Be a Flasher

Not that kind of flasher, naughty bird. A flash fiction writer.

Why should I be a flash fiction writer? You ask. I’m glad you did. Flash fiction forces several wondrous talents upon you:

  1. Economy of language.
  2. Full-bodied plot in a tiny, weeny package.
  3. A stretch into new genres, styles, content.*
  4. Opportunity for you to turn away from a grueling, lonely novel-nobody-sees and hit publish.
  5. The thrill of weekly or monthly contests, like zeroflash, cracked flash fiction, and microcosms.
  6. Receive needful pets from fellow writers and learn to give same. Be in community.

I had this thought as I sat down today with my novel-in-progress: flash fiction should/could be part of Stephen King’s famed tool box for writers. Use it if it suits you. At first I couldn’t imagine liking anything less than a full-length novel, but the more I read and write flash, the more I appreciate its form. It’s like poetry and fiction made love and bam! Flash fiction.

*One such stretching happened to me just this month. The prompt for July’s Zeroflash is to write a metafiction piece. Metafiction? What on earth is that? The latin prefix meta means beyond, which I think of as above and beyond. Still, above and beyond fiction? I had to look it up. Luckily some of the examples were books I’d already read, so I understood that metafiction called attention to itself as a form or structure. Call me thick, it didn’t get much easier once I knew what the stuff was. But chew on a thing long enough and eventually it assimilates into you. Check out my metafiction flash piece here.

I Wish I Could Be…

Imagine this. My six-year-old wearing his fuzzy pj’s makes this imperious proclamation: “I wish I could be public schooled so I wouldn’t have to walk all the way to the kitchen to get my rods.”

Those rods, to which he referred, were little color-coded blocks that enabled him to learn his fractions and multiplication tables like a boss. Just, they were manipulatives. Manipulatives must be manipulated. One must touch them. One must get them out and place them on the coffee table next to the couch before one sits down to do his math. Else, one must expect to get back up.

A truer grass-is-greener thought was never uttered than when my son, who had zero-minus-infinity idea of what public school entailed– wished for it anyway because it was the antithesis of his present, horrible circumstances. That of having to walk the twenty steps from our cosy spot on the couch to the kitchen drawer, where his math rods were stored.

Nevermind we live barely less than two miles from the elementary school where code dictates he’d be walking to and fro every day, unless his mum rescued him with a car ride. Nevermind traipsing through the halls to get to classes, lunch, the bathroom. Each and every time, far more than the twenty steps to the kitchen to get his rods. And the pj’s: out of the question. Public schoolers have to wear clothes.

We all do it though, don’t we? Decide the grass is simply not green enough. Sometimes when life gives me a backhand I look longingly at the freeway and think how nice it would be to get in the car and just… go. Anywhere. King David had no freeway, but he and I comiserate: Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest. (Psalm 55:6) He was a king and wanted to be a dove. My son was homeschooled and wanted to be public schooled. I am a homeschool mom and wanted to be a gypsy.

Better yet, I wish I could be a superhero, then this thing called adulting wouldn’t be so dang hard…


The Gift: Fiction for Microcosms

Cal feared the new garbage truck: its dinosaur bellow of steel on steel as the automated arm plucked the blue plastic containers like weeds, flipped them upside down, and dumped the contents with an explosive crash. The engineering marvel rescued lower backs and killed jobs, but Cal wouldn’t know anything about that, being seven.

All he knew was the men were gone.

Until the horrid business was done, Cal stayed inside. No amount of cajoling would get him out on garbage day. One day the truck never came. Lucky it was summer.

Cal’s dad decided this couldn’t go on.

On top of the can was a gorgeously wrapped box tied with a purple bow. If Cal didn’t take it, the garbage truck would.

“What is it?”

“Go find out.” Dad winked.

Cal feared. Feared and coveted and the warring emotions dueled inside his young mind for preeminence. Desire began to get the upper hand; it moved slowly down his skin like a finger hesitant on a trigger. Cal placed his hands around the doorknob.

“Better go, Son. I hear the truck.”

The sound of squeaking breaks in the distance. The sound of dinosaur arms.

“They wouldn’t throw it away?”

“They would.”

The dinosaur was on his street. Cal could see its scalpel blade slide through the loops of a can. Still fear rooted him.

At the neighbor’s.

Something in him broke. He gripped the doorknob fiercely. Then realized: the bolt. Frantic, he jammed his fingers in his haste to undo it. The monster was right in front of his house now, about to take his present. The bolt slid free. Cal threw open the door and sprinted like a jack rabbit.

