Category Archives: Flash

Journey to Planet Write: Happy Endings

by Nancy Stohlman
I asked Gay Degani if I could have the final slot in Journey to Planet Write series for two reasons—one, because I want to properly thank her on behalf of everyone who has appeared in and enjoyed this series. Gay has done an incredible service to our community and created a space where we can all shine. We are grateful to you, Gay!

But there is a second reason. Exactly one year ago I was scheduled to appear in this column when a drunk driver going 90 mph crossed the median on the highway and made other plans for me.
Instead of my Journey to Planet Write, you got my “Interrupted Journey,” a beautiful tribute that Gay and others put together. It meant a lot to me to feel so loved during that process of shock and recovery and now, one year later, it seemed important to not only bring it all full circle and give you that column that never was, but also to end this Planet Write journey on a note of celebration, healing, and hope.
I was 9 years old, living on a military base in Zaragoza, Spain, when I told my mom I wanted to be an author. I wrote my first creation, “Superman: The Musical”, on my mother’s electric typewriter, loving the clack of the keys and the feeling that I was doing something important. Though I attempted to cast it from my class of fellow fifth graders and rehearse in the carport, the musical (including numbers like Lex Luthor’s “I’ll Rule the World”) never made it to the stage, but my confidence in myself as a creative was born.
That same year I discovered the library, and on Saturdays I would volunteer at the check-out desk, stamping people’s due dates. Being a military family we moved a lot, so books became my friends. Nancy Drew was always waiting for me in every library from Spain to Germany to Omaha. Books were a constant in a world that was constantly changing.
Later, when life got harder, books became a way to disassociate; I could leave my body in the midst of everyday reality, escape family meltdowns and divorces and worlds I didn’t want to be in. In college, I read in the dressing rooms of go-go clubs, getting through East of Eden and The Trial while other girls were giving lap dances.
After I dropped out of college, I started traveling the country with the Renaissance Fair, living in a van, putting on a bodice and an English accent to sell turkey legs and pewter goblets. I discovered lyrical songwriters like Bob Dylan and Tom Waits and I started journaling regularly with the idea that these were adventures I would want to remember and maybe someday write a book. Sadly most of those journals are gone. But when I eventually got off the road and moved to Denver to finish college, I did so as a writer.
Photo by Lynn Hough

My upbringing taught me two very different things: My military father taught me self-discipline. My artist mother taught me that making art is worthwhile. This combination has enabled to become a rare breed: a disciplined creative.

This story is true. But it’s not the whole story.
While 9-year-old Writer Nancy was stamping books at the library, 9-year-old Performer Nancy was learning the guitar and soloing in the church folk band. At 12 I was competing in pageants, at 15 I enrolled in the Nancy Bounds Modeling Agency, and at 18 I was runner-up for Miss Nebraska. I began college as a theater major, in love with the vulnerability of the stage, that instant gratification of connecting with an audience in the moment.
This story is also true. So how do these two Nancys, these twin passions, connect?
They connect in my art.
In acting school there is a thing called a triple threat: a person who can sing, dance, and act. Much of my own creative process has been finding the intersection of myself as a writer, performer and innovator. The sweet spot where my creative exhibitionist meets my inner world of silence and flow. My writing reflects this intersection and love of innovation—The Monster Opera is an avant garde mixture of performance and writing, a place where the novel metaphorically battles the opera on page and stage. Searching for Suzi: a flash novel was the first flash novel (called as such) and a term I coined in 2009. And perhaps that’s why in 2007 I fell in love and began writing flash fiction: there is an instant gratification akin to the stage that comes from these short, self-contained bursts of story. Here’s a link to a reading of The Fox.
As word-crafters we lay it bare on the page. As performers we reveal ourselves on the stage. They are flipsides of the same coin, the inner and the outer worlds of creation: the private incubation and the public genuflection.
In the end I see no reason why writers can’t also be rock stars. One of these days I will stage dive after a reading.
And that’s probably how this essay would have ended if you had read it last year. But on May 20 of last year, everything changed.

Naked
The scissors slide easily through the thick denim of my favorite blue jeans, from ankle to waist, ankle to waist, as one leg then the other falls away. He slices up the middle of my thin cotton shirt like tissue paper, unwraps me, my pink Victoria’s Secret bra a final ribbon snipped and spilling to the ground, leaving me naked. Exposed.
Are you having trouble breathing? He asks with kind brown eyes.
A little, on one side, I whisper.
We’ll be there soon, he says, gently placing an oxygen mask as the ambulance sirens rattle the warm evening air.

People ask me about my accident a lot. It’s so hard to respond, so mostly I avoid the conversation. But I will tell you here that something happened to me in those moments as they were ripping the car open with the Jaws of Life. Somewhere between the ambulance and the emergency room I had the most important realization of my life: I’m still here.
By the time they were inflating my lung I knew I’d been given a gift—as they were pulling chunks of glass out of my arm I had a choice: become a victim or become a bigger version of myself. Could I learn to be grateful in the midst of such an injustice?
Yes. I had to. I had no other choice.
So this story and my Journey to Planet Write have Happy Endings. I’m here to write another day. But aren’t we all? We’ve all been given this same gift of today. No matter how disappointing or unpredictable or infuriating the world may be, no matter how tragic or even euphoric our lives become, we are here one more day, to write. Our books, our words, our ideas are the friends that accompany us on the journey. And spaces like Journey to Planet Write remind us that we are not alone.
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Nancy Stohlman’s books include The Vixen Scream and Other Bible Stories(2014), The Monster Opera (2013), Searching for Suzi:a flash novel (2009), Live From Palestine(2003), and three anthologies of flash fiction including Fast Forward: The Mix Tape (2010), a finalist for a 2011 Colorado Book Award. She is the creator and curator of The F-Bomb Flash Fiction ReadingSeries in Denver, a founding member of Fast Forward Press, and her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.



Photo by Lynn Hough

By night Nancy straps on stilettos and becomes the lead singer of the lounge metal band Kinky Mink. She dreams of one day becoming a pirate.




















This is the last episode in the series of Journeys that began in January of 2016. Other Journeys may appear sporadically in the future.  If you are a writer and want to share your Journey, please submit to gaydegani@gmail.com.

JOURNEY TO PLANET WRITE: The Perfect Corpse

by Katey Schultz

I remember the day in graduate school when the highly regarded author, who was also my thesis advisor, looked at the 150 pages of creative nonfiction I had amassed and told me I’d written “the perfect corpse.” It was the best thing she could have said to me—a type A, beat-my-head-against-the-wall, determined, writer. I knewI’d write for the rest of my life. I knew I’d find a way to make a living as a writer, not a professor. But first, I had to learn a very hard lesson. I smiled and trembled all at once, humbly accepting my pages back from my thesis advisor. I had six months to find the life in my memoir, and the only thing I knew was that what I thought worked, didn’t even come close.

Hitting a wall had never felt so good, because somehow—perhaps it was growing up in a house of books, perhaps it was a high school English teacher who had made the work of the writer sound honorable—whether or not I’d keep writing was never at risk. I knew I was lucky in that regard, and finally, someone was going to help me see what wasn’t lucky about all that determination I’d been carrying around.

Writing the perfect corpse looked like this: I followed all the rules. I considered my balance of scene, summary, and reflection. I applied metaphor and concrete imagery at the line-level. Whenever possible, I also extended metaphors to address the broader narrative themes that I thought my essays about “growing up girl” in America addressed. I read deeply and passionately, studying a wide spectrum of creative nonfiction.

But through all my drafts, I’d never questioned the initial entry point into my memories. My brain often latched onto a story through a startling, frozen, concrete image locked in my mind’s eye. From there, I had my beginning. The rest was following the rules—and I had fun, writing both beautiful and not-so-beautiful sentences, thinking for sure I’d given it my all.

What I didn’t know at the time was that the initial spark of a memory frozen in my mind’s eye—that thing I’d become so dependent upon to get the work done—wasn’t always the best place to begin. Furthermore, the image or memory itself didn’t always signify the heart of the matter in a literal or direct way; that is, it wasn’t necessarily the best way to say whatever it was I was actually trying to say.

I could write a solid scene and stack several solid scenes in a row along a particular theme. But could I get at the emotional pulse of the predicament I was portraying? Could I articulate the stakes of the short-lived moments my memory kept telling me I needed to write about?

I could, but not through traditional memoir form. I’d written “the perfect corpse,” but it was a corpse because the writing didn’t have a pulse. The writing didn’t have a pulse because it wasn’t in the correct…body (to extend the metaphor). The initial spark of memory that told me to write my scenes and balance things out with summary and reflection did get me through to that 150 pages—but the approach came up short in terms of determining the truly correct form for future drafts. I ran my head into the same wall over and over again, making it more and more real with each blow, until I’d built it up so high that I mistook it for absolute. But the form (or body) I needed to tell my stories in wasn’t even made of walls, so to speak. I needed something entirely fresh; something that allowed for more pulse than a basic balance of scene, summary, and reflection could provide.

I needed flash nonfiction…that tiny, beautiful, little monster in the corner of the room that I hadn’t even known had a name until push came to shove my 4th and final semester of graduate school and someone finally suggested I “start writing short.”

