An Interview with Grant Faulkner

This interview was conducted through email between Jessica Fletcher, Fiction Editor at Superstition Review, and Grant Faulkner, Issue 13 contributor. 

Grant FaulkerGrant Faulkner is the executive director of National Novel Writing Month and the co-founder of 100 Word Story (100wordstory.org). His stories and essays have appeared in dozens of publications, including The New York Times, Poets & Writers, Writer’s Digest, The Southwest Review, PANK, and Puerto del Sol. He’s recently published a collection of one hundred 100-word stories, Fissures, and is at work on a novel.

Jessica Fletcher: In your opening to 100-word story collection, Fissures, and in your article, “Going Long. Going Short,” in The New York Times, you discuss how flash fiction and these 100-word stories “speak to the singularity of stray moments by calling attention to the spectral blank spaces around them; it can perfectly capture the disconnections that existentially define us.” Could you elaborate on how this form has informed how you process different events, memories, and ideas in your own life?

Grant Faulkner: I think our memories work in snapshots. We collect tiny moments, images that loop through our minds. Some might be attached to larger narratives by varying degrees, but many exist independently in a strange disjointed way. When I think of my interior life, I think of it as a collage of such snapshots, with my mind shuffling through images and weird little moments again and again.

I’m always searching for a way to shape narrative to experience, so the 100-word story form really spoke to me as a way to capture this shuffle of snapshots. When I first decided to become a writer, in my early 20s, I read Nathalie Sarraute’s Tropisms. She describes tropisms as the “interior movements that precede and prepare our words and actions, at the limits of our consciousness.” Those tiny, almost imperceptible dramas are so important in our lives, yet longer forms sometimes don’t give them the focus they deserve.

We live in the fissures, the interstices of life.

JF: Given the 100-word limit of your stories in Fissures, many of the stories read very similar to prose poetry. In fact, some stories, like “Dulcet” and “Dear X,” mimic this even more so. Did you approach this project with a poetic mind or did you see full stories and then cut the excess?

GF: The more 100-word stories I wrote, the more and more I learned how they veered toward prose poetry. I like to joke that the form allowed me to nurture my “inner failed poet.” Sometimes prose writers don’t get to truly express their poetic side.

I’ve always liked forms that blur. To say that a piece of writing is a prose poem versus a story is just a matter of an author’s intention, an author’s definition. I don’t write with such definitions now. I’d someday like to write a novel that’s a prose poem, or a prose poem that’s a novel

JF: I noticed in Fissures that you spent a lot of time coming back to the characters of Celeste and Gerald. Was there a significance to their reoccurring stories? Did you find yourself pulled to particular themes and human moments?

GF: The Gerard and Celeste stories are the rare stories in the collection that are part of a narrative with a larger arc. I’ve written maybe 50 of them now, and I’d like to someday shape them into a flash novella. The stories are about a tragic and forbidden love affair, which by definition is about disconnected moments, the way presence and absence mingle, the way memory works to put the pieces together.

I included twenty or so of them in Fissures because I liked the idea of creating some throughlines through all of the individual pieces. I viewed the motifs in the Gerard and Celeste stories as providing a guiding trajectory for the collection.

JF: How do you approach the differing objectives of longer forms that usually require comprehension and shorter forms that do not require comprehensiveness?

GF: I no longer believe in any notion of comprehensiveness. It’s just not a feeling, a sensibility, that’s really possible in life. We change day by day, moment by moment, and everything around us changes, including our memories, which are based as much or more in a story we tell than any factuality. We rewrite our memories each time we remember them.

I used to try to write my longer stories or novels with a sense of comprehensiveness, but I think that did the story a disservice in the end. It’s better to write toward the questions of a story than the answers, and those questions don’t have to be answered.  Instead of comprehensiveness, it’s more a matter of the scale of a story, the size it needs to be.

JF: In your article, “Going Long. Going Short,” you discussed how workshop professors and students always commented/critiqued with a call for more, “more characterization, more back story, more details — more of everything.” What do you think is lost, if anything, from having too much “more?” Or too little?

GF: I think writers are generally taught to write more rather than less—from the first time a teacher tells a student in elementary school to add detail to a sentence, to include more supporting evidence, etc. That’s good to begin with, but at a certain point, a writer needs to realize how writing less, whether leaving things out or writing more succinctly, serves a story. A writer needs to learn how a story moves best through the whorls of mystery and suspense created by the gaps of a story.

