Tag Archive | Brett Charles Milam

Fire&Ice Sol 19/19: WINNERS

The Fire&Ice dragons say: –>THANK YOU.<– That’s really all we have to say, so if you’re pressed for time, please tuck those two words in your hearts and go on about your day knowing your words and presence meant something here.

It seems crazy that a long-defunct flash contest should crank up again, let alone that so many of the original community should return to take part. But you did, and oh, our hearts, seeing your names and hearing your voices again! Deepest thanks to our twelve judges, who went above and beyond our presumptuous, out-of-the-blue request to serve again. Thanks to:

Craig Anderson, Nancy Chenier, Stephanie Ellis, Mark King (whose heroic determination to write through old Flash!Friday prompts sealed our decision to relaunch), Eric Martell, Sinéad O’Hart, Voima Oy, Karl Russell, David Shakes, Tamara Shoemaker, Betsy Streeter, and AJ Walker

Please follow them all. Buy their books. Listen to their words. And as for you, dragon captains! dear friends: please keep on writing. Your words are fire (and ice!).

Thanks too to Carlos Orozco for banner design and Justin Hess for Fire-and-Icing our Flash!Friday dragons. And to all those who helped in myriad other ways, promoting, sharing, encouraging us, anonymizing the tales for our judges, and investing in the community by commenting so faithfully on stories: we appreciate you so much! And as always, undying gratitude goes to the unbelievably talented Susan Utley of Haunted Waters Press (whose latest issue of From the Depths just dropped, we’re excited to note!) for guiding us with your magic way back at Flash!Friday dawn.

Finally, thanks to you, the writers who in the midst of a crushing global pandemic, showed up week in, and/or week out, sharing your stories and reading others’. You are what made this venture the uplifting little corner of the Interwebs that it’s been. We are in your debt.

Last item of business: on Wednesday December 23 we will send this site & the Twitter account back to their slumber-phase. However, we will leave in place a static page with directions for how to find past posts and stories. No story shared here will ever lose its place. ❤

And now, to the final batch of winners!

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Quick note on judging: Six pairs of judges across multiple nationalities and genres took turns reading your submissions (meet the judges here). For the finale, your judges were the Fire&Ice hosts, Rebekah Postupak and Deb FoyAs 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. ♥ 


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Ice Dragon shout-outs: Every time I’ve had the opportunity to judge—at Flash! Friday before and now with Fire&Ice—I’m reminded again what a difficult, rewarding, and humbling (!) task it is. Wrestling with what makes good flash fiction, breaking down a story to its graphemic components, fighting imposter syndrome—all of it challenging but worth it. Thank you for entrusting us with your words; it’s been an honor and a joy. ♥ Many of my shout-outs overlap with the Fire Dragon’s but I’d like to give additional special mentions to Cindy Vaskova for some stellar world-building in “Mercy“, to Arcane Edison for firecracker voice in “The Last Boy Racer in the Universe“, and to Brett Milam for tenderly crafted magic in “Rocking Along“, a story that emphasizes the beauty in just being.

Fire Dragon shout-outs: Oh goodness, so many of you had me laughing out loud this weekend, including quite impolite snorts over Vicente Ruizs meta-hilarious cheat withUntitled,” Firdaus Parvezs looping narcissist in her own cleverUntitled piece, and the part impressed, part painful groans forced by Tinmans otherwise grate story, “Keeping the Flame.” –Additional shoutouts to Nancy Chenier forBelong,” with its flawless layering of the haunting surreal with the all-too real; and Mark King‘s “Londandoah(for the record, Dark Hollow Falls is one of my favorite falls anywhere! and Old Rag is dearly beloved); this story pulled off a setting mashup in a way that shouldn’t have worked, but wound up breathtakingly lovely—how did you do that?!. I’d never have guessed before 2012 that the Thames and the Shenandoah share the same water, but thanks to you and #FlashDogs, now I can’t imagine it any other way. 


HONORABLE MENTIONS

The Omega by P.A. Duncan

DF: Between the gnawing cold and the simple, very human relief of something as low-tech as snowshoes in a deadly ice-scape, I felt immediately grounded in this piece. The setting, also, is unique while still tying in to the picture prompt in a striking visual. But what stayed with me after reading “The Omega” was the vast, fully-formed universe that opens up at the end, as if this world, the sister ship, and these two characters locked in tension with one another, all exist in some future iteration of our multiverse. 

