Failing to Win: My Second Short Story Competition 

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Eduardo Suré; Mary at Meeting, 2017; Watercolor with Vanilla Filter

In July 2017, I submitted Mary’s Ten O’Clock as my entry for a second short story contest this year: the Sean O’Faolain Short Story Competition. I was not placed on the short list.

I can’t say I was surprised. I thought the story was funny, but not one that would win a competition. My family really liked it and suggested I enter, so I deferred to their opinion.

It was fun to enter, hope, and experience real life suspense. I plan to submit short stories to a few contests every year.

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Painting Amanda

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Eduardo Suré; Amanda and Smell, 2017; Watercolor

This is the full painting of Amanda and Smell. I cropped the illustration for my short story, Finding the Purple Living Jewel. I took some notes after painting Amanda.

  • Color sketches save time and frustration. If I hadn’t done them, I would have used some wild colors.
  • Start with fresh paint when creating color. I tried to darken the paint I used for Kevin’s skin color and the paint turned gray. 
  • Wet-on-wet is great for shadows.
  • Until I understand where shadows fall, use a model.
  • Use very light pencil for the structural drawing. Even though I drew lightly, I still had trouble erasing the pencil marks.
  • Be patient and wait until the painting dries before erasing pencil marks. I ruined Amanda’s lips by erasing too soon.

The combination of painting a person looking up and conveying the act of smelling challenged me. I did not think it was going to work. In the end, I was satisfied by the result.

Thank you for stopping by. If you are interested in reading the Living Jewel Series, the hyperlink will take you to my published short stories. You can also find the link to the Living Jewel Series under Categories.

Finding the Purple Living Jewel 

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Eduardo Suré; Amanda and Smell, 2017; Watercolor
Amanda Miller did not expect to make discoveries in lost luggage. The task of looking through suitcases was to her like looking obsessively through a stranger’s laundry basket. Her job was to catalog everything. She handled every smelly article of clothing in the suitcase. If she found something valuable, she was not allowed to keep it. The administration had to hold it for ninety days to give the owner a chance to claim it. After that, it went to auction. The most she could hope for was to find something suspicious to investigate or something ridiculous to tell her colleagues about.

Inspecting lost luggage was not all Amanda did at that job, but she felt she did it more often than her coworkers. She did not like to be alone, wearing an immaculate blue uniform no one could admire, and exhibiting professionalism no one could judge. She wanted to be with her colleagues among the flying public. She chose to be an agent so she could catch criminals and terrorists before they could do harm; not to spend time alone with suitcases meticulously cataloging skid marked briefs, toiletry items, and smelly shoes.

Amanda selected a silver suitcase from a group by the entrance to the room. The suitcase’s shell was gray and made with an unusual metal with no branding labels or factory markings. It was small enough to carry on, so its former owner must have been forced to check it in just before boarding the aircraft. He or she must have been livid when the airline told him they lost it.

The suitcase was locked. It was a common lock, but one that was exceptionally well made. It gave her so much trouble, she almost gave up trying to open it. The suitcase was unusual and that added to her usual tenacity. After a long while and after breaking the lock, she succeeded in opening it.

The contents of the suitcase were not unexpected. There were two days of worth of men’s clothing in it. They were of fine quality, but she had seen rich people’s clothing before. The toiletries were exceptional. The deodorant, lotion, aftershave, and hair product appeared handmade.

Amanda knew better than to stop examining the suitcase after it was empty. She slowly and carefully felt around all of the edges for hidden compartments. When she felt an unusual bump with her finger tip, she pressed it. It did not move, so she pushed it sideways in every direction. When she pushed it horizontally from right to left, it moved and clicked. The fabric inside of the suitcase separated from the shell and fell forward to reveal a box.

The box attached to the inner shell was made from the same gray material as the shell. Amanda felt around it for a button that would open it, but it did not have one. She pressed the top down to see if it would spring back and pop off, but it did not. She thought it might unscrew and open, so she grasped the top and twisted so hard that she tore some of her glove’s fingertips. She grasped the bottom of the box and squeezed it. When she did, a side popped out revealing a small lever. When she pulled on the lever, the top came off.

