Monster Mash – Round 2 – NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge

This past weekend marked my 11th round of the NYC Midnight (NYCM) Flash Fiction Challenge (FFC). To be honest, I wasn’t all that enthusiastic to compete. I’m currently immersed in the latest draft of my novel, and shifting gears pained me. It pained me even more when I received my score for the first round of this year’s contest.

Two points!

Okay, okay. That’s not horrible considering I’ve never attempted to write pure comedy, and comedy is one of the most subjective genres out there.

Low score aside, I still had fun this weekend. Well, mostly…

As a quick reminder, NYCM FFC is a writing contest where writers from all over the world are given three prompts (genre, location, and object), and then 48-hours to write a 1,000 word story. All competitors get to compete in two of the four rounds. This past weekend was the second round, which kicked off at 10 p.m. (MST) Friday when prompts were released.

First impressions of my group’s prompts:

Genre: Fantasy

Location: Waterfront esplanade

Object: Animal horn

When I saw my prompts, I went through a myriad of emotions all at once: horror, amusement, irritation, confusion. I mean, seriously, what the heck is an esplanade? I had to google it before I could do anything else. (FYI, an esplanade is “a long, open, level area, usually next to a river or large body of water, where people may walk.”)

Once I had my location prompt figured out, I turned to the main matter at hand: brainstorming a plot.

Per usual, I talked things out with my favorite writing critic: my mom. For the first time ever, we didn’t banter back and forth on how to approach the prompts. I already knew the general direction I wanted to take.

Goblins!

Yeah, yeah fantasy lovers. I know Gollum isn’t a goblin. However, I decided a long time ago that if I ever received fantasy in this contest, I’d write about a Gollum-goblin-like character. So, I did!

Next, I had to figure out the “animal horn” prompt. Obviously, my first thought was, “Unicorn!” I’m sure it was everyone else’s too, so I stayed far away from that and brainstormed other possibilities. As I did, my seven-year-old nephew curled up next to me with his tablet and watched one of his favorite videos: “Giant God Warrior” (a Japanese short fantasy monster action film). I stared at the creepy creature on screen, studied its horned back, and voila! I had an idea!

Well, sort of.

I packed up my computer and went home. By this point, it was approaching 1 a.m. and I’d been up since 4 a.m. So…yeah. The second I got home, I collapsed in bed and stayed there much longer than I usually do during these contests.

Once I found the motivation to get up on Saturday and start writing, my internet crashed. GAHHH! That threw me for a loop since I needed to do some much needed research on goblins.

[Cue twiddling thumbs, cleaning house, texting friends…]

An hour later, the internet returned, along with my focus. I sat down and spent the rest of the day hammering out a first draft. Mid-afternoon, my mom showed up to read what I’d come up with and help me chop over 600 words (doh!).

My favorite part of the contest occurred when my mom and I tried to think of names for my characters and the fantastical world they lived in: Letchmo. Catastrafo. Fodhopper. Evilgore. Mcnasty!

After we pulled ourselves together (and found a few serious names), my mom left and I sent a draft off to my beta readers. On Sunday morning, I awoke to their feedback. To my surprise, they liked it–much more than I thought they would.

Hallelujah!

I fixed the big problems, chopped the remaining 200 words I needed to chop in order to meet the word count limit, and submitted my story.

Was fantasy my favorite genre? No. Did I like the story I came up with? Yes. It’s not my favorite NYCM entry, but I’m proud to present it to the judges, my competitors, and, maybe someday, a publisher.

For those interested, here’s my title and synopsis:

“Zili”

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Zili, a gentle goblin, wishes to walk in the light as a man. A horned creature grants his wish . . . and more.

If you’d like to read my entire entry, let me know and I’ll send you the password.

Congrats to all those who participated and submitted a story for NYCM’s Flash Fiction Challenge 2017!

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Photo Credits: giphy

 

I Will Never Forget – My September 11th Story

Today, people throughout the world are remembering what happened 16-years ago. It’s difficult not to. All of us can go back and recall where we were and what we were doing, most of us in vivid detail. Even if we weren’t directly involved or impacted by the events that occurred, everyone has a story about September 11th. We all experienced it. We all felt it.

This is my story of September 11th, 2001.

My alarm goes off. I begrudgingly get out of bed and get ready for school. I’m a senior at ThunderRidge High School with nothing on my mind but homework, college applications, and homecoming a couple of weeks away.

unnamedMy freshman brother is already at school for weight training for football, so I don’t have to worry about herding him into the car. I heft my two-ton backpack onto my shoulders, shout a goodbye to my dad upstairs, and walk outside to my tin can of a car. It’s a windy, but warm and clear day. Normal for this time of year in Colorado.

During the ten minute drive to school, I listen to my favorite morning radio program with Jamie White and Danny Bonaduce. As usual, they’re making wise cracks about meaningless topics and keeping things light and fun for morning commuters. I chuckle at the comedic duo and pull into the school parking lot. Before I yank the keys out of the ignition, Jamie suddenly interrupts Danny:

Jamie: Huh, I just got a weird report about a plane hitting a building in New York.

