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The Shortest Flashes Ever Written, or . . . How Short is Short-Short?

October 26th, 2013

813uyFzbgpL._SL1500_In an earlier post, I shared my thoughts on “Bedtime Story” by Jeffrey Whitmore – a short-short story that weighs in at a flyweight 55 words. Since then, I have given flash fiction presentations at PAISTA and in my advanced writing class at Sewickley Academy – both of which have given me the opportunity to field a variety of questions about short-short fiction.

One question that often comes up at such presentations is: How short is too short?

The question, of course, depends on one’s definition of flash fiction. If one accepts the premise that a short-short story should include basic narrative elements (character, setting, conflict, and resolution), then Whitmore’s 55 word tale is probably going to represent the bare minimum.

Nevertheless, for those willing to stretch the definition of story, here are five ultra-short works that might qualify as the shortest tales of all time:

100-jolts-shockingly-short-stories-michael-a-arnzen-paperback-cover-art“Gasp” by Michael A. Arnzen (26 words)

He posited that a person could drown in air. I told him to stop being contradictory. He raised a finger. Inhaled to reply. And never stopped.

The story first appeared in FlashShot, November 2002, and has been reprinted in Arnzen’s collection 100 Jolts (Raw Dog Screaming Press). As with much of Arnzen’s work, it’s darkly ironic and ultra-short. It might not qualify as a story under my definition, but it’s pretty cool nevertheless, and the book is highly recommended.

122557“Knock” by Frederic Brown (17 words)

The last man on Earth sat alone in a room. There was a knock on the door. . .

This is actually a story within a story, a two-sentence vignette that Brown uses to introduce a conventional narrative that continues for another 4,000 words. The lines seem to be a reworking of an earlier short-short by Thomas Bailey Aldrich, which reads:  Imagine all human beings swept off the face of the earth, excepting one man. Imagine this man in some vast city, New York or London. Imagine him on the third or fourth day of his solitude sitting in a house and hearing a ring at the door-bell! Interestingly, Brown’s story “Imagine” (another contender for one of the shortest stories of all time) also seems to draw inspiration from Aldrich.

6words_Hemingway-400x266“Baby Shoes” by Ernest Hemingway
(6 words)

For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn.

Again, whether it really qualifies as a story depends on how far you are willing to stretch the definition. Nevertheless, those six words certainly pack a punch. Interestingly, the general consensus is that the vignette probably was not penned by Hemingway. There’s a nice discussion of the story’s authorship at Snopes.com.

a747810ae7a0464f45309110.L“Cosmic Report Card: Earth” by Forrest J. Ackerman
(1 letter)

 F

Ackerman sold the story to the SF magazine Vertex for $100.00.  It appeared in the June 1973 issue and has since been translated into a half-dozen languages.

Quite a stunt.

Of course, it’s the title that makes it.

Ultimate FlashWhat Every Man Thinks About Apart from Sex by Sheridan Simove (0 words)

This one really stretches the definition. It’s a book consisting of 196 blank pages, and I’m sure there are people who would not consider it fiction.

Take a look. Judge for yourself.

Coming soon, I hope to conclude this month’s discussion of flash fiction by responding to some questions submitted by the good folks who attended my PAISTA presentation last week, but first I plan to offer some reflections on the Raw Dog Screaming book event that I previewed in my October 19 post. Look for that soon.

Until then, let me know what ultra-short story tops your list of the shortest tales of all time. Use the media buttons for FB, Twitter, or Email in the upper right corner of this page . . . or (better yet) post a comment below.

Scop on !

Credits:

Simulated manuscript of  “Baby Shoes” is from TheDestinyManifest.com May 23, 2013.
“Cosmic Report Card: Earth” copyright (c) 1973 by Mankind Publishing Co, Inc.
“Gasp” copyright (c) 2002 by Michael A. Arnzen.
“Knock” copyright 1948 by Standard Magazines, Inc.
Photos of What Everyman Thinks are from Tengri News June 03, 2011.

The Stars Align

October 19th, 2013

flotsam-wfcI’ve just heard from a good friend who has a membership to the  World Fantasy Convention in Brighton. The convention sold out over six months ago, and since then memberships to the international gathering of writers, editors, publishers and fans have been trading like stock futures. If you’re interested in fantastic literature, WFC is definitely the go-to event of the year. But my friend tells me that he thinks he might skip it, toss the membership, stay home and get some writing done. Crazy? Maybe, but I can sympathize. The pull of unfinished work is strong . . . but sometime you have to resist.

This fall season has been amazingly busy, with the Baltimore Book Festival a few weeks back, the PAISTA Conference earlier this week, a performance at Riley’s Pour House tonight, and events at the University of Brighton and World Fantasy’s Reading Café coming up later this month.

1383702_10151609605645426_1348373447_nAnd there’s more.

Today, some of my good friends at Raw Dog Screaming Press and Dog Star Books are holding a bookstore crawl in Pittsburgh, with events kicking off this afternoon at 1:00 with four-time Bram Stoker winner Michael A. Arnzen reading and signing at the Carnegie-Mellon Bookstore in Oakland. After that, Stephanie Wytovich appears a couple miles north at The Big Idea Bookstore on Liberty Avenue. Then it’s ten blocks west for Matt Betts at The Muse Stand at 3:00. After that, at 4:00, Bradley’s Books at Station Square will play host to Heidi Ruby Miller before the day wraps up with Jason Jack Miller at Eljay’s in Dormont.

