Tag Archive | Mark Morris

Flash! Friday Vol 3 – 31: WINNERS

HAAAAAAPPY Monday! A pleasure to see you back here for the medal party! Always exciting times here, finding out which stories struck our noble judges’ fancies this past round. And what a round it was! I’m STILL giggling from Brian Creek‘s “Chuck’s Five” with Chuck, Fat August, Indigo, Teller, and Pepper. (That’s Charlie, Augustus Gloop, Violet Beauregarde, Mike Teavee, and Veruca Salt in brilliant parodic form, of course), Geoff Holme‘s “Ian, Diana, Jonas and the Lost Dark,” and former dragon captain Eric Martell‘s untitled dialect piece (“‘e’s wonky, ‘e is”).  And clever J.M. gave us hungry adolescent dragons (!) with a craving for patricide in “It Will Change Your Life.” … And goodness, Clive Tern‘s richly dark twist on a ticket winner’s motivations (“I’m gonna mash their smug faces in, and win”), and Marie McKay‘s vivid take on synesthesia, both still follow me. 

Also loved srof2eeing bunches of new writers join us this week — and beloved old writers stop by (here’s looking at you, Karl Russell & Allison Garcia!). Reminder to all regulars, and those about-to-be-regulars (because we all know, SIGH, just how addictive the #flashfiction circuit is!) — don’t forget to track your participation here at Flash! Friday: if you write stories at least three Fridays in a month, your name can go up on the Wall of Flame. Each month you’re on the WoF nabs you a chance at the jackpot of prizes at year’s end. Details here!

{{Note: quick housekeeping reminder that parodies and derivatives of public domain stories (e.g. fairy tales) are allowed, but otherwise please use your own characters & world when telling stories; writing with copyrighted characters could get us all in a heap o’ trouble. Thanks for your cooperation!}}      


Judging for us this round was Dragon Team Six, Steph Ellis & Josh Bertetta. Wish I could’ve heard some of those arguments! Though they didn’t send out for emergency bandages or chocolates, so perhaps we’re still all right…?? Thanks to both of you for your time & thoughts this week! Here’s what they have to say:

A real confection of wonderful tale-telling was tossed at our feet this weekend in honour of one of the greatest children’s books ever.  For a first-time judge in this dragon’s lair, this was a nerve-wracking event but one I thoroughly enjoyed.  It feels strange that I haven’t been part of Flash! Friday for a year yet, but here I am judging.  When I first discovered this site, I was somewhat overawed by the sheer quality of the writing – and, I must confess – I still am.  But the comments have always been kind and supportive and this has driven me on to try harder every week and I hope that those who are new to this site will find this true for them.  I have a reputation for darkness but your tales don’t have to involve blood and guts, they just have to be good stories.  And they were.

A big thank you also needs to go out to Deborah Foy and my [Steph’s] lovely (insomniac) daughter Bethan for ensuring that Josh and I received our entries ‘blind’.



Best Title: Geoff HolmeIan, Diana, Jonas, and the Lost Dark.” SE: Oh that wonderful title, and the sinister Germanic overtones which only serve to heighten the humour.  Mönions for Minions in particular was a brainwave.  Wonderful. JB: A wonderful use of dialogue to build tension—so much so that the action is quite incidental to the story. I read it as a parable about corporate exploitation of childhood hopes and dreams.

Best Use of Song: Mark A. KingSweet Muzak.” SE: For song-inspired writing, titles cleverly woven together to seamlessly form a story.  Bonus points for including one of my favourite U2 songs.  Lyrically lovely. JB: A delightful incorporation of numerous pop-culture references. I feel like I am on one a quiz show: can you name them all?

Best Homage: Mark Morris, “Wonkered.” SE: A true homage to Dahl, from character names to the idea of a moral delivered in a uniquely dark manner; the children literally are what they eat.  Terrific homage to a great author. JB: Tragic and ironic, here we have three human ourobori (or is it ouroboruses?) whose desire blinds them from the glaringly obvious.

Most Poignant: Allison Garcia, “Hershey’s Chocolate, Hershey’s Chocolate, Hershey’s Chocolate Woooorld.” SE: They say there is nothing greater than a parent’s love for a child and this story provides a perfect example, deflecting awkward questions in order to protect their son from harsh reality.  Delicate writing.  JB: A poignant expression of the suffering a parent holds deep in his/her breast to shield his/her child.

