Flash Fiction — End of a Thread

Earlier this week, I mentioned I had three flash fiction pieces thanks to taking part in the NYCMidnight Flash Fiction contest, and shared the first of the three. Today, the third story comes to play. Now, this was where I ended my journey in the contest, as I did earn an honourable mention, but only the top stories moved on into the final round.

That said? For this round, I wasn’t confident. I was given the genre of “mystery,” something I rarely touch, and scissors and a pasture. It’s possible I could have perhaps done better had I not gone to a queer and non-contemporary place with the story, and the judges’ feedback was pretty clear: they weren’t very keen on me pushing “mystery” to intersect with Greek mythology.

I do like the piece though, and like I said, honourable mention was granted.

When his last mortal friend dies in a pasture, Ganymede finds the scissors of Atropos and realizes he is witness to a murder. The motive seems clear: there is one goddess with very good reason to punish him for stealing her husband’s attention, but how can a mere immortal cupbearer find justice among the gods themselves?


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Image from Pixabay.

End of a Thread

On the hillside where I was snatched away, I visit my last mortal friend. He tends a flock of cattle, and though my opportunities to visit him are rare and he is already changed compared to me, I treasure him. Together we often laugh and speak of simpler times, before I became cupbearer to the gods.

I walk through the pasture. My immortal talents part the animals for me. I feel a pull on my heart and turn, expecting to see my friend waiting. But he’s not there.

A few hesitant steps reveal my mistake. He is there, but he is not. He lies in the pasture, eyes closed, one hand still holding his walking stick, his legs curled beneath him.

It isn’t sleep.

I weep. He was mortal, as I am no longer, and I knew this day would come, but he is barely a man grown, not even a father. Nothing marks him, no reason for his stillness. It makes no sense.

My eyes—changed by my immortal state—catch a glimpse of light.

Beside him in the grass, there are scissors. I lift them.

Their weight is not earthly. I bear the cups of the gods. I know when I am holding something of theirs.

This is not death, then.

No, this is murder.

*

I remain in the pasture; I also go elsewhere. It is a gift of immortality, but not one I use often. It is tiring, and it’s difficult to concentrate on two selves at once.

But a dead friend needs little attention.

They are together. My lover and his wife are speaking, and so before I am noticed—before I even exist among them—I deflect, and step aside.

And I realize.

I am by no means the first to capture his attention, nor am I not so vain to believe I will be the last. But my position is cupbearer. Lover.

My position is not wife.

If a thing of the gods struck down my one mortal friend, then surely the motive is godly, too.

Hera.

If it be so—and it must—then what can I do? Even with this loose thread, what justice can I unravel from this tapestry? What proof is there?

Threads.

Of course.

*

I am standing in a pasture with the cool, still body of my friend; I am elsewhere again.

“May I ask you a question?”

If she of wisdom and war is surprised to have the cupbearer speak to her it doesn’t show. “You may.”

“Atropos. How does she know when it is time?”

Athena is silent long enough that I wonder if she won’t answer. She only granted me permission to ask, after all.

“Is that the right question?”

I pull out the scissors. In Athena’s gaze, they glimmer.

“No,” I say.

It is a hard thing, I think, to embody both knowledge and destruction. She has grace many of the others do not, and I think it is born of this.

“Perhaps, cupbearer, I am not the one to ask.”

*

I am standing in a pasture with the cool, still body of my friend; I am elsewhere again.

Facing the three women takes every ounce of courage I have. I, who bear cups to the gods, who by my lover’s act will never meet the eldest of the Moirai, can barely raise my chin.

Clotho’s gaze is curious. Lachesis’s holds compassion.

But Atropos merely waits. Were she angry, or sad, I wouldn’t be able to speak.

I raise the scissors. “Yours, I believe.”

She takes them, and while I stand there—and elsewhere—she gathers three strings from Lachesis and shears them, wraps the lose end around the spindles and places each in the shadows behind her.

“I don’t understand,” I say.

“Do you not?” Her voice is a caress of shadow and rest.

