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S. Joan Popek

Veteran author, S. Joan Popek talks about micro fiction, and Millennium SF & F, the magazine that inspire me to write micros in the first place. Jo has been a leader in the recent explosion of this new medium.

FLASHSHOT: How is micro fiction different than poetry? Do you write poetry?

S. JOAN POPEK: Yep, I do write poetry.  Notice I didn't say I write good poetry--just poetry. LOL.  But I do dip pen into ink occasionally and attempt to compose a piece worthy of the Bard.   I love reading a well written poem that moves me.  I do have some poetry that I've done on my Website if anyone cares to take a look.

Now, to answer your question:  Actually, we are talking apples and oranges here.  They are both fruits (or in this case literature)  But that's where the similarities end.

Micro fiction is a complete story with a beginning, a middle and an end using all of the elements of a short story, often with a twist ending, in 100 words or less.  The elements are setting, conflict, characterization and resolution.

Micro fiction is not poetry. As the former editor of two magazines, I often saw manuscripts submitted as flash fiction when in actuality they were rambling poems with no conflict or resolution. By its nature, flash fiction must not ramble.  A poem can be good without characterization or even conflict, and it doesn't necessarily have to have a resolution.  A poem can ask a question and leave it unanswered.  Micro fiction can not!  Micro fiction must have setting, conflict, characterization and resolution.

The major difference in these forms is change. Fiction must have it. A poem does not require it. The change doesn't have to occur in the protagonist. It can happen to the antagonist or even in the readers mind, but change must occur for it to be micro fiction.

FLASHSHOT: Why write micro fiction when you get paid by the word? How do you decide when to
write a longer story?

SJP: While it's true that most publishers pay by the word, many magazines and anthologies that accept flash or micro fiction pay flat rates.  Some pay from $5.00 to $10.00 and others pay as much as $50.00 to $100.00 and even more.

If I may quote from my book, JUMP START YOUR WRITING CAREER WITH ELECTRONIC PUBLISHERS (available from Atlantic Bridge Publishing: )

"One of the most exceptional and effective methods [of learning to write well] I have found is flash fiction. It can stand on its own or is a good start for a longer piece. Flash fiction teaches us to use strong, active verbs…I use flash fiction pieces constantly. I have sold several such flash exercises as flash stories. Later, I used them to write longer pieces and sold those too. Some of my flash stories have become core parts of my novels. Remember, short doesn't mean simple."

As to deciding to write longer stories, mostly the story tells you when it's finished.  Most micro works can be given more detail and imagery to make them into longer stories.

FLASHSHOT: What is your favorite micro piece (of your own) so far?

SJP: Eeek!  That's like asking which of my children do I love the most.  I lost many of my unpublished ones a few years ago when lightning struck my computer, and I hadn't backed up my data.  I grieved for weeks.  Unfortunately, I don't remember most of them.

But I guess I love the newest one best this week.  I just finished one about God and Armageddon in a humorous vein that I have submitted to a couple of magazines and a contest.  So I guess right now, that one is my favorite.

 I am also partial to the one you accepted for FLASHSHOT, "The Treat.”  Another favorite is one I wrote years ago that became a longer story with a different ending which is now included in my collection "The Administrator" available from The Fiction Works:
(Don't ya just love the way I keep slipping in plugs for my books?)

Anyway here is the story.  As you can see, it contains all four of the elements of fiction.

A flash story in only 99 words

 "Why're you here?" the dragon bellowed.  "Where's my virgin?"
 "No virgins."
 "No virgins?"
 "Not one.  None to be had, They've all been had."  Goldie winked.
 "Not funny!" he roared.  Every six months, I get a virgin, That's the deal.  I never really liked virgin.  Too bland.  You humans decided that dragons eat virgins." He patted his stomach, "I've a sensitive stomach, so I agreed,"
 "I brought pigs."
 "No pigs?"
She paled.
He gobbled her up, then burped smoke.  "I do like a spicy wench, but they sure don't like me." "Now where did I put that antacid"

FLASHSHOT: Are readers becoming lazy (making stories shorter or vice versa)?

