Books Anne has written or has a chapter in.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Holiday Thoughts

My husband and I decided not to give each other gifts this holiday season. We both agree that all we really want this time around is each other, alive and well.  I know how sappy that sounds, and there were years past when I might have sneered at someone writing such sentimental claptrap, but no more. As we say, my priorities have shifted.

No gifting doesn't mean we aren't celebrating the season, of course. I have a newfound interest in apple cider, eggnog (especially with a splash of Marsala), cranberry juice and a whole host of other drinkables. We have a pine wreath on the door and our pomelo tree out back is bursting with fruit. I plan to gather some up and put them in baskets to give to friends.

We're still coasting on the wonderful six days daughter April (check out her blog, Peace in the Body) spent with us. She's grown into such an amazing young woman - how did we do that?  I'm just glad she's willing to put up with the long trip from Seattle to Florida to visit us. So having her here was our early Winter Solstice celebration. Pigged out totally at Spring Creek Restaurant day before she left. It was the first time I'd been back there since I got sick in June. Making progress. 

Hope everyone has a joyous and meaningful holiday season, however you celebrate it (or even if you don't). It definitely means more to me this year, since I was warned I might not even be around to enjoy it. But here I am, beating the odds. Happy Solstice!

Friday, October 19, 2012

On the bright side...

There is good news to report.

As difficult as chemo has been on my body, it seems to be doing its job. My survival prognosis has improved greatly and I do believe I have turned a corner, moving from perilous patient to long-term survivor. As my wise daughter reminded me, medical treatment is as much an art form as a logical follow-the-numbers set of procedures. It takes a physician who has impeccable instincts as well as formidable training and experience. I happened to luck out and find an oncologist, Dr. Marie Amanze, with all those attributes.

As I grow stronger and more mentally acute, I hope to start blogging more frequently.  I'm also putting the finishing touches on my next novel, The Cornerstone, due out from JournalStone Publishing in February 2013. I'm so excited about this book - it's been a long time in the making and I'm really pleased with the way it's turning out.  And another very cool project that I'm editing with JournalStone is the LIMBUS collection, which will also be available early next year. It's a fabulous grouping of 5 stories by accomplished writers in the horror/fantasy/sci-fi fields.

So much to look forward to. 

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Can this body be saved?

Some of my readers may know that since June of this year, I've been battling a fast-growing form of lung cancer...which has my doctors baffled because I am a nonsmoker. That's right, never smoked a day in my life, yet I have the classic smoker's lung cancer. No explanation for what triggered it. Maybe on a cosmic level I was bored, writing about life and death situations in my books and stories, but without much empathy for what life - and the loss of it - really means.

When I was admitted to the hospital it was an emergency life and death situation. Could barely breathe from the tumor in my left lung pressing against a bronchial tube. Since then, I've been in the OR twice, am halfway through a 6-cycle chemotherapy treatment with possible radiation at the end, and had two transfusions. It's a scary ride, and some nights my husband and I have held each other and cried.

We won't even speak of the cost, over $100,000 and still climbing.

Every day it's a constant fight to keep all my internal systems functioning. At any given time my white platelets may be too low, I might have scary-level anemia from not enough red blood cells, not enough potassium, not enough magnesium, not enough fluid intake, the list goes on...not to mention the ordinary daily process of kidney function and avoiding constipation. I've lost over 20 pounds because it's hard to keep food down on a regular basis, and many of my favorite foods have been ruined by the salty metallic taste the chemo drugs cause in my mouth.

All this is daunting to say the least, but there have been some positives as well, which is really the point of this post. The outpouring of support and encouragement from friends and the wonderful company I work for (I'm currently on leave of absence from them but hope to return before the end of the year), the selfless help of people who went out of their way to make things better for me, and so much more. I was also amazed at the number of writers I'm associated with who have their own cancer survival stories to share.  The biggest positive of all is the upgrade in my prognosis status for survival from "poor" to "good" with the goal now being long-term remission.

