Top Ten Literary Magazines To Send Your Best Flash Fiction (and maybe get accepted pt.2)
Seasoned writers follow a tiered system when submitting to lit mags. They read the markets and target them wisely. Then they organize their submissions accordingly, in tiers.
Here’s the rule: Only after hearing back from the journals at the top of your list should you move on to those on lower tiers. Otherwise, you might miss out on a great opportunity–not to mention all that salubrious rejection, which is Vitamin X for budding and intermediate writers keen on honing oomph, endurance, and that precious “thick skin” everyone talks about.
Submitting isn’t just about rejections, though. There’s a lot to learn about your own writing in the process and so much other great writing to read and to learn from in the magazines you target. There’s nothing quite like finding the long lost twin or soulmate of some flash you’ve written. Look for broad family resemblances and see if you can’t scoot up to a bench at the next published picnic–a flash family reunion–so that you can get your piece acknowledged next to its kinfolk. After all, writing is about community. And reading is our primary means of practicing our belonging.
The markets I’ve assembled here represent another batch of great and relatively accepting venues for a range of writers, from the emerging to the expert. See my earlier lists for different markets. See the elite markets if you want the very best and most selective. For ultra short flash go here. For the first part of the present list, go here.
As always, my goal is to introduce you to a few quality journals that are doing good things and getting them right. Nevertheless, there is no substitute for your own research. So get out there. Read and submit heartily. Hidden families of cousin writers are waiting for you to join the picnic. (Try the chicken salad. It’s scrumptious.)
1. Blue Lake Review (14% acceptance rate; Mitchell Waldman, Fiction Editor) The editors of this electronic monthly have well-defined expectations: “Give us something fresh, that moves us, that comes from the heart. We are not looking for something that shows how clever you are, how large your vocabulary is, or writing that is overly sentimental. The writing must be authentic and pure, absent of false notes.” “Pain” by William Alton is a 250-word short that makes good on these standards. It’s about a man listening to the feet-sore complaints of his lover, a truck stop waitress he suspects of infidelity. Tension swells the gaps in the dialogue between them, creating an atmosphere of silence eloquently distilled by the last line: “Silence stands between us, a layer of cotton around something brittle and breakable.” Two other flashes from the same September issue help us to measure the range of Blue Lake. “The Asterisk Ring” by Jo Heath might just have some readers wondering about the veracity of the editor’s anti-sentimentality pledge. It’s about a bootcamp soldier who tugs nervously at a ring given to him by his grandfather. Part of the tale re-tells his sad boyhood experience of receiving the ring while being orphaned. Yet the crispness of tone and delivery prevents this affecting story from becoming maudlin. “Dill” by Matt Reed has fewer sentimental concerns. It recounts the absurdly hilarious experiences of a man inside a pickle suit. Funny without being senseless and clever without being gimmicky, it’s the kind of flash you’ll want to share with friends.
2. Used Gravitrons (17% acceptance rate; Michael Kuntz, Editor) The submission guidelines tell us that the editors “have a soft spot for the out-of-place, broken and dangerously obsolete,” but you’ve simply got to read an issue to get a good dose of the addictive craziness that gets packaged into flash fictions here. Put your headphones on and crank up “I Believe in a Thing Called Love” by The Darkness as you read “The Most Important Meal of the Day” by Edward Kearns in Issue 13. You won’t be sure who or what you are after reading the identity shifts taking place in it, as the protagonist morphs from a boy suffering an emergency-room bout of dry mouth to a fish to a plant. More lyric than fantasy, the poetic dimensions of the piece and its skilled use of language will keep you enjoying the identity ride. If humor is more your speed, this bus has stops on your route. Check out Gregg Badichek’s “The Hall of Heroic Citzens” or “Six-Pack Story” by James Lipton. If you enjoy reading or writing like an SNL skit, Badichek’s snapshot of posturing, alcohol-swilling, caped (and cowardly) crusaders will not disappoint. Its parody makes quick work of the superhero cliche, while Lipton’s enumerative flash, with each numbered beer getting its own entry, will take things to a Pynchon-esque level of postmodern humor, so that you’re not sure if the story is about drunkenness or an inducement of it.
