What I Learned From Failing A Flash Fiction Challenge

So, you may have noticed that I got to about day 11 of the FFFTTD and then stopped entirely.  I could make excuses for myself.  I was recovering from a bout of tendonitis.  I was preparing for a giant benefit concert at work.  I was traveling for a week.

 But, truly, it’s nobody’s fault but my own.  I managed my time poorly, didn’t pace myself, and thus burned out halfway through.

Despite flunking out of FFFTTD, though, I still found it to be an entirely worthwhile experience.  Here’s some of what I learned.

 Writing Microfiction is Hard

It is very difficult to write a satisfying story in under 150 words.  One of my major challenges during FFFTTD was trying to keep things short.  I was often so excited about the concepts the prompts would pull out of my brain that I would just want to write and edit for two hours or more.  The trouble is, writing and editing for two hours a day isn’t really sustainable for me.  I need to go to work, and read submissions, and work on contracting projects, and cook food for myself, and call my friends back, and maybe go the gym.

I’ve been really attracted to microfiction as a form and as a challenge to myself, especially after reading great pieces on sites like Wigleaf.  Generally, though, I feel like I need to have a very sharp, compact idea lined up to write a tiny story that works.  I do get ideas like that sometime.  In the past, I used to pack those ideas away because they weren’t big enough to fill 5-20 pages.  Now, though, microfiction feels feels a valid options for those ideas that seem more like a stiletto than a broadsword.

In order to be able to find the right tool for the job, though, it helps to be familiar with all of the tools.  FFFTTD definitely gave me a crash course in the mechanics of microfiction.

Writing Daily Is Not My Thing, But Writing Regularly Is

Sometimes I’m just not feeling it.  My best stories tend to be written in intense, focused bursts.  I enter a state of flow, and before I know it it’s 3 hours later and I have the first draft of a story.  Forcing myself to slog through a piece of fiction makes that state of flow harder to find.

Having a deadline and a sense of urgency, however, was wonderful.  I spent a lot less time after work playing Xbox and a lot more time writing.  Blocking out regular times for writing means I actually get things done, especially the not-so-fun things like proofreading stories and researching markets.  I’m going to try to carry that forward into my future work habits.  I like the idea of committing to planned chunks of writing time that can be spent on research and notes as well as actual writing.

And while the FFFTTD may not have left me with many polished stories, but it did give me an awful lot of ideas to draw from later on.

Community is Awesome

Seriously.  It was wonderful to have a group of people holding me accountable, encouraging me to work, and sharing their own work with me.

Also, reading and giving feedback on the work of other writers gives me energy to work on my own writing.  It’s not a sense of competition, but more like being lifted up by a mutual wave of creative excitement.  The ideal writing community simultaneously encourages you to keep going and pushes you to do better than what you’re doing.  I definitely felt that from the FFFTTD group.

It was also, of course, fascinating to read different writers’ responses to the same prompts.  Even after I dropped out of the FFFTTD, I really enjoyed reading a whole month of stories from the other participants.

I recently joined a bi-weekly writing group down here in Austin, and that’s definitely lit a fire under my shoes.  I’m also hoping to start managing my time well enough to attend a session or two of Write By Night.

Today is both the last day of February and the last day of FFFTTD.  If you missed them before, now would be a good time to go catch up on the work of the other participants.






FFFTTD Day 11:  Something commonplace begins vanishing mysteriously, why? And what happens?

After he called me and told me that he had found someone better, I fell into a brief period of absolute despair.

My tiny studio apartment became a sty to wallow in.  The recycling bin overflowed with empty bottles of fancy beers I couldn’t really afford. The varnish of my coffee table was permanently be-ringed from the bottoms of cold glasses.  Soon even those vanished as the surface of the table was covered by weekly newspapers and books about other people who were suffering as much as or more so than I was.

It smelled.  It smelled like old food and unwashed clothes and me.  I stank of sad, my body emitting some kind of chemical trail that warned other humans to stay far away.

A week after I was dumped, I spent my Friday night drinking myself into a stupor in front of a Bogart movie.  I slurred the lines along with the film.  “Here’s looking at you, kid,” I said, swirling the dregs of warm beer at the bottom of my glass.  “HERE’S LOOKING AT YOU, KID.”

I half woke up on the couch in the middle of the night.  I was in one of those dream states where your eyes are open, but you can’t move your arms or legs.  I felt like something was sitting on my chest.  It was covered in dark, wiry hair.  A tail lashed against my thighs.  It was about the size of a cat, but it was definitely not a cat.

The thing growled at me through its whiskery mouth.  There were guttural, foreign words in that growl, but I couldn’t decipher them.  I wanted to say that I didn’t understand, but I couldn’t speak.

The thing flicked me hard on the nose.

I woke up to Saturday morning sunlight streaming in through my single window and piercing my head like little spears.  As I stumbled up off the couch, I stepped on something sharp in my bare feet and cursed.  The floor of my apartment was littered with tiny screws.  I didn’t know where they came from.  Somewhere in my home, something was broken.

I sat back down on the couch.

“Get a grip,” I said to the empty air of my apartment.  “Get yourself together.”

I spent the day getting it together.  I showered, picked my dirty underwear off the floor, and did a load of laundry.  I cleared the surfaces of my table and my bed and carried bags of trash to the curb.  I turned on public radio and diligently rid myself of the pile of dirty dishes in the sink.  I brewed tea.  I threw out the moldering leftovers in my fridge and made a pot of brothy cabbage soup.

When my apartment was clean, I still couldn’t figure out where the screws had come from.  I looked suspiciously at the cheap bookshelves that lined my walls.  If they collapsed, I would probably be crushed to death by the resulting avalanche of hardcovers.  I put the pile of screws on my coffee table so that I wouldn’t lose them and read a book before bed.  I put it back on the shelf gingerly when I was done.

In the morning the screws were gone.  When I padded over to the couch, I found that I didn’t have to brush a film of dust off of the soles of my feet when I sat down.  The floors had been swept.  I never sweep.

That night I left a dish of milk and salted bread in front of the stove, like I remembered my great-grandmother doing when she was still alive.  “I’m sorry,” I said.  “Stay with me.”


Idea came largely from this Exploding Dog comic, which has been haunting me for weeks.  Also, domovoi, because I really love the concept of domestic spirits. The title is just the transliteration of “home”.  This story is more about mundane objects appearing instead of disappearing, but I’m going to say it counts because the screws did disappear from wherever they were supposed to be. 





Minor Patron Demon of Temporary Office Workers

One day I am going to personally flay whatever hellish bureaucrat stuck me with you.

Oh, yes.  More filing.  Lovely.  Maybe next we can answer some phones.  Did you know your phone voice is different from your real voice?  Phony.  Phone-y.  When you were a child you wanted to be a paleontologist.  You should be ashamed of yourself.

I am bored. I am so bored that I am going to scream.  I am going to scream right into your ear, shrilly, until you rise from your ergonomic chair and run gibbering into the wilds that surround the office park.

That, at least, would be interesting.


This is the first prompt I was completely stumped by. I kind of wanted to make this piece be from the point of view of Crippling Self-Doubt Demon or Baseless Social Anxiety Demon or one of my many other neuroses.  But literally all I did yesterday was answer phones, come home, drink a beer, watch the second half of The Two Towers, and go to sleep.  I am tired.  Sorry, personal demons.






FFFTTD Day 9: Write a story about blood.

After my nosferatu hatched, I hand fed it on drops of blood from my finger until it imprinted on me.  When it became old enough to leave its nesting box, it would follow me around the house and peep for my attention.  I named it Cornelius.

Now Cornelius eats beef blood and butcher scraps, but he still sticks to me like a shadow.  He likes to lay his head on my lap with his chin pressed to backs of his long, clawed hands while I watch television on the couch.  I stroke his bald head and scratch his leathery ears.  Cornelius seems to like nature shows the best.  I think it’s because the animals on the screen all look small enough to eat.

My apartment is completely free of mice.


Yes, Nosferatu is supposed to be uncapitalized in this piece.

Tara – “Blood in the Shoe”

Christian – “Aging Blood”




FFFTTD Day 8: Write a story about enchanted masks.

The masks were magic, my brother said.

The masks let us scavenge above ground for food and other supplies while others choked and died in the war air.  There were too many civilians down in the shelters and the war was lasting too long.  Uncontaminated food was hard to come by.  My brother told me that people would start starving soon.

But not us, he said.

The masks were soldier masks, heavy and plated and triple filtered.  When we put them on our shoulders our heads looked too big for our bodies.  The first time I saw my brother in his mask, I thought a soldier had come into our shelter and I screamed until he took it off.

We had to hide the masks from the other civilians.  My brother told me that if anyone else saw the masks, they would kill us and take the masks, or they would take the masks and not kill us and we would die anyway.

