Judging week on FF
I hope nobody’s too terribly comfy out there in flash fiction world: we’re winding down the first half of Year Three and prepping for the very, very exciting second. We’ve already announced your new dragon captains, and we’re planning to celebrate their inauguration with a SHEBANG! Coming up in the next couple of weeks we’ve got a couple of Spotlight interviews you are really going to love; on June 26 we’ve got a panel of uber fabulous guest judges; and then on July 3 we’ll start the next season with a BRAND NEW, SUPER SPARKLY contest format! We are so looking forward to challenging y’all flash phenoms in a whole new way.
Alas, before we get to all that yumminess, we’ve still a bit of ickiness to endure: namely, saying farewell to the outgoing captains. Today it’s Dragon Team Two, Mark King & Tamara Shoemaker. Their passion for flash fiction and the flash fiction community exploded across the skies each time they held the gavel; it’s impossible to have poured more heart into studying your stories than they have. Mark and Tamara, you have been magnificent at every turn. Please accept our deepest thanks for your time and all that creative teeth-gnashing. You are amazing. Thank you.
Dragon Captains Mark A. King/Tamara Shoemaker say:
Alas, our time has drawn to a close, and as we’ve looked back over our time as judges for Flash! Friday, we’ve been amazed all over again by the magnitude of talent that has been displayed on this page over and over again. You’ve written your hearts for us, and we’ve so enjoyed the experience of delving into each story and reveling in every world that unfolded before our awed gazes. Truly, we are sad to end our time here, but a hearty thanks to each one of you for making it all so worth it. Thanks to our Dragon mother, who unselfishly gives of her time to make this board what it is, and I (Tamara) thank you, Mark, for being the best possible judging partner a person could ever ask for.
Over our time, each week we were up to judge, we wished we could choose more winners than we were allowed. So on our last time, we went back and picked out three from various weeks – the “Unsung Story Awards.” These, for one reason or another, didn’t make the final list the week they were entered, but they stuck in our heads, and we hoped to give them a little recognition this time.
And now, before I use up too many more tissues, one last time, here are our results.
UNSUNG STORY AWARDS
For One of the Most Thought-Provoking Titles Submitted to Us: Vol 3-18, Foy S. Iver, “The Girl Unheard Becomes Unseen.”
Best Ending Ever Because It Includes a Really Awesome Old Man Who Embraces a Slice of Life:Vol 3 – 9, Voima Oy, “Take Two.”
Jailbird Santa as Best Character: Vol 3 – 2, Peg Stueber-Temp and Tea, “Calling All Cars!”
For Absolutely Sublime Writing: Foy S. Iver, “My Heart Was a Pomegranate.”
For Cheeky Humour & Most Hilarious Ending Line: David Shakes, “It Don’t Look Like No Chicken.”
For a Story That Had a Bit of Everything (and crop circles are fab, obv): Dylyce Clark, “Crop Circles.”
For Most Chilling Benediction: Steph Ellis, “Night Office.”
For Best Angels-as-Inspectors: Firdaus Parvez/PositiveThoughts1, “What You Sow…“
A.J. Walker, “The Reaping Sowing Thing.”
TS – The sheer cheekiness of this piece was what caught my attention. It was a simple set-up of what a normal date night between a farmer and his girlfriend would look like, until lo and behold, they have to duck and cover when the angry farmer’s wife appears on the scene with her muddy boots. This was simple, and different, standing out from the crowd. It stuck in my memory, and since I have a memory like a sieve, that’s hard to do. Nicely done.
MK – I read this many times and each time it just got better. I loved how the first time I read it, it read like a romantic date between a man and his wife, pushing to boat out for their date night (oh, how romantic and sweet). Then the ending made me smile, and it was a clever use of writing technique. However, I then went back and saw more elements (like the fact that the gentleman was a farmer, eating his own produce). Very intelligent writing all round. Well done.
TS – D’oh! You caught me in my weakness for anything dragonly, and especially as I’ve been immersed in introducing my new dragon book to the market, my mind just couldn’t stray TOO far from those beautiful winged beasts. How thrilling to find such a lovely story about the creatures. This one, too, stood out from the pack of stories for its inventiveness. This sentence read in my mind like a big-screen movie: “Iridescent wings flapped as I entered the mammoth barn, and I paused until they stilled.” I love farmers because they give us a lot of good things, but I think I may have just found my favorite type of farmer: the dragon farmer. Nicely written!
MK – It’s strange as I tried to look for an image of a Dragon Farmer to post on Twitter Friday evening, but I couldn’t find a suitable one. I thought my fellow judge would adore this story and I saved it especially for her as I know how fully immersed she has been in the world of these magical creatures. I also really enjoyed the line that Tamara has already mentioned. Well done on the very creative take.
Michael Wettengel, “Serpentine Ambition.”
TS – Now this was an interesting viewpoint: the narrator (at least to my understanding) is perhaps the devil, that ancient serpent, who’s peddling his oil as he farms immorality across the industrial globe. The depth of this piece is astounding. Even after several read-throughs, I still found new gems each time to savor. I love the last line in particular with the image of the snake who tries to sell them his oil for fifty dollars a bottle. Brilliant word play here. Well done!
MK – I thoroughly enjoyed the tone of the piece. It was hinting at malevolence but with a cheeky, mischievous grin. “Pax Ambrosia, a cream so miraculous it puts God out of a job”. Tamara and I discussed this, and we both came to similar conclusions. Is this a real person with evil intent or an evil creature living in our world? It doesn’t really matter, as the story weaves a tale of modern marketing techniques, viral internet trends and social commentary on our desires. “Instagram exploded. Facebook almost melted down. People were setting up ladders just to read our tagline written into streetlights.” Fab work all round.
THIRD RUNNER UP
Rachael Dunlop, “The Turn of Your Hand.”
TS – I’m a long-time admirer of exquisite Italian marble, so when I read this story, I immediately had a fleshed-out, full-color picture of the details in “…the fine-milled thin-veined marble.” I love the correlation of the early-on farming of the plenty (the marble from the Italian hills) to the plenty that resides in his kitchen. The last line puts such a nice twist on the piece to pull out the meaning with clarity and conciseness. Well put together. I really enjoyed this. Well done.
MK – I once worked in a place of marble columns and halls and it was a magical place to spend time. So, I could thoroughly relate to looking at the ‘fine-milled thin-veined marble’ and pondering where it came from and how it got such beauty. But the beauty in this piece is not so much about the marble or the words; it’s all about the journey of the character and the depth the writer has incorporated into a micro story—a story that spans generations, transverses family trades, moves across continents and ultimately gives us a warm feeling at the end. Simply wonderful.
SECOND RUNNER UP
Peg Stueber-Temp and Tea, “You Know You’re Singing This Song.”
TS – I don’t know if I remember the passage of even one week in the last seven years of being a mom where this song wasn’t stuck in my head at least once. So… thanks. For that. Ee-I-ee-I-Oh, I did enjoy the fun feel of this piece. I may or may not have laughed out loud over the “cacophony of brays, snorts, peeps, moos and oinks.”
And I love how Mack takes his final revenge on the animals that have drowned him in never ending brain vibrating irritation: he becomes a chef, and I bet (even though the story doesn’t say), that one or two of those animals might have found their way onto a plate. –Apologies to any vegetarians. Nicely done. Now I’m going to go drown out “Old MacDonald” with something infinitely more enjoyable, like “The Wheels on the Bus.”
MK – I saw this and smiled. A few times recently I have tried to incorporate songs as a theme of my stories and really enjoyed how they made the reader respond. The writer has picked a song here that was always going to spin around in our heads all day. It’s totally on-theme, and the writer has crafted something that is memorable, humorous, yet also deals with the progression of character. I’m not sure what the bakeries in Virginia do differently than the bakeries in England, but I’m scared that my fellow judge thinks it’ll involve the use of animals on plates. Remind me not to eat bread at Tamara’s if I ever find myself in that part of the world
FIRST RUNNER UP
Casey Rose Frank, “For the Dreamers.”
TS – This piece had me from this line: “I feel like I could slice my fingertips across it.” The whole story is rife with exquisite imagery, and I love the fact that it’s talking of a writer planting his/her “garden,” each word a seed, each story a crop to be harvested by the next reaping reader. Those last two lines encapsulate so well the struggle of every writer who plants their first few ideas on paper or their first few sentences. The idea is outside the box and extremely creative; I so loved this take. A story showing phenomenal mastery of imagery and an excellent job.
MK – I adored this story. This is the story of us, as writers and readers. It is so creative and stunningly beautiful. ‘Is it possible to be lonely in a sea of infinite possibilities?’ (as writers, we ultimately write alone, yet have unlimited worlds to craft). ‘Cultivate’ (yes, it’s such a great nurturing word, but also draws visions of a cultivator so sharp it could slice you). ‘Sometimes the people escape, but they’re not real people’ (our characters so real, yet only in our minds as they curl on paper, ‘fledgling dreams, questions in the eyes until they begin to curl at the edge’). Such a fantastic piece I feel like I want to print it and add it to my wall of inspiration. But, the story is wrong. ‘It’s hard times for the dream makers.’ – far from it. You have everything you need (as the writer has so deftly demonstrated), right here, on Flash! Friday.
And now: joining the Quad Club at long, long last with her FOURTH win (but her first win since Jan 2014) it’s Flash! Friday
“The Ties That Bind”
TS – This piece pulled me in from the get-go with stunning cultural images of the narrator’s rice farmer grandfather. There’s such a sensory tone — I can almost feel the fatigue of a bent back, the strain of making a crop, a business from nothing. The author follows it up with a one-two punch–his father, also crouching, this time in fear, hiding from the bullets of what I assume is Vietnam or at least some war. I love the pride that comes through in the next sentence. “I refused to crouch… to bend for the old ways.” In his pride, he transcends his parentage. He didn’t just embrace his grandfather’s farm or his father’s fights; he became the farmer by providing sustenance for his family; he became the fighter by surviving the struggles that come with new adventures – a business, making ends meet, doing without to make do.
There’s a journey in this. The narrator begins by distinguishing himself from his father and grandfather, illustrating how they are different, and then bringing it full circle to realize that yes, he IS different from them, but the only reason why he has arrived where he has is because he’s embraced his inheritance. Lovely writing, deep and sensory. Wonderful job.
MK – The farming take was incredibly powerful and transported me to another place and another time. But this story is all about how much has been crammed into those 200 (ish) words. We have a feature-length, wide-screen, Ultra High Definition film conjured from words that are said and words that are left behind. It felt like the synopsis of an Oliver Stone masterpiece. This is how to write a story with layers, depth and back-story.
Highlights include, “My grandfather died in those rice fields, hands gnarled, knees perpetually bent”(heart-breaking images), “village raid that didn’t distinguish between enemy and innocent” (the injustice of war). Then moving on to the conclusion, “arguing their worth to the butcher beside me. And I’ll do it again, and again, and again.” And, “I shall pay homage to the family that came before me, their sacrifices, their struggles, their victories, their defeat.”
On-theme, but also incredibly unique, powerful, cinematic and highly emotive. Congratulations to you.
Congratulations, dear Margaret! You are an outstanding writer, and you are a faithful, beloved, and highly valued member of the FF community. It’s a joy to all of us seeing you don the dragon tiara (you make it look good!). Here’s your updated winner’s page and your winning tale on the winners’ wall. Please stand by for questions for Thursday’s #SixtySeconds feature. And now, here is your winning story:
The Ties That Bind
When Grandfather was a boy, he crouched for hours in the fields, watering the rice paddies to make sure his family was fed.
When father was a young man, he crouched for hours in the grasses, shielding his siblings from the bullets whizzing by.
When I was a boy, I refused to crouch, refused to bend for the old ways.
I didn’t care about farming, didn’t care about tradition. I didn’t care about anything but myself.
My grandfather died in those rice fields, hands gnarled, knees perpetually bent.
My father died before I ever knew him, victim of a village raid that didn’t distinguish between enemy and innocent.
I wasn’t going to be them, my ancestors, faded like yesteryear’s photographs.
I wasn’t. My pride said no.
Until I looked into mother’s eyes, those weary eyes aged beyond her years.
Until I felt my sisters’ hands in mine, as they looked to me for support, for safety, for sustenance.
I crouch down today, inspecting these chicken feet, my chickens, arguing their worth to the butcher beside me. And I’ll do it again, and again, and again.
I shall pay homage to the family that came before me, their sacrifices, their struggles, their victories, their defeat.
I understand now.
I am proud.