SJP: No, I don’t think we are getting lazy.  I think we are getting busy!  I have always preferred short fiction to novels because I could read to the end of one, lay the book down and do what needed doing.  With novels, I want to sit and read till I turn the last page.  I think a lot of people are like that.  As for the micro fiction popularity today, it may be partly the busy part, but mostly, I think it's the fun part.  Reading micro fiction is fun.  Most have twist endings and make you feel good much the same as hearing a good joke.

Micro fiction is also perfect for reading on the computer screen or the new hand-held and pocket PCs.  On a computer screen, long blocks of text can cause eye strain and be difficult to read.  Many people won't take the time to read a longer work but love to read the shorter works online or offline on their computers. On the hand-held devices, it's easier to read longer works because you get a page at a time, but the screens are small, and many people prefer the shorter stories on them too.

FLASHSHOT: Can stories get any smaller than 50- words?

SJP: Sure. The shortest I've done is 6 words, but I've seen some of 2 to 4 words.  The trick there is to use the title, which is not included in the word count, as the setting.  The title for these tiny stories is often longer than the story.  Do I like them?  Well, mostly--but not many stick in my memory like stories a little longer do.  Maybe I just have a non-sticky memory.  (Hmm--now where did I put those keys?)  <grin>

FLASHSHOT: MILLENNIUM SF & F was one of the first and best ezines to publish micro fiction. What decisions did you make as an editor of that zine?

SJP: First, thanks for the kind words about our baby, MILLENNIUM SF & F.  Di and I worked day and night for years to make her something special, and I think we succeeded.  It feels good to hear you say that.

Second, Oh Lordy, GW.  What a hard/easy question.  Hard because there were so many varied decisions to make every day.  Easy because I could cop-out and say too many--too fast!

The major decision we had to make every issue was, "will the readers like this?"  Many times, it was really tough to decide between two or more submissions.  We only had so much room, and sometimes had to choose between a "good" story and a "little better" story.

Editing, public relations, promotion, contests, dealing with irate writers who couldn't understand why you rejected their work, deciding how much money to shovel into it when none was coming back, and more were all tough calls.  But the hardest decision I had to make was when I had to leave.  Health and other problems demanded that I slow down, and you can't do that and run a successful magazine.  So I turned it over to Di.  It was really tough, and I agonized a great deal over that decision.

FLASHSHOT: Which current ezine or magazine is your favorite for micro fiction? (Other than
FLASHSHOT, of course!)

SJP: There are so many good ones out there that use micro fiction, that it's hard to choose.  So I'll limit my answer to a few magazines that specialize in micro fiction.

FLASHSHOT of course goes on the list first.

Flashquake accepts fiction up to 1000 wrds..

The Vestal Review uses only fiction under 500 words.

Frequency is an audio producer that uses longer works, but prefers under 1000 words.

50 WORD FICTION  has some good stories.  Although I can't find any guidelines, so I'm not sure it's a magazine,

Nefarious: 55 Words Of Mystery is an email zine and uses only 55 word mystery stories.

The Green Tricycle publishes stories under 200 words.

Pif Magazine uses longer pieces, but has a large section of micro fiction.

There are many more, but these will keep you busy for awhile.

FLASHSHOT: Tell us what's coming up for S. Joan Popek?

SJP: I've been very busy.  My book, THE ADMINISTRATOR, is available as an ebook right now and will be in audio soon.  It will also be out in paperback in time for Christmas!

My SOUND THE RAM'S HORN is available for preorder from Hard Shell Word Factory, .

My revised 2003 edition, with over 100 links to magazines and writers' sites, of JUMP START YOUR WRITING CAREER WITH ELECTRONIC PUBLISHERS from Atlantic Bridge publishing will be out in December or January.  (The 2002 edition is available now.)  I just finished a collection of shorts titled, FAIRY TALES WITH A FREUDIAN FLAIR, that I am marketing, and I'm currently working on a novel length mystery.

I also just recently started an online review zine, The Popper Gazette, for reviews of really good books and other stuff.  Take a look at

GW, I'd like to thank you for asking me to do this interview.  I have really enjoyed it.  I love micro/flash fiction, and I love talking about it.  It really is addictive.  Once you start writing or reading micro fiction, you can't get enough.  But you know that already, don't you...

Copyright 2002