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Meet Flash Fiction Winner Tula Singer

As writers, we have the power to not only create worlds from scratch but to also imagine our own world as we wish it could be and provide the resolution it often lacks. That’s what Tula Singer (Cuba) did in her prize-winning Flash Fiction piece: “I was writing about the funeral that I never went to; when my grandfather Lelo died, I was too young to accompany my mother to Cuba. With ‘Flor africana’ I went to his funeral, I felt what I would have felt if I had gone with my mother eight years ago.” 

We talk to her about why it’s important to know what kind of writing process works for you (and why that’s okay if it goes against the usual advice), how past WtW writers inspired her, and which book by a Cuban author she recommends!


How did you go about deciding on the subject for your tiny tale? For instance, did you pick a story you knew you could tell in 99 words, or did you choose the story you wanted to tell first, then figure out how to whittle it down?

I definitely did not pick a story that I knew could be told in 99 words. Instead, I chose something more general, something that for me was worth writing about—the death of a girl’s grandfather—and then narrowed in on one scene that might give the reader a taste of what that meant for her. Then I got to know my protagonist, Mara, and drilled her with questions to understand what she felt and why after Lelo died. I learned that she shared my childhood, my love of chocolate and jazz, my obsession with the sea. She became me. I was writing about the funeral that I never went to; when my grandfather Lelo died, I was too young to accompany my mother to Cuba. With “Flor africana” I went to his funeral, I felt what I would have felt if I had gone with my mother eight years ago.

Once I knew what my piece would really be about, I focused on fleshing everything out and choosing the details that needed to be there, as well as taking out whatever seemed unnecessary. I wrote a scene that was much less than 99 words, and from there I added/took out until arriving at the final draft. I guess my system for writing is a bit chaotic…I don’t always know what I’m really writing about until the end, and the smells, tastes, and moods that come to me when I think about the characters end up leading me to a place, somehow.

Guest Judge Janelle Milanes said, “This piece was a perfect blend of story elements told in a moving and succinct way.” What tips do you have for other flash fiction writers for achieving this blend of story and concision?

I think it depends on what works for the writer. Although a lot of the time people say to write more than what you need and later cut down, I am the complete opposite when writing. I need to start small and grow until the limit, if that makes sense. When I wrote “Flor africana,” I started with a little scene that demonstrated the essence of the situation: a girl has lost her grandfather. At the time I only knew who she was and where she was; there was no link between the character, the setting, and the situation. But then I learned more. I could write more because I had a better understanding of what was happening. I wrote about how the sea was a reminder to Mara of Lelo’s house near the beach, about the innocence of childhood before getting lost in reality, a reality where grandfathers die and homes go away. And so then I realized that it had become about home and identity, not just about grieving death. Lelo was a living reminder of Mara’s old country, of that piece of her childhood. Where I’m going with this is that if you’re struggling with flash fiction, you might want to consider starting small—just start writing, growing as you learn more about what you want to say. Listen to the characters, to what they want, to what they feel wherever they are. And don’t write about something that isn’t yours—write about what belongs to you. Your feelings, your family, your smells. It makes it so much easier to know what you need to include and what is just superfluous detail.


Did you read any flash fiction or other pieces of writing in preparation for this competition? If so, what?  

Since this was my first flash fiction piece, I definitely took a look at the flash fiction exemplars from the Write the World archives to understand the essence of these tiny tales. My favorite—the one that I couldn’t get out of my head—was “Hiroshima,” by jasonstarlight. This piece was so simple and yet so profound that I had to read it at least three times to feel satisfied. The line “The papers called it Hiroshima; he called it work” was particularly impressive to me. Another one that spoke to me was “Aurelia Fell” by she’s-got-a-story, because it describes a tiny moment in such detail and depth, and at the same time evokes many questions in the reader. Finally, I love “he escapes from the earth” by glass_raindrops, because of the unexpected theme that stirs this sort of inevitable sadness in the reader. 

What is one book by a Cuban author you think everyone should read? 

I love the writer Alejo Carpentier and his novel Los pasos perdidos (in English, The Lost Steps). This novel is about a composer who is tired of the monotony of his rich life in New York City, so he travels into the Amazon in search of an exotic instrument. As he travels deeper and deeper into the Amazon, the tribes he discovers on the way to the center grow more and more primitive. There he finds love after years of disillusion with his wife. I think it would be best if I didn’t spoil the rest.

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