Tag Archive | R.J. Kinnarney

Fire&Ice Sol 14/19: WINNERS

§ Foy says: Welcome to what feels a wintry results day! Yesterday, it was all reds and golds with a sleepy sun overhead; today, it’s bare, gray limbs, and a sun that stays nestled beneath the clouds. Gone are the eternal autumns of our youth, I suppose. How the world changes; how we change the world.

Speaking of world-changing, in our most recent Flash! Future on “Writing the Other” (read that post here), literary agent and advocate DongWon Song offers us writers wrestling with questions of how (or whether!) to write diverse fiction this call to action: 

What we need to do is resist the default, and the only way to do that is by representing the world that we live in, which often has people coming from all kinds of cultures, all kinds of marginalizations that are inter-sectional, and rich, and complex. 

Every time I see flash here that resists the default, I’m so encouraged, inspired, motivated. Thank you. ❤   

A quick reminder: Flash! Future submissions are rolling in and if you haven’t gotten the chance to send yours, now’s the time to do so! Find all the tidy details here, and remember: deadline is November 20!

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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 14’S JUDGES SAY:

David Shakes:  It’s our third and final stint as judges on the resurrected Flash!Friday and I’d like to thank our Dragon hosts Rebekah and Deborah for achieving far more than they set out to do. There’s been light in the darkness thanks to you two, I’ve been plugged into a global community whose words and ideas have inspired me further.

My deep and heartfelt thanks to Nancy who, more often than not, liked what I liked but with an eye for detail and a perspective that I am in awe of. Thank you for being my co-judge in this. 

My thanks to you, dear writers, for coming back each round. The original competition is where I honed my craft, found a writing family (hey Flashdogs) and gained the courage to start putting my work further out there. I hope some of that is true for you. 

I loved the prompt picture when I saw it, and though it led many of you all down a few key paths (holes?) you amazed us within your short and precise word count. 

Nancy and I were pretty close in what we liked this week, so we both got to drop in a few of those stories that we both enjoyed. Helen Laycock‘s “Look Before You Seep” was a hilarious take on the fountain of youth, with some great (gross) imagery. Pippa Phillips‘ “The First Thread” was rich in figurative language, took a look deeper at the prompt,  and had a great last line. R.J. Kinnarney‘s “Divine Calculation” takes a clever title, adds in the prerequisite statistics and then ends on a beautiful image. 

As it’s our last go, we’ve taken the liberty of having three honorary mentions.


Nancy Chenier: Here we are, our final round of judging for the reboot of Flash!Friday. I’m deeply grateful to the Dragon Den (Rebekah and Deborah) for lighting up the skies with flashes of light over a world confronted with its collective darkness, and for rekindling my own writing, a tool that helps me navigate said darkness. Also to Shakes: I don’t know what serendipity matched us up, but it turned out a wonderful pairing. If I ever find myself in that hemisphere, get ready for a visit (yes, that’s a threat, tell your family). Finally, a million thank-yous to all you flash writers, veteran and recent, whether here or in #vss365,#flashdogs, etc., for your inspiring creativity and enthusiasm wherever you drop your words. Hope to see you all in the twitterverse beyond the end of 2020.

This week, with the tiny word count, inventiveness was imperative. How else could you cram a sense of beginning, middle, end, while hooking readers into the story and then keeping them there? Very little space remained for incorporating unique takes on the prompts, but you all took on that challenge and created some fine work, which means I ended up with a bunch of shout-outs. First goes to Betsy Streeter‘s Untitled, where the miracle of medicine suddenly feels like a curse, and the word “lost” takes one huge emotional impact. Also to Michael Seese‘s Pitfalls for an amusing story with its fun use of both dragon elements. Then there’s Becky Spence‘s “A Tuesday Morning” for the most original use of the photo-prompt with the “pit” being the pupil of an eye. Laurence D‘s Untitled gets a nod for baudy slapstick that had me baffled (like the oblivious crowd) until the slapstick-rug got pulled right out from under me.

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HONORABLE MENTIONS

Exit Strategy by WeymanWrites

DS: We both loved the playful aspect of this and I especially liked the dialogue between our Meerkat protagonists Barbara and Derek! In a week when so many stories had something going in, this statistically risky escape plan stood out.

NC: You had me at meerkats, and you kept me with the surprises at every line of increasingly anthropomorphic dialogue. You kept me chuckling through to the end. With everything we’ve put the earth through in general and the meerkats through specifically, we so deserve that parting shot.

The First Question by Phil Coltrane

DS: Something lovely about this, that dual aspect of having the courage and intellect to get to Mars but the all too human frailty of having one’s heartbroken, but I like his odds. Maybe I’m an optimist?

NC: Inventive use of statistics throughout, ultimately tying in with the picture prompt (one in seven on Mars), plus a solid sense of movement through a story. I also enjoyed the pivot on the act of “asking questions”: the class asking the MC all the questions, except for Anna, who might have invited MC’s long-unasked question way back at the beginning had she asked a homework question too.

