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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.

Books To Read, Books to Give, Women Who Flash Their Lit

Looking for a book? The authors of the Women Who Flash Their Lit forum have them for you.

 

Masquerading FawnArt is the ultimate paradox of humanity. It constantly seeks to find kinship with the ephemeral quicksand while simultaneously pausing to contemplate over the mismatched heartbeats of each granule. Even more so, literary art, for it becomes the responsibility of 26 meager alphabets to rummage through the uneven contours of the chambers hidden by human emotions to confront them in all their masquerading complexity.

This poetry chapbook attempts to narrate the journey of human emotions to an eager language, by catching them off-guard in moments of extreme vulnerability and strength.

Shinjini Bhattacharjee OnlineBuy the Book & Kindle edition at AmazonShinjini Bhattacharjee’s Amazon Page

 

 

Rattle Of WantPublished by Pure Slush Books, Rattle of Want ranges from brilliant brief experiments (such as Abbreviated Glossary and Appendages) to a novella-in-flash (The Old Road) for the canon in that new genre. Altogether these stories mine the wants and desires in the breakups of families, rebellions of youth, and occasional ascents of the spirit. Often they beautifully, and simply, nail a place, as in Small Town (a perfect evocation of the title), report an impending explosion, as in Kindling (a quintessential flash), or capture a character (if you haven’t met Blusterfuck … do so at your own peril). Few writers can do all that Gay Degani does. ~ Robert Shapard, editor of Flash Fiction International: Very Short Stories from Around the World

Gay Degani OnlineRattle Of Want Press ReleaseBuy Book at Pure SlushBuy Kindle edition at AmazonGay Degani’s Amazon page

 

Every Kiss A War

Nominated for the prestigious 2014 PEN Open Book Award, the twenty-seven stories in Leesa Cross-Smith’s debut short story collection Every Kiss a War are set to the sounds of “frogs and crickets out back, steam-pulsing like a machine” and “a sad country song that hasn’t been written yet.” Men and women love and leave over cigarettes and shots of kitchen table whiskey. She takes us down Kentucky roads in the back of a pickup truck to both truculent and delicate women and rough, rambling men edged with gentleness. A finalist for the Flannery O’Connor Short Fiction Award and the Iowa Short Fiction Award, this collection is a ravishing war of characters laid bare as they look for the glow and fight to stay in the light. As affecting as they are sexy and romantic, these stories burn with sweetness like firecrackers and honey as you throw them back and holler for another round.

Leesa Cross-Smith OnlineBuy Book at Mojave River PressBuy Kindle edition at AmazonBuy Nook edition at Barnes and NobleLeesa Cross-Smith’s Amazon Page

 

RIFT

A stunning collaboration from Robert Vaughan and Kathy Fish, two masters of flash fiction, who’ve blended their work together in a vibrant explosion that is all of these things:  evocative, heart wrenching, rare in the wild. The stories in RIFT explore the gamut of human connection and conflict, where emotions run deep beneath the surface. Divided into four sections: Fault, Breach, Tremor, and Cataclysm, writers Fish and Vaughan thread together their tales of strange encounters, mishaps, accidents, and disrepair. The world of RIFT is riven, tumultuous, and haunting. In here, danger lurks and the fallible human heart lay exposed and vulnerable. Fish and Vaughan leave their readers spellbound, mystified, and eager for the next story.”

Kathy Fish OnlineRobert Vaughn OnlineBuy Book at Unknown Everything PressBuy Kindle edition at AmazonKathy Fish’s Amazon Page

 

Ghost Box Evolution In Cadillac, MichiganWinner of the ninth annual Rose Metal Press short chapbook contest, judged by Pamela Painter. Forrest’s limited edition chapbook features 2-color letterpress covers and specialty end sheets. Like the self-destructive teen protagonist of its unforgettable opening story, the flash fictions in Rosie Forrest’s indelible contest-winning collection Ghost Box Evolution in Cadillac, Michigan speak with a steady focus. As solitary and enticing as the abandoned big-box megastores of the chapbook’s title story, these dark and magical stories echo with loneliness and the strangeness of human experience. Forrest’s young characters test their own limits and yearn for what’s just beyond reach. They orbit each other, searching for connection and silently passing by. With its dreamlike images and realities that twist and swerve, this collection offers a glimpse beneath the arc of becoming.

Rosie Forrest OnlineBuy Book at Rose Metal PressBuy Book at Amazon

 

The Way Home

Ashley Inguanta’s first collection, The Way Home is a book and part of Inguanta’s www.thewayhomeproject.com, which seeks to “reinvent, revisit, and learn to understand home all over again through art.” The collection features both text by Inguanta and images by Karen Prosen.

Ashley Inguanta OnlineThe Way Home ProjectBuy the Book at DulcetBuy the Kindle edition at AmazonAshley Inguanta’s Amazon Page

 

 

 

 

Suitable For GivingWhether she’s talking about loss of privacy in the Internet age, “Gone are the days when people only knew things about me that I wanted them to know. Now I can be Googled – and without benefit of lubrication,” or growing up Catholic, “Sticking a symbol of a brutally murdered dead guy over the bed of an impressionable young child and telling her ‘He died for your sins’ kind of messes with a kid for life,” Jayne Martin’s debut book of humor essays will have you laughing out loud from page one. A sharp observer of a world changing faster than new versions of the iPhone, Martin has gleaned this collection from over two years of posts on her popular blog aptly titled “injaynesworld… where nothing is sacred,” where she takes on everything from private parts to politics. With a voice that is both unique and accessible, Martin has crafted a body of work that will appeal to readers of all ages. A funny, fresh, often outrageous compilation, this book is most definitely “Suitable For Giving.”

Jayne Martin OnlineBuy the Book & the Kindle edition at AmazonJayne Martin’s Amazon Page

 

Vixen Scream

Hilarious, irreverent, twisted, bawdy, brilliant – these short shorts by Nancy Stohlman feel like a series of off-kilter encounters with the strangest characters you swear you’ve met before in a previous, more interesting lifetime. With sly humor and daring, Stohlman weaves tiny tales reminiscent of Etgar Keret, but with her own inimitable stamp. The Vixen Scream and other Bible Stories is an amazing collection. Do not deny yourself the pleasure of reading it. – Kathy Fish, author of ‘Together We Can Bury It’ The Vixen Scream is a collection of compelling and strikingly original stories – an imagination functioning at full throttle. Nancy Stohlman is a word-alchemist, and here is her book of wonders! – Robert Scotellaro, author of ‘Measuring the Distance.’

Nancy Stohlman OnlineBuy the Book & Kindle edition at AmazonNancy Stohlman’s Amazon Page

 

Lined Up Like Scars

Sassy and incisive, tender yet scalpel-sharp, the ten short tales inLined Up Like Scars cut to the quick of modern life, dissecting the dysfunctional dynamics of an American family with a tragic secret at its heart. Meg Tuite traces girlhood, young womanhood, and the jealous loyalties of sisterhood through a series of ‘magpie moments’ that are often darkly funny – featuring inedible meatloaf, sloughed skin, mysterious boy-bodies, insurgent underwear, speed-dating with attitude, the street-stomping antics of a wannabe band, and an unnerving collector of American Girl dolls. But the comic coping strategies of children (licking walls, ingesting gym socks, humping stuffed animals) have chronic counterparts in those of adults (alcoholism, prescription drugs). And in the final story, an ageing father reveals a truth that his daughters will forever conceal behind Facebook façades.

Meg Tuite OnlineBuy the BookMeg Tuite’s Amazon Page

 

 

 

Building a House of Stars with Tawnysha Greene (Contributor Series Interview Series #9)

Back in 2012, we published Tawnysha Greene’s 275-word story “Wilderness.” It was a wonderful piece that said so much in those few words. Three years later, Greene’s debut novel, which features the same family from “Wilderness,” is receiving rave reviews. And rightfully so. We were lucky enough to get the chance to chat with Tawnysha about the novel. Here’s what she had to say:

A House Made of Stars is a beautiful title. Tell us about the inspiration. 

Thank you! The title came from research I did on the constellations my narrator would look to in the sky. I was intrigued by the Greek mythology behind these constellations and the stories I found ended up being an excellent parallel for the novel. A House Made of Stars Cover

One of the constellations my narrator looks to often is Cepheus, named after a king who chained his daughter to the sea. It also resembles a tilted house, and I imagined this image to be illustrative of the narrator’s own family. Her family is like that house: headed by a powerful father, but also broken and askew.

What did you find most challenging about telling this story through a young narrator?  

One of the most difficult things was knowing how much emotion to allow my character to feel. With the severity of the abuse and her young age, it would have been easy to make her very emotional throughout the book, but I was afraid that this would damage her ability to tell this story. So I eliminated as much emotion from her as possible. The lack of emotion would also be telling, because it would show that these occurrences of violence were not out of the ordinary for her.

However, there were some scenes in which I made her too stoic, so in some of the later revisions, I added more hints of emotion for her–fear, anger, and happiness–to better humanize her and allow her to connect with readers. I hope that I found a good medium.

This is a fantastic book, but it’s not an easy read. How do you handle writing such difficult subject matter?

With topics like poverty, mental illness, and abuse, it is easy to tiptoe around these subjects, because it would be simpler to just sweep them under the rug, but we need to talk about these issues.

My narrator’s mother does this often in A House Made of Stars. She lies to cover up their money struggles and her children’s abuse. She teaches her children to do the same to protect the narrator’s father. However, in doing so, she keeps the family trapped in this cycle of struggle that continues until someone has the courage to break it. These issues and the stigma surrounding them silence far too many families, because they are afraid to speak up.

I owed it to my narrator to speak up. So I wrote about poverty, mental illness, and abuse in the opposite way her mother would have described them. I wrote about them honestly. I wrote about them with a sense of rawness that could only be described by a child. I wanted these scenes to be hard to read so that even if you wanted to turn away from them, you couldn’t. Because we shouldn’t turn away from these things. We need to see them, we need to hear these voices, and we need to know when to speak up ourselves.

Although most of the reviews for A House Made of Stars have been overwhelmingly positive, you did get a 2-star review on Goodreads that said, “I liked this book but it was sad and hopeless.” What do you say to a reader who views this story as sad and hopeless? And how does a review like this fuel you as a writer? 

The book is sad and conveys some hopeless things, so I don’t disagree with this reader there. However, the book is also one about hope, strength, courage, and resilience, and I couldn’t have conveyed these things without the sadness and devastation that came before it. Triumph cannot be fully acknowledged without also acknowledging the struggles it took it get there.

I try not to pay attention to ratings, because I know that it is impossible to please everyone. Readers all have different expectations, but even so, I am grateful to this reader for the two stars and the review. At least this reader gave the book a chance in reading it, and I appreciate that.

I first became familiar with your work through your submissions to Bartleby Snopes. How do lit mags play a role in your career as a novelist? What do you think is the value in lit mags as a whole right now? 

Literary magazines are an invaluable asset to writers, because they allow one to make connections in the literary world and gain a readership.

I could not have written and published A House Made of Stars if not for the generosity of the editors who published pieces of the novel beforehand. Often, my work still needed revision when I submitted these excerpts to literary journals, and many of these editors had some wonderful ideas for making the narrative better and the characters more vivid, so I am very grateful for the lessons they have taught me.

These editors have alTawnysha Greene Author Photoso been extraordinarily kind and generous in promoting the work of their former contributors, too. Several of them have published reviews of the book and posted interviews as well as promoted the book on their social media. The literary community is a wonderful family, and I am so appreciative their support.

Bartleby Snopes is no exception. You have given me so much help in your editorial feedback, and your generosity in writing and publishing this interview is so humbling. Thank you.

What’s next for Tawnysha Greene? I’ve heard you’re working on a new novel. Any spoilers?

I am working on a new novel, a sequel that takes place twenty years after A House Made of Stars has ended. As an adult survivor of abuse, the narrator grapples with issues such as healing, forgiveness, and hope, and this is a difficult journey for her. I am in the first draft stage of the novel and am still figuring out how her story will end, but I am looking forward to learning from this book and everything my narrator still has to teach me.

Tawnysha, thank you for chatting with us. Congratulations on the success of A House Made of Stars, and good luck on the next book. 

Tawnysha Greene teaches creative writing at the University of Tennessee. Her work has appeared in PANK, Bellingham Review, and Weave Magazine. Her first novel, A House Made of Stars, was released by Burlesque Press in 2015. Find out more about her her: www.tawnyshagreene.com

Developing Character Through Movement & Gesture

Lately, I’ve been focusing on an aspect of character development in my own work that I’ve noticed in stories that catch my attention, especially in flash fiction: revealing character through embodied movement.[1]  A character’s lifelike qualities emerge vividly out of how she occupies the narrative space. The brevity and compression of flash allows writers to experiment with form and structure with few constraints. In respect to embodied movement, as with any aspect of fiction, the writing and the words carry more freight. One of the more memorable examples is Ron Carlson’s “The Great Open Mouth Anti-Sadness.” The whole piece is a wonderful work of characterization, yearning, emotion, and movement in a confined space:

He worked one dress shoe off with the other, and then held it on a toe as long as he could. The air cooled his arch perfectly, and he thought that: perfect. Evaporation was such a stunning feature of life on earth. Water rises into the air. Now he opened his mouth and then a little wider than was comfortable. [2]

Another is Kathy Fish’s lovely “Tenderoni” from Smokelong Quarterly, where a young woman watches her boyfriend figure out how to move a dead kitten off the road:

My boyfriend and I grab our bikes and pedal across town for a parade which has probably been cancelled anyway. Ahead, Mark’s skinny calves pump, his day glo rain poncho flaps behind him like a flag. He stops and gets off the bike and I catch up to him.

“Oh, damn,” I say. “A kitty.”

“It looks sort of lumpy,” he says. There’s a drop of rain holding on to the tip of his nose and steam rising from his shoulders. “We should move it.”[3]

We know nothing about this couples’ ages, not much about how they look, or exactly where they are. It’s raining, they want to see a parade, they ride bicycles. One likes to smoke, one wears glasses. They are tender with one another. Readers feel like they share something intimate and significant with these people. Most of what we learn about them is from how they move and act and in what they say to one another.

Characters move through space and display physical characteristics, emotional expressions, and psychological states. They also convey their intellect, sexuality, humor, mood, opinions, trauma, and the status of their relationships. How a character conducts herself in the story tells us more than a description. We typically take advantage of dialogue as an opportunity for subtext, but movement can enrich characterization without having to rely on explication. When we show how a character emotes, for example, the disparity between their inner lives and their exterior responses contribute to tension and conflict. Nancy Stohlman in The Vixen Scream and Other Bible Stories cleverly borrows most everything the story needs with a one-word title, “Samson” and writes twenty-one more words of precise movement and dialogue:

“Don’t worry, we’ll both do it,” Delilah said, reaching for the hair clippers on the counter next to the lice shampoo.” [4]

How a character or reader changes and transforms over time in the narrative space has something to do with embodiment and movement, even if there is little to no embodiment and/or restricted movement. They are enabled to act in some way. A character’s movement also influences how time dilates and constricts, speeds up and slows down. This is how character movement can regulate pacing and momentum.

In “Abbreviated Glossary” Gay Degani uses concise, stark sentences to convey an emotionally charged story in 150 words that takes place over eight months:

Pact:

His lips disappear between his teeth when I break the news. He says he’s not ready—no diapers for him—but I know he is. I’ll do the hard part. I promise.

Hope:

My fingers knead the curve of my belly. Dev slips an arm around my waist and grins at his boss. Proud papa.[5]

Amelia Gray in “House Heart” tells the story of how a couple lures a woman to their home and traps her in the ductwork. For one woman, her whole world becomes the visible interior of the house and how she dwells in it with her husband and this new, determined presence. For another woman, her space is confined to the interior of a house and the spaces she creates:

We licked each other’s faces, listening to the girl above us. At that moment, she was learning that she could crawl on her hands and knees in he main passage, but that in the smaller lines, she would have to slide on her belly, arms outstretched, pulling herself forward.[6]

Eventually, everyone’s focus narrows to the interior where violations of hospitality play out.

Character development through movement is another way for our characters to gain more presence, mass, and substance. A young, recently injured gymnast is going to move very differently than his older brother who is a former heavyweight class wrestler and makes glass for a living. There are also characters we cannot help but remember always, not so much for the way they look but for their presence and how they bear themselves in a story.

 

[1] Bradley, April. First published as “Character Development & Movement.” Fiction Flash Fiction Chronicles. July 3, 2015. http://www.everydayfiction.com/flashfictionblog/character-development-movement-in-fiction/
[2] Carlson, Robert. “Great Open Mouth Anti-Sadness.” Flash Fiction Forward: 80 Very Short Stories. Ed. James Thomas & Robert Shapard. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2006. 62-63.
[3] Fish, Kathy. “Tenderoni.” Smokelong Quarterly. Issue 28. October 2, 2008 Accessed June 13, 2015. http://www.smokelong.com/flash/kathyfish22.asp
[4] Stohlman, Nancy. “Samson.” The Vixen Scream and Other Bible Stories. Magill SA, Australia: A Pure Slush Book, 2014, 86.
[5] Degani, Gay. “Abbreviated Glossary.” Melusine, or Woman in the 21st Century. Accessed June 13, 2015. http://www.melusine21cent.com/mag/node/251
[6] Gray, Amelia. “House Heart.” Gunshot: Stories. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015. 16.

 

 

 

 

Women Who Flash Their Lit Series

Women Who Flash Their Lit is an online forum featuring women authors who write flash fiction and influence its form. Writers such as Gessy Alvarez, Shinjini Bhattacharjee, Leesa Cross Smith, Gay Degani, Kathy Fish, Rosie Forrest, Ashley Inguanta, Jayne Martin, Kona Morris, Sally Reno, Nancy Stohlman, and Meg Tuite join Bartleby Snopes to discuss their experiences, writing, and opinions on flash fiction accompanied by reviews of authors’ work, interviews, video, recored readings, and art. Look for the published forum here online in the summer of 2016 and for ongoing features and interviews about women who write flash fiction.

November 17, 2015

(Left to right) Kathy Fish, Meg Tuite, Nancy Stohlman, and Kona Morris discuss some topics featured in Bartleby Snopes Women Who Flash Their Lit Forum in February 2016 that also includes Gessy Alvarez, Shinjini Bhattacharjee, Leesa Cross-Smith, Gay Degani, Rosie Forrest, Ashley Inguanta, Jayne Martin, and Sally Reno. Filmed at The Mercury Cafe, Denver, Colorado 17 November 2015.

 

So My Mother, She Lives in the Clouds: Christopher D. DiCicco (Contributor Series Interview Series #8)

Christopher D. DiCicco’s  “Heavy Shoes” won our September 2013 Story Of The Month competition. It’s a fine piece of writing among so many wonderful and gorgeously rendered stories included in his new collection So My Mother, She Lives in the Clouds published by Hypertropic Press www.hypertrophicpress.com .  Each of these stories opens up worlds of longing, beauty, and grief among characters who walk out of the pages into the world. Readers recognize their own fault lines, brokenness, yearning, sweetness, and love reflected in these characters Christopher creates. It was a pleasure to read and re-read this book, and what luck to catch an interview Christopher.*

 

SMMSLITC Dicicco cover smaller

 

It’s a tremendous collection of forty-five short, short stories. How did you choose the first story to place in the collection, and how did you select the title story?

I’m happy you asked that. The title story was my doing. The first story was not. The first story “Talk of Fire” is one I was actually apprehensive about because I’m a schoolteacher. Yeah, of course it’s metaphorical in nature, like a lot of my pieces, but like a lot of my pieces, there’s still a strong element of realism to it. The idea of starting my book with a college student who lights himself on fire because he wants to hear his words crackle, well, it made me uneasy. My editors though believed it was a piece that worked as a preface to the rest of the collection; that the metaphor, the realism, worked for what was to come next in the collection. And in the end, I agreed. I want to hear my words crackle too. As for the title story, I felt “So My Mother, She Lives in the Clouds” captured my offbeat, minimal approach. It’s a favorite story of mine. It has a lot of the elements I enjoy it, fantasy, realism, potential truths, no answers, big questions. I like that about fiction; that, like in real life where some of the biggest events go unexplained, unanswered, in fiction the fantastical elements can be just as crazy and real and unexplainable. It’s nuts and beautiful.

 

Most of your stories are in first person, yet, the ones presented in second and third are just as strong. How deliberate are you in perspective? How do you determine it? Do you experiment? There’s these few lines in “A Literary God (In Love)” on page 200 that comes off a bit meta. I’m a fan of the character Sara. Her response to the narrator is what I’ve grown to expect from her:

I’m a first-person omniscient narrator because reading my story, reading it aloud to myself, it’s like having God whisper the answers to all my questions, but better because I’m the one doing it. They’re my answers. . . Me telling it. “Sara later corrects the narrator and says, “Excuse me, your book? It’s our story. It’s our book.”

Does this story have much to do about your thoughts on narrative perspective?

Yes, I am very deliberate in perspective. The first-person removed narrator is my favorite. First-person is kind of like acting, you lose yourself in a role and develop your character with every movement you make. It’s like riding a fixie bicycle. I’d hate to use that example, but it holds pretty firm. If you’ve never ridden one before, the bicycle is set on a fixed gear where the chain is as simple and pure as it gets, and so it’s a personal ride; in that, every move you make determines the ride. If you pedal fast, you ride fast. If you slow your left leg, the ride pulls left and hesitates. And the first-person reminds me of that. It’s incredibly responsive. The story develops—reacts—based on each word your narrator spits out. And it’s great to decide you’re the father or the daughter or the son and then tell a story about the other. I love that. You tell a story about someone else, and in doing so you tell a story about yourself—the first person narrator. Man, I love point of view. Did you notice in “Pennsylvania is No Concern” that I use First-Person and Third Person Limited? That was great for me. And in “Why the Wolves Take the Calves First,” getting to develop a tough heart-broken but sensitive father, who notices the circle of life and the brutal honesty in nature—to have him narrate and comment on things that someone like him would notice—that’s just so much fun for me. That’s the story. So, does that kind of reflect “A Literary God (in Love)”? Maybe it does. I suppose the story does have a bit to do with my thoughts on perspective because in the end it’s an illusion, right? It’s a technique. But the funny thing is, I don’t usually think of that while I’m writing. When I’m writing, I tend to believe it, that it’s real, that it’s my story to tell. I’m the narrator even if it means I’m not me at all.

Your stories have strong, emotionally anchored endings. Your endings are a strength of your craft. How do you know when the ending is just right?

Thank you for saying so. My endings start by feel. For the most part, I know when it’s time. I wish there were more to it. I mean, there is, but the first part of it, the big part, is an organic conclusion for me. It grows out of the story, and I pluck it up. Once I have it, then I finesse it, but not as much as you might think.  Understanding what a strong ending is and what it comes equipped with is important. It allows it to happen. My endings often coincide with my themes. They’re disappointment, failings, awful impossible things that the narrator acknowledges. Those are things I know. Some from personal experience, some from observation. It’s what I know. But it’s not all depressing. A good ending has so much more that comes after it, but that’s up to the reader, to the story that keeps on even after the writing stops.

How do you come up with titles?

I subscribe to two different philosophies concerning titles. First, titles can be an act of naming. The idea is that you look at some piece of art whether it be a child, a song, or a story, and you name it. You name what it is, what it will become, and what it should always be. The second philosophy, the one I use more often, is the title is the very first line. It is the beginning, the start of everything, and the part where you call the reader over, saying, “Hey, so my mother, she lives in clouds” or “Heavy shoes, my girlfriend has the heaviest, let me tell you.” And then you explain. You show them what you mean, and that’s your story.

I have several favorites among this collection. It’s impossible to select one. Talk of Fire” blew me away as did the title story. “Life Where You Want It” is another favorite as is “I Think I’m Going To Make It,” “Your Uncle Scott Is A Lake Monster,” “A Bucks Devil and the County Ghost,” “Future Perfect,” “Even Toy Swords,” and “Her Heart A Thundering Steed.”  What about you?

You’re not the first person to ask me this, so you’d think I’d have a good answer, but it’s still the same–I’m terrible at playing favorites. I can be incredibly pleased by the smallest of aspects of a given story. A phrase can drive me wild. An awkward simile and I’m in love. It’s true. That’s all it takes for me to like a story, a really good line. It’s terrible—but that’s the truth of it. In “Life Where You Want It” the ending, it makes me happy every time I read it. And so does the line “He’s hoping they’ll let him on, as if he were some young Dominic Dillianhaul from Nebraska who has never played the game before, as if he were someone different and new.” I love that name. I love “Future Perfect” It’s my favorite. And so are a thousand other lines that I’m still waiting to write.

Do your children like your stories? Do they help with critique?

No, neither of my sons help yet. Maybe one day. I have a writing group though with some really good friends and even greater writers. Matthew Kabik, Daniel Difranco, and Zachary Woodard point me in the right direction, and it worked well for a while. Lately though the writing group has kind of gone on a hiatus, which is sad for me, but part of the evolution of such things I suppose.

What’s next besides the whirlwind life of a literary debutante?

More stories. It’s not something I can stop. I think in stories, dream in stories, and, I love creating them. But yeah, I worked on some poems this past summer, and they’re very personal, but they’re also very story-like in many ways. I wouldn’t mind finishing those up when the mood arises.  But really, I’m dying to write some new stories. That’s all I really want to do—drink a cup of coffee (in the early morning) and write a story that makes me smile. Did I mention that I write for me? I’m terribly selfish—and I’m not planning on changing anytime soon.

 

DiCicco head shotChristopher D. DiCicco received his Bachelors in English/Education from Temple University and his MFA  in Creative Writing from Arcadia University. When Christopher David DiCicco writes–he reads it aloud. Sometimes he writes via the voice memo feature on his iPhone–while driving. If you were to hear his writing, it sounds like traffic and going places, sudden stops, and–sometimes–it sounds like the rain. The best time to write is in the morning. This is a universal truth that holds true only to him, and Christopher knows it. If you write at a different time–good for you. You are even more universal. Universal is good–like writing stories in the rain.  Find Christopher online at www.cddicicco.com and on Twitter @ChrisDiCicco

*Join Christopher and Hypertropic Press at Arcadia University  in The Knight Seminar Room tomorrow, November 13 at 4:30 for a Writer’s Workshop on the ins and outs of letter querying.

Christopher’s book launch begins at 7pm in the Rose Room of Grey Towers Castle.

So My Mother, She Lives in the Clouds  is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Indiebound.

Off Somewhere with Z.Z. Boone (Contributor Interview Series #7)

In September 2013, Z.Z. Boone’s “Kat” appeared in Bartleby SnopesIt was a unique story with an engaging voice that clearly demonstrated Boooff somewhere zz boonene’s talents as a fiction writer. Two years later, Boone is released his first collection of short fiction, Off Somewhere, available on November 17th through Whitepoint Press.

