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A bit of simplicity

I try to keep my eyes on various writing challenges around the Web. Some I’ve bitten, while others I decided to forego, for one reason or another. Here are three I’ve done in the last few weeks.

1. Scottish Book Trust runs a 50 Word Fiction contest. The prompt for this particular one was “takes place at a birthday party.” As with all prompts, I like to go with my first gut reaction, and I try to keep the effort to no more than an hour, since I’ve got other projects to work on. I did end up submitting this one.
As a side note, I got the heads-up for this particular contest from the Limebird Writers’ Writing Competitions and Opportunities Digest from January 13, 2014. These are updated weekly, so take a look if you’re interested in any kind of challenge, big or small.

Momma’s Come Home

He’d wept her first day, as her baby smell filled his nostrils. Six years later, when he’d cradled her broken body at the icy roadside. And today, her tenth birthday, when her mother returned, leaving him with only the haunting squeak of an empty swing, and his aching, lonely tears.

2. Neeks’s The Short and the Long of it blog has been running a 3-word prompt fiction challenge. For this one, the words were “beginning, ending, life.” I didn’t stick perfectly to this one, and I felt it ran a bit long and rambling for the challenge, so I decided not to submit. Still, it was fun to look at somewhat familiar characters through a different lens.

Collateral Damage

In the beginning, he’d had a dream. A perfect dream of perfect logic, where choices led to consequences, actions forged results, research brought conclusions.

She’d been a perfect mentor for him, teaching him well with her professional dedication and insistence on probing background checks, thoughtful interviews, and detailed evidence reports. Together, their clearance rates went unmatched in the department.

It was a good life, if solitary. Because no woman ever lasted. None could do, not against the tugging allure of the next murder to catch, the next criminal to convict, the next opportunity to show his pompous, prideful captain how very, very good he was at his job.

“Because of me,” Susan always reminded him with a smirk.

“Because of you,” Luke always admitted, equally smirking.

A good life, if solitary. Until that one stakeout, when a shaft of streetlamp light shining through the window struck her face in just the right way to make him realize his clearance rate, his success record, his whole life was nothing at all, without her.

She’d drawn back from his kiss…for a moment. Then, with a sigh, she’d put her arms around him and joined him in his clandestine desire.

She was more mentor to him in that cramped hotel bed than for any case they’d ever worked, though she’d always told him he was a fast learner, and he made sure to prove that to her. Again. And again.

He should have just stopped then, because endings weren’t something he’d ever done well. But he’d wanted her to know all the foolish, short-sighted mistakes of his youthful heart had been only that: missteps taken too quickly, too recklessly, for suppressed want of the only woman who’d ever taken the time to understand and know him as anything more than a fact-checking drone.

“Susan,” he whispered before a kiss, the rest of the words from his heart ready and willing at the tip of his tongue.

Except this time, the cringing drift of her lips was more than a moment.

“This can’t ever happen again,” she muttered, and shifted up from the bed to dress. Professional. Solitary.

He never kissed her again, or held her in his arms, or made love with the same tender, honest feeling as he’d done that night.

Except in his dreams.

3. Lillie McFerrin runs Five Sentence Fiction, where, each week, she gives readers a one word prompt for inspiration. The prompt for this next one was “Moonlight.” I…don’t know why I didn’t submit this one. I think it was too late (each challenge runs for one week). I had fun writing it, though, which is mostly why it appears here.

Nobody Does it Better

He watches in a stare as her blades slice, hissing and precise, scattering snow in their wake. She leaps and lands, one slender line carving its cutting edge deep. Turning, now, she races through a cloud of breath straight toward him, moonlight kissing her white-as-ice smile, and he thinks, even if he dies tonight, he’ll go happily, for this glimpse of her grace set free.

“I’m not going to just let you watch,” she says, as he’s blinded a moment by a fountain of flakes. “Come skate with me.”

Most writing challenges seem to be designed for people who want to write but don’t have a work in progress or current project on their plate. For someone who is working on a standing story, challenges and contests can offer a distraction from the heavy thinking of a draft or edit. Or, they can be an excuse to procrastinate. No matter how you choose to view them (both perceptions are valid), I can’t deny they often let my brain venture into new areas I might not consider while working on a larger project. And, sometimes, I just like to procrastinate a bit, too.

Everybody needs a break now and again. What’s your favorite way to take a break from your writing? Do you try a challenge? Free write? Take a walk? Have a dance party?


Believe it or not

This week, Lillie McFerrin’s prompt for her Five Sentence Fiction challenge is “LETTERS.” Hop on over to Lillie’s site to check out other worthy entries, or try your own!


