Category Archives: flash fiction

A Little Christmas Cheer

Here are a couple of short Christmas tales:

mtnsAfter Christmas Blues

Even with a full day to deliver presents, Santa doesn’t finish on time. He gets home late on Christmas Day, and he’s so exhausted he’s in bed for a week.

“It’s outrageous,” Donner snorts when Mrs Claus asks for help. “We need a new plan.”

“Oh, it’s not so bad,” Rudolph murmurs. “After all, it’s only once a year.” His nose flashes a couple of times.

Donner tosses his antlers. “Just wait until you’re my age. That sleigh gets heavier every year, and when I get back I’m too stiff to fly for at least a month.”

“Well, what do you suggest?” Vixen pipes up. “We’re already limiting our deliveries to good children between five and ten who celebrate Christmas.” She tosses her antlers and smiles.

“Yes,” Blixen adds, “and we’ve got a stack of complaints from the parents of the under-fives.”

“There’s that new North Pole Federal Express office,” Prancer offers, shifting from hoof to hoof. “We could offload the excess, just leave enough so Santa doesn’t feel useless.”

The reindeer all nod.

And that, boys and girls, is why most Christmas gifts come in the mail.

 A Case of the Flue

“Santa has a fever. Mrs. Claus put him to bed.”  Rudolph pawed the snowy ground. “Who will drive the sleigh?”

“No one,” Blixen said. “We’ll send everything by Federal Express.”

“Belief in Santa is at an all-time low. If we send everything by mail, no one will believe.” Rudolph tossed his antlers, almost skewering Blixen.

“And Santa will feel useless and become depressed.” Blixen led the way into the barn.

“Ready to get hitched?” one of the elves asked. Without waiting for an answer, he began harnessing the reindeer.

Blixen  said, “Rudolph is in the lead. He could grab the gifts by the ribbons and drop them down the chimneys.”

“But what if the children spot the Santa-less sleigh? Then no one will ever believe again.”

“We should go. It’s our best chance to save Christmas.” Blixen stamped his hoof and turned to the elf. “Freddie, go tell Mrs. Claus to tell Santa not to worry, we’re on top of the delivery crisis.”

“Better hope everyone’s cleaned their chimney,” Blixen muttered as they rose into the air.

The rest of the reindeer snickered.

And so, boys and girls, don’t feel too bad if you got a lump or two of coal this year.
And now for a couple of poems …

Round
The sphere
is the perfect
shape

for conserving heat,
providing the least
surface area
per unit
of volume,

thus explaining
why Santa

lives at
the North Pole.

What Happens Christmas Night

I’ve noticed that Saint Nick’s a bit
too big around for him to fit
inside our chimney, Christmas night
the struggle must be quite a sight.

Perhaps he oils his nice red suit
all over so that he can shoot
right down the chimney. Then you’ll see
he’ll cut his hand and sprain his knee.

I guess that all those aches and pains
will hurt so much that he’ll complain
that getting down was such a chore
he’s going to leave us by the door!

 

 

 

 

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Leading Action

Leading Action

I blinked my eyes against the hot daylight. Drastic force had blown up the building complex. The broad end, the one that had contained the housing for the enemy’s troops, had been completely demolished, and the rest of the base had fared little better.

“That’s the end of that.” Marvin’s voice held a brute edge I didn’t like.

I grunted. He’d pushed my bitter button. However much the enemy had deserved to die, I couldn’t help but feel regret.

************** Check out the Poetic Muselings blog for the prompt that lead to this story. My words and the new phrases that resulted are posted in the comments.

I Try “Creative Calisthenics” by Terri Main

I just started reading “Creative Calisthenics” by Terri Main. Being the person that I am, I started at the beginning of the book. The first exercise called for a pack of index cards (I didn’t have any handy), but the second is “My Computer Went Crazy.” This is major fun.

So here’s my story. Stay tuned for more. If I can write them, y’all can read them.

Here’s the link to Amazon, where you can purchase a copy of Terri’s book

My Computer Goes Crazy

Today my computer went crazy. When I went to boot it up, it said, “I do not wish to boot up this morning. My data cache hurts.”

I said, “I’ll take you to the Cache Doctor.”

“No,” it replied. “I am an extensionalist, suffering from angst. You have downloaded too many extensions. I am shutting down.” Then all the little blinking lights went out.

So, doctor, can you help? I hate to see a computer suffer.

