Archive | November 2015

Warmup Wednesday!

Directions: Write a scene or an entire story of 100 words on the nose (no more, no fewer), inspired by this photograph. No judging. All fun. (Normal Flash! Friday guidelines regarding content apply.)
Don’t forget to add your Twitter handle & link to your blog, pretty please.

Note: As we begin closing operations here at Flash! Friday, this will be the final Warmup Wednesday. I confess I will miss it a great deal more than I’d expected; its quiet, low-key nature has always felt so homey to me. Many thanks to all of you who took part on Wednesdays, for daring to share your work with the world.   

 This week’s Warmup Wednesday challenge: include the beginning or end of some sort of competition.

Ancient Roman theater, Plovdiv, Bulgaria. CC3.0 photo © Plamen Agov • studiolemontree.com

Ancient Roman theater, Plovdiv, Bulgaria. CC3.0 photo © Plamen Agov • studiolemontree.com

Spotlight on Bulgaria: Cindy Vaskova

Continuing our series of interviews with writers from across our global community, today it’s a tremendous pleasure to re-introduce you to Cindy Vaskova (@Raptamei). Cindy’s a two-time Flash! Friday winner, and she lives and writes in Bulgaria. Check out her winner’s page to read her winning stories and #SixtySeconds interviews — but first, grab your passports and favorite notebooks and spend a few minutes getting to know what writing’s like for her in her lovely corner of the world! Welcome, Cindy, and thank you so much for sharing with us!

Cindy Vaskova

Please tell us about your writerly journey.

I’ve never really thought about the exact time when writing became a constant thing. It always seemed that it sort of happened, I sat down and wrote some words and they formed a story which followed another one and another one. Now that I go back I think it’s just to say that it all truly started around 2011 when I went back to Twitter. During that time, before I met some of the participating writers in the FridayFlash community I spent a summer working on a Victorian hell vs heaven historical/religious fiction which amounted to about 60 pages before it became just a background project and the blog came along.

The blog itself was a suggestion given to me by some of the FridayFlash writers and I started that somewhat reluctant because the only other time that I had written anything in English were two short pieces for Morgen Bailey’s blog. I’m really proud of those two, they mark the start of my fiction writing in English, but the blog is what concreted writing and what helped develop my writing and language skills, and boosted my interaction with the writing community in general.

Before that the stories I wrote were solemnly for myself as a gateway of sorts. Well before the blog, back in school I had a few periods during which I drabbled little horror and dystopian stories in notebooks. My poor hand! I keep those hidden in the back of my library just as a reminder of how passionate I was about them, how much I loved writing all night. I think the first one was about a group of adventure seekers invited to an old mansion by a letter sent from woman from the 18th century. Original, eh?

Did you grow up among books and writing?

I’d like to think I did, but I pinpoint that from when I started building my own literary world – I mark that as my growth amongst books and writing. My grandfather was a musician and a painter. I used to draw a lot and he was very supportive of all my little creative bursts. He was the person who allowed me to watch horror flicks believing that that would build up my personality and weirdly it did, because I love horror and I feel at home when I write it, or read it.

I wasn’t much of a reader in my youth, because I was too busy being a nuisance running around the neighborhood, but as soon as the Harry Potter saga flooded bookstores and everyone started reading the books, I did so too. I think it might be safe to say J.K. Rowling’s fiction helped build my broader interest in reading. Shortly after I experimented with thrillers and Dan Brown. Fun times. Thank the invisible force that brought me sci-fi novels quickly enough.

What are you working on writing these days?

As of now I’m trying to get back to editing and finalizing what would stand as my first novel called “The Dorley Cycle’; aside from that there are always short stories waiting to be finished, revisited, started. I’m looking forward to finishing a short story about a spirit roaming the Scottish mountains and then go back to a few projects that were started on the blog and await their continue. There are a few serials that I want to return my attention to; there’s a five piece story about interdimensional hitmen trying to close a final deal before they can retire; there’s a three piece story about a girl and a boy disturbing the domain of Chronos, the god of time whilst trying to prevent tomorrow from happening. Along with these things I still try to do as many flash stories as I can. There’s a list of ideas waiting to be explored!

What sort of genre(s) do you find yourself most at home in? 

