Congratulations to CAROLINE HALL, whose story, “Snowman Suicide,” was selected by Guest Judge Gay Degani as the FIRST PLACE WINNER of the String-of-10 SIX Flash Fiction Contest.
“Private Lessons” by John Towler and “Foreigner” by Alexis Lerner placed second and third, respectively. “The Maybe Baby” by Alison McBain was selected by the FFC staff as this year’s Patricia McFarland Memorial Prize winner.
The first place story will appear at Every Day Fiction in early April, accompanied by an author interview at Flash Fiction Chronicles on the same day. The other winning stories will appear at Flash Fiction Chronicles in subsequent weeks, along with author interviews. Winning authors will be contacted by members of the FFC staff shortly to distribute the prizes and begin the interview process.
Below is a complete list of winners and finalists (in alphabetical order by title).
1st Place: “Snowman Suicide” by Caroline Hall
2nd Place: “Private Lessons” by John Towler
3rd Place: “Foreigner” by Alexis Lerner
Patricia McFarland Memorial Prize: “The Maybe Baby” by Alison McBain
“Doge Coefficient” by Stewart C. Baker
“Pa Don’t Like Kittens” by Lindsay Fisher
“SuperMegaMan” by Elizabeth Wright
“Amor Fati” by Jesi Bender
“Blueberry Bookmark” by Russell Scarola
“Catastrophe at Blossburg No. 1” by Matthew Barbour
“Michael” by Kurt Newton
“October Visit to the Three-Legged Fox” by Deirdre Gregg
“The Ultimate Delusion” by Ginna Wilkerson
“Wormwood” by John Mannone
Thanks to everyone who participated in this year’s contest. We at FFC are already looking forward to next year’s event.
Q&A With Gay
Jim Harrington: You organized this contest and ran it for five years. How was the experience different this year being the final judge?
Gay Degani: I’ve always looked forward to this contest, interesting to see how writers handle the string of ten prompt words and exciting when the judging is over to see who won, since we read blind!! However, I have to admit, reading only the finalists as guest judge is a lot easier than reading every entry!
JH: I suppose this is backwards. My first question should have been how did you come up with the idea for the String-of-10 contest in the first place? How long do you see it running?
GD: When I took on the responsibility for Every Day Fiction’s blog, I thought it would be a place for writers to discuss their work, ask advice, and offer help, and I’d monitor it like a forum. It didn’t take me long to realize no one was using it and I began to write articles and solicit from others. This worked better, but our following was small. I got the “I want more clicks” bug since we were offering good stuff. A free contest seemed like the best way to do that. That first year, I held one in February and one in October—I may have those dates wrong—but it was too much work. I decided to stick with the once a year model.
JH: The String-of-10 stories are limited to 250 words or fewer. What do you look for in these short-short-shorts? Are your expectations different than with say a 750-1000 word piece?
GD: My expectations don’t revolve around length, they revolve around story, character, and language, though I hate to put it that way because people always think PLOT in the conventional basic-action way. “Story” doesn’t have to contain huge change or flashy events, but it needs to have meaning through realization, impression, thought. The characters don’t need full-on description, but must feel real, and this is done through deftly placed details and meaningful dialogue. The language must be clear and spare with every word necessary in some way. But then, these elements are valued whether a story is 25 words or 25,000, aren’t they?
JH: In general, what stood out about this year’s winning story? Of course, we don’t want to give away too much.
GD: Many things drew me to this story. The title, the first line, the humor, the surprise, its clarity. “Snowman Suicide,” who wouldn’t want to read that story, a title so rich? The idea that a snowman could commit suicide is appealing. As a reader, I wondered how and why this might happen. Not by the sun, I hoped. Then the juxtaposition of the two words appeals. Snowmen are associated with children, fun, smiles with corncob pipes, but suicide is serious and sad. I also liked the resonance of the double “s.” The title is filled with promise of something different, something surprising, and then the first line delivered, “Joe and I get out of the psych ward the same day.” It told me this writer knows her story and I felt I wouldn’t be let down. I wasn’t.
JH: You liked all of our finalist stories this year, but felt a couple were missing something to make them stand out. Could you expand on this?
GD: Some stories had terrific concepts, but the execution needed more thought while others were well written, but contained intriguing characters caught in expected plots. The other problem is often clarity. While language can and should be original, the thread of meaning should not be completely lost in imagery. Readers need some kind of anchor to hold them to a piece of writing, and while the balance between language, structure, and character doesn’t need to be equal, one of those elements has to be so strong, a reader is willing to read the piece more than once if they don’t comprehend the whole meaning the first time through.
JH: What advice would you like to pass on to those submitting a story to next year’s contest—or any contest, for that matter?
GD: Contests are a great way to get work done because of the deadline, hone craft because of the competition, and get recognition if you are long- or shortlisted, an honorable mention, a semi-finalist, a finalist, or the BIG WINNER. Here’s what I’ve learned.
- Read the guidelines thoroughly and understand what the sponsors of the contest are asking you to do.
- Start early. Even if all you do is brainstorm in a kind of trance, do it. Almost all dashed off entries will fail to move forward no matter how much confidence you feel when you click the send button.
- Force yourself to write a full draft as quickly as you can to see what kind of juice is in your idea. See where it takes you and give yourself time to mull over possibilities.
- Realize that in a contest like the String-of-10 which uses a prompt, many other entrants will have the exact first thoughts about the prompt as you do. Explore the words. Find out all their different meanings and usages. Be original. Surprise yourself and the judges.
- The old saw is “Writing is rewriting,” and that is the very best advice I have to give. Rewrite and reedit your work. This is difficult when you are very new (and later too) because of that first excitement of “the idea” and all those “new word combinations” that show up. But you can do better. You can find stronger active verbs. You can use adjectives instead of prepositional phrases. You can search for the most perfectly matched word for the image in your head.
- Get someone else to read it. Believe in their comments. Don’t believe in their solutions. First readers point out where there might be a problem. Consider what tripped them up but only you can figure out the best solution.
- Proof-read. If a story is totally wonderful and you’ve misspelled a word, most judges will overlook it because it happens, but if there are numerous errors in spelling, punctuation, and grammar that don’t serve the story in some way, it will be passed over. It’s like showing up at your own wedding in your pjs because you were too lazy.
JH: If I were to look into my crystal ball, what would I see in Gay Degani’s future?
GD: Every Day Novels released my serialized suspense novel on March 3! I feel like Charles Dickens! What Came Before is the story of Abbie Palmer, who gets embroiled in the murder of a woman who might be her half-sister. It’s told in seventy 1000-word chapters. I’m also finishing up a collection of short stories, mostly flash, but a few longer pieces too. I’m still an editor at Smokelong Quarterly and an active member of the wonder online writing community.