Tag Archive | Karl A. Russell

Fire&Ice Sol 18/19: WINNERS

§ Foy says: Welcome, welcome, dear dragons, to the penultimate results celebration! Yesterday, it was our pleasure to host two more of our fellow community members, Jethro Weyman & Tad Kelson, a.k.a. Tadk/GamerWriter, for the final Flash! Future. Please do click here and check it out! They fill us in on what they write, and offer some words of encouragement for all of us going forward. And speaking of going forward, as we launch into Fire&Ice‘s last Sol this week, this Friday promises to be a fire-drenched, ice-splintered battle like no other! We hope you’ll bring Rebekah and me your most piercing words!

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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 18’S JUDGES SAY:

Betsy Streeter:  I felt like this week’s batch was just filled with endless gifts of details, both in terms of phrasing/word choices and in little things like names and places. I absolutely loved all the wonder and uniqueness contained within these stories. And I’m grateful I got to read them all! What a privilege. And of course many thanks to Karl for being my judging partner, our exchanges have been so much fun!

I have to mention these: Becky Spence‘s “Like Lucy,” for its clever references to both Peanuts and Star Trek (“I tend bar, and I listen.”), Laurence D.’s Untitled story for the lovely phrase, “danced to the melody of a city,” Voima Oy‘s “The Visitor,” with a nod to Arecibo and looking for life far and near, Tinman‘s “Over the Top” for zooming in on such a wonderful detail – hair! – and how fabulous can make even an alien feel, Nancy Chenier‘s Relativity for stretching family conversations across time in a unique way, Rab‘s Untitled story for digging into a whole other type of detail and ingenuity, Matt Krizan‘s “Mars and Venus on Vacation” with a wonderful nod to Hitchhiker’s Guide and a bit of grossness, and the pure sweetness of Susan Stevenson‘s “Adieu.” 


Karl A. Russell: As we hurtle towards our final Sol, I want to take a moment or two to thank our wonderful hosts for opening the lair one more time, my judging partner Betsy for making it look like I know what I’m doing here, all the people who comment, like and share their favourites on Twitter, and most of all, I want to thank you all for writing. You make us laugh and gasp and tear up, you take us right out of our strange days or push us to recognise that they will pass. You find the perfect phrase, the exact word, the single piece of punctuation that will reach deep into your reader and make out hearts sing. And most of you manage it every single week. So thank you, one and all.

This week’s spread of stories is a perfect example of this, and like Betsy said, there were so many wonderful details that are deserving of a shout out. I loved the final lines of Pippa Phillips‘s ‘Opening Bid‘ and Voima Oy‘s ‘The Visitor‘ for the hints of otherworldly strangeness they contained. Nancy Chenier‘s ‘Relativity‘ gave us the emotional heart of interstellar travel while Tad Kelson‘s ‘Silence‘ showed us what it actually feels like.

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HONORABLE MENTIONS

Cardboard Empires by Arcane Edison

BS: This could be read in two ways, both epic and delusional. That’s a lot to accomplish in 81 words. I loved reading this both ways, multiple times. Amazing.

KR: It’s all about to kick off! This one was the most action-packed story in a week of mostly wistful takes and is a great opener for something epic.

Consumed by Helen Laycock

BS: This one contains such detail, especially “Franco raised his right hand, covering the tear in his trousers with the left.” That says so, so much. Well done.

KR: That ‘flip’ moment seals this story for me. Franco’s life has turned upside down, and even if his only patrons now are the pigeons, he’s still trying to recapture what was. The lovely little detail with the torn trousers says that no matter how far he’s fallen, he still has his pride.

Commander of Cheer by K. Hartless

BS: Oh, the frustration of cheer muffled by lockdown. Plus interstellar travel, to boot. Really great.

KR: The most seasonal story and the most dystopic! I’d love to see a sequel where the jolly fat man takes on the curfew-enforcing security forced to finish his sacred deliveries!

RUNNER UP

Untitled by Michael Seese

BS: I love when extremely different things come together to tell a story, and this one is so unexpected and hilarious. And once you see “Cleveland” and “brown and orange,” you know where this fellow has landed. And then, partying as a bringer of peace. Just so great!

