Monday, October 26, 2015

NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge

Since July 31, I have been eagerly participating in the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge, which is an international quest to create a short, meaningful piece of fiction within a 48-hour deadline, using an assigned genre, location, and object.  The contest is broken into four individual challenges upon which participants are judged and scored to determine who remains in the competition. 

For the first challenge, I was placed into Group 6 (out of 48 groups total) with 29 other writers.  We had to write a historical fiction, set in an underground bunker, with a bag of coins as the needed object.  My story was entitled "The Drill", and it received a decent 8 out of 15 points. 

For my second challenge, still in Group 6, I had to create a comedy, set in a nature preserve, with iced coffee as the object.  I titled this one "Nailed It", and to my absolute surprise, I received the top 15 out of 15 points (see my previous entry entitled "Nailed It").

At this point, the participants have been reduced from 1,440 writers to 240, and I'm happy to still be in the race!  There are now only groups of 30, and I've been re-assigned now to Group 7 for my third challenge which required me to write a Sci-fi, taking place in a convention center, with pumpkin pie as the object. 

Now the dreaded waiting period looms before me to find out what I have scored and see if I will go on to the final challenge on November 20th, which will determine the winners (and yes, money is an incentive). NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge

So here's the product of my 3rd challenge...

In Just Days

I’m not really the stalker type, but this woman—this Patricia Ventura—has convinced me that she needs my unsolicited assistance if she’s going to survive.  Since this hurricane of a woman joined our micropixel holographics team last month, it’s been nothing but tensely disharmonious.  Oh sure, she’s pretty enough, despite her complexion, but her ethereal appearance has nothing to do with my quest to undo her.
Pursuing Patricia on the I-5 hoverway has already proven itself impossible as she lifts off every evening after work in her brand new, 2065 Cascade with hydrolift turbine suspension, while I’m slugging down the road in my converted, retro-classic Ford Galaxy Remix. But she’s a beauty all right—the Galaxy that is—never fails to turn a head or get an offer I must refuse because, of course, I’m a man of the New Triumvirate law. The old capitalist ways of the past are no longer a temptation for me, which is one of the primary issues I have against Ms. Ventura and her naive, but dangerous, idealism.  
Last week while we were brain-pooling for the next InChip concept device, Patricia began preaching about the good old unified golden days of our great-grandparents.  The days of One Nation Under God, Indivisible, With Liberty and Justice for Some (emphasis mine).  While we were busting braincells to figure out the best ways to obtain the scarce materials we needed, she kept insisting that we needed to tap into resources from the Northern and Southern Trifects because of their advanced extraction systems. When I insisted that our Western Trifect had more than sufficient resources, she shook her head as if she were some ancient sage. This led to yet another fruitless political debate in which Patricia refused again to admit that the New Triumvirate of 2055 was the best thing that could have happened to the archaic and dilapidated Land of the Free.
“Separation of race and lifestyle cannot be the answer,” she tried to convince me.
“But hate killing is?” I tapped my old-school pencil on the table just to agitate her.
“No.”  She took my pencil from my hand and sketched a picture on my think pad. “This is the answer.”
Her drawing made no sense whatsoever, but it got my attention.
“A divided land cannot stand,” she added as she drifted out of the room.

Since that disruption last week, I’ve been pulling out my hair, trying to decode what her stupid sketch means.  I even lowered myself last night to a partial hacking into her Racebook account, but all her posts were of meaningless verses and silly recipes. 
Just as I was unhacking myself, she pinged into my holochip, which is alarming because I never gave her my access code.  She just appeared right there in front of me…in full omni-color display.  Her voice filled my room:  

       Hello Marco.  If you’re not busy, I’d like you to meet me tomorrow night at the Terra del Oro Convention Center 
               for a chance to indulge in some international flavor.  I’ll be there at 7:00 pm. You’ll need the entrance code, 
               which I obviously cannot reveal here, but you’ll find it encoded on the last infoscreen before you reach the Center.  
              Just flash your lumen ray at it and save it to your chip. See you there.

How pretentious is that?  Assuming I’ll just show up to her cultic madness.  The nerve, I think to myself as I tap over to the TPR channel for the evening debates and a good night’s sleep.

