A Woman’s Worth – FFftPP#10

What follows is a piece inspired by the prompt over at Flash Fiction for the Purposeful Practitioner. The key elements were the photo below, the opening sentence/phrase and no more than 200 words. 

A Woman’s Worth – 197 words

“I know it’s only been three weeks, but I want to go home,” one of the new mill girls said when I found her gazing out of the window. The first month was always the hardest.

“You signed a contract for a year,” I told her, but my stomach twinged. She looked about the same age as my ten-year-old sister, Sarah, the only one of us girls still at home. The mills were hiring girls younger and younger these days.

She stared outside, the whirring of the factory behind her. “My mama needs me on the farm.”

I’d heard so many new girls say the same thing over the years. “Your family needs your pay more than you,” I told her, “otherwise they wouldn’t send you here.” It sounded cruel, but the truth helped them settle in faster.

The girl’s eyes flashed in my direction, anger then betrayal and finally resignation. Her body sagged under her surrender.

I held out my hand. It was all I had to offer. “Let’s get you back to your machine before the supervisor notices you’re missing.”

She glanced out of the window once more and then took my hand.


I find this little part of American history fascinating. For more on the Lowell Mill girls, The National Park Service has a great site: Lowell National Historical Park

The Fine Art of Negotiation – FFftPP#9

What follows is a piece inspired by the prompt over at Flash Fiction for the Purposeful Practitioner. The key elements were the photo below, the opening sentence/phrase and no more than 200 words. 

The Fine Art of Negotiation – 145 words

Nothing is ever as easy as it looks, I thought, watching my son Sam’s face turn red and then a shiny plum almost the color of an eggplant.

“You…can’t…throw…away…my…barn!” he cried between heaving sobs.

I started by commiserating: “Sweetheart, I understand how hard it is to say goodbye to an old toy.”

I appealed to his mature almost-six-year-old self: “Honey, you’re too grown up to play with that barn.”

I attempted reason: “Little one, just think of the room you’ll have for other toys you play with more.”

Eventually, I resorted to bargaining: “Baby, if we throw away the barn, I’ll buy you a new toy.”

Sam hugged the barn. He sniffled. He looked up at me with betrayal in his eyes.

“Okay, fine. Keep the barn,” I said, sneaking a broken firetruck into the trash bag.

No Words – FFfAW54

Below is a piece inspired by the prompt at Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers. The key elements were the photo below and a word range of 100-15o (+-25).

scaffolding men

Photo courtesy of Ellespeth’s friend

No Words – 175 words

“But we’ve come all this way! Are you sure we can’t take a peek?”

“I’m sorry, Nana. The sign on the cathedral door says it’s closed for repairs.”

Nana takes a step back and cranes her neck so she can see the men high on the rickety scaffolding leaned against the cathedral wall. The sun glints off of her glasses.“You there!” she yells, and when they don’t respond, she calls again until the men look in our direction. “Yes, hello. We would like to tour the cathedral.”

“Let’s go, Nana,” I hiss, embarrassed as the men chuckle and point at us. They aren’t speaking English, but I know what they’re saying.

Nana plants her feet and puts her hands on her hips. She’s barely five feet tall, but her face is stony. She points at one of the men—clearly the one in charge—and then points at a spot on the ground next to her. The laughing stops.

Nana tells everyone the tour of the cathedral was her favorite part of the trip.

It Wasn’t Me – FFftPP

What follows is a piece inspired by the prompt over at Flash Fiction for the Purposeful Practitioner. The key elements were the photo below, the opening sentence/phrase and no more than 200 words. 

I almost missed the deadline this week, but late is better than not at all, I suppose! 

It Wasn’t Me – 183 words

“…For the thousandth time, I promise you, it wasn’t me!” I try to get you to look at me, but you stare at the flooring ad in the magazine on the coffee table. The dog in the ad stares back at you, pulling your attention away from me.

That’s how things are now. Every time I speak, you look away, rifle through your purse, or feign a reason to leave. It’s been like this since you drove by the bank and saw me holding hands with my ex-girlfriend.

Only it wasn’t me holding her hand. I keep telling you that. I was nowhere near the bank that day, but you won’t hear it. You just look away.

You look away even when you speak, like you’re talking to the dog in the magazine and not to me. “It doesn’t matter,” you say.

But it matters to me and I try to tell you that, my chest tightening like my lungs are being shrunk in the dryer.

After you leave, I wonder what you saw in those glossy eyes you couldn’t see in mine.

Checking Out the Competition: Flash Fiction Contests

computer desk

home-office-workstation-office-336378 by Unsplash @ pixabay.com

I’ve been spending a lot of time lately writing very short fiction. I can’t say I’m very good at it, but some of the people whose work I’ve been reading online are teaching me some great techniques. I’m learning!

One of the ways I like to test my learning is by entering the occasional writing contest. I came in second in one such contest a couple of years ago, so I know it’s a good way to see how my writing compares to the competition.

I started a Pinterest board today specifically for flash fiction contests. If you’re a writer, you may want to check these out. Please note that several are closing very soon (one closes on Monday, I believe). Also, while I’ve looked through these links, I can’t guarantee that they are all legit. Please read the fine print carefully and consider whether the contest fee is worth your time and effort. One more FYI: Most contests won’t take work that is already published, including work published on a blog.

