on writing

Flash Fiction Contest! Blind Judge TBA

Credit: Gustavo Centurion

There’s nothing like a contest to draw out great stories. Blogging friends, here’s the challenge. You have until Friday, October 12th at the stroke of midnight to craft an amazing piece of flash fiction. My middle & high school students are being forced to enter assigned this contest, so consider it the literary version of Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader. Don’t be fooled into thinking my peeps are easy prey. Many of them have been with me for years and are quite masterful.

More entrants make for a better contest and will foster an appreciation for flash. So please, give my blind judge an afternoon’s worth of fabulous reading. Join the fun and post an entry in the comment section. The only rules are to keep it under 300 words and keep it clean. I’ll announce the winners on Wednesday, October 17th in a post showcasing the winning entries.

Prompts for the idea-challenged:

  • 1st line: X [insert name] was known for stealing Y [insert thing].
  • Picture (write a flash about these two lovebirds):
Credit: Jean-Philippe Delberghe
  • Character/genre/setting. Pick three and go! Or do these: sailor/memoir/water treatment plant
  • Anything you want

Pssst. Students who follow my blog… You have quite the heads up for our assignment next week. I hope you’ll not tell, but use the extra time to make a flash of epic greatness.

 

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fiction

Book Worm*

Zahara’s jaw fell open. Her book slid off her knees and hit the floor. She scrambled for it and flipped to find her page, all the while shaking her head in denial. Page found, she pored over the words once more. Unconsciously her hand went to her throat.

Zahara let the book fall in her lap and looked around. “Is this a joke?”

The empty room didn’t reply.

Zahara turned the book over. It had the library barcode sticker and an ISBN number. It was wrapped in clear plastic to protect the hard backing, as all library books were. The author was one she’d never read before, but he came highly recommended by the librarian who’d helped her the day she picked it out.

Each time Zahara looked at the words on the page, her stomach clenched tighter, her heart beat faster. She mouthed the last line. …throat closed completely, never to open again.

“I’m allergic,” she said to no one. Her EpiPen was probably expired. It was jammed so far down in the folds of her purse, Zahara doubted she’d be able to extract it, should she be stung.

The short story was one of a collection.

The character, “Z” and her friend Tony happened on a hornet nest. It hung low in the tree, and if you climbed on the roof of Z’s trailer, you could easily hit the thing with the landscaping rocks Z’s mom had arranged around their petunias. All this Tony breathlessly told Z. In no time they had gathered an arsenal of smooth stones and put them in a heap on Z’s roof.

Tony threw first and missed. Z took a shot and it grazed the nest. A cloud of buzzing erupted, then quieted. Tony threw again. A hit. The grey pod that looked like a misshapen Christmas ball swung a little and leaked a flow of hornets.

“Your turn.” Tony said.

Some hornets buzzed angrily around them, far away as they were.

“I think they know,” Z said.

“That’s ridiculous. You chicken?”

Z was, in fact, chicken. Tony wasn’t allergic to bees. Z batted at a hornet circling her head.

As if reading her thoughts, Tony said, “You’re allergic to bees, not hornets.”

Z shrugged. No way was she throwing another rock.

“Fine. Watch this…bunch of sissy hornets.”

“Wait.” Z put up her hand, the stone still in her grip. “How do you know they’re hornets?”

“Aw, Z, you’re sucking out my fun.” Tony did a pitcher move, and the stone, a big one, hit the nest dead on, swinging it crazily and touching off a buzzing rage. A horde of pissed off hornets flew right at the girls.

As Z clambered down the ladder she felt a prickle in her shirt, in the hair at the base of her neck, then pinpricks of pain, more and more. Z screamed and tore her shirt off. Tony, still halfway down the ladder, yelled at Z to roll in the grass. Z dropped to the ground, but not in obedience. Her airway closed up. A fire began inside her throat and consumed her face, her head.

As Tony stepped off the last ladder rung, Z thrashed in the grass. Her throat closed completely, never to open again.

Zahara closed the book. “That’s exactly how it happened.”

Back in 1977, Tony had run home and got her mom to call the ambulance, just like in the book.

“But my throat did open again,” Zahara said as if she had someone to convince. She studied the book. “What’s going on?”

*This is an excerpt from a short story I’m working on. It’s doing double-duty as my assignment for 5000 Words. Our focus this week is to create tension.

fiction

Collateral

Could it only have been two hours since Devon last pushed open the glass door? That was a lifetime ago. That was when Devon dreamed a dream. When he didn’t hate banks and bankers and the soul-crushing thing called collateral. The loan officer chanted the word as if it were a talisman.

