Tag Archive | Annika Keswick

Spotlight: Margaret Locke

She’s won Flash! Friday three times, she served as judge in Year Two, and today marks the debut of her very first novel, A Man of Character. We couldn’t imagine a more fitting way to celebrate our own Margaret Locke than by featuring her here at Flash! Friday today, in her very own Spotlight interview.

In honor of the launch, Margaret has generously offered to give away a free, signed copy of her brand new book to a randomly selected commenter (wow!!! thank you!). So make some popcorn and settle in with us for a few minutes, won’t you? This is gonna be goooood.

You’ve long loved romance; what’s surprised you about writing a romance novel yourself? 

In writing romance, my appreciation for the experts in the craft has increased ten-fold. Don’t get me wrong – I’ve always known authors are brilliant. The ability to weave a tale in which complex characters and elements mix and blend together while simultaneously pursuing different intents and goals, and somehow finding a satisfying way to tie it all up? Yeah, that ain’t easy.

What I hadn’t known much about was the challenges of fiction writing itself. People have always told me I was a good writer, so I thought I knew how to write. Ha ha ha. I’m grateful to my local critique group and my beta readers for providing feedback on my (numerous) rough drafts. I’m grateful, also, to those who’ve written books on fiction writing and especially romance writing, and to those who share their expertise and experience on blogs or through conferences. The Pay It Forward attitude in the romance world is one of the things I love most about it.

Many people still dismiss romance. They think it isn’t worth reading, much less writing. They think it’s easy. They’re wrong. Writing a story in which the relationship arc/developing love story consistently remains front and center, while incorporating a second plot line that develops the action and fleshes out the tale beyond just the relationship, is a skill. Getting the pacing right, getting the characters right, getting the setting and the mood and the balance of elements and issues right, is terrifyingly difficult. I know! I still have so much to learn, so many ways to improve.

I’m proud to write in this genre, though. I’m proud to write these stories about women, largely for women (although 16% of romance readers are male, and there are men who write romance, as well. Hooray!). I’m privileged to be a member of the romance writing community, and am thrilled that, more and more, romance novels and their authors are garnering the respect they deserve. Because, as my tagline says, love matters.

What romance authors have inspired you most, and how/why? 

My favorite romance novelists are like royalty to me. When I was younger, it was as if they weren’t even real persons, these larger-than-life names I eagerly sought out on bookstore shelves. LaVyrle Spencer, Johanna Lindsey, Susan Johnson, Lisa Kleypas. They weren’t normal people like you and me, right? They must be glamorous celebrities, brilliant authors in whose circles I would never run.

Social media changed that. Suddenly, authors whose names I’d idolized for years were right there, typing away on Facebook or Twitter. Often, I couldn’t believe it was them – I was sure an assistant, or even an imposter, was pretending to be them. I remember asking Eloisa James if it was really her! (It was.)

One of the things that resonated with me most when I first discovered these authors online (which, as it happened, coincided with my first attempts at drafting a real novel), was when I told Julia Quinn, Eloisa James and Sabrina Jeffries that I idolized them and wanted to write like them, but knew I could never be as good as they are. They all responded (!), and all said the same thing: “Why not? Who says you can’t?”

Since those early online interactions, I’ve met a number of romance authors in person, including Eloisa and Sabrina. I spoke with Ms. Jeffries at length at the Virginia Festival of the Book in Charlottesville. “Don’t write in a vacuum,” she said, “like I did at first.” She emphasized the need to get feedback, to hear from others, to see what others are writing, to not isolate oneself. That stuck with me.

Moving from fan-to-idol interactions to more writer-to-writer interactions has been a huge adjustment. First of all, realizing that a) writers are regular people and that b) they have to work hard at what they do (the words don’t just fall out, completed and polished, on the page, doggone it) was eye-opening. Secondly, being willing to count myself as one of them, as part of the group, has come more slowly. I still feel like a poser. Maybe I am. But I’m edging up to the table, looking for a way into the party, and am delighted by how many people are opening up the door, instead of shutting me out.