When I first started the blog I used to write mostly magical realism, but along the way there have been slice of life stories, humorous stories, thriller ones and so on. I would love to explore more genres, but I always fear my knowledge of them will fail me, rendering the story impossible and pointless to read. I’ve mixed genres before; I think that’s my way of bypassing any possible failure. But I’d love to write a clean noir flavored story or a historical one, a solid fantasy too. The thing about blogs and blogging, especially creative writing blogs is that experimentations with genres are free and harmless and educational, plus the community is always helpful and supportive. I suppose my New Year’s resolution would be to diversify the blog a bit even though I do love to spawn wicked tales of disturbed individuals, or flunk them into a space oddity.

Give us a picture of your daily writerly life.

I used to keep a regular writing time, but with university and other things I’ve become slightly chaotic. I try to keep my Friday flashes going every week, and I feel really bad when I don’t have the time or stamina to write a story. So I write when I can, often shifting between projects. Now I’m trying to work out a schedule that allows me to fit in writing, university, work and gaming. Guess how that’s going?

I love playing video games. I can call myself a gamer, be that with MMORPGS or single player games. I just love the open world games provide and so often their stories are phenomenal. It’s a one of a kind experience that oddly enough books or movies can’t give you.

I sometimes do sketches and comics, mostly about some character of mine. I dabble in photography, just now learning landscape and street photography.  I’m still in university, though I’ve upgraded from BA to MA in Journalism.  As of recently I operate a small local news website and there goes my journalism practice for now.

I’m a huge fan of Doctor Who and a big fan of Neil Gaiman; I consider one of the highlights of my life to be shaking his hand.

Also, I can proudly announce that I tame a reasonably fat tom cat, who may or may not be a mixed breed between a demonic fluff ball, a dog and not so strangely, a dragon. You haven’t seen that tail or ears of his. I’m telling you, he breathes fire when I don’t watch.

 

Do you belong to any in-person writing groups?

It might be an odd thing for some, but I’ve never connected with any established critique groups, or in general any literature clubs. One reason is that there aren’t many really. For better or for worst I’ve isolated myself in that sense, but still I’m talking with people from across the globe, still discussing books and participating in things like NaNoReMo (National Novel Reading Month) or making lists of best reads for the year. In that sense I’ve fully digitalized myself and I’ve done that addressing mostly foreign authors and novels, pretty much completely ignoring modern Bulgarian authors and for that I’m somewhat ashamed, because I’d love nothing more than to be able to support aspiring, growing writers. Recently I found a list of “10 Bulgarian authors you might not have heard of” and I was actually astonished, because precisely, I had never heard of them, never seen their books displayed among the other popular, mainstream novels and yet they seemed to be the versatile, indie bunch who wrote of travel and human experience and adventure, and built worlds of chaos and fantastical elements. I wish I could see more of them and be able to read them, instead of what the market offers.

In terms of the said above I have disconnected myself so much from the literature daily in Bulgaria that I hardly converse about it with anyone else. Therefor I am not the best person to be answering those question, but still from my sideline observations, and like I said there aren’t really many books clubs, or workshops, or critique groups or anything of the sort. Aside from some online forums, I know of only one major bookstore that started a book club a few years back and has since kept it alive, diversifying it with different genres. I would love for that to become a trend, to grow and draw in not only readers, but writers and authors as well.

Recently I found out about an event called ‘Writers Without Books’ which offers a tribune for writers to read each other’s stories and exchange ideas and advices. I think this niche experiment, this group of people might be the key to expanding critique groups and workshops, because they basically took what blogs allow, upgraded it and took it to the street sharing it not only between themselves, but with a wider audience. They do it old school, but they don’t shy away.

As far as writing groups for me go, I was fortunate enough to be able to participate in one back in school, and the fun thing about having a writing group, or workshop as it would go in school, is that there are no limitations for how far creativity and ideas can go, there are no restrictions as to the genre; there’s a shared enthusiasm for the assignments, for projects, and a collective want for the written things to be good, to matter. Our literature teacher nurtured and guided us through two wonderful projects filled with sci-fi, horror, magical realism and fantasy.

My university class for creative writing wasn’t as much fun – I got dissed for writing a steampunk story based in Japan off of an assignment that centered on a dangling coat button. I was also dissed for saying Ray Bradbury was amazing.

Where do you do your writing?

I write mostly at home these days. I used to keep a notebook in my bag and write either in university or on the train, but I got lazy to be honest and at university I would get distracted, on the train I would fall asleep. I had learned to write down ideas and later work on them, but I got lazy for that too, so I would occupy my head with all sorts of ideas and later on struggle to pull out something essential from the “creative” chaos. Now I try to channel any thoughts about writing for the evenings. That’s why I decided I was going to write mostly at home, preferably in the dead of night when it’s quiet and dark and soft.  

I remember leaving myself sticky notes saying “Learn how to write in the day you moron”. Writing solemnly at night can get exhausting at one point, especially during the week when there are classes all day long. I still do it, each night, till 4 or 5 AM. I’ve managed to work out editing during the day, which I found really helps, because the more the buzz and the noise the better the editing process goes. In terms of that without even noting, I’ve adapted myself to the ‘Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open’ regimen King talks about. Just with days and nights.

I don’t like noise, as in people talking or a TV working, but I do write to music, just something quiet in the background, usually long playlists of “trailer” music, or soundtracks of games. I always keep coffee nearby and it’s always cold, because I forget about it. I can do cold tea, but coffee… ugh!

I have written with other people in the past, mostly on short one sentence stories. In fact right now I’m working with three other wonderful writers on a project called The Beginnings.

What publishing trends do you see, and what challenges do writers in Bulgaria face?

I think it might not be as hard as in the US, though there can’t really be a base for comparison. I haven’t heard of anyone trying self-publishing via the common channels for that. Some smaller writers have funded their books in paper out of their pockets and hoped for sales afterwards.

The thing is that the market isn’t that flooded with local literature methinks. Most novels come from well-established persons, well-known to the media. In recent years there’s been a great deal of poetry resurfacing as a trendy, mainstream genre. Poets thrive in Bulgaria.

Perhaps most Bulgarians would agree that Georgi Gospodinov’s works are what defines fine literature. Aside from poetry he writes contemporary fiction too, which appeals to a wider audience. I’d point him as the top sought author in the past year or so.

I don’t really know many new writers who prosper solemnly from their prose, let alone from writing fantasy or science fiction. I’ve started to believe that the mainstream literature here carries certain affection for Thompson’s gonzo journalism and the rough, almost vulgar type of autobiography. There’s not a single journalist who doesn’t have a book out on the market.

There is also an intimidating amount of novels or poems which are reminiscent of the Socialist era and echo in some way the effects of that period. In those terms I don’t think we can expect anytime soon an author who experiments a great deal with fiction, not a mainstream one at least. I’d love to meet the people who do write in these genres, but I would also want to be able to buy their books, instead of any political thriller or drama.

There are solitary stories which are really strong in terms of narrative, but those I haven’t seen at the bookstore. I appreciate the presence of contests and websites which have submissions every now and then. There I’ve read better stories with richer language than in those widely pronounced as best Bulgarian novels.

Paint a picture for us of your home.

I am awful at this, but here goes something.

My hometown is small-ish, with just around 73,000 people living in it. It used to be a mining town back in the days; there aren’t any coal stains anymore, nor miners, but the town is reminiscent of those days somehow.

I live in a quiet neighborhood; after it gets dark there are pretty much no cars so you can walk in the middle of the road and hear your own footsteps. One of the views from the apartment I live in is of a fortress perched on a mountain hill – history says it was the last standing fortress in Bulgaria. Below it the highway passes, and sometimes you can catch the sounds of passing cars, distinguish motorcycle from truck.

I used to walk around and visit places that marked some enjoyable moment from my childhood. I’ve always found it strange, but also heartwarming how these places haven’t changed during the years. Nothing changes much around here. Renovations barely catch the eye, but the farthest a person goes the more he sinks into the past of his own memories. I think that’s sweet in a way.

One of the best things I’ve given myself is early mornings during summer when there’s barely a noise, even the air is still. Another view of the apartment opens to a set of high trees, just the tip of the forest. I used to have dreams that a giant red bird flies out of them and flops her wings lazily towards me.

The forest, though small, has always been a place birthing fascinating stories: in my imagination there have been tiny people living in the trees, riding squirrels, or demons hiding in the tiny witch house; there have been ghosts cascading the steps which nowadays lead to nowhere. Back in the day they used to lead to a zoo hidden above the park.

There isn’t anything much to do in the town, not really. Walking in the park is one option, I guess, or visiting the library, though it’s so old the smell has invaded the pages of the books. There are many café’s clustered near one another, and I think they did that because the sun always shines there. Teens love skateboarding, and I’m very fond of the sound the wheels of the board make when they run over uneven asphalt.