Pulling out of my bio-waste fuel port at home, I curse myself for giving in to Patricia’s invitation as I enter the hoverway.  I usually pay little attention to the infoscreens as I pass by them, but tonight I am finding them more intriguing than usual.  My dad calls them useless digital billboards that advertise nothing. I pass three of them before reaching the one that I’m supposed to decode.  I shine my lumen across it and see the exact image that Patricia had sketched.  I save it to my chip and turn in to the Terra del Oro parking carousel.
At the entrance door, I manifest my image code to the attendant and she lets me in with a friendly nod.  The first thing I encounter is an ensemble of aromas encompassed by an enormous roomful of food booths.  There in front of a booth with a Southern Trifect flag over it, I see Patricia.  She’s glowing with enthusiasm as she extends her hand.  I hesitantly extend mine, but she flings hers away from me and says, “Thought you could touch me, didn’t you?”
I wasn’t trying to touch you, but—“
“Go ahead.  I dare you.”
Being a man who loves a dare, I did it.  I touched her, but to my surprise, there was nothing to touch.  “What are you?  Some sort of—“
“I am a light shaper of the Holy Digital Trinity.”
“A what?”
“Here.” She manifests the image of her sketch. “Taste and see.”
Curious, I take a small bite of the morsel and feel every tastebud come to life. 
        “What is this?”
“Pay de Calabasa.”
“Pumpkin pie?  Impossible.  This tastes divine.”
“It is.  We’ve blended Cajon and honey from the Southern Trifect, combined with maple flavors from the North, and pumpkin from our very own Western Terra del Oro.”
She gives me another piece and taps into my InChip device and says, “Here’s the recipe. You have to share it on your Racebook tonight…before it’s too late.” 
“Too late for what?”
“In just days, the trifects are planning to destroy each other, but we’ve chosen you to regather the nation with this epicurean message that Justice cannot be created by a system of separation but must be manifested by love and appreciation for one other.
“But I—“
She lights up like the glow of a gas stove and dissipates into thin air. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Nailed It!

I can't believe I made the top 5 in my group of 30 international writers for the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction writing contest! 

This Friday, I'll be going on to the third round with the remaining 240 contestants--down from 1,440! We'll have 48 hours to come up with a 1,000-word maximum story based on whatever premise we're given.

My Round 2 story (pasted below) came in 1st place for my group! The story had to be a comedy that takes place at a nature preserve, and it had to make reference to iced coffee. 

Nailed It

Okay, so I lied a little to get the job that broke not only my left arm, my front tooth, and my alter ego, but even worse, it almost broke my tough-as-nails heart.  I also lied about my name because it's hideous. But I needed the money and I wanted a shot at the finest figure of a man I'd seen in all twenty-two years of my Southern Californian life. 

I met him in the financial aid line at San Bernardino Community College. He stood there. In front of me. With his squared shoulders. I saw his chiseled face and knew he needed to meet me. So I asked him a dumb question.

"Are you a park ranger?"

He answered with a real-man voice and raised eyebrow, "No."

I waited for clarification but only got a subtle shrug, which I interpreted as an invitation to dig a little deeper.

"So what do you do then?"

He completely faced me and said, "Big Bear Nature Preserve Steward."

"Oh!" I fumbled my only chance to prove I was not some ditz-brain So Cal girl. "So you're like in charge of wild animals and stuff?"

"No." He stepped away from me, but only because the line was actually moving. "I count and track wounded animals."

"Oh cool!" I regretted my word choice as soon as I said it. "I work with wounded animals too."

He nodded, which I knew meant he wanted more info.

"I'm a receptionist at an animal hospital...I weigh them and take stool samples...from the animals...of course." My chuckle came out more like a snorting moose, but I got his attention enough to actually look at me for a nanosecond, which was just long enough for him to hopefully admire my newly colored hair--soft ginger to chestnut ombre, which cost me a whopping $240--which is why I'm back in the financial aid line, trying to peddle myself some extra cash to make it through my last semester before I transfer to U. C. Somewhere.

He coughed under his breath, so I went for the jugular.

"So how can I get a job there?"

He pointed to the clerk in front of us and mumbled seductively, "It's a work-study job. Talk to her."

"Awesome!" I beamed. "Thanks!" 

And that was the end of our first interlude.  After I deceptively convinced the work-study clerk that I was qualified to track and count wild wounded animals, I went to the Big Bear headquarters and filled out papers and got my official Nature Preserve uniform--a tan short sleeved shirt and matching pants. I had to buy my own boots and belt then I was set to start the following Saturday.

That morning, I stepped into Valley Royale Nail Salon, and the lady who always does my nails waved me over to pick my color. Strawberry SoufflĂ© was too girly. Hot Kiss, too seductive. Aqualicious, too juvenile. So I went for a neutral tone and spotted one that matched my uniform perfectly. 

Iced Coffee.  Bingo.

