Pins and Needles: A Type of Flash Fiction

Today I would glow to voice the “Pins and Needles” flash fiction. Why do I ponder it Pins and Needles? Well, pins and needles is an euphemism for anxiety, but also pins poke and prod and sneeze, while the needles sew up and pick at and cackle…Imagine a giant ball of mental yarn, a mind, circled, pushed, scrutinized with an instrument (this instrument will be words). The Pins and Needles flash breaks down a subject, but also holds itself to mirror. Mental loops, circles, caterwhomps and the saliva of a scalpel. These circles are metallic, possibly barbed wire, a ball of barbed wire…yes, that’s the image. But this ball is making love with a battery. It thrums. It can also shock. It crackles. It causes anxiety. It is anxiety. The humming is something like the pulse at the throat, fidgety fingers, tapping at the windows, thunderings, fingernail soreness, shredding out the hair…etc.

Do you need more?

No. I’m moving onto examples. If you can’t snag the image above, it’s possible you’re at the wrong blog, like Judy Garland eating nachos.

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Let’s discuss Mary Ruefle. Most know her a poet, but I would like us to suspend that knowing. Let’s contemplate her as a person who obsessively erases books and then replaces the words with paint and snakes and birds, etc.

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Mary Reufle REMOVES words. She understands COMPRESSION and DENSITY. Juxtaposition, too. She would like us to meet her HALF WAY. So, let’s now know her as a glow of Flash fiction, specifically, Reufle’s flash collection, The Most of It. As essential and piercing as:

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BTW, George Plimpton, in his immersion/participation journalism days, once played the triangle in a professional orchestra. Don’t snicker. Playing triangle in a symphony is not as easy as it appears. Producing a musical sonority, striking in the right place, at the right time, stricking at just the right velocity and pressure, etc.

But I digress…

Reufle’s book is a vibrant red and gold, not so unlike a salamander you might find in the jungle and squeeze/fondle for your little Mason jar back home on the ranch-by-the-riverside then all the sudden you fall over into a greasy container of seizure because that salamander was cradling a toxin in its fur coat.

THIS IS HER FIRST BOOK OF PROSE

SO?

Poets make excellent flash writers because they already have the harpoons in those things you store harpoons in (a purse made of sighs?). DENSITY drives a taxi made of ankle braces. Poets go for DENSITY. Words that bring several things to the picnic, including drugs. DENSITY knows how to sneak Doritos into a diet center by hiding them in a shampoo bottle. DENSITY is a customized book-carrying bicycle. DENSITY knows how to have sex in the shower while on a treadmill. Density was born in Leningrad. Was only there for three years. Then moved to Molotov, which is now Perm. DENSITY, when asked if it needs new spikes (since it fell over home while scoring the winning run), pats the reporter on the back and winks and reminds the reporter it wears new spikes (made of butter and silver) EVERY game and then says, “So don’t worry about it.”

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–STRIKE three, you’re out!

–Nice STRIKE, all the pins when flying!

–No? Then I shall begin my hunger STRIKE?

–You are one STRIKING young lady.

–Don’t STRIKE a match in here!

–Unless I STRIKE gold…

On and on, onto density. We need echoes. Words that do many things. Poets know echoes. Flash fiction writers know echoes. It’s why we can hear what they are saying. With Pins and Needles, they so want you to hear. They want you to join them in these pickings at the charged and sizzling thread (more a coil) of our tilted days and seclusion room nights. It is an empathetic genre, really, in its relentless scratching.

Let’s examine a few Pins and Needles flash, shall we? In The Most of It we have 30 individual texts. I will not chomp all of them (this isn’t a book review), but I’d like to hit a few to make my point. This book is a holy text (like many holy texts, it is somewhat under-read by those who should know better) of the Pin and Needle flash, and I will now use its shards to SHOW you.

Let’s begin at the beginning.

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The opening flash is titled, “Snow.” Here it is entire:

Every time it starts to snow, I would like to have sex. No matter if it is snowing lightly and unseriously, or snowing very seriously, well on into the night, I would like to stop whatever manifestation of life I am engaged in and have sex, with the same person, who also sees the snow and heeds it, who might have to leave an office or meeting, or some arduous physical task, or, conceivably, leave off having sex with another person, and go in the snow to me, who is already, in the snow, beginning to have sex in my snow-mind. Someone for whom, like me, this is an ultimatum, the snow sign, an ultimatum of joy, though as an ultimatum beyond joy as well as sorrow. I would like to be in the classroom — for I am a teacher — and closing my book stand up, saying “It is snowing and I must go have sex, good-bye,” and walk out of the room. And starting my car, in the beginning stages of snow, know that he is starting his car, with the flakes falling on its windshield, or, if he is at home, he is looking at the snow and knowing I will arrive, snowy, in ten or twenty or thirty minutes, and, if the snow has stopped off, we, as humans, can make a decision, but not while it is still snowing, and even half-snow would be some thing to be obeyed. I often wonder where the birds go in a snowstorm, for they disappear completely. I always think of them deep inside the bushes, and further along inside the trees and deep inside of the forests, on branches where no snow can reach, deeply recessed for the time of the snow, not oblivious to it, but intensely accepting their incapacity, and so enduring the snow in brave little inborn ways, with their feathered heads bowed down for warmth. Wings, the mark of a bird, are quite useless in snow. When I am inside having sex while it snows I want to be thinking about the birds too, and I want my love to love thinking about the birds as much as I do, for it is snowing and we are having sex under or on top of the blankets and the birds cannot be that far away, deep in the stillness and silence of the snow, their breasts still have color, their hearts are beating, they breathe in and out while it snows all around them, though thinking about the birds is not as fascinating as watching it snow on a cemetery, on graves and tombstones and the vaults of the dead, I love watching it snow on graves, how cold the snow is, even colder the stones, and the ground is the coldest of all, and the bones of the dead are in the ground, but the dead are not cold, snow or no snow, it means very little to them, nothing, it means nothing to them, but for us, watching it snow on the dead, watching the graveyard get covered in snow, it is very cold, the snow on top of the graves over the bones, it seems especially cold, and at the same time especially peaceful, it is like snow falling gently on sleepers, even if it falls in a hurry it seems gentle, because the sleepers are gentle, they are not anxious, they are sleeping through the snow and they will be sleeping beyond the snow, and although I will be having sex while it snows I want to remember the quiet, cold, gentle sleepers who cannot think of themselves as birds nestled in feathers, but who are themselves, in part, part of the snow, which is falling with such steadfast devotion to the ground all the anxiety in the world seems gone, the world seems deep in a bed as I am deep in a bed, lost in the arms of my lover, yes, when it snows like this I feel the whole world has joined me in isolation and silence.

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I can think of little better introduction into Pins and Needles. Note the techniques, as you will see them again and again in this form of prose.

The sentences. They grab your hand, but not always to comfort, sometimes to push your hand into, well, something. Possibly sharp or icky, as in something your mind doesn’t want to consider, but would rather avoid. They guide you down slippery paths unknown. They don’t like to behave. Look at sentence two. It is exactly the type of sentence you will see in this variety of contemplative flash. Eye the sheer length, but then the commas. You start, you pause, you take a step, you pause, you pause for another short stay, you start. You’re never allowed on exactly stable ground. Where are we going?In this form, sentences like to circle, coil, intertwine, much like a vine, a vine snaking its way about the grays valleys of your brain. Imagine Kudzu. Many of Reufle’s flash fictions are one long, long (gripping) sentence.

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First Person POV is common, and often very personal, almost as if revealing secrets. Secrets and lies are often integral to Pins and Needles flash fiction. You will get third POV, at times, but usually when delving more into the philosophical (see below), using the POV to gain distance, and to universalize the characters (as us).

Diversions are central. We wander/wonder. From snow to sex to birds to gravestones to birds to sex to snow…yet these diversions must have threads. They are expertly knit–the pattern is intricate. It only looks like a ball of yarn. It is a spherical machine. This is the Pins and Needles flash. Feel its anxiety? It gnaws at stated or implied ideas (Where do the birds go when it snows? Do the dead feel snow?), and re-gnaws–seriously and unseriously (not a word at all, poet)–and then gnaws again, needle, needle, needle tooth by tooth. This type of flash doesn’t care for pithy generalizations like SHOW DON’T TELL, because it tells first, and tells so vividly the rule collapses on itself. This genre likes to play, with its “snow-mind” and its image-jokes (a lover disengaging physically from the act of sex to enter a car to go have snow-sex), but is primarily serious. To not see entropy, falling, brevity, mortality, and so on here would be silly in a most serious way. The Pins and Needles flash picks at larger issues, thus its foundation of anxiety. Issues we’d rather avoid.

BTW, several subjects come up again in “Pins and Needles” flash fiction. These would include relationships, sex (as aspect of relationships), humor (always dark–the type of humor you need to deal with life), animals and nature (as a existential foil to humans), the act of writing, violence, juxtapositions of. Often stark, quick juxtapositions. Why? most likely to create the substrata of this entire affair–not to be redundant–but I mean to say anxiety. Modern existence. Alienated. Anxious. Analysis (of the self, exhaustively). Now you’ve hit the heart (pumping hard) of the Pins and Needles flash.

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The Pins and Needles flash is a master of the opening line. Why? Because this genre is talking to you (again–not scene setting). It’s like, “Hey! Hey you! Listen to me for a minute!” Here a few from Reufle’s book:

“This morning I want to talk a little bit about killing.”   (Camp William)

“If you were very, very small, smaller than a leprechaun, smaller than a gnome or fairy, and you lived in a vagina, every time a penis came in there would be a natural disaster.”  (The Taking of Moundville by Zoom)

“If you bother to read this at all it is a clear indication your life is intolerable and you seek a distraction by engaging in the activity you are presently pretending to engage in.” (If all the World Were Paper)

And so on…

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Lastly (though I could go on; as you can see, I do glow Pins and Needles flash), as I intimated earlier, this genre often delves into philosophy. I don’t mean formally, but the whole genre is about Big Questions. This is the well-spring of much anxiety, no? We didn’t ask onto this odd stage, poor players, but here we are: now what? Indeed. Here is an example, a microfiction, the final text in the book, titled “On Burial.”

