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Student Flash Contest Winners!

Judging is a buffet where I love every dish. How do I pick just one? As I read through the entries, I jot notes down and assign a number to rank them. I re-read the top-ranked stories and even some lower ranked ones that are still on my mind. Then I wring my hands and generally feel desperate about having to pick just one winner. Lucky for me, my dear friend and fellow author Kathleen Joyce joined the fun!

A couple of things I look for:

  1. Narrative or character arcs. Movement. Unexpected growth or a twist.
  2. Style. Did you use tone/voice well?
  3. Dialogue. If you worked that in, bonus points.
  4. Grammar. It always helps. Always.
  5. Genre. Did you write in a recognizable genre?
  6. Did your story make sense?
  7. Was there more story off the page?

Some entries were super clever and took risks with narrators, genres, and plot. All had praiseworthy moments.

But the winning entry embodies all seven points. It started out with me thinking funny romance and took me to a creepy place I wasn’t expecting. (I always enjoy a surprise.) With voice alone, the author accomplished this shift! As the tone evolved into zombie/vampire/werewolf/something-terrifying-I-can’t-imagine, the dialogue served to steep it in reality. Horror is my favorite genre. The story is polished, makes total sense, and yikes!!! —how about the story off this page?!? No one wants to imagine what’s next for our hapless narrator.

Congratulations, Rachel!

Movie Date by Rachel Carpenter

Credit: Aaron Mello

There was something not quite right about the way the ticket vendor gave me my ticket. I’m pretty sure she judged me for being alone. I wanted to tell her I was meeting someone but decided against it. I pushed the thought from my mind and pulled out my phone and asked him where he was. He replied and said he would be there in a few minutes and to go into the theater. I was a little upset but decided to give him the benefit of the doubt.

I sat down in the theater and pulled out my phone again. Three minutes till the previews started and I was fuming. I shoved my phone back into my jacket pocket and crossed my arms. After a few minutes, I got up to leave, but then I saw my date walking up the stairs. He got there before the actual movie started and I was a little relieved I was not stood up. He sat down and I noticed right away that he smelled repulsive. Like something died on him. I also noticed there was some red stuff on his shirt and pants. I asked him what it was and he said paint. I became too uncomfortable and I told him I had to leave because of a family emergency.

“Let me walk you out,” he suggested.

“Are you sure you want to leave the movie?” I asked.

“Yeah, it’s cool.”

When we got to my car he stopped me and apologized for being late. I told him it was fine and started to get into my car. He suddenly grabbed me and covered my mouth. I saw a van pull out from behind me and I was thrown into the van, I tried screaming, but it was no use.

***

Our second winner was chosen by cozy mystery writer, Kathleen Joyce, who graciously read the entries and sent me her choice for #1. Here’s what she had to say: My vote goes to Gloria Blumfeldt. I liked her story. All your students have great imaginations. I enjoyed reading them.

Kathleen regularly reads and edits adult work and mentioned that many of the student stories were of a surprisingly high caliber. You guys make me proud. 🙂

Congratulations, Gloria!

Backyard Discoveries by Gloria Blumfeldt

There was something not quite right about the smell that came from the ground that one morning as I walked through my woods. Rotten and vile. It Almost smelled as if a person had been buried there, but not far under the surface.  My keen sense of smell had landed me many, very important detective jobs. I could pick up and define even the faintest of smells. But there’s no way there’s a crime scene right in my own back yard? I put my nose closer to the earth, sniffing the surface. It is- But it can’t be? Could it? I thought as the smell of a rotting body filled my nostrils. I could find out.

I stood over top of the soiled earth for minutes, unable to get the thought of digging it up out of my head. I knew I wasn’t supposed to act on any of my suspicions until I had reported them to the chief, but this consumed my mind. I couldn’t control myself. Curiosity took over.

The soil was soft and easy to dig into. In a matter of minutes, I could see a piece of blueish fabric peeking out from the dirt. Frantically, I uncovered the rest of it. Moments later a fully uncovered body lay in the ground in front of me. At the sight, I ran back to my house calling for my partner. Finally, I got to the door but and saw my partner through the glass. I yelled more to get his attention. He rushed outside asking a million questions but I just led him to the body. 

“Wow,” He said as he stared at the body, “We’ve been looking for her ever since she went missing last year. I can’t believe you found her. You’re really a special dog.”

 

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fiction, Homeschool Life

Flash Contest Detour: No Microcosms, No Problem!

