Flash fiction is like a good dram

Cross-posted from the SA Writers’ Centre blog. I wrote this post ahead of my flash fiction workshop at the SA Writers’ Centre in Adelaide (this weekend: 22 June, book here). I also have workshops coming up at Writers Victoria (see also my interview), the Tasmanian Writers’ Centre, and at Byron Bay Writers’ Fest!

Glencairn_Whisky_Glass

On my desktop is a whisky wheel, a device that’s supposed to help you with your tasting notes when sampling single malts. Does your drink have a touch of black pepper on the nose? Or is it orange blossom? Is it lactic or nutty on the palate? Is the finish more toward the end of mint or tobacco? And how long does it linger on the tongue?

Those who know me have probably realised I’d eventually get around to using whisky as a metaphor for writing. Flash fictions—stories under 1000 words—are like a good dram. You savour them, roll them around in your mouth, are left with resonant remnants.

Here’s a little guide to tasting flash fiction:

The nose

The tone, voice or mood is set in the first few lines. Or if it’s a really short one, in the first few words. Some flavours the opening might go for: intriguing, dark, buoyant, amusing, suspicious, arresting. Or, indeed, honey, smoke or cloves.

The palate

We’re into the story now. There’s a character or characters. Something happens, has happened or is about to happen. The flavours (if it’s a good dram of story) are working together to create a cohesive effect. Something could be coming through very strong, like smoke or desire. The flavours are setting off little pings of association in your brain: your childhood, your fears, his garden, her lipstick.

The finish

All good things come to an end. But there’s a lingering in a good, complex dram or story. Did it slide down smoothly? Or is there a hint of bitterness left at the back of the tongue? Are you experiencing a jolt of sweet sherbet? There might be a warming in your chest, a sudden clarity, or a fading melancholy.

How powerful some flavours are: fresh cut grass, wet dog, roses, butterscotch. The flavours themselves, and the associations they uncover, can remain in the memory long afterwards.

With flash fiction, you have so few words to work with – 30ml worth, perhaps. There are many different types of flash stories, though a series of them from one author might take on a certain flavour profile (like single malts from a single region). Reading a range of stories from different authors will help to build your palate, help you to find out what you yourself can do.

Join me in the bar and let’s enjoy a dram or two.

Flash fictions: key words and after-images, on Booktopia

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On the Booktopia blog today, I discuss flash fiction and short fiction; my own and others’ stories, intentions and possibilities. Here’s an extract:

In a short story, every word must count. What is left out is as important as what is left in. The writer must create and maintain a particular tone, or mood, and create a piece that feels whole (not a fragment) but that may evoke much outside its confines. With my own very short stories (also called flash fictions or microfictions), I want the characters, images, themes to live long in the reader’s mind. I want them to have some impact.

You might compare a very short story to a complex painting – a narrative-based painting – where the symbols nestled in the setting and upon the figures work together to not only suggest a particular story but hopefully move you to feel something, something you may not even fully, consciously comprehend.

I hope you enjoy reading the rest.

Signing a contract for an unfinished manuscript, on Writers Bloc

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Click here to read my piece on Writers Bloc about signing the contract for Captives before it was finished, and the ensuing writing process (while travelling). Here’s an extract:

I wrote a few of the stories around sessions at the Edinburgh International Book Fest, including a couple which are postmodern or referential. This reflects the fact that, like the narrator of Rabih Alameddine’s An Unnecessary Woman who knows Lolita’s mother better than she knows her own, I don’t like to separate out my ‘real world’ and ‘cultural’ experiences too much, because I’ve spent so much of my life immersed in fictional spaces. Not only in books, but in places like Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, or the post-apocalyptic glam world of David Bowie’s Diamond Dogs.

CaptivesFCR (1)Captives is available for pre-order from my publisher, Inkerman & Blunt, until 30 April (free postage). And the book will soon be available (or at least available to order) at all good bookstores. The official release is only days away! The ebook will also soon be available…

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Captives available for pre-order!

CaptivesFCR (1)In her first book of fiction, writer and literary journalist Angela Meyer demonstrates her gift for painting vivid pictures with a few adroit, restrained brush strokes.
—Jennifer Peterson-Ward, Books+Publishing 

You guys…

My first fiction book is being published in May: Captives. It’s a petite, dark collection of flash fiction, with a cover and layout beautifully designed by Sandy Cull. Here’s the blurb:

Captives opens with a husband pointing his gun at his wife. There’s a woman who hears ‘the hiss of Beelzebub behind people’s voices’, a photographer who captures the desire to suicide, a man locked in a toilet who may never get out, a couple who grow young, and a prisoner who learns to swallow like a python.

Angela Meyer’s Captives is a collection of shimmering story wafers, each of which hovers at exactly the sweet spot of just enough. Individually piercing, Meyer’s fiction slices fit together like the best poetry does, amplifying what came before and chiming with what comes after. —Tania Hershman.

I’m so excited that some of my fiction has found its way out into the world, thanks to Inkerman & Blunt. You can follow the publisher on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Captives is now available for pre-order! If you order from Inkerman & Blunt directly before April 30, you’ll receive a signed copy (only $14.99)! You can also order it from your favourite local or online bookstore (the ISBN is 9780987540126).

I’ll be doing plenty of events around the release of Captives, which I’ll announce mainly via Facebook and Twitter. I’ve also started a dedicated events page here on the blog.

Thanks, as always, for reading. (Can you believe this blog will be seven years old the month Captives comes out?) 

The Great Unknown authors: Deborah Biancotti

The Great Unknown w blurbs small imageThis is the eleventh post published in conjunction with the release of The Great Unknown, where authors share their experience of writing eerie stories for the anthology. The Great Unknown is available from BooktopiaReadingsAvid ReaderFishpond (free shipping worldwide) and all good bookstores. You might also want to add it to your shelves on Goodreads.

Deborah Biancotti is a regular on genre fiction award lists, writing across a range of urban fantasy, horror, science fiction and steampunk. Her books include Bad Power and A Book of Endings. Today she answers some questions about writing ‘See-Saw’ for The Great Unknown.

What did you enjoy/find challenging about writing to this particular theme?

dbiancotti_v0202 201108 (2)I love unexplained stuff. Weird stuff, stuff that happens that doesn’t have any kind of logical explanation. I always wanted spontaneous combustion to be real, you know? Also reincarnation. And ghosts, I’d like ghosts to be real. Though not at my place, and not after dark. All those creepy photos of ghosts you see, right before they’re debunked by experts – I love those.

I like to think that the walls of reality could just fall the hell apart and we’ll be left with chaos. Something that would blow our minds into tiny, tiny pieces. And then I want to think that the ones who survive the end of reality will be the people like me, who’ve been reading and writing and living the weird since we were kids.

But, writing something that was inexplicable without being alienating, that was hard. Trying to fashion a world that felt coherent and yet pliable, trying to fit in events that were strange but convincing, trying to hold it all together, that turned my brain into a pretzel. This is where the writer relies on the smarts of the editor to help her fashion just the right balance to intrigue a reader without just, y’know, being annoying about it.

Tell us about your story in The Great Unknown.

For some reason I went with a kind of French influence. In my story, ‘See-Saw’, I built a crowded little city and one loveable rogue of a protagonist, and then I said to myself, ‘well, what would be weird in this world? And what would be awesome?’ And I built something that was weird and awesome for my cigarette-smoking, lazy liar of a protag. I hope she enjoys it.

After all, there’s no telling if it will last.

What memories do you have of watching The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits or of reading spooky/uncanny stories (or comics) as a kid? 

Some of those stories really stuck in my mind. Like the guy who sees the demon on the wing of the plane. And the guy who is challenged by the Devil while he’s trying to solve a maths problem. And the guy for whom all language falls apart when everyone around him starts to use the word ‘dinosaur’ when they mean ‘lunch’. Those weird, challenging ideas rolled around and around in my head for decades.

And then, oh man, there were the Creepshow movies. A part of my brain is still dedicated to memorising lines like ‘Thanks for the ride, lady!’

Despite her success as a writer of quality macabre and psychological thrillers, Patricia Highsmith was, to her great disappointment, never published in The New Yorker. Has anything changed? What thoughts do you have on the current status of writing genre fiction?

Patricia Highsmith was a consummate writer of believable, psychological horror. I hate to think she was disappointed by anything. Has anything changed? I think the states of reading and writing change so much, so often, that by the time I could fashion any kind of summary statement about it, the world will have turned upside-down and none of what I have to say will be relevant any longer.

Which is just the way I like it.

You might also enjoy reading about stories by Chris FlynnHelen RichardsonA.S. PatricMarion HalliganGuy SalvidgeKathy CharlesAli AlizadehRyan O’NeillCarmel BirdRhys Tate, and Alex Cothren.

The Great Unknown authors: Chris Flynn

The Great Unknown w blurbs small imageThis is the tenth post published in conjunction with the release of The Great Unknown, where authors share their experience of writing eerie stories for the anthology. The Great Unknown is available from BooktopiaReadingsAvid ReaderFishpond (free shipping worldwide) and all good bookstores. You might also want to add it to your shelves on Goodreads.

Chris Flynn is the author of A Tiger in Eden, and his second novel, The Glass Kingdom, will be out later this year. Here Flynn tells us about the impact the 1983 Twilight Zone film had on him, and introduces us to his story ‘Sealer’s Cove’.

chrisflynn_72 (2)Re-runs of The Twilight Zone played on late-night TV in Ireland and I watched them assiduously as a boy (my dad taped them for me) but one of my strongest memories of the show came with the release of the ill-fated 1983 film version. Remaking three classic episodes, the movie is a mixed bag. Spielberg’s version of episode ‘Kick the Can’ is overly sentimental and Joe Dante’s take on ‘It’s a Good Life’ is fairly nutty, but Aussie George Miller does a great job of remaking ‘Nightmare at 20,000 Feet’, with John Lithgow in the role of the paranoid airline passenger who thinks he sees a creature fiddling with an engine during a storm. William Shatner memorably played the part in the original episode, one of the show’s best.

