January 23, 2010
*featured on Storytime today is a piece of flash fiction (under 1000 words) that I submitted to Flash Fiction Online entitled, Chalk. The piece is followed by the editor’s questionable feedback . Hey, it’s a rough game.Thought it would be more fun to post a reply where thousands can read.
When K-Sauce hawks a loog in my water bottle in biology, Jaylene and I stop feeling bad about poisoning him with our toxic nail polish remover. A dark shimmery red is my fall colour, even though it gets on my cuticles and makes my fingers look like they got stuck in an electric pencil sharpener – beauty a near impossible craft to master. Jaylene dips her brush into the clear jar as Mr.Wong drones on. She sticks with clear because she worries about what people think. Mr. Wong scribbles madly with yellow chalk, reaching his entire body across the board as though he’s fallen thirty stories and landed face down on the pavement, chalk smeared across his tweed jacket as he pulls away to face the class. “Fight or flight,” he shouts. “Like a trapped animal. That’s the perpetual dilemma of the endocrine system!”
He draws these mind-maps all over the board every day, and when he runs out of board space, he draws on himself – white lines right down his belly circling his own organs. He really is trying to tell us something. But I just don’t feel that any subject can be linked together by bubbles. Drawing lines between topics doesn’t necessarily demonstrate a connection. Plus, is there ever a centre to any subject? One prime target to link the random to? What would the centre bubble of my life be? I consider asking Jaylene.
Snooze fest, I write to her on a ripped corner of lined paper, adding a P.S. that Holly Warren has worn the same outfit three days in a row.
“I know,” Jaylene says, not bothering to whisper. “It’s like she says: ‘yep, this looks good on me’, and then can’t get enough of herself!”
Jaylene and I take the time to ensure variety in our wardrobes by drawing outfits on Mr. Wong’s handouts (which sometimes conveniently have images of the human body), tiny arrows indicating fabric, colour, and name brand.
”Stuff goes in, stuff goes out!” Mr. Wong pecks the board with his chalk until it snaps in half. These final sum-ups, these over-simplifications – they don’t mean enough to me. Why do I care to know the inner workings of the human body when there is so much to think about on the outside? I pencil in these irritating blanket statements on our lab tests, regurgitating Mr. Wong’s gibberish right back at him, skeptical as to whether there is a cohesive order to his mind-maps at all, to his mind.
During an excruciating schpiel about the ovaries, Jaylene and I play a game of matchmaker – combining our names with the names of semi-decent guys in our grade, then pulling out matching letters and calculating the probability of whom we’ll end up with.
“K-Sauce!” Jaylene blurts out when she sees her match. “Sick!”
“Shh…” says K-Sauce. “Shut up, ditzes.”
“…hair in embarrassing places!” Mr. Wong projects from the front of the room, taking a torch to the enchanted forest of adolescence. Dark shadows of perspiration seep through his suit jacket, an emphatic strain on his Shar Pei brow.
‘That’s what you have,” K-Sauce whispers over to us from his lab stool, his flabby biceps inches from knocking over the bottle of nail polish remover.
I give him a stolen-from-teen-movie glance for which he proceeds to give me the finger, then makes a swipe for my water bottle again, knocking over the bottle of acetone. It spills onto the floor and all over my backpack (which already suffered a serious Tommy Girl spill last week) a sharp, noxious aroma dispersing.
“Thanks, asshole.” I tell K-Sauce, the entire class twisted around in their chairs to watch the endocrine system at work.
Mr. Wong begs with his eyes for the outburst to subside, for him to not have to make an attempt at discipline. Another teacher would have already sent me to “le grand bureau”. Not like it hasn’t happened before.
“Sorry,” I mumble to Mr. Wong, sad hormones about to secrete from his eyes under the sick green tint of the neon lights.
After the bio midterm (Jaylene and I both curiously receiving identical grades of 52%), Mr. Wong doesn’t show up to class. His son has committed suicide, the principal comes in to tells us. We’re given a free period to study.
The kid hung himself with a belt, people whisper. It was a cry for help gone wrong.
I picture Mr. Wong at home with his box of chalk, tracing the pain through his arteries and into his heart, then onto the wall when it gets to be too much.
I look down at my red nails and realize just how ugly they are.
Flash Fiction Online’s Feedback
Thanks for your patience.
I wish I had better news for you, but I’d like to congratulate you on your
story, “Chalk” passing the first round of our selection process. That’s no
small feat. Only 15-20% of stories make it this far.
Unfortunately, the second round proved too great an obstacle.
As a writer I always appreciate feedback. Our readers had this to say
about your story:
*The characters are bored, so the reader is bored. The drama is in the
suicide, Wong’s reaction to it, and the chalk lines tracing his pain –
that’s a good concept: I’d encourage this writer to concentrate on
that, and use the classroom scene to engage us with the main character, her nails and Mr
Wong rather than make us sit through their boredom. I would also suggest
making the main character more interesting than just another dumb teenage girl stereotype.
*Biggest problem is that the narrative voice does not come anywhere close
to matching up with the protagonist. They are miles away from each other.
Also, what’s the “message,” if any? What should I walk away from this story
with? I left it with nothing other than how inane and shallow the protag
*The characters didn’t interest me much, so the lack of a plot was too
We wish you the best of luck finding a home for your story elsewhere and
hope you will consider submitting with us again.
Flash Fiction Online
The Author’s Reply
Firstly, I would like to defend, Chalk, by providing a brief synopsis of what it is meant to convey.
Chalk is about a confused girl seeking the meaning of beauty. She attempts to block out the biology curriculum because it’s an overload of information in her already confusing life, boldly doing her nails in class to build herself an attractive rebellious persona. However, her curiosity does snag on Mr. Wong’s neurotically enthusiastic character. When tragedy befalls Mr.Wong, her connection to him answers her question about what beauty is, or rather, provides her with a shameful reminder on her fingers of what beauty isn’t (Mr. Wong brought to tears the day she walked all over him, how will he handle the death of his son?)
While I appreciate receiving constructive criticism, I don’t feel that most of Flash Fiction Online’s comments were constructive. When you choose to label a character with words like “dumb”, “inane”, and “shallow”, these are not suggestions for improvement – these are put downs.
*The characters were bored, so the reader is bored.
If the characters had been zealous biology students, this would have been a different story.
*The narrative voice does not match up with the protagonist….
Um… the narrative voice WAS the protagonist! Duh?
*What’s the message? If any.
In their writer’s guidelines, Flash Fiction Online advises against “message” stories.
But more importantly, spelling shit out is bad fiction.
*The drama is in the suicide, Wong’s reaction to it
The drama is not in the suicide, or Mr. Wong’ s reaction to it, but in the main character’s reaction to it, which is the last line.
*I would suggest making the main character more interesting than another dumb teenage girl stereotype.
Do dumb teenage girls contemplate the objective nature of conceptual connection?
Okay, I’ve said my piece.
Thanks for reading everyone!