“Why strike him down?” My voice breaks. “Why now?” It’s an unfair question. Atropos knows the measure of every life. She does not have to share how with a mere cupbearer. She answers only to fate.

Except… Except no. Not just fate.

Athena’s words: the right question.

“Why leave your shears behind for me?” My voice grows weak.

“So that you might ask,” Atropos says. She snips another thread. “That you might ask me, Ganymede.” Another. “Thank you for their return. It is agreeable to have met you. Now go.”

*

I am standing in a pasture with the cool, still body of my friend; I am elsewhere again.

The first words I ever say to Hera become this: “I’m sorry.” There are ways to speak as immortals, to include more than words. I think I do this, too, for the first time. She sees the pasture where now the sun is low, and she sees my suspicions of her as they were born—and as they have died, as surely as if cut by Atropos’s scissors.

She does not look at me. She does not speak to me. It’s possible she never will, and in this immortal place, never has weight.

But Hera nods. The slightest inclination of her chin. She has heard me. Perhaps she understands me, perhaps even forgives me—though whether for considering her as murderer or for my mere existence catching her husband’s eye, I do not know.

*

I fill his cup, as always. His smile for me is as full of his love and lusts as ever, and even as I stand in the pasture, waiting for someone to notice my friend is missing, to notice he is gone, to come and learn he has ended, that look warms me to my very core.

I have the love of a god. It is magnificent. It lifted me to immortality.

I step away from where the gods feast, from he who snatched me from a pasture and made me his forever.

From the only one who could order Atropos. From the only one she must obey.

And I know.

Zeus.

He will not share me.

 

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Flash Fiction — Pine Puppet and Candlewick

A couple of days ago, I mentioned I had three flash fiction pieces thanks to taking part in the NYCMidnight Flash Fiction contest, and shared the first of the three. Today, the second story gets its turn. Now, for this round, I felt way, way more confident. I was given the genre of “fairy tale,” and the objects of an abandoned railway car and a ticket stub. I love doing queer retellings of stories, so I took a look through a list of fairy tales and found Pinocchio waiting for me. I placed first in my group with this story.

As is so often the case, fairy tales get told the way the teller wants them told, not necessarily how they were. Candlewick, who knew a certain real boy, tells his tale of the village carver, a puppet who danced, a lady in blue, a train and a ticket to a magical land, and how a cricket’s voice changed everything for everyone.


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Photo from Pixabay.

Pine Puppet and Candlewick

They say our story means be good and don’t lie, but it’s really be like us or be quiet.

I’ve no idea why I’m made a donkey. I promise we had no coins to plant.

But maybe I should start at the start, like they do.

*

Once upon a time there was a carver who already had a real boy, but that boy struggled at most things. The carver loved him, so he carved a solution: braces and crutches, bound with strings and straps.

Folk called him Pine Puppet because of those straps and ropes and the scent which followed him. They weren’t cruel exactly, but rarely kind. Pine got left behind, like me. Me they mocked for being the mean chandler’s boy—burned little Candlewick—but him?

Pine was their puppet, dancing for them so they’d be nice a while.

*

Nights I’m bravest I visit the railway. Sometimes it’s there: our railroad car. The paint peeled, lanterns unlit, and rabbits build nests for their kits in the torn seats.

I listen to the crickets.

And hope.

*

Pine wasn’t disobedient or mischievous. Him kicking his father in the story was an accident of tightened straps, not malice. Sure, his nose was pointed, but Pine didn’t lie. He kept secrets though, like how he felt about boys who could run, jump, and play more than he ever would.

He wasn’t jealous. Not of Fox or Cat or even Magpie, with his unfortunate name.

No, Pine adored them boys.

Which of course was the problem.

I met Pine when I was done working and my father had sent me home with a kick to my back and a snarl for my dinner. I had wax on my sleeves, burns on my skin, and a rare afternoon to myself. I was young enough to know what I wanted, but not old enough to believe I deserved it to happen.

That’s when I saw Pine, smiling and planning his party.

