Tuesday, June 09, 2009

 

Interview with Gay Degani, First Place Winner of the Winter '09 Flash Fiction Contest


Gay Degani, a former community college instructor in English, lives in Southern California with her husband and ancient Labrador retriever. She's been published in two mystery anthologies, in THEMA Literary Journal and on-line at Every Day Fiction, Flash Fiction Online, Tattoo Highway, and Salt River Review. “Spring Melt” was a finalist for The 2nd Annual Micro Fiction Award and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. “Monsoon” was a finalist in Glimmer Train’s 2007 Fiction Open and “Wounded Moon” was short-listed for the 2008 Fish Short Story Prize.

Gay’s blog is Words in Place and she is the editor of Flash Fiction Chronicles for Every Day Fiction.

You can read her work online: Losing Ground at Tattoo Highway, The London Eye at Every Day Fiction, Listing Lisa at Salt River Review, and Spring Melt is a 2008 Micro Fiction Finalist and a Pushcart Nominee.

Interviewed by Marcia Peterson

WOW: Congratulations on your first place win! What inspired you to enter the contest?

Gay: Thanks for the congrats! It was most exciting to get an email from a friend with a capitalized “CONGRATULATIONS” in the subject line. I was wondering, what the heck? Then when I read why, I was jazzed! Wow! Literally WOW!

I found WOW! Women on Writing’s Flash Fiction Contest when a friend won a similar prize. I’m always on the prowl for places to submit my writing. Although there are many venues on the internet, much of my fiction seems to sift through without sticking. It seems to be too “on-the-nose” for many online lit sites and not genre enough for others, so I take advantage of every opportunity.

WOW: Can you tell us what encouraged the idea behind your story?

Gay: This story was born when a woman from a nearby town was sideswiped by a car and killed while out for a Sunday bike-ride with her husband. I didn’t know her personally, but the suddenness of her death shook me. I began to think about how it would feel to have my life completely reversed by such an event.

As I do with everything that causes that little niggle in my brain, I asked, “What if that had been my husband?” My answer was “walls.” I’d build walls around myself and never go out. That was the genesis of this piece.

WOW: I loved "Beyond the Curve," and thought you created a great opening sentence, which is important in capturing the attention of your readers. I also liked the title, with its deeper, double meaning. How much work do you put in to your opening lines and story titles? Do you spend a lot of time tweaking them?

Gay: Since I started writing online flash fiction, I’ve learned the importance of first sentences. When someone reads on a monitor, he or she can click through to so many different sites with so little effort, it becomes essential for a writer to seduce that reader immediately with vivid images using specific detail. The reader wants a picture to see right away, the wart on a character’s face, the gleam of light off a skyscraper, a mangled bicycle. With that image, he or she willingly reads on to find out what next.

As for titles, I usually have a working title that comes from my first inspiration, but often it ends up being discarded because it tells too much too soon. I need the working title to keep me focused on the juicy parts of the story, but once I’m finished, I look for something more suggestive and symbolic.

One of the things I love to do most is to try to have double meanings where ever I can, but part of the challenge is that it must be subtle. It’s hard to find the right balance between the obvious and the obscure, and when it works, I’m thinking, “YES!”

WOW: It’s always interesting to learn about a successful writer’s process, thank you. You’re also the editor of Flash Fiction Chronicles. This looks like a great resource for writers. Can you tell us about the site and what visitors might expect?

Gay: I was lucky enough to find Every Day Fiction when I decided to try to publish online. I had a short piece I’d done as an exercise in Gordon Mennenga’s class at the University of Iowa’s Summer Writing Festival ( a great place to spend a week surrounded by writers). When I read “One Question” in front of the group, it was first time Gordon said to me, “Now that’s a piece of professional writing!”

I sent it off to EDF and they published that piece and eventually more of my work. They even nominated “Spring Melt” for the Pushcart Prize. There’s a list of my online stories at my blog, Words in Place.

When the editors of EDF asked if anyone would volunteer to run a blog for the e-zine, I raised my virtual hand. They gave me carte blanche to do what I wanted, and Flash Fiction Chronicles was born. The site is dedicated to the discussion of the art and craft of flash fiction, fiction in general, and the issues of writing, marketing, and publishing today. I’m always looking for submissions from writers at all levels, from beginner to professional.

WOW: I found lots of great posts there, and I think others will enjoy it too. You’re doing a great job! Aspiring authors would probably love to know about your writing routines. For example, where do you write? How many hours (or words) a day do you write?

Gay: Oh-oh. I wish I could say I manage to bang out hundreds of words a day, but I’m somewhat sporadic. When a story has juice for me, I think about it all the time, write notes on napkins, tell my husband “shhhhh,” and hide in my garage office because if I don’t deal with that story right away, it might lose its juiciness.

I sit down at the computer every morning. I work on either a short piece of fiction or my novel. This is always a battle for me. The novel is long range gratification and is sometimes trumped by an email announcing a contest for a 1000-word piece. This provides INSTANT (relatively) gratification. I give in. New characters, new story. What fun!!!

But what I understand and what I say to others is finishing something is crucial. Get to the end while the juice is still dripping from my mouth. You can edit later.

WOW: Good advice! What writing projects are you working on right now? Do you have goals in mind for the rest of the year?

Gay: My goal is to finish editing my mystery novel, What Came Before. This is a must-do enterprise. I love the story which centers around a woman who investigates the murder of a sister she didn’t know she had and while doing so, uncovers the reasons for her own mother’s suicide.

WOW: Sounds like a great story, and we wish you luck with the editing work. Do you have any final words of wisdom for our women readers/writers?

