Tag Archive | Jenn

Flash! Friday Vol 3 – 44: WINNERS

Thanks for your patience, y’all! Super long day here at the lair. Good news is, we’ve got lots of delectable winners, so I’ll keep my yapping to a minimum this week, except to say YOU’D BETTER COME BACK TOMORROW: on the #Spotlight docket we’ve got Andye from Reading Teen and YADC. She’s a YA book blogger as well as the founder of an incredibly active “YA Book Lovers” group in Washington, DC, and she’s got quite a few things to say about books these days and what keeps her reading a new author. You won’t want to miss this frank, inside-the-brain-of-a-seasoned-reader post.

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Many thanks to Dragon Team Seven, Nancy Chenier & IfeOluwa Nihinlola, for their courage in taking on a vast field of Mr. Darcys to choose their favorite (how does one choose a favorite Mr. Darcy?!). They say:   

NC: I haven’t had this much fun livening up a rainy day since curling up with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. I love, love, love the kaleidoscope of stories that emerged from Jane Austen as a starting point. Thanks yet again to Holly Geely and her swift powers of anonymizing so we over here at Dragon Team 7 could set to blind-judging these spectacular tales in a timely manner.

IN: It seems I always come here, in these comments, to gush about what wonderful stories get poured out here weekly. But I can’t help it. Thank you all, again, for a round of fun, charming, wonderful stories. And a great thank you to Holly Geely who strips these stories and makes them easier to judge. 

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SPECIAL MENTIONS

Most Impressive Parody of an Overwrought Victorian Title: Peg Stueber, “Whereas The Olympiad from their Throne on High, do Design to Demarcate the next Branch of the Family Tree“. Also, an appreciative nod for depicting how a mixed pantheon might behave had it emerged in the 19th century.

Bowl-Me-Over-With-A-Metaphor Award: Richard Edenfield, “Treehouse“— Oh, that quality of chandelier light! Oh, what a devastating turn Astoria executes! Oh, what a delivery from Mr. Blankenship! So. Much. Fun.

Most Rollicking Austen Mashup since Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Eliza Archer, “Austen in Space“. The preservation of the primary quirks of multiple characters in so small a space is splendid.

Most (Appropriately) Crackling Language Award: Marie McKay, “The Dance” — Such sprightly diction! Birl, whip, snap, scuff and tap! Demented skirl of bagpipes. This little scrap of folklore danced right off the page.

Best Mess: Jenn, “No Regrets.” This story was wonderful and would have been an HM except for its missing the required word count. A whole wedding is contained in this story, in one sweeping take, like a montage of well taken pictures.

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HONORABLE MENTIONS

Casey Rose Frank, Not Suited for Suitors.

NC: My first take of this tale has the tension ramping up between mother and daughter, with the addled “aunt” being used as a tool for the mother’s cruelty. Their conflict rakes across surface of the polite words like talons. The reader gets the impression this isn’t the first time the mother has used the odd “aunt” to torture her daughter, a transparent ploy to deflect her own dissatisfaction over her daughter’s apparent unmarriageability. In this reading, the “I love yous” passed between them feel excruciatingly insincere. Here we have a succinct “show” of passive-aggressive cruelty — one of the only expressions of power available to women in times when a girl’s value remained solely in her marriageability. Both players are subject to it. This is the way Mother lets off steam from the pressure of caring for her sister. With the reality of the “aunt” being a parrot, sympathy shifts. It’s the mother who is addled and earnest, and the daughter who is burdened with being the caregiver.   

IN: So this story is about a mother and daughter talking about a would-be suitor for the daughter, in the presence of an aunt who serves as a witness (and a tool) in their expert-level game of passive aggression. But there’s just enough suggestions in this story to make me side-eye its realist intentions. A suitor from a lovely plot of land. A chestnut squirrel shooed away from a perch outside the sitting room window. Methinks this “aunt” may be as human as the squirrely suitor.

Michael Seese, “The Garden Factory.” 

NC: My favorite part of this is how the repetition of the maxim on knowledge goes from seeming like an arrogant declaration at the beginning to one of self-deprecation at the end. Also, how “knowledge” takes on its more concrete iteration in its notorious arboreal form. The concept of fallible demiurge plays out wonderfully in the image of a more-or-less benevolent CEO mulling over the pros and cons of his/her enterprise, gaining my reserved sympathy as I read. Of course, from the title (and from the enduring cleverness of the dragon-flashers), I knew there was more going on. The reveal that he is indeed a demigod proves a satisfying one and makes the maxim come alive.

IN: The narrator of this story, the CEO/Manager of an enterprise, sounded like a grumpy god with a creator’s version of buyer’s remorse. But, really, that is just what he is. He goes from cocky, to ambivalent, to sorry all in a day’s work. The writer of this piece takes us through all that using what reads like the opening monologue to a tragic play set in an Olympus that is staged to look like a factory. Now, we just have to wait for the rest of the play to unfold.

Paz Spera, “Brunch.”

NC: The final line made me laugh out loud.  The conflict in novels from the Regency era so often play out in conversations, where the dialogue becomes a duel of words between the two players, the point of the duel not immediately apparent. “Brunch” accomplishes a such a verbal fencing over the unspoken challenge as to who has the most insufferable mother. This story is a perfect illustration of the line from Fight Club noting that a person doesn’t really listen to what other people say, but instead spends the time waiting for his/her turn to speak. One of the most hilarious bits for me was in the way the men appeared with her mother in clandestine locations: the shed, at the breakfast table, then in the sauna. One cannot shake the suspicion that these men might have been the mother’s lovers first.

