Briefs Blog

ABCs of Flash Writing: G for Genre

Posted by on Apr 24, 2018 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on ABCs of Flash Writing: G for Genre

Much of the fiction writing I do is what, I suppose, most people concerned with categorization might perhaps call genre fiction; I certainly do not trade in life-as-it-is-lived literary realism.  No, in my stories people grow tree roots from their heads, corporations have the ability to resurrect the dead based on who wins a lottery, farmers slowly turn into scarecrows after being shot by their wives, and translucent squirrels give paraplegics born with spina bifida the ability to walk and run. 

What do we call these kinds of stories?  Fantasy doesn’t quite fit; my work exists, most of the time, in a familiar world, one that does not require the expansive world building of the traditionally fantastic.  But it more often than not occupies a different world than our own, because despite the features that we are familiar with, something hovers—either on the edges or smack in the center of the bullseye—that does not compute with the world we know.

I’ve long chosen to shirk the question of what genre I write, whether it be called science fiction, fantasy, surrealism, magic realism, fabulism, speculative fiction, and simply accepted that my work is genre fiction.

This breadth of definition, and the stripping of the worry of what genre, feels to me like the cutting away of a balloon that wriggles away through the air towards the clouds—a release of sorts, a freedom.  And this freedom, I find, is key to writing genre flash fiction.

Flash fiction is breathless, moving at breakneck pace.  In flash, one cannot follow traditional (and now somewhat outmoded) story structure of exposition-rising-action-climax-falling-action-denoument; there’s simply no time!  So in crafting worlds that are not the ones readers know, writers must shirk the worries of will-people-get-it or how-does-that-happen.  Do earthquakes make people float away?  (In one of my stories, they do.)  Fine!  That’s the world the story exists in.  Does a man fall in love with a woman the size of a thimble wit

hout giving much concern to her size?  Alright!  These premises cannot slow down to offer readers time to wonder the whys hows what(?!)s—flash fiction must flash, it must go, immersing readers in its world so fast they do not have time to wonder: what kind of world is this?  The world must simply be.

And readers of flash—good ones anyway—I find, are welcoming of this ride.  They are willing to ask no questions, to let the premise take the cliché-proverbial-metaphorical wheel and drive down the cliché-proverbial-metaphorical highway.  At least, I like to think I am one of these readers: when I sit down to read flash, I empty my slate, allowing myself to be immersed, for however short a stint, in a world that is perhaps my own, something like my own, or entirely foreign from my own.  Most readers, I think, are like this, happy to be baptized into universes that stretch the boundaries of what we expect, know, and find familiarity in.  So, flash writer: don’t worry about buckling me in (to continue this needless and corny metaphor) and setting down the rules before shooting down the street.  Simply push me into your world and I’ll find my way.  I’ll figure it out.

Send me to the stars, or down into the ocean, or into a place where everything is pink.  I’ll spend my time with you, wildly abandoning all that I’ve known and all that I will ever know.

Joe Baumann’s fiction and essays have appeared in Zone 3, Hawai’i Review, Eleven Eleven, and many others.  He is the author of Ivory Children, published in 2013 by Red Bird Chapbooks.  He possesses a PhD in English from the University of Louisiana-Lafayette and teaches composition, creative writing, and literature at St. Charles Community College in Cottleville, Missouri.  He he has been nominated for three Pushcart Prizes and was recently nominated for inclusion in Best American Short Stories 2016.

The ABCs of Flash Writing: F is for Focus

Posted by on Apr 23, 2018 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on The ABCs of Flash Writing: F is for Focus

When I think of “focus” in flash writing–fiction or creative nonfiction–I remember the joys and the challenge of learning to use a 35mm camera years ago. In those pre-digital days when cameras required film rather than a memory card, auto-focus was an available feature on a mid-price Canon but the instructor of the community ed class required us to focus our cameras manually so that we’d learn–by doing–to experiment with composition and depth of field. What’s in the frame and what’s not. What’s centered and what’s sidelined. What’s foregrounded, what’s backgrounded and–depth of field–how close to the front of the frame is the focal point. It turns out that I have little aptitude for photography but I do love what that class gave me: some direct understanding of how a photographer’s technique captures and directs my gaze, and in that way evokes atmosphere, and by that means stimulates emotion in me.

In any creative writing that seeks more to evoke than to impart, attention to focus is important. In flash writing, where the word-count constrains exposition and sharply limits development of character or arc, images and their associated atmosphere are often the most powerful way to impact readers.  The best flash writing, I believe, unsettles readers–leaves them thinking or feeling (or both) anew. It achieves this because it 1) captures the reader’s attention by unexpected juxtaposition of images in its composition and then 2) focuses the reader’s gaze aslant from the expected center of attention by the surprising way it weights (through length or intensity of language) some of those images.

For instance, here’s a bit of my own writing, excerpted from my memoir and published as flash creative nonfiction  a few years ago in Prime Number. I offer this piece as example not because I think it’s “the best” flash writing but because it’s easy to grant myself permission to use it here:


My daughter J took her first steps in the worn and grassless backyard of a secret safe house for battered women on a backstreet of a working-class hamlet in mid-state New York.  I sat on the wooden stoop, a volunteer visiting for my weekly hour or two, flanked by women who’d come there to hide from men who, on bad days, wanted to kill them for failing to please.  I’d begun this gig before I was a mother, soon after I quit my job in investment banking to stay home and write.  I continued to visit while I grew bigger and bigger with pregnancy, and once J was born I carried her there with me, strapped in a front-pack until she got so heavy and wiggly I put her down and let her cruise.  Without ever quite admitting to myself why I went to the shelter I sought it out regularly, learning what I intuited I needed to know: how to run, what my rights were, and just how difficult and profoundly unsafe it would be to assert them. 

This June day was warm and soft.  All of us wore shorts.  I glanced away from J and back again, and she’d done it: turned loose of my knee and set off down the gravelly path.  At nine months she’d blacked an eye the first time she tried to walk with nothing to hold on to, but this time, at eleven months, she didn’t fall. 

Off you toddled in summer-gold light, unafraid—leaf shadow on your shoulders, and three bruised women behind you cheering your impulse to get on your feet, and go.

For me, this piece serves as an example of my effort to work with frame and depth of field because it crowds into a small piece a number of pleasant or neutral images–a pregnant belly, an infant in a front pack, an adventurous toddler who’s blacked her own eye taking a risk, women in shorts seated companionably on a back stoop on a pleasant summer afternoon, a rundown house in a low-rent neighborhood that is nonetheless a refuge–while raising much darker issues: domestic violence, economic privilege or lack thereof, and the price women pay for asserting their rights. The pleasant images are foregrounded–given more weight or space–and the dark issues are shadows, bleeding through the foreground here and there so that by the final line, the words can be read two ways, as affirmation and as defeat.

When I wrote this piece I concentrated first, as I always do when writing from memory, on projecting  myself back inside that time and place. I felt on my skin the heat of the sun and the stickiness of the humidity. I felt in my mind the odd mix of ease and constraint I always felt, hanging out with the shelter residents, whose life circumstances, at least at the surface, were so different from mine. And I felt in my heart the push-pull tangle of pride and concern I’ve always felt watching my children move away from me into their own lives. However, I felt these complicated emotions only gradually, after I recalled the simple, clear physical details of body and place.

By focusing first on sensory details, writers prime the pump of memory and imagination–for themselves during the drafting process as well as for their eventual readers. The more sensory details you write, the more you’ll remember or (for fiction writers) imagine. The more vivid and unique the images you create thus, the more wondrous and complex the emotions your writing will evoke, in you and ultimately in your readers. The more you can, at least while drafting, give up controlling the composition of your message in favor of allowing your deepest and most surprising feelings to shape and shade your work, whatever its form or function, the more you invite organic, authentic theme to manifest.  And, in doing so, you’ll grant your readers the agency to feel what they feel–intensely–as they experience your art.

It’s a truism that photographers are sometimes surprised by what’s in the frame–off-center or in the background or even the near foreground–that they never saw when they took the shot.  Likewise, I hope your most vivid, compelling flash writing surprises first you and then your lucky readers.

Christine Hale is the author of A Piece of Sky, A Grain of Rice: A Memoir in Four Meditations (Apprentice House Press, 2016). Her prose has appeared in Role Reboot, Arts & Letters, Spry, Shadowgraph, Hippocampus, and Watershed Review, among other publications. Her debut novel Basil’s Dream (Livingston Press 2009) received honorable mention in the 2010 Library of Virginia Literary Awards. A fellow of MacDowell, Ucross, Hedgebrook, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Ms. Hale teaches in the Antioch University-Los Angeles Low-Residency MFA Program as well as the Great Smokies Writing Program in Asheville, NC.  Learn more here


Whatcha doing right now? Send your writing and artwork to Spry. We are currently considering all five genres for our next issue. Submit here.

