Caught Flashing

Everyone knows writing conferences can get a little crazy. In fact, this normally prim poet was just caught flashing at the Midwest Writers Workshop.

Fiction flashing, that is.

I should have seen it coming. I hadn’t written fiction in nearly two decades, was let loose in Muncie, Indiana, without my husband and kids, and was tempted by an accomplished author, Lee Martin, to flash out a story in thirty minutes.

Using Stuart Dybek’s story, “Sunday at the Zoo” as a model, Martin presented us with a sample narrative structure for a piece of short-short fiction. In fact, he writes about it on his blog.

My first reaction was panic, of course. How could I write a short story in thirty minutes when I sometimes spend thirty minutes on one line of poetry? What in the world would my characters do? Stare at a wall? Jump off a bridge?

There was no escape. I was sitting near the front. So I stared at the wall for a few minutes — then jumped.

As soon as I got my first sentence down, the exhilaration hit. Two characters came to life with just a few words, and they soon started cartwheeling through my brain. It was wild to see what they would do next as I wrote without stopping, no thought given to word choice or rhythm. I let them do what they were created to do (where did they come from, anyway?), and when Martin gave us the two-minute warning, I wrote a punch line of sorts and stopped.

Fiction. Not perfect, not award-winning, but there. A beginning, middle, and end in a mere 231 words.

I read my piece, feeling even comfortable enough to share it aloud in the class. At that moment I decided I wanted to relive the excitement regularly and committed to setting aside a thirty-minute time slot once per week to exercise my flash fiction chops.

Writing outside one’s typical genre taps into an unused portion of the brain (I have plenty of those), sparking imagination and delight without the self-imposed pressure of publication or “success.” I don’t care if I become good at fiction. I may never come even close. But there is something about simply delighting in the writing process that, well — isn’t that why we started writing in the first place?


After a month of watching my wife Jennifer upload dozens of daily pictures of Patty Cake, our yawning kitten, I decided to take matters into my own hands and hack into her Facebook account.

What?! Pamela Chen, her maid of honor, posted immediately in the comment box.

Sicko, Matt Johnson from the class of ‘87 remarked.

Outraged comments flashed in the notifications bar for ten minutes before Jennifer came barreling into the living room. She clamped Patty Cake under her arm, the first juvenile to live in our house since our daughter ran away six months ago.

“What did you do?” she screamed, holding up her cell phone convulsing with messages.

“Oh, it’s not—”

She yanked the laptop away from me to view her account’s newest upload. It was Patty Cake, photoshopped with Xed-out eyes and a heroin needle dangling from his arm.

“What the hell are you doing? You belong in jail!” She spasmed in anger, so much that Patty Cake quacked in pain then yelped as she slammed the laptop on his tail.

“Oh, baby. Oh, God, I’m sorry!” she sobbed. She knelt down to kiss his fur and soothe his tail now cricked at a 45-degree angle.

Later that night, as my wife sat in the emergency veterinarian’s office, I checked my newsfeed: Jennifer has changed her status from married to single.

Photo by Maccio Capatonda,  Creative Commons license via Flickr. Post by Tania Runyan, author of A Thousand Vessels.


  Buy Rumors of Water Now


  1. L. L. Barkat says

    Ha. :) Loved this, Tania.

    Your brain has a lot going on it that you didn’t know about, huh? 😉

    Cool to hear a little about the writing conference. Can’t wait to hear more from your other sessions! (We’ll hear more, yes? :)

  2. Tania Runyan says

    Thank you for the comments, everyone! I hope there a few things knocking about in my brain. And I do like cats and Facebook, believe it or not!

  3. says

    That was really great, Tania. That’s a brave task; I would have stayed in panic mode. :)

    I love this: “It was Patty Cake, photoshopped with Xed-out eyes and a heroin needle dangling from his arm.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *