Nostalgia City Mysteries

By Mark S. Bacon

Category Archives: flash fiction writers

A new mystery book—sort of     

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Cops, Crooks & Other Stories in 100 Words was published more than seven years ago—about the time I started this website—and I decided to take another look at the book.  The result of this look is a new edition.  I edited and revised some stories, deleted others and added about a dozen new stories with twist or mystery endings.

Can a 100-word story have a surprise ending? Yes, it’s part of the challenge. As I wrote in the introduction to the previous edition of the book, the challenge to tell a complete story in exactly 100 words is the lure of this genre.

Here is the Amazon link for the ebook:   https://amzn.to/2mIfC0s   It will soon be available at barnesandnoble.com and the other places.

Extremely short, tiny, miniscule bits of fiction have been around for a long time.  Aesop’s fables are a good example. Written in the sixth century BCE, Androcles (and the Lion) contains only 265 words, and The Ant and the Grasshopper uses only 150 words. Ernest Hemingway reputedly wrote a six-word story: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

Welcome to flash fiction.  Books and a broad variety of online literary magazines and some print magazines feature these short-shorts. Actually short-shorts is not an appropriate description  as it often refers to short stories of a few pages or more, not a few paragraphs or a few sentences. Flash fiction seems to be the most commonly used name for these snippets of creative writing, although some online magazines refer to micro fiction, nano fiction, sudden fiction, or quick fiction.

As to the best length for flash fiction, there’s little agreement. Even though the 100-word limit is common, a variety of print and online magazines and published anthologies restrict flash fiction stories to 1,000, 2,500, and even 5,000 words. Compared to a 100-word tale, the longer stories could hardly be read in a flash. Wikipedia does little to establish a common length saying, “flash fiction is a fictional work of extreme brevity.”

Journals such as 100 Word Story and 101 Words need no explanation. Some other online publications are looking for what Wikipedia calls twitterature, that is, stories of 280 characters or less. Everyday Fiction sets the limit at 1,000 words but encourages writers who can tell a story in 50.  

Before publishing the first edition of this book I published stories in a variety of online flash fiction literary magazines, including my favorite, 100 Word Story.  Editor Grant Faulkner says the 100-word limit is an arbitrary marker that “forces the writer to question every word.”

It’s a good discipline. A number of years ago a friend of mine told me his writing group was working on an exercise in which they had to tell a story in just 100 words.  I had never heard of flash fiction before and was intrigued.  At first I wrote cop stories, then branched out into the variety of genres represented in the book.  More than half the stories in the new book have to do with detective work, crime, or general law enforcement.  The balance include humor, speculative fiction and a little romance.

Yes, each story contains exactly 100 words.  And you have to know the rules.  Hyphenated words count as one word and titles are not included in the word count. Numerals, even those separated by commas count as one word. The counting function on MS Word seems to have its own rules, so I count by hand as well.

I agree with Faulkner.  This genre makes you question each word.  But now that I’m spending most of my time on novel-length mysteries, I still try to remember the value of each word.

Here’s a sample story from Cops, Crooks & Other Stories in 100 Words:

 On the House

Starting her workday baking before sunrise always made Sophie’s concentration sag by 9 a.m., but looking across the counter at a gun barrel got her immediate attention.

“Gimme the money,” the gunman said.

Sophie glanced over the man’s shoulder, moved toward the cash register—then ducked.

The cop standing behind the robber threw him against the counter, as another officer grabbed the gun.

“You gotta be the dumbest crook I ever met,” said the first cop. “Okay, maybe you didn’t see our car in the lot, but really…”

“Thanks, Kelly,” Sophie said. “From now on, doughnuts are on the house.”

—————–

“…it is rather remarkable that the author is able to introduce a cast of characters, set a stage for them to act upon, and play out a scenario—sometimes involving cops and crooks—in which something unexpected happens, all in exactly 100 words.”
MysteriousReviews.com

My friend Jim died yesterday

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Jim McCormick had too darn much talent. 