John Landis directed the opening and closing segments of the film, and the first segment, ‘Time Out’, is based fairly loosely upon the 1961 episode, ‘A Quality of Mercy’. In the Landis version, a drunk, racist businessmen played by Hollywood veteran Vic Morrow rails against three different minority groups. Upon leaving the bar he is somehow thrown back in time and subsequently mistaken for the people he bemoans. In a sort of moral lesson against the dangers of prejudice, Morrow undergoes persecution by the Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan and American GI’s during the Vietnam War. He ends up in a train en route to a concentration camp, paying the ultimate price for his folly.

It’s an interesting idea, if a little heavy-handed. The segment and the overall reputation of the film as a whole were forever mythologized because Vic Morrow and two Vietnamese child actors Myca Dinh Le and Renee Shin-Yi Chen were killed during the final moments of filming when a helicopter crashed directly onto them. Morrow and seven year-old Myca were both decapitated by the rotor blades. The investigation into their deaths understandably overshadowed the film, and tainted the brand for many years to come. It marked me as a child because it seemed impossible that a leading man could be killed during the making of a movie. I don’t know that it has ever happened since.

Whilst my story ‘Sealer’s Cove’ is more light-hearted, the conceit of a man turning a corner and finding himself abruptly transported into the past is a nod to ‘Time Out’, a poignant thirty minutes of film that is terribly sad to watch. ‘Sealer’s Cove’ takes place in the middle of the night on a beach in Victoria’s Wilson’s Promontory, and like many works of fiction, contains elements based on real events. The parts that did not happen to me should be fairly obvious, although maybe not. We are, after all, treading the middle ground between light and shadow in this collection and entering a dimension of sight, of sound, and of the imagination, a frightening place that sometimes has no exit.

‘Sealer’s Cove’ is dedicated to Myca Dinh Le, Renee Shin-Yi Chen and Vic Morrow.

You might also enjoy reading about stories by Helen RichardsonA.S. PatricMarion HalliganGuy SalvidgeKathy CharlesAli AlizadehRyan O’NeillCarmel BirdRhys Tate, and Alex Cothren.

The Great Unknown authors: Helen Richardson

The Great Unknown w blurbs small imageThis is the ninth post published in conjunction with the release of The Great Unknown, where authors share their experience of writing eerie stories for the anthology. The Great Unknown is available from BooktopiaReadingsAvid ReaderFishpond (free shipping worldwide) and all good bookstores. You might also want to add it to your shelves on Goodreads.

Helen Richardson is a writer and editor who lives in the Blue Mountains. She was a finalist in the Carmel Bird Short Fiction competition. Her story, ‘Navigating’ is about a wayward sat nav that leads a family into unexpected territory… 

Helen_Richardson_pic (2)What did you enjoy/find challenging about writing to this particular theme?

I find it liberating to leave the restraints of the ‘real’ behind. It’s fun to play with an idea, twist it, and see where it goes.

Tell us about your story in The Great Unknown.

My story, ‘Navigating’ is about a sat nav gone wrong. A while ago there was a plethora of stories in the media about cars being directed into rivers, or through ‘no entry’ signs etc. I took this idea and then thought, what if this wasn’t random; what if there was a ghost in the machine?

What memories do you have of watching shows like The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits as a kid? Did these play any role in your developing imagination? Which films, TV shows, books etc provide that same sort of allure for you these days?

I was very young when The Twilight Zone was on but I remember being unsettled by it while later on it was viewed more ironically. But this show, and others such as The Invaders, The Prisoner and The Avengers instilled in me a lifelong love of speculative and supernatural fiction. Nowadays there’s a lot of this around for young readers in the form of vampires, angels and demons etc. but I can’t help thinking a lot of this is romance dressed up in the paranormal. There are some wonderful authors, though: Suzanna Clarke (Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell—incredible!), Neil Gaiman, Susan Hill, Alice Hoffman, Sarah Waters’ masterpiece of ghost writing The Little Stranger and a lovely book of short fiction Women and Ghosts by Alison Lurie.

What are your thoughts on the current status of genre fiction?

There is such a dearth of outlets in this country for short fiction in general, and genre short fiction, in particular. I think short, short literary fiction of the slice-of-life variety, is the only kind a reader is likely to encounter, possibly because literary magazines have continued to publish it (good on them but a tiny market) and because independent anthologies can still get financial support to publish ‘literary’ works. This is a pity because public transport commutes, new mobile technology, and today’s time squeeze, provides a space where the quick-grab of the genre story would absorb the reader perfectly for half an hour, or an hour.

As for recognition in mainstream outlets, genre has always been the poor cousin and where it is noticed, it is to lampoon the most egregious successes (Dan Brown, EL James) or because a ‘serious’ writer has crossed over—Margaret Atwood, Cormac McCarthy.

Crime has managed to force itself into the literary pages but speculative, horror etc. is routinely ignored.

You might also enjoy reading about stories by A.S. PatricMarion HalliganGuy SalvidgeKathy CharlesAli AlizadehRyan O’NeillCarmel BirdRhys Tate, and Alex Cothren.