3. Oblong (24.5% acceptance rate; Jo Beckett-King, Editor) Based out of Brixton, London, this journal exclusively publishes flash fiction (< 1000 words). Judging by recent offerings, editorial tastes are eclectic when it comes to topic and form, yet singularly focused on quality in terms of style. In “Telescopia,” Kevin O’Cuinn gently lures us in to join the speaker of a 200-word monologue/prose poem as he flips through a photo album of a girlfriend, estranged but not forgotten. Poignant and precise, O’Cuinn’s piece is impressionistic and impressive, wringing from words in driblets the girlfriend’s quirks, the pain of the breakup, and even the emotional aftermath. “Paper Wasps” by Hall Jameson is closer to 700 words and espouses a more traditional story style. In fact, this flash merits special praise for it effective use of a potentially hackneyed situation–the dream. Readers do eventually learn that the wasp colony the protagonist believes herself to have fallen into through the hidden combs of her bed was merely a dream. The powerful “real” life experiences she faces thereafter are startlingly original and emotionally genuine, all the more so for being contextualized by the psychology of the opening dream.
4. The Quotable (17.4% acceptance rate; Eimile Denizer, Lisa Heins, and Leslye PJ Reaves, Editors) The Quotable is a quarterly online and print magazine that wants to showcase, as the editors put it, “tomorrow’s quote-worthy authors.” In the latest themed issue on space, Jeroen van Honk’s “I Dance People” is like a compact modernization of Poe’s “The Man of the Crowd”–minus all the creepy. The main character learns to “dance” people by shadowing their every movement unbeknownst to them along crowded city streets. Many props to van Honk for theorizing that uncanny ability we all seem to have of knowing when we are being observed. Kristina England’s “Polymorphism” is heartbreaking and airy like the butterfly’s fluttering it takes as a central conceit. The girl in this prose-poem of a flash seems to live vicariously, if only for a few brief, wondrous moments, like a butterfly on the brink of a grand physical change. I won’t say too much about this incredibly short, but incredible fable. It’s one of those that you simply have to read for yourself.
5. Bookends Review (13% acceptance rate; Jordan Blum, Founding Editor) “As clichéd as it sounds, we only publish material that speaks to us. If that means that we’ll go a few weeks without publishing something (because we haven’t selected anything), so be it. We’d rather publish something special every month than something average every week.” One of the most recent flashes published here is “The President” by John Wheaton, a cagey political critique in the form of a list. Of the forty-nine items enumerated, some advance the scene of a presidential speech gone awry. Most, however, blithely quote platitudes by Napoleon, Aristotle, and Christopher Titus, to name only a few. Another provocative flash is “Postcard from Kettwig” by Mia Avramut, which takes one of the oldest conceits of Western poetry–the “ubi sunt” or “where are [they now?]” structure–to begin every searching line. Each stanza of “Postcard” is a miniature folktale or an old world song, balanced with touches of misery and a meandering, musing sense of hope. As a whole, Avramut’s alluring narrative weaves together the emotional mythology of a place, haunted by history and a photographically-driven nostalgia to return to the past.
6. First Stop Fiction (11.6% acceptance rate; Justis Mills, Editor) “The stories we publish end at the first reasonable opportunity,” says the editor, and true to their titular constraint, the stories you’ll read here are always punctual, stopping on dimes, right where they should. To say that many of the conclusions resonate is an understatement. Take, for example, “Hold” by Heather Bell Adams, which frames the anxious minutia of a wedding day moment with an oddly fitting musing about the dead buried in the plot nearby. While the narrator’s mixed emotions about her friend’s matrimony end with just enough ambiguity, there are plenty of observations that unwaveringly hit their marks loud and menacingly true–like the curtained face of the bride, the slashes of her lipsticked face, or the bouquet that waits, “a purple bruise on the cream damask.” There’s also Austin Eichelberger’s “Where To Go When You Miss Him,” which winds through all the likely places the absent “him” might be in one long, sumptuously detailed sentence. The final stop for this first-stop rover takes us wearily “to bed, where the sheets smell faintly of beer and sand, and there’s nothing to remind you of how recently he was there.”
