Tag Archive | Margaret Locke

Flash! Friday Vol 3 – 40: WINNERS

It’s Monday!!!! (“Not for me!” some of you are saying — Stella, I see that scowl! –but alas, work kept me out late today. Thank you for your patience. [Yes, even if that patience masquerades as a scowl. You don’t fool me one bit, you cute, fluffy bighearts.])

As it’s so late, I’ll keep announcements brief: join us TOMORROW!!! (Tuesday, in case tomorrow for you happens to be today already) for a super fun #Spotlight interview with our own Holly Geely, who’s dishing on her brand new book, The Dragon’s Toenail. And yes, of course she’s giving away a free copy! Because PAAAARTY!!!!!

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Many thanks to Dragon Team Eight, Voima Oy & A.J. Walker, for judging so magnificently. Your time and effort are so deeply appreciated! Here’s what they had to say:   

V– Some stories just never grow old, and I hope we never grow too old for fairy tales. They are more than magic. They are alive. These stories are timeless, changing, ever new. They are tales of  love and betrayal, losses, hopes, memories and dreams. They are as old as life, young as the sense of wonder. This time, they sure inspired you! Thank you for sharing your contemporary takes on these tales. I so enjoyed these spirited characters and lively, compelling stories. There were so many wonderful stories, I wish I could  mention them all!  

AJW– Well, Rebekah once again left Team8 with an unenviable task (and the sad loss of not entering for such a week of possibilities – we’ve had the Arabian Nights and now the Brothers Grimm flip!). There was a strange lack of dragons considering there was an entire 300 words to play with – as most of the authors seemed to want to take Rapunzel’s locks to task (and not a single shampoo and blow dry in any of them). There were some nice comedic pieces and punning for me to get my canines into. There seemed to be a fair bit of moralising and ‘justice’ and not much schmaltzy love stuff at all – so much cynicism you guys! 

Anyway, what big eyes you lot have! All the better for reading the results I guess…

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SPECIAL MENTIONS

For Brevity: A.V. Laidlaw‘s “Reduced Brothers Grimm” (11 words), Geoff Holme‘s “The Emperor’s New Clothes” — (0 words) the title is the story — and Geoff’s other story (although late) “Small Ad” (17 words), an inspired take on Hemingway’s classic of the baby shoes. 

For Romance: Margaret Locke, “If Only All it Took.” This is such a charming story of the fairy tale and Prince Charming ideal. Cinderella or Belle — Beauty and the Beast?  This is a story within a story. The romance is delightful–“Yes, she really liked  Deveric Mattersley.'”

For Reality: Josh Bertetta, “Reign and More Rain.” In this world of struggle and suffering and refugees, “Where is God and justice? Life ain’t no fairy tale.”

For One Mean Girl with a Gun and a Only Just Cleaned Cape. Craig Anderson, “Basket Case.” AJW- The cocky girl with the put downs (and the ultimate put down) is just brilliant. Though I’ve now vowed never to approach a young lady with a basket – just in case.

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HONORABLE MENTIONS

Colin Smith, Lifeline” & Eric Martell, “Aloft on Wings of Fire.”

There were many fine tributes to 9-11 this week, and these two are at the top: Rapunzel in her tower was powerfully evocative. These stories in particular stood out to me for their vividness. The feel of the braid, the voice repeating “let down your hair to me”; and Rapunzel as savior — beautiful and haunting, both. 

Phil Coltrane, “The Night Princess.” 

Love the fantasy elements of this story — The Enchanted Forest, where “snow whirled through the summer air.” and the Castle of Ice. Minuella becomes the Princess. Sareel the Siamese cat turns into a lynx. 1000 nights pass in one night. At the first touch of sunlight, everything is gone. Time to get back for breakfast.”  To me, this story is pure magic.

Holly Geely, “So Much for Tradition.”

Starting with “Twice upon a time,” this story is fearless and funny. Princess Snapdragon’s outspoken character and her choice of true love are a refreshing twist on the traditional type of fairy tale. The ending is great — “The king and queen were miserable, but they were jerks, so who cares?”

Eliza Archer, “Change of Heart.”

The viewpoint from the letter writer was perfect. The help yourself book, a basket with the returned baby. Made me laugh – which is never a bad thing – and perfect pathos too.

