Monday Miscellany - July 5, 2021

by Baltimore Review Staff Members

Barbara Westwood Diehl

Do you enjoy stories that are small but mighty—and often more than a little bit quirky, strange, scary? Best Microfiction 2021 (Meg Pokrass and Gary Fincke, series editors, Amber Sparks, guest editor) is available for purchase. The latest anthology includes a story by BR contributor Avra Margariti, “A Dog Like a Ghost,” and I was happy to see some other BR contributor names among those selected. I’ve been working my way through the latest anthology and have found some real stunners. 

I’m a big fan of both flash (usually 1,000 words or less) and microfiction (400 words or less for the Best Microfiction series). I enjoy reading—and publishing—very short stories and, more and more lately, writing my own compressed stories. Writing as concisely and precisely as possible, you can create surreal, absurd, magical, humorous, illuminating, wildly experimental, gut-wrenching, thought-provoking, and heartbreaking stories, and stories that tip toward poetry—all in the space of a page or two. It’s a challenge that many writers should try, at least once. Mastering how to pack all that energy onto a page can be quite an accomplishment. And such a deliberate approach to language can be worthwhile no matter what you write. 

So check out Best Microfiction 2021. Winner of the Bronze Medal for a book series in the 2021 Independent Publisher Book Awards, by the way. Congratulations to the series editors!  

And now a post from Bobby Jones. In case you're wondering: Bobby Jones is a Towson University student who is working with the BR staff members this summer. We're lucky to have a few Towson University students with us this summer, actually. We have also had students from Johns Hopkins University, Goucher College, and other schools spend some time with us in the past. Some have stuck around. I encourage students, especially our locals, to spend some time with us, either in formal internships or informally as part of our all-volunteer staff. Working on the other side of Submittable can be an invaluable experience for all writers. On to Bobby:

There is nothing more disappointing to me as a reader for the Baltimore Review than having to vote “no” on a submission that has a great, interesting plot, only because there is no added texture to the story. Yes, what literally happens in your story may be the most important thing to focus on, but there is so much more that goes into this craft that truly makes a great story whole. If I’m reading a piece where one action happens after another relentlessly until it is complete, I can’t help but feel like I’m missing out on so much more. 

Bobby Jones

Think of these—we’ll call them “plot stories”—as a restaurant that has just one item on the menu: a hot dog. This could be the best, juiciest hot dog you’ve ever had, but at the end of the day, you probably wouldn’t recommend the restaurant to your friends. They only offer one thing; I’m not taking time to drive to a restaurant that will only sell me a hot dog, so what exactly is bringing me back?

The greatest stories balance a lot of different ideas and seamlessly weave them into one cohesive project that is much deeper than what is on the surface. Take the all-time classic Beowulf for example. I read this story twice, once in high school, and again in my junior year of college. I absolutely hated this thing back in high school because I couldn’t see beneath the surface. I didn’t understand why a warrior killing a bunch of monsters was considered an all-time classic. But when I got to college I realized Beowulf was so much more than that. You learn about Geatish history, ancient cultural traditions, family lineage, honoring the dead, and many other things. So while this story can appear to be just plot, it actually accomplishes a lot more than just the story itself.

Writing a great, whole story should look like a stove top before a family dinner. Many things are going at once, and they all require attention. You’ll have to move away from certain areas at certain times, but the food is still simmering nonetheless, and in due time, you’ll have a well-balanced, perfectly cooked meal.