Fire&Ice Sol 7/19: WINNERS

§ Rebekah says: I’ve always loved Mondays; there’s something so clean-slate and hope-filled about them. Maybe this week I’ll hit my writing targets. Maybe this week I’ll check those tiresome tasks off my list… This week I’ve a new one to add, as the ice dragon and I have each just committed to run 87 miles by our (American) Election Day Nov 3. (Whyyy did we do this? Shhhh, Self: that’s a Thursday-type question.) For now, it’s still sweet Monday, which at Fire&Ice means celebrating your stories. So Happy Monday, friends. We’re delighted to see you!

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Quick note on judging: Six pairs of judges across multiple nationalities and genres are taking turns reading your submissions (meet the judges here). As soon as each contest round closes, your stories are first stripped of all personal info before being sent on for judging. This represents our effort to maximize every story’s chances, whether it’s the first or hundredth story you’ve written. ♥ 


SOL 7’S JUDGES SAY:

Sinéad O’Hart:  Well, whew. What a crop this week. With prompts as good as these, and a wonderfully wide word count, it’s hardly a surprise that so many gems tumbled out of the story-sack. Thank you to everyone who submitted for trusting us with your work. Every time I have the honour of judging Flash! Friday it’s a privilege, and this week was no different.

The first story I want to make special mention of was the very first to cross my path – Bill Engleson‘s “A Final Flame.” I read this tale with no small amount of emotion, as to me it was about a woman at the end of her life, having suffered with a terminal illness (possibly cancer), and with the subtext that her loved one had done their best to end her pain. In the past few days, I lost a beloved family member to cancer, and so this story hit home in a special way. Sometimes, art truly can heal.

Other sparkling tales that caught my eye included James Atkinson‘s “The Breath of the Final Dragon” – such a fresh take on the dragon-fire idea, with some incredible imagery (‘lashes alive with parasites’), and a great take on the prompt of Justice. I also loved Voima Oy‘s “King Lear in the Federal Plaza,” with its evocative writing and great use of the prompts. My Sir Terry Pratchett-loving heart really enjoyed “Inspector Counterweight and the Percussive Goblin” by Geoff LePard; those characters would be more than at home in Ankh-Morpork! My Good Omens-loving heart also enjoyed Laurence D‘s “Ezekiel,” which was a fun homage to Pratchett and Gaiman’s masterwork. Mark King‘s “Where Her Soul Goes to Walk” was an important, excellent, and moving commentary on race relations and the lives of marginalised people, as was “Afire” by Michael Seese – powerful and meaningful work, a privilege to read. Maggie Duncan‘s “Kholodnoye Pravosudiye” was one of my favourites, barely missing out on an Honorary Mention. It was elegant, cold, brilliantly controlled, and I loved the subtle ‘eternal flame’ – the one burning in Gavrilla’s heart.

But, judging is a two-person process, and consensus must be reached. Luckily, Craig and I were on the same page (almost exactly) when it came to our top picks. Choosing winners and Runners Up this week was more a case of two old dragons sharing pleasantries, rather than a duel to the flame. So, without further ado…


Craig Anderson: How did time go so quick that we are back in the hot seat? Feels like just moments ago that we were judging the first round of most excellent flash fiction, and suddenly a new batch of awesome was delivered to our virtual dragon’s den. Just as before you all made it tough to pick a favorite, but it is certainly a nice problem to have when you are literally spoiled for choice.

As before, Sinéad was an absolute pleasure to judge with. We both had a long list of favorites, which made it easy to find the overlapping stories that caught both our eyes. We’d also both landed on the same winner independently, which made things a whole lot easier!

As for my own favorites, I particularly enjoyed Marsha Adams‘ “They came for me at dawn,” which spoke of a dystopian world where only a few humans remained. I love the little hints of what might have happened, always teasing the wider story, while focusing on one very specific punishment. I also loved Firdaus Parvez‘s – “The Wind,” for the swift punishment dished out by the diminutive hero. I’m such a sucker for underdogs, and Hawa fit the bill perfectly. “Sleep Well Tonight” by Edison Arcane contained a whole backstory in its brief length, and the ending was very satisfying. Plus I’m also going to sneak in a mention for Geoff LePard‘s “Inspector Counterweight and the Percussive Goblin“; I too immediately thought of STP, and that is high praise indeed!

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HONORABLE MENTIONS

Singular Love by Helen Laycock

SO: This story was so fresh and interesting, with an interesting and engaging perspective that drew me in right away. Well executed, with excellent details like the blood on the character’s thigh, which let the reader infer the subtext. A story with a whole world in it, skilfully drawn.

CA: I loved how this one started, which such powerful imagery of the women all moving in sync, like white smoke. That great imagery continued throughout, with the flames gently cradling the bundle, and the meandering blood, all painting such a vivid picture of a horrifying scene. The ending added a great punch, and twisted the whole tale on its head.

The Devil’s Kitchen by Steph Ellis

SO: Again, a story which immediately leapt off the page with its fresh perspective, and one I loved because of the almost throwaway line: ‘At least they’d buried her husband where no one would find him’ – narrated so casually, yet this line is the pivot point for the whole story. Masterful!

CA: This one jumped out for squeezing not one but two twists into its brief length. It starts so casually, like a walk in the woods, so good natured, and then the casual mention of dead bodies flips the whole thing on its head. Suddenly our campers become villains, and you worry for the person that they run into, but then the story twists again and karma comes back around quickly.

RUNNER UP

Legend Renewed  by MJ Bush

SO: Craig and I both loved this one. As well as its excellent use of the prompts, this story is evocative and moving, and it is a perfect example of the type of flash fiction I love so much – a story that works perfectly just as it is, but one which shows the reader a whole world. I loved the perspective, the centuries of lore and legend and the years of heroic duty; the crashing-together of the old and the new (the world might be technologically modern, but the old monsters remain), and the final image, the ancient tool being brought back into service, the light beating back the monsters of the dark. Excellent work.

CA: I really enjoyed the way this one spoke to the nature of legends, with the story slowly shifting over time, but the core pieces staying the same. Then it shifts gears, moving towards modern convenience, until everyone forgets the reason that the legend existed in the first place. It isn’t until that modern solution fails, and the old monsters return, that they receive such a sudden reminder, and they go right back to the old ways. A great analogy for our world these days.

And now: it is our pleasure to present to you our

FIRE&ICE WINNER

PHIL COLTRANE!!!

for

Astraea

SO – Again, my fellow judge and I were unanimous in our choice! I am a sucker for SF stories, and this one was a masterclass. A tale of a battle in space, at a time unspecified, but which could be mapped onto any Earthbound conflict, it drew me in and held me. The conversational tone: ‘The war began (as such wars do) with men who neglected the lessons of history…’ was a powerful beginning to a story which culminated in the destruction of a planet in a ‘blast of searing plasma’. What clinched this for me (as well as all the other things I love in a good piece of flash – brilliant characters, the power of the story to both stand alone and show us a larger world, and emotional heft) was the excellent ending, with an old-tech weapon being used in a new-tech world. Such an interesting and clever detail, the perfect showstopper ending for a perfect story.

CA –I loved this one right away, but I am a sucker for great sci-fi, so when Sinéad had short-listed it as a potential winner too I was absolutely thrilled! As with all great sci-fi it has a great mix of old and new, of history and imagination. The repetition of (as such wars do) was such a great way to bookend the global conflict in just a couple of sentences. So much is conveyed in so few words, it is a masterclass in cramming an entire history into a handful of words. 

‘My memories fuelled my nightmares for a century’ is another great line, which paints such a vivid picture about the nature of the war, and how nobody truly won. It shows us how the MC feels about the atrocities committed in the name of war. The use of water and fire, of symbols of mercy and justice, was a great touch, and the gut punch ending of the unspoken third option was the perfect way to wrap up this tale. Wonderful flash!

Congratulations, Phil! Here’s your winning story:

ASTRAEA

The war began (as such wars do) with men who neglected the lessons of history. I was an innocent boy with romantic notions of alien planets, great battles, and mighty heroes.

The war ended (as such wars do) in tears, and firing squads, and a vow never to forget. Never forget. My memories fueled my nightmares for a century. Even after I escaped the jail, fled the planet, buried my past deeper than my victims. At night I saw those purple eyes of a girl from Astraea — eyes that watched her family and her future die in a blast of searing plasma.

One day I saw those eyes again, in daylight. They held me entranced as she approached. We stood at the memorial: rippling waters and roaring flame.

“I could turn you in,” she said without preamble. “I should. Though a lifetime ago, justice knows no age.” Her face was pale as mine had been that day. “But the flame falters. Life, I see, has wearied us both. Mercy. Or justice.”

“So which will it be?” I asked. “The water? Or the fire?”

I never saw the pistol — only the glint in her eyes.

“The earth.”

Flash! Future: #VSS365

WELCOME BACK to another sizzling Flash! Future! It is my great pleasure to spend a few moments with you today blurbling about one of the loveliest endeavours ever to come out of Twitter, #VSS365. If you’re a #VSS365 regular, please share in the comments what #VSS365 has meant to you and help us celebrate! If you’re new to #VSS365, I hope this introduction will inspire you to join. All it takes is—well, have a read and find out. ♥

Who are these fiery Flash! Future figures?

Name: #VSS365

Nationality: Global

What Is It??: Twitter-sized stories incorporating a daily word prompt

I want to play—what’s today’s word/who’s this month’s host?Here! (Thanks for running this master list, Caleb Ely!)

I want to host a month—who coordinates this?Arthur Unk

Publications:

        • VSS365 Anthology: Volume One: A stunning collection of Very Short Stories from around the globe (Amazon USA; Amazon UK)

IN THE BEGINNING: The Flash Circuit

Back in the day, and I mean back in the day!, when flash fiction was really getting going in popular writing, thanks to Twitter you could find a free writing contest (or two or three) every day of the week. Take for example—this is nowhere near a complete list—

TL;DR: folks wrote together & realized together meant something magical, even on social media


AND THEN ALONG CAME Mark A. King  

Mark’s writing crashed into the flash circuit like a bolt of lightning: his stories were lyrical and rich, stirring and memorable, vibrant and heartfelt. He swept top honors at Flash! Friday multiple times and did the same at other contests.

“You’ve chopped into my chest cavity and tapped my lifeblood,” said one judge (our current ice dragon, actually!). 

Despite his stories’ frequent appearances on the flash circuit’s daises, it was his passion for the electric community of writers he’d stumbled into that seemed to drive him most. He gave the roving, ferocious community a name—the FlashDogs—and organized anthologies to showcase their work.  (Liz Hedgecock discusses the books here; I also interviewed Mark & some of his phenomenal team myself here for the first anthology in 2015, and again here a year later when he oversaw a double sequel.) And this while navigating the writing and eventual publication of his own work: Metropolitan Dreams


THE BIRTH OF #VSS365

Then came the day when the existing flash circuit began to fizzle and Mark, rather than ceding defeat, summoned inspiration. What if he kept the writing prompts going—daily, even!—and encouraged the FlashDogs and anyone else who wanted to join, to write very short stories on Twitter!? Very Short Stories, 365 days a year…. (Read Mark’s own telling of the VSS story here.)

After a year of lovingly tending #VSS365 and shepherding its tremendous anthology, Mark handed the baton to Voima Oy

“Turns out,” says Voima, who has since passed the baton to Arthur Unk, “many people wanted to keep doing it, and soon, there were volunteers to host the prompt words, too.” 

“With me being a constant Twitterer it was instantly something I could get into,” remembers AJ Walker, another early participant who discusses #VSS365 in more detail here. “I think it is fab and have loved being involved in it over all the years.”

The venture, embracing its heritage of writerly support & community, soon crackled into a rather spectacular life of its own. Today #VSS365 connects with hundreds of thousands of people on a daily basis, and it has birthed countless additional writing prompt hashtags itself.

“There are communities within the community,” says Voima. “There are writers who have done their own collections of stories. Many people say #vss365 has changed their lives.”


Who at #VSS365 should one be sure to follow? To the hyperlinks!  

Don’t miss the Very Short Stories of:

  • the current host/moderator @ArthurUnkTweets 

the #VSS365 ambassadors:

and most definitely:

  • @VicenteLRuiz (who also hosts #StoryCubeTales)
  • @250Fiction (who also hosts #Sunthing)
  • @storysmithscb (who writes #VSS365, hosts numerous hashtags, and publishes anthologies, too!)
  • AJ Walker, @zevonesque (who also hosted The Seedling Challenge where #VSS365 writers could expand their stories)

BUT HOW DO I START??

“At the end of the day it’s not difficult,” says AJ. “Don’t stress it. If the word doesn’t strike your muse, then move on. There will be another one along tomorrow.”

Voima agrees. “Just do it. Just write and see where the words take you. There are many other hashtag prompt places, too. You can follow them and writers who inspire you. You can find kindred spirits here.”

Are you a #VSS365 regular? What do you love about the community? Who are your favorite writers to follow? Have any advice for first-timers? Share in the comments! And then—oh yes, we double FlashDog dare you—if you haven’t already, head to Twitter and write your very own story and RT someone else’s. Discover just how magical writing together truly can be.

Fire&Ice: Sol 7/19

§ Rebekah says: Welcome back! As in so many parts of the world, it’s been another fire-and-brimstone week here in the United States. Flames of all sorts rage unabated through forests and courtrooms, hospitals and hearts. This week many of us especially anguish to grasp how police, in a wild, thunderous assault, could have killed a young woman who’d been asleep in her own apartment—Breonna Taylor—yet escape even the smallest hint of responsibility for her death. In a nation whose glorious, foundational declarations were carved on the backs of the enslaved, what even does “justice” mean? What can it mean? What should it mean? It’s these and many similar questions that have driven us over the years here at Flash! Friday—that haunt and compel me personally—, and that we share for your consideration this week. Thank you for being here. 

QUESTIONS? Tweet us at @FlashFridayFic, shoot us a note here, or tap any of the judges.

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Fire&Ice Guidelines: 

Time: The Fire&Ice contest is open between exactly 12:01am to 11:59pm on Fridays, Washington DC time (check the current time here). Entries submitted outside of this window are welcome, but will be incinerated ineligible to win.

How to Play: Write and submit an original story 1) based on the photo prompt and 2) including EITHER the fire dragon or ice dragon‘s requirement. Pay attention to the 3) varying word count constraints! Story titles (optional) are not included in the word limit. At the end of your story, add your name or twitter handle, whether you chose the fire or ice dragon’s element, and word count. That’s it!

Be sure to review the contest rules here.

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JUDGES: Today’s judges are Sinéad O’Hart and Craig Anderson. Check out their bios on the Fire&Ice Judges page.

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AND HERE IS YOUR PROMPT:

Each Fire&Ice prompt includes 1) a photo, 2) a required element (choose between the fire dragon or ice dragon’s offering), and 3) a specific word count. Your story must include all three requirements to be eligible to win.

Photo for Sol 7/19

Eternal Flame Memorial (Nizhny Novgorod). Creative Commons 4.0 photo by Andrew Shiva.

Fire & Ice Prompt

Required elements:

Fire dragon option: Include an act of justice

OR

Ice dragon option: Include an act of mercy

Today’s word count: Between 190-199