Writers naturally try to prove themselves through their words, through florid descriptions, curlicues of syntax. Our words can sometimes resemble a body builder’s muscles, which cover up the true person inside, so a writer has to find the balance of words and the textures that serve the story.

My stories move with fewer and fewer words, but I still love big, reaching novels like Moby Dick or Ulysses or The Adventures of Augie March. I love the way William Faulkner’s words spill and gush and swirl as he tries to bring past and present together. Every story needs different doses of “more” or “less” to create the necessary texture.

JF: As executive director of National Novel Writing Month, do you also work to produce roughly 1,667 words a day during November? How does this continuous writing strategy affect your flash fiction?

GF: I do write 1,667 words each day every November. I’ve primarily written novels in my life, which requires a different creative process than writing 100-word stories. I like to dive into a new novel each November and write a complete draft. To write faster, and to try to push the boundaries of my word count each day, inspires a different kind of creativity—it’s improvisational and free. It’s also an efficient way to get out a novel in a busy life.

This process doesn’t influence my flash fiction so much—other than training my mind to shut off my internal editor, to be open to new ideas. My flash seems to influence my novels more, especially when it comes to editing them.

I like to write in different ways, in different forms. One form feeds another. It’s good to write in many different ways to be agile and nimble.

JF: I found your characters in Fissures to be kooky, interesting, and distressed. The short form makes the weird and dark descriptions even bolder. How did these characters and their stories come to you?

GF: I never know how to answer this question. Stories and characters just always come to me. I’ve never had writer’s block. Sometimes I’ll see someone on the street or in a café. Sometimes I’ll just daydream about an episode in the past.

My characters are only loosely based on real people, though. I’m drawn to my stories primarily by their moods, their situations. The characters come in the writing.

JF: You mentioned Flaubert’s “mot juste” in your introduction to Fissures. How did you go about this process of finding the precise wording and cutting down to 100 words?

GF: Endless tinkering. I don’t know how else to describe it. The first draft of a piece might be 125 words or 75. Trying to get the word count to exactly 100 words requires an intense focus on each sentence, each word, in a way that other forms don’t. So I just shave and shape like a sculptor, adding words or cutting them in order to find the right contours of the story.

Interestingly enough, the story is always much better by the time I get it to exactly 100 words.

JF: In “Going Long. Going Short,” you mentioned how Twitter and Facebook are becoming new forums for short, succinct writing. In what ways, do you think social media has shaped the literary world and flash fiction?

GF: Since people read online more and more—and grow up reading online now—they’re essentially trained to read in shorter spans. When you scroll down your Facebook stream, you’re reading a series of tiny stories, each disconnected from a larger story or the others around it. You’re reading a version of flash fiction.

My guess is that people’s attention spans are changing as a result, that they’ll increasingly prefer to read shorter and shorter stories. We started 100 Word Story (http://www.100wordstory.org/) with this in mind. We thought a 100-word story was the perfect length to read online.

JF: Recently, the “white space” in writing has been given attention. Those empty spots are now given weight as if they are a “something.” How does this change the way a writer approaches all the unwritten and unsaid moments in a story?

GF: “White spaces” are a something. To loop back to your previous questions about “comprehensiveness” and “more,” I think using white spaces is just as important as text—that a story actually can move and escalate because of the white spaces, not in spite of them. A reader fills in the gaps, and what’s left out adds to the essential mystery of a story and the mimetic urgings of a literary narrative.

If you read Jenny Offill’s Dept. of Speculation, a novel constructed around fragments of text that are around 100 words, you see how the white spaces create a texture of disjointedness to mirror the main character’s thoughts while also paradoxically tying things together and building the story.

Hemingway’s famous dictum instructed a writer to only show the top 10 percent of a story and to leave the other 90 percent under the water, like an iceberg. A 100-word story might only show the top 1 percent. Yet the 99 percent that isn’t there is still there, like a ghost.

