Meet the winner of WD’s Short Short Story contest, and check out her take on the makings of successful–but brief–fiction

Happy Friday, everyone. We’re on Cloud 9 because we just signed off on the May/June issue of WD today, which includes (among other stimulating things, such as a genre writing package and a great cover story author) a piece about the winner of our 10th Annual Short Short Story Competition, Wendi Christner. Her story “Throwing Stones” took home the top flash-fiction honors this year, and I interviewed her for the mini profile in the magazine. Here are a few excerpts from our chat on shorts, followed by a sharp (apologies for the pun) weekend prompt. For more about Wendi, check out the May/June WD when it hits newsstands in April (it will also include a link to the winning story), and visit her website here.

(Christner photo from wendichristner.com)

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What’s your life story in brief?

Wow, talk about a short, short story. How’s this? I grew up in the north Florida Panhandle near the Gulf Coast. My rural and coastal roots influence every part of my life and my writing. I’m sort of the female Kenny Chesney, minus the guitar, singing voice and fame.

What are your favorite short stories?
I lean toward the Southern writers like Eudora Welty and Alice Walker. And I especially enjoy discovering old less-known fairytales and fables.


What’s your typical writing routine?
I try to write every day. Other than that, I keep my routine flexible. I want to be available for all of life’s surprises and to have time for the people who are important to me.
 


What’s the secret to a great short story?
I think the secret to a great story of any length is to engage the reader’s emotions.
 


What about the short form appeals to you?

I like the challenge of trying to fit all the story pieces into only a few words. I imagine it’s like building a ship in a bottle—but I’ve never tried that. 


How do you capture a reader with a short story?

I try to start strong and let every word carry its weight, even more so than in a novel. Scenes have to make their point quickly but poignantly, and transitions need to move like lightning. 
 


What’s the best advice you can give a budding short-story author?

Write what’s in your heart. Study your craft. Learn the industry and become part of a writing community.  
 


Do you enter many competitions, and what’s your advice concerning writing 
contests?
I used to enter romance contests and did well in those. If a contest offers feedback from the judges, always consider that the judge may be “right,” but never forget how subjective this business is.
 


What are you currently working on, and what’s next for you?
I’m currently working on three books: a literary novel set in the Deep South with a Ray Bradbury influence; the first installment of a contemporary mainstream series with paranormal elements; and a cowboy romance. What’s next? I hope to continue writing what’s in my soul and finding people who enjoy reading what I write.

* * *

WRITING PROMPT: He Got His Wish
Feel free to take the following prompt home or post your response (500
words or fewer, funny, sad or stirring) in the Comments section below.
By posting, you’ll be automatically entered in our occasional
around-the-office swag drawings. If you’re having trouble with the
captcha code sticking, e-mail your story to me at
writersdigest@fwmedia.com, with “Promptly” in the subject line, and I’ll
make sure it gets up.

He always wanted a straight razor shave, so he went to get one on his birthday. After being led to a chair and leaning his neck back, he spotted the barber for the first time.

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here to check the March/April 2010 issue of WD out.

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5 thoughts on “Meet the winner of WD’s Short Short Story contest, and check out her take on the makings of successful–but brief–fiction

  1. PapaPete

    For years Mom had cut my hair. Always the same, sitting in a kitchen chair, dish towel wrapped around my neck and those old manual hair clippers. The kind you had to squeeze, like a giant set of scissors. They always pinched and pulled. I hated haircuts. They were short and stubby, kind of a crew cut but not quite.

    “Come on Mom it’s 1964 I’m seventeen. I want long hair! I want to look cool. Short hair is for squares!” She had heard this argument for several months. It was my new approach from the usually whinny, “Ah Mom I don’t want a haircut.”

    But this time it was different. Mom smiled and reached into her apron pocket pulling out a five dollar bill. “After school go down to the Wendell Hotel and get your hair cut. You have senior class pictures next week and I guess it’s time you got a good hair cut.”

    The Wendell, I couldn’t believe it! Walking into the barber shop you could smell the Bay Rum and talc, eight barbers all in starched white tunics and pictures of celebrities hung on the walls. I sat in the chair. The barber started slapping his razor on the leather belt. “How do you want it cut son?”I took a deep breath, this was Heaven!

  2. Martha W

    This is a really crappy month for me. I can’t remember ‘bridge’ to save my life. And to top it off… I’m late posting… Sorry, Zac!

    Congrats, Wendi! Can’t wait to read your story!

    Mark, awesome as always…

    #########

    This was it. Alex was turning thirty, had wanted a straight razor shave since his early twenties. Today he was taking the plunge.

    The place promised great haircuts and good- looking women for barbers.

    The little bell above his head jingled as he pulled the heavy glass door open, the scent of shaving cream and incense candles blended together to lure him in to the dimly lit establishment. They needn’t have bothered. He went willingly.

    Each station had pictures hung of barely dressed women, stylist certificates and different paraphernalia of the… uh, eclectic type. A blonde woman, probably twenty if he guessed right, sashayed from the back room, all curves and spunk. “Hi there. What can we do for you today?”

    He smiled at the slight southern twang. “Straight razor shave.”

    “Tony does those, hang tight, I’ll be right back.”

    Fine by him. “Okay. Where can I sit?” He glanced around the cluttered area, not seeing any chairs.

    “Over here.” She gestured to the closest barber chair. “Have a seat, relax.”

    Alex sat staring as miles of tanned legs carried her out of the room. Nice. This is how a birthday should be spent. He leaned back in the chair, stretched his neck back, closed his eye to wait.

    “You want a razor shave?”

    From behind closed lids, he imagined the smoky voice belonging to a body equally intriguing. “Yeah. Straight razor, please.”

    “Okay, I’ll grab on from the drawer and be right back.”