With a savage fist, Devon mopped the tears that threatened his concentration.

The black bowls housing security cameras would record Devon. He looked up and gave a toothy smile for the news tonight. The loan officer had taken Devon for a fool, took his application fee, and took his dream. Collateral…what a crock. Devon’s warehouse would be sold to some guy with collateral. Devon’s idea would die with him. But so would the old lady hunkered over a clutch purse. So would the beautiful teller with thick, painted-on eyebrows and lush lips. So would the whale-like teller with bitty glasses with thick, thick lenses. She was the one to notice. Those magnified eyes didn’t miss the sweat sheen on Devon’s skin, didn’t miss the angular bulk under his parka.

Whale-teller’s eyes opened wide with terrible understanding. Her hand scrambled to the under-desk button and got to the counter lip when Devon sprayed her with 223 Remington Hollow Points. They chewed through her, yanked her about, and in a red confetti dropped her bulk beneath the counter.

Then the screams. Devon expected them, but still. Concentration was difficult. Teller fingers frantically pushed panic buttons. The safe door was swinging closed. Devon didn’t care. That wasn’t his transaction. The banker with no brains just the word “collateral” had his hands up in the stance of desperation, head wagging, denying what his eyes told him: that Devon was about to make a grisly withdraw. Life was about to go into the red.

This was originally written for Microcosms, but it fits with my 5000 Words focus for this week, which is SHOW, DON’T TELL. My noun would be entrepreneur and my adjective would be angry. My students will get a noun and an adjective. They’ll amaze me with their showing prowess, I’ve no doubt.

 

on writing, Personal Journey

A Letter to Gigi*

Dear Gigi,

I chose you after giving it about thirty seconds’ thought. You’re right up there with Hitler and Jesus and the young me, which is a rather strange party, I admit. Can you imagine the four of us playing Peanut? I just played that game for the first time, by the way. Never played solitaire before, never played cards really. Apparently I don’t hold them right. Apparently, I’m mentally challenged when it comes to numbers and shapes and slamming cards down in ascending or descending order, black then white, all one suit, not all one suit.

I know, let’s play Scrabble instead. Or how about Chess?

I digress. I picked you, Gigi, because you’re often on my mind when “big” things happen and you’re not here to share them over coffee. I miss you when I see pictures of your sisters with their nieces and children and grand-babies, and I tell myself you’re having coffee with Jesus which is far better. That you’re having coffee on Mount Everest and breathing isn’t a problem and the view is spectacular.

When I thought I might die from a brain tumor I thought of you, having walked that road to its completion. Mine veered back into health, and I find I’m so grateful but also sad when I think of you. I want you to see Bob especially, see the amazing man you helped form. I’d love to tell you how happy he makes me, what a servant’s heart he has, how he learned how to take care of his wife by being sweet to his mom all those years ago. I know, I know…he went through a rough patch. Teenage years. We have some of our own now. My own mom used to say through clenched teeth and with all the vitriol of sulfuric acid, “I hope you get a daughter just like you someday.”

What a fantastic curse.

If you were here, Gigi, I’d ask your advice. I’d tell you how impactful Carol Ann was in shaping our family’s journey toward Jesus, how we love to spend time with Harry and Carol Ann, how we wish we could see John and Kim more often. I’d tell you I did get daughters like me, but better. Sons like Bob, but better as well. Not perfect. We struggle. Those I’d share with you. I’d tell you I have entirely too much stock placed in excellence and not enough in faith, that I handle emergencies with the calm of Florence Nightengale and then for days after am egg-thin and weepy, my own version of PTSD.

I could tell you so many things about our family, but I know you know. Someday I’ll get that cup of coffee with you. All my uptown problems will be over. My mom-worries will be done. My dreams, either accomplished or deserted. When I finally get to see you, I imagine we’ll laugh about the days when you were a young mom trying to figure out a teenage boy, and I was all of eleven, trying to figure out your teenage boy. I no longer zip my jeans with a can opener. I don’t even wear those awful, scratchy things. I’d tell you about yoga pants and long tunics that hide all sorts of imperfections. We’d laugh. I’d hug you.

Harry, Kim, Gigi, John, Bob

*This is the first of the creative writing assignments I’m giving to my 5000 Words Class. I’ve committed to writing and posting each assignment I give them because I’m crazy and/or stupid and I like writing so much, and with all the reading that goes along with teaching, my own writing can fall by the wayside, and in my convalescence from brain surgery I’ve lapsed in the creative field…and gotten wordy and pukey with my ideas. I’m sure it’s hardly noticeable.

