The Gnarl

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Copyright John Nixon

The Gnarl
GENRE: Fantasy or possibly magic(al) realism
WORD COUNT: 102

Meab had dared me, so I had to.

Cruuunnnchh.

In an auburn sea my footsteps cracked open midribs and sound mingled with mossy smells. Each gust drizzled my courage on the receding forest floor.

“Stay away from that cage of crape myrtle,” Grandpa waylaid us as we were leaving.

I could imagine little Meab’s back melting into Lookinglass Rock. His words knelled yet: No one’s ever come back from inside. It steals breath, you know.

As I neared the edge of the tangle of trees, my chest cinched. Are my still-wet wings enough to keep me from eternal silence in the Gnarl?


If you are a writer, I encourage you to participate in Friday Fictioneers, for which this piece was written. Thanks for stopping by, and please visit again.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Reflections

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Chihuly art glass reflections in front of the Climatron geodesic dome at Missouri Botanical Garden. Photograph copyright, Leigh Ward-Smith, 2014.

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Chihuly close-up. Photograph copyright, Leigh Ward-Smith, 2014.

For this weekly photo challenge, I am offering up these photographs from several years ago. They were taken on a somewhat windy day as you can see from the ripples in the pool. These large-scale, floating glass sculptures are by artist Dale Chihuly and were installed at the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis, Missouri. Glasstronomical sculptures, aren’t they? (Sorry, I couldn’t resist!) With or without an inspiring artistic installation, the Garden—also occasionally called MoBot—is a place to put on your travel itinerary should you ever visit the city that is perhaps best known for its Arch and dubbed “the gateway to the West.” Well, thanks for visiting my blog today; please drop by again anytime!

Submission Sunday #2: Writing Markets, March Madness Edition

Hark! she speaks. I will set down what comes/
from her, to satisfy my remembrance the more/
strongly. (Macbeth, Act 5, Scene I, spoken by the Doctor, who prepares to observe Lady Macbeth’s sleepwalking behaviors)

Lion- or lamb-like, March 2014 has come and very nearly gone. Here in the States, many are swept up in a maelstrom of March machismo. Sadly, across the globe, others are ensnared in different kinds of life-and-limb madness altogether.

Muse Calliope

Calliope/Kalliope, eldest of the Greek Muses, goddess of eloquence, and Muse of epic poetry. Detail from a representation of an oil-on-canvas piece by Simon Vouet, from Wikimedia Commons and in the public domain.

But, to look at it more positively, if you are a writer or artist, perhaps this month has afforded you the time to self-reflect or make progress on a novel, short story, poem, or other work. In that vein, I would like to offer you a few potential markets to consider in your progression as a creative individual. I’ve decided that most of the markets I search out and share will be free, and I will endeavor to find international markets as well as North American ones—so that you may learn to navigate yourself through the submission processes at work at different magazines, publishers, or other forums, both fee-based and no-fee. I myself occasionally chose to submit to a contest or magazine that charges a reading fee, because I know that many literary magazines operate on a micro-shoestring budget and I want to support their work. Some markets these days also offer critiques or subscriptions when you pay a submission fee. So, it’s then up to you to read the instructions fully with regard to what copyrights you retain or give up with your submission, as well as the submission parameters—and hew to them or face the rejection pile.

  1. ENTRY FEE & NO ENTRY FEE: The moonShine Review: This North Carolina–based literary magazine accepts previously unpublished prose and photography, noting that “Our goal is to bring about understanding through art and writing by providing a venue for unique voices.” During a regular submission cycle, you can submit up to 4 shorter pieces, with nothing more than 3,000 words in length. Their preference is for 2,200 or fewer words. Payment is in one comp, or complimentary, copy of the magazine. They say they accept work from anywhere, but prefer southeastern (U.S.) writers. The upcoming reading deadline is Sept. 1, 2014 (postmark). See more general submission criteria on their site. Note that they are also holding a 10th anniversary writing contest with entirely different criteria, a $5 submission fee, and a July 1, 2014 deadline. As ever, I recommend you familiarize yourself with the market, agent, or magazine prior to submitting.
  2. ENTRY FEE & NO ENTRY FEE: Situated along the Mississippi River in St. Louis, Missouri, River Styx magazine has been navigating literary waters since 1975. They have (or have had) microfiction, poetry, and prose contests afoot, as well as regular submissions (including visual art, which has different criteria & submission period) during a reading period from May 1 through November 30 (postmark) every year, so sharpen those pencils, brains, or calloused computer fingers, friends! Right now, they have several contests in swing, including an international poetry competition ($1500 top prize; $10 or $20 entry fee) and a poetry competition for high school students, called the River Styx 2014 Founder’s Award. Check the previous link for submission deadlines and details.
  3. ENTRY FEE REQUIRED:  A special thanks goes out to writer-friend Ali Abbas, who has some outstanding prose of his own, in that I have received another suggestion: NYC Midnight. NYCM has a series of challenges throughout the year; right now, their screenwriting competition is about to kick off. For a $39 entry fee, you will be given an assignment then have 8 days to craft “an original short screenplay no longer than 12 pages” FOR ROUND ONE. If selected, your manuscript will advance through rounds, where the criteria will differ. The final deadline (along with entry fee) is May 1.
  4. NO ENTRY FEE: Finally, the editorial staff of The Louisville (Kentucky) Review read manuscripts year-’round. I really like TLR‘s mission statement: “The goal of the magazine continues to be to import the best writing to local readers, to juxtapose the work of established writers with new writers, and to export the best local writers to a national readership.” They review previously unpublished manuscripts of poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, and drama only. TLR prefers electronic submissions. Poetry from students in grades K-12 is also considered for The Children’s Corner. Their reply time is 4 to 6 months, and they consider simsubs (or simultaneous submissions), but be sure to touch base with them if you have any questions about their process.

If you know of others you would recommend, please consider leaving a comment. As always, best wishes on your writing and artifying. Keep at it!

From perspiration to creation

Hands strain, bone on blank wood. Limbering the lines demands a gymnast agile to what waits. To satisfy any critic is a balance; words, an avoirdupois. Writing is a willingness to be bruised.

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Gymnast Dorina Böczögő performs a one-arm press hold on the balance beam mount. From Wikimedia Commons, by user Alby.1412. Please consider purchasing some of his amazing sports photography, which includes winter sports.

Flash fiction written for the last one-word Trifecta Challenge, week 114.

Flash Fiction: If the Sea Spoke

Written for Friday Fictioneers

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Photograph by writer Adam Ickes. Be sure to visit his site!

GENRE(S): Flash fiction, historical fiction, literary fiction, romance

WORD COUNT: 102

If the Sea Spoke . . .

When Helena McArdle reached rickety boards, she almost turned, with no fanfare and nary a flounce ruffled, back toward home. Father would be no wiser.

Instead, her footfalls hastened her forward. The inlet waits just beyond the pavilion flitted across her mind, a firefly waltzing with air.

At 17 years and ninety-eight pounds when not encased in a cage crinoline, she did not welcome the avoirdupois of womanhood. No one will make me marry Lucas Parish–that human Cerberus!

Still, the sound of waves slapping chert beaconed. “Hurry to me,” slipped from the swollen lips of the whitecaps, whose promises were lies.

Submission Sunday #1: Writing Markets and Contests

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This writer didn’t always kill his darlings, but there is a humorous fiction-writing contest in his honor, called the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest.

Sometimes the first step in becoming a published writer can seem like deliberately jumping into quicksand; when you hang your darlings out there in the world, others can (and often will) step forward and disembowel them. Similes as familiar as siblings, favorite phrases, precious passages, cherished chapters . . . all could fall under the editor’s, agent’s, reviewer’s, or reader’s guillotine.

Does that mean you never submit your work? For some, yes. And yet, others seek out the challenge. If you are the latter (or the former), this post is for you.

Today I’d like to begin a weekly feature I’ll call Submission Sunday. Each weekend, I will share some markets or contests (or both) that you might like to consider if you’re a writer. I hope to bring you at least a couple every Sunday (North American time zones) in further hopes that you will consider putting your work out there for critique or, if no feedback is given, for the experience of having gone through the machinations of submitting to an editor, publisher, or agent. Best-case scenarios apply, too, of course, so hitch your writing wagon to a star: write furiously, edit mercilessly, and aim to win, place, or show.

Although I cannot personally vouch for these sites, contests, publishers, or markets, in some cases I have submitted to them—or intend to do so again—and I’ll indicate this where called-for. If you have any suggestions at all, please consider leaving them in the comments. For this, I thank you in advance.

So, without further finger-dragging, here are some online and print markets.

  1. The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest: This yearly humor-writing contest, where “wretched writers” are welcome, suggests that even an inkless pen is mightier than the sword. It highlights the work of nineteenth-century British novelist, poet, and politician Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, whose work you likely know, even if only through Snoopy, of Peanuts cartoon fame. Submit one horrifically bad sentence—there are several genre categories in this contest, such as science-fiction, crime, fantasy, and romance—and keep it under about 60 words. In general, don’t use puns in your submission (though they do have a “vile puns” category). Have fun writing the worst opening line to a novel that you can think of and you never know what might happen. I’ve submitted to this contest in the past, placed in one category, and plan to submit again. On the basis of the 2013 winners, it looks like they accept international submissions, all written in English. Deadline, June 30, but submissions are accepted every day of the year.
  2. Another humor-based writing contest, this time for the versifiers among us, is the yearly Wergle Flomp Humor Poetry Contest. Held by Winning Writers, which also has a handy free database of more than 200 “quality poetry and prose contests with no entry fees” (you need only sign up for their e-newsletter, also free), the Wergle Flomp is a big ball of fluffy literary fun. It boasted thousands of entries in 2013, and 2014 marks its thirteenth year. If you win or place, this free contest actually has prize money. I’ve written several poems, mostly parodies, for this contest; several I’ve gone ahead and submitted, and several I haven’t. Either way, I always learn a lot about writing humor and poetry, self-critique, and the musicality of language, even when language fails. Poems can be of any length and should be humorous; one submission per person, per year. Deadline April 1.
  3. The final market I will share today is called The First Line. TFL is a magazine offering print and electronic editions. In addition to “critical essays about your favorite first line from a literary work,” they also offer a fiction component. Each season, they offer a prompt wherein you must begin a short story with the first line they provide, verbatim. They write, “the story should be between 300 and 5,000 words (this is more like a guideline and not a hard-and-fast rule . . .) . . . The sentences can be found on the home page of The First Line’s Web site, as well as in the prior issue. Note: We are open to all genres.” The upcoming deadline for the summer prompt is May 1, 2014.

Now, get writing—and good luck!

Share Your World: Week 10

Yours truly, me, moi, I, me, mine. I tend to shy away from talking about myself a lot here on the blog, because the focus is on fiction, the occasional poesy or parody piece, and even more occasionally, photography. However, I enjoy Cee Neuner’s “Share Your World” challenges. Mostly because I’m able to extrovert myself into the blogosphere and “meet”—emphasis on “e,” for electronic—people from around the world, from various cultures and prisms of perspectives. Three cheers for the blogosphere! I encourage you to take part in the festivities at Share Your World and the ironically famed Club Introvert.

So, without further ado . . . once more into the breach, friends:

Describe yourself in a word that starts with the first letter of your name.

Linguistic. On my worse days, by turns lackadaisical or laissez-faire. Lacerating, laconic, or lugubrious on my worst days. [Why one word when you can use 5,001? Hyperbole, anyone? It tastes better than a trillion little suns shining.]

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The kidlets & me in my running duds (a.k.a., everyday clothes)

If 100 people your age were chosen at random, how many do you think you’d find leading a more satisfying life than yours?

Since satisfaction is seated within the self, I can’t say how many people truly, in guarded moments, find their lives satisfying. I know the polls indicate that Americans seem to be the least satisfied of peoples. For myself, I am pretty lucky to have weathered some electrical storms, survived several soul-poisonings from various toxic folks in the world, and come through it to be granted (or have won and earned?) the love of my husband, children, and a few precious friends and family. Pressed to guesstimate, I’d say only about 7-15 people have a “more satisfying” life.

If you were a tree, would you become a book or furniture? Please describe.

First, I’d want to stay a tree. Alive. Life always matters very much (plants included). That said, if I had to be “dead,” I’d want to be a book in my household. My husband knows how to conserve and bind books, so I know no matter how broken-down I became, I’d be treated with the care of a gentle progenitor. Failing that, I would want to be a single sheet of paper in my household; I have a religious fervor for reusing scraps of paper to write everything from poetry to microfiction to grocery lists. And then, I’d get typed and recycled, so I could last—in some form—for a long time, for future usefulness. Call me the Energizer bunny of writing instruments.

You are trapped in an elevator, who would you want to be trapped with?

If a living person . . . First, my husband, though I know that seems boring (sans kids; sorry sweeties!). But it gets more exciting. We would of course create a time-traveling elevator and, never mind Bill and Ted, pick up some fascinating folks from the past and/or present. If I had to limit myself to, oh, about 25 or so from all professions, times, and cultures . . . but I won’t do that to your eyes. For the sake of your reading pleasure, I will mention only a couple handfuls: William Shakespeare, Flannery O’Connor, T.S. Eliot, Abigail Adams (gotta remember the ladies), Carl Sagan, Salvador Dali, Homer or Sophocles, a random Middle or Upper Paleolithic person (not Lower Paleolithic, so as to be able to communicate with him/her better), Stephen King, Peter Gabriel, Siddhartha Gautama (“the Buddha”), and Alfred Hitchcock. Otherwise, dang, it’s gonna have to be a time-traveling cargo elevator.

