I read these words and the warning alarms, bells, and whistles start to go off in my head. Probably because writing teensy stories has not been my forté – well, maybe just not my default. Once upon a time, I used to write really short stories … and that was when I was a kid. But when I was about 13, I got it in my head that I wanted to write novels, inspired by one of my favourite authors at the time: Carolyn Keene, responsible for the Nancy Drew mystery series (with warmest thanks to a long list of ghostwriters and publisher, Edward Stratemeyer of Stratemeyer Syndicate). The last time I remember writing something considered flash fiction was when I was 15. Again, for class. Amazingly, these stories were 500 words or less. Except I think that was thanks mostly due to the amount of time we had to craft said stories, which wasn’t very long. It was kind of like pop story-writing: sit down, shut up, and write until told to stop. And I loved it.
But now I find myself knocking on that door again. A new submission call came out this week from my beloved publisher for a few flash fiction anthologies and I’m ready to pounce on them like a strawberry trifle topped with Belgian chocolate. Why? New challenge, that’s why! Well, you know, other than my obsession with writing … but that’s always to be implied.
Yes, I love the challenge. In the last 14 years, I’ve leaned towards writing novels and poetry though I’ve also discovered the joy of novellas. Recently, I’ve been reintroduced to short stories (we’re talking 8,000+ words) and found I haven’t completely lost the ability to write them, either. So, next stop: flash fiction.
In a way, it’s liberating. More than that, it’s a fantastic exercise to keep the writing mind sharp and cleanse the mental palette before launching into longer works (because brace yourselves … there’s a trilogy coming once I get through some smaller projects!)
On further reflection, I think it’s one of the suggestions I’d pass along to aspiring authors and fellow writers: write across the spectrum of length, or at least give it a solid shot. As in 3 times or so before packing it in and deciding what works and what doesn’t. Every length has its own challenges and blessings, with poetry at one end and novel series at the other. Poetry demands brevity and clever word play around imagery, emotions, and other things that draw in the reader. Flash fiction equally demands brevity, though it’s a tad bit more forgiving around the word play but still, you can’t go running off in every direction but pick and choose and cram. Longer short stories and novellas allow for more words, assuming they’re used well, and are great for delving more into characters and landscape. Novels, too, which are perhaps the most forgiving of all – or so I’d say. They still require clear focus and well-pruned language, but there’s a lot to work within the length. Although it’s the length which is one of the most challenging aspects because of the little R word that’s imperative to all storytelling: restraint.
Rest-whaaaaat? I know. It can be a scary word, especially when our characters run off and insist we follow them down the rabbit hole (thanks Lewis Carroll). It’s easy to get carried away when we see “90,000+ words” and the potential it holds. And you know, it’s true for novel series, too. So is the fact that a novel series, while the longest on the spectrum and certainly great fun, is so utterly challenging. It has the added fun of keeping everything straight from one novel to the next which isn’t always easy, as well as making sure it keeps going (but not for the sake of going) while always being fresh and exciting instead of blah and ugh and “Whyyyy?”
(And as I’m writing this line and staring at the blog platform, I’m thinking that in our 21st century, all of this is applicable to the art of blog writing. Also a valuable exercise for any author.)
Time to Play in the Pool
So, here I go. This week (also known as “from now to whenever this week apparently ends”) I’m jumping into the flash fiction scene. Of the 5 specific anthologies in the submission call, I’m planning on going for 4: paranormal romance, Hallowe’en/Samhain, Pagan Contemporary, and dark/urban fiction. So far I’ve got ideas for 3 which have been slowly creeping into my head since they were announced.
Thanks to Conjure One‘s “Center of the Sun“, the paranormal romance was the first to pop up. I LOVE that song so, so, so bad; partially because Rhys Fulber is amazing and mostly because Poe (aka Anne Danielewski; aka Jane) is a unique brand of awesomesauce that I’d serve with any meal. I managed to outline the story early this morning between naps so now it’s just a matter of putting the fingers to the keyboard and watching the letters fly. Shape shifter, werewolf, and a human girl. Could be interesting.
The Hallowe’en/Samhain anthology is a bit up in the air right now. My original idea, inspired by the song “A Thousand Years, Pt. 2” by Christina Perri, is bittersweet. To be honest, it’s channeling some of my emotions from losing my mum, who was born on Hallowe’en. Not sure if it’ll stick or not. A bit somber but that’s part of Samhain – not all just fun and games.
Still haven’t figured out the contemporary pagan story yet. Feels like a mental 404 HTTP error (you might recognize this as the “not found” error you get sometimes when trying to access a webpage).
And thanks to catching the first few minutes of the local news last night, I think I’ve got a lead on the dark urban fiction. A terrible story about a boy here in my city: 10 years old, locked up in the master bedroom by his aunt and uncle for an estimated 18 to 24 months (read: 2 years), living on 2 servings of fast food a day in a room with nothing but furniture and access to the bathroom (though there was still bodily waste found in the room). Apparently their kitchen was filthy and they have a 9 year old daughter who went to school, enjoyed freedom, and basically got to be a kid.
It’s one of those moments where I think the Tom Clancy quote can be aptly applied:
The difference between fiction and reality is that fiction has to make sense.
Because, at this point, this real-life story doesn’t make ANY sense. The poor kid. Though there’s hope for him. He apparently had two requests: real food and to go to school, even though he’s never been. Something tells me he’ll pull through this yet.
I have to admit I’m interested to see what happens as police and media question the aunt and uncle and trot them out for their trial. Just what possible reason could they have for locking him up for 2 years, while letting their own daughter run around without the same treatment? There’s always a motive, an impetus, even if it doesn’t seem to make sense on the surface.
I don’t know exactly where this little tidbit of inspiration is going to lead, but I’m feeling a pull towards telling a story from this type of darkness, possibly from the POV of a girl in the same situation of the daughter. We’ll see what happens.
But then again, that’s the way of all things, isn’t it?