THIRD RUNNER UP

Dave Park, “Expensive Lesson.”

V – A tailor is charmed by a lovely lady who promises to bring in more business to his shop. Instead, she takes advantage of him and nearly drives him out of business. This is like a classic tale. And there is a moral, too. “But she’s so nice!”  “Nice is different from good,” his mother says.  

AJW – I have to say that this was brilliantly written and sexy – even if it was written as the polar opposite of a bodice ripper. I feel complete and utter sympathy for the poor sap and his cynical – if quite correct – mother. His forlorn hope that the work would flood in whilst he still got to look after his favourite (none paying) customer is all too believable. I hope she gets her comeuppance in some other fairytale and that life improves for poor Konrad. But I too am now living in cuckooland if I expect that to happen.

SECOND RUNNER UP

Mark A. King, “The First Requisite for Immortality” 

V – “If only her death had been final”  –Is there is such a thing as death online?  “They knew her better than we did.” The grieving parents find their daughter’s life on social media–“the touch of flesh replaced with the touch of screen.”   It is  a  timeless tale  of love and loss, made even more heartbreaking by contemporary technology.   Beautiful writing, thought-provoking piece. 

AJW – This seems to hit many a nail squarely on the head. As everyone grapples with technology which only seems to grip us further around our everything our lives are lived, replicated and saved to the cloud (and GCHQ). And yet we do see stories in RL of families living almost vicariously through FB and the like. Trying to hold on to something they never truly had. It can seem so sad. The story truly got the sadness, loss and the forlorn hope and belief across. Well done.

FIRST RUNNER UP

Karl A. Russell, “Becoming Grandma.” 

V – This subject matter of this story is grim indeed—“Once her hide is clean and dry, I stand in front of the dressing table mirror to try it on…”  careful not to rip the “liver-spotted skin.”  It is the Wolf becoming Grandma — “tucking my tail into the spare folds around her belly. …her scalp flicked nonchalantly across my shoulder like a stole… If not for the handsome lupine head, I could almost pass as human.”  The voice  keeps the description from becoming gratuitously brutal.  It is a macabre story of transformation. The red lipstick hiding the red thread mending the torn lips is the perfect touch.  I thought of Silence of the Lambs, the music Buffalo Bill danced to…

AJW – Leaving the contents in the tub for later. Gruesome indeed. And a nightmare to get the rings out of later. But if the wolf can handle a lipstick I’m sure a cleaning cloth will be simple. Honestly though, a thoroughly engrossing read told with fabulous detail and seemingly effortless. A deserved runner up.

And now: for her second time — but first since November 2014 — it’s this week’s sparkly

DRAGON WINNER

CARIN MARAIS!!!

for

“Bones Beneath the Juniper Tree”

V – I admit I was not familiar with this story, but I found out more on Wikipedia. It is a famous tale from the brothers Grimm and it has been made into an opera and a film.  In the original, there is a bird and a millstone, and justice prevails.  The story here takes a more tragic turn. It starts out as a fairy tale, a happy ever after that no one at the Twilight House believes.  The reality of the present situation is sad. The true story is heartbreaking. As Marleen unwraps her brother’s bones — “What was she supposed to have told the young woman who came to see her every week, she thought. No-one really wanted to know the truth. Hear the details of how your stepmother killed and cooked your brother. How your father shot her when he found out. How he drank himself to death. How you still saw the blood and the bodies each night in your nightmares.”  The writing here is so spare and clear — bare bones and beautiful. 

AJW – Simply presented story told across just two paragraphs and as creepy as it gets. I could almost smell an old people’s home. How many of these are full of people with pasts too scary to contemplate? It seems that she is too wily to tell the truth whilst probably thinking that they couldn’t handle the truth anyway – whilst those asking the questions of the old girl know there’s something else there somewhere – and equally don’t really want to find out. Perfectly balanced story, paced well – no rushed beginning or end. Just a scary old lady with a past and a handkerchief of small bones. Well done. Sleep well.

Congratulations, Carin! Such a joy to see you in the dragon crown again at last. Please find here your freshly updated, gold-and-emerald glowing winner’s page. Your winning tale can be found there as well as (shortly) over on the winners’ wall. Please contact me here asap so I can interview you for this week’s Sixty Seconds feature. And now here’s your winning story:

Bones Beneath the Juniper Tree

“And then suddenly my brother was standing there again and he was alive. And the body of my stepmother had disappeared into thin air. And we danced and sang and were glad to have each other once more,” Marleen said as she knitted.

No-one in the common room of the Twilight House looked up. They’d heard too many variations of the story.

“And you believed this really happened?” the social worker asked, making a note of getting Marleen to a psychiatrist.

“Of course,” Marleen said. “We lived happily ever after and father married for the third time and was happy until the end of his days.” She knitted faster, not caring that she’d dropped nearly half of the stitches in the short time the woman had spoken to her.

At last the woman left and Marleen returned to her room. She took out the bundled handkerchief from its hiding place in the corner of the locked trunk at the foot of the bed. Making sure no-one could see her, she unfolded it and stared at the small bones hidden inside the cloth. What was she supposed to have told the young woman who came to see her every week, she thought. No-one really wanted to know the truth. Hear the details of how your stepmother killed and cooked your brother. How your father shot her when he found out. How he drank himself to death. How you still saw the blood and the bodies each night in your nightmares. No, she thought as she hid her brother’s bones again. Better to tell of beautiful birds and millstones crushing her head. Better to say we lived happily ever after. Better to forget all of the bones buried beneath the juniper tree.

FFwinner-Web

Flash! Friday Vol 3 – 32: WINNERS

Welcome back!!!! A dystopian humdinger of a round here at Flash! Friday, whose terrifying scenes were ameliorated only by the pleasure of seeing returning oldtimers (yes, I mean you, dear Cindy Vaskova! and my precious Beth Peterson!) and some marvelously talented new folks, join the increasingly fierce competition by our resident draggins. Clive Tern noted that some stories cleverly melded visions of the future (“It’s like Orwell and Bradbury had a brain baby”); other stories like Josh Bertetta‘s “7R4N5P051710N” melted more than one reader’s brain (“it was dribbling out my ears,” said Foy S. Iver, shaking her head extremely carefully). Each story was breathtaking (in some cases literally; for legal reasons I shall not tell you about David Shakes and all the dead bodies).

SCRABBLE UPDATE! A very important note thanking all of you for your many suggestions for my game with my mother. I wound up using Clive Tern‘s suggestion of “ashlared” (thanks, Clive!) which didn’t use the Triple Word Score but still netted me 59 points. Upon which my mother promptly played the TW herself and scored 42 points. Our current balance is 247 (her) to 240, and it’s not looking particularly good for me this round. Woe betide and all.

rof2Looking much more promising this round: we’re of course handing out lots of Ring of Fire badges today: remember that if you’ve written stories at least three Fridays in July, your name can go up on the Wall of Flame. Each badge you earn equals a chance at the jackpot of prizes at year’s end. Read all about it here!

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Bravely judging for us this round was Dragon Team Seven, IfeOluwa Nihinlola & Nancy Chenier. They battled gleefully over which stories they felt deserved top honors (a battle which improved drastically once additional pots of coffee were served). Judging your fine tales is never an easy task, but I’m sure both would agree the stakes felt much higher this round what with Big Brother’s suspicious eye on them.  

NC: Dragon Team Seven’s first foray into the Flash Friday judging lair. It’s proven as rewarding as it is challenging (especially now that most of the work has been done). Orwell’s 1984 was the inspiration, and what a dystopian array you’ve come back with! Gut-wrenching and gut-busting, brutal and hilarious, heroic and desolate. I savored all the many flavors of subversion, cheered at the successes (even minute ones) and crushed dandelions in despair over the failures. What an honor to get to pore over so much talent. If I had but world enough and time (and a toddler who’d take longer naps), I’d gush over all of them.

Thanks go out to Holly Geely, who surmounted electronic challenges to prepare the stories (removing author names) so that our team could give a fair reading to every entry.

IN: Phew! 79 entries from a 1984 prompt. I didn’t see that coming. How the writers manage to do so much with the prompt week in and week out is amazing. It was a pleasure to read through all the entries. There’s a part of me that feels if I had more time to read over all of them again and again, I’d be able to defend including any on this list. Thank you all for producing such good writing.

