Tag Archive | Aria Glazki

Spotlight: Aria Glazki

Aria Glazki is a familiar name ’round these here dragonlands: she served as a judge in Year Two alongside legends Betsy Streeter, Craig Anderson, Margaret Locke, and Phil Coltrane. And if that weren’t pedigree enough, she’s also a THREE-TIME winner here, twice in Flash! Friday’s very first year and another in Year Two. She’s published poetry, she’s published a novel, she keeps winning NaNoWriMo, and I can’t think of a better way to spend a Tuesday than by celebrating Aria’s newest accolade: today’s launch of her latest novel, Mortal Musings. 

BE SURE TO LEAVE A COMMENT! Aria is giving away a free print copy of Mortal Musings to a randomly selected commenter. (Because what’s a party without presents?!) Drawing is Wednesday at noon, Wash DC time.

Mortal Musings Cover

Welcome to the Spotlight mic, Aria! Please start by telling us about your writing journey! 

You know those info-graphics that show the straight-line path people would like to think life takes, and then the convoluted path with a bunch of wrong turns? My writing journey has definitely been the latter. I was first published in middle school, after an English teacher insisted I submit a class assignment to a national anthology for young poets—and I’m so grateful he did! In high school, I ran our literary magazine and took creative writing as an elective. And I actually have a bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing (among other majors).

That sounds relatively straightforward, but that Creative Writing degree actually ended up discouraging me from writing. I didn’t write the way they wanted me to, and I certainly didn’t look down on genre fiction the way our instructors did. After graduating, I didn’t write for a long time, doing other things with my life. In 2012, an idea for a story grabbed hold and didn’t let go; around the same time I was reminded about the phenomenon that is NaNoWriMo. That year I participated for the first time. That book became Mending Heartstrings, and suddenly I was diving into the new world of authorship, with a new blog and Twitter account—which fairly quickly actually led me to Flash! Friday. 🙂

Why romance? I believe romance as a genre allows us to genuinely delve into people’s psyches and personalities; we can get to know people from all walks of life, in all sorts of situations, who nevertheless all experience that fundamental human desire of finding love—and then we get to see them do that! Terrifying, heartbreaking, suspenseful, or comedic—whatever the person’s situation, we get to see them through the tough times and to an uplifting point in their story, which I love.

Please introduce us to Mortal Musings! Tell us about this world and the key players in it. The Muse themselves are ancient characters, of course: how did you freshen them up and put your own twist on them?

Mortal Musings is a paranormal romance, technically, though I think of it as a contemporary romance with a paranormal twist: one of the characters is a muse. She’s frustrated by the lack of appreciation of humans, and her latest charge (a blocked writer) is frustrated by the supposed absence of muses in general. Mix their irritation with a bit of magic, and suddenly she’s trapped in the mortal word with him! Now suddenly they both have to figure out how to deal with each other, and in the muse’s case, she also has to learn what it means to be human.

Next: I’m eager to know about MM’s journey! 

Well, remember what I said about that info-graphic? 😉 My senior year of high school, I took an independent study creative writing course. The idea was that I’d write a novel that year. A ways in, I had to turn something in, and I had nothing written, so I was sitting in the school library staring at the blinking cursor, and my mind started wandering to the idea of muses and inspiration, so I decided to have my main character wonder the same thing. All I knew at that point was that it’d be a romance (I’d been reading them for something like 4 years at that point, and I already loved the genre)—no idea where I was going, no plan, nothing. My poor teacher suffered through reading that mostly unedited draft, but I never got past about sixty pages. At university, my instructors hated this story, so it got shelved.

After I finished Mending Heartstrings, I looked back at what I had written for this, and it was kind of a disaster! But I still liked the idea and some of the plot I’d developed in writing worked, and the characters were lovely, so I started fresh with the barebones and finally this book was drafted. So from the first word, to the finished draft, to publication now, it’s been an incredibly long journey, but that’s how it goes sometimes.  

