Fringe Around the World
In July of 2020, a global pandemic led to an international possibility — the chance to participate in the UK’s Buxton Festival Fringe. Writers from across the UK, Canada, US and New Zealand wrote 99-word stories to the prompt, “fringe.” Their stories are published here:
Amazing What You Find on the Fringes by Anne Goodwin (UK)
The path cut diagonally. So did the shaggy-haired beasts. Her head insisted, despite the horns, they were gentle. Her heart plunged into childhood fears.
She stuffed her badge in her rucksack. A ranger doesn’t trespass. A ranger doesn’t sidestep cows.
Mathematically, her route was forty percent longer, but Pythagoras hadn’t factored in waist-high stinging-nettles or brambly fabric-snagging shrubs. She should’ve braved the cows.
Midway, a patch of fiery rosebay willow-herb. A plump brown caterpillar chomping away. Its doll-like eye markings and horned tail branded it an elephant hawk-moth in waiting. Amazing what you find on the fringes of fields.
Curtain Call by Jenn Linning (Greenock, Scotland)
Bobbi Bangs, they called me in school, on account of my fringe-covered forehead. In younger years, I used my thick curtain of hair as a mask, disguising tears, nerves, fears. In adolescence, my singed split ends became props for persuasive poses: cute, seductive, mysterious. I peered out from under my silky shield of strands and thought that hiding things was fun. Now, in adulthood, I have the same powerful curtain at my command, poised to unveil my more adult secrets: scars, wrinkles, regrets. But it’s late; the show is over. And there is no longer anyone in the audience.
Cowgirls on the Range by Charli Mills (Keweenaw Peninsula of Michigan, US)
Out West, the wind can blow a pony’s fringe over one eye. This compels a horse to ambulate in circles. If a cowgirl ain’t paying no mind to her misguided ride, she’ll circle the base of the same lone mountain three times before realizing she ain’t making it to the barn dance in time to persuade Sweet Jim. She really didn’t want to dance, shunning calico dresses for fringed buckskin tougher than her own hide. Maybe her pony knew something, one-eyed wandering in the wind that day, ‘cause she met Cowgirl Sue, sweeter than any Jim she ever knew.
Untitled by D. Slayton Avery (Vermont, US)
Her mother lived by assumption and fear, thinking all strangers to be evil and dangerous.
“Grandma’s fine. That woodsman was there.”
She had been happy to quickly drop off that basket, then slowly make her way back through the woods. Now she distractedly stirred the stew that hung in the fireplace. A small smile softened her lips as she thought on how the strange could be made familiar. Behind her, her mother’s face went as red as the cape with the small tear in its rough fabric, the tear fringed with frayed threads and clinging forest duff.
Dear A-Listers by Jeff Gard (Sioux City, Iowa)
At school, we are the bench warmers, the second stringers on your teams, the third chairs in your orchestras. We sit on the fringes of your classrooms. We move the scenery for your dramatic masterpieces.
At night, we slip through the chain link fence and explore the abandoned Green Haven Asylum. We race down plaster-dusted hallways and scream into peeling cinder block walls. We tell ghost stories among the shells of desks and rotten cots.
In this atlas obscura, we discover broken stethoscopes, a one-eyed teddy bear, and lodged between cracked tiles, a Mercury dime.
Shadows are our kingdom.
Untitled by Beverley Cherry (UK)
Gill was in the kitchen when she heard the letterbox rattle. Her dog Monty raced round in his usual excitable circles at the thought of crisp envelopes to get his teeth into.
Gill though was not excited at the prospect of more bills, circulars and charities tugging at her heart strings for donations.
One envelope looked more interesting – she picked it up, and opened it.
“Hurrah!” A broad smile spread across Gill’s face – last years online version was o.k, but at last, tickets for her first post pandemic real life event had arrived, for the Buxton Fringe Festival!
Healthy by Eliza Mimski (San Francisco, California – USA)
Jason W. Overbeck resided on the fringe of his feelings, on the outskirts of town from his high and low emotions. He experienced life in the static middle, and that’s the way he wanted to keep it. In the past, he’d ridden the rollercoaster of his first marriage, the ecstasy that had swiftly turned into the agony of his divorce. Since then, he’d taken the straight and narrow road, arriving at the fringe that offered him solace. The fringe didn’t have valleys. It offered no mountains. Just the stable and predictable, just the beautiful boredom of mental health.
Finding Your Soap by Chris Sewart (Beverly, UK)
In the cupboard is a jar layered with old soap. I pour these misshapen jewels onto a sheet of newspaper and inhale remembrance. Me, kneeling at the bath. You, pouring kettle-warm water onto my hair, singing supple lullabies, frothing a kindness of lather from the hoarded stubs.
