Tag Archive | Peg Stueber

Flash! Friday Vol 3 – 44: WINNERS

Thanks for your patience, y’all! Super long day here at the lair. Good news is, we’ve got lots of delectable winners, so I’ll keep my yapping to a minimum this week, except to say YOU’D BETTER COME BACK TOMORROW: on the #Spotlight docket we’ve got Andye from Reading Teen and YADC. She’s a YA book blogger as well as the founder of an incredibly active “YA Book Lovers” group in Washington, DC, and she’s got quite a few things to say about books these days and what keeps her reading a new author. You won’t want to miss this frank, inside-the-brain-of-a-seasoned-reader post.

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Many thanks to Dragon Team Seven, Nancy Chenier & IfeOluwa Nihinlola, for their courage in taking on a vast field of Mr. Darcys to choose their favorite (how does one choose a favorite Mr. Darcy?!). They say:   

NC: I haven’t had this much fun livening up a rainy day since curling up with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. I love, love, love the kaleidoscope of stories that emerged from Jane Austen as a starting point. Thanks yet again to Holly Geely and her swift powers of anonymizing so we over here at Dragon Team 7 could set to blind-judging these spectacular tales in a timely manner.

IN: It seems I always come here, in these comments, to gush about what wonderful stories get poured out here weekly. But I can’t help it. Thank you all, again, for a round of fun, charming, wonderful stories. And a great thank you to Holly Geely who strips these stories and makes them easier to judge. 

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SPECIAL MENTIONS

Most Impressive Parody of an Overwrought Victorian Title: Peg Stueber, “Whereas The Olympiad from their Throne on High, do Design to Demarcate the next Branch of the Family Tree“. Also, an appreciative nod for depicting how a mixed pantheon might behave had it emerged in the 19th century.

Bowl-Me-Over-With-A-Metaphor Award: Richard Edenfield, “Treehouse“— Oh, that quality of chandelier light! Oh, what a devastating turn Astoria executes! Oh, what a delivery from Mr. Blankenship! So. Much. Fun.

Most Rollicking Austen Mashup since Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Eliza Archer, “Austen in Space“. The preservation of the primary quirks of multiple characters in so small a space is splendid.

Most (Appropriately) Crackling Language Award: Marie McKay, “The Dance” — Such sprightly diction! Birl, whip, snap, scuff and tap! Demented skirl of bagpipes. This little scrap of folklore danced right off the page.

Best Mess: Jenn, “No Regrets.” This story was wonderful and would have been an HM except for its missing the required word count. A whole wedding is contained in this story, in one sweeping take, like a montage of well taken pictures.

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HONORABLE MENTIONS

Casey Rose Frank, Not Suited for Suitors.

NC: My first take of this tale has the tension ramping up between mother and daughter, with the addled “aunt” being used as a tool for the mother’s cruelty. Their conflict rakes across surface of the polite words like talons. The reader gets the impression this isn’t the first time the mother has used the odd “aunt” to torture her daughter, a transparent ploy to deflect her own dissatisfaction over her daughter’s apparent unmarriageability. In this reading, the “I love yous” passed between them feel excruciatingly insincere. Here we have a succinct “show” of passive-aggressive cruelty — one of the only expressions of power available to women in times when a girl’s value remained solely in her marriageability. Both players are subject to it. This is the way Mother lets off steam from the pressure of caring for her sister. With the reality of the “aunt” being a parrot, sympathy shifts. It’s the mother who is addled and earnest, and the daughter who is burdened with being the caregiver.   

IN: So this story is about a mother and daughter talking about a would-be suitor for the daughter, in the presence of an aunt who serves as a witness (and a tool) in their expert-level game of passive aggression. But there’s just enough suggestions in this story to make me side-eye its realist intentions. A suitor from a lovely plot of land. A chestnut squirrel shooed away from a perch outside the sitting room window. Methinks this “aunt” may be as human as the squirrely suitor.

Michael Seese, “The Garden Factory.” 

NC: My favorite part of this is how the repetition of the maxim on knowledge goes from seeming like an arrogant declaration at the beginning to one of self-deprecation at the end. Also, how “knowledge” takes on its more concrete iteration in its notorious arboreal form. The concept of fallible demiurge plays out wonderfully in the image of a more-or-less benevolent CEO mulling over the pros and cons of his/her enterprise, gaining my reserved sympathy as I read. Of course, from the title (and from the enduring cleverness of the dragon-flashers), I knew there was more going on. The reveal that he is indeed a demigod proves a satisfying one and makes the maxim come alive.

IN: The narrator of this story, the CEO/Manager of an enterprise, sounded like a grumpy god with a creator’s version of buyer’s remorse. But, really, that is just what he is. He goes from cocky, to ambivalent, to sorry all in a day’s work. The writer of this piece takes us through all that using what reads like the opening monologue to a tragic play set in an Olympus that is staged to look like a factory. Now, we just have to wait for the rest of the play to unfold.

Paz Spera, “Brunch.”

