So it was Thursday afternoon and I was puttering around with another PEN/O.Henry story, trigonometry (don’t worry, I’ll explain it some day, it’s all Zin’s fault) and wondering what new long-form to select now that I’m done with the Nalini Jones collection. Then the news came in: The Wigleaf Top 50 (very) Short Fictions was up!
I dropped everything, even foregoing Jeopardy to work straight through from Colbert to Maddow (and even then divided my attention enough to hear Rachel say something about Nazis in Arizona, which isn’t the sort of thing she typically says, but I’m chalking it up to only listening with half of one ear – that’s what the Wigleaf 50 does to me, even Nazis in Arizona get put on hold). I pulled the middle-aged version of an all-nighter. I need a nap.
So in the past not-quite-24-hours I’ve read all 50 pieces of (very) short fiction, and some of the additional 200 on the longlist. Go ahead, check them out. That’s what the links are there for.
If you’re not aware, for the past 5 years Wigleaf has put up a list of best online flash fiction. Because no one else will. Online litmags, and (very) short fiction, are anathema to BASS, Pushcart, and PEN/O.Henry et al.* StorySouth‘s Million Writers Award comes to the rescue of online literature, but turns up its nose at flash (for which Jason Sanford often gets razzies and catcalls). Selecting editor Dan Chaon’s foreword is worth reading on its own. So thank you, Ravi Mangla, Wigleaf editor, for stepping into the breach. Selecting editor Dan Chaon’s foreword on his selection process is worth reading on its own.
Just the Longlist was pretty impressive. Some familiar names, and just cool stuff:
Jeanne Holtzman: “I Know My Love Can Save The World” – from Used Furniture Review, 1/30/11; everything you wanted to know about the manic next door and then some. “The doctor listened intently and nodded his head, pronounced it mania and assigned me a code.”
Randall Brown: “Here Goes” – from FRiGG, Summer 2011; one wish just might be enough. “Alone in my mom’s apartment, I water the brown plants, feed the floating fish.”
Shellie Zacharia: “Fairy Tale, Perhaps” – from Matter Press, 9/13/2011; sometimes, when you least expect it…. “Not everything lovely and strange was a dream!”
Tara Laskowski: “The Men And The Women” – from Foundling Review, 2/11; Thoreau was half right about the lives of quiet desperation. “It is a picture, blurry on the edges, of all the men and women they remember, all of them looking every which way but at the camera.”
Robert Coover: “The Go-Go Dancer” from Narrative, Spring 2011; a fairy tale turned on its ear. “On a business trip into the city, a traveling salesman of skin care products picked up a fairy princess who was disguised as a fat, aged, former go-go dancer and brought her home with him.”
Gary Percesepe: “More Abandoned Sentences” – from Dogzplot, 03/11; recycle those prose cuttings! “The light felt slightly used.”
Gabriel Blackwell: “Solve for x, where x is an integer such that x > 0” – from jmww, Summer 2011; trigonometry not required. “1. Let y = the grandmother.”
Ok, wait, this is getting ridiculous, I’m listing everything. Go see the longlist. In addition to the above, you’ll find Kim Chinquee, Kathy Fish, Pamela Painter, Roxanne Gay, Howie Good, Barry Graham, Cooper Renner, Matt Salesses, J.A. Tyler, and a bunch of other terrific writers – it’s a flash party.
And the Top 50 itself, well, again, I’m tempted to just list them all, but that would be silly, especially since, unlike the longlist, Wigleaf provides direct links to these. But still, I have to mention a few specifically. I should also mention, a couple of top-50s (Angi Becker Stevens, Douglas Watson) already made my own “Online Fiction to Read and Love” page. Nice to know I sometimes can pick ’em.
Steve Almond: “Jeff Keith, Lead Singer of Tesla, Considers Youth” – part of the Imaginary Oklahoma project in This Land, October 28, 2011; it doesn’t take much to bring us back from the ledge if we don’t want to be there. “There was that night in El Paso where the singer for Cinderella started bleeding from his vocal chords.”
