Archive | October 2015

Pyromaniacs 6

Welcome to the 6th episode of #Pyro! The rules are short and easy: your job is to read this story and critique it! Please remember our purpose is to HELP the writer, so (1) focus your comments on the story, not the writer; (2) try to address story elements specifically (WHAT works/doesn’t work, and WHY/HOW); (3) be honest but kind (imagine someone is giving you this feedback). Ad hominem or mean-spirited comments will be deleted. And now, here’s a story for your reading & critiquing pleasure, with many thanks to the writer who courageously volunteered it.

Encendador. CC2.0 photo by Villegas Lillo.

Encendador. CC2.0 photo by Villegas Lillo.

A Writer’s Life
Written by One of You 🙂

The police detective followed the med tech down the long hallway. Painted the universal hospital green, the walls seemed to stretch to infinity, the doors evenly spaced. The whole thing looked like a scene from one of the Matrix movies and was a bit unnerving to a newly minted detective.

    The med tech, also in the ubiquitous white outfit found in mental hospitals, paused before one door and slid the cover over the small observation window to the right. The detective peered inside then looked at the med tech.

    “That’s a padded room,” the detective said.

    “Yeah, we keep a few of them ready,” replied the med tech. “For special cases.”

    The detective peered inside again. The creature crouched in one corner of the padded cube was the epitome of wretched. Gaunt, hair and beard unkempt, eyes darting wildly about, dark circles like black holes in his face. He had curled into a fetal position, hands clenched beneath his chin, his mouth gibbering, drool pooling beside his head. Yellow and brown stains marred the crisp, white padding in the room.

    “Geez,” the detective said. “He’s a real nut case.”

    “Which is why he’s here,” the tech said. “I assume you saw the apartment we took him from.”

    “Yeah. A hoarder’s paradise. We’re more interested in the fact that the iMac he tossed out the window almost hit a woman with a kid in a stroller on the street. It was the usual thing. Neighbors said he was quiet, they hardly ever saw him outside the apartment, then he went nuts,” the detective said. “So what’s the diagnosis? Paranoid schizo? Psycopath? PCP? What?”

    “Naw,” the tech said, sliding the door over the observation window closed again. “More basic than any of that.”

    “What then?”

    “He’s a writer.”

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QUESTIONS you may wish to address: 

  1. Does the first line catch your interest?
  2. How is pacing — does the story move smoothly from beginning to end?
  3. Does the dialogue sound realistic/natural? (If not, which lines?)
  4. Are the characters developed effectively within the confines of this piece? Are they realistic? Sympathetic/resonant?
  5. Is point-of-view clear and consistent? Is the voice unique, interesting, compelling? 
  6. Is the story mostly free of grammatical/punctuation errors?
  7. Is the plot clear and believable? Are there any plot holes that need to be addressed?
  8. Does the story follow the rules of its genre? If not, were the rules broken well?
  9. Is language used well: does the story rely on cliches and too-common devices, or does the story contain striking imagery, colorful and vibrant descriptions, powerful metaphors?
  10. Does the last line effectively conclude the story?
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Flash! Friday: Vol 3 – 47

Very hard to focus on much of anything else, what with just six weeks left (!) til our Flashversary and then the launch of Year Four. YEAR FOUR, hello (did somebody say changes?). After all these years, y’all are still writing here, which is amazing. I continue to be blown away by this community’s support, encouragement, and week-after-week doggone good writing. Have I said thank you recently? THANK YOU! also–

ONE WEEK LEFT to sign up as a judge for our next round. Y’all are badly needed, and it’s not half as scary as you might think — ask any of the current or past judges. We ask for an application just to get look-see at how you approach comments, so we know how to match you with a partner. That’s it. We’re so not picky! Questions? Hesitations? Drop me a note or message me on Twitter or Facebook and I’ll totally talk you off the ledge. Would love to have you; please consider it! 

Two more quick topics:

1. Super low turnout at #Pyro last week (note: it’s never to late to go comment); whether I keep this feature depends on the degree of participation. I’ll keep it going for another week or two regardless, but if this is a useful opportunity for you, please be sure to swing by on Saturdays. If not, no worries, off it goes. Thanks!

