A Win on Cracked Flash

For the past two months, I have made it part of my weekend routine to participate in the Cracked Flash writing competition. They post a sentence and some inspiration images allowing writers 24 hours to come up with a 300 word story. All entries are posted to the comments. The following Wednesday, a winner and two runner ups are chosen.

This Wednesday, my story, “Her First Rodeo,” won.  

This is my second time winning this competition, and I’m just as excited as I was the first time. In an world so full of rejections, it is refreshing to see somebody appreciated my writing – to see somebody gets me. Cracked flash is a unique competition that I would recommend to any writer.

One thing that sets this apart from other contests is the time limit. 24 hours is not very long. Because I have other projects I’m working on, papers to grade, and occasionally, people to see, I usually only have time for two drafts. One where I write the story and exceed the word count, then another where I cut back and improve the language. Some weeks my stories have flat characters and week plots. Some weeks, they are funny and dynamic. Twice, they have been good enough to win.

Winning does’t mean the stories perfect, and the judges know that. My favorite part of this competition is that their statements about the winners usually point out a few things they liked about the story and one or two ways it could have been better. While I can’t send my 300 word to a lot of publications because simply being on the web means it is “previously published” I could revise it and expand it until it morphs into a new story.

The short might be like a cucumber seedling. It starts out small, but turns into an enormous vine that produces dozens of delicious fruits.

My 300-word story about a sheriff and his apprentice placing a tracker on an outlaw alien might just evolve into a 3,000 word story about those same to characters tracking said alien, apprehending him, and realizing he wasn’t a villain at all but a victim who was framed.

It will take a few months for this seedling to grow into sprawling vine, so please take a few minutes to look at this little green baby and don’t forget to visit Cracked Flash on Saturday for some #writing #inspiration.

Her First Rodeo

By Sara Codair

“It’s a bad plan, but if there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s making bad plans work!” said Joe.

The Cantina was dark place that reeked of stale beer. Horrid country was barely audible over the drunken shouts of ranchers–exactly the kind of place their quarry would hide.

“We’re gonna get killed,” muttered Molly. She was rookie, fresh out of the academy.

“Every man in here is carrying a gun.”

Molly wasn’t wrong about the guns, but Joe was unconcerned. They were a crucial part of his plan. He walked straight to the the counter and order a shot of whisky before shouting, “I’m looking for Greggor Tams. First one to give me intel gets fifty bucks.”

The men froze. Conversation ceased. The automated singer crooned about losing his wife, truck, and hamster while the click of safeties switching off improved the melody.

“We ain’t snitches,” said a man whose face resembled a raisen.

Joe grinned. No face matched his quarry’s, so he examined each gun and hand carefully, focusing on a gleaming silver pistol, held by a blue-tinted hand. Alien magic could create some good illusions, but the flaws always showed closest to objects from their home-worlds, especially laser-pistols.

He knew Molly had spotted it when she fainted.

“I ain’t askin nobody to snitch,” shouted Joe. “Just wanted to see how my apprentice held under pressure.”

“She didn’t hold at all,” laughed raisin face, putting his gun away.

“Next round’s on me.” Joe slipped three bills to the bartender, picked Molly up and carried her to his truck, careful to bump his quarry on the way out and plant a tracking device.

Molly sat up as the pulled onto the road. “I can’t believe that worked. The fainting act is the oldest trick in the book.”

The Impatient Writer’s Chicken Soup

The Impatient Writer’s Chicken Soup: Advice on the Writing Process and a Delicious Recipie

By Sara Codair

Soup and writing have a lot in common. One important connection to note is that they both improve when they are allowed to sit and simmer for ample time. If I eat a soup that hasn’t been sitting long enough, the vegetables will be hard and the flavors won’t have had time to fully permeate the broth. If I don’t let a story rest between drafts, my characters won’t mature, my meaning will be shallow and my language will be flawed.

When I first decided to try and publish my writing, I made the mistake of thinking a story was done too soon. I wasn’t sending first drafts out, but I wasn’t letting the stories rest long enough either. I’d finish a draft and jump right into the second and third. I’d think, Well, I can’t think of anything else to change, read it one more time and think I don’t see any grammatical errors. I’d send the draft out to a publication and a few weeks later, get a rejection.

