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Week Two Winners!

The results are in from guest judge Tiffany Aldrich MacBain!

Discount by Holly Geely: Humorous and quirky on the surface of things, with a disturbing under-layer of cynicism and unspoken violence.

Tying the Knot by Mark A. King: Lyrical and imaginative, with a sentence structure that alternates in such a way as to give a distinct sense of the character of the speaker.

“Assistant” by Tim Stevenson: A distinct, memorable character with a clearly delineated point of view. Vivid imagery and carefully refined focus.

Climbing to the Moon by Voima Oy: Reminiscent of a well-loved nursery rhyme in subject matter, mood, and arc. Dreamy and hopeful.

The Judgment of Solomon by Steph Ellis: A nice revision of the King Solomon story in which a marriage is not torn in two, but still sorrow abounds. Fresh focus on a child’s perspective and inversion of parental and children’s roles.

Third Place: Ship bored by M T Decker
This story builds tension by drawing upon the traditions of mutiny and lost-at-sea narratives. Within this genre, well-placed details have a chilling effect: the broken down ship, the high seas, bitter laughter, rope. Nothing good can come of that combination of elements. Of course, the action—the violence and horror—that we await does not quite come, but it doesn’t need to appear on the page. It’s already occurring in the imagination of the reader.

Second Place: Untitled by Stephanie Kelley
I read this entry a few times, each more slowly than the last. The story is poetic, really, in that it possesses the economy of language and even the line breaks that you’d find in a poem. And like a poem, it yields more upon a second (or third) read, like the depravity of an audience quick to judge the “pounders” but not themselves for their part in the spectacle, and the trained focus of the protagonist-narrator that both serves and, ultimately, fails him. The story works as a narrative, too—one focused upon human psychology.

AND OUR WEEK TWO WINNER IS:

Eurydice by A V Laidlaw:
In any retelling of a myth, an author must determine which meaning to privilege. In the case of Orpheus and Eurydice the central concern could be the tragedy of love twice lost or the rarity of the second chance. In this retelling, the author paints Orpheus as a man of two loves—music and Eurydice; because he desires one over the other, he loses them both. Is he punished—are they punished—because he chooses wrongly? Or are the gods so perverse as not to care? Either way, to read this short story is to feel the pain of loss and the futility of outliving it.

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Congratulations MT, Stephanie, and AV! AV’s winning story will appear on our blog tomorrow. Thank you to everyone who participated and shared. And thank you to guest judge Tiffany Aldrich MacBain for presiding over this week’s contest. We will be back this Thursday with Week Three prompts, and we hope you will be, too! Week Three’s judge is prolific fiction writer, Tamara Shoemaker.

Week One Winners!

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!

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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.

 

 

Winter of Whimsy and Wyrdness Week Seven Winners

theglow

We saved this image for Week Seven because it was so magical, and everyone knows that seven is the most magical number. We also knew Christian’s photo of Barrio Alto in Lisbon would inspire great stories—and we were not disappointed. This week might have been the best yet! It’s been interesting to watch the evolution of submissions over the course of this contest—it seems like you regular submitters began to notice our judging preference for a novelistic style and adjusted your writing accordingly.

This was one of the reasons we wanted to do an anthology contest (we didn’t tell you): we wanted to honor tightly crafted stories that followed a true narrative arc. This means we did not weigh some other elements so highly—though next time around we might be looking for a different secret approach, so keep your toolboxes open and don’t toss away your descriptive poetics too quickly.

We plan to host three competitions next year—Spring, Summer, and Fall—each one with different parameters and outcomes. We’ll keep you posted as our spring contest approaches.

Many thanks to everyone who submitted a story in any week. It has been a pleasure to read the fruits of your imaginations. Keep it up!

First off, we have an exciting announcement:

We decided to include Catherine Connolly’s story from last week, Their Guardian Generals, into our anthology. Catherine did a great revision on this story, and we think you’ll love to read it in its latest incarnation. It will be the fourth story associated with the image Totem in the collection. Welcome, Catherine!

