SmokeLong Quarterly

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Humor & Hard Questions—A Letter from the Editor

Story by Christopher Allen March 25, 2019

Art by Paul Bilger

So much is happening in our immensely tiny flash world right now: workshops on- and off- line, retreats, festivals, competitions, and best-of anthologies for just about any species of flash you can think of. We might just be experiencing a Copernican Revolution in flash fiction—and it is so exciting. Not a day scrolls by on Twitter or Facebook without some great flash story from a new or familiar voice in our growing community.

One of these new voices is James Braun, whose story “The Strings Between Us” appears in Issue 63. Chosen by our reviews editor, Tyrese Coleman, during her Editor’s Choice week, “The Strings Between Us” is Braun’s first journal publication—and we were thrilled to discover this when we finally read his cover letter. (Our guest editors have no access to names or cover letters, and our staff editors rarely read them before we read the story.)

Issue 63 is a great mix of new and familiar voices. Eleven stories in Issue 63 were chosen by guest editors and staff editors during their Editor’s Choice week, and eight stories survived our rigorous all-staff editing process to appear for the first time in the quarterly. What characterizes Issue 63 more than anything else is balance. Honestly, we don’t overthink this or attempt to manipulate the mood of our issues. We and our guest editors simply choose the stories that affect us. Sometimes this means we end up with a rather dark issue, or sometimes an issue full of robot stories. This time I’m happy to say that we’ve chosen some humor. Humor is so difficult to get right and so vital in our lives and in our art.

Last night I was lying in bed thinking about how I’d communicate this to you when my TV told me how. I was watching a documentary about Stephen Hawking when the answer came in his familiar voice: “Humor helps people think about difficult questions.” God, he was smart. And that’s exactly the kind of humor we have for you in Issue 64. We have the least drunk guy at the party who can’t stop talking about his penis in Tom DeBeauchamp’s “Space Junk,” the self-editing voice of the narrator in Didi Wood’s “Bone,” a toddler threatening to kill his family (so funny) in Venita Blackburn’s “Easter Egg Surprise,” a clown, helium, and balloons in Kevin Sterne’s “From Your Jerry,” and of course lots of difficult questions.

Admittedly lacking balloons, several of the stories in this issue are straight up drama and pathos. “Hellicopter Parent” is a hyper-realistic look at a person dealing with the shock of losing a child. “In November 2017” is a compressed portrait of superficiality and detachment. “Comatose” depicts an entire family under a cultural pall. No help from humor here.

Several of the stories in Issue 63 play with words and the meanings of words. While not exactly knee-slapping humor, the use of wit and word play is very effective in stories such as Kim Magowan’s “Useful Information” and Elaine Chiew’s “A Map of Woebegone Places.”

Thank you to all the contributors, the artists, the interviewers, the guest editors, and especially to our readers for your support of SmokeLong Quarterly.

Lastly, if you’re in an airport somewhere on your way to AWP right now, don’t forget to let us know you’re coming to one of our readings on Thursday evening. Reading One features Dennis Norris II, Tyrese L. Coleman, Megan Pillow Davis, and Gwen E. Kirby. Reading Two features Michael Don, Nancy Au, Sherrie Flick, and Kathy Fish. Come early to make sure you get a seat. We can’t wait to see you. Please do stop us and say hi. We don’t have a table this year, but we’ll sit down with you anywhere.

If you’re not going to be in Portland for AWP but you live in the Washington D.C. area, check out the SmokeLong Reading there on April 12.

Let yourself laugh,


About the Author

Christopher Allen is the author of the flash fiction collection Other Household Toxins (Matter Press, 2018). His work has appeared in Flash Fiction America (Norton, 2023), The Best Small Fictions 2019 and 2022, Split Lip, Booth, PANK, and Indiana Review, among other very nice places. Allen has been the publisher and editor-in-chief of SmokeLong Quarterly since January 2020 and was the 2023 judge of the Bridport Prize for flash fiction. He and his husband are nomads.


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