Wednesday, February 28, 2018

The Short Story, Fifteen Hundred Words or Fewer

by Short Story Editor Kaye Linden

For this submission period, we are requesting stories of under fifteen hundred words. What am I looking for in the shorter submission? Here are some suggestions that will catch this editor's eye:

1. Make every word count. Examine the writing for excess adverbs and adjectives. For example, consider the following two sentences that say the same thing with different words:
"The bigger dog really likes the little dog.
"The Labrador plays tug-of-war with the chihuahua." 
2. Use active voice construction over a passive voice to employ clean, smooth writing and reading. For example:
"My article was published by Time Magazine."
"Time Magazine published my article."
3. Maintain balance and pacing. Sentence length, comma position and verb constructions will affect the overall rhythm or pacing of a piece of writing. Pay attention to each and how they sound when read aloud.

4. Story structure: stories demonstrate action, consequence and change via conflict. These elements give a story its structural arc. Otherwise, we are writing an anecdote or tale. Something must happen to someone or something. These elements apply to the short story and the very short story, whether plot or character driven, and even when under fifteen hundred words.

5. Keep point of view and tense consistent. Unless stating a truism, if you start the story in present tense, keep it there. If the story is from the narrator's point of view, stay in the narrator's point of view.

6. Dialogue works well in a short story but keep the "tags" to a minimum unless there are more than two people. Simple tags like "he said" or "she said" or "they said" for transgender stories, work better than "She screamed loudly." If the dialogue is short, one tag might be enough. For example:
She held his glance. "I thought you knew."
"I had no idea. When did it happen?"
"Last night. The tree fell on their bedroom."
He looked down at the floor. "I can't believe their bad luck."
7. Demonstrate through action. Instead of "She felt terrible," consider "She paced around the room, touching each of its four corners with trembling fingers."

8.Stories aren't just about entertainment. Writing is an art. Art offers the truth as the artist sees it. Significant truths are shared through short stories and the world is often made better because a writer has shared his or her world view.

9. You can break the rules in experimental work. As short story editor I am fine with someone breaking the above rules; however (yes, there is a caveat), be certain the narrator's voice shines through the narrative. I respond with excitement more to a writer's voice than to any other element.

10. Voice results from language and style choices. Excellence in writing relates in great part to the writer's voice.


What is Voice? by Kaye Linden, Writers Alliance of Gainesville Blog
35 Tips for Writing a Brilliant Flash Story, by Kaye Linden

Monday, February 19, 2018

Blazing Trails: Emotional Subtext

by Editor in Chief Mary Bast
All writers are familiar with the adage "show, don't tell," but showing isn't necessarily based on action. "... a state of being can be presented without emotions and, despite that, cause us to feel quite a bit," says Donald Maass in The Emotional Craft of Fiction.

In Bacopa Literary Review 2017's Fiction Prize winning story Ignis Fatuus, and More, at Eleven, Chad W. Lutz alludes to a deeper emotional subtext, starting with the title itself: Ignis fatuus means something deluding or misleading.

The overt text presents Joan Conte, morning anchor at Fox19 News Now, reporting that Dubai's 2,716.5 ft. tall Burj Khalifa has appeared overnight at Linn Street and Sycamore in Downtown Cincinnati.

This fantastic event provides a framework for the author's subtext  illuminating the boundaries of a white-male-privileged social system. For example, after five years of promises, anchor Conte has finally been given time that morning to present her deeply researched feature on race relations. The station's money-hungry executives now want to displace her feature with ongoing coverage of the Burj Khalifa. Lead member of "The Brass," James McAvel, tells her condescendingly, "It's excellent journalism, just not the story that needs to be told right now," then not-so-subtly threatens the loss of Conte's job if she doesn't agree: "Going through a divorce can be tough, Miss Conte, especially when there are kids involved."

More subtle is the subtext of systemic discrimination against Abby, the twenty-something, gender-neutral, bespectacled intern whose introduction to Joan Conte includes the explanation "My pronouns are They/Them/Their."

With Lutz's story, Bacopa Literary Review has for the first time published work with "they" as a gender-fluid pronoun. We note The Associated Press Stylebook, "arguably the foremost arbiter of grammar and word choice in journalism, has added an entry for 'they' as a singular, gender-neutral pronoun in its latest edition."

