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Flash Fiction Forum

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SHORT AND SHARP: Authors Lita Kurth (pictured) and Tania Martin co-founded the Flash Fiction Forum, a writing group focused on ultra-short stories.

Writerly lore has long though tenuously held that Ernest Hemingway penned one of the most widely quoted shortest of short stories: "For Sale: baby shoes, never worn." This tragedy, quick and sharp, has become the fabled forebear of an emerging Internet-age genre that favors brevity over prolix.

Flash fiction—also called sudden fiction, short-short stories or micro-fiction—chisels digressions, descriptions and flashbacks into a carefully sculpted thousand or less words.

"They're short bursts," San Jose-based writer Lita Kurth says, "that still tell a story. Given their length, they work well when spoken out loud."

Two years ago, she founded a group called Flash Fiction Forum with fellow scribe Tania Martin. Every two to few months, they host a dozen or so authors to share their latest flashes of fiction. These aren't open mics, but curated readings to an attentive, sometimes standing-room-only audience.

Kurth discovered flash prose by way of Iowa-bred Jim Heynen's critically acclaimed pared-to-the-bone stories about life in the rural Midwest. She began incorporating the form into her writing workshops and classes at DeAnza College.

Tania Martin, co-founder of the Flash Fiction Forum

Unlike a vignette, flash fiction relies on the usual storytelling elements—complication, resolution and a protagonist to carry it through. But there's little room to elaborate on things like context or backstory. Like a poem that zeroes in on an image—"a bird came down the walk/he did not know I saw"—flash fiction describes the specific to convey something more.

An effective flash, Kurth says, often starts in the middle of a scene, goes easy on the adjectives and describes more action than musing. The rest is left implied.

"You have to hold people's attention," says Martin, a geophysicist turned published poet and assistant editor of Narrative Magazine. "Even a traditional short story wouldn't fly at a live reading. People would start to drift off."

Kurth says this focus on economy and audience has re-energized the rest of her work, including a novel—The Rosa Luxemburg Exotic Dance Collective—seven years in the making.

"Like poetry, it's doable," Kurth says. "In a busy life, you can find time for it. You can write and polish a piece of flash fiction in one sitting."

Part of the appeal of a quick turnaround is that it gives the writer something to share more often. It's pulled Kurth away from her desk and into the thick of a burgeoning South Bay writing community.

"Writers can be very isolated," Kurth says. "This is a way to hear what other people are writing on a regular basis and to come together."

Two years into their flash fiction endeavor, Martin and Kurth believe it can grow into something like Litquake, San Francisco's annual literary festival.

"People are hungry for a fiction writing community," Martin says. "That's evident by the response we've seen."

Flash fiction does seem to be having a moment. A few years ago, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Jennifer Egan broadcast an epigrammatic thriller called Black Box for the New Yorker in a series of tweets over the course of 10 days. Last year, the usually verbose David Mitchell released his take on flash with The Right Sort, a tale in 280 tweets.

"For serious writers, flash is a chance to experiment," Kurth says. "For beginners it can be a first step to becoming a writer." While for readers in an age of smartphones, it's a quick fix that lingers in the mind once it flickers off the screen.

Flash Fiction Forum

Oct. 14

Works/San Jose

Intro | Music | Stage | Visual | Film | Classical | 'Proof' | APE Expo | Flash Fiction