You can view Grant Faulkner’s featured 100-word story in Superstition Review Issue 13

Guest Post, Geoffrey Miller: Flash Fiction is the Belle of the Ball

Flash fiction is the belle of the ball, the flavor of the moment, the soup of the day and apparently well on its way to mainstream acceptance as a separate and unique form of writing. Recent articles in mainstream publications like O Magazine and MacLean’s had articles and pieces of flash as well, most literary journals now have separate submission categories for flash submissions and there are more and more flash only journals out there now. You can even earn a PhD in flash from the University of Chester in the UK. I mean Flash Fiction now even has its own day – just in case you missed it – June 22 demands a red circle on your calendar in 2014. What exactly one is supposed to do on this day I’m not sure, maybe read a piece of flash?

With so much attention coming flash fiction’s way, it made me think – did Juliette hit it on the head when she said what she said about roses or does that only apply to flowers? Huh? Well what is it that you are submitting – flash fiction, postcard fiction, sudden fiction, short-short fiction, micro fiction, palm of the hand story, vignette, or a I was going to say prose poem but then things would get really out of control. Vignette is often used as an example of a piece of flash fiction done wrong so we can knock that off the list as well; leave it for the playwrights. However, that still leaves about half a dozen names in a writer’s jargon. Who cares? If everyone is talking about the same type of writing then does it really matter if we call it something different as long as we are talking about the same thing? I guess Juliette was right after all.

Or was she? For example, when someone passes me a piece of short-short fiction I expect it to have the same basic structural components as a longer piece of fiction, exposition, conflict and resolution, but there will be a greater need for me to assume or hypothesize in order to build the narrative arch into a whole in my mind. Calling that short-short fiction makes sense after all it is a short story condensed into a shorter form, which asks for a little presuming, by the reader.

But I don’t see the flash. The piece is asking me to do something but I don’t have to; there isn’t an uncontrolled neuron flash in my mind if I don’t put my mind to it. TJFKhis is what flash fiction should do, it should present text based on previously constructed mental associations in the reader’s mind in order to create a gestalt piece of writing which comes alive inside of the reader’s mind.

For example,

An inattentive, transient license – “Check it” – high-pitched, estrogenic sound awkwardly steamed from thick, too-big lips covering whimsical precarious tan teeth. Mirrored sunglasses sterilize eyes, plunging transgressor back to fatigued, faded skin, unkempt hair – a mind of questions, comments, demands, justifications – stayed verbally, exposed physically – “Is there a problem?” Pigments, parchments, binding, images relapse then release ribbed steel, scuffed plastic, relabeled boxes reskinned with tape, twine, and plastic that meld into a horizontal borough in motion, eclectic and naïve to the pigment of deities.

That’s how a piece of flash fiction about flying into JFK for the first time would look to me. Yes, now we’ve gotten personal and now you know why I don’t want to let short-short fiction get all the good names, regardless of Juliette and her rose.

Guest Blog Post, Sean Lovelace: Why Flash Fiction is Like and Unlike Nachos

Like:
I enjoy afternoons sprawling out on my roof (toasty shingles at my back) while drinking a six pack of beer and reading flash fiction. I’ll bring several books, collections, anthologies. Usually I haul them up in an orange bucket. A bucket is an excellent bookcase, when reading on your roof. As I drink, the pages flutter and unspool along with my synapses. Crackle, caterwhomp, hum. Words and bubbles rising in glass elevators. The mind, the mind’s eye, two dragonflies on the chimney edge, mating. I’ll start with a realist, Kim Chinquee (North America’s Queen of Flash), wander over to the imaginative minimalism of Ana Maria Shua (South America’s Queen of Flash), onto Bruce Holland Rogers’s expressionism, then into stranger territories, Magical Realism (the terrific Amelia Gray), and, finally—clink, fzzzzzz—I’ll crack open the final beer, watch a V of geese overhead as they honk in all their glorious goose-ness, and then the last book of the day (the sun kneeling out like an exhausted llama), all the way sideways, yes into the wonderfully absurd, the madman of flash, Danill Kharms. I likewise enjoy beer while eating nachos, usually Dos Equis in an icy mug the size of my forehead.

kim nachos

Unlike:
Nachos were invented in 1943. They are a contemporary genre. Many flashcists (denigrators of the flash genre)—in a reductive attempt to link the genre’s sensibilities with the ephemeral ether of the Internet—claim flash fiction is also contemporary. They attempt to minimize the genre to bits of media, basically dash-offs and lollygags for our “modern attention span” These critics know not of what they speak. They are jackals chasing their own tails in miserable circles. They smell like scabby knees or lower math. They are wrong. Flash fiction is a proud and venerable genre, eons old. Fables, folklore, parables, mythology, all flash fiction. From Nubian creation myths (6000 B.C.) to Chinese Pangu (350 B.C.), to the wellspring of more modern authors (though still hundreds of years old), miniature stories have always been essential to human life and art.

