- Essays on Craft at NANO Fiction
- Edmundo Paz Soldán
- Flash Fiction
- Interview with Kirk Nesset, Our Flash Fiction Contest Judge
03 Sep 2013
Three essays by Kirk Nesset have appeared in “The State of Flash” series at NANO Fiction, which includes work by Sean Lovelace, Matt Sallor, Kathy Fish and others. Nesset’s essays investigate micro tales by Pamela Painter, Marco Denevi and Natalia Rachel Singer, among others. Check out each at the following links:
29 Jun 2013
Three Stories by EDMUNDO PAZ SOLDÁN translated by KIRK NESSET
originally posted in the Adirondack Review
Although we didn’t altogether agree, we told him yes, when he asked—Carolina was pretty, maybe the prettiest woman in town. We couldn’t tell him the truth; he was in love, and none of us wanted to be the one to dispel the illusion. A year later he married, and children appeared, along with rumors. When asked again, we replied as before. No way, we said: she had not betrayed him. How could we tell him the truth? We were his world, and couldn’t admit we’d made the most of his loose, less-than-attractive, dim-witted wife.
Forty-three years later she died. We approached at the wake as he wept without cease; we told him again we did feel his loss. She was indeed a good person, a saint, we agreed, opting for the cliché. Still weeping, he told us each the same thing, more or less: that he’d seen through our lies, he’d understood from the start, and allowed it because we were his friends. It wasn’t our fault she was such an astonishing lover.
ROMEO AND JULIET
One afternoon in a clearing in the woods, the sun stifled by edgy, elongated clouds, the little blonde girl with long tresses grips the knife firmly, and the boy with the large, sensitive eyes and delicate hands holds his breath.
—I’ll do it first, she says, aiming the sharp tip at a vein in her wrist. —I’ll do it because I love you. For you I’ll give everything, even my life. There’s no love like ours, or ever will be. That’s why we’ll do it.
The boy is crying quietly, lifting his arm.
—Wait, Aleja . . . I’ll do it first. I’m the guy. I have to set an example.
—This is the Gabriel I know and learned to love. Here. Why will you do it?
—Because I love you like I never thought I could love. Because my life is the most I can give you.
Gabriel raises the blade, drawing it close to his veins. He hesitates, his dark eyes widen. Alejandra presses against him, passionately kisses his lips.
—I love you a lot. You don’t know how much.
—I love you lots, too—you don’t know how much.
Gabriel considers the knife, inhaling, tears drying. And in a flash the sharp steel finds a vein. Blood begins to flow furiously. He’s surprised; he’s never seen liquid so red. The pain rises, he lets the knife drop, easing onto the carpet of earth: the sun fills his eyes. Alejandra throws herself on him, kissing him, licking up blood.
—Oh, Gabriel! How I love you!
—It’s your turn now, he stammers, less able to breathe with each breath.
—My turn, yes, she says, embracing him.
—You . . . you love me?
Alejandra turns, and then rising, heads home, thinking about the homework in literature she’s supposed to hand in in the morning. Behind her, the uncontrollable red puddle swells.
Thursday’s the only day my father allows late-night TV—he knows tales of terror captivate me, and Hitchcock shows are my favorites. Together on the sofa, he in his pajamas and I in my night shirt, we sit silent an hour, devoted to different ends, me to pleasing myself with twists and turns of terror onscreen, he to scaring himself with its pleasures.
When the program is over, we exchange the usual comments, and the fake goodnights. Fake, because every Thursday before I’ve been in bed for ten minutes, he appears, timidly asking if he can join me. Of course I accept. Holding him, I feel his body tremble, feel the unfaltering fear that keeps him from sleeping alone in his room after Hitchcock. He presses his body tight into mine and we drift off immediately. It’s lovely, each morning, waking before he does, feeling his heat, our legs intertwined, hearing his hoarse, arrhythmic breathing, seeing him cushioned in sleep with such expertise.
