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I’d like to take a moment of your time today, please, to address the recent concern expressed regarding the spelling of the word “Donut” in the title of the Writers’ Police Academy’s short story contest.

Also brought into question is the manner in which the Golden Donut writing contest is judged. Let’s first begin with the word “donut” and why this particular assemblage of letters was selected.

Donut v. Doughnut

While the spelling “Doughnut” is the more widely used spelling of the circular, hole-in-the-middle tasty treats often enjoyed by both police officers and writers, “Donut” is also considered as an acceptable spelling.

The latter spelling of the word is often used when referring to the maneuver performed by drivers who spin their cars in tight circles, going round and round in a plume of smoke created by the melting and burning of rubber tires as they rub against asphalt or concrete surfaces. This is a trick known as “Doing Donuts.” Or, of course, “Doing Doughnuts” is perfectly acceptable.

Since the WPA’s 200-word contest is offered by a police-themed event, featuring stories that are so brief that they must be written tightly and precisely, much like the well-formed tight circles resulting from “doing donuts,” we chose the tongue-in-cheek option of Golden “Donut” as the title of the popular contest.

From Merriam-Webster:

“In most dictionaries donut is an accepted spelling variant of doughnut. The spelling of donut without the “-ough” has appeared in enough textual references, and been made popular by brand such as Dunkin Donuts, to the point where it has widely become an accepted version of the glazed treat.”

“We’re not the only ones; it looks like any dictionary worth its salt includes it. Here’s why donut is included in our dictionaries.”

Usage of Donut

“We’ve been encountering the variant donut in published, edited text since the mid-20th century. It was certainly helped along by famous doughnut purveyors – both Dunkin’ and Mister – but in truth they and all who’ve accepted the variant were following in a tradition of phonetic-based spelling reform also embraced by the likes of Benjamin Franklin and Noah Webster.”

Also, from the Salvation Army website:

“The Salvation Army established the first National Donut Day in 1938 in Chicago.”

“Donuts and “doing good” have always gone hand in hand. During World War I, Salvation Army “Donut Lassies” served donuts to soldiers. Today, we continue to celebrate their work by delivering the sweet treat to those in need – and to donut lovers across the country.”

Finally, we selected the name and its spelling mainly because we liked it, much like people all over the world choose names for their children. Such as the celebrities who named their offsprings…

Birdie (Busy Philipps and Marc Silverstein)

Blue Ivy (Beyonce and Jay-Z)

North (Kim Kardashian and Kanye West)

Story (Jenna Elfman)

Bear Blu (Alicia Silverstone)

Who knows, someone may someday decide to name their kid Donut simply because the name strikes their fancy.

“Here comes good ole Donut Duncan. He’s got six toes on his left foot and seven on his right. I hear tell his uncle Darby’s got ten toes on each foot and can swim like a duck.”

Or…

“Look out, there’s Donut Dahmer. He’s Jeffrey’s first cousin, you know. And they say “IT” runs in the family!”

 

Judging the Golden Donut Contest – The Process

Before addressing the recent complaint, I first would like to point out that we receive tons of entries each year. And, while each are wonderful stories, only one can be the winner. In fact, so many of these stories are so fantastic we are currently trying to work out the details to publish many of the past contest entries in a Golden Donut anthology.

But back to the complaint.

I’ve served as a judge for major writing awards, and it’s no picnic when it comes down to selecting a winner. So I feel the pain that our judges experience each year. Fortunately, the stories our judges read are not connected in any way to a person. Instead, the short tales speak for themselves. They’re nothing more than words on a page. Letters arranged in such an order that tell a story about an image we provide as the basis for each tale. The authors’ names are not attached to any of the stories sent to judges.

Yes, the Golden Donut contest is judged blindly, with absolutely no means whatsoever of bias or cherry-picking of stories. Each story received arrives through the WPA website where our software randomly generates a number that is assigned to each entry. The assigning of numbers to the stories is computer generated and no one, not a single person/human who’s associated with the contest or event is involved in this process. An independent entity—the software program installed for the purpose of randomly assigning of numbers—handles this stage of the contest .

Once the contest deadline is reached, the individually numbered stories, minus the authors’ names and contact information, are then sent by the independent body to a panel of pre-judges who screen the stories for word count and quality of the stories. Then they select their top 12 favorites. This year, however, there were a couple of ties based on judges scores. This resulted in a top fourteen entries instead of the standard dozen.

Those top fourteen anonymous tales were again checked for word count and were then sent to the final judge, bestselling author Heather Graham, a judge who also did not know the names of the story authors. Heather Graham read all fourteen tales and from them selected her top three favorites – 1st, 2nd, and 3rdplace. She sent the top three back to us, still by number and title only.

Again, the author names were withheld throughout the entire process. Even I didn’t know who’d won until the very end when it was necessary for me to know so that I could order the trophy.

So there’s that. Now this…

AFTER MIDNIGHT: TALES FROM THE GRAVEYARD SHIFT … the contest

Additionally, it was brought to my attention that someone believed the judging for the AFTER MIDNIGHT short story contest was in some way biased, rigged, or that we’d cheated in favor of certain authors. They even went as far as to claim the entire contest was a scam.

The judging process for AFTER MIDNIGHT was nearly identical to the Golden Donut contest. Each story was assigned a number and those nameless stories were sent to a panel of readers, a group composed of both authors and non-writer fans who enjoy reading mysteries, thrillers, romantic suspense, etc. This group of readers scored each entry on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the highest score.

When all stories had been read the scores were tallied and the top tales were then sent, again, minus the author names, to the publisher, Level Best Books. And it was the publisher who determined the top two stories from the batch with the highest scores. The Writers’ Police Academy staff and judges/readers played no part in the final selections.

The two winning stories were published in the exciting new book AFTER MIDNIGHT: TALES FROM THE GRAVEYARD SHIFT, which, by the way, was advertised last weekend as one of Amazon Prime’s selected Mystery, Thriller & Suspense books.

Others on the same Amazon Prime list included BIG LITTLE LIES by Liane Moriarty, Louise Penny’s A BETTER MAN, Gillian Flynn’s SHARP OBJECTS, THE NEW GIRL by Daniel Silva, SYCAMORE ROW by John Grisham, Stephen King’s DOCTOR SLEEP, and other top bestsellers. I’d definitely say AFTER MIDNIGHT is among excellent company!

I’d also like to say that the Writers’ Police Academy’s contest judging is at the highest standard possible. Using the software available to us leaves not a single shred of an opportunity to commit a misdeed. Besides, even if we could, we wouldn’t. Our goal is simple—to produce a quality event designed to help writers achieve their goals and dreams. And that’s what we’ll continue to do until the time comes to turn off the lights and shut lock the doors behind us for the final time.


By the way …

  • Amazin Glazin Donuts (2006) – Elizabethtown, Kentucky
  • Baker’s Dozen Donuts (1978) – Mississauga, Ontario, Canada
  • Belair Donuts (2013) – Augusta, Georgia
  • Bess Eaton Donuts (1953/2011) – Westerly, Rhode Island
  • Blue Star Donuts (2009) – Portland, Oregon
  • Boston Donuts – Leominster, Massachusetts
  • Casper’s Donuts – Pueblo, Colorado
  • Country Donuts (1976) – Elgin, Illinois
  • Cravin Donuts (1983) – Tempe, Arizona
  • Crispy Donuts – Shreveport, Louisiana
  • Curry’s Donuts (1971) – Wilkes-Barre (Kingston), Pennsylvania
  • Daylight Donuts (1954) – Tulsa, Oklahoma
  • Dipping Donuts (ca. 2000)- Leominster, Massachusetts
  • Dixie Cream Donuts (2008) – Tulsa, Oklahoma
  • Donut Bank (1967) – Evansville, Indiana
  • Donut Bistro – Reno, Nevada
  • Donut Cafe – Worcester, Massachusetts
  • Donut Connection (1995) – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  • Donut Country (1986) – Murfreesboro, Tennessee
  • Donut Crazy – New Haven, Connecticut
  • Donut Delight (1991) – Stamford, Connecticut
  • Donut Dip (1957) – West Springfield, Massachusetts
  • Do-rite Donuts – Chicago, Illinois
  • Donut King (2007) – Minneola, Florida
  • Donut King – Massachusetts
  • Donut Mania – Las Vegas, Nevada
  • Donut Palace (1978) – Van, Texas
  • Donut Professor (ca 2009) – Omaha, Nebraska
  • Donut Stop (1974) – Amarillo, Texas
  • Donut World (2010) – Greensboro, North Carolina
  • Duck Donuts (2007) – Kitty Hawk, North Carolina
  • Dunkin’ Donuts (1950) – Quincy, Massachusetts
  • Federal Donuts (2011) – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • Fractured Prune Donuts (1976) – Ocean City, Maryland
  • G & S Donuts – Montgomery, Alabama
  • Glaze Donuts (2014) – New Milford, New Jersey
  • Glazed & Infused Donuts (2012) – Chicago, Illinois
  • Granny’s Donuts – High Point, North Carolina
  • Happy Donuts & Bakery – Lake Charles, Louisiana
  • Haskell’s Donuts (1983) – Ruston, Louisiana
  • Heav’nly Donuts (1975) – Methuen, Massachusetts
  • Holtman’s Donuts (1960) – Loveland, Ohio
  • Home Cut Donuts (1966) – Joliet, Illinois
  • Honey Dew Donuts (1973) – Mansfield, Massachusetts
  • Honey Dip Donuts – Milwaukee, Wisconsin
  • Howard’s Donuts (1970s) – West Memphis, Arkansas
  • Hurts Donuts (2013) – Springfield, Missouri
  • Hypnotic Donuts (2010) – Dallas, Texas
  • Irish Maid Donuts (1960) – Fort Smith, Arkansas
  • Jack’s Donuts (1961) – New Castle, Indiana
  • Jack N Jill Donut Shops (2001) – Abilene, Texas
  • Jolly Pirate Donuts (1962) – Columbus, Ohio
  • Jubilee Donuts (1947) – Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio
  • Kane’s Handcrafted Donuts (1955) – Saugus, Massachusetts
  • King Donut – Connecticut
  • K-May Donuts – Athens, Alabama
  • Knapp’s Donut Shop (pre-1996) – Rochester, Michigan
  • LaMar’s Donuts (1960) – Kansas City, Missouri
  • Licking Good Donuts (ca 1986) – Mobile, Alabama
  • Loyless Donuts – Dothan, Alabama
  • Maple Donuts (1946) – York, Pennsylvania
  • Mary Ann Donuts (1947) – Canton, Ohio
  • Mary Lee Donuts (1969) – Baton Rouge, Louisiana
  • Mello Creme Donuts – Lima, Ohio
  • Mel-O-Cream Donuts (1932) – Springfield, Illinois
  • Mighty-O Donuts (2000) – Seattle, Washington
  • Mike’s Donuts (1969) – Boston, Massachusetts
  • Mister Donut (1955) – Boston, Massachusetts
  • Mr. Ronnie’s Famous Hot Donuts (1994) – Houma, Louisiana
  • Naughty Girls Donut Shop (2014) – Front Royal, Virginia
  • Not Just Donuts – Slidell, Louisiana
  • Paradise Donuts (1967) – Neosho, Missouri
  • Peace, Love & Little Donuts (2009) – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  • Pink Box Donuts (2012)- Henderson, Nevada
  • Poppy’s Xtreme Donuts – Marion, Indiana
  • Ray’s Donuts – Atlanta, Georgia
  • Ray’s Donuts – St. Louis, Missouri
  • Rebel Donuts – Albuquerque, New Mexico
  • Rise N Shine Donuts – Lubbock, Texas
  • Robin’s Donuts (1975) – St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada
  • Sara Donuts – Suwanee, Georgia
  • Shipley Do-Nuts (1936) – Houston, Texas
  • Shore Good Donuts (2011) – Long Beach Island, New Jersey
  • Sip’N Dip Donuts (1985) – Warren, Rhode Island
  • Southern Maid Donuts (1937) – Shreveport, Louisiana
  • Sprinkles Donut Shop (2015) – Hudsonville, Michigan
  • Square Donuts (1967) – Terre Haute, Indiana
  • Stan’s Donuts (1963) – Los Angeles, California
  • Sublime Donuts (2008) – Atlanta, Georgia – ain’t it the truth
  • Sugar Rush Donuts (2011) – Bayou La Batre, Alabama
  • Sugar Shack Donuts (2013) – Richmond, Virginia
  • Super Donuts – West Monroe, Louisiama
  • Suzy-Jo Donuts (1955) – Bridgeport, Pennsylvania
  • Sweetwater’s Donut Mill (1983) – Kalamazoo, Michigan
  • Tastee Donuts – New Orleans, Louisiana
  • Tasty Donuts (2011) – Chattanooga, Tennessee
  • The Donut House – Denver, Colorado
  • The Donut Stop (1974) – Amarillo, Texas
  • The Holy Donut (2012) – Portland, Maine
  • The Whole Donut (1955) – Hartford, Connecticut
  • Tim Horton’s (1964) – Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
  • Tom’s Donuts (1970) – Lake James, Indiana
  • Top Donut – Lowell, Massachusetts
  • Top Donuts – Killeen, Texas
  • Top Pot Donuts (2002) – Seattle, Washington
  • Whole Donut – Connecticut
  • Winchell’s Donuts (1948) – Temple City, California
  • Yum Yum Donuts (1971) – Los Angeles, California

 

 

The rules were simple—write a complete story about the photograph below, using exactly 200 words. Not 201 or 199. Precisely 200 words.

Writers from around the world accepted this challenging assignment, sending us a mountain of entries. Then our team of screeners/pre-judges whittled those short stories down to a list of twelve well-told tales.

The top dozen stories were then sent to our renowned contest judge, NY Times and USA Today bestselling author of over 50 Contemporary Romance and Romantic Suspense novels, Brenda Novak.

Brenda Novak

Brenda then read each of the stories and subsequently selected a winner and runners up.

Congratulations to everyone for jobs well done!

 

 

 

Here are the top twelve entries, starting with the contest winner, Frank Cook!

Remember, the focus of each story was based on the photo below.
So, without further ado …

2018 Golden Donut Shot Story photo prompt

1st Place

Frank Cook

The Last Look Back

“I show it to all my clients,” Karen told the woman standing in her office. “In the background you see a dead and decaying forest, then this old rickety bridge leading across to this side. I call it, ‘The Last Look Back.’”

The woman shrugged. “I don’t get it.”

“My clients come to me with, how should I put it? ‘Disappointing marriages.’ I make things better. I point to this photo. It represents what they had. A once young and caring relationship that has grown old and dry. And this old bridge,” Karen confided. “It represents their fear of crossing into the future. Can they trust their emotions? Their own decisions? Will they be ok?”

Karen smiled. “It is my job to bring them out of that forest and across that dangerous bridge. This photo is the last time they ever need look back on their past.”

The woman nodded and felt for something in her jacket pocket. “On the other side of that bridge,” she pointed. “And a little bit into that forest. We found six decomposed bodies there this morning.” She pulled a badge from her pocket. “Including your husband you reported missing.”

* * *

 

2nd Place

Ry Brooks

Bridge to Nowhere

I am an old footbridge, and in my time I have experienced some things. When I was young, many traveled over me. Sometimes, children tossed pebbles to watch them fall. Once in awhile, young lovers hugged, gazing at the rocks and rushing river below. Those were good times.

