A Conversation with Tara Masih — Flash Fiction Chronicles on the QFP Blog

by Jim Harrington

Queen’s Ferry Press is in the process of collecting stories for an annual anthology to be titled The Best Small Fictions. Fiction and prose poetry from 6 to 1,000 words published during the current year are eligible for inclusion. For the first edition, nominations will be accepted from October 1, 2014 through January 24, 2015. Journal editors and book publishers may submit up to five nominations (print or online) from their journals, chapbooks, broadsides, or story collections.

I interviewed Tara L. Masih, Series Editor, about this project.

TARAMASIHPICTara L. Masih has won multiple book awards as editor of The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction and The Chalk Circle: Intercultural Prizewinning Essays.Where the Dog Star Never Glows: Stories was a National Best Books Award finalist. Her flash has been anthologized inWord of Mouth, Brevity & Echo, BITE, andFlash Fiction Funny; was featured in Fiction Writer’s Review for National Short Story Month; and was a finalist for the Reynolds Price Prize in Fiction. Awards for her work include first place in The Ledge Magazine’s fiction contest and Pushcart Prize, Best New American Voices, and Best of the Web nominations.www.taramasih.com

Jim Harrington: Hi, Tara, and thank you for agreeing to be a part of The Best Small Fictions. What is the purpose/goal of this effort?

Tara Masih: The purpose is to provide a forum for writers who are producing extremely well-wrought small fictions, a forum that recognizes their work at the end of the year. Most of the other genres have this formal recognition, but the short-short story does not. There is of course the venerable Wigleaf Top 50 list, and your own list that appears during short story month, but these lists appear online. We wanted to resuscitate the print series Robert Oberfirst published in 1952–1960, his Anthology of Best Short Short Stories. Enough small fictions were produced at that time to command a yearly volume. Our word count limit is a bit smaller than his, and we have a new title, but Queen’s Ferry Press and I believe enough quality work is being published again to merit an annual anthology. Consider this a contemporary nod to an old era when the short-short thrived.

JH: There have been flash fiction anthologies published before this—the Sudden Fiction series comes to mind. How will this anthology be different?

TM: And the Flash Fiction series. Both groundbreaking anthology series that are highly respected. Each series has its own criteria for inclusion and covers a broader spectrum over a number of years. Ours will be different in that it will be briefer, more inclusive of experimentation and different word lengths, and have the barometer of being the best work within a certain year. I think the confines of the calendar year will lead to a different feel. I’ll be curious to see if any specific topics keep coming up that reflect world headlines. We’re also opening it up internationally, so readers in the States will get a taste of what is being published outside its borders, and vice versa.

JH: The guidelines mention “hybrid fiction” and “experimental form.” Editors and publishers may have different definitions for these terms. Can you tell us a little more about what you’re looking for, as regards hybrid and experimental stories?

TM: I welcome the different definitions of hybrid and experimentation. I’d rather leave it up to the editors to decide what they want to send in. Basically, if it’s small and contains elements of a fictional story, I don’t care what form it comes in. Graphic stories can be submitted, too, as long as there is text.

JH: Do you have an idea of how many stories will be in the final version?

TM: Since this is the first year, I hesitate to give a firm number. We have a goal, and we’ll see if we can reach it. But it will depend on submissions and the quality we receive. We won’t be making compromises to “fill” the book. We’ll only publish what the guest editor feels is the best of the year. We anticipate that it will be a slim, affordable book, densely packed with excellent, eclectic stories.

JH: Robert Olen Butler is selecting the winners from the finalists. How exciting is that?

TM: More than exciting. I can’t tell you what this means to both me and the press. It shows his character, that he’s willing to take time off from writing his latest novel to do this for a small press because he believes in the project and the idea of it. He and I work well together, too, so he was our first choice for guest editor, and we’re honored he accepted. He has a great feel for story and it will be fun for me to see what he eventually chooses as “The Best.”

JH: What else would you like our readers to know about this project?

TM: That this project is for the writers who voluntarily spill their thoughts and feelings on paper, in a small space, then send it out and hope it gets accepted, into a world that doesn’t completely value its worth yet. It’s a tough process and takes its toll. This project I hope will give the writers who are commended the recognition they deserve and a small boost to keep writing, and the editors who publish them the satisfaction that they chose well. Editors often go unnoticed. This gives them some accolades, too. We’ll make sure the publishers of the stories are acknowledged in some way.

JM: Thank you, Tara. This sounds like an exciting project, and I look forward to reading the finished product. You can learn more about The Best Small Fictions on the Queen’s Ferry Press website.

