I wrote recently about how practising the 99-word story strengthens my editing muscle. But, of course, the discipline can also have benefits in the other direction, planting a seed that can grow into a longer piece of fiction. The recently published Congress of Rough Writers Flash Fiction anthology contains five such expanded stories (including one of mine) along with the original 99 words. I not only relished reading the other four on their own merits, but I also wondered about the different ways we’d fleshed out our original bones. Would a closer examination of the authors’ process from flash to the longer story (or, in one case, from long to flash) help elucidate that enigmatic creature, creativity? Here’s what three of the other authors told me, along with my own 99 words. (Photos and links are from/to the relevant author page on the Congress of Rough Writers list.)
Life’s tough on the fringes of society, perhaps particularly if you’re female. Not only have you your own vulnerability to contend with, but the projections of others who feel safer dwelling on your difference than on your similarity to them. Let me take you into the worlds of three such fictional females: The Parcel is harrowing novel about sex workers in Bombay; Dance by the Canal is a lighter novella about a homeless woman in East Germany; my recently published short story, “Ghost Girl” is about an African girl with the wrong colour skin.
If you’ve ever held back from having an affair for fear of the hurt it might cause other people, let me offer you a risk-free alternative. These two novels about women with roots in America who stray from marriages to European men can furnish the excitement and eroticism without the guilt or fear of discovery. If you like to read on-screen, no-one need even know you’re having a fictional affair.
Let’s take a look at a couple of debut novels with some fine evocations of the natural world and a strong sense of place published by small independent presses based in Scotland.
These two novels explore the impact of two of America’s controversial wars (Vietnam and Iraq) on combatants, observers and their nearest and dearest.
Since childhood, Thelonius Liddell has striven for excellence in an attempt to forget the trauma of seeing his father murder his mother. At a university careers day, he’s recruited into the US intelligence agency by Becky Firestone, the somewhat disturbed daughter of the director whom Thelonius eventually marries. When we first meet Liddell he’s already a dead man, writing his memoir in the ten metre square cell in the clandestine containment unit he calls The Beige Motel. Now preferring the name Ali, he was converted to Islam by his wizened cellmate in a squalid (presumably Iraqi) prison, where he is accused of the murder of a man and his young daughter and of desecrating the Koran. His conversion was part of a deal brokered by a young woman, Fatima, but, like almost everything else in this multi-layered thriller about the war on terror, we have to keep on turning the pages to uncover the truth. While I’m inclined to agree that, as Fatima says, Stupidity has taken over the process of government in both countries, there’s nothing stupid in this complex tale of compromised morality and the fragility of the human mind.
Annecdotal is where real life brushes up against the fictional.
Annecdotist is the blogging persona of Anne Goodwin:
slug-slayer, tramper of moors,
author of two novels.
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