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SPECIAL MENTIONS

Best Three Sentences to Ever Open a Story: Clive TernThe Improbability of Unrelated Casualty.” Such a lively piece: a crackling and absurd deconstruction of the Santayana saying.

Most Terrifying Dystopia, Arachnid Edition: Pattyann McCarthy, “One Down, One to Go.Rollicking fun, though not for the hilariously-clepped characters!

Best Subversive Use of an Acrostic: A.J. Walker, “If You Love Me You’ll Send Cake.” On the surface, a rambling, small-talk letter to Mom and her sweet motherly reply

Best (and Only Excusable) Use of 1337-speak Ever Crafted: Josh Bertetta, “7R4N5P051710N.” My brain hurts now. Was I the only one who saw David Bowie as the would-be savior from the 0N3 1D34??

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HONORABLE MENTIONS

Colin D. Smith, “Mightier Than the Sword.” 

NC: Usually our first experience with tyranny is via our parents, and through Andrew’s eyes we get a double-barrel of oppression. The father may remind Andrew (and us) that context is everything, that Andrew’s version of history may be a bit skewed. And yet, the father’s actions (trashing the journal, taunting his son) and Andrew’s fear of what his punishment might be (injury to his hand), shows that Andrew’s version may hold at least a kernel of truth.

IN: Oppression is usually communicated to the oppressed physically. Bodies are broken down as a way to deal with the soul. This story shows that in intimate details: burning fingers as sheets whipped them. But the physical is really just a means to an end. It is powerlessness that the tyrant wants the oppressed to feel. “..removing his last line of defence.” The title of the story felt ironic after reading: the pen is only mightier than the sword when there’s a hand to hold it.

Mark A. King, “Large Kidron Collider.”

NC: I loved the attribution of Rome at its disintegration as the site for this dystopia.  The historian character is compelling and my sympathy grew for him with every paragraph, from his writing against the grain of “history” as it appears in the third paragraph by relaying the ugly side of the Empire, as well as in the way he holds the lessons of the past right next to his heart (his optimism over what the events in Kidron might ultimately mean for humanity). The subtle presentation of the “event” in Kidron Valley drew me in. Of course, I was aware of the “event” described. I am really curious as to how it might read for someone who isn’t clear on the references. I like to think the mystery created by the sublime language of the repeated phrase might make it accessible anyway.

IN: This story attempts to tell all that should be known about Kidron Valley within the word limits, and it manages to achieve that with great use of language. Past, present and future all come together in the valley, presented as sweeping array of details. All is held together by the kindling sacred ground, a tinderbox ready to ignite at the slightest spark.

Amberlee Dawn, “Baker’s Magic.”

NC: Wonderful opening sentence. Even though I had a fairly good idea I know where this was going, the deft execution of it left me satisfied. The details are just tantalizing, blending gustatory indulgence with the slow poison of subversion. The descriptions of the Fair Society’s excessive appetites inspire so much antipathy that even if the MC hadn’t defended his/her subversion with the loss of family, I would have been rooting for him/her. I’m hungry to know how s/he bent those “thought-walls”.

IN: First line: “Revolution rode the backs of my croissants.” Verdict: Perfect. From there, the story moves deftly to show food as a vehicle for rebellion. There’s a rhythm to the chopped sentences that added depth to the story (some great use of commas too). The penultimate paragraph sealed its place on this list for me, starting with “As their stomach curved, so their minds followed.” It is such a nice description of potbellies that is one of the symbols of the political class in my darling country.

Betsy Streeter, “The Lesson.”

NC: Oh, the little rebellions are the best, like a dandelion growing through concrete. Here is a piece that really illustrates the strength of show over tell: here we see the battle being played out over a child’s drawing, the argument over the “right” color (as opposed to the true color) reveals so much about the world and the players. The interplay between characters holds this all together for me: the main conflict between Mrs. Melrose as the representative of an oppressive, thought-policing society and Parker as well as the alliance between Parker and Eleanor. I’ve taken to heart the lesson I got out of this: that the crayon is mightier than the sword.

IN: There must be something about censorship and rebellion that takes writers back to school and childhood. And of the stories that explored that in this round, this was one of the best. There’s the idealistic child who is bent on keeping his alien view of the world, and the teacher, Mrs Melrose, whose imagination has been calcified by constant surrender to the status quo. “Water is the color I say it is” has to be one of my favourite lines.

THIRD RUNNER UP

David Shakes,Will They Never Learn?” 

NC: This is one of those stories that I finished and said to myself, “Oh, yes, I liked that.” The voice is just great: flippant and naive despite being subjected to some of the worst the totalitarian government. S/He seems to trip along in his/her simple way doing his/her own thing, not necessarily meaning to be subversive but being so anyway. The short paragraphs unrolled the world in nice bite-sized chunks (appropriate for the simple-seeming MC). I chuckled over the creation of “syntacticians” (which is probably where my genetic profile would slot me) and then laughed aloud over them being jailed with the MC for their rage. The ending echoes the beginning—challenging the idea that those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it. This narrator remembers quite well, but doesn’t recognize the repetition — and there is probably a lesson in that.

IN: I did a U-turn on this one. At first, a formatting method I had no knowledge of kept me looking in the wrong direction. First line was great: set the tone for the story and established character with the question, “Where’s the harm in that.” The lightness of the story—I could see the narrator grinning at “That hurt”—disguised the horrible realities it’s been subjected to: maximum security, gene therapy. The ending hacked back to the beginning in a way that suggested the narrator was stuck in a vicious cycle, undermining his/her cheery view of the situation.

SECOND RUNNER UP

@dazmb, “Cockroaches.” 

NC: First line and I was won over. It didn’t let me down the rest of the way through, either. Every time I read it, I feel like I glean a little more. The pivot around the middle verse just obliterates me: the volatilizing of memory until “Imagine loving your family” becomes “You have no family” through a series of brutal, soul-crushing steps. As depressing as that is, my optimism is kindled the tiniest bit, because the speaker doesn’t continue to parrot the commandments in the last stanza despite the repetition of waking to the radio (which is most likely talking about cockroaches again). That s/he can still imagine, can still feel, may be a source of torture, but it also provides a spark of hope for change. The positioning of the radio in the first and last stanza bespeaks of the media’s role in rewriting even the most personal of histories and its persistent hand in “othering” enemies of the state. Emotion simmers through each and every line until it dares to break out at the end (even if the admission is one of futility). I love how this could be a future dystopia as easily as it could be any oppressive regime from history.

IN: At first, the imagery in this story is what kept it on my list. I went back to it again and again, not comprehending, but also unable to demote it on the list. Then my partner shared her thoughts about it and it became a favourite. I recently read about how people dehumanise others to enable oppression without guilt. This story brought that home. The writer could have chosen to write the story in conventional paragraphs, but leaving the sentences on individual lines gave each image room to make a strong impression.

FIRST RUNNER UP 

Margaret Locke, “Ignorance is Strength.” 

NC: Someone has written their way right into this trekkie’s heart. There is so much to like about this one. The light, hilarious conflict between the two characters over language lures me in, but then it sets up a shockingly stark contrast to the man vs. society conflict of the world in which they live, a conflict that seeps in through the window and manifests in hints like the MC’s raw red hands. The central image of a playing child getting trampled by marching soldiers illustrates totalitarianism at its ugliest: the cruelty of mindlessly following orders no matter how horrendous the consequences–and, further, the paralysis of the common folk to speak out against the atrocities of an “average day”.  I think what I enjoyed most is that some of the “mistakes” speak a more accurate truth than the correct trek-maxims in this horrible world.

IN: Simple descriptions, no exposition, yet the stilted conversation and the internal monologue were good enough to help me form a good image of the characters in the story. “They tread on him with no second thoughts, and soon red joins the monochrome color scheme.” That third line in a sequence that showed one of the characters looking outside the window into the story’s world gave me have all I needed to know about its horror. It’s a simple story that makes me wonder about the relationship between the characters, and how much of their circumstance is a result of the evil outside their window. Loved it. Did I mention that I’m a trekkie?

