Beka Gremikova is a rising powerhouse of flash fiction prose. With fifteen stories published in 2020, she’s the latest winner of our new “Most Prolific Author” annual prize. She also holds the Editors’ Choice award title for her story “Unexpected Encounters of a Draconic Kind” which was published in the Bingeworthy anthology.
Time-tested advertising principles say that people need to see your name (or product) at least five times before you stand out from the noise and attract their attention. As I managed Havok social media, I noticed Beka showed up frequently tagging our account about her publications. Then I noticed that she and Cassandra Hamm were consistently promoting each others’ work. This got me wondering: what’s the story here?
A couple of weeks ago, we published an interview with Cassandra (or Cassie, as we’ve come to know her), and today I am thrilled to share Beka’s side of the story. It’s all the more poignant knowing that she’s joining Havok staff this coming week, and today is traditionally “Staff Saturday”. Welcome to the Havok Hive, Beka!
The headlines below are my questions, the paragraphs that follow them are answers from Beka.
Let’s get to know you a bit. Tell us about your first encounter with Havok and how you know Cassie.
I believe I first heard of Havok through my fellow Havok author and dear friend, Jenelle Schmidt, back in the summer of 2019. I’d read her stories and seen her post about Havok, and as I’m always on the lookout for new writing markets, I was intrigued.
My first two submissions were for December 2019’s Open Mic Night theme. One was a mystery (which needed work and was rejected) and the other a fantasy thriller entitled “Burial,” about a female embalmer who has to keep her pharaoh from coming back to life as a monster. The story captured all the things I personally enjoy in a story—eerie atmosphere, healthy romance, an evil curse, and a heroine with a strong head and heart. To my absolute thrill, it was accepted for Havok’s Thriller Thursday bracket. I still look back on that story fondly.
After that, I had another story accepted for February’s theme. I was still very much a flash fiction newbie, muddling about without really knowing what the heck I was doing. I’d seen Cassie’s stories pop up, and both she and Abigail Falanga [honored as one of Havok’s most prolific authors as of May 2020] struck me as people I could really learn from. I reached out to both of them about the possibility of beta reading for me. My schedule lined up with Cassie’s so we could make it possible, and we ended up becoming ongoing beta readers for each other’s flash fiction pieces.
From there, we became super close as we connected over our mutual love for social justice, mental health representation, sweet romances, and epic world-building.
We collaborate in the sense that we help brainstorm and critique each other’s flash fiction. We tell each other pretty plainly whether or not something’s working, suggest titles, help cut words, and commiserate over all the nitty-gritty stuff that makes flash fiction so difficult yet so rewarding.
Our relationship is very balanced; we share certain qualities but in different doses. Cassie’s definitely more romantic than I am, so when I’m writing a flash fiction piece with a romance angle, I’m keen to get her reaction to it. And I contribute a ravenous nature when it comes to cutting words in stories—I tend to be rather slap-happy with the delete button.
I’m blessed to be surrounded by talented people that are not only writing buddies, but also dear, dear friends. Every single person in that circle helps make me a better person and writer, and I’m happy to count Cassie amongst them. She’s helped sharpen my flash fiction—and my soul.
You could say Havok brought us together.
Was promoting each other’s stories a strategy or happy accident?
I think it was a mix of both. Cassie’s much better with the Instagram thing than I am—but I did start making little graphics to promote my stories ahead of time. Since we’re so involved with each other’s pieces behind the scenes, it just made sense to start promoting each other’s work and cheer each other on publicly.
You have both won Havok awards, and your stories are full of heart and meaning, as well as engaging characters and exotic places. What has the publishing journey been like and what are your goals?
Why, thank you!
To be honest, the journey’s been a bit of a whirlwind. For the first six months, I didn’t really know what I was doing—there was a lot of trial and error as I submitted story after story and received rejection after rejection. For the “MacGuffin” [One Thing] theme, I think I submitted two or three different ideas. The only story that made it—and the story I struggled with so much—then went on to win the Editors’ Choice Award. I’ll admit it, I almost cried when I heard the news. [She’s talking about “Unexpected Encounters of a Draconic Kind” and it is fabulous.]
However, even after that, I still felt very much adrift in this flash fiction world. No matter how far you’ve come, there’s always more to learn. But it’s less daunting when you’ve got friends by your side, and I’ve been blessed to have Cassie amongst those friends.
When I started out writing flash fiction, I certainly didn’t expect to have so many published within such a time frame. However, once I’d gotten hooked, my competitive nature kicked in, and I started setting goals for myself. For example, for August 2020’s Taste theme, my goal was to submit a story to each genre. I met my goal, though my submissions weren’t all accepted. Having a story published in each genre in one month is still a goal I’d like to reach—I’ve come so close a few times!
Another goal I’ve set for myself is to get better at writing Techno stories. I struggle a lot with science fiction. I keep trying to sprinkle pixie dust across the galaxies instead of using accurate science with a twist…
I’d also love to get a story featured on the Havok Story Podcast one day. I’ve loved listening to Magnus read the Havok selections. I’m a huge fan of podcasts and audiobooks; I listen to them almost every night to help wind down my overly-anxious, busy brain so I can fall asleep. To hear a story of mine read by a professional would be thrilling. [UPDATE: This achievement was unlocked recently–listen to Beka’s story “The Perfumers of Qukamar” on the podcast now!]
As for my story ideas, I think my mind is a bit like Doug’s from the movie Up—easily distracted by Shiny Ideas. They tend to hit me at the most random times—either when I’m falling asleep or at work. I keep them on my phone under the Notes app so I don’t forget them.
Due to my love of folklore and fairy tales, often I approach a theme with the intent of writing a retelling of some sort. Thinking up new ways to explore these classic tales, to subtly twist them until the audience second-guesses their initial response to the original story, is part of my desire to write.
At the moment, I’m not as consciously explorative, technique-wise, as Cassie is. (I mean, her story, “The Clouds Weep”, told without dialogue? That’s fabulous and unique!) I do tend to vary the narrative tenses I use in my stories, but I’d like to explore other writing techniques in the future.
Right now, I enjoy writing human relationships that don’t often receive the focus of story narratives. Aunts and uncles with their nieces and nephews, for example, and elderly ladies that cultivate deep relationships with those around them that aren’t blood-related. Adoption in all its forms—whether adopting a child, welcoming a friend into sibling-like closeness, being mentored by another—means a lot to me and has become a facet of my work. I want adoption to be more widely represented in stories and as celebrated and cherished as other relationships.
What is your “great writing dream”?
My great writing dream is to be a hybrid author and have projects both self- and traditionally-published. I don’t picture myself as rich and famous. I’d be happy with a small, loyal circle of fellow writers and readers who love to celebrate characters and whimsical worlds.
I have so many novels that I’d love to finish one day! My YA fantasy retelling of The Snow Queen has been sitting in my closet since my first year of university while I consider how on earth I’m going to rewrite it. Recently more ideas have been taking shape, but multiple health and personal crises over the past few years have affected my ability to focus on longer projects. Hence, it will have to wait awhile, alongside my epic fantasy retellings of The Little Mermaid and The Wild Swans, my trilogy inspired by the Russian Revolution, and my fantasy-thriller-mystery about a girl who’s been cursed to be the doppelganger for a princess.
But I am working towards publishing multiple short story collections, including one that compiles all my flash fiction pieces! There’s no title for it as yet, but I’m slowly putting it together. There will be both pieces that were published with Havok and exclusive stories not yet published.
Another collection I’m working on is Beauty & Briars, a set of fairy tale retellings (of course) told in both prose and poetry. My third anthology is Nothing More Than Death and Other Tales, a troupe of tales all set in the same world as my short story published in Uncommon Universes Press’s A Kind of Death anthology.
What have you learned about writing flash fiction? What do you like best about it?
