The Fourth Stage

One of my stories was published in Spelk


by Cornelia Fick

Aunt Janet choked on her beer, and then wagged a finger at her husband, Ted. “I hope the worms eat you ragged, you swine. I hope they start on your soft parts.”

“That was uncalled for,” her daughter, Elle, said.

Aunt Janet, Elle and two other women were sitting on kitchen chairs in a semi-circle under a peach tree. The meaty smoke from the barbeque enveloped them. They were celebrating Aunt Janet’s seventy-fifth birthday.

Once proud and beautiful, Aunt Janet had become a bony woman who couldn’t wait for the morning to put on her brown coat in search of brandy. Flecks of discoloured skin on her lips were wet with spittle. “He had a child with a woman in my church,” she continued. “He slept with all the women in the Mother’s Union.”

“He was a good father,” Elle said, desperate to believe in a man…

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The nicest rejection letter

Do you know how you hesitate to open an email from a magazine or journal where you’ve submitted your work because you can’t stand the punched-in-the gut feeling when you read some of them? Especially when you’re as brave as a mouse and each rejection letter makes your courage plummet and you ask, Why do you do this to yourself.

Well, I just received the following letter and I feel encouraged:

Dear Connie Fick,

The editors of ….. are honored that you chose to share your work with us.
Although your submission had many strengths, it does not meet our needs for this year’s issue. Nonetheless, we are grateful that you thought of us, and we hope you will consider ….. when submitting your work in the future.

We accept only one submission from each writer during the regular reading period, but you would be welcome to submit again for the …….’ Contest, which opens for submissions September 1.

Thank you for your interest in ….. We’d love to stay connected via Facebook, @…, and/or to see you at one or more of our events this year.

Best wishes,

The Editors of ….. Poetry


The ‘under-arrest’ test – how to see the holes in your story’s ending

Nail Your Novel

It’s hard to see the flaws in our own work, and the ending is especially a problem.  We know ourselves how it’s supposed to pack its punch, or we hope we do, but will the reader?

Here’s a handy test.

You’ve seen arrests in movies. And you know, don’t you, that a person may harm their defence if they don’t mention any evidence they later rely on in court.

This is like story endings.

A good ending

First of all, what’s a good ending? It has a feeling of ‘rightness’, even if it has surprises, leaves questions or unresolved issues. It must be fair (to the reader, not necessarily to the characters). It mustn’t look arbitrary.

When an ending fails, it’s usually because it wasn’t sufficiently set up.

It fails the arrest test.

Which is this:

It may harm your story’s effectiveness if you fail to mention any evidence (about events…

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Write a brilliant novel by asking the right questions – guest post at The Creative Penn

Nail Your Novel

Questions…. they’re the reason a reader gets intrigued by a story. And, at the author’s end, the writing process is an entire cycle of questions, big and small, some arising out of other questions. Some of the process is figuring out the right answers. Some of it is figuring out what to ask in the first place.

If that sounds like a conundrum, some of the most important questions are conundrums in themselves. Confused?

Today I’m at Joanna Penn’s Creative Penn blog, attempting to make sense of all this. Do come over.

PS If you’re curious about the latest doings of my own creative pen, here’s my latest newsletter

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Krotoa-Eva’s suite – a cape jazz poem in three movements, by Toni Stuart

I love this poem about our history.

AiW Guest Toni Stuart

Africa in Words is thrilled to be able to share with you this audio-visual poem by Toni Stuart, an excerpt from her collection-in-progress Krotoa-Eva’s suite – a cape jazz poem in three movements

Toni Stuart is a South African poet, performer and spoken word educator. You can find out more about her work here and read Matthew Lecznar’s interview with Toni for AiW here.

In this powerful, beautiful piece from Krotoa-Eva’s suite, Toni Stuart explores the history of the Cape through the figure of Krotoa-Eva. We are enormously grateful to Toni for sharing this extraordinary poem with us, and for writing the piece below explaining the context for the poem. 

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Roxane Gay Is the New Judge for the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction

Roxane Gayphoto by Jay Grabiec

Acclaimed writer, editor, professor and commentator Roxane Gay has been chosen as the new judge for the University of Georgia Press’s Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction. Gay follows Lee K. Abbott and Nancy Zafris as the latest distinguished writer to judge the Flannery O’Connor Award competitions.

Gay’s writing appears in Best American Nonrequired Reading 2018, Best American Mystery Stories 2014, Best American Short Stories 2012, Best Sex Writing 2012, Harper’s Bazaar, A Public Space, McSweeney’s, Tin House, Oxford American, American Short Fiction, Virginia Quarterly Review and many others. She is a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times. She is the author of the books Ayiti, An Untamed State, the New York Times  bestselling Bad Feminist, the nationally bestselling Difficult Women and the New York Times bestselling Hunger: A Memoir of My Body.

Gay is also the author of World…

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Reading Lydia Davis

I’m reading Lydia Davis’ short story collection. She certainly plays with form, something I can relate to because my stories tend to jump in time and space from one paragraph to the next. Which proved to be a problem because I couldn’t sell it to popular magazines.

