Tag Archive | Michael Seese

Fire&Ice Sol 9/19: WINNERS

§ Rebekah says: Welcome to an extremely soggy and puddle-splashed Results Day! -A couple years ago I moved out here to the (in)famously damp Pacific Coast of the US. When I woke to day after sunny day, people assured me it was just an odd year, that normally it rains so much, and I would see soon enough. But as my garden shriveled, my grandmother finally (mercifully!) explained the only place it’s actually rained as much as people say, is in their fond memories of a time that never was. 

She’s no doubt right, as she is about most things.

All the same, I’m quite grateful for this weekend’s deluge, which sent my azalea sprouting pink buds in every direction. It’s made for the perfect weekend to settle on the sofa with coffee and ginger cookies, my brand new kitten (!), yesterday’s fantastic feature on Silvia Moreno-Garcia, and your stories. Delicious, all of it, and now a part of my own fond memories of a time that absolutely, quite certainly, very much was. You demand proof? Why, just ask our judges. ♥

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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 9’S JUDGES SAY:

Mark King: A big thanks to Steph: I genuinely worried after reading the stories that we would not find much common ground, but it was all very easy (as it normally is). Continued gratitude to Ice and Fire dragons for our inclusion as judges and for the magnificent return of this kingdom of flash.

The thought of this week was pure genius. Not only did it open the possibilities, but it allowed you to explore new ideas and experiment with genres. Some of these will work for you, some won’t. We only grow through trying new things, and this gave everyone a wonderful and magical opportunity to do that – what a gift! But I have to say, I was very frustrated not knowing how far you stretched yourselves, so I’m more curious than ever to read the names attached to the stories. [Dragon note: We hosts fill in the winners’ names for our judges.] Some quick shout-outs from me: Voima Oy‘s “Lost in the Stars” (lovely format and it seemed much more than the word count – which all good flash fiction should strive to be). And Brett Milam‘s “And the Vultures Wept” (for attention-grabbing opening) and Michael Seese‘s “I Laid” (for beautiful creativity,  buckets of charm and playfulness). Well done to everyone. The gauntlet was thrown, and you more than rose to meet the challenge.


Stephanie Ellis: Autumnal evenings of longer nights is the time of the storyteller and it was wonderful, as always, to read your tales. The image itself is magical and something I could simply gaze at forever. It’s one of those which speaks to the soul and there is a lot of soul this week. Knowing that you were having to write outside your comfort zone this week didn’t even register as I read the stories. Before we get to the placings, here are a few stories which didn’t quite make the podium but which caught my eye. Arvind Iyer‘s “The Initiation” is a nice step into surreal horror. The provision of lion costume and human flesh to help the watcher ‘become’ the killer the mysterious ‘they’ want her to be is a nice, stark touch. Nicola Liu‘s “Untitled” is something which is always needed. There is a world out there beyond the walls which house unacceptable and horrific violence. You just need reminding sometime and this in turn helps provide the courage to walk away. And last, but by no means least, I’d also like to give a shoutout to Karl Russell‘s “The Discovery.” I’m generally not a romance reader but this was nicely done and it gave LGBT the boost it needs at the Flash Friday table.

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HONORABLE MENTIONS

Guitar Hero by S.T. Hills

MK: Timely and clever. A lovely tribute to EVH. Song titles weaved in (which is fine, as titles can’t be copyrighted). “A final solo, a last chord. In the sky the milky way sparkled with twinkling stars.” Great lines.

SE: Guitar Hero had to be included. A touching tribute to the late, great Eddie Van Halen who sadly passed away this week. Lovely to think of Eddie playing air guitar amongst the stars.

Forgotten by TadK/GamerWriter

MK: There is a great feeling of loss to this tiny story. A lifetime lost in a single moment. It almost reminded me of the ending of Blade Runner, with all those moments lost in the rain, but this was the noise of a flatline. Also, the author hooked me with sabertoothed tigers, which are a spectacular image, and that paragraph linked us back to the prompt.

