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Sex Sells Books

muscular arm with heart tattoo
Strong and sexy sells books. A LOT of books.

 

Want to know how many books sex sells?

Over $1 billion per year. That’s a lot of hot steamy romance novels.

I believe erotic fiction should be celebrated not snickered at as a lower art form. Is it sensational? You bet. But that doesn’t make it less-than in any way. Myself, Anna Yeatts, and Damon Shaw (all editors for Flash Fiction Online) launched a Kickstarter of erotic romance called Nasty: Fetish Fights Back. And we are in an interesting spot because we love all kinds of fiction.

According to the Romance Writers of America, those steamy romps pull in 1.08 billion dollars per year (2013). That could pay for a whole lot of literature and MFA degrees.

FFO publishes literary and genre on equal terms, paying Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) approved pro-rates, but it, along with most other genre and literary sites, don’t publish erotica or even graphic sex.

So Who’s Getting A Piece of That 1.08 Billion Dollar Romance Pie?

Me. That’s who.

Or I hope.

book with glasses on top
By 2010, romance novels were the fastest-growing part of the e-book market; Julie Bosman, of the Times, wrote that readers were trading “the racy covers of romance novels for the discretion of digital books.” – “What Happened to the Harlequin Romance” The New Yorker 8 May 2014. Online.

I have a literature degree and will soon have an MFA in genre fiction. Now, that, right there, will make most literary people scoff. To them, genre fiction which ranges the gamut between science fiction to paranormal teen romance and every conceivable thing in between (I’m not going to list them all, but just imagine your local bookstore and all the genres they have shelved). To some academics, these genres have no value because they have nothing to offer beyond entertainment.

Needless to say, genre fiction has shaped my life and helped me become the person I am today. Now, that may or may not be a good thing, time will tell, but it is the truth.

Because of genre fiction, I feel that I’m a better person.

But that doesn’t stop the sneers from my academic friends. I was in an undergrad literature workshop at a traditional university (possibly the worst place for a young writer to be), and the instructor told me that my story was pure sensationalism. She said this in a bad way. So I took out all the fun parts and she loved the story. But, looking back, the story itself sucks.

Speaking of the divide between literary and genre fiction isn’t anything new.

Most people in the writing world have opinions one way or the other. Some, in fact, argue that literary fiction is a genre and not the elevated art form it claims to be. But it is interesting to note that the authors who the academic world holds up as pentacles of success were considered sensational by some in their day.

Now let’s get sexy!

tattooed shirtless man
(This may or may not get you in the “mood” but I felt obligated to try)

Okay, I took off my shirt.

We have three tiers of fiction: literary, genre, and erotica, then erotica can be seen as lower than genre. Genre people call erotic fiction sensationalism.

Can you see where I’m going with this?

Labeling anything as less-than is always a bad idea. To wag your… finger at someone for liking erotic fiction or any fiction for that matter is an act of aggression. You’re telling that person that they’re wrong and that you’re right.

This kind of thing never ends well.

We can see this play out in the erotic genre itself. Most authors won’t hesitate to use their given name in a genre story, but when it comes to erotica we often see pseudonyms. Erotic authors have been taught to write in the shadows. Do all erotic authors do this? Of course not. Some don’t give a fuck, and sometimes branding comes into play. If you write YA then you don’t want your readers picking up the novel you wrote about BBCs in space.

Anyway… where was I?

Oh yeah, my socks are off now too.

Stop treating Erotica as a less-than.

With this Kickstarter, treating erotica as a less-than stops now. It is our goal to publish quality erotic fiction from some of the best writers in the business.

I’ve seen the top 10 erotic novels on Amazon, and while I agree that they are sexy, and it is obvious that the writers put a lot of heart into their stories, my editorial fingers snag on the rough edges. I see missed opportunities where the sexy could be spectacular.

That is our goal, and we need all the help we can get for this uphill climb.

Okay. Now, my pants are off.

Nothing left to hide.

But let’s keep the lights on and celebrate the NASTY inside all of us.

-Chris

The Flash Fiction 2015 Anthology is LIVE…

Anthology2015Cover
Now available in both e-reader and paperback formats

The Flash Fiction Online 2015 Anthology is up and kicking.

Whether you’re a longtime flash fiction reader or a writer yourself, this collection is sure to contain a story for everyone.

With over thirty stories originally published in our virtual pages and some of our favorites reprints from across the genre spectrum, we’re proud to bring you our latest collection edited by Suzanne W. Vincent.

From John Guzlowski’s literary gem “The Last Man on Earth – A Mini-Novel,” to Laura Pearlman’s humorous Reddit takeover in “I Am Graalnak of the Vroon Empire, Supreme Overlord of the Planet Earth. Ask Me Anything,” you never know where the next story will take you.

