Category Archives: Writing

Birthday Flash!

Don’t worry, it’s nothing inappropriate. As you may have observed, I’m not doing the April A-to-Z Blogging Challenge this year. For the past three years, I’ve posted flash fiction every day in April for this challenge. This year, however, I wanted to work on stories I intend to sell instead. When I told my wife, she was a little disappointed (awww!), since she enjoyed the stories I posted in previous years. “As long as you post one for my birthday,” she said.

My wife’s birthday was on Monday, but I wanted to wait until today to fulfill my end of the bargain, since I knew articles would post on Tuesday, and I didn’t want her to miss it.

But what to write about? I usually have a word or title prompt, so for today’s story, I turned to the trusty Random Word Generator. Here’s what it gave me:

  • square
  • curtain
  • cork
  • socks
  • capital

So, here’s my 200 word story using those five words. Happy birthday, wifey! 🙂

The Cheeder’s Dance

It’s the strangest square dance I’ve ever been to, but we haven’t been out for a month, and I don’t want Amy to think something’s wrong. Besides, she says the Cheeder’s Dance is legendary.

The caller, Mary Beth, leads us through some traditional moves, then

“Curtain!”

I’m confused. Is this part of her patter? I stand with the other guys, while the girls dance around us. Amy puts her hands in front of my eyes. Ah, yes—curtain. I get it. As her hands fall away, I smell something familiar. But we start promenading, before I can ask.

“Corkscrew!”

The girls remove scarves from around their necks and waists. Amy pulls one from a pocket in her skirt, then begins twirling it around my head as she circles me. I’ve seen that scarf before, but I don’t recall Amy ever wearing it. And we’re promenading again.

“Now then ladies, take your bleeders, let’s get capital with those cheeders!”

The girls in unison pull switchblades from their socks. Cheeders? It come at me in a rush. The scent on her wrists, the scarf… she knows.

There’s that perfume smell again.

The flash of a blade.

A tug of my hair.

Darkness.

The Manhattan Trip, Day Two

As I mentioned yesterday, the main purpose of this New York trip was so my FirstBorn, Sarah, could audition at Juilliard and Carnegie Mellon. Day Two of our adventure, therefore, started early with a trip uptown on the subway (the 1-Line, to be precise) to Juilliard, which is near the Lincoln Center, and not far from Central Park. The journey by train only took about fifteen minutes, and then we had a short walk from the station to Juilliard. On the way, I spotted the Mormon Temple:

Why take a picture of it, especially since I am not a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints? Well, first, I’m a theologian, so things like this interest me anyway. But also, if you Google “Mormon Temples”… go on. Google. I’ll wait. Do you see how everywhere else, Mormon Temples are big stand-alone buildings with tall spires? I’m not sure whether it’s because of city ordinances, or just lack of space, but the Manhattan Temple is not quite as impressive looking. Yet it still has the trademark golden Angel Moroni blowing his trumpet atop a… pole? Not quite a spire, but I guess it had to suffice.

We arrived at Juilliard, and I walked with Sarah into the lobby area where they were receiving applicants. I asked if she wanted me to stay, since they did offer a tour to parents and friends of auditioners, and maybe she wanted me to hang around for moral support. She said she was okay, and would text me when she was done. Juilliard hold their auditions in the morning, then ask their applicants not to leave town while they select those they want to see again. If you have been selected, you get an email from them between 2 and 4 that afternoon. Sarah was warned that if she got a call-back, she could expect to be at Juilliard as late as 11 that night! She probably didn’t think I would enjoy waiting around that long, so I wished her well and we parted ways.

Those who know me know that I’m a huge Beatles fan. Well… okay, I’m not that big, and I find enormous insects to be kind of gross, so let me re-phrase. I really like the Beatles, and have for over 30 years. Being from the UK, I have always known who the Beatles were. But it wasn’t until John Lennon’s assassination in 1980 that I really started paying them more attention. Since my Beatles fandom helped fan the flame of my interest in music, and my desire to learn to play instruments, that tragic event was quite a seminal one in my life.