With my fresh new nails, I managed to follow my GPS guy until he glitched on me halfway up the mountain. Guaranteed lateness. Story of my life. When I finally pulled into the parking lot, I felt a twinge of nervousness that climbed out of my stomach when I saw Mr. Hotness. I don't think he noticed me though with my hair in a sporty ponytail. I slammed my car door, hoping he'd look. He didn't.

Inside the office, a motley display of murdered animals mounted on the wall startled me. It really is a preserve, I guess.  A woman with way too much botox, silicone, and spray tanner called me over.

"You must be our new do you say your name?"

"Yes. Hi. Just call me Elle."

She stapled a packet of papers together and handed it to me as she sized me up...and down. "You can have a seat while you read over your materials, and I'll send Clark to meet you in fifteen minutes."

I sat down on a larger-than-life log chair and tried to ignore the enormous moose head looming above me as I scanned the information.

Clark, I repeated in my head. That must be him for sure, but when the door swung open, it was definitely not him. 

"Hello...I'm Clark." The squatty man reached out to shake my hand. "I'll be your trainer today." His hand was warm, but clammy.

"Okay," I said with fake optimism, lead the way."

We headed out, passed some deer and a caged wolf, but before I could say the word Help, I caught my boot under a root and went flying. In mid-air, I had a fleeting thought about my nails getting ruined, but upon a hard landing, I felt two cracks. My arm then my tooth. Two faces stared down at me. Clark and the hotty, both making a huge fuss over me as I blinked away some gravel. 

"Hey," Mr. Hotty said, holding a baby peacock, "you're the girl I met the other--"

"I wish I wasn't." I sat up, spit out a piece of tooth, and tried to straighten my hair, but my arm wouldn't work.

He took my other hand to help me up and said, "Nice nails."

I forced a chipped-tooth smile.

"My fiancé would love that color."

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Welcome to the Land of Ironica

Irony has a way of sneaking up and exposing itself in some of the strangest ways.  My English professor at Cypress College in Southern California first unveiled the nature of irony to me one day when he pointed outside his classroom window, drawing our attention to a large field where cows innocently grazed.  “Irony,” he explained as he pointed out the Burger King joint visible from the other window, “is sometimes where we least expect it.” 

Some of my favorite examples of irony still have me sitting here, cross-eyed and scratching my head.  For instance, when I lived on the Windward side of Oahu, I used to drive by a shopping area that had an ominous chain-linked fence surrounding it.  Attached to the fence was a single metal sign that in bold red letters proclaimed, NO SIGNS ON FENCE!  Out of fear of arrest or worse, having my face on Hawaii's Most Wanted, I have managed to resist the urge to post a sign with an arrow pointing to it that says, EXCEPT THIS ONE!

Then there was the day I was riding on the Honolulu city bus on my way to the beach when I glanced up at the advertisement posted directly across from me:  BLIND?  VISION IMPAIRED?  CALL 722-2222.  Perplexed, I sat there for the duration of the ride, wondering how anyone blind or vision impaired would know that they could get help by simply calling that number.  Years later, while shopping for a new kitchen sponge, I spotted one with Braille strangely printed on the package—without the dots raised—and thought, Hmmm, must be the same idiot who made the bus ad

And how about the Hawaiian activist I saw on TV one night?  She was talking about how she could not tolerate racism yet in the same breath, she blurted out how sick and tired she was of all the haole people (Caucasians), taking over Hawaii.  Being hapa (half) haole myself, I felt offended as I thought about my haole father, risking his life during World War II to protect this small, defenseless island chain—strategically located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean—from the big bad bullies that would love to use it as a stepping stone to devour their capitalistic, Land of the Free, enemy.  

I love the Land of Ironica, especially when I find myself living in I am right now.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Wretched Writers Welcome!

Edward George Bulwer-Lytton
With only four days left before I must return to the chaos of my classroom, I am feeling an urgent pang to write a serious entry about literary silliness. 

Since 1982, San Jose State University’s English Department has sponsored a literary competition to compose an obnoxiously bad first sentence of what would become (if, God forbid, followed through), an equally bad novel.  The inspiration for this whimsical contest came from the infamous first sentence of an 1830 novel entitled Paul Clifford by Victorian novelist, Edward George Bulwer-Lytton:

“It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents—except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.”

Notice this clunky mess of a sentence contains a whopping 58 words, 1 sinister semicolon, 1 devious dash, 3 commas, and a useless pair of parenthesis.  To an MFA graduate in Writing, this is unadulterated literary sin!  And now with over 10,000 wretched writers (me being one of them), having tried their hands at outdoing Bulwer-Lytton’s immortal opener, the website is chock-full of an impressive chunk of unimpressive first-liners.

