This past weekend marked the second round of the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge 2015. And it was…ouch!
In a nutshell, it was one of the hardest, most emotional writing experiences I’ve ever had.
Before I jump in, let me quickly remind you the The NYC Midnight (NYCM) Flash Fiction Challenge is a writing contest where writers are given three prompts (genre, location, and object), and then 48-hours to write a 1,000 word story. Yeah, it’s crazy.
As usual, the chaos began on Friday night when I opened my newest assignment:
My first impressions?
A secret laboratory
I hit a brick wall instantly. I did not like my prompts. Thankfully, I happened to be at my mom’s house and she gave me a quick, “You can’t change it, so get over it” speech. So, I did…well, sort of. While she began Googling secret laboratories in history, I curled up on the couch and tried to fish a random trivia fact out of my brain.
After a few minutes, I caught one. I looked at my mom and said, “What about the Manhattan Project? That was a secret laboratory, right?”
“Yeah, I guess.” She shrugged and returned to Googling.
Clearly, she wasn’t a fan of that idea. So, I curled up again and tossed my lure back into my mind’s pool of random facts.
I wandered away from the Manhattan Project and flipped through the other events of World War II. I don’t know why I felt drawn to that era. Personally, I’ve always been infatuated with the American Civil War and the Roaring 20’s.
After a few more minutes of deep contemplation, I recalled something I’d heard about…Problem was, I couldn’t remember if it was fact or fiction. So, I asked my mom. She wrinkled her nose and confirmed it had, indeed, happened. Then she went back to Googling.
Despite her lack of enthusiasm for the topic, I pulled out my phone and began my own Google search. Even though it frightened me, I wanted to see if I could find something to base my story on. I clicked on the first article that popped up and skimmed through dozens of photos. They were tough to look at, so I zipped past most of them.
Then this one caught my eye.
For a minute, I stared at the black and white Shirley Temple-lookalike. I wanted to know more about her, but I was terrified to find out. If she was connected to this topic, then her fate was likely a tragic one…But, I had to know. So, with great trepidation, I clicked on her photo.
Turned out her name was Jacqueline Morgenstern, and what happened to her…Well, it punched me in the gut and grabbed me by the heart.
After I shook off the urge to cry, I read the article to my mom. She set down her phone. I breathed a sigh of relief.
I’d found my story.
I decided not to do anymore research that night. I’d chosen a topic that would probably give me nightmares, so I didn’t want to start until the next morning. I thanked my mom for her help and went home to go to bed.
I woke up just a few hours later, too anxious to sleep. The contest’s clock was ticking, and I couldn’t write a single word until I did a ton of research.
And I did a ton of research. For over seven hours, I watched documentaries, read dozens of articles, and scrolled through countless pictures. I called my mom off and on to talk to her about what I’d found, and during each conversation, I broke down and cried.
After my fifth meltdown, my mom said, “Hey, maybe you should find a different topic? This one might be too dark.”
I almost agreed with her. I wanted to agree with her, but…I looked at Jacqueline Morgenstern’s picture and thought, “I stumbled upon her story for a reason. I’m supposed to write this. I need to write this.” So, I took a deep breath, wiped off my tears, and told my mom, “I have to keep going.”
She didn’t try and talk me out of it again.
By late afternoon, I finally began writing my story. Unfortunately, I had to stop within a couple of hours to go to a friend’s party…Yeah, I was awesome company at that get-together.
As you might suspect, I didn’t last long. I left the party early and returned home to finish an ugly first draft before bedtime.
The next morning, I woke up before the sun and went back to work. I felt calmer than I had on Saturday. The hardest parts of the weekend were over: Finding a story, researching the you-know-what out of it, and slapping together a first draft. Now it was time for the “fun” part: Molding my words and making them presentable to readers. Oh, and chopping my story down from 2K to 1K words. (Blast the word count limit!)
Around 8 a.m., I finished my second draft. About the same time, my mom–bless her soul–swept through the front door and declared she was ready to help me edit. I was shocked by her early arrival, but also grateful. I needed her moral support and critical eye to get me through the day.
For hours, we read my story out loud to each other, first focusing on the story and characters, and then on the word count. I had to cut over 700 of them to meet the 1K requirement.
The process was tough. Not only from a technical standpoint, but also from an emotional one. I don’t think my mom and I made it through a single draft without losing our composure and reaching for a tissue.
At last, around 6 p.m., swollen-eyed and hoarse, I submitted my story. Before I collapsed from exhaustion, I thanked my mom for cheering me on and holding me together. This was, by far, one of the hardest stories I’d ever written, and without her there, I don’t think I would’ve had the strength to finish it.
But, I did finish it. And I’m proud of myself for doing so. There are many events–dark, terrible events–in history that have been lost or forgotten, and we can’t let that happen. Even if they hurt and make us uncomfortable, we need to remember them to prevent them from ever happening again.
As usual, I’ll post my story later this week once we get the green light from NYCM. For now, here’s my title and synopsis:
Brief Synopsis: On the night of April 20th, 1945, a French prisoner and the twenty children he cares for at Neuengamme concentration camp are transported to a nearby school. There, they must face Dr. Heissmeyer’s final atrocity.
Update: If you’d like to read “Kleine Mäuse”, here you go!
Congrats to all those who participated and submitted a story for the second round of the NYCM Flash Fiction Challenge!