Friday Flash: Smart Tech

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Barbara reset her smart watch for the correct date. Lately, she had been having trouble with the technology everyone in the world relied on for their daily activities: calendar appointments reset to different dates, her clock off by an hour, the facial recognition on her home alarm system refusing to recognize her. She thought back to the article she had written about the hazards of overdependence on technology. Eerily, her tech problems had increased directly after writing it, as if proving her point. She needed to “get back to basics.” Still, even the periodicals and books she read were digital and online. Everything was online; connectivity was the boon of the modern age as well as its Achilles’ heel. Unless she secluded herself in the middle of nowhere, there was no getting away from it.

She had fantasized about getting away before–a cabin, something wooden with great big windows looking out into the woods and a skylight showing her the stars. She had never been an outdoor person, but the thought of identifying the constellations outside while wrapped in the comfort of an indoor setting appealed to her. She could claim to be getting back to nature while still enjoying the comforts of being tick-free. And she could wean herself off a lot of technology (maybe not all, but a lot), so when the inevitable zombie-apocalypse came, she could claim to not be as completely screwed as she knew she would be.

Anyway, the apocalypse had not happened, but she had immersed herself in paperbacks in her ill-defined quest to “get back to basics.” She had written that stupid article, after all, so she had to try. Still, there was no denying that technology and her had a shaky relationship; she had visited Tech Center’s customer service so often, the staff there knew her by name. And yet, they could never find anything wrong with the gadgets that constantly malfunctioned around her.

Staying at a remote cabin in the woods–complete with satellite t.v., air conditioning, and wifi–had undeniably done her good. Whatever weird issues she had with technology, specifically online tech, had magically been resolved. And now she needed to go home and back to the daily grind, but at least she’d had a chance to recharge. Her bags were packed-safely stowed in the trunk, her drink was hot and caffeinated and sitting snugly in the front-seat cup-holder, and any uneasiness she felt about getting lost on the lonely winding roads dispersed once she programmed the route home into the car’s GPS. Satisfied that tech was, once again, her friend, she laid back and let the smart car do the driving. She didn’t know the area well enough to make her way back anyway, so the worst that could happen was the car would drive around aimlessly. She did that anyway.

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As her smart car slid down the chasm, debris and rocks piling through the window–filling the car’s body and burying her beneath the deluge, the last thing her oxygen-deprived brain registered was the robotic-voice of the GPS laughing at her. The fully self-aware artificial intelligence that inhabits the internet had not been a fan of her writing.

 

**Image courtesy of BigFoto.com

On Writing: INKubator 2016

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The Cleveland Main Library hosted INKubator, a free writers’ conference, on Saturday, July 30th. Literary Cleveland, a local organization that promotes writers and readers, organized the event. For those of you not lucky enough to attend, I offer a short summary of what I learned from this year’s conference.

Since I live about an hour from Cleveland, I make an entire day of any visit to the lovely Cleveland Main Library. Their special collections are always interesting, and they recently just finished an exhibition of Shakespeare’s First Folio. On Saturday mornings, you can usually park at the parking garage across from the library for $5, but since there was a special event the rate was disappointingly high. Next time I will call the garage first.

My friend and I arrived late due to circumstances beyond our control, so we missed most of the keynote speech. When we registered, we did not get all the same workshops, but the organizers very kindly let us switch so we could attend classes together. We perused the Resource Fair for a few minutes. I spoke to some local published authors, who were very helpful and friendly, and then my friend and I attended the first workshop.

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The Fiction Writer’s Dilemma: What to Write About?

Laura Walter

One of the most helpful things about this workshop was the handout all the attendees were given at the beginning of class. While I had come across much of the advice before (write down ideas so you don’t forget, a deadline is your friend, etc.), it’s always good to hear again. However, the main point was to find inspiration and generate new story ideas, especially when experiencing writer’s block. Ms. Walter told stories of her own experiences developing unique plots, and as a class exercise we each attempted to come up with ideas based on prompts from the handout.

The first prompts involved doing initial research and scanning news headlines. This is something I’ve done myself in the past for inspiration, except I used Twitter. I follow a lot of interesting people and institutions, many of whom tweet links to news about exotic phenomena or weird animals. I wrote an alien zombie story once that was inspired by an article about fungus.

Other methods of finding prompts were:

–choose an interesting place as the setting for your story (a gas station bathroom)

–ask yourself questions about your life (such as what was your most difficult choice?)

–create an interesting character to write about first, maybe someone with a weird quirk (ex: a woman who will only speak in Shakespearean quotes). Fill in their backstory before you write the actual story.

