The NovelNook Flash Fiction Writing Contest Second Place Winner IS…

Running a Flash Fiction Writing Contest is a lot of FUN!

Addicted to FUN?

Photograph by Anne Petersen

I learned something from this contest experience that I think may be of value to many of you authors. All of our entries were fun to read. A number of them were ruled out because of MAJOR editing mistakes.

A punctuation oops can cost you an opportunity.

A punctuation oops can cost you an opportunity.

Grammar and punctuation, I can’t stress it enough.

When all the entries were in, each judge read all of them, and then we set them aside for a week. Then, we reread all of them again. It was amazing how much our perspective changed as a result of a second read.

There were six submissions that really stood out. We set them aside again for another week. On our third read, (and vote), our winner, Susan Pawlicki, was the clear victor for first place. But, second place had become a real battle royal.

At this point, we were able to narrow it down to two stories. We put them aside again and did another read and vote several days later. What really differentiated our second place winner was how the two authors handled the theme. In light of that, I’ve decided to give an honorable mention to an author who was so close that the voting tally was almost imperceptible. I’ll name that author at the end of this blog post.

Authors, this is what I want you to hear.

When you submit a story and receive a rejection letter, don’t take it to hard. You may have been so very close. It may have been the smallest element in your story that kept it from being accepted. It may have been personal prejudice on the part of the person reading it.

I’m willing to bet that in many cases a story, or book, is given a cursory read.. If your story doesn’t resonate with that decision-maker immediately, you may be rejected. It may have nothing to do with your book. It might be something that happened to the decision-maker that day.

Does this make your story bad? No. In fact, if that same person were to reread your story on a different day, they may have a completely different perspective on it. (We did.)

However, I CANNOT STRESS ENOUGH how much GOOD EDITING will affect the outcome of your submissions. Nobody, and I mean NOBODY enjoys reading a poorly edited book. I hope you will take that one statement and…

MAKE It YOUR MANTRA!

I’m proud to announce

that our second place winner is…

Sue Butler with her story, “The Unexpected“.

Sue wove an intricate plot into a flash fiction piece that we really liked. We felt that her interpretation of the theme was strong. We also liked her character development.

“The Unexpected”

by Sue Butler

Our Employee of the Year is John Mulcaster.’ The words rang out like a hammer hitting a gong. I stood up and stumbled towards the podium; I had never won an award l before and had no inkling that this one was to be mine. Nervously, I accepted the shield and envelope from the Chief Executive; the former had my name and the year engraved on it, below Sheila Thomson in 2012. I would have to give it back at the end of the year, but the envelope contained vouchers for a large department store, and they were mine to keep. I returned to my seat amid the applause, nodding to the people who smiled and patted my arm  in congratulation, a big grin on my face.

I decided to celebrate in the Rose and Crown on the way home: it was only a small detour. I was still grinning when I rang my wife, Julia, and left a message on her voicemail, telling her what had happened, and that I wouldn’t be too late. She was probably shopping for the guests we were expecting later, some long lost relatives of her’s that I’d never met. I sat at the bar, and during my second drink, fell into conversation with a bloke who came in shortly after me. He seemed a nice enough bloke, a family man if I recall correctly, a wife who worked at the hospital – not as a nurse though, something in administration, and two daughters who were playing up, pubescent, like. Anyway, he drinks up and says he’s got to run because the missus is going to be a bit late shift, and he has to get the girls ready to go out. As he rushes off his wallet falls to the ground a few feet away from me. There was no one else about, there hardly ever was on a Monday afternoon, not even the staff. I glanced around anyway, just in case, like.
I had to pick it up, didn’t I? I couldn’t leave it there for any old geezer to have. And yes, I know I should’ve handed it in, but I thought if his details were in it, maybe, I could give it to him in person like. As if……
Close examination of the wallet, courtesy of a quiet bench in UpTown Park, reveals two store cards, one debit card and three credit cards. Pure stupidity; why carry so many? You only need one debit, one credit, and maybe the store cards, if you are intending to go shopping. Aside from the money, the collection of cards also includes an expired gym membership card, and a driving licence proclaiming the owner to be Geoffrey Smythe of 22 Battenburg Lane, Deltham. The rest of the wallet contains £170 in notes, which I pocket. I hold the wallet, toss it in the air gently, and then catch it. Battenburg Lane is about twenty minutes away if you walk a bit sharpish. I could get there, post it through the letterbox and be away before I am seen. That way old Geoff gets his cards back – he probably hasn’t had time to realise the wallet’s gone, so he won’t have cancelled them, and I get the cash; my reward for finding the wallet, you see, and old Geoff, he can afford it, I could tell by looking at him.
There was a lot of flashing lights at the Battenburg crossroads, both police and ambulances.  A tearful woman was saying, ‘He was looking for his wallet.’
I can’t see the face underneath the blanket, but I know it is Geoff. I want to vomit; I feel as if I’ve pushed him under the lorry myself. As I approach, his wife turns her tear stained face towards me and spots the wallet . She snatches it from me and screams at it and shouts at his corpse for being so stupid. She’s lost it completely, and the paramedics take her away in the ambulance.
I have to make a statement, and the police thank me for my honesty in attempting to return the lost wallet. That’s a joke, my honesty. My phone rings; the screen shows, Julia, and although I do not want to, I answer it. Her voice sounds like a stranger. She tells me, in-between sobs, that she is on her way to the hospital to see her half-sister-in-law. He half-brother, Geoff, has been killed in a road accident. My brain numbs, and although I know what she is saying, I hear nothing. I feel bad, dirty and traitorous, and the £170 is burning a hole in my pocket. I finger the notes guiltily and hear my wife’s parting words,
‘And the bloke must’ve nicked the cash, I hope he rots in hell.’
I arrange to meet her later, end the call, and hurry to the rubbish bin outside the Asian supermarket. The entrance is clear. I carefully lifted out some rubbish from the bin and shoved the cash inside, intending to cover it again. Delayed shock made me throw up over the money, and I stuffed the emptied out rubbish back to cover it. My eyes were watering and blindly I stumbled to the corner of my road. Nausea overcame me and I sat down, breathing slowly.
I hear Julia’s voice calling, ‘John?  What’s up? What’s the matter?’
I looked up to see her concerned face looking at me from a black cab window. I am about to speak when the woman sitting opposite her shrieks, ’That’s him, that’s the bloke who had Geoff’s wallet!’
I gazed helplessly at them, not able to utter a word, and watched as the taxi drove off. I am sweating now, and still feel sick, but cannot find my handkerchief. I checked in my pockets again, but can only find a small certificate proclaiming me Employee of the Year.
My shame knows no boundaries as I wiped my face with it and began to cry.
The End

