The Practice of Creativity

Posts Tagged ‘The Collection: Flash Fiction for Flash Memory

As I frequently note on this blog, I am lucky to live in a community (a state even!) known for its writers. Anne Anthony is a writer friend that I know from classes, community shindigs and readings. We often like the same authors and comment on each other’s Facebook posts about writing advice.

I was touched when I read the inspiration for her recent co-edited book: The Collection: Flash Fiction for Flash Memory. It’s an anthology of flash fiction stories for adults who struggle with memory loss.  The inspiration for the book came after her mother passed away last February. As Anne has said, “[her mother] loved to read, but as her memory declined she switched from reading novels to reading short stories. She could have extended her reading life had she known about flash fiction (stories between 500 & 750 words).”

The Collection is not about memory loss (or aging), but it is a fine volume of 60 evocative flash stories that anyone can enjoy.

Anne Anthony is a full-time writer living in North Carolina. She holds a Masters in Social Work from the University of Maryland and a Masters in Professional Writing from Carnegie Mellon University. She’s been published in the North Carolina Literary Review, Dead Mule School for Southern Literature, Poetry South, Tell Us a Story, The Mused Literary Review, and elsewhere.

I figured after editing this major project, Anne would have some insights to share about the wonders and challenges of being a newbie editor. And, indeed she does!

I’m delighted to welcome Anne Anthony to The Practice of Creativity.

On Being a First-Time Editor
By Anne Anthony

I remember watching Mickey Rooney in the film, Babes in Arm, and his excitement when he decided to ‘put on a show’ to prove to his parents and those of his friends that these ‘kids’ could make it to Broadway.

I had a similar exhilaration at the start of the anthology project not because I was trying to prove something, but because I wanted to create a book that my mother would have enjoyed reading. Toward the end of her life, my mother lost the ability to hold on to longer plots of short stories and though she could read, she couldn’t follow a narrative from beginning to end.

Taking a good idea and turning it into an actual book was a journey of discovery for a writer who had never edited an anthology before. From writing the call for submissions, to their screening and review, sending out acceptances and rejections, to editing the stories, I learned five lessons for new editors.

  1. Hold to the Submission Guidelines

I’ve read hundreds of submission guidelines since I first began submitting my work. I try my best to follow those guidelines, but sometimes, I slip up. Once I submitted a flash fiction story to a journal which only publishes creative non-fiction. The editor informed me, kindly and politely, of my misstep and suggested a journal I might try.

So it surprised me when several submissions didn’t follow those guidelines. Many submissions were over or under the 500 – 750-word count limitation, or was a poem, or was clearly a memoir piece. I started yelling at my laptop, “Doesn’t anyone follow directions anymore?” which sometimes scared my old dog sitting at my feet. I gained a better appreciation for editors and their frustrations with submissions.

One writer submitted a strong story about a man encountering a beautiful, but quirky woman on the beach. Their conversation was witty and engaging and the only stumbling block to acceptance was the story’s 1000-word count. I loved the story so much that I took a shot at editing the piece down to 750-words. His response was respectful, Good try but I think the story loses too much at 750; 1000 words is more realistic,” but disappointing. I wished him well and sent him a list of the the top 20 flash fiction journals where he could submit his story. I truly wanted others to read what he’d written.

My advice to writers: pay attention to every detail in the guidelines or your submission will likely not be considered.

  1. Define Acceptance Criteria

The stories accepted met the acceptance criteria established prior to the screening phase of the book project. 1) a well-defined plot 2) strong writing 3) engages the reader from beginning to end.

The 81 stories that didn’t make the cut were rejected for several reasons, the least of which was weak writing. I recall wanting to read more of several stories — like the next 15 chapters. The writing was stellar and sharp, but writing 500 well-written words doesn’t mean you’ve written flash fiction. Some pieces were likely the start of a short story, a scene in a longer novel or novella, but it didn’t have the beginning, middle and end to make it flash fiction.

So, what is flash fiction?

Becky Tuch, the editor of Review Review, explained in one of her posts how ‘deceptively complex’ flash fiction can be.

“Part poetry, part narrative, flash fiction–also known as sudden fiction, micro fiction, short short stories, and quick fiction—is a genre that is deceptively complex. At the same time, writing these short shorts can be incredibly rewarding. Distilling experience into a few pages or, in some cases a few paragraphs, forces writers to pay close attention to every loaded conversation, every cruel action, every tender gesture, and every last syllable in every single word.”

As the editor, I gauged every word, every action written into these short pieces checking for relevance, tightness, connectedness from beginning to end. I asked myself: Is the metaphor used here necessary? Does it tie to the overall theme of the story? Is the writer inserting a metaphor that the character wouldn’t know to include? For example, would a five-year-old child describe a hot sunny day as ‘like lying inside a sun tanning booth?’

If you’d like to read more from Becky’s article, click here: http://www.thereviewreview.net/publishing-tips/flash-fiction-whats-it-all-about

  1. Check the Value of Every Word

The third lesson learned ties closely to lesson two.

Every word matters in flash fiction because of its short length.