Best Huggable Programming: Phil Coltrane, “Manufactured Peace.” SE: Everything about Paxbot is programmed, from his emotive subroutines to his neural circuitry.  But Paxbot is more than code.  He has a sense of self-belief, he ‘yearns’ like a human to become called a child of God. I want to give Paxbot a hug. JB: One heck of an interpretation of the prompt, here is the story of a robot, who through programming is able to bring to humanity what it has long yearned. And still, there is something missing…




David Shakes, “I Don’t Like the Sound of That.” 

SE: Usually we are fed horrific stories about the dental health of the poor, whilst newsfeeds and pictures reinforce the perfect smiles of the wealthy.  However this norm is inverted in Charlie’s world, the ability to afford sweets being the privilege of the wealthy, as, bizarrely, is the resulting tooth decay.  The children of the rich go round happily displaying ‘gap toothed grins and bleeding gums’ because it shows their status; unlike Charlie who keeps his mouth firmly closed to prevent anyone noticing his poverty.  Pride is truly a strange creature.  A nice twist but a sad commentary.

JB: A terrific story of reversals of expectation symbolized in the teeth of the poor kids and the rich kids where the impoverished would rather hide his straight teeth than reveal his poverty. So desperately wanting to fit in, he would rather keep a straight face than smile; he can’t just be a kid in a candy store.

Craig Anderson, “‘What Goes Around.”

SE: Sympathies are immediately raised in the opening sentence with a reference to ‘the crippled kid’ but ‘He really looks the part’ is a telling sentence, cluing you in that all is probably not what it seems.  The tragedy is that the boy does become what he pretends to be when he gets run over, by, ironically, an ambulance.  The last sentence reveals the humanity of the other hustler, he can ‘no longer confront the kid in the wheelchair’, because this time the boy is truly a deserving cause.  Karma in action.

JB: Oh that karma is, a…well, you can fill in the blank, and what happens to the kid in the wheelchair is indeed tragic. I can only wonder—karma being karma—what, in addition to his own guilt, lies in store for the protagonist.

Clive Tern, “It’s All About Winning.”

SE: This is a story about someone prepared to grab hold of any and every chance he gets.  He looks down on those whose ‘mental arms are too short to grab the chances that flutter past their tiny little existences’.  They are not worthy, he however will grab a chance and wring out every benefit, even if it reduces others to tears, even if he has to offer violence.  Winning is all.  Winning is everything.  Well done.

JB: Oh, our competitive, dog-eat-dog society where those who lack the vision miss their golden opportunities (or in this case, tickets), while others, like this story’s protagonist (is he really?) has enough vision to see his opportunity—in this case, theft. You have to do what you have to do, after all, to get ahead — for ours is a society that loves its winners.



Jeff Stickler,Six.” 

SE: A life taken over by Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is no life at all.  This is the tragic conclusion that our character comes to as he struggles through yet another day where every action has to be performed six times.  Nights give him no respite, insomnia strikes as he dreads ‘another day of sixes’.  It all becomes too much and he does not count out his medication for the simple reason he has swallowed them all, there will be no more days of sixes, no more days at all.  Desperation has driven him to seek a tragic respite.  Thoughtful, though ultimately grim, description of a tortured soul.

JB: Painful to read, but exquisite to do so over and over again. Perhaps I read it six times. Here is the story of — what most would call — an individual with mental illness, the harsh reality of mental illness and the extreme measures some will go. I sense an element of social commentary here, which I appreciate, for this individual lives in dire financial circumstances and I, as the reader, in filling in the gaps in the story, wonder if his poverty prevents him from getting the help he needs, feeling, in the end, there is only one way out.


Mark A. King, “The Troll ‘Neath the Towers.” 

SE: In the daytime our troll is a normal person, smiling, charming, a pleasure to know but … in his home he becomes something else, hiding behind ‘proxy servers, fake identities and cloud accounts’.  Every day he casts his net to catch, latch, onto anyone who has suffered, anyone who has any ideas or beliefs, anyone at all that he feels he can abuse and insult in any way, inflict pain in more than fifty shades, delighting in the hashtag #AskELJames.  He is addicted and he knows it, pain ‘calls him like Meth’, soothes his dreams, keeps him content.  Even in his poverty, he is the kid in the sweet shop and you would never know him, he could be sat next to you now.  Definitely a tale for our times.