Like:
Flash fiction can be consumed as an appetizer or a meal. Same with nachos.

Unlike:
Nachos go from hand to mouth to stomach. Flash, by its very essence, goes much further, off the page. All of the glorious white space that surrounds a flash—everything that isn’t shown, paradoxically leading to an even further telling. The writer brings technique, all of the tools to create a breathing genre, a living thing. The reader has to arrive! To flesh out the context, to meet the writer, to shake hands and bang heads. To create together. Flash is collaborative, like all of the finest imaginative endeavors.

nachos 3

Like:
Though invented in Mexico, nachos are international. Irish nachos are a ponderous dish based upon potato wedges. Italian nachos utilize mozzarella cheese and banana peppers. Greek nachos are best eaten alongside the sea (or at least in the bathtub) and consist of pita, hummus, and feta. Japanese nachos (Machi Cure), a light and delicate treat, use juniper berries and tuna. American ballpark nachos are a combination of tortilla chips and Ricos, a cheese product that resembles a polymer used in the construction of lava lamps. Flash fiction is also international. Nobel Laureate Yasunari Kawabata felt the essence of his life’s work was contained in his flash collection, Palm-of-the-Hand Stories. The French are prolific, both in the prose poem, the flash, and the hybrid. See Paris Spleen by Baudelaire. See Ponge or Jacobs. See Bertrand. From Italy, I suggest Calvino. From Austria, Peter Altenberg (a man who wore flip flops all winter). From Russia, many choices, but I suggest Before Sunrise, by Zoschenko. The Pearl Jacket and Other Stories is a good place to start for contemporary Chinese flash fiction. Oh, and the Latin Americans. Mexico to Chile, I wish you luck. Why? Because the Latin Americans adore flash fiction. They call them microficciones. From Shua to Cortázar to Gracián to Dario to Bolaño to Arreola to Monterrosso to Gabriel José de la Concordia García Márquez (hell of a name) to Borges (his powerful shadow cast over everything), you could be reading Latin American flash authors for the rest of your life. Which wouldn’t be a bad thing.

Unlike:
Celebrities rarely read anything, much less flash fiction. (A notable exception is actor/scholar/ writer/scholar/actor/scholar/director/scholar/scholar/artist/scholar James Franco, who will read and write anything [and he’ll be sure to tell you about it, probably in an over earnest poem] ). Celebrities can’t get enough of nachos. They eat nachos. They sleep with nachos. They are nachos.

Justin Bieber

Like:
To make nachos you usually need a knife. To make flash fiction, you usually need a knife. It’s the DELETE key.

Unlike:
One time, during dinner, this young lady ran off with my heart and my Camry and I dropped her plate of homemade nachos (cold, uneaten) on the floor and drank two bottles of red wine and everything (I do mean everything) shattered and I stumbled outside (the wind raw, like an onion or a tax audit) and shook my fist angrily at the moon and screamed out an unraveling stream of spittle and obscenities and later woke up completely naked on the kitchen floor. This hasn’t happened in my life with flash fiction. Yet.

Like:
There is no limit on the ways to make nachos. I should know. I personally have made over 414 different varieties. Same for flash. Real to surreal, lyrical to narrative, traditional to experimental, any form, any style, any technique, mode, method, way. Flash fiction is as endless and unique as art itself.

Unlike:
A fully realized flash fiction takes inspiration, intellect, execution, and meticulous care in revision. You can make a decent plate of nachos while drunk.

jay-beyonce

Like:
Obsession. I once ate nachos for 141 day straight. I just had nachos (spicy crawfish over blue tortillas, with a painful dollop of Dave’s sauce) for lunch. My last two books were written in the flash fiction genre. (My upcoming manuscript is flash and is about Velveeta.) I spent last year reading only flash fiction. I teach university classes dedicated to only flash fiction. I have a flash fiction blog. On that blog, I also discuss other things. For example, what I am having for dinner. Usually nachos.

