Tag Archive | Natalie Bowers

Spotlight: Flash Dogs

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When I (Rebekah) joined the flash circuit in the spring of 2012, it was already a thriving community, centered on contests as colorful and vibrant as the writers themselves. Among my favorites were Nicole Wolverton‘s “5 Minute Fiction” (you had 15 minutes from when the prompt posted, to submit your story. WHAT A RUSH!) and Jeffrey Hollar‘s “Monday Mixer” (up to 9 difficult vocab words to incorporate in your 150 word count). We writers followed each other throughout these various weekly contests, and we got to know each others’ styles and flavors. It was glorious.

All too soon and to my horror, that circuit began petering out as contest hosts moved on to other projects; so I launched Flash! Friday in December 2012 in a desperate bid to keep the community alive. I needn’t have worried, of course. Two years later, and look at you!!! In 2012 we couldn’t have dreamed of organizing ourselves as flash fiction writers on the circuit. We couldn’t have designed our own badges, issued our own challenges, published our own anthologies like the Flash Dogs do…. but I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s hear what David Shakes and Mark King of the Flash Dogs have to say for themselves!

Let’s start with the basics. Who on earth are the Flash Dogs?

The FlashDogs are an international pack of flash fiction writers committed to pushing the envelope of the form. Put simply, we’re a community passionate about flash fiction. We don’t have a mould. Anyone can call themselves a FlashDog and anyone can follow the @FlashDogs twitter profile. There’s no cost, there’s no elitism. Everyone is in if they want to be. Our intentions are:

  • to encourage regular flash fiction writing, inspire folk who may not have considered writing before and connect them with the competitions and each other
  • to promote and support the many regular competitions available online, not least the keystone competition – Flash! Friday
  • to signpost various other flash fiction opportunities such as paid prizes or publishing opportunities
  • to provide ongoing, positive support to the entire flash writing community, celebrating individual successes and the continuing rise of the art form.

 The name itself came about through jokes being exchanged on Twitter one particular  week in which all prompts seemed to involve canines. Across every competition the theme was dogs! Despite doggy fatigue, the determined flash hounds duly submitted entries. Beneath the jokes there was a clear sense of love and loyalty to the competitions and each other. The first FlashDogs were born that week. We haven’t looked back since.

It’s rather a pity you didn’t launch the week everyone wrote about waffles! So: there are loads of online writing communities these days. What sets the flash community (and Flash Dogs specifically) apart?

FlashDogs tapped into something special that already existed in the world of flash. We were a community long before we put a name to it. As we discussed above, the pack is native to the intense competition of the Internet flash arenas. Despite being locked in a battle for the top spots each week, flash folk are the most supportive people you’d hope to meet. We reveal ourselves through our writing. We respect that and treat people’s creativity with care. Sometimes with awe. We take time to analyse and comment on each other’s work.

Twitter is an integral (but not essential) part of the FlashDogs experience. That social element fleshes out the people behind the poetry and prose. We were finding that many of the people writing on a regular basis for one of the competitions also participated in others,  but communication across the field was sporadic and uncoordinated.

FlashDogs formalised that, linking disparate groups and using Twitter as the initial platform.

We’d like to think that there are many more stories written each week as a result of our efforts. Our only interests are in flash fiction and helping the community to achieve success in their writing.

Flash is the distillation of all of the critical elements of longer fiction. We encourage critical feedback, honing skills for people.

We jokingly wrote that ‘…a success for one FlashDog is a success for all FlashDogs’, but as time’s gone on, that’s genuinely how it feels.

What defines FlashDogs now is the opportunity to get your work published via our anthologies and support charitable causes that promote literacy for the next generation. We are taking snapshots of the flash community, making sure stories that would usually disappear into the digital ether are preserved a little longer.

Tell me the truth. Are online writing communities the lesser cousin of IRL communities? What direction do you forecast for writing communities?

Mark A King: Clearly both have a place in the world. Whilst text, e-mail, Skype and Social Media are instant and convenient, they don’t allow you to share a coffee. IRL will always continue.

However, many studies have shown that our true selves often come out on-line and our social media preferences are highly accurate predictors of our personalities – so the power and connections of on-line communities shouldn’t be dismissed. Indeed, sometimes it’s easier to be yourself when online, if you are introverted or find social situations daunting.

