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!

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It Ain’t Easy Being Real

I’m a laissez-faire teacher, which is something out-of-control teachers say to make themselves feel better. The truth is, I’m more comfortable allowing my students to talk, so long as I can get them to say, with some degree of accuracy, what I was going to say anyway. Today we did a little self discovery. I gave them the following worksheet and told them to fill out what they wanted, but that we’d share. Everyone, would share.

Oh, the gasps. The moans. No one wanted to share real facts about themselves. (This is how you know we’ve been too long in fiction. How lovely a mask is fiction.) One prompt: I have a big problem with… is basically a green light to complain in your best eloquence. That made them feel better.

Several students took the opportunity to tell me they have a big problem with writing class. One even said he’d rather watch grass grow than write. I was impressed with his illustration. One student came up with a seemingly incongruous phrase: grotesque beauty, but taken in context of our world that can be both those things at once, made perfect sense. Some students made jokes. But one student, who evidently thought hard about the prompt, began to reveal his soul-searching in a sincere and penitent manner– and with such beautiful and haunting language– we were all stunned into a moment of silence. A class of middle/high schoolers, silent. It was a bona fide Dead Poets Society moment right in my living room.

It’s not easy, in a classroom full of peers, to write truth about yourself and share it. But every time it happened, I felt blessed. Sometimes I saw myself in their opinions. Sometimes my perspective angle zoomed out as I understood a completely different perspective (like hating writing… who does that???). Getting real in front of others isn’t easy, but it’s worth it.

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.

Dante’s Barn: A Short Story About the Gauntlet of Adolescence

Publication. That great Other reads your writing and deems it worthy to print. I’m pumped to share with you my short story is out today on Fiction on the Web, the oldest internet short story platform in existence (since 1996). They have a feedback field for readers. No sign-up necessary. I hope you’ll read my story (3 minutes) and click a reaction (3 seconds). Please! I’d be so grateful. To read it, click here.

The story originally came out on my blog, but I reworked it extensively and had my beautiful writer’s group give it a make-over. “Dante’s Barn” explores a pivotal evening in a young man’s life when a snow storm and a flat tire become more than just annoyances. They are prisms through which he sees his world afresh. I’ve always been interested in coming-of-age stories because they teem with metamorphosis moments, the cocoon magic we all hope will play upon us and make us better people.

But I also like ambiguity. Jude, my protagonist, my son of humiliation– it’s unclear whether or not he learned the lesson. Even I don’t know if he learned it, and I wrote him. Jude has become real to me, and like real people you can never tell just what they’ll do with information.

Some other flash pieces: horror, metafiction, and a piece I dusted off.

 

Zeroflash Fiction: Chernobyl Romantics

On this journey to publishing my novel I often take little tangents, usually in the form of writing competitions. I love the immediacy of the feedback and the stretching prompts. Zeroflash’s August competition garnered me an honorable mention from the talented Jan Kaneen. I can’t tell you how uplifting it is to have a writer whose work I admire, admire my work! The writing journey is often riddled with insecure moments, lonely moments; the whole thing is mostly me feeling misunderstood and reaching out, like a kid holding a scribbled drawing and asking Do you like it? But as the journey goes on, I don’t hold up my drawings anymore, though some days I long to– especially on days when I’m feeling Genesis 1:31  …and God saw all that He made and behold, it was very good. I know my insatiable need for affirmation is a beast that must be tamed. But can never be tamed. Robert Frost taught me: Success doesn’t tame it, not all the praise in the the world will tame an artist.

My writing style often provokes this response: I don’t get it. Four words I dread to hear, but need to hear. Am thankful to hear. But these four I love much better: to-die-for language, with specific examples. So I’m savoring this moment of hearing four different words.

I recognize terror as the finest emotion and so I will try to terrorize the reader. But if I find that I cannot terrify, I will try to horrify, and if I find that I cannot horrify, I’ll go for the gross-out. I’m not proud. – Stephen King

I went shamelessly for the gross out. Read it and see if you agree.

Chernobyl Romantics

Fedir and Art were sorely unprepared for chemistry– all the excuse they needed for a day trip to the exclusion zone. Their options were “F” in chemistry vs. possible radiation poisoning. One promised a thrill.

“It’s perfectly safe,” Fedir said, “How else do all those animals live there?”