There are only two tombs: the tomb of Jesus and the tomb of Tut. Roll away one stone and you will be given everything: food, clothing, shelter, gems, cloth, seeds and oil, a replica of the world in pure gold. Roll away the other stone and there’s nothing.

For further Pins and Needles authors, read:

Lydia Davis. Probably the Queen of anxiety flash fiction. Cerebral, personal, deadly. A flash writer wins the Booker Prize!

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FEAR

Nearly every morning, a certain woman in our community comes running out of her house with her face white and her overcoat flapping wildly. She cries out, “Emergency, emergency,” and one of us runs to her and holds her until her fears are calmed. We know she is making it up; nothing has really happened to her. But we understand, because there is hardly one of us who has not been moved at some time to do just what she has done, and every time, it has taken all our strength, and even the strength of our friends and families too, to quiet us.

here

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Or try Diane Williams. Sentence master. Sex disaster. Nausea and Nerves.

here

Science and Sin or Love and Understanding

I am not going to look it up in a book or do research. There are those of you who probably know why the small switching tail of a small animal makes me remember how I want to copy lewd people.

If the answer to the question is: Animals set an example for people, then I accept the answer. Do I have a choice?

I gave my husband no choice.

The last time I shoved something down my husband’s throat was when I cheated on him. Now I say to him, “I didn’t want to shove anything down your throat.”

“It’s because I love you,” was the puny thing to say. It was puny compared to the size of the power which had made me say it to him.

The power had made me see things too. The power had turned him into the shape of a man wearing his clothes so he could leave me in the dark, standing beside his side of it, our bed. I knew I was seeing things.

He said, “I hear you.”

I may or I may not cheat on him again. But the last time, I was standing up when I knew I was going to do it. I see myself on the street, deciding. I am holding onto something. Now I cannot see what it is. This is no close-up view. I am a stick figure.

I am the size of a pin.

or try Angela Woodward. History, biology, psychology.

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here

And there you have it.

S

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Flash of the Day: Choo and Rumble

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A bit of what we expect and a shard of something different from America’s Queen of Flash, Kim Chinquee. Found at Corium. Corium is a lively mag and has one of those names–sort of a lit mag trope at this point–where you go, “What in the hell is a Corium?” But I digress.

Choo and Rumble

Another train ride, and here I am with your goddamn strawberry lotion. At first it was fun to pick things out on our excursions to Chicago.

But after a couple times, I got tired of your places, me sitting on a stool while you tried on blazers. I kept telling you it all looked good. I just wanted to get out of there.

The train is loaded and some people are snoring. Some are talking on their cell phones. Some people look dead. I’m not sure where I am, except wondering.

About you. Maybe by now, dissolved in your piano, occupied by the sound of a tic. Though you’d say it was tac. If I told you that, you’d laugh and remind me how I know you.

It has been months. Or maybe it’s been years now. My leaving, the constant drum of the train. No matter what you say, I bet you don’t cry when I leave there.

It’s just an Amtrak. We have to let the real trains pass before we can go anywhere.

scopeKim Chinquee is a fine example of voice. She pretty much writes in her way (minimalist, direct tone, very few lyrical bells and whistles, a sort of purposeful vagueness at times that often represents a detached narrator. A detached narrator. A detachment.)

So what’s a bit different here?

Not the narrator. This is indeed the classic Chinquee narrator, drifting a bit, walled-off, always this space between the speaker and the events, as if always an observer versus a participant. Chinquee narrators often seem like they are as shocked as anyone by the role they are playing in the text. By the situation/life conundrum.

Not the movement. Very often, a Chinquee flash moves, running, shifting, to somewhere, away from somewhere. Change. Transitions can be subtle, can be huge, HINGE on something. Chinquee will often write that HINGE.

But other things do differ. Let’s see:

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1. Title.

Chinquee routinely goes with something simple, a noun, a place name, a hint of context, but little word-play. Choo and Rumble, with its onomatopoeic tendencies, with its focus on feel and sound, is not a traditional Chinquee title. But it’s a strong title. It is odd. Often odd titles make you look, which is one role (of many) of a title.

2. Opening line.

You’ll read a lot of Chinquee before you see a GD dropped in her opening. How does it work here? Well, coming off the tone of the title, it jars. As a modifier for strawberry lotion, it jars. It also represents a narrator who is done fucking around. It establishes. “Another train ride…” Another day, getting moved, in flux, pushed around. The line provides a lot of context. A lot of feel. It winds the text up, like a tight spring.

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3. Line Breaks.

There’s a strong emphasis on enjambment here, how the line is cut, how white space presents a thing. I’ve seen it done in other Chinquee flashes, but this text almost wants to be a poem. The text is thinking about the possibilities of the line.