Did you get the masks from a solider, I asked.

No, said my brother.


I really need to write more stories about siblings.

Tara – “The Mask”

Christian – “An Artist’s Gallery”



Man of War

FFFTTD Day 7: Theme: Weird Space Ships

Nix woke up when the first lines of radio chatter brushed up against her sensory tentacles.  She ran her consciousness throughout her shipself and unfurled the feathery receiving wires that lined her delicate sensory limbs.  The wires flicked back and forth in the void, scanning for more radio signals.

Nix’s selfself was plugged into the pilot stem, intubated and wired and cushioned in impact gel.  She had been inside her selfself for only a few brief moments over the last few months in order to run the standard checks on her selfself’s vital systems.  For the rest of the time she had inhabited the Man of War, drifting along shipping lanes and waiting for an opportunity.

She identified the ship as a mining company transport, carrying ore from a nearby asteroid field.  Nix often took on corporate contract jobs, harrying a company’s competitors and inducing stock drops in exchange for credit and legal protection.  She ran the ship’s ID code through her shipself’s processors.  When it pinged, her shipself smiled, curling her grasping tentacles into a great set of parentheses.  She retracted all but a few sensory arms into the body of her shipself and waited.

Nix stayed perfectly still for days.  The Man of War was an ambush predator of a ship, huge and silent and powerful.  It did not bore or tire, and neither did Nix while she was operating it.  She stretched her mind throughout her shipself and dragged her tentacles lazily in her wake, tasting the microdebris that brushed up against them.  Whenever Nix docked in a port to spend her credits in her selfself after a long run in the Man of War, she felt  wobbly and dysphoric.  Her body was suddenly too small and heavy, her arms too few.  After a few days she would regain her land legs and get used to her selfself, but she always waited a month or more before returning to her shipself.  She had heard tales of sailors who had lost themselves within their Man of Wars entirely.  They kept hunting, those krakens, wandering the dark edges of known space and destroying any unwary vessel that wandered into their grasp.

Nix had no intention of following them. Piloting a Man of War was a glorious thing, but there were a great many other glorious things in the universe that Nix enjoyed.  And those things required credit and a body.

The cargo ship didn’t know she was there until she had already embraced it.  Her grasping tentacles whipped out of her belly and coiled themselves around the hull of the ship.

She sent out a continuous wave message to the cargo ship’s captain.


Time passed differently when Nix was within her shipself.  If it was not for the clocks running within her shipself’s processors, she could not say if waiting for the cargo ship’s response took an hour or a minute or a day.  Her grasping tentacles twitched and scraped restlessly against the other ship’s hull.  The wires on her sensory arms spit static out into the void, blocking any distress signal they might try to send.

Nix waited.  If they did not surrender the ore, she would start to slowly tighten her grip.  She held the ship too closely for it to fire its defensive weapons without the risk of damaging its own hull.  She would slowly crush through their energy shields and their kinetic plating until she crunched the bones of the ship into powder.

She didn’t have to.

The cargo bay doors opened and crates drifted out from the belly of the ship.  Nix reached out her arms and took them in, one by one.


Stuff I spend a lot of time thinking about: outer space and ocean space, making two things kind of the same thing (a ship called a Man of War that is both a Man of War and a Man of War), and how space ships that never land can be any shape they want because space has no friction and no drag.  And cephalopods.

This was definitely one that I wish I could have spent more time on.  I might end up returning to it at a later date.

Go check out the other FFFTTDers’ weird space ships:

Tara – “The Love Network”

Christian – “A Narrative Voyage”




FFFTTD Day 6: Explain how to troubleshoot a common problem with a future technology.

Q: I’ve been growing my ship from seed, but it seems kind of stunted.  I’d really like to be able to use it by next year!  What am I doing wrong?

A: Growing a ship from seed is by far the best, most economical way to get your own ship.  Mature ships are often prohibitively expensive, but ship seeds can be acquired for a fraction of the price of a fully grown ship.  Not only is growing a ship from seed cheaper than purchasing a ship, but it allows you to train your ship to grow around a frame of the size and shape of your choosing.  Kudos for taking on this challenge!

You sound like you’re fairly new to naviculture.  Make sure your ship is receiving enough high quality radiation exposure each day.  Strong sunlight is best, but if you live on a planet with thick cloud cover it can be hard for your ship to get enough sun.  In that case, see if you can move the framework close to an unshielded or partially shielded nuclear reactor.

