Tag Archive | SJ O’Hart

Sixty Seconds IV with: Marie McKay

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)

Matchlight

Our newest Flash! Friday winner is Marie McKay.  She’s one of those rare and beautiful writers who has been with us from the beginning (her first week was Year One, Week 26!). Today marks her FOURTH win, and we couldn’t be more thrilled for her. Take a moment to read her bio & her winnings stories here. Then take another minute or two to get to know her better below. (Note that four-time winners are never held to the word count rule!)

1) What about the 100 Years of Solitude prompts inspired your winning piece?  The words ‘inescapability of family’ really triggered my story. The world of Carers, I am one myself, can be riddled with contradiction and guilt. It’s very easy to feel guilty when you need time to yourself; after all, you love the very person you need time away from. It quite often takes an outsider to tell you it’s acceptable to be kind to yourself. Carers and the job they do can go unnoticed. I do think societies need to look after their Carers.

2) You’ve been writing with us since Year One, and this is your 4th (!!) win. Tell us about your flash fiction journey. I started on a site called CAKE which was a wonderful site for new writers. On that site, I ‘met’ SJ O’Hart who had written on FF, so I quickly joined in. My stories do tend to be dark, and I do like the spaces to do some of the work. I think I’ve developed my style to a degree, but there’s a long way to go. I like to experiment with form – and I know that’s not everyone’s cup of tea – but playing safe all the time in flash seems to me like a wasted opportunity.

3) You’ve written SO MUCH flash with FF. What are a couple of your favorite prompts (and/or favorite stories of others’ and/or yours that rose from them)?  Oh, I could be here forever! I loved Jacki Donnellan’s Flashversary winning story. Jacki’s writing style is crisp and beautiful. I loved Casey Rose Frank’s story ‘She Walks‘ that was in response to the Pilgrim’s Progress novel prompt. It is haunting and clever. All of Chris Milam’s winning stories (any of his stories, in fact). Steph Ellis’ first winning story, ‘Holiday Deals‘ (I was runner up that week, but I’m not bitter because her story booted mine right out of the dragon’s lair.) Mark A. King’s ‘The Dance of the Origami Girl and the Porcelain Boy‘ is breathtaking. Prompts I loved, a photo of two women in safety glasses, allowed me to write one of my own winning stories,’The Factory.’ The picture prompt of the three guys looking at fish tanks along with the word prompt ‘farmer’ caused quite a stir, and it allowed me to write a story that was a blatant tribute to Flash Friday and its High Dragoness. But as I said, I could go on forever.

4) What’s going on in your writerly life? During the summer, I had the privilege of meeting Sarah Miles who writes at FF and runs the publishing company Paper Swans Press. I was included in their anthology ‘Schooldays.’ I had the great pleasure of reading my flash piece at the Edinburgh Book Festival, as a result. And now, I am currently working on my Flashdogs anthology stories!

5) Flash is so different from how it was a few years ago–so many writers these days are SO GOOD. How can writers take their flash to the next level? Stay away from cliche.

6) What’s a writerly bad habit you have (or used to have) that you’ve overcome (or are working to overcome)? I think the problem I need to overcome more than anything is confidence. I constantly battle with a voice inside my head that tells me I am a terrible writer and that I am kidding myself that  I can be at all successful. And even as I write this, I am thinking, ‘hey maybe that voice is right.’ {Editor’s Note: WRONG. And a pound in the Self-Deprecation Jar, please.} It has stopped me from buckling down and finishing longer projects. 

7) What have you read lately that you really loved, and why? The Girl with All the Gifts’ by Mike Carey is wonderful. It is like reading a horror version of Roald Dahl’s ‘Matilda.’ It is terrifying, dark and incredibly touching. ‘Girl on the Train’ is another great read. The unreliable narration makes for a gripping story. I am reading ‘The Children Act’ by Ian McEwan, at the moment. I think every writer should read Sebastian Faulk’s ‘Birdsong’, Kate Atkinson’s ‘Life After Life’ and Ian Bank’s ‘Wasp Factory.’ I say this because I think each of them has a very interesting narrative technique- and they are just plain good.

8) Name drop for us! who are some writers in this community you’re always excited to read? who are we going to see on the bestseller lists? Well, this one is difficult because, obviously, I cannot name all of the writers I admire in the FF community, there are too many. I love all the Flashdogs, of course. I will only be able to name a few, here: Rebekah Postupak, Mark A. King, David Barrowdale, Grace Black and Rebecca J Allred. These four are terrific writers themselves and are so very generous with their own time. Chris Milam and SJ O’Hart  are incredibly talented writers whose work I can only admire. Steph Ellis, Catherine Connolly and Brett Milam have such beautifully dark imaginations. Voima Oy, Casey Rose Frank, Foy Iver, F.E. Clark and Tamara Shoemaker for their poetic prose. It truly does go on… and on… and on.