Inside of the gray box, there was a purple jewel held in place by a customized frame. The jewel appeared to be in a raw form. It had smooth surfaces that looked like crystal, and rough surfaces that looked like stone. Amanda thought it looked like alexandrite. The jewel was opaque where it was smoothest; but she could see through a lighter surface layer and a slightly darker inner layer to a very dark purple core.

Amanda reached out to remove the jewel. Because her glove was torn at the fingertip, her skin made contact with the jewel’s surface. The color of the jewel exploded in her eyes. She gasped from being startled. As she drew in breath, she tasted the room: the dust in the air, musty suitcase shells, and chemicals used to clean the room. She closed her mouth, but her sense of smell was even stronger. She stopped breathing to keep the tastes out of her mouth and the smells out of her nose. When she did that, she noticed she could hear everything outside of the room as if there were no walls. She heard people walking and talking, public announcements, and even aircraft engines as they approached their gates. She removed her hand from the jewel so she could cover her ears. It all stopped.

After the bombardment of Amanda’s senses ended, she opened her eyes. Nothing like that had ever happened to her before. She looked closely at the jewel for any sign that it could be special: a light, a haze, vibration – anything. It just sat quietly in its mold looking harmless. But just as it is easy to identify the object that burned you, she knew it was the jewel that made her senses go berserk.

Amanda felt that she should take the jewel to her supervisor. She took her torn glove off, discarded it, and put on a new one. She carefully reached out and touched the jewel gently. It had no effect. She grasped it firmly, pulled it out of its mold, and walked out the door toward the nearest security checkpoint.

Amanda had to work her way through crowds of people to get to the checkpoint. It was crowded, noisy, and bustling before and after the scanners. She approached a colleague and asked where she could find her supervisor. The agent answered that he was at another gate’s security checkpoint.

Amanda worked her way out of the crowd and briskly walked toward the next gate. She thought about what she would say to her supervisor. She wondered if she should tell him or show him what had happened. When she rehearsed what she would say in her mind, it sounded ridiculous. She thought about how embarrassed she would be if he touched it and it did not have the same effect on him that it did on her. She did not want him to think she had cracked under the pressure of the job.

Amanda looked at the jewel in her hand and stopped walking halfway to the other checkpoint. She wanted to make sure she had not imagined what she had felt. She put the stone in her pocket so her hands would be free to remove a gloves. Then, she reluctantly took off one glove. Next, she carefully reached into her pocket. When her fingertip made contact with the jewel; her senses were bombarded by the airport lights, sounds, and smells. She even felt the clothes on her body. She was overwhelmed until something caught her attention. An unusual, but recognizable, smell gave her focus. It was a scent she remembered from her training. She could tell it was coming from the direction of the security checkpoint where she was headed. She should not have been able to smell it, but she did. She smelled a bomb.

© 2017 EDUARDO SURÉ ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Sketch of Amanda and Smell

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Eduardo Suré; Sketch of Amanda and Smell, 2017; Graphite
I sketched Amanda for a painting to illustrate my next short story, Finding the Purple Living Jewel. To find the right proportions for a face looking up, I found a model of a woman online. For her eyes, nose, and mouth; I tried to use the model’s dimensions. However, my sketch did not look right to me. So, I moved her features.

The first time I finished adding all of her features, there was something about her that did not seem right. So, I held her up to a mirror and was able to notice her face was very asymmetrical. I went back and matched the pairs of features the best I could.

My last challenge was to show her smelling something. I don’t know what smells look like. I imagined smells looking something like smoke and drew them accordingly.

Thank you for stopping by! I hope you’ll visit again to read the story and see the painting.

Lessons Learned: Painting Kevin in Trouble

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Eduardo Suré; Kevin in Trouble, 2017; Watercolor

I wanted to capture some notes about painting Kevin in Trouble. I hope reflecting on the project will help me become a better painter.

First, I used a sketch to create a structural drawing for the painting. I blogged about the sketch for this project in, Sketch of Kevin. I adjusted the position of the collar and the width of the left arm. I felt the figure was improved, but I’m still stretching my ability to draw in perspective. I need to remember to use lighter pencil marks because I’m finding it harder to erase them at the end when the painting is dry.

Second, I selected colors and painted flat areas. I tried this approach last week and liked the control it gave me. It allowed me to focus on having a good foundation to build upon. I chose warm colors to evoke a feeling of distress. I showed the colors to my wife, and she told me they reminded her of fall and were comforting. I should do thumbnail color sketches next time to find the right combination of colors.

After the watercolors dried, I added form. I moved the source of the light to the other side of the room. That wasn’t my original plan. My reason for moving it was that the best model I could find had the light coming from that side. It wasn’t the bravest move, but I’m not comfortable imagining lighting yet.

All in all, I was satisfied with the painting.

 

 

Finding the Blue Living Jewel

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Eduardo Suré; Kevin in Trouble, 2017; Watercolor
“C’mon, it’s easy money,” Emily said. She looked tired of giving Michelle, one of the most attractive girls in her network, reasons to take a job she offered. She found a gap between throw pillows that hid the age of Michelle’s couch and carefully sat down. She crossed her ankles, leaned forward, and rested her forearms on top of her thighs. She fiddled with the cap of her empty water bottle as she waited for Michelle to come up with another reason not to take the job.

“You call that easy money?” Michelle asked. “Because I don’t call it easy money.” Michelle stood across the small room, turned toward a mirror, and checked her hair and face casually. She smoothed out her dress with her delicate hands and frowned at some lint on her dress that no one would ever notice. “Besides, I don’t want to do that anymore. I’m focusing on my acting fulltime now.”

“You need to eat until you land that big part, don’t you?” Emily said. “Look – all you need to do is wear a flirty uniform, serve drinks, and be friendly.”

“Oh yea? Just friendly, huh? And who am I going to be friendly to? Whose party is it going to be?” Michelle asked.

“George Brown’s,” Emily answered.

“Are you kidding me?” Michelle said. “No way I’m going near that guy.”

“What do you have against George Brown?” Emily asked.

“Oh, I’ve got plenty against George Brown,” Michelle said. She sat down in a chair that was next to the sofa where Emily sat. “Two weeks ago, I was on a yacht with Joshua Davis.”

The Joshua?” Emily asked.

“Yes, the Joshua,” Michelle answered. “I was on his yacht making some of that easy money you’re talking about. We were inside having drinks because we were in the middle of some storm. The ocean was choppy, but everyone was having a good time.”

“So it wasn’t a big party?” Emily asked.

“Nah. It was more of a weekend getaway with his friends and me and some girls,” Michelle answered. “The yacht was big though: it had a crew. Really fancy. So, everyone was laughing about how sick some celebrity got on Joshua’s jet. Then Joshua just told one of his guys to sit down.”

“One of his friends?” Emily asked.

“Hard to tell. He was a quiet type. Didn’t speak unless spoken to. Looked like he could be a body guard or something,” Michelle answered. “And so everyone stopped laughing. It was like we were listening to canned laughter and somebody turned off the TV. Joshua then asked, ‘Kevin, where’s that blue rock I gave you?’ And then no one made a sound. Even I knew to hold my breath. All I heard was white noise outside from the rain and the yacht’s hull slapping the occasional wave.”

“What did the guy say?” asked Emily.

“He swallowed hard and took a while to answer,” Michelle said. “It was like he wasn’t too bright. Like he was really thinking about it. Then he said, ‘I sold it to George Brown so I could retire someday.’ The room was so quiet. Nobody looked at Joshua, but everyone looked at Joshua: you know what I mean? I was really getting scared, but I couldn’t go anywhere. The room had this weight in it. It felt like I would die if I moved without Joshua saying I could.”

“Wow,” Emily said.

“Yeah, I didn’t know someone could do that to a room,” Michelle said. “So then Joshua said, ‘Who said you could retire?’ Kevin’s face turned white. Joshua started laughing and looked around the room at the other guys. So we all started laughing. I mean; it wasn’t really funny, but I was just so scared. You know?”

“You poor girl,” Emily said.

“Then Joshua stood up, grabbed Kevin by the collar, and pulled him up and out of his chair,” Michelle said. “He dragged the guy across the room and through the door leading out onto the deck of the yacht. When Joshua opened the door, the sound of the rain outside drowned out every sound inside. It looked pitch black outside to me. It was just crazy for him to go out there and drag Kevin out there too as the boat heaved and waves crashed onto the deck from the storm. Then one of the guys tried to say to another without me hearing, ‘Did I just see Joshua drag Kevin out?’ And the other guy was like, ‘I wouldn’t believe it if I wasn’t right here.’ I didn’t know what was going on. I just tried not to cry.”

“Where were the other girls?” Emily asked.

“They were with some guys on the other side of the yacht,” Michelle answered. “Joshua liked me, so he kept me around most of the time. I thought that was great since he was paying the bill, you know? But I didn’t want to be there right then. I asked one of Joshua’s friends if I could go be with the other girls, but he just shook his head. He was probably right. No one moved from where they were – not even to close the door. Then Joshua emerged from the dark and walked back into the room. He was soaked, of course. He grabbed an ice bucket where we’d had a champagne bottle earlier and stuck one of his hands in it. He told us to have a good time, and then went to his room. I didn’t see him again the rest of the trip: not even when we got back to port.”

“I still haven’t heard what you’ve got against George Brown,” Emily said.

“Really? Joshua Davis, George Brown, the Boogeyman – they kill people,” Michelle answered. “I’m not going anywhere near scary people anymore.” Michelle stood up and walked back to the mirror to look at herself. She combed through her hair with her hands and straightened a necklace she wore. “Do you think Joshua was mad about the blue rock or the guy wanting to retire?”

“Oh, he was mad about both,” Emily said. She leaned back into the couch letting the throw pillows gather around her as she sunk in. “He called it a rock, but it looks like raw benitoite.”

“Like what?” Michelle asked.

“It looks like a blue gemstone called buh – nee – toh – aight,” Emily said. “Look it up on your phone.”

“But it’s not a bunny toe thing?” Michelle asked. “What is it then? And how much was it worth that he got enough money to buy his way out of the bad business he was in?”

“Well, I heard it’s not just some fancy jewel,” Emily said.

“Go on,” Michelle said.

“I heard it has powers,” Emily said.

“Shut up!” Michelle said. “What powers?”

“You touch people and you get their strength,” Emily said.

“Like, where do you touch people?” Michelle asked. “Do you touch them with it? Or do you say some magic words?”

“I don’t know,” Emily said. “But it makes sense when you think about it, right? That guy Kevin was muscle for Joshua. And he always had that blue jewel with him. He had a reputation of being unstoppable. Tough and loyal, but not too bright. That’s probably why George Brown was able to get the jewel from him.”

“You heard all this where?” Michelle asked.

“Joshua Davis mentioned it when he, um…” Emily hesitated. She leaned her head back and looked up at the ceiling.

“When what, Emily?” Michelle asked. Emily swallowed and straightened her posture. She made eye contact with Michelle.

“When he told me to tell you to steal the jewel back from George Brown,” Emily said.

© 2017 EDUARDO SURÉ ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Sketch of Kevin

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Eduardo Suré; Sketch of Kevin, 2017; Graphite

I sketched Kevin for a painting to illustrate my next short story, Finding the Blue Living Jewel. The focal point of this image is Kevin’s face. He is under distress. I thought a tough guy with a worried look on his face would accentuate the trouble he is in. He is not likable, but one should feel sorry for him. I hope all of this is conveyed in the sketch.

I took a risk with Kevin’s body by showing so little of his lower half. I wanted to show him sitting, and I believe the minimum parts of his body are visible for that. However, I may show more of his legs and the chair in the painting.

