Friday, November 11, 2016

‘Flash fiction makes the daily discipline of writing a lot more fun. And it can spark real creativity’

Guest Post by Margot Kinberg, academician, writer, and blogger. She recently released her fourth novel, Past Tense, in her acclaimed Joel Williams series. Margot also writes short stories and flash fiction, and regularly blogs about crime fiction at Confessions of a Mystery Novelist...

© Margot Kinberg
Writing is a lot like any other skill: it needs to be honed. And that means writing on a daily basis. One of the best ways I’ve found to do that is through flash fiction.

One thing I love about flash fiction is that it allows the writer to play with ideas without the commitment to a long story or a novel. And that allows for all sorts of experimentation and exploration. To put it another way, flash fiction makes the daily discipline of writing a lot more fun. And it can spark real creativity.

Flash fiction is also really versatile. For example, my host, Prashant, is quite skilled at 100-word stories called Drabbles. That structure encourages the writer to use powerful language that tells a story in just a few words. You can even try a shorter format – the 50-word story that author and fellow blogger Rob Kitchin has called the Dribble. Both formats help the author to reduce a story to its essentials, and convey quite a lot with a few well-chosen words. That’s got much to recommend it.

Those micro-stories aren’t for every writer. Some writers choose slightly longer flash fiction stories. Those allow for a little more atmosphere and character development, and they can be really helpful for the writer who’d like to work on those skills. Again, it’s an effective way to some vital daily practice.

Because flash fiction is flexible, that means the writer can try different voices, different genres, and so on. It also means that established authors with a continuing series can ‘test the waters’ with new characters and settings.

The benefits of flash fiction go beyond helping the writer hone skills. Flash fiction also helps to build (or keep) a reading audience. Publishing flash fiction on one’s blog or other website introduces the author to readers. Then, when there’s a forthcoming book, readers are more likely to be interested. The same may happen for editors or agents who are looking for new talent.

Flash fiction can also provide interesting opportunities for publication. Sometimes, magazines or other journals open up to submissions of flash fiction. There are also flash fiction competitions. All of those allow the author the chance for wider recognition.

Sometimes, an idea that comes from a flash fiction story can develop into something more substantive. Just one element of a shorter story can inspire something longer – even a novel. For example, in one of my flash fiction pieces, Planting Season, a body is found buried at a landscaping site. It got me to thinking about how remains might be discovered, and that’s just what I needed for a novel I was writing.

That novel turned out to be Past Tense, which has recently been released. In Past Tense, construction workers uncover a 40-year-old set of remains that turn out to be connected with a missing person case from 1974. My protagonist, former police detective-turned-professor Joel Williams, works in tandem with the police to find out the truth behind that death.

Admittedly, the main plot of Past Tense isn’t very similar to the plot of Planting Season. But the idea from that flash fiction piece helped me put together a plot element that I needed. And that ‘fed’ the novel. I got other little bits of ideas for the novel from other flash fiction I’ve done.

And that’s the thing about flash fiction. Not every piece will lead anywhere. Lots of mine don’t. But you never know when one or another piece might fill in a plothole, give you an idea for a character, or add a touch of atmosphere to something larger you’re writing. Some pieces might even evolve into a novel.

Thank you very much, Prashant!

Here’s more about Past Tense

A long-buried set of remains…a decades-old mystery

Past and present meet on the quiet campus of Tilton University when construction workers unearth a set of unidentified bones.

© Grey Cells Press
For former police detective-turned-professor Joel Williams, it’s a typical Final Exams week – until a set of bones is discovered on a construction site…

When the remains are linked to a missing person case from 1974, Williams and the Tilton, Pennsylvania police go back to the past. And they uncover some truths that have been kept hidden for a long time.

How much do people really need to know?

It’s 1974, and twenty-year-old Bryan Roades is swept up in the excitement of the decade. He’s a reporter for the Tilton University newspaper, The Real Story, and is determined to have a career as an investigative journalist, just like his idols, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. He plans to start with an exposé article about life on the campus of Tilton University. But does everything need to be exposed? And what are the consequences for people whose lives could be turned upside down if their stories are printed? As it turns out, Bryan’s ambition carries a very high price. And someone is determined not to let the truth out.

