It never ceases to amaze me how I start to get the writing itch just before the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge comes along.  Earlier this year I made it all the way to the final 25 writers of the NYC Midnight Short Screenplay Challenge – which thrilled me no end.  But after that I felt a tad written out and, with a growing wedding photography business happening, I threw myself head first into all things photography related.

That most probably explains why this blog hasn’t been touched or updated for over half a year.  I tend to find I’m one of those people who can only concentrate 100% on one thing.  So whenever the photographic side of my brain takes over, the writing has to take a back seat and vice versa.

However, I’ve just completed the first heat of the 2015 NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge this week – and really enjoyed the challenge.  Not only did I feel like I had written one of my strongest ever pieces of flash for the challenge but I found I had a new vigour for writing again – certainly more than I’ve had for a few years.  I’m not sure I know the reason, maybe because I didn’t allow myself to be come TOO consumed by it?  Sometimes I can suffocate my writing by allowing it to take me over completely, so I tried to be a bit more relaxed about this time round…and if that was the reason or not, it certainly helped.

So here I am. Back to the written word. Again.

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For the 2nd heat of the NYC Midnight (NYCM) Short Screenplay Challenge (SSC) 2014 I drew comedy as genre, location of a minimum security prison and a strobe light as an object to be included.  All this to be written to no more than 5 pages and within 48 hours.

The resulting screenplay is entitled Life Skills for a Modern World #5.

I’ve only ever drawn comedy once before, in a NYCM competition, and that was in the 2nd heat of the Flash Fiction Challenge back in 2010 (the first year I had entered any competition at NYCM). That time I finished top of my group, so comedy was definitely kind to me then…so I’m hoping it is a good genre again for me this time.

I must admit, I was pretty satisfied with the screenplay submitted – I felt it was one of my stronger submissions to a NYCM competition of late.  However, comedy is one of those things you can never properly judge – you can only write what amuses you, and hope others will find it funny.  After all, one man’s comedy gold is another man’s comedy cheese.

So far, though, the peer feedback has been incredibly positive – most probably the best feedback I’ve had for sometime.  Here are some of the comments I’ve received for the screenplay:

“You’ve nailed this aspect of comedy writing here for me! Knuckles is a funny spin on the Red from Shawshank style institutionalised inmate. I also thought the social media layer you incorporated was a great way to get at some very amusing conflict.”

“This wound up being just as fun as I’d hoped from hearing you describe it…I love the concept, and your writing does a great job making the people and places jump out. Kudos”

“Very nicely done! I think you did a great job pulling comedy out of a location that is not typically known for being terribly comedic. It’s also well written and paced, and I think the overall style negates any quizzical British idioms that us yanks may not understand.”

“You have a great writing style that really puts us inside the scene. Knuckles is a great character. I’d hate to meet him in a dark alley in Peckham.”

“Hilarious. Excellent juxtapositions. Every action and piece of dialogue building and reinforcing character.”

“Haha. This was funny. A solid story. I really liked Knuckles character and his last line was humorous.
Great job.”

“I really like dark humor so I enjoyed this. I thought the idea of nerdy Rafferty teaching an old salt like Knuckles how to use the internet, was very funny. The hacking line was great. Best line in the piece.”

“OMFG. That was hilarious. I liked the last several pages the best, especially the very end.”

“Wow, man I really enjoy reading your dialogue. Your building of character through their talking goes a loooong way to creating a satisfying, complete package without much descriptive narration or back story. Knuckles was vivid to me; I could see him and hear him in my mind, a complete character that I had never seen or heard before.”

“A riot! Very funny stuff…you could probably get a lot of mileage out of a buddy comedy about these guys.”

“This is absolutely hilarious. I loved every word. The visuals are what had me laughing out loud, though”

“I’m glad Guy Ritchie has already been brought up because by the time I got to page 3, that comparison was in my head. Love the humor, love the crudeness (it fits the situation, it fits the character, you have to write for the character and you have done that).”

“You know how you have those last minute thoughts before you go to sleep, then you can’t shake them? Well, that happened to me last night. I was thinking about “Life Skills…” and it occurred to me that you’ve got the perfect springboard for an offbeat and wry comedy feature in the vein of Douglas Adams’s “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.” Using that as a basic model, you could take this gem of a short and turn it into a full length feature script that could be uproariously funny, but also hit on a lot of real-life social problems at the same time. You should give it some thought. I’d certainly go to the movie theater to watch it. Just my thoughts…”

Of course, that’s not to say it’s the most perfect piece of work – I doubt anything written inside 48 hours could ever pretend to be. There’s been some good constructive feedback on improving certain aspects of it, which I’ll definitely do if I choose to develop it in future – something a couple of people have encouraged.