7. Apeiron Review (13.5% acceptance rate; Meredith Davis and Lisa Andrews, Editors) The editors of this Pennsylvania-based web-journal give prospective submitters clear instructions: “Make us laugh or make us cry, but we want something visceral.” Eric Lutz’s elegiac flash “My Dad Is A Bird” answers that call for the visceral with concision and hints of magical realism. In just under 300 words Lutz gives us a son coming to grips with his father’s mortality in light of the father’s weird prediction, just before passing, that something magnificent was going to happen. The story tethers its pathos firmly to the primary metaphor and thereby releases its dead, thus unburdened, to fly away–less memorialized than having migrated away. Another strong flash, “Accept What Is Happening” by Rich Boucher could be classified as a poem–the writer certainly understands himself to be a poet. Still, there is a prosy quality to the hypotactic build-up of things in this piece that contain other contained things. The verbal Russian dolls in play here reveal a painting and a fire, as well as the writer’s fervidly surreal speculations about the nature of representation (“Maybe this painting is really an open window”).
8. The Dying Goose (23% acceptance rate; Joseph Lambach, Editor-in-Chief) For this quarterly, the goose may be at death’s door but literature, as stated in their motto, is not dead. And if the table of contents of the latest issue are any indication, flash is a vital tonic raised to literature’s good health. Two standouts in Vol. 1 Issue 2 are Patrick Kelling’s “Hoyden” and Mercedes Lawry’s “Day at the Park.” Kelling’s flash is a cache of telling details regarding a young girl, her broken wrist, and the evolving relationship she has with her horse. Kelling’s prose is like a Chuck Close painting, seemingly abstract in its poetic effects from one angle; painstakingly exact from another. Lawry’s micro-flash dissects the long range consequences of a single moment at the park with Vulcan-like intelligence (and indifference). The net result is a moment rendered thick in the amber of Lawry’s flair for sequencing pleasing contrasts between grandiloquence and the ordinary.
9. Cease, Cows (23% acceptance rate; H.L. Nelson, Founding Editor) “At Cease, Cows we want to explore the contemporary, the strange, the big questions. We want to feel cultural pulses, expose mental arteries, bathe in both the sanguine and sanguinary.” Rebecca Swirsky hits high notes of the strange and sanguine in her delightful “Rabbitty-looking Buckity Teeth,” about a golden toad, a balloon, and a charming moon, who chats with the toad about the absurdities of humans over chai. Krista Mann’s “Let Me Explain Why” is just as delightful, but with a wickedly sanguinary twist. It’s about a grumpy young man on a plane ride from hell, wedged beside a pesky, and unusually violent old woman. The plane rumbles. Lipstick gets smeared. And as the smacking and swearing ensues, I’m reminded of why I like reading well-edited journals–although you never quite know what kind of ride you’re in for, you know it’s going to be worth it.
10. Cleaver (28% acceptance rate as noted on Duotrope, but Karen Rile, Editor-in-Chief, informs me that their overall acceptance rate for unsolicited flash is closer to 15-18%) “We’re really just interested in good writing and the work we’ve been choosing is pretty eclectic. Some of it seems very experimental, some of it seems very traditional. There’s a lot of variety in what we’re presenting, but our particular taste is work that’s very specific and well-crafted.” Desiree Wilkins’s “Leap Year Baby” is a finely crafted story told in five paragraphs organized by year, each one four years later than the last. In those increments, the speaker of the story reveals through precious hints the closeness she shared with her grandmother, and struggles to reconcile that intimacy available now only in retrospect. George Dila’s “That Summer” is less subtle in its commemorations, detailing the tragic moment the speaker’s life-long partner falls to her knees on the kitchen floor. The banality of life as they know it, the gardening, the cooking, the patio, contrasts sharply against her pain. At that precise moment, the speaker is on the patio sitting on a cheap chair, “the kind of chair that folds up into thirds, not unlike the way her body had folded at the waist and knees when she fell to the kitchen floor, a branch of the basilar artery spilling blood into her brain.” Deftly paced and unrelenting in its devotion to the memory of that moment, “That Summer” transports even as it laments and remembers.
Check out my analyses of graphic novels and comics in my book Reading Lessons in Seeing: Mirrors, Masks, and Mazes in the Autobiographical Graphic Novel (forthcoming from University Press of Mississippi).