First, a chat with Jane Swan…
This month, we feature a writer whose Flash Frontier story ‘Eat Beetroot’ was selected for inclusion in the Best Small Fictions 2015 anthology. Jane Swan has been a frequent contributor to Flash Frontier (most recently in this month’s sky issue), and she was also featured in National Flash Fiction Day‘s Micro Madness series (to get you in the mood for the micro issue, you can read 22 stories in the 100-word range here). We include her micro ‘Flight’ at the end of the interview.
FF: Jane, when did you start writing flash?
JS: I began to write flash about 2012/2013, having been prompted to do so by my good friend and writing colleague at Waitaki Writers’, Bruce Costello, who has had success with this genre.
FF: What was your first flash story published?
JS: ‘Like Windows to Springtime’ in the August 2013 issue of Flash Frontier. I was elated that you had accepted the piece so thank you again. It’s been the beginning of a very happy collaboration with Flash Frontier.
FF: What other writing are you interested in or have you written?
JS: I’ve written a little poetry, but have never been published and have, like many people, I suspect, a novel languishing in a drawer. I still write a lot of short stories.
FF: Who are writers who inspire you — either present or past?
JS: So many. At present I am rereading Alice Munro’s Dear Life and being inspired all over again. Margaret Atwood is another favourite and New Zealand’s Owen Marshall who was the first short story writer I was introduced to at a writing workshop. Then there’s Janet Frame whose work I am in awe of.
FF: What about the adage ‘good things come in small packages’?
JS: I am a fan of many things miniature. I am outfitting a dollshouse at present – a pirates’ dollshouse, so the search is on for tiny nautical, mutinous or ‘rum-soaked’ objects, though I do not steal them. I am often found doing miniature needlework, crochet and the like. I enjoy the longer format of short stories but surprisingly since writing flash fiction, even these pieces have shrunk.
FF: What are the first things you think of when you wake up in the morning?
JS: The everyday, such as a cunning plan to force myself out of bed. That said, I do sometimes in true writerly fashion get seized with the desire to stumble out of bed and write. Hard to do as the desire for a cup of tea often shatters this. Then I settle down and write. I am more of the ‘Inspiration Will Strike At 9am Brigade’. My husband is a night owl so generally my mornings are my own.
FF: Tell us about your writing space — where you like to sit and write.
JS: I still prefer to write my first drafts longland in a school exercise book so anywhere comfortable and warm will do. It’s not often I compose on the computer which is tucked in the corner of our very small lounge. I can edit quite well surrounded by the whirring of daily life but to write something new I must have quiet, no music even.
FF: Do you have a favourite colour, and do you ever write about it?
JS: My favourite colour is black. I wear it a lot with contrasting splashes of bright, zingy colours. I realised some time ago that I was tricking myself into thinking black was chic, which I am definitely not. I wonder if I’ve been influenced by the nuns at the school I attended where I was terrified most of the time. So I learnt to blend in – mmm, Oh Shrink! – scary big women in black. I fight all the time with my characters who tend to be darker than I’d like, but with flashes of humour, I hope. So similar to my dress and colour choices?
Thanks Flash Frontier for the opportunity to chat.
Thank you, Jane!
Here’s Jane’s Micro Madness story:
Amber’s laugh strung across the sky like a shimmering banner. “Those tiny sheep!”
The air was fresh, cooler than I’d expected.
My bride tucked a wisp of hair behind her ear.
“Sailors sometimes grow beards,” I said. “To feel the wind in their whiskers.”
“To tell the wind direction.”
Amber’s laughter pealed again. “Except the women.”
I squeezed her hand. “You reckon?”
Suddenly the basket lurched and rose into a thermal.
Seagulls swooped through the shrinking shadow of the balloon. Moments later the wind seized it sweeping us out to sea.
Amber should have learnt to swim.
Jane Swan lives in Waikouaiti, just north of Dunedin. Jane shifted to Waikouaiti from Oamaru in the summer and is enjoying the inspiration of the beach and friendly community. Jane writes short fiction and is working on a novel.