An amazing day!

There’s no way I’m going to miss dropping in on the Raw Dog writers before heading to Riley’s for a sound check. Seriously, if you live anywhere near Pittsburgh (say within 100 miles or so), you owe it to yourself to make at least one of these appearances. Yes, I know, there are other things to do, but who knows when these stars will align again?

In the days to come, watch this space for a couple of follow-up reports. One from PAISTA (where the good people who attended my presentation on Flash Fiction provided some terrific questions that I’d like to respond to here) and another on today’s events. After that I hope to get to at least one WFC preview before crossing the pond to the UK.

Stop back soon. More to come.

Until then, scop on!

Hallowen: Magic, Mystery & the Macabre Trick or Treating with Friends

September 8th, 2013

HalloweenMagicMysMacabre-500Halloween comes early this year, with the September release of Halloween: Magic, Mystery, and the Macabre – another terrific anthology from award-winning editor Paula Guran and the good people at Prime Books.

The book is a follow up to Paula’s 2011 anthology Halloween, which featured 33 classic reprints by the likes of Ray Bradbury, H. P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe, and F. Paul Wilson. It also featured a thoughtful essay about the origins and traditions of Halloween, which you can read here.

Unlike its predecessor, the new book features all-new Halloween-themed stories. I’ve just finished reading my copy, and it’s a terrific book – perfect material for a cool autumn night.

scent-of-magicAmong the standouts is “The Halloween Men,” a horror story by my good friend Maria V. Snyder, a writer more often associated with romantic fantasy than horror fiction. She and I currently serve as residency writers in the Writing Popular Fiction program at Seton Hill University, and at this summer’s residency she attributed her foray into the macabre to hanging out with Michael A. Arnzen and me. She was being generous, of course. But regardless of how the story came to be, it’s a terrific read. Set in a strange world where the wearing of masks is enforced by mysterious men in black robes, “The Halloween Men” displays the kind of spare yet fully-realized fantasy that has made Maria one of the best fantasy writers working today. If you haven’t discovered her yet, consider checking out her books Scent of Magic, Poison Study, Touch of Power, and all the other titles that you can read about at MariaVSnyder.com. Good reading awaits.

TimeAnother standout story is “All Souls Day” by Barbara Roden, who in recent years has established herself as one of the contemporary masters of short fiction. Publishers Weekly, in a review of her collection Northwest Passages, refers to her work as “deftly executed tales of subtle horror,” and her story in this collection continues that tradition. Barbara is also a multi-award winning editor who, along with her husband Christopher Roden, has been running critically acclaimed Ash-Tree Press since its inception in 1994. I first met Barbara and Christopher at World Fantasy 2007, and we’ve been good friends ever since, getting together at the major conventions at least once or twice a year. In 2010 they edited and published This Way to Egress, the definitive collection of my horror stories.

Jack Pumpkinhead by William Wallace DenslowHalloween: Magic, Mystery, and the Macabre also features terrific new stories by Laird Barron, Laura Bickle, Jay Caselberg, Brenda Cooper, Brian Hodge, Stephen Graham Jones, Caitlín R. Kiernan, Nancy Kilpatrick, Jonathan Maberry, Norman Partridge, John Shirley, Steve Rasnic Tem & Melanie Tem, Carrie Vaughn, A.C. Wise, and Chelsea Quinn Yarbro – some of the modern masters of magic, mystery, and the macabre.

Oh yes, it also contains one of my stories – a new tale of physiological horror titled “Pumpkin Head Escapes.” And since the book releases this week, my friends and I get to do some early trick-or-treating.

Care to join us?

Image Credits:

Halloween: Magic, Mystery, and the Macabre,  Prime Books 2013. Scent of Magic, Harlequin 2013. Northwest Passages, Prime Books 2010. Jack Pumpkin Head, illustration detail by William Wallace Dinslow from L. Frank Baum’s The Road to Oz (1909).

The 21st Century Scop @ SHU

April 12th, 2013
Flashing the Veins sign: students in Michael A. Arnzen’s Horror Writing class welcome the 21st Century Scop to Seton Hill University.

Flashing the Veins sign: students in Michael A. Arnzen’s Horror Writing class welcome the 21st-Century Scop to Seton Hill University. What a blast!

This week the 21st-Century Scop visited Seton Hill University, where four-time Bram Stoker Award winning author Michael A. Arnzen teaches an undergraduate class in horror writing. The students are currently working on horror-related media projects, and Michael invited me to drop by to talk about plugging-in the ancient art of storytelling.

It was a great time.

After a brief  summary of Scop 101, I presented live readings of “Step on a Crack” and “Echoes.”

For “Echoes,” I incorporated projected stills from the Rodney Altman film adaptation of the story. And of course, since it was a 21st-Century Scop presentation, both readings incorporated musical cues.

The students and I also talked about Veins: The Soundtrack and the Voices book trailer, which features the art of World-Fantasy Award nominee Jason Zerrillo (one of my favorite fantasy artists).

But the highlight for me was fielding some terrific questions about writing and media . . . and even getting a chance to pose a few questions of my own.

It was a great time.

The next Scop Stop will be in Morgantown, West Virginia, where I’ll be presenting at the Monongalia Arts Center, 107 High Street, on April 18. The stories begin at 7:00 PM. Hope to see you there!