Some New Things: Interview with Brad Watson, Jeff Landon flash, & Lauren Becker's book…

Brad Watson is apparently a kindred spirit:

“I’m old-fashioned and believe that the writer’s only real job — day jobs aside — is to write, and to write the best work one is capable of writing. I’m happy to go out, give readings or talks, visit classes or clubs — when and if anyone is interested — but even that is pretty distracting, work-wise. It interrupts work you’ve inevitably already begun on something new. I don’t really believe anyone knows for sure, yet, whether or not using social media to promote yourself works all that well. Maybe it does in those rare cases when someone does or creates something that, as they say, “goes viral.” In any case, my personality is not a good fit with self-promotion.”

I, too, have always felt uncomfortable with self-promotion and don’t like spending too much time on social media because I resent the time it takes away from real life and writing…however! I’ve made wonderful contacts with other writers that I wouldn’t have without it and for that I’m forever grateful. Writing is a tough and lonely gig. Read the rest of Watson’s interview in Fiction Southeast. Watson is the author of Aliens in The Prime of Their Lives, a collection of short stories I really liked and recommend. watson book

I was thrilled to see new flash fiction by a favorite writer, Jeff Landon, in Wigleaf. It’s called “Bobs” and here is an excerpt:

“We drink bourbon and beer, gobble pizza puffs, and watch the slide show of our gone lives with Amy: Bad teeth Bob with Amy on the boardwalk, her hands in his hair gone now from the chemotherapy. We watch the pictures and we are kindred and moony and Bob.”

Anyway, go read the whole story and Jeff’s accompanying postcard here and you can read a whole bunch of Jeff’s stories in Truck Dance, his collection of stories published by Matter Press. If you’re a fan of and/or writer of flash fiction, I can’t recommend it enough. Jeff’s writing is like none other, beautiful, heartbreaking, and funny.truck dance

I recently read Lauren Becker’s novella + story collection, published by Curbside Splendor books, If I Would Leave Myself Behind and it’s fantastic. I highly recommend this smart, edgy, vulnerable, exquisitely written collection. Here’s a taste:

“Tuesdays are quiet. If you don’t make them louder, you invite the tiny, final earthquake that turns cracks to holes.You should remember that early Tuesday nights are different from late Saturdays and maybe go to bed instead. The fault line shifted when he left, right after, like always. Sometime in the night or morning, I emptied the condom I found in the trash and made it irrelevant.”

if i would leave myself behind

Lastly, I have sort of quietly begun offering my services giving editing suggestions and feedback for flash fiction. Are people interested in this? I am considering putting an actual page up on this blog with a form to fill out and everything, so it all looks legit and professional. Stay tuned and let me know if you’re interested! Thanks.

To Segment or Not to Segment: "Baby, Baby" (flash fiction)

Today, writer Robyn Ryle told me she just had a segmented story accepted at Luna Luna Magazine. It was a story she’d changed to a segmented structure after reading my story, “Rodney & Chelsea” posted some while back here on my blog. I can’t wait to read her story and am so excited that my story inspired her to look at structure another way!

But does segmenting always work? What is lost and what is gained by employing this structure in flash fiction?

The structure suits flash fiction very well in that it eliminates the use of transitions, bridges from scene to scene, and therefore results in fewer words–a goal of flash fiction.

The absence of transitions creates a snapshot effect. The reader has to collaborate with the writer to create story within the white space. The writer is playing with the reader’s subconscious, which of course differs from reader to reader. This, to me, is what makes flash so exciting to read and to write. The individual snapshots carry more weight, or ought to carry more weight, if they’re to be effective.

Also, segmented structure allows a flash to cover a broader expanse of time (see my post about Jeff Landon’s “Thirty-Nine Years of Carrie Wallace.”–although I wrote a one-sentence flash that covered a lifetime in my flash “The Stars of Ursa Major” published many years ago in New South).

But what is lost? I would say a gentle flow or build. Flash fiction doesn’t always need to be “punchy” or “sharp” (many would disagree with me on this!). There are times when you want something smoother, slower even. Or you want to stay in one particular moment or scene. I’ll discuss this in more detail in a future post, but I will say now that segmenting something like this would diffuse the moment and nothing, nothing in flash fiction should be diffused.

