Aesop’s fables, those very short stories involving tortoises and hares and mice and such, are considered by many to be the first flash fiction. In more contemporary times, we have the literary flash magazine Vestal Review, founded in March 2000.
Vestal’s editor, David Galef, wrote Brevity: A Flash Fiction Handbook (Columbia University Press, 2016). “A good piece of flash resonates with me in a way that a longer story doesn’t,” he explains. “It’s like a perfect miniature, like those portraits you used to see in museums – tiny pictures of someone’s face in which everything – setting, description, character development – is perfectly proportioned.”
Galef and his staff are eclectic in their taste, and they deeply appreciate diversity. “We’re especially seeking submissions from underrepresented authors,” he notes.
Tone, editorial content of Vestal Review
Vestal Review editors look for fiction in every genre, up to 500 words – stories, Galef says, that differ from lyrical prose poetry. “We want narratives that move from Point A to Point B by the end. Too many stories have endings that lack a certain punch,” he says. “A good last line snaps the rest of the story suddenly into place. I’m a sucker for arresting openings and killer last lines.”
He’s a fan of flash fiction writer Len Kuntz (“No one gets quicker into a dysfunctional family in a story than he does”) and Jeffrey Whitmore. He refers to Whitmore’s 53-word “Bedtime Story” as a perfect miniature. “There are two characters and an implied third. It’s a thriller plot with good dialogue and a twist ending.” Anthologized widely, Whitmore’s story reads:
“Careful, honey, it’s loaded,” he said, re-entering the bedroom.
Her back rested against the headboard. “This for your wife?”
“No. too chancy. I’m hiring a professional.”
“How about me?”
He smirked. “Cute. But who’d be dumb enough to hire a female hit man?”
She wet her lips, sighting along the barrel. “Your wife.”
Past contributors include Bruce Holland Rogers, Aimee Bender, Robert Olen Butler, Steve Almond, Katharine Weber, Judith Cofer, Claire Tristram, and Pamela Painter.
Minyoung Lee has a piece in Issue 55 titled “Since She Could No Longer Say I Love You,” about a small boy grieving for his mother on the beach where they used to collect shells. She writes:
“If all the shells on this beach could be ordered in a line, they would guide his mom back home from where she was lost. But every time the boy’s line grew as long as he was tall, the climbing tide lapped against it, pushing away a shell or two, forging the clean edge into wobbly stubs.”
George Choundas has a piece in issue 56 titled “Last Bus Tonight,” about a grief-stricken woman outside a hospital gazing at a city bus and deciding not to climb aboard. He writes:
“I am for you, is what the bus was really saying. I am for you, veteran, so board now and take your ease. We’ll go away together.
Let’s go away together, away from wound and memory, into the forgetting soft of night. That’s what the bus was saying.
It was too kind, too much kindness after all of it. She preferred to walk.”
Galef is eager to publish Nashiu Zahir’s “Speak Loose” in Issue 57. It’s the story of a character among friends as relationships begin to unravel. “At the end, you’re not sure where you are or what’s going to happen,” he says. “The best flash fiction defies easy description.”
He’s also excited to publish Preeti Vangani’s “Who Needs Rehab When You Have a Man.” “The title is self-explanatory,” he says. “She quotes lines from Amy Winehouse while detailing a brief, unsatisfactory relationship with a man and ends with a killer last line.”
Advice for potential contributors
Genre fiction is welcome in Vestal Review. Pornography, racism, excessive gore, and preaching are not. “We’re always looking for something fresh and arresting. We’re happy to hear new voices with an imaginative use of language,” Galef says. “And we’d love more political fiction.”
In flash, he says, writers must resort to what he calls “compaction tricks. One representative detail for an entire face or personality, one plot event rather than three, and one line that does something at the end rather than an entire paragraph,” he explains. He urges writers to avoid clichés. “‘Beat him to the punch. Little did he know.’ These phrases are everyone’s property,” he explains. “Try something different.”
Plot and characterization can be cliché as well, he notes. “I see a lot of abusive father characters in stories. I’d never say don’t go with that, but there must be something you can do to freshen up this character type,” he says. “Readers want novelty. Give us a story we haven’t heard in a way we haven’t heard before.”
Vestal Review at a glance
“An exciting venue for exceptional flash fiction by both emerging and well-known authors.”
Reading period: Print: February-May, August-November. Online: June and December.
Length: 500 words or less.
Genres: Fiction, including speculative, romance, contemporary, political, humor.
Contest: 2021 Vestal Review Award.
Submission format: Via Submittable online.
Contact: David Galef, Editor, vestalreview.net
Contributing Editor Melissa Hart is the author of Better with Books: 500 Diverse Books to Ignite Empathy and Encourage Self-Acceptance in Tweens and Teens (Sasquatch, 2019).Twitter/Instagram: @WildMelissaHart