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.

 

 

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

Writing Wednesday – Flash a Naked Heart

It’s that time of the week again!

I’d hoped to start today’s entry with an update about the NYCMidnight Flash Fiction Challenge, but they’re delaying results fifteen hours. Womp-womp. But I did have the thrilling, not-at-all intimidating realization that if I do make it through to the third round, I’ll have to write my next piece during Naked Heart, which is this weekend.

Womp-womp indeed.

nakedheart_websiteheader

If you haven’t heard about Naked Heart, it’s an LGBTQ Festival of Words running into its third year this year. I’m looking forward to it, and the schedule was released and posted (it was a bit last-minute to find out what was going on, and some events still have the speakers/readers listed as TBD, but like I said, it’s a young festival).

There are a third less as many panels this year (down from twelve to eight)—replaced by upping the number of workshops (up from nine to thirteen)—but there are always readings to go to as well, and if you’re in Toronto it’s still worth checking out even if you’re a reader rather than a writer. I’m heading down this weekend for as much of it as I can (I’m not speaking or reading) and I’ll have to head out before it’s over (one major downside of events that run late into Sunday is having to leave before the event is over if you’re not a local), but if you’re going to be there, please say hi!

Okay, on to my update-of-progress-in-public-to-keep-myself-honest.


Exit Plans for Teenage Freaks

I’m humming along now. I’m still waffling over the timeline, but I think I’ve finally clicked that it’s okay to skip days if I write a decent transition, and that’s likely the path I’m going to take. This is why we have editors, though. I trust Jerry to say, ‘Woah, ‘Nathan, no.” if I need to hear it. And he’ll be at Naked Heart, so I get to see him soon!

In other words, I’m on track for the end of the month.


Open Calls for Submission

Writing Wednesdays are also about keeping track of open calls for submission I’m keeping an eye on, as well as tracking how I’ve done thus far for the year in submitting things for publication myself.

On the latter front? Previously this year thus far: January was: 6 submissions (4 reprints, 2 new), 1 acceptance; in February was bare minimum: 1 submission (1 new); March brought 1 rejection, and 1 submission (new); April saw 1 submission (new) and 1 acceptance; May: 1 submission (new), 1 acceptance. June: BUZZ! (Let’s not talk about that). July: 1 submission (1 new). August: 1 submission (1 new). September and October: While I was more or less offline here, I did manage 2 submissions (2 new), and I had 1 acceptance, but all that pretty much happened in October. My goal is to average one a month, and I’m still ahead of that, but only because I started the year off with a bang. Still, it counts. November thus far is zero submissions, but I might have to do one in a hurry this weekend if I make it to the next round of the Flash Fiction Challenge.

And now, the open calls:

  • 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.
  • Apex Magazine—Super-short flash fiction, theme of “Valentine’s Day Invasion.” 250 hard word count limit; deadline November 30th, 2017.
  • Quantum Shift—Annual celebration of quantum-inspired call for flash fiction; 1000 word count limit; deadline December 1st, 2017.
  • Best Gay Erotica for the Year, Volume 4—Cleis Press; 2,500-5,000 word count limit. Original stories strongly preferred; deadline January 5th, 2018 (but the earlier the better).
  • 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-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.

Validation

I am not having a good writing month. You can usually tell that’s happening when you see my “Writing Wednesday” posts vanish, because I can’t bring myself to hold myself publicly accountable when I’ve had negative word-counts and I’m behind schedule and it’s just depressing, not motivating. If something is anti-motivating? I don’t do it. I’m not down with “you must write every day or you’re not a writer” as advice specifically because I know not every writer (yours truly included) can work that way, so all that kind of advice does is crush potential writers.

So. Why am I bringing this up right now? Well, I’ve got two weeks left on my deadlines and I believe I’m going to make it, but I’m struggling every single day. It’s uphill. It’s not coming easily. I’m in a terrible headspace—I don’t even know why I’m in a terrible headspace—and as such there couldn’t have been better timing for what just happened this morning.

I got validation.

Now, I don’t think authors (or artists in general) talk enough about how much validation matters, and maybe it’s just me with my own fragile ego, but if I can be blunt? Creating without validation sucks. It’s like emptying a bucket and only having a dripping pipe to refill it with.

Empty praise isn’t validation, by the way. Someone saying “I liked it,” does zilch. Someone gushing about how they connected with something is fantastic, and that does help refill the bucket. Best, though, is someone talking about how they connected with a piece, asking questions, talking about it, but also offering some constructive feedback about how the piece could be even stronger? That’s engagement and that’s so very validating. It refills my bucket like you wouldn’t believe.

Do I sound needy? I don’t mean to. It’s more I’m trying to say when you put something creative out into the world, no matter how much it’s for the “art” or how many times you say, “I don’t care if no one ever touches this, I needed to create it,” the reality is—for me, at least—it’s a little bit soul-crushing when creativity is met with crickets.

And that’s part of why I struggle so much with writing novels. I’m not a fast writer (by many standards) and as such, I can put together a novel a year (he says, eyeing the looming deadline with frayed nerves). That’s a whole year working on something in a bubble. It’s draining to me. Short fiction isn’t like that at all—I can have a piece ready for feedback within a week (or even a weekend, sometimes, when lightning strikes), and then I have an opportunity to refill that damn bucket.

Novels nearly drain it dry.

This is why I try to keep on top of writing short fiction at the same time, as it’s an opportunity to—hopefully—garner reminders that I can do this thing I’m doing. And today I got a big one.

The last time I entered the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge, I was out in the first round, but the feedback I received was pretty good, and I was happy with what I wrote. When I entered this year, I was even happier with what I wrote, but very nervous: it was very, very queer. Like, a retelling of Pinocchio queer, including hooking him up with Candlewick.  I was pretty sure I’d be out in the first round again, but the feedback from the judges was so solid last year that I looked forward to it anyway.

The way the contest works this year was this: each group was given a genre (my group was ‘fairy tale’), an object (‘a ticket stub’) and a location (‘an abandoned railroad car’), and they’ve got a strictly limited word count to tell a story with. The top fifteen entries in each category are given points, first place getting 15 points, second place getting 14 points, and so on, all the way down. Everyone moves on to the second round—this was another reason I signed up again, as it meant double the feedback—and the points from both rounds are added together to see who moves on thereafter.

This morning I got the update that the stories had been judged, and…

Screenshot 2017-09-14 06.33.34

And there’s me, in first place in group 68, out of thirty-one entrants.

Validation, folks? It’s a great, great thing. Even if they did call me Jonathan instead of ‘Nathan.

Writing Wednesday – Submit!

Thanks to the Flash Fiction Challenge, from NYCMidnight, I feel so much better this week about the state of the ‘Nathan. Last time, I made it to honourable mention in the first round of the earlier contest, which… wasn’t far, but like I said last week, it’s a challenge and it makes me stretch, so I put on my big person pants and signed up for another go.

And I loved it. At first, I was nervous: I got “fairy tale,” “a ticket stub,” and “an abandoned railroad car.” I started with the genre, pondering and thinking about what made a fairy tale, which fairy tales I liked, and then had my “click” moment when I remembered Pinocchio and the idea of Toyland.

So, for the contest, I ended up submitting “Pine Puppet & Candlewick,” which was a queer retelling of part of the story of Pinocchio. I have no idea if I’ve shot myself in the foot by telling a queer story, but either way, I really liked what I came up with, and frankly, if it doesn’t make it through the process, I can flush it out from the 1,000 word limit and I think I could find a new home for it.


Exit Plans for Teenage Freaks

More success here. I’ve still got quite a bit ahead of me, but I’m happy with where I’ve set down Cole with his family, with Malik (I wrote the scene where Malik admits to Cole he’s maybe bi, and it flowed well) and I’m soon getting into the very meat of the chase/run/capture/escape stuff, which will be a complete shift in pacing and tone. I’m also really enjoying writing scenes with Cole seeing his parents interact: they’re a loving, supportive couple, which of course is that awful mix of embarrassing and awesome to a teen.

 Dad tapped his lips, and my mother leaned in for a kiss. They smiled at each other, and I stared down at the rice steamer because when they looked at each other like that I could never decide if it was the most awesome thing in the world, or if it was really, really gross.

Once they were done being gross awesome parents in love, my dad leaned over and checked the timer.

Five minutes, he signed.

I’ll set the table. My mom almost never spoke when she signed. Then again, she wasn’t planning to be an interpreter like I was. Watching them move around each other while she gathered cutlery and paper napkins was like watching a kind of dance. They touched each other in passing, little touches that weren’t necessary, but made my mom smile and my dad wink. It was adorable.

And gross.

Really, it was a wonder I’d ever made it out of therapy. Didn’t they know their kid was watching?

The timer flashed, and dad started serving onto the three plates my mother had left for him.

My stomach growled again.

I wondered how many calories it took to teleport.


Of Echoes Born

I didn’t make as much progress here since the flash fiction contest was on my radar for my non-Exit writing time, but this is fine. Not in the “dog in a burning building” way, either. It really is fine.


Open Calls for Submission

Every Wednesday I try to include my list off all the various open calls for submission I’ve found and/or am trying to write for. If you know of any others, by all means do drop them in the comments and I’ll add them to the list. If this is helpful for people other than myself, it’s even better.

July to date: 1 submission (1 new).

Previously this year thus far: January was: 6 submissions (4 reprints, 2 new), 1 acceptance; in February was bare minimum: 1 submission (1 new); March brought 1 rejection, and 1 submission (new); April say 1 submission (new) and 1 acceptance; May: 1 submission (new), 1 acceptance. June: BUZZ! (Let’s not talk about that).

  • Chicken Soup for the Soul – Various titles, various themes, various deadlines, 1,200 word count limit.
  • Clarkesworld – Currently open for art, non-fiction, and short story submissions.
  • Cast of Wonders – Young adult short fiction market, open to story submissions up to 6,000 words.
  • Totally Entwined – Many calls, various dates and lengths.
  • Erotic Short Romances — Carina Press, an ongoing call for 10k to 17k word count limit.
  • The Witching Hour – Mythical creature visitation theme; deadline July 30th, 2017; 10k to 40k word count limit.
  • Holiday Stories – Ninestar Press is seeking queer holiday tales; deadline July 31st, 2017; 5k to 30k word count limit.
  • Haunted — Erotic stories centered around the theme of haunted, Mugwump Publishing; Deadline August 5th, 2017; 1k-5k word count limit.
  • Flint Charity Anthologies – Organized by Vicktor Alexander; deadlines throughout September, 2017; 5k to 20k word count limit.
  • Saints & Sinners Short Fiction Contest — Judged by Radclyffe; deadline October 3rd, 2017; 3k to 7k word count limit.
  • Futurescape Contest – “Blue Sky Cities” theme; 8k word count limit; deadline October 13th, 2017.