What IS Flash Fiction, Anyway?

IdeaI’ve been writing flash fiction for a while now, and I love it. I began with Indies Unlimited’s weekly flash fiction contest and really enjoyed the writing challenge of winnowing a story down to the required 250 words. Then JD Mader was cool enough to open up his blog on Fridays to anyone who wanted to set a timer and try a little spontaneous flash. (Okay, sometimes we forget the timer.) I was hooked. I was so hooked that as the stories piled up, I thought about putting out a collection.

But based on some of the reader response, and a question from my father, I realize I left out one very important component: What the heck IS flash fiction, anyway?

Because she’s so good at explaining things (and because she wrote a really succinct post about the five elements of flash fiction), I’m going to leave it to one of my fabulous Indies Unlimited fellow minions, Lynne Cantwell.

As a general rule, flash fiction is considered to be less than 1,000 words long….Flash is a recognized format for fiction, with elements that each story ought to include.

1. A plot. To be clear, a flash fiction piece is a complete story. Just like a longer piece of fiction, your flash piece needs a beginning, a middle, and an ending. I saw one website that recommended writing an outline for each flash story. I think that’s going a little overboard; your outline could end up longer than the story. But if your story doesn’t have an ending – if, say, you find you’ve written a scene that could be part of a longer story, or even part of a novel – then it’s not technically flash fiction.

2.  Characters. You don’t have a lot of space to describe your characters, obviously, but readers should still be able to tell them apart. Use telling details that you can describe in a few words. Keep your character count low, and stick with one point-of-view.

You can read the rest of Lynne’s post on Indies Unlimited.

Here’s an example of one of my flash fiction pieces. I’d never written anything science-fictiony before, so this was a fun challenge.

Fitting Rooms

She strolled past a sign that read “Fitting Rooms” and caught a glimpse of the engineer’s handiwork in a reflective surface.

They’d done a good job.

She looked like most of the other human females she’d passed in the shopping mall. Hair like the others, a suitable length, the same vacant stare she’d emulated with the help of the simulation program. Now all she had to do was keep fitting in, and wait for the signal to start the next phase of her mission. They hadn’t told her what that was, and despite her queries, they still would not explain.

In fact, her trainer had taken her aside and said it was dangerous to ask twice, so she’d stopped.

Her attention was drawn all of a sudden to the collar of her shirt. Her reflection’s hand rose to straighten it, and she noticed that it was a different style than the type worn by the two females who’d just exited the rooms. That didn’t seem right. Maybe the engineer had made a mistake and had given her the wrong simulation.

She glanced up again at the sign on the wall. Perhaps this is where you go to be more fitting. So, following the lead of another, she grabbed a garment and disappeared behind the curtain.

That was when she felt the vibration. The chip implanted in her brain had been activated. Finally, she would know her purpose and how she could help her planet—but why was the vibration so loud? And that whine? It hurt…hurt…so sharp she gasped and dropped to her knees. The human females began to circle her, eyes questioning, hands reaching out, and as her consciousness ebbed away, the edges of her vision going black, she heard the faintest of voices in her mind: Independent thought detected…independent thought detected…indepen…

——-

Have a great weekend!

Laurie Boris has been writing fiction for over twenty-five years and is the award-winning author of five novels with another on the way. When not playing with the universe of imaginary people in her head, she’s a freelance copyeditor and enjoys baseball, reading, and avoiding housework. Want to join the mailing list and learn about special deals and upcoming releases? You can do that here.

Flash Fiction Win!

Cranberry SauceI entered Indies Unlimited’s Flash Fiction Challenge this week because the topic, put up on Mother’s Day weekend, spoke to me: Write a story about your mother. This bit immediately came to mind. And it won, which means the story gets to be in the 2014 Flash Fiction Anthology. You can find the link to the IU page and KS Brooks’ lovely photo here.

The story:

My mother owned Thanksgiving. She shooed us from the kitchen to watch the Macy’s Parade, waved off our offers to help, busied our small, sticky hands with gingerbread man production. Her children happily entertained by the Bullwinkle blimp, she made everything from scratch, her mouth growing tense as the oven timer counted down to Norman Rockwell Judgment Day.

Finally a grown woman with my own household, I wanted to ease her burden. Could I take over something? Maybe…cranberries? Several times she denied me. I kept asking. She would allow me to pick up cream on the way to her house. Wash dishes afterward. It wasn’t enough, though. One year, overwhelmed perhaps with stepsons, grandchildren, and family illnesses, she hesitated after I begged for cranberry detail.

“Please. Tell me how you do it.” I thought her magical, how she conjured up the tangy orange cranberry relish. And the sauce! Sparkling in her cut-glass bowls—ruby red and tart-sweet. Surely her cleverness knew no bounds if she could design concoctions so wonderful from a humble bog fruit.

