This week my flash fiction piece Life Marks appeared in the inaugural issue of Bloom Literary Magazine. Bloom is the lit mag for Red Penguin Books. I’m extra excited about this piece because it was my first attempt at flash fiction. And, bonus, it’s Valentine’s Day, and my husband loves it. And it’s even cooler when something your partner loves finds a home.
I started this story in Maurice Carlos Ruffin’s workshop at Maine Media in Rockport, ME, in 2019; you know, the summer we could still do stuff like that. If you haven’t heard of Maurice Carlos Ruffin, I highly recommend checking out his book We Cast A Shadow. He just had another book come out, The Ones Who Don’t Say They Love You. I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but I’m sure it’s just as impressive. His is the only in-person fiction workshop I’ve taken since college, and I’m so glad I did.
Maine Media feels like a summer camp for adults. I’ve taken two workshops there. The other was a memoir class with Richard Goodman, and it was the first writing workshop I attended since college. You spend the days reading, writing, learning, and offering feedback on each other’s work. The groups are often small and intimate, which works well for me. There’s an outdoor space for breakfast, lunch, and dinner where you sit at picnic tables and talk to people, which feels so alien at this moment. At the end of the week, there’s a chance to share what you created—kind of like a talent show.
I’d spent the prior two weeks in Lisbon with Disquiet Literary Program for a nonfiction workshop and had driven up from Logan airport the day before. I was exhausted. But, I loved the group, and Maurice kept me going through the whole day, thank goodness. It would’ve been so embarrassing to fall asleep in front of everyone. Each night, we had a writing assignment that we presented to each other the following day and offered feedback.
One day the topic was Flash Fiction, something I hadn’t attempted. When I was in college, because it was a while ago, flash wasn’t as much of a thing. Since I came back to writing a few years ago, I saw calls for it everywhere but felt too intimidated to try. I wrote the first version of Life Marks that evening. I believe it was under the 500 words he suggested. Now it’s about 650. The core idea and feeling haven’t changed, but almost all of the words have. It’s incredible how much rewriting can be done to something so short. Even the name evolved from Skin to Life Marks.
When I changed the title, I felt as if the whole piece clicked. I love a simple title, like one word. But sometimes you need more than that, even on flash. I’ve seen calls for flash that say the title word count doesn’t matter, just the body. I see that as a challenge, but one I haven’t undertaken yet.
I read Life Marks (well, Skin) at the end of the week talent show. I thought it would be nice to read a piece in its entirety instead of an excerpt. Since it was so short, I was able to do that. It’s nerve-wracking to get up and read in front of people. I’m dyslexic, and my skills at reading out loud are not stellar unless I can practice. Essentially, I memorize what I’m reading, and it goes much better for me. But once I’m at a level of knowing what I’m reading, I enjoy it.
I appreciate what Maurice introduced me to that week. His push to try something new offered me the opportunity and confidence to write shorter pieces. Since then, I’ve written and published several under 1,000-word stories and essays, including these blog posts. Maurice also said something that meant so much to me. We were having a one-on-one meeting, and he said, “You’re weird, and you’re dark, embrace that.” When you’re on a journey to find your voice, anyone who sees/hears you is the best thing you can ask for. He also suggested I check out the Southern Gothic genre, and I don’t regret that one bit. Hello Flannery O’Connor.
Since I’m posting this on Valentine’s Day, I want to send love germs to the world in the form of thank yous. Thank you, Bloom and Red Penguin, for publishing my piece. Thank you, Maurice, for your wonderful guidance and workshop. Thank you, Richard Goodman, for suggesting I take Maurice’s workshop in the first place. Thank you, Mom, for always keeping me well stocked with books and journals and encouraging me. And an extra big thank you to my supportive husband and partner, David. Everyone needs a cheerleader in this world, and he’s mine. Even if it means I’m leaving home for these crazy and beautiful adventures in writing. I love you, babe. And thank you to the readers of my little blog. I’m sending a big shout out of love to everyone this VD. Stay germ-free and spread love instead of COVID.