When I (Rebekah) joined the flash circuit in the spring of 2012, it was already a thriving community, centered on contests as colorful and vibrant as the writers themselves. Among my favorites were Nicole Wolverton‘s “5 Minute Fiction” (you had 15 minutes from when the prompt posted, to submit your story. WHAT A RUSH!) and Jeffrey Hollar‘s “Monday Mixer” (up to 9 difficult vocab words to incorporate in your 150 word count). We writers followed each other throughout these various weekly contests, and we got to know each others’ styles and flavors. It was glorious.
All too soon and to my horror, that circuit began petering out as contest hosts moved on to other projects; so I launched Flash! Friday in December 2012 in a desperate bid to keep the community alive. I needn’t have worried, of course. Two years later, and look at you!!! In 2012 we couldn’t have dreamed of organizing ourselves as flash fiction writers on the circuit. We couldn’t have designed our own badges, issued our own challenges, published our own anthologies like the Flash Dogs do…. but I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s hear what David Shakes and Mark King of the Flash Dogs have to say for themselves!
Let’s start with the basics. Who on earth are the Flash Dogs?
The FlashDogs are an international pack of flash fiction writers committed to pushing the envelope of the form. Put simply, we’re a community passionate about flash fiction. We don’t have a mould. Anyone can call themselves a FlashDog and anyone can follow the @FlashDogs twitter profile. There’s no cost, there’s no elitism. Everyone is in if they want to be. Our intentions are:
- to encourage regular flash fiction writing, inspire folk who may not have considered writing before and connect them with the competitions and each other
- to promote and support the many regular competitions available online, not least the keystone competition – Flash! Friday
- to signpost various other flash fiction opportunities such as paid prizes or publishing opportunities
- to provide ongoing, positive support to the entire flash writing community, celebrating individual successes and the continuing rise of the art form.
The name itself came about through jokes being exchanged on Twitter one particular week in which all prompts seemed to involve canines. Across every competition the theme was dogs! Despite doggy fatigue, the determined flash hounds duly submitted entries. Beneath the jokes there was a clear sense of love and loyalty to the competitions and each other. The first FlashDogs were born that week. We haven’t looked back since.
It’s rather a pity you didn’t launch the week everyone wrote about waffles! So: there are loads of online writing communities these days. What sets the flash community (and Flash Dogs specifically) apart?
FlashDogs tapped into something special that already existed in the world of flash. We were a community long before we put a name to it. As we discussed above, the pack is native to the intense competition of the Internet flash arenas. Despite being locked in a battle for the top spots each week, flash folk are the most supportive people you’d hope to meet. We reveal ourselves through our writing. We respect that and treat people’s creativity with care. Sometimes with awe. We take time to analyse and comment on each other’s work.
Twitter is an integral (but not essential) part of the FlashDogs experience. That social element fleshes out the people behind the poetry and prose. We were finding that many of the people writing on a regular basis for one of the competitions also participated in others, but communication across the field was sporadic and uncoordinated.
FlashDogs formalised that, linking disparate groups and using Twitter as the initial platform.
We’d like to think that there are many more stories written each week as a result of our efforts. Our only interests are in flash fiction and helping the community to achieve success in their writing.
Flash is the distillation of all of the critical elements of longer fiction. We encourage critical feedback, honing skills for people.
We jokingly wrote that ‘…a success for one FlashDog is a success for all FlashDogs’, but as time’s gone on, that’s genuinely how it feels.
What defines FlashDogs now is the opportunity to get your work published via our anthologies and support charitable causes that promote literacy for the next generation. We are taking snapshots of the flash community, making sure stories that would usually disappear into the digital ether are preserved a little longer.
Tell me the truth. Are online writing communities the lesser cousin of IRL communities? What direction do you forecast for writing communities?
Mark A King: Clearly both have a place in the world. Whilst text, e-mail, Skype and Social Media are instant and convenient, they don’t allow you to share a coffee. IRL will always continue.
However, many studies have shown that our true selves often come out on-line and our social media preferences are highly accurate predictors of our personalities – so the power and connections of on-line communities shouldn’t be dismissed. Indeed, sometimes it’s easier to be yourself when online, if you are introverted or find social situations daunting.
David Shakes: I have a busy life. Between work and family, I’d struggle to make regular real-world meetings. Without the online community I’d never have started writing in the first place. That said, I agree with Mark. We’re hoping that the oft mooted FlashDogs UK meet up happens this year. There’s no substitute for honest human contact and the free exchange of views. That doesn’t make FlashDogs a “lesser cousin”, just a different animal.