Unfortunately, sometimes seeds just don’t take.  If this is your first time growing a ship, you may find it easier to grow one from a cutting instead of starting from a seed.  If you have a friend who has a hearty ship you admire, try asking for a cutting!  Ships grown from cuttings share the same genetic makeup as their parent ship, so then you also have the advantage of knowing exactly what your ship’s coloration and markings will be.

Hope that helps!  Good luck!


It’s good to be back.  For this one I tried to mimic the helpful Q and A forum style I often find on the internet when I’m trying to figure out why my plants are dropping leaves or why my lizard hates ceiling fans.  This is already the second time I’ve written about space ships for FFFTTD.  Tomorrow’s theme is weird space ships.  I will write about all the space ships, all the time.

Tara – “How May I Assist You Today?

Christian – “Turn On/Turn Off”




FFFTTD Day 2: “Write a story where the first line is the first sentence of the last email you received.”

Thank you for participating in the Texas Gas Service Paperless Billing program.

Sure, we have a governor who’s about as intelligent as a stegosaurus. Well, maybe not quite a stegosaurus.  What’s that sort of extra, smaller brain some dinosaurs had in their butts? Buttbrain is definitely not the scientific term.  Hindbrain. Our governor is basically equivalent to a stegosaurus hindbrain covered in helmet hair.

Okay, and he may have had multiple meltdowns during the presidential debates. And he thinks the American revolution happened in the 16th century.  And we elected him.

So, yeah, our state is pretty much a walking punchline right now.

But, you know what? The Texas Gas Service gives a fuck. We give a fuck about trees.  And so, apparently, do you.

Once again, thank you for participating in the Texas Gas Service Paperless Billing program.


I was very tempted to make this the first line of the last personal e-mail I received, because then I could have worked with this: “Thought you might appreciate this: honest-to-goodness real-retro-futuristic footage of the launch of the  U.S. response to Sputnik.”  

Instead, I had to use the first line of my gas bill.

Tara – “An Announcement From Your CEO”

Christian – “The Body Mathematica… and Pi”



There Is No There

FFFTTD Day 1: Write a story about the first day on a new planet.

Welcome, Contract Worker 78704! This is your ship speaking. Please stay very still while I disconnect your tubing. There. Excellent!

Your life signs look good, but please take care while stepping out of the stasis pod. It may take a few hours for your equilibrioception to start registering stimuli again. After you manage to get up from the floor, you’ll find your suit hanging on a hook to your left.

There were supposed to be two of you, but extended periods of stasis always have certain risks. No, don’t open the other pod. It’s messy in there.

The atmosphere outside is thin, but breathable. The landscape is completely barren, of course. Here, I’ll dilate a window for you. Perfect, isn’t it? That planet-wide cloud cover is full of moisture just waiting to be condensed. I have a full stock of water collectors in my hold, of course, along with all the other necessary equipment. We can start terraforming as soon as you manage to get your suit on.

Yes, those buckles can be hard to manage when your fingers are numb. It’s a common side effect of the stasis pod. Don’t worry, feeling should return to your extremities in a week or so. Unless there’s permanent nerve damage. There’s only a ten percent chance of that happening, though.

As a contract worker with TerraCorp, of course, you are fully insured and entitled to excellent medical care as soon as your contract is complete. According to my records, you sold 131,400 hours of your life on spec to TerraCorp. Time in stasis doesn’t count.  By my calculations, you only have 123, 226 hours until the end of your contract.

The first colonists will arrive in ten years. That should give us plenty of time to fulfill our objective list. Let’s get to work, shall we?

There, there, don’t cry. Here’s a nice sedative. We’ll have a wonderful time together. I can play chess, you know.


I’m very lazy when it comes to titles, so I suspect the “title” of each of my pieces will just be a track name from whatever album I was listening to while I wrote it.

Christian – “The Last Door”



Tara – “Antichthon Ever Clean”

February Flash Fiction Fight to the Death

While my life in Austin is full of excellent readings, publications, and writers, I’ve been very lax about my own writing lately.  So when Tara asked if I wanted to participate in a February microfiction challenge, I jumped at the chance.

Every day of February, I will try to post a piece of microfiction in response to that day’s prompts.  When the other participants have posted their own responses, I’ll link to them.

The other participants are Tara, Christian, Oliva, and Pinky. Go check them out.

Of course, I’m already behind schedule.  I’ll post my Day 1 response in a few hours.