Lately, most people use the highway bridge downriver, and it has been lonely. Six daytimes ago, I had visitors, a man and a woman, but they were arguing, and I was glad they hurried across. They came back two nights past, and this time they were quiet. The man was carrying the woman, which at first I thought was considerate. But he laid her down, in the middle of my span, and then something terrible happened. The man dropped her body into the rushing torrent below and ran away. I felt anger at my powerlessness then, and wondered what could be done.

Tonight he is back, running from pursuers, and I am ready. He is almost half way across – there, I snapped my rusted support cables, right in the middle. It will also be my end, but after all, I am old and the man will not be missed.

* * *

 

3rd Place

Nana Herron

The Open Road

“FIVE!”

That voice. His voice. Echoed throughout the valley. Time was running out.

“FOUR!”

I was thumbing a ride when a pickup truck blew past me and stopped. The driver rolled down the window and smiled. “Didn’t yer mama ever tell you not to hitchhike?”

She had. I got in anyway.

“THREE!”

“The open road ain’t safe for a pretty, young thing like you.”

“I’m not scared.” I shivered.

“You should be.” He laughed.

“TWO!”

When the truck stopped, I ran. Brambles cut my legs. Branches slapped my face.

I hid. Had I been here before? If only I could remember…

“ONE! COME OUT, COME OUT, WHEREVER YOU ARE!”

The game was on.

I ran. My lungs burned as the old bridge appeared. Just a few more steps…

“FREEZE!”

A shot rang out. I halted.

The bridge swayed and creaked as he approached.

When he lunged, I ducked. A scream pierced the valley.

SILENCE.

I looked down the hole at his twisted body and laughed. “Didn’t yer mama ever tell you not to pick up hitchhikers?”

My work here was done. The open road beckoned, and I was itching to hitch another ride.


And, rounding out the top twelve, in no particular order, were …

 

Entry #30-Vinnie Hansen

Bridging the Gaps

The bridge swayed. Mark’s stomach lurched. White knuckles gripped the cable. “I never thought you’d come back here.” He shouted over the noisy river rush.

“What about you?” Erin’s face turned up, gorgeous green eyes searching his. “Samantha was your friend, too.”

Friend. Erin’s tone made Mark avert his eyes toward the trees. “But you were actually here, Erin. How awful.”

Erin sidled closer and wrapped an arm around him. “The scene of the crime.”

“Crime?” Sammi had acted impulsively the newspaper said, standing on the rail, leaning far out, blonde hair whipping, breathing in the ozone. Alive. “It was a horrible accident.”

His heart pounded. Erin had been the newspaper’s source. What was she telling him?

Hardness in Erin’s jacket pressed Mark’s side.

 In the distance, the bridge dumped into a dark hole in the forest. Sammi’s spirit had exerted a force, drawing Mark from Erin. His wife. A rock below had crushed Sammi’s skull. “Sammi was a mistake.”

“Yes,” Erin murmured.

He pivoted toward her. “You knew?”

She nodded.

He gulped. “But it was an accident?”

“A terrible accident.”

Erin backed away and pulled out a hammer.

The truth hit home with a thud.

***

 

Chelle Martin

Over the River and Through the Woods 

“Team Building” day consisted of hiking Black Bear Mountain and promised scenic views from a rustic footbridge. And possibly bears.

Before we’d gone ten yards, I became a mosquito magnet. Moreover, my boss and “teammate” insisted I carry his backpack due to his bad back.

We brought up the rear of six pairs, stopping frequently so John could check for landmarks, and I could gasp for air.

“The footbridge should be just ahead. Give me my roast beef.”

I pulled a sandwich from his pack and handed it to him. The smell wafted heavily on the humid air. “Aren’t you afraid of bears?”

He waved me off.

Out of sight, I called up an app on my phone. Once we resumed hiking, I hit play and John sprinted ahead at the sound of a growling grizzly.

I laughed until I cried, when a text came in.

AVOID FOOT BRIDGE. BEARS IN AREA.

“John! Wait!” The backpacks slowed me down. I arrived as John encountered a bear on the other side of the footbridge.

I hated to admit it, but the Black Bear Mountain brochure was right. The view really was spectacular.

* * *

 

Kathy McIntosh

Bridging Fear

It was not the same bridge. Totally different construction. My brain registered that fact, but the fear that lay deep in my bones and muscles rose unbridled by reality.

Home lay across that bridge. Home, peace, and Grandma’s peach cobbler. Downstream the pond waited for me, cool and refreshing. Ready for me to jump in naked, washing away the pain and soothing the scars.

My brain knew that. Knew that beyond that bridge I’d soon be enveloped in the love of my children and my husband. I knew how sturdy that bridge was, how it could support all of us and all the food we could tote. I smiled, remembering how we pondered each purchase, determining if it was worth the haul across the bridge and up the hill beyond.

That other bridge had been longer, stronger, built from concrete, built to last. Until an IED had destroyed it and most of my squad. Since that day I had been unable to cross bridges.

A cold, wet nose pressed against my fist and a soft, warm body leaned into my side.

“I can do this.” I stepped onto the wooden planks, my dog beside me.

* * *

 

Rick McMahan

GRUFF

“Billy?”

“Yes, little one.”

“I’m scared,” she whispered.

“No one is going to hurt you.”  My large hand gripped her small one tightly as we moved on the swaying bridge.   Her palm was soft. Her bones delicate.

“Promise?”

Looking down, I gave her my best toothy smile. “I promise.”

The planks groaned under our footfalls.

Glancing back over my shoulder, I could barely make out the three filled sleeping bags at the edge of the trees in the dying embers of the camp fire. The fourth bag was empty.

My feet picked up speed, urging us both forward.

“They will come for me,” she hissed defiantly.  “They’ll take me back.”

I didn’t answer her.

The cold river rushing below masked the pounding of my heart.

In the moonlight, I watched her free hand dance across the rough hewn railing. Her manicured nails were painted a fierce pink.

“They were a nice family,” my sister said.

“I know.”

My free hand hung down at my side. I still clutched the sharp knife. As we walked, I imagined I could hear every time a droplet of coppery blood fell from my blade and spattered the bridge.

“They were.”

* * *

 

Janice Peacock

Plundered

Tillie bolted across the rickety footbridge, a drawstring bag of gold slung across her back.

“Do you think we lost him?” Sue called to her sister, not slowing to look back.

“I don’t know, and I don’t care. Keep running!” Tillie replied.

Halfway across the bridge, Tillie’s foot caught on a rotten plank, and she fell hard. Sue caught up with her, gasping for breath. Cannonball Churchill clomped after them, his black boots shaking the bridge with each step. The pirate wanted his gold back and wasn’t going to let a couple of girls outsmart him.

“Sorry we stole from you, sir,” Tillie shouted as she tied the sack to the bridge’s railing. The girls took off for the safety of the forest.

Cannonball stopped to untie the bag, his large hands struggling with the knots. The rotten planks creaked beneath the pirate’s feet and splintered. As his legs broke through the boards, he grasped at the wood crumbling around him. Plunging into the churning river below, he was whisked down to the sea.

Avoiding the bridge’s hole, Tillie tiptoed to the sack, untied it, and ran. Girls are much lighter—and much trickier—than pirates.

* * *

 

Michale Rigg

The Pack

Walking on the wooden suspension bridge over Benson Creek in the pre-dawn chill, Thomas counted each plank. Stopping at seventy-five, he turned toward his colleague, Hidalgo.

“Here,” Thomas said, “put ‘em here. Set ‘em at eight hundred.”

Hidalgo placed three homemade contact-mines on the decking. “Why eight hundred? Pack mules weigh a lot more, especially loaded with gold.”

“Not taking chances.” Thomas paused. “This job means I can move my family to town. They deserve the best.” He smiled. “My boys are working on their Orienteering Merit Badges today.”

“But what if someone—”

“Been watching. Company goons will arrive in about an hour to search for wires and dynamite. This early, there shouldn’t be any foot traffic. Besides, it would take a large group walking together to detonate these beauties.”

The duo camouflaged the devices and hid to await their prey. Shortly, just as the guards arrived, a group of young men dressed in khaki and green started onto the span marching in double-column, like an infantry platoon. Scouts.

Thomas jumped up and screamed. “Stop!” His face went numb.

As the explosions echoed through the valley, Thomas slumped to the ground and wept.

* * *

 

Crystal Smith

Moonshine

The world looks different when you’re hanging upside down by your ankles.

If Carl hadn’t been so obsessed with authenticity, he wouldn’t be in this situation.  He was building the wine list for his farm-to-table restaurant and heard rumors that a whiskey called Lone Bridge was the smoothest.  So Carl headed into the sticks of Georgia to look for the distillery’s secret location.  He didn’t know the liquor business was just a front for the owner’s gun running operation.  When Carl got halfway across the bridge, he was met by a group of men carrying rifles.

“I think we caught us a spy.  Who you working for, boy?”

“No one.  I’m a chef.”  That drew laughter and earned him a few punches.

“Don’t that sound fancy.”

They held him and searched his belongings.  Carl spotted a flask in the leader’s pocket and fear gave way to curiosity.  “Can I have a sip of that?”

“Why not?”  He tipped the flask to Carl’s mouth.  “Good, ain’t it?”

Carl nodded as the men lifted him over the side of the bridge.  Smoky with hint of spice.  It really would have been perfect.

* * *

 

Vicki Tharp

Redeemed

The Drako moons rose high as Coolidge dangled by his legs beneath the rickety suspension bridge. Sweat stung his eyes, and his abdominal muscles burned as he swung up and caught a guidewire with his left hand.

In his right, the remote activated blasting caps.

“Easy,” Holden called out from below.

“Shut it,” Coolidge said, too focused on the job to slap any heat behind it.

“Remember what happened last time?”

Why wouldn’t Holden let it go? “Nothing happened.”

“Exactly. Get this right, or we’re all dead.”

Coolidge attached the caps to the explosives. He panted through the strain on his core, completing the connections, and syncing his quantum controller. “It’s right.”

Finally.

His redemption.

The ground shook as the platoon of Dragoons broke through the trees and stormed toward the bridge.

“Let’s go!” Holden panicked and squeezed off three rounds from his CytoBlaster. A Dragoon vaporized. Then another.

Coolidge fast-roped down under a barrage of return fire. They scrambled over the muddy bank, ducking behind cover. Coolidge energized his wrist-mounted detonator. He hesitated.

“What’s wrong?”

Blood pounded behind Coolidge’s eardrums. His throat went disaster-dry. “I can’t remember the passcode.”

* * *

 

64-Susan Vojtik

One Step

She stared at the end of the bridge. Home lay at the end. The little cabin behind the trees. Her husband waited there for her. He was angry with her again. This time it was dinner. Too hot or too cold or too spicy. Too something, for sure. He had yelled at her, beat her and then got drunk. And then he fell asleep. And she had walked down the bridge.

He had woken up a few minutes ago. She could hear him calling her as she stood on the bridge. The bridge that would lead her home or to freedom. He never allowed her to be on the bridge. She was excited and scared. The bridge meant freedom. Or home. But, freedom… He would take her to bed and punish her. The last time he did that, she lost the baby.

He called her again and she turned around. And took one step. Off the edge of that broken bridge, many hundreds of feet above the ground. And, as she took that step, she wondered if they would think he had pushed her off the bridge and would punish him. And then she didn’t care anymore.

 

 

Have you sent your story? Well, you’d better hurry because Tami Hoag—THE Tami Hoag—is anxious to read them.

Oh, you didn’t know?

Yes, she truly is the contest judge for this fun and challenging contest, with fantastic prizes for the winner.

Definitely. Having Tami Hoag read your work is super cool!

Okay, here are the details …

Golden Donut Short Story Contest

The Writers’ Police Academy is pleased to continue this fun contest in 2018. The rules are simple—write a story about the photograph above using exactly 200 words, including the title (each story must include an original title). The image in the photograph MUST be the main subject of the story. We will not provide clues as to the subject matter of the image, or where the shot was taken. That is for you and your imagination to decide. Remember, though, what you see in the image absolutely MUST be the MAIN subject of your tale.

*Again, the photo above absolutely MUST be the main focus of the story, not just a mere mention within the text.

All stories are to be polished and complete, meaning they must have a beginning, middle, and a twisted surprise ending. Again, all stories must be exactly 200 words. Not 201 or 199! So read the word count rules carefully. Over the years, we’ve seen some excellent tales disqualified due to an incorrect word count.

The Golden Donut contest is judged blindly, meaning each entry is assigned a number prior to sending it to the judges. Therefore, judges do not see the writers’ names.

All entries will be screened by a panel of readers who will select their twelve favorite stories and then forward their picks to the 2018 contest judge. All decisions are final and may not be contested or appealed. After reviewing each of the entries, the judge will notify the Writers’ Police Academy of the winning entry. While the winner will be announced at the WPA banquet, the winner need not be present to win. The contest is open to everyone, not just WPA attendees.

The contest winner receives the prestigious Golden Donut Award AND free registration to a 2019 WPA event!

Submission Guidelines:

Please read carefully!

All submissions MUST be submitted electronically via email to 2018goldendonut@gmail.com. Write Golden Donut 2018 in the subject line.

 ** Click the link below to enter **

Golden Donut Short Story Contest

Please include your story within the body of the email. Attachments will not be opened.

 Additionally, a twenty-five dollar ($25) entry fee must be submitted via Paypal PRIOR TO emailing the entry. In other words, click the link to register your entry and then follow the directions listed. Next, submit your payment (Paypal link is on the entry form), and THEN email your story(s). You do not need a Paypal account to enter.

Contest opens on February 18, 2018 (Please do not send any entries before this date).

Submission Deadline: Midnight (EST) July 1, 2018

Any entry not meeting the exact 200 word requirement will be disqualified. You will not receive notice of disqualification. Please be sure your word count is accurate and that all words are counted.

Hyphenated words, for the purpose of this contest, will be counted as two words, or three, etc., depending upon how many words make up the hyphenated phrase/word. Contractions will be counted as two words (it’s, don’t, etc.).

Every single word will be counted as a word. This includes: “a,” “and,” and “the.” To be very clear…if it’s a word, count it. If it’s part of dialog and you think it may be a word, count it. If it’s a stand-alone letter or group of letters, count it as a word. If it’s a number, count it as a word. If the number would include a hyphen if written out as a word, then count it as a hyphenated word. Social media and texting abbreviations will be counted as individual words. For example: OMG = three words. LMAO = four words. 2Nite = one word (tonight). AIAMU = five words (Am I a monkeys uncle). TCIC = 4 words (This contest is cool).

– Entries submitted after the July 1, 2018 (midnight EST) deadline will NOT be judged.

– Any entry not meeting the exact 200 word requirement will be disqualified.

No refunds for any reason!

Again, all entry fees and stories must be received on or prior to July 1, 2018. No exceptions. There is normally a mountain of entries, therefore, it is a time-consuming process for the judges. We need time to process the entries and to have the award properly engraved and shipped to the WPA.

  • Be sure to include your name, address, email address, telephone number(s), and title of your story in an opening paragraph above your story. Then, please include your story, headed by the title.
  • There is a $25 entry fee, payable via Paypal. Entries received without the appropriate entry fee will be excluded from the contest. No refunds.
  • Each author may submit up to three entries. Each entry must be accompanied by the corresponding entry fee ($25 per story).
  •  Each author may enter up to three stories. But each individual entry must be accompanied by its own $25 entry fee. (One entry = $25. Three entries = $75, etc.) You must indicate how many stories you plan to submit when you register.

By submitting an entry to this contest authors agree to allow The Graveyard Shift/Lee Lofland, the Writers’ Police Academy and/or affiliates to publish/reprint the story as a part of The Graveyard Shift blog and/or as advertisement for the Writers’ Police Academy or in other publications and media, including, but not limited to, Writers’ Police Academy books, magazines, newspaper, blogs, ebooks, online outlets, etc.