SE: Forgotten is pure tragedy. Regardless of having had anything, for anyone to die ‘unknown’ is a horrible thought. Everybody is somebody, they were known once. How easy it is to forget.

RUNNER UP

If These Rocks Would Talk  by Phil Coltrane

MK: This is the story of “the greatest crime”. An almost forgotten crime buried by history, media, and politics. But I found this to be sensitive and thoughtful, for the author used the paintings to tell the story, to come alive, much like they would have done when they were new, when books and TV and games didn’t tell stories, but people and paintings did, in the light of the dawn, in the glow of firelight, under the shimmering stars. Only this time, the paintings could act as witness, to people that were not ready to listen.

“You’ll carve your Presidents into us?” is, for me, the hardest hitting and most thought-provoking line this week.

SE: If These Rocks Would Talk is a powerful reminder of all the loss suffered by Native Americans. Written in a modern thriller style, set up as a crime scene, it makes its point quietly – and therefore more effectively – without lecturing. ‘If you’ll talk, I’ll listen,’ are words that should have been said so long ago.

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

FIRE&ICE WINNER

TINMAN!!!

for

Mac and Beth

MK – OK, I’m totally geeking out. Brilliant choice of genre and even mixing of art forms. It is highly inventive. The personality of the characters shines through. The weaving in of Santa/Father Christmas was just brilliant. And if you look at the prompt picture, it does indeed, look like reindeers in motion, maybe even prancing through the sky. Highly creative, looking to the prompt for something similar but different, and an eye-catching way of delivering picture prompt and genre experimentation requirements.

SE — Mac and Beth is a brilliant Shakespearean pastiche. The humour shines out in this format with the Father Christmas themed soliloquy, to its inclusion of ‘ho ho ho’ to Beth being ‘alarumed’ is brilliant. Original, fun and oh, so clever. 

Congratulations, TINMAN! Here’s your winning story:

MAC AND BETH

Act 1 Scene 1

Tara. A field beside the hill.

Enter KING MACDARA [he draws upon the hill-face]. Enter BETH.

BETH: Father, what art thou at?

MACDARA: Art.

BETH: What art thine art?

MACDARA: Behold the fiery trail above.
This evening while I watched the sky
Between the stars a reindeer passed,
With snout of flame, that lit the way
For fellow deer behind his hind.
They pulled a sleigh of childhood gifts
Like dolls, and books, and shiny pence
And sweets the shape of walking-sticks.
The reindeer reins were reigned by one
With cloak of red and beard of snow –

BETH: Father, I fear that madness –

MACDARA: Now, dear, one does not interrupt the soliloquy.

BETH: Of course not. Forgive me.

MACDARA: – who waved and thrice did utter “ho”. [Dies].

BETH (alarumed): Dies? What do you mean, dies?

GHOST of MACDARA: Well, it’s not one of his comedies.

Fire&Ice Sol 7/19: WINNERS

§ Rebekah says: I’ve always loved Mondays; there’s something so clean-slate and hope-filled about them. Maybe this week I’ll hit my writing targets. Maybe this week I’ll check those tiresome tasks off my list… This week I’ve a new one to add, as the ice dragon and I have each just committed to run 87 miles by our (American) Election Day Nov 3. (Whyyy did we do this? Shhhh, Self: that’s a Thursday-type question.) For now, it’s still sweet Monday, which at Fire&Ice means celebrating your stories. So Happy Monday, friends. We’re delighted to see you!

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Quick note on judging: Six pairs of judges across multiple nationalities and genres are taking turns reading your submissions (meet the judges here). As soon as each contest round closes, your stories are first stripped of all personal info before being sent on for judging. This represents our effort to maximize every story’s chances, whether it’s the first or hundredth story you’ve written. ♥ 


SOL 7’S JUDGES SAY:

Sinéad O’Hart:  Well, whew. What a crop this week. With prompts as good as these, and a wonderfully wide word count, it’s hardly a surprise that so many gems tumbled out of the story-sack. Thank you to everyone who submitted for trusting us with your work. Every time I have the honour of judging Flash! Friday it’s a privilege, and this week was no different.