4. Controlling Metaphor.

Again, we’ve seen this from Chinquee. She usually has something (and it IS often a thing) to ground and focus the flash, but here it’s a bit more present, the train (or, really trains). Again, a bit more obviously diving into techniques of poetry. The fade-out metaphor, the comment on the metaphor.

CaptureAs a huge fan of flash and certainly of Kim Chinquee, I find it interesting to see variations and nuances on her signature style. It shows not just growth, but keen thought about flash, as process and product. All of this technique makes me the reader more active. That’s what we’re trying for in flash. That’s what powers the genre. It’s fun to see Chinquee’s continued grace and skill on the page, and something further to watch for in the future.

Sunday Flash. Night by Brett Lott

I wrote a Sunday flash for Green Mountains Review.

It begins:

But I did saw it, and that’s me. I’m seeing all kinds of things these days. You know, The Muffin Man, for example. Saw The Muffin Man yesterday, at the car wash.

*

NIGHT

He woke up. He thought he could hear their child’s breathing in the next room, the near-silent, smooth sound of air in and out.

He touched his wife. The room was too dark to let him see her, but he felt her movement, the shift of blanket and sheet.

“Listen,” he whispered.

“Yesterday,” she mumbled. “Why not yesterday,” and she moved back into sleep.

He listened harder, though he could hear his wife’s breath, thick and heavy next to him, there was beneath this the thin frost of his child’s breathing.

The hardwood floor was cold beneath his feet. He held out a hand in front of him, and when he touched the doorjamb, he paused, listened again, heard the life of his child.

His fingertips led him along the hall and to the next room. Then he was in the doorway of a room as dark, as hollow as his own. He cut on the light.

The room, of course, was empty. They had left the bed just as their child had made it, the spread merely thrown over bunched and wrinkled sheets, the pillow crooked at the head. The small blue desk was littered with colored pencils and scraps of construction paper, a bottle of white glue.

He turned off the light and listened. He heard nothing, then back out of the room and moved down the hall, back to his room, his hands at his sides, his fingertips helpless.

This happened each night, like a dream, but not.

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(“Night” can be located with 71 excellent flash fictions in this anthology.)

Why is Ricos nacho cheese inside lava lamps? Why do horror film take place in thunder and lightning? Why do couples trade lipstick in the rain? A catch in your voice. A coyote on a highway. A conveyor. The ocean invoked in a carpet of sardines. Sunlight on corn. A hand grenade nestled into a snow bank. Fog machines. A tumbleweed the size of your college debt. Whistling birds, that one bird they put into every movie. Foam. The smell of crushed jasmine and gasoline. The time you rode the subway and a woman handed you a squirrel. Disco balls. The smell of your eyes that day.  Black and white photos of abandoned laboratories. The sound of Mexico. An entire wall of your apartment covered in the Nixon and Elvis photo. A shoebox of weed. The moon.

What is of I speak?

MOOD.

The excellent thing about flash fiction is the sheer variety of technique. Some write very narrative flash, some go with lyrical–all of this is naturally on a spectrum. Here, we have “the unopened envelope” as plot. What’s behind the door? Mystery. But that’s the only narrative interest in advancing. The flash is more than happy to NOT advance. To ponder, freeze, flail.

TO TREAD, in darkness.

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Some flash writers see ambiance as the central medium, the tone and mood as the essence of the thing. Emotion transferred through craft. Flash always borrows from the poet. The poet has known brevity for eons. And setting. The flash writer always borrows from the poet. The poet knows sound. The flash writer always borrows from the poet. The poet knows objects. The poet knows. Word choice.

Gary Snyder goes:

The shack and a few trees

float in the blowing fog

I pull out your blouse,

warm my cold hands

on your breasts.

you laugh and shudder

peeling garlic by the

hot iron stove.

bring in the axe, the rake,

the wood

we’ll lean on the wall

against each other

stew simmering on the fire

as it grows dark

drinking wine.

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Indeed. Here we have intimacy, though we don’t need the word, do we? But I digress…Let me clarify:

The flash writer waits in Nashville and the poet is an International air route.

The flash writer is an Iowa based firm (such as Maytag). The poet is broomcorn.

The flash writer is all, “legal name change.” The poet is a public, wooded park.

So the flash writer needs the poet.

Let’s talk craft. Or HOW DOES BRETT LOTT DO IT?

Good question.

“Night” says shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh

“Night” says wobbly, disoriented, waking from a troubled sleep.

“Night” says “Is this my life?”

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EUPHONY is a funny word. It sounds like a musical instrument or a Willy Wonka character or a waterway crowded with wandering water balloons, etc. Actually, it’s the glow of sound, providing a pleasing effect to the ear, the synapse, the tingle of the armpits. It is achieved not only by the selection of individual word-sounds, but also by their relationship in the repetition, proximity, and flow of sound patterns.

They are melodious. Or, if placed exactly, they move us, maybe to tremble.

