No Longer Liked

PHOTO PROMPT © John Nixon

“Can I help you?” asked Clem. The elderly man wasn’t blocking anyone, but he’d been standing in the doorway long enough to make Clem uncomfortable.

The man didn’t acknowledge the question as he stared into the antiques store. Clem asked again. “Is everything all right?”

“That dress,” the man finally said. Clem changed the mannequin’s dress at the entrance every few days. “Where’d you get it?”

“I dunno,” Clem replied truthfully. “Some people donate or sell us stuff from an estate. My aunt goes to yard sales. Do you… like it?”

“Used to,” the man said, backing away. “Not anymore.”

Friday Fictioneers is a weekly flash fiction challenge.

At Least the Flowers Were Worth Keeping

PHOTO PROMPT © Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

“It arrived at 4,” she said. “The delivery driver said the senders chose to withhold their information.”

He walked into the kitchen and saw the present on the table. “The flowers are nice,” he said. “We should keep those. Balloon’s gotta go, though.” He began untying the red ribbon from the vase.

“Who sent it?”

“My co-workers.” He envisioned their sarcastic grins tomorrow morning. “I apologized for my recent surly behavior at a staff meeting today.”

“Seems a little passive-aggressive to me.”

“Another day at the office,” he replied, picking up scissors from an end table and stabbing the balloon.

Friday Fictioneers is a weekly flash fiction challenge.

Mist

PHOTO PROMPT © David Stewart

“What are you feeling?” she asked, raising her voice over the fall of cascading waters.

He blinked. The hike had been his idea, as the helicopter tour wasn’t appealing. His feet now tingled with exhaustion, but he knew he’d made the right choice.

The waterfalls were arrayed along two levels, a dozen or so at the top of the cliff feeding a thin pool that flowed into three at the second level. Water flowed constantly, landing forcefully and creating a mist he felt on his face several hundred safe meters away.

“I feel small, insignificant,” he replied. “And content.”

Friday Fictioneers is a weekly flash fiction challenge.

Green Space Violation

PHOTO PROMPT © Lisa Fox

The tree was doomed. City building codes prohibited any natural or man-made obstruction within three feet of a fire escape ladder. Annual trimming had kept branches a safe distance away, but the tree had grown unmanageably large, requiring monthly maintenance.

The city notified apartment management, and residents received flyers in their mailboxes. A 20-year tenant organized a meeting against the city’s decision.

“We need green spaces,” he wrote in his flyer. “The city needs a different solution for this code violation.”

He expected a dozen at the meeting, but close to 50 came – a promising start to the campaign.

Friday Fictioneers is a weekly flash fiction challenge.

Discount

HOTO PROMPT © Brenda Cox

“How about a bulk discount?” the white woman in the blue skirt asked. “Five for four perhaps?”

Danny’s family had a simple policy regarding discounts – none. The one-price policy was intended to ease operations at their roadside stand, yet some tourists (never locals) couldn’t resist.

“Pineapples are three dollars each,” Danny said. “Mangoes, two dollars.”

“How about calling your parents and asking?”

“No discounts,” Danny replied.

The woman frowned, her skirt flowing in the breeze. “One each,” she said, reaching into her purse.

Danny took her five dollars and sat. He checked his phone; two hours and 13 minutes left.

Friday Fictioneers is a weekly flash fiction challenge.

Refuse to Be Done

Most craft books on writing are informative, engaging, and if they’re any good, overwhelming. Three craft moves per book is my limit, with anything more being rejected in the limited RAM of my brain.

The subtitle to Matt Bell’s 2022 guide to novel writing, How to Write and Rewrite a Novel in Three Drafts, immediately appealed to my conception of the writing process. (I’m currently focused on short fiction these days, but his advice on novel writing ports well to shorter works.) I’ve identified three stages of a story’s composition: drafting (a story with a beginning, middle, and end, all in rough form with no intention of being shown to anyone), revising (a polished story presented to a writing group for feedback), and submitting (a final update based on the feedback, then sent to literary journals). Bell calls his three drafts generative, narrative, and polishing; his generative drafts are more developed than my initial stage, but it’s his second and third stages that caught my attention.