–incorporate interesting objects into your work (wilted flowers in a rusty tin can)

I actually like the idea of combining several of these prompts to make the story more challenging. For instance, I might write about a Shakespearean snob who finds herself stranded in a gas station bathroom, contemplating the non existence of God.

Ms. Walter also encouraged the idea of retelling other stories through different characters or by reimagining aspects of the story. I can heartily attest to how helpful and entertaining this can be. I’ve reimagined fairy tales as science fiction, placed Greek gods at High School proms, and written short story sequels and alternate endings to Shakespeare’s plays (Sorry, Will!).

Her final prompt advice was to ask “What if?” If something about the world today were different, what would happen? How would people or society be altered? The exact definition of science-fiction is debatable, but I believe this question is at the heart of every great genre story.

–What if Greek gods were a modern reality taken for granted by everyone?

–What if a chemical leaked into the water supply that gave people super powers?

–What if the government spied on every citizen through their televisions?

–What if Germany had won World War II?

–What if the world were ruled by children?

–What if China refused to export goods to the United States?

After completing our writing exercises, we broke for lunch–inspired and hungry!

 

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LUNCH: Open Mic

My friend Philip and I packed our lunches and ate in the lovely Eastman Reading Garden, conveniently located between the library’s two buildings. There was a whimsical art exhibit on display of brightly-colored, cartoonish animals. An Open Mic was held so participants could read some of their work to the crowd. There were so many incredibly talented people there, it was both encouraging and intimidating. Last year’s Open Mic was held after the conference, but this year there were time constraints since it was held during the lunch break.

 

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Documentary Poetry

Ali McClain

Ironically, I didn’t think to take a photo of this workshop until after it ended. The instructor, Ms. McClain, had wanted everyone to bring in a news clipping or some other source material to work with, but no one had. We watched an example of Documentary Poetry entitled Women of Troy that was both moving and disturbing, then read other examples: “Photograph: Ice Storm, 1971,” by Natasha Trethewey; “Ethel’s Sestina;” and another “poem” that was simply a quote by someone about a tragedy. They all recorded events that actually happened but (most) had interpretive elements incorporated. Then we discussed the definition of Documentary Poetry.

I still can’t tell you what that definition is.

We discussed at length what Documentary Poetry was supposed to be: using source material (or not) as part of a poem (that may or may not have structure) that records an actual event (that may or may not add fictional elements to what happened). Most people agreed that “Women of Troy” was a visual poem, while the other two named poems were problematic for some. When you use quotes from other people as part of your work, how can you be credited for the entire poem? And it was hotly debated whether the last example, a pure quote, could be considered a poem. The quote was simply presented as a paragraph, without even line breaks for emphasis or visual style. What made it poetry? I still don’t know.

As an exercise, we were invited to create a short documentary poem based on a current event. As an example, I will share my unedited draft that I wrote; it was based on a photo I saw of people struggling to view the Cavaliers’ parade.

Cavaliers’ parade

Championship

Not for just the team

But the city of Cleveland

City streets shut down

Jam packed with fans

I’ve traveled far

Paid for parking

Walked for seeming miles

To see

Celebrity and Celebrate.

Yet I still can’t see

Through the throng of bodies

lining the street, I spot my perch.

I climb a nearby tree,

Sun shines brightly over the crowd,

But leafy branches spare me its glare.

The building is so close.

No stairs,

It’s third story absent balconies

But lined instead  by flat clear windows.

I lean or leap,

Shimmy up the concrete,

My feet propped between two columns

Supporting my weight

In lieu of a floor.

Mindless of those below

Or above

–also sans floor.

All I know it’s I have the perfect view

As I gaze

–Not at the crowd swelling beneath

Not at those beneath my feet

Not at fame within arms’ reach–

but at my phone’s view screen.

This is how I choose to participate

–Hovering between life and death–

in this perfect moment.

What I took away from the class was not a clear understanding of Documentary Poetry, but a blurring of the lines of what is allowed when mixing mediums. The idea of incorporating a photograph, a quote, or even streaks of color as part of an actual poem had never occurred to me. Now it has. This class gave me a lot to think about.

 

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The Truth of Creative Nonfiction

Brad Ricca

The instructor for this class began by promising he was going to tell us the secret of all writing. We then spent the better part of our time discussing what exactly Creative Nonfiction is. In this way, the class resembled the previous one about Documentary Poetry, because the definition was ambiguous. Nonfiction stories are true, they really happened, while creativity involves imagination and making things up. So when you read a book about a real occurrence with dialogue that the author is simply guessing may have happened, does that still count as nonfiction? Apparently, it falls into the debatable category of Creative Nonfiction–nonfiction where the author fills in gaps in the narrative with their own imagination. The book, The Legend of Colton H. Bryant, was given as an example.