RP: It’s the imagery that captured my eye in “The Omega,” from the tiny, wrenching shroud at the opening to the color of the shrine (“a rust-red beacon”) against the snow to the fur-wrapped, dying protagonist at the end. The dueling parallels in this story, too, are breathtaking. Twin ships. Two remaining survivors. Hoshi’s hand frozen above the transmit button in contrast with the speaker’s literally frostbitten fingers. This story is just so wonderfully crafted start to finish. 

Untitled by Pippa Phillips

DF: Phenomenal characterization here! The boys, Mr. Funaki, Miss Yuki with her hair down to her feet, all of them strut, shuffle, and glide straight off the page. I love, especially, how something done in mocking cruelty, like building the arch crooked, only makes Mr. Funaki’s validation that much sweeter (and perhaps, poetically, ensures the effectiveness of the portal’s magic!). Captivating bit of flash.  

RP: I. Love. This. Story. The compelling voice (“The boys didn’t know how their teacher bagged a dish like Mrs. Funaki”) of a fantasy in 1940s LA (!). Mr. Funaki’s vibrant culture that’s both familiar and not. And the utterly vivid expression on Rinjii’s face—I can see it!—as he gazes through the arch, realizing Mr. Funaki was right but that he alone knows this. You drew me deep into this world in such a striking, memorable way, and I need to know what happens next, please.

RUNNER UP

Dayspring of the Gods by Phil Coltrane

DF: Humor is one of the most challenging forms to write, and this piece is an excellent study in how to pull it off well! There’s a punchline (and it’s good!) but the story itself isn’t sacrificed to it. Knowing the characters we’re journeying with here (and the tricks they often employ), requires an immediate re-read to peel back the layers of those last three paragraphs, let alone catch the clever hints in a name like “fellow-beard” or the meaning of a glint in the eye.

RP: “Dayspring” draws on Norse mythology and ends with a punchline: but what I love is how the story isn’t just a vehicle to reach a joke. The characters—the shakujō-wielding monk, the one-eyed, bearded sojourner—leap off my screen; their perfectly paced dialogue crackles and snaps, as does the highly visual world you’ve painted for us. You’ve taken existing myths and a classic setup, but made them beautifully your own. Reading the story (full disclosure: again and again and again 😀 ) was sheer delight.

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

FIRE&ICE WINNER

TAD KELSON (GamerWriter)!!!

for

Silence

DF – I love so, so much about this story. The tender connection between Uncle and Nephew conveyed in moments both resonant—the childlike comparison of an uncle to an Oni—and thematically cohesive—the shared haiku welcomed with praise and met with a demure response. All of it made more beautiful for the absence of punctuation, as we’re gently nudged into letting go of traditional structure with the promise that the words and line breaks are strong enough to hold the images themselves. And they are. I would read a whole novel that follows this quiet, unassuming pair from their (or their kind’s) beginning “hiding in the bottoms of strange boats” to the moment the shadows swallow one and leave the other to silence.

RP — This story seized both of us at first pass, and it refused to let us go. Even now, days later, its utter simplicity startles, engages, compels me. I love the uncle’s prosaic vulnerability against the nephew’s more optimistic deference; you can tell it’s a relationship that has steeped and simmered over the years to become this beautiful, familiar, comfortable thing. I love too all the speckles and flickers of light: the rising sun at the opening contrasted with the extinguished candle and shadows at the end. And ohhhh the worldbuilding hinted at just past the edges of sight: the uncle and nephew unseen by the living, surrounded only by shadows. It’s in Uncle’s haunting, mysterious haiku that the veil’s pulled back for just a moment, and its ancient, wandering secrets stole my own breath away. It’s loss, and family, and love, and mystery, and magic, and poetry all wrapped up in one, and a perfectly fitting story to end Fire&Ice’s run. ❤       

Congratulations, TAD! Please check your email for details about claiming your prize. Now here’s your winning story:

SILENCE

The sun is rising
Perhaps to you nephew

He had always scared me when we were younger
Like some Oni become my mother’s brother
No longer

I wish to visit town
Yes Uncle
Along our narrow streets people live their lives, unaware of us.
We move slowly down towards the rest of them

It seems so cold
Button your jacket uncle.
He once told me of how we came to this land, hiding in the bottoms of strange boats, stowaways Generations ago

