Just six months ago, I was convinced I couldn’t write short fiction. Novel writing is just too different from building short stories. (I explained my apprehension in detail in a recent guest post on Stupefying Stories called Scared of Short Stories.)
Scared as I was, I had to face my fears—that’s what I tell my kids to do in this kind of situation. So I started participating in flash fiction writing contests organized through Codex Writers’ Group. My first piece won that round, which gave me courage. My second took an honorable mention.
And my third, Calling the Cloud, just placed first again. It’s a modified drabble: 100 words, plus a seven-word line provided by editor Pete Wood: “I’m pretty sure he wasn’t our waiter.” Check it out if you have time!
My first drabble appeared today in Stupefying Stories together with Alicia Hilton’s, as part of a new Pete Wood Challenge. I’ve only recently learned what a drabble is: a piece of flash fiction of exactly 100 words. The constraints are surprisingly liberating. The story is just a moment in time, no space for backstory or anything else.
Here’s the text of the challenge:
In keeping with this being the first week of summer here in the northern hemisphere, and therefore of summer vacation season, the challenge was to write a 100-word story centered around the concept of “tourist trap” without resorting to any of the ideas that have become shopworn and threadbare horror movie clichés in the past 60 years.
My story is called History Is Alive and Well. My previous entry in Stupefying Stories was For Sale: Used Time Machine. No Refunds! I hope you enjoy reading them if you have time.
This is a quick note about a short story I wrote for a prompt contest run by Stupefying Stories, 500 words with the title “For Sale: Used Time Machine. No Refunds!”
I’ve been working on novels for many years and haven’t practiced my short-story skills as much. But this piece of flash fiction worked, and won first place in the contest. Here’s what editor Pete Wood said about it:
When I created this contest, I expected nothing but tongue-in-cheek takes on time travel tropes. While several writers didn’t disappoint with humorous entries, the variety of the stories surprised me. It never occurred to me that my writing prompt could inspire a serious story, a literary story.
Roxana knocked it out of the park and she had some tough competition. Her depth of character and pathos in only five hundred words is a feat. I hope you like her story as much as I did. I think we’ll be hearing more from her.
And here’s the link. If you have time to read it, I hope you’ll enjoy it.
People think that all you need to do to be a writer is put pen to paper. Fifteen years ago, I didn’t question that idea, though I should have. As a former software developer, I knew you needed more than just a keyboard to write code. Looking back at 15 years of writing, I see how far I’ve come in my understanding of what makes a writer.
In the beginning, I was a bright-eyed apprentice taking any and all advice and learning what worked for me in the process. I started with Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style and The AP Stylebook, titles recommended by the faculty at The University of Washington Extension’s Certificate in Nonfiction Writing, which I completed in 2006. I thought, if I can get my English to sparkle, then I’m a writer.
“If you like writing, why can’t you just write? Why do you need to publish it too?”
This pointed question comes up in my conversations once in a while. It usually follows my description of the hard road to publication. It’s a well-meaning question, but it still hurts. It seems that wanting to have a career as a writer puts me in a different category than many other professionals.
I live in Trump’s America, and lies are the air we breathe here. I mean, the literal air in Seattle is literally not good for breathing because of wildfire smoke, but this is not what my post is about. This is about the last six months—no, it’s not about COVID-19 either—but about the novel I researched and outlined, and I was ready to start writing this week (because I still need to do something while the world crumbles around me and the kids are in remote schooling).
I found Dan Carlin’s The End Is Always Near: Apocalyptic Moments from the Bronze Age Collapse to Nuclear Near Misses in December 2019 at the book fair at my kids’ school, and I picked it up because of the great title and also because in my speculative historical novel characters live under constant fear of “the end of time.” What an opportunity, I thought, to revisit this aspect of history and make sure my world building was realistic, so I bought the book but didn’t get to it right away.
Before the times of COVID-19, all the way back to the beginning of January 2020, I finished my new novel, an immigration thriller called Extreme Vetting. The title comes from a catchword coined by our own salesman president, and it refers to the treatment of immigrants in the United States—undocumented and documented—under the current administration. “Extreme vetting” describes a rough and cruel time in the lives of millions, beginning with asylum seekers at the southern border and ending with Americans whose citizenship could be revoked on technicalities. As an example, if an immigrant now leaves a blank space on a visa application, such as a middle name they don’t have or an apartment number when they live in a house, their application will be rejected.
The other day, I wrote a post here on my website about getting ready for the coronavirus tsunami to hit. It’s much closer now but the world still resembles the one I always knew, except that today the toy store in our neighborhood is closed, as are the interior decoration boutique, the hair salon, and the kitchen store. The restaurants are only permitted delivery and takeout, but the wonderful people at the grocery store and the pharmacy are still somehow getting to work each morning so that our neighborhood doesn’t collapse under generalized panic. We’ve already embraced smaller panics: the Tylenol panic, the hand-sanitizer and the toilet paper ones, among others. But this is the way it must be for now, because every time we get too close to another human being, we create a bridge that the virus can cross, in one direction or another.
Here in Seattle, we’re embarking on a journey that not
all of us might survive. A journey with no fixed timeframe and a destination
that could only be called “back to normal,” before the times of COVID-19. Ten
days ago, our local officials told us to prepare for the disruption of everyday
life. I thought a lot about those words. The advice was to stock up on food,
medicine, and other supplies. So my husband and I went to the grocery store,
the pharmacy, the hardware store and bought stuff. Not too much, as not to look
ridiculous to our neighbors (though who cares today how ridiculous we looked
ten days ago?), then we went by our normal routines.