I am fourteen, and I have heard of perverted fathers, perverted girls. But in me no doubts exist: mine and his is a thing apart, a pocket of pure and sublime in a corrupt world, a magnificent moment untouched by sin.
And I stroke him until I see he’s awake, despite the closed eyes, and then closing my own, feel a hand grazing, discovering, and feel the lips grazing, discovering, and eyes closed, feel a body explore and discover, explore and discover, explore and discover.
EDMUNDO PAZ SOLDÁN is author of seven novels and three short story collections, including La materia del deseo, Desencuentros, Simulacros, Los vivos y los muertos and Palacio Quemado. He has won the National Book Award in Bolivia, the prestigious Juan Rulfo Award, and was a finalist for the Romulo Gallegos Award. He was born and raised in Bolivia, and lives now in the United States, serving as assistant professor at Cornell University. One of the few McOndo writers who live in the U.S., he is frequently called upon as the movement’s spokesperson by the American media. His work has been translated into eight languages.
KIRK NESSET’S translated selected anthology of Eugenio Montejo’s poetry and prose appeared in December 2010, a book titled Alphabet of the World (University of Oklahoma Press). Individual translations of his from the Spanish have appeared in The Paris Review, Ploughshares, The Kenyon Review, The Southern Review, Agni, Michigan Quarterly Review, New England Review, Crazyhorse, Poetry International and elsewhere; his own fiction and poems have appeared in American Poetry Review, Raritan, Gettysburg Review, Boston Review, Iowa Review and Prairie Schooner, to name just a few. He is author of two books of short stories, Paradise Road (University of Pittsburgh Press) and Mr. Agreeable (Mammoth Books), Saint X (poems, forthcoming) and The Stories of Raymond Carver (nonfiction, Ohio University Press). He is recipient of the Drue Heinz Literature Prize and has received a Pushcart Prize and grants from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. He teaches creative writing and literature at Allegheny College, and serves as writer in residence at Black Forest Writing Seminars (Freiburg, Germany).
15 Mar 2013
Short Short, Sudden, Flash Fiction and Micro Fiction: The Age of the Miniscule Tale
Short short fiction has been in the news a lot lately, suited as it is to the Internet — but it’s not exactly new. Compact, miniscule stories have been with us since the beginning, manifesting in various forms as fables, folk tales, tall tales, monologues, epistles, ghazals, sonnets, anecdotes, parables, koans, Norse kennings and Sufi tales, among others. Stories between 1300–1500 words became popular in the US in the 40s and 50s in magazines like Collier’s, which published such pieces on a single page; size was aimed to accommodate magazine format and design. The form fell away after that, and began appearing sporadically again in the 1970s. In 1982, an anthology titled Short Shorts appeared, referred to by many as the granddaddy of the short short anthologies, featuring a star cast of international writers, including Tolstoy, Babel, Kafka, Chekov, Hemingway, Paz, Heinrich Böll, Doris Lessing and others; in1986, the first of W.W. Norton’s soon-to-be highly visible anthologies, Sudden Fiction, was published, followed by Flash Fiction, both of which inspired subsequent editions over the years — Sudden Fiction International, Sudden Fiction Continued, New Sudden Fiction, Sudden Fiction Latino, Flash Fiction Forward and Flash Fiction International, among others. In 1996, another influential anthology arrived on the scene, also published by Norton: Micro Fiction: An Anthology of Fifty Really Short Stories. These pieces took “sudden” and “flash” to the next extreme, constricting the form even more.
