I stayed home from work today because I’m sick, which was an opportunity to write, despite my achy body. It was an added treat to get my colorful copy of Toad Suck Review in the mail, shipped from the Department of Writing at the University of Central Arkansas. I turned the pages, which always fills me with a small amount of dread. I’m always afraid to look at my words, afraid I will see something in my story I don’t like. Afraid the editors will have made a mistake with my text.
The issue is thick, since it is annual, so I decided to go to the Table of Contents instead of paging through. “Central Market Women” did not appear under the “Fixion” category, but since they have other clever section titles, I kept looking, thinking maybe there was a “Flasch-Fixion” section as well. Instead, I found my story under “Nonfixion.” I thought for a moment about my story, about how in the story, blood spontaneously flows from wrists of shoppers; about how debit cards slip from hands and fly all the way to the rafters; about how arms spin until they rip off. I chuckled. Obviously this was a mistake. I can’t believe that the editors who chose this piece believe these events to be true, nor can I believe the young, ambitious writing students placing the pieces in the issue actually thought these things happened. No, instead, I was warmed by a different scenario. I imagined tired, hungover students throwing accepted pieces together at 2:00 am, past their deadline, not really caring anymore, and sending the issue off to production without looking back. Yes, it warmed me. It warmed me, too, to unwrap the issue, to free it from the entertainment section of The Echo, the university’s student paper. And it warmed me, before that, to first see the white, square, return-address label, Toad Suck Review, Dept. of Writing, etc., cut out and taped with nothing more than exhaustion, care, dedication and passion, just as I had done hundreds of times only with my name on the return address, shipping my story, my submission, to such places as this, in hopes that someone on the other end, in that university or basement office, would be warmed by what was inside.
I can’t bring myself to write non-fiction these days–my thoughts, I mean. Opinions. Even these little, infrequent posts are tortuous because they are meaningless, in the scheme of things. Words flood the world now. Readers scroll and scroll. I don’t know what the readers/viewers are looking at when they scroll. I wonder, when I see them, if they are bored.
Though I use my commute-time to write fiction, there are long minutes during the commute when I cannot sit and open my computer, and that is when I scroll on my phone. When I’m standing in the ferry terminal, waiting for the glass doors to open, I scroll and scroll on FB or Twitter, mostly bored. Sometimes I am not bored, like when I’m researching facts for stories, or sending out a story, or typing an email to a friend. But often, I am scrolling.
My phone broke a couple of weeks ago, and during my phone-less, standing minutes, I completed All the Light We Cannot See. Yes, it was another weighty thing in my bag, but my life is now changed, not in any remarkable way, but in the way that comes when I step away from the scrolling through all the words that fill my eyes and step into all the words that fill my mind. I also finished a slim book, a little gem called Heat by Stephanie Dickinson.
I’ve got a new phone now. It’s bigger and faster. I haven’t read any books since I got it. But I will, I will.
I’m going to continue doing this–writing my slipstream flash, I mean. This week, two journals have accepted stories: “Enormous Women” was accepted by Fiction Southeast, and “Central Market Women” was accepted by Toad Suck Review.
This is food. I was starving, I think, in my vast and silent, novel-writing world, where I was the only one at the table except for the occasional passerby. Well, it’s no fun to eat alone for that long. So now, it’s gluttony. I’ll keep it short and fast. I’ll keep it going and coming. I like movement. I like company. It’s my own private diner–where everyone is welcome.
“Ferry Men” was accepted and will be coming out in Black Denim Lit. I am obsessed with my flash fiction, obsessed with the writing and the sending and the accepting. I write about one story a week while commuting on the bus and ferry. I’ve sent out three more pieces to little, sweet mags, mags that turn around decisions quickly, mags whose editors might take the time to give personal and encouraging words to writers. One such editor is Elena M. Stiehler of The Sonder Review. Her appreciation for “Buffalo Girls” planted my unsteady feet firmly on the flash-fiction road I had just decided to take again after four years of silent novel-writing. Editors like Elena help writers write.
Two flash-fiction stories were accepted by other journals after “Buffalo Girls,” both written in the same voice. Three other pieces are out at other journals. I have a theme that connects the pieces, and I can see this turning into a collection. None of this was on my writing map until Elena not only accepted my piece but also took the time to express her appreciation for it. I had been testing the waters, and I found the waters to be warm and inviting.
All editors of literary journals should take Elena’s lead. After all, editors and authors are in this for the same thing: the joy and excitement of communicating literary art to our little world of readers–a world that is often solitary and silent. Why not whisper a little praise to one another. Why not shout it.
Um, it happened again–before today, even. It happened days ago: Another story was not only accepted but already published. This one is called “Pier Boys,” and it appears in Dark Matter Journal. I sent it out, and two days later it was accepted. This editor did what the other one did: He quickly put it in an issue he was getting ready to publish.
I’m doing something special–for me, special for me–with these stories. I’m not ready to talk about it yet. It’s all happening so fast. I have a feeling that two more pieces I wrote on the bus and the ferry are soon to be published as well. I don’t mean to sound arrogant. And no, I don’t know anything for sure by any means. Maybe years will go by before another piece gets attention. But I think I’m tapping into a few internal and external things that are coming together at the right time. That’s all. That’s all I’ll say about that for now.
The first story that was accepted, “Buffalo Girls,” will be out next week. Be ready for more weirdness.
My flash-fiction test has produced results: an acceptance. Perhaps such immediate encouragement will never happen again; however, I’m going to take that encouragement and raise it. I’m placing another bet on the table. It’s about chance and skill and not much more than that. Art, yes, there’s gotta be art in this game, but that’s a given.
My story was strange, and I loved writing it: art and skill.
I found an editor who happened to be of like mind: chance and skill.
I’m writing another piece of flash: art and skill and chance.
I’m on a roll. It’s in the moment. The moment is all there is. A story can lock a moment into place. Flash is especially good at that.
I’ve avoided writing flash fiction for years. I had a goal to publish long stories with story arcs and developed characters and plots. When I achieved that, my next goal was to write a novel. Now that I’ve done these things, I’m ready to revisit my old instincts, to write about the gist of the thing, to write a story in a few hundred words.
It’s satisfying to write a tight tale in a couple of hours. Flash fiction is everywhere.
Every day, I take a rural bus to a civilized ferry to a city bus. I am flooded with flash. Flooded with different personalities doing wonderful, stupid and sad things that novels are built on.
Or maybe just paragraphs.
Maybe I have the wherewithal, once again, to spin the shortest of tales from a simple gesture that came into my view. Maybe I can make that moment live a bit longer, in a different form, for a period of time. And maybe one of these busy editors who can only make time and space for a few hundred words will give me a nod and publish my snapshot of make-believe.
I sent out a piece this weekend. I wrote it on the ferry, on the bus, and then in the car while my husband ran in the store. The entire process took about three hours. It was fun and easy to write. This story is my test: going back to my instincts and going forward into the current readership, the busy people, the digital readers, of our new world.