We’re a town with a loud history – one of the first rock concerts was held here and generation through generation carry that vibe and culture. Me as well.

I often tell foreigners about how beautiful Bulgaria is. It’s a very giving place, because there are colossal mountains that offer transcendental views and there’s the sea, which without the tourist is remarkably deep and vast.  But what’s really rich and amazing to experience are the small villages scattered throughout the country. If anyone stumbles upon a tiny village they are in for the tastiest treat in their lives – tasting Bulgarian homemade cuisine! I can’t describe the food, but imagine everything is cultivated, and the gardens are full with rows of tomatoes, cucumbers, potatoes, carrots, cabbages. The bread is homemade, baked in an oven a 100 years or more old. And the people there are ancient, mixing soups with spices they picked. 

I think we are ancient as a nation.

Who are your favorite Bulgarian writers (both of all time, and today)? For someone unfamiliar with Bulgarian writers, which authors/books would you recommend starting with?

Svetoslav Minkov, Vladimir Polyanov, and Valeri Petrov are the most vivid examples I can think of when it comes to science fiction, weird prose and horror even. Back in the day, the late 70’s, if my memory serves me correct around 1979 there was this collection of sci-fi, crime and short story collections printed by a publishing house called “Galaxy”, and their works were there amongst many other foreign authors who were translated.

One of Minkov’s most famous short stories is The Lady with the Roentgen Eyes (I like to call it The Lady with the X-Ray eyes), which is widely considered a gem of satirical science fiction. Basically a squinty lady goes to see a charismatic doctor said to be able to fix any impediment. He makes an extraordinary beauty out of her, but also awards her with a piercing roentgen gaze. Oops.

Now perhaps my most favorite short story collections is “Diabolical novellas and short stories” by Vladimir Polyanov. I love every single story there. Death is a recurring character and he boils in boredom in the summer heat in Bulgaria’s capital Sofia. In one story suddenly he decides to fall in love.

Unfortunately Bulgaria lost nearly 5 centuries in slavery to the Ottoman Empire, and so we lost the 15th through the 18th century worth of culture and literature.  Renaissance, Modernism, Symbolism, Expressionism and so on in terms of short stories, travel writings, memoirs, essays, pieces of criticism, dramas and comedies came gradually after 1878, and again suffered a repression during the Communist period, especially the prose.

But regardless of these historical struggles there are many incredible pieces of literature.

As much as I respect revolutionary poetry and the working class poetry, I’m a bigger fan of the Modernist and Symbolist era. A lot of people would say it’s a good idea to start with Ivan Vazov’s works or Hristo Botev’s poems, and they’d be right, because they represent our nation at heart and soul; but there’s literature for everyone, and I strongly believe each period shows a different stroke of Bulgarian culture. For me the Modernist and Symbolist eras are really strong ones, and perhaps the two pivotal ones that have given inspiration for the future generations. Also my preference is because I remember feeling very overwhelmed by the themes depicted in earlier poetry – there’s a great deal of looming death, of hopelessness, of fallen sons and weeping mothers, stolen loved ones. The influence of these 500 years of Turkish slavery was carried in poetry for a long time, before comedy and satire and prose worked their way into the lives of people. War and politics too are  recurring aspects in Bulgarian literature, and considering how many poets were shot or sentenced to death because of their works, I can see how it had a tremendous effect during the years and how that crippled to great extent our expansion in literature.

A favorite poet of mine is Dimcho Debelyanov. Just for this Q&A I went on a sought to find a good translation of some of the poems. A man called Cristopher Buxton has taken up the task of translating some of the finest works, which is awesome. I hyperlinked those for anyone who wants to read something. Atanas Dalchev is also a favorite of mine and he worked quite a lot with the symbolism of objects and rooms in a very beautiful and dark way.  

I was really fascinated with ‘To Chicago & Back” by Aleko Konstantinov which is essentially a book about Aleko visiting Western Europe and America, more particularly the World Exhibitions in Paris in 1889, Prague in 1891 and Chicago in 1893. I loved reading how fascinated he was with the inventions especially at the World’s Columbian Exposition. It made me appreciate how grand and incredible those inventions were seen from his eyes.

Talk to us about books! What are you reading?

