777 Challenge: An Excerpt Concerning Bones and Balloons

Wow, would you look at that! I have been invited to take part in the 777 Challenge by the ever-so-thoughtful Norma, who writes and artifies over at the Emovere blog. I’m chuffed to have been asked. Thank you, Norma.letter_writi_24714_md

The premise of this challenge is that you go to page 7, line 7, of your work in progress. From there, quote the next 7 lines in a blog post on your Web site like so . .  .

Be sure to check out Norma’s slice of 777 heaven, and you can also view her other nominees’ links there.

My novel-in-progress’ page seven is a bit of a dud. It’s mid-dialogue, and I’m afraid it might not be easy to follow what’s going on. Instead, I have selected an excerpt from a longer short story that I wrote a couple of years ago and would still love to develop. It has flown through several title incarnations and has currently landed at “Wallow,” but I’m apt to change that.

I’ve given you an extra line or so at the end.

Without further ado, here it is.

. . . One time, I’d found a miniscule skull next to the stone ledge just under the pipe, as if the animal had recently put its head down only to rest and had decided, instead, to die. The bony head was so white next to the muddy ledge, and I’d accidentally tipped its ribcage over the edge with my toe before I saw all of the body. You couldn’t even see them slip silently like white strings of confetti dragged below the churning water’s surface; it was as if they’d never even been there.

Soon enough, I reached the pipe. I didn’t know what to do; I just knew I needed to get as far away from home, from my parents and all the reminders of the sister-who-never-was, as I could. Maybe I could go up to the abandoned barn my faraway friends and I’d found in the woods last summer. It was our makeshift clubhouse for a time, owl droppings, eerie noises, and all.

As soon as my foot was out on the slick, black metal, I began to slip.  . . .

Part of the 777 challenge is also tagging several other writer friends who might be interested in sharing 7 lines from a current, forthcoming, or, methinks, previous work (as long as it doesn’t violate any copyright or contractual obligations of course). From what I understand, you may alter the lines and tinker with them, in the event you want to get them published as never-before-seen text in the future.

I would like to nominate the following writers, and there is absolutely NO OBLIGATION to participate. It’s for fun, y’all. 🙂

Stephen at Stephen Thom Writing (if he’s not too busy with touring!)

Sarah at Sarah Potter Writes (she’s a busy writer who’s at work on a science fantasy novel, so she might be unavailable)

Andreé at One Starving Activist & Scribe’s Cave (she has a soon-to-be released title called After that you’ll want to see more about)

Ali Abbas, who has published two books so far: a collection of short stories, called Image and Other Stories, and Hajj – My Pilgrimage, which is a nonfiction account of his journey with his family to the holy city of Mecca

Dr. Joe in enchanting Dublin (hey, Joe, have you got any longer stories or poems you’d like to share?)

Syd Dent, who enthralls with his steampunk stories, including The Finder’s Saga, and shares author influences and more on his blog

Andrea Stephenson, who holds many awards and publication credits for her phenomenal short stories and who blogs at Harvesting Hecate


The Lone Egg: Flash Fiction

Photo from Lee's Birdwatching Adventures Plus. Check out her informative blog.

Archival photo of eaglet and parent, before the extinction (from approximately 2014), by Lee’s Birdwatching Adventures Plus.

Levant Davis gently rearranged the simulated nest but wasn’t having much luck with the lone egg. As lead researcher for the Lorax Project, even he could do only so much prodding of natural processes. The recovered eagle DNA from which he’d helped create Phoenix, first of her kind in 22 generations, was rebelling in her parthenogenetic offspring.

“The sim-nest isn’t adequately insulating.” The bio-console picked up his pique. “We must maintain a core temperature of 99.67 degrees from now until pipping.”

He blew out a long breath, then muttered. “One time when cool is not cool.”

“Bio-con, erase previous statement.”

He hid his hopes. Emotions aren’t data.

