Don’t try to tell me that writing contests aren’t one of the most maddening and frustrating endeavors a writer can partake in. In the maybe six or seven contests that I’ve entered, I’ve only won one–and that was back in college. Then once, later in life, I made the second cut of a sci-fi contest but didn’t make the final stage. Contests are like a terrible battle. They’re like war.
But here’s the thing: I don’t know about you, but many times when I’d read the winning entries…they just didn’t strike me as anything particularly special that should have won. Yeah, the writing was competent. But for me they didn’t shimmer or shine or puncture or pierce. Yeah, okay, the stories were interesting, somewhat thought-provoking. But for me they didn’t fly apart as if under an intense, invisible pressure and then coalesce again into something powerful. Without warning. Without apology.
Okay, wait–did I think my stories did all these things? My stories, which never won?
I can’t really answer that question. I only know I wrote with passion or pain or humor or rage. And when the words weren’t flowing, I plucked them, one by one, from out of a dark sea, tiny glowing pebbles, little shiny shells, each one demanding an inordinate amount of attention before either being adopted or tossed back into the churning waves. It seemed like the material that didn’t get picked by judges still appealed to others. So I remained encouraged that I wasn’t actually unearthing ruination and fatuity and imagining that they were precious, sparkling gems.
But as for the winners…I dunno. Not really all that impressed, I gotta say. Except for a few. If it wasn’t for those few, I would even start to believe it was sour grapes on my part. I would have to ask myself, “Are you just jealous? Of the winners? Or those who stand out? Of those who grab the attention? Or those who are probably more talented, more creative, more prolific?” if it wasn’t for those few. At least, for me. The ones I thought had won for a reason, and were well-chosen, and whose pieces I consumed with fervor and admired from afar, like a high school kid with a crush on someone who didn’t even know they was alive.
This is the winner of a flash fiction contest in Ginosko a few years ago. Not one iota of puncutation. And yet I didn’t find myself losing track of what was being said. I hope it pierces you too. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did:
He was sad and angry because his friend had died in a way that made it suicide in everything but name and he sat in a place where they used to drink and talk about Japanese literature and bullshit about work in progress and he thought that his friend might be forgotten which would be unjust because he was part of the resistance whereas the living collaborated and his anger at himself coalesced into action of a sort and he went out and bought tiles and a foam brush and a sheet of acetate and gloves and a mask and fingernail polish remover and a bone folder and he made color copies of a photograph of his dead friend with the right type of ink and he pushed the mirror image button so that the image would not be reversed on transfer and he heated the tiles in the microwave and placed each copy of the photo onto each warm tile face down and coated them with the fingernail polish remover and smoothed them with the bone folder under the acetate and applied the tile sealer to fix the image forever and when he was done he took off the gloves and the mask and left the tiles to dry and he was crying but he did not notice or if he did he thought it was the fumes of the solvent in his eyes and then one night later that week he mixed up a batch of cement and went out and fixed the tiles with the picture of his dead friend to the facades of buildings all across the indifferent city and for the rest of the year he smiled seeing the tiles in secret places or being denounced as vandalism by the authorities.
– Jason Price Everett