Best Small Fictions 2015 can be found here. Edited by Robert Olen Butler; series editor Tara L. Masih. Featuring 55 stories from around the world. Readers can find an interview with Robert Olen Butler here.
A small fiction is a lone wolf of a lie, sometimes hounding the truth across a field but oftentimes simply sitting on a hilltop to raise its face to the moon and howl.
-Robert Olen Butler
People From Our Pages: Maggie Rainey-Smith’s new novel, Daughters of Messene
When almost 300 unmarried Greek women arrived in Wellington in the early 1960s, the established Greek community feared the scandal that might follow. Instead the women settled into life here and the event has largely been forgotten.
Inspired by this migration, Maggie Rainey-Smith’s powerful third novel, Daughters of Messene, explores the complex interweaving of family and political events that caused one young woman to flee Greece after the Civil War, and half a century later motivated her daughter to return.
Daughters of Messene is described by Owen Marshall as “A strong, fresh novel, dense with closely observed and convincing detail of life in Greece and aspects of its history.”
Greek-NZ poet Vana Manasiadis says, “In many ways Daughters of Messene is a tender love poem dedicated to a place and its people, to the profound bonds of blood, and the legacies such bonds leave us. The tale is both touching and vivid, the unfolding masterful, and the novel’s heroines, spirited, huge-hearted and tough (in the very best sense).”
Daughters of Messene will be officially launched by Dame Fiona Kidman – who has Greek connections through her son – on 23 November.
More information at Mākaro Press, here.
Pre-orders of Daughters of Messene.
Maggie Rainey-Smith is the author of three novels, She is also a published poet and a short story writer. She blogs here and is a regular book reviewer on Beattie’s Blog. She won the 2007 Page & Blackmore short story competition and was short-listed in 2004 and 2013 for the Landfall Essay Prize and the 2004 Takahē Cultural Studies essay competition. Her short stories and poetry have been published in Sport, Takahē, The Listener, Flash Frontier, New Zealand Books and on Radio New Zealand and she was highly commended in the 2014 NFFD competition. More here.
People From Our Pages: Nancy Stohlman, Patrick Pink, James Claffey and Paul Beckman taking on November’s Flash Nano Challenge
Nancy Stohlman on starting the challenge
Nancy’s story from Day #3: Write a story in the form of a monologue (just one person speaking)
FlashNano is helping me stay focused on achieving a goal I set during the summer of writing 60 short flash fiction/prose poem pieces about my father. My wife, Maureen, herself a great writer, said I should write about my dad more than I do, and rather than writing about the absence of my dad, focus instead on his presence. Writing a piece a day gives me a rhythm and a focus that during the school year is not often present. Most of the time I don’t get to the page enough and end up making excuses for this failing.
There’s a satisfaction to seeing my collection of pieces now near forty. I hesitate to say other writers should do this, as I’ve learned not to impose my will on others, rather I’d say to other writers that anything that helps us show up at the blank page and fill that space with words can’t be bad. For me, the discipline of finding the time to sit down to write every day, and the concrete target of thirty pieces by month’s end is of value as I work best when given a deadline. On now to the next story.
August and the sun filtering in the small square window of our kitchen storeroom as I rock back and forth on the enormous rocking horse that takes up most all of one wall. The horse is made of wood and has a mane and tail made of actual horsehair. You push me back and forth, your wide hand on the small of my back, the rocking mechanism creaking in the confined air. You are home from work because your mother is dying and there’s nothing you can do about it. She is comatose in a nursing home on the Dublin Road, the stench of gum disease and agedness heavy in the stuffy, narrow room chosen as her last address. Mam is cleaning the brasses in the sitting room, the coal tongs and shovel resting on sheets of yesterday’s “Irish Independent” newspaper. Our house in half-asleep, your breathing loud and heavy in the storeroom, my small hands grasping the horse’s mane as tight as I can. In my head I recite, “Ride a Cock Horse to Banbury Cross” and I remember my grandmother saying those same words to me when I perched on her knee a long time ago. You make the sign of the Cross and say a few Hail Mary’s for her, the rhythm of your pushing slowing down as the streak of sunlight moves across the opposite wall and dies.