JB: Upon reading the title, I figured I would be reading about those good old trolls of folklore and myth, but reading—pleasantly (or perhaps unpleasantly) surprised, I read a story not about those trolls with which I am well familiar, but trolls much more sinister, those who hide in the cyber sphere. Here is an individual full of hate, seemingly choosing anyone and everyone, firing “insults at both sides” who, despite his apparent poverty spends “all his riches” on technology to spread his malice, malice born of pain, and for whom trolling the internet is an almost cathartic experience.


Foy S. Iver, “Dr. C’s Freak Show.” 

SE: The poor girl has paid the price of youthful folly but it is wonderful to see how much hope she has for her premature baby and her desire for a future full of life.  She stands up to the midwife with her ‘righteous scorn’ whose God is a harsh God, subverting the message about loving all regardless of who/what they are.  There is no love or compassion in this midwife’s God, there is actually more in the girl herself, young though she is.  Her baby with its ‘fighting heart’ deserves a chance and she’s determined to give it her.  Tragic and inspirational at the same time.

JB: A surreal, carnivalesque, almost (in my mind) sci-fi, juxtaposition of a mother’s love for her child, her fight for her child matched by the baby’s own fighting heart. This in the context of a mid-wife who, despite claiming “God’s will is perfect,” condemns the young mother with her self-righteous indignation. Here is a woman with eyes of granite, who would rather fight over the baby—all two pounds of her—than act with compassion for arguably that which is most fragile in the world whereas the young mother, though she has nothing, relies on God’s help rather than resting upon dogmatic principles as does the midwife.

And now: welcome and whoop and holler for first-time




The Choice

SE: Opening with the line “I’m no good for you”, you almost expect the rest of the story to be doom, gloom and disaster.  And yes there is some of that, but it is also an uplifting tale of the power of love to overcome all suffering.  Between this first line and the last the woman reminds herself why she is with him.  There is extreme hardship and poverty with their ‘shack outside the city’, the ‘dumpster diving for food’ and ‘stealing ibuprofen so our kid didn’t die from fever’ but she does not dwell on that as he speaks.  She shoulders those burdens willingly, accepts them because he is her soulmate, if she had not chosen him her ‘soul would wither away’ and that is something she could not bear – everything else pales into insignificance.  And in all this, her ‘poor boy from downtown’ understands the sacrifices she has made, recognises that she’s ‘the best thing to ever happen’ to him.  Fluent writing that tugs at the emotions.

JB: “The Choice” is a story of expectation, disappointment, relationship, love, economics, heartbreak — all in one of this week’s shortest (if not the shortest) stories. Here is a man feeling unsure of himself, his esteem and sense of worth rooted in his sense of poverty while his partner — through whose thoughts the reader learns of their dire situation — makes her choice based on feeling rather than reason. Love, the narrator lets the reader know, is, for all intents and purposes, irrational and when it comes to love such as this — a soul-love — there is really no choice at all. Chalk full of gut-wrenching images of poverty, “The Choice” reminds me of the times when things seem dire and there is a loss of hope, when love is in the heart, thinking and “common sense” are secondary.

Congratulations, Sydney! Here’s your brand new (DON’T SIT DOWN, PAINT’S STILL WET!) winner’s page and your winning tale on the winners’ wall. On a personal note, it’s a pleasure to see another one of my own magnificent Shenandoah Valley Writers on that wall!!! (Note for anyone who’s suspicious; judging is blind and done by the dragon captains, not me.) Sydney, please contact me here asap so I can interview you for Thursday’s #SixtySeconds feature! And now, here’s your winning story:

The Choice

“I’m no good for you.”

When he said that to me, I wasn’t thinking about living in a shack outside the city, dumpster diving for food, or stealing ibuprophen so our kid didn’t die from fever. I wasn’t thinking about torn jackets, sockless toes, or begging for a few laundromat coins.

I was thinking about how my soul would wither away if we really said good-bye right now.