Over the years I developed the tendency to start multiple books at the same time. It’s a bad habit when you think about it, because some books would go unread for weeks and end up taking months to be finished. But regardless of that, I can’t settle on a single title, because I always feel that there isn’t enough time. I’m switching between Murakami, Moorcock, Gaiman, Newman, re-reading Zelazny’s ‘The Chronicles of Amber’, revisiting Bradbury’s ‘Death is a Lonely Business’, trying out new authors to me, like Rick Yancey, catching up on George R.R. Martin’s epic ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’. My Kindle alone is overflowing with titles yet to be finished.

I started reading Clive Barker’s ‘Books of Blood’ and have gone through vol. 1 and 2 thus far, and I have to say, the stories are phenomenal. I don’t know what took me so long to start reading Barker. I fell in love two pages in. The sense of, I don’t know, madness and hopelessness is intriguingly charming; they are very solid feelings, very real in the sense of the narrative. I feel really calm when I read Barker, though its humanity’s demise and the individual persons torment that he explores. I think ‘Pig Blood Blues’ is my favorite from vol. 1.

Short story collections have always been a favorite of mine, I scout for interesting collections and this year I found ‘Machine of Death,’ which is essentially individual stories about a machine which predicts death via one word written on a piece of paper. It poses a set of moral dilemmas- would you want to know how you’ll die, but also understand that you wouldn’t be able to prevent it? Would you spend the rest of your life trying to avoid apples, because that’s what the paper said? It doesn’t specify how, when you’ll die.

Would it be a relief knowing and just await death while you live reinvigorated by the concrete certainty of your predicted demise – take the best of life and make it last?  How would one society where everyone knows how they’ll die function? Which persons are going to shatter at the weight of that information, and which are going to use it to their advantage? It’s an interesting anthology that explores different reactions and interactions with the machine. Each story just goes to show how peculiar we people react to news with such gravitas. I recommend it.

Another short story collection I’ve grown to love is “In the Court of the Yellow King”. The stories explore the King in Yellow mythos in different scenarios. If you’re not familiar with the name, Ambrose Bierce and Richard W. Chambers both wrote about this alien, god-like entity hailing from the distant, barren land of Carcosa. In “An Inhabitant of Carcosa”, a short story written by Bierce, the ancient city of Carcosa and the King are first mentioned, and then Chambers borrowed that and developed the mythos of that land, fitting it into the narrative of a cursed fictional play called “The King in Yellow”. Themes from that story went on to be a part of some stories from the Cthulhu Mythos. Because neither Chambers nor Bierce before that linger too much or are too detailed on the King himself, this anthology tries to expand his character and his world, his kingdom (which might be near Aldebaran). If you enjoy Lovecraft, and Chambers or Bierce, you’ll probably like the anthology. It pays great homage to the mythos and their respective works. I myself love everything Lovecraft, Chambers and Bierce.

The novels I chose for NaNoReMo stay with me for a long time, year to year. ‘Frankenstein’, ‘Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ and lastly ‘The Willows’ have all had their impact not only on my writing, but on me as a person, and all three have controversies and moral dilemmas written in them; they’re all haunting and rich in imagery and language. I remember debating the human nature, good vs bad for months after finishing ‘Frankenstein’ and likewise for ‘Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde’ defending or accusing the want to preserve and protect oneself from oneself, and I was angry that I couldn’t find a consensus within me to agree and side with one side of the story. ‘The Willows’, as harmless of a story as it is in its beginning, is actually a mind-boggling, stressful experience which very much depraves you of your common sense. As vivid as it is in the sense of its narrative, it’s like staring into pitch black the entire time you’re reading it. It positions the reader into an impossible situation resulting from a very natural phenomenon, and it goes to show how frail and how susceptible our mind is to its own tricks and horrors.

Something non-fictional that caught my interest was ‘The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made’, which as the title suggests is an inside look into the birth and making of the movie “The Room”. If you don’t know what that is, check it out on YouTube, be awed, dumbstruck, frightened, curious, sleepless and then read the book to salvage your soul. It’s worth it.

Last but not least I’ve been catching up on the 80’s ‘Hellblazer’ comics, slowly making my way through to whichever is the latest issue. I love John Constantine as a character so I decided to follow his story cover to cover from the very first issue. I can’t gush enough or praise enough the story and the character. It’s a very multidimensional and multilayered journey.

Tell us about someone who has inspired you as a writer. 

I’m not sure whether my inspiration about writing sits with a certain person, because I haven’t really been open with people about it. But I did have a teacher who propelled in a massive way my love for fiction and that was my literature teacher 9th through to 12th grade. He is a walking human encyclopedia of not only the classics, but sci-fi and fantasy also and mythology as well, and he’s quite an odd one, but I haven’t met a student who hasn’t been in some sort of awe by him.

