Bartleby Snopes Writing Blog

Becoming a Better Writer

Writing About a Spousal Fight

Guest Post by David S. Atkinson

Intro by Nathaniel Tower

When David S. Atkinson asked if I would read his latest short story collection, I didn’t hesitate. A chance to get a free advanced copy of a book I knew I would like by a great writer and good friend? There was no way I could turn that down. David is a treasured member of the literary community. Aside from being a voracious reader who can somehow read and digest every word of any book within 24 hours of receiving it, he’s one of the nicest and most supportive writers I’ve ever met. And he’s damn funny, which is on display both through his personal interactions and his fiction. Not Quite So Stories is one of the best collections I’ve read, and I’m not just saying that because we’re friends. I’m saying that because I mean it. Unlike David (who must have some sort of time-freezing device) I don’t have the time or dedication to read every book that gets sent my way, but David’s was one that I read and enjoyed thoroughly. And I probably owed it to him. Of course, after reading it, I feel like I owe him even more. Yup, it’s that good. 

If you haven’t read David’s collection, do so now. But before you do, stick around here and enjoy learning a little more about his process and inspiration for one of my favorite stories in the collection.

 

david atkinson

Writing about people one actually knows is always an uncertain territory. Conflicts with loved ones is particularly fraught with peril. After all, one never knows how the subject will react. Presuming one actually cares, the need to write the story must be weighed against how the person might feel, and what they might do about it.

Writing about a spousal conflict is even more of a minefield, especially if one wants the marriage to continue.

However, I did write about an area of my real life marital strife in my story “A Brief Account of the Great Toilet Paper War of 2012,” which is included in my new short story collection Not Quite so Stories. The issue centers on, as one might guess from the title, toilet paper. There are great disagreements in our household over toilet paper.

To explain, my wife is an “under the roll” believer, whereas I maintain that this is blasphemous. I take this quite seriously, which amuses my wife. Also, she doesn’t tend to replace empty rolls unless she herself needs them. Sometimes, she’ll just set a new roll nearby and start using it rather than actually placing it on the roll. This all bothers me much, much more than is reasonable. toilet paper war

So, it all went into the story. I went wild with it, taking things to ridiculously absurd extremes (I have never, I repeat never, glued toilet paper to a roll in order to ensure that there is always toilet paper on the holder, whether usable or not). Still, the core of our “debate” is there and I’m airing our dirty laundry in public.

Is that a good idea? Should I have done it? One school of thought, advocated by Anne Lamott, is to go ahead…but to: “give the character a small penis,” the idea being that the subject would never claim that the character is them. However, I didn’t want to give my wife any kind of penis at all. Further, I wouldn’t worry about my wife claiming the character is her. Rather, I would be concerned with her being hurt and thus damaging our relationship.

So, what did I do?

Well, first of all, I wrote about a relatively insignificant conflict. Arguments about toilet paper may get heated at home, but this is a fairly petty matter that isn’t particularly private. I think that helps. Also, the story is humorous. I’m trying to entertain and make people laugh, not get validation from the reading public regarding my position in the argument (I’m still right). Beyond that, I made sure to make the wife in the story more reasonable whereas the husband is a loveable yet ridiculously over serious about toilet paper protocol. In short, he’s a buffoon. Even if my wife read the story and felt it was an airing of a private marriage matter in public, I’m the one I made look ridiculous. All of those things work together to make me feel more okay in writing about something from my marriage.

david atkinsonNow, am I guaranteed to be okay? Absolutely not. However, I know what I’m comfortable with and I know my wife. I thought about whether or not I should write the story, and I thought about it deeply before I began writing…no matter how innocuous I thought it was. I considered her possible feelings, and considered them again before getting the story published. Whether or not I’m actually okay, I thought about it a great deal and decided I was. Personally, I think the fact that I considered her feelings mattered more than anything I happened to write.

Of course, it also probably helps that my wife doesn’t hang on every word I write. She’s got a lot of important things going in her life and I’m not the center of everything. Nor should I be. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure she’s read “A Brief Account of the Great Toilet Paper War of 2012” yet. We’ll have to see if my advice on this changes when she does.

Wish me luck.

 

David S. Atkinson is the author of Apocalypse All the Time (forthcoming 2017), Not Quite so Stories, The Garden of Good and Evil Pancakes (2015 National Indie Excellence Awards finalist in humor), and Bones Buried in the Dirt (2014 Next Generation Indie Book Awards finalist, First Novel <80K). His writing appears in Bartleby Snopes, Grey Sparrow Journal, Atticus Review, and others. His writing website is http://davidsatkinsonwriting.com/.

8th Annual Dialogue Contest Now Open

Our 8th Annual Dialogue Contest is now open. You can find complete contest rules here.

Some quick information:

Prizes: A minimum of $500 will be awarded, with at least $300 going to the grand prize winner. Our five finalists will also appear in Issue 15 of the magazine due out in January 2017. Last year we awarded over $1900 in prize money. For every entry over 50, an additional $5 will be added to the total prize money.

2015 Prize Structure:

1st Prize: $300 minimum + $3 for every entry over 50
2nd Prize: $100 minimum + $1 for every entry over 50
3rd Prize: $50 minimum + $1 for every two entries over 50
4th Prize: $30 minimum + $1 for every 4 entries over 50
5th Prize: $20 minimum + $1 for every 4 entries over 50

Entry Fee: $10 for unlimited entries (only one entry allowed at a time; see Response/Notification section for more details). Entry fee is due at time of submission and will be collected through Submittable.

Be sure to read our dialogue writing tips for advice on crafting your entry. You can also read our past winners while you’re there.

Jayne Martin Interviews Rosie Forrest, Author of Ghost Box Evolution In Cadillac, Michigan

 

Rosie Forrest is a writer of fiction and flash fiction with a background in drama whose collections of stories, “Ghost Box Evolution in Cadillac, Michigan,” won the 2015 annual Rose Metal Press Chapbook contest. Her work has appeared in Smokelong Quarterly, Literary Orphans, Hobart, Wigleaf and just about everywhere else where fine flash fiction is published. “Bless This Home” (from Ghost Box Evolution in Cadillac, Michigan) is among the winning stories that will appear in Queen’s Ferry Press Best Small Fictions of 2016.

Forrest earned her B.A. in drama from the University of Virginia in 2000 and obtained her M.F.A. in creative writing from the University of New Hampshire in 2011. Between those years is an impressive resume of writing and teaching credentials. Currently, she resides in Nashville where she teaches at the Vanderbilt University, and also is involved in programs working with talented youth. We are thrilled to have her participating in Women Who Flash Their Lit.

 

JM: Hi, Rosie. Congratulations on winning the 2015 Rose Metal Press Chapbook contest for your story collection, “Ghost Box Evolution in Cadillac, Michigan.” Great title. There are so many places in the country like your Cadillac, Michigan, where big box stores came in and wipe out all the local small business. Then they went bust and left behind these giant, cement carcasses. What drew you to this particular setting?

 

RF: Thanks for saying so, Jayne. Titles can send me ‘round the bend, so I’m particularly thrilled when one sticks. About those big box stores, I heard a story on NPR maybe five years ago examining the uptick in abandoned megastores, and that was the first time I encountered the term, “ghost box.” At the time I was moving every year and noting all the empty parking lots and faded letters of store names on concrete facades. You know, another phrase comes to mind—I’m remembering it just now— “residual haunting.” I’m sure it’s a common term in the ghost hunting world, but the idea is that something or someone in life engaged in such a strong routine or pattern, that the ghost it left behind is like an energy imprint on that particular space and time. There’s something to that effect in these stories – not ghost stories, per se, but moments that haunt the characters or the setting beyond the immediate event.

 

JM: Yes. The young people who inhabit these stories seem haunted by the uncertainty of their future, and there’s a sense of unfulfilled yearning, which makes the ghost box store setting so perfect. Your characters are all so multi-faceted, like a prism casting a multitude of colors. Can you give us a peek into your process of creating these characters?

 

RF: Prisms, I like that. Characters are so visual for me. Each one in these stories came from a sort of rough photograph, like finding an old album in the basement. Occasionally the voice is there before the image, but if not first, the voice arrives soon after. I never did so well with the character survey assignment, the one that asks a series of personality and lifestyle questions to build a well-rounded character.

JM: I could never do that either.

RF: It’s a great tool, but it’s like stringing popcorn or cranberries. I don’t know where I’m headed. I need the big picture. I have to start with one of the senses or I’m lost. The characters in Ghost Box (even though I never believed they lived in the same town or attended the same school) felt like I’d dropped a packet of weird Polaroids on the floor. It’s less of a metaphor than it seems. The story, Gun Moll, stems from an actual photo, the one Georgia describes in her opening line: “Once we were Bonnie and Clyde for Halloween and I loved the picture of us holding guns up to our chins like we’d blow our own heads off.”