Numbers Game by Karl A. Russell

DS: We all know the drive into the desert plot from various mob movies, but I couldn’t resist this one – so well written. The dialogue is on point, the tension well-mounted within the word limit and a classic last line to complete the sort of flash that floats my boat. 

NC: This one stood out to me for the Lady-or-the-Tiger vibes (big folklore-buff over here). You set up a complete, distinctive story in a Vegas pit-trap with tension building appropriately enough like a high-stakes card game. I was hooked with the snake, immediately followed up by conflict via a sneering antagonist, then the surprise of another victim in the first box. The consistent character voice held the tone so the final line hit with authenticity. Well played! 

RUNNER UP

Quick Time by Tinman

DS: A unique theme amongst this week’s entries,  filled with clever imagery like the ‘Rachel hair’ and the right mix of humour and poignancy. The opening image of an unimaginably far shore sums up a teenager’s view of middle-age wonderfully. The subtle introduction of Jill’s treatment and the closing note of optimism was sublime. The economy and balance of this story had it near the top of my list from the start.

NC: This one settled in and gave me a time-release sense of nostalgic melancholy. The contrasts are stunning between the teenage creation of a time-capsule, during a time when we still feel playfully immortal, to the middle age opening when mortality has started seeping seriously in. The kick is that Jill is the one to reset the capsule by throwing in her smart watch, a symbol of time, when she probably doesn’t have much of it left (another cleverly introduced contrast: her cancer vs 1990s Rachel hair). Every detail is rich and evocative of place and character and theme—such strong writerly craft, here.

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

FIRE&ICE WINNER

ARCANE EDISON!!!

for

Butterfly Wing

DS – What made this stand out from the other monster in the pit stories? Firstly, an economy of language – the staccato punch of the lines creates a pace that juxtaposes with the depth and quality of the writing. I loved the flare…falling, a crimson-hot star seeking reassurance, mirroring the improbable fall of the asteroid. The use of statistics to underscore the title of the story puts us squarely in the existential shoes of our narrator. Two zeros x together  = something unknowable, and yet I know the feeling well. A slice of sci-fi noir that Nancy and I both liked a lot. 

NC — This week’s picture prompt lent itself to monster-in-the-pit tropes, so to get to the winner’s circle pit-monster tales really had to stand-out. This one ticked all the boxes. The first sentence hooked me, not only with its clear description of the MC’s shadow, but also conveying a sense of urgency (hurrying)—which is then undercut by the next fragment (the MC is chain-smoking, not hurrying to the crash site as fast as their shadow is). The MC’s voice is crisp with its staccato sentences and the sly, self-deprecating application of statistics. Then there’s a theme that threaded through and beyond the tale: the line up of near-zero probabilities starting with the MC’s own existence points to a vast gap between near and absolute zero. The vanishingly small probability of the MC’s existence raises the question what other improbabilities are entirely… probable. Thanks for the engaging read. 

Congratulations, ARCANE! Here’s your winning story:

BUTTERFLY WING

My shadow stretches out, hurrying before me to the crash site.

Chain-smoking.

Mind racing with possibilities.

My existence = 1 in 10 2,685,000

That’s basically zero.

Yet, here I stand at the edge of another improbability.

The hole is deeper than seems possible.

The asteroid actually hitting Earth was 0.41%.

Another zero.

Another cigarette burns.

Two zeros x together = something unknowable.

Tension envelops as we gather. Tabitha ignites a flare.

Falling, a crimson hot star seeking reassurance.

Illuminating an eye bigger than seems possible.

Whose existence = 10 septillion.

The slowest blink.

A pupil that isn’t possibly real.

Begins to come closer.

Fire&Ice Sol 11/19: WINNERS

§ Rebekah says: I said before and am delighted to say again what a joy Mondays are! This is particularly true when the previous week was a bit of a bear. (Thanks to those of you expressing concern for my surgery; I am home and resting well.) -We’re pushing on through 2020—can you believe we’ve got 11 sols behind us already!?—and I for one am delighted by the opportunity to write alongside you these few precious remaining weeks. Stay tuned & keep writing with us, because we plan to end our run of Fire&Ice with a bang

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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 11’S JUDGES SAY:

Tamara Shoemaker:  This week’s stories cut a sharp dichotomy between despair and joy, happiness and sorrow, as per the prompt options. Each story resonated with such feeling that it was difficult to think of anything else, so background chatter from my darling offspring was abruptly cut off with a sharp Monty Python-esque: “Go away, or I shall taunt you a second time,” leaving my offspring hopelessly confused, but allowing myself to continue on with my reading enjoyment. 

Thank you, again, for contributing your considerable talent for this contest; it is, as always, such a privilege to delve into your work! Before we move on to prizes, there are a few shout-outs I want to stir into the pot: R.J. (Rebecca) Kinnarney‘s “What Colour Is This?: For the superb exploration of two levels of conversation; Becky Spence‘s “Untitled (4pm)“: For the vivid climax and plunge of a tragic emotional roller-coaster. Betsy Streeter‘s “The Flawed Lens“: For the multitude of shapes throughout this piece that cut to the heart.


