“Hide!”, Plague and the Monkeysphere

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We’ve got a Flash Fiction contest happening, and we’re looking forward to reading the entries. I’m full of admiration for you Flash Fiction writers. FF has to grab its readers almost from word one, hold them tight and send them off, tingling, after a few moments’ read.

Mind you, a gripping start is arguably necessary to most fiction nowadays. So, how do skilled storytellers achieve an immediate lock on the reader? In previous blogs we’ve talked about nailing the central conflict while setting us firmly in time, place and point of view. As well, many writers set their hero down right in the middle of the action. Danger ought to work, but often it doesn’t, because action alone isn’t enough to make us care.

Why not? I asked myself.  I recalled reading up on the Monkeysphere idea, which states that most or possibly all of us are only emotionally equipped to care deeply about a certain number of people within our circle. (for more on that, visit  http://www.cracked.com/article_14990_what-monkeysphere.html). Then, how do you cause a reader to drag your hero into his circle, so closely that he cares enough to read on?

Let’s say your hero is fighting her or his way out of a car accident or gunfight or whatever the action may be. You haven’t had time to set up a fascinating, flawed character that we can identify with and care about (although clever dialogue can help, and often does in movies that start in a hail of gunfire).  One answer is, if you don’t have time to build a character up front, then what you need is heroic resonance. I was fascinated to see how Ian Rankin begins Hide and Seek (Orion, 1990), smack in the middle of the action.

Chapter 1

“Hide!”

He was shrieking now, frantic, his face drained of all colour. She was at the top of the stairs, and he stumbled towards her, grabbing her by the arms, propelling her downstairs with unfocussed force…”

Rankin has skillfully made me care by having one imperiled character desperate to save, not himself, but somebody else. “Hide!” panic gives us heroic resonance that Help me! panic can’t easily achieve.

Then we have C.C. Humphreys, who this month released Plague (I love writing that!). He wrote one of the all time great starts in his book, that seems to take literally George M. Cohan’s advice to get the protagonist up a tree and throw rocks at him. His hero is in mortal danger as The French Executioner (‪McArthur & Company, 2001)begins:

“It was unseasonably cold for a late May night but the former occupant of the gibbet was too dead to care and his replacement too unconscious.”

 But these are only two highly skilled examples of one sort of beginning.

There’s an unlimited number of brilliant ways to start a Flash Fiction piece, of course, and I can’t wait to read yours.

Mel Anastasiou

You’ll find our contest page here and on the tab at the top of this page.

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Magpie Award Winners

The winners of the Inaugural Magpie Award for Poetry were announced last night at our Issue 3 Launch.

The shortlist, compiled by our poetry editor Daniel Cowper was, in alphabetical order by title:magpiesmaller

  • ‘Autumnal Equinox’, by Michael Patrick Eltritch
  • ‘Bear Medicine’, by Ryan Tilley
  • ‘Big Red Schoolhouse’, by Ace Baker
  • ‘Cocktail Noir: The Liquid City’, by Glenn Pape
  • ‘Grateful’, by Liya Khan
  • ‘Ice Fisher’, by Judith Neale
  • ‘intimacy requires more’, by Daniela Elza
  • ‘Riverbank’, by Ada Maria Soto
  • ‘The Arrangement’, by Judith Neale
  • ‘Wax-winged Icarus’, by Kate Austin

Contest judge George McWhirter was impressed with the overall quality of the entries, and from the shortlist selected the following poems, with this to say:

Honourable Mention

‘Riverbank’ by Ada Maria Soto, and ‘Cocktail Noir: The Liquid City’ by Glenn Pape.
The latter was “[A sparking piece that] … just couldn’t quit, like the persona, and if it had stopped after the first section, it would have been a contender for its seriously humorous subject and treatment of it.”

Second Runner-up

‘Autumnal Equinox’ by Michael Patrick Eltrich.
“… it is spare and unsparing, economical with its words and sad wisdom. The resonances in big words like ‘the end’ are orchestrated through the subject’s, the retired architect’s mind into an almost too-sharp perspective by the poet interpreting his position in time and his position on time. Very close to home for someone like me, in his seventies.”

First Runner-up

‘intimacy requires more’ by Daniela Elza
“[This poem] could have got tangled in the length of the analysis of this very delicate, but demanding subject, which itself is made up of demands.. It could have become too abstract, but then as its lines go, intimacy is more than being “shoved against    the wall/ opened       like a cupboard/ scribbled      on a scroll…” It’s hard to renew interest in things that rotate and reform, but they come back surprisingly in altered perspective with surprising phrasing. This is the kind of poem I would not normally keep reading, but I did with this one.”

Magpie Award Winner

‘Big Red Schoolhouse’ by Ace Baker
“The poem in 1st place, ‘Big Red Schoolhouse, keeps us up to our elbows in the muck of the moment and the situation with the calving.  I felt I was physically at the other end of the rope in my new jeans, and my uncle was a world away from where I was at and right beside me at the same time, handing me that rope to tie around the calf’s hocks to haul it out.  The poem is dynamic and dramatic in its details, as elegiac as it is realistic and beautifully sequenced through stanza and line.  I might even say choreographed, a choreographed chaos of feelings and action, dominated by a double dimension of obligation to the birthing and to the uncle.  Wonderful poem.”

