Tag Archive | Karl A. Russell

Fire&Ice Sol 10/19: WINNERS

§ Foy says: Welcome, winners one and all! No new kittens here so we Foys are left to swoon, and swoon often, over the fire dragon’s furry wee one from afar. We are, however, celebrating (and mourning) the long-anticipated felling of our personal murder tree. A white oak upwards of 60 feet tall, mouse- and beetle-eaten with bare limbs like clawing fingers, she loomed over our heads and threatened to take out house or power with every spring and summer storm. The children are thrilled.

I’ll miss her. For the stories and fragments of poems she shook loose, I’m ever grateful, and doubly grateful that we aren’t limited to a single, solitary, entropy-bound muse! Thank you all for sharing yours with us every week. ❤

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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 10’S JUDGES SAY:

Voima OyI’m so happy to be judging another round of Fire&Ice with my co-judge, AJ Walker. This time, the challenge was to write a story in 89 words! Can it be done? Yes! People really had to do more with less. I am amazed at the variety, ingenuity and beauty in all the stories. Well-done everyone! Thank you for sharing your stories. Monuments by Susan Stevenson (SS)–Although it was posted too late to be eligible, it deserves to be mentioned, too. A beautiful story of loss, resilience and gratitude. Firdaus Parvez‘s Decades Ago–for subtle depiction of class divide. It’s a tragic story of connection and loss. I would also like to mention Arcane Edison‘s Cuckoo–history, class division, and revenge.


A.J. Walker: Well 89 words ain’t an awful lot to write a story, especially with such an evocative photograph, but thirty five intrepid writers gave it a go. Thanks to all of you for your efforts. As ever we have judged them blind so won’t find out who our winners are until you guys do. This time my co-judge and myself have been a bit closer with our views than on our last get together. So thanks again for that! In Arcane Edison‘s Cuckoo we have a story based on the recent past setting in train a future that will end badly. There was so much going on with so few words to play with. Maybe he could have used the Mindsweeper or do his best to find another path. Futures by Marsha AdamsWill the protagonist work himself out of his years of servitude and one day be a tourist like those he sees every day; that drives the economy and gives opportunities for the few. I am hopeful he will. I enjoyed – if that’s the right word – the desperately sad Different Beat by Tamara Shoemaker. The description is lively and brought to life; and sad. As someone who struggles each week with a guitar I wish they’d teach me the rhythm too.

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HONORABLE MENTIONS

Untitled by Eric Martell

VO: I loved the mythic power of this story. It is beautifully written, humble and cosmic–the weaving of the roads of life.

AW: The untitled story aka ‘26’ on my list (why don’t people title their stories?) was a great take on our universe. How much has been written of our future? What paths are we free to take or we inevitably follow? It has a great Eastern religion feel and a great interpretation of a roadworker.

Mindsweeper by Karl A. Russell

VO: A wonderful take on the challenge–so much fun! And such a generous spirit to the story–a gift to share humor in these dark times.

AW: I loved ‘Mindsweeper’. But was torn about choosing it for the tangential reference to students. But it did mention them and it was too good to discount. A witty take on Total Recall with Myanmar taking the place of Mars. Maybe I was mindswept by Postukpak-4 – I don’t remember calling them. But I wouldn’t, would I?

RUNNER UP

Don’t Worry if it’s Not Good Enough by Tinman

VO: Give them names, and the characters come alive! I loved the different characters in this story, the struggles of a group of musicians, and how one of them made it in New Orleans. The ending is great. Bravo, Two-Flutes!

AW: There wasn’t too much humour in the stories this weekend with the exception of Mindsweeper. However I must give a special mention to Thet, from ‘Don’t Worry If It’s Not Good Enough’, who made it to New Orleans to play jazz under the nickname ‘Two Flutes’. That made me laugh.

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

FIRE&ICE WINNER

MARK A. KING!!!

for

The Mist of Myanmar

VO – The Mist of Myanmar–even the title is evocative and mysterious. It is a story from out of the mists of time. The voice is the spirit of this place–the people, their lives, the farms and the pagodas. Every word tells a story. There are so many stories in this story. And stories yet to come. Beautiful!

AW — I’m currently reading a book about the history of opium (‘Milk of Paradise’) so seeing it mentioned in ‘The Mist of Myanmar’ was nice. Even better for me it happened to be my favourite story. It is nice to see a non-preachy story nudge us to think of a country and its people in more than one way. East Asia is a beautiful place and it is not about what we first think of when you say Vietnam or Cambodia – or Myanmar. Countries are people and we’re the same over despite what the news and some histories try to tell us… my soul is my children.