Now that the contest is over, and the winners have been announced, I would like to give an honorable mention to, Kate Baggott, for her story, “Salvation“. Kate’s story was in the thick of the voting right to the bitter end. We liked her story a lot. However, in the end, we felt that her story didn’t represent the theme as clearly as our winners. Good luck with placing your story elsewhere, Kate.

I am very opinionated about the craft of writing, and life in general. But… I am well-tempered with an enthusiasm for debate. Please leave comments, even the ugly ones, I dare you.

You can follow me at

Facebook     Twitter     LinkedIn     Pinterest     Amazon

I’m also an avid reader. If you desire success in your writing career, you should be too.

I’m currently reading, “Hopscotch”, by Julio Cortazar.

All my best on a beautiful day in South Carolina.

 

The NovelNook Flash Fiction Writing Contest Winner IS…

Our First Ever Flash Fiction Writing Contest Was a HUGE Success!

Winner

It was a real battle!

We had a number of fantastic entries and it took every minute of the time we had allotted to come to our decision. In the end, our first place winner was a clear victory. Second place required several heated debates and will be announced on August 26, 2013.

So, without further ado…

Our Winner is?

Susan Pawlicki with her story, “A Change Is As Good As A Rest”.

The judges felt that Susan’s story captured the theme of – A Victory at Work, and, A Defeat at Home with the most creativity. We felt that her entry presented the strongest voice, both her own author voice, as well as her character’s voices. We also liked the subtlety of her plot and the reveals within it. Many of our entries were kind of “in-your-face” with the theme and didn’t allow our reader’s imagination to kick in. Susan’s story revealed some highly creative thinking, and we liked her plot twist. Her story was also one of the best edited entries that we received. All-in-all, we found it an entertaining read.

Congratulations, Susan Pawlicki!

“A Change Is As Good As A Rest”

by Susan Pawlicki

 
“Really? I get a day off?” The apprentice fought to keep his face sober and not break into a smile.

His mentor, who had much experience on the job, looked sideways at the beginner’s eager face and thoughtfully thumbed through the red spiral notebook in his hands. “Well, ‘day’ is a relative term.  You get a break from what you’ve been doing, anyway.” The teacher’s lips moved silently as he counted with his finger down a column in the notebook.  When he reached the bottom of the column, he tapped his finger twice on the paper.  “After all,” he said slowly, “you’ve done so well, bringing over forty potentials to the Organization this month alone—and in such unexpected and original ways….If anyone deserves some time to think away from work, it’s you.”

 If the apprentice could have blushed, he would have. “Wow….I never expected….I mean, I thought once the Organization took you on, you didn’t get time off.  And you came all the way to my place to tell me.  I never thought that was even possible.”

