NYC Midnight Contest Submission + Results

I entered a writing competition which is a stretch for me because I think that everyone writes better than I do and I have 0 chance so why bother in the first place? But if going to Yale taught me anything, it’s that if I don’t try, I’ll always wonder, so I threw my hat in. I didn’t make it tot he next round but that’s okay because I got my feet wet and frankly, I have too much going on this weekend to write another story. But now that the contest is over and I have received my feedback, I can share it with you all. The prompts for my category were a comedy for the genre, and then journalist and coupons. Max words 2500.

Title: Blinkies

I only had one meeting with Holly Ferguson. My Editor had assigned the story which I thought it was little beneath me, but you never know where a story can take you.

As she settled into her chair, I asked her if it was okay to record and she nodded. I figured we’d start off with the easy stuff, establish a rapport. That way when it came time to explore what happened, she’d open right up to me. I started with how she met her husband.

“In college, I majored in Art History. When I met Dustin, he was finishing Med school; he wanted to be a heart surgeon.”

“What did you want to do?”

“I didn’t have a plan. Then I met Dustin, so I didn’t have to worry about what I would do.”

She went to school for her Mrs. Degree. Nothing wrong with that I guess, other than the fact that it wasn’t 1953. I reminded myself to check my bias.

“What happened after you finished school?”

“We got married. He had just started as a resident, and had an ER rotation.”

“How was your marriage?”

“It was fine, I guess. Not what I thought it was going to be.”

“I get the feeling that Dustin has been a disappointment to you.”

“I wouldn’t say that it’s just that… Things happened that we hadn’t planned for.”

“Like what?”

“Like him being an Ophthalmologist,” Holly said emphasizing it like it was a dirty word.

“How did he go from Cardiology to Ophthalmology? I could tell she was debating on whether to tell me, but this was exactly what I came here for, the stuff she didn’t tell the other journalists.

“It was his fourth day on rotation. This little girl came in, she had cancer or something,” Holly said rolling her eyes like it was the kid’s fault she had cancer. “So, her mother brings her in, and my husband starts going through his spiel, and the kid pukes on him. Dustin immediately turns around and pukes directly on the kid. He’s embarrassed and runs out of the room, making a thousand apologies. In the beginning, he thought it must have been bad tuna or something. But no, it wasn’t bad tuna, he’s a sympathetic puker. Every time he got a patient that puked he had to leave the room to do it himself. It got to the point where he was walking around with puke bags hanging out of his white coat.”

I let out a slight chuckle.

“It’s not funny. The other doctors teased him relentlessly to the point he just quit. It took months, but I finally talked him into applying for another residency. He considered becoming a Biology teacher. Like, I didn’t go to Harvard to wind up married to a Biology teacher.”

“Then he applied for the Ophthalmology rotation?”

“Yeah and he was great at it, it’s not as prestigious as being a heart surgeon, but it pays the bills.”

“Is this the point you moved to Potomac Shores?”

“Well, it was a few more years after that.”

“What were you doing in the meantime?”

“I worked as a receptionist until we got Oscar, our Labradoodle. I wanted a baby, but when we finally tried to have one, Dustin’s sperm count was too low, so I stayed home to watch Oscar instead.”

I tried to feel for Holly, I did. She’s had to settle for one thing after another. Some people would just say that’s life, but for some reason, Holly truly believed that if she made a plan for her life that it should go that way with no deviations. “How was life in Potomac Shores?”

“Moving from Baltimore to Virginia was like going from the Emerald City to Wonderland, I just wasn’t prepared for how different it was. We weren’t there three days before Marcy, our neighbor came by to introduce herself.  Marcy ran things in Potomac. She was on the HOA Board, and she founded the Mommy and Me group, the yoga group, the couponing group, and our book club.”

“Would say you made friends easily in your new neighborhood and you liked it?”

“Not really, I mean being in here,” Holly said and made a circle in the air with her middle finger, not directing it at the guard in the corner but maybe passive aggressively she was, “You put things in perspective. It was the type of neighborhood I always wanted to live in, a gated community, with everything. I mean we even had a private beach and a Country Club. We were like an island. I thought to live in a gated community would keep out all the bad stuff, but instead, it locked it in.”

“What do you mean?”

“I was surrounded by women who either hated me because I was young, thin, and was married to a Doctor or because I didn’t have kids, didn’t come from old money and didn’t work. It was like I couldn’t win no matter what I did. All I wanted was for them to like me or at least respect me. Instead, I was a joke.”

I gave her a minute because she looked like she was about ready to cry. It was easy to feel sorry for her, but then I reminded myself of my crappy apartment and the ramen I would probably wind up eating for dinner tonight, then it felt like the world had righted itself. Here was a woman, who had everything, the “American Dream,” and she wound up in a women’s correctional facility for attempted murder. How did a Harvard grad wind up here, surrounded by drug dealers and murders? “So how did you meet Diamond Johnson?”