NC: The final line made me laugh out loud.  The conflict in novels from the Regency era so often play out in conversations, where the dialogue becomes a duel of words between the two players, the point of the duel not immediately apparent. “Brunch” accomplishes a such a verbal fencing over the unspoken challenge as to who has the most insufferable mother. This story is a perfect illustration of the line from Fight Club noting that a person doesn’t really listen to what other people say, but instead spends the time waiting for his/her turn to speak. One of the most hilarious bits for me was in the way the men appeared with her mother in clandestine locations: the shed, at the breakfast table, then in the sauna. One cannot shake the suspicion that these men might have been the mother’s lovers first.

IN:  We’ve all been part of, or overheard, these conversations where the participants seem to be in a game of “my suffering is worse than yours.” Those bizarre dialogues that are like a game of verbal ping-pong, each return trying to be harder than the previous till one person smashes the conversation out of play and admits defeat. Now imagine two ladies in this game, and the ping-pong is their mothers trying to set them up in the weirdest of ways and you’ll see how this made for one hilarious read.

 

THIRD RUNNER UP

Steph Ellis, “Pruning.”

NC: I admit, it took me a second read to crack open this tale. Even in my initial confusion, I was drawn in by the conflict over the granddaughter, intrigued by the rewritten will, won over by the tight imagery in the pruning especially as it was coupled with Samuel’s strange relish in the work. I got to the closing line and thought, “Okay, wait, what exactly is being pruned here…?” Once I reached that “Ohhh” moment (which was more of a rub-palms-together-in-sadistic-glee moment) this one became a favorite. The third read (and all successive readings) made me squirm and wince as I re-imagined the last two paragraphs: snagging blades, hacking shears, the description of the wilted matriarch (“she splintered easily”!!!), the heaping detritus. Cutting out the rot from the family tree that would stand in the way of Jenny’s legacy. Such ruthlessness. So very well played. 

IN: Confession: this story bamboozled its way into my list. I had no idea what it was all about, even after the third read, yet I couldn’t leave it out of my list. How do you drop this off: “The blades snagged, the twig too dense for his weak steel. Samuel fetched his shears, hacked back to the root of the problem, tossed the cuttings onto the growing heap of detritus. Next came the matriarch, her petals, long-since faded, adorning a mere husk. She splintered easily.” Nah. Don’t ask about what old Samuel is hacking. Just know the story is here—all great imagery and dark mystery—for good.

SECOND RUNNER UP

Tamara Shoemaker, “Competition” 

NC: The craft of this one inspires pure admiration. It really is flawless writing: the consistent use of the Darcy mug as a symbol; the concrete imagery finessed to convey tone, conflict as well as physical descriptions (knuckles “white where they grip the skin”, “pain slicing his expression”, “wrap my fingers around the warm acceptance”) ; the irony in the husband’s assuming that there must be another flesh-and-blood man turning his wife away from him; the tight dialogue; the fabulous opening line echoed yet transformed in the final line from married fragility to the “warm acceptance” of single-hood. I liked the voice of the POV character so very much: the honesty in her recognition that she’s the cruel one about to hurl painful words, the wry humor sneaking in on “This may be a long night”, the way she allows him to believe it’s another man because that would be easier on him. The husband is very much a Mr. Collins-like figure, and like in the source novel, the Elizabeth-like MC refuses him, but here it is in favor of the idea of a Mr. Darcy, an idea that allows her full self-expression.

IN: How do you write perfect flash fiction? An opening line that cannot be improved upon. Dialogue that is well tuned without wasting words. Short declarative sentences ramp up the story’s tension with simple descriptions. Characters who are, somehow, made whole in such a confined space. A feeling of melancholy set without resorting to any sentimental shorthand. And a good ending. Of course perfect stories are hard to come by, but this comes close. Really close.

FIRST RUNNER UP

Foy S. Iver, “1:3,999.” 

NC: Good speculative fiction is tough to pull off in flash as it tends to require extra world-building while still leaving room for character development and plot. I love that we are introduced to the MC with her worrying over what a mysterious “he” will be like, emotionally engaging us before we find out she’s a “non-organic”. The reader is set up (since we all know the source material) to expect this time be some kind of matchmaking. The few lines depicting her readjustment of her chances of being picked up reveal a slice of the MC’s abilities while also revealing her desire to be picked up. It is demonstrated through her internal dialogue and the filter of her perspective, that despite being a non-organic, Azile cares: she has fears, desires, and preferences. Her anxiety over Mr. D comes clear in the sustained weather metaphors she uses to describe him: “storm of a man”, “severity brewing”, “cold”. I like how Fits W and Mr. D enter as antagonistic then slowly become differentiated as Fits leaves and we get a peek at vulnerability from Mr. D. I appreciated, also, the fleeting allusions to a larger world (the curiosity-piquing hostile Assignments) and to potential conflict (Why is he unwanted?). Such details run the risk of being distracting rather than enhancing, but here, they serve to extend the tale beyond the word count.

IN: There are so many reasons why this story shouldn’t work: It’s SF without the advantage of a story to draw details from and hint to, hence the need for heavy world building on low word count; almost every line introduces something new; it switches point of view slightly; and that title. But it really works. Like all good SF, it pointed my attention to something that isn’t easy to talk about in today’s terms: slavery. It also hints at a kind of forbidden (impossible) love. I like how the voice of Beta-31 reflects all the confusion and innocence and naiveté of someone thrust in the weird world of another, and how the story complicates the larger-world of Mr. D and Fits-W with hints to its restrictions and rules, so they don’t look like mere caricatures. All these in 223 words.

