Jan 292015
 

Tuberculosis (TB) is a bacterial infectious disease of the lungs. Symptoms include chronic cough, fever, and weight loss (the latter giving rise to ‘consumption’, a common name for the disease.) It is the second biggest infectious killer behind HIV/AIDS. In 2012 1.1 million people died from TB compared to 1.5 million from HIV/AIDS, and 7.4 million from heart disease. Death rates are on the decline thanks to the Stop TB Partnership.

Anton Chekhov, born 155 years ago today, was ironically a physician as well as a writer, who ignored his early signs of TB and died from the disease aged 44. Chekhov is regarded as one of the greatest short story writers ever. Thankfully for us, his works are in the public domain to be enjoyed for free. The Lady with the Dog is a good place to start. As well as his writing, Chekhov left another legacy: Chekhov’s gun, an extremely useful piece of advice for writers:

Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.

Let’s celebrate Chekhov’s contributions to literature with this week’s photo prompt:

Photo Credit: Matthew Fern via CC.

Photo Credit: Matthew Fern via CC.

The Judge

Yours truly will be donning his judging hat this week.

What?

A story of between 90 and 110 words starting with WEIGHT and ending with LOSS and incorporating the photo prompt.

Who?

Anyone, but especially you!

Why?

Why not! Because it’s fun. Because it’s a challenge. Because the winner will receive their own winner’s page, their story on the winning stories list, a ‘who is the the author’ feature to be posted next week, entry into the ‘Micro Bookend of the Year’ competition, and a copy of this year’s winning stories compilation.

When?

Now! Get your entry in BEFORE 5:00 am Friday (UK time: http://time.is/London).

Where?

Here!

How?

Post your story in the comments section. Include the word count and your Twitter username (if you’re Twitterized). Don’t forget to read the full rules before submitting your story.

Anything else?

Please give your story a title. It will not be included in the word count.

Please try to leave comments on a couple of other stories. It’s all part of the fun, and everyone likes feedback!

Remember, only stories that use the bookends exactly as supplied (punctuation is allowed) will be eligible to win.

Jan 252015
 
Photo Credit: Brian Smithson via CC.

Photo Credit: Brian Smithson via CC.

Well, that graveyard certainly got your imaginations churning. Such wonderfully creative stories. Here’s what this week’s judge, Meg Kovalik, had to say:

“I hope you like horror,” he says at the end of the email. I hope you like horror. Well thankfully for everyone I used to be a full-on goth – and still am, in my heart, even if I no longer outwardly fly the (lack of) colours – so this week’s entries were an absolute pleasure to read and re-read for the judging process. There were hints of Poe and lashings of Gaiman and sprinklings of Bradbury and ghoulishly good twist endings aplenty. All these Dark Entries made me want to crank up some Bauhaus, crack out some absinthe, and bay at the full moon on a cold wintry night. The top three really stood out for me but I easily could have given out about twelve honourable mentions. So many well-crafted stories here!

Honourable Mentions

Club Sherlock by Holly Geely

I just couldn’t go past the image of a dejected Jeff sadly delivering his final, cringe-worthy pun. Both characters were so strongly defined in such a small amount of background and dialogue – and I confess I do like a good Dad Joke (if they can ever be called “good”). It made me chuckle despite myself.

CHRIS AND MIKE vs THE WORLD by Brian S Creek

The interplay between the characters here is priceless as Chris’s clearly long-suffering friend gets dragged into some harebrained delusion – that just so happens to be correct this time. I can totally imagine the final sentence being read by Vincent Price. It left me wanting the story to continue.

Interference by Emily Livingstone

I really liked the parallels drawn between Roland’s mocking of Frankie’s fear and the ghost’s derision at the end. I couldn’t help but smirk when Roland got his comeuppance after his initial cockiness. Plus I was glad the raccoon made it out alive!

The Final Touch by Jacki Donnellan

I thought the set-up here was a friend paying tribute to his old drinking buddy, but “the final touch” showed otherwise. I’d love to know the backstory here – he must be REALLY glad this guy is dead to waste two slugs of gin on him. The horrified observer was a great foil to his irreverence and really helped to set the tone of the scene.

3rd Place

Friends by Stella Turner

I love the simple storytelling here. The camaraderie between the characters is palpable and it is just such a touching, down-to-earth tribute to their absent friend. You can picture them all swapping yarns in the pub after the funeral, toasting Ed and his tight-fisted ways. After all the tortured darkness of the other entries this one made me smile.

2nd Place

The Libation by Donald

Of the many ghost stories written this week, this was the one that grabbed me the most. The poignant tale of a daughter commemorating her dead father with a solo picnic at his graveside is beautifully done as the author gently guides us through to the big reveal at the end.