And now: join me in congratulating the he’s-not-going-to-believe-it, first-time

DRAGON WINNER

DAVID PARKLAND!!!

for

Five Cerulean Flowers Under a Dandelion Sun

NC: Right from the title, I knew I was in for something special. The voice of the child is wonderfully captured, in the clear language, the short simple paragraphs, and especially in the interplay of insecurity (“Do dogs have feet like that?) and childlike confidence (“clearly it’s me”). But what really strikes me is the tightness of the conflict. I can feel the child’s pain over the Daddy figure lurking upstairs. The misdirection with the flowers is the kind of resourceful-genius a child would resort to—and all the more tragic since the teacher could offer an escape. At first I thought it might be a divorce and the father has been estranged from the family. Then the last line was a lance straight through the heart. It made the lines about both Daddy AND Mommy assuring the child that “Daddy loves me” hurt so much more. So, despite my being a die-hard speculative fiction fan, this piece of flash throttled me into ranking it on top. Well done.

IN: The matter-of-factness in the narrator’s voice was one of the most striking things about this story. She had the curiosity of childhood as shown by the question, “Do dogs feel like that?” But the stark clarity of the rest of the story showed this is was child forced to grow up, forced to manage the feelings of those who were meant to protect her (teacher, mother), while dealing with the worst form of tyranny. By writing about the beautiful things she was drawing in that flat, mature voice, the writer made it clear the girl derived no joy in the activity. I went through the story with this on my mind, and yet, was sucker-punched by its ending.

Congratulations, David! Here’s your very own incredibly ornate (if somewhat dark and creepy) winner’s page and your winning tale on the winners’ wall. Please contact me here asap with your email address so I can interview you for Thursday’s #SixtySeconds feature! And now, here’s your winning story:

Five Cerulean Flowers Under a Dandelion Sun

The sky is blue. I drew it myself at the top of the page, next to the yellow sun.

“And who is this?” Mrs Reynolds asks, pointing to the dog.

I tell her, wondering if I should have made it browner. Do dogs have feet like that?

“And is this you?”

I nod. Clearly it’s me. Yellow hair.

“So this is Mummy?” Pointing to the person next to me.

She’s smart, Mrs Reynolds.

Her finger drifts over to the house. Pink walls. Smoke curling from the chimney.

“And who is this, looking out of the upstairs window?”

It’s like that feeling you get when you lose mummy at the supermarket and they have to say your name over the big speaker. I look at the face in the window and it makes my chest hurt.

But I don’t let it show. I know what Mummy says. I know what Daddy says. We love Daddy. Daddy loves us.

“Is it Daddy?”

I nod again. The blue crayon is still in my hand, so I make flowers on the front grass.

“Those are pretty flowers.”

I draw five, because she’s not pointing at the window any more.

I can still feel him though; watching me plant the little blue petals. He’s in my room. Looking out.

We love Daddy. But I wish he wasn’t in my room.

FFwinner-Web

Sixty Seconds IV with: Margaret Locke

Ten answers to ten questions in 20 words or fewer. That’s less time than it takes to burn a match*.

(*Depending on the length of the match and your tolerance for burned fingers, obviously)

Matchlight

Our newest Flash! Friday winner is Margaret Locke (four cheers for Lady Locke!!)Read her winning story here. Note that this is her FOURTH spectacular win!!! Be sure to check out her winner’s page to read her previous winning stories and interviews & then come back here to get to know her better. And yes; a four-time FF winner gets as many words as she wants!

1) What about the prompts inspired your story?

I don’t know. I looked at that photo prompt, all modern city and steel, and thought, “How the heck am I going to get a farmer into that?!” The ‘grandfather as farmer’ image came first, and then the idea of change over generations and time that wasn’t really change–for all their differences, they were the same. I ran with that.

2) This is your FOURTH win!!!!! your first three were Sept 2013, Nov 2013, and Jan 2014. Talk about that for a minute. You had just started writing flash in July 2013, and became only the 3rd person to have won three times, which is amazing! You’ve also earned countless accolades since then. But it’s been a long stretch between third and fourth wins. What’s motivated you to keep writing?

It wasn’t fun. I’d like to be able to say I don’t give a hoot about winning or mentions, but I’d be lying. I watched people who’d started writing long after I joined FF race ahead of me in their number of wins (*cough* Tamara Shoemaker and Foy Iver *cough*), and had to battle a bit of envy, I admit.

But it came back to commitment, and pleasure. Commitment, because I’d made a promise to myself to participate in FF as often as I could, to ensure that I wrote at least something new every week, even only 200 words. Pleasure, because it’s darn awesome to craft a mini-tale week after week.

