Words Bridge the Gap: Cesar Egido Serrano Foundation $20K Prize for #flashfiction

Could you write a hundred-word flash fiction by Thanksgiving? How about for a $20,000 first place prize? Runners-up get a thousand bucks. And it’s legit. I checked because you know what they say about things that seem too good to be true.

This year’s theme is the word, bridging the gap between different cultures and religions. Four languages are accepted: Spanish, English, Arabic, and Hebrew, and the contest is judged by an international jury. Reflecting on how words can bring us together is time well-spent, regardless of the prize money.

The way I see it, the Powerball costs $2 to play. This costs nothing, and you get a piece of flash fiction out of the deal. It’s a win-win.

Want to enter? Click here. Happy writing!


How to be a Writer in November: Show up and Throw up

Want to be a writer? It’s as easy as show up and throw up. Write stream-of-consciousness. Write garbage. Write your dreams, your fears, somebody else’s fears… What often happens in the show-up-throw-up process is: something awesome makes its way onto the page. Inherent in the process is a throwing-off of the shackles of self-loathing and– usually at about a thousand words in– one manages to shut down the inside voice that says this is a ridiculous waste of time. Why don’t you just get a job at Aldi? They kill themselves too, but they get paid for it.

November. Writers know it as National Novel Writing Month. NaNoWriMo for short. Two years ago I participated, thanks to my blogging friend Nthato. After several starts and forfeits, I finally wrote that crappy first draft all writers need to complete. Every day for a month I showed up and didn’t let myself off the keys until I’d vomited several thousand words onto the screen. If you think I’m being dramatic, try writing 3000 words in two hours. It’s slapdash, my friends. It’s Chinese manufacturing.

Can I confess how much I hate writing crappy drafts? I know it’s the way, the prescription, but it’s hard to keep dumping time into a project that can only be honestly appraised as: half-assed. Apologies to my young readers and sensitive souls for the coarse language– but it’s appropriate because in novel writing, half-assing only becomes satisfying when you’ve got a really big ass going. I’m talking tens of thousands of words. Once you’ve got the meat, you can show up at the very least, pleased with the sheer copiousness of your own derriere. This is your brain on paper. Ain’t it big? Ain’t she a beauty?

The reason writers have to write that crappy first draft is because loping off swaths of exposition we’ve labored over for hours is more wasteful (and painful) than amputating thousands of words puked onto the page… and one will never escape the process of novel-pruning. It must be done. The age of Tolstoy and his eternal rambling is over. But still. I have to love it a little in order to show up to the page every morning. Which means I’m often wasting loads of time on one crucial word in a page of words that will eventually get scrapped. This is writing. I thank God I love the process, that the search for that one perfect word I threw away with the rest was still pleasurable.

Showing up, even to a nearly-finished novel, is difficult. I come to the screen and wonder if I’ll have anything to write. I show up empty-handed and hope something materializes. It usually does. And once I get into my world, oh boy… it’s awfully hard to climb back out into reality to fold a load of laundry.

My novel I Trespass is at 76,664 words and is labeled in my folder as Trespass Millionth Draft. I consider every read-through like combing a knotty head of really, really, really long hair, like miles of it. Each time I take the comb through, a few more knots come out. Soon I’ll be looking for beta readers. Soon I’ll be able to say, I finished.

Zer0flash Fiction: Absolute Camouflage

Assignment from Zer0flash: create spine-tingling flash fiction inspired by this tranquil video of a dam in Cambridge.

Absolute Camouflage 

The lake floor was crusted over with garbage and cans and the slimy brown bones of a dying tree. Long, leafy willow locks writhed over the water’s edge, and even the gentlest breeze could slough off a confetti of brittle branches.

In the shade crouched a grasshopper, stock-still until a boot slammed into the spongy ground beside him. Startled, the creature performed his usual crescent jump. Not even the boot-owner noticed: at the highest point of the arc the insect crashed into an invisible obstacle. His cracked and oozing exoskeleton plopped into the water.

No one noticed the frogs either. Right off the lily pads a phantom hand plucked their shiny bodies and squeezed until their insides burst from their mouths in a sticky cornucopia. Ducks dipped their iridescent heads, popped their spade-shaped tail feathers into the air where they bobbed on the surface. And were abruptly sucked down.

You’d have to be looking dead on or you’d miss it.

At sunrise a jogger noticed swan feathers floating like opals on the dark ripples. He shrugged and continued on his way. Later,  Jimmy came with his mum to float his paper wax boat. By then the feathers were blown to the shoreline. Jimmy pushed them into the mud with his shoe.

When he got too close to the edge, chilly water seeped into his shoes. His boat, his very own creation, gloriously heaved and dipped. With a bounce he tugged on his mum’s coat, thrilled by his own awesomeness.

Then he frowned and yanked hard on his mother. The vessel caught a gust of wind and headed toward the curling punch of overflowing water.  Just before the boat crumpled under the force, Jimmy’s mum snatched it and held it high. The water reached her thighs.

“It’s ok, Jimmy,” she said.



Say It: A #Halloween #Horror Story

“That’s quite a costume, young ma– … er… are you a boy, or a girl? I can’t tell under all that make up.”

The childlike thing shook a head, but made no answer. The widow Hann held upwards of $37 worth of chocolate in her lap, and she wasn’t giving it up to rude, ungrateful children who couldn’t be bothered to answer a simple question. Theses kids were getting more and more ill-mannered every year.

The zombie child reached a veined, pinkish hand into the bowl.

Mrs. Hann snatched it away. “Not so fast.”

The costume was stunning. Or the paint was still wet. It glistened in the inconstant light of Mrs. Hann’s tiki torches and carved pumpkin display. “Say ‘Trick or treat first.'”

It shook its head more violently. A low guttural sound issued from lips that dripped red paint and saliva.

“Just say it.” The mother instructed, sloshing a glass of some alcoholic elixir. It wafted around the two of them like a third apparition.

“It.” The little monster said and reached again.

The sass.

Mrs. Hann clutched the ceramic pumpkin to her breast. Not a single piece would leave this bowl, not while blood flowed through her veins. This kid deserved a swift kick in the a–

“Trick or treat,” said a ragged, sexless, ageless voice. Mrs. Hann narrowed her eyes. The zombie smiled a huge smile full of baby teeth, strait and white as a fence. There was no choice but to offer the bounty.

“What do you say?” Mrs. Hann reminded.


Mrs. Hann’s mouth was in an “O.” First, in shock at such brazen, deplorable behavior. The mother had already started down the sidewalk to the next house, and the waif scuttled after her.

The next little gang of ingrates skipped up the driveway. “Trick or treat!”

Mrs. Hann hadn’t recovered her speech. The children helped themselves, squealing in delight.

But the squeals turned to shrieks, then to shrill siren screams. The children were the first to see, and they yanked their hands, sending the bowl and its contents flying. Wrapped candy projectiles flew up like a bees from the lap of Mrs. Hann. The ceramic bowl slid off her ample thighs and shattered, sending orange and white shrapnel skidding.

Neighbors drifted over, curious at the uproar. Some children retreated, the ones who saw. Others cautiously maneuvered for a better look at widow Hann, whose mouth still hinged open, whose eyes drooped, wider and wider, until one by one they fell from their sockets with an almost merry pop! ….and dangled from the optic nerves like jewelry. The tiki torches flamed high, many feet into the night sky, revealing Mrs. Hann as a driftwood being: cracked and grey and greying further. Until not a drop of blood flowed in her veins.

This flash made me $25 in the GNB Writers Block Halloween Contest! I’m grateful for the opportunity to have fun writing. The cash is icing.

Cinderella, a Twister #writingexercise

I gave this assignment to my 5000 Words students.

Take a fairy tale and either:

  1. Re-tell the whole thing in a modern adaptation or
  2. Choose a scene from the middle and use it to begin a story of your own that diverges from the original.

Sometimes as my students write, I do too. Here’s my twisted Cinderella story:

Cinderella lived with her father, stepmother, and step-sisters in a beautiful, flat country. One day a tornado touched down. As Cinderella’s father ushered the panicked horses into the barn, Cinderella waited dutifully in the storm cellar.

From outside came a terrible crash and a scream. Cinderella knew something happened to her father.

Against his command, she cracked open the storm door. Instantly a gale wind whipped it from her hands, slammed the oak door to the earth and snapped off the hinges, throwing the iron hardware into her face. She was knocked unconscious and slumped down the cement stairs.

For the duration of the storm Cinderella lay, the rainwater soaking her socks, her petticoat, her dress. Only her face was dry, still under the basement ceiling where the rain couldn’t reach. Blood flowed from the spade-shaped gash on her face.

Once Cinderella was beautiful, but the storm changed all that. It took her father too. The cry she heard was his last, as the barn supports fell on him. Cinderella’s stepmother and her two step-sisters were away at the market when the tornado hit. Upon their return they made the gruesome discoveries. Carelessly, Cinderella’s stepmother sewed the stitches on Cinderella’s face, and the resulting scar was grotesquely jagged. It pulled her lip on one side into a perpetual frown, and though her eyes remained beautiful, no man would look past the scarred lips to her kind and lonely eyes.

