September 26, 2016

Reading Recommendations: 3 Awesome Need to Read Short Stories

I've never done a post like this before, but I've been considering it for a while. A few months ago I ran across a blog that was literally just excerpts from books. I'm not sure that's entirely legal but I found the concept to be fascinating. The curator compiled hundreds of posts with just pieces of stories that resonated with him.

It's very late on a Sunday night and as I type this, I'm sitting in the dark staring at my screen, feeling awkwardly meta as I contemplate how deeply the "this resonated with me" blog actually resonated with me. I really wish that I had taken down the name or bookmarked it or followed it, but alas, I'm an idiot.

Since I've been working on short stories and flash fiction lately, I've been reading more of them than I ever have before. I debated on writing a review for them but it just feels silly for something so short. Instead, I thought I might keep a running list with links to stories that resonate with me. Short Fiction and Microfiction that I find interesting, inspiring, thought provoking or, in some small way, worth reading.

Here's a few that not only caught my eye, but stayed with me all week -

Immersion by Daniella Levy

Published in The Jewish Literary Journal 
I'm not Jewish but I've always taken the advice to "read wide and deep" to heart. A basic understanding of the Jewish faith and culture would help put this piece into context but I think this story stands well enough on its own. At least, I found it to be very approachable. The story follows a young woman and her soul searching as she undergoes a Mikveh (a religious ritual reserved for married women).

No Vacancies: Reality TV Dumpster Fires and Haunted DVDs by Max Booth III 

Published with Gamut - (For the record, I LOVE the artwork on this site.)
I think the voice is what captured my attention the most. It's a bit cynical, maybe even existential. This piece uses some more advanced structural techniques that I wouldn't recommend to beginners but it's clear that Booth knows what he's doing. I liked it. I believe it's a CNF  piece (Creative Non-Fiction). If you're a fan of Chuck Palahniuk, take a moment to read this.

The Masque of Red Death by Edgar Allen Poe

Poe needs no introduction. The Masque of Red Death is certainly one of his best known pieces. It's not exactly a hidden gem, but I couldn't resist adding it to the list. Contemporary American culture places such a taboo on death, I always appreciate artists that push it back into the public eye. The fact is, we're all mortal and at some point we're all going to die. Chances are, you've heard of the story before (it's even the costume Erik wears to the masquerade in Phantom of the Opera) so I'm probably not ruining much when I say it can summed up in five words -- Death comes for us all. Definitely worth a read if you've never taken the time before. 

September 8, 2016

10 Things to Consider Before Submitting Flash Fiction

To be clear, Flash Fiction is a Short Story, only smaller. The word count hovers between 500 words to 1,500 words (though few Literary Magazines accept Flash Fiction over 1000 words).

I took a couple weeks to browse through what felt like hundreds of Literary magazines and online journals hunting for open (year round) Flash Fiction submissions (without entrance fees). There are so many to choose from, but they're all looking for something specific. If you plan on submitting, make sure you read their guidelines ... and their legals rights! Seriously, read the fine print! Giving away first printing rights is good (how else would they print it), but signing the piece over entirely, not so much.

So ... after reading hundreds of articles on it over the last few weeks (Okay, you got me. Dozens.) I thought I'd pull it all together in one place. A mish-mash list of tips, tricks, and points to consider. So here's what to keep in mind if you're looking to write Flash Fiction (and do it well).

  1. Good Flash Fiction is short but it is still a story. Not a vignette. Not a blurb. Not a summary. Not a chapter. It is a piece of short fiction. It has a beginning, middle, and end.
  2. Flash Fiction, by necessity, cannot delve too heavily into complex subplots or backstory. Don't overdo it. In the words of Donald Draper, "Make it simple but significant."
  3. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Cut down the wasted phrases and unnecessary words. Chuck 'em. Or save them for another story. It doesn't matter, as long as the story you're working on is succinct and concise. 
  4. Use your voice. In an effort to condense, I stripped a story down to the bare bones, but when I reread it, it sounded bland and decidedly not like me. Obviously Flash doesn't give you the same space to play with words that a novel will but that doesn't mean it can't sound like you. In fact, it should. A strong voice is often sought by the mags and it makes your piece stand out in the pile. Cut down the words but don't overdo it or the text will lose any semblance of poetry it had in earlier drafts. 
  5. Watch your content. Being bold does not mean being gratuitous with sex, violence, coarse language, incest, rape, abuse against women, or other objectionable content. Though you might have some luck finding a really amazing fringe journal like Trigger Warnings (dedicated to horror, the dark, and macabre), most journals and magazines are looking for pieces open to a general audience. So keep it light and clean. Bummer, I know. 
  6. Be bold. Be daring. (Avoid saturated tropes on the market- most notably Young Adult Paranormal Romance... vampires, werewolves, zombies etc.) Be different, but for the love of all that is good, make sure it fits with what the magazine or journal is looking to publish. Not sure what that is? A great place to start is cracking open an old issue and reading what they're all about. In fact, some even require you to purchase an old issue in order to submit. Also, go to their website and check out the What We're Looking For or the FAQ's (if they have one). 
  7. Experimental Lit has a time and place. If that's your cup of tea, more power to you but make sure the magazines or journals have similar tastes... especially if your form would require nontraditional formatting. 
  8. Get an Alpha & Beta reader. More seasoned writers can get away without critiques (maybe) but for beginners I'd recommend joining a critique site. My personal favorite is Scribophile. (No, they don't pay me to say that. I just really love the site and the community there.) I got seven critiques on the last Flash Fiction piece I posted. That means I had seven separate people point out the strengths and flaws which is a tremendous help during the next draft. 
  9. Reread your piece. Don't embarrass yourself (and every English teacher you've ever had). It'd be a shame to be rejected for a few typos. Proofread before you submit. 
  10. Don't overthink it. Have fun. It's just a story. The worst that can happen is that it gets rejected. You'll sigh (maybe cry a little), take a deep breath, and move on. It's not the end of the world so don't treat it like it is. Write. Edit. Submit. Repeat.