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Interview for Unbroken Journal’s ‘Finding the Magic’ Series Available Now!

I am honoured to have been interviewed recently by R.L.Black, the editor of the incredible Unbroken journal, about my prose poetry and my writing processes. You can read the interview by following the link here:

Prose Poetry|Finding the Magic: An Interview with Santino Prinzi

I love Unbroken journal. Taken from their website: “Unbroken is a bimonthly online journal that seeks to showcase poetic prose, the prose poem, and the haibun, both from established and emerging voices.”

I thoroughly recommend both reading and submitting to this journal, though they aren’t open for submissions until February. However, this gives you plenty of time to check out their previous issues and see for yourself the wonderful prose poems, poetic prose pieces, and haibuns.

Unbroken have been incredibly supportive of my prose poetry. They have currently published four of my prose poems (‘Midnight Sky in Winter’‘Stuck’‘Caught’, and ‘Tessellation’) and will be publishing three more of my poems in their March/April 2016 issue (‘Submerged’‘Tempestuous’, and ‘Sequester’).

I hope you enjoy reading the interview and find it useful.

Happy writing!

10 Places to Submit Your Writing in 2016

Happy New Year everyone and Welcome to 2016!

Whatever you hope 2016 holds for you I hope it happens, and if one of those hopes are to get your writing published, be it your first piece or not, then perhaps this will be helpful!

There are a mixture of competitions and journals in this list, and the main focus is flash fiction, but many of these places are looking for other forms of writing, like poetry or non-fiction. I’ll try and be as useful as possible!

I’ll also try to include links to current issues if they’re a lit mag / journal because the best way to support a literary journal / magazine is to read what they’ve published and share the writing you loved with the world.

The ten places I’ve chosen are based on many factors, but the main one is this: they love what they do. I suppose that could be said for a lot of places, but I suppose I also love what they do, and I think it’s very important people send their writing to somewhere they love!

Some may not be currently open for submissions, but make a note, use that time to read and enjoy the writing they publish, and return armed with your submission.

Here are my 10 places I believe you should submit your writing to in 2016. To be taken to each webpage, click each subheading, which is hyperlinked.

National Flash Fiction Day (UK)

National Flash Fiction Day, heading into its fifth year, happens annually in June in the UK and is a great way to celebrate flash fiction, with events usually happening up and down the country. Each year they produce an anthology from submissions, but as if that isn’t enough, they run a micro fiction competition and publish a journal called FlashFlood where they publish a new flash fiction every ten minutes, meaning you’ll have plenty of reading material for flash fiction day itself if you couldn’t make it to one of the events.

Though later in the year this is one to remind yourself of and, as I volunteer for National Flash Fiction Day, you’re sure to hear more about it from me over the upcoming months. Last year was the first year I helped and I can honestly say the organisers, especially Calum Kerr, work continually to make it such a great time to celebrate the form. Past anthologies, as well as collections by Calum Kerr, are available to purchase.

Unbroken Journal

Unbroken Journal is a truly fantastic literary magazine who are now in their second year. Their focus is on poetic prose, the prose poem, and the haibun. I love this journal because the editor, R.L.Black, is supportive of both new and established writers, and has been very supportive of my own writing and have accepted a total of 7 of my prose poems (either published or forthcoming 2016). They currently publish an issue every two months and accompany the writing with art and photography. More importantly, the work they publish speaks to the core of me.

You can read their Jan/Feb 2016 issue by following this link here.

Adhoc Fiction / Bath Flash Fiction Award

The Bath Flash Fiction Award is, as you may guess, a flash fiction competition, but here’s what makes the competition unique: you can enter the traditional way by submitting writing and paying a small fee, or you can enter their weekly Adhoc Fiction contest.

Adhoc Fiction allows you to write a 150 word flash fiction inspired by a prompt, and each week a selection are published and the general public read and vote on their favourite flashes. The flash with the most votes wins a free entry to the Bath Flash Fiction Award. The winners are published online, and they seek to illustrate each piece, which means they’re looking for artists / photographers to create pieces to go with each published flash.

Smokelong Quarterly

This is one of the best literary journals for flash fiction, and they’ve been going for more than ten years now. The pieces they publish are powerful, varied, and demonstrate what one can achieve in a thousand words or less.  If you’re new to flash, this journal is a great place to start for reading flash and seeing what makes flash fiction so great! Submissions are open all year round, so you don’t need to rush to submit something to them. Take your time, soak up the writing they publish, and when you’ve recovered read some more. Why not try this excellent story on for size?: ‘Coat and Shoes’ by Tania Hershman.

CHEAP POP

I adore this online literary magazine purely for the work they publish. They love flash fiction of 500 words or less, fiction that really POPS! This is exactly what their fiction does, and I was really excited to have a piece of writing accepted by them – ‘Just Like Mummy’ is due to be published in February this year. Here’s a great piece, and there are many more to choose from, so please check them out: ‘Saudade’ by Zain Saeed. This journal is certainly the home of striking writing.

Vine Leaves Literary Journal

I love this journal because they publish vignettes. Everything I have read that has been published by Vine Leaves Literary Journal resonates from the page and I can promise you’ll not be disappointed by what they have to offer. This, from their website, sums up best what they’re looking for in a vignette: “Vignette” is a word that originally meant “something that may be written on a vine-leaf.” It’s a snapshot in words. It differs from flash fiction or a short story in that its aim doesn’t lie within the traditional realms of structure or plot. Instead, the vignette focuses on one element, mood, character, setting or object. It’s descriptive, excellent for character or theme exploration and wordplay. Through a vignette, you create an atmosphere. Issue #16 from October 2015 is available to read from this link here.

Spelk

I love Spelk, the home of “short, sharp fiction”. The editor, Gary Duncan, is wonderful and I’ve found him to be really helpful with both the stories he’s accepted and with the feedback he’s provided for stories that weren’t quite ready. Again, like Vine Leaves, I feel this taken from their website sums up what makes Spelk so great: A spelk, in northeast England, is a splinter of wood – a tiny little sliver or shard embedded under the skin. Without getting too pretentious, we think there’s probably some kind of analogy there – we like flash fiction that’s short and sharp, that gets under your skin and leaves an impression. That, and we just happen to like the word. They publish stories three times a week, and there are many different ones to read! Why not give this one a read: ‘Graffiti’ by Jonathan Pinnock. 

NANO Fiction

I love NANO Fiction and have recently subscribed to this great journal. They publish flash fiction in print journals, and all the pieces in them tend to strike me as unusual but provocative. They include featured stories online too, here’s an example: ‘Gravity’ by Armel Dagon.

Firewords Quarterly

Fireworks Quarterly is a stunning literary journal who publish mostly short stories and poetry, but they do have a flash fiction challenge too. It is the care that goes into the production of the journal and it is this that is truly breathtaking. Click on their website and just look at their artwork and how the pages of the journal look – simply beautiful, who wouldn’t want their work published here? But rest assured that the writing is not drowned out by the artwork – the writing they publish is just as evocative as the artwork, so send them something shattering.

Synaesthesia Magazine

Last, but not least, Synaesthesia Magazine. Like FirewordsSynaesthesia Magazine is a literary journal that looks as visually powerful as the words they publish. They publish short stories, poetry, illustrations and photography, and usually have a theme for each issue. One thing I really, really love about this magazine is, though they can’t always guarantee this, they try to provide useful feedback for any writing they decide not to accept for publication. This feedback has allowed me to grow as a writer, to consider their feedback, make changes, and some of the stories I’ve then submitted elsewhere have found a home. This is another journal worthy of your support both as a reader and a writer! Their most recent issue should be available from this link here.

 

There are so many other magazines and journals I love too, such as Funny in Five Hundred, a journal of flash fiction dedicated to humorous stories, and 101 Words, an online journal of flash where the story must be 101 words (no more, no less).

Feel free to share in the comments your favourite places to submit writing to, particularly flash fiction, and share this list with other writers who are hoping that 2016 is the year they publish some flash!

Happy New Year and Best Wishes to you all! Good luck – happy writing!

Popping my NaNoWriMo Cherry, Kind of…

University is a place of growth. I certainly have grown as a person, though not in height, unfortunately, and it’s only natural that my writing too would grow, in quality (I hope) and in length.