ABCs of Flash Writing: E is for Editing

Posted by on Apr 22, 2018 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on ABCs of Flash Writing: E is for Editing

Color Me Changed: E is for Editing

My flash fiction often gets birthed in quite a close approximation to the final product sometimes accepted for publication, sometimes not. Much of what I write does undergo some extensive surgery under the highlighting scalpel. I always feel closer to a finished product when I can see the changes in front of me and witness the edited material fallen to the floor.

For this to happen I use a technique I began using in my high school teaching last year. I was looking for a way to show my students the way an essay should connect from paragraph to paragraph, and found color coding their essays to be quite effective. I’d use one highlight color for thesis and conclusion, one color for textual evidence, and one color for commentary. When finished the pattern of colors allowed students to see whether they’d adequately linked all parts of their essays together to form a fully-synthesized whole. They marveled at how they could track their content using colors, and lightbulbs went off in ways I’d not seen much before.

I adapted the color coding to the editing of my flash fiction, choosing three colors: yellow, pink, and green to represent verbs, nouns, and sentence length in my first drafts. I admitted long ago to not being synesthetic, falling instead into the spectrum of “ordinary” writers condemned to manufacture color and meaning through only words. How I yearned to “see” my words blaze in front of my eyes, but to no avail. Yet, using colors to identify key components of my flash allowed me to strengthen the content and punch of my writing.

With a glance, I could look at a page and see the verbs yellowed and easily checked for their power. For years I’ve heard the mantra, “strong verbs make for strong writing,” and seeing the verbs pop off the page let me single them out for individual attention, tweaking the “he walked” into something different and perhaps surprising.

What really helped was the green swaths of sentences that sometimes varied not at all. I mean, I got it, intellectually; I knew varying my sentence lengths created a livelier piece of writing. Recently, I was reminded of this when I had a class mark-up a couple of passages in Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, to illustrate to my students the manner in which the best writers employ a variety of sentence lengths for various purposes. For my own writing I knew I over-relied on sentences of a certain length, not bothering to change it up, and alter the flow of my writing. Seeing the blocks of bright green on the drafts let me understand the balance of my writing in a way I don’t think I was able to see previously.

Of course, I knew none of this was my own invention, and was reminded of this the other day when I leafed through a facsimile of James Joyce’s Ulysses. The manuscript pages Joyce marked up are heavily slashed in colorful crayon, bearing some little similarity to my students’ essays, and my own flash fiction drafts. Joyce utilized the colored pencils and crayons because of his deteriorating eyesight, the colors popping off the page even more because of the white work coat he so often wore. My own eyesight is not 20/20, and I’m no Joyce, yet I see the value in adding color to the writer’s toolbox of tricks.

So, to add spark and verve to your language and sentence structure, invest in some bright highlighters and get marking that text!

James Claffey hails from County Westmeath, Ireland, and lives on an avocado ranch in Carpinteria, CA. His work appears in the W.W. Norton Anthology, Flash Fiction International, and in Queen’s Ferry Press’s anthology, Best Small Fictions of 2015. He was a finalist in the Best Small Fictions of 2016, and a semi-finalist in 2017. His novel, The Heart Crossways, will be published in early-2018 by Thrice Publishing.


Whatcha doing right now? Send your writing and artwork to Spry. We are currently considering all five genres for our next issue. Submit here.

ABCs of Flash Writing: D is for Details

Posted by on Apr 21, 2018 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on ABCs of Flash Writing: D is for Details

The first thing I ever learned about running a marathon was that one of the toughest things to master would be figuring out what to do with your brain for 26.2 miles. I imagine that’s truer today than it was when Pheidippides embarked on his legendary run from Marathon to Athens, all the while determined to carry his message of victory. (This is not to say that the conditions under which that first Marathon took place weren’t more difficult — this is not that story at all. But if poor Pheidippides had taken that run with an iPhone in hand and headphones in ears, all the while trying to switch through music selections and podcasts long enough to distract him through the duration of his journey, his story may have ended much differently.)

So when I made the commitment to train my body for a marathon, the first thing I did was ditch distractions. Now it’s me, the road, and the startling voice of the woman on RunKeeper who cries out from the silence to tell me how many miles I’ve trekked.

