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.

My friend Jayne Martin has a new book, Tender Cuts — and it’s getting great reviews. Ordering my copy today.

You can read her story “A Lobster Walked Into a Laundromat” at New Flash Fiction Review, one of the best places to read flash fiction online, particularly if you enjoy surreal, experimental and bold stories. I love this surreal story by Jayne – it’s funny, relatable, and wistful all at once. (This story is included in Tender Cuts, by the way.)

Jayne is also a horse person. I had to ask her about that, because I’ve been horse crazy since forever. So has Jayne.

“My maternal grandfather was a racehorse trainer so it’s in my blood, but I didn’t even get a chance to start riding seriously until I was 38,” she says.

Her current horse is Levi, a gorgeous 28-year-old Thoroughbred she’s had since 2005. They competed over fences at hunter-jumper shows. If you aren’t horsey, you’ve still probably seen an aspect of this competition in televised sporting events, where horses follow a set pattern of jumps in an arena. Jumpers are judges mostly on a clean round. Hunters are judged not only on their ability to jump, but also their demeanor while they do it. And of course, the rider has to be in correct form, which is easier said than done.

Levi is retired from the show ring these days, Jayne says, but she still rides him at the walk, trot and canter. “He’s in great shape and still behaves like a 4-year-old,” she says. She’s got Instagram posts to prove it.

Most horse people are also dog people. Jayne recently lost her beloved Dixie, who bravely fought cancer for three years. That left Miss Pickles without a dog friend, so Jayne adopted Ellie the Chihuahua. “Finding her at the shelter was Dixie’s way of sending love from the great beyond,” Jayne says.

But let’s get back to the writing for a minute! Jayne says assembling the collection for this book was like herding cats. She had some help from Meg Pokrass and Nancy Stohlman, both flash fiction stars. (And may I add – also encouraging and generous to emerging writers.)

“At first I only had the first Julie-Sue story, ‘Tender Cuts,’ but I realized that I needed an arc/structure for all the other stories to kind of hang on, so I wrote three more Julie-Sue stries taking her from when we first meet her as a child beauty pageant contestant at about 7-years-old, through to about 11 (“Making the Cut”) to age 16 (“Prime Cut”), and the final story, which is “Final Cut,” told by Julie-Sue’s grown daughter after Julie-Sue’s death,” Jayne says. “This allowed me to take all the stories and order them from younger narrators to older ones.”

There are 38 stories total, so you’ll get to know Julie-Sue and others as well.

Here’s another bonus – the book is illustrated.

Go to Jayne’s website to order the book or read more about what a cool person Jayne is!

My first post.

I’m honored to be included in the 2020 National Flash Fiction Day anthology, forthcoming in print. And! a virtual launch! In which I read my contribution, “Harbinger,” a story I wrote partly in my head as I sat at a boat dock in the rain collecting myself after a stressful day. If you open the link to hear me read, you can hit the link to the virtual launch and hear other readers with stories that’ll knock your socks off.