On results day, I’m always a bit sad if I don’t get mentioned — must be some ego mixed in with my insecurity, after all, as embarrassing as that is to admit. The rest of the days, I realize the true prize is in the creating, in the community, in the connection with fellow writers. Frankly, with the sheer amount of staggering talent participating week after week in FF, I was completely shocked to win again. Y’all are fiercely good, peeps.

3) How has your approach to flash fiction changed since you started? Has your flash writing itself changed?

Hrm. Good question. I’d like to think I’m improving, that I’m able to write a little more outside of the photo prompt box, but I don’t know … I feel as if my style is more or less the same; I either go the humorous route (which I love, but which never wins), or I end up writing stories that, to me, are a form of prose poetry. I do think I’m a bit better at getting close to that word target from the start, instead of having to trim away two-thirds of additional story!

4) You also served a round as a judge here back in Year Two. Overall impressions? Did taking a turn as a judge impact your writing?

I was terrified to judge. Terrified. That’s why I turned Rebekah down the first time she asked – I was a newbie writer; what qualifications did *I* have to judge anything? The second time she asked, I caved. I’m glad I did. The first turn was nerve-wracking, but I gained confidence after that.

The lasting impact of judging, oddly enough, has been that it’s made me more free in my writing, because I’ve realized exactly how subjective judging is. For me as judge, after taking into account grammar and form and prompt incorporation and all that, it often came down to which story made me feel the most, which one leapt off the page into my brain and wouldn’t let go. Serving as a judge drove home the fact that just because a story didn’t win doesn’t mean it isn’t an excellent tale. Incidentally, knowing that helped ease the sting of all those agent rejections–I kept hold of the idea that just because one person didn’t click with my story didn’t mean that nobody would.

5) Has writing flash fiction changed/affected your novel writing? how has it helped? has it created any challenges?

Flash (along with Twitter!) has helped me learn to “edit” more as I go. I’m a naturally verbose person, both when I talk and when I write. Having to cut out a lot of the filler to get to the main point, because I had such a limited number of words with which to do so, has strengthened my writing as a whole.

As for challenges? The biggest one, if I can claim it stems from Flash, is that editing a novel is a much longer and more laborious chore than editing a Flash piece. When I’m staring at a story that’s 100, 200, 300 words long, it’s easier to see the whole and see where things need fixing. When it’s an entire novel, I falter in that–and get frustrated that I can’t attack the editing and be done in an hour, like I can with Flash.

6) You’ve been a huge part of FF for a long time, since it was practically still a baby. Any thoughts on how the community has changed? how flash fiction writing has changed?

The community has gotten bigger, that’s for sure. And yet, at the same time, it’s gotten tighter. Many of the people who write for FF also write for other Flash contests. They get to know each other’s writing — and each other — well. It’s like a large family. I do occasionally wonder if that’s intimidating to newbies joining, but I’d like to think not, since so many people take the time and make the effort to comment on so many stories every week. By the way, my apologies, FF community, for not being as active with that in the last few weeks–I want to read and comment much more than I am, but this novel business is sucking up all my time! 😉

7) Now to some big stuff! You just published your FIRST NOVEL (for which we got to interview you! yay!!!). Now that you are a couple of weeks in: how’s that going? what’s marketing life like? any surprises? what’s been your favorite feedback so far?

Augh. The novel. Yes. It’s exciting, exhilarating, exhausting, frustrating, bewildering. I’m so painfully aware of how much I don’t know–what’s the best way as an indie author to get people to pay attention to the book, to get them to hopefully buy the book, leave a review for the book, spread the word about the book? I admit I’ve gotten swept up in it all. I thought I would stink at promo, because generally I don’t feel comfortable tooting my own horn–but here I am, blabbing about it too much, and pretty much anywhere I can. I’m giving myself grace for that, since the novel has only been out two weeks–but now it’s time to find the balance between promo, editing the next book, writing, and, well, being mom and wife. I do like having an excuse for my house looking this horrible, however.