And this week’s anthology winners:

Similitude by David Shakes

This dark story sat with us for a while after reading. Beginning with a splash of vibrant colors, David painted a scene in vivid detail. Against the cracked blues and radiant golds, he gives us a moment of beautiful simplicity: “A last shopper stares hopefully at some overpriced antiquities but her husband has buried his hands in his pockets and is heading back to their hotel.” His last line chills us to the bone.

The Jeweled City by Holly Geely

Holly offered a fresh take on the theme of magic, opting to explore the metaphorical nature of belief and hope rather than the more overt fantasy genre story. The result was a meaningful meditation on the power of one’s choices. Nothing is easy in this story, and the final line beautifully sums up an uneasy truth about magic.

Torrent of Gold by Nancy Chenier

We pretty much knew this story belonged to Nancy Chenier even though we were reading blind. Her distinctive polished style is easy to recognize, and we always know she’s going to give as a good story, complete with plot elements and characters we care about. In this case, she also gives us a fair dose of language as exciting as the colors in the photo. Delicious verbs describe the action–legs wobble, grips gnarl, and golden ichor oozes. Striking images abound: a wild-haired mermaid of a girl swimming in a supernatural sea. The twist at the story’s end startles and horrifies.

Colourful Talents by Catherine Connolly

Catherine surprised us with this fantasy tale evoking Czarist Russia. We felt deeply for her heroine set to work on a magical task that would sap her—the Creatures love a female protagonist brought in to save the world’s colors, not to mention the time-honored fantasy theme that every magic has a cost. We think Catherine should use this idea to create a story of longer length. A novella, perhaps?

This concludes our winter flash fiction session. Join us again in 2015 for more. Thank you to everyone for making the contest so much fun. Stay tuned for details about the release of Five Hundred Words of Magic, the anthology collected from this contest.

–In appreciation, The Creatures.

Winter of Whimsy and Wyrdness Week Five Winners

What a long busy weekend it has been! What with the Flashdogs and Flashversary excitement, we’re surprised anyone managed to turn in stories. Our prompt photo this week showed one of Emily’s flying trapeze teachers falling to the net after releasing the trapeze bar. Enjoy this video of LCP’s own Emily June flying on a rig (yes, in a tutu) and fortunately NOT falling into the net:

 

And without further ado, our three anthology picks of the week are:

Salty Embrace, by Holly Geely:

Great character development lends humor to Holly Geely’s story—especially in the non-human Blue Moon as a mechanical Jeeves to Stewart’s alcoholic Wooster. Though the story has a clear arc and resolution, Geely gives us a revealing but open end, suggesting that perhaps Blue Moon’s wishes will come true.

Sideways, by A.J. Walker:

In A.J’s fine story, details such as the green and red walking socks, the fluttering jeans, and the yellow mustard stain work as close-ups, bringing us right into Samuel’s confusing world. Walker feeds us only as much information as Samuel has, so we share his disorientation. The clever conclusion gives us a satisfying but still surprising explanation for the story’s mysteries.

 Portents and Eventualities, by Nancy Chenier:

In her richly layered story, Nancy hints at a larger narrative, giving us a glimpse into a well-drawn world. She paints lovely images with delicious language: “apathetic stars,” “the earth shuddered with eventuality,” “eyes wide enough to reflect the moon.” Strong character motivations ground this story and give it meaning and complexity.

Congratulations to all and thanks again to all participants for giving us your stories week after week.

Winter of Whimsy and Wyrdness Week Four Winners

Our prompt this week came from our friend Ryan, freshly home from a two-week vacation in Japan. He took the picture while descending into Tokyo. We thought it would inspire all kinds of interesting ideas (and it did!). As always, we wondered whether anyone would recognize the location and use it as the setting for a piece, but we mainly received stories with looser associations this time around. Emily wrote a story for this prompt called “The Stowaway,” which will appear in the anthology, and Beth might have something up her sleeve, too.

Honorable mention: The Break, by Brett Milam

Creepily delicious, Brett Milam’s story takes us into the mind of an addict, who seeks higher and higher highs. Though the imagery horrifies, we can’t seem to look away—its draw is too strong. A bizarre yet creative premise set this story out from the pack, and the final line chills us to the (unbroken) bone.