9) Do you belong to any IRL writing communities? online? Talk about the Flash Dogs! I only participate online. I take part in a few competitions other than this one: Three Line Thursday, Micro Bookends and The Angry Hourglass. A writing community that I am very proud to be a part of is Flashdogs. They are an incredibly supportive and welcoming group of talented writers. They have inspired me immensely.

10) Final thoughts/comments/encouragement/advice for the community? My final thoughts, well, I think it’s probably obvious that I am about to tell you how much I am going to miss Flash! Friday. It has been a big part of my writerly life for a long time. However, I cannot remain sad for too long when I think of FF, because I am truly joyous at the opportunities it has given me and other writers. Rebekah Postupak, you are a truly gifted writer who has given so much of your time to others. The foresight and imagination it took to come up with the site at all is part of the reason I consider you a leader in flash. The other reasons are manifold. Whenever I’ve had the privilege of reading your work, I have seen how stylish, versatile and effortless your writing is. You have been a teacher. I have read every Flash Points you were kind enough to share, and your knowledge of flash fiction and literature, in general, is staggering. You have championed all of us, when indeed you, yourself, are The Champion. I am forever indebted. Thank you. 

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Sixty Seconds III with: Marie McKay

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)

Matchlight

Our newest Flash! Friday winner is Marie McKay.  Read her winning story here. Note that this is her THIRD year and THIRD win at Flash! Friday, one for each year! Read her first #SixtySeconds interview (June 2013) here and second interview (March 2014) here. Then take another minute or two to get to know her better below. (Note that three-time winners are never held to the word count rule. They’ve earned the right to be chatty!)

1) What about the prompt inspired your winning piece?  I almost wrote an entirely different story based on the word ‘son’ as I read the character prompt without my glasses on! Once I realised my mistake, the childhood game of ‘I Spy’ gave me the frame I required to get started.

2) You started writing flash fiction around the same time Flash! Friday was born, the end of 2012. How has your approach to flash changed since then? In her recent interview, the incredibly talented SJ O’Hart mentioned CAKE, a weekly writing competition that no longer runs. CAKE is where I started writing flash fiction, but the prompts there were a selection of words. When I started writing at Flash!Friday, I found working with photo prompts tough. Now, however, I am constantly looking for visual clues to get my writing started.

3) What advice would you give writers who are new to flash? Make every word pull its weight. Experiment with form. Have fun.

4) What’s going on in your writerly life? With four kids, how are you able to carve out writing time? Recently I have had stories published in 100 word story and Flash Fiction Magazine. I am delighted to say that my writing is included in the Flashdogs anthology. With four kids, my approach to writing is fragmented. I just have to write in the moments when my kids are asleep or eating!

5) Last year you told us you hoped to complete a novel. How’s that going? I am afraid I barely wrote another word of it after that! I think because I haven’t cleared a proper space for writing, my brain butterflies around. I do hope to pin a longer project down at some point. I have recently finished the text for a children’s picture book, and I am in the process of plucking up the courage to send it out there.

6) What are you reading? I have just started reading Sophie Hannah‘s ‘the telling error‘. Kate Atkinson‘s ‘Life After Life‘ is my favourite read of the last year.

7) What’s your current WIP? Please introduce us to a favorite character… and can we beg you to share the opening line??  I do have a short story in very rough draft. The story’s main character is Maya. She is a troubled character who is experiencing bullying. My very rough first line is:

She was in perpetual motion: it was harder to target a moving casualty.

8) Who’s your favorite author? I can’t pick just one favourite. The list is growing all the time.

9) Do you belong to any IRL writing communities? online? Talk about the Flash Dogs! I only participate online. I take part in a few competitions other than this one: Three Line Thursday, Micro Bookends and The Angry Hourglass. A writing community that I am very proud to be a part of is Flashdogs. They are an incredibly supportive and welcoming group of talented writers. They have inspired me immensely.

10) Final thoughts? I would just like to say thank you to you, Rebekah, for all your hard work. It’s incredibly generous of you to devote so much time to other writers. {Editor’s Note: ❤ }

Flash! Friday Vol 2 – 45: WINNERS & NEWS

Welcome to Monday, in which I’m looking for a few good dragons!!! Yes, it’s results day AND open season at our Dragon Judge Panel. Wanna be a Dragon Captain? Basic details below; find the judge app page here. Deadline’s November 10.

In Year Three (starting Dec 12) we’re taking a team approach to judging the stories.

  • Instead of one judge per round, we’ll do teams of TWO. That means I’m looking for a panel of EIGHT judges this round; each team will judge once per month, for six months. I’m not spectacular at math, but I think that means you’ll each judge six times. 🙂
  • Judging will still be blind (stories are stripped of all author info before you see them). NEW FOR YEAR THREE: Since judging is now completely blind, judges are eligible to compete all weeks except the actual week they’re judging.
  • SPECIAL PASS: If you are a regular commenter at FF or a previous judge, you may bypass the regular judge app process. Contact me directly here with a note saying so and letting me know why you’d like to be a judge. 
  • Applications due by November 10 at midnight, Washington DC time.

More details can be found over at the judge app page. Contact me with any questions.

Why judge? Ohhhh, so many reasons! It’s fun. Judging changes one’s perspective on what flash is and can be, and on the whole judging/submission process. It can strengthen your own writing. Judging with a partner means making new, close writerly friendships. And it’s a valuable, greatly appreciated, totally free way both to give back to the Flash! Friday community and help it grow even stronger. I couldn’t run this contest for a single day without y’all. Please consider joining the FF team in this new way, and thank you so much.

And now: on to this week’s results!   

♦♦♦♦♦

Judge Phil Coltrane says:  Nemesis. How bitterly the word rolls off the tongue when spoken. Named for the vengeful goddess of retribution: she who destroys the prideful, and fells the haughty spirit.

Nemesis. No mere opponent, nor one of many foes, but the singular bane of one’s existence. That most formidable, unconquerable rival. That potential bringer of one’s downfall. God and the Devil. Hamilton and Burr. Sherlock and Moriarty.

Thus it is fitting that this week’s prompt involves the ancient game of kings itself: chess. A game of absolutes that faces player against player, move against countermove, mind against mind on a sixty-four square black-and-white battlefield.

With such a grand setup for this week’s prompt, I’m not surprised that there were so many wonderful stories to read, with nemeses of every variety, and conflicts both mundane and earth-shattering.

Let’s take a look at some of the standouts…

Special Mentions

Brady Koch, “Hollow Bishops.” Though it starts innocently enough, the author quickly draws us into the horror of this main character, his ghoulish craftwork, and the fate of his opponents past and future. A welcome horror tale in anticipation of Halloween.

Josh Bertetta, “Internal s(word)s.” Flash fiction can be limiting, or it can be freeing. Here, the author takes full advantage of the word count limit and the available formatting options to present a story of deep-space conflict in an eye-catching manner.

Sinead O’Hart, “The Player.” A single episode within an ongoing struggle: the author teases the pint-sized nature of this nemesis throughout the story, fully revealing it in a memorable and playful double-twist wherein the narrator wins the game, yet loses the match.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Michael Seese, Untitled. It’s a competition between opponents as big as they come: Science and Religion. With the simple framing device of a conversation over a game board, the author makes a straightforward statement: Religion, by positioning itself as an evolving God-of-the-gaps, traps itself in a philosophical zugzwang, slumping inevitably towards checkmate. What impressed me about this work is that the author needs no elaborate language or complex plot to deliver. Instead, he fearlessly and earnestly delves into a contentious issue nearly as old as Western civilization, and delivers this modern-day morality tale.

Marie McKay, “The 1975 World Championship.” A dance-off and a chess match may seem as different as night and day, but the author humorously links the two through language, speaking of the dance competition in terms of “tactics that masquerade as courtesies” and “move… countermove” as they compete on the “chequered floor.”  

The twist comes halfway through the story, when the author transitions from chess terminology to dance moves. In the end, the result is the same: a minor slip leaves the narrator vulnerable, allowing his nemesis to claim the victory. Lighthearted, yet cleverly related to the prompt by the author’s word selection, this story is a fun read overall.

Emily June Street, “Khanjluri Game.” Political intrigue, secret police, and murder loom large in this story, and the stakes are much higher than a simple game. This is a great example of using historical background as backstory, and the author also draws parallels between chess and politics: chess (and politics) as dance, and chess (and politics) as a game of assassinations. Much is going on in this story, and the author manages to tie it all together and keep it interesting.