An Interview with Teague Bohlen

Teague Bohlen EventWhen I was given the opportunity to interview Teague Bohlen about his upcoming talk at ASU I was thrilled—his flash fiction/photography pieces were some of my favorites from Issue 10. His stories are compact and powerful.

In just a few weeks Teague is scheduled to talk at ASU about a topic of personal expertise—Superheroes. If you enjoy this interview, don’t miss the opportunity to hear Teague speak at the Polytechnic Campus on February 13 from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m.

Brooke Passey: Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions, we are all so excited to hear you speak at ASU in February.

Teague Bohlen: Thank you for having me, both for this interview, and at ASU in February. It’s always good to come back to Tempe, and February is quite possibly the best time of the year to do it. Especially from Colorado.

BP: The title of your talk is “Superheroes in Narrative: Comics Come of Age in Print and Film.” That is intriguing to say the least! Can you tell us a little about where you plan to focus the discussion? Will you talk about the craft of writing with superheroes, the history behind it, the transition to film…? Give us a teaser.

TB: The idea behind the talk is how the archetype of the hero—specifically, in this case, the superhero—has changed over the many years since its modern inception. I’m going to start with a bit of the history of the superhero itself, how it’s changed, and how those changes have been reflected not only in the comics from which those heroes come, but also in traditional literary narrative. It’s an interesting parallel, I think; there’s been a specific maturation of both media over the last few decades–for sure, more for the previously kid-focused comic book medium, but there are certainly parallels. Now that the geeks have inherited the pop-culture earth, so to speak, this is becoming even more apparent, from a book like Chabon’s Kavalier and Clay to a deconstructive film like Whedon’s The Cabin in the Woods.

BP: On your website you mention reading Peanuts comic strips in high school. When did Superhero comics become important to you?

TB: I’ve been reading comic books since I was a young kid. Some of my earliest reading memories were of comic books. My uncle once brought me a huge box of comics when my grandfather passed away—I was five. My grandfather was gone, and my uncle—in some wonderful gesture of love and sorrow and sympathy—brought me a box of comics. There were Archie and Batman and Scrooge McDuck and Spider-Man, the last of whom I already knew from the PBS show The Electric Company, and from his Spidey Super Stories books. A couple of years later, I remember getting hold of the issue of Amazing Spider-Man in which Gwen Stacy—Spidey’s girlfriend—is killed. I remember that blew my mind. They killed someone; someone important. She wasn’t coming back. It was just like real life. I remember it was like a world opened to me—these weren’t just stories where everything worked out (which was true for books like Superman, etc., where the status quo and the cast rarely changed).

BP: This might be slightly off topic but I have to ask you about your upcoming collection of flash fiction/photography. Three of your flash fiction/photography pieces were featured in our last issue (all of which I adored, especially All His Shirts) but what inspired you to combine these two artistic mediums?

TB: I’m glad you enjoyed those. I’ve really come to love flash fiction. I edited for a great journal for a few years—Quick Fiction, now sadly defunct—that really made me appreciate the form. I’d been working in the medium for a while, and a lot of my flash work seemed to be centered around the Illinois Midwest, as was my first novel. It’s where I grew up, and where my heart still very much lies. The idea of adding photography came about when my cousin, Britten Traughber, chose to focus her own artistic bent on the same region. So much of her amazing work is set there, and it seemed like a natural pairing-up. We both wanted to allow the fiction to stand alone, and the photos to stand alone—and to be able to appreciate a new third thing, this alchemy of the two together, when they appear next to each other on the page.

BP: On a similar note, after reading your very serious and compelling stories I was surprised to find out that you were such an expert on comics. How do these two very different styles work together in your life?

TB: For a long time, I wasn’t sure they did! But then I moved from being a TV critic to being more of a pop-culture critic, and then a pop-culture humorist of sorts, and all that’s come together in interesting ways. I have a comic-book novel floating around in my head, which I want to get to at some point–that’s a book about people who like comics, who live in that world and speak that cultural language. People always try to pigeonhole your work into one thing–oh, he’s serious, or oh, he’s funny–but the truth is that most of our best writers are both, and more. Sometimes I spread myself too thin, but I think the range is good. It works for me, anyway.

BP: I read your pieces on Terrian.org and noticed that those photographs were also taken by Britten Traughber, who you just mentioned is your cousin. Did she take all the pictures for your upcoming collection?