JM: I absolutely love that line and that image. One of my favorite of your stories is “Where We Off To, Lulu Bee?” published first at Word Riot. As with much of your work, I picked up a whimsical undercurrent. Is this my imagination or your intention?

 

RF: It’s not your imagination, I can tell you that much. I almost can’t help it. I grew up with a puppeteer mother, so whimsy is…well…it’s in my bones. The funny thing, though, is that I find myself cloaking it more and more in realism. Childhood is naturally packed with whimsy, so it felt right for it to color a few stories in the collection. But where whimsy gets interesting, where it moves beyond the sweetness, is when it careens into something raw and brutal. That’s where the good stuff lies.

 

JM: When you started writing, did you immediately gravitate to flash or did you start in some other genre and, if so, how did you find your way to flash? One of the reasons I ask is because your award-winning story, “We’ll Understand It Better By and By,” published by Dogwood is a over 5,000 words. I would love to write a 5,000-word story, but mine always seem to end before they get anywhere near that length.

 

RF: Longer stories terrify me. I’m a painfully slow writer, and if I embark on a project with a high page count in mind, the expectations alone can be insurmountable. I tripped into flash. One professor at UNH had us write 500 word pieces for the last class of the semester, and the process of crafting that one page got me all buzzy and excited. I carried that page around with me and revised and revised until individual words lost meaning. With tiny instruments and tiny tools, flash suits me, but longer forms can let me paint with a big, fat brush. That has tremendous value as well.

 

JM: You got your B.A. in Drama from the University of Virginia in 2000. Were you an aspiring actress or playwright at one time?

 

RF: Actress, most definitely. Musical theatre. Belting out show tunes. Jazz hands. The works. But I can’t dance beyond a shuffle-hop-step, and the process of auditioning even for college productions turned my stomach inside out.

 

JM: I started out as an actress, too, and quit for the same reason. Those damn audition nerves.

 

RF: But I loved theatre – the imagination, the community, the collaboration – so I stuck it out and bulldozed my way into directing. My advisor, Betsy Tucker, scared the crap out of me daily with her no-bullshit approach to getting the work done. I learned to envision the project, to loosen the reins, and to get out of my own way. Those lessons honed my writing in conscious and subconscious ways. Still do.

 

JM: How has drama influenced your work in flash? I ask because after realizing that acting wasn’t for me, I started my writing career in TV-movies and that has had a huge influence on me, especially in flash.

 

RF: Everything’s connected, right? The major role theatre played in my writing path was the fundamental decision to be a writer. Moving to Chicago after college led to fantastic opportunities working with the best theatres in the city, from The Goodman to Steppenwolf to Northlight. I was lucky enough to partner directly with playwrights in the realm of new play development. My conversations with them during the developmental stages of their drafts left me inspired and hungry and tumbling inside someone else’s imagination.

 

JM: What an amazing experience.

 

RF: Oh, it was. I wouldn’t begin differently. Theatre taught me that story has shape. It’s a three-dimensional sensory experience. Because of theatre, I conceive of a story or a piece of writing as though it were a production. The performances that move me require the audience to lean forward, and stand-out moments within a play elicit more than one emotion at the same time. Those are my primary goals within any piece of flash fiction. Beyond flash fiction, really. Those are my goals as a writer.

 

JM: After an eight-year break, what compelled you to take on the student role again and go after that M.F.A.? To “M.F.A.” or not to “M.F.A.” seems to be a question in the air these days. How do you feel doing so improved you as a writer? Or did it?

 

RF: The MFA was a vehicle for me to change my travel route. I was entrenched in theatre, searching for new reference points and a whole new vocabulary. I had read hundreds of plays, but I hadn’t read the books I needed to read. I had mental lists of every new play festival and contest, but I only recognized a handful of literary journals. Could I have filled in these knowledge gaps on my own? Sure. But I wanted to sit in a room with writers, to be one of them, and to force myself visible. I wanted to be held accountable.

 

JM: That being “held accountable” thing is something I think a lot of us can relate to. I still take classes as often as I can for just that reason. Teaching seems to be as much a passion for you as writing and I know you work with gifted kids in this area.

 

RF: It is, it is. Teaching is where I attempt to make sense of it all. I can’t quite fathom writing without teaching – the challenges of both require one half of my brain to talk to the other. At Vanderbilt Programs for Talented Youth, I collaborate with instructors who are passionate about their area of expertise, and seeing hundreds of teenagers connect to complex, rigorous, and global material makes me optimistic about the future. I’m not even going to apologize for the cheesiness of that sentiment because I say it without irony.

 

JM: Any thoughts about doing an online workshop? And, if so, please sign me up.

 

RF: Oh, I’d be honored! Plus, I want to take five or six online workshops myself. Let’s all hop in a bucket and divvy it up!

 

JM: Not me. I’m strictly a student, but I’m going to keep after you, Rosie. What are you working on now?

 

RF: Answering that question every morning when the sun comes up. I think these days I’m actually struggling a little bit with my relationship to flash. That is, am I bound by it rhythmically? Do I dig deeper inside of it? Do I fragment further? How does flash push but not dictate my next project? I’ve got a number of half-wrought pieces on front and back burners. I’m thinking a lot about cosmology these days and the desert. For both our sakes, I’ll leave it at that.

 

JM: One more question. What is a typical writing day for you? Tell us a little about your current writing space and surroundings. For example, I must have a view and complete silence. Anything you absolutely must have?

 

RF: I must have beverages. Other than that, I write on the floor. I record voice memos on long drives. My latest impossible goal is to force myself to write in airports. I’ve set up a cozy writing space in each home over the years, and all-too-often it sits there like a shrine. Writing for me is athletic. It’s a boxing match with time and place, and one of us ends up with a fat lip. Routine is little more than the bell. Do we ever get it right?

 

JM: Thank you for being so forthcoming and generous about your work, Rosie. For those who aspire to write flash, “Ghost Box Evolution in Cadillac, Michigan” should be required reading.

 

Rosie Forrest is the winner of the 9th Annual Rose Metal Press Short Short Chapbook Contest judged by author Pamela Painter, and her work has been published with Dogwood Literary Journal, Literary Orphans, Hobart, Wigleaf, Word Riot, Whiskey Island, and SmokeLong Quarterly, among other journals. Rosie was the 2013 writer-in-residence with Interlochen Arts Academy, and she holds an MFA from the University of New Hampshire. A Nashville resident, Rosie teaches for Vanderbilt University in a variety of capacities and is the assistant director of academic residential programs with Vanderbilt Programs for Talented Youth.

Rosie Forrest HeadshotRosie Forrest is the winner of the 9th Annual Rose Metal Press Short Short Chapbook Contest judged by author Pamela Painter, and her work has been published with Dogwood Literary Journal, Literary Orphans, Hobart, Wigleaf, Word Riot, Whiskey Island, and SmokeLong Quarterly, among other journals. Rosie was the 2013 writer-in-residence with Interlochen Arts Academy, and she holds an MFA from the University of New Hampshire. A Nashville resident, Rosie teaches for Vanderbilt University in a variety of capacities and is the assistant director of academic residential programs with Vanderbilt Programs for Talented Youth.

 

IMG_8680[3] - CroppedJayne Martin’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Boston Literary Magazine, Pure Slush, Midwestern Gothic, Blink Ink, Literary Orphans, Flash Frontier and Hippocampus Magazine. Her book of humor essays, “Suitable for Giving: A Collection of Wit with a Side of Wry,” is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Previously a writer of movies-for-television, her credits include “Big Spender,” for Animal Planet and “A Child Too Many” for Lifetime. She lives in a rural valley near Santa Barbara, California, where she indulges her passion for horses and fine wines, and can be found on the web at injaynesworld.blogspot.com.

Interview With Jayne Martin for Women Who Flash Their Lit

 

Jayne Martin is a flash and micro flash fiction writer, an essayist, memoirist, former television movie writer, and horse-lover. She is one of Bartleby Snopes’ Women Who Flash Their Lit authors with recent flash publications in Boston Literary Magazine, Flash Frontier, Hippocampus Magazine, Literary Orphans, and Pure Slush, among others. She is Women-On-Writing’s 2013 Flash Fiction’s prizewinner and Midwestern Gothic’s 2015 Summer Flash Fiction Finalist.

Martin writes with controlled precision, evoking emotion through brevity and creates character through dramatic expression. Her stories are character-driven and influenced by setting. She is a diverse writer who writes humor as well as she does literary fiction. Her essays contained in her book, Suitable for Giving: A Collection of Wit with a A Side of Wry demonstrates her ease with satire and laugh-out-loud humor and contrasts with her creative non-fiction that is serious, highly crafted long form essay. In addition, her micro fiction is breathtaking, sparse, and each word carries meaning and utility, a feature of her work I appreciate. In “Travels With Ivan” Martin offers a panoramic view of a couple’s relationship in specificity and illustrates in two bookend sentences how one of them copes with the death of the other. Continue reading

Degani, Fish, Reno and Stohlman F-Bomb Women Who Flash Their Lit

 

Gay Degani, Kathy Fish, Sally Reno, and Nancy Stholman gather at Denver’s Mercury Cafe F-Bomb and discuss some of the Women Who Flash Their Lit forum topics. What is the appeal of flash fiction to readers? How do we reach readers beyond the world of flash readers? How do we mainstream flash or how and in what ways have people always written short—”because people have always written short…” Continue reading

An Interview With Kathy Fish & Robert Vaughan, Authors Of Rift

Bending the Rules with Kathy Fish and Robert Vaughan, Authors of Rift (Unknown Press, 2015) by Leonora Desar

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Cover design by Casey McSpadden http://www.caseymcspadden.com

 Rift, a flash fiction collection by Kathy Fish and Robert Vaughan, is an alchemy of heartbreak and humor, lyricism and subtlety. Here you’ll meet Betsy, a former sideshow freak who falls in love; a man who blows his retirement savings; a woman who holds a graduation party in honor of her dead daughter. The stories are emotionally resonant without being cloying, with strange and wildly inventive characters who also manage to feel universal.

The stories also stand out for their language, the way that they challenge what it means to be a narrative. Fish’s one-paragraph “Akimbo” is replete with sharp, unusual imagery—“walls the color of a baby’s tongue,” a man vibrating like an “electric football game”—with the cadence and energy seen in poetry. In Vaughan’s “If You Have to Have an Ism” we have insight into a character’s world, a vivid portrait of a woman “with her border-lined hoodie and her sellout sadsack song and dance”—all in less than 100 words.

I spoke with Fish and Vaughan about the inspiration behind their work as part of the Bartleby Snopes Women Who Flash Their Lit Forum. How do you write emotionally resonant flash without being sentimental? And how far can you bend the rules?

 

Interview With Kathy Fish

BS: What was the inspiration for Rift?

KF: Robert was the main inspiration, for me. Once we knew we were doing a collection together, his energy and enthusiasm kept me writing, kept me inspired. It was Robert who came up with the title and the first cover image. Though we didn’t ultimately use that image, it haunted me in a way, made me see all that the idea of “rift” can be. The image was subtle but potent, of two children playing outside a house that wasn’t, but felt, abandoned. We both kept that feeling stored away as we wrote I think.

 

BS: How did the collaboration process work between you and Robert? How did you decide the ordering of the pieces?

Oh, that was a process! We wrote together in a small workshop that included Bud Smith and Michael Gillan Maxwell. We took turns coming up with weekly prompts and sharing our first drafts, giving feedback, etc. At this point, knowing our theme was “rifts” we would point out to each other when a new draft felt particularly suited for our book. Bud and Michael were so fantastic in helping us shape those stories as well.

When we had the stories we knew we wanted to include, then came the task of ordering the stories, giving some structure to the book itself. We had several long phone calls where we gave each other really substantive feedback on the stories, then in that process, began to see how certain stories worked together. I came up with the idea of sectioning the book by different aspects of “rift,” i.e. Fault, Tremor, Breach, Cataclysm. Then we began sorting our stories to fit those categories. Robert had such a great, intuitive grasp of how our stories paired together, so he did virtually all of that part of the book. We knew we wanted to go back and forth with our stories, like a performance, as Michael Martone described the book.

 

BS: Your stories in Rift are filled with vivid, memorable characters, from a girl who wants to ascend to heaven to a 13-year-old white kid who pretends he is Malcolm X. What are some things that have inspired your characters and worlds?

KF: I think people, in their imaginations, are far more interesting than we often see in their outward appearance and actions. That’s the place I love to go in fiction. The stranger the better. There’s such heart in human striving. Who knows why we do the things we do? But that oddness and need makes us kindred.

 

BS: Is there a story that you particularly enjoyed writing? Is there one that was more challenging to write?

KF: I loved very much the experience of writing “The Blue of Milk.” My friend David Hicks called some of us Denver area writers together for a write-a-thon in the basement of the Regis University library one afternoon. The idea was to quietly write together without stopping for a few hours. I had never done this before. At first I felt very self-conscious, but seeing the other writers so absorbed in their work, I was inspired.

Meanwhile, I’d been asked to write a piece as part of a collaborative issue of Blue Five Notebook, edited by Michelle Elvy and Sam Rasnake. I’d been given a piece of art, la lecture huile sur toile, by Francis Denis. Though I found the piece beautiful, I wasn’t sure how to begin. I opened my laptop and stared at the image awhile, then began typing. I really just let myself keep typing without any sense of where I was going. The story came to me like a dream. Something about the sound of a dozen or so other writers typing on their keyboards in that basement room put me into a creative trance. The resulting piece is very dreamlike and fluid and strange. I didn’t change much at all when I sent it off to Blue Five Notebook. It remains one of my favorite stories.

“Grip” was probably the most challenging to write. It’s extremely close to nonfiction, dealing with the death of my brother. There was so much I wanted to say. But ultimately, I cut the story to the bone, added in fictional details, and let the story end on an image. I had to trust my writing enough and the reader enough to let it just be what it was. I think it worked.

 

BS: I was blown away by “Everything’s Shitty at Price King.” I love how you managed to make the story funny, even though you have this psychopath holding a baby and waving a gun around. How did the story come about? How did you decide to introduce humor?

KF: Thank you so much, Leonora! I really enjoyed writing that story. I wrote it in a short story class taught by Hannah Tinti through One Story. That was such a great class. I highly recommend it. I don’t feel especially strong on the mechanics of story writing and her step-by-step process led me to this odd scene I don’t think I would have otherwise written.

The humor came into the story quite naturally. I knew my character. I knew she was hurting, but I wanted her to use humor and sarcasm to get herself through life and this terrifying situation. I think funny people tend to be the most in pain, deep down, so I wanted to work with that in the story. I had to be careful with that, but I think I found the right balance.

 

BS: In “There is No Albuquerque” you give us Betsy, a woman with three horns on her forehead that look like “three raised fists.” This story has so much resonance and emotional power. I especially loved the ending, where we are left with a beautiful dream that will never be. What was the inspiration for this piece? Why did you end it the way you did?

KF: Oh thanks for saying that, Leonora. This story began as a voice in my head. I heard Betsy before I saw her. I knew what I wanted the story to sound like before I wrote any words. An odd mix of sad and matter-of-fact. The struggle of someone very different to tell her own story. As soon as I gave her Mr. Kenton, the whole thing unfolded very easily. As soon as I gave her something to live for and strive for.

I ended it as I did because I wanted Betsy to have a happy ending, if only in her mind. I was kind of a weird and lonely child, so I’m always taken with outsider types in my stories. Beautiful misfits.

 

BS: I love how you convey Betsy’s loneliness in the story, but without explicitly stating how she feels. What are some ways that one can show rather than tell in flash fiction?

KF: First and foremost, trust your reader. If you create a strong enough character, a strong enough situation, with strong and tangible details, the reader is going to connect the dots. Better yet, make your reader feel what your character feels. The joy of reading is that connection to some emotion we ourselves have felt. That recognition, right? We have all been lonely. We have all been humiliated. We have all had times of great joy.

As a writer, you can tap into your own emotions, your past, your memories, and mine the details. I remember when my mother was very angry, she’d throw herself into housework with such intensity she was just this blur. She didn’t say a word, but we knew to stay away. Think about the sorts of things that people do when they’re feeling a strong emotion. How do their voices change? What do they focus on? A reader will connect to that and feel that.

 

BS: In “This is How Eventually the World Falls Apart” we have a white kid who wears an afro and preaches from a garage pulpit, pretending to be Malcolm X. What was your inspiration for this story? Why did you decide to tell it from the sister’s perspective rather than the boy’s, and how does this change our takeaway?

KF: I grew up really watching my older brothers, perhaps more carefully than my parents did. This is not a true story, but it is somewhat emotionally autobiographical. I like the dynamic that’s created from telling a story from the periphery, from an observer, in this case, the watchful sister who sees everything.

 

BS: “A Proper Party” tells the story of a graduation party held in honor of a dead girl. I love how moving the piece is, but without being overdone or cloying. What are some ways that one can evoke emotional resonance without being sentimental?

KF: Let some humor in. Sad situations are all the sadder when people are trying very hard to be brave. Show the struggle in that. Show people trying, but mostly failing. Mess things up.

 

BS: Some of your pieces, like “Akimbo” and “Vocabulary,” have the kind of emphasis on rhythm and language seen in prose poetry. What do prose poetry and flash have in common, and in what ways are they different?

KF: I love the kind of flash that straddles the line between story and poetry. I love reading it and writing it. You see this particularly in the very short, one paragraph flash. Like prose poetry, there’s that emphasis on rhythm, language, and imagery. The difference is that flash needs to have at least the sense of an arc or meaningful change (and it can be very subtle) that’s not necessary for prose poetry.

 

BS: What is your writing process like? What about your revision process?

