The Sundress Academy for the Arts is thrilled to announce its Summer Fiction Writing Retreat, which runs from Friday, June 2nd to June 4th, 2017. The three-day, two-night camping retreat will be held at SAFTA’s own Firefly Farms in Knoxville, Tennessee. This year’s retreat will focus on generative fiction writing and include two break-out sessions “Transmogrification: Magic and the Body” and “The Most Weird and Practical Dream: Advice on How to Communicate With Strangers, or, Everything I’ve Learned in the Last 20 Years Cut Down to 2 Hours,” plus discussions on kicking writer’s block, publishing, and more.
A weekend pass includes one-on-one and group instruction, writing supplies, food, drinks, transportation to and from the airport, and all on-site amenities for $250. Tents, sleeping bags, and other camping equipment are available to rent for $25. Payment plans are available if you reserve by March 31, 2017; inquire via email for details.
The event will be open to writers of all backgrounds and provide an opportunity to work with many talented, published fiction writers from around the country, including Chen Chen and Emilia Phillips.
M.O. Walsh is from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He is the author of the short story collection The Prospect of Magic and the novel My Sunshine Away, which was a New York Times Bestseller, an Amazon Featured Debut, and won the Pat Conroy Book Award for Southern Fiction. His stories and essays have appeared in the New York Times, The Guardian, Oxford American, The Southern Review, and others. He currently lives in New Orleans, LA, where he is the director of the Creative Writing Workshop at the University of New Orleans.
Tessa Mellas received the 2013 Iowa Short Fiction Award for her collection, Lungs Full of Noise. She holds an MFA from Bowling Green State University and a PhD from the University of Cincinnati. She teaches writing at the University of Maine at Machias, a college so far east it is the first in the nation each morning to see the sun. Figure skater, vermicomposter, vegan, and tender of a fierce feline twosome, she relates to soil and snow.
We have one full scholarship available for the retreat as well as limited 20% scholarships for those with financial need. To apply for a scholarship, send a packet of no more than (8) pages of poetry along with a brief statement on why you would like to attend this workshop to Erin Elizabeth Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org no later than March 31, 2017. Winners will be announced in April.
Three practitioners of the brief lyric narrative share insights about keeping their work short AND fully realized. A lively discussion moderated by Ilyse Kusnetz will take place about how the panelist authors identify primarily with a single genre (fiction or poetry), yet also choose to write and edit short work that straddles forms. Panelists will explore how current publishing embraces not-so-easily-categorized pieces. The session concludes with attendees writing postcard stories.
Alright, fellow poets, fiction, and non-fiction writers (or combo of all three!), we’re going to treat this panel as if we’re sitting around a table, sharing our lively thoughts and reading our work to each other in short snippets.
Can you please tell me what you think constitutes “a brief lyric narrative” as we called it in our panel proposal? Some writers use the term “short-short” or state their work is prose poetry. Nowadays, the term “flash” is pretty flashy.
Sarah Freligh: I recently reviewed the new anthology Flash Fiction International for Brevity and found it interesting that aside from a few mentions of “fiction” in their Introduction, the editors refer to the selected pieces as “flash,” a reluctance on their part perhaps to corral these works into the small pen of a specific genre. The suggestion then is that “flash” transcends genre, that the best works are hybrids combining craft aspects of both prose and poetry, i.e. the narrative urge of prose with the lyric economy of poetry.
A prose poem, however, is not tied to conflict, time, and consequence the way a story is; the prose poem instead owes its allegiance to aspects of poetic craft, most especially sonic devices. While some prose poems ARE stories (I’m thinking here of Carolyn Forche’s “The Colonel”), most are not bound by the cause/effect of narrative and its insistence on conflict as both ignition and fuel.
Cate McGowan: A brief lyric narrative tells me a story with such lovely imagery and compressed metric language that I can divide it into lines and sell it as a poem. That’s when I know I have something.
Yes, Sarah! Note my short answer above versus your lovely explanation? I think both are relevant, but which answer do I prefer? Well, of course, yours. But note that many times I can’t take a poem and make it into a story. The way you describe poetry versus flash fiction captures the struggle I am currently having. Last week, I sent in two stories to a flash fiction journal. One was a poem on which I’d removed the line breaks. The other began its life as a story. Which one do you think was accepted? The story. Of course, I promptly changed the converted poem back to a “real” poem with line breaks and stanzas. The darn thing had no conflict, but aurally it has substance and the cause and effect to which you refer.
Sarah Freligh: Yes, an ear for the cadence and sound of language, definitely. Perhaps the shorter the piece, the more important language becomes?
Karen Craigo: I absolutely agree—with brevity, every morpheme or phoneme becomes essential. There is no room to mess around.
Please share a very short piece of your own. This might be a few paragraphs or a stanza (or a complete story or poem) that you think exemplifies a fully realized world or concept. It might be a work-in-progress or a published piece, whatever speaks to our theme of crossing genres in fewer words.