Critics and editors tend to classify the various forms according to length, as per those first editorial choices: sudden (one thousand words or less, usually less); flash (750 words maximum, usually 500 words or less); and micro (250 words or less, sometimes much less). Within the micro category, interestingly, we’ve recently seen more particular, sometimes stringent specifications and classifications. The drabble, for instance (55 words), and nanofiction, a brief (spurious) citation (a few sentences, if that); twitter fiction (140 characters) has been causing a stir, as has hint fiction (30 words or less). At the outset, of course, when the packaging began, there was a bit of bickering about how to discriminate, what exactly to call the new form. Postcard fiction. Minute fiction. Furious fiction. Fast fiction, quick fiction, skinny fiction, mobile phone fiction. Term after term arose as the form grew and proliferated. In France these days they’re called nouvelles. In China: the little short story, pocket-sized story, minute-long story, palm-sized story and smoke-long story (a story told in the time it takes to smoke a cigarette). Before the editors of the hallmark (and monumentally influential) volume Sudden Fiction landed on the name “sudden fiction” they solicited advice, I should add, from authors and editors about what to call this thing they had gathered. Happily they didn’t call them “blasters” or “snappers” as they originally thought that they might. The fiction editor at the world’s most illustrious men’s magazine chimed in to say, not surprisingly, “ ‘Short shorts’ ” is what we call them at Playboy, as in ‘We love short shorts,’ which we certainly do.”
(single author volumes)
Varieties of Disturbance: Stories (Lydia Davis)
Mr. Agreeable (Kirk Nesset)
Suddenly, a Knock on the Door (Etgar Keret)
Wouldn’t You Like to Know (Pamela Painter)
I Call This Flirting (Sherrie Flick)
The Rooster’s Wife (Russell Edson)
Vicky Swanky is a Beauty (Diane Williams)
Excitability (Diane Williams)
We the Animals (Justin Torres)
Minor Robberies (Deb Olin Unferth)
(other worthy anthologies)
(literary venues favoring flash fiction)
Interview with Kirk Nesset, Our Flash Fiction Contest Judge
See original article
Potomac Review’s Morgan Moyer virtually sits down with Kirk Nesset.
M: Do you start out, usually, intending to write a flash fiction piece? When and how do you know that what you’re working on will be flash?
KN: Lately, actually, it seems like I’m always starting out thinking I’m writing flash fiction. It’s less ponderous, less daunting, in terms of build-up, or planning. How awful can writing two or three pages be? Thirty or forty pages later, I’ll finally finish, pleased but bemused to see all it gained on its own, almost in spite of me and what I hoped to achieve. The flash format in cases like these is a spur, or a trigger. A trick to get the writer writing, thinking it won’t be such a big deal. Which isn’t to say the tiny tales aren’t big deals, and often hard to deliver. I spent three weeks working on “I’m Not Camille,” the title piece in my new manuscript of stories—a story barely four pages long. It fought me every step of the way.
M: What elements make up a good flash fiction piece, in your opinion?
KN: Brevity is essential, naturally. Which involves concision, compression, compactness, accelerated pacing, economy in delivery on all levels. Beyond and above and because of all this, we wind up with impact, and depth, especially in closing; we find the kind of universality one expects in a poem.
M: Do you have any advice for flash fiction writers?
KN: Write less, I would say, and read more. Read all the great works you can get your hands on, from Beowulf to Virginia Woolf — and after, and before. Read Norton’s collections of flash and sudden fictions over and over. Study the pieces you like best, or find useful as models, with the attention of a jeweler examining texture and color in gems, and placement and setting. When you do write, revise your piece mercilessly. Seventy or eighty drafts are just the beginning.
M: Where do you see flash fiction going in the near and far future?
KN: That’s a tough question. In the near future, the profusion of mediocre micro tales will keep crowding the net. Farther down the road, flash fiction will help to save literature, I think. It’ll keep people reading—on their phones, on their pads, and in their heads, where much of what we know, or can know, or experience, will finally be downloadable, and downloaded.
Kirk Nesset is author of Paradise Road, Mr. Agreeable, and Alphabet of the World: Selected Works by Eugenio Montejo. His work has appeared in The Paris Review, Kenyon Review, Gettysburg Review, others, and most recently The Potomac Review issue 48.