Issue 35, Final Fringe

Tagged: writing

Lizzie Flashes: Cubist Exercise

by Lizzie Stark 09.01.2009

flash_ftI’m embarking on an ambitious project to write 24 short shorts.

For those of you who don’t know, a short short, also called flash fiction or micro-fiction is a short story of as few as 200 words or as many as 2,000. It’s bite-sized fiction or nonfiction. Fringe publishes them, as do many journals, but Quick Fiction is famous for publishing excellent flash fiction of 500 words or less exclusively.

My idea is this: on Tuesdays, I’ll read a short short and post an exercise intended to mimic that story. The following Tuesday I’ll publish my version. I should be writing a new short short every two weeks, and I invite you, dear reader, to read and write with me.

The exercises will be done Pam-Painter style. In the first graf I’ll explain how I think the story at hand works, and in the second graf, I’ll break down the assignment.

Here’s this week’s exercise, based on the Margaret Atwood story “Bread,” found on p. 198 of the book Flash Fiction, edited by James Thomas, Denise Thomas, and Tom Hazuka.

The Cubist Exercise


In “Bread,” Margaret Atwood takes a concrete object, bread, and views it through multiple lenses. The story has five different sections, each that asks the reader to... more »

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Review: Where Did You Sleep Last Night? by Danzy Senna


Danzy Senna subtitles her latest book, Where Did You Sleep Last Night?, as a “personal history” rather than a memoir. The difference between the two terms is subtle but important–the book is as much a chronicle of her ancestors and a racially-divided world as it is a story of her own life.

Outwardly, the book hinges on the relationship between Senna’s parents: Fannie Howe, a writer from the prominent white Boston upper-crust, and Carl Senna, a black intellectual from fuzzy Southern origins. The unlikely couple married in 1968, full of hope and revolutionary zeal, only to divorce in 1975, their union a victim of alcoholism, domestic abuse, and the social pressures of an inter-racial marriage on the heels of the Civil Rights Movement. More significant, however, is the relationship between Senna and her father. At the book’s core is the author’s dogged search for information regarding her father’s roots–an often exhausting and heart-wrenching search that propels her on a journey through the South.

I found myself completely wrapped in the tangled threads of Senna’s family history, eager for her to solve the mystery of her heritage. However, there was something keeping me from becoming completely involved in the story–something in her tone... more »

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On Keeping A Notebook


“The impulse to write things down is a peculiarly compulsive one, inexplicable to those who do not share it, useful only accidentally, only secondarily, in the way that any compulsion tries to justify itself.”Joan Didion, from the essay, “On Keeping a Notebook”

My first notebook came to me as a Christmas gift from my sister when I was six. She had made it in a crafts class at the junior high, and it was pink, with multicolored paper pages and the word “diary” stamped in gold on the front cover. Though I wrote in it sporadically, I didn’t start keeping a faithful journal until the winter of my freshman year of high school. Writing in a notebook is a practice I’ve kept up with, more or less regularly, since starting that random February day. I keep twelve years’ worth of notebooks in a large red storage bin in my closet here in Boston. About once a year, on some rainy Saturday, I’ll pull one out and start reading. Half-forgotten memories can pull me in, sometimes for hours at a time, but mostly I tire of myself quickly and put it all away in disgust. But I would never throw them away.

In... more »

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But I’m a writer.


Recently, at work, my position as copywriter has morphed into something ugly: Social media pimp. Or social media whore. Maybe both.

It started innocently enough. After a few weeks on the job, wanting to prove myself, I suggested including a blog on our Web site. My boss loved the idea. They had been wanting to “do more” with the site for ages, she told me, but no one had the time. Enter Julie.

So I set up our blog. Then our Twitter page. Then our blog feed. Now, I spend my mornings trolling the Web for other blogs related to what we do. I read post after post about the use of online networking and then blog about those posts. My tweets are links to other blogs and online articles. I’m blogging and linking and Twittering, reading and referring, commenting and responding.

And I have to say, though I’m using words to do these things, it doesn’t always feel like writing.

Granted, I’m not complaining. I have a job that I enjoy in a suicide-worthy economy. My co-workers are great, and my boss treats us to lunch most days.

But. Some days I long for the kind of writing you can sink your teeth into. You know, paragraphs... more »

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Happy National Poetry Month!


NaPoWriMo has arrived! April is National Poetry Month, and Read Write Poem is celebrating with a thirty poems in thirty days challenge. Here’s my angle: write all the poems on a theme and have a draft for a chapbook. Yes, some days I might miss a poem, and on other days everything I write might frankly stink. That’s what good friends and revision are for. But that won’t be the case every day, and getting a few gems out of NaPoWriMo will be worth joining this big alliterative orgy of clever slant rhymes, puns, hypertexts, wit, and sharp social criticism.

