Category Archives: Flash Fiction

Glow Flash Today: Ron Currie Jr.

The Captain by Ron Currie Jr. is an odd one, both large and small, compressed and expanding, as is the way with some flash.

The Captain, dressed in starched khaki shirt and pants, descends the stairs for his breakfast at 7:31 AM.

…it begins, and, for me, this set a light tone. I thought the text was going for farcical, almost Captain as Quixotic…I had this ridiculous vision of a man dressing up specifically for this ritual of breakfast.

(not so unlike some writers who work from home, yet still don a suit in the morning before sitting at their desks)

But then the tone shifts.

And the idea of ritual takes on a new meaning.


Maria, his housekeeper, sets a plate of scrambled eggs and extra-crispy bacon at the head of the table. She pours his coffee. She says, Good morning, Captain. He nods, wishes her good morning. She wants to call him Admiral—that was, after all, the rank he was given upon his retirement—but she knows this would anger him. The Captain considers himself a Captain still.

The Captain is, as he sits eating his eggs, the only man in the United States Navy to ever have been court-martialed for losing his ship during wartime. His back is straight, shoulders squared. He is seventy years old.

Here, two things happen:

First, this isn’t a farce, unless we’re going assume cruelty by author, and we are not.  (To quote Currie Jr: With ‘The Captain’ I was aware, too, that I was dealing with real people, and I think that made me approach the thing more carefully.”) This is clearly based on an actual person now, Rear Admiral Charles Butler McVay III, the only commanding officer of a warship in the history of the U.S. Navy given a court-martial for negligence during wartime. Captain McVay–for those who care, and really you should care if you care about literature, or life–was, in my opinion (and many others), wrongly blamed after the sinking of his ship, the USS Indianapolis CA-35 (of the crew of 1,196 men, 879 men died–the worst disaster at sea during the entire war for the US Navy). But the ship was on a secret mission, so no rescue came until too late, no destroyers escorted it, McVay wasn’t given critical information, etc., etc and so on.


I could go on, but let’s make one thing clear: as a persona to base a flash on, this one has power and potential. Captain McVay is a cursed, almost mythological character.

I myself write a lot of Persona flash. It’s important who you pick–not every persona brings weight. This one does. Some writers sabotage their own persona flash immediately when they choose the historical figure (though I’d also argue ANY persona COULD be effective, with right technique).

Other writers never take the persona seriously. Currie does. He knows he’s dealing with something larger here, as in history. Even better, it’s a complicated and controversial history.

I guess I’m saying I read a great deal of persona poetry and flash. I think it definitely works best when the persona is conflicted. Really, a persona is not about the exterior events of whomever; it is about the internal reaction to the events. That’s really what is interesting, again, the literary aspects.


Second, in the excerpt above, the techniques that will drive the flash are established. A distant, yet informative narrator, who gets in/gets out with information and then allows the flash to unspool.

Maria and The Captain drive the structure of the flash and contain it. They are two satellites that spin about each other, in orbit and in their rotations, energy pushing off one another. They are in a dance (I’ll mix metaphors if I like; it’s my blog), yet it’s a trance-like dance, again, a routine, but each person is a step away from breaking the practiced steps, you can feel it, with Maria’s constant tension, The Captain’s daily awareness of his burden. Both characters busy themselves–Maria scrubbing pots, the Captain planting shrubs–while their interiors roil. They make small, ordinary movements, and then the narrator gooses the accelerator by dropping in brief, precise exposition:

The Captain’s home is two hundred miles from the nearest ocean.

Years ago, before it was sunk, the Captain’s ship delivered the bomb that destroyed the city of Hiroshima.

(Now you know why the mission was secret.)


It builds. It weaves–Maria, Captain, narrator–and builds. Rising action. This weaving is done well by the author, a light touch, no info-dump or front-loading or characters over-talking or any other clumsy technique. Here, it’s quick and effective. Unobtrusive.

I can’t tell you how many writers struggle with weaving in information into flash. It’s one glaring fail I see repeatedly in the genre. So I commend this author for showing how it’s done.

And the narrator stays out of the way. It provides what you need, but little more, no indulgence, no tricks (as Carver might put it). We are given the objectivity to watch it all unfold, and also this removed tone heightens tension. Counter-intuitively, in fiction a removal of narrator often works best with the most dramatic material (see Hemingway’s early war writings, etc.)


And then the ending turns, as we conclude on the man who sank the Captain’s ship, a food scene to structurally circle the opening, but then sleep not pacing, his doppelganger yet antithesis, tranquility to his anxiety, two men the same and very clearly a world apart…

It’s a technically compact flash and it carries theme. It’s not clinical in its tight form–it is actually human, and what appeared as farce turned on us, and becomes something more.


The final technique I’d like to note is ambiguity. Near the ending, the narrative eye finds The Captain upstairs in his room with his service revolver. Downstairs, Maria cuts her self with a paring knife and screams!

There’s a moment.

Why did she scream?

So, we are downstairs with Maria when it happens. We are not even present in the scene. It’s pretty brilliant that way. We are over here, while the crux of everything is over there. We don’t even get the sound of the act–we get the scream…

Yet we know exactly

what happened.

The Kind of Girl by Kim Henderson

The Kind of Girl who writes flash fiction: Diane Williams, Lindsay Walker, Ana Maria Shua (South American queen of flash), Kim Chinquee (North American queen of flash), Lydia Davis, Mary Miller, Gay Degani, Amelia Gray, Meg Pokrass, Tania Hershman, Nicolle Elizabeth, Shellie Zacharia, Aubrey Hirsch, Sarah Rose Etter, Kathy Fish. Others.

They be glow like levitating Wednesdays.

Like transatlantic spirit bears.

Baudelaire: “Sois toujours poète, même en prose” [Always be a poet, even in prose.]

Baudelaire’s erratic personality was marked by moodiness, rebelliousness, and an intense religious tweaking of bass lures and Velveeta. 


Writers know writer Velveeta by the as/like/association. Auden once said his face looked like a wedding cake left out in the rain. That makes me want to sleep him hard. Call me maybe? Henderson writes, “My father’s torso was like slipping into a hard boiled egg—the perfect cocoon.” Later: cottage cheese ceiling. Looking like charred, deflated marshmallows. A dandelion among rosy girls. They seem to fall out of the sky and twirl down like maple seedlings, these words. Respect.

Judge Deb Olin Unferth mentions tension. It’s odd, but it’s true: most good stories/vignettes/whatevers have tension. Of course just looking closely causes tension. Just paying attention, which costs.

[Aside: Deb Olin Unferth always seems cool, even when she occasionally dances with “The Man.” Yet she maintains street cred. Might be her name, which reminds one of lilies, musk, art deco installations in urban libraries, and razor blades. Not sure…]

Symbolic compression.

It seems things are slipping away: tension. “Our ice cream melted…”

Things fall apart. No, the slip apart. Slide.

Kids see the adult world, fuzzy, can’t quite get it or want to. Adults see the kid world, fuzzy, can’t quite get it.


Some of the book reminds me of this poem.

What I glow about flash collections is how they whale-pod to a thing. Mood or tone or just whatever, it builds and builds. They are separate but the same, like that Fleetwood Mac album

where everyone was sleeping behind the backs and fronts of each other and it happens and it just drives the music to a fragmented whole, like settle into duck-hunting graphs mapped with green (my fav color) arrows and Ys or an unforeseen breakdown, so I mean shards in a bowl.


Above is my archery pal, Billy.

I think it’s very hard to write from a younger viewpoint. But here not so at all. They key is to write it clean, just state what happened. A memory that is told from the future, yet rendered so cleanly in the moment (past). It’s a tough thing many people try, but Henderson, she does it.

Here’s the line, the microcosm, the hot engine of this machine: “In class, we learned that humans didn’t see what we literally sensed, but rather what we thought we sensed.” Indeed.

Many of the structures are what I would call, spatially, filling a glass. Turn on tap, glass fills, and fills, more quickly, CUT. Turn off tap. Often the dénouement is deadly. The gear shifts so fast as to grind/screech and wake from the meditation. Started and startled. It’s a keen thing.

Best Seattle nachos? Just saying.


Some writers insist you follow. Example:

This line: “She is a preacher now, or an artist, I can’t remember which.”

Character not as emphasized. Situation might replace character (possibly opening the form to archetype, to fable?)

eggs leap

Or this: “We had an organ in the family room when I was twelve for some white trash reason…”

Or: “And there’s sex, which is free and makes people like each other.”

Two pages of the book are this amazing green.

I like an assured narrator. With command of history, mythology, and technique.

Childlike imagination runs through as a balance to lighten the elegiac journey.


There is no possible way to determine what is or what is not.

I don’t know. No, I do. Guess I’ll keep an eye. An eye out. I’d like to see more. I would.

Add Kim Henderson to list # 1 above. She belongs.