Flash fiction written for the Light and Shade Challenge of 19 September 2014. My gratitude to the Raptor Resource Project Blog and the American bald eagle resource unit from The Learning Technology Center at Vanderbilt University, which provided invaluable data in which to “ground” this flash.

“Cool is not cool.”
– Matt Smith in Doctor Who, written by Steven Moffat




When We Are Our Works: Flash Fiction

An arborist works his magic at the Missouri Botanical Garden, summer 2014. Photo by Leigh Ward-Smith.

An arborist works his magic at the Missouri Botanical Garden, summer 2014. Photo by Leigh Ward-Smith.

In honor of Labor Day, and all the hard-working people out there, worldwide, I am taking the day off, with an “oldie” but, I hope you’ll agree, an existential goodie (of flash fiction) that I wrote a year or two ago.

Speaking of which (and to be very serious for a moment), I offer big props to one such dad-blogger, Andy Chih, whose blog is, sadly, on hiatus. But understandably so. He is taking a break so he can support his daughter by working hellacious hours at two jobs. My kudos to you, Andy.


When We Are Our Works

Copyright Leigh Ward-Smith, 2014

Almost nothing was under my control. That knowledge began to leach into me one day when I got back to my soda can–forted workspace.

Hunched over a crumby communal keyboard at the Weekly News, referred to by our sports editor/graphic designer/advertising supervisor as “Weakly, News,” I was jolted to learn that my neighbor, Candy Mangold-MacGuffin, had plummeted to a pancake death (Dale’s term) about an hour prior in the elevator shaft. It was exceedingly strange, made more so by the fact that there was no elevator in our building.

The pizza grease–laden telephone handle almost slipped out of my hand.

My roommate, photographer Marcy Heart, said she’d gotten a few decent shots of the scene. But it had defaulted to me to do the story. Everyone in this Everglades sinkhole of a newsroom had naturally assumed I’d give my eye teeth to write it. Although I was as curious as the next person—I mean, what horrible luck for Candy: recently finding love or something approximating it after 46 years of widowhood, with playboy and visiting artist Maximilian Capricorn—murders weren’t my beat. Really, they weren’t anybody’s beat around here. Those sticks had been dropped long ago, if they ever existed. In short, this place was too boring to have anything other than garden-variety deaths. More likely: deaths in gardens. Lots of old people equal lots of gardens, I learned here, if nothing else.

When I got to the scene I saw only a seeming rivulet of red hair hanging from the metal gate drawn across the shaft, now bereft of elevator. Five floors below lay a human jumble in a scarlet dress. From here, she looked sickeningly akin to a swastika with a couple little red and apricot Pollock splats next to it. That would be her poodle, Pepé, and what apparently was her auburn wig.

I hadn’t even noticed it was the 13th, and a Friday, until I glanced at my watch. I’m not sure why I did that just now, because I normally am content to let the time sift by. Maybe it was the building excitement of a new kind of story. In any case, the damn Timex was so tight on my wrist that you’d think someone else had put it on me.

The reporting flew by that afternoon, and soon I was back at my desk, typo’ing away.

I almost began to marvel at the taut phrases that muscled their way onto the screen, and the sound of the keys clacking made me feel I was conjuring Joplin at the ivories. The ghosts of Chandler, Carver, and Christie (Agatha, not Chris) thundered in my ears, cinching the writer’s garrot, from forearm to heart to head, tighter.

When I woke up at my desk, I was surprised to find a Denou Mint dangling from a cleft of curls. More startling still, the iron-y taste of epiphany:

Holyshit! I, Paige Turner, am inside an actual book! Does that mean instead of blood I have words—of course! it all makes sense now—coursing my veins, adjectives sardined into my arteries, hyperboles latched onto teats of hemoglobin like similes on this hack’s half-blank page? Was I the only character outside Faulkner or Joyce to escape the prison of the page, to become self-aware? I mean, the story here, it’s basically what happened to me. 