Holly rolled her eyes. I knew she didn’t want to talk about Diamond, but I let her prattle on about all that other crap, so she owed me.

“Diamond lived in the townhouses. The townhouses had their own HOA and were separate from everything else we did, but Marcy let her in.”

“What do you mean separate?

“They had a separate pool and community center; they weren’t allowed to use the Country Club unless they met the income restriction.”

“Why do you think Marcy let Diamond in?”

“I don’t know. Maybe it was White guilt; I have no idea. They met because Diamond had a lot of money. Even though they lived in a townhome, she had enough income to qualify her to be a member of the Country Club.  I couldn’t be a member because we didn’t have the income. All I know is, as soon as Marcy let her in, it was Diamond this and Diamond that. Everyone just fell all over themselves for Diamond, and every idea she had was just frigging great. You know, I had suggested the year before, that we do a trunk or treat for the kids for Halloween and they all shot it down but when Diamond came and suggested it, they were all like, that’s the best idea we’ve ever heard. I’m sitting there in the HOA meeting thinking didn’t I just suggest this last year. But let’s just listen to townhouse over here, she knows everything.”

I could tell she was getting agitated, and I didn’t want the guard taking her back, so I deflected. “What’s a trunk or treat?”

“People line up their cars in a central location for the kids to trick or treat. The parents usually decorate their cars according to a theme.”

I looked at my watch, we were running out of time, and I hadn’t gotten to the heart of her story yet. “When did things take a turn with you and Diamond?”

“I was at yoga. For some reason, Marcy wasn’t there, and she asked Diamond to sub for her. Frigging Diamond. I had asked Marcy numerous times to let me sub for her and Diamond who had only been there for five months at this point gets to sub. I had lived there for two years; I never got to sub.”

“What happened?”

“We were going through Diamond’s routine which was a lot harder than Marcy’s. I was trying to hold chair pose,” she must have seen the bewildered look on my face because she explained, “chair pose is when you kind of squat like your sitting in a chair with your arms raised above your head. So, I was in chair pose, and it was difficult to hold it for very long. My legs started to feel like Jell-O, and then they gave out. I fell over onto my mat, but I recovered. I acted like I was just awkwardly stretching for my water bottle. But whenever I embarrass myself or get nervous,” Holly stopped, looked back at the guard and then back at me before whispering, “I always have to take a poo. I didn’t want to leave the class, so I just sucked it up and held it. Diamond had decided to do all these weird poses, the last one being Garland pose, which is a deep squat. I tried to do it, and the whole time my stomach is just churning. I couldn’t hold it in anymore, and I farted. It was loud, and it echoed. Then the smell came, it was so bad the people around me started coughing, and I couldn’t understand why it smelled so bad, and then I felt it. I had pooped my pants and because I had tights on it kind of stayed stuck to my butt like I had these huge hemorrhoids hanging from the bottom of my butt. It looked like I had grown a pair of balls. I ran out of there. But Diamond told everyone everything, and by the time we got to our next couponing meeting, I knew they were all laughing behind my back.”

I tried my best not to laugh behind Holly’s back as well. I got up, so I wouldn’t have to look her in the eye and walked over to the vending machines. I bought a soda for the both of us. She didn’t take it because she said soda caused cancer. I figured that soda and the subsequent cancer it would no doubt cause was the least of her worries. In prison, getting shived or raped while she’s trying to sleep would be higher on the priority list, but that’s just me.

“After that, I just spiraled. We were all in book club, and it was finally my turn to suggest a book. I had researched it for months trying to find the right one. At the meeting, Marcy asked the group if Diamond could jump ahead of me because she had a book chosen that was timely. I said it wasn’t fair and they all looked at me like I was insane.”

“When did you decide that you were going to shoot her?”

“It wasn’t a decision, I just kind of reacted. Marcy had started this contest in our couponing group. We saved our receipts and turned them in every month, the person who saved the most got a one-year membership to the Country Club. If you were already a member, your dues were paid for that year, but if you weren’t, you received a membership. I couponed everything. I got coupons online, signed up for store cards, I even stole the neighbors’ papers on Sunday. Diamond and I were dead even, and the contest ended on Halloween, they were going to announce the winner at the trunk or treat. Halloween morning, I decided to do one last supermarket run because I had read in the paper they were having a sale. When I got there, I see Diamond there as well. I tried to ignore her but then I noticed what she was doing. She was walking around the store pulling out all of the Blinkies.”

“What the hell is a Blinkie?”

“It’s those coupons the store sits in front of the items that are on sale, they flash.”

I nodded that I understood what she was talking about, but I had no idea that they had an official name, but what did I know about the world of extreme couponing anyway.

