Tag Archive | Grace Black

Sixty Seconds III with: Chris Milam

Ten answers to ten questions in 20 words or fewer. 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 Chris Milam.  Read his winning story here. Note that this is his THIRD THIRD win at Flash! Friday (woot!). Read his previous #SixtySeconds interviews as well as his bio here. Then take another minute or two to get to know him better below. (Note that three-time winners are never held to the word count rule. Chat away, Chris!)

1) What about the prompt inspired your winning piece?  Nothing revelatory with the kitchen prompt, to be honest. I instantly saw a mother and son at breakfast. I wrote the first paragraph without having any idea how to include the prisoner picture. As the story unfolded, I knew a tale of hardship steeped in love and tragedy needed a father character of some sort. The story wrote itself after that.

2) You’ve been writing for FF a good while now. How has your approach to the prompts changed since you started? I think I approach the prompts in a less literal way. Not always the case, depends on the prompt, but I always try and do something a bit different. I usually know where a high percentage of writers will go with their stories and I focus on taking a less-traveled route. In a contest, it’s important to write a story that doesn’t mirror the vibe and thoughts of others. Originality is always the goal, and one I fail at often.

3) How has writing flash affected your other writing? Writing flash fiction has certainly helped with poetry. Brevity is the key to both, and the process of condensing and excising unnecessary words applies to poetry as well. On the rare occasion when I write an essay, flash fiction can be found all over the page. Usually it’s a smear of overly-descriptive prose, a bad habit of mine, that reveals itself. Poetry, flash and nonfiction all aim to impact the reader in an emotional way. It’s the duty of words, a plunging of the reader’s mind with a profound precision.

4) In your first interview, you said you were writing a “surreal fairy tale” for your daughter. How’s that going? What are you working on these days? Well, the story for my daughter is currently languishing in my documents. It’s more laborious writing a children’s tale than I ever imagined. Hopefully, I’ll return to that story and create some magic. Time will tell. I’m currently focused on the #FlashDogs anthology. I have the rough draft of one story completed, and I’ve written the first couple of paragraphs of a second story. I’m not pleased with either one. A bit pedestrian. Plenty of time to fix them, though. And I will.

5) Besides FF :), what are your favorite writing sites? I don’t enter the weekly contests as often as I used to but a few I enjoy are: Three Line Thursday, Micro Bookends and Angry Hourglass. Also, I’m always lurking on the sites of various online magazines and journals. Always reading. Always learning.

6) What advice would you give to writers who are new to flash? What might you say to seasoned writers who haven’t won yet? To new writers: just write. That’s all you can do. Take those strange thoughts in your head and spill them across the digital vellum. Don’t be afraid to fail. We all do. But you can’t fail or succeed if you don’t write. Take a chance. Push the envelope. Create. Write. Have fun.

For the seasoned folks who haven’t won FF? It’s all subjective. Keep writing. Keep entering. I know some of the people who haven’t won. I’ve read their stories. I’ve seen their talent. Don’t let not winning yet define you. It shouldn’t. It doesn’t. Believe in your ability to work the word and keep plugging away. A crown isn’t required to be known as a fabulous writer. 

7) Tell us something about your writing life. How often do you get to write, and how do you balance writing and responsibilities?  I usually have an adequate amount of time to write; balance isn’t a major issue. My problem, at times, is motivation and self-doubt. I can easily slip into a lazy, negative mindset which isn’t conducive to writing. I’ll question my abilities, my reasons for writing and what the whole point of flash fiction is, when I’m in a dark mood. I’m always engaged in a bloody battle with my demons. It’s exhausting. Good times.

8) What’s your writing process like? When I write, it’s all about coffee, solitude and music. And doubt. I tend to take a break from a story and pace the floors like a madman. Back and forth. Yelling at myself. Sometimes out loud. Then more coffee, more words. More pacing. Look at Twitter. Fill a jar with teardrops. More coffee etc.

9) What are your biggest writerly pet peeves? I’m not a big fan of cheeky, goofball humor in a story. It’s an arduous endeavor for even the best of writers. Sometimes, a story that is all inner-monologue can be a pet peeve of sorts. I’m guilty of this one quite often. I prefer movement in a story, not just a writer’s thoughts. The whole “Show don’t tell” applies here. Twist endings can be a turnoff, at times, when not done properly. If the entire story is uprooted by an implausible turn of events at the end, it’s a waste of the reader’s time.