After the Beatles split up in 1970, John moved to New York. His battle with the Nixon Administration to get a Green Card is the stuff of legend. It’s a battle he eventually won. John and his wife Yoko moved into the Dakota building, just across the road from Central Park, where they lived and raised their son Sean. And it was just outside the Dakota building on the night of December 8th, 1980, that John was shot. Those who were around at the time will remember the international outpouring of grief. Hundreds gathered in Central Park singing his songs, mourning together. Not long after, a section of Central Park was given over to Lennon’s memory. Called “Strawberry Fields,” after one of his most famous Beatles songs, its centerpiece is a large circular mosaic:

“Imagine” is probably John Lennon’s most famous non-Beatles song.

One sign says that “Strawberry Fields” is supposed to be a “Quiet Place.” Given that it’s right next to Central Park West, a major road, it is amazingly tranquil, with benches all around, as you can see in the picture above. Each bench carries a dedication. One in particular caught my attention:

 

After lingering a little, I made my way across the road to the Dakota building. It’s still the residence of the rich and famous today, which is why there’s a guard post and “Authorized Persons Only Beyond This Point” signs. I believe Yoko still lives there. Of course, I had to go and stand in that fateful spot, the place where one heart stopped, a million hearts were broken, and lives were forever changed. It gave me a chill.

I hadn’t had breakfast and seriously needed a cup of tea, so I started making my way in the vague direction of Seventh Avenue. I could have taken the 1-Line back to the hotel, but I decided I’d rather walk. According to Google Maps, it would take about 40 minutes to get to the Hotel Pennsylvania from Central Park. I had the time, and I really wanted to take in the city, so off I went!

I breakfasted on a bagel at a Starbucks on West 59th Street, not far from the Lincoln Center. The tea was okay (“English Breakfast”) and only cost a couple of dollars, so I was happy with that. Sarah texted me while I was there to say she had finished orientation, she would be auditioning soon, and I shouldn’t wait around for her. She had the MetroCard I bought yesterday that was good for a week’s worth of unlimited travel, so she was fine.

With the help of Google Maps (don’t get me started on my lousy sense of direction!), I oriented myself toward Seventh Avenue and started walking. Before long, I found myself on Ninth Avenue, and a district known as “Hell’s Kitchen.” I’m not quite sure why Hell’s, but I understood the “Kitchen” part: restaurants! Lots and lots of restaurants. At least five flavors of Korean, Mexican, Chinese, Greek, you name it! There’s even an Afghan Kebab House:

One restaurant (Chinese, I believe) had a sign on the door boasting “MSG-Free, Vegan, Gluten-Free…” and other ways it catered to every possible preference and allergy under the sun!

My family (and sometimes I) enjoy the show “Project Runway,” which is kind of like “American Idol” for fashion designers. Every week, the contestants go shopping for fabric at this amazing fabric store called Mood. It so happens, Mood is located on West 37th Street, between 8th and 7th Avenues. Since it was so close to the hotel, I made a point of swinging by just to see what it’s like in real life. Here’s what I found:

It doesn’t look much from the outside. The sign on the front says that the ground floor is for upholstery fabrics. If you want the fashion fabrics, you go through a door at the side and take the stairs to the third floor. I almost went in and shouted, “Hello, Mooood!!” but resisted. Thankfully.

While I was at Central Park, I got an email from my literary agent friend, Janet Reid (regular blog readers will know who Janet is). Before leaving for New York, I had emailed her saying I would be in town. She invited me to stop by the office, namely New Leaf Literary and Media. Her email that morning was to tell me I should call after 11 am to arrange the visit. It was after 11 by the time I got to the hotel room, so I called her, and she told me to come on over.

Fifteen minutes later, I was on the 22nd floor of 110 West 40th. Janet met me at the door and invited me in…

Bear in mind, folks, I’m a writer who has been stalking following literary agents on social media for the past six years, hoping to find one who will be receptive to my work. Since most agents live and work around New York City, it’s not often I get to meet one in the flesh. Here, I was about to meet a whole office full of them!

Janet introduced me to Joanna Volpe, head honcho of New Leaf, and agent to Veronica Roth, Leigh Bardugo, and numerous other best selling authors. I also met Jaida, JL, Mia, and I’m pretty sure I met Danielle and Sara (see the New Leaf website to put faces to these names)–everybody was busy working so I didn’t have much time to stop and chat. Janet then took me back to her office where we talked for a bit. Then Sarah texted to say she was done with her audition, and where was I? Janet invited her to the office. When she arrived, we all headed out to lunch at the eatery next door.

It’s always a wonderful thing when you can combine good food and good company. I don’t recall the name of the restaurant, but they had a falafel burger on the menu. I checked with the waitress and, indeed, it promised a burger-sized falafel on a bun. I love falafel, so I ordered that with eager anticipation. I wasn’t disappointed:

It came with coleslaw that really needed more vinegar, and potato chips that were clearly homemade, but lacked flavor. The burger was the star, and it more than made up for the rest of the plate.

Over lunch we talked about Sarah’s audition (it went well, but she won’t know anything until this afternoon), publishing, and Janet’s blog (on which I am a frequent–perhaps too frequent–commenter). Janet also took pleasure in tormenting me (“You’d like to meet [literary agent] Jessica Sinsheimer? Oh, I had dinner with Jessica the other evening. We talked about you!” My mouth drops. “Just kidding!” Grrr.)

Once our bellies were full, we headed back to New Leaf. Our phones needed to charge, and Sarah was waiting on an email from Juilliard, so Janet invited us to hang out in their conference room and recharge our phones while we waited. I have a theory that Janet is trying to keep the list of agents that I query very short–as in, only her name. At Bouchercon 2015, after telling Janet that literary agent Jessica Faust, with whom I had a pleasant fifteen minute chat, was on my query list, she replied, “You have a list??” When we got back to the 22nd floor, Joanna was using the conference room, but kindly vacated it so we could use it. I’m certain that if I should query Joanna Volpe, Joanna will say to Janet, “Colin Smith… do I know him?” And Janet will say, “Oh yes. He’s the guy that kicked you out of your conference room.” See what I mean?

Over the next couple of hours, Sarah went over her monologues for Carnegie Mellon, while I read some of the books in the conference room. One picture book I read that was quite entertaining was THIS BOOK IS NOT ABOUT DRAGONS by Shelley Moore Thomas and Fred Koehler. Throughout the book, a mouse insists there are no dragons in the story, while in the background we see clear evidence of dragon activity. I also started reading GHOST COUNTRY, the second in Patrick Lee’s series that started with THE BREACH (which I have read).

By the time four o’clock rolled around, Sarah had not heard from Juilliard, so she decided to head on over there just to be sure. We said our goodbyes to Janet, and I went back to the hotel while Sarah took the train back uptown. While Sarah was gone, I asked at the hotel cafe if they could fill my travel mug with hot water. Of course they could! Only $1.50 for a medium cup, and $2.00 for a large cup. I frowned and walked away. Sarah returned to say that Juilliard was a “no.” She wasn’t terribly disappointed since she knew it was a long-shot. It seems Juilliard gets about 3,000 applications every year, out of which they select 20 students. The experience was worthwhile, however.

To celebrate/commiserate, we ate supper at one of the Irish pubs nearby. The one we chose, The Blarney Rock Irish Pub, was relatively inexpensive, and served veggie burgers. A great combination! I drank Blue Moon (they had it on tap), and Sarah got a hard cider. Sarah tried their shepherd’s pie, which she said was actually very good. My veggie burger was also good, as were the fries (no, they were not chips–and as Irish as they might claim to be, I wouldn’t expect proper chips in the States):

We then walked back to Korea Town to visit Paris Baguette, a Korean bakery, where we picked up some food for breakfast tomorrow. Sarah suggested we try Starbucks for hot water. It seems she had been able to get a cup of hot water free of charge from them. So we found a Starbucks and, sure enough, they gave us two large cups of hot water, no charge. I have never felt so much love for Starbucks in my entire life. To complete my New York experience, we stopped at a street vendor and I got a large pretzel, which I took back to the hotel to munch on while I drank a cup of tea using our Starbucks hot water. (Yes, Sarah and I both brought tea bags from home, because that’s what we do.)