Danny: What? A plane?

Jamie: Uh, yeah. [Nervous laughter] I don’t even know what this means. How’s that even possible? How does a plane hit a building? Those are sort of hard to miss, aren’t they?

Danny: [Cuckling] Engine failure, I guess. Was it a small plane?

Jamie: The report doesn’t say, but I’d assume so. Probably one of those farm planes. [More nervous laughter]

Danny: You mean a crop duster?

Jamie: Yeah, one of those thingamajigs. This is dumb. [A piece of paper ruffles and she yells at the producer] This isn’t funny! There has to be a better news story out there.

I half smile/half frown, unsure what to make of the bizarre report. All I can visualize is a sputtering aircraft manned by an old, drunk pilot who nicked the side of an abandoned warehouse. That’s the only thing that makes sense to me.

I shake my head and glance through the front windshield. I see my mom of all people walking up from the school’s track where she does her morning workouts. I completely forget about Jamie and Danny’s random news announcement and step out of the car to say hi to her before I go into the building. The wind is blowing so hard, the door hits me on the side of the head. I swear, shove it away, and pray to God nobody–including my mom–saw the humiliating incident.

My mom doesn’t mention it as she reaches me and does her mom thing (Have a good day at school…You’ll be home by 3:30, right?…I’m subbing at the elementary school, so I won’t be home all day...). I nod and tell her I need to go or I’m going to be late. I don’t even think to mention Jamie and Danny’s report. I’m still too worried someone saw me get thwacked by the car door.

We say goodbye, mutter our habitual, “Love ya”, and part ways.

My first class of the day is astronomy. At my assigned table, I sit with my friend, Ashley, and two boys, Josh and Kenny. As always, we talk and joke around and don’t pay much attention to the lecture. Nobody mentions anything about a crop duster hitting a building in New York. I don’t even remember hearing about it myself.

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Ground Zero, 2006

The dismissal bell rings. I leave class with Ashley.

We walk to the main hall to meet up with our other friend, Sarah. She’s standing in her normal rendezvous spot, but she’s not smiling. She’s crying. I’m stunned. Sarah isn’t a crier. Ashley and I rush over to her and ask what’s wrong.

“Th–the Pentagon blew up,” she sputters. “A girl in my last class has a grandma who works there. She’s probably d–dead.”

Ashley and I gape at Sarah, too dumbfounded to say more than, “Oh my God.” Sarah then mentions something about the World Trade Center. I’m too embarrassed to admit I don’t know what that is, so I lamely pat her on the arm and tell her everything is going to be okay.

As we walk to the locker rooms for P.E., I look around and see other people whispering of gloom and doom. I don’t understand any of it, and honestly, I don’t believe any of it. It’s probably some stupid prank or vicious rumor.

My P.E. class trickles by. All around me, people whisper about bombs and attacks and terrorists. I cringe at the word “terrorists.” It’s not a real word. It’s fiction, used only in movies like Die Hard and Air Force One.

Thankfully, we’re dismissed early to change in the locker rooms. I rush inside, eager to get to my Home Room to ask my teacher if he knows what’s happening. While I change into my regular clothes, the girls around me get louder and louder, their high-pitched voices bouncing off the walls and echoing around the locker room. I can tell they’re unnerved like me, and they’re hiding their fear by being obnoxious. But, still, I want to slap them and tell them to grow up.

Suddenly, the intercom system buzzes. The voice of our principal, Mr. Lynch, booms over the speakers. The girls get louder. I hit my limit and scream at them to shut up so I can hear what the heck is going on. But Mr. Lynch’s deep voice echoes around the vast room and I’m only able to pick up a few phrases: “Possible terrorism,” “New York,” “No need to panic.”

The announcement ends and the dismissal bell rings. I ignore the fresh shouting and cursing by the girls around me and practically sprint to my Home Room. I’m confident my teacher, Mr. Johnson–history buff and current events guru–will be on top of things.

I yank open the door and bolt inside.

All of the lights are off and the TV is on. Nobody’s talking. Everyone is riveted by what they see on the screen. I take my seat in the front row and look up at it.

Smoke.

Lots and lots of smoke.

So much, in fact, that I tell myself it must be storm clouds. But then I see the crisp blue sky filtering through the belches of black, gray, and white, and know it is, indeed, smoke. But from what?

As if to answer my unspoken question, the camera shifts to two tall buildings with fire billowing out of them and paper fluttering in the air. The anchorman refers to them as the “World Trade Center.” I immediately feel stupid for never knowing the name of the iconic skyscrapers. My secret embarrassment, however, is swiftly overtaken by horror as the news station cuts to video of a commercial jet flying into the building.

The class gasps.

I gape up at the screen, confused and scared. And in complete denial. I can’t believe what I just witnessed was real. I assume it’s fake–a fancy computer mock up of what had happened to the buildings.

The dismissal bell rings.

