Why Some of the Best Fiction of 2019 is 1,000 Words or Less

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Lyndsie Manusos

Senior Contributor

Lyndsie Manusos’s fiction has appeared in PANK, SmokeLong Quarterly, and other publications. She holds an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and has worked in web production and content management. When she’s not nesting among her books and rough drafts, she’s chasing the baby while the dog watches in confused amusement. She lives with her family in a suburb of Indianapolis.

I’ve written about my love of short forms in the past, both with short stories and chapbooks. But there’s a form even smaller than those, bite-sized and scrumptious. With social media, flash is able to be passed around more abundantly, shared like bits of mysterious candy with whispers of “Have you tried this?” and “Taste this, it’s divine!” There’s nothing more delightful than stumbling upon a new piece of flash fiction with “Wow!” and “Damn, this piece!” in the comments, and then have that story blow the top off my volcano of love for the short-short form.

Let me be clear: Just because it’s short, doesn’t mean it’s easy. Flash fiction, to be done well, has to contain a whole story, with exquisite depth, in as few words as possible. In 2019, I’ve read flash that bends genre and reflects the times. All in less than 1,000 words. Sometimes in less than 500 words. Writing flash is a spacewalk with no tether. It’s swimming among sharks with blood on your hands. It’s risky as hell. Flash writers are the free solo climbers, the drag racers, and the skydivers of fiction. Here are some examples:

Paper Darts

Let’s start with a piece of flash published at the beginning of 2019. Paper Darts is an amazing magazine that pairs its writings with illustrations, making for a chemical reaction of awesome art. In January, Paper Darts published “Baba Yaga’s Delaware Youth” by Katie Depasquale, and it is a triumph. Depasquale mixes the fantastic with the utter humanity of a hangover and tell-tale signs of heartbreak. Here’s a snippet, practically zinging with craft magic:

“They whisper up and down the line, an old-fashioned game of telephone, while I wonder if you left before or after the feet appeared. Did you slide down one of these weird legs on your way to your usual solitary breakfast, or did you simply walk down the two rotting porch steps? Do you know what you left me with?”

That last question in this paragraph feels like an anvil, right?! There’s a rhythm to the questions that I adore; I love rhythmic writing, especially in flash fiction. There’s more, and it’s ready for you on the Paper Darts website. The paired illustration by Jeremy Anderson is *chef’s kiss*.

Okay Donkey

Okay Donkey is having a year! It’s published some lit flash while also starting its press with the publication of Cathy Ulrich’s Ghosts of Youa full-length collection of flash fiction from her Murdered Ladies series. This book has been on my TBR since Okay Donkey first announced it, and I can’t wait to nab a copy.

But I digress. My favorite flash from Okay Donkey this year is “A Tremendous Head, Uneasy” by Nell Ovitt, which was published in May. This was Ovitt’s first published story, and it is a doozy. Let’s start at the beginning:

“Blue light on the nightstand woke me up again. Like a hole I’ve been filling keeps turning up empty. Eagle and the liver guy, that guy’s me. Can’t remember his name, but I get him big time.”

The voice in this piece is loud and clear. You think you might know what the piece is going to be about, but then Ovitt uses her talent to bowl you over with wit and emotion. It’s biting and sad. It’s relevant. I’ve shared this piece, I’ve reveled and ranted about it, and I think you should, too.

SmokeLong Quarterly

I have a fondness for SmokeLong for a multitude of reasons. It’s one of the first flash fiction journals I followed. I also had the great honor of having them publish one of my own flash fiction stories, for which I am immensely grateful.

Aside from my gushing love, SmokeLong has and continues to publish exceptional flash fiction. Amber Sparks, who has an upcoming collection titled I Do Not Forgive You: Stories and Other Revenges (it’s already the best title of 2020. I said it.), is one of the writers who inspired me to write flash fiction in the first place. She’s published multiple pieces in SmokeLong Quarterly that should be a part of everyone’s TBR. Read Amber Sparks both to enjoy and study. Her flash “Everything is Terrible But You Should Read This Story” is a balm to my soul. Published in September, it is a beacon of story in 2019 that we should also cling to, and it’s a testament to the power of story overall. I think the first two lines of the story say enough, and I beg you to select the link to read on:

This is a story born of need. It’s the story you need right now.

Sparks has a style that welcomes you into her stories. She takes you warmly by the hand and leads you to the story’s core. Sometimes it’s a scary place, like in Sparks’s horror flash “The Noises from the Neighbors Upstairs: A Nightly Log“and sometimes it’s a fire you didn’t know you needed in your heart.

X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine

X-R-A-Y also had a fantastic year publishing great flash, and also released a special horror issue called Boneyard, which was edited by the extremely talented Megan Pillow and Joaquin Fernandez.  Boneyard has a delightful array of creepy reads, so if you’re looking into horror flash, I highly recommend taking a dive. I recommend “A Spectre Lurks at the Putt-Putt on Riverside” by Keef.

Let’s end on a story with a wicked structure, because I love using and reading structure in flash. I had my nose to the computer screen because I was so immersed in the language and world. I knew I had to list it. “Our Lady Enters the City [in Three Attempts]” by Sarah Arantza Amador builds a world and distinctive images in under 750 words.

“Down the gangplank came the parade of the king’s bedraggled men, the king’s bags of raw gold dust, the king’s parrots and anemic flamingos, the head of a desiccated royal palm, and select nightshade varietals in moldy hemp sacks. And, finally, her: gift of the Holy Ghost, down the gangplank came she, locked in chains, more valuable than the contents of any war chest.”

Holy hell, this is vivid. Read this paragraph out loud and tell me this doesn’t taste good on your tongue. The whole damn piece is this good. The momentum doesn’t stop. This whole story builds upon a single moment (i.e. the three attempts) and it grows and grows. As readers we go from seeing lush details of a “corroded chain” and “desiccated royal palm” to the ending part that begins with “They say…” and includes “They say that the city’s soldiers wept as they lowered the great chain. They placed their hands over their faces and washed their fronts with their tears at the sight of her.” It is hugely successful in playing with so many devices in a limited space. Ugh. I just can’t even with this piece.

To Sum Up

Since I’ve now gone *checks word count* over 1,000 words to profess my love my flash fiction, it is probably fitting that I should wrap it up. My hope is that the above recommendations act as a jumping off point, and that you might fall down the rabbit hole of clicking on other flash pieces, other issues, and other literary magazines. I hope you have a sense of what flash can do in the hands of such inspiring writers. I hope you share these stories, any any other stories that resonate with you. Support flash fiction magazines and authors. This is a form that deserves to be constantly digested, shared, and held under the brilliant light to be admired.