Flash! A-ah! Savior of the Universe

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I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist the Queen reference for a title here. I’m actually talking about Flash Fiction.

It began, like most of my less sane writing ideas, with me procrastinating on Facebook rather than actually writing. Specifically, I was looking at the Richmond WriMos Facebook group, and one of the local writers had posted this link to a Flash Fiction challenge.

Now, as I have mentioned before, I’m quite competitive when it comes to anything I can rank or score or break down to numbers. So, I see the word “challenge” and I immediately sign up for it.

I read more thoroughly, and now I realize that I just committed to writing sixty-four Flash Fiction stories over the curse of a year. No problem, I think. Just one relatively minor question occurs to me:

What in the world is “Flash Fiction?”

As a lazy internet researcher, I do what comes naturally and go search Wikipedia for “flash fiction.” Lo and behold there is an entry.

The most relevant part of that entry is the definition at the start, which reads:

Flash fiction is a style of fictional literature or fiction of extreme brevity. There is no widely accepted definition of the length of the category. Some self-described markets for flash fiction impose caps as low as three hundred words, while others consider stories as long as a thousand words to be flash fiction.”

I find it fascinating that there isn’t a definition that sets a hard limit of length on something that is almost entirely defined by its length. After all, at what point does Flash Fiction become a short story?

Since there isn’t a coherent definition, I’ve decided to go with my own length which will be “between 300-500 words.” I’m not great at brevity, as anyone who has read my prior blog posts will undoubtedly have noticed, so these short lengths will hopefully inspire me to trim the fat away from scenes to get closer to the 300 word mark than the 500 word one. I know I tend to write flabby though, so I fully expect all 64 stories to end up clocking in at over 450 words. Perhaps I’ll prove myself wrong, which means that i have grown as a writer over the course of the last couple of years. Here’s hoping.

Of course, when I signed up, I wasn’t aware that my job plans are likely to lead to a relocation and a move right in the middle of one of the standard months the challenge describes. In fact the very first month of the challenge, March is the likely victim of that (assuming every last paperwork snafu resolves itself).

And as I type this on the 27th of February, that first month is rapidly approaching, or as I like to think of it: March Attacks! I currently don’t even have any ideas or inspiration for the flash fiction beyond a single title “The Fall,” which is a bit of a problem since I’m supposed to be cranking out sixteen pieces starting Saturday.

So, faithful readers, I’m requesting writing prompts and ideas that I can cannibalize and use as part of this challenge.

I found two sites with ideas, but I’m certain you can all do better than either of these, am I right?

1:  http://www.everydayfiction.com/flashfictionblog/10-ideas-for-flash-fiction-writing-prompts/

2: http://nancystohlman.com/2013/02/19/30-flash-fiction-prompts/

(Edit 3/3/14: Added the prompt resources suggested by Doug Daniel in the comments)

3: http://sundayphotofictioner.wordpress.com/

4: http://jeremysdailychallenge.wordpress.com/

(Edit: 3/31/14: Added some prompt resources suggested by Brandy Spicer)

5: http://www.adammaxwell.com/writers-tools/writing-prompts-generator/

6: http://writingexercises.co.uk/scenario-generator.php

Stock photo courtesy of Prashant Jambunathan

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Late to the party – GoodReads

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As is the case with most writers and wannabe writers, I’m a voracious reader. Or at least I like to think I am, though I’ll freely admit that my writing time has severely cut into my reading time lately.

I’m also someone with a bit of a competitive streak who is a fan of defined metrics and measurable outcomes in everything. If I can reduce things to numbers, that becomes a goal to be beaten I want to win.

How does that apply to reading? Simple, I finally discovered the reading social media website/smartphone app Goodreads (I have no connection to the product other than as a user). It lets me keep track of how many books I’m reading, and it has options for progress updates either in page numbers and percentages. Indeed, I’ve even added a GoodReads Widget to this blog, right beneath the Twitter feed.

What has proved fatally attractive to my competitive nature is that it lets you enter a target number of books to read for 2014, and then gives a percentage achieved towards that goal. I went with a fairly tame goal of fifty books for the year, which works out to four and a sixth books per month. that means I have to have read eight books, and be at least thirty-three percent through another by the end of February. Currently, I’m behind on that goal but trying very hard to get ahead of pace. I’m also inordinately pleased to be two books ahead of one of my Richmond WriMo friends who is also trying to hit the fifty books target this year. I realize that’s incredibly petty of me, but it means I’m winning against someone.

I’m also probably the last writer blogging to have not used GoodReads before 2014, hence the “late to the party” part of this blog title.

What social media websites and apps do you use that you’d recommend to me as a writer and reader?

A few thoughts on sports

I’m afraid that this particular blog entry is going to be a disorganized and disparate collection of thoughts and bullet points, much like this entry, though I’m attempting some thematic unity by making this one all about sports.

*Sochi 2014: Aside from the background press about how terribly organised and unprepared the site was and is for an event as prestigious as the Olympics, I’ve really not paid much attention to this. Which is odd as I’m a big Ice Hockey fan, and I find Curling oddly hypnotic to watch. I think part of it is that the Winter Olympics are definitely seen as the lesser games compared to their Summer equivalent. Something that isn’t helped by NBC’s frankly embarrassing coverage, the time differences involved, and (if I’m honest) the likely complete and utter lack of success for Great Britain in the event overall. Having said that, I did check the complete medal standings and Britain has achieved a single Bronze in Women’s Slopestyle Snowboarding, whatever that might be. So, I guess Britain is on par with Latvia and the Ukraine. Which is nice.