She is highly experimental. One story is just a paragraph. I reread it about three times trying to establish if it is really a story. It doesn’t conform to anything that a story should contain e.g. plot etc. Not that I can see at any rate. It looks like a story, it’s in a collection of stories, but is it a story? It certainly pushes the boundaries of the short story genre to the hilt.

Now that I’m in the middle of the book it appears that the stories are linked. The protagonist in most of them is a woman, not so pretty, who wears spectacles. She goes through a divorce but her ex-husband moves close by to be near their son. She is so enmeshed in the life of said ex-husband and his new girlfriend that she has a breakdown.

She goes into the garage one morning and then she literally cannot move until the evening. She stays there for hours staring at an oil slick. Obviously this leads to her going into therapy. The therapist takes her apart and puts her together in a ‘new pattern’, she says.

But still she doesn’t change her situation. She wants all of them (her, husband, girlfriend) to get along ‘for the sake of their son’, which sees the girlfriend wearing her jacket. She finds her stuff in the pocket. They use her telephone, shower in her house etc.

The theme of most of the stories is: trying hard to be civilized and accept the situation with grace and goodwill and being ill-treated by an ‘unkind’ man. Eish, sometimes women are so obsessed with being nice and doing the best for everyone around them that they destroy themselves.

Growing as a writer

The authors and texts that have influenced my development as a writer the most are Leo Tolstoy, Lydia Davis, Philip Stevick, Flannery O’Connor, Maxine Chernoff, and the two stories Boys by Rick Moody and Girl by Jamaica Kinkaid. Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, one of the first books I read, set me on a journey into the murky ground of relationships between men and women. The isolation and shunning of Anna, the loss of her two children, which leads to her throwing herself under the wheels of a train, contrasting with little consequence for her partner who shares her transgression, made an enduring impression. A quality of Tolstoy I admire in the novel is his propensity to share his opinions about the issues of his day. However, in my own work this still has to be refined.

The collected short stories of Lydia Davis introduced me to an author whose work I hadn’t read before. Davis experiments with different forms. Her stories are known for being short, concise and infused with humour. Having this in common (very short stories, spare style, humour) I embraced her as a kindred spirit. I learned from Davis, a master of the compound sentence, how to construct sentences that could be moulded into saying exactly what I wanted. Previously, having imbibed copious writing advice which advocated simplicity, I’d  construct short sentences which left me dissatisfied, rewriting for hours but never quite reaching the desired effect.  From Davis I also learned (The silence of Mrs Iln) that in a long relationship a man could encroach so much as to occupy space in a woman’s psyche and that the woman can experience that as heaviness.

Davis doesn’t use a lot of dialogue in her stories. In The Art of Fiction series she states “I find dialogue artificial…” Coming from a background of writing for television and radio, I have an affinity for dialogue as a valuable tool. Davis also says that description is artificial. The lack of description in her fiction make me uncomfortable. I admire Alex la Guma for his wonderfully descriptive prose.

Maxine Chernoff writes in different genres: poetry, short stories, novels, and screen plays. She’s regarded as a master of the short story and writes with the care and attention of a poet. Chernoff writes about women and relationships, something that comes through in my writing time and again. Her humour appeals to the me. In the story Degan dying a man has a stroke. The humour is dark but handled with such a light touch. Balancing light and dark, the idea that humour has to be balanced at all was such an important insight for the growth of my craft.

In a reading presentation, Boys by Rick Moody and Girl by Jamaica Kinkaid were compared along these lines: Compare the role of girls and boys in the two stories. What does Girl say about femininity and sexuality? What does Boys say about masculinity and sexuality? Compare how both stories succeed (or not) in placing men and women in a different social standing and class. It yielded a harvest of insights into this topic.

Flannery O’Connor shows that prejudice is learnt, very pertinent to South Africa. One of her themes is the foolishness of women who trust too easily. I love how she uses words. One old lady is ‘ravenous’ for a son-in-law. Ravenous used in this context arrested my attention. O’Connor has a sly humour. She demonstrates in her stories that nothing is as it seems and pokes fun in a gentle way at the sometimes futile efforts of older people to teach the young.

Underscoring the above has been the ground-breaking book by Philip Stevick Anti-story: an anthology of experimental fiction which describes eight ways of telling modern stories: anti-mimesis, anti-reality, against event, against subject or theme, against the middle range of experience, against analysis, against meaning and against scale. This is crucial for me in my experimental stories.

In conclusion,  another author who has influenced me is Cathy Acker. Her novel Blood and guts in high school is like a cold shower, a reality check about the vulnerability of women in society. Initially shying away from such naked anger which has the potential to alienate me as a reader, it acted as a shock into awareness.

Free on Smashwords



My book is currently free on Smashwords.

Click here to get a copy.


I haven’t disappeared or anything but I’ve been busy. In January I started working on a PhD at the University of the Western Cape. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

At last I have progressed enough to have an overview of my thesis. Phew. It has been brutal. I’m writing about slavery at the Cape of Good Hope. Not many know that South Africa used to be a slave nation.

Hope you enjoy the free book.