Did writing Mortal Musings require any research? What was that like, and how did you go about it? Did you consult your own Muse (and did you have to request permission from the Muse Board to write this, hmmm, or have Muse Lawyers sent you Cease & Desist letters???)? 🙂

Short answer: not really. I looked at some geography to make sure my fake town near Denver made sense, and a little bit about what wait-staff actually have to do, but otherwise this world is so focused on these people, on a simple life in a small town, that there wasn’t much research required. (And if my muse has tried to communicated with me, it seems like s/he’s learned from Alexandra’s mistake, so s/he isn’t forcing the issue! 😉 )

Lots of scenes take place in a diner or in a kitchen, and you’ve got some marvelous descriptions of various meals (mmm, hollandaise…). What makes those places so central to your story? Why did you choose those places as opposed to others? Do you think there’s a connection between food and writing? (mmm, chocolate…) I’d also love you to talk about Allie’s connection with nature.

They do, don’t they? I love food, no joke, but also consider how important sharing meals is in just about every culture. It’s how we get to know each other, it’s how we grow to trust each other (or, y’know, not, if people are poisoned…), and it’s everything from welcoming to intimate. A small-town diner was a great temporary option for a muse with no work experience, which would also allow her to spend time around all those struggling artist regulars and still get to know more about life in this realm. Plus, what’s more human and mortal than needing nourishment/food?

When it comes to nature, I was really thinking about the creation of the world (chaos or planned, either way, it’s a beautiful system), and about how often we writers lock ourselves away in a tiny bedroom or office. Alexandra as a mythical being is tied intimately to that same impetus that created the world, so for her, nature and creativity and inspiration are all mixed in together. Being outside, experiencing the world, it’s not only reinvigorating but it also provides material to draw from, and therefore inspiration, so that’s something she really pushes in the book.

The Muse at one point says, “Reading brings distraction and comfort to many. It allows for a profound form of escape even without a physical parallel. For those in desperate situations, books can save lives, by providing hope, companionship, or simply an outlet. Of all forms of creativity, literature is the most transformative for and embracing of its audience.” Was the Muse borrowing your voice there? Do you think something similar might be said about writing?

I definitely agree with her in many ways, but as a musician, I may have to disagree a bit as well. Those are Alexandra’s words, not mine. 😉 I think writing, composing music, creating a sculpture, painting—the general creation of art—is very different from what she’s describing here, which is all about the audience’s experience of the finished product. While we as creators may go on an incredible journey with the creation, Alexandra is making the point that that journey remains in many ways invisible to the audience.

You quite boldly tell your story from TWO points of view, Brett’s and Alexandra’s. What was it like writing two points of view? what challenged you about it? What made you decide to go that route?

Romance is most often told in two perspectives because of the simple fact that there are two people, each going on a journey, growing, changing, and we’re interested in experiencing how each one moves from their own starting point to being ready and able to love this other person. The challenging thing is making sure that they continue to travel a distinct path from each other—so they don’t end up seeming to have one mind—while still bringing them to that same point of happiness and love.

Let’s talk about publishing. You’re no newcomer: you’ve previously released a collection of poetry as well as the 2014 novel Mending Heartstrings. MH was published by Swoon Romance; MM is indie. What made you go with Swoon Romance for MH and a different direction this time? Have you ever considered the “traditional” approach, i.e. querying agents? what has been positive about the methods you’ve chosen? what’s challenged you? How would you advise writers who are ready to think about publication?

Poetry is a different world, and it’s basically impossible to sell. I put the collection out so the pieces weren’t languishing in an old notebook, but traditional just wasn’t the right path there.

For novels, I lean instinctively to the traditional path*, and I have queried agents with no luck so far, though I often hear variations of: “This is great, but it’s just not for me to represent.” For Mending Heartstrings, while participating in an online pitch event (#AdPit), I got some bites from publishers. I wasn’t expecting it but decided to see where it led, which was publication! While in general I would love an agent and I know a good one will be an asset long-term, I also knew I could handle things like legalese and contract negotiations. And, I’ve noticed many publishers and agents seeming out-of-sync on what they want to acquire, so for better or worse I didn’t hold off on a publishing offer for lack of an agent.

