Story by Jeremy Kohn
A community of creative writing. 440 words or less. Three mandatory words included. This has been the formula of Lansing’s Fiction 440 for the past nine years. Their next event, the group’s 54th event, will be held at the East Lansing Art Festival on Saturday, May 18.
Fiction 440 began with Aaron Matthews and Jeff Grabill; two friends who wanted to bring something artistic and creative to the Lansing area. According to Dan Lince, they came up with the concept of Fiction 440 in 2010, while having dinner at Beggar’s Banquet.
“The rules of that first event are still the rules we have today,” said Lince, who along with Jay Wagar, took over hosting Fiction 440 in 2016. “It’s flash fiction; no more than 440 words — no poetry and no excerpts.”
While most writing groups have participants write a novel, Fiction 440 is a single self-contained story.
“Each story has word prompts — this also comes from the very first event —where the words were cufflinks, glass and ball,” Lince said.
There are no requirements to join the Fiction 440 community, other than a passion for writing and being supportive.
“For a lot of people speaking publicly is a challenge,” Lince said. “Presenting something that is yours adds a layer of vulnerability on top of that. It can be a very intimidating thing to share your work– once people get over that . . . it is a big release.”
Fiction 440 meets on an average of six times a year. Lince described the gathering as an “Adult Swim” affair.
“We usually meet between 5-8 (p.m.) . . . someplace with drinks — it’s very social and it’s a good time,” Lince said.
“We usually have about 10 to 20 readers,” Lince said. “A lot of the fun is seeing how the words were incorporated into the story. It’s all varieties of stories . . . true stories . . . horror stories . . . love stories . . . sci-fi and fantasy.”
During their earlier years, some of Fiction 440’s stories were complied into an anthology, which Lince said they may consider going back to in the future.
Since first starting in Lansing, Fiction 440 has even branched out to include a Grand Rapids chapter.
Besides the storytellers themselves, Fiction 440 has people who come just to listen. Melissa Kaelin, who attended Fiction 440 for the first time during their last event, came as a listener.
“Being new to Michigan, I just learned of Fiction 440,” Kaelin said. “I attended their last event with no idea what to expect. When I got there, I was thrilled to find friendly faces in every direction. The room was filled with creative minds all eager to share their storytelling talent, and do it in the most exciting way.”
Kaelin said she will be ready to share her first story at the East Lansing Art Festival Event.
“It being my first time,” Kaelin said, “I didn’t know the drill. Now, I will be reading with Fiction 440 every chance I get!”
Unlike most of their creative writing events, Lince wants to remind readers that, due to a more public setting, the East Lansing Arts Festival will not be solely adult-material in nature.
Fiction 440 will take place on Saturday, May 18 from 2:30 p.m to 4:00 p.m at the East Lansing Arts Festival. The specific word prompts are “winsome”, “whale” and “wonder.” To learn about Fiction 440’s upcoming events check out their Facebook page.