Starbucks I Say is Writing or Writhing

Well, I’m sitting at a Starbucks in Downstate New York but it might be Upstate, I’m not sure actually. The gorgeous are gorges, etc. I glow all modernist, all Perec or Baudelaire (though I couldn’t feel less French except for current scraggly ‘beard’ [cough, cough] and my tendency to glow Woody Allen and Bill Clinton and ceramic dachshunds and walks along most any river), just capturing notes of life and motes of life and all that is cardboard anti-hot device or caffeine or California roll-colored North Face jacket or archery bangs. Words are meant to capture, like poetry, or the cough of fresh fish, or a certain way of flash fiction. Snagging a scene, for example. This could be a great exercise if you teach. Sit and capture. Or if you don’t teach: sit and capture. At Starbucks, I capture two giant photos of waving, green fields on the wall and that makes no damn sense. They might be acres of corn or maybe wine or just Photoshop. I can hear everyone’s order because the only seat is astill the ordering stall/slaughtering chute. I have no Internet and I need Internet so here I perch, sun-off-snow sort of bathing in passing as intensification suggesting hoarding words, a leaping (sloth!) on itself the kitchen drawer of that sky separating us from the hemline or nearly touching features (stop that metaphor!), Velveeta, no less THINGS than drawn splashes of processed cheese across that sky. Messy writing, that previous sentence. The Starbucks is very busy and very Starbucks. It has a line of 8 but the line NEVER ENDS. It is always 8 people, replaced by 8 people, replaced by 8 people. Back-n-day, I actually used to be a registered nurse and the company gave me Starbucks stock and so I used to own Starbucks stock but I let it go because I loved it. I now regret that decision.

Yo. I wrote a text about frogs.

Yo. I wrote a new chapbook with frogs in the title but really it’s all about Velveeta. If you like Velveeta, give it a whirl.

How is Starbucks? It looks exactly like this:

huff nachos 2

They are hiring. They ask two questions on a chalkboard:



But I warn you: these people are working HARD. (Though, in some jobs, working hard is better than working slow. Is Starbucks that way? I do not know. I had a job once where all I did all day was watch a train tanker unload. Hook up the suction. Sit. On chair. Upon gravel. All. Day. Good job for reading books. Forgot what I read, but most likely that was the summer of racing forms and Richard Brautigan. The company I worked for was a chemical company, if you must know. It took chaff and wheat or whatnot and mixed it with acid (arriving by train)  and other things and made a polymer. That very polymer makes Olympic running tracks and tennis shoe bottoms and missiles and yawns between the glass in your car windshield so the windshield will not shatter, if you must know, as you drive it into a tree or someone’s forehead or whatnot. I ate my first fried bologna sandwich on that hot Memphis summer. What else? Watched people steal things. Watched a guy get a 14 CENT check, which he tacked to the wall of the break room to make a point about “The Man.” (Stealing was also to subvert The Man.) Worked with a guy named Maxine. And Chester. Watched my friend fall into a vat of chemicals. (His body turned an eerie red, like glazed.) Was laid off during one of the depressions, the George Bush one, the one where the cars weren’t made so they didn’t need any fancy polymer in the windshields and we went to war with some country who bought our missiles so couldn’t sell for obvious patriotic reasons and who buys fancy tennis shoes when you can’t pay rent ? so well so go home Sean Lovelace, go home. I did so.)

Here is me eating a bologna sandwich:

denver disc 1

Everyone is polite in this Starbucks. wow, it’s busy. I’d take a photo right now but don’t want to be that guy. No one is buying mugs or beans or Cohen Brothers movie CDs or really much fru-fru food at all, but the liquids are moving. Moving. Moving. A river.

Here, let’s go live: I’ll describe everyone in line, but it will have to be quick impressions because this place is vibrating like a lobbyist.

* GRANDE NON FAT MOCHA: green cashmere sweater. Matching cashmere cardigan with imitation jade buttons that match her real jade choker. Has: Plumpish, snowing skin. Naturally pink-pink lips turned eggplant with MAX Factor lipstick. Nose that flares gently up and out. Valley black eyes. Wide-set. Excessively lashed. Smells like gasoline. Said something I missed about Christmas and a dog. Reads Diagram magazine.

Here’s a photo of her elbow:

nachos b

* LARGE ALL YOURS MY FRIEND: beanie hat, fluffy jacket brown, looks like he rifles medicine cabinets and picks up roadkill off the, well, road. Pops his neck like a knuckle and checks his fake-sincere smile in the heart of a Beyonce CD. Does not purchase the CD.

* VENTI PEPPERMINT NO-WHIP DECAF ICED COFFEE: WTF?? That’s quite the order. Possibly wearing black-n-white pajamas. This whole leggings thing has me confused, so I don’t know. (Get off my lawn!) Great legs. Legs of a panther, I’ll give her that. Gives off an odor of wet artificial grass, but possibly that’s the odor of Starbucks.

* SALTED GRANDE SOMETHING: You can salt shit here? Purse is huge and has green spikes. It looks like it’s fashioned of dinosaur. Wears UGGs the color of sand. Told the world to keep the change.

velveeta still life

* TALL WATER (ha ha ha ha): Wears tight black Lycra pants with huge red red red bag. What’s in that bag, Alaska? Who the fuck orders a cup of water at Starbucks, quit trying to out-do us with your minimalism. I’m being mean, possibly.

* DIDN’T HEAR HIS ORDER: Dressed as if heading to Everest. BRIGHT blue jacket shoes built for kicking ass at a show attended by four screaming teenagers flash-mobbing fail at the mall. Stomach appears unsteady. Drinking a drink contemplatively.

* I WANT A SPRITE: Kid in crisp red and white soccer uniform. I’m suspicious how clean this uniform.

* VENTI UH DECAF ICED COFFEE: Penn State baseball cap jeans undistinguished black jacket. Seems pretty much normal whatever that means. No one is normal.

* GRANDE SOY SOMETHING: Wears sunglasses indoors black North Face jacket smiles too much. Crazy smile, skin flickering like a rest stop. Lycra pants show a lot of all.

phone cheese

* GRANDE NONFAT LATTE: Keeps mumbling “There are no tables…” (Correct) Lycra pants with running shoes her long brown hair is splattered friction all over her back (spaghetti) and if she could see that she wouldn’t care because she’s holding a kid in her arms and priorities, man, priorities, though she might still care a bit because parents try to be selfless but they are humans, too, man, humans. Her eyes are a stripe of lightning.

* VENTI SOMETHING MUMBLED COUPLE. She wears brown with black, he’s in inappropriate aged Converse low tops and they both sort of lean into each other, like touching all the time, which is a metaphor of how they are one and sort of touching or it pisses you off. Sickening or pretty sweet, your call.

* VANILLA GRANDE ICED SOMETHING. Beauty does not go out of style, so it’s irrelevant what she is wearing. Her breasts are ringing hammers on anvils, I’m sorry to be so crass. Loud.

* VENTI UNSWEETENED GREEN TEA: Mom in metallic sunglasses and Lycra over-laugher keeps saying “We’re going driving in a little bit!’ and “We’re going to eat lunch in a little bit!” Then says, “Wow, you have really good hands!” to the someone nearby and then she laughs and laughs and laughs. She’s wearing gray socks that go up to her knees, not sure why. Little kid sits on counter sucking on an apple juice box. Our bones are the same, but she wears her flesh without the wrongness of my flesh.

TRIPLE SHOT SURPRISE LATTE: Guy all morning has been over-eager and WAY too loud for Starbucks and talks WAY too much and he’s wearing a hat with a fake brown beard and he’s VERY talkative about the beard and the hat and after his order (a latte with a triple shot and he wouldn’t name the flavors of the shot–instead he yelled out, THROW WHATEVER IN THERE MAKE IT A TRIPLE SHOT SURPRISE!!! After he yelled people sort of shifted around and move further from away, you know).



I can’t do this anymore, the pace is amazing. Jesus, I’m starting to respect journalists who take notes or stenographers or anyone who writes on demand, period. My toes are exploding.

COFFEE, MEDIUM: still trying the ponytail at his age? Wow. He’s sitting there writing notes on a laptop. Unstable, nosy, eavesdropping?? Black hat, camouflage jacket, a freaking Hunger Games pin (his daughter probably bought it for him at Secret Santa so he wore it, but now he sort of likes it). Black Puma shoes, no socks.

He is. Hunched over, right by the cashier.


Sean fish

Well, it takes all kinds.

Sometimes People ask me do I have Prompts. Here are Your Fucking Writing Prompts (with ideas on potential blog reader comments)

  1. Take a man. Take a woman. Add a slammed door, and a heart like flash fiction (yellow diamond, un-scratched match, T-shirt reading BOO HOO, virtuosity, systole, diastole—or series of blows/working verbs: press, thrust, hiss, memorialize, kiss and fly). Add conflict, as in dead dog, as in our dog, SarahSara, possibly skittering metaphor, as in the day you walked out the door—the dog leapt, the dog tumbled down the brickssteps, away—half-drunk, half calling/half cursing my name, SarahSara, but fully knowing, fully not-back, fully turned and door-framed like a prophecy, fully here, there, everywhere, gone.
  1. Write one page about fugacity. This moment no longer. This one. Add a shadow of cotton panties, a perfect angle, triangle, an edge tos this day softening in the memory mflaw. Add two shots of tequila before the Jai alai matchfootball game, and the way we lost currency, or won. (That I can’t remember now should matter.)

velveeta girl 4

  1. Take a character, a young man. Create for him an ornamental garden. Now drop a stone onto his head.
  1. Take a bath. Take a nap. Take a nap withinin a bath. Go lie down.
  1. [Writing prompts are a peculiar (and persistent) component to the ever-expanding genre of How to Write.]
  1. Take an act you didn’t commit. Now confess.
  1. Write one page about how you should just kiss, not ask, “Do you want to kiss?” (I am telling you now how to begin a story.)
  1. Write one page to tack it all down: gray claspfold after unclaspfold of brain. This is why.
  1. ellenWrite one page about the purple bra that defines. The shoulder shrug (purple bra spiraling to the floor)something funny then; isn’t so funny now.