The class is reluctant to leave, including myself. At our teacher’s urging, we all stand and head for the door. As I reach it, I hear Mr. Johnson say to a boy behind me, “From that footage, I’d definitely say the plane meant to hit the building. It wasn’t an accident.”

I freeze and look at him. “You mean that footage was real?”

Mr. Johnson looks at me sadly and nods.

I leave the class feeling sick to my stomach. I still don’t get it. Nothing–nothing–like this has ever happened in the U.S. It can’t happen.

The rest of the day passes in a dazed blur. Despite finally seeing what was happening on the east coast, nobody really knows what’s happening. Some say it’s terrorism. Some say it’s an accident. Some say we should go to war. Some say we should stay out of it. Some say they know people in New York. Some say they know people on the east coast. Some say the buildings collapsed. Some say they didn’t. Some say another plane crashed in Pennsylvania. Some say Denver International Airport was shut down. Some say all airports were shut down. Some say Colorado is a target because of Norad. Some say we’re at war…

It’s a constant rumor mill, filled with anxiety, tears, and nervous laughter that disguise people’s true terror. Personally, all I want to do is find my brother and cousin and go home. I don’t want to stay in the building another second. Although I know all of these events are happening over 2,000 miles away, I can’t help but imagine a plane swooping over our suburban high school and dropping a bomb on us. It’s rash, ridiculous, and unrealistic, but the fear is there.

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Ground Zero, 2006

Throughout the day, I pull out my Nokia phone with its bright sunflower cover and stare at it. I want to call my mom or dad, but I know they’re at work and won’t answer. (Back then, we didn’t rely on phones like we do nowadays. We didn’t even have text messaging).

At lunch, an announcement is made. The school’s in lockdown and all after-school activities have been canceled. The administrators tell us to go straight home after our last class and stay home. I’m on board with that. I find my brother and cousin during lunch, and tell them where to meet me after school so I can drive us home.

Finally, the end of the day arrives. I flee the school and race home. I sprint into my house and turn on the TV. My brother and cousin are less interested and go play N64. I berate them as I throw a tape into the VCR and press record. I know this day will go down as one of the most significant days in our nation’s history and I want to remember it.

unnamedOnce it’s recording, I get my phone and call my mom. To my surprise, she answers.

“Are you home?” she demands.

“Yeah, so are Max and Will,” I assure her. “We’re all here.”

“Good, stay there. I’ll get home as soon as I can.”

“Okay, I love you.” I say the words with much more feeling than I did that morning, before tragedy struck.

After I hang up, I feel safer and more grounded. I grab my usual after school snack–a handful of goldfish crackers and a Hi-C juice box–and focus on the news. It’s the first time all day I’m able to sit and listen without interruption–no shouting, no bells, no tears, no jokes, no muffled announcements.

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Steel beams from the World Trade Center. Ground Zero, 2006

While I listen to a recap of the horrors of the day, I suddenly remember the radio show I’d heard that morning:

Jamie: Huh, I just got a weird report about a plane hitting a building in New York.

Danny: What? A plane?

Jamie: Uh, yeah. [Nervous laughter]. I don’t even know what this means. How’s that even possible? How does a plane hit a building? Those are sort of hard to miss, aren’t they?

Danny: [Chuckling] Engine failure, I guess. Was it a small plane?

Jamie: The report doesn’t say, but I’d assume so. Probably one of those farm planes. [More nervous laughter]

Danny: You mean a crop duster?

Jamie: Yeah, one of those thingamajigs. This is dumb. [A piece of paper ruffles and she yells at the producer] This isn’t funny! There has to be a better news story out there.

I know I’ll never be able to listen to that radio show again.

And I know I’ll never forget this day.


What’s your story? Share it and never forget.

God bless America and all those who lost their lives 15-years ago today.

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Cheers – Round 1 – NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge

Greetings, blog followers! Yes, it’s me. And, yes, I’m still alive.

As you’ve may (or may not) have noticed, I’ve been absent from the blog world the past few months (er, maybe longer). I made a New Year’s resolution to put all of my attention and free time into finishing my novel, which I almost have! By the end of summer/early fall, I should have my manuscript and query letter ready to go for literary agents (eeks!).

This past weekend, I decided to reward my good, focused behavior by participating in my 5th NYC Midnight (NYCM) Flash Fiction Challenge (FFC). To be honest, I signed up for this writing contest a couple of months ago hoping my novel would be in my betas’ hands when the challenge kicked off…Wrong! My betas returned their notes a couple of weeks ago, and I’ve been revising ever since. So, it was really hard to shift gears on Friday night.

But, I did. And I had so much fun!

As a quick reminder, the NYCM FFC is a writing contest where writers from all over the world are given three prompts (genre, location, and object), and then 48-hours to write a 1,000 word story. It never fails to stress me out, but it’s always worth it.

Round one kicked off last Friday night at 10 p.m. (MST). I prayed and prayed the prompt gods would give me comedy. Why? Because 1) it’s the complete opposite of what I usually write, and 2) it’s one of the few NYCM genres I’ve never been assigned.