Karen Craigo:“Working the Retriever”
This machine we called the Retriever operated on belts. It was always moving, brought metal bins from the sub-basement, a giant room, though I never once saw it, but sent maintenance there ten times a night: a bin offline or upended, gumming up the works, patient charts scattered among the gears. I was a clerk then, six bucks an hour, good money for a summer gig that was mainly easy, if dull. When all went well, I stuck lab reports or X-rays in the record, one folder, one bin at a time. I was alone at my machine, plenty of downtime to view platelet counts or photos of kidney stones, or to note the penned-in tumor on the diagram of a breast. But sometimes, a crisis: a patient in the ER, unresponsive on the table, unspecified cause of morbidity. I had to act fast, find the chart with the allergy, the condition, the med that contradicts, and haste meant everything. Once or twice a doctor shadowed my chair, both of us rigid and listening to the old motor strain. But the Retriever kept its own time, and somewhere deep below it made a grab, haphazard, and lurched the data skyward. Finally, there on the conveyor, the bin, its fifty records, among them the one with the answer or with none, filed, one hoped, correctly, all the info laid out with care, anchored in place by a little piece of tape.
Sarah Freligh: “We Smoke” was the winner of the 2015 Sycamore Review Flash Contest, but it’s also included in my book of poetry. Like any story should, it introduces a conflict up front: the mysterious “we” (and we read on to learn their identities) are smoking in defiance of the nuns’ edict that they not do so. The act of smoking, too—I hope—becomes more significant when we learn that “we” are pregnant, unmarried young women and are carrying children that they will give up for adoption at birth. Smoking, then, is both defiant AND a denial as well as a way to cement their community. They smoke as a way to ignore Ruby the Waitress who in effect sides with the nuns that giving up their children is a good thing. They smoke in the bathroom at night at the Mercy Home for Unwed Mothers, the only place where they take ownership of—however temporarily—the children they’re carrying. In the end, they smoke as a way to avoid the inevitable. So the repetend of “We smoke” provides unity in the manner of a prose poem, but also moves the narrative forward in a (I hope) story-like way, an arc if you will. “We Smoke”:
We smoke because the nuns say we shouldn’t—he-man Marlboros or Salems, slender and meadow fresh, over cups of thin coffee at the Bridge Diner. We fill an ashtray in an hour easy while Ruby the waitress marries ketchups and tells us horror stories about how her first labor went on for fifty-two hours until her boy was yanked out of her butt first and now she has this theory that kids who come out like that got their brains in their asses from Day One. She says we’re smart to give our babies away to some Barbie and Ken couple with a house and a yard with real grass and a swing set, and we nod like we agree with her and smoke some more.
Nights we huddle up under the bathroom window in the Mercy Home for Unwed Mothers and blow smoke at the stained sky while we swap stories about our babies doing handstands on our bladders, playing volleyball with our hearts, how our sons will be presidents or astronauts, and our daughters will be beautiful and chaste, and because we know our babies are not ours at all, we talk about everything and nothing while we watch a moth bang up against the light and smoke some more.
Cate McGowan: Here’s a recent short piece: “Waiting for the Northbound Trolley”
Wearing silt-stained slacks and smelling like a Saturday of swabbing decks, I stand on the sidewalk sipping my Colt. I roll up my sleeves, hair on my arms prickling in the ocean breeze, and gaze at the asphalt pinkened by a neon marquee. Venus, blue and fecund, winks and flirts high on the horizon.
At 11:42, the trolley hisses to a stop, late as always, and Miss Emmie Travis hops off, carrying a knapsack bulging with sodas and romance novels; she shuffles by me, head down, slow to begin her weekend cleaning. She staggers toward the hotel, then disappears into the parking lot. And like a lonely bugle reveille, her arrival sends me bumbling back to the ABC to buy another 40 just so I can hear the cashier girl say, “Wait. Don’t you want your change?”
Does your piece include little lies or little truths? A combination? (Remember, that was our panel title!)
Karen Craigo: Mine is very truthful, actually, or tries to be. Maybe I’m overstating the heroism of the medical records clerk a little—my job was seldom truly vital, almost never life-or-death, and my dealings with doctors were infrequent, to say the least. Looking it over, though, I’m struck by the almost journalistic accuracy of the thing. This was a weird, hard-to-describe piece of equipment, but by damn, I did my best.
Sarah Freligh: I like how “The Retriever” becomes a realized character through action and description.
Both little lies and little truths. I’m not saying what’s what and where!
Cate McGowan: There is no truth here, except forbidden love has driven me to drink! Really, though, in my own life, I would reckon that longing is the most painful experience a person can have. It comes in many guises: longing for lost love; longing for dead or dying relatives, spouses; longing and regret for lost opportunities. The possibility that I could have been different, could have chosen a different path at every junction haunts me. So I guess that piece is indeed a little truth, a little lie. The speaker feels such love for Miss Emmie, and yet… yet… he/she is invisible to all but the cashier. I have been in that place, for sure.