The abandoned amusement park surpassed their imaginings: especially the bumper cars frozen in skewed arrangements, caught in verdant webs of nature’s somnolent devour. Hostile shrubs punched through pane-less windows, and towering above it all– the Ferris wheel, monument to stilled life in Pripyat. Art pulled out his copy of Roadside Picnic and read: “Intelligence is the ability… to perform pointless or unnatural acts– ”

From the tangled growth a sound: leaves being crushed. Art’s smile died on his face.

“Quick!” Fedir dived into the nearest Ferris wheel car. Art followed. Probably just moose, but it could be police. A guttural growl, more leaves stomped, the brisk snap of tree limbs. Some enormity was less than twenty feet away and advancing.

“Moose?” whispered Art. He swiveled and peaked over. A serrated tongue flashed, cracked whip-like, and the top of Art’s head disappeared. Cleanly. Bone sliced like melon rind. The piece of Art that held his eyes was tossed mercifully away. Fedir heard it strike the metal supports then come to rest on the asphalt. He sank lower into the footwell and noted with macabre interest, Art’s hands still gripped the rail though he’d slumped.

Fedir remained frozen while the cloying copper smell of Art bloomed, lingered, and long since evaporated. In a cathedral silence. One with the steel cage, the grooves in the footwell painfully embossed Fedir’s skin. Art’s bowels released. Fedir wept silently.

The sun set behind a barb wire copse. Shadows advanced, followed by smothering dark. Fedir heard stirrings from the wood.

 

Versatile Blogger Award

ver·sa·tile

able to adapt or be adapted to many different functions or activities.

A fiction writer must be versatile, if only for the toggle between fantasy and reality. I once woke to the reality I was due to teach a class in ten minutes. What’s the big deal? I was an hour away from said class, still in my fuzzy pajamas. It was my leg of a carpool and in my zealous story plotting I quite forgot I was supposed to be dressed and prepped to go straight on to my teaching gig. NOT wearing pajamas.

What I’ve found is, when I make even a feeble attempt to bless someone, I am the one who walks away blessed. Such was my experience when I made the acquaintance of blogger Kelvin M. Knight. Here’s how it went: I decided to take fifteen minutes each morning to find and point out fellow writers whose work impacted me. This writing business is like a one-way pen pal relationship, so it’s nice to get a letter back once in a while. I decided to write some letters back.

One morning as I went to be that return letter, I opened my email and received the Versatile Blogger Award.

How appropriate is the image on Kelvin’s About page. You don’t have to read but a few sentences of any one of his posts to agree: Kelvin is all heart. Self-effacing and quietly joyful, he reminds me of a man version of Anne Lamott.

Kelvin writes: The Versatile Blogger Award was created to feature and recognize blogs that have unique content, high quality writing, and fantastic photos. As the Versatile Blogger Award states: Honor those bloggers who bring something special to your life whether every day or only now and then.

The rules for nomination are:

  • Thank the person who nominated you.
  • Nominate up to 15 bloggers for this award and inform them.
  • Share seven facts about yourself.
  • Put the logo of Versatile Blogger in your post, displaying these rules.

I even recognized some of the names on Kelvin’s nomination list, like Lynn Love, The Drabble, and Friday Fictioneers. Let me add my voice to his and say these are lovely people who contribute positively to the world, who use their gifts and take the time to encourage others to do the same.

So, seven little things about me:

  1. I first wanted to be a writer when I read Flowers in the Attic, which Stephen King judged as the putrid trash of the fiction world. This heartens me. My putrid trash may be someone’s favorite, may be a best-seller.
  2. For two decades I wrote only our family’s Christmas letter because I couldn’t be chill when my littles interrupted me with poopy diapers, playtime, and the rhythmic need for sustenance.
  3. My favorite book is the Bible because it changed my life.
  4. I homeschooled our four children. Presently down to one awesome student. 🙂
  5. When I was ten years old I dug up a friend’s dead cat (and since have used it in many a story).
  6. Watching my kids grow into beautiful people has been a chief joy of my life.
  7. Being on a cruise with my husband, being like the kids we were when we met, is another.

Now onto the fun. My nominations.

Each person above has, in some way, been a pen pal to me on this writing journey. Each is versatile. More importantly, each is unique. I heard a moving quote last night in the most unexpected place: a Hollywood formula movie, Ghost in the Shell. Just goes to show you diamonds can be found in the mud. Here it is:

When we see our uniqueness as a virtue, only then will we have peace.

 

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.