flash fiction

Flash Fiction Addiction


I’ve mentioned this before, but I’m addicted to Janet Reid’s flash fiction contests.  They’re fun.  They’re great practice for learning how to use words sparingly while building a story, which must include a beginning, middle, end.  They give you a sense of accomplishment – yay I finished something! – especially if in the throes of a WIP.

Lucky for us, Ms. JR held a couple contests the weekends of May 30th, and June 6th.  For May 30th’s contest, I think blog comments may have prompted a North Carolina themed contest, and the one on June 6th was a suggestion from Colin Smith a “reg’lar” on her blog.  He reads a lot of books by a client of hers, author Gary Corby, whose latest book, DEATH EX MACHINA was released.

Of course I entered both.  As usual, she gave five prompt words, and then we have to write a story in 100 words or less.

Here is my entry for May 30th, where I placed as a FINALIST (whoop!) out of about 75 entries. Prompt words:  balloon, heart, wife, dare, plott (yes, with two t’s)

I watch the sun rise, a red balloon in the eastern sky. Haint stands at the river’s edge while Banner runs nearby sniffing traces of yesterday.

Never had much heart for anything other than these old Plott hounds, God love’em. Last year when that water moccasin bit Lloyd, then Haint, it tested that very fact.

Lloyd had hollered, “Wife! Move your ass, I’m bit!”

Forty years. Never once called me by my name.

I daresay my decision came then.

Is puttin’ a dog ahead of a human a sin?  

Maybe.

I wipe spittle off Lloyd’s chin and watch the dogs.

***************************************************************************************************************

For June 6th contest which I WON (!)  Double WHOOP!  Prompt words were:  chorus, ghost, actor, crane, stage

Back when I won’t more’n a speck, I heard what sounded like a chorus of voices under my bed mumblin’ some word.

I couldn’t rightly make it out at first, so’s I kept on listening, night after night.

Finally, I got it.

Useless.

I reckon they was ghosts.

That actor what shot Lincoln? Useless was last word he said afore he died, no foolin’.

Troublin’ what I see when I crane my neck like so. They been hammering since yesterday.

Come dawn, reckon I’ll be center stage.

It’s alright. I ain’t ever amounted to nothin’.

Funny.

Useless comes to mind.

These are The Shark’s words verbatim, below my entry in the finalist area, “This is a stunning demonstration of how to show rather than tell, and establishing character through diction.”

Reading that was SUBLIME, and then she added this with her determination of how she chose this piece as the winner, “It was very hard to pick a winner this week because all of these stories had things I loved.  In the end though it had to be Donnaeve for a compelling demonstration of craft and story.

ON.  THE.  FLOOR.

Then, I got up and did this:

Happy Dance

courtesy LOL.ROFL

Chuck’s Challenge


Chuck Wendig challenged his readers this week with a one hundred word flash fiction contest.  Well shoot.  I just happen to have a few of those from the Shark’s very own one hundred word contests.  How convenient.  And besides, Chuck threw down a double dog dare, and that means I have to do it, right?

Some of you might remember this one:

The blush of dawn came. Summer stretched before them, along with the thought of endless, monotonous hospital treatments. She watched a sandpiper scurry after a crab, one hand over her chest where evil grew, virus like, insidious.

She said, “Promise?”

He nodded, “Promise.”

Helpless, he watched her grow weaker, until one day, she said, “Today.”

He carried her to the beach, waded in and lowered her down. She struggled, only a little, but he could see her smiling through his tears.

Later his cell rang, interrupting his anguish.

He answered and her doctor said, “I’ve made a horrible mistake.”

One Hundred Words


I’ve talked about this before.  Those addicting flash fiction contests run by Janet Reid, literary agent extraordinaire.  How hard is it to tell a story in one hundred words?  Doggone hard.  The last one, a couple weekends ago, was in honor of one of her clients, Jeff Somers, for the publication of his latest book, WE ARE NOT GOOD PEOPLE.

The rules are simple.  She will provide five prompt words, usually something to do with the reason for having the contest.  When using those five words, we can have a bit of leeway.  As long as the word is part of a larger word and appears “in whole” that’s okay.  The word “like” is okay as “likeness,” or likeability, but not lickety-split.  See?  And we, (we being the collective group who follow her blog religiously) are to write a story using those five prompt words, in one hundred words, or less.