What has this done for me as a writer? I think it has made me less cerebral about the big issues of life and death. So easy to kill off characters on paper. But having stared my own possible quick demise in the face, my perspective is changed forever. I hope it will infuse my storytelling with a level of immediacy and empathy that was missing. We'll see....

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Where do story ideas come from?

It seems to be a staple question on almost every interview I've done - where do you get your ideas?

I honestly cannot say specifically what fuels my imagination for stories and novels. Most often ideas come unbidden, when I'm not even looking for inspiration. I'll be thinking about something unrelated to writing and realize it could make a viable story, or I'll be tinkering with some story possibility that's not really working and a solution or better alternative just suddenly sticks its neck out.

I know that if I deliberately set out to come up with what to write about next, I'll get nowhere. This doesn't apply to assignment-driving writing, of course; I'm talking about my own creative endeavors where anything goes. I guess my muse is a like quantum particle. If I try to look at her directly, she disappears. If I ignore her and don't think about writing, she slips something into my brain pan, like she did last night when I wondered what my next novel would be about. I should learn to trust her more. ;D

Friday, June 22, 2012

Checking in

Sorry I've missed most of this month due to health issues. Blogging will return next month. See you then!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Feeling accomplished

Sometimes I think I must be one of the world's slowest writers. I have to be in the right mood to make words flow or to see the signposts up ahead that tell me where the story's going. Occasionally even being in the mood doesn't make the chapters get written. Never could be one of those people who sit down at a certain time every day and get up after X number of words or pages have been written.

And research...don't get me started (because I will not know when to stop!). I love researching details to the nth degree, knowing full well that only a small portion of those details will ever make it into the book or story. But the fact that the greater gestalt of fact lives in my head allows me to write a scene for a chapter that rings with authenticity.

So it is with some surprise that I find myself with two long, complex pieces of writing (a novel and a novella) finished and turned in within weeks of each other. I can say now that my next dark fiction novel, The Cornerstone, is scheduled for publication with Journalstone Publishing in February of 2013, and my novella, We Employ, will be part of the LIMBUS shared-world collection due out in November 2012, also from Journalstone.

So now I have time and energy to turn my attention to the second novel in the North Florida Trilogy that I'm co-authoring with P. V. LeForge. We wrote the first version of Museum Piece many years ago, and revisiting it now is almost like reading it for the first time - I have no idea where the plot is headed and even less feel for where it ends, which is a good thing, I think. I'm seeing this story with 21st century eyes and a number of things have changed, from technology to social issues and even our slang and vocabulary, not to mention clothing styles. But underneath all the window dressing, there's a really solid, intriguing storyline and some unique, memorable characters the likes of which I've never met in anybody's novel (although Confederacy of Dunces comes close). Hope we can get this one out by the end of the year... we'll see.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

A little night music

Lately, I've seen more and more writers posting playlists for their latest novels, stories, poetry, etc. Some even compile them into a download (wondering about copyright issues there...). I have to confess I'm actually fascinated in a voyeuristic sort of way to see what writers I'm interested in are hearing in their headphones as they write, edit, revise, or just watch eye-lid movies as they're making stuff up.

Had to try it myself, of course.

I usually don't listen to anything when I'm writing new material because it interferes with my ability to hear the characters' voices. But I love to put on music when I'm editing or revising. So I made a list of the music I played the most when The Cornerstone was in its final revision stages. Hm. Kind of made me think, woman, you are nuts! Wide mood swings from the creepiest cuts in the Togainu no Chi soundtrack to angst-ridden Carnival of Rust from Poets of The Fall, laced heavily with Cara Dillon, MUCC, Disturbed, Evanescence, BUCK-TICK, Jane's Addiction, Jean-Luc Ponty, Yoko Kanno's Ghost in the Shell OST, Underworld's Oblivion with Bells, stuff by Incubus, Pantera's Cemetery Gates, Sibelius' Kullervo Suite, Yngwie Malmsteen's Relentless, and Värttinä's Ilmatar.

Not sure I'd want all those cuts on a CD for sequential listening, but somehow they got the job done when I was editing and (ruthlessly) revising.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

PW exposure!

My fiction publisher, JournalStone Publishing, scores the front and back covers of this week's Publisher's Weekly magazine!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

It's coming...


What's a limbus, you ask? Limbus is Latin for "edge" or "boundary."

Limbus, Inc. is my brainchild, spawned by reading a number of other exciting shared-world books like Welcome to Bordertown and Irregulars. It just seemed to me that given the connections of my publisher to some heavyweights in the dark fiction world, we could do this ourselves in spades.He agreed and recruited four like-minded authors in addition to myself to write stories within the set world of Limbus, Inc.

The result is LIMBUS, a shared-world anthology of dark fiction, to be unleashed from Journalstone Publishing in the fall of 2012.  More details coming soon...

Sunday, April 29, 2012

VERITAS ebook single

My short story "The Veritas Experience" is now available as a single on Kindle, Smashwords, and Nook.

Kindle link:  The Veritas Experience

Smashwords link: TVE

B&N NOOK link: nook

Friday, April 27, 2012

New projects

My next novel, The Cornerstone, is done - whew! This book has been hatching for over a year now, if I don't count the time it was an unfinished ms. stuck in a drawer.  It's been gestating, I guess, and a very small piece of it became a short story that won Honorable Mention from Absent Willow Review several years ago. The Cornerstone is now with my two beta readers, who are ruthless but generally spot on when something needs fixing, so although they make me cry, I wholly trust them.

Next up is a wildly exciting project involving a shared-world anthology. More on this as it comes together, but look for some heavy hitters from the horror/dark fiction realm to wade into the waters!

And finally, I have the rights back to my longish short story "The Veritas Experience," which I'm reediting and plan to put up on Kindle and Smashwords as a single. That should be ready next week, and I'll come back here and supply the links.

What else? I hope that's enough for now!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

ebook giveaway!

And now...a word from my publisher, JournalStone, about a very cool giveaway for the month of April:

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

A fabulous review, bumps and all

Fabulous review of SHAMAN'S BLOOD - doesn't get much better than this!

The funny thing is, this 5-star review was in spite of the reviewer's antipathy for novels told with a dual trackline, where one part of the story is told in the past and the parallel track is in the present. In the case of Shaman's Blood, the main character is in the past trackline, not the present (where he is an ephemeral presence). For my own taste, my natural inclination is toward telling stories this way, where the deep past and the immediate present cannot be separated. I always want to see what lay in the dim past that caused the events and characters of the present to turn out the way they did.

The novel I'm writing now does the same thing, only this time the main character is in the present and most of the 16th century trackline is handled through flashbacks. I just can't seem to tell a story without pulling in some history from way back when. My head just works that way, I guess. Maybe some day I'll try writing a novel just from what happens in the immediate present. I suspect I'd probably get too bored with it to finish.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Real Deal

My recent flash fiction story, "The Real Deal," will appear in Slices of Flesh: A Collection of Flash fiction Tales from the World's Greatest Horror Writers, published by Dark Moon Books, March 2012.

The anthology will officially be launched at the World Horror Convention taking place March 29th - April 1, 2012 in Salt Lake City. Cover art for Slices of Flesh is being provided by Mike Mignola of Hellboy fame.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Freedom to write, and be read

This blog post is FYI, in case you weren't aware of this developing situation.

You may feel that it doesn't concern you because you don't write erotica or don't use Smashwords. But if you read further, you'll see that literary works containing the themes Paypal and its partner financial institutions have deemed offensive are not necessarily exempted. This veiled form of censorship coming from the entities that process payment for books (digital and print) could have a significant effect on everyone's freedom to write - and read - legal fiction.

