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How do you decide which chapter to adapt as a short?

When Crashing was named a finalist in The Lascaux Prize for Flash Fiction, I was asked the above. So:

As I work, a section will leap out as a possibility because it works regardless if the reader knows what came before the section or what comes after. The section can offer a beginning-middle-end, or an image that drives several pages or graphs, as is the case with Crashing.

In adapting, don’t be shy about pulling from other parts of the narrative to make the short work. The pitfall to avoid is trying to tell the entire novel in the flash or short story. Let the little thing fly, even if ultimately, you allow dissonance between the story in the novel and the story that emerges from the excerpt.

I think about the opening graph of Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. A complete story, a man’s whole life in one graph, yet the novel proceeds for chapters and chapters:

Robert Cohn was once middleweight boxing champion of Princeton. Do not think that I am very much impressed by that as a boxing title, but it meant a lot to Cohn. He cared nothing for boxing, in fact he disliked it, but he learned it painfully and thoroughly to counteract the feeling of inferiority and shyness he had felt on being treated as a Jew at Princeton. There was a certain inner comfort in knowing he could knock down anybody who was snooty to him, although, being very shy and a thoroughly nice boy, he never fought except in the gym. He was Spider Kelly’s star pupil. Spider Kelly taught all his young gentlemen to box like featherweights, no matter whether they weighed one hundred and five or two hundred and five pounds. But it seemed to fit Cohn. He was really very fast. He was so good that Spider promptly overmatched him and got his nose permanently flattened. This increased Cohn’s distaste for boxing, but it gave him a certain satisfaction of some strange sort, and it certainly improved his nose. In his last year at Princeton he read too much and took to wearing spectacles. I never met any one of his class who remembered him. They did not even remember that he was middleweight boxing champion.

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

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The Summers of Carefully

Flash fiction originally published in Right Hand Pointing, July 1st, 2018.

Lifeguards ruled bare-chested from their tall, red chairs. To Cara, they smell like the reason girls were supposed to be careful around boys, but once she smelled them, she lost track of the reason. From her towel on the sand, Cara told her cousin, Traci, “They smell like the wind.” 

“They smell like dead fish.”

Traci was visiting from Wiscaaansin. 

“Not enough to matter,“ Cara said. She watched the lifeguards’ muscles move under their skin. There must be a word for the way those muscles made her mouth feel full. When the guards climbed down at the end of the day, they stretched into long-sleeved t-shirts with “Mr. Zog’s Sex Wax” printed across the front. Traci blushed. 

Cara glistened with knowledge. “Zog’s is surfboard wax.” They were so cool, those shirts. 

“They look faded.” 

Traci shopped at malls. 

Next summer, Traci came back, still fourteen where Cara had turned fifteen. From their towels, the cousins watched a guard rescue a puppy. He was a junior guard, only sixteen. The older guards sent him in as a joke. Cara thought Remi was totally cute before she saw him take the puppy into his lifeguard arms, then bodysurf a wave to shore with the little guy held aloft. Cara imagined Remi’s hands under her pelvis, his one-handed lift as he made her soar. It took Cara two weeks to convince Traci to tell Remi what Cara wanted her to tell him. Then Traci came back with what Remi told her to tell Cara, and Cara and Remi met up long after the too-long day. He had been holding his breath, too. He smelled like her first kiss.

Watch the video here.

Read the “By the Numbers” here.

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Video for flash fiction: The Summers of Carefully

Read the flash fiction The Summers of Carefully.

You will find two more videos and their stories – one flash fiction and two essays –  here

 

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Acceptance #4 for 2020

From a magazine consistently on lists of Best Flash Fiction – SPELK. Editor Cal Marcius accepted one of the pieces that resulted from last year’s trip to Asia.Alle

“We Sharpened Our Needles On Stones” runs June 29th.

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By the Numbers: A Fair Fight

Forty. The Big 4-0. That’s the number of submissions it took for my totally weird and potentially off-putting piece, A Fair Fight, to find a home with that magazine of excellent taste, X-R-A-Y. You have to admit. “A Fair Fight” isn’t for everybody. It’s not even for me. I have an absolute phobia of knowing, scuffling creatures. (By the way – in the graphic the eds. had drown for the piece, did you notice that the fat little rat held littler nunchucks?)

Part of this story is based on a true experience—not the Christmas lights—and part from a dream I had that I simply could not shake. After days of re-living to the point of almost heaving, I sat down and wrote it. By the way, the name I chose for the main character, “Alia,” means to go up. That was no accident.