Winner

Dis Manibus by Rebekah Postupak

This was such a creative response with effective use of language to evoke the different eras. I love how the reader is left to piece the story together through increasingly informative fragments of commentary by oblivious researchers and archaeologists. What did this man do to upset the witch that cursed him so much? Whatever it was, by the end of the story you can picture her cackling through the centuries each time the poor man is dug up again.

Dis Manibus

Rebekah Postupak

Club to head caused death. Male, mature. RIP. –Marius Fossor, 285 AD.

Elderly male. Cause of death: violence to head. Blasphemous absence of icons. Reburied. –John, Vicar’s Son, 1248 AD.

Middle-aged second century male. Cause of death: head trauma. Bone stains probably mold. Curious addition of multiple 13th century religious artifacts. Reburied. –William Diggerson, 1682 AD.

32yo male, d 100CE. Cause of death: blunt force trauma to head. Significant traces of belladonna, hemlock, aconite, toad’s blood. No objects in coffin, though indentations suggest removal of such. X-rayed, photographed, reburied. –Dr. Ali Bissell, 1987 CE.

May the idiot never rest in peace. –Canidia, AD 65. Unrelated scroll fragment, depth 7th foot.

Jan 222015
 

Welcome to Micro Bookends 1.15. As I write this, the BBC adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall is about to start, so let’s get straight down to business.

Club foot (or congenital talipes equinovarus) is a congenital deformity of the feet and ankles. In affected babies the feet point down and inwards, and the soles of the feet face backwards. With early treatment (a series of gradual manipulations to correct the posture and plaster casts to hold each improved position), affected babies usually make an excellent recovery.

Someone who suffered from a club foot was Lord Byron who was born 227 years ago today. Byron’s biography reads like a Boys’ Own adventure story: he joined the Greek War of Independence against the Ottoman Empire, for which he is still considered a national hero in Greece; he invented open-water swimming; he was notoriously promiscuous with both sexes; he made a huge contribution to the Romantic poetry movement, including his epic Don Juan. All this before his death from sepsis at only 36. Byron had a great fondness for animals, especially his Newfoundland, Boatswain. Byron commissioned a grand marble monument when Boatswain died from rabies, which is larger than his own monument at the Church of St. Mary Magdalene, Hucknall.

Here is this week’s photo prompt:

Photo Credit: Brian Smithson via CC.

Photo Credit: Brian Smithson via CC.

The Judge

Judging this week’s contest is Meg Kovalik, winner of MB 1.14. Read her winning story and what she has to say about flash fiction here.

What?

A story of between 90 and 110 words starting with CLUB and ending with FOOT and incorporating the photo prompt.

Who?

Anyone, but especially you!

Why?

Why not! Because it’s fun. Because it’s a challenge. Because the winner will receive their own winner’s page, their story on the winning stories list, a ‘who is the the author’ feature to be posted next week, entry into the ‘Micro Bookend of the Year’ competition, and a copy of this year’s winning stories compilation.

When?

Now! Get your entry in BEFORE 5:00 am Friday (UK time: http://time.is/London).

Where?

Here!

How?

Post your story in the comments section. Include the word count and your Twitter username (if you’re Twitterized). Don’t forget to read the full rules before submitting your story.

Anything else?

Please give your story a title. It will not be included in the word count.

Please try to leave comments on a couple of other stories. It’s all part of the fun, and everyone likes feedback!

Remember, only stories that use the bookends exactly as supplied (punctuation is allowed) will be eligible to win.

Who is Meg Kovalik?

 Who is the author?  Comments Off on Who is Meg Kovalik?
Jan 202015
 

MegOur most recent winner is Meg Kovalik. Check out her blog, follow her on Twitter, then read on to learn a little more about her.

Meg has very kindly agreed to judge this week’s contest, so pay attention:

I am a full-time, Sydney-based housewife and former Special Snowflake attempting to pull my life together and feel vaguely like an adult. I think my future lies in writing and editing so I’m currently testing the waters in that area to see if it sticks. I suspect I will always wonder what I am going to be when I grow up. I also suspect it’s going to be an interesting journey regardless.

So, great story. How did you get there from the prompt and bookends? I often find myself writing quite dark stuff when I attempt fiction so was actively trying to aim for something uplifting this week. At first glance it looked like it would be easy. I tend to see what kind of vibe the photo prompt gives me and then just start writing from the first bookend and let the story lead me to the end. It was hard thinking of something non-cliche with that opening “Peace” but then the phrase “peace out” came to mind and the image of the festival appeared. I knew I wanted a baby-wearing mother in there but needed a twist to add interest. I suffer from depression myself, and know many women who struggled with post-partum depression, so wanted to approach the mixed feelings that babies can cause when their birth isn’t completely joyous (as a contrast to the pleasant afternoon this mother was outwardly having). At the end of the day, those feelings can be conquered – or at least managed – so that was the uplifting message implied in the “prize” of focussing on heart and the determination to overcome adversity.

100 words ain’t many. How do you fit a story into so few words? It’s hard! I have a natural tendency towards excessive verbosity in my writing and love a good run-on sentence (as you can see from this very sentence here, which is almost as long as the story was), so editing out unnecessary and redundant words is key. I’m still re-learning the craft of writing as an adult and currently wrapping my head around the concept of “show, don’t tell.” It really becomes key in a challenge like this. My first draft generally has at least 150 words, which I then whittle down to the core ideas.

Why do you like flash fiction? I enjoy working within the restrictions. As someone who is often paralysed by choice and quickly felled by decision fatigue it is really quite freeing to have the parameters of a creation dictated by others. Plus it’s a challenging puzzle packing a proper story into so few words. Flash fiction has drastically improved my writing by making me more conscious of word choice and pacing. And it’s just so darn FUN!

Been writing long? I’ve always found writing therapeutic but have only been writing in a public forum for a few months. Prior to having children I was attempting a post-graduate degree in musicology and writing course materials and papers and such but that was seven years ago now. I’m pretty rusty.

You write anything else? Just my blog, The Making of Mediocre Meg, where I document my attempts to get my life in order and muse on various issues and roadblocks that come up. Fun for all the family!

Any advice for other flash writers? Let the story take control and run with it. If it’s not enjoyable you’re doing it wrong.

Any interesting writerly projects in the pipeline? None at the moment, but hopefully there will be big things ahead. I’m open to collaborations if anyone wants a second head to throw things at…

I just finished reading a book. Can you recommend another? I recently read Severance, the first novel by regular cracked.com columnist Chris Bucholz. It is good, solid sci-fi with great humour and a kick-ass, fully fleshed out female protagonist who I desperately want to hang out with in real life somehow. Best thing I’ve read in ages. Next on my list is The Art of Asking, by Amanda Palmer. I saw her talk at the Sydney Writers’ Festival just this evening and it was truly inspiring. I’ve always been a big fan of her music and suspect I will love her book too.

 

Jan 182015
 
Photo Credit: aaron gilson via CC.

Photo Credit: aaron gilson via CC.

I take my hat off to you all. 34 (including a couple that missed the deadline) fantastic stories this week. Judge, Rebekah Postupak, sums up your stories much better than I ever could, so I’ll hand straight over to her. Thanks, Rebekah, for some fantastic judging and feedback:

I’ve just returned tonight from seeing Selma; the film’s portrayal of the all too often exorbitant cost of peace provided a powerful backdrop to my rereading of your stories. Tonight I was particularly moved by how many of you told the same story, varying only in color and texture: a precious new life as the ultimate compensation for past heartache. Perhaps it’s a hope we all share, that our children will be better than we are. (Rather convicting, when one considers our parents share that hope too!) Thank you so much for sharing your dreams with us fellow-dreamers.

Honourable Mentions

Evacuate by Marie McKay

Some seriously gorgeous writing here. Bombs described as “whistling monsters of the night sky.” Their devastating work presented as “people folded with buildings.” This is one of the few stories in which the protagonist did not receive a prize; the loss was simply too great. This is the sort of story whose grief lingers in the reader’s bones.

The Village Idiot by Brett Milam

Peace as fungus?? This story attacked the bookends from a marvelously unique POV: someone who sees violence, not peace, as a prize. The wonderful language (in addition to peace fungus, we’ve got a “grease-smeared side of a McDonald’s booth”–how vivid is that?!) sealed this tale’s spot on the dais.

Shadow Child by Brett Milam

A gripping portrait of the destructive power of mental illness. I love this piece for its untrustworthy narrator; peace has been found, we are told, and though the MC recognizes it as “a perverted peace,” in the end he/she is unable to escape its clutches. I wish those who argue people battling mental illnesses should just “get over it” would read this story with its uniquely potent insight.

3rd Place

Isolation by Steph Ellis

Oh my gosh, I love this story so much. The movement in this piece is provided not by plot but by the panoramic description of the room. The reader is Holmes, taking in the myriad details (“the lamp shone brightly even though it was almost noon”; “there were no messages”; “another newspaper dropped on the mat to join the growing pile”) and at once catching a portrait of the man’s true character. The story provides a perfect frame, as the man (we are told) receives in the end what the beginning tells us he’s sought. But what I may love most in this tale is the narrator’s matter-of-fact tone which causes the reader to condemn the bitter protagonist even while the narrator does not. Now that’s some literary prestidigitation.

2nd Place

That Starry Kid by jaegur

This is some spectacular world-building. Just LOOK at how much is crafted in 100 words! Here we have a whole speculative world in which a certain magic can burn people up. We’ve got a villain (who gets his comeuppance!). A brother and sister with backstory AND character development. Wonderful, wonderful storytelling, and though the story is layered and rich, you have avoided that far too easy mistake of cramming too much in. I want to take lessons from you. This is an amazing story. Also, I want a magic star on my cheek; it could come in quite handy, I’m thinking.

