Category Archives: Flash fiction

The Great KOA Getaway

The Great KOA Getaway

There’s an energizing crispness in the October air – and that’s not all. Regional festivals celebrating local wine, apples, and barbecue lure excited crowds with sweet, smoky aromas and music from homegrown bands. The squawking from a wedge of geese overhead reminds us it’s hunting and camping season. And Halloween is just around the corner.

My latest work, “The Great KOA Getaway,” should get you in the mood. It’s a flash story about an unlucky/lucky ranger caught in the middle of a little misunderstanding at a remote campground. I’d describe it as a mash-up of Twilight Zone and National Lampoon’s Vacation, with just a touch of Lovecraft thrown in. It’s available free (!) at The Flash Fiction Press.

I’ve always enjoyed stories that tickle your goosebumps and funny bone at the same time. And isn’t that what makes Halloween so much fun?

I hope “The Great KOA Getaway” brings a shiver and a smile to your day.

Bewildering Stories’ Third Quarterly Review, 2016

bwblueship

From Bewildering Stories:

Bewildering Stories ends the season — winter or summer, depending on your hemisphere — with the Review Editors’ selection of favorites from the third quarter of 2016. New readers will have easy access to the recent best of Bewildering Stories, and veteran readers will have a chance to catch up on anything they may have missed.

The Quarterly Reviews are not a contest, competition or poll. And there are no quotas: anything — from everything to nothing — may qualify in any genre. Rather, they answer a practical question: “If a friend asked you to recommend something outstanding from the past quarter of Bewildering Stories, what would you choose?”

I’m happy to announce the editors at Bewildering Stories included my piece “Whisper Listing” in their short list of best flash fiction stories.

Quote of the day

Bonfire

“A brilliant flash fiction can illuminate a world in a moment. It can tell an epic story in the space of a page. The compression necessary to a flash fiction piece means it takes on a greater urgency, a controlled burn that means every single word on that page is necessary, is living and breathing and is saying the thing that so desperately needs to be said. Every piece of kindling is cut and placed and perfect.” Amber Sparks

Whisper Listing

Whisper Listing

“In transactions involving haunted real estate, the rule is not only caveat emptor but also caveat venditor.”

The looming presidential election is shaping up as a combination fiasco and tragedy of such staggering proportions, the only thing we can do is laugh. So in a desperate act of escapism, I wrote a satirical flash fiction piece entitled “Whisper Listing.” It’s featured in the latest issue of Bewildering Stories. Here’s hoping it provides a bit of comic relief to our ongoing political agony.

(In real estate, a “whisper listing” is a house for sale in a market restricted to a select group of potential buyers. Celebrities often use them to avoid publicity.)

* Be sure to check out Challenge 680 linked at the end of my story!

Black Ghost

Silver Blade

Silver Blade Magazine specializes in “Cutting-edge Science Fiction, Slipstream, and Fantasy.” The latest edition features my flash fiction piece “Black Ghost.”

The inspiration for this story came from a couple of things. My father, a veteran of World War II, was recently admitted to the “Memory Ward” at a nursing home. Seeing him alone in a wheelchair when I visit makes me wonder if people passing by have any idea what this quiet man, a veteran of the Battle of Okinawa, endured in that war. Short answer: They do not. Nor do most folks consider what they owe to that generation, a generation of heroes which slips away from us day by day.

The other spark for this story was a fascinating article in Ancient Origins about the once widespread practice of interring items in tombs the dead could use in the afterlife. These “parting gifts” weren’t cheap. Consider what archaeologists found in the tomb of Princess Ukok of Siberia:

Buried around her were six horses, saddled and bridled, her spiritual escorts to the next world, and a symbol of her evident status, perhaps more likely a revered folk tale narrator, a healer or a holy woman than an ice princess.

There, too, was a meal of sheep and horse meat and ornaments made from felt, wood, bronze and gold. And a small container of cannabis, say some accounts, along with a stone plate on which were the burned seeds of coriander.

Often, the living would supply the departed with the means to carry on their life’s work. The Ancient Origins article cited a study of tombs from pre-Roman Italy that revealed “indications of the commonality of military service since men’s tombs of the era routinely contained metal weaponry lying across or near the skeletal remains.”

That got me to thinking about the many deities and religions — not to mention nations — that have come and gone over the centuries, and how all of them arose because they met timeless human needs. The more I thought about it, the more intriguing the possibility a future society could adapt this ancient practice. Next thing I knew, I was outlining a story I’d already titled “Black Ghost.”

Stories provide much that religion offers. The tales we read, like the ones we encounter in worship, may not be factual but are nevertheless true and necessary. The cycles of nature, the challenge of growing up and leaving home, and one’s inevitable confrontation with life and death arouse fear and fascination within every human heart. Stories and myths have the power to startle, teach, and assure us on life’s journey. That’s why religion and storytelling have germinated in all cultures.

And whatever one’s views on religion, we can all appreciate the story’s secondary themes of the debt the living owe past generations, the heroism of ordinary people that make life possible, and the boundless potential — and petulance — within every 12-year-old. Enjoy.

