When last we met, I blogged about the flash fiction contest I entered this summer. Since then, I have been feverishly reading and commenting on other writers’ entries and following review comments on my own story. To give you an idea, I’ve probably read over 100 stories at 1,000 words a pop, and I’ve received nearly that many reviews back. Good critical feedback is enormously beneficial, and probably the major reason I signed up for the contest, and I have not been disappointed. I’m learning tons from reading so many other short stories, “meeting” other writers, gaining insight, and having a blast! Last week, we received the judges’ scores on round one, and while I’m ecstatic I did well, I’m also scratching my head that some of my [extremely well-written] favorites received zero of a possible 15 points. A very good reminder that EVERY kind of judgment on writing is subjective, even if the person is called “judge” [or agent or editor or reviewer].
After suffering through the dreaded HISTORICAL FICTION last round, I came to realize there are, in fact, even scarier genres—political satire and thriller had me particularly anxious. Just before the round two assignments came out on Friday at midnight, my husband appeared at my shoulder, because let’s be honest, it’s not that much fun to be the spouse of the flasher during the writing weekends. We waited together…oh, it was tense, folks.[See what I did there? Practicing in case I get SUSPENSE next time…]
Imagine my/our sheer joy when this appeared on the screen:
Genre: ROMANCE [RIGHT??]
Setting: AUTO REPAIR SHOP [Heh. In case you don’t know this about me, our family business was an auto dealership, aka the “what you know” part of “Write what you know.”]
Object: BOTTLE OF BABY FORMULA [Heck, I had a couple of formula-fed babies!]
In round one, I’d wanted to come up with the plot on my own, even though this is not necessary or even encouraged. This time, I chatted with some online friends who are especially helpful with plot coaching [Veronica & Karen], thinking outside the box [Kitkat], fellow writer and invaluable pre-reader [Shell], “specialists” [Meredith, Colin, & Jayme] who know helpful tidbits [about flat tires, for example]. And always, always, always, my most trusted editor [Sue]. A big village for a small story!
I brainstormed with each of them on Saturday, working to ignore the ticking clock. I even considered covering the bottom right-hand corner of my monitor but decided to be mature instead [a stretch for me]. At 3:18, I opened a new Word doc and started typing. It wasn’t pretty, and it didn’t flow, but I had the bones and I could hear some dialogue. I knew my characters and what I was going to do to them [insert evil laughter]. I spilled over 800 words in about fifteen minutes. That was good and it wasn’t good. [Word max is 1,000 in case you forgot.] From experience, I knew I’d need at least that many again to make my random wanderings coherent. I equate this with buying an unfurnished home. You get my meaning. And don’t even get me started on window treatments!
I cleaned it up, connected the dots, put in everything I had…1458 words. 4:05 AM. I went to bed for marination and, presumably, sleep. [No, marination is not a euphemism for sex! It’s my subconscious working the story.]
Sunday was Red Pencil Day [or, more accurately, Red Hatchet Day]. I love editing. I’m one of the weird ones, I know, but I love cutting and honing and economizing [Ha! you’d never know it from this blog post!]. But day-umm, this one was rough. One-third of the words went into the garbage can. It’s pretty hard to entangle two people romantically in such few words, especially since my favorite part—and I’m guessing, yours too?—is all that delicious unresolved sexual tension. But I got that sucker down to 992 words and here they are! I’d love to know what you think! Also, see how much more fun the teaser pictures are with ROMANCE [hot dude] vs. HISTORICAL FICTION [Torah]? ‘Nuf said. Enjoy!
FOR WANT OF A NAIL
The last noise James MacSweeney wanted to hear as he shook the formula bottle over his wrist was the clang-clang of the driveway chime. The customer can wait, Mac fantasized—until he remembered the pile of bills.
Mac cursed and scooped the newborn into his palm. “Sorry, girl,” he said, descending the staircase to his shop with quick but steady steps.
“Hello! Are you open?” The voice downstairs grew more demanding. “Anyone here?”
Mac found the man outside, a dark suit hugging his pacing form. Black wingtips worked the pavement: step, step, pivot. The man’s agitation was positively glorious.
“How can I help?”
“I need—is that a dog?” He peered over expensive-looking sunglasses. “Do you work here?”
“Yes and yes. She’s an English bulldog, and I’m Mac, mechanic-proprietor.” He pointed the plastic nipple toward the red embroidered “Mac’s” on his shirt.
“Stuart Pierce. My tire pressure light came on a couple miles back. It seems I’ve picked up a nail.” Did Stuart know the silver stripe in his tie perfectly matched the monsoon gray exterior of his A4? “I have an important meeting, so if you could just patch me up, I’ll be on my way.”
