Five Literary Magazines for the Best Flash Fiction
So I took a break from the lists for a couple of weeks, so sue me! I was busy walking up and down Bourbon Street in New Orleans. That’s an exercise in history and bibulous flaneurie that I suggest roundly. Heck, I’d suggest it flatly. Slurringly even.
Back in the sober wilds of the White Mountains, I go a-slumming, dancing, and bar hopping in more staid environs, more mental bars and clubs — many of which are to be found in the best magazines publishing flash fiction today. Join me won’t you?
There’s no cover charge, all the selections are premium, and most of it is free. History costs extra, though. It comes in a tall plastic cup shaped like Billy Shakespeare’s head. Did I mention the eyes light up?
Drunken Boat (2.67% Duotrope reported acceptance rate for fiction) Drunken Boat publishes poetry, prose and photography, alongside web-based media, like video, web art, digital animation and interactive fiction. They have a special commitment to new media, “in publishing work that uses the internet as constitutive of its compositional strategy,” says Ravi Shankar, Executive Director–“and we also publish archival material that hasn’t existed online before.” Issue 17 has a flash in it called “Guy Stuff” by Michael Myers that’s pure Halloween–for writers. In three short paragraphs you follow the existential interrogations of Mickey, who’s miffed by the change in his now dead very fat friend Jerry. No longer the miserable, hang-dog person short on change at a laundromat, Jerry seems to have new friends and new expressions-his speech a cross between continental philosophy and slang. Mickey doesn’t get it and so ends by consulting his other friend at the (undead?) laundromat, Maurice, who seems to resolve things by reflecting on the “the amount of stuff we’re expected to swallow” in life. If you get down the lighthearted profundity of that one, there’s another for you to taste in issue 16, “Soup is the Language of Our Spine” by Monika Zobel. This one casts the writer’s German native language in the role of romantic leading man, and the ensuing affair is steamy verbiage, a conjugation massage. When a new woman enters the picture, enticing language to join her in singing “vowels like lambs, bleating below the sky of a ceiling fan” you know the love affair cannot last: “words hit the fan, diphthongs splattered the walls.” If you’re anything like me, you’ll enjoy the steady flow of libational high spirits with your seafaring into language here. And you’ll no doubt return for more charters piloted by these Drunken Boaters.
Harpur Palate (2.0% Duotrope reported acceptance rate for fiction) The Harpur has one of the finest palate’s around. But don’t worry. They might have a taste for what you’re serving up too. Only don’t serve them your verbal dishes too often. They’d prefer to taste your cuisine only once per reading period. In Volume 12.2 Molly Faerber has an erotic, descriptive little piece called “Core” that will have your poetic sensibilities twisted in delight, with one ear turned to the ground like the speaker, an awkward young woman who works on a farm for aging parents, whose lover — a more experienced woman — has the power to make her re-arrange all the primary themes of her existence — the horses, the apples, the beautifully evoked insularity whetted by emergent passion:
You climb down and stub out your cigarette, and with the same hand you slip me from my skin, my body a halved apple, star of wet seeds glistening at the axis.
Devil’s Lake (2.33% Duotrope reported acceptance rate for fiction) Beware, this is one of those places that doesn’t want you crowding up the door ways. There’s no cover charge but there’s a limit on the amount of times you can knock on their door. Submit up to twice per calendar year, but please no further. When visiting the Stygian pools purling all demonic, be sure to check out the Spring 2013 online issue. There you’ll find Maria Hummer’s “He Took off His Skin For Me”, a finalist for the Driftless Prize in fiction and a mighty little gem of a flash. Even though the conceit is bizarre, the speaker of this one keeps it fresh by not really giving in to it entirely. The tension in the relationship is more concerning than the skinless lover’s red smile or science-exhibit nudity. Even the sex that results is somehow, magically secondary to the real tension beneath the skin of the story:
“Lovemaking was no different. This surprised me, but when I thought about it I realized it was the same, just two people showing each other what they look like without skin.”
You might gasp at the ending, a Halloween-ish after effect, since everything is so deliciously understated until this point, when the lover exposes more than musculature, revealing an underlying desire:
He looked at me, wet vein-netted eyes. He reached for my arm with hot red fingertips. He tugged at my skin.