I choose this lifestyle because I choose him. Every day. I open my eyes and the one poor boy from downtown stirs beside me, turns over, and whispers in my ear.

“You’re the best thing that ever happened to me.”


Flash! Friday Vol 3 – 27: WINNERS

It’s coming up on a HUGE week in Flash Dog Land: in case you haven’t heard (not possible!!), the newest, most compelling flash fiction anthology, Solstice: Light/Dark yet is hurtling into publication on June 21. Make sure you’re following @FlashDogs so you won’t miss a thing. In honor of this event, tomorrow our Spotlight feature will shine on the Pack Leaders themselves, Mark A. King and David Shakes. Be sure to come back for this exciting, behind-the-scenes look.  

In the meantime, it’s another goodbye-fest here at Flash! Friday, as we bid a fond and grateful farewell to Eric Martell and Carlos Orozco in their capacity as dragon captains. They’ve judged your stories faithfully and with excellence, wrenching themselves out of deep and comfortable naps beneath large, warm rocks to do so. Now that’s love! –They’ve promised we will still see much of them as they write and share stories here; help me chase them down if they don’t, k? THANK YOU, dear friends, marvelous writers, for giving of your time and hearts to this community. We’re so very, very grateful.   


Dragon Captains Eric Martell/Carlos Orozco say: 

Eric: The best part about judging for Flash! Friday is that you have to read all of the stories. You can’t let life get in the way and miss all the wonderful writing – so you see the brilliant things people come up with week in and week out. The worst part about judging for Flash! Friday is that you have to choose! Every week there’s about twenty stories I consider for my top choice, plus a bunch more that Carlos liked and, when I re-read them, see them in a different light. Then you say “this is the best one!” Ha! Best! So I’m going to be glad to turn that choosing over to someone else. But thank you to Rebekah for giving me the opportunity to read all these stories and the responsibility of choosing. I only hope I haven’t messed up too much.

Carlos: First off, I’d like to thank Rebekah for giving us this great, safe place to write. She does so much behind the scenes to keep this contest rolling week in and week out. It’s truly inspiring. Believe me when I say, I would probably not be where I am with my writing if it wasn’t for the dragon lair. With that said, if you ever get the opportunity to judge, do it. It not only gives back to this flash fiction community, but your writing will also get better. When you’re up late on Saturday night trying to cut your list of 20 down to 10 and trying to justify why story A should make it and not story B, you really see what separates the good from the spectacular. Then you have to write why that story felt so right (trust me it’s a lot harder than it sounds). But in the end, you start seeing similarities in what makes a story a winner. Once you have that, it’s like: Eureka, I have the secret formula for winning.

Now that we’ve gotten our tears and goodbyes out of the way, let’s get on to what you have been waiting all weekend for.

This week gave us many great stories about prisoners, theaters, prisoners in theaters, and theaters inside of prisoners, but per norm, the unique takes on the prompts are the ones that stood out the most. Also, this week was the first week where we both agreed on the top spot (battle to the death averted).   Now without further ado, let’s get to the winners:



Best description of the man in the photo: Mark A. King, “The Unreliable Narrator.” “…his smouldering Oscar Wilde look about him, his unruly cravat, foppish hair and come-hither eyes.” With this description, we had no need for the photo.

Funniest title: Tamara Shoemaker, “Ungrapeful Audience.” This was a very funny piece that did the title justice.

Cliff hanger that needs an answer:  Clive Tern, “Across the Fourth Wall.” Was Aloise caught or did she fall to the floor? We NEED to know.

Best description of a theater:  Steph Ellis, “Curtain Call.” Amazing description of an abandoned theater. This one did the theme justice.

Angler of the week:  Michael Wettengel, “Inspiration.” This opening line hooked us in, hard.



Andrew Laidlaw, “And Then is Heard No More.” So much story here, and so much yet to tell. We don’t know who the prisoner is or who the guard is, but we know they’re playing roles – the prisoner pretends that he hasn’t been beaten and the guard knows that *how* the prisoner says it could determine what happens to him. We really wanted to read more of this one, so compelling a picture it painted.

Liz Hedgecock, “Monologue.” This was a perfect marriage between humor and horror. Our protagonist is haunted by that one commercial he did. While some seek fame by going viral, this person was destroyed (enslaved) by it. He will forever be the “Oat bar guy” unable to continue his career in acting. Our final verdict for this story “It’s SO good”. 

Phil Coltrane, “Matinee of Torment at the Theater of Lamech.” Starting off like a noir crime story and ending like a foray into the world of Edgar Allen Poe, this tale of one man’s revenge against the woman who had spurned him and his comeuppance was a joy to read. A man who celebrates killing his wife by watching her on the silver screen? What a compelling and remorseless character, Humphrey is.

Carin Marais, “An Audience at Bedlam.” This story is told almost entirely through the audience’s dialogue, and it works well. We get a very strong sense of how the caged man feels.  In a way it’s like the audience is telling us those things. But before we get a chance to feel bad for the man, he lets his ego out, trying to perform for his fans. It’s in this action that we get the feeling that perhaps he did something to deserve being put in the cage.


Mark Morris,Brother Computer’s Final Final Show.”  A takedown of reality television, a dystopian future, and a zombie story all wrapped in one. Quite a lot to put into 209 words! Painted with tons of descriptive terms which set the scene easily (view-screen, time-code, MoltoCon, paddock, dying and already undead), plus some inventive character naming which set the story in a world both like ours and not, we’re brought into the story along with our narrator, Brother Computer. A lovely and sad tale.


Eliza Archer, “The Long Run.” We liked this story because the setting enslaves the character in this one. He is bound by what most other actors seek: success. It is the flipping of traditional beliefs on their heads that makes the story stand out. And the image of the crowd devouring the actor’s soul was very vivid and maniacal. It felt like something from a nightmare.


Michael Seese, “The Fourth Wall.” This story did a wonderful job of revealing the theater and the prison that can hide within the commonplace. Samantha and Jonathan live the American Dream, but not *their* dream. Terms like “Middle Generica” show that they’re trapped in roles which were defined for them, but which don’t have meaning for them. The picture of ennui and antipathy that the author paints is one which can make us all question our choices – are we living the live we’re choosing to lead, or choosing to live a life that we feel has been chosen for us?

And now: another new member of the Quad Club: celebrating his own FOURTH win, it’s Flash! Friday




“House Arrest”

The first line “He slid the CD, a meal of memories, into the mouth of the plastic device” took our breath away, and it only got better from there. From “He was a human tree on the couch, rooted in the fabric” to “Newspapers piled up on the porch like black and white firewood”, every description in this was deliciously original and we were beyond envious. This writer showed a strong command of the language, twisting and contorting each word and phrase to tell a great story. The pacing was also well executed. Like the depressed protagonist we lose track of time and slip into the monotonous routine of daily life. Ordinary objects become fantastic (mailboxes gaining weight, lawns turning into extraordinary landscapes), but it doesn’t matter to us because the story also drops us into that dark place. Well done. 

Congratulations, Chris! What a pleasure seeing you nab your FOURTH win! Your writing, often dark and disturbing, always haunting and beautiful, nabs readers’ eyes and imaginations each week, so it’s only fitting. Here’s your updated winner’s page and your winning tale on the winners’ wall. Please stand by for questions for Thursday’s #SixtySeconds feature. And now, here is your winning story:

House Arrest

He slid the CD, a meal of memories, into the mouth of the plastic device. It accepted his offering with a grinding, mechanical thank you, a sound that became his friend over time, his partner in torment.

Images leaked from the television, coating the walls and his face with the chaotic light of evacuation. He was a human tree on the couch, rooted in the fabric, sedentary, except for his eyes. They shimmied in their sockets, pulsating blue, as they drank the beauty on the screen and devoured the colorful silhouettes that crawled through the darkness like radiant serpents.

Over time, he had moved his bed into the basement. And the refrigerator. The microwave. He turned a storage closet into a matchbox bathroom. This theater of solitude became a damp penitentiary of the past. Daily, he slammed the mental bars, turned his key of regret, and did his time.

Newspapers piled up on the porch like black and white firewood. His lawn grew into a suburban savannah. The mailbox gained weight.

Richard couldn’t differentiate between dusk or dawn, snow or sunshine. The outside world was as foreign to him as happiness.

He snatched another CD, stabbed Play. Caged bones and iced soda, their trip to the zoo last summer.


