Subtlety is an art form in itself. Not to be confused with simplicity, however; subtlety in short fiction can betray what lies beneath the surface of both the situation and a character’s inner consciousness.

In his first collection of flash fiction, Small Economies, local author John Palen displays his mastery of the genre with his minimalist approach. He often only shows the complexity of his characters with a single phrase illuminating both the consistencies and contradictions commonplace in our daily lives, subtly hinting at the roots of what makes us human beings.

Having published poetry for more than 40 years, Palen takes his poetic sensibilities to prose admitting, “A couple of the shortest things in the book are probably really prose poems, and a couple of others straddle the line.” Even in these prose poems (which, in pieces like “Practice,” employ only two paragraphs), an over-arching narrative is clearly evident. In this flash fiction format, complexity is achieved by Palen’s willingness to withhold information, focusing on those details most immediate in the character’s mind and finding symbolism in those everyday objects on which we all fixate.

A recent retiree from the Journalism Department at Central Michigan University, Palen has been an active new addition to the Champaign-Urbana writing community since last May, pursuing the wealth of opportunities that the University atmosphere has to offer. “After we moved here,” Palen says, “I got involved in the Red Herring Fiction Writers, a great group that meets at the Channing-Murray center on campus. The Red Herrings have kept me motivated, and I’ve learned a lot about the craft from them.”

Small Economies was recently released by Mayapple Press and can be ordered from their website at Or, if you’re looking for that personal touch, copies of the book may also be purchased from the author himself at Palen has also previously published seven books of poetry, the last of which, Open Communion: New and Selected Poems, was published in 2005, also by Mayapple Press.

Keep your eyes peeled for John Palen voice readings if you’d like to meet a local author and hear a sample of his work, “tentatively scheduled for April and September” in the CU area.

About The Author

David Ball

David is a senior in LAS. He likes to read books and one day hopes to write one or two, or a few.

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