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Archive for the ‘Fantasy’ Category

Confessions of a Slush Reader — Thoughts from the Slush Pile

Today’s confessions come from the slush pile wisdom of Nancy DiMauro, FFO staffer and slush queen.

If you write, and submit those stories, you dread the slush pile. It’s an inevitable part of the process. The way you get out of the slush and into print is to impress someone like me. Someone who has volunteered or is low man on the totem pole and has no choice but to wade through the slush and pan for gold. So, I decided to give you another peak into the heart and mind of a slush reader (me) at Flash Fiction Online.

Sometimes what wins the heart and soul of the slush reader – to the point I’m willing to fight for the story – is hard to precisely define. Over the last several months we had two stories that illustrate the point. One of the stories I’ll call a message piece, while the other was a funereal/memorial piece.

How were these very different stories alike:

(1) They were both well written. It was obvious that both writers were talented, and knew their craft;
(2) The stories were polished – no obvious typos;
(3) Both stories had voice and presence.
(4) Both took unexpected routes along the way/ presented something new.
(5) It was argued that both were not stories but rather vignettes capturing a moment in time. Usually the “NAS” notation is a death knell, but these two merited consideration regardless.

So, why did I choose to recommend one, and reject the other?

Tone.

The memorial piece was soft. It invited the reader in. Many of the memorial pieces we see are bitter or drowning in grief. This one was tinged with grief, but the act of moving through grief rather than wallowing in it was the story. It was painted with the lightest brush strokes. It also used a tried and true speculative fiction trope in a new way. Because the tone and emotion was so inviting, I was willing to overlook some things which might otherwise resulted in a rejection – such as a main character that did not sound age appropriate

Message pieces are difficult. You always run a risk of losing the story to the message. The best ones, in my opinion, are the message stories where you don’t realize that it was a message story until it’s done. If the message is laid in too heavily, no one is going to read the story. In my opinion, this second story was strident and very heavy handed. It relied on a gimmick to beat me over the head with the message if I couldn’t glean it from the prose. It was rejected because of its tone. If you are working on a message piece, my advice for you would be to use a soft touch.

When we’re writing, we need to pay attention to the mood of the story. Sometimes a mood will draw people in. Other times it will repulse them. Sometimes you will want to repulse the readers, but realize each time you do, you make it easier for the reader to put the story down. In a longer work, you’re going to mix in the heavy moods with the lighter ones. But short stories don’t give you that leeway. You can hit one emotional note. Make sure you’re hitting the right one with the right intensity.

Good luck, and good writing.

Nancy DiMauro is a writer, blogger, and slush reader extradoirdinaire. If you can get a story past Nancy, you’re golden. And whatever you do, don’t use “alright”. It’s “all right”. You’ve been warned. You can find more of Nancy’s writing advice as well as links to her own fiction at http://nancydimauro.blogspot.com.

Confessions of a Slush Reader

So you want to be a writer. That’s fantastic.  I love writers. Writers are some of my favorite people.  They’re brilliant and quirky and often tend to daydream (which is why they tend to thrive in their own internal worlds). You have the passion.  You even have a manuscript you know will revolutionize the world.

So why aren’t you published?

Me. That’s why. Well, not me in particular so please don’t stink bomb my house with sparkly vampire poo.

Slush readers.  We’re the legion of readers you have to get through in order to reach the big boss — the Editor aka She Who Sends the Acceptance Letters.

And here’s the thing:  slush readers are loaded in manuscripts.  Hundreds of them, every one submitted under the assumption that it was unique among all the others. The problem is that in the end, they all begin to be the same.  Writers fall into the same traps over and over.  Why?  I’m not sure. Maybe because as a collective unconscious we’ve all watched the same movies, read the same textbooks, been spoonfed the same tropes and mythos.

This blog is for you, the writer, to help you navigate your way through slush and, hopefully, onto Suzanne’s desk.

I’m pulling back the curtain.  Beyond that, good luck.  The FFO staff is somewhere under that mountain of .docs and .rtfs.

In the meantime, keep writing.  And dash off a question or two for me.

Much love.

Anna

Diversity in Fiction aka Vanilla Slush

I’ve been reading a lot of slush this past month.  Mountains of it, really.  So much slush that I have imprints of the little yes/no/maybe buttons burned indelibly into the inside of my eyelids so I can see them staring back at me even in my sleep.

That’s a whole lot of slush.

But the biggest problem for a slush reader is that so very much of it is the same.  Well not really.  The setting changes a bit.  This one is set in a car.  That one is on a far away planet.  There’s a cute setup about a mystical creature under a bed.  But more times than not they all come back to the same thing.

Vanilla slush.

A white, middle class, educated protagonist.  Heterosexual.  Generally male.  Sometimes we get an educated, middle class, heterosexual white female.  Usually she’s fairly angst-ridden and she’s looking for love.  Or she’s bitter about love.  Or she has a cat.

We get an awful lot of cat stories.  You submitters sure do love your cats.   And I’m glad you love your cats…. *sigh*  But that’s beside the point.

So I’m challenging you to throw some other flavors into the slush.  Send us some rocky road.  Some pistachio chip with sprinkles.  Avocado with bacon chips and a dash of honey drizzle on top.

The world’s too big and diverse and wonderful.  Not that vanilla isn’t wonderful.  I’m about as vanilla as they come.  But vanilla is so much tastier with a zesty side of Latin   transgender astronaut.   Or a QUILTBAG family battling to stay together after the alien apocalypse.

Send us every age, sex, gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, and creed you’ve got.  Send characters with disabilities and physical limitations that make us reexamine our stereotypical expectations.  To the LGBTQ community, Flash Fiction Online is your ally in a search for equality.  This is an open invitation.  We don’t publish erotica or gore.  But we do love characters and story plots that push the boundaries and make us think.

Now, a caution.  You can send the best flavor ever conceived, but if it’s not well written as a story, it’s still not getting through slush.  If it’s dripping all over the sides of the cone and puddling on my good shoes, that literary Harlem deliciousness isn’t getting a yes.  Craftsmanship is everything.  Hone your skills.  Make your characters sing.  Because slush needs them.

Flash Fiction Online needs them.

Now go write!

Much love,

Anna Yeatts, Publisher, FFO
annayeatts.com

Rumpelstiltskin in Love by K.C. Norton

Boy with a torn hatHis love is alchemy; his touch transmutes. I turn to gold at his faintest glance.

“Do I have a mother?” he asks me. He is precocious. Every father thinks his son is special, but I know. His eyelashes are so fine they are almost transparent. His skin is the color of ripe wheat. He is as beautiful as his mother, but more so, because she was so full of fear. She was a creature of shadows, and my boy is all sunlight.

“You did,” I tell him. “But she traded her life for yours.” It is a falsehood, but not quite a lie: technically she traded his life to keep her own, but I cannot tell him this. He has bird bones, a heart like flint. How can I tell my son, Your life was nothing to her, she could not yet imagine you – all she meant to promise was her body. Sell the oil to save the jar, am I right? And she was willing enough to promise something that did not yet exist. (more…)

“Dear Sunshine” by Michelle Denham

When he was born he had exactly six minutes of normal living. For those six minutes he was loved, cosseted and crooned over by midwives and nurses. He entered the world feeling cautious but very comfortable.

Then he opened his eyes.

A few of the nurses shrieked; some ran away.

“What is it?” his mother demanded.

“This one has a dragon behind his eyes,” the head midwife said, her voice matter-of-fact and precise. She had been delivering babies for far too long to panic at every little abnormality that might occur during a birth. “Best set him out to die now before you get too attached.”

(more…)

Odyssey Writing Workshop–Summer 2013

Barbara Barnett-Stewart, Flash Fiction Online alumnus and Odyssey publicist, announced the Odyssey Writing Workshop’s summer 2013 session.

According to their press release:

Since its founding in 1996, Odyssey has become one of the most respected workshops in the fantasy, science fiction, and horror writing community.  Odyssey is for developing writers whose work is approaching publication quality and for published writers who want to improve their work.  The six-week workshop combines advanced lectures, exercises, extensive writing, and in-depth feedback on student manuscripts.  Top authors, editors, and agents have served as guest lecturers, including George R. R. Martin, Harlan Ellison, Jane Yolen, Terry Brooks, Robert J. Sawyer, Ben Bova, Nancy Kress, Elizabeth Hand, Jeff VanderMeer, Donald Maass, Sheila Williams, Shawna McCarthy, Carrie Vaughn, and Dan Simmons.  Fifty-eight percent of Odyssey graduates go on to professional publication.

The program is held every summer on Saint Anselm College’s beautiful campus in Manchester, NH.  Saint Anselm is one of the finest liberal arts colleges in the country, dedicated to excellence in education, and its campus provides a peaceful setting and state-of-the-art facilities for Odyssey students.  College credit is available upon request.

Jeanne Cavelos, Odyssey’s director and primary instructor, is a best-selling author and a former senior editor at Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing, where she won the World Fantasy Award for her work.  As an editor, Cavelos gained a reputation for discovering and nurturing new writers.  She provides students with detailed, concrete, constructive critiques of their work.  Cavelos said, “I’ve worked with many different writers, and I know that each writer thinks and works differently.  We limit attendance at Odyssey to sixteen, so I can become deeply familiar with the work of each student and provide assessments of strengths and weaknesses.  I work individually with each student, helping each to find the best writing process for him, suggesting specific tools to target weaknesses, and charting progress over the six weeks.”  Her critiques average over 1,200 words, and her handwritten line edits on manuscripts are extensive.

Odyssey class time is split between workshopping sessions and lectures.  An advanced, comprehensive curriculum covers the elements of fiction writing in depth.  While feedback reveals the weaknesses in students’ manuscripts, lectures teach the tools and techniques necessary to strengthen them.

The workshop runs from June 10 to July 19, 2013.  Class meets for four hours in the morning, five days a week.  Students spend about eight hours more per day writing and critiquing each other’s work.  Prospective students, aged eighteen and up, apply from all over the world.  The early action application deadline is January 31, and the regular admission deadline is April 8. Tuition is $1,920, and housing is $790 for a double room in a campus apartment and $1,580 for a single room.

Go here for more information.

 

Flash Fiction Online in the News

Worlds Beyond (“News and reviews for the geek in all of us”) liked the current FFO issue’s subversive  Zombie Walk, linking to it on their Flash Friday page.

Sam Tomaino at SFRevu has reviewed Flash Fiction Online’s October 2012 issue, which has two original and one classic flash stories, including:

  • Zombie March Tension by Brynn MacNabb,
  • Mid-Autumn Moon by Lani Carroll, and
  • Classic Flash: A Fratricide by Franz Kafka

Speaking of Mid-Autumn Moon, Sam said, “A wonderfully quirky tale.”

See Sam’s other short fiction reviews here.

 

FFO Alumnus Stefanie Freele Publishes Short Story Collection

Stefanie Freele published two flash stories here (1 2) at Flash Fiction Online. We’re glad to note that she’s recently published a short story collection, Surrounded by Water, with Press 53. Stories in this collection received much note: first and second places in Glimmer Train fiction contests, a 2010 Million Writers Notable Story Award,  an Editor’s Pick in the Mid-American Review Fineline Competition, and a Pushcart Prize nomination. (See more details at the publisher’s site.)

You may view the Amazon.com’s page for Stefanie’s collection here.

Congratulations, Stefanie.

FFO Staff Publications

I presume that many writers like to see magazine editors and slush pile readers out there trying to publish, too. It’s both a humbling and educational experience. So here are recent publications of the FFO staffers I’ve heard from so far. I’ve got no problem putting mine at the top of the list:

William Highsmith, “Journey to the Center of the Flat Earth,” Flurb, A Webzine of Astonishing Tales, issue #13, published in March 2012 by the notable Rudy Rucker.

Nancy Green:

  • Women Writing the Weird, anthology by Doghorn Publishing (edited by on-hiatus FFO staffer Deb Hoag).
  • Paths Less Travelled, a short story collection, pub. by Musa Publishing, May 11, 2012.
  • Shots at Redemption, a short story collection, pub. by Musa Publishing, June 1, 2012

Karen T. Smith has various publishing efforts in play.

Patrick Dey (now on hiatus…we hope), AI Robot, Flash Fiction Online, Jan. 2012.

 

SFRevu of Flash Fiction Online Feb. Issue

Sam Tomaino at SFRevu has reviewed Flash Fiction Online’s February 2012 issue. Thanks, Sam. The Feb. 2012 issue had three new flash stories, including:

  • Surface Tension by KJ Kabza,
  • Lovestruck by Zach Shephard, and
  • Classic Flash: Man May Love by Robert Sharp

Speaking of Surface Tension, Sam said, “A very good, subtly written tale.”.

See Sam’s other short fiction reviews here.

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