Editor’s Picks

I love working with my colleagues and appreciate the different sensibilities they bring to the CN&R. Never are these differences as evident as when we judge our writing contests.

Consensus is hard to come by; it takes a special story or poem to stir the passions of an author/screenwriter (Bob Speer), jazz musician (Christine G.K. LaPado), devoté of the arts (Jason Cassidy), billiards-playing photographer (Meredith J. Cooper), bilingual culturista (Christy Pryde) and all-around critic (myself).

Thus, prize-winning pieces aren’t always ones I’d have selected as a panel of one. By and large, they are; sometimes, after reading the hundreds upon hundreds of entries—such as the 734 for this year’s Fiction 59—I wind up with favorites that didn’t strike others as strongly.

One of the privileges of my position is creating my own awards: Editor’s Picks.

I can salute a story submitted after deadline, such as this one by Marc Ault: “Long before the sun comes up and quite a while after it has set, there is a time of night, when milk and cookies will no longer do and having another drink or toke would be pointless. It seems as if the universe is spread out for you alone to see and you wonder did I set the alarm?

I can lament an honoree who might have been, such as Cheyanne Nystrom, deprived of a chance at third place in the teen category by a compound modifier that pushed the word total of “Her Love” to 60. (“She didn’t want to marry the doctor, lawyer or athlete. She wanted the four-eyed guy reading in the corner of the library. The one who wore his socks to his knees and always carried rumpled tissue in his pocket. She didn’t want the man with money; she loved the boy who could recite the first 100 digits of Pi.”)

Mainly, I can give special mention to writers who merit it. So, without further ado …

• • •

First, a few from the kids.

Journal of a Lost Orphan
Dear journal,
I am lost in the arctic wilderness and I’m cold, tired and very hungry. I haven’t eaten in two days. Yesterday, I stumbled upon a rock and hurt my ankle. This morning, I saw faint lights in the distance, but once I got to the area where I had seen them, they had disappeared. I need help.

By Alita Huber, age 9, Forest Ranch

One Song to Sing
Hi, my name is Molly. I am shaking. My stomach has butterflies. You know, the kind with the big flapping wings—and I don’t think anything is going to come out of my mouth when I open it. Oh no! I just heard them call my number. I hear a crowd say, “Break a leg”—I think I will!

By Mackenzie Howlett, age 10, Chico

Our Class Pet
Once we got a mouse for our class pet. The next day it was a dragon! To our despair, the next day it was a griffon! As we wondered about our pet, the griffon curled up on my lap. I woke up just as my class ended to find our soft class mouse, Pepper, peacefully asleep in my hand.

By Elizabeth Allen, age 12, Chico

Thunder and Lightning
Pitter patter, pitter patter. The sound of the rain falling from the sky, tapping on the roof of our little house. Then comes the lightning. I count: one chimpanzee, two chimpanzee, boom! Thunder! The storm is close. More lightning flashes. I can almost feel the energy from the powerful rage. Yet, I can hardly wait to go splash outside!

By Kayla Papesh, age 12, Cottonwood

• • •

Next, teens. (The first one, I’d marked as second on my list!)

Smoking Kills
What a joke—I’m dead last. Sweat collects at the nape of my neck. Please, drip onto my leaden legs. Lubricate. I’m bullshitting a jog and no one’s fooled. They pass me up. Hey, I can’t keep up with the horizon. I’ll turn back—they won’t notice. I’m a motivational speaker for the stoners along the trail. Puff, puff.

By Andrea Rice, age 17, Paradise

Attila the Lover
Mastering the sword, surmounting countless empires, and gaining the reverence of people across Asia and Europe was not enough for him. Attila the Hun was bored.

That is, until he marched into a small town slightly south of the Weser River where a real challenge was presented. Her hair was brown, eyes bright, and skin fair. A true conquest.

By David Rowe, age 17, Paradise

The Deserted Desert
There was a family stranded in the Mojave Desert. Their car had broken down. No one was around to help them. They had to sleep in their car that night. When they awoke, they were in the grasslands. They wondered how they got there. They looked at each other and saw something different, but could not figure it out …

By Joe Short, age 17, Forest Ranch

It’s a Jungle (Gym) Out There
It’s easy for the janitor to sew the bear back together. He even gives it a penny-heart, bright as the taste of blood in your mouth. He fixes the bear because the girl reminds of Emily, same mussed pigtails and skin pale as chalk, as linoleum, as the intestines of a teddy bear, strewn across the schoolroom floor.

By Rachel Crosby, age 17, Magalia

The sky, dark and scary. Lights on the abandoned road. A lonesome man walks, thinking of what he had done, and why. Blood running from his cheek. A scowl on his face. One less human in the world and one very angry family. For this man walked away. And no one, not a damn soul, heard from him again.

By Heidi Walton, age 15, Chico

Strange Feeling
It’s a strange type of passion, one that occurs almost absentmindedly and unintentionally. It’s born in my subconscious brain, evoked by the surroundings around me, free from all the clutter that surrounds everything around me, develops in my heart and soul, flows from my hands freely, and pours out onto a piece of paper that tells a similar story.

By Gurpreet Kaur, age 15, Yuba City

• • •

Last, but not least, worthy writers 18 and up (the first—one of my top 10 faves—from a surprising location).

The Dark Path
The path darkened where the trees encroached upon it and engulfed it, forming an arched canopy above him as he stood, stark naked, regarding the dismal corridor and contemplating his next move. Sirens and bloodhounds echoed through trees. He hated himself, but knew if they caught up, he’d have to acknowledge his barbarous imperfection. Into the forest he went.

By Austin Vogt, Sunnyside, N.Y.

Warm Welcome Home
Having just returned from a business trip, she walked into her immaculately spotless house. Wondering where her handsome husband was, she put her luggage in her room; she’d put it all away eventually. Placed conspicuously on their bed was a brief note from her husband. No wonder the house was so clean: He had left her for the maid.

By Megan Barletto, Chico

Trees From Home
I walked through the towering pines. They shaded me and kept the ferns moist. Every so often a lady slipper pushed up through the pine needles. Wild violets grew on the forest floor. Man ate the trees and spit the homes upon the ground. My childhood is buried beneath those foundations. But you are young; learn from my loss.

By Pamela Saraga, Oroville

I ordered a double bacon cheeseburger, large fry, and diet soda. I sat, devouring the food. