Monday, January 4, 2010

Flash, Holmes, Podcast

By Steve Weddle

Jay Stringer and I just hung up -- or 'clicked off' (What do we say anymore? And why do we still say 'dial' a phone number when we just press buttons in the post-rotary days?) -- from the Skypes for our second DSD podcast.

The iTunes shoppe page for the podcast is here. You can download individual episodes or subscribe to the whole run. The second show will be up mid-week after Jay works his evil magic to make me sound like an over-caffeinated lemur.

Future episodes will include publishing news of the week, interviews, reviews, and audio stories.

In this second episode, John McFetridge reads his short story "Santa in a Red Dress."

Jay and I discuss blogs worth reading, the Sherlock Holmes movie (along with a review from Scott D. Parker), and flash fiction. I have a few thoughts about flash fiction and I'd like to know what you think.

1. Flash Fiction owes its popularity to the fact that most people can't follow a single thought for more than thirty seconds. Or eight seconds. Like in that movie where the dude is a rodeo rider and rapper. Or maybe that was EIGHT MILES. Something. Eight something. Eight Days a Week. Beatles. Rock Band. Hey, the Wii is open. Time for a quick bike ride around Wii island.

2. Flash Fiction works much better on the Innerwebs than it does in print. As Jay and I were discussing on the podcast, when his grandpa and I were growing up, we read ink-on-paper magazines. You might have heard about a shepherd boy who threw a rock and cracked open jars full of old copies of LIFE and US WEEKLY. Now flash fiction challenges such as this one and this one and this one allow readers and writers to get glimpses of talent they didn't know existed. When we relied on print mags for our fiction, the flash fiction might have gotten lost between stories, if you could find it at all. A 400-page collection of 200 flash pieces? Not likely.

3. Flash Fiction is much easier to find now. I remember some collections of flash fiction that I used when I taught literature. You could give it to the college students and start a good discussion on character and setting and so forth. Very helpful, since you could read the piece in class and not have to rely on college students actually having done the work. We only had a few choices back when I was teaching. The monks took a long time to illustrate the scrolls scrolls we used. Now, using the community I mentioned above in Idiotic Point The First, finding flash fiction is easier.

4. OK. Let's think about this one for a second. You put a story up on the Innerwebs, chances are you aren't going to get paid $10,000 for it. I remember reading something Garrison Keillor wrote about a story he'd done in The New Yorker, a story had gotten him $10,000 or so. Most online magazines now are run by folks who love what they do and love the stories they work with. They're not doing this for the money, because, well, there ain't none. And the print mags? Did another one die today? I didn't check. So we rely on the online magazines to provide us with great fiction. The writers don't get paid. The editors don't get paid. So, from a writer's point of view, if you're trying to get noticed and share some of your work, does it make sense to spend your time writing a 7,000-word story for one magazine or writing 10 stories of 700 words for various sites? Personally, it depends on what the story is. I've got longer stuff out there because that what it takes to tell the story. I've got shorter stuff out there because I wanted to have fun with something and maybe try out something new. A new character. A wacky idea. Take a chance, you know? But do you think writers are spending more time writing flash because they don't want to spend their "free time" -- time off from paid jobs, doing something for which they don't get paid -- writing for free? Dunno. Maybe some folks work like this.

5. Flash Fiction is great for writers because you can focus on a particular scene or character in something under 1,000 words. You get that done, maybe it's a chapter in a novel. Maybe it's a character study for a novella. Flash Fiction helps writers test out a new voice or fresh idea, as I mentioned a second ago (I remind you because the TV news tells me you have a short attention span. Remember? I already mentioned that.) and, wait, where was I? Oh, yeah. So you take this little, tight piece you've worked on and build it into something more, something bigger. Like you've made an appetizer and want to work it into a larger meal. Or you've painted your study and now want to carry that color scheme throughout the rest of the house.

So what do you think about Flash Fiction? What purpose does it serve? Do you think writers waste their time on these smaller pieces? Or do you think this helps readers and writers?

12 comments:

Chuck said...

I think flash fiction is perfectly suited to the web -- sometimes, you just don't want to read 5k words on your monitor (especially if you have a 13" laptop monitor or an iPhone screen). Flash fiction is bite-sized awesome.

The only thing I'd take exception with is payment --

While there's some value in Getting Noticed with free work, mostly I'm on board with the idea that you either get paid *something* or you don't do it at all. Enough venues still offer a little coin that it's worth approaching them first.

Now, I say this as someone who contributes to a free fiction space, Jet Pack (jet-pack.net) -- but that's a selfish, private space, a space I and the other two writers control. It brings people to us as opposed to away from our online, erm, "presences," and further, we're allowed to post whatever we want. No submission process; it's ours. It's a place to experiment and what-not. (Similar to the collective here at DSD, I suppose?)