We were lucky enough to catch up with Z.Z. about his new book and the status of literary magazines. Here’s what Z.Z. had to say.

Tell us a little about how Off Somewhere came together. Did you set out to write a collection, or is this a collection of what you wrote?

I’m not big on planning. It’s kind of how I write. One sentence and then a second one based on the first. So I had all these stories that I’d written over the years, and I thought about how cool it would be if I could find somebody to publish them. A book that I could give people that would make future gift giving a snap. So I sent the collection out to every agent and every publisher in existence and I got pretty much the same response: No. Except then I lucked upon the brilliant Lisa De Niscia at Whitepoint Press and she apparently liked the stories and decided to chance it.

Character-wise, Off Somewhere feels like a pretty eclectic collection. Where do you find the inspiration for your characters?

I read once that if you see a face that you don’t recognize in a dream, it’s because it’s a combination of all the different faces floating around inside your head. I think for most writers it’s the same with their characters. I might start with someone I know well because it makes the dialogue easier to write. Then I’ll throw in a few characteristics from some stranger I spotted this morning. Maybe I’ll call back that guy from high school who used to throw my books down the stairs. Or the woman in the Amtak “quiet car” who wouldn’t stop taking on her phone. I’ll mix them together and see what I get.

Who is your favorite character from the collection? If you could punch one character in the face, who would it be?

Well obviously I’m not going to punch any female characters in the face because that’s how a guy gets in trouble. So I guess it would be the narrator in “Neutral Ground” who tries to manipulate Bianca into becoming a little less black, a bit less African American. The dumb bastard has love so close at hand, but he’s like Aylmer in Hawthorne’s “The Birthmark.” Unsatisfied with near-perfection.

The bullshit answer regarding my favorite character is that they’re all my favorite. But I read the story “Pitching” a lot, and each time I do my heart goes out to Patrick’s unnamed brother, that poor guy destined to always live in the shadows. Even when he manages to save his brother’s pregnant, cast-aside ex-girlfriend from humiliation, he fails at winning her devotion.

Your stories often mix humor with some rather delicate situations. How do you create this balance without disrupting the integrity of what you are trying to achieve with the story?  

I guess I’m a genius.

Seriously though, I just tell a story, or more accurately I let the story tell itself. If I’m lucky, if the stars are aligned that day, I wind up with something that looks like real life but is hopefully more tense, more immediate. And like real life, one minute your heart is broken because the person you love has just flipped you off, and the next minute you see a fat guy slip on a sheet of ice and you wet your pants laughing.

I first became aware of your work when you submitted “Kat” to Bartleby Snopes. What role do lit mags currently play in your own writing career and in the literary world in general?

I’m insanely in love with literary magazines. I’m also rather old-school, so I especially get off on print. I subscribe to a bunch, and when I see that fresh copy of New Ohio Review, or 2 Bridges, or Eleven Eleven, I’m practically orgasmic. I can get, say, a collection of Alice Munro stories and love every one of them, but by now I know what to expect. Not so with lit mags. Voice, tone, and style are as varied as the treats in Willie Wonka’s chocolate factory.

What’s next for Z.Z. Boone?

As I said, I’m not big on planning. I’m hoping to have a second collection of short stories before too terribly long, but the creative art of writing has a tremendously large backdoor and a writer never knows what might walk in.

zz booneZ.Z. Boone lives in Connecticut with novelist Tricia Bauer and their daughter, Lia. His work has appeared in literary magazines including Bartleby Snopes, Berkeley Fiction Review, the Adroit Journal, the Roanoke Review, Smokelong Quarterly, The MacGuffin, and Weave. Z.Z. currently teaches creative writing at Western Connecticut State University. He can be checked out at http://zzboone.wix.com/fiction.

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.

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