Gay: Work hard. You have the power to learn what you need to know.
Don’t fall in love with your own words. There are more where those came from.
Write what you love to read. Write what you want to write.
Observe everything. There’s a story in every popcorn kernel on the floor.
Trust in yourself and don’t take anything too seriously. Be joyful.


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>Check back on Tuesdays for interviews with more Winter ’09 Flash Fiction winners.

>For details on WOW! Women on Writing's current contest, head on over to our contest page.

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Monday, August 04, 2008

 

How To Write Flash Fiction


By Louise Dop


While the traditional short story fights to hold the attention of a fast moving world, the popularity of flash fiction is on the rise. Conforming to this restricted format can be a valuable discipline for writers and with an expanding market the potential for monetary reward is significant.

While there is no universally accepted exact word limit, generally a short story is considered to constitute flash fiction if it is less than 1,000 words; most flash fiction pieces are between 250 and 1,000 words long. Although some may disregard this form as a gimmick, there are several reasons why writers should take it seriously. Its brevity is particularly well suited to the Internet where new websites dedicated to the genre are appearing all the time. With the popularity of services that allow readers to download written material on subscription to mobile phones and hand held devices, flash fiction writers have a realistic chance of placing work. And since flash fiction has a low word count, payment rates often seem high when calculated on a per word basis. Aside from the financial benefits, writing good quality flash fiction can hone the skills of even the most accomplished writer by forcing them to consider every word.

Creating flash fiction is like concocting a rich sauce. The basic ingredients of character, action, and setting are reduced down until only the essence of the story remains. However brief, this story must have a plot with a beginning a middle and an end. Merely writing an anecdote or reflection is not sufficient. Like a short, sharp shock, good flash fiction should pack an emotional punch, leaving it with the reader long after it is finished. Despite the imposed restrictions, a cleverly written work leaves plenty of room for implication, a suggestion of a much bigger story beyond the immediate snapshot.

There are a number of basic techniques which can be applied to the process of creating successful flash fiction.

Hit the Ground Running

The basic rule of short story writing is to start with a strong opening and it certainly applies here. There is no room for preamble so your story needs to begin at the start of the action or, better still, right in the middle of it. Any back-story must be implied by the right choice of words. As he returned the warm gun to his pocket, he felt for his warrant card. This sentence immediately implies that we are dealing with a policeman who has possibly just shot somebody.

Allude to the Outside World

A neat way to get back story into your work is to root it in a world already familiar to your audience. You could use historical figures, well-known fictional characters or set your story at a famous moment in time. For example, place your lead character on H.M.S. Victory or call him Dr. Jekyll and readers will make inferences based on their own knowledge.

Focus on Your Subject

When looking for ideas, go for the small details. A murder mystery novel has room for an intricate plot with complex characters and motives. A traditional short story might concentrate on the execution of the crime or its impact on the victim’s family. For flash fiction, zoom in further still--a murderer trying to remove a bloodstain from his clothes or a relative identifying the body.

Set the Scene

Flash fiction works best when contained within a well-defined physical space. Put your characters in the supermarket isle or on top of Everest and straight away the story falls into context.

Make Them Talk

As in all fiction, characters can be defined by what they say. One approach to flash fiction is to use dialogue only. Choose your characters’ words carefully and they will tell the story for you with no need for exposition.

Do the Twist

A twist ending is by no means essential, but does work well for this type of writing. As much of the plot is inferred, it is relatively easy to mislead the reader into drawing the wrong conclusions. The surprise ending also provides the emotional impact indicative of this format. Another powerful strategy is a slightly ambiguous ending that leaves the reader thinking, but not to the extent that they feel cheated.

Rewrite Your Rewrites

The easiest way to start a very short story is to forget about word count and get it written. Only then start paring away all the superfluous words. If you are struggling to keep within word limits, have you tried some of the techniques outlined above? Finally, analyze every word carefully. Once you have deemed a word necessary, consider whether there is an even better word for the job. This editing process is fundamental and once mastered will benefit all areas of your writing.

Practice Makes Perfect

Workshops dedicated to this popular form are now appearing on the Internet. They provide opportunities to practice flash fiction in the company of other writers. Challenges are often set against the clock and critiqued by independent judges or fellow contributors.

Look to the Experts

See how the likes of John Updike, Margaret Atwood and Raymond Carver do it in Flash Fiction: 72 Very Short Stories, published by W.W. Norton. o

Or their latest, Flash Fiction Forward: 80 Very Short Stories, published by W.W. Norton.


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Louise Dop is a successful freelance writer and technical author. Her ebook, The Writer's Secret Weapon, brings together a collection of the best free online resources for writers and gives an insight into the writing life. With over 50 direct links to resources, this straightforward guide will show you the real-life tips and tricks that--armed with an Internet connection and basic computer literacy--you can try for yourself right away. http://www.clearlywrite.co.uk

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Last month to enter the WOW! Women On Writing Summer 2008 Flash Fiction Contest. Deadline: August 31, 2008 (midnight, Pacific time)

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Saturday, June 28, 2008

 

Update On WOW! Spring 08 Flash Fiction Contest

Dear Contestants,

If you received an email informing you that your entry made it through first-round judging, please note that we are still in our second-round of judging. The Top 10 and Honorable Mentions haven't been notified yet. Please be patient, as we are still deliberating. Believe me, we are as excited as you are!

We are also working on the July Issue of WOW! and are hoping that by the time we finish doing the issue our Guest Judge will come back with her final decisions so that we can post the winners in our July issue. We will try to be as expedient as possible.

Thanks again for your patience, and stay tuned! ;)

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