Like magic words, this advice made that damn wall I’d been running into completely vanish. The pulse of my stories resided in the moment, there and then gone—as fleeting as the adolescence I was writing about. I wrote short and my own heart raced. So did my thesis advisor’s. I never looked back.

Interestingly, I never published a single piece of flash nonfiction from that final version of my thesis. But “writing short” hooked me forever, and I’m now known as a flash fiction author whose debut collection of short stories about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan helped open multiple sides of the military and civilian experience to average readers who “didn’t like to read about war.” They like to read about people, and “writing short,” helped me offer readers digestible glimpses into the lives of my realistic, fictional characters in ways that I’ve been told have allowed them to experience the “human side” of war.

Writing short didn’t prove to be enough, though. I became obsessed with helping others delight in this fun, magnetic form. It’s both accessible and challenging. It forces hard skills like word choice, imagery, repetition, and rhythm…but it doesn’t require 200 pages for a universal payoff. It solidifies a writer’s attention to scene, in particular, but also heightens a writer’s ability to trust the reader, omit extraneous details and backstory, and cut to the chase. Today, I offer a 5-day e-course in flash form writing, a 5-week online live course in creative flow and flash form writing, and one-on-one mentorships for writers also drawn to this form. Life is busy. Life is full. Life is as alive and kicking as ever, and I’ve got the pulse to prove it.

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Katey Schultz is the author of Flashes of War and editor of three fiction anthologies. She is also the founder of Maximum Impact: Precision Courses for Writers, Artists, & Trailblazers, dedicated to the principle that the right word in the right context, can change a life. Her novel, set in Afghanistan, is represented by Sobel Weber Associates.

Purchase Flashes of War from my fave indie bookseller, Malaprop’s!
Events, blog, & course info: opt-in via email here.
Visit website: www.kateyschultz.com

Saturday LIFE Assessment

FLASH FICTION CHRONICLES

The new EDF Flash Fiction Chronicles has been launched with some excellent posts and I’m finally getting into a routine with getting it out there. Still open for submissions, of course, from writers of flash, published or not. The blog will hopefully be an archive of articles on writing from a variety of perspectives. When we have enough posts to warrant the set-up, I plan to add a page to the blog that will be organized by topic rather than by date only. This way if you are struggling to get writing on any particular day, you can click on that index page and go to a list of articles on motivation or process and hopefully, this will be the tilting point to get you typing away at a work-in-progress or a brand new story.

But we’re not ready for that yet.

WHAT CAME BEFORE

What’s that all about? Oh, yeah. The neglected novel. January saw me swearing to the keyboard that I would put in the hours to shape the 400 pages I’ve produced on that project, yet after I prepared the first fifty pages for a contest or two, I set it aside once again for the sweet pleasure of writing short.

What I have to do is decide, do I finish my opus or ignore it? Decide. Listening to Tony Robbins a few years ago, I was struck by the simplicity of one of his “tenets.” Decide, he said and I’m paraphrasing here, is to choose one option and cut off all other possibilities. The root of the word “decide” is to “cut off.” I liked that. Could life really be that simple?

Can we really just decide to follow a path and then do it thereby achieving a goal? This must be what determination is, to raise the priority of one activity over others in order to finish it to the best of our abilities. The question is, can I do it for the novel?

Why not? I’ve kept writing for years despite much floundering, shit product, and little confidence. If I can still be at the computer, writing and talking about writing, then I must have that determination. I just need to decide where my focus is and follow through.

So I’m going to decide. My focus needs to be the novel. I’ve gotten myself published in the short market which by the way I regard as a wonderful accomplishment. I’ve met the goal to submit to the new anthology at Sisters in Crime. I’m almost finished with a piece of flash I’ve promised to one more person. I must stop trolling for motivation to write something short and gear myself for the long journey to Novelland.

I’m going to do it. Starting? Today! And as Tony probably didn’t say, no ands, ifs, or buts. Except maybe I should do that index page for the Chronicles because then I’d be searching out the motivation blogs and reading them I’d feel motivated…

Flash Fiction Blog Launched

The last couple weeks have been loaded with things to do, launching the new Flash Fiction Blog for Every Day Fiction, finishing up a long short story , and turning…one more year young. But the new blog has had most of my attention.

I’m such a fan of Jordan Lapp, Camille Gooderham Campbell, and Steven Smethurst who are the brains, beauty, and brawn behind the innovative e-zine Every Day Fiction. Not only do they supply a new story every single day without fail to their readers, they offer a community for writers and readers alike and constantly stay relevant.