I wonder if at the bottom there’s a piece from 1970? The year you stopped washing, and I drifted away through a shaky adolescence. As my hands explore the lozenges you are once again in front of me, beckoning with a vast bath towel, fistfuls of treasured remnants technicoloured at our feet.
The Fringe of Consciousness by JulesPaige (USA)
Wearing a dark full length hooded cloak, slowly she ascends the well worn stone steps. An inner homing directs such lost souls as hers. This is a path to recovery from reoccurring nightmares. one wise entity in a comforting alias, such as an angel, wise elder or even a unicorn the color of freshly fallen snow will act as a guide to the highest, safest tower room where only the most pleasant of dreams are permitted for one perfectly restful, good night’s sleep.
The air is cool, the bed welcoming. A small repast awaits before she looks for Morpheus.
My Fringe Was Wet for Personal Reasons by Stephen Walker (UK)
Panicked by a doorbell too early. She grinning expectantly, I scundered.
“I got away early, I can go. You coming?”
Heart-stopped in the doorway, rumblings off-stage. Gravitational pull of obedience, a constrained orbit prescribed by rules. The Festival adventure unbroached, the negative response anticipated, inevitable, and accepted. But the hair. The hair was my defiance.
Microwave beeped an early warning. Crockery clattered an imminent danger. News headlines trumpeted an intolerable risk. A tipping point on the doorstep.
“Your dinner’s on the…” Summons lost behind the closing door. We ran.
“What’s up with your hair? It’s mental. I love it.”
A Fringe on the Fringe by Sam Kirk (USA)
Mariola sat alone with her back against the wall, her arms embracing her legs, and her chin resting on her knees.
Through her slightly-too-long, raven black fringe, she watched other kids nearby. They were laughing and playing in the distance but would whisper and rush off when in her vicinity.
She told her mother that moving to a new school in the middle of the academic year was a bad idea, but “adults always know best.”
“Easy for her to say,” Mariola snorted, sighed, and rolled her eyes. It wasn’t Mother who sat all alone at recess.
Etiolation by D. Slayton Avery (Vermont, USA)
He raked his bangs, took in the reflection of himself. Pale and lanky, he didn’t resemble his brother physically either.
He didn’t hate his brother, wouldn’t even call it resentment, no more than a seedling resents the sturdy sprout that, with the advantages of good soil and sunlight unwittingly keeps the less advantaged around it in shadow, always having to stretch and struggle for light.
His parents were likely becoming annoyed; worried he might miss his brother’s award presentation. He’d be there.
He was ready. AR15 blazing, he would finally step out of the fringes and claim some light.
Cafe Texan by Deborah Dansante (Louisiana)
Most of the waitresses were women known to duck out back for a cigarette and who made it very clear that they thought “a la mode” was just a stuck-up way for college professors to order vanilla ice cream. Our waitress uniforms were the owner’s idea of a cowgirl outfit, complete with a fringed vest and a tiny hat. I enjoyed serving the retired Texas Rangers who gathered each day for lunch. I asked Hoppy once if he didn’t tire of eating Cook’s vegetable soup every day. Hoppy said he certainly did not and to please just keep shaking.
Juke Joint by Deborah Dansante (Louisiana)
The building Sadie Bastiste opened her diner in was an old paperboard house out on the fringe of town. The building itself was once a Juke Joint. That was before prohibition. The walls inside the building were covered with old newspaper clippings and the ceiling was almost hidden with stapled-up half dollar bills; old photographs and business cards. Each table bore a piece of duct tape with a number written on it. I ordered the lunch special. When I realized there were only six tables and nine numbers I decided whatever meal I was served, I would not complain.
Fringe by Joanne Fisher (Christchurch, New Zealand)
“So what do you do for a living?”
“I’m a particle physicist. I work at CERN with particle accelerators like the Large Hadron Collider.”
“Wow that’s really fringe stuff.”
“I don’t think so. We’re trying to understand what matter is made up of and how the Universe began. Important things for our knowledge of physics.”
“But we already know how that all started!”
“Yes of course! The Flying Spaghetti Monster created the Universe as we know it in his noodlely magnificence.”
“I’m not really a believer in things like that.”
“That’s okay. His Noodleness still loves you.”
Want to learn to write 99-word stories like these? It’s what we do at Carrot Ranch!
Carrot Ranch is an international community of Rough Writers who craft creative stories in 99-words, no more, no less. World headquarters is located near Lake Superior on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, known as the UP. The UP gets to connect with the UK and participate in the Buxton Festival Fringe, one of the country’s largest open-access arts festivals. In 2020, open-access means online.
Flash fiction is a literary art form simple enough for anyone to write and yet challenging for seasoned writers. At Carrot Ranch, we define flash fiction as 99-words and publish a weekly collection of stories in response to a challenge. Writers participate from around the world. When individual stories explore a single prompt, perspectives expand. This is literary art, giving voice to the people.
For Buxton Fringe, Carrot Ranch will host an international flash fiction challenge and reading. Anyone can write 99-word stories — go where the prompt leads and count your words. You can write in any genre, including the creative expression based on a true story. It can be funny, sad, romantic, or weird. Submissions are accepted from July 1-16. When you submit your story, we’ll email you a link to the live reading event on Zoom to take place on July 17 at 5 pm UK Time (time zone converter for your time). The reading provides the chance to interact with international writers, share your work, and experience the power of collective voice in literary art. Hosts will select the stories to be read. Use the submission form below.
THE ART OF THE 99-WORD STORY
As a writing prompt, flash fiction gives the brain a problem to be solved: Write a story in 99 words, no more, no less. The constraint triggers the brain to go into creative problem-solving. It’s like magic; but really it’s science (from the book Stretch: Unlock the Power of Less and Achieve More Than Your Imagined by Scott Sonenshein). Creativity opens when the busy brain gets to count words and allows the creative brain to wander among the realm of stories.
As literary art, flash fiction requires skill. Craft skills for creative writing include setting, characterization, dialog, plot twists, and more. Short-stories have long been the proving grounds for great writers. Every word counts and the brevity hones skills. You should write your story first as a fast draft. Then, come back to it and refine the skills you have used. Does the setting influence the action? What emotion underlies the dialog? Does the ending create a surprise? See the examples below for how to edit your first draft into a piece of literary art.
As a story, flash fiction is long enough to have a beginning, middle, and end. An entire lifetime can evolve in 99-words or it can produce the snapshot of a single moment. A story is about someone (protagonist) somewhere (setting) who does something (action). Think of how to include those three elements in your story and what your narrative timeline will be. Who tells the story? The protagonist or a narrator? You decide.
TIPS FOR WRITING FLASH FICTION
- Use word association with the prompt. Don’t overthink it; go with the first idea that pops up.
- Write the flash fiction like a stream of consciousness. Then, give it shape and contrast.
- If you want an extra constraint, put a time limit on your writing (you can write 99 words in less than five minutes).
- Revise words to 99 words. Let your story sit overnight. Read it out loud the next day. Revise the flow of language. Let it sit. Look for any words or ways to improve the original.
- Proof your work before submission. It’s a good writerly habit to develop.
- Use the Story Spine structure that begins (like “once upon a time…”); introduces an event (something happens); which leads to dire consequences (one to three); until finally the character succeeds or fails (climax); conclude.
- Answer the questions, Who, What, Why, and How?
- Write from your experiences.
- Write from your imagination.
- Emotions are universal. How can a trip to the grocery store reflect love and loss? Stories are about people and feelings.
Here’s what Rough Writers, the regular flash fiction writers at Carrot Ranch, advise when writing 99-word stories:
“It’s good to think out of the box. I don’t have a formula. I tend to go with my gut instinct and imagination and see where it takes me.” ~ MJ Mallon, UK, Author
“My approach is to tell the story first, see how plus or minus I might be and then start shaping to meet the requirement. Don’t know what others do, but I need to know that I have something that is worth shaping first, then seek some elegance in reducing or increasing to meet the requirement.” ~ Frank Prem, AUS, Poet
“My strategy while trying to write 99 words is first shaping the plot (in my mind–depending on the prompt) Write freely. Then chop off the extra words to make it 99 words. That way the essence of the story is right there courtesy the free write.“ ~ Ruchira Khanna, US, Author
“If you struggle to control the flow of words, to tell and not show then flash might be the answer. The discipline of a word count can seem daunting. You have an idea but you’ve barely set the scene when the limit is breached. Worry not; you’re not alone. The beauty of using a prompt is you get to see how others do it; how they pare back to the fundamentals, how they leave so much unsaid yet the reader knows what they mean. In essence, flash makes you trust the reader. Once you’ve acknowledged that trust you’ll fly.” ~ Geoff Le Pard, UK, Author
“What can be done with 99 words? Anything at all. A revolution can happen. A world can change. A couple can fall in love. A heart can break. 99 words can lend hope to those in need. It’s a moment or a lifetime. A quick, touch of contact in passing. It’s inspired. It’s the last rays of sunset held in a hawk’s outstretched wings. A cloud of breath on a frigid night. It can be a new dawn, a realization, a gasp of salt water mist. But most of all, it’s a story. It lives through words. Choose wisely.”~ Pete Fanning, USA, Author
“I tend to read the prompt, let it hang for a minute or two then bash out what first comes to mind. Sometimes I use that first ‘bash’, but more often, something else emerges & the final version ends up totally different. For instance, my last flash started off with a murderous wife with a chainsaw which morphed into a flash about a loving wife planting 64 sunflowers! Go figure, the creative beauty of flash!” ~ Sherri Matthews, UK, Memoirist
“When I get the chance to participate in the Carrot Ranch 99 Word Story, I read the complete post that Charli Mills has written before I look at the prompt that I know is waiting form me at the end. Depending on whether the prompt says “use the word xxxx” or “use the sentence xxxx” will often determine where my mind goes. My next thought is do I have a picture somewhere in my archives that I can post (on my site) as a visual to go with my story about the prompt. Like Sherri Matthews, sometimes the 99 words happen right on the spot or it may wander off for a few days. I just don’t try to overthink it because that ends up being a train wreck and 500 words that I need to cut back to 99.“ ~ Ann Edall-Robson, CAN, Author and Photographer
“I try to plan my 99 word story in three stages. I use a beginning, middle, and end. That way I introduce a problem and solve it by the end.” ~ Colleen Chesebro, US, Author
EXAMPLES OF HOW TO EDIT FLASH FICTION
(Examples provided by Anne Goodwin)
PROMPT: No ice
FIRST DRAFT 112 words, excluding title
Sex on ice
No ice could kill their ardour. Nor would they want it to. But both agreed it would be fun to test it out with a second honeymoon at an arctic ice hotel.
Bucket-list experiences don’t come cheap, especially when they’re half a world away. Through sweltering summers, they wooed each other with dreams of making love on ice blocks topped with reindeer hides, of sipping vodka from glasses made of ice.
Their lust still flamed when they finally found the funds to finance it. They made love, put champagne on ice and went online. They couldn’t book it. Tourism-fuelled climate change had melted the ice caps. The once-hotel now swelled the seas.
FINISHED VERSION 99 words, excluding title
Sex on ice
No ice could kill their ardour. Nor would they want it to. But what fun to test it out with a second honeymoon at an ice hotel.
Bucket-list experiences are pricey, especially half a world away. Through years of sweltering summers, they dreamed of making love on ice blocks topped with reindeer hides, of sipping vodka from glasses made of ice.
Their lust still flamed when they finally found the funds to finance it. They made love, put champagne on ice and went to book it. Unfortunately, climate change got there first. Melting, the ice hotel swelled the seas.
PROMPT: Strawberries and mint
FIRST DRAFT 80 words, excluding title
Her taste is traditional, her habit a herb. Whereas he was weaned on fruity flavours and has never let go. Their first kiss was tinged with garlic, tomato and marjoram layered underneath. Neither of them noticed, since they’d chosen the same starter and main. At the time, she thought it signalled they’d be soulmates. Now, unloading her toiletries on his bathroom shelf, she’s not sure. Their mouths won’t sanction taking things further. His strawberry toothpaste won’t mix with her mint.
FINISHED VERSION 99 words, excluding title
Her taste is traditional, her habit a herb. Whereas he was weaned on fruity flavours and won’t give them up. When they kissed for the first time, their breath was tinged with garlic; tomato and marjoram layered underneath. Neither of them noticed, having picked the same starter and main. At the time, she thought that signalled they’d be soulmates; she happily skipped desert to go back to his flat. Now, rummaging through her washbag, she wonders. When her torso presses closer, her mouth might pull away. Afraid his cloying strawberry toothpaste would defeat her clean fresh shield of mint?
Further Reading and Learning How to Build Comunity with 99-word Stories
In 2018, Carrot Ranch published The Congress of Rough Writers Flash Fiction Anthology Vol. 1. Thirty international writers began with 99-word stories, explored memoir and fiction, extended stories, and explained how to use flash fiction to build community.
Preferred Seller: https://store.bookbaby.com/book/The-Congress-of-Rough-Writers
Amazon Global Digital: https://goo.gl/eZXBYu
Amazon Global Print: https://goo.gl/jUz5qC
Available to US Libraries through Baker & Taylor
We hope you enjoyed the resulting stories and tutorial from Buxton’s international flash fiction challenge at Carrot Ranch with hosts Anne Goodwin and Charli Mills! You are welcome to join the weekly challenges at Carrot Ranch and support our community through the purchase of books by our Rough Writers. Support the arts!