♦♦♦♦♦

THIRD RUNNER UP

Avalina Kreska, “The Opening Move: Fianchetto (little flank).” (Two versions of this story were submitted. Only the later version was judged.) Game summary: David as white opens with a conventional Spanish Game. Priscilla as black answers at first with the Berlin defense, but when David counters with Steinitz’s move, Priscilla responds with an unconventional move that clearly violates Article 12.6 of the FIDE Laws of Chess.

It’s interesting that the author managed to interweave some actual gameplay into the story. Anyone unfamiliar with chess is free to read the story as a straightforward tale of a seductress and her willing victim. What I find most interesting is that Priscilla — a femme fatale character who literally dominates her opponents — plays a defensive, draw-oriented opening on the board. Is this a subtle hint from the author of some hidden depth of character?

SECOND RUNNER UP

Pauline Creighton, “Game Over.” From the beginning, the narrator builds up his nemesis as “the thorn in my side… the competitor that pushed me to the limits of my ability.” We see the range of emotions that their game-time rivalry evoked throughout the story. The author’s descriptions bring to life the still image of the bearded gentlemen playing chess.  

Despite all the frustrations that his nemesis caused him in life, the narrator finally manages, in the end, to call him “friend.” In a somber and touching subversion of the nemesis prompt, the author steps back from the game board for perspective, and finds there an even more beautiful story.

FIRST RUNNER UP

Sinead O’Hart, “Cornered.” In this story, the author skillfully combines several elements to create an uneasy feeling of uncertainty. The run-on sentence that comprises all but one word of the story gives us an impression of the narrator as rambling and desperate. Though the nemesis in this story is unfairly critical of the narrator, we must already question whether the narrator is reliable. This nemesis is inside the narrator’s head, analyzing and anticipating moves in advance, much like a chess competitor — or is this paranoid delusion?

Given the violent references to “spilling blood,” to finding a way out “whatever way I can,” and the loaded language of the title, “Cornered,” one wonders what drastic action this narrator has rationalized.

In another great example of an author’s style complementing the story, the author leaves us with more questions than answers — and an unsettling worry over what is about to happen.

And now: joining Betsy Streeter and Maggie Duncan as our only FOUR-TIME CHAMPS, it’s Flash! Friday 

DRAGON WINNER

KARL RUSSELL!!!

for

“The Geek Shall Inherit…”

There’s so much I could say about this story. High school can be an awkward time for anyone, particularly a socially awkward geek. Or so I hear.

Maybe this story spoke to me on a personal level.

Maybe it made me wonder what my teenage self might have been capable of doing.

Maybe I was disturbed by the thought of it.

From the beginning, the main character is no hero. “I took his head off cleanly at the neck and dumped the body. It was only Photoshop, but it felt good.” Clearly the main character is no murderer, but he’s probably an anti-hero, and he’s definitely frustrated. Had his Photoshop antics ended there, this would be simple catharsis, no more consequential than burning a photo of an ex, or tossing a suction-cup dart at a photo of a rival.

But this socially repressed teenager sees the world through the distorted perspective of an adolescent. Thus, posters of the “grand masters and science heroes” take interest in his personal life. A teenage crush becomes an object of devotion. A classmate and rival becomes a brutish nemesis, undeserving of that crush’s affections. Consequently, an act of Photoshop slander becomes, in this egocentric worldview, an act of righteous vengeance. “He didn’t deserve her, anyway.”

I like that this story can be read simply as a fun and unapologetic story of vengeance, or more deeply to contemplate the disturbing social implications of technology, its ethics, and its role in youth culture. This story has given me a lot to think about. Nice job!

Mega congratulations, Karl! Below is your FOURTH (sparklier than ever) stunning winner’s badge for the wall(s) of your choosing. Here are your freshly updated winner’s page and your winning tale on the winners’ wall. Please watch your inbox for your interview for Wednesday’s #SixtySeconds feature. And now, here is your winning story!

The Geek Shall Inherit…

I took his head off cleanly at the neck and dumped the body. It was only Photoshop, but it felt good.

Around the walls, the grand masters and science heroes glared down disapprovingly from framed posters. Well, all except Tesla; he looked like he got it.

I took Todd’s head and began the laborious task of pasting it into the photo from Becky’s party, so he was draped drunkenly across the birthday girl. It took forever to get the lighting right, and I regretted using the school’s ancient desktop rather than my tablet, but I needed to keep my ISP clear. Todd was as smart as a brick, but if he ever found out, he’d pound me even worse than that time in Gym.

I signed up to an anonymous webmail account, attached the doctored pic and thought about the subject line. I settled on “You need to know…” and added Jen’s address.

Hit send.

He didn’t deserve her anyway.

 

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