IN:  We’ve all been part of, or overheard, these conversations where the participants seem to be in a game of “my suffering is worse than yours.” Those bizarre dialogues that are like a game of verbal ping-pong, each return trying to be harder than the previous till one person smashes the conversation out of play and admits defeat. Now imagine two ladies in this game, and the ping-pong is their mothers trying to set them up in the weirdest of ways and you’ll see how this made for one hilarious read.

 

THIRD RUNNER UP

Steph Ellis, “Pruning.”

NC: I admit, it took me a second read to crack open this tale. Even in my initial confusion, I was drawn in by the conflict over the granddaughter, intrigued by the rewritten will, won over by the tight imagery in the pruning especially as it was coupled with Samuel’s strange relish in the work. I got to the closing line and thought, “Okay, wait, what exactly is being pruned here…?” Once I reached that “Ohhh” moment (which was more of a rub-palms-together-in-sadistic-glee moment) this one became a favorite. The third read (and all successive readings) made me squirm and wince as I re-imagined the last two paragraphs: snagging blades, hacking shears, the description of the wilted matriarch (“she splintered easily”!!!), the heaping detritus. Cutting out the rot from the family tree that would stand in the way of Jenny’s legacy. Such ruthlessness. So very well played. 

IN: Confession: this story bamboozled its way into my list. I had no idea what it was all about, even after the third read, yet I couldn’t leave it out of my list. How do you drop this off: “The blades snagged, the twig too dense for his weak steel. Samuel fetched his shears, hacked back to the root of the problem, tossed the cuttings onto the growing heap of detritus. Next came the matriarch, her petals, long-since faded, adorning a mere husk. She splintered easily.” Nah. Don’t ask about what old Samuel is hacking. Just know the story is here—all great imagery and dark mystery—for good.

SECOND RUNNER UP

Tamara Shoemaker, “Competition” 

NC: The craft of this one inspires pure admiration. It really is flawless writing: the consistent use of the Darcy mug as a symbol; the concrete imagery finessed to convey tone, conflict as well as physical descriptions (knuckles “white where they grip the skin”, “pain slicing his expression”, “wrap my fingers around the warm acceptance”) ; the irony in the husband’s assuming that there must be another flesh-and-blood man turning his wife away from him; the tight dialogue; the fabulous opening line echoed yet transformed in the final line from married fragility to the “warm acceptance” of single-hood. I liked the voice of the POV character so very much: the honesty in her recognition that she’s the cruel one about to hurl painful words, the wry humor sneaking in on “This may be a long night”, the way she allows him to believe it’s another man because that would be easier on him. The husband is very much a Mr. Collins-like figure, and like in the source novel, the Elizabeth-like MC refuses him, but here it is in favor of the idea of a Mr. Darcy, an idea that allows her full self-expression.

IN: How do you write perfect flash fiction? An opening line that cannot be improved upon. Dialogue that is well tuned without wasting words. Short declarative sentences ramp up the story’s tension with simple descriptions. Characters who are, somehow, made whole in such a confined space. A feeling of melancholy set without resorting to any sentimental shorthand. And a good ending. Of course perfect stories are hard to come by, but this comes close. Really close.

FIRST RUNNER UP

Foy S. Iver, “1:3,999.” 

NC: Good speculative fiction is tough to pull off in flash as it tends to require extra world-building while still leaving room for character development and plot. I love that we are introduced to the MC with her worrying over what a mysterious “he” will be like, emotionally engaging us before we find out she’s a “non-organic”. The reader is set up (since we all know the source material) to expect this time be some kind of matchmaking. The few lines depicting her readjustment of her chances of being picked up reveal a slice of the MC’s abilities while also revealing her desire to be picked up. It is demonstrated through her internal dialogue and the filter of her perspective, that despite being a non-organic, Azile cares: she has fears, desires, and preferences. Her anxiety over Mr. D comes clear in the sustained weather metaphors she uses to describe him: “storm of a man”, “severity brewing”, “cold”. I like how Fits W and Mr. D enter as antagonistic then slowly become differentiated as Fits leaves and we get a peek at vulnerability from Mr. D. I appreciated, also, the fleeting allusions to a larger world (the curiosity-piquing hostile Assignments) and to potential conflict (Why is he unwanted?). Such details run the risk of being distracting rather than enhancing, but here, they serve to extend the tale beyond the word count.

IN: There are so many reasons why this story shouldn’t work: It’s SF without the advantage of a story to draw details from and hint to, hence the need for heavy world building on low word count; almost every line introduces something new; it switches point of view slightly; and that title. But it really works. Like all good SF, it pointed my attention to something that isn’t easy to talk about in today’s terms: slavery. It also hints at a kind of forbidden (impossible) love. I like how the voice of Beta-31 reflects all the confusion and innocence and naiveté of someone thrust in the weird world of another, and how the story complicates the larger-world of Mr. D and Fits-W with hints to its restrictions and rules, so they don’t look like mere caricatures. All these in 223 words.