Well, guess what? The prompt gods finally answered my prayers! I was put in group 40, which had to write a comedy that took place in a bartending school and incorporated sandpaper.

 

First impressions: 

Comedy

Bartending school

Sandpaper

I literally squealed when I saw comedy as my assigned genre. It’s taken five years and 17 rounds of NYC Midnight contests for me to get this genre (I don’t count rom-com or political satire, because those are very specific comedies that push you into a smaller realm of the comedy world). As for my other prompts…ugh. The location threw me. I’ve never been a bar-kinda girl, and I don’t drink much, so finding inspiration was tough. The sandpaper prompt didn’t faze me. I’ve had much, MUCH weirder objects to incorporate, so I pushed it to the back of my mind.

My process with these contests has become fairly streamlined: Friday night, brainstorm/plan general gist of story. Saturday, write. Sunday, edit/beta read.

So, as usual, I brainstormed on Friday night and went to bed with a solid idea. I planned to sleep in on Saturday because I had a really rough week at work and needed the rest, but my body refused to listen. It’s been hardwired for pre-dawn workouts in preparation for a half marathon I’m running in August, so I ended up waking up, bright and early, at 4 a.m. Which meant I only got about four hours of sleep. Which meant I was exhausted all. Day. Long.

Somehow I managed to find my groove and dig into my story by noon. As I wrote, my original concept changed quite a bit. I discovered comedy is different from other genres because you have to let the humor evolve organically. If you find something funny, then you have to keep going with it and play up the joke. My joke ended up revolving around millennials.

*cue millennial eye rolls across the world*

Sorry not sorry, millennials. But, hey, I’m partly millennial too, so I was the butt of my own jokes.

By 3 p.m., I had a rough first draft that was 500 words OVER the limit. Blerg! I decided to let it rest while I attended my brother’s 30th birthday bash (yes, I was a fantastic social butterfly at that event.) When I got home later that evening, I rolled up my sleeves and began revising–er, chopping. I successfully hacked about 200 words before crashing for the night.

The next morning, I had to get up early for my pre-dawn workout. Thankfully, I felt pretty calm about my story. Still, I was eager to get home and back to writing. I only had until 4 p.m. that day to finish and submit my story before I had to leave for yet another event. (Yeah, it wasn’t the best weekend to participate in a writing competition.)

As always, my wonderful, patient mother came over to my house and helped me edit. I was more nervous than usual to get her opinion on the story because it was so far out of my comfort zone. And because I had NO idea if it was actually funny. But, thank the Lord, she laughed a lot. So did the six other beta readers who helped me chop my comedy down from 1,200 to 996 words. Phew! I whipped together a synopsis and submitted my story eight hours ahead of the official deadline.

Yeah, despite the lack of tears and heart palpitations this round, I was exhausted. But, I genuinely like what I came up with, and I’m really proud of myself for tackling a genre so completely out of my comfort zone.

In the past, I shared my story publicly. However, I’ve begun sending my work to publishers, so I’m no longer posting them here for any and all to read. Sorry! If you are interested in reading it, please send me a message and I’ll provide you with the password. For now, here’s my title and synopsis:

“Bottoms Up”

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A millennial needs a job to handle life’s necessities, like yoga, Netflix, and Starbucks. He decides to try bartending (#thestruggleisreal).

Congrats to all those who participated and submitted a story for NYCM’s Flash Fiction Challenge 2017!

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Photo Credits: giphy

 

2017 – The Year of the Novel

In the late winter of 2013, I came to a screeching halt with my writing. After failing to secure a publishing deal during a two-year option contract, I lost more than my confidence. I lost a piece of my heart.

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After my dreams crumbled before my eyes, I spent the better part of six months drifting around, unsure what to do next. Write? Don’t write? Every time I thought about picking up a pen, I cringed and threw myself into a different activity or hobby. The gym became my favorite place in the world. I signed up for all sorts of fitness classes (even Zumba, which shows you just how desperate I was to keep myself occupied).

As time trickled by, I grew more and more certain I’d never write again.  Then, out of the blue, a co-worker suggested I sign up for a writing contest. At first I balked at the idea (and probably ran off to the gym for another Zumba class). But, after I danced away my crippling doubts, I decided to give it a whirl. That whirl transformed into a whirlwind of revived passion. I started a blog, began working on a new novel, and participated in more writing contests.

Write, write, write! I couldn’t get enough.

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Ever since, my writing whirlwind has continued. For the past three years, I’ve split my focus into multiple projects: Two novels, 20 short stories, 365 blog posts, seven writing contests, and dozens of editing jobs. Looking back, it’s been a lot of work, but I don’t regret any of it. I needed every single project to learn and grow, and to become a better writer.

But now it’s time to narrow my focus. Dramatically. I can’t keep up the pace I’ve set for myself and expect to achieve my dreams. That’s why I’ve decided to keep my goal for 2017 sweet and simple: Finish my novel and send it to agents. Period.