The most consistent piece of advice I’ve heard is BICHOK – Butt In Chair, Hands On Keyboard. In the words of one of my newest romance writing idols, Katy Regnery (who was quoting her idol, Bella Andre), “Write the books, write the books, write all the books.” For someone like me, who procrastinates with the best of them and who is really good at getting distracted, that emphasis on viewing writing as job, writing as structure, writing as planned, regulated activity, rather than just “ooh, the muse is singing, let’s go for it,” has changed my approach immensely. OK, my thinking, at least. As in many areas of my writing career, I have room for improvement on the consistency front, for sure.  

You’re a huge part of the FF community. Have you been able to apply anything from flash writing to the novel writing process?

I. Love. Flash. Friday.

I absolutely love it. It’s bolstered my confidence in countless ways. I will never forget the time I first met you, dearest Dragoness, in person, and you said, “You’re my Margaret Locke?” As if I were someone special. To have people provide immediate feedback–especially positive, encouraging feedback—stokes this writer’s anxious, self-doubting little ego. 

Flash Friday also gets me consistently writing. In the nearly two years since I started participating, I’ve missed fewer than five weeks. That’s intentional: I’ve made the commitment to FF, not only because it’s fun, but because it forces me to write at least something new every week, no matter what’s going on in the novel-writing part of my life.

It’s also helped my writing in numerous ways. First off, I’ve learned to edit as I go. Because FF stories are so short, I have time to review and hone and cut and maneuver, and I know in doing so, I strengthen the stories. It’s a microcosm of the larger novel world—if I can see how much editing/revising aids a story of 200 words, then I can see how editing/revising a larger tale strengthens it, as well. And since, uh, the editing/revising part isn’t my favorite, it’s helpful to have reminders as to why it’s essential.

Seeing the incredible variety of takes people come up with, based on the same photo and/or word prompt, also drives it home that there’s room for all sorts of stories, and that no two people, no two writers, see things in the same way. I hesitate to name names, because I know I will invariably miss someone whose writing has influenced me, but I know reading stories by Taryn Noelle Kloeden, Maggie Duncan, Foy Iver, Annika Keswick, Mark King, Michael Seese, Tamara Shoemaker, Betsy Streeter, and so many others (including YOU, Ms. Postupak) has taught me so much about what makes good writing. And watching how these fabulous writers support each other, knowing personally how their words of encouragement have kept me going when I’ve felt my efforts were mediocre at best, is one of the reasons I also work to comment as often as I can.

Judging FF made me doubly appreciate the effort FF judges put in, and how much they/we agonize over our selections — while also helping me to see that if the judges didn’t like my story one week (or more!), it didn’t mean my work wasn’t good. Because, hey, we all want to win, right? I still want that — but acknowledging the subjective nature of the judging process freed me up to write what I wanted (humor! Why does humor never win?!), without trying to please the judges so much. It also helped a bit in dealing with the many rejections from agents—instead of assuming I was terrible and should give up, I occasionally could say, “Well, maybe it wasn’t for them, but it might be for somebody else.” Occasionally.

So, a NOVEL! Tell us about that moment when you were like, “I’VE DECIDED TO WRITE A BOOK!”

As a teen, I declared I was going to write romances when I grew up. I just, er, never did. In high school and college, I wrote lots of bad poetry. And apparently I wrote a couple of romantic short stories, because I recently discovered them again, along with several novel ideas I’d sketched out. I’d truly forgotten I’d written those! But in spite of my teenage promise, I think part of me never truly thought I’d be a romance novelist. As I aged, it didn’t seem a “legitimate” enough pursuit, and, again, I placed all of those romance writers on a pedestal, one on which I didn’t think I belonged. Plus, I’d developed other loves — German and medieval history — and thought I’d be a professor. Which still involved a lot of writing, but academic, not fiction, of course.

