Our second gracious author to join us is Stephen Parrish.
It's hard for me to describe, but Stephen is a kind of anchor to an entire sphere of the writing community. But in a quiet, unassuming way. I think it has something to do with his very grounded and honest nature. That mixed a vulnerability that he's not afraid to show.
I invited Stephen to co-host my last contest to celebrate the release of his debut novel, The Tavernier Stones. Again, if you haven't read it, get to it! One of the most striking things about it is that it doesn't pander to the superficial conventions of thrillers. Although it's packed with action, it really wrestles with important questions of the human spirit. It has a rich depth and intelligence to it.
I now give the floor to Stephen himself. I think he shows why he's the anchor that he is.
My Better Half
I want to thank Jason for giving me yet another opportunity to quake with fear as I expose my writing skills before such a talented group. Flash fiction is indeed the vehicle for exposing them---or for revealing their absence. It's uncanny how a 250 word limit can make a writer feel so naked.
But as he and others like to remind us, writing a piece for the contest is only half the experience. The other half, arguably the more valuable half, is participating in the Clarity of Night community: the sharing, the networking, the support. My writing friends, some of whom I met here, help me at every stage, from conceiving an idea to landing a review. Some locate my book in the stores and either turn it face-out or surreptitiously ferry it to a spotlight table. Some even buy it. They take care of me.
They're my community. Without them I'm only half a writer.
It means, though, that I must spend a significant part of my time helping them in return, and often in advance. You know the old saying, "Ask not what your critique partner can do for you . . ."
To the newcomers here, to any aspiring writers who feel isolated, the rule of thumb---that you get out of your community what you put into it---isn't really true. In writing communities such as this one, you get a lot more.
by Stephen Parrish
It wasn't the man's choice to jump that struck Stephanie as odd. It was the way he did it; that he seemed to be trying to swim. She watched from across the street as he stepped onto the ledge of a seventh story hotel window, raised his arms, pressed his palms together. And leapt. He flailed and kicked fruitlessly in a calm but unmerciful sea of air.
For an instant it looked as if his strokes might support him. Then he plunged, dog-paddling, to the deck of the pool below. He broke the wooden planks of the deck and one or two pieces of outdoor furniture and most of the bones in his body, which would never leap or swim or plunge or do anything, ever, again.
The next day Stephanie climbed to the seventh floor of the hotel, found the room, ducked under the crime scene tape, and went to the window, where the screen, pushed out to make room for a hasty exit, still jutted foolishly into indifferent space. She looked down.
The soft cobalt blue of the swimming pool swirled into a cadmium vortex, an alluring crucible, a womb. It was what the man had seen, what they all saw when they willingly climbed seven stories.
"Don't wait for me," she said to no one in particular. No one heard her. Not the crucible, nor the dandelions she'd picked as a little girl, nor the lightning bugs she'd captured in jars. "I never learned to swim."
(One of the contestants has graciously acknowledged me for critiquing her entry, and I'd like to continue---and encourage---the tradition: Thank you Aerin Bender-Stone and Wendy Russ.)