Wow. I don’t care if Karen’s or Sarah’s pieces are truth or lies. They are beautiful. One thing I note was their repetends and phrases (and Sarah points hers out, too—thanks!). And I think someone who wants to write flash needs to know those are mighty weapons in the arsenal. Karen and Sarah do that and more.
And Karen, I don’t think you are overstating the heroism of the clerk. This heroism takes the guise of patience. More than anything you are showing us that everything matters, even the (note the proper noun) Retriever, whose godlike mechanized slow-motion reminds us of how life and the world continues to move one second at a time, no faster, no slower, no matter how much we want it to operate differently. And life ends in death. I felt like I was watching a methodical angel of death.
Sarah, what can I say? That first-person plural narrator is indeed rebellious in revealing its truths. But also, the anaphora is brilliant, relying on aural effects just as poetry does. But the repetition does something else, too. By repeating over and over that they smoke, they are just pregnant girls who are trying to justify their actions and loss, make sense of how they are stuck in this awful place. The more they tell me the reasons they smoke, the less I am inclined to believe their brazen flippancy.
Sarah Freligh: Yeah, that’s the arc I was hoping for, that with each repetition “We smoke” and the revelations that follow, the reader is closer to the “truth” of these girls, closer to understanding their motivation. So maybe that’s another aspect of flash fiction, that because these pieces are just that – pieces of a longer narrative — the narrative is filled in by the reader who, by seeing the larger picture, understands more than the character can. Or will.
Karen Craigo: Geesh, I’m with the right people! Love these pieces and your explanations of them. My own understanding of flash is expanding as we write this!
Can you explain how or why when you wrote this work that you felt the need to compress it?
Karen Craigo: This is actually part of a series of poems on the topic of work and money, and just as “The Retriever” refused to do its job faithfully in real life, it also refused to fall in place as a poem. In a practical sense, a prose piece breaks up the lineated poems nicely—but I don’t consider this a poem at all. I think it feels very much like a short essay. I will say that avoiding line breaks seemed like a concrete poetry move to me—this was a conveyor belt that was constantly moving (until it broke), and thus one line or one sentence dissolves into the next without any indication—just like that belt went by me for so many summer midnight shifts, the only thing in the room for me to look at.
Sarah Freligh: Work and money, so topical. And yet few poets seem to address this anymore, the gigantic elephant in the room that unites all of us, regardless to color, ethnicity, age or gender.
Would enjambed lines create a similar forward motion, conveyor belt sensation?
“We Smoke” started as a poem. There was a stanzaic arrangement and lineation that felt as if it was working against the voice of the speaker/narrator. The form essentially was throttling possibility. Once I freed it from the imposition of form, the voice began to move into the driver’s seat and a multitude of voices emerged. There’s the nuns who appear as hearsay, “say we shouldn’t” smoke. There’s Ruby the waitress with her own two-cents worth of indirect dialogue and there is the “we” and what they’re telling each other in the bathroom at night when they smoke. In the end, what they don’t say is loudest of all, lingering in the air like the smoke must have. That voice thing, I don’t think that would have happened if I’d been occupied with line breaks and sound rather than voice.
Cate McGowan: Well honestly, the more I write, the shorter and more dense my work has become. I find my published work, including most of the stories in my recently published collection, bloated. My instinct is to cut it all down to the bare minimum, to the essence of emotion. As Chekhov once wrote to Gorky, “[S]hun all descriptions of the characters’ spiritual state. You must try to have that state emerge clearly from their actions. Don’t try for too many characters. The center of gravity should reside in two: he and she.”
Mine started out as poem, and it’s been in my discard pile for years, but it has conflict or a complication, something a story needs, something we have all said here. “Waiting” is not nearly as finished as Sarah’s and Karen’s pieces, so who knows what will happen to it? I may expand it. Or I might revert it back to a poem.
Karen’s piece does feel concrete. Her use of phrase after phrase, those long sentences that make me breathless by the time I get to the end, the slow, methodical trail of words, really all mimic the Retriever. Wow, yes, I get that!
Sarah, it’s the voices that get me every time. They usually control my own work. My narrators and characters speak to me and keep me up at night.
Do you have any tips for those who are interested in trying this concentrating and combining in their work?
Karen Craigo: I don’t think you can choose just any topic for the brief lyric narrative form. So many topics call for details and development. A short piece needs to be contained, pretty much, in a small space, and thus the form invites one to present an image, more or less, instead of a conventional story. I do best when something in the story is mimicked by brief prose, like this one which is an unbroken chunk of text. It is suggestive of the ever-rolling conveyor belt, and of the dense information found in a charge.
Sarah Freligh: Start with a first line that contains a conflict and a bit of mystery. There’s your flame. Now throw some dry wood on your small fire, i.e., complications. Compress time (a year in five sentences, say) or expand time (a minute’s worth of “real time” told in 250 words).
Once you’ve got your structure, what seems to you like a story, go back and examine each word. Your nouns should be vivid and specific, rather than vague and general, while your verbs should convey to the reader both the “what” of the action as well as the “how.” Why say “Sarah walked slowly into work” when you could say “Sarah trudged into work.” We get the slow walk, but we also understand Sarah’s attitude toward work. “Trudge” sounds exactly like what it is. I trudged into work too many days to count.
Finally, read it out loud for the sound of individual words as well as your syntax. Does it speed up where it should slow down, punch where it should soothe? Words do that. Phrases and sentences do that. Listen.
Cate McGowan: Yes, I cut unnecessary adverbs, adjectives, endings, and beginnings—these are all methods I learned from my buddy, Chekhov. I really obsess over each word, making sure it needs to be in a piece. As a way to improve or manipulate meaning, I creatively employ stanza or paragraph breaks, interesting punctuation, and half-scenes.
Sarah Freligh: Yes, Chekhov—one of Raymond Carver’s “instructors” and Carver was, like Hemingway, a master at omission. I recently re-read “The Lady and the Dog” and was amazed at the ending, the protagonist’s epiphany and how redemptive it was, in only 18 pages of text. Yet not a fall note in the story. That’s concision.
Cate McGowan: What Sarah and Karen say! Wow, you ladies are amazing. I also love using in medias res—starting in the middle and ending there. I avoid too much exposition. Ambiguity is necessary for any work to intrigue a reader, but it shouldn’t obfuscate meaning; it should expand it.
Have you ever felt limited by your primary genre? Does writing a shorter piece free you to explore other forms? Is there value in this? Can you explain?
Karen Craigo: My primary genre is poetry, although I’m very invested in nonfiction, too. For me, poetry is a rather honest genre, but it includes more artifice than prose does, at least when I wield it. The essay lets me get personal—lets me get honest. When you see “me” in a poem, it’s poem-me. The “I” that inhabits my essays, though—well, that’s I—me. Karen. K-Dawg, as my students call me. I go to the prose form when I’m at my most raw and honest. I almost can’t believe the personal details I’ve revealed in my prose—things that would be suggested by symbol or metaphor within the bounds of a poem, but that are full-on confessions in prose. This is not a function of length for me (although I seem to be incapable of writing long essays—far too taxing, I think).
I was a journalist for about a decade in one of my earlier incarnations. Maybe I’m constitutionally unable to be less than truthful in prose.
Sarah Freligh: I think writing short-short fiction has made me a better poet. Writing poetry has made me a better writer of fiction, short and long. I think War and Peace could be 1,000-plus pages, but also three paragraphs (Try it. I dare you).
Cate McGowan: Yes, yes, yes! I am now considering eschewing fiction and pursuing poetry. In fact, I’ve applied to a few programs. I started in poetry and always thought I stunk. Now that I have had my adventure in fiction, I am brave. I can finally pursue my heart’s desire. Writing poetry to me is more difficult than fiction. It may not be as time consuming, as I revise, revise, revise everything. And revising two stanzas is a little more freeing than revising a twenty-page story. However, the problem with poetry is that the poet has to turn the combination lock just the right way. A few turns to the right, then hit the spot, a few turns to the left, then the sweet spot again. If a poet misses the mark, the lock will not open. I have to get it right from the start. That’s terrifying. But also, yes, rewarding if I do find the right formula.
In your experience, is the publishing industry open to this type of hybridization or the spanning of forms? Do you think it’s relevant to classify work as a specific type of genre or sub-genre? Or is it limiting? Can you provide examples of any experiences you’ve had publishing a short-short, crossover, or not-so-easily categorized work? Are there any publishing outlets you like that are taking chances with more experimental forms?
Karen Craigo: The publishing industry seems to like hybrid forms when it comes to short work. It can be a little trickier to publish a book of short prose, I think—no one is really asking to see those manuscripts, which may be even less marketable than poetry, if that’s possible.
If I can speak candidly beyond the publishing sphere, I could tell you about a major grant I won from a state arts council several years back. I was pushing up to the deadline, nothing was coming together, and then I remembered a friend who won a larger grant by submitting her fiction as nonfiction. (The state offered a major and a minor grant, $10,000 or $5,000, and she won the major grant.) Well, guess what? I took a bunch of poems, knocked out the line breaks in about ten minutes on Microsoft Word, put one to a page, and submitted the whole mess as creative nonfiction. Bang! Major award. Ten-thousand dollars for referring to de-lineated poems as essays. Very innovative, the judges said. It was nothing I hadn’t been doing for years, though, and consistently not winning anything with those pesky line breaks in place.
Sarah Freligh: I’ll pass on this one. I think those who are more published can answer this more succinctly.
Cate McGowan: No, the publishing industry wants what it wants. I have no clue what is acceptable any more. Readers should drive the market, but unfortunately, like everything else, the corporate heads make the decisions. The public is dumbed down as a result. Heck, change a setting and some names, and you have every mainstream novel out there. I tried to read Beckett the other day and could not believe how amazing it was. And I realized that few people would read him. Why use a fork and chew when someone spoon feeds you? There are indie publishers out there trying to get the public’s attention. Flash fiction has potential because, as everyone says, in this information age with the glut of images, ideas, and stories out there, we have to catch a reader’s attention quickly AND hold that attention. A 150-word story is better at capturing the average person’s gaze than maybe a Beckett novel. Though, I do love my Beckett!
