Tag Archive | winner

Sixty Seconds VI with: Karl A. Russell

No, you aren’t imagining things: Karl A. Russell has won TWO WEEKS IN A ROW, this latest one making his sixth win (which is a record both for him and for the FF community). Read his bio and stories, and find links to his previous interviews at his winner’s page here. To celebrate his sixth win, he’s spending this #SixtySeconds interview by giving us Six for Six. What does that mean? Here’s Karl to explain: 

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Inspiration:

  1. The process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially to do something creative
  2. The quality of being inspired
  3. A person or thing that inspires
  4. A sudden brilliant or timely idea
  5. The drawing in of breath; inhalation

Inspiration comes in the strangest ways. My story this week came about because I’m reading Chris Riddell’s Goth Girl and the Wuthering Fright to my six year old daughter at bedtime. The plot is building up towards the Literary Dog Show, with Homily Dickinson, Plain Austin, Georgie Elliot and chums all ready to display their prized pooches for judges Pippi Shortstocking and Hands Christmas Anderson, but Charles Cabbage’s attempts to construct a steam powered brain are threatening to derail things. While Ada Lovelace doesn’t actually appear in the book, she popped into my thoughts just the same and proved to be a very popular choice for my story.

But what else inspires me? I could list my faves as usual – comic books, cider, music, cider, movies, cider – but I’m sure you’re all as bored with that as I am. So instead, in honour of my sixth win, here are the six flash writers who consistently inspire me to put the time in, to experiment, to push myself and to try harder.

1) Chris Milam (@blukris) really shouldn’t need an introduction here, but if you want a reminder of who he is, here’s his winner’s page.

Chris is the master of atmosphere, swathing his tales in a fog of cigarette smoke, coffee steam and alcohol that most writers would struggle to cut through. Luckily, his words are more than sharp enough. His characters tend towards the downtrodden, the broken and the helpless, hanging on for one more drink, one more misguided assignation, and it’s a wonder that any of them make it past the final paragraph alive, but like Timothy in his recent tale for Bartleby Snopes, they just keep on going.

If you want a story that pins you like a butterfly on a board and hits you like a hammer, Chris is your man.

My personal favourite: House Arrest

2) Way over on the other side of that coin is Casey Rose Frank (@CaseyRoseFrank).

Although her only winner at Flash Friday is a heartbreaker, I normally associate Casey with a kind of upbeat positivity that she seems to embody in everything she does. (I like to imagine that if one of Casey’s tales met one of Chris’s, it would be like a collision of matter and anti-matter – I feel like I’m taking a huge risk just putting them next to each other here).

If you need a smile, a sweet natured tale with a sprinkling of magical mischief, go Casey.

My personal favourite: Communing With Nature

3) Voima Oy. Voima Oy. Voima Oy. Even that name is poetry, a mystery to conjure with as much as anything this wonderful writer has invented.

Voima’s hallmarks are weather, SF concepts and the strange poetry they create when she welds them together. Her tales make you feel the wind between the stars, the light rain of a Martian Spring and the melancholic loss of Autumn’s turning. Even her tweets are more poetic than anything I could aspire to.

Voima is your go-to writer if you want a tale which will linger in your heart long after it melts from your mind.

My personal favourite: Same Time, Next Year

4) Next up is the only writer on this list that I’ve met in person, and someone whose world building skills are on a par with the Magratheans, Catherine Connolly (@fallintofiction).

Despite being one of my nearest flash colleagues geographically, Catherine’s work transports me further than most. Her speciality is a darkly fantastic tale set in a world so real that you have to wonder if it actually exists somewhere, just waiting to be discovered. Revelling in ritual, peppering her stories with strange names and telling observations, Cath weaves tiny tales that seem like fragments of a much larger, fully realized epic.

Read Cath’s work if you want to be plunged headlong into an alien culture, with a breathless rush to learn the rules before it’s too late.

My personal favourite: In Loving Memory

5.) One of the joys of flash fiction is the opportunity it affords for experimentation. I’ve played around with acrostics, palindromic stories and utterly garbled language a few times myself, but my fifth writer takes it 411 7H3 W4Y. Step forward Josh Bertetta (@jbertetta).

 Josh has very quickly established himself as a writer of great range and depth. While his “straight” fiction is polished, professional and affecting, it’s his startlingly quirky experiments with the form that really stand out for me. At first glance they can appear undecipherable, but if you take a moment to let your brain reset itself to his new language, you will find that they are not only readable but perfectly suited to the story they tell.

 Read Josh to see how style and content can work together to produce something utterly new.

 My personal favourite: 7R4NSP051710N

6) My final choice is a bit of a left fielder as she is far less prolific than I would like. She’s the most dedicated flash fanatic around and has fearsome writing skills, but has never ever received that coveted Flash! Friday trophy, and almost certainly never will.

I’m talking, of course, about our own dear dragonness, Rebekah Postupak (@postupak).