I have been absolutely surprised and delighted by the positive response to the book itself — even from people who — *gasp* — don’t actually know me in real life, and therefore have no vested interest in sparing my feelings. Any review I get is great, but I admit, the first one that came in from a stranger was exhilarating. I was like, “Whaa? Someone I don’t know read my book, AND gave it 4 stars? My book? MINE?” Then a second person contacted me directly on my Facebook page to tell me A Man of Character was one of the best books they’d read this year. I started to cry. My book? MY book? The one no agent wanted, the one my critique group still found lacking in some ways (in my wonderful critique group’s defense, we’re all trying to find stuff to improve in each other’s work, otherwise we wouldn’t be a *critique* group, right?)? I know eventually there will be people who don’t like it. I know it’s got warts. I know it could be improved. But I’m basking in the reality that a) I actually published the book and b) at least a few people really like it. Dream accomplished.

8) What other projects are you working on right now? what’s it like, trying to balance writing and editing AND marketing??

See question 7. In the past two weeks, there’s been no balance. I’ve been working on promo, reading about promo, sketching ideas out about promo, dreaming about promo. Pathetic and silly. Luckily, I’ve got author friends to keep me grounded and to remind me this is not the end, but the beginning, and the biggest goal is to write the next book. Luckily for me, I’ve got the next two written — but they’re definitely in first draft stage and need heavy editing. So that’s the goal for the summer: edit book 2, and send it to my developmental editor by–eek–early August. I’m not planning any truly new writing (except Flash! Friday, of course), but I DID find myself taking voice memos on future plot ideas and character sketches while out walking this week. Gotta love my phone for that.

If anyone has the secret to adequately balancing writing, editing, marketing, wifeing, mothering, sleeping, cleaning, grocery shopping, exercising, and maybe doing fun stuff-ing (sorry, had to keep the -ings going), could you clue me in?

9) What’s your favorite part of the novel writing process — outlining? character sketches? research? TRIPS TO LONDON? editing? sending it to beta readers etc? What’s your least favorite part, and how do you get through that?

LONDON! LONDON! LONDON! OK, back to reality. I do enjoy sketching out the plot and particularly the exhilaration that comes from writing that first draft. I love the creative process and the rush it gives me, of writing passages that make me giggle, of figuring out where the characters and story are going, (because you can bet they veer off from the plan) of writing “The End.”

I don’t like the editing as much — I always feel lost, trying to figure out what needs to be done, where the plot holes are, how to improve this, fix that. Some people LOVE the editing process, but so far, I’m not one of them. I’m hoping, however, that the next time around, I see it in a different light, because having gone through it numerous times for this first book — including a major overhaul after consulting a developmental editor — I’m now 100% sure that the book in its current state is MUCH better than the first draft, and that all those painful hours in the chair, staring at the screen as I struggled to figure out how to fix the story, were worth it.

10) Final thoughts, anything you’d like to share with the FF community?

Keep going. Keep writing. Keep lifting each other up. When you receive critique, or get overt criticism, take what you like, what is useful–and leave the rest. Don’t quit. Don’t give up. It’s OK to mourn, to feel stung, to doubt when you get negative feedback, agent rejections, bad reviews, etc. But if your heart drives you to write, if your soul drives you to write, if you can’t imagine life without writing, don’t let anyone stop you.

Egads, that sounds preachy. As if I know what I’m doing. As if I’m not going to burst into tears the first time someone trashes my book. As if I’m not going to feel stung the next time I send something out and get it back with tons of suggestions. As if I don’t fear rejection, ridicule, failure. Lord knows I do.

The biggest thing I want to say is THANK YOU. Thank you to Rebekah, for the way she sinks her entire self into making the Flash Friday community thrive. She is ALWAYS thinking about FF, you guys, always plotting, always wanting to make it better, to encourage people. Thank you to Maggie Duncan, for awarding me an honorable mention (though she knew me not at the time) the very first week I participated, which was the first public praise of any fiction writing I’d done, and which lit the fire in me to keep coming back. Thank you to everyone who’s commented on my flash stories–and each other’s Flash stories. I love it when writers work to build each other up, rather than tear each other down.

I’m not sure I’d be where I am–a published author–without all of you. Yes, I had starting writing my novel before I found Flash! Friday, but the positive feedback I got from other writers on my Flash kept me going and made me think that maybe, just maybe, I could write.

In the words of Sister Sledge, We Are Family. And I’m so thankful to be a part of it.