David Shakes: I have a busy life. Between work and family, I’d struggle to make regular real-world meetings. Without the online community I’d never have started writing in the first place. That said, I agree with Mark. We’re hoping that the oft mooted FlashDogs UK meet up happens this year. There’s no substitute for honest human contact and the free exchange of views. That doesn’t make FlashDogs a “lesser cousin”, just a different animal.

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Why an anthology? How were the contributors chosen?

Writers generally want to be published. Week after week there were loads of great stories competing for one or two winning places. What happens to those stories not chosen? We initially wanted to gather those stories and promote them to readers who wouldn’t usually read blogs or competition sites.

Our anthology was seen as a reward for those that gave significantly to the flash community. It was a chance to showcase the talents of those individuals, to give excellent writing some longevity.

We issued golden tickets to the usual suspects. If we’re honest, it was a bit hit and miss. Though not fully perfected, we have a better idea of what we’re doing for volume 2.

One thing we were absolutely certain of was the inclusion of the folk that run the competitions for us writers. You guys were first on the list. It’s your hard work that inspires us.

Finally, we knew that being in the book would be reward enough for folk, so we added the charity element. That was really well received by everyone involved and gave the project another dimension.

What surprised you about publishing your own anthology? What did you learn from the process?

Mark A King: We feel it was a vast project and the amount of work involved was significantly underestimated. This is something we have learned from. The biggest surprise for me was just how amazing the anthology was. We are passionate about flash and clearly we were passionate about the project, yet sitting down and reading the book was a magical thing. Each and every story made me think and dream. Each story made me think: ‘it can’t get any better’, then it did!

David Shakes: The kind dedication to me in the print version says “…who dared to dream.” I might still be dreaming were it not for Mark, Emily June Street, Tamara Rogers, Beth Deitchman, Kristen Falso Capaldi and her husband, the list could go on.

What surprised me was the amount of people it took and how labour intensive it was to get to the publishing stage. That was just for starters! Getting it out there was quite the rigmarole. Then, how do you get people to buy it? We’re lucky to have Bart Van Gothem on board who knows a thing or two about sales and marketing.

I was naive at the start. Now we’re all gearing up for volume two – battle hardened but no less enthusiastic.

What surprised me most was people’s willingness to give of their time and expertise and the genuine love people had for the project, Mark’s above all. He’s the linchpin.

I suspect he might say similar things about you; you’ve all proved to be a phenomenal team! And what has the response been to the anthology?

In terms of success, we made the top ten list on Amazon for two out of three categories we were in the UK. We made the top 50 for two categories in the US (which is clearly a much bigger market).

We were fortunate to be gifted Natalie Bowers‘s marketing prize following her fantastic win on EtherBooks. Thanks so much, Natalie!

We had many passionate members of the community promoting and bulk buying the book. These greatly helped our exposure.

We’ve had some great reviews and feedback. We’ve had many new people follow us and ask where they can join in.

Best of all, we’ve sold books to readers who have just been browsing Amazon for their next read. They’ve enjoyed it and recommended it to others. That’s so validating for our writers. Plus, we’ve made a sizeable chunk of cash for our chosen charity.

Speaking of charity, why IBBY?

It was always going to be hard to choose a charity. Everyone has a personal preference for a wide range of causes. We knew we had to narrow down the list somehow.

It had to be global. It had to be something that we all associated with in some way.

IBBY was, in the end, an incredibly popular choice.

They support books for young people. The believe that everyone has a right to read. They sometimes work to help children in crisis areas.

We are all fortunate enough to be voracious readers as well as writers. Not everyone is so lucky. We believe they should be. We felt that IBBY was the perfect charity choice, because it gives future generations the foundations that we may have taken for granted in our youths – a window on the world, a passport to the imagination.

Perfection indeed!!! That just leaves one question, then: what’s next for the Flash Dogs?

We’ve just announced Anthology 2 for the summer. Whilst its exact nature is under wraps, we’re sure people will be as enthusiastic as we are.

The FlashDogs collective is expanding. We’re as keen as ever to ensure that all prospective FlashDogs support the competitions and online outlets that brought us into existence.

The momentum behind flash fiction is growing, and though we’re newer puppies in the park, we hope we’ve something fresh to offer.

We’re adding a style guide and a little more structure to the FlashDogs experience this time around, but the spirit in which we were founded remains our only philosophy. That’s why we’ll be here Friday, and the Friday after that…

Thanks so much, Mark & David, for your faithful and tireless support of Flash! Friday and flash writers everywhere. We can’t wait to see the second anthology. PS. Are you sure it’s too late to rename yourselves the Flash Waffles…??

Readers: since they were too humble to say so themselves, I’m happy to mention that the first anthology is still on sale here. (Full disclosure: many Flash! Friday writers, including myself, have stories in this anthology. We do not receive any profits from the sales of this book.)

Flash! Friday Vol 3 – 7: WINNERS

WELCOME to results day!!! So. Much. Fun. Thanks to all of you for your patience, your praise of each other’s stories, and above all, writing stories so marvelously strong that you give our brave dragon captains conniptions. :cough cough: Assuming dragon captains could have conniptions, obv.

We had nearly 80 entries this week; don’t forget to keep track of your own participation, as battling at Flash! Friday three times in a month will earn you the Ring of Fire badge. This week, that’s just about 80 of you dragons already a third of the way there! (The first round of eligibility will include February 6.)

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Dragon Captains Carlos Orozco/Eric Martell sayWhat fun it was judging this week. We had a difficult time trying to narrow it down to the final ten, and finding an order to those ten was even more difficult. This week team three only had two similar picks, but after some rereading, re-ranking, and a very intricate point system (it’s actually not that intricate), we managed to siphon out winners.

But before we get to that, we would like to share some thoughts on this week’s stories:

  • Many of the stories were understandably similar. It’s difficult trying to think of something unique when many of the elements have already been chosen for you, but because of that, it is more important than ever to try and stand out. You will all be better writers for it.
  • This week’s required story element was setting. We would recommend focusing on the story element (no matter how you interpret beach). Bonus points were given to stories with strong settings.

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SPECIAL MENTIONS

Best Use of Structure: Mark A. King, “Mirror/Mirror.”  The structure to this was very creative and well executed. Mark used structure to his advantage.

Maximizing Setting: Natalie Bowers, “A Tangled Web.” It took place on a movie set, but (as with all good movies) the lines blurred and we forgot where we were.

Best use of a historical figure who was really a monster as a foil for an old woman who had earth in her poppy seeds: Clive Tern, “Uncle Joe and the Babushka.”

Funny Reads: Reg Wulff, “The Danger Zone.” For some (all) men, a pretty face can always get us to be just a bit stupid, can’t it?; and Rasha Tayaket, “Among Us.” Two aliens and one beach. This one should be read aloud.

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HONORABLE MENTIONS

Tinman, Strands of Memory.” Another story that masterfully works the required story element. With one line, “The sunrise was a thin pink line of icing on the purple-green sea”, we are immediately thrust into the character’s world. The hints of comedy are genuine, which really helps bring the character to life.*side note: The Hoff vs Godzilla would have been spectacular.

Brian S. Creek, Waiting.” This story shared a similar theme with many of the others, but the open ending really sets it apart. Is Edith going crazy, is her husband really coming back after being gone so long, or is death finally coming to reunite her in the afterlife with her husband? This piece does a great job of storytelling with the negative spaces, letting the reader fill in all the blanks.

Laura Carroll Butler, “Nonna.” A lot of the stories this week were sad, seeing endings in the lines of a face of a weatherbeaten old woman, but this story put us in the shoes (or bare feet) of some young people sharing her beach. College students, expecting one kind of spring break and then finding another, learning lessons that they didn’t know they were seeking. The kind of story that brings an infectious smile to your face, not by being silly, but by warming places deep within

Michael Seese, “The Boy With the Hazel Eyes.” Are monsters born, or are they made? What happens when someone we love changes into someone we recognize, but only on the surface? A well-told story about change and war, love and loss. In another contest, we probably would have ranked it higher, but the beach wasn’t as central to this story as some.

THIRD RUNNER UP

Megan Besing, “Drifting Memories.” Our minds sometimes get cracked as we get older, but cracked isn’t entirely destroyed, and sometimes a glimpse of the person that was sneaks out from the person that is. We can’t always imagine our parents or grandparents as young people, but just like us, they were young once, their lives filled with stories. This tale weaves both of these themes into a powerful tale, and speaks to humanity and love hidden from plain sight.

