Goodbye, Spider-Man.

spider-man“Honey, I’m afraid that your Spider-Man jammies don’t fit any more. I think it’s time to…” she searched for a different way to say that she’d throw them out, “retire them.”

George, gingerly holding the threadbare suit of webbed red and blue, was a bright boy of seven years. He had an infectious laugh and impressive problem-solving skills. Just last week, he had figured out how to reach the cookies in the top cupboard without his parents knowing, at least until they went to get a cookie and found them gone.

“I know,” he said.

It was time. The pajamas had been his weekend uniform since his fifth birthday, when they were far too large for him. Now, they were faded and stretched in unnatural ways. Not only were they his favorite superhero pajamas, they were his only superhero pajamas.

Maybe he was getting too old for Spider-Man, though. Though he still insisted on wearing them all weekend, even he tried to find reasons not to accompany his mom to the grocery store any more.

Yeah, it probably was time.

Reluctantly, George placed the pajamas in the bag that his mom held open to him.

“I’m proud of you, honey,” she said, closing the bag. “Now, why don’t you pick out some clothes and we’ll head to the store. Maybe we can pick out some doughnuts from the bakery counter. It’s going to be a super day, you just wait and see.”

“Okay, mom,” replied George. “Super… I’ll be out in a minute.”

A few moments later, George emerged from his fortress of solitude. With a pair of red underwear overtop of his blue sweatpants, a white t-shirt with a poorly markered “S” on the front, and a red towel tied at his neck, George ran to join his mom.

Yeah, he decided, it was time to move on from Spider-Man. It was a super time to move on.

100 Word Story | Noah Looked Worried

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Noah looked worried.

He had never before been vomited upon by a pretty nurse and he didn’t know the protocol.

“Are you okay?” he ventured. “I could grab a paper towel or something.”

She started crying, tears leaving her face red, but slightly less covered in sick.

“I’m sorry,” she tried to say and found she couldn’t. Instead, she closed her eyes and breathed softly.

Noah found her beautiful.

“Would it help if I did the shot myself?” he asked.

The nurse looked at him and cautiously handed him the syringe.

Unfortunately, Noah couldn’t stand needles either, and promptly threw up on her.

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100 (plus a few) Word Challenge | Could I Really Wear That?

Click here to see the prompt that inspired this story.Normally, I follow the rules for Julia’s 100 word challenge and stick to the word count suggested.

This week, I’m being a rebel because the story that came to me could not be trimmed to fit.

Oh well. Hopefully, you’ll enjoy it anyway.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

With my folks out of town and Jessica getting out of work early, the last thing I wanted was to be stuck cleaning out my dead grandfather’s office. But here I was anyway. Looking around the room, I knew that this job was going to take forever. When I die, I hope I’m not as big a packrat as he was.

“I wish I had more time with my girlfriend,” I said to nobody, knocking some knickknacks from a shelf in a dramatically futile gesture.

“You could,” said a voice.

I spun around to see a short Arabic man standing amid the clutter of my recent outburst.

“Wishes are my area of expertise,” he said.

“What? Where did you come from?” I spluttered.

The man stooped to pick up a broken jar. “My former master must be dead, for he only used two of his wishes, yet here I am in front of you.”

“Your former master?”

The short man pointed to a large portrait of my grandfather.

“He was a hard man, but smart. Shrewd. He never trusted me. And his wishes made me work hard every day I was in his service. In gratitude for my release, I will grant your wish.”

“What wish?” I asked.

“More time with your girlfriend. Here,” he said, reaching into the folds of his robe and handing me a pocket watch. “Simply press the button on the side and time will stop for you and your girlfriend.”

“How do I know it will work?”

“You just saw me materialize in this office. Besides, I couldn’t lie to you even if I wanted to, could I?”

“Really?”

“Wear that watch tonight. Take your girlfriend out on a date. Press the button and see what happens.”

I looked down at the watch, inspecting it as though I was some kind of expert at paranormal timepieces. “One question,” I said. But the room was empty again.

When I picked up Jessica that night, she commented on my new watch. “Just wait until you see what it does,” I said.

I waited until we were on a busy sidewalk for maximum effect, pulled the pocket watch out with a practiced swing, and pressed the button. Nothing happened for a second… then we heard a shout.

“Watch out!” someone cried as a car jumped the curb to our left.

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What I hope to get out of the Breathe Conference.

I’m speaking at the Breathe Writers Conference today on flash fiction. And as fun as it is to share what I know, the things about which I am most excited are learning new things and being around other writers.

I’ll take a stab at the second thing first. There is a sense of belonging when you spend time with people who share your struggles and goals. And this conference is just small enough to foster relationships with strangers (who may one day become writing pals). At writers conferences, no one gives you the gimlet eye for pursuing such unlikely dreams as publishing books. Instead, people ask about what you are writing, what books interest you, and what you are hoping to learn.

And that brings me to the first thing about which I am excited. I love learning new things. Since I came to an interest in writing after my college years, I missed out on many basic principles of the craft. And even when I hear things that I know, it is good to hear them again from a fresh perspective.

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Latayne Scott

For example, I’m excited to hear the Keynote Speaker, Latayne Scott, on Friday night. She’ll be speaking about the Rule of Three. Sound familiar? If you read this blog regularly, it should. I used it just yesterday in the flash story about the sea serpent, and I linked from there to an earlier post in reference to my experience with Rumpelstiltskin. So, even though I have an idea of what the Rule of Three is, I have no clue what Latayne is going to say about it or how it’s truth will make me a better writer. But I’m excited to find out!

Mainly, what I hope to get out of the Breathe Conference is encouragement. It will be wonderful to add some new tools my me writing belt, but if I am not motivated to write, they will never be used. I’m excited to connect with other writers and share story ideas and discussions about the craft. And all that interaction can be incredibly healthy for a group of people who sit alone for hours on end staring at a page as they slowly fill it with words.

If you are attending the Breathe Conference today, I’d love to meet you and hear about what brings you out. And if you can’t make this year, stay tuned for future conferences. It’ll be worth it.

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Breathe In, Breathe Out

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breathe2012-300x225This Friday, I’ll be doing a workshop on flash fiction at the Breathe Christian Writers Conference.

This will be my third time presenting something at Breathe, and it’s always an honor to be there. The first year, I did a team presentation with my friend Andrew Rogers on What Publishers and Bookstores Want Authors to know about Marketing. The second year, I did a thing on Creating Successful Bookstore Events. Those events made a lot of sense, given my job in marketing for Baker Book House.

But this year, my credentials are a bit thin. Sure, I write flash fiction. Sure, I think everyone should write flash fiction. And sure, I think that flash fiction is going to be the next big thing in the mainstream. But outside of my personal blog, my flash fiction has never been published.

Is that a problem? I hope not. Since the goal of my workshop is to introduce people to the idea of storycraft on the minor scale, I don’t think it makes a big difference whether my name is recognizable for flash fiction or not. In fact, virtually no one is famous for their flash fiction, so even if I were one of the greats, there is a very small chance that someone would have heard of me anyway.

I think the biggest asset I can bring to the Breathe Conference is my passion for an underutilized fiction form. I didn’t realize how committed to short-form fiction I was until I spoke with people after the last Jot Conference. I found myself inserting it time and again into conversations with my fellow writers, perhaps even when it didn’t belong. And that’s okay (or so I tell myself), because if people can walk away from my workshop as energized about writing as I am while speaking about flash, my talk will have been a success.

I know that online registration for the conference is now closed, but if you are interested in attending, I’m sure that you’ll still be able to pay at the door. Check out the conference line-up here. I hope to see you there on Friday!

Oh, and one last plug for Chad Allen’s event at Baker Book House tonight. Be there.

Two Depressing Flash Stories Told by Children

My sister-in-law is an elementary teacher. This is only one of the awesome things about her. Another awesome thing is that she sometimes uses my flash fiction photo prompts as writing exercises for her students. And every now and again, she sends me the results. Here are two such stories, along with the pictures that inspired them.

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Story 1

One day in a small village there was a man. Sometimes people stole in that town so it came to war. The only person who survived was the old man. So he decided to travel to somewhere new until he found a place called Oklahoma and it was beautiful. And he found a new home, too. He got a wife. He had two kids. They had so much fun until the old man’s wife died. The kids grew up and left the house. It was sad. The old man got older and older.

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Story 2

One day I went to school. I looked in my locker. My stuff was gone! I was robbed! I ran down the hallway. “I see him” I said. Then he was gone! I lost my book bag, my books, and my popcorn maker. They were GONE!! The principal saw running and then he suspended me. I was lucky they didn’t find out. Then my mom was robbed. We were doomed. I found him and I called 911. They got him but they didn’t give me my stuff. Then they got away and forgot my stuff.

Thanks for writing, kids!

I am surprised by Jot attendees.

My writer’s group hosted Jot II the other night. We had a great turnout and a lot of fun. The speakers all did a great job. The venue was gorgeous. The attendees were attentive and kind. It was a great night.

jot_panelMy responsibilities for the evening included conducting an author interview with an old college friend, jumping up between presentations to make basic announcement regarding time and bathroom locations, and spouting my mouth off on a panel discussion of writer’s groups. And since I love the sound of my own voice, I loved every minute in front of the microphone. This was no surprise to me.

What was a surprise was the speaking I did after the presentations finished. I had three great conversations afterward with three very different individuals, and flash fiction came up in every one. Now, the reasons that surprised me is because no one spoke on the topic of flash fiction in this round of Jot.

The first conversation was with an attendee who was a long way from home. She was a journalist from Iran who recently moved to Grand Rapids and was curious about the type of people who attend writer’s conferences. She was guessing that our audience would be primarily of a college-age, so she was surprised to see the wide demographic range of Jot attendees. After talking about the conference in general, she asked me about my writing. I told her that I blogged and wrote flash fiction. She told me that blogging was illegal in her country and that she was unfamiliar with flash fiction. I did my best to explain that it pertained more to the length of a work than the genre of the work. Then she stumped me by asking for the name of a famous flash fiction author.

My second conversation was with our youngest attendee. I noticed early in the evening that a girl had come with her mom to Jot. I approached them afterward to thank them for coming out and to find out a little more about them. The mom explained to me that it was her nine-year-old daughter who was the writer and that she was just there to learn as much about the craft as she could. I then asked the girl what she wrote. It turns out that she, like me, is interested in science fiction and fantasy and that she recently wrote a short story.

“It’s not very long,” she said. “It’s only nine and a half pages.”

“Are you kidding me?” I said. “That’s three times longer than most of the fiction things that I write.”

I took the opportunity to share a bit about flash fiction before referring them to my blog where they could find this list of places that publish (and pay) for short-form fiction. I thanked them for attending, and secretly hoped that I could be as good a parent as that mom was.

My final conversation of the evening was with a retired gentleman. He was attending Jot for the same basic reasons as the girl, though their situations could not have been more different. He had just started writing, had finished a short story for children, and didn’t know where to go from there. I told him that I had some experience with short stories and suggested some resources to help him hone his craft.

“I know that short stories are all for kids,” he said. “So I wasn’t sure if I should be doing that or something else.”

“Oh,” said I. “Short stories aren’t just for kids. In fact, almost none of the short stories I read are aimed at children.”

We then went on to talk about some of the features of flash fiction, like the twist. After a few minutes of this, I thanked him for attending and wished him well.

I realized after my three conversations that I am pretty passionate about flash fiction. Now, readers of my blog may not be surprised by this, what with my flash fiction prompts, stories, and the like, but I was. I feel a bit like a man who has found a treasure in a field, but instead of keeping it secret so I can sell my stuff and buy the field for myself, I’m out there telling everyone I know about this amazing treasure that is flash fiction.

Oh well, I guess it’s okay to encourage others to write, even if they might be better than I am. But if you do turn out to be better than I am, if you get a big publishing deal and become famous because I turned you on to flash fiction, be warned. I will be approaching you for help in the industry.

Thanks again to everyone who came out to Jot! If you missed it, you can watch it in its entirety here.

100 Word Challenge | But where did the noise come from…

Light filtered strangely through the mosaic ceiling. Lightning threw the faces into sharp relief as thunder gave voice to the demons depicted.

Jess stared, transfixed as she listened to the audio tour.