Congratulations, Mark! Here’s your winning story:

THE MIST OF MYANMAR

“Burma”, you say? And you think of war, genocide, opium, and human rights.
I smile, for you do not know me. How can you?
My heart is the golden sunrise at Shwedagon Pagoda.
My voice the melodic roadworkers of Bagan.
My skin the verdant furrows of Kyaing Tong.
My eyes the crystal waters of the Mergui Archipelago.
If I am a story, then my birth is forgotten, my life misunderstood, my ending yet to come.
My soul, well, this is my children, born in the swirling mists of Myanmar.

Fire&Ice Sol 6/19: WINNERS

§ Foy says: Mondays are one of our favorite days here at Fire&Ice. It means a new, shimmering Sol 7 winner’s crown to forge for you, and the bestowing of Sol 6’s, with all the feasting and hymns and resplendence in your honor! In our most recent Flash! Future follow up, we shared an interview on trauma and empowerment with the immortal Toni Morrison, and in it she speaks to how she honors her characters by revealing them as they are: “complicated, interesting, mysterious people,” not larger than life, but rather as large as life itself. This is how I see our little community; each of us brings our own beauty, our own complexity. For enriching our lives with your words and presence, we thank you!

♦♦♦♦♦

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 6’S JUDGES SAY:

Betsy Streeter: Boy oh boy do the writers have things on your minds this week! This felt like a bit of a therapy session. And the vividness of the various “commutes,” after months and months of lockdown — it’s such a strange double life we lead now, memory plus current state plus hope to regain what’s in the memory… all at once. Seems like the prompt being a train, something we maybe can’t/don’t access – or if we do it feels like a gauntlet – really set off some things.

As a cartoonist, I’m on this endless quest for the lyrical line and the turn of phrase, and I so admire the various ways little worlds shine through with each story. I especially enjoyed Mark A. King‘s “The Driver/The Loop” and its hopeful phrase, “with every loop, there is a chance of a new beginning.” Like Nicola Liu in Untitled,” I too have wondered if goo on the floor of the train is some form of life making First Contact. MJ Bush‘s “Bea Yourself” was a great portrayal of being on public transit with a kid. Dr Magoo‘s [Note: Eric Martell!] “Riding the Red Line Into Heaven” just opens right up at the end in such a lovely way. Pippa Phillips‘ “Root and Thread” went a WHOLE other place with the prompt, which I always admire. And Phil Coltrane‘s “To Get To The Other” is a terrific example of world-building through narration, with “So glad they don’t have six legs like me.”

Karl A. Russell: So, my first pan-global judging session brought a wealth of wonderful short pieces. It’s great to see so many of you returning every week, and I’m pretty sure that I recognised some of your distinctive voices coming through loud and clear. That feeling of recognition – of being amongst friends – is one of the finest things about the return of Flash! Friday and it’s one more reason why I’ll keep coming back for these few precious weeks. Once these comments have winged their way to our fabulous hosts, I’ll be heading over to see if my suspicions were correct…

But first, we have some winners for you. It was very pleasing (and a huge relief!) to find that Betsy came to the same conclusions as I did, but there were so many great stories along the way that I have to mention. I loved the bleak despair of Chris Milam‘s “Goodbye,” the rhythmic language of Becky Spence‘s”Beneath” and the startlingly surreal lobster of Voima Oy‘s “Rush Hour Afternoon.” The visual playfulness of Mark A. King‘s “The Driver | The Loop” was another stand out, and the cynicism of Allison Garcia‘s “Essential?” cut so close to home right now.

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HONORABLE MENTIONS

First Visit by Tinman

BS: Perhaps because I’ve recently gone through this process with the loss of a lifelong family friend, whose presence just keeps popping in and out of my consciousness, this writer’s description of that strange, disorienting, in-between place of grieving really struck me. Well done.

KR: A meditation on loss and finding yourself newly alone, with the absence of dad’s dad-jokes keenly felt and cleanly detailed.

RUNNER UP

Untitled  by Helen Laycock

BS: I loved seeing all the ways writers played with point of view with this prompt, and this one felt uniquely special. So much character and story contained within, and the ending is just sublime and heart-level.

KR: Taking the low-level photo prompt and staying there, this story gave us a shoe’s-eye view of the daily commute. Some fun, well-written observations (and a lovely soul/sole pun) helped this one reach the podium, and those final lines sealed the deal. Sad and stunning.