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jimharrington2

Jim Harrington began writing fiction in 2007 and has agonized over the form ever since. His stories have appeared in Every Day Fiction, Liquid Imagination, Ink Sweat and Tears, Near to the Knuckle, Flashes in the Dark, and others. He serves as the Managing Editor for Flash Fiction Chronicles. Jim’s Six Questions For . . . blog provides editors and publishers a place to “tell it like it is.” You can read more of his stories at http://jpharrington.blogspot.com.

How To Become a Writer

This week’s blog comes a little late, but it’s a special one. Sarah Van Arsdale writes and illustrates “How To Become a Writer”:

First, make sure to be born into a family that is hopelessly imperfect. This will give you fodder.

Next, it’s best if you have a mother who recites poetry to you, especially complex poetry that you cannot in any way understand, but which has great alliteration and rhyme.

Have parents who will read to you long before you can read to yourself: Goodnight Moon, of course, but also Ant and Bee, Bee in his tiny trilby hat, carrying his tiny cane, and When We Were Very Young with Maryjane pitching a fit over the appearance of that infuriating rice pudding again.

And then, as soon as you can, start ruining your health by reading to yourself rather than playing in the fresh air outdoors.1

Hide in your room and read The Wind in the Willows, and the Narnia Chronicles and Bright April, not knowing that the image of April’s brother running a stick along the fence on a winter’s afternoon as he walked home would, for some reason you will never understand, stay with you forever.

Feel piercingly isolated among your peer group. More fodder.

When you do venture outdoors, sit alone on the wide wooden swing your father has hung from the willow behind the barn-red barn, the whip-thin branches sweeping to the grass, as you watch the cattail-spiked swamp. Watch the swamp, on high alert for activity. Wonder what creatures might be coming out of that swamp.2 3

Wonder how far the safety of the house is, and how quickly you could bolt.

Watch your father, laying flagstones for a patio. Watch your father, shoveling wet cement into frames to make a big, solid place to have a fire.

Watch the orange cat, crossing the damp grass as the light fades and the first firefly appears. Watch the fireflies, gathering into a mass of winking yellow lights.

4

When your parents have a party on the patio, look at how the branches of the maple hang over the fire. Worry.

Worry some more, about the burglars who may have taken up residence in your closet, about the pain in your stomach, about whether your sister will ever come out of her sulk and speak to you again.

In short, grow up. Truckloads of fodder.

Wonder how anyone survives. Read, in hopes of getting an answer. Get to college. Make friends with the other weirdos. Read what they tell you to read. Take up smoking, as if you’re de Beauvoir in Paris.5

Get a job as a waitress, as if you are not. Get fired for ignoring your customers while you stand at the restaurant window dreaming. Read what they tell you not to read. Get another job. Get a degree, astounded that you managed it. Get another job, this one writing news stories. Cover a murder trial that is so upsetting you realize you are sorely lacking in the objectivity necessary to become Katherine Hepburn in Woman of the Year. Quit smoking. With a feeling of resignation, as if accepting what you knew all along to be your tragic fate, go to poetry school. Get another degree. Keep reading.6

Find that you can, in fact, write your way out of a paper bag. Then, out of necessity so that you will not, quite literally, die, write your way out of your broken heart. Write to understand yourself. Then, write to understand everyone else. Succeed at this only partially. Get a job teaching in a community college, students who are desperately illiterate, whose problems reach far beyond their desperate illiteracy. When you can’t pay the bills with that job, get an additional one, editing stories for a newspaper. Read, now, your students’ papers. Even when you’re so tired you nearly fall asleep driving to the college with the illiterate students, even when you barely have time to miss writing, find a tiny corner of time to write, maybe it’s just twenty minutes on a Wednesday night or between six-thirty and six-forty on a Monday morning. Write it all down, even when it’s only notes in red pen on the back of a student’s quiz. Write and keep writing. Write until you don’t know how to do anything else and there are no other career paths even remotely available.

Keep watching: watch the shape of an island appear like hope as you drive over a long, straight causeway. Watch the skyline of San Francisco as it disappears into the fog. Watch another orange cat stepping across the wet grass of your own lawn.7

Watch everything, and look at everything, and even when you don’t love everything, love everything.

And then, write this.

CRUDE SKETCHES DONE IN QUICK SUCCESSION: Now Available (with more snakes)!

We’re thrilled to announce the official pre-release of Andrew Brininstool’s debut collection, Crude Sketches Done In Quick Succession. To celebrate, we’ve asked Andrew to tell two truths and a lie a lie about the stories, the book, and apparently some of his questionable choices involving tequila:

Two Truths and a Lie

  1. Gordon’s invention came to me in a dream.

I don’t put much stock in dreams, but Gordon and his invention came to me in the minutes before I awoke. He spoke to me of Daily Constitutionals, a technologically advanced potty-training seat that teaches little ones the Bill of Rights. I want to say Gordon spoke to me about this without sounding like I am a psychopath. That afternoon, I sat down and began “Young Arsonists in Love.”