See “Night.”

Read it aloud. Like poetry. Make your individual letters, the actual words, assist in your larger function. Make the dancer the dance.

ALLITERATION you know all about. …near-silent, smooth sound…

Read it aloud.

CONSONANCE

A combination of sounds; sounds in agreement with tone.

Read it aloud.

ONOMATOPOEIA

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Whisper….

On and on. A flash is elegant, is contained, is maybe an egg, a jeweled thing…with a life beating inside. “Night” is so quiet, yet there dwells its power: the sliding of a snake across a hardwood floor, the gentle whir of a falling thing, breathing, the dark.

Other methods?

Cold, frost, night…

Other methods.

Objects. Always objects…that bottle of glue. Waiting.

Other methods.

Sparse dialogue. A few words. But saying a lot.

Doesn’t it all join–the hallway, the torqued sheets, the child’s desk–to let you read right off the page? Let you consider all the glorious (and terrifying) white space?

Emptiness.

Fullness.

Terror.

Well, now you have a formula for flash. What we must admire here is Brett Lott’s economy and control. The text folds into itself. It then folds out, to resonate, like grief.

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Flash Fiction of the Day: The Moonlit Window

Chinese flash fiction. Minute story. Pocket-size story. Palm-size story. Smoke-Long story.

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Creation myths (Nuwa, Fuxi, Pangu). 350 BC.

PANGU:

In the beginning there was nothing in the universe except a formless chaos. However this chaos coalesced into a cosmic egg for about 18,000 years. Within it, the perfectly opposed principles of Yin and Yang became balanced and Pangu emerged (or woke up) from the egg. Pangu is usually depicted as a primitive, hairy giant with horns on his head and clad in furs. Pangu set about the task of creating the world: he separated Yin from Yang with a swing of his giant axe, creating the Earth (murky Yin) and the Sky (clear Yang). To keep them separated, Pangu stood between them and pushed up the Sky. This task took 18,000 years; with each day the sky grew ten feet (3 meters) higher, the Earth ten feet wider, and Pangu ten feet taller. In some versions of the story, Pangu is aided in this task by the four most prominent beasts, namely the Turtle, the Qilin, the Phoenix, and the Dragon.

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After the 18,000 years had elapsed, Pangu was laid to rest. His breath became the wind, mist and clouds; his voice the thunder; left eye the sun and right eye the moon; his head became the mountains and extremes of the world; his blood formed rivers; his muscles the fertile lands; his facial hair the stars and milky way; his fur the bushes and forests; his bones the valuable minerals; his bone marrows sacred diamonds; his sweat fell as rain; and the fleas on his fur carried by the wind became the fish and animals throughout the land. Nüwa the Goddess then used the mud of the water bed to form the shape of humans. These humans were very smart since they were individually crafted. Nüwa then became bored of individually making every human so she started putting a rope in the water bed and letting the drops of mud that fell from it become new humans. These small drops became new humans, not as smart as the first.

But let’s look at a more contemporary flash fiction, “The Moonlit Window” by Deng Kaishang.

Who is Deng Kaishang? All I know is that he is president of the Writer’s Association of Hunan Province. He might like cheese, but I doubt it. He is a good man.

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THE MOONLIT WINDOW

The moon, pale as jade, peeked from behind translucent clouds, drifted in through delicate window, and fell onto the small writing desk in the room. The tenant’s exquisite writing brush, breathing in the fragrance of fresh ink, rested on a small, finely-carved wood stand.

Five water chestnuts. No, four and a half, to be more exact: one of them having been bitten in half by the tenant. The remaining half, its stem still intact, lay upright on the small desk. Basking in the pale, pure moonlight, it looked like a miniature pyramid.

A small piece of square-shaped marble, exquisite, pure as a beam of frozen moonlight. Underneath the rock was a stack of manuscript paper, words written in graceful penmanship, its title: “Revision Suggestions for On Spring Vistas in Mountainous Villages (Three Volumes).”

Underneath the stack of manuscript paper was a family letter, which cracked visibly somewhere along the lines where it had been folded; the V-shaped rupture rippled with moonlight, shiny like a dagger. The visible portion of the letter showed words written with both resolve and feminine sensitivity:

Full moon beaming in the sky, stars sailing to the west, but woe welling up in my heart: A full moon is not good as a full family! ‘Once a couple, forever a couple,’ and we had that ‘once’ for 12 years! My conscience , a woman’s conscience, tortures my soul to this very day that we have been washed apart by the currents of life. My soul cried in pain; my soul is bleeding. Oh, let’s get married again! I beseech you. the only thing I will ask of you is to quit this editor’s job. What did you get in return for ‘making bridal dresses’ for others for half your life? Ten years of cold wind and rain, a head of frosty hair. So listen to me this time!

The letter closed with: “I beg you to stop smoking!” In a corner of the letter were two red, bean-sized marks: two drops of blood having soaked deep into the paper. Next to them was a line from the tenant after reading the letter: “Endless will flow this feeling of love!” It was taken from Bayi Juyi’s poem “Endless Sorrow;” only that the tenant had replaced “sorrow” with “love.”