However, after years of being a full-time mom, once the kids both were in school, I had to figure out what I wanted to do next. Husband and I had many discussions about whether or not I should go back to work. One day, while on a dinner date, he said, “What do you REALLY want to do?” And I answered without hesitation, “I want to write.” It felt like such an unreal, and selfish, thing to ask for, especially since my husband has served as the breadwinner for years. Wasn’t it my turn to give back financially to the family? I have the best husband in the world, though, because without batting an eye, he said, “Then writing is what you should do.”

He’s supported me the entire way, is convinced I’m the next J.K. Rowling (ha ha, NOT!), and is not the least bit concerned whether not I make a dime off of my writing, as long as I’m doing what makes me happy. Believe me, I know how lucky I am, and it brings tears to my eyes to know the biggest reason I was able to achieve my dream of writing this novel (the first of many, I hope) is because I had the time to do so. I’m one lucky woman.

Give us the biography of MoC so far. 

The idea came up at that same dinner, the one in which I confessed my desire to give this fiction-writing thing a try. As we were driving home, I was mulling over story ideas—because if I’m going to write a book, I needed a premise, right? At one point, I blurted out, “How about a story in which a woman figures out the guys in her life are characters she wrote when she was a teenager?” Husband liked it. During the next week, I wrote the outline. It was less a formal outline than a narration of scenes, but yes, I plotted the whole thing out. It was like I was watching a movie in my head, and writing down what I visualized happening next.

Drafting the actual story was harder. I remember staring at the screen, thinking, “I’ve got to come up with a really memorable first line. Everyone says that first line has to be stellar!” It froze me for a while – until I said, “Duh, just write something. You can always change it later.” So that’s what I did – although ironically, that first line of chapter one never changed. It’s the first line I wrote of the whole book, and it’s exactly the same:

The last thing Catherine Schreiber wanted to do was talk about men.

As for the first draft, it took a year. Well, no, not exactly. I didn’t finish it for a year. I wrote about a third of the book in the fall of 2011, even shared it with a few people (including my amazingly positive cheerleader, my cousin Joy), and then … stopped. I got scared. It took me a number of months before I was willing to look at it again, but I committed to finishing it before the end of 2012.

And then I started editing. I joined a critique group. It was absolutely terrifying to be in that hot seat the first time, but I did it. In addition, I had beta readers, especially my wonderful friend Annika Keswick, who kept on me to keep going. I got the book to where I thought it was pretty good, and I decided to send it out to agents. I’d thought about going indie, but in truth, I still had (have) that big part of me that worried maybe I wasn’t good enough, that I needed that brass ring from traditional publishing to prove myself. I queried eight agents in the spring of 2014. All rejected me, except one, who asked for a partial — but not until months after I’d heard from everyone else. It was rather heart-breaking, but I’d read enough about the industry to know the chances of landing an agent were about 1 in a 100 – so only querying eight was merely a drop in the bucket.

I kept editing and polishing, and decided I was going to go all out in my efforts to get published in the fall of 2014. And I did – I queried at least sixty agents. I got several requests for partials, three requests for the full manuscript, and lots and lots of rejections. Of the requests for partials or fulls, all eventually said no. One agent who asked for the whole thing never got back to me.

By now, I was pretty bummed. I knew my book was a bit hard to categorize by traditional romance standards. One of my rejection letters mentioned that specifically – they didn’t know where they’d put it on a shelf. Sigh.

I decided to query smaller publishing houses, as a few author friends suggested. Lo and behold, I got a publication offer in December of 2014. Oh my GOD! Someone wanted my book! Someone believed in it enough to consider it worth publishing! The high lasted for days.

The offer was from a company that only publishes books electronically. It was at that point that I realized how badly I wanted to hold my book in my hands. I also chatted at length with an author who’d first gone small-press and had since turned indie. Her experiences, plus my own desire for that old-fashioned book-in-the-hands moment, led me to turn down the publishing offer. For reals.

