I mentioned yesterday that lately I’ve been writing flash fiction for a recurring contest on Janet Reid’s awesome agent’s blog. So far I’ve entered three times, with varying results. I finally smacked myself on the head and said, “Why is this not on the blog?” So here is the story on those three entries.
Janet Reid’s contest runs every week or two, basically whenever she feels like it. The challenge is to write a story of 100 words or less, using five specific prompt words, within 48 hours. I read the submissions, and her insightful comments on the submissions, for many months before getting up the nerve to enter myself.
Entry 1: The Breakup (submitted on 2/6/16)
The five prompt words in this round were ORE, FAN, EX, HER, and WITS, selected to commemorate the publication of Orphan X by Gregg Hurwitz.
“You need more wine.” Cassie poured white Zinfandel, her solution for everything.
“Come on, sis,” she said. “We aren’t twits, we don’t mope over our exes. Anyway, I always hated how he treated you. You should be glad he left.”
I hung my head, picked at a torn spot on one nail, dug dirt from under another.
“What’s with you?” Cassie rolled her eyes. “When we were kids we flushed the dead goldfish and that was that.”
I whispered, “Or buried it in the woods.”
She frowned. “We never buried a goldfish. Was that a hamster or something?”
Each round Janet points out some specific things she liked about some of the entries, and I was THRILLED that she mentioned my punchline as being worth a mention. (She said “Yowza!”)
Entry 2: The Ceremony Begins (submitted on 2/20/16)
The prompt words were inspired by the creation, by Colin Smith, of a treasure chest for the shark tank (in other words, a spreadsheet tabulating the results of all the winning entries). The terminology here reflects the fact that Janet Reid refers to herself as a shark (also, the Queen of the Known Universe, or QOTKU). The words were: SMITH, TRAY, SURE, CHEST, and TANK.
Meagan adjusted her veil. It made everything look gray. The air stank of lilies, unbreathable. Her composure was in smithereens. Was it too late to run? She focused on Joseph, waiting patiently at the end of the aisle.
“Lots of people here,” Father said. I bet Raymond came, Meagan thought, to remind me of my first love. Probably that bitch Esther, too, pretending she and Joseph were “just friends.” Meagan shook the thoughts away. Not today.
She trudged down the aisle on Father’s arm, eyes behind the black lace locked on Joseph, lying among the flowers. So patient. So lifelike.
This time I MADE THE SHORT LIST, the nine stories she liked the best out of 89 contest entries. I can’t express how thrilled I was! I didn’t win, which is no surprise at all given the strength of the field, but still!!
Entry 3: Commentary in Verse (submitted 2/27/16)
Janet gave us prompt words inspired by the awful weather she’s experienced lately in New York: SNOW, BLOW, ICE, CHILL, and SPRING. The first two words rhymed, and this derailed my story-making brain into an entirely unexpected direction. I started playing with rhymes and rhyme schemes, ever-mindful of the 100-word limit, and came up with this:
We see them on the stage, their faces red,
Those blowhards who know only how to blow
A soul-destroying wind of fear and dread
That buries reason in a bitter snow.
Can moderators ever moderate
The raging storm? Can anyone entice
A warming trend to elevate debate?
Will nothing ever stop the heartless ice?
All meaning disappears in arctic frost.
The shouting just crescendos, loud and shrill.
All thought of governing or leading’s lost.
Can there be anything to end this chill?
One day there’ll be a victor in the ring,
And in November there may come a spring.
This entry didn’t get on either the long or short list, didn’t win, and didn’t even get a mention. I’m not surprised, since it’s not actually a story, or even really fiction. I’m still proud of myself for pulling off what I aimed for: a full-on Shakespearean sonnet, with the proper rhyme scheme and meter, in just 99 words. I even played with it so that each quatrain ends in one of the prompt words, as does the couplet at the end. And it addresses a current topic (the political debates we’re suffering through right now), using the metaphor of icy winter blasts to describe the whole election process this time around, without ever explicitly mentioning politics or elections. Go me!
That’s it so far. I plan to enter future contests as they occur, and will post my entries and the results here. Why am I doing this? Partly because it’s fun, partly because if I ever won it would blow my tiny mind to oblivion (in a happy way), and partly because it’s good discipline. One of the comments I got from people reading my work is that I tend to over-write, including more than I should, which is why I had to get out my pruning shears. Flash fiction can only help with this. And did I mention it’s fun?
Many thanks to Janet Reid for running this contest, and to all the amazing people who enter. I encourage anyone who writes to look into it.