Yes, this censorship has already affected my literary press Kitsune Books. So... you should be aware.

The following is an open letter from Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords.

In case you haven't heard, about two weeks ago, PayPal contacted Smashwords and gave us a surprise ultimatum: Remove all titles containing bestiality, rape or incest, otherwise they threatened to deactivate our PayPal account.

We engaged them in discussions and on Monday they gave us a temporary reprieve as we continue to work in good faith to find a suitable solution. PayPal tells us that their crackdown is necessary so that they can remain in compliance with the requirements of the banks and credit card associations (likely Visa, MasterCard, Discover, American Express, though they didn't mention them by name). Last Friday, I sent the following email to our erotica authors and publishers: Then on Monday, I issued an update, and announced we would delay enforcement of PayPal's guidelines so we and PayPal could continue our discussions:

THE PROBLEM: PayPal is asking us to censor legal fiction. Regardless of how one views topics of rape, bestiality and incest, these topics are pervasive in mainstream fiction. We believe this crackdown is really targeting erotica writers. This is unfair, and it marks a slippery slope. We don't want credit card companies or financial institutions telling our authors what they can write and what readers can read. Fiction is fantasy. It's not real. It's legal.

THE SOLUTION: There's no easy solution. Legally, PayPal and the credit card companies probably have the right to decide how their services are used. Unfortunately, since they're the moneyrunners, they control the oxygen that feeds digital commerce. Many Smashwords authors have suggested we find a different payment processor. That's not a good long term solution, because if credit card companies are behind this, they'll eventually force crackdowns elsewhere. PayPal works well for us. In addition to running all credit card processing at the store, PayPal is how we pay all our authors outside the U.S. My conversations with PayPal are ongoing and have been productive, yet I have no illusion that the road ahead will be simple, or that the outcome will be favorable.

BUILDING A COALITION OF SUPPORT: Independent advocacy groups are considering taking on the PayPal censorship case. I'm supporting the development of this loose-knit coalition of like-minded groups who believe that censorship of legal fiction should not be allowed. We will grow the coalition. Each group will have its own voice and tactics I'm working with them because we share a common cause to protect books from censorship. Earlier today I had conversations with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), The American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE) and the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC). I briefed them on the Smashwords/PayPal situation, explained the adverse affect this crackdown will have on some of our authors and customers, and shared my intention to continue working with PayPal in a positive manner to move the discussion forward. 
The EFF blogged about the issue a few days ago:
 Today, ABFFE and NCAC issued a press release: I will not be on the streets with torch in hand calling for PayPal's head, but I will encourage interested parties to get involved and speak their piece. This is where you come in...

HOW YOU CAN HELP: Although erotica authors are being targeted, this is an issue that should concern all indie authors. It affects indies disproportionately because indies are the ones pushing the boundaries of fiction. Indies are the ones out there publishing without the (fading) protective patina of a "traditional publisher" to lend them legitimacy. We indies only have each other.

Several Smashwords authors have contacted me to stress that this censorship affects women disproportionately. Women write a lot of the erotica, and they're also the primary consumers of erotica. They're also the primary consumers of mainstream romance, which could also come under threat if PayPal and the credit card companies were to overly enforce their too-broad and too-nebulous obsenity clauses (I think this is unlikely, but at the same time, why would dubious consent be okay in mainstream romance but not okay in erotica? If your write paranormal, can your were-creatures not get it on with one another, or is that bestiality? The insanity needs to stop here. These are not questions an author, publisher or distributor of legal fiction should have to answer.).

All writers and their readers should stand up and voice their opposition to financial services companies censoring books. Authors should have the freedom to publish legal fiction, and readers should have the freedom to read what they want. These corporations need to hear from you. Pick up the phone and call them. Email them. Start petitions. Sign petitions. Blog your opposition to censorship. Encourage your readers to do the same. Pass the word among your social networks. Contact your favorite bloggers and encourage them to follow this story. Contact your local newspaper and offer to let them interview you so they can hear a local author's perspective on this story of international significance. If you have connections to mainstream media, encourage them to pick up on the story. Encourage them to call the credit card companies and pose this simple question, "PayPal says they're trying to enforce the policies of credit card companies. Why are you censoring legal fiction?"