She shrugged. “It’s nothing. I can do it.”

“Seriously. Nothing.” I whipped out pen and paper, prepared to atone for all that I had not learned at my mother’s knee. It had to have been complicated, this secret sauce, possibly requiring exotic ingredients or kitchen gadgetry I had yet to master, but I would do it. “What do I need to buy?”

“Well, cranberries.”

“Obviously. And?”

“And follow the recipes on the bag.”

 

Calendar Girl

Writing-Stimulus-Package-2014-Front-Cover-253x300tried. Really, I tried. But electronic calendar devices and I get along like Chris Christie and…well, just about everyone lately. Oh, back in the 90s it was kind of cool to whip out my stylus and zap my next chiropractor appointment onto a tiny square in a tiny month in the screen of my Palm Pilot. Except any time I wanted to check my schedule, I had to first find the device (oops, left it at work again), hope that it still had a charge, and then peck around for the month and date. And if I lost it, I’d be screwed.

Print calendars are SO much easier, I’d think, every time I’d get that annoyed call from the chiropractor’s assistant telling me I’d missed another appointment, or when I left the device in my car on a cold night and it wouldn’t boot up in the morning.

That’s why for years afterward, I used my good old Franklin-Covey day planner, building up my shoulder muscles and making more work for my chiropractor by carrying the behemoth everywhere I went. Maybe I was working myself into a case of scoliosis, but I could SEE my whole week in front of me. I had a special index for the birthdays I needed to remember. A place to jot down all those stray thoughts and character notes. Aside from the weight and having to buy a refill annually, it did everything I needed it to.

That all changed when an iPad entered my life. With not just the native calendar app but also several variations of scheduling software to choose from, most for free or a couple dollars at the most, it seemed silly and wasteful to keep ordering those paper refills.

So I went electronic. I plugged in all those birthdays, all those recurring appointments, and the contact information for everyone I needed to contact. I was in a learning curve, I told myself. I’d get adjusted, and really, wasn’t this so much better for the earth than contributing to the killing of so many trees?

Until last January, when I upgraded the operating system and lost everyone’s birthdays.

About that same time, the lovely KS Brooks sent me a copy of Indies Unlimited’s first Writing Stimulus Package and Planner. Lo and behold. A calendar. In print. It opened up on my desk and I didn’t need to hang it on the wall. I could see it, the whole month, at all times, and it still booted up if I left it in the car overnight! But it was much more than a calendar. The left-hand pages contained a photo, a writing prompt, and space to write what that inspired while I was on hold or when I needed to stir my brain up.

Immediately I appointed that planner as my writing calendar. I kept track of my blogging deadlines, conferences, workshops, when I was putting my books on sale: basically anything related to my editing, writing, or promotion.

It gets better, kids. At the back of the book are handy and helpful reference sheets for writers: worksheets on character development, chapter formatting, how to write the dreaded, evil blurb, and even some common editing errors.

I typed the character development sheet into my computer so I could use it for all the characters in my current WIP, and it’s fantastic to have all that at my fingertips so I don’t give the protagonist blue eyes in chapter one and brown eyes during the climax. (No, he doesn’t wear contacts.)

I’m still looking for a good program to help me remember birthdays, but as for the rest of it? This is now my calendar. I’ve just ordered the 2014 edition. And my chiropractor can find someone else to finance his children’s college education.

The Editing Myth

dreamstime_14649214On Indies Unlimited: Food for thought by Melissa Bowersock about her experience with being edited (or not, actually) by traditional publishers versus the editorial control she has as an indie author.

Although for most authors, I recommend hiring a professional editor, at the minimum, get your manuscript in front of beta readers who can give you honest, thorough critiques and fresh eyes to catch errors. As Martin Crosbie has frequently written in his posts and in his book, How I Sold 30,000 eBooks on Amazon’s Kindle: An Easy-To-Follow Self-Publishing Guidebook, we indie authors have a larger target on our backs than traditionally published authors. Therefore it’s up to us to ensure that we’re producing the best quality product that we can.

Your thoughts, as always, are welcome.

Take a Break with a Free Book

First-Chapters22-ocean-sampleIf you’re a little weary from holiday stress and want to take a few minutes for yourself, why not grab this free book from Amazon and do a little literary exploration? If you always read romance, check out a thriller. Always meant to try a taste of science fiction? It’s there, too. And it’s free from December 23 through 27.

First Chapters is an introduction to twenty-two cutting edge indie authors. Some of them are award-winning, some are bestselling, and they all, at one time, joined forces at IndiesUnlimited.com: a site dedicated to the indie author movement. This volume includes a wide array of genres and unique voices. From fascinating alien life forms to women who blow stuff up to fictional families in crisis, we are sure you will find something inside to please every appetite.

