More Flash Fiction: “The Spider and the Fly-Man”

I’ve been reading a lot of flash fiction as I investigate such literary magazines as WigleafPank, and others.  Feeling inspired, I decided to write some more flash fiction, and to try a more experimental piece.  It’s been awhile since I went for something with this feel to it.  This was fun, and made me want to search the disorganized archives of my older writing for a piece I had been working on maybe four or five years ago that reminds me of this one.

I decided to go again to the random choice of words for some inspiration, though I didn’t limit myself to 150 words this time.  The following list was taken from the Winter 2014 issue of the Journal.

The words: riddled, aloofness, forehead, blame, function, pronouns, superhero, dependent, plastic, positive, shock, ribcage, charges, neighborhood, proximity, ballooning, forest, dioramas, margins, pinpoint, arachnid, eyeliner, cracking, diffusing, natural

 *

The Spider and the Fly-Man

 *

            Each table in the restaurant is a diorama, when one surveys the scene, sweeping the eyes from one corner to the other, observing with the necessary aloofness, refusing to assign blame, only accepting the scenes as they present themselves in vague pronouns, not personal to one’s own life, nor dependent on one in any way.

For example, at the very next table to ours, there is a woman bent forward like a hungry, pleading arachnid, pining after a superhero fly, much larger than herself, much more important, in fact, positively ballooning out of his chair with natural and supreme function.  She leans toward him, orienting herself to him, trying to draw his eyes to hers through the skillful use of dark eyeliner.  The low lighting reveals the gleam of sweat on her forehead.  The forest of chairs and tables and diners around the two of them are nothing to her.  There is only the desire to be near her superhero as he is diffusing little castoff, half-dead particles of himself into the air.

He, on the other hand, sees her as a bit of plastic, which he will take home, and hold by the ribcage, and rescue fleetingly with his own power, until he feels the shock of himself momentarily cracking through his system.  Then he will release her into the neighborhood.  The neighborhood will be a new forest for her, and frightening.  There she will drift toward the margins, trying pinpoint how she came there, and how she might return to her own place, not sure if she is happy or sad, or something else entirely.

One can see that it is starting, when the superhero charges the meal, and the fragile arachnid leans in to put her eighth leg in his strong hand.  When they rise to leave, and the superhero circles his arm around her, right before his cape billows out, one can see that she has the red hourglass.  Maybe, after all, the woman will win out.  Certainly, one knows that they can’t both survive unscathed.  Certainly, one knows that there will be blood.  None of these dioramas contain the everlasting grail of peace; of course not.

* * *

If you liked “The Spider and the Fly-Man,” I hope you’ll also check out my other flash pieces on this blog, “The Song in the Night,” “The Arrangement,” and “Just in Case,” as well as my short story, “Glass Eyes.”  I’m working on other short fiction and a novel, which will also hopefully be available to you one day.

Flash Fiction: “Just in Case”

I decided to try another flash fiction story.  These have been helping me to focus my writing brain before working on some on some of my ongoing projects.  I departed from Robert Frost for my inspirational words this week, and pulled two other, much-loved books off of the shelf.  I hope you enjoy–if you’re minded to try the challenge of writing a 150-word story using at least ten of the twenty words below, I’d love to see your story in the comments section!

Challenge: 150 word story

Using: 10/20 words: shook, colors, rattling, discontent, name, bells, chill, tattoo, moaned, scratched, winding, gallantry, commands, deserved, warming, grinning, iron, cage, wicked, inheritance

Words are taken from Shake Loose My Skin: New and Selected Poems by Sonia Sanchez and The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle

Just in Case

In the dim light of the party, he’s grinning at her.  She’s warming to him, though her eye drifts to the tattoo on his arm: an iron cage with its door wide open.  It chills her; there’s something wicked about it.

He offers his name: John.  Perfectly ordinary.  He is all gallantry, getting her another drink, asking about her life.

