Short, Fast, and Deadly is not your average literature magazine. The editor, Joseph A. W. Quintela, has a thing about SHORT stories. The capitals are deserved; miniature fiction is the name of the game. The limits on submissions for the magazine are 420 characters for prose (the length of a Facebook post, note that’s characters, even the spaces count!) and 140 characters for poetry. (a Tweet’s worth)
It’s a unique challenge to write under these guidelines. You have to be short, fast, and yes, you have to be deadly. With so few words to work with, each must be forced to work overtime.
Despite the fierce rule of the character count, the magazine has become a huge success. There have been more than 80 issues and a compilation of the best work from the magazine’s first year has been published as a print anthology. There have been themed special issues and a sister project to showcase miniature fiction and poetry in chapbook form, codenamed Deadly Chaps, has been launched.
New issues are posted on Sundays, and you can see the entire archive online. If you haven’t been over there before, I strongly encourage you to take a look, it’s an excellent project.
You can find the site here.
Joseph has kindly agreed to answer a few questions about SF&D and about miniature fiction. Following this interview is my review of two of the Deadly Chaps releases.
PART 1 – INTERVIEW WITH JOSEPH A. W. QUINTELA
So, Joseph, could we begin with a little info on how Short, Fast, and Deadly came about? How did you discover the attractions of miniature fiction? Were you originally just imposing these tiny character limits on your own work?
Well, Martin, it all started with Twitter. Honestly, when I first discovered tweeting I thought it was ridiculous. But I had a friend who kept pressuring me to sign up. So, finally, just to drive her crazy, I started an account but resolved only to use it to write poetry. Quickly, I became obsessed with the fact that Twitter counted down the characters you had left when putting together a 140 character tweet. My type A personality wanted to hit 140 characters on the nose every time. I wrote a series of 140 poems in exactly 140 characters and then I said to myself, Hey, what about fiction? But 140 characters didn’t seem like quite enough for good storytelling. Rarely do I see Twitter length fiction that actually works for me. On the other hand, the Facebook limit of 420 characters for a status update seemed like it might have potential—a bit more space for the work to blossom. I played around with it and fell in love. Thus, Short, Fast, and Deadly was born.
What do you believe are the key ingredients for a solid piece of miniature fiction?
Two kinds of miniature fiction tend to catch my eye. The first are fresco-style sketches that take advantage of the truncated form to transfer attention from plot to pinpoint details of character or scene. The second are more closely related to the prose poems and tend to employ risk-taking language strung together very loosely into a scene. What I don’t like is fiction that simply attempts to compress the short story into a smaller box. That’s just silly. Miniature fiction should do something different. That’s what makes it a form.
Are there any pitfalls that immediately put you off? You must read an incredible amount of this stuff, what are the most common reasons for your rejection?
Lazy writing. Some writers seem to think they can fire off a piece of miniature fiction in just a couple seconds without much thought or editing. And it shows. It doesn’t have to take days. But be faithful to the work. Revise, revise, and revise again.
Electronic distribution and online publication are hot topics in the literature world right now. You have embraced these methods with success and contributors to SF&D hail from around the globe. It seems that miniature fiction is an ideal product for the internet generation. Do you think SF&D could have succeeded twenty years ago? Are you a ‘spirit of the age’ type of venture?
Short form is nothing new, really. Think Borges. Think Basho. But there certainly is much more demand for it now. Facebook and Twitter have retrained our reading habits. We like small, dense packages. I think that aesthetic is going to be with us for a while.
Could you tell us a little about Deadly Chaps? I see that you sell hard copies of these chapbooks, and that you have announced a release schedule for this summer. Would you like to take a moment to promote this project here?
Hell yes. Deadly Chaps is an annual series of chapbook releases that I invite from the deadliest authors that contribute to Short, Fast, and Deadly. i82, “The Deadliest,” elebrates this year’s series and the first 2 releases are already available. Sean Ulman killed it with Radland, a collection of 32 film-like clips that recount the genesis of a film. And Neila Mezynksi dances you into a corner with her collection of prose poems so fierce that I had to give each one its own page even if they only take up about a tenth of it. PDFs are available for free. But you know you want print. Go get ‘em!
And finally, by my quick calculation SF&D will be seeing its centenary issue later this year, somewhere around its second birthday. Certainly, congratulations are going to be in order. Any special plans?
We plan to drink wine. Short, fast, deadly gulps of wine.
Joseph A. W. Quintela writes. Poems. Stories. On Post-its. Walls. Envelopes. Cocktail napkins. Anything he gets his hands on, really. His last chapbook, To the Last Mark, was published online by Silkworms Ink and re-published in print by Deadly Chaps. Other work has appeared in The Collagist, ABJECTIVE, Neon, PANK, GUD, and Existere. One of his poems was supposed to appear in lines written with a razor but he wrote those lines with a battle axe. Which may be why they never published them. Whatever. Then, one day, he got bored. So he started editing Short, Fast, & Deadly. Which is funny. Because he’s none of these things.
