I was in New Mexico over Christmas. It’s my third visit in the past couple years as we travel to visit family. This time we stayed near Albuquerque, in a rural neighborhood in Sandia Park.

Here’s me in the front yard / sometimes goat run reading my story Wicked Road, initially published as an Ekphrastic Flash in Largehearted Boy. It’s inspired by Reckless Kelly’s song “Wicked, Twisted Road.”

I promise to do better with the audio in future. It was windy. (One reason I look so glamorous in the video.) (Love that video still! Not.)

It was the kind of day that makes a person grateful to be alive. Early autumn in Southern Illinois. I spent a few hours on Little Grassy Lake, after which the Southern Illinois University Carbondale graduate student literary festival is named.

This story, as is true of many of my stories, was inspired by a Meg Pokrass word prompt. I sat on it a while after writing, then pulled it out, cut the word count at least in half, and now it appears in a cool anthology, Predators in Petticoats, edited by Emily Leverett and Margaret S. McGraw and available for Kindle or in paperback from Amazon.

Not ashamed to admit I’ve daydreamed about receiving a phone call with good news about my writing.
And then it happened.

Kevin Morgan Watson, one of the founders of Press 53 (from where I have more indie published books than anywhere else) and Prime Number Magazine CALLED me !!! to let me know I won the Prime Number Magazine 2020 Flash Fiction Contest !!!

I am stunned. Absolutely floored. And grateful.

The story is inspired, in part, by a couple visits to my brother in Florida. He used to work in the Everglades and he took us to visit his old work place and stomping grounds. We saw lots of alligators. In the water, basking, up close, in pairs… Pretty cool.

Here’s the story: Meth Gators

I always look forward to the Devils Kitchen Literary Festival, hosted by Southern Illinois University Carbondale undergraduate creative writing students. Since I live near the Devils Kitchen Lake for which the festival is named, I decided to go take an early evening paddle and do my own wee Devils Kitchen reading.

The lake is a dammed river, as many lakes in So Ill are. This one is narrow and wind-y, just begging me to keep on going around the next bend and the next and the next one too. I try to remember that as far out as I paddle, I have that same distance to return.

Drowned trees are a big feature on this lake. I suspect if I worked at it a little bit, it wouldn’t be impossible to get some eerie images.

But nothing eerie today. Just me reading a story from The Slag Review, “Way Down Deep Inside.”

I posted on Facebook recently how I don’t write reviews because I write them so badly. It’s true. When I write a review, inevitably I sound dumb as a box of rocks, or pedantic, or deranged. Not a good look. And, as a writer trying to advance in my craft, not the kind of writing I want to acknowledge!

So I’ve been reading more reviews and also blurbs, and I’ve come to realize that one skill I must improve is careful reading.

I think I’m already a pretty good reader. I’ve been doing it since before kindergarten and I have a lot of practice. But it’s easy to read too quickly, to gulp rather than sip. I find that when I read something once – a novel, let’s say – I’m caught up in the plot, falling in love or distrust with the characters, and sure, I’m also admiring individual sentences and scenes, noting that bit of foreshadowing or how that detail builds the character’s profile. But it’s on the second reading where I focus on craft.

That’s one great thing about flash – it’s easy to re-read three times in a row. Four times, even. And good flash stories beg to be re-read. They are like saffron – each ounce is worth a pound of something else, not the least because of the labor involved.

I write a lot. My day job is writing. I try to keep up a reasonable flow of flash writing and blog writing, and I swear I really am going to write that dang novel. But I need to write even more. I need to learn to write reviews. And maybe some day, blurbs.

I like to let writers (or musicians or other artists) know when I’m moved by or admire something they’ve produced. And, reviews are an important part of marketing for a writer. I’m annoyed I’ve let myself go so long with such shoddy review-writing skills.

I vow to do better. 

Vancouver Flash Fiction is a resource hub for flash fiction writers, and also a critique circle for flash fiction writers in the Vancouver (British Columbia) area.

Here’s VFF’s definition of flash fiction: Brief condensed stories written in under 1,000 words, usually closer to 500, with a complete arc – beginning/middle/end – infused with sumptuous imagery, metaphor, and intentional word choice, some level of change/transformation, emotional resonance, and unexpected twists and turns towards an aha, ha, or ahhh ending… in a nutshell.

We could talk about each section of that definition over a bottle of wine. Instead I’ll swirl what’s in my glass and say that “towards an aha, ha, or ahhh ending…” is hitting me just the right way right now. One of the things I most love about flash is how hard the best stories clobber – and, after you’ve had your “aha, ha or ahhh” moment, you can read it again, twice even, to savor each word.

But back to Vancouver. Weekly features include: Killer First Sentences, Flash Fiction Writing Tips (many of which pack the same power as a flash story), MustRead Flash Fiction Collections & Anthologies and Flash Craft. Also, check out the links to Flash Fiction Workshops and journals open to submissions.

And it’s all free. Like ‘em on Facebook.

Or hit the website.

And say hi to flash fiction writer Karen Schauber – she organizes the page.