My husband was the deciding factor in me going indie. I hesitated to turn down the small publishing house, because they would front the editing costs, and I knew I needed professional editing to be taken seriously. But to fork over that kind of money on my own? I was trying to make some moola, not spend more in an effort to get published. Without batting an eye, though, my darling said, “We can cover that. No biggie.” “But what if I don’t make it back?” I fretted. He shrugged. “Doesn’t matter.” Reader, I love him.

Next I had to find an editor. So I asked Katy Regnery, the indie author mentioned above, whom she used, and she graciously shared the name of her developmental editorTessa Shapcott. After discovering Tessa had worked with Harlequin for years, but now freelances and particularly enjoys working with new indie authors, I contacted her right away. Tessa is amazing, y’all. She read my book and got back to me with comprehensive developmental suggestions within five days. All of her observations were spot on.

In truth, I could edit A Man of Character forever. I think most authors feel that way. But this spring, I decided I’d been at this long enough, and I needed to get this book out, if only to not let fear win. So I committed to a publication date, read the book through again about fifty million times, worked with the most awesome Joy Lankshear on cover and interior design, and declared, “That’s it. This book is done.”

Did you have any characters not behave how you expected–any plot twists or character quirks that you hadn’t seen coming? 

Absolutely. Most of the characters I sketched out in advance, but darn if they didn’t take on a life of their own. Cat’s sister, Marie, initially swore like a sailor–which took a few beta readers by surprise. “But you don’t swear,” my mother-in-law said, to which I replied, “You’re right. I don’t. And I’m not swearing – my character is.” In the end, Marie’s part got cut down and most of the curse words with it. Which is too bad, because I rather relished using the term f*cktart in a sentence.

Let’s talk editing. You’ve had a lot of different people look at it, from beta readers to a workshop crit panel, to a professional editor. Dish. 

Beta readers are great – especially if they aren’t writers. Not that I’m dissing my writer friends; they are excellent at delving into problems with craft. But often we get so bogged down with issues of point-of-view, or character development, or pacing of a section, that we lose sight of the whole. Not so beta readers – they might not notice (or care) if you’re overusing certain words or lacing your text with adverbs, but they will notice if your characters are unlikable, or major plot points don’t work for them.

On the other hand, my critique group is wonderful at working on the very things many readers don’t necessarily notice, but which weaken the story–passive verbs, word repetition, draggy back story, etc. Having them read my work, and certainly reading their own, helps me hone my own writing in innumerable ways. I consider both the reader and writer feedback invaluable.

That crit panel was harder. I had a well-known, well-respected romance novelist rip me in front of a group of people (not that they knew it was me, since it was anonymous, but I knew it was me) on my overuse of saidisms, lookisms, and twitchisms. Did it hurt? Yes. But I somehow managed to approach said author after the panel and ask her how I should do it. Did I change everything? No. But I learned a lot – and the fact that some of the authors didn’t agree with her reminded me again of the subjective nature of writing.

The best thing I did, though, hands-down, was invest in a developmental editor. I already spoke about Tessa; I only wish I’d sought her help out earlier — which I will definitely do with the next book.

That terrifying word: MARKETING. Well? 

Ugh. Well, I’ve done a lot of reading about what to do and what not to do. I’ve spoken with other authors and watched what they’re doing. I’ve asked people outright what they thought worked and what doesn’t. Nobody knows the best answers; things change so fast!

I’m grateful my husband keeps reminding me I don’t need to sell a million copies, I don’t need to do everything “they” say to do. I can do as little or as much as I want; no pressure. That helps, especially since obsessive, perfectionistic me wants to do everything “right.” I think the hardest thing is balancing sales pitches with actual interactions with people – because, well, I’m stoked about the book and want to tell everyone about it! I have to keep in mind, though, that no one else will be as excited about it as I am. To me, it’s my baby. To them, it’s one in a sea of a million books.