KF: I’m constantly scribbling in my notebooks. I save most of it on my computer. I have documents with names like “I don’t know what this is” and every once in awhile, I go back and open up the files or the notebooks and mess around with the pieces some more. Almost everything in Rift had its roots in scribblings from three or four years ago. I’m just exceedingly slow. Also I’m a firm believer in setting a story aside for awhile before sending it out. My revision process is mostly about getting the sentences right. And I fuss over endings quite a bit. I read everything aloud.

 

BS: What advice would you give to a writer new to flash?

KF: Become a religious reader of all the best online flash journals. Subscribe to NANO Fiction. Read the Queen’s Ferry Press The Best Small Fictions 2015. Write every day. Write your heart out. Take one of my workshops (smile).

BS: Tell us about your latest project.

KF: I’m working on something very exciting and very secret.

 

Kathy HeadshotKathy Fish is a faculty mentor for the Mile-High MFA at Regis University in Denver. Additionally, she teaches two-week intensive Fast Flash© Workshops as well as weekend workshops for Word Tango. She served as Consulting Editor for the Queen’s Ferry Press The Best Small Fictions 2015. Her stories have been published or are forthcoming in The Lineup: 20 Provocative Women Writers (Black Lawrence Press, 2015), Choose Wisely: 35 Women Up to No Good (Upper Rubber Boot Books, 2015), Threadcount, Guernica, Indiana Review, New World Writing, Denver Quarterly, New South, Yemassee Journal, and various other journals and anthologies. She guest edited Dzanc Books’ Best of the Web 2010. She is the author of four collections of short fiction: a chapbook of flash fiction in the chapbook collective, A Peculiar Feeling of Restlessness: Four Chapbooks of Short Short Fiction by Four Women (Rose Metal Press, 2008), Wild Life (Matter Press, 2011), Together We Can Bury It (The Lit Pub, 2012) and the recently released collection, Rift, co-authored with Robert Vaughan and published by Unknown Press. She blogs at http://www.kathy-fish.com/

 

Interview With Robert Vaughan

 

BS: How did you get started writing flash?

 RV: I started writing flash in multiple ways. I’ve kept a daily journal over four decades. That vignette of a daily entry evolves, most days, into a flash, or slice of life. Then the earliest short fiction writers who I devoured in the 1980’s like Grace Paley, Donald Barthelme, Lorrie Moore, or Barry Yourgrau. Eventually I started to read our contemporaries like Lydia Davis, Kim Chinquee, Len Kuntz, Meg Tuite. I read the Rose Metal Press A Peculiar Feeling of Restlessness (four chaps of four kickass female flash writers) and that ignited my desire. Simultaneously, Michelle Elvy and two other writers started up 52/250—a site with weekly prompts, and pieces that had to be 250 words or less. Let the workshop begin!

 

BS: Was there a story in Rift that you particularly enjoyed writing? What about one that was more challenging to write?

RV: One of the most fun stories to write was “A Literary Savant.” Once I had the “I would date a dog” concept, it just flew! I love abstraction, and to play with how much a character can get away with. Also the communication disconnection—how often do we really get what another person says? This is a piece that pushes the envelope. A more challenging piece for me to write was “The Rooms We Rented.” Often the more strange or elusive pieces are those which take the longest to hatch. This is also the sort of piece that might warrant multiple reactions.

 

BS: I found your story “Dehydration” stunning. That final letter from the funeral home, the father’s sense of loss, the details about his daughter playing Desdemona and the way “a woman, all grown up, drifts down her long hair and is lost”—all this felt so real and palpable to me. What was your process of writing this piece?

 RV: A dear friend, Mel, succumbed to melanoma cancer in 2006. She was vibrant, sweet, and her nickname was the Snow Dove. I think I was using the devastating loss as a premise to drop into possibilities as a parent, imagining her father’s perspective on the premature death of a daughter, someone half his age, in the prime of her life. How this kind of death (any?) haunts those who are closest, and still alive.

 

BS: “Postcards of a Life,” like “Dehydration,” is inspired by letters, but here they form the narrative framework of the piece. How did you decide on using postcards to tell the story?

 RV: I used to be a huge postcard sender, and received many as a result. I worked internationally, and in those days prior to social media, it was a way to include family and close friends in visits to other continents, new experiences. “Postcards of a Life” is one of my older pieces in Rift. The first draft I wrote was in the early 1990s. I wanted postcards to reveal the extreme distance between a father and son. It’s a way to utilize “space” in actual format.

 

 

BS: “Postcards of a Life” also has a particularly powerful ending. Did you know what the last postcard would reveal when you started writing? Also, do you tend to know how your stories will end when you sit down to write, or do they come as a surprise?

 RV: The end of “Postcards of a Life” was what I changed the most in the various edits over the years. I am not the sort of organized writer, planning endings, or knowing things in advance. I’m the opposite—I work best when I can write toward the abyss, or a blank canvas.

 

BS: “What’s Left Unsaid” is another favorite of mine. I love how you started the piece between two dramatic scenes that are never shown on the page—the narrator’s time in Vegas, where he blows his retirement savings, and the moment where he will probably hide this from his partner. Why did you decide to set the story at this particular point in time?

 RV: “What’s Left Unsaid” is based on a distant friend’s gambling obsessions, how in the mid 80’s it nearly destroyed his entire life— home, marriage, job. When you write flash, there is typically no time to get into much backstory, or future. Also, if there is an unbearable secret that weighs on a person, well, as readers we have empathy, no matter how idiotic it might seem.

 

BS: I loved the one-sentence breathlessness of “What Lies Ahead,” the way you build momentum while at the same time conveying the narrator’s loneliness. What was the inspiration for this piece? And how did you decide on the one-sentence structure?

 RV: In 1987, my roommate from college and I left New York City, and drove to Los Angeles, to start a new life. This piece was reconstructed from that coast-to-coast experience. The one-sentence structure of “What Lies Ahead” is a format that was given because of a journal to which I wanted to submit, almost like a writing prompt. Sometimes a journal’s “constraints” can inform the material that works for the piece. There is another piece I wrote earlier called “Moving to Los Angeles: A Screenplay in Three Acts” which was published in Diptychs + Triptychs. That story is much more fictionalized and experimental than “What Lies Ahead.” Still, any “one” life experience can provide material for multiple stories.

 

BS: Your story “If You Have to Have an Ism” is tiny in terms of word count, but gut-punching in effect. What does a story of this length need to be a story? Can we throw away all the rules?

 RV: I think there is a bending of “rules” in flash fiction, and it’s a fine line between what works and what might fail. Also, the cliché “rules were made to be broken” comes to mind. I actually saw the woman referred to in “If You Have to Have an Ism” at a local café. I sketched her, jotted notes, then sculpted the piece over time. Generally, the smaller a flash, the more work it requires. Every single word has to be combed over. The requirements—intrigue, tension, a rare or unusual outcome, the element of surprise. To feel as if it was just written, versus the “reality,” which is the amount of drafts it has gone through.

 

BS: What are your writing and revision processes like? How do you know when a piece is ready to be sent out into the world?

RV: I try to write every day. Or as often as possible. I journal. I sketch. I edit other people’s work (for two magazines, and two independent publishers). As far as submitting, that formula is as mysterious as the day I first did it. I have no idea how to measure when something is ready—journal, or book both. It’s a gut instinct, like intuition, and it seems to work the more you use it.

 

BS: Where do you see flash in several years from now? How do you see the form evolving or staying the same?

 RV: I would like to think that flash will become more widely read, and the variety will continue to grow. More novels than ever before are being told in vignette format, or short chapters. I am not visionary enough to foresee anything more than more possibilities of publications for short fiction or flash writers. As our lives get more elaborate, with less time for traditional novels, short fiction suits the reader more.

 

BS: What advice would you give to someone new to writing flash?

 RV: Read as many books of flash fiction as you can! See what turns you on, what excites you as a reader. Then, write some short pieces, give it a try. Be willing to fail on the page (as Beckett says, “Fail better.”). Of course, then try to submit to some journals. Follow some flash fiction writers you admire on their social networks, so you can see what they’re up to, read their latest published pieces and books.

 

BS: What projects are you working on now?

 RV: Rift was published on December 1, so Kathy Fish and I are doing promotional things around the book. My next book, Fun House, is another collection, and I have about half of that done. It’s slated for a late 2016 or early 2017 publication. I am also teaching two-week long workshops in 2016—a fiction course in Taos, New Mexico at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House with Kathy Fish, August 20-26; and “Mixing Genres” at The Clearing in Door County, Wisconsin on Sept 11-18.

 

RV photoRobert Vaughan teaches workshops in hybrid writing, poetry, fiction, and playwriting. He has facilitated these at locations like Alverno College, UWM, Fox Valley Technical School, JMWW (online), RedOak Writing, The Clearing and Mabel Dodge Luhan House. He also leads writing roundtables in Milwaukee, WI. Vaughan is the author of four books: Microtones (Cervena Barva Press, 2012); Diptychs + Triptychs + Lipsticks + Dipshits (Deadly Chaps, 2013); Addicts & Basements (CCM, 2014). His newest, Rift, is a flash fiction collection co-authored with Kathy Fish (Unknown Press, 2015). He blogs at http://www.robert-vaughan.com.