10) Final thoughts? Shout-outs are in order for the folks doing all the heavy lifting for the #FlashDogs anthology: Mark King, David Shakes, Tamara Rogers, and Emily June Street. Not only are they putting this massive project together, but they’re also extremely talented writers and kind human beings. I applaud them.

Quite a few writers have truly inspired me and I’ve learned a great deal from reading their work. Whether I’ve long been a fan or they’ve written something recently that caught my eye, these folks deserve a mention: Grace Black, Jacki Donnellan, Voima Oy, David Borrowdale, Carlos Orozco, Marie McKay, Steph Ellis, Foy Iver, Tamara Shoemaker, Catherine Connolly and Brett Milam. You guys can sling the prose. And to be honest, I could’ve named any #FlashDog here. Every single one of you continues to astound and inspire me.

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 – 8: WINNERS

HAPPY MONDAY! It’s Groundhog Day here in the U.S., and the headlines say the official groundhog is calling for six more weeks of winter. This is good news, actually, as this week I’ve discovered sweet potato nachos, which is clearly the perfect snowy day dish. Let’s not dash too madly from nachos to pea sprout salads, k?

Couple of reminders: this week our newest feature launches, Wednesday Warmup; starting at 12:01am Washington DC time this Wednesday, come write a quick story and flex those flash muscles. (Wouldn’t do to develop flash cramps on Friday, see.) Today’s winner’s #SixtySeconds interview has been bumped to Thursday. Coming up NEXT WEEK: the first part of our interview with Flashversary champ Maggie Duncan

 

♦♦♦♦♦

Dragon Captains Pratibha Kelapure/Sinéad O’Hart sayWhat fantastic prompts this week! The image was incredibly evocative, and the clever addition of a ‘conflict’ was inspired. A lot of the same themes turned up in the entries, as is to be expected – we had several versions of the Garden of Eden, and lots of conflicts where the antagonist turned out to be the narrator’s alter-ego – but each story dealt with the prompts in its own way, showing the usual levels of skill and dedication to the craft of flash fiction that we’d expect from the Flash Friday crew. As always, the choices involved a lot of to-ing and fro-ing between the judges, and we both had to fight for our favorites, but we’d like to think the winners’ list does a good job of representing the breadth and variety of the stories presented this week. We particularly loved how some tales recreated the feel of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, emotionally linking the struggles of their characters to the larger narrative of emigration, poverty and struggle suffered by so many during that time in history – and how often tales like these ended on notes of optimism and positivity. Eventually, the winner was chosen for its fresh, and unexpected, take on the prompts and its imaginative use of the motifs of the desert and the aching chasm between brothers, and we hope you’ll agree it was a worthy choice.

♦♦♦♦♦

SPECIAL MENTIONS

Best Use of A Tall Tale: Peg Stueber, “That’s My Story.”  This one made us grin. We loved the ‘tall tale’ motif, the hints at nerdiness, the bar setting, the dialogue, and the title. It was a fresh approach to the prompts, though the ‘conflict’ part wasn’t perhaps as clear as other stories made it; but for all that it stuck in the memory.

Best Use of Dual Perspective: David Borrowdale, “The Dust Bowl and the Mango Tree.” We enjoyed the way this story explored two sides of the same exchange and showed how easily a statement can be misinterpreted, and how devastating it can be. We thought the prompts were well handled and the farmer’s grief was subtly described. We particularly liked how the fact that there are twelve people in the starving family means different things, depending on what side of the conversation you’re on.

♦♦♦♦♦

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Tinman, First Among No-One.” This was huge fun. Many stories dealt with Adam and Eve, in some shape or form, but this was the one which stuck with us. We thought the dialog between Adam and God was brilliantly done, and the implied conflict between Adam and the yet-to-be-created Eve was a clever, oblique way of handling that part of the prompt. We also enjoyed the visual contrast between the barren landscape of the prompt and the lushness of Eden.

Grace Black, Scent of Sorrow.” We thought this was a beautiful evocation of lost love, and we also enjoyed the relationship between the two men, whose conflict is understated and dignified, but nonetheless present. We thought Carolyn was wonderfully drawn and her character, despite her absence, is the most significant in the whole story. The phrase ‘Words are moths in my mouth’ was particularly beautiful.