 (purple bra dangling from ceiling fan)

(purple bra in the office drawer)

(purple bra in the satellite dish. some type of tangled kite)

10. Write ababout the poltergeist of yourself. An aftermath portrait/unlike image/song. . How can you haunt your own living room? Describe the process, step-by-step. Add the day you drank 14 beers and tossed a urinal into the  air.


  1. [All of this origamiing itself upon the creative artists (and their theoreticians) usual conundrum: Can writing be taught?]
  1. Write about what you know, which I mean as nothing.

 as night on suburban lawn (always grass as emerald)

as oral as most distant

as days labyrinth, but pretend to know

as I keep waiting to give an authentic speech. years pass.

as the smell of a particular

As Nothing.

stein nachos 3

  1. 1.             There goes a highway dog, tongue lolling…
  1. There goes the writer who feels the climax early on.
  1. Take your draft and treat it like a final conversation—lacerate every Bad Faith/clumsy word.
  1. Throw a bottle through a window , into a mirror.
  1. Take your draft and make it likeable, make it lean, as in wearing tank top and surfer shorts. Run it right into the ocean, below the horizon of expectation. Let its spill like an entrance, or . Add cough glass of fake Irish beer.
  1. Take your draft, on its own terms, meaning things fall apart, meaning the flowers are collapsing on themselves, the car is rusting, the throat tightening, the very pages of a book, words of warm air, individual letters etched in tombstones crumbling as we write these words…so what did you expect from love?

Take your draft and make it feel, think, decide, experience. Don’t neglect the allure of pinot noir, sympathetic characters, and sex in bathrooms. Add a banana.

 roomTake your draft and give it to another writer. A guy named Buck. Buck will say, “The best story is an invisible story.” What the fuck?

 Go fling and lose something. (Fling two cups of warm beer, those red Solo cups, and the night of the dance with the hipster girl, the night of nitrous oxide balloons—I believe you ended up sleeping on the ceiling. Lose your lunch, sunglasses, self esteem.)

 Buck is one of those serious people.

 Lose Buck.

 Lose Buck like salvation. Don’t let the door….

  1. [Or, more specifically: Can a writer/text be jump-started?]
  1. nachos girlTake your draft, your desert wind, Sirocco, the rattle and thunk of lungs, of window shutters, hot pop of glass panes,  because the novel is a house or body (the first days, her kind mom offering me beer), the story, a room or ventricle (her photos of men: prom date, college friend at beach, guy she met in Italy), the flash fiction, a window or pulse (drywall scar—table thrown into wall, drunken Halloween), the poem, the genitalia, or the day we made love in the front seat of my father’s Dodge, in the walk-in cooler full of apples (Easy Way Produce, Memphis, TN), in the Peabody library, in the beds of all those embarrassing hotels; for the last time, very last gasp, both of us wondering why—bodies doing this (writer), minds doing that (editor)—both of us crying.
  1. I said a slammed door. The sound of sculpted cheekbones, the glint of aroma flesh, senses all wringed out wrong, words, mouth, eyes, chambers and cyclones. Something opens, closes, so sudden.
  1. Add a word loop. (day she made our way back/moved my tongue/like numbers in an equation/made our way back)
  1. Add a fixed form. (autograph tattoo, or TV show, or lying to self, worse type of lie, considering everyday availability of mirrors)nachos 3
  1. Add a rethinking (trying to hold it together not even the answer)
  1. Add a thought broken-loose, unmoored. Scrambling, scrambling dog.
  1. Add buying me bluster, the skeletons of words. The gift of gab. The gift of soft sobs on the page, or some flushed cheek. Enter stage lightning.

 (if you float above yourself, how can you be present?)

(who would you like to call?)

(writing your own history now. how can that be true?)A feeble attempt to keep the track dust from peppering her nachos grande.

  1. Add buying me a beer, honey.
  1. [Just a little positive/negative jolt, and away we go…maybe.]
  1. Add a writer’s block. Another writer’s block. Stack them up; build a fucking Taj Mahal (mausoleum of all our days).
  1. Write from the point of view of something low, a microbe, or everything you can do and lose, or an uneaten dinner.
  1. You are now a landscape. Go frame your days. Go plot-wise.
  1. You are now a long, steamy shower. Go dripping ink. 
  1. You are now a hot sore. Go run.
  1. You are now a dog. There goes a thick pelt, some covering.
  1. You are now a glass. Go stain the page. Go bleed.
  1. You are now a flaw. Be certain.
  1. You are now Chicago. Go winter. Go spellbound fog. Go big hotel and skunky marijuana. Go wonderful claustrophobia. So close together. So pressed like a flower. Go video camera I still can’t believe.
  1. You are now a stunt. Be serious. Break a bone like a semicolon.
  1. You are now a bra strap. Go undo somethingyourself, or at least try.
  1. You are now a penny. Go spend yourself, or leave behind. velveeta still life
  1. You are now__________________(this is where we imagination)

 [Like most advice on the written word, prompts work and do not work.]

  1. Put a sidekick, say police officer somewhere on the page (enter violencesnowmelt and weeping lights).
  1. Put a police officer in the rear visionew mirror. Blue sparks red. Feel that, as you slide away the can of beer. That’s how my heart always felt, then.
  1. Put a police officer at the door. Compare his hair to wet sand. Give his character a nature, which I mean as broken flowerpot on the table, winter rains, or what he does when someone slaps him in the face.
  1. Describe a kitchen. Add knives and something handy to cast and shatter. Add a yoga instructor/mom and the earlier police officer and a woman with skin like an electrifying rumor. You can’t quit looking at her, can you? Add me, and have somebody fling themselves to the floor.
  1. Lure the adverb into church.
  1. Lure the adverb into jeans. Now cut-off. steve
  1. Lure the adverb into an alleyway. Cradle like a Pabst, nearly make love, and then crunch away in headlock exponential.
  1. Take a color, any color. It could be the purple of really dancing, finally letting go. It could be the yellow of reading crumpled receipts, a lover’s purse. The green of feeding French fries to sparrows, that photo kept. Red is all the fake people we lived to avoid, their sanctimonious pleads. (I hope we aren’t one of them.) So now add mathematics. Divide. Subtract. Where are we, are we, are we summed up now?
  1. Take a list of objects: envelopes unopened, olive oil, hips rocking, bong in shape of Woody Allen’s head, Missouri in the rain, disposable razor, hardening nipples, day just dawning, unfiltered Camels, fierce and quick, floating in the pool, ribcages pressed, crushed Dexedrine, rapped it down,  Tupac Shakur, rubbing legs, glow of limbs, glow of tongue, gas station wine, hot dog stands, nacho stands, stands of pines, vibrators, purple lips, hummingbirds, 4 a.m., symmetrical cleavage, needn’t be nervous, needn’t look away, diet whatever sodas, touch of rum, touch of wet, touch of thong in color of cotton candy, throwing smoke, handstands in cheerleader uniforms, scratchy wool, paper petal skin, wrapped a towel, blonde hairs, brown curls, a dog’s howl, a dog’s black head, a dog’s way of nachos
  1. Select an object from the list.
  1. Write about the object, but don’t look at it. Don’t pause. Don’t sit there in a predictable path. Don’t sing to tornadoes, friend. Other predictable don’ts.

(What are you waiting for?)

  1. [The majority of prompts are meant as metaphors. “Imagine yourself as a tree…” can be read to mean, Take yourself out of your own narrow experience, drop the ego, stop editing/watching as you create, and so on.]
  1. We don’t wait, unless we are crouching (to spring), hidden in the ambush/scribbled crevasse, that space between known and unknown. This is why.
  1. We don’t use the word because. We don’t use the word almost or very. We don’t say, “Well, my sister saw you do it” or “I’m just doing this so I can see you better.”

 We don’t use but three exclamation marks our whole lives.

 (unless during. we use three to four thousand during)

 We go exponential exhalation now, we go clear. Z NachosWe don’t stop a running dog. (draft flowingg well)

 We don’t cry on the page (anything but).

We don’t explain.

  1. Take a letter and write it into a bedroom. I prefer a creaky bed. Loud. uilding.
  1. Take a body part and write it into an unreal world.
  1. Take a frigid day and describe its lengthening. Its brilliant shrunk coin.

Take a studio apartment.  A futon mattress on the floor. Could we have lain there happy our entire lives? We never did answer. Or did we?

