Homeschool Life

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…

 

 

 

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. 

 

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.

fiction

Better Than Candy: Bite-size Halloween Stories

My friend Cyndi gave me the idea to showcase some of the Halloween stories I received from the flash contest. Enjoy these bite-sized stories from Ethan Zabka, Anna Marsick, and Cynthia Hilston.

The Last Halloween 

By Ethan Zabka

“This is going to be awesome!” My friend Jeremy exclaimed. ” It’s going to be the greatest Halloween ever!”

“I agree; let’s make it the best,” I replied. After I donned my Dr. Frankenstein costume, we left.

It was a warm evening. Kids were everywhere, shouting and observing their prizes. The sunset was beautiful, an explosion of pink and yellow in the sky.

The first 5 houses we visited were generous, giving us Hershey bars and King-Sized Reese’s. As we were strolling, we came across a hideous creature, who fell in step with us after Jeremy remarked how he completed my Frankenstein apparel. The monster’s makeup was almost perfect, and his yellow eyes glimmered in the dusk. He wasn’t talkative, just keeping in step with me and munching on chocolate.

Soon, the moon came out, often hidden by dark clouds scudding across the sky. A chilly wind started to blow, and rain sprinkled down. Jeremy departed for home, tired. The monster and I kept on, gathering candy.

I left the monster when I realized the time. I would have to take the shortcut through the woods to make it home before midnight.

I was nearly home when I bumped into something large.

It wasn’t a tree.

The monster-man.

A lightning flash divulged a ragged rip in his cloak, revealing a mottled chest, metal pieces poking from green flesh. The sight paralyzed me with fear.

He was real.

Thunder boomed like artillery fire. I screamed as he seized me and hissed, “Curse you, Frankenstein! You have come back from the grave to cause me anguish!”

“But Frankenstein-”

“All who bear the name Frankenstein deserve to die, to have no happiness here!” His eyes blazed with rage as the thunder crackled. “I end this once and for all!”

I felt his fingers close around my neck.

Love Wins

By Anna Marsick

*Ping* goes my phone. I lay on my bed, pillow sodden with tears. I flip over, refusing to acknowledge that deplorable dimwit who sources my rueful feelings. One minute I’m in love, the next I’m drowning in my tears. I still can’t believe he didn’t take me to homecoming because he had to work out. I hate relationships.

*Ping* I roll my eyes, ignoring it and muttering, “Not accepting apologies today, buddy. Go flirt with your dumbbells. They’re probably smarter than me anyway.”  Suddenly, I hear a *thunk, thunk, THUD* at my window. Spooked, I spring off my bed.

“Oww!” I scream-whisper, creeping to the window, seizing a pink slipper that will protect me from the predator who’s summoned me. Heart pounding, I cautiously peer out of my window into the gloomy night and am greeted by a rock hitting my forehead. “Stand down!” I yelp, “I have a weapon, and I’m not afraid to strike!”

“Hi, Baby! Come out here!” replies the hooligan. “What in the? Myles? What are you… never mind. Go away.” I begin to shut my window as he bellows, “Wait! I’m sorry. I’m a bad boyfriend. Let me make it up to you. Please. Come out here, dance with me under the stars. I made a playlist and brought a dress for you… I love and care about you.”

“That’s cute. Bye,” I say, shaking my head and preparing to retreat. I steal one last glance at his face. Aw man. The pleading gaze in his eyes causes me to cave in. I gingerly climb out of my window, into his arms. Expeditiously, I slip into the dress, and we become one under the stars… united in rhythm. As we sway to the music, he murmurs, “I love you.” I love relationships.

Credit: Jean-Philippe Delberghe

Halloween Date Night 

By Cynthia Hilston

The elusive they say opposites attract. Herman didn’t know who they were.
He looked over his phantom face in the mirror. The stitches holding his smile broke. Rotten teeth were a turn-off for most women.
“What sort of zombie puts a profile on a dating site?”
It was done on a dare. Who says the undead can’t have a life? Ed, ever a charmer and a drunk in this half-afterlife, told Herman he would be happier if he went out more. Halloween was coming. She would think Herman was a brilliant costume.
This she was as elusive as the they who made ridiculous claims like opposites attract.
Herman pulled up to her house in his 1966 Chevy on Halloween. She glowed with the setting sun as she stepped outside like an angel meant to take him to Heaven.
Heaven isn’t for zombies who eat brains, even reformed zombies, thought Herman. If he had a beating heart, it would have thumped out of his tattered chest beneath his new clothes.
“The clothes,” said Ed, “were important. You can’t go around looking completely dead.”
His already rigid body stiffened as he remembered his manners, exited the car, and opened the passenger door.
The light of Heaven shone down with her smile. “Happy Halloween…Herman.”
“Hello, Brenda.” He shouldn’t have gorged on a stray cat’s brains before coming here, a chunk of grey matter lodged in his throat. “Where to?”
“You look like a vintage kinda guy. There’s a malt shop in town. You know it?”
He nodded.
A little while later, they shared a table and a strawberry shake. She leaned into him and took his hand. He twitched, trying to pull away.
Yet she was as cold as him.
She giggled. “Don’t worry, Herman. It’s Halloween. This is all a costume.”

 

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.

 

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.