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Sounds easy, I know. And, theoretically, it should be achievable. If I maintain my current pace, I should have a beta-worthy draft to send to my first readers by the end of January. Depending on their reactions, I should have my next draft (or two) done by late spring/early summer. From there I should be able to spend the summer revising and sending subsequent drafts to readers for feedback. And, by fall, I should have a polished manuscript and my first batch of query letters ready for agents (ahh!).

Yes, I should be able to get all of that done. But, I’ve had the same plan the past two years and failed miserably. Hence the reason I’m making my novel my main priority this year. Besides blogging and accepting the occasional editing job (because, hello, money!), I won’t work on any other projects. Enough’s enough!

 

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To be honest, the toughest part of this will be giving up writing contests. I absolutely adore the adrenaline, ideas, and friendships I get from them. Unfortunately, the contests I like to participate in eat up TONS of time. Not only do I write a story, but I also get sucked into a forum where I critique hundreds of other people’s stories. During the past three years, I’ve critiqued at least 1,500. That’s roughly 750-1,500 hours of work!

Or, rather, 750-1,500 hours I could’ve dedicated to my novel.

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No. More! As much as I love competing, I need to put a hold on it until I finish my novel. I need to put a hold on a lot of things until it’s done.

Hopefully my narrowed focus will keep me on track this year. And, hopefully, by next January I’ll be able to hold up my manuscript and say, “There! It’s done!” Or, better yet, “I have an agent, and I’m on the road to publication!”

Let’s do this 2017!

How about you? What are some of your goals for the new year?

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 Photo credits: giphy

 

What I’m Most Thankful For in 2016

I can’t believe Thanksgiving is already upon us! Where did the rest of 2016 go?

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Well, as this year draws to a close, it’s time to look back and think about all the things I’m thankful for. Compared to 2015, this year has been a great one. No, it wasn’t  perfect, but it definitely had more ups than downs. I gained a new nephew, I made significant process on my novel, I got a new job, I paid off my car and student loans, I met some amazing people…The list goes on and on. But, the things I’m most thankful for in 2016 are:

New Job

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I knew going into 2016 that at least one major change would occur: a new job. With no promise of tomorrow at my current one, it was time to move on…even though I really didn’t want to. I liked my job. No, it didn’t pay great, and no, it wasn’t close to home. But, I loved my co-workers, and I could call myself a writer by day and night. Unfortunately, the reality of my situation couldn’t be ignored. If I lost my job, I’d be in deep trouble. So, after a few months of frantic searching, an opportunity all but fell into my lap. Within a week, I had a job offer,  and after many tears and a severe case of denial, I accepted it.

Looking back now, I’m so, so, so grateful I was forced to leave my old job and accept my new one. Even though I no longer get to write during the day, I’m learning a lot, I’m making more, and I’m less than ten minutes from home. And I love–LOVE–the people I work with. It’s been a fantastic change and I’m so thankful God put me in the situation he did. If He hadn’t, I might never have had the motivation or nerve to leave my old job.

Family 

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Yes, they’re loud. And, yes, they’re a little crazy. But I absolutely love my family. Not only are they there for me during the good times, but also the bad. As kind as 2016 was to me, it still had its rough patches, and  I couldn’t have gotten through those moments (job change, heartbreak, bad days, failures, fender benders, etc.) without my family. They’re always there to pick me up, brush me off, and say, “Everything will be okay.” And they’re always there to make me laugh, especially my nephews and niece. There’s nothing that can bring a smile to your face faster than a child. The things they say, the hugs they give, the laughter they create–it’s magical.

I’m just so blessed and thankful to have so much support and love in my life, day in and day out.

Writing Group/Friends

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I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Writing is a lonely job.  But, it’s a lot less lonely when you find a tight-knit group of writers to share the experience with. And I found that with an online writer’s group a few years ago.

Now, when you think online, you don’t think it’s going to be very helpful or personal. But, this group is exactly that. Not only have they made me a better writer, but they’ve been there for me during the high and low points in my life. In fact, I’d consider many people in the group some of my closest friends. We talk every day, we offer each other constant support and encouragement, and we laugh, cry, and vent together.

I’m so thankful for these amazing friendships (and the ceaseless support for my writing).

Health

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In early 2016, I had a slight–SLIGHT–health scare. It thankfully turned out to be nothing, but the fact that it could’ve been something made me stop and think how lucky I am to be healthy. To wake up every day free of aches and pains (well, mostly), to exercise as much as I want, and to move about my day with ease. And, most importantly, to not suffer–mentally or physically. So, I’m very–VERY–thankful God has blessed me with a healthy body, mind, and spirit.

Faith 

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Above all else, I’m thankful to my Lord and Savior. I know not everyone reading this is a believer, but I am. And, I must say, He’s the one I turned to the most during 2016. When I refused to believe I had to get a new job, He pushed me into getting one. When I couldn’t tell my family everything because I didn’t want to worry them, I told Him. When I feared I might be sick, He kept me calm and sane. I could not walk through life without Jesus Christ by my side, even if I sometimes ignore Him because life gets busy or I lose sight of what’s truly important in life (oops).

