This is a BIG HUGE WEEK in the writing world; what a privilege getting a dragon’s eye view. In case you were temporarily off-planet, yesterday saw the official publication of the #FlashDogs‘ latest venture, the two-book flash anthology, Solstice: Light and Solstice: Dark. Many of the writers in the Flash! Friday community (including me!) have stories in one or both of these; all proceeds go to The Book Bus.
Next up: I’m THRILLED TO DEATH to reveal the names of our guest judges for this coming Friday: Emily June Street and Beth Deitchman of Luminous Creatures Press! Read all about LCP (and you will want to) at their guest judge page here.
And in case THAT wasn’t enough excitement….?!?! Writing/editing/trapeze superstar Emily June Street‘s latest novel, The Gantean, is being published this Saturday, June 27. To celebrate The Gantean as well as LCP’s stint as guest judges, tomorrow’s #Spotlight feature belongs entirely to Emily. Be sure to come back: not only is it a super fun interview, but she’s giving away a FREE COPY of The Gantean!
Sigh. I suppose I can’t put off this unpleasantness any longer, hard as I’ve tried: it’s our final farewell to our final judging team of Year Three’s first term: Pratibha (who judged TWO TERMS!), and Sinéad O’Hart. They have read and battled over your stories with grace, courage, and a keen eye. They turned the spread of cultures and time zones — California by way of India (Pratibha) and Ireland (Sinéad) — into a strong advantage as they sifted through your mountains of flash fiction jewels, ferreting out the most powerful tales and themes. Pratibha and Sinéad: working with you has been a joy and privilege. Thank you for sharing your myriad talents with us here at Flash! Friday (and please keep doing so!). I am forever grateful.
Pratibha: It’s time to hang up the judge’s robe and drop that gavel. I simultaneously feel relief and sadness. This is my second stint as the FF judge: madness, I tell you. Even though, I won’t be officially judging, I will turn up to write Flash! Friday tales and actually post them here from time to time. Flash! Friday may be based in Shenandoah Valley, but to me it’s Hotel California –
“You can check-out any time you like,
But you can never leave!”
As usual, excellent work this week, people. Keep on flashing!
Sinéad: Well, what a way to round out my stint as a Flash! Friday judge. Every time I’ve had the privilege of judging, I’ve been amazed by the depth and variety of stories, all based around the same prompts, and the level of accomplishment that goes into each one – and this week was no different. From malfunctioning androids to lives held in loops, from grieving parents to trains themselves being vehicles between worlds or realities, these tales truly raised the bar. I think I enjoyed every one, and choosing winners and Runners Up was a real challenge – there was a lot of back-and-forth between the judges! It’s never easy to pick winners, but when there’s such an embarrassment of riches to choose from, it really does make the challenge all the harder. Thank you, one and all, for your efforts this week, and we hope the choices we’ve made reflect the quality of the stories we were presented with. Thanks also for being so great during our tenure as judges! We hope we did y’all proud.
Best dialogue: Reg Wulff, “Excuses.”
Pratibha: This captivated me because the dialogue flowed smoothly. The characters are believable and strong. Well done.
Sinéad: Stories told through dialogue are always an eye-catcher for me, and this one made particularly great use of the conversation between Frank and Billy, using the trope to create brilliant characterisation and a clever story (which makes excellent use of the prompts!).
Pratibha: The story is told in a poem that skillfully captures the rhythm of the train. I wish we had a special category of poems.
Sinéad: Of course, in a week where one of the prompts is a train, we hope for stories which make use of the wonderful ‘clickety-clack’ rhythm of the wheels, and this one did just that. I enjoyed its use of the sounds of the train itself and its effective ‘Until it isn’t’ at the end, signalling destruction.
Pratibha: I always love a humorous tale; this one is it this week, and if the story addresses a current news story, even better.
Sinéad: As well as this one being funny and relevant to this week’s big literary news story, I thought it was charming and funny, particularly the image of Death doing a dad-dance once a year, and the very idea of there being a Mr Grey (a god of the banal?) was intriguing.
Pratibha: I loved this one for the subtle use of the prompt and overall sense of mystery. The sad predicament is only revealed towards the end. I loved the dialogue, and how it wraps around at the end back to the beginning of the story. A clever use of the flash technique.
Sinéad: Well, what a tearjerker. Such a tender tale until the giveaway line ‘All those times now gone forever…’, when we realise things aren’t as they appear; and then the sad, looping and deeply touching denouement finishes things off perfectly. This was a little story-gem, which I really enjoyed.
Eliza Archer, “Temps Perdu.”
Pratibha: This was a treat to read. I enjoyed the experimental technique. A story told through a list poem with a twist at the end. What a great title. Well done indeed!
Sinéad: Structurally, I liked this story; I enjoyed the way it was put together and laid out on the page, and I enjoyed the way it was told through a series of ‘If onlys’. It was clever, and well titled, and a really well put together piece, and I admired the way the author allowed the story to unfold gradually, and without being obvious.
Pratibha: I loved this for the way the main character uses modern technology to get to the bottom of the recurring dream.
Sinéad: A lot of stories this week attempted the same, or very similar, themes, including (as here) the idea of having lived through a disaster in the past; but this one stood out for me. I liked the idea of the repeating dream, and the dreamer’s determination to get to the bottom of it. I also thought how it ended was just perfect, leaving the reader hanging.