Primarily I’m a flash fiction writer. I know this, and embrace this, but I knew that I would never have as much time to explore different forms of writing and to develop myself as much as I do now, so I challenged myself to write longer prose and prose poetry. I can do this now, I think; the poetic lyricism yet striking nature of prose poetry and the length and power of short stories do not intimidate me.

It’s only natural that I attempt to acquire the skills necessary to tackle the behemoth of form: the novel. This year I’m studying a Researching and Planning an Extended Piece of Prose module and, though I could work on a collection of short stories, I really want to write a novel.

I want to learn how to take a character and an idea I could normally condense into 500, and sometimes much less, and expand and develop their world into a piece of fiction much longer than I have ever done before.

For some of you reading this you’ll be thinking ‘pffft, this is easy’, but when you’ve spent so long writing shorter pieces you get used to writing with such concision, leaving so much unwritten for the reader to feel for themselves, that you forget, or struggle, to write something beyond a few hundred words.

I know this will be a challenge for me and I believe NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) can help me achieve this. I’m vaguely aware of some type of website people use to interact with each other and discuss their novel, which I think is great, but it’s not for me. I have a lot of other studying to do, so Distraction does not need extra opportunities to hold me tight in its claws.

So I’m popping my NaNoWriMo cherry, kind of…because I started writing the first draft of my novel a few days before. Cheeky, I know, but as writers we all know that if it’s there in your head you need to get it down on paper, physical or virtual, before it disappears into the deepest shadows of our minds forever.

But here’s the good news: the first day I started writing my novel I wrote in excess of 3000 words! This may not sound a lot to most novel writers but for someone whose longest piece of fiction was roughly 2200 words I was numb with disbelief. Of course, first drafts are always nonsense, so maybe only 50 words may survive in some form, nevertheless it filled me with the feeling that maybe I can do this.

I plan to write a lot of the novel over November and, hopefully, December too, and want to write a minimum of 1000 words per day. Before NaNoWriMo I had around 4000 words, so 34,000 words after NaNoWriMo sounds grand to me: roughly halfway to the approximate word count I think it will be. So it’s more like National Half a Novel Writing Month for me!

Oh, and this definitely doesn’t mean I’m going to stop writing flash fiction! I will always have a fondness for flash fiction and the things they can do that novels can’t.

To everyone reading this: whether you’re embarking on NaNoWriMo, developing on a WIP, redrafting a manuscript or anything at all, whatever your project is I wish you the best of luck!

Short-Short Stories with Huge Impact: the Flash Fiction of Margaret Atwood.

Update 07/10/16: For an extended, revised, and more explorative version of this essay, please follow this link to the Thresholds Short Story Forum: Short-Short Stories with Big-Big Impact: the Flash of Margaret Atwood – THRESHOLDS Short Story Forum – (November 2016) – read it here.

Update: 27/10/16: An extended, revised version of this essay will be featured on the Thresholds Short Story Forum website soon. A link will be posted here when it has been published. Meanwhile, the original version has been retained below.

When you hear the name of prizewinning author Margaret Atwood many images are sure to spring to mind; The Handmaid’s Tale and the Maddaddam series for instance, or perhaps her most recent short story collection Stone Mattress, which was published little under a year ago. Novels and short stories are great, Atwood’s especially so, but Atwood’s flash fiction likewise resonates with her readers long after reading.

The idea of a story “staying” with a reader, regardless of its length, is the notion that the reader has been changed in some way by what they have read; the story leaves them feeling or thinking something. The latter is more prominent in Atwood’s flash fiction. They don’t always contain a traditional narrative but this doesn’t prevent Atwood from telling us a story, from making us think and feel. An excellent example of this is the story ‘Bread’ from her collection Murder in the Dark.

‘Bread’ is told from a second person perspective, which is considered a massive “no-no” by writers and readers alike because it can make a reader feel uncomfortable and uneasy; this is what Atwood aims to achieve in this flash fiction. Atwood takes a loaf of bread, an everyday object that we take for granted, and shows us the power this simple item has by making the reader imagine scenarios differing from the opening scene, where bread is plentiful and slathered in butter, peanut butter, and honey. The story opens with the following two sentences, demonstrating how the very beginning of a flash can set up the premise of the entire flash:

‘Imagine a piece of bread. You don’t have to imagine it, it’s right here in the kitchen, on the bread board, in its plastic bag lying beside the bread knife.’

