420 Characters - Lou Beach There's a professor of creative writing at the school where I got my master's degree who is kind of obsessed with flash fiction. I wasn't a creative writing student, so I never had any classes with him, but I heard tell. His argument was that this sort of quickie writing help get the juices flowing, helps you get ideas out on paper so they can be developed later. Maybe there's some truth to that, but I always kind of felt the products of these exercises were largely pretty pathetic. I know that sounds harsh, but the point is kind of to produce something uncultivated and that's usually what you get.

So Lou Beach put together this collection of "stories," which originated as a series of Facebook posts that were limited to 420 characters each. There's no connection between any of them, they're just brief descriptions of a moment in time. If you've ever been a borderline emo teenager with a blog, say, in the glory days of Xanga or Livejournal, you've probably seen borderline emo teenager versions of these things. I'm not going to lie - fourteen year old me wrote tons of this shit. I didn't have the chops to write a full-blown short story with characters and plots and things, but I had the skills needed to write what I thought was a lovely collection of descriptions of moments. It's kind of the easy way out.

It may have started out kind of gimmicky, but Beach somehow manages to make it feel like the exact opposite of a gimmick. There's something profound and beautiful about his writing, how he manages to capture emotional weight with literally no excess. I don't know how much editing or cultivating went into these, but Jonathan Lethem says it best in his front cover blurb: "Holy shit! These are great!"