Tag Archive: short stories

Thank you for having me!

journeyboat

 

As you may have noticed over the past few weeks, the blog has been subtly changing hands! Scribbly Roo, our delightful illustration expert, will be stepping in as I head off to Boston to do some studying and teaching at Boston University’s writing program.

It’s been a fascinating experience to work with all of you, to judge the wonderful entries of our recent short story contest, to review your books. By far the most interesting part of it all has been getting to know you writers and reading your work. I’ve read such a variety of styles, situations, genres, voices and it has shown me how uplifting it can be to expose oneself to new things with an open mind.

So keep writing, everyone! As Kurt Vonnegut wrote once – “It’s the emptiest and yet the fullest of all human messages: ‘Good-bye.'”

Stories to Read Online in July

palms

 

For whatever beach, balcony or sweaty train you’re on today, some proper hot stories for the start of summer in these new summer issues:

About Her and the Memories that Belong to Her by Mieko Kawakami in Granta Online

Kawakami is a new discovery for me this month. The little prologue to this story is itself a stunning piece.

“If we think of our memories as having a shape, then one possibility is that they come in the shape of a box. I know that this is not entirely an original idea, but that doesn’t make it untrue,” the prologue begins. It’s a beautifully and confidently abstract beginning to a surprisingly specific, grounded story, set at the narrator’s middle school reunion, where she is shocked to learn that an old classmate of hers has died and struggles to remember why the girl is so significant to her.

Dole Girl by Barbara Hamby in the Boston Review

Rightly selected as the winner of the Aura Estrada contest 2015, this story feels so true and surrounding, even though I have absolutely no experience of a Hawaian pineapple canning factory. In fact, you can almost taste the pineapples. A ripe, vivid sense of time and place, plus a compelling character with a burning desire is a winning combination. This story has both in excess. It’s a real lesson in voice, too; the voice of our “Dole Girl” is strong, youthful, naive and streetwise at the same time, making me wish I could read a whole novel of it.

Taxidermy by Vladislava Kolosova in Ploughshares

Set in after-dark Moscow, this is an unsettling story about a young woman who has started having sex for money, to help pay for her studies. One night, she’s picked up by a charismatic, authoritative “New Russian” called Eva who buys a night with her and takes her home to her quiet, boxer-like husband. Like all good shorts, Taxidermy plants its real lightbulb moments just left of center. After the sex, after the drama, the quiet moment gives this story its edge.

My Life by Chantal Clarke in N+1

This is a terrifying but profoundly funny little story. We are tricked by the narrator at first, as in plain childlike language, she describes the bare bones of her life, “I HAVE A HOUSE, and it’s great. My money bought it, so it’s mine. I love to live in it,” she begins. But she reveals after a while, and with glee, that she’s really “Predator 923,” a drone who is “writing simply so you’ll trust me.” Be warned, this story might make you want to try all kinds of weird stuff in your work.

Congregation by Christopher Alessandrini in the Harvard Advocate

A little treat from a magazine very close to my heart. This story follows a girl working at a summer camp. From the outside, she seems to be on the brink of something, some beginning of real life, but to her, the world of the camp and the array of girls and boys that form her camp society, is its own special kind of real life. Searing sharp human observation meets beautiful lines describing the architecture, natural and otherwise of “Link’s Seafood & Bait” where the camp is situated: “Out by the sheds, the bulrush swells with frog song and birds, whip-thin plovers and orioles halving through the stalk like light on water, all that good gossip and whisper.”

What are your reading recommendations for July?

Picks from the Web: Top Stories Under 1000 Words

journey

If you haven’t entered our short story contest to win $100 in Amazon vouchers, maybe a few picks from June’s newly released lit mag editions will give you some ideas. These shorts show that you don’t need a twist in the tail or a punchy style to give the reader a transforming experience:

Hotel by Monica De La Torre in The White Review

“The women at the gym enjoy talking to hotel guests at the fitness centre.

A man carrying his fresh dry-cleaning complains about the slow elevator.

A man carries bulky photo equipment and drags a console on wheels.

A woman at the coffee bar admires my shoes. ‘Comfortable,’ she says.”

In the current issue of the White Review, Monica De La Torre shows her prowess in the short form, placing prose and poetry next to one another, she uses the space of the page with freedom, laying her objects and subjects out as if drawing rather than writing them. Very quickly but without pressure to come to a conclusion she presents her setting, letting it speak for itself.

Geographies by Sayantani Dasgupta in Contrary Magazine

“He dumped her via a terse, two-line email.”

So begins this story about a long-distance relationship carried out over letters and messages. Our narrator thinks her lover, though she’s never really “met” him, is perfect, his words are “sweet like the segment of a perfect orange,” each little thing that he does from a distance is beautiful. But after this email, the break up, she becomes dissatisfied and longs to make an actual memory of him. Dasgupta uses a short form to present the ideal and real relationship, but the schism between manages to be a hopeful rather than sad realisation.

iphone by Charlie Latan in Litro

This tiny weeny story shows you don’t need long with a simple idea and a resonant ending. Latan conjures an absurdly realistic idea, of a little person living inside his phone, dropping his mother’s calls.