Before submitting it elsewhere, I would revisit the story. The type-o’s and grammatical errors would leap off the page. I’d cringe at excess words and forced dialogue. I’d gape through plot holes and be left with little or no resolution at the end. I’d feel like my insides were twisting around with regrets and what if’s.

Did they stop reading after the third typo-o?

If I had better dialogue and a stronger plot, would this story have gotten accepted?

I observed the same thing hurting my students, though in their case, it was more procrastination than impatience. They wouldn’t leave themselves enough time to let the story rest, so their final drafts of essays would be riddled with grammatical errors and logical flaws that they caught on their own when given the chance to review the essay in class before turning it in.

I am a very impatient person. I like to know what is going to happen next, and when I know something I want is coming, I want it now. I hate waiting. So even after I realized I needed to let my stories rest, I would have a hard time making myself wait, just like I never wanted to wait for my soup to finish cooking.

DSC_0823When it came to soup, I realized that rice was the answer to my impatience. If I used pasta, the pasta would be soft enough to eat fifteen minutes after I added it. However, if I used rice, I had to wait at least an hour after I put the rice in if I didn’t want to be constantly crunching on uncooked rice. I cheated a couple times, but learned my lesson after getting a hard grain stuck between my teeth. Furthermore, I could plan the time I cooked the soup so I wasn’t hungry while I was cooking it. Or I could eat a snack while I was waiting for the broth to boil so I wouldn’t be starving as soon as it was edible. This way, by the time I ate it, the flavors would be fully permeated.

With writing, I use similar strategies. I can send it to a reader who I know will take longer to give me feedback. While I’m waiting, I can work on something else, eventually returning to the story with a fresh eye. I can finish it right before I collect a stack of essays from my students knowing I wont really be able to pay it full attention until I am done.

I can read a good novel as soon as I finish the story. Or better yet, a good series. The best option is starting a new story, getting so immersed in that one that I need to know what happens next so I write it for a few weeks until I finish and then go back to the original story and catch those bland descriptions and comma splices.

If your impatient like me, make sure you find your rice so you can let your story rest before you call it done and send it out. Now, enjoy my recipe for impatient writer chicken soup!

Ingredients:DSC_0805

¼ lb of chicken breast

1 small Yellow onion (or part of a large one)

1/2 a bell pepper (red, orange or yellow)

1 stick celery

DSC_08171 large carrot

1 small potato

five cherry tomatoes (I prefer Sun Gold)

1 Box of chicken broth (or equivalent of homemade stock)

1/3 cup of brown rice

2 Table Spoons of olive oil

1 Teaspoon of Thyme

Directions:

Step 1: Put your chicken in the microwave to defrost.

Step 2: Dice your onions and bell peppers while the chicken thaws.

DSC_0809Step 3: Add olive oil, onions and peppers to the pan.

Step 4: Cut up the chicken into small pieces and add them to the pot.

Step 5: Cut up your other vegetables while the chicken cooks. Add them as they are cut,
starting with the ones that take the longest too soften: carrots, celery, potato, and tomato. Add the teaspoon of thyme once all the veggies are in and stir, cooking until the veggies are tender.DSC_0811

Step 6: Pour the broth in and bring it to a boil.

Step 7: Add the rice and reduce heat to low. Allow to simmer for at least one hour. However, the longer you let it cook, the better it is going to taste.

My story, “Beach Glass Blues,” is featured on Sick Lit Magazine!

Beach Glass Blues By Sara Codair Desperate for a fix, I crawl out of the surf. My fins separate into feet. My tail splits until I’m crouched on four scaly limbs. My muscles ache as I push myself upright. It’s not a position I hold often. Normally, water surrounds me and supports me. The […]

via Beach Glass Blues – by SARA CODAIR — SickLitMagazinedotcom | Bringing the real. Keeping the weird.

Compost for Packrat Writers & Teachers

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I’ve always hated throwing things away. I still have ten-year-old shirts purchased when I was in high school, moldy craft projects from 15 years ago, and a Pocahontas journal filled with writing in a “language” I made up when I was six. The “language” is nothing more than over-glorified scribbles vaguely reminiscent of cursive, but I can’t let it go.