SECOND RUNNER UP

Annika Keswick, “New Tires.” This one snuck up on us (like good flash fiction does). The first time through we think the old lady is being described, but then we get hit by that Eureka moment. Reading the second time through is just as satisfying (if not slightly more satisfying) because we can now see the obvious. The ending is very uplifting, stating a universal truth without trying to force it on us.

FIRST RUNNER UP

Phil Coltrane, “The Last Pilgrimage.” This is a great example of presenting the required story element in a unique way. We have a beach in this story, but the impending apocalypse really changes the scenery. The tone in this piece also made it stand out. While many of this round’s stories had a character missing or wanting something, Gretchen is accepting of the end. She becomes passive entity whose story comes to an end with a “Close parenthesis”. It is a fitting last line for this type of apocalypse.

DRAGON WINNER

DAVID BORROWDALE!!!

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“Under the Pier, Where Lives Are Made”

Flash stories don’t come a lot more powerful than this, cramming a ton of story into 201 words. Using the old woman’s visit to the beach as mismatched bookends to the story provided a wonderful intro and outro – at the beginning, she could be reflecting on happy memories, but at the end, we know differently. Set in a time both distant and familiar, we feel her love and her loss, both for her man and for her bairn. You don’t have to have suffered a loss like hers to feel the power of her story, but if you have, it resonates strongly. The last line was haunting. Very well done.

Congratulations, Dave! Below is a haunting, powerful winner’s badge for the wall(s) of your choosing. Here is also your brand new winner’s page and your winning tale on the winners’ wall. Please contact me asap here so I can interview you for this week’s #SixtySeconds feature. And now, here is your winning story!

Under the Pier, Where Lives are Made

She returns each day to the place her son was started. She shackles her bondi-blue foldaway to the railing, and lets the salt-wind rustle her memories.

***

Under Saltburn Pier it was, in 1941. Billy Hurles was her man, and he was going off to fight Hitler.

“Give me something so I don’t forget you,” he said.

“A lock of hair?”

“No.”

So they crept under the pier to be alone. But other couples were there, and she saw her own distaste reflected in the eyes of other girls. It was over quickly. She kissed him sweetly, and told herself she’d done her bit for the war.

***

She knew she couldn’t keep the bairn. She’d accept, in time, that he’d be better with a proper family; without the shame. Perhaps one day she’d see him again. But the bairn was born blue; quiet, tiny and unmoving. A priest came into the room that was already crowded with men.

“Shall I bless the child? Help him find his way to the Lord.”

“You shall not,” her father said.

***

She returns each day to the place her son was started and prays he is at peace: some days she looks up, some days down.

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Sixty Seconds with: Deb Foy

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)

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Our newest Flash! Friday winner is Deb Foy. Be sure to check out her bio at her winner’s page! Read her winning story here, then take one minute to get to know her better.

1) What about the prompt inspired your winning piece?  So many beautiful pieces were written about human janitors, I couldn’t compete. Then the vulture hopped into my head. {Editor’s Note: Now there’s a visual.}

2) How long have you been writing flash? Since being invited to Shenandoah Valley Writers in October! I’ll never look back. 

3) What do you like about writing flash? Every word must suffer scrutiny. Only the most meaningful should survive.

4) What flash advice would you give other writers? Be risky. Write what isn’t being written.

5) Who is a writer we should follow, and whyTinman. I wish I could sneak a sliver of his brain. Does that sound creepy? 

6) Do you participate in other flash contests, and which? I’m drowning under Finish That Thought, Three Line Thursday, Flash Frenzy, and Micro Bookends. Last Line First may be next…  .

7) What other forms do you write (novels, poetry, articles, etc)? Incomplete novels and short stories but poetry is my first love.

8) What is/are your favorite genre(s) to write, and why? Young adult fantasy–with a dark twist of orange on the rim–because that’s what I read.

9) Tell us about a WIP.  Speculative future fiction. Brave New World went through the wash with 1984. It shouldn’t see the light of day.

10) How do you feel about dragons? I like mine fear-filling and clever. If it’s cuddly, it’s not a dragon. {Editor’s Note: Unless one enjoys cuddling with blazing fire irons, obv.}