay somewhere, but knowing you can’t — just as the class in this story is scattered to the wind.
Max Hipp, “The Least Fucked Up People” – “Black Hearted Love” by PJ Harve &, John Parish
Though the song doesn’t have any influence on “The Least Fucked Up People,” it definitely taps the same jittery longing these characters are living in, that high lonesome vibe. Between the wailing guitars and PJ Harvey’s plaintive vocal lines, you’re swimming in the same pool of emotions. A side note: I play guitar but these guitars sound so incredible it makes me want to throw mine in the dumpster.
Claudia Monpere, “What I Wore” – “The Sound of Silence” by Simon and Garfunkel
“Hello darkness, my old friend / I’ve come to talk with you again.” The opening lines of Simon and Garfunkel’s song, “The Sound of Silence,” speaks to the profound loneliness and loss experienced by Barbie, the character in “What I Wore.” As a child of the 60’s, she likely would have listened to this song. I like to think that it would have touched something in her.
Christopher Santantasio, “Viewfinder” – “TRIPWIRE” by Elvis Costello & The Roots
Musically, this song is an exquisite Frankenstein; fresh blood excites borrowed limbs. The lyrical content—as is the case with many of Costello’s songs—leaves me scratching my head a bit, but the struggle to make meaning is timeless and in this case, rewarding. I also love and admire Questlove’s delicately layered groove, which is drawn from one of Costello’s older songs, “Satellite,” a thematic companion to my story “Viewfinder.”
Liz Declan, “The House That Is Currently My Mother’s House (but Was Previously My Parents’ House and Will Soon Be a Stranger’s House) Is the Perfect Setting for Nightmares” – “Waving at You” by The Mountain Goats
I pick this one not just because I love The Mountain Goats (which I absolutely do) or because John Darnielle’s confessional style has been hugely influential on my writing (though it absolutely has), but also because the way this song plays with memory and the pain of memory and the need to overcome memory feels absolutely tied to “The House That Is Currently My Mother’s House” for me.
June 17, 2019 SmokeLong on the Road
Continuing our tour of the UK, SmokeLong is thrilled to announce our workshops in London. That’s right: not one, but two! On July 6th, we’ll be offering a three-hour morning session on writing compelling flash fiction and a three-hour afternoon session on editing flash fiction.
Join Co-Editor-in-Chief of SmokeLong Quarterly, Christopher Allen, and Submissions Editor Helen Rye for the morning or afternoon session–or both!
£50 — One session (please specify morning or afternoon)
£80 — Full day (morning AND afternoon)
Secure Place via PayPal to email@example.com
Or, if you do not use PayPal, pay on July 6th but please reserve your place via email to firstname.lastname@example.org by June 27th. For any other questions concerning the workshop, please use the same email address.
Writers on a Low Income:
We are offering 3 half-price places for writers on a low income. Please contact me at email@example.com.
The venue is accessible, and the organisation providing the venue is an inclusive community that supports all genders. They also give a portion of their room hire proceeds to help homeless people in their area.
Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church
Nearest Tube: Tottenham Court Road.
Parking: There is limited on-street parking (metered), or the nearest NCP is in Drury Lane.
See you in London!
June 3, 2019 Interviews
Tony, thank you so much for choosing a story in Chinese for SmokeLong Quarterly‘s Global Flash Series. What kind of story will you be looking for?
I’m honored to join this literary program and to help pick a story that is originally written in Chinese. As to the kind of story I’m looking for, there are actually very few requirements and I would like to give our contributors complete freedom to create their own stories. Our contributors do need to pay attention to the maximum length of their work, though. Since the Global Flash Series publishes flash fiction up to the equivalent of 600 English words, the maximum length of the stories we are looking for should be shorter than 900 words in Chinese, which is much shorter than the maximum length (1,500 Chinese words or so) conventionally set for flash fiction in China.
Give our readers, who may not be familiar with Chinese literature, an idea of current trends in Chinese writing, especially flash-length writing.
Like the literature in any other country, current Chinese literature is so diverse in its forms and contents. There are still a lot of people who are writing the kind of poetry you may find prevalent in Tang and Song dynasty, a kind of poetry which is still regarded by many today as the highest form of art, especially when it is combined with Chinese calligraphy. However, there are also people who are experimenting with all possible forms of modern prosody and they gain equally wide readership. In terms of fiction, it is true that the kind of avant-garde, modernist, and experimental writing survives the 1980s and is still living today, but we see more and more writers tend to have an extremely realistic, and at times critical, look at the new problems and moral dilemmas that pop up every day as the society together with its economy pushes violently ahead.
In China, flash fiction started roughly in the 1980s and is still evolving and thriving today. For a long time, flash fiction has been taken by many writers as a convenient, and yet powerful, tool to satirize the ills of the society, especially the bureaucracy of many government agencies. Its language is often humorous, poignant, or bitter. However, flash fiction tends to adopt a new dimension, and thus a new look, by looking inside, rather than merely outside, when it gets into the new millennium. It is still a flash, or a segment, of life, but it tends to offer its readers a prism to observe the many colors of life and living that are otherwise invisible to modern people’s baffled and imperceptive eyes. It is less angry, but it challenges its readers even more.
We may have mentioned this when we spoke in Portland, but did you know that SmokeLong Quarterly apparently took its name from the Chinese phrase that describes how long it takes to read a piece of flash fiction? When I was in Hong Kong last year I did some research with friend and editor Nicolette Wong. We found a song that refers to this idea but nothing else really. I wonder if anyone in China actually uses this term to refer to flash fiction.
This is very interesting! I remember you talked about this when we were at AWP Portland. I also found two Chinese songs that sing about what will happen within the time of a cigaret. However, I fail to find anyone in China who is referring to flash fiction as “a-cigaret-long-story.” Sometimes people here do call flash fiction by the time it takes for them to finish reading a story though. We may find flash fiction is also referred to as “one-minute-story,” “four-minute-story,” or “five-minute-story” in some Chinese publications both in and out of China.
You are the founding editor of The Hong Kong Review. I love everything about your mission statement. Could you tell us more about the journal?
Thank you for your good words and your interest in The Hong Kong Review. The idea to establish an international literary journal was rooted in my experience in running a student magazine when I was in my high school. It is also related to my experience teaching literature at university and my concern about how a lot of academic literary criticism is writing about literature. I realize how easy it is for modern readers to be distracted by different kinds of screens, big or small. I feel suspicious about some current literary criticism that is published in academic journals here and I doubt if this kind of critical practice is really benefiting literature in general. I also feel alarmed to see the rise of irrational nationalism and the many walls that may threaten human communication and understanding. The mission statement I put on our website is my response to these challenges and I hope The Hong Kong Review can be a very effective venue for international literary community to fight against these challenges as well.
The Hong Kong Review publishes short stories, novellas, excerpts of novels, poems, creative nonfiction, critical essays, translations of poetry or short prose, and pictures of artwork. In our first two issues we are so honored to be home to work of Carl Phillips, Jane McCafferty, Natalie Shapero, Hugh Sheehy, Sheng Keyi, Karin Lin-Greenberg, Rachel Heng, Anjanette Delgado, Maaz Bin Bilal, Andrew Grace, Kirstin Valdez Quade, Maggie Smith, K. Scrilata and many others. And we are very proud that our first two issues have been sold to more than 14 countries and regions in the world. Our third issue will be out in June, and we will have a novella issue in September.
Finally, what is the literary community like in China? One of the goals of SmokeLong’s Global Flash Series is to engage with writing communities the Anglo-centred lit world doesn’t often enough have access to.
Again the literary community in China is a very diverse and vibrant one. However, if we look more closely at the community, it seems that there is a dim line that divides the community roughly into two groups. One group of the writers belong to a certain writers’ association that is sponsored by governmental funds. The other group of writers are more independent, in terms of their writing and their financial resources.
From the Chinese writers I know, they are pretty open to the world outside and they are eager to share their work with international readers. I’m very glad to see the initiative that has been taken by SmokeLong’s Global Flash Series and I think The Hong Kong Review can be a very good partner that SmokeLong can work with to bring international literary community closer together.
Tony Huang is the founding editor of The Hong Kong Review, an international literary journal that is based in Hong Kong and Tianjin, China. He is also the founder of Metacircle Fellowship, Metacircle (Hong Kong) Culture and Education Co., Ltd. and Metaeducation. His poems and translation have appeared in The Hong Kong Review, Tianjin Daily, Binhai Times, Nankai Journal, Large Ocean Poetry Quarterly and other places. He teaches British and American literature and literary theories at Nankai University.
Christopher Allen is a translator, freelance editor and the author of the flash fiction collection Other Household Toxins (Matter Press). Allen’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Best Small Fictions 2019, [PANK], Indiana Review, Split Lip Magazine, Longleaf Review and others. He is the co-editor of SmokeLong Quarterly and the curator of SmokeLong’s Global Flash Series.
June 1, 2019
For the last few months, I’ve been traveling around, bumping into SmokeLong contributors and editors, doing workshops and readings. Recently, I had the opportunity to share a glass of vino with flash fiction gurus Kathy Fish and Nancy Stohlman, along with their flash fiction retreat participants in Casperia, Italy. At a palace of course. I’ve asked them to share a few words about their retreats and what makes them so amazing.
Both Nancy and you are seasoned workshop leaders. Why did you decide to branch out into offering retreats? What can you do at a retreat that you can’t do in an online workshop?
(Kathy): We do both have a lot of online instruction under our belts, but saw offering retreats as a way of combining our love of travel and our desire to teach and inspire in a cool, innovative way. We also quite liked the idea of making the retreats specific to flash fiction!
I think there’s a real sense of communing that comes from sharing the same physical space with other writers. Eating and drinking and laughing together. Everyone experiencing something new and interesting and beautiful together. And this of course you can’t achieve online.
Also, we’ve found it really sparks creativity to literally get out of one’s comfort zone and into a new place. It’s why we’re always looking to find beautiful / unique / exotic / inspiring places to hold our retreats.
Your latest retreat was at Palazzo Forani in Casperia, Italy. I just happened to be in the area on your free day, so I popped by and had lunch with you and your keen participants. We did a lot of eating and drinking. But what does a typical retreat day entail?
(Nancy): Well, in Italy every day involved a lot of eating and drinking! But seriously, every location and every retreat has its own personality. The things that stay consistent is the general workshop schedule—most days we have a morning session with Kathy that is mostly generative and an afternoon session with me (Nancy) that focuses on revision and workshopping. We also have a final night “salon” where we all dress up and drink (more) wine and read our work. The salon ends up being one of our favorite parts and to prep for that I’ve been offering a performance class on the last day instead of a regular workshop session. So ideally by the end of the retreat participants write some new stuff, revise some old stuff, and read their work in public. You came on our free day (normally we will only have free half days) where participants can explore, take an extra long nap or dive more deeply into their writing. It IS a retreat after all—we want people resting and rejuvenating, not exhausted from classes all day.
But within that framework each retreat develops its own flavor. In Costa Rica we used the metaphor of the jungle as we designed our classes: “wild” writing, birdsong repetition, taking a machete to the overgrowth, etc. Last year in the high mountains of Colorado we were “mining” for silver and gold in our work; in Italy were drawing inspiration from the Italian Renaissance. We want our retreats to reflect and engage with the location. In Italy we were staying in a very old palace (palazzo) with all its creepy/romantic charm and Kathy did a special “ghost writing” session. In Costa Rica we were/will be staying in screened cabinas open to the tropical air and all the sounds of nature. In Grand Lake we will be in a big mountain lodge (think wood burning stove) overlooking a mountain lake.
One thing that remains consistent is that by the end of the week we have all bonded in a special way—writing partners and friendships that will last a lifetime.
Your next retreat in Colorado is almost sold out, but are there still places for that one? I see Randall Brown will be making an appearance. I could listen to him talk about flash fiction all day.
(Kathy): As of this writing, there’s actually one room still available for our Grand Lake retreat so if anyone out there has been considering this they ought to jump in now! Nancy and I are very excited that Randall will be lending his expertise to this retreat, yes.
In 2020 you’re going back to Costa Rica. How do you choose your retreat destinations?
(Nancy): Yes! We loved Peace Retreat and how comfortable the staff made us feel while also leaving us to our work (the whole staff attended our final night salon.). So we’re excited about returning and of course it will be easier for us because we’ll know what to expect this time. For instance, we will know that the howler monkeys sound like crazy screaming ladies in the jungle (but good luck actually seeing one!) and that you really can eat bananas in every form: fried, cold, mashed, grilled, and that the (optional) yoga at 7 am is actually a lovely way to wake up! And the Peace Retreat staff will be prepared for how much coffee writers drink—ha! Because so much of our planning is an (exciting) shot in the dark—language barriers, currency conversions, and scouring photos to make sure we know what we’re getting ourselves into. And even then there are unknown elements—that’s part of the fun.
How do we decide where we are going? Like this: “Hey Kathy, where have you always wanted to go next?” Ha. No really, it’s half dreaming and half pragmatism. We start with our wish list and then we study, search, scratch out, study, search and scratch out again until we find the right place. We are of course looking for special locations—we aren’t interested in the resort experience, we are writers after all, we love the unique/gritty/beautiful and are ultimately looking for places that will inspire writing. Because the bottom line is that we’re aren’t a travel service, we are just fellow writers and teachers who want to spend time with other writers in beautiful, remote, inspiring places. Places that are simple and affordable and will get people writing, writing, writing. It’s easy to get distracted from writing when there are too many frills…and most people have no problem being distracted. The point is to focus.
A peek at our wish list for future retreats? Iceland (northern lights), French countryside, Bali (to be close to the Australians!), Norway, Portugal, Scotland, Nepal, Spain, Puerto Rico…any you want to add or vote for?? We are trying to decide for summer 2020 now (wink).
What are your approaches to workshopping flash fiction? On the flash fiction retreats website, you mention one-on-one mentoring. How does that work?
(Nancy): The one-on-one sessions are one of my favorite parts of the retreat. Every participant gets 1 session with each of us (length depends on how many days we have) and so many things can happen in those sessions. I approach them as creative coaching sessions (which I rarely get the luxury to do in person). Often a writer will come with a story in progress and we will focus the session on that. But that time can also be used to talk through an idea—I’ve seen many a-ha! moments happen just from talking out an idea and bouncing it off another writer. As writers this is so important but it’s not always easy to find the right eyes/ears at the right time. Other sessions I’ve had include discussions of publishing, uncovering creative blocks, or just the writing life in general. The writers lead the sessions so they can use them in any way that suits them and their work best.
Workshopping—The editing process in general is one of my favorite parts. One very important component is to know what phase of the writing process a particular piece is in—a freshly written piece probably isn’t ready for critique and neither is the author. During the retreat I lead group workshop sessions but we look at stories written before the retreat, stories that have had time to grow and mature on their own, first.
My approach is mostly intuitive—I’ve been an editor since 2004, so I can quickly home in on what is working and where the story has hit a snag. But I find that the group has a lot of wisdom, so my workshops ultimately become a group brainstorm session that I facilitate. That said, no one leaves any workshop I lead feeling torn down—it’s always about lifting one another up to create the strongest piece possible, and I believe that we learn as much by helping others as we do by workshopping our own pieces (and I always recommend revisiting one’s own piece after workshopping others as you will be wearing the correct “editor’s hat”). Each day I will bring “tools” to the class, different aspects and approaches to the creative revision process, but ultimately the work on the table that day decides the focus of the session. Every piece needs something different; there is never just one formula that works for all.
(Kathy): Nancy covered what we do in our one-on-one sessions really well. And as to the teaching sessions, I run the generative ones and in these I like to focus on particular aspects of writing in general and flash specifically. My teaching philosophy is aimed at inspiring writers to find ways into their own material. I think a lot of writers come to retreats in order to break out of a rut or overcome a block, so a good deal of my sessions is focused on strategies for awakening creativity.
And I do like prompts for getting one going, but one can google “writing prompts” and have enough of those at their disposal to last the rest of their days. Also these tend to be one-offs, whereas my prompts and exercises are designed such that they can be used again and again. For instance, I have writers use mind-mapping exercises to create their own word banks and so forth.
I also like to delve into areas not usually covered in typical flash fiction workshops, such as using poetic devices to create more musical prose, use of time and narrative speed, and exercises aimed at going deeper into the revision process.
Each session, I give time for free writing and writing to an exercise aimed at building on the lesson. I have been absolutely amazed at the beauty and depth of the work produced in the generative sessions.
Anything else you want to add?
(Nancy): Working with Kathy is so easy and rewarding—I think a big part of what makes this endeavor work well is that the two of us bring different but complementary/overlapping skills and strengths to the table and we are both really loving this crazy creation! Finding a good working partnership is crucial. But finding the right project is key: For me, there is nothing more rewarding than when someone says: “Yes! I’m finally going to give myself and my writing a gift I’ve always dreamed about.”
Out in the world Kathy talks a lot about being a good literary citizen. The idea that it’s important to lift each other up—writing can be hard and writing for a living even harder. So in a way our retreats feel like a gift we can offer to writers grinding day in and day out. The fact is we all need a writing retreat, a quiet, simple, inspiring moment to reconnect to our creative selves. To be able to provide this service, to allow writers to dream big—this is a real gift. In a small way we are helping people make their dreams come true. So yeah, what can be better than that?
Read more at Flash Fiction Retreats.
May 27, 2019 Reviews
by Frannie McMillan
Damhnait Monaghan’s The Neverlands (V. Press, April 2019), described by Kathy Fish as a “mosaic of microfictions,” alternates between the perspective of a young Irish girl, Nuala O’Riordan, and her mother, known only as Mammy. Nuala’s life is marked by a series of traumas: bearing witness to the disintegration of her parents’ marriage, losing a parent and then a grandparent. Her mother’s life features an unfaithful, alcoholic husband, repeated miscarriages, feelings of maternal inadequacy, depression, losing her father, and having her child taken from her. Monaghan draws these characters and their hardscrabble existence with a skilled hand, taking care to grant readers intermittent moments of dark humor and optimism. This slim pamphlet contains unblinking truths about families, motherhood, childhood, poverty, and manages to make readers feel as though they’ve read an epic novel about Nuala and Mammy in just a handful of words.
In “It Is Written” Monaghan lays out the particulars of the story’s primary conflict in a tidy little paragraph: Nuala’s unfailing love for her irresponsible, fun-loving father, and her struggle to understand her mother. Written from Nuala’s point of view, this opening story reveals the tender nature of Nuala, who “wants to fix things even though Mammy says there’s no fixing Da.” Readers sense the tension between Mammy and Da when Nuala wonders if her mother is the one who painted offensive graffiti calling her Da a “gobshite.” We’re also introduced to Grandad, Nuala’s confidante and Mammy’s father. Grandad is sympathetic to Seamus O’Riordan and tells Nuala “poor aul’ Da’s a lost soul” as he hands her paint and a brush to cover the harsh words.
Nuala isn’t without her own childish secrets and tiny acts of rebellion. Within the first few sentences of “It Is Written,” Nuala defies her mother by walking along the sea wall. In “Slaying Her Demons,” Nuala merrily skips home from school, “practically floating” because she was praised by Sister Angelique for a story she wrote about dragons. Meanwhile, her childhood rival, Aoife O’Leary, stood in a corner as punishment for saying that Nuala’s story was stupid. Nuala was equally gleeful about both events. In “Thou Shalt Not Covet,” readers learn that Nuala apparently found Sister Angelique’s cross, but instead of turning it in, she keeps it.
The first seven stories are from Nuala’s point of view, but instead of making her an unreliable child-narrator, Monaghan imbues Nuala with a wisdom beyond her years. For example, near the end of the first story, Nuala intentionally slows her gait so that her elderly Grandad “thinks he’s leading the way.” Nuala is aware of her mother’s many miscarriages and in “Limbo” she acknowledges that “Mammy doesn’t like to talk about them but Nuala prays for them every night,” showing both Nuala’s compassion for her lost siblings and her wounded mother. In “Thou Shalt Not Covet,” Nuala observes that Sister Angelique rubs a gold cross between her fingers “when she thinks no one’s looking.”
In the last story before the narrative shifts for the first time to Mammy’s perspective, Nuala makes keen observations about both parents, noting that “Da gets his wages and goes to the pub” while her mother “polishes her arguments.” Nuala accurately predicts that the night will end in turmoil, so she goes to bed and “pretends to live somewhere else.” In the segment following Mammy’s first stories, in a piece called “Dutch Courage,” which takes places after Nuala’s first Holy Communion, Da appears drunk at the gates of her school. She notices he is missing more teeth, and wonders “why does he have to be drunk to say anything good” as she pinches her wrist to keep herself from crying. The title story emerges from Nuala misunderstanding Sister Angelique’s reference to the Netherlands in “Dutch Courage.” When Nuala goes to the library, she asks for a book about the Neverlands, and the librarian hands her Peter Pan. Monaghan deftly circles back to the very first piece in the collection when Nuala finishes Peter Pan and realizes “Grandad is wrong. Da is not a lost soul, he’s a Lost Boy.”
This realization marks a turning point in Nuala’s story as she begins feeling pity for her father while still struggling to connect with her mother. This is fully realized in “The Wages of Sin” when Nuala is sent by her mother to the pub to retrieve some of his pay before he spends it all on alcohol. Nuala discovers that her father has a mistress, who is now pregnant. Her father, drunk, of course, wraps her in a celebratory hug but “swears and tries to grab her arm” when Nuala sneaks the money from his pocket and runs home. In “Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are,” Nuala is forced to accompany Mammy as she confronts Seamus about his affair. This is heavy work for a child, but Nuala, stoic as ever, kicks the door and thinks “I am not a bloody child.” Clearly, Nuala comprehends the heft of this moment as she watches her mother fall apart in this scene. She is leaving innocence behind, and she knows it. Readers move closer to Mammy as her voice takes over, switching from only one or two intertwined stories to a section of seven before the collection gives Nuala and Mammy’s voices equal play.
Mammy’s voice is delivered in second person, and is first heard in “Habits,” where already it is ragged “after all those years on your knees, pleading with Holy Mary to help you keep a baby.” The choice to deliver Mammy’s part in second person places the reader in her shoes, creates a hard contrast with Nuala’s voice, and mirrors the distance Mammy struggles to cover between herself and Nuala. This intentional difference in narration also ensures that readers don’t default to sympathy for Nuala and frustration with Mammy’s shortcomings as a mother. For example, in this first glimpse of Mammy’s inner self, readers learn that she spends each afternoon “thinking today’s the day you’ll greet her [Nuala] with the years of hugs you’ve denied her,” but when Nuala begins talking about wanting a prayer corner in her bedroom and Mammy tells her “its past time for prayers in this family,” Nuala’s joy recedes, and Mammy admits “your arms are that sore from wanting to hold her, but your feet are rooted to the ground.” Right away, Mammy’s heartache is clear. She pines for love, for the ability to show affection to Nuala. In “Star-crossed Lovers,” readers get just enough backstory about her “dead poetic” love affair with Seamus to develop a deep, abiding sympathy for this broken woman who married at sixteen. Slowly, Monaghan feeds readers bits of information about Mammy’s sad life. In “Grandad,” we learn that Mammy’s mother died during her birth. Later, in “By the Light of the Moon,” a constable comes to deliver the news of Seamus’s drowning, and she watches in pain as the man “hugs her like you’ve never been able.” In the next story, “Mea Maxima Culpa,” Seamus’s mother comes to take Nuala away, saying “you’re not fit to raise her.” The pace at which Mammy’s life falls apart quickens, and in “Vigil” she loses her father. The saving grace here is that Nuala is in Dublin with Seamus’s mother, so readers are spared seeing that heartbreak through her eyes. Mammy is emotionally numb enough that these stark facts are revealed without much fanfare.
Finally, though, her luck turns in “The Solicitor,” where she inherits some money from her father’s estate. And again, in “Two for Sorrow,” when her long lost sister, Sheila, sends her airfare and asks her to come to Canada to live with her. Although Mammy and Nuala’s relationship is strained, one of the high points in the collection is when Mammy arrives to reclaim Nuala from her mother-in-law in Dublin in “Doors Are Opening.” Already, Mammy is changing, and “there’s a lightness about you that you’d nearly forgotten.” She is coming back to herself; her spirit is growing stronger with the promise of a new beginning. This is as much a commentary on the psychological impact of poverty as it is a story about mothers and daughters. It isn’t until Mammy is in a stronger financial position that she is able to overcome her depression (at least partially) and get her daughter back.
In “Taking Flight,” Nuala, observant as ever, savors the moment Mammy makes a joke and winks at her. During their flight to Canada, Mammy falls asleep with her head on Nuala’s shoulder. Nuala “strokes Mammy’s cheek then kisses her own fingers”. In “Tea and Laughter,” Monaghan returns Mammy to Nuala in a slow, tender way. Nuala hears her mother laugh in a new way, “like fairy whispers.” The final story, “Snow, Falling,” places Mammy and Nuala in front of Sheila’s house, their long journey at an end. Nuala sees snow for the first time, and her delight, coupled with the relief of this fresh start, makes Mammy realize “it’s time to leave the heartache and pain behind and love this girl hard.” She throws herself down into the snow next to Nuala, finally letting go of that heartache and pain and allowing herself the full measure of love.
Frannie McMillan’s poetry has appeared in The Coachella Review, K’in Literary Journal, The Indianapolis Review, and others. She is currently at work on her first chapbook, You Ain’t By Yourself. By day, she connects young people with books as a secondary librarian in Richmond, Virginia. You can find her on Twitter @franniemaq.
May 20, 2019 SmokeLong on the Road
by Helen Rye
The medieval city of Norwich, England, latest stop on the SmokeLong on the Road journey, is famous for mustard, British pubs and the legendary University of East Anglia creative writing program, founded by Malcom Bradbury in 1970. For a few cold and rainy days in early May, the SmokeLong Quarterly travelling editorial team wandered its ancient cobbled streets, arguing about stories, how to pronounce tomato sauce, the correct way to eat an English scone (jam first, then cream, of course), and revelling in being able to drink cider that tasted like cider.
Norwich city centre is dominated on one side by the reconstructed façade of its 11th century castle, the first thing William the Conqueror turned his hand to after he’d finished with the people of Hastings, and on the other, by the glass and steel of The Forum, a light-filled indoor public space containing the city library, broadcasting centre, exhibition spaces, a restaurant and café bar.
Bar Marzano at The Forum occupies the ground floor corner with the prettiest view, and it was here that SmokeLong editors Christopher Allen and Helen Rye, with James Smart, UEA MFA student and 2018 Smokey longlister, co-hosted Flashing Norwich, a showcase of flash fiction by established and emerging writers. Rather than have a running order, we elected to have each reader pull the bio of the next at random from the SmokeLong Quarterly Golden Travelling Clutch Purse and introduce their successor. This added an edge of suspense to the proceedings as well as meaning that none of the participants knew how soon they would be able to go to the bar.
Multi-award-winning flash writer and founding editor of Flashback Fiction, Ingrid Jendrzejewski, travelled from Cambridge to join us, along with local Nine Arches poet and prose writer Julia Webb, UEA Masters students Vijay Khurana, Jas Kirkbride and Amelia Vale, Melissa Fu, the 2019 UEA David TK Wong Fellow, and Norfolk-based flash fiction author David Steward. We are so grateful to everyone who came out to read and to listen to us, and to the brave open mic-ers who rounded off the evening at a half-hour’s notice.
Saturday saw the first of this year’s SmokeLong editors’ workshops. Seventeen keen participants discussed and experimented with ways to hone flash fiction that has something to say in a beautiful (and, of course, medieval) building dedicated to writing, after a slightly rocky start in which it transpired the venue had forgotten we were coming and was directing attendees of ‘today’s event’ somewhere down the street. We’d spent some fun hours earlier during our preparation time on ruining some beautiful stories by writing in some of the common issues we see that often result in submissions being rejected. Our workshop participants seemed to find this every bit as entertaining – and hopefully, also, useful. If you’re an editor and you find a rash of stories containing the word ‘gadoid’ in your queue, in the near future – we’re sorry.
We were so encouraged by the enthusiastic feedback, with people thanking us for the comfortable atmosphere and an inspiring, informative and motivating session. Several participants told us they were going away with new story drafts and ideas for the first time in a while, which made us very happy. What a lovely bunch of humans.
Christopher Allen and Tara Laskowski will be leading workshops at the UK Flash Fiction Festival in Bristol at the end of June, and we are now taking bookings for our half/full-day workshops in London on 6th July. Hope to see you somewhere on the road, soon!
London-area writers! Reserve your place at the July 6th SmokeLong Flash Fiction Workshop in London! Details HERE.
Helen Rye lives in Norwich, UK. She has won the Bath Flash Fiction Award, the Reflex Fiction contest and third place in the 2018 Bristol Short story prize. Her stories have been nominated for Best Small Fictions and the Pushcart Prize, and shortlisted for the Bridport Prize. She is a submissions editor for SmokeLong Quarterly and a prose editor for Lighthouse Literary Journal, and she helps out from time to time at Ellipsis Zine and TSS Publishing.
May 13, 2019 Reviews
by Julia Tagliere
Reading a story collection is a bit like putting together a jigsaw puzzle or solving a mystery. With each story’s end, you see more of the work as a whole and come to understand The One Thing that ties the stories together; in the case of Jeff Ewing’s debut collection, The Middle Ground, it’s ghosts.
Some are conventional ghosts—dead mothers or fathers, dying children, or even “the fairytale creatures behind every stroke of good and bad luck” so cunningly woven into Ewing’s story, “Hiddenfolk.” But in his evocative collection, published in February 2019 by the micro literary journal Into the Void, Ewing, who is a ten-time Pushcart Prize nominee and winner of the California Newspaper Publishers Association Best Writing Award, does not stop at conventional.
This collection of 18 stories, some of which were previously published in Crazyhorse, Atticus Review, and SmokeLong Quarterly (“Parliament of Owls”), among others, haunts its reader with other ghosts: the ghosts of paths not taken, of former—or better—selves, the ghosts of fateful decisions.
In the exquisite “Coast Starlight” (which first appeared in Into the Void), for example, Ewing shares the story of a breathtakingly beautiful waitress dreaming of a bigger life in her small town. When her “big break” walks into the café, she doesn’t follow it, but she never completely forgets its face; she even makes an unsuccessful attempt to catch it later:
In the privacy and security of her own head, she finished the trip. She sat out on his patio with him and let the sun—softened by the ocean—drape itself over her…She always stopped there, before the story became ridiculous, before the probable reality intruded—Clifford’s apartment a drab warren on some nondescript street, the sky sooty and gray, sirens and drunken quarrels drowning out the distant waves. The ending wasn’t important anyway, it wasn’t even an ending necessarily…That’s how she put it to herself, anyway, on the days she let her mind off its leash.
In “The Shallow End,” Ewing captures with equal parts candor and tenderness the regrets and shortcomings of a father who knows just enough to know he will never understand his own failings, but can never escape their presence, especially when he befriends the neighbor girl, whose mother is dying:
“I’d always thought I’d be a good father, before Jeannie was born. Even for a while after. It was quite a shock to hear I wasn’t.”
Cindy was lying on the diving board, her head hanging over the end.
“What did you do, hit her or something?”
“I don’t know. It must have been something bad.”
“She had a list of our failings. Reasons she wasn’t the person she thought she should be by then.”
…Cindy turned away from him, sniffling. Ludlow looked at her back, the little hunched shoulders that weren’t nearly up to what was being asked of them. Something was called for, he knew, another solution to another problem that was beyond him. He tapped the rake handle against his forehead. It never ended.
But conventional ghosts do carry their share of water in this collection, manifesting especially in the ways people, especially children, change after the loss of a parent, as in “Masterpiece,” which originally appeared in Juked. Ewing’s interiority of his character Nora—who grasps at last her heartbreaking culpability, having raised her younger brother after their mother’s death, for the callous, cruel, man he has become—is striking:
Nora had been trying for some time to put her finger on when he’d changed from a puppy into a nasty, snarling dog…Maybe it was her fault; she’d turned him into this. She should have let the mean world have him. Now she didn’t know how to defend herself, only him.
Ewing’s writing is thoughtful and nuanced; this passage from “Masterpiece” is an excellent example of that: “She washed the dirt from the carrots and started to peel them…She hated to throw the peelings away, even into the compost. Something beautiful should be done with them—the carrot underneath was utilitarian and nourishing; the beauty was in the peel.”
But don’t let “thoughtful and nuanced” give you the impression that reading Ewing’s stories is a passive endeavor: this collection provides a highly interactive, almost participatory experience: A phrase, line, or passage elicits an audible gasp, a pause to reflect, a heavy sigh, or even an uttered “Holy crap”:
The man at the aquarium…had also explained why the fish was no bigger after three years…
“They grow to the size of their containers.”
A practical adaptation that didn’t, unfortunately, apply to children. Jeannie had outgrown her container way ahead of time. (“The Shallow End”)
They’ve kept some things back, but the things they’ve kept are worthless…Old pictures, grainy, unrecognizable likenesses of what was supposed to be her—when she was a girl, a newlywed, a mother. Studio pictures with no life in them. The real pictures, the ones she and her daddy took and developed, are all in the albums in her room. But they’re not interested in those, all they see is empty fields and woods and sky in them—they can’t see the bird hidden in the clump of grass, or her daddy whistling beside her as she aims the camera. There’s so much they don’t understand that she doesn’t know where to start. (“Barn Sale”)
These are not stories that should be read quickly, nor is The Middle Ground a collection suited for gobbling up in one sitting; Ewing’s stories are too rich for that. Rather, they should be read as though one has all the time in the world to read a line and read it again, to linger over it, to let it haunt you. This is a collection worth making that kind of time to read.
Read “Parliament of Owls” by Jeff Ewing (SmokeLong Quarterly, December 2017).
Purchase The Middle Ground by Jeff Ewing.
Julia Tagliere’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Writer, The Bookends Review, Potomac Review, Gargoyle Magazine, Washington Independent Review of Books, SmokeLong Quarterly, WritersResist, and multiple anthologies. Winner of the 2015 William Faulkner Literary Competition for Best Short Story and the 2017 Writers Center Undiscovered Voices Fellowship, Julia completed her M.A. in Writing at Johns Hopkins University. She serves as an editor with The Baltimore Review and is currently working on her next novel, The Day the Music Didn’t Die. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
May 6, 2019 SmokeLong on the Road
We’ve been traveling around the world to meet our contributors and fall asleep in our cocktails with our editors. A few weeks ago, we were in Fairfax, Va where we met up with Kara Oakleaf, Randall Brown, Colleen Rich, Tara Campbell, Tyrese L. Coleman, and Michelle Orabona. Thank you to Epicure Cafe for providing the venue, and thank you to the musicians whose set was delayed by just a few minutes. And a special thank you to our editor, Tara Laskowski, for organizing the event!
While you have a look at this montage of the evening, we’ll already be off to a reading and workshop in Norwich, England. Also watch for SmokeLong at the UK Flash Fiction Festival in Bristol, England at the end of June. See you there?
May 1, 2019 Fridge Flash
Today’s Fridge Flash comes from 7-year-old Dash Taylor, who had to write an adventure story during his spring break camp. It includes chapters AND cliffhangers. We are providing a translation here, with the original handwritten story below.
Cold Bottom Bart and the Ship of Fire
Chapter 1: The Ghost Ship
Once there was a pirate named Cold Bottom Bart. He had a ghost ship and it was made out of fire. But he never went in it.
Chapter 2: Cold and Fire Are Not the Same Thing
He never got in it because his first name is Cold and the ship is made out of fire. SO … he takes a deep breath and goes in to the ship.
He felt something. It felt different. He looked down and gasped. He was on fire.
Chapter 4: Hot Bottom Bart
From this day, he has been called Hot Bottom Bart.
April 29, 2019 Reviews
by Amy Lyons
Davon Loeb skillfully weaves together a series of non-fiction flash pieces to tell the story of his childhood and coming-of-age in The In-Betweens, published by Everytime Press in November, 2018. This lyrical narrative employs poetic language to describe everything from the deep and lasting ramifications of his parents’ separation and his struggles with his mixed-race identity, to ordinary days full of yard work and run-of-the-mill childhood roughhousing. It’s a book about growing up and out of boyhood amidst estrangement—from his birth father, from his brother, from his sense of identity—and becoming a man who sees shades of grey where others see only Black and White.
“Like Gladiators” is a piece that finds gorgeous music in bored children hanging around the neighborhood playing simple games: “And when tagging, we ran circles in the cul-de-sac, screaming and gasping, our feet hot and burning—the soles wearing, the bunny-ear laces flopping, and the Rorschach patterns of sweat on our shirts…And then the rusty coloring around knee-scrapes, and elbow-burns, and split lips, and what it was like, trying to wrestle down the sun.” It’s a delight to watch Loeb elevate child’s play to something grand.
It’s Loeb’s talent for lyricism and his gift for rendering a palpable sense of childhood wonder that powers the book. When the language flows full-throated and awe-struck toward a crescendo, the reading experience is one of total delight. In “Weekend Weather,” Loeb captures a child’s point of view on his parents fighting by comparing the scene to a storm: “Under the weight of the toppling sky and the volume of sharp rains, and the hard yells of my parents shaking the grout between the bricks of our home—on many of those nights I was dust clung to those shaking corners, while mom and dad push-pulled their iron bodies into each other.”
In “Quitting Meant Going Back to Babysitting,” Loeb describes getting a job with one of his friends as an exterminator. All of the teenagers in Loeb’s town are getting jobs, but Loeb’s mother wants him to stay home and babysit his brother. He chooses work over family, which seems like a memorable moment for the clear-eyed, retrospective narrator to look back on in light of some of the issues with which he struggles, namely guilt and choices around duty to family versus duty to one’s independence. But the experience leaves less of an emotional charge because it’s reported as a series of events rather than a pungent, searing memory with lingering and evolving meaning.
The book’s title serves as an effective evolving theme throughout. Loeb is “In Between” many forces throughout his childhood. Two of the most powerful are his fathers (one biological and largely distant, the other present as Loeb’s mother’s husband, but not a blood relative) and his two races: his mother is Black and his biological father is White. It’s quite moving to witness young Loeb struggle with his biracial identity and confusion in “Thoughts on Hair” and “But I am Not Toby,” the latter an extremely effective piece about the ridiculousness of cliched school lessons during Black History Month. When a teacher proclaims to the class that rap is not real music: “It was as if she was talking straight at me, channeling years of frustrations to the only Black student in class.” The sense of isolation that Loeb renders here is deeply moving.
When Loeb’s two fathers cut down a tree together in “Fighting for the Tree,” it seems the perfect, and perfectly rendered, illustration of a child’s sense of being trapped in the middle of two adults and not knowing which one to choose. One man cuts into the tree with a chainsaw, the other with an axe, and when the tree begins to sway, the boy and the fathers aren’t sure where it will fall: “Both men yelled different directions they thought he tree would go. It went one way and then the other, as if a table with one leg…Dad and my father, with one hand on the tree and other open, in my direction, both yelled—throw me the rope!”
The final “In-Between” of the book comes in the piece titled “In-Between Sirens,” a shorter, flash piece that takes its title from the pauses between a police car’s blue and red flashing sirens. It’s a compelling piece told with authority and authenticity, particularly when Loeb reveals that he knows he is being pulled over by the police because of the color of his skin: “He studied my license longer, and though I wanted to ask him what I did wrong—that I wasn’t swerving, that I didn’t run a stop sign, that I didn’t commit any traffic violations—I said nothing, and stood stone-till knowing it really didn’t matter—knowing exactly why he pulled me over—and that when he said there was a string of burglaries in the neighborhood and we looked suspicious, I wasn’t a bit surprised.”
Amy Lyons is an MFA candidate at the Bennington Writing Seminars. She has also studied writing at Squaw Valley Community of Writers, the Tin House Summer workshop, the Iowa Summer writing festival, and UCLA Extension, where she was nominated for a 2015 Kirkwood Literary Prize in fiction. She has been awarded a 2019 residency at Millay Colony for the Arts and a 2019 Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation Creative Fellowship. Her journalistic writing has appeared in Lenny Letter, LA Weekly, Backstage, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and more.
April 22, 2019 SmokeLong on the Road
If you found it difficult to find the SmokeLong table this year, it’s because we were a roving table. We came to you. It’s your fault if you weren’t there. Anyone who stopped Helen Rye and myself to ask us about our silly t-shirts got the full Roving SmokeLong Quarterly Table treatment. We had swag and sweets. We had books to win. We had choreography. Most people found it funny; some–mostly poetry MFA program directors–didn’t. Oh well.
We were surprised by how many “visitors” to our “table” lauded us for subverting the bookfair Order Of Things. We even got a few looks suggesting “Why didn’t we think of this? We could have saved 800 bucks.” I think we might have started something.
Our reading on Thursday evening was an intimate affair in the loft of a loud brew pub. Our apologies to those of you who did not get in and to those of you who were pushed around by the waiter. Seating was very limited but oddly roomy. In San Antonio next year I’m going to rent an arena, so look forward to that. For those of you who were not able to be there on Thursday evening or at AWP this year at all, we’ve put together a brief video of moderate sound quality. It’s on our YouTube channel, where you can view other videos in our series SmokeLong on the Road. And you can also subscribe if you want, joining our esteemed 10 subscribers.
Readers’ Books just in case you’d like to buy them and make their days:
Dennis Norris II — Awst Collection — Dennis Norris II
Tyrese L. Coleman — How to Sit
Nancy Au — Spider Love Song and Other Stories
Michael Don — Partners and Strangers
Michelle Ross — There’s So Much They Haven’t Told You
Sherrie Flick — Thank Your Lucky Stars
Kathy Fish — Wild Life: Collected Works 2003-2018
See you next year in San Antonio!
April 17, 2019 Fridge Flash
Today’s Fridge Flash comes to us from 12-year-old Quin, who very deftly illustrates the absurdity of our modern world with a wonderful sense of humor and wit.
The Grocery Alien
Until this happened, the cashier at SpaceMart was having a regular day. He was just about to take his lunch break when a short bearded man wearing a strange hat and sunglasses walked into the store. It was winter, so the cashier thought it was weird that anyone was wearing sunglasses.
The man walked toward the cashier. “Excuse me, which aisle is the oil in?” he asked.
The cashier pointed toward the cooking supplies. “Aisle twelve, left side.” he said.
The man made his way over to where the cashier directed him, but came back with nothing. “Where is the spaceship oil?” he asked.
The cashier stared blankly at the man, then replied, “I’m sorry, we don’t sell… um… spaceship oil here.”
The man then said in a frustrated tone, “What kind of store is this!?”
“A grocery store, a supermarket, whatever you want to call it,” said the cashier. “But no matter what you call it, we don’t sell anything with the word ‘spaceship’ in it. The closest we have to what you’re looking for is olive oil. Works good on pasta.”
“Why is this place called SpaceMart,” said the man angrily, “IF YOU DON’T SELL SPACESHIP PARTS?” Then, he took off his hat and glasses and pulled off his beard, revealing a green head with huge, empty black eyes. The alien had a small mouth and no nose, as well as some short frizzy hair on the top of its head. Its ears were small and round, and a long, thin neck extended from its chest.
The cashier gasped. “Wha…”
The alien took a deep breath. “Listen, sorry about my temper, but my spaceship crashed out back and I need some oil to get it started back up again,” it said.
“Am I hallucinating,” said the cashier, “or is there an alien in here asking for oil for his U.F.O.?”
“You’re just hallucinating,” said a customer in another checkout aisle without even looking up from his phone.
“Well… we sure don’t sell spaceship oil,” the cashier said to the alien, “but there’s a DriveFree car shop across the street, and I bet they’ll have something that’ll work.”
“Okay, I’ll try there,” said the alien, as he walked out of the store and across the street.
The cashier sighed. “Gonna be a long day…”
Quin Kondis is 12 years old. He enjoys rock climbing, ice skating, and exploring the woods. He also likes to play music on his keyboard and guitar. If he saw an alien in a grocery store, he would probably take off running.
April 7, 2019 SmokeLong on the Road
SmokeLong On The Road is coming to Norwich, England, where we will be running a half-day flash fiction workshop on Saturday May 4th at the beautiful 15th-century home of the UK National Centre for Writing.
Co-EIC of SmokeLong Quarterly, Christopher Allen, will lead the workshop, which will explore how to write compelling flash fiction, and what to avoid. Christopher is the current judge of the £1,000-prize Bath Flash Fiction Award, and will be assisted on the day by submissions editor Helen Rye, who won the Bath Flash Fiction Award in 2017. This workshop will be suitable for anyone interested in learning to write flash fiction or in taking their work to the next level.
Cost: £40 for the half-day workshop, 1pm-4pm. Location: National Centre for Writing, Dragon Hall, 115-123 King Street, Norwich NR1 1QE. This venue is fully accessible.
To book, please send the ticket price via Paypal to email@example.com, stating your name and ‘Norwich Workshop’ in the payment details section. Please let us know if you have any special requirements. Any enquiries can also be sent to this address.
We can’t wait to work with you! It’s going to be so much fun.
Christopher Allen is the author of Other Household Toxins (Matter Press) and Conversations with S. Teri O’Type (a Satire). Allen’s fiction has appeared, or is forthcoming, in [PANK], Indiana Review, Split Lip Magazine, Longleaf Review and Lunch Ticket, among many other great places. Allen is a multiple nominee for the Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, The Best Small Fictions, storySouth‘s Million Writers Award and others. He is presently the co-editor of SmokeLong Quarterly and was a consulting editor for The Best Small Fictions 2018.
Helen Rye lives in Norwich, UK. She has won the Bath Flash Fiction Award, the Reflex Fiction contest and third place in the 2018 Bristol Short story prize. Her stories have been nominated for The Best Small Fictions and the Pushcart Prize, and shortlisted for the Bridport Prize. She is a submissions editor for SmokeLong Quarterly and a prose editor for Lighthouse Literary Journal, and she helps out from time to time at Ellipsis Zine and TSS Publishing.
April 4, 2019 Fridge Flash
Editor’s Note: Fiona is 8 years old. Foxy is her best friend. She likes dinosaurs and Five Nights At Freddy’s (FNAF). She likes to draw and watch squishy-makeover videos.
Once-a-pon a time there was a lonely plush Foxy who only wanted to be loved by people. Every time he came near one they would run away after that he would go back to his home in a ally and sleep till the next day. Then he would get up and look for food he would go around town looking in windows but when the people saw him they scream and plush Foxy would run back to the ally all scared. Then he felt sleepy and he fell asleep. The next day it was raining but he pooked his head out and saw a plush getting wet Foxy said “want to come in here” the plush stood up and walked to the covered ally the plush sat down inside. Foxy said “my name is Foxy what is yours?” the plush said “Funtime Foxy” and they lived happily ever after.
March 26, 2019 Playlists
Looking for a soundtrack while you read the 19 new stories in Issue 63? Don’t worry. We’ve got you covered.
Read more about why our authors chose their songs:
Tucker Leighty-Phillps, “What Wasn’t Swallowed Was Exhaled” – “Prehistoric” by Now, Now
This is maybe my favorite album of this past decade, and it resonates really strongly with me in the colder months, being a part of my household in the winter like holiday decorations. As soon as the heat goes on, so does this album. My story kind of spawned from the atmosphere within this record, so I like to think they’re ornaments dangling from the same, sad tree.
James Braun, “The Strings Between Us” – “Young Blood” by Noah Kahan
Kahan’s music accomplishes much of what I try to do in my own writing––the subject matter may be sad, but the voice still makes you feel good.
L.W. Nicholson, “Viva Forever” – “Tadpole” by Tristen
This tune is a lot of fun, but the lyrics are very sad. The same can be said about the Spice Girls, but in a different kind of way.
MFC Feeley, “Helicopter Parent” – “Innocent Child” by Big Audio Dynamite
The main lyric sums up the narrator’s longing:
I wish I could have seen you
when you could run wild
I would have liked to know you
as an innocent child
She will never get to her baby as any kind of child. Hannah didn’t make it that far, and no amount of wishing on the narrator’s part can change that.
Sutton Strother, “Not Louise” – “Acrobat” by Angel Olsen
The first time I heard this song, I was instantly gutted by how purely it captures what infatuation feels like — that heady brew of sexual and romantic longing, all those mixed-up feelings of wanting a person and wanting to be like them and wanting to be something (or everything) to them all at once. I can’t think of a song that better expresses the awe and desire the narrator in “Not Louise” feels toward the object of her affection. Also that line “You are the witch / I am your cat” is really on-the-nose here.
Raven Leilani, “Airplane Mode” – “Airplane Mode” by Flamingosis
A song I feel really connects with my piece is Airplane Mode, by Flamingosis. It is a sleepy instrumental with a pretty loop, so there is a cool circular structure to the track, a limbo state I really wanted to get down on the page.
Fatima Jamal, “Comatose” – “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen
One of the unique characters of this song is that it’s non-cyclical. The story presents a debate between a non-cyclical and unchangeable reality (Aziz’s coma), and the unrealistic wish of the mother that things would go back to normal. Also, the “Bismillah” phrase of the song resonates with the story. Arabs say Bismillah not only when they start off something, but also in the time of shock as well.
Kevin Sterne, “From Your Jerry” – “Chicago” by Sufjan Stevens
The refrain throughout the song is “all things go” and the line in my story is “all must go” and that really centers at the heart of it all for me. In a verse of the song Sufjan sings, “I’ve made a lot of mistakes” and so has Jerry. Oh, he definitely has. Also, Jerry lives and Chicago and this story and all stories about him take place in Chicago.
Natalie Teal McAllister, “Emma Jane Watson in a Drawer” – “Myth” by Beach House
The cadence of it works with the story, but I also think the element of myth-building works as well. Julie has created a myth of this baby. She’s stuck between past and living.
Tom DeBeauchamp, “Space Junk” – “Come Back Baby” by Pinetop Perkins
Roscoe Gordon or Pinetop Perkins show up in the first paragraphs of “Space Junk.” They’re party tunes, blues and boogie woogie style music, songs often of men-done-wrong. Maybe on their own they don’t feel toxic, in context maybe they’re uncomfortable, expressing a masculinity like the narrator’s.
Kate Finegan, “Lion’s Tooth” – “ICE El Hielo” by La Santa Cecilia
This song was created for the #Not1More series opposing unfair deportations and speaks to the “political” (but more importantly, human) dispute simmering underneath this couple’s marriage. I admire the structure of this song, how La Santa Cecilia takes a political stand through the power of storytelling, by illuminating people’s individual and collective experiences. The political is personal, and the political is personal, which is something I was trying to explore in this story.
S.L. Bailey, “In November 2017” – “Love & Kisses” by Altered Images
This song’s lyrics contrast with the pop-y tone, which kind of mimics the contrasts within “In November 2017.”
Didi Wood, “Bone” – “Someday My Prince Will Come” by Sinead O’Connor
I grew up with the classic Disney princesses, patiently waiting (with their avian buddies) for love to find them. As an adult, it’s more fun to explore the other side of “happily ever after.”
March 4, 2019 SmokeLong on the Road
SmokeLong Quarterly presents a flash reading at Ex Novo Brewery 7:00 – 9:00 p.m. March 28. We are thrilled to host Nancy Au, Michael Don, Sherrie Flick, and Kathy Fish. Seating is very limited for this event, so please come early. We are asking that attendees choose one reading so that as many people as possible can attend one of the readings. Facebook Event Page.
Nancy Au‘s stories appear in Redivider, Gulf Coast, Michigan Quarterly Review, Catapult, Lunch Ticket, The Pinch, SmokeLong Quarterly, among others. She teaches poetry to biology majors at CSU Stanislaus, and co-founded The Escapery. Her full-length collection, Spider Love Song & Other Stories, is forthcoming from Acre Books in fall 2019.
Michael Don is the author of the story collection Partners and Strangers and he co-edits Kikwetu: A Journal of East African Literature.His work has appeared in journals such as Washington Square Review, SmokeLong Quarterly, Fiction International, Southern Humanities Review, and Vol. 1 Brooklyn. He has taught at Penn State University, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and St. Paul’s University in Kenya. He grew up in St. Louis, Missouri.
Sherrie Flick is author of the novel Reconsidering Happiness and two short story collections Whiskey, Etc. and Thank Your Lucky Stars, both published by Autumn House Press. Her work has appeared in Flash Fiction Forward, New Sudden Fiction, and New Micro. She served as series editor for The Best Small Fictions 2018. Photo credit Richard Kelly
Kathy Fish has published five collections of short fiction, most recently, Wild Life: Collected Works from Matter Press. Her stories have been featured in The Best Small Fictions, the W.W. Norton anthology, New Micro, and Best American Nonrequired Reading. She teaches for the Mile High MFA program at Regis University in Denver.
Ex Novo Brewery 7:00-9:00 p.m. March 28
Facebook Event Page
2326 North Flint Ave
Portland, OR 97227
February 25, 2019 SmokeLong on the Road
SmokeLong Quarterly presents a flash reading at Ex Novo Brewery in Portland on Thursday March 28 — 4:45-6:45 p.m. With Dennis Norris II, Tyrese L. Coleman, Megan Pillow Davis, and Gwen E. Kirby — and maybe a few surprises. We are thrilled to host these amazing writers, whom we are so proud to call SmokeLong family. Please come as early as you can to make sure you get a seat. Facebook event page (seating limited — first come, first served).
Dennis Norris II is the author of the chapbook Awst Collection—Dennis Norris II, named a best book of 2018 by Powell’s. A recipient of fellowships from The MacDowell Colony, Tin House, VCCA, and Kimbilio Fiction, their short stories have twice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and named a finalist for the Best Small Fictions anthology. They currently serve as Assistant Fiction Editor at The Rumpus and co-host of the critically acclaimed podcast Food 4 Thot. Based in Brooklyn, they are hard at work on their debut novel.
Tyrese L. Coleman is the author of the collection, How to Sit, a 2019 Pen Open Book Award finalist published with Mason Jar Press in 2018. Writer, wife, mother, attorney, and writing instructor, she is an editor at SmokeLong Quarterly, an online journal dedicated to flash fiction. Her essays and stories have appeared in several publications, including Black Warrior Review, Buzzfeed, Literary Hub, The Rumpus, and the Kenyon Review. She is an alumni of the Writing Program at Johns Hopkins University and a Kimbilio Fiction Fellow. Find her on twitter @tylachelleco.
Megan Pillow Davis is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and a doctoral candidate in the University of Kentucky’s English Department. Her work has appeared recently in Electric Literature, SmokeLong Quarterly, and Mutha Magazine and is forthcoming elsewhere. You can find her on Twitter at @megpillow.
Gwen E. Kirby’s stories appear or are forthcoming in One Story, Tin House, Blackbird, Guernica, Ninth Letter, and elsewhere. She has an MFA from Johns Hopkins University and a PhD from the University of Cincinnati. Currently, she is the George Bennett Fellow at Phillips Exeter Academy.
Ex Novo Brewery 4:45-6:45 p.m. March 28
Facebook Event Page
2326 North Flint Ave
Portland, OR 97227
February 18, 2019 Interviews
by Josh Denslow
Over the last 10 years Kathy Fish has done more than probably anyone to influence the direction of flash fiction. She’s a popular and sought-after workshop leader, a flash retreat organizer, and a champion of flash writers. In this interview Josh Denslow from SmokeLong talks to Kathy about her new collection, Wild Life (Matter Press). You can see Kathy read from the collection at the second SmokeLong reading on Thursday March 28 in Portland. And you can also see Josh read from his debut collection, Not Everyone is Special, at the same reading.
With Wild Life being your collected works from 2003-2018, it made me think of that ten-year challenge that went around social media of people posting a picture from ten years ago and one from today. Let’s do the writer version of that! How do you think you have changed as a writer from the Kathy Fish who wrote stories in 2003 to the Kathy Fish in 2018?
Oh what a great question! What I liked about that challenge was that most people thought they looked rather better ten years on. More themselves. It’s a bit like how I feel about my writing, then and now. As if the earlier writing was me trying to find my way in to my own voice and style and aesthetic. That’s also why so many of the very early pieces didn’t make the cut for this edition of Wild Life. You know how you keep writing basically the same stories over and over again? That’s been me, sifting through the same material. I do think the more recent writing is sharper, more focused, truer to myself. But a few early stories still make me proud.
I hadn’t thought of it, but you’re right, most people did think they look better now. Imagine how proud we’ll all be of ourselves in ten more years! Is there something you’d like to explore in your writing that maybe you haven’t done yet? Something to move you toward that next ten-year milestone?
I think what you lose in skin elasticity you gain in–I don’t know–confidence? Wisdom? Self-possession maybe. I want to try everything as a writer. I’d like to write more plays (I wrote and published one, “Stop Dragging” in Hobart last year). I’d like to write prose poetry. And I’m always, always jotting down ideas for science fiction stories or a novel. My one and only science fiction piece was “A Thousand Perfect Strangers” published in SmokeLong! But I’d really like to try my hand at more. I just never go beyond the notes stage. I see a string of rejections for me in all of these pursuits, but that’s okay. I’d still like to try.
You have a rhythm in your language that can only be called poetic. You have some more straightforward fiction pieces, but others like “Faulty Keys and Latches” and “Petunias” and “Watermelons” are so visual and so reliant on your unmistakable voice. They feel like poems to me because they land in the places that poems land when I read them. Deeper. Past the parts of me where I parse reason. When you start a story, how much do you think about things like tone and plot and structure?
I feel like I have two writers in me. The straightforward, traditional writer and the more experimental and poetic writer. Yes, I think a lot of my pieces are prose poems. And “Collective Nouns” was declared a poem (and I, a poet) over and over again, so I guess I’ll own that part of me. But it’s a struggle, then, when pulling together a collection. How to make those two parts work together as a piece of art that feels organic and cohesive?
In answer to your question, I think about tone and structure a fair bit and plot, almost never. Very often, I start with a “sound” in my head. And sorry, every time I try to articulate this, I come across as kind of daft. But it’s true. You mentioned “Faulty Keys and Latches.” That began in my head when I heard Warren Zevon’s “Lawyers, Guns, and Money” on the radio. So that rhythm stuck with me. I liked how it felt in my ear. So I just plugged in some words for a title and went from there. I almost always start with sound. Gah. I’m such a weirdo.
I absolutely love this idea of a sound in your head. It actually makes so much sense to me. And here might be a good time to talk about teaching. You are an incredibly sought-after flash fiction teacher. How do you relay that “find a sound” element for each individual writer and all their unique writing styles?
You are absolutely correct that there are so many different writing styles and writers all have their own process (like I do with keying into sound and rhythm first). And that’s challenging from a teaching aspect, no question. What I say during my course, over and over, is the following: 1. Don’t overthink it. 2. Allow whatever comes. and 3. There’s no wrong way to do this. In other words, my exercises and prompts are very open-ended and non-prescriptive. I’m mostly interested in giving writers a variety of ways into their own material. What they do with it is entirely up to them!
Also, I’m a huge believer in subconscious processes in creativity. I’m always seeking out ways in which I can help writers tap into that. I think pre-writing, the sort of “dreaming on the page” that Robert Olen Butler talks about, is invaluable. So for instance, instead of just handing writers a list of words and telling them to insert them into a story, I have them do a mind-mapping exercise aimed at discovering their own word bank. Using words drawn from the subconscious leads to deep, startling work that surprises the writers themselves.
I suddenly very much want to tap into my word bank, though I’m worried it might just be disappointingly filled with the word just. But what you’re doing sounds incredible and I can see why so many writers are starting stories in your classes and then going on to publish them. Do you offer any advice to them on submitting stories as part of the class?
Ha, some days my own word bank would just be “just”s, Josh! And yes, it is a very effective exercise.
When writers get to the end of the 10-day spring of Fast Flash, they have a lot of fresh material, and my biggest advice to them is to give that new work time to cool. In rare cases, the first draft is that golden gift from heaven that needs no further editing or revision, but most new stories benefit from a little time to sit. It’s amazing how much we see that needs changing that we didn’t see before! So yes, set the drafts aside for a whole two weeks if you can. Actually, my second draft advice is not to edit or cut per se, but to find a way deeper into the material. Once you have a more fully realized piece, by all means go in with red pen in hand, ready to hone and sculpt.
Let’s shift gears and talk about one of my favorite subjects in writing: Humor. You write some truly powerful stories, but you’re also slyly funny as well. I especially like how you set expectations in story titles and then spin us around. In particular stories like “Everything’s Shitty at Price King” and “I Have Not Pushed Back My Cuticles With An Orange Stick Since The Nixon Administration” can knock the wind out of you partly because you aren’t expecting it. How much of a role does humor play in your process? And just because I’m in awe, how do you consistently go against all expectations in your stories?
I love that you say I’m “slyly funny.” I feel like I have an odd sense of humor. More weird than outright hilarious. But thanks. And humor adds so much humanity to stories and characters. It makes the sad parts sadder. I think one’s title is a great way to subvert the reader’s expectations. It’s a means of establishing voice or tone from the get-go. And then when the shift happens, the underlying grief or sadness is revealed, it’s all the more effective.
I never consciously insert humor into my stories. It seems to bubble up organically. Oh, you asked how I consistently go against expectations and I think that happens because I never know myself where a story is going. So I’m going against my own expectations a lot of the time.
I’m always happy to hear that other writers don’t know where their stories are going as they write. I’m in the same boat. I never plan anything! So I think a good place to end would be this: How do you know when a story has gotten to where it’s going?
Right? I like the idea of knowing the ending ahead of time and writing to it. I’ve just never been able to work that way.
To your question, it’s that moment when the story reveals to me the reason for its telling.
Wild Life is available from Matter Press.
Kathy Fish has published five collections of short fiction, most recently, Wild Life: Collected Works from Matter Press. Her stories have been featured in The Best Small Fictions, the W.W. Norton anthology, New Micro, and Best American Nonrequired Reading. She teaches for the Mile High MFA program at Regis University in Denver.
Josh Denslow’s debut collection Not Everyone Is Special (7.13 Books) actually exists! His recent stories have appeared in Catapult, Pithead Chapel, wigleaf, Okay Donkey, and a bunch of other awesome places. In addition to wearing matching sweaters with his three boys, he plays the drums in the band Borrisokane and edits at SmokeLong Quarterly.
February 11, 2019 SmokeLong on the Road
In 2019 we’re going on the road to meet as many SmokeLong contributors and editors as possible. This time, I’ve met up with Helen Rye, one of our submissions editors, in Munich to have a serious discussion about her experience reading the SmokeLong queue. Since joining the journal in July 2018, Helen has read and commented on over 750 stories. Helen is one of nine SmokeLong submissions editors, who read the passes from guest readers. We are grateful for the time and energy they put into reading the work submitted to the journal.
And now for that serious discussion:
Our next stop is AWP in Portland on March 28 where we will be presenting SmokeLong contributors and editors Dennis Norris II, Megan Pillow Davis, Tyrese L. Coleman, Gwen E. Kirby (first reading) and Josh Denslow, Nancy Au, Sherrie Flick, and Kathy Fish (second reading). Seating for these two events is limited, so please arrive early.
February 4, 2019 Reviews
by Emily Webber
In The Paper Life They Lead, Patrick Crerand takes risks in his storytelling, and the result is an inventive collection. In this slim book of just over 50 pages, Crerand’s mixture of flash fiction and slightly longer stories drops the reader into bizarre and unexpected places. Fantastical events occur even when the world looks much like the one we live in. The interesting and weird premises are stated upfront allowing the reader to focus on the characters—their relationships and how they react to the situations they are in.
In “PIT-DAY” the passengers on a commercial airplane deal with a pilot who is suddenly flying them into outer space. In another story, an auction is held at an abandoned zoo with greedy investors. A mother pays the ultimate price while the others look on unconcerned, calling to mind how easy it can be to dismiss another person’s suffering:
The man in khaki lowered his rifle and led the crowd back to the front entrance of the zoo, leaving the mother alone on the brick ledge. In the parking lot, they waited for the valets to bring their vehicles. The women winced from each of the boy’s screams while the men made small talk to cover the noise. Better to put it right out of your mind, they told their wives.
Crerand asks the reader to think beyond what is on the page and relies on his readers to attach their own meaning to these stories. The flash fiction pieces, such as “42 & Lexington” and “The Ear,” seem to ask too much of the reader and do not push past the fantastical premise as well as the other stories in this collection. Crerand’s most successful stories have the bizarre backed by a very real, emotional world. The reader encounters characters who have the same fears and desires that link us as human beings. This emotional component is how Crerand can pull off these wacky scenarios without becoming gimmicky.
“Semi-Love” is the story most grounded in the real world. It tells of two truck drivers as they grapple with the future of their relationship. In one scene, one of them describes the cows she drives to slaughter, and this image comes back to resonate beautifully at the end:
You can tell if it’s going to rain because they’ll be out under a tree like a clump of mushrooms hours before a cloud is in the sky. But they know. When I walk over to the fence, they stand up and those sharp shoulder bones stretch their skin like wet paper. They walk out to see how I am. They’re so stupid. They should run away and hide. ‘I’m the one who drives you to the butcher,’ I say, but they’re drawn to movement and don’t know better. They eat anything if it’s in the grass. Nails, barbed wire, tires. They make the cows swallow a magnet when they’re young to collect all the metal they eat in their first stomach, before it gets to the rest of their insides.