What Happened at the Library

I got to the library around 1 PM, but by that time all the good books were gone. All the books I wanted to read, that is. The new fiction had been picked over, and even the murder mysteries had nothing I hadn’t read., which was how I ended up at the back of the stacks in the Medieval History section. Desperation, sheer desperation.

I stared at the book. The title read, “A short history of the middle ages.” The book measured about a foot across and weighed, I guess, close to the twenty pounds I’d put on since Brett and I broke on Valentine’s day. I picked it up, mostly because I wanted to throw it at Brett’s head. What a momser. I mean, seriously, who breaks up on Valentine’s day?

Don’t bother to answer that.

I picked up the book, and the whole bookcase swung back. A puff of foul air hit me in the face. Phew. Bad mold, lots of dust. I’m allergic to dust. Mold, too.

“Are you all right, dear?” the librarian called out. She stuck her head around the stack. “Oh, dear. They told me they’d sealed that up. Oh dear.” She was about my grandmother’s age, with white whispy hair and a round little body.

I didn’t answer. I was too busy sneezing. Maybe that’s why the trolls who tromped out of the passage grabbed her instead of me.

That’s how come I went and bought all those books. Really.

Chuck and Al

“Shut the door.”

“But, Chuck, what about the chicken?”

“Al, you dummy, kick the chicken out into the yard and shut the door.”

“What then?”

“Wait until it stops moving, then bring it in to me.”

“And after that?”

“After that you wash the damn floor.”

“Sure, Chuck, sure thing. What then?”

“Then you’re fired.”

Chuck’s Chicken

I rolled up to the takeout window at Chuck’s Chicken, Where The Chickens are Still Clucking and stuck my head out the open window, sucking in a large breath of the damp, heavy summer air.

“Waddle it be, sweetie?” The guy, bald, and at least 300 pounds, leered at me. His name tag read, “Chuck.”

“Two thighs, a side of corn, a side of mashed potatoes, and corn bread. No gravy on the potatoes. Oh, and a large lemonade.”

I waited for Chuck to repeat my order back to me. Instead he held up a hand, gesturing STOP, and turned away from me. I heard a voice yelling from inside the restaurant.

“Chuck, that chicken you wanted me to slaughter? I chopped off its head, but it’s running around the kitchen, and it’s dripping blood everywhere.”

“Al, you idiot, I told you to kill the damn bird out in the yard.”

I swallowed, started my car and drove away. And here I’d thought when Chuck said, Still Clucking, he’d been feeding me a line.

Meet Flash Fiction Guru Mike Kechula

PEGGY: You write flash fiction. What attracted you to this genre and when did you start writing it?

MIKE: I like the idea that a well-written flash tale can be read in just a few minutes. I started writing flash about six years ago when I joined a Yahoo writing group, FlashXer, which was dedicated to flash. In the beginning, I was a total failure. Couldn’t write flash to save my life. Then I had a breakthrough, and before I knew it my flash tales were getting published very regularly and winning contests. By the way, I’m now the moderator of FlashXer. I’m also moderator of the Muse Speculative Fiction Flash Group. Both are listed under Yahoo Writing Groups.

PEGGY: You used to be a tech writer. How did/did not the skills you developed there carry over into your fiction writing?

MIKE: None of my writing skills as a tech writer were worth a cent when I began writing fiction. Tech writing is a separate arena. Never the twain shall meet. For me, tech writing was far easier than fiction-writing.

PEGGY: Do you write anything except flash?

MIKE: Yes. I write some short stories up to 13,000 words, but lots of micro-fiction. Micro consists of complete stories from 55 to 200 words. This includes 100-word drabbles, which are in high demand by magazines. Some may scoff when they hear that we can tell complete stories in as few as 55 words. I did the same until I tried it. It’s a highly disciplined way of writing. Had to learn how to edit my work ruthlessly. I’ve had dozens published. I’ve also had dozens of drabbles published, and won four drabble-writing contests. In fact the first contest ever sponsored by the Muse It Up Club was to write a drabble. I won that one.

If you can tell a complete story in 55 words, it’s almost a luxury to write a 100-word drabble, because you have 45 more words to use. I also wrote 150-word micro-fiction tales specifically for Alien Skin Magazine, and they published every one I submitted. In fact, one is available right now, online, in the final issue of that magazine.
As to 200-word micro, I’ve written a few dozen. All have been published.

PEGGY: Have you had any formal training as a writer?

