Tag Archive | Rachael Dunlop

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.  


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.



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!”



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…



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.



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.


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 😉


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




“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.


Sixty Seconds II with: Rachael Dunlop

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)


Our newest Flash! Friday winner is Rachael Dunlop.  Read her winning story here. Note that this is her second win — read her first #SixtySeconds interview (from Aug 2014) here. Then take another minute to get to know her better below.

1) What about the prompts inspired your winning piece?  The wordplay with blunder and blunderbuss. Both lovely words. They suggest something bumbling, but can be deadly.

2) Do you outline, or are you more of a discovery writer? Any outline I’ve ever written has been entirely ignored. I’m a pantser – I write by the seat of my pants.

3) How would you describe your writing style? Eclectic – each and every story comes out differently. Specific – I like to create a precise image in the reader’s head.

4) When did you begin writing fiction? I  always intended to ‘be a writer’ but didn’t really start properly until about ten years ago.

5) Introduce us to a favorite character in one of your stories. Max – he’s an old-school New York banker, all high collars and handmade suits. Living in a post-apocalyptic Manhattan.

6) What books have influenced your life the most? That. Is. Impossible. To. Answer. (But probably Brideshead Revisited and The Great Gatsby).

7) What are you currently reading?  Vigilante by Shelley Harris. Brilliant (and funny) portrait of a middle-aged woman taking control of her life.

8) How do you combat writer’s block? Discipline. You sit, you write. Every day. If something isn’t working, go write something else until the answer comes.

9) What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever been given?  Bring ALL the senses into even the shortest story – taste, smell, touch – to make the story rich and vivid.

10) What do you admire most about dragons?  The aplomb with which they carry off those scales. Fierce. That, and their love of chocolate.

Flash! Friday Vol 3 – 17: WINNERS

Howdy! color me OVER THE MOON HAPPY–you all rocked the prompt this week. I am absolutely bonkers for the way y’all gave the judges so much to work with in addition to a guy running down a giant Colorado dune. That’s exactly how it’s done, and in STYLE. Really truly wonderful work from each of you. Thank you for sharing your time and magnificent talents here at Flash! Friday. 


Dragon Captains Pratibha/Sinéad O’Hart say

Sinéad: What an assortment of riches to choose from this week. Stories of derring-do amid the dunes, archaeological mystery, otherworldly locales, despotic kings, and imaginings of a land without water – this week’s Flash! Friday entries had it all, and more. As a fantasy/SF nut, I was thrilled by the amount of SF-tinged tales on offer, but the ones which stayed close to home were just as moving. Thanks, you guys, for coming out in force and creating tales of such power and variety this week – but let me tell you, it made our job as judges very hard indeed! Lucky Pratibha and I are such ladies, or the ‘negotiations’ could have descended into fisticuffs…

Pratibha: Like our dragonly hostess tweeted, this week’s tales were out of the box. The great sand mound sent all of you running and sliding in so many directions that it was dizzying, in a good way. All of us in this community have come to expect such brilliance, and sometimes I forget how difficult it is to put a complete story with memorable characters into so few words. All of you do this week after week, chiseling new stories in less than 24 hours. What a talented bunch that attracts and assimilates new writers each week. So without further ado, here are the results.



For Classic Movie Evocation: Michael Simko, ‘Running

Pratibha:  I loved the visual aspect of this story. I also liked the sprinkling of humor throughout the story.

Sinéad: Another great setting (and set-up) and the lines: ‘[S]ome of the locals kept chanting that we were all going to hell. At the time I thought they objected to our bicycle shorts. Now I know better’ cracked me up. But it gets a Special Mention for reminding me of one of my favourite movies, Tremors.

Special Mention for Indiana Jones-ing: Brian Creek, ‘Misread

Pratibha: “The Temple of Doom” indeed.

Sinéad:  Out of several similar stories dealing with the Big Nasty being awoken somewhere in the desert, this was the most memorable. Plus, who doesn’t love a story about hubris? This made me wish it could be turned into a movie, so that I could watch what happens next. Someone get on that.

Special Mention for Hilarity (And Best Use of a Prop): Bart Van Goethem, ‘Uh-oh

Pratibha: This one gets a nod for its brave experimentation.

Sinéad:  Need I say more? Sound effects, visual effects, and making a judge almost choke with laughter, this story had everything (besides enough words).

Special Mention for Use of Seasonal Imagery: Jessica Marcarelli, “Crucifix

Pratibha: I loved this for its somber tone and its religious imagery.

Sinéad:  It being Easter, several Crucifixion/Resurrection-themed stories cropped up in this week’s offerings, too. This one was memorable, and touching, and also managed to make wonderful use of the prompts.

Special Mention for Humour: Phil Coltrane, “Dude, What a Buzzkill!

Pratibha: I loved the lighter touch on the prompt.

Sinéad:  Great setting, great dialogue, great characterisation, and lots of humour, this story was huge fun. It managed both to be completely ‘out there’ and yet totally believable, which was an achievement!

Special Mention for World-Building: Nancy Chenier, “Preventative Measures. ” 

Pratibha: The story captures the human need for intimacy and freedom and one man’s brave attempt to pursue both. 

Sinéad: It stood out for me because, out of loads of stories set on desert planets or in sandy wastes, it focuses on a relationship, and it doesn’t just satisfy itself with finding new ways to describe how hot/inhospitable/horrible the place is. 