I’ve loved this transition for two reasons. First, because it’s helped bring me a sense of mindfulness. When you’re tuned into your breath and focused on the whispers of the muscles in your body, meditation comes naturally. Sure, there comes a point when the whispers become screams and/or pleas for mercy — but even those seem more tolerable when you are at once.

The second reason I love this approach to running is because it lets me tune into the world around me. I start to notice details: Greek letters previously finger-engraved in wet cement outside of the Phi Kappa Sigma frat house; a woman on a stroll with a bright yellow cane in tow; a dog running lovingly alongside his owner, looking up to check on her face every few steps.

When I’m watching these details, stories flow in and out of my head. The fraternity brothers, young, vibrant, and perhaps a little drunk, who made concrete their canvas on a warm spring night. The gray-haired woman, who always woke before the sun, perhaps heading home to her partner after lovingly selecting a few fresh fruits to bring home for their breakfast. The runner and her German Shepherd, who keep each other’s pace without needing any verbal cues to speed up or slow down.

Details are more than facts; they are suggestions. They are results, milestones, artifacts that allow us to enrich our imaginations by tying, in some small way, to our own experience.

That’s what makes details such powerful tools in the mind of a flash writer.

Linsey Jayne is a wave-headed poet with a penchant for jazz who received her MFA in creative writing at Fairfield University. Her writing has been published in such publications as The Standard-TimesThe Dartmouth-Westport Chronicle, and exactly.what. She has served as the chief poetry editor for Mason’s Road, as well as the student editor for the Bryant Literary Review and the opinion section editor of The Archway. Linsey is currently at work on her first collection of poetry, entitled Idle Jive.


Whatcha doing right now? Send your writing and artwork to Spry. We are currently considering all five genres for our next issue. Submit here.

ABCs of Flash Writing: C for Concise, Comprehensive Creation

Posted by on Apr 20, 2018 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on ABCs of Flash Writing: C for Concise, Comprehensive Creation

The assignment: tell the story of an event, a life, a nation. And do it in a page or less.

Not an easy task. There’s no time for lavish pontificating or (as Elmore Leonard called it) “hooptedoodle.” Every sentence has to sizzle.

No worries. You got this, if you follow the three C’s of flash writing – Concise, Comprehensive Creation.

I’ll tackle them here individually.

Concise: Flash literature means different lengths to different editors. You may be limited to 1,000 words. Or 500. Or 50. Maybe you feel your word count has you unfairly shackled. But if you’ve ever retweeted someone’s humorous commentary about Jared Leto being unhappy with how Suicide Squad turned out (or whatever pop culture reference speaks to you), then you know that many great stories are told within the constraints of 140 characters (usually about 25 words) or fewer. The battle lines have been drawn. Know your specs. And then move on to the next step.

Creation: I’ll skip over the second C for now and jump to Creation. Once you know your word length requirement, you can hit the ground writing. Rome wasn’t built in one day, but it just may be that your magnum opus can be written on one page. Think about what you’re trying to accomplish. A lot of flash writing centers around one incident, a fleeting moment in time. This fits nicely into the overall concept of a short piece. That said, I was once fiction editor for an online literary journal, and one of the best submissions we ever published (in my humble opinion) was a four-paragraph flash piece in which one sentence told me everything I needed to know about the main character’s entire life. What takes some writers multiple chapters to accomplish, this writer achieved in the span of about 14 words. Don’t let the limitations of your word count constrain the content. You’re still the captain of this ship.

Comprehensive: Writing a piece of literature is like pitching a baseball game. And in flash writing, you’re on a tight pitch count. Your editor is calling the balls and strikes, and has the tightest of strike zones. This means every word has to cross the plate with pinpoint accuracy. Hit your target. We’ve all been lectured about how adverbs are literary cancer. There are exceptions to every rule (including the war on adverbs). But in The Elements of Style, Strunk & White’s famous Rule 17 – “omit needless words” – dictates that when you’re up against a quick word hook, the phrase “Godzilla trampled on Tokyo” conveys your point more efficiently than “Godzilla walked heavily and destructively on Tokyo.” It conserves valuable space. It’s shorter, and yet somehow it sounds more comprehensive. There’s less wiggle room for ambiguity. Omitting needless words is a best practice in any writing style, but it’s crucial in the flash form.

Writing of any length is tricky. It’s even more challenging when you have precise word restrictions.

But if you follow the three C’s, you can open the window into your characters’ entire life. You can comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. You can move your reader.

And you can do it all in less than 1,000 words.

So far this decade Phil Lemos has worked on everything from payroll to pallet jacks. Currently he teaches shell-shocked college freshmen how to cobble together their thoughts into written form, and changes ads on supermarket shopping carts. A bunch of people have asked him if he’ll ever finish that novel he’s working on.

Whatcha doing right now? Send your writing and artwork to Spry. We are currently considering all five genres for our next issue. Submit here.

ABCs of Flash Writing: B is for Brevity

Posted by on Apr 19, 2018 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on ABCs of Flash Writing: B is for Brevity

This might be a bit obvious, right? I mean, c’mon, “brevity” in a series on flash. Yet the fact of it must be addressed. Concise. Exact. Just the right words and only a very few of them (though that seems to be negotiable); the challenge being to express the breadth and depth of a thing fully within the constraints of brevity, to write beautifully, evocatively, to essay a specific truth without succumbing to wordiness.

Poetry does this. The constraints of form and structure seem designed to inspire precision and, by definition, poetry is concentrated. The formality of the genre creates a sort of elegant sparseness, each word “curated” in the most hipster-ish sense of the word. But flash is not poetry, flash is flash so…what? It seems easier to interrogate what flash is not than it is to define what flash is.

Flash is not merely brief, the whole endeavor is much more complex than that. Flash requires the strict attention to form required of poetry but without the illusory “comfort” of rules concerning syntax and tempo and all the rest.

Flash is unlikely to contain all the elements of fiction and CNF we learned about in our Intro to Lit classes. Cast aside any expectation of mapping flash using Freytag’s infamous pyramid. Which is not to say that there is no chance for conflict, or climax, or the release of emotional tension, or even a resolution. It’s just that flash delivers these elements with more … brevity.

Flash is not a kind of literary parlor trick. At one point I set myself the challenge of writing a series of flash CNF, one a day for 30 days. Six-word memoirs. Personal essays told in four paragraphs, three, two, one. The story of a day told in 1,140 words (one for each minute), the story of an hour in 60 words. I believed this would be easy.

I was wrong, of course. What I’d forgotten is that there is so much discipline required to tell a story well that to insist on the additional constraint of telling a story well and briefly seems almost like an exercise in self-flagellation. But when it works it is awesome.

None of my flash pieces actually achieved what I would call success but my experiment wasn’t a complete disaster. If nothing else, I reined in my tendency to use twenty words when five will do. I played around with tension a lot and explored the whole idea of showing vs. telling (or doing neither). As a result, my writing became more concise, clearer, more evocative; it may even have become more true.

The most important thing I learned is this: Flash is fully capable of creating emotional resonance, a moment of grace deftly revealing that this story matters and how much it matters. There is, in fact, a sort of cleanliness in flash that nestles up to its close companion godliness (when the “god” in question is “story”).

Elizabeth Hilts writes as much as she can as often as she can. She is more interested in brevity than she used to be.

Whatcha doing right now? Send your writing and artwork to Spry. We are currently considering all five genres for our next issue. Submit here.

ABCs of Flash Writing: A is for Arc

Posted by on Apr 18, 2018 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on ABCs of Flash Writing: A is for Arc

For sale: baby shoes, never worn. This famous six-word flash fiction has been attributed to Ernest Hemingway, although that is a literary legend. Like Hemingway’s best short fiction, however, this classic super-short is intriguing—even haunting—and ambiguous (see these interpretations by several everyday readers). Nonetheless, it contains the primary feature that distinguishes flash fiction from prose poem: a narrative arc.

Protagonist-conflict-resolution is the basic narrative arc. Flash fiction can scramble the arc, or keep it in shadow, but cannot abandon it (unlike a prose poem, which exists in its own dreamscape). In For sale: baby shoes, never worn the protagonist is implied by an object, baby shoes. Whether a bereaved parent or a desperate thief, the protagonist is there, almost living and breathing, as in all effective and affective fiction. The conflict—revealed in the last two words—is the death or miscarriage of a baby. (Unless the protagonist is a desperate but clever thief who stole the baby shoes from a store—just sayin’.) The resolution is in the first two words: For sale. That this common advertising phrase is used to suggest both terrible poverty and unbearable loss is the most brilliant touch in the piece.