Why an anthology? How were the contributors chosen?
Writers generally want to be published. Week after week there were loads of great stories competing for one or two winning places. What happens to those stories not chosen? We initially wanted to gather those stories and promote them to readers who wouldn’t usually read blogs or competition sites.
Our anthology was seen as a reward for those that gave significantly to the flash community. It was a chance to showcase the talents of those individuals, to give excellent writing some longevity.
We issued golden tickets to the usual suspects. If we’re honest, it was a bit hit and miss. Though not fully perfected, we have a better idea of what we’re doing for volume 2.
One thing we were absolutely certain of was the inclusion of the folk that run the competitions for us writers. You guys were first on the list. It’s your hard work that inspires us.
Finally, we knew that being in the book would be reward enough for folk, so we added the charity element. That was really well received by everyone involved and gave the project another dimension.
What surprised you about publishing your own anthology? What did you learn from the process?
Mark A King: We feel it was a vast project and the amount of work involved was significantly underestimated. This is something we have learned from. The biggest surprise for me was just how amazing the anthology was. We are passionate about flash and clearly we were passionate about the project, yet sitting down and reading the book was a magical thing. Each and every story made me think and dream. Each story made me think: ‘it can’t get any better’, then it did!
David Shakes: The kind dedication to me in the print version says “…who dared to dream.” I might still be dreaming were it not for Mark, Emily June Street, Tamara Rogers, Beth Deitchman, Kristen Falso Capaldi and her husband, the list could go on.
What surprised me was the amount of people it took and how labour intensive it was to get to the publishing stage. That was just for starters! Getting it out there was quite the rigmarole. Then, how do you get people to buy it? We’re lucky to have Bart Van Gothem on board who knows a thing or two about sales and marketing.
I was naive at the start. Now we’re all gearing up for volume two – battle hardened but no less enthusiastic.
What surprised me most was people’s willingness to give of their time and expertise and the genuine love people had for the project, Mark’s above all. He’s the linchpin.
I suspect he might say similar things about you; you’ve all proved to be a phenomenal team! And what has the response been to the anthology?
In terms of success, we made the top ten list on Amazon for two out of three categories we were in the UK. We made the top 50 for two categories in the US (which is clearly a much bigger market).
We were fortunate to be gifted Natalie Bowers‘s marketing prize following her fantastic win on EtherBooks. Thanks so much, Natalie!
We had many passionate members of the community promoting and bulk buying the book. These greatly helped our exposure.
We’ve had some great reviews and feedback. We’ve had many new people follow us and ask where they can join in.
Best of all, we’ve sold books to readers who have just been browsing Amazon for their next read. They’ve enjoyed it and recommended it to others. That’s so validating for our writers. Plus, we’ve made a sizeable chunk of cash for our chosen charity.
Speaking of charity, why IBBY?
It was always going to be hard to choose a charity. Everyone has a personal preference for a wide range of causes. We knew we had to narrow down the list somehow.
It had to be global. It had to be something that we all associated with in some way.
IBBY was, in the end, an incredibly popular choice.
They support books for young people. The believe that everyone has a right to read. They sometimes work to help children in crisis areas.
We are all fortunate enough to be voracious readers as well as writers. Not everyone is so lucky. We believe they should be. We felt that IBBY was the perfect charity choice, because it gives future generations the foundations that we may have taken for granted in our youths – a window on the world, a passport to the imagination.
Perfection indeed!!! That just leaves one question, then: what’s next for the Flash Dogs?
We’ve just announced Anthology 2 for the summer. Whilst its exact nature is under wraps, we’re sure people will be as enthusiastic as we are.
The FlashDogs collective is expanding. We’re as keen as ever to ensure that all prospective FlashDogs support the competitions and online outlets that brought us into existence.
The momentum behind flash fiction is growing, and though we’re newer puppies in the park, we hope we’ve something fresh to offer.
We’re adding a style guide and a little more structure to the FlashDogs experience this time around, but the spirit in which we were founded remains our only philosophy. That’s why we’ll be here Friday, and the Friday after that…
Thanks so much, Mark & David, for your faithful and tireless support of Flash! Friday and flash writers everywhere. We can’t wait to see the second anthology. PS. Are you sure it’s too late to rename yourselves the Flash Waffles…??
Readers: since they were too humble to say so themselves, I’m happy to mention that the first anthology is still on sale here. (Full disclosure: many Flash! Friday writers, including myself, have stories in this anthology. We do not receive any profits from the sales of this book.)