Pratibha: The writer builds an alternate world with a cast of characters from mythology, and sends them on an ordinary family outing. Nothing ordinary about that. This was a fun read.
Sinéad: I just loved this one for its use of mythological figures and its depiction of them as a family – it reminded me in some ways of the Endless in Neil Gaiman’s ‘Sandman’ graphic novels. I enjoyed the last line, wondering how often Nyx has filled Morpheus’ flagon with Lethe water, and what else she has made him forget – and what effects this might have had on frail humanity!
THIRD RUNNER UP
Pratibha: I liked the exquisite descriptions of the setting to indicate the characters were trying to avoid the unpleasant truth facing them. The strained relationship between mother-daughter is shown through the body language. I liked the expert use of the language and story-telling technique.
Sinéad: I loved the voice and perspective in this one, and the use of the prompts, which are subtle but intrinsically woven into the story’s plot. I particularly loved the use of ‘deja vu’, as the mother looks back over her life and sees her child repeating the same mistakes she made as a younger woman, and I was particularly taken by the image of the ‘wadded papers and candy wrappers’ on the coverlet, which shows how young the girl is despite her efforts to be grown up. I just loved this; I thought it was so beautifully written.
SECOND RUNNER UP
Pratibha: I usually don’t care for the stories that deal with supernatural, unless they are done expertly and bring home some truth about human emotions. This story does that. The train-wreck of emotions is portrayed by soft strokes that gradually turn into hard ones until the point is driven home. The end is chilling, but the words remain calm. I love how the ending sentence returns to the beginning.
Sinéad: Out of the many stories this week which dealt with rebirth, or people reliving events, I thought this one was interesting because it had a different perspective than the others – and it was also truly chilling! The idea that a spirit would wait until someone’s dying day just to get revenge on them for an imagined slight was memorable and clever, and really well expressed. One is more used to stories about people who meet their deceased loved ones at death in order for a peaceful and beautiful reunion to take place, so this subverted that trope very nicely.
FIRST RUNNER UP
Pratibha: This story caught my interest right away. The vignettes of the series of firsts in a child’s life are portrayed tenderly. The refrain, “’Don’t worry, little one. Everything will be fine” is soothing yet ominous. We wait for a train-wreck to happen, and when it does, it’s nothing like we expected. I love how the story unfolds layer by layer. I loved the gentle tone and understated horror at the end.
Sinéad: This one brought a tear to my eye. I thought the emotion in it was true and touching, and beautifully expressed, and the repeated refrain of ‘Don’t worry, little one. Everything will be fine’ was particularly affecting, because of course sometimes things aren’t going to be fine, no matter how much we want them to be. Nobody, not even a mother, can guarantee this, and that hit me powerfully. From a writing point of view, I enjoyed how the author employed the prompts – the life of the daughter told and retold, and the unexpected use of the image of the train – and to combine skill like this with such deep emotion was a true accomplishment.
And now: for her very first time, it’s Flash! Friday
Pratibha: I like strong characters, so this story and voice of this woman who is toughened by her life caught my attention. The story basically a monologue, but the entire life unfolds in front of our eyes. The slow realization that “Even freedom isn’t free,” is unsettling. I loved this woman in “peacock-feathered” hat, who is defiant and non-apologetic for her life-choices. The imagery in the story is evocative, and the voice in memorable. I loved her “deja-vu” life that is still a runaway train, but with the shifted control. Powerful story.
Sinéad: This story featured a great, snappy voice, one which caught my attention and held it. I loved the character’s determination and self-assurance, even if it may be masking a deep well of fear and insecurity, and I thought the ending – which is powerful, but also slightly disturbing, as we wonder what exactly she’s going to do when she gets ‘West’ – was excellent and memorable. I thought the lines ‘I may be cheap but nothing is free. I sold my soul to buy my freedom’ was particularly evocative, and I liked the idea of a life twice-lived, reinvention, and new beginnings, which took the idea of ‘deja vu’ to a new level.
Congratulations, Katie! You’ve earned other nods before, including winning an HM at the most recent Flashversary–what a pleasure to see you grab the dragon crown! Here’s your brand new winner’s page and your winning tale on the winners’ wall. Please stand by for questions for Thursday’s #SixtySeconds feature. And now, here is your winning story:
They say I’m a runaway train, with lots of flash and smoke and steam. They say I’m nothing but an Iron Mistress, plowing through everything and everyone and leaving rubble in my wake.
Maybe I am. Maybe I ain’t. I’ll leave that for biddies to decide when I’m mouldering in my grave in my peacock-feather hat. Money don’t grow on trees and milksops only get the cash cow after she’s drained dry. Nothing is free — except maybe me.
If I’m a runaway train, it’s because this land pounded the weakness out of me with every clack of the wheels. A girl leaving a sooty New York orphanage for a hot, harsh land in the grip of the Dust Bowl, who had yet to learn that nothing is free.
Not even me.
Now I’m back on that train heading West and if my dress is a tad fancier and my legs lad-fumblers instead of dried sticks, those iron wheels are still pounding this truth home.
I may be cheap but nothing is free. I sold my soul to buy my freedom. Even freedom isn’t free. Say what you might. This train is a’coming. Ain’t nothing gonna stand in her way.