An excellent place to look for inspiration is’s Poem A Day e-mail list, which is also archived on the website. I could list my favorite online places to read poems, but I think it’s more fun to find your own. Start with the great work on Fringe and start following links. I always arrive to something cool, most recently Hit and Run Magazine.

Still not fired up? Read Charles Bernstein’s satirical Against National Poetry Month. He’s right perhaps about what the aim of the corporate sponsorship of NaPoMo is about, but that’s no reason to ignore perfectly good free poems a day,... more »

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Get your muse on


Are you a Calliope fan? Get down with Melpomene? Or does Urania do it for you? Not sure what I’m talking about? All the more reason to find your muse at Grub Street’s eighth annual The Muse & The Marketplace April 25-26 in Boston. Expect a weekend jammed with networking opportunities with literary agents and editors, workshops, lectures for veteran and newbie writers, and—for an additional fee—the chance to park your keister and manuscript down with an agent at Manuscript Mart for a twenty-minute critique. For a bit extra, you can also have lunch with Grub National Book Prize Winners. Don’t forget breakfast and lunch are included with registration! (One can’t learn and schmooze on an empty stomach, right?) This year’s keynote speaker is Ann Patchett, among a slew of participating authors (30!).

Strapped for cash and not sure you can make it both days? A friend who went last year recommends going Sunday for the keynote speaker and said that one day of workshops should do the trick. Keep in mind that the “casual” lunch with the GNBP Winners is on Saturday. For more info visit

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What to do with all those rejection slips? I know—bathroom wallpaper, bird nest offering, papier-mâché craftastic something-or-other, ugh. Or, you could send ANY 10 of those hoarded rejections (I know you’re saving them for some sadistic reason because I am too) to Marginalia with $1 and receive an (almost free!) issue of Marginalia Magazine for your perusal. It’s like positive publishing karma. Thanks to Brevity for the tip.

For your Sad Bastard discount send (10) rejections and $1 to:
Sad Bastard
P.O. Box 258
Pitkin, CO 81241

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Midnight Bus Poetry


Over at Slog they’re keeping the spirit of poetry alive by publishing bus-related poems written by their faithful readers in a new column called, Midnight Bus Poetry. Check out posts by Paul Constant for poems—which may not be highbrow but certainly are highly amusing!—about the bus riding experience. And if you’re inspired, why not submit your own? Poems need to be 50 words or less and should be emailed to Winners appear here and on the Slog Blog. Enjoy!

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Spinning plates vs. eating ashes: the joy and the anguish


Ah, the rollercoaster world of The Writer; perilous, torturous, and (hopefully) gifted with the occasional smattering of giddy, sentence-spinning glee.

Being a hideously lazy waste of space, I’m not, nor ever will be, a ‘writer’. At best, I’m ’someone who sometimes writes things that I don’t have to’. Every now and then I’ll wonder how I managed to spend all of Saturday’s glorious daylight hours in front of my computer, churning out what only amounts to a couple of pages worth of shite, but most of the time I’m engaged in far less noble endeavours, like, I dunno, reading the paper, or the back of a cereal packet (good god, that’s a lotta sugar).

Today I stumbled across yet another fascinating Guardian piece (they should probably start paying me for all this unsolicited promo): ‘Writing for a living: a joy or a chore?’ and thought it might be nice to share it with you all, just in case anyone else out there might feel vaguely heartened that it’s okay not be overwhelmed with frantic ecstasy with every word they type.

Here’s someone else saying what I was trying to say, only with a lot more eloquence and authority:

I get great pleasure from writing, but... more »

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Even McEwan drops the occasional literary log


Since you Fringers seem to quite like your writing and your writers, I’d thought I’d share a piece of my Gurdian-centred perusing with you all:

‘The trusted friends who steer novelists away from cliche

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Holding on


I recently started a new job. It’s the exact opposite of my previous job: creative, collaborative, lots of work to do, friendly people. Hell, I’m not even in a cubicle, and the walls, they’re not tan. I spend my days feeling challenged and inspired and motivated. Granted, it’s only been two weeks, but so far, I kind of love it.

And yet. Every time I begin something new, every time I commit to doing something that isn’t The Exact Thing I Want to Be Doing With My Life (writing full-time, and for myself), whether I find myself enjoying it or not, I worry that instead of helping me, it will take me further away from my ultimate goal.