And now: for a stunning, back-to-back win, marking our first-ever SIXTH win — here’s this week’s 

DRAGON WINNER

Karl Russell!!!

for

“Prometheus in Love”

NC: Be still, my beating SF- and alternative-history-loving heart! There is so much story, here, and it’s masterfully put together. Where to begin? The first line: does it catch my interest? You bet. “Lovelace” is a very distinctive name and if you know anything about her or her poet father, Lord Byron, a whole world opens up in that one line. Even if the reader doesn’t recognize Ada (deemed the world’s first programmer—Wiki her) and her work on Charles Babbage’s difference engine or the influence Byron exerted over her life despite her never having met him, the flush tells the reader enough. Tension is well-established right from the get-go, begging the question: What is she looking for in her mechanical partner? 

The diction of the dialogue is consistent for the time period. The banter does the triple-duty of establishing character, character motivation, and the conflict. Meanwhile, the interspersed lines of description give us tantalizing peeks at the machine and ground us in the setting.

There is a recognizable beginning middle, and end, each with a distinctive movement: the opening, where the mechanical man seems to have the advantage over Ada; the middle where Ada alludes Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley, another prominent writer of her father’s time (and friend of Byron), and the end with the machine reprogrammed more to Ada’s taste, the advantage ending with Ada. The transitions between them are smooth, taking place each time with attention turned to the work Ada is doing on the cards. The middle section lays out Ada’s intention in the context of the Romantic period, and the machine’s response echoes the very arguments that poets and artists who happened to have an XX chromosome pairing came up against time and time again throughout history, Mary Shelley included. The ending is satisfying because Ada sticks to her purpose, undaunted by her own baggage (the suggestion of daddy-issues) nor society’s circumscription of women’s creativity to procreation. Okay, I think that might be quite enough gushing. Thank you, anonymous wordsmith, for an entertaining read.

IN: There are many things I can say about this story, but none as good as a thank you to the writer and a plea that you read Nancy’s comments again.

Congratulations, Karl! I don’t even know what to say to you this week, other than CONGRATS, and you’ve left me wondering what on earth I’m going to bother you about for your sixth interview! Please find here your re-updated winner’s page. Your winning tale can be found there as well as over on the winners’ wall. And now here’s your winning story:

Prometheus in Love

“I am sorry Miss Lovelace, but I cannot replace your father.”

Ada felt her colour rise. 

“My dear sir, I hold no such intention.”

The brass gears in the corner of the repurposed sitting room whirred in mechanical mirth. 

“Forgive me, but for one so versed in the creation of patterns, you seem keenly unaware of your own. Have you not always found yourself drawn to the older, educated gentleman? To what end, save to fill the void formed by the Lord Byron’s absence.”

Ada nodded thoughtfully and returned to the repetitive task of punching intricate patterns in the strengthened cards.

The machine hummed in ozone scented satisfaction.

“Tell me sir, are you familiar with Mrs Shelley’s work, her Modern Prometheus?”

“I am aware of it.”

“Indeed. I found it a most stimulating treatise. To think that a man might create the semblance of life from little more than workshop parts and the application of his own intellect. I wonder; might a woman ever hope to achieve such a thing?”

“Why would she, when it is her purpose to create life in the traditional manner?”

Ada slid the freshly punched card into the bronze lined slot.

The machine clattered noisily, assimilating the new commands.

“Good morning machine.”

“Good morning, Ada my love.”

Ada smiled, satisfied, and applied her attentions to the next card.

FFwinner-Web

Flash! Friday Vol 3 – 26: WINNERS

I hope nobody’s too terribly comfy out there in flash fiction world: we’re winding down the first half of Year Three and prepping for the very, very exciting second. We’ve already announced your new dragon captains, and we’re planning to celebrate their inauguration with a SHEBANG! Coming up in the next couple of weeks we’ve got a couple of Spotlight interviews you are really going to love; on June 26 we’ve got a panel of uber fabulous guest judges; and then on July 3 we’ll start the next season with a BRAND NEW, SUPER SPARKLY contest format! We are so looking forward to challenging y’all flash phenoms in a whole new way. 

Alas, before we get to all that yumminess, we’ve still a bit of ickiness to endure: namely, saying farewell to the outgoing captains. Today it’s Dragon Team Two, Mark King & Tamara Shoemaker. Their passion for flash fiction and the flash fiction community exploded across the skies each time they held the gavel; it’s impossible to have poured more heart into studying your stories than they have. Mark and Tamara, you have been magnificent at every turn. Please accept our deepest thanks for your time and all that creative teeth-gnashing. You are amazing. Thank you.  

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Dragon Captains Mark A. King/Tamara Shoemaker say: 

Alas, our time has drawn to a close, and as we’ve looked back over our time as judges for Flash! Friday, we’ve been amazed all over again by the magnitude of talent that has been displayed on this page over and over again. You’ve written your hearts for us, and we’ve so enjoyed the experience of delving into each story and reveling in every world that unfolded before our awed gazes. Truly, we are sad to end our time here, but a hearty thanks to each one of you for making it all so worth it. Thanks to our Dragon mother, who unselfishly gives of her time to make this board what it is, and I (Tamara) thank you, Mark, for being the best possible judging partner a person could ever ask for.