Now let’s play with this super-short. Would it be as effective/affective if written in another way?

Baby shoes for sale: never worn.  Not bad, but without the impact of the original. Like the original, it withholds the conflict until the end—“never worn” hits the reader like a gut punch. But by placing the resolution (“for sale”) in the middle, and leading with the implied protagonist (“baby shoes”), this version lessens the poignancy of both. When the original writer leads with “for sale,” h/she is playing a wonderful trick on the reader: turning an innocuous ad into a tragic story.

Never worn baby shoes: for sale. This inversion shatters the narrative arc, and takes all the momentum out of this super-short. The prose becomes prosaic—like the advertisement the original pretends to be, before the reader absorbs the shock of the real (imagined) story within. It also demonstrates how important punctuation is to flash fiction. When the colon is placed after “for sale” it is a vital (OK, I can’t resist—pregnant) pause, like the stillness in the air just before a storm. When it follows “baby shoes,” it becomes dull, negligible.

Let’s examine how the narrative arc of protagonist-conflict-resolution works in a flash fiction that is 25 words or under. J. Matthew Zoss’s “Houston, We Have a Problem” appeared in Hint Fiction: An Anthology of Stories in 25 Words or Fewer (W.W. Norton & Co., 2010).

“Houston, We Have a Problem”

I’m sorry, but there’s not enough air in here for everyone. I’ll tell them you were a hero.

One of the first things to notice is that Zoss’s title—a contemporary phrase almost as well-known as “for sale”—is an essential part of his flash fiction, lengthening it from 18 words to 23 words. Like “for sale,” this is both set-up and good writer’s trick. The laconic “Houston, we have a problem” has been used not only by NASA astronauts in the face of space flight disaster (in real life and in the movies) but has entered general usage, to describe—sometimes humorously—any kind of problem.

Zoss uses the phrase in the traditional way. His story has two protagonists (or a protagonist and an antagonist), the speaker—implied as the captain—who begins with “I’m sorry, but” and the “you” who is to become—willingly or not—a sacrificial “hero.” “Hero” also serves as the ironic close to the resolution to the conflict: “there’s not enough air in here for everyone.”

Would “Houston, We Have a Problem” work as well if Zoss cut the story’s opening three words?

There’s not enough air in here for everyone. I’ll tell them you were a hero.

I don’t think so. Without the speaker’s apology—ironic or sincere—the story loses its narrative propulsion. (Captain has to make a tough decision, Red Shirt. He’s sorry, but he’ll tell them you were a hero.)

Now, what if we remove “I’ll tell them” from the story?

I’m sorry, but there’s not enough air in here for everyone. You’re a hero.

Nope. Direct address implies that the decision to sacrifice himself is Red Shirt’s, not the captain’s. “I’ll tell them” establishes the speaker’s supremacy and the helplessness of the victim known only as “you”—who may be (probably is) thinking—What the hell? Why me?—more horrified than consoled by the speaker’s promise of fabled military glory, of becoming “a hero.” This terse but rich flash fiction would be incomplete without it.

This brings me full circle to the similarities between flash fiction and prose poetry. Every word counts—just as every piece of punctuation counts, as mentioned earlier. When writing in either genre, I’m reminded of Samuel Johnson’s retort (as reported by Boswell) to accusations that Johnson had written the final prison sermon for his ill-fated minister friend William Dodd, executed for forgery. Johnson’s quip has almost the narrative arc of a good flash fiction:

Depend upon it, Sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.

Angele Ellis is author of a hybrid valentine to her adopted city, Under the Kaufmann’s Clock: Fiction, Poems, and Photographs of Pittsburgh, with photos by Rebecca Clever (Six Gallery Press); Spared (A Main Street Rag Editors’ Choice Chapbook), and Arab on Radar (Six Gallery), whose poems won her a fellowship from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. She is a contributing editor to Al Jadid: A Review & Record of Arab Culture and Arts.


Whatcha doing right now? Send your writing and artwork to Spry. We are currently considering all five genres for our next issue. Submit here.

ABCs of Flash Writing: The Beginning

Posted by on Apr 17, 2018 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on ABCs of Flash Writing: The Beginning

Dear readers,

It’s been four years since we first published the original ABCs of Writing series. That time we focused on what information beginners needed to know when they started writing or publishing. Since then, we’ve followed up with two more ABC mini-issues highlighting the fiction and creative nonfiction genres. I am pleased to announce that the flash genre is just about ready for your viewing pleasure. (Can you guess what will come next?)