  1. There is a dog house shaped of a box set of Billie Holiday…
  1. [Here, I take the device of the prompt and appropriate it for narrative need.]
  1. Take a proverb. Add a taste and aroma no one seems to write about: alkaline, salty, like edge of batteries, or the brackish sea. Some type of moaning. Finally, finally, give yourself permission to end this exercise with the words, “And then she awakes.”
  1. Take the language of road signs and describe making out atop the water tower.
  1. Take a cell phone. Make your ring tone the hiss of seasons changing. Use a metronome to measure your phone calls. The sound of permission and keyboards thinning. unicorn nachos 2
  1. Take a cell phone. Whip out a cell phone. Eavesdrop like a writer. Drop-in like a writer. Steal everything not tied down, or even tied down—wrap yourself in knots of words, nets and tangles of words, barbed wire, glint and pierce and stuck bleeding still. Listen. Hear. Write one page, twelve more, and they must contain these lines of dialogue:

“I can hear you in me.”

“But won’t you need them now?”

“I think I want to, you know, hang out at home.”

“It seems I’m boring you.”

“Do you think this a fun game?”

“Party’s over!”

“I won’t believe a moment lived beautifully was wasted.”

“Prove it then.”

“Look, it’s a habit.”

“Hello? Hello?”buddha velvetta 2

  1. Take a repetition, a potential for patterns to emerge, the way our bodies keep doing everything our minds tell us to avoid. Add floating like an octopus off a kitchen floor. Add a character prop, like cough syrup and cheap vodka, like molasses sex, thick and sweet, drifting above ourselves, like calling out to a ship passing by. I think this will be a Tuesday, but that’s up to you.
  1. Take white space and make it red.
  1. [The white space and listing I feel makes it more disjointed, fragmented, and is integral, since this is the reality I feel/sense everyday in our world.]
  1. Fight for it. Break the nose of the sentence. Blow everything up like a semi-colon. Go omniscient on someone’s ass.
  1. Go flashback (body numb as if wasn’t there).
  1. Go currents struggling; go revealing truth (receiving a blow job, hand job, or tongue bath, while you watch the plastic glow-in-the-dark stars. Later you will peel them all away, and think of yourself as childish.).
  1. Go personal urgency (a need to leap from roofs).
  1. [We are split. Begin, middle, end?? Never heard of it, or as one poet says, ‘My life ain’t been no crystal staircase.”]green
  1. Now start cleaning up: verbs, coffee spills, that pile of letters, words, clichés: dog-tired, sick as a dog, it’s a dog-eat-dog world, let sleeping dogs lie, in the dog house, and you, wow, you look like somebody just shot your dog.
  1. Start on a hagiography (all of this in a phone booth).
  1. Start on a Homeric (all of this on a slow train).
  1. Start on a passion play (all of this in an elevator).
  1. Start on an index card. We’re going to file something here. We’re going to impale everything on the wall. First drafts with cigarette smoke with last of the beer with focus on nouns with a patch of dim yellow lights in the distance, the howls of dogs…They call this juxtaposition. They call this structure.

Take your eyes and close them.

  1. Take all the five senses:

Smell of cooler and blankets.

Taste of taking a deep breath, of standing.

Sound of tight within the body, curled.

Touch of mildly dizzy.paint nachos

Sight of SarahSara. That’s the dilemma for all the writers. Too much reliance on sight.

  1. Take a plot. Take a beginning, middle, an end. Throw in the sad thrill of laughter. Throw in cancer. Throw in my friend robbed of two dollars, then shot dead. Throw in the day I saw a young man on our roof. Day I smelled latex and onions. Day of reading. Day of email. Day of somebody kidnapped my sister’s rabbit. Day of doing cocaine at the bowling alley, right on the countertop where you select the ball. Day of broken bed, hair undone. Day of revolver. Crackling air. Sirens or dogs. Day of wailing.
  1. Take the day of your birth, the year. Go research. What did exactly happen?
  1. Take a word range. Make an omelet. Devastate some eggs.
  1. Take a bad poem, your weekend, now make it worse.
  1. Take a brief moment in time. A scene. Note and describe. Example:

Early spring. Thunderstorms. A squatty motel in Pensacola, Florida, pastel walls, vague paintings of shells, seahorses, a ceiling of rosy pink ceiling.

 “I like the rain,” she says. “Sunlight is depressing in a place like this.” She sits at a desk in the dark room and flips the light on and off, off and on: click, click, click. big nachos

 Now you write the rest. You finish. I want you to…You need to lie down. Get a clean sheet of paper. As if. Get some help. Describe what you feel right now. Describe a place you love. Think of a title. It should be simple yet complex. I said lie down. Shhhh… Control your tone. Someone is about to find out something rare: what another person truly thinks of them. Outside is a dog scratching at the door. A rain sweeping on the roof. Outside I am walking soon. Let’s say limping. There was a time in my life. Take the pen, the flat keypad. Take this text. Listen: you have no colleagues in this undertaking. Listen: I could be wrong. Listen: Why won’t you lie down?

  1. Take an article of clothing (The seven days straight I wore her socks to work)
  1. Do you follow all the rules?
  1. [As prompt, I hope these do start your engine, or at least get the lights flickering for an instant. If not, that’s OK, too.]
  1. Take a photo (digital, naked, her pelvis, ridge of that scar)
  1. Write about the time you clattered into an abyss.
  1. Take a myth and recreate the myth (If I fall, I’ll be caught. And we won’t spoil the moments born.)
  1. Are you sick, or simply paying attention?being sick?
  1. Which tone and atmosphereshade are you, black or white or evaporate?
  1. Which vitamin X?heart nachos
  1. [As I tell my university students, “Write about not being able to write.”]

personal ad?

  1. Which medicine cabinet songcountry song?


  1. Word association: Bottle of gin, Lorcet, revolver, dog, dragged out back in the snow falling darkness, dragged behind the dumpster with gun placed to head; and this seemed to be a solution. Go.

Which key will you discover? Which low door?

  1. Which unlucky bird? Silent still, in all this rain about us. If you could land, would you, and where?
  1. Which flea market? Which wagon or Chapstick or melted butter dish?
  1. Which god are you? Which god? Come on!
  1. Take a moment. Grab that methadone, the credit card hidden in the novel, and a all-clear weekend. Calm your spirit.
  1. Take a cold glass and a secret game. (Alabama summer we discovered bocce)
  2. Take a breath. Oh…Dylan
  1. [Oh, and if  any of you stumble across a woman named…]
  1. Take her skin. Aching, rubbing. Feathers of a rare bird. Fragrant silence. Buckle and heave. Wept on my shoulder. Oh…
  1. I am going to lie down for you now.
  1. I am going to lie down.
  1. I am going to lie.
  1. I am going to circle and circle and circle like a dog. Then lie down. Exhausted as dry mulch (once a flower itself, now.)
  1. I am going to circle and circle and circle like a dog. Then lie down. Exhausted as dry mulch (once a flower itself, now.)
  1. T
  1. 100. Take every title of every text you have ever written. Now use them as replacements for every ending line.Now make these titles into your ending lines.

Example:snoop nachos

SarahSaraMore Important Things to DoWhy does it Hit Bottom.?

SarahSaraNaked as She’d Ever BeenWhy does it Hit.?

SarahSaraWhy Does itIce Facts Cracking Thin.?

SarahSaraBeautifully Inhumane.Why?

SarahSaraTight Sparkly Costume.?

SarahSara…Leaping Quickly?

SarahSaraDrifting Apart Anything..


SarahSara…”taco bell



Yes! Very strong!



 Sticks out as one I’ve heard before.


 I feel like this one is a good start toward trashing the tired admonition to write what you know. I’d like to see you go off on it.

 Seems like these need some kind of lead in.


 Maybe a different response?

 Yes, yes, yes! This is perhaps a capsule of what I think you’re great at doing. Absurd twists, erudite glosses, bottom-feeder humor, all wrapped into a whirlwind passage.

 I appreciate the brevity, especially after the previous passages. I think they do need some beefing up though.




 How about “rear-vision mirror”?

 I like the interrelatedness of the entries. Might be something worth exploring throughout.


 Another favorite!



 More an aside, I think.


 What other words don’t we use?

 How about a starting sentence?


 Needs more, I think.

 Great stuff!


 More, more!

 Needs work.


 Here’s a great place I think needs some more of your disjunctive style, like #18.


 Yes, a few more of these asides throughout would be great.

 A riff would be nice here.

 A familiar one. Needs making strange, methinks.



 I’d say these would serve well as  an aside much like the  one after #79.

 This is great! I’m not sure about your examples.

What is Flash Fiction?

I think of Alice and the little door.

A cloud. Marveling to the ocean. We all see something different. We must bring ourselves to the event. A catalyst for the imagination. A great flash I will discuss with others, to see their opinion, to see mine, to see. A cloud.


Reading, by definition, is an opening to the possibility of meeting half way.

A cloud? That’s flaky.

Not a puzzle, a hint.

Miniature donkeys are very warm, loving animals.

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The Statue of Liberty re-created in the eye of a prose poem. (Critics riot.)

There is a section of the creek out back my backyard. Just a section, yet I don’t see it that way at all. It is its own entity, no doubt. It is a world, of the river, but without the river.