And now that I’ve spilled my Vonneguts to you, dear reader, maybe you can enlighten me on the sense of existence. Help me transcend this setting, assist me in copyediting the meaning, or the lessness, of my life. By relinquishing control to you, maybe I might yet win some of it back.

Unless . . .

Are you written, too?


Terminal House: Flash Fiction

Photo copyright Björn Rudberg.

Photo copyright Björn Rudberg. Björn is also an amazing poet and fiction writer.

Terminal House

WORD COUNT: 183 words

GENRE: Paranormal, horror

If Megan Beuchanan had been the type of person to take the figurative temperature of a potential home, she’d have discovered the Turner House was zero at the bone.

Clinging to the cusp of the ravine, every bit the Victorian-era vulture, the now-dilapidated residence was everything the single mother sought: cheap.

It also, then, wouldn’t have come as such a shock when daughter Ava found the small sachet of letters stuck behind a swatch of old wallpaper in her closet. The letters spoke with the ghost-tongue of long-lost lives and lovers. Thomas would come back for Gladys, somehow. His illness—and confinement in the Turner pest house—would be only temporary. She was to pay no mind to the purported mystique of the manor. Indian haints* did not roam the grounds, nor could they be heard screeching as the diseased husks of their bodies were rolled into the waiting arms of Brine River below.

If only Megan could have steeled her psyche for the night Chief Swift-as-Hare John Harris’s smallpox-addled corpse came calling. Ready to reclaim the feathers of his people’s whisked-away souls.


*A Southern United States (dialectical) word meaning ghost, specter, or spirit.

This flash fiction is humbly submitted for Rochelle’s weekly Friday Fictioneers photo-prompt challenge, though it comes in a bit too long (as usual). If you enjoy writing or reading (or both), I encourage you to take part with your own story or to follow along by absorbing the brilliant fiction out there in Rochelle’s quadrant of the WordPress-iverse. Cheers!

Fantasy-Fix Friday

Happy flash fiction Fireday, or Friday, if you prefer, fantasy f(r)iends! This post is brought to you by the Internet: the once- and future dream of Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn. But seriously, following is the introduction to a fantasy flash fiction piece that I threw into the ol’ summoning circle at Ksenia Anske’s blog, for her recent “Mad Tutu” writing competition. (For some reason, I’m unable to post a comment on Ksenia’s blog.) It was a blast and an honor to be included among such excellent and admirable hobbits. Erm, I mean writers. It’s not often I get to pepper-pot my prose with magic metaphors, so I was delighted to take part in Ksenia’s cavalcade of aspiring writers.

Mistranslated Magic

by Leigh W. Smith

“Devils of light . . . mend the moon,” Ryu repeated aloud, one long, black nail trailing words, a fleshly sentence-ninja of sorts. The edges of some of the book’s pages crunched like a chip, where others disintegrated or sent up a geyser of dust that made Josie think of dead people’s skin. Cellular confetti.

Josie, Ryu’s friend since first grade, had her doubts. “Are you sure that’s what it says?”

“Positive. Remember, I useta live in Canada.”

“Yeah, but only for a couple years. When you were a little kid.”

He tapped a finger at his left temple and drawled steel trap, whose action reminded them both of a shared bonding experience: dredging up a spliced copy of the “Terminator 2” movie scene where the T-1000 shape-shifts its arm into a steel blade to casually spear the man’s skull.

Both teens erupted, with Josie just managing to croak out “Aluminum, maybe” amid snickers.

“Seriously, Ry, what does that mean? I don’t think it’s French.”

“It’s a magic book, I’m certain of it. Anyway, let’s take it for a spin, shall we?” A black eyebrow quirked. . . .

