Tag Archive | Sydney Scrogham

Flash! Friday Vol 3 – 31: WINNERS

HAAAAAAPPY Monday! A pleasure to see you back here for the medal party! Always exciting times here, finding out which stories struck our noble judges’ fancies this past round. And what a round it was! I’m STILL giggling from Brian Creek‘s “Chuck’s Five” with Chuck, Fat August, Indigo, Teller, and Pepper. (That’s Charlie, Augustus Gloop, Violet Beauregarde, Mike Teavee, and Veruca Salt in brilliant parodic form, of course), Geoff Holme‘s “Ian, Diana, Jonas and the Lost Dark,” and former dragon captain Eric Martell‘s untitled dialect piece (“‘e’s wonky, ‘e is”).  And clever J.M. gave us hungry adolescent dragons (!) with a craving for patricide in “It Will Change Your Life.” … And goodness, Clive Tern‘s richly dark twist on a ticket winner’s motivations (“I’m gonna mash their smug faces in, and win”), and Marie McKay‘s vivid take on synesthesia, both still follow me. 

Also loved srof2eeing bunches of new writers join us this week — and beloved old writers stop by (here’s looking at you, Karl Russell & Allison Garcia!). Reminder to all regulars, and those about-to-be-regulars (because we all know, SIGH, just how addictive the #flashfiction circuit is!) — don’t forget to track your participation here at Flash! Friday: if you write stories at least three Fridays in a month, your name can go up on the Wall of Flame. Each month you’re on the WoF nabs you a chance at the jackpot of prizes at year’s end. Details here!

{{Note: quick housekeeping reminder that parodies and derivatives of public domain stories (e.g. fairy tales) are allowed, but otherwise please use your own characters & world when telling stories; writing with copyrighted characters could get us all in a heap o’ trouble. Thanks for your cooperation!}}      

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Judging for us this round was Dragon Team Six, Steph Ellis & Josh Bertetta. Wish I could’ve heard some of those arguments! Though they didn’t send out for emergency bandages or chocolates, so perhaps we’re still all right…?? Thanks to both of you for your time & thoughts this week! Here’s what they have to say:

A real confection of wonderful tale-telling was tossed at our feet this weekend in honour of one of the greatest children’s books ever.  For a first-time judge in this dragon’s lair, this was a nerve-wracking event but one I thoroughly enjoyed.  It feels strange that I haven’t been part of Flash! Friday for a year yet, but here I am judging.  When I first discovered this site, I was somewhat overawed by the sheer quality of the writing – and, I must confess – I still am.  But the comments have always been kind and supportive and this has driven me on to try harder every week and I hope that those who are new to this site will find this true for them.  I have a reputation for darkness but your tales don’t have to involve blood and guts, they just have to be good stories.  And they were.

A big thank you also needs to go out to Deborah Foy and my [Steph’s] lovely (insomniac) daughter Bethan for ensuring that Josh and I received our entries ‘blind’.

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SPECIAL MENTIONS

Best Title: Geoff HolmeIan, Diana, Jonas, and the Lost Dark.” SE: Oh that wonderful title, and the sinister Germanic overtones which only serve to heighten the humour.  Mönions for Minions in particular was a brainwave.  Wonderful. JB: A wonderful use of dialogue to build tension—so much so that the action is quite incidental to the story. I read it as a parable about corporate exploitation of childhood hopes and dreams.

Best Use of Song: Mark A. KingSweet Muzak.” SE: For song-inspired writing, titles cleverly woven together to seamlessly form a story.  Bonus points for including one of my favourite U2 songs.  Lyrically lovely. JB: A delightful incorporation of numerous pop-culture references. I feel like I am on one a quiz show: can you name them all?

Best Homage: Mark Morris, “Wonkered.” SE: A true homage to Dahl, from character names to the idea of a moral delivered in a uniquely dark manner; the children literally are what they eat.  Terrific homage to a great author. JB: Tragic and ironic, here we have three human ourobori (or is it ouroboruses?) whose desire blinds them from the glaringly obvious.

Most Poignant: Allison Garcia, “Hershey’s Chocolate, Hershey’s Chocolate, Hershey’s Chocolate Woooorld.” SE: They say there is nothing greater than a parent’s love for a child and this story provides a perfect example, deflecting awkward questions in order to protect their son from harsh reality.  Delicate writing.  JB: A poignant expression of the suffering a parent holds deep in his/her breast to shield his/her child.

Best Huggable Programming: Phil Coltrane, “Manufactured Peace.” SE: Everything about Paxbot is programmed, from his emotive subroutines to his neural circuitry.  But Paxbot is more than code.  He has a sense of self-belief, he ‘yearns’ like a human to become called a child of God. I want to give Paxbot a hug. JB: One heck of an interpretation of the prompt, here is the story of a robot, who through programming is able to bring to humanity what it has long yearned. And still, there is something missing…

 

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HONORABLE MENTIONS

David Shakes, “I Don’t Like the Sound of That.” 

SE: Usually we are fed horrific stories about the dental health of the poor, whilst newsfeeds and pictures reinforce the perfect smiles of the wealthy.  However this norm is inverted in Charlie’s world, the ability to afford sweets being the privilege of the wealthy, as, bizarrely, is the resulting tooth decay.  The children of the rich go round happily displaying ‘gap toothed grins and bleeding gums’ because it shows their status; unlike Charlie who keeps his mouth firmly closed to prevent anyone noticing his poverty.  Pride is truly a strange creature.  A nice twist but a sad commentary.

JB: A terrific story of reversals of expectation symbolized in the teeth of the poor kids and the rich kids where the impoverished would rather hide his straight teeth than reveal his poverty. So desperately wanting to fit in, he would rather keep a straight face than smile; he can’t just be a kid in a candy store.

Craig Anderson, “‘What Goes Around.”

SE: Sympathies are immediately raised in the opening sentence with a reference to ‘the crippled kid’ but ‘He really looks the part’ is a telling sentence, cluing you in that all is probably not what it seems.  The tragedy is that the boy does become what he pretends to be when he gets run over, by, ironically, an ambulance.  The last sentence reveals the humanity of the other hustler, he can ‘no longer confront the kid in the wheelchair’, because this time the boy is truly a deserving cause.  Karma in action.

JB: Oh that karma is, a…well, you can fill in the blank, and what happens to the kid in the wheelchair is indeed tragic. I can only wonder—karma being karma—what, in addition to his own guilt, lies in store for the protagonist.

Clive Tern, “It’s All About Winning.”

SE: This is a story about someone prepared to grab hold of any and every chance he gets.  He looks down on those whose ‘mental arms are too short to grab the chances that flutter past their tiny little existences’.  They are not worthy, he however will grab a chance and wring out every benefit, even if it reduces others to tears, even if he has to offer violence.  Winning is all.  Winning is everything.  Well done.

JB: Oh, our competitive, dog-eat-dog society where those who lack the vision miss their golden opportunities (or in this case, tickets), while others, like this story’s protagonist (is he really?) has enough vision to see his opportunity—in this case, theft. You have to do what you have to do, after all, to get ahead — for ours is a society that loves its winners.

 

THIRD RUNNER UP

Jeff Stickler,Six.” 

SE: A life taken over by Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is no life at all.  This is the tragic conclusion that our character comes to as he struggles through yet another day where every action has to be performed six times.  Nights give him no respite, insomnia strikes as he dreads ‘another day of sixes’.  It all becomes too much and he does not count out his medication for the simple reason he has swallowed them all, there will be no more days of sixes, no more days at all.  Desperation has driven him to seek a tragic respite.  Thoughtful, though ultimately grim, description of a tortured soul.

JB: Painful to read, but exquisite to do so over and over again. Perhaps I read it six times. Here is the story of — what most would call — an individual with mental illness, the harsh reality of mental illness and the extreme measures some will go. I sense an element of social commentary here, which I appreciate, for this individual lives in dire financial circumstances and I, as the reader, in filling in the gaps in the story, wonder if his poverty prevents him from getting the help he needs, feeling, in the end, there is only one way out.

SECOND RUNNER UP

Mark A. King, “The Troll ‘Neath the Towers.” 

SE: In the daytime our troll is a normal person, smiling, charming, a pleasure to know but … in his home he becomes something else, hiding behind ‘proxy servers, fake identities and cloud accounts’.  Every day he casts his net to catch, latch, onto anyone who has suffered, anyone who has any ideas or beliefs, anyone at all that he feels he can abuse and insult in any way, inflict pain in more than fifty shades, delighting in the hashtag #AskELJames.  He is addicted and he knows it, pain ‘calls him like Meth’, soothes his dreams, keeps him content.  Even in his poverty, he is the kid in the sweet shop and you would never know him, he could be sat next to you now.  Definitely a tale for our times.

JB: Upon reading the title, I figured I would be reading about those good old trolls of folklore and myth, but reading—pleasantly (or perhaps unpleasantly) surprised, I read a story not about those trolls with which I am well familiar, but trolls much more sinister, those who hide in the cyber sphere. Here is an individual full of hate, seemingly choosing anyone and everyone, firing “insults at both sides” who, despite his apparent poverty spends “all his riches” on technology to spread his malice, malice born of pain, and for whom trolling the internet is an almost cathartic experience.

FIRST RUNNER UP 

Foy S. Iver, “Dr. C’s Freak Show.” 

SE: The poor girl has paid the price of youthful folly but it is wonderful to see how much hope she has for her premature baby and her desire for a future full of life.  She stands up to the midwife with her ‘righteous scorn’ whose God is a harsh God, subverting the message about loving all regardless of who/what they are.  There is no love or compassion in this midwife’s God, there is actually more in the girl herself, young though she is.  Her baby with its ‘fighting heart’ deserves a chance and she’s determined to give it her.  Tragic and inspirational at the same time.

JB: A surreal, carnivalesque, almost (in my mind) sci-fi, juxtaposition of a mother’s love for her child, her fight for her child matched by the baby’s own fighting heart. This in the context of a mid-wife who, despite claiming “God’s will is perfect,” condemns the young mother with her self-righteous indignation. Here is a woman with eyes of granite, who would rather fight over the baby—all two pounds of her—than act with compassion for arguably that which is most fragile in the world whereas the young mother, though she has nothing, relies on God’s help rather than resting upon dogmatic principles as does the midwife.

And now: welcome and whoop and holler for first-time

DRAGON WINNER

SYDNEY SCROGHAM!!!

for

The Choice

SE: Opening with the line “I’m no good for you”, you almost expect the rest of the story to be doom, gloom and disaster.  And yes there is some of that, but it is also an uplifting tale of the power of love to overcome all suffering.  Between this first line and the last the woman reminds herself why she is with him.  There is extreme hardship and poverty with their ‘shack outside the city’, the ‘dumpster diving for food’ and ‘stealing ibuprofen so our kid didn’t die from fever’ but she does not dwell on that as he speaks.  She shoulders those burdens willingly, accepts them because he is her soulmate, if she had not chosen him her ‘soul would wither away’ and that is something she could not bear – everything else pales into insignificance.  And in all this, her ‘poor boy from downtown’ understands the sacrifices she has made, recognises that she’s ‘the best thing to ever happen’ to him.  Fluent writing that tugs at the emotions.

JB: “The Choice” is a story of expectation, disappointment, relationship, love, economics, heartbreak — all in one of this week’s shortest (if not the shortest) stories. Here is a man feeling unsure of himself, his esteem and sense of worth rooted in his sense of poverty while his partner — through whose thoughts the reader learns of their dire situation — makes her choice based on feeling rather than reason. Love, the narrator lets the reader know, is, for all intents and purposes, irrational and when it comes to love such as this — a soul-love — there is really no choice at all. Chalk full of gut-wrenching images of poverty, “The Choice” reminds me of the times when things seem dire and there is a loss of hope, when love is in the heart, thinking and “common sense” are secondary.

Congratulations, Sydney! Here’s your brand new (DON’T SIT DOWN, PAINT’S STILL WET!) winner’s page and your winning tale on the winners’ wall. On a personal note, it’s a pleasure to see another one of my own magnificent Shenandoah Valley Writers on that wall!!! (Note for anyone who’s suspicious; judging is blind and done by the dragon captains, not me.) Sydney, please contact me here asap so I can interview you for Thursday’s #SixtySeconds feature! And now, here’s your winning story:

The Choice

“I’m no good for you.”

When he said that to me, I wasn’t thinking about living in a shack outside the city, dumpster diving for food, or stealing ibuprophen so our kid didn’t die from fever. I wasn’t thinking about torn jackets, sockless toes, or begging for a few laundromat coins.

I was thinking about how my soul would wither away if we really said good-bye right now.

I choose this lifestyle because I choose him. Every day. I open my eyes and the one poor boy from downtown stirs beside me, turns over, and whispers in my ear.

“You’re the best thing that ever happened to me.”

FFwinner-Web

Sixty Seconds IV with: Tamara Shoemaker

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 Tamara Shoemaker (hip, hip, HURRAY!!)Read her winning story here. Note that this is her FOURTH win!!! Be sure to check out her winner’s page to read her previous winning stories & then come back to get to know her better.

1.) From Victoria Falls to… Alzheimers? How did the prompts inspire your winning story?

I paged through a host of “man v. nature” obstacles that seemed insurmountable and would make a good story, and finally settled on Alzheimers. This disease strikes close to home, so I felt like I could incorporate more emotion into the piece as a result. One poignant memory I have of my grandmother, who was for years, a victim of Alzheimers, was when our family went into a bookstore to browse. I circled the end of a bookshelf to find my grandmother, looking lost. “Need something, Grandma?” I asked. She stared blankly at me. “I’m just looking for my husband. Have you seen him?” My grandfather had been dead for several years at this point, and her words skewered me. In her lost-little-girl look, I found a visceral hatred for this horrible, untreatable, undefeatable, insurmountable, irrational disease.

So this story was my dedication to my grandmother and every other victim of Alzheimers, to the family members who have faded into the oblivion of disease even while they remain constant, and the caretakers that come alongside, even when they’re forgotten.

2.) One of the lines that grabbed judges and readers alike is “Deep calls to deep…” Talk about that—where’s it from, what about it haunts you, why did you use it here?

Psalm 42 is one of my favorite psalms from the Bible because it so completely encapsulates who I am. I struggle, often, with my faith, with daily obstacles, juggling the simple tasks of being a mother, a wife, a writer, a Christian, a good citizen, and I often feel like I’m drowning in it all. This whole psalm is a prayer in which the petitioner pleads with God to lift him out of the murk, to find hope. In the middle of that struggle (v. 7), “deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls.” For me, that’s God’s promise of His presence in the deepest parts of my soul, beneath the surface turmoil. His Spirit calls to mine, and ultimately, shines hope where there seems to be none.

It’s why, in my story, I put the light of hope in the darkness of confusion. In spite of the irresistible force of disease, I wanted the protagonist to realize that the depths of her soul connect with the only One who can give her hope. And it’s that hope toward which she struggles in the end.

Emily Dickinson (one of my favorite-ever-authors) says: “Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul and sings the tune without the words and never stops at all.”

In the man v. nature struggle, if we take away hope, what victory will there be—ever? Hope is intrinsic to man’s survival instinct. Of course I had to include it.

3.) Your first four books are unabashedly faith-based, while the upcoming Kindle the Flame shifts dramatically to dragons and pixies. What gives? Aren’t those opposite genres?

Growing up, I had all access to Christian fiction, but not much to anything else except the classics. My dad was a book salesman for a Christian book company, and our shed was stacked with boxes and boxes of books from Bethany House and Harvest House and Zondervan. Christian fiction was all I ever read, and when I wrote my first novel, I hadn’t yet stepped outside that zone to discover other worlds of fiction. Of course it seemed natural to write in that genre.

Over the last few years, however, I’ve explored nearly every other genre out there, reasoning that a good author should know her market. What I found, I loved. Where the Christian market is geared to a very select group of people, the fantasy genre is open to all people, and (bonus), some of my favorite themes that I loved about Christian fiction, I still found in secular literature as well: good overcoming evil, might not equaling right, redemption and sacrifice, true love conquering all (which does not always translate to the prince getting the princess).

I’m not going to knock the Christian market—I believe there’s a place for it, but I love the wide open world of secular fantasy I’ve discovered. It feels… richer, deeper, with more shades of character, I suppose.

4.) We’re four days from the launch of Kindle the Flame. How are you holding up? Plans going well? What’s in the marketing pipeline for you?

Gulp. I’m existing on caffeine, wide-eyed dazed stares, and occasional twitches. This is my first effort in self-publishing, so I’m wreaking havoc on social media channels as I try to build some buzz for my book. I’ve scheduled June for a blog roll (thank you David Shakes, Mark King, Emily Street, Margaret Locke, Taryn BK, Foy Iver, etc. for agreeing to host me). I have two book signings coming up – one with the fabulous Margaret Locke and one with fellow fantasy author, Sydney Scrogham. I also have book giveaways and free promos in the works.

But not a bit of this matters if the buck stops with me. If each person I reach tells even one other person about my book, and that one person tells someone else, think how far-reaching this could be! Indie-published authors are powered by reviews and grassroots. So bless all you dear blades of grass. I appreciate all of you.

5.) I need to know what you’ve been reading. Any current author obsessions? 

I don’t do multi-tasking well except when I’m reading. Hence, I’m in the middle of Margaret Locke’s A Man of Character, an ARC from Emily Street, The Gantean (coming end of June, people, and it’s excellent), the first Harry Potter (to my kids), a favorite Gilbert Morris historical series (Cheney Duvall M.D.), a recommendation from my mom: Ishmael by Ellen Southworth, and am considering revisiting my favorite Anne of Green Gables again.

I haven’t been obsessed with any author recently. I read and enjoy, but haven’t gone gaga over someone’s work since Rowling (and then it was only the dear wizard world—I couldn’t stand The Casual Vacancy).

6.) More importantly: what are your children reading? Do you see in them echoes of your own readerly and writerly self as a child? Will you have them read the kinds of things you did as a kid, or will you guide them differently?

My two oldest have massive imaginations to my utter delight. I mentioned above that I’m reading the first Harry Potter to them, which they already love (I’m so thrilled). We’ve gone through Laura Ingalls Wilder, the Chronicles of Narnia, the Boxcar Children, and Beverly Cleary’s Ramona series. I can’t wait until they’re another year or two older so I can try Anne of Green Gables on them and Percy Jackson. Maybe even Lord of the Rings.

My youngest hasn’t shown as much interest in flights of imagination, but she’s young, so I’ve got time to teach her the right way of things. 😉

7.) Tolkien was groundbreaking in his depth of worldbuilding, and many today follow suit (cf Klingon language camp…!). How detailed do you find yourself going with your fantasy works—do you have maps? Dictionaries? Spreadsheets? Stories, character sketches, etc.?

My planning sheets for my fantasy books are hard to decipher. I have maps galore (big/little/land mass/buildings/cities/structures). I have small bits of made up language in Kindle the Flame, which I base quite loosely on Irish and Scottish Gaelic. I have a small index in the back of my book that explains new terms, and yes, I write whole histories for each character before they even begin to find their way into the pages of my books.

But is my worldbuilding Tolkienesque? Pffffff. As if. But… I live and dream.

8.) Are you going to be the first person to win FF five times?

You had to ask. The pressure! I hope to someday break the 5x barrier. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned over my year of writing for Flash! Friday, it’s that the competition on this particular site is fierce and amazing and I should never count my chicks before they’re hatched because, quite often, those silly egg shells are empty… 🙂

Flash! Friday Vol 3 – 9: WINNERS

Today, it will please you to learn, is National Read in the Bathtub Day. I inform you of this first in case your plans did not already include reading in the bathtub and you need to change around the day’s itinerary. If you’re looking for reading material — which bathrooms ought to offer anyway — and have not read all of this week’s compelling tales, allow me to recommend them to you. The stories our judges awarded Honorable Mentions and above to are directly linked. Don’t miss out!

Remember to join us back here tomorrow for the first part of our interview with Flashversary winner Maggie Duncan. And come back Wednesday for our second Warmup Wednesday feature: lots of fun writing and chatting. And, obviously, chocolate, which this week is brought to you by dragon captain Tamara Shoemaker, who came over to the lair this weekend (pic proof here; we’re joined by Margaret Locke & Allison Garcia) and taught us the proper way to eat Tim-Tams. (“Eat” being a rather generous term for the slopping/gnawing thing the event actually was.)

Finally, CONGRATULATIONS to everyone who earned the Ring of Fire badge this week. Please be sure to visit the Wall of Flame to get to know your fellow dragons. Note: if you earned the badge but haven’t requested it yet, please contact us here with the required info. Three stories in a calendar month, and the badge is yours to flash for that month!

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Dragon Captains Tamara Shoemaker/Mark A. King sayWow, did everyone make us live up to our position as ruthless judges this week! Ninety stories, and all of them so, so good. After anguished emails back and forth, we finally made our shortlists, only to discover that even with our shortlists, we still had more than half your stories in consideration. We culled, and culled again, and each time it was quite painful. When we hit 1st Runner Up and Winner, we liked both of them so much that we considered drawing straws to see who won. We didn’t actually do that (the Atlantic is a wide stretch to reach the straws), but there was an ultra-slim margin between our choices. So now you know that though the ones below are splendid examples of flash, so were most of the rest of the stories submitted this week. We hope that you still received recognition for your quality work in the community comments even if your story did not make it on this particular list. And now, without further ado, here we go!

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SPECIAL MENTIONS

Best Line: Deb Foy, “Life is a Curious Thing.”  “Then, without trying, that single line got its perpendicular mate.”

Fantastic & Vivid Word Pictures: Clive Newnham, “Little Heaven.” 

Unusual Twist on the Prompt: Sarah Miles, “Piece of Mind.”

Making-Us-Feel-the-Raw-Bite-of-War with the “unsexy shadows”: Brett Milam, “A Fallen God.”

Most Dance Steps in One Flash Story: Reg Wulff, “The Dance.”

Most Fleeting Moments in a Row: Charles W. Short, “Harrison Crosses Camphertown Square.”

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HONORABLE MENTIONS

Sydney Scrogham, Quitting Isn’t Complicated.” 

MK – I feel it’s time to tell you about some of the discussions we had… I mentioned to Tamara that I had the utmost respect for great romance writers. It is, in my opinion, the hardest thing to get right. This was a great example of something I enjoyed. Fantastic description here, “sitting crisscross applesauce, and he picks at the hem of his brown t-shirt. My hands sandwich between my legs as I bounce my knees up and down against the grey-blue couch cushions—like a butterfly without flight”. I also enjoyed this, “My face lifts with warmth and I release the breath I’ve been holding” – understated, yet very powerful.

TS – Subtle, well-written romance that avoids cheese and goes straight to the heart is one of my favorite things to read. The author of this piece, I felt, captured that balance perfectly. I love how zoomed in we are at the start. The descriptions are really, really well written. “My hands sandwich between my legs as I bounce my knees up and down...” This is my constant position anytime I sit – I love how it’s described. Also, Mark was teasing me about my love of “story frames.” The repetition of the first line and the last line – the beautiful artwork inside those perfect ends – the emotional twist at the finish – this whole piece was just really well done.

Carin Marais, Blue Ribbons.” 

MK – An incredibly sad story and one that removes us from the rain itself, as the story informs us from the very opening line, “There should have been rain.” What a great start. The follow-up line is incredibly sensory, with “black clouds, thunder, and the tick-tick of hail on roofs before the ice stings your skin as it falls and bounces on the black tar.” We have more examples later, with cicadas and bees, flowers and cut grass, all leading up to the day at the undertakers. Congratulations on a brilliantly executed and highly evocative take.

TS – I totally agree with Mark; this is so evocative! The sensory language flows so richly: “Perhaps it should have been autumn. Yellow and red leaves. The smell of fresh compost in the back garden. The rough bark of the apricot tree beneath my hands and knees as we scaled the branches.” I could feel myself sinking into such a world as I read this, could nearly smell the compost and the crisp autumn air. The final line drives that home with: “For a moment I smelled mulberries.” Horrendously sad, and even more emotional with the exquisite use of sensory appeal to underscore it. Gorgeous.

Nancy Chenier, “Slobber and Sympathy.”

MK – Wonderful take on the prompt. Great line here, “alien skeleton”, to describe the umbrella. This was also lovely, and heart-warming (not knowing what was coming next), “The wistfulness in those two words makes your tear ducts tingle.” For me, the Point of View deserves a mention.

TS – Really enjoyed this. I love the fact that the main POV thinks they have the umbrella guy figured out three times before the final line, which swings way wide of what the original understanding was. I felt that this was understated and subtle, which shows a lot of writing finesse.

THIRD RUNNER UP

Becky Spence, “Distraction.” 

MK – I have to hand it to you all. I didn’t think about the office blocks or windows overlooking the scene, but many of you did. In this story we have the drudgery of office worker, Rich, staring out of the window. “Distracted he watched the rain, stared through the translucent patterns, saw the artificial light catch in the hypnotic molecules,” not only places the character, but creates beauty with the rain drops. There is a real sense of Walter Mitty about Rich, with many of the following lines, especially this, “Thunder cracked loud and invasive, office buildings all around, perfect for a sniper, for a single shot of death. Still the faceless man stood, relentless he was unmoved by the noise, by the torrential rain, pouring upon him.” We get the confirmation of daydreams at the end, by which time, we’ve been transported around the world and back again, back to Rich and his mundane office job. A very different take on the many office stories. Original and well written.

TS – The stream-of-consciousness style for this piece was a little different, but I thought it worked really well. The piece is a wrap-up of Rich’s daydreams, one thought colliding with the next as he stares at the man out of the office window, so anything less than stream-of-consciousness wouldn’t have felt as dream-like. Heavy skies falling down,” “tears of the world,” “droplets dancing on the pane“… This is the kind of imagery that leaves me breathless and hypnotized. Beautiful story.

SECOND RUNNER UP

Phil Coltrane, “Visions in a Morning Sunstorm.”

MK – I deeply connected to this as I thought it was the best example of a real-life character. Yes, I know it’s just a picture, but I can see, and more importantly, I can feel the fabric of the life this man lives and the life he has lived. It’s not mentioned, but I can taste the dust and concrete; I can feel his excitement and joy for living – and this is a truly wondrous thing to do as a writer. I adore the title. We’re more familiar with the word “sandstorm,” yet a “sunstorm” is something that conjures colour, heat and feeling. This really sets the tone, “Retirement is for old people, and I’m barely seventy years young.” We then have visions from earlier days, “When I was a child, this was all cornfields” and “…at night I dreamed about life in the big city”. My father is a builder, so I can vividly see this; but you don’t need to have lived it to appreciate the craft of the great writing, “…worked our magic across the landscape, metamorphosing horizontal agriculture into vertical architecture”. The writer gives us clear and joyous links between the practical work of construction site and the majesty of a storm. This was simply fantastic, “I see the sparks from the welding torches setting the girders into place. Thunder claps like the staccato rhythm of the riveters, and the bass rumble of the earthmovers.” Despite the great images, I still come back to the character, the life he’s lived and the life he’s still living. Bravo.

TS – This story does an excellent job of connecting the past fleeting moments to the present/current rainstorm/prompt. Rain slapping broken pavement connects to sparks of welding torches. Thunder equates with staccato rhythm of riveters. Lightning flashes with bustle and children laughing. Such a great interlacing of past and present images.

Also enjoyed the ring of fire in the sky; I wondered if it was a nod to the Dragoness’ Wall of Flame she’s introducing? I, too, loved the use of the word “sunstorm.” Such a vivid term, accompanied by lots of rich mental pictures in my head. Well done.

FIRST RUNNER UP

Emily June Street, “A Fleeting Dream.” 

MK – This story has everything. It is a prime example of the art of flash conveying an entire novel in the space of 200 words. Indeed, I’ve read many 400 page novels that struggled to deliver a single percentage of this story. The opening is clear and simple – it gives us the backstory without any wastage. This is a great example of how to save those precious words for later. With this line, we have the hopes and dreams of both characters, ‘She had imagined greenery, a garden, goats. She had dreamed their children, eyes like his. “We’ll have a healthier life in Costa Rica,” he had said. “Rainforests and eco-living.”’ There is then clear transition to a new phase of the story, on in which we learn that all is not well, ‘She has tried and failed to make friends, to learn Spanish. “Gringa, macha, men hiss when she dares to walk out—old-world sensibilities rule here. Men see her as loose if she ventures out alone. Women wonder where her babies are, why she doesn’t attend church,” this part not only tells us the human story, but paints a vivid picture of the new world. The line, ‘Once-easy love now strains,’ is just perfect. Despite attempts to build happiness from inside, it is impossible to do, as ‘Concrete stretches beyond her window. Leaving the city requires hours of driving in diesel-tainted air. There is no garden, no goats. Her neighbor begs for money to buy crack.’ A dream turned vividly to nightmare in a truly brilliant flash fiction story.

