Tag Archive | Steph Ellis

Fire&Ice Sol 7/19: WINNERS

§ Rebekah says: I’ve always loved Mondays; there’s something so clean-slate and hope-filled about them. Maybe this week I’ll hit my writing targets. Maybe this week I’ll check those tiresome tasks off my list… This week I’ve a new one to add, as the ice dragon and I have each just committed to run 87 miles by our (American) Election Day Nov 3. (Whyyy did we do this? Shhhh, Self: that’s a Thursday-type question.) For now, it’s still sweet Monday, which at Fire&Ice means celebrating your stories. So Happy Monday, friends. We’re delighted to see you!

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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 7’S JUDGES SAY:

Sinéad O’Hart:  Well, whew. What a crop this week. With prompts as good as these, and a wonderfully wide word count, it’s hardly a surprise that so many gems tumbled out of the story-sack. Thank you to everyone who submitted for trusting us with your work. Every time I have the honour of judging Flash! Friday it’s a privilege, and this week was no different.

The first story I want to make special mention of was the very first to cross my path – Bill Engleson‘s “A Final Flame.” I read this tale with no small amount of emotion, as to me it was about a woman at the end of her life, having suffered with a terminal illness (possibly cancer), and with the subtext that her loved one had done their best to end her pain. In the past few days, I lost a beloved family member to cancer, and so this story hit home in a special way. Sometimes, art truly can heal.

Other sparkling tales that caught my eye included James Atkinson‘s “The Breath of the Final Dragon” – such a fresh take on the dragon-fire idea, with some incredible imagery (‘lashes alive with parasites’), and a great take on the prompt of Justice. I also loved Voima Oy‘s “King Lear in the Federal Plaza,” with its evocative writing and great use of the prompts. My Sir Terry Pratchett-loving heart really enjoyed “Inspector Counterweight and the Percussive Goblin” by Geoff LePard; those characters would be more than at home in Ankh-Morpork! My Good Omens-loving heart also enjoyed Laurence D‘s “Ezekiel,” which was a fun homage to Pratchett and Gaiman’s masterwork. Mark King‘s “Where Her Soul Goes to Walk” was an important, excellent, and moving commentary on race relations and the lives of marginalised people, as was “Afire” by Michael Seese – powerful and meaningful work, a privilege to read. Maggie Duncan‘s “Kholodnoye Pravosudiye” was one of my favourites, barely missing out on an Honorary Mention. It was elegant, cold, brilliantly controlled, and I loved the subtle ‘eternal flame’ – the one burning in Gavrilla’s heart.

But, judging is a two-person process, and consensus must be reached. Luckily, Craig and I were on the same page (almost exactly) when it came to our top picks. Choosing winners and Runners Up this week was more a case of two old dragons sharing pleasantries, rather than a duel to the flame. So, without further ado…


Craig Anderson: How did time go so quick that we are back in the hot seat? Feels like just moments ago that we were judging the first round of most excellent flash fiction, and suddenly a new batch of awesome was delivered to our virtual dragon’s den. Just as before you all made it tough to pick a favorite, but it is certainly a nice problem to have when you are literally spoiled for choice.

As before, Sinéad was an absolute pleasure to judge with. We both had a long list of favorites, which made it easy to find the overlapping stories that caught both our eyes. We’d also both landed on the same winner independently, which made things a whole lot easier!

As for my own favorites, I particularly enjoyed Marsha Adams‘ “They came for me at dawn,” which spoke of a dystopian world where only a few humans remained. I love the little hints of what might have happened, always teasing the wider story, while focusing on one very specific punishment. I also loved Firdaus Parvez‘s – “The Wind,” for the swift punishment dished out by the diminutive hero. I’m such a sucker for underdogs, and Hawa fit the bill perfectly. “Sleep Well Tonight” by Edison Arcane contained a whole backstory in its brief length, and the ending was very satisfying. Plus I’m also going to sneak in a mention for Geoff LePard‘s “Inspector Counterweight and the Percussive Goblin“; I too immediately thought of STP, and that is high praise indeed!

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HONORABLE MENTIONS

Singular Love by Helen Laycock

SO: This story was so fresh and interesting, with an interesting and engaging perspective that drew me in right away. Well executed, with excellent details like the blood on the character’s thigh, which let the reader infer the subtext. A story with a whole world in it, skilfully drawn.

CA: I loved how this one started, which such powerful imagery of the women all moving in sync, like white smoke. That great imagery continued throughout, with the flames gently cradling the bundle, and the meandering blood, all painting such a vivid picture of a horrifying scene. The ending added a great punch, and twisted the whole tale on its head.

The Devil’s Kitchen by Steph Ellis

SO: Again, a story which immediately leapt off the page with its fresh perspective, and one I loved because of the almost throwaway line: ‘At least they’d buried her husband where no one would find him’ – narrated so casually, yet this line is the pivot point for the whole story. Masterful!

CA: This one jumped out for squeezing not one but two twists into its brief length. It starts so casually, like a walk in the woods, so good natured, and then the casual mention of dead bodies flips the whole thing on its head. Suddenly our campers become villains, and you worry for the person that they run into, but then the story twists again and karma comes back around quickly.

RUNNER UP

Legend Renewed  by MJ Bush

SO: Craig and I both loved this one. As well as its excellent use of the prompts, this story is evocative and moving, and it is a perfect example of the type of flash fiction I love so much – a story that works perfectly just as it is, but one which shows the reader a whole world. I loved the perspective, the centuries of lore and legend and the years of heroic duty; the crashing-together of the old and the new (the world might be technologically modern, but the old monsters remain), and the final image, the ancient tool being brought back into service, the light beating back the monsters of the dark. Excellent work.

CA: I really enjoyed the way this one spoke to the nature of legends, with the story slowly shifting over time, but the core pieces staying the same. Then it shifts gears, moving towards modern convenience, until everyone forgets the reason that the legend existed in the first place. It isn’t until that modern solution fails, and the old monsters return, that they receive such a sudden reminder, and they go right back to the old ways. A great analogy for our world these days.

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

FIRE&ICE WINNER

PHIL COLTRANE!!!

for

Astraea

SO – Again, my fellow judge and I were unanimous in our choice! I am a sucker for SF stories, and this one was a masterclass. A tale of a battle in space, at a time unspecified, but which could be mapped onto any Earthbound conflict, it drew me in and held me. The conversational tone: ‘The war began (as such wars do) with men who neglected the lessons of history…’ was a powerful beginning to a story which culminated in the destruction of a planet in a ‘blast of searing plasma’. What clinched this for me (as well as all the other things I love in a good piece of flash – brilliant characters, the power of the story to both stand alone and show us a larger world, and emotional heft) was the excellent ending, with an old-tech weapon being used in a new-tech world. Such an interesting and clever detail, the perfect showstopper ending for a perfect story.

CA –I loved this one right away, but I am a sucker for great sci-fi, so when Sinéad had short-listed it as a potential winner too I was absolutely thrilled! As with all great sci-fi it has a great mix of old and new, of history and imagination. The repetition of (as such wars do) was such a great way to bookend the global conflict in just a couple of sentences. So much is conveyed in so few words, it is a masterclass in cramming an entire history into a handful of words. 

‘My memories fuelled my nightmares for a century’ is another great line, which paints such a vivid picture about the nature of the war, and how nobody truly won. It shows us how the MC feels about the atrocities committed in the name of war. The use of water and fire, of symbols of mercy and justice, was a great touch, and the gut punch ending of the unspoken third option was the perfect way to wrap up this tale. Wonderful flash!

Congratulations, Phil! Here’s your winning story:

ASTRAEA

The war began (as such wars do) with men who neglected the lessons of history. I was an innocent boy with romantic notions of alien planets, great battles, and mighty heroes.

The war ended (as such wars do) in tears, and firing squads, and a vow never to forget. Never forget. My memories fueled my nightmares for a century. Even after I escaped the jail, fled the planet, buried my past deeper than my victims. At night I saw those purple eyes of a girl from Astraea — eyes that watched her family and her future die in a blast of searing plasma.

One day I saw those eyes again, in daylight. They held me entranced as she approached. We stood at the memorial: rippling waters and roaring flame.

“I could turn you in,” she said without preamble. “I should. Though a lifetime ago, justice knows no age.” Her face was pale as mine had been that day. “But the flame falters. Life, I see, has wearied us both. Mercy. Or justice.”

“So which will it be?” I asked. “The water? Or the fire?”

I never saw the pistol — only the glint in her eyes.

“The earth.”

Fire&Ice Sol 3/19: WINNERS

§ Foy says: Joy and pain. Suffering and restoration. Whether in our stories or in our body-bound lives, many of us walked with these engulfing emotions this weekend. Many more of us have been walking with them for years, decades, centuries. Loves found. Loves lost. To capture the visceral in words is to release it, and all the better if we can carry our readers with us in that healing. Because this too is why we write. Thank you

§ Rebekah says: In yesterday’s Flash! Future Ken Liu spoke honestly about the pandemic demons that drowned out his words for a time. But eventually, he said,

I found my voice again, and learned to trust in my need to tell stories. …Stories are how we make sense of a senseless world, how we construct meaning out of noise, how we assert our individual conscience and collective empathy against the forces of heartless denial, systemic oppression, and willful ignorance. We must not let them drag us down with them.

Writing communities like Fire&Ice exist because as writers we’re all striving to find our own voice: the voice that speaks our words, not mutes them. The one that reflects us, not any other writer or any other writer’s way of telling stories. We say this a lot, but it bears repeating that no matter where you are in your writing journey, your voice is and always will be welcome here. Thank you for sharing your voice & for being a welcoming voice to others. 

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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 3’S JUDGES SAY:

Mark King: This round there were 11,400+ words of goodness to read. It’s amazing to be back at Flash! Friday again. Hearing some hints that it might return, I wrote a couple of stories about returning home, and that’s how it feels. I am incredibly grateful to the Ice and Fire dragons (and the magical folk behind the scenes) for making this happen and for the honour of being asked to judge.  

For me, Flash! Friday has always been a welcoming place that promotes diversity and equality, so it was incredibly hard waking to the news of Chadwick Boseman’s sad passing just before I started reading the stories. What an actor. What an incredible legacy.

The two judges this week both have very personal connections to Valentine’s Day, so the theme of love was a superb choice. When asked what advice I would give, I said to bring yourselves, not be swayed by others, to have faith in your voice. You sure did that, and then some. I found something admirable and unique in every single story I read, so be proud. If you didn’t get a mention, know that on another day, with another judge, you might well have placed or won.

First, a few personal mentions of stories that called to me but didn’t place. Untitled (Where Does Love Go?) by Tamara Shoemaker – it brought a tear to my eye. Craig Anderson‘s One Day, for outstanding vision and wonderful prompt creativity. Brian S. Creek‘s The Challenge of the Burning Waste for structure and sense of love lost.


Stephanie Ellis: When Flash! Friday announced its return, I was delighted. When I was asked to be part of the judging process, I was honoured – as I was by being partnered with one of the original Flash Dogs, Mark King. This competition, so much a part of my writing life, is where I honed my skills and received comments and advice in the most positive of ways. It was, and remains, a safe place for new writers sharing their work possibly for the first time whilst remaining a challenge to writers of all levels.

You might expect that as someone who reads flash week in, week out at The Horror Tree, I would feel jaded or that dark fiction would come first regardless of other genres. That is not the case. Story captures my heart, from whatever direction it comes, and I loved the myriad takes on this week’s theme. So many vied for attention but placing is always limited. I would like to give a couple of shoutouts here. In addition to those placed in the results, I was chuckling to the humour and dialect of Geoff Holme‘s As the Tyne Goes By, and was touched by the stuntman’s lost love of Karl A. Russell‘s Afterwards.

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HONORABLE MENTIONS

New Kids on the Block by Tinman

MK: Thoroughly enjoyed the style and references. Highly entertaining. Thank you.

SE: We have made our own hell but I adore the phrasing of the Four as the ‘hula-hoops of the heavens’.

Desert Queen by Arvind Iyer

MK: We can’t travel right now, but this was like being teleported. Wonderful.

SE: Layered with vibrant colours, smells, sounds and movement to form a richly painted backdrop.

RUNNER UP

The Last Time by Becky Spence

MK: Brilliant use of sound throughout the story. This line was simply wonderful, “Until the vultures soared. Until the great birds cawed. Underneath the moon. I came. The glass moon shimmers in the ocean skies. A chill. There is a chill in the air.” and reminded me of a beautiful winning vulture story by Deb Foy.

SE: Death and pain and love run through this dark story to the score of pounding hearts, drums, hooves. I loved the way the pace and pain built up against this music and then ended with that one word, ‘Still.’ Perfect.

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

FIRE&ICE WINNER

Marie McKay!!!

for

Unknot

MKThis single paragraph alone was good enough to win any competition, “You and I had loved, but not well. It was a thin, meagre type of togetherness. Racing through passing time counted in paper, cotton, bronze.” It is a life of hope, of trying, of years and milestones. It hints at an infinite world, a world beyond the surface, a universe that is sadly shadowed and flawed. “We should have untied the knot. Screamed I don’t: galloped backwards up the aisle.” Is not only a central link to the prompt but a wonderful image of life in reverse. On a technical front, there is skilful deployment of long and short sentences to add pacing and control. For me, this was the most powerful story that explained the journey from love found to love lost. After all, all love found will be lost, eventually, and all love lost will have been found before. Masterful storytelling. Congratulations.

SE — This grabbed me from the first as it carved out a tale of a miserable marriage, leading up to a brutal ending via a series of savage words and phrases. From the start, powerful imagery is conjured up with the ‘curl of distaste at the corner of your mouth’ and ‘the spite in the line of your spine’, savage words leap out to show how poisonous this relationship has become. A forensic examination of a failing marriage, every little nuance bleeding its death; she, the guilty party, adulterer, he, ‘the boring better man’. Then you get to the end and that image of him holding the child not his when he squeezes ‘a little too tight, too hard.’ It is a moment of horror which immediately paints years ahead of suffering for both mother and child if they remain together. He – the boring, better man – has become anything but.

Congratulations, Marie! Here’s your winning story:

Unknot

If I were forensic, tracing it back to a single moment, a broken heart beat. I remember seeing the curl of distaste at the corner of your mouth. Saw the spite in the line of your spine. I don’t blame you.
I think you knew it had happened before I did. Was it how I smoothed my skirt and words? How I kissed his breath while you held your tongue? Held it until venom began to leak from it in the months that raged past.

You and I had loved, but not well. It was a thin, meagre type of togetherness. Racing through passing time counted in paper, cotton, bronze.

We should never have been ‘we’. We should have untied the knot.
Screamed I don’t: galloped backwards up the aisle. Flung horseshoes like confetti at the the guests whose cold shoulders would’ve whipped round to see the bride and groom flee the scene of the crime. Charlie Chaplin bridesmaids, groom and bride swallowed up fast into separate limousines that screech into separate. Lives. Beds. Hearts. No eternal rings of circular arguments. No change of names.

Then you would not be here now, fulfilling your contractual agreement, the boring better man who got it worse. There is a moment where I see you forget yourself. And maybe him too. Your cold arms warmed by a hot screaming bundle of this fresh, flesh branch of me that is not you. But then you squeeze a little too tight, too hard. And we both know, we’ve reached the finish line.

 

 

Fire&Ice Sol 1/19: WINNERS

§ Rebekah says: You did it! You battled the fire & ice dragons on Sol 1 and survived! We’re so grateful to the hordes of you who joined Friday’s competition, and who came back over the weekend to support each other by commenting. As writers, whether we’re cobwebby seasoned or brand new, there’s so much we can learn from each other. Thank you! Be sure to drop by this Wednesday for our first Flash! Past feature, where we’ll update you on what’s going on with a favorite (or in this case, favourite) Flash! Friday writer.  

§ Foy says: Well, that was spectacular! Landing in any arena can stiffen the spines but especially one dominated by other battle-scaled beasts. My admiration and affection to you all. The heart of Fire&Ice beats most boldly when we reach out, when we speak up, when we serve, and you all have done that here. We are grateful for each of you.

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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 1’S JUDGES SAY:

Craig Anderson: 2020 finally redeems itself! When I got the email saying that Flash! Friday was back on I whooped and cheered like a little kid. During the hiatus I spoke of FF regularly to anyone that would listen, harking back to the ‘good old days’ when a bunch of awesome writerly folks would have a virtual shin-dig every week. It was so very lovely to see both familiar faces and sparkly new people joining in the fun.

And what fun it has been! Judging with Sinéad was an absolute joy, and I learned a whole lot along the way. We had some really great back and forth where she pointed out the subtleties that made your stories really shine. There were several instances where Sinéad helped me to better appreciate a story at a whole other level, picking up on those words that seemed so innocent at first pass, but so very meaningful upon closer inspection. That is one of the things that I always love about flash fiction, every word has to pull its weight. A 150 word story, that at first appears to be a fun puddle to splash around in, can be as deep as the ocean when you take a moment to break the surface.

A great example of that is the single line from Mark King‘s The Return, ‘like an iceberg, his visible scars were just the edges.’ Such great imagery that both ties in to the prompt and paints an achingly vivid picture. That same story features some beautiful contrast, from the darkness and bleakness at the start, to the cerulean blueskies of hope at the end. Great stuff!

Another special mention goes to Margaret Locke‘s Two Halves Make a Hole, which also played with that mid-point shift. The flip from two people complementing each other to consuming each other was perfectly executed, and from that point on the sentences switch from long and flowing to short and punchy. It is a perfect example of using a shift in tone to emphasize the themes of the story. 

Those were just a couple of examples, but there were so many great stories to pick from. You lot made it extremely hard to choose the winners, but choose we must!


Sinéad O’Hart: What a fantastic start to Fire&Ice! There were so many wonderful tales, each burning with volcanic power or thrumming with frozen majesty, that reading them was a privilege. I’m so pleased to have been first into the judging seat, alongside the marvellous Craig Anderson, and luckily we didn’t differ very much on our choices (it was a small skirmish, I assure you; neither of us lost more than a scale or two from our weathered dragon hides!)

I wanted to begin by thanking everyone. Writing flash is such a skill, and when a piece works – it *really* works. There were stories here which unfolded on a second or third reading, revealing more meaning tucked away in their tightly-controlled prose; there were tales which made me laugh, and others that stopped my breath. We had many stories about portals and awakening beasts, and each of them brought something new and unique to the table. We had fury, we had pain, we had loss and grief and love and more, all of it, in these tiny tales. What great writers you all are.

I want to make special mention of Taryn Noelle Kloeden‘s The Right to Cold, which will stay with me always, both the title and the tale itself. I also loved the glimpse of Jormungand the World-Serpent in Steph EllisUnlikely (my medievalist heart glowed). And, needless to say, the funny tales – particularly the meta-stories – brought a smile to my leathery chops. Thanks to Bart Van Goethem‘s The Awakening, and Esther van den Heuvel‘s untitled tale which gave us all a mention. I loved the final ‘Snap’ in Artie DintersLast One, and the closing image of Brett Milam‘s Crackle; brilliant stories, both. But, sadly, winners must be picked! And so, here we go.