I also know that great peer feedback doesn’t equate a positive score from those darn judges – as I learnt to my cost the first year I entered the SSC, again back in 2010. I had crafted a horror screenplay back then, set upon a train transporting Jews to a concentration camp – in which a Golem wreaked pain and suffering on the Nazi’s on board. The peer feedback was amazing but it totally flopped with the judges!

So I’m definitely not counting my chickens with ‘Life Skills for a Modern World #5’ and whatever happens I know I genuinely crafted something I am very pleased with.  Having already scored 10 points with my 1st Heat submission, another 10 points or more should see me through to the semi-final stage…which I have never gone beyond in any NYCM competition, in 5 years of trying!

I’ve been entering various writing competitions at NYC Midnight since the summer of 2010.  That’s now 5 years, on and off, of writing flash fiction, short stories and screenplays to different random prompts.

So I thought it would be nice to look back at some of those entries again.

‘So Far From Home’ was my  first ever submission, into the 2010 Flash Fiction Challenge.  Having drawn a ghost story as the genre, I pulled a bakery as the location and a  “jump rope” (that’s a skipping rope to my fellow Brits!  Being completely new there I had no idea what to expect.  As I recall, I think the story placed 6th in that first heat – which, as a newbie, thrilled me no end!

So Far From Home

“It’s just some kid’s jump rope,” I say. “They forgot it and left it behind in the store. You know what kids are like.”

Immediately I regret it. Even after all these years I still have the capacity to speak without thinking, to turn my careless words into little arrow tips of pain.

“No Dima,” Iryna replies, her voice faltering. “I cleaned and swept round before locking up last night. There was no rope. I’m certain of it.”

I sigh and come out from the heat of the kitchen, the darkened early morning coolness of the storefront a welcome relief from the shackles of the stove. I smile and take the jump rope from her, placing it upon the counter.

She turns and looks away; anywhere but my face.

We’ve not smiled properly together in five years.

“It’s difficult, my sweet, I know. But it’s a new chance for us, a chance to start over again.”

I look around the bakery. Even now I find it difficult to believe, that here we are selling our own dark breads and sweet pastries to the Americans. We of course have Iryna’s sister to thank for that; it’s not every day a Siberian girl marries a rich American. But it would be a lie to think their offer of a business opportunity was the only reason we packed up all our worldly possessions and set sail for the new world.

“This isn’t starting over again Dima. This is trying to run away. But we can’t run away, he won’t let us!”

She looks back at the jump rope, as if she is half-expecting it to leap up and start swinging at the mention of him.

I wipe the flour from my hands and take hers in mine. “He’s dead, Iryna, Vasilly is dead.”

It’s five years since our precious boy drowned in the lake and was laid to rest within the shadows of our dacha. Found face down and bloated beneath the overhang of summer leaves, he must have been climbing in the trees before somehow losing his grip and falling into the waters of lake below. He was seven years old and I know Iryna has always secretly blamed me for his death. My boy died simply because I had always been too busy baking to teach him to swim.

“How can you say that Dima?” Her sadness is beginning to give way to anger again. “I know you feel him too. You’re just too scared and ashamed to admit it.”

I shake my head. “I feel him too Iryna, of course I do. I feel him like any bereaved father would. I carry him in my heart every second of every day. But that doesn’t make him here, like you and I are. He’s dead and we must live on. We owe that to him at least.”

But she’s not listening, her mind off somewhere else.

“I’ve started seeing him here Dima, while you’re down baking your breads in the early hours. He comes to me and sits at the end of the bed like he always used to. But our beautiful smiling boy doesn’t smile here. He looks scared and alone. But when I reach out to pull him to me he just crumbles away, like stale breadcrumbs in my hand. How could we come here, Dima, so far from home? How could you think it would make any difference?”

“Hush, Iryna, you’re too upset you can’t think straight…”

“I’m not crazy Dima,” she snaps, pushing my hand away. “I know what I see. I know he’s trying to tell me something. How else do you explain the bread half eaten during the night? Don’t you remember how he used to do that back home, feasting himself silly on mouthfuls of your special Borodinsky bread?”

“It’s just the rats,” I say.

“Or the jump rope?” She continues, ignoring my words and pressing the rope to her cheek. “How he used to love skipping, you must remember that Dima? How you got him that rope for his sixth birthday and he spent days just skipping joyfully in the yard?”

I smile, losing myself in the memory too.