A gentle breeze murmured a serenade. It drifted into the moonlit window, caressed a sheet of manuscript paper, the ink on which was still fresh, and dropped on it a strand of frosty hair. The page number read: 109.

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Odd. So many jump cuts, so many ways the writer places your eye then darts your eye, location to location, information to information. Dizzying. Allusions. Writings about writing. What in the hell is page 109 about? Mystery. There’s some deliciously mysterious about this flash fiction. That’s what I admire. More and more, I don’t want answers. This flash seems an immersion. A prime example of mood. Of repetition. Of the agonies of communication, miscommunication. This piece almost seems to me to exist in saturation. It caught a shard of the un-catchable, the unknowable. Exquisite, in its attempt, in its form.

Flash of the Day: Three Microfficciones

microfficciones = microfictions = microstories. Get it? Same as flash fiction, Smokelongs (China), Palm-in-Hand (Japan), short-shorts, postcard fiction, sudden fiction, vignettes, nouvelles (France), pocket story, myth, fable, prose poem (or not?), quick fiction, nano-fiction, on and on. Why so many names? Because–as we are trying to prove over and over on this site–flash fiction has been and continues to be everywhere. Different parts of the world. Different times, past and present. So, different names.

Let’s discuss Argentina’s “Queen of Flash,” Ana Maria Shua. Let’s take a look at “Three Microstories” from the anthology, “Sudden Latino Fiction: Short-Short Stories from the United States and Latin America.”

Cannibals and Explorers

The cannibals dance around the explorers. The cannibals light the fire. The cannibals have their faces painted in three colors. The cannibals prefer the heart and brain, disdaining the tender flesh of the thighs and the leftover intestines. The cannibals consume those parts of the body they believe will instill in them the virtues they admire in their victims. The cannibals partake of their ritual banquet without pleasure or mercy. The cannibals don the explorers’ clothes. The cannibals, once in London, deliver scholarly lectures on cannibals.

Respect for Genres

A man wakes up next to a woman he doesn’t recognize. In a thriller, this could be the result of alcohol, drugs, or a blow to the head. In a science fiction story, the man would eventually understand that he exists in a parallel universe. In an existentialist novel, the lack of recognition could simply be due to a feeling of alienation, of absurdity. In an experimental text, the mystery would go unsolved and the situation would be handled with the turn of a phrase. The editors become more and more demanding, and the man knows, with a sense of desperation, that if he doesn’t manage to fit himself into a genre soon, he runs the risk of remaining painfully and forever unpublished.

Theologian

In the seventh century A.D., a group of Bavarian theologians debate the sex of angels. Obviously, no one admits that women are capable of discussing theological matters; after all, back then it was doubtful they even had a soul. Nevertheless, one of them is a cleverly disguised woman. She asserts emphatically that angels must only be male. She knows, but doesn’t disclose, that among them there will be cleverly disguised women.

Segmented Structure, what does it provide? Well, for one thing, it provides white space. In flash, the work exists on and off the page. The reader has to see the area around the text as an integral aspect. Here we have white space between the actual microfictions, creating numberless possibilities. The white space might be a moment for thought, or Time itself, a movement back or forth (time often as extremely fluid in Latin American literature). The white space might be a change in place, in culture, in subject, yet that opens us up–bizarrely–to also seeing the sameness after the change. The white space divides and connects the text. The transformation runs both ways. So. White space enables us to read the work as three texts, but always simultaneously as one.

In the opening text, we get something common to Latin American literature: indigenous representations (the cannibals) and outsiders (explorers), New World versus ancient. Reason/logic/orderly belief versus another more imaginative view of existence. But then the turn, a two-part structure actually one definition of a flash, by some:

Russel Banks:

It’s its own self, and it’s intrinsically different from the short story and more like the sonnet or ghazal—two quick moves in opposite directions, dialectical moves, perhaps, and then a leap to a radical resolution that leaves the reader anxious in a particularly satisfying way.

In Shua’s work, the turn relies on the word, scholarly. The cannibals have become the explorers. They ate the system but it didn’t destroy the system–it actually changed them into the system, the way certain foods can change the body entire. Or were the cannibals always already explorers? Certainly explorers cannibalize. Is the transposing of expected roles the point? Or, and here is where I think Shua is directing us–is the entire flash a comment on scholarly work: cannibalizing the subject, pinning the butterfly below its Latin name, bringing it back to “London,” putting it in yet another box, a paper, a dry lecture, a set audience…into genre. The answers aren’t important, but a good flash–again with assistance from aspects off the page–should open us up to many possibilities. Already, this one does.