The blade came screeching out. It grabbed. Cal grabbed.

Just in time.

“Hey kid, watch it,” said the driver.

Not in Kansas Anymore

I am among the scores descending on Coe Lake to watch the 4th of July fireworks. We squish our blanket in with the sea of others and became part of the throng; the green is absolutely choked with people. The sticky smell of funnel cakes settles like dew upon us. From the pavilion, middle-aged men with day jobs belt out classic rock tunes, and behind us hastily cobbled rides tick and thunk and joyous screams punctuate the balmy night.  The perfect summer night.

Then I see him.

Look, if you’re going to wear all black and a quilted coat in 80 degree heat, carry a large old-style bag (the kind once used to hold portable video cameras) and stand in the middle of the walkway looking uncomfortable and talking on your phone, plotting with another terrorist like yourself working out the timing on your detonations…

Yes. I have an overactive imagination, but we were ground zero in a target rich environment, celebrating America.

Think I’m overreacting? I tell you this guy was one of three things:

  1. A terrorist.
  2. An idiot.
  3. A grad student writing his thesis.

He was standing in the middle of the walkway. Standing. While the rest of us were sitting. And wearing all black. And messing with himself under his coat like he was pawing an AK-47 under there.

I turn to Gabe and “joke,” Darn. Forgot my gun. Gabe wonders what on earth he could have in that fat bag of his. Gabe says, Dad’s cell number is X, right?

Yes, I say. And I know why he asked me that. In case we get separated. Gabe and I are smiling, but we’re not taking our eyes from him.

Bob arrives and I tell him there’s a weirdo, and Bob thinks I’m talking about the one dressed up as Mario from the video game. I drop it because I’m a writer and I see threats everywhere. I make them up.

A young woman comes over to me and says, You’re looking at that guy too, aren’t you?

I am, I say.

This is incredibly affirming and frightening at the same time. I can be counted upon to finish any scenario in a tragedy, so the fact that another human being sees the threat makes it credible. I’m going to get the police, she says.

And I’m glad.

Everyone wants to bash the police, but when an intruder breaks into your house, when you’re held at gunpoint or stuck in a bathroom while a non-police shoots his way into your personal space, you’ll be loving them. Loving.

I digress.

We don’t live in a world where you can waltz into the family fireworks display wearing a trench coat and carrying a duffel. The 2013 Boston Marathon and other similar events have set that ship to sail.

At length, a normalish-looking guy meets the terrorist-looking guy. Terrorist Guy hands over the duffel, and they walk toward the back of the crowd. Bob follows. He’d realized it wasn’t Mario I was talking about and came to the same conclusion: the guy was textbook suspicious.

The police show up, but Terrorist Guy is gone. People stare at us. The man behind us asks what’s up.

Because I teach I’ve had active threat training. As part of the training, we’re asked to “go there” in our minds, to lay down mental ruts that promote a knee-jerk response in the case of an actual situation. Did you know the correct response to an active shooter is to scream at them and throw things? It’s the exact opposite of what usually happens (people duck and go quiet, which allows the shooter optimal aim and focus). Those who wish to save their charge (teachers) and have not a bat’s chance in hell of coming through unscathed are directed to do exactly the opposite of what the perp expects: charge him. This is the counter phase in ALICE training and is, of course, a last resort.

So it was that I found myself “going there” on the lawn as we waited for darkness to fall. I felt myself “going there” when the first booms went off, and still “there” as they hammered away.

I wondered if he’d come around from the back and start shooting. Not the worst way to die, I told myself. Do you think I’m silly for thinking these things?

All that to say, a young man with no fashion sense and/or a thesis to write* put a damper on my 4th of July. I thought to myself: We’re not in Kansas anymore. This Oz forming at our feet, continually shifting, it sometimes feels like a dream.

*Students are sometimes directed to display odd behaviors and note the reactions of bystanders. I was an unwilling participant once at the Cleveland Museum of Art. The docent and the student were in cahoots with one another (or she just put up with it). A man in our room began scratching himself, harder and more vigorously, until he built himself into such a frenzy it was absurd. The docent went on droning about art as if nothing was amiss while everyone else in the room got uber-uncomfortable at this man’s lice or whatever ailment caused such dreadful itching. Then I noticed another student behind us holding a clipboard and scribbling away (thank you, Captain Obvious).