And now: for a stunning, back-to-back win, marking our first-ever SIXTH win — here’s this week’s 

DRAGON WINNER

Karl Russell!!!

for

“Prometheus in Love”

NC: Be still, my beating SF- and alternative-history-loving heart! There is so much story, here, and it’s masterfully put together. Where to begin? The first line: does it catch my interest? You bet. “Lovelace” is a very distinctive name and if you know anything about her or her poet father, Lord Byron, a whole world opens up in that one line. Even if the reader doesn’t recognize Ada (deemed the world’s first programmer—Wiki her) and her work on Charles Babbage’s difference engine or the influence Byron exerted over her life despite her never having met him, the flush tells the reader enough. Tension is well-established right from the get-go, begging the question: What is she looking for in her mechanical partner? 

The diction of the dialogue is consistent for the time period. The banter does the triple-duty of establishing character, character motivation, and the conflict. Meanwhile, the interspersed lines of description give us tantalizing peeks at the machine and ground us in the setting.

There is a recognizable beginning middle, and end, each with a distinctive movement: the opening, where the mechanical man seems to have the advantage over Ada; the middle where Ada alludes Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley, another prominent writer of her father’s time (and friend of Byron), and the end with the machine reprogrammed more to Ada’s taste, the advantage ending with Ada. The transitions between them are smooth, taking place each time with attention turned to the work Ada is doing on the cards. The middle section lays out Ada’s intention in the context of the Romantic period, and the machine’s response echoes the very arguments that poets and artists who happened to have an XX chromosome pairing came up against time and time again throughout history, Mary Shelley included. The ending is satisfying because Ada sticks to her purpose, undaunted by her own baggage (the suggestion of daddy-issues) nor society’s circumscription of women’s creativity to procreation. Okay, I think that might be quite enough gushing. Thank you, anonymous wordsmith, for an entertaining read.

IN: There are many things I can say about this story, but none as good as a thank you to the writer and a plea that you read Nancy’s comments again.

Congratulations, Karl! I don’t even know what to say to you this week, other than CONGRATS, and you’ve left me wondering what on earth I’m going to bother you about for your sixth interview! Please find here your re-updated winner’s page. Your winning tale can be found there as well as over on the winners’ wall. And now here’s your winning story:

Prometheus in Love

“I am sorry Miss Lovelace, but I cannot replace your father.”

Ada felt her colour rise. 

“My dear sir, I hold no such intention.”

The brass gears in the corner of the repurposed sitting room whirred in mechanical mirth. 

“Forgive me, but for one so versed in the creation of patterns, you seem keenly unaware of your own. Have you not always found yourself drawn to the older, educated gentleman? To what end, save to fill the void formed by the Lord Byron’s absence.”

Ada nodded thoughtfully and returned to the repetitive task of punching intricate patterns in the strengthened cards.

The machine hummed in ozone scented satisfaction.

“Tell me sir, are you familiar with Mrs Shelley’s work, her Modern Prometheus?”

“I am aware of it.”

“Indeed. I found it a most stimulating treatise. To think that a man might create the semblance of life from little more than workshop parts and the application of his own intellect. I wonder; might a woman ever hope to achieve such a thing?”

“Why would she, when it is her purpose to create life in the traditional manner?”

Ada slid the freshly punched card into the bronze lined slot.

The machine clattered noisily, assimilating the new commands.

“Good morning machine.”

“Good morning, Ada my love.”

Ada smiled, satisfied, and applied her attentions to the next card.

FFwinner-Web

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Flash! Friday Vol 3 – 43: WINNERS

Happy Monday (or what’s left of it), and welcome to a brand new week! Macbeth, curse him, carved us out a tough prompt; thanks to those of you who steeled your noble hearts to write a story or two. I also loved seeing an enthusiastic bunch show up for Saturday’s second episode of #Pyro: a fun story offered up for reading, and y’all came up with a hearty round of suggestions for the writer. Thank you!

Looks to be a fairly quiet week this week, but — as I often say — don’t get comfy: we’ve got #Spotlight interviews (including one with a well-known YA book blogger!) coming up in the weeks ahead that will leave you breathless. We’re also just a couple of months out from #Flashversary (December 11). We need your help with the prizes: (1) your financial support of Flash! Friday is how we pay for many of the prizes (you can donate here; thanks so much to those who are able!), and (2) this year our grand prize will include copies of books written by the Flash! Friday community. Would you be willing to donate a copy of your book to our massive grand prize basket? If so, please email me here.  

Speaking of #Flashversary, remember there’ll also be a prize for one of our Wall of Flame members. Did you write for three or more Flash! Fridays in September? Only two more chances (Oct & Nov) to earn Ring of Fire badges before the drawing. Details here.

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Thank you also to the marvelous judges of Dragon Team Six, Josh Bertetta & Steph Ellis, for their hard work sorting through your nefarious plots to find winners. On behalf of Team Six, Steph says:   

There were many different takes on the play that dare not speak its name this week.  I enjoyed reading them on one of the last days of an Indian Summer in sunny Southampton – unfortunately rain is forecast this week. 