2. With just six weeks until Flashversary, I need your help! Thanks to those who’ve donated their books to the prize bucket (I’m greedy and want more! Email me!); I’d also be so grateful for anyone willing/able to donate to the cause (believe it or not, FF is not independently wealthy) so we can make this an all-round blazingly fabulous shindig with loads of prizes. Thanks! 

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DC2Up at bat (heh heh, it’s Halloween, bat) judging today is Dragon Team Six, for which we’ve got Steph “hint of darkness” Ellis, and Josh “lurks beneath the surface” Bertetta. Not sure we need to say much more than that…         

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Awards Ceremony: Results will post Monday. Noteworthy #SixtySeconds interviews with the previous week’s winner post Thursdays.  

* Today’s required word count:  175 words +/- 10 (165 – 185 words, not counting title/byline)

How to enterPost your story here in the comments. Be sure to include your word count (min 165, max 185 words, excluding title/byline), the two story elements you based your story on, and Twitter handle if you’ve got one. If you’re new or forgetful, be sure to check the contest guidelines.

Deadline: 11:59pm 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 Thursday, and your name flame-written on the Dragon Wall of Fame for posterity.

AND HERE IS YOUR NOVEL PROMPT:

I suppose I would be doing Dragon Team Six a disservice to have a prompt at the end of October without Mary Shelley, and so here we are: today’s novel is her 1818 classic, argued by many to be the first science fiction story, Frankenstein. Frankenstein relays the anguished tale of Victor Frankenstein, whose grotesque but now sentient and intelligent creature, after being rejected by his creator, sets out on a violent and desperate journey which ultimately dooms them both. Er, I trust that wasn’t a spoiler for anyone?

Story elements (base your story on any TWO of these elements; be sure to tell us which two you chose. Reminder: please remember the Flash! Friday guidelines with regard to content; and remember please do not use copyrighted characters). 

* Conflict: man v self, man v society
Character (choose at least one): a cowardly scientist; a man-made, sentient creature; a hapless fiancee, an oblivious optimist.
Theme (choose one): forbidden science, danger of the pursuit of knowledge, fate v free will, secrecy
Setting (choose one): Romantic-era Europe, a laboratory, a ship voyaging in the Arctic, ANYWHERE STEAMPUNK!

OPTIONAL PHOTO PROMPT (for inspiration only; it is NOT REQUIRED for your story):

New York Nursery, 1910. No known copyright restrictions. From the NY Nursery & Child Hospital Annual Report.

New York Nursery, 1910. No known copyright restrictions. From the NY Nursery & Child Hospital Annual Report.

Sixty Seconds III with: Steph Ellis

Ten answers to ten questions in 20 words or fewer. That’s less time than it takes to burn a match*.

(*Depending on the length of the match and your tolerance for burned fingers, obviously)

Matchlight

Our newest Flash! Friday winner is Steph Ellis.  Read her THIRD winning story all about her at her winner’s page hereAnd now, though belatedly (totally my fault, stinking email!!), please take a few minutes to get to know her still better below!

1) What about Alice in Wonderland inspired your winning piece? 

The surreal world in which Alice found herself and the arguments she would have with the various bizarre characters she came across, for example the Cheshire Cat. I veered away from Alice, because as a character I must admit to not being able to stand her (shock horror) but I have always loved the world of Wonderland and its inhabitants.  From there I started to think about logic.  Many, many years ago in my first foray into the world of computing I was offered an industrial year programming logic gates in Fortran (which I couldn’t face at the time).  Then I thought why not turn the logic gate into an actual gate through which some poor soul has to try and pass but with the logic rules still applying and it went on from there.  I really wanted to try and throw in an Exclusive Or but the word count wouldn’t allow it AND by that time I was really getting in a NOT.  From there the last lines wrote themselves which was great as I hadn’t a clue how to end it.

2) You’ve been writing for FF a while, and this is your THIRD win (hurray! though a brutal year’s gap between the first two). How has your approach to flash changed since you started??

