Judge’s confession time: I sort of hate the notion of a writing contest. Why do you sponsor one then? you might ask. The answer is that I’m a story junkie. I like to find prompts that move me and to see what writers make of them, so the line prompt for this week, the opening line from my book, The Gantean–“Tell me a tale”– was particularly apt for my judging week. All you participants did not disappoint. Every story I read this week had merit (that’s why I don’t like contests! How to judge something as personal, varying, and multifaceted as STORIES?) Whittling them down to a short list was a difficult task. Of the four stories I had on the final list, I truly felt any could have been the winner. I am including a line or two of feedback for every story, in no particular order, until the final three placers:
Grandpa’s Trees, by Stephen Shirres: This story offers a striking contrast between its past and its present, full of a melancholy yearning for (simpler?) better times. Solid and authentic.
The Bone Tree Copse, by Mark A. King: An elegiac tale with vertical and horizontal layers! It earned extra points for an evocative title. Clever, moody, and full of wordsmithery.
The Trespasser, by Sean Fraser: A lovely, smooth meditation on confronting the world beyond this one. The Trespasser no longer trespasses. Atmospheric and vivid.
The Cat in the Woods, by Voima Oy: This had a crafty narrative set up— by starting in second person and moving into first, the author offered a coy, cat-like invitation to the reader, while also forcing complicity. The ending lended a perfect tightness to the story. Well-designed.
The bit left over, by Liz Hedgecock: A sweet, sad, simple tale, grounded in realism and emotion. Well-rounded and told with restraint and delicacy. Memorable.
Jem’s Not-Wish, by Holly Geely: Rich characterization drives this story—overtly, with the old woman and Jem, and covertly, with the traveler-charlatan lurking behind it all. Solidly constructed and enjoyable.
Where There Is Willing, by Catherine Connolly: Mythic and eerie, this is a true fairytale of the dark and discomfiting variety. The shadowy, arcane tone and the Eastern European flavor suited the prompts.
Errors, by Foy S. Iver: With a world that explodes off the page, this story should be tagged by the author for development into something longer. (I’d be happy to beta read!) Reveals a unique imagination. Stirring and exciting.
The Darkside, by Anita Harkess: A tight, psychological tale that might be a parable showing the difficulties of maturing, or might be something darker. Nice layering.
Formalities, by Holly Geely: A sweet story with strong characterizations of mother and son. Well-written and realistic.
Song of the Muse, by MT Decker: A skillful personification of that elusive and abstract concept, the artistic muse. Shows a love of language and a subtly poetic voice.
Where She Belongs, by Sal Page: A well-structured story with a startling but graceful twist. The narrator has a strong and distinctive voice. Smart plotting shows an expert’s deft hand.
Third Place! Wolf, by AV Laidlaw: Ripe with vivid images and cinematic details, this clever play on Little Red Riding Hood hooked me from the start. Oh, the poor, weary character tropes of fairytales, forced to replay the same conflicts over and over again! I feel for them! The author chose hard-working verbs and wove in description with sprezzatura.
Second Place! A Mother’s Plea, by Nancy Chenier: A dark and dangerous tale, full of beautiful, evocative images. This story does a great job of showing itself through a small aperture; a vast, tantalizing world exists beyond the parameters written here. I want to know more, but I’m also satisfied with the possibilities presented. A lovely interplay of imagination and language.
AND OUR WEEK ONE WINNER IS:
The Return, by Steph Ellis: A confident, clear voice and solid writing craft rounded out this inspired reframing of a traditional legend with an unexpected twist. The author juggled action, description, dialogue, exposition, and revelation of information adroitly, keeping a perfect balance from start to finish. A work of polish and panache!
Congratulations Steph, Nancy, and AV! Steph’s winning story will appear on our blog tomorrow. Thank you to everyone who participated and shared. We will be back this Thursday with Week Two prompts, and we hope you will be, too! Week Two’s judge is Tiffany Aldrich MacBain, maven of English and essays.