I tried a few things to show three dimensions. I positioned the chair and Kevin’s body at an angle. In addition to being turned sideways, I made him look up at the source of his trouble. It almost worked, but his shirt and left shoulder need adjustments to make them look less awkward. I started to add background elements, but they were distracting. I also experimented with a light source having it above and behind him on his right.

Thank you for stopping by. If you are interested in reading the Living Jewel series, links to published short stories are below.

 

Failing to Win: My First Short Story Competition 

In June of 2017, I entered my first short story competition. I submitted Brother Thomas to The Masters Review Short Story Award For New Writers. I didn’t even make the short list.

I have mixed feelings about competitions. Prizes are great, but I care more about what placing could tell me about my writing. If I am placed on the short list or win, then I have some evidence that I may be a good writer. If I’m not placed on the short list, does that mean I suck? I default to a yes, but I would be doing theater if I had not received some positive reinforcement about my writing.

Failing to win did not give me much information about whether I suck a lot, a little, or not at all. There are several possible scenarios. For example, the judge read my first sentence and vomited all over his desk. In a more positive scenario, the judge had trouble deciding between my story and another for inclusion in the short list.  My story may have been in the middle of a mediocre set of submissions, and the winners may have been the only good stories they got. Or my story may have been in the middle of the best set they have ever received, and the winners were only a reflection of the judge’s preferences. 

I did enjoy several things about entering the competition. I enjoyed submitting a piece others thought was good enough to win. I enjoyed having something to look forward to and the hopes I had as I waited. Anything was possible until the short list was announced. These are things I can enjoy every time I enter a competition regardless of the outcome.

Mary’s Ten O’clock

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Eduardo Suré; Mary at Meeting, 2017; Watercolor
Mary sat at the conference table between space junk Wonder Boy and The expert on space weather. She wondered what she could possibly contribute to the efforts of this team. She could not remember half the names of the ten people in the room. She had not even introduced herself correctly. She thought she heard herself say her names was Murray.

“I would like gather a preliminary set of risks to our assets, and then…” said Michael as Mary’s attention wandered off. Mary made an effort to remember this person’s name because he was the facilitator. He had two other people with him. One was named Richard. She remembered his name because Dick is short for Richard. There was a Dick in her family. She could not remember the name of the other person even though she could not forget his face. She told herself to stop worrying about names and start paying attention. She missed a lot of what Michael said after assets.

“Murray, why don’t you start us off?” asked Michael. Everyone in the room looked at Mary. Adrenaline shot through her body. Her hand began to tremble. She felt her forehead moisten. Mary had to swallow before she could speak.

“It’s Mary,” she said.

“Sorry, I didn’t hear what you said,” said Michael.

“Cybersecurity,” said Mary. Richard typed the word into the notes page projected on the wall. Mary’s ears perceived each click of the keyboard like points being added next to her name on a scoreboard.

“Excellent,” said Michael. “Who would like to go next?” Mary did not hear what the next person said. She was too happy she had guessed correctly what to say. She had even contributed and there was a credit on her credibility ledger. She forced herself to pay attention so she would not be caught with her mind elsewhere again.

To keep herself engaged, Mary commented whenever someone else provided a good suggestion. Her strategy worked for the first half hour. She was feeling a connection between herself and the others in the room. She felt like she was a part of the group.

Richard stood up to let the other guy sit in his place and take notes. The room darkened a little as if clouds had rolled in. The lights flickered. ‘What the hell is that guy’s name,’ thought Mary. She stared at his face trying to remember. She thought his teeth were too big; especially his front teeth. His lips draped over his incisors like a miniskirt over butt cheeks of unusual size. His nostrils revealed an undergrowth of hair in his nose. He had eyes like a Chihuahua. His mother must have considered drowning him in the toilet.

“Did you say something, Murray?” asked the new note taker. He noticed her staring at him.

“It’s Mary,” she replied. “I was just thinking that we don’t have a good plan for disposal.” Michael nodded his head thoughtfully. A conversation began in the room. No one noticed the man had not typed in Mary’s suggestion.

“Could a competitor damage our assets?” Patricia asked.

“Good point, Patricia,” said Michael. “Please write that down, Logan.” Logan typed in a note summarizing her comment.

