Final Flash Photo! A Story of Four Girls



Youth Night, Revival Week, July 1965

New girls brought instant novelty, even Deirdre’s own tired moss green dress seemed fresher walking beside them.

The eldest girl, Sally, had been an easy victory. When Deirdre caught sight of the Bible in her tote bag, right as Sally was leaving the IGA, she invited her to Youth Night at Revival that very same evening. “I’ve got two younger sisters,” said Sally. “Is it okay if they come too?”

Of course it was. But as soon as Deirdre met the middle girl, Anne Marie, who at 15 had a savage self-confidence and rather mature beauty, she knew she would bring trouble.

She behaved herself during the service, even the prayers, Deirdre observed, peeping through the steeple of her fingers. But who knew what she was thinking?

At the end of the night, instead of walking home with her family, Anne Marie immediately sidled up to Doodle Hayes, a farmer’s son with a tendency to hunch his fingers into the pockets of his jeans and teeter on his heels whenever Deirdre spoke to him. And now he teetered next to Anne Marie.

Ashley Memory
~182 words

What fun you can have from photographs, especially when you have no idea who the people are or where they’re from! This gives you the freedom to truly imagine, and conjure an original plot from the simplest of details. And because it’s flash fiction, you have to keep it short, less than 750 words, which helps you pare it down to the absolute essentials. I actually wrote 364 words in my first draft and ended up cutting it in half. Honestly, I think it’s better now!

For even more fun, stay tuned for more prompts, and of course, more details on future workshops I’ll be leading at Central Carolina Community College in Pittsboro in Fall 2018.


Flash Photograph! The Queen’s Comet

queen_editedSeveral members of the Royal family, including two corgis, board the new DeHavilland Comet at London’s Heathrow Airport, bound for New York.

Prince Philip remarked about how exciting it was to be flying on the most advanced jet airliner in the world.  Some time after reaching a cruise altitude of 30,000 feet, Captain Caryl Ramsay Gordon asked him if he would like to sit in the left seat.  Captain Gordon had known the Prince for years, having been his flight instructor back in the 50s, and was well aware of his reputation as a cracking stick and rudder man.

After a few minutes of straight and level flight during which he became familiar with the controls and instrument layout,  Prince Philip took the yoke in both hands and expertly put the plane through a 360 degree roll, maintaining positive Gs throughout the maneuver.  The Queen and Princess Anne both complained that they had been quite disturbed to look out and see the sky in the bottom of their window and the earth above. Upon returning to his seat next to the Queen, Prince Philip promptly apologized with a kiss and a promise never to do it again.  But it was several minutes before he stopped grinning.

Three days later a commercial Comet with a full load of passengers disappeared from radar over the North Atlantic 800 miles west of England, leaving a long debris field and few bodies to recover.  No distress call was heard.

At that point all Comets were immediately grounded until the problem could be sorted out and the mystery solved.  Fourteen months later, during stress tests on the fuselage, metal fatigue starting at the corners of the square windows was discovered to be the flaw in the design that brought the great plane down.

By the time DeHavilland had re-designed and solved their production problems, Boeing had completed the design and development of their new 707 jet liner.  They went on to dominate commercial aviation for more than half a century with many editions of their seven series airplanes flying from 112 different countries throughout the world.

The next time the Royal family flew, they used an older piston engine DeHavilland, (DH-104 Dove), one that had served them well for many years.  On board in a special compartment were nine tiny parachutes, one for each of their dogs.

Johnpaul Harris

Editor’s Note: The beauty of this piece is the author’s fascination (if not obsession) with aircraft. The story itself is fiction but the specificity in the technical details lend an air of authenticity. We think Prince Philip would appreciate it, too, himself having stated, regarding his own service in WWII more than 70 years ago: “As most elderly people have discovered, memories tend to fade.” A special debt of gratitude to JP for lending samples from his extensive photo collection to our class on March 3.


Flash Photograph! Meet Reinhardt…

army dog_editedReinhardt

By some trick of doggie geneaology, I missed being born a Dalmation, the breed who rides on a proper fire truck.  I’ve got a different gig.  When that man with the sunglasses yells “Atten-hut”, I half-sit half-stand on my mixed breed hind legs.

When my tongue lolled out, my mother used to say that now my face was going to stay like that for the rest of my life.  But I’ve just run clear across the parade grounds to sneak into this photo opportunity, so naturally, I’m panting.  This is the the United States Air Force, you know, and these are my guys.  They just finished washing the bivouac, the tires shine like their newly polished shoes.

Hixon, Hershey, Cyril and Donald keep the trucks running on this base.  The Corps doesn’t pay much, but they earn enough to buy me a decent collar and to keep food in my bowl.  They found me covered with mud in a ditch.  And they don’t never mind that I speak German.

Mary L. Barnard

Editor’s Note: Leave it to Mary to write from the point of view of the dog! Her love of dogs rules (she owns 2 rescue angels herself) as well as her sense of humor. What seals the deal for the reader is the title. His German name makes perfect sense when you read the last line of the story. Such a little touch results in a big payoff for the reader. Woof-woof!

Flash Photograph! Two Sisters in Sepia

two girls_edited1000 Words

From the shoulders up we are nearly the same, our corseted torsos in similar stiff poses. Your glossy brown hair is arranged in the same pouffy waves of fat rolls as mine. Those little girl bows, made from Momma’s scraps of white satin, forever perched on top; yours on the left, mine always on the right, as if our heads were presents to be opened. Our small gold lapel watches came from Mason’s on the square, Daddy’s gift to all his girls when they turned sixteen. They shine a bit in the old photograph, the only light on those dark, heavy dresses, holding time still.

Our eyes look the same of course; generations of Jackson women reflected in that sideways glance, left brows slightly raised, as if always asking. Same noses, familiar cheekbones but a subtle difference, perhaps, hinted at around our mouths. We were so close, this worn picture says, the best of friends, two serenely smiling, secret sharing, sepia sisters.

Locked in two dimensions, only I know what lived below the spotted grey paper frame’s oval window; your sharp little fingers, curled in a claw, pinching my compliant arm.

A. Kissel
‘DIY’ Flash Fiction Class: 03-03-18

Editor’s Note: Masterful. Though the title of this piece is “1,000 words,” a play on the old expression about a photograph being worth 1,000 words, the author succinctly captured the essence of this image in just 212! Make note of the ending. Here her imagination truly soared as she projected “beyond the photograph” and delivered conflict and tension, so essential to effective flash. Bravo!

Stay tuned for more exciting stories from our March 3rd flash fiction class at Central Carolina Community College. I’ll post these regularly. And let your own mind wander a bit. Dream. Imagine how this one-of-a-kind Creative Writing Program can help your own imagination take flight.

Flash Fiction Marathon Weekend…


Photo, Mary Barnard

What a weekend! From spending time with other writers and supporters, to reading and writing, this past weekend was a veritable smorgasbord of literary delights. Can we just repeat this entire weekend, please? Pretty please?*

First, on Friday, I was honored to help launch The Collection: Flash Fiction for Flash Memory, a book of 60 flash fiction stories from 49 writers across the globe at a special event at Orange County Public Library in Hillsborough, where I joined a panel of area writers to read from our own contributions. The book is edited by Cathleen O’Connor and Anne Anthony (a poet also, by the way, who is on fire these days!).

audienceNow available on Amazon (and a best seller, no less!), the book includes three of my stories, and I chose to read “Saving Cedric,” a piece I first drafted during a class led by Ruth Moose at Central Carolina Community College! And what a surprise it was to see her there, along with dear friends/mentors Mary Barnard, Linda Johnson (another author!),  Allison Legge, and Martin Eagle. It was truly a magical night, in more ways than one! It was a full house.

The very next day, bright and early I must say, we drove to CCCC in Pittsboro, where I led a six-hour workshop on the vibrant form itself–short, short fiction averaging 750 words or less. We had 13 participants, dynamic women (plus one very special man!) who each had compelling stories and imaginations to draw from. With fresh brownies and warm banana bread in hand (thank you Mary and Ruth), we read current and past examples of flash fiction, then tried our hand at our own, and everyone ended up with at least three drafts of solid work in progress. They also, I hope, ended up with a valuable “DIY” kit for future inspiration.