*The Writers’ Police Academy reserves the right to exclude or delete any entry without cause, reason, or explanation.

– ABSOLUTELY NO profanity, erotica, or the promotion of a specific hot-button agenda, including but not limited to politics of any type and/or racial issues. 

Please send questions to Lee Lofland at lofland32@msn(dot)com

So there you have it. Now get busy and take us on a journey that’d scare the pants off Poe himself.

Good luck!

WritersPoliceAcademy.com

Okay writers, it’s time to sharpen the pencils and get busy studying the above image and then assembling a grouping of words that’ll knock the socks off our mega-famous judge, Tami Hoag.

Yes, you heard me, Tami Hoag—THE Tami Hoag—will read the top twelve entries and then select the winning story. The contest winner, of course, receives a slew of cool prizes including the coveted Golden Donut Award!

Here’s what you need to do to get your writing in front of one of the world’s top authors (sorry for the small font—the graphic is a photo).

This is a fun contest!

Since the graphic above is a photo, the embedded links are not active. Here are the links listed within the newsletter, in their order of appearance in the piece.

  1. Click HERE for a link to more details and contest rules.
  2. If you’d like to be a first-round judge, email us at 2018goldendonut@gmail.com.
  3. Don’t forget to tell your friends who are figuring out how to budget for conferences this year that Sisters in Crime is once again offering a $150 registration scholarship to all SinC members attending the Writers’ Police Academy for the first time.
  4. If you need help with your travel arrangements, feel free to contact Darek Jarmola, the agent who handles arrangements for our guest speakers and experts. Derek is well versed in transportation options for Green Bay, Wisconsin. He can be reached at Darek@authenticeurope.com or by phoning 918-214-4582.

Tami Hoag – Writers’ Police Academy firing range

 

Tami after performing a PIT maneuver at the driving track. Intense action, and FUN! – Writers’ Police Academy

TamiHoag.com


There is still time to sign up for the 2018 Writers’ Police Academy. HURRY!

Again, If you’ve ever wanted to attend the WPA, I STRONGLY and WHOLEHEARTEDLY urge you to do so this year. Openings are available … this year. Could be your last chance. I’m just saying …

WritersPoliceAcademy.com

 

Each year the Writers’ Police Academy features a fun writing contest called The Golden Donut Short Story contest. We provide a photo prompt and writers must use it as the theme of their stories. The catch? Each tale must be exactly 200 words.

The concept of flash fiction is not new, of course, but the way this contest came about was, well, here’s how I arrived at the decision to include the contest as part of the thrilling WPA.

This was the time before cellphones, social media, and TV remotes

As a child, I read everything and anything I could get my hands on, from Superman comics to Poe. And, as a result, I often wrote silly little stories and even made a few attempts at poetry. But, as time passed, writing faded out of the picture as my focus turned to police work. I never stopped reading, though. Book after book after book. I loved libraries and book stores. I loved the smell of both new and old books. And I was never very far away from something to read. Running radar … sure, there was a book nearby for the slow times. Working graveyard shift … I had to have something to keep me awake during the times when drunks and robbers slept. Fishing … well, those sly rascals aren’t always biting.

Fast Forward to Shortly After Leaving Police Work (Retirement is Boring)

I wanted to write because I had so many stories to tell. And then I saw it … a writers group for beginners. No experience needed. So I signed up (this was 10 years ago, or more) and it wasn’t long before we were hard at work writing short stories. The instructor, though, added a twist to our assignments. He wanted us to write a complete story in exactly 200 words (now you know where I got the idea for the WPA 200 word story contest).

To write a complete story in 200 words was a tough task, especially for someone like me who’d never written anything worthwhile with the exception of a few hundred traffic tickets and thousands of police reports. The assignment was indeed challenging, and fun. And, later, we had to do the same in just 50 words.

I kept my first story as a reminder of the beginning. And, for fun, I thought I’d post it here today. What about you? How early in life did you know you wanted to write? Do you ever re-visit your early work?

Anyway, here you go … my first official attempt at writing. It’s called Economic Downturn. Remember, it’s an unedited first attempt/draft written 10 years ago. So a bit of pity for me is fine … 🙂

Economic Downturn

Moments ago, the palette of reds, oranges and purples streaking the horizon gave way to night’s inky blackness. The sun had surrendered its position to a heavy and swollen harvest moon. Milky light pushed its way through the tired oak’s twisted and knobby branches.

A cold puff of wind shoved and swirled ribbon-like waves of dried leaves along the cracked asphalt street. They made clicking, ticking sounds as they tumbled and danced along the cold and lonely tarmac.

As he looked towards the sounds, an icy chill swept over his jacket-less frame. Turning toward the house where his wife lay sleeping, he saw the once toothy Halloween jack-o-lantern. It had begun to rot and its sagging, twisted grin mocked him.

Time was slowing and sounds were disappearing as the big limb groaned from the stress of the foreign weight. The thick rope tightened still more as the massive tree pulled him upward against gravity.

His feet came to rest two inches above the cool earth, and the crumpled lay-off notice he had clutched so tightly fluttered to the ground.

His last breath gently floated skyward to mingle with the autumn air.

He wondered if she would miss him.

Each year, the Writers’ Police Academy hosts the fun but challenging Golden Donut Short Story Contest. The rules are simple—each story must be exactly 200 words, including the title. The focus of the tale must be based upon a photo prompt (above image was the photo selected for the 2017 contest).

This year, the judge of the contest was Craig Johnson, the bestselling author of the Longmire series.

Craig Johnson

After reading through a mountain of excellent entries, a team of pre-judges narrowed the pile to twelve stories, which were passed on to Craig for final review.

*All judging and screening was performed blindly, meaning author names or other identifiers were not attached to the entries. 

So, without further ado, here are the top dozen, starting with Craig Johnson’s pick for first place, “Hide and Seek…” by A.R. Kennedy. By the way, this was Kennedy’s second win having also placed first in last year’s contest.

The second place honor goes to Michael Ring for “The Choice.”

And, coming in the third spot was Ry Brooks with his tale, “Echoes.”

Congratulations to the 2017 winner and to all who entered. I understand that each of the stories were excellent, making judging extremely difficult. Thanks, too, for your continued support of the WPA!


2017 Winner

Hide and Seek…

By A.R. Kennedy

“Found!” Bryce yelled.

“Time to go!” their father hollered. “No more of your games. The tour starts in thirty.” The trio headed to the penitentiary. “I must be some big shot to get us on the first tour ever.”

The boys marveled at the old, now closed, jail. All the places they could hide. All the hours they could play.

The tour guide prattled on about the jail’s history, its famous inmates and one inmate never found. Convicted murderer Oliver Seaver. “Escaped, dead, or still here? We do not know.”

Reign and Bryce trailed behind, bored.

The guide continued, “Some say they still see him wandering the halls.” He cackled, scaring no one. “Is it his ghost? Or is he still here?”

“Hide and seek?” Bryce whispered.

Reign nodded and started to count. “Ten…nine…”

Bryce hid under a bed and waited. He heard Reign’s calls. And he remained hidden.

He heard his father’s calls. And he remained hidden.

Bryce heard the jingle of keys and the cell door closed. The lights shut off.

The museum closed for the night.

Leaving Bryce still hidden under the bed.

And then he was found.

But not by his brother.


2nd Place

The Choice

By Michael Rigg

Montresor fumed at the delay. What was taking so long? And he gagged at the odor— despite covering his mouth with his kerchief. Was it the foul-breathed vintner unlocking the heavy iron door? Or the stench of the nitre lining the brick archways and plastered walls of the cellar?

No matter, but each passing second impeded completion of his business and delayed his return to the fresh light of day, where a carnival of joy and reckoning awaited. The plan was in motion. He must continue.