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

FIRE&ICE WINNER

PEG STUEBER!!!

for

Untitled

(“Our lives, are measured, in clicks”)

BS – I found this one compelling right away. First, the use of the social media language as this “world” everyone is inhabiting, together yet alone – the use of “click” and “fwoop” and even “/endrant” which took the language one step further into the Reddit/radicalization space. Using so few words to sketch all these realities, again right next to each other yet isolated, and then the lurch into the dark and deadly side of this out-of-control technology – so timely, and also multi-dimensional. Really great.

KR — This stood out from my very first read through. The snapshots of different worlds, all the lives about to come to a crashing halt, made it feel so much bigger than the 93 word count, and despite the brevity, each of those lives felt distinct and real. The prompt was cleverly integrated, and the repeated “click….click…” mirrored the motion of the train and gave the writer an easy way to hit the word count without massive rewrites. Best of all, that sudden lurch into a very real horror at the end reminds you that you never know what your fellow commuters are going through… 

Congratulations, Peg! Here’s your winning story:

UNTITLED

Our lives, are measured, in clicks.

ClickClick…clack. ClickClick…clack. Staccato heartbeat of the train.

Click…click…click…click. “What’s for dinner?” “IDK, Mexican?” “Thumbs up emoji.”

Click. ClickClickClick. Click…fwoop…click. “I swear, these PEOPLE.”

Snap. Fwoop. Click..clickClick……click..click..click. Fwoop. “Found this cute rubber duck on the train. r/hiddenducks #awesome #HideandSeek”

ClickClickClick. Click. Click. Loud sniff. Click. “OMG, I can’t believe…with HER???” “How?” “You bastard, it’s OVER!”

Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. ClickClick…clack. ClickClick…clack. Click. “As our needs have not been met, and our voices go unheard, perhaps now they will listen. This blood is on your hands, President.”

BOOM.

/endrant

Fire&Ice Sol 5/19: WINNERS

§ Foy says: You inspire me. When you show up, push form, try an unpracticed genre, or honor a new culture or character in your flash, you encourage me to do the same. In an interview with Clarkesworld Magazine, the award-winning Nnedi Okorafor says this: “If it scares you to write it, then you should definitely write it.” If you know her work, or joined us yesterday for her Flash! Future feature, you know she embodies this motto. May we, too, write bravely!

§ Rebekah says: This weekend I rewatched the NK Jemisin talk on worldbuilding our ice dragon highlighted for us a few weeks ago. It’s not the idea, Jemisin said, but the execution of the idea that matters in art. That point is driven home for me weekly at Fire&Ice when each of you, bound by the same constraints, takes the same photo prompt and writes a unique story with it. You’re expressing your own voice, in your own style, marked by your own creative imaginings, which all join together to reflect your unique way of seeing the world. Each story has something to offer; but even more, each writer has something to offer. Thank you for being here. ♥

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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 5’S JUDGES SAY:

Tamara Shoemaker: What an excellent response to this Friday’s prompt! Y’all didn’t make it easy to decide among your stories and narrow them down. I realized as I was going through and putting aside stories that captured my interest… that I was simply making a second document replica of all the stories from the first document. So many pieces featured innovative takes or imagery that stunned or sharply tugged my heart-strings. I must give a few shout-outs to some brave Victims Knights who ventured into the Dragons’ Lair with these particular elements: 

SupposedStorySmith‘s Horizon Settles Down: For clever use of names to match character descriptions.

Karl A. Russell‘s Uninvited Guests: For a flashover to one of the most startling scenes I’ve ever read: The Red Wedding in The Game of Thrones

Becky Spence‘s Behind the Lens: For incredible use of imagery and description (“A doll that needs dusting.” I love it!). 

Brett Milam‘s Buttercream: For making me feel a strong affinity to a wedding cake topper, which is… certainly a unique experience for me. 

Thanks for participating in this week’s competition! Your stories made my job as judge both stimulating and difficult: the pinnacle of all worlds, because between those two adjectives lies the meeting place where the best art is created.


Eric Martell: For the last four weeks, my anxiety has been building, seeing wonderful story after wonderful story and knowing that I was going to have to go from story appreciator to judge. I wasn’t going to be allowed to like all the stories anymore, I had to choose my favorite! Augh! And, of course, you did not disappoint. I went through the stories that you wrote for us and set aside all the ones I thought were worthy of consideration for prizes, and after being really strict, I got down to 21. What that means is that getting down to the final four took some doing. In addition to the stories you’ll read about below (and that Tamara mentioned above), there are a few I want to call out for special note: 

M.J. Bush‘s Forget Me Not: We don’t always fall in love when we want to, and sometimes it’s the wrong person at the wrong time. This story did a nice job of painting the pain. 

