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Home Arts and Culture  Word economy: New Fiction 440 offers challenges for local authors
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Wednesday, December 15,2010

Word economy: New Fiction 440 offers challenges for local authors

by Gretchen Cochran
English composition teachers take heart. The Lansing area has had its first public taste of flash fiction and the samples were clever, funny, imaginative, poignant and, at all times, pithy. The event was the kick-off for a series of monthly happenings; the next will take place Jan. 25.

The inaugural Fiction 440 was the creation of Ivy Hughes, Jeff Grabill, Suban Noor Cooley and Aaron Matthews, one more shot of adrenaline into the capital cosmos from the umbrella group called Young, Smart and Global. This loose collective founded Ignite and TedX Lansing.


According to its Facebook page, Fiction 440 fosters creativity in the Capital City, asking writers to complete a work in 440 words, with “no excerpts, no poetry, no exceptions.”


But there was a hitch. Each work in the Dec. 6 event had to include the words “cufflinks,” “balls” and “glassware.”


Fourteen writers took the bait and 24 men and women gathered at Moriarty’s Pub on Michigan Avenue to hear their short stories. The stories ranged from science fiction and deranged fairy tales to erotic mysteries and tragic epics.


Over
savory sliders and spiced-up fries — washed down with varying forms of
drink — writers, lawyers, musicians and more heard the original works of
the Lansing area’s budding Hemingways and Rowlings.


Standing
before Moriarty’s fireplace, softly wrapped in pub-ish darkness, some
people read their own submissions or stories offered by others.


First up was Bill Hart-Davidson, a Michigan State University professor of rhetoric and writing. He strode to the fire place mantel, and confidently began his story, titled “Dave Loses Balance.”


“It
was an improbable situation for anyone but Dave. It would end badly.”
And thus, his audience hooked, Hart-Davidson painted this word picture:
“A mouthful of ping pong balls, he sat on a six-foot unicycle, left foot
gyrating the cranks in frenetic circles. A tower of glassware —
teacups, saucers, a cream pitcher, a compote — perched on his right
foot.”


Seeing how
various writers worked in the required terms was part of the fun.
Glassware appeared not only on the juggler’s foot, but also as part of a
Victorian landscape, a dying grandmother’s estate, and broken shards
used as weapons.


Bob Metzger, by day a special projects manager
for the Michigan Economic Development Corp., seized his pen and
captured the challenges of an event manager, not working for the state
but for a king seeking a bride for his son.


It
was his most memorable and most difficult “ball,” Metzger groused,
using one of the other required words, and casting a new version of the
Cinderella story.


He
recouped his event expenses with the sale of another piece of
glassware, the glass slipper, sold to the famous fairy godmother.


Selecting
the key words for use in the inaugural Fiction 440 was just a case of
four people sitting around over drinks, said Hughes. The key words for
January event were selected by the group at Moriarty’s: “hospital,” “kumquat” and “frenetic.”


Those key words are seen as prompts. How
people worked in “cufflinks” at the first event was entertaining. Dan
Hogan, videographer for Michigan Government Television, wrote about a
battle between robots and ninjas. At one point, “cufflinks bounced off
the robot’s lone red eye.”


Chris
Van Wyck likened cufflinks to handcuffs in prison. Matt Penniman works
at Message Makers but sent himself to another world, writing about
Double 0440: “I can’t stop staring at James Bond’s cufflinks.”


“Thus ends the inaugural Fiction 440,” intoned Matthews, succinctly and without extra words.


And we add: To be continued.

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