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It’s a Flashy World Out There: Flash Fiction International: Very Short Stories from Around the World, A Review

by Gay Degani

James Thomas, Robert Shapard, and Christopher Merrill came together to collect and edit Flash Fiction International: Very Short Stories from Around the World, released by W.W. Norton & Company in April of this year.

The team’s mission was to gather strong flash fiction from all over the world and as stated in the introduction, and after reading over 10,000 stories, they had what they considered “eighty-six of the world’s best very short stories—known in Portuguese as minicontos, in German as Kurzestgeschichten, in Irish as splancfhicsin, in Italian as microstorias . . . and in English as flash fiction.”

 

Flash Fiction InternationalWhat appeals to us about flash fiction? Beneath the complexities of the world, we live our lives in a series of moments, thousands of them, experiencing an array of emotions and epiphanies.  Not all of these stick with us, yet many of them change our lives.  What flash fiction manages to do is crystalize some of these moments for us to read, enjoy, and identify with.  The flash fiction in this anthology comes from such disparate place as Israel, Argentina, Bangladesh, South Korea, Japan, the United States, Slovenia, Norway, Kenya, Australia, Ancient Rome and many more. What underlies each story is what makes human beings human, past and present.

  • Take “Esse” by Polish writer and poet, Czeslaw Milosz. This short piece, read in a minute and a half, is such a moment. The narrator states, “What can be done, if our sight lacks absolute power to devour objects ecstatically, in an instant, leaving nothing more than the void of an ideal…” Who hasn’t experienced a moment when something has caught our eye and we find we cannot get enough it? In this case, it is a woman and the narrator cries out: “I am, she is.Shout, blow the trumpets, make thought-strong marches, leap, rend your clothing repeating only: is?” Isn’t this what life is?
  • From Colombia comes the story “Honey” by Antonio Ungar in which a young boy watches his sister cover herself with honey: “she defies the world, she smiles and waits. Little by little her body begins to transform getting thicker and darker.” Suspense builds from the first sentence to the end of the story.  A character fascinated by someone in peril, wrought in beautiful prose, reminds the reader of accidents along a freeway and rubberneckers cruising by, the universality of human curiosity.
  • Humor is common to human beings too, shown in “Heavy Bones” by Tania Hershman (Israel/England).  In this story, the solution is fun and funny. “Only a few minutes ago, we were still tipsy from the bubbly at the reception, our heads fizzing, and now I’m standing here freezing on the doorstep in my big white dress and he’s looking like he’s failed his first big husbandly duty…”
  • In “The Snake,” Kenyan Eric Rugara captures that wonderful moment after a household crisis raises adrenaline and mere men have gone to war.  “The kid saw it first. Everyone else busy talking and sipping tea when the kid suddenly cried out, ‘Snake!’”
  • Flash fiction can challenge and make the reader wonder what is true and what is not, as in “Truthful Lies” by Frankie McMillan from New Zealand.  Here the narrator proclaims herself a liar and launches into her own history. “Have I ever been engaged to a dwarf? Yes. No. Choose Yes.” The reader has to question if the choice will lead to a story that can believed or not.  This is an expert example of an unreliable narrator.
  • Yin Ed Kiong from Malaysia/Indonesia pens a traditional tale, “Ronggeng.” In kinship with 1001 Nightsand Cinderella, this piece has seductive dancing, ritual baths, and star-crossed lovers, proving the adaptability of the form of flash fiction. “All the rich old men in their vulgar boast of wealth and virility would be vying to buka her kelambu—‘to open her mosquito net’—for the first time at the ronggeng.”
  • From Afganistan comes “The Tiger” by Mohibullah Zegham, a stark moment of reality when a common past holds peril for an ordinary, hard-working man. “It had been a long time since I’d been to the bazaar.  Traveling the vast Shorao desert, the truck was raising clouds of dust.”
  • “Little Girls” by Tara Laskowski from the United States is about the relationship between fathers and daughters and a moment that changes the main character’s life.  It is all-American, but carries with it a kind of inevitable fate that is universal.

I regret I don’t have more time and space to select even more of these ideal examples of flash fiction, but as our world grows smaller, humans find themselves bumping up against each other more than ever before.  Between television broadcasts of war and violence, bickering world leaders, and natural disasters, with much the same prominent in movies and on the internet, we seem more focused on what makes us different than what makes us alike. The wonderful fact about the genre of flash fiction is that it focuses on moments, and in those moments we find our humanity as it exists all over the world.  This is what makes an anthology like Flash Fiction International, Very Short Stories from Around the Word, such a gift.

Book Information: Flash Fiction International: Very Short Stories from Around the World Paperback by James Thomas (Editor), Robert Shapard (Editor), Christopher Merrill (Editor)

Paperback: 288 pages Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (April 13, 2015)

Bio:

Gay Degani had three of her flash pieces nominated for Pushcart consideration and won the 11th Annual Glass Woman Prize. Her suspense novel, What Came Before, was published in 2014 and a short collection, Pomegranate, features eight stories around the theme of mothers and daughters. Founder and editor emeritus of Flash Fiction Chronicles, she blogs at Words in Place where a complete list of her published work can be found.

Announcing the 7th Annual Dialogue Contest Winners

With over 330 submissions and a total prize purse of just over $1,900, the 7th Annual Dialogue Contest is our second biggest contest ever. Picking our five finalists was a challenge, but we are thrilled to announce our winners:

1st Place: Boogeyman by Rebecca McDowell

2nd Place: A Visit with Dr. Wallace by Carolyn Moretti

3rd Place: The Kitchen God by Fred Senese

4th Place: Retired by Ronald Friedman

5th Place: Is My Long Hair Blocking Your View by Amy Naylor

Look for these winning stories in Issue 14 of Bartleby Snopes out in early January.

Official 7th Annual Dialogue Contest Updates

Here you will find the latest information regarding the entries and prize money for our 7th Annual Dialogue Contest. Submissions are now closed. Re-submissions will be accepted through September 30th.

Last updated on 9/16 (7:00 pm Central)

Submissions Received: 337
Re-Submissions Received: 95

Current Prize Money (prize money continues to go up with each new submission):

Total Prize Purse: $1,935

1st: $1161
2nd: $387
3rd: $193.50
4th: $101.75
5th: $91.75

Explanation of 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

Find more details on our Contest Page

7th Annual Dialogue Contest Is Now Open

Our 7th 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 2016. Last year we awarded $2380 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.

Suggested Reading by Story of the Month Winner Robin White

We asked Robin White, our April Story of the Month winner, what he’s been reading on the web lately. Here’s what he recommended:

Dirty Blue, by Ani King (published by Pidgeon Holes)

Severance, by Leslee Becker (published by Boston Review)

Wanted, by Kathy Steinemann (published by Saturday Night Reader)

Disappearing Act, by Chelsea Hanna Cohen (published by freeze frame fiction)

A Memory from Childhood, by Fiona Helmsley (published by Dogzplot)

Tell us what you think of Robin’s picks in the comments. Feel free to recommend some of your favorite online stories as well.

The Hit Man by J.F. Smith

At Bartleby Snopes, we receive thousands of submissions a year. As you might expect, things can get a bit redundant in the so-called slush pile. A few weeks ago, Managing Editor Nathaniel Tower published some controversial thoughts as a guest post on the freeze frame fiction blog. In the post, Tower ranted against a few things he’s tired of seeing in submissions. While most writers seemed to enjoy Tower’s frankness, a few thought his opinions were a bit too strongly stated. We won’t get into the different interpretations of Tower’s words. That’s not why we’re here. Instead, we want to share a wonderful story we received in response to the post.

A talented writer decided to take Tower’s post as a challenge. Rather than avoiding the tired topics Tower mentioned, J.F Smith chose to incorporate much of the forbidden subject matter. The result was an amusing and charming story that we just had to share with the world.

So, without further ado, here is J.F. Smith’s wonderful story that violates all the rules:

The Hit Man

by J.F. Smith

It was cloudy outside, so no artfully depicted light shone through the windows in this story. Instead, discs of recessed lighting lit the doctor’s kitchen.

The doctor sipped a cup of warmed-over coffee. He sat on a banquet stool and stared out the kitchen window, waiting for the food delivery truck. It was Wednesday, which meant that it was food delivery day. Although the ingredients came attractively packaged in a cooler, the doctor liked to store it in his refrigerator before leaving for his morning rounds, because you couldn’t be too careful with food poisoning.

The doctor lived on the side of the hill, which bears almost no weight on the plot, except for the part when the doctor wondered whether one must set the emergency brake if one parks his car nose-down. This, of course, he mused when a low black car came to a rest just across the street in this very manner. The doctor poured himself another cup of coffee in a small half-cup sized mug purchased by his wife.

Just as he considered the practicality of the e-brake on a hill (or not), the doorbell rang. On the stoop stood a man in gray trousers. He was bald, or nearly so. It was hard to tell.

“Yes?” the doctor asked.

“Oh good! It’s you,” the man said.

“Can I help you?”

“Sure,” the man said. “I’m here to talk to you about that research project of yours.”

The doctor shifted his weight. “I’m sorry. I’m not permitted to talk about it quite yet.” He allowed himself a brief moment to think about his upcoming media circuit. His goal was an interview with Sanjay Gupta, as he thought of himself as a slightly shorter and older version of the famous physician. He imagined their likenesses side-by-side on a noontime program, and warm, smug joy crackled through him. They could be brothers, the cameraman might joke. The doctor composed himself for the sake of this gray-pallored reporter in front of him. “Who are you? How did you get this address?”

“From my boss,” the man said. “And, I’m the Hit Man.” With that, he reared back and slapped the doctor across the face.