I’m working on growing my social media presence – which isn’t unpleasant, because I love social media and interacting with people. A little too much.

I’m running give-aways on GoodReads and Amazon. I’m reading marketing guides. I’m looking for local opportunities, such as the book signings I’ll be doing at the Artisan Galleries in Massanutten over the summer. And I’m second-guessing myself a lot. It’s all a learning process.

I love that you’re already looking forward. Can you share? 

Thanks to NaNoWriMo, which I find incredibly motivating and fun, I already have complete drafts of my next two novels, A Matter of Time and The Demon Duke. They need a lot of work. But I’ve committed to publishing AMOT in the fall, and TDD in the spring, mostly to get more books to my name. I know that’s key in terms of discoverability and building a fan base.

But one of the things I like most about being indie is I’m not under anyone else’s deadlines. That could be a bad thing, given my procrastinating tendencies, but it’s also freeing, in that if life interferes and I can’t get a book done, I’m not hurting anyone but myself. I’d like to be able to put out two books a year. We’ll see what happens. I do hope, as I gain more experience and learn what to do and not to do, that the time to write and finish each book will shorten, though I don’t ever intend to try to write four, five, six books or more in a year. That would kill me.

You’ve recently attended some conferences and workshops. Worth it? 

I love conferences. They’re so invigorating – of the few I’ve attended, I’ve always left wanting to go home and write right that minute. I do hope to attend more as I am able: family obligations and costs mean I can’t do as many as I’d like. Some year, I do plan on attending the huge Romance Writers of American conference! I’m a member of RWA (Romance Writers of America), and RWA subchapters VRW (Virginia Romance Writers) and the Beau Monde (for those who write Regency romance). All three groups are welcoming and inclusive. The authors I’ve met are fantastic and supportive, regardless of which publication route they and I are pursuing.

GREECE! can we expect to see any “souvenirs” of your recent trip in future books? 

Greece sneaked up on me. It’d been my husband’s lifelong dream to go, and while I wasn’t exactly averse to the idea of seeing the Parthenon, I didn’t think I’d love it as much as I did. Will it play into future books? Possibly… lots of 19th century British folk did visit Greece, after all. But for me, my heart belongs to England. It’s where I most long to go back, to strengthen (hopefully) the accuracy of my writing, and to give me more of a feel for the atmosphere in general.

Anything else? The mic is ALL YOURS! ❤

Honey, you done wrung it all out of me. Pretty sure you’re tired of my prattling on as it is, so I’m turning it back over to you. Thanks SO MUCH for hosting me on the Flash Friday Fiction site; it’s such a thrill, and a privilege.

The privilege is ours! –and now, dear FF readers, it’s your turn! Questions? Comments? A reminder one lucky commenter today will get a free, autographed copy of Margaret’s brand new novel, A Man of Character. Read more about this book and others at her website

Sixty Seconds III with: Tamara Shoemaker

Ten answers to ten questions in 20 words or fewer (normally). 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 three-timer and Dragon Captain Tamara Shoemaker. Read her winning story here. You can also read her first #SixtySeconds interview (from September) here. and her second interview (from December) here. Then take another couple of minutes (we don’t count words when it’s a writer’s THIRD win!) to get to know her better below.

1) What about the prompts inspired your winning piece?  My first thought when I saw the prompts was a euphemised “What the *insert semi-appropriate word*???” {Editor’s Note: You were not alone. Bwahahahaha!} From there, my imagination captured the cute kitty face that slowly transitioned to cute girl face, that transitioned to inner battle, that transitioned to death by cancer (of course, right?).

2) You’ve been writing flash about a year, is that right? How has your approach to flash changed/developed since you started? Margaret Locke wrangled me into my first flash contest in June or July of 2014, I can’t remember exactly. When I first started, I wrote stories based exactly on the prompt. I felt like I had to incorporate every element in the picture. As time went on, the connection to the prompt grew looser, and with it, the stories that came to me expanded by worlds.