Eric Martell:

I was clearly drawn to darkness in these stories. Even the ones that chose joy that spoke to me still involved loss and death. I see literally no joy in the world right now, so I guess that’s where my headspace was. Because of this, I have chosen to let Tamara choose the top story – I think her perspective was more open than mine, and her words describing it are powerful. That being said, there were truly beautiful explorations of the dark this week. I see as much beauty in a stark, barren landscape in the winter as anyone does on the most vibrant spring day, and some of these stories took me along that path. Thank you all for taking us with you on your journeys.

A few other stories worthy of comment: Betsy Streeter‘s “The Flawed Lens“: Who doesn’t have a “you”-shaped hole in their life? Who doesn’t ache for a parent or a lost love of, in this story’s case, a lost child? Bill Engleson‘s “Maeve“: This story didn’t quite use the prompt given, but I thought it was worthy of comment. How do we wear our figurative or literal masks to keep us safe, to keep us from breaking? Can we wear them after loss? Should we? Bart van Goethem‘s “The Clouds in October“: October is my favorite month, in part because of the grey weight of the sky and what it reveals about the encroaching dark. This story made me see those clouds and feel their importance.

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HONORABLE MENTIONS

Whispers in the Mouse’s Ear by Phil Coltrane

TS: This story strikingly encapsulates a child’s view of tragedy and the simplicity of innocence, and the contrasting gap between “Those flowers are all dead” and “The flowers were so pink” impacts on many levels. Well done!

EM: You could picture these two kids in that attic, talking and playing, using words that children use, knowing only pieces of the world around them, but more pieces than we as adults sometimes realize.

Hearing Voices by Helen Laycock

TS: From the analogous first sentence (creeping thyme/creeping time) to the last (I feel her joy, and I know she feels mine), this story sings, nearly literally, with longing for the loved one who is absent and the joy of finding him in memory. So good!

EM: That last line gets me – “Probably nods.” Grief and loss and voices that make make a child feel loved.

RUNNER UP

Return to the Wailing Wood  by Mark King

TS: This story reaches into a place identifiable to many people: where a spot held dear by a loved one is horribly empty. How often has this year brought such pain into stark reality? This story touches on a sore point for many of us, and yet how it makes us feel seen, recognized, and understood as we each long for the “one who’s missing.”

EM: When we lost what would have been our first child, I learned how many other people out there had gone through the same kind of tragedy. It’s a beautiful vision, a world in which all of those losses are taken away, if only for a day, and we can see those children laughing and playing and living. It’s the kind of joy that can’t help but break your heart, and therein lies its power.

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

FIRE&ICE WINNER

NANCY CHENIER!!!

for

What Remains

TSThis one took me four close perusals to really begin to grasp the intricacy and depth of this piece. I loved how the three persons of the prompt picture were, according to the third paragraph, different manifestations of Hana, each person a representation of the choices she could have made, but didn’t. The narrative as a whole was a vivid commentary on risk-taking, and begins with Hana plodding beneath the trappings of normalcy, before she steps off the beaten path and flees through the flowers, where salvation gives new air, new life, immunity from the encumbrances that have held her captive for so long. No one else follows: only Hana the Risk-Taker. She does the thing no one else has courage to do. She finds the break, she climbs to freedom. Beautiful writing throughout leaves me speechless, and the message fills me with inspiration. This was so. well. done!

EMI took a fresh look at this story after reading Tamara’s comments on it – trying to set aside my inner despondency. The language is beautiful and evocative, descriptive and lovely. I want to know what the difficulties were, and I want to trample the blossoms with Hana. A worthy choice for winner, and I’m glad that we get to judge in pairs

Congratulations, NANCY! Here’s your winning story:

WHAT REMAINS

As Hana approaches the phlox fields, her stomach gives a lurch. She hasn’t gone blossom-viewing since the difficulties. But it’s May, and that’s what’s done.

Breathing her discomfort down to a flutter, she steps onto the paved river that flows through the profusion of moss pink. Crowds once thronged these fields, annual group photos backdropped by shibazakura brilliance. Even during the difficulties, a few would venture here searching for normalcy.

Normalcy. No. She cannot be tugged by the hand into the childishness of the past, nor bent by the loneliness of the future. Even those who survived the difficulties succumbed to the anguish of comparisons.

There’s only now.

And now, her feet trample humble blossoms. Shame halts her. Straying from the path is not done. She’s ruining it for… everyone… else.

The flutter becomes an earthquake.

She drops her parasol and runs–away from comparisons, from normalcy—until she collapses at the crest of a knoll.

Petals kiss her cheek. She breathes in their earthy pungeance. The sky bends over her to nuzzle the rosy horizon. Evening shades to indigo. Stars wink at her through the darkness.

Although it’s not done, Hana remains all night.

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.