“The Baptistry of Florence has seen the baptisms of many notable figures. In fact, the poet Dante, famous for his Divine Comedy…”

The player abruptly died in unison with the structure’s artificial lights.

Rain turned to hail. Thunder laughed as the mosaic crumbled, revealing a blood red sky.

No lightning, realized Jess numbly as winged figures swept in with the hail but…  Where did the noise come from?

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5 Links Worth Following

Fellow lovers of words,

It’s been a while since I’ve posted some links to other cool places on the internet, and for that I apologize. There are many wonderful things out there, and I was selfishly trying to keep you here on my blog and on my blog alone. But I’ve realized the error of my ways and I’m excited to send you out to some of the places that I’ve been. If it isn’t too selfish to ask, I would love your thoughts on the pages linked below. So visit them, then come back here and share. And as always, thanks for reading.

shapes_of_storiesThe Shapes of Stories by Kurt Vonnegut | Writers Write

I just recently added the Writers Write blog to my list of noteworthy places, and I am glad that I found them. If you use Facebook, their pages is constantly updated with fun prompts, thoughts on writing, and author birthdays and facts. For word nerds like me, this site is pure bliss.

silver_blade_clichesGrand List of Fantasy Clichés | Silver Blade Magazine

I stumbled across this page while seeking a publisher for some of my flash fiction, and it is too good not to share. For anyone who reads or writes in the fantasy genre, you will appreciate this list of overused fantasy tropes. Enjoy!

flash_fiction_contestFlash Fiction Writing Contest | Literacy Center of West Michigan

I was referred to this contest by writing friend and Guild member, Cynthia Beach. If you have an interest in flash fiction, please consider this contest. The grand prize is $150 and submissions are being accepted May 15 – June 30. There is an entrance fee of $15.

flying_pigImagine a Flying Pig: How Words Take Shape in the Brain | NPR

This is an interesting article about how words and language affect the way our brain works. Scientists used to think that we had a separate module in our brains that made language possible, given that human language is so much more developed than any other creature. But what scientists actually found was quite shocking.

writingWords | Radiolab

The NPR Article above reminded me of a podcast from Radiolab, so I went back and listened. It was great all over again. If you are fascinated by words, you won’t be disappointed by this podcast!

Remember to Breathe

I had two exciting messages via email and Facebook the other day.

Breathe Christian Writer's ConferenceIn the first, I was invited to be a speaker at the Breathe Writers Conference in October. My topic will be Flash Fiction. The organizers reached out to me because of my presentation on that topic at Jot, the mini-conference that my writer’s group put together. I’ve been a speaker at Breathe before, but my topic then was on how bookstores can help writers (checkout my Bookstore Symbiosis series here on my blog for the gist of my talk).

I’m pretty excited about getting my talk together and differentiating it from what I used at Jot. Also, I’m hoping to have some flash fiction publishing credits to my name by then so I can feel qualified to speak on the topic.

The other message I got the other day was from the film maker I mentioned a while back who was looking for some material to turn into short movies. He had a friend write an adaptation of one of my 100 word stories and asked me to look it over. The adaptation is amazing! I can’t wait for you all to see it!

He mentioned that they are hoping to film it sometime this summer, so there’s a chance that I’ll be able to show it at my talk in October at Breathe.

In any case, be sure to check out the Breathe website for more details. Having been there as both a speaker and an attendee, I can honestly tell you that it is a writer’s conference like no other. The speakers they choose always have time to talk to the attendees, the other attendees are always kind, and the general feel of the conference is always supportive.

The keynote speaker this year is Latayne C. Scott. Here’s her bio from the Breathe site:

Latayne C. Scott is the award-winning author of over a dozen books, published by major Christian publishers such as Zondervan, Moody, Baker, Word and others. In addition, she has published poems, radio plays, and hundreds of articles in magazines such as Today’s Christian Woman, Guideposts, Writer’s Digest, The Upper Room, Christian Research Journal, Christian Retailing, and Military Officer. A full-time writer, she also speaks at seminars, retreats, and on television and radio programs. She is the recipient of Pepperdine University’s Distinguished Christian Service Award for Creative Christian Writing, and makes her home in her native New Mexico.

If you have any inkling of becoming a writer, be sure to check it out.