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HONORABLE MENTIONS

Reflection by Becky Spence

SJO: I loved the feel of this tale; the sorrow and finality, the sense of threat, the separation from family, and the imagery of the petals and the water.

CA: This story put one-word sentences to great use to break up the flow of the story, punctuating it and really emphasizing the word in question. It staggers along, disjointed and bleak, with crying and bodies. Then when the family appears it starts to flow again, and the imagery becomes poetic, with tumbling cherry blossoms and laughter. The way that the petal surfaces does a great job of bringing that happiness into the ‘real’ world, and then just as suddenly it is snatched away again.

Untitled by Betsy Streeter

SJO: We were united in our appreciation for this hilarious depiction of a choir of singing (and burping) caves, and the use of all-dialogue was wonderful.

CA: I loved this one because it does something really well that you could never do in a longer story: it only uses dialogue to tell the story. So much character comes through in the banter between the voices and the playful way they tease each other. I also liked that it took things in a different direction, the prompt was so icy and bleak, and yet this story is light and funny.

RUNNER UP

In the Maw of Gul-Go-Thor by Phil Coltrane

SJO: What begins as just another ‘expedition to the frozen wastes’ story turns completely on its tail with that fantastic last line. This piece of flash shows how powerful the form can be – it’s a fully-developed story in its own right, but one which explodes into a million possibilities by the end.

CA: Wow, what a great example of how a single line can twist a whole story on its head. Its always the sign of a great flash fiction when the first thing i do after reading it is immediately go back and read it again! I loved how all the senses were invoked, the sharpness of the view, the moaning of the ice, the smell of perfume in the air, even the throat and cheeks that burned like whiskey. It’s hard work to convey so much information is such a short piece of flash, but here everything flows together so seamlessly to paint a vivid picture.

And now: for the very first time, we are pleased to announce the very first 

FIRE&ICE WINNER

CASEY ROSE FRANK !!!

for

How Do You Know”

SJO – This story slipped past me on first reading, and it was on a second read that its deeper meaning opened up before my eyes. I loved the play on ‘ice’ (not just the literal ice, but the diamond on Cora’s finger and, possibly, the cold shard in her heart too), and the incredible subtleties of meaning – the ring painfully misplaced, the cold hands inside the glove, the freedom of Cora’s thoughts compared with the stasis of her body and her situation. A wonderful and worthy winner.

CA — I was similar to Sinéad in that I had to read this one a couple of times to truly appreciate it. That subtlety is one of the most powerful things about this story, it creeps up on you. The imagery is quiet and unassuming, the thought about the waves travelling across the ocean to lap upon a warm beach, or the water pulsing in time with her heart beat. Then the layers of meaning start to bob to the surface. The water that can’t stay still is suddenly cemented in place as a glacier, but it never truly stops moving, it is still only ‘semi-permanent.’ Her diamond ring twisted on her finger, awkward and painful, and a final pang of jealousy that the water is free to flow away as it pleases, while she remains trapped. There’s just so much going on, and the whole thing is perfectly encapsulated in only 160 words. 

Congratulations, Casey! Here’s your winning story:

How Do You Know

Cora had grown up amongst the constant current of rivers and lakes, and spent most summers submerged in an ocean that pulsed in the tandem with her heart.
But here she found water made land.
She stared at the ripples below, streaming away from the boat, perhaps going on to become a wave against a warmer shore. Or something as grand as a glacier, like a waterfall.
A sliver of ice broke off into the water and bobbed away.
She wondered how such solid semi-permanence existed right up against something incapable of keeping still.
How did the water choose?
Elliot’s gloved hand found hers and squeezed. She felt the sharp diamond edge of her ring twisted the wrong way against her fingers, awkward and painful under the fabric that still left her hands cold.
“It’s beautiful isn’t it?”
She smiled and agreed it was, but kept watching the water that flowed beyond the horizon, moving farther than she could see.