Distant echoes of May the Buddha Bless You

Take down my words nephew
Yes Uncle

Candle, in the night
Unknowns seeking for others.
Never showing all

Not bad Uncle
It needs work
Well tomorrow then. Try again
Maybe

Shall we visit the blossom girls and their fields soon?
Maybe

Instead of going anywhere we find two empty benches
The gate rises in front of us
Silent, offering no answers
We sit and pay silent homage to all the others come to do the same as we

It is warmer now Nephew
His candle flickered finally, going out.
I watch, as he slowly fades away into the shadows that surrounded him his entire life
I go home alone

Fire&Ice Sol 16/19: WINNERS

§ Foy says: Results day! Results day! And the final mad word dash for all our NaNoWriMo participants. Whether you wrote 50k or 50 words (mine was closer to the latter), I hope you’re celebrating what’s been written and energized for what will be written! We’ve only three Sols left and the last Fire&Ice Flash contest promises to be a spectacular one, so bring your best writing tools and most luminous selves, and we’ll be right here waiting for you. ❤ 

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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. ♥ 


SOL 16’S JUDGES SAY:

Voima Oy:  Greetings–  I want to thank the Dragon Queens for doing Flash! Friday again. It’s such a gift! This is a good place, an opportunity to write and comment on other stories, We are creating community and connections.  It’s truly an honor to be part of this as a writer and judging.  I’m thankful for my judge partner AJ Walker, too. It’s been a pleasure! And you, the writers, thank you for all these worlds that were not here before. Thank you for sharing your stories. 

This time, I found I was really paying attention to how people used the photo. For some, the photo was a starting point for the story. For others, it was the story. In Bill Engleson‘s “Mumbai Idyll“, the photo inspired a family history, a bittersweet reverie. In Brett Milam‘s “Sweet Death“, the picture is deceptive–it seems innocent, but it’s horrifying–the sweetness and poison of antifreeze. And in Firdaus Parvez‘s untitled story–“The city was a smudge”–it really could be about that photo. There’s even a photographer in the story! It feels so real–the heat, all the people on the road. The pandemic is part of the story, too. It is happening now, yet there is this moment of sharing and kindness.


A.J. Walker: It has been a pleasure and a privilege to have been asked by the dragons to be part of the judging pairs once again with this lovely community. None of the judging has been easy and it’s nice to see the variety of stories that can come from the same prompts. It’s also been lovely to see so many of the old Flash Dogs still out writing very well indeed. But also good to see new people finding the Flash! Friday Fiction thing. All in all the dragons done good again – thank you. 

Nancy Chenier‘s “The Three“—Competition, Generosity and the truth; yes indeed. It always surprises me how the first stories can be so strong after having hardly any time to put together (we judge the stories blind after that are sent to us by the wonderful dragons so I assume it’s first if the dragons have provided the stories to us in the order they were written). Well done. Really enjoyed Laurence D‘s “Player 1. I’m not a gamer and haven’t been since back in the day with Final Fantasy VII and early World of Warcraft, but I totally get this story (made me think of the great Otherland series by Tad Williams). Helen Laycock‘s “Counting Moons– Woah! What an emotional rollercoaster and a fantastic story. I loved it the first time I read it and even more on subsequent reads. To pack a punch in so few words is a wonderful piece of work. I can see that being turned into a great longer story. Do it!

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HONORABLE MENTIONS

Afternoon Picnic IV: The Sharing by Matt Krizan

VO: So well-done–the setting, the descriptions, the details–the smell of scorched jackal fur. The sister running through the room with a blaster.  In the game, three  children are sitting quietly, sharing a banana.  I loved the contrast of violent reality and the peaceful moment in the video game.

AW: Loved the idea (lets face it we’ve all had it) that people, the gamers, are missing so much of reality all around them (this year maybe not a bad thing), funny that Arin was so made up to get his characters to get a banana whist all sorts of big things were happening around him with the boring game and exciting real life somehow being swapped. Neat.

No Camera by Betsy Streeter

VO: Here is a parent and child sharing love of video games—and a real connection in the real world.

AW: Neat story of a proud parent passing on the video game gene and the nice old style idea that not everything you do needs to be seen and documented by others as long as you know you’ve done it. You don’t need to run it over to Facebook, TikTok or Instagram. So say we all.

RUNNER UP

Silent Partners by Tinman

VO: Such a sad and powerful story. Told in gestures, the friend sighing next to him on the bus. The friends sharing lunch together. You can feel the weight of things unsaid, The things no words can say. 