One of the key things for me, especially as a fantasy writer, was learning to share only what’s important to the scene. You can leave some things to readers’ imaginations. This is a relief, but also has me worrying about which things. For example, I’ll admit that I sometimes have very… convoluted… magic systems that require a lot of explanation, as seen in my Touch story, “To Touch the Earth.” The Fantasy Friday editors helped me wrestle that magic system into submission, but it was tricky finding that balance between ensuring the readers understood what was happening and allowing magic to be magical. It’s something I’m still working on as a writer.
Secondly, and this has been said many times before—rejection is normal. I think people look at flash fiction sometimes and assume that because it’s short, it must be easy. I’ve been guilty of this myself. But it’s really not easy, and even when you pour hours into a story, it might not make it. Even with 15+ stories under my belt, I don’t believe myself to be an expert by any stretch of the imagination. I try to learn from my rejections and from every writer I encounter.
As for what I love about flash fiction? Permit me to share a short essay I wrote for The Writer Games, hosted by Havok’s own Julia Skinner:
“I love stories, especially flash fiction, because they’re a way to connect to others—and ourselves—more deeply. There’s so much you can learn about a person through what they write: their desires, hurts, passions. I don’t believe any writer can fully keep themselves out of their work, and that’s not a bad thing. (That isn’t to say you should assume an author believes something based off of what you read of theirs—not at all.)
But I do believe that stories can act as bridges between people of many different backgrounds. I’ve had friends on opposing sides of certain debates agree on thematic elements in stories. Friends that might never get along in real life, connected by strands of sentences.
Flash fiction is a concentration of those connections. In a few words, you’re called to build bridges to your readers’ emotions, to soothe their hurts, to inflame their imagination, to surprise and challenge them. Done well, it’s a spectacular genre.
Its very form presents a challenge to writers and a challenge to readers: Is the connection there? Is it strong? Will it last? Can we keep building this bridge?
I hope we can, friends. So whether you’re hoping to reach an audience or better understand yourself, I hope you’ll join me in building these bridges—sentence by sentence.”
[Beautifully said, Beka!]
How do you think short fiction fits into a writer’s toolbox?
As close writer friends have pointed out to me, for some authors, their short fiction is their career. I’ve struggled with various health and personal issues these past number of years, where my longer projects have been put on hold. Flash fiction and short stories have helped both keep me creative and slowly work through some of my anxieties when it comes to writing.
For others such as myself, I hope they can see short fiction as simply another creative avenue to explore and develop—one that’s just as worthy as novel writing. It doesn’t have to be a “stepping stone”—it can be a career in and of itself.
Short fiction is a fantastic chance to practice having people outside your circle view your work. Not every author, I’ve come to learn, is familiar with or uses beta readers. For me, they’re a vital part of my writing process. Often I’m so wrapped up in my thoughts and internal focus that I miss the forest for the trees. My betas help me narrow my focus and make me a stronger writer.
For that author who’s nervous about people reading an entire draft of their novel, asking betas to read flash fiction can help familiarize them with the beta-reading process—without the sometimes heart-wrenching act of handing over a novel to them right away.
What about Havok excites you? What would you like to see in the future?
Cassie and I both have encouraged friends to submit their stories to Havok, and we know others who are planning to submit in future. I think it’s a fantastic way to introduce characters that feature in larger works. And I agree with what Cassie said in her write-up—Havok’s community is spectacular, and I’ve also met so many lovely writing friends through our mutual love of flash fiction.
I personally would love to see collaborative stories, perhaps as Saturday or Sunday bonus content. I know Cassie and I were wanting to write flash fic crossovers of some of our characters, and another Havok writer and I are commiserating over bringing our kick-butt grannies together for a spy-and-slaying spectacular. I think such projects would be a fun way to encourage even more interaction within the Havok author community.
I’m also so incredibly excited to see the diverse backgrounds of authors who are submitting. To have a wide variety of worldviews bouncing off each other, to be a safe space to explore themes universal to humanity while maintaining commitment to Story… that electrifies me.
Follow Beka Gremikova // Author Website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | Havok Stories
Read the interview with Cassandra Hamm
Have an author success story to share?
If you are a Havok author with a remarkable story to share about your publishing journey, I’d love to hear about it! You can query me directly via email: teddi [at] gohavok.com.