The second text seems obvious (and it is pleasurable to nod the head while reading), yet Shua takes it a bit further. Genre is a true realm of the cannibal (though much more rarely the explorer). Anyone in academia or publishing knows how to play the game. Something as mysterious as art, fate (a man wakes up next to…) can’t be understood, unless minimized, recognized, placed in a genre. A label. But again, the turn. The piece really became charged for me with the word painfully. Ah, the need to be published. The need to please someone (or many someones) in a very orderly way (forms anyone?), in academia, in the writing “world.” The abyss: forever unpublished. The turn exposes the “he” as a fraud, possibly another giver of “scholarly” papers, another cannibal transformed, shuffled back to please everyone in London…I also get a charge from another word in the sub-title, respect. Respect for Genres. Not only a great band name, but an idea that can make a person laugh, or shiver.

But there are ways out! Ways to retain the imaginative in our art and lives. Clever disguises.

The final text really seems to speak to the previous segments. It also speaks to method of defending and retaining an identity. Game the system. To subvert. In fact, to enjoy the process. The last text seems to speak for the artist. For methods of authenticity. For self.

Lastly, as a craft note, I encourage the use of the segmented form when struggling with a text. Sometimes I’ll write a flash fiction and spend hours moving it about, editing, shaping, and then I’ll just start chopping. Letting white space arrange and contain and actually allow the piece to settle into juxtaposition. This usually lets the writer remove a lot (a good thing) and add a little something more apt to the larger whole. The segmented form is one more technique to get us where we need to go as flash writer: fewer words, more meaning.

Flash of the Day: Cuban Dream # 7

Today’s Flash of the Day comes from Sudden Stories: the Mammoth Book of Miniscule Fiction, edited by Dinty W. Moore.

The author is Virgil Suarez, a Cuban born, extremely prolific writer. I point out “Cuban” as a nod to the rich roots of Latin American flash fiction (Junot Díaz, Cisneros, Bolaño, Márquez, Isabel Allende, Borges, Andrea Saenz, Daniel Alarcón, Alicita Rodriguez, etc, etc. BTW, If you are going to rail that Cuba is not Latin American, I would answer it is culturally.) I say prolific as a fact. If you have paged through a literary magazine, you’ve most likely read something by Mr. Suarez.

These Flash of the Day examinations are for anyone, but I’d like to particularity focus on the flash fiction writer. To comment on technique. To create compression is difficult: you must have sharpened tools. Let’s take a look at this flash fiction and then discuss, shall we?

Cuban Dream # 7

I’m on the beach running after a red parasol, each time I get near, a gust blows it down–it goes over German & Italian tourists, tumbling, kicking up sand into their drinks. They shout: “Ragazzo! Achtung!” A red umbrella in the distance, a knotted-tendril medusa of all my dreams–I run after it & step atop dead urchin carcasses. Unseen needles spear my soles, prick deep like lost loves. Puas, as my father called these urchins, these pains, warning me to steer clear. I leave blood tracks in the sand, beaded gems of my passing.

A woman wants to know if I can help her reenact Ava Gardner’s scene in The Night of the Iguana, the one with the two heavily-tanned boys who sandwich the star in the sultry Acapulco night. Pepe shakes his maracas. The other, the nameless one, dances behind Ava, arms linked tight about her waist. So shocking for 50s America. I say she’s got the wrong country. I say she’s got the wrong idea.

The umbrella becomes a speck, a small dot my father’s ghost plucks out of the air & puts in his mouth. I’ve gone deaf. I don’t even hear the waves, then sound becomes possible again. Waves hiss. Sand churns. I hear the roar of the surf. I hear someone behind me, calling for another mojito, this island’s minty, fresh elixir! In the distance my father’s ghost has become a raft in a rough-&-tumble sea: women & children fall overboard, splash in the water. Drown. Nobody notices. I turn to look behind me only to see a beach covered in blue umbrellas & under their shades thousands of naked German women, their waxen skin turning beet red. They are hungry seals. One hobbles over to me & begins to gnaw at my shins. Her bite feels like a clamping down of metal into flesh, the smashing of a finger under a hammerblow. It does no good to shout for help or try to wake up. This is the lost dream of a lost soul in a distant but not forgotten island.

Title: Like in poetry, titles are very important to flash fiction. This one implies a series (7 of…). The speaker doesn’t have one troubling dream, but many. For how long? or: How many per evening? A suggestion of recurring nightmares, or recurring repressed emotion (in a story set in contemporary times–a Freudian take is allowed). This is an interesting flash technique (and it is that, yet another way to get more across with fewer words), the layering involved in a series. It implies a rumination on the subject. It means a continuum. There is no actual need for a Cuban Dream # 6 or a Cuban Dream # 8, but they might exist, off the page, from Cuban dream # 1 to Cuban Dream # 294, etc. They might be infinite, the visitations of the father’s ghost (don’t ghosts walk forever?), these tourists (tourism seems eternal to me), this island (Contemporary Cuba. Changing, yet fixed in time…)