Each session of my 5000 Words class, we devote one week to flash fiction. The assignment is to enter a piece in Microcosms, which experiences a rather dramatic spike in entrants. 🙂 This morning when I opened my email, I found Microcosms is having technical difficulties this week, the week my students are to enter their contest. Is this fate, smiling on the Microcosms judge who would’ve had to read all those extra entries?

Not to be deterred (cue the collective groan of my students), we’ll just take a little detour and hold the contest here, on my blog.

I ask my students to post their fabulous stories in the comments section of this post. Put your name, the title, and the exact word count at the top, then the story. Post by Saturday, midnight (that’s an extra day). I trust my readers will enjoy and perhaps comment on anything that moves you. Most of my students have private blogs, so this would be a rare opportunity to get outside feedback.

Next Tuesday, I’ll post the winning stories. As to judging, it will either be yours truly or a fellow author. (Any takers? Volunteer in the comments!) Hey, it’s 8:26 AM and I’m working with a curveball here.

But what about the prompt?? I’m not techy enough to build a spinning machine like the folks at Microcosms, so we’ll have to go stone age: I’ll give you a first sentence. I can’t wait to see what you come up with!

Craft a flash fiction story of no more than 300 words that begins:

There was something not quite right about the…

 

 

 

Personal Journey

A (True) Love Story

photo credit: Israel Palacio

Once upon 1982, I stood on a stage with a few girls who actually had talent and choked out the Christmas carol, “Silver Bells.” I did not know this would be one of the defining moments of my life.

Weeks before, I crashed the hand-picked ensemble simply by showing up to the practice. Our music teacher, a Mr. Komenski, had exactly zero penchant for conflict, even with the eleven-year-old tuneless neophyte who lived a few rows down from his own trailer and when bored, would shut off his electric at the main. (All the boxes were together in a central location behind the trailers, easily reachable. Duh.) My friend said singing in the little group was fun and I should come. So I did. It never occurred to either of us that Mr. Komenski had a say in it.

This is how (true) love stories begin. WIth a girl who can’t sing, a friend who can’t discern, and a music teacher who can’t say no.

Besides my unlikely moment in the spotlight, another rare incident played a part in this (true) love story: a teacher strike. I can thank a savvy administrator, who funneled two elementary schools into one, for dodging a district-wide shutdown and guiding me to my date with destiny.

I didn’t get bussed to a different elementary school, but my friend Tony did. He lived in the trailer behind mine, and together we often cut off Mr. Komenski’s electricity. Tony was in the audience on the day of the concert. Because of the teacher strike, he’d made many new friends. One of them was the intensely blue-eyed, exquisitely chiseled Bob—Bobby. BOBBY Griffiths. No one calls him that now, but this was 1982.

Bob’ll tell the story that he and Tony sat on crowded benches in the darkened auditorium, that Bob’s breath caught, that he was completely enchanted. He’ll allege there was a beautiful creature on the stage with a few other girls singing “Silver Bells.” Bobby thought perhaps his new friend Tony would know the girl, so he leaned in and asked.

“Oh that’s just Kelly Seyer,” Tony dismissed me with a wave. To Tony, I was a guy in a girl’s body before it was fashionable, before gender dysphoria. I was a tomboy when tomboys still existed. And Tony was unimpressed. But Bob would not be swayed by Tony’s (at best) 3-star rating of Kelly Seyer. Something happened to Bob that day, the soul-quickening poets try to capture in verse. To hear Bob tell it, he loved me at first sight.

I sang my Christmas song, unaware.

When shutting off Mr. Komenski’s electric became blasé, Tony and I moved on to other pursuits, one of which was finding “dates” for each other. I found the lovely Janet for him, and Tony remembered I’d somehow hypnotized Bobby at the Christmas concert. Tony’s mom drove the four of us to the mall for the afternoon. This is how I met my husband: all nerves and angst and…and we were crushed in the backseat of a wee little car. I remember that.

I remember his blond, curly hair and the red bandana around his wrist. And his veins in relief against his skin. We shared a banana split at Friendly’s. We fell into a wormhole and for three years were Bobby&Kelly. Just before tenth grade, I moved to Ohio. We wrote and called, and when I could make the seven-hour drive to Allentown, I’d visit him, even if it was just a quick lunch. When we were together, it was as if no time had passed. We talked about everything. I told him I had no friends at my new school. He couldn’t believe it. He told me his mom had cancer. I will never forget hearing that news.

Bobby became Robert. I became Mrs. Somebody Else. No fortune teller worth her salt would prophesy the us we are today. But (true) love stories are prickly mazes. Love is patient, says the Bible. The Bible means that a would-be lover ought to be patient with his beloved, but I mean that for us, Love was patient. To us, Love has been kind. Not perfect, but kind. After I moved to Ohio, we did life as best friends, worlds apart. For eight years, actually.

January 2020 is our 25th wedding anniversary, and I still think of Bob as my very best friend, my fun friend, the friend who-WILL-dance-with-me, the strong arms I fall into, the smile I crave. How did I get so blessed, you ask? How did we go from childhood sweethearts to far-away friends to Mr. & Mrs. Griffiths? That is a long story, a post for another day…

Decorating Easter eggs together 1985
Bob ran my first 5K with me 1985
Days before my craniotomy 2018
My favorite chef – Thanksgiving 2018
Personal Journey

Coffee Confession

If we were having coffee, I’d ask if you’d like to expand your caffeine horizons with some dark roast & coconut oil whirled at high speed. That’s what produced this cup of foamy, bitter love. I often put powdered collagen in as well, although only in my first cup of the day. How many cups are there in a day? I try to cut myself off at three and drink the last one before 3PM.

I’m slowly getting into my new WIP. I don’t know why I get so full of angst when I sit down to a white page and have to put something there. In the writing world, the first draft is called a crappy first draft (or another name for poo, but you get the drift). We’re supposed to throw words out there, get them down, don’t stifle the flow with grammar and eloquence and all that—which I try not to do, but it hurts my eyes, this crappy first draft. Oh, a sentence or turn of phrase here and there makes me smile, but argh!…if this isn’t a slog. I’m sharing my work as I go, something I said I wouldn’t do and that the great Stephen King advises against, but I have this lovely group of women who are kind enough to visit every two weeks, and I must have an offering. So I have to truck out the garbage and let them smell it. Keeps me humble.

Another thing that humbles/makes-me-insane: waiting on my manuscript. It’s never far from my mind that agents (or their interns) are reading Trespass. I stalk other bloggers who are in a similar position. I pray that the right agent (not just any agent) will love it and that I’ll have the grit to accept rejection. My husband calls me the trojan horse because I want to sneak inside people by way of a thrilling story and unleash my kool-aid on them. Isn’t that what Harriet Beecher Stowe did? And C.S. Lewis? And every great writer? What’s the point if we don’t have something deeper to communicate? And don’t say Marvel. Or DC Comics. Or millions of dollars. I’m still starry-eyed about writing. I hope to die that way. Just, not too soon.

My son had a swim meet Sunday, and he placed 1st in all his events, two of which were relays. Mountaintop moment! After that we spent the Superbowl with friends, which was a good thing since the game and commercials were meh. I’m slowly recovering from the flu. I thought it was a cold, but it unexpectedly turned and trampled me last week. I look forward to smelling again someday. Although I did read that you can lose your sense of smell permanently from the flu. You’re welcome.

Thanks to Eclectic Alli for getting the coffee and conversation brewing.

fiction

What You Get When You Flood Your Mind With Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven”

Lenore’s Reprisal (inspired by “The Raven”)

January is a dangerous month. January is deadly. Don’t believe me? January. killed. my. Lenore.

Ok truth. A-steering-wheel-through-the-heart killed Lenore, but it was January’s fault. Lenore’ll tell it was the road, slick with ice and a blanket of snow. She’ll tell it was the brakes on the Volkswagon—that’s what did her in. But don’t you believe it.

You hear that? She’s always jingling the keys, telling me I need to take the car to the mechanic. From the garage I hear them ringing, hear her earrings and their blinging, and my guilt is ever-stinging at her mangled, undead form.

Though the Browns are playing, which is to say they’re losing, I get up when she starts her jingling because I know I’ll get no rest till I let her in the door. Why she doesn’t just come right on through—my ephemeral, vaporous wife of thirty-nine years, some of them while she lived and breathed—Lenore wants me off the couch, that’s why.

I tell her, “Wait just a minute, will ya, honey? It’s January.”

She tells me she waited for me to fix the brakes and look how that turned out. I meant to. Really.

She stands right in the way of the telly, hands on hips, keys a jangle, rusty earrings a’dangle, matted hair a crimson tangle. Who can enjoy a game with such distraction? Not I, nevermore.

“Your father wasn’t a glassblower,” I say, hoping she’ll get the hint.

She doesn’t.

I ask her to remove the serrated keys from my chest. She twists until only the key ring is visible, wrecking my PJ’s forever.

“Please?” I ask. “Take your keys from my heart, your form from my foyer, your brakes and your bangles, your oxidizing earrings and your weather-beaten bones, you zombie chore. Won’t you go? I can’t take it anymore.”

“Nevermore,” says Lenore.

photo credit: @amarnathtade

I gave this assignment to my 5000 Words class: read “The Raven” at least three times then craft a story based on it. You can change anything, POV, genre, aspects, motivations, setting, etc. 

 

on writing, Personal Journey

Weekend Coffee Share: Things to Say Yay! About

If we were having coffee I’d be smiling enormously. Two weeks ago today an agent requested my full manuscript. My reaction: eeeeeeeeck! Then another agent requested my manuscript. And…holy-too-good-to-be-true Batman! A THIRD AGENT REQUESTED MY FULL MANUSCRIPT. For my non-writer friends, this is like winning the lottery three times in a row. I’ve spilled my coffee all over myself with my Italian arm-waving at this point, I’m so dang excited.

I withdrew my query letter from Query Shark, the site that taught me how to craft a query. At first I was hesitant to withdraw it because I so wanted Janet’s perspective, but I know that the query itself is doing its job. At three requests I can’t in fairness ask her to critique it. If you have a completed manuscript and want to make sure agents actually read your first pages, read Janet’s entire site. That’s what I did. She says over and over that the key is reading the entire site, and it’s true. There is no substitute, no short cut or hack. It’s hours and hours and hours of work, I’m not going to lie. But it’s fun too. Janet’s witty as all get out.

Now I’m waiting. The idea that agents are looking at my story…chills, I tell you. So I’m doing the next right thing (besides checking my email a thousand times a day), which is beginning my second novel. It took about a week for me to not dread showing up at the blank screen. Now that the story’s rolling, I’m completely digging it.

Meanwhile, my husband and I have had some lovely walks, some nights by the fire, and lots of time to chat at Gabe’s swim meets. Love watching swim meets, even for six+ hours. When Gabe isn’t competing (99% of the time), I read or prepare for a class I teach. Or throw down a Starbucks and wiggle and squirm on the bleacher seats until the caffeine works its way through my bloodstream.

Today everything was closed because of the big storm. Abbott did not like how the snow ticked his belly when he went out to do his business. He whimpered and ran back to the door. I sternly told him to man up (a very unpopular directive in these Gillette times), but he can’t understand me anyway. He got my tone, got back in the drifts and did what he had to do…

Later, Luke and Anna played with him. He decided he very much likes the deep snow. Just like anything new, he just had to give it a chance. Thanks to Eclectic Ali for the Weekend Coffee Share. 🙂

And here he is, Abbott, my rockstar dog.

 

 

fiction

The Perks of Galactic Transport

Uncle Asbestos brings me presents when his tour is done. There are always interesting treats lurking in his pockets.

He removes his helmet with a wry smile and dramatic sloth.

My fidgeting betrays my impatience.

He inside-outs his pockets and a slew of my favorite tiny, multi-colored creatures fall out. I squeal. We play with them until they run out of battery life. Uncle says I just need to let them recharge. I suggest hooking them up to a v-tube to see if they’d stay animated longer, but he laughs. “It would blow them right up, little one. Just enjoy them while you can. I’ll get more next time.”

“Where do they come from?” I ask as I toss the wiggling creatures into the air and catch almost all of them. Their noise reminds me of the frantic whirring of tine bugs, pests that nest in the humidors. Uncle says the toys are made of calcium. Can you imagine? No wonder they break so easily.

At school, I pull them out of my pocket and dump a pile of them on the lunch table. They try to scrabble away, but we make a corral out of trays and silverware. I’m the envy of all the kids.

“I wish my uncle was a galactic transporter.”

“Me too.”

All my friends agree Uncle Asbestos has the coolest job ever. I get the best gifts.

Suddenly, a loud sound (for them) issues from one. Then it loses all animation.

“Careful.” I rebuke my friend. “You squeezed it too hard.”

“Sorry. Can I keep it? It’s broken anyway.”

“Yes, but not too long. They stink once the batteries go.”

My friend tweezes the limp, pinkish creature with four appendages and one dense tuft of fur. “So strange…where’s your uncle get these again?”

“Earth.”

This flash was inspired by Microcosms, a weekly flash fiction contest, and was first runner-up. I had to incorporate this sentence into the piece: There are always interesting treats lurking in his pockets.