In the same online issue, Katy Rossing’s “Meat Birthday” maintains a scene that is just as satisfyingly revelatory. It is Cletus’s s sixteenth birthday, spent at the beach, where his family gives him all that he wants–100 pounds of meat and space from them as they grill it for him. Somehow, Rossing is able to put this hormonal jock in a lawn chair eating piles of meat while watching girls swim and mentally breast-stroking through all his own cluttered obsessions about vaginas without sapping him of sympathy. He has an innocence to him that is human, genuine:
All he knows about vaginas comes from the black ink of dictionary words, and so, without even a sketched image in his mind, he sees them everywhere, projected upon the world in kaleidoscopic shadows. Formless enough to form in everything.
While he daydreams about the swimmers, thinking of one having a much sought-after but unverifiable birthmark, he gets roused by them in the water right where he sits on the pier, embarrassed to find that he’d had an “itch.” And thought the girls are dubious, a gravity of mutual interest gives weight to the brief birthday dialogue they share. So that when they exit the water:
Through the splashy froth, there’s a little flash of a birthmark on a leg, and he thinks, despite it all, yes. He is sixteen and the rest of his life is waiting there just like a hanging peach.
Paper Darts (3.33% Duotrope reported acceptance rate for fiction) Editrix extraordinaire Meghan Murphy can’t even write an about page in the usual boring fashion: “Paper Darts Magazine is our fuzzy little lovechild of literature and art. If babies were puppies and puppies were birthed by Paper Darts, this magazine would be like the awesomest, shiniest, most bitey (in a good way) puppy you ever tried to lure into a windowless white van. We publish contributor content online daily whenever we want, which can include anything from music, comics, and videos, to art, fiction, and poetry, plus all the weird stuff in between (if it performs a nice Paper Darts mating dance for us).” And the stellar work they publish has clearly mastered all the mating dances there are. Take, for example, “Franklin’s Lesser Aphorisms” by Jay Orff. Now that you know the title and have the premise grasped in your hot little hands, you can just imagine how an idea this brilliant just writes itself. For lessons in wit, resonance, and extra helpings of weird in defiance of Poor Richard’s most temperate teachings, read the itemized list, which boasts such snippets of wisdom as:
A great country, like a great cake, is forever being frosted.
Admiration is the granddaughter of misunderstanding’s cousin, desire, who is married to injury.
Online now is Ashley Strosnider’s “Because We Make A Living,” a vaguely sad story of Allen, a corporate climber whose life is a procession towards the end of a tunnel. After detailing the implications of his decision to wear jeans to a branch event, and after ecstatic eruptions of remembered moments in Allen’s recent life–his newly married wife thinking of baby names, the bedbugs that overrun Cincinnati–Allen seems to proceed to the end of his tunnel by flirting too well with the girls he supervises. There are many lovely turns of phrase in this one, but the real genius in it lies in its sheer compression. There’s a world in here, a whole vast world, distilled into precious, worried moments and details,– the right ones, justly rendered.
Gigantic (2.6% Duotrope reported acceptance rate for fiction) Gigantic publishes mostly fiction, under 100 words, but editors Lincoln Michel and James Yeh are open to nonfiction as well. For their online issue in the spring of 2013, they had two really cool flash pieces indicative of the quality and pizzazz they regularly display: “4-H” by Hugh Behm-Steinberg and “Claustrophobia” by José Vadi. “4-H” is so terse and weird you’ll think you’ve stumbled across a remediation of SNL’s old sketch “Deep Thoughts” by Jack Handy. Only the premise here is a boy who raises nuns, award winning nuns that compete well against other nuns raised by kids in the 4-H club. Instead of a punchline, though, we get an image of freedom, perfectly tempered, as some of the nuns are set loose to “wander among the poor, blinking rapidly as they stare up at the sky” Vadi’s piece is a series of profound thoughts that waver between consciousness and dream fugue, between observation and introspection. Although the speaker seems to be a recognizable type, an infrequently sober man amidst a mid life crisis, there is unfailing beauty and philosophical precision in Vadi’s re-definitions of life which pepper the reflections: marriage is being a “being a first-person onlooker” of your spouse; creativity is having confident access to the “recesses inside the rabbit hole”; a kitchen drain is “wherever water goes to die and reincarnate”; and a morning stretch is done well “if the tips of my middle fingers touch the ceiling.” Chatty, bellicose, and with shoulders full of chips–cool ranch–a flash from Gigantic saunters on down Bourbon Street. It doesn’t even have to take names–other flash pieces automatically sound off as it passes, bellowing rank and serial numbers in fearful deference.