Week Four Winners!

Thank you to Emily and Beth for giving me the opportunity to serve as judge this week – what a privilege!

It’s always an experience, judging others’ writing. One has to really think (and be able to articulate) what it is about a story that did or didn’t work for them, and that ain’t always easy, folks.

One of the best things about having served as a judge for a number of Flash contests is I get how subjective judging can be. Sure, we look for the basic elements of story, style, grammar, etc. (and yes, those matter, so do proofread for typos and grammatical boo boos!) – but after that, a lot of it is just what speaks to the judge the most, and of course that varies by judge.

I say that to emphasize that if your story didn’t win, it doesn’t mean the story is not a great one. Keep writing, keep entering, and, most of all, keep in mind the subjective nature of it all! And thank you for sharing these tiny tales with me.

A Moment of Reflection by Tim Stevenson: A sad, moving tale, with great characterization of the husband (as much as I dislike him). I particularly love this line: “The arrangement of a marriage was stone, a hard, immutable thing.” I do want to know, however, what “the language that only women understand” is; I feel like I’m missing something, and I need to be clued in!

All Love Has Its Own Scent by Tino Prinzi: Brilliant title, and I love the hope encapsulated in this tiny tale. This sentence is amazing: “He deflowered her petal by petal, lie by lie, leaving her a feeble stalk alone in the wind.” Perhaps because I’ve lived it, but it feels like something with which most of us can identify.

Georgie Hanson’s Bad Day by Foy S. Iver: I always appreciate humor in flash, since so many of the stories trend dark. Thanks for the silliness! The repetition (and increasing intensity) of Georgie was having a bad day works well (and evokes Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day). I admit, I’m not quite sure I understand the alien gifts – and I’m not quite sure I want to. Made me giggle, though.

I Loved Her by David Shakes: “Crush it! Squeeze it…” – Bwah ha ha, loved this unexpected reaction after the rather soft, self-helpish first line. Pretty sure I don’t want to be hanging out with David any time soon.

Ponies, Unicorns, and a Dahlia by Pattyann McCarthy: When the choice was between the dahlia and obsidian, I assumed it was a choice between good and evil, and was pleasantly surprised I was wrong, and liked the meanings ascribed to each of the choices.

I also noted and appreciated the different colors used in your imagery, which painted a vivid picture.

Ripples of Choice by Stephen Shirres: I had to read this two times before I feel I got what was going on (I hope I’m right) – I’m imaging a suicide bombing, or at least a bombing, and the perpetrator is weighing the benefit to her if she doesn’t, versus the (alleged) benefit to all if she does. Once I got it, rereading it strengthens my understanding and appreciation of the tale each time – and what a wonderful way to describe the inner struggle, a battle of experience vs. conviction.

Salt and Cactus Spines by Shiloh A. Ohmes: I love how the voice of the story itself feels gritty, tough, adding to the message/idea that love isn’t a “cotton candy radio song,” it’s “something made of salt and cactus thorns. It gets down into your bones, nests among the marrow, and reminds you every day that it’s there. It’s not pretty, and it’s not the pinnacle of happiness, or whatever the radio believes.” Vivid, realistic imagery adds to the whole. I want to know the longer story hinted at in this short one.

Secrets by Holly Geely: The ending is wonderfully strong, combining both the humor of the piece and the cheating theme (can’t say I’m fond of the cheating theme, but hey, I’m a romance author). I don’t care for the main character, but her voice is good – funny, flippant, arrogant. She makes for a strong, if unlikeable, person – a testament to your character-building ability.

Speed Dating at Petals! by Marie Mckay: This one had me giggling – I loved the style you took of the participant taking notes about each dating option – and then getting hooked on #10. I could totally visualize this.

The Choice by Madilyn Quinn: Rip my heart out, will you? A very moving piece with fantastic imagery and turns of phrase – “falls away like chipped paint, the wind snaps still.” I like the openness of the ending – I’m not exactly sure what each door means (reincarnation as a newborn? Entering heaven? Becoming one with the cosmos?), but I actually prefer that, as it sent my imagination running. Still traumatized that she died, and in front of her husband, though.

Third Place: The Voyage Home From Troy by A V Laidlaw: I love the chosen focus – soldiers returning home from the ancient battles at Troy. How you got there from a lotus flower image and the given sentence, I don’t know, but I adore it.

“The sunlight drips like honey through the branches of the trees” – what a fantastic image, and it’s one of my favorites from all the entries.

And the character – oh, how I empathize with the character, and his battle between seeking relief and forgiveness he doesn’t feel he deserves, and enduring the suffering as punishment for the choice he thought he didn’t have – but later realized he did. A powerful reminder that there is always a choice, even when we think there isn’t, and we must bear the consequences of our actions.

A moving, well-written entry. Nicely done.

Second Place: Running Out of Petals by Nancy Chenier: In truth, I struggled greatly between choosing A Day In the Month of Leaves and this one, Running Out of Petals, as the winner. Both are fantastically strong, in different ways.

I’ve read Running Out of Petals a number of times now, the horror of the tale getting me again and again. The use of the old children’s game “She Loves Me, She Loves Me Not” incorporates not only the photo prompt beautifully, but frames the inner development of the story in a hauntingly perfect way, rendering the story even more chilling.

The mythical element, the changeling aspect, and particularly the creatures hanging about the baby work well for me, detailing the changing/worsening of the situation. We go from butterflies to moths to hobgoblins, a perfect echo of the deterioration of this poor child’s situation.

Very well written, horrifically imaginable, with a wonderful voice. Well done.

AND OUR WEEK FOUR WINNER IS:

A Day in the Month of Leaves by Karl A. Russell: This one had me from the start, with its prose-poetry style (an admitted favorite of mine), its short, succinct sentences and well-chosen images effectively conveying an eastern feel, and telling more by saying less.

There are many layers here, so many phrases hinting at a broader underneath – “It is the morning after the night without sleep,” “Father stands before me, as big as all the world” (a beautiful encapsulation of how fathers feel to most of us). The more I read it, the more I see: hidden depths waiting to be uncovered. Gorgeous styling, gorgeous prose.

And then the characterization of the father – so much about him from six words: “Leather armour creaks, metal plates jangle.” Shortly after that comes my favorite paragraph of the whole piece, the one describing this father, with brilliant turns of phrase: “a slab of granite of a man,” “scars make his face a map of his wandering.” I have read it again and again.

I admit, the story did not go where I expected it to, and the ending both surprised and confused me. I’m inferring that the father harmed the mother, which is why son/daughter makes the choice he/she makes. Still, the simpleness of the language and the short, crisp phrases drive home the awfulness of the death more than reams of words ever could.

And that last line – so simple, and yet so effective, a stark contrast to what has taken place directly before it, but full of implication.

Beautifully done.

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Congratulations AV, Nancy, and, Karl! Karl’s story will appear on our blog tomorrow. Thank you to Margaret for judging and to all you wonderful writers for sharing your stories! Join us on Thursday for Week Five, judged by oft-winning flash fiction writer Nancy Chenier!

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