For three years now, come hail, rain or shine, through all the ups and downs of life, Rebekah has ensured that we always have a warm, welcoming space to come and practise our craft. Even when events have conspired to make it an odds-on certainty that the contest will have to skip a week, there she is, dead on the stroke of midnight, posting a prompt and forcing us all on to ever greater heights.

I actually did a double take when she recently tweeted about work; be honest now, how many of you thought, as I did, that she ran this place full time? Between the contest, the results, the winners interviews and the general maintenance, that has to be a full time job, right? And the Ring of Fire Badges? And the Spotlight features? Warmup Wednesday? Flashpoints?

‘Fess up Rebekah – When exactly did you perfect cloning, and just how many of you are there?

And if all that wasn’t inspiring enough, our host has those aforementioned skills. As you’d expect from her introductions, Rebekah has a wicked sense of humour (and yes, a tendency towards dragons) but her playful prose works in any setting, as I found when I blind judged Micro Bookends recently.

Read Rebekah. Just because you must.

My personal favourite: In Memoriam

 And there you are: my Six for Six. These are the people I measure myself against when it comes to language and impact, feeling and verisimilitude and out and out commitment. I’ve never read a clunker from any of them, and I don’t expect to, and with every new story I read from them, I feel the need to up my game, again and again and again. They cover every definition of inspiration, right up to that sharp intake of breath.

Note: The hardest part wasn’t choosing the six, just not carrying to sixteen, or sixty. I could have included Stella’s coldly twisted revenge tales, Shakes’ eye for an arresting image, Bart’s laugh-out-loud wit, Tamara’s endless inventiveness (and ability to somehow have a story written before the prompt has finished posting!) – the list of awesome Flash! Friday writers goes on and on and on. Here’s hoping that the contest does too!

Sixty Seconds V with: Karl A. Russell

Karl A. Russell is our latest champ and Flash! Friday’s third FIVE-time winner. Read his bio and find links to his previous interviews at his winner’s page here. And now: join me in peeking inside the mind of a five-time winner. You may wish to bring your own seatbelt; nothing’s safe here

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Pay No Attention To That Man Behind The Curtain

Some said it was inevitable I’d find myself here. I never took much notice though. I knew what I was doing. Just a little flash now and then, yeah?

Yeah, right…

It was completely separate from my real life. Bus driver by day, writer by night. A doting Dad till the prompts went up, then a howling blood crazed maniac, slashing at the world with the keyboard’s razored edge.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Russell.

Which was fine, until I started to believe my own lies.

Not the stories. There’s no gymnastic jewel thief, no wolf in grandma’s clothing. Dead babies don’t crawl in the moonlight and JFK didn’t know he was going to die; he wasn’t even in Dallas at dawn. I know they aren’t real.

But Mr. Russell? Him I wasn’t so sure about.

He’s always been with me, shadowing my every move but doing it better, like a twisted reflection, the stance slightly straighter, clothes a little neater. He read for Mike Carey and Ramsey Campbell. He was a pirate radio DJ. He pitched his ideas in the comic-con cattle markets.

I just watched.

I mean, of course I cooked him up; a dash of Hunter, a soupçon of PKD, grandma’s surname and a pair of shades. Bake for 40 years and serve cool.

But what if it was the other way round?

What if I was the fiction?

The lines blurred. I had confidence and friends. I published and posted and chatted. I revealed my hobby to the other drivers and weathered the jokes about driving the Magical Mystery Tour Bus.

But then it got weird. Strange dreams. Waking nightmares. Champion badges for stories I didn’t remember writing. Signing his name on the back of a new credit card, then discovering it was his name on the front too.

I saw doubles everywhere, almost identical but always one a little more worn. A little less there.

It scared me, and I tried to put him away for a while, to just be Mr. Atkins, but even when I shut down completely, he was still there, squeezing out around the edges. A complaint email to O2 about mobile coverage turned into a creation myth for carnivorous butterflies. The In–Laws Christmas card ran to seven pages of eldritch scribbling. The operatic society banned me for “unauthorised script edits.”

And then I got drunk at Big Dave’s leaving do at The Green Dragon of Envy. I didn’t mean to, but the fortune cookie was so persuasive: “One more won’t hurt.” Of course, it didn’t mean lager. It meant stories.

By the time I realised what was happening, I was here, where they said I’d wind up, and he’d reactivated Twitter and given the world the Oompa Loompa Sex Fiend. He met the Flash Dogs and had a great time, and all I could do was watch.

Trapped behind the glass.

An imperfect reflection.

Silently screaming in constant horror.

Till he calls it a night and switches the iPad o-    

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So, inspired by the not-quite-symmetry of last Friday’s fittingly canine picture and Rebekah’s fiendish mandatory words, and containing a few pieces of fact and fiction:

Fiction:

I’m not a bus driver (and can’t actually drive anything).

My real name isn’t Atkins (and it’s not Russell either).

I’ve never been in an Operatic Society.