Their mission is to maintain “a magazine that specializes in bringing you fine fiction in bite-size doses. Every day, we publish a new short story of 1000 words or fewer that can be read during your lunch hour, on transit, or even over breakfast” and this is exactly what they do.

Additionally EDF sponsors a forum at their website that gives writers and readers opportunities to exchange ideas, learn more about writing itself, and form friendships and support groups. The forum is home to a writing group that is private so writers can post drafts of their work for imput from other writers. Anyone can join, but the posts are not public so they can be then submitted to various venues.

Recently they launched Every Day Poets to give writers and readers of verse the same opportunities to produce and enjoy verse.

And now there is EDF’s Flash Fiction Blog where writers can post their thoughts about the art and craft of writing flash fiction. This exciting new venue lets fans of EDF writers read about the trials and tribulations of their favorite authors as well as giving fellow writers the opportunity read and share with their peers. Check it out soon and click on “Submit a Post” if you have something to say, whether you are published or not, whether you are a writer or reader, all ideas are welcome as long as they involve the writing and reading of FLASH.

If you have any questions for the editor, that’s me, and you can contact me at flashfictionblog@everydayfiction.com .

All I want to do is complain about my lethargy but I’m sick of doing it. So I’m going to take a couple minutes to just riff and see what happens. Don’t read if you can’t stand getting inside someone else’s frustrated mind.

First: The novel. Did a little yesterday but not enough. Felt lost and confused and wondered if I will ever finish this. Flashes of my first “revised” novel kept creeping up on me. Two in the drawer. No!!! But how do I actually make myself do it? I started a to-do list. I put on it Don’t Get Organized because I seem to want to do the opposite of what I should do. Why is that?

I hate wait to hear from places. Haven’t heard from Flash Fiction On-line regarding “Dani-Girl’s Guide to Getting Everything Right.” Reread it. Like it a lot but maybe I don’t have enough distance yet, though I did send it to them 8-weeks ago today. In my world, usually the longer something is kept, the more likely they like it, but maybe not. There are no rules in writing…but lots of crying. I’m also waiting for “Monsoon” to come out in Quality Women’s Fiction. Wrote to the editor there yesterday too and she said it was “in the mail.” But I am confused about this publication. Their website never changes, never shows a magazine cover, and I don’t understand what she means. My understand is that it would come out in PDF, but I guess I’ll just wait and see. The editor is very encouraging and helpful. I like her, I’m just confused. So those two stories are distracting me when what I should be doing is moving on.

Listing Lisa and The Roughening are both sitting on the stove, simmering, with occasion bubbles. I keep thinking I have the answers to each stories problems but then I lose it. I have to go back today to my Ron Carlson write a story in a day today but call it FINISH a story in a day.

Maybe my problem is self-consciousness. As soon as a story begins to sound good before I finish it, I attach all kinds of extra baggage to it. Will this story be the one that really makes it? Can I ever write a really good story again? What if I can make myself do this any more? And then I kind of freeze up. Can someone be embarrassed in the privacy of her own home, at her own desk, with no one standing over her shoulder? Or is really fear? Fear of failure? Or fear of success?

I’ve had a few people ask me if I was afraid to succeed and I think the answer is yes. Growing up my comfort zone was keeping a low profile, not making any stir, either good or bad. I didn’t like attention. Of course, secretly I WANTED attention, positive attention, but was scared to death of the negative kind. Is this what haunts me? Frankly I’m sick of thinking about it.

And I’ve been sick of thinking about it for a while, yet I keep coming back to it. I hate this tendency. Why can’t I just put my butt in the chair and stay there until I’m done?

I know that part of what I have to do is not take myself so seriously. Stop thinking about how if I could only write one piece with real merit I could die happy. But that real merit for me is like something so far away, I can’t even see it wink. I’m thinking To Kill a Mockingbird, Tess of the D’Urbevilles , Tale of Two Cities. Now you know why someone always dies in my stories!

Okay. Enough. I feel slightly better and now I’m going to open Listing Lisa and give her a run for her money. She and her husband have got to face-off. I can’t skip over it. I have to do it. Go.

Do you know what time it is?

I can’t believe it. It’s August 25 and this is the year I promised myself I would finish my book. I know. If you read my blog, you must be sick of hearing about it, but I can’t help myself. Public admonitions seem to be the only way I can shame myself into doing anything. And since it is that LAST week of August, and the fall will be–if history repeats itself–INSANE, I have to gather myself, think about goals, and how to keep them.

