"Fiction 440" challenges writers and novices

Lansing, MI – It's never been difficult to find networking opportunities in Lansing. The capital city has a place for just about everyone who's interested in connecting with like-minded people. And social media has made it even easier to find and create social groups. A new event recently caught the attention of WKAR reporter Rob South, who files this missive about Fiction 440.

(NOTE: To read Rob's story, "The Kumquat," scroll to the bottom of this page)

AUDIO:

OK, here is the 411 on Fiction 440. Your task is to write an original work of fiction in 440 words or less. And to make things interesting, each story must conform to some simple guidelines, maybe a theme, or a topic or set of words. For its last event, the Fiction 440 group chose to make mandatory the words frenetic, hospital and kumquat. In other words, your short piece of fiction must contain those words!

Fiction 440 was held in a Lansing bar earlier this week.

Aaron Matthews is one of 440's coordinators and creators. He says there are a lot of "flash fiction" events like 440 around the country. And after a few beers with some friends, he realized he knows a lot of people who write for a living, but not many who write fiction.

"Many of us have not done any creative writing since junior high school," Mathews says. "This is an opportunity to sit down for an hour or two and hammer out a story and come and share it with others and enjoy it in a social setting."

So, I'm a writer and I routinely write stories with fewer than 440 words and I'm always up for a new challenge, so I thought I'd give it a shot.

But fiction -- that's not something I don't get into very often, in spite of what you might have heard from local politicians.

And those three words: frenetic, hospital and kumquat. Kumquat? Really?

(Typing) It was a dark and stormy kumquat... Dahhhh! The hospital was frenetic with all the kumquats...

Ok, this is harder than it sounds. But I guess that's the point; to challenge people to do something different. Like Elizabeth Pizzo. She wrote a 440 story even though she works for the Michigan State Police and is not a writer.

"No, actually I analyze data, criminal data statistics," she says. "So I work with numbers pretty much."

Pizzo says writing has always been a passion of hers that she doesn't often indulge in. Fiction 440 gave her a reason to put her ideas on paper.

"The story came to me so quickly," she says." I wrote it in less than 45 minutes. I knew what it was going to be about the minute she told me the three words we had to use. I love to write and I forgot how much I love to write."

Did I forget to mention that after you've written a story, you get to read the story before a live audience? Well, since my story isn't going anywhere fast, let's hear a bit of Pizzo's. It's about a date gone horribly wrong.

"Among the pile of juicy fruits lay the Hong Kong Wild Kumquat, exotic and rare. And I anticipated this description in my preplanned dialog of seduction. But, alas, you can imagine the night did not proceed as planned. As my date carried on in a frenetic display of dancing around me, my face turned from white to blue. And it hit me, I'm going to die. And with this (censored) idiot."

Some of the stories are funny, some are happy and some are sad. Some are good, and some are bad. But poetry is not allowed. Which is OK with me, since I didn't want to rhyme kumquat anyway.

Everyone gets applause and a pat on the back after putting themselves out there. And that's about it. It's not a contest, there are no prizes, no winners or losers.

The next Fiction 440 event will be held sometime in April. The theme, if you're inclined to take the challenge, is "music." To learn more, go to fiction440.org or you can visit them on Facebook or Twitter.

And, since you may be wondering if I finished a 440 story, the answer is yes! But, in an ironic twist of events, I didn't record it. But, you can read it here:

The Kumquat
by Rob South

"It looks like a kumquat!" Sharron said as she poked at the receiver sitting on the table. "My husband will be a Kumquat."

Dave looked at her disappointingly. "It's not going to look anything like that when it comes out."

Dave grabbed her hand. "Stop poking it! It's going to save my life, and you keep poking it."

Sharron sighed. "It's hard for me to understand why you think this is going to save your life. There won't be any life and you don't have any idea that you'll be in there when it's all over anyway. I love you and I want you. I think I should just start calling you Kumquat now."

The doctor walked into the exam room holding a white and black wand. "This really won't take long and it won't hurt."

Dave laid face down on the exam table as the doctor put the receiver into the wand. He put the wand along Dave's back and it started to hum.

After about five minutes he looked at the readout on the instrument. "Yep, everything's normal. The receiver should start collecting your memories in about two days. After that you're free to roam the network."

"I love you, Kumquat!" Sharron said as she wheeled him out of the hospital.

Over the next several weeks Dave experimented with the receiver. He learned how to turn it on and off at will, and how to access his own, long forgotten memories. Some of them pleasant, some of them not. All the while, he continued to urge Sharron to get a receiver too. "We can be together forever," he would say. "We could be whoever we want to be and never grow old and never die."

For a year, Sharron watched Dave change from a loving husband into an emotionless shell, barely acknowledging her unless to urge her to join the network. "I'm free in here. I can walk again here. It is fast and frenetic and I want to be here with you forever."

After he died, Sharron took the receiver, which had now transformed into a small black chip half the size of a domino. She poked it and a full-size holographic image of Dave appeared. He was smiling and healthy. "Look at this!" he said. "I'm 20 again, and I feel great! Sharron, I love you. You should join me."

Sharron poked the receiver again and Dave disappeared. She walked over to her desk and placed the chip into a red, leather bound address book under K. "I love you, Kumquat," she said as she patted the book shut.