Over our time, each week we were up to judge, we wished we could choose more winners than we were allowed. So on our last time, we went back and picked out three from various weeks – the “Unsung Story Awards.” These, for one reason or another, didn’t make the final list the week they were entered, but they stuck in our heads, and we hoped to give them a little recognition this time.

And now, before I use up too many more tissues, one last time, here are our results.

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UNSUNG STORY AWARDS

For One of the Most Thought-Provoking Titles Submitted to Us: Vol 3-18, Foy S. Iver, “The Girl Unheard Becomes Unseen.”

Best Ending Ever Because It Includes a Really Awesome Old Man Who Embraces a Slice of Life: Vol 3 – 9, Voima Oy, “Take Two.”

Jailbird Santa as Best Character: Vol 3 – 2, Peg Stueber-Temp and Tea, “Calling All Cars!”

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SPECIAL MENTIONS

For Absolutely Sublime Writing: Foy S. Iver, “My Heart Was a Pomegranate.”  

For Cheeky Humour & Most Hilarious Ending Line: David Shakes, “It Don’t Look Like No Chicken.”

For a Story That Had a Bit of Everything (and crop circles are fab, obv): Dylyce Clark, “Crop Circles.”

For Most Chilling Benediction: Steph Ellis, “Night Office.”

For Best Angels-as-Inspectors: Firdaus Parvez/PositiveThoughts1, “What You Sow…

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HONORABLE MENTIONS

A.J. Walker, “The Reaping Sowing Thing.” 

TS – The sheer cheekiness of this piece was what caught my attention. It was a simple set-up of what a normal date night between a farmer and his girlfriend would look like, until lo and behold, they have to duck and cover when the angry farmer’s wife appears on the scene with her muddy boots. This was simple, and different, standing out from the crowd. It stuck in my memory, and since I have a memory like a sieve, that’s hard to do. Nicely done. 🙂

MK – I read this many times and each time it just got better. I loved how the first time I read it, it read like a romantic date between a man and his wife, pushing to boat out for their date night (oh, how romantic and sweet). Then the ending made me smile, and it was a clever use of writing technique. However, I then went back and saw more elements (like the fact that the gentleman was a farmer, eating his own produce). Very intelligent writing all round. Well done.

Aria Glazki, “On the Job.” 

TS – D’oh! You caught me in my weakness for anything dragonly, and especially as I’ve been immersed in introducing my new dragon book to the market, my mind just couldn’t stray TOO far from those beautiful winged beasts. How thrilling to find such a lovely story about the creatures. This one, too, stood out from the pack of stories for its inventiveness. This sentence read in my mind like a big-screen movie: “Iridescent wings flapped as I entered the mammoth barn, and I paused until they stilled.” I love farmers because they give us a lot of good things, but I think I may have just found my favorite type of farmer: the dragon farmer. Nicely written!

MK – It’s strange as I tried to look for an image of a Dragon Farmer to post on Twitter Friday evening, but I couldn’t find a suitable one. I thought my fellow judge would adore this story and I saved it especially for her as I know how fully immersed she has been in the world of these magical creatures. I also really enjoyed the line that Tamara has already mentioned. Well done on the very creative take.

Michael Wettengel, Serpentine Ambition.” 

TS – Now this was an interesting viewpoint: the narrator (at least to my understanding) is perhaps the devil, that ancient serpent, who’s peddling his oil as he farms immorality across the industrial globe. The depth of this piece is astounding. Even after several read-throughs, I still found new gems each time to savor. I love the last line in particular with the image of the snake who tries to sell them his oil for fifty dollars a bottle. Brilliant word play here. Well done!

MK – I thoroughly enjoyed the tone of the piece. It was hinting at malevolence but with a cheeky, mischievous grin. “Pax Ambrosia, a cream so miraculous it puts God out of a job”. Tamara and I discussed this, and we both came to similar conclusions. Is this a real person with evil intent or an evil creature living in our world? It doesn’t really matter, as the story weaves a tale of modern marketing techniques, viral internet trends and social commentary on our desires. “Instagram exploded. Facebook almost melted down. People were setting up ladders just to read our tagline written into streetlights.” Fab work all round.

 

THIRD RUNNER UP

Rachael Dunlop,The Turn of Your Hand.” 

TS – I’m a long-time admirer of exquisite Italian marble, so when I read this story, I immediately had a fleshed-out, full-color picture of the details in “…the fine-milled thin-veined marble.” I love the correlation of the early-on farming of the plenty (the marble from the Italian hills) to the plenty that resides in his kitchen. The last line puts such a nice twist on the piece to pull out the meaning with clarity and conciseness. Well put together. I really enjoyed this. Well done.