I consider my words more carefully.  Reading all the other wonderful entries has shown me how to blend and mix them up so that they hopefully pack more of a punch.

3) How has writing flash affected your other writing?

It’s tightened it up a lot.  When I’m working on a longer story and I’m editing it, I try and look at it in sections as if they were mini flash pieces, that way the task isn’t as daunting.

4) What advice would you give to writers who are new to flash? What might you say to seasoned writers who haven’t won yet?

Just do it.  There is no other way.  Read the other entries, write your own and keep at it.  We were all new to this once and I still feel as though I’m not ready to discard my L-plates.  I would also say develop your own style, your own voice, even if you think it’s a bit ‘out there’, there is nothing wrong with being different.  Above all write for yourself and not the judges.

And to those who haven’t won yet?  Keep doing what you’re doing.  I can clearly remember some time after I’d started entering FF wondering exactly what I had to do to get anywhere near the placings.  Week after week I would see the same names crop up – and they still do – first win, second win … sixth win, and yes it got me down a little (well, maybe a lot).  To deal with this I became the eternal optimist, the ‘oh well, if not this week, maybe next’ and I took it a week at a time, continued to try and write my best, pressed ‘post’ and crossed my fingers and any other body parts that could be managed.

5) Besides FF :), what are your favorite writing sites/contests/online resources?

Flash fiction tends to rule me a little at the moment.  As far as I’m concerned my writing week starts on a Thursday with Three Line Thursday and MicroBookends, Flash Friday, Angry Hourglass on Saturday plus the new Cracked Flash Fiction that started up this summer (I’d recommend the latter if you’re up for a challenge simply because they come up with the most bizarre first lines); I also enjoyed the Luminous Press flash competition that ran over the summer.  And I am having to be tough with myself, I can so easily get sucked into just writing flash I never get to do anything longer – any other comps will have to be intermittent. 

Oh, almost forgot.  One site I recently returned to after some months away is https://cowrite.net/ It’s real time story building.  You all write a sentence at the same time – you see them as you type and then you vote on the best one, you all then write the next one and so on.  The person with the most lines incorporated in the story is the winner.  It’s pretty fast and furious and lasts about ½ hr.  David Shakes appeared briefly the other week and then vanished.  I think it’d be great if we all descended on the site and had a FlashDogs head to head, although time differences might be awkward.  Malie (he runs the site) tends to tweet when a comp’s up.  I think there’s one tonight actually – maybe once I’ve done my Three Lines and finished my WIP 🙂

My go to site for submission calls (anthologies, magazines etc) is http://horrortree.com/The main focus of the site is horror but there are frequent calls for fantasy, Sci-Fi, dark fantasy, YA or anything that falls under the speculative fiction umbrella, which is quite far reaching;  http://www.darkmarkets.com/ is similar.  There are also a couple of Facebook Groups I belong to – Open Call: Horror Markets (they are now focussing on markets that pay pro/semi rates), International Flash Fiction Network and Call for Submissions (all genres).

6) Any new publications/accolades we should know about?

Not much more has happened on the publication front.  Gothic Tales of Terror by Verto Publishing has just been released.  I share the pages with another FlashDog, Michael Seese – who, by the way, writes some terrific micropoetry on twitter.  I still have some stories due for publication but I know a lot are still floating around on the cyber slush pile somewhere.  Having focused on finishing a novel this summer, I have produced less in terms of short stories but I’m hoping to get back to them properly at some point.  It’s tough fitting it in with work though.  I usually have to wait for school holidays to really get into it.

7) Speaking of publication, what are you currently working on? You told us before that you’d love to publish some of your nursery rhyme twists; anything in the works?

Oh my nursery rhymes are haunting me from in their Jack Skellington folder – it’s Humpty Dumpty that’s done for me, I can’t do a collection without him and I haven’t been able to turn him into an axe-wielding maniac yet .  It was supposed to be this half-term week I finished them, but I’ve got a sub call deadline for Lost Signals end of this month.  I’ve had months to do this (heard that somewhere before?) and had hoped to push myself to the upper limit of the word range, however the story has told itself in just over 10,000 words so with a little tidying up it’s almost ready to go.  In my defence I will say life, work and family have taken huge tolls on my time recently – I really don’t know how others do it.