KR: The humour in this was wonderful; the matter-of-fact description of vomiting, the whooping drunk and the contrast between the alien’s intentions and their innocent imbibing…

RUNNER UP

Home by Eliza Archer

BS: Again, those details! The setting, the language, and then the simple practicality of the old coins. And, having been everywhere, just wanting a latte. Who of us hasn’t felt the pull of simplicity and wanting “normal” things this year? This taps into that sentiment so, so well.

KR: The details in this transported me right to a busy city street. The sights, sounds and smells of coming home. Yes, it’s about space travel, but it captures something more universal – who wouldn’t want to be free to wander crowded streets, watch beautiful people pass by and get a good cup of coffee right now?

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

FIRE&ICE WINNER

ARVIND IYER!!!

for

The Letter

BS – This story jumped into a world and I felt like I could see Vo-Tan right off. Part of it is the use of words like “cosmodazzle” which immediately give a sense of other-ness, but also this story has a strong voice, and point of view, that is unique and shall I say, sparkly. And the idea that someone is out there building a cosmic Bridge of Emotions, and discovering how the good and bad travel together, warmed my heart in a very needed way. It evokes the idea that “negative” emotions are as necessary as “positive” ones to build a complete universe. And that is a big truth in a little story. Well done!

KR — Consider me cosmodazzled. With very little space to move, this gave us glimpses of a cosmos-spanning endeavour, an intriguing concept in the Bridge Of Emotions (I’m picturing something like Bifrost, daisy-chain-linking planets across the gulfs of space) and a wonderful inversion in the way that tears are more powerful than laughter. Vo-Tan’s obvious excitement at their discovery carries right through to the reader. So well done!

Congratulations, ARVIND! Here’s your winning story:

THE LETTER

Dear Iuri,

I write to you from the wondrous planet of Terra, and what we have been looking for– the missing piece to build our Bridge of Emotions spanning a thousand stars– is right here!

We’ve found cosmodazzle in varying levels across planets…why, the mildest form of it– laughter– was from here.

But the people here also do something else, Iuri. They cry.

I’m bringing it with me. When you taste the tears, you’ll know what I mean.

Love,
Vo-Tan.

Fire&Ice Sol 14/19: WINNERS

§ Foy says: Welcome to what feels a wintry results day! Yesterday, it was all reds and golds with a sleepy sun overhead; today, it’s bare, gray limbs, and a sun that stays nestled beneath the clouds. Gone are the eternal autumns of our youth, I suppose. How the world changes; how we change the world.

Speaking of world-changing, in our most recent Flash! Future on “Writing the Other” (read that post here), literary agent and advocate DongWon Song offers us writers wrestling with questions of how (or whether!) to write diverse fiction this call to action: 

What we need to do is resist the default, and the only way to do that is by representing the world that we live in, which often has people coming from all kinds of cultures, all kinds of marginalizations that are inter-sectional, and rich, and complex. 

Every time I see flash here that resists the default, I’m so encouraged, inspired, motivated. Thank you. ❤   

A quick reminder: Flash! Future submissions are rolling in and if you haven’t gotten the chance to send yours, now’s the time to do so! Find all the tidy details here, and remember: deadline is November 20!

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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 14’S JUDGES SAY:

David Shakes:  It’s our third and final stint as judges on the resurrected Flash!Friday and I’d like to thank our Dragon hosts Rebekah and Deborah for achieving far more than they set out to do. There’s been light in the darkness thanks to you two, I’ve been plugged into a global community whose words and ideas have inspired me further.

My deep and heartfelt thanks to Nancy who, more often than not, liked what I liked but with an eye for detail and a perspective that I am in awe of. Thank you for being my co-judge in this. 

My thanks to you, dear writers, for coming back each round. The original competition is where I honed my craft, found a writing family (hey Flashdogs) and gained the courage to start putting my work further out there. I hope some of that is true for you. 

I loved the prompt picture when I saw it, and though it led many of you all down a few key paths (holes?) you amazed us within your short and precise word count. 

Nancy and I were pretty close in what we liked this week, so we both got to drop in a few of those stories that we both enjoyed. Helen Laycock‘s “Look Before You Seep” was a hilarious take on the fountain of youth, with some great (gross) imagery. Pippa Phillips‘ “The First Thread” was rich in figurative language, took a look deeper at the prompt,  and had a great last line. R.J. Kinnarney‘s “Divine Calculation” takes a clever title, adds in the prerequisite statistics and then ends on a beautiful image. 