A story a day prompt challenge opens my mind to not only these daily stories but to others both while I’m writing and during the rest of each day. Along with the prompt is very often a time factor which creates a writer’s form of stream of conscious writing. It’s freeing, cathartic and creative. I did Nancy’s Flashnano last year and it was a productive 30 days giving me stories to rewrite numerous times and to submit for publication and ultimately have over a third of them accepted. As the days progress I look forward to the prompts to see where my mind is going to take me. I’m not the type of writer who knows a complete story ahead of time as a rule; so this type of writing is more than an exercise for me—it’s a form. There are writers that do and writers who don’t like prompt writing. All’s good.
I Forgot to Notice the Fall Colors
Yesterday, for the first time in a very long time, nothing happened. Time in my world was still—without calls, appointments, texts, Facebook checking, heavily accented people calling to help me out with my Microsoft virus; no calls from kids, grandchildren, or friends.
My wife was away at a Woman’s Stand Up and Pee Empowerment Seminar. My neighbors weren’t mowing or power raking the leaves. The paperboy didn’t bounce my paper off the aluminum siding. The bird feeders didn’t need filling, the koi were practicing hibernation so I didn’t need to feed them and no Jehovah’s Witness’ or Green Peace people knocked on my door to annoy me. I listened to the same jazz I had on from the day before, ignored the TV and lucked into the hidden box of Mallomars.
By three in the afternoon I was crawling out of my fucking skull with boredom and got in my car and drove an hour on the turnpike listening to the new Ken Bruen book, eating a second box of Mallomars, I stopped to pick up. I drove around Seaside Park in Bridgeport hoping not to get carjacked even though it would make for a good story prompt and then drove to Pepe’s Pizza in New Haven and got a small white clam pie and a white birch beer which I savored there instead of eating it while driving. I then went to the Yale campus walked around fantasizing about the co-eds (are they still called co-eds?) and then drove home listening to more Ken Bruen and his drinking and badmouthing his mother and the Parish Priest. I arrived home, took a shower, trimmed my nails, flossed and took a nap only to be awakened by my wife around six o’clock. “How you doing?” I asked. “Empowered,” she said and walked into our bathroom.
Paul Beckman’s stories are widely published in print and online in the following magazines amongst others: Connecticut Review, Raleigh Review, Litro, Playboy, Pank, Blue Fifth Review, Metazen, Boston Literary Magazine and Literary Orphans. His work has been included in a number of anthologies. His latest collection of flash stories, Peek, published by Big Table Publishing, came out in Feb. of this year. www.paulbeckmanstories.com.
James Claffey hails from County Westmeath, Ireland, and lives on an avocado ranch in Carpinteria, CA. He is fiction editor at Literary Orphans, and the author of the short fiction collection, “Blood a Cold Blue.” His work appears in the W.W. Norton Anthology, Flash Fiction International, and in Queen’s Ferry Press’s anthology, Best Small Fictions of 2015. http://blog.jamesclaffey.com/
Patrick Pink lives and works in Auckland. Originally from Chicago, Illinois and a hopeful wanderer that took him to many different places, he fell in love and moved to New Zealand. His work can be found in international anthologies and online literary magazines. A flash fanatic, Patrick hopes to continue to find those perfect true words or at least come very close.
Nancy Stohlman’s books include the newly released flash fiction collection The Vixen Scream and Other Bible Stories (2014), the flash novels The Monster Opera (2013) and Searching for Suzi: a flash novel (2009), and four anthologies including Fast Forward: The Mix Tape (2010), which was a finalist for a 2011 Colorado Book Award. She is a founding member of Fast Forward Press, the creator of The F-Bomb Flash Fiction Reading Series in Denver, and her work has been included in The Best of the Web. http://nancystohlman.com/
Please go here for Flash Frontier‘s November 2015 collection of sky stories.