Mortal Musings went a bit differently, because I kept seeing agents comment that paranormal romance wasn’t selling and they weren’t acquiring it. So, I queried publishers and received 3 offers. Contract negotiations take ages, but they also tell you so much about the people you’ll be working with, and in all three cases there were glaring problems I was unable to overlook. One publisher became downright rude, one tried to strong-arm me (likely because I don’t have an agent, which is a disappointing approach), one flat-out refused to negotiate despite some very non-standard clauses. I did my research, I spoke to authors who worked with these publishers, and I tried to negotiate in good faith, but it just wasn’t working out. Plus, *I believe hybrid authors have it right in today’s publishing climate. So I decided to put my faith in myself and publish independently for this book.

My advice for anyone pursuing publication would be to do the research so you know what you’re getting into, and absolutely never sign a contract because of promises made that aren’t actually in the contract. The only thing that ultimately counts is what that legal document says, and hoping for the best because the person negotiating with you makes a bunch of promises or “seems nice” may end up locking you into bad situations, harming your career, and possibly leaving you financially indebted in the process. The other big tip would be never to sign a contract you don’t understand thoroughly, even if you have an agent—have the agent explain pieces you don’t understand! (And if you need some help, you can check out my Publishing Contracts series.)

Marketing is crucial, clearly, and we’re excited to be at the front of that effort with you, celebrating your launch right here at FF. What have you got in the works? How’s that going? what are your expectations? Are you excited? scared? confident? nervous? bouncing off the walls?

Thank you so much for helping me with the launch of this book!! As I mentioned before, Flash! Friday was one of the first communities I found online when I recommenced writing, and despite my recent absence, I’m so grateful to have your support!

I have many plans in the works, including a Facebook release party (Thursday, 4pm-7pm Pacific time) for which I hope you will all join me! I also put the book up on NetGalley, to get some reviews right out of the gate and hopefully build buzz. Otherwise, since I’ve already said so much here, you can check out my detailed post on everything going on this week.

I’m excited but terrified—marketing really isn’t my thing, and I’m nervous every time I hear someone new is reading my book (because what if you hate it?!?), but that’s all part of the package nowadays, whatever the publishing path.

What’s next for you?

I have another romance finished, a follow-up in the world of Mending Heartstrings, so we’ll see where that book finds its way. Otherwise, next is just writing more. My current WIP is actually not a romance, believe it or not, but I also have a few more ideas for romances kicking around. Whichever types of stories I go on to, I hope I’ll have a chance to write all these ideas and truly do them all justice.

Bonus question! Now it’s totally time to namedrop. Who are your biggest supporters? Who inspires you? Who would you like to thank for helping you get where you are? How can we as a writing community support you?

Ack! I’m terrible at namedropping! I’m so grateful to my family, some incredibly supportive friends, and to the lovely people (like Rebekah and you all!) whom I’ve met online, but in many cases there’s nowhere to link, and I’d be mortified if I forgot someone specific. So, I hope these people know who they are, and I definitely try to express my gratitude to each one every chance I get. (Thank you!)

As for advice, I think my top 3 tips would be:

  • Don’t listen blindly to everyone’s advice or opinions, no matter how established they are in the industry, or how encouraging/discouraging they are.
  • Absolutely never skip the editing & revising parts of the process.
  • When you have a project that matters to you and in which you’re confident, don’t look at only one publishing path to the exclusion of others; research and consider them all, since each project may need to find its own way.

And my top 3 tips for supporting authors are:

  • Read the book
  • Spread the word (books make great gifts!)
  • Leave reviews!

As for supporting me, if you’ve read this far, you’re already amazing! There are some giveaways happening via Twitter today (details here), and I’d truly love to celebrate with you at my release party on Thursday!

YOUR TURN, writers!! Have any questions for Aria? Comments? Leave a note below AND earn a chance at a free copy of Mortal MusingsCongratulations again, dear Aria. Thanks for dishing about this amazing accomplishment!