AW: Beautiful, well paced story of childhood, of friendship and emotions. I loved Samir watching the football and life just going on before Neva and Renuka come on over with their bananas and silent friendship with their buddy.

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

FIRE&ICE WINNER

ELIZA ARCHER!!!

for

Sharing Gift

VO – This story is pure magic. I loved the how the three friends are introduced–“Shahla played her game and never packed a lunch. Amal ate his food and but was still ravenous. His crow bright eyes watched every bite Malia took from her banana.” The description of the  marvelous banana is so vivid and real. You pause and savor the single line paragraphs. How does a magical banana taste? Oh, the sweetness!  And you wonder, too, if the Malia can bring another one tomorrow.

AWA story of a lunchtime friendship and a magically replenishing banana; ‘… sweet. Almost like honey.’ The story was told through Malia’s eyes and with few words she painted the friendship and differences between them: Shala never having a packed lunch, Amal never having enough. The matter of fact acceptance of the magical fruit and Malia sharing her bounty with her friends is a nice touch. It could have been so easy to make her keep her find to herself. I hope that she gets a magic banana again the next day – everyone could do with a magical banana. The story was sweet’ almost like honey.

Congratulations, Eliza! Here’s your winning story:

SHARING GIFT

Shahla played her game and never packed a lunch. Amal ate his food and but was still ravenous. His crow bright eyes watched every bite Malia took from her banana. Her friends hungry silence made Malia’s jaws stiff.

Then she noticed the banana, which she thought had two bites left, emerging slowly from the peel, growing longer as she watched.

Trembling, she broke off the bitten tip and quickly ate it.

The banana continued growing, normal looking, yellow fruit.

Her friend’s seemed unaware of the miracle. She divided the newly grown banana into three portions.

“Want some?” She asked.
Thin brown fingers blossomed on either side of her.

She gave them the larger two pieces, popping the remaining chunk in her mouth.

How would magic banana taste?

It was sweet. Almost like honey. As she swallowed, sweetness seemed to grow inside her.

The empty peel lingered in her fingers, strangely warm.

She felt as full and happy as when she ate a holiday feast.

“Thanks,” Shahla murmured, smiling.
“Best banana ever!” Amal said. “Can you bring one tomorrow?”
“I’m not sure,” said Malia. “Maybe?”

Fire&Ice Sol 8/19: WINNERS

§ Foy says: For the first time since the birth of Fire&Ice, this weekend was quiet enough that I got to sit (coffee in hand!) and enjoy every. single. story y’all submitted, and I’m so grateful! As the many Hugo’ed Mary Robinette Kowal says, “Short stories are about delivering a specific emotional punch” (find her Best-Unkept-Short-Story-Secret Formula here; thanks to our beloved Fire Dragon for sharing!!), and we see y’all demonstrate that emotive power week after week after week. Don’t believe me? Just read what our judges have to say…

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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. ♥ 


SOL 8’S JUDGES SAY:

David Shakes:  What a superb image and flexible word count this week. It led to some beautiful figurative language and pushed a lot of people towards the type of fiction that floats my boat. What I wasn’t expecting was to have my equilibrium wrecked on a tumultuous sea of emotion and invention. You’ve conspired to make me laugh and then break my heart. I love and despise you all. Once again, my thanks to Nancy and I hope she forgives me for pushing towards the darker end of the listing again – it is the witching season after all! There were many overlaps with Nancy’s choices on my shortlist, so we both get to shout out to a few. The bleak metaphors in Brett Milam‘s Black Flag packed a real punch. Bart Van Goethem‘s Splinters in Space was a ten-word delight. The character of Rabbit and the whole world-building in Arcane Edison‘s Fallen Dreams left me wanting a longer piece. 