TB: She did; the book is very much a collaboration between her and me, and the coming together of our work in rural Illinois. I come from a close family, so I feel like she’s more my sister, really. I’ve always admired her work, and since we share a Midwestern focus in some of each of our work, it seemed like a natural partnership.

BP: And last, but not in the least bit serious, let me end with a question about sugary snacks. I came across an article you wrote in 2009 titled, “The 10 Dumbest Comic Book Hostess Ads.” You made some very pertinent points, but what insights would you add to that article if you had written it after Hostess took their tumble?

TB: Ha! What a good question. You know, just to go back a bit, I love that series of silly lists I did for Village Voice back in the day. I miss doing them. They were crazy fun to research and write up. I’d like to do it again sometime. As for how that particular piece would have changed today, given the apparent demise of Hostess and all its wonderful products…well, honestly, the whole disappearance of Ho-Hos and Fruit Pies has me too depressed to even think about it. Though maybe I should write up something about where Hostess mascots Twinkie the Kid and Fruit Pie the Magician ended up–I’m thinking a lounge act on some ’70s-throwback cruise line.

BP: Thank you so much for your time. It has been a pleasure and we look forward to hearing from you again very soon.

TB: Thank you for the questions, Brooke! Looking forward to coming to ASU and talking comics. We’ll nerd-out, academic-style.

Guest Blog post, Matthew Brennan: Writing the Literary “Twitter Novel”

The new form of “Twitter fiction” goes by many different names – novels, stories, flash fictions, micro fictions – but in reality, stories constrained to under 140 characters are unique. Part of the reason there are so many names for these stories is that we’re all still trying to figure out this new form. Already, there are quite a few literary journals that have started to specialize in Twitter fictions, most publishing onto Twitter itself, a few with their own sites. Even so, as writers and readers both, there are some key characteristics unique to the Twitter fiction.

Though I will continue to use the phrase “Twitter fiction” to describe these stories, and up until recently i had called them “micro fictions,” I like thinking of them as Tweeted novels. It’s a distinction that helps to remind us that, regardless of length, these are still complete stories. That’s what makes them difficult, and a real art to write well. Like poetry, Twitter stories are fairly quick to draft, but can take some significant effort to revise. Not only do we have a very specific – and tight – word limit, we still have to cram plot, character, and turn, beginning, middle, and end, into 140 characters. When I’m writing or reading Twitter fictions, I still aim for or want to see an arc, a change, a turn in the story, just as if I was reading a longer work.

This point is key: just because they’re short, Twitter fictions still must have all the features of a short story or novel. How is that possible when you only have a fraction of the space? Ironically, since I advise the opposite for students of longer fiction, in 140 characters you don’t have enough space to achieve any real kind of scene or action. Unless absolutely necessary, avoid dialogue. The quotation marks and dialogue tags are a waste of characters. Instead of scene and action, aim for emotion that will resonate with your reader, and let your character’s change be the climax or arc of the story. As with longer work, do not aim for a twist, a trick, or a pun. No “and then I woke up.” Such tricks are deceptive and not grounded in character. Aim for emotion instead.

Your reader has to feel more than you ever say and be allowed to imagine the scene in which the story takes place. The setting of these stories only has space to be implied. This is a different kind of showing, where you show a vast amount by the little you do tell. To use a common metaphor, Twitter fictions are icebergs, where the full novel takes place beneath the surface, hinted at and shown to exist only by the little that’s seen. This effect is exactly what Hemingway achieved so well and famously in his 6-word micro-fiction: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” This story never describes its characters, and yet we know these parents and the conflict of their loss, we see them taking this step past grieving to put their lost infant’s collected but unused belongings up for sale. There’s pain, there’s growth, there’s a decision: character, plot, arc, climax.

This is a Twitter fiction of mine called “Care Package” (published December 13, 2011 on OneFortyFiction.com): “When donated Christmas boxes came, she gave all the little gifts in hers to the younger orphans. All except the doll. She’d never had one.”

First, setting: we know it’s Christmas time, we know this is an orphanage, possibly in a developing country. None of this is described as setting.

Second, character: because of the comparative word “younger,” we know that she is an orphan, who has been at this orphanage for a while. In this role, we see her behaving in a maternal way to the younger orphans, taking on the giving role of her own benefactor to the others.