 

leonora-desar

Leonora Desar‘s writing can be found or is forthcoming in Harpur PalateSmokeLong QuarterlyThe Citron ReviewPrick of the Spindle, Psychology TodayWomansDay.com and in Bartleby Snopes as a Story Of The Month Winner. She received an honorable mention in Glimmer Train’s Very Short Fiction Award, and was a finalist for SmokeLong Quarterly’s 2016 Kathy Fish Fellowship. Leonora lives and writes in NYC, and holds an MS from the Columbia Journalism School.

 

 

An Interview With Gay Degani, Author of Rattle Of Want

Rattle Of WantThank you so much, Gay, for discussing your new book, Rattle Of Want (Pure Slush Books 2015). It’s gorgeously haunting. I’ve read it all the way through and keep picking it up to re-read moments and stories. The collection includes stories and a novella-in-flash. Can you tell me how this collection came into being? The novella, “The Old Road,” sits comfortably next to your shorter fiction. Although the novella is self-contained, I find myself enjoying chapters as individual pieces of flash.

First, thank you for taking the time to talk about Rattle of Want and for liking the chapters as stand alone stories in the novella “The Old Road.” I’m particularly proud of “A Passing” and “Father and Son” in that regard.

After my novel, What Came Before, was published in 2014, I decided the best way to follow it up would be to put my strongest stories into some kind of collection. At the same time, I was part of a project called 2014, the brainchild of writer/editor/publisher Matt Potter at Pure Slush. His idea was to get thirty-one writers to commit to writing one story on the same day of each month. He requested each author to write in present tense as if the story was “taking place” on the author’s designated days. I chose the 19th.

Once the year was over, I had twelve linked stories on my hands and asked Matt if he would consider publishing it as a novella along with my collection Luckily for me, he said yes.

 

A few of the stories in Rattle Of Want previously appeared in your wonderful collection Pomegranate Stories (December 2009). What was the process involved in selecting stories to be included in Rattle of Want?

 The first criterion for me was to include my most successful pieces. “Spring Melt” had been nominated for Pushcart consideration and “Monsoon” was a Glimmer Train finalist. Both were in Pomegranate, as was the story titled “Pomegranate,” which had never been published elsewhere. I felt all three would make Rattle a stronger book.

 

“Monsoon” underwent significant revision. You changed the girls’ ages, took away some of the narrator’s fears about her husband, and tightened up the narrative quite a bit. It’s sharper, the narrator’s pain keener, and the setting reflects that pain. It’s also one of the three longest pieces in the book. What compelled you to revise your flash?

April, you’ve answered your own question with “it’s sharper, keener!” The stories in this collection were written over seven years, and I felt compelled to make sure I looked critically at my work and made it the best I could, to see where I could deepen and clarify.

We grow in our craft and revisiting old work with fresh eyes not only shows us what we’ve learned, but also reminds us that we must continue to learn. The revision of “Monsoon” made it better. At least that’s my hope.

 Although I like both versions of “Monsoon,” I agree with you, Gay, that the one in Rattle of Want is better. It’s an example of how revision can strengthen a fine story and transform it into an extraordinary, breathtaking one.

 

As with your novel, What Came Before, your novella is a domestic drama with elements of mystery and suspense. Also, many of your stories contain an element of the unexpected reveal. I wouldn’t call you a mystery or suspense writer per se, nor would I say that you are genre-jumping, yet you like to dip into fictive forms (“Doing Mr. Velvet” and “Kindling” are two stories I’m thinking about in particular). I appreciate these features in your writing. What is it about mystery and suspense that attracts you and how did you go about incorporating these elements into your characters and stories?

 I look for certain elements as a reader: surprise, pacing, suspense, deep character, stakes, some kind of universal theme so when I write, I try to make my stories into something I would like to read.

I like writers who take care of the language in their work, who make reading a pleasure while still bringing genuine emotion to the characters. I want a story to reveal something about human nature, how we are with each other, both the good and the bad. And I like surprise. I like to think, “Wow, I didn’t know that” or “I wasn’t expecting that but of course, it had to happen that way!”

I used to consider this aspect of my writing, the “not-fitting-neatly” into a category, was a negative, but I try not to worry about it anymore.

 

Gay, your stories are highly crafted, fluid, and so beautifully rendered that it’s easy to get caught up in them. Part of this is that there’s a great deal of emphasis placed on embodiment, both with characters and with the character’s connection to the setting. Along with the other elements I mentioned, this is a lot to pull off in a piece of flash, some of which are micro. Do you have any advice to offer writers on this aspect of craft and flash?

I love the comedies of the 80s and 90s so my goal at one time was to write something Bill Murray might want to be in. I wrote six screenplays and it was working on these that I learned the discipline of choosing specific language. Screenplays can, of course be any length, but the sweet spot seemed to be 120 typed pages. My goal was to work toward placing the action where conventional wisdom dictated it should be: three acts, act one and three around thirty pages each and the middle, second act, longer at sixty.

Even though there is much distain that paying attention to page-count is too formulaic, I found it helped me to understand structure. The side benefit was that it forced me to pay attention to every word, to make certain that the brief narrative accompanying the dialogue would create a mood, an attitude, and a sense of place, and ignite interest in the screenplay.

I didn’t know this about you and your writing, Gay, and I adore Bill Murray. To think, he was your “audience”—what a great idea!

 

 

IMG_6361

It’s rare to see illustrations in books anymore. Can you tell me about the one that prefaces “The Old Road?” Are you the illustrator as well? 

 The illustration came first out of a practical need. When Matt Potter said we had to have one more thing to end the book on the correct number of pages, I realized this would be an opportunity to help the reader understand the neighborhood of “The Old Road.”

I’d had feedback that these bungalows located on the edge of town across from an arroyo were hard to picture. While I worked on clearer language in the text, I didn’t want the reader to be confused for even a second. The other thing I realized is that it would act as a kind of cover to the novella, so I jumped at the opportunity to “map it” on that necessary extra page.

It’s worked out perfectly, Gay. Thank you so much for contributing your time to an interview with us and working on the Women Who Flash Their Lit forum. We are delighted to have here at Bartleby Snopes.

 

LIsten to Gay on

 http://www.podcast.name/rocky-mountain-revival-podcast-408595/36-sally-reno-and-gay-degani-live-at-the-f-bomb-w-host-kathy-fish-download-287165628/

 

Also enjoy this interview between Kathy Fish and Gay Degani where they discuss the importance of community in Gay’s work.

Writing & The Importance of Community: A Conversation with Gay Degani, Author of Rattle of Want

IMG_6360 Gay Degani has had three of her flash pieces nominated for Pushcart consideration and won the 11th Glass Woman Prize. Pure Slush Books released her collection of stories, Rattle of Want, (November 2015). She has a suspense novel, What Came Before, published in 2014, and a short collection, Pomegranate, featuring eight stories around the theme of mothers and daughters. Founder and editor emeritus of Flash Fiction Chronicles, she is an editor at Smokelong Quarterly and blogs at Words in Place where a

 

Leesa Cross-Smith’s Every Kiss a War: Review & Interview

Every Kiss a War by Leesa Cross-Smith; Reviewed by Kris Faatz

REVIEW:

Leesa Cross-Smith’s Every Kiss a War (Mojave River Press) is a vivid, immersive read. The stories, each a finely-constructed miniature, explore facets of love, the struggles inherent in relationships and especially in romance. Cross-Smith’s characters are unflinchingly human. They are strong, needy, careless, loyal, neglectful, self-sacrificing; they hurt each other without thinking, or while thinking only of themselves; they would do anything to find and keep love.

Cross-Smith is a master of language. Her writing is lyrical but never highflown. She places exactly the right image at the right moment, in a handful of words creating a simple but unforgettable setting: a baseball diamond at night, an apartment where the bookshelves are organized by color, a commune-house kitchen where earthy tea brews on the stove. In each setting, in each story, she invites the reader in. We know these places, whether because we’ve seen them before or because she draws them so clearly for us. We step into the house, the apartment, the car, the kitchen, and we close the door behind us and watch life play out in front of our eyes. These are often everyday people like ourselves. They do everyday things, simple on the surface, but if we watch and listen closely enough, we find that each of them has the power to break our hearts.

INTERVIEW QUESTIONS:

The stories in EKAW are tightly connected in theme and subject matter. Did you always have a collection in mind, or did the pieces emerge more individually? Did you write any of them specifically to fit with the rest of the group?

I did have a collection in mind. I wrote almost all of them specifically to fit into a collection. “And It Can Never Be Too Dark Or Too Bright” and “Whiskey & Ribbons” were the individual stories I had at first and I wrote the rest of them to fit the theme of what I already had in mind.