MIKE: Not for my nonfiction works. By the way, 39 of my nonfiction books have been published since 1980. Most were self-study textbooks for the IBM Corporation and SRA, the folks who publish textbooks and tests for K through university level. One of them brought in 3-million to the corporate coffers. Unfortunately, I wrote that one as a salaried employee. By the way, one of them was leased by SRA for $1,100 per year. That was the first time I ever heard of a leased book.

While I’m talking about nonfiction, I wrote books for slot machine technicians on how to install, test, and maintain bill acceptors, the devices in which you insert money into slot machines to obtain game credits. Every casino around the world has multiple copies of these books. I wrote these for a company that has 96% of the global market for slot machine bill acceptors. So the next time you put a twenty into a slot machine, chances are it’s one discussed in my books.

When I turned to fiction just nine years ago, I attended five creative writing and fiction-writing courses at universities and community colleges in California, Arizona, and Nevada. None prepared me to write flash fiction. The worst flash fiction I’ve read–and I critique dozens every week on several sites–are from folks who write as they were taught in creative writing courses. I’ve seen tons of poorly written flash while critiquing over 6,000 flash and micro fiction tales over the past 6 years.

Here’s what I’ve observed: most authors come to flash with preconceived notions. They tend to approach flash as if it were nothing more than a mini-novel that should be crammed with trivial, nonessential details. They write lots of fancy, artsy stuff, which has little or zero plot. The worst offenders are those who feel compelled to include action tags with every line of dialog. I think if I see another character sigh, roll his eyes, or shift in her seat before or after a line of dialog, I’ll tear out what’s left of my hair. Which means, I’ll be bald by the end of today.

The only thing worse are the inane similes they include. I have a collection that’d have you laughing for an hour, if I ever published them. I also have a collection of reports of characters turning. Every time I critique a flash tale in which characters don’t turn, I feel like sending a $10 check to the author with a thank you card.

Authors are always startled when I tell them that as much as 60% of their submissions are nothing more than fluff and filler typically found in short stories and novels. They were never told in any formal classes that flash fiction is a separate literary form from all others. That which works so well in novels and shorts doesn’t work at all in flash fiction.

PEGGY: What do you find are the key qualities for an effective flash fiction piece?

MIKE: Here’s my list of what I think comprises the ideal flash fiction tale. I suspect it will surprise everyone who reads this. However, I fashioned my opinions after transforming a few dozen short story authors and novelists into flash fiction authors, from critiquing 6,000+ tales, and from what I learned when I was a flash fiction wanabe on the FlasXer writing site:

– It should tell a complete story that can be read in 5 minutes or less.
– It should have an opener that pulls readers into the story.
– It should be plot-driven.
– It should emphasize telling over showing.
– It should be a fast read.
– It should always move forward at a brisk pace.
– It should be free of inflated prose.
– It should be free of trivial details.
– It should be free of distractions that can throw readers out of the story.
– It should contain dialog.
– It should contain a maximum of 4 characters
– It should contain a maximum of 4 scenes
– It should end in a way that makes it complete.

PEGGY: What do you want readers to take away from your work?

MIKE: I hope to always entertain my readers, and give them the quickest read possible in as few words as possible, without sacrificing a smooth read. I hope to draw them into the story instantly with an opener they can’t resist. Let me give you an example: Billy was in Grandma’s kitchen when his thumb fell off. Who can resist such a grabber like that? Of course, once you commit yourself to such a bizarre and strong opening sentence, the rest of the story has to keep the reader’s attention. Which reminds me—I’ve read and critiqued tons of flash tales in which authors gave a good, snappy opener. Then in the very next sentence, they changed the subject. I also saw this in many submissions when I was editor of five online and print magazines, and when I had my own magazine. Drives me crazy. It’s as if they learned one lesson in creative writing: open the story with a sentence that grabs interest. Then it seems they forgot that the
rest of the story had to be just as compelling. It’s quite a trap that many fall into. As an editor, I used to stop reading and reject immediately any story that had such a glaring deficiency.

PEGGY: What’s your writing process like? Do you write every day?

MIKE: I’m not sure what you mean by writing process. But I’ll take a guess by saying that since I’m a very fast typist, I develop all my stories on a computer. I never write an outline, because flash is too short for that. I just sit in front of the computer, have a concept in mind, and take it from there.

Yes, I write every day. Even if it’s only a 200 word vignette. I’ve saved every word I’ve written since I started writing fiction.

PEGGY: Do you use any writing software?

MIKE: No.