  • If you’re interested, check out the rest of my story, which is approximately 997 words all told (thanks again, Ksenia!). Two fun-starved teens, some beer lollipops, and darker, ravening things await you.
  • Here’s writer Philip Wardlow’s triumphant story, “The Summoning.” A snarky demon, some wily witches, and one very interesting brick lie therein.
  • Do peruse the other stories submitted. A slew of characters beckon you, from a sloshed granny to a naked Frenchman to an albino Goth-girl born in a basement.
  • Finally, be sure to visit Ksenia’s blog for a hip-pocketful of helpful insights on the writing life; for instance, on successful self-publishing or one of Ksenia’s own books, like Blue Sparrow: Tweets on Writing, Reading, and Other Creative Nonsense.

    Lecter mask-pic

    I’m champing at the bit to read the rest of Leigh’s story. Aren’t you?

Busy Monsters: Flash Fiction


Creator: Wim Van den Eynde. Source: abandonedplaygrounds.com. Picture prompt provided by The Scribe’s Cave. Check it out!

Clouds stalked the bright sky like drifting plastic bags pregnant with latrine water. Avie quickened her cadence down the path she’d been taught no drone could access, where her shadow’d been smothered an hour before. She was the group’s swiftest trail runner, even with the pokers* she wore.

She nearly spiraled to her knees cresting a clot of invasive roots about 5½ kilometers from home. Instead, her palms took the force, bore brute furrows of scrapes. In one lupine motion, she wiped her hands on trouser legs and sprang up from the crouch. In that tunnel of oak and hemlock before she reached the wooden ascent—the home straight—felt like—and was—danger incarnate.

Sage would be waiting in the sanctuary of the park. Nicking his ragged nails in the relative safety of the unlit “House of Horrors” of old.

Not much farther!

Mantras quick-stepped through her head as she prodded her stride to open despite constricted lungs and leaden legs. What she carried was important, for Fire Season was approaching at what she sorely remembered had been dubbed “the quicksilver pace of progress” by the Dex.

Progress was profit and profit was progress to the beings who called themselves the Deus ex machina. The Dex were one with their technology in the same way that Avie’s people had turned from its corroded facade in most facets of their daily lives.

When Avie’s foot struck resounding wood, her body should have flooded with relief. And it almost did. But for one thing.

Her shaded eyes fell to one pertinent symbol on the wall of the hill entering the group’s eastern enclave. “The Ape” mingled among graffiti, in drone-sensitive ink. In effect, their haven had been DM’d, or drone-marked, and the Dex would soon be coming for them.


*Pokers: Slang for shoes so rotted that toes, heels, or other foot anatomy pokes through.


This short fiction piece, or flash fiction, if you will, was written especially for the Scribe’s Cave Picture Prompt #28. I encourage you to seek out these WordPress challenges, such as this one, and to have fun and learn all you can from your fellow writers and passionate readers. If you guys and gals would like it, I can post the “long-form” version of this story, about 532 words, that I whittled down to this 298-word flash fiction. Fire away your feedback cannons, folks — and thank you!

Friday Fictioneers: Meditatin’ on a Museum Wall

GENRE: Fiction with a historical angle, highly dialectical (Southern United States)

WORD COUNT: Too many for FF! (191 words)

Photograph "Old Wallpaper" copyright Mary Shipman.

Photograph “Old Wallpaper” copyright Mary Shipman.

Ever’body just stares and stares at the wall. Sump’un about people dat dey luuuuuuv a stony myst’ry, love them some bustin thu splinters an all.

From de time people, dey first built huts or stacked sticks and hung hides, dere been dat need tuh be boxed-out. Or is it tuh wall sump’un in?

All I know is, I come to my desk at dis museum, 8-sharp, 6 days a week. I make coffee so good, ever’body jaws ’bout it.

Mostly tourists come thu, but dey suhprise me now’n’agin.

“Why they bother to hide free-slave papers there?” a wheat-haired kid ’bout 8 crooked a thumbs-up at the two exposed vaults just yest’day.

“Cause de men chasin’ dem on this here railroad didn’t care nutin’ for freedom noway. They hearts was rotted out like parts of dis wall.”

