Top ten literary magazines to send very VERY short flashes
Some say the Internet shrank our attention spans. I say… What was I saying? Oh, sorry about that. I was putting the finishing touches on a very, very short piece of prose that I’m writing. It’s about two hundred words long. It’s so short that its language outshines its plot. That’s what makes very short prose similar to poetry. Similar, but not identical. Whatever you call them–flash fictions, sudden fictions, micro-stories, or prose poems–ultra short prose pieces are thrilling to read. It’s their ambition. They enfold the world with tiny hands.
I classify my own quickie thrill-rides as crosses between flash fiction and narrative poetry. I call them “flash” for short. To me, the term “fiction” doesn’t exactly fit and does more harm than good. It freights my little works with a cargo of expectations more appropriate to the short story. A layered stack of expectations, in fact, with crates of character and setting, fat parcels of plot, a carton of catharsis, two puffy chests of anagnorises and other nagging reasons to prefer a better term than flash fiction. I’d come up with one, but the Internet shrank my attention. And while waiting for the right email spam to address that problem, I scour the globe for literary magazines that share my taste for dollops of epiphany sweetened with a thimble full of fiction.
If you know whereof I speak (or would like to) maybe you’ll like this top ten list. It showcases a few of the best places to send your writings that are under 600 words–in most cases, well under that. I’ve chosen these journals because they’re devoted to shorter forms–none of that standard flash capping at 1,000 words here! These journals are reputable and reliably edited, and they regularly tailor bolts of writing talent in my two favorite sizes: established and emerging.
There’s a few that could’ve made this list but I’ve discussed them elsewhere already. One of the best journals for your inscriptive experiments is Short, Fast, and Deadly. I featured them on an earlier list: Top 10 Literary Magazines to Send Your Best Flash (and Maybe Get Accepted Too). Another excellent publication is Monkeybicycle, which I mention in an even earlier list of more selective markets: 10 best lit mags to send your flash fiction (and get happily rejected from). The Monkeybicyclists publish a special section of one sentence stories, true to the form Hemingway made famous when playing wet-nurse to the genre, boiling water and gathering clean towels for its birth just like people do on TV whenever a baby is on its way. As you might recall, it was Hemingway who slapped the butt of this bouncing baby of micro-prose so many years ago with his six-word doozy…
For sale: baby shoes, never worn.
Anyways, since I’ve already featured those two great venues, I’ve decided to simply give them another quick shout out here before moving on to this week’s top ten list, organized from the most selective to the more accepting.
1. Vestal Review (1% acceptance rate; 500 words or less; Mark Budman, editor-in-chief) The oldest market for flash and still going strong. VR has published some of the loftiest literary luminaries, yet it continues to make room for brilliant up-and-comers. A glance at their offerings suggests an editorial preference for profundity without obscurity and writing that flexes muscles of concision and energy in tandem. As the Cadillac of short venues, VR lends credence to my suspicion that brevity entails the dreamy, the magical and the absurd. One need look no further than Jeff Friedman’s “Old Man Down” (Web Issue 44), in which a haunted son must poignantly negotiate with his rowdy corpse of a father. Friedman’s witty descriptions of the old man’s virility contrast sharply with the impression of pervasive filial guilt, sustained throughout in careful touches. A similarly deft melding of insouciance and intimacy comes in Meagan Cass’s “Horse Head with Comb by Mattel.” The story is a character profile of the high school girl who receives the titular toy. It’s told in the brusque voice of the toy, whose insights amuse and provoke by turns. Like many of VR‘s finest, this one carries off an astonishingly clever premise with an expert display of craft.
2. Camroc Press Review (2.6% acceptance rate; 500 words or less; Barry Basden, editor) According to the submission guidelines, this journal places a premium on emotional authenticity. After looking through recent offerings, it would be accurate to say that CPR leans more towards poetry than fiction. Nevertheless, the short fictions that do appear bloom with memorable characters and moving, often startling, situations. “Flower Power” by Bruce Harris exemplifies the type of flash that captivates and surprises. His main character, a Vermont hippie, is a woman in the midst of transition. She waxes nostalgic in the presence of a flowery van until the very last lines, when she does something so alarming it would be criminal to mention it here and spoil the surprise. Another stereotype-buster, Gloria Garfunkel’s “Great Expectations” captures the petulant voice of Jewish parents, camp survivors who thread the meaning of their two sons’ chosen professions through the traumatic loop of the Holocaust. The gravity of their dramatic monologue thickens thanks to Garfunkel’s subtlety and the story’s ironic presentation.
3. Journal of Compressed Creative Arts (4% acceptance rate; 600 words or less; Randall Brown, managing editor) These folks are serious about compression. They like to see work that seems to understand the terms of its own compression, work that takes compressive shape for a reason. They even want a mission statement about compression as part of the cover letter for submissions. Like I said—they’re serious about it. For ample proof of the success of their editorial convictions, check out Robert Bradley’s “Choose Life” in the current September issue. It breathes weird new life into a standard story–a meeting of potential lovers, surly and dour at a bar. The odd banter that flies between Bradley’s pair is stirring. It estranges and probes, leaving us to wonder about love, drunkenness, and the ephemeral nature of human connection. Also impressive is “Sunday Drive” (May 2013) by Joe Kapitan. It is an emotional dissection of a car ride’s momentary pause at an intersection in Northeast Ohio, where a catalog of finely distilled memories and the bizarre collection of items that trigger them all take a turn towards the memorial, the elegiac.
4. NANO Fiction (4.8% acceptance rate; 300 words or less; Kirby Johnson, editor) NANO Fiction is ably edited by Kirby Johnson, who also manages the prestigious Black Warrior Review. The journal is a feast of ultra flash. One of my recent favorites published here is “The Jar Effect” by Mark Walters (Vol. 6 No. 1), a curious report on the stupefaction induced by a musical effect that makes listeners feel like they’re trapped in a glass jar. In only a few sentences, Walters traces a few of the particular incidents that follow the drug-like popularity of the glassing effect with the clarity and dimension of a filmic premise. Another amazing piece from the same issues is Michelle Reale’s “Our House is Open.” It begins: “The child is throwing darts at an underwater target. He is like a secret society all by himself.” From there, the prose poetry of this flash unfurls its verbal nets to catch such indiscriminate pearls of summer imagery as pickled beets, the cardiac innards of an Irish saint, and marauding ants. It all comes sadly, beautifully together in the end, as do most of the pieces on offer here.
5. 100 Word Story (5.5% acceptance rate; 100 words or less; Grant Faulkner, editor) The word count may be short, but this journal doesn’t skimp on personality or quality. The editors—and yes, there’s a team of them—are well-heeled writers themselves, who drop the F-bomb in the same description of their quirky journal that quotes heady theorists like Walter Benjamin and Roland Barthes. This is my kind of place! Ashley Chantler, who appears elsewhere on this list in an editorial capacity, has a frisky little piece sure to win you over called “A Day in the Life of Steve.” It’s a banal cross-section of life vibrantly translated into twitter-like observations complete with hashtags, memes, and ebulliently exclamation-pointed lols. Likewise endearing is “Straying” by S.E. White, about an affair between two non-adulterous adults who spend supposedly illicit hours together in an abandoned elementary school, playing cards and dancing to the BeeGees. In all, despite the austerity of the word limit, the pieces published here have latitude—an emotional breadth brought about by resonant voices and scenes.
6. Nanoism (8% acceptance rate; 140 characters or less; Ben White, editor) Embracing Twitter-length expressivity, the editor lauds the writing in Nanoism as “the perfect art form for the bleeding edge of the internet revolution.” Closest to Hemingway’s baby-shoed origin of the form, Nanoism offers an unparalleled range of style. Blossoms of levity and panic, love, and macabre rhapsody scroll by in a terse splendor. Think crazed poets set loose in a fortune cookie factory, or postmoderns rewriting the proverb, the epigram, or the police report—“Children play in the park. A hand reaches for another rung of the monkey bars, legs dangling precariously. Let him fall, he’ll learn.” That’s by Mark Rosenblum. There’s also heartbreak and pathos, as in Dan Reiter’s lines: “He couldn’t feel my face when I was a baby. His hands were too rough, or I was too soft. Like cinderblocks on silk, mother said.” I could go on, spending hours reading and quoting the verbal abundances that come in tiny packages here. But I’ll stop—with just one more by Kyle Hemmings—“She spreads mint jelly across a slab of multi-grain toast and wishes for pop-up children who never say no or I can’t or don’t kill me.”