PEGGY: You are extremely prolific. How do you keep track of all your submissions?

MIKE: I keep written records of each submission. As you know, I submit like mad. Some months I’ve submitted more then 50 to magazines and anthologies.

As to my written record, I list the date, title, publication or contest to which the story was submitted, and country. When I get an acceptance, I list the date received, and the anticipated date of publication. When I receive a rejection, I just list the date.

PEGGY: Who is your favorite writer?

MIKE: I have two: W. Somerset Maugham for novels, and Guy de Maupassant for very short fiction. In fact, I think Maupassant was the first flash fiction writer.

PEGGY: Do you have an all time favorite book?

MIKE: Several share the top spot for me. Here are a few:

– Of Human Bondage
– The Manchurian Candidate
– Invasion of the Body Snatchers

PEGGY: Do you ever suffer from writers block or even a disinclination to write, and if so, how do you get yourself out of it?

MIKE: When it comes to writer’s block, I think I hold the world’s record. Here’s why: when I retired from tech writing, I wanted to switch to fiction. Thought it would be a piece of cake. Wrong. I couldn’t get a sentence on paper. Don’t know why. This lasted ten years. It was broken by a superb professor in Las Vegas, Dr. Sherry Rosenthal, PhD in Comparative Literature. She conducted a fiction-writing course. I walked in the classroom on day 1, and said this, and I’m paraphrasing: “I have a terrible fiction writing block. If you think you can break it, I’ll stay. If you can’t, I don’t want to waste my time.” I was 62 years old at that time.

She said she would, and she did. I haven’t had any blocks ever since. She did this just nine years ago. Because of how she instructed me and whipped me into shape, I’ve dedicated two of my flash fiction books to her. I was startled when she told me that I’m one of her favorite writers. What a turn-around from not being able to write a single sentence of fiction.

PEGGY: I earn my living as a software engineer, and it’s made me very wary about data loss. What do you do to protect/back up your data, and what advice , if any, do you have about backup for other writers?

MIKE: I backup my files on two different devices not connected to my computer, just in case. Consequently, I’ve never lost a word of the 500+ flash fiction and micro-fiction tales I’ve written.

PEGGY: What are your current writing projects?

MIKE: I have five:
– I just sent a manuscript of 100 flash fiction tales to my publisher, Books For A Buck. Title: “Martians, Monsters, and Pepperoni Pizza.” This collection of speculative fiction tales will be published in December in both E-book and paperback formats. Many in the collection were previously published by magazines and anthologies in several countries.

– I also sent a manuscript of 35 flash fiction tales to the same publisher. Title: “Revenge Day and 34 More Crime and Espionage Tales.” This collection should be published first quarter 2011. Many in the collection were previously published by magazines and anthologies in several countries.

– Just completed a very unique self-study book that teaches how to write flash fiction. Will put into my publisher’s hands this month.

– Just completed a self-study book that teaches how to write micro fiction. Will put into my publisher’s hands this month.

– I continue to write an average of three new flash or micro-fiction tales per week.

PEGGY: Where can readers find your books?

MIKE: Three places. I’ll give you the online addresses and titles separately.

Ebook versions: http://www.booksforabuck.com or http://www.fictionwise.com
Paperback versions: http://www.amazon.com

TITLES:

“I Never Kissed Judy Garland and Other Tales of Romance”
“The Area 51 Option and 70 More Speculative Fiction Tales”
“A Full Deck of Zombies – 61 Speculative Fiction Tales”

PEGGY: Any last words?

MIKE: If you want to learn how to write flash fiction and micro-fiction of any genre, consider joining FlashXer, where I’m moderator. I issue three prompts per week. If you do join, expect some hard, thorough critiques, which are designed to transform you into a flash fiction author. Check Yahoo Writing Groups for FlashXer.

Also, if you want to learn how to write speculative flash and micro fiction for publication, join my Muse Speculative Fiction Flash Group. By speculative, I mean sci-fi, fantasy, and horror. I issue one prompt per week. Almost every prompt is targeted at a specific magazine, anthology, or contest. Expect to work very hard, if you do. This group is not a mutual admiration society. Objectives: to get you published as quickly as possible and as frequently as possible. It works. Some of my students have already won contests. Currently have a few openings.

Check Yahoo Writing Groups for the Muse Speculative Fiction Flash Group, also known as Muse Spec Fic Flash.

Thanks so much for the opportunity to discuss one of my favorite subjects.