Well, I made it my job to open de curtains wide each an ever’day at the Crossroads Underground Railroad Museum, so as nobody try’n’hide from de past no more. Uglified or not.

I ain ’bout to let no dadgum barrier be throwed up crosst any people’s necks evah agin. We all de same race. Human.

For Friday Fictioneers, 20 June 2014 “Summer Re-Run,” by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields. Any feedback welcomed as always, especially to help nail down the dialect.



Midweek Markets: The Bards and Bell Jars Edition

Good day, friends. The “cruellest” month has arrived. No foolin’. Yet you needn’t sit around and watch lilacs breed out of the dead land. I hope you’ll instead tilt your thoughts to action, put your pen to paper, hitch your heart to the art, and cartwheel your cares into the aether. In short, I wish you writing, or any creative striving, for the remainder of the week.


William Shakespeare statue situated at the heart of Tower Grove Park in St. Louis, MO. Created by artist Ferdinand von Miller and dedicated on 23 April 1878, it bears “Hamlet” and “Falstaff” pieces and other insets on its four sides. Photograph by Leigh Ward-Smith.

So let’s get write into this week’s markets, which include a fellowship and a couple of contests.

  1. Mooky Chick online has been bashing the bell jar since 2005. An online United Kingdom–based endeavor, MC seeks feminism, activism, LGBTQ, reviews, fashion, how-to guides, arts and crafts, and other approximately 600-word previously unpubbed pieces to populate its literary manse. “Surprise us. Surprise yourself. Send us what you’ve got,” they urge folks of “all genders,” and, presumably, from around the world. If mindcake, “inclusivity and joy . . . sweet and ballsy” mark your writing and persona, then Mooky Chick is where it’s at. No deadlines, just an evergreen market here!
  2. Although it might not be “that time of year thou mayst in me behold” leaves steadily yellowing, it is almost that time of year again where we bring out the “happy birthday” signs . . . for the 450th time (okay, 449th time, if you don’t count the first April 23rd birthday in 1564). So, locate your sparkly hats; it’s time for a Bardy party, courtesy of Litro magazine. William Shakespeare is t’ birthday boy, and sonnets are the subject. C’mon, ye paragon of animals, just craft 14 lines, a Shakespearean sonnet with the ababcdcdefefgg rhyme pattern and in iambic pentameter, of which this is a most excellent example. The deadline is midnight April 10 (presumably Greenwich Mean Time Zone UTC), so don’t wait until 11:57 to get started, lest you leave no time to out, out that damn annoying blank (or red) spot on the page.
  3. Pen Parentis offers writing fellowships to “new” parents, with at least one child under the age of 10. They note: “Writers at any stage of their career may apply. The winner will have his or her entry published in Brain, Child magazine and [is] encouraged to present their winning entry at the Pen Parentis Literary Salon [in Manhattan, NY] in September 2014 to receive the prize money” of $1,000 granted toward your writing career. There is a $25 entry fee, and the deadline is April 16, 2014 (postmark deadline; though online submissions are also accepted). Find full grant guidelines here.
  4. Want headlines good enough to undam waves of lachrymal laughter? Well, you need not scour the pages of The Onion (besides, that might damage your eyes). Just skippidy-do-da over to Writer’s Digest and Brian A. Klems’ fourth annual #AprilFools4Writers contest. Here’s the beef on the April Fools 4 Writers contest: “Create entertaining, clever and witty headlines that would appear in an Onion-style newspaper for writers about anything writing-related (grammar, authors, books, etc.) and post it in any of the ways mentioned . . . ” Your deadline, should you choose to accept this hilarious challenge, is Friday, 4 April 2014. When you visit Brian’s blog piece, you can (re)confirm the hour of the deadline (i.e., there’s a couple date typos on the original post). Good luck, we’re all counting on you (and don’t even think about calling me Shirley)!


Flash Fiction: If the Sea Spoke

Written for Friday Fictioneers

RedPavilionPhoto-Adam Ickes

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

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


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


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!