Monthly Archives: November 2012

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that if he doesn’t manage to fit himself into a genre soon, he runs the risk of remaining painfully and forever unpublished.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.