Starting tomorrow, you’ll hear from 26 writers — experts, in my opinion — who immerse themselves in the realm of flash, whether by writing short fiction, nonfiction, prose poetry, or a hybrid mix that happens in as little words as possible. Not only are these writers talented, but they are patient as well. This series was originally set to be published in 2016, but after a series of people dropping in and out of the alphabet, it’s finding a home in Spry in 2018.

We are eternally grateful for the intelligent advice from these writers, and consider ourselves lucky to be the platform to share it with you.

Check back every day for a new letter, and thank you for coming along on this ride with us.


Erin Ollila


Whatcha doing right now? Send your writing and artwork to Spry. We are currently considering all five genres for our next issue. Submit here.

Behind the Words: Chad Hanson

Posted by on Apr 16, 2018 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Behind the Words: Chad Hanson

Chad Hanson’s poem “Alonely” was published in our fifth issue of Spry. Catherine Kyle was fortunate to interview him on working in different creative mediums for our Behind the Words feature. Enjoy.

Catherine Kyle: In “Alonely,” you explore loneliness as a physical space/setting in interesting ways. Can you comment on what inspired you to analogize solitude—which is so often considered an internal, invisible, and private experience—to the public, visually rich settings of fairground and ghost town?

Chad Hanson: In 1950 David Reisman published, The Lonely Crowd. The book became a classic in the field of sociology. Reisman points out that isolation is a specter that haunts us, even on busy streets and in public places. With “Alonely” I did my best to capture the solitary feeling that follows you after a breakup.

Looking over your website, I see that you write fiction and poetry in addition to flash. What about your conceptions of and hopes for this piece made you decide to write it as flash?

My flash begin with an idea. First I find a notion that I’d like to voice. Then I decide whether the thought lends itself to expression as an essay, flash, short story, or poem. In this case, “Alonely” started with the observation that we all strain to strike a balance between belonging to groups and maintaining our individuality. I also tried to stir up the feelings embedded in this struggle. After a false start as an essay, I decided that flash served as the best format.

In addition, I see that you’re a photographer. In what way does your participation in this art form intersect with your writing?

When I make photographs, I wrestle with the same challenge that I take up when I write. In my art I try to distill the busy, non-stop world down to its basic components. Either with a lens or with a keyboard, to the extent that I can, I pare images or blocks of narrative down to a core. To my ear, it is when a sentence is stripped bare that it starts to sing. I consider the process of editing photographs good practice for revising poems, essays, and stories.

Your art, across all genres of writing as well as photography, seems grounded in place and in nature. How did these become sources of ongoing inspiration?

I grew up in rural Minnesota. I spent my childhood canoeing through forests of mixed hardwoods and evergreens. I came to know my early self in the outdoors. Then, as a teenager, I moved to the West. I’ve been fortunate to live in places like Wyoming and Arizona—states with glorious scenery.

Drama broils across the landscape. It seeps into everything I do: art, teaching, life.

You work in sociology and academia. How do these aspects of your life influence your practice as a writer?

Of course I’m speaking for myself, but I could not have become a writer if I had not become a sociologist. My discipline provides me with the questions that lie at the foundation of my art. Who are we? What is a good life? Do we possess free will? How should we act toward each other? The Earth? Or, animals? My creative writing has been influenced by the time I spend with these questions.

Who are some of the writers you’re most excited about right now?

We lost Jim Harrison in 2016. He was best known for Legends of the Fall, but Harrison wrote poetry before he started writing prose. His death gave me a reason to go back through his body of work. It’s a hard thing to describe, but the best thing I can say about Jim Harrison is that he had soul, and it comes through on the pages that he wrote.

I spent a part of last summer hiking in the high country of the Teton Range. I took a copy of James Salter’s rock climbing novel, Solo Faces. Afterward, I bought a copy of his short story collection: Dusk. I find myself learning about rhythm, pace, and timing when I read Salter. I consider him a member of a small group of authors who put on a clinic every time they pen a paragraph.

I’m also excited about the overdue collected works of Tom Hennen. Between 1974 and 1997 he published six books of poetry, on small presses and with little recognition. Recently, Copper Canyon Press gathered the best poems from each volume under the title, Darkness Sticks to Everything. In his poem, “The One and Only Day,” Hennen describes “a thickly falling rain that sends the animals back to their dens and causes the woods to drip and become the color of owls.” I never grow tired of reading that line.