The feedback was immediate — and for this I am so grateful — and due to popular demand, yes, yes, yes, we will be doing this again in the fall. We will likely have two sessions and this time, we’ll carve out a segment on revising and submitting for publication.

For more information, please stay tuned. As a teaser, we’ll soon be posting actual samples from the class for our “Photograph” prompt along with the images themselves. Fun, fun! Let the momentum continue….

* Calls to mind a favorite poem of mine by Carl Dennis, titled “Repetition” in the Colorado Review, 2015.  Marvelous idea, even better poem.


March on to Great Flash Fiction….


Read along with me and march into 60 vignettes filled with memorable characters and unexpected plots that fill an emotional landscape.

A North Carolina spring can be capricious. Whether it’s a late frost or an unseasonable surge of hot weather, she likes practical jokes. But even when it’s good, it seems spring is all too brief.

So why not prolong the season by celebrating flash fiction? After all, this emerging literary form is as joyous as a North Carolina spring. It’s short, it’s refreshing, and it’s simply irresistible… let’s “march” on to some great flash fiction….

As a reminder, on Friday, March 2, just in time for the Read Across America campaign, Anchala Studios, headed by Anne Anthony and Cathleen O’Connor, will be launching The Collection: Flash Fiction for Flash Memory!  I’ve been honored to be invited to read, along with other featured contributors, at the launch event on March 2 at the Orange County Library in Hillsborough. It will run from 6 – 7:30 p.m. Not only can you buy a copy of the book here, you can also enjoy refreshments and fellowship! Food + friends + a great book = smiles all around. For more details on this event and others, check out the recently updated website.

Now that you’re inspired, why not “march” ahead and write your own flash fiction? You can get a jump start by observing all that’s going on around you. What trees are starting to bud? Are your jonquils popping up? What memories does spring provoke for you? The best stories are a blend of fact and fiction. As Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter, the authors of What If? (one of my favorite writing books) say: “It’s not just what you know, however, it’s how you see it, shape it, and enhance it with your imagination.”



Rainy Days and Bookstores

readerscornerKnowing we had limited time yesterday for a visit to Reader’s Corner in Raleigh, our favorite used bookstore, we struck a deal. “I’ll stay out of the airplane section,” said Johnpaul. “And I’ll stay out of the cookbooks,” I promised, right before we parted ways by Poetry.

What is it about a used bookstore on a rainy day? The scent alone–a combination of mildew, Grandma’s old linen, a dash of dog, I’m convinced–is an elixir, exacerbated by rain. There is also the promise of a literary adventure on an otherwise dreary February day. Simply put, there is nowhere I’d rather be.

noteWhere else but Reader’s Corner can you find an entire section on castles? Where else has such a marvelous display of literary knickknacks, such as those little notes left behind by previous owners? And where else can you find an overflow of Charles Dickens in the rest room?

The best part about a used bookstore is not what you go to get–you may not leave with this–but the serendipitous discovery of what you didn’t know you needed. And in my case, this was a compendium of wisdom on dreams, a definitive biography of Frederick Law Olmstead (the brains behind many famous American landscapes), and short stories by Henry James and Donald Barthelme. And for Johnpaul, for whom 4 copies of Moby Dick are not enough, he ended up with a portable Melville (letters and stories) and of all things, a witty guide to palindromes and anagrams.

In celebration of the approach of Valentine’s Day, here’s a sentence palindrome just for the Romeos and Juliets among us…”Won’t lovers revolt now?” If you think about it, this expression is perfect for book lovers too. We know that a tiny little revolution always happens in the bookstore. Because we’re never the same people we were when we walk out that door.

Welcome Breath O’Spring!

breath of springIn spite of wintry weather, these lovely branches of “breath o’spring” are flowering. We brought these into our house when they were fat with buds, but they may be blooming in the wild very soon as well. I wish you could smell them. In my poetry, I’ve described the scent as “lemon and vanilla riding on the breeze that blows through a pine forest after rain” but my words fall far short of the real thing…..

