When Hong Kong writer Yuetting Cindy Lam decided to launch a literary magazine, she thought of her 5-year-old son and his adoration of reading. “Almost all preschoolers I’ve met love storybooks, and their parents read to them regularly,” she says. “But it’s disheartening to see a lot of kids drop off their love for fiction in their middle-school years.”
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Lam believes nurturing a culture of reading among family members, with parents who read for pleasure, is critical to raising lifelong readers. “I wanted to do something to ignite and sustain grownups’ and kids’ passion for fiction and help foster a lifelong love of fiction,” she explains.
The result was Zizzle.
Zizzle is an international literary print magazine devoted to flash fiction – that is, fiction between 500-1,200 words – written to appeal to both children and adults. The publication is informed by author C.S. Lewis’ famous quote: “A children’s story which is enjoyed only by children is a bad children’s story. The good ones last.”
Lam, Zizzle’s publisher, and U.S. editor Leslie Dahl look for stories that use humor and surprise and poignancy to captivate readers of all ages. They’re interested in both traditional and non-traditional storytelling that offers diverse perspectives on the lives and concerns of children around the world today.
“So many adults have fond memories – or at least clear and vivid memories – of our childhood, and we like reading about young people,” Dahl says. “How many parents got hooked on the Harry Potter series or A Wrinkle in Time? The protagonists are kids, and the story is about their concerns, but these are books that adults enjoy, as well.”
Zizzle editors look for diverse flash fiction with an international flavor, on a wide variety of topics suitable for both children and adults. “Have respect for your young readers,” Dahl says. “You don’t want to talk down to kids, and you don’t want to minimize the vocabulary. The writing has to be [of] the same caliber; the only difference is the subject matter. The topics are about kids and for kids, but all other fiction considerations have to be the same.”
Writers featured in Zizzle submit a childhood photo as well as a description of what inspired their published flash fiction. Ryan Thorpe, editor and creative writing professor at the University of Michigan-Shanghai Jiao Tong University Joint Institute, got the idea for his short story “The Border Crossing” when he read a news piece about an elephant that confounded immigration officers by crossing borders in southeast Asia at several major checkpoints.
The narrator, Frank, works as an animal immigration officer patrolling the border for unpatriotic animals who leave their home country illegally. Frank is effective at his job until an elephant defies his stun gun and crosses the border in front of a crowd of queued up creatures.
“It’s a preposterous and laugh-out-loud funny story told in just a few pages,” Dahl explains.
She also enjoys stories with quirky, interesting twists, such as Doug Steward’s “Tannehill Farm.” Steward’s story, inspired by a farm beside his childhood home in a Detroit suburb, appears in the October 2018 issue of Zizzle. It’s about a boy who overcomes his terror of a particularly dangerous horse in order to help a girl from his class. “It speaks to the angst of being 12 and finding out that you’re not the only one who feels insecure,” Dahl explains.
Some of the stories in Zizzle are fanciful, like Lenore Weiss’ “How the Moon Scared the Giant,” about a selfish giant angry at the sun for casting shadows larger than himself. Some are more gritty and realistic, like Juleigh Howard-Hobson’s “Heroes,” narrated by an obtuse employee in a juvenile detention center who can’t understand why a teen would break into someone’s home just to admire a collection of David Bowie albums on vinyl.
“You don’t want to talk down to kids, and you don’t want to minimize the vocabulary. The writing has to be [of] the same caliber; the only difference is the subject matter.
Advice for potential contributors
Dahl reads a great deal of flash fiction, and she notes that there’s always a narrative arc and a punchline of some sort. “Even in flash fiction, you have to tell a story,” she explains. “It can’t be stream of consciousness or slice-of-life vignette. Something has to happen, and when it’s over, readers have to feel like they’ve had an experience.”
She tells potential contributors to ask themselves what they want their readers to feel at the end of a story. “A flash fiction piece that takes five minutes to read should make me feel like I’ve been taken somewhere,” Dahl says.
She urges potential contributors to send a single carefully proofread story that has gone through multiple revisions so that it’s the very best piece of writing possible. “Be professional,” she says. “Make sure your cover letter and bio and manuscript are clean documents. Unfortunately, even if you’ve written the great American novel, if your first two paragraphs full of typos, people are going to toss it.”
Contributing editor Melissa Hart is the author of Avenging the Owl (Sky Pony, 2016) and Better with Books: 500 Diverse Novels to Open Minds, Ignite Empathy, and Encourage Self-Acceptance in Teens (Sasquatch, 2019). Web: melissahart.com.