And he invited me.

*

The fairy—it makes me laugh, even now—was no blue-haired pixie. She was a weaver riding the rails, bringing stories, shawls and dresses in equal measure. She wore blue, which I suppose is how it got confused. She didn’t have magic.

Just knowledge.

When other boys played outside the market, Pine watched. She understood his gaze, telling him about the train and a party in a village where different might not only be good, it could be forever. She’d heard it so from the crickets, who repeated all things people said from everywhere, if you knew how to listen.

People like her, Pine, and me? Talked about more than to?

We know how to listen.

*

I had wax on my sleeves, burns on my skin, and aches for something I couldn’t have. And then, suddenly, wonderfully, Pine Puppet. Coming from the rails. He moved quickly despite his straps, strings, and wood.

“Would you come to a party?”

I fell in love with him on the spot.

We walked hours while Pine invited the other boys.

They refused. Some laughed and asked him to dance first. He danced. They turned him down.

“I’ll miss dancing for them,” he said.

It broke my heart, so newly given to him.

“You’ll come with me?” At least a dozen times he asked as I walked him back to his father, who was so poor he and Pine were rail thin.

I promised.

“I’ll get tickets tonight,” he said.

*

He traded a school book for two tickets marked “Toylund Return Fare.”

I worried. Weasels preyed on simpletons near railways, offering rides to places that didn’t exist for good coins before scarpering.

“It will just be us,” he said.

I kept my ticket in my pocket, by my heart.

“Tonight,” he said.

My father was furious I was once again late. It took long hours to finish my final chores. I smelled pine everywhere, despite the wax on my sleeves. When I heard my father snore, I left a note and fled.

The train waited. It was an impossibility: no engine, only a string of railroad cars one after another, each painted brightly. It had overstuffed seats, and lanterns danced like fireflies. More people were on board than I expected, none familiar.

But so many like us.

Pine was waiting.

We climbed on board, sitting together, afraid and excited like everyone else. When he reached for my hand, I tried to hide my burns. He unrolled my fingers.

“Candles bring light and warmth,” he said. “There’s few things as good.”

The train left.

*

The stories saying Pine was a puppet who wanted to be real and didn’t know how to be good? Not true. We were always real. And Pine was the best person I ever knew from the start. Maybe the storytellers are jealous. Together we were happy. We had a place with each other, every night held laughter, each morning a smile, and days—even ones we worked hardest—worthwhile.

Yes, we worked. Toylund was a village, and even elsewheres and elsewhens have crops to plant, raise, and reap, and candles to dip.

But in Toylund someone kissed my fingers each night.

After many months of singing, laughter, kisses, and love, a cricket chirped near my pillow. It talked of a chandler. He was ill, couldn’t make enough candles to sell, and wished he hadn’t been brutal to his son, who’d fled.

Crickets aren’t cruel. They mindlessly repeat what they’ve heard. We couldn’t unhear it.

Beside me, Pine reached into his pocket and pulled out his ticket, cut neatly in half.

“Use mine,” he said.

*

Sometimes I board our railroad car and close my eyes.

I hear laughter and feel kisses where wax burned the scars into my hands.

Someday, when father is gone and no one needs me? I’ll come here. I’ll bring my ticket stub. That’s why Pine gave me his.

I hope it’s enough to bring me back to Toylund, to what matters most.

My Pine and his Candlewick.

Writing Wednesday – Ideas!

For those playing the home game, I didn’t make it through to the last round of the NYCMidnight Flash Fiction contest, but it ended up feeling as much as a relief as it did a disappointment. I did make an honorable mention for my queer Ganymede re-telling of a Greek myth as a mystery, but it went a bit too far off the mark for some of the judges, who felt it wasn’t traditional a mystery enough. That also didn’t feel like a loss, really: I knew I was taking a risk, and I wanted to still write something the way I like to write, which is to say to add some magic, psychic, or other.

Also? I don’t have to madly scramble to write a flash fiction piece over the weekend, and that’s kind of awesome.