What value is the sound of water on stones?

Stop being flaky, though I understand your need to correlate—or attack the correlation of VALUE with money, consumerism as default, WORTH.

What is the value of a mile, of movement.

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Allowing you to bring yourself. The mind crackles, that’s just science. They’ve done scans. Reading crackles more than passively watching. You have to bring yourself.

Nuns who do puzzles don’t get Alzheimer’s?

More and more.

More and more shards, in every medium.

A Diagram. (You might find some flash here) Behind the flash is a scaffolding, a math, an intricate and beautiful machine. Flash is enjoyable to disassemble and to assemble. Flash fiction is an intellectually engaging exercise, like chess or archery or disc golf or shoplifting.

Flash as subversive?

As attacked for its very brevity? “Kids these days…attention spans.”

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A sculpture of your thoughts at 3: AM molded from the eye of a mosquito.

I have always been obsessed with the wiring of a story.

Flash is a mastery within a mastery, a knowledge transferred within an intricate machine, a Fabergé egg, and, as Sherry Simpson says, “…and this is true 100 percent of the time – we’re all tiny masters of something.”

A clipped curiosity.

Every sentence could be a paragraph.

Like an arrow, it flies and strikes and cuts into us.


Some publishers admitted to a policy of no poetry.

Something in archery, the line, the angle, the result. Some things are innately simple as to be correct in themselves.

Moving water.

tub nachos

Brad Leithauser goes, “It clarifies the contours, it revels in the sleek and streamlined.”

Example: a loose crewel of bloody paw prints on the marble steps.

Flash fiction is what life feels like.

Flash fiction is like a feather made of mirrors. Feathers retain heat, among other things.

Flash fiction in ONE DAY.

ONE DAY something happened…

Life is too short to stuff a mushroom.

Your ass painted on a hair one-twentieth of a millimeter wide.


A story is not when a character undergoes a change. A story is when a character undergoes a change. A change.

Shapard says, “It was like an unannounced, unplanned rebellion by graduate student writers and young professors who liked the experimental writers of the seventies as an alternative to the established fare of longer stories.”

In flash, the inciting event might have come before the page, the event might appear AFTER.

Tenacity. Grind. I like to grind on a draft.

Stacked stones. So many flash collections.

velveeta guy

This one.

This one.

This one.

Stacked stones are eerie and wonderful and odd. They wobble, too. They climb.

Stacked river stones. Who doesn’t admire a tower of river stones?

Flash is ancient, like a boulder.

Like a cave, waiting.

Short attention span, my ass.

A water jug stuffed with bells and glow sticks.

Bells and glow sticks! That’s flash fiction!


Or as Brian Oliu says, “I am constantly in medias res.”

Flash fiction—especially the creation of—is play. Play is essential to humans, especially difficult play. Golf is popular because it is very hard to do well. Flash is the same, the buzz of capturing a moment. Golfers return to their awful rounds because “they remember the one good shot.” The buzz of doing it well, at least occasionally. That’s flash. We return to this difficult play. We have to. Try.

Flash is useful manipulation.

Reproductions of your regrets reduced a million times.

Flash is a chimney swift in the sky.

Flash is an impression.

To mark on a plan, map, or chart: To plot.

Smash a fucking windshield. (This one is really, really strong.)

Picasso’s Guemica painted on a bean. The bean stolen from a faculty lounge refrigerator.

 Tension is the mother, Jerome Stern says.


A moving sidewalk. Walking backwards up a moving sidewalk.

Flash is an image, no doubt.

Who are we to define story?

That seems reductive.

“I’m a flash fiction writer,” she says to begin the reading. “So if you don’t like what I’m reading, just wait a minute.”

An airline terminal, sociology.

For the miniature does not exist in isolation: it is by nature a smaller version of something else.

Randall Brown says, “Flash fiction lacks that past and future for the reader. It only is.”

If you like to watch people, I’d wager you’d like the genre of flash fiction.


Are you an architect or a technician or both?

You could do it ALL in one page.

shaw shank

The moment after you read a news story and think: all that thinking, conjuring.

A slop-free zone, Nathan Leslie says.

Read slowly, as you might a poem, several others have added…

Smart surprise, says Jennifer Pieroni.

Black Tickets.

You couldn’t tell the truth if you wanted to.

Go ahead and value ambiguity.

Flash nonfiction necessitates a lyric impulse.

The whole is actually greater than a sum of its parts, has to be, must be…must echo, folks. Make it echo.

I like Elvis Presley’s swimming pool. It is small, kidney shaped.

It is a fragment.

Janet Burroway uses the term, density.

It is NOT a fragment: David Starkey.

Charles Baxter: “Something suddenly broken or quickly repaired.”

Look around. There is a crevasse. It continues to grow. Will flash fiction fill that crevasse? Is it time?

What did Aesop bring upon us?


Man bites man.

The New York Times: Quicksilver dreams.

One day you, too, will, astonishingly enough, be dead.

polar 3

“…like a crystal jewel. I will sketch it in words.” Kawabata.



Not everyone aches for narrative.

What is narrative?

What if story is defined as aesthetic beauty?

get it

The lyric.

Mike Resnick says, “Brevity is not just the soul of wit; it is damned hard work.”

A word I detest: markets.

Wes Welker is small and contained. Compressed routes. Chunks. Of yardage. He doesn’t do things BIG, he does them precisely. He does them right.

We aren’t’ doing things the same length anymore. Our fiction can’t be the same length anymore. Not everyone is going to get off our lawns. Possibly, no one will.

Anything you learn in writing flash fiction will inform a longer form.

Some sprint, some marathon, but I know—I really do, having run many sprints and many marathons—that fast-paced interval training will make me a better long distance runner. The genres INFORM one another.

White space allows timelessness.

Go ahead and muse, go ahead and ponder. Patrick Maddon is basically philosophical.

katie nachos

It’s not “part of the story.” You have to work much harder than that. Painting the door on your house and painting a van Gogh take basically the same amount of paint.

Poets do it more than fiction writers.

There is no difference between a grain of sand and a galaxy.

My ass painted on a fly’s wing.

But I digress.

toy 2

Pins and Needles: A Type of Flash Fiction

Today I would glow to voice the “Pins and Needles” flash fiction. Why do I ponder it Pins and Needles? Well, pins and needles is an euphemism for anxiety, but also pins poke and prod and sneeze, while the needles sew up and pick at and cackle…Imagine a giant ball of mental yarn, a mind, circled, pushed, scrutinized with an instrument (this instrument will be words). The Pins and Needles flash breaks down a subject, but also holds itself to mirror. Mental loops, circles, caterwhomps and the saliva of a scalpel. These circles are metallic, possibly barbed wire, a ball of barbed wire…yes, that’s the image. But this ball is making love with a battery. It thrums. It can also shock. It crackles. It causes anxiety. It is anxiety. The humming is something like the pulse at the throat, fidgety fingers, tapping at the windows, thunderings, fingernail soreness, shredding out the hair…etc.

Do you need more?

No. I’m moving onto examples. If you can’t snag the image above, it’s possible you’re at the wrong blog, like Judy Garland eating nachos.

judy 3

Let’s discuss Mary Ruefle. Most know her a poet, but I would like us to suspend that knowing. Let’s contemplate her as a person who obsessively erases books and then replaces the words with paint and snakes and birds, etc.


Mary Reufle REMOVES words. She understands COMPRESSION and DENSITY. Juxtaposition, too. She would like us to meet her HALF WAY. So, let’s now know her as a glow of Flash fiction, specifically, Reufle’s flash collection, The Most of It. As essential and piercing as:

erasure 2

BTW, George Plimpton, in his immersion/participation journalism days, once played the triangle in a professional orchestra. Don’t snicker. Playing triangle in a symphony is not as easy as it appears. Producing a musical sonority, striking in the right place, at the right time, stricking at just the right velocity and pressure, etc.

But I digress…

Reufle’s book is a vibrant red and gold, not so unlike a salamander you might find in the jungle and squeeze/fondle for your little Mason jar back home on the ranch-by-the-riverside then all the sudden you fall over into a greasy container of seizure because that salamander was cradling a toxin in its fur coat.



Poets make excellent flash writers because they already have the harpoons in those things you store harpoons in (a purse made of sighs?). DENSITY drives a taxi made of ankle braces. Poets go for DENSITY. Words that bring several things to the picnic, including drugs. DENSITY knows how to sneak Doritos into a diet center by hiding them in a shampoo bottle. DENSITY is a customized book-carrying bicycle. DENSITY knows how to have sex in the shower while on a treadmill. Density was born in Leningrad. Was only there for three years. Then moved to Molotov, which is now Perm. DENSITY, when asked if it needs new spikes (since it fell over home while scoring the winning run), pats the reporter on the back and winks and reminds the reporter it wears new spikes (made of butter and silver) EVERY game and then says, “So don’t worry about it.”

snoop nachos

–STRIKE three, you’re out!

–Nice STRIKE, all the pins when flying!

–No? Then I shall begin my hunger STRIKE?

–You are one STRIKING young lady.

–Don’t STRIKE a match in here!

