Monday, December 6, 2010

The WSJ Gets All Flashy

Proving once again that it isn't only an enduring traditional news outlet but also one of the awesomest, The Wall Street Journal asked three international spy authors to pen WikiLeaks-inspired flash fiction for its December 4, 2010, edition. Here's an excerpt from Joseph Finder's "Waiting for the Train to Minsk," my favorite of the bunch:
"In the real world, down here, people bleed. Soldiers, civilians, aid workers get blown up and kidnapped and slaughtered because of what you decide to post."

"After careful scrutiny and deliberation."

"I wonder if you'd act the same way if you were in the field of combat yourself. If the exposure put you at risk personally."

He shifted in his chair. "What are you saying?"

"You yourself, for instance. Your real name is Mattias Gunnarsson. You live at 66 Saint Göransgatan Street in the Kungsholmen area of Stockholm. You've been staying at the Hotel Europa in Amsterdam for almost a week. You have a younger sister who's been living in --"

"Is this a threat?" he sputtered. His pasty face flushed. "What, you're saying you can track me down?"

I stood up. "Not at all. I just wanted you to know that I'm a big believer in transparency, too."
Read the whole thing, as well as Alex Carr's "Breaking the News to Farash" and Alex Berenson's "No Tee Time for Zubaid." To my mind, flash fiction has always resided on the periphery of publishing acceptability. Though eminently readable, the form is so short that publishers rarely seem willing to pay for it. But these three pieces in the Journal have me harboring a secret yearning, a hope that flash could finally be entering the mainstream.

(Picture: CC 2008 by


Chestertonian Rambler said...

I really liked Carr's, myself.

Also, is it just me, or is the only one that isn't a full story (Benerson's) also the one that's least well written? I wonder if there's something in the nature of Flash Fiction that makes a reader use what little space he has well, as opposed to novels where one can resort to cliched phrases in the hope that your overall plot will engage the reader.

Ben Mann said...

Siler/Carr's worked for me as well, at least as a solid flash story rather than thinly disguised polemic.

From what I can see though, all three pieces are adopting a single side in the matter being discussed, which made the whole thing appear about as balanced and convincing as The Green Zone. (How different if Finder's protag had instead been chasing the people who leaked the information in the first place?)

In the end, how this affects flash fiction openings with WSJ and others will depend more on the WSJ audience's reaction to the pieces, and that, it would seem, is anybody's guess.

Loren Eaton said...


Yeah, Carr's was good, too. A bit dark, though. Guess I was in a lighter mood when I read them on the plane.

Berenson's piece was odd, especially since the paper led with it on the front of the entertainment section. I read the "ending" twice, thinking I'd missed something. Nope, just a nice fragment without a conclusion.

Loren Eaton said...


I guess the stories do all have a similar perspective, although I didn't think they were particularly overweening. The WSJ readers' reactions seem to have largely been, "Why the heck is this in my paper?!" Which is a shame, because I loved the that the editorial staff dipped their toes in this particular pond.

Chestertonian Rambler said...

I finally got around to reading some WikiLeaks, as well as STRATFOR's excellent analysis. (If you're at all interested in geopolitics, btw, a free weekly e-mail subscription to STRATFOR is a must.) My conclusions bring up an interesting point, regarding fiction and responsibility.

Specifically, it seems very clear that the leaks were low enough level to not significantly harm American interests. More to the point, I see no evidence that innocent lives were put at stake. If so, this makes the WSJ's explicit link of their published fiction to nonfiction events problematic, and perhaps dishonest.

If the claim had been made in an editorial, the WSJ could apologize--many news sources print corrections and apologies. Yet it wasn't, and fiction gives them insulation from the need to apologize.

The question: what truth-requirements are placed on stories printed in a newspaper? How important is context?

Loren Eaton said...

In all fairness to the WSJ, they didn't ask the authors to comment specifically on WikiLeaks; they said, "How will the era of WikiLeaks change the world of spying?" Unfortunately, two of the authors recycled the name, which opens them up to criticism. I viewed the stories as referencing a similar fictional organization that had endangered far more lives (although the jury does seem out on whether or not the first round of leaks put Pakistani informants at risk).