Still, the warning bells sound.  But perhaps they are wrong.  She’s been on edge so long, ever since her sister disappeared.  Since then, her environment has degenerated into flashing signs: Warning!  Caution!  Yet away from the alarming colors of the outside world, there is only dull discontent.  Part of her has been caged, and now it scratches at the lock, wanting.

John runs a hand down her arm.  He asks her, low and charming.  As she follows, she sticks her hand in her purse, feeling the outline of the knife.

* * *

If you liked “Just in Case,” I hope you’ll check out my other two flash fiction stories, “The Song in the Night” and “The Arrangement.”

Another Flash Fiction Story: “The Arrangement”

I had a lot of fun with the challenge of the 150-word flash fiction story last week, and I wanted to try again.  There’s something really rewarding about whittling down the story to its core.  What do you think?

Challenge: 150 word story

Using: 10/20 words: ladder, witness, prefer, alarm, kissed, clutches, seldom, orchard, excavated, arrangement, shrinking, heart, scythe, surrounding, tendency, mischief, misgivings, satisfy, drops, faithful

All words are taken from The Poetry of Robert Frost, edited by Edward Connery Lathem

Fall

The Arrangement

The wooden ladder lay abandoned in the orchard, soaking in the dew.   No sign of Lucy.  Peter fought his alarm.

Often, they had kissed and shared tender clutches under the apple trees, but when Peter spoke of marriage, Lucy shook her head.  Still, Peter was faithful.  

She was supposed to meet him here.

Heart full of misgivings, Peter approached Lucy’s home.  Her father was just exiting.

“Morning.”

He turned.  “Peter?  Bit early to call.”

“Is Lucy inside?”

“Haven’t seen her.  Must’ve risen early to pick apples.”

“Yes, sir.  Only, I came through the orchard—she’s not there.”

A shadow crossed his face.

They searched.  When Lucy’s father saw a ribbon speared on a branch, he sank to his knees.

“It’s my fault, Peter.  I made an arrangement.  I signed his book, in drops of blood—he gave me money for the farm.  Said in eighteen years, he’d take his payment.”

* * *

If you liked this story, check out my first attempt, “The Song in the Night.”  If anyone would like to try this experiment with these words or some others, I’d love to see your results in the comments section!

Flash Fiction: The Song in the Night

Two of my friends from my writer’s group attend the New England Crime Bake every year, and have met with great success with the Flashwords contest.  The contest asks writers to create a 150-word story about a crime using ten out twenty words selected from featured novels.  I’ve been impressed and inspired by their work, so I decided to try the exercise.  (Who are these two friends, you might ask?  One is Margo Carey, on Twitter @novatrek, author of The Haunted Pen, and the other is Dianne Herlihy author of Dianne’s Place)

I’m not really a crime writer (or not right now, anyway…who knows what I might one day write?), so I decided to choose words from the book I’ve been using to ease myself into my writing sessions lately: The Poetry of Robert Frost, edited by Edward Connery Lathem.  The result of my experiment is below:

Assignment: 150-word story using at least 10 of the 20 words chosen from The Poetry of Robert Frost

20 words: kitchen, dusty, rough, undergrowth, burned, witchcraft, strand, stirred, violin, conspire, lure, flattened, preach, constellation, stroke, prey, ancient, expand, parasite, curves

The Song in the Night

The lure of the violin was strong, especially on a night so like that other, when her father had disappeared.  The fluid notes sang brilliantly through the sky, calling to Hester.  Unresisting, she entered the dark forest.

 Each stroke of bow on strings conspired to bring Hester deeper.  Constellations gazed down, blinking a warning, but their ancient wisdom did not reach Hester.

Finally, the source was straight ahead.  Light burned through the curves of the branches.  She crept forward to look.

Her father’s face stared at her across the wooden body of the glowing instrument.  What witchcraft was this?  The bow paused.  He beckoned.  Hester advanced, then saw the unnatural gleam in the eyes, the gaunt shadows of the face.  This was a parasite.  She was prey.  Hester broke her gaze from his and turned away.