MK – I once worked in a place of marble columns and halls and it was a magical place to spend time. So, I could thoroughly relate to looking at the ‘fine-milled thin-veined marble’ and pondering where it came from and how it got such beauty. But the beauty in this piece is not so much about the marble or the words; it’s all about the journey of the character and the depth the writer has incorporated into a micro story—a story that spans generations, transverses family trades, moves across continents and ultimately gives us a warm feeling at the end. Simply wonderful.

SECOND RUNNER UP

Peg Stueber-Temp and Tea, “You Know You’re Singing This Song.”

TS – I don’t know if I remember the passage of even one week in the last seven years of being a mom where this song wasn’t stuck in my head at least once. So… thanks. For that. 😉 Ee-I-ee-I-Oh, I did enjoy the fun feel of this piece. I may or may not have laughed out loud over the “cacophony of brays, snorts, peeps, moos and oinks.”

And I love how Mack takes his final revenge on the animals that have drowned him in never ending brain vibrating irritation: he becomes a chef, and I bet (even though the story doesn’t say), that one or two of those animals might have found their way onto a plate. –Apologies to any vegetarians. 😉 Nicely done. Now I’m going to go drown out “Old MacDonald” with something infinitely more enjoyable, like “The Wheels on the Bus.”

MK – I saw this and smiled. A few times recently I have tried to incorporate songs as a theme of my stories and really enjoyed how they made the reader respond. The writer has picked a song here that was always going to spin around in our heads all day. It’s totally on-theme, and the writer has crafted something that is memorable, humorous, yet also deals with the progression of character. I’m not sure what the bakeries in Virginia do differently than the bakeries in England, but I’m scared that my fellow judge thinks it’ll involve the use of animals on plates. 🙂 Remind me not to eat bread at Tamara’s if I ever find myself in that part of the world 😉

FIRST RUNNER UP 

Casey Rose Frank, “For the Dreamers.”

TS – This piece had me from this line: “I feel like I could slice my fingertips across it.” The whole story is rife with exquisite imagery, and I love the fact that it’s talking of a writer planting his/her “garden,” each word a seed, each story a crop to be harvested by the next reaping reader. Those last two lines encapsulate so well the struggle of every writer who plants their first few ideas on paper or their first few sentences. The idea is outside the box and extremely creative; I so loved this take. A story showing phenomenal mastery of imagery and an excellent job.

MK – I adored this story. This is the story of us, as writers and readers. It is so creative and stunningly beautiful. ‘Is it possible to be lonely in a sea of infinite possibilities?’ (as writers, we ultimately write alone, yet have unlimited worlds to craft). ‘Cultivate’ (yes, it’s such a great nurturing word, but also draws visions of a cultivator so sharp it could slice you). ‘Sometimes the people escape, but they’re not real people’ (our characters so real, yet only in our minds as they curl on paper, ‘fledgling dreams, questions in the eyes until they begin to curl at the edge’). Such a fantastic piece I feel like I want to print it and add it to my wall of inspiration. But, the story is wrong. ‘It’s hard times for the dream makers.’ – far from it. You have everything you need (as the writer has so deftly demonstrated), right here, on Flash! Friday. 🙂

And now: joining the Quad Club at long, long last with her FOURTH win (but her first win since Jan 2014) it’s Flash! Friday

DRAGON WINNER

MARGARET LOCKE!!!

for

“The Ties That Bind”

TS – This piece pulled me in from the get-go with stunning cultural images of the narrator’s rice farmer grandfather. There’s such a sensory tone — I can almost feel the fatigue of a bent back, the strain of making a crop, a business from nothing. The author follows it up with a one-two punch–his father, also crouching, this time in fear, hiding from the bullets of what I assume is Vietnam or at least some war. I love the pride that comes through in the next sentence. “I refused to crouch… to bend for the old ways.” In his pride, he transcends his parentage. He didn’t just embrace his grandfather’s farm or his father’s fights; he became the farmer by providing sustenance for his family; he became the fighter by surviving the struggles that come with new adventures – a business, making ends meet, doing without to make do.

There’s a journey in this. The narrator begins by distinguishing himself from his father and grandfather, illustrating how they are different, and then bringing it full circle to realize that yes, he IS different from them, but the only reason why he has arrived where he has is because he’s embraced his inheritance. Lovely writing, deep and sensory. Wonderful job.

MK – The farming take was incredibly powerful and transported me to another place and another time. But this story is all about how much has been crammed into those 200 (ish) words. We have a feature-length, wide-screen, Ultra High Definition film conjured from words that are said and words that are left behind. It felt like the synopsis of an Oliver Stone masterpiece. This is how to write a story with layers, depth and back-story.

Highlights include, “My grandfather died in those rice fields, hands gnarled, knees perpetually bent(heart-breaking images), “village raid that didn’t distinguish between enemy and innocent(the injustice of war). Then moving on to the conclusion, “arguing their worth to the butcher beside me. And I’ll do it again, and again, and again.And, “I shall pay homage to the family that came before me, their sacrifices, their struggles, their victories, their defeat.

On-theme, but also incredibly unique, powerful, cinematic and highly emotive. Congratulations to you.

Congratulations, dear Margaret! You are an outstanding writer, and you are a faithful, beloved, and highly valued member of the FF community. It’s a joy to all of us seeing you don the dragon tiara (you make it look good!). 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:

The Ties That Bind

When Grandfather was a boy, he crouched for hours in the fields, watering the rice paddies to make sure his family was fed.