Below are links to the companies waiting to hear from you. Click the link and you'll find their phone numbers, executive names and postal mailing addresses. Be polite, respectful and professional, and encourage your friends and followers to do the same. Let them know you want them out of the business of censoring legal fiction. Tell the credit card companies you want them to give PayPal permission to sell your ebooks without censorship or discrimination. Let them know that PayPal's policies are out of step with the major online ebook retailers who already accept your books as they are. Address your calls, emails (if you can find the email) and paper letters (yes paper!) to the executives. Post open letters to them on your blog, then tweet and Facebook hyperlinks to your letters. Force the credit card companies to join the discussion about censorship. And yes, express your feelings and opinions to PayPal as well. Don't scream at them. Ask them to work on your behalf to protect you and your readers from censorship. Tell them how their proposed censorship will harm you and your fellow writers. 
American Express:
Ebay (owns PayPal):

Starting Sunday, if our email systems can handle it, we will send out an email to several hundred thousand registered Smashwords members who are opted in to receive occasional Smashwords service updates. The email will combine Read an Ebook Week with the censorship call to action. Let's start a little fire, shall we? Thank you for your continuing support of Smashwords. With your help, we can move mountains.

Best wishes,
Mark Coker, Founder, Smashwords

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Zen of Letting Go

Last night I experienced every writer’s worst nightmare. Lost words.  About 4,000 of them, gone up in smoke. Well, not literally, unless you count the smoke coming out of my ears.

In a brain-dead, careless moment, I overwrote the current chapter file of my new novel with an older one, and before I could stop it handily wiped out an entire week’s work that I’d sweated over, polished, reread dozens of times, tweaked here and there, corrected factual errors, and on and on. All gone.

I am not the type of person who cries easily – instead, I mentally shut down and pondered my navel (not so hard, given my current weight).  As I sat there, trying not to think about how what I’d just done was possibly the end of the world, I remembered being in a somewhat emotionally similar situation about a decade ago when my home office located in a little one-room cabin on our property close to the main house burned to the ground. Lost everything in it – the fire was so hot it shot up and singed the tops of several nearby trees and melted the glass in the window casements.  Everything a writer would have in an office literally went up in smoke. The insurance appraiser asked for a list of the cabin’s contents and I didn’t even know where to start. Um, there was that irreplaceable CD of new music Yngwie Malmsteen burned for me right off his mixing console, and there was this foot-tall soapstone replica of Bastet that melted to an unrecognizable lump, and well, there was a treasured autographed copy of Rita Mae Brown’s Wish You Were Here, oh and those stacks of T-shirts for Yngwie’s Fan Club, and filing cabinets of printed manuscripts, not to mention computer, printer, fax machine, stereo sound system, and on and on…

Because we live in a rural county out in the woods, by the time the fire truck water tanker of the volunteer fire department finally found our quarter-mile driveway in the trees, there was nothing they could do but wet down the  surrounding trees to keep the fire from spreading out into the woods. I was numb for days after the Great Beechwood Fire, as we referred to it later (Beechwood being the dirt road we lived on). But gradually, my long-suffering husband and I reached a point where we just stopped mourning what was gone and started looking forward. We hired a bulldozer, scraped the burn site bare, put in a small pond, and stocked it with native gambusia and water lilies. Planted roses and native azaleas around the flagstone path, encouraged a wall of bamboo, watched dragonflies skim the top of the pond, listened to the chorus of frogs hanging out on the lily pads at night, watched critters like raccoons, ‘possums, and even deer stop there to drink. We had indeed moved on.