What these opening sentences achieve is an introduction to the imagination as a device used by Atwood to make her readers think about the world we live in and all that is wrong with it. If we are lucky, which Atwood assumes her readers are, we don’t need to imagine a loaf of bread in our kitchen because we have one, or indeed many, but the scenarios Atwood then asks us to put ourselves in expose our natural tendency to overlook the things we are fortunate enough to have. I believe the strongest scene is where we are asked to imagine a famine and Atwood immediately transports us to a ‘thin mattress’ in a third world country and you and your dying sister are both hungry for the morsel of bread remaining. Atwood asks:

‘Should you share the bread or give the whole piece to your sister? Should you eat the last piece of bread for yourself? After all, you have a better chance of living, you’re stronger. How long does it take to decide?’

How could you make a choice in a situation where your own life and that of another so important to you depends on one decision? It is in this way that Atwood’s flash fiction remains in the mind of her readers; you may not cry or laugh, but you will think and for a long time afterwards too.

Not all of Atwood’s flash fiction forces you to deliberate over important issues; some stories highlight major themes and ideas in a playful way, and Atwood is a fan of reinventing myths or stories we’re well aware of as a method of achieving this. ‘Gertrude Talks Back’ from her collection Good Bones stands out as a retelling of Shakespeare’s Hamlet from the point of view of his mother, who addresses Hamlet directly throughout this story. The reader is enlightened by Gertrude’s point of view, for example she reveals her thoughts on the name ‘Hamlet’ and how she wished to call him ‘George’, how her marriage with her late husband was an unhappy one, amongst other revelations that I’ll refrain from giving away.

Atwood doesn’t only transform narrative perspectives but reinvents forms too. ‘Making a Man’, featured in the same collection, is written as a women’s magazine article offering various methods of constructing a man. This isn’t quite a reversal of the view that women could be moulded by a man as they see fit, though the idea is present, but the tone of the article grows more menacing towards its trailed off ending. Using an ellipsis to end any prose fiction in this way, no matter its length, doesn’t always work, but Atwood leaves a harrowing impression on her readers by using one; acknowledging the sinister route the article is taking is unavoidable, leaving the reader to use their own imaginations to take the story to the darkest recesses of their mind.

There’s a tendency for some flash fiction collections to promise abstract wonderment and do so at the sacrifice of any real meaning or purpose to the writing beyond trying to appear original, quirky, or, heavens forbid, “random”. Such collections fall flat. Though ambiguity lingers throughout both of these collections of short writings from Margaret Atwood, she uses surreal situations to ground her readers encouraging them to think about what they have read, what it means to them, and, perhaps most importantly, what it means in terms of the ‘big picture’. Of the two collections Good Bones packs the mightier blow on initial reading, though to claim that both of these collections are rewarding reads is an understatement. The Tent, pictured but not discussed, is just as noteworthy, complete in this edition with illustrations by the author herself.

Three things can we learn as writers from Margaret Atwood’s short-short writing:

  1. Write weird and wonderful abstract pieces if you want but don’t do it for its own sake.
  2. Experiment with form – there are many ways to tell the same story.
  3. Trust the imagination of your readers. Let them work things out for themselves by leaving things left unsaid.

Dive in to these collections and prepare to resurface enlightened, full of thought, entertained, and changed.

Have you read these collections by Margaret Atwood? What did you think of them? Have they helped you develop as a writer as they’ve helped me? Or do you prefer her novels? Let me know in the comments section below!

The R-Word: How I’ve Turned Rejection Into My (Second) Best Friend

It’s inevitable; if you’re a writer and you submit writing to competitions or magazines you’re going to receive rejections. It’s one of the facts of life. Nobody likes to be rejected. Every “no” you receive makes you feel as if you’re not good enough, but here’s the thing, rejections can actually be your friend. I can hear you saying “What?!” now, but as I hope to explain in this article, rejections can make you a better, stronger writer.

Now everyone is different, another fact of life, so these are the 5 things I do when I get a rejection, and they work best for me. It’s how I’ve made rejection my second best friend. I say second because, obviously, my first best friend is an acceptance of publication. (Of course, I’m not talking about actual human beings).

