Archive | August 2020

Fire&Ice Sol 3/19: WINNERS

§ Foy says: Joy and pain. Suffering and restoration. Whether in our stories or in our body-bound lives, many of us walked with these engulfing emotions this weekend. Many more of us have been walking with them for years, decades, centuries. Loves found. Loves lost. To capture the visceral in words is to release it, and all the better if we can carry our readers with us in that healing. Because this too is why we write. Thank you

§ Rebekah says: In yesterday’s Flash! Future Ken Liu spoke honestly about the pandemic demons that drowned out his words for a time. But eventually, he said,

I found my voice again, and learned to trust in my need to tell stories. …Stories are how we make sense of a senseless world, how we construct meaning out of noise, how we assert our individual conscience and collective empathy against the forces of heartless denial, systemic oppression, and willful ignorance. We must not let them drag us down with them.

Writing communities like Fire&Ice exist because as writers we’re all striving to find our own voice: the voice that speaks our words, not mutes them. The one that reflects us, not any other writer or any other writer’s way of telling stories. We say this a lot, but it bears repeating that no matter where you are in your writing journey, your voice is and always will be welcome here. Thank you for sharing your voice & for being a welcoming voice to others. 


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. ♥ 


Mark King: This round there were 11,400+ words of goodness to read. It’s amazing to be back at Flash! Friday again. Hearing some hints that it might return, I wrote a couple of stories about returning home, and that’s how it feels. I am incredibly grateful to the Ice and Fire dragons (and the magical folk behind the scenes) for making this happen and for the honour of being asked to judge.  

For me, Flash! Friday has always been a welcoming place that promotes diversity and equality, so it was incredibly hard waking to the news of Chadwick Boseman’s sad passing just before I started reading the stories. What an actor. What an incredible legacy.

The two judges this week both have very personal connections to Valentine’s Day, so the theme of love was a superb choice. When asked what advice I would give, I said to bring yourselves, not be swayed by others, to have faith in your voice. You sure did that, and then some. I found something admirable and unique in every single story I read, so be proud. If you didn’t get a mention, know that on another day, with another judge, you might well have placed or won.

First, a few personal mentions of stories that called to me but didn’t place. Untitled (Where Does Love Go?) by Tamara Shoemaker – it brought a tear to my eye. Craig Anderson‘s One Day, for outstanding vision and wonderful prompt creativity. Brian S. Creek‘s The Challenge of the Burning Waste for structure and sense of love lost.

Stephanie Ellis: When Flash! Friday announced its return, I was delighted. When I was asked to be part of the judging process, I was honoured – as I was by being partnered with one of the original Flash Dogs, Mark King. This competition, so much a part of my writing life, is where I honed my skills and received comments and advice in the most positive of ways. It was, and remains, a safe place for new writers sharing their work possibly for the first time whilst remaining a challenge to writers of all levels.

You might expect that as someone who reads flash week in, week out at The Horror Tree, I would feel jaded or that dark fiction would come first regardless of other genres. That is not the case. Story captures my heart, from whatever direction it comes, and I loved the myriad takes on this week’s theme. So many vied for attention but placing is always limited. I would like to give a couple of shoutouts here. In addition to those placed in the results, I was chuckling to the humour and dialect of Geoff Holme‘s As the Tyne Goes By, and was touched by the stuntman’s lost love of Karl A. Russell‘s Afterwards.



New Kids on the Block by Tinman

MK: Thoroughly enjoyed the style and references. Highly entertaining. Thank you.

SE: We have made our own hell but I adore the phrasing of the Four as the ‘hula-hoops of the heavens’.

Desert Queen by Arvind Iyer

MK: We can’t travel right now, but this was like being teleported. Wonderful.

SE: Layered with vibrant colours, smells, sounds and movement to form a richly painted backdrop.


The Last Time by Becky Spence

MK: Brilliant use of sound throughout the story. This line was simply wonderful, “Until the vultures soared. Until the great birds cawed. Underneath the moon. I came. The glass moon shimmers in the ocean skies. A chill. There is a chill in the air.” and reminded me of a beautiful winning vulture story by Deb Foy.

SE: Death and pain and love run through this dark story to the score of pounding hearts, drums, hooves. I loved the way the pace and pain built up against this music and then ended with that one word, ‘Still.’ Perfect.

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


Marie McKay!!!



MKThis single paragraph alone was good enough to win any competition, “You and I had loved, but not well. It was a thin, meagre type of togetherness. Racing through passing time counted in paper, cotton, bronze.” It is a life of hope, of trying, of years and milestones. It hints at an infinite world, a world beyond the surface, a universe that is sadly shadowed and flawed. “We should have untied the knot. Screamed I don’t: galloped backwards up the aisle.” Is not only a central link to the prompt but a wonderful image of life in reverse. On a technical front, there is skilful deployment of long and short sentences to add pacing and control. For me, this was the most powerful story that explained the journey from love found to love lost. After all, all love found will be lost, eventually, and all love lost will have been found before. Masterful storytelling. Congratulations.

