It’s time to say thanks & farewell Her Extreme Judginess M. T. Decker. If I were more awake I would wax eloquent for several paragraphs on the depths and sparkliness of our gratitude. But rest easy, dear ones–I am not awake, which means you will only be compelled to read a few short lines: THANK YOU, Mary, for your time and dedication. What a blast it’s been having you aboard the FF judgeship. Thank you, thank you!
Judge M. T. Decker says: Wow! What a long strange trip it’s been. When I signed on as a judge, I had no idea how much work I would need to put in, and no idea how much I would learn in the process. I am, as always, amazed and humbled by the work, the art you all have created here, and if I have one regret it’s that I can’t just say “Everybody wins.”
There were some amazing stories this week, and you all took me on an incredible journey. I am both sad to be finishing up my phase as a judge and happy that I will once again be able to write with you all.
Some friends asked me “What does it take to write a winning story?” “Why does one story win when another doesn’t?”
When I started as a judge I knew that some of the answers were subjective, and as I’ve judged I’ve realized that the rules that apply to longer stories are the same for flash: you have to make the story count. Even with something you can “read in a flash” you want to walk away satisfied: and that is something very hard to do in 150 words.
Writing, as you all know, is part mechanics, part art. The mechanics are a constant: spelling, grammar wording. These form the framework from which you hang your art, they are the pigments with which you paint, and the sounds from which you compose, and if they are not solid, the story cannot stand.
There are times when proper grammar and standard ‘rules’ are forsaken for the sake of the story, that is artistic license, but it still has to flow and resonate with your readers. That’s why there are rules: to have some common ground in how we transmit our thoughts.
The more I judge, the more I realize that writing is part alchemy. You have these elements that you combine and work until you strike gold. The only problem is: everyone else writing in a given challenge is also experimenting with their words, tweaking the sounds and meanings until they produce their ‘secret sauce.’
In the end – it is the construction and flavor that make the story, and in any given competition there can only be one winner, and so we focus on saying why a story won, rather than why a different story didn’t win.
Amy Wood, “A Student’s Tale of Woe.” This story touches on the theme of interpretation in a very intriguing way. It gives us a tantalizing glimpse into the mind of a student as they are forced to push the boundaries of their understanding, and the image of “committing ritual suicide with my fountain pen,” is an imaginative look into not only the dislike, but the personality of the student in question. I have to admit, that on more than one occasion, I have contemplated the same action.
Karl A. Russell, “Betty’s War.” Here we are taken into a war unlike any we have seen before. The descriptive narrative helps us to understand that she is not dealing with your standard ‘infestation.’ She expresses some small amount of sympathy for the small, uniformed creatures she’s been dealing with, but in the end she still treats them more like bugs in the garden. The twist at the end and her reaction are priceless.
Chris Milam (Wisp of Smoke), “Beholder.” This story, like “A Student’s Tale of Woe” deals with interpretation, and yet manages to keep the theme unique and relevant. It speaks to the heart of art: mechanics and artistic merit while comparing and contrasting two different points of view on the subject. This story is both insightful and entertaining, leaving us to contemplate which path is the best.
SECOND RUNNER UP
Jon, “Farewell Opportunities.” This story draws the reader in with enthralling imagery, comparing the battle to a Renoir, and a Renoir when viewed from the distance, you see one thing, but up close what you thought was clear is actually something else entirely. Throughout the story, we are given subtle hints and poetic images that fill the canvas and a picture unfolds before us. We see the newly fallen join the ranks of those watching. From the touching beginning to the bittersweet ending we are given a glimpse at the hereafter. This story is both touching and sentimental and it made me glad I read it.
FIRST RUNNER UP
Maven Alysse, “Putting on Your War Face.” With a judicious combination of dialog and description this story provides the image of tired tavern wenches, working in the environment one would expect when dealing with soldiers fresh off the line. This image is supported throughout the story until the final line when the writer elegantly turns the story on its ear, revealing that sometimes—no matter what the circumstances: boys will be boys.
And now: for his second time (in recent weeks, too!), it’s Flash! Friday
“L’Enfer, C’est La Guerre”
This story provides a beautiful metaphor for that moment between – between life and death, between mortality and eternity. Like “Farewell Opportunities” it shows a world that isn’t quite what we think, but in this story the reader is taken inside the life and thoughts of one man. We see the change that comes with understanding and the regret that comes with knowing there is nothing you can do now to change what you have done, and in that moment there is the stirring pain of regret. In the end, as the final bugle call is sounded, we are left to wonder what seeds the protagonist has sown, and where they will lead him. This story left me wondering exactly what Colonel Boniface would find when he answered the call. Truly chilling and touching.
Very nice work, Phil! Another winner’s badge waits for you below. Here is your updated winner’s page and your winning tale on the winners’ wall. Please watch your inbox for another round of interview questions for this week’s #SixtySeconds feature. And here is your winning story:
L’Enfer, C’est La Guerre
“War is Hell,” the barmaid reminded him, placing a mug of pale lager before him.
Until now, Colonel Boniface had never understood the sentiment. He lived for battle! Primping for the mirror in his dress blues. Saluting his men as they charged bravely past him, into the fray. And how the ladies loved an officer! (War widows needed comfort, too.)
And his Angelique, ever faithful, waiting at home.
Boniface regretted nothing, until that bullet found his brain.
“Vive la mort,” was the motto painted across this tavern’s wall. Time had no meaning here. Golden Horde, Napoleonic infantrymen, soldiers from conflicts past and future, all passed through. Some were heading home. Others…
“Angelique… I’m sorry,” he whispered.
The barmaid’s dress twirled as she turned away, head held high, cradling a dozen empty beer steins. Outside the tavern, a bugler played his muster call.
Boniface drank his beer — a final comfort — and looked to the door with dread.