I’m certainly no expert, but this list details what I personally do when I receive a rejection, and I find it helps me a lot and wish to share it with you all:

 

  1. Update my spreadsheet.
    In my previous article, which can be found HERE, I discussed how keeping a spreadsheet to track your publications can be great for motivation and generally knowing what you’ve sent where. Well I update my spreadsheet making note of the rejection but it also serves as a reminder of all the other pieces of writing I’ve had published and the ones I have still being considered for publication at the time – though this sometimes makes me think “ah, more rejections to look forward to” most of the time I think “look at all the potential acceptances still out there.”
  2.  

  3. Revisit my Writing
    Now it’s said that sending out a story, or any piece of writing, before it is ready is a mistake, which is true, however, there’s a factor of this statement that is never considered: we send out writing when we have revised it to a standard that we believe is ready for publication.

    Let me explain: when I submit a piece of writing to a magazine or publication I believe, at that moment of time, that the writing is ready to be read by an editor or judged in a competition. By the time I’ve received a rejection, it may have been several weeks, or even months. This is why you need to look at the piece of writing again; enough time has passed since you last reviewed the writing meaning you can read it objectively.

    For instance, a story I submitted a short story to a competition announced its longlist this week and I didn’t make the cut; this doesn’t mean my story was bad, it just means that there were other stories that were better – simple as that. But rather than send the piece of writing for consideration somewhere else straight away I choose to review it. This particular story was submitted when I thought it was ready in April, but now it’s nearly August, which means when I look at this story again I’m going to see things I didn’t see before.

    This means I can review, cut, add, change, develop, and edit my story in many ways. Perhaps I won’t need to, maybe I still like it the way it is, but the point is the time between submitting it and looking at it again is enough time for me to be able to see my writing in a different light. Simply looking at the writing again will make it better, even if I only change one thing.

    The main distinction between the original statement I disagreed with about sending your stories out before their ready is that only writing a piece then sending it straight away is a sure way to guarantee that your writing is not ready; you must give all writing time and space to breathe, and you must give yourself time to revisit the writing objectively in order to make it as strong as you can.

 

  1. Find somewhere else to send the writing.
    Though I said don’t find somewhere else to send the writing to straight away I didn’t mean this. You should definitely find somewhere else suitable to send the writing to, but you should first revisit it like I’ve previously said. I always ensure I have a list of opportunities waiting in the wing. The thing is there are lots of different publications and competitions out there, all with their own editors and judges looking for something in particular, all with their own tastes, and what doesn’t appeal to one editor or judge will probably appeal to another.

    I like to think of it like this: every opportunity I don’t pursue is an automatic rejection. I’m having horrible flashbacks of Dale Winton hosting the National Lottery’s “In It To Win It”, but you do – if you don’t submit your writing then you miss out on the potential that people will publish and read it. So get back out there!

 

  1. Don’t let rejection destroy your confidence.
    This is difficult and like I said everyone is different. Some people receive a rejection and pick themselves straight back up. Often I’m lucky enough to be in this category (but that’s because I’ve made rejection my second best buddy), but for other people this can really knock you back.

    The important thing is that the rejection of your writing is not a rejection of you as a person, though it feels like it because writing is personal; we write from our own experiences, our own dreams, we record the stories we want to share with the world, and when someone says “no” it feels like our experiences and the stories we want to tell are being invalidated.

    But this is not the case. Maybe it didn’t quite fit the publication. Maybe the writing needs a little more work. Perhaps you missed something (I once submitted a poem where the title was spelled wrong, probably why it was rejected). There’s always going to be a reason why the writing was rejected, but it is never about you as an individual.
    So, believe in yourself, and do steps 2 and 3.

    And remember all the times you have had writing accepted for publication; it beats all of the rejections, and if this hasn’t happened yet your time will come. It will. (I promise).

  2. Read
    Yes, we all know that reading is a great way to improve your writing. Reading is writing. In fact, it has been said so much that it’s almost in itself a cliché. But it’s true, and if you’re going to read anything, read what trumped your submission.

    For instance the competition I was referring to earlier publish an anthology of the prize-winning story and the shortlisted stories and this presents a great opportunity to read the stories that had done so well. By doing this I can learn what qualities these stories have that perhaps mine are lacking.