Bonus question: What are you grateful for from last week, and what are you looking forward to in the week coming up?

I am grateful for being alive and being loved. I hope for more of both this week. 🙂

Gnawing Worries on a Ribbon of Time

Gu-en’s ship was uffed. Threading their way to Calabi-Yau Base of 3.5 months ago wasn’t easy. And today was about to get exponentially worse, but at least they’d trap their shadowers: star rats.

Physics-Theories-from WiredCosmos

A computer-generated illustration of string theory from Wired Cosmos.

This 33-word flash-fiction sci-fi story was written for the weekly Trifecta challenge, Trifextra 104. Writers are to craft a 33-word piece using a palindrome (as “star rats” above). Sadly, the Trifecta challenges are coming to an end this month. At last I fully understand the meaning of T.S. Eliot’s line, “April is the cruellest month.”

Friday Fictioneers: On the letters of Shelley

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Photograph by Danny Bowman, of Ol Doinyo Lengai in Tanzania, Africa, “the only volcano in the world that erupts natrocarbonatite lava,” according to NASA. The lava is “extremely cool . . . and relatively fluid.” Note that I did not use the actual location of the photograph (and I imagined “Hornmouth”) to write my flash fiction. In fact, I noticed the location only after I had written this story and when I downloaded Mr. Bowman’s photograph for the Friday Fictioneers flash fiction challenge.

Lovers’ subduction and the letters of Shelley

GENRE: Flash fiction, modern fiction, slightly speculative

Word Count: approximately 146

Bringing a bird up here is daft.

James knew he shouldn’t have let Gavin wheedle him into it. Not only was it a difficult hike—if they legged it, some 12 kilometers from Hornmouth—but would anything come of it?

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Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, who wrote “Ozymandias.”

“The letters of Shelley,” Gavin had said then chuckled.

In reality nobody knew where the famed lost letters of the dead Romantic poet were buried.

“C’mon, love,” James gestured to today’s scrummy date, Trudi.

Finally the mist stopped long enough to reveal that the crater-sprinkled ground had subducted in some spots. Nearby a miniature mountain, several Sisyphus-sized boulders were strewn, but one erect column adjacent demanded their eyes.

As the couple neared, they could begin to make out the etching.

The word Ozymandias and more text snaked down the earth-upshooting.

Taking out his mobile for a snap, James concluded, “Blymie, who knew Shelley was a vandal?”

***

I go over the word limit, but this flash fiction was nonetheless written for Rochelle Wisoff-Fields’ Friday Fictioneers’ Challenge of 7 March 2014. I encourage you to take part!

Words Matter Week: Day #6

Friday
If you had to eliminate one word or phrase from the English language, what would it be? Why?

A certain supercilious, if not super-sillyus, character in English-language literature was heard to remark: “When I use a word . . . it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”

Aliceroom3-Wikimedia

This Illustration was by Sir John Tenniel, for Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There. It was obtained via Wikimedia Commons.

Then this pointedly opinionated fellow continued to egg on another young character (sorry, I could not resist), asserting that verbs are very nearly wild stallions galloping across an open plain. Such fluidity in language, where words exist anew in each person who uses them, does not a working human system make. However, it does pierce an arrow right at the heart of the issue of connotation and denotation (what a word could mean—what it implies or suggests—versus what a word does literally mean, usually as defined by an accepted reference source such as a dictionary). Said a slightly different way, are you a prescriptivist or a descriptivist with regard to language?

When I was younger, some words used to niggle: impact as a verb or idear for idea, for instance. But as time passed and I had more experiences and gained some knowledge, I ceased being a prescriptivist with respect to linguistics. Instead, I eased into linguistic description (or linguistic descriptivism). One might even say I matured into it.

So, I would not remove a single word from any world language, either extant or deceased. I would, however, remove many concepts or experiences: hatred, warfare, racism, classism, ignorance, murder, rape, child abuse and neglect, and death head the list. But, alas, I can sometimes be a bit of a head-in-the-clouds or clouds-in-the-head kind of gal. And yet I sincerely hope I am not the only dreamer.

What, if anything, would you remove from the lexicon, if you had the power?