Spotlight: Tamara Shoemaker

Tamara Shoemaker 3

She almost doesn’t need an introduction: she’s an active member here at Flash! Friday, supporting the community with her writing, faithful commenting, and even serving as a judge this round. Today we welcome you to join us as we dig a little deeper and get to know the extraordinary Tamara Shoemaker even better.

And as thanks for joining us: Tamara has graciously consented to giving away a FREE copy of her upcoming novel, Kindle the Flame, to a randomly chosen commenter. Thanks TS!


You’ve just published your fourth novel (Soul Survivor, May 1) and are about to publish your fifth (Kindle the Flame, June 1), and your first three books have all been published since March 2013. So my first question is: ARE YOU CRAZY?!

Crazy? I’m fairly sure there is a certain probability that this is the case. After Broken Crowns was published in 2013, it lit a fire under me. I wrote reams of pages every day, sketching out the next book and finishing it in a month, and then beginning work on the next. I was certain that this was what I wanted to do, and my enthusiasm was hard to control. I learned, with time, that enthusiasm isn’t nearly all that goes into writing. Tighter verbiage, tighter plots, better characters, more surprising twists, new genres, new styles, the list goes on.

My first books are still on the market, but I don’t do much advertising for them anymore. Amazon actually has a good system going with their reviews. Once you get a certain number, the books sort of sell themselves. I don’t have hundreds of reviews on any of my books, but I do have between 25 and 40, most of them between four and five stars, and that means sales stay at a steady trickle. No gushing, raging river yet, but fingers crossed. 😉

I always have several projects going at one time. I’ve been finalizing two books for publication these past few months: Soul Survivor and Kindle the Flame. I’m in the editing stage of another fantasy novel, and I’m in the first draft phase of the sequel to Kindle the Flame. Lots of things going on.

My most valuable writing resource (especially now that I’m writing fantasy) is my imagination, of course. But I like to keep lots of resources on the side. I get loads of ideas from my kids; they’re all the time asking me, “What if, Mommy?” “What if we lived inside the sun? I might get a little warm, Mommy. Would I be warm, Mommy? Mommy, would I sweat if I lived inside the sun, would I, Mommy? Mommy?” So maybe I’ll set my next book inside the sun. Or maybe my next hero (or villain!) will have the firepower of a thousand suns in his/her fingertips. 😉 Oh, the possibilities.

Your first four books are Christian mystery, but your fifth veers wildly off into the realms of dragons and other magical creatures. While of course I salute you for your wise decision, I’d love to hear your thoughts on branding. Convention says stick with one genre so readers can know what to expect in your writing. You’re clearly breaking the conventional mold: what’s your take?

Convention says stick with one genre; I say write what you love. I enjoy mysteries, but my true love lies with fantasy, and my fascination with it has solidified in the last few years as I’ve delved into Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, Hunger Games, Game of Thrones and others. I did debate whether or not I should take a pen name — two names for two genres, but I’ve always liked the idea of branding my work with my own name, so I finally decided not to. There’s always a chance that there are a few mystery readers out there who also enjoy fantasy.

I get irritated with “the box” (in case you haven’t figured that out). Phrases like: Writers should never do thus-and-such absolutely turn me inside out. “Writers should never write more than one genre.” Wanna bet? Just watch me!!! (I may or may not have a touch of rebellion that bubbles up now and then.)

Not only is Kindle the Flame your first fantasy, it’s also your first totally self-published work; the first four were published by a small press. Let’s talk about the small press first. Pluses? Minuses? Go back to your very first book, Broken Crowns: how did you find a publisher for it, and what made you decide against an agent?

The advantage of a small press: you get personalized attention without having to worry about dealing with the giant that is Amazon. My publisher did all the set-up on Amazon and other outlets, signing me up with iBooks and Barnes & Noble eventually. They also did all the formatting for both editions (print and ebook) so I didn’t have to do any of that. Those are the positives. The negatives are that things don’t always happen on the timeline that you want it to happen. For instance, originally my editor and I had discussed a Soul Survivor release date for January 2015. I had worked to get the edits to her by November of 2014 to be sure that there would be plenty of time for final organization before release, but when January hit, a kink in the system held up the release, so the date was pushed back to May 1st. At that point, I had already set Kindle the Flame for publication in May, so it was a confusing and rather frustrating time as I tried to flip my schedule around. As it was, I had to release the two books within a month of each other, something I don’t think I’ll ever do again—way too much insanity.