 “Well, nobody ever knows quite what to expect going to a new job.  I mean, no one ever really understands what he’s getting into, does he?”  The trainer looked up. “Even with all that instructional material out there—new stuff year after year, books and magazine articles, lead after online lead, videos, CDs—and everyone thinks he understands how the Organization works…but until you’re out in the field, you just don’t know.”

 “That’s the truth if I ever heard it.”  The words were out before the apprentice thought, but he heard them as he spoke.  His eyes widened, betraying the fear and dismay that sprang up in his stomach.  He looked down quickly, aware his face would give him away.

 “Pardon?” The teacher continued thumbing through the notebook without looking up.  “They’re really quite amazing, your numbers.  And your originality—seeing that woman’s potential and nabbing her in the bakery, for example—well, you’ve given all us senior personnel quite a lot to think about. You show incredible promise.”

Maybe he didn’t hear what I said, the apprentice thought. “You’re right,” he tried.  “What you said before, I mean—that’s right.  No one is ever fully prepared and all that, no matter how much you’ve read or watched and think you know…”

The trainer closed the notebook thoughtfully and turned to face his employee.  “Yes… and I do appreciate your attempt to cover your own lack of preparation in such a simple yet effective way—just a lie, an unpretentious untruth to calm waters that may be less quiet than they appear…to calm me, in fact, after I’ve heard not just an unpleasant word, but a rude one.  A forbidden one.  One that merits notice… and punishment.”

 “I’m sorry!”  The apprentice took a step backward.  “It’s hard to stop using words you’ve used all your life! You know I didn’t always recognize the ‘Truth’­­­­ when it was put before me in the past, but I always recognized the truth when it worked in my favor, when what it said was right for me, like I recognized the truth of what you just said!  What you said is true, even if you said it! No one ever is prepared, especially for a job like this one!”

“Please, don’t make excuses. It’s unbecoming.”  The mentor reached out for his apprentice’s arm.  “Given your numbers, I’m surprised you didn’t bother to ingrain the list of unspeakable words into your being a little more firmly.  What if you let that word slip with a potential Organization member?  It might undo all the work you’d done for us, and we’d lose that person Forever.  Don’t you understand that?  And Forever is a very long time here.”

 The apprentice stared at his forearm, where his teacher held him.  “Please let go,” he said, trying not to jerk his arm away.

 “Does it hurt?”  His mentor’s face was blank, but he tightened his grip slowly.  “Does it burn?”

“Yes!”  The apprentice gave up and began trying to wrench his arm away.  “You said I got time off to think!”  His voice took on the high pitch of desperation.  “Does one slip take away forty victories?”

The triangular tip of his teacher’s tail began switching back and forth with increasing speed.  “Oh,” he crooned, “you get time off from work.  You get time to think.”  He picked up his pitchfork.  “I’m just going to give you something to think about.”

The End

Great Story, Susan!

novelnook flash fiction writing contest

A Devil of a Tale

I am very opinionated about the craft of writing, and life in general. But… I am well-tempered with an enthusiasm for debate. Please leave comments, even the ugly ones, I dare you.

You can follow me at

Facebook     Twitter     LinkedIn     Pinterest     Amazon

I’m also an avid reader. If you desire success in your writing career, you should be too.

I’m currently reading, “The Time Machine”, by H.G. Wells.

All my best on a beautiful day in South Carolina.

           

 

 

 

 

Theme In Fiction – A New Direction

What is the Theme of your current Story?

Theme is the broad idea, message, or lesson of a story.

I have noticed in my reading, (and I’m talking emerging independent writers primarily), that there is a repetition of theme and subject. Some of the most common ones are love, lost love, death, an apocalypse, horrible parents, alien interference,  corrupt government, murder, mental illness, friendship, lost friendship, deceit, betrayal, forgiveness, treachery, supernatural occurrence (zombies, ghosts, werewolves, mystics), sex, gay sex, unusual sex, (the emphasis being on the sex part of the story),  etc.

In the world of independent authors it’s rare to come across a story that is truly fresh in its view.

Why is that I wonder?

Jonas ponders.

Photograph by Ollie Crafoord

I think it has a lot to do with the culture of our modernized world. We are bombarded with images, concepts, stories, books, movies, advertising, and music. It’s so easy, (at a subconscious level really), to rehash something we are already familiar with rather than dig deep into our imagination and discover something new.

This entire discussion came about because of my wife.

I have talked a lot about my wife here on NovelNook and there is a reason for it. She has a huge influence on my writing life.

(I can only hope that all of you have someone like her in your life as well.)

For today, I’m just going to tell you that she is extremely well read, extremely intelligent, and one of the finest plot analysts I’ve ever come across. She is also a native of Argentina which often leads us to the discussion of Latin American authors.

Two days ago, she began to tell me about a short story by Chilean author, Isabelle Allende.