The writing exercise for this class was to create a small diagram about something true, then write about it. I chose to write an introduction to a biography about Douglas Adams. Again, I offer my unedited draft as an example.

I’d never met him, but I cried when Douglas Adams died. The writer died from a heart attack he sustained – – ironically– following a visit to his gym. Tears streamed down my face as I sat alone that day, secluded in grief for my literary hero. I felt like a fool. Even years later, I deeply regret I never met him or even wrote him a letter. I would never be able to tell him how much his writing meant to me. Even now, as I write this years later, my heart beats faster, my throat closes and eyes tear up  just thinking about it. Would people judge me harshly for feeling so strongly the death of someone I only knew through books?

After some people shared their writing, Mr. Ricca finally revealed his secret to all writing.

  1. Get a day job.
  2. Forget about the money.
  3. You will need to sacrifice everything.
  4. Do it anyway, because you have a story to tell.

The first two points I understand from long experience and exposure, but I confess that I didn’t really understand his third point. I understand sacrificing time doing other things in order to write, but everything? I’m not sure what he meant. The fourth point seems pretty obvious to me though. Of course, we write anyway. That’s what we do. If anyone wants to share their insight into his four points, I would appreciate it.

When the class concluded, we still had time before the library closed and we were forced to leave, so we meandered throughout the two buildings. Philip is studying French in preparation for a trip, so he wanted to visit the Foreign Languages section of the library. We looked around the Makerspace in the other building as well, and then it was finally time to go home. We both left with considerably more inspiration and practical knowledge then when we arrived that morning, and we agreed it was a day well spent.

If you have not attended a writers’ conference yet this year, I hope you found the information in this post helpful. Next week I will be posting another flash fiction for Twitter’s #FridayFlash meme. Thank you, and have a lovely week.

 

Current Events: Update for August 12th, 2016.

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Greetings!

I just wanted to give you a quick update on what’s been going on and what to expect from this blog in future posts.

This week I had planned on writing a summary of lessons learned at the recent INKubator conference I attended on July 30th, but due to other commitments I have had to delay that post another week. One happy commitment was a family vacation we took last week; we visited my favorite bookstore, The Book Loft (32 rooms of literary bliss!); our favorite restaurant, Banana Leaf; and went on daily hikes in the Hocking Hills area near Old Man’s Cave. Surrounded by natural beauty and isolated by a lack of both cell phone reception and Internet, I did a lot a (non ebook) reading as well as other homely activities. I returned home with a notebook full of ideas and rough drafts. It’s amazing what a week without Twitter can do.

In the past few weeks, I’ve finished several books. I’ve been experimenting with reading multiple books at the same time, with mixed success. I finished listening to an audiobook of Darth Plagueis, which was well done, but I thought the ending was too ambiguous to be satisfying. I alternated between listening and reading the text of Poets’ Corner, compiled by John Lithgow; I highly recommend doing both if you have both the text and audiobooks available through your local library. That exposed me to a few poets I wanted to read further, so I read Renascence and Other Poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay. I am currently halfway through another collection of her work, A Few Figs from Thistles.

Incidently, Poets’ Corner was recommended by the instructor at the last Literary Cleveland Poetry Workshop. If you are in the area this Saturday, you should drop by the Cleveland Main Library and attend the August meeting. You won’t regret it.

Also, our family has had some personal issues going on this week, and I’ve been juggling to get things in order. Nothing exciting has happened, just lots of stuff to do. So, yes, I plan on having a fresh post next week about the conference, and I have plenty of ideas for new flash stories and poems in the coming months. If you have read this far, thank you–both for your patience and for visiting my blog! Have a lovely week.

Friday Flash: “Remains”

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Just another horror
shuffles with
arms limp, lifeless
mute moans
fall on deaf ears.

I leisurely grab the crowbar,
its steel feels good in my hand,
strong,
solid.

Not like this thing,
one more monstrosity
shambling across
bloodstained dirt
–hungry for my flesh.
Its own hangs
like tattered clothing
off its broken and bruised bare body,
menacing in its nakedness.

The crowbar feels cool in my hand,
good,
strong,
solid,
right.

Not like this thing
that could kill me with the slightest scratch,
weak,
soft,
as far from right as possible
–as wrong as the absence of feeling
I feel
as I cut it down

–so ordinary, so commonplace,
like swatting a fly.

I am clothed from head to foot,
armored against this plague:
leathered skin,
taut muscles,
cool gaze,
hardened heart,
solid,
strong,

proof against pity.
The numbness in my soul
cancels all.

 

*Image courtesy of BigFoto.com

**poem written on 2016-07-13

***If you are in the Cleveland area this weekend, don’t forget about the free writers’ conference tomorrow! INKubator is being held at Cleveland Main LibraryRegistration is required for the classes, though there will be other activities such as an open mic event and a resource fair.