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Flash! Friday Vol 3 – 26: WINNERS

I hope nobody’s too terribly comfy out there in flash fiction world: we’re winding down the first half of Year Three and prepping for the very, very exciting second. We’ve already announced your new dragon captains, and we’re planning to celebrate their inauguration with a SHEBANG! Coming up in the next couple of weeks we’ve got a couple of Spotlight interviews you are really going to love; on June 26 we’ve got a panel of uber fabulous guest judges; and then on July 3 we’ll start the next season with a BRAND NEW, SUPER SPARKLY contest format! We are so looking forward to challenging y’all flash phenoms in a whole new way. 

Alas, before we get to all that yumminess, we’ve still a bit of ickiness to endure: namely, saying farewell to the outgoing captains. Today it’s Dragon Team Two, Mark King & Tamara Shoemaker. Their passion for flash fiction and the flash fiction community exploded across the skies each time they held the gavel; it’s impossible to have poured more heart into studying your stories than they have. Mark and Tamara, you have been magnificent at every turn. Please accept our deepest thanks for your time and all that creative teeth-gnashing. You are amazing. Thank you.  

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Dragon Captains Mark A. King/Tamara Shoemaker say: 

Alas, our time has drawn to a close, and as we’ve looked back over our time as judges for Flash! Friday, we’ve been amazed all over again by the magnitude of talent that has been displayed on this page over and over again. You’ve written your hearts for us, and we’ve so enjoyed the experience of delving into each story and reveling in every world that unfolded before our awed gazes. Truly, we are sad to end our time here, but a hearty thanks to each one of you for making it all so worth it. Thanks to our Dragon mother, who unselfishly gives of her time to make this board what it is, and I (Tamara) thank you, Mark, for being the best possible judging partner a person could ever ask for.

Over our time, each week we were up to judge, we wished we could choose more winners than we were allowed. So on our last time, we went back and picked out three from various weeks – the “Unsung Story Awards.” These, for one reason or another, didn’t make the final list the week they were entered, but they stuck in our heads, and we hoped to give them a little recognition this time.

And now, before I use up too many more tissues, one last time, here are our results.

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UNSUNG STORY AWARDS

For One of the Most Thought-Provoking Titles Submitted to Us: Vol 3-18, Foy S. Iver, “The Girl Unheard Becomes Unseen.”

Best Ending Ever Because It Includes a Really Awesome Old Man Who Embraces a Slice of Life: Vol 3 – 9, Voima Oy, “Take Two.”

Jailbird Santa as Best Character: Vol 3 – 2, Peg Stueber-Temp and Tea, “Calling All Cars!”

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SPECIAL MENTIONS

For Absolutely Sublime Writing: Foy S. Iver, “My Heart Was a Pomegranate.”  

For Cheeky Humour & Most Hilarious Ending Line: David Shakes, “It Don’t Look Like No Chicken.”

For a Story That Had a Bit of Everything (and crop circles are fab, obv): Dylyce Clark, “Crop Circles.”

For Most Chilling Benediction: Steph Ellis, “Night Office.”

For Best Angels-as-Inspectors: Firdaus Parvez/PositiveThoughts1, “What You Sow…

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HONORABLE MENTIONS

A.J. Walker, “The Reaping Sowing Thing.” 

TS – The sheer cheekiness of this piece was what caught my attention. It was a simple set-up of what a normal date night between a farmer and his girlfriend would look like, until lo and behold, they have to duck and cover when the angry farmer’s wife appears on the scene with her muddy boots. This was simple, and different, standing out from the crowd. It stuck in my memory, and since I have a memory like a sieve, that’s hard to do. Nicely done. 🙂

MK – I read this many times and each time it just got better. I loved how the first time I read it, it read like a romantic date between a man and his wife, pushing to boat out for their date night (oh, how romantic and sweet). Then the ending made me smile, and it was a clever use of writing technique. However, I then went back and saw more elements (like the fact that the gentleman was a farmer, eating his own produce). Very intelligent writing all round. Well done.

Aria Glazki, “On the Job.” 

