Letter From the Editor

Letter from the Editor

Pen in Hand, January 2016

Dear Members,

Happy New Year!

Welcome to first edition of Maryland Writers’ Association online literary and art publication!

I could not be more excited to serve as Editor in Chief. Creating this magazine, reading the submissions, and putting together the very first online magazine was a thrilling experience.  Thank you so much for the enthusiastic, warm welcome!

This inaugural edition was theme-based, centered on New Year’s Resolutions, and focused on flash fiction, micro poetry, and post card art.  Thank you to all who submitted work; the energy, passion, creativity, and talents of the Maryland Writers’ Association community were impressive and evident.  I encourage all of you to write, create, and submit.

Sections of the magazine are divided into Categories, located under Content. Be sure to check out the Author Interviews, the Letter from MWA’s President, Lalita Noronha, the Craft article, and of course, our member submissions!

As I send this to publication, we are buried under mountains of snow. I hope you all stay warm and safe. I, for one, am already dreaming of Spring, which is when the next edition will be published.  The deadline for the April edition is February 15, and submissions are accepted beginning February 1., 2016. I look forward to reading your work.

Whether you are an emerging writer, an established author, submitting for the first time, or are previously published, I hope you consider submitting to Pen in Hand.

Happy Creating!


Kirsten (Kit) O’Neill,

Editor in Chief,
Pen in Hand


The 2015-2016 Maryland Writers’ Association Contest is Now Open!
MWA’s Contest is open to Member and Non-Members.
I hope you consider entering!

Letter from the President

A Letter from the President


January 25, 2016

Lalita Noronha, PhD
President, Maryland Writer’s Association

Dear MWA Members:

Please join me in welcoming Kirsten (Kit) O’Neill to the Maryland Writers’ Association Board, where she will serve as the editor of Pen In Hand. This publication has been on hiatus for many months, and it is my great pleasure to begin the year with Kirsten at the helm.

In keeping with the theme of this issue, my New Year’s Resolution is one I’ve made before and never kept. Buddha says, “No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.”

For me, this means I must buckle down and take better care of myself. Simple, shallow and uninspiring as it sounds, I know I must save myself to better serve my family and the communities in which I work.

I leave you with heartfelt wishes for peace and happiness in 2016. In Kahlil Gibran’s words, may we “Wake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks for another day of loving.”

Happy New Year, Everyone.




Flash Fiction, Explained

Flash Fiction, Explained
Kit O’Neill

Flash. Micro. Sudden . Lightning.  Nano. Short-short. Super-short.
6. 55. 140. 700. 1000. 1500. 2000.

The terms and numbers above are commonly used to define- and debate- the super short story. Flash fiction is neither new nor emerging; it is an older form of writing (think Aesop’s Fables) that lends itself well to modern writing and technology. From Twitter fiction, to chapbooks, to literary and academic publications, flash fiction’s appeal stretches around the globe, from Japan, to Europe, to South America.  Although opinions may differ on length, what is consistent is that flash fiction differs from the short story. One begs to ask, “What exactly is flash fiction, and how does it differ from a short story?”

In Death in the Afternoon, Hemingway observed “if a writer of prose knows enough of what he is writing about, he may omit things he knows, and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them.” In flash fiction, the fat has been trimmed from the writing. Hemingway claimed that his best work was a story of six words: “For Sale. Baby Shoes. Never Worn.”  His story, now the fodder of urban legends, is regarded as one the best examples of flash fiction. “Baby Shoes” works; it is a complete story, with characters, conflict, and resolution.  Why, then, is “Baby Shoes” flash fiction, and not just a short story?

Dr. William Nelles, an English professor at University of Massachusetts, provides an excellent answer in his essay, “Microfiction: What Makes a Very Short Story Very Short?” He identifies six traits that separate flash fiction from short stories, as follows:

  1. Action is tangible and intense.
  2. Characters are anonymous,“less important than action/circumstance/situation.
  1. Setting is recognizable, familiar, and practically non-existent; the story takes place anywhere- any room, any house, any park, any bar, etc.
  2. Time is short and concise.
  3. May draw from known works (ie: fairy tales, Bible stories, Shakespeare, pop culture)
  4. Closure is Definitive and Resolute.


Fiction writer Harvey Stanbrough, in his article, “Sharpen Your Skills with Flash Fiction,” adds another element to Dr. Nelle’s list: suggestion. In flash fiction, character, conflict, and setting are implied; readers flush out the story with their own knowledge and experience. Specific names, details, and setting, integral components to short stories and novels, are not necessary to flash fiction. Because flash fiction is compact, including specifics slow the story.

Flash fiction, as Stanbrough notes, is not a vignette. In vignettes, the stories are ongoing, without closure. Flash fiction, even when ending in a twist or surprise, is finite and closed. Vignettes are like tableau photography, representing a slice of time, or one piece of a larger story. Flash fiction, as both Stanbrough and Dr. Nelles note, is like Impressionist painting, capturing feelings, space, and movement in a complete story.

Flash. Micro. Sudden. Lightning. Nano. Short-short. Super short.
6. 26. 140. 700. 1500. 2000.

Regardless of its name and word length, flash fiction is serious writing. Its compact structure, unique traits, modern format, and adaptability make flash fiction fun, informative, and entertaining, for writers and readers alike. Hemingway, no doubt, would agree.

Works Cited:

Hemingway, Ernest. Death in the Afternoon New York: Scribner, 1932. Web. 23 January 2016.

Nelles, William. “Microfiction: What Makes a Very Short Story Very Short?” Narrative 20:1(2012): 87-104. Academic Search Premier. Web.23 January 2016.

Stanbrough, Harvey. “Sharpen your skills with flash fiction: Flash fiction is not only enjoyable to write, but a good learning tool for improving your work.” Writer 120:1 (2007): 34-37. Humanities International Complete. Web. 23 January 2016.

Recommended Readings:

“Popular Mechanics”- Raymond Carver

“A Continuity of Parks”- Julio Cortazar

“Girl”- Jamaica Kincaid

“Mother”- Grace Paley

Flash Fiction International


An Interview with Rafael Alvarez

Interview with Rafael Alvarez
Kit O’Neill

Rafael Alvarez  is judicating the Short Prose Category for the 2015/2016 Maryland Writers’ Association Writing Contest.  He graciously agreed to a question and answer session with Pen in Hand’s editor, Kirsten (Kit) O’Neill.


Q&A: Rafael Alvarez

What inspires your writing?
Being alive. Watching the breeze rustle the leaves of the big maple in my backyard. Seeing the beaten down people of Baltimore (my ‘holy land’), the work of musicians (bluesmen), painters (Henry Ossawa Tanner), and film-makers (Malick, Chaplin, Matt Porterfield).

How long have you been writing?
Since the third grade (making up stories in my composition books), and professionally, since age nineteen, when I began to get paid to write for the original City Paper, 1977. I joined the newsroom of the Baltimore Sun a year later, 1978, age 20, beginning on the horse race desk in sports.

What is your writing process like?
All day, every day with a two hour nap around 2 p.m. before the evening shift.

What are you currently reading? Do you have a favorite author (or two or three)?
Now reading Mrs. Dalloway by Woolf, after finishing Middlemarch by Eliot and the short stories of Lucia Berlin. Spent 2015 reading female fiction writers. Intend to commit 2016 to African-American writers, beginning with Jimmy Baldwin. I am especially fond of Isaac Bashevis Singer and Patrick Modiano along with Toni Morrison, whose Song of Solomon blew me away. I read Borges often but I don’t understand him.

What types of works do you most enjoy? Why?
Literary fiction to better understand what I am trying to accomplish.

What words of wisdom would you share with a younger version of your writing self?
Read more, party less.

Have you ever struggled with writer’s block?
Never. I make my living by selling words like sausage and grind it 365 a year. I can’t afford writer’s block.

You’ve written about one subject- Baltimore- for pretty much your entire career. How has writing about one singular subject shaped your writing and style? How do you keep your ideas fresh?
Setting all of my stories – fiction, non-fiction, screenplays – in the city of Baltimore has given me a “troupe” of dependable characters, like actors, that I can call on at anytime to fulfill (service) the idea at hand. Orlo the junkman, when I find that treasure in the alley, Basilio, the painters, when the sun hits the side of the derelict bottle cap factory at Eastern and Lehigh streets in the late afternoon, Cookie and Nieves, when there is heartbreak and tragedy around the corner. Knowing Baltimore as I do (having been paid to study in during my twenty years on the Sun City Desk) allows me to immediately set these characters (my flesh and blood Pinocchios) on any street corner and, BANG, the story is off and running.