Tragedy, whisky and broad accents abounded although no one included a deep-fried Mars bar (now that would be a tale to tell).  As always a thank you to Bethan for sending the stories all the way downstairs to myself and thence to the USA.  So without further ado, here – in good old Eurovision fashion – are our results:

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SPECIAL MENTIONS

Best Tribute: AJ Walker, “Our King in the North.” SE: Not quite sure of the author of this particular story.  A tribute(?!) to our very own FlashDog Mark King, currently rolling in the gutter, ready to meet his maker or is this something darker, a sneaky way to get rid of the competition?  Great fun but steer clear of the North and the Cavern, the Pois(on)ed Pen may get you! JB: A humorous ode to Mark of FlashDogs perhaps? Have done something similar too myself (eh hem Rebekah P) and can’t help but enjoy such a humorous tribute to one of our community’s finest and most dedicated.

Best (Superstitious) Revenge: Becky Spence, “That Scottish One.” SE: Oh as someone who works in a school (and with yr 11s!) I loved this.  That little sip of brandy, the shout out of the dread name of Macbeth, the crack and the scream.  Definitely the caretaker’s revenge! JB: Some things change, some things remain the same. Our porter here (one of the latter) is not the only constant though, for what transpires is unfortunately all too familiar.

Best Poetic End: Bill Engleson, The Fog and Filthy Air.” SE: I love a narrative poem and this had terrific rhythm and flow.  And that last line “And I,” I gasp, “for all I’ve been/a King; a Cuckold, I am died’, hilarious end. JB: Typically I shy away from narrative poetry in flash fiction, but I found myself attracted to this one particularly with its use of language, and then there was that great line at the end, which got me in my own “mortal zone.”

Best Speech: Jenn, “I’d Like to Thank the Academy.” SE:  Deliciously devious wife.  Manipulative and oh, so clever. To deliberately use an acceptance speech and leave herself out of it to get her own way, she must really know her man. JB: Great ending! Again, the theme of ambition here in the realm of celebrity where desire for fame and prestige legitimize cunning, manipulation, and guilt.  

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HONORABLE MENTIONS

Richard Edenfield, Citizen King.

SE: Gorgeous use of language in this story about a faded film star right from the start, ‘The hillside in leaning light wore a castle like a crown on a head’, a ‘golden pulse of dreams’, ‘the pleasant aroma of an insatiable abracadabra’.  Solitary in his later years, he yearns to return to a more innocent state reflected in a poignant last line where he wants a ‘sled that could fly like a snow angel around the cold contours of his blackened heart’.

JB: Really enjoyed the take on the prompt — one of America’s most famous films, loosely based on one of the country’s wealthiest men, William Randolph Hearst. I’ve been to Hearst Castle and remember it quite well. I think of the audaciousness, the pomposity, the grandiosity. Here the author takes the very same notions, suggesting that all that “Citizen King” build and achieved is, on retrospect, a façade — built to cover up that which was lost, that that which was lost was lost in the very process of building the façade itself.

SECOND HM!!! Richard Edenfield, “The Love Ballad of Carbon 14.” 

SE: A modern day crucifixion only this time on a metal cross with their ‘Jesus’ wearing a crown of an ‘electromagnetic field’.  Televised worldwide, crowds controlled by guns under nonexistent gun laws, still the cult was one of ‘love and peace’.  This martyr was a machine who cried tears that ‘dripped from the strict manicure of his eyes’.  And that last line ‘Then they went to commercial’, condemns us all for the materialists that we are.

JB: Gosh darn, what a future world the author has created here where human and robot live as one because they all made up of the same stuff. A world where an apparent Savior’s castigation is viewed by the masses who are there not to experience the event they’ve come to see, but to immortalize it on their phones. Is this a future world? No, it’s a mirror world—reflecting our own where image (the photo) is more important than experience (the actual witnessing)—a fundamental absence in presence, marking experience as essentially shallow and meaningless, the ability for experience to encourage change incapacitated. Why? Because money trumps all. Money is Lord.

Betsy Streeter, “Lady M.”

SE: Dark, as dark as Macbeth itself.  I would urge the author of this piece to discard the self-doubt.  The image created, of the ‘queen’ with her ‘matted wet and bloody hair covering her face, strands of it pulsing in and out’ was extremely powerful.  She is facing the annihilation of a fiction, there is no pretend murder here.  Terrific phrasing as the ‘person and a drama’ collapse in on themselves.  An excellent example of the macabre.

JB:  What is fiction? What is non-fiction? Is there really such thing as non-fiction? The “Stage” is a cliff, an edge—it is a boundary—it is a fiction. It is a story. What was only a “prop” is now “real.” The pretend, that is, the fiction, is made real—that is, non-fiction. So we might think. But the boundary has collapsed. What is fiction? What is non-fiction? They are one and the same, and neither is what we make them out to be. Non-fiction is a fiction, just another story.

AV Laidlaw, “The General and the Sea.”

SE: A general inspecting the tragic aftermath of a battle in which he lead ‘bonnie boys’ to war and to their deaths.  He has blood on his hands, broken ships are ‘flotsam’ and he in one man he sees the ‘ivory visage’ as one of ‘ten thousand masks left discarded on the shingle’.  Filled with regret and remorse he continues to hunt uselessly, hoping to see ‘anything other than death’.  Wonderful use of language describing the general almost as a father who has lost his sons.

JB: Overwhelmed by wind, overwhelmed by water, overwhelmed by death. So goes the character. I, on the other hand, am overwhelmed by the absolutely gorgeous use of language. Basically rendering me wordless. Damn, I don’t know what else to say. Maybe that’s enough.

THIRD RUNNER UP

Mark A. King, “Joint Accounts.”

