Look Ma, I Can Write

Starting in January, I began entering literary agent Janet Reid’s flash fiction contests that she holds on some Fridays. Partially because I’d been reading her blog for months, and partially because it’s good practice. In flash fiction, especially the uber-sparse 100 word kind that she hosts, efficiency with words is key. Doing some flash fiction now and then will help me learn how to spend my words wisely.

It doesn’t hurt, either, that an agent is judging them, and if I put something magnificent together, I get some reactionary words (or even compliments) from her. I live off reactions to my writing. Even if people don’t like it, I just want to know someone read it and felt something. (Preferably not “it’s a good thing you’re pretty,” but I’ll take what I can get.)

Given that many participants have been entering these contests for years on her blog, the competition is fierce with a capital yikes. The first time I entered, I nearly didn’t. I started reading the other entries and almost scared myself away.

Then, my second entry was a finalist. I think I sprained my cheeks that week.

This week, I got a mention. She often does at least a handful of these, where she doesn’t put the entry on the long or short list for winner, but something struck her about the entry, and she says so.

I’ve decided that I’d like to collect these accomplishments here on my blog and share the entries that are well-crafted enough to catch a sharp-toothed agent’s eye.

The link in the date is the original contest, with all the entries in the comments, and the link in what I achieved (finalist, etc) is the results entry.

1/15/2016
prompt words: scat, bop, diddy, cool, snap

“You’re such a scat.”

“Stop saying that. It doesn’t mean what you think it does.”

“It’s short for scaredy cat.”

“It’s really not.”

“Then what’s it—?”

“Shh.”

“That’s her ringtone.”

“She listens to P Diddy? Never mind.”

“We are a-go. Hashtag boob operation.”

“Sometimes, I wonder why we’re friends.”

“Wait, shit, my phone makes a noise when I snap a photo. What if she hears it?”

“Run. Okay, ready?”

“Ow!”

“Shh!”

“You’re on my foot! Okay. Shhh…. Got it! …Oh gross. Where’s the brain bleach?”

“What?”

“Not cool. This is not a drill!”

“Gimme that. …Oh. Oh God. DAD?!”

finalist
Janet’s comment

What I love about this is you’re not really sure what’s going on, but you can feel the energy roll off this story. This is verve and voice.

(If anyone’s curious, it’s a couple boys trying to take naked pictures of one’s sister and getting one of Dad instead.)

2/19/2016
prompt words: tank, chest, tray, sure, smith

When I was five, my parents called me “princess,” and I thought I could be anything.

When I was ten, I stole my mother’s makeup because I wanted to be pretty, too.

When I was fifteen, I wore tank tops to school and got detention because my chest was “distracting.”

When I was twenty, I was pressured out of shop class because I wasn’t strong enough to be a smith.

Now I’m twenty-five, my boss hands me a tray–“Get to work, princess.”–and I know I’m nothing.

mention
Janet’s comment

Not quite a story, but that sure didn’t stop it from breaking my heart

Edit: In case anyone else was curious about why the second one isn’t a story (I know I was!), I got some clarification from Janet later:
Of course this is good writing so I looked at it very carefully. I like the rhythm of it. I like the progression. I love the open and close “princess” lines.  But it’s not a story because it’s a series of events. To be a story, it needs some sort of what I call a twist: something unexpected that sheds new light or interpretation on what we’ve read. “my boss hands me a tray” and says “get to work princess” and I discover I’m strong enough (bringing in the last line) to wrap my tank top around his neck and rein him in. (which is godawful writing, sorry, but you see the point I’m making.)

The entries that are “not quite a story” are usually very very good writing and it just kills me to see that lack of twist. This one is a perfect example of that.

I personally disagree with her, but this is a great example of the subjectivity of this medium. I think it’s a flash tragedy while she thinks it lacks a twist to make it complete. There is no right answer. To me it’s one thing, to her it’s another. As frustrating as that might be, it’s the reality of art of any kind.

Not to compare myself to Van Gogh, but at the time, people barely considered his paintings “art” at all, and now he’s one of the greatest artists in all of history. The people at the time weren’t wrong, that was just what it was to them, and it’s something different to us.

I know I look beautiful, but…

I love my tea ceremony teacher. I came to our New Year’s tea gathering wearing the kimono version of a jacket that I’d recently bought:

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Anyone else I know would’ve told me how beautiful it was and fussed over how I’m wearing a kimono. But what does Sensei say?

“That’s beautiful! Does it have some kind of picture on the back or anything? No? Well, for celebrations like today, black isn’t really the best color. In particular, you want something pretty on the back or sleeves, too. Tell you what, I’ll let you borrow one of mine next time.”

(Well, it does have a pattern, but nothing colorful, like she wants:)

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Anyone who’s never had anything to do with kimono would be shocked by how many tiny regulations there are. There are more rules about kimono-wearing than there are about politeness in their language. The Sumptuary Laws of Renaissance England have nothing on Japanese clothing customs.

So, while it looks like a backhanded compliment or unnecessary criticism to some, it’s welcome honesty to me. How else would I learn these things? In my experience, no one but Sensei actually tells me when I screw something up unless they didn’t even understand me.

Being honest, I do love all the fussing. Sensei has a wonderful way of fussing over me, then telling me how many things I’m screwing up, which is the perfect balance.