I find it fascinating that such an ordinary object- the Fell’s Point mailbox-  would spark storytelling. Often. simply starting a story is challenging. What advice would you give to a writer or artist struggling to find inspiration to kick-start the writing process?
If you have to look for inspiration, you may be in the wrong game

Rafael Alvarez is a journalist and author. Among his many books are three short story collections – Tales from the Holy Land, The Fountain of Highlandtown, and Orlo & Leini, a history of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, two anthologies of journalism, Hometown Boy and Storyteller, and The Tuerk House, a history of Baltimore’s pioneering drug and alcohol treatment center for the poor. He was a writer for The Wire and he was nominated for an Edgar Award in 2010 for The Wire: Truth Be Told, an encyclopedic companion to the television series. He was a reporter for The Sun from 1977 through 2001.



CRABTOWN, USA – Essays and Observations / the third in Alvarez trilogy of non-fiction portraits of Baltimore and the people who live there, preceded by “Hometown Boy” (1999) and “Storyteller” (2001)




Jacket Cover by Macon Street Books, provided courtesy of Rafael Alvarez.

Author Photo by Jennifer Bishop, provided courtesy by Rafael Avarez.



An Interview with Jason Tinney

Interview with Jason Tinney
Kit O’Neill

Jason Tinney  is judicating the Poetry Category for the 2015/2016 Maryland Writers’ Association Writing Contest.  He graciously agreed to a question and answer session with Pen in Hand’s editor, Kirsten (Kit) O’Neill.

J Tinney Pic 2.JPG

Q&A: Jason Tinney

What inspires your writing?
Characters and simply trying to tell a story to someone who might want to listen. There’s also an element of getting voices inside of you down on paper, giving them someplace to go. But really it’s just: “So, I was at the grocery store yesterday and this man behind me in the check out line had 17 jars of mustard—that’s all. You’ll never believe what happened next.

 How long have you been writing?
Fifteen years ago I started to take it seriously.

What is your writing process like?
It’s a distilling process. For the most part—whether it’s prose, poetry, lyrics—it starts as hand written notes that get whittled down in journals before typing them up and then continuing to distill through drafts.

What are you currently reading?
Knockemstiff by Donald Ray Pollock and Poachers by Tom Franklin—both story collections.

Do you have a favorite author (or two or three)?
I tend to gravitate South: Flannery O’Connor, Eudora Welty, William Faulkner, Richard Ford, Clyde Edgerton, Larry Brown. A few on a very long list.

What types of works do you most enjoy? Why?
Short stories. I love the flexibility of the form. You can cook one up in 500 to 1500 words—more or less. They can easily be adapted into scripts. If you have 15 short stories, taking a step back, you may realize you have a novel.

What words of wisdom would you share with a younger version of your writing self?
Revise. Edit.

Have you ever struggled with writer’s block?
No. I’ve been distracted. The kid is sick; you’re having a tough time in a relationship, worrying about paying bills—all those kinds of things can get you off track. Writing is focused work. You never hear of a physician getting “doctor’s block.” And if they do, there’s usually a lawsuit involved.

How did you overcome it?
In terms of distractions, Faulkner used to take the door knob off of his office door so no one would disturb him. I just keep writing—whatever comes to mind—and try to plow through. Stay seat belted in. The editing process will weed out whatever nonsense you’ve put down. Or I get up and do the dishes.

You are not only a writer, but also a musician. Writer David Sheinin observed that you have “a musician’s ear for dialogue.” Do you listen to music as you write? How does music influence dialogue, and does it help set the rhythm and pacing of your stories?
There was a time when I couldn’t write without music. Then I went through a phase when I needed complete silence. Now, I go back and forth. Depends on the mood, I suppose. I love this band Shovels and Rope. Whenever a story is going stale, I throw them on to kick start the thing. Words have a built-in musicality to them; Mississippi is one of my favorite musical words. What I mean is there is a melody and rhythm to the word. Dylan Thomas used to choose words simply because he liked the way they sounded. When reading over drafts I stomp my foot to find the rhythm of words within a sentence structure. Speaking of Dylans, a colleague and I came up with the Dylan Litmus Test. We read our stories aloud in Bob Dylan’s sing-song voice to test those rhythms. If Dylan can’t read it, who else would?