–Unless I STRIKE gold…

On and on, onto density. We need echoes. Words that do many things. Poets know echoes. Flash fiction writers know echoes. It’s why we can hear what they are saying. With Pins and Needles, they so want you to hear. They want you to join them in these pickings at the charged and sizzling thread (more a coil) of our tilted days and seclusion room nights. It is an empathetic genre, really, in its relentless scratching.

Let’s examine a few Pins and Needles flash, shall we? In The Most of It we have 30 individual texts. I will not chomp all of them (this isn’t a book review), but I’d like to hit a few to make my point. This book is a holy text (like many holy texts, it is somewhat under-read by those who should know better) of the Pin and Needle flash, and I will now use its shards to SHOW you.

Let’s begin at the beginning.

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The opening flash is titled, “Snow.” Here it is entire:

Every time it starts to snow, I would like to have sex. No matter if it is snowing lightly and unseriously, or snowing very seriously, well on into the night, I would like to stop whatever manifestation of life I am engaged in and have sex, with the same person, who also sees the snow and heeds it, who might have to leave an office or meeting, or some arduous physical task, or, conceivably, leave off having sex with another person, and go in the snow to me, who is already, in the snow, beginning to have sex in my snow-mind. Someone for whom, like me, this is an ultimatum, the snow sign, an ultimatum of joy, though as an ultimatum beyond joy as well as sorrow. I would like to be in the classroom — for I am a teacher — and closing my book stand up, saying “It is snowing and I must go have sex, good-bye,” and walk out of the room. And starting my car, in the beginning stages of snow, know that he is starting his car, with the flakes falling on its windshield, or, if he is at home, he is looking at the snow and knowing I will arrive, snowy, in ten or twenty or thirty minutes, and, if the snow has stopped off, we, as humans, can make a decision, but not while it is still snowing, and even half-snow would be some thing to be obeyed. I often wonder where the birds go in a snowstorm, for they disappear completely. I always think of them deep inside the bushes, and further along inside the trees and deep inside of the forests, on branches where no snow can reach, deeply recessed for the time of the snow, not oblivious to it, but intensely accepting their incapacity, and so enduring the snow in brave little inborn ways, with their feathered heads bowed down for warmth. Wings, the mark of a bird, are quite useless in snow. When I am inside having sex while it snows I want to be thinking about the birds too, and I want my love to love thinking about the birds as much as I do, for it is snowing and we are having sex under or on top of the blankets and the birds cannot be that far away, deep in the stillness and silence of the snow, their breasts still have color, their hearts are beating, they breathe in and out while it snows all around them, though thinking about the birds is not as fascinating as watching it snow on a cemetery, on graves and tombstones and the vaults of the dead, I love watching it snow on graves, how cold the snow is, even colder the stones, and the ground is the coldest of all, and the bones of the dead are in the ground, but the dead are not cold, snow or no snow, it means very little to them, nothing, it means nothing to them, but for us, watching it snow on the dead, watching the graveyard get covered in snow, it is very cold, the snow on top of the graves over the bones, it seems especially cold, and at the same time especially peaceful, it is like snow falling gently on sleepers, even if it falls in a hurry it seems gentle, because the sleepers are gentle, they are not anxious, they are sleeping through the snow and they will be sleeping beyond the snow, and although I will be having sex while it snows I want to remember the quiet, cold, gentle sleepers who cannot think of themselves as birds nestled in feathers, but who are themselves, in part, part of the snow, which is falling with such steadfast devotion to the ground all the anxiety in the world seems gone, the world seems deep in a bed as I am deep in a bed, lost in the arms of my lover, yes, when it snows like this I feel the whole world has joined me in isolation and silence.

taco bell

I can think of little better introduction into Pins and Needles. Note the techniques, as you will see them again and again in this form of prose.

The sentences. They grab your hand, but not always to comfort, sometimes to push your hand into, well, something. Possibly sharp or icky, as in something your mind doesn’t want to consider, but would rather avoid. They guide you down slippery paths unknown. They don’t like to behave. Look at sentence two. It is exactly the type of sentence you will see in this variety of contemplative flash. Eye the sheer length, but then the commas. You start, you pause, you take a step, you pause, you pause for another short stay, you start. You’re never allowed on exactly stable ground. Where are we going?In this form, sentences like to circle, coil, intertwine, much like a vine, a vine snaking its way about the grays valleys of your brain. Imagine Kudzu. Many of Reufle’s flash fictions are one long, long (gripping) sentence.


First Person POV is common, and often very personal, almost as if revealing secrets. Secrets and lies are often integral to Pins and Needles flash fiction. You will get third POV, at times, but usually when delving more into the philosophical (see below), using the POV to gain distance, and to universalize the characters (as us).

Diversions are central. We wander/wonder. From snow to sex to birds to gravestones to birds to sex to snow…yet these diversions must have threads. They are expertly knit–the pattern is intricate. It only looks like a ball of yarn. It is a spherical machine. This is the Pins and Needles flash. Feel its anxiety? It gnaws at stated or implied ideas (Where do the birds go when it snows? Do the dead feel snow?), and re-gnaws–seriously and unseriously (not a word at all, poet)–and then gnaws again, needle, needle, needle tooth by tooth. This type of flash doesn’t care for pithy generalizations like SHOW DON’T TELL, because it tells first, and tells so vividly the rule collapses on itself. This genre likes to play, with its “snow-mind” and its image-jokes (a lover disengaging physically from the act of sex to enter a car to go have snow-sex), but is primarily serious. To not see entropy, falling, brevity, mortality, and so on here would be silly in a most serious way. The Pins and Needles flash picks at larger issues, thus its foundation of anxiety. Issues we’d rather avoid.

BTW, several subjects come up again in “Pins and Needles” flash fiction. These would include relationships, sex (as aspect of relationships), humor (always dark–the type of humor you need to deal with life), animals and nature (as a existential foil to humans), the act of writing, violence, juxtapositions of. Often stark, quick juxtapositions. Why? most likely to create the substrata of this entire affair–not to be redundant–but I mean to say anxiety. Modern existence. Alienated. Anxious. Analysis (of the self, exhaustively). Now you’ve hit the heart (pumping hard) of the Pins and Needles flash.

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The Pins and Needles flash is a master of the opening line. Why? Because this genre is talking to you (again–not scene setting). It’s like, “Hey! Hey you! Listen to me for a minute!” Here a few from Reufle’s book:

“This morning I want to talk a little bit about killing.”   (Camp William)

“If you were very, very small, smaller than a leprechaun, smaller than a gnome or fairy, and you lived in a vagina, every time a penis came in there would be a natural disaster.”  (The Taking of Moundville by Zoom)

“If you bother to read this at all it is a clear indication your life is intolerable and you seek a distraction by engaging in the activity you are presently pretending to engage in.” (If all the World Were Paper)

And so on…

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Lastly (though I could go on; as you can see, I do glow Pins and Needles flash), as I intimated earlier, this genre often delves into philosophy. I don’t mean formally, but the whole genre is about Big Questions. This is the well-spring of much anxiety, no? We didn’t ask onto this odd stage, poor players, but here we are: now what? Indeed. Here is an example, a microfiction, the final text in the book, titled “On Burial.”

There are only two tombs: the tomb of Jesus and the tomb of Tut. Roll away one stone and you will be given everything: food, clothing, shelter, gems, cloth, seeds and oil, a replica of the world in pure gold. Roll away the other stone and there’s nothing.

For further Pins and Needles authors, read:

Lydia Davis. Probably the Queen of anxiety flash fiction. Cerebral, personal, deadly. A flash writer wins the Booker Prize!



Nearly every morning, a certain woman in our community comes running out of her house with her face white and her overcoat flapping wildly. She cries out, “Emergency, emergency,” and one of us runs to her and holds her until her fears are calmed. We know she is making it up; nothing has really happened to her. But we understand, because there is hardly one of us who has not been moved at some time to do just what she has done, and every time, it has taken all our strength, and even the strength of our friends and families too, to quiet us.


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Or try Diane Williams. Sentence master. Sex disaster. Nausea and Nerves.


Science and Sin or Love and Understanding

I am not going to look it up in a book or do research. There are those of you who probably know why the small switching tail of a small animal makes me remember how I want to copy lewd people.

If the answer to the question is: Animals set an example for people, then I accept the answer. Do I have a choice?

I gave my husband no choice.

The last time I shoved something down my husband’s throat was when I cheated on him. Now I say to him, “I didn’t want to shove anything down your throat.”

“It’s because I love you,” was the puny thing to say. It was puny compared to the size of the power which had made me say it to him.

The power had made me see things too. The power had turned him into the shape of a man wearing his clothes so he could leave me in the dark, standing beside his side of it, our bed. I knew I was seeing things.

He said, “I hear you.”

I may or I may not cheat on him again. But the last time, I was standing up when I knew I was going to do it. I see myself on the street, deciding. I am holding onto something. Now I cannot see what it is. This is no close-up view. I am a stick figure.

I am the size of a pin.

or try Angela Woodward. History, biology, psychology.



And there you have it.


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Flash of the Day: Choo and Rumble

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A bit of what we expect and a shard of something different from America’s Queen of Flash, Kim Chinquee. Found at Corium. Corium is a lively mag and has one of those names–sort of a lit mag trope at this point–where you go, “What in the hell is a Corium?” But I digress.

