Flash fiction: “Kitty”

On this date in 1942, Anne Frank received a diary for her 13th birthday, a diary she named Kitty. Here’s a bit of flash fiction to mark the occasion…




by Renee Carter Hall

She stands in the echoing marble space, before the rows of candles. The wall behind the flickering cups reads Bergen-Belsen. Her dress is red and white plaid, her hair iron gray, her eyes black as ink when she turns. Something about her rustles, and she smells of old books, of a room locked for years.

She stares at the flames, her voice a dry whisper. “I loved her, you know. I loved her, and I could never tell her. She told me everything, and I could say nothing in return.”

The patterns across her papery skin are faded but still true, works inked in a young girl’s hand, dreams of a bigger world where no one has to hide.

She carries them all, and they are heavy.

“I wish… sometimes…”

She reaches toward a candle. A curl of smoke rises, the edges of her nails burned black. With a soft cry she draws back, and when the tears spill over, the writing on her cheeks blurs and fades.

Her voice trembles. “She had no idea. No idea what she made. All she wanted was someone to listen.” She longs for the thoughts that were never written, longs to have kept the secrets of a full life. She aches with blank pages.

In the time it takes to light a candle, to assemble a prayer, she is gone. Outside the museum, a flock of pigeons startles into flight, their gray wings beating like loose pages scattered to the wind.



Reading the labels

“A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.” – Richard Bach


“I don’t believe any of you suffer as I do,” cried Amy, “for you don’t have to go to school with impertinent girls, who plague you if you don’t know your lessons, and laugh at your dresses, and label your father if he isn’t rich, and insult you when your nose isn’t nice.”

“If you mean libel, I’d say so, and not talk about labels, as if Papa was a pickle bottle,” advised Jo, laughing.

– Louisa May Alcott, from Little Women

Lately I’ve been thinking about the term “professional,” as in “professional writer,” and how it gets defined. I almost wish there was something in between professional and amateur. It seems that a lot of people (maybe most?) define professional as making your living from writing, which (barring some unexpected bestseller) is something I don’t really expect to be able to do. It might be nice (or it might not–there’s a certain freedom in not having to write), but I don’t look at that as a realistic goal right now. So from that perspective, perhaps I’m an amateur and will always be one.

On the other hand, amateur — despite all the clichéd attempts to reclaim its original meaning of “one who loves” — still has a certain connotation of hobbyist, and by extension, someone who doesn’t take what they’re doing seriously or have ambition for it. (Never mind that there are lots of people who take their hobbies very, very seriously, perhaps more so than their day jobs.) I can’t help bristling a bit at the thought of calling myself an amateur/hobbyist, because I do take this seriously and have ambitions for it, even if I don’t meet all the criteria people want to put in place for what “real” or “serious” writers do (certain number of words per day, certain number of days per week, and so on). But again, even though it’s become a nice way to pick up a spare bit of pocket money, I don’t make my living from it, not even close.

On the other other hand, I’ve been published in pro-level markets, so in some circles I suppose that might qualify me to call myself a professional. And I’ve also come across a few people over the years who consider a writer a pro if they’ve been paid for their writing, regardless of how much or where. (From my perspective, the main qualification that comes to my mind when I think of professional is either having published a book with a major publisher or, at the very least, publishing one’s short stories in pro-level markets on a regular basis.)

Part of the issue, of course, is that sometimes I think we’re just using these terms in an us-versus-them kind of way, to size each other up. I remember being in a forum years ago where someone had asked a simple question about average word counts for different categories of fiction. I replied with some info I’d picked up probably from Writer’s Digest or somewhere — and then someone else came in and responded to me with “Spoken like a true unpublished amateur,” or something to that effect, and proceeded to correct me. I remember wanting to reply that if being a professional made me act like a condescending jerk to someone who was just trying to help, I’d just as soon stay an amateur, thank you very much. (Come to think of it, I may have actually said something like that. I picked a lot more fights — er, participated in lively debates — on the Internet in those days. These days I’ve learned it’s usually better to roll my eyes and move on in silence.)

And I don’t think the labels are really important to the reader. I could be wrong, but I don’t think anyone reading my work truly cares whether I have a day job or whether I write every day — at least, not as more than just idle curiosity; there’s no value judgment in it.

The only useful purpose for these sorts of terms that I can think of, in the end, is to distinguish writers with different sorts of goals — ones who write mainly for personal satisfaction, versus ones who pursue publication, versus those who have the goal of earning the majority of their income from writing. Even then, though, something about the distinctions feels artificial — maybe because they’re all about income and publishing and not about the process of writing itself. Whether we’re going to post something to our website or send it to a zine or a pro market or an agent, whether we’ve written one short story or twenty books, published dozens of pieces or nothing at all, we’re all sitting in front of a blank page, trying to get the words right.

So am I a professional, or an amateur, or something in between, or something else? (I admit I kind of like Codex‘s term “neo-pro,” mainly because it both sounds cool and fits where I’m at right now, career-wise.)