And that pretty much sums up our second day. Day three promised to be nerve wracking. Sarah’s Carnegie Mellon audition was at 8 am, but we didn’t know when she would be seen. Our flight out of JFK was scheduled to leave at 12:59 pm, so we needed to be leaving for the airport between 10 and 10:30 am. Did we make it out in time…? Find out tomorrow!

 

 

The Manhattan Trip, Day One

My FirstBorn, Sarah, is in the process of applying to various schools, pursuing her dream of a career on the stage. As one might expect, schools that specialize in the performing arts usually require applicants to audition. So Sarah has been saving up her hard earned pennies to travel around, giving monologues and singing songs in the hope of getting an offer of admission.

Last Friday and Saturday (January 27th and 28th), she auditioned for Juilliard and Carnegie Mellon. Both auditions were in New York City. I thought it might be fun, and helpful to her, if I tagged along. That way, we could split costs and both get to see some of the Big Apple. We set off on Thursday morning, flying down to Charlotte, NC, and from there to John F. Kennedy Airport.

The last time Sarah traveled by plane was eleven years ago, when she, SecondBorn, and I flew to England. She wasn’t even a teenager then, so for this trip, I let her take the window seat so she could enjoy watching the earth fall away from us, and the cars and houses shrink as we flew high over the trees and into the clouds. Flying gives you a whole new perspective on places you think you know. I always find it incredible how green North Carolina is, something I don’t always appreciate at ground level. And I never realized how many little islands there are off the shore line of New York. They sit on the water like broken fragments, some with a few roads and a building or two, some seemingly unpopulated. Do people travel to these islands? Is there anything worth visiting on them, or are they just cast-off bits of land, like strips of discarded cloth on the dressmaker’s floor?

Our New York adventure started with a twist. Just as we were making our approach to JFK, the captain came on the intercom to tell us that we had to circle and land on a different runway because the plane in front of us encountered some birds on touchdown. The aircraft was okay, but the runway had to be cleared of the… results, which meant we needed to land elsewhere. Sarah and I had no agenda for the day other than getting to our hotel, so we didn’t mind the slight delay. The plane eventually landed, and we got out at JFK…

We then spent the next two hours getting to the hotel. Yes. Two hours. First we had to take the AirTrain from the airport to the subway. If you’re not familiar with New York City, like other big cities (Washington DC, London, Paris, etc.), it has an underground railway system that enables people to get around relatively cheaply and quickly without having to deal with traffic and parking. New Yorkers make much use of the subway because New York is very big. Very very big. Our hotel was (and still is) on Seventh Avenue in midtown Manhattan, so we needed to get a train on the E-line. This meant we had to get off the AirTrain at its last stop, buy a MetroCard, and then take the next E-train to Seventh Avenue. From where we were, that was about 20 stops down the line. It would take about thirty to forty minutes normally, but our train had to stop part-way into the journey because the train ahead of us had slammed on its emergency brakes. I have no idea why–our driver didn’t go into detail. But we had to wait for that train to go, and then wait a few more minutes to allow for time between trains.

Macy’s of Times Square, the largest store in the world. I think it would make a nice library.

When we finally emerged onto Seventh Avenue, Sarah pulled out her phone and checked Google Maps. The hotel was on the other side of Times Square, about a twenty minute walk. So we headed down Seventh Avenue, surrounded by the bright lights, billboards, and sky-scraping buildings for which New York is renown. It’s hard to try to take everything in and not get run over by pedestrians. New Yorkers are people on a mission. Whenever we crossed a street, the hoards lined up on either side like warriors on the battlefield waiting for the light to change so they could engage. As soon as the signal turned to “Walk,” the two sides charged, and so help you if you got in the way of someone trying to make it to the other side. Thankfully, Sarah and I packed relatively light, so we didn’t have a lot of luggage to slow us down.

We were staying at the Hotel Pennsylvania, right across the road from Madison Square Garden. The hotel looked nice, and from the lobby area you would think it quite plush. But our room was a bit primitive. Perhaps I’ve been spoiled by the fact that whenever I travel for work, we usually stay at nice hotels, so I’ve come to expect little details like a coffee maker that I can use to get hot water for my tea, and a shower that takes less than five minutes to produce hot water that comes out of the shower head at a fair clip. And this was supposed to be one of the newer rooms. At least we didn’t pay a lot for it, and Sarah and I agreed it was worth putting up with for a couple of nights for the sake of being in midtown Manhattan, close to where her auditions were being held.

