Tag Archive | Steph Post

Flash Points: Steph Post

FlashPoints3

Welcome to Flash Points. As I warned you yesterday, two stories embedded themselves in my brain. I just can’t choooooose! I moaned to my friend Allison Garcia, who answered patiently, “Then do both!” Such a clever girl, that one. So here we go — for the first time ever, a critique of a second marvelous bit of writing from the most recent round of flash. 

Prompt: Queen Victoria political cartoon

Word limit:  140 – 160 words

Today’s chosen flash piece:  Never Enoughby Steph Post

No, it’s not enough.

I want all the marbles; I want all the fish in the sea. I want to dance on their graves and yours and mine, too, and throw pennies on the coffins and tear my hair and yowl up at the moon.

It’s not enough, not enough, not enough.

I want glaciers, I want continents, I want tribes. I want the blank spaces on the map, empty maws roaring with secrets, impenetrable, tamed only by my footsteps.

I want effigies. And I want them to burn.

I want languages and revolutions, underground cities and elixirs of immortality.

I want to reign in a comet.

Don’t proffer me your crowns; I want to wear headdresses of stardust. Don’t grovel with your treaties; I want to devour whole galaxies.

Can’t you see? Don’t you know? It’s not enough, not enough.

It will never be enough. For me.

What works

“Why do you want to climb Mount Everest?”

“Because it’s there.” 

–ascribed to George Mallory, mountaineer, 1886 – 1924

“Mine, mine, mine.” 

–every toddler everywhere

This piece has haunted me from first reading. It’s far from a “typical” flash piece; half poem, half story, its rhythms pound in your head and won’t leave you alone, and you find yourself coming back to read it again…. and again….  Walk with me through its dark melodies for a moment, won’t you?

With a prose poem such as this one, it’s hard to know whether to begin with structure or content, so tightly intertwined as they are. Guess I’ll just pick content and dive in, eh?  Like Sarah Cain’s story from yesterday, this piece stands alone; we don’t need to see the prompt or grasp the historical complexities of the Victorian era to follow it. I mention this point again because there’s often the temptation to make the story or twist an inside joke between the writer and the other contest participants. Such a joke is great fun, of course!! but it makes for a very different sort of story in the end.

Content-wise, this piece starts off with what we’ll soon recognize as its refrain, No, it’s not enough. This line is SO clever — I don’t know a single reader bold enough to stop reading there. What’s not enough??? We have to know. It’s a brilliant first sentence, answering an offstage question and introducing one of its own. So great.

But from there the story flings itself into a bit of a jumbled mess, with conflicting images of children’s marble games, fishing, death, grief, and wolves battling for attention. This second sentence is so risky, because as yet it’s not anything we can make sense of. On the surface there’s no unifying factor or common theme. Nor does it seem to be moving in any particular direction. It’s a mess, loud, cacophonous, like letting preschoolers into a room filled with cymbals. I love risk-taking in writing. Gamble big, win big, right? Or if you crash, what a way to go. 🙂 In “Never Enough,” for me the risk pays off. Six discordant images, yes, but they are tightly written and move fast, and before we know it, we’re at the second refrain.

It’s not enough, not enough, not enough.

The refrain would, you’d think, bring the story to an abrupt stop. But because it follows chaos, its rhythm and repetition feel gentle, soothing. We haven’t made sense of the piece yet, but we’re back on familiar ground, back to that original question, What’s not enough?? and we have to read on. And here’s where Steph’s structure work really shines, because she uses structure itself, the poetic refrain, to create and continue the story’s tension. Tension is crucial; who wants to read a flat, aimless bunch of words? As readers we want to go somewhere, or feel something, or think something, or experience something new. Steph has artfully offered us a mouthful already: a pressing question framing disturbing images. I have to keep reading.

The question is answered in the center section, which is where we find the story’s heart.

I want glaciers, I want continents, I want tribes. I want the blank spaces on the map, empty maws roaring with secrets, impenetrable, tamed only by my footsteps.

In this respect “Never Enough” eases into a traditional flash fiction format (intro, body, conclusion), and it offers us some breathing room by stepping away from the impassioned fury of the opening to explain what’s going on. References to wanting continents, tribes, and blank spaces on the map speak of a hunger we recognize: Manifest Destiny, as it were, or the universal ravenous, imperial cry. Ahhhh, we say. Now we know who’s talking. It’s a greedy emperor, right? Except it’s not.

Don’t proffer me your crowns; I want to wear headdresses of stardust. Don’t grovel with your treaties; I want to devour whole galaxies.

Okay, what???? Is this like Genghis Khan in space? Steph does not allow us to fly too quickly through the story as we do through so many others, whathappenswhathappenswhathappens. Shhhh, she says. Slow down. Step back. Read it again. Her pace is tightly controlled, intentional.

The body of the piece, we notice, forms its own arrogant frame. “I want” repeats four times, greedily echoing the introduction. It reads like a list of demands, the demands of a conqueror. 

I want effigies. And I want them to burn. 

Don’t grovel with your treaties

The reader is the conquered. Our capitulation is assumed. Now that’s arrogance painted in garish, un-ignorable colors. 

From the second, internal I want refrain, Steph then returns to the opening refrain.

Can’t you see? Don’t you know? It’s not enough, not enough.

It will never be enough. For me.

It’s not the cry of a single emperor; it’s the anthem of all emperors. It’s Victoria, Napoleon, Genghis, Alexander, Montezuma, a thousand names besides these, lost to time but chanting in unison: I want more. Whatever I have, isn’t enough. And this may be what I love best about this piece:

It will never be enough. 

The emperors’ lust for power cannot be satiated. “Never Enough” is not a song of victory; it’s a dirge. Not triumph: despair. Steph isn’t just telling the story of a ruler’s rise to power; she has added depth by proposing that one thing (global domination) isn’t, in the end, what it seems. What we see is not what we get. 

There’s so much going on in this piece. I’ve touched on structure and content, but as a prose poem, we have the added element of sound, which I didn’t get to but deserves a post of its own. This story is unique. It’s risky. It’s beautiful, haunting. It’s terrible and tragic, angry, thirsty, and desperate. This story is the sort that devours your soul and doesn’t let you be.

You can’t read a piece like this just once. Or twice. You have to keep reading it, and even then

 It will never be enough. For me.

Thank you, Steph, for sharing this extraordinary piece of work. 

What do you think?

As I’ve said, this piece is different. Risky. Have you ever written a risky piece? What did you risk, and how did it work out for you? Would you do it again? What risks have you seen other writers take, that you admire?

Sixty Seconds with: Steph Post

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 Steph Post. Read her winning story here. Then take one minute to get to know her better!  

1) What about the prompt inspired your winning piece?  As soon as I saw the theme was comeuppance I immediately thought of rattlesnakes. The rest of the story flowed from there.

2) How long have you been writing flash? I’ve written short fiction for years, but I’ve really gotten into flash fiction over the past year. 

3) What do you like about flash? I love that with the constraints of word counts you have to really pay attention to every word and weigh its importance to the story. It’s also just really fun!

4) What flash advice would you give other writers? Start with an image or a moment in time and then build the story up around it. 

5) Who is a writer we should follow, and why? Taylor Brown is my new favorite short fiction writer. His recent book In the Season of Blood of Gold is breathtaking. 

6) Do you participate in other flash contests, and which? This is actually the first flash contest I’ve ever participated in.

7) What other forms do you write (novels, poetry, articles, etc)? )? Aside from flash fiction, I write novels. I’ve also written and published poetry and short fiction, but my heart is really with the shortest and longest extremes of fiction.

8) What is/are your favorite genre(s) to write, and why? My novels are Southern literary thrillers and the themes of this genre usually surface in my short and flash fiction as well.

9) Tell us about a WIP. I just finished a novel, so at the moment I’m taking a breather from any large works. One of the reasons flash fiction is great is because it keeps me on my toes between major projects.

10) How do you feel about dragons? I would like to have one as a pet, but since I already have five dogs at home, I don’t think it would really fit in. 🙂

Flash! Friday Vol 2 – 23: WINNERS!

I hope you’ve had a fantastic weekend filled with all sorts of writerly goodness. It’s always a pleasure seeing you here Fridays, and I love that each week we’re joined by brave new faces. Thank you so much for contributing your amazing stories and for helping push each other onward and upward in our joint pursuit of writing magnificence. And a special thank you to all of you who made contributions toward the running of the Flash! Friday contest; I am deeply touched by your kindness. I’ve said it from the beginning: you are a community like none other. Here’s to another inspiration-filled week! 

♦♦♦♦♦

Judge Pratibha Kelapure says: Dear Friday Flashers: once again, you have outdone yourselves. I thought I was keeping up with my reading, but the stories kept coming, and I kept adding to the potential winners list. 🙂 So, honestly, if your story did not make it into the final winners circle, don’t fret. It is the nature of any contest. In each story, there is something striking and worth commenting on, and I do keep the list of those great lines, descriptions, or observations for each story.

This week’s nostalgic and happy picture-prompt combined with the ‘comeuppance’ word-prompt, inspired many stories of revenge and murder.  And what imaginative ways of slaying the tormentors, cheaters, stealers, mass murderers, and bad politicians! And what a wide variety of stories! Some people remembered the stock market crash of 1929 and Great Depression that followed. Some people dug up the history of the first Oscar and gave the K9, Rin Tin Tin, his well-earned honor. A brave few even traveled to the future to either solve a ‘cold case,’ or to deliver a comeuppance. The regulars dazzled me with their original takes on the prompt and flawless execution.

   ♦♦♦♦♦

SPECIAL MENTIONS

Worldbuilding: James Marshall VI, “No Happy Endings”: He has built a dystopian counter-culture. Image Ronin, “Metteur En Scene”: A world of theater; chinchin.unicorn, “Before He Cheats”: A vibrant bar culture.

Humor: Karl A Russell, “It Should Have Been Me”; Tinman, “A Whiff of Cordite”; drmagoo, “Cheese and Onions”; Jacki Donnellan, “The Wardrobe Mistress”;

Ending: Image Ronin, “Metteur En Scene”; Laura Carroll Butler, “The Way of All Flesh”; Aria Glazki, “Hero’s Uprising”; William Goss, “The Last Dragon in the Family”;

Dialogue: Whitney Healy, “THE DECREE”; drmagoo, “Cheese and Onions”;

Language: Katrina Ray-Saulis, Untitled; Taryn Noelle Kloeden, “Lesson Learned”; Aria Glazki, “Hero’s Uprising.”

HONORABLE MENTIONS

M.T. Decker, “Shades of Grey.” This is well thought out, witty, and humorous story. The Grey Lady trying to get the colors into the period photographs is a familiar character of an eager intern. A realistic portrayal of office dynamics!

Brett Milam, “Whiteface.” It is a story of a son denying his father’s legacy, but having a difficult time doing so. “He showed me how to become someone else. But I became him.” In a short span of 150 words, Brett manages to show the character transformation. The line, “Laughs subsided, but infamy subsisted forever” is truly memorable.

Craig Anderson, “Twins.” A twin laments his inferiority and compares himself to a movie sequel, “[..] sequel, an inferior attempt to recreate the magic of the original.” If you think this is imaginative, brace yourself for the jaw-dropping, table turning development.  “It’s my turn outside, my time in the spotlight. Time to collect my prize.” 

SECOND RUNNER UP

Joidianne4eva, “In the House of the Rising Sun.” Joidianne conveys the pain of an abused and ignored orphan in a few potent words. “He wore his silence like the dirty clothing that covered the scars on his back and the fragile curl of his ribs.” She used both the prompts in a subtle and original way. The sinister actions of the “no-name” boy are silently implied, never stated explicitly, leaving a lot to reader’s imagination. A perfect ode to silence!

FIRST RUNNER UP

Marie McKay, “Leading Ladies.” The story is told in second person point of view, a tricky proposition; but Marie does it effectively. The striking simile, “She enunciates her taciturn fury while her arms wave like a drowning woman’s” took my breath away.  She draws a believable portrait of the motel clerk, “(L)ipstick has leaked into the tight cracks above her mouth.”  The ending is surprising, but we can recognize the sentiment of the protagonist. Well done! 

And now: for her very first time, it’s Flash! Friday  

DRAGON WINNER

STEPH POST!!!

for

“Ain’t That Something”

This is another interesting twist on the theme of revenge, funny on the surface, but sad and ironic on the inside. The dialogue sounds authentic. The accidental female bonding between the two female rivals is heartwarming. The image, “The circle of wolfish men,” is vivid and so is the image of Alice, “keeping her eyes on the empty martini glass trembling between her fingers.”  I had to take a double take to see the “wolfish men” in the picture prompt, but I am sold on the concept. The choice of rattlesnake as a weapon against the cheating husband sounds naïve, but is quite plausible for the simple-minded characters like Alice and Scarlett. I like this for the great character portrayal, dialogue, and the double jeopardy for the unsuspecting cheater. Bravo!

Congratulations, Steph! Your brand new (quite sparkly!) winner’s badge awaits you impatiently below. Here is your winner’s page and your winning tale on the winners’ wall. Please contact me ASAP so I can interview you for this week’s #SixtySeconds feature. And here is your winning story:

Ain’t That Something

Alice had heard you could put rattlesnakes in their beds. Men.

“That’ll shake em up, let me tell ya.”

This from Scarlett, her husband’s mistress, teetering on gold high heels from one too many highballs.

“This girl on the chorus line with me, she said she put a rattler under her boyfriend’s sheets once. Said he never ran around on her again. Ain’t that something?”

The circle of wolfish men, including her husband, had thrown their heads back in raucous laughter, their mouths as wide as manholes, and pressed in even closer.

Alice, sitting three stools down, keeping her eyes on the empty martini glass trembling between her fingers, had wondered where the hell you could find a rattlesnake in Chicago. She had almost dared to ask, when they had found themselves eyeing one another the powder room’s mirror, but Scarlett had winked at her first.

“Corner of Knox and 53rd, honey. Just knock once and ask for Vinny.”

 

FFwinner-Web