“Nails are tricky.” Mac crouched by the bulging tire. “I’d have to evaluate the penetration—”
“How long?” Steely-blue eyes bore two holes in Mac’s brain.
“Mounting and balancing a new tire, you’re looking at twenty, twenty-five minutes. If the sidewall’s intact, a patch could save you money and only take about fifteen minutes longer.”
“Longer? Forget it. Just replace it.”
“The good news is I stock these tires—”
“Lucky me.” Stuart checked his phone. “Twenty-five would cut it close.”
“But, as I was about to say, I need to feed this little girl first.”
“Feeding your pet before servicing your customer? Who taught you how to run your business?”
Mr. Fancypants could hold up a suit, but he didn’t know squat about raising a litter.
“True, I’d lose the eighteen-dollar markup on the tire and twenty for labor if you take your business down the road—though I doubt you’d make it halfway to Hilltop riding your rims. On the other hand, my mother will most definitely rip me a new one if anything happens to my little runt here, so no offense intended, sir, but the puppy comes first.”
To his credit, Stuart quickly let go of his customer-is-always-right bullshit. “How long could it take to feed such a little thing?”
“That depends on her appetite, how much gas she takes on, and how quickly her anal glands respond.”
Stuart’s nose wrinkled. “Best guess?”
“Hmm, what if I feed the dog while you handle my tire?”
“Have you ever bottle fed a puppy?”
“No, but I’m guessing the nipple goes in her mouth?”
Funny guy. “She’s sloppy. Formula leaves nasty stains.”
Stuart switched into striptease mode, shrugged off his jacket, and yanked his tie over his head. Buttons opened, revealing a crisp, white, perfectly filled-out T-shirt. Mac couldn’t remember the last time he’d worn anything that white—or the last time a man had undressed for him.
“You’re not used to taking no for an answer, are you?”
Mac sighed. “I hope I don’t regret this.”
Stuart answered with a wry grin. “Yeah, me, too.”
Mac led Stuart into the office and grabbed a clean towel from the stash of puppy supplies under his desk. “Have a seat.”
Stuart settled into the side chair. Mac draped the towel across his thighs.
“She’s gonna squirm at first, but she’ll settle down.” Mac lowered the puppy onto her belly. “Angle the bottle like this.” Mac jiggled the nipple inside the puppy’s mouth until she began sucking. “When she’s full, she’ll let go.”
Stuart’s hand snuck beneath Mac’s, gripped the bottle, and batted away Mac’s hand with a playful bump. “We’re fine here,” he said. “Get to work.”
Mac mounted that tire in twenty-one minutes—a personal best for a German car—and rushed back to the office. A lump formed in his throat as he observed the tender scene: the stranger who’d arrived all business and bluster, head dropped forward, his dark hair an anarchy, cooing a stream of endearments to the tiny creature in his lap.
Wildly smitten, thoroughly tamed—man and puppy alike.
“She likes you,” Mac said, his gravelly voice revealing more than he’d intended.
Stuart’s head snapped up. Their eyes locked, honest and raw. “No accounting for taste, right?”
Mac pushed off the wall. “You better get dressed. I’ll take her.”
Stuart clutched the pup as he lifted his right ass cheek off the chair. “Use my Amex.”
“Of course.” Mac dug out the wallet with surgical precision. He ran the card, shaking his head at the day.
Stuart caught Mac’s grin and smiled. “You never told me her name.”
“I don’t name them anymore. Makes me too sad when they’re adopted.”
“She’s up for adoption?”
“Will be in six weeks. Interested?”
Damn, unguarded Stuart was hot.
“Ever had a dog before?”
“No. Is that a prerequisite?”
“Not necessarily,” Mac said, “but a new puppy can be daunting, especially for someone used to a very orderly life.”
“So, I’m disqualified because my socks match?”
“I’m just being honest.”
“If it helps my case, my love life is a godawful mess.” An awkward laugh followed.
“Sure, I’d say that’s a positive.”
“I was kind of hoping you’d help me fix it.”
“First the tire, now your love life? What’s next?”
Stuart chuckled. “My career, if I don’t move my ass!”
Stuart’s ass moved, all right, and Mac enjoyed every moment from the kitchen window—was it peeping if the person was getting dressed? Mac fingered the nail on the windowsill as Stuart’s new tire triggered the clang-clang below.
The pup snored in her blanket nest, bringing a smile to Mac’s face. “Don’t worry, girl. Daddy’s coming back on Saturday so you can whip him into shape.”
Thanks for reading! See you next time…