I like the online flash fiction publishers and those that take chances. I’m thinking of the New Flash Fiction Review (disclaimer, I was just asked to edit for them). University publishers, such as mine, Moon City Press (Missouri State University), are looking for innovation. Thank goodness Moon City took a chance on me!
Sarah Freligh: The short prose form is immensely challenging for the reader, but if the writer is not experimenting for the sake of experimenting—“no tricks,” as Raymond Carver once said—then the short-short can contain the world of a novel with the gut punch of a poem. But so much is left to the silence and the white space, and that can be daunting for many readers who don’t pay close attention to the text. The short form commands attention, and sadly, reading attention has become fragmented and shortened.
For our grand finale, let’s do three things. First, provide a short prompt to help a writer produce a postcard story or poem. The final product should be no more than 75 words, let’s say. Then, and this is a dare, write your own responds to your prompt in thirty minutes or less. If you’re willing to get a little naked, include your rough draft here—try not to tweak it too much. Let’s keep these as close to first drafts as we can so that readers might see our own messy beginnings. Last, please comment a little about your process as you wrote and produced your postcard piece. (Please note that I am not the best at explaining my processes, and I’m not expecting a how-to). I think readers will be thrilled to read about our creation steps!
OPTION A: Sarah Freligh’s Prompt
I have a bunch of picture postcards featuring people doing people things. Postcards of Edward Hopper paintings (the people ones, not the landscapes) are good for this exercise as there’s a sense of mystery to them; we write to find out what that woman, wearing only her brown shoes, is doing sitting on a chair in front of an open window.
So the prompt is, draw a postcard from the pile, study it for a minute and then write a story in its entirety on the back of the card.
OPTION B: Generate your own prompt and write to it! Sky’s the limit!
Karen Craigo: I chose Option B, just because I don’t have a handy stack of postcards (although I love that prompt!). My thinking is this: short is good for the hard-to-say, like confessions or apologies or things you don’t dare to wish. Lyrical is good for hiding in plain sight—for obfuscating the life-truth while telling the absolute lyrical gospel. So here’s my prompt: Confess the worst thing in you, but restrict yourself to metaphor for the telling. (As an aside, I’d like to note that seventy-five words is only slightly more than no words.) “A Week Before Jack”
The toddler wants in the pumpkin, which he carries from room to room. Sometimes he’ll sit on the carpet, pull the stem, bite it, then turn to me and say, Open, Mom, open. But it’s not time to open the pumpkin. Give us eyes and we lose something—reason, will. We empty through the eyes, the mouth, the top of the head. It’s better this way, I tell him, but still he cries and pulls.
I have a habit of jumping the gun, not biding my time, and maybe I’ve passed it down in my genes. The pumpkin is my confession. This poem is dedicated to every soggy-centered cake I’ve ever eaten.
Sarah Freligh: I have a bunch of picture postcards featuring people doing people things. Postcards of Edward Hopper paintings (the people ones, not the landscapes) are good for this exercise as there’s a sense of mystery to them; we write to find out what that woman, wearing only her brown shoes, is doing sitting on a chair in front of an open window.
So the prompt is, draw a postcard from the pile, study it for a minute and then write a story in its entirety on the back of the card.
Here’s my attempt in 100 words, prompted by the picture postcard of a woman happily eating an ice cream cone: “Hot Out”
Aunt Fran sounded happier in Tucson than when she lived upstate. The sun was out often. AND NO SNOW! she wrote in loopy letters that cartwheeled across the page. The temperature was 98, but that was dry heat, no humidity.
Months went by and we didn’t hear anything. Then she wrote to say she was suffocating. God must be punishing her.
My father flew out and took care of it. All the burials and the questions: Had she been troubled? What kind of mother would drown her three kids?
The water was cold, my father said. It was hot out.
Cate McGowan: I went with Option A, Sarah Freligh’s prompt. I was inspired by the Edward Hopper painting, Automat. It took me about 15 minutes, not sure if it works, but here goes (funny, our titles are similar): “Look Out”
Pedestrians purled by in clumps. Over the snowy thoroughfare, the streetlights perched like long-necked shorebirds.
She worried. Yes, she’d given him the best blowjob he’d ever received. He’d said that. They sat in his car outside the mini-mart, and then she pushed him inside her.
“Need anything else?” The waitress dropped the check on the table and didn’t wait for an answer. Evie reached into her pocket, picked at the corner of his letter nestled in there; she knew what it said—no need to read it.
She slurped her tea, studied homeward bound commuters maelstromming outside on the sidewalk. She watched them the same way one might peer into a wildlife-filled aquarium.