I have selected a couple of my all-time favorite winners to whet the appetite, and if I feel brave enough at the end of this entry, I may even share a couple of my own dirty little attempts.

2002 Winner
On reflection, Angela perceived that her relationship with Tom had always been rocky, not quite a roller-coaster ride but more like when the toilet-paper roll gets a little squashed so it hangs crooked and every time you pull some off you can hear the rest going bumpity-bumpity in its holder until you go nuts and push it back into shape, a degree of annoyance that Angela had now almost attained. — Rephah Berg, Oakland, CA

2011 Dishonorable Mention
Dawn crept up like the panther on the gazelle, except it was light, not dark like a panther, and a panther, though quiet, could never be as silent as the light of dawn, so really the analogy doesn’t hold up well, as cool as it sounds, but it still is a great way to begin a story; just not necessarily this particular one. — Warren Blair, Ashburn, VA

For more silliness, I dare you to peruse their website: 

And finally, in honor of Mr. Bulwer-Lytton, here are two of my best/worst novel openers…

After a long, treacherous day teaching preschoolers, Miss Lucy dragged herself into the shower and let the hot water pour down onto her head, her shoulders, her knees, and her toes…knees and toes…knees and toes…eyes and ears and mouth and nose…head, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes!

Hungry as a ravenous wolf, Lucy hadn’t eaten herself yet and wasn’t planning to either. 

Now it’s your turn!  I look forward to seeing what you all come up with…

Friday, September 6, 2013

Choose Your Monster

Back in the days of tight ponytails and early bedtimes, I used to tremble under my bed covers, truly believing that there were enormous, bona fide monsters in my closet, behind my dresser, or under my bed.  My ineffectual retaliatory tactics consisted of a cache of rolled up socks, a motley collection of hot-tempered Barbie and Ken dolls, and as a last resort, a neon green water pistol that I had permanently borrowed from the boy next door.  My exasperated dad, with his subtle rhythmic Swedish brogue had routinely coerced me to try counting sheep as a way to focus my attention onto something peaceful and non-threatening, and to my surprise, it did help…at least while he was there next to me.  But as soon as he left the room, my bounding, fluffy, cute sheep mutated into red-eyed, bloody-fanged, monster sheep that instead of hopping over my imaginary white fence, turned on me, snorting and flashing their glistening sharp horns as they headed straightway toward my bed.  I wanted desperately to leap off the bed and bolt to my parents’ room, but I couldn’t risk the attack from under the bed.  Defeated, I would bunch myself into a ball of fear, shaking into a fitful sleep that would hold me captive to my own monster-laden nightmares. 

What I didn’t know back then was that I had complete control over those invisible beasty creatures—that I could have at any moment banished them from their pseudo-existence.   

So this summer I went to see Pixar’s latest Monsters University and found it to be not as psychologically transforming as the original Monsters Inc., but overall better than I had expected.  Maybe it’s a genre thing, but somehow I missed the most important fact that this second film is a prequel to the original.  I erroneously thought it was about the next generation of the first dynamic monster duo: One-eyed Mike Wazowski and his burly blue furball of a friend, Sulley.  But no…this film takes us back to the early college days of the two barely scary monsters and reveals how they overcome their greatest fears of not being scary enough for the university as they ultimately band together to create their notorious Monsters Inc. enterprise.  This second film ends—somewhat awkwardly—where the first one begins.

Overall, the one redeeming factor that makes this a blogable film is not actually based upon anything connected to Wazowski or Sulley. Instead, it’s the diabolical Centipedess, Dean Abigail Hardscabble, who philosophically lectures to future graduates of her university that “Scariness is the true measure of a monster…” and that “…if you’re not scary, then what kind of a monster are you?”  But what this tightlipped, angry monster of a woman fails to mention is that the scare factor is only as scary as the victim allows it to be.  

As a grown up, I no longer cringe over the prospect of imaginary monsters, but I am grateful for what I have learned from them. They have taught me from that young, impressionable age that when the time would come for me to face my own fair share of human monsters—a mere handful of humans who have tried to wreak havoc upon my life for no good reason—that they have no power over me as long as my lack of fear prevails.  When I refuse to cower under their seemingly ominous presence, they ultimately become…pardon the expression but…sheepish.  It really is a matter of choice, and my choice is to stick my tongue out at these cowardly wolves and say, “Nanny-nanny boo-boo, you cannot scare me!”