For supper that evening, we visited Korea Town, which is a street in midtown Manhattan given over to the Korean community (kind of like Chinatown, which is elsewhere in NYC). There we found our choice of Korean restaurants, as well as Korean stores and bakeries. Both Sarah and her sister (SecondBorn) enjoy Korean food and music (K-Pop), so a visit to Korea Town was inevitable. We ate at a restaurant called Han Bat, and I ordered a dish called Bok Eum Bab. I don’t recall what Sarah got, sorry. Our meal came with side dishes:

As best I recall, from left to right we have potato squares cooked in some kind of pork broth, thin strands of radish (pickled?), kimchi (fermented vegetables–a traditional Korean dish), lettuce with a kimchi-style dressing (quite spicy), what looked like strips of cooked eggplant–it had that kind of texture, some kind of green vegetable, and crunchy seaweed.

My Bok Eum Bab was essentially fried rice with broccoli and tofu squares:

As you can see, they served a lot of food. It wasn’t bad, but it needed a splash of soy sauce to give the flavor a bit of a kick. It was expensive, however (at least compared to what I’m used to here in North Carolina). I don’t think any of the menu items were less than $15.

After dinner, we ventured back down Korea Way (yes, there’s actually a street called Korea Way, with the street name in Korean underneath the English), and checked out the Korean book and music store. I mentioned Sarah and SecondBorn both love K-Pop, so this was heaven on earth for Sarah. Shelves of K-Pop, as well as merchandise, and posters. I was taken with the rows of books, all in Korean. Down the center of the store they had a table with stacks of books that appeared to be Korean translations of popular novels (GAME OF THRONES, and REVIVAL by Stephen King to name a couple I remember).

After some hot beverages at the Besfren cafĂ© (I got a chai “Teappuccino”), we took a walk past the Empire State Building, and then back to the hotel.

That was Day One. Tomorrow, I’ll tell you about Day Two, which includes Juilliard, the Lennon Memorial, Mood, Hell’s Kitchen, and a Shark at New Leaf…

Why Do You Write?

I’m a writer. Whether it’s flash fiction, or my growing mound of as-yet-unpublished short stories and novels, or this blog, or academic papers, or Sunday School notes, or devotionals, I enjoy writing. But why do I write? What is it about writing that makes me want to do it? Some writers say they can’t not write, or if they don’t write they feel sick, or their world is out of kilter. For some, writing is literally a life-line, saving them from mental stagnation, or perhaps from engaging in less positive activities.

These aren’t my reasons. There are other things I can do (most not nearly as well, however), and I don’t feel like I have to write every day. I don’t believe this makes me less of a writer. But if I don’t live to write (or write to live), why bother? Here are some of my reasons:

To Communicate. I don’t consider myself a sharp speaker. I’m not one of those people who always has the right word on the tip of his tongue. Writing gives me the chance to think about what I want to say, choose the correct words, and craft the sentences so they sing–or at least make a pleasant noise–and do this in my own time. With writing, I can also edit before I publish. Once a thing is said, there’s no taking it back. It’s out there, hanging in the air, and echoing in the ears and brains of all who heard it. When you’re writing, you can let your words sit for a day or two, and tweak them before making them public.

To Create. I have a very strong creative impulse. My non-verbal outlet for creativity is music; my verbal outlet is writing. I enjoy creating worlds and characters in my mind, and breathing life into them on the page (or screen). I derive a lot of pleasure from dreaming up possible (and impossible) situations, “what-if” scenarios, and letting them play out in a story. And I love the power stories have not only to entertain, but to educate, and to make you think about things you may never have given thought to before. This gift of creativity is a divine gift, one of God’s communicable attributes, as theologians would say. No other living organism on this planet has been given such creative ability. That alone is good reason to exercise it.

To Affect. Stories, like music, are powerful. They affect people. This affect might be fleeting, or it might be quite profound. It can be no more than giving someone a laugh, or a scare, making a few minutes’ down-time that much more enjoyable. Or the story might comfort someone through a difficult time, or help someone deal with a major issue in his or her life, touching deep into the soul.

When I was young, I was prone to temper tantrums. My mum could tell you stories of the hissy fits I pulled because I did or didn’t want to do something I was being told to do (or not to do). Often these tantrums would end up with me being sent to my room in tears. I would lie on my bed sobbing angrily into my pillow, sometimes hitting the floor or the door (depending on how mad I was) to get my parent’s attention, so they would understand how upset I was, and perhaps have a change of heart. (I’m glad to say, they always held firm and never gave in to me.) After a while, the tears would subside, but I would smolder under a cloud, like a spent fire billowing smoke. That’s when I would go to my bookshelf and pick out a book. We had a set of “Wonderful World of Disney” books, each volume dedicated to a different aspect of the Disney film output (nature, fairy tales, live-action adventure, etc.) One of these books contained fiction stories. This was my go-to book for when I was smoldering. And my go-to story featured Donald Duck (no surprise). I don’t recall the details of the story, but it involved Donald getting really upset about things, and having to choose between following the angel duck on one shoulder, or the devil duck on the other shoulder. Donald ends up learning his lesson and doing the right thing. By the time I got to the story’s end, my cloud had lifted, the smoke dissipated, and I would be back to my better self, possibly even feeling a bit guilty for getting so angry.

I don’t know who wrote that story, but if my writing could have such an impact on even one person, I’d be very gratified.

If you’re a writer, why do you write? Are you one of those “write-or-die” writers, or do you have a much more casual relationship with writing?

Links and Stuff

Hello, again! Or if this is your first visit to my blog, HELLO!! Sorry–was that a bit too loud and overbearing? No… wait… come back!! *sigh* Well, I guess it’s just you and me again, Mum! 🙂

It’s all packing and cleaning here at Chez Smith as the hunt for that elusive right-house-at-the-right-price continues. We’ve looked at some more houses this week, a couple of which have promise, and one in particular everyone seems to like. Except I’d need them to come down on the price. I know everyone’s getting sick of me saying it (“What do you think, Dad?” “Very nice… now, if they could drop the price by about $40k, we might be able to afford it and still eat!”), but someone has to make sure we don’t fall into ruin for the sake of having nice digs. Those who are of a praying inclination, please feel free to offer petitions on our behalf, mostly for wisdom, and patience.

Sam the Cat’s loving all this new empty shelf space, though. We’ve often pondered what he looks like. A loaf of bread? An oversize Pikachu? It seems he thinks he’s the next “Game of Thrones” novel:

SamTheShelf

Can you believe it’s August already? I set myself two goals for the end of July: finish ALEXANDER HAMILTON by Ron Chernow, and finish another short story. As you can see from the review I posted on Wednesday, I completed the first of those goals, and thoroughly enjoyed the book. I also managed the second, which is good since I’m trying to write a short story every month. My hope is to build a little collection of them that I can submit to magazines. Having stories published in well-regarded magazines always looks good to agents, and can give a little bump to the finances, which is not to be sneezed at when you’re contemplating the size of a mortgage.

Forbes issued its list of the World’s Highest-Paid Authors. Now, I know we don’t write for the money, but many of us would at least like to make some kind of a living with our words. So, in a strange way, it can be encouraging to see authors earn lots of money from their books. After all, if these few can make millions, then isn’t it possible for many of us to at least pay the bills and buy food? To me, it was fun to see Veronica Roth on the list. I remember reading the blog posts when she signed with her agent, Joanne Volpe, now with New Leaf Literary Agency. And then her YA dystopian novel, DIVERGENT, was published to great fanfare. It became a bestseller, then the sequel came out, then there was talk of movie deals… and now she’s in the Top 20 richest writers list. Well done, Veronica!

What are your thoughts on writing and money? If you’re a writer, have you ever written for the money–even if it was just one short story to help pay a bill?