All I’m sure about is that I’m a writer. I write with the goal of publishing what I write, somewhere, and with a strong preference for being paid for what I write, when feasible, and with the hope of constantly publishing in bigger and more widespread (and yes, better-paying) markets as I keep learning and getting better myself. Whatever that makes me, that’s what I am.


Signal boost: Disabled Poet Seeks Healthy Macbook

Awesome person who also happens to be an awesome poet had something lousy happen to her, and here’s a chance to help restore balance to the universe by contributing to making something good happen for said awesome person/poet. Best of all, the donation perks are poems custom-written just for you:


I know that psychologically it’s probably hard to feel like contributing to a funding campaign when you can see that the goal has already been reached. Do keep in mind, though, that in this case, the goal was only half the cost of a new computer, and personally I’d like to see it get a lot closer to the full cost. (Besides, custom poems, people! Textual art that did not exist before in the entire world! How cool is that?)

Which reminds me that I still need to decide on my favorite season… (Whatever it is, it’s definitely not this bizarre hybrid winter/spring/sprinter/wring thing we’ve been stuck in for the past several weeks.)


Flashback: Beyond the Mind’s Eye

mindseyeWe put our satellite TV service on hold for the summer (a few too many other bills to pay at the moment), so amidst listening to a lot of NPR and watching DVDs, I’ve also been digging through some of my old VHS tapes for amusement, and recently I had a chance to sit down and watch Beyond the Mind’s Eye for the first time in years.

As far as I know, there were four Mind’s Eye videos produced: The Mind’s Eye, Beyond the Mind’s Eye, The Gate to The Mind’s Eye, and apparently one called Odyssey to the Mind’s Eye that I had completely forgotten about until I found it in our video cabinet (I’m guessing it wasn’t all that good, because I have absolutely no memory of it). Of the three that I watched back in the mid-’90s, Beyond the Mind’s Eye was my favorite, and I also had the Jan Hammer soundtrack on CD, which I’ve still been listening to off and on through the years. (There was also one produced called Virtual Nature, where the clips all featured an animal/nature theme, but since it was mostly stuff I’d already seen and the soundtrack was just okay, I never got that into that one.)

For those who aren’t familiar with the Mind’s Eye concept, it dates to the earlier days of CGI — lots of shiny metallic surfaces and undulating blobs and artist’s mannequins — and each installment is essentially a collection of clips made for commercials or companies or by students or studios showing what they could do. All those little disparate clips were then edited into surreal music video segments, creating kind of an animated video album. There wasn’t any real narrative beyond just sometimes the clips having a similar mood or atmosphere, so it was the music that really tied things all together.

Coming back to this after so many years, now that we’ve had everything from Jurassic Park to Gollum to Avatar and beyond, now that CGI imagery can depict fur and hair and every texture imaginable with incredible realism, I was worried that this was going to feel dated to the point of being laughable. And I didn’t want it to be laughable, because it was something I’d loved, and I hate outgrowing things I love.

In the end, though, I was surprised at how much I really didn’t pay attention to the simplicity of the imagery — or, to be more accurate, the simplicity of it didn’t register as something negative, something lacking. Instead, it looked like a style, like a conscious choice by artists instead of not having the tools to do any better. And all over again, I fell in love with the strangeness of the landscapes, the hypnotizing imagery presented just for a few seconds before something else shows up. Back when these were first released, watching them was cool because it was all brand-new and amazing (look, it’s all done on computers!), and it felt cutting-edge. Now, it’s still cool, but not because it feels like the latest technology — instead, it’s cool because it feels like art.

And I found myself wishing they’d bring back the Mind’s Eyes series, working from that perspective of an album/art project. Yeah, there are tons of CGI short films out there on YouTube and so on, but there’s nothing I’ve seen as a whole that strikes me quite like the Mind’s Eye concept, because more often than not the focus is either on making an animated narrative, or in showing off how realistic something can look.  (And if somebody is doing something similar, point me in that direction!)

If you’ve never seen any of the Mind’s Eye segments, a lot of them (maybe all of them) are on YouTube. Here’s the one that was my all-time favorite back in the day (especially the music), “Seeds of Life” from Beyond the Mind’s Eye:


Poem: “Waking”

While fiction is my main medium these days, every so often my muse tosses me a poem. This may actually be the first prose poem I’ve written (unless you count some of my flash fiction pieces, which I really don’t).


The bird feeder is pulverized — shards of plastic, bent wire. I imagine your weight on it, your claws on the metal oak leaves, your glossy doggish coat, the hump of your shoulders, pressing down hard. I look for tracks, but there are none. You came in the night, in the moonlight of a wavering spring, and in the night you moved on. How many other worlds move through our coffee-and-timecard lives — around, above, beneath? We might think we’re the center of this orbit, and most days we’re allowed to believe it — until the sight of you strolling past the woodpile, as we might drive to the grocery store, a worn-down path. As if this house is at the bottom of the sea while we sleep, shapes darting in the darkness past the windows, great forms looming in the deep.