I taped a sign on my fridge about a month ago. It says, “Nothing is more important than the book,” and yet today at 8:15 I’m heading out to South Pas to do my Monday morning exercise for two hours. That means by the time I get back it will be 10:30 and I will be whipped. But today, instead of making a face plant in the middle of the couch after I down three 8 ounce glasses of water, I will sit down at the computer.

However, what will grab my attention? Novel or short story? It is, after all, SUBMISSION SEASON! The recognition of submission season a couple of years ago is what finally got me published. I realized that I had to change my slovenly ways and begin to market in an organized way. The first thing I did was set a goal: 100 rejections. This is not an original idea. I’d read about it somewhere and liked the logic. Instead of worrying about how many acceptances I might get–a goal that feels self-defeating from the get-go–I decided to go for the 100 “your piece has no place in our immediate plans” target.

And it worked. Everything I had ready to go since then has found a home except for “Wanting Steven” and at least I got a personal letter from Ellery Queen saying they almost published it. It think Janet Hutchins was on vacation at the time, but I’m still taking it as a triumph!

So of course my consciousness is heightened toward short pieces this time of year, but unfortunately I have nothing really ready except for “Wanting Steven” which I probably need to look at again and figure out why it hasn’t found its place before I submit again. So the dilemma: write short stories to submit or finish the book.

My good friend Kev says he spoke to a famous author recently and that author encouraged him to abandon the shorts for the novel and he had lots of legitimate reasons. The market for shorts is steeped in honor and tradition, but only a few of these journals actually reach many people and those people are more likely than not, college students, other writers, academics, and perhaps an small elite of avid readers. To be published in any of these can be good and if you get into say The Georgia Review you are golden, but since most pay in copies of their magazine, it isn’t a good way to put a Lean Cuisine on the TV tray.

Kev’s author suggested that the “where it’s at” in writing is the novel. That’s where the money is, where the mass audience is, that’s where self-satisfaction can be gained.

This logic makes perfect sense to me, but the novel is sooooo long, soooo indefinite, that it’s a struggle to actually dive in day after day with out being tempted to take a writing break with a 1000 word flash for Every Day Fiction, or maybe a 4000 word short. I’ve got enough starts and if they don’t work, there’s more cooking up in my brain pan than those.

I suppose I’m rambling this morning because I’ve just realized I have the months of September, October, November, and December to meet my goal: a little over 120 days. That means I’ll have to edit around 3 pages a day to have a somewhat edited manuscript by the new year. It’s certainly do-able, but can I do it?

Final note: I did hear from McSweeney’s and yes they did reject “Monsoon,” but some one jotted me a personal note and I have to say, that got me flying….

Secret: “Monsoon” will be published soon (I hope) by Quality Women’s Fiction.

More EDF good news and a lesson learned from whittling

MY heart still hip-hops into my throat when I open my Yahoo account and see on the
“From” line of an email, the words “everyone@everydayfiction.com.”

It’s the line that appears when they are sending a rejection, an acceptance…or actually maybe a rewrite. Any which way, I always take a moment before I open it. If I prayed, I guess you’d say that’s what I’m doing. Luckily for me, they like my “Stranger on the Porch” bit and are going to publish it sometime in the future. Hooray!

This is actually a piece I’ve adapted from my novel. As I’ve said before, I’ve been struggling to keep the seat of my pants in the chair. When I’m doing one thing, I’m often distracted by another. In this case, the idea of writing a 1000 words has so much more appeal than rewriting 80,000 words. But I have resisted the lure of flash so far this month even though titles and ideas on how to make those titles work assault me at the sink, in the shower, on my walks. Then one day–mid-anguish/temptation–I had a revelation.

Since I use a dramatic arc in each chapter by opening with conflict, torturing my character, and finally having her take some action–the same dramatic arc that I use for a story as a whole–I wondered if I could cadge something from the novel to satisfy my need to send off a submission to EDF and thereby not get totally out of the world of my novel characters. Write flash but have it benefit the novel too. Maybe chapter 1?

I took a look. Yep the arc was there, but I’d have to whittle it down to fit the 1000 word criterion. Wow. An amazing thing happened during this process.

Because I wanted to flash the chapter, I brought to it a much more critical eye, and suddenly realized how much better it was turning out. The whole experience reinforced my belief that parameters create in a writer the ability to dig deep and come up with something better than if there are no parameters.

What happens in this first chapter of my novel is not straight forward, and I’ve often changed it, edited it, played with it. But this time I knew I had to achieve more clarity for it to stand on its own as flash. The images became sharper, the character more interesting. Whittling worked again. What an incredible lesson I keep learning over and over.

Now my hope is that people like it. That it stands on its own. I hope it’s as good for you guys as it was for me.