When a Theme Arises Organically

Over the course of the past ten years we’ve done quite a few themed issues.

Often magazines or anthologies will have themes, and often they call for submissions of stories with certain themes. We don’t, really. At most we have a separate submission category for Seasonal submissions–stories that might fit a particular holiday. But we don’t receive many Seasonal stories, and it’s a struggle to put together enough great stories for, say, Christmas, that we have little to no desire to specifically ask for themed submissions for themed issues.

But often themes happen organically.

We’ll suddenly find ourselves in possession of a handful of great stories that would be perfect for the hijinks of April Fools’, or the reverence of Mother’s or Father’s Day. We’ve done Christmas issues, horror issues, science fiction issues, fantasy issues, romance issues. (I do, however, find myself sadly lacking enough great stories to put together a cowboy issue. Wouldn’t that be swell?)

But organically themed issues don’t always happen, which means more often than not I’m taking a list of otherwise unrelated stories and figuring out some connecting thread that will make excellent fodder for this monthly introduction. Sometimes that’s a challenge–which is when Anna is especially grateful that she doesn’t have to do it.

Sometimes it’s easy.

This month it was easy.

When authors submit to Flash Fiction Online, they submit in one of eight genre categories: Fantasy and Slipstream, Science Fiction, Horror, Mainstream, Literary, Humor, Seasonal, and Other (for stories that don’t seem to fit any of the above). In all of these, I have a high expectation for what I describe as “sparkly” writing. In other words, stories with prose that whispers of a strong background in excellent literature.

That kind of prose tells me the author reads great works, reads poetry, reads current literary styles rather than relying solely on the outdated modus operandi of the pre-20th century classics. That kind of prose tells me the author has a well-developed sense of rhythm and style, voice and sentence construction. That kind of great writing can’t be faked by constant scouring of the thesaurus for lofty words or by trying to mimic what is thought to be intelligent-sounding sentence construction. It can only happen when a writer has immersed himself in so much great literature that it can’t help but ooze out his writerly pores and show up naturally at the tip of his pen.

I will admit that FFO has a soft spot for science fiction and fantasy, but we often see the best prose from authors who submit in our Literary or Mainstream categories. And the science fiction and fantasy authors who we most often publish are those who write great sci-fi/fantasy stories with a flair for the literary.

These are authors whose heroes include Ray Bradbury and Patricia McKillip, because damn, those two know how to write prose! (Knew, in the case of Bradbury. Sadly, he passed away in 2012. He was 92, so I suppose that’s to be expected. Still…)

This month’s stories all blew me away with the power of their prose, combined with powerful storytelling. And although one of them was submitted in our Fantasy and Slipstream category, it stands up well against any literary story I’ve ever read–and I’ve read a healthy number.

So sit back and let these beautiful words bounce around inside your head. You’ll be better for it, I promise. Maybe, just maybe, they’ll help make you a better writer.