John didn’t believe, because belief granted power, giving purpose, tooth, and fang – and more, with numbers – to what should have stayed amorphous clouds of mere ideas. He’d read the texts, studied the stories, but always kept his distance from the mysticism: stay back from the fire and don’t get burned.

His colleagues challenged him, of course, with goads and pranks designed to make him crack, but he never gave in. He even snorted in disdain at their latest joke: a leather-bound book delivered to his darkened doorstep by unknown courier, its hackneyed prophecies scribbled in umber ink. No one would call him a frightful fool, so he read, deeper into meaning and long into the night, until he decided he’d learned enough to state his dedication to the cause of his study and his own stoicism…when his heart stopped, and he stared, as the letters on the page moved.

My primary major at university was English Literature (with a double in Classical Studies – super-employable, that combo), but I also took a few classes in Theology, for which my institution was known. Beginner theology is pretty standard stuff: a lot of translation and interpretation, with a heavy dose of well-chronicled history, believe it or not. Throw in some sociology and cultural studies, and it becomes more of a snooze-fest. I did have one class, though, that both totally sparked my interest in the field while at the same time completely freaking me out. It was a guest lecture by one of the Jesuit brothers who was a rather renowned demonologist (yes, they are real; William Peter Blatty supposedly consulted with this priest in regards to his novel, The Exorcist). He stood in front of a class of about fifteen students and told a story very similar to the one I’ve written above: about being up late one night in his seminary room or wherever, reading some so-old-it-farts-dust manuscript, and seeing the letters on the page move. Not just waver, but actually f—ing shift on the page. It remains perhaps the most awesome and most frightening thing I’ve ever heard…because, whether it really happened or it was just his tired eyes playing tricks on him, he believed it.

I remember wanting so badly to experience this sensation. So, I went to the university library and tried to make it happen.

FULibrary_FromStreetThe university library was a converted cathedral, a real Gothic throwback in the middle of the city. The inside is very modern, more so now than even during my days there, but when you looked up at that monolith of a central tower from the street, especially at night, it made for an imposing sight. In the stacks, it got even worse:

the london library photographed october 2010.Cramped quarters and rickety spines all around. But, I remained determined. If anything weird was going to happen, it was most likely going to happen in the library. I mean, we had a copy of the Malleus Maleficarum, for pity’s sake! So, with the Dewey codes for the demonology texts scribbled in an uneasy hand on the index card in my fingers, I made my way up to the Theology stacks. I remember feeling giddy as I scanned the guide numbers on the shelves. And then, walking halfway down a deserted aisle, the numbers on the card and the numbers on the shelf matched up.

I stared at that book a long time. I don’t remember the title or the author, but I do remember it had a brown spine, with that gold leaf lettering that always seemed so popular on highfalutin’ academic texts. It looked relatively untouched, too. I remember that, as well. Because I thought, Why is this book just sitting here, as if in wait? (I was pretentious enough at that stage to have thought the phrase “as if in wait.”)

Now, I’d like to say I picked up that book and nothing happened…or, that something did happen. The truth is, I pulled an awkward teenager move and picked up the book three titles to the right and muttered under my breath something like, “Oh, this is the book I’m looking for,” even though no one else was about. Years on, though, I often consider that moment of standing in the stacks: what could have been or what I might have learned. The power of belief, if you will.

It’s a marvelous thing.

Did you work in any writing challenges, this week? Did you challenge yourself some other way? (You don’t have to have become a demonologist.) Let me know!

A Little Sliver of Nirvana

“A Little Sliver of Nirvana”

Another 20-minute effort, funkified with Photoshop

Another 20-minute effort, funkified with Photoshop

Wading through the sea of boozehounds and whores pressing flesh and passing money, an unending rolling tide of vice and greed, he settled in to the corner booth, the one with the well-worn center cushion seat and the uneven grooves in the grain where metal stiletto heels had tread for too many nights. He clicked the control pad beside his seat, prompting the silencing swish of the heavy velvet shroud, and sat back, closing his eyes in the dim dank, to wait.

A flutter of music – high winds with low brass, though more than that he couldn’t tell – made him breathe deep, the scent of soap and lilies filling his nose, erasing the thick stench of sweat and despair. And, looking up, now, he saw her: legs shifting, hips rolling, belly and breasts shining with some invisible light; arms swaying, hair swinging, lips and eyes focused on him, holding him in the trance of her magic-making for as long as they both could stand it, this little sliver of Nirvana.

Slowing at the whisper of the final chords, she frowned, reaching out to him – forbidden, but she’d never cared – to touch his face, when he grabbed her wrist with one hand and slapped the other on the space of table between them, around a treasured bundle of cash, and murmured, “Marry me, now?”

NewFSFBadge-1Today’s original fiction piece inspired by this week’s Five Sentence Fiction prompt, “CHARMED,” from Lillie McFerrin.

I wrote this entry on my morning commute on Friday, so it’s about 20 minutes’ worth of concentration and typing. I didn’t bother with any editing or refining. I’m not making any apologies for it, either. I’ve decided that, if a prompt doesn’t inspire an idea within 5 minutes, I let it pass. If I do get an idea but I can’t make it materialize properly in 30 minutes, I set it aside in my ever-growing “Random” folder. No offense intended to the folks posting these lovely prompts – or those participating more fully than I’m doing – but I want to concentrate on my larger writing goals. For me, this plan is a nice balance.

Do be sure to visit Lillie’s site for more Five Sentence Fiction submissions, though, and for other flash fiction goodness!

How do you balance between all the stories in your head?

“Even in the Dark” [FSF]

NewFSFBadge-1I want to get back into free writing and challenges, and Lillie McFerrin’s Five Sentence Fiction this week seemed to be a good way to do it. Lillie’s prompt this time was “SHADOWS” – you can follow the link to read some of the other takes on this inspiring word.

While walking home from work, the following scene just sort of popped into my head. Some of the characters and details come from an earlier idea I had a long time ago, so they may seem a bit familiar to some of my older readers. Still, it’s always nice when these prompts cause me to revisit a thought-to-be-discarded plot line.

“Even in the Dark”

Castle corridor - - 535482

Thomas Nugent [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

He hadn’t come to be known as Sirrus the Grim for nothing: red-bearded mountain clans, dark-skinned islanders, blue-eyed snow walkers – all of them had felt his wrath for their disrespect, howling in the night over their precious poisoned firstborns.

By now, the princess’s royal guard would have found her, still and pale in her bed, for there could be no marriage between sea and cloud, not when his brothers in The Shroud were so close to keeping the king’s blood pure forever.

Prince Alraune might mourn, but he would come to understand: the sea princess was no better than a whore, a troublesome upstart who knew nothing of nobility, who’d already let her guard – her dull, plebeian guard! – take her maidenhead.

Sweeping around a corner, his cloak caught on a jagged edge of stone, and Sirrus tore it loose with a curse beneath his breath; these hidden corridors were unknown to all but Shroud, but he couldn’t waste a moment to return to the prince’s side, to keep his secrets intact-

A hand shot out from the umbra, grasping his neck, and the face of the wave rider princess’s guard filled his vision, snarling, “Even in the dark, Lord Sirrus, you cast a long shadow.”

There’s a lot of telling in this attempt, I know. Nonetheless, I rather enjoyed digging into Sirrus’s head, here.

I don’t know if I write villains well; my conflicts tend to be ones out of the characters’ control. I certainly don’t tend to look at stories from the villain’s perspective, though perhaps I should reconsider that, since his voice spoke to me with this one.

Did you poke your head into any SHADOWS, this week? Do you write villains? Have you ever written from the villain’s perspective? Why, or why not?

The lost art of conversation. [FSF]

This week, Lillie McFerrin’s prompt for her Five Sentence Fiction challenge is “WORDS.”

I went a few different ways with this prompt, at first…though, my initial flash fiction idea – while based on a true story – pushed the vulgarity a bit too much than I like to do for a public challenge. So, this little vignette, taken from the early days of Fearless:

Orion startrails window

By AstroHurricane001 at en.wikipedia [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“The loss of artful conversation”

Stretched upon the sand, beneath a canopy of stars, with the rhythm of the rolling current nearby, the lads often turned reflective.

“I think,” Neville mused softly, “with all this technology, and the culture of instant messaging, mankind’s lost the skill of artful conversation, like the poetry that used to exist in the days of Shakespeare, or Milton: what happened to that, where’s all that gone?”

With his head laid in the pillow of Amber’s lap and soothed by both the sound of waves and the gentle drift of her fingers through his hair, Ross hummed, and murmured, “There might be something to that. But,” he added, his gaze finding Amber’s as he opened his eyes again, “for some things, I don’t think you need conversation.”

That settled the lads for a long minute, until Niall sniffed, and declared:

“I’m gonna bring back ‘rad.’”

I’ve spoken on this blog about making art with words before, so I don’t think it needs repeating. I do often wonder, as Neville does, if the immediacy of communication hasn’t taken away some power of words, though. When was the  last time we made efforts to write real letters, rather than emails, or instant messages on a phone?

Or, perhaps, I’m just waxing nostalgic, and that old power of lyricism in dialogue has been replaced by something else. What do you think? How do WORDS speak to you?