SE: An aspect of twindom I’d never considered before.  The womb, usually regarded as a place of untainted innocence carries the ‘sour taste of embryonic liquid confinement’ – right from the start all is not right.  A life of permanent competition has just begun.  To everyone else, they are a ‘joyous wonder’, ‘beloved and blessed’ yet their reality is completely different.  They yearn for freedom from each other but even when they achieve it, they cannot sustain it, ‘for to be too different for too long is painful.  It is the rusty amputation of healthy limbs’.  Forever destined to be together even as they desire to be apart, a terrible paradox. 

JB: The theme of twinness has had strong mythological connotation throughout time and across culture. For some, it was a symbol of a fundamental dualism; others saw it as an expression of the fundamental ambivalence of the universe. Two is often a number of conflict and confrontation. Such themes are present here as well: there is the ambivalence of what each child wants and what is destined to be. There is the conflict of the wish versus the reality—what hope of what could and the reality of what could not be. It was a conflict destined to be from the moment of conception—an inborn conflict engendered in the desire to be free. We want to be individuals, yet we yearn for community.

SECOND RUNNER UP

Michael Seese, “Collections” 

SE: Beelzebub comes a’calling.  I loved those first few lines … well actually I loved all of them.  Great monologue by someone, apparently homeless pushing his ‘luck down the street in a rickety shopping cart’, his pretend insanity acts as a buffer and keeps others away from him.  He sees those that pass by as ‘empty human casings’, all carrying their own demons, the devil they know.  They have lost their souls, lost their faith, like ‘spare change in the couch cushions’.   They do not realise that the devil is amongst them and ‘walking down the street in their midst’.  He is watching, he is the man pushing the cart, picking up the good intentions on a road that desperately needs paving’.  City folk are soulless and already follow the path to Hell. Excellent interweaving of devilish references.

JB: A poignant snapshot of a modernity awash in constant flux, constant movement, where people “scurrying through life circumnavigates” that which they, in their self-absorption (preferring “their lives, their demons over mine”) miss what is in their midst. As much as this piece is full of wonderful lines and images, it is precisely that word “circumnavigates” which, quite appropriately, keeps the whole thing together in a coherent, unified whole. “Circumnavigate” implies a center — it is the center that holds the space — allowing for the possibility of circumnavigation in the first place. The people in all their scurrying and their circumnavigating seek what they’ve lost only when they’ve lost it, suggesting they took for granted what they lost. The road to hell is paved with good intentions goes the old saying, masterfully reworked here — but the devil is already present. The devil is at the center and the heedless people don’t even see it — modernity and all its preoccupations a living hell.

FIRST RUNNER UP

C. Centner, “Observations and Wishes.” 

SE: Powerful diatribe against war and the form it is taking that resonates so strongly against the backdrop of the world’s troubles today.  Battles are fought by other people’s children, not those of the people in power and if not by people on the ground then by others from a distance.  Targets can be hit at a ‘2000 meter slant range’, ‘you’ll win’, language reminiscent of a video game mentality especially as weapons are fired by youths.  This removes the closeness of death and war becomes impersonal, almost virtual.  Death from a distance means nothing.

And those who give the orders, the ‘great generals, fearless before the danger of eyestrain or paper cut’ get medals, promotions and money, glossing over dirty details in stark contrast to the veterans who are left to wander ‘from hospital, to street, and back again’.  When the man who has lost his child says ‘I hope he hears the screams of my child when he’s alone at night’, he is asking if the man responsible for the orders that killed his child has a conscience.   Something I think we all wonder about  today when we see such scenes on the news with all too increasing frequency.

JB: A pointed criticism of a war in a war-soaked time where war is no longer confined to the singularity of “place” (i.e. no battlefields) and instead is relegated to an ubiquitous “space.” And in that space, those who direct the war, those who “lead” are comfortably separate from the war they command from a place removed. The nameless versus the named, the grunts no one will ever know versus those whom the world will know. Those who will continue to suffer in wandering from hospital to street to hospital; those who fight over words. What I particularly appreciated about this story was the staccato pace, which reminded me of Jimi Hendrix’s “Machine Gun.” The phrasing and the structure of the piece recalls the chaos and war, amidst all the “noise” that are the words themselves.

And now: for his FIFTH time — no surprise — join me in congratulating the massively talented 

DRAGON WINNER

Karl Russell!!!

for

“Camelot Falls”

SE: Oh, the fickle hand of fate reverberates down the centuries; terrific idea translating Macbeth into JFK, the whole story fits the themes perfectly.  The first paragraph introduces us to someone of importance, who travels round in limos and jets, ‘kissing babies’, ‘kissing ass’.  No need to state this is a powerful politician and a jaded one at that fuelled by scotch and pep pills, he is weary of the performance he must put on. 

He is waiting, alert to an assassin on ‘This day’; the one line paragraph being a pivotal moment in the story being as it was the day that shook the world.  Further clues are given to JFK’s identity, still without mentioning anything explicit – saving the world, the beautiful women, the moon.  We have all guessed by now who it is and only then are we given names and places.  I particularly liked the way that a slightly tarnished image of JFK was given rather than the golden boy usually portrayed.  It adds a realism to a time that is often portrayed as a fairytale; something matched by the title of the piece.  Naming this story Camelot, the castle of another doomed king as well as one that is part of the JFK legend was another little perfect touch.