When I wrote about this the last time, I think I mentioned what good practice these flash contests are at learning how to make your writing more crisp.  To learn how to eliminate useless words – or maybe words that aren’t necessary to the meaning of the story.   The overall process isn’t that far from how I write in general (Pantster that I am).  That’s sort of scary when I think about it.  Anyway, what I mean is, I begin to write – something – with no idea where it’s going. Eventually, an idea sticks. Sometimes, I end up with more than one version, and then I have to choose which one I like better.

That’s what happened in this last one.

Here are the five prompt words we had to use:

  1. spirits
  2. blood
  3. magic
  4. pants
  5. cat

Here is Version One:

Preacher Dan lifted the bottle of tonic and proclaimed its potency.

“Drink it!” he caterwauled, “your spirits will be lifted, what ails you will be gone!”

The crowd eyed the concoction doubtfully.

“It’s black magic!” some yelled, “prove it!” yelled others.

He hitched up his pants before reaching down to lift a venomous snake, antagonizing the serpent by waving a hand at its face.

It struck!

Preacher Dan showed them his hand, “Not a drop of blood!” and coins fell like rain into the little collection basket.

Hours later he counted the money one handed, his prosthesis resting beside him.

And, Version Two:

Sunday, under a big tent, Preacher Dan was busy cleansing spirits, urging followers to drink the blood of Christ. His gospel invoked speaking in tongues, a yielding of souls, complete and utter faith.

Doubters whispered, “Its black magic!”

He adjusted his ill-fitting pants, lifted a venomous snake in one hand while waving the other in its face.  

It struck!

He stood firm, unwavering, and caterwauled, “A miracle! A message from God himself! “

Believers now, the crowd surged forward, coins raining into his little collection basket.

Only when he headed to the next town, would he remove the prosthetic hand.

I had to choose one for the contest, and honestly, it was kind of tough, because I liked both equally.  However…, the version I chose was a semi-finalist out of ninety entries, and that was Version Two.

If I’d chosen Version One, what could have happened?  Same placement?  Or not?  This is why writers are torn over their words, why we shuffle them around ad nauseum, telling a similar story, yet different  This is why when we say, “it’s done,” we know it’s never really done, is it? 

 

Achieving Goals


When we set goals for ourselves, there is nothing better than achieving them.  A few years back, I set one for running a marathon.  I trained for it for about nine months, a race held in Bluffington S. C.  It started at 7:00 a.m.  Even though it was October, it was already in the mid 70’s.  Anyone who runs and runs distance, knows this is already hot, and not conducive to running more than, say, five miles.  By the time I finished, four hours, forty five minutes later – it was 86 degrees.  I missed my finishing goal by fifteen minutes, about 30 secs slower per mile than I’d wanted, but I was so happy to be done, I didn’t care.  I’d done it!  Of course I threw up for about four hours after the fact (heat exhaustion) but who cared?  (Ha.  Runners – a breed of their own)

Two years later I ran a second marathon, also in October.  This time, the weather was cooler – thanks to an impending Nor’easter – keep that in the back of your mind as you read.  The race was on the Outer Banks of N.C., and at mile 20, there was this…, well, this bridge.  We all heard about it.  We had all seen it because we had to cross it to get to the island, and let me just say, crossing it in a car is much different than crossing it on foot.  The morning of the race, it was overcast, with a slight wind.  The gun went off and we were on our way.  The first half I was kicking ass, beating my previous half marathon time by about twelve minutes.  I clocked in at the half marker in two hours and ten minutes. Whoop!  At that pace I’d beat my goal of four and half hours.

My hubby, who met me at various mile markers, was confident enough that I could do without his cheering me on long enough to go and have breakfast at the Squat & Gobble.  (We laughed about that name, kidding that it was okay to eat there as long as it wasn’t the Gobble & Squat)  Then it began to rain, and I mean a driving downpour that soaked everything immediately.  At first it felt good.  Then it got cold.  Then there came – the bridge.  We go up.  And up.   Lord, this is a long way up.  By now, the Nor’easter is in full force and the wind is whipping along about 35 m.p.h.  At the top – well it was windy.  All that I had gained time wise was blown  to hell.   The thing was…, I had said over and over, if I can just get over the bridge, if I can just get over the bridge…like some sort of chant.  Well.  I got over the bridge and then I realized, I still had six miles to go.  Wet, cold, hungry – six miles.  But.  I finished.  Four hours and fifty six minutes later.  Slower (much slower) than I wanted, but again, the euphoria of finishing outshone my lack of making that four and a half hour mark again.

