“There are so many examples of…lyricism at play in the collection but the language in “Rodney and Chelsea” stood out to me the most. In this story, the two titular characters, teen neighbors, are about to engage in their first sexual experience together. It’s a moment of great anticipation and anxiety, yet the narrative sweeps around them meticulously, not only registering their expressions and subtle movements, but their life histories, the space they share living next door to each other, and essential connections they share with family, friends, and neighbors. The entire moment is exquisitely rendered in just four pages, and it’s such a virtuoso accomplishment of prosody that I had to reread it twice more just before I could move on.” ~ Peter Fontaine, from his review of Together We Can Bury It at NANOfiction. The rest of the review may be found HERE.
I’m so happy to announce that my collection of flash fiction and short stories, TOGETHER WE CAN BURY IT, is in stock again at The Lit Pub and may be ordered here: Lit Pub Store along with some other gorgeous books by Liz Scheid, Aimee Bender, and more.
From my review: “The stories in Quarry Light display Smith’s lovely prose and use of specific detail as well as her gift for keenly portraying the lives of young girls and women. Particularly in her evocation of childhood, one feels as if these memories and details remain as clear and tangible and compelling to Smith as the present day. This serves the stories and the reader both.”
You can read the full review here at The Lit Pub and also find my recommendations for similar great reads by the likes of Ethel Rohan, Myfanwy Collins, and Dylan Landis.
I have always felt very proud and honored for my time as fiction editor of Smokelong Quarterly. This journal gets better every year and remains one of the most respected venues for flash fiction around. Edited by the brilliant Tara Laskowski, “The Best of the First Ten Years: 2003-2013″ anthology is now available from Matter Press. Here is the description:
SmokeLong Quarterly, one of the oldest and prominent online publishers of flash fiction, has collected the “best of the first ten years” in this anthology of 56 pieces, each one a smoke-long. Also, after each piece, the editor/guest editor who chose that particular story for the anthology explains why s/he chose it, including past editors Kelly Spitzer & Kathy Fish, Founding Editor and Publisher Dave Clapper, Senior Editors Tara Laskowski & Nancy Stebbins, and staff editors Gay Degani, Josh Denslow, Ashley Inguanta, Beth Thomas, and Brandon Wicks.
Some things I’ve read recently by some of my favorite writers that have fired me up, taught me something, and/or inspired me and maybe you too!
This, from Paul Harding, author of Tinkers (one of my favorite novels) and Enon (which I haven’t read yet):
“Your books will suffer from bad readers no matter what, so write them for brilliant, big-brained and big-hearted people who will love you for feeding their minds with feasts of beauty.”
The rest of his 5 Writing Tips can be found here, at the Publisher’s Weekly site,
And this, from another favorite writer, Caitlin Horrocks (you should read her collection, This is Not Your City, if you haven’t yet…I reviewed it at the Lit Pub). Here is what Horrocks says about “the bad idea”:
“…as a writer, the things that are difficult are the things I want to do, and I want to encounter work as a reader that takes the same attitude. I don’t want short story writers to willingly give up any more ground, to decide before they’ve begun that the story form just can’t encompass a densely lyrical, multigenerational suspense story. With a car chase.”
The whole article, part of the Kenyon Review Credos, written by KR editors, can be found on their blog here: “The Glory of The Bad Idea.”
And lastly, this, from the lovely, generous, and extremely talented Leesa Cross-Smith, whose debut collection, EVERY KISS A WAR, is now available for pre-order from Mohave River Press (and you should get it because it’s a gorgeous book):
“I know it’s gonna sound generic, but FIND YOUR OWN VOICE. Also THERE IS ROOM FOR YOU! It can be very, very overwhelming when you see how many (other) writers there are, but there is room for you too! You have something to say, to teach! You never know how you can be a blessing to someone. And work hard at it. Never, ever give up.”
This is part of her interview at Kerry Winfrey’s Welcome to Ladyville blog as part of a series of interviews with Creative Ladies. You can read the rest here: Creative Ladies: Leesa Cross-Smith.
“When Marcel Proust dipped his petites madeleines into his tea, the taste and aroma set off a flood of memories and emotions from which modern literature has still not recovered.” ~Twyla Tharp, from “The Creative Habit”
This flash, by Myfawny Collins, first appeared in Monkeybicycle and was later anthologized in Dzanc Books’ Best of the Web, 2008. The story is also included in her beautiful collection I AM HOLDING YOUR HAND (Pank Books, 2013). Here, powerful sensory details quickly build a world so vivid it must have been in some way inspired by childhood memories. And here, too, is an example of the segmented structure, like a series of polaroids, but using all of the senses. This is one of my favorite flashes and shows, I think, a subtle and effective arc and resonance.