When father was a young man, he crouched for hours in the grasses, shielding his siblings from the bullets whizzing by.

When I was a boy, I refused to crouch, refused to bend for the old ways.

I didn’t care about farming, didn’t care about tradition. I didn’t care about anything but myself.

My grandfather died in those rice fields, hands gnarled, knees perpetually bent.

My father died before I ever knew him, victim of a village raid that didn’t distinguish between enemy and innocent.

I wasn’t going to be them, my ancestors, faded like yesteryear’s photographs.

I wasn’t. My pride said no.

Until I looked into mother’s eyes, those weary eyes aged beyond her years.

Until I felt my sisters’ hands in mine, as they looked to me for support, for safety, for sustenance.

I crouch down today, inspecting these chicken feet, my chickens, arguing their worth to the butcher beside me. And I’ll do it again, and again, and again.

I shall pay homage to the family that came before me, their sacrifices, their struggles, their victories, their defeat.

I understand now.

I am proud.

FFwinner-Web

Flash! Friday Vol 3 – 22: WINNERS

Whew! Thanks to everyone who crashed this week’s Flash! Friday party (yuk yuk). There’s nothing like a little raging fire and death-dancing to wake the Muse, eh? Thank you for sharing your (apparently bottomless!) talent here with us.

We’re winding down the first half of Year Three (already?!), so you may wish to have tissues at the ready as we start bidding our current judges farewell. On the up side, we have a FABULOUS new panel warming up (new captains: expect your welcome emails this week!), and I’ve got mischief up my sleeve for the second half of Year Three (what, you thought we’d keep FF the same for an entire year?! silly gooses. And yes, that’s silly gooses).  

Please don’t forget to let us know if you earned the #RingofFire badge in May–the Wall of Flame is burning with many astounding names, and we don’t want to miss yours!

Finally: coming up tomorrow!!! a Spotlight interview with three-time FF champ (and flash fiction legend), current captain, and multi-novel-published (and publishing) Tamara Shoemaker. You don’t want to miss this. Because not only is she uber talented, but, hello, FREE NOVEL GIVEAWAY to a commenter.  

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Dragon Captains Mark A. King/Tamara Shoemaker say: What a run! I neglected to tell the Dragoness that my (Tamara’s) number one worst fear (even over spiders, and that’s saying a lot) is crashing in an airplane. So imagine my joy when I saw the prompt. I was terrified of reading story after story that detailed horrific deaths-by-hurtling-30,000-feet-through-the-air to end in a white-hot cloud of flame, but as I read through your stories, they captivated me so much that I actually didn’t feel the familiar panic start to build. The words you spun into your stories were just that good, and for someone who has had a real-live-honest-to-goodness-panic-attack-call-the-flight-attendant-is-there-a-doctor-on-board during take-off, that’s really impressive. Kudos to all you amazing writers; I am in awe of all of you. 🙂

So many thanks from my co-captain and me. You inspire us with your wonderful work. Onward to results! 🙂

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SPECIAL MENTIONS

For the Law Man-not-Delorean: Marie McKay, “Representation.” 

For great use of prompts to drive the story: Colin D. Smith, “Closing Argument.”

For poetic structure and words: Casey Rose Frank, “Today/Today.”

For tongue-firmly-in-cheek view of lawyer services: Steven Stucko, “We’re in Your Corner.”

For a wonderfully told story and great ending: Peg Stueber-Temp and Tea, “They Never Taught THIS in Law School!

For humour, for the use of cheese, and for the appearance of the word ‘highfalutin'”: AJ Walker, “Widdle Finishes One Enterprise and Begins Another.”

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HONORABLE MENTIONS

Emily June Street, “Scars.” 

TS – The pain is so vivid in this piece. From “…it wrings him out like a washcloth” to “Johnson doesn’t take it,” his closed scars, still healing internally, are splashed through the story. So what a fitting title! There’s good use of movement, too, through the piece. Mixtures of long and short sentences, well-crafted, no excess verbiage anywhere to be seen. “Heat. Impact. Screaming aluminum. Flames rising. Pain. Scars still tauten flesh and mind.” – the centerpiece of the whole story. At the end, perhaps some of those scars can finally begin healing. A nice, tight piece with colorful and flavorful writing. Excellent.

MK – The sense of time, place and social attitudes are captured incredibly well in this piece. There is emotional depth and a sense of historic injustice that the ending doesn’t try to fully resolve. In terms of writing, the story is tight (a good example here ‘Heat. Impact. Screaming aluminum. Flames rising. Pain’), it well controlled and has some wonderful phrases, such as ‘Real men don’t show fear’’ and ‘Scars still tauten flesh and mind’.’

Voima Oy, “Turbulence.” 

