“Walter Musgrave should have known better than to leave story time without permission, but he had a policy of not listening to grown-ups which had taken a firm root. It was bad enough he had to spend the entire day with his witchy grandmother. But he definitely wasn’t planning on hanging around for read-a-loud. Everyone knew that was for babies.”
And so begins Fort Collins-based writer Laura Mahal’s flash fiction story, “Firmly Rooted Policy,” a first place winner in the Poudre River Public Library District’s 2016 Spirited Stories Contest.
For Laura, writing a complete and layered story between 500 and 1000 words was a great departure from her typical long-form, novel-length writing. But, when her teenage daughter asked her to submit a story, Laura “took it as a personal challenge” and opportunity to expand her writing skills and try new approaches to writing.
“Prolific is not hard for me,” she explains. “Flash fiction was tough. I went through many drafts for something so short.”
Prior to entering the Library District’s Spirited Stories Contest, Laura had never written flash fiction, but she had taken part in many other library writing experiences like Battle of the Bards Poetry Contest and NaNoWriMo activities for National Novel Writing Month. Each of the different programs helped Laura “branch out in [her] writing” whether it was through writing poetry or taking on the challenge of writing 50,000 words in one month.
“There’s great motivation in participating in the Library’s writing programs,” Laura says. “Not only does it get me out of the house to write, but there’s a shared energy among everyone who’s there to learn and write together.”
The inspiration for Laura’s story of young Walter Musgrave came while walking her dog around a neighborhood pond one morning. Tucked into the pond’s cattails, a muskrat appeared to keep watch on her and the dog as they strolled along the path. This muskrat’s careful watch suggested a bit of an attitude and challenge as if saying, “I see you; I’m not afraid.” Laura used this idea to create Walter, who also has a bit of attitude, believing himself to be old enough to go about the library on his own and disobeying his grandmother. The pond and cattails also soon factored into other spirited aspects of the story.
“I imagined a Roald Dahl-like story of a grand adventure that combined mischievousness with moralistic bits,” Laura explains. “I think that appeals to young kids and adults.”
Laura calls Harmony Library her “home library” and values the strong connections she’s made with the library staff there, pointing out that many of the staff know her name and ask about her writing. But, she and her family have also taken advantage of many educational and entertaining programs throughout the Library District. In addition to writing workshops and activities, Laura’s family frequently check out and download eBooks, participate in the annual Summer Reading Challenge, and attend programs like the Rocky Mountain Raptor series.
While her use of the library has changed over time and as her children have grown older, Laura continues to value the Library District’s mission.
“I think public libraries are a sacred place to you when you’re a child. And when you get older, you want to pass that feeling and excitement on to your own children and grandchildren. As adults it’s wonderful to keep that affinity we had with libraries from childhood and share it with others.”
These days, Laura frequents the library for NaNoWriMo inspiration and to research topics and themes she’s writing about in her young adult historical fiction novel. Her personal goal is to complete 2,200 words per day during NaNoWriMo, bringing her to the 50,000 word mark just before Thanksgiving! Afterward, she wants to make time to attend new library program book clubs and genealogy research classes.
“The library rekindles me, and lets me press the reset button.”
Laura Mahal’s winning flash fiction story, “Firmly Rooted Policy,” is available for download as an eBook along with stories from winners and runners-up in all age categories. Visit the Library’s eBooks section of the website to download a copy today.
2016 Spirited Stories Contest Winners by Age Group Ages 12-15 1st Emma Beatty, “A Ghost of a Voice” 2nd Jaden Scott, “Endless” 3rd Sedona Dionne, untitled Ages 16-19 No entries Ages 20-35 1st Nicholas Torrez, “INMUNIS” 2nd Gemma Robinson, “The Death Cat” 3rd Ethan Herrle, “Do Not Finish this Puzzle” Ages 36+ 1st Laura L. Mahal, “Firmly Rooted Policy” 2nd Sarah R. Smith, “The Girl in the Prairie Dress” 3rd Mark Speckien, “Phantom of the Library” Spirited Stories Judges: Sarah Cavender Cindy O’Donnell-Allen Daniel Robinson Debbie Vance