Behind the Story: Payments

Posted: February 16, 2020 in Uncategorized

Payments,” as


Boskone Flash Fiction Slam. Photo by Brenda Noiseux

seen on this blog and the staff issue of Syntax and Salt Magazine, has a story behind the story.

That’s me in the picture to the left. Or above if it’s on mobile. I am in the middle of reading the story aloud at the First Inaugural Boskone Flash Fiction Slam a few years back. The number of participants was capped so when I saw the sign up announcement cross my twitter feed, I jumped on it.

Then I read the details of the rules.

The rules of the Slam had an extremely strict three minute time limit.

Did I have a story short enough to read in three minutes?

No. No I did not.

Three minutes goes by extremely fast unless you want to sound like that old school Micro Machines fast talking guy. But I took the whole thing as a challenge. In case you haven’t noticed before, my natural tendency leans towards the verbose. Novels are my natural length, especially back then. I’ve gotten better at keeping my storytelling tight for shorter stuff, but it’s a conscious effort and a skill I have to keep at. But you know? Challenge accepted!

The first draft of “Payments” was about 1k words. I felt pretty fancy that I got a proper story in such a short amount of space. At the time, the short stories I was shopping around tended to be in the 3-5k range.

Of course, reading it aloud wasn’t even close to three minutes.

I agonized over every word in that story and trimmed it down to 700 words so I could comfortably read it in three minutes with some wiggle room to spare. I agonized over every single words and cut that had to be made. I was harsh.

So on the day of the Slam, I read it. I’m a natural introvert but I can switch on Performance Mode when i need to. Which is a good thing what since my current day job is teaching people in the shipyard.

The story went over great.

You can’t see it in the picture but I got real into the reading. I scattered the pages about me as I went cause I was just in the zone.

Now it’s time for comments from the panel of judges. The judges consisted of Nancy Holder, James Patrick Kelly, Walter Jon Williams, and Paul Di Filippo.

The first comment from James Patrick Kelly is word for word burned into my brain forever. I remember exactly how he sat in the middle of the row and looked at the notes he made on a 3×5 index card.

“Bold move bringing a cyberpunk story to the guys who invented the genre.”

Oh snap. I knew who they all were but I didn’t put two and two together until that moment.

They didn’t just judge my story, it was a full on critique at a whole different level. I was the guy who wanted to play in the same sandbox they helped build after all.

So I didn’t end up winning but the whole thing was a great experience. Performing something you’ve written like that brings a whole different understanding of your writing and its flow, particularly if you rely heavily on dialogue.

A lot of people came up to me afterwards to say how much they dug the story.

Bonus points because that’s where I met Carrie Cuinn and Rob Greene aka R.W.W. Greene, who’s debut novel, The Light Years, dropped this week and I’m enjoying a lot.

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