NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge #1

Well… I just got the feedback from my submission for the first challenge of the Flash Fiction competition. Unfortunately I did not even place in the top 15. So that is… rough. For me to even move on past the second round I’ll have to place in the top 3. So… Fun.

How the competition works is you’re given a genre (obvi), a location and an object that must appear somewhere in the narrative. For this challenge I was assigned: genre – sci-fi, location – a talent show, and object – a bone.

May I add, I fu-hucking hate Science Fiction. These little challenges have proven to me time and again that it is absolutely not my goddamn genre. Not even a little. What’s also irritating is the three times I’ve competed in this competition I have been assigned this goddamn genre repeatedly. So, please, shoot me.

Below is what I submitted and below that will be judge’s feedback. I will say they are absolutely correct in their reviews. Due to the fact that I literally wrote this in an hour with little to no editing, I’m surprised their critiques weren’t more critical. To be honest, I haven’t even re-read it since I sent it. (And I’m not even reading it now.)

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Starship Follies

            On the twelfth deck of the massive Heavannah II starship, the crew gathered eagerly to watch the Sixteenth Annual “Display of Expertise” talent show.  They chattered to one another, filling the cavernous, round hall with the rabble of their conversation. The chorus of voices sent many who had signed up to participate into states of nervous excitement. For Arnold Habberny, however, his stomach began to twist in agony.

            He stared out at the growing crowd, from behind the curtain of stage right.

            I don’t know if I can do this, he thought to himself.

            The young boy lifted his feathered head piece and dabbed at his brow and down his pale cheeks all the way to the base of his neck.

            A young Mefferling, with blue skin and three crests arching over the top of his head stepped beside Arnold.

            “You can do this,” he said, his forked tongue licked at his thin lips as he spoke.

            Arnold turned to him, “Please tell me you’re not using your mind reading abilities, I’shia. I can’t compete with that.”

            “Please,” I’shia rolled his three eyes, “that’s old news. I got something better slated for debut.”

            Arnold’s stomach twisted even more.

            The four legs of the appointed master of entertainment for the ship, Cassia Corlay, sidled to center stage. Holding out two of his four arms, he gestured for the crowds silence, as he used the other two, to pull from his pocket a small round device. He switched on the circular mic and it took to the air, hovering just above his head.

            “Good evening, my fellows,” his voice boomed across the hall, “and welcome to the show of shows! It gets boring at times, travelling across the reaches of unknown space, which is why once a marked ship year, we all on-board gather to watch what we love to do on our off hours.”

            The crowd cheered.

            “And I am told this years’ collection of displays is going to be greater than last’s. And remember, whoever has the greatest of talents wins the trophy of excellence and earns a guaranteed spot on our next expedition.”

            Arnold’s stomach churned again.

            “Without further ado, let us initiate the show. I present to you, the Ebber Brothers!”

            The crowd cheered and Cassia rushed from the stage.

            The lights dimmed to black and a single spotlight rose to center stage. Illuminated in the lone spot of light was the first act. It was a set of twin Baggins, with scaly skin and yellow slit eyes. They bowed in unison and opened their fish-like mouths to garble a series of phrases. A disembodied, monotoned voice boomed over the crowd translating their words.

            “We have the spectacle of spectacles,” it said for them.

            From the darkness of the surrounding stage an empty silver door frame was placed between them. The two looked to the other and nodded. Then one after the other, they took turns hopping through a single side but emerging from both, cloning themselves. When there were three sets of the twin brothers on stage, the door frame disappeared into the darkness and they all moved about the stage in a choreographed dance.

            The brother’s number ended their number on their knees, and one by one, the clones evaporated in puffs of smoke. A faint haze of the former creatures drifted across the stage.

The crowd’s applause rose like a roar, filling the space.

            Arnold tried to swallow the knot in his throat.

            Cassia retuned to the stage.

            “Not many could beat that,” he said, and the crowd responded with cheers.

            “Our next number is from I’shia Yayabu, last years winner. Please welcome him to the stage!”

            Cassia gestured to his two right arms to off stage, as he exited left.

            “Wish me luck,” I’shia whispered as he left Arnold in the wings.

            The Mefferling took center stage and bowed toward the audience.

            “My talents are only unbound by the study of my Mefferling abilities and innovation.”

            From the darkness of the stage a pair of gloved hands, placed a helmet that fit in between the spaces of I’shia’s crests. He closed his three eyes and held out his arms.

            “Now give me your thoughts,” he said.

             The crowd sat in tense silence.

            With his eyes still closed, he looked to different spots in the audience. Pointing a finger at them, a colored ball of energy would then form from the helmet and vibrate up into the air. Purple, blue, black, and red balls of electricity crackled over the audience, sending them into cheers of excitement.

            “Thank you, I’shia,” Cassia said as he returned to the stage. “That was incredible!”

            I’shia removed his helmet and the balls snapped out of existence.

“I’m doomed,” Arnold mumbled.

“I don’t know how anyone will compete against that but let’s try! Please welcome Arnold Habberny!”

The crowd remained silent as the young man walked into the spotlight. His footsteps echoed ominously across the hall.      

“I… I have this,” he said.

            From beyond the spotlight a very high platform was wheeled out, a box placed in the center. Then a single hand held out an old brown bone.

            Arnold took the bone and climbed up the metal ladder, along the side of the platform to place the bone inside of the box.

            A puff of smoke erupted from the bottom of the platform, producing an earth llama.

            “Ta-da,” he squeaked.

            Arnold held out his hands to a silent audience.

            “That’s not a talent,” a voice shouted from the audience.

            “Did I mention, I crossed it’s DNA with a cobra’s?” he answered back.

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Judges Critiques:

 WHAT THE JUDGES LIKED ABOUT YOUR STORY – {2162}  There was lots of vivid detail – colors, sounds, feelings, different species of aliens, etc. It was easy to feel as if I was among the crowd watching the story unfold. There was also a lot of creativity demonstrated in having thought up the different acts put on at the show.    {2144}  The idea of an annual talent show to keep morale up on a spacecraft is a really creative use of the prompt. The different acts were also intriguing and created some cool visuals.  {2121}  Mixing interstellar species without fanfare, and the inclusion of some of their various different capabilities and appearances, helps define the world of the story more effectively than just setting description. Arnold’s nervous anticipation and reluctance are also understood well, heightening as both acts before him perform their talents to positive audience reactions.   WHAT THE JUDGES {Did Not} LIKED ABOUT YOUR STORY – {2162}  I had a little trouble following the acts themselves – and it is an understandingly difficult feat to create and then describe extraterrestrial talents – in your next draft, perhaps really try to nail down the nature of what is spectacular to the audience – is it the cloning? the clones dancing? the light show of the energy balls? Think of ways to make the alien entertainment more and more beguiling to a reader – including Arnold’s talent, and the audience’s lack of reaction. Why weren’t they impressed? Why was he so nervous? Is the cobra line a joke? It ends a bit abruptly, to me, but I think that the more time you are able to pin down the acts and maybe give Arnold a little more detail, the more this story will cohere!   {2144}  In general, I wanted there to be more at stake here for the characters. Why does Arnold want to do well in this competition? What is on the line? I think we need to understand Arnold a little better to root for him.  {2121}  While Arnold is the protagonist of the story, his talent is revealed last and much more concisely, to the point where the reader doesn’t really understand what he accomplished. The story ends with him attempting to defend his talent by explaining how he crossed DNA to create an “earth llama,’ which in itself is fascinating if given the space to be developed and explained. Arnold is also never described beyond being a “young boy” wearing a feathered headpiece; if he is indeed human, why is he the only human character mentioned in the piece? How does that define/limit his capabilities, especially when compared to the cloning and energy creation abilities of the two talent acts before him? Why is DNA manipulation and species creation not deemed impressive in this world?

Into the Unknown

I can feel it in my chest. It is this deep, assuring sensation that it is time to peddle my novel. The world is calling me for it, and I know I must answer.

On December 9th, 2021 it will be 12 years since I finished my first NaNoWriMo and completed my first ever novel length work of fiction. If you have done NaNoWriMo before you will note that it is 9 days after the completion of the month long contest, to write 1,667 words a day for the entire month of November. And you are correct, but these were 9 extra days it took to actually wrap up the narrative. And I have spent the time since then editing this bitch.

Part of that is due to my need for perfection and my inability to see my talent and skill. I truly, truly am my worst critic. It’s weird how no one wants to see me fail more so than myself. I’m hellbent on it. And I have wasted these past years himming-and-hawing about whether it was good enough. Well, after a long car ride, and captive audience, I realized it is.

I don’t remember if I wrote about me and the polycule’s impromptu trip to Salt Lake City… Regardless, during this time I tasked the BF to read aloud my story for myself, the husband, and the brother-husband. May I make a suggestion that any writer should ABSOLUTELY do this. It accomplished two things. One, I got a test audience for feedback and overall commentary about the story; in real-time no less. Two, I got to get outside of my own head to hear how it sounded. The second one was the best thing I could have experienced. For so long I have sat there, nitpicking prose, punctuation, plot, that I get so lost in the logistics that I forget about the whole purpose of writing a story: to be entertained. I found myself smiling and laughing at my own words. That is insane. Either it’s good or I am just a narcissist who enjoys his ability. (Probably a combination of the two.)

Well, a road has been placed before me in the terms of an unpublished manuscript competition. For an entry fee of $65 I can submit my first few pages and a brief synopsis of my novel for consideration. If it’s chosen it’ll be placed in front of people who could potentially jumpstart my career. Now, will I place? If my past writing competitions have shown me anything, it is a firm NO. Will I find an agent or even sell it? Again, most likely no. Should I still do it? Yes.

One of the things that has been repeated to me frequently is that we will regret all opportunities not taken. So, I need to do this.

Just Keep Going

Well, look at that. Only three days in and I have already missed a day. But seeing as how it isn’t a resolution to “write everyday” but a goal, it doesn’t matter. And if you do miss a day in achieving your goal, you pick yourself up and keep going. You don’t look back and you don’t hold regrets. You just keep moving.

Yesterday was miserable, mentally. The news had me fuming and work had me stressed so that it felt like I was wearing a blindfold of pain. In the end I chose to be with people who would make me feel at peace than allow myself to dwell on my misery.

I could claim all the excuses I want to why I failed at my goal, but it would do nothing. In the end I chose not to because I was tired. And that’s okay.

We have to be happy with our choices because it was the best one we could have made in the moment. (Plus, I didn’t want to make a post about the shit the world is going through. Because enough has already been and will be said.)

Most people dwell on the things they should have done as opposed to what they did. But if what they “should have done” was the right answer they would have done it in the moment. Be happy with your choices. They were the right ones.

Better Together

I had never been one to believe in writers’ groups. The couple times I had attempted they were too awkward and uncomfortable for me to do on a regular basis and I always ended up leaving them for one reason or another. Little did I know that it was because of passing on these opportunities that I ultimately floundered.

I completed my first real novel length work of fiction in 2009. Since then I have attempted multiple times to edit the beast, but with no success. I would get to a certain point and stop because I would listen to the inner critic telling myself “this is terrible” and “I’m a horrible writer.” When you’re working on art with an analytical approach the artist gets upset. And when you’re more of a creator than an editor it gets overwhelming.

What I have since discovered is that having someone or a community to bounce your art off of really helps with the process.

I met my buddy Matt through a former friend of ours. This previous friend used to be Matt’s writing partner but for reasons they have since parted ways. Luckily for Matt and I, we have since gotten together to talk about our projects.

Matt’s passion for the written word is contagious. The past few times we’ve met up to discuss the craft I have left our sessions feeling so energized and overwhelmed with confidence. He and I wax poetic about the other’s pieces, but also offer advice and critique when needed. He is stronger in some aspects that I still need a little polish and vice versa. Together we are helping the other through it. Plus having him (other than myself) excited about my ideas is the best high. (I’ve never done a single drug though, for any kind of comparison.)

From these get-togethers I finally understand why so many books on writing recommend participating in a writers’ group. Working alone gets exhausting, and when it’s just you and your own viewpoint on your manuscript it can get incredibly negative very fast. And I should know, it’s been that way every time I’ve worked on my book before.

When one has a supportive place to share his techniques and ideas it really keeps the fire burning. And my fire can only stay burning for so long without adding some potent fuel.