That’s it for now. Have a great week! 🙂

2016 April A-to-Z Blogging Challenge: Reflections

This past April, the blog went flash fiction and Paul McCartney mad. Bonkers. Completely loopy. And all thanks to this year’s A-to-Z Challenge. My theme for the month was “100 Word Flash Fiction Stories Based on Paul McCartney Song Titles.” Here’s a breakdown of how things went.

Method

Having done this for a few years now, I thought the best approach would be to start early and try to get all the posts written before April. Sometime in January, I decided upon the theme and made my list of songs. Some I chose because the song is a favorite, some I chose because I thought the title would be a challenge, and some I chose because there really wasn’t much choice (“Q” and “Z”)! The only letter Paul didn’t have covered was “X”, but I figured a way around that. I then set about writing the stories, mainly over February and March. I carried that list of songs around with me the whole time in the event I got a few moments in the day to work out stories.

Results

I was very pleased with the number of visits my pages received, and the kind comments people left on the stories. Thanks, guys! 🙂 It’s hard to quantify how popular each post was since the A-to-Z linky list only linked to my site, not to each individual post. So any hit counts I have will be based on people going directly to each story via Twitter, or maybe their RSS feed. The counts don’t include people visiting from the A-to-Z list; those visits get rolled up into the general daily site hits total. Bearing all that in mind, combining individual page hits and “likes”, here are my 2016 A-to-Z posts in order of popularity:

Another Day
That Day Is Done
Keep Undercover
Rainclouds
Coming Up
Hope of Deliverance
Junk
Backwards Traveller
Live and Let Die
No Words
Zoo Gang
Fine Line
Waterfalls
Girlfriend
Young Boy
I’m Carrying
X is for Heather
One of These Days
Used To Be Bad
Pretty Little Head
Every Night
Stranglehold
Venus and Mars
My Brave Face
Distractions
Queenie Eye

It’s not very scientific, but interesting nonetheless.

My Favorites: “Rainclouds”, “Used to Be Bad”, “Pretty Little Head”, “Zoo Gang”.

My Wife’s Favorite: “Backwards Traveller”

“Fan” Favorites (i.e., mentioned in the comments): “Coming Up”, “Hope of Deliverance”, “Backwards Traveller”, “Another Day”, “Girlfriend”.

Lessons Learned

It’s the same old problem: making time to visit the other A-to-Z-ers. I did manage to get to a number of them, but not as consistently as I’d hoped. That’s a shame since this is a key part of the challenge. I did find some new blogs to keep an eye on, which is good. Hopefully, keeping my posts short was helpful to visitors (a lesson learned from a few years ago). It can be tempting to write long articles, but if you only have a limited time to get around a lot of blogs, long posts can be daunting.

How was your A-to-Z experience?

Zoo Gang

ZThis is my fifth April A-to-Z Challenge. The past couple of years, I’ve written 100-word flash fiction each day. This year I’m doing the same, only with a twist: each day’s story will be inspired by the title of a Paul McCartney song. Today is the last day of the challenge, so let’s finish up with…

ZOO GANG

Joe passed the beans to Amy.

“Where’s Rob tonight?”

“Working late,” she said, taking a spoonful. “So, tell me more about your squad. Rob hardly mentions it.”

“Not surprised,” said Bill through a mouthful of steak. “Iraq was tough.”

“But we bonded,” Joe said, nodding to Bill.

“Remember our gang?” Bill smiled. “You, me, Rob, Pete.”

Joe laughed, “Yes! We even gave ourselves code names. Who were you?”

“I was Gorilla,” said Bill. Amy smiled. Given Bill’s physique, it fit. “Pete was Monkey—that laugh. And you were–?”

“Panther,” Joe said. “Obviously.”

“What was Rob called?” said Amy.

“Cheetah.”

That’s it for this year’s A-to-Z Challenge! Thanks for reading, especially if you’ve been following my flash fiction for the past month. I hope you’ve enjoyed it.

“Zoo Gang” was the B-Side to Wings’ 1974 single “Band on the Run” in the UK.  It has subsequently appeared as a bonus track on CD re-issues of the albums “Venus and Mars” and “Band on the Run.” The piece was originally composed by McCartney for the short-lived UK TV series, “The Zoo Gang,” which ran for six episodes between April and May of 1974.