JB: Taking a story most of us probably know and gives us a haunting “insider’s” view in a piece that not only works with stark juxtapositions—the tall still towers/movement, the energy provided by the pep pills/dead-eyed handshakes, the most powerful man in the world reduced to a drunk in his underwear—but plays with image versus reality. I enjoy what I call “iceberg stories,” where what we read is the tip of the iceberg, the “real” story remaining unsaid and behind the scenes, in the spaces between the words as it were. This is an iceberg story of another sort, as it illuminates (with the author’s poetic license) that which is hidden (the reality) underneath the tip of the iceberg (the image).  Here is a story about (in part) wealth, power, prestige and while some may see in that ideal life, the author explores that “Camelot” is not it is all cracked up to be.

Congratulations, Karl! SO GOOD having you back, and back atop the dais, no less. Please find here your exceedingly chic, updated winner’s page. Your winning tale can be found there as well as over on the winners’ wall. Please contact me here so I can conduct your FIFTH Sixty Seconds interview! And now here’s your winning story:

Camelot Falls

He didn’t sleep much anymore; an hour on the jet, another in the limo, then another scotch and a handful of pep pills to keep him on his feet for another round of dead-eyed handshakes and kissing babies. 

Kissing ass. 

He stood at the window, watching the sun rise over the city, scanning the windows of the towers opposite, looking for some sign of movement. They were out there somewhere, counting down to the day and the hour and the minute, just as it had been foretold. 

This day.

He drained his glass, crunched an ice cube between his teeth, thought again and again and again of how he might get out, but to no avail. He was no more the master of this ship than the faceless assassin. He’d had a good run, saved the world and slept with the most beautiful woman in it, given his people something to believe in. Hell, he’d promised them the moon. 

And it all came down to this; The most powerful man in the world, standing in his underwear, getting drunk and watching the Dallas dawn. 

The Secret Service man knocked softly on the hotel room door. 

“The car’s ready, Mister President.” 

He smiled.

Poured another drink. 

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Flash! Friday Vol 3 – 41: WINNERS

Goooooooood morning!!! WHAT A WEEKEND!!! On one side of the pond was a #FlashDogs meetup, and here in the Shenandoah Valley we enjoyed a writers’ retreat hosted by the inimitable Foy Iver (you think she writes a mean piece of flash? you should taste her guacamole!!). 

Before we launch into today’s results, I’ve a VERY COOL announcement: starting THIS VERY SATURDAY, we’re kicking off yet another new opportunity here at Flash! Friday, a feature we’re calling Pyromaniacs. Have you longed for frank critiques of your writing but are too terrified to ask? Here’s your chance!

  • Email me via here anytime with a flash piece (500 words or under) you’d like the community to critique (regular FF guidelines apply). Be sure to specify it’s for critique.
  • Each Saturday I’ll choose one of those stories (stripped of all identification — no one will ever know the author unless you wish it), post it, and invite the FF draggins (that’s you!) to comment (respectfully) on how you think it could be improved. 

That’s it! The rest is up to the community. I’m terribly excited about this; writing helpful critiques is a tough skill to learn, and on top of writers coming away with useful feedback each week, this #Pyro feature will give us all a chance to work on becoming better critiquers ourselves. Fun stuff.

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Speaking of inimitable, thanks aplenty are owed Dragon Team Seven, Nancy Chenier & IfeOluwa Nihinlola, for their painstaking work this round. Cry, the Beloved Country is a powerful but difficult novel to read; your stories likewise. Thank you, Nancy & IfeOluwa! Here are their comments:   

– What a week! Priests both philandering and intrepid, women bearing babes both auspicious and abominable, confessions dire and personal. Despair contended with hope. Tradition took on modernity. Cry, the Beloved Country inspired fifty delectable bits of flash. Thank you, thank you for once again sharing your craft and creativity, Flash! Friday Dragons.

Cry, the Beloved Country is probably alien to many in the Flash! Friday community, yet fifty stories come out of this. I don’t know how many of you do this every week, but I’m here, once again, thanking you all for another round of good writing.

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SPECIAL MENTIONS

Birdman Award: Marie McKay, “The City View.This award is for, well, the use of flight—both of fancy and of wings. And for the bird’s eye view we’re given of the city in figurative, emotional and literal language. 

Switcheroo Award: Tim Kimber, “Faith in Humanity.” This award is for reassigning the religiosity of lilies of the field to secularism, and imaging a world where science is the “true faith” and “flower unemployment” makes perfect sense.

Whiplash Award: Jenn, “Posh Preggers.” For boomeranging my attitude toward the MC in the final line. Suddenly the shallow, materialistic girl inspires sympathy by gazing out at the ocean.

Sly Fox Award: Michael Seese, “Judgment.” For the subtle forecasting (“Real pain and fear is hard to fake” and “good practice”) of what the very cunning MC is up to.

Lotus-Unfolding Award: Foy Iver, “Adrift on the Stars’ Ocean.” For its elegantly slow reveal of the urgent situation and gently disclosed and resolved friction between the women.

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HONORABLE MENTIONS

Carolyn Ward, Harvest Time.

