I’ve been sitting on this information, ready to burst. I won a major flash contest!!!! My crazy flash “Zig Zag” won first place in the “1000 Below: Flash Prose and Poetry Contest” at MIDWAY JOURNAL. The judge was the audacious and infamous experimental writer Michael Martone (which is what attracted me to the contest to begin with). The prize is $500 (!!!!) and “Zig Zag” will be published in their next issue, coming out in a week. I loved writing this zig-zagging flash, but I wasn’t sure I’d even find anyone to publish it, much less someone who would pay me for it.
Here's something Michael Martone said in an interview about his own work: “I am a writer who, I think, likes to celebrate chance and accident and happenstance. No plan. I think of revision as not so much working drafts of the one story but that each new story is another draft of the one story I wanted to write. I liked to think that I write ‘trying’ fiction, that my essays, ‘essay.’ Everything I write is an attempt at getting at the something I am attempting to get at. I like collage for that reason. I can write a fiction, say. Made up of 24 sections of prose, and by cutting and pasting I can get many different permutations from the same piece of writing, gain different effects of juxtaposition in the changing composition. I don’t think I write, or read for that matter, with an idea of an ideal out there. I am not much for finding the best word, or the best order. I am more for all words in every order at once and all at once. I think this desire to plan, to have things come together in what is assumed to be the perfect way, the best way, is wrong for me. In that sense the metaphor of the workshop—asking if a piece ‘works’—makes no sense to me. Everything ‘works’ in its own way. When I am finished with that one arrangement, I am on to the next one.”
I hadn’t read that before I wrote “Zig Zag,” but it fits my feelings about the piece and also the fact that it was the largely unrevised version of my flash that won the contest. I took it through a number of versions myself, then shared the piece with a couple of trusted flash fiction writers whom I share work with online and tweaked it a bit, but I didn’t have time to workshop the flash with my usual (really great) writing group in San Francisco before the contest deadline. So this is not the revised version I came up with after group. Even in that revised version, I resisted a lot of perfectly reasonable questions that my group members came up with (Tell us about the characters. Tell us who murdered whom. Tell us what happened. Develop background. Explain more. I don’t get it.), because I knew I didn’t want to answer them or follow advice this time. In my mind’s eye, I saw an aerial view of a guy zig-zagging across a cornfield. That’s what I was trying to get at. It seemed to work in its own way. (I fully expect that a lot of readers won’t like it, but that’s okay.)
I'm becoming philosophical about yesterday's mixed review of The Missing Girl too (really one paragraph of the review, maybe just one line). I didn't write to an agenda (though I have plenty of feminist agendas outside of my creative writing), and I was anticipating an objection to the voicelessness of the girls in the stories, and here it is. A magazine called Glassworks contacted me last week to say they want to conduct an interview (over a period of months) about The Missing Girl, specifically women's issues. I'll have a chance to talk about that, and it's a valid and interesting point.
Weirdly, my teaching intersects with my writing life this week. I just taught Melville's "Bartleby" and "Billy Budd" yesterday, and I'm teaching "Benito Cereno" next week. In all three the victims are largely voiceless, martyrs written out of their histories. That's part of the point of the stories.
I'll post the link to "Zig Zag" when I have it. Maybe take a picture of the check! I was amazed to receive $500 for the chapbook. Winning $500 for a flash that's about 500 words is even more amazing. (Of course I don't want to add up how much I've spent on contests, because that would take the fun away.)
Good reading at Vesuvio last night in North Beach (yes! San Francisco Litquake is underway!), curated by Alia Volz and including Olga Zilberbourg (both friends). Was pleased to see Jon Roemer of Outpost 19 Books again, as the reading centered on Outpost 19's California anthology Golden State. A time to celebrate and mourn California, with wildfires raging and no end in sight. Peg Alford Pursell, curator of the Why There Are Words reading, where I'll be reading tomorrow night (Studio 333, 333 Caledonia St, Sausalito, 7pm), had to evacuate her house but is back home again. So many Californians north of San Francisco haven't been so lucky. There have been many heartbreaking disasters lately, all over the country and the world, but this one is very close to home.
p.s. The fires are still raging, unpredictable and uncontained. Depending on the winds, Peg tells me, she may have to evacuate again later today.