“It’s not like she could even use them because it was one coupon per item but she’s taking them all anyway. It was then that I realized that she’s taking them all, so I don’t win, and maybe she’s doing what they all told her to do. They don’t want me to win because they don’t want me in the Country Club. So, I start running around the store grabbing the Blinkies that are left, buying stuff that I don’t even need so that I can use the coupons and get the savings. I bought three tubes of Fixodent, and I don’t even have dentures. Once all the Blinkies were gone, I go up to the checkout, buy all my crap and get my receipt. I turn it into to Marcy, and when she wasn’t looking I checked out Diamond’s total, she beat me by sixty-five cents. Sixty-five cents!”

I tried to look as shocked and appalled as Holly thought I should have been, but it was just ridiculous.

“Something in me just snapped. I went home and got dressed for the trunk or treat. I was a sexy cop, and Dustin was my prisoner. I got my grandfather’s gun to put in my holster. I don’t even remember putting the bullets in it. When I walked up to her, she was dressed as Princess Tiana, and her car was a riverboat. It would have been cool if I didn’t already hate her so much. I think if she would have just said hi, I would have been fine but instead, she commented on my costume saying that sexy costumes really shouldn’t be allowed at a family event. It was the last straw. I raised the gun and fired. When they arrested me, I was still in my costume. It made for an interesting mug shot at least.”

“Are you sorry you shot her?”

“I’m sorry that I could have killed her. I’m glad I didn’t. I would never want to kill anyone; murder is wrong. I should have just punched her, but I didn’t want to mess up my manicure. I had these little officer badges drawn on; they were so cute.”

“Times up,” The guard in the back said as he walked toward us.

Holly stood up and started to walk out with the guard, but then something made her stop, she turned around and said, “Don’t worry about me, I’ll be fine. Next week, I get to teach the yoga class.”

I never saw or heard from Holly again after that, but I can’t help but wonder if she taught her fellow inmates the Garland Pose.


Feedback:  The numbers are the judge’s IDs.

The feedback from the judges on your Short Story Challenge 2018 submission from the first round is below.  We hope you find the feedback helpful and congratulations again on rising to the challenge!

”Blinkies” by Michelle Matthews –   WHAT THE JUDGES LIKED ABOUT YOUR STORY – {1874}  The writing is very clean and direct, with a constant draw for the reader to wonder where the story is going.  There’s a nice use of dark comedy and the main character is well developed.  {1774}  The bit about the husband being a sympathetic puker is laugh-out-loud hilarious! Interesting how you crafted Holly as both shallow and pitiable, especially seeing how she puts her happiness, worth and contentment in the hands of others. Unexpected twist that the interview was taking place in a prison.  {1812}  The interview concept is an interesting theme for the story. Love the ending! Good comedies always leave readers with a smile on their faces.  WHAT THE JUDGES FEEL NEEDS WORK – {1874}  Using the journalist as a thread to draw the story out of Holly is okay, but there’s an inappropriate assumption that the reader will share the same judgments as the journalist.  It’s also unclear why the journalist/narrator thinks this story is beneath her/him/them because there is no background on this character at all.  Holly’s story might be more compelling if she quickly established her goal of getting into this lifestyle and just barely arrived, and is then sidelined time and again by her “friends”.  The rivalry with Diamond could be much more elaborate and detailed, with more competitions leading into her deep dive into couponing.  Then, when she loses the couponing challenge, it will be that much more devastating.  Or maybe she wins, but nobody cares.  Either way, there’s an opportunity to connect her failed couponing with the last humiliation, like Diamond asking if she got it with a coupon, and too bad they didn’t have an offer for a more appropriate outfit.  {1774}  Clarify why Holly’s story was worthy of news coverage. Was her hubby a prominent opthalmologist in the community? Perhaps share the intended headline to give credence to the story. The pooping-her-pants bit in yoga class was both gross and amusing, but  it doesn’t seem believable that Holly would tell that embarrassing detail to a reporter. Also, physical and behavioral descriptions of your characters would add more depth to them so readers could understand why Holly so desperately needed the approval and acceptance of this group of women (Insecurity? Loneliness? Boredom? Jealousy?). This would provide more comedic opportunities as well.  {1812}  The storyline itself is weak and requires further development to improve it. Start with  developing the journalist’s character further by giving him/her a challenge upfront. For example, “I thought it was a little beneath me, but I was determined to rise above it and turn this interview into the story of the year.” Now that the character has a purpose, show us what s/he is willing to risk to meet that objective. For example, maybe the journalist has to do yoga poses with Holly to gain her trust and get to the real story. Then the journalist can ask the hard questions of Holly. To make your characters pop off the pages, try to turn them into living, breathing, multi-faceted characters. We need to know more about the journalist. First, give readers a visual connection to the character, using his or her name and physical description. Then through dialogue and actions, show us what kind of character she/he is and what the character is thinking.

What are your thoughts? Overall, I was happy with my comments.


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