Just my two cents on that. Spend them, or pitch them violently at a hobo.

-- Chuck

John McFetridge said...

Before I'd ever heard of flash fiction (I am generally pretty slow on the uptake) I'd started to gravitate towards books that were made up of a lot of small sections, really short chapters or even collections of short stories that had, like Raymond Carver, a lot of very short stories.

So while flash fiction seems limiting (well, I guess when word counts are actually limited it doesn't "seem" limiting, it is limiting) it's also something that can be built on. My books are really just a wholebunch of flash fictions strung together.

Or maybe I just like something I can read on the subway, I don't know.

Do Some Damage said...

Chuck, I see your point. Maybe we have to look at 'payment.' If someone pays attention to your writing, is that payment? If you enjoy getting your stuff out there, isn't that payment enough? As opposed to getting paid in cash and then using the cash to buy something that makes you happy?

John, I've read a couple of your books and wouldn't describe them as "really just" anything. Well, really just fantastic. Hmm. OK. But more than little fictions strung together. Though the key could be in the stringing. The books folks do that are a "story cycle" or "linked stories" or whatever the cool kids call them are oddly appealing. More than short stories. Less commitment than a novel?

Dana King said...

I thought flash fiction was a waste of time until I read some good flashes in one of Patti Abbott's challenges. That got me to fooling around with it myself, and now I like reading and writing it a lot.

Not all story ideas are well-suited for it. It's perfect for fooling around with an idea, of seeing what you can make of an idea that doesn't seem to want to expand much. Now I find good flash fiction implies another, much larger story, but is told in a small, self-contained package. It's also great practice for weeding out unnecessary words and keeping the writing tight. There's no room for anything else.

Gerald So said...

I'm a concise writer by nature. Many of my stories are classified as flash by the upper limit of 1,000 words, but I always try to tell a complete story as opposed to one with flash's conventional surprise twist or gimmick ending.

I have no personal preference for flash. I write whatever comes to mind (short story, long story, poem, review). When I get stuck, it's usually because I'm thinking too much about one longer project or other. Having a flash challenge or anything else keeps me juggling; that's when I'm most creative.

I don't look down on any type of writing, but there's no denying certain types of writing pay better. So I encourage writers not to stick to one type/genre/form. I don't know who will read my work, so I put my best into everything I write and hope whoever reads appreciates that.

Do Some Damage said...

Bryon has a challenge for you flashy writers >>
http://bryonquertermous.wordpress.com/2010/01/04/the-screw-resolutions-and-get-your-ass-in-gear-for-2010-flash-fiction-open/

Bryon said...

Yeah, it's funny you write about this today. I never really even knew about flash fiction until a few years ago and I was hooked. I still don't think it's my strongest form, but I love it for all of the reasons you mentioned above.

Chuck said...

Steve:

Paying attention is good -- but I don't know how far that goes. If I draw people to me or one of my "places," then paying attention is positive. But if the quality of my work is drawing readers to someone else's "place" -- then, as a writer, a writer with a career and a word count and a pay rate, I expect to see some measure of compensation.

See, here's the dirty secret: reading a lot of "we don't pay!" sites gets me a lot of "not worth paying for!" fiction. It's usually 60% less-than-good, and 40% good or better. (And that's generous.) That means I'm less likely to see the 40%, and further, I'm less likely to actually remember it in a meaningful way.

What that means is, if your work is in the "good or better" category, then by god, you can get paid for it. Maybe not a lot -- but something.

Writers should be in control of giving material away for free as a value add, I agree -- I just don't think "free under somebody else's umbrella" is value for the writer. In that case, it's writer doing work. And a writer doing work is a writer who should be compensated for quality. Don't work for free.

As Harlan Ellison says: "Pay the writer."

Of course, Harlan Ellison also says a lot of crazy shit.

Further, this is less and less about flash fiction. Oops! Threadcrapping, ahoy.

-- c.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I find flash fiction incredibly difficult to write and have never decided whether the story requires an especially good ending to succeed. I prefer about 2500-3500 words.

Steve Weddle said...

Chuck continues the thinking over here

Steve Weddle said...

Patti,

I think you're probably right. Around 3k seems a decent length for story. Compact, yet room to explore something.

Cormac Brown said...

Steve,

Thanks for the plug, and as people can see from the author list, we have a good mix of writers and aspiring writers. The beauty of flash fiction is that it gives everyone a creative outlet, and a chance to tell their stories, as most everyone has at least one good story in them.