The doctor recoiled. “Hey!”

“May I?” the Hit Man asked. He scuffed his feet on the mat and stepped through the threshold into the doctor’s house. “Will my car be okay out there?”

The doctor braced himself against the hall table and did not answer. A vase that held a bouquet of artificial flowers fell to the wood floor, but did not break.

The Hit Man squinted at him. “Hoo, boy. That’s a five-fingered cheek, all right.” He bent down and picked up the vase, stepping close to the doctor and reaching around him to replace it.

The doctor trembled. “Take anything you want,” he said. “Just, please. Don’t hurt me.” He paused. “Are you going to kill me?”

“Me?” the Hit Man thumbed his chest. “Of course not. The boss said no deaths.” Whistling, he walked down the doctor’s hallway and into the kitchen.

The doctor thought about calling the police, but his only house phone was in the kitchen, where from the sounds of it, the Hit Man was heating himself a cup of coffee. He was dreaming, the doctor decided, and said as much.

“Come on,” the Hit Man said. “You know the answer to that one.”

The doctor followed him into the kitchen, where the Hit Man drank from the doctor’s own small mug. “Tell me why you’re here.”

“I already did,” the Hit Man said. “You know, you have a lovely home, but the light in here is awfully harsh, yeah?”

“What?”

“Anyhow,” the Hit Man said. “The research project.”

“What about it?”

“Time to trash it, Doc.”

The doctor laughed. “Hardly. We’re one isolated variable away from a cure for cancer.”

The Hit Man sighed. He put down the coffee, flexed his fingers, and slapped the doctor’s other cheek.

“What was that for?” the doctor cried.

The Hit Man looked annoyed. “I’m just doing my job,” he said. “Boss wants me here until you agree to back off.” His eyes brightened. “’Til you say ‘oncle!’ Get it? Because you’re an oncologist?”

Goddamn pharmaceutical companies, the doctor thought.

The doorbell rang in two quick bursts, and they heard a thump against the door. The doctor excused himself and found the food delivery cooler on the stoop. He retrieved it and brought it back to the kitchen. “Look, you can tell your medicine man boss to tackle some other monster. Go after Alzheimer’s, for Chrissake.”

The Hit Man looked surprised. He sat down on the banquet stool. “My boss isn’t Big Pharma, Doc.”

The doctor opened the cooler and began unpacking it. He set wrapped and labeled meats and fish out first, followed by earthy root vegetables, ripe fruit, and small brown paper bags full of spices and mustard. “Who, then?”

The Hit Man put down the coffee and leaned toward the doctor. “The Editor,” he said. His tone was low.

It was the doctor’s turn to be surprised. “Who?”

The Hit Man shrugged. “It doesn’t matter to me, Doc. Just know that your research project really stomps his brakes.”

“I think you mean ‘grinds his gears.’”

“Didn’t quit my day job for nothing, yeah?”

“Your day job?”

“I was a lousy teacher.”

The doctor removed two ice packs from the cooler. He opened the freezer and added one to a row of twenty-six of them (two for each week since he signed up for the service). He put the other against his cheek.

“I got you pretty good, didn’t I?” the Hit Man said. He wiped his hands on his trousers and reached for the recipe sheet. Together, they read the label. Filet with Fruit Medley for Two.

The Hit Man pointed to the For Two. “Your wife like this?”

“It’s a bit of a delicate situation. We’re… separated.”

The Hit Man nodded in sympathy. “So’re we. She run around on you, or you on her? When the cat’s away, the dog just may, am I right, Doc?”

The doctor told him it was nothing like that. Long hours for him at work, longer for her at home. They grew apart. The details didn’t matter. He tapped the recipe sheet in front of the Hit Man. “Who would eat fruit with meat, anyway?” the doctor asked.

“Nietzsche ate fruit with beef for lunch every day,” the Hit Man said.

“Is that true?”

“I don’t know. It was in a textbook I taught to my students.”

The doctor put the ingredients in the refrigerator. “So now you’re a hit man? Shouldn’t you have a black overcoat and a gun?”

“Now you sound like my wife. Plus, I told you. I don’t kill people.”

“Sounds like you might be a lousy hit man,” the doctor said.

“Ouch,” the Hit Man said. “So. The research project?”

“I probably won’t give it up,” the doctor said.

“Suit yourself,” the Hit Man said. He drained the coffee and wiped his hands on his trousers again. “Now, I gotta figure out what to tell the boss.”

 

BIO: J.F. Smith writes, dances, teaches, and occasionally blogs at http://www.jfsmithbooks.com/blog. She is a Faculty Professor of Creative Writing at SNHU, where she teaches graduate students online while sitting in her Boston-area office. J.F. has most recently been published in Flash Fiction Magazine, Boston Literary Review, Thought Catalog, and Möbius. She lives with her husband and their infant daughter, Lucy.