Choo and Rumble

Another train ride, and here I am with your goddamn strawberry lotion. At first it was fun to pick things out on our excursions to Chicago.

But after a couple times, I got tired of your places, me sitting on a stool while you tried on blazers. I kept telling you it all looked good. I just wanted to get out of there.

The train is loaded and some people are snoring. Some are talking on their cell phones. Some people look dead. I’m not sure where I am, except wondering.

About you. Maybe by now, dissolved in your piano, occupied by the sound of a tic. Though you’d say it was tac. If I told you that, you’d laugh and remind me how I know you.

It has been months. Or maybe it’s been years now. My leaving, the constant drum of the train. No matter what you say, I bet you don’t cry when I leave there.

It’s just an Amtrak. We have to let the real trains pass before we can go anywhere.

scopeKim Chinquee is a fine example of voice. She pretty much writes in her way (minimalist, direct tone, very few lyrical bells and whistles, a sort of purposeful vagueness at times that often represents a detached narrator. A detached narrator. A detachment.)

So what’s a bit different here?

Not the narrator. This is indeed the classic Chinquee narrator, drifting a bit, walled-off, always this space between the speaker and the events, as if always an observer versus a participant. Chinquee narrators often seem like they are as shocked as anyone by the role they are playing in the text. By the situation/life conundrum.

Not the movement. Very often, a Chinquee flash moves, running, shifting, to somewhere, away from somewhere. Change. Transitions can be subtle, can be huge, HINGE on something. Chinquee will often write that HINGE.

But other things do differ. Let’s see:

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1. Title.

Chinquee routinely goes with something simple, a noun, a place name, a hint of context, but little word-play. Choo and Rumble, with its onomatopoeic tendencies, with its focus on feel and sound, is not a traditional Chinquee title. But it’s a strong title. It is odd. Often odd titles make you look, which is one role (of many) of a title.

2. Opening line.

You’ll read a lot of Chinquee before you see a GD dropped in her opening. How does it work here? Well, coming off the tone of the title, it jars. As a modifier for strawberry lotion, it jars. It also represents a narrator who is done fucking around. It establishes. “Another train ride…” Another day, getting moved, in flux, pushed around. The line provides a lot of context. A lot of feel. It winds the text up, like a tight spring.


3. Line Breaks.

There’s a strong emphasis on enjambment here, how the line is cut, how white space presents a thing. I’ve seen it done in other Chinquee flashes, but this text almost wants to be a poem. The text is thinking about the possibilities of the line.

4. Controlling Metaphor.

Again, we’ve seen this from Chinquee. She usually has something (and it IS often a thing) to ground and focus the flash, but here it’s a bit more present, the train (or, really trains). Again, a bit more obviously diving into techniques of poetry. The fade-out metaphor, the comment on the metaphor.

CaptureAs a huge fan of flash and certainly of Kim Chinquee, I find it interesting to see variations and nuances on her signature style. It shows not just growth, but keen thought about flash, as process and product. All of this technique makes me the reader more active. That’s what we’re trying for in flash. That’s what powers the genre. It’s fun to see Chinquee’s continued grace and skill on the page, and something further to watch for in the future.

Sunday Flash. Night by Brett Lott

I wrote a Sunday flash for Green Mountains Review.

It begins:

But I did saw it, and that’s me. I’m seeing all kinds of things these days. You know, The Muffin Man, for example. Saw The Muffin Man yesterday, at the car wash.



He woke up. He thought he could hear their child’s breathing in the next room, the near-silent, smooth sound of air in and out.

He touched his wife. The room was too dark to let him see her, but he felt her movement, the shift of blanket and sheet.

“Listen,” he whispered.

“Yesterday,” she mumbled. “Why not yesterday,” and she moved back into sleep.

He listened harder, though he could hear his wife’s breath, thick and heavy next to him, there was beneath this the thin frost of his child’s breathing.

The hardwood floor was cold beneath his feet. He held out a hand in front of him, and when he touched the doorjamb, he paused, listened again, heard the life of his child.

His fingertips led him along the hall and to the next room. Then he was in the doorway of a room as dark, as hollow as his own. He cut on the light.

The room, of course, was empty. They had left the bed just as their child had made it, the spread merely thrown over bunched and wrinkled sheets, the pillow crooked at the head. The small blue desk was littered with colored pencils and scraps of construction paper, a bottle of white glue.

He turned off the light and listened. He heard nothing, then back out of the room and moved down the hall, back to his room, his hands at his sides, his fingertips helpless.

This happened each night, like a dream, but not.

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(“Night” can be located with 71 excellent flash fictions in this anthology.)

Why is Ricos nacho cheese inside lava lamps? Why do horror film take place in thunder and lightning? Why do couples trade lipstick in the rain? A catch in your voice. A coyote on a highway. A conveyor. The ocean invoked in a carpet of sardines. Sunlight on corn. A hand grenade nestled into a snow bank. Fog machines. A tumbleweed the size of your college debt. Whistling birds, that one bird they put into every movie. Foam. The smell of crushed jasmine and gasoline. The time you rode the subway and a woman handed you a squirrel. Disco balls. The smell of your eyes that day.  Black and white photos of abandoned laboratories. The sound of Mexico. An entire wall of your apartment covered in the Nixon and Elvis photo. A shoebox of weed. The moon.

What is of I speak?


The excellent thing about flash fiction is the sheer variety of technique. Some write very narrative flash, some go with lyrical–all of this is naturally on a spectrum. Here, we have “the unopened envelope” as plot. What’s behind the door? Mystery. But that’s the only narrative interest in advancing. The flash is more than happy to NOT advance. To ponder, freeze, flail.

TO TREAD, in darkness.

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Some flash writers see ambiance as the central medium, the tone and mood as the essence of the thing. Emotion transferred through craft. Flash always borrows from the poet. The poet has known brevity for eons. And setting. The flash writer always borrows from the poet. The poet knows sound. The flash writer always borrows from the poet. The poet knows objects. The poet knows. Word choice.

Gary Snyder goes:

The shack and a few trees

float in the blowing fog

I pull out your blouse,

warm my cold hands

on your breasts.

you laugh and shudder

peeling garlic by the

hot iron stove.

bring in the axe, the rake,

the wood

we’ll lean on the wall

against each other

stew simmering on the fire

as it grows dark

drinking wine.


Indeed. Here we have intimacy, though we don’t need the word, do we? But I digress…Let me clarify:

The flash writer waits in Nashville and the poet is an International air route.

The flash writer is an Iowa based firm (such as Maytag). The poet is broomcorn.

The flash writer is all, “legal name change.” The poet is a public, wooded park.

So the flash writer needs the poet.

Let’s talk craft. Or HOW DOES BRETT LOTT DO IT?

Good question.

“Night” says shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh

“Night” says wobbly, disoriented, waking from a troubled sleep.

“Night” says “Is this my life?”

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EUPHONY is a funny word. It sounds like a musical instrument or a Willy Wonka character or a waterway crowded with wandering water balloons, etc. Actually, it’s the glow of sound, providing a pleasing effect to the ear, the synapse, the tingle of the armpits. It is achieved not only by the selection of individual word-sounds, but also by their relationship in the repetition, proximity, and flow of sound patterns.

They are melodious. Or, if placed exactly, they move us, maybe to tremble.

See “Night.”

Read it aloud. Like poetry. Make your individual letters, the actual words, assist in your larger function. Make the dancer the dance.

ALLITERATION you know all about. …near-silent, smooth sound…

Read it aloud.


A combination of sounds; sounds in agreement with tone.

Read it aloud.


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On and on. A flash is elegant, is contained, is maybe an egg, a jeweled thing…with a life beating inside. “Night” is so quiet, yet there dwells its power: the sliding of a snake across a hardwood floor, the gentle whir of a falling thing, breathing, the dark.

Other methods?

Cold, frost, night…

Other methods.

Objects. Always objects…that bottle of glue. Waiting.

Other methods.

Sparse dialogue. A few words. But saying a lot.

Doesn’t it all join–the hallway, the torqued sheets, the child’s desk–to let you read right off the page? Let you consider all the glorious (and terrifying) white space?




Well, now you have a formula for flash. What we must admire here is Brett Lott’s economy and control. The text folds into itself. It then folds out, to resonate, like grief.


Flash Fiction of the Day: The Moonlit Window

Chinese flash fiction. Minute story. Pocket-size story. Palm-size story. Smoke-Long story.

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Creation myths (Nuwa, Fuxi, Pangu). 350 BC.


In the beginning there was nothing in the universe except a formless chaos. However this chaos coalesced into a cosmic egg for about 18,000 years. Within it, the perfectly opposed principles of Yin and Yang became balanced and Pangu emerged (or woke up) from the egg. Pangu is usually depicted as a primitive, hairy giant with horns on his head and clad in furs. Pangu set about the task of creating the world: he separated Yin from Yang with a swing of his giant axe, creating the Earth (murky Yin) and the Sky (clear Yang). To keep them separated, Pangu stood between them and pushed up the Sky. This task took 18,000 years; with each day the sky grew ten feet (3 meters) higher, the Earth ten feet wider, and Pangu ten feet taller. In some versions of the story, Pangu is aided in this task by the four most prominent beasts, namely the Turtle, the Qilin, the Phoenix, and the Dragon.