I like this piece better now than the one I included in question 2, “Waiting on the Northbound Trolley.” As I said earlier, I like writing to a female/male tension and conflict (thank you, Anton!). OK, I went over a little, darn it. But isn’t writing flash about breaking some rules? Imagery is important to me, as is the richness of language, so I looked at the painting, and it is like the subject’s in a fishbowl, so I tried to use water descriptions or allusions. And Evie is the perfect name for a female, after all, Eve was the first female. In a later draft, I want to include that the woman is only wearing ONE glove, but that’s for a subsequent effort. I might play with the order of things here, too. It’s non-linear, but I like it!
Karen Craigo is the author of No More Milk, forthcoming from Sundress Publications in 2016. She teaches writing in Springfield, Missouri.
Sarah Freligh is the author of Sad Math, winner of the 2014 Moon City Poetry Prize, and Sort of Gone, a book of poems that follows the rise and fall of a fictional pitcher named Al Stepansky, Her poems and short stories have appeared in many literary journals, including Sun Magazine, Sycamore Review, Rattle, Brevity, Cimarron Review, Third Coast, and have been featured on Garrison Keillor’s “Writer’s Almanac.” Among her awards are a 2009 poetry fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, a poetry grant from the Constance Saltonstall Foundation in 2006, and a grant from the New York State Council for the Arts in 1997.
Poet and journalist Ilyse Kusnetz (panel moderator) is the author of Small Hours (2014), winner of the T.S. Eliot prize from Truman State University Press and The Gravity of Falling (2006). She earned her MA in creative writing from Syracuse University and her PhD in contemporary feminist and post-colonial British literature from the University of Edinburgh. Her poetry has appeared in Crab Orchard Review, The Cincinnati Review, Crazyhorse, Stone Canoe, Rattle, and other journals and anthologies. She teaches at Valencia College and is married to the poet Brian Turner.
Cate McGowan is the author of the story collection, True Places Never Are (Moon City Press, 2015), which won the 2014 Moon City Press Short Fiction Award. A Georgia native whose flash been anthologized in W. W. Norton’s Flash Fiction International, she’s contributed fiction and poetry to many literary publications, including Glimmer Train, Crab Orchard Review, and the English fashion magazine, Tank. Cate’s been an editor for the Louisville Review and SFWP and an arts writer and essayist for national outlets. She’s currently the Senior Editor for New Flash Fiction Review. Named a top college professor on Rate My Professors.com, McGowan teaches writing in Florida.
Welcome back to the Summer Flash Showdown, where flash fiction writers from all corners of the internet harness their creative wit each week for the most fabulous of prizes. This week’s challenge marks the final preliminary battle before the Grand Prize Round, where each week’s previous victors will square off for the chance to win five Sundress titles of their choosing and publication on the blog!
This week, the stakes are even higher. Our guest judge will determine which winning author will be bestowed with the rare and prestigious responsibility…
OF NAMING THEIR OWN FIREFLY FARMS CHICKEN!
The honored judge who will determine the fate of this chicken’s dignity and send two writers to the final round is…
Born and raised in Southern California, Adam Prince has since lived in New York, South Korea, Arkansas, Nicaragua, Knoxville, Baltimore, and Charleston, Illinois. He received his M.F.A from the University of Arkansas, and a Ph.D. from the University of Tennessee. His award-winning fiction has appeared in The Missouri Review, The Southern Review, and Narrative Magazine, among others. In 2011, Narrative Magazine named him one of the best twenty new writers. He is married to the poet Charlotte Pence and is currently at work on a novel. He served as the 2012-2013 Tickner Fellow at the Gilman School. His first book, a short story collection called The Beautiful Wishes of Ugly Men, is now available from Black Lawrence Press.
The Challenge: Punching Summer Time Clocks
With this challenge, we appreciate the sentiment of the reality of summer: that while some are at the beach bungalow, the amusement park, the bowling alley, or the sold-out concert, just as many are clocking into work to support these enterprises. We want to see the strain of a summer service job affecting your character(s); whether this happens in a positive or negative way, we leave up to you. Try to push past a lifeguard’s wanderlust for anywhere but the high perch and create a well-rounded identity. Bring us your dog walkers covered in muddy paw prints, and bring them brimming with attitude. Send the girl who refuses to wear roller-skates at the drive-in.
Don’t let the slave-to-the-grind tone detract from your effort to form a meaningful narrative! With that being said, this week’s summer job stories will have an extended word limit of 550 words to allow you to move past a narrowed, disenchanted perspective and out into greater revelations.
Please include a concise, publishable third person bio with your submission. Author pictures are also encouraged in case of publication. Send all stories to email@example.com. RTF or DOCX file format preferred. Stories must be submitted by Monday, August 10th at midnight EST! Best of luck, and thank you for your work!
The picnickers have scattered and the victorious hordes of ants have arrived with a message.
Meagan Cass has chosen.
Congratulations to Gordon Buchan for his first prize story, “A Simple Solution.”