Our two anthology winners are:

Sentinel Satellyte, by Mark A. King. Mark wins best opening line this week in a story rich with intoxicating language. The story begins with a glorious account of Aardvark’s past: He once stalked dragons! Using a bit of the old bait and switch technique to create great narrative tension, Mark shows us Aardvark’s new passion, at the same time developing a compelling main character with dimension. Fantastic imagery abounds in “smudged-pastel impressionist sunsets,” a “milky cataract haze,” and the glorious “suburbia terra ferma.” Mark beautifully juxtaposes the grandeur of the language with a keen sense of humor: this “supreme stalker of the firmament” hides from his mother. Tight writing and strong word choices pushed Mark’s story to the top of our list. Great work!

 Night Flight by Karl A. Russell drew on arcane vampire mythology for its premise, but Karl created a thoroughly modern setting for this comic-book style epic battle between old enemies. Karl manages to convey an entire history in a scene of only five hundred well-chosen words. His clearly-drawn characters inhabit a well-defined world. This story played cloak and dagger games, giving itself up in the details only after several readings. Cleverly told.

Congratulations, Week Four Winners, and thank you to all who participated.

Week Three Winners!

Week Three opened with one of our favorite prompts, combining two compelling themes: music and the outsider. We were surprised that no one took up the cause of the outsider in the stories this week. Before posting the prompt we had conversation about the word zingaro and its meanings—I (Emily) worried about the photo’s title being offensive. Zingaro is an Italian word meaning “gypsy,” derived from a Greek word meaning “untouchable”—as in the caste, not as in a superhero. Beth used both meanings of “untouchable” to great effect in the story she wrote for this prompt, which you will be able to read in our anthology. We decided to leave the title despite its unsavoriness to see what you all made of it, since even a word with unpleasant connotations can stimulate creativity in interesting ways.

For the first time during our judging of the contest, Beth and I had very little overlap in our personal selections, demonstrating what a strong group of submissions we received, spanning the range from experimental to traditional. Nice work, everyone!

Honorable Mention Winner: Wish by Laura Pinhey

Replete with clear and easily visualized images, Wish succeeded in showing us rather than telling us. Laura strikes a marvelous balance between leading the reader through the scene and leaving room for our imaginations. On the one hand, she provided beautifully drawn details: a wooden man with a Blue ball jar head, the bottle of Everclear, the inside cover of Led Zeppelin Four, and the crackling seed in the pipe. On the other hand, with Emmie’s nameless wish, she invites our speculation, leaving us to wonder why Emmie runs without looking back.

Anthology Selections:

The Screaming, by Jacki Donnellan

We love a great opening line and what could be more enticing than a confession like this one? Jacki has given us a creepy tale about possession and obsession with an inanimate object as a central character—a character for whom we feel compassion. Anyone who has seen a great violinist perform knows that there is a palpable relationship between musician and instrument. This story takes that relationship into the realm of the supernatural. What if Itzhak Perlman’s violin turned on him? A horrifying thought. The Screaming’s flashback structure reinforced our narrator’s obsession, and the juxtaposition of the magic (music) with the mundane (tinnitus) added texture and layers to this piece that deftly captured the essence of magical realism.

 The Zingaro Exclusive, by David Borrowdale

This boldly told story explored the dark secret behind a legend’s success. Our fantasy-loving hearts were pleased by the magic system wherein the musician evoked and then destroyed ghost-people with his playing—what a creative concept, ripe for further exploration. The clever use of redactions lent the story mystery, while precise details gave stunning specificity: horsehair caressing cat-gut, a G3 breve as a fat old lady, and middle C quaver as a sensual young woman. David demonstrated expert restraint while slowly revealing the conclusion.

The Storm King, by Voima Oy

In this lovely fairy tale, Voima appeals to all five senses with rich imagery: the unblinking blue sky, mouths as dry as dirt, notes falling like raindrops onto thirsty ears, a cool breeze stirring hair, and the scent of wet earth. These details built a world we could picture clearly and left us wanting more. The strong story structure introduced the central conflict early and led us to a satisfying resolution.