TS – So, so much story packed into such a small amount of space! Absolutely agree with Mark that there are novels out there with less story than what is right here in this little flash piece. Some of the phrases were delicious bites to feast on: “She had painted paradise in her mind.” “Happiness is between your ears.” “Once easy love now strains.”

The downward spiral is so heart-breaking. I’m pulling for the brilliant dreams that I see at the beginning, but with lines like “Down pours the rain,” and “Where is he?“, I can feel the foreshadowing, and am drawn in. A silent clock ticks time toward a dark resolution in phrases like “She sits inside, watching the rain.” “Afternoon rolls into dusk.” “He disappears for hours.”

In the end, that final line: “Water rises to the crack beneath the front door,” provides dark brilliance as we realize that the protagonist is drowning in a flood of grief and broken dreams. Exquisitely written.

DRAGON WINNER

Nancy Chenier!!!

for

“Ripple Effect”

MK – Stunning. Mesmerising. Layered. These are the sort of words that don’t fully do this piece justice. Near the start we have the word “petrichor”, a word I’m not familiar with, but on reading the definition, what a perfect word. The writer gives us this, “Her form shivers like the reflection in a wind-ruffled puddle.” Shortly followed by this, “What is a ghost but a dire event that ripples across the pool of time?” The first is a wonderful visual image, the second seems like philosophy given to us by powers beyond our comprehension. Yet it is more than that; it is an early glimpse of the story yet to be told. We have the heart-breaking vision of Cecilia about to be hit, “the tragic song by heart: her giggles, the staccato of her stamping feet, the squeal of tires, her mother’s ragged cry, the fade in and out of sirens.” The writer then combines beauty with the seemingly mundane, “a carousel whirl of colors. Red ladybug boots, yellow bumblebee raincoat, green umbrella. She stomps and hops and crows the magnificence of her splashes. The driver’s too busy balancing an apple pastry on his latte thermos to notice.” There are many more wonderful lines, but this deserves special mention, “The squeal and thud cuts my pantomime short,” as we get frantic physical action from the narrator combined with the accident itself, conveyed in a minuscule package of words. Then we get the reveal at the end, for the tragic events have cast a ripple across time that Cecilia’s grandfather saw before she was even born. A truly magical tale, told with the best very skills of a flash writer.

TS – I don’t know that I can add much more than what Mark has already said. This piece absolutely floored me. Some of my favorite phrases are the ones with layers upon layers (which were nearly all of them). I could keep unwrapping each phrase and stumble on some new gem or point of genius.

What is a ghost but a dire event that ripples across the pool of time?” followed by its mirror image near the end: “The violent death of a child ripples both ways across the pool of time.” These two lines add such a stunning frame to the piece.

The author of this piece struck at this mommy’s heart with their description of the girl: “red ladybug boots, yellow bumblebee raincoat, green umbrella.” Her “carousel of colors” paints such a vivid mental picture that my heart lodged in my throat when I realized that the driver was too busy with his pastry and latte. Stunning detail. Fantastic imagery. Absolutely flawless story.

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Congratulations, Nancy! Please find below the rights to a second heartbreakingly fabulous winner’s badge for the wall(s) of your choosing. Here is also your updated 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!

Ripple Effect

Whenever rain spatters the Paradise parking lot, she rises from the pavement like petrichor. Her form shivers like the reflection in a wind-ruffled puddle. What is a ghost but a dire event that ripples across the pool of time?

Five years, I’ve watched shadows replay Cecilia’s last moments against curdled clouds. I know the tragic song by heart: her giggles, the staccato of her stamping feet, the squeal of tires, her mother’s ragged cry, the fade in and out of sirens.

Here she comes now, a carousel whirl of colors. Red ladybug boots, yellow bumblebee raincoat, green umbrella. She stomps and hops and crows the magnificence of her splashes. The driver’s too busy balancing an apple pastry on his latte thermos to notice.

I leap forward waving my arms. It startles her from her puddles. There’s a flash of recognition, but my snarling face chases her between the parked vehicles. Away from harm.

The squeal and thud cuts my pantomime short. Her mother screams.

I’d witnessed her death since before she was born, and hell if I’d just let it happen. The violent death of a child ripples both ways across the pool of time. The death of an old codger like me won’t – not even if he’s her grandfather.

FFwinner-Web