My 790-square-foot house is cluttered things that appear useless to others. My mother continuously urges me to get rid of “stuff.” As soon as I begin thinking about it, my hands sweat, my stomach churns and my mind races:

I need this!

What if want to write about that next week?

What if accidentally throw away the mortgage bill?

DSC_0814This attachment to objects and fear of getting rid of stuff goes beyond inanimate objects. I often feel guilty discarding carrot peels and potato skins. When it comes to writing, the idea of cutting or deleting even one line can be physically painful, even though I know cutting unnecessary lines and words is an essential step in the writing process, especially with flash fiction.

Writing a story in 500 words is a challenge that requires the writer to be economical with language and ruthless with editing. “Above the Influence,” the first story I ever published, is a piece of flash fiction – a 500 word story that got shortlisted by Mash. If it weren’t for the concept of compost, that probably never would have happened.

***

My interest in compost started a little over two years ago when my husband and I first became homeowners. In an attempt to cut down on waste and add more nutrients to the garden, we began putting food scraps in a compost bin. Eventually, we obtained a stainless steel container  for the counter, and a larger backyard composter.

DSC_0946I no longer trash the carrot peels, tomatoes stems and potato skins. I put them in the compost, knowing that after they spend ample time decomposing, they become fertilizer for next years crops. It’s much easier to toss them if I know they are still serving a purpose.

The concept of compost makes it easier to be ruthless when editing. I never have to delete anything for good. If a line doesn’t work or is unnecessary for a story, I cut and paste it to a compost file (currently titled “The land of misfit lines”). The line can rest while my mind decomposes it, breaks it down to the most basic form of ideas, so that one day, when I am working on a different piece, it can add life and vitality to it.

Furthermore, I’m a big fan of “save as.” After I finish a first draft, I let the story sit for a day or two. When I’m ready to begin draft two, I save it as a new document. If I don’t put all the cut words  into the compost, I know the originals are saved. This also allows me to track my writing process and see how the story evolved from draft to draft. Its light years more efficient that fighting to find a use or justification for every unnecessary line in the piece delivered it.

In graduate school, I hated to cut anything out of my papers. I’d waste hours finding a way to make a line work; I’d add extra paragraphs to an essay that was already over ten pages just so I wouldn’t have to cut one line. When I was tutoring, if a student brought me an essay that just didn’t work, I’d do everything I could to help the salvage as many words as possible. Both me and my students would do okay, but the writing wasn’t our best.

Now, whether I am editing my own writing or helping a student, if something isn’t working, it goes in the compost. The result is that both me and my students write better. Each word is heavy with meaning. The organization is easier to follow. There is no fluff.

The concept of compost can also help me let go of ideas in the non-writing side of life. I know that if I try something, whether it be at home or in the classroom, and it just doesn’t work, that I can put it in the compost. I’m not saying no forever or completely ruling it out. I’m putting it aside where it can get deconstructed and become a basis or fuel for future ideas, making them greener and more productive.

I’ve learned how to avoid cramming so many ideas in one paper that no one reader can deconstruct it. I’ve learned how to let go of methods that just don’t work. Now, if I could only find a way to apply this concept to the ancient pieces of jewelry, notebooks of math homework, and dented keepsake boxes I just can’t seem to part with, both my first and second floor could appear simultaneously clean.

DSC_0628

 

 

 

An Inspiring Image:”Dull Blade” and The Doors

doorsWhen I fist took this photograph on a cold February day in Portland, I had no idea what it was going to do for me.

When I started selling on Etsy five years ago, I made prints of it and put them in repurposed frames and sold them. Not only did I sell several on Etsy, but I also sold several at local flea markets.

I no longer maintain my shop on Etsy, but these doors are still working for me. In November, my writing group assigned it a prompt where we had to choose an image of a door and tell a story of what was behind it.

For that exercise, I wrote a short story called “Dull Blade.” That turned out to be the second story I had accepted for publication, and the first one to be published that was full length, not flash. I hope you head over http://fantasycrossing.com/ and read it.