What if I love copywriting so much that my unfinished book continues to collect dust? What if “I’ll work on it next month when I have more time and energy” becomes next year becomes next decade becomes never? Liking my job has the potential to become an excuse, a way to justify complacency, a reason to not take the risks I need to take.

Ultimately, whenever I confront the practical vs. the meaningful, I always run smack into the same question: If you’re not currently doing something to... more »

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Down but not out


When a friend told me that John Updike had passed away, I surprised him with the gravity of my response. “It’s been a tough year for the literary world,” I said, sighing.

I was thinking, of course, of another profound loss last September.

While most industries are nothing but gloom and doom these days, the literary field has taken quite a few beatings as of late. There’s the demise of the publishing industry; the technological take-over of books; the ongoing crisis of the short attention span; the destruction of quality literature; the downsizing of newspapers and columns; the influx of dirty, lying memoirists; and the harmful deluge of more creative writing MFA programs. Hell, even Toni Morrison’s latest book was met with little to no excitement and so-so reviews.

By all accounts, it’s a terrible time to be a writer. The great ones are dying off in record number, and the new ones can’t compete with snappy blogs, clever tweets, and celebrity tell-alls.

The way I see it, in times such as these, writers have three options: (1) Drink yourself into oblivion to numb the pain caused by the demolition of your dreams, (2) Throw in the towel and finagle your way into an industry that isn’t dying, like, say, fundraising, or... more »

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Writing Under Stress


Several weeks ago, two days before my twenty-fifth birthday, I was struck by a case of appendicitis and had to undergo an emergency appendectomy at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn. I had never been hospitalized before, had never even broken a bone before (though I suffered a nasty sprain resulting from a too-spirited game of Wii Tennis).

Before you get all freakily concerned, I’m fine. Appendectomies are like the bean burrito of surgeries: you can’t really mess one up, and the professionals have probably done thousands of them in their careers. Going under the knife (or rather, the tiny little instrument they now use) didn’t bother me as much as the fact that everything was taking place, in my mind, in sort of an abstract sense.

I experienced it not as, I think, a normal person should experience an illness. Or maybe it is and I just never had a chance to find out before now. But my mind was stuck seeing things as if I was jotting down mental notes for Chapter Five of a best-selling memoir. I couldn’t remember for the life of me what the name of my nurse was or who I had given my insurance card to... more »

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Delegation or diplomacy?


Beat the slush pile! It’s every unpublished writer’s dream, no? The world is changing: get ready to wake up to your new reality…

We’ve all heard the horror stories of bored work-experience kids being handed your masterpiece – what if they overlook your skill? What if they’re so overwhelmed and overburdened that everything they read disintegrates into mediocrity, or, even worse, utter shite? Well, in this wonderful age the aloof and inaccessible world of publishing is opening its iron doors and letting everyone pitch in. Thomas Nelson started gifting books to bloggers willing to write a review, and now, Harper Collins have created their very own online slush pile, available to anyone willing to create an account whore out their wares.

The premise is simple: upload your novel and let the masses decide whether it’s worth printing. This is more than delegation, my friends; this is a community. Never feel alone and unloved again; build up a snazzy fan base; get people talking, bask in the buzz.

So will it work? If the public get to play an active role, I suppose it’s publishing gold; after all, the people get what they want, and the publishers get their money. I’m not sure why I’m not thrilled by Authonomy (in spite... more »

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Teh Internetz: Ignoring Online Distractions


Most of my writing friends decry the internet as a huge time-waster when they should be focusing on their writing. But Cory Doctorow of BoingBoing recently wrote a column about how one can write in the age of internet distraction. (By the way, if you have taken my advice and set up a feed reader, you should add BoingBoing, as it is the repository of all that is right and wrong online.)

Here’s a little snippet from the column:

The single worst piece of writing advice I ever got was to stay away from the Internet because it would only waste my time and wouldn’t help my writing. This advice was wrong creatively, professionally, artistically, and personally, but I know where the writer who doled it out was coming from. Every now and again, when I see a new website, game, or service, I sense the tug of an attention black hole: a time-sink that is just waiting to fill my every discretionary moment with distraction. As a co-parenting new father who writes at least a book per year, half-a-dozen columns a month, ten or more blog posts a day, plus assorted novellas and stories and speeches, I know just how short time can... more »

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The Hoops


If you’re a writer or editor who’s ever applied for a job, you know about The Hoops. The hoops you have to jump through in order to obtain a full-time gig. As you listen to your friends’ simple stories of success—the one and only interview that landed them the job at the consulting firm or engineering lab—you know that this will never be you.