The assignment was to write a letter to someone from the past, anyone at all. It just has to be a real person. (That’s where the Hitler reference came from…and a letter I found from Gandhi to him while both were very much alive.) Tell the person 1. why you chose them and 2. what you hope they’ll take to heart.

on writing, Personal Journey

This Happens to be an Excuse

…as to why I’d temporarily abandon my blog. Something happens when you don’t write regularly: you get stiff-brain. You believe you don’t have anything worthy to say, even though your friends are posting about their new moisture-repelling socks and how potty training’s going with the puppy (with pictures). Things, big things, happen, but you neglect to write them down. Poof. What was that thing I was soooo keen to write about?

I now have an idea how my students feel when they walk into my living room, clutching their 3-ring binders to their chests, telling me they have absolutely NOTHING to write, that no words exist in the folds of grey matter, snug inside their still-growing skulls. (Incidentally, a skull continues growing as long as a person ages. It’s the only bone that does that, say the folks at Duke University, and it accounts for elderly droop-face too.)

Big as my brain is getting, the space left by my recently-removed brain tumor has proven to be a bit of a chasm for my synapses or whatever things jump around in there, keeping me on track. I can write a post, but sometimes I forget simple things, like my schedule or the sentence just spoken. Eh? What was that again?

The unsettledness of moving got me out of the habit of writing, and I’m just now getting back into it. My soul itches to create something, but so far all I’ve been able to do is tweak my WIP and query a few more agents. I’m still bereft of a rejection letter, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been rejected. Many agents don’t even bother with a rejection email. I just have to wait until so much time elapses, then assume I’m rejected.

Confession: I have an agent I really want. He was the first person to whom I sent my manuscript because he represents authors I adore. He always replies, and I should hear from him soon. I’ve been Twitter-stalking him and am ready to be devastated if he rejects my manuscript. All I want is a request for more. Then, if he doesn’t take me on after that, I can lick my wounds and keep going. What am I saying? I’ll lick my wounds and keep going no matter what. Because that’s what writers do. Just today, I re-fell in love with my novel while editing it for the millionth time.

Meanwhile, I’ve had some neat acceptances on my shorter works. One, an edgy and controversial piece, will be coming out in October. It’s a science fiction story influenced by C.S. Lewis and Harriet Beecher Stowe. If nothing else, you should read it to find out how that mix of inspiration is possible.

Wishing you well until the next woefully overdue post.

fiction

CNF Published in The Forge Literary Magazine!

Besides being full of excellent stories that make you feel you’re plumbing the Atlantic, The Forge is a visually stunning platform. I’m honored to have my creative nonfiction work “The Boots” published there today.

The Forge editors were some of the nicest with whom I’ve worked. When my piece was selected, I was days away from going in for brain surgery. I explained that some of my interview answers were unusual, as it was an unusual time in my life. Not only did they not delete or suggest changes for my responses, the editors were genuinely concerned for my welfare.

The questions from Sara Crowley were whimsical and fun. Bob and I took turns answering them on our last date-night before surgery. It was one of the most special times of my life, sipping champagne in the study of an 1880’s B & B laughing about our answers to questions like, “You are wallpaper; what is your pattern?”

The questions from editor Sommer Schafer were deep and challenging. They bade me take a closer, more analytical look at my writing strategies, many of which flow unconsciously from the fountain of literature I’m constantly drinking.

I hope you enjoy “The Boots.” I am no longer six years old, but that wounded six-year-old sometimes has a hold on me. When I write about her, she becomes both immortal (in a sense) and mortally wounded.

fiction

Invaluable Writing Advice: Part II

Richie Billing

Not long ago I put together a post sharing some invaluable writing advice offered by award-winning novelist, Colum McCann in his book, Letters to a Young Writer. But I’d only made it halfway through at the time, so I thought I’d share some further insights from the second half.

Fail, fail, fail

 Failure P2.png

‘Fail’, ‘failing’, ‘failure’, they’re all such nasty, negative words. There is nothing wrong with failing. It allows us to identify our weaknesses, fuels us with determination to next time succeed. Failure is an inevitable part of the process, but it’s an invaluable part. Embrace it, learn from it, use it.

For many writers, the feeling of failure hits home when you receive rejection letters or emails. Many famous writers wear their rejection letters like badges of honour. Something to look back on with pride when the successes begin to mount.

 Rejection Letters P2

Read, read, read

Read P-.png

Reading is…

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