I think I will also be doing NanoWrimo this year.  I had an idea a month or two back, or more an image of someone suddenly popped into my head and this woman has been stood on Weston Shore gazing at the Solent since then – whilst her brother and sister, neither of whom she remembers as they were all adopted at a young age, are stood, quite by chance a little further down from her.  Yes, there is murder(s) but I want this to be more a thriller/crime type book.  I’ve decided to use Nano to work through my idea, get that woman off the shore! (The Fawley Refinery is not the prettiest of places to have to keep staring at).  I know nothing else about the story, no synopsis, no planning, nothing due to lack of time but if I commit to Nano then I give her the time she needs.  Once I imagine someone then I do have to write about them, I need to know their story myself.

8) What are you reading? Favorite book of this past year? Which author would you love to write like, and why? 

I have a weakness for Scandi Crime (I joined the Nordic Noir group on FB!), it’s what I binge on when I get the chance.  I finished the Flatey Engima by Viktor Arnar Ingolfsson yesterday – which I found a bit disappointing as there were two dead bodies and the story read like a crime thriller but no actual crime was committed.  I have two Arne Dahl books waiting – I watch it on TV and thought I’d give the books ago; I’m a big fan of The Bridge, The Killing and anything of that ilk and that led me to Scandinavian/Icelandic literature.

My favourite book of the last year is a tie between Look Who’s Back by Timur Vermes (Hitler returning to life in 2011 – hilarious, and in no way is it an approval of the man himself at all) and Survival in the Killing Fields by Haing Ngor and Roger Warner; the latter was profoundly moving and I feel that what happened at that time has been largely forgotten by the West.

Who would I like to write like? Tough.  I don’t think anyone particular person, it would be a mixture.  Ray Bradbury for the sheer poetry of his prose and the way he creates a sense of darkness and foreboding with such lightness of touch; Terry Pratchett – his humour is wonderful; Bernard Cornwell – the pacing of his stories which just keep you turning over the page.

9) Let’s talk writing communities. Belong to any IRL? How about writers’ conferences or workshops this past year? Which conference/workshop is your favorite, and why? 

Writers’ Groups.  No.  Occasionally I think about it but the local group is the other side of the city and I just have the feeling that they would be literary vs my genre style.  They seem to meet in community centres or libraries at times that don’t fit in with work, I’m more the pub type myself.

Conferences.  Bit of a sore spot with me.  Two years running I’ve tried to get to the British Fantasy Con, each time an anthology with a story of mine in was launched and each time something family related cropped up.  This also happened with the FlashDogs meet up in the UK, I mean 365 days in the year – I only ask for a couple. 😀

Sanitarium Magazine has just announce a Horror Con at Brighton next July – it’s a Saturday, I could probably get to it but I’m sure something will go wrong.

10.) Let’s say you won a grant to use in any writerly way you’d like. Where would the money go, and why?

I’d probably use it to take a sabbatical from work to free myself up to write but having said that, if I get free time and no deadline pressures I know I will do anything but, I’d probably have a very clean house though.  I would also use it to travel to a place that might be featured in a story.  You can only get so much from Google Earth!

Bonus 11) Any shouts out/thoughts/comments/messages?

Firstly to yourself, Grace Black at Three Line Thursday, David Borrowdale at MicroBookends, Rebecca Allred at The Angry Hourglass and all those others who host these competitions week in, week out for the love of it.  Thank you so much for introducing me to this world.

Secondly to the FlashDogs, in particular those at FDHQ who are the driving force behind the anthologies: Mark A. King, David Shakes, Emily June Street, Tamara Rogers and now Karl A. Russell (I wish I could write horror like he writes horror, whoops that should be in question 8) and Voima Oy.  Check out their website, buy their anthologies (many excellent stories to be read, and all written for a good cause), enter the competitions they support and become one yourself.  The pack is large and welcoming.