N: The voice in this one drew me right in from the redundancy of “everlasting eternity” to the way she described the baby “being all hugged by my body” and herself being “filled to the brim”. The figurative language the narrator uses matches the voice of this girl with its simple honesty. The way the mother appears as the antagonistic force here (rather than the priest, the true villain) sets up some serious dramatic irony. Mom’s introduced as the cruel child-taker when she tells her daughter she’ll never hold her child. That is confirmed in the next paragraph with the mother’s slapping of her daughter whenever she protests (caterwauls). The pathos culminates in the final line, in the sad little victory the narrator assumes over her mother by “not telling her” about the priest. At that point the reader understand who the antagonist really is and how the MC putting one over on enemy-Ma is actually compromising her interests.

I: There’s a lot packed into the voice of this narrator: innocence, class, naiveté. At least that is how it seems at the start. She describes her baby as a bean growing at the speed of light, and describes her due date as her harvest time. She also shows a deference to her mother who instructs her, not just about her actions, but about her thoughts, and reinforces the admonishments with slaps to stem her “caterwaulin’.” Then the story gets to the last line and I see that the girl might have been many things, but naive wasn’t one of them.

Madilyn Quinn, “Battlegrounds.” 

N: Another one that lured me in with tantalizing imagery, particularly that of fire: torches arching and glaring, candles flaring. I’m lured in by the unexpected: a mob attacking a church when the stereotype is of a torch-bearing mob led by fanatical priests. The mob bent on destruction while the priest seems to take “turn the other cheek” in praying for them—and leaving the reader to wonder why a mob would be after a priest who seems to “walk the walk”. What landed this one for me, was the final element of surprise: the sword. The end has me wishing I could be there for the ensuing Mass(acre). The idea of Mass as sort of a defensive spell against one’s enemies is an intriguing one.

I: A priest being showered by shards of glass and being attacked by a torch-bearing mob is an image I’m familiar with. This is in contrast with Nancy’s view, yet this story manages to subvert both our views of what it would do, by its masterful telling. It’s easy to feel sorry for the priest at the point where he turns to the prayer candles. The line “Jesus averts his gaze to the sky” is brilliant because at first it looks like a sign of neglect, mirroring Jesus and his father.  By the time the mob floods in, however, and priest draws out his sword, I realise there’s a chance Jesus averted his gaze to avoid witnessing the carnage that would inevitably follow.

Sarah Cain, “Our Country.”

N: The man vs. man conflict serves as a microcosm to the more macrocosmic conflict between cultures. The representatives of the two sides are sharply drawn: the self-important MC, who is immediately signaled as the villain in his arrogant declaration that he has “come for what is his”. He stands against the “woman in soft crimson with a scar puckering her cheek”—and what a description: a history of violence evident, but quietly persisting. This image is reinforced by her words. She turns his implicit accusation on him and asserts that he can approach this conflict with violence, he can claim his ownership, the country will never belong to him.

I: This story is told close to the point of view of the oppressor, so we see what he sees: unfriendly eyes, impassive faces, and hear what he hears: rhythmic chant of women’s voices. That these are the victims of his oppression is implicit in the story, although not expressly declared. Then he strides into the doorway of one of the tin hovels, and his encounter with an old woman unmasks his true identity. Their conversation offers the line where the title, Our Country, is taken from, and it is also where the oppressor gets put in his place.

Becky Conway, “Faithful Servant.”

N: I was struck by the format, one-sided confessionals tracking a nine-month pregnancy. At first, the vocabulary seemed overwrought for a teenager, almost Victorian in its use. Then, I realized she wasn’t using her own words. In her uncertainty and insecurity, she parrots scraps from the Bible and religious language (most likely the language of her her abuser). She says what she’s supposed to say. She behaves the way authority figures (particularly the priest) direct her. The final confession is the first sign she has done something under her own volition, and typical of action long-repressed, this one is destructive in its liberation. The “liberation” is not complete as she continues to employ the somewhat anachronistic, “blood on my hands” to express herself.

I: The “Forgive me” that opens a confession, and the progression of a pregnancy is used repetitively to set up the disturbing narrative in this story. The narrator is asking for forgiveness for another man’s sin, and seems to descend into a deeper state of despair as the birth of her baby becomes more imminent. That is until one month after conception, when she declares that there is blood on her hands. Whose blood? At first I hope it is Father Abraham’s, for that will offer some poetic justice to the story. But the story refuses to end that way, saving an even more disturbing detail for the last.

THIRD RUNNER UP

Richard Edenfield, “Reflections.”

N – This one packs a lot into so small a space. The contrast and commingling of two worlds is dizzying. The surrender of the “ancient tribe” in the first paragraph is echoed by the priest’s personal surrender by the end. Hands shift from industriously working with nature to being “neatly laced”.  Hope for a revival of that old connection with nature sparks in the rawness of the baby’s appearance—weathered wood, fire in the eyes—but the “guillotine” of a steel shutter severs that hope. The priest and his new grandson are locked in the hard, shiny world of reflective surfaces, shut off from the sublimity of nature (“the purple intrusion of erupting dawn”).  Many gems in here, but my favorite line has to be, “A new generation being pronounced by a secret genetic language whispered in each body. Crying could be heard from a room. Learning a new language wasn’t easy.” In itself a beautiful expression of birth and generation, but as part of this story, I imagine the priest having firsthand experience of the difficulty in learning the language of the metropolis.  