As always, judging was HARD. So many excellent stories. Thank you to all who contributed again this week.

Summer of Super Short Stories Week Three Winners!

I am faced with the most difficult part of my week: picking the Week Three winner. Given that this week I biked over 60 miles, heaved a piece of soapstone from a very finicky box, and also finished and formatted a novel, this is saying something.

I’ve rewarmed my coffee, eaten a snack, browsed the Twitter, and walked the dogs. I have vacuumed, rearranged the desk, and dusted the living room. The only thing left to do now is pick the winner. I’m feeling like a five year old presented with thirty-one ice cream flavors. My inner child is throwing a tantrum. But here we go.

Tony Caruso posted early with “The Easily Distracted Doohickey” a hugely amusing stream of consciousness rant by a mysterious device in the midst of an existential crisis. And by “hugely amusing,” I mean, “I cackled wildly while reading it.” Caruso’s consistent voice, style, and humor impressed me. I can see this piece in the Shouts & Murmurs section of the New Yorker with a line drawing of a ladder barrel and a cat on top. My favorite line, which I’ve been repeating to myself in tortured tones, is: “What if I’m a clothing rack? How pathetic would that be?”

Karl A Russell batted second with another wickedly funny story, “The Workout,” about the reunion of a frisky couple. Karl’s story has been doing its Pilates. It has core strength; he makes every word count and packs an entire plot, complete with twist, into a tiny number of words. Karl was also the first to identify the true nature of the device in question: it’s a Pilates apparatus called a ladder barrel. I’m still dying to see “how [Rose] can use it later…”

Russell Magellan, unknowingly or knowingly, wandered in to prime Luminous Creatures territory with his story, “Treasure Chest,” about a son who inherits a mysterious object from his mother. It turns out the machine contains the key to bringing Ross deeper into magic. Magellan nicely balances story, description, and character. Also, I spotted a magic wand in there. Magic wand=extra credit point in my book.

Voima Oy painted a vivid picture of urban artists in “The Strange Machine.” Oy also picked up on the Fibonacci spiral on the side of the ladder barrel in our prompt picture. I was blown away by this story’s natural rhythm and ability to speak between the lines—the numbers and patterns that hinted at the ultimate outcome. I’d love to read a second installment that shows me what happens after everything goes black.

C. Connolly took the prompt in an entirely unique direction with “In Loving Memory,” using the image as a loose inspiration for an Icelandic/Scandinavian death ritual. Connolly created a mysterious, slightly ominous world full of small details: a boat’s bronze dragon prow, ritualized drinks with hints of inebriated visions, and a journey into other realms.

Casey Rose Frank made me giggle with her fictionalized craigslist email exchange, “For Sale.” She earned points for creative alternative storytelling and an eye to detail—I noticed that Eric didn’t capitalize Pilates but Amy did. I deeply sympathized with the teacher at the Y who was unimpressed by Eric’s barking in downward facing dog, and “Wait, what?” was a perfect ending to the exchange.

Jacki Donnellan produced an experimental piece, “Fully Equipped” which managed to tell a story almost entirely obliquely, through (imagined?) dialogue between a mother and her child’s therapist. This story really worked at the emotional level, and the final lines “So, Mrs. Smith. Just how far can you bend over backwards to help your son? Shall we see? Shall we watch?” echoing the questions at the beginning of the session literally made my skin crawl with dislike for the self-described “prodigy of remedies.” This is another one I could see in the New Yorker’s Shouts & Murmurs.

Don’t laugh, everyone. I actually had to make a rubric to judge these because I was simply hopeless at making a decision otherwise. My rubric contained criteria such as “word economy” and “voice” and “structure” and the amorphous “overall feel.” It was based on numbers, so not surprisingly our winner this week is:

Voima Oy for “The Strange Machine”

Our runner up is:

Karl A Russell for “The Workout”

Thank you all for participating and producing such a diverse and exceptional bunch of stories.

Here is the Ladder Barrel in its natural habitat:

Ladder barrel

Yes, it’s possible to lie down on it without re-killing one’s corpse.

And it is also a light fixture.

-EJS