At last. He moved rapidly past the prison-like bars toward sturdy wooden racks laden with barrel after barrel of sherry.

“Which shall you choose, Signore?” The vintner adjusted his lantern, illuminating oaken casks as far as the light would carry. “A mature Fino—still protected by the flor—or  an Oloroso, perhaps?”

“Neither. Something more refined. I have a colleague—a true connoisseur—who will embark this night on a long sojourn. I wish to give him a memorable farewell.”

“Amontillado, then?”

“Yes, of course.” He nodded. “A full pipe of Amontillado. Only the best will suffice. Send it forthwith to my palazzo. Your silver awaits.”

Montresor smiled in anticipation.


3rd Place

Echoes

By Ry Brooks

“Dispatch, I’m ten-twenty at Valley Juvenile Detention building. Exterior is clear, and proceeding inside. Ten-four”.

The former minimum security facility, abandoned for decades, was soon scheduled to be bulldozed for a shopping mall. A passer-by had reported movement inside. As new man on the roster, it was my duty to check for unauthorized “visitors” tonight, likely nocturnal copper thieves stealing wire and plumbing. It was almost midnight and I apprehensively swung the entrance door aside and stepped into the gloom.

From the dormitory cells, I heard faint shuffling sounds and swept my Maglite, but there was no one and no sign of activity. Then, I heard a low crying from an area I had already cleared. It was a boy of about ten, curled up in a ball, hugging his knees.

“Is there anyone here with you?” He shook his head no. “Come with me, son.”

I got him into the back seat of my cruiser.

“Dispatch, it was just a kid. I’m bringing him in, ten-four.”

“Uh-huh. We’ll see. Ten-four.”

At the station, I opened the rear door and froze. The car was empty and the boy was gone.


THE MONSTER INSIDE

By Barbara Venkataraman

Rusting iron smells like blood; it sickens me. This foul odor permeates my senses and defines my barren existence, overpowering all else. But do not pity me in my cage, I chose this life. No, I am not a monk; they abandoned the monastery years before the gates went in. These wretched bunks were theirs. The brotherhood eschewed comfort to better concentrate on prayer–as if prayer could save them. One by one, fear drove them out, down the mountain, away from the village, beyond the reach of the monster that killed indiscriminately, for his own pleasure. Some said he was the devil sent from hell to torment them. Others said he was a man, tortured by demons that forced him to do unspeakable things. But is that not the case with all murderous villains? Bloodlust is madness, a blind frenzy that feeds on fear, thrives on terror; it cannot be resisted. I would know…

I, too, feared the monster. He terrified me more because I knew him so intimately. But I was the only one who could stop him, end the killing. Thus, I did what had to be done. I locked him in this cage.


End of the Road

By Brent Maguire

The guard stands, silent, in the corner, staring at the floor. Not intrusive, but no confidentiality exists in this space. While not a restricted area, most inmates shun this steel gate.

Bill West, the prisoner with whom I am waiting, wears the traditional orange jumpsuit of this facility. Today he is clean-shaven. He shows no sign of distress or anxiety. His gaze is fixed on the stone courtyard beyond us, leading to another gated area. Through those bars I can see the infamous corridor in the distance, leading to the theater that houses the electric chair. I consider Bill’s veneer of calm.

“You’re the psychologist,” Bill would say, whenever I shared my clinical wisdom.

On this occasion, he remains quiet, watching. The steel doors past the flagstones are now open, waiting.

“Anything you want to say?” I ask.

“I’m good. What about you?”

I smile. Deflection is a well-worn tool of prisoners and psychotherapy patients.

We embrace.

Bill sighs, the first sign of tension breaking through his stoic demeanor.

The guard stirs and reaches for his keys.

“C’mon Doc,” he says, grasping one of my shackled arms, “it’s your time.”


Camp

By Fleur Bradley

They called it camp, but everyone knew what it was. Using an old fort as a teen detention facility was smart, Charlie thought. What better place to keep kids in than a place designed to keep people out? The bars looked original, clanked as they shut behind him.

He was getting the bottom bunk. Below a burly, sweaty guy.

“Welcome to Campatraz!” The guy jumped off the top. “Get it? Camp, Alcatraz?”

“Genius.” Charlie dropped his sheets on the cramped bottom. At least he was scrawny.

“Apologies ahead for the farts, Chicken Little. Name’s Gary.” He saluted.

The other guys were busy reading.

“Shoplifting, petty theft, fraud,” Gary said, nodding, assessing the room. “Can you believe they put us together? By the end of six months, we’ll be Ocean’s Eleven.”

Six months, must be nice.

“Except for this one guy I heard about. Stabbed five boy scouts at camp, in his tent, because they called him short.”

Charlie said, “But they couldn’t prove it, so now he’s here on lesser charges.”

“You heard.” Gary nodded. “The press named him Chucky. But it’s Charles.”

“Charlie.”

Gary leaned closer. “Which one do you think it is?”


Vow of Silence

By Nana Herron

My dear Sister Angelica. Swish.

When you arrived, you were a breath of fresh air. So light and carefree. Swish.

Everyone was drawn to your ethereal beauty. Swish.

But with your beauty, you brought the noise of the outside world in. Swish.

It started with the questions. Oh, so many questions. Swish.

Then there was the laughter. Swish.

Just a little at first. Soon everyone joined in. Swish.

 

I tried teaching you our ways. Swish.

But you would not listen. Swish.

How could you? You were too busy talking. Swish.

Cloistered life is for the chosen. For someone like me. Not someone like you. Swish.

Waiting in the shadows, I heard you coming from a mile away. Swish.

Rosary beads jingling. Feet dragging. Humming. Swish.

I only wanted a word. To help you see the light. Swish.

 

Instead you died of fright. Swish.

Weak heart? Who knew? What now? Swish.

Your body was heavier than I expected. Swish.

Tucked in bed, you appear asleep. Swish.

Rest assured. The vow of silence shall be obeyed. Swish.

Having swept away the drag marks, my work is done. Swish.

All it took was a little faith… and a broom. Amen.


Secret Dead

By Ford McMurtry

Archibald Duke crossed the terreplein overlooking the parade ground once used by the Confederates garrisoned at Fort Pulaski. There was no sign of life at the caretaker’s shack atop the southwest wall. Relieved, he lowered himself down to the prison gate.

Inside, mason’s hammer in hand, he lit a lantern and pushed back a bunk to reveal a hole where the secret cache was hidden twenty years before. “It must be here,” he thought! “It’s… gone,” he stammered. Silence. Then, behind the click of the turning cylinder of the Peacemaker, a familiar voice beckoned. “Looking for this?” Eying the map held by his former captor, Duke’s heart sank. “Hopkins squealed afore he died and I’ve been waitin fer you,” Rollins laughed. “I trust two million in Lee’s gold is worth a dyin for Reb!”

Deftly, Duke snapped his wrist and the hammer flew. Its spike pierced Rollins’ eye cavity and he fell back against the grated gun port. The Colt barrel flashed and Duke’s shirt shredded in a pink mist. The paper caught wind and fluttered to the moat below as the digger, captor and map each released their secrets back into the earth. Secret dead.


 The Request

By Michael Rigg

As Margaret Skaggs hastened under the archway—through a huge iron gate—and into the monastery’s wine cellar, she thanked God that the walls couldn’t speak.

The formerly white bricks—now dusty and gray—had witnessed desperate acts. Unsanitary surgery—without anesthesia—became routine in their struggle to mend the wounded. Those deemed unsalvageable? Cast aside—stacked like cordwood on racks built to hold casks of Bordeaux and Chardonnay—to face the inevitable, alone.

“Nurse.” A whisper. “Nurse.”

Her flashlight beam darted between corpses. Dozens more dog tags to collect. She followed the light—watching, listening.

“Can’t feel my legs.”

Mangled flesh. The stench. Gangrene.

