Writing Prompts & Craft Articles

“How is Crafting Microfiction Like Getting a Boat Inside a Bottle?” by Jayne Martin

The lovely and talented flash / micro writer, Jayne Martin, will be joining Nancy and me (again!) this summer for our French Connection retreat outside of Bordeaux, France. She also took part in our retreat in Italy last May AND our debut retreat in Breckenridge in 2018! We love Jayne and we love her writing and are so excited about her new collection, Tender Cuts , which comes out November 4th (pre-order from Barnes & Noble or Amazon.)

Jayne graciously agreed to share her microfiction wisdom in the guest post below. Enjoy!

How is Crafting Microfiction Like Getting a Boat Inside a Bottle?

I have no idea how anyone gets a boat inside a bottle. I’m still trying to figure out how all those people get inside my television. But I do know a bit about writing microfiction. And a touch of mystery is a big part of it.

“It’s what you don’t write that frequently gives what you do write its power” – Toni Morrison

When writing micro, what I describe as stories under 300 words, leaving room for the reader to participate is crucial. To do this, the writer needs to think like a painter, encompassing strong imagery. Our brains are wired to respond emotionally to sensory details.

As a child, I enjoyed lying on my back on the lawn and staring at the clouds as they morphed into angels, butterflies, even sharks. Look! There are his teeth. That’s not a shark, a friend might dispute. That’s a wolf! And who’s to say who was right? Imagination, interpretation – they’re as unique as our DNA.

Tender Cuts (Vine Leaves Press, 2019)

When crafting microfiction, whether it’s a 25-word story or 300 words, the writer needs to engage the reader’s imagination, encourage their interpretation, and give them a fully realized character whose life continues far beyond the constraints of the story. Here is one of the shorter pieces from my new collection of micro, “Tender Cuts.”

Working Girl

Found upright at the curb in the chill of dawn, the single blush-tinted stiletto was the last footprint she would leave on this earth, its mate too quick to step into the car of another faceless stranger. Tiny hands press against a window and wait for her return.

Only 48 words, but what can we gather about this character? Consider the color of the stiletto. It’s not black or red, it’s blush. She still has a softness about her. She was snatched in a way that indicates violence. Likely, she hasn’t yet developed the street instinct to tell the harmless from the harmful. She hasn’t been doing this for long. Consider the “tiny hands” waiting for her return. She’s a mother. Consider the circumstances that could have led her to this state of desperation in order to provide for her child.

I could have written that all out, but doing so would have stripped you of having your own experience of the piece. A micro, even more so than longer literary forms, must leave the reader having had an emotional experience. Otherwise, it risks being just clever. And in writing microfiction, clever is the booby prize.

Jayne Martin lives in Santa Barbara, California, where she rides horses and drinks copious amounts of fine wines, though not at the same time. She is a Pushcart, Best Small Fictions, and Best Microfictions nominee, and a recipient of Vestal Review’s VERA award. Her debut collection of microfiction, “Tender Cuts,” from Vine Leaves Press, is available November 4th. Visit her website at:  www.jaynemartin-writer.com


“Into the Great Wide Open”– Grand Lake recap and announcement!

Some of you might know I grew up overseas—my dad was in the military and we were stationed in both Germany and Spain during my young school years. And, as an American growing up overseas, I would often long for everything American, especially what I saw as the “great wide open” of America–that mythical place where there was an entire grocery store aisle of breakfast cereal (this one blew my mind) and everyone owned a big ranch and wore a big hat like J.R. Ewing on Dallas; a place where you could ride your horse through the quintessential landscape of tall pine trees and wild bears and rugged cowboy mountains.

Fast forward a few (ahem) years and enter Colorado:

The view from Shadowcliff

I already knew that I loved Shadowcliff Mountain Sanctuary from Kathy and my initial scouting visit one year ago. But I forgot how beautiful it was until I returned this August for our High Altitude Inspiration retreat. Even a (now) Colorado girl like me can’t help but be impressed at the picture perfect view from just about every window (no filters on these pictures!)—the gorgeous city/lake of Grand Lake on one side, the majestic mountains leading into Rocky Mountain National Park on the other. Honestly, I don’t think we could have picked a better location for the Wild American West.

(And for those of you who remember the fox sighting in Breckenridge last year, you will be pleased to know that we had both a bear and a moose (with a baby) sighting!)

Of course, location is only one part of a great retreat—the rest is that elusive beast called “group chemistry.” And boy did we have it. With a short retreat (4 days) there was no room to dawdle, and our group coalesced almost immediately like longtime friends reunited. And consider this is true in more ways than one, as many of our relationships had already been started online and only became flesh and blood in Grand Lake—always so significant in this internet age.

Frankly, we loved it so much that we are doing it again August 19-23, 2020.

Sunset campfire. Photo by Ryan Stone

So…if you’ve always wanted to see the Great American West and do some serious flash fiction writing at the same time, consider joining us next year! We will be limited to 14 participants, so mark your calendar and stay tuned.

Registration opens soon!

(Can’t wait until August? Join us March 21-27, 2020, in Costa Rica. Registration now open)


Kathy fish, Writing Prompts & Craft Articles

Backwards and in High Heels: The Challenges of Writing (Really Good) Flash Fiction*

The quote, attributed to many, and paraphrased by Ann Richards, goes: “After all, Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did. She just did it backwards and in high heels.”

So imagine this for flash fiction writers. We must do everything that longer form writers must do, only in a much tighter space. We are constrained by brevity.

Perhaps “constrained” is not the right word though. From a different perspective, perhaps the word limit is actually—liberating.

Hear me out.

With so few words at its disposal, flash fiction lends itself beautifully to innovation and experimentation. All those extra words we must do without force flash writers to find other ways to create a fully realized story, complete with emotion, movement, and resonance. The “constraints” imposed necessitate boldness, risk-taking, and originality.

But first let’s right dispense with the notion that since it’s so short, flash writing is easy. It is not. Nothing worthwhile is.

If you’re new to the form or struggling with it, here are a few things you might think about and try:

See what happens when you eliminate transitions and bridges from paragraph to paragraph. The result is a segmented or mosaic structure. Here, in a series of connected or very loosely connected very short pieces, the writer creates meaning in the jump cuts and the white spaces. In a sense, encouraging the reader to collaborate. (See my segmented flash, “A Room with Many Small Beds” published in Threadcount Magazine.) 

When you take disparate elements and bump them up against each other, you create new meaning. Poets do this all the time. Which takes me to my next tip.

Read poetry. Read lots and lots of poetry.

See what happens when you simply keep the pen moving. When you allow a story to spill out in one long exhale, not allowing yourself to editorialize or explain. Maybe you have a very emotional story you want to tell, but you keep stopping yourself, and the only way out is through. Maybe, for this particular story, you want to be all up in the reader’s face. Try writing what I call the “breathless one paragraph flash.” Read “Friday Night” by Gwen E. Kirby published in Wigleaf, a story that manages to be both funny and deeply moving.

OR cast aside all “rules” and borrow a completely different form to tell your story. See this innovative stunner, “Vagabond Mannequin” by K.B. Carle published in Jellyfish Review (and drafted in my Fast Flash workshop). 

It’s all about getting the words down. You can futz with it all later, but the best way to get better at this challenging form (to be a Ginger Rogers of the literary world) is to simply write it. Lots of it. Play. Experiment. Invent. Take the form and run with it. Make it your own. And read, read, read.

*(Note: This piece was written for Mslexia Magazine’s newsletter in advance of their 2019 Flash Fiction contest, which I am judging) There’s still time to enter! The deadline is Sept. 30th. Go here for more details.)


Announcing our June 2020 retreat in…



The French Connection:
Fast Flash Meets the Flash Novel
June 7-13, 2020

After living in Paris, Vincent Van Gogh famously traveled from the gray city to southern France, having heard that the light and colours there were nothing like he had ever experienced.

france 1

Together we will travel travel to the bucolic land of light, to the farmlands, vineyards, and sunflower fields of Yviers, France (near Bordeaux) for a 6-day flash fiction workshop and retreat in the heart of the French countryside. We’ll stay in a lovingly converted stone barn on what used to be a cognac-making estate, surrounded by open spaces and fields of maize and sunflowers. We’ll eat fresh French meals (and maybe a bottle of cognac!) prepared by the owners, who happen to be award-winning restaurateurs.

Join Kathy Fish and Nancy Stohlman in June, 2020 us for a one of a kind writing retreat in the French countryside where for the first time we will combine two popular online workshops: This “live” version of Kathy’s Fast Flash class dives even deeper into the nuances of the flash fiction story itself and Nancy’s Flash Novel class takes a wide-angle view of creating a larger book project. These generative sessions complement and build upon each other in a way that will take your writing to the next level.

AND we have scheduled our retreat to end approximately one week before the Flash Fiction Festival in Bristol (June 19-21, 2020), so it’s the perfect opportunity to do both!

Find out more!