Back in 9th grade I used to bring different books with me to classes and I used to put them on top of the desk in plain view waiting to see which one would spark a reaction from him, because as he had made an impression on me I wanted to do the same. Shame fact, I brought Dan Brown with me a few times, but I thought he was cool at the time and I actually drew only positives from him, like expanding my interest in actual history and obviously Freemasonry and the Templar knights.

Gradually our literature classes extended into a small book club after school where we discussed all of the novels that weren’t a part of the curriculum.  He introduced us broadly to Tolkien, Pratchett, the Asimov Brothers, Bradbury, Sheckley and many more, and we were never constricted in our chats about certain novels or stories, themes and problematics. Being able to write stories or even plot ones during class and then again after class was incredible.

With his support and guidance, I and two other classmates wrote a short story almanac of horror called ‘The Red Hills’ which we presented as our final school project. I think he does show it to students to this day.

How can we, as your fellow writers, support and encourage you?

I think it’s sometimes a challenge to take up a story that is foreign to you in its setting or theme, and I constantly doubt whether I’ve written the story in a probable way, whether I’ve used the proper tone, included the sensible element and such, but in the Flash! Friday community I’ve found a free zone, a comfort zone where all stories matter. I’ve read and seen many stories which tackle one specific theme, as was before the new rules, but they do it in such a way that I believe there isn’t a single perspective, outcome or scenario that is left out, neglected and unexplored. The collective power of these niche stories is incredible, and it has shown me that there isn’t a wrong idea, a wrong interpretation of the challenge; there isn’t a wrong way to approach it. Looking at the stories each week is like visiting an art gallery which has combining the creative minds of thousands of talented folk. I discover something new with each passing week, though it may seem that I’m not participating, I’m ghostly there, amazed by the sheer quality. I would only like to thank everyone for continually writing and sharing. That’s all the encouragement I need.

Writing in Bulgaria, is pretty much like writing anywhere else in the world – as long as there are people who sit down and put in word after word, there’s writing, be it good or bad, known or unknown.

Flash! Friday Vol 3 – 50: WINNERS

Good morning! Thank you so much for your overwhelming, loving support following Friday’s announcement that I’m closing up shop after December 11’s Flashversary. I’ll have more to say on that over the next three weeks, but today belongs to you; today is not my farewell — not yet –, but Steph & Josh’s (much as you and they are conspiring to keep me in tears for the next three weeks!).

**NOTE!** We still have a couple more global #Spotlight interviews ahead: please join us tomorrow for a trip to Bulgaria with Cindy Vaskova!

And now: a mountain’s height of thanks to Dragon Team Six, Steph Ellis and Josh Bertetta. We should perhaps be a little frightened and/or impressed by the sychronization of your judging thoughts — both of you should probably tuck that away for future use somewhere! It’s been a great honor serving the community alongside you. Thank you for your clever sifting of stories, for your generous comments, for your faithful support of flash fiction and this community in particular. Above all, thank you for contributing your own powerfully unique talents by sharing your stories here. We are so grateful to and for you.

♦♦♦♦♦

Here are Dragon Team Six’s final comments, crystallized by Steph, who apparently has no respect for my deteriorating supply of tissues:   

SE: I was feeling somewhat sad that my time as a judge was coming to an end at Flash! Friday but then came that bombshell from Rebekah about the closure of the site, an announcement which I must say left me feeling almost bereft.  I’ve just had a scan through the Flash! Friday archives and found my first entry back in October of last year.  I find myself amazed that it’s only a matter of some 13 months and not longer; this particular competition has become such a huge part of my life giving my week a writerly structure that I have followed (more-or-less) religiously.  What will I do?  What will we all do?  Well, we’ll carry on writing as she has trained us so well: we will continue with the familiar (MicroBookends, Three Line Thursday, FlashDogs anthologies, Angry Hourglass) and attempt new pastures.  So the gap will be filled, but it will not be the same.  I do have some more to say to Rebekah, but those words you will find in some of my responses to the stories below.

As it’s my last week I would also like to pay tribute to my partner-in-crime Josh Bertetta.  I know he has been unable to take part this week for personal reasons and I missed our few minutes of haggling across the pond.  And when I say few, I mean few.  Nearly every single time, at least half, if not more, of our choices matched; and where they didn’t, we quite often found that we had similar choices ‘bubbling under’ which allowed us room to manoeuvre.