I had written Broken Crowns in 2006 during my lunch breaks at work. It was on a dare from my husband (“Bet you can’t write an entire novel,” says he. “Watch me,” says I.) When I finished it, I began submitting it to various presses, but quickly became discouraged with the tedious query process (and the horribly impersonal rejections I received). I eventually gave up and let the book sit on my flash drive for several years. In 2012, a small press put up a notice on a friend’s website, and I found it. They were looking for material. I figured it couldn’t hurt anything, so I dusted off the first three chapters of my manuscript and sent it in. Within a week, I heard back with a request for the full manuscript, and two days later, I received an offer of publication. Only the birth of my three children will ever compete with the moment I pulled in that email. “Excited” doesn’t quite cover it.

I decided against an agent for some of the same reasons I mentioned above that are negatives working with a press. I would lose a lot of control for my book (cover design, cover descriptions, shoot, even interior material gets edited). I would be paying them 15 – 20% commission, with no guarantee of a publishing contract, and the biggest thing is the wait time. I wrote my first draft of Kindle the Flame in November of this past year. I’m putting a high quality product on the market in June of this year. That’s a fraction of the amount of time that it would take for Big Publishing to do the same. Granted, going with the big houses gives you the possibility of more marketing muscle power, but the drawbacks are that they invest only so much in you for a limited time (think six months out from the date of your publication), and unless you’re someone absolutely tearing up the market (level of Rowling, Grisham, Collins), they’re not going to invest much effort in you. All that to say that I felt like indie might be the way to go. Someday, sure, I’d like to try a big house just to see what it’s like, but I’m kinda enjoying paving my way through the indie and small press world first.

Walk us through each of your first four books, the Shadows in the Nursery series, and then Soul Survivor, in terms of your learning curve and expectations as you approached/published each one.

I mentioned this above: my enthusiasm was the main ingredient in my first publication. Not to say I’m not enthusiastic about my later releases, but I’ve learned to temper it with more skill, finesse, understatement, and refinement (at least, I hope I do). I’ve learned that characters don’t always follow my guidelines; I’ve learned that not everything I plan on paper before the first draft makes it out the other side. I’ve learned that the world will not care about my books nearly as much as I care about them myself, even the ones that go ga-ga over them. I’ve learned that one star reviews aren’t the worst thing in the world, and I’ve learned that buzz about my books, whether good or bad, is always good. I’ve learned to write the best that I can, to be the kindest I can be in all areas of my life, and somehow, usually, I am repaid in kindness from others.

What made you decide to go in a different publishing direction for Kindle the Flame? What all has that encompassed for you?

I wanted to just try out this thing called “self-publishing.” It’s had a bad rap for a while. The who’s who in NYC and Writer’s Digest don’t have a lot of good to say about the process, but I’ve been reading lots about people that have tried it and loved it and been successful at it. So why not? Granted, I haven’t done the entire process by myself. I hired a brilliant editor (Emily Street: Flashdog extraordinaire and amazing, amazing person) to produce Kindle the Flame. Together, we spent about a month doing global edits (the big fixes, filling in plot holes, reconstruction, etc.). Then we went through and line edited for another month, tightening up my baby until it was leak-proof. I purchased a cover from selfpubbookcovers.com and we put that on there. The process was wonderfully smooth, and I can truly say I enjoyed it, even though I wasn’t sure what in the world I was getting myself into when I first began.

Grapevine says you’ve got another novel out there in the world somewhere being looked at. Spill, please.

Grapevine is right. Although Grapevine needs to be updated. 😉 I had submitted my book to Marisa Corvisiero, a NYC agent, and one about which I had heard many good things. I met her at a writer’s conference in NYC, and she requested my full manuscript. That was August 2014. I was excited as I checked my inbox for mail from her every day, and then every week, and then once a month, and finally realized—yes, six months is a normal timeline for something like this, but it’s way too long for impatient me. If I self-published this, I could get it out almost immediately, and who knows how long an agent would be pitching this to publishers? It could be another year, two, three, maybe even not at all. Meanwhile I watch my dreams die a disillusioned death. I pulled my manuscript from her desk in April 2015, and sent Mark of Four to my small press publisher. It will hit the market on Cyber Monday in November.