This bring us to, third, plot: the action shows her giving away her gifts, caring in the same way for her sisters and brothers. But she makes a decision to withhold one item from her package, a doll, which gives us a plot turn, a decision. But there’s one more element here, emotional resonance: the character turn. The fact that she has never had a doll before spins us back to the characterization of her limited childhood, and the meaning of her doll, clung to, shows us that despite the maturity of her actions, she still longs for a childhood she never had.

A few tips for revision and hitting that 140 character mark. Don’t name your characters without specific purpose: “he” and “she” are shorter. Or chose a name like Al, Rob, Mac, etc. Further, if you use a first-person narrator, “I” is even shorter! Be flexible with gender when reasonable; male words – he, man, boy, son – tend to be shorter in English than female: she, woman, girl, daughter. Within reason, punctuation can be flexible: that comma that you cringe to leave out in typical prose can often be implied. Use contractions. Use long sentences so you don’t have to spend characters and words setting up a new noun-verb system. (You’ll get 1-3, maybe 4, sentences; 20-30 words.) Begin the story with a clause – “When …” – this will help you kick-start the piece faster.

There are many venues now when you’re looking to publish your Twitter fictions. Review their guidelines before you finalize your revision: some of them require you to Tweet your Twitter handle (@____) along with the piece, so if your handle takes 12 characters, you’re down to 128 for the story.

The true art of a literary Twitter fiction is in the depth that you achieve beneath the 140 characters. If you get the characters and their emotions right with the words you do write, the rest that you don’t write your reader will be able to feel.

To enter the Superstition Review Twitter Fiction contest, tweet a “novel” to @SuperstitionRev by Nov 11. Winners will appear in our newsletter.

Guest Post, Rich Ives: Which Box Do I Put It In?

Which box do I put It In?

While this might seem like a statement, it is really a question disguised as an observation. It seems to me that one of the most destructive trends in recent “literary fiction” successes has been the devaluation of style in favor of plot and character. While ideally, all these things should work together, popular literature has always favored plot and character over style, and now it appears that even “literary” works fear too much development of style as a clear sign of a limit to the potential audience for the work, the kind of thinking that was previously more limited to genre writing, best seller attempts, and the innumerable serial novels.

The backlash to this exists in “innovative” fiction and some small press releases, but the gap between the two has been increasing. In poetry, there is an equivalent polarization between experimental and traditional although the reasons seem to have much less to do with the potential popularity of the work.

Fortunately, there are always writers more interested in the most unique and complete experience of the writing regardless of popularity trends, which are usually not really trends at all but disguised returns to more direct explanation in the fiction. “Show us, don’t tell us,” often becomes give us the experience and then tell us what it should mean.

Popular fiction has always been good at stealing the thunder from literary art by adapting its successes to more mundane purposes. One of the latest victims of this is flash fiction, which has in many quarters been increasingly less experimental and wide-ranging in its structures, approaches and particularly its style. Some publishers of flash fiction are now drawing a stricter line between the prose poem and flash fiction. Theoretically interesting perhaps, but isn’t that defeating one of the reasons the form developed?

I began writing shorter prose works first as a poet trying on foreign hats, finding so much more of interest in the form in translated works from countries where the distinction between poetry and fiction was not so clearly drawn, places like Russia, for example, where poetry is actually popular and sometimes sells well. I felt a freshness that caught and held my attention more fully in the form, and one of the reasons was that I could come to it with fewer preconceptions of what it should be.

As I worked in shorter prose forms, I found it veering into essay, autobiography and satire as well as mixing fiction and poetry, and the range of possibilities excited me. There are rhythms and voices that function better in a confined space. There are different kinds of condensation and pacing. There is a different kind of tension created by knowing the experience will end sooner.

As I explored the range of possibilities, I found several of the resulting works rejected by a poetry magazine for being “fiction” and the same work rejected by a fiction magazine for being “poetry” without either of them having actually considered the work beyond their assumptions of its genre. I started sending the work without labeling it or designating which department it should go to and had pieces accepted by both fiction and poetry editors assuming it was meant for them, and even labeled with just as much certainty as “essay,” an assertion I had not considered, but which, once it had been pointed out to me, seemed equally valid.

Now that the idea of fiction completing itself in a much shorter space has been more widely accepted, the attempts to restrain it to more definable dimensions are returning, and the reactions against this are also occurring, making the questions such work raises once again more polarized. Is this healthy disagreement, or merely two equally restricting forms of boxing up creativity?