As it’s our last go, we’ve taken the liberty of having three honorary mentions.


Nancy Chenier: Here we are, our final round of judging for the reboot of Flash!Friday. I’m deeply grateful to the Dragon Den (Rebekah and Deborah) for lighting up the skies with flashes of light over a world confronted with its collective darkness, and for rekindling my own writing, a tool that helps me navigate said darkness. Also to Shakes: I don’t know what serendipity matched us up, but it turned out a wonderful pairing. If I ever find myself in that hemisphere, get ready for a visit (yes, that’s a threat, tell your family). Finally, a million thank-yous to all you flash writers, veteran and recent, whether here or in #vss365,#flashdogs, etc., for your inspiring creativity and enthusiasm wherever you drop your words. Hope to see you all in the twitterverse beyond the end of 2020.

This week, with the tiny word count, inventiveness was imperative. How else could you cram a sense of beginning, middle, end, while hooking readers into the story and then keeping them there? Very little space remained for incorporating unique takes on the prompts, but you all took on that challenge and created some fine work, which means I ended up with a bunch of shout-outs. First goes to Betsy Streeter‘s Untitled, where the miracle of medicine suddenly feels like a curse, and the word “lost” takes one huge emotional impact. Also to Michael Seese‘s Pitfalls for an amusing story with its fun use of both dragon elements. Then there’s Becky Spence‘s “A Tuesday Morning” for the most original use of the photo-prompt with the “pit” being the pupil of an eye. Laurence D‘s Untitled gets a nod for baudy slapstick that had me baffled (like the oblivious crowd) until the slapstick-rug got pulled right out from under me.

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HONORABLE MENTIONS

Exit Strategy by WeymanWrites

DS: We both loved the playful aspect of this and I especially liked the dialogue between our Meerkat protagonists Barbara and Derek! In a week when so many stories had something going in, this statistically risky escape plan stood out.

NC: You had me at meerkats, and you kept me with the surprises at every line of increasingly anthropomorphic dialogue. You kept me chuckling through to the end. With everything we’ve put the earth through in general and the meerkats through specifically, we so deserve that parting shot.

The First Question by Phil Coltrane

DS: Something lovely about this, that dual aspect of having the courage and intellect to get to Mars but the all too human frailty of having one’s heartbroken, but I like his odds. Maybe I’m an optimist?

NC: Inventive use of statistics throughout, ultimately tying in with the picture prompt (one in seven on Mars), plus a solid sense of movement through a story. I also enjoyed the pivot on the act of “asking questions”: the class asking the MC all the questions, except for Anna, who might have invited MC’s long-unasked question way back at the beginning had she asked a homework question too.

Numbers Game by Karl A. Russell

DS: We all know the drive into the desert plot from various mob movies, but I couldn’t resist this one – so well written. The dialogue is on point, the tension well-mounted within the word limit and a classic last line to complete the sort of flash that floats my boat. 

NC: This one stood out to me for the Lady-or-the-Tiger vibes (big folklore-buff over here). You set up a complete, distinctive story in a Vegas pit-trap with tension building appropriately enough like a high-stakes card game. I was hooked with the snake, immediately followed up by conflict via a sneering antagonist, then the surprise of another victim in the first box. The consistent character voice held the tone so the final line hit with authenticity. Well played! 

RUNNER UP

Quick Time by Tinman

DS: A unique theme amongst this week’s entries,  filled with clever imagery like the ‘Rachel hair’ and the right mix of humour and poignancy. The opening image of an unimaginably far shore sums up a teenager’s view of middle-age wonderfully. The subtle introduction of Jill’s treatment and the closing note of optimism was sublime. The economy and balance of this story had it near the top of my list from the start.

NC: This one settled in and gave me a time-release sense of nostalgic melancholy. The contrasts are stunning between the teenage creation of a time-capsule, during a time when we still feel playfully immortal, to the middle age opening when mortality has started seeping seriously in. The kick is that Jill is the one to reset the capsule by throwing in her smart watch, a symbol of time, when she probably doesn’t have much of it left (another cleverly introduced contrast: her cancer vs 1990s Rachel hair). Every detail is rich and evocative of place and character and theme—such strong writerly craft, here.