“So, what are they making you do?” one of my friends asked when I explained that before I could come back in for a third interview, I’d have to conceptualize and write the text for an advertising campaign.

In all of my combined months of unemployment, I’ve probably written or edited my way through the equivalent of one year of work for employers who chose not to hire me. I’ve edited scholarly articles and doctored stories, written text for travel guides and marketing materials, and laid out pages using desktop publishing software, among countless other projects. And this was usually after I had already submitted 2-4 writing samples.

I understand that competition in my line of work is fierce. Companies have to be sure they’re getting what they pay for (even if what they’re willing to pay is criminal). But it seems... more »

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Writing on the Fly


Former Fringe Blogger and Redivider Fiction Editor Matt Salesses has pioneered a new project he calls “Live Essays: An Experiment in Up-to-the-Minute Nonfiction.” The tagline: “I have decided to post this essay as I am writing it, and to write it as it is happening. We’ll see what comes of this. Other essays coming soon?”

It’s an interesting approach, for a couple of reasons: 1. Matt is primarily a fiction writer. 2. Matt is living in Korea, teaching English. 3. The immediacy of the writing tends to create a sense of intimacy that we wouldn’t normally get from an essay, as we feel we’re reading as the action is happening.

This breed of insta-writing is popping up elsewhere, as well–the cell phone novel has become one of the most popular literary forms in Japan, according to this week’s New Yorker article by Dana Goodyear. Sites like the Japanese Maho I-Land cater to young writers who can tap their tome as if texting on their cell, and then upload it directly onto the site, where readers can follow the installments as quickly as they’re written.

It is a phenomenon both thoroughly modern and a bit antiquated–popular novels were often serialized in newspapers in the days of Dickens,... more »

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This artist likes to eat


Sometimes I wonder if I’m too practical to be a writer.

Upon graduating from my MFA program, while some of my peers continued their part-time teaching jobs, or supplemented their income by working retail, I struggled to find a full-time position with benefits.

“I’ll teach a few classes next semester and work at Kaplan [teaching SAT prep] at night,” one of my friends told me when I asked him what he planned to do next. “That’ll give me more time to write.”

My first thought in response to this should have been, “Great! Keep the writing alive, man!” But instead I worried about his health insurance. How would he get it? How would he pay for it?

Even as a kid dreaming about literary greatness, I knew that this particular brand of greatness wouldn’t pay. I’ve never expected to make a lot of money, nor do I need a lot to be happy. But I do need stability. Maybe it’s my Midwestern upbringing; or my control freak tendencies; or my strong desire for children, whom I’d like to support. But I worry about things like insurance and savings and 401(k)s. I want to be one of those responsible people who has these things. At the same time,... more »

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Finding that oh so hard to find motivation and time


I have been a procrastinator since birth, and also a pack rat, but the latter is for a different piece. I was the person in college in the computer lab until the early a.m. working on papers due that day (with a lot company I should mention so you don’t judge too harshly). I met my college roommate (that I still live with) by pulling all-nighters. She holds the record in our group of friends for consecutive nights without sleep.

But the difference between myself then and now is that I don’t have the energy to pull it off. And I’m old. Or, older. But the thing is that I work best in the middle of the night. It is usually when I get my best ideas to write, and something about the quiet—of everyone else sleeping—makes it the perfect environment.

When I lack the motivation to write, I take classes, go to readings, and just to try to surround myself with inspiring writing. But similar to many I imagine, my job is becoming increasingly demanding and finding the time to write or to be inspired is difficult at times. Staying late at work just isn’t enough anymore, and I’m beginning to... more »

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Teh Internetz: Lessons from Winning NaNo


As I emerge into a new world where I guess we’re going to get a real president and stuff, I can’t help but feel nostalgic about my NaNoWriMo experience. As I shared with you weeks and weeks ago, I participated in an online push to write 50,000 words in 30 days. And I did it. Whee, confetti.

This was the first time I had done NaNo, and it was a crazy month. My days were full of hurried writing. I took my new teeny tiny laptop everywhere I went. I wrote in coffee shops, in wine bars, in grocery stores, in Union Square, and on the subway. I wrote during lunch breaks and before work and after work and on the weekends. I wrote lots and lots and lots of stuff.

Maybe 20% of what I wrote is actually usable.

The structure of NaNo is unique because you get so worked up about hitting your word count, you’ll write anything. You go from day to day, trying to dig yourself out of the hole you created yesterday when you decided to watch House instead of write. You’re throwing in adjectives and adverbs and flashbacks and background information just to stretch the words out.... more »

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