While editing the anthology, I searched for places where writers used adverbs instead of strong verbs. Or questioned dialogue tags other than ‘said,’ (think: implored, sniffled shouted, screamed, yelled, well, you get my drift.) I’m a strong believer in the ‘invisibility’ of the dialogue tag — don’t call attention to it and consider eliminating it altogether if it’s clear which character is speaking. A reader should focus on the exchange between two characters and gather the tension or suspense (or whatever emotion is) by showing action.

For example, look at the difference in the two variations of the same dialogue.

Dialogue #1

“You never told me you were a man,” Helen shouted loudly.

“I’d thought you knew,” Billy whispered softly.

Dialogue #2

Helen stared at Billy standing naked in the shower. “You never told me you were a man.”

Billy reached for his bathrobe, “I thought you knew.”

In the first version, the writer uses unnecessary adverbs with dialogue tags which weaken the story. The second version gives the reader context with dialogue and no tags, creating a richer scene.

Colorado author, Eleanore D. Trupkiewicz, offers sound advice in her guest post, Keep it Simple: Keys to Realistic Dialogue (Part II) on Writers Digest.

“Beats of action reveal character emotions and set the stage far more effectively than an overdose of adverbs ever will.”

If you’d like to read more from more of Ms. Trupkiewicz’ guest post, click here:

http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/there-are-no-rules/keep-it-simple-keys-to-realistic-dialogue-part-ii

  1. Trust Writers to (Mostly) Know Their Stories

Several strong submissions required editing to tighten the writing in certain places. One writer had a terrific story that lead the reader down an unexpected path but in the last paragraph, the story lost its momentum. Our communication about possible changes turned into a delightful exchange when Caren consulted with her fictional protagonist regarding her story which had ended with him saying, “Hmm.”

Here’s what she wrote:

“…I stepped back from the scene for a while and came back and asked, “So Umberto, was that it?”  And he said, to me, “Yes. That was it…Until I heard Genevieve commenting on what had just happened.” I’m not kidding, you, Anne! That’s what Umberto “said” to me! I hadn’t “seen” anyone else in the parking lot until I “asked” Umberto about the ending of his story and Lo and Behold! Another character had shown up! I was surprised but I’m really glad that you inspired me to check back in with Umberto… and Umberto’s glad that I let the story continue a bit further.”

The change Caren made to the ending was brilliant and I truly believe came straight from her fictional character’s mouth.

And though writers know their stories, sometimes they don’t include everything they had in mind. One writer submitted a story about an older jazz musician who returned to the stage for one night. He described the jazz club, the musician, and the indifference of the crowd in such perfect detail that the scene could easily be imagined. But he missed a detail. He never mentioned anyone on stage with the protagonist and then suddenly in the middle of his story, a band appears. His response was telling and underscores the value of a critical eye.

“The entire time I was writing the story, I pictured a full band behind him [the protagonist]. I had several people read the story, including a fellow writer that usually finds my mistakes, and nobody noticed that.”

As an editor, it’s essential to not only look at what’s there, but also to check for what’s missing from the story.

  1. Rejection Really Can Be Subjective

As a writer, I’ve received rejection emails from journals using phrases like, “Unfortunately, this piece isn’t the right fit for us. Please consider us for future submissions.”

I’d learned six months into submitting stories for publication about a rejection wiki that offers examples of rejection letters from hundreds of journals. I discovered that rejection emails are organized in tiers: Standard and Higher Tier.

If interested in reading more, check out the link: http://www.rejectionwiki.com/index.php?title=Literary_Journals_and_Rejections

Until I edited this anthology, I didn’t believe the ‘boilerplate’ language used in rejection emails. What I learned, however, is that well-written flash fiction can be rejected because of the fit. An editor may look across the accepted stories as a whole, once she’s accepted several pieces, and notice the emerging heart of the book. A particular piece really might not fit.

The second sentence in the example rejection above also took on new meaning. Several strong writers whose stories I’d passed on might make it into the next anthology, if I decide to do one.

And perhaps that’s the final lesson I take away from this whole experience — editors really do want to publish good stories. It’s what delights our hearts

Anne at the book launch held on Reading Across America Day, March 2.

Linda Johnson, a member of the writing group I’m in, reading from The Collection.

A full house for book launch of The Collection.

Anne Anthony is a full-time writer living in North Carolina. She holds a Masters in Social Work from the University of Maryland and a Masters in Professional Writing from Carnegie Mellon University. She’s been published in the North Carolina Literary Review, Dead Mule School for Southern Literature, Poetry South, Tell Us a Story, The Mused Literary Review, and elsewhere.

In 2017, she was a cast member in the farewell performance of the Raleigh-Durham show Listen to Your Mother, in which she read her essay “In My Bones.” Her flash fiction, “Bathroom Break,” placed third in a Brilliant Flash Fiction themed contest. She is the co-editor of an anthology of flash fiction intended for readers with memory impairments, The Collection: Flash Fiction for Flash Memory (March, 2018). She is the owner of Anchala Studios, a micro press based in Chapel Hill, NC which selects projects appealing to broad audiences and which enrich the community.

Check out her book on Amazon:

https://www.amazon.com/Collection-Flash-Fiction-Memory/dp/0692991034/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1519046448&sr=8-1&keywords=the+collection+flash+fiction+for+flash+memory

 

 

 

 

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Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

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