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

FIRE&ICE WINNER

ARCANE EDISON!!!

for

Butterfly Wing

DS – What made this stand out from the other monster in the pit stories? Firstly, an economy of language – the staccato punch of the lines creates a pace that juxtaposes with the depth and quality of the writing. I loved the flare…falling, a crimson-hot star seeking reassurance, mirroring the improbable fall of the asteroid. The use of statistics to underscore the title of the story puts us squarely in the existential shoes of our narrator. Two zeros x together  = something unknowable, and yet I know the feeling well. A slice of sci-fi noir that Nancy and I both liked a lot. 

NC — This week’s picture prompt lent itself to monster-in-the-pit tropes, so to get to the winner’s circle pit-monster tales really had to stand-out. This one ticked all the boxes. The first sentence hooked me, not only with its clear description of the MC’s shadow, but also conveying a sense of urgency (hurrying)—which is then undercut by the next fragment (the MC is chain-smoking, not hurrying to the crash site as fast as their shadow is). The MC’s voice is crisp with its staccato sentences and the sly, self-deprecating application of statistics. Then there’s a theme that threaded through and beyond the tale: the line up of near-zero probabilities starting with the MC’s own existence points to a vast gap between near and absolute zero. The vanishingly small probability of the MC’s existence raises the question what other improbabilities are entirely… probable. Thanks for the engaging read. 

Congratulations, ARCANE! Here’s your winning story:

BUTTERFLY WING

My shadow stretches out, hurrying before me to the crash site.

Chain-smoking.

Mind racing with possibilities.

My existence = 1 in 10 2,685,000

That’s basically zero.

Yet, here I stand at the edge of another improbability.

The hole is deeper than seems possible.

The asteroid actually hitting Earth was 0.41%.

Another zero.

Another cigarette burns.

Two zeros x together = something unknowable.

Tension envelops as we gather. Tabitha ignites a flare.

Falling, a crimson hot star seeking reassurance.

Illuminating an eye bigger than seems possible.

Whose existence = 10 septillion.

The slowest blink.

A pupil that isn’t possibly real.

Begins to come closer.

Fire&Ice Sol 12/19: WINNERS

§ Foy says: The year 2020 has been a bit “anti-dystopian” to borrow genre-birthing speculative fiction author Samit Basu‘s word (read his definition here), yet somehow we’ve collectively blinked and it’s November, with Election Day in the United States only a sleep away. Whether you’re hopeful or anxious, intrigued or ready to be rid of it all (or like me some ever-shifting amalgam of All The Emotions), please know that no matter the outcome, we dragons at Fire&Ice will be here with strong tea and coffee, and a space to write and grow safely. Because regardless of who wins, the work of making this a better world for those here and those to come will be waiting for us, and it would be our joy to meet that challenge with 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 12’S JUDGES SAY:

Betsy Streeter:  This week’s prompts brought up just a few themes, like, oh, creation, family, ancestry, crime… and the mundane gone very wrong. Which is hard to do – horror is tricky to write because it’s all about those unsettling reveals, suddenly uncovering something deeply not-okay going on. Thank you again for so many tiny worlds to go into and be creeped out by. A few shout-outs: First of all, both VERY short stories, Peg Stueber‘s piece about Geppetto, and Bart van Goethem‘s “Genesis,” packed a punch and were wonderful! I also want to point out Arvind Iyer‘s “The Boy Who Wasn’t a Doll” for pondering generational change in such a unique way. Nancy Chenier‘s “Sharing Is Caring” caused me to hear a creepy piano soundtrack or a music box as I read it. Becky Spence‘s “Replacement” was sad and scary at the same time and made me anticipate some sort of revenge. And finally Mark A. King‘s “The Original Fugitive of Suburbia” for finding superpowers in hardship and difference, something we all seem called to do right now.


Karl A. Russell: As Betsy said, there were some clear themes emerging as I read through this latest crop of mini-masterpieces, not least the idea of children being replaced by dolls – I wonder how many of you are feeling the need for some control over things right now? As much as I’d love a lifelike mannequin of Kirby to sit in front of the laptop for this week’s remote schooling, several of your stories have given me second thoughts though… Creepy, murderous children made particularly strong appearances in Nancy Chenier‘s “Sharing Is Caring” and Stella Kate‘s “From Father To Son“, while the kids in Eric Martell‘s “Planting The Seeds” and Laurence D‘s “Shut Up Freddie!” might actually be better off if they took up arms against their less than loving parents… Some of these stories gave me a real, visceral reaction – and quite a few laughs – just perfect for Halloween reading.