This edition of Pen in Hand focused on Flash Fiction. In Ripple Meets Deep, a series of vignettes are woven throughout the story. How would you describe the difference between a Vignette and a longer story? What elements do you think they have in common?
Some of the best jokes are told in five lines. They are stories. As long as the story is told well, length doesn’t matter.


Jason Tinney is the author of Ripple Meets the Deep, named Best Book of 2015 by Baltimore Magazine. His previous books are Louise Paris and Other Waltzes (poetry/prose) and Bluebird (short stories/poems). He has been a contributor to several magazines, including, Baltimore, Style, Gorilla, Her Mind, Urbanite, and Maryland Life, which won the International Regional Magazine Association’s Award of Merit in the category of Culture Feature for his article, “The March,” a first-hand account of life on the front-lines with American Civil War reenactors. Jason co-authored the play, Fifty Miles Away, winner of the 2015 Frostburg State University Center for Literary Arts One-Act Festival.

Ripple Cover Only LORES

Harry Crews blurbed fellow Southern writer Larry Brown’s debut book by succinctly stating, “Talent has struck.” This book of short stories by Jason Tinney, a Frederick resident and occasional contributor to Baltimore, brings Crews’s quote to mind. Tinney, like the aforementioned writers, crafts bold and sensual stories that ripple with nuance below the surface. His self-conscious characters might bleed and bruise, but it’s the seemingly offhanded comment that hangs in the air or the sense of unspoken longing that nudges them toward profundity. They grapple with aging and mortality and a sense that the open road, once so inviting, might lead nowhere good. They also sense that the salvation they’re seeking might be found closer to home, in things like the hushed beauty of a snowfall or the warmth of a pre-dawn embrace. But the restlessness stirs, bringing tension and an  aching humanity to Tinney’s prose.
-John Lewis, Baltimore Magazine

Author Photo by Skye Sadowski-Malcom

Jacket Cover by Brian Slagle, provided courtesy of Jason Tinney


The Boy with the Laughing Smile

 Frances Altman


He is bluff and bluster and arrogance too,
The boy with the laughing smile.

He is cocky and clever,
Yet in his eyes are the hidden softness
of blue, blue skies.

He’ll give you a growl, or a shrug or stare,
But he’s not really such a devil-may-care.

At his fingertips are the magic of moments
yet to be told,
And a lifetime of day dreams still to unfold.

Dear God, dare I ask of a world
that seldom smiles,
To look with kindness on this my Child.



Frances Altman dabbles in poetry when the words hit her.  She is a former Chicago Sun Times editor and now a children’s writer who has escaped from Chicago and Richmond to settle in Baltimore near her daughter.


Richard Baldwin Cook


“There’s a spot of blood on the floor,” she said. “It’s from one of the dogs.”

“There’s also a spot of blood in the dog’s bed,” she said.

Flashing on an expensive trip to the vet, on the four dog graves we already have in our woods, gathered in by the earth . . . “I’ll take care of it,” I said.

“These are among the many graves I have made invisible,” the earth said.

This particular dog is visible still, but there is the matter of that blood, which “I will take care of,” as I said.

I will report to her, over the phone: “The blood’s what’s left of a bloated tick, which the dog cast off.”

This report to her will feel like a victory, even though the tick, “bloated,” like I said, just fell of its fill, it said.

Like the victory I felt, after she drove away, and I picked up the broom to sweep the leaves out of the garage, and discovered the broom was “holding you up, a little bit,” the broom said.



Richard Baldwin Cook lives in Baltimore County and has published two volumes of poetry, “Splendid Lives and Otherwise – Sonnets of Remembrance” (2011) and “My Father Was Taken to a Lynching” (2014) and two volumes of family history, ALL OF THE ABOVE, I and II, which have been well received by the Kentucky Historical Society and elsewhere. Richard has placed a number of poems and essays in the Syndic Literary Journal