For my Husband on Father’s Day

Father moment: Bob walks in the door after a ten-hour workday, lunch bag in one hand, mail (bills) in the other, trying to shake the day’s garbage from his head and wanting very badly “to get horizontal for a minute.” Out of necessity Bob has perfected the power nap. Still, his head doesn’t get to touch the pillow. When he walks in it’s like a magnet just stepped inside and everyone turns to iron. Phoom! There’s the sucking sound of displaced air as we all beeline for the man with the answers, the wallet, the brawn, the sugar.

“Dad, will you swim with me?”

And another. “Dad, will you fix my windshield?”

Or this. “Dad, can I have X dollars to do Y activity?”

And I tell him, “The fridge is leaking. And I ask him, “What are you doing tonight?” It doesn’t really mean what are you doing tonight? It means, “Let’s walk the dog because I miss you.” I tell him about the fridge and ask him for a walk as if those two pieces of information exist in entirely different cosmos, as if the fridge needing attention and me wanting attention can be simultaneously acknowledged. This, we expect from fathers: superhuman strength and the ability to transcend time and space.

And his hamstrings are tighter than a compound bow from the running, but walk he does. Fix the windshield he does, swim, shells out X dollars for Y activity. This father works all day, sets himself aside all night and drops into bed. I am a witness.

Thank you for loving us so well, for so often putting your dreams aside for your family and in so doing– offering an example and a challenge to those of us blessed to be called yours.

Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. – Romans 12:10

Writer at work! A guide to acceptable writer interruptions #writing #amwriting

Writer at work! A guide to acceptable writer interruptions #writing #amwriting

Thank you, GL Cromarty for expressing my exact sentiments. If anyone has a soundproof chamber I could place in or near my home, I’m interested. It need only be big enough to sport a comfy chair and end table.

G.L. Cromarty

Writers know all about the writing zone.

About how easy it is to get distracted.

About how hard it can be to get started.

About how difficult it is to keep going.

And about how annoying it is when our nearest and dearest interrupt us in the middle of our writing flow.

So, for those who are unsure what constitutes an acceptable writer interruption, here is a handy guide.

To bring snacks or beverages!

Please drop snacks off promptly. Do not engage the writer in conversation or otherwise interrupt while leaving the treats. Definitely do not lean over the writer’s shoulder while dropping the snack off and speak the last sentence on the page in the voice of a pirate (as my husband does)!

The house is on fire!

First make all efforts to ‘deal’ with this before interrupting the writer. Only once the fire truck arrives and you have…

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Flash Fiction: The Writing on the Wall

Shem’s last straw as maintenance man was the locker room.

“Not touching that.”

“Shem, you don’t get to choose what you clean around here. Either get going on that or… get going.” His boss thumbed toward the exit sign.

Shem got. No way was he going to scrub a floor-to-ceiling mural of excrement.

A cashier position offered flexible hours and no toilet scrubbing. The downside: people. But rules were rules. Low profile jobs sucked the same on any planet. This was his talion for scoring low on his entrance test: intergalactic signal duty.

Cosmic messages showed up as planetary ringworm when passed through the magnetic core– “random” cloud shapes or “haphazardly” downed trees from twisters or earthquakes. Even schools of fish swam in the shape of the message. Thing was, the message only lasted one hour. Signal duty meant sleeplessness and monotony.

As he worked the register, Shem intermittently cast his invisible third eye into orbit to scan the cloud cover. He gave a curt smile to the white-haired grandma purchasing deodorant foot powder,

“For my husband,” she apologized.

These people often apologized for purchases, especially men buying tampons. Shem offered her a half-laugh. Encouraging grandmas could get him sentenced to a twenty-minute soliloquy.

He slid the powder across the laser reader and fumbled it, spilling a white design over the glass. A somehow familiar design. Where had he seen it before?

Last time it was brown on white tile.

Vomit surged against Shem’s throat as the realization bloomed: this was a return signal, an intergalactic copy that. He missed the message. No one ever missed the message. The penalty for missing the message was–

Grandma reached to pet his cheek and he let her. Paralyzed.

“Son, it’s just foot powder.”

This was an entry for Zeroflash. Each month they hold a contest around a given theme or genre. This month it’s board games… sounds challenging!

P.S. The inspiration for the excrement-lined shower comes from Gabe, who swims at the YMCA. After swimming, he and his friends shower off in the boys’ locker room. Lately to the dismay of Gabe and his fellow swimmers, the shower has become the canvas of a disturbed young miscreant. 

The definition for talion can be found here, but it basically means that the punishment fits the crime.