The collection often looks at men and women navigating attraction and romance (of course there were also exceptions to that). What drew you to focus on this particular angle?

I just really love writing and reading about men and women and relationships. It’s what I look for, it’s what interests me, so I got stoked thinking I could get away with building my collection on those things I already loved. Those things are what compelled me to write the stories, to put a collection together. I love movies/books/music about men and women and relationships and the ways that men and women are alike and different.

In many of the romantic situations, we see people hurting each other quite casually (“Kitchen Music” and “Kentucky Sugar,” for instance). What led you to explore this particular kind of experience?

I enjoy putting my characters into quietly or not-so-quietly uncomfy situations, to watch them wiggle themselves out. I like writing breakup/make up stories. I like giving the characters room to figure things out/figure their situations out without immediately explaining their motivations, because maybe they don’t even know what their motivations are yet (although I always do.) So, in those specific stories that you mentioned, I have gone out of my way to introduce characters who make pretty shady or hurtful decisions. And I have the people closest to them attempt to navigate their way through those things. I think we as humans are more like this than we care to admit. We hurt one another and don’t always know exactly why, when we’re doing it, or we want to admit what we’ve done and ask forgiveness, but we’re too proud or too scared or we’ve gone too far. I enjoy digging into all of that when I write.

As a reader, I found some of the protagonists challenging, exactly because they could cause suffering so easily and seemed to have a shallow view of love and commitment. (I’m thinking especially of Violet in “What the Fireworks are For,” and Margot in “A Day Like Any Other”). What drew you, as a writer, to create those characters? What was it like to get inside their heads and write about them?

Margot is a pretty evil character. In that story, her husband describes her as a maenad, “evil and snakelike with sharp claws where her hands should be…her poisonous kisses will take his last breath. Her red mouth will devour his heart.” He doesn’t really hold back on how he feels about her. She is very different from Violet to me. Although both women commit adultery, deceive their husbands, they do it for completely different reasons. I wanted to write about women who made awful choices and not so much about what led them to make these choices, but the aftermath of the choices they made. Margot is unapologetic about her affairs. She thinks her husband should just be thankful she’s around, be thankful she lets him love her. She’s given him a daughter, she comes home some nights, what more could he ask for? She warns him that he knew what she was like when he married her. In a way, he did. He thought he could “fix” her. He lied to himself about that. Margot feels like her husband was weak because he loved her so much. She’s pretty much every man’s worst nightmare. That’s why I wrote her. That was fun.

Violet is a dearer character to me because she is the protagonist of my novel and the protagonist of three linked stories in Every Kiss A War. Violet is young, immature and doesn’t quite realize the weight of what she does and the decisions she makes. She’s wild and reckless, flirty with a man she’s interested in, and when everything goes too far, she lets it. I would argue that Violet has a deep view of love and commitment. She does love her husband Dominic, but she willingly chooses to stray. The decision didn’t sneak up on her. I love Violet. She means a lot to me because she represents wildness, the ability or non-ability to be tamed, sin and forgiveness. She’s a representative of mercy and unabashed sexual desire. She feels bad for the things she does, but she does them anyway and does them again. I believe this is how most people operate, myself included at times. I try to mirror those basic human emotions, even the awful ones, in my writing.

A lot of people who read EKAW want to talk about Violet and her stories because they try to understand her or want to put her in a box. I try really hard to keep her out of a box. I want her to be surprising and I think she is! I love her madly and will defend her, even her darkest parts, but at the same time I don’t feel the need to.

I loved “Skee Ball, Indiana,” especially the ending (“I wanted to tell Marcus or Deladis or Brent or anybody that I could have been a good mom”). It struck me that the ending didn’t really resolve any conflict or give us much sense of how things will move forward for the protagonist, and this added to the story’s power. How did you decide where to end the piece and how to achieve the mood you wanted?

It’s hard for me not to resolve conflict! I love happy endings and fight for them when they fit. In “Skee Ball” I kind of wanted to get out of the story while the curtain was still coming down. The main character, Rory, has had an abortion some months ago and she isn’t quite sure how she feels about it. She’s still processing it and doing a pretty good job of looking at it from both sides. She’s in high school, she’s disappointed in herself, she’s disappointed in her mother’s reaction, she’s got a lot to unpack. So at the end of the story, I wanted to leave her alone with someone who was, in essence, a stranger, and have him going through something completely different, but just as weighty: his mother is dying. I wanted Rory to make a connection with him, for him to make a connection with her. Something as simple as: life is really really really hard sometimes, right? And have them both agree on that as the storm comes rolling in. Something so tiny as a hug right before the storm. So I knew I wanted to get out of the story before the storm rolled in and I knew I wanted Rory and Marcus to have a quiet, reflective moment on what was supposed to be a fun night. I wanted that story to be the kind of story where a reader would read it, get to the end, and then immediately go back to the beginning and read it again to see if they missed anything. I love stories that make me feel that way: that make me want to take another look and listen.

In “Sinnerman,” I loved the reality of the attraction between Sam and Peri, and the way you put a complicated situation on the page within a very short space (the fact that Peri can’t be much older than Sam’s own daughter; the fact that Sam would lose his professorship if anyone knew he was sleeping with a student; etc). How did you approach putting such a nuanced story on the page within the very short form? (I also wanted to mention that I love how much you tell us with the title alone.)

Thank you! I really love haberdashery and clothes, so I started there with them. Peri, watching Sam lecture in class, sorta falling in love with him because of his cuffs and shoes. Sam is my wounded animal. He’s really hurting and maybe he always will be, in some way. The fear of being fired doesn’t even touch him: he’s been through so much, that doesn’t worry him at all. His hurt, his past, it all gives him a freedom to be reckless, when a reckless situation presents itself. It doesn’t scare him. It gives him a certain boldness. So when Peri kisses him, he kisses her back. He’s a pretty carpe diem dude and here’s this beautiful young girl he’s attracted to, making the first move. The work has already been done, in a way. He’s just playing along.

I chose the “Sinnerman” title because it’s the Nina Simone song they are listening to in the hotel and because the story is about Sam and he’s our Sinnerman. With the first Sam story coming right before this one, a lot of the nuance work in this story had already been done for me, so I felt free to jump right in and let the reader play catch up. It’s ten years later, and here Sam is again. All the while, Peri is trying to figure him out. Is he forreal, is he married, is he a liar? He is being honest with her but she doesn’t trust it and it kind of all feels like a game sometimes to both of them and they both feed off of that. Sam also feels like he “knows” women. He has had his heart brutally broken by one and learned from it, he is raising a little woman, he feels like he’s holding the cards while Peri feels like she is, as well. I tried to make a simple thing complicated, a complicated thing, simple. I try to do that a lot when I write.

The ending of “A Day Like Any Other” blew me away. It was such a striking departure from what I would describe as the collection’s overall gentleness and restraint. How did you choose that ending?

Awesome response for you to have and I appreciate you telling me so! I always knew that ending was going to be that ending, and without spoiling it here for people who haven’t read the story, I will say that my intent was to surprise the reader and leave Sam seemingly alone to deal with everything. I was also dealing with the feelings of “the wages of sin is death” from Romans in the Bible. What’s truly at stake here? Where is unrepented sin leading these characters and all of us?

I loved how economically you gave us character and especially setting in these stories. The sensory details were always precise and immersive. How do you approach working in such a compressed form, especially in terms of creating context for the reader?

Thank you! I cut cut cut as much as I can. Any extra words, any unnecessary descriptions. I really challenge myself to strip it down as much as I can without being confusing. That part comes easily for me in my writing because I don’t enjoy writing or reading a lot of extra descriptions. I crave minimalism to a certain extent when I read and I try to match that when I’m writing, as well.

Thinking now as a reader, how would you compare your experience of reading flash to reading other, longer fictional forms?

I know what to expect when I’m reading flash and same for longer fictional forms. I know flash is going to get me in there quick and dirty and that’s what I want. I want to immediately be in the story and I want to get out fairly quickly too, but while I’m there, I want to feel things and be surprised, heartwarmed, interested, etc. In longer forms, I am going to be eased into certain things and I appreciate that too. I really love reading and writing both and get the same satisfaction from both too.

Have you always found that flash comes naturally to you as a writer? Is there anything about writing flash that you have particularly struggled or connected with? How does it compare with your experience of writing other forms?

Writing flash does come easily to me. I like my short stories pretty short. I haven’t really struggled with writing it but I have connected with the smallness of flash fiction and they’re such little treats to read. My approach to writing flash is the same as my approach to writing longer other forms, although they’re different. I still revise the same way, still want to be as thoughtful as possible with the language.

I love the way the collection shifts between first, second and third person points of view. Do you find one of those easier or more fun to write than the others? Could you give a couple of examples of how you chose a POV for a particular piece?

