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The Brighton Readings: Part Two

November 10th, 2013

Notes to a Science Fiction WriterLong ago, when I was first entertaining notions of sharing my stories with a wide audience, I came across a passage in Ben Bova’s Notes to a Science Fiction Writer. It describes a photograph that he saw in a book titled The Faces of Man. Bova writes:

[The photograph] shows an African village, where most of the people have gathered around an old, withered man who is evidently the village story-teller. He is at a high point in the evening’s story; his arms are raised over his head, his mouth is agape, his eyes wide. And the whole village is staring at him, equally agape and wide-eyed, breathless to find out what happens next.

That is what story-telling is all about.

I’ve read a lot of books about writing since then, but that passage has always stuck with me.

StorytellerThe act of presenting stories from memory is nothing new. It is clearly working for the storyteller in the photograph, and I believe it can still work today. Not as a stunt, but as an effective way of sharing fiction with a live audience.

Recently, I’ve been exploring this mode of storytelling in venues as varied as the KGB Fantastic Fiction Series, GenCon Writers Symposium, PAISTA, The University of Brighton, and World Fantasy. The approach seems to be working. In any event, I’m having a lot of fun following in the tradition of that African storyteller.

Let me show you what I’m talking about.

Below is a video from last week’s Reading Café at The World Fantasy Convention, featuring a reading of “Step on a Crack” from Visions: Short Fantasy and SF. It’s one of three stories I presented that day. The entire performance was recorded, and I may be posting additional segments in the coming weeks, but, for now, here’s a peek at what went down when some members of the World Fantasy village gathered to listen to the 21st-Century Scop.

Lawrence C. Connolly reads Step on a Crack from Lawrence Connolly on Vimeo.

Image Credits:
Notes to a Science Fiction Writer by Ben Bova, Charles Schribner’s Sons.
The Kalahari Storyteller,
Life Magazine, 1947.

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!

Book City

October 2nd, 2013

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERAI sometimes get the feeling that we book people are citizens of a kind of portable municipality, a diffused city that reforms around various conventions, conferences, festivals, symposiums, and literary events.

We’re united by the love of story, the feel of books, and the knowledge that vicarious experience can be as meaningful and real as life beyond the covers, and I was reminded of all these things within minutes of arriving at last weekend’s Baltimore Book Festival.

After a five hour drive through two states, passing anonymous drivers and stopping at service plazas inhabited by total strangers, I was at the festival less than a minute before I heard someone calling my name. And that was pretty much how things went the entire day, running into old friends, making new ones, and reconnecting with parts of a community that periodically coalesces around major book events.

And of course there were the books that bind us together, acres of them on display in festival tents and even more (five stories of them!) in the main atrium of the Peabody Library, located adjacent to the festival. (See above.)

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERAAdditional highlight were running into the people at Raw Dog Screaming Press, in particular K. Ceres Wright, whose Cog was released under the Raw Dog sf imprint Dog Star Books. Ceres was one of my students at Seton Hill University’s Writing Popular Fiction program, a contingent that was well represented at the festival. That’s the 21st Century Scop on the right with three WPF graduates — Jennifer Della Zanna, Heidi Ruby Miller, and Hanna Gribble. (Heidi is also the editor of the book Many Genres, One Craft.)

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERAMy day at the festival centered on the tent run by Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, where I took part in a well-attended panel titled “Keeping the Future Beat: Music in Fiction.” The panelists were both authors and musicians, and afterward I got to join Catherin Asaro and Sarah Pinsker (pictured at left) in an evening of musical performances that continued until the SFWA reception and a book launch for L. Jagi Lamplighter’s new YA novel The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin.

As always, it passed too quickly.

I’m back home now,  looking forward to rejoining the Book City at PAISTA on October 17 and Word Fantasy at the end of the month. I’ll hope to see some of you at those.

Until then, scop on!