Lately, my goals haven’t revolved around running.  They’re centered on writing.  I have the little ones, like word count per day, editing a certain number of pages per day, or working through a plot dilemma etc.  Then there are the bigger goals, like finishing a manuscript.  And I’m happy, (make that really happy) to say I’ve made it to THE END of this one, and it’s monumental because I never thought I’d get there.  A few months ago, I couldn’t even picture how the story would go or what it would take to get around some of the plot points.   I went this way, and then that.  I tore out chapters and wrote new ones.  I changed one major plot idea and believe (hope) it’s for the best.

Now, the story is done, at over 106,000 words.  Done – but not done.  Now I need to read it end to end – without touching it. (if I can stand it!)  I need to see how it flows, with the idea that I’ll need to cut at least 7,000 words to get it down to the more acceptable word count of around 99,000.  (remember that previous post where I talked about acceptable word counts?)  However, I won’t cut anything unless I know the story is better for it and if not, it stays in – for now.

So, that was a huge goal to achieve.

And there was another one – a pleasant surprise.  As you know, I love, love, love participating in those flash fiction contests held by Janet Reid.  It’s been my goal to win because to do so, IMHO, is huge.  It’s huge b/c the contest is open internationally, she’s a well reputed agent, and the competition is stiff.  And she cuts no slack.  And there can be anywhere from 80 to 100 entries.  She held another contest this past weekend, same rules – five word prompts provided by her, and then a story, 100 words or less.  After a year or so of submitting something like, IDK, about 15-20 flash fiction stories, I won along with another writer.

The word prompts were:

  1. blush
  2. mono
  3. virus
  4. evil
  5. piper

My entry:

The blush of dawn came and summer stretched before them, along with the thought of endless, monotonous hospital treatments.

She watched a sandpiper scurry after a crab, one hand over her chest where evil grew, virus like, insidious.

She said, “Promise?”

He nodded, “Promise.”
Helpless, he watched her grow weaker, until one day, she said, “Today.”

He carried her to the beach, waded in and lowered her down.

She struggled, only a little, but he could see her smiling through his tears.

Later, the doorbell rang, interrupting his anguish.

He answered, and the doctor said, “I’ve made a horrible mistake.”

 

Here is my co-winner’s entry (which is so creative and hilarious):

Broken shell and yolk lay scrambled on the ground.
“I don’t get it. Humpty wasn’t evil,” Cinderella said. “BTW. Thanks for switching genres to investigate this, Mr. Holmes.”
Sherlock adjusted his monocle. “Always willing to attend to an attractive lass.” Cinderella blushed.
Dopey leaned over the mess. “Careful, lad,” Sherlock cautioned. “Mr. Dumpty frequented the Smurf house. Wouldn’t want you catching a virus.”
“Was he pushed?” Cinderella asks.
The dwarf reaches down, then holds up something round and shiny, like a flat bowl. Sherlock points to it with his pipe.
“No, madam. He was pied. The mark of the Piper.”

I love what JR wrote after the fact:  “It’s always very hard to choose a winner from such varied entries. Whether to recognize innovative style and form, or twisty endings, or just gorgeous prose…impossible to choose.  But this week, I decided that the two entries that drew gasps from me, literally, when I finished reading the entry would be the winners.

I gasped with shock at the last line in the donnaeverhart.com 6:58am entry.  (wheeeeeeee!)

And I gasped with laughter at the last line in the shtrum 12:00noon entry.  (me too!)

Donna and Shtrum if you’ll email me your mailing address and the kind of books you like to read I’ll send you your prize for winning this week’s contest.  Congratulations!”

And there it is…two goals met within days of each other.

I  love that, don’t you? 

Coffee Break


Janet Reid had a flash fiction contest this past weekend and despite my “head down, working towards THE END,” mantra on my latest WIP, I took a little coffee break and participated.  You know, I really love these contests – I think I might be addicted.

The usual rules applied.  She gives participants five words, and you write a “story,” using them, but the real challenge?  The entire story can only be 100 words.  Some people write sentences that long.  The prize?  Usually a book she’s received via ARC’s (advance reader copy) or from publishers for whatever reason.

The words for this weekend’s contest were:

  1. child
  2. parker
  3. finder
  4. berry
  5. rose

By nine p.m. Saturday night when the contest shut down, eighty-eight entries filled the comments queue.  Ms. Reid likes to pick out the stories that strike her a certain way, in addition to naming a winner/s.  I have yet to win one of these darn contests.  *argh!*  But, I have made the honorable mentions several times – and placed as a finalist once.  They’re a lot of fun – to me – and they don’t take up too much time.

