Hack Writers

My fondness for searching out new (to me) online magazines and exploring their contents led me this week to http://www.hackwriters.com. This online portfolio includes travel, lifestyle and fiction pieces from new and established writers. According to the website’s About page, their material is archived by the British Library and boasts several awards from the North American Travel Journalists Association. Their homepage banner includes this designation, “The International Writer’s Magazine.”

I perused the travel page (Hacktreks) but found nothing about Ireland, to my dismay.

Hackwriters began in 1999, and there’s something satisfying about a group whose roots went down as the century turned, especially in light of all that Y2K silliness going on at the time. It suggests a willingness to plunge into the void with optimism.

The magazine is free and pays no fees to authors whose work they accept for publication. Submissions are accepted across topics and genres. Their submission page includes these caveats…no sexism, racism or other forms of discrimination in the content. They strive to discover high quality writing that is thought provoking without being offensive.

Word limits for submissions are presented as a guide rather than an absolute; between 1200 and 2200 words are preferred. The editors ask that writers considering submitting to their magazine first read previous work they’ve accepted and published. Seems a reasonable request.

Current fiction pieces can be found at http://www.hackwriters.com/Dreamscapes3.htm
The site offers an enormous selection of short fiction from which to choose. I read a few and, while I’m not even close to having read half of the stories available, I haven’t yet found a stinker in the bunch. Most of their authors have several stories in the 2013 issue. They include Oswaldo Jimenez, Martin Green, Abigail George and Michelle D’Costa. Stories are longer than what I’ve grown accustomed to reading lately in Flash Fiction magazines.

I prefer the flash format, but found reading Hackwriters’ offerings a happy diversion this week.

Midwife to the Fairies

I read this story by Eilis Ni Dhuibhne, a Dublin-born novelist and playwright who writes in both Irish and English. What stuck me about this story initially was her facility with the Irish country dialect. I struggled at first to comprehend the structure of the prose and found myself having to re-read the first few paragraphs, but soon became accustomed to the dialect and was able to hear the musicality in it.

Midwife to the Fairies blends the old ways of Ireland, with its folk tales and superstitions, and the new order of technology and economic austerity. The narrator is a nurse named Mary whose hospital staffing cuts have left her exhausted and disillusioned. Her family history includes midwifery but she no longer cares for mothers and newborns since the shuttering of the hospital’s maternity ward. When a desperate father-to-be shows up at her door late one night, she’s conflicted about helping him. “Sure I’m off duty now anyway, amn’t I?” she tells her husband. But he urges her to hear the man out and soon she relents.

“Well, says I then, closing maternity wards won’t stop them having babies.” And she goes off with the man, with some trepidation, counting on her generosity to pay off in indulgences.

Eilis Ni Dhuibhne intersperses bits of a couple of old Irish tales in the story of Mary and the late night delivery. Soon it is evident that the old tales include warnings about dealing with the ‘wee folk.’ Mary is late to realize that the incongruities of her experience delivering the baby and the people who ushered her into and out of the gated estate were not of her community at all. When tragedy strikes and Mary is racked with guilt, she discovers that confession is the worst solution possible.

I chose this story soon after my trip to the Burren where I visited the part of Ireland that remains unchanged since the Ice Age. It was on that trip that our Minder told us about the Fairy Forts and how belief in good luck and bad luck lingers in Irish society. And, while I understand that many modern Irish are as skeptically scientific as we Americans and do not cling to auld ways and superstitions, their heritage is never too far removed from everyday life.

I can relate to that kind perspective. As my own grandparents who were Kentucky farmers warned me about things like breaking mirrors or walking under ladders, there may or may not be consequences, but why tempt fate?

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Claire Keegan

I brought the Granta Book of the Irish Short Story with me to Ireland and am reading a story a day, although I started with a couple of stories under my belt before I embarked. Thus far, I’ve read stories by Roddy Doyle, John Banville, Frank O’Connor, Clare Boylan, Mary Lavin, Colm Toibin and Claire Keegan. Laudably, they’ve showcased the literary acumen that readers expect from Irish short fiction.