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HONORABLE MENTIONS

Famsimile by David Shakes

BS: Yikes. You think you know what’s going on, and then it gets worse. This is a great example of that frightening realization that something “normal” has gotten twisted in the name of showing the world “we can be a real family.” The way the imagery builds is just terrific.

KR: The serial killer who surrounds himself with mannequins is a well-worn trope, but “Famsimile” takes that idea and gives it a fresh, unsettling twist. Strong imagery and creeping unease help this one stand out.

[Untitled] by Phil Coltrane

BS: What I love about this one is how once you’ve read it, you realize that no matter how many times this simulation runs, the words “I love you” will never get fully said. And bringing speculative/sci-fi into the mix in this was is just so, so clever. Loved this.

KR: The unexpected interruption turns this slice of life into something else entirely. The fact that the protagonist returns over and again to such a mundane moment makes you wonder just what has happened since.

RUNNER UP

No Time to Stop Running by Maggie Duncan

BS: This is one that I find myself expanding into a larger story, and the details are fabulous. I’m rooting for these people, even though apparently they are murderers! That’s another sign of great horror, where you’re not quite sure you’re not pulling for the bad guy. And that sympathy comes through partly in those mundane details, the care taken to give the impression of a “real” family. Super creative, wonderful.

KR: As soon as I’d read this, I went straight back and read it again. The first time through, it was the story of a cunning fugitive couple, faking a family to avoid detection, full of fun little details like changing the names and filling diapers. The second time though… Now it’s a deeply disturbing story about a mother trying to replace the kids she’s at least allowed to die, or has maybe outright murdered. Those funny little details are now shiver-inducing symptoms of an illness no parent wants to consider. Very clever!

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

FIRE&ICE WINNER

ARTIE DINTERS!!!

for

Georgie

BS – This one is a simple, elegant, family moment that does a great job of juxtaposing attempts at “normalcy” of parenting in an extremely not-normal (and horrifying) situation. I also love how the dialogue brings further characterization, shining just a little light on their idiosyncrasies. There is a ton of detail packed in here, which makes it vivid. And again shows how those particulars can be so universal, not because of what they are specifically, but because we all experience life at that detailed, human-scale level. I feel really bad for this couple because they have clearly passed through a terrible terrible transition, and done it together, and agreed on the horrible way they will handle it. In a way, that’s about love. Great story.

KR — Just how damaged do you have to be to try and build a life around the preserved corpse of a toddler? Well, as this story lays out, the answer is very deeply damaged indeed. So much of this is conveyed through the mis-matched dialogue, the couple never quite connecting as they try to keep up their sham lives. Everything is slightly off and there seems to be a streak of jet black humour too – I have to admit, my reading of this was far less sympathetic than Betsy’s, and the thought of these two nutballs trying to “raise” their kid struck me as both horrific and funny, which is not easy to convey in less than 200 words. When little Georgie slumps to the floor at the end, displaying the rotten core of the tale to perfection, I laughed, felt terrible, then laughed again.

Congratulations, ARTIE! Here’s your winning story:

GEORGIE

It was early morning. Ben was cooking eggs and bacon. Linda indulged in latest news. In the background radio played Christmas music. It was that time again.

“Can you turn it off?” Linda said not raising her head.
“It is little Georgie’s favorite song, am I right Georgie?” Ben loomed above his son.

Georgie was a silent child. Gave no trouble to his parents. Always curious about his father’s job. Despite what neighbors talked behind their backs, little Georgie was a perfect child.

A whiff of rot danced with eggs and bacon.

“He stinks again.” Linda said.
“I thought I got the mixture right this time.” Ben turned the bacon stripes over. Knelt to Georgie. “What I got wrong, Georgie?”

Wax was dripping on the kitchen floor. Ben poked Georgie’s arm. Soft tissue met his finger. “Georgie, Georgie why you give us trouble?” Ben sighed. “Will you put him back in a freezer?”

“He is your son.” Linda said louder than she intended.
“I’m making breakfast.”

Georgie silently fell on the floor.