But it did put me in mind for ideas. And wow, do I have about a million ideas. In my notebook of potential “next things,” I ended up scribbling the following:

  • Faux-Ho-Ho (Fake relationship holiday romance).
  • Triad Magic (Third paranormal novel in the series). This is absolutely the next thing I’ll be pitching as a novel to my publisher.
  • Triad Tales (Triad short fiction anthology—and yes, anthology not collection—because I know a few people who I’d love to ask to contribute). This is basically a pipe-dream, but.
  • The Village Series (Novella series, starting with A Little Village Magic, five of them, a wee bit of magic in a contemporary romance, all set in a fictionalized version of the gay village here). I’ve finished two of five thus far, and I want all five to be done before I release.
  • Ringmaker (SF Novella, Earth’s first colony on another world, wormhole gates, a bit of politics, also kissy stuff). This would let me write something closer to hard SF, which I’ve never really done.
  • Plus One (Vague idea for a 1NS novella centred around needing someone for a wedding date). I’m starting to think it could be Kevin needing a date for Ru and Nick’s wedding, actually.
  • That tooth/mafia caper romance story (I tried to write a short story for Anthony that got way too long and needed to be a novella where the guy gets an envelope of teeth in lieu of roses and it goes off the rails from there).
  • OF ECHOES BORN - 4Silver & Blue (Ian simon novella, a psychic mystery set on the train from BC to Ontario). With Ian about to appear in three novellas in Of Echoes Born, I keep thinking about him.
  • Flame (sequel to Light; a pyrokinetic starts torching bigots). Also? Pregnant Karen.
  • Key (YA, a boy finds a key that lets him use any door to enter a strange home that seems to have rooms in all sorts of different time periods). This is a re-write of a three day novel writing contest I did.
  • Love by the Book (Paranormal rom-com, a guy ends up with one of the books from the library of Alexandria and it turns out reading it can change reality. So far he’s figured out how to make things cerulean blue).
  • Demon Interruptus (The first in a demon-hunter paranormal series, Arcana Major, with tarot-card based witches fighting demons; think Charmed only really gay). The first one of this series is all but written. I should get on that.
  • Third’s a Charm (Erotica collection of paranormal/magical/psychic threesomes, because apparently I write/wrote a bunch of those).
  • A reunion themed romance (where a guy goes to his high school reunion a great success, a date on his arm, and though money has changed hands, it’s not what you think).
  • Served Cold (a proximity romance between a guy dodging some legal trouble for all the right reasons and the man who is hired to serve him with papers).
  • LeFou (A queer retelling of Beauty and the Beast).
  • Oh! A recent online chat had a bunch of us discussing some sort of geek gamer nerd novella romance series that begins with the setting up of a tabletop board game shop/cafe, and then moves through all sorts of geeky games.

Also, more Fuca stories, a novella with Jace and Matt from the Triad series (and maybe another with Mackenzie), and and and and and…

Yeah. Ideas. You gotta love ’em.


Open Calls for Submission

Writing Wednesdays are supposed to be the days I track open calls for submission I’m keeping an eye on, as well as keeping honest with how the year in submitting things for publication myself has gone.

Previously this year: January was: 6 submissions (4 reprints, 2 new), with 1 acceptance (new) and three acceptances (three reprints); 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: 2 submissions (2 new), and 1 acceptance. November: 1 submission (1 new). December has been 2 submissions (1 new, 1 reprint) and 1 acceptance. So, I officially managed to submit something at least twelve times this year, but not quite at once-a-month pace near the end there.

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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

Flash Fiction — Rock, Paper, Bullets

Flash fiction doesn’t come naturally to me. It’s hard work to stay in the word count limit, and really, I’m a big believer in a story taking as long as it needs to be well told (and then pruning back a bajillion “that”s, just as a totally random example).

I’ve had some luck, however, with using flash fiction as a way to make me try new things. This is part of being a writer I don’t do nearly as often enough as I should, but I like my darned spec-fic queer cave, and you can’t make me leave. I don’t wanna.