We couldn’t agree more.  We were fortunate Ace was at the launch last night to receive his cheque for $500 and read his poem out loud.  We’re looking forward to publishing it and the runners-up, who will each receive a cheque for $50,  in the Autumn issue of Pulp Literature.  The contest was judged blind, so the judges had no idea when they selected Ace’s poem that it would end up published alongside his short story ‘Victory Girl’ in Issue 4.

Congratulations to all!

 

 

 

We will be announcing the winners of the Magpie Award for Poetry tonight at our Issue 3 Book Launch at:

The Grind & Gallery
4124 Main Street (at King Edward)
7:00 – 9:00pm

Join us for coffee, conversation, and author readings!

 

Flash Fiction Contest Opens!

When I grew tall enough to stand at eye-level with the hummingbird feeder that my grandmother hung on her porch, I would put on the red bandana she always wore to work in the garden, because I knew that my best chance to go unnoticed was to pretend to be my grandmother. Even the birds innately knew she was harmless and generous and good. I covered my hair like a cowboy Aunt Jemima and stood still, two feet from the hanging bottle of red syrup. I would try not to move my head, using my peripheral vision to spot an incoming bird. There would be a darting movement nearby, a first fly-by, to test my resolve. But if I held still, the bird would return, and I would hear it before I would see it: a steady thrum, louder yet softer than a bee, faster and more even than a helicopter. If I held my breath, it came close to examine me, hovering in mid-air, head cocked at an angle. As I write this, I realize I should have been afraid. That needle-like beak, ready to pierce down the throat of flowers, was inches from my eye. Maybe I thought I could blink fast enough, or maybe I was too focused on the shimmering colours on the bird’s neck. Some had green and gold dragon tones, others were purple, metallic and bright. I had my favourites. I made wishes on them like candles before they darted away to the feeder, drinking my grandmother’s nectar. They were wild things, greedy to eat despite their dainty size and slim beauty. They were speed and economy of flight, both mysterious and to the point. When they flew away, they were never quite gone. I would remain motionless to see if they would return, and for years after, they linger in my mind. Even now, in my drawer of keepsakes, my grandmother’s red handkerchief still smells of her sweet gentle hair and kind deeds, and of hummingbirds that were never mine.

hummingbird5Today, as we open our Hummingbird Flash Fiction Contest, write like a hummingbird. Be elusive, daring, and breathtakingly beautiful. Short fiction up to 1000 words in any genre, limited to 300 entries. A $300 prize and eternal fame await!

Just a heads up that due to increased mailing costs (thanks, Canada Post) the cost of a print subscription within Canada will be going from $32 to $35 per year.  Foreign subscriptions will face a similar increase.  We’re very sorry to have to do this!

However, you still have a week to get subscriptions at the old price!  Use the paypal link on the right or email us at subscribe@pulpliterature.com.

Head to Toe

JJ with hatJJ Lee, our brilliant Issue 2 author of “Built to Love”, is launching a new CBC radio show this morning! The topic is fashion, but fashion with the kind of insightful commentary only JJ can provide. As readers of Measure of a Man know, JJ goes beyond what you wear to reveal the message behind the material. Deny it as we might, it is true that what we wear expresses who we are. (Yes, even as rebellious as I try to be right now, typing this blog post in $9 shorts and a well-worn shirt, I can see the story behind each item, and I would trust no one but JJ to decipher the message!)

But wait! Before you rush off to tune in to JJ’s show, writers should note that JJ has graciously agreed to judge our summer literary contest. Get your pens ready! The First Annual Hummingbird Award for flash fiction opens July 1st. Only 300 entries accepted! You’ve been given fair warning! (Details on our contest page.)

Okay, NOW you can go and tune in to JJ’s show on CBC Radio 1,  airing Tuesday mornings at 11:30 and Thursday evenings at 11:00.

I Love My Writing Circle

book2We meet once a week to write together.

At the first meeting, several years ago, I was wary of the whole process. Okay, I was totally resistant. Write in company? Never. When I had writing time, I closed my writing-room door. Nobody saw my drafts. This was the way nature intended writers to work, I believed: alone but for a computer and my usual host of narrative woes. But Sue and Jen are dear friends and when they invited me to write with them, I thought, what the hey, it’s only paper, I can fake something up and then burn it.

I discovered that I write better prose sitting at a table with my writing friends around me. I choose my words with greater care. I keep the transitions short, because I’ve only got 1500 words with which to intrigue them. I make certain that my hero or heroine experiences a turning point, makes a sacrifice, takes action in some way to advance the plot. When, at the end of the writing hour I read my scene aloud, I’ve got an audience feedback that tells me I’m on the right path.

And, no matter how busy the week is, how close we are to deadline, how many illustrations I still need to draw, I’ve written a chapter. My novelist career motors on.

But most of all, I love my writing circle because I am privileged to sit wide-eyed and enchanted, listening to Jen read aloud the next installment of her gripping  Allaigna high fantasy trilogy, and dissolving into laughter over Sue’s hilarious The Mommy Diet.

We write with Dale Adams Segal’s card set, “The Hour Stories”. http://www.thehourstories.com

We open our writing circle to two or three additional writers on the second Thursday of every month in our Hour Stories Workshop.

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Poetic Inspiration

The deadline for Magpie Poetry Award entries is this coming Sunday, June 15th.  With the pressure now on, we’d like to offer you this poetic gift from contest judge George McWhirter:

On the Globe Maple

Our globe put on such a leaf-dress, such puffy pantaloons,
only for those clothes to fall, get gathered up and put away
by us autumn widows and widowers, no longer allowed
to burn organic garments,
and with no compost room left to let them rot.

Easier to give them away to the city
in a bin — glad to do so, despite that blinding blur
the globe wore with its full jewelry of September sunlight
(no summer modesty of limbs, clothed in green anonymity, then —
or the tight taciturnity of young spring bud). Patiently
we packed away those arboreal duds, waiting for the next discards
on our boulevard – espoused
as we were to a globe maple the city shot-gunned
us into accepting and slowly, reluctantly loving
to live in its shade and shelter, held up politely
like an umbrella whenever we got in or out of the car.

But I’m not sure we ever looked forward to its coming out,
the Persephone performance, each year, after the spell
of its sap’s cessation in hell. Especially after its lopsided
growth, too oblong for its roots and hefty trousseaux of snow,
piled on (to have us recant our wanting a cherry tree instead),
which broke it down to a crescent, an icing-coated croissant,
a third of its former self. The rest lay, distressing us in the gutter,
a gowling globe till the city came and chain-sawed
a final separation for us, leaving the bulk of the wood.

We will bask soon in that settlement, by the fire,
after giving ourselves a little space — on the boulevard.

George McWhirter

Contest Jitters

incidental magpie 2Do you have a love-hate relationship with contests? Do you get cold feet before hitting ‘submit’?

I used to. After all, turning writing into a competitive sport is a crime. In my experience writers are the most supportive and collaborative people on earth. But contests serve a purpose. Not only do they help fund fledgling magazines like ours, and put money into the pockets of deserving authors, they help groom good writers.  What author can resist the inner excitement that comes from the challenge of capturing a prize?  What poet doesn’t both thrill to and loathe the sharp focus that comes from the dual pressure of dreaded deadline and hope of glory?  Such is the deepest desire of all writers:  to be seen fully, their souls naked on a page, and crowned with a laurel wreath.  To be noticed, to be known, is to be validated.

Winning is good. But truth be told, no one else can give a writer that internal validation. I’ve received awards before, and they felt awkward things in my hands. I wanted to hide myself rather than be on a stage. Other people’s compliments and praise never live up to expectations, never satisfy that inner longing we all have to be truly heard. No matter how many prizes we win, I’m not sure that the yearning ever leaves us. I’m not sure I want it to, or else I might stop writing with the same intensity.

Winning a contest is an important feather to tuck in your cap in an occupation that has no promotions, performance bonuses, or yearly raises.  And a cash prize of $500 is nothing to sneeze at either! So please do enter our Magpie poetry contest. (Deadline is June 15th, limited to 500 entries.) Our editors will be reading your poem, gently and with reverence, and we will appreciate the coins you are tossing into our cap.  We are brothers and sisters together, dreaming of the laurel wreaths that hide our fears.

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Joan MacLeod, Leonardo da Vinci and the Value of Persistence

Governor-General Award winning playwright Joan McLeod once advised me to spend time with your work every day. She sets aside mornings to write, and will explain when friends call that she can meet them in the afternoon.

What do we value?  Among other things, time to work.  Just thinking about having time to work puts a smile on my face. I always think of that kid in the film Home Alone whose enormous family omits to take him on vacation.  Beaming, he walks to the phone and breathlessly orders his greatest unrealized dream, “.. .a whole cheese pizza, all to myself.”  To me, time to work is a whole cheese pizza.

It took me a long time to give myself the gift of scheduling in writing time.  When carving out time to write seems impossible, I try to invert the image and carve time out of my writing rather than the other way round.

When my persistence in scheduling and planning falters, and the days slip like sand between cupped fingers, I need to remember what Leonardo da Vinci said about scheduling:  Time stays long enough for those who use it.

I’m inspired to persist when I  remember that Joan MacLeod, while teaching at UVic, writing fiction and non-fiction pieces, and staging The Valley, her latest in a string of critically acclaimed plays, still spends lots of time with her beautiful family and friends.

Here’s a must-read  link to the Toronto Star’s review of Joan’s play The Valley.  Joan MacLeod’s superb short story “The Salt Tour”  can be found in Issue 3 of Pulp Literature due out in July.