But I could read the stories online for free, you say. Why would I want to pay money for the same thing?

Because art has value.

We here at Flash Fiction Online do what we do, wading through thousands of stories to curate collections like our Anthologies, completely unpaid–only because we love reading and writing short fiction, and we believe art has to be nurtured.

So why give Flash Fiction Online my money?

Because we pass on that value to the creators. We pay our authors and illustrators professional rates.

There are plenty of magazines and publications who ask authors to give away their stories “for the love of…” But not us. We pay the professional rates established by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). It’s part of what attracts the high-caliber writers we publish. If we didn’t pay them, they’d take their stories elsewhere–and we wouldn’t blame them.

We believe an author’s work has value, and we hope you do as well.

So if you do, and you must, because you’re here reading this, then find a way to drop a few dollars in our communal tip jar. There are plenty of other ways besides buying a copy of our Anthology.

Become a Patron and we’ll send you rewards every month including professional manuscript critiques by our editorial staff.

Or subscribe to Flash Fiction Online every month, so you never miss an issue.

But since you’re here, go ahead and grab your copy of our 2015 Anthology.

Let us know which story is your favorite. Which delights you, makes you cry, hits that sore spot you try to hide. We want to know.

That is, after all, the point of a good story.

Enjoy!
Anna

 

Barsk: The Elephants’ Graveyard, Klingon, & Lawrence Schoen

Barsk The Elephants Graveyard by Lawrence M. Schoen

Flash Fiction Online welcomes Lawrence Schoen, author of Barsk: The Elephants’ Graveyard

First of all, congratulations on the release of Barsk: The Elephants’ Graveyard.

Before we get to Barsk, let me say yl’el, which I hope means “welcome” in Klingon. It was either that or “My hovercraft is full of eels.” My translation skills are questionable. But yours are not! I’m fascinated by your mastery of Klingon and the subsequent founding of the Klingon Language Institute. How did you become a Klingonist?

I was a psychology professor at a small college in northern Illinois that had been going through a period of declining enrollments. It got so bad that they decided they needed to terminate four faculty positions and unfortunately for me, I was the newest hire in the largest department on campus. But academia is funny; I basically had a full year as a lame duck to look for other jobs and wait to hear back. I’m not good at waiting, so I went looking for a distraction, and I stumbled upon a copy of The Klingon Dictionary. I’d grown up hanging out with people who studied Tokien’s Elvish languages, and it struck me that I could play with Klingon for a few months, maybe even pull together some other interested folk. Then the media found out about what I was doing and it all exploded!

I know how enthusiastic Star Trek fans can be, but your work translating Shakespeare into Klingon is staggering to a casual fan like myself. As such, the amount of detail you put into world building Barsk makes perfect sense. Still, how did you go about it? Do you have a time honored process — a note card wall or a staggering character bible?

Full disclosure, I’m not the one who translated (or as we prefer to phrase it, “restored”) Shakespeare into Klingon. Hamlet was done by Dr. Nick Nicholas and Andrew Strader. And Nick also did Much Ado About Nothing. I handled the physical production, the layout and design of the books. I was the upper management on the projects, but other very talented people did the linguistic heavy lifting, not me.

With respect to worldbuilding in my fiction, I typically start with a character, and I work backwards from there. What sorts of things must exist in the character’s world that made him become the man he is? What factors were missing that led to her making the choices she did?

In looking at your biography — hypnotist, psychologist, psycholinguist, Klingonist — I could only feel that Barsk is a culmination of all these. That in order to achieve the level of world building, of social and political upheaval, with the emotional depth that you’ve achieved with such challenging characters, it would take a “Renaissance” author of sorts. Tell us how Barsk came to be, and if it did build upon your earlier experiences in a culmination of sorts.

Barsk started on a whim, a joke really, when the roommate of one of my students invited me to take part in a RPG based on an anthropomorphic animal comic book. The heroes were cats, the villains were rabbits. He said I could play any animal I wanted and for some reason I said “elephant,” but it turned out that wasn’t among the options in the rules. I didn’t care, I was off and running, spinning some nonsense about a planet the furry races didn’t want because it never stopped raining, and on and on. That was the start of Barsk.

We never did play that game, but that student was running a zine, and I promised to write him a novel based on that world and the elephants. I don’t know why I said that, I’d been writing a while, but I’d never had anything published yet. So I wrote a couple chapters, and he published them, and suddenly I was writing a novel!

I didn’t know much about writing, but I’d heard the phrase “write what you know,” so I started putting everything I knew into the story. Most of it didn’t stick. But I remember one piece very vividly that I should share. I wrote a scene in which a character dies by his own hand. He deliberately throws himself from a great height, from the canopy of a rainforest in fact, and falls to his death. It was a nicely visualized scene, but it felt flat. It lacked emotional depth. So I went back and rewrote it making one small change. I had him set himself on fire before he jumped. Suddenly, the thing had gravitas. But the difference wasn’t the fire. It was that instead of imagining someone committing suicide, I was channeling my experiences from earlier that academic year when one of my students killed himself via immolation. That’s when I came to understand what “write what you know” really means.