Here is a brief excerpt:

José couldn’t make his hands stop shaking. That was a problem. He couldn’t shoot straight when his hands were shaky, and if he missed, the demon on the other side of the door would probably rip his guts out...click for more!

If you ever find yourself lost for words, pull out one of your favorite photos and tell the story behind it.

-Sara

Story Soup

DSC_0025Story Soup

By Sara Codair

At some point during every semester, my students and I write in response to the following prompt: “Writing for is like____.” Lately, mine has begun with the words “writing is like making soup.”

Making soup and writing have a surprising amount in common. When you are first starting out, it is good to follow the recipe exactly, but once you get a feel for which ingredients do what, you can play around with the content and structure. When I first began making Garden Vegetable Soup, I did exactly what the recipe says. The result was edible, but it wasn’t scrumptious. Now, I’ve modified so much that it is not longer recognizable as the recipe I started with from Soup of the Day By Kate McMilliam, and frankly, I like it much better my way. Other people might find her recipe superior if they have different tastes then me, and that’s fine. Food and writing are both subjective.

DSC_0802I use this metaphor when I tell my students why they need textbooks. The books provide recipes for essays. While the students are still developing as writers, they need to follow the recipes to practice engaging introductions, clear thesis statements and easy to follow patterns of organization. Once they get the basics down, they can change up the ingredients and proportions to tailor their essays to fit their specific needs or assignments.

This concept can also work for fiction writing and poetry. You can learn what makes a story by starting with simple plot structures, and start with structured forms of poetry that provide writers with a set number of lines and syllables. Get the hang of choosing words carefully to create form and meaning. Get the gist of taking a character on an adventure that will leave him or her forever changed, and then go back and break all the rules you just learned to write even better stories, better poems, and make better soups.

I hope you enjoy the following recipe for “Story Soup.” Feel free to make adjustments as you see fit to better match your soup preferences.

Ingredients:

2 tbs olive oil

11996898_10100804764592595_5080519199465315135_n
Fresh veggies from the garden make the best ingredients! Show above are onions, tomatoes, a pepper, a carrot and a potato from last summer.

½ of a Large Sweet Onion or a whole small one.

1/2 Bell Pepper (red, yellow or orange)

1 Large Carrot

1 Stick Celery

1 Potatoes (optional)

Broccoli, Kale or Spinach (optional)

A small summer squash or zucchini

Green beans or snap peas

½ can of corn (or fresh equivalent)

11012753_10100757927609285_1066004150629123946_n
Zucchini ball, Sungolds and Fresh Basil

A handful of sung gold tomatoes

Two large heirloom tomatoes

Your choice of rice of pasta

Thyme

Basil

Salt

Step 1: Pour the olive oil into a large saucepan.

Step 2: Dice the Pepper and Onion, then add to the olive oil. Simmer over medium heat.

Step 3: Cut up the carrots, celery, squash, and beans while the peppers and onions cook. Add potatoes and/or broccoli for a heartier version. Once the onions are translucent, you may begin to add these vegetables.

DSC_0023Step 4: Coat the vegetables with approximately one teaspoon of Thyme and Basil. If you used larger veggies, you might want to add a little more. Allow the vegetables to cook until they become tender. The carrots and celery take longer than the other veggies, so I suggest chopping and adding those first.

 

 

Step 5: Cut up the Sungolds. Add those and the corn at the same time.

Step 6: While the veggies continue to cook, put the tomatoes into a food processor and puree them. If you prefer chunkier soup, you may dice them instead. Add them to the pot when they are ready.

Step 7: Allow the vegetables and tomatoes to simmer for approximately ten minutes then add one box of vegetable stock or the equivalent of homemade stock. I usually use Pacific Organic.

Step 8: Bring to a boil then add your choice of rice or pasta. Reduce heat immediately.

10387482_10100848224872845_6442805933888519589_nStep 9: Allow it all to simmer for at least one hour, stirring occasionally. The longer you let it cook, the better its tastes. I am often hungry and impatient, so I eat a bowl after an hour but let it cook for two or three more. The next day, when I have seconds, the taste has significantly improved.

Step 10: Put whatever soup is left in the fridge when you are done cooking it.