In “The Glory of Keys,” originally published in McSweeney’s, a Pontiac Sunbird takes the place of its owner in high school. While it is hard to truly care for a car as a protagonist, using this technique made the story’s message more apparent. The car rises to the top as a football star and valedictorian and then faces a less glamorous reality post-high school. The reader becomes acutely aware of the way we sometimes randomly raise a person up to hero status and place our hopes on them.
“The Paper Life They Lead” is another of Crerand’s most compelling stories. The life of a father, mother, and their son living on the picture of the Pepperidge Farm packaging is detailed. The bleak setting is revealed in the opening lines:
Morning on the Pepperidge Farm box is not all chocolate and cheese. The three of them—the farmer, his wife, and the boy—dot the whiteness like breadcrumbs on an apron. It is always cold and it is always morning.
The son pushes against the boundaries of his world and dreams of something beyond the repetition of his daily life while his father constantly reminds him:
“This here’s a paper life. Nothing but you, me and your mother. The sooner you see it, the better.”
Throughout this collection, there is an overarching theme of desire, and many of these characters are searching for something while they try to understand their world better. When getting down to the bare bones of these stories, there’s a lot to unpack, and readers will take away different insights.
The Paper Life They Lead is the debut book from Arc Pair Press—a new publisher of “mini-books” of short fiction and nonfiction. Since the release of Crerand’s collection Arc Pair Press has published another collection of short stories and a prose poetry collection, with an essay collection forthcoming in 2019. It’s no trivial undertaking to form a small press, and I’m grateful that Heather Momyer, Arc Pair’s founder, took the plunge and that there exists another outlet for writers to get their work out. This refreshing new press is definitely one to support and keep an eye out for future releases.
Emily Webber was born and raised in South Florida where she lives with her husband and son. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in The Writer magazine, Five Points, Maudlin House, Brevity, Saw Palm, and Slip Lip Magazine. She’s the author of a chapbook of flash fiction, Macerated, from Paper Nautilus Press.
January 30, 2019 News Digests
Congratulations to our nominees!
“We All Know About Margo” by Megan Pillow Davis
“History” by Maia Jenkins
“Itinerary” by Laurinda Lind
“Boy” by Tochukwu Emmanuel Okafor
“Whale Fall” by Alvin Park
You may notice that “Whale Fall” by Alvin Park has appeared several times in our nominations. This story won The SmokeLong Quarterly Award for Flash Fiction (The Smokey) in May 2018. In addition to winning a large sum of money, the recipient of this award is also nominated for every award we can find. Our next competition is in 2020. Start working on that award-winning story now. You all know how long it takes to write flash. And while we have you, we begin taking applications for the 2020 SmokeLong Flash Fellowship for Emerging Writers this summer (2019). New: We’ve opened this fellowship up to writers previously published by SmokeLong Quarterly. We can’t wait to read your applications.
— Christopher, Tara, and SLQ team
January 28, 2019 SmokeLong on the Road
What a pleasure it was to meet Shasta Grant, our coordinating editor, in person at the BooksActually reading in Singapore. Shasta manages the guest readers for SmokeLong, conducting interviews and communicating with them during their week of reading for the journal. This is a lot of work. We’re so grateful for the energy and time Shasta puts into this job.
We also met up with two SmokeLong contributors, Elaine Chiew and Sharmini Aphrodite, whose readings you can view below.
In 2019, we’re going around the world to meet as many SmokeLong contributors and editors as possible. We’ll be at AWP in Portland, where we’ve planned two readings on Thursday evening (more information coming) and at the UK Flash Fiction Festival in Bristol at the end of June. We’re also in the beginning stages of planning another reading in April, but you’ll have to wait to find out where that will be.
The first video below is our introductions. The individual readings are provided in separate videos. We hope you enjoy it.
January 21, 2019 Flash in the Classroom
The following essay by Jolene McIlwain is part of SmokeLong Quarterly’s series on Flash in the Classroom, in which we invite instructors to share how they use flash fiction. If you’re an instructor who teaches flash, we’d love to hear about your experience. Submit your essay HERE.
by Jolene McIlwain
I love literary analysis and literary theory. I love writing and reading short shorts: micros, flash, sudden fiction. So, deconstructing short forms in the classroom has been an amazingly satisfying treat in my work at two Pittsburgh-based universities: Chatham and Duquesne. I’ve had the luxury of choosing the texts—unconstrained by required anthologies, length, genre, or author—and exposing students to recently published pieces by lesser known authors in lesser known journals as well as the well-known, well-worn anthologized pieces like Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour” and Carolyn Forché’s “The Colonel.”
Flash can hit you emotionally, but it can hit you in more objectively quantifiable ways, too, when you take the time to deconstruct it. Here are six approaches I use when utilizing flash to teach students how to deconstruct and analyze texts:
1. Close readings/Multiple readings. Understanding literary analysis and theory requires an investment from the students to enter the text multiple times, each time thoroughly searching for new details, inconsistencies, and possible meanings/readings, layering their analyses with more information. Flash is so short so one can analyze every single sentence, phrase, word without becoming too overwhelmed. Also, because flash comes in around the 1,000 word count or less, it’s uniquely set up to propel the reader to the end, leaving them asking for more, as in Annie Proulx’s “55 Miles to the Gas Pump,” a micro from CLOSE RANGE about a serial killer found out after his wife’s snooping in the attic, which ends with the line: “When you live a long way out, you make your own fun.” I’m not suggesting a twist or shocking ending is required, though some flash offers that. Sometimes readers are left saying, “Wait! what?” They are compelled to go back to the beginning and reread the story, like hearing that nice click of a door closing and wanting to open it again, to revisit. Either of these scenarios is a literary analysis or theory teacher’s dream. You don’t have to tell the student to reread it—you know they will. A favorite I teach for both Marxist and popular culture theories is Ian Frazier’s “Tomorrow’s Bird,” (originally published in Harpers, reprinted as “Count on Crows” at UTNE). The ending reads like a marketing slogan. A close re-read will expose all the sales language missed.
2. Gaps. Lovely gaps. Word count requirements force the author to leave much out. Literary analysis thrives in the gaps, in the ambiguity. It’s where the reader climbs into the text to figure out what it means, which emotions it taps into; they gain a sense of mastery by puzzling it out. Gaps can lead to outside research where the reader is driven to look up obscure phrasing or perhaps other works by the author in their search of connections, recurring themes.
One of the most appealing aspects of flash is that there is no room for large swaths of explanation, back-story, history. The author must cut extraneous details—and the elements they keep gain greater importance. In “The Colonel” a piece set in 1978 El Salvador, the unnamed daughter files her nails. Why does Forché include that detail? What’s left out is equally—if not more—important in literary analysis. In flash, setting can be hinted at more than explained (in “The Colonel” there’s a maid, a commercial in Spanish). Authors can bring characters to life with minimal description—sometimes, strategically, without names as in “The Colonel.” Also check out David Foster Wallace’s “Incarnations of Burned Children” and ask yourself why he chooses not to name the parents, the baby.
3. Voice, tone, POV. These come into play especially with psychoanalytic theory. Choosing POV, creating tone, establishing voice through word choice, word count, etc., all greatly affect the reader’s experience. With psychoanalytic theory, again, we look at what is repressed/left out as much as we look at what’s there. In one class period, we can reimagine and rewrite the whole story in another POV to see how this affects the message. What if Aimee Bender’s “The Rememberer” were told in all of the husband’s devolving voices? How might he see the human condition differently? Why does Leelila Strogov use the second person POV in her story “Paper Slippers” (why NOT first or third?) and what does the imagining part of the story reveal? (Psychoanalytic theory is big on imaginings and dreams.) Rewriting and reimagining is yet another way to enter the story.
4. Experimental/Hybrid forms. What is a story anyway and how can a list or a lecture or “fake” function as a story? Jamaica Kincaid’s “Girl,” Kathy Fish’s “Collective Nouns for Humans in the Wild” and “Lifecolor Indoor Latex Paints® – Whites and Reds” by Kristen Ploetz show that form is an essential part of the “telling.” The anthology, FAKES, includes stories written as multiple choice tests, police blotters, letters, etc., which can ignite great discussions on how form functions and how form can shape how we interpret stories. One such favorite is Michael Martone’s “Contributors Notes.”
5. Titles. Creativity in flash titles never ceases to amaze me. Take another look at the pieces I’ve mentioned thus far. Analyze how these titles enhance the stories, how these titles function in the stories. In Jim Heynen’s “What Happened During the Ice Storm,” the title asks, the story answers… But we can also count the number of times Heynen repeats some form of the word “ice” from the title (10) and consider how these words counter the warmth in the end.
For another example of a memorable title and a story in list form, take a look at Gwen Kirby’s piece “Shit Cassandra Saw That She Didn’t Tell the Trojans…” up at SmokeLong, a piece I plan to teach in the near future within my feminist, psychoanalytic, and pop culture theory units.
6. Repetition. I love to see the boldness of flash authors who use/exploit repetition even when held to a word count. We can count the number of times Peter Markus repeats a handful of words in “The Moon is a Star” or “Good, Brother,” and many of his works. The repetition creates tone, voice, character, atmosphere that help to focus us. Repetition alone does all the work!
With literary analysis and theory, we must look at the piece as objectively as possible, citing quantifiable numbers: How many times does the author repeat this word, motif, or consonant for effect/message? How many sentences are there? What is their length? Long? Short? In “Incarnations of Burned Children,” DFW writes just over 1,000 words in one eight-sentence paragraph. Why? Authorial choices such as this lead the reader to make assumptions on what we think the author wants us to notice.
If you write but don’t teach flash, consider, while revising, how a reader might climb into your piece and nose around. Write lines that welcome analysis, endings that compel the reader to re-read. Cut, cut and leave some work for your readers. They might love you for it! Play with titles, repetition. Try out fakes if you haven’t. Explore changing POVs. If you want to learn more about “reader-response” theory, see the work of Wolfgang Iser. For other theories, check out the text I’ve used for years, Lois Tyson’s Critical Theory Today. We literary theory and analysis teachers can’t wait to teach your work!
Jolene McIlwain’s work appears online at The Cincinnati Review, New Orleans Review, Atticus Review, Litro UK, Prairie Schooner, Prime Number, Fourth River, and elsewhere and has been selected finalist for the 2018 Best Small Fictions anthology, Glimmer Train’s Very Short Fiction contests, and the Arts & Letters Unclassifiables Contest, as well as semi-finalist for Nimrod’s Katherine Anne Porter Prize and American Short Fiction’s Short and Short(er) fiction contests. She’s an associate flash fiction editor at jmww Journal, and while taking a short break from teaching, she’s currently working on a short fiction collection and novel set in the hills of the Appalachian plateau in Western Pennsylvania.
January 14, 2019 SmokeLong on the Road
In 2019 we’re going on the road to visit as many of our contributors and editors as possible, to say thank you and to get to know these passionate, talented people better. Our first stop is Dubai where we had lunch with Hananah Zaheer, who does interviews for SmokeLong. After lunch, I talked to Hananah about her life in Dubai and the short story collection she’s working on.
Our next stop is in the exciting city of Singapore, where we meet up with our co-ordinating editor, Shasta Grant, and contributors Elaine Chiew and Sharmini Aphrodite.
January 11, 2019 Playlists
Listen to the Issue 62 playlist on Spotify! We decided to wait until after the holidays to bring this to you. Enjoy!
Brendan Stephans, “Rascal” – “For Wanda” by Silver Mt. Zion
This is one of the few memorial songs about a dog that I know about. It also seems fitting since it is a single melody that builds and swells around it, which is kind of like my one-sentence story.
Shelli Cornelison,”Trespassers” – “Almost Lover” by A Fine Frenzy
I chose this song because the narrator in “Trespassers” is unable to fully let go of two early relationships, or more accurately, her romanticized fixation on them, to the point those memories have a negative impact on her ability to form lasting relationships so many years later. She’s cherry-picked ideals from those almosts of her youth and uses them as comparison measures in her adulthood.
Ashley Kalagian Blunt, “The Unicorn” – “Who Do You Think You Are” by Spice Girls
Of course The Unicorn’s song is “Who Do You Think You Are” from the Spice Girls. The main character isn’t just channeling their fashion sense, she’s definitely got her favourite ladies on her ears buds. There’s no better mantra than trust it, use it, prove it, groove it.
Ashton Carlile, “Earlove” – “Geyser” by Mitski
In my story, the narrator goes to see a movie where there’s yelling involved to feel the vibration/release of it without having to actually scream herself. Sometimes you need someone to do the screaming for you. I listen to Mitski, particularly this song, when I feel like screaming but I’m too tired. Her voice makes everything bubble up to the surface. She just…makes me sob!
Judy Darley, “Milk and Other Lies” – “Man of A Thousand Faces” by Regina Spektor
I love Regina Spektor’s vivid, quirky imagery – she’s an amazing storyteller through her songs.
Ashan Butt, “Moon” – “The Big Sky” by Kate Bush
The song’s perpetual lift, Kate’s lyrics and her deeply touched vocals all express what I hope awaits Raheem. I wish him to be ecstatic, at peace with his isolation, wide-eyed and blissfully watching the big sky. And then the song’s video (*please* watch the video — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sV7w5TaYjRA) is an uncanny stage of state propaganda. Whether Lajiristan’s or ours, it’s just… remarkably accurate.
Taryn Tilton, “Garden Snake” – “One More” by Yaeji
There’s an insufficient apology in my story, as there is in this quietly devastating song.
Ellen Rhudy, “Glory Days” – “Big Change” by Swearin’
This song captures so well the feeling of being young, discovering who you are, escaping something (or someone). I imagine my narrator will get along with this song if she manages to get out of her town.
Trevor Fuller, “A Short History of Those Who Came Before Us” – “The Power of Love (You Are My Lady)” by Air Supply
I’ve been somewhat taken with this song since I heard it at the end of Adam Wingard’s Death Note adaptation. It was a song I already knew and didn’t really care about, but I thought it was a weirdly appropriate choice there and imbued the song with new significance, and now it seems like an appropriate choice for this considering the content of my story, which has the beginnings and endings of several different relationships and is maybe a little sensational, like the song.
Brooke Fossey, “The Great Abide” – “Wake Up” by Arcade Fire. “Wake Up” is a perfect fit for “The Great Abide” because it’s a retrospective look from someone who’s escaped the likes of Ginger and Cassidy’s dad. If you play it after the read, it adds a whole different dimension to the story.
Christopher Drew, “Alligator” – “Losing My Religion” by R.E.M.
Maddy Raskulinecz, “What I Have Coming to Me” – “Godmother” by Holly Herndon and Jlin, featuring Spawn
Stressful and catchy. The frantic breathy noises and vocalizations remind me of my story, and there’s an exciting mother/daughter dynamic between the human artists and the computer they trained to generate the song by imitating them.
Laurinda Lind, “Itinerary” – “I’ll Fly Away” by Gillian Welch and Alison Krauss
Uses the flight metaphor, also contained in the flash piece, and the suggestion that things on the earth here aren’t terrific, and it might be so nice to get away elsewhere.
Kaitlyn Rice-Andrews, “Second Base” – “The Best of What’s Around” by Dave Matthews Band
This is a totally sincere pick, I promise. As an adult I’ve become nostalgic for the past and curious (and anxious) about the future. I’m equally fascinated and repulsed by technology, and I think the teens in “Second Base” feel this same tug-of-war, torn between wanting to be adults and wanting to be kids. It’s like when you were a kid and you thought braces were cool. Until you had braces. Not cool. “The Best of What’s Around” is one of DMB’s earliest songs, one that most exemplifies my high school years, one that I have I listened to so many times and sung at concerts so many times. Pretty sure I’m supposed to feel ashamed about this, embarrassed about my love of something that eventually became uncool, but I think that’s why I love it so. If being an adult means I have to give up this song, I don’t think I want to be an adult.
Vivien Cao, “There Weren’t Even Any Bubbles” – “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles” by Doris Day
I grew up with classic American movies and songs like this one, mindlessly blaring in the background and seeping into my subconscious. Aside from a thematic connection to my story, I hadn’t realized how sad this song actually is since I had thought of it as a whimsical song from my childhood.
Elearnor Pearson, “The Riddle” – “Toussaint Grey, First in Life and Death” by Jeremy Messersmith
It captures the same feeling of regret and nostalgia that I was aiming for with my piece.
Kathryn Kulpa, “So Silent, So Still” – “Wonderful” by Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks
I chose it because I love the old-fashioned, fairy-tale mood it evokes, with the little girl wandering off into the woods. It’s also a song that retains a sense of mystery. No matter how many times I listen to it, I’m still not sure exactly what’s happening here, but that’s okay. I like that not every question is answered.
January 7, 2019 Reviews
by Kelly Lynn Thomas
In Maria Romasco Moore’s debut collection of flash fiction, Ghostographs: An Album (Rose Metal Press, 2018), vintage photos serve as the jumping off point for stories that subvert and redefine our conceptions of light, time, and life—what they are, what they do, and what they mean for us and our experiences.
Ghostographs follows an artificial constraint—each story is inspired by a photograph that appears alongside the text—but it does not feel restricted or stunted. Rather, Moore’s prose enlivens and complicates each photograph, often taking the visual reality presented in an unexpected direction. Although not without flaws, Moore’s stories are delightfully unnerving without being creepy or feeling gimmicky.
For example, the photo that accompanies the story “Tess” is an over-exposed image of a young girl who looks like she is glowing, and indeed, the story is about a girl who glows so brightly it hurts to look at her. In “Lewis,” a group photograph of women standing in a field of tall grass inspires a story that transforms the women into beings that grew from the ground like any other plant. A photo of a woman holding a child atop a mailbox becomes a story about a defective mail-order baby in “Hannah.”
While the vintage photographs range in subject matter, most contain people, and many contain spots of unnatural brightness or areas of overexposure, revealing Moore’s likely inspiration for her exploration of light. She reveals in the author’s note that most of the photographs came from yard sales or flea markets.
It’s unlikely the images share anything aside from their age, but the author stitches them together into a cohesive whole by using the same narrator throughout. Presumably a child, the narrator acts as an observer of the strange town in which they live, but also as a repository for accumulated wisdom about the town’s more fantastical elements.
The narrator, who is never named, explains what her grandfather taught her about light in “Different Kinds of Light,” which is paired with a picture of a cat sunbathing. “You’ve got to be careful with light, he told me. Some of it is shadow in disguise. Some of it isn’t light at all, merely the absence of darkness. Some of it can burn you. Some of it is colder than ice. Ice casts a light, as does stone. Some light is dangerous. Some light is safe.”
Photographs, are, of course, light that is captured and held in stasis, forced into one never-changing form. And light, as the narrator points out too often, is tricky. But so, too, are these stories.
Ghostographs opens with a single line of text positioned beneath a cut-off photo: “Every story is a ghost story.” The photo, bifurcated by the book’s binding, takes up only a quarter of the two-page spread. It shows a sepia-toned image of a group of men dressed in white, faded and ghostly. The taller men’s heads are cut off by the physical ending of the page.
Two pages later, the narrator—or perhaps the author, it is unclear—explains further that “The truth of it is that every single instant, we are, all of us, obliterated and refreshed.” This means that we are all ghosts of our previous selves, and all stories are therefore ghost stories. “These are mine,” the narrator tells us, before we turn the page to the first story.
“The Woman Across the Way” feels more like a vignette than a true story, but it does serve the reader as an entrance point to this strange world of living light and shadow. The opening line, “Underneath her skin there were snakes,” shows us that while the narrator uses the word “ghost” more as a metaphor for constant change than death, she is doing so in a world where the impossible has become possible. The choice of snakes imparts a sense of danger that only grows in the second story, “The Bridge Over the Abyss.”
The photograph paired with this story is one of the darker ones in the book, almost completely consumed by shadow. A woman in a hat stands at the end of the bridge, her facial expression inscrutable. Unlike many of the stories in Ghostographs, which make characters directly from their photographs, this woman is not mentioned. She is a ghost in the sense that we see her there, but know nothing about her. For all we know, she could be the abyss.
Moore’s flash fiction stories are skillful compressions that use specific language to great effect, although “The Woman Across the Way” is far from the only one that feels more like a vignette than a complete story. Even so, the rhythm of Moore’s sentences and the precision of her descriptions carry the reader through. With the exception of the preface, each flash story takes up no more than a page, and many of them require only half a page.
The real talent, and what makes this a fun, playful exploration of image and text instead of a pretentious affectation with no real depth, is how Moore strings the collection together. Ghostographs reads like a more mysterious version of the classic novel-in-stories Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson. Throughout the collection, characters appear and disappear and reappear, always changed in some (often sinister) way.
“And like the flicker of a shutter, light remakes us every instant. Every bird. Every leaf. Every ripple on the surface of the river. You. Me,” the narrator observes in “Light,” the second-to-last story in the collection.
It’s this change and ultimate erasure of the town and its inhabitants that makes the collection work. Characters morph physically and emotionally, they die and are reborn, they are forgotten and swallowed by the abyss. Moore presents them as ghosts of the moment, and brings this point home as she shows us subsequent snapshots of their lives.
We are our own ghost selves, past, present, and future, these photographs and stories say. How will we be remembered?
Kelly Lynn Thomas reads, writes, and sometimes sews in Pittsburgh, PA. She lives with her partner, one dog, and a constant migraine. Her fiction has appeared in Permafrost, Sou’wester, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, and was nominated for a 2017 Pushcart. Kelly received her MFA in Creative Writing from Chatham University, is a coordinator for the VIDA Count, and can always be found with a large mug of tea.
January 2, 2019 Fridge Flash
Editor’s Note: Today’s fridge flash comes from 12-year-old Tim Morriss from the UK. Tim likes reading, writing, hiking, and staying up later than is advisable.
Hiking is a great thing to do, when you’re bored. When you haven’t got the new game everyone else has, you’ve read every book on your shelf, all your mates have gone to Spain or France or wherever it is people pretend to be when they don’t want to meet up with you…
Just buy some nice boots, pack a bag, bring your tent, and go away for a week’s walking. Over the hills and down the glens, the country is your limitless sandbox. Find a place to pitch your tent, cook hot-dog sausages over the fire… Bedtime is whenever you want! Visit the local castle ruins, or gaze down into a ravine… just don’t overbalance! Stop off in the idyllic village for a hearty meal at ye olde tea and bunne shoppe, and off you go again! There is no limit. You don’t have to avoid the puddles, either, when it’s just You and your Dad!
Up in the mountain, with all its pointy stones and peaty bogs, you can peer through the fog at the niceness of it all, with all the people with big rucksacks like yours, going to where you are, as you eat your sausage sandwiches.
And possibly best of all, as you trudge through the poo-scattered sheep fields and make that final, leg-burning slog up the road back to camp, wondering whether it was really worth it, you come back and decide that it definitely was, as you pull off your muddy boots and feel so much lighter, and you lay back later with a full belly and your legs just comfortably aching a little, satisfied in the knowledge that you just walked 12 miles.
December 23, 2018 Reviews
by AnnaLee Barclay
To a flash fiction newcomer, the task of writing such a short story may seem easy, as though length is an indicator of difficulty. In my experience, it is the opposite—having a small amount of space to tell a full story adds extra weight to every single word because there cannot be anything superfluous or unnecessary. Each detail must be working to tell the story as succinctly as possible, as well as move the plot forward. This is generally true of writing, though longer forms of narrative have a bit more wiggle room to pack a punch while the shorter forms barely have time to wind up a fist. The Bath Flash Fiction Award posed the challenge of writing flash pieces that together comprise a novella but could stand alone if read apart from one another. The three authors of this chapbook created remarkable works of fiction that carry heavy loads on the very short, but strong backs of flash writing. Taken together, this compilation invites the reader to share liminal spaces with grief-stricken and confused characters who are written with honesty and acute awareness of the human condition.
The winner of the award, Luke Whisnant, presents us with “In the Debris Field”, a fragmented look at a broken family as it is navigated by one of the three children, Dennis, who is almost exclusively referred to as “you” throughout the pieces. Utilizing second person as a consistent narrative can be hard to pull off because it risks alienating the reader if he or she does not identify with anything following the “you”. However, Whisnant’s distillation of emotions and memories into strong language and imagery draws the reader in immediately and arguably has an even stronger impact than had he written from a different point of view. The stories cover specific, disjointed memories, such as schoolchildren using various items to construct a witch to burn at the Halloween festival, a father and his two sons rummaging for loot in a debris field after a hurricane, and siblings discovering a haunted, gnarled tree root while wandering the woods. A father leaves a mother for a young woman. Later, the mother leaves for good, abandoning her children with the father and the new step-mother, who eventually leaves to go back to her first husband. A brother gets addicted to heroin and eventually dies of an overdose. A sister struggles with romantic relationships over and over. These small, quiet tragedies that mark everyday human life are navigated by Dennis, a sensitive boy whose nonlinear memories thread together seemingly random instances that come together as a whole portrait of the pains that quietly mark us throughout our lives, particularly adolescence.
The second story, “Latter Day Saints” by Jack Remiel Cottrell, jumps from saint-to-saint as a young man seems to be searching for something, anything he can learn from each one. It never becomes entirely clear what it is he’s after but through his interactions with the different saints, the reader comes to understand that he is grasping for answers to life’s questions through the various facets of the human experience. Even if you don’t know what each saint represents, Cottrell’s unique portrayal of each clearly conveys their various domains—but there is still a handy index at the end, which even works as its own powerful flash piece. We travel with the narrator from St. Oran, the (unofficial) patron saint of atheists, to St. Jude, not to be confused with Judas, with some others in between. We meet St. Francis, who lives alone in a cottage on a cliff above the ocean where people go to commit suicide, as he is the patron saint of solitary death. Cottrell pushes up against our celebrity obsession through St. Clare, the patron saint of television, who makes a striking statement: “No one on TV is a person.” Our narrator has a similar realization about these saints our society worships when he says to St. Oran, “No saint reminds me of myself. That’s what I like about them.” This highly unique novella asks us to dig into our own perceptions of the world and how it operates as we struggle with our own personal journeys.
Victoria Melekian closes the book with “A Slow Boat to Finland”, a grief-stricken novella about a mother, Kat, trying to navigate the horrendous sorrow that engulfs her after losing a toddler daughter, Molly. Melekian’s prose is strong and blunt, yet there is a dreamy lyricism to it that carries Kat through the sort of brain-fog that comes after trauma. We experience her unraveling as she develops a relationship with the young girl who received Molly’s heart in an organ transplant and the tension between the sacrifice and gift is palpable. Melekian takes advantage of the different pieces by introducing other perspectives, including Kat’s husband whose extremely human “mistake” is what led to Molly’s death, helps illuminate the insidious and subtle ways tragedy touches different people’s lives. Kat wonders, “How do you move on from a loved one you carry in the marrow of your bones?” The reader will be left wondering not so much how Kat will move on but how will she learn to carry her sorrow and live a full life again as a motherless child.
There is a constant sense of finding and then losing throughout these pieces, as though everyone is in a debris field of their own lives, searching for answers to unanswerable questions or people never to be seen again. The joy of reading flash fiction is being completely absorbed and emotionally impacted by a small window into characters’ lives. This chapbook is an incredible compilation of flash at its finest.
In the Debris Field (Bath Flash Fiction Award compilation)–by Luke Whisnant, Jack Remiel Cottrell, and Victoria Melekian–is available from Ad Hoc Fiction.
AnnaLee Barclay is a photographer and writer from Long Island. She was recently a member of The Lie Factory, a 12-week long fiction workshop taught by Lidia Yuknavitch and Chuck Palahniuk in Portland, OR. She is a reader for The Southampton Review and her work has appeared in Pretty Owl Poetry. You can find her on Instagram and Twitter @annaleebarclay.
December 19, 2018 InterviewsNews Digests
For the month of November, we asked our readers to nominate other flash-focused journals that they thought were doing great work. In exchange, we would pick one to award $318 to (our tip jar donations for the month of October).
We received more than 100 entries, and we are pleased to announce that Ellipsis Zine stood out from the crowd. An online literary magazine for flash fiction and flash creative nonfiction, Ellipsis publishes three new stories per week as well as print anthologies several times a year. The press also publishes flash fiction collections and novella-in-flash.
This was not an easy decision—as there are so many great journals publishing flash fiction and treating their writers well—but time and time again, Ellipsis’ readers showed a great dedication and passion for the publication and its founder and editor in chief Steve Campbell.
“Positive and constructive. Accepting of writers of all backgrounds. Incredibly supportive. A joy to work with. A pleasure to work with. Modest and down-to-earth,” wrote one person. Another says, “It takes a lot of time and love to produce something like this.” And yet another, “When I saw this opportunity, I couldn’t think of anyone more deserving.”
We got to chat with Steve Campbell recently about the publication and what he might do with the award money. Here it is, and also check out below the list of other wonderful journals that were nominated.
SLQ: Congratulations, Steve.
Wow. I’m beaming. Shocked, but very happy. It means a lot. I can’t quite get my head round it. It’s made my year. I’m so pleased that fellow writers get what I’m trying to do. I’m chuffed that people love the quality of the zines. That was important to me. I could have produced them much more cheaply, but I wanted the quality of the finish to reflect the quality of the writing. A big thank you for the vote of confidence. I promise I’ll keep on doing what I’m doing.
SLQ: Tell us about Ellipsis Zine. What motivated you to set it up?
I’d only been writing for about six months—just little bits here and there that I passed to friends and family to read—when I realised I needed to find more resources to broaden my reading, in the hope this would improve my writing. I began following other writers and online magazines en masse, reading as much published work as I could.
One of the writers I followed vented one day that they’d had a serious run of rejections (like we all do, from time to time)—and I thought, naively, that if I ran a magazine, I’d have published them.
It was that simple.
I have a background in web and graphic design, and so building the website and setting it up was actually the easy part. Getting people to engage, early on, was tough. I hid anonymously behind the masthead for the first few months, worried that my lack of publishing and writing experience would dissuade submitters and visitors; but almost immediately, I was inundated with great work. Once published, this work generated more and more interest and before I knew it, I was running a lit mag that people seemed to really, really like.
SLQ: The day-to-day running must be a lot of work, and you seem to fund it pretty much out of your own pocket. You have a full-time job and a young family. How do you do it?
Coffee and a patient wife. I spend a ridiculous amount of time with my nose buried in my phone tweeting, posting, liking, following and generally keeping Ellipsis in our followers’ timelines, and the published work out there. I’m surprised my wife hasn’t hidden my phone before now.
Did I mention coffee?
Initially, there was quite a bit of work, but I have a system in place now. Most of the submission reading is done while I commute (I have around three hours on a train each day). Selecting artwork and uploading work to the website can be done during lunchbreaks. Keeping on top of the workload is important. I have a great collection of writers who have joined the editorial board, and who’ve chipped in with blind reading, judging and been on hand to offer advice and guidance. This has helped me keep on top of things. I also schedule breaks throughout the year to give myself breathing space and time to concentrate on my own writing.
I do pay for the running costs myself, but I see it as an investment in my own writing. I feel I’ve developed so much more than I would have done without reading the diverse work I receive.
SLQ: How do you plan to use the FlashGiving award?
To attract authors from all backgrounds. We don’t charge submission fees, so this donation will go a long way towards covering our costs. I also plan to use some of the money to publish a second debut flash collection in 2019, and to hold a mini-giveaway of previous issues. We have plans for three zines and one collection, for which published authors receive complimentary copies and a share of the royalties.
SLQ: What’s next for Ellipsis Zine?
Long term, I’d love to expand the printed zine into a publication with a wider readership. I’m looking into ways to do this, but it’s a big step. It would potentially mean making funding applications to pay for larger initial print runs, and negotiating with stockists, etc. which is another whole mountain of work to take on. I’m not sure I’m quite ready for that just yet.
SmokeLong FlashGiving Nominees 2018
Daily Science Fiction
Rhythm and Bones
Split Lip Magazine
The Brown Orient
The Cabinet of Heed
The Citron Review
Third Point Press
Whale Road Review
Wizards In Space Literary Magazine
X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine
December 17, 2018 Artist Spotlight
Chris Roberts is Dead Clown Art and has illustrated a couple stories for SmokeLong. He is a full-time freelance artist, using mixed media and found objects to create his self-described visual nonsense. Roberts has made art for Another Sky Press, Kelp Queen Press, PS Publishing and ChiZine Publications; for authors Will Elliott, Andy Duncan, Tobias Seamon, Shimon Adaf, Seb Doubinsky, Ray Bradbury, Kaaron Warren, Ellen Klages, Claire North and Helen Marshall. He was nominated for a 2013 World Fantasy Award in the Artist category.
SmokeLong art director Alexander C. Kafka asked Roberts about his work and inspirations.
Chris, would you tell me about yourself? How old are you? Where do you live? Family? Work? School?
I’m 44 years old. My brain is 24 years old. My body is 64 years old. I’m wildly conflicted. I live in Waukee, Iowa. Living the quiet life with two strong, lovely, smart, rage-filled women: wife and daughter. Currently in between jobs, so making art and taking naps. Well out of school, but I think they’re still a really good idea. What else are kids going to do during the day?
… Oh. Where did I go to school? Graduated from Grand View College in Des Moines, way back in 1996. Yes, they had colleges back then.
When did you become interested in art?
I’ve been making art for as long as I can remember.
Wow! That was a super cliché answer.
Take 2: My high school art teacher was the first direct example of somebody making art into a career. I was aware that “artist” was a profession. I grew up in small towns, but I wasn’t born in a barn. But high school art class was when it first clicked that I could be an artist when I grew up. There have always been outside influences of course–comic books, music, movies, museums–but that’s my origin story.
Found stuff. I proudly consider myself a “junk artist.” Garage sales. Estate auctions. I walk around this amazing antique mall we have in Des Moines, looking for discarded treasures. I pick up interesting stuff on sidewalks and in empty parking lots. I have drawers and containers and folders filled with all sorts of random detritus. Each piece of junk is waiting patiently for the right illustration. Old keys. Brittle scraps of paper. Faded photos. Broken bits of plastic. Jagged rusty pieces of metal. Junk.
What are your favorite kinds of works to illustrate?
I love making art for words. I’ve made a pretty decent number of book covers for various presses, especially for the incredible PS Publishing. I always manage to find a way to channel my personal work through my professional work. Two birds, one stone.
I love weird and challenging projects. Feels like I’ve become the go-to guy for oddball stuff that publishers aren’t quite sure what to do with visually. And while I understand that makes me and my work sort of niche, I have absolutely zero problem being that go-to guy. Those are the projects that sink their hooks into me. The projects that I would have chosen, but they ended up choosing me.
Your pieces often have a warped religious or totemic feel to them. What kinds of imagery are you drawn to and why?
Astute observation. I’ve been an atheist since my early teenage years. But I’ve always been interested in what attracts people to religion. There’s no atheist iconography, obviously, so I’m drawn to the vast array of religious icons. I enjoy turning monsters into worshipped objects. It’s probably my way of taking those familiar symbols and unraveling them with an opposing visual context. Whatever religion used to be about, today it’s about power, money, corruption and division. It’s definitely not what it claims to be. It’s become a wicked mask. I try to expose that in my work when I’m able.
Which artists have you been most influenced by?
Dave McKean; Bill Sienkiewicz; Ted McKeever; Henrik Drescher; Galen Dara; Andrea Sorrentino; Jason Shawn Alexander; Jean-Michel Basquiat; Fiona Staples; Ralph Steadman; Jean Dubuffet. One of my favorite paintings of all time is Dubuffet’s The Villager with Close-Cropped Hair. It’s hanging in the Des Moines Art Center and I visit it as often as I can. It’s brilliant!
First and foremost and forever, my wife and daughter. I couldn’t do what I do without them. Truth.
Comic books have always been an inspiration, as you can see by the majority of my artist influences in the previous question. No matter how pleased I am with a finished piece, I can look at any piece in Dave McKean’s staggering catalog and instantly feel like a discarded toothpick of an artist. And that’s okay. That’s part of the fuel I need to keep going. Not to ever create a piece that’s better than his, but to just keep making the art that makes me happy. Keeps me sane.
What do you like to do in your free time?
This bounces nicely from the previous question. I enjoy movies. Comic-book movies especially, because they’re something I can share with my daughter. Light horror movies with my wife. I’m sort of a chicken when it comes to some of the darker, bloodier horror movies. My imagination is way too wide open for them. They creep in and take up residence. Hereditary, for example. That movie poked around violently in my head for weeks after I saw it. Loved it, but it rattled me.
I love music. Radiohead forever!
And, of course, reading. So many books in my to-read pile! It’s towering and probably a fire hazard. Ready for the name dump? Josh Malerman; Joe Hill; Sarah Pinborough; Kaaron Warren; Sarah Langan; Stephen Graham Jones; Nick Cutter; Tom Piccirilli; Helen Marshall; Lauren Beukes; Gemma Files; Rio Youers; Gary McMahon; Daryl Gregory; Michael Marshall; Neil Gaiman; Stephen King.
If you could assemble any group in the world for a mandatory meeting, who would it be and what would you say to them?
Wouldn’t say a thing. I’d just wink and nod and we’d go on all sorts of Fraggle adventures together. We’d eat Doozer sticks. We’d masterfully elude being eaten by the Gorgs. We’d have all of our questions answered and problems solved by the ever-wise Marjory the Trash Heap. We’d swap insults with her ratty hench-creatures Philo and Gunge.
Then we’d leave the Fraggle caves, emerge in the human world and rapidly topple the evil patriarchy. Then, having worked up quite the grumbly appetite after toppling the patriarchy, we’d head to Taco Bell. Best. Day. Ever.
December 10, 2018 Reviews
by Beret Olsen
With two volumes of poetry under his belt—Figuring in the Figure (Able Muse Press, 2017) and the award-winning Strange Borderlands (Able Muse Press, 2013)—Ben Berman has turned his pen to a collection of flash fiction. Due out in November, Then Again includes forty-two triptychs strung tightly with a thread of words.
The surface structure of the book is readily visible in the table of contents, which reads like a word association game: “Breaks,” is followed by “Tears,” then “Openings.” Likewise, “Beats” follows “Switches,” then “Currents.” But dig deeper to appreciate the many layers in Berman’s linguistic tapestry. Within each story, the author proves an astonishing gymnast —semantic, geographic, philosophical, and chronological. In a single sentence, he can travel through college, love, and loss, and land in Nepal:
Sometimes you have to let something shatter just so you can see what it’s made of, and after all those months of heartbreak I needed more than a mere break from school—which is how I ended up in Kathmandu, three mangy dogs chasing me through a maze of alleyways. —from “Breaks”
Berman takes a word and tinkers, seeing how far it might stretch without snapping. In “Presents,” for example, Berman assembles a three-layer literary confection using a common ingredient: the Latin praesent-, or “being at hand.” Now wielding it to mean current, then focused, then gift, he steers the reader from inner peace to scattered peas and a dirty diaper.
Inspiration for this body of work came from his young children, who marveled that one arrangement of sounds could have such a jumble of meanings. His aim? “To write about disconnects in a form that stressed deep interconnections, to explore the contradictions of our lives by contemplating the tensions within and between words.”
Though the author calls the stories a “blend of fiction and nonfiction,” each is written in first person and crosses his personal map and history. Turning a page, we are as likely to find him as a parent, a child, or a teacher; in Zimbabwe, at a drive-thru, or in Paris, hankering for a few cubes of cheese. The slippage is not just between connotations, then, but also between cultures, between versions of the self, all while keeping the prose deceptively simple. No matter the age or location of the protagonist, he is trying to make sense of himself through the lenses of past, present, and future. The resulting stories fit snugly but vary widely: some poignant, others provocative, even humorous.
Because no one really wants to hear about that time you held a goat down as blood spurted all over your arms or what it’s like to have parasitic worms burrow into your feet then lay eggs on the walls of your bladder, we figured we’d better bring home some finely crafted masks to hang on our living room walls. —from “Figures”
In fact there is a lot of humor in this slim volume. There are spoon-armed showdowns with three-year-olds, grandfathers in wheelbarrows, and pubescent tongues working like plungers. The games Berman plays with words and ideas makes the opening line of “Balls” a comedic achievement: “Benny had the brains, says Marc, and I had the balls—which would be funnier if he were speaking metaphorically . . .” But proceed cautiously. Some of the pieces that linger longest are the ones that go beyond semantic games. These can sting. In “Sounds,” he listens to the breaths of his sleeping wife and children—hers meditative, theirs restless—while writing about the death of a boy on a bus in Africa, witnessed years before.
While each short work feels effortless and alive, en masse the stories accentuate their structural similarity. Better to read a page or two at a time, so as not to lose sight of the arc and integrity of the discrete narratives. As Berman reveals in the opening story, these “. . . shards and peaks, slivers and alleys, [are] strokes of a single landscape.” Take the time to follow the author into the alley with dogs, to Pitch ‘n’ Putt with a can of beer, or down the aisles of Bed, Bath and Beyond with a screaming toddler. Each handful of sentences reflects a raw truth about self and other—self as other. Sifting through the pieces allows the whole to take form.
Beret Olsen is a writer, a photographer, and the photo editor for 100 Word Story. Her art, essays, and fiction have appeared in publications including First Class Lit; Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine; the Masters Review; and her blog, Bad Parenting 101.
December 3, 2018 Flash in the Classroom
In the SmokeLong Flash in the Classroom series, we ask teachers to share how they use flash fiction in their classrooms. If you are a teacher and have a story about how you use flash to get your students excited about writing, please submit your work here. Today, James Claffey, a writer and teacher in California, shares a grand idea.
by James Claffey
In 2008 I took a “Forms of Fiction” class taught by Jeanne Leiby, the editor of the Southern Review. Flash fiction was unknown to me, and the first exercise we did in that class was based off Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio, his linked stories about the assorted citizens of that town. The twelve students in the class (mostly in their twenties, and me several decades further down the road) created a fictional town, “Beersville,” and populated it with a variety of businesses, shopfronts, and assorted characters. Mine was the undertaker, based no doubt on my family’s long-defunct business in an Irish midland’s town, “Claffey’s pub, grocers, and undertakers.” Our brief was simple: to create a piece of fiction about our chosen character and to limit it to 250 words, no more, no less. On this, Jeanne was unwavering. The other stipulation was that we had to “write after” someone else’s story and mention their character in some way, shape, or form in our narrative (except for the first set of writers). The process of writing about the denizens of the town proved enjoyable, and it was my introduction to the art of flash fiction.
Flash forward to 2018 and my freshman classroom at Santa Barbara High School. Jeanne is almost eight years dead now, and I’ve been back in California for seven years, one child, two books, a major fire, and a disastrous mudslide. This year I’m reinventing my curriculum to generate greater buy-in from students, and to engage them more both in what they are reading and what they are writing about. This means trying on new strategies and reading more diverse authors, hopefully providing my students with a variety of mirrors in which to see their own experiences reflected back at them.
Every year I begin with great hopes of incorporating more fiction writing into the classroom, and each year I end up disappointed due to the curriculum maps to be followed, the Common Formative Assessments to be administered, the reading tests to be given, the core texts to be rushed through, and on and on and on. This year, with a supportive administration willing to let some of us experiment with a “different approach” to engaging our students I am actually able to incorporate Jeanne’s “Winesburg, Ohio” exercise into my teaching.
So far, my 9th grade honors students have chosen a town name–“Las Perditas,” West Virginia–and created character sketches for their fictional citizens of the town. The first five students have written their stories to varying degrees of success, and to varying degrees of adherence to word count. I can’t use names, but one student wrote about a transgender teen boy, another about a newly arrived junior high boy, Jimmy, who takes over the school’s Racketeering enterprise, and another wrote about a boy named July. There’s dialog, setting, color and humor in the writing, and while the stories may be “school appropriate” for language and content, they are running with the project and bringing the town of “Las Perditas” to life, and in a way, keeping Jeanne’s spirit alive, too.
James Claffey hails from County Westmeath, Ireland and lives on an avocado ranch in Carpinteria, CA. His work appears in the W.W. Norton Anthology Flash Fiction International, and in Queen’s Ferry Press’s anthology The Best Small Fictions of 2015. He was also a finalist in The Best Small Fictions of 2016, and a semi-finalist in 2017. He is the author of the story collection Blood a Cold Blue, published by Press 53, and the novel The Heart Crossways, published by Thrice Publishing.
November 30, 2018 News Digests
Congratulations to the following writers whose stories we’ve nominated for a Pushcart Prize this year.
“Earlove” by Ashton Carlile
“We All Know About Margo” by Megan Pillow Davis
“History” by Maia Jenkins
“All the Other Dogs Screaming” by Devin Kelly
“Whale Fall” by Alvin Park
“Sky Like Concrete” by Mike Riess
November 26, 2018 Reviews
by Amanda Krupman
Christopher DeWan, in his debut flash fiction collection, Hoopty Time Machines (Atticus Books, September 2016), creates new “fairy tales for grownups.” Fairy tales, fables, myths, and parables: These are formative narratives, extracting magic from the sensical and then putting that magic back to work. Told and retold, the tales are palimpsests, utilizing deceptively spare structures and loosely associated archetypes. DeWan’s flash fictions are indeed grown-up stories, built on contemporary anxieties. With this collection he joins writers like Donald Barthelme, Kelly Link, Etger Keret, and Carmen Maria Machado in crafting satirical and sly postmodern fabulism that doesn’t so much aim to subvert fairy-tale tropes as much as uproot them and toss them on the compost pile.
Hoopty Time Machine is 45 stories, arriving just prior to the election of another 45—a U.S. President who doesn’t seem so far removed from the Biblical and Grimm villainy of snakes, ogres, and evil stepmothers. Escape fantasies from the age of late capitalism, a superhero’s existential crisis, a son being the only person who can see his estranged parents are trolls, a mother haunted by her murdered child’s ghost and a father disturbed by his witchy teenage daughter’s power—these are some of the 21st-century scenes animated by DeWan’s dark whimsy.
DeWan’s disillusioned female characters are particularly well conceived. In stories like “Goldilocks and the Three Boys” and “The Little Mermaid,” DeWan doesn’t just offer feminist reappraisals of their fates; he imagines them as the complex, brilliant women all of us know in real life, just trying to get along the best they know how. In “Rapunzel’s Tangles,” Rapunzel, an introverted stay-at-home mom forced to play hostess at her husband’s work parties, cuts off her hair in a bob every day only to find it wrapping around the kitchen by nightfall. She has the same problem with her eyebrows, but she finds grooming them to be a kind of meditative hobby she compares to gardening. And yet Rapunzel’s meditations may better be described as a depressive’s ruminations:
Her worries receded into the simple task: tweeze and pluck. Tweeze and pluck. So close to the glass, her face ceased to be hers, and instead became its own landscape—her own face, a faceless alien landscape of pores and follicles, and staring longer, this dissolved further into just shapes, colors, no labels, no words.
A few of the stories work more like a Stephen Wright joke or a Woody Allen anecdote. “Conestoga Wagon” and “Sacramento” are essentially paraprosdokians, ready to be inserted into a certain kind of stand-up comic’s bit. In “The Dinner Party,” guests include Anxiety, Sadness, and Futility. “Indestructible” is five lines of gallows humor in the age of craven politicians who would dismantle the Affordable Care Act.
Other stories in the collection set aside dry wit and dig deeper under the skin. In “The Wallpaper,” rose-colored glasses are too transparent for a woman who papers over her life. In “Intrusion,” a woman turns to masochism in the face of unbearable grief—leading her to, in a stranger-rape role play, ensure a “hate fuck” from her husband by offering the name of their dead child when he asks for a safe word. In “The Signal,” humanity is initially buoyant but then bereft when realizing that the signals sent to us from alien life forms were sent back in the Middle Ages and that any conversation is subject to a thousand-year time lag.
It’s a fecund period for post-apocalyptic stories; joining popular works from television, film, and genre fiction are literary novels like Emily St. Mandel’s Station Eleven and Laura Van Den Berg’s Find Me. But when reading DeWan’s “Blog of the Last Man on Earth,” I’m reminded of an elegiac short story by Tess Allard, published last year in the Black Warrior Review: “The World Holds What It Remembers Most,” which imagines a girl on a bike, riding alone in a desolated world, seeking both meaning and solace through memory. In “Blog of the Last Man on Earth,” we read the protagonist’s journal and witness a transformation through loneliness that has him imagining he is speaking fluent French with Amélie (yes, that Amélie). Blog posts at the opening of the story are labeled simply by day and time (“Monday, 3:45 pm”), but soon become vague markers like “Evening” and “Middle of the Night I Think” and, finally, “The Scurf of All Yesterdays.” Some of DeWan’s most striking imagery is found here at the end of the story, when the protagonist, musing that “[l]eft to our own devices, maybe we all become artists,” begins painting over the billboards, creating murals from his recollections of an Earth that no longer exists. The Last Man on Earth remembers all of the small, quotidian, and precious moments like “present wrapping and unwrapping” and “road trips and road trip games,” but then:
I remember the smell of my mother, the tinkling of the mobile ceramic swans over my crib, the cozy caress of the satin baby blanket. I remember, before that, sweeping forests far as the eye could see; thick, rolling oceans; endless, mind-flattening plains. I remember fields coated with mustard gas; the groans of sinking ships; piercing bullets and bayonets and the sticky warmth of my own blood; I remember rounding Cape Horn, scaling Mount Everest, building the Pyramids brick by behemoth brick; I remember Pangaea, and the terrible, explosive rending of the Moon. I remember the ignition of the Sun, and the swirling center of the galaxy, the whip of its arms screaming through the vacuum. I remember the end of infinite density, the Big Bang, a gasp of breath, a baby’s laugh, a cosmic orgasm, the same spasm of anticipation that comes at the dawn of love, the true fear of loss; and I remember, before all that, the bottomless, bottomless silence like the silence I hear now. It’s all right.
DeWan’s protagonist no longer has any use for his personhood, for what makes him an individual. He strips it all away in favor of painting pictures of scenes from an ancient, collective memory.
In a rich collection of flash, Hoopty Time Machines mines our collective memory and imaginatively spins multilayered versions of stories that have been developed and adapted over generations: stories that live in our bodies, attached to the spine, keeping us upright as we move through the obstinate moment-to-moment and often terrifying unknowns of what’s yet to come.
Amanda Krupman’s work has appeared in publications including Flapperhouse, The Forge Literary Magazine, BLOOM, The New Engagement, and Punk Planet. Amanda received an MFA in Fiction from The New School’s graduate writing program and was recently a recipient of a Jerome Foundation Emerging Artist Residency Award. She teaches writing at Pace University and “From Page to Podcast: Writing Audio Fiction” at Middlebury College. She is currently working on a collection of short fiction. Follow her on Twitter: @akrupman
November 19, 2018 Fridge Flash
“Yes! Finally! Time for the story!” I cheered with excitement, nearly ruining my new red dress my mother sewed me for the mourning. “Watch it!” Fifteen people snapped at me. How many people can get angry at you at once? That was an experiment I didn’t want to try. I settled down, bumping into more people than I could count.
I am ARETHA, a moon Crackon. I am seven and have brown hair and emerald green eyes. My favorite color is blue, because the oceans of earth are a beautiful blue. I can only wear red one day of the year, the mourning day. We separated from Earth seven generations ago, and each generation mourns the loss by wearing red. Our elder tells us all about Earth, the ocean, the corn, the animals, and most importantly, the dirt. We only have dry moon dust. The reason you have no proof that we exist is that we hover, whereas you need to step on the ground to move.
We have saved everything you have left behind, your nuts and bolts, and everything. I wish I could see Earth on the ground, with all its beauty and worth. Our oldest elder, IGGI, told us that that there was a thing that was used for drinking and swimming: water. We have extracted that too, but I don’t know how to swim, and neither do the rest of us.
IGGI stood up. “We left Earth seven generations ago because of the dreaded meteorite.” Everyone booed on cue. I slowly tried to stand up without hurting a single other person. “Oh IGGI, may take I a moving picture of your speech and send the record to the Earthlings, so that they may take us home?” IGGI was absolutely amazed. “Of course! Did you invent the taker?”
“Yes, IGGI. Three, two, one, Begin!”
“The water there is crystal clear, the ground, filled with grass and dirt. They have fish with gills, and trees. The trees sometimes have apples, oranges, pears, and even berries! The sun shines like silk, and the moon that we live on shines during their night time. And then the second great shaking came. Thankfully, everyone was safe and no one was separated.
”Oh Earth, we need to connect. Please, Earthlings, see our red moon and remember us.”
Aravah Chaiken is an eleven-year-old who loves bike riding and reading. One of her favorite books is Murder on the Orient Express. She has been asking for a telescope for three years. She dreams of travelling into space and tracking nebulae.
November 15, 2018 Fridge Flash
Editor’s Note: Today’s Fridge Flash—and good, sound advice—comes to us from 7-year-old Amelie from the U.K.
Never Taste a Rainbow
Never taste a rainbow. Especially the red. All of the rainbow is spicy and hot, but the red is the hottest of chilies, and it will burn you.
Tears taste nice, when you catch them on your tongue like raindrops. Trust me. They do.
About the Author
Amelie likes climbing trees and going like really high, and Parkour, where she also climbs and runs up walls and jumps into the foam pit. She likes playing with people and making new friends, and that’s all the information she’s giving.
November 12, 2018 Reviews
Stephanie Hutton’s Three Sisters of Stone (Ellipsis Zine, May 2018) is a novella-in-flash that follows three sisters from childhood through adulthood in Australia, spanning about thirty-five years. Hutton is a clinical psychologist living in the UK who rewards her readers with a psychological precision and an economy of language that deepen the reader’s understanding of these characters and their relationships to each other as she moves through slices of their lives. Details are specific and carefully chosen and result in a depth of character and humanity that has stuck with me long after finishing the compact stories.
The novella is told in fifteen flash stories, each designated with the year of their occurrence, from 1981 to 2013, flanked on either side by a prologue and an epilogue. The middle sister, Bella, narrates the stories. Hutton’s decision lends the novella a sense of wholeness it wouldn’t have if each sister had varyingly told part of the story, and provides a sort of symmetry, a narrative choice that makes it feel like looking forward and backward simultaneously.
The prologue begins the novella with a fantastical look at the adult lives of the sisters we don’t yet know. Drawing on the fable of the “Three Little Pigs,” each sister builds a house of a different material—Agnes an “anti-wolf” home of metal without windows, Bella a home of glass bricks from which she can keep vigil for the wolf, and Chloe a door-less, window-less home allowing anyone—any wolf—access. The choice to literalize each personality makes the reader quickly form a distinct idea about each sister, and the references to a wolf establish a sense of danger and foreboding. This opening also provides a blueprint for how the sisters deal very differently with the abuse and neglect visited on them by their parents.
“Fortune Teller” is one of the best examples of this. The sisters make and play with a paper fortune teller, which ingeniously allows for present character development and also shows the sisters imagining future lives away from their abusive childhood. Agnes, the eldest, folds the fortune teller, and Bella writes the fortunes. “There was no point,” Bella says, “in trying to cheat and choose which fortune would be mine, as Chloe would add the colours on the top of each section last.” Agnes gets lost “in the rhythm of moving the paper machine forwards and backwards,” just as she will later get lost in her accounting job, and chooses a fortune that tells her, “You will find your heart’s desire.” Her reaction is subdued as Bella explains that Agnes’s desires are small and obtainable. I get the sense that perhaps her future dreams have already been reduced to the simple need to not be traumatized and abused.
Chloe chooses next and shows her impatience by only having the paper flower move one time. “You will shine bright,” Bella reads to her. Chloe wriggles her fingers in delight and Bella muses about how stars die, and I began to wonder when Chloe will burn out. Bella, having chosen to let both of her sisters go first, ignores her instincts to pick green and instead chooses blue. Agnes reads to her, “Hmm, blue. What will be will be,” and Bella, disappointed with the results, wonders what would have happened had she chosen green like she wanted. In addition to revealing more about the sisters’ personalities, there’s evidence of the punishing psychological effects abuse has on young girls—the sisters’ hopes for the future diminish from youngest to oldest. This is another way Hutton utilizes the middle sister as narrator—Bella is showing us how abuse is cumulative, with Chloe being least affected because she’s been, by virtue of her age, abused for the shortest amount of time.
The abusive father’s presence is felt throughout the girls’ lives, whether psychologically or physically. Details about him become sparse, which works in a surprising way, giving space to the idea that the sisters are unconcerned with what happens to him. Hutton is adept at working in a kind of relief, making certain things clear by their absence and letting the reader’s imagination do just the right amount of work. The tone is dark and it rarely lets up, an ominousness lurking over the sisters wherever they go and whatever happens to them. Hutton seems fascinated with how darkness envelops this family, with Bella wondering after the disappearance of their father, “[W]hat kind of God takes your angry father away but forgets to cure your mother of her sadness?” Hutton is clearly interested in trauma and how it can ricochet through a family, harm being passed around from one member to others.
Another standout, “What Mother Never Did,” is the first glimpse of all three sisters as adults. The effect is like holding a mirror up to their childhood selves. Who we are as adults is so often who we were as children. Chloe is still wild and boy crazy. Agnes is still socially out of touch and overly responsible, her large, shiny car seeming “too big for a woman who usually drove alone, but it had the highest safety rating.” Bella, as always, is sandwiched in the middle, the peacemaker, and it’s no surprise that she weathers the only alone time any of the women spend with their mother. But this gives “What Mother Never Did” one of the most satisfying endings in the book.
In the epilogue, Bella imagines a trip to the mountains with her sisters to visit “the rocks they called the Three Sisters.” Breaking from the past tense of the rest of the stories, it imagines an impossible day, perfect in its distillation of what each of the sisters would do if they could make the trip and ends, predictably, in darkness. Everything in this novella is dense and rendered in miniature, a generation’s life explored in poignant flashes of childhood and character detail that both satisfy and leave the reader wanting more of these girls. As Bella says in the epilogue, “With our view reduced from miles to metres, we’d feel each other’s breaths and heartbeats, the world shrunk down as if there was only us in it.”
Natalie C. Brown is a writer and editor currently pursuing an MFA in fiction at Texas State University in San Marcos. She loves all things bookish and literary and is a lifelong Astros fan. She lives with her (almost) husband and two dogs in Austin, TX. You can follow her on Twitter at @nataliekins.
November 5, 2018 Artist Spotlight
Cindy Fan is the cover artist for SmokeLong Issue 61. Fan is a Toronto-based artist who studied Illustration at OCAD University. Her work takes inspiration from poetry, mythology, urban legends, folklore, flash fiction, and other forms of creative storytelling. She uses elements from her stream of consciousness to create ambiguous, dreamlike realities, painting her work digitally while incorporating a diverse array of textures to achieve a rich, atmospheric quality. She discussed her background and visual imagination with SmokeLong’s art director, Alexander C. Kafka.
How old are you and where did you grow up?
I am 23 years old. I was born in Szechuan, China but immigrated to Canada when I was 6 years old. I grew up in and around Ontario. I currently live in the greater Toronto area.
Can you tell me about your family?
Both my parents left a comfortable life and well-paying careers in China to come to Canada in the early 2000s when they found out their immigration application had been accepted. I never really figured out exactly why they chose to leave, but I think it was out of a mixture of thrill seeking and wanting a different experience as well as possibly a better life for me. They faced various struggles and regrets at first but eventually found their footing. No matter what, they have always been very loving and supportive of my dreams.
When did you first become interested in art?
Before I can even remember. I was extremely young. But I began seriously pursuing art during high school.
Do you primarily work in digital media?
Yes, I enjoy the versatility and convenience of working digitally. That said, I usually start illustrations off through analog either in graphite or watercolor and try to retain some of those lines and textures in the finalized versions. I also enjoy acrylic. I’ve been told that I have a very distinct way of using brushstrokes and a lot of my analog paintings resemble my digital ones. I like doing analog when pursuing pieces that are more gestural and expressive while working digitally for pieces that require more detail.
What are your favorite themes and subjects?
My favorite themes are anything to do with the idea of adventure and mystery. I love stories that explore places and worlds that are unique, unknown, and full of weird things. I also love looking into the different ways people interact with the world and creating illustrations inspired by that.
Who are your biggest influences?
There is a lot of interplay in your work between people and nature and machines—whimsical combinations of fairy-tale type images, cyborg, steampunk, and erotic fantasy. How did that aesthetic develop for you?
Hmm, it’s hard to pinpoint. I guess I am very much drawn to the human figure as well as the beauty of decay and abandonment. A visual that I always seem to gravitate to is that of architecture and technology being overtaken by nature. I love images of abandoned buildings, statues and objects being enveloped by vines, dirt and flora. Additionally, throughout my teenage years, I consumed a lot of sci-fi and fantasy content because I loved being transported to unusual, extraordinary worlds and some of that aesthetic is also incorporated into my work.
Are your dreams like your images?
I have very vivid and sometimes frightening dreams and will draw influences from them for specific objects in my work or as a base mood or setting that I want to work from. However, my compositions mostly come from trial and error and just creating a lot of preliminary sketches. I’ve never really tried creating an illustration based purely on my dreams.
Which do you like better—single illustration images or GIFs and narrative graphic stories?
Although I mainly produce single illustration images, I like to dabble in all three types because I enjoy the variation in approaches. I usually like to work on two different projects at once. For this reason, there isn’t a concrete preference for a single format and it ultimately depends on how I am feeling at the time.
What are your current projects?
I am working on preparing some of my pieces for an upcoming local exhibition in addition to creating some new illustrations and possibly working on an upcoming zine.
If someone gave you $10 million, how would you spend it?
Well, first I would convert it all into dollar bills and make a money fort or at least some sort of money pile and just throw it all around. And then I’d probably spend it on housing, traveling, events, and helping support content and art that I enjoy.
Do you have other creative pursuits besides art?
Yes, I enjoy writing free-form poetry. I don’t think it’s very good by any means but it’s a nice way for me to lay out my thoughts and relax if I’m having a stressful day.
What do you do in your free time?
I enjoy hiking, reading, and watching a diverse assortment of movies and TV as well as playing video games (though I have significantly less time for that now than I used to).
The artwork included in this interview is the property of Cindy Fan and may not be used without permission of the artist.
November 4, 2018 News Digests
For the month of October, SmokeLong Quarterly received $318 in tip jar donations. We’ve decided, in the spirit of giving, to send it to another journal. Nominate your favorite flash fiction journal and tell us why you love them, and we’ll pick one publication and give them $318 to do with what they wish!
Nominate a journal you had a great experience with or who you think treats writers particularly well. Or maybe you know of a journal who you think could do good things with a little boost of cash. If you are a journal editor, tell us what you would do with the money to make writers’ lives a little better. (Note: Publications that are nominated do not have to publish exclusively flash fiction or even publish flash at all, though we admit we are a little biased toward flash journals.)
To enter, fill out the Google form on or before Thanksgiving Day, November 22, 2018.
The winner will be announced in early December.
November 4, 2018 News Digests
For the month of October, SmokeLong Quarterly received $318 in tip jar donations. We’ve decided, in the spirit of giving, to send it to another journal. Nominate your favorite flash fiction journal and tell us why you love them, and we’ll pick one publication and give them $318 to do with what they wish!
Nominate a journal that you had a great experience with or who you think particularly treats writers well or does great things. Or maybe you know of a journal that you think could do good work with a little boost of cash. If you are a journal editor, tell us what you would do with the money to make writers’ lives a little better. We’re open to whatever stories of goodwill you’d like to tell–and we look forward to hearing all the wonderful things that other publications are doing. (Note: Publications that are nominated do not have to exclusively publish flash fiction or even publish flash at all. But we admit we are a little biased toward flash.)
To nominate a journal, fill out this Google Form on or before Thanksgiving Day, November 22, 2018.
We will announce the winner in early December. Thank you!
October 29, 2018 Reviews
Each year since 2007, Rose Metal Press holds its Short Short Chapbook Contest, which the press’s founders describe as a way “to showcase one of our favorite forms in a format more typically used for poetry than for prose.” The winning 2018 entry is A Bright and Pleading Dagger by Nicole Rivas, an L.A.-based writer whose work has appeared in such publications as Passages North, The Adroit Journal, and Paste Magazine.
In his thoughtful introduction, poet Rigoberto González lauds Rivas for her “skillful use of compression,” noting how this collection places a “finger on the pressure point” of “‘what girls’ lives do or do not depend on’” (a quote from the book’s title piece).
While what women’s lives depend on can readily be seen as an underlying theme, one might argue that Rivas’s tense, clipped pieces don’t so much place a finger on pressure points, as they do create the impression of a battle-scarred warrior, pointing out each of her wounds with a dispassionate finger, sharing her “war” experiences with other, equally-scarred veterans of life as a woman today.
It is to González’s credit that he recognized Rivas’s theme and the emotional impact of her intense pieces, but it is, perhaps, a different experience for a woman to read them. Each piece, in Rivas’s blunt, matter-of-fact, almost terse style, focuses on experiences many women will recognize all too well:
There is, for example, the ever-present sense of danger inherent in a woman’s vulnerability that permeates the title piece, “A Bright and Pleading Dagger,” in which a teenaged narrator and her friend hitch a ride with two older men. When her friend disappears into a cornfield with one of them, the narrator is left alone with the other: “The belt buckle moved faster. I could hear it tapping against the steering wheel, just like his knuckles had done before. While I knew knuckles belonged to a hand, the penis to a pelvis, it didn’t matter. In the truck, the penis had the presence of a closed fist.”
Rivas reminds the reader that it is not only men who take advantage of that vulnerability; sometimes, it’s other women, as in the startling “Death of an Ortolan,” which originally appeared in Passages North: “On my first date with Penny, I was very nervous because I was only nineteen and Penny was fifty-two.” Penny is the narrator’s gynecologist, too—is there any more vulnerable position for a woman to be in, than in those stirrups? Still, their relationship continues: “I was so nervous, because this was only the third date with a woman I’d ever been on, let alone a gynecologist, my gynecologist, and it was a good thing those napkins were cloth, or else I would’ve ripped them to shreds all over again.” And yet, younger, inexperienced, and vulnerable, the narrator falls under the older woman’s sway.
Few experiences of modern womanhood escape inclusion here. There is the young girl with the heart of a lion in “Bulldog,” who dreams of being strong and fierce, but whose mother—her mother—only laughs at her dreams: “She apologized for laughing, but I had already started the water and didn’t answer. In the shower I made some promises to myself about who I was and who I would always be.”
There is the richly satisfying title character in “The Butcher”: “When no one is watching, she works with bare hands, cleaning chicken carcasses and extracting lolling tongues from cow heads…To the butcher, the inside of a hog’s rib cage is much like the beauty of a vacant skyscraper stairwell. She drums her fingers against each rib like a child running up the steps two at a time.” Her work, her joy, and her passion, are full of blood and warmth and offal, she’s up to her elbows in life and death itself, yet she hides that part away; it’s hard not to draw a parallel here, given how much discomfort any talk of women and bleeding in general can generate for some people.
There is Gretel, dreaming of escaping her life with Hansel in the poignant re-imagining of “Gretel’s Escape”: “She watched Hansel poking into the can with his pinky finger. She was tired of being simultaneously lost and bound to fate. Gretel wanted to do something before she was forced to wit her way out of death by cannibalism, something just for her. Only Gretel knew what that was.”
There is also the entertaining heroine in “The Woman on the Bus,” sharing her painfully familiar experience of being the captive audience of a self-important man: “You become silently infuriated, a simmer bordering on boil. He’s grabbed your attention with his remark about the woman he met on the bus…and now that he has your attention, he forces you—either intentionally or unintentionally—to endure the spectacle of his mastication.”
It may sound to this point that perhaps Rivas has it in for men in general, but that would not be a fair assessment at all. Rather, this sharp, chest-tightening collection draws on what are, sadly, familiar and heart-breakingly common experiences for many women. Rivas shares those in the tight, gristly, almost detached prose of a warrior pointing to each scar as proof of having survived that particular battle. Those who would avert their eyes from those scars, who would prefer to remain oblivious to the battles fought and the pain experienced, probably will not find what they’re looking for in this steely little book. For others, it’s a chance to find a bit of solidarity, and perhaps a bit of enlightenment, too.
Julia Tagliere is a writer and editor whose work has appeared in The Writer, The Bookends Review, Potomac Review, numerous anthologies, and the juried photography and prose collection Love + Lust. Winner of the 2015 William Faulkner Literary Competition for Best Short Story and the 2017 Writers Center Undiscovered Voices Fellowship, Julia currently resides in Maryland with her family, where she recently completed her M.A. in Writing at John Hopkins University. She serves as an editor with The Baltimore Review and is currently working on her next novel, The Day the Music Didn’t Die.
October 22, 2018 Interviews
For the last few months, the SmokeLong team have had the pleasure of having John O. Ndavula on staff as our Kiswahili editor and translator. The story he chose appeared in issue 61, out now. John has recently published a book about the effects and uses of social media in Kenyan politics.
Allen: John, first of all thank you so much for choosing the Kiswahili story for the September issue of SmokeLong Quarterly. This is a busy time for you. Twitter is exploding with pictures and videos of you on Kenyan morning TV. Congratulations on the publication of your book, Social Media & Political Campaigns in Kenya!
Ndavula: I was planning for my book launch while I read the Kiswahili submissions. So yes, it was a bit tough for me. My new book arises from the research I conducted in my doctoral studies. It is the first book in Kenya to explore the relationship between digital networking sites and contemporary Kenyan politics. Digital communication is an emerging area in communications and I am excited that I have contributed to this area of research.
Allen: What would you say are the demographics of internet usage in Kenya?
Ndavula: Most users of the internet in Kenya are the youth. According to statistics, the internet user penetration among the youth is over 60 percent. Of these, the youth who have five years or more of using the internet stand at 20 percent. The youth in urban areas have a greater access to the internet than those in rural areas.
Allen: In your research for the book, you spoke with Kenyan political candidates. Did they welcome your research?
Ndavula: Most younger politicians were enthusiastic about the study. However, some older politicians who have run their campaigns for many years without using social media were mostly skeptical.
Allen: I read on Twitter that political candidates in Kenya started using social media in earnest in 2013. What do you predict for the future?
Ndavula: I think more political candidates will use the social media platform for their campaigns in future. Candidates who are not flexible enough to adapt their campaign strategies to the continuously evolving digital world may lose out on younger voters.
Allen: Of course you’ve seen how the Trump campaign allegedly misused social media to manipulate voters. Do you think the same danger exists in Kenya?
Ndavula: It is quite easy to spread hate, disinformation, hoaxes and fake news on Facebook and Twitter. Kenya tends to be polarized along ethnic lines during general elections and social media could be used by political actors to fuel this animosity.
Allen: To bring the discussion back to flash fiction, are there journals in Kenya who are catering for an online audience?
Ndavula: We have a couple of journals like Kikwetu, Enkare, and Jalada which have dramatically expanded the literary space in Kenya. The journals provide writers with a publishing platform at a time when most mainstream publishers are either closing shop or focusing on school textbooks.
John O. Ndavula is the author of Social Media and Political Campaigns in Kenya. Ndavula is also a fiction writer whose prose has appeared in Kikwetu. He is co-founding editor of Kikwetu: A Journal of East African Literature and has published literary criticism books on East African and European fiction. He teaches creative writing at St. Paul’s University in Kenya. He earned his PhD in Mass Communication from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology in Kenya.
Christopher Allen is the co-editor of SmokeLong Quarterly.
October 15, 2018 Reviews
by Frannie McMillan
The 15 stories in Sarah Layden’s new collection of flash fiction, The Story I Tell Myself About Myself (Sonder Press, August 2018), offer readers failed couplings, bad medical news (or anticipated bad news), infertility, death, unexplained physical anomalies, attempted recovery, and a mad libs style fill-in-the-blank story. The Story I Tell Myself About Myself is the 2017 winner of the Sonder Press chapbook competition. A recipient of the Allen and Nirelle Galson Prize for fiction and an Association of Writers & Writing Programs Intro Award, Layden is the author of the novel Trip Through Your Wires, and her short fiction and non-fiction appear in a range of publications.
Described by NUVO writers Dan Grossman and Laura MacPhee as “Slippery, secretive, and sensual, Layden’s short fiction is simply magical,” The Story I Tell Myself About Myself brims with secrets and words left unsaid. There is a Bradbury-esque feeling to these quirky, sometimes otherworldly stories. Reading them is like that moment of realization, hours later, that you said something insensitive, or forgot something that you needed to say.
The first piece, “Hang Up,” introduces readers to a man who has been calling the same woman for fifteen years. He never speaks when he calls, and she tells him stories over the phone. “Hang Up” is such a fitting introduction to this collection because, like the female character in this story, Layden’s voice beckons the reader onward through an array of stories that range from the mundane to the fantastic. The last few lines plead, “You are the story I tell myself, about myself. Stay with me. Stay.”
“Decoy,” a tense, tightly woven story about a woman named Alice, manages to be lightly humorous and gut-wrenching at the same time. I’m left not knowing what happens to Alice’s daughter, Sylvie, by the end. From the ducks on the pond to the “mostly harmless lies” that Alice remembers using as a kid, “camouflaging her whereabouts,” Layden explores the many meanings of the word “decoy.” Even the color of ice on the pond is “a trick of the orange and purple sunset.” Sylvie hopes to “attract the real thing” with her ducks on the windowsill; Alice wonders why people ruin brand-new furniture by making it look shabby, hiding its newness under a beaten façade while also thinking, “the face ought to map your life,” explaining why she declined the Botox proffered by her dentist-turned-date.
“He Waits, Wants” was so perfect that I, having experienced infertility, could hardly stand it. In a delightful twist, Layden creates a world where the male is physically responsible for carrying a child. He charts his cycles, takes his temperature, and pees on the ovulation stick, while his female spouse just wants to go to the bar after they finish having sex. She is annoyed with his constant worrying, but admits to feeling jealousy when the neighbor’s kid “got knocked up at sixteen.” While there is a humorous element to this piece, Layden skillfully illustrates a role reversal that gives both sides a chance to wear the other’s shoes.
“The Woman Who Was a House” features a woman whose body was an actual house, vacant after her family moved to the Caribbean to pursue a life as underwater Civil War reenactors. “The Woman with No Skin” deals with a character whose protective suit became covered in the words of others. Both pieces explore some of the ways women adapt to being taken advantage of or hurt by the world. In “Arrested Development” readers meet Vera, a woman who never grew and still looks like a child. Like the female character in “New Thing,” Vera is “waiting for the knock at the door that would change her life, but it was usually the mailman with a package she had specifically ordered.” Layden portrays women who are making the best of their circumstances, surviving life at a day-to-day pace. While women take center stage in this collection, “Comet’s Return,” “Marv’s 11 Steps,” and “Two Hearts,” showcase Layden’s ability to write a believable and compelling male perspective.
Male or female, Layden’s characters are faithful to their routines. The characters in each story are connected to various daily rituals or lifestyles. Some seem to question these practices, and some seem oblivious to them. For example, the man in “Hang Up” always calls the woman, and she always tells him a story. The woman in “The Rest of Your Life” always takes a moment to wink at her reflection in the elevator. “Sex in Secret” considers the old habits of sexual encounters before the digital age created new ones. The couple in “He Waits, Wants” is tied to the schedule dictated by infertility. Davey considers his own habits in the context of his father’s lifelong pattern of alcoholism and womanizing in “Comet’s Return.” “The Woman Who Was a House” replays old family films through the projector in her lungs. Vera is tied to her routine of watching television and eating junk food while she waits for her life to change in “Arrested Development.” Marv, the title character in “Marv’s 11 Steps,” is so loyal to his daily routine of visiting the newsstand that the narrator observes “daily he paced this sidewalk, a short Marv-sized path worn into the cement.” Marv visits the same bar, makes the same joke as the same song plays on the jukebox every night, his feet “stepping in the same cracked pattern” on the dance floor. “Collision Physics for the Math-Averse” considers how these patterns and routines can shift and alter lives. The Story I Tell Myself About Myself gives you no choice but this: stay. Stay with these characters and listen to what they have to tell you.
The Story I Tell Myself About Myself is available from Sonder Press and elsewhere online.
Frannie McMillan’s poetry has appeared in The Coachella Review, K’in Literary Journal, The Indianapolis Review, and others. She is currently at work on her first chapbook, You Ain’t By Yourself. By day, she connects young people with books as a secondary librarian in Richmond, Virginia. You can find her on Twitter @franniemaq.
October 8, 2018 Flash in the Classroom
The Flash in the Classroom series on the SmokeLong blog explores creative writing teachers’ various approaches to teaching flash fiction to their students. We–and the entire flash fiction community–are interested in hearing from anyone who uses flash fiction in a classroom setting. Please submit your essays HERE. We’re thrilled and grateful to have Steve Edwards as our first teacher in this series. What lucky students he has.
by Steve Edwards
Back in the 90s, my first creative writing teacher in college started every class by reading flash fiction. We called them “short-shorts” then. I’ll never forget the anticipation I felt as he cleared his throat and began: Something wild was about to happen. My life was about to change. Being read to was enough to make me feel like a kid again, experiencing the magic of stories for the first time. But it was the stories themselves—their pacing, their daring, the way so few words suggested so much world—that brought the wonder.
I had to learn to do that.
Until a student feels that desire, I’m not sure our teaching ever accomplishes much. The mere transmission of information isn’t learning. I’d trade all the craft talk in the world for the simple pleasure of getting high on words.
In working to build that kind of pleasure into the creative writing classes I teach, I’ve begun filling my syllabus with flash fiction. What I like about flash for this purpose, as opposed to, say, longer and more conventional works, is that its brevity allows for us to pinpoint the exact moment something explodes off the page. We can zoom in and attune to the micro concerns of language without losing the larger thread of the story. I also feel less compelled with flash to overexplain, to contextualize, to lecture…in other words, to do the work for them. Maybe it’s psychological but I think students approach texts of 1000-words or fewer with less fear and skepticism. And maybe less cynicism. What’s the point of reading a 20-page story if the teacher’s just going to choke the life out of it with explanations? A flash fiction is an experience at once dissectible and inscrutable. It’s right there. The students’ gut reactions are right there, too, and from them I can elicit further reflection that helps us all reimagine how we approach storytelling.
In addition to being dazzled by the intensity and immediacy of flash fiction, I have another learning goal in mind for my students. I want to get them in the habit of taking risks, striking out for new territory, failing hard and trying again. The cost-benefit ratio as I imagine it is something like this: If what I’m writing is only a few pages long, how much do I stand to lose if it doesn’t work out? And the same is true for reading flash fiction. If what I’m reading is only a few pages long, how much do I stand to lose if I don’t like it?
I think we’re all secret geniuses. But I think what often holds us back is that we want to write something “good,” and that the pursuit of “good” forces us to return to what has worked for us in the past. A semester of flash fiction sends a different message to students: Try this. Try this. Try this. Try this. Try this. Try this.
If you don’t like something, or if it just doesn’t work for you, you can abandon it guilt free. If you find something you love—something weird or diabolical or heart-wrenchingly beautiful—it’s yours forever now.
I think what beginning fiction writers need about as much as anything is to get into the habit of looking for moments. You walk through your day and think: There’s a story. A detail catches your attention: There’s a story. Something someone says or does. Something you remember from when you were a kid. There’s a story. Immersion in flash fiction is a study in how to train your mind to pay attention to what will light up someone else’s mind. What fires together wires together. What you see on the page, you see in the world. And like a figure-eight curving back on itself, you fill up your own pages with the worlds you discover. Flash fiction is risk-taking made manifest, and who wouldn’t want to get in on the action? It’s like being at a public pool and watching kids jump off the diving board, wriggling and contorting their bodies. It’s fun. Always something new to try. Even after a belly-flop they’re back climbing that ladder.
The other change I’ve incorporated as a teacher over the years—and this is made possible by the proliferation of great flash fiction sites like SmokeLong—is that I task the students with finding flash fiction online to share with the class. One of the fun facts I like to ruin their lives with is that no one really cares if they don’t write. They have to make people care. And they can. By asking students to search out work to share with the class, I’m offering them the chance to reflect upon what it is about a given work that makes it matter. In essence, I want to hold them accountable—not just to me but to themselves and each other.
It occurs to me I’m describing a kind of classroom economy whose currency is pleasure, risk-taking, care, and accountability. In flash fictions of 1000 words or fewer, or in novels of 100,000 words or more, it’s where we begin.
And beginnings matter.
When I was a little kid, somebody opened a book and blew my mind. It happened again when I went to college and my teacher read “Girl,” “The School,” “No One’s a Mystery.” And it still happens when a student comes to class with a story they are dying to read out loud because, as the kids say, “They can’t even.” We listen and are transported, transformed, transmogrified. We’re children again—with very old souls.
Steve Edwards is author of the memoir Breaking into the Backcountry, the story of his seven months of solitude in the Oregon wilderness as caretaker of a 95-acre homestead. His writing appears in Longreads, Orion Magazine, Literary Hub, Electric Literature, The Rumpus, and elsewhere. He lives in Massachusetts.
October 1, 2018 Reviews
by Tiffany Sciacca
Sophie Van Llewyn’s debut flash novella, Bottled Goods, (Fairlight Books, July 2018) is the perfect place to start whether you are a longtime fan of flash fiction or new to this still evolving and exciting genre.
Bottled Goods, a collection of 51 stories, some as brief as a thought, others going for several pages, follows the life of Alina, native of communist Romania in the 1970s. Alina weds Liviu, yet their promising future is soon upended when Alina’s brother in law decides to defect to the West. Bottled Goods not only describes the toll taken on Alina and Liviu’s relationship but also other members of her family. It’s a fascinating watch, a slow descent like a series of coins going down a spiral wishing well.
From the title of the first story, “The Low People in Our Family,” I knew I was in for an interesting tale. In this story, we meet members of Alina’s family, one in passing. The opening is normal enough—the characters are on their way to a loved one’s funeral—and it is easy to get lulled into the banality of the journey; yet by the end, when her aunt tells her about her grandfather, who the communists were after and whose friends, were “killed, beaten, tortured,” I was left feeling uneasy but wanting more.
A better glimpse of Alina is revealed in the second piece, “Glazed Apples,” where she works in the midst of luxury at a Romanian resort but is confined to its underbelly. A clear line divides the haves and have-nots, with Alina firmly placed in the latter category. Although under communist rule, her job as a tourist guide allows her experiences she’d never have had otherwise, like setting eyes on the sea. And she must not only sell her country to visiting foreigners, but also her happiness as a citizen. It is at the resort where she meets Liviu and we witness the beginning of their relationship.
In “Prima Noctis,” we are uninvited guests at Alina’s wedding. This should be the happiest moment in her life but already we see what makes them different: the all-important fault line. Alina, who herself feels like an outsider “trapped in the bride’s body,” has come from money. Liviu’s family—rough, mountain people without airs—and the distinction Alina makes in her mind is startling as she feels “as dirty as any of them, a princess dragged through the mud.”
Bottled Goods is full of unique forms. From wish lists, as in “Dear Father Frost,” where we get a peek into Alina’s heart. Yearnings from the material, like a pair of Levi’s, to the practical needs, a portable electric stove. There are also entries in a diary, her handheld confessional, How-To lists, used to account meticulously for her missteps. And in “Quotes From My Mother (Commented) – Part I” we learn of Alina’s mother’s disapproval of her daughter’s marriage from the very first line. It is a point that she makes more than once, planting a seed that doesn’t take too long to take root. Postcards written to this same difficult and overbearing mother are another medium that allows the reader to follow the unraveling of Alina and Liviu’s story, though strictly from her perspective. I also appreciated the shift in voice throughout. Delivery is everything here and Van Llewyn displays the depth of her craft.
There are harbingers of ill-fated love and betrayal that go unnoticed, some more blatant including that elusive pair of Levi’s from “Dear Father Frost” and some that even the reader might miss on the first read. And as a marriage weakens, a country tightens its grip around the couple—love, trust, and loyalties tested throughout.
The defection of Alina’s brother-in-law does bring trouble, yes, but it is someone else’s misstep that proves detrimental. In the end, you may wonder if it was bad luck or a bad choice that seals everyone’s fate. Pay close attention and you will find the answer along with healthy doses of irony and karma.
Van Llewyn’s use of language is hypnotic and the worlds she creates stark and grotesque, calling to mind Shirley Jackson or Muriel Spark. With just the right details, whether it is the curve of a black Volga, sounds of bracelets around a wrist or faces “like cassettes with their tape pulled out,” your eyes will devour the pages as you are led through stories that turn from the supernatural to the hyper-real. Sophie Van Llewyn knows her Romanian history and lore but nothing feels forced or unnatural and you will find yourself hitting the last page of Bottled Goods quicker than you wanted.
Bottled Goods is available from Fairlight Books and elsewhere online.
September 18, 2018 Playlists
Listen along to Issue 61’s playlist on Spotify!
Svetlana Beggs ,“The Photo” – “Звезда по имени Солнце” by Viktor Tsoi
Victor Tsoi was a necessary force of nature for USSR high school kids in the late 80s. The two main characters in my story love this song, and indeed know by heart every song by Victor Tsoi.
Janika A Oza, “Gathered Family” – “Garden Prayer” by Anju
Lindsey Baker, “Ourself, Ourself” – “Black Sands” by Bonobo
I like this song because it’s seemingly dramatic, but has swells of something that feels like humor. Or if not humor, whimsy. I think the narrators would enjoy playing it while riding with Jack in his car.
Michael Riess, “Sky Like Concrete” – “Colorblind” by Counting Crows
I chose this song because my story—like the lyrics in the song—describes a colorless landscape and a narrator unable to properly express his feelings.
Megan Pillow Davis, “We All Know About Margo” – “DNA” by Kendrick Lamar
“DNA” is the song that’s playing in the background of my story’s moment. Although Lamar is clearly speaking to the particulars of black cultural appropriation, the song still aligns well with Margo’s character because both hip-hop and the female body are often stereotyped and objectified by white culture; while certainly not identical experiences, the pain and anger that both groups feel has some small kinship. When I wrote this story, I imagined “DNA” as the kind of song my white suburban teen male narrators would play while driving around in their parents’ BMWs, listening only to its beat and completely missing its adept celebration of black history and culture and skewering of whiteness.
Tiffany Quay Tyson, “Now You See Me” – “Someday” by Steve Earle
This song really captures the feeling of being stuck in a particular place through no fault of your own. The narrator in “Now You See Me” is stuck. She hasn’t done anything wrong, but nothing goes right for her.
Steven Grassel, “Weather Person” – “Hopefulessness” by Courtney Barnett
Caroline Bock, “Government-Issued Bunnies” – “Is This the World We Created” by Queen
This song asks is this what we have created? All the hungry mouths we have to feed and all the suffering we breed, where does it lead us? It led me to “Government-issued Bunnies.”
John Mancini, “Swans” – “Poor Joan” by John Mancini Band
Like “Swans,” this song is a story about people confronting change and loss. Joan and Billy live on Back River, which is not too far from where Sherry lives on Stoney Creek.
James Amata, “Shopping ya Shilingi Elfu Tano” – “Ka Nameka” by Tabu Ley Rochereau & L’Afrisa International
Translated from Lingala as WACHA NIJARIBU, (Let Me Try). It was a competition entry at a concert. His band won!
This song so soothes me as it so encourages me to always try.
Lynn Mundell, “Sister Wives at the County Fair” – “Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves” by Aretha Franklin
We never see more than a flash of Husband, so a love song won’t do. Instead, in honor of the legendary Aretha Franklin, here’s an anthem perfect for sing-alongs.
Rebecca Dashiell, “If the Light, Then the Light” – “Lioness” by Songs: Ohia
I feel like this is the kind of song the filmmaker’s wife would listen to and think this is what love should look like: desperate longing and vulnerability.
Jeff Landon, “Ringo Starr” – “I Don’t Want To Control You” by Teenage Fanclub
Because I love Teenage Fanclub, and I don’t really love Ringo Starr’s music… except
“Photograph… and this song is about the exact opposite type of man as the dildo in my story.
September 17, 2018 News Digests
The SmokeLong Quarterly team are thrilled to have more and more opportunities for celebrating flash fiction writers. A couple of new Best-anthologies are accepting nominations, and of course we’re nominating SLQ stories.
Best Microfiction is considering submissions under 400 words–eight micros per journal!–until the end of the year. We have nominated the stories below but still have two nominations open (and a December issue of SmokeLong yet to be filled).
“Satellite” by Elaine Edwards
“Blemish” by Jessica Cavero
“It’s Over” by Molly Giles
“Taking Notes” by Kerry Cullen
“Safe” by David Lerner Schwartz
“Crossing” by Alice Mercier
Best British and Irish Flash Fiction will be taking nominations from editors until May 31, 2019. We have nominated one story so far but remain hopeful that we’ll publish gobs of British and Irish writers before the deadline.
“I’m Ron McRain said Ron McRain” by Jonathan Cardew
Congratulations to these nominees from the SmokeLong team!
September 10, 2018 Reviews
by Kelly Lynn Thomas
Dana Diehl’s new chapbook, TV Girls (New Delta Review, August 2018), is a collection of short stories based on reality TV shows and celebrities. You don’t need to be familiar with The Bachelor or Sister Wives to enjoy the characters or their struggles, though. Whatever you’ve gleaned from reading People headlines in the grocery store checkout line and from your friends’ Facebook feeds is enough of an entry point. The six stories in the collection aren’t exactly satire, but they aren’t exactly homages to reality TV either. They’re something in between, a chimaera of expectation-skewering, healthy cynicism, fascination with human behavior, voyeurism, and feminist commentary.
The poet Chen Chen, who selected Diehl’s manuscript as the 2017-2018 New Delta Review Chapbook Series winner, says of it, “Story after story, Diehl discovers fraught vulnerabilities and startling truths in the lives of girls and women confronting the expectations of TV, lovers, family, and one another.” An apt description, as reading TV Girls felt like being an archaeologist from the future, excavating 21st-century life, uncovering its dirty laundry and hidden secrets one by one.
The collection’s eponymous story, presumably based on The Bachelor, explores a group of 25 women “looking for love.” None of the women are named, only referred to with letters, and they drop out of the story one by one as they leave the set, seemingly having failed their quest. But of course, the quest was artificial from the beginning, and the story reminds the reader of this harsh fact over and over again. “The TV girls believe they can find love on national television,” the unnamed narrator states at the beginning. Right from the start, we know it’s a lost cause. What’s more, we as readers and watchers know that the TV girls themselves know it’s a lost cause. “Each TV girl says, he’s really, really the one.”
We know he’s not, but that’s part of reality TV’s charm—we get to watch other people make a mess of their lives from the comfort of our living rooms. The tension in this story comes not from which girl will wind up with the “Potential Husband,” but from the narrator’s increasingly naked desire to see things go wrong, and the more explosive, the more dramatic, the better. That theme comes up again in the collection’s final story, “Conjoined,” a story about conjoined twins Jenna and Lily, who also happen to be the last girls on earth. Before the world ended, they had their own reality show, and now they live in abandoned TV sets in Los Angeles. Their lives were always scripted, and even with no audience left, it’s as if they are performing, struggling to maintain appearances. “When everyone was already looking, there was no point in trying to hide,” the girls muse.
Because of course, Diehl’s stories are as much about the people who watch reality television as the shows and celebrities themselves. They push and pull against that base desire we all feel to watch the train wreck, mouths agape at the rubble, the blood, the fire. As a culture, we’re obsessed with reality TV because it allows us to indulge in fantasy and drama, not in spite of it.
Even the stories that aren’t directly based on specific reality TV shows have a reality TV show feel. In “Must-Haves,” a couple goes house shopping, and the story is told through a list of the things their new house has to possess. No fewer than three bedrooms to accommodate future children. A finished basement to shelter the family in case of tornado or hurricane. A claw-foot tub in which the narrator can escape an affair she imagines her spouse will have in the future.
This narrator imagines all the worst-case scenarios: fire, famine, the end of the world. The couple is young, and it’s easy to picture them, though Diehl never actually describes them physically. He’s a smartly dressed professional with a high salary and an eye on the corporate ladder. She’s the artsy type working on her first book. Both of them are fit and attractive with straight, white teeth.
It’s no leap to imagine them on a show like House Hunters, searching and searching for the right home, never finding it because of some minuscule flaw, like the “wrong” paint color or the lack of that claw-foot tub. Happiness knocks on their door, but they are too afraid to answer it, too afraid to face the possibility of failure, so their potential remains unfulfilled. The viewer remains on the couch, safely watching the drama of strangers’ lives, never venturing out to live her own life.
Regardless of the source material, Dana Diehl has a knack for the poignant detail. One of my favorites is from “Buddy,” a story about Cake Boss star Buddy Valastro. When he gets his family lost at sea, the narrator notes that “Most of the cakes he makes for his show are beautiful but flavorless, made of refrigerated sheet cake and covered with fondant.” It’s the artifice again, the beautiful lie. Appearances aren’t everything, though we all pretend they are.
Ultimately, TV Girls left me acutely aware of the way our culture has found innumerable ways to commodify the very act of living. We consume these stories, gobble them up, and we can’t get enough of them. The viewer is just as culpable for this spectacle as the people who are directly involved—and perhaps even more so. In a way, these six stories feel like cautionary tales. Instead of warning against vanity and vice, they remind us that happiness and fulfillment only come if we are willing to get down in the dirt, wrestle with our desires and shortcomings, failing, but in our failure finding truth.
Kelly Lynn Thomas reads, writes, and sometimes sews in Pittsburgh, PA. She lives with her partner, one dog, and a constant migraine. Her fiction has appeared in Permafrost, Sou’wester, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, and was nominated for a 2017 Pushcart. Kelly received her MFA in Creative Writing from Chatham University, is a coordinator for the VIDA Count, and can always be found with a large mug of tea.
September 3, 2018 Reviews
by C.A. Schaefer
The title of Mandy Huggins’ collection, Brightly Coloured Horses (Chapeltown Books, 2018), evokes images of a childhood toy box. The stories inside this treasure chest are beautifully jumbled into an assortment that echo, overlap, and subvert each other. The epigraph, a quotation from Willa Cather that argues that “there are only two or three human stories,” serves not only as philosophical guide to the collection, but as a reminder that familiarity between stories is not a trap to avoid, but a strategy to be embraced.
Every story invites us to peer into the lives of its characters, returning to familiar narratives of loss and betrayal, or else healing and reparation. The collection circles the question of what it means to be with another person. Characters converge and then separate, or join together in astonishing love. In the title story, the narrator feels a profound and terrible isolation from her lover, realizing that even in the middle of a Parisian idyll, only she will recall these images and sensations as vividly as she does; her lover will return to his marriage, dismissing this experience and allowing it to fade. “She had felt sure that this moment would save them, but it was too busy, too impersonal.” Some relationships refuse redemption; in “Shooting Stars,” a wife imagines adultery a thousand times before she commits it. This wife, like so many of Huggins’ narrators, has moments of keenly devastating insight. “No one can protect her from what she wanted,” she says in a moment of realization. In “Fatal Flaw,” the narrator echoes her, declaring life as “the possibility of damage from which there can be no recovery.”
It is frequently Huggins’ vivid and precise descriptions of objects that speak to the connections between her characters. Some objects offer an elusive hope of redemption: a pair of yellow shoes serve as a harbinger of hope for a desperate young woman in “Twenty Dollar Shoes;” a jar of bean paste that sustains a memory of a lost beloved from “The Last of Michiko;” in “Kisses,” a biscuit dipped in tea acts as a substitute for a kiss. Other objects portend disaster. A small red ball, carelessly tossed out a window, catalyzes a horrifying accident in “Blood Red.” In “Car by Car,” a shining “curvaceous coupe” is witness to the end of a relationship and the fragments of the self that are inevitably lost during a separation.
But Brightly Coloured Horses sometimes warns us against believing too much in the redemptive power of these objects. In “The Turquoise Silk,” a child enamored with her mother’s “glittering tangle of diamante bracelets, necklaces of tiny iridescent shells, and cocktail rings set with rubies, amethysts, topaz, and amber” is devastated to realize that her mother values order and beauty over her child’s chaotic desires. “The Right Castanets” offers a story steeped in yearning, a child who tries to erase her father’s adulterous transgressions by searching for a perfect gift that he can offer her. But these objects fail to redeem and transfigure. In the end, they remain simply things, as they do in “Perfect Word,” which muses on the failure of these transformations. “The body of Christ can’t save me,” the mourning narrator muses, “only the blood of Christ: the wine that I drink to lessen the unexpected weight of grief.” In “Only the Best,” a wryly tragic variation on “Gift of the Magi,” an impractical object illuminates how profound the disconnection between a husband and wife can be.
Huggins turns away from the inanimate and towards the animal world throughout her collection. The sweetness and horror of animal behavior highlights some of the absurdities of human relationships. In “Nelson,” a small and beloved cat is discovered swirling limply in a washing machine. Although it miraculously survives, the cat and the narrator’s lover flee the next day, leaving the narrator bereft and waiting. The united actions of a pair of dung beetles, staggering together towards a blade of grass in “The Dung Beetle Race” is far more faithful than a human’s promise to return. Throughout the collection, dead rabbits, swooping seagulls, tiny crabs, and beautifully free dogs offer glimpses of a life deeper and richer than the tragicomedy of broken human relationships.
Huggins’ work is perhaps most piercing and revelatory in her moments of ambivalence. In “Whatever Speed She Dared,” a woman contemplates free and wild driving but hesitates because of a shadowy memory of bodies buried in peat. The narration only offers this incomplete reason, and refuses any further questions. Huggins allows us glimpses of understanding in these stories: the memory of a body, a trapped goose, or a moment of grace offered by the rain.
In a few of the pieces, however, these revelations don’t resonate as deeply as others do. Sometimes the pieces incorporate more thorough exposition, and their mysteries are resolved too quickly and completely. Sometimes, too, the language slips away from beautiful strangeness, and instead offers the occasional cliché. These are rare occasions in the collection, though; most of the stories linger beautifully, and their familiar chords begin to overlap in my memory, so that I am not always able to separate one story from another. These stories speak to each other, celebrating nuance, contradiction, and confusion. There may be, as Brightly Coloured Horses reminds us, only two or three stories, but their variations are both imaginative and tender.
C.A. Schaefer’s stories and creative nonfiction have appeared in Indiana Review, Mid-American Review, Phantom Drift, Passages North, and other journals. A former editor of Quarterly West, she holds a Ph.D. from the University of Utah. She currently teaches writing and other humanities courses in Salt Lake City.
August 27, 2018 News Digests
It’s that time of year again, when editors put on their Santa hats and make writers’ days and weeks and years. This nomination season is going to be particularly brilliant for Alvin Park, the grand prize winner of The SmokeLong Quarterly Award for Flash Fiction (The Smokey). We’ve promised to nominate the story for every award, and we’re starting with Best of the Net.
2018 Best of the Net Nominations from SLQ
Whale Fall by Alvin Park
Boy by Tochukwu Emmanuel Okafor
Congratulations to Alvin and Tochukwu from the SLQ team!
Christopher and Tara
August 20, 2018 Reviews
by Julia Tagliere
Brad Watson (author of Aliens in the Prime of Their Lives) dubbed Pokrass the “new monarch of the delightful and enigmatic tiny kingdom of micro- and flash fiction.” Incredibly prolific, Pokrass has written four previous collections and a book of prose poetry. Her stories and poems have appeared or are forthcoming in more than 300 publications.
Alligators at Night, published in July 2018, is Pokrass’ fifth collection. Comprising 72 pieces, many of which first appeared in publications such as Atticus Review, Necessary Fiction, and Jellyfish Review, this fascinating collection does not present an easily discernible underlying thread, at least in terms of subject matter. There are dead or dying pets (“You and Your Middle-Aged Cat”; “Being Sheila”); aging women (“Invisible”); old divorces and new beginnings (“Therapy Cat”; “Why Not Now”; “Starting Over”). Many of the pieces do, however, share a unique emotional theme: loss—not past loss or current, but rather, anticipated.
In the title piece, for example, the narrator and her husband are walking at night, listening to the “sound of alligators crooning like deranged, nocturnal cows” when she observes, “…what you sometimes want is to never actually get there. He has not yet had his dose of whiskey…You have not yet said you have a migraine, and that you don’t really feel like snuggling…You have not yet cried or threatened to leave…” Or in “The Benefits of Krill,” when the narrator tells her favorite cashier at the market by her pharmacy job that “Duncan has lung cancer and that soon the pharmacy will be gone. I need to become more memorable to him, and soon…” Four words is all it takes in “Separation”: “After packing, I find myself staring at his penis…It is friendly-looking. I will miss it.” These are all futures that have not yet come to pass within Pokrass’ narratives, but that wound nonetheless with their very inevitability.
Just as David Gaffney writes in “Stories in Your Pocket: How to Write Flash Fiction,” reading Alligators at Night feels like you’ve “been run over by a lorry full of fridges,” but in the very best of ways. Each precision-crafted story strikes an emotional chord and hits it hard, hammering away at different feelings so that it is difficult to read more than a handful at a time. I found myself needing to take frequent breaks to reflect on and process what a particular piece made me feel—and feel, I did.
Take, for example, “Dismount,” where a little girl beams a smile at her father, visiting her unexpectedly outside of his arranged time, a smile so enthusiastic she dribbles saliva: “…she walked out into the sunlight holding his big-fingers with no fear.” There is, of course, a subtle darkness mingling with the girl’s joy at his appearance—his displeasure at her dribbling, the “darkish stairwell,” her freckles “landing like buzzards around her nose”—but as I read it, all I can feel is her joy: “She was his princess on Sundays.”
Pokrass swings deftly between swells of joy like this to floods of darker emotion, as in her poignant “Man Against Nature.” She sets the reader up with a cozy scene of a couple watching a nature-survival show on TV, fragrant soup cooking in the background, only to slo-mo gut punch the reader with her last few lines, revealing the stark, painful contrast between the couple’s reality and the reality they’re watching on TV.
It’s not all darkness, however—far from it. Pokrass certainly excels at emotional wallops, but she also possesses terrific humor. She reveals this mainly through her characters, who make me snort out loud at something one or the other of them says. From “Albino”: “We went to a thrift store and joked about trying on hats and getting lice. ‘Miami Lice,’ he said.” Or the little girl idolizing her older sister, in “Playing the Chicken”: “I love it when she says fuck. She says it often and I like to sing it in my head. Last year, I was kicked out of girl scouts for saying that perfect word.”
Part of Pokrass’ talent in wrenching such intense emotions from her reader comes from the vividness of her descriptions. She has a brutally clear, unsparing way of forcing readers’ eyes wide open, insisting they see what she wants them to see. A few of my favorite examples: “I’d gotten so used to Mike’s nudity that I’d stopped noticing his penis crouched like a worried squirrel.” (“Wouldn’t You Like Some Sun?”) Or the woman friend “of a certain age” at lunch in “Invisible,” of whom Pokrass writes this: “Looking at her meaty arms, I thought of pie-crust dough.” From “You Are Better Than This”: “Like a drunk car on the highway, her lips followed the road of his hair. She could taste the salt of a tidal basin.” Pokrass hits all the senses with her descriptions—which only deepens the reader’s visceral emotional responses.
In the interest of full disclosure, I must confess I’m a recent convert to reading flash fiction, but this potent collection has completely won me over with its complexity, intensity, and gratification. Veteran flash readers and fans of Pokrass will certainly not be disappointed by Alligators at Night; newcomers to the genre, like me, will find an outstanding way to get acquainted.
Alligators at Night is available from Ad Hoc Fiction.
Julia Tagliere is a writer and editor whose work has appeared in The Writer, The Bookends Review, Potomac Review, numerous anthologies, and the juried photography and prose collection Love + Lust. Winner of the 2015 William Faulkner Literary Competition for Best Short Story and the 2017 Writers Center Undiscovered Voices Fellowship, Julia currently resides in Maryland with her family, where she recently completed her M.A. in Writing at John Hopkins University. She serves as an editor with The Baltimore Review and is currently working on her next novel, The Day the Music Didn’t Die.
August 13, 2018 Reviews
by Ashley McGreary
Opening any collection of short fiction is like losing your senses to a curio cabinet of wonder, but Karen Donovan’s Aard-vark to Axolotl (Etruscan Press, April 2018) takes this precept to an almost literal interpretation. Based on a set of illustrations from the pages of her grandfather’s 1925 Webster’s New International Dictionary, this series of seventy-eight micro stories and prose poems represents an eclectic, lyrical, razor-sharp foray into the sphere of alternative definition, with its true allegiance laying somewhere between a lexicon and a bestiary. Like any cabinet of curiosity, each piece can be taken out, examined separately, and weighed in the humid cup of your hand, yet despite this microcosmic intimacy, its sheer breathless scope means that its fascination can never truly be exhausted. Karan Donovan is also the author of two collections of poetry: Fugitive Red, which won the Juniper Prize, and Your Enzymes Are Calling the Ancients, winner of the Lexi Rudnitsky Editor’s Choice Award. Her recognizant contribution to literature is summed up in Ander Manson’s words: “This blurb won’t help save you, but Aard-vark to Axolotl just might.”
Logically, for a work whose title celebrates the kingdom Animalia, this series begins by examining the complex interrelationships between humans and animals, with its opening gambit: “Earth Pig” rendering our hypocrisies in blood across the page, while equally evoking a psychological proximity that makes the rationalized violence of the piece truly jarring. In a wonderfully postmodern inscription, the titular Aard-vark greet the possibilities of a new day, which include the chance of its own individual extinction, a fact that resonates across all life. This state of interconnection is further advanced in “A Lustrous, Pearly Interior,” which uses the backdrop of a beach, and its calcium carbonate substrate of history, to evince a deep sense of isolation and meaninglessness, against which even language itself is impuissant. The animal and human condition run together like an agate seam through this chapbook, creating a sense of lineage and inheritance that is echoed in the distant-but-still-touching experiences of grandfather and granddaughter. At its heart, this work attempts to define not just the physicality of an object: “Achene of Buttercup in vertical section, showing solitary seed,” but its abstract, metaphysical properties: “When she left, she folded her wasted body through a crack in space-time and bloomed out on the other side, pulling the long bright skein of my brain’s neural pathways with her.” It is a tour de force, which transcribes the dictionary into emotion.
Each micro-piece is accompanied by an original illustration, which acts like a holdfast in the oceanic possibility of language. Beside it, Donovan’s hyper-condensed prose spans a universe in form and tone, rendering each piece with a unique, imperishable signature. From the numbered diagram of “View From Southwest Airliner on Final Approach to Province,” to the jazz-like call and response of “Constraints Are Better Than Freedom,” and the self-depreciating, staccato sentences of “Makeover,” to the nested involvement of “Dinner Date’s” twenty-seven words, Aard-vark to Axolotl explores ideas of perspective, interpretation, pleasure and disappointment, creativity, ineffability, and the condition of being untethered from ones culture: in short, everything it means to be human.
The collection also focuses its lens on the darker side of the human experience too, with sequences such as “Burn Notice” depicting a spiralling lack of control, which unwinds from a superficial sunburn to “The towers and with them my psyche. My bridges ever since,” articulating an irretrievable state of entropy; and “Sales Job,” whose jaunty tone hides a tenebrous scepticism concerning our inability to escape the corporate order and its false-benign smile.
Parallel to the natural world in Aard-vark to Axolotl is the urban environment, and the efficiency or redundancy of technology, with “No Signal Detected” and “The Accident” offering rival perspectives. In the first micro-piece, a couple resist the tide of progress by persevering with their old “rabbit ears” aerial and its temperamental reception; after far too long of this, they finally buy a smart, new antennae, which, like their old one only works when it is “propped up at exactly the right angle over in the corner of the room on top of the CD player,” showing the cynical failure of technology to improve anything other than material aesthetics. The second micro-piece, comparatively, advocates the propensity of technology to remake life as secure and perfectible through the illusion of depth. Following a jarring cycling accident, the speaker trades the risk of reality for “the stationary bike at the Y, the one that’s like a videogame” and is satisfied with the substitution, a stance which challenges our own perspectives on modernity. Donovan’s collection is, indisputably, a work of and for our time, but it also represents a pantheon across all times, with its tendrils trailing between past, present, and future. The existential resonance in “Mesozoic’s” line: “Ask the experts where my bones lie: there, on the other side of catastrophe,” implicates both the fragility and endurance of life, and the ease with which all animation passes into history; while “Other Floral Borders I Have Known” paints a cradle to grave montage through the adornment of flowers, capturing the essence of existence as beautiful, fading, and brief.
To return, punctually, to the curio cabinet metaphor, it is impossible to appreciate everything in Donovan’s work through a single encounter, Aard-vark to Axolotl is a collection that not only stands up to a third, fourth, fifth reading, but actively encourages it. With a tone that shifts from lyrical, to scathing, deprecating, eccentric, empowering and introspective, this collection provides, at its core, a rumination on how we use language to construct and define the world around us, as well as the place of writing within that structure. “It was then I understood,” Donovan records, in conjunction to the etching of an Archer Fish, “I had a razor-tipped device inside me that could spear any prey I desired.” The rest, they say, is history, because the power of good writing has been hooking people ever since. Though most readers don’t prefer a comparison to fish.
Ashley McGreary is a fledgling writer with a degree in English and Creative Writing, currently working towards an MA in English Literature. She is at the extreme end of starting out, but hopes eventually to shape a career out of the two things that set her soul on fire: literature and writing.
August 6, 2018 Reviews
New Micro: Exceptionally Short Stories (Norton, 2018)
Edited by James Thomas and Robert Scotellaro
Reviewed by Kara Oakleaf
The challenge of flash fiction is often what to leave out – limiting yourself to 1,000 words leaves little room for anything other than the absolute essentials of a story. Microfiction strips things down even further, fitting a full narrative into fewer than 300 words.
In New Micro: Exceptionally Short Stories, editors James Thomas and Robert Scotellaro have assembled an impressive collection of these stories, pulling the best micros from online and print journals, story collections and anthologies. The collection features some of the most recognizable names of short fiction and flash, including Amy Hempel, Stuart Dybek, Joyce Carol Oates, John Edgar Wideman, Joy Williams, and Kathy Fish, alongside newer writers. Most of the stories – 140 total, from 90 different writers – are from more recent publications, but a few are from writers who have been experimenting with this extremely short form since the 1970s.
In his foreword, Robert Shapard says microfiction can be “as intense as poetry,” and this feels especially true of the stories in New Micro. I found myself reading this book the same way I often read a poetry collection, getting through only one or two stories at a time before I wanted to pause, let those stories swim around in my head for a while before coming back for more. These stories look small on the page, but each of them demands that readers give it room to expand long after they’ve set down the book.
The opening story, “Letting Go” by Pamela Painter, establishes a high bar for that intensity Shapard mentions in the foreword. It starts out as a contemplative piece – a woman alone on vacation encounters a young, happy couple as she thinks about her ex – but the events turn quickly when the narrator witnesses something shocking that haunts her, and the reader, long after the end of the story.
Other pieces in the collection also play with the idea of witness, exploring moments when a character brushes up against a scene they aren’t fully a part of, but are nonetheless changed by. Molly Giles’ “Protest” features two thirteen-year-old girls lying in the middle of the road, stopping traffic and creating chaos. The girls are the catalyst for the narrative, but what makes the story is the image of young boys watching them, fascinated with this strange glimpse of what might wait for them in adolescence. John Edgar Wideman’s “Witness” shows us a fifteen-year-old boy murdered, the police on the scene, and finally, the boy’s family mourning at the spot where he died, all from the vantage point of the narrator’s balcony. In “New Rollerskates” by Erin Dionne, a young girl sits outside an apartment building, keeping the secret of what she knows is happening inside – until she doesn’t. And Kathleen McGookey’s “Another Drowning, Miner Lake,” has another take on this kind of story: a narrator swimming in a lake, disturbingly unaffected by the knowledge that a woman drowned there the night before.
Micros lend themselves well to the extraordinary, and several pieces in the collection experiment with unexpected or fantastic premises. The narrator of Thaisa Frank’s The New Thieves replaces herself with a camouflaged woman, testing to see if her lover will notice. A repairman gets stuck in a furnace duct for days in Kevin Griffith’s “Furnace,” and chats with the family through one of the grates in the floor. Nin Andrews’ two stories are written from the perspective of an orgasm. A surgeon cuts a patient’s flesh in the shape of his home country in James Claffey’s Kingmaker. Whole populations abandon their homes to become hermits in Ana María Shua’s Hermit. Stories that might fall apart in longer form are expertly held together by these writers who ground their characters so firmly in unbelievable premises that you’re drawn in before you have a chance to question it.
Some stories use this miniature form to tackle big subjects. Brian Cooper’s “Hurricane Ride” and Francine Witte’s “Jetty Explains the Universe” bring together everyday scenes – carnival rides and the lives of housecats – with expansive questions about the nature of the universe. Michael Czyzniejewski’s “Intrigued by Reincarnation, Skip Dillard Embraces Buddhism” begins with a light, humorous tone before focusing on the allure of starting over, of slipping out of your own life and into another anonymous one.
Other stories tackle more familiar and realistic territory – marriages, affairs, and the birth and death of loved ones – but create an unexpected impact. In Josh Russell’s “Our Boys,” the simple experience of a parent mixing up his two sons’ baby pictures leads to the unsettling question of how well we really know the ones we’re closest to. Zachery Schomberg’s “Death Letter” gives a powerful twist to a break-up story. In Tom Hazuka’s “Utilitarianism,” the narrator sees a change in his parents’ relationship, and we suddenly feel that we understand the entirety of this decades-long marriage. And in Gay Degani’s “An Abbreviated Glossary” and Damian Dressick’s “Four Hard Facts About Water,” the authors use lists to narrate the worst kinds of grief, and hit the reader hard in the moment when their characters’ pain cuts sharply through the story’s structure.
The stories collected here are broad and diverse, difficult to narrow down, but if any single thing unifies them, it’s the language. Stories like Bonnie Jo Campbell’s “Sleepover”and Tara Laskowski’s “Dendrochronology” end on vivid, resonant images that bring every other detail into sharper focus. The rhythm and repetition in the single-paragraph stories “Flying” by Jeff Landon and “Black Cat” by Josh Russell are almost spell-like and completely transport you into the narrators’ memories. Every word carries extra weight in these stories, and it’s this attention to language, as much as their length, that makes the stories in in New Micro comparable to poetry.
And yet, these stories are clearly in their own genre. If what poetry does is crystalize a particular moment and invite the reader to linger there, microfiction crystalizes moments that immediately demand the reader imagine what lies beyond the story. Because there is a full world created by each of these stories. Micros may have the intensity and the economy of language of poetry, but this collection shows that they are distinctly narrative. As short as they are, the stories in New Micro are fully formed works of fiction, encapsulating nuanced characters, the scope of a long marriage, or the way small moments shape a day, or a year, or a lifetime. In every case, they outlive their size.
Kara Oakleaf‘s work appears or is forthcoming in journals including Wigleaf, SmokeLong Quarterly, Monkeybicycle, Jellyfish Review, Nimrod, Seven Hills Review, Tahoma Literary Review, and Postcard Poems and Prose. She is a graduate of the M.F.A. program at George Mason University, where she now teaches and directs the Fall for the Book literary festival.
July 30, 2018 Reviews
by Pilar DiPietro
Often we think of life in the 1950s as one of wistful innocence and familial ease. We may even term it “the Good Old Days.” Barry Gifford’s The Cuban Club (Seven Stories Press, October 2017), a collection of sixty-seven related stories, pushes back on these notions of nostalgia with the remembrances of Roy. Roy is a first-generation American, Chicagoan by way of Miami in his youth. Trying to make his way through the snarls of puberty, Roy unties the knots of race, marriage and fidelity, death, sex and love, violence, grief, loss, and parent-child relationships.
In the snippets that make up Roy’s memories, the reader gains an understanding of the changing parental, domestic, family and moral roles that were sweeping through America in the 1950s and early 1960s and the effects these changes were having on the next generation. Through Roy’s eyes the reader is given insight: not only the fascinations of youth but the reflections of a changing time. Throughout the stories Gifford maintains Roy’s delightful innocence in the foreground, his youthful misunderstandings often tumbling out of his mouth, though alluding to the real situation that runs deeper, and often darker, behind.
Uniquely, and indeed digitally friendly, Gifford allows the reader to open to any of his stories and feel like it may have been exactly where you left off. There is no need to read this collection in any particular order. Roy’s stories, each approximately three pages long, identify the age at which Roy is recording them. This grounding is helpful in seeing Roy’s progression, his bildungsroman, as he grapples with situations that, perhaps, no boy should be aware of. I recommend mixing up your reading order and enjoying the stories outside linear time.
The book does contain some violence. While uncomfortable at times, it is palatable. Roy’s father, a mid-level racketeer with mob affiliations, is on one hand protective of his son, and yet his fatherly advice frequently verges on the morally hypocritical. For example, after Roy learns that Mean Well Benny’s cut-throated corpse was found in an alley garbage can, Roy’s father says, “Some men’s lives don’t amount to much, son. They get on the wrong road and don’t ever get back on the straight and narrow.” Luckily, Roy’s pops gives more solid lessons: “I’m sorry to say, Roy, I believe in the existence of evil. Hitler, for example, was an evil man who had the ability to inspire and manipulate people into committing the most gruesome acts of villainy.” Although Roy’s father is ambiguously depicted as being involved with illegal enterprises, his pronouncements, along with Pops’, are sound enough to aid in the formation of Roy’s ethical balance. Gifford writes in a manner allowing for reader understanding without author subjectivity.
Roy’s mother, an aging ex-model, ricochets from one boyfriend to another and often leaves Roy in the care of others while she jet-sets in search of love and adventure. By thirty-four she is quite jaded and has been married three times. The conversations between her and her equally disenchanted friend, Kay, are often overheard by Roy who is left to make his own conclusions and seldom have little to do with the actual meaning of the quips. For example, after Kay, speaking of orgasms, tells Roy that his mom has had an epiphany, Roy asks, “Do you have to be a Catholic to have one?” to which Kay answers, “No, Roy, but it probably helps.”
Johnny Murphy, Roy’s friend, teaches Roy about the underside of life, a seedy underbelly seems taken for granted by the characters. When Roy and Johnny decide to play detective after the grisly murder of a young woman is discovered, Johnny off-handedly states, “He raped the girl, strangled her—or maybe, if he was a real pervert, strangled her before raping her.” The eleven-year-old boys go to the crime scene to search for clues and Johnny deduces: “The killer’s a rich guy who lives in a fancy apartment around here, on Lake Shore or Marine Drive.” Indeed, the killer was found to be “a 42-year-old bachelor named Leonard Danzig, an architect,” who had determined the girl was the sister of Jesus Christ and “felt it was his duty to abort what he described as an immoral lineage.” After the killer was captured and committed, Roy asks his mother what she thinks. She tells her son, “You can’t execute all of the sick people in the world, Roy. There are too many. Once you start doing that it would never stop.” Roy then asks if she thinks the world would be better without the killer in it. Gifford’s next lines are typical of his style: “Roy’s mother, who had already been divorced twice and had a third marriage annulled, said, ‘Him and a few other men I can name.’”
Readers will enjoy Roy’s adventures, if not contemplate Gifford’s true intentions. The tales, often having many meanings, are a wonderful mix of ingredients that enfold a boy’s journey of adolescence in urban 1950s America. The result of the collection is a layered spiced cake with each of Roy’s episodes demanding the reader’s introspection of their own identity and values.
July 20, 2018 Flashback Series
by Michael Loveday
The novel-/novella-in-flash is a curious form. Not a straightforward novel/novella, nor simply a story collection, it functions as a hybrid. Its enthusiasts, myself included, resemble TV evangelists on obscure late-night channels, full of zeal as to why this of all literary forms is the most satisfying, and the closest equivalent to real life – that fusion of ‘story’ and the individual, numinous moment.
What follows is a list of twelve examples of the novel-/novella-in-flash, with some commentary that tries to approach a definition of what the form is, and what it isn’t. I’ve included some examples that stretch the category a little, so we can get to know its edges.
Broadly speaking, the novel-/novella-in-flash consists of a sequence of individual but related short-short stories that somehow build momentum towards a bigger whole. The craft essays in My Very End of the Universe: Five Novellas-in-Flash and a Study of the Form describe how the form “mixes the quick and the sustained” and blends “the extreme brevity of the flash with the longer – albeit still brief – arc of the novella.” Despite the requirement for a coherent whole, because any overarching story is broken into distinct mini-stories or fragments, the novel-/novella-in-flash “is a form of omission and lacuna.”
The Bath Flash Fiction Award now has an annual international competition dedicated to the Novella-in-Flash and publishes an anthology of the three winning entries each year. The sensationally good How to Make a Window Snake by Charmaine Wilkerson was its inaugural winner in 2017. This competition asks for each chapter or flash to be not more than 1,000 words long, with the whole (for the novella-in-flash) between 6,000 and 18,000 words long. However, some of the twelve books in my list below are more like novels, and so run to several thousand more words than this.
Inevitably, in a list of only twelve books, there are significant exclusions, and I acknowledge that the list is a very subjective one. Still, I hope it serves as a useful way forward for readers wanting to discover more about the form. (As the list is limited to examples of fiction, I’ve not included memoir-in-flash.)
- Candide, or Optimism (Voltaire, 1759)
Cannibalism, murder, STDs, flogging, hanging, shipwreck, El Dorado, earthquake – in a mere 86 pages this eighteenth-century proto-novella-in-flash has all the drama you could want. Nevertheless, a philosophical tale at heart, Voltaire’s book satirises the mode of the chivalric romance through its story of a young man beset by bad luck who travels the world to find (and lose) his fortune. It possesses many characteristics that would later become defining features of the novella-in-flash: it’s short; each chapter (with one exception) is less than 1,000 words; and, because of its varied locations and ensemble cast of secondary characters, each chapter has its own distinct mood and material, that necessary sense of being a ‘world of its own.’ If it falls short of the novella-in-flash as we now know the form in its purest sense, it’s because (as with many novels from the 18th century to the present day) many chapters close by preparing us for the next or depend directly on the previous one in narrative terms. What came later to the form was a stronger sense of a pause or ‘resonating space’ at the end of each chapter, and the feeling that the overall text offers, rather than one continuous narrative thread, an interwoven patchwork of self-contained moments. Nevertheless, the roots of the novella-in-flash can be seen in Voltaire’s writing.
- Mrs. Bridge (Evan S. Connell, 1959)
A magnificent portrait of a middle-class woman, and her family, in mid-twentieth-century suburban America. Its 117 short chapters are written with a relentless, quiet conviction that insists: these characters really do exist. Mrs. Bridge, whose story we follow from youth to old age, is alienated from her life and her feelings, as she raises a family and builds a life for herself in the absence of any romantic attentions from her husband. Readers glimpse an existential dread running through her observations and interactions, and yet she potters on distractedly, somewhat bewildered by the changes in her world, and keeping up appearances in that very middle-class, mid-twentieth-century way. Subsequently overshadowed by the careers of Updike, Roth and Yates, whose debut books appeared at around the same time, Connell’s tragicomic first novel is a classic of social realism – a brilliant portrait of the inter-war dissatisfactions of American women – and should be read in conjunction with its sequel Mr. Bridge (1969), dealing with the same family life from the husband’s point of view.
- Play It as It Lays (Joan Didion, 1970)
An appealing cocktail of ennui, glamour, tragedy and spiky dialogue, this book’s whip-smart sentences convincingly depict life on the margins of the Hollywood movie industry, as a minor actress heads on a path of self-destruction prompted by a growing indifference to her milieu and the realities of the choices she has made. Most of the unnumbered chapters are story-fragments – from one paragraph to five pages. Some are impressionistic moments; others run in sequence, picking up where the previous one left off. Thus, not all the chapters are fully developed to become self-standing stories, and a narrative momentum builds that makes it feel close to being a continuous novel. But the choppy, short chapters beautifully evoke the central character’s discontent and disconnection, and Didion’s writing is both nonchalant and sharp – like a drunk with a knife in her hand.
- Palomar (Italo Calvino, 1983)
In these 27 short-short stories about an elderly man studying the world around him – waves, birds, the stars, a cheese shop, etc. – there is little action described, let alone event or even (god forbid!) plot. But as a set of meditations, it rewards readers who enjoy grappling with complexity in their fiction, as Calvino trawls through verbose philosophical conundrums about perception, identity, and the cosmos. Mr. Palomar is as close to being a story collection as it is to being a novella-in-flash: what little forward movement there is comes from a kind of ‘mathematical’ scheme – a sequence of claimed shifts among the stories – cycling through precise proportions of ‘description’, ‘narrative’ and ‘meditation’. The scheme is so intricate that the appendix announcing it appears to be part of a literary game on Calvino’s part, entirely in sympathy with the over-meticulous Mr. Palomar himself.
- The House on Mango Street (Sandra Cisneros, 1984)
A stone-cold classic. Esperanza Cordero is growing up in a run-down tenement building in the Hispanic quarter of Chicago, negotiating family, quirky neighbours, boys, new friendships, and hoping one day for a home of her own. The language is lyrical without being sentimental, and there is a Technicolour sharpness to Esperanza’s passionate observations of the world around her, which are riddled with hopes and fears in a typically adolescent way. Stories range from 7 lines to 3 or 4 pages long and don’t progress in an explicitly chronological way. Not without moments of darkness, The House on Mango Street is a haunting yet uplifting portrait of Hispanic American life.
- Why Did I Ever? (Mary Robison, 2001)
Throughout its two hundred pages – over 500 microfictions and fragments – Robison’s novel-in-flash emphasises character and voice: there is no real overarching narrative arc to glean from this stream of jump-cut mini-scenes, many of which extend for a few sentences only. As a character-study, the book is concentrated, sassy, and inventively-phrased. The narrator, Money Breton, a Hollywood script-doctor, works on a terrible-sounding movie about Bigfoot, dealing out barbed comments to various figures in her life – her cat, her friend Hollis, her methadone-addicted daughter Mev, her son Paulie (now in police care after falling victim to violent crime). The fragments offer glimpses of her life and relationships (work, family, lovers, friends), and although these separate strands don’t integrate we do get an impression of forward movement within each strand. There’s such relentless verbal and psychological energy it’s as if each fragment has been formed under intense geological pressure – like brilliant jewels.
- We the Animals (Justin Torres, 2011)
The novella-in-flash as Bildungsroman: Torres charts the growth of a boy into sexual maturity, in the midst of a madcap, chaotic, and harsh domestic life: three brothers jostling for priority (the stories are often narrated as a third-person plural “we”); an often absent, and at times abusive, father; a mother struggling to take charge. The family environment at first feels implausibly zany; yet the reader’s fondness for it grows, until one is charmed and captivated; then the novella shifts into darker territory as it concludes. Apart from a final one-paragraph story that’s more like a prose poem, most of the chapters here (ranging from 3-12 pages) are fully developed into self-contained stories, building to their own individual climaxes, yet cumulatively they describe a central protagonist gradually uncovering his own identity. In this debut work, Torres’s control of sentence-rhythms combines with a gift for narrative structure to create a stunning tour de force.
- Paperboy (Bob Thurber, 2011)
At 230 pages, this is one of the longer books in this list, and it’s remarkable how Thurber sustains the narrative feat of creating an impression of linear, continuous story (occasional flashbacks aside) from over 150 individual segments, each with its own resonant ending. The narrative isn’t for the fainthearted: in 1969, an astronaut-obsessed teenage boy in a dysfunctional family is drawn into incest, and the rest of the novel depicts how the ongoing transgressions are kept secret, as well as telling the story of his failures and frustrations working as a local paperboy. There are a host of reasons why the material ought to fail, but the book is a raw triumph, almost claustrophobic in intensity – equally funny and tragic.
- Petrol (Martina Evans, 2012)
Irish poet and novelist Martina Evans published Petrol as a “prose poem disguised as a novella”. These thirty-nine one- or two-page prose pieces certainly have a poetic, crystalline brilliance. They might also be stream-of-consciousness dramatic monologues confided to the reader with a kind of controlled anarchy, so vivid is the voice of a persecuted thirteen-year-old in rural County Cork. Working at the family petrol station, three sisters deal with the reality of a new mother-in-law, while the narrator is terrorised by her father and drawn inexorably towards the forbidden attentions of a local nineteen-year-old.
- The Dept. of Speculation (Jenny Offill, 2014)
An old theme of marital infidelity is given remarkable new life in Jenny Offill’s broken-hearted novel, in which the rupture caused by the adultery is palpable, but the narrator is too pragmatic to watch herself slip under. The narrator leaps from thought to thought, through streams of observations, incidents, quotations, aphorisms and scientific facts that are sequenced into separate chapters. The wife is a creative writing tutor, the husband a sound archivist; other characters include a philosopher and an almost-astronaut, and all these roles feed into the rich themes of the text. A classic novel-/novella-in-flash might more obviously be a sequence of self-standing stories, but it’s becoming increasingly popular to publish mainstream novels like this one [witness also Megan Hunter’s recent The End We Start From (2017)], where the writing is a patchwork of fragmented paragraphs, sometimes as short as one sentence long. And all that divides its form from Mary Robison’s Why Did I Ever? (more widely accepted as a novel-in-flash) is the absence of numerical separators between fragments, which makes Offill’s book feel more like a fluid and continuous stream of material.
- My Very End of the Universe: Five Novellas-in-Flash and a Study of the Form (2014)
Maybe I’m cheating the numbers to include it, but a list of twelve great novels-/novellas-in-flash would be incomplete without acknowledging this anthology from Rose Metal Press: it’s a crucial text in the history of the form, presenting novellas-in-flash by five different writers, supplemented by craft essays about the creation of each work, and an informative introduction by editors Abigail Beckel and Kathleen Rooney. These essays are a wonderful welcome into what exactly the novella-in-flash is (or can be). The five novellas (by Tiff Holland, Meg Pokrass, Aaron Teel, Margaret Patton Chapman and Chris Bower) offer two coming-of-age stories, a portrait by a middle-aged daughter of her mother’s crankiness and frailty, a story about a child prodigy born to a nineteenth-century family, and an absurdist portrait of a contemporary family. This anthology will get you thinking about the potential forms of the flash fiction novella.
- Superman on the Roof (Lex Williford, 2015)
One of the shorter novellas in this list, this pamphlet offers ten 3-4-page stories that roam expansively through memories of a 1960s childhood. Williford ambitiously moves back and forward, covering the 1960s and the early 21st century, subtly placing the narrative in historical context through occasional passing references to contemporary politics. These elegiac stories circle, at their centre, a single, significant and haunting loss; in the process, they build a portrait of a harsh family environment and convent school education, in which adults seem hell-bent on punishing children’s petty transgressions. Apparently semi-autobiographical, the beautifully elegant sentences are written in a past tense that’s suffused with nostalgia – and guilt over the narrator’s involvement in family tragedy. In 38 pages, Williford weaves a tapestry that is more moving, memorable and skilfully crafted than many novels. Its form expresses all that is remarkable about the novella-in-flash.
Michael Loveday’s novella-in-flash Three Men on the Edge was published by V. Press in June 2018. He helps to organise the UK’s annual Flash Fiction Festival and is judge of the 2019 Bath Novella-in-Flash Award.
July 16, 2018 Guest BloggerReviews
by Cheryl Pappas
Lucky for us, Sherrie Flick has a new collection of stories. Thank Your Lucky Stars (Autumn House Press) comes out in September. If you read flash, you know her name. Flick’s stories have appeared in several anthologies dedicated to flash. She has published a chapbook (I Call This Flirting; Flume Press, 2004), a novel (Reconsidering Happiness; Univ. of Nebraska Press, 2009), and a collection of short stories titled Whiskey, Etc. (Autumn House Press, 2016), which Kathy Fish deemed “a sharp-edged, intelligent, brilliantly written collection of short shorts by a writer at the top of her game.”
In Thank Your Lucky Stars, Flick has arranged 50 stories of varying length—the shortest a paragraph, the longest 21 pages—into four numbered sections. The settings are often suburban towns in the West or Midwest, and Flick uses crickets, birdbaths with calm water, and deer heads as recurrent images throughout to underscore the agonizing quiet of such towns. Most of the stories are about love, but more specifically, finding someone to make a home with. Domestic spaces are the stage, and everyday objects, like two tin coffee cups, resonate with meaning.
Earlier sections contain stories of characters going through that very messy, fumbling search for the right person, moving from house to house, town to town, in the hopes of finally staying put, as exemplified in “Open and Shut.” By the third section, with “Garden Inside,” we see a shift: after leaving one house and its treasured garden, a woman and her husband move into a house with a neglected one and willingly start from scratch. The theme of starting over, already present in the earlier sections, now morphs into transformation. By the fourth section, we see stories about babies, kids, teenagers, a widower. With some exceptions, the book takes us through the stages of growing up, as it were, and finding not a house but a home.
The stories about relationships, on the whole, are about the illusions we wrestle with. “Bottle” begins with a woman cracking open a wine bottle over the edge of the dinner table to get her husband’s attention; she finds breaking things satisfying because he “looked at her then like the first time he’d laid eyes on her.” We see the couple in “Dance” actively trying to avoid pulling away the curtain of a horrific night from their past: Viv spends her day sipping whiskey and martinis on the patio (her drinking companion a deer head she pulls off the den wall), while her husband Matty dutifully serves her and obsessively bakes away his repressions. The “dance” in the title refers to the back and forth of their acquired roles, which they perform unconvincingly, like bad actors in a play. When Matty chastises Viv for her drinking, “You know, y’all shouldn’t be day drinking like losers in here,” Viv snaps back, “There’s just one of me, Matty. Who, may I ask, are you talking about with ‘y’all’?” But they also dance around the truth—one scene tracks the tense moments when they remember the night that a girl was killed and then how they quickly fall back into their agreed-upon forgetfulness.
Other stories in the collection defy a theme at all, like “Caravan, Suburbia,” a three-paragraph tale about a woman spying a mysterious rickety wagon crossing her front yard, and afterwards sensing the “smell of wood smoke, raw upturned earth, the quick scent of passion, and one low, unsung note abandoned in the stray leaves.”
Indeed, there is a range not just in theme. The opening story, “How I Left Ned,” in which a woman stops for corn on the side of the road and makes a dramatic life decision, takes bold leaps in narrative; “House,” however, about a woman who lives alone and peers out the window “like a suspicious widow expecting the worst,” has a slow, meditative pace. I admit, I am drawn to the strangeness and poetry of Flick’s shorter works. The sentences seem to come up from the deep, slowly and patiently, like they’ve been gathered from a Quaker meeting. Her story “Crickets” is just but one example: “They sing like pleasant car alarms again and again. Again and again. In their little black jumpsuits, they take to the crooked sidewalks in droves, not hesitating to leave the flowers and grasses.” Flick marries patience, resonanance, and quality in her flash pieces.
The longer “Still Life,” about a man who plans to end his life, achieves Hemingway-level compression, spanning only one night and the next morning. The story begins mysteriously, with Harry undressing and folding his clothes carefully, tenderly placing them on his bureau. He drinks half a bottle of whiskey. I love that Flick doesn’t reveal what he is up to, not even when she has him walk out the door, at three in the morning, completely naked. We get the middle-of-the-night sights and sounds in poetic prose: “The trees’ silhouetted arms sang hallelujah. The leaves clapped. Harry walked down Maple Street. Dark houses, the faint muffled dog bark, a settling tick tick of a foundation.” I won’t tell you how it ends, but the story continues to offer surprising turns, poetic language, eerie atmosphere, and even humor.
Cheryl Pappas is a writer from Boston. Her fiction and essays have appeared in The Bitter Oleander, Cleaver Magazine, Ploughshares blog, SmokeLong Quarterly, Tin House online, and Essay Daily. She holds an MFA in Fiction from Bennington Writing Seminars. She is currently working on a collection of fables. Her website is cherylpappas.net and you can follow her on Twitter at @fabulistpappas.
July 12, 2018 Fridge Flash
Editor’s Note: Today’s fridge flash comes from 8-year-old Shifa Asif, from Lahore, Pakistan.
Shifa Asif is eight years old and attends Beaconhouse Canal side campus, Lahore, Pakistan. Amongst her notable achievements, Shifa has won the post card art competition at the Broomhill Festival in Sheffield, Children University Bronze award, and swimming kingfisher award in UK 2014-2016. She also won best dress up for World book favourite character day certificate and WWF-Pakistan’s spellathon 2016-2017 certificate at LGS-JT, Lahore, Pakistan and was recently a runner-up in a poetry competition on poetry zone UK. She has published her work at ‘SmokeLong Quarterly Fridge Flash’, ‘poetry zone’, ‘scholastic’, ‘story jumper’, ‘Dawn Young World newspaper’, ‘Short-Stories-Help-Children.com and contributors.’ Shifa is an honorary President of Child Scholar’s Institute at Khan Bahadur Visionaries Welfare, where she encourages inclusive education. Shifa appeared amongst the top 100 students in the Kangroo spelling contest in Pakistan. Shifa has also taken part in sponsored bounce at Nether Green Infant School, Sheffield, UK.
July 5, 2018 Artist Spotlight
A work by painter Josh George illustrates this issue’s story from Jonathan Nixon, “Anywhere We’ve Ever Wanted.” Smokelong art director Alexander C. Kafka asked George about his experiences and inspirations, then invited him to play word association.
First off, thanks so much for contributing to SmokeLong Quarterly. Tell me about yourself. How old are you? What kind of family do you come from? Where do you live? Where are you from? When did you figure out you wanted to be an artist?
I keep thinking I’m 35 but my blotchy skin, bald spot, and creaky joints remind me that I’m 45. I come from a totally normal middle-class suburban family. We were all creative. My mom painted, my dad plays guitar and sings, my brother makes a living as a musician, and my sister is a great dresser, has nice hair, and plays a mean tambourine. I was always supported in my creative pursuits and always encouraged to make a professional go at them. I grew up in Kansas City, Missouri. I went to art school there, got tired of seeing the same sights every day and was craving a more urban adventure, so I set off for New York City 18 years ago to wander the streets and paint city dwellers like my Ash Can heroes did. I knew I needed to make pictures at a young age when I drew demons and devils for my religious grandmother. She told me god gave me talent to draw fucked up stuff.
Much of your work is focused on the city and its dwellers. How did that come about?
I was never really interested in big, conceptual subject matter in my work. I am more interested in process, the narrative is not so important, though the city has so many stories and situations happening on every street corner and apartment. I like the textures and the never-ending nature of my surrounding city and I try to record the patterns and surfaces with an aggressive mixed-media approach. I like a sense of mystery in my mark making. I want to viewers to wonder, “How the hell did he do that?”
There’s such a feeling of bustle and busyness in your cityscapes. Is your mind like that? Always churning and zipping around? Or do you feel removed from your surroundings, more an observer, fascinated and distanced from the mayhem?
My mind is always jumping around and it gets frustrated because I can’t participate the way I used to in searching for an ideal life. Lately I have been doing urban aerial views that disappear into the horizon. I want to fly away from the city to the south of France and paint Hallmark Card landscapes of precious villages. So I guess I want both urban hustle and bustle and idealistic rural socialist living at the same time, including a two-hour nap each day.
You describe yourself as an urban realist. But you also have this whimsical side that comes out, especially, in your figure work. I’m thinking of paintings like Buddy Patrol, Giddyup Up Buttercup!, and The Wind Carried It in Its Belly, the City Nursed It. Those images still incorporate the city, but in a more mythical, ethereal vein. Can you explain to me the dichotomy between those two modes of work?
I say my work is not concept driven and is just a way to record my surroundings, but I do like storytelling even if there is no specific story. Holdovers for wanting to do comic books when I was younger maybe? But more likely I never get tired of painting my beautiful wife naked.
You paint in layers and include collage elements. For instance, in Giddy Up Buttercup!, it looks like we’re seeing some wallpaper or wrapping paper or some such integrated into the figure of the woman on the horse. What’s in there? How many layers? Do you make sketches, or under-paint, starting a work envisioning that kind of mix, or do you just kind of go with the creative flow of it as you work? Can you describe your process in a little more detail?
I plan out every image with some rough prototypes. I carry a sketchbook and draw for inspiration in planning works, I take a lot of photos and I invent a lot of imagery, since buildings are just shapes in perspective with a little bit of a light source. I do an under painting on wood panel then I collage over the entire surface with labels, wallpaper, ticket stubs, fabric, building up general forms in a controlled mess. I then paint over the collage elements with knifes, dragging and scrapping. Then I finish it all off with delicate brush work before a protective layer of varnish.
You’ve had a lot of gallery shows. Have you been able to make a living as an artist or have you worked simultaneous jobs?
So far so good. I’m in five different galleries around the country. I do a few solo shows a year and am involved in several group shows and a handful of art fairs. I have been teaching art now for 12 years.
What are your greatest inspirations?
Wine, death metal.
Who are your favorite artists?
Different each day but I always come back to Degas. I’m on a Ferenc Pinter and Henri Jean Guillaume Martin kick right now.
What’s your greatest fear?
Cancer, house burning down, alligators (or crocodiles).
What’s the dumbest thing you ever tried to do?
Become an artist and not a rock star.
Quick word association exercise. Don’t think—just write!
Shitty Marvel comics character
Nostradamus was full of shit and the people who believe him are idiots.
Basil is my favorite scent perhaps of all time. Thyme is too.
June 18, 2018 Playlists
Listen along to Issue 60’s playlist on Spotify!
K.C. Mead-Brewer, “The Cover-up” – “Maneater” by Lower Dens
Lower Dens is a bright star in Baltimore’s dream pop sky. I like their cover of “Maneater” as a complement to “The Cover-up” not only for the sexual humor and cover/cover-up connection, but because it’s such a strong reinterpretation of the original song’s intention: It isn’t about a super confident, super sexy woman anymore. Now it has an almost melancholy irony to it, the titular maneater lacking the self-confidence that the lyrics imply, never letting anyone get too close.
Joy Baglio, “A Boy Who Does Not Remember His Father” – “Fantaisie for Violin and Harp in A Major, Op. 124: V. Andante con moto” Camille Saint-Saëns, Ruggiero Ricci, Susanna Mildonian
The violin in this piece creates a mood that feels akin to both the boy’s flights of imagination, as well as the loneliness, the sadness, the absence he feels. There is both a playful sense of vibrancy as well as a constant yearning, which reflects the mood of the story and seems like an apt parallel to the boy’s dreamlike visions of his father.
Alvin Park, “Whale Fall” (Grand Prize Winner) – “Switzerland” by Soccer Mommy
I feel like this is a song that the narrator and She would hold in their hearts at some point. The wistfulness of hanging onto love, of wanting to get away from things and start over again.
Samantha Burns, “Dark Little Spaces” – “Trust” by Flume
I found this song when I started this piece, and while I don’t usually listen to music with lyrics when I’m writing, the strangeness of it matched the tone of the piece and helped me get in the right headspace to work on it.
Kerry Cullen, “Taking Notes” – “Amie” by Damien Rice
To me, the narrator’s journey in this story is very much a coming of age. The world around her has suddenly become unsafe, and she responds by trying to learn how to keep not only her, but her own guardian safe, by herself. She knows this progression is a part of life (“Nothing unusual, nothing strange”) but at the same time, she still feels it very deeply, and she feels the existential malaise of going through something that everyone goes through, eventually, but that is still very difficult for her. (“But I’m not a miracle/And you’re not a saint/Just another soldier/On the road to nowhere”)
Jonathan Nixon, “Anywhere We’ve Ever Wanted” – “Brand New Sun” by Jason Lytle
I think this song really captures the yearning for something new. If Lydia and Viv were ever to take their road trip, I imagine “Brand New Sun” playing loudly on the radio while wind whips through the car’s open windows.
Elaine Edwards, “Satellite” (Third Place Winner) – “Arctic” by Sleeping at Last
For an instrumental, it more than hits every beat that I try to here, the melancholy and the depth and a vital, generous wonder.
Kathryn McMahon, “The Color of the Sea at Noon” – “Sadness Don’t Own Me” by the Staves
“Sadness Don’t Own Me” by the Staves and my story are both about someone not recognizing themselves because of how pain has shaped who they’ve become. This person needs to face their fears in order to make their way back to themselves, though they doubt they’ll do it.
Theresa Hottel, “Haunt” – “Phantasmagoria in Two” by Tim Buckley
I listen to this song a lot while writing. It makes me feel restless and haunted.
Jonathan Cardew, “’I’m Ron McRain,’ said Ron McRain,” – “The Whitby Lad” by The Watersons
The lad in this song could easily be Ron McRain; Whitby is obviously Whitby; and the refrain, “Oh son oh son, what have you done?” has a repetitive circularity to it, much like the title. Also, it’s a teeny-bit a love story, I think, so this verse:
“Oh, there is a lass in Whitby town, a girl that I love full well/ And it’s if I had me liberty, along with her I’d dwell.”
Jennifer Wortman, “A Matter Between Neighbors” – “I Need You” by Nick Cave
Like many great love songs, “I Need You” is also a dirge; its tender nihilism captures something of the mood I hope to evoke with my story.
Sara Allen, “The Reader in the Square” – “Nice For What” by Drake
It’s a flipped kind of girl power anthem. To me it’s a song about women being “real” and ignoring the scrutiny of social media, which could also be seen as an extension of the male gaze. I think it’s also about the fierceness of women despite their vulnerability when they love. . . that Lauryn Hill hook is killer. Also this song contains a big stylistic nod to New Orleans where my story is set.
Lyndsie Manusos, “Everything There is to Love on Earth” – “Under Stars” by AURORA
I imagined the character Zoe listening to this song to as she contemplates and processes her parents’ absence. It has a seemingly uplifting beat, but when you listen to the lyrics, it strikes me as a song about being alone in the universe.
Jessica Cavero, “Blemish” – “I Will Never” by Sóley
I think about these girls staying together over the years and how tenuous the narrator’s sense of self might become. She might say to herself: “I love you, but it’s time to go. I will never ever be your woman.”
Josh Weston, “The Good Old Days” – “Weed Wacker” by Mark Kozelek
According to my wife, I’m not doing myself or anyone else any favors by contributing a Mark Kozelek song, but this is my current summer jam. It features a guy having an interaction with a stranger in a public place and having an existential crisis about it. Think of it as a flash lyric memoir set to a looped acoustic riff and enjoy.
Molia Dumbleton, “How Leopards Sleep” – “Father Kolbe’s Preaching” by Wojciech Kilar
June 7, 2018 Guest BloggerReviews
by Kim Kankiewicz
It takes audacity to write flash fiction, to assert that a few hundred words can carry the weight of a story. Memorable flash fiction offsets brevity with boldness, transgressing boundaries and embracing risk. Boldness and risk prevail in Tiny Crimes: Very Short Tales of Mystery & Murder (Black Balloon, June 2018), an anthology of flash fiction edited by Lincoln Michel and Nadxieli Nieto. Bringing together forty established and emerging writers, Tiny Crimes features audacious writing about audacious deeds.
May 29, 2018 News Digests
Well, our first flash fiction contest was an overwhelming success! Thank you to the writers who participated. Nearly 1,200 of you submitted around 2,000 stories to our 15th-anniversary competition. That’s a massive party. As many fifteen-year-olds will tell you, feeling popular rules. Each time we opened one–or two–of your stories, we hoped we’d find something that would rip us apart, and the stories on the following lists did just that.
While only the finalists will be published in issue 60 of SmokeLong Quarterly, we found something gut-wrenching, innovative, disturbing, hilarious or challenging–something really great–in each of the stories on the long list as well. We’re sure these stories will find their way. Some will go on to win other competitions; some will end up in journals that we all love. They are all memorable.
Congratulations to our finalists and long-listers!
Look for Issue 60 on June 18, 2018, at which time we’ll announce our grand prize winner.
The Smokey Finalists
“The Reader in the Square” by Sara Johnson Allen
“A Boy Who Does Not Remember His Father” by Joy Baglio
“The Cover-up” by KC Mead-Brewer
“Dark Little Spaces” by Samantha Burns
“‘I’m Ron McRain,’ said Ron McRain” by Jonathan Cardew
“Blemish” by Jessica Cavero
“Taking Notes” by Kerry Cullen
“How Leopards Sleep” by Molia Dumbleton
“Satellite” by Elaine Edwards
“It’s Over” by Molly Giles
“Haunt” by Theresa Hottel
“The Groundskeeper” by Devin Kelly
“All the Other Dogs Screaming” by Devin Kelly
“Everything There is to Love on Earth” by Lyndsie Manusos
“The Color of the Sea at Noon” by Kathryn McMahon
“Anywhere We’ve Ever Wanted” by Jonathan D. Nixon
“The Loneliness of the Siberian Chipmunk” by Michelle Orabona
“Whale Fall” by Alvin Park
“Mother of God” by Ulf Pike
“I Went to the Tardigrade” by Eliezra Schaffzin
“The Good Old Days” by Josh Weston
“A Matter Between Neighbors” by Jennifer Wortman
The Smokey Long List
“Sow Season” by Michael Alessi
“Burnt Toast” by Patricia Anderson
“Inheritance” by Madeline Anthes
“The Hog Drive” by Gregory Ariail
“Walks Like a Lion” by Nancy Au
“Weight” by Mandy Beaumont
“Daughter Language, Footnotes” by April Bradley
“Marmalade” by Jacqueline Carter
“Sporks, Knorks, and A Little Splayd” by Elaine Chiew
“Palm Line Constellation” by Chloe Clark
“Out of the Fields” by Bryna Cofrin-Shaw
“The London Underground has 270 stations, alphabetically ‘Angel’ is number 6.” by Laura Danks
“Flotsam” by Leonora Desar
“In this fantasy I went to live with my therapist–” by Leonora Desar
“Alien Love” by Daniel DiFranco
“Pandora” by Paola Ferrante
“The Balloon Animal Artist Goes to a Funeral” by Jennifer Fliss
“Wrong Half” by Lindsay Fowler
“Playground” by Magda Gala
“Life After” by Frances Gapper
“Dutch” by Amina Gautier
“The Tainting of the Nook” by Sean Gill
“Yoga Binge” by Melissa Gutierrez
“Linger” by Matt Hall
“The Moths Came” by Elin Hawkinson
“Red Shoe Twitch” by Dustin M. Hoffman
“Comet” by Carlea Holl-Jensen
“Stray” by Jess Jelsma
“Magpies” by Ingrid Jendrzejewski
“A Sky Full of Sheep” by Len Kuntz
“A Purse on my Head” by Lita Kurth
“Under the Biggest Drop” by Ruth LeFaive
“Teeth” by Marysa LaRowe
“Honeymoon” by Robert Maynor
“Orchestration” by Ciera McElroy
“Embers” by Michael Minchin
“let’s throw a party” by Jono Naito
“Here Devils” by L.W. Nicholson
“Piddocks” by Nuala O’Connor
“A Tether, a Cord” by Wendy Oleson
“First Apartment in the City” by Jeanne Panfely
“good is all that is left of us” by Jesus Pena
“The Guillotine Reimagined” by Claire Polders
“Lessons” by Brian Randall
“The Electricity” by David Rhymes
“Adaptation” by James Smart
“The Venom Is the Juice” by Pete Stevens
“Pretty Things” by Jennifer Todhunter
“Turning Ash to Bone” by Emily Webber
“Blood Bag” by Chloe Wilson
“I’m Exaggerating” by Kate Wisel
“Shedding” by Tara Isabel Zambrano
May 23, 2018 Guest BloggerReviews
By Cheryl Pappas
In what other form can you find a story about old men floating up in the air, or a narrator’s deep dive into the word “glyph” as a way of coming to grips with the end of a love affair? I found myself ever grateful for the flexibility of the flash form when reading the new anthology Nothing Short of 100 (Outpost19, April 2018). Editors Grant Faulkner, Lynn Mundell, and Beret Olsen have compiled 117 little stories in this slim volume. The “tales,” as the editors call them, have been selected from six years (2012–17) of works published in the online journal 100 Word Story. (more…)
May 21, 2018 News Digests
Since I took over as editor in 2010, I hoped that one day we might be able to pay our contributors for their work. Today, I am thrilled to announce that we’ve finally made that a reality.
Thanks to the overwhelming success of our first-ever flash fiction contest, we’ve been able to raise enough funds to award our grand prize and to pay our finalists each $25 (up from the $15 we’d previously advertised).
In addition, we are excited to announce that moving forward, we can offer payment of $25 per story for contributors to our quarterly issues.
Now, while our staff is super excited about this development, we also recognize that $25 is nowhere near the value that should be placed on our amazing writers’ words. It’s a beginning—and one that we hope to grow on as we move forward in making SLQ the best publisher of flash fiction out there. However, being able to value artists’ work in some small way is, for us, an immense step forward and one that was a long time coming for us.
Our contest closed yesterday, and we are still working our way through all the wonderful entries to find our winners. Look for an announcement over the next week or so of all our long list honorees and our finalists! Our grand prize winner will be announced on June 18, which is when we will publish our 15th anniversary contest issue as well.
Thank you to the wonderful SLQ editors for their hard work and dedication to our magazine. Thank you to all the writers who made this contest an overwhelming success. I am continuously grateful to be part of such an amazing publication and community.
Editor, SmokeLong Quarterly
May 18, 2018 Interviews
Doug Luman and Jenni B. Baker’s Container is a literary project for artists interested in nontraditional storytelling. Container tells stories on lunchboxes and Rolodexes, on View Masters and with textiles—artists aren’t confined to book form. Recently we got the chance to talk about their vision, their story-objects, and whether or not a flower pot can be a poem. (more…)
May 8, 2018 Fridge Flash
Editor’s Note: Today’s story is by 4-year-old Sam, who is clearly channeling Kafka. His dad Marcus says that Sam told him the following story after building this awesome LEGO jail gate.
Before the Law, 2018
To get inside, you need the password. No one knows the password, so you have to press the button. There is no button. You need powers, but you don’t have any. Sorry.
Sam is four-and-a-half years old. He enjoys building with blocks and LEGOs, baking treats, and riding his bike. He cannot write words yet, but he can tell short, amazing stories.
May 2, 2018 Fridge Flash
Today’s Fridge Flash is from Nikhil Sampath, a young writer and cleaning warrior who strikes fear in the hearts of dust bunnies everywhere.
by Nikhil Sampath
Constellations on a carpet. They glimmer dark and gray. Use the vacuum with tough brushstrokes, deprive it of its liberation, from its viewpoint, you are an enemy. But you are just establishing your fortitude. You must not become Laissez-Faire with this enemy. You must defeat it. Down with carpet lint!
March 27, 2018 Playlists
Nine of our writers in Issue 59 contributed to our issue playlist. Their songs, stories, and the reasons they chose the tune follow. Listen below or on SmokeLong’s Spotify Channel!
“Reynardine” by Anne Briggs – Maia Jenkins, “History”
This Victorian English ballad has appeared in countless guises, but Anne Briggs’ a capella version matches the bare-bones dread I hope is evoked in “History.” The gruesome contrast between Briggs’ angelic soprano with the lyrics,”She followed him, his teeth so bright did shine. And he led her over the mountain, did the sly bold Reynardine,” is something I was trying to get at as I was writing. Really, the story–an enticing creature leads a young girl away to an ambiguously horrible fate–is the same as mine, and so many others, sadly.
“Caribbean Blue” by Enya – Tochukwu Emmanuel Okafor, “Watch, Watching”
Enya’s songs help me meditate, fill me with so much joy and inner peace. I listened mostly to Caribbean Blue while writing “Watch, Watching.” The main character of the story loved the song on repeat, and I could happily live with that for the period that I worked on his story. Enya’s music (alone) inspires my art.
“No Witness” by LP – Daniel Myers, “Body Snatcher”
I don’t really know if the lyrics connect with my story at all, but I listened to this song a lot while I was working on this story. The pace of the song constantly shifts, and I think this influenced my story’s tone.
“The Neighbors” by Jonathan Richman & the Modern Lovers – Amber Sparks, “The Noises from the Neighbors Upstairs: A Nightly Log”
So perfectly apartment living.
“A Long Time Ago” by First Aid Kit – Dana Heifetz, “Drowned”
I selected this song for a very simple reason–my netmaker said that she loves it; if she weren’t who she is, she even might have sung it to her beloved drowned.
“Pilgrim” by Balmorhea – Zach Yontz, “Winter Light”
This song reminds me of flat, quiet Midwestern nights and the silence of two people together in a car.
“This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)” by Talking Heads – Lori Sambol Brody, “The Sky is Just Another Neighborhood”
The song starts with a one minute musical sequence that sounds equally innocent and uneasy; then David Byrne sings of longing, resignation, love, and hope, a rumination on what is “home.” This theme and emotions reflect how I feel when I reread “The Sky Is Just Another Neighborhood.”
“Eat Your Heart Up” by The Blow – Emily Jane Young, “Parasomnia”
Maybe a little too on the nose? In choosing a song, I thought first of The Blow, because so many of their songs offer a unique take on heartbreak, and there is often a heavy beat, which you’d want for a song with a heart as the main character. I listened to this album a lot in college, and while I didn’t specifically have it in mind when I wrote “Parasomnia,” this song must have been at least a subconscious seed for the story, as it includes both images of wanting to eat “your” heart and also a heart walking around in the world.
“Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune” (“Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun”) by Claude Debussy – Sumita Mukherji, “Lifeline”
This tone poem from Debussy is a musical evocation of the poem “Afternoon of a Faun,” in which a half-man, half-goat creature delights in memories of forest nymphs. I love it for its impressionistic nature, as I thought of my piece in a series of images, beginning with the ending image.
February 5, 2018 News Digests
Do you have what it takes to write the best flash fiction we’ve ever seen? There’s $1500 on the line–both to celebrate SmokeLong Quarterly‘s 15th anniversary (yay!) and our first-ever flash fiction competition.
Starting February 5, 2018, our general submission queue will be transformed into a contest submission portal. For 15 weeks, we will be accepting only submissions for the inaugural SmokeLong Quarterly Award for Flash Fiction (the Smokey, if you will).
The winner will receive $1500, automatic nomination for The Best Small Fictions series, the Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, and other awards, publication in our 15th-anniversary Issue in June, and our undying love and devotion. At least 14 runners-up will also be published in the June 2018 contest issue–and each of the finalists will receive $15.
February 5 – April 29 $10, up to 2 stories
April 30 – May 20 $13, up to 2 stories
Money tight? Watch SmokeLong social media accounts for special days when entry will be free!
Entries will be read blind by members of the SmokeLong Quarterly staff.
Finalists will be accepted on a rolling basis throughout the contest period. A long list will be announced one week after the competition closes on May 20. The winner of the competition and at least 14 finalists will be announced on June 18, when all of the contest stories will be published in SmokeLong Quarterly’s 15th-anniversary Issue.
Stories must be original works and not have been previously published anywhere online or in print, including personal blogs.
Word count: Under 1000 words, excluding the title, per story. If you are submitting two stories, they must be submitted in the same document.
Anyone over 18 is eligible to enter, excluding SLQ staff and their families as well as former SLQ editors/staff. Former guest editors are welcome to enter.
All identifying information must be removed from the story and file name. The writer’s bio must appear ONLY in the cover letter, which is blind to the judges. If the author’s name appears anywhere in the story document, including the file name, the story will be disqualified and the submission fee will not be refunded.
You may submit as many times as you’d like during the contest period. All entries must be accompanied by the corresponding fee.
Simultaneous submissions are allowed, but we ask that you withdraw the entry immediately if the story is accepted elsewhere. If the entry is one of two stories submitted in the same document, withdraw the individual story by adding a note to the entry in Submittable. The submission fee will not be refunded.
February 1, 2018 News Digests
Submissions are live for The Smokey, so we’re already anticipating that some folks might have a few questions about the award and why the heck we’re doing it. Here is a handy guide (which may be updated as actual questions come our way) of all you’ve ever wanted to know about The Smokey. Enter through Submittable.
Why are you doing this?
Because we’re 15 now and we do what we want, regardless of what our parents tell us. And in celebration of those sweet 15 years, we decided it was time to hold a flash fiction contest. And give someone some money.
When will submissions open?
February 5, 2018. They will close May 20, 2018. Once submissions go live, we’ll post a link here.
Will I be able to submit to the general submission queue?
Not during the contest period. We are temporarily closing our general submission category during the contest so you don’t have to make a choice—and so we don’t get confused. Some of us on staff are old with bad knees and kind of scatterbrained and we like to streamline things to make it easier. Don’t worry, though—if you don’t want to pay the contest submission fees, we get it, and we’ll happily take your story submission on May 21 or beyond for free once the contest has concluded. We’ll also be offering free submission to the contest a day or two, here and there, but you have to follow us on Twitter @smokelong to find out when!
I have a story in your queue right now. Will it be considered for the contest?
No. All stories submitted before Feb. 5 will be considered as regular submissions to SmokeLong Quarterly. If you wish us to consider your story for the contest, you must withdraw it and resubmit the story in the contest submission category.
What’s the long list all about?
During regular submission periods, we sometimes find stories in our queue that we really like, but that just don’t quite make the cut for publication. We’ll often write to the authors of those stories letting them know that we really liked certain aspects of the piece and hope they submit again. We’ll do that again during the contest, but we also thought it would be nice to honor those folks in a bit more public way as well, hence the long list.
I’m a finalist. When will I know if I’ve won?
Congrats! If your story is accepted at all during the contest period, that means you’re automatically a finalist in the running for the grand prize of $1500. It also means that you’ll be published in our contest issue, quarterly #60, in June 2018. We will choose a winner from all our finalists and announce that winner publicly when the quarterly issue is published on June 18. We will probably let all the finalists know if they’ve won or not a few days before pub date.
I submitted once, but now I’ve written another awesome story. Can I submit again?
Yes. You may submit as many times as you’d like throughout the duration of the contest period, and include up to 2 stories in each submission packet. The appropriate fee must accompany each entry.
I was a guest editor for SmokeLong before. Am I eligible for the contest?
Absolutely! We welcome former guest editors and former contributors to apply, as well as newbies to SLQ. Former staff/editors at SLQ are not eligible. (They know too many of our secrets.)
January 24, 2018
We are beyond excited to introduce our 2018 Kathy Fish Fellow, Tochukwu Okafor. Recently, we asked him about his influences, his voice, and why he’s interested in flash fiction.
Interview by Allison Pinkerton
Welcome to SmokeLong! One of the things I learned as the 2017 Kathy Fish Fellow was to harness my voice, and to speak its truth loudly. Why does the writing world need your voice? (more…)
December 31, 2017 News Digests
As we close out an amazing year of flash fiction, I wanted to take a moment to thank all of our contributors—the writers who sent us their beautiful words, the artists who contributed their amazing work, the interviewers who brought the stories behind the stories to life, and most of all our guest editors, who read thousands and thousands of stories, helping us select the very best for our weekly publication.
I also want to thank the SmokeLong staff editors, who I’m grateful for every single day. Our staff is a kind of magic, and I feel very lucky to be among a group of smart, talented, thoughtful, kind, savvy writers and editors. Thank you for all you do.
And one final special shout-out to our 2017 Kathy Fish Fellow, Allison Pinkerton. We so enjoyed working with Allison this year and seeing the great stories come to life in both SLQ and other publications, and we are thrilled that she’ll be staying on to work with us in 2018.
And now, one final look-back before we set our sights on the new year. Here are the 10 most popular stories we published in 2017—and your chance to read them if you missed them the first time around.
- Shit Cassandra Saw That She Didn’t Tell the Trojans Because at that Point Fuck Them Anyway by Gwen Kirby
This was by far the most popular story of the year—getting more than triple the number of hits of any other story or blog we posted. Gwen’s story hit a nerve with a lot of folks, who shared and tweeted the link all throughout the year. We are not surprised. It’s a delight.
- I’m Such a Slut and I Don’t Give a Fuck by Jen Michalski
Is the secret sauce for popular stories having the ‘f’ word in the title? Nope. The secret sauce is writing a story that lingers and stirs—and this gem by Jen about an aging rock star does both.
- Wolves by Bud Smith
From guest editor Daniel DiFranco, who selected this story, “I picked ‘Wolves’ because of its strong lyrical voice, sense of whimsy, and command of storytelling. It’s an Aesop’s fable for the modern day.”
- All of Us Are in Pieces by Melissa Goode
“‘All of us are in pieces’ is outstanding,” said guest editor Mel Bosworth. “It’s quiet and precise and has great movement. Big things happen but the tone remains the same. It’s got a great hum to it.”
- Manatees by William Todd Seabrook
Guest editor Kim Winternheimer said, “‘Manatees’ does everything a good piece of flash should do: it tells a great story in an economical way. ‘Manatees’ explores a passive attitude about death. How easily a group can move on from losing a member and what that means for the individual who is lost. A great question. All of this in just under 300 words. Wow.”
- How to Be Another Person in Five Days by Rebecca Bernard
“This story struck me immediately, with its odd, imperative voice of instruction,” said guest editor Leslie Pietrzyk. “We’re offered an immediate narrative drive—what will happen in five days?—and writerly authority, as we never question why we might want to be another person in five days. I’m still not done with this story; I find something new to admire each time I read these words.”
- Missed Connections by Kevin Hatch
“I love how the character’s fantasy spirals in such weird, surprising ways that feel very true to the voice,” says Tia Clark, the guest editor who chose this story.
- Dream Barbie by Mamie Pound
Our staff editor Brandon Wicks fell in love with this whimsical piece, calling it “economical and punchy” and a “a humanizing and disturbing reflection of our current moment.”
- I Utide by Lone Vitus
From our Global Flash series, this Danish story was chosen by guest editor and translator Sinéad Quirke Køngerskov, who said, “This story captured my curiosity – we are a society obsessed with linear time. We are supposed to take advantage of every second, move forward like the clock and be “busy” all the time. When do we ever just ‘feel’ time like the author describes? The story offers the reader to pause and reflect like a little meditation. That resonated with me.”
- Good Boys by Tamara Schuyler
Staff editor Shasta Grant selected this story. “If a story could punch me in the gut, this one did. Somehow the writer managed to make my heart break for these two boys, even though they are doing such a terrible thing. Every sentence crackles with energy and heart.”
This coming year is shaping up to be a memorable one, with our 15th anniversary rapidly approaching, our new Kathy Fish Fellow Tochukwu Okafor, and more fabulous flash fiction. We’ll see you all at AWP and elsewhere. Keep up to date with all our news by signing up for our mailing list serv at http://eepurl.com/bkyV_D
December 18, 2017 Playlists
We’ve got an amazing issue for you this time–and a Spotify playlist to go along with it. After you’ve read the stories (or while you’re reading them!) check out the playlist hand-picked by our authors of songs that accompany their stories. (Note: Not all authors participated, so only select stories in the issue are represented by the playlist.)
Issue 58 Playlist Selections
Listen along here: open.spotify.com/user/smokelongquarterly/playlist/6N245OExhaXIMYSFZWpne0
“Shout” by Tears for Fears
(Caitlin Cowan, “Epistle from the Hospital of Strong Opinions” )
In my SLQ interview, Karen Craigo asked me what I would “shout in the courtyard,” as my character does, and the first thing that came to mind was Tears for Fears’ 1985 mega-hit, “Shout.” Tears for Fears co-founder Roland Orzabal has said that the song was not only a response to the writings of Arthur Janov, creator of primal scream theory (a popular 1970s psychotherapeutic approach that attempted to resolve trauma through catharsis or, in some cases, actual screaming) but also a Cold War-era incitement to protest politically and “Let it all out.”
“Gnossienne No. 1” by Erik Satie
(Charlotte Pattinson, “Brussels, 2004”)
Because I mention a piece of music in my story, I think it probably makes sense to have that be the song to accompany the story.
“Bad News from Home” by Randy Newman
(Geoff Kronik, “The Jumper”)
I think the song’s 1st-person singer and my story’s protagonist would relate to each other.
“All Kinds of Time” by Fountains of Wayne
(Jeff Ewing, “Parliament of Owls”)
I’ve always liked the multiple ways the football cliche “all kinds of time” can be read, and the suspension of time the song itself achieves. The moment captured is a glory days moment that automatically implies an unconstructive nostalgia. Tim’s disillusioned epiphany is hidden in there somewhere.
“You Are Never Alone” by Vic Chestnutt
(Steve Edwards, “Starlings”)
There’s a brokenness and humor and hope in Vic Chesnutt. What I love about this song in relation to “Starlings” is the litany of things—like taking pain meds or having an abortion—that are all, well, okay. You can keep on keeping on because you’re never alone. I imagine that’s part of what the narrator of my story is realizing about wanting to hang himself.
“The Evening Descends” by Evangelicals
(Pete Segall, “I Thought I Knew the Answer for a Minute”)
Here’s a track that’s barely three minutes long and feels like three or four different songs. Each one seems like it should be goofy, lite punk – but every time it’s on the verge of tipping into frivolity… it just doesn’t.
“I’ll Fly Away” by Gillian Welch & Alison Krauss
(Lee Reilly, “Pastor Bob’s Picnic”)
“Teenage Dreams” by Moniker
(Jeremy Packert Burke, “Miller Time”)
At the heart of my story is this desire to grow up faster, to skip the pain of teenage years and revel in adulthood before that innocence is lost. In Moniker’s song, there are some wonderful reflections on the pain of this, the interplay between having too much fun to worry much and worrying too much to have much fun; a lot of the same concern of my story is caught in the lines ‘These days I think I know who I am/I wish I knew who I was going to be’
“Saltbreakers” by Laura Veirs
(Josh Jones, “The Cartographers”)
I love its oceanic imagery and upbeat, celebratory tone that complements the sense of mystery and hope in my piece.
“An Ending, A Beginning” by Dustin O’Halloran
(Cheryl Pappas, “Nature.”)
Besides the aptness of the title, this song seemed perfect to me because it’s plaintive and simple, which captures the essence of my story.
“For the Widows in Paradise, For the Fatherless in Ypsilanti” by Sufjan Stevens
(Carolyn Nims, “New Yorker Story About Michigan”)
This was an obvious choice. But also, its loveliness undercuts the story’s darkness, and its rawness echoes some of the more ragged emotions in the story.
“That’s the Spirit” by Judee Sill
(Julian K. Jarboe, “The Heavy Things”)
“How We Quit the Forest” by Rasputina
(Tessa Yang, “Princess Shipwreck”)
To me this song sounds like a spooky fable. It’s about choosing to turn away from the familiar, because the familiar isn’t actually what it seems.
“Hard Times (No One Knows Better Than I)” by Ray Charles
(Jonathan Nixon, “Our Father”)
In my story, a Ray Charles record can be heard playing throughout the house. I feel the song “Hard Times” not only fits the mood of the piece, but also takes on the role of the father’s voice.
“The Last of the Famous International Playboys” by Morrissey
(John Meyers, “1922 Roma Airship Disaster Tattoo”)
I was listening to Bona Drag quite a bit when I wrote the story and imagined that the hero would likely have been a big fan of this song. I’ll leave it to readers to interpret the connection.
“Night Ferry” by Anna Cline
(Allison Pinkerton, “Zelberg”)
Anna Clyne’s orchestral composition “Night Ferry” (2012) pairs well with my story “Zelberg,” which focuses on a cellist who has sprinkled his wife’s ashes all over the orchestra pit. When I listened to “Night Ferry,” I got an ominous feeling, and the strings sounded like swarming bees. “Zelberg” is told in the first-person plural. The collective voice details the orchestra’s attempts to protect Zelberg from the police, who’ve been summoned after an audience member notices the ashes and mistakenly assumes Zelberg’s a terrorist.
December 18, 2017 News Digests
Congratulations to Tochukwu Emmanuel Okafor, our 2018 Kathy Fish Fellow and virtual writer-in-residence! We are so excited to bring his work to SmokeLong Quarterly and are thrilled to work with him in the upcoming year.
This year we also would like to name Latifa Ayad as an honorable mention, as we were particularly impressed by her application packet.
Tochukwu is a Nigerian writer whose work has appeared in The Guardian, Litro Magazine, and is forthcoming in Harvard University’s Transition Magazine. His No Tokens story, “Some Days,” has been nominated for the 2017 Pushcart Prize. He has been nominated twice for the Short Story Day Africa Prize for Short Fiction, with his stories, “Leaving,” appearing in Short Story Day Africa’s anthology, Migrations: New Short Fiction from Africa, and “All Our Lives” forthcoming in the anthology, ID: New Short Fiction from Africa. His Warscapes story, “Colour Lessons,” featured in Columbia Journal, The Cantabrigian, and Volume 1 Brooklyn, has been shortlisted for the Problem House Press Short Story Prize (2016) and nominated for the 2018 Pushcart Prize. His Open Road Review story, “Spirit,” featured in Juked, has been shortlisted for the 2016 Southern Pacific Review Short Story Prize. In 2014 he was awarded the Comptroller Charles Edike Prize for Outstanding Essays. He is an alumnus of the 2015 Association of Nigerian Authors Creative Writing Workshop and the 2016 Short Story Day Africa Writing Workshop, and a two-time recipient of the Festus Iyayi Award for Excellence for Prose and Playwriting (2015/2016).
Tochukwu is also a 2018 Rhodes Scholar finalist. He graduated with a cumulative grade point of 4.95 (out of 5.0) as the best graduating student in the Department of Electrical/Electronic Engineering and the whole of the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Benin, Benin city. He is a programmer, an android developer, and has delivered talks at the TEDx and World Speech Day events.
You can read Tochukwu’s SLQ stories starting in our March 2018 issue.
We received more than 200 applications this year, and once again we were blown away by the quality of the stories.
Thanks again to our finalists Rebekah Bergman, Megha Krishnan, Lyndsie Manusos, Kathryn McMahon, Alice Mercier, Rachel Richardson, Michael Sarinsky, and Elisabeth Ingram Wallace.
December 11, 2017 News Digests
Good news! We have 10 finalists for our 2018 Kathy Fish Fellowship. Out of more than 200 applications, these 10 writers really stood out for their originality and talent. Which makes our job very difficult in choosing a winner. We’d like to congratulate and honor these 10 writers for their accomplishment.
The finalists are:
Tochukwu Emmanuel Okafor
Elisabeth Ingram Wallace
We hope to make a final decision about the winner of the fellowship in the next week. Congratulations to all our finalists, and thank you to all the writers who submitted to the contest this year. We’ve been truly stunned by the talent in the queue.
November 18, 2017 News Digests
The holidays seem to begin earlier and earlier every year. This year, for us, they’re starting right now. SmokeLong Quarterly is thankful for the opportunity to have published these stories (two are coming out in December actually, so you’ll have to wait a while on those). They all in some way add to and further the art of flash fiction, which is a gift to the entire literary community.
Thank you to everyone who sends work to us. We’re always excited to read your best flash fiction, and we love this time of year when we can spread some love. We wish we could nominate every single story we publish, and we’re always looking for more ways to promote the writers who trust us with their work. Congratulations to everyone on the lists below.
“I’m Such a Slut and I Don’t Give a Fuck” by Jen Michalski
“Good Boys” by Tamara Schuyler
“Filthy, Polluted” by Raul Palma (forthcoming in December 2017)
“Popcorn” by Andrew Mitchell
“The Jumper” by Geoff Kronik (forthcoming in December 2017)
“Filthy, Polluted” by Raul Palma (forthcoming in December 2017)
“Sour Toe” by Justin Herrmann
“Gravity, Reduced” by Kara Oakleaf
“Manatees” by William Todd Seabrook
We wish you all tons of success. You are all stars!
October 31, 2017 News Digests
Here are some spooky tales from our archives to get you in the Halloween holiday spirit.
- The Dead Are Not Hungry by Justin Lawrence Daugherty
Zombies like you’ve never seen zombies before. Also paired with possibly the best piece of artwork we’ve ever run at SmokeLong.
2. Working Halloween for Christmas Money by John Minichillo
The insiders guide to those cheesy haunted hayrides and houses and corn mazes you scared yourself silly at when you were a teen.
3. Laura Palmer’s Bar and Grill by Andrew F. Sullivan
Especially fitting to re-read this one after the new season of Twin Peaks this year. A trippy, Lynch-like fan tribute to the mysterious Laura Palmer.
4. The Sadness of Spirits by Aimee Pogson
A Ouija board. Some lonely ghosts. A little boy. What could go wrong?
5. The Horrors by Joseph Lucido
Is it bad luck or something more sinister at work? The voice in this piece is so compelling it pulls you along, even as you dread what’s coming next.
6. Last Seen Leaving by Laura Ellen Scott
When Virginia Tech student Morgan Harrington went missing after a Metallica concert, Laura Ellen Scott decided to explore what might’ve happened to her. Now that her killer has been convicted, this story has an even more chilling facet to it.
7. The Eleventh Floor Ghost by Megan Giddings
A haunted hotel with all sorts of ghosts trying to find their identities. This is a whimsical, fun piece from our former Kathy Fish Fellow.
8. The Rise of the Witch–A Fridge Flash by Stella Urbanski
This Fridge Flash by kindergartener Stella fits our theme and has original art to boot!
9. An Old Woman with Silver Hands by A.A. Baliskovits
A.A. Baliskovits is a master of retelling and reinventing classic fairy tales, and this is no exception.
10. Monarchs by Andrew Wehmann
Here’s a world where in order to survive, you must keep killing.
11. Bait by Amy Sayre Baptista
That creepy man on the side of road? Just what are his intentions?
12. Under the Dark by Dawn Bailey
Daddy tells you to go crawl under the porch. Do you go?
13. The Woodcutter’s Wife by Ben Black
A creepy retelling of Hansel and Gretel.
October 3, 2017 Fridge Flash
Today’s Fridge Flash is from Evie McClinch, who narrated this piece during one of her many imaginative play sessions. Her mom transcribed it as originally told, read it back to her, and solicited her edits. Evie is a true editor in the making! (more…)
September 29, 2017 Reviews
By Stefen Styrsky
While reading the exceptional stories in The Best Small Fictions 2017, the phrase “in our time” kept bouncing around my head. It’s the title of Hemingway’s first collection, the book that put him on the literary map, filled with examples of what, back then, had no name: Flash Fiction. Hemingway seemed to be on to something with that title. It struck me as the perfect phrase to encapsulate BSF 2017. The subjects of these stories run the gamut: families, death, identity, culture, race, environment. In other words, a glimpse into our current collective subconscious. (more…)
September 18, 2017 News Digests
Issue 57 of SmokeLong Quarterly comes with a whole new sensory experience. We’ve created a Spotify playlist for Issue 57, so you can listen to music that’s been paired with each story in the issue.
The songs were chosen by each author, and our associate editor Meghan Phillips curated the playlist order for your listening pleasure. If you do listen and read, let us know about your experiences!
Here’s the playlist:
“Cool Slut” by Chasity Belt (Jen Michalski, “I’m Such a Slut and I Don’t Give a Fuck”)
“Catch a Wave” by The Beach Boys (Todd Seabrook, “Manatees”)
“Blood in the Cut” by K.Flay (Didi Wood, “Husking”)
“Texas Never Whispers” by Pavement (John Jodzio, “Floodplain”)
“I Want You to Want Me” by Cheap Trick (James Claffey, “Sins of Omission”)
“Southern Cross” by Crosby, Stills & Nash (Tim Fitts, “Belly”)
“Otherside” by Red Hot Chili Peppers (Jane Blunschi, “San Miguel”)
“Levitation” by Beach House (Nikalus Rupert, “Fragore”)
“Every Breath You Take” by The Police (Cheyenne Autry, “Sexting”)
“Jackrabbit” by San Fermin (Kaely Horton, “”Apology Note To My Roommate Irene After My Chimaera Destroyed Her Blue Suede Heels”)
“I’m Done” by The Julie Ruin (Caitlyn GD, “What We Do For Work”)
“September Fields” by Frazey Ford (Tina Hall, “The Extinction Museum…”)
“Getting Ready to Get Down” by Josh Ritter (Allison Pinkerton, “St. Zelda’s”)
“Time Forgot” by Connor Oberst (Melissa Goode, “All of Us Are In Pieces”)
“Ode to Divorce” by Regina Spektor (Robyn Groth, “Still Life with Hairball”)
“Every Single Night” by Fiona Apple (Monica Lewis, “Night Run”)
“There Is a Light the Never Goes Out” by The Smiths (Skylar Alexander, “The Unicorn”)
September 6, 2017 Guest BloggerNews Digests
Editor’s note: We are fortunate to have Tara L. Masih, founding series editor for the Best Small Fictions anthology, guest blog for us this week. Tara takes a look at some of her favorite endings from flash fictions included in the BSF series.
Anyone who studies or participates in writing sudden, flash, or micro fiction knows the importance of a great ending. As Henry Wadsworth Longfellow so accurately said: “Great is the art of the beginning, but greater is the art of the ending.” Longfellow, who mostly published poetry and translated some of the world’s greatest writers, understood that leaving the reader with an indelible image or deep new understanding makes for a more powerful and resonant reading experience. In other words, exiting a story well is more important than how we enter. And it may be more difficult to achieve. With that in mind, here are my top choices for perfect endings from the Best Small Fictions series. Needless to say, choosing was a hard task. I believe every story in each volume accomplishes what Longfellow emphasizes, but these six have something extra special.
2015, guest edited by Robert Olen Butler:
This flash is a one-paragraph tour de force that hits the reader hard with a strong opening, then takes the reader on a journey that’s both internal and external. Strayer avoids the expected narrative direction that a victim story might normally take and moves us toward a conclusion that reaches above the victim’s, and our, basic instincts. “Let’s Say” was mentioned in many reviews and I think that’s a testament, of course, to the story as a whole but also to its powerful ending.
2. “The Garden Sky,” by Dave Petraglia, originally published in Necessary Fiction (Nov. 26, 2014)
One of the hardest things to do in any genre, but especially within the confines of flash, is to tackle subjects as large and complex as race relations, bias, and guilt of the conqueror/invader. Petraglia manages to cover all of these heavy themes in two pages. His narrator is a white businesswoman admiring a young female Vietnamese civil engineer during a work lunch. A lunch discussing apps that recognize bombs, which are unearthed and cleaned and sold in markets. Bomb is a heavy word in this story, with multiple layers of meaning for both parties. The ending is a masterful, poetic rewind of the bombs that fell on the engineer’s country, injuring her father. It’s tortuous because we cannot do rewinds on dropped bombs, and I think the ending helped put this story on many readers’ lists of favorites.
2016, guest edited by Stuart Dybek:
3. “Bug Porn,” by Robert Scotellaro, originally appeared in What We Know So Far (Blue Light Press)
Leaving readers with a strong visual image is one way to ensure they will remember your story. In this humorous Micro, Scotellaro uses visual interplay between a husband and wife to set up a strong statement. A daddy longlegs, squished on the ceiling, is not just a dead bug. Scotellaro narrows the focus of vision to a single insect leg, which angled just so, looks like a “forward slash. With all of the surrounding grammar missing.” The power is in the image, and in the space around the image, as it relates to the couple’s marriage.
4. “The Story, Victorious,” by Etgar Keret, originally appeared in Flash Fiction International (W. W. Norton)
Another humorous ending. Or is it an ending? Keret fools the reader into thinking he or she has reached one ending, but then produces another. Masterful and original, and got him recognition in the venerable Flash series.
2017, guest edited by Amy Hempel:
- “Sea Air,” by Matt Sailor, originally appeared in Five Points, Vol. 17, No. 3
Sailor’s brief almost post-apocalyptic story proves that an ending can be very simple, yet still be powerful. His final line is a fragment of just five words: “A tangle of disturbed sheets.” It’s both visual and metaphorical. Each word chosen carefully. This editor appreciated every word and nuance. The reader will, too.
- “In Our Circle,” by Kimberly King Parsons, originally from NANO Fiction, Vol. 10
Parsons’ ending is not only visual, but tactile. She manages to literally mold an ending that invests lumps of clay with Freudian symbolism and her narrator’s deepest thoughts and flaws. This little story is already getting attention in reviews. She has a great beginning, but an even greater ending.
For other great endings, see the individual stories recommended by the Flash Field Guide authors and editors in the downloadable PDF at Rose Metal Press’s website. The PDF will be available later this fall.
Tara Lynn Masih is editor of two ForeWord Books of the Year, The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction and The Chalk Circle: Intercultural Prizewinning Essays, and is author of Where the Dog Star Never Glows. Her flash appears in many anthologies, including Flash Fiction Funny, Flashed: Sudden Stories in Comic and Prose, and W. W. Norton’s forthcoming New Micro: Exceptionally Short Fiction, and was featured in Fiction Writer’s Review for National Short Story Month. Additional awards include The Ledge Magazine’s Fiction Award, the Lou P. Bunce Creative Writing Award, a Wigleaf Top 50 and a Neville Award citation, and Pushcart Prize, Best New American Voices, and Best of the Web nominations. She is Founding Series Editor for The Best Small Fictions annual anthology and received a finalist fiction grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council.
August 1, 2017 Fridge Flash
The kids in Oliver Jones’ first grade class were instructed to imagine a story that took place outside of their school. They were to include at least one real element they have observed outside. Oliver chose to include squirrels in his story. He hasn’t observed any robots on the school grounds but he hasn’t given up hope.
June 29, 2017 Fridge Flash
Today’s Fridge Flash is from nine-year-old Ethan. Ethan shares a poignant story about love, loss, and childhood friendships that last a lifetime.
By Ethan Hampel
Jone was standing outside his house with the pointy roof. Up in the pointy roof was nothing. But he, he didn’t think that was right. His whole house was empty but it was so full. But his heart was empty. His house only had him to live in it. He remember 20 years ago when he was 30. Back then he was married. The girl was Sharlet Amy Shewats. He thought back to when they were good friends when he was 11 and she was 10. They were on the playground.
“Umm… so how many times have you been on the slide” She would say.
He would say “ 9 19 29 39 49 59 69 79 89 I don’t know should I have been keeping track. Mabey 99.” He said every time she would ask.
One day she wasn’t there to ask him how many times he had gone down the slide. He got off the slide and looked around. The last place he looked was behind the school. There he saw her being bullied by a bunch of idiots.
He said “ Hey back of you…you…Idiots you shouldn’t be bullying anybody.” “Who you callin a-” The main one started. But before he could say anything else, he hit him. Square in the nose. Then he looked at him. You could tell he got teary eyes. He left. He was so proud of that one time. But Sharlet died of a heart attack. He had blamed himself for that every day. He thought he could do something but the truth was nobody could have done anything. But he thought of not going back.
Ethan Hampel was 8 when he wrote this and is currently 9. He lives with his parents and big sister Madelyn and attends school with his big sister all in Wichita, Kansas.
June 27, 2017 Guest Blogger
June 24 was National Flash Fiction Day in the U.K. Although the festival is over, we at SmokeLong Quarterly would like to party one more day. In celebration, we asked several amazing writers of flash fiction to share a top ten list of flash favorites on a topic of their choice. On our final day of celebration, SmokeLong’s Kathy Fish Fellow, Allison Pinkerton, shares her top ten flashes exploring the distance between children and adults.
June 26, 2017 Guest Blogger
June 24 was National Flash Fiction Day in the U.K. Although the festival across the pond is over, we at SmokeLong Quarterly would like to keep the party going for a few more days.
In celebration, we asked several amazing writers of flash fiction to share a top ten list of flash favorites on a topic of their choice. SmokeLong contributor, Claire Polders, has a story featured in the National Flash Fiction Day anthology, Sleep Is A Beautiful Colour. Today, she shares her favorite flash stories featuring (dead) fathers.
by Claire Polders
This year’s theme for the National Flash Fiction Day anthology was “Life as you know it.” I interpreted that as autobiographical writing, and whenever I turn toward my own life for inspiration, I often end up writing about my father, who died way too young. The small piece I submitted to the anthology, “Swing State,” was accepted (thank you Tino, Meg, and Calum!) and reading it back in the proofs, I wondered what other flashes were out there dealing with fathers, dead or alive. Here are some of my favorites:
“My Father Took Me To Watch” by Mai Nardone (published by Tin House, the Open Bar).
Mai Nardone’s story startled me with its first sentence in which the callousness of a father is portrayed. And there was a lot more to discover as I read on. About the responsibility of being a first-born. About what it means to keep secrets from your “noosed mother.” A cruel but beautiful read.
“Letter to a Funeral Parlor” by Lydia Davis (published in The Collected Stories Of Lydia Davis, excerpt made available by NPR).
Lydia Davis is a huge inspiration for me, so a list without one of her stories would seem incomplete. In this flash, she expresses the anguish of grief by focusing on the absurdity of the way we deal with death in our society. Who can disagree with her when she writes: “Cremains sounds like something invented as a milk substitute in coffee, like Cremora, or Coffee-mate.”
“Sometimes My Father Comes Back from the Dead” by Steve Edwards (published in SmokeLong Quarterly)
It’s hard not to love a good ghost story. What I admired in Steve Edward’s flash was the optimism in the narrator’s voice and the perceived innocence of his father’s presence. It made me wish my own father would drop by sometimes so I could love him without reserve for the man he was.
“Relic” by Aubrey Hirsch (published in The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts)
I selected this story by Aubrey Hirsch because of its seducing reticence. By focusing on a dining room table, the narrator tells us about her father’s tragedy and her response to it. It’s a talent to let something as hard as wood reveal so much emotion.
“Father’s Return from War. Topics” by Horia Gârbea (published by Words Without Borders)
What can you know about a father who goes to war when you stay behind as a child? What can you imagine? In this ingenious story by Horia Gârbea, I was treated to nine versions of a history that left me wondering how many of them were mutually exclusive.
“Timbre and Tone” by Sudha Balagopal (published by Jellyfish Review)
In Sudha Balagopal’s flash about a father’s funeral she brilliantly shows the mystery our parents are to us. Here’s a daughter who tries to figure them out, pin them down, so that by her understanding their actions might hurt her less. But in the end, they keep surprising her, which, surprisingly, comes as a relief.
“Empire State Building” by James Yates (published by matchbook)
Should we hate or love our fathers for their lies, their exaggerations, their obsessions? In this touching story by James Yates, in which more is said than written, I was left pondering that interesting question.
“The Hand That Wields The Priest” by Emily Devane (published by Bath Flash Fiction Award)
In Emily Devane’s story an entire relationship between a father and his daughter is transformed by one well-chosen scene. “That night, his hand felt different on my head.” I felt it, too.
“Candles” by Paul Maliszewski (published by Gulf Coast)
Stories about fathers are often about authority. Paul Maliszewski strikingly shows how a son deals with the authority of both church and father and finds invisible ways to be defiant.
“Reunion” by John Cheever (published in The Stories of John Cheever and anthologized in Sudden Fiction)
I’m not a son and my father was the opposite of the man in John Cheever’s story, but when reading this flash I am that young man, so excited to meet with my father and in the end so… oh, just read it.
Plus One. Are they flashes or chapters of a novel? Whatever they are, Justin Torres writes beautifully about fathers in We the Animals. An excerpt, “Heritage,” was published by Granta.
Claire Polders is a Dutch author of four novels with a debut in English on the way. Her short prose most recently appeared in TriQuarterly, The Offing, Connotation Press, New World Writing, Necessary Fiction, Cheap Pop, and elsewhere. You can find her at @clairepolders or www.clairepolders.com.
June 23, 2017 Guest Blogger
June 24 is (Inter)National Flash Fiction Day. In celebration, SmokeLong Quarterly asked several amazing writers of flash fiction to share a top ten list of flash favorites on a topic of their choice. SmokeLong contributor, Gay Degani, has a story featured in the National Flash Fiction Day anthology, Sleep Is A Beautiful Colour. Today, she shares her favorite flash stories featuring cars.
June 22, 2017 Guest Blogger
June 24 is National Flash Fiction Day in the United Kingdom. When we learned that flash fiction has its own day of celebration in the U.K., we at SmokeLong Quarterly wanted to participate in the festivities, especially since many of our beloved contributors are included in the National Flash Fiction anthology, Sleep Is A Beautiful Colour.
One of those contributors, Santino Prinzi, is a co-director and editor for the anthology. In celebration of (Inter)National Flash Fiction Day, we asked Santino and a few other amazing flash writers to give a list of their top ten favorite flash fiction stories on a topic of their choosing. Over the next few days we will be posting those lists in celebration. Enjoy and Happy Flash Fiction Day!
June 19, 2017 Artist Spotlight
Ashley Inguanta, a SmokeLong Quarterly contributing artist for seven years and its art director for six, will be stepping down from the art director role after this issue to concentrate on her art, writing, teaching, and yoga practice in Florida. Her latest poetry book, Bomb, was published last year. You can see her photographs here. Our current art director, Alexander C. Kafka, asked her about her experiences with SmokeLong and her plans. (more…)
May 2, 2017 Fridge Flash
Today’s Fridge Flash comes from seven-year-old Shifa Asif, who extols the beauties of nature.
By Shifa Asif
You give us cool air and oxygen,
And they are very beautiful, (more…)
April 27, 2017 Why Flash Fiction Series
By Dana Diehl
As a kid, one of my favorite pastimes was looking at old photographs of my family. My parents had five photo albums stored at the top of the hallway closet, too heavy for me to get down by myself, with dark covers and no labels. Five albums filled with pictures of me, pictures of my brother, pictures of my parents’ childhoods and their lives together before my brother and I were born. I would sit cross-legged in the hallway, my feet going numb against the hardwood floor, turning the thick pages, satisfied by the flop they made in my lap. (more…)
April 19, 2017 Interviews
SmokeLong Associate Editor and resident trivia buff Meghan Carlton Phillips will be appearing as a contestant on the beloved game show Jeopardy! this Friday, April 21, 2017. Will she make it a true Daily Double? Will she give an undying shout-out to SmokeLong Quarterly? Will she win big and buy us all jet planes? Check your local listings and tune in this Friday to find out!
In the meantime, we asked her some questions about her experience auditioning and being on the set, how she prepped, and what her most dreaded category would be.
April 5, 2017 Fridge Flash
Today’s Fridge Flash comes from four-year-old Sherdil Asif, who shares his tale of a spider taking a ride!
by Sherdil Asif
The spiderman was going in a Volkswagon. He was happy happy.
March 29, 2017 Fridge Flash
Today’s Fridge Flash comes from six-year-old, Esben Møller Semmel. This cautionary tale is full of phonetic fun and is poetic in structure. Be careful of duks!
by Esben Møller Semmel
a duk swam in the water
the duk landed in the water
the duk splashed water on me
the duk saw me
the duk floo too me
the duk was mad at me.
Esben Møller Semmel is a six-year-old kindergartner. He likes to draw and write stories and play baseball. When he grows up he wants to play professional baseball for one of these teams: St. Louis Cardinals, Toronto Blue Jays, Minnesota Twins, Baltimore Orioles, and Detroit Tigers. Those are the only teams he will play for.
March 20, 2017 News Digests
Congratulations to Bath Flash Fiction on their first anthology: To Carry Her Home: Bath Flash Fiction, Volume One! To celebrate flash from the UK and around the world, SmokeLong Quarterly is giving away 5 copies of the Bath Flash Fiction anthology. Details on how to win below.