We often get story submissions here at FFO with non-human characters, and from long experience, we know it’s hard to write a convincing yet relatable character alien. Not only in Barsk but in your earlier works including The Adventures of the Amazing Conroy, you succeed in giving us entire worlds of anthropomorphized animals and alien cultures. What’s your advice in writing as “the other” like this?

For me, writing “the other” is a lot harder than writing “the alien.” There’s no comparison really (he said and then went on to make a comparison) because “the other” is some reader’s “me” and “the alien” by definition won’t ever be. Writing “the other” means I need to get inside another culture or gender or orientation or race or religion, and I need to get all the bits right, both the conscious ones that are objective and in theory researchable and the unconscious things that everyone who is a part of that “other” knows without thinking about because it’s just part of the identity. And you’re always, always, always going to get parts wrong. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try, I believe you should. I think every writer has an obligation to try to write characters who don’t look and feel and sound and act like them. And when you fail, great, look at why you failed, and do it better next time. This is part of growing as a writer.

Writing “the alien” is easier because you start by saying, okay, I’m going to pick some trait or perspective or biological quirk or cognitive process that is different in most humans and make it critical to the identity of my characters. Once you’ve worked out what that thing is, you just wind up the characters and let them loose, same as you would for human characters. If you’re writing humor, you play that difference for laughs. If you’re writing drama, you have the plot turn on it. If you’re writing tragedy, you play it for poignancy.

In Barsk, the Fants have a drug that allows certain users to interact with the recently dead. Both relationships and how we are remembered, including not at all, are important themes in the novel. Is this something that resonates for you on a personal level? Or in your work as a psychologist and mental health care provider, do you find the need to be remembered something that resonates with all of us?

I find death completely unacceptable. Not in terms of a physical ending, but rather the idea that a life of experience and thought and creation vanishes because the meat we’ve been walking around in hits an expiration date. This is a theme in a lot of my fiction, and one that I was oblivious to for years.

So in Barsk I invented a new branch of physics and tied it to cognitive psychology and explained how memory works, not just during our lives but afterward. Basically, the concept is that in life the thing which makes each of us completely unique as individuals is the vast collection of organized information that represents our memory and experience. So I offered an explanation for how that survives after corporeal death. Once I had that worked out, the fun part was positing a way that some people could still access that information, and in so doing effectively “speak to the dead.”

What advice, if any, would you give to aspiring writers?

Make mistakes. Don’t play safe. Try to write things you know you don’t know how to write. Fail, and when you do (and you will!), go back and figure out where you failed and why. Then do it again. You’re likely going to fail again, but you’ll also probably get a little further. You’ll learn how and why things work in your writing and more importantly, how and why they don’t. And you’ll get better.

Where can our readers find you on social media?

I have a website at www.lawrencemschoen.com, and a fairly active presence on Facebook. And I’m spending more and more (aka too much) time on Twitter where you’re welcome to follow me as @klingonguy.


 

SchoenHeadshot-1(300dpi)Lawrence M. Schoen holds a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology and psycholinguistics. He spent ten years as a college professor, and has done extensive research in the areas of human memory and language. This background provides a principal metaphor for his fiction. He currently works as the director of research and analytics for a series of mental health and addiction recovery facilities in Philadelphia.

He’s also one of the world’s foremost authorities on the Klingon language, and since 1992 has championed the exploration and use of this constructed tongue throughout the world. In addition, he’s the publisher behind a speculative fiction small press, Paper Golem, aimed at showcasing up-and-coming new writers as well as providing a market for novellas. And too, he performs occasionally as a hypnotherapist specializing in authors’ issues.

In 2007, he was a finalist for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. He received a Hugo Award nomination for Best Short Story in 2010 and Nebula Award nominations for Best Novella in 2013, 2014, and again in 2015. Some of his most popular writing deals with the ongoing adventures of a space-faring stage hypnotist named the Amazing Conroy and his animal companion Reggie, an alien buffalito that can eat anything and farts oxygen. His latest work is a very different kind of book, an anthropomorphic SF novel that explores prophecy, intolerance, friendship, conspiracy, and loyalty, and a drug that lets you talk to the dead.

Lawrence lives near Philadelphia with his wife, Valerie, who is neither a psychologist nor a Klingon speaker.

How to Write Flash Ficton: 5 Easy Tips to Not Burn Your Bridges

When it comes to writing, behaving badly is a giant no-no.

If you know me, you know that burning things is one of my fortes, mostly effigies of my mortal enemies who just so happen to be Pro-Wrestlers.

