Furious Fiction

Wanted to let you know about a neat contest for writers of flash fiction. On the first Friday of every month, the Australian Writers’ Centre hosts a contest for writing a very short story.

The contest is called Furious Fiction, and it’s kind of the writing equivalent to a cooking contest, a la The Great British Baking Show. You have 55 hours to craft a story that includes a maximum of 500 words. It can be in any genre. But the stories have to include certain ingredients that change each month. That could be the setting (wedding or funeral, for example). Could be that a character has to do a specific action (make a decision, for example). And a few key words need to be included.

I have entered the contest a few times, and it’s an interesting challenge. I’ve found that prompts poke my creativity in different ways than thinking up a story that could be about anything and be any amount of words. A photo prompt can rattle my brain, causing ideas to pop that wouldn’t have otherwise. Same with the prompts in this contest.

While the contest’s turnaround time added stress to my writing, it also prodded me into finishing the stories. A stronger motivation than thinking, “Maybe I’ll finish this story next month.”

If you’ve never tried to write flash fiction, you may want to start with a weekly prompt that offers more time to put a story together. It’s not a simple thing to try to tell a story in a small amount of space. After you’re comfortable with the format, maybe try this contest.

The winner gets $500 Australian dollars. When the winner is announced, the story is published on the website of the Australian Writers’ Centre — along with the stories that made the short list. The hosts include descriptions of what they liked about those stories. That’s helpful to learn what was successful about the stories, and you could use the lessons when you’re writing new stories.

Bending Spoons

A piece of flash fiction for you today, I hope you enjoy…

*****

There was that time when Margie bent the spoon because the ice cream in the carton was so hard, and her eyes opened huge as sunflowers at the astonishment of her ability to bend metal, and then her astonishment transformed into concern over Everett’s reaction, as she figured it would be anger.

“Don’t worry,” Everett said with a shrug, “it’s just an old spoon.”

And they laughed together at the arc of the spoon’s handle, that severe curve that looked impossible, but possible in a Salvador Dali painting–possibly one with clocks melting over clouds on fire.

“This reminds me,” Margie said with a spoonful of cookie dough ice cream, “of the people who can bend things and move things with their minds.”

So they decided to try it, both of them staring at the spoon, laser beams practically shooting from their eyeballs, squinting as if reacting from searing sunlight. But they couldn’t get the handle to bend back to its original position. The spoon didn’t even twitch.

“That’s not going to work,” Everett said.

“Okay. Instead, let’s try to read each other’s minds.”

“If we couldn’t get a spoon to move, how can we read minds?”

He shrugged. “It’s worth a try. I’ll think of a number, from one to twenty. And you try to figure out what it is. Okay?”

“Okay. You ready?”

“Ready.”

“Nine.”

Everett stared at her. “How’d you know?”

“Dunno,” Margie said with a shrug. “It just felt right.”

That was when Everett knew she’d eventually become his girlfriend, and he ate a spoonful of cookie dough ice cream to celebrate.

Shel Silverstein

I’d like to include posts about some of my inspirations. Feels good to share these with you lovely readers out there, and to give thanks to the folks who have influenced my writing and drawing.

First post of this kind is to Shel Silverstein, whose work inspired me to put poems and illustrations together into The Dancing Fish. The poems in that book started many years ago, as ways to entertain my two daughters and to post on my old blog. Shel Silverstein’s books influenced what I wanted: poems to make my daughters laugh (or at least smile and give a little giggle).

After I wrote poems for a few years, I put the poems aside. They remained out of sight until I had the idea to create drawings to accompany them, and all of that would be placed into a book.

Of course, a shining example had been around all along in Silverstein’s books. But I hadn’t considered such a book until last year. The long delay between writing the poems and starting the book caused me to look at the poems with fresh eyes and recall the joy of writing them.

I loved Silverstein’s silliness, his turning something around and looking at it from different angles. We’re so used to falling down, but what if it was possible to fall up? If you bent down and looked around, you’d see everything in a different way (“New World”).

And I loved the playfulness of drawings to extend the fun of the poems, and to me the magic is in the expressions of the people and animals. From scared Santa running from a hound (“Christmas Dog”) to a worried guy peering at cantaloupe through a microscope (“Nope”) to pleased animals looking at the guy in a cage (“People Zoo”) — all are drawn with such humor that you can’t help but smile, even with scared Santa. (All these poems are in Falling Up.)

Silverstein’s fun could be subversive at times. The challenge of selling hats to the peculiar people in “Headless Town.” An odd gumball machine with an eyeball in it (“Gumeye Ball”). A very strange order in a restaurant (“Who Ordered the Broiled Face?”).

He suggested that being too good would be boring. “Camp Wonderful” is described as such a nice place, but the poem’s narrator ends by firmly stating “I know I’m gonna hate it.” Instead, there’s enjoyment in at least hearing about naughty things, as the narrator of the “The Pirate” lists the dastardly deeds of Claude the pirate, then expresses the wish to sit next to Claude at dinner, presumably to hear his juicy stories.

Silverstein is directly inspirational in his “Put Something In”:

Draw a crazy picture,
Write a nutty poem,
Sing a mumble-grumble song,
Whistle through your comb.
Do a loony-goony dance
‘Cross the kitchen floor,
Put something silly in the world
That ain’t been there before.

A Light in the Attic, 1981

And that’s what I wanted to do with The Dancing Fish. Put something goofy into the world. An illustrated poetry book inspired not only by Silverstein, but e.e. cummings, William Carlos Williams, and more. A book that will hopefully bring smiles and laughs to readers.

I went in different directions with my drawing than Silverstein. I like cross-hatching as shading rather than his stippling dots. While Silverstein used black as a single color, I liked the variety of different grays in the mix. I’m not even close to Silverstein’s talent of drawing expressive faces, and I think mine are rather plain by comparison.

Youtube has fun animations of Silverstein’s poems:

“Ickle Me, Pickle Me, Tickle Me Too”

“Sick”

“Where the Sidewalk Ends”

Children’s Book Progress

I’m very pleased on how the draft of my children’s book is moving along. As with Dancing Fish, I enjoy seeing the layout come together, in arranging text and illustrations on the pages.

These two projects have been much closer to my day job of graphic design than my previous books, in that the projects I work on for clients typically include text, photos, and graphs. These elements are arranged on the pages with the purpose of clear communication.

Same goal with the children’s book. I don’t want to crowd the pages to make reading difficult. I want the pages to have variety, in the hope of keeping readers interested.

Certainly it’s a different kind of reader. A typical project for my day job is a research report or cover for a civil engineering book. And the new book for my personal project is intended to be read with kids. I love the idea of parents reading this book to their kids. I really hope that idea comes true. I’ll keep you posted when the book is published.

For now, here’s a sample of some of the artwork in the book:

silhouettes of lion, pineapple, moon, and rhinoceros

Book Review: The Teleporter

cover for The Teleporter

The Teleporter by Lee Hall

This is an entertaining superhero story about Kurt Wiseman, who’s bumbling through life. He loves booze so much, having a hangover on a Tuesday morning is not out of the ordinary for him.

Kurt once wrote a graphic novel — One Night in New York — and that seems to be the extent of his ambition beyond drinking at his buddy Douglas’s bar. Kurt could write another graphic novel, but hasn’t made the effort. And he makes minimum effort at his job.

But when an accident happens at his place of employment, Kurt’s life is changed forever. The kind of change along the lines of Peter Parker getting bitten by a radioactive spider and Dr. Bruce Banner shot with a gamma ray. These changes dramatically transform their lives.

Kurt’s new power to teleport cracks the cycle of lazing around at his job during the day and drinking deeply at night. Along with the power, he’s transformed on an emotional level. Yes, you could just use teleporting to save the hassle of walking, but you could use it for more, namely helping people.

Kurt makes for a fun narrator, with snarky remarks and how he describes things. I especially enjoyed the first part of this novel, as the narration took the time to develop each scene. The writing became more streamlined in the middle and final parts. I realize that happens as the action picks up, but I would’ve liked a bit more meat in those scenes.

The story takes a serious message — struggling with our demons and transforming into a stronger, more selfless person — and delivers it in a playful wrapping. I had fun along the way.

*****

Check out Lee Hall’s blog for updates about his writing.