TS – This piece carries a great sense of foreboding and coming darkness (which kinda appeals to me, I’ll admit). It’s nicely framed at the beginning and the end with a fog that, perhaps intentionally or unintentionally, could symbolize an obscure future. I like how the plane is set as a terrifying dream that everyone shares instead of an actual event – how creepy! Way to think outside outside the box! The quote: “Great events cast their shadows before them,” whether original to this piece, or pulled from somewhere else, gave me chills. Excellent work. 🙂

MK This is a great example of a writer building a scene, a world, and then layering a sense of feeling on top that permeates the piece. It had a style which separated it. It felt very cinematic, and like any great director of a memorable movie, it’s not just about the words that are said but the visions and feelings it evokes. It felt like I was watching it on a giant widescreen in Ultra HD. Wonderful technique.

Bill Engleson, Time Machinations.” 

TS – First of all, well done on the full-dialogue take. This story was extremely tight and well done, and that’s even harder to do with only dialogue, so kudos! I admit (to my shame) that I have never read HG Wells’ Time Machine, but now I shall make my guilty way to the library to check it out. May I never be guilty of not reading quality literature. I quite enjoyed the concept that the time machine actually made an appearance in this story, and I love the cheek of the last few lines: “This is fraudulent, Mr. Wells. Your reputation for imagination precedes you” — a fine testament for an author famous for his overactive imagination (what author DOESN’T have an overactive imagination?) 😉 Smoothly put together. Well done! 🙂

MK I often joke that some of the folk on FFF have a Time Machine, so it was great to see a piece based on one. Like Tamara, I have sadly not read the HG Wells classic, but it is something that seems so familiar to all of us that its influence can be felt in hundreds of great films and books. I adored the take, it was very original, yet not so outlandish that it felt believable to me and didn’t distract. Writing a story using only dialogue is very challenging and the writer has done well to imply action, they have clearly thought about what to leave out and what to leave in (between here, “Yes, my Lord,” and here, “This is fraudulent, Mr Wells,” the action is implied to keep the structure pure). I also like the fact that Mr Wells, the time traveller, is not believed.

Michael Seese, “Homecoming.” 

TS – This one was such an emotive piece. Throughout, I felt the loneliness and the pain of separation while the couple was apart from one another, and I felt the significance of “But each one ended with ‘LuvU'” – assurance that he was still thinking of her. Her excitement to finally go meet him at the airport was nearly tangible, and honestly, any story that includes a baby or a child sucks me in like no other.

Which is partially why the last line crushed me so completely. All of the enthusiastic hopeful buildup of the earlier paragraphs spirals wildly out of control, and nothing’s left but devastation. Nicely put together with a gut-punch at the end. Awesome job.

MK The writer has used great technique to build powerful emotion behind the characters. The sense of Angie missing Tom and looking forward to seeing him again were highly tangible thanks to some fabulous writing. This part just added even more emotion, ‘placing two loving hands on a belly that was not yet swollen, but soon would be, the writer has now taken us to the point we’re longing for them to embrace each other. Then we’re given the dramatic ending, which was heart-breaking and took us to scenes that are indelible on our consciousness. Wonderful work all round.

THIRD RUNNER UP

Geoff Le Pard, “The Circle of Life.” 

TS – Wow, the gorgeous language in this one captured and held my attention. It took me several read-throughs to begin to grasp the story, but I love the wealth and depth of the piece. The idea of the ghosts of past lawyers watching the narrator brings its own brand of creepy, but it’s exquisitely done. This line, “There is nothing now but a space in line and my own cup, forever empty, its echo sounding in the ears of the next generation” (besides being liquid gold) sends the story back into the circle, so now the lawyer can judge the next generation, hold his own vigil over the new souls. I love how the title encompasses the piece. Brilliantly done.

MK As Tamara has hinted, we had different interpretations of what the story was telling us. We came to the conclusion that the steps were filled with the ghosts of lawyers who turned their back on the moral questions when they were alive. We also came to the conclusion that it didn’t really matter if we got the story wrong. Some stories are simply very well written and leave the message to the reader to interpret; this piece does this wonderfully. What is clear is that the messengers are ignored by the morally questionable main character and that we loved the depth of phrases such as ‘They never speak, the death rattle of the coins in the cups, chains they’ll never shedand ‘those ghosts of my predecessors. They held vigil; they have always known how it would end. We loved it, very well done.

SECOND RUNNER UP

Ashley Gardana, “Lawyered.”

TS – This one pulled me in from the first line. I started cringing immediately as I read about loan statements and unemployment checks and a child (which pushes all those worries into high gear). I think I felt pretty nauseated, too, by the time I finished (the mark of an artist. It takes a master hand to make the reader feel so deeply). Great description used to convey the sense of helplessness and panic, the despair that waits just around the corner. That last line was an excellent closer that wrapped up the whole piece into a rather worry-filled ball. Nicely done!

MK Over our time judging, we’ve read various tales of hidden lives and the sadness masked by a character presenting a front to the world. I don’t remember reading one that felt so real and valid to the everyday world we’re familiar with. In this tale we also see the other side of the profession and we see the sacrifices that the character has had to make. We feel for Sandra as she battles the perception that ‘being a lawyer is like being a leper, with the carpets of unpaid bills, empty fridge and a child to care for.’ Such a vivid and powerful tale that left me feeling highly uncomfortable. Brilliant writing.

FIRST RUNNER UP

Phil Coltrane, “Guilty As Sin.”

