Monday, January 28, 2013

Five You Can't Miss -- Joe Clifford

Mike Miner, "Kidnapped," Pulp Ink II

Haunting. Nostalgic. Utterly Southern California. This piece evokes a mood that you can't shake. Furthermore, if you are a writer, it will make you jealous. Who knows how to write a perfect short story? Even the best purveyors of the form hit clunkers, can't replicate past success, etc.  In short, a degree of luck & magic & wonder has to be involved, a confluence of events, the perfect word storm. Who the fuck knows? But if we could deduce a formula for perfection, we would. But Miner comes as close to perfect as I've ever seen. I'm talking right up there with "Ordo" by Westlake and "Bullet in the Brain" by Wolff. Just fabulous.

Heath Lowrance, "My Life with the Butcher Girl," Pulp Ink II

In the name of full disclosure, I was in Pulp Ink II. And this is the second story that pissed me off for being so fucking good (pissed off, of course, in a good way). The first time I was able to chalk it up to a fluke. Second time? To quote Val Kilmer's Doc, "My hypocrisy only goes so far." Rarely have I felt so outclassed (except of course when I wake up). Miner and Lowrance are the 1, 2 punch in this collection for me. Here, Lowrance draws loosely on Amanda Knox. Or maybe that's just my connection because I love Knox so fucking much. This is pop culture and down & dirty noir; the little death never felt so divine.

Nicky Murphy, "Daddy's Girl," Flash Fiction Offensive; Out of the Gutter 8

Yeah. This is cheating. I edited it for FFO. The online zine, and then for our anthology. But there is no way I can make a list of can't miss and not include it. Like Miner's, this piece is an exercise in perfection. It is the story I direct everyone to when they are trying to craft hardboiled flash and are having a tough time grasping the concept. Murphy nails everything here--character, mood, turn, and last lines don't come any better. I've put this on every Best Of list every chance I get, and awarded it FFO's coveted mantle (that I made up) of Year's Best. You can't put a 1,000 words to any better use.

Tom Pitts, Vigil, Near to the Knuckle

The number one piece of advice I give writers trying to submit to our magazine is don't have your story revolve around two people just talking. Why? Because it never works. All the pithy dialogue, the Tarantino-esque riffs on pop culture don't work, and nothing can be revealed about character when nothing happens. Of course most don't write as well as (FFO co-editor) Tom Pitts, who uses a deathbed scene to reveal plenty. John is coming-of-age, and his tough guy grandfather is leaving behind a lifetime worth of regret, which offers the the boy an opportunity to make the right choice. It's a Michael Corleone moment, with dialogue and pathos from a man who knows the lowlife world intimately, and he layers his exposition expertly. Like "Hills Like White Elephants," don't try this at home.

Alexander Maksik, "Snake River Gorge," Tin House

Fuck Tin House. About a year ago, I bit the bullet and bought a subscription to see what stories they took (since they routinely reject mine). For a year I've read what they call fiction, and I can honestly say you could pluck 10 random writers off my Facebook wall who write better fiction. I don't give a shit about the pedigree or name. The majority of stories Tin House runs bore me shitless. It's why I gave up writing "literary fiction." Pretentious assholes. Except this one. Which is everything great literary fiction should be. Think: teenage Amway on the run, and the art of bullying underscoring the very fabric of humanity. Yeah, it's that good. (Damn you, Tin House.)

Bio: Joe Clifford is the editor of The Flash Fiction Offensive and producer of Lip Service West, a “gritty, real, raw” reading series in Oakland, CA. His short story collection, ChoiceCuts, is out now. His novels Wake the Undertaker (Snubnose Press) and Junkie Love (Vagabondage Press) will be published later this year. Much of Joe’s writing can be found here. He has been to jail but never prison.


  1. Thanks for including me on this impressive list, Joe.
    I loved Butcher Girl too.

  2. Great pics and a few for me to check out. THanks Joe.


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