So, last night when I was staring at the screen and thinking dark thoughts like self immolation or decapitation, I remembered the lovely pond and how the Great Fire had been a blessing in disguise. With that in mind, I got up, stretched, made a pot of tea, did some deep breathing, and started typing.  By midnight, I’d rewritten as much of the lost chapter as I could remember and put in markers and notes where things needed to go that I couldn’t remember word for word. Maybe the original version I’d ruined wasn’t as perfect as I’d supposed, and maybe my second attempt at writing that chapter would be even better. Anything is possible….

Monday, January 30, 2012

Writing Flash Fiction, Part 3

Do Try This at Home
These writing exercises work equally well for short stories or short-shorts. Most people find them fairly easy to apply to standard short stories where you may have up to 10,000 words to work with. But try doing these when you only have 600 words to spend!


Focus: Using your senses.

Exercise: Write your opening paragraph from the viewpoint of a blind person or a sighted person in total darkness.


Focus: Putting yourself in some else’s shoes; empathy.

Exercise: Two people are arguing in a public place. The young woman appears distraught but tightly controlled. The man, a little younger than her, is on the verge of losing it.
  •  Identify with the woman and write the scene from her perspective.
  • Identify with the man and write the scene from his perspective.
  • Change it up and write the scene with two men, or two women.

Focus: Getting specific; using setting to define character

Exercise: In your opening paragraph, describe the bedroom or living room of the main character’s apartment. Write your description so that we can learn a great deal about the character just by looking at the place he or she inhabits. You can’t make any direct statements about the character (“Maureen demanded only the best.” or “Cornell lived like a pig.”). Write only what we, the readers, can see.  And don’t forget: streamline!


Focus: Controlling POV – this is critical in flash fiction.

Here’s a quick ‘n dirty POV primer if you need it before you do the activities below.

  • Omniscient: author can enter any character’s mind and reveal thoughts or opinions.
  • Limited omniscient: author can enter the mind of only one (the main) character.
  • Detached (cinematic): author doesn’t enter any character’s mind, just reports. 
  •  Single-character: author tells the story entirely through the perspective of one character.
  • Multiple-character: series of single-character viewpoints, each of a different character, but not occurring simultaneously (as in omniscient).

  • First person:  “I” – “I ambled down the street, wondering if they were following.”
  • Second person: “you” – “You amble down the street. Are they coming? You can’t tell.”
  • Third person: “he” or “she” – “She ambled down the street, alert for pursuing feet.”

  • Present tense:  “Gary ambles down the street, listening for pursuit. Not tonight, he thinks.”
  • Past tense:  “Gary ambled down the street, listening for pursuit. Not tonight, he thought.”

  • Subjective: We perceive only what the POV character can physically see, hear, smell, etc. We’re walking around in his or her body.
  • Objective: We perceive the space around the POV character and how he/she interacts with it, but not what’s going on inside his/her head.

Exercise: Identify the POV style in the following two passages, and then rewrite them a couple of times using different POVs.  After the fourth try, you’ll feel like you’ve done this forever.
  • Miss Walpole watched the gray flakes twitch and crawl. Her eyes shifted. She sat on the very edge of the chair. Her feet were flat on the floor, as if she were about to rise.
  • Chuck went into a bar and I crossed the street and stood under an old hotel awning and looked across the street at the bar and watched him through the glass. He ordered a drink and sat and took his time with it. I started to feel cold. 


Head-hopping is verboten in controlling POV. The temptation to do it is even worse in flash fiction because with the limited space you feel the urge to cram in as much as you can about what the characters are thinking/feeling.  

Exercise: Suppose a story is told through the POV (single-character subjective) of a man named Randall. See if you can find the POV slip made in this bit of dialogue:

“What did you say?” Randall began to sweat.
“You heard me.”  Cynthia silently counted the seconds, watching him.  
She was playing for time, he decided. “It doesn’t matter which you choose,” he said, inhaling her perfume. Honeysuckle.
“Oh, I think it does.” Cynthia smiled faintly, looking down at the table.