“Here,” I say, holding out my hand. “Let me look more closely.”

She passes me the rope, like a nervous mother passing over her newly born child to a stranger for the first time.

I stroke the grain of the wooden handles, admiring the handmade craftsmanship, so unlike like the mass produced jump ropes the children have here.

The thought sends a chill up my spine.

“Go back to bed Iryna, I’ll fetch up some hot coffee for you in a while.”

I turn, go through the kitchen and out to the small storeroom in the back yard. In the musty darkness I frantically yank aside countless sacks of flour and rye until I find what I’m looking for. I lift up the soft cloth bundle and carry it through to the kitchen, placing it gently upon a work surface.

Firing up the oven, way beyond the normal temperature for baking bread, I unravel the cloth. The bones have yellowed with age but are still intact. I pick one up and press my mouth to it. An image of an empty grave in the shadows of a dacha comes to mind and I fill with shame.

Waiting no further I heap the bones upon my baker’s peel and slowly ease it into the oven. The flames crackle and flare instantly and for one fleeting moment I swear I see the face of Vasilly smiling back at me from the makeshift pyre, before the bones blacken, crumble and he’s gone forever.

I step back out into yard and watch as ash plumes out from the bakery’s stack and coils away into the distant horizon.

“Find your way home son” I say, and for the first time in years a tear falls from my eye.

The End.

I’m delighted to say I can now “officially” post my submission for the 2nd challenge of the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge 2014.

As a recap, I drew Action/Adventure as a genre – which is the first time I’ve had that in any NYC Midnight competition, a volcano as a location and a bird’s nest as an object to be used in someway.

It all had to be written in 1000 words or less and had to be dreamt up, written and submitted within 48 hours.

I was pretty lucky that I happened across a fairly strong story straight away – which always helps. I did inwardly groan when I first saw the location and object prompts – but the moment I thought about ocean volcanoes I was up and running.

Anyhow, that’s enough waffle, I hope you enjoy and any comments/feedback is always very much appreciated.

The Triangle Conspiracy

 

On the spur of the moment, last night, I decided to enter the BlueCat Screenplay “3 page scene” London competition.

It seemed a fun thing to do and I hadn’t written a short screenplay for a little while.

The premise was simple.  Just one scene, set in London and no longer than 3 pages. Only trouble was, I’d stumbled across this late and had less than 24 hours left to enter.

Still, as I’ve proven plenty of times in the past, if there is one thing I can do it’s write to a short deadline.

So this morning I submitted my entry, just 12 hours after discovering the competition and a few hours before the deadline.

Yes, it’s rough.

And, yes, there’s at least one glaring admission in there. But I’m fairly content all things considered.

If you’d like to read it, you can find it here.

I’d love to hear your comments and feedback if you have time.

Fanks!

…but all good things comes to those who wait; eventually.

Ok, so I’ve been a pretty bad blogger. It’s been over a year since I last blogged – well, about my writing at any rate – but other things have been going on in my life which have meant my writing has had to take a back seat.

However, I am hopefully back again – if not every day at least a bit more regularly than I have been.

So writing…

…well I was delighted to discover this morning that my flash fiction piece, entitled ‘The Dragon’s Apprentice’, for heat 1 of round 1 of the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge 2014, had scored me a respectable 10 points…or, in other words, placed me 6th out of the 42 writers in my group.  This was especially pleasing as it was 10 more points than I was genuinely expecting.

For those of you who don’t know the concept of the Challenge is that us writers get placed into groups and each group then gets given 3 random prompts (genre; location and an object) which need to be incorporated into a 1000 word story which has to be delivered within 48 hours.

For the first heat I drew fantasy with the location being a factory and the object a dozen eggs.  Fantasy has always been a genre that has consistently tripped me up in previous NYC Midnight competitions. So I wasn’t overly enthusiastic at the outset. Plus add to this that I was shooting a wedding and travelling that weekend I was going to get very limited time in which to dream up something and find time to write. In the end I ended up grabbing a bit of time (2 hours) to write on the train home.

I was far from happy with what I had submitted.  I knew I had a fairly decent story idea in my head, but I really struggled to translate that into the actual written story.

So I wasn’t overly confident or expectant of its or my chances. So much so I didn’t post it to the NYC Midnight forums for others to read and actually forgot that this weekend was actually the 2nd heat of the 1st round!

Finding out I had scored 10 points was a good as getting 1st place in my group, given the circumstances. It keeps me in the running this weekend (though I suspect only a 1st or 2nd place will be good enough to put me through overall.)

Fingers crossed the prompt God will be kind!