Here is another of my segmented flash stories, published in an issue of FRiGG Magazine which was devoted to micro-fiction. I saw this story as a collection of micros and editor, Ellen Parker, agreed. I wanted to convey the frenetic, exhausting, exhilarating first weeks and months of motherhood, but only to focus on the sharp moments that force themselves out of the blur of it. Did the segmented structure serve my purpose? Let me know what you think…

Baby, Baby…

Everyone’s in a hurry. Especially the men, who run for the trains and sacrifice their briefcases to the doors. Men in seats, reading newspapers or paperbacks. Ling is weary of these men. She wants to stick her pregnant belly into their noses. She looks at herself in the window. She’s wearing a herringbone maternity suit with a large red bow at her neck. She looks angry and fat, but festive.

~~

Six weeks after giving birth, Ling goes back to work downtown. She pumps her breasts in the ladies room, sitting on the toilet. Co-workers come in to pee or brush their teeth and the pump squeaks and from the stall, Ling says sorry…I’m sorry.

~~

Before dawn, she buckles the baby into the Escort and sticks a bottle in its mouth. She leaves the car seat at the babysitter’s for her husband, who collects the baby when he gets off work and drives the baby home in his Toyota. The baby listens to Bruce Springsteen in the Toyota and Moonlight Sonata in the Escort.

~~

Ling hands the babysitter a half cup of frozen blue milk in a baggy. The babysitter shrugs. I’ll mix it with her formula, she says. You have a run in your stocking.

~~

Ling doesn’t sleep and becomes ineffectual in her job. She’d quit, but they are sort of broke. Suddenly, she doesn’t know what any of it means. What does it mean? She asks her co-workers. What are the codes? What are the procedures? She types a row of question marks, eats prodigiously from a bag on her desk. Sometimes she closes her eyes and dreams that the baby has been put back into her stomach. Only now, the baby is a monkey.

~~

On weekends, she takes the baby for long strolls. Once they’d gone as far as three miles and the baby got hungry and Ling had forgotten to pack a bottle. She ran all the way back, bumping over cracks in the sidewalk as the baby screamed.

~~

The husband arranges for a babysitter so they can go to a Christmas party. The party is a Vegas night and they gamble at tables and make small talk with the husband’s co-workers and their spouses. At the craps table, Ling whispers to the older woman next to her, I have a three month old. I can’t believe I’m here. The woman offers a sip of her screwdriver.

~~

Each working day at dusk, Ling runs into the house and kicks off her sneakers. She reaches up into her skirt and rolls down the band of her panty hose and takes the baby from her husband’s lap. She lies on her back, holding the baby overhead and flies the baby back and forth in her upstretched arms. She sings:

baby baby
flying all over the world
looking for toys and candy

and the baby smiles and the husband laughs. And the baby’s cheeks droop like water balloons. And the baby drops drool on Ling’s forehead.

Segmented Structure in Flash Fiction: Rodney & Chelsea

I wrote several versions of this story, but this version, told in seven subtitled micros, is my favorite. Published years ago in Mississippi Review online, the story now appears in Together We Can Bury It. I’ve talked about segmented structure before, how the story and characterization are advanced and built-upon in short, sharp bursts and how well-suited this form is to flash fiction (see my posts about Jeff Landon’s and Myfanwy Collins’ beautiful segmented stories).

Rodney and Chelsea

1. Tangerines

Rodney and Chelsea have decided this is the day. They are sixteen years old and they are in love. Neither of them has ever done it, though Rodney has come close with a girl he worked with at Dairy Queen who smelled like French fries and who had perfect, melon-sized breasts. Chelsea’s breasts are more the size of tangerines, but he likes them. He likes that she smells like Fruit Loops and that her front teeth overlap slightly. Her mouth is glossed. He slips his tongue inside.

2. Bear Spirit

“Rodney’s an old man’s name,” Chelsea’s mom says and calls him Rascal instead. It makes Rodney feel like a Labrador.

Chelsea’s mom believes that life is a celebration and that people should live in the Now. Chelsea has an older brother named Royal. Nobody knows where the hell he is. He ran away from the halfway house downtown, the place Chelsea’s mom said was his best chance and hope. He has a behavior disorder which involves beating people up. He doesn’t know his own strength is what Chelsea’s mom says. He has a bear spirit. He is un-ruinable.

The last guy he beat up now walks with a cane.

3. The Bunnies

Chelsea’s father left when Royal was ten and Chelsea was a newborn. Every Easter, he sends Chelsea a six-foot Easter bunny and now she has sixteen huge Easter bunnies and there are no more places to sit in Chelsea’s house. Sometimes people sit on the bunnies’ laps or sometimes they just stand, looking around or sometimes they sit on the floor.

4. A Small Complication

Their first date, Rodney plucked a daffodil from Chelsea’s garden and presented it to her at the door. And Chelsea’s mom gave them Boone’s Farm, mixed with a splash of 7Up. All three of them got a little drunk, sitting on the porch watching the sun go down and a full moon rise. Chelsea’s mom insisted on driving Rodney home. Before he got out of the car, she pulled his face to hers and kissed him, hard.

5. About Rodney’s Parents . . .

Rodney doesn’t have any siblings. He feels lucky, given the circumstances. His mother died of cancer when he was five. He remembers standing on tiptoe to reach a cookie off a plate on the counter and her hand slapping his away. He tries to really see that hand, to see something about it that is especially hers, but it always ends up being just a hand.

Rodney’s father is a podiatrist who is working on his overall fitness. Every day at dawn, he walks the perimeter of the cul-de-sac, gripping fifty-pound dumbbells in each hand. In warm weather he goes without a shirt, his burgeoning muscles gleaming. He makes three trips around, bobs his chin to Chelsea’s mom who watches from her kitchen window, and lays the dumbbells on the porch in the special box. He consumes nothing but protein: lamb chops, sausages, steaks as thick as two hands clamped together. He will never love another woman, he promises Rodney, who really doesn’t care if he does or not. Rodney only wants his father to be happy, which his father assures him he is.

6. Clinical

Two bunnies sit in opposite corners of Chelsea’s bedroom. One is missing an eye and one’s polka-dotted ear is nearly torn off. Rodney and Chelsea undress in a clinical manner and fold their clothes as if, together, they have decided to join the Army. Rodney has seen parts of Chelsea but never the whole and now he stands before her and reaches out to touch one tangerine breast. Unsure of what to do with her own hands, Chelsea simply places them on Rodney’s shoulders.

She’s afraid to get closer because his thing is standing up. She digs her toes into the pink shag rug and closes her eyes. The breeze through the window is making the shutters flap against the window frame and Rodney’s breath smells like oatmeal and grape jelly.

7. The Now

At this moment Chelsea’s dad is getting fired from his job selling tires in Terre Haute and her mom is hunched over a patient, scraping plaque in an office downtown, thinking of that kiss and Royal’s getting the shit kicked out of him in a bar in Tucson. At this moment, Rodney’s dad’s outside on the curb, sweating, coughing, turning blue, as Rodney kisses Chelsea. Like howling into her mouth.

Segmented Structure in Flash Fiction: Jeff Landon's "Thirty-Nine Years of Carrie Wallace"

Segmented (or I like the term “mosaic”) structure is something I use quite a lot in my flash fiction. The form lends itself well to this structure, giving the feel of story in bursts, or flash within flash. Each burst must carry weight, the way each word must, in flash fiction. The reader must live a little in the white space and collaborate with the writer in advancing the story. It is my favorite type of flash to read and to write.

Here’s a beautiful and effective example of the use of segmented structure in flash fiction in Jeff Landon’s “Thirty-Nine Years of Carrie Wallace” from Smokelong Quarterly:

Thirty-Nine Years of Carrie Wallace by Jeff Landon

At recess, in Roanoke, Virginia, we play freeze tag, only the rule is you don’t tag the person, you kiss the person, and once you’re kissed you’re frozen forever until somebody tags you. I’m a fast runner, but I always let Carrie Wallace catch me. She has bangs and white plastic boots. She kisses me and goes, “You’re frozen,” and I go, “So what?”

***

Carrie’s basement and we’re fifteen years old. Her parents have gone to Aruba for a rebirthing workshop, and her big sister is upstairs, shaping her eyebrows. We are high on green pot and the jug of Mogen David wine I lifted from Garland’s Drugstore. It’s summer and I can taste the heat in Carrie’s skin. Huddled together we smell like fruity wine, spearmint gum, Lark cigarettes, pot, and Herbal Essence shampoo. It’s not as awful as it sounds.

“Make it last,” Carrie whispers in the dark. But I don’t.

***

Downtown Boston, in my dorm room, and we’re listening to a Poco record. Carrie’s down for the weekend; she goes to school in Vermont. Tonight, she’s wearing a yellow T-shirt and my flannel pajama pants. A pot of coffee is brewing on my hot plate, but right now we’re eating cookies and drinking beer. We pretend that we’ll be grown-up and stop drinking beer any minute now, but it won’t happen that way.

It’s snowing outside. It snows all the time up here. My dorm room is on the tenth floor of a converted hotel. In the hallway, this insane guy from Texas dribbles a basketball and sings a song about cheese. In my room, Carrie and I sit on the edge of my bed and look out the window. She loops her arm around my shoulder. People are skating on the Charles River, under artificial light, and the snow swirls everywhere.

Carrie is in love, she tells me, with someone she met in school.

I look at the window. I want to jump, but I don’t want to die.

I just want to float.

***

When I see Carrie again, it’s by accident. She’s in town for the weekend; she’s helping her mother move into a new place on the river. We meet in a bar, back in Roanoke. I moved back here, after my divorce. I live in an apartment complex popular with young singles. They smile at me. The women ask about my daughter, and the men go, “Hey, big guy, how’s it hangin’?”

When the bar closes down, I offer to drive Carrie home, but she wants to go for a walk. It’s April, but it feels like summer tonight, so we walk. She talks about her kids, her mother’s ancient Cadillac, and her adult ballet class. She doesn’t talk much about her husband.

“He’s OK,” she says. “He’s a wonderful father.”

I nod. It’s getting late and Carrie needs to get back to her mother’s house.

***

It’s hard to explain the luster of certain ordinary nights when everything works together. When you’re walking in your old hometown with Carrie Wallace and her new, complicated haircut; when the moon ducks under the mountains, when the song you hear on someone’s passing radio is one of your favorites, when Carrie walks beside you in her blue sneakers and a yellow dress, and neon crosses flare over empty churches and it’s the exact middle of the night and for a little pocket of time your life seems perfect and without memories, and so quiet.

Praise for Together We Can Bury It

Ohh, I do not love self-promotion, and I really suck at it, but damn, I’m so happy and so proud of this book, so bear with me here. I’ve gotten some lovely blurbs for my collection, which launches at AWP. I only asked writers I knew and who knew my writing. People who have supported me so much over the years and whose writing I admired beyond words. So thank you Pia Z. Ehrhardt, Kim Chinquee, Jennifer Pieroni, Jeff Landon, and James Robison. I am so honored and grateful. And my deepest thanks to Molly Gaudry for her extreme faith, boundless energy and incredible vision. The Lit Pub is doing amazing things and I’m proud to be a part of it.

Praise for Together We Can Bury It

“We readers are blessed to have these perfectly made stories by Kathy Fish, each one a distillation of novel-sized themes and predicaments to a heady, imperative, short short encounter, each story exact, humane, each story providing a language of music. And each the product of a writer who knows all the storms and terrors, the pathetic and somehow holy conditions of our existence. Masterworks!”

—James Robison, author of The Illustrator

“A space man untethered in the universe thinking of home. A young couple biking in the rain to a parade that must be cancelled. A woman losing her speech and balance but still leaving, she thinks, for New York. With remarkable precision, Kathy Fish champions the dreamers, believers, and lovers. If you are not one of those, you can trust Kathy Fish to show you the way back to your heart.”

—Jennifer Pieroni, editor of Quick Fiction

“Kathy Fish's Together We Can Bury It is a wonder—stories filled with sadness, humor, and longing—a slanted banged-up beauty of a world that feels like this one, only more.”

—Jeff Landon, author of Truck Dance and Emily Avenue

“Full of grace and wit, Kathy Fish's Together We Can Bury It takes one to the familiar, yet bizarre: worlds of wonder, ache, and hope. Worlds not to forget. A refreshing voice, busting of compassion, guts, and wisdom. This collection shines with amazing delight.”


—Kim Chinquee, author of Oh Baby

“There’s a movie’s worth of character and plot and insight in every blooming one of these short
fictions. I finished this book feeling stuffed, dazed, and amazed by how much Kathy Fish gets done in such tight spaces. It’s a thrill to be privy to what she thinks about, the wonder she carries inside.”

—Pia Z. Ehrhardt, author of Famous Fathers

Into and Out of the Wild–My final post at Necessary Fiction

Necessary Fiction.

Some Good Things

1. I am bundled, or rather, my book Wild LIfe is bundled, with Jeff Landon’s book, Truck Dance for the low, low price of ten bucks plus two dollars shipping. I’ve read Truck Dance and can tell you, it’s superb. So go get ’em, at Matter Press!

2. I’m so happy to have a stamp story in the latest edition of Wigleaf, with so many fantastic writers. Read all the stamp stories here: Stamp Stories. This is to introduce the now available Mudluscious Press Stamp Stories Anthology, which I’m also proud to be a part of. And you can get that here: Get this book which contains the work of these fine people:

James Tadd Adcox, Jesse Ball, Ken Baumann, Lauren Becker, Matt Bell, Kate Bernheimer, Michael Bible, Jack Boettcher, Harold Bowes, Jesse Bradley, Donald Breckenridge, Melissa Broder, Blake Butler, James Chapman, Jimmy Chen, Joshua Cohen, Peter Conners, Shome Dasgupta, Andy Devine, Giancarlo DiTrapano, Claire Donato, Elizabeth Ellen, Raymond Federman, Kathy Fish, Scott Garson, Molly Gaudry, Roxane Gay, Steven Gillis, Rachel B. Glaser, Amanda Goldblatt, Barry Graham, Amelia Gray, Sara Greenslit, Tina May Hall, Christopher Higgs, Lily Hoang, Tim Horvath, Joanna Howard, Laird Hunt, Jamie Iredell, Harold Jaffe, A D Jameson, Jac Jemc, Stephanie Johnson, Shane Jones, Drew Kalbach, Roy Kesey, Sean Kilpatrick, Michael Kimball, M. Kitchell, Robert Kloss, Darby Larson, Charles Lennox, Eugene Lim, Matthew Lippman, Norman Lock, Robert Lopez, Sean Lovelace, Josh Maday, Dave Madden, John Madera, Kendra Grant Malone, Tony Mancus, Peter Markus, Chelsea Martin, Zachary Mason, Hosho McCreesh, Alissa Nutting, Riley Michael Parker, Aimee Parkison, David Peak, Ted Pelton, Adam Peterson, Ryan Ridge, Joseph Riippi, Adam Robinson, Ethel Rohan, Joanna Ruocco, Kevin Sampsell, Selah Saterstrom, Davis Schneiderman, Zachary Schomburg, Todd Seabrook, Ben Segal, Gregory Sherl, Lydia Ship, Matthew Simmons, Justin Sirois, Amber Sparks, Ken Sparling, Ben Spivey, Michael Stewart, Terese Svoboda, Sean Ulman, Deb Olin Unferth, Timmy Waldron, William Walsh, Rupert Wondolowski, James Yeh, Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé.

3. I am still thinking about Michael Kimball’s book, US, which pretty much wrecked me, in the best way. Review to follow. But I highly recommend it. Here’s the Goodreads page for this book, published by Tyrant Books: Us

4. I’m going home to Iowa, the day after Thanksgiving to join in the celebration of my brother, Tom’s, 60th birthday. He’s the one who saved me from drowning when I was three years old, so, well, I owe my life to the man.