3) Has your experience writing flash affected your novel writing? If so, how? YES! There are so many changes, it’s hard to pinpoint any one thing, but I love how much tighter my writing has grown. Streamlining EVERY word in flash has been wonderful practice for streamlining a 110,000 word novel. I’ve learned so many important skills pertaining to character, pacing, setting, and frame. Novel writing is the same as flash, with just a few more words to worry about. 🙂

4) You still writing 2,000 words a day? You’re also working hard editing a novel now. What’s the editing process like for you? When I’m in the first draft stage of a novel, I write 2k words minimum. It’s a truly satisfying day if I can write 7k or 8k words. When I edit my books, I often feel blind; it’s hard for me to see my own mistakes. I depend heavily on beta-readers who find the deficiencies in my story where I can’t see them. Once they get back to me with their critiques, I go through and gut the story until it’s a decent piece of work. It’s a great system–for me. My poor beta-readers probably should demand a bit more payment. 😉

5) Belong to any writers’ groups IRL? How do they benefit you? Yes! I attend two critique groups here in the Shenandoah Valley. They give me loads of constructive feedback on my work, which helps me create stronger stories, which are (hopefully) more exciting for the general public to read.

6) You’re famous here at Flash! Friday for faithfully leaving a billion comments on people’s stories. This is incredibly meaningful and awesome–thank you! What things have you learned from other writers’ approaches to flash? I leave so many comments, partly because I know how excited I get when I see a new comment on one of my stories, and I want to “share the wealth,” so to speak. Some of the stories, though, leave me in so much awe that I can’t help but leave a comment. Grace Black consistently displays such beautiful lyricism, I usually reread hers several times throughout the weekend. Deb Foy‘s fresh, unusual imagery is soul-satisfying; can’t get enough. Annika Keswick‘s attention to detail makes her stories stand out to me; there are so many layers there that take me a while to unpeel. Tinman and Ian Martyn make me laugh nearly every week. I’d love to name all the writers – feel like I know them all so well simply through their fiction.

7) In fact, you’re just all-round prolific; you make writing a ton of words FAST look easy. Is it as easy for you as it looks? And–I’m sorry, but I just have to ask–in this world of tweets and DMs and texts, where many writers struggle to find even one prolonged idea, just how do you find all your ideas? Easy as it looks?! Yes. And no. This is going to sound cliche (and I’m the queen of cliche) – the words just come. My brother tells me I talk too much (and I’ve heard similar statements from other family members). I probably have a larger-than-ordinary pool of words that overflow their banks when I start writing. I’m sure that’s it. 😉 As for my ideas–I try to write about stuff that would be interesting to me as a reader. Which is why you’ll never catch me writing non-fiction.

8) You’re a fiction writer and a poet. Do you pursue both? Is there a balance between these two sides of your writerly self? Or are they rivals? It’s funny, I’ve never thought of myself as a poet. Poetry has always come easily, but it’s not what I ever intend to write. I like to think that my fiction writer half and my poet half are coffee-buddies. They meet at Starbucks now and then, discuss important topics, throw a few idea-seeds my direction, and go their separate ways after fixing another meeting for the next week. One couldn’t do without the other; where’s the friendly beauty in that?

9) You’ve published with a small house, and you’re about to go indie and publish a book yourself. What made you decide to go indie? Are you still exploring traditional, and if so, why? What have you learned so far about the publishing biz? What are you looking forward to in this next phase? What challenges you? I’ve enjoyed moderate success with the traditional route, so this branch into self-publishing is purely curiosity. I want to see what the difference is between the two different methods. There are pros and cons to both. If it does well, I’ll probably do a few more self-published books. We’ll see. I do plan to continue traditional publishing as well; I’ve built up a good relationship with my publisher and would like to keep it. They’ve put out the first three books, Broken Crowns, Pretty Little Maids, and Ashes Ashes. I have five unpublished books waiting in the wings, so I’ve got plenty of work to spread between the two methods.

