Sixty Seconds IV with: Karl Russell

Hardly anybody wins four times at Flash! Friday. It just isn’t done. It may not be quite civilized. Or legal. But Karl’s gone and done it anyway (the lawyers are digging through the code like mad). 

Normally in this Sixty Seconds space we ask a few routine questions, and we get a few brief but fun answers.

Today will be anything but routine.

It will be anything but brief.

You may find yourself even more addicted to flash fiction than before.

Don’t say you weren’t warned.

Matchlight

Now for the official blurb: Our latest Flash! Friday winner is Karl Russell.  Read all about him here. This is his FOURTH Flash! Friday win, a feat managed so far only by Maggie Duncan and Betsy Streeter. Read this week’s winning story of his, “The Geek Shall Inherit…,” here, then take a couple of minutes to to see where Karl takes us today. I should tell you first that he — hey, that’s MY mic — hey, now give it ba–

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Well, this could be interesting. Rebekah has pulled away all the prompts and interview questions and given me free reign to waffle on about my writing, what it means to me and where it comes from, along with anything else I might chance upon.

Oh dear…

I suppose a good place to start is with this week’s story. For the record, I have never fabricated a fake photo of my true love’s BF draped drunkenly across another woman. I’ve never even used Photoshop. But… An awful lot of my writing comes from taking aspects of myself and my life, good and bad, and turning them up to eleven. Same with the Photoshop Machiavelli. I wasn’t bullied much at school but that was probably because I learned early on to hide, to avoid attention, to watch as the wrong guy got the right girl and say nothing. But did I ever wonder how to split them up? Maybe imagine vast, Byzantine schemes that would eventually “help” her to see the error of her ways and send her rushing to my arms for a John Hughes ending? Heck yes!

So, that’s where the kid came from, but how did I get there from the chess picture? Well, as with so many of my stories, there was a song involved. I saw the prompt, started thinking about ideas, then plugged the headphones in for the trip to work. Up comes Eels’ “Hey Man (Now You’re Really Living)” and the line “Do you know what it’s like to care too much, ‘bout someone that you’re never gonna get to touch?” Well yes, I surely do, and by the time I got to work (literally a three minute train ride) I knew what I was going to write about.

Going back through my stories recently for the Flash Dogs anthology that David Shakes and Mark A. King are masterminding, it was interesting to see just how much of myself I’d put in there (and people I know too, which is why it’s always a little scary when I post something and wait for the phone to start buzzing…). It’s almost like a fictionalised diary; pretty much everything I do and see gets worked through in the stories. Smile at me on Monday morning, and by Friday you’ll be starring in my latest piece. You might be fighting zombie pirates or eating enchanted peaches, but it’s you. And woe betide anyone who displeases me…

My story at The Angry Hourglass this week is a perfect example of where life and fiction crosses over; it’s about a scarred outcast who hides his insecurities behind sarcasm and only really relaxes at comic conventions, when he’s surrounded by people who make him look normal. I had the idea on Saturday.

At a comic convention.

I’m not him, he’s not me, but still, take that basic nerdy template and come up with a decent reason to maximise the social exclusion and there you go.

Ah, comics… The other great love of my life. Somewhere on this page, there’s a nice little sketch of Daredevil by Paolo Rivera, with speech bubbles by the writer Mark Waid. I love getting sketches and just started filling book number four, but what I like even more is getting a sketch, then handing it to the writer of the book and asking them to add dialogue. At the cons, the artists work till their arms drop off, knocking out sketch after sketch, while the writer just has to remember their name and how to write it, so it’s fun to put them on the spot a little. The results are always great, but this is probably my favourite: “I don’t have to win all my fights. I just have to fight.” The sentiment is so perfect for the character, for life in general and for writing in particular. Four wins in forty-four consecutive stories is a nine percent success rate; if you hit that level in most tests it would be an outright fail. But as Daredevil tells us, it’s enough just to turn up, week after week, win, lose or draw. That counts for something all by itself, and for someone who would really prefer to be hiding in the shadows and not drawing any attention, it’s still a kind of victory.

Autographed Daredevil. Image owned by Karl A. Russell.

Autographed Daredevil. Image owned by Karl A. Russell.

So I’ll see you all next Friday.

And the next.

And the next.

And the next…

Flash! Friday Vol 2 – 45: WINNERS & NEWS

Welcome to Monday, in which I’m looking for a few good dragons!!! Yes, it’s results day AND open season at our Dragon Judge Panel. Wanna be a Dragon Captain? Basic details below; find the judge app page here. Deadline’s November 10.

In Year Three (starting Dec 12) we’re taking a team approach to judging the stories.

  • Instead of one judge per round, we’ll do teams of TWO. That means I’m looking for a panel of EIGHT judges this round; each team will judge once per month, for six months. I’m not spectacular at math, but I think that means you’ll each judge six times. :)
  • Judging will still be blind (stories are stripped of all author info before you see them). NEW FOR YEAR THREE: Since judging is now completely blind, judges are eligible to compete all weeks except the actual week they’re judging.
  • SPECIAL PASS: If you are a regular commenter at FF or a previous judge, you may bypass the regular judge app process. Contact me directly here with a note saying so and letting me know why you’d like to be a judge. 
  • Applications due by November 10 at midnight, Washington DC time.

More details can be found over at the judge app page. Contact me with any questions.

Why judge? Ohhhh, so many reasons! It’s fun. Judging changes one’s perspective on what flash is and can be, and on the whole judging/submission process. It can strengthen your own writing. Judging with a partner means making new, close writerly friendships. And it’s a valuable, greatly appreciated, totally free way both to give back to the Flash! Friday community and help it grow even stronger. I couldn’t run this contest for a single day without y’all. Please consider joining the FF team in this new way, and thank you so much.

And now: on to this week’s results!   

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Judge Phil Coltrane says:  Nemesis. How bitterly the word rolls off the tongue when spoken. Named for the vengeful goddess of retribution: she who destroys the prideful, and fells the haughty spirit.

Nemesis. No mere opponent, nor one of many foes, but the singular bane of one’s existence. That most formidable, unconquerable rival. That potential bringer of one’s downfall. God and the Devil. Hamilton and Burr. Sherlock and Moriarty.

Thus it is fitting that this week’s prompt involves the ancient game of kings itself: chess. A game of absolutes that faces player against player, move against countermove, mind against mind on a sixty-four square black-and-white battlefield.

With such a grand setup for this week’s prompt, I’m not surprised that there were so many wonderful stories to read, with nemeses of every variety, and conflicts both mundane and earth-shattering.

Let’s take a look at some of the standouts…

Special Mentions

Brady Koch, “Hollow Bishops.” Though it starts innocently enough, the author quickly draws us into the horror of this main character, his ghoulish craftwork, and the fate of his opponents past and future. A welcome horror tale in anticipation of Halloween.

Josh Bertetta, “Internal s(word)s.” Flash fiction can be limiting, or it can be freeing. Here, the author takes full advantage of the word count limit and the available formatting options to present a story of deep-space conflict in an eye-catching manner.

Sinead O’Hart, “The Player.” A single episode within an ongoing struggle: the author teases the pint-sized nature of this nemesis throughout the story, fully revealing it in a memorable and playful double-twist wherein the narrator wins the game, yet loses the match.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Michael Seese, Untitled. It’s a competition between opponents as big as they come: Science and Religion. With the simple framing device of a conversation over a game board, the author makes a straightforward statement: Religion, by positioning itself as an evolving God-of-the-gaps, traps itself in a philosophical zugzwang, slumping inevitably towards checkmate. What impressed me about this work is that the author needs no elaborate language or complex plot to deliver. Instead, he fearlessly and earnestly delves into a contentious issue nearly as old as Western civilization, and delivers this modern-day morality tale.

Marie McKay, “The 1975 World Championship.” A dance-off and a chess match may seem as different as night and day, but the author humorously links the two through language, speaking of the dance competition in terms of “tactics that masquerade as courtesies” and “move… countermove” as they compete on the “chequered floor.”  

The twist comes halfway through the story, when the author transitions from chess terminology to dance moves. In the end, the result is the same: a minor slip leaves the narrator vulnerable, allowing his nemesis to claim the victory. Lighthearted, yet cleverly related to the prompt by the author’s word selection, this story is a fun read overall.

Emily June Street, “Khanjluri Game.” Political intrigue, secret police, and murder loom large in this story, and the stakes are much higher than a simple game. This is a great example of using historical background as backstory, and the author also draws parallels between chess and politics: chess (and politics) as dance, and chess (and politics) as a game of assassinations. Much is going on in this story, and the author manages to tie it all together and keep it interesting.

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THIRD RUNNER UP

Avalina Kreska, “The Opening Move: Fianchetto (little flank).” (Two versions of this story were submitted. Only the later version was judged.) Game summary: David as white opens with a conventional Spanish Game. Priscilla as black answers at first with the Berlin defense, but when David counters with Steinitz’s move, Priscilla responds with an unconventional move that clearly violates Article 12.6 of the FIDE Laws of Chess.

It’s interesting that the author managed to interweave some actual gameplay into the story. Anyone unfamiliar with chess is free to read the story as a straightforward tale of a seductress and her willing victim. What I find most interesting is that Priscilla — a femme fatale character who literally dominates her opponents — plays a defensive, draw-oriented opening on the board. Is this a subtle hint from the author of some hidden depth of character?

SECOND RUNNER UP

Pauline Creighton, “Game Over.” From the beginning, the narrator builds up his nemesis as “the thorn in my side… the competitor that pushed me to the limits of my ability.” We see the range of emotions that their game-time rivalry evoked throughout the story. The author’s descriptions bring to life the still image of the bearded gentlemen playing chess.  

Despite all the frustrations that his nemesis caused him in life, the narrator finally manages, in the end, to call him “friend.” In a somber and touching subversion of the nemesis prompt, the author steps back from the game board for perspective, and finds there an even more beautiful story.

FIRST RUNNER UP

Sinead O’Hart, “Cornered.” In this story, the author skillfully combines several elements to create an uneasy feeling of uncertainty. The run-on sentence that comprises all but one word of the story gives us an impression of the narrator as rambling and desperate. Though the nemesis in this story is unfairly critical of the narrator, we must already question whether the narrator is reliable. This nemesis is inside the narrator’s head, analyzing and anticipating moves in advance, much like a chess competitor — or is this paranoid delusion?

Given the violent references to “spilling blood,” to finding a way out “whatever way I can,” and the loaded language of the title, “Cornered,” one wonders what drastic action this narrator has rationalized.

In another great example of an author’s style complementing the story, the author leaves us with more questions than answers — and an unsettling worry over what is about to happen.

And now: joining Betsy Streeter and Maggie Duncan as our only FOUR-TIME CHAMPS, it’s Flash! Friday 

DRAGON WINNER

KARL RUSSELL!!!

for

“The Geek Shall Inherit…”

There’s so much I could say about this story. High school can be an awkward time for anyone, particularly a socially awkward geek. Or so I hear.

Maybe this story spoke to me on a personal level.

Maybe it made me wonder what my teenage self might have been capable of doing.

Maybe I was disturbed by the thought of it.

From the beginning, the main character is no hero. “I took his head off cleanly at the neck and dumped the body. It was only Photoshop, but it felt good.” Clearly the main character is no murderer, but he’s probably an anti-hero, and he’s definitely frustrated. Had his Photoshop antics ended there, this would be simple catharsis, no more consequential than burning a photo of an ex, or tossing a suction-cup dart at a photo of a rival.

But this socially repressed teenager sees the world through the distorted perspective of an adolescent. Thus, posters of the “grand masters and science heroes” take interest in his personal life. A teenage crush becomes an object of devotion. A classmate and rival becomes a brutish nemesis, undeserving of that crush’s affections. Consequently, an act of Photoshop slander becomes, in this egocentric worldview, an act of righteous vengeance. “He didn’t deserve her, anyway.”

I like that this story can be read simply as a fun and unapologetic story of vengeance, or more deeply to contemplate the disturbing social implications of technology, its ethics, and its role in youth culture. This story has given me a lot to think about. Nice job!

Mega congratulations, Karl! Below is your FOURTH (sparklier than ever) stunning winner’s badge for the wall(s) of your choosing. Here are your freshly updated winner’s page and your winning tale on the winners’ wall. Please watch your inbox for your interview for Wednesday’s #SixtySeconds feature. And now, here is your winning story!

The Geek Shall Inherit…

I took his head off cleanly at the neck and dumped the body. It was only Photoshop, but it felt good.

Around the walls, the grand masters and science heroes glared down disapprovingly from framed posters. Well, all except Tesla; he looked like he got it.

I took Todd’s head and began the laborious task of pasting it into the photo from Becky’s party, so he was draped drunkenly across the birthday girl. It took forever to get the lighting right, and I regretted using the school’s ancient desktop rather than my tablet, but I needed to keep my ISP clear. Todd was as smart as a brick, but if he ever found out, he’d pound me even worse than that time in Gym.

I signed up to an anonymous webmail account, attached the doctored pic and thought about the subject line. I settled on “You need to know…” and added Jen’s address.

Hit send.

He didn’t deserve her anyway.

 

FFwinner-Web

 

 

Flash! Friday–Vol 2 – 45

It’s Flash! Friday time, and today’s stakes are high. Welcome! But first, some news. We’re a scant seven weeks out from the end of Year Two (everybody gasp with me, please. GASP!), which means Flashversary’s coming up, and Year Three’s launching with all its tricks and surprises, and are we ever excited by what’s coming. Check it out:

October 24 – Judge Betsy Streeter

October 31 – Judge Aria Glazki

November 7 – Judge Phil Coltrane

November 14 – Judge Margaret Locke

November 21 & 28 – Special judges

December 5 – Flashversary begins

December 12 – Year Three begins!

And kicking it all off:

This Monday, October 20, we will begin accepting applications for the first Year Three dragon judge team.

We’re going to be changing things up (note the word team), and let me tell you (ask anyone!) judging is WHERE IT’S AT, if you’re interested in growing as a flash fiction writer. Come back Monday (you have to anyway, for results) to find out more and how to apply for the fieriest dragon band in this or any kingdom.

And then coming in early November is a warmup mini contest with special prizes, to grease the gears for our mega Flashversary battle (which, oh yes, is pure madness this year). 

There. If that doesn’t get your dragon hearts all fired up…!

Now back to today’s regularly scheduled programming. Today in 1956 a precocious 13-year-old Bobby Fischer faced off with American powerhouse chess master Donald Byrne in what would be called “The Game of the Century.” What worlds does a champion see in the bland faces of miniature kings and queens poised for battle? That’s the heart of your campaign today. (Side note: for fun, you might read Poe’s famous sleuth Dupin’s hilariously arrogant take on chess here.)  Check. 

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Refereeing today’s match is three-time Flash! Friday champ Phil Coltrane. If you haven’t made it over to his judge page, let me remind you he’s got a slight bias toward scifi, but he loves any writing that spins off in a totally unexpected direction. Make it vivid, he says. Make it rich, he says. Make it more.     

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Awards Ceremony: Results will post Monday. Noteworthy #SixtySeconds interviews with the previous week’s winner post Wednesdays.  I (Rebekah) post my own unbalanced writings sometimes on Tuesdays or Thursdays.   

Now, start the clock and get to it!

Word limit150 word story (10-word leeway) based on the photo prompt.

HowPost your story here in the comments. Include your word count (140 – 160 words, exclusive of title) and Twitter handle if you’ve got one. If you’re new, don’t forget to check the contest guidelines.

Deadline11:59pm ET tonight (check the world clock if you need to; Flash! Friday is on Washington, DC time)

Winners: will post Monday

Prize: The Flash! Friday e-dragon e-badge for your blog/wall, your own winner’s page here at FF, a 60-second interview next Wednesday, and your name flame-written on the Dragon Wall of Fame for posterity. 

***Today’s Dragon’s Bidding (required element to incorporate somewhere in your story; does not need to be the exact word(s) unless instructed to do so, e.g. the pendant would read “include the words “Alekhine’s Defence“):

nemesis****BONUS CHALLENGE (not required, but strongly encouraged):

DO NOT USE THE WORD “CHESS”

***Today’s Prompt:

Georgian writers Ilia Chavchavadze and Ivane Machabeli playing chess, 1873 St Petersburg. Public domain photo.

Georgian writers Ilia Chavchavadze and Ivane Machabeli playing chess, 1873 St Petersburg. Public domain photoNOTE: despite careful license checks, the earlier photo inadvertently violated copyright and has been removed. If you posted it on your blog, please delete it immediately. Thank you and apologies.