The Clincher

The Clincher

The Flash Fiction Press has published my story The Clincher, now available online.

The idea for this story came to me while reading William Lind’s introduction to Fourth Generation Warfare. Lind predicts that future battles will hinge on public perceptions of the combatants:

Fourth generation adversaries will be adept at manipulating the media to alter domestic and world opinion to the point where skillful use of psychological operations will sometimes preclude the commitment of combat forces. A major target will be the enemy population’s support of its government and the war.

Propaganda has long served as a “Fifth Column” for invading armies. During the 1968 Prague Spring uprisings against the Soviet Union, Czech communists assured their restless population that Soviet troops entering Prague weren’t really invading — they were just dropping by to preserve order and stop “counter-revolutionaries,” thereby ensuring Czechoslovakia’s peace and prosperity.

Prague Spring“We’re from Moscow, and we’re here to help.”

Lind argues that in future conflicts, warring groups will clash over narrative even more than over territory, making the control of public opinion “the dominant operational and strategic weapon.” It occurred to me that 4GW will weaponize the advertising industry. That made me think about Don Draper, Roger Sterling, and the other rapacious but fascinating characters from Mad Men. I wondered how they’d react if space aliens asked them to handle a PR campaign to prepare the Earth for invasion.

Yeah, they’d take that account.

Please leave comments at The Flash Fiction Press. Thanks!

The Writer’s First Commandment

Cameron

The Writer’s First Commandment is: Read. Write. Repeat. Read everything you can get your hands on, because you never know where story ideas will come from.

For example, one of Aesop’s fables provided the inspiration for my flash fiction piece Cameron Obscura:

AN ASTRONOMER used to go out at night to observe the stars. One evening, as he wandered through the suburbs with his whole attention fixed on the sky, he fell accidentally into a deep well. While he lamented and bewailed his sores and bruises, and cried loudly for help, a neighbor ran to the well, and learning what had happened said: “Hark ye, old fellow, why, in striving to pry into what is in heaven, do you not manage to see what is on earth?”

That got me to thinking about a TV news story I’d seen years earlier about two boys who had to be rescued from a well they got stuck in while trying to see stars during the day. They learned two valuable lessons: You can’t see stars from the bottom of a well when the sun’s shining. And it’s easier to get into a deep hole than to get out of it.

The character I imagined getting into such a situation was based on the brother of a college girlfriend. He was autistic, and took things very literally. It fascinated me how this very sweet, kind-hearted young man could tell you all about his impressive insect collection, but couldn’t fix a meal for himself.

The final element came from an article I’d recently read. I’ve always been a science buff, and faithfully keep up with Dr. Daniel Caton, an astronomer who writes a regular column for the Charlotte Observer. In that article, Caton counseled amateur astronomers not to regret their decision to pack up their equipment when bad weather interferes with their stargazing. Yes, the sky might clear up hours later, but it’s better to live with your choice and return later, fully rested.

These various elements came together nicely into my story, and Fabula Argentea accepted it. It occurred to me that I should let Dr. Caton know his column had inspired it. He was pleased to hear this:

Mike,

I loved the story! I’m glad that adding the “never look back” made the difference in getting it published. I liked the title, too–a clever play on words.

And, thanks for the kind words on my column. May I Tweet/FB the link to the story?

Dr. Daniel B. Caton, Ph.D.

He tweeted my story to his followers, and another astronomer re-tweeted it.

I think C.P. Snow would have approved.

How to Succeed at NaNoWriMo

I will confess to having never been tempted to participate in NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. The goal of dashing off a 50,000 word manuscript in 30 days struck me as gimmicky and pointless.

But I may have to change my mind. Though a recent Publishers Weekly article on NaNoWriMo is entitled “How to Succeed at NaNoWriMo,” I’m more interested in WHY I should participate.

Turns out the article zooms right in on that concern, and it got my attention:

NaNoWriMo’s pressing time constraints leave little time for polishing and perfecting—and that’s perhaps the point.

Marissa Meyer, whose novels Cinder and Scarlet (Square Fish, 2014) began as NaNoWriMo drafts, says the beauty of the program is that it “forces you to silence that internal editor and just get something written. If you’re telling yourself that it’s OK to be writing something bad because you can always come back and fix it later, it takes a lot of the pressure off.”

Ouch. That hit home. That internal editor remains one of my biggest writing roadblocks. I can’t peck out two sentences on the laptop without having to go back and proof what little I’ve done. I know I’m supposed to complete my manuscript before getting all editorially and nit-picky, but I succumb every time to the temptation to tweak what I’ve written. And that slows me down, which impedes the completion of my manuscript, and a completed first draft, despite its inevitable ugly spots, is an accomplishment that will spur me on to sticking to the whole process.

I used to dismiss flash fiction as a gimmick, too, until I tried my hand at it and discovered the rigor and discipline it takes to complete quality pieces. It isn’t easy, and that’s the point. There’s no doubt writing flash fiction has improved my writing by forcing me to say what I want to say in fewer, stronger words. You can judge for yourself here and here.

So look out, NaNoWriMo 2015. Here I come.