Keegan’s Men and Women is one of my favorites. She’s a relatively young writer, born in 1968 and just 31 years of age when she wrote this story in 1999; she writes about rural Ireland with a deft hand. In Men and Women we experience the inequalities of gender roles in traditional Irish society through the eyes of a country girl. Both her brother and her father take liberties with their positions in the family, working less and taking more from the women than their share. Her mother is seemingly resigned to the unhappy situation and has but one desire that she keeps secret from all except her daughter. It’s during a holiday celebration when the worst of the men’s behavior emerges that the girl experiences a sudden epiphany. Only later, when she witnesses her mother’s mutiny, does she recognize how shallow her father’s power really is.

What I liked about this story was Keegan’s ability to intermingle the comic and tragic. The narrator who is never named is both the biggest girl in her class and at the same time, the last one to believe in Santa Claus. She loves her dolls, but she also rips their heads off when she tires of them. She has an inkling about her father’s deceptions, but only through her mother’s eyes does she truly see him for the bully that he is.

Anne Enright edits the collection and in her introduction notes some of the threads that run through these stories, common to the fundamental unit of Irish identity, the family. Perhaps the strongest of these are shame and humiliation. Keegan capitalizes on these emotions, showing us the way Irish men and women use them as weapons against one another. Men and Women is a tightly plotted story that, through the experiences of its most vulnerable character, pulls the reader into the family and reveals its destructive core.

Micro fiction gets its due

Lydia Davis, American short story writer, won the Man Booker International Prize for 2013. Davis is a virtuoso of the very short form. Some of her stories are as brief as two sentences. The chairman of the prize judges, Sir Christopher Ricks, describing Davis’ literary structures asked whether we should consider Davis’ work stories, or “Or perhaps miniatures? Anecdotes? Essays? Jokes? Parables? Fables? Texts? Aphorisms, or even apophthegms? Prayers, or perhaps wisdom literature? Or might we settle for observations?”

As prizes go, this isn’t Davis’ first rodeo. Her list of awards includes the PEN/Hemingway, National Book Award and Guggenheim Fellowship. Davis redefines brevity in her work. She eschews the traditional beginning-middle-end format for a more precise and sometimes surprising narrative form. Her command of language is poetic.

Look for Davis’ stories in The Best American Short Stories (1997), The Pushcart Prize: best of the small presses (1989) and in her book The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis (2009).

April poems bring May stories

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On the heels of poetry month comes May and its celebration of short stories. There’s no lack of opportunities to read, submit and celebrate the short story. A few of the online resources that embrace all things short story are Everyday Fiction, Story A Day, and Fiction Writers Review.

Everyday Fiction is sponsoring a month-long event asking readers to nominate their favorite online stories. The type of short stories eligible is unlimited – flash, micro, dribble – you get the idea. Their only caveat is that you cannot nominate your own story. There’s no prize for this event – just the opportunity to give your favorite story a shout-out and to see what others are recommending.

Submit your favorite story through the link below, or by joining their Facebook group. You can find the group by searching for FFC 2013 Short Story Month.

http://www.everydayfiction.com/flashfictionblog/may-2013-short-story-month-stories/

I haven’t chosen my favorite yet…maybe I haven’t read it yet. If you think you have an online story to recommend, go ahead and leave a comment.

These links will take you to the celebrations sponsored by Story A Day and Fiction Writers Review:

http://shortstorymonth.com/2013/03/

http://fictionwritersreview.com/tag/short-story-month-2013

Enjoy!

Tag, You’re It

Everyday Fiction picked one of my flash fiction stories up for publication. If you’re not familiar with their site, here’s a link: http://www.everydayfiction.com

Everyday Fiction is a subscription service where daily stories are delivered to subscribers by email. Subscribing to the site is easy and free. There’s also a tab on their home page to “Submit a Story.” I strongly recommend EF to any other flash fiction writers looking for an outlet for their work.

Why? A couple of the benefits of submitting are that if they select your story they pay for your story. They don’t pay much – just $10 – and they encourage writers to donate the $$ back to their group to keep the service going. Still, it’s comforting to be able to say, “I got paid for this one!”

They will also share feedback from their panel of readers prior to publication. I read my feedback from four different readers and found it beneficial. There were many positives but also a few suggestions about places in the story where they were less enthusiastic. They gave me the option to edit the story based on the feedback, which is unlike any other journal, magazine or online service that I’ve known.

On the last day of every month they publish the schedule for stories to be released. So, on April 30th, be sure to check the list for my story, “Tag, You’re It.” I know I will.