Isabel Allende

Isabel Allende

As the story unfolded, my mind raced through the prospect of writing this blog article. The story is titled, Nina Perversa (Perverted Girl) and it is a short story published in the book, Cuentos de Eva Luna (The Stories of Eva Luna).

Now you might be saying, “Wait a minute! Sex was on your list up there,” and you’re right.

But…

When I finished hearing the story, I was stunned by the theme, (the message), behind the story. I felt this way for several reasons:

  1. It is a really good story
  2. It is written in a fashion that is uncharacteristic of American authors.
  3. This particular theme had never occurred to me in my writing, (not even the tiniest notion of an idea), nor had I ever read anything in my slush pile that addressed it.
  4. The act of sex has very little to do with the story.

 a synopsis

(I’m going to tell you the story. I encourage you to read it anyway. It is available in English. See my link below)

The Stories of Eva Luna

The Stories of Eva Luna

A woman runs a boarding house, and she has a precocious eleven-year-old daughter. One day a man comes to the woman to rent a room. He is a singer and quite handsome. Not long after renting a room at the house, the man develops a relationship with the woman and they become lovers.The man eventually moves in with the woman and her daughter. The girl is in puberty and developing sexual curiosity. She secretly witnesses her mother and the man making love. Her hormones rage, and she becomes obsessed with the idea of sex.

One day the girl and the man are alone in the house. The man is asleep on his bed. The girl enters the room wearing nothing but her underwear. She jumps on top of him waking him from his sleep. He forces her off even as she presses her body to his and pushes her tongue into his mouth. He jumps up angry and pushes her to the floor, calling her a perverted girl.

The next day, the girl was sent away to boarding school.

The days turn into weeks, and then months, and finally years. The girl never returns to the house. Her mother visits her, but the man always finds a reason not to go.

It was during this time that the man’s life unravels; turning into a living Hell. He cannot sleep. He cannot sing. At first, he is overcome by guilt (despite the fact that he rebuffed the girl). But, he begins to fantasize about his moment with the girl. He becomes petrified that he has somehow turned into a pedophile. But still, the encounter won’t leave his mind. He becomes tortured by his own actions as catches himself staring at girls in the local schoolyard, or buying girl’s underwear and fondling them; then filled with anguish, he burns them behind the house.

The girl on the other hand has grown into a woman. She graduates from her University and becomes a banker. Not long after that, she meets a man and falls in love. She marries him. Then one day, many years after the incident, she finally returns to the boarding house with her new husband.

This is the first time the man has seen the daughter since her departure years before. In the hours leading up to their reunion, the man practices over and over what he might to say to her. How he might answer her questions and try to bring sanity back to his life.

Here are the last lines of the story

At dusk, when all the euphoria of the arrival had passed, and mother, and daughter, had shared all the latest news,  they pulled some chairs into the yard to take advantage of the cool breeze.

The air was thick with the smell of carnations.

Bernal, offered a drink of wine, and Elena followed to get the glasses. For a few minutes they were alone, face-to-face, in the cramped kitchen.

And then the man, who had waited so long for that opportunity, retained the woman by the arm, and said that everything had been a terrible mistake, that, that morning he was asleep and did not know what he was doing, that he never wanted to throw her down and call her that terrible name. He asked for compassion, and forgiveness; to see if he could restore sanity, because in all these years an ardent craving for her had bullied him relentlessly, burning his blood and corrupting his spirit.

Elena stared at him and did not know what to say.

What perverted girl did he speak of?

For her, childhood was far behind, and the pain of that first unrequited love was sealed,  locked in her memory.

She kept  no memory of that remote Thursday.

Wow! Pretty Powerful Stuff.

Do you see the theme here? You never know when some action, or statement, that you commit to the world might alter someone else’s life immeasurably; without even knowing, or remembering, what you did.

It still causes me to pause, and contemplate that statement, even as I write it here.

Such a strong theme!

In conclusion, I would like to encourage you to read authors from other countries. My wife has introduced me to some authors from South America; authors like Isabel Allende, Julio Cortazar, and Mario Benedetti. These Latin American authors seem have an insight into the human condition, an insight that seems to escape us here in our busy world.

If you’re interested in the English version of “The Stories of Eva Luna”, click below

The Stories of Eva Luna

I am very opinionated about the craft of writing, and life in general. But… I am well-tempered with an enthusiasm for debate. Please leave comments, even the ugly ones, I dare you.

You can follow me at

Facebook     Twitter     LinkedIn     Pinterest     Amazon

I’m also an avid reader. If you desire success in your writing career, you should be too.

I’m currently reading, “The Stories of Eva Luna”, by Isabel Allende

All my best on a beautiful day in South Carolina.

Bellakentuky