So, that’s my list for 2016! It’s a bit more serious than usual, but this was a semi-serious year. A good year, yes, but one loaded with significance. How about you? What are you most thankful for in 2016?

Happy Thanksgiving to all those who celebrate it. Be safe, eat lots, and take a moment to consider what you’re most thankful for.

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P.S. I’m also thankful for Gilmore Girls and the show’s decision to do a revival. I’ll be hunkered down the day after Thanksgiving with some friends to watch all four episodes. Eeks!

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Photo credits: giphy 

 

Mission Possible – Round 2 – NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge

Hey, everyone! So, this past weekend I participated in the second round of the NYC Midnight (NYCM) Flash Fiction Challenge (FFC) 2016. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t really in the mood to play this time around. Just the day before the challenge kicked off, I received the results from round one and found out I didn’t get any points for my story, “The Blue Divide.”

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’ve written a lot of stories in this contest that I could accept getting a zero for (ahem, “Operation Disney“). But this one wasn’t one of them. “The Blue Divide” received more positive feedback than I’ve ever received for a story. It also landed in my personal top favorites I’ve ever written. So, getting a zero hurt. What hurt even more was reading the judges’ feedback. Besides the storyline vaguely echoing the movie “Interstellar,” they had no complaints. Only positive comments…Ugh. Very frustrating.

BUT not frustrating enough to make me bow out of round two! I refused to let the judges get me down and embraced my next assignment. Which arrived, as always, at 10 p.m. (MST) on Friday night.

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First impressions: 

Spy

A taxi

A voting ballot

I probably stared at my prompts for a solid thirty minutes with no clue what to do with them. I don’t know if I was completely uninspired, completely miserable, or completely exhausted. I think it was the latter. I’d been up since 4:30 a.m. that morning, and hadn’t taken a break all day (I’d gone from an intense spin workout, to a crazy day at work, to a fun night at the Rockies game).

With my mom’s help (who of course was there to help me brainstorm), I pulled it together and started throwing out various concepts. Most of my ideas were absurd (ex: a taxi driver/spy who careens off the edge of the Grand Canyon and parachutes James Bond style, while the bad guy plummets to his death). What gave me the most trouble was the voting ballot prompt. It screamed politics, and I’m not a big fan of politics. I also knew many of my competitors would go in a political direction, so I wanted to avoid that.

After about twenty minutes of hemming and hawing, inspiration struck.

I decided to give my story an old Hollywood twist. And I decided to have FUN with it. Why not? With zero points from round one, I had nothing to lose, so I decided to write something light, entertaining, and kinda silly.

I sold my mom on the concept, worked out the major kinks of the plot, and then went home to collapse in bed. On Saturday, I woke up and dove straight into research about the Cold War, old Hollywood, and, well, spies. I also watched this scene from the movie “Victor Victoria” about a dozen times to embrace the traits of one of my main characters (a ditzy, flirtatious pinup girl).

It took me most of the day to crank out a solid draft, but once I had it, I knew I had it. I went back over to my mom’s house to let her read it, and get her “Simon Cowell” judgment. Halfway through her first review, she started laughing. My heart sank, and I asked her if it was dumb. She said, “NO! Don’t change it. It’s great.” By the time she finished, I knew the hard work was over. She liked it and I liked it, so now it was time to edit.

We ran through the story a couple of times. Once to analyze the actual story, and once to cut words. I was about 100 over the competition’s 1,000 limit, so nothing too major.

Or so I thought.

Surprisingly, the story didn’t have a ton of fat to cut. I only managed to hack out 20 words before I slammed into a wall. I didn’t know what else to remove or reword to make it any tighter.

Beta readers to the rescue!

I sent my story to about six writers to help me find unnecessary, fluffy, redundant words (and, of course, get opinions about my actual story). When the reviews came back, I was both relieved and a little panicked by the lack of criticisms. Just about all of my betas didn’t know where I should cut words. It was a solid, polished story. But I had to cut 80, or I’d lose major points in the contest.

So, all of my betas rolled up their sleeves and helped me hunt down those 80 extra words. Chop, rewrite, tweak, slash…Ugh. The process was beyond painful! But by Sunday afternoon, I had a final draft that was six words under the word limit. Phew! I submitted it and then did a little jig.

Now, do I expect points for this story? HA! No. If I couldn’t get points with “The Blue Divide,” then I highly doubt this silly spy story will get me much of anything. But, I’m really proud of myself for giving it my all, and not letting my round one debacle deter me from doing my best.

Although I don’t think I’ll ever send this story out for publication, I’m going to play it safe and put a password on it when I post it. Sorry! But, if you’d like to read it, let me know and I’ll send you the password. For now, here’s my title and synopsis:

“Red Sunset”

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Georgi Petrov, Hollywood playboy and Russian dissident, is a hero to some and a traitor to others. A fateful taxi ride down Sunset Boulevard proves just that.