Here’s what moved Meagan to her decision:
The strong, original voice and characterization won me over here! I can imagine this narrator protecting his alopecic dog from ants one moment, then exterminating them and listening to his ailing client the next. His obsession with the weight ants carry and his respect for their beauty make him even more interesting. As the story moves forward, images of domestic comfort, anger, violence and longing stoke the tension. When we hit the last, troubling line, we feel like we’ve gotten to know this flawed, imaginative person deeply. “A Simple Solution” is a heart breaker in an unexpected way. Also, you can learn a cool trick for killing ants!
Gordon is the winner of a Sundress title of his choice from the Sundress store, along with a surprise broadside!
And for the runner-up this week, we congratulate Donna Vorreyer for also catching our honored judge’s eye with her story, “Desperate But Not Serious.”
Both authors will go on to compete in the final grand prize round, where one writer will walk away with five Sundress titles of their choosing and their story immortalized on the blog! Get cracking on this week’s contest here!
And without further adieu, here are the winning stories.
A Simple Solution
by Gordon Buchan
I don’t care much for picnics. Mostly because of ants. Like when I was trying to teach my alopecic dog to enjoy the outdoors again, but ants kept biting his chest. Or this other time, beside a moonlight tower in Austin, when I was doing house renovations for a woman named Hannah Liberto. Hannah had an ant infestation and liked to talk to me while I seasoned the woodwork with white sugar and borax. Her eyes were anxious and muscular, no smaller than walnuts, and, in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, Hannah believed that I was her husband’s battle buddy in the Korean War. She would talk about him longingly, and then, in the same breath, with an almost convincing hostility, complain that he called her too much, wondering what good a soldier did crammed inside a Chicago phone booth all day. Now, clocking in at roughly 1,600 pounds, I figure it would take 48,000 ants to lift the average phone booth—54,000 if someone was in it, and, by contrast, you would need a little more than 9,000,000,000 ants to carry everyone out of Chicago, leaving Hannah and her husband hand-in hand with the Windy City all to themselves. This is because, while an ant only weighs 3mgs, it can carry 5,000 times its body weight. So, since a sunflower typically weighs about 1 pound, it would take 30 ants to carry it. A stick of butter would be a quarter of this, whereas an Enfield rifle weighs about 10 sunflowers, give or take. I really do think that ants are a beautiful organism, but that doesn’t mean a simple solution of ⅓ borax and ⅔ sugar won’t wipe out an entire colony—kind of like a few grams of oxycodone had chased away my family.
Gordon Buchan is Philadelphia based writer. His work has recently appeared in Sugar House Review and BE Literary. He co-edits the online journal, Pretty Owl Poetry.
Desperate But Not Serious
by Donna Vorreyer
Charlie picked me up at eleven, a mini Weber and a red Igloo cooler in the backseat of his Mazda. We had been out several times, to movies or to watch baseball at the bar, and he was…fine. Nice. Simple. Not exciting. When he had asked to see me again, I suggested a picnic. I needed something, anything, to ignite a spark, or I was out.
The picnic started poorly. The coals were too hot, burning the food, and the seemingly comfortable spot near the cooking pavilion ended up being damp and sandy. But I never anticipated an ant problem until one showed up in his pirate boots and face paint, his bare chest glistening beneath an elaborate military jacket, open to the waist.
“Is that fucking Adam Ant?” Charlie blurted. I just shrugged my shoulders, unable to look away. The man nodded a yes at Charlie and inched closer to me, a tiny beaded braid knocking against his forehead as he whispered in my ear, “There’s whip in my valise,” his tongue just grazing my lobe.
I blushed, and Charlie bellowed, “What did you say to her?” leaping up to point a finger into the intruder’s chiseled face. The stranger spread his arms toward me. “Throw your safety overboard and join my insect nation. Be my queen.” The air swirled with smoke from the grill, creating a fog around us.
“Fucking psycho,” Charlie sputtered. “Get the fuck out of here. Leave my girlfriend alone.” But I wasn’t Charlie’s girlfriend, I didn’t want to be, and I didn’t need protection. I was already on my feet, reaching to trace the white horizon striping the stranger’s face, to loosen the sideburn pin curl from his cheek.
Charlie started to speak, but lifting one finger to his lips, the Ant Man said, “Shhh. Do us all a favor?” He turned toward me, smirking in gold brocade. “If you think it’s all a bit risqué, don’t say a word, I’ll just slip away.” I stripped off my pretty dress, folded it nice and slow, and threw it on the fire.
Donna Vorreyer is the author of A House of Many Windows (Sundress Publications, 2013) as well as six chapbooks, most recently Encantado, a collaboration with artist Matt Kish (Red Bird Chapbooks). Her fiction has previously appeared in Storychord, Extract(s), Cease, Cows, and Boston Literary Review. She is a poetry editor for Extract(s), and her second collection Every Love Story is an Apocalypse Story is forthcoming from Sundress Publications in late 2015. She resides in the Chicago area with two large dogs and a regular-sized husband.
Welcome to the second round of the Summer Flash Showdown, a series by none other than Sundress Publications! While our audience is likely chomping at the bit to hear our two winners from last week’s challenge, the running is too close. We’ll need some more time to make the many difficult decisions to come. For the remainder of this ongoing saga of flash fiction, tune in to The Wardrobe every Wednesday to find out who came out on top.