This is my entry into the 1st Heat of Round One of the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge 2013.  The aim is to produce, within 48 hours, a story of no more than 1000 words, based on a given genre, location and objection.

I was drawn in Group 1 and my given prompts are:  A Romantic Comedy / A Swamp / An RV (Recreational Vehicle)

With already 24 hours gone on the challenge, and struggling with another story, this idea of a rom-com featuring Tarzan & Jane suddenly came to me.

I hope you enjoy and all constructive criticism is gratefully received.

 

Logline:  He may be King of the Apes, Lord of the Jungle, but when Tarzan meets Jane for the first time not everything goes so swimmingly.

 

———————-

When Tarzan Met Jane” by DBA Lehane

 

From the branch a small break in the jungle canopy allowed him a perfect view of the swamp below and the clearing in which a beaten-up old RV had been unceremoniously parked.  Floating on the surface of the swamp itself, face up with arms outstretched and eyes closed tight, a naked young woman enjoyed the coolness of the water beneath the African sun.

Tarzan studied her closely from his high vantage point. She was certainly the most beautiful creature he had ever seen, not surprising really given that he had been raised by a troop of remote jungle apes from an early age and had rarely encountered other humans.  But, as much as he was indebted to the apes for rescuing him from that plane wreckage, he had grown lonely in recent years and his heart now yearned for one of his own kind, one with whom he could share both his love and the jungle in a way he couldn’t with apes.

A sudden movement on the far side of the swamp caught his attention and he saw a crocodile slide threateningly into the water, its eyes fixed hungrily on the woman floating blissfully unaware a little way off.

Tarzan didn’t hesitate.  He had to save her, this beautiful gift sent by the great Jungle God.  Letting out the ululating yell of his war cry he stood and, with the athleticism and finesse of a high diver, leapt headfirst into the waters of the swamp below.

He hit the surface and the stunned crocodile at the same time, dragging the reptile down amongst the tangle of reeds and jungle roots in a frenzy of white foaming water.  The creature struggled against him, its formidable teeth trying to rip apart the young man daring to grapple with it.  Yet, despite his young age, Tarzan was strong and, more importantly, prepared for such a conflict. He hooked a strong bulging arm around the smoother underside of the crocodile and pulled fiercely back.  The creature thrashed wildly, rearing up as it tried desperately to free itself, but eventually the young man felt bone crack and the crocodile went lifelessly limp.

As he emerged triumphantly from the swamp, Tarzan was relieved to see the woman had scrambled to the safety of the far bank.

“What the frikkin hell you playing at?” she spluttered angrily. “You could have drowned me.”

“There was…” he started, but the young woman wasn’t listening.

“And I’m going to have to redo all my makeup again, thanks to…”

She stopped in mid-sentence as her eyes fell upon the athletically toned golden torso of the young man, covered only by the skimpiest of loin cloths which had now lifted completely to an engorged forty-five degree angle.

“Oh shit,” she gasped, trying desperately to cover her nakedness that was clearly pleasing this handsome but wild-looking stranger. “You’re a dirty peeping tom, ain’t ya?”

“Me Tarzan,” he replied proudly, beating his chest. “King of the Apes, Lord of the Jungle.”

“Look, I don’t care if you’re the God-damned President of the U-S-of-friggin-A, you shouldn’t be spying on a lady like that,” she said throwing on a silk gown. “You could have killed yourself or, worse still, me falling from trees like that!”

“Sorry, girl in great danger,” replied Tarzan, sounding genuinely concerned for her welfare.

“I rather feared I was,” she said, looking back down at his loin cloth which was thankfully subsiding now. “I’m Jane.”

“Why Jane here?” asked Tarzan. “Jungle not safe for lonely, pretty girl.”

She pointed back at the RV, its front end completely sunk into a deep jungle pot-hole. “We got stuck.”

We?” replied Tarzan, his heart sinking.

“Yeah, me and my bastard of an ex-husband. We’re driving this heap of shit down to a buyer in Lusaka.  I don’t trust my Ex to give me half the sale price as agreed in the divorce settlement – so I’m going down with him before I then fly back to the States and start a new life.”

“Where Bastard now?” asked Tarzan, mistakenly thinking this was the ex-husband’s name.

Jane pointed back toward a trail that led away into the dark jungle. “He went to get help six hours ago. He’s most probably sat in some village, getting drunk as usual, without a single thought for me.”

Tarzan flashed her a smile and again Jane couldn’t ignore the thrill he sent shuddering through her.

“Maybe Tarzan help Jane.”

