Thank you so much for the overwhelming response to our short story contest! It was such a pleasure for all of us to get to know everyone better through their writing. Someone on our editorial team read your story, and you should be proud of yourself for entering. Almost all entries had moments of brilliance.
As most story contests go, we divided up the entries into piles and gave each editor a stack of stories. That editor carefully read every single entry in their stack-I mention this because I want readers to know that not every editor saw every story.
Then, we each made our own short list of semi-finalists, and argued for our favorites until we were able to hone the list down to ten semi-finalists. Of these ten, our Editor-in-Chief, Red Room CEO Ivory Madison, will pick five finalists.
Those five stories will be sent to our esteemed guest judge, Pulitzer Prize-winning short story writer and novelist Robert Olen Butler, who will decide who gets first, second, and third place, and which finalists will receive honorable mention.
- Author Vincent Louis Carrella writes the haunting story of the life of an alcoholic ventriloquist and the puppets he loved and lived his life with, in "Magnifico."
- Author Louise Young writes about the stifling and violent results when there are certain expectations about the private lives of women in a remote tribe in "Beside Crazy Woman Creek."
- Author Ibi Kaslik masters the realistic, rendering a portrait of a poor American girl neglected by her mother, struggling to make sense of her family and find her place among life's little kindnesses and cruelties in "Car Nights."
- Member Kathleen Preston Knight evokes a palpable atmosphere of lonely decay in "Fly Season."
- A Young Adult writer, Member William Friskey, weaves fifth-grade love and the Challenger explosion into a story about how internal and external events shape a young heart in "Love Letters."
- There's a little bit of both Stand By Me and the Hatfields and McCoys in member Erika D. Wilson's "The Spitwalk Contest."
- Author Sylvia Petter writes of a man who is approached in a café by a mysterious woman in a burka who wants his used tea bag, in "The Burka."
- Member Kelly Luce writes symbolic stories about lonely women and their things; this time, a haunting and almost surreal story of a Japanese woman in mourning who takes refuge in the home of a widow-where she has a dream as lonely and grasping as her life, in "Reunion."
Author Charles Redner writes about a teenage boy, his favorite pelican, and how his fate is shaped by an environmental disaster straight from today’s headlines in "The Night BP Drove Old Dixie Down."
In addition to our semi-finalists, there were dozens and dozens of stories that deserve recognition. For example:
- Member Greg Beaubien tells what should be but isn't a happily-ever-after story about a couple stranded at the end of nowhere and the risks inherent in people trusting you, in "The Road To Banos."
- Perhaps the happily-ever-after comes in the form of unexpected romance in member Greg Cox's "Strangers on a Train," in which lonely widower finds escape in a movie house playing films that remind him of his youth.
- Author Carol Cronin records the last moments before a despondent young woman summons to courage to go in "The Last Leaf."
- A mystery/domestic drama unfolds in member Cathryn Grant's story; the narrator may be blind, but she can see more than anyone can think, and may be about to solve a murder, in "Love is Blind."
- Author Karen Olson writes a short, exciting mystery that seems like it could be tomorrow's headline, about a senator with a scandal that ends up on YouTube in "Smoking Gun."
- Author Luke James writes an intriguing cliffhanger that reads like a cross between Camus and Bukowski, as a man gets drawn into a potentially dangerous job by an elderly sailor in "A Sailor's Tale of New York."
- Member Jam Hamidi paints a graphic picture of the self-destruction and desperation of a dying marriage in "Comeback."
- Member Peter Morin provides a glimpse into the mind of an amoral man, who judges women-including his daughter-only by their bodies; he is finally confronted by the daughter he hurt when he left her and his wife to chase shallow fantasies in "All Blues."
- Member Jerry Ratch writes an entertaining tale of youthful adventure as a young man travels to the Deep South and encounters his first cockroaches and Klansmen in "Driving Through Mississippi in 1964 Wearing a Chin Beard."
- The mysterious narrator in member Trée George's moving story "The Child" observes and speculates how war affects the father of a fallen soldier.
- Member Lauren Alleyne tells the story of a boy who can't seem to tell his mother that the man of the house is hurting him in "The Boy Who Lived in a Glass House."
- In her dark, atmospheric "Legacy," member JM Cornwell extends the lineage of a famous tale with a new generation of suspense.
- Member Neal Ross Attinson gets a visit from a Martian who offers an incredible insight about today's fantasy and sci-fi fiction as compared to the sci-fi of an earlier generation, in the amusing "The Little Green Man Who Didn't."
And we noticed some themes kept popping up, like...
Author Jennifer Ball's memoir-style "fiction" accurately captures the desperation of "sexually liberated" young women trying to find themselves in North Hollywood in "One Night Stand." A young trophy wife realizes she has too much in common with her father's trophy wife in a perverted and humiliating email snafu in Author Jessica Anya Blau's "Fishnet." Read the sincere and funny exchange between the two authors in the comments section of Ball's story.
Member Rae Bryant makes literal the metaphor of chewing off one's arm so as to extract oneself from a one-night-stand in "Intolerable Impositions." Member Stephen Harris writes about a man who suddenly finds himself being interviewed on a talk show for something he knows nothing about in "Teddy on a Talk Show." Anup Bishnoi writes a poignant and comedic soliloquy of the special abilities and unique perspective of a slightly odd tree in "Queer Tree."
Member Will Hiles writes a suspenseful cowboy tale of a mysterious stranger and the woman he couldn't save in "In the Land of the Dead." Member Bob Mustin writes about cowboys hot on the trail of Billy the Kid, they think, in "Then the Smoke Began to Clear." Cynthia S. Becker writes what appears to be a clichéd Western until the delightful surprise ending (trust us—read to the end!) that made it one of our favorites reads during the contest: "The Heist."
Does anyone know how to effectively translate Albanian into English? Member Kujtim Agalliu courageously translated his story entry, "A Conversation in the Air," into English, but our (non-Albanian) Red Room editors still couldn't tell what the story was about exactly. It may be brilliant in its original Albanian and we just can't tell. Red Room is an international community and while it's too late for this contest, we want to recognize Kujtim for his efforts and find him a translation buddy.
We couldn't stop there! At least a hundred more stories had moments of brilliance, so we decided to list quite a few more in a second blog post here.
You can peruse all the entries here—I hope you'll read a lot of them and leave supportive comments to the talented, hard-working writers who posted them. Thank you so much for participating! We’ll announce the winners soon—watch this blog for the announcement. Thanks.
–Huntington W. Sharp, Senior Editor, Red Room