All of them.

Burning bridges, though, is a big no-no. Metaphorically speaking. You weirdo.

So what does that mean? It’s quite simple.

Professional Writing Tip #1: Don’t be a jerk.

Writing this article isn’t easy, because I feel that I am preaching to the choir here. I also believe that a vast majority of people are decent. Every once in a while though you get a jerk and if you’ve spent approximately five minutes on the internet you’ve no doubt had the urge to pour acid on your eyeballs and rinse them with salt. If not, hoo boy, you must be a saint or something.

However, in the age of email, Twitter, Facebook and Youporn (mostly Youporn), it’s easy to mess up and post something dismissive or downright hurtful about an editor or a publisher. If that happens, you can own up to it and apologize.

There are instances of this though where people go bananas.

Flash Fiction Online doesn’t have a huge problem with such behavior, but it’s noticeable. Here’s why you don’t behave like a jerk when submitting fiction.

Writing Tip #2: People will remember you

Let’s say you submit a story. It gets rejected. That’s no biggie. You can always submit again. If you format your manuscript properly and follow the submission guidelines each new submission is effectively a clean slate. Attack an editor or slush reader and you can bet that the staff will hear about it. Not only will the staff hear about it, but other editors will too.

The e-zine community is tight knit. Especially so in the SFF field. People contribute to each other’s venues, meet at conventions or workshops, talk over social media – the whole nine yards. Set a precedent by being a jerk and everyone is going to be leery of you.

Recently a submitter called a female team member of FFO (I won’t mention who), and I quote, “menopausal”. That person’s name is now burned into my brain. I wish that person good luck elsewhere with his fiction (no, I really don’t), but I am fairly certain (one hundred percent) that he is not welcome anymore at FFO.

Writing Tip #3: Redemption can be hard to gain

Let’s say I barge into your house and mess up your DVD collection (because I don’t play by the rules, man). You have every right in the world to show me to the door. Next morning, when the mushrooms and alcohol lose their effect, I come over and apologize.

You will be rightfully skeptical because the burden of proof will be on me.

It’s the same situation here. Building trust and displaying your professionalism takes a long time, but getting rid of a crappy reputation? That’s tough because it’s not up to you. It’s up to the people you have hurt. When your poor behavior hurts someone, forgiveness will be doled out at the hurt party’s discretion.

Writing Tip #4: It’s easier to be nice

This might sound like a Sesame Street lesson, but hey, Sesame Street has salient points to make. Bile and anger aren’t good for your health; mental or physical. If you play your cards right you might even make new friends or connections.

I am not saying that you shouldn’t feel disappointed at getting rejected – if your story truly matters to you, of course, rejection is going to sting. The healthy thing to do is getting over it and getting it back into circulation – failing that onto the chopping block.

Writing Tip #5: Remember, always treat others like you want to be treated.

In the meanwhile, I’ve got effigies to burn.


Subscribe to the Flash Fiction Online YouTube channel for more How to Write Flash Fiction Tips and Ideas. 

Flash Interview With Aimee Picchi

I had a nice chat with author Aimee Picchi, so nice in fact, that I felt compelled to share with y’all.
aimee_2013

SM: Thank you for doing this interview, Aimee. Tell our readers a little about yourself!

AP: In a nutshell, I’m a business journalist who used to be a classical musician, and, when quite young, believed Narnia was a real place. I’m only sort of kidding about the last item.
When it comes to fiction, I fall into the late bloomer category. While I’ve always written short stories as well as nonfiction, I didn’t start submitting until about three years ago. That was when I had the realization that since I preferred to read fantasy and science fiction, I should write in the genre instead of literary-type fiction. Then things started to click for me.

Before going into journalism, I was a classical music geek. In high school, I attended the Juilliard Pre-College program and then graduated from the Eastman School of Music with a bachelor of music. I play the viola, and yes, I enjoy a good viola joke, although I may have heard them all by now. I still play, and take lessons with a talented teacher.

Since Sept. 2013, I have been a slush reader at Clarkesworld, which has been a great experience.
My husband, two daughters and I moved to Burlington, Vermont from New York City several years ago, and I now own cross-country skis and a good pair of snow boots.

SM: Death Comes For The Microbot was a huge hit for FFO. Congratulations! Please tell us how you came up with the story!

AP: Thanks! The story came out of a short-story class that I took with Cat Rambo, who had us brainstorm several titles within three minutes. This is a great exercise for anyone who needs to get their creative juices oozing, by the way.

The title came to mind as an homage to “Death Comes for the Archbishop,” a novel by Willa Cather that tracks two long-time friends, a bishop and a vicar, as they travel through New Mexico. But by the end of the book, the pair are old, and death arrives. It’s a very moving novel, written in a simple, straightforward style. (As a side note, I grew up in a Willa Cather-focused house, as my mom is a lifelong fan and even bought and restored house in Cather’s hometown, Red Cloud, Nebraska, that was featured in her novel “My Antonia.”)

When I started thinking about the title, I focused on the themes it suggested: technology, something both independent and advanced, yet small and fragile; and death, that huge, inescapable force.
From there, I imagined the bots: a set of insect-inspired creatures, both analogous to the natural world yet foreign to it. I wondered what it would be like for those bots to encounter their ends; what it would be like to face obsolescence for a creature that’s not quite alive, yet sentient. What would be important for those creatures?

SM: On your blog you mentioned that the story changed a lot as you were going through drafts. Can you walk us through the changes that have been made?

After I wrote the first draft, my writing group critiqued it, offering a lot of helpful advice that shaped the next drafts of the story. While the basic bones were there in the first draft, it had issues ranging from length (it was too long to be flash) to characterization. The doctor, for one, was a lot less sympathetic in the first draft, which took the focus away from the microbots and the meat of the story.

The title also changed after receiving feedback, with my writing group pointing out that the initial title — “Death Comes from the Nanobot” — didn’t really work because Bee and Cricket were too large to be nanobots. Suzanne Vincent, the editor of Flash Fiction Online, also had some helpful suggestions about the clarifying the tech that brought the story into final shape for publication.

Flash fiction offers a creative challenge to writers almost like no other: how to create a complete story, with a strong arc, that also hits an emotional core within no more than 1,000 words.

SM: Sentient robots or nanomachines and their humanity are often explored in science fiction, but your story is remarkably short, yet poignant. Emotional pay-off is important in flash fiction. How did you make Bee such a relatable character?

AP: The key to Bee was its childlike approach to its world. That’s one reason why so many robot stories are loved by readers; think of Wall-E, another innocent machine that is eager to make a connection and is trying to make sense of what’s going on around it. Robots can also lack the baggage that humans lug around; in my story’s case, I wanted the microbots to be genderless, wiping away another layer of preconceptions about male/female roles.

SM: You are a Viable Paradise workshop alumna. Can you share some of the wisdom you learned at the workshop?

AP: Tying back to the previous question, Steve Brust at Viable Paradise offered some excellent advice about how to make your character sympathetic. First, make your character like someone else; and secondly, if your character has a problem, don’t let her complain. Bee certainly hit those two marks, with its fondness for Cricket and Moth and its stoicism in the face of wing failure.

Viable Paradise was an amazing experience, and there was so much information and advice provided that I am still digesting it. But one point that Uncle Jim and the crew were clear in getting across is that writers should not make the mistake of rejecting themselves by failing to submit. That’s up to the editors (and slush readers) to do. Steve Gould also talked with us about what writers can control (their craft, for instance) and what they can’t (success, fame, and fortune). The week was a great mix of writing, workshops, lectures on craft and life, and meeting other writers, and I recommend it for anyone who is seeking that type of intense workshop.

SM: Please recommend us a writer or book that needs more exposure.

AP: This is a hard one, because the writers who are well known in the SFF world, such as Cat Rambo (whose fiction is truly fantastic and I heartily recommend) can always be better known by the wider reading world.

SM: Do you have any other projects or stories you would like to plug?

AP: I have a short story coming out in Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine in June. The story is called “Frank Discussions with your Genie,” and ties in Ms. Pac-Man, an absent father, a genie at the Atlantic ocean, and letter writing.

SM: Where can people find you online?

AP: I’m active on Twitter at @aimeepicchi and I’m not very active on my website, https://aimeepicchi.wordpress.com/

SM: Thank you for your time, Aimee!

AP: Thanks, Stefan!

How to Write Flash Fiction: Survive The Slushpile

Getting published means getting out of the slush pile.

Surviving the slushpile means getting past slush readers.

The thing is, slush readers are perennially grumpy. Probably drunk too.  Okay, that’s just me, but the point still stands.

So what do you do?

I have had some amount of success with Lovecraftian incantations, but you can invoke the Ancient Ones only so many times before Cthulhu starts ignoring you like a passive aggressive cat. For those of you smarter than I (by which I mean: pretty much everyone reading this right now), I will give you an insight into a slush reader’s job.

Consider it like a primer on how to leave a good impression.

Or you could always do the dark incantations thing if you’re up for it. Careful, though, it’s like popping bubble wrap – once you pop you can’t stop.

So without further ado:

Spelling And Punctuation Matters

A typo or misplaced comma won’t get you kicked out of slush-town as long as your story is fantastic. However, the amount of people who get “their, they’re, there” mixed up is staggering. Affect and effect. Lay, lie, laid. All of those are pretty standard, so much so that they send me into fits of violent rage (you can’t tell, but I am covered in blood as I am writing this).

Your story represents you as a professional. As such it needs to reflect that you care about your art. If you don’t care, why should editors or slush readers care? Spell check is a bit dumb at times.

 

Punctuation for Grandma
Please, don’t put it in Grandma. She seems like an absolutely lovely lady.

Have someone proofread your work, multiple times.

 

Punctuation then! Punctuation is important. How important? Well let me show you this instructional gem:

“Put it in, Grandma.”

“Put it in Grandma.”

Hook The Reader

First impressions matter.

You wouldn’t go to a job interview wearing a murder-clown mask, or interpret the “Flash” in Flash Fiction as a call for indecent exposure.

The first paragraph, or even the first sentence, can set the expectations a slush reader has for your work. The flexing space in flash fiction is limited. You can’t exactly use a lot of words for setup. Every word has to advance the plot and build character.

You might be thinking that such an attitude towards first sentences and paragraphs is a bit unfair. It’s a reasonable assumption to make, but experience has shown me the following:

Never did a story with a boring or bad first line change gears and become brilliant at the end.

Nothing is always absolutely so, except the above quote, and I bet the guy who came up with it is super smart and handsome and you all should mail him chocolate, quote Theodore Sturgeon.  I believe the second part has been recently found and added and I totally didn’t make it up, I swear.

I also never cry myself to sleep.

Anyway, Sturgeon had it right, but here it applies to the opposite case. The stories that disappoint me most are the ones that start wonderfully and have a sluggish ending. It’s like buying a Happy Meal and removing the toy (you monster).

Closure is important.

An ending that resolves a problem or a character arc, or strongly hints at either is a huge plus (more about that in the next section, however).

So how do you go about hooking someone then? There’s a myriad of ways. Interesting images, situations, characters or problem do wonders. Show-not-tell is your friend.

Hooked: Write Fiction That Grabs Readers At Page One & Never Lets Them Go by Les Edgerton is a master class on the subject. I wholeheartedly recommend it,

Flash Stories Are Still Stories

Flash fiction still needs compelling characters and arcs. Gimmicks won’t get you far. We publish the occasional experimental story, but those are rare and hard to pull off. Also please note that “experimental” does not equal blatant gimmickry.

Have a beginning, middle and end. Have it all matter. Trim and revise.

One of the most excruciating exercises in slush is reading stories that exist solely to deliver a punch line. The story either turns into a joke or a plot twist as the last line renders the rest of the story meaningless.

Plot twists will not get you an auto-rejection, but please foreshadow them properly. Humor is welcome, but don’t turn a story in a post-apocalyptic setting into a zinger. That’s fundamentally unfair to the reader.

Nobody likes to feel cheated.

Lest we do not forget: no rhetoric, please. We drop thinly-veiled hate speech and misogyny as if they were pissed off badgers. Stories should challenge viewpoints and preconceived notions, not knock down straw men.

Um, yeah… faithful reader and submitter? One more thing?

I don’t know where to put this, but there’s a type of story that’s depressingly common and it kind of baffles all of us. So here I go:

No cat stories.

Stop laughing. Stop it. I know you’re doing it. For some reason, this has become a sub-genre. Cats doing… things. Like burying their poop or going on weird cat adventures. I like cats and have giggled at more cat videos I dare to admit (let’s face it: I have a problem), but I want to take a shower and cry whenever I see a cat story. More so than usually I mean.

Not qualifying this here. No cats. Please. Okay?

Why do my eyes sting and why do I feel the urge to shower…?

The Cruel Mathematics Of It

The Grinder, at the time of writing, puts FFO’s acceptance rate at 3.02 percent. We read at least six hundred stories monthly. We publish three per issue. The magazine is a monthly one.

Sounds discouraging, doesn’t it?

It doesn’t have to be. Yes, often we have to pass on perfectly good stories, but if your story is excellent, a slush reader will bat for you – I can guarantee it. Remember, slushies are not paid. They are overworked. However, when we see a gem, we get excited. Excitement is currency in the second round of voting. Yes, the owner and editor have the final say, but don’t think I am above begging and wheedling when I love a story. We are all people. We love being impressed.

And who doesn’t want to be the slushie or editor who discovered the next big author?

So, no. You’re not alone in the slushpile.

Love your work. We will too.

 

How to Write Flash Fiction


 

Flash Interview With Elijah Lucian

Today, Flash Fiction Online’s Stefan Milicevic is talking with voice actor Elijah Lucian, who lends his voice to the FFO podcast. Stefan asked some questions, but being charming and Canadian, Elijah didn’t mind at all.                   

                                                                                                                                                  IMG_3141               

SM:     Hello, Elijah! Tell our readers about yourself!                                                                              

EL:      Well, I was born and raised in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. What else… I am a huge nerd, I love being creative in all mediums that are techy – gaming, music, photography, and electronics. On the other hand I love primitive skills, just being able to do things with your hands that now we rely on technology for. That’s about it. I’m a tech-savvy caveman.

SM:     What got you into voice acting?

EL:      I have always had an interest in it. Games like Duke Nukem 3d and Metal Gear Solid have always been a huge influence in my style. In 2007, I discovered audiobooks in the form of Harry Potter read by Jim Dale. It was a complete accident: I was using my friend’s iPod when it came on and I was instantly sucked in. After listening to the series I had a burning in my gut to want to be able to tell stories and create characters like that. I went in search for some content to read and found the game modding scene, where I found a home in Skyrim and Fallout mods.

SM:     When I received the recording for “Cratch” I was awed, to put it bluntly. You nailed the character voice making the audio experience unique. In my opinion, people often forget that voice actors are indeed actors. Could you tell us how you prepared and got into character for “Cratch”?

EL:      First off, thank you! I was really nervous because I hadn’t tried something of this style yet, but I just had to remind myself that my flash fiction compilations are about getting me out of my safety net, so I just dove in. I have been using the Appalachian accent in my current full-length gig and knew it would fit in the story, so I decided to just go all out, try and bring out those characters and create the settin’. As for the question about acting, I completely agree! I have listened to tons of audiobooks, and I can’t listen to books where the characters all sound the same. I have a few actor friends that don’t think voice acting is “real acting” I have to laugh, because you have to convince your listener that you are a real character with only your voice!

SM:     You are deeply involved in the indie scene. You lend your voice to independent game developers and authors. You rates are affordable too. What attracts you to indie creators?

EL:     Well, in the industry there are a few common outlets, I don’t really have much interest in corporate voiceover, and I have always been interested in video games. My initial interest in the indie scene was born out of Skyrim and Fallout Mods. It was amazing to see people working out of the interest in just building the community, though I’m sure there is the hunger for fame in there somewhere.

SM:     How does voice acting for a story or audio books differ from voice acting for video games? 

EL:      Stories are a challenge because you have to play all the characters plus the narrator, (unless it’s first person) so you have to not only change your voice but your personality on the fly as well. Video games are typically just straight forward acting out one character. Switching voices on the fly is quite a bit more engaging.

SM:     What is your favorite role to date?

EL:      My favorite role is still one of my first, Odvar The Afflicted. It is a Skyrim mod (free, so go download it!), and it is so well written. The dialog and humor is amazing! Sometimes when I’m playing, I hear myself say something I forgot that I recorded and I’m like, “Hey did I actually record that?” haha.

SM:     You also stream on Twitch.tv. Tell us more about “Voice Acting Live”.

EL:      My voice acting on twitch actually happened kind of accidentally; I originally joined Twitch for music, and I thought I would stream a show where I would do some work for free things I agreed to do. The response was explosive. It seems people were hungry for something like this so we figured out a few days a week that worked and just rolled with it. The idea is that as a viewer you can submit a script to us, then me and my cast voice act, edit, and deliver the script live on the show. For some it’s pure entertainment, for some it’s educational, but I think it’s fun for everybody! As I mentioned above I love to do little tiny jobs. Some people only need like 30 seconds of audio and they don’t have a budget for a minimum hour of voice acting. So the feed is a chance for them to add a further layer of immersion to their players for free.

SM:     What is your advice to aspiring voice actors? On your website you talk about the necessary gear, but what else do they need to know?

EL:      I really have to update that article. Hah! They need to just read out loud all day long. Becoming good at anything involves a healthy balance of self-criticism as well as self-acceptance. You can’t just have one or the other or you will not get anywhere. The main thing is, dive in feet first. If you are just starting out, chances are you are going to suck (everybody does), but remember you will get better. Game modding is what got me on my feet, but some people like to do animations and other projects like that. Newgrounds and Voice Acting Alliance is where it’s at for that stuff.

SM:     What kind of fiction do you like to read?

EL:      Well… I’m embarrassed to say I don’t really read, I listen to audiobooks. I am a sucker for sci-fi and fantasy. I seem to gravitate towards those, however I will pretty much listen to anything if the narrator is engaging. I like to listen when I am working in my other company which is Photography and Design. It makes the more boring tasks way more tolerable, haha.

SM:     Recommend us a writer who needs more exposure!

EL:      Susan Minsos! She is the writer I am currently narrating my first full length novel for. It will be released on audible.com so it’s very exciting. She has put a lot of research into this novel. It’s a historical fiction based in 1800s Canada. Other than that, most of the authors I listen to are mainstream, so I’m sure they have all the exposure they want… I promise I will start a “recommended authors” page on my site! Haha.

SM:     Tell us where people can find you online and your upcoming projects. 

EL:      Everything people need to know is on my website www.elijahlucian.ca, I will be adding more social streams to the site, however if you are more of a social media type, I am most active with Instagram. I love how quick and easy it is.