Thank you! I really enjoy writing from all different POVs. Some people really hate second person, I don’t give a dang. I write what I want. I love second person. There are several second person POVs in EKAW and I chose those because I wanted to see if could do it. A fancy judge/editor person who got ahold of my book commented “feels very comfortable in second person” and I love that. I do. I specifically used Peri’s first-person POV in “Sinnerman” to give Sam a look from a different angle. He is clearly the main character to me, in that story. Peri doesn’t really have many outside thoughts: she is focused on him, he’s it. That interested me because she’s a bit obsessed with him, his clothes, how he carries himself, so it makes sense to me that she would be thinking of him so much. And there is a longer companion-ish piece to this story that I’ve written and it’s written entirely from Sam’s POV, which was something I was working my way up to. I love Peri, I loved seeing Sam through her eyes. There is another piece I’ve written from his daughter’s POV, as well. I like circling him. I’m fairly attached to him and adore him and love checking in on him, writing about him from all sides.

In my story “Hem,” I write from Mitchell’s first-person POV because he’s having a rough go of it lately and I wanted to be there for him, get close to him. And same for my character Evangeline in my story “Whiskey & Ribbons.” It’s her story, and I wanted to use her first-person POV to allow her to share her secret/most intimate thoughts with the reader, if she weren’t sharing them with anyone else. I wanted to give her that space. My story “Making Cowboys” was a tricky one because it’s written in limited third person, but it sometimes feels like a first-person POV from the woman’s POV. At first I looked for ways to perhaps “fix” that, but decided that I loved it like that. It feels close.

Violet’s stories were always and only forever first-person POVs. They had to be. It could never work any other way for me. They’re Violet’s stories. She’s the one we want to get to know. And whether the reader thinks she’s a reliable or unreliable narrator is up to them, and they may go back and forth about it! As much as I can, I try to let the story and characters decide which POV I should use and I’ll test out several before deciding, sometimes. I’m willing to be open about it and I feel comfortable using all three of them although I tend to write from first-person POV, most often. It comes most naturally for me.

Could you tell me a little about your writing practice?

I do not write every day and I don’t set a certain number of words or stories. Outside of working on a specific revision or story, I write when I have something to write and I don’t feel pressured to write a certain amount. I used to! But I think I grew out of it? I will write myself out of a scene before stopping or have a specific point I want to get to in the story before I quit for the day when I’m writing, but it’s not about numbers for me. And I can get a bit superstitious if I’m having a good writing day. I won’t leave in the middle of a scene, or I’ll think things like let me get him out of the car into the house then I can stop for today and those things work for me. But I don’t feel pressure to write and I don’t feel guilty when I don’t write. I work out most things on my walks, or right before falling asleep, or in the middle of the night before I even sit down to write anyway. So when I’m working on something, I will at times obsessively think about it and turn it over and over in my mind which for me, is working on it, even before or when I haven’t typed a word. I am very strict about finishing things though. I force myself to finish stories even if I hate the ending in the first draft. I do it anyway, get it down, then return to it when I feel like it.

Do you have a favorite piece, or a piece that’s especially important to you, in this collection? If so, what sets it apart for you?

I don’t have a favorite! But “Whiskey & Ribbons” will always be especially important to me because it was the first story of mine that got real attention from a real literary magazine when it won Editor’s Choice in Carve Magazine’s Raymond Carver Short Story Contest. And also, I wrote that story exactly how I wanted to write it. I only showed it to a couple of people, got one or two notes on it. I trusted myself, wrote exactly what I wanted to write without worrying if people would “like” it or feel a certain way about it. I said what I wanted to say, exactly how I wanted to say it, so for those reasons, it will always be my baby. And same for the three Violet stories. I allowed Violet the room to be messy and awful and sexy and strange and everylittlething she wanted to be, without apleesa cross smithologizing for it. And she’s the protagonist of my novel—my first real novel—the novel that got me my (best and amaze) literary agent Kerry D’Agostino, which was a super-dream of mine. Because of that and a lot of other things, Violet is forever my precious.

 


Leesa Cross-Smith
is the author of 
Every Kiss A War (Mojave River Press) and the editor of WhiskeyPaper. Her writing can be found in The Best Small Fictions 2015 and lots of literary magazines. She lives in Kentucky and loves baseball and One Direction. Find more @ LeesaCrossSmith.com.

 

Kris Faatz is a pianist and teacher. Her short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in The Potomac Review, The Kenyon Review’s KROnline, andReed Magazine, among others. Her first novel, To Love a Stranger, draws on her experience of the classical music world, and was a finalist for the 2015 Schaffner Press Music in Literature Award.

Ashley Inguanta’s On The Way Home: Review & Interview

New Mexico-Madrid by Ashley Inguanta
The Way Home by Ashley Inguanta; Reviewed by Danielle Dyal

REVIEW:

Ashley Inguanta’s chapbook The Way Home (Dancing Girl Press) is a collection of lingering moments, echoes of feelings written on paper in fresh and captivating prose that I can’t help but describe with contradiction. Nostalgic, regretful, and overwhelmingly relieved all at once, the voice is universal and wholly unique. We see this interaction with past and present from the very first flash piece, which is also the title story. “The Way Home” ends, “If only I knew what was inside of me back then.” The rest of the chapbook responds with the answer of what is inside of this narrator in snapshots of moments that create a story without the limitations of linearity, such as in “Wires and Light,” which appeared in Pindeldyboz, the line, “My heart was a giant thing that bulged and stretched bedroom walls,” or in flash fiction piece “Shells,” where Inguanta writes, “I wanted to kiss the woman, but those rocks in my chest. I couldn’t move.” The collection is both surprising and comforting, a pattern of flash fiction thick with vivid images that you can’t help but suck on like hard candies that stain your tongue, leaving the taste in your mouth hours later. This chapbook is an accomplishment of emotion and the way words should feel, and despite the lyricism of the piece, there is a distinct narrative woven throughout. The Way Home offers a story of the bloom and loss of what Inguanta refuses to simplify with the labels “belonging” and “love.” It tells of both the hesitation from and the desperation for these labels, the way they gouge, the way they fulfill, and the way they, inevitably, take you back home.

 

INTERVIEW QUESTIONS:

How much of this is autobiographical? And whether this is autobiographical or not, is your intention for readers to read the chapbook under the impression that it is?

 Prairie is real. I met him in Santa Fe in 2011, and he whispered a secret into my ear at a local baseball game. When I was twelve, I caught sight of a woman I thought was beautiful, and I felt something romantic towards her. That moment shaped my teenage years. In Los Angeles, I had a dream that was really a premonition, warning me that a former friend had died. That moment turned into “The Good Things,” which is more like a wish than a story. A cowboy once held a pin to my eye, cornered me, and made me listen to him. My mother really does hold clay in her hands. She made me from it. And let me tell you, years ago I saw an angel in a family sedan. It took everything inside of me not to hitch a ride and ask if we could take an interplanetary detour. Instead, I felt her history, her clay. I am Clementine, and she is Clay, Anchor. All of this is really one story–the story of my heart connecting with other hearts.

When writing The Way Home, I did not think about whether people would see these stories as true. Sometimes, it’s very hard for me to make distinctions between genres, especially when many of these stories are taken over by wish, by dream. My intention was to tell true stories and to honor how living on this planet can harness our imaginations.

 

The Way Home is organized into four distinct parts, which give the chapbook a narrative arc despite the apparent disjointedness of the stories. Even so, it is clear that the stories are connected, separated only by scattered time and the emotional maturity of the characters. How did you go about ordering them – was the “storyline” obvious to you, or did it take time to realize in what order the stories best fit together even though they can stand on their own?

 I pieced together this little book from a much larger book called Wires and Light. Wires and Light is a work of autofiction and poetry, and it hasn’t been published yet. I wrote Wires and Light in grad school, and when I finished in 2011, I took some time to roam America. I began in Palos Verdes, California, headed to Long Beach, went up to Sacramento and San Francisco, and from there I headed to Albuquerque and Santa Fe. While I was on the road, I pieced together The Way Home. I was coming to terms with the death of someone who used to be a very close friend. I was also trying to understand (and tame) my romantic feelings for a woman that I could never have.

I remember writing the introduction to The Way Home. The words came out quickly, but not effortlessly. I knew I was living on the outskirts of another woman’s life. I knew I had to make some sort of peace with the death of someone who helped shape me. So, once I wrote the introduction, it became clear to me that this cluster of words would become the storyline of the book, and I would use certain phrases in the introduction to mark changes in “era.”

When the focal character discovers her body is made of light, she learns she can hop through time. She also discovers danger. Soon after, she understands her world is burning down, and this fire is brief and hard. From there, she lands on the outskirts of another woman’s life, and it’s like an earthquake over there. Everything’s disjointed and shaky. But after the quake, the world shifts. The calm after the storm: The lullaby, the private places we create when we are desperate for peace. The instruments we find inside of ourselves when we rest, listen, open.