* Derek Jeter to retire: I’ll be honest, of the “Big Four” American sports, baseball is the one that appeals to me the least, though I am a fan of the Washington Nationals and would like to catch a game at Nationals Park (I have seen one MLB game live, Baltimore Orioles vs. Boston Red Sox at Camden Yards. The Sox obliterated the O’s which pleased me). Even with that caveat, I have to say that Jeter seems like a classy guy, and I’ve never really heard fans of non-Yankee teams speak ill of him other than his defense being below average for his position. Jeter’s a for sure Hall of Famer.

* Manchester United: I’m a Limey, indulge me the opportunity to discuss soccer a little. I have to admit that I’m enjoying the struggles of Manchester United this season under David Moyes since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson. Most of it is schadenfreude at the fans of Manchester United, who have been unrelentingly arrogant since roughly 1992 when the team became the perennial contenders for the Premier League title that they were until this season (heck they won the whole shebang in the 2012-13 season). I’m aware that even struggling that Manchester United are  far better than my team of choice, the MIGHTY Oxford United, who sit three entire leagues below them in the standings (though they seem to have a respectable shot at promotion this year) but there’s something gloriously petty in sports fans that likes seeing perceived power teams struggling… And Liverpool FC (my adopted Premier League team, as I can actually see some of their matches on NBC Sports this season) might finish above Manchester United for the first time in forever.

* Michael Sam: I guess it’s a brave decision to come out as gay before the NFL draft, and it might hurt his stock among a few teams. I’m not exactly sure why this should be the case, as i’m not sure why this needs to be a big deal in 2014. I’m sure he isn’t the first gay pro footballer (or pro footballer to be), even if he is the first to be open about it. My big concern would be “how good a Defensive End can this guy be in the National Football League?” (That does sound a bit of a sportscaster-y sentence doesn’t it?). I guess my bottom line is “can the dude play?” If the whole media circus does hurt his draft stock, that might help my beloved Washingotn Redskins, who need a lot of help on defense and don’t have many picks due to their usual incompetence/trades/shenanigans.

2014 Goals – Revisited

Like every blogger ever, my first post of this year was talking about my goals for 2014. Since we’re now approximately 43 days into 2014 (and I need a blog entry or two to restore my average back to at least once a week for 2014…) let’s revisit those goals and see how I’m doing in mid-February.

Goal 1: New Job

I don’t want to jinx things by going into too much detail, but I’ve been filling out paperwork with headings like “Employment Contract,” “Form W-4” and other job-related things. Assuming there are no snafu’s with the paperwork, I start in a mere five days.

Goal 2: New Home

The above-mentioned new job requires me to relocate out of state, very soon, so I’m very much in the process of trying to get this sorted logistically. Unfortunately the word “short” is leading to a couple of problems. Specifically “short notice,” so I’m hunting at a crazy pace, and limited to online and telephone searches as I simply don’t have time to go and look in person. The other “short” aspect is “short term lease” and I’m attempting to keep my options open (and low budget)

Goal 3: New (to me) Vehicle

No progress on this one yet. It’s likely a further in the year goal, assuming my beloved beast of a minivan successfully passes it’s state inspection.

Goal 4: New Friends

I’m still rather more fond of my existing friends, but I feel like a new job and a new home are going to lead to meeting new people (a shocking revelation, I’m sure you’ll agree), and I’m a fairly easygoing guy to get along with, or at least I think I am, so friendships should result from that.

Goal 4: New Diet

I’m working on this. I have increased my consumption of organic foods and decreased my intake of refined/processed foods. I did do a pure protein week to kick start things,and I’ve become mildly obsessed with the MyFitnessPal calorie counter app on my smartphone. I’ve definitely cut down my caloric intake in general, with the odd exception (a birthday dinner at an Italian restaurant chain where it was definitely a “who cares about the calories?” occasion.

Goal 5: New Weight

While things aren’t going as quickly as I would like (I’m not a patient person), I have lost ten pounds over the last month. If I could keep that up consistently, I’d hit my goal weight for the year around July/August. However, I’m aware weight loss is rarely that exponential and has it’s peaks, valleys and plateaus. I’m still hopeful can hit my goal by year’s end though.

Goal 6: New Wardrobe

Not really done much on this. Mostly because a ten pound loss isn’t significant enough to inspire a wave of new clothing purchases, and also because I don’t have what you might call money, what with the job not actually starting yet and relocation costs looming.

Goal 7: New Attitude

I feel like I’m doing okay here. I’ve been a lot less miserable this year. I’ not sure the people I’m around regularly would necessarily agree. I’ll have to ask them somewhat surreptitiously. I feel like I’ve been more positive, and I’ve even managed to go a day or two without caffeine and not been overwhelmed by the desire to tear people’s faces off, which has to count for something. Even if the caffeine headaches haven’t truly subsided and I’m writing this blog entry while consuming a steaming mug of black coffee.

Goal 8: At least 1 new novel drafted outside of NaNoWriMo

I’m definitely working on this. My chronic lack of focus is hurting, but I do have some ideas percolating, and several scraps of short stories, flash fiction and other fragments that can likely be melded into something resembling a coherent tale in months that aren’t November. I fully intend to take advantage of the current snowy conditions here in Virginia to get some solid writing time in. When I’m not blogging, reading, or obsessing over Star Trek on Netflix and podcasts…

Goal 9: Same old core self at the heart of it

Well this one I feel like I’m succeeding at. I’m definitely still me. I think the general tone of my language an blogging style is still a testament to that.