The Daughters by Myfanwy Collins
Their mother never teaches them to wipe front to back or to brush their teeth before bed. One of the daughters goes for weeks without washing her hair until the teacher complains she smells of their father’s cigarette smoke.
Their mother does teach them that if they wear their underpants two days in a row they will get sick.
The daughters take baths together and wash each other’s backs. One, one, one in a line and then turn when each back is done. Turn and turn until their backs are rubbed raw.
The daughters learn to clean the dishes with a dish rag, not a sponge. They learn that it is okay to keep butter out so that their toast tastes rancid, even when they cover it in cinnamon.
And they learn that it is fine to have multiple bottles of condiments open in the fridge. Once they count four bottles of ketchup in different stages of use with a skin of red oozing beneath each cap. There is always a scab on top of the plastic mustard container.
Their father cleans their ears with an unraveled paper clip. If one is not handy, then he uses the cap of a Bic pen. He squishes one of the daughters next to him on the couch, folds her head down over his lap. He digs at her ear wax while he watches the hockey game.
The daughters are not fond of this practice but do not complain. They lie across their father’s lap and listen to the aching scratchiness of the metal against cartilage. Every so often their father forgets what he’s doing and digs too deeply and the daughters flinch.
Stay still, he warns. I could slip and hurt you.
When he is done and the daughters are free to go the inside of their ears tingle red. The sounds of the world seem muted to them, seem dense.
Segmented (or I like the term “mosaic”) structure is something I use quite a lot in my flash fiction. The form lends itself well to this structure, giving the feel of story in bursts, or flash within flash. Each burst must carry weight, the way each word must, in flash fiction. The reader must live a little in the white space and collaborate with the writer in advancing the story. It is my favorite type of flash to read and to write.
Here’s a beautiful and effective example of the use of segmented structure in flash fiction in Jeff Landon’s “Thirty-Nine Years of Carrie Wallace” from Smokelong Quarterly:
Thirty-Nine Years of Carrie Wallace by Jeff Landon
At recess, in Roanoke, Virginia, we play freeze tag, only the rule is you don’t tag the person, you kiss the person, and once you’re kissed you’re frozen forever until somebody tags you. I’m a fast runner, but I always let Carrie Wallace catch me. She has bangs and white plastic boots. She kisses me and goes, “You’re frozen,” and I go, “So what?”
Carrie’s basement and we’re fifteen years old. Her parents have gone to Aruba for a rebirthing workshop, and her big sister is upstairs, shaping her eyebrows. We are high on green pot and the jug of Mogen David wine I lifted from Garland’s Drugstore. It’s summer and I can taste the heat in Carrie’s skin. Huddled together we smell like fruity wine, spearmint gum, Lark cigarettes, pot, and Herbal Essence shampoo. It’s not as awful as it sounds.
“Make it last,” Carrie whispers in the dark. But I don’t.
Downtown Boston, in my dorm room, and we’re listening to a Poco record. Carrie’s down for the weekend; she goes to school in Vermont. Tonight, she’s wearing a yellow T-shirt and my flannel pajama pants. A pot of coffee is brewing on my hot plate, but right now we’re eating cookies and drinking beer. We pretend that we’ll be grown-up and stop drinking beer any minute now, but it won’t happen that way.
It’s snowing outside. It snows all the time up here. My dorm room is on the tenth floor of a converted hotel. In the hallway, this insane guy from Texas dribbles a basketball and sings a song about cheese. In my room, Carrie and I sit on the edge of my bed and look out the window. She loops her arm around my shoulder. People are skating on the Charles River, under artificial light, and the snow swirls everywhere.
Carrie is in love, she tells me, with someone she met in school.
I look at the window. I want to jump, but I don’t want to die.
I just want to float.
When I see Carrie again, it’s by accident. She’s in town for the weekend; she’s helping her mother move into a new place on the river. We meet in a bar, back in Roanoke. I moved back here, after my divorce. I live in an apartment complex popular with young singles. They smile at me. The women ask about my daughter, and the men go, “Hey, big guy, how’s it hangin’?”
When the bar closes down, I offer to drive Carrie home, but she wants to go for a walk. It’s April, but it feels like summer tonight, so we walk. She talks about her kids, her mother’s ancient Cadillac, and her adult ballet class. She doesn’t talk much about her husband.
“He’s OK,” she says. “He’s a wonderful father.”
I nod. It’s getting late and Carrie needs to get back to her mother’s house.
It’s hard to explain the luster of certain ordinary nights when everything works together. When you’re walking in your old hometown with Carrie Wallace and her new, complicated haircut; when the moon ducks under the mountains, when the song you hear on someone’s passing radio is one of your favorites, when Carrie walks beside you in her blue sneakers and a yellow dress, and neon crosses flare over empty churches and it’s the exact middle of the night and for a little pocket of time your life seems perfect and without memories, and so quiet.