The Seeker

A Meta-Cognitive Journal About Writing… Plus Other Stuff

The Fiction That Wasn’t

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It’s a strange thing, writing.  I’ve said that enough herein over the last few years that I could justify changing the name of this blog to It’s A Strange Thing, Writing.  I’m not going to do that, even though writing is a strange thing.  Maybe even the strangest.  Case in point:  Third Wednesday declared my piece “Thirteenth Birthday” the runner-up in the first-ever George Dila Memorial Flash Fiction Contest.  That wouldn’t be so strange if not for a couple of things.  One, I didn’t remember submitting “Thirteenth Birthday” to the contest, and then when I got the good news, I couldn’t find the piece in my “stories” folder on Google Drive.  Da Fuh?

First, I remember sending a few pieces to Third Wednesday’s contest early last summer.  I got “no thanks” emails back on two of them in about the same amount of time it took me to click “send” on Submittable.  No big whoop.  Rejection is the rule on submissions to journals, especially for contests, so I wasn’t surprised.  In fact, I’ve conditioned myself to submit and forget so when I get a rejection, which I do about 97% of the time, I’m like, “Meh…”  But there was a third piece, “Thirteenth Birthday,” that Third Wednesday held onto, and I’m glad they did even if I had written it off in my head.

So why couldn’t I find the piece in my “stories” folder?  Because it wasn’t a story.  It was a prose poem, so it was in my “poems” folder.  Dunno what inspired me to get it out that day I made those submissions, but I did.  In fact, my writing process showed that I made a few tweaks.  The opening went from this:

You’re floating on your back out near the bouys.  Your legs stick straight out from your body; your arms angle out from your shoulders and float next to you.

to this:

You are an arrow.  You can see yourself in your mind’s eye.

This is an issue worth noting because I listened to my instincts, which told me to move the central image of the writing to the front, especially since the piece is so short (only about 100 words).  Those instincts have been honed these last few years as I’ve worked more and more on flash fiction and poetry and have learned the value of a central image first, last, and/or recurring.

Sterling may have been thinking, “As far as this Burd fellow…  fancies himself a writer.  Second place suits him.”

So how does the piece win second place in a flash fiction contest if it’s a prose poem?  That’s an issue judge Phillip Sterling addressed first thing in Third Wednesday.  When asked to delineate the difference between a work of flash fiction and a prose poem, Sterling replied with cheek:  “Let someone else worry about that…  Just concern yourself with the integrity of the individual work.”  He does, however, go on to point out the commonalities between the two genres, most notably conciseness and the use of sensory detail.  But fiction also has to have things like characterization, situation, and complication.  Poets know that you can knock a few of those items off the checklist before your poem even begins if you work as hard on the title as you do the rest of the poem.  For me, the title “Thirteenth Birthday” establishes the situation and implies a significant conflict, that being the passage into one’s teenage years.  The prose did the rest of the work, with the idea of baptism figuring heavily into the narrative and the image of the arrow working as a toy, a weapon, and a directional indicator in the narrator’s life.

I surprised myself with this one, and what a pleasant surprise.  I remember telling a writer friend about two years back that I am trying to writer mode-less pieces, to me meaning things that I think of or cull from my life experiences or in some way come up with that trigger my poet instincts and that I start writing with the intention of creating a poem.  Funny thing is, I when I start writing poems, they start as prose.  I will chisel that prose a dozen times or more if necessary to get the words and sounds I want, and to tease out some images and symbols and to craft an adequate ending.  What I end up with, before it is “poetry time!” is a concise paragraph.  I’m starting to realize now, though, that some things don’t need to be turned into poems; they need only ever be paragraphs.  Like pretty damn concise paragraphs.  In the case of “Thirteenth Birthday,” I started it as a poem and lost interest in bringing it into verse format.  Is it fiction?  I guess so.  I made it up.  It’s not something that happened to me.  Then is it nonfiction?  Sure, because  of the “emotional truth” (gag!), and it speaks to a universal experience.  That’s what did it for Mr. Sterling to rate it as second best.  And is it a poem?  Hells yeah.  Because I started it with that intention, used sundry poetic devices, and because I said so!

So I guess it’s possible to write mode-less pieces.  But they better be a helluva lot like poetry.  Writing will remain a strange thing, but what happened with “Thirteenth Birthday” and Third Wednesday has made it less strange by a small degree.  I’ll take that.

Written by seeker70

October 14, 2017 at 3:20 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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