  1. I got on the wrong side of a shaman once.

If you know anything about me, you know I have two enormous passions: travel, and rock climbing. For my sixty-eighth birthday, a colleague, M___ and I climbed the Andes Mountains. What with M___ and I having years of experience beneath our belts, we chose to forego guides. And didn’t we both have egg on our faces when, on the fourth day of our climb, an enormous blizzard wrapped all of the highlands of Ecuador in snow! With some luck, we captured and cleaned a tapir, and feasted on its haunches for three days, burrowed inside a cave while the storm refused to pass. Once it did pass and the sun came out, silly me, I slipped on a rock and severely tweaked my knee. Not so bad, perhaps, except that we were dangerously low on supplies and tapir, come to find out, does not agree with me. With grace and much compassion, M___ carried me to Illuman, a town known for the curandero. Even as the doctor asked me to strip to my boxers—even as he smoked what May Have Been Weed But Did Not Smell Like Weed At All and played with a little bell—I knew I was on a spiritual journey. I was changing.

And then the dude started spitting tequila in my face.

  1. Among all the lovely people who have helped me or encouraged me or loved me or the like, I’ve also added a major shout-out to KTCK 1310 AM The Ticket in Dallas, for when I am not writing I am keeping my ears listening.

Ragonk.

***Make sure you message @abrininstool with your order confirmation to receive a personalized bad poem! Use it to your heart’s content, but make sure you tweet your photo back at us.***

Now, behold, as Queen’s Ferry Press’ Marketing & Publicity, Kevin Wehmueller, turns a bad poem into an even worse origami snake:

You ordered Crude Sketches Done In Quick Succession. You got a bad poem in the mail. What should you do with it, you ask? You should probably frame it, but making an origami snake out of “What’s At Stake” comes in at a close second.

First, take your poem:

My god, this is awful.
My god, this is awful.

You’ll need a square sheet of paper, so cut that bad boy down to size:

Maybe I should have torn along the poem.
Maybe I should have torn along the poem.

Flip it over and fold diagonally:

Out of sight, out of mind.
Out of sight, out of mind.

Fold the other corners to the center line:

Answer: your dignity.
Answer: your dignity.

Repeat:

Blergh. It's back.
Blergh. It’s back.

Repeat one more time:

Much better.
Much better.

By now, you shouldn’t be able to read the poem, which is a huge improvement. Fold your progress in half:

This could pass as a snake, I guess.
This could pass as a snake, I guess.

From the wide end, fold up enough to make the head of your snake:

Ceci n'est pas une pipe.
Ceci n’est pas une pipe.

Next, do a reverse inside fold:

Not entirely sure what that means, but this is what it ended up looking like.
Not entirely sure what that means, but this is what it ended up looking like.

Fold the head down on one side:

This is starting to look pretty bad.
This is starting to look pretty bad.

And again, reverse inside fold:

Seriously, I have no idea what reverse inside fold means.
Seriously, I have no idea what reverse inside fold means.

Theoretically you now have a snake. If it looks anything like mine at this point, congratulations. You also have the dexterity of a six year-old. But we’re not done, because we’re going to make this baby slither. Repeat the process of fold, reverse inside fold (seriously what the hell does this mean?) three to four times along the spine:

I should really clean this desk.
I should really clean this desk.
Crude pictures posted in quick succession (because I got tired of writing directions).
Crude pictures posted in quick succession (because I got tired of writing directions).
Just one more and...
Just one more and…
Finished!
Finished!

Well, well, well, look at that. Is it a snake, or a stake? Are they really so different? Not when I make them. Congratulations! Now go read Crude Sketches Done In Quick Succession.

Snake or stake? Or steak? Or Keats? "Knowing within myself the manner in which this Poem has been produced, it is not without a feeling of regret that I make it public."
Snake or stake? Or steak? Or Keats? “Knowing within myself the manner in which this Poem has been produced, it is not without a feeling of regret that I make it public.”

The Crossing: Issue 1

Queen’s Ferry Press is pleased to distribute the first issue of The Crossing, a monthly newsletter for readers and subscribers of Queen’s Ferry Press.

The Crossing
The Crossing

A web-only version of The Crossing will appear each month, and is downloadable in PDF form here. Those who subscribe to receive e-mail updates of The Crossing will receive a promotional code to be used at check-out during the lifespan of each issue.