7. DOGZPLOT (8.89% acceptance rate; 200 words or less; Jesse Eagle, editor-in-chief) The name might sound like a pet accident, but this place has a squeaky clean reputation among well-published hipsters. Scan the pub credits of contributors in PANK, Gargoyle, and Wigleaf, and you’ll see a downright conspiracy of Dogzplotters. Peruse the smart offerings here and you’ll know why. Kate Folk’s darkly cheeky “Last First Date” imagines a meet-cute between a serial killer and the unusual female victim who tells the tale, a fitness junkie so fond of pepper spraying her dates her sink has an eye wash attachment. Just as edged is Robert Scotellaro’s “Kept” about a deflated sex doll in a patriarch’s closet that becomes the sensuous window into his detailed past.
8. Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine (21% acceptance rate; 360 words or less; Dr. Peter Blair and Dr. Ashley Chantler, editors) This print magazine is published through the University of Chester in the UK and they are avidly interested in publishing short pieces that are eclectic in their tastes and global in terms of authorship—translations are a particular strength of the magazine. In David Gaffney’s “Something Happened Here” (Vol.6 No.1) a man wonders about the potential profitability of his robust sexual activity in real estate properties up-for-sale. His giddy, conversational tone elevates the story from locker room badinage to feng shui meditation. Ihab Hassan’s “The Wound” (Vol. 5 No. 2) takes a more dramatic turn. In three delicately bare paragraphs a husband witnesses his wife cut her finger accidentally, get stitches at the hospital, and then suffer night terrors—with him. A frisson of mortality brings them together by the end, united in reciprocal vulnerability.
9. Toasted Cheese (25% acceptance rate [though editors claim a more selective 5% rate based on their numbers]; 500 words or less; Stephanie Lenz, managing editor) Although averse to simultaneous submissions, Toasted Cheese is committed to emerging writers. Quality is their only watchword, aside from brevity, of course. Behlor Santi’s “I Wish They All Could Be Chilean Girls” (Vol. 12 Issue 4) is a powerful short that uses repetition strategically to chronicle the physical abuse and escape of a sister in law whose diminutive size and desire to sing carry her repeatedly along in the story until she crosses a magical threshold. Afterwards, she is so small as to be folded up and mailed away to safety. In the current issue, two other flashes continue with the magical realist bent. Anna Moriarty Lev’s “In the Books” imagines a woman in a cave who once remembered everything. Her death curses us with the cozening amnesia of TV and keeps us from mourning the passing of books and trees. Likewise, Julie Clayton’s “The Janitor” features a sensitive school custodian able to smell secrets.
10. Boston Literary Magazine (27% acceptance rate; 250 words or less; Robin Stratton editor-in-chief) This journal loves its flash character-centered. Experimentalists may look elsewhere, but you pithy traditionalists will not find a better home for your short, protagonist-driven work. For those who prefer flash to encompass a full, albeit abbreviated trajectory, Mary McCluskey’s “Ride the Storm” satisfies. It presents a complete character profile and implies a significant change. A mother separated from her children by alcoholism, dreams of brashly returning to them as a storm brews outside. By the end, hints of a lightning strike open the way to a conclusion that wavers fittingly between tragedy and deluded triumph. Alisa Golden’s “Alternatives” is far less traditional in structure and less linear in its logic. As its title indicates, it simulates a tour of alternatives, revisiting a life of homelessness and some of the unusual urban resources available to vagabonds. The ending risks comprehension as the female tour guide announces that she was once homeless and is now a man at night. While the reader’s confusion is accounted for at this moment, there is no easy explanation. Like all quality flash, this one seeks much more than its modest size would suggest—a succinct yet substantial edification, the cosmos in a thimble.