So on the one hand you’re a crazy novelist weeping over having to chop 10,000 words off a draft. But on the other hand you’re a renowned flash fiction master: you’ve won three times at FF alone. One would think flash would be your anti-form, yet you are SO GOOD. What gives? How do you cram all those stories into finite spaces?

I guess when I think of a novel, I plan a story from Once Upon A Time all the way to And They Lived Happily Ever After (unless, of course, they die a horrible, traumatic death), but it’s a whole story. When I write flash, I usually write segments of a story. Pieces of a person’s day, a thought that turns into an action. That’s my style. I’ve seen other flash masters (not mentioning any names *cough* Phil Coltrane) cram entire trilogy plots into one short 150 word story, and I shake my head in awe. I don’t have that gift. I focus on the slices of life, I guess.

You’re finishing up a round of judging at FF. Talk about that a bit.

As a judge, I like the stories that look at the picture and then blur the edges. They don’t write about the picture, they write what might have happened if the picture had stopped for coffee at Starbucks, got caught in a rain-shower, peed on by a dog, and then made it home with a corner torn off. Stories that take me waaay outside the box are the ones that make me remember them.

When I submit to contests, I’m doubly aware now of the little irritating things that I catch when I’m judging, so I try extra hard to make sure I have those things in place. A frame. No typos. Point of view all in the same head unless there’s a break. Outside the box thinking, etc.

Judging with a partner has been so much fun. We are always perfectly serious, because grave important decisions are at stake, and we never crack a smile, right, Mark? The bloodshed is slightly less than Game of Thrones level. I may have stooped to threatening Mark with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on his doorstep if he didn’t approve my favorite story. Still can’t understand why he doesn’t agree that such food is a staple of life.

What advice/encouragement would you give the next panel of judges?

Don’t drive yourself crazy wondering if you chose the right winner or not. Honestly, the level of writing that comes in each week is astounding, and trying to sort them out and pick only one grand winner is amazingly difficult. Give it your best effort, but don’t lose (too much) sleep over it. People will appreciate all the stories, not just the winner, so while it’s a nice recognition for the people chosen, the fact that you didn’t choose another favorite doesn’t devalue those other efforts.

I so appreciate the work of every one of my fellow judges, but of course, most of all, Mark, my partner in crime, who has made me laugh just when I most wanted to pull out my hair. And Joidianne and Image, who had the widest time zone difference to work through, you’ve earned my unending respect. Judging is hard enough without the difference of night and day between you.

Shouts out to writers (both within and without the FF community)–who do you admire, who have you learned from (and what have you learned from them), and who’s just plain awesome?

Well, since you obviously want this interview to take up another fifty pages, I’ll just go ahead and list all of them. Oh wait, you don’t want another fifty pages? Sigh. Fine.

            Foy S. Iver, for wowing me over and over with something different each time.

            Chris Milam, for the harsh grit that hides diamonds in your work.

            Michael Seese, for leaving me gob-smacked a few times with themes and imagery beyond compare.

            Casey Rose Frank, for poetic imagery and outside the box thinking.

            Mark Morris, for consistent encouragement and fantastic writing style.

            Margaret Locke, for finding the deep story behind the words.

            Emily Street, for teaching me the value of a solid sentence with no word fluff,

            and every one of the Flashdogs who are such a supportive and encouraging community.

            Most especially, the Dragoness, who besides sharing my propensity for scaly things and TimTams, is also a pretty awesome neighbor IRL.

Bonus 11. This is a flash community: so give us a 20-word Kindle the Flame pitch.

Kinna must examine her past to find her future. But she may not survive the fires of discovery. (18 words, yessss).

Bonus 12. Where can readers find you–how about a couple of links? 

I love to be found! 🙂

Blog: www.tamarashoemaker.org

Twitter: @TamaraShoemaker

Facebook: www.facebook.com/tshoebooks

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Tamara-Shoemaker/e/B00B6AY5PY/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6884471.Tamara_Shoemaker