Congrats to all those who participated and submitted a story for this round of NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge 2016!

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Photo Credits: giphy

I Will Never Forget – My September 11th Story

Today, people throughout the world are remembering what happened 15-years ago. It’s difficult not to. All of us can go back and recall where we were and what we were doing, most of us in vivid detail. Even if we weren’t directly involved or impacted by the events that occurred, everyone has a story about September 11th. We all experienced it. We all felt it.

This is my story of September 11th, 2001.

My alarm goes off. I begrudgingly get out of bed and get ready for school. I’m a senior at ThunderRidge High School with nothing on my mind but homework, college applications, and homecoming a couple of weeks away.

unnamedMy freshman brother is already at school for weight training for football, so I don’t have to worry about herding him into the car. I heft my two-ton backpack onto my shoulders, shout a goodbye to my dad upstairs, and walk outside to my tin can of a car. It’s a windy, but warm and clear day. Normal for this time of year in Colorado.

During the ten minute drive to school, I listen to my favorite morning radio program with Jamie White and Danny Bonaduce. As usual, they’re making wise cracks about meaningless topics and keeping things light and fun for morning commuters. I chuckle at the comedic duo and pull into the school parking lot. Before I yank the keys out of the ignition, Jamie suddenly interrupts Danny:

Jamie: Huh, I just got a weird report about a plane hitting a building in New York.

Danny: What? A plane?

Jamie: Uh, yeah [nervous laughter]. I don’t even know what this means. How’s that even possible? How does a plane hit a building? Those are sort of hard to miss, aren’t they?

Danny: [chuckling] Engine failure, I guess. Was it a small plane?

Jamie: The report doesn’t say, but I’d assume so. Probably one of those farm planes [more nervous laughter].

Danny: You mean a crop duster?

Jamie: Yeah, one of those thingamajigs. This is dumb. [a piece of paper ruffles and she yells at the producer] This isn’t funny! There has to be a better news story out there.

I half smile/half frown, unsure what to make of the bizarre report. All I can visualize is a sputtering aircraft manned by an old, drunk pilot who nicked the side of an abandoned warehouse. That’s the only thing that makes sense to me.

I shake my head and glance through the front windshield. I see my mom of all people walking up from the school’s track where she does her morning workouts. I completely forget about Jamie and Danny’s random news announcement and step out of the car to say hi to her before I go into the building. The wind is blowing so hard, the door hits me on the side of the head. I swear, shove it away, and pray to God nobody–including my mom–saw the humiliating incident.

My mom doesn’t mention it as she reaches me and does her mom thing (Have a good day at school…You’ll be home by 3:30, right?…I’m subbing at the elementary school, so I won’t be home all day...). I nod and tell her I need to go or I’m going to be late. I don’t even think to mention Jamie and Danny’s report. I’m still too worried someone saw me get thwacked by the car door.

We say goodbye, mutter our habitual, “Love ya”, and part ways.

My first class of the day is astronomy. At my assigned table, I sit with my friend, Ashley, and two boys, Josh and Kenny. As always, we talk and joke around and don’t pay much attention to the lecture. Nobody mentions anything about a crop duster hitting a building in New York. I don’t even remember hearing about it myself.

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Ground Zero, 2006

The dismissal bell rings. I leave class with Ashley.

We walk to the main hall to meet up with our other friend, Sarah. She’s standing in her normal rendezvous spot, but she’s not smiling. She’s crying. I’m stunned. Sarah isn’t a crier. Ashley and I rush over to her and ask what’s wrong.

“Th–the Pentagon blew up,” she sputters. “A girl in my last class has a grandma who works there. She’s probably d–dead.”

Ashley and I gape at Sarah, too dumbfounded to say more than, “Oh my God.” Sarah then mentions something about the World Trade Center. I’m too embarrassed to admit I don’t know what that is, so I lamely pat her on the arm and tell her everything is going to be okay.

As we walk to the locker rooms for P.E., I look around and see other people whispering of gloom and doom. I don’t understand any of it, and honestly, I don’t believe any of it. It’s probably some stupid prank or vicious rumor.

My P.E. class trickles by. All around me, people whisper about bombs and attacks and terrorists. I cringe at the word “terrorists”. It’s not a real word. It’s fiction, used only in movies like Die Hard and Air Force One.

Thankfully, we’re dismissed early to change in the locker rooms. I rush inside, eager to get to my Home Room to ask my teacher if he knows what’s happening. While I change into my regular clothes, the girls around me get louder and louder, their high-pitched voices bouncing off the walls and echoing around the locker room. I can tell they’re unnerved like me, and they’re hiding their fear by being obnoxious. But, still, I want to slap them and tell them to grow up.

Suddenly, the intercom system buzzes. The voice of our principal, Mr. Lynch, booms over the speakers. The girls get louder. I hit my limit and scream at them to shut up so I can hear what the heck is going on. But Mr. Lynch’s deep voice echoes around the vast room and I’m only able to pick up a few phrases: “Possible terrorism”, “New York”, “No need to panic”.