If anyone finds this useful, let me know, and I’ll make an effort to add and update the information regularly. If you have suggestions for contests you keep an eye on, I’d love to add them to my list. 

Is It Him? – FFfAW52

Below is a piece inspired by the prompt at Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers. The key elements were the photo below and a word range of 100-15o (+-25).

** I admit to missing that word-count requirement this week, but I couldn’t decide what to cut–sorry! 

bench park

Thanks, Ady, for the beautiful photo prompt!

Is It Him?  204 words

Lainey leaned around the tree to get a better view. “See anyone?”

“Not yet.” Tara’s face was white beneath makeup applied with precision.

“What time did he say he’d arrive?”

“Five minutes ago.”

“So, he’s late. Not a great start to the relationship.”

“Why did I bring you?”

“You need me. He could be an ax murderer. I’ll protect you.”

“With what—your purse?”

Lainey held up her phone. “I could call 911 if needed.”

“Put your phone away.” Tara said. “He’s not a murderer.”

“Yeah, we may never know if he doesn’t show.”

“He’ll show. We’ve been emailing for weeks.”

“And you’ll know it’s him how? Anyone could plop down on that bench.”

Tara’s face flushed. “He’s carrying a copy of Pride and Prejudice.”

Lainey giggled, one hand over her mouth. “Really? That book? What self-respecting man would carry that?”

“It’s my favorite—Shhh! Someone’s coming!”

“Is it him?”

“I can’t tell,” Tara said, but the butterflies spin-diving in her stomach told her differently.

A tall man with graying hair entered the park from the road, a book beneath one arm.

“There he is, Tara. You ready?”

“As ready as I’ll ever be to meet my father for the first time.”

Review: Freshwater Boys

Freshwater Boys Adam Schuitema

I love the opportunity to read books by Michigan authors. To that end, Adam Schuitema‘s book Freshwater Boys delivers. The settings of this collection of short stories are local west Michigan towns, and the characters remind me of the men, women, and children I meet every time I leave my front door. The first story, “New Era,” opens with his characters having breakfast at the Trailside Restaurant in New Era, a place I’ve gone for breakfast many times. As I read “Deer Run,” I found myself thinking about the last time I drove along East Beltline in Grand Rapids. To say that Schuitema has a keen sense of place is an understatement.

Freshwater Boys is a collection of eleven stories, each a close study of a moment in the lives of a different male character. Readers see young boys posturing for one another, adult men navigating relationships while maintaining a sense of self, and old men pulled by the tides of tradition.

Interestingly, although I love the role the lakes and dunes and forests of Michigan play in the book, my favorite story had little to do with Michigan. It’s a story that could have easily been set in just about any locale. “Curbside” begins with a couple returning from a vacation out west. The story begins with the main character thinking about the missed opportunities of the trip, the way expectations don’t quite line up with how things play out. Schuitema includes one of my favorite descriptions from the book when he writes, “We ruined it the first afternoon there with a huge, wildfire kind of argument that started small and accidental and consumed the rest of the day.” Anyone with a significant other can relate. After far too long in the car—far too long together—the couple pulls up to their home to find one of those roadside memorials with a cross, flowers, photos, and balloons at the curb. A neighbor informs them of an accident that occurred in front of their home while they were away. There’s something about the juxtaposition of small annoyances with this major loss that made this story poignant.

While I didn’t find myself always pulled into the stories in Freshwater Boys, I loved the opportunity to read about an area I know and love.

Bartleby Snopes Contest Win Announcement

I’m thrilled and humbled to announce that the editors and judges of the Bartleby Snopes 6th Annual Dialogue Only Contest chose my short story “Everyone Smiles” as their second place winner. The story will be available online and in the semi-annual print magazine in January 2015. 
“Everyone Smiles” was a first for me–a short story entirely in dialogue without even speech tags.
The seed for the story was planted two years ago when I made a return visit to Lake Lure, North Carolina, infamous as a filming location for the 1987 film Dirty Dancing. I had originally been to the area when I was a young teen, and I have a photo of my sister and me standing on the green-carpeted outdoor steps to the hotel. As I sat in the car on that second visit in the pouring rain, I squinted through the foggy windshield, trying to recapture the excitement I’d felt on the previous visit years before, but it just didn’t look the same. Oddly, I couldn’t get over the fact that the hotel had removed the green carpeting. It was in that moment of incongruity between what I remembered (or perhaps what I had created in my memory from that photo) and what I was seeing, that the story “Everyone Smiles” came to life. It would take another two years, though, for me to make that kernel of an idea into something resembling a story, and it took the Bartleby Snopes challenge for me to put it all together.


Imagine This! Publication

IMG_2050I’m excited to announce that my short story “At a Loss” was recently published in the Imagine This!An Artprize Anthology. From the contest’s website:

Imagine This!  An ArtPrize Anthology is a collection of poems, short stories, and personal essays, along with reproductions of works displayed during ArtPrize, an international art competition held in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

This story originated from an experience one of my former students had, which led to a lifetime friendship. She met a man while riding the public bus who turned out to be deaf. She was determined to communicate with him, although she knew no sign language and he could not speak. My story went in a very different direction, but I am indebted for having been told the initial events.