Award-winning flash fiction!

I’m coming to you fresh from ANWA’s beautiful, fabulous, inspiring NW retreat! The past three days have been filled with so much learning and new friends and great books. The highlight of the weekend was our keynote speaker, Lisa Mangum–amazing! I’ll be sharing a few treasures I picked up from her in coming blog posts.

When we first arrived, we were given a prompt for a flash fiction contest that we had essentially 24 hours to write. Flash fiction terrifies me, guys. I can’t even do short stories because I’m too long-winded. A story in 300 words? No, thanks.

And then I woke up at 4:30 the next morning with THE STORY in my brain, and there would be no rest until it was down on paper.

And it won second place!! Which meant I got a FREE BOOK!!

So I thought I’d share it with you. It’s a quick read. Enjoy!

***

He built the footbridge in 1916. Two days later, he traded his hammer and saw for a bayonet.

She was savoring the crunch of fallen leaves underfoot when she saw him. The sight of her old playmate in uniform proved too much for her. She fled to the new footbridge with no more ear for the leaves swirling behind her, tears joining the clear stream below. He found her there and promised to return. When she refused to believe him, he sealed that promise with a kiss.

Seventy-one times she returned alone to the footbridge on the anniversary of that kiss. While she grew weathered and worn as the boards beneath her feet, her memory of him remained as tall and strong as ever.

On her seventy-second visit, she sat beside the bridge, her joints cracking and creaking louder than the old handrail. The handsome young subject of the photograph in her hands had long ago faded beyond recognition, but it didn’t matter. She could hardly see for the cataracts anyway.

“I told you I’d return.”

A smile creased her wrinkles at the long-silenced voice. His face shone like a beam of late autumn sunshine, clear and bright amid the muddled dimness of her vision. In the glow of its maker’s presence, the bridge took on its old glory. Without knowing it, so did she.

“I’m too old for you now, you know.”

“Nonsense. You’re every bit the woman I plan to marry.”

He took her hand, and she rose without creaks, without aches, without effort. The world burst into bright autumn glory, trees robed in colors she hadn’t seen for years, sunlight bouncing off the stream with crisp laughter. With her age shed behind her, she leaped into his embrace, never to be torn from it again.

Let them die!

I have a few pet peeves when it comes to stories. Love triangles. Zombies. Unnecessary swearing. Insta-love.

And CHARACTERS WHO WON’T STAY DEAD.

This is a plague that runs rampant in stories today, be they in books, TV shows, or movies. If a character you like dies, have no fear! The writer(s) will find a way to prove that the character actually cheated death. Even if this character has “died” three or four times before, there’s no need to worry.

Last night, I watched the newest Doctor Who. They brought back a character who died at the end of last season (who, incidentally, has “died” at least three times in the new series alone). Thirty minutes later, this character was “dead” once more. And I had zero emotional reaction. Because, seriously, people–when was the last time a main character actually died in Doctor Who? (You may bring up a certain beloved character from season 8, but I’m not convinced he’s really dead for good, and I won’t be until Clara is long gone.)

(Which brings me to another obnoxious trend of the latest Doctor Who series–this stupid fixation on claiming that the Doctor is going to die. People. The ENTIRE STORY is based on the fact that the DOCTOR DOES NOT DIE. Cut the drama and find a more creative plot device.)

But seriously. If you’re going to kill your characters, make it count. Leave them dead and make your other characters (and readers) deal with the heartbreak. This is something I love about the Harry Potter series–even in a world of magic, characters who die stay dead. Not even the Resurrection Stone could truly bring someone back. The grief shapes the story and has a far more profound impact on the reader than a wishy-washy she’s-dead-but-no-she’s-not-just-kidding sort of event.

How do you feel about characters coming back from the dead? Are there any other plot devices that make you crazy?

Windshield Wipers

When my husband and I moved to the Seattle area two and a half years ago, we had both just graduated from BYU. He was on his was to a PhD at the UW. I didn’t have a job, his job didn’t start for six months, and we were living in his parents’ basement until we found a place.

Our windshield wipers had already been baked by an early Utah summer, but it was still pouring rain in Washington. Still, with no immediate promise of income, I was willing to put up with a few streaks on the windshield rather than buy new wiper blades.

But after my husband and I returned from a walk one day, my father-in-law, Jim, mentioned in passing, “I put a new pair of windshield wipers on your car for you.”

Alone, it’s a small, sweet example of the way he lived his life, noticing needs around him and quietly filling them. But you have to understand that Jim was suffering from severe back pain, so bad that he hadn’t been able to lie down for months. He had tumors the size of golf balls spreading through his body. He was in and out of chemotherapy, and suffering from neuropathy from previous bouts of chemo. And through all this, he was still working so hard to keep up with his job as a sports photographer for the Seattle Times.

And he had gone out, bought windshield wipers, and installed them for us while we were out walking.

We had six more months with him before the cancer treatments became too much. That was two years ago today.

Those windshield wipers are starting to leave streaks behind, and with holiday travels ahead of us, it’s probably time to replace them again. But I count it a blessing that this gloomy Washington weather gives me frequent opportunities to use those wipers and give quiet thanks in my heart for the selfless man who changed our wiper blades.

To the well-organized mind . . .

You know that part in Stranger Than Fiction where Harold Crick finally reads the manuscript? And how, after an entire movie of fighting that narrative voice that said he was going to die, he knew that there was no way out, that he had to die because the story would be ruined otherwise?

One of my characters totally just did that to me.

I had a very happy ending in mind for this particular character. It was going to be heartwarming. And then I was dashing my way through the final chapters, everything going according to plan, and suddenly another character is sobbing over this character’s lifeless body. What?!

Sheesh. The life of a writer is brutal. Excuse me while I go mourn the passing of a figment of my imagination.