THIRD RUNNER UP

Tamara Shoemaker, “Cracks.” We thought this story dealt well with both aspects of the prompt – the barren, dry landscape, and the conflict between characters – and we liked the angle the author took. We also enjoyed the way the author linked the ‘cracks’ in the landscape and in the relationship between the brothers to the grief felt by the woman, whose face remained ‘smooth as granite’, betraying not a single ‘fission of weakness’ when her first husband is reported killed in action. We thought this story was emotional, but not sentimental; simple, but clever; and its use of motifs and imagery, particularly the conflicts (smoothness and cracks, barrenness and rain) made it stand out.

SECOND RUNNER UP

Emily June Street, “Dustless.” We liked this story’s take on the conflict between characters, which ultimately ends on a positive note, even if the reader has to wonder whether the characters are being unrealistically optimistic. We enjoyed that Tim’s final “We’ll make it” is ambiguous; will they make it back to the farm, or make it in their new life, or both? We thought the story invoked the desperation caused by deprivation and drought very well, and that it described the complex relationship between uncle and nephew beautifully, encapsulating Herb’s love of and exasperation with Tim in fine fashion.

FIRST RUNNER UP

David Shakes, “The Seed and the Sow.” We enjoyed this story for the Bergman-esque feel of its setting. We got a real sense of eternity and myth from the Planter and the Uprooter, and we thought they were an excellent depiction of the constants of creation and destruction that govern so much of our existence. We loved the suspense at the end – will the Uprooter do what he must and destroy the tree? If he does, what will happen to the Planter? The story has such a ‘Doomsday Clock’ sensibility, and we loved that.

DRAGON WINNER

Joidianne4eva!!!

for

“The Hanging Tree (Strange Things Did Happen Here)”

It was a hard choice between Winner and First Runner Up this week. We loved ‘The Hanging Tree’ for lots of reasons: its setting, its characterization, the darkness of its tone, the dialogue and the delicate depiction of the conflicted relationship between the brothers, which reached its inevitable, but terrible, conclusion in fine style. We loved the sense of a larger story world created here, too.

Sinéad adds: I was particularly moved by the lines at the end – ‘”And I ain’t about to break that promise’, Matthew whispered. Then he kicked the rock away.” I love that he whispers that line, making me wonder if he intends the brother to hear, and what, exactly, his promise entailed. I loved all the dialogue in this tale. I thought it was extremely evocative and emotionally understated, which underscored its power.  I loved the power play here, too; the trust placed in one brother by another, who is perhaps the physically stronger or more aggressive of the two, and the contrast between this and his almost innocent faith in his brother to do the ‘right’ thing. Pratibha said in our discussion that the story reminded her of ‘Of Mice and Men’, which I guess is apt. I found the story memorable too for how skillfully it shows how desperate Matthew has become while still depicting him in a calm, stoic way, as fits the persona of his character and the rugged, Old West setting. I found the hints at backstory chilling and fascinating – what has he done? Is it the last in a long line of unintended crime? Where should our sympathies truly lie?  This open ended conclusion clinched the winning spot for this story.

.

Congratulations, Joidianne! Hard to believe your last win was JUNE! We’re delighted to offer you your well-deserved third crown. Below is a hauntingly familiar winner’s badge for the wall(s) of your choosing. Here is also your updated winner’s page and your winning tale on the winners’ wall. Please watch your inbox for interview questions for this week’s #SixtySeconds feature. And now, here is your winning story!

The Hanging Tree (Strange Things Did Happen Here)

Matthew twisted the rope between his hands, ignoring the way that the fibres tugged at his skin as he looped it into a noose.

David watched him warily. “You sure this is gonna work?”

“It’s either this or you take your chances with the posse the Sherriff’s probably already put together,” Matthew responded before holding the noose out to his brother.

David grimaced, “You’ll be quick, won’t ya?”

“Ain’t gonna take but a second to get the picture done, then we can get it sent ‘round. Hopefully they’ll buy it.”

David didn’t say anything to that, but he did pull the noose around his neck.

“You know I didn’t mean ta’ hurt her,” David whispered and Matthew sighed because David never meant to do any of the things he did.

“Come on, let’s get this done,” he prodded finally, and David rolled his shoulders before stepping onto the rock.

Matthew tightened the rope, fingers curling around the coil as David tried to catch his balance.

“You know I love ya, right kid?”

David nodded, “I’ll buy you a drink after this one. Ya done right by me, just like you promised Ma,” he admitted.

“And I ain’t about to break that promise,” Matthew whispered.

Then he kicked the rock away.

FFwinner-Web