Brief thoughts on Flash of the Pen flash fiction

A hybrid of narrative and poetry, whether you call it micro or sudden fiction, flash fiction by its containment in time and space challenges the writer to say more with fewer words. More and more I find myself enjoying flash fiction.

Debrah Strait unveils a delightful spectrum of voices and perspectives in Flash of the Pen. In “Businessman,” the aging protagonist notes, “You can’t tell by looking, but I used to be somebody around this town.” In “The Attic,” a curious child glimpses unknowingly at infidelity and, taking a child’s logical course, seeks answers from precisely the wrong source. The humor is sly. The style crisp. What a great way to explore the author’s range.

Review of Riversong by Tess Hardwick

The underlying inciting incident of Riversong, the young widow’s owing a huge debt to unscrupulous characters after her husband’s suicide, seemed shaky, but the unfolding story was entirely followable. Her relocation to the downtrodden town that was her childhood home moves the plot forward, for the town is peppered with charmingly appealing and sordidly unappealing characters with whom she must interact. Her reactions to life appear accurately tainted by her background as the child of a practicing alcoholic. And then grace in the form of gifts that come undeservedly and unexpectedly enters the picture. Some grammar clunkers pulled me out of the action and away from the flow. Still, the author’s sincerity and craftsmanship made Riversong an enjoyable novel.

Answer to the question, What it is a writer?

I posted the following some time back, and recently got a request to re-post it, so here goes…

Do you ever keep old printed handouts and documents, and then find yourself thrilled that you did? Happened to me today.  I attended a presentation at USC many years ago, was privileged to meet author Irving Stone, and received the following written by him as a take-away:

What it is a writer?

by Irving Stone

What it is a writer? It seems almost too simple a question to ask. Yet few have bothered to set forth a durable definition, establishing the writer’s legitimate place in the world. Does his function change from each to age, crisis to crisis? Or are there certain stabiles, imperative tasks which he must perform, and bring to fruition, regardless of the century or the civilization?

The writer is a seer, a prophet, an alchemist; creating wisdom where none existed before.

The writer is an entertainer; but hopefully not a court jester.

The writer is a bringer of order out of chaos.

The writer is a creator of new religions, new governments, new mentalities, new cultural and social patterns.

The writer is a midwife, giving birth to new civilizations.

The writer is an undertaker, burying old ones.

The writer is an archaeologist, uncovering layers of man’s past.

The writer is a sculptor, giving form to the unmolded an uncoalesced materials of life.

The writer is a destroyer, putting to the Gutenberg sword and fire old shibboleths, ancient fears, tribal myths, falsehoods that have paraded as truths for thousands of years.

The writer is a warrior, fighting to possess men’s minds.

The writer is a composer, attempting to capture the music of life for a tone-deaf world.

The writer is a poet, trying to compress the complexity and confusion of a spent life into essence lines which scan, and perhaps even rhyme.

The writer is an explorer, penetrating impassible jungles, traversing mountain ranges which start at the peak of Mount Everest as he searches for regions where men can live in dignity.

The writer a philosopher, attempting to extract the meaning of life from the passing hurricane.

The writer is an interpreter, reducing to simpler language the ultimate designs of God, the Devil, Fate.

The writer is a mirror in which mankind can see himself reflected… all too clearly.

The writer is a seducer, attempting to break young people to pleasure.

The writer is an encyclopedia, which knows everything and understands nothing.

The writer is a sieve, allowing all thoughts and ideas to pour through him.

The writer is a Wall of China, keeping out the unfamiliar.

The writer is a doctor, prescribing pills whose content he has not tested, for patients whose ills he cannot fathom.

The writer is a catalyst bringing together people and visions who would otherwise not have bowed to each other while passing on the street.

The writer is Virgil, guiding a world of Dantes down through the Nine Circles of Hell.

The writer is an aging athlete required to break the four minute mile every morning.

The writer is a deep-sea diver who comes up with priceless treasures from the deep, until the day someone or something fouls his oxygen line.

The writer is a scientist, working without equipment in a dark room, searching for an antibody which will eradicate still in another human disease, or human failing.

The writer is a conservationist, trying to save a fresh water lake or a giant redwood forest from the hands of human predators.

The writer is an astronaut, willing to catapult himself through outer space in the hope that one day he will find a more rational planet to which we can all escape.

The writer is a psychiatrist, going behind the insanity of the modern world to chart the trails whereby we have reached the sanitarium, and the paths out of it.

The writer is a dinosaur, extinct for thousands of years yet believing because he has a shin bone and a piece of jaw he is still a monumental creature.

A keepsake presented on the occasion of Irving Stone’s MLA lecture at USC, November 20, 1986

Review of Seagull: A Southern Novel by Lawton Paul

Seagull: A Southern Novel by Lawton Paul is a young adult historical novel set in the 1980s Northern Florida. This coming of age novel has cross-over appeal to an adult audience. The fears, anxieties and conflicts that the likable main character encounters feel genuine and immediate. The supporting characters lend plenty of texture, and the river landscape is real enough to smell. The action moves quickly, if perhaps too telescopically quickly near the end. The grammar is untidy. If this is deliberate to reflect the main character’s vulnerable but growing-in-strength point of view, then curse the critic and laud the writer. It’s certainly not Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull, but it is a solidly entertaining read.

Book Review of Lynn Kinnaman’s Unintended Consequences

Indie authors who dig deep and contribute thoughtful, worthwhile reading deserve attention and respect. Lynn Kinnaman’s short and jolting Unintended Consequences is just such a book.

Poignant and pragmatically grounded, Kinnaman’s portrayal of a family coping with untimely death unearths the spectrum of human emotion without a shred of sentimentality while it explores a rare look at an uncommon human attribute–mercy. As the main character acknowledges,

“There was no reason to hurt my daughter with the betrayal that had shattered my trust.

“The truth didn’t always set you free.

“Sometimes it took you down.”

Brava, Kinnaman, for going deep.

Book Review of the Sweet Trade

Hard working authors deserve a lot of credit, and it’s my goal to provide reviews from time to time in this space. One type of novel I especially admire the young adult novel that crosses over to adult novel. The Sweet Trade by Debrah Strait is an historical YA novel that grown-ups can relish, too.

The Sweet Trade flies open mid-action and the pace never flags for a second. It’s fierce, fast, fun, unsettling and riveting, with a wild cast of intriguing characters and a sense of historic truth. In one aspect, the novel is a coming of age tale set in a fascinating era of nation-state conflicts at sea and the role pirates played in a war-related economy. Hard-driving, hard-striving main character Dirk sets the bar high in battle and in romantic endeavors, so naturally conflict abounds. On a deep level, the novel explores one man’s battle to preserve decency, loyalty and his very humanity in a trade where both honor and dishonor are dangerous things. When an author does the work of vast research, meticulous character development and intricate plot weaving, the reader can simply enjoy the journey. The Sweet Trade is a delightful sail on fair winds and a following sea. Give me the sequel now.