JM6, “Running to Samara

Pratibha:  Ever had that caught “in-between” feeling. This story cleverly captured that fear of caught in a life of limbo without the release of death.

Sinéad: I loved the idea of the Between, and the Waykeepers, and the delicate touches with which this story creates its setting. I also loved the closing lines, and the desperation of the narrator to avoid an eternity in a place where s/he can never truly die. It exhibits skilfully executed tension, as well as an engaging voice and well-sketched characterisation.

Emmaleene Leahy, “Poking the Beast With a Stick

Pratibha:  I loved the opening paragraph with its clever and engaging style. The idea of time being measured in tin cans is hilarious. The best (or worst) blunder ever.

Sinéad: This story is clever, and well-imagined, and creates an intriguing world in a tiny space. Some of the imagery was very accomplished, including the ‘guts… like dirty washing’, but it was the idea of the only two people left after a nuclear holocaust being the person responsible, and that person’s boss, which grabbed me, as well as the ‘blunder’ being a slip-up at a nuclear power plant. What a great set-up! (Though my inner pedant won’t let me pass without saying this: it’s ‘desert’ when you mean a sandy place, and ‘dessert’ when you mean a slice of chocolate cake. And here endeth the lesson).


Voima Oy, “Land of Opportunity

Pratibha:  I loved how the contemporary sounding dialogue turns into something quite imaginative and “out of this world.” It is clever.

Sinéad: This one made me laugh, and then it made me think, and then I began to realise how clever and well put together it is. It was wonderfully imagined, slightly bonkers (in a great way), and the last line – when read in conjunction with the prompt image – is very funny. I also loved the idea of a creature in an early stage of evolution being spoken to by its ancestors – that really tickled my funny bone!


Taryn Noelle Kloeden, “A Bad Day at the Office.”

Pratibha: I love how this story superimposes usual office politics on the SF background. Both prompts are incorporated creatively. The writer paints a vivid and painful image: “sprinting down the dunes, microscopic shards of silicon berating my unprotected skin.”

Sinéad: I thought this story was another great imagining of an SF desert planet in a week where they seemed popular! Again, it focused on a person and their individual struggle, which made it so good. It features a very relatable protagonist (who among us cannot identify with their struggle?), it has a wonderful concluding line, and I loved how it sets up an entire history between our narrator and the venomous Calloway, as well as hinting at a future conflict as soon as the character is beamed back aboard the ship. From its engaging first line (‘Trusting Calloway, that was my first mistake’), this one grabbed me.


Mark A. King, “Heart of Glass.”

Pratibha: I loved the creative use of the prompt. The story is touching, and the ending is optimistic and powerful. The somber and introspective tone of the narrator appealed to me. Loved the phrase “infinite land of purgatory.” The title is brilliant too.

Sinéad: From its great title (which set me humming straight away) to its wrenching ending, this was another tale I loved. It made excellent use of the prompts, and I loved how it reimagined the sand dunes as a cityscape, and the picture it painted of the protagonist and his/her struggles. I found it very touching, and I loved the sense of burgeoning self-forgiveness and possible hope for the future – and also the aspiration at the end, that this person will not let their circumstances define them. Such a fantastic way to conceptualise the struggle between the person and their environment as depicted in the prompt image.

And now: for her 2nd time, it’s the very talented Flash! Friday




“A Story Between Me and Thee on the Occasion of Our Shipwrecking”

Pratibha: This is a clever tale of revenge.  The blunders of the enemy are piled a mile high. I liked how the story was told in the tongue-in-cheek fashion. I loved the visual images such as “decidedly not-aflame sleeve.” The imagery in the last paragraph is like a slow-moving camera picking every moment of action.

Sinéad: I think this story has it all. It makes fabulous use of the prompts, it has clever punning, it has a great setting, it’s well written, it’s funny and clever, and it has such a fresh and exciting use of voice, creating an entire character and backstory with such skill it seems effortless. It also has a fabulous title and I love that the ‘baddie’ doesn’t get killed at the end, so the only option for him is to swim to the desert island and spend the rest of whatever life is left to him in the company of the person who shipwrecked him. I also loved the dragon, ‘as likely to breathe fire out the back as out the front’ – I giggled quite excessively at that.

Congratulations, Rachael! Here’s your updated, fiery winner’s page and your winning tale on the winners’ wall. Please watch your inbox for interview questions for this Thursday’s #SixtySeconds feature. And now, here is your winning story!

A Story Between Me and Thee on the Occasion of Our Shipwrecking

I have a blunderbuss on my shoulder and a dragon in my pocket. Don’t believe me? Look. What? I never said it was a real dragon. That’s just what that little firearm’s called. A dragon. As likely to breathe fire out the back as the front, and then you’re in trouble, flames licking up your arm and you searching for a pail of something cold and wet to stick it in. Not that you’ll find any such on a desert island like this.

Meanwhile, your enemy has sailed away, laughing up his own decidedly not-aflame sleeve, and you’ve one shot left. He thinks you’ll save it for yourself, for that moment when you just want off this island, fast, and if death is the quickest way, bring it on. But there’s his blunder, because there’s not a man alive with arms long enough to shoot himself with a blunderbuss. Be a shame to waste it, though.

You take aim, squinting against the whip of sand in your eyes. His eyes go wide, then he’s lowering the row boat off the side, thinking to escape. Too late. Your shot strikes his gunpowder store and all goes up. All except the row boat bobbing towards you on the incoming tide.