ACTIVITY #6   The Ultimate Challenge

Focus:  Story underpinnings – character, setting, situation, emotion.

Exercise: Write an opening paragraph that incorporates all four elements. Obviously they will be undeveloped, but the kernel of each one is there. In other words, locate your story opener in place and time, and identify your main POV character and the issue at hand.  Do all this in just ONE paragraph!

Then polish it until it doesn’t suck (i.e., sound contrived).

Good luck!!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Writing Flash Fiction, Part 2

Strategies for writing flash fiction

If you Google “flash fiction, how to write,” you will get more returns than you can reasonably read and digest in a year, or possibly a lifetime. When I was putting my workshop together, I had my own list of strategies, and after I’d spent some time skimming through all the good advice on the Internet, I started to see patterns and repeats. So, to save you some time and trouble, here’s a distillation of the helpful advice on writing good flash fiction.

  Remember what I said about seating your story into a larger context of meaning? It helps to have an idea of what your story is about, not just what literally happens. I’m not talking about the plot – what I’m referring to is the reader’s take-away.

  That takeaway usually resides as a smaller idea embedded in a larger one. Postcard fiction deals with one event or time period in a character's life, a pivotal moment and its outcome. The keyword here is pivotal. For example, to write about the disintegration of a complex, lifelong relationship, take the triggering event – the discovery of infidelity – and telescope it down to a single event such as finding a strange set of keys in the pocket of your spouse’s jacket while you’re being nice and hanging it up for him or her.

  The opening is critical. You don't have two pages to explain the setting or essential backstory and introduce the cast of characters. At best you have a paragraph and a half.  This is where your inventiveness is put to the test. A few broad strokes, a handful of striking details, and you’re off and running.

  Because you don’t have space for a typical preamble, you’d best start in the middle of the action. What do you see when you crack the story open?   Find a powerful image to kick things off. Paint a scene or a face in vivid color or emotion. A child is running flat-out down a dirt road…is it from fear, anger, exhilaration, panic? A woman sits at an outdoor café in Paris savoring the taste and scent of the fine wine invading her palate as she picks out individual sounds of the city street and interacts with the waiter – only at the end do we discover she’s gone blind. Hone those descriptive urges down to the bare bone, giving the reader just enough to fill in the larger fatty context as you go along.

  Keep the number of characters down to a bare minimum. This should be obvious. If you’ve got more than two or three people talking, you’re asking for trouble. Stick to a main character, someone he or she interacts with to move the story to its inevitable (and possibly unexpected) conclusion, and just allude to others as necessary.

  A little mystery goes a long way. I’ve seen this advice over and over, and I think it’s true. Your reader may feel lost at the beginning, but that's fine. If you’ve crafted that handful of details you started out with carefully and built on them judiciously, readers will be compelled to carry on to the end. A word to the wise: don’t disappoint your faithful reader by failing to pay off those expectations.  

  Let’s go back to what I said about alluding. Making reference to commonly known events or places or people is the quick way to get your exposition out there – it’s what I call “express exposition.” Referring to Howl as the latest rage amongst the literati puts you in the 1950s and probably San Francisco.  

  Pulling things to a conclusion is likely going to be the most chewed over paragraph in your story. You don’t have to be an O’Henry to pack some punch at the end of the tale. Flash fiction is a great vehicle for the surprise ending or abrupt shift in POV because you don't have enough time to create the buildup that longform fiction allows. Flash fiction is streamlined – you’re at the conclusion almost before you know it. You may or may not want the reader to see the depends on the dynamics of the tale. You can create a delicious sense of dread if you don’t mind the reader guessing what’s coming. On the other hand, a sharp unexpected turnaround at the end can make readers want to reread the story to savor the clever (and surreptitious) way in which the ending is the perfect payoff to the events of the story. It may even reveal a new take on some greater truth.

Tomorrow, I’ll share some workshop activities you can try at home without hurting yourself.