SM:     Thank you for your time Elijah!

EL:      Thank you so much for having me!

Want to hear Elijah’s work? Check out his podcasts in the March 2015 issue of FFO: “The Cratch, Thy Keeper” by Matthew F. Amati and “The Last Man on Earth — A Mini Novel” by Pulitzer nominee John Guzlowski.  Or listen to Elijah’s entire selection on his website.

 

 

Sometimes We Get It Wrong…

I would like to apologize to our Australian readers including Australian Aborigines and to anyone who’s felt the sting of cultural appropriation.

I would like to thank the people who pointed out to me that words I published were hurtful. You are right. I’m sorry.

As writers, we’re encouraged to step into someone else’s shoes, wear them around, and try to write their story. Try. Sometimes we get it right. Sometimes we get it wrong.

We all have our own biases, our own bubbles of knowledge and ignorance that make up how we perceive the world. I’m afraid there are some egregious blind spots in my bubble. I try to rub them out. When someone is brave enough to point them out, I’ll acknowledge they are there and work on fixing that. Well, this is me admitting. Apologizing. Now to fixing.

The hurt of having your experience misrepresented is something I’m not even going to try to tackle. If you haven’t felt it, you’re extremely fortunate. When it does happens to you, you are completely justified in being angry, offended, and every other emotion in the book.  I’m sorry if you felt that way this week. To those of you who did, mea culpa.

All my best,

Anna

Publisher, Flash Fiction Online

 

Interview with Flash! Friday founder, Rebekah Postupak

FFO Staffer, Patrick Icasas, had the pleasure of ‘sitting down’ (Who actually does in-person interviews anymore?) with Rebekah over a virtual cup of coffee. Here’s what he learned:

Q. Can you tell us a little about Rebekah Postupak and who she is when she’s not writing?

A. Like all civilized writers, when not writing I am fretting about not writing, and I am spending all available brain cells (which for me is not many) plotting dragon battles and reimagining fairy tales. Growing up TV-free in a little village on an island in Asia meant my best friends were djinn, fauns, and the Rohirrim—well, anybody, really, mad enough to wield a sword on horseback (here’s looking at you, Robin McKinley. I blame you entirely for that morning I rode bareback into the sea because it sounded romantic; you did not warn me riding bareback is not for the inexperienced).

Today, though I have a day job as a personal assistant and I’m the married mommy of two totally mischievous dragonlings, my best (human) friends remain those who understand about what might be. More: what can be, for those who have the eyes to see it.

Q. Your bio says you got kicked out of Westminster Abbey. How’d you manage that?

A. For me the more important question is, How does one not??

Q. Who are the Shenandoah Valley Writers?

A. SVW exploded out of the madness of NaNoWriMo 2012; I was co-Municipal Liaison for the Shenandoah region with brilliant co-conspirator Susan Warren Utley. We had such a blast cooking up writerly schemes during NaNo, we realized the only logical course was to continue scheming together all year long. SVW today consists of many dozens of powerhouse writers, quite a few of whom have earned their dragon crowns at Flash! Friday and play vital roles in that community. Our home base is on Facebook, which means online write-ins are able to (and do!) happen at any time. I can’t imagine a successful writerly life without SVW.

Q. How did Flash! Friday get started?

A. When I stumbled into the world of flash fiction in April 2012, several writers were taking turns hosting free, community judged contests on their blogs. Getting to know these writers and sharpen my writing skills with insanely short and fast contests is addictive, let me tell you, and when for one reason or another the hosts started dropping out, well…. I had to launch my own. Two years later, the Flash! Friday community hasn’t just won a place in my heart; it owns my heart, lock, stock, and dragonly barrel. (Thank God for steampunk, or that analogy would make no sense whatsoever.)

Q. What do you think makes flash fiction so compelling, as both a reader and a writer?

A. The heart of humanity is story. It’s all the rage and violence of who we are set against a backdrop of who we were meant to be. Flash fiction is the micro-iest microcosm of that tension: depth and complexity and longing crammed into a profoundly delicate and precise sort of form. It’s prose’s version of the haiku. The literary version of stuffing twelve clowns in a tiny car. Whether you read or write flash, once you start, you just can’t look away.

Q. What advice can you give authors who want to win a Flash! Friday contest?

A. The key is not to obsess over winning*, and instead focus on crafting a perfect piece of flash. Carve out for it an enticing beginning; sculpt textured, nuanced characters to drive the plot; give it a humdinger of a punch at the end. Find your own voice and write it so magnificently, you dream of someday giving that voice a novel. When you succeed, your readers will feel the same way.

* If you learn how to do this, please contact me via the Flash! Friday site and share your secret.

Thanks, Rebekah!  And good luck to all the entrants!

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