‘What the hell kind of name is Logan?’ thought Mary. She did not have a problem with the name; she had a problem with the person taking notes. She expected him to be named Beaver or Bug-Eye or Skid-Mark. Mary was determined not to break even or have a deficit in the esteem of her colleagues. She straightened her posture and cleared her throat.

“I’m sorry to press, but I still think we contribute to space junk without a proper disposal plan,” said Mary. “That adds to everyone’s risk.” She tried to make eye contact with Logan. She looked at his right eye, but it looked as if he was staring at Patricia. She looked at his other eye, it was looking at her. ‘Write it down, Skid-Mark,’ Mary thought. Mary could see in her periphery that other participants were nodding, but she stared at Logan’s eye and waited for him to enter the note.

‘What is your problem with me,‘ Mary thought. She guessed at why Logan wrote Patricia’s comment, but not hers. Patricia was a pretty blond. Her big innocent blue eyes made men’s intelligence plunge when she rested her gaze on them. ‘What do you think is going to happen with Patricia,’ Mary thought. ‘You think she wants the spawn of a walleyed Chihuahua?’

“Why don’t you write that down, Logan?” suggested Michael. Logan hesitated. Mary’s eye lids narrowed. Everyone in the room stopped moving and appeared to hold their breath. Then, Logan began to peck at the keyboard.

The sound of each keystroke tickled Mary. She won that fight. She scored that point with the experts behind her after she took a risk and asserted herself. Her idea was projected on the wall for everyone to see. There was so much to savor in that victory that she felt like she was floating. She was so excited she could pee herself.

‘Oh, crap!’ Mary thought to herself. ‘I think I just peed myself!’

Mary wore a skirt, so she could not look down to see if there was a visible wet spot. She had felt a tiny squirt. The volume of liquid felt like a cheap water gun had been fired from her body. She felt a warm sensation. Then, there was cooling.

There was no way Mary was going to leave the room without someone noticing a wet spot on the back of her skirt. Wonder Boy was a known butt ogler. There was an ongoing debate among the women: one side argued that he was an avid connoisseur of posteriors and the other side said his glances were hardwired and involuntary. Regardless, Mary was in danger of detection. She did not have anything with her to wrap around her waist. Even if she made it out of the room, she was not going to avoid being seen in the halls on the way back to her desk.

Since Mary did not want to be noticed, she received a lot of attention from the meeting participants. They rallied around her after the unprovoked attack. As the meeting wound down, small talk began and people asked her questions about herself. Had she not soiled herself, she would have basked in the attention. She would have lain on the table with her arms and legs spread out awkwardly and purred like a cat. She might have gotten down on her hands and knees and done a figure 8 around Michael’s legs. Instead, she wanted to crawl alongside the walls and find a hole in which to hide.  She gave short answers to questions and diverted attention to others by asking questions about them as a part of her response.

Richard and Logan walked around the conference room and tidied up as Michael allowed the conversation to signal the conclusion of the meeting. Richard picked up extra copies of handouts on one side of the room, and Logan gathered the extra copies on the side where Mary sat. When Logan reached for the copies that were in front of Mary, he knocked over her coffee cup. The lid popped off of the cup. A tsunami of coffee poured across the table toward her. A waterfall went over the table. The liquid’s journey ended when a plunge pool of coffee found her lap. One of Logan’s eyes looked at Mary. He apologized with a note of insincerity in his voice.

“It’s one-hundred percent OK,” said Mary cheerfully. “I have a change of clothes in a drawer at my desk.” She was gracious and sincere. Logan looked hurt. He did not know he solved her peed skirt problem and gave her one more opportunity to be awesome. Mary purred as she left the room.

© 2007 EDUARDO SURÉ ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Failing to Win: Middle School

When I was in sixth grade, I wrote and illustrated a children’s book about a homicidal teddy bear for a competition. It murdered my sister and had a glorious death itself. My hopes were high because I’d never seen such a children’s book. Alas, I didn’t win. The book is probably filed in my permanent record at the school.