P.M. Coltrane‘s The Waters Flow: Who wouldn’t want to know that their marriage was going to work out when you’re standing there, pledging your life to someone you hope you know.

Michael Seese‘s Untitled: The last two lines really caught me, turning a chance meeting into a bit of horror. 

SpicyDicedWatermelon‘s Untitled: There was a lovely verisimilitude in this story that carried me along. (DQ’ed for time of entry, but still worthy of comment.)

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HONORABLE MENTIONS

Untitled by R.J. Kinnarney

TS: The fully-budded hothouse roses that often are the primary scent in a funeral parlor contrasted sharply with the simple blue cornflower, peeping from the buttonhole of Ted’s suit, and in that contrast is imbued a storm of feeling about the whole conflict on which the story is based: “Dad and Sal had won.”

EM: What a powerful opening line – it just captured me and wouldn’t let go. Such wonderful imagery doesn’t come along every day.

Wedding Day Blues by Marie McKay

TS: As a daughter who has stood in front of the mirror with my mother beside me as she tucks a curl beneath my veil, as a mother who hopes someday to do the same for my own daughters, as a woman who has lived in that powerful shared bond on the edge of that precipice of change: this story just about did me in, especially since I didn’t realize until the last sentence that the bride’s mother stood there in memory only: “And I know how the dead grieve.” WHERE ARE MY TISSUES?!

EM: There were a lot of wedding stories this week, but this was one of the most compelling. There was a tenseness, a tautness to this story that anyone familiar with their own wedding day will recognize.

RUNNER UP

Daughters of the Moon by Voima Oy

TS: This was a beautifully written piece (I could say peace; it seems appropriate for the imbued moonlight over the whole scene) full of history and lore, the ways and traditions of a people. That final introspective paragraph stuns me with its gorgeous descriptions of the give and take, the rise and fall, the rhythm of the dance between sun and moon. Ageless daughters, both young and old, the narrative reflects this feeling with its powerful and timeless imagery.

EM: A beautiful story, painting a picture of a society that feels as real as our own, and its own way, a world that calls to you. There is a peace (as Tamara points out) in this world, with people who made choices that make sense. That kind of internal logic is rare in a story, and I was thrilled to find it.

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

FIRE&ICE WINNER

Nancy Chenier!!!

for

Reforged

TS – Enter the Dragon! What an exciting and original take on this prompt; I love it! (Also, kudos to the author, who perhaps knows of my penchant for all things dragonly, and may or may not have read my “here’s-what-I’m-looking-for” tweet hours before the contest incipience.) The panoramic swing of the character arc in only 160 words is stunning; the narrator moves from naive acceptance of her fate to the strong rise of fire in her belly, and within the word limit, ends the story as the fiery bringer of justice and vengeance. And y’all, the bookends: Mother, who begins the future, Mother, who blesses the Dragon as she launches into that future. The title itself sweeps the whole piece into a dramatic “coming-of-age,” where the narrator is brought face to face with her past, and forced to forge a different future or be destroyed. She chooses to become the bringer of fire, which is, in my opinion, quite the wise choice in the grand scheme of things, and really, the only sensible choice to be made.

EM — Who doesn’t wish that the abused could rise up and transcend their world, become something that can’t be hurt by anyone as insignificant as their abuser? This story rose quickly to the top of my list, not because of the presence of the dragon in a story written for two dragon queens, but because of how it made me feel. I saw the pain of the mother, knowing she was sending her daughter off to a life all-too-familiar to her. I saw the pain of the woman at the heart of the story, starting small and building, as such things always do. And I felt her triumphant ascendance as her mother’s blessing came to fruition and she became her true self. That the closing line brings peace to her mother brings the story full-circle, a highlight of any flash fiction story.

Congratulations, Nancy! Here’s your winning story:

REFORGED

Mama’s smile has always been fraught: lips pushing up cheeks while remorse creases her eyes. She wears it before she sends me off with my new husband. She whispers some ancestral benediction, perhaps that a wife’s obedience be rewarded with kindness, but we both know how that worked out for her.

The first unkindness comes over too-lumpy akara beans. Then one for tracking gravel inside, another for lingering at the window overlong. I have practice swallowing outrage, but it feels different when it’s for myself. The heat hardens my belly. The bruises are different too: purling the skin, hot to the touch.

One night, I stray outside. His rough hands on my neck ignite a furnace. Fire erupts from my gut. Scales ripple out from my bruises. Welts on my shoulders burst into wings, launching me away from the pyre of my husband.

I soar over Mama’s house. She’s on the portico, face upturned. Moonlight falls on her serene smile.