“Johansen, is it?” She returned his dog tags. “Been here long?”

“Couple days,” he wheezed. “Everybody left.”

“Right. Negotiations failed. Wainwright surrenders at midnight.”

Silence. Had he heard her?

“Surrender. Japs. Captain, don’t let ‘em take me.”

“Don’t worry soldier. They promised…”

“Your sidearm.”

What?”

“Your sidearm. Please.”

“I can’t.”

He touched her arm. “You do it.”

“Do what?”

“End the pain.”

“Johansen…no…”

Look… my legs. Smell‘ em?”

She nodded, eyes tearful. “I understand.”

Chambering a round, Margaret Skaggs thanked God that the walls couldn’t speak.


BARS

By Regina Sestak

I see bars every time I close my eyes. Those black iron bars in concrete marked the entrance to this prison where I have been rotting for so many years. I came in through that doorway only once, but I remember.

I was drinking in a different kind of bar that night. A stranger said he knew where we could get some cash. I only had to drive him there and wait. While I was sitting in my idling car I heard the shot.

I swear I never knew what he had planned. I never took a life. I told the Judge, who said, “Felony murder,” when he locked me up.

The Judge has lived behind another kind of bars; a decorative iron gate blocks the entry to his drive. I have seen photographs in magazines. His house. His wife. His kids.

After my sentencing, the girl I loved married somebody else. The job I had been hoping for went to another man.

Although I never took a life, the Judge took mine.

When I get out tomorrow, I will obtain a knife and hold it to the Judge’s throat and say, “I never took a life. Until now.”


2084

By Christine Clemenston

A siren blared from the distance.

“Come quickly.” Genevieve gripped the boy’s tiny hand and shuffled faster down the cobblestone path. Her chest thundered.

“Where are we goin’, Grammie?”

“Hush.” She refused to die without showing him first.

Genevieve peered back one last time, and pushed on the rusty iron gate filling the archway. The hinges squealed but gave way.

“This is it,” she whispered.

Inside, dust coated the floor and empty metal shelves. Paint chipped walls stared back at her, as if apologizing for what had been done.

Her gaze rose to the boarded windows.

This wasn’t supposed to be.

“Why are we here, Grammie?”

The answer stuck in her throat. She came to show him. But how did she begin to describe how much knowledge, how much hope used to live here? Her breath hitched. Or even dare to let herself remember?

Suddenly, her grandson let go and darted between the rows of shelves. His pounding feet echoed off the high ceiling.

“This place is big!”

 

“They were right here, honey.” She inhaled, pulling the memories into her lungs, her veins. “Can you smell them?”

“Smell what?”

“The books. The glorious library books.”


CHAINED

By Peggy Strand

I clutched a corner of dank bulkhead to delay them.

“Cease,” I begged. “I am innocent.”

My plea waffled beyond the first limestone archway of a macabre Roman labyrinth.

My captors yanked my shackles, tearing tender flesh. The soldier at my left, his sour breath radiating infirmity, struck my head to a black iron grate. “Shut yer yap.”

My concussed gaze fell to broad, age-worn planks underfoot. Blood spackle denoted the doom of my predecessors. Thrust onward, I flinched as my toe struck an upturned brick of a scalloped pattern conceived ages ago. Now only one stone curvature separated me from a deep throated rumble where padded feet paced.

Propelled unrestricted from dismal shadow to blinding sun, I staggered in the charring sand. The coliseum roared its desire to witness fresh slaughter.

Two lionesses crept forward, their eyes fixed upon me. A third majestic beast trundled inward, a dense mane framing his massive head. Baring fangs, he charged the grumbling females. This kill was his.

“Lazarus,” I whispered.

The beast stormed forward. His leap encircled my shoulders in joyful recognition.

I bowed. I stood tall.

Silent, the people took to its knees in reverence. Here was their king.

 

I admit, I was not aware of the Writers’ Police Academy until Longmire author Craig Johnson posted the upcoming event on his Facebook page. My curiosity led me to check out the WPA website, and I was hooked. As an aside, it is my dream to become a successful crime/mystery author. I grew up in a law enforcement family, and my role models as a boy were deputies and state troopers. More lacking in my repertoire is actual hands-on training in police procedures and methods, so the prospect of just such an experience was exciting, to say the least.

During the registration process, I had some choices to make, including the purchase of souvenir items, meal selection for the closing banquet, and an optional entry in the “Golden Donut Short Story Contest” (more on that later). The registration sells out quickly, I might add, as well as the block of rooms reserved by the conference, so procrastinators may come up short!

Ry Brooks

The real challenge came when my wife noticed I had signed up for the 2017 WPA conference.

“You’re doing WHAT?”, she asked.

“I’m going to the Writers’ Police Academy in Green Bay, Wisconsin.”

“Umm hmm.”

“No, seriously. It’s a great way to learn the details of police procedure. Also, I might get to drive a police car in emergency scenarios. Every kid’s dream!”

“So, is it a course on writing?” She was confused.

“No, not exactly. It’s a learning environment for authors to help them inject more reality into their writing.”

“Shouldn’t you get established as a writer first?”

“What’s the fun in that?”

I was registered for the conference, had requested my preferences from among the most popular workshops, and had just one thing left to do. The “Golden Donut” short story contest entries are strictly limited to exactly 200 words, not 199 or 201. My first draft was exactly 200 words, counting contractions, and it was a great story (in my mind) but for one thing – I had somehow overlooked the requirement that the subject of the story had to follow a specific provided photograph. That first effort thus was deemed a practice run, so I wrote a couple more for submission that fully met the contest rules. Truth be told, I had some concern that my fledgling foray into mystery writing might prove an embarrassment. It was comforting, however, that the identities of the submissions are kept anonymous from the judges, so if my entries were bad, I would be anonymously awful.

The first day of the conference opened with a choice of workshops, the Kooky Cop Carnival or Drones!, and I chose the latter. I later heard I’d missed some comic moments involving famous authors’ hijinks in the other workshop. Never mind, the drone presentation was awesome!

Opening ceremonies included a blessing and wonderful ceremonial dances from the Oneida nation representatives.

Oneida Nation dancers

The conference hotel, along with many of the training facilities, are situated on Oneida native lands and many of the instructors are associated with the Oneida Nation police. Host Lee Lofland opened the conference with introductions and orientation, and we were treated to writer Lisa Klink (Star Trek), who related how she went from a wanna-be script writer to having her work produced on screen.

Day two began in earnest on the campus of Northeast Wisconsin Technical College, with an exciting traffic stop takedown and wounded officer extraction demonstrated by the police instructors. After things calmed down, I proceeded to the Blood Spatter Analysis workshop (shades of “Dexter”!) — and discovered most of what I “knew” was wrong!

Bloodstain pattern investigation workshop #2017WPA

This was to be a recurring theme, and that is part of why the WPA began. We were able to participate in a realistic simulation that graphically demonstrated the way blood droplets can indicate height of the assailant, the type of weapon, even whether an attacker was right or left handed.

Bloodstain pattern session. Dexter-style

I noticed some, if not all, of the invited presenters were also participants in the WPA workshops. Many of them are published writers themselves with years of experience, but the lesson is, what you think you know may not be what you should know. I heard over and over, from conference attendees and seasoned authors, “Wow, I wish I’d known that before I wrote…”.

Over the course of the Academy, I had the chance to learn the history of police firearms, techniques of fingerprint analysis, and arson investigation scenarios, including a live demonstration fire set deliberately and surreptitiously. I got to fulfill the fantasy of driving Pursuit Intervention Technique maneuvers and received hands-on training in emergency driving situations and arrest takedown techniques.

PIT Maneuver – #2017WPA

In fact, I enjoyed being a passenger in the PIT target vehicle so much, I volunteered for extra rounds. If there was a ride at Disney World like that, it would have a five-hour waiting line.

One evening, we heard from master interrogator Paul Bishop. You guessed it, most of what we see and read of police interrogation is less than accurate. Following that was a sobering presentation of officer-down scenarios and the equipment used in those situations.

Our last full day culminated in the banquet and “An Evening With Craig Johnson”. I have had the privilege of hearing Mr. Johnson speak before, and it is always entertaining, humorous and thought-provoking. Frankly, I am a big fan of the Longmire Mystery novels and the opportunity to meet authors such as Craig Johnson and Tami Hoag was a big draw for me.

Craig Johnson and Tami Hoag

Oh, yes, I almost forgot. My “Cinderella story” as a first-time participant in the Writers’ Police Academy wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the results of the “Golden Donut” short story competition. No, it wasn’t a Hollywood ending — I didn’t win the top prize. I got Third Place, which was a Pulitzer, far as I’m concerned. See, even if you haven’t been to the WPA before, you can have beginner’s luck! That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

Writing a complete story in exactly 200 words can be a bit of a challenge, especially when the stories must contain a beginning, middle, and end. After all, that’s sort of what makes a story out of a grouping of individual words, right?

The trick is to arrange those 200 words into an order that makes them pleasing to our eyes, ears, brains, emotions, and our hearts. In other “words” (pun intended), readers want to feel what they read.

So what’s the best way to get started on these micro creations? Easy answer. You need a subject/topic/story.

Small ideas

Keep the idea small. A BIG story can be far too convoluted to cut to a maximum goal of, say, 200 words, such as the word count for the wildly popular Golden Donut Short Story Contest.

You’ve often heard me speak of police officers needing to avoid tunnel vision and that need is for a few reasons, safety being number one. Number two is to avoid missing any and all details, including details that may later prove to be unnecessary to the case.

The opposite is true when writing flash fiction. Writers need a dose of tunnel vision to help them complete their word-challenged stories. Keeping on the blinders, focusing mostly on the end, helps to avoid the use of unneeded words.

The inspiration

No inspiration? No ideas? Brain as empty as a California lake in the summertime? Easy answer.

Use a photo prompt

For inspiration, pick a photo from your last vacation. Maybe you saw a cool image on someone’s website, the newspaper, a blog.

Okay, you have an idea for a story. What’s next? Again, easy answer.

Where to start?

What about starting in the middle of the story, where the character’s conflict begins, avoiding the use of backstory, flashbacks, prologues, and other filler. Why do this? You don’t have the space for it for one thing. Every single word must count when writing flash fiction. This is even more crucial with writing micro-flash fiction. Shorter paragraphs helps when editing.

Write

This, however, is not the time to worry about the word count. Simply write the story and let the words flow. You can trim later.

Emotion

You absolutely must make your readers feel … something. It is up to you to decide what that something truly is. But whatever you select, be sure to keep it simple. There is not enough space to branch out too far, so pick a couple of focus areas and perhaps start out having your readers experience one feeling at the onset but end with a different emotion altogether. Their rollercoaster ride will be worth your effort. But DO NOT go overboard. This is not the place for emotion that doesn’t remain within the boundaries of your tunnel vision-esque story.

Characters

One or two are all that’s needed. Any more and the dialog could become confusing. Besides, too many names eats up word count like watching videos on a crappy wireless data plan chews up precious minutes. The same is true with dialog. A family of twelve all talking to a homicide detective who’s barking out orders to a 10-person CSI team along with four other detectives could wipe out the entire word count in a single, unimportant scene.

Keep in mind that your story and/or characters may develop a different appearance than the one in your mind when you first sat down to write.

Character Arc

Sure, your tale is only 200 words in length (or 50 or 1,000), but your character absolutely must grow within that confined space.

Subplots

Skip them. there’s no room. Stick to a main theme.

SHOW, SHOW, SHOW!

This goes without saying. SHOW the action in your story. Don’t tell us. For example:

“They jumped until they quit.”

The line is a bit vague. It tells us something, but it’s extremely uninteresting. How about …

“Tom and Nancy played a game, seeing who could hop up and down the longest. Tom lost.”

I know. Not the best writing in the world, but you get the idea.

Beginning, Middle, End, and CONFLICT!

Writing flash fiction is not an excuse to cut corners. Each story must have a beginning, middle, and end (a twisted ending is sometimes a nice surprise). And there must be conflict and story resolution. We must feel the struggle (be it internal or external) and then we must see relief (emotional or physical) from that conflict.

Title

The title of a work of flash fiction is extremely important (especially if it’s also part of the word count). It’s the hook. It must cause the reader to stop in their tracks to read your story. It must be THAT compelling. But do not allow it to be so doggone good that it gives away the entire story.

Okay, you’ve finished your masterpiece. What next?

Edit

Now’s the time to break out the carving knives and go to work trimming all the fat. Why? Because your 200 word tale comes in somewhere the other side of 100,000 words. Why? Because you love to hear yourself write. You love your fancy-smancy words and you love your voice and your story was absolutely far too good to tell in only … 200 words???

Okay, with red pen sharpened it’s time to cut all the “LY” words and the other stuff you don’t need.

For example, Billy needs to let his mother know he’ll be late coming home after school. That’s all she needs to know to help our story advance. So we, a group of unapologetic flowery writers, write.

Billy picked up the black phone, the one with the blue buttons and the $200 screen protector, and used it to call his mom, a server at Pete’s Possum Gut Gourmet Diner and Horse-Shoeing Parlor, to tell her that he’d be late coming home after school because he wanted to play ball with 12 or 15 of his friends at the church lot over on Elm. 

Well, we know a lot about Billy, his mom and his friends and the area. But how much information do we really need to get the point across? How’s this?

Billy called his mom to say he’d be late for dinner.

69 words in the first sentence. 12 in the latter.

Words to lose – the space wasters.

These words are very nice words. I like them a lot. They’re amazing, good, incredible, and just plain uniquely and totally and pleasantly perfect. But avoid them if at all possible. You don’t need them. They’re space wasters.

Say NO to:

a lot
absolutely
actually
amazing
basically
essentially
funny
given the fact that
good
hopefully
incredible
just
kind of
literally
many
nice
perfect
perhaps
pleasant
pretty
probably
quite
really
so
sort of
suddenly
totally
truly unique
usually
very

And other words ending in “LY.”

Now You’re Ready …

to enter the Golden Donut Short Story Contest and win the Golden Donut Award and FREE registration to the 2018 Writers’ Police Academy (prize value is well over $400). Submission deadline is July 2, 2017. This is a FUN contest!!

Here are some of the stories (and a photo prompt) from past contests.

Golden Donut 200-Word stories

Are you a storyteller? Do you want to have a lot of fun? Up for a challenge? Do you like to win cool things? Would you like to have superstar author Craig Johnson read your very own writing? Well …

Sponsored by the Writers’ Police Academy,  the Golden Donut Short Story Contest sounds like it’s right up your alley! This fun contest requires authors to write a story that’s EXACTLY 200 words, based on the photo posted above (and at the end of this piece – not the typing pooch image).

Yes, this year’s final judge is Craig Johnson, author of the best-selling Walt Longmire mysteries and 2017 WPA Guest of Honor. The Golden Donut winner earns a free 2018 registration to a Writers’ Police Academy ($395 value) event as well as a nifty trophy and bragging rights (priceless!). You can enter the contest even if you can’t attend the 2017 WPA.

So sharpen those pencils and write your way to those bragging rights and to the most exciting event on the planet for writers, the Writers’ Police Academy.

For details about the Golden Donut Short Story Contest,  please click here – Golden Donut Short Story Contest.

*Submission deadline is July 2, 2017.

As an added bonus, we now have a few available slots for the Writers’ Police Academy. This is an event you do not want to miss! For details and registration information, and to view the exciting schedule and lineup of top instructors and workshops, please visit …

2017 Writers’ Police Academy

Once again, here’s the photo prompt for the Golden Donut Short Story Contest. Good Luck!

2017 Golden Donut Photo Prompt