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Review of Paul Beckman’s Newest Flash Fiction Collection, Kiss Kiss

Prolific flash fiction writer Paul Beckman is joining Nancy and me for our Rendezvous in the Rockies writing retreat in Breckenridge, Colorado in August. His most recent collection of stories, Kiss Kiss, published by Truth Serum Press, is arguably his best to date. If I counted right, there are no less than 78 new flashes compiled here and each one is a tiny, glowing gem of a story, with characters you’ll not soon forget.

Not included in this collection, Paul’s story, “Healing Time” is illustrative of his craft and was one of the stories most often called out and admired in reviews of Best Small Fictions 2016 edited by Stuart Dybek. There, he perfectly conveys the best and worst of a family confronting a crisis. Paul’s gift is the honesty and relatability of his stories and his people. He finds the moments that convey a lifetime. Human dynamics distilled and potent.

One of my favorites from Kiss Kiss is “Birthday Beer” which opens compellingly and deliciously:

“My wife called and told me to come home. I finished my birthday beer and drove home and the driveway and yard were filled with cars. Some surprise birthday party. I grabbed a drink from someone’s hand and walked around the gathering. I look and these were not my closest friends, in fact, not my current friends at all but people I’d played tricks on, rolled over in business deals, and spoken against to others. They climbed the deck stairs and I was people-pushed into my living room and told to stand in a square taped onto the floor.”

Paul is one of my favorite flash fiction writers and he just keeps getting better. Read this collection for lessons in style, voice, concision, and emotional honesty, but mostly read these stories to be entertained. I promise you will be.

Kiss Kiss may be purchased directly from Truth Serum Press / Lulu or from Amazon.

Interviews

Flash Fiction as an Explosion of Emotion: Insights from Leslie Archibald

Hi Leslie! Nancy and I are so excited that you’ll be joining us in gorgeous Breckenridge in August for our retreat! What has been your writing workshop/retreat experience in the past? How do you find ways to honor your writing in your day to day life?

 I am so excited to meet Nancy and work with you again, Kathy. My workshop experience has always been positive and nurturing. I feel like the most important feedback in critique groups is not the editing issues (there are always a couple editors in the group), but content feedback where a particular aspect of the piece may not be clear to the reader. I appreciate when someone takes the time to really read the piece and says, “I wasn’t sure about this thing” or “maybe this could be clearer.” This feedback gives me the opportunity to go back and think about changing or adding (even one word) to clarify and make it readable. I feel like I have become a better reader through this experience, and I try to give feedback as a reader, not an editor. The best way I can think of to honor my writing is to keep coming back to it. Making time to write and to continue to develop the craft of writing. I take quite a few workshops specifically to make time to write.

I agree so much that the best way to honor one’s writing is to keep coming back to it. And the huge value of peer feedback as well! Please respond to this quote by Martha Graham:

“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost.” 

I love this quote. I feel like action comes from engaging others. Whether it is literary, visual, or performing, art engages and creates a connection within. Words evoke empathy and emotionally connect a reader to the piece. Empathy inspires action. I just finished the novel Forgotten Country, by Catherine Chung. The depth of her characters was so engaging for me, I became emotionally invested in the family. I think that is why I write Flash. Flash, to me, is like an explosion of emotion that stays with you long after you have experienced that initial moment.

Flash as an “explosion of emotion.” Wow, I love that, Leslie. Thank you! Can you tell us what is your favorite story that you yourself have written (“favorite” doesn’t have to mean “best” or more successful or whatever). And why is it your favorite?

Most of my pieces are based in memory so I have a close connection to each. I have recently tried to focus on complete fiction. I have found that adding a fantasy element into a real situation gives me an opportunity to stretch my mind. I have recently written a piece about a siren who falls in love with a human who dies, of course, and she is left to live alone. I focused on the emotional element of loss and anger but also added the mystical elements of a Siren.

Have you been to Breckenridge before? What are you most looking forward to as a writer retreating to this incedible place? 

I have not been to Breckenridge and am looking forward to the scenery. I hear it is beautiful. Mostly, I am looking forward into immersing myself into writing. Living the life of a writer without the distractions of the day job. Many times I will feel a need to write that is stifled by the day job.

Is there something we don’t know about you that you’re happy to share? 🙂

I love sappy 70s songs (Andy Gibb, The Carpenters) and Murder She Wrote.

Ah, this is great! Thanks so much, Leslie! August can’t get here soon enough!

Leslie Archibald is a graduate of the University of Houston, majoring in English, Creative Writing with a minor in Women’s Studies. She currently works at a full-time office position while continuing to write and edit part time. Leslie is the volunteer coordinator at Writespace, a local Writer’s organization in Houston, Texas and is the winner of the 2017 Spider Road Press’s Spiders Web Flash Fiction Prize for her piece “Sherry Baby.”

NOTE: Our Breckenridge retreat is sold out, but some spaces remain in our upcoming Costa Rica and Italy retreats. Check them out! We’d love for you to join us.

Interviews

From Ireland to Italy: Marie Gethins on Harnessing the Creative Life Force

 

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Welcome, Marie! Thanks for chatting with me today. Kathy and I are so excited that you will be joining us in Casperia, Italy next spring! It’s going to be magical!

Nancy: So the biggest challenge most writers have is finding the time to write. How do you “retreat” in your day-to-day life in order to honor your creativity?

Marie: I’m very lucky to have a little study of my own. For many years, I worked in a corner of our bedroom and since I’m a night person and my husband is not, it really wasn’t a great set-up. The downside is that I’m not very good at separating my medical writing from my creative writing time. A few years ago, when I was writing a novel, I took my laptop to a totally different space in the house, which was a great help. However, I haven’t been as disciplined since completing it.

For me the best driver is a deadline. I’m in a fantastic writers’ group that meets every two weeks and that pushes me to produce. So even if my professional life bleeds into my creative life, I am forced to carve out time for the creative.

Nancy: You’re coming to Italy from Ireland–what is the writing/ flash fiction community in Ireland like?

Marie: The literary scene in Ireland is amazing. There are ample opportunities to attend workshops, readings and interviews with high profile writers. However flash continues to be the poor cousin to the short story here. There are a few Irish lit mags that support flash: BansheeThe Stinging Fly has had a special flash issue,  The Incubator used to, but has moved onto longer form only. Also, there are a few nice competitions including Dromineer, Allingham, and Kanturk that have flash categories and Big Smoke celebrates National Flash Fiction Day in style every June. Nuala O’Connor/Ní Chonchuír is a novelist, poet, short story author, and superlative flash writer. ‘Yellow’  is one of my favourites of hers  but she has many fantastic flash pieces. She put out a wonderful short story collection last year, Joyride to Jupiter, with Irish publisher New Island. Of the nineteen stories, five are flash. When I hosted a flash special for the Cork monthly literary salon, Fiction at the Friary, Nuala was a guest (as well as another terrific Cork writer Denyse Woods, her winning flash ‘Wallpaper’ is here:  Nuala said that she sent many more flashes to the editor, but only managed to get those five into the collection. Danielle McLaughlin is a master long short story writer. She also does terrific flash. ‘Hook’ was an outstanding contribution to last year’s New Yorker flash fiction series. I’ve read at a flash event at the Cork International Short Story Festival and for Big Smoke a couple of times, but again, the longer short story form dominates here.

Nancy: Tell us about your relationship with flash fiction?

Marie: I admit it is my first love and the form to which I continually return. I am a compressionist, so it’s a good fit for me and I adore the challenge it presents. Playing with structure, enabling the reader to add their own truth/interpretation through the unsaid, the precision it requires – these all are elements I enjoy. I worked out that 64% of my almost 70 published short fiction is flash, with many generated out of Kathy Fish Fast Flash workshops. Clearly, I spend a lot of my writing time working on it. However, my agent would really like me to focus on longer forms, particularly the novel, as flash is a hard sell (unless you are Lydia Davis).

Nancy: I love that term “compressionist”! What piece of your own writing are you most proud of?  Where can we read it (if it’s available)?

Marie: It’s a bit of a cheat after waxing lyrical on flash, but the piece I am most proud of is ‘The Fog Harvester’ a longer story that was commended in the 2017 Australian Book Review Elizabeth Jolley Prize. In flash, I am quite proud of ‘Here Be Monsters’ recently published by Synaesthesia Magazine with a beautiful illustration by Moko. Also, I was quite pleased that my flash venture into Edgar Allan Poe territory ‘The Old Manwon the Dorset Fiction Award last spring. I do a fair amount of quirky stuff, which is hard to place, so I was thrilled when NANO published ‘Mammoth Task.’ It’s hardcopy only, but the editors kindly asked me to record the piece as well, so you can hear me reading it here:

Nancy: React to this quote by dancer Martha Graham: “There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening, that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost.”