    He heard wood sliding against wood only be couple feet away. Opening his eyes, he tilted back to catch a sneak peek at the woman who would be bent over him for the next twenty minutes.

    Craning his neck toward the sounds closest to him, he froze in shock.

    “Um. Where’s Tony?”

    Tousled pink hair fell across at least four piercings in a non-existent eyebrow, that amazingly enough, was arched at his question. “Excuse me?”

    “Where’s Tony?” He repeated.

    “I’m Tony.” The gold hoop in Tony’s lip bounced, once, twice.

    The snap of leather as the old razor cracked against a waiting palm startled Alex. “No, no.”

    Alex stood and crossed to him, flipping the blade open with the skill born of years of practice. “Now you’re starting to insult me, sweetheart.”

    “I’m confused.” Alex couldn’t believe it. The one time he splurges on the high-dollar shave with the pretty girls – he gets this.

    Tony’s hand pressed on Alex’s forehead, exposing his neck to the warmed shaving cream and sharpened blade. “Aw. You were expecting a girl, right?”

  3. Mark James

    Wendi, congratulations!

    “Rafe, we’re immortal. We don’t have birthdays.”

    “We all need celebrations, Michael. In you go.”

    I looked around. Of all places on Earth. “Wanna tell me what we’re doing in a barbershop in the middle of their night? Anything we shave off grows back. We can’t change.”

    “Remember when you wanted a shave with a real blade?”

    “I said that in the Middle Ages.”

    “Time has a way of slipping by, doesn’t it?”

    He hustled me over to a chair and held out his hands.

    “No way. I’m not giving you my sword so you can make it all happy.”

    “I will not touch your fire.”

    One thing about my brother Raphael, when he wants something, you can’t resist him. It feels good to do what he says. I slid my sword out of the gold scabbard across my back. He made it float to a corner.

    “Very good,” he said. “In the chair. Head back.”

    I did it, feeling naked without my sword.

    “How does it hang with you, Michael?”

    I knew that voice. I tried to get up, but Raphael held his hands inches above me. One touch from him, and I’d have what mortals call a hangover for decades. “Not as low as you since I kicked you out of Heaven,” I said.

    Lucifer stood over me with a long, sharp straight edge razor. ““I couldn’t stay, Michael. There is no bridge of compromise between He and I.”

    The air got cold. Must be Thanatos.

    He floated through the door, nodded to Lucifer. “I hope your fires burn well, brother.” To me he said, “Happy Feast Day, Michael.”

    “Head back,” Lucifer said. “Just a little more.”

    I looked up at him. “What happened to you?”

    “Freedom,” Raphael said, “carries a price, brother.”

    “Did it hurt?" I said. "Falling like that?”

    “Of course it did. But I’ve made a new place for myself, and I’m happier reigning there than I was serving Him.” Lucifer bent over me, put the blade against my neck. “I see you’ve grown a single hair of wisdom since our last battle.”

    He slid the edge against my skin, then passed the razor to Raphael, staying way out of range of our brother’s healing hands.

    Angels don’t hug, our wings get in the way. We touch instead. Lucifer held his palm up. I pressed mine to his, and felt the fire of his pride, his will, his need to be free and make a place for himself, even in our Father’s world.

    “Next time my sword needs some fire, I’ll come by, and you can fix me up,” I said.

    It was nice seeing him smile since. . . well. . . since the battle. “That would be well with me," he said.

    Then, just like the mortal stories, there was a puff of black smoke and he was gone.

    I felt something I didn’t understand. I looked at Rafe, like I always did when that happened. "What’s wrong with me?"

    Raphael gave me that smile they put on all his statues. “Healing is found in the least likely places, Michael.”

  4. Mandy

    “Well this is uncomfortable.” The words escaped on their own. When your neck is exposed to a razor-wielding enemy, the carefully turned phrase is outside the realm of possibility. He was lucky that air seemed to be moving regularly in and out of his lungs. The jackass was a barber?!!

    It all started a few weeks back when Jill talked him into watching an old black and white movie. It was Saturday night and Jennifer was over at David Burrow’s house. David Burrow. He hadn’t liked that name from the first time he heard it. Jennifer would never have agreed to sit through a movie like Mutiny on the Bounty, but as Jill pointed out, Jennifer was dating now. They were going to be able to do lots of things that they hadn’t been able to do together in a long time. Well, he was glad at least his wife could see the up side of all of this. Somebody needed to.

    Maybe it was the beer or the fact that the dog granted him more cushion than usual on the couch, but Jill was right about the movie. It was a good one. He could see why people still talked about Clark Gable, why his wife had always had a thing for the guy. Staring into the mirror the next morning, he decided to do something he had never done before. His little girl had a boyfriend, he would be 40 by this time next month, and he had never had a straight razor shave. Suddenly this fact bothered him. Was he a little boy or was he a man? It didn’t seem right, it needed to change and it would. No sooner was the decision made then Jill’s face appeared in the mirror beside him. Her eyes were huge. “Jennifer isn’t in her bed.”

    The rest of that morning was a blur that came into focus only when they had a very guilty looking Jennifer cowering into the cushions of their couch. “You fell asleep? Do you really expect us to believe that?” His wife’s face was so red, it wasn’t entirely clear that she was breathing. He was just glad that she was taking the lead on the conversation. Words weren’t coming together in a logical way in his mind. There was no space for them. Awful images of his daughter and that David boy were crowding everything out. Somehow Jill and Jennifer seemed to be talking, but the voice of that stupid, stupid man echoed in his ears. “Maybe you need to buy your daughter a watch.”

    Later he couldn’t be sure exactly what he had said in response, but he knew it wasn’t something he would be proud of. Here now in this chair, awaiting the straight razor shave that would usher him into his 41st year, he wished he’d never heard of Clark Gable.

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