SE — This grabbed me from the first as it carved out a tale of a miserable marriage, leading up to a brutal ending via a series of savage words and phrases. From the start, powerful imagery is conjured up with the ‘curl of distaste at the corner of your mouth’ and ‘the spite in the line of your spine’, savage words leap out to show how poisonous this relationship has become. A forensic examination of a failing marriage, every little nuance bleeding its death; she, the guilty party, adulterer, he, ‘the boring better man’. Then you get to the end and that image of him holding the child not his when he squeezes ‘a little too tight, too hard.’ It is a moment of horror which immediately paints years ahead of suffering for both mother and child if they remain together. He – the boring, better man – has become anything but.

Congratulations, Marie! Here’s your winning story:


If I were forensic, tracing it back to a single moment, a broken heart beat. I remember seeing the curl of distaste at the corner of your mouth. Saw the spite in the line of your spine. I don’t blame you.
I think you knew it had happened before I did. Was it how I smoothed my skirt and words? How I kissed his breath while you held your tongue? Held it until venom began to leak from it in the months that raged past.

You and I had loved, but not well. It was a thin, meagre type of togetherness. Racing through passing time counted in paper, cotton, bronze.

We should never have been ‘we’. We should have untied the knot.
Screamed I don’t: galloped backwards up the aisle. Flung horseshoes like confetti at the the guests whose cold shoulders would’ve whipped round to see the bride and groom flee the scene of the crime. Charlie Chaplin bridesmaids, groom and bride swallowed up fast into separate limousines that screech into separate. Lives. Beds. Hearts. No eternal rings of circular arguments. No change of names.

Then you would not be here now, fulfilling your contractual agreement, the boring better man who got it worse. There is a moment where I see you forget yourself. And maybe him too. Your cold arms warmed by a hot screaming bundle of this fresh, flesh branch of me that is not you. But then you squeeze a little too tight, too hard. And we both know, we’ve reached the finish line.



Flash! Future: Ken Liu

WELCOME BACK to a fire-scorched Flash!Future! It’s my great pleasure to glow for a bit today about one of my favorite contemporary writers, the master shaper-of-words Ken Liu. He’s turned his word-propelled background in law, tech, and languages into the material from which he creases and folds a galaxy-full of uniquely vibrant characters and worlds. Liu describes his work as silk punk, a vivid blend of tech-grounded revolutions and East Asian materials and sensibilities. If you haven’t read him yet, please do; if you have, please come along and fall in (disturbed) love all over again.

→→ And as a special gift to Fire&Ice, Ken has sent a personal message to you.

Ken Liu. Photo © Li Yibo (李一博)

Who is this cosmic Flash! Future figure?

Name: Ken Liu

Nationality: American

Best known for: “The Paper Menagerie” (short story), The Grace of Kings (The Dandelion Dynasty novel series)

Awards (partial list, USA only; also won many international genre awards):

      • Locus Award, Best Collection: The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories (2017), Best First Novel: The Grace of Kings (2016)
      • The Hugo Award, Best Novel: The Three-Body Problem (2015; translator; originally written in Chinese by Cixin Liu)
      • The Hugo Award, Best Short Story: “Mono no aware” (2013)
      • The Hugo Award, Best Short Story: “The Paper Menagerie” (2012)
      • World Fantasy Award, Best Short Fiction: “The Paper Menagerie” (2012)
      • The Nebula Award, Best Short Story: “The Paper Menagerie” (2011)

What he writes & why every SF/F reader should know his name.

Ken Liu’s story “The Paper Menagerie” was the first short story to win the trifecta: the Hugo, the Nebula, and the World Fantasy Award (read “The Paper Menagerie” here; read his other Hugo-award winning short story “Mono no aware” here). He didn’t stop there, of course; he’s gone on to garner countless other awards in the U.S. and around the world for his tales and for the word-and-world-spinning magic he accomplished translating others’ tales. Some of his stories you may have seen on screen, like an episode of Netflix’s Love, Death + Robots, or the award-winning short film Beautiful Dreamer; other stories are being adapted even as we speak. The final book of his acclaimed The Dandelion Dynasty trilogy is coming out in 2021. 

But—mouthwatering as awards can appear—Liu would be the first to say (and in fact has said) that they, like any form of external validation, are dangerous.  

To me, stories are at the same time frivolous (they cannot cure the sick or feed the hungry) and critical (stories literally define how we conceive of ourselves). All the stories I write try to get at the human condition as I understand it, and to me, that is enough justification and perhaps the source of the power of my writing. -Ken Liu, interview w/ Dunes Jedi

Sizzling embers of praise!