What I’ve learned: publishing ain’t for wimps. You need thick skin. You need to be willing to put in the work and the research. You will get one-star reviews sometimes. There will be someone out there who will make your day worse because they’re having a bad day. Take what feedback you need, ignore the rest. I’m really looking forward to starting the fantasy phase of my career. Thus far, my only published books are mysteries. I love the YA fantasy market–I’m so excited to add some books to it. My daily challenges are reading the other books in my chosen genre and overcoming my awe at their work, not comparing my work to theirs, accepting what I write as my own style and not wishing I was the next JK Rowling. I am me. What a profound statement. 😉 

10) Introduce us to your favorite dragon (yes, can be one of your own). Of COURSE, my favorite Dragon lives nearly an hour north of me {Editor’s Note: Smart girl!}, but my second favorite Dragon is one I’m introducing in my upcoming (hopefully May) release, Kindle the Flame. This particular Dragon is a kick-bootie, fire-haired girl from dubious origins who discovers a surprising link to a certain mirror-scaled REAL Dragon (because everyone knows that all Dragons are REAL). You should definitely take the time to read, because Dragons. Obvs.

Flash! Friday Vol 3 – 7: WINNERS

WELCOME to results day!!! So. Much. Fun. Thanks to all of you for your patience, your praise of each other’s stories, and above all, writing stories so marvelously strong that you give our brave dragon captains conniptions. :cough cough: Assuming dragon captains could have conniptions, obv.

We had nearly 80 entries this week; don’t forget to keep track of your own participation, as battling at Flash! Friday three times in a month will earn you the Ring of Fire badge. This week, that’s just about 80 of you dragons already a third of the way there! (The first round of eligibility will include February 6.)

rof2

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Dragon Captains Carlos Orozco/Eric Martell sayWhat fun it was judging this week. We had a difficult time trying to narrow it down to the final ten, and finding an order to those ten was even more difficult. This week team three only had two similar picks, but after some rereading, re-ranking, and a very intricate point system (it’s actually not that intricate), we managed to siphon out winners.

But before we get to that, we would like to share some thoughts on this week’s stories:

  • Many of the stories were understandably similar. It’s difficult trying to think of something unique when many of the elements have already been chosen for you, but because of that, it is more important than ever to try and stand out. You will all be better writers for it.
  • This week’s required story element was setting. We would recommend focusing on the story element (no matter how you interpret beach). Bonus points were given to stories with strong settings.

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SPECIAL MENTIONS

Best Use of Structure: Mark A. King, “Mirror/Mirror.”  The structure to this was very creative and well executed. Mark used structure to his advantage.

Maximizing Setting: Natalie Bowers, “A Tangled Web.” It took place on a movie set, but (as with all good movies) the lines blurred and we forgot where we were.

Best use of a historical figure who was really a monster as a foil for an old woman who had earth in her poppy seeds: Clive Tern, “Uncle Joe and the Babushka.”

Funny Reads: Reg Wulff, “The Danger Zone.” For some (all) men, a pretty face can always get us to be just a bit stupid, can’t it?; and Rasha Tayaket, “Among Us.” Two aliens and one beach. This one should be read aloud.

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HONORABLE MENTIONS

Tinman, Strands of Memory.” Another story that masterfully works the required story element. With one line, “The sunrise was a thin pink line of icing on the purple-green sea”, we are immediately thrust into the character’s world. The hints of comedy are genuine, which really helps bring the character to life.*side note: The Hoff vs Godzilla would have been spectacular.

Brian S. Creek, Waiting.” This story shared a similar theme with many of the others, but the open ending really sets it apart. Is Edith going crazy, is her husband really coming back after being gone so long, or is death finally coming to reunite her in the afterlife with her husband? This piece does a great job of storytelling with the negative spaces, letting the reader fill in all the blanks.