Pig Out by Heather Villa in Bartleby Snopes

After Paula drops a precious ceramic pig belonging to one of her mother’s friends, the pig is put behind glass, and Paula becomes known as the girl who breaks things. The heat of this gossipy suburban environment is created by the repeated whispers about Paula.

“Isabelle looked up at Paula’s mother and said, “Before you come over Mommy puts away fancy things. Paula breaks things.””

Drive by Aaron Gansky in Apeiron Review

This one isn’t technically from June, but I couldn’t help it. A beautifully succinct story about a boy whose dad sometimes leaves him in their car under a blanket reading comics while he goes to do some kind of mysterious work. This time though, he comes back to the car more shaken up than usual…

Give us your best shot! Send us something under 1000 words, of anything, scene, shocker, monologue, anything. And I’ll be revealing the short listed entries next week. 

Top 5 Short Things To Read Online This Month

may

 

More unconventional stories to get you thinking this month, from journals, mags and other places online.

A Numbered Graph That Shows How Each Part of the Body Would Fit Into A Chair by Mary Jo Bang in Granta

A little square paragraph of poetry to bring out your experimental side today. The illusion of prose that Mary Jo Bang creates here gives a feeling of domesticity, of simple confession, but the inner workings and convolutions make it a much denser, deeper animal.

Tuesday Night Figure Drawing at the Community Center by Diana Smith Bolton in Anderbo

This delightful little scene is a great example of how effective it can be to create your own unique jargon as you write, a language that belongs only to the world of your story. Here, Bolton’s life model navigates different faces as she changes poses, each introduced by its nickname, the “Renaissance Face” transforming into the “Les Miserables Face;” this unique language creates a comic peculiarity that sticks in the mind after the story is done.

The Easing by Gary Joshua Garrison in decomP

This is an uncomfortable narrative. In a stream of violent sensations and little idea of the rules and physics of this setting, The Easing reminds me of the opening of Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow, huge, abstract scope but with a very real sense of menace. A good one to read if you’re trying to write some horror or suspense.

Pleasure to Make Your Acquaintance by Sarah Kokernot in Crazyhorse

Character and place are quickly and gorgeously evoked in this story, which follows the young, charismatic Magdelena Schuller as she begins to work for Mrs. Woods of Hot Springs, Arkansas one spring. Read for its exquisite sense of place and time, and the way detail, gesture, and routine create characters’ relationships with one another.

Dead Mouse by Caroline Macon in [PANK]

“There is a teeny tiny dead mouse on the back porch. He died about three days ago and looks corpsier every time I pass by.” What a way to start a story! This creepy but super colloquial voice has a strange fresh kind of lyricism to it. It lulls us in with its unserious tone and then comes out with gems of human observation – “It takes a lot of energy to miss someone I hardly know at all”  – and it comes with an audio version so you can get your fiction fix on the go.

What are your reading picks of the month? Share them with us!

What bad writing habits do you need to give up for lent?

Pancake

 

Today is Shrove Tuesday (otherwise known as Pancake Day), and traditionally, the last day to indulge in treats before forty days of resisting temptation and exercising self-discipline. What a perfect time to weed out all those bad habits from your writing routine. Here are a few suggestions…

1. Stop procrastinating!

It’s difficult to exercise enough self control to stop yourself clicking on that “photos of hippos that will change your life for ever” post on Buzzfeed (not real, don’t go looking for it). But taking regular writing time away from distractions could transform your story by making you really focus. Ask a good friend to give you a procrastination-nudge every so often to check up on you.

2. Quit being precious

We can fall in love pretty easily while writing. The dramatic, heightened atmosphere we sit in while writing causes us to indulge our romantic sides. I know I’ve fallen in love with many a sentence, before, sometimes years later, realizing the sentence kind of sucks. Try to view your lyrical masterpieces from a distance.

3. Stop doubting your instincts

Collaboration and constructive criticism are wonderful writing tools, but to take criticism on board to such an extent that you are buoyed by it rather than relying on your own instincts, is bound to make for stilted fiction. Use your own instincts to guide you.

4. Cut out adverbs

This is a well used example of bad writing, mostly caused by Stephen King stating that “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.” Adverbs can be useful and provocative when used sparingly, but they’re also easy to criticize and can be a crutch that stops you from using your skill to show the reader how the character is feeling and behaving.

5. Give up giving up

Just keep going. That story you gave up because you encountered a block actually did have a lot going for it. Get it out of the drawer and have another go. If you need a boost, make a date with a fellow writer, or go see a reading at your local bookstore. And if you’re not the giving up kind, go give another writer a boost!

Do you have any bad writing habits you need to quit? Or would you rather make yourself a stack of pancakes and focus on what’s going right? Let us know!

Image: Oswestry Wesley Guild’s “pancake special” by Geoff Charles via Flickr.com