TS – I love how this story so seamlessly includes a multitude of elements from the photo prompt into a courtroom setting. The verdict thundering, “like a roar of propellers,” the client a “fighter ace,” the wife a “Hellcat,” and the house “kamikazed.” I love how the theme of being guilty of a lie is stretched throughout the story — where the jury listened to the evidence and delivered a guilty verdict, all the way to the end where we find out who was the biggest liar of all. I really carried a visceral dislike for this lawyer by the end of the story, a mark of a well-crafted piece by the author. Great job!

MK This is fantastic. It’s almost like the story mirrors the flight of the aircraft in the image. Everything seems fine, with hints of turbulence, then we have twists and turns, and smoke masking our view, before the mighty crash at the end. It is incredibly hard to have this many layers in a flash fiction story without confusing the reader, and the writer has done a fantastic job to manage this. The complexity of the background story for each of the characters is simply stunning and it all comes to a great conclusion. I’m in awe of these skills. Congratulations to the writer.

And now: ANOTHER champ joining the phenomenal 4-timers, it’s the ridiculously talented Flash! Friday

DRAGON WINNER

FOY S. IVER!!!

for

“We Rest on Thee”

TS – This piece rocked me to the core. There’s such a depth of feeling that interweaves expertly with the vivid imagery. The entire death scene careens from the skies, and it took me with it, because I could see so vividly the “gray breaching blue,” while at the same time, smelling those biscuits and bitter coffee from childhood: “Momma stringing green beans.”

Admittedly, when I first read through this, I wondered how the lawyer character fit into the piece, but the more I read over it, I realized that “Jesus as your lawyer” carries SO much significance. It covers life, death, and atonement – this person’s entire belief system is founded on his (or her) relationship with God, and as Jesus is this person’s mediator with God, then the phrase strikes deep at the heart of the death experience, and that one phrase carries the entire rest of the piece on its shoulders.

“Impact. Steel crushing inward, groaning. Head whipped forward, brain numb.” Short, concise phrases to convey the immediacy of death, and then, “Singing.” Oh, how I love the hymn interwoven through the entire scene. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. This entire piece transports me. Phenomenal.

MK The words used were highly visual and alternated the terror of the impending crash with the lyrics of remembered hymns and thoughts of coming judgment. Here we have visions of the pilot breaking cloud ‘Gray breaches blue. Then eclipses it. Consumes it.Followed by ‘Chemicals push through turgid veins; oxygen floods the organism(the body pumping adrenaline through the system).

I love the tightness of these parts, ‘Yellow, orange, black, heat swelling, ‘The limbic system signals the bladder to void, warmth spreads between clenched legs, and ‘Impact. Steel crushing inward, groaning. And I totally adored this part: ‘Ground rising up with deadly force, eager to embrace that burning carcass’, which terrorised me with visions of the cockpit falling headlong towards the rising ground, which was ready to consume it.

In the story, the character remembers many things (the music, the ‘biscuits and bitter coffee), but also, that in death, Jesus will grant him (or her) a voice in the coming judgment. We often hear tales of flashbacks and reflection before death and the character fears for mistakes gone before. Between all the fabulous visuals and sense of a life about to end, we have the linchpin statement, ‘We’ve all committed crimes, Son.” Preacher’s red hand strikes his back in love. “Let Jesus be your lawyer!”.

To the fearful character, this unseen lawyer has always been there, never casting judgment, will be the lawyer that defends the life that they have lived. As a reader, it doesn’t matter if you believe or don’t believe, what is important here is that the character is rich, the story well told and we can feel their plight and palpable faith. A very deserving winner. Congratulations!

Congratulations, Foy the Fabulous! Here’s your blazing hot, updated winner’s page and your winning tale on the winners’ wall. Please watch your inbox for interview questions for this Thursday’s #SixtySeconds feature, your FANTASTIC FOURTH! And now, here is your winning story:

We Rest on Thee

Gray breaches blue.
Then eclipses it.
Consumes it.
Fear takes over; the illusion of control lost. Chemicals push through turgid veins; oxygen floods the organism; rational thought gives way to reflex.

This is it. I’m gonna die.

Lone pines on smoke-colored mountains. Biscuits and bitter coffee. Momma stringing green beans.

We rest on Thee, our Shield and our Defender;
We go not forth alone against the foe.

Yellow, orange, black, heat swelling. Salt stings eye-flesh, mouth like cotton. Ground rising up with deadly force, eager to embrace that burning carcass.

Strong in Thy strength, safe in Thy keeping tender.
We rest on Thee, and in Thy name we go.

Angry words unrepented, lies too late to disentangle, a heart kept closed.

We go in faith, our own great weakness feeling,
And needing more each day Thy grace to know.

Teeth set to teeth. The limbic system signals the bladder to void, warmth spreads between clenched legs.

“We’ve all committed crimes, Son.” Preacher’s red hand strikes his back in love. “Let Jesus be your lawyer!”

Christ! Help me.

Impact. Steel crushing inward, groaning. Head whipped forward, brain numb.

Sounds without edges.

Singing.

Yet from our hearts a song of triumph pealing;
We rest on Thee, and in Thy Name we go.

FFwinner-Web