The announcement ends and the dismissal bell rings. I ignore the fresh shouting and cursing by the girls around me and practically sprint to my Home Room. I’m confident my teacher, Mr. Johnson–history buff and current events guru–will be on top of things.

I yank open the door and bolt inside.

All of the lights are off and the TV is on. Nobody’s talking. Everyone is riveted by what they see on the screen. I take my seat in the front row and look up at it.

Smoke.

Lots and lots of smoke.

So much, in fact, that I tell myself it must be storm clouds. But then I see the crisp blue sky filtering through the belches of black, gray, and white, and know it is, indeed, smoke. But from what?

As if to answer my unspoken question, the camera shifts to two tall buildings with fire billowing out of them and paper fluttering in the air. The anchorman refers to them as the “World Trade Center.” I immediately feel stupid for never knowing the name of the iconic skyscrapers. My secret embarrassment, however, is swiftly overtaken by horror as the news station cuts to video of a commercial jet flying into the building.

The class gasps.

I gape up at the screen, confused and scared. And in complete denial. I can’t believe what I just witnessed was real. I assume it’s fake–a fancy computer mock up of what had happened to the buildings.

The dismissal bell rings.

The class is reluctant to leave, including myself. At our teacher’s urging, we all stand and head for the door. As I reach it, I hear Mr. Johnson say to a boy behind me, “From that footage, I’d definitely say the plane meant to hit the building. It wasn’t an accident.”

I freeze and look at him. “You mean that footage was real?”

Mr. Johnson looks at me sadly and nods.

I leave the class feeling sick to my stomach. I still don’t get it. Nothing–nothing–like this has ever happened in the U.S. It can’t happen.

The rest of the day passes in a dazed blur. Despite finally seeing what was happening on the east coast, nobody really knows what’s happening. Some say it’s terrorism. Some say it’s an accident. Some say we should go to war. Some say we should stay out of it. Some say they know people in New York. Some say they know people on the east coast. Some say the buildings collapsed. Some say they didn’t. Some say another plane crashed in Pennsylvania. Some say Denver International Airport was shut down. Some say all airports were shut down. Some say Colorado is a target because of Norad. Some say we’re at war…

It’s a constant rumor mill, filled with anxiety, tears, and nervous laughter that disguise people’s true terror. Personally, all I want to do is find my brother and cousin and go home. I don’t want to stay in the building another second. Although I know all of these events are happening over 2,000 miles away, I can’t help but imagine a plane swooping over our suburban high school and dropping a bomb on us. It’s rash, ridiculous, and unrealistic, but the fear is there.

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Ground Zero, 2006

Throughout the day, I pull out my Nokia phone with its bright sunflower cover and stare at it. I want to call my mom or dad, but I know they’re at work and won’t answer. (Back then, we didn’t rely on phones like we do nowadays. We didn’t even have text messaging).

At lunch, an announcement is made. The school’s in lockdown and all after-school activities have been canceled. The administrators tell us to go straight home after our last class and stay home. I’m on board with that. I find my brother and cousin during lunch, and tell them where to meet me after school so I can drive us home.

Finally, the end of the day arrives. I flee the school and race home. I sprint into my house and turn on the TV. My brother and cousin are less interested and go play N64. I berate them as I throw a tape into the VCR and press record. I know this day will go down as one of the most significant days in our nation’s history and I want to remember it.

unnamedOnce it’s recording, I get my phone and call my mom. To my surprise, she answers.

“Are you home?” she demands.

“Yeah, so are Max and Will,” I assure her. “We’re all here.”

“Good, stay there. I’ll get home as soon as I can.”

“Okay, I love you.” I say the words with much more feeling than I did that morning, before tragedy struck.

After I hang up, I feel safer and more grounded. I grab my usual after school snack–a handful of goldfish crackers and a Hi-C juice box–and focus on the news. It’s the first time all day I’m able to sit and listen without interruption–no shouting, no bells, no tears, no jokes, no muffled announcements.

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Steel beams from the World Trade Center. Ground Zero, 2006

While I listen to a recap of the horrors of the day, I suddenly remember the radio show I’d heard that morning:

Jamie: Huh, I just got a weird report about a plane hitting a building in New York.

Danny: What? A plane?

Jamie: Uh, yeah [nervous laughter]. I don’t even know what this means. How’s that even possible? How does a plane hit a building? Those are sort of hard to miss, aren’t they?

Danny: [chuckling] Engine failure, I guess. Was it a small plane?

Jamie: The report doesn’t say, but I’d assume so. Probably one of those farm planes [more nervous laughter].

Danny: You mean a crop duster?

Jamie: Yeah, one of those thingamajigs. This is dumb. [a piece of paper ruffles and she yells at the producer] This isn’t funny! There has to be a better news story out there.

I know I’ll never be able to listen to that radio show again.  

And I know I’ll never forget this day.


What’s your story? Share it and never forget.

God bless America and all those who lost their lives 15-years ago today.

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