Behind her, the music resumed.

Hester’s will was flattened.  She swayed toward her doom.

*

What do you think?  I’d love to see other stories using these words, or stories based on your own words, taken from a different text.  If you try this experiment, I hope you’ll post your story below!

Special thanks to Margo and Dianne for the inspiration.  You’ll be hearing more from them one day soon!

Ambient Lighting and the Comforts of Home – In the mood…for writing

I’m currently away from home for a few days for my non-writer job, and I’m staying in a room with very bright lights.  They are not “soft white,” and though they can be turned on and off in many different combinations, the quality of the light is the same.  I’m pretty peaceful here, reading, writing, and editing in solitude, but I do miss the atmosphere of home.  My husband laughs at me when I come into the living room when he’s been sitting in there for a few hours and adjust the lighting.  Hey, I like my lighting, all right?  It sets a mood.  I love feeling like I’m in a calm, inviting environment, and lighting is one of the keys to that.

I also should have brought my sweatpants.  Mistake!  I mentioned in my last post how I hate to be cold…well, the AC in this place is not fully within my control, and it’s a little chilly.  I may or may not have slept in my jeans and a wool sweater each night.  I was warmer that way.

Still though, it hasn’t been a bad few days at all.  I’ve got some more writing work to do after I finish this blog post.  I’ve got the lights turned down as low as they can be while still functional.  (They are still too bright and too white.  They are saying, “What’s the problem?  What kind of fancy light do you want?  Aren’t we good enough for you?” and then they think about dimming, but don’t because they weren’t made to, and they want to speak to me in a softer tone, but they can’t.  Still, they feel sorry, so they add, “We have our good points.”  They don’t elaborate.)  I acknowledge that I can see everything very well.  There is no question of that.  (The lights appreciate the concession and show their appreciation by shining in exactly the same glaring way as before.)

When I’m home, I like to have the light right, and sometimes I listen to music with headphones, though other times I write in the relative silence that is not headphones but still life.  Often, I read something to transition into what I want to work on…even if I’m focused on editing.  I’m replicating as many conditions as I can here.  Home soon.

Any other writers have your own “getting in the mood” rituals?  Or anyone else have a preparation ritual for some other work?  

P.S. My short story, “Glass Eyes” is still free at Smashwords through tomorrow with the code SW100 at checkout through their summer sale.  Also available for purchase for Nook at Barnes & Noble and for Kindle at Amazon.

Links:

“Glass Eyes: A Short Story about a Family’s Struggle” on Smashwords

“Glass Eyes: A Short Story about a Family’s Struggle” at Barnes & Noble

“Glass Eyes: A Short Story about a Family’s Struggle” at Amazon

“Where There’s Smoke” by Jodi Picoult – Review and Connections

While out and about in the car today, I used the Kindle Text-to-Speech feature to listen to Jodi Picoult’s new (FREE!) short story, “Where There’s Smoke.”  I loved it.  One of my all-time favorite Jodi Picoult novels is Second Glance (another is The Storyteller), and I’m excited that Picoult is again taking on ghosts and their interactions with the world of the living.  I love the way she did this in Second Glance: the novel remains character-driven and has a great plot as it incorporates elements of the paranormal.  Second Glance has a similar feel to Picoult’s other novels for me, and I think the strength of the characterization make this novel accessible, not only to those who enjoy paranormal novels, but to readers who tend to focus on commercial, upmarket, and women’s fiction which might not normally include any ghosts.

In “Where There’s Smoke,” the main character is Serenity Jones, a TV psychic receiving communication from spirits on the other side and struggling as we all do, to live life the best way she knows how.  I really enjoyed the story, finding Serenity easy to relate to despite my initial hesitation over her profession.  Though I’m interested in the paranormal (loving shows like Paranormal State, Ghost Adventures, and The Haunted), I sometimes feel skepticism when it comes to big TV psychic personalities and wasn’t sure what to expect with Serenity.  Well, I loved the story and the stakes that Picoult created for this character and those around her.  I’m looking forward to Picoult’s upcoming novel, Leaving Time.  This novel will include Serenity, and the short story definitely worked to hook me and cause me to breathe a sigh of disappointment when I saw that I’d have to wait until Leaving Time‘s October release date to find out more.