Marie: One of my undergraduate degrees is in Modern Dance, specifically in Graham Technique. UC Berkeley is one of two dance schools globally that Martha Graham sanctioned to teach her style. Obviously I’m delighted that you chose this quote. A dance instructor at Berkeley, Marni Wood, who had been a principal dancer in the Graham company, told me that Martha Graham was still choreographing in her 90s because she had to – it was a creative compulsion.

I think many emerging writers fear that someone may ‘steal’ their idea. I’ve seen this in workshops—a reluctance to show work. As Graham notes, ‘expression is unique’ and I think that’s incredibly valuable to remember. Just as every reader’s particular life experience weighs in on her/his interpretation of a piece, every writer has an individual approach to a subject. While some topics many seem tired and overused, a fresh angle or perspective can transform interpretation. When this happens in a flash, it can be amazing and intense.

I find that writers often have talents in other creative areas (music, art, dance, crafts, etc) and I wonder if this ‘energy’ that Graham describes will find another path, unless you actively suppress it. In this respect, I disagree with the last part of this quote. Creatives can use many mediums to express their ‘life force.’

Nancy: I had NO idea you had studied Graham technique before giving you that quote! Funny how the world world works! Speaking of the world, have you been to Italy before? What are you most looking forward to?

Marie: Yes, I’ve been to Sardinia. Sicily, Florence, and Rome, with plans for Venice later this year. My grandmother was from Piedmonte. She and my father always spoke a dialect at home. Unfortunately outside of food, my Italian is pretty weak. (The important stuff – I can order a glass of white wine in five languages. J) Coming from a very Italian household during my childhood, I love the combination of familiar and unfamiliar each time I’m in Italy. I think it touches all of the senses: warmth of sun on your skin, scent of flowers and wild herbs, taste of a morning cappuccino,  seeing time-worn architecture, hearing gentle rolling Rs and easy laughter. I can’t imagine a more stimulating and yet, relaxing setting for a flash workshop!

Nancy: Tell us something we don’t know about you?

Marie: For a short stint, I showed Toy Poodles in full lion trim . I can back-comb with the best. If you ever want to adopt Marge Simpson’s hairstyle, I’m your woman.

Nancy: Anything else you want to add?

Marie: Just that  I am incredibly excited to meet you and Kathy in person next spring and work on flash in a great setting with a bevy of outstanding writers. It sounds like the perfect opportunity to harness that creative ‘life force’ Graham talks about.

Marie Geth­ins’ work has fea­tured in The Irish Times, National Flash Fiction Day Anthologies, Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine, NANO, Jellyfish Review, Litro, The Lonely Crowd, Wales Arts Review, The Incubator, Firewords Quarterly, Banshee, Synaesthesia and others. She won or placed in the British Screenwriters Awards, Dorset Fiction Award, The Short Story, Tethered by Letters, Flash500, Drom­i­neer, The New Writer, Prick of the Spindle, and others. Additional pieces listed or commended in The London Magazine, Australian Book Review, Boulevard Emerging Writers, Bath Short Story Award, Bristol Short Story Prize, Brighton Prize, Fish Short Story/Flash/Memoir, RTE/Penguin com­pe­ti­tions and others. Marie is a Pushcart, Best of the Short Fictions nominee and a recipient of the 2016 Frank O’Connor Bursary mentorship under Zsuzsi Gartner. She lives in Cork, Ireland and has a Master of Studies in Creative Writing from the University of Oxford.

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Nancy Stohlman, Writing Prompts & Craft Articles

Bribing the Muse: On Your Mark, Get Set…

Sometimes our stories fall flat, without that “pop” of tension. One great way to create urgency in a flash fiction story is by using another constraint: Time.

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For almost a decade now, all my college classes have begun with a 10-minute timed writing. Timed writing is nothing new. We know that it helps us transition us into the writing space, like stretching before a workout. We know that it forces us to stay present and dig deeper—writing past where we might have naturally given up. And we know that keeping the pen moving quickly, without crossing things out or rereading, is a great way to evade the internal critic and uncover fresh ideas.

But I discovered something else through years of this practice: 10 minutes of writing without stopping is also the perfect amount of time to draft a flash fiction story idea from start to finish.

It makes sense: Flash fiction is defined by a (word) constraint, so why not create under a time constraint? Having that clock ticking while you furiously try to reach the end of an idea gives the piece a natural sense of urgency. And writing from the beginning to the end in one sitting also creates a sense of continuity—we see the end coming as we embark on the journey.

I do most of my timed writings longhand, scribbling. But it works with typing as well. And you can use a timed writing in many ways. For instance, you can:

  • Set the timer while writing to a prompt.
  • Set the timer when you’re feeling stuck and don’t know what to write about.
  • Set the timer and rewrite a “flat” story from scratch while the clock chases you to the finish line (my favorite)

And as a daily practice it’s even better.

Besides, you can do anything for 10 mins, right?

Regardless of how you use it, a 10-minute burst of writing can break you through resistance and lethargy. And creating something to push against allows inspiration to bulge and balloon in interesting and unexpected ways.

~Nancy

(How did it work for you? Share in the comments below!)

Interviews

Onward to Costa Rica: An Interview with Author, Poet, & Editor, Amy Gavin


Hi, Amy! Nancy and I are so excited that you’ll be joining us in Costa Rica in January for our retreat. What has been your writing workshop/retreat experience in the past? How do you find ways to honor your writing in your day to day life?

My writing retreat and workshop experiences are quite unique. During the first of three Master Classes I attended at Hedgebrook, I bonded with four other women and together we created the Roving Writers. Since then, we’ve been meeting for two retreats a year. We hit the jackpot for our spring retreat, with you as our teacher!

One of my daughters describes my writing room as a mega vision board. I fix a cup of tea, light a candle, and work surrounded by books, photographs, trinkets from my childhood, and weird totems. One of my favorites is a small crystal book etched with the first haiku I had published, a gift from my hubby. Another favorite is the body and dress left over from an apple head doll my grandmother made me in the 1970s.

I really enjoyed working with you and all the Roving Writers, Amy. I love your description of your writing space, how you surround yourself with things that inspire your creativity. What a cool way to honor your writing! Please respond to this quote by Nancy Kress:

“Fiction is about stuff that’s screwed up.”

This is amazing! The screw ups give life to the stories. A couple of years ago, a complete stranger called and revealed a shocking family secret to me. I was struggling with this unexpected screw-up and my friend said, “Wow! I’m so jealous! You’ll have a lot of writing material from this one.”

Oh, wow. Absolutely. Tell me, what is your favorite story that you yourself have written (“favorite” doesn’t have to mean “best” or more successful or whatever). And why is it your favorite?

“Two For the Price of One” from issue six of MATH, a sex positive, ethical, diverse, feminist porn magazine. It’s my favorite because it was way outside my comfort zone, and I’ve had a ton of fun autographing and gifting copies of the magazine to friends and family! I thought erotica would be a one and done for me, but…stay tuned.

I think it’s great for writers to do exactly that: Write outside their comfort zones. And–you have more erotica in store? Keep us posted! Have you been to Costa Rica before? What are you most looking forward to as a writer retreating to this beautiful place?

I’ve never been to Costa Rica and admit I’m a little nervous. I love the ocean and I love adventure (point me to the zip-lines), but I’m completely freaked out by all things creepy crawly. AND, I’ve heard the cute little monkeys are known for flinging their poo at passersby.

Ha! Oh no, I’ve not heard this myself! Thanks for the warning. Now, can you tell us something we don’t know about you that you are happy to share. 🙂

I am an extreme weather geek who loves thunderstorms and dark rainy days.

Ah, those are the best! Thanks so much for taking the time to chat, Amy!

Amy Gavin is an author, poet, and editor striving to push boundaries and create change with both her writing and social justice activism. A survivor herself, Amy is drawn to stories tackling issues of domestic violence and healing.

Amy has studied at Hedgebrook and writes in community with the Roving Writers, a small group of courageous women artists. You can find her most recent fiction in MATH.

Amy shares her home in Garnet Valley, PA with her husband and four wily cats.

(NOTE: A very few spaces remain for our Create in Costa Rica retreat in January. Find more information HERE.)