TS – D’oh! You caught me in my weakness for anything dragonly, and especially as I’ve been immersed in introducing my new dragon book to the market, my mind just couldn’t stray TOO far from those beautiful winged beasts. How thrilling to find such a lovely story about the creatures. This one, too, stood out from the pack of stories for its inventiveness. This sentence read in my mind like a big-screen movie: “Iridescent wings flapped as I entered the mammoth barn, and I paused until they stilled.” I love farmers because they give us a lot of good things, but I think I may have just found my favorite type of farmer: the dragon farmer. Nicely written!

MK – It’s strange as I tried to look for an image of a Dragon Farmer to post on Twitter Friday evening, but I couldn’t find a suitable one. I thought my fellow judge would adore this story and I saved it especially for her as I know how fully immersed she has been in the world of these magical creatures. I also really enjoyed the line that Tamara has already mentioned. Well done on the very creative take.

Michael Wettengel, Serpentine Ambition.” 

TS – Now this was an interesting viewpoint: the narrator (at least to my understanding) is perhaps the devil, that ancient serpent, who’s peddling his oil as he farms immorality across the industrial globe. The depth of this piece is astounding. Even after several read-throughs, I still found new gems each time to savor. I love the last line in particular with the image of the snake who tries to sell them his oil for fifty dollars a bottle. Brilliant word play here. Well done!

MK – I thoroughly enjoyed the tone of the piece. It was hinting at malevolence but with a cheeky, mischievous grin. “Pax Ambrosia, a cream so miraculous it puts God out of a job”. Tamara and I discussed this, and we both came to similar conclusions. Is this a real person with evil intent or an evil creature living in our world? It doesn’t really matter, as the story weaves a tale of modern marketing techniques, viral internet trends and social commentary on our desires. “Instagram exploded. Facebook almost melted down. People were setting up ladders just to read our tagline written into streetlights.” Fab work all round.

 

THIRD RUNNER UP

Rachael Dunlop,The Turn of Your Hand.” 

TS – I’m a long-time admirer of exquisite Italian marble, so when I read this story, I immediately had a fleshed-out, full-color picture of the details in “…the fine-milled thin-veined marble.” I love the correlation of the early-on farming of the plenty (the marble from the Italian hills) to the plenty that resides in his kitchen. The last line puts such a nice twist on the piece to pull out the meaning with clarity and conciseness. Well put together. I really enjoyed this. Well done.

MK – I once worked in a place of marble columns and halls and it was a magical place to spend time. So, I could thoroughly relate to looking at the ‘fine-milled thin-veined marble’ and pondering where it came from and how it got such beauty. But the beauty in this piece is not so much about the marble or the words; it’s all about the journey of the character and the depth the writer has incorporated into a micro story—a story that spans generations, transverses family trades, moves across continents and ultimately gives us a warm feeling at the end. Simply wonderful.

SECOND RUNNER UP

Peg Stueber-Temp and Tea, “You Know You’re Singing This Song.”

TS – I don’t know if I remember the passage of even one week in the last seven years of being a mom where this song wasn’t stuck in my head at least once. So… thanks. For that. 😉 Ee-I-ee-I-Oh, I did enjoy the fun feel of this piece. I may or may not have laughed out loud over the “cacophony of brays, snorts, peeps, moos and oinks.”

And I love how Mack takes his final revenge on the animals that have drowned him in never ending brain vibrating irritation: he becomes a chef, and I bet (even though the story doesn’t say), that one or two of those animals might have found their way onto a plate. –Apologies to any vegetarians. 😉 Nicely done. Now I’m going to go drown out “Old MacDonald” with something infinitely more enjoyable, like “The Wheels on the Bus.”

MK – I saw this and smiled. A few times recently I have tried to incorporate songs as a theme of my stories and really enjoyed how they made the reader respond. The writer has picked a song here that was always going to spin around in our heads all day. It’s totally on-theme, and the writer has crafted something that is memorable, humorous, yet also deals with the progression of character. I’m not sure what the bakeries in Virginia do differently than the bakeries in England, but I’m scared that my fellow judge thinks it’ll involve the use of animals on plates. 🙂 Remind me not to eat bread at Tamara’s if I ever find myself in that part of the world 😉

FIRST RUNNER UP 

Casey Rose Frank, “For the Dreamers.”

TS – This piece had me from this line: “I feel like I could slice my fingertips across it.” The whole story is rife with exquisite imagery, and I love the fact that it’s talking of a writer planting his/her “garden,” each word a seed, each story a crop to be harvested by the next reaping reader. Those last two lines encapsulate so well the struggle of every writer who plants their first few ideas on paper or their first few sentences. The idea is outside the box and extremely creative; I so loved this take. A story showing phenomenal mastery of imagery and an excellent job.

MK – I adored this story. This is the story of us, as writers and readers. It is so creative and stunningly beautiful. ‘Is it possible to be lonely in a sea of infinite possibilities?’ (as writers, we ultimately write alone, yet have unlimited worlds to craft). ‘Cultivate’ (yes, it’s such a great nurturing word, but also draws visions of a cultivator so sharp it could slice you). ‘Sometimes the people escape, but they’re not real people’ (our characters so real, yet only in our minds as they curl on paper, ‘fledgling dreams, questions in the eyes until they begin to curl at the edge’). Such a fantastic piece I feel like I want to print it and add it to my wall of inspiration. But, the story is wrong. ‘It’s hard times for the dream makers.’ – far from it. You have everything you need (as the writer has so deftly demonstrated), right here, on Flash! Friday. 🙂

And now: joining the Quad Club at long, long last with her FOURTH win (but her first win since Jan 2014) it’s Flash! Friday

DRAGON WINNER

MARGARET LOCKE!!!

for

“The Ties That Bind”

TS – This piece pulled me in from the get-go with stunning cultural images of the narrator’s rice farmer grandfather. There’s such a sensory tone — I can almost feel the fatigue of a bent back, the strain of making a crop, a business from nothing. The author follows it up with a one-two punch–his father, also crouching, this time in fear, hiding from the bullets of what I assume is Vietnam or at least some war. I love the pride that comes through in the next sentence. “I refused to crouch… to bend for the old ways.” In his pride, he transcends his parentage. He didn’t just embrace his grandfather’s farm or his father’s fights; he became the farmer by providing sustenance for his family; he became the fighter by surviving the struggles that come with new adventures – a business, making ends meet, doing without to make do.

There’s a journey in this. The narrator begins by distinguishing himself from his father and grandfather, illustrating how they are different, and then bringing it full circle to realize that yes, he IS different from them, but the only reason why he has arrived where he has is because he’s embraced his inheritance. Lovely writing, deep and sensory. Wonderful job.

MK – The farming take was incredibly powerful and transported me to another place and another time. But this story is all about how much has been crammed into those 200 (ish) words. We have a feature-length, wide-screen, Ultra High Definition film conjured from words that are said and words that are left behind. It felt like the synopsis of an Oliver Stone masterpiece. This is how to write a story with layers, depth and back-story.

Highlights include, “My grandfather died in those rice fields, hands gnarled, knees perpetually bent(heart-breaking images), “village raid that didn’t distinguish between enemy and innocent(the injustice of war). Then moving on to the conclusion, “arguing their worth to the butcher beside me. And I’ll do it again, and again, and again.And, “I shall pay homage to the family that came before me, their sacrifices, their struggles, their victories, their defeat.

On-theme, but also incredibly unique, powerful, cinematic and highly emotive. Congratulations to you.

Congratulations, dear Margaret! You are an outstanding writer, and you are a faithful, beloved, and highly valued member of the FF community. It’s a joy to all of us seeing you don the dragon tiara (you make it look good!). Here’s your updated winner’s page and your winning tale on the winners’ wall. Please stand by for questions for Thursday’s #SixtySeconds feature. And now, here is your winning story:

The Ties That Bind

When Grandfather was a boy, he crouched for hours in the fields, watering the rice paddies to make sure his family was fed.

When father was a young man, he crouched for hours in the grasses, shielding his siblings from the bullets whizzing by.

When I was a boy, I refused to crouch, refused to bend for the old ways.

I didn’t care about farming, didn’t care about tradition. I didn’t care about anything but myself.

My grandfather died in those rice fields, hands gnarled, knees perpetually bent.

My father died before I ever knew him, victim of a village raid that didn’t distinguish between enemy and innocent.

I wasn’t going to be them, my ancestors, faded like yesteryear’s photographs.

I wasn’t. My pride said no.

Until I looked into mother’s eyes, those weary eyes aged beyond her years.

Until I felt my sisters’ hands in mine, as they looked to me for support, for safety, for sustenance.

I crouch down today, inspecting these chicken feet, my chickens, arguing their worth to the butcher beside me. And I’ll do it again, and again, and again.

I shall pay homage to the family that came before me, their sacrifices, their struggles, their victories, their defeat.

I understand now.

I am proud.

FFwinner-Web

Flash! Friday Vol 2 – 47: WINNERS

Hurray!! Isn’t results day a blast?? Thanks to the hardy folks who ventured into the strange (and curiously chocolate-tasting) waters of Flash! Friday this week. It’s a great pleasure reading the stories of regulars & newbies alike. Here’s to a long future of flash fiction addiction together!

Speaking of NaNoWriMo (because if you’re a WriMo like me, everything you read in November relates in some way): this post would be a fantastic place to share your progress thus far. You can track my own journey in the little widget in the sidebar over there, but I’ll comment below too. It’s not pretty. But it’s fun. 

YOU’RE RUNNING OUT OF TIME to throw your hat in the ring to be a judge in Year Three. We’ve got some heroes already, but not enough (looking for EIGHT). Will you please consider supporting Flash! Friday in this way? Details here

Final (tragic) note: how to thank a judge like Aria Glazki, who has so faithfully and tirelessly sifted through your masterpieces for these past months? I can’t think of a way, other than to say YOU’RE AWESOME, ARIA!!!!! and thank you from the bottom of my heart. I can’t wait to read your own stories again! It’s more than ample consolation for losing you as judge. Thank you for everything.      

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Judge Aria Glazki says: What a whirlwind this experience of judging has been, in terms of both the emotional rollercoaster guaranteed from reading each week’s stories, and the unique combination of fear of making the “wrong” choices and pleasure of highlighting my favorites.  This community is so strong, not only in your individual talents or even the sense of camaraderie and support, but also in your willingness and ability to learn from each other so as to grow as writers. The intimidation I felt when our amazing host Rebekah first asked me to serve as a judge has been replaced by an equal, or perhaps greater, sense of intimidation at soon rejoining you all among the ranks of writers.  Nevertheless, it’s been a pleasure!

Now for this week’s stories. When I first saw the prompt, I had absolutely no idea what you would all concoct — and even still, you exceeded any and all expectations, in the variety of tones and in the imagination behind your premises. Social commentary wove its way into quite a few pieces, but without blatant moralization, provoking thought as great writing does. Ultimately, standout pieces captured emotions, claiming them and pulling them along for the duration of the story, manipulating and demanding responses as though effortlessly

SPECIAL MENTIONS

Margaret Locke (current judge panel), “Signs of Spring.” Often, extended metaphors falter, but this one was flawless, a seamless reflection of the detached devastation of this couple.

Annika Keswick, “Frozen.” Visceral descriptions and great imagery, such as: “Lashed by sound and color, I scan the gyrating mass swirling around me.”

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HONORABLE MENTIONS

Stella Turner, “Blind Faith.” This story is filled with layers and subtext right from the first sentence, which works as such a strong warning when seen in retrospect from the end of the piece. The solid social commentary was woven in subtly yet effectively, underscored by the regret of those last three words, “Wish I’d remembered.”

James Marshall VI, “The Elements of the True Faith.” The balance of solemnity (“sacred portal”; “intoned”) with such a popularly known “chant” created a nicely lighthearted piece full of humor.  

THIRD RUNNER UP

Carin Marais, “Memento Mori.” This story managed to be extraordinarily creepy (capturing souls in speaking portraits!) while remaining heartbreakingly sweet.  On the one hand, the thought of trapping a soul, preventing it from moving on, is eerie and disturbing, but Gerhardt’s concern — “She’s not in pain?” — makes it clear early on that the intent isn’t malicious, and the final image of this couple ascending to heaven together is touching (though possibly somewhat selfish). Overall, we’re kept off-kilter, bouncing between the two reactions, but in a way that encourages thought and further consideration. “Whispers cluttered the air” is also a fantastic image.