On The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories: “Ken Liu’s The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories is a book from which I staggered away, dazed, unable to speak. I have wrestled with how to review it, circled my metaphors like a wary cat, and finally abandoned the enterprise of trying to live up to its accomplishment. …(T)his is a book that has scoured me of language and insight and left itself rattling around inside the shell of me.”Amal El-Mohtar, NPR

On The Hidden Girl and Other Stories: “Liu truly is a writer with no limits, whose ability to craft a story that folds interesting characters with high-minded concepts with effortless worldbuilding, while commenting on the modern world around us at the same time is nothing short of magical.” –Martin Cahill, 

On The Dandelion Dynasty: The Grace of Kings is moving forward. It’s about recognizing the past doesn’t hold the answers, and all the things we have been told are true and right and just may not be at all. He is reimagining an entire cultural narrative and in so doing interrogating the underpinnings of what is idyllic. He is using nostalgia to reveal modernity. More to the point, it feels like Ken Liu is remembering the future.” –Justin Landon,

Identity: what makes us human

Liu’s worlds and characters are memorable and engaging (what does it feel like to upload your brain?? what if your dying mother spent your lifetime, time-traveling? [read the original story here; watch the award-winning short based on it here] -What if you agree to host–literally, in your bloodstream–an alien wedding?), a beautiful and often wrenching blend of East Asian-inspired cultures and (re)imagined technologies. But it’s not just the feel of those stories that gets me; it’s the subversive way Liu has of challenging modern notions of self and the individual’s role in society, whatever society that might be. 

Struggling with narratives of identity is at the heart of the experience of modernity. I would say that resistance to the false narrative of “straddling” two cultures is definitely a recurring theme in my fiction. The notion that immigrants are somehow torn between cultures and act as the contested battleground for clearly defined and irreconcilable dueling cultural narratives from which they must choose one is simplistic, reductive, and to put it bluntly, wrong—and yet it is a notion that shows up again and again in how we discuss cultural difference.

I’m far more interested in stories that explore the ways in which all of us are defined by, but also define, the cultures which claim us, and how we negotiate the boundaries between self and society, between conformance and estrangement. As an American who claims a proud identification with my Chinese cultural inheritance, I’m particularly interested in stories that challenge the assumptions behind what it means to be “American” or “Chinese” and reveal these categorizations as attempts by the powerful to assert dominance over fluid, unstable, always-forming identities. -Ken Liu, from his interview w/ Dario Ciriello

§ A PERSONAL MESSAGE from Ken Liu to the Fire&Ice community, on writing during the 2020 pandemic: 

Ken Liu. Photo courtesy Lisa Tang Liu.

I’ve been working on a variety of things now that my second collection, The Hidden Girl and Other Stories, is out, and the conclusion to my epic fantasy series, The Dandelion Dynasty, is finished (the third book, The Veiled Throne, is scheduled to come out next year). I just finished a few short fiction commissions last month, and I’m about to start on a new nonfiction project (nothing to announce yet).

The pandemic has been challenging, to say the least. For much of the time from March to June, I couldn’t write at all. It was … everything. People were dying, protesting, fighting for freedom and justice, while certain world “leaders” decided to use the opportunity to indulge in their worst instincts. I haven’t felt so disappointed in humanity in many, many years. How could we have allowed the world to be taken over by people like that?

But eventually I found my voice again, and learned to trust in my need to tell stories. In a time like this, we need to speak up, to tell stories more than ever. Stories are how we make sense of a senseless world, how we construct meaning out of noise, how we assert our individual conscience and collective empathy against the forces of heartless denial, systemic oppression, and willful ignorance. We must not let them drag us down with them.

Where can the ravenous go for more? To the hyperlinks!  

Thank you for joining us today—and our heartfelt thanks to Ken Liu for graciously adding his voice to today’s Fire&Ice. For more info on Ken Liu and his latest short-story collection The Hidden Girl and Other Stories, check out his website. You’ll find all his works there, with–as ever–multiple non-Amazon retailers linked. Follow him on Twitter to stay future-informed!

Fire&Ice: Sol 3/19

§ Rebekah says: And just like that, Sol 3 is upon us. ♥ This week we also bid farewell to sizzling August, which I celebrated by fleeing beach-ward for a couple nights. Stars, sea, endless rolling dunes, a small stack of thick books (finally finished the wrenchingly powerful The Warm of Other Suns this week), and an espresso kiosk less than a mile away…. Yes, of course work came along (some dragons must pay rent), but with my talons buried deep in sand and a caramel white mocha lurking nearby, that too was a pleasure. And since I couldn’t bring y’all with me, we are bringing the sand to you this week. Can’t wait to see where you’re taking us next! Welcome back.

§ Foy says: Meanwhile, on this end of the world, Summer has its teeth sunk deep, the only dunes are the laundry-kind (and they are endless), and this dragon’s book is the much slimmer (though still wrenching) Who Fears Death, so if my glimmer is a tad blinding, it’s only because I’m elated to be here with you all! May your muses be inspired! Now, if you’ll pardon me, while you’re checking out today’s challenge, I’m just going to slip into that melt pond over there.  

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


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!

This is a general audience contest (no minimum/maximum/mandatory Earth age to play), so please no gratuitous sex or profanity. Be sure to review the full contest rules here.


JUDGES: Today’s judges are Mark King and Stephanie Ellis. Check out their bios on the Fire&Ice Judges page. Stalk their tweets on what they’re looking for here and here.



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 3/19


Fantasia in Morocco. CC photo by Maxim Massalitin.

Fire & Ice PromptRequired elements:

Fire dragon option: love found


Ice dragon option: love lost

Today’s word count: 250-260 words