Object: Red umbrella. One thing I admire about flash is the way writers find so many creative ways to “thread” together a narrative, ways that deviate from Freytag or some more traditional plot structure. The image of the tumbling umbrella get the narrative rolling, a conflict, and a question: will he catch the umbrella? Once the umbrella is sent on its way, Suarez can leave it (though it’s still in the readers mind, a sort of “hold”) and then return at his wish. The umbrella (especially if referred to as a “parasol”) also seems to harken back to flash as a modernist form, a homage to the modernist eye of observation, the beach or park or picnic scene (think of all the paintings), flash fiction (like the prose poem) often concerning itself with what critic and writer, Margueritte Murphy calls, “looking” and “looking itself is an activity, a dynamic art.” The Parasol can also act in many other ways than plot thread. It’s antiquated nature might be commenting on Cuban/U.S. trade restrictions (you should see the cars of Cuba). It might provide levity (think Charlie Chaplain). It is red (symbol alert!). It does a lot of things. Again, in flash, you are looking for techniques of compression. An object needs to echo. The parasol does.

Allusion: Another common flash technique: Allusion can add additional layering to the actual words. What an odd one here: The Night of the Iguana, a truly loaded film based on a truly loaded play: desire, loneliness, longing. Besides the ridiculousness of the tourist (and this piece does have a lot to say about tourism and the tourist mind), I think the allusion hints to the troubled relationship between speaker and father and then finally, Cuba–pre-revolution versus post-revolution. If only the speaker could view the country like a tourist. A tourist has no national memory–they just drop in and start sunning and drinking. The speaker knew a before, his father’s time, another island all together.

Dream: I like how Suarez couches all of this under a “dream.” As a writer, it allows for a lot of technique that would appear forced in other situations. Note how sensory based, how full of movement this flash, and then the way the juxtapositions morph so quickly into each other. As a teacher, I sometimes see student writers using dreams as a crutch. (Anything is possible now, yippeee! And then he awoke…) Here, Suarez uses the dream as a device, a style almost, a way of writing to allow memory, hypersensitivity, rapid transformations of place and situation. In a dream, this fluttering (nausea?) is default. In a dream the nonsensical makes sense.

You Know, Just Hanging Out

Why do you wear your hair in horns? Why did you sell to the slicks? Had to make a living, dear boy. Well, you broke the code, never break the code. Ha, ha. Go and fetch me a gin, that’s my code, you mayonnaise snuffler. Why don’t you go set your head on fire? Why don’t you go make love to a muzzle loader? We can’t all spend our days shooting ostriches and bicycling through trout streams while riding water buffalo over the roofs of Mexican ski cabins, now can we? Look, bloated is no way to look big. You wrote a perfect book and it drives me crazy. Where in the hell is my cat?

HA HA HA HA HA HA. Somebody bring me a drink the size of Jupiter. Somebody light this cigarette. Somebody take off my glasses, clean them, hand them back to me. Holy claptrap. Why am I in this photo? You know one time I went to see Walden Pond (not so long a drive from my residence in Harlem) and at the bottom was a beer can. Take note. Take note.


Your books are absolute rubbish. Run along, sonny. Run along to the mall or the disco or wherever it is you get your information. When I see a V of swans I follow the V with my eyes and think about your collected works. When I see a crane walking along the rooftop (nesting in chimney–yes, they actually do that [Why not get outside yourself?]) and a little boy shoots it with a BB gun I think of your collected works. When a lager is flat, a woman stumbles into the street, a group of tourists are chasing down a goat with a stick…wait a bloody minute! Terminator Two is on the telly! I’m out.

OPEN your fucking eyes.

Don’t want to.

Dear, open your eyes. We’re not going to have a staged photo and you closing your fucking eyes.

Don’t want to. Why should I abdicate my free will?

Open your eyes. How does my pipe look, the angle?

Can’t see it.

Open your eyes! Look at my pipe!

No. We’re all going to die, very, very soon.

Open your eyes!

Don’t want to. I am abandoned on this earth in the midst of my infinite possibilities, and, I for one, would like to shoot this little gun with my eyes closed. This is my destiny. I don’t ask for help. Later I’ll have a sandwich, with onions.

Open your eyes. Open your eyes, dear.

I am free.

We’re exhausted. We just came in from chopping trees on the farm, you know, for firewood. Brett here owns several farms. We got blisters and like leaves in our hair. I almost hit my knee with the axe, the left knee, this one here. Brett caught a fish and built a fire and cooked the fish’s tail and told me it would be crunchy like a potato chip. It was nothing like a potato chip. Winter will be hell. Brett noticed a squirrel with an extra bushy tail and says it is sign, a sign of a hard, hard winter. We did some coke and shot the squirrel. We ate its brains. Winter is going to be hell.


You took out the herd of elephants?

I did. It was ridiculous.

But you left in the haunted house, right?

Of course. The house is there…boarded up, OK. Not really like a haunted house, more abandoned. I took out the vampire.

Dude!

Sorry. I put the house in yesterday and took out the vampire and the elephant herd. You don’t want an elephant herd in there, trust me. What else? Is anyone going to live in the house? Jesus, give me something. When is this thing due? You’re angry about the vampire now, aren’t you? God, my eyes are hurting. At least go get me some water.