Except sometimes I do.

The QSF Flash Fiction contests (super, super short flash fiction at only 300 words) has been something I’ve tried three times now. Once I got an honourable mention, which was cool. All three times my piece ended up in the anthology, so that’s a win regardless.

I also did the NYCMidnight Flash Fiction contest twice. Last year, I didn’t make it past the first round, though I got an honourable mention at the time (and here’s the story). This year? I made it through the first two rounds, and got an honourable mention on the third. Frankly, I’m chuffed. For a format that isn’t my usual, and being limited to less than two thousand words and only two days to write them, I’m pretty darn proud of myself.

Also, not winning the final round means I don’t have to try and write something the week before Christmas with just two days to accomplish it and parties and friends aplenty vying for time.

Ever since I joined two flash fiction prompt groups, Monday Flash Fics and Friday Flash Fics, I’ve been inspired twice a week to write pieces on the fly. It’s been fantastic for both my confidence (That flowed so well, I’m so happy!) and my humility (This isn’t working and nothing will ever work again!).

One thing I realized about writing for those two photo prompt groups, however, is how much I liked revisiting previously published pieces. Flash Fiction is excellent at offering Easter Eggs. And before I get too far ahead, I’m going to go back, tag, and figure out some way to have them link to my published works list.

But! Today? Today I realized (because I’m slow) that this means I currently have three flash fiction pieces I wrote for this year’s NYCMidnight Flash Fiction contest that I could share. And since it’s the season of sharing, I thought I’d do just that.

On the first round, I was given: A thriller, An ice fishing shanty, and a printed menu. With those three pieces, I had to craft a flash fiction piece no longer than 1,000 words, in the thriller genre, which I never write, and I managed to score a first place result, which was awesome.

This was what I came up with.

What starts as a boring evening shift in the retail business services shop where Raj works turns into a run for his life when the new man in town turns out to be more than just a polite, handsome newcomer. Taking refuge in an ice fishing shanty after outrunning most of the bullets of the man after them, Raj realizes there’s one bullet left, and needs to come up with some way to make sure it doesn’t end up in him.


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Image from Pixabay

Rock, Paper, Bullets

Raj bolted across the ice, staying upright through sheer will.

Pop.

“Nine,” he said. Silencer or not, you could tell where bullets hit. A piece of the frozen lake erupted in a puff of white.

He couldn’t zag on the ice. He ducked and kept running.

Pop. Pop. Pop.

“Twelve.” Something cut his cheek.

Pop. Pop.

“Fourteen.” The bullet hit close enough he flinched, skidded, and before he could recover he fell. He landed hard on his ass, feet out ahead of him, head hitting the ice.

Pop.

A hole appeared inches ahead of him.

Falling just saved my life.

Raj scrambled to his feet. Ahead, he spotted the ice fishing shanty through the cold mist, and took a ragged breath. He was freezing.

Pop.

“Fifteen.” No. Wrong. “Sixteen.”

He was up and running again, bag bouncing against his hip. The further away from the shore, the better.

Pop.

“Seventeen.”

David had said twenty or thirty. David was bleeding back by the side of the road, thanks to seven and eight.

Was he even alive?

Raj slid again at the shanty, fumbling the damn eye and hook with half-numb fingers. He didn’t have gloves.

Crack!

Nineteen, hitting the hut, made him swear out loud.

His fingers finally worked. He threw himself inside, slamming the door behind him.

Wait.

He swore.

He’d just trapped himself.

*

Working a business store wasn’t a career. Raj liked it well enough—mindless, repetitive, occasionally marred by irate customers—but mostly it meant paychecks and free wi-fi.

Seeing David Somorset walk in was a rare perk. New to town, handsome David had an accent Raj couldn’t place. They’d only spoken a few times at Nancy’s diner. He was always polite, made eye contact, and had shoulders capable of making any outfit look amazing.
Except today. He looked…off.

“I need a favor,” David said. “A rush print.”