What’s perking you up about spring?  The Collection: Flash Fiction for Flash Memory will be out in the world in just one month — March 2 — and I’ve been honored to be invited, along with other featured authors, to give a reading at the Seymour Center in Chapel Hill on March 24.

And on March 3, as many of you know, I’ll be leading a workshop at Central Carolina Community College in Pittsboro on how to craft your own flash fiction.  The class is full, but if you’re interested, please, please keep checking the registration page to see if any cancellations arise and for a future date of a repeat event. Due to high interest, I’m hoping to give it again, perhaps in the fall.

Leading a workshop brings me great joy, for many reasons. First, I get to spend time with people who love writing as much as I do, and second, I find the experience enormously stimulating as a writer. Right now, even as I plan for the class, I’m polishing up a number of short stories of my own and submitting “late-blooming” poetry.

Last year, I wrote one poem each day in the month of April as part of the Tupelo Press 30/30 Poetry Project. A handful of these recently made it to the second round of consideration in a national poetry competition (note the positive phrasing here — I did not say rejected :), so I plan on continuing to revise and submit until they find a home.

Here’s wishing a great start to  your own spring. For inspiration, read what fellow writer, Arthur Plotnik, author of  8 books, including Spunk and Bite, a contemporary writing guide (and one of my favorites) has to say: “You write to communicate to the hearts and minds of others what’s burning inside you.  And we edit to let the fire show through the smoke.”


What’s Buried in Your Winter Garden?

broccoliImagine my surprise when discovering that our broccoli plants had survived the six inches of snow that covered them for several days. After the thaw, I peeled away the dead, soggy leaves and lo and behold, check out this bright green head.

This lesson — never give up hope —  was reinforced when a short story, Running with the Bulls, was recently accepted by the editors of the 2018 Hardball Times Annual. This story was written almost 4 years ago, many years after the events inspiring the story first occurred. (A belated thank-you goes to Jonathan and Robert for their help with this piece.)

Do you have any old stories or poems that never found a home? If so, dust them off and see if any new markets have emerged that might be crying out for your work. Additionally, consider re-thinking any longer stories that might be shortened. While it’s not a true flash fiction, coming in at 2,440 words, Running with the Bulls underwent many revisions through the years, and every time, surprise, surprise, it ended up being shorter and shorter.

These days, I’m also taking a new look at older pieces, particularly poems. Because I’m primarily a narrative poet, I have plenty of work that might work for flash fiction. This is one of the strategies we’ll be covering at my March 3rd workshop on the exciting field of flash. Interested? Visit the CCCC website and reserve your seat today.

In the meantime, never give up hope. Is there broccoli in your garden? As a dear friend and mentor once told me, and this wisdom never fails to inspire me: A good story will always find a home.

What’s in Your Writing Kit?

writingkit2My mother gave me a lovely box many years ago. It’s covered with inspirational writing in a lovely gold script, and it’s become my nesting box for those little snippets of inspiration — favorite new words, quotes, articles, even bits of random conversation I happen to overhear. It also includes old postcards and pictures,  like the daguerreotype of a young married couple, circa 1840….

When my creative well dries up, this is the first place I plunder. My “writing kit” is particularly helpful for flash fiction because those “flashes” of inspiration can lead to instant stories. It has recently led the way to many new pieces, including poems in The Gyroscope Review (Summer 2017), “Party Etiquette for Insects Recently Transformed into People” (Honorable Mention,  Women on Writing, Summer 2017), and most recently in The Collection: Flash Fiction for Flash Memory, to be released by Anchala Studios on March 2, to coincide with the Read Across America campaign.

Participants attending my daylong flash fiction workshop on Saturday, March 3 at Central Carolina Community College in Pittsboro will receive a starter kit for what I hope will inspire their own creative plundering. Right now, in preparation for the class, I’m compiling the most delicious prompts, tips, samples, and vocabulary words, all of which will help germinate our individual kits and lead to even more stories in the future.

Spots are filling quickly! Hope to see you there! To reserve your seat, visit the CCCC website.

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