As you may know, all finalists will have the opportunity to write for the Grand Prize Round, in which the supreme victor could walk away with endless boasting privileges, publication of their story on The Wardrobe, and FIVE FREE SUNDRESS TITLES OF YOUR CHOOSING!!!
Also, round two’s winner will receive an Outspoken Tank (as well as publication on the blog.) The runner-up will also receive publication right here on The Wardrobe.
Without further adieu, this week’s honored judge is…
APRIL MICHELLE BRATTEN!!!
April Michelle Bratten was born in Marrero, Louisiana. The daughter of an USAF active duty father, April grew up traveling and living across the United States and abroad. Her travels have greatly influenced her writing over the years, particularly her three year residency at Incirlik Air Force Base, Turkey. She currently lives in Minot, North Dakota, where she received her BA in English from Minot State University. You can find her poetry in decomP, Southeast Review, THRUSH Poetry Journal, and others. April has been the editor of Up the Staircase Quarterly since 2008 and she is also a contributing editor at Words Dance Publishing, where she writes the article Three to Read. Three to Read highlights recent poetry and poets in online journals around the web. Aside from reading, editing, and writing, April loves beer, art, libraries, sports, camping, and bunny rabbits. You can find her on twitter: @aprilmbratten
THE CHALLENGE: Get Your Jersey On!
All submitted stories in this round must take place at a sporting event, whether it’s a grizzly tee ball match or a Stanley Cup Playoff. The conflict can hover in the stands or be slugged out on the field, but the setting must be at and during the game.
It must also be told from a second person p.o.v. We want your use of this perspective to immerse readers in the action with a unique abruptness. Command your readers to feel the sand on their soles mid-volley ball match or harness the crack of a bat in their palms.
For example, you might write as your first line, “Rise to pass 100 people for more $9 nachos for your gurgling belly. You trip and spill beer into the perm of the woman in front of you who has been on her smartphone for half the game.”
And no Mighty Ducks, tearful sentiments on the “love of the game.” Be a good sport and serve us lit that taps into deeper realities than a team winning a preconceived stand-off. Make the odds higher than the scoreboard.
Word limit is 450 for this round. Send all stories to firstname.lastname@example.org. RTF or DOCX file format preferred. Stories must be submitted by Friday, July 24th at midnight EST! [EDIT: DEADLINE EXTENDED TO MONDAY, JULY 27TH AT MIDNIGHT]
We hope you knock this one out of…we’ll spare you any more sports puns. Go get em!
Sundress Publications is proud to announce the first installment of the Summer Flash Showdown. We hope to evoke your spontaneity, bend your imagination, and test your craft chops with the following five weeks of fiction. Tune in every Friday as we post the winning and runner-up stories respectively, decided by an all-star cast of judges from around the country. All finalists will have the opportunity to write for the Grand Prize Round, in which the supreme victor could walk away with endless boasting privileges, publication of their story on The Wardrobe, and FIVE FREE SUNDRESS TITLES OF YOUR CHOOSING!!!The prizes don’t begin and end there however. The first All-Star to write the most compelling interpretation of the following prompt will receive a free Sundress book, also of their choosing.This week’s honored judge will be…
Meagan Cass is the author of Range of Motion (Magic Helicopter Press). Her fiction has appeared in Hayden’s Ferry Review, The Pinch, DIAGRAM, Washington Square, and Puerto del Sol, among other places. Meagan is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Illinois Springfield, where she teaches courses in creative writing, publishing, literature, and composition. She founded and is a curator of the Shelterbelt Reading Series at UIS and serves as an assistant editor at Sundress Publications, coordinating fiction for the Best of the Net anthology. Over the last ten years, she has done editorial work for a range of national literary journals, including Stirring, Harpur Palate, and Rougarou, of which she is a founding editor.
THE CHALLENGE: Attack of the Picnic Ants!
The fine china pictured above is the work of German innovator and artist Eveyln Bracklow. One may be quick to assume the china has some tiny arthropod companions. Look closer.
Like the meticulously drawn bugs on the serving ware, we want you to defamiliarize and thereby revitalize the dilemma of ants at a picnic. In as many ways as a colony has legs, the ants of the story can be the kick-starters for a plot gone awry. Or maybe the ants could serve as a collective pivot into a flashback? Who knows?
What can you do with such an old issue? Will you skirt it and/or use it to add tension in subtext? How will you evolve the cute old problem and surprise us? Will you offer up magical realism or just the same old, pissed off couples on red checkerboard blankets? Don’t bore us with missing butter and carrion crumbs. Give us the goods. Give us characters to take back to our underground queen and cherish.
And in honor of the world’s smallest, yet mightiest heroes, all submitted stories should be no longer than 350 words. Make the microscopic details resonate in macroscopic ways.
Send all stories to email@example.com. RTF or DOCX file format preferred. Stories must be submitted by Friday, July 17th at midnight EST!