Aimee Bender: “Winter” – from Fiction Southeast, Fall 2011; I’ll never see a coat, or maybe anything, in a store window display the same way again. “She is all coat right now.”
Sherrie Flick: “Gravity” – from Booth, February 11, 2011; sometimes father does know best, even if your sister does compare him to the cat she’d put down. “Needs to feel abused and neglected and put out over everything, including the type of pizza I’ve brought to her house.”
Cezarija Abartis: “The Writer” – from Waccamaw, Fall 2011; an elegant reminiscence. Cezarija is one of the Zoetrope Virtual Studios Flash Factory crew so I’m especially happy to see her on this list. “ Look at the lightning, look before it’s gone. Look.”
Meg Pokrass: “Nights” – from Superstition Review, Fall 2011; survivor’s tale. “Night brings husbands all over the world ready for sleep, taking off their belts, a whole world of clownish men taking off their belts.”
Venita Blackburn: “In The Middle Of Everything There Are Ribbons of Light” – from Devil’s Lake, Fall 2011; the parents of an autistic savant learn more than they expect. “Baby girl said everybody’s number stretches out like a shoelace or a bowtie and bounces back.”
Sarah Rose Etter: “Stolen Fat Baby” – from Monkeybicycle; what if your family narrative began with a kidnapping you were too young to remember? “Stolen celebrity fat baby, making a splash.”
Ashley Farmer: “Where Everyone Is A Star” – from The Collagist, July 14, 2011; divorce seen through the lens of a gymnastics coach. “We attempted and exerted, but not utmost or damnedest, and when our brief moments arrived spotlighted as they would before they wouldn’t anymore, we failed to stick our landings—the only moment anyone remembers.”
Ryan Griffith: “Thrill of Fire” – from Night Train, 1/10/11; single-sentence micro describing that second that seems like forever, when the car hangs in the air between road and crash. “… the boys still more than dentals…”
Casey Hannan: “Other Sons” – from Smokelong, March 2011; coming out, plus dog. “She slaps me to mark me, so potential mates will know what I’ve gone through to reach them.”
Ann Hillesland: “About My Mother” – from Prick of the Spindle 5.2, June 2011; a memoir of sorts. “I was too young to read that sign.”
Jen Knox: “Types of Circus” – from Fwriction, 8/11/11; the simplest things are the most complex. “I wasn’t the only man who knew about Michelle’s leg strength.”
John Minichillo: “Sleep, Mother, Sleep” – from Monkeybicycle; a good a way as any for three sisters to spend their last hour. “We hadn’t known we’d started a countdown, with an hour left, minutes left, the garage door closed and our play area filling with exhaust.”
Iris Moulton: “Litter” – from American Short Fiction, September 2011; how does all that stuff get on the side of the road, anyhow? “The question was not how the shoes got on the side of the road but how they stayed there.”
R. S. Thomas: “Running” – from Smokelong, December 2011; dreams from the reservation. “Later the doctors would save my uncle’s life, but not his knee.”
Bess Winter: “Signs” – from American Short Fiction, Fall 2011; so this is why scientists are so interested in gorilla sign language. “Dr. Thomas knows there are two types of graduate students: the ones who put their bras beside them on the table and the ones who hang them up on the chair.”
What a terrific survey of online (very) short fiction. Go see – and check out the rest of Wigleaf while you’re at it.
And now, back to trigonometry…
* To be fair, Pushcart and BASS have both included short stories from the exclusively online journals Narrative and Triquarterly, and separate online companions to print journals like Kenyon Review Online; PEN/O.Henry is officially allowing online publications to submit nominations for the 2013 volume. But for the past two years, Bill Henderson has included a rant against online literature in the most pejorative terms (like “fake”) in the Pushcart volume, and I wish he’d stop it. The flash included by BASS and Pushcart has the distinctive quality of tokenism: big names, and one per year. But it’s a start. In ten years, let’s hope this won’t be an issue.