I– Attempting to unpack this story properly is like trying to interpret a poem. The lines are simple, but, like good poetry, what that economy does is to open the story to more interpretation. At the surface, an old priest is witnessing the birth of his grandson, but simultaneously, it seems the priest is also witnessing the death of something more. Perhaps it is that of the tribe ‘surrendered’ with antique light from the sun, that is witnessing a new generation becoming forged with unknown hands in unknown places. I could go on and on with the imagery, but I’ll stop here, for every fresh reading offers something new to consider and reflect upon.

SECOND RUNNER UP

Casey Rose Frank, “Passing Down the Mantle” 

N – As a writer, I often regard storytelling as part of a legacy. How tragic, then, to ponder what would become of that legacy were there no audience to receive it. “Passing Down the Mantle” explores that territory—craftily covering a vast territory and in few words. The figurative language weaves the images together: the pregnant girl’s belly as a melon under the villagers’ “hungry eyes”, the sagging grey faces of the houses in keeping with the faces of the inhabitants, even the stories themselves as being fabric woven into the titular mantle. I feel the desperation of the villagers as they strive to tell their stories to the babe before it’s even born. The distillation of their stories into an essential core is beautifully formulated in the move from the three lines of dialogue to an ultimate sentiment: “Remember us”. Then the disparate voices of the people condense into the singular voice of the village itself invoking “hope”.

– The cause of the absence of the children in this story is not revealed, but the melancholia that follows it is shown clearly in just two sentences that make up the second paragraph. The rest of the story shows the implication of the absence of children: the loss of stories. This puts the hope at the start and end of the story into perspective. This is not just about the about the birth of a baby, it is about the survival of stories: the mantle in the title.

FIRST RUNNER UP

Karl A. Russell, “Homecoming.” 

N – After reading this the first time and enthusiastically slotting onto my shortlist, I noted that we didn’t get many gruesome horror pieces at Flash! Friday. I readied myself to defend a zombie baby’s position among the winners, let alone in the top three. Yet, Ife’s shortlist had this one among the top as well. That opening image just throttles me: an umbilicus swollen with sluggish blood and ditchwater. That’s some impactful show, right there. I think my exact reaction was “EWWWWW! And, whoa.” As it went on, the creep factor ratcheted up over the gore. The merging of the grotesque with infant mannerisms (two-stepping the stairs, mewing, snuggling down with the mother) is especially creepy as it inspires pity despite the horror. The figure of the mother is presented as a silver fish sleeping fitfully, apparently her sleep is wracked by guilt.

– Line after line, this story layers one grotesque image on top of the other. Umbilical cord swollen with blood and ditchwater. Big house slumbered like a bloated leech.  Hounds vomited… eyes rolled back in their skulls. Grandfather gruntled… then died… child gave a mew of pleasure. This story managed to shock me with each image without grossing me out. I cringed, and cringed, and cringed, then put it on my shortlist.

And now: for his very first time!! — join me in congratulating our 

DRAGON WINNER

@dazmb!!!

for

“Advice”

N – The intense focus and imagery blew me away. Here we have a consummate model for the power of “show, not tell”. The message here is “Marriage takes work,” but the writer (working through the main character) illustrates the lesson to us as she illustrates it to her daughter, through the work of making fufu. Even without the lesson, the measured action of the woman is compelling, particularly in the way the details establish the rustic setting and the woman’s situation (wodoro, woma, fufu — all deftly posited so that I didn’t need to rush to Wikipedia to figure out what these unfamiliar things are). The opening lines are weighted, as indicated by the woman’s words attaching symbolic significance to the ingredients: fruits of earth and sky. Moreover, we know a lesson is coming because of the title. The careful attention to the work engages me and carries me through the narrative and its beautiful analogy. That the daughter isn’t revealed until the end, in effect, places the reader in the position of the daughter from the first sentence. The reader is meant to nod with understanding right along with her.

– I like how this story uses its form to make up for what cannot be shown in the story. At first, all we’re focused on is the woman pounding the fufu, her focus undiminished, then a camera zooming out of a detail to capture a complete scene, the daughter is brought into view. The time the story itself seems to invest in the act of pounding the yam suggests how much time the mother chooses to invest in her daughter’s marital woes. Also, it seems to equate the tender care it takes to work the dough with the effort the daughter needs to put into making her marriage work. As if by making the daughter watch the raising and dropping of the woma, she was showing her how it is done.

Congratulations, Daz! Please find here your very own, super fancy, freshly built (watch the paint!) winner’s page. Your winning tale can be found there as well as over on the winners’ wall. Please contact me here asap so I can interview you for this week’s Sixty Seconds interview feature! And now here’s your winning story:

Advice

Taking a boiled cassava root, she said out loud “fruit of the Earth”, before placing it in the the woduro.

Reaching for a plantain, “…and fruit of the sky”, then placing it in the woduro too.

Setting to work with the woma, pounding the mixture in silence, her jaw set in concentration.

The sun was high. Sweat began to run freely off her brow.

But her focus remained undiminished, raising and dropping the woma, up and down, up and down, until, gradually, it coalesced, and from the mixing of sky and earth, a fine, almost elastic dough began to form.

With tender care, continuing to work the dough, until, at last the fufu was finished.

Flexing the cramp from her arms, she looked at her daughter.

“The Sun has barely risen on your marriage, my child. Do you understand?”

Her daughter nodded.

“Good,” then smiling, “Do you think it was any different for your father and I? They are both good men. Now go and be reconciled.”

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