I don’t drink lager.

I’ve never pitched at Comic-con (but maybe, one day…).

Fact:

Russell was my grandma’s surname

I’ve had a stint as a pirate DJ.

I had a wonderful time meeting the Flash Dogs, who are fantastic people, one and all.

I’m reliably informed that JFK was in Fort Worth at dawn on his final day (or is that just what they want you to think…?).

I have read for Mike Carey and Ramsey Campbell and found it both terrifying and exhilarating, and I’m doing it again soon – If any of your readers are of a North Westerly persuasion, Mr. Campbell and I are both on the bill of a charity spooky fiction reading at The Well in Liverpool on 22nd of October. The rest of the list is still being pulled together, but it should be a great night, with all door proceeds going to the Motor Neurone Disease Association.

Sixty Seconds V with: Chris Milam

Chris Milam, FlashDog

Chris Milam, FlashDog

Chris Milam is our latest champ and Flash! Friday’s second FIVE-time winner. Read his bio and find links to his previous interviews at his winner’s page here. His fifth winning story, “Penelope Callaghan,” was also featured in a Flash Points closeup: read that here. And now: join me in peeking inside the mind of a five-time winner. I promise to do my best to get us back out at the end. 

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Blue-Collared Ruin

Some said it was inevitable I’d find myself here, in a state of desperation. Some, as in family. They said I was a gambler, and gamblers love chaos. Maybe they were right.

Sitting in the parking lot with my pal Dave Copeland, I could still hear the thumping of the press. The way its mechanical jaw opened and closed, like a giant hydraulic shark. It feasted on complacency. I often thought of cramming my head between its steel lips: devour me, babe. The machine always stared at me unsympathetically, the same way my ex did when I begged for reconciliation.

Liberty Bank held the answer. Dave turned the radio down. “Forget your dreams of being a writer, or a poet, or anything that deals in words. This is the real world, and that concrete building has real money it.” He was usually a quiet guy, but he was amped up today, like an electrified green dragon of envy. He wanted to bathe in stacks of cash. Blow flaming dollar signs out of his mouth.

I sipped on a root beer. “You think she’d lose respect for me if we got busted?”

“Who? Your therapist? Don’t start with that nonsense. I’m tired of hearing about her. You’re just a sad dude with trust issues sitting in a plastic chair. You’re a paycheck to her, nothing more.”

“Yeah. I know. Forget it.”

He hands me a joint. “Take a hit, calm yourself. We can do this. We can change our fate, man. Retire to Florida and chase bikinis until our hearts burst.”

The press continued to sing in my mind, a melody of two greasy planets colliding. I could taste the boom in my throat. “You remember when we won the Little League title? Our parents acted like we won the World Series. We celebrated with cheeseburgers and ice cream. I never felt so happy. I haven’t felt it since.”

“I remember. But I don’t like living in the past. Our youth is a fiction, man. One minute you’re a champion, the prince of the neighborhood, the next you’re just a disgruntled nobody. I prefer to live in the now, and the now is this bank. You wanna be a degenerate track rat forever? Man up, psycho.”

Dave pulls out the masks, hands me one. It’s my favorite actor, Vin Diesel. I finger it, as my friend morphs into Benedict Cumberbatch. He eats my smirk. “Have you seen Sherlock? Dude can act.”

A flash of sun bounces off the glass doors as we enter. The air conditioned lobby is like chilled lotion on my skin. He pulls a gun from his waistband. I do the same.

He struts to the teller, tosses her two plastic bags. “Fill them or die. There are no other options. I will put you down like a diseased poodle. Obey and you live. It’s that damn simple.”

The press roars in my soul.

Sirens roar in the distance.

Dave’s hand twitches.

Everything is on fire.

—–

Within the confines of the story, Rebekah tasked me with revealing 5 truthful bits about myself, as well as 5 fictional bits. Throw in the other elements I had to incorporate, along with the quick turnaround, and this proved to be a difficult story to write. But I had fun. I hope you enjoyed it. If not, just lie and tell me it was brilliant. M’kay.

TRUE GOOP:

* I worked in a steel factory years ago. I can still hear that murderous thumping when the sun dies.

* I had a bit of a crush on my therapist. She saved my life. My respect for her is immense.

* I used to gamble. A lot. Like whenever I was awake.

* Dave Copeland was my gambling and golfing buddy back in the day. He was a quiet fellow.

* The writing dream is pretty accurate.

FICTIONAL GOOP:

* I hate root beer and would never in my life sip on one. It’s like drinking a yam. No thanks.

* My favorite actor is NOT Vin Diesel. More like Christian Bale, Clive Owen, or Tom Hardy.

* I don’t smoke pot. I’m always tired, if I got high I’d slip into a coma. Wait, that doesn’t sound so bad.

* I never won a Little League championship. It still haunts me. That trophy is my white whale.

* I’ve never begged an ex for reconciliation. I actually typed that with a straight face.