January Flash Fiction Draw Roundup

The stories are in! First off, I want to say a huge thank you to all the authors out there who gave this challenge a shot. I had to force myself not to read all of the stories ahead of time, as I was working on mine almost right up to the morning of, and it served as a good reward for getting my story finished.

So, for those who missed it, the Flash Fiction Draw is basically a randomized card-draw version of the way the NYCMidnight Flash Fiction contest works, with a week rather than arduous two day time limit, and for fun and inspiration, rather than for serious competition.

These were the cards drawn (and what they meant):

Flash Draw with Words

So, what did the authors do when asked to write a fairy tale, set in a prison, involving a tattoo machine?

Pretty much everything. Absurdist, dark, clever, often queer, a few retellings… the tales went everywhere. Which is the best part of any writing prompt, really: seeing how the same spark can go in so many different directions. Here they are, alphabetically by contributor:

Lilly Amadu wrote “Casting Call.”
Jeff Baker wrote “Reynaldo.”
‘Nathan Burgoine (that’s me) wrote “Tinder.”
Alex deMorra wrote “Skin and Ink.”
Cait Gordon wrote “Truth Be Told, A Fairy Tale.”
Talia Johnson wrote “Inking to Freedom.”
Jeffrey Ricker wrote “The Artist.”
Ralph Seligman-Courtois wrote “The Citadel.”
Ceillie Simkiss wrote a Flash Fantasy.
E.H. Timms wrote “A Rum Deal.”
Jerry L. Wheeler wrote “Wings.”
Jamieson Wolf wrote “The Storyteller.”

Did I miss your entry? Let me know and I’ll add you to the list! (Apologies to Lilly! I totally misplaced your story when I was first writing this post!)

 

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Tinder — A Flash Fiction Draw Challenge Story

Here’s my entry for the first Flash Fiction Draw Challenge (the post for the original January draw is here, and a round-up post for all the stories I’m aware of that were written is here). In case you didn’t know about this challenge, there’s a video here explaining (and showing the first draw), but the quick version: I used a deck of cards (three suits) to randomly put together a genre (in this case: Fairy Tale), a location (in this case: a prison) and an object (in this case: a tattoo machine) and challenged anyone who wanted to play to write something over the next week, with a maximum of 1,000 words.

My resulting tale was “Tinder,” a queer re-telling of the “Tinderbox” fairy tale, by Hans Christian Andersen.

Flash Draw with Words


“Tinder”

It’s one thing to be poor, another returning from the king’s army poorer still. That was me, before I found myself in prison, awaiting the gibbet.

*

Before I’d heard of prophecy, I’d served my term in battle. I fought witch flameborn beasts as well as any, my survival as much luck as skill, my wounds clear enough proof.

No soldiers escorted me. Wounded, I was sent home without coin for service, instead “rewarded” with freedom, a limp, and terrible memories.

I encountered the witch before I’d made it to my king’s land. We eyed each other, but I bore no armor, and she no flame.

“You’re no soldier,” she said.

“No longer. You don’t fight for your emperor?”

“Were you free to choose to not fight for your king?”

I laughed. “My service…ended.”

“Usefulness, more like.” I noticed only two fingers on her left hand, and her thumb but a stub.

A witch unable to strike a match would ignite no tattoos.

“I’m sorry,” I said.

“Hm.” She cocked her head. “You have the scent of prophecy.”

“If you say.”

“Come. I have work. Treason, but it pays more than you can use, if you’re wise.”

I was a man unconcerned with kingly approval.

I went.

*

The split in the huge tree was ink black.

“Inside are three beasts. Guardians. But you are not marked as a witch?”

I had no tattoos. “No.”

“Bare your skin for the dogs, show them. They won’t stir. All I ask for is the tinderbox within. It will allow me magic again. The coins you may take.”

*

Three dogs, though “dogs” does no justice. The smallest with eyes wide as saucers, its body scaled to match. Ink black, they guarded three piles of coins; copper and silver and gold, each dog larger than the last.

I gathered the coins first, then the tinderbox in my paltry rucksack. When I took the tinderbox, the three beasts faded. Last I saw their eyes: the largest’s wide as a tower window.

The witch watched me dress.

“The tinderbox?”

I gave it. “I hope this restores your life as these coins might mine.”

“I half worried you would keep it. Or harm me.”

“I’ve learned witches wish to protect their land and emperor.” I spoke treason.

“You don’t know why you fought, do you?”

I didn’t.

“Prophecy. Your king’s son is locked away because the king fears the emperor’s soothsayer.”

I did know the Prince never left his tower. But not why.

She drew a deep breath, and put a hand in her robes. I tensed—betrayal?—but she gave me a vial.

Ink.

“In thanks,” she said.

*

The ink became three dogs etched round my neck by a woman with eyes like the witch and an accent to match. Many escaped war by becoming smaller, hiding among the shadows of the city, out of view of the castle.

The sting of her needles, the thrum of her odd device driving the needles still comes to me some nights when I dream.

*

Without work, the coins I’d gathered went. None offered work to a man as scarred as I. It didn’t matter I was strong, I was a reminder of a war they chose to believe would never reach them.

I walked the city, circling the castle, hoping to find something.

I looked at the tower and remembered the witch’s word: prophecy.

*

Summoning the first dog was an accident: a rare cigar to warm a cold evening. A spark touched my dog low on my neck. Had I worn a shirt, or the match been easier to light, it might never have happened.

The dog crouched low before me, ready to obey.

“Fetch,” I said, not even sure what I intended.

It returned with the prince.

*

He was handsome, schooled, had soft hands, and though he was afraid after the dog drew him through shadows to my rooms, he savoured his brief respite from his tower. We spoke.

Then didn’t speak.

In the morning, he told me of the prophecy that birthed war: the king would beget a son who cared nothing for princesses, who would fall for a man with no work.

I struck many a match on winter nights, and was much warmer for the prince’s company.

*

They found us, eventually. What trickery, magic, or simple deduction I’m unsure, but when they came, there was no escape. To my surprise, my cell was as large as my cheap room, and the cot as comfortable, but I wasn’t allowed cigars, and had no way to barter.

No prisoner is given the simple pleasure of a warm fire.

My former soldiering meant nothing—I knew of the prophecy.

For that I would die.

*

Beyond the gibbet, I see my prince. The king has made him come, of course. To watch as the king would defy prophecy. The proclamation calling for my death is made. I step up to my place.

“Will we grant last request?” The prince’s voice is loud in the nearly empty square. There are few here. The king, queen, prince, and two jailors. Also the black hooded man who will end my life. Is this born of a fear of the king: what if I spoke? What if I told?

The king eyes his son with fury. It’s a soldier’s right.

“Your request?” the prince asks. His eyes are misery.

“A cigar,” I say.

*

The dogs spare the queen, who faints dead away as the first beast tears her husband’s throat. The guards take longer. The black hooded man falls last.

None here learned to fight flameborn beasts.

The Prince’s hands shake while he undoes my binding. The cigar smolders at my feet. My neck burns where I twisted as it was brought to my lips.

“Now we run,” he says.

“Did your prophecy say how this ends?”

He only smiles.

We run.

*

I wonder if anyone will tell our tale true.

Likely not.

 

 

Sunday Shorts — “Das Steingeschöpf” by G.V. Anderson

Found in Wilde Stories 2017, “Das Steingeschöpf” has so many balls in the air, juggled effortlessly, that it’s going to be forever bookmarked in my mind for when people ask me “Isn’t short fiction limiting?”

No. No it is not.

Anderson’s story handles an alternate world post-WWI historical setting (as WWII is about ready to explode), a queer main character where their queerness is not the narrative in and of itself, magical realism, gargoyles, world-building, style, and a complete narrative arc all with just sixteen pages.

It’s freaking brilliant.

Now, without spoiling anything from the tale, it’s about a very particular sort of stone restorationist—one who has the ability to work Queckstein, a particular kind of stone that can absorb life and memory and gives birth to living gargoyles. This young man is barely out of his training, and comes face to face with a piece of living art, and an opportunity to work with—and repair—a gargoyle crafted by one of the greats. It may be beyond his skill, however, and he’s already fighting the stigmas of being one of Germany’s hated peoples. But is the chance too great a temptation?

Wilde Stories 2017 has so many wonderful tales in it, I’m sure I’ll revisit the anthology again with my weekly mini-reviews, but in and of itself, “Das Steingesdchöpf,” makes this year’s anthology a must read.


A man named Turing visits a museum to see its rarest automata; during the Plague Years, three artists seeking to express a voice for their friends lost to AIDS unwittingly create life; a far-future restaurant offers patrons questionable cuisine; an immortal assassin may be one step closer to a paranoid king, despite his unspeakable precautions; the very existence of a mysterious and ancient golden android challenges a clergyman’s faith…

Wilde Stories showcases the previous year’s best offerings in gay short fantasy, science-fiction, and horror. This edition includes award-winning and critically acclaimed authors Sam J. Miller, A. Merc Rustad, A.C. Wise, Martin Pousson, and more. The stories in this, the latest volume in this annual series, challenges the definition of life and infamy, existence and reputation, were chosen by Steve Berman, the premier editor of queer speculative fiction for more than a decade. Contains the World Fantasy Award-winning story by G.V. Anderson!

Available from Lethe Press, and wherever quality LGBT fiction is sold.

Friday Flash Fics — Inspiration

For Friday Flash Fics this week, I saw this image and immediately thought of both a character (and type of creature) I hadn’t yet introduced yet into the Triad universe, but also Mackenzie Windsor and part of her back story that comes to light in Triad Soul. So, of course, spoilers for Triad Soul in this one. And once again I went way over word count.

Flash Friday

Inspiration

Mackenzie picked up the cup and took a sip of air. It was empty. She sighed, put the cup down, and picked up the small teapot.

It was empty, too.

“Would you like more hot water?”

Mackenzie glanced up. It was the man she’d bought the tea from, and he’d come out from behind the counter, and there was no sign of his apron. She blinked at him. It took a second to find her voice. “Sorry?”

“More water?”

It took her longer than it should have to process. How long had she been here? She was the last customer, she realized, and half the tables had their chairs stacked on top of them. She’d been working on ideas for hours.

Getting nowhere.

“You’re closing,” she said.

“I’ve got stuff I still need to do. And you look like you’re working on something important.”

His kindness in his voice, a soft patience she wasn’t expecting, hit too close to home. Her eyes filled with tears, and she couldn’t blink fast enough to stop them.

“Oh, hey,” he reached out one hand, but it hovered just an inch or so from touching her.

“It’s okay,” Mackenzie said. She lowered the book she’d been searching, and closed her laptop, just for something to do. She wiped her cheek then took a deep breath.

“Let me get the hot water,” he said, and he turned to do it before she could say anything else. She let him, deciding that more Lady Grey might be just the ticket. She felt like she was on the edge of a solution, but kept missing it by just a breath.

There has to be a way.

He brought the water, and refilled her tea pot. He’d rolled up his sleeves now, and she saw an eclectic range of tattoos on his right arm. A mask. A feather. The Millennium Falcon.

He put the chairs on tables while she drank the tea. Between sips, she gathered her books back into her messenger bag and, finally, slid her lap-top in as well.

“Can I make a suggestion?” he said again, when she stood and looped the bag over her head.

She eyed him. He was handsome, in an ever-so-slightly coiffed way that made her think he spent more time preparing his look than he wanted anyone to know. Short hair, artfully tousled. Just enough scruff to be almost a beard.

“Sure,” she said. Because if you’ve got some spell or crystal I’ve not thought of, I want to hear it. I’m starting to think nothing short of a philosopher’s stone is going to save her—and it turns out no one’s even sure if those exist.

“Get out of your head. Stop thinking. Drift. Let your mind wander.” His voice was charming, and gentle, and she would have given anything to slap his face, hard.

“My sister is dying and there’s nothing I can do about it.” The words came out in an angry rush.

He’d been wiping down a counter. He threw the towel over one shoulder. “You’re used to being able to fix things.”

She stared at him. I can make bodies heal overnight with a touch. I can make crystals dance. But not cancer. “Yes.”

“Come dancing with me.”

She opened her mouth. Closed it. “Does this routine work for you often? Find women in a bad place and swoop in and offer your best Dr. Phil?”

He shrugged. “I don’t meet wizards very often.”

Mackenzie held out one hand. Her magic moved beneath her skin, strong and solid and ready for her. If he was going to throw down, she was very much indeed in the mood to break his face.

He held up both hands. “Not looking to fight, flick. Was thinking dancing. Get you out of your head. My name’s Leo. I promise, I’m no threat.”

“You’re not an incubus,” she said. “Because I’m so not into you right now.”

He rubbed his chin. It was adorable, and really worked for him, and the move only conjured more annoyance. Nope. Definitely not an incubus.

“There are demons, and there are demons,” he said.

Mackenzie swallowed. “Dancing, huh?”

*

In the morning, she checked her phone. There was a text from Matthew.

Your mother did check in with me. I covered for you. You were fast asleep when she called, in case she asks. I don’t suppose you’ll tell me where you really were?

Mackenzie’s thumbs hovered over the screen. Finally, she tapped a reply. Just needed to get out of my head.

She heard him come back into the bedroom. His apartment wasn’t big, but it had been close to the club where they’d danced. And she had indeed left all her worries about her sister to the side, just for a night. No thoughts of magic, no notions of spells, no catalogs of stones and crystals known for healing properties. Nothing that might fight cancer. Just music, and movement, and a really cute boy who’d had even more tattoos once his shirt had come off. And green boxers with a repeating cannabis pattern, apparently.

Out of her head indeed.

“You okay?” he said. He leaned in the doorway, watching her. He’d slept on the couch, and had given her his bedroom.

“I needed that,” she admitted.

He nodded. “I could tell. Now. You fed me, how about I feed you?”

She sat up in the bed. In her T shirt and underwear, she should have felt exposed. Instead, she felt oddly calm. “I fed you?”

He shrugged. “You have a great imagination, and you were working on your…problem…for hours at the café.”

“And that fed you.” She’d knew there were demons who could feed on things other than lust. Incubi and succubi were the most common, at least in most of North America, but there were others. Wrath demons—furies—fed on anger.

He nodded. Okay, he really was cute, and if she’d been in a better place emotionally, she’d totally go for that whole rumpled and adorable thing. Also, he had a Mockingjay tattooed on his shoulder, and who didn’t love Katniss?

“If it helps,” she said. “I’m a big fan of bacon.”

“I wasn’t thinking that kind of food,” he said. He tapped his temple. “I was thinking maybe inspiration.”

Her heart shivered in her chest. “What?”

“I’m not saying you haven’t thought of everything. Maybe you have. But…” Another shrug. “Maybe I can jog something loose you didn’t consider.”

“Yes,” she said. “Please.”

He sat with her on the bed, looked down, and when he looked back up, his eyes were the liquid black of a demon. It should have made him terrifying. He was a creature who fed on human emotion. Maybe not lust and not wrath, but something. At least he wasn’t a vampire, she thought, remembering something she’d been told about how vampires found the taste of wizards to be something of a delicacy.

No, she wasn’t afraid of Leo. Instead, Mackenzie felt a sliver of hope.

He touched her hand.

And just like that, Mackenzie had a terrible idea.

She couldn’t save her sister’s life. There was no magic, no crystal that worked in the face of cancer. Healing spells sped up the body’s restoration and growth, but cancer was growth gone wrong. There was no magic to hold it still, no spell to force the body to stop growing. There was no way to stop time.

At least, not with magic.

Mackenzie leaned back on Leo’s bed. His eyes returned to the hazel they’d been at the café. His smile was amiable, gentle, and maybe even a little shy. “You thought of something.”

She nodded slowly. She had a tonne of research to do. There had to be a way to make sure this could work without her sister losing all of her magic in the process. But first? First she had a really big problem.

“I don’t suppose you know any vampires?” Mackenzie said.

 

Writing Wednesday — Re: Solutions

I used to be a bigger fan of resolutions when I was younger, and I generally kept them, but the older I get the more I try to think of them more as solutions to things that are impeding me in some way. So, last year I managed something pretty amazing: I completed writing two book-length works in one year.

And I shouldn’t have tried.

OF ECHOES BORN - 4

So. Pretty.

Don’t get me wrong, one of those was a collection, Of Echoes Born (and yes, I’m going to post the cover again because Inkspiral is freaking amazingly talented), so really it was like I wrote a novel-and-a-half, but I knew going in that it was maybe pushing my limits. Then we renovated part of the house, my head decided to have a bad year, and…

Yeah. I got them done. That’s fantastic. But the new limit is firmly in place: One novel (the pitch for which I’m working on now, so hopefully it’s accepted); a novella project (without a contractual deadline); and short fiction in between as I can. No overload. Lots of wiggle room. If my head melts down again, there will be breathing space.

Solutions. Not resolutions.

Triad Magic

Speaking of the novel writing part, the next goal is to bring the Triad boys home with Triad Magic. Writing Wednesdays is when I check in with how things are going, and things are going well. I’ve not sent off the official pitch yet, I’m still working on the synopsis, but I’ve more-or-less decided on the blurb, which is this:

The law of three is everything: three vampires for a coterie, three demons for a pack, and three wizards for a coven. Those who travel alone or in pairs are vulnerable to the rest. Luc, Anders, and Curtis—vampire, demon, and wizard—sidestepped tradition and formed a bond that continues to defy those who have ruled for centuries.

When a series of kidnappings target those who can glimpse the future, the powerful do what they’ve always done: close ranks. But for Luc, Anders, and Curtis, the missing include members of their chosen family, and they alone seem willing to risk themselves to seek whoever might be capable of such a feat.

Outwitting an enemy who can seemingly get the drop on the prescient is no easy task. The powerful of Ottawa scramble to take advantage of the chaos, leaving Luc, Anders, and Curtis to find a way to undo a darkness far crueler than anything they’ve faced before.

The triad of blood, soul, and magic is their greatest power.

The future might not care.

Word-count wise, I’m ahead of the goal (that always happens at the beginning) but the more cushion the better. And on the theme of solutions, I’ve packed more wiggle room in there, too.

Faux-Ho-Ho

My other project, which I’m writing without a home and no plan to look for a home until it’s done, is another holiday novella. I loved, loved, loved having Handmade Holidays out there in November/December, and I won’t lie: it was a selfish love. I got to talk about the holidays they way they are for queer me, and it was an actual joy. I don’t think I’ve felt that way about the holidays in a very long time, and I want more of that feeling, so I’m working on a “fake-relationship” holiday story. I’m still going to try and hit some of my key focus points: queerness, chosen family, and making your own way, but this time it’s going to be more about how we sometimes navigate toxic people to keep the people we love in our lives, and maybe there are better ways.

It’ll be different not to do a vignette style story, too: this one is going to happen over the space of a week or so leading up to the holidays and a family wedding, rather than over the course of fifteen years. And Ru (at least) will have a cameo.

Also there’s a really hunky kickboxer-type who agrees to pretend to be a boyfriend over the holidays.

Writing for this project is also more-than-on-track.

Short Stuff

I’m going back to my usual goal of submitting something short once a month for the year, and also trying to remember reprints are a thing. I haven’t submitted anything just yet, but January has barely begun.


Open Calls for Submission

I also try to list off calls for submission I find (and find tempting) every week on Writing Wednesdays, so without further ado:

  • Chicken Soup for the Soul—Various titles, various themes, various deadlines, 1,200 word count limit.
  • Mischief Corner Books—Open to submissions for various themes, including Legendary Love, Everyday Heroes, Cowboys and Space; these are open rolling calls, so no deadline.
  • NineStar Press—Open to submissions for various length prose, paranormal, science fiction, fantasy and horror; Click “Currently Seeking” header for details; word count limit variable.
  • Spectrum Lit—This is an ongoing patreon flash fic provider, 1,500 hard word count limit; LGBTQ+ #ownvoice only; ongoing call.
  • Best Gay Erotica for the Year, Volume 4—Cleis Press; 2,500 to 5,000 word count limit. Original stories strongly preferred; deadline January 5th, 2018 (but the earlier the better).
  • A World Unimagined— Left Hand Publishers; 4,000 to 9,000 word count limit. Speculative fiction, deadline: January 21st, 2018.
  • Fantastic Beasts and Where to F*** Them—Circlet Press; Erotic short stories with magical beasts and shapeshifter tropes; 3,000 to 7,000 word count limit; deadline February 1st, 2018.
  • Lost—NineStar Press. LGBTQIA+ romantic pairing. Both HEA and HFN are acceptable, Click “Lost” header for the theme. 30k to 120k word count limit; deadline April 30th, 2018.
  • Happiness in Numbers—Less than Three Press; Polyamorous LGBTQIA+ anthology, non-erotic polyamorous stories that explore the idea of “Family”; 10k to 20k word count limit; deadline April 30th, 2018.
  • MLR Press—Quite a few different themes are open; 10k to 40k word count limit; deadlines vary, but the earliest right now is April 30th, 2018.

January Flash Fiction Draw

Happy New Year, everyone!

So, as I mentioned a week or so ago, I decided to throw together a Flash Fiction Draw challenge once a month, patterned after the NYCMidnight Flash Fiction contest I entered a couple of times. I didn’t like the two day limitation (or, less, really since I’m not one to stay up until midnight to find out my assignment), so I figure giving a solid week to put the three pieces together would be more fun.

So, I sat down and did the draw. I even made a video of it (you can go check that out on my Facebook page if you want).

The chart from which the draws were made was this:

Screenshot 2017-12-19 10.22.17

And the result for January? Three of clubs, eight of diamonds, and two of hearts. Which means anyone who wants to play along is going to write a flash fiction piece of 1,000 words within the following guidelines: a fairy tale, involving a tattoo machine, set in a prison.

I can’t wait to see what you all come up with, and if you’re willing to share, by all means drop by my Facebook page above on the 8th, or here, and link back to your pieces.

Most importantly? This is supposed to be fun and inspiring, not hard work that leaves you feeling frustrated or angry. If it’s not working for you? Don’t sweat it. There’ll be another challenge next month, from the remaining twelve items on the list.

Which I just realized I said wrong on the video, because there were thirteen cards in play for each suit, not ten. Sheesh.

Flash Draw with Words