Books,  Family & Friends,  Interviews

The Fiction Brigade

So, today we have a ToP first, readers mine.  An interview.  (Cue the dramatic, news-type music.) 
A long-time friend of mine, Sabrina Ricci, has started a project that I find very interesting.  It’s called The Fiction Brigadeand I think she and her co-editor have some interesting ideas.  Sabrina and Bethany focus on flash fiction and even go so far as to have an interactive Twitter Story every week.  I have sent around messages to various writing groups and friends of mine who write.  Now, I figure I could do even more to spread the word about this writer-friendly epublication and have bothered Sabrina into letting me interview her.
C: Why did you choose publishing as an industry to get into at a time where it is seeing so many fluctuations?
S: It’s partly a fluke that I got into book publishing last year, and now that I’m in it, I see all the changes as opportunities.   I’ve always been interested in some form of publishing—my background is in journalism—but after I graduated college I decided daily newspapers weren’t for me. I took a year off to practice my creative writing, and then I realized I was interested in books. When I started the publishing program at NYU last September, I was excited to learn how much the whole industry is changing. eBooks became a bigger deal when Amazon released the Kindle in 2007, but the book industry did not seriously start to change until 2010. So now it’s a really exciting time to be here. People are finally seeing the importance of digital, and the whole idea of having to climb the corporate ladder is going away. Anyone with ideas is encouraged to try something new—at least on a small scale. No one has any answers yet, which has leveled the playing field and set up a mindset where young people are encouraged to develop their online talents, and even start their own businesses. Sure, there’s uncertainty within the field. Magazine publishers still rely mostly on print advertising for revenue, and it’s scary that Borders went bankrupt, but at the same time ebooks have a greater audience reach and anyone with basic web knowledge can launch their own site—though it still takes a lot of investors to actually be successful! I could write pages and pages about this, but I don’t want to bore you so I’ll stop here.
C: What do you love/are passionate about in the publishing industry right now?
S: So many things! I’ve never been able to have only one focus, and right now I’m mostly interested in the editorial and digital side of things. I like reading and taking apart stories, trying to figure out its strengths and weaknesses—which helps a lot with my own writing. But I also like designing and creating. I learned Photoshop and InDesign in college, this past year I’ve taught myself HTML, CSS, and XML, and in the fall I’ll be working for Simon & Schuster helping them produce ebooks. 
C: What is something you would like to see change about the publishing industry right now?
S: I wish the industry as a whole were a little more experimental. Book publishing traditionally has always been very conservative, and many of the big players (Random House, Simon & Schuster, Penguin, Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan) all seem hesitant to change much. They’re getting better, but in a lot of cases people are watching one company experiment, seeing whether or not they fail, and then deciding if they want to change something. One example of this, I think, is the New York Times paywall. A paywall means you have to pay a monthly subscription fee to the NY Times in order to see it’s online content. But in the NY Times version, it’s cheaper to pay for a print subscription and receive access to the digital newspaper rather than paying for digital access only. It was a big deal when that went up in March, and other companies were waiting to see if it worked before they decided to try it themselves. But now we see the paywall is meant to drive more subscribers to the print version—partly because of the price, partly because it’s also easy to get around the paywall via Twitter, blogs, etc.—, and newspapers are still struggling to increase their digital revenue.
C: What gave you the idea for putting together Fiction Brigade?
S: I have wanted to start a literary magazine for the last two years. During my year off learning how to write creatively, I took a lot of writing classes and I was inspired by my classmate’s work. But most of my classmates (including myself) were unpublished and having a hard time getting published. And what was even more frustrating was that most of us, after submitting a story to a publication, often didn’t even get a rejection letter. We just had to assume that our stories didn’t make the cut. I wanted to create a publication that was friendlier to writers. Of course, I could never do it alone, so I’m glad Bethany and I are working together. She came up with our name and the idea for the Twitter Project.
C: Why did you decide to work with flash fiction and can you define it for my readers?
S: There are a few reasons we chose flash fiction. Part of its appeal is that it’s so short, which means we can be more efficient when reading submissions. It’s also a learning process. I see flash fiction as a great challenge for writers—it’s like an exercise in conciseness. I think people who can write flash fiction well can write anything well.
During my year off writing, I spent a lot of time researching all the different types of writing. None of the sources I found have the exact same definition of flash fiction, but basically it’s fiction that falls within The Fiction Brigade’s guidelines. Flash fiction is a story between 50 and 1,500 words. The trick is it still has to be a complete story with a beginning, middle, and end (though obviously not everything can be fleshed out), and it has to employ fiction techniques (imagery, dialogue, theme, etc.)
C: Do you have anything specific that you look for in a flash story for FB?
S: We look for well-written, complete stories. I know that sounds vague, but the best thing for aspiring writers to do is read a lot of the type of writing they want to pursue. We have a page devoted to links where people can find examples of flash fiction or you can Google “flash fiction” and find a lot of results.
One of the most famous examples of flash fiction is Ernest Hemingway’s story, which goes like this: “For Sale: Baby shoes, never worn.” Of course, that’s an example of extreme flash fiction, also known as micro-fiction—which we’re not looking for—but you get the idea. In just six words, we can project a whole back story.
C: You have something called the Twitter Project going right now.  What do you see as the future of the project?
S: We’d like the Twitter Project to be both a way to interact with our readers and contributors and a channel to create new flash fiction stories. A couple weeks ago we did a test run where Bethany and I took turns writing our own flash fiction story, and we posted it on The Fiction Brigade. Now we’re inviting anyone who is interested to take part in writing a flash fiction story on Twitter. Each week, we’ll post the beginning of a new story, with the hashtag #fb1—or whichever number story we’re on. Then, at the end of the week or once we reach 1,500 words, whichever comes first, we will post the new Twitter story on our site. Before each new issue, we plan on having people vote for their favorite Twitter story, and we will feature the story in the magazine.
C: What do you see as the future of The Fiction Brigade?
S: Ideally, we want The Fiction Brigade to be a community for writers. We’ll always publish the magazine, but we want to build up our forum to be a place where writers and readers can have discussions, and possibly even give each other feedback. We have a lot of other long-term plans in the works, but we’ll have to see how it goes. For now we’re focusing on publishing a great first issue and promoting our Twitter Project and participation in our forum.
C: Are you planning on keeping archives of the stories that are published so that readers can go on and look at things from the past?
S: Absolutely! All of our issues will be accessible on our website, for free, and we will also email free PDF versions to anyone who wants them.
C: How often will you publish new stories?
S: Our first issue will be released October 1. In the meantime, we plan on posting a new Twitter story each week. We’re tentatively planning on having three to four issues per year, but if we get enough submissions, we’d like to publish every month. In between issues we’ll also hold contests, so there should be new content on the site regularly. 
I’d like to thank Sabrina for being willing to do this interview.  If you want to learn more about the Twitter Project or submit a piece, please go to The Fiction Brigade.  
You won’t regret it.

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