 

The entirety of Part III, entitled, “Just a Bunch of Muse Girls Hanging Out in the Desert,” stands out from the rest of the chapbook. It is a collection of incredibly short pieces, some of which are one line, one of which has no words altogether (“Before”). Can you talk a little about how this portion of the chapbook came to take on such a different structure, and if you had any specific intention in doing so?

 Originally this piece was the appendix to my thesis, Wires and Light. I was low on page count, and my advisor told me to write anything. She goes, “Write anything you want. Have fun.” So I wrote Muse Girls. I wanted to write a piece that honored the feeling of living on the outskirts—feeling love but not being able to sing it into life.

When I wrote Muse Girls, I remember thinking, “Finally, I am saying what I want to say.” I honestly didn’t consider how the structure would be received. I just knew that I was expressing something I always wanted to, but for some reason I could not. Writing Muse Girls helped me connect to my sexuality, my frustrations, and my failures—all of which were (and are) tremendous gifts.

 

While most of the chapbook is written in first person, there are a few third person pieces, such as “Peaks” and “There’s a Hound Inside Her Lungs.” I understand that “There’s a Hound Inside Her Lungs” was previously published before this chapbook. Was it ever an option to change the story to fit the first person style of most of The Way Home, or did you deliberately shift the point of view for these stories?

 I wrote Hound about a man who really tried to hurt me. He stopped before things got bad. I didn’t know how else to write this moment. The Way Home is like a map. The introduction is its legend, and there are many unpaved roads. Hounds is an unpaved road. It’s a surprise. It’s a secret. It used to be an unnamed street, but here I give it a name.

So to answer your question, I didn’t consider switching POV with Hounds. It felt okay to leave it this way. My only intention was to honor the moment as much as possible.

 

Can you explain the reasoning behind the titles of your stories? How do you come up with your titles? Do you do so before you write your stories, or after?

 Titling is extremely hard for me. Most of the time, I will title a story after it’s written, and usually the title comes from a line in the story itself. Sometimes, though, I will spend hours (or even days, sometimes longer) trying to pull a title from the story’s sense of growth or mood. Titles are like poems in their own right. I treat each title as if it’s separate from the piece—it must sound good on its own. And yet, the title belongs to the piece, so it has to connect. Titling is a balancing act.

 

This is probably an impossible question regarding such a gorgeous collection of stories, but do you have a favorite piece, and why?

 “The Heart of America” is my favorite piece in the collection. I wrote it with a very big sense of hope, and I believe it will bring hope to others. I wanted to leap into the future. I wanted to challenge myself to move through time, to hold the past, to sit with the present, and to speak Possibility with assurance and bravery. I wanted to explore death, to harness it, to express its brightness and terror. When writing this piece, I felt like I could finally be myself. Like I could say anything. Like I could roam with a healthy sense of brazenness and fear. Like I could find love.

 

Better yet – While I was reading this, I was constantly smitten by your writing and choice of phrase. My favorite lines, “We hurt like Earth hurt when she caught orbit. We love like the moon loved when she held on,” come from “Ether,” and I kept returning to them, rereading them, knowing that if I had written them, I would have been immensely proud. What story in this chapbook are you proudest of?

 Thank you. Tremendously. Sometimes I feel like the Earth caught orbit and we (humans) don’t even know how that force has impacted us. How gravity works on our hearts.

When it comes to the story I am most proud of, my first instinct was to say “The Heart of America.” Even though that is my favorite piece in the collection, I am actually most proud of “Healer,” which is part of Muse Girls. “Healer” is about anorexia, the ability to have children, and how we can heal ourselves. This piece corresponds with this line in the introduction: “Once, a wise woman told me I could heal both of us.”

I used to treat love and anorexia as if they were two separate things, two separate parts of my life. But now I realize how connected they are. How essential it is for a lover to understand this part of my history. In fact, this may be the rockiest road of all. Harder than living on the outskirts. At least this is the way I feel. I do my best to write from my heart, to honor the way people move through my life.

“Healer” taught me that it is possible to write a very difficult truth.

Healing from an eating disorder is its own map. This very specific part of my body’s history is something I don’t talk about often, but it is necessary to write about, especially when trying to find the way home.

 

Listen to Inguanta read THE EDGE OF THE WORLD first published in Bartleby Snopes Literary Magazine, November 2015 as part of the Women Who Flash Their Lit forum by Bartleby Snopes Literary Magazine and Press.

The Way Home: Dancing Girl Press & Studio, 2013 can be found at http://dulcetshop.myshopify.com/products/the-way-home-ashley-inguanta-1

For the Woman Alone: Ampersand Books, 2015 can be found at http://ampersand-books.com/product/for-the-woman-alone/

Find Ashley’s online portfolios at ashleyinguanta.com / echoanddime.com /echoanddime.tumblr.com

 

by Lauren Laveria

by Lauren Laveria

Ashley Inguanta is a writer and photographer who is driven by landscape, place. She is the author of three collections: The Way Home (Dancing Girl Press 2013), For The Woman Alone (Ampersand Books 2014), and Bomb (forthcoming with Ampersand Books in 2016). Her work has appeared in PANK, Wigleaf, Adrienne: A Poetry Journal of Queer WomenOCHOCorium Magazine, Bartleby Snopes, the Rough Magick anthology, and other literary spaces. Ashley is also the Art Director of SmokeLong Quarterly, and this year she received an Orlando Weekly “Best Of” award for her poetry. Currently she is working with musician Sarah Morrison, creating on a series of projects that combine music, visual art, and language.

 

Danielle Dyal studies English Writing and Communications at the University of Pittsburgh, where she writes and reads too much. She has been published in several literary magazines and is an aspiring novelist, inspired by the works of JK Rowling, George Saunders, and Markus Zusak, among many others. She is an Assistant Editor at Bartleby Snopes and has an internship at Enitharmon Press.

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Submission and Readership Stats: 2015 Edition

2015 marked the 8th year of publication for Bartleby Snopes Literary Magazine. We remain committed to serving the writing community by publishing the best stories we can find. We also believe in transparency. By sharing as much data as we can with our readers and writers, we believe we provide a better glimpse into the world of online publishing. This also helps prospective writers understand their chances of publication as well as the benefits of having a story featured in our magazine.

2015 Submission Stats

2015 saw a new record for submissions. We received 3,591 submissions this past year, including almost 2,000 stories to our feedback categories. This was a new record for us, up from the previous record of 3,325 submissions set during 2014. As we’ve seen in the past, the majority of writers request our feedback, which typically consists of two or three sentences about why we are passing on a particular submission. This should not be misinterpreted as commentary on what it will take for a story to be publishable. Rather, it represents our reason for not accepting a story for publication in our magazine.

Here’s a visual glimpse at our submissions from 2015:

2015 sub stats snip

Flash fiction was more popular than longer fiction this year, with 1,525 flash stories compared to 1,472 longer works of fiction.

What did we do with all these submissions? Our staff was quite busy this year. We cast 10,002 votes on those submissions, meaning each story was read by an average of 2.8 unique readers.

We accepted 85 submissions this year, putting our acceptance rate at 2.3%. This is down from last year’s 3.4% acceptance rate. Our goal is never to reduce our acceptance rate. Rather, we simply intend to publish the work that meets our needs and tastes.

2015 Readership Stats

Submissions and published stories mean nothing if no one is looking at them. 2015 also saw record readership for the magazine. During 2015, over 36,000 visitors viewed over 153,000 pages during over 58,000 sessions on the website. This is a 12% increase in sessions and a 14% increase in users over the previous records.

readership stats 2015

It can be difficult to gauge the readership of an online magazine. We know that many of these 36,000 visitors were not active readers of our stories each month. Many of them were writers looking to be published in our magazine. Unfortunately, many writers seeking publication don’t bother to read the stories featured in that magazine. But we also know that many visitors came back to the site, and we know that our stories were read frequently and in strong numbers. Our most popular stories had over 3,000 unique pageviews this year. Our PDF issues were downloaded over 1,000 times during the course of the year. In other words, if we publish your story, people will read it.

Changes for 2016

We’re making a few changes in the coming year. We hope to bring more readers and writers to the website. And we hope to continue to make a positive mark on the literary community. Some of these changes include:

  • Adjusting our publication schedule from 2 stories per week to at least 1 story per week.
  • Making our $25 Story of the Month prize a permanent fixture of the magazine.
  • Publishing special themed issues (TBA).
  • Publishing more artwork to accompany our stories.
  • Hosting special forums, including Women Who Flash Their Lit.
  • Expanding our staff, including adding dedicated social media managers and artwork editors.

We’ll be announcing many more exciting changes this year, so be sure to come back often. Of course, the main reason to come back is to read amazing new fiction.

We’ll be taking January off from publishing (we’ll still be reading and responding to submissions) while we finalize Issue 14 of our print magazine. Look for the new issue soon.

Thank you for making Bartleby Snopes a staple of the literary world. We look forward to hearing from you in 2016.

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