Friday, December 9, 2011

Flashes of Talent

HALLIE EPHRON: You'll have to wait until next year to compete in the Flash Words competition at the New England Crime Bake (NEXT year it's Nov. 9-11, 2013 with guest of honor Joseph Finder), but at this year's Bake, the competition was fierce and the winners awesome.

The challenge: To write a compelling crime story in 150 words or less, using at least ten of twenty title words from novels by our Guests of Honor, Nancy Pickard and Barry Eisler.

Title Words: Assassin, Bitch, Body, Coast, Confession, Detachment, Die, Fall, Fault, Ingredient, Killing, Marriage, Murder, Rain, Requiem, Scent, Secret, Storm, Truth, Virgin.

This is even harder than it sounds, and I'm quite sure I couldn't have done it at all, never mind create a coherent tale. Congratulations to the three not lucky so much as talented winners who have graciously agreed to let us run their winning entries.

Just Desserts
By Betsy Bitner

I’ve cooked up a storm every fall for twenty years, determined to get a compliment out of my mother-in-law or die trying. But in truth, getting her to say something nice would be a miracle akin to the virgin birth. Each Thanksgiving she manages to find plenty to bitch about: lumpy gravy, dry turkey, sour cranberry sauce.

I’m done killing myself for her approval when all she does is rain on my parade. And I’m done with my husband defending his mother by saying, “It’s not her fault she has refined tastes. You should try harder.”

This year my efforts will yield more than a sink full of dirty dishes. I’m making a special dessert for the two of them: apple tarts – heavy on the cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. Oh, and a secret ingredient. Let’s see if her tastes are refined enough to detect the scent of bitter almonds.

A former public defender and professionally trained chef, Betsy Bitner turned to mystery writing for the fame and big bucks. She researches her novel, which is set in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York, by trying a variety of outdoor activities from a polar plunge to field dressing game. You can read about her adventures at

By Brenda Buchanan

For forty of her forty-one years, Luella Remington was a bashful virgin with a secret. She made a killing writing steamy romantic novels despite an utter lack of first-hand carnal knowledge.

Then she met Storm Bernardsson, whose lessons about a body’s capacity for pleasure left her purring like a contented cat. They had their first fight when Luella demanded he leave his 20-year marriage. She complained about his equivocation on Twitter, oblivious to a certain new follower.

She anticipated hot make up sex when a tweet from @stormyweather lured her to Confessional Point, clad in a raincoat, stilettos and nothing else.

No one will ever be able to prove it, but Luella didn’t slip and fall from that rain-slick coastal cliff. Mrs. Bernardsson was discrete, strolling back to her idling car, inhaling the sweet scent of salt, humming a tune of her own composition: Requiem for a Bitch.

Brenda Buchanan lives in Portland, Maine, where she practices law by day and sits in front of the keyboard nights and weekends. Her just-completed mystery, tentatively titled The Quick Pivot, features a newspaper reporter investigating murder and well-kept secrets in a Maine mill town.

By Lorrie Lee O’Neill

“Dead,” he thinks.

Rain peppers the church’s windows. The requiem drones in Latin. Ethel leans in, her hand like softly-plied leather on his.

“It’s not your fault.” She whispers. The storm picks up.

“I am an assassin,” he feels, but nods instead.

That priest waves a thurible over the body. There is the scent of incense.

At confession, he had told that priest he wanted her dead. This was his truth.

“She willed her entire estate to the church,” he confessed.

He drove home embittered. He argued, but her heart was as set as it was ardently failing. She called for that priest. She took communion. He endured it all with a sense of detachment.

Guilt consumed him, both then and now.

At the church he had given his secret to that priest. That priest arrived and administered her last rites, but with an added ingredient to her communion wafer.

Lorrie Lee O’Neill is a graduate of Emerson College in Boston, MA, with a BFA in Creative Writing, Literature and Publishing. She has written articles for magazines, radio scripts, poetry and more recently, ventured into the genre of short stories and pulp fiction.

Betsy, Lorrie Lee, and Brenda will be checking in today and pleased to accept praise and answer questions.


  1. These are amazing stories you all! I missed the first reading catching up from Yoga for Writers.

    I'm curious about how you start a project like this? lay out the words and see what comes to mind? or do you have the story first, and then fit in the words?

    Congratulations--I know we'll be seeing a lot more of you!

  2. I start with the words and I think of different phrases or various ways they can be used. Secret ingredient seemed like a no-brainer since it used two of the required words. And I also tried to think of ways the words could be used that wasn't the first thing that came to mind - for instance, fall as a season instead of as a verb and bitch as slang for complaining. Once I had the Thanksgiving setting (on my mind since it was November and I host every year), the rest fell into place.

  3. Secret ingredient! My mind would have gone there, too - food always food.

  4. Oh, and thanks to Lorrie Lee for a new word (new to me)! Thurible.

  5. The name of the tune came to me first. I built backwards from there.

    I'd also been cruising around Twitter that evening, which served as inspiration.

    IMHO, "thurible" was the best word used in any entry.

  6. Brenda and Lorrie Lee both get props for using "requiem." When I looked at the list that was one word I was certain I wasn't going to be able to use.

  7. I love clever writers and their amazing ability to pull us in quickly. They all did just that. Thanks!

  8. The whole "thurbile" word created a problem for me. I had no concept what it was accept for: "That Catholic thingie with swinging and burning incense." - which I googled in just about that fashion. So it was like finding the last piece to my puzzle. Then I got the email from Mo Walsh stating I was one of three winners in the Flash Fiction contest at the New England Crime Bake, and my immediate thoughts were: 1) YEAH!!! and 2) "Oh, crap... now I've got to learn how to PRONOUNCE thurbile!"

  9. These are awesome, and each such a different spin. Really, I've been trying to write a short story for years and never can make myself think with the necessary brevity, so I'm blown away by this, and wondering.... maybe flashwords makes an excellent exercise for starting a short story.

    Will try.

    Great post!

  10. Those were great! I also love the thought processes behind them.

    I do Free Writes with a group, and we use word or phrase prompts. Maybe I'll try a multiple word prompt next time.

    Thanks for sharing!

  11. So happy to see more talented writers. I can't write, but I sure can read!!! Dee