The first story I want to make special mention of was the very first to cross my path – Bill Engleson‘s “A Final Flame.” I read this tale with no small amount of emotion, as to me it was about a woman at the end of her life, having suffered with a terminal illness (possibly cancer), and with the subtext that her loved one had done their best to end her pain. In the past few days, I lost a beloved family member to cancer, and so this story hit home in a special way. Sometimes, art truly can heal.

Other sparkling tales that caught my eye included James Atkinson‘s “The Breath of the Final Dragon” – such a fresh take on the dragon-fire idea, with some incredible imagery (‘lashes alive with parasites’), and a great take on the prompt of Justice. I also loved Voima Oy‘s “King Lear in the Federal Plaza,” with its evocative writing and great use of the prompts. My Sir Terry Pratchett-loving heart really enjoyed “Inspector Counterweight and the Percussive Goblin” by Geoff LePard; those characters would be more than at home in Ankh-Morpork! My Good Omens-loving heart also enjoyed Laurence D‘s “Ezekiel,” which was a fun homage to Pratchett and Gaiman’s masterwork. Mark King‘s “Where Her Soul Goes to Walk” was an important, excellent, and moving commentary on race relations and the lives of marginalised people, as was “Afire” by Michael Seese – powerful and meaningful work, a privilege to read. Maggie Duncan‘s “Kholodnoye Pravosudiye” was one of my favourites, barely missing out on an Honorary Mention. It was elegant, cold, brilliantly controlled, and I loved the subtle ‘eternal flame’ – the one burning in Gavrilla’s heart.

But, judging is a two-person process, and consensus must be reached. Luckily, Craig and I were on the same page (almost exactly) when it came to our top picks. Choosing winners and Runners Up this week was more a case of two old dragons sharing pleasantries, rather than a duel to the flame. So, without further ado…


Craig Anderson: How did time go so quick that we are back in the hot seat? Feels like just moments ago that we were judging the first round of most excellent flash fiction, and suddenly a new batch of awesome was delivered to our virtual dragon’s den. Just as before you all made it tough to pick a favorite, but it is certainly a nice problem to have when you are literally spoiled for choice.

As before, Sinéad was an absolute pleasure to judge with. We both had a long list of favorites, which made it easy to find the overlapping stories that caught both our eyes. We’d also both landed on the same winner independently, which made things a whole lot easier!

As for my own favorites, I particularly enjoyed Marsha Adams‘ “They came for me at dawn,” which spoke of a dystopian world where only a few humans remained. I love the little hints of what might have happened, always teasing the wider story, while focusing on one very specific punishment. I also loved Firdaus Parvez‘s – “The Wind,” for the swift punishment dished out by the diminutive hero. I’m such a sucker for underdogs, and Hawa fit the bill perfectly. “Sleep Well Tonight” by Edison Arcane contained a whole backstory in its brief length, and the ending was very satisfying. Plus I’m also going to sneak in a mention for Geoff LePard‘s “Inspector Counterweight and the Percussive Goblin“; I too immediately thought of STP, and that is high praise indeed!

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HONORABLE MENTIONS

Singular Love by Helen Laycock

SO: This story was so fresh and interesting, with an interesting and engaging perspective that drew me in right away. Well executed, with excellent details like the blood on the character’s thigh, which let the reader infer the subtext. A story with a whole world in it, skilfully drawn.

CA: I loved how this one started, which such powerful imagery of the women all moving in sync, like white smoke. That great imagery continued throughout, with the flames gently cradling the bundle, and the meandering blood, all painting such a vivid picture of a horrifying scene. The ending added a great punch, and twisted the whole tale on its head.

The Devil’s Kitchen by Steph Ellis

SO: Again, a story which immediately leapt off the page with its fresh perspective, and one I loved because of the almost throwaway line: ‘At least they’d buried her husband where no one would find him’ – narrated so casually, yet this line is the pivot point for the whole story. Masterful!

CA: This one jumped out for squeezing not one but two twists into its brief length. It starts so casually, like a walk in the woods, so good natured, and then the casual mention of dead bodies flips the whole thing on its head. Suddenly our campers become villains, and you worry for the person that they run into, but then the story twists again and karma comes back around quickly.

RUNNER UP

Legend Renewed  by MJ Bush

SO: Craig and I both loved this one. As well as its excellent use of the prompts, this story is evocative and moving, and it is a perfect example of the type of flash fiction I love so much – a story that works perfectly just as it is, but one which shows the reader a whole world. I loved the perspective, the centuries of lore and legend and the years of heroic duty; the crashing-together of the old and the new (the world might be technologically modern, but the old monsters remain), and the final image, the ancient tool being brought back into service, the light beating back the monsters of the dark. Excellent work.

CA: I really enjoyed the way this one spoke to the nature of legends, with the story slowly shifting over time, but the core pieces staying the same. Then it shifts gears, moving towards modern convenience, until everyone forgets the reason that the legend existed in the first place. It isn’t until that modern solution fails, and the old monsters return, that they receive such a sudden reminder, and they go right back to the old ways. A great analogy for our world these days.

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

FIRE&ICE WINNER

PHIL COLTRANE!!!

for

Astraea

SO – Again, my fellow judge and I were unanimous in our choice! I am a sucker for SF stories, and this one was a masterclass. A tale of a battle in space, at a time unspecified, but which could be mapped onto any Earthbound conflict, it drew me in and held me. The conversational tone: ‘The war began (as such wars do) with men who neglected the lessons of history…’ was a powerful beginning to a story which culminated in the destruction of a planet in a ‘blast of searing plasma’. What clinched this for me (as well as all the other things I love in a good piece of flash – brilliant characters, the power of the story to both stand alone and show us a larger world, and emotional heft) was the excellent ending, with an old-tech weapon being used in a new-tech world. Such an interesting and clever detail, the perfect showstopper ending for a perfect story.

CA –I loved this one right away, but I am a sucker for great sci-fi, so when Sinéad had short-listed it as a potential winner too I was absolutely thrilled! As with all great sci-fi it has a great mix of old and new, of history and imagination. The repetition of (as such wars do) was such a great way to bookend the global conflict in just a couple of sentences. So much is conveyed in so few words, it is a masterclass in cramming an entire history into a handful of words. 

‘My memories fuelled my nightmares for a century’ is another great line, which paints such a vivid picture about the nature of the war, and how nobody truly won. It shows us how the MC feels about the atrocities committed in the name of war. The use of water and fire, of symbols of mercy and justice, was a great touch, and the gut punch ending of the unspoken third option was the perfect way to wrap up this tale. Wonderful flash!

Congratulations, Phil! Here’s your winning story:

ASTRAEA

The war began (as such wars do) with men who neglected the lessons of history. I was an innocent boy with romantic notions of alien planets, great battles, and mighty heroes.

The war ended (as such wars do) in tears, and firing squads, and a vow never to forget. Never forget. My memories fueled my nightmares for a century. Even after I escaped the jail, fled the planet, buried my past deeper than my victims. At night I saw those purple eyes of a girl from Astraea — eyes that watched her family and her future die in a blast of searing plasma.

One day I saw those eyes again, in daylight. They held me entranced as she approached. We stood at the memorial: rippling waters and roaring flame.

“I could turn you in,” she said without preamble. “I should. Though a lifetime ago, justice knows no age.” Her face was pale as mine had been that day. “But the flame falters. Life, I see, has wearied us both. Mercy. Or justice.”

“So which will it be?” I asked. “The water? Or the fire?”

I never saw the pistol — only the glint in her eyes.

“The earth.”

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.