cafe mama

a domestic realist blog

flash this nonfiction . and a contest for Stealing Time magazine . 31 july . 2012

the boys, they rove and rome
I have a story for you.

The named

She was a namer from birth. She was charged to call things out of their shells and from their primeval wombs, but the shells and wombs primeval were hidden to her. So because she lived in a world without visible magic, she named small companies and products and web sites; she named her children; she named posts and articles and books and magazines and bicycles. She named her children's stuffed animals, their monsters, their video game characters. She sat at her computer or at the kitchen sink or on the foot of her children's bunk bed, naming and naming. It was very good, but when she ran through the woods and dark city places, she widened her eyes, looking for magic in the shadows and the hollows of trees.

One day her youngest son called to her. He was five and his eyes looked clear like hers, into a thing, seeing it to the core and always loving it and knowing it in the same breath. "Watch my game," he said, and showed her his cars.

"This one is Cyper," he said. Cyper was black and the strongest of all. "Cyper is going up against Windburner," he said. Windburner was white and fast and had blue swooshes up its hood. She had never heard these names before, except as background when he played. Cyper and Windburner fought many battles, which ended in races, and that was when Blue Thunder joined in. She watched the three cars crash and swoop and, ultimately, end their fighting in a draw.

"Magic is not visible," she thought, "but it's there if you listen," and she put on her boys' shoes and took them to battle zombies and dark mages in the swamp as she ran around its edge, loping with the coyotes and the wild wild boys.


You'll see a lot of flash fiction and flash memoir in the pages of Stealing Time magazine; our preview issue has a piece from non-fiction editor Robin Jennings that took our breaths (yes, all of them!) up up and away. We love the form because it gets, as we love to say and say again, to the heart of a story and quickly.

Flash memoir is the realm of the brave, as, at its best, it exposes some deep truth, the rawest. My piece here is relatively tame compared to some I've read and some I've worked at writing. Shaving away all the extraneous details and getting at one thing, what the story is really about -- here, my need to express myself as a child does, as being with so much imagination that she can believe in magic.

Great flash memoir uses the tools of a great short scene in fiction. The writer must set the reader quickly in time and place with fine-brushed details, and introduce the characters in a few words, often without names. It's easy enough; or should be easy; to keep track of the characters in such a short work. The conflict is often unresolved, as there's not really room for such resolution, just as in short fiction. We're left wondering what the characters will do next, but are just satisfied enough that our imagination is flooded with the possibilities in a swimming, not a gasping, way.

Flash memoir is such a natural medium to which to transition for bloggers. Much of what the blogger is doing, is already flash memoir, perhaps not crafted so carefully but still: expressing a short conflict through setting, brief dialogue, and action.

Because you'll probably ask, we define flash memoir as less than 600 words; most of the pieces we'll publish will be quite a lot less that. And it's certainly far more typical to use the first person; this example piece sprung into my head in the third person and I can't write it another way.


To honor the genre and to encourage participation from bloggers already skilled in the area, we're launching a flash memoir contest for our 'Celebration' issue, due out December 1, 2012. To make this even more fun, writers at Blogher 12 can turn their pieces in to me (Sarah Gilbert!) any time during the convention. We'll pay $100, and publication, to the winning essay. I'll be supplied with a backpack full of postcards [pdf link]; handwriting is just fine (but we'll have to read it). Or, you can mail a piece in, or send it via email to stealingtimemag @ Be sure to say "flash memoir submission" in the subject line and -- for this contest -- keep it under 250 words.

ads, which strive, which fail to yield

read my previous post . a birthday, a letting go . july 16 . 2012