Many literary magazines and online sites claim to want “experimental” and “hybrid” work, but is this really what they want and publish, or have too many of them narrowed the definitions, and has the label “experimental” become merely an excuse for focusing on a single dimension of the work, just as popular fiction does with a different single dimension?

Meet the Review Crew: Caitlin Demo

Each week we will be featuring one of our many talented interns here at Superstition Review.

Caitlin Demo is a Nonfiction editor at Superstition Review and a senior at Arizona State University. She will be graduating in May with a major in Creative Writing (with a specialization in Fiction) and two minors in French and Political Science. She is hoping to be accepted into the MFA program at Arizona State and then to escape the heat of Arizona summers.

Caitlin has lived most of her life in Arizona, but the allure of big city life has been calling her name. Living in the beautiful San Francisco bay or the bustling streets of New York City has been a constant dream of hers. After school, Caitlin is packing her bags and plans to become a well-seasoned traveler, especially abroad.

Caitlin’s intimacy with literary magazines and the world of short fiction has been instructed both at Arizona State and particularly at Superstition Review. She has limited knowledge about individual magazines, but through these two avenues she has come to realize that it is a wide and ever-expanding field. Her interest in writing is mainly focused around prose, but in reading she is drawn to flash fiction and poetry.

If she had to live the rest of her life with only a handful of books, she would need Augusten Burroughs’ memoirs, Jane Austen’s collected works, Hemingway’s short stories, Fitzgerald’s novels and Allen Ginsberg’s poetry.

This is her first semester with Superstition Review, but she looks forward to plunging further into the literary publishing world. She’ll be the girl in high heels.

Brevity: The Art of Concision

Brevity: A Journal of Concise Literary Nonfiction is a rapidly growing staple of the nonfiction world. The submissions are capped at a short 750 words.

This call for concision forces writers to hone their ability to say a lot with very little. Like poetry, this form of flash nonfiction requires a specific care for word choice that longer works of fiction cannot demand. Like poetry, this brief form of writing weighs each word and every sentence more heavily.

Brevity has been publishing the works of authors and artists since 1997 and is currently working on its 38th issue. In addition to short nonfiction, Brevity publishes essays on craft as well as book reviews. Currently, they are accepting works that fulfill their normal requirements (concise literary nonfiction), but they are also doing a separate issue, “Ceiling or Sky: Female Nonfictions after the VIDA Count.” The VIDA Count is a tally of publications based on gender, and is the inspiration of this themed issue. They will be hosting special guest editors including Susanne Antonetta, Barrie Jean Borich, and Joy Castro for this particular issue. Submissions will be accepted until May 1.

Brevity is an online literary magazine. To receive upcoming news, you can subscribe to their mailing list, which currently boasts 5,000 members. This list will keep you up to date with all their upcoming issues.

Forthcoming: Meg Pokrass

How short can a short story be? Meg Pokrass asks – and answers – that question in her fiction, which often takes the form of flash-fiction and micro-stories. Though her stories are short, they pack the same emotional punch that can be found in a lengthy piece of a prose. She delivers her characters and narrative in compact, meticulously chosen details. For example, in her short-short story “The Big Dipper,” about a young girl trying to navigate her adolescence by purchasing a four-foot-deep pool for her backyard, she conveys a great deal of personal information about her main character’s background in a single sentence. Referring to her mother, the narrator divulges that “Now that Dad has his own place and his bi-polar disorder, she had all kinds of new expressions.” Some of her shortest stories are only between 90 and 100 words long. In this compact form she writes of mother-daughter relationships, adolescence, sexuality, insecurity, and identity.

In her review of Meg Pokrass’s recent collection of short stories, Damn Sure Right, Tessa Mellas compares Pokrass’s flash fiction to the “richest morsels of chocolate. You can’t inhale them by the fistful.” This description does Pokrass’s stories justice; her fiction demands that you stop for a moment after reading, that you take in every single detail individually to get the full experience of her micro-narratives.

We asked Meg Pokrass to share her writing process, in particular what inspired the short story that will be appearing in Superstition Review Issue 8, which will launch in December. Click here to view the video that gives us a glance behind the scenes.

Visit her website at http://www.megpokrass.com