Final Flash Photo! A Story of Four Girls

 

revival_edited

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
3-3-2018

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.

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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
3-3-18

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.

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.

Carolina Woman!

Carolina Woman

Local contests are a great way to share your work….and win prizes! My writing group member Linda Johnson and I both earned Honorable Mentions in the 2015 Carolina Woman Writing Contest. Matching pajama-size T-shirts!

Linda won for her short story “Birthday Cake” (penned in a fiction class led by Ruth Moose) and I won for my poem “Ode to My Ironing Board” (written in a class led by Ralph Earle). Both classes were held through the Creative Writing Program at Central Carolina Community College’s Pittsboro campus. We also learned that a CCCC workshop leader, Tara Lynne Groth, won for her story “Money Changes Everything.” All pieces will published by CW in an upcoming issue. Pittsboro represented very well at Carolina Woman this year!

On a related note, and since April is National Poetry Month, I had to point out that today would have been the 115th birthday of another writer, novelist, short story writer, and poet Vladimir Nabokov. I didn’t know he also wrote poetry until my friend Mary located “The Poem” — a piece written by him for one of  just two collections penned in his prolific career. As with his other work, “The Poem” is poignant, evocative and lush with language and imagery that would make any writer envious. I couldn’t find an online link so unfortunately (or fortunately!), you’ll have to do like me and order a copy of his collections.

More coming soon!

Ode to the Exclamation Mark!

images-2In my studies of famous authors—most recently Flannery O’Connor and Ernest Hemingway—I’ve taken a delightful detour into Anton Chekhov, whom I’ll write about more later. Author of hundreds of short stories and several celebrated plays, this physician-humanitarian-author is most known for his ability to weave unforgettable tales of average people. He doesn’t moralize or aim to instruct yet…when you finish one of his stories, you emerge with a new appreciation of humanity.

Imagine my surprise when I stumbled upon a book of early Chekhov tales titled The Exclamation Mark! Curiously, we have had many discussions at work about this seemingly overused mark of punctuation at work, in email, Twitter, etc. And now this gem of a book suddenly turns up. The title tale is the comic story (told at Christmas no less) of a civil servant who realizes that he has never used the exclamation mark.  He is later haunted by this mark, as it comes to represent exultation, indignation, anger and joy. What has he been missing out on all these years?

My friend Melissa (and Russian literature expert) reminds me that the exclamation mark is not commonly used by these authors. We read this tale at lunch today (it’s only about 4 pages) and then passed it to a friend. All being “civil servants,” we three rejoiced in our own mixed feelings about work (the general) and the exclamation mark (the particular).

And tonight I’m also reminded of the famously introverted Nathaniel Hawthorne’s generous use of this mark in The House of Seven Gables. But that will be another post. Literature is the perfect place for paradox.

The Turning Point

I’ve blogged before about the key elements of a novel.  Tonight I’d like to touch on the short story. For its brevity and eloquence, it’s one of my favorite forms, both to read and to write. Some of the world’s best-known novelists continue to experiment with this short form and for good reason. She’s a tough and relentless mistress, but once a writer succeeds with one, he feels as if the curtain separating us from the divine has parted just for a moment. That all-too brief glimpse is a wonderful and terrible moment because once you have experienced it you are forever trying to capture it again. The rewards for the reader run in parallel. The curtain parts and for the briefest of moments we are in sympathy with each other.

What makes a great short story? As much as I enjoy them, I’m not entirely sure. I’ve studied enough of the classics to know, however, that these masterpieces share something. They all have a major turning point for the principal character. The point at which this character realizes that their world will never been the same. Novels may have multiple turning points but short stories only have room for one. The author, and Flannery O’Connor is the best at this, may hint at the turning point, but it is up to the reader to figure out just when it actually happens.

In a “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” we know that the grandmother is malicious and scheming. We know that she has misled her family into veering off the main highway and causes them to fall into the hands of the notorious criminal, the Misfit. The turning point for the grandmother is the point when she lays eyes upon the Misfit. “His face was as familiar to her as if she had known him all her life but she could not recall who he was.” And while later in the story, she will ask the Misfit to pray, she will touch him, call him one of her “babies,” and ultimately be shot by him, for me this first moment of recognition is what sets the wheels in motion for the grandmother.

Another example is F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Ice Palace.” In it, this master of the short story also foreshadows the end of Southern belle Sally Carrol’s engagement to northerner Harry Bellamy. The moment that it ends for Sally Carrol, however, is the moment she finds herself lost in a palace built of ice. “It was an icy breath of death; it was rolling down low across the land to clutch at her.” At that point, you know, you just know that she will not marry Harry and that she will happily return to the Southern “boys” that were beneath her before. And when she does, for the reader, there is that delicious little tickle in the pit of your stomach that tells you that you were right!

One story that I will also love forever is Chekhov’s “The Lady with the Little Dog.” And not just because I have a little white spitz, and not just because of the main character’s ironic observations about the people around him, but because of the way Gurov describes the moment he knows that this love affair will be different. “Anna Sergeevna looked at the ship and the passengers through her lorgnette, as if searching for acquaintances, and when she turned to Gurov, her eyes shone.” I’m sure this is even more beautiful in Russian, but for me it’s indelibly lyrical in English.  If you have never read this story, you simply must. The ending paragraph is one of the most exquisite of all short stories, even rivaling O’Connor’s fabled (and very different) ending of “A Good Man.”

There are many other key parts of a good story: unforgettable characters, pivotal scenes, and a strong sense of place, but what brings them all together for me is that turning point. I’ve been told several times by good writers that “there’s no money in short stories.” Perhaps that’s true, but the rewards of writing them are endless and lead to the kind of skills that will help you write longer works. So, if you’re like me, who’s working my way through two short stories (not to mention the sequel to my novel), take some time to read over your favorite short stories and identify that crucial turning point. But beware. It’s the moment where your world may also change forever.