Winner

Bittersweet by Meg Kovalik

Like my other top picks, this story came at the prompt from a less-obvious angle. Tell me your heart does not fall apart at this line: “She looked at his dear little hand with a mixture of guilt and self-loathing; she longed to love this child!” Post-partum depression is a thing rarely openly discussed, even in these nombrilistic (is that a word? it should be) days of constant status updates and selfies. You’ve brought us a truly unique and sympathetic character in this suffering mother. You’ve also built up a powerfully effective tension between the (vividly described!) free-wheeling partyers and the mother’s private pain. What I especially love, however, is how you do not abandon the mother in her pain: in the final line, you pull back the curtains to show us her true character. This is no victim; this is a hero, determined to win her quest if it costs all she has. This is plot, tension, character development, a vibrant setting, and the perfect story to represent this round’s bookends: the prize of a heart at peace.

Bittersweet

Meg Kovalik

“Peace out, brah!”

The passing exchange startled her from her doze.

Happy festival-goers buzzed about in slanting afternoon sunlight, the constant background hum of conversation punctuated by drumbeats and snatches of melody. Laughter and incense mingled in the air as the bundle wrapped tightly to her chest squirmed and resettled mid-slumber.

Depression did not run in her family. Yet the black fog that settled after the birth of her child was unmistakable. She looked at his dear little hand with a mixture of guilt and self-loathing: she longed to love this child!

“One day, I will,” she whispered, holding her heart like a hard-won prize.

Jan 172015
 

Thanks to everyone who voted for your favourite stories. I’m not going to release how many votes each entry got because I don’t want to prejudice future voting.

Photo Credit: Kodak Views via CC.

Photo Credit: Kodak Views via CC.

The three winners, in no particular order, are:

HANGER HANGAR by Bunmi Oke

Disorder by Rasha Tayaket

What I Taught My Daughter About Dating by Geoff Holme

Congratulations Bunmi, Rasha, and Geoff! Please contact me here with your postal address so I can send you your book.

Because I like to rule with an iron fist, I’m going to allow myself the privilege of choosing one more entry to go through to the ‘story of the year’ contest. That entry is:

The Nation’s State of Mind by Marie McKay

Jan 152015
 

The Nobel Peace Prize is one of the five annual Nobel Prizes (Chemistry, Physics, Physiology or Medicine, and Literature being the others) bequeathed by the Swedish industrialist and arms manufacturer, Alfred Nobel. His will says the Peace Prize should be awarded to:

the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.

Due to the political nature of the Peace Prize, unlike the other prizes, it has often been the subject of controversy, both for notable omissions (including Mahatma Gandhi and Eleanor Roosevelt), and for awarding the prize to encourage future achievements rather than recognising past ones (many considered this to be the case when President Barack Obama received the award in 2009 after only eight and a half months in office.)

Today marks the 86th anniversary of the birth of perhaps the most popular Nobel Peace Prize-winner, Martin Luther King, Jr. King was a proponent of Gandhi’s principle of non-violence, and devoted his life to bringing greater equality to America and promoting civil rights for all people regardless of race. King was shot dead as he stood on the second-floor balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. His final words were spoken to the musician who was scheduled to perform at an event King was attending later that night:

Ben, make sure you play Take My Hand, Precious Lord in the meeting tonight. Play it real pretty.

Let’s take a moment to remember those who died in the name of peace, with this week’s photo prompt:

Photo Credit: aaron gilson via CC.

Photo Credit: aaron gilson via CC.

The Judge

Judging this week’s contest is Rebekah Postupak, winner of MB 1.13. Read her winning story and what she has to say about flash fiction here.

What?

A story of between 90 and 110 words starting with PEACE and ending with PRIZE and incorporating the photo prompt.

Who?

Anyone, but especially you!

Why?

Why not! Because it’s fun. Because it’s a challenge. Because the winner will receive their own winner’s page, their story on the winning stories list, a ‘who is the the author’ feature to be posted next week, entry into the ‘Micro Bookend of the Year’ competition, and a copy of this year’s winning stories compilation.

When?

Now! Get your entry in BEFORE 5:00 am Friday (UK time: http://time.is/London).

Where?

Here!

How?

Post your story in the comments section. Include the word count and your Twitter username (if you’re Twitterized). Don’t forget to read the full rules before submitting your story.

Anything else?

Please give your story a title. It will not be included in the word count.

Please try to leave comments on a couple of other stories. It’s all part of the fun, and everyone likes feedback!

Remember, only stories that use the bookends exactly as supplied (punctuation is allowed) will be eligible to win.