Laura Carroll Butler, “Nonna.” A lot of the stories this week were sad, seeing endings in the lines of a face of a weatherbeaten old woman, but this story put us in the shoes (or bare feet) of some young people sharing her beach. College students, expecting one kind of spring break and then finding another, learning lessons that they didn’t know they were seeking. The kind of story that brings an infectious smile to your face, not by being silly, but by warming places deep within

Michael Seese, “The Boy With the Hazel Eyes.” Are monsters born, or are they made? What happens when someone we love changes into someone we recognize, but only on the surface? A well-told story about change and war, love and loss. In another contest, we probably would have ranked it higher, but the beach wasn’t as central to this story as some.

THIRD RUNNER UP

Megan Besing, “Drifting Memories.” Our minds sometimes get cracked as we get older, but cracked isn’t entirely destroyed, and sometimes a glimpse of the person that was sneaks out from the person that is. We can’t always imagine our parents or grandparents as young people, but just like us, they were young once, their lives filled with stories. This tale weaves both of these themes into a powerful tale, and speaks to humanity and love hidden from plain sight.

SECOND RUNNER UP

Annika Keswick, “New Tires.” This one snuck up on us (like good flash fiction does). The first time through we think the old lady is being described, but then we get hit by that Eureka moment. Reading the second time through is just as satisfying (if not slightly more satisfying) because we can now see the obvious. The ending is very uplifting, stating a universal truth without trying to force it on us.

FIRST RUNNER UP

Phil Coltrane, “The Last Pilgrimage.” This is a great example of presenting the required story element in a unique way. We have a beach in this story, but the impending apocalypse really changes the scenery. The tone in this piece also made it stand out. While many of this round’s stories had a character missing or wanting something, Gretchen is accepting of the end. She becomes passive entity whose story comes to an end with a “Close parenthesis”. It is a fitting last line for this type of apocalypse.

DRAGON WINNER

DAVID BORROWDALE!!!

for

“Under the Pier, Where Lives Are Made”

Flash stories don’t come a lot more powerful than this, cramming a ton of story into 201 words. Using the old woman’s visit to the beach as mismatched bookends to the story provided a wonderful intro and outro – at the beginning, she could be reflecting on happy memories, but at the end, we know differently. Set in a time both distant and familiar, we feel her love and her loss, both for her man and for her bairn. You don’t have to have suffered a loss like hers to feel the power of her story, but if you have, it resonates strongly. The last line was haunting. Very well done.

Congratulations, Dave! Below is a haunting, powerful winner’s badge for the wall(s) of your choosing. Here is also your brand new winner’s page and your winning tale on the winners’ wall. Please contact me asap here so I can interview you for this week’s #SixtySeconds feature. And now, here is your winning story!

Under the Pier, Where Lives are Made

She returns each day to the place her son was started. She shackles her bondi-blue foldaway to the railing, and lets the salt-wind rustle her memories.

***

Under Saltburn Pier it was, in 1941. Billy Hurles was her man, and he was going off to fight Hitler.

“Give me something so I don’t forget you,” he said.

“A lock of hair?”

“No.”

So they crept under the pier to be alone. But other couples were there, and she saw her own distaste reflected in the eyes of other girls. It was over quickly. She kissed him sweetly, and told herself she’d done her bit for the war.

***

She knew she couldn’t keep the bairn. She’d accept, in time, that he’d be better with a proper family; without the shame. Perhaps one day she’d see him again. But the bairn was born blue; quiet, tiny and unmoving. A priest came into the room that was already crowded with men.

“Shall I bless the child? Help him find his way to the Lord.”

“You shall not,” her father said.

***

She returns each day to the place her son was started and prays he is at peace: some days she looks up, some days down.

FFwinner-Web