Nancy Chenier: What an evocative prompt-combo! It sparked the imagination in different ways and inspired some glorious imagery. I find myself in speculative fiction heaven, everything from aliens to androids, arks to ornithopters, plus plenty of ghosts to haunt the start of Spooktober. Thanks to all of you for letting us read your work. My heaven became hellish, though, as I had to axe-murder many favored tales to get to a short-list. Even then, I don’t think I ever had a short-list morph so wildly between readings, and again as David and I compared notes. Despite a general overlap, the hull of our team-judging ship strained as we steered it into the harbor of top contenders. We avoided the shoals, however, and came into harbor with a satisfying moorage. I have to give a shout-out to some of my special favorites this week: to GamerWriter for Untitled, which will henceforth be known (to me) as “Do Androids Dream of Electric Conspiracies?” for some vivid and clever SF. Also to Mark A. King for Old Man and the Kraken, who must’ve been taking notes in our last round and so pulled out a Hemingway allusion to craft a fine speculative tale around it. Finally,  Tinman‘s for To Travel Hopefully for giving me a good chuckle over second-rate-MacGuyver aliens. 

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HONORABLE MENTIONS

Necessity is the Mother by P.M. Coltrane

DS: Well, folks, I cried – and I just wish that the writer had ended it before the final word of cry – because it’s so beautifully done they didn’t need it. I am a sucker for repetition and the banal meal choices, children’s songs and our child’s inventions all hid the gaping hole in their lives – the missing thread that threatened to unweave it all. 

NC: The parallel construction specifically detailing the hollow ritual made this one float to the top; I loved the way the bedtime songs echo the child’s creations and how the father’s bright exchanges with his daughter stand in painful contrast to the narration (fall apart, sore, a waiting babysitter who gets paid extra for meatloaf). The sharp description highlights what is missing and the result is heartbreaking.

Dissent by Tamara Shoemaker

DS: Dragged in by the first line, the extended metaphor of this was just brilliant and the quality of every word choice just so on point! My favourite line was ‘Weave together answers that defy the inevitable’ and that’s where I’ll end my praise. This piece took on personal meaning for me – it resonated – and that’s what good writing should do. 

NC: A vibrant conceit of a ship straining against the storm of circumstance in a craft of the will’s invention compels us through with drivingly dynamic verbs, and leaves me breathless (and ready to push back against the tide).

RUNNER UP

Aftermath by Pippa Phillips

DS: The device of the hypotheses was a good one – a rational mind trying to come to terms with an irrational fate. The hope of the second hypothesis crushed by the fourth as the mind unravels and the world becomes more surreal. One of the tales that used the conspiracy theorist as the central narrator, this one took the lead as the insight coupled with the imagery was superb.

NC: The format effectively weaves together a story of the narrator’s fate while hinting at familiar conspiracy theories, each iteration painting a clearer picture of the narrator’s mind as s/he reveals the intriguing details of their environment. The tale moves from what seems the birth of a typical conspiracy (a la the Mary Celeste) in the first hypothesis to a religious theory in the second (I laughed at the “fiat” of nature having its limits compared to divine intervention) to paranoia (like an alien experiment on this poor human) back to a spiritual hypothesis that lands the narrator in hell—tying it all together by coming back to the flame.

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

FIRE&ICE WINNER

MARIE MCKAY!!!

for

The Dark

DSThe line ‘Dark is a country’ really took me in, as did its use of the prompt and association with the Bermuda Triangle. A story that lives up to its title, the only criticism Nancy and I had was it was perhaps too short as we both wanted more. The rich language of the first paragraph takes time to fully appreciate, but the real kicker is the hopelessness in the ending. A diabolical inventor. Stay away from thin air and cold waters.As dark as treacle laced with the rum that dripped from the ceilings this was – and that’s a damned good thing. 

NC — As I tend to stuff the word count to bursting, I’m ever in awe of those folk who can pack a full story into a small space economically, without draining the power from it. This one did. Cracking description (oh, and I wanted more!), and it caught me up right from the opening (a bottled “ghost ship” that “haunts” a corner in a room of captivity), and the imagery carries through (rum, skeletal sailors, walking the plank) like an infernal Pirates of the Caribbean ride. The fire-prompt use is wonderful, in particular the way you flipped the conspiracy of the Bermuda Triangle into an invention of the antagonist (again, compellingly described as “a shadow knitted by darkness”). I even felt for the courage-summoning protagonist. Well done.

Congratulations, Marie! Here’s your winning story:

THE DARK

A ghost ship in a bottle haunting the room from the corner. It’s all I see for a week? A day? A second? Until a shadow knitted by darkness, laughs like a bawdy sailor. Rum drips from the roof while skeletons perch on dusty stools.
He tells me he invented The Triangle. He plucks people from thin air and cold waters.
Dark is a country he says and I feel like I’m walking the plank. I find the courage to ask for mercy.
Too late. You’ve been collected he says.