Showing posts with label flash fiction. Show all posts
Showing posts with label flash fiction. Show all posts

24 January 2016

Flash Fiction– The Gamble

Leigh Lundin
by Leigh Lundin

Imagine a game I invite you to play. Here are the rules:
  1. You put down $1. Me, nothing.
  2. We flip a coin.
  3. If you win, you get 50¢ back.
  4. If I win, I get your $1 bill.
In a nutshell, I’ve described exactly how lotteries work. Simply substitute ‘the state’ for the first person pronoun and ‘the public’ for the second person ‘you’.

Astonishing, isn’t it? You could make it more accurate by substituting ‘the poor’ for ‘the public’, because that’s the lottery’s primary target.

The lotteries like to tout the advantages. “It allows people to dream for a little while,” says Florida’s own lottery commissioner.” “It pays for education (sorta, kinda)” insists New York’s. “It allows the public to join in a social exercise,” claims a professor.

But for all that, the lottery has one, sole purpose: It’s a cynical tax on the poor. Do politicians honestly believe states implemented lotteries to entertain the masses? Or even benefit their citizens in some way? They’re put in place to shift taxes away from those who don’t want to pay– the wealthy.

A young woman named Cinnamon represents the lotteries’ prime target. Convinced she couldn’t lose, she blew her family’s $800 (or much more depending upon the source) rent and grocery budget buying tickets. I feel sad for the girl, even sadder for her family, victims of the lottery culture.

But she’s got chutzpah. She went on Go Fund Me, where some of us might donate a little to people with serious medical issues. (Consider helping writer Kevin Tipple’s wife Sandi for her cancer treatment.) Our plucky girl Cinnamon wrote this:
Please help me and my family as we have exausted [sic] all of our funds. We spent all of our money on lottery tickets (expecting to win the 1.5 billion) and are now in dire need of cash. With your small donation of at least $1.00, a like, and one share, I’m certain that we will be able to pick ourselves up from the trenches of this lost [sic] and spend another fortune trying to hit it big again! PLEASE, won’t you help a family in need. DONATE NOW.

The rational among us might have expected her to have learned a lesson, but notice the words bolded by me.

As you might imagine, people were scathing, but– surprise– some donated until Go Fund Me took down her donations page. Now she claims it's all a joke, ha-ha. Thing is, I've personally known desperate people who empty their wallet at the local lottery store.

My friends Sharon and Cate, seldom at a loss for words, managed a few choice ones. Inspired by them, this little bit of flash fiction came to mind. Our colleague Vicki Kennedy tells me this form is called a ‘drabble’. Please don’t confuse our fictional Nutmeg with the real Cinnamon whom we prefer to believe is much classier.


The Gamble
by Leigh Lundin

After the lottery tops a stratospheric billion dollar pot, Nutmeg wagers her family’s rent and grocery money. To her surprise, she loses. Even her car’s repossessed. She visits the local charity, which shoos her out the door.

Matters go from bad to worse after she’s arrested for prostitution. Police visit charity officials.

“Miss Nutmeg claims you sent her to WalMart to peddle her ass.”

“For a job, sir. I told her to pedal her ass to WalMart.”

09 March 2015

Me and the Derringers. (Maybe.)


by Melissa Yi.

At the end of my emergency room shift, I got a Twitter message that looked like this:

Quoi? Dr_sassy and the Derringers? That's never happened before. Sounds like a good band title, though.

My first thought was, Did someone tag me by accident? As in, they want me to know about the Derringer Award, which honours the best short mystery fiction published in the English language?

But another tag-ee, Britni Patterson, was already celebrating, so my heart kicked into high gear, just wondering if I was a chosen one.

And if so, which story was it? I had two eligible tales. “Because,” a biting tale of 490 words published in Fiction River: Crime, and “Gone Fishing,” a 12,000-word serialized Hope Sze novella commissioned by Kobo and kindly mentioned by Sleuthsayers last year.

I clicked on the link and found this Derringer short list:

For Best Flash (Up to 1,000 words)
  • Joseph D’Agnese, “How Lil Jimmy Beat the Big C” (Shotgun Honey, May 12, 2014)
  • Rob Hart, “Foodies” (Shotgun Honey, May 2, 2014)
  • Jed Power, “Sweet Smells” (Shotgun Honey, July 28, 2014)
  • Eryk Pruitt, “Knockout” (Out of the Gutter Online, August 31, 2014)
  • Travis Richardson, “Because” (Out of the Gutter Online, May 15, 2014)*
  • Melissa Yuan-Innes, “Because” (Fiction River: Crime, March 2014)*
Ah. Because.

I do love that story.

Warning: it’s extremely noir. I don’t find it scary, but then I face blood, guts, vomit and potentially Ebola every day in the emergency room. I’ve already alerted the SleuthSayers powers that be that I’m not especially cozy. I’ve written what I consider cozies, and I love Precious Ramotswe and Agatha Raisin, but I also regularly stare into the darkness and take notes. When I attended the Writers of the Future winners’ workshop in 2000 and turned in a pitiless story about werewolves, the Grand Prize winner, Gary Murphy, stared at me and said, “I can’t believe that such a sweet-looking woman wrote this!"

I laughed. I adore werewolves. And good stories of any stripe.

But Cozy Monday may need a new name. Any suggestions? Cozy or Not; Cozy and Noir; Alternatively Cozy Mondays (because I’ll bet Jan Grape can stick to one genre better than literary sluts like Fran Rizer and Melodie Campbell and me); Cozy and Crazy…hmm.

Back to the Derringer. Until now, I never really understood why awards have a short list. Well, I understood whittling down the list so that celebrity judges don’t need to plow through a mountain of stories.

But now I get the glory of the finalist. I’ve won other prizes in a binary announcement. Either I win the award or I don’t. But right now, the uncertainty makes it all the more treacherous and exciting!

If you're curious, I’ve published “Because” for free on my website for the next week only. You can download it to your friendly neighbourhood KindleKoboiBooks deviceSmashwordsor any format for a whopping 99 cents. That price will triple in a week. Please admire the cover photo by 28-year-old French photographer Olivier Potet. The non-cropped version is even better.

If Because tickled your fancy, you can also download Code Blues, the first Hope Sze novel, for free, as part of a bundle on Vuze, until March 16th.

And please tune in on March 23rd, when I plan to write about how medicine trains your mind for detective work. Watson, anyone?

09 February 2014

Bieber Shot

by Leigh Lundin

LeighMusic is almost as important to SleuthSayers as mystery. I like classical, blues, dark, smokey songs, and so-called progressive rock before alt and acid became respectable. And I listen to other rock, even pop, like Coldplay’s dysphoric Viva La Vida and Imagine Dragons’ foreboding Demons. Meanwhile my cockatoo, Valentine, likes to dance to Lorde’s Royals.

It should come as no surprise I know next to nothing about Justin Bieber. Justin Beiber? Wait, don't leave. There's a flash fiction payoff at the end.

Sure, I’m aware he’s a teenager, at least for the next three weeks. It’s difficult not to have heard his name, thanks to true Beliebers. I well remember adults despised our rock ‘n’ roll, so I'm not too judgmental and he's probably harmless.

I’m not familiar with his songs and couldn’t identify his voice if I heard it, but he’s played at the Apollo and appeared on CSI where he was, er, gunned down. Of course there were those disappointed that happened in fiction.
Bieber

Bieber

My impression is fame and fortune outstripped his ability to handle celebrity, but that’s happened to many supposedly far more mature. But he has a positive side.

In my blog records, I noted a tear-jerking article about ‘Mrs. Bieber’, a six-year-old with a fascination for the boy. She ‘married’ him in a ceremony shortly before her death from a fast-growing cancer. Even if his publicist made the arrangements, Justin gets high marks for classiness and sensitivity.

Like a lot of teens but on a worldwide scale, Bieber’s been getting in trouble recently with graffiti, vandalism, reckless driving, assault, and… $21,000 egg-throwing hijinks. Although Bieber wasn’t present, police in Sweden and the US found marijuana and apparently other drugs in his home and tour buses. On a flight from Canada to the US, Daddy Bieber, Justin, and their entourage of ten smoked so much dope on board and refused to stop despite repeated requests, the crew wore oxygen masks so they wouldn't test positive for THC. Whew! Talk about getting a mile high!

This tarnish on his image has prompted jokes:
“Police found drugs but less than an ounce of talent.”

Mother hears “Baby, baby, baby, oooooo…” from her daughter’s bedroom. “What are you doing?” “Having sex.” “Oh, thank goodness. I thought you were listening to Justin Bieber.”

Conan O’Brien said, “The police report described [Bieber] as 5’9 and 140 pounds – or as his cellmate put it, just right.” Which brings us to today’s flash story, inspired by a quip from a friend who went on to add, “The teacher in me finds this wickedly funny.”


Justin Goes to Jail
by Leigh Lundin

Police arrest Justin Bieber and send him to lockup. Dismayed but not disheartened, Bieber writes “Free JB!” on the walls in protest.

That’s when he learns his cellmate is dyslexic.

27 October 2013

Stranded and Kwiked

by Louis Willis

I began thinking last month what I’d write about this month and my mind was totally blank until I received my first issue of the Strand Magazine. Imagine my delight when I saw John Floyd’s “Secrets,” a slow-paced story with a fast moving plot and rising tension in which two strangers, a man and woman, meet on a ferry boat in what appears a coincidence (it’s not but to say anymore would be a spoiler). The plot ends, but the tension doesn’t drop and the story doesn’t stop because the plight of the two characters continues, suggestively, in the reader’s imagination.

The other stories in the magazine are good, but the one that also interested me was Joseph Heller’s (1923-1999) unpublished "Almost Like Christmas,” written sometime between 1945-1969. Why would the editors publish a story about Christmas several months before Christmas. Because it is not about the holidays; it is a story that “ ...gives readers a provocative glimpse of seething race-related prejudice in an otherwise respectable small town,” (editor). In a town where black farmers from the south are allowed to buy land, a white teacher’s effort to integrate the schools results in three white boys badly beating a black boy. One of the white kids is stabbed, and the black kid is blamed. As an angry mob begins to form with the intention of hunting down the black kid, the atmosphere becomes “Almost Like Christmas.” In view of some of the violent incidents involving race these days, the story is very topical.

Reading Janice’s post on length prompted me to reread Poe’s essay “Philosophy of Composition” in which he states “It appears evident...that there is a distinct limit, as regards length, to all works of literary art — the limit of a single sitting....” but he admits this limit may be “overpassed” except in poetry. Her post also sent me to Amazon to buy Kwik Krimes. Editor Otto Penzler “thought it would be fascinating to see what authors could conjure if given the specific assignment of producing a mystery, crime, or suspense story of no more than one thousand words.”

I didn’t read all 81 stories before having to post this article. All, except one, of the 34 stories that I managed to read are well crafted and seem to comply with the word limit, plus or minus a word or two. I say seem because I didn’t count the words of each story, but based on page length, each is four pages long, plus or minus one or two pages. The disappointing story was the page and half “Acknowledgement.” It has no conflict though it suggests what happened to the narrator. It is like the acknowledgements in books thanking mama, daddy, uncle, aunt, agent, and anybody else who may have helped or hurt the author. To say what the ending suggests would be a spoiler. Since there is no mystery, suspense, or crime, it isn’t a story and seems out of place in this collection.

I give a big shoutout to Janice’s masterful story “The Imperfect Detective” in which the detective comes up with the perfect solution. It is so well crafted that any discussion of the plot would be a spoiler. 

If you haven’t already, add Kwik Krimes to your to-read list. Not only can you read one story in a single sitting, you can read three or four or, if you’re a speed writer, even more. 

One problem I have with reading flash fiction, short stories, and short short stories is the difficulty of avoiding spoilers in discussing them. If anyone has a solution to this problem, help.

But maybe I don’t need help because, according to an essay I read by Jonah Lehrer in the Internet magazine Wired two minutes before posting my article, “Spoilers Don’t Spoil Anything.” The article is certainly food for thought and a post on SleuthSayers if I can get around to thinking about what spoilers really do.

21 April 2013

Flash Fiction– Great Minds

by Leigh Lundin

LeighPunishment for writer's conceit strikes in insidious ways. When I reply "I'm a writer" to the so-what-do-you-do? question, rarely do I receive that sought-for adoring gaze I crave to bask in. More often, authors hear, "Oh, yeah, I'm gonna write a novel too," as if they might say, "Oh, yeah, me too. I'm also gonna build a backyard shed."

Worse for most authors is the response, "I've got a great idea for a story…" The rest of the sentence can unfold in predictable ways, such as, "Would you read it for me?" Or "Would you finish it for me?" "Will you recommend a publisher?" Or "I'll share my idea for 50% of the box office– I've done all the work already."

Companies like Disney fear lawsuits stemming from unsolicited ideas, so when letters with ideas or manuscripts roll into their offices, they return them unread to avoid lawsuits, which Disney defends vigorously. Coming from the software industry, I practice a simple solution: I advise an unsolicited sharer not to reveal their plots without a nondisclosure agreement.

While this usually deters unwished-for sharing, it unfortunately feeds the public Murder She Wrote perception that authors are a hideously bloodthirsty lot, stealing one another's plots. While I find gimmick ideas interesting as murder devices or potential clues, ultimately a plot must be my own.

Hard Swallow

From time to time, ideas I concocted have shown up in other stories, twice by John Lutz, which is one reason I admire his work so much. It's inevitable, so many creative minds poring over material. But three days ago, well…

Last year, the flash fiction muse sat on my shoulder while I cranked out a few stories, two that I shared with readers (here and here). Cate thought another of these flash fiction stories was so unique and good, she urged me to find a buyer for it.

I consulted those masters of flash fiction, John Floyd and RT Lawton, asking them about markets. John advised that FF pieces are often used as filler and the market is sparse. I tucked my piece away for a day when I might stumble across a buyer.

On Thursday, Cate and I found ourselves killing time in a government office. Cate had brought along her Kindle loaded with a multitude of free reading and I packed along my Android loaded with sudoku. She handed me her machine and said, "Last night, I read this short story and didn't want to tell you. From the first sentence, I knew how it would end."

There in 500 words (mine was only 37), lay my concept right down to the punchline.

I didn't know if it made me feel better or worse, but this story, J.A. Konrath's 'The Big Guy', published in Crime Stories and a 2004 anthology, Small Bites, won a Derringer award. I took a deep gulp. It was eerie to see another tale– an award-winning one– so similar to my own. I think Cate felt sicker about it than I did.

After a short reflection, I felt an odd gratitude: Had my story been published, sooner or later someone would have remarked upon the similarity and I could not have come off looking good. No matter how much proof I might muster, there would always be a whiff of suspicion I might have copied another's work.

Mine's a flash fiction I remain proud of and one I'm pleased to share with you. Be sure to read Konrath's 500-word version, now a PDF. And here is mine:


My Pal George
by Leigh Lundin

I'm excited! For the first time ever, I'm taking my friend George shark fishing. Some might not understand how I could be so forgiving finding out about him and Joan, but he's my best pal, my chum.

24 October 2012

Flash Fiction

by Robert Lopresti


I walked up to the counter in the public library.  "Excuse me.  Did anyone turn in a thumb drive yesterday?"

Wordle: Lost and Found
"Several," said the clerk.  "What color was it?"

"White.  Well, more of a cream."

She nodded and sorted through a box behind the counter.  "One of these?"  There were five, almost identical.

I gave them a careful look-see.  "That's the one!"

She handed it to me.  I said thanks and took it back to my seat.  I plugged the flash drive into my laptop and started scrolling through the files. Based on their titles the drive's previous owner had had a great interest in knitting and cake recipes.  Not much of a speller either.

Pretty boring.  But I would keep looking.

There had to be a story idea in there somewhere.

12 August 2012

Flash Fiction– Throw in the Towel?

by Leigh Lundin
Leigh
As I mentioned before, John Floyd and R.T. Lawton not only routinely cram mysteries into less than 700 words, but John is a master of flash fiction, which I attempted a few months ago in A Night Out.

Brace yourself; I'm taking another stab at it. In thinking about the wisdom of writing another flash fiction, I was tempted to title it Throwing in the Towel, but I'll let you decide if I picked a better title.



WhiteWash
by Leigh Lundin

Bubbles was a slippery one. She tried to soft-soap me, but I strangled her in the bathtub, no trace, no prints, no evidence.

Me, I hate wet work, but the cops, they said it was a clean kill.

18 March 2012

Flash Fiction

by Leigh Lundin
Leigh
John Floyd and R.T. Lawton not only routinely cram mysteries into less than 700 words, but John is a master of flash fiction, a subgenre I thought beyond me until I found myself thinking about titles. I suddenly realized a title I had in mind could make a (nearly) complete crime story.

Some might think I'm channeling Elsin Ann (Graffam) Perry's Wide O, a popular single page story published by Ellery Queen, which I highly recommend if you can find it. I title my opus (clearing throat) 'A Night Out'. And now… Wait for it…


A Night Out
by Leigh Lundin

"Darling, doesn't this hankie smell like chlorof…"