According to Steph Shangraw in LGBT Fiction, the challenge of gender-neutral pronouns "creates a serious dilemma for an author of narrative fiction who wants to be inclusive and respectful," because readers jolted out of the flow will have more trouble losing themselves in the story. Yet, it's also the author's job "to blaze trails and set examples... That's the power and responsibility that come with storytelling."

So how does a writer introduce gender-neutral pronouns in a way that doesn't jolt readers out of the flow? The Associated Press Stylebook suggests "If they/them/their use is essential, explain in the text that the person prefers a gender-neutral pronoun." This is what Lutz has done in Abby's introduction to Joan Conte. In spite of that clarity, some readers will be confused by the pronouns that follow:
[Abby] ... waited for a reaction, any reaction; waited and waited and waited and then... thinking that both the woman on stage in front of them and the reasons they'd deluded themselves to coming back for another day of this going-nowhere internship, well, they were both f-----d."  
Not only is it the responsibility of authors to blaze trails, it's our responsibility as educated readers to develop enough flexibility to accommodate gender-fluid writing.

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Author Chad W. Lutz also identifies as they/them/their. Currently enrolled at Mills College in Oakland, California, and working toward an MFA in Creative Writing (Fiction), their publications include The Chaos Journal, Peeking Cat Poetry Magazine, Fish Food, Gravel, Jellyfish Whispers, Diverse Voices Quarterly, Jazz Cigarette, and Route 7 Review.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

To Be Quietly Mad

By Editor in Chief Mary Bast

Paddy Reid
It's the rare person who's immune to a well-told Irish story, and many of us have been trained to expect the quality of voice found in Frank McCourt's Angela's Ashes.

Creative Nonfiction Editor Susie Baxter found this voice immediately in Paddy Reid's work. To know this author, however, is to go far beyond his ability as a writer and storyteller.

A passionate advocate for causes he believes in, a community worker who counsels and teaches literacy and memoir writing in the inner city of Dublin, Reid made it clear from the beginning that if he won a money award for his contribution to Bacopa Literary Review, that award should be distributed locally to people in need.

As the son of a so-called "deserter" who grew up an outcast in Ireland, this author's particular crusade has been to show the effects of Irish communities shunning their men who joined the British army to fight Germany in World War II, while the Irish army stayed neutral. Reid's father and others like him could not find work after the war and struggled to feed their families. Eventually these men were fully pardoned and their unfair, unwarranted treatment deplored, but not until after his father's death.

Reid's story, "Starvation," awarded Honorable Mention in our 2017 collection, begins with a quote that captures the quality of life for Rosie Flanagan, whose husband Kevin has been blacklisted for years by Irish employers and his British Army pension recently cut off:
You can be mad without screaming or ranting or raving. You can be quietly mad. Mad without banging your head off the wall. You can be sitting in a room, listening to the doctor, nodding your head when you're supposed to.
Rosie stood in the dim hallway, waiting her turn to see the doctor. She hated the old Portside Dispensary, with its cold rooms and heavy smells... The black mold growing in the corner...   
     I'm afraid I'll hurt the children.
     She wanted to say it again, but had caught herself in time. If the doctor lost patience with her he could have her committed to the madhouse. It had been done before to women in the docklands who suffered with their nerves. Don't give him any excuse to put you away, Rosie... Three months ago, she had stood before a rubbish chute on the top balcony of Liberty Row. Her, just staring at the tip handle for ages, holding the sleeping baby to her chest with one arm. She jerked open the handle. From here it would fall forty feet into a collection area. Just a few seconds and it would be over. She leaned forward to drop it down the sloping chute. As she did so, the smell of rotten fish hit her like a physical blow.
     No. She pulled back, gripping the child tightly....
This is real, this is riveting, and you won't want to miss the rest of Rosie Flanagan's story in Bacopa Literary Review 2017.
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Paddy Reid lived in the US for more than a decade and published memoir and short stories in literary journals such as Connecticut Review, Sou'wester, and Primavera. He received the Anton Chekhov Award for Short Story from The Crescent Review in 1996, and won First Prize in  Factual Memories in the competition and collection, Original Writing from Ireland's Own.