As an artist, he worked in a variety of media: print making, collage, drawing and ingenious constructions for which I can’t find a name.  He taught art at the University of Nevada – Reno from 1960 until he retired in 1992.  His students are among the renown artists in my part of the country.

McCormick continued to create art for many years after retirement, and he curated numerous exhibits large and small.  Throughout his life he encouraged and promoted northern Nevada artists, all of whom will be grieving along with me. 

As an artist and art professor he earned innumerable awards and his work was displayed at galleries and exhibits from Nevada to North Carolina to Maine.  He served on the Nevada State Council on the Arts from 1963 to 1970 and from 1980 to 1989. He directed the Nevada Art Research Project at the Nevada Historical Society, and in 1990 he received the Nevada Governor’s Art Award for Excellence in the Arts.

Jim McCormick

I knew Jim as the artist but also as a fellow writer.  He had neuropathy, a condition of the nervous system that caused him to gradually lose feeling in his hands, arms and legs.  When he could no longer create the art works that had been his life, he turned to writing.  Not that he wasn’t already a writer.  Over the years he authored many art essays and exhibition books for individual shows.  But now he dabbled in something new: flash fiction.

I had discovered flash fiction at the time too, so Jim and I started exchanging stories.  Sometimes we’d send them in email, other times at lunch we’d reach into our pockets, pull out whatever we’d written recently and critique each other’s work.

For the uninitiated, flash fiction is a story of exactly 100 words.  Technically, flash fiction stories can be longer, or shorter, but Jim and I both liked the discipline of writing a complete story in precisely 100 words.

We weren’t competing, just poking each other’s minds with new ideas, new approaches.  Once, we even taught a seminar in flash fiction writing at our church.

I have a journalism background and thus tend to put related elements together and in chronological order. I think my stories “work” in some sense, but I often remind myself to mix things up, try something different.  Jim’s stories, like  his art, are not all  representational.  And he had a great sense of humor that came through in his writing.  Often I would look forward to his puns and other word plays to see if he would make me laugh.

Occasionally, he’d mix the macabre with his whimsy.   The following two stories are great examples. (The one title covers both stories.)  I published these on this site several years ago and offer them again as a tribute to my multi-talented friend.

Stone Motor

By Jim McCormick

Stone Motor played a gig in the music room of a moss shrouded, antebellum mansion near the Mississippi. Its audience included the usual bland tourists and a blue-haired guide named Maude, who disclaimed the South’s loss in the War between the States. Lately, she’d been trying to poison visitors from up north with complementary mint juleps. Melvin Carnahan of Boston accepted one and he expired as he drove off the plantation. The band’s lead singer was arrested; seems he had a likeness of Jeff Davis tattooed over his heart. Soon after, Maude seized the mike and the rest was history.

Shortly after joining the band, lead singer and murderess Maude Dossage changed her name; she wanted a stand-alone nom de guerre. Slightly bent in her 80th year, red hair exchanged for blue, she told the Stone Motor boys her name was now Mudd. Sympathy with the Confederate cause persisted; she hatched a plot to do in Brooklyn born drummer, Grant Getty. Mint julep concoction again? No! Too good for Getty. He got it one cool evening when Mudd laced his doobie with strychnine; he never even made it to the bandstand. Thereafter, the smug Miss Mudd doubled on percussion.

Mystery flash fiction: 100-word crime story

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Called flash fiction, quick fiction or nano fiction, literature in miniature has been around for decades.  Depending on the author or the editor, flash fiction can be 100 words, 250 words, 55 words, or even six words. Hemingway wrote flash fiction. Although she’s well known as a novelist, Margaret Atwood is also a flash fiction writer. I like the discipline of creating a complete story and finishing with precisely 100 words.

badge-and-gun

Here again is a crime drama in exactly 100 words.  Continue Reading →

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