The Dead of Winter (flash fiction)

Image by Elisabeth Lescaudron from Pixabay

The results are in for the finals of the NYC Midnight 250-word Microfiction contest. While I didn’t place, I am absolutely thrilled – thrilled!! – to have been part of this experience. Here’s my round three story, followed by the judges feedback, in it’s entirety, links to my rounds one and two stories, and some thoughts on the contest.

THE DEAD OF WINTER
by Joanne Brokaw

Rachel lay awake listening to scurrying behind the aging farmhouse walls, the sound of nesting mingling with the bitter wind howling across the plains, destroying everything in its path. She sensed tiny life drawing nigh, and it brought her comfort.

“I’ll get the poison from the barn,” William said when he heard the scratching.

“Please don’t. I can’t sleep and it keeps me company.”

“I’ve warned you, wife. The delicate of heart have no place here.”

“Then I’ll catch it and release it into the forest before the first snow.”

“Poison, winter freeze. What do I care. It’ll soon be dead either way.”

Rachel crafted a small wicker basket for a trap, baited it with cheese, and quickly captured a pregnant little mouse. William sneered when he saw the animal cupped gently in his young wife’s small hands, then offered to wring its neck.

“It deserves a chance!” Rachel cried, tucking the mouse into her apron pocket before flying out the door and into the darkness. An icy wind tore at her skin. She ran to the edge of the forest, collapsing to her knees before an inconspicuous cross marking the grave of the sickly infant recently dispatched by her husband. As the mouse escaped her pocket and scampered towards shelter in the nearby underbrush, Rachel felt a heavy hand upon her shoulder.

“There’s no room for weakness on the prairie, wife,” William said, then bashed her skull in with a rock.

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

THE JUDGES FEEDBACK Continue reading “The Dead of Winter (flash fiction)”

A Whispered Agitation (flash fiction)

photo in public domain*

Last fall I entered the NYC Midnight Microflash Fiction contest. In January, I made it through the first round, and last night I learned that I’ve made it through to the next round! Here’s the story that moved me to the finals. At the end is some of the judge’s feedback.

Assigned genre: Historical Fiction
Action that had to be included: bricklaying
Word that had to be included: step
Time to write the 250 word story: 24 hours

A WHISPERED AGITATION
by Joanne Brokaw

Martin filled his trowel with cement, slopped the mortar onto the growing barrier, and topped it with a brick. “You’ll not see that neighbor again, Emily.” More slop. “She’s an agitator.” Another brick.

Emily knew enough to remain silent when her husband was mid-tirade. His word was law, by God, and she best not forget it. But while her lips were quiet, her spirit was not.

Days earlier, that neighbor, Clara, had returned from visiting cousins in Auburn and whispered to Emily rumors of a coming women’s rights movement.

“Can you imagine?” Clara marveled. “To have the vote?”

“That’s preposterous. Surely you’re mistaken. ”

“No, Emily, there’s to be a convention next week. We will be heard.”

For days, dreams of equality girded Emily with confidence. She sewed a new dress; Martin accused her of putting on airs. Her request to see the household ledger was met with icy silence. But it was her utterance of the word “suffrage” that prompted Martin to build the wall.

“You think we don’t know what our wives are up to behind our backs?”

Slop. Brick.

Emily spied Clara on her porch, her black eye and swollen lip visible even at a distance. Clara quickly turned away.

Slop. Brick.

Emily decided. With Martin distracted, she slipped away, donning her bonnet as she walked determinedly to the train station. She stepped up to the ticket counter and pushed a few pilfered coins towards the agent. “One fare to Seneca Falls, please.”

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

The judges had some nice thing to say about the piece and gave specific, really helpful suggestions. Here’s what they had to say: Continue reading “A Whispered Agitation (flash fiction)”

The Pleas of the Leaves (or how writing fiction is just improv on the page)

Image by Susanne Jutzeler, suju-foto from Pixabay

Last November, in an attempt to push myself to try new creative things, I entered the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction contest.

This is a fiction contest where, at the designated start time, participants are sent their assignment, which includes the genre they are supposed to write in, an action that has to take place, and a word they must include in the story, and they all write a story. The top writers in their groups move on for two more rounds, until a winner is crowned.

Oh, and did I mention participants have 24 hours to write their story?

Here’s the thing. I don’t write fiction. OK, well, I do, sort of. As part of my “write like a mad scientist for the first draft” practice, I often will ask friends for three random words, set a timer, and then use those words as prompts to write anything that comes to mind during the designated free writing time.

Often, it’s some weird story that comes from out of nowhere, something that if I was trying to write it would never appear. I just “Yes And” whatever comes out (improv has improved my writing as well as my life), and I rarely edit those mad scientist drafts. They go into a file I pull the out once in a while and think, “This would make a great story,” panic at the thought of having to actually write the story, and promptly put it all back in a drawer. I do, however, share them with my besties and creative cheerleaders Roberta Gore and Carrie Anne Noble, two accomplished fiction writers.

“You do write fiction, Joanne,” they keep telling me, but I still disagree.  To me, a fiction writer plots story lines and crafts characters and pays attention to themes and irony and other literary devices. I just splash something on the page and leave it to fend for itself.

My non-fiction career? Not a problem. I can pen a fabulous feature story, spin a delightful humor column, muse poetically in an essay. I have a few awards to prove I’m pretty good at that.

But making stuff up and creating worlds? Not really my thing. (Except on the improv stage. Are you noticing a theme here?)

So anyway, back to the contest.

The contest entry fee was $25, and every participant receives feedback on their piece, whether they move on to the next round or not. That sounded like a good deal to me.

Here’s the wrinkle: I thought I had entered the Flash Fiction contest, where entries had to be 500 words or less. When I saw the assignment I realized I actually entered was the Micro Flash Fiction contest, where entries were limited to 250 words.

Oh boy. Continue reading “The Pleas of the Leaves (or how writing fiction is just improv on the page)”

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