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After the 18,000 years had elapsed, Pangu was laid to rest. His breath became the wind, mist and clouds; his voice the thunder; left eye the sun and right eye the moon; his head became the mountains and extremes of the world; his blood formed rivers; his muscles the fertile lands; his facial hair the stars and milky way; his fur the bushes and forests; his bones the valuable minerals; his bone marrows sacred diamonds; his sweat fell as rain; and the fleas on his fur carried by the wind became the fish and animals throughout the land. Nüwa the Goddess then used the mud of the water bed to form the shape of humans. These humans were very smart since they were individually crafted. Nüwa then became bored of individually making every human so she started putting a rope in the water bed and letting the drops of mud that fell from it become new humans. These small drops became new humans, not as smart as the first.

But let’s look at a more contemporary flash fiction, “The Moonlit Window” by Deng Kaishang.

Who is Deng Kaishang? All I know is that he is president of the Writer’s Association of Hunan Province. He might like cheese, but I doubt it. He is a good man.

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The moon, pale as jade, peeked from behind translucent clouds, drifted in through delicate window, and fell onto the small writing desk in the room. The tenant’s exquisite writing brush, breathing in the fragrance of fresh ink, rested on a small, finely-carved wood stand.

Five water chestnuts. No, four and a half, to be more exact: one of them having been bitten in half by the tenant. The remaining half, its stem still intact, lay upright on the small desk. Basking in the pale, pure moonlight, it looked like a miniature pyramid.

A small piece of square-shaped marble, exquisite, pure as a beam of frozen moonlight. Underneath the rock was a stack of manuscript paper, words written in graceful penmanship, its title: “Revision Suggestions for On Spring Vistas in Mountainous Villages (Three Volumes).”

Underneath the stack of manuscript paper was a family letter, which cracked visibly somewhere along the lines where it had been folded; the V-shaped rupture rippled with moonlight, shiny like a dagger. The visible portion of the letter showed words written with both resolve and feminine sensitivity:

Full moon beaming in the sky, stars sailing to the west, but woe welling up in my heart: A full moon is not good as a full family! ‘Once a couple, forever a couple,’ and we had that ‘once’ for 12 years! My conscience , a woman’s conscience, tortures my soul to this very day that we have been washed apart by the currents of life. My soul cried in pain; my soul is bleeding. Oh, let’s get married again! I beseech you. the only thing I will ask of you is to quit this editor’s job. What did you get in return for ‘making bridal dresses’ for others for half your life? Ten years of cold wind and rain, a head of frosty hair. So listen to me this time!

The letter closed with: “I beg you to stop smoking!” In a corner of the letter were two red, bean-sized marks: two drops of blood having soaked deep into the paper. Next to them was a line from the tenant after reading the letter: “Endless will flow this feeling of love!” It was taken from Bayi Juyi’s poem “Endless Sorrow;” only that the tenant had replaced “sorrow” with “love.”

A gentle breeze murmured a serenade. It drifted into the moonlit window, caressed a sheet of manuscript paper, the ink on which was still fresh, and dropped on it a strand of frosty hair. The page number read: 109.

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Odd. So many jump cuts, so many ways the writer places your eye then darts your eye, location to location, information to information. Dizzying. Allusions. Writings about writing. What in the hell is page 109 about? Mystery. There’s some deliciously mysterious about this flash fiction. That’s what I admire. More and more, I don’t want answers. This flash seems an immersion. A prime example of mood. Of repetition. Of the agonies of communication, miscommunication. This piece almost seems to me to exist in saturation. It caught a shard of the un-catchable, the unknowable. Exquisite, in its attempt, in its form.

Flash of the Day: Three Microfficciones

microfficciones = microfictions = microstories. Get it? Same as flash fiction, Smokelongs (China), Palm-in-Hand (Japan), short-shorts, postcard fiction, sudden fiction, vignettes, nouvelles (France), pocket story, myth, fable, prose poem (or not?), quick fiction, nano-fiction, on and on. Why so many names? Because–as we are trying to prove over and over on this site–flash fiction has been and continues to be everywhere. Different parts of the world. Different times, past and present. So, different names.

Let’s discuss Argentina’s “Queen of Flash,” Ana Maria Shua. Let’s take a look at “Three Microstories” from the anthology, “Sudden Latino Fiction: Short-Short Stories from the United States and Latin America.”

Cannibals and Explorers

The cannibals dance around the explorers. The cannibals light the fire. The cannibals have their faces painted in three colors. The cannibals prefer the heart and brain, disdaining the tender flesh of the thighs and the leftover intestines. The cannibals consume those parts of the body they believe will instill in them the virtues they admire in their victims. The cannibals partake of their ritual banquet without pleasure or mercy. The cannibals don the explorers’ clothes. The cannibals, once in London, deliver scholarly lectures on cannibals.

Respect for Genres

A man wakes up next to a woman he doesn’t recognize. In a thriller, this could be the result of alcohol, drugs, or a blow to the head. In a science fiction story, the man would eventually understand that he exists in a parallel universe. In an existentialist novel, the lack of recognition could simply be due to a feeling of alienation, of absurdity. In an experimental text, the mystery would go unsolved and the situation would be handled with the turn of a phrase. The editors become more and more demanding, and the man knows, with a sense of desperation, that if he doesn’t manage to fit himself into a genre soon, he runs the risk of remaining painfully and forever unpublished.


In the seventh century A.D., a group of Bavarian theologians debate the sex of angels. Obviously, no one admits that women are capable of discussing theological matters; after all, back then it was doubtful they even had a soul. Nevertheless, one of them is a cleverly disguised woman. She asserts emphatically that angels must only be male. She knows, but doesn’t disclose, that among them there will be cleverly disguised women.

Segmented Structure, what does it provide? Well, for one thing, it provides white space. In flash, the work exists on and off the page. The reader has to see the area around the text as an integral aspect. Here we have white space between the actual microfictions, creating numberless possibilities. The white space might be a moment for thought, or Time itself, a movement back or forth (time often as extremely fluid in Latin American literature). The white space might be a change in place, in culture, in subject, yet that opens us up–bizarrely–to also seeing the sameness after the change. The white space divides and connects the text. The transformation runs both ways. So. White space enables us to read the work as three texts, but always simultaneously as one.

In the opening text, we get something common to Latin American literature: indigenous representations (the cannibals) and outsiders (explorers), New World versus ancient. Reason/logic/orderly belief versus another more imaginative view of existence. But then the turn, a two-part structure actually one definition of a flash, by some:

Russel Banks:

It’s its own self, and it’s intrinsically different from the short story and more like the sonnet or ghazal—two quick moves in opposite directions, dialectical moves, perhaps, and then a leap to a radical resolution that leaves the reader anxious in a particularly satisfying way.

In Shua’s work, the turn relies on the word, scholarly. The cannibals have become the explorers. They ate the system but it didn’t destroy the system–it actually changed them into the system, the way certain foods can change the body entire. Or were the cannibals always already explorers? Certainly explorers cannibalize. Is the transposing of expected roles the point? Or, and here is where I think Shua is directing us–is the entire flash a comment on scholarly work: cannibalizing the subject, pinning the butterfly below its Latin name, bringing it back to “London,” putting it in yet another box, a paper, a dry lecture, a set audience…into genre. The answers aren’t important, but a good flash–again with assistance from aspects off the page–should open us up to many possibilities. Already, this one does.

The second text seems obvious (and it is pleasurable to nod the head while reading), yet Shua takes it a bit further. Genre is a true realm of the cannibal (though much more rarely the explorer). Anyone in academia or publishing knows how to play the game. Something as mysterious as art, fate (a man wakes up next to…) can’t be understood, unless minimized, recognized, placed in a genre. A label. But again, the turn. The piece really became charged for me with the word painfully. Ah, the need to be published. The need to please someone (or many someones) in a very orderly way (forms anyone?), in academia, in the writing “world.” The abyss: forever unpublished. The turn exposes the “he” as a fraud, possibly another giver of “scholarly” papers, another cannibal transformed, shuffled back to please everyone in London…I also get a charge from another word in the sub-title, respect. Respect for Genres. Not only a great band name, but an idea that can make a person laugh, or shiver.

But there are ways out! Ways to retain the imaginative in our art and lives. Clever disguises.

The final text really seems to speak to the previous segments. It also speaks to method of defending and retaining an identity. Game the system. To subvert. In fact, to enjoy the process. The last text seems to speak for the artist. For methods of authenticity. For self.

Lastly, as a craft note, I encourage the use of the segmented form when struggling with a text. Sometimes I’ll write a flash fiction and spend hours moving it about, editing, shaping, and then I’ll just start chopping. Letting white space arrange and contain and actually allow the piece to settle into juxtaposition. This usually lets the writer remove a lot (a good thing) and add a little something more apt to the larger whole. The segmented form is one more technique to get us where we need to go as flash writer: fewer words, more meaning.