Bell’s second drafting stage begins with a narrative outline, written in the voice of the novel (he doesn’t recommend outlining during the generative stage). Expect the outline to take several months, he writes, and then promotes that one craft move I’ll implement: retype the entire novel. Don’t revise the generative draft, don’t copy and paste into a new document. Using the narrative outline as a guide, type the whole story from scratch as if that first generative draft didn’t exist.

That’s… a lot of work, even for a short story. Yet I believe this process could help overcome a problem I have with my second stage of composition. I move stuff around, expand and contract paragraphs, search for synonyms far too early, and many sessions feel like a lot of effort without a lot to show for it. Retyping the work in the entirety would avoid the muddle of revision. It’s worth a shot, anyway.

The third stage of Bell’s process might even be more labor-intensive, featuring multiple readings of the novel (printed, not on screen) using several different highlighter colors. It’s this stage which gives the book its title: go through your work until you run out of ideas for how to make it better.

Bell’s advice isn’t for the casual writer — he’s writing for professionals, writers who value the process more than the results. I’m eager to discover how implementing the second stage of Bell’s process affects my own writing.

 

 

Blue Mesa Review

The latest in my irregular series of reviews of literary journals and genre magazines.

The creative writing department at the University of New Mexico has published Blue Mesa Review twice a year since 1989.

What They Say About Themselves: “We are committed to providing your work with a great home. We believe we are on the forefront of creating a lovely, readable space for great writing online and in print. At BMR we understand that literary magazines have a responsibility to writers, and we work hard to provide a space that you can feel proud to publish your work in. We also are constantly working to find creative ways to support writers financially; one such way being our Annual Summer Contest. As a magazine that receives no funding from our affiliated University, we are currently working on creating a payment structure for writers. We are a magazine run by writers, so we understand the financial burden that can come with creating beautiful work. We hope to ease that burden by supporting good writing in a practical way in the coming year.”

Issue Reviewed: 44 (Fall 2021)

Genre: Literary realism with speculative touches

One Story I’ll Remember Not to Forget: “Scorched Earth: The Legacy of the Globizent Affair,” by Kelly Neal. Written in the form of a near-future academic paper, the story analyzes an absurd conflict among employees at a corporation that produces nothing but pettiness. As a refugee from both academia and corporate inanity, I appreciated this dual satire.

Exploding Helicopters: Three Explosions. Not a lot of action, but the narrative voices kept me engaged.

Profanometer: Sonovabitch. A little more profanity than I’ve found in most literary journals, yet not excessive.

Sentinels

PHOTO PROMPT © Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

She sorted through her desk every two years or so, prompted by an inability to find a key receipt, notes from an important conference, or that folder of medical instructions.

Rarely did she change the top of her cubby or wall hangings. Those areas contained the sentinels of her inspiration, and while she rarely looked at those photographs and motivational quotes and Disney-themed tchotchke, it was her hallowed space, altered only to accommodate a new inductee. The maid service was instructed not to dust anything above shoulder-height in that room; she did her own maintenance there. Occasionally.

Friday Fictioneers is a weekly flash fiction challenge.

Unexplained

PHOTO PROMPT © Dale Rogerson

A pleasant gift, though arcane.

The rose bushes in the back wouldn’t bloom for another month. Unfamiliar glass vase, decorative ribbons entwined at the neck, ornamental leafy branches. Purchased from a florist.

He hadn’t forgotten her birthday two months ago, and their anniversary wasn’t for another three. No upcoming holidays, no achievements worth commemorating. The solitary rose arrived on her desk that morning without an explanatory note like it was routine, expected.

Send a text to him at work, Thanks! The proper response, but unsatisfying.

Her son would be up in an hour. Perhaps he could explain this mysterious gift.

Friday Fictioneers is a weekly flash fiction challenge.

Escape

PHOTO PROMPT © Na’ama Yehuda

“Why not weed it out?” he said, standing in front of three lone red bulbs in the bed of white.

“It’s a tulip, not a weed,” she answered.

“And verbs are different than nouns.”

She crossed her arms. They’d come to the park on his suggestion, and she’d agreed to escape their toxic argument, their third in the past week. She wasn’t going to resume the acrimony over tulip bed maintenance. “The park’s probably got bigger concerns,” she said.

“Yeah.” He cleared his throat. “I’m sorry, all right?”

She wasn’t, but decided it didn’t matter. “All right. Let’s go home.”

Friday Fictioneers is a weekly flash fiction challenge.