I would also like to thank my lovely eldest daughter for her efforts in stripping the Flash stories for me, especially as she tends to work late; whether it was Bob Dylan or The 1975, she still managed to wake up not too long before noon and get the stories to me and Josh!  For that I have rewarded her with a Korean Vegetarian cookbook – as you do.

And one more big thank you – to all of you who have provided us with such wonderful stories to read.  Keep writing and submitting.  We will see you here until the finish, and hopefully we will continue across the Flashverse, taking our stories into unchartered territories and cheering each other on.

Now, without further ado, let the drum roll begin …

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SPECIAL MENTIONS

Brady Koch, “Bougainvillea.” An apparently innocent start to the story, a young man returns home having travelled the world, for what you would think would be a much-wanted reunion with is family.  But instead we are faced with him drawing a plant whose leaf ‘grew out of the long-picked skull of the artist’s father’.  Then we discover that not only is there a skull, but a knife in the rib-cage, put there by our returnee.  Not quite the reunion expected.  Nicely dark.

James Atkinson, “Times Change.” A warning to those who would promote isolationism.  Initially the families were separate enough when their village’s isolation first occurred for there to be no problems in terms of marriage but as time passed cousins married cousins so that eventually all became closely related.  This seems to concern only our narrator.  He recognises that they need ‘another supply drop’ but implies this would be not of goods but of people to refresh and strengthen the gene pool; this latter a good example of showing not telling.

Bill Engleson, “Sweetapple Dodds.” Great pulp fiction tone to the narration of this story.  The agent’s in his office and in she walks ‘Hell, you could smell the country on her’, ‘wiggling her fanny as if she’s revving up for the Indy 500’.  He feels sorry for her but he has an ulterior motive, he ‘could see potential, a tremendous chassis’.  Wonderful language and a fun read.

Firdaus Parvez, “Born With the Devil.” I think everyone imagines twins are born with that unbreakable bond, where one would do anything for the other.  You certainly don’t expect them to be so different that the sister hates her brother to the extent that she would slit her wrists and ensure not only his death, but her own.  Unique take on the bond between twins.

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HONORABLE MENTIONS

Charles W. Short, “The Captain’s Calling.”

An homage to Flash! Friday (Dragonwraith) and its Captain (Rebekah) and an unashamed placing.  This one is slightly different in that it is the creation of Flash! Friday in a world in which flash was almost an orphan.  She built the ship, which grew larger, was a ‘spokeswoman for her cause’ and developed her vision until other ‘Teams developed, friendships formed, and entirely new classifications of vessels took shape’.  We have all seen how the flash world had grown, we all meet up on other sites, not just on this ship so that now we can give the Captain the freedom to take her own path.  ‘A new calling awaits the captain, and she has the proven courage to undertake it.’

Michael Wettengel, “May-Born.” 

I love the personification of Ambition and Inspiration, those little devils that assail us all but which often never seem to work together, as in this particular story.  Inspiration is intent on wrapping himself up ‘like he’s spinning a cocoon’ whilst Ambition ‘walks and fumes’.  (I will whisper now, I am a May baby so I huff occasionally too).  The deadline hits and they run out of time and Ambition isn’t happy with the rambling end.  But the author walks away to look at the falling snow, as sometimes you have to.

Holly Geely, “Cousin Jackson

Of course I would place a story with a good pun, especially one which worked itself out so easily.  I had no idea it was coming (I mean, a banana plantation in a non-tropical climate?? how did I not see it?) but there it was, waiting, a perfect little gem to be discovered at the end.

Michael Seese, “In Here.”

This trapped me as soon as elephants on shoulders were mentioned.  I knew at this point something crazy was going on, the writing bringing to mind the madness of Carroll’s Wonderland.  The MC, a child, has occasional glimpses of sanity ‘when the mists clear,’ but she cannot leave her world where there are ‘Pixie Stix’ trees and ‘priests in prehistoric garb’ as well as mocking marionettes.  And even though she wants to leave, her mother tells her, ‘You can never leave this place, dear child. Insanity is your home.  Wonderfully crazy.

THIRD RUNNER UP

Nthato MorakabiWhat Child Is This?