What are your favorite Picoult novels?

Do you find the paranormal interesting?

Short Story “Glass Eyes” FREE for a limited time on Smashwords!

Read my short story, “Glass Eyes,” FREE on Smashwords!  Just follow the directions on the page (enter the code SW100).

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https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/459999

Five-year-old Kate struggles to understand what is happening to her father and her world as she witnesses his deepening depression. In the midst of her family’s turmoil, Kate finds solace in her grandfather’s upstairs apartment, though she is troubled by the stuffed fox in his bedroom. As Kate tries to adapt to the changes in her life, the fox becomes a symbol of what she fears.

Trying Self-Publishing: “Glass Eyes” Now Available for Purchase!

I am a high school English teacher, and this takes up a lot of my time during the school year, so this summer I’m trying to spend as much of my time on writing as I can.  As I’ve been reading, dreaming, writing, editing, and querying, I decided to self-publishing an ebook.  This is the perfect time for me to delve into this process and learn the ins and outs through firsthand experience.  I took a story which is dear to my heart, “Glass Eyes,” and prepared it for publication, focusing on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords.

Cover Art

I had a lot of fun creating the cover for my ebook.  A stuffed fox features prominently in the story, and I knew that my aunt and uncle had one.  I drove down to their place and took several photographs of it.  My aunt and uncle were very helpful and accommodating!

Here are some covers that didn’t make the cut:

         

Once I got home, I sifted through my photos and edited the ones I liked best with the Microsoft Office Photo Editor.  I brought my favorite edited images into Microsoft PowerPoint and added the title, subtitle, and my name.  I played with placement, font, and color, and feel satisfied with the final product.  I can’t wait to make another cover!

Here’s the one I went with:

 

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I like the way the fox breaks up the image in this cover.  If you look carefully on the right, there is a swing, representing my five-year-old protagonist, Kate.  While I liked the images of the fox indoors in front of the books, I felt that those covers were too busy and distracting.  I also felt the cover I went with felt more modern than some of the others.

Preparation and Formatting

To prepare for launching “Glass Eyes” as an ebook, I read Building Your Book for Kindle and Publish on Amazon Kindle with Kindle Direct Publishing, and Mark Coker’s Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success.

The Kindle publications had some helpful information for how to navigate the process of publishing on Amazon.  I found Coker’s book the most helpful.  In addition to giving instructions for publishing an ebook, Coker also gives tips on marketing, defines terminology, and talks through the pros and cons of different ebook publishing decisions.  Once I had gone through the steps to publish on Amazon, I also read the Smashwords Style Guide and carefully worked through the Smashwords template.

Formatting was a big part of this process.  I spent a lot of time trying to get my indents to look right for the Kindle edition, and I read several pieces of internet advice and eventually found the right advice, written in a way that I could understand it, and (Hallelujah!) made a well-formatted book.  I plan to add a blog post about formatting that goes into more detail, and I’ll share the resources I found helpful.

Published!

Once the ebook was available on Amazon and Smashwords, I was so excited!  None of this excitement has dissipated yet.  It’s exciting to have a published story out there, and I’m also looking forward to learning about marketing and sales through this experience.  I’ll keep my ears open to advice.  I meet with a weekly writer’s group of very kind and talented individuals, and I constantly benefit from their points of view.  I’m also keeping in mind what I learned from attending this years NECRWA conference (New England Chapter Romance Writers of America).  Many authors spoke about their experience with self-publishing and ebooks.  In particular, I benefitted from author Katy Regnery‘s workshop in which she shared her experiences about indie and self-publishing, and all that goes along with them.

More details to follow!  Have you self-published or indie published?  What were some of your takeaways?