He took a step towards the stranded RV, inhaled and bent down to grip the vehicle’s front bumper.

As he did so he let rip a fart so loud it sent parakeets and other birds flocking noisily from the tree tops above.

Jane shook her head. “Yeah, I guess when you’re King of the Apes that’s perfectly acceptable.”

Tarzan said nothing and instead began to lift the RV clear of the pothole, his entire torso rippling with more muscles than Jane had seen on one man.

“Wow, impressive,” she said, her eyes lingering over his body rather than the freed RV. “Your partner must really appreciate you.”

“Cheetah my partner. He Chimpanzee,” replied Tarzan.

“Well, I guess it takes all sorts,” said Jane, turning towards the RV. “It must get very lonely here in the jungle after all.”

“Now Jane go?” asked Tarzan, a look of disappointment crossing his face.

“Hmmm,” replied Jane, stepping forward and placing a hand on his chest. “Perhaps I could stay until that good for nothing ex-husband returns.  Why should he have all the fun, after all?”

Tarzan shrugged and thought back to the lion ravaged body he’d found in the jungle earlier that day. He doubted Bastard would be returning any time soon.

“Tarzan show Jane tree house,” he said sweeping her up into his muscular arms.

“Oh, I bet you say that to all the stranded girls,” gushed Jane as he ran forward, leapt onto a hanging vine and took them swinging off through the jungle.

============

This was my 1st Round 1st Heat entry into the Flash Fiction Challenge 2013.  I received the genre of Romantic Comedy to be set in the location of a swamp, with a Recreational Vehicle included.

I’ve been thinking about this for a few years now.  I think I might just do it now.

So what am I talking about?

The monthly writing competition in Writing Magazine here in the UK. There’s one each month, based on a different theme or genre, with cash prizes.  I did enter it a couple of times before.  Once in 1999 and once in 2005.  But I figure doing each one for 12 months will be good practice and good fun.

The next one is an “Adult Fairy Tale” – so, once upon a time…

Yes, I’m talking about the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge 2013.  I’ve been entering this challenge each since 2010 (with the exception of last year when it went missing) and I have just completed the 1st Heat of Round 1.

The challenge presented is to write a piece of flash fiction, to a thousand word maximum, based on the given prompts of a genre, location and object, all within 48 hours.  The stories are judged and awarded points and the top 5 writers in each group progress to the next round, until there is an eventual winner.

I’ve yet to make the final, but have been thrilled to win the odd round or two.

In the first heat of the first round this year I drew Romantic Comedy as my alloted genre (yes, I groaned out loud too!) with the location of a swamp and the object being an RV or Recreational Vehicle (as a Brit I had to Google that to realise it was a camper van in London Speak!)

I initially came up with a story around a bunch of aid workers camping out and partying by a swamp at the end of their voluntary work in Congo.  The title, of which, was “Saturday Night Swamp Fever”.  However, a day into the write I realised it was far too big of a story to be done justice by the restrictions of a 1000 word flash.

So, deflated, I went to be on the Saturday evening knowing I either had to cut it massively and, in effect, kill the story totally or come up with a brand new idea – and with only 24 hours left to do that.  Obviously my brain must have been whirring all this around as I slept because in the early hours of Sunday morning I awoke with the story title “When Tarzan Met Jane” (yes a play on the RomCom film title “When Harry Met Sally”) and suddenly had the gem of an idea for a brand new story.

Thankfully the idea of “When Tarzan Met Jane” was much more suited to the structure of a 1000 word flash and I manged to get it all done and dusted by Sunday evening.

Now, whilst I can yet post the story itself, I can tell you its logline was “He may be King of the Apes and Lord of the Jungle, but when Tarzan meets Jane for the first time not everything goes so swingingly.”

Once I am allowed to, the story will be posted here – so keep an eye out!

Let’s be honest about this.  I’m not a writer in the finer literary sense.  Yes I can string a sentence or two together or use words in a way that entertains but it’s not the joy of writing, per se, that appeals to me.  It’s the story that thrills me.  It’s the unadultered pleasure of plot.  I want mystery, intrigue and, goddamit, edge-of-the-seat excitement.  I’m not here to show off with words, I want to thrill you with stories.  It’s as simple as that.

About

DBA Lehane is an award winning short fiction & screenwriter. His short stories and flash fiction has been published extensively online and in print - including magazines and numerous anthologies. His short short story 'Things A Girl Has To Do' has previously been optioned for a short film. He was a finalist in the 2014 Short Screenplay Challenge hosted by NYC Midnight. He lives in south London, UK and away from writing is a successful photographer.
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