“I can squeeze you in.” The icy rain meant they were alone in the store.

David pulled out a memory stick, wincing.

“You okay?” Raj said.

“Rough afternoon.”

Raj inserted it, watching his screen. “All the PDFs? One copy good?”

“Yes.”

Raj hit print, watched the progress, then went to the back. The previous job—Nancy’s latest menus—were still in the tray. He grabbed everything, then returned to the storefront.

“Get down!” David yelled, slamming into him.

Little noises—almost sneezes—and bullet holes appeared in the door above them.

“Got a back exit?” David said, lying atop him on the floor behind the counter. He seemed really calm.

He was also bleeding.

*

“Nineteen.” One more bullet, or eleven. Neither good, but when no shots struck the side of the shanty, Raj decided it meant one.

Might as well die an optimist.

A panicked inventory of the shanty was clear: unless he armed himself with a hand auger designed to make six inch holes in ice, he’d have zilch. He was playing a lethal game of rock-paper-scissors. Makeshift clubs didn’t beat rifles.

Wait.

No time to consider. He got to work.

*

Raj crawled into the back room, terrified. David followed, the blood he’d hidden under his coat showing now. He closed the door behind them.

“Your car?” David said, nodding to the rear exit.

“Yes.”

“Okay. Hurry. He’ll circle around.”

Raj patted his pockets. “My keys are in my coat. Out front, by the cash.”

“No problem.”

*

The man with the rifle opened the door, and everything in Raj’s world slowed.

“Too late,” Raj said. “David e-mailed everything.” Crouching behind the tiny shelf built along the shanty’s wall barely afforded cover, but he’d take it.

A brief second of hesitation on the man’s face came and went. “You’re lying.”

Raj gripped the auger.

The rifle never lowered. “All I want is the bag. Hand it over? You live.”

“Now you’re lying.” To Raj’s surprise, his voice didn’t waver. He pressed into the tiny space.

The man’s snort was barely an exhalation. “Fair enough.” He took a step into the shanty, opening his mouth to say more.

Instead, he lurched.

Raj leapt, swinging the auger.

Pop.

Twenty.

*

“Papers in the bag.” David drove Raj’s hotwired car from behind the store, fast, before they had seatbelts on. At David’s command, Raj shoved the whole stack—even Nancy’s menus—into the bag.

The store exploded.

“Oh God.” Raj twisted to look.

“Asshole used my last grenade. Still has my rifle and one clip.”

“You have grenades?”

“Had.” David took the corner, skidding. Raj yanked on his seat belt. They were heading out of town, on Lakeside Crescent, with icy roads. “He took them. Not sure which clip. He has twenty bullets, or thirty. He’s used six.”

“Who are you?” Raj said.

“A good guy, promise. Those files are important.”

“The stick was in the computer.”

“Those hardcopies are it, then.” David eyed the rearview. “He’s following.”

He sped up. They made it out of town, driving beside the lake. Once they were around the curve, there must have been a clean shot across. Between blown tires and icy road, they didn’t stand a chance.

Raj’s world rolled.

*

Raj drilled two shallow holes at the entrance, considered a third, rejected the time it would take, and covered them with Nancy’s menus, face-down, scattering ice shavings on top.

*

“Raj!”

Raj came to. The car faced the wrong way, tilted in the ditch. Air-bag powder and glass coated everything. Frigid air whistled in.

“Run.” David coughed blood. “Phone…in bag. 6-8-5-8 unlocks it. Get…safe. Call Father. Repeat that.”

What?”

“6-8-5-8. Father. Say it.”

“6-8-5-8. Father.”

“Good. Go. Won’t be long. He used eight bullets. Go.”

“But—”

“Can’t run. Go.”

*

The man’s foot found Raj’s holes. Raj leapt forward and swung the auger as hard as he could. Bullet twenty whistled by his ear; Raj’s blow struck hard across the man’s face with a wet crunch.

The quiet after—nothing but Raj panting—felt unreal.

“Paper beats bullets,” Raj said.

He pulled out the phone.

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.