SECOND RUNNER UP

Tamara Shoemaker, “Blame Apportioned.” Talk about heartbreaking! The first line sets up a clear dynamic of a sinner (of unknown proportions) seeking redemption from the moral guide, setting the mysterious sin as the focal point.  The misdirect of the familiarity — “I knew the concern that creased the corners of his eyes” — keeps us on this fairly standard path of confession. Then we get the shivers of cockroaches, and an avalanche of hints starts us on a different path — the Father’s knowledge of the secret sin could be as innocent as seeing it in action, and yet hints at the double entendre of more intimate knowledge; the “residue of kisses” (what a perfect phrase to show how unwanted the memory is) exposes the sin; the inability of the “sinner” to confess clinches it. Suddenly we’re turned around entirely, filled with dread the narrator ultimately confirms as the title of “sinner” passes from one to the other. This ability to guide our expectations and emotions through the text sets this story apart.

FIRST RUNNER UP

Holly Geely (second week as first runner up!!), “With Improvements.” This story took the prompt in a wildly different direction than the others, capitalizing on the holiday with the allusion to Dr. Frankenstein.  The flippant dissociation of the doctor and his assistant from the atrocity that they have committed, the horror they have inflicted on this other life — “‘You’re welcome,’ Doctor Edgar said, and Buster served him a celebratory beverage” as the reanimated, patchwork monk huddles in tears — may be the most terrifying aspect of all. While the tone remains light overall, perhaps even humorous, the monk’s new reality remains clearly presented, demanding compassion from the reader where it’s missing from the other characters.

And now: for her very first time EVER (I love first time champs!), it’s Flash! Friday 

DRAGON WINNER

BRITTNI HILL!!!

for

“Seed of Life”

This story pulls no punches, dropping us right into the middle of a (hopefully) foreign situation wherein a monk is carving up a woman’s heart, and not only that, but the woman is conscious as it happens.  But as soon as we think we know the monk is the villain — he does seem to be torturing someone, after all — we’re reminded not to judge the situation too quickly, as the “surgeon” expresses empathy for his victim. A sense of dark ritual is introduced with the rule that “her heart had to be flush and ripe with excitement, or this was all for naught,” then tempered by Mikkal’s frustration, not with the the ritual, but with having to perpetuate the pain of the woman. Our understanding is demanded even more strongly when we learn this entire ordeal is to breathe life into a generation of stillborn babies. And in the final, cruel twist, we’re left saddened and horrified by the information that this ritual requires repetition, all too soon. Ultimately our sympathies are claimed by the torturer, who (unlike his victims) is obligated to repeat this horror multiple times, and who therefore remains “silent amidst the celebration.” What a full world was built here, both ex- and internally to our narrator.

Congratulations, Brittni! Below is your super sparkly winner’s badge for the wall(s) of your choosing. Here is your very own, brand new, mega fabulous winner’s page and your winning tale on the winners’ wall. Please contact me here asap so I can interview you for Wednesday’s #SixtySeconds feature. And now, here is your winning story!

Seed of Life

The monk took another slice of the woman’s heavily petalled heart. She didn’t move. Her chin simply quivered.

Mikkal wished he could ease her pain. She had to be awake throughout this entire process. Her heart had to be flush and ripe with excitement, or this was all for naught.

He peeled away another layer, but still could not see the seed. Frustrated, he wondered how much more she had to sacrifice for the hearts of the nation.

Blood trickled down her arms from the shackles above her head. Her eyes fluttered. She was drowsy, but Mikkal pressed on.

Another slice.

And another.

Until finally, nestled between the last two slices of her heart, laid the seed. He slipped it in the mouth of the first stillborn child.

“Breathe!” He shouted. And it did.

They all did.

Parents cheered.

Silent amidst the celebration, Mikkal stared at the child with the seed. He did not look forward to their next meeting.

 

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