Are there any projects you’re working on that you’d like to share?

I am working on a coffee-table book combining essays and photographs of the wild mustangs herds in Wyoming. The manuscript is called “The Grass Remembers the Horses.” I am also in the early stages of writing a proposal for a textbook that teachers can use in freshman courses meant to orient students to the liberal arts. I am calling the project: “The New Renaissance: A Reader for the First-Year Seminar.” These efforts will keep me out of trouble for at least a couple years. I post updates and selected images on my website.

Catherine Kyle holds a Ph.D. in English from Western Michigan University. She teaches at the College of Western Idaho and writes grants for The Cabin, a literary nonprofit. She is the author and illustrator of the hybrid-genre collection Feral Domesticity (Robocup Press, 2014); the author of the poetry chapbooks Flotsam (Etched Press, 2015) and Gamer: A Role-Playing Poem (dancing girl press, 2015); and a co-editor of Goddessmode (Cool Skull Press, 2015). She also helps run the Ghosts & Projectors poetry reading series. Her graphic narratives, fiction, nonfiction, and poetry have appeared in The Rumpus, Superstition Review, WomenArts Quarterly, and elsewhere. In 2015, she was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. 

Behind the Words: Matt Lafreniere

Posted by on Apr 13, 2018 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Behind the Words: Matt Lafreniere

Matthew Lafreniere

Matt LaFreniere’s poem “Dream of the Jar” appeared in Issue 03 of Spry, and I was immediately drawn in by the sinister (as he describes it) appearance of Wallace Stevens in the poem.  Here, we talk about that appearance and which poets he’d like to hang out with.

Emily Densten: I love that in “ Dream of the Jar” you literally bring the author in as a character and have a conversation with him.  Was this something you always intended to do?

Matt LaFreniere: Wallace Stevens appeared in a draft just as randomly and sinisterly as he did in the speaker’s dream. Choosing a villanelle (which was a last ditch effort to salvage the poem) kind of forced him in as a character. I liked the thought of him moving to the speaker as the repeating lines move toward the poem’s close—gaining momentum, gathering energy. With this poem, like most poems I write, my initial intention went out the window within the first few lines.

What are your thoughts on literature as conversation rather than just one-sided communication

Nothing’s new under the sun, until you muscle the sun to shine differently, to fall at different angles. I like to think I did that with this poem—I like to think I’m in the process of doing that when I write. I think it’s impossible not to walk on ground illuminated by someone else, not to trip over someone else’s sun shards. Sometimes I try to bend those shards intentionally; most of the time bending is unintentional. But I’m not a fan of poems about poetry, or poems about other poems (even though “Dream of the Jar” is just that—I guess that’s why WS is so sinister in the dream; how lame would it be if he wasn’t sinister? Pretty lame, I guess).

Follow up to that, are you an annotator? 

No, not really; unless you count the pen slathers on my students’ work.

I guess I kind of have to ask it now, what three authors, living or dead, would you want to have dinner with?

I don’t know about dinner, but I’d love to drink Cape Cods with Anne Sexton—only if she’s foul-mouthed and moody, though, throwing those biting similes around. I’d want to take Robert Creeley to a Sox game, then leave in the 7th grumbling about them. And Whitman—I don’t know what the hell I’d want to do with Whitman. Something. Take a ferry ride?

Are there any particular authors or individual works you think everyone, maybe even in particular your students, should read?

All of Emily Dickinson, Anne Sexton’s “Transformations,” Hamlet, Othello, and Lear. Maybe some of David Foster Wallace’s essays.

Anything you’re working on right now you’d like to talk about?

I’m working on a kind of fictional memoir, through poetry, influenced by movies I love—my life filtered through film: The Godfather to The Goonies, Alien to Apocalypse Now, Weekend at Bernie’s to The Wrestler. Stay tuned, please.   

Emily Densten is a graduate of Rowan University with a BA in Writing Arts with a Creative Writing concentration and an English minor. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Spry, as well as Nib MagazineHere Comes Everyone, and Whistling Shade. She has worked as a General Reader and is currently working as an Editorial Reader for Spry. She blogs here about trying to act like an adult and her gradual inability to watch a movie without crying.