From the words above, here’s my entry, and I’ve bolded the five words we had to use.

Roseberry Parker, child prodigy, waited in the Secure Room, hundreds of feet below Capitol Hill.

Her guard said, “Does it work?”

Roseberry rolled her eyes, “Duuu-uh.”

Her fingers hit several keys rapidly. FINDER, the program she developed, began extrapolating terabytes of data.

The guard said, “Does it take long?”

CLICK!

Roseberry said, “It’s done.”

“Impossible! They’ve been at this for years! “

“Well, someone better call the President.”

“You kidding? Call the Malaysian Authorities. If your program can find this, it can find anything.

The result on the screen was undeniable. Dates, times, and most importantly, a name.

Lois Lerner.

Alas, I didn’t win, but received this mention from JR along with another writer.  (she uses the word deliciously a lot because JR also runs QueryShark)

Deliciously subtle

Hilary Cusack 11:44pm

Donnaeverhart 8:10am

Here is what she said about the winning entries, “In the end I couldn’t pick just one. Both #9 and #10 were great stories, well-told, and using form in a way that embellished the story. VERY hard to do that in the word constraints.”

Indeed…and, I think there’s a lot to be learned from that.  Here are their entries:

9) Celeste 6:20pm

Flash mob
@Our_Child_Missing. Rose never came home from school today. Last seen wearing strawberry print dress, carries a satchel. Finder’s reward for our beautiful little girl. Whatever it takes. Plse help and retweet. 17:05

#Our_Child_Missing:
Strawberries are red
Violets are blue
I have her with me
Now I want cash from you
19:33

@Our_Child_Missing. Man arrested on suspicion of abduction. Our baby still missing. Pray for us. 20:16

@Our_Child_Missing. Rose found safe in the mall, thanks to thousands of retwts & phone calls. Sick creep who tweeted fake abduction just released by cops. His name is Parker. His address is…

(10) Ashland 8:33pm

Roses are red
A berry is blue
When Parker raped me
He said ‘fuck you’

Years later he enters the club. I was a child when it happened, so he doesn’t recognize me. When I tell our bouncer Shaun to let him know he’s won a free ten in the champagne room, his eyes light with excitement.

Three minutes into ‘Cherry Pie’ I whip out the switchblade.
Two slashes crisscross his throat.
One long moan escapes.
Zero professional finders will ever locate his body.

Roses are red
The sky is now blue
When it was over
I said ‘fuck you’

Another diversion – but, that was fun!  Now, back to work!

Losing Her Religion


The little girl and her mother wore identical dresses on the first and only Sunday they went to that church, as her mother called it afterwards.  Her mother had located a McCall’s pattern the week before, and she worked day and night to produce two sleeveless dresses in green, brown and blue.  Summer time dresses.   They didn’t have a lot of clothes and the little girl was excited.  And the way her mother worked so hard, going to church must really be important, the little girl thought.

Early Sunday morning, her mother laid out her dress while she pulled on white anklets.  With her new dress on, she buckled her black patent leather shoes and stood up for her mother to nod her approval.  Then, she watched as her mother pulled on silk hose, bringing the tabs of her girdle down, placing the edge of the hosiery over those tabs and snapping metal hooks in place.  She slid her feet into high heeled shoes, and powdered heavily under her arms and even between her legs.  She spritzed on her favorite perfume, leaving a heavy sweet scent all over the house.

Her father put on a suit and knotted his tie, a magical trick to the eyes of the little girl.  Her older brother put on his one pair of navy blue pants, tucked in his white dress shirt.  He put on brown leather shoes, a spit polish shine on them from the scrubbing with brown Kiwi soap.  His pants, held up by a braided brown leather belt, sagged around his thin frame.  His hair had been cut, and it was so short, it stuck out on the sides, the color of toothpicks.  He’d tried hard to slick it down with tonic, and he smelled like a barber shop.

It was time to go.

On the ride to church, her mother said, “It’s a Presbyterian church, probably full of snobs.  They always have money.  We don’t.  We won’t fit in.  I doubt we’ll be invited on as members.”

Her father said nothing.  The little girl thought the word Presbyterian odd sounding, and she repeated it silently over and over again, giving emphasis on the different syllables each time.   She liked it best as Presbyterian.  They arrived in the parking lot, the gravel crunching under the car’s tires, the smell of exhaust still lingering because the church was only two miles away.  The little girl stuck her nose up to the back window.  She’d never seen such a building before.  Not even school was this big.  The brick walls of the church glared an angry red in the hot summer sun, while the steeple rose up like a cool, white popsicle, pointing at a blue sky empty of clouds.  What would she see inside such a building as this?  They climbed out of the car, pulling their clothes in place awkwardly, and the cicadas screeched loudly from the pine and maple trees all at once, as if announcing their arrival.

The little girl watched the other people in the parking lot calling out to each other, “Have mercy, it’s so hot!” and “Let’s get inside where it’s cooler!” and the more subtle whispers of, “Who’s that?”  and “Are they new members?” as people watched them approach the wide church doors.

Her mother mumbled, “They’re staring.  Why do they always stare?  Aren’t we good enough?”

Her father still said nothing.

The little girl felt important with all those eyes looking at them as they made their way inside, and there were so  many people milling about, it had to be as many as she had ever laid her eyes on.  The little girl stared up at her mother’s face.  Why did she look mad?  Her mother looked down at her, tightening the grip she had around the little girl’s fingers.

She tugged on the little girl’s hand and said, “You mind your  manners.  Don’t you embarrass me, or else!”

The little girl wondered why her mother always spoke to her as if she’d already done what she said not to do.  She stared down at her shoes.  She could see her face reflected in them, a wavy, distorted version of herself.  Is that how she looked right now?  She kept her head down, not wanting any of these strangers to see her ugly face.  She should have stayed home

Her mother yanked on her arm, demanded a response, “Do you hear me?”

The little girl said, “I won’t.”

She was deposited in an age appropriate room with two old ladies and a handful of other kids who stared at her like the people in the parking lot.  She decided it was best to just stand there, not moving until someone told her what to do.  The room looked just like her classroom.  She’d expected something different, something as big and grand as the church’s entrance.

One of the ladies came towards her, took her hand, and sat her at a small wooden table.  The lady had gray hair, wrinkly skin, and her hands shook as she gave the little girl her favorite drink, grape Kool-Aid.   And it got even better.  Out came her favorite cookies, sugar.  The lady smiled at her, and the little girl thought she could get to liking this church thing.

The rest of the kids sat down at the same table.  The two ladies handed them crayons, along with a piece of paper that showed a picture of a man.  He had a beard and was surrounded by children and lambs.  The bearded man sat on a rock, his hands raised, and there was a rainbow behind him.

The lady who showed her to her seat, leaned over, pointed at paper in front of her, and said, “You know who this man is?”

The little girl actually wasn’t sure, but she nodded anyway.

“Good!  Can you tell me something about him?”

The little girl had just bitten into a sugar cookie.  She chewed first, and swallowed, remembering not to speak with her mouth full.  Mother would be proud.  She’d seen the man once before, in a picture book in the dentist office.  She’d taken the book to her mother and asked her about him.

Her mother, impatient at being interrupted from reading the Reader’s Digest, because they couldn’t afford to get them at home, hissed, “That’s Jesus, he died on a cross.  Now be quiet!”

The little girl didn’t know anything else beyond that.

“He died on a cross,” she said.

“That’s right!”

The little girl felt pretty good, glad she’d answered correctly.

The lady asked, “And, you know why, right?”

The little girl thought and thought.  She wanted this lady to like her.  She wanted the kids to think she was smart.   She came up with her what she thought was a pretty good answer.

“Because it hurt?”

She heard the snickering from the kids, knew by the look on the lady’s face she’d answered wrong.  There was no smile of encouragement now.

The other kids burst out with a loud, “Nooooo!  That’s wrong!  Why doesn’t she know that?  That’s easy!”

The lady said, “Shh!  Hush now,” and then turned to the little girl, “He died for our sins.”

Sins?  She didn’t know what that meant, she only knew she was embarrassed.  All the other kids kept staring at her.  She thought of what her mother said in the parking lot.  She didn’t know the word snob either, but it must not be a good thing, the way her mother said it.  She decided the kids must be snobs, too.

She stayed quiet the rest of the time.   The ladies and other kids talked about the man, Jesus, while she sat staring out the window.  They sang songs while she ate more cookies, and drank cup after cup of the grape Kool-Aid.  No one stopped her.  No one said, “come sing with us!”  She felt awkward, out of place, like a sock without a match in a drawer.  She decided she didn’t like church very much.

When her mother and father finally came to get her, she saw her older brother wearing a gold painted wooden cross around his neck.

He showed it to her, proudly announcing, “I made it!”