PART 2 – CHAPBOOK REVIEW*
The second part of this article is my review of the first two chapbooks released in the new series of Deadly Chaps; Radland by Sean Ulman and Dancers On Rocks by Neila Mezynksi.
For me, reading collections of miniature fiction by a single author was a novel experience. I enjoy miniature fiction and I’ve spent a lot of time reading this kind of work online, but always in the form of a collection of various authors work. These books posed something new for me, and it was very interesting to see how Ulman and Mezynski kicked things off for this new series of Deadly Chaps.
I’ve always been impressed with the incredible variety of ways that authors of miniature fiction shrink down ideas, concepts, and whole scene-like portions of narrative into just a paragraph or two, or maybe just a few lines of odd prose poetry. So something that struck me when I heard of Joseph’s chapbook series was that I liked the idea of a collection that has continuity between the various pieces. I found myself pondering about the kinds of story arc that might work in this format, wondering about features such as character and plot development, and about how the methods used in these collections might compare with those found in a ‘regular’ story.
What I found wasn’t exactly what I was expecting but was an interesting experience nonetheless. I’d envisioned something akin to a conventional short story, but one broken into miniature fiction sized segments and told a single passage at a time. My error was in letting my thinking get ahead of itself, letting my musings become something by which to judge these books. Because really, I had undersold the effort that went in, the authors haven’t really taken my predicted approach at all.
These works are very interpretive, with an almost surreal quality at times. Both books remind me of photograph albums, but ones that have somehow been rendered into print. Much as how a gallery of holiday snaps might document the passage of time, there is continuity here, it’s just not the main feature. (Particularly not in Dancers On Rocks which consists of five separate arcs rather than one longer work) Instead each passage must act like a photograph and stand on its own merits. Each page presents the reader with a new puzzle to solve.
Radland does actually take the form of a continuous narrative. The author calls it a short story in his afterword, and he is right to do so. It is, however, far from conventional. This tale of a film maker and his buddy travelling through Mexico is a collection of bizarre tongue-twisting miniature chapters and it makes heavy use of unusual grammar and spelling. In a way it reminded me of text message speak and initially I must confess I found it off-putting. Once properly underway though, I soon became more comfortable and it became clear that the style that Ulman has chosen has been very carefully calculated. The story is that of a film director, and the style lends itself to creating a kind of cinematic atmosphere. After all, a real movie is constructed as much in the cutting and editing stages as it is in the filming. A director’s job is to ensure that every single shot that makes it into the finished cut is just right, to ensure that each picture does indeed tell a thousand words. At the same time the fat must be cut, a movie has a limited run-time; there is never room for surplus and wastage.
Miniature fiction and movies share this need to be lean. The goal is to be quick yet hard-hitting, brief but memorable. Ulmans’s approach to this story quickens the pace, gives it a feeling of having being carefully edited from a longer, less polished work. The end result is a unique and intriguing short story, though in hindsight I do think the initial impression that the style gives off may be a turn-off that some readers might not recover from.
Dancers On Rocks
As previously mentioned, Dancers On Rocks is not a single tale but a collection of smaller prose poems. I’ll admit to not being a huge reader of poetry so reviewing this particular chapbook wasn’t easy. What I will say is that each arc is a visual and surreal piece, and even though some of the passages run for less than two full lines on the page, the delivery is always snappy and rhythmic. There’s a constant sense of pace here, and I found myself at the end of the book before I realised I’d started.
There’s an almost psychedelic vibe to some of the passages here and the end result is to create a series of cryptic word puzzles that the reader must untangle. If I were to be harsh on Mezynski then I might say that the style borders on too cryptic, my first impression was that I had no idea what I had actually just read. Whether or not this is actually a fault is a matter of debate though, certainly a chapbook of this length seems an appropriate format to experiment with such things.
To summarise (and this goes for Radland too) I must say I find these books to be a very interesting read. They are not conventional tales, and anyone looking for such a story here will be looking in the wrong place. Instead here are thought-provoking pieces that really explore the limits of what miniature fiction can do on the page. These are the kind of books that benefit from multiple readings, which isn’t going to be a problem as they are so short. In fact, these are the sort of books that are likely to grow on a reader more with each re-read, as with any work that is so speculative a reader is going to find themselves digging through layers and layers of interpretation.
Finally, I’d like to thank Joseph again for answering my questions and for sending me these chapbooks to review. I can’t stress enough how much fun SF&D is, if you haven’t been over there before then you really should check it out.