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The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction


Tara L. Masih

May 2009

John Madera

[Here’s my flash review of Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction:]

[Here’s my flash review of Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction:]

For the beginner, the book is a tremendous resource offering various glosses and overviews of the short short’s history and widely divergent definitions of this resurgent genre. Each of the twenty-five brief essays here, written by twenty-five peerless writers and editors, is followed by an exercise or prompt, and includes a demonstrative story.

I would suggest reading this book in small doses, as its repetitive aspects, that is, over-familiar ideas about story form, about craft, about how to generate ideas, and also about what really makes a flash, well, flash, will be grating even to the rank raconteur. That said, seasoned writers can happily cherry-pick through the essays and leave with at least a basketful of provocative, even inspiring, ideas. For instance, Shouhua Qi’s “Old Wine in New Bottles? Flash Fiction from Contemporary China” provides a necessary fleshing out of some historical aspects only briefly surveyed in the Field Guide’s introduction. Pamelyn Casto’s “The Myth-ing Link (Or, Linking Up to Myth),” is a necessary departure from conventional views of the contemporary short short’s narrative arc. But how could I not fall for an essay that references Victor Shklovsky’s idea of ostranenie, or “defamiliarization?”

Michael Martone’s essay may be the one that’s worth the price of admission alone. Beginning as a meditation on titling stories, it ends up a multi-chambered collapsible box of interplaying ideas and crosstalk. Like the stories Martone describes, his essay is “a maze one works one’s way through.” The Oulipian-like exercises are wonderfully insane, and his story, “A Perimenopausal Jacqueline Kennedy, Two Years After the Assassination, Aboard the M/Y Christina, Off Eubeoa, Bound for the Island of Alonnisos, Devastated by a Recent Earthquake, Drinks Her Fourth Bloody Mary with Mrs. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Jr.,” is mind-boggling.

Essays by Randall Brown, Tom Hazuka, Jennifer Pieroni, and Robert Shapard shed useful light on just what these editors are looking to publish in their respective stalwart journals and anthologies. And cheers to Rusty Barnes for using Lydia Copeland’s wonderfully lyrical, richly layered, and emotionally and psychologically probing story “In the Air a Shining Heart” as a story example. Kim Chinquee’s essay laudably contributes to the debate regarding what distinguishes the prose poem from the short short, and her use of a Diane Williams story, as is Deb Olin Unferth’s spot on explication of a Williams story, is to be commended.

Sherrie Flick offers necessary encouragement to those writers who believe that a story need not always conform to tired ideas of plot – that stories might also reside in a “timeless limbo.” Bruce Holland Rogers’s at times cantankerous essay adds another dimension to this project as do his almost mathematical approaches to writing constraints. And Julio Ortega offers one of the more interesting definitions of flash fiction: it “wanders . . . between waking up and waking down. The fictional, sudden vision occurs when your own soul finally reaches you and brings you a fistful of words.” While this field guide certainly flashes, it also illuminates.

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