Saturday, November 05, 2016

Innocent Justice

A short story by Prashant C. Trikannad

The old proprietor of the country liquor shop dropped the coins in the drawer and handed Kiaan a bottle of hooch wrapped in newspaper.

"Now you be careful with that, kid," he said, leaning over the counter and pulling the young boy's raincoat together.

Kiaan nodded without looking up.

"Tell your father I said hi."

"He's not my father," the boy said.

"Uh, okay. You take care," the barman said. "The rain gods are in a foul mood tonight."

Kiaan gripped the bottle by the neck and went out into the night. Rain was falling hard and the narrow bridge leading to the other side of the creek where he lived was deserted. His shoes made a sucking sound as he walked through muddy water.

The night was eerily quiet.
The storm had taken out the street lights. Another kid would have shivered with cold fear. Not Kiaan. All he felt was a burning anger towards the man who beat his mother every night and had made life hell. He shook involuntarily and his fingers tightened around the bottle of cheap Feni. Tonight would be the last night his stepfather sent him out to fetch the bottle. As he walked across the bridge, he looked at the ghostly shapes of trawlers bobbing in the distance where the creek joined the sea.

His father had died when he was six. Four years later, his mother had married his father's school friend. She'd told him she took the step for his sake, because he needed a father figure in his life. His stepfather turned out to be a violent alcoholic whose physical abuse of his mother started almost immediately after they returned from honeymoon. Night after night the boy hid under his blanket to drown out the loud sounds from the other room and cried himself to sleep.

*          *         *

Kiaan crossed the creek, turned into a dark lane, and stopped. The rain was coming in torrents. Lightning and thunder rent the air. He looked down and found himself in knee-deep water. It felt cold against his skin. He waded through long shadows of dilapidated buildings on either side. Suddenly, he gave a startled cry when he felt something crawl across his legs and crawl back again. Terrified, he ran, splashed, ran as fast as he could through filthy water and floating garbage, clutching the bottle to his chest. 

When he reached the end of the lane, he turned left, clambered up the uneven footpath and entered a building. Light from a ceiling bulb danced in the pool of water on the floor. Flecks of yellow paint peeled off the walls. An ‘out of order’ sign hung on the metal-caged lift. Pigeons cooed in the ventilation above the doorway. And the storm cut through the stillness in the dingy hallway.

The kid pushed back the hood of his raincoat and carefully removed the bottle from the newspaper wrapping. He went back to the entrance, dipped the bottle into the water, and smashed it as hard as he could against the wall. It broke on the third blow. When he lifted it again, he was holding the neck of the bottle with jagged edges dripping blood and water. Tears rolled down his face as he pulled out a piece of glass from his hand. He wiped his face on the sleeve of his wet raincoat and hurried inside. 

He waited at the bottom of the stairs, his eyes searching for movement. Finding none, he began to climb, one step at a time — holding the bottle away from him, like a blood-stained knife after a murder.

*          *         *

Kiaan stood outside his door at the end of a dimly-lit corridor. He was breathing heavily and his heart was racing. Just like it did every time his stepfather returned home reeking of cheap liquor and stale smoke, and went after his mother. For the first time since he'd left the bar, he was frightened. He knew what awaited him on the other side of the door. What he didn't know was what would happen after he went in.

With tears in his eyes and a shaking hand, he inserted his key in the lock and turned it slowly when the door opened and slammed against the wall. Kiaan pulled back with a start and dropped the bottle. The storm drowned out the crash of splintered glass. No doors opened. He stood there, frozen.

His stepfather was just inside the door, swaying on his feet. He was clutching his throat with one hand. Blood, the colour of dark red cherry, oozed through his fingers and trickled down his arms and bare chest.

“Kiaan, my dear boy!” he croaked, like a raven, and fell on his face at the boy’s feet.

At that moment, lightning flashed through the living room. At first he thought he was seeing a ghost. Then he saw it was his mother, in an avatar he'd never seen before.

“It’s over, Kiaan, It's finally over,
She said and reached out with both her hands. "I love you so much.

Trembling, the boy backed away till his hands found cold wall. He began to weep.

© Prashant C. Trikannad, 2016