She was jealous of him and his cross, angry because he’d had fun and she didn’t, but she didn’t want him to know that.

She whispered, “You look dumb.”

And he was dumb too, acting like he’d had a good time.  The lady who’d asked her the questions came hurrying up to her mother, holding out a small booklet.

She overheard the lady say, “She’s doesn’t know the basics.  This will help her learn His story.”

Her mother waved a hand, dismissing the booklet, “Well.  This is her first time in a church.”

She heard the lady reply with a long drawn out, “Aaaahhhh.”

Even the little girl understood the tone in that one single word, heard the disapproval.   The next Sunday came and they stayed home, eating a late breakfast, her parents reading the paper.  And the next Sunday was the same, and the next.  They never went back and the little girl was glad.

The next time she found herself in church, she was thirteen.  Her mother decided they ought to try religion again.  The little girl had grown up.  It had been six years since her first experience.  Mainly, she’d changed her mind about boys.

Her mother said, “God, I’ve got to get out of this house!  I never go anywhere!”

The girl couldn’t help but think, is that the only reason you’re going?  There was a little white church her aunt went to and it was, her mother said, non-denominational.  A “Christian” church.  The girl rolled her eyes.  Who cared what it was, would there be any good looking boys there, she wondered?   They went the next Sunday, she and her mother only.  Her father said he didn’t want to go, and her brother was always working, saving his money for a new car.

They went again and again and again.  The girl had her eyes on the preacher’s son, while her mother, who had decided she could sing, had her eyes on joining the choir.  They became regular members, and every Wednesday night and Sunday morning, that’s where they could be found.  Her mother practiced piety while amongst her fellow church going friends, proclaiming, “Praise be to God!” at the right moments, of which there were many in this little church.

Once they were home, her mother quickly hopped on the phone to gossip with the girl’s aunt about this member and that, in lurid detail, “Did you see Harold Mann ogling Patty Duncan’s breasts?” and, “Did Mrs. White tell you about what was going on with her son and his wife?  Oh my God, well let me tell you…,”

The girl said, “That doesn’t sound very Christian.”

Her mother said, “Why don’t you shut up?  What do you know?  You’re only thirteen!”

The girl, her cousin, and her new friends sat on the back pew every Sunday.  They tried to be quiet, but the preacher had to stop the sermon, every Sunday, at least once, to address them.  They’d settle down for a little bit, but it wasn’t long before they’d get into the pinching, grabbing, snickering, pulling hair, and other grab ass shenanigan’s, as her mother called it.  The girl thought she loved church now.  She was a social butterfly, she belonged.

The preacher’s son started giving her the eye back.  She thought she might actually accept Jesus into her life, just to impress him.  She day-dreamed about how it would happen.  She’d walk down to the front, towards his father, and the son would watch her, see she was good, worthy of him and his religion, notice how much they had in common.  Was she willing to put herself up there in front of the whole congregation and admit she was a sinner?  Maybe.  That Sunday she noticed the preacher’s son’s nose had a big bump in the middle.  The next Sunday, she saw that one of his teeth in front overlapped the other.  He wiggled his eyebrows at her, and she glanced right over him.  The football coach’s son was looking at her.  Hey, hey.

The deacons started coming to the house.  They came several times a week.  Her mother and father started arguing more and more, about “those men,” as her father called them.

“What do they want?  Why do they keep coming?  What are you telling them about me?  About us?”

“Nothing!  Jesus Christ!”  she yelled.

And they came again, even though the welcome was less than that of a good Christian home.  They tried to talk to her father, while he sat silently smoking, glaring at her mother.  When they left, all hell broke loose and the girl thought, they might quit going to this church.  She felt mad, angry.  If they stopped going, she wouldn’t see if she had a chance with the coach’s son.  Maybe she’d tell those deacons she was having bad thoughts.  Maybe she’d tell them she was possessed.  She began reading books about demon possession, fascinated by stories of bumps and noises in the night, about scratching sounds on walls, about the smell of sulfur, teeth marks and crosses hung upside down.  And then, she began having nightmares.  For real, scary ones, and one night, she woke up, sweating, freaked out because she’d dreamed of a demon’s head, poking itself up and glaring at her from between her legs.

No boy was worth all this.  The girl quit reading those books, and her mother decided to quit the church altogether before her marriage ended up in a divorce.

The girl didn’t go to church again, until she was a young woman.  She only went because the man she was dating took his daughter.  They’d make it just in time for the Sunday service, go back to his parent’s house, eat a big Sunday dinner, and laze away the rest of the day until it was time to head back into the city.  There, at his house, the man threw the young woman on his bed, raked her church dress up over her head and did what he wanted.  She was always glad he couldn’t see her face on those Sunday afternoons.  She couldn’t help but feel somewhat guilty for doing “it,” on Sunday, right after church, unmarried, and with a divorced man.

And the woman couldn’t help but wonder, just what makes one a heathen?  When they broke up, she didn’t go to church again for several years, not until she met another man.  Lo and behold, she married him in that Presbyterian church, the one she’d been to so long ago.  They moved to a small town.  They became members of a Baptist church.  The church suffered a major fracture of it’s congregation within one year of them joining.  The preacher was let go, and half the congregation left too.  But, the woman and her husband stayed, stuck it out, prayed the church and the members left would make it.

A new pastor came a year later.  An inspirational man, who joked about gravy on his tie.  A true man of the cloth, they said.  Devout, even.  His voice rose and fell from the pulpit with the righteousness of God.  He called the woman from his home one day.  He said that sometimes a member of the congregation and it’s pastor could become very close.  His voice, the same voice that taught about God’s love said, “You know, the sort of relationship that’s as close as a sexual relationship – without being sexual.”

She heard him, but had she really heard him?  Had he said that?  Maybe he meant to say…, what?  She was confused by his Godly spirit and strange comparisons.  The woman and her husband were invited on a mission trip.  Their luggage was lost, and the new pastor’s way of handling this was to belittle everyone at the airlines that came across his path.  The woman stood back and watched him lose his patience, lose his cool, lose his religion.  The woman and her husband, and the rest of their church entourage made it to their destination, without any luggage.  They made the best of a bad situation.

Two days before the mission trip was over, the woman was in the combination laundry room/bathroom of the home hosting them.  The pastor came in the room.  The woman’s hands were wet from moving laundry from the washer to the dryer.  She reached up to wipe her hands on a towel, intending to leave quickly.

The pastor said, “Heeeeey!  That’s the towel I wipe my privates with!” followed by a strange, sputtering laugh.

She couldn’t mistake what he said that time.  And neither could the other two congregation members who passed by the door.  And there were other comments by him, little slips here and there.  He gave her the creeps.  The mission trip over, the woman and her husband arrived back in the United States.  Six month’s later the woman wrote the church a letter.  They’d decided they would leave.  So, after five years of membership, and the woman’s hope that she’d finally found something of her spiritual self, they terminated their relationship with their church family.

She envied those who knew how to pray with the ease of breathing, heard the voice of God, felt his guidance.  She felt lost and she supposed she was.  After all, before she’d ever had a chance of finding her faith, it had been lost to her from the very beginning.  It had nothing to do with what she’d done or not done.   She’d never stood a chance.  She thought it must require many, many people of sound faith to show someone what it takes to become a true follower, and it must take the hand of God over one’s eyes to learn not to judge, to look beyond human ways, to look only at the good.

She believed she expected too much, perhaps.

Now, she’s too set in her ways.  Too analytical.  Too jaded.  Too stubborn.  She is middle aged.  She does not go to church.  She does not know God any more today than she did back when she first set foot in His house.

She doesn’t think she ever will.

Where’s My Zone?


Yesterday, the day before, the day before that, and days upon days before those have resulted in a grand total of – not much.  Not much when it came to working on the latest project.  Not much when it came to adding new words, plot points, figuring out my characters next move.  Talk about confusion, disarray and angst.  Here I am with one hundred and ten pages of this latest work, and having a real time moving it forward.  I have all these ideas in my head that won’t transfer onto “paper,” or when they do, I hit the delete key, and <poof> they are gone.

Then, instead of persevering, I find myself using the excuse of drifting around on FB, blogs, writing flash fiction, working in the yard, or… taking pictures.

Bundle RV Trip 9 2013

Fall 2013

Yeah.  Taking pictures.  Yet, while I’m doing all of this other stuff, I’m thinking about writing.  I can’t say I’m stuck.  It’s not that.  I don’t know what it is, but every time I open the ms and begin to work, I shut down mentally.  I tap out a few words and stare.  I re-read what I have, hoping it will spark the “zone,” but I’m so far out of it, I feel like I need a map, or ought to be able to Google “where’s my zone?”

In my last post, in the last paragraph I said I write “at will.”  Which generally means, I sit down and write when I feel like it, which since this whole thing started has been every single day for the past three years.  Then I took that break in mid October.  I didn’t touch my project for two weeks – not once.  Maybe I’m the sort of writer who can’t take those long breaks when I’m in the middle of something.  I wouldn’t know because after finishing the first project, I went right to the second, hot and heavy on the schedule.  Then, I fired up a third, and after a few hiccups, here I am.  Eight months into it, and…, feeling sort of uninspired at the moment.

Someone said, “Maybe you’re burned out.  Maybe you ought to take a break.”

But…, I just did.”

“Well, maybe you need a longer break.”

“Wait.  I can’t take off time indefinitely.  I’ve got only a finite amount here, whether I like it or not.”

So, today, I’ll open the ms up (after I get off this blog!  🙂  ) and get to work.  Each day I do this, I say to myself, look, don’t open FB, don’t visit any blogs just yet, (I’ve already cheated there!), and don’t be so flipping critical of where you are with this story at the moment.   Just write, no matter what.

Just write, no matter what?  Does that work for you?

One Hundred Words


If you follow agent blogs, you may already know about Janet Reid.  http://jetreidliterary.blogspot.com/

If you’re not familiar with her, she not only does the blog thing, she also provides help with query letters via the infamous Query Shark.  The Query Shark in of itself is an invaluable service, if you can stand being bitten by the Query Shark.   Being bitten means she might chomp on your query, tearing it to shreds, while using a “voice” reminiscent of Miss Manners.  It’s sort of like hitting your funny bone.  You kinda want to laugh, except it kinda hurts too, in a good way.   If she chooses your query, she will take you to task with a load of humor and that sharp edged toothiness well known by Query Shark followers.

Fair Warning:   She’s done hundreds of these and has kept them all in her archives.   She requires you read EVERY single one before sending her a query b/c she may have answered it in the past.

But, I’m actually not here to talk about her blog per se, or the Query Shark, that was just for openers to get myself going.  What I AM here to talk about are the flash fiction contests she holds on her site, although she’s not referred to them by that name.  She had one, and then I think everyone has so much fun, she decided to keep on.  Since then, we’ve had about five or so.   The basic rules are:

  • Five prompt words are provided, and there are specific rules about how to use the words,
  • The “story” must be 100 words or less
  • She generally gives notice of a contest on Friday’s
  • They generally start Saturday’s 9:00 a.m. EST (per Janet Reid, that’s Eastern SHARK time)
  • They end 9:00 a.m. EST on Sunday

At first, I was nervous entering…but, they have turned out to be a lot of fun!

As writers working on our craft, we always need extra practice.  Yes, revising and writing our current WIP’s can be considered that to some degree…,but for me, these contests have become a mini break from thinking and thinking some more about my current story.

What I love about her judging methodology is she has “special recognition” categories.  Even if you don’t win, you might get a special mention, and her categories are witty and apropos.  They might be for, “a great line,” or “great turn of phrase,” or “a memorable line”, or “names that cracked me up…” just to name a few.  The number of entries have ranged from mid forties to  mid eighties.  (And, here I am blogging about it, so I don’t know what she’d do if she ended up with more than she could handle…eek)

The main reason I wanted to blog about this is because of what it taught me inadvertently.  How to not waste words.  When you only have one hundred words to tell a story, you think twice about word choices.  You also quickly realize you can get a point across even after removing that great sentence you thought the story just had to have.  (yes, even in this you will kill many little darlings.)

Here’s an example of my last story entry from August 11 contest.  The word prompts are: slush, spade, hear, fiction, 262.  You’ll notice by how some of the words are used (heard for hear), there is some flexibility with word prompts:

The dog days of summer saw Dylan slurping a Slushy while sitting next to a boy named Spade.

He said, “Heard your mom’s still writing a book.”

Spade sighed, “Yeah.”

Fiction?”

“True story.”

“How many rejections she had?”

262.”

“Huh, must not be any good.  What’s it about?”

Spade stared into the distance, “Can’t tell, I’d have to kill you.”

Dylan snorted, “Yeah right.”

Spade reached under the park bench, pulling out a small gardening tool, the metal end gleaming.

Dylan’s eyes widened, “Hey, what’s that for?”

Spade inched closer, “The book’s about me, it needs a new chapter.”

I’ll admit, I’m sort of addicted to entering the contests.  They’ve really helped me think about the necessity of choosing words in my current WIP, and what I’ve come to realize (once again), when writing, that old adage, less is more can work really well.

What have you run across unexpectedly that’s helped you with your writing?

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