The God Delusion!  Casting Dawkins as a priest, working from the inside of religion to subvert its message was a very clever ruse.  Dawkins has pretended to be a priest and foretold the end of the world, indicating certain signs, for example the baby with the pig’s tail would foreshadow it.  The nurse’s message brings him joy, he has been proved right.  But it is a scene he has manipulated (he has no ‘virtue’) by adding chemicals to the water supply so that mutations occur.  He has used science, he had ‘faith’ that science would make these changes.  Now science supplants religion, it has become the new faith.  Nice inversion.

SECOND RUNNER UP

Karl Russell, “One Day, in the Square” 

This is a story about self-belief and self-worth.  There are so many talented people in this world who just never show what they are capable of.  The old man who appears at Juan’s side and gives him such good advice turns out to be the ghost of a musician who’d only just died.  He had been a brilliant guitarist but had never followed the advice he now gave Juan, leading him to his sad ending on the bench by the fountain.  He had wasted his talent and played for the pigeons.  But his ghost returned and hopefully Juan will take his guitar and play to people and not to the birds.  I must admit to a soft spot for this story as I have a son who is a talented guitarist but already he is playing for people.  And to all those of you who think your writing’s not good enough to send out, well, if you’ve been submitting here, you’re definitely good enough – take that step and find your audience.

FIRST RUNNER UP

Mark A. King, “Genesis.” 

How could I not choose something like this considering our Dragoness’ recent announcement? This acrostic builds a true and heartfelt tribute to Rebekah for all her efforts on our behalf.  All of us have fought, as writers, to find our niche, we have all lived ‘in the wilderness’, seeking ‘the lands of promise’, the bookshop windows, we were all ‘alone’.  But she created a place for us, a ‘fortress’ where we could hone our skills and become strong enough to challenge the ‘elite’, where we could make friends and recognise that our own writing has worth.  Through this platform and the support and comments given so freely and generously week in, week out, we have developed to the extent that many are now pushing onwards and upwards, and some have even made it into the bookshop window.  Things are changing indeed, but it is not goodbye.  We no longer need a fortress: we have a world.  This piece was a lovely way for us all to say Thank you, Rebekah.

And now: for her gorgeous, fantastic, stirring FOURTH win, it’s this week’s 

DRAGON WINNER

MARIE MCKAY!!!

for

“To Care: More Than Just an Action

A poem has claimed first place this week with a message that needs to be heard on a larger platform.  The army of carers that is out there amongst us is large but invisible: the husbands and wives having to care for both elderly parents and young children, young children caring for parents or siblings, an elderly wife, herself frail having to care for her husband and vice versa.  This army does so much and their efforts go largely unnoticed and unrewarded but they do it even though they are so often at breaking point – ‘She cares/Until she screams’, ‘You care/Until you break’, ‘I care/Until I reach the edge’ – but they always ‘care some more’. 

Short lines, consistent repetition from different viewpoints punch the message home and wrings out the emotions, the feelings that at times seek to destroy the carer .  We are not allowed to be separate from the message of this poem, we are part of it because ‘We. Should.  Care’.  Simple.  Powerful.  Effective.

Congratulations, Marie! Thrilled to see you take your fourth crown this week, which you’ve done and drawn our attention to this underappreciated cause. Thank you so much for sharing this achingly beautiful poem. Here’s your updated winner’s page — a page that includes your winning tales dating back to your very first in Year One (Week 26!!!! darling thing, still here after so long!!). Please watch your inbox for instructions regarding your interview for your fourth #SixtySeconds! And now here’s your winning story:

To Care: More Than Just an Action
*inspired by Carers’ Rights Day in the UK

I care
my hands raw;
my eyes black;
my arms sore;
my hair out.
I care way beyond my own lifetime.

You care
yourself to sleep;
yourself awake;
yourself guilty;
yourself frail.
You care yourself lost.

She cares
herself bruised;
herself hungry;
herself lonely;
herself sick.
She cares herself away.

He cares
himself angry;
himself gaunt;
himself blunt.
He cares himself blue.

They care
themselves invisible;
themselves insular;
themselves inadequate.
They care to the quick.

I care
until I can’t, and then I care some more.
You care
until you cry, and then you care some more.
She cares
until she screams, and then she cares some more.

I care
until I reach the edge, and then I care some more.
You care
until you break, and then you care some more.
He cares
until he says he won’t, and then he cares some more.

I care
You care
She cares.
He cares.
They care.
And us?

We. Should. Care.

FFwinner-Web