Worse, Cinderella’s step-sisters made fun of her, taunted her, called her Cinder-hella. Because she was so ugly, Cinderella kept to herself. The small farm animals were the only ones who saw past her damaged form. Especially the mice; they were dear friends. It was the mice who helped her with her chores and made beautiful music with her. Dancing and singing with her animal friends, Cinderella almost forgot her ugliness.

A ball was to be held, a masquerade ball. There would be music and dancing, and most wonderful: there would be masks. Cinderella could feel gloriously beautiful for one enchanted evening. All she needed was a dress and a mask. The mice heard her muttering about it as she scraped the dinner plates.

The step-sisters, already gangly and towering, seemed to be going through a growth spurt. Several of their best silk dresses were obscenely above their ankles and had to be thrown out.

“Oh, may I have them?” Cinderella asked.

“Are you kidding?” They answered, “What on earth could you possibly do with such beautiful cloth? Burn them. And burn yourself while you’re at it, Cinder-hella.” They were off to town for new dresses.

Cinderella couldn’t bring herself to immediately burn the sparkling silk. She put it to her face and luxuriated in the kind fabric. She wore the gowns, danced with imaginary partners, and pretended to be at the ball. The mice knew her well. They waited in their holes until she was done. As Cinderella gathered sticks for the fire, the mice stole pieces of the gowns, working in pairs with scissors, enlisting the help of the cat, the dog (his canine teeth), and even the crows. It was a miracle of animal cooperation and all unknown to Cinderella, who gathered wood as slowly as she could because she hated to see the gorgeous gowns wasted.

Tears blurred Cinderella’s vision as she picked up the bundles. She didn’t even know the dresses had been ransacked. This cheered the mice, because they knew a surprise would be the best present.

On the day of the great ball, Cinderella felt as if her heart would break, watching her step-sisters and her stepmother pile into the carriage in their finery and sweet-smelling perfumes. Their faces were painted to perfection; jewels glittered from every appendage. With masks, the sisters were almost glamorous. How Cinderella wished she could wear one, always.

As the carriage dust settled and they were alone, the mice emerged from the basement, the same basement in which Cinderella had lain and bled, the one place she refused to go. In their little mouths and draped over the dog’s back, the mice carried a silk gown more beautiful than any other. Behind them trotted the cat holding a magnificent mask, carefully clenched in his teeth. It was iridescent; the mice had used duck neck as their base color and copied it perfectly onto the stolen cloth. They’d unraveled the threads, one by one, and re-sewed them together into green and purple perfection.

“Oh!” Cinderella fell back a few steps. Her hands fluttered to her mouth.

One of the great horses took her to the ball on his strong back. She arrived just as they were beginning her favorite dance. Vibrantly clad figures flitted and flirted and clanged their golden goblets together, sloshing punch as they twirled.

One night.

Cinderella had one night to live a whole life of wonders. To be thought beautiful, to engage in conversation like anyone else. To dance and sing and be carefree and merry. To feel real, strong hands hold hers and lead her around the dance floor. For one night Cinderella’s dream could come true.



Flash Fiction for Microcosms

1 Thessalonians 5:2

Charles Floyd began dying the night of the buffalo. Seaman was hailed a hero, and the whole Corps of Discovery was giddy over the near miss: how the Newfoundland kept the buffalo from trampling the officers’ tent. No one was hurt, not even Charles. Still, death had settled upon him like the dreaded foxtail seeds.

Charles’ talisman, his journal, went missing that night.

At the last encampment, Charles noted an Ottowa youth slavering over it. The brute had offered to trade, and Charles waved him off derisively. Ever since, Charles felt watched. His skin crawled each time he opened his journal and brought out the gilded page. He couldn’t take the whole volume, and by now Mother knew he’d ripped Psalm 23 out of the family tome.

And now it was ripped from him.

Sometime later, Charles’ stomach turned against him. A fire inside his body set all his fluids to defecting. Eventually, Charles collapsed. From the bluff he had a panoramic view of the valley they’d just traversed. A fitting last sight.

Charles tore his gaze away, and with longing for the land he’d not be meeting– said to Clark, “I am going away. I want you to write me a letter.”

Charles Floyd, only fatality on the Lewis and Clark Expedition and subject of my fanciful flash fiction

For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. – 1 Thessalonians 5:2

This flash fiction is in response to Microcosms 90: historical/thief/mountains. The historical genre gave me the most pleasure. And pain. Truth is so inflexible, and so is a 200 word limit (But I got confused, because I actually had 300 with which to work. Argh! My flash fiction contests all run together).  The buffalo night, foxtail seeds, and the last words of Charles Floyd (who died of appendicitis) are truth– from the story of Lewis & Clark. And I got an honorable mention for my tale. 🙂