This volume includes chapters from authors DV Berkom, Melissa Bowersock, Laurie Boris, K.S. Brooks, Lynne Cantwell, Martin Crosbie, Jim Devitt, A.C. Flory, Yvonne Hertzberger, Stephen Hise, Mark Jacobs, Chris James, LA Lewandowski, TD McKinnon, Rich Meyer, Melissa Pearl, Lin Robinson, Kathy Rowe, Carolyn Steele, Krista Tibbs, Dick Waters, and Carol Wyer.

Enjoy, happy holidays, and please, don’t let the dog eat too much tinsel.

Amazon US – UK – Canada – Germany
See more about the book, including a cool trailer video that KS Brooks made, because she’s cool like that.

Flash Fiction Potluck Edition

Typewriter - Once upon a timeThanks to writing exercises like Indies Unlimited’s Flash Fiction Competition and JD Mader’s Friday flash fiction parties, I’ve been working at toning up my word muscles between novel scenes. I like the IU competition because of the challenge of being inspired by a prompt and getting a story into 250 words. I like JD’s because it’s freewriting fun: just write and don’t look back for three minutes, or two, even for one minute if it’s been that kind of week, and then we post the results on his blog. [Okay, in the interest of full disclosure, I did touch up the first two a smidge after my original posts. Go visit JD’s blog if you want to see the originals.]

Here are a few bits I’ve written lately. Continue reading

An Indie Smorgasbord in First Chapters

First-Chapters22-ocean-sampleI’m so excited about this release from Indies Unlimited!

First Chapters provides 1500-word excerpts from the work of twenty-two cutting-edge indie authors (well, twenty-one plus me!). Some of them are award-winning, some are bestselling, and they all, at one time, joined forces at IndiesUnlimited.com: a site dedicated to the indie author movement. This volume includes a wide array of genres and unique voices. From elegant vampires to former assassins, from drama to comedy, from science fiction to nonfiction, you’ll find something to please every palate, along with brief author bios and a purchase link, should you decide to read more.

Why did we do this? Because sometimes the “look inside” feature of a book you’re interested in buying online isn’t enough. You might have to wade through a bunch of front matter, leaving only a page or two of the story. How frustrating is that, especially if you’re looking at a number of books?

This volume includes first chapters from authors DV Berkom, Melissa Bowersock, Laurie Boris, K.S. Brooks, Lynne Cantwell, Martin Crosbie, Jim Devitt, A.C. Flory, Yvonne Hertzberger, Stephen Hise, Mark Jacobs, Chris James, LA Lewandowski, TD McKinnon, Rich Meyer, Melissa Pearl, Lin Robinson, Kathy Rowe, Carolyn Steele, Krista Tibbs, Dick Waters, and Carol Wyer.

I hope you enjoy it.

Here is some handy linkage:

Amazon US:  http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00E8RWYXW/
Amazon UK:  http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B00E8RWYXW/

My Story Cartel Experiment

DTA_Print_coverStory Cartel…sort of sounds like a group of shady librarians who will push you off the pier wearing Stephen King overshoes if you don’t pay your overdue fines.

But it’s a website where you can offer free e-copies of your book—plus a choice of goodies you can pony up for a giveaway—in exchange for an honest review. We indie authors are often looking for reviews, because it’s not like the New York Times Book Review is taking our calls. Yet.

Anyway, after learning about Story Cartel from book reviewer Big Al of Big Al’s Books and Pals, my friend and fellow Indies Unlimited minion, author Lynne Cantwell and I decided to give the website a test drive.

So I’m trying this with Don’t Tell Anyone.

If you would like a free copy (it’s available in mobi, epub, and PDF formats), in exchange for an honest review, please check out my page for the details. Or http://storycartel.com/books/153/dont-tell-anyone/ if you’d like to share the link with friends.

And maybe the indie authors in the house would like to sign up and give it a try with their own books. Similar to many other services like this one, Story Cartel offers a basic free service and an upgrade if you want to pay for the bells and whistles, which include pushing your message out to their database of followers.

I’m test-driving the basic service. I’m curious to see how this will work, especially since they’re only giving me 20 days to get my message out!

Thank you for your continued support, gang.

BEA 2013: A quick wrap-up

Hugh Howey!

Hugh Howey!

The temperature hit 100 degrees, I nearly got trampled trying to get a signed copy of Guy Kawasaki’s new book, and I didn’t get to meet Amy Tan or Buzz Aldrin, but I was like a kid in a candy store at BEA this year. It was great to see and hear what’s new in the publishing industry, on both the traditional and self-publishing ends.

If you guessed that services surrounding e-book production, sales, distribution, and promotion were all the rage, you’d be right. Funny, because according to the latest Bowker industry stats (keep in mind that these are from 2011; the new report is due out some time next summer), e-books only make up 3% of all book sales. Expect to see a large jump in this figure when that new study comes out. Continue reading