Here are the opening titles to the TV show:

Young Boy

YThis is my fifth April A-to-Z Challenge. The past couple of years, I’ve written 100-word flash fiction each day. This year I’m doing the same, only with a twist: each day’s story will be inspired by the title of a Paul McCartney song. So let’s continue the fun with…

YOUNG BOY

“Do you think William will be okay?”

“Yes, dear, I do.”

“Did he pack a change of clothes?”

“I’m very sure he did.”

“What about underwear?”

“Yes, even underwear. And his toothbrush. And toothpaste.”

“Does he have enough money, you know, for snacks and stuff?”

“Yes, I do believe he’s okay for cash.”

“That boy,” Tom said, smiling. “They grow up so quickly.”

Mary echoed his smile. “They do.”

“It seems only yesterday he was playing with his trucks on the carpet.”

“I know. And now he’s driving one of his own.”

“He’ll always be our boy, though, won’t he?”

Check back tomorrow for the last day of the challenge, the letter “Z”…

“Young Boy” is a track from Paul’s 1997 album, “Flaming Pie.” It was released as a single that same year, reaching number 19 in the UK charts. He is joined on the recording by Steve Miller, who plays electric guitar and supplies backing vocals.

X is for Heather

XThis is my fifth April A-to-Z Challenge. The past couple of years, I’ve written 100-word flash fiction each day. This year I’m doing the same, only with a twist: each day’s story will be inspired by the title of a Paul McCartney song.

Unfortunately, Paul has yet to write a song beginning with “X”, so I’m going to have to improvise a bit here. Those who are acquainted with McCartney’s life have probably already guessed what I’ve done. For the rest, let me explain. Paul was married to Linda for 29 years until her death in 1998 from breast cancer. In 2002, McCartney married Heather Mills, but this union ended in divorce four years later. Paul is currently married (happily, so it seems) to business woman Nancy Shevell, so at the moment, Heather is Paul’s ex. Hence, X is for Heather!

Since we’re playing fast-and-loose with the rules, let’s play fast and loose with the theme too. Paul wrote a song for Heather called “Heather” (his creative genius knows no bounds), so we’re good there. But I’m going to stray from the 100-word flash fiction and give you a poem I wrote about my cousin Heather when I was nine. My teacher, the amazing Mr. Cobbett, read us a poem by some famous poet about a family member. He then tasked us with creating our own little poetry books called “My Family,” in which we were to write poems about family members. I don’t remember any of the other poems I wrote, but somehow this one has stuck in my head for over 35 years. So I present to you:

HEATHER

My cousin Heather’s as light as a feather

Her arms are as thin as a pin.

She has long legs like clothes pegs,

And every race she would win.

(The accompanying illustration was of a giant feather with arms and legs crossing a finish line.)

Check back tomorrow for “Y”…

“Heather” is a track from McCartney’s 2001 album, “Driving Rain.”

Interestingly, “Heather” is also the name of a song Paul wrote for his newly-adopted step-daughter, and recorded with Donovan and Mary Hopkin in 1969, but never released. Here it is:

Waterfalls

WThis is my fifth April A-to-Z Challenge. The past couple of years, I’ve written 100-word flash fiction each day. This year I’m doing the same, only with a twist: each day’s story will be inspired by the title of a Paul McCartney song. So let’s continue the fun with…

WATERFALLS

The water cascaded like a thin net sheet, its wet strands forming cobwebs over the rocks. Masami sat on a bench listening to Yasu fall into Yoneshiro, the one giving life to the other.

She felt a presence beside her and at her back.

Masami breathed steadily as a hand started on her leg, and another slid over her shoulders.

She focused on Yasu’s strength.

Barely a flick of the wrist, her white stick connected with the head behind her. Her elbow found seat partner’s chest, and the stick found his crotch. She heard feet running.

Peace again to meditate.

Check back tomorrow for “X”…

“Waterfalls” is a track from Paul’s 1980 album, “McCartney II.” It was released as a single that same year, reaching number 9 in the UK charts.

Here’s the music video based on the radio edit:

This is the complete album version of the song: