In this issue we offer you 13 stories: 12 finalists from The SmokeLong Quarterly Award for Flash Fiction competition and “Ciénaga” by the 2020 SmokeLong fellow, María Alejandra Barrios. These pieces are mostly about isolation and loss, but I suppose this is a fitting reflection of our world today. The one love story in the group–Ashley Wilson Fellers’ “Four Lies”–is about two first cousins navigating what some readers may see as a forbidden love–but not in the UK and California! We checked.
A competition issue is an odd animal. To decide on “winners” seems ridiculous; these stories are all winners. We spent weeks deliberating, and there was something special about each one of these stories. In fact, there was something special about the long- and shortlisted stories as well. I guess the great thing about running a SmokeLong competition is that it awakens interest in flash fiction and opens the journal up to new readers– or converts as we like to call them.
We are not a cult. But we do have precise ideas about flash fiction–about how urgency, purpose, heart, subtlety, and voice all play vital roles in making the form so compelling. The 13 stories in this issue are stellar examples of flash. We loved the tight structure of Emily James’ “Zero,” the immediacy and poignancy of Meg Walters’ “What is Ours.” We were captivated by the world-building and sentence-level art of Abby Feden’s “To Pieces.” The urgent and compelling voices in Jemimah Wei’s “Waiting,” Kyra Baldwin’s “This Is How You Give A Baby CPR,” and L.M. Brown’s “How to Build a Bunker” won us over. The deft stream-of-consciousness of “All Your Fragile History” by Jasmine Sawers is an excellent example of the single-sentence story; Jiksun Cheung’s subversion of time in “Cupola” is challenging and eerie. Madeline Anthes slays us with the narrator’s crushing feeling of alienation in “Why I think of you every time I bruise” every time we reread this micro. We feel for Marigold in Rebecca Turkewitz’s “Search Party” and hope she is one day found. And, lastly, to the narrator of Leonora Desar’s “*69”: we were there with you the entire time even if your parents weren’t.
Oddly, Desar’s “*69” shares a similar structure with Abby Feden’s “To Pieces”. Both stories portray three family members sequestered in their own rooms/worlds. We have never read so many stories involving characters hopelessly alone, separated, and lost. But then in “What is Ours” and “How to Build a Bunker” families also come together to cope with loss. So there’s that.
There is a stroke of humor here and there is these stories. The narrators of “This I How You Give A Baby CPR,” “*69,” “Waiting,” and “All Your Fragile History” all tell their stories with a bit of a laugh. Thank goodness, right? It’s all so bleak right now. All so desperately sad: the “current” political situation and systemic racism (not only) in the US. It is so important that we stand up against this hate.
That’s why we need family now more than ever. Which brings me to a final point I need to make just in case you’re reading SmokeLong Quarterly for the first time. We stand with Black Lives Matter and hope writers of color feel supported by the flash fiction community. We are always looking for new ways to support under-represented voices. One very specific thing we are going to do is to offer a free spot in our September-October 7-week flash fiction workshop online with workshop leaders Venita Blackburn, Elisabeth Ingram Wallace, and myself, Christopher Allen to a black writer of flash fiction who cannot otherwise afford the $295. This free place has been made possible by donations from Jan Stout, April Bradley, and SLQ future contributor Nicole VanderLinden, who donated her honorarium back specifically for this purpose. To apply for this place, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.