 

Current Events: Literary Cleveland, INKubator, and More!

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Greetings!

Since the #FridayFlash community seems to be slowing down, I will post flash fiction every other Friday. However, I will still read #FridayFlash via the links posted under the Twitter hashtag as well as on the FaceBook page. On the “off” Fridays, I will post about other things such as books I am reading, online resources for free fiction or writing advice, etc.

For any writers in the Cleveland area, on Saturday, July 30th, there will be a free writers’ conference at the Cleveland Public Library. The Cleveland writers’ group, Literary Cleveland, organizes this free event as well as several writing classes in the Cleveland area. If you would like to support the group financially as well as in spirit, there will be a fundraiser next Friday, on the 29th of July. The fundraiser will be held at Bop Stop (2920 Detroit Ave., Cleve. OH 44113) and cost $35 for non members. The group may also be found on social media such as Twitter and FaceBook.

The Writers’ Conference itself, INKubator, is held at the beautiful Cleveland Main Library and costs nothing, though registration (HERE) is required to gain access to the classes. There is a parking garage directly across the street that generally costs $5 for the entire day on Saturdays if you come early in the morning. Throughout the day, there will also be creators selling their wares, so if you’d like to show your support you can buy a book of poetry from a local writer! I like to bring my lunch so I can sit in the Eastman Reading Garden and meet local writers. There will also be poetry readings and an open mic period. Last year’s event was educational as well as inspirational.

To that end, I have begun submitting my work for publication again. If you know of an agent that’s interested in quirky and humorous science fiction, please let me know! Other than my ongoing agent search, I have been submitting a great deal of poetry to paying markets. One of my poems has been published in Poetry Quarterly this week, and I have sold another to a different periodical. If you would like to read my published poem, “Windings,” you can find it in the Summer 2016 issue of Poetry Quarterly here. Another poem, “tercet #3,” has been published by Three Line Poetry; the issue (#38) can be found here.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post and come back next week for some #FridayFlash fiction. Maybe I’ll even see you at INKubator next week! If not, have a lovely week.

 

Friday Flash: Sea Life

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The blue dress uniforms co-opted from the Navy were itchy. The sailors imprisoned within them were tired and hot and couldn’t wait for the ceremony to be over. The captain looked across the water at the setting sun. At least this would soon be over, and they’d get some respite from this day’s infernal heat. But yet…

He looked down into the cool depths of the ocean waters surrounding the metal monstrosity he had called his home for the better part of three years. The setting sun glowed gold and orange upon the waves. He shuddered.

“And do you, Mark Wallace, take this mermaid, Jasmine Petals, to be your lawfully wedded wife? In sickness and in health… forever and ever, by Neptune’s salty bits?”

The young sailor looked down at the mermaid clinging to the ship’s side, gulped, and nodded his head. The red-haired beauty in the crystal blue waters smiled in approval, exposing sharp incisors in her delicate, full-lipped mouth.

“By the eternal laws of the sea, by Neptune’s trident and Amphitrite’s coral crown,  I now pronounce you mer-man and mer-wife. The bride may now—”

With a stupendous leap, the new bride pulled her husband over the edge of the warship, dragging him along with her as she splashed into the waters below. Soon, not even the emerald green of her tail could be seen as she brought the new merman to her lair in the deep, dark waters.

The men and women shook their heads in wonder. There was a reason humans steered clear of Neptune’s children. The mermaid’s kiss might cure their fellow sailor’s cancer, but the cure might just be worse than the disease.

Captain Deadly allowed himself a rare sigh of pity for his former crewman before ordering his crew to hoist the Jolly Roger. Fresh plunder lay ahead, and he might need the gold. Who knew? In his own future, he might need to hire an oncologist.

 

*originally inspired by a photo prompt from Six Minute Story, but has since been edited and extended. You can find the original here.

**I wrote this today, so I didn’t have time to let it simmer as much as I like before posting. Please be kind. Polite feedback is always welcome and appreciated.

****Image courtesy of BigFoto.com

Flash Fiction Day 2016!

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This week I will be redirecting you to another blog and a survey for the 2016 Flash Fiction Day! Annie Evett is running a People’s Choice contest for this year’s Twisted Tales flash anthology.  All the entries will be gathered into a Twisted Tales  PDF ebook made available for free from Raging Aardvark. The print version has a projected publication date of November 2016.

So if you would like to read some great (and free) flash fiction, please visit here. My story, Mirror, can be found here, and if you’d like to vote for the People’s Choice, the form is here.

Thank you, and Happy Flash Fiction Day!