    Maybe you’ll read it and think I can’t learn anything from it, but I highly doubt it.

    This tip is also useful for publications and magazines for two reasons. Firstly, you can read the writing that was accepted giving you a clear indicator to the type of writing they like to publish. In fact, many publications advise you read what they’ve published before you submit your own writing. This increases your likelihood of an acceptance too; your story could be perfect, but if it doesn’t fit what the publication is looking for it won’t be published. The second reason why this is a good thing is that it supports the publication; after all without readers there’d be no publication to submit the writing to. So, you get a twofold benefit here: you can learn what qualities makes a competition winning piece of writing, or what fits best in a publication, which will develop your own techniques and abilities, and you support a publication that will rely on its readers to keep it going.

 

That’s it. This is what I do when I’m faced with a rejection, making it my second best friend. You take rejection and you learn from it. You become a better, stronger writer, and then you find a new opportunity to chase. I firmly believe that no matter how well someone writes, no matter how widely published or successful they are, they can always learn more.

I’m really interested to hear what you think about this list. Is there anything here that you don’t do and you’re going to do now? Or is there anything else you do that helps you deal with rejection? Let me know in the comments section!

Writing Spreadsheets: 7 Ways a Simple Spreadsheet Keeps You Organised and Motivated

In June 2014 I had my first piece of writing published. It was a piece of flash fiction called ‘What We Do In Our Sleep’ published in the 2014 National Flash-Fiction Day Anthology Eating My Words, and I was absolutely thrilled to have my first taste of publication. I had another piece, ‘Me, But From The Future’, published in FlashFlood as a part of National Flash-Fiction Day in June too. You can find the details of both of these stories in the Publications section.

That was a year ago, and now I have 15 pieces of writing published or scheduled for publication. Now I don’t know if this number is good or not, but I’m very proud of myself and very happy with my current rate of success, mainly because 13 of these pieces of writing have been published or accepted for publication in 2015. That’s an average of two pieces of writing a month.

There are lots of things that have helped me to achieve this: reading publications to assess what they like to publish, writing, rewriting, editing, reading, reading, reading, and more reading. That, of course, contributes, but over Christmas of 2014 I made a spreadsheet to keep tabs of my submissions. I’d heard that one of my creative writing tutors did this and thought, hey, if I want to get more of my writing published then this must be something that can help me.

There are 7 ways keeping a simple spreadsheet has helped me with my writing, and if it can help me then hopefully it can help you too:

  1. I know what writing I have sent out for consideration and where I sent it. This is important to know because many competitions and calls for submissions do not like simultaneous submissions.
  2. I know when I should hear back from the editor of the journal or magazine, or when the competition results should be announced. This is good to know in case I need to chase up publications where I haven’t had an email of acceptance or rejection.
  3. In the case of a rejection I put a little red box by the story but this is a great thing – it means I know that this piece of writing is available to submit somewhere else, and I usually have somewhere else lined up. This means I can get the rejected piece, after another once over, back out there.
  4. In the case of an acceptance I put a yellow box by the story and a little star and this makes me feel fantastic every time I check out my spreadsheet. It’s also pretty motivational – it makes me want more little stars on my spreadsheet.
  5. If the submission is active then there’s a little green box, and this means I’m waiting to find out if the piece of writing has been accepted or rejected, but also tells me I cannot (in most cases) send it out to someplace else.
  6. My spreadsheet can shame me into submitting writing. That sounds weird, but basically, as I record the date I send submissions, I can see if I haven’t submitted something for a while. Now of course life and studies and other things get in the way, but when I see I haven’t submitted something for a while it inspires me to do so. If it’s a case where I don’t have any writing “ready” to submit, it encourages me to review my writing, or write more!
  7. By recording where I’ve sent writing I can see what I have sent to places before. I tend not to resend the same story to a publication; they’ve read it once, and didn’t like it, so they’re not likely to want to read it again.

Now it doesn’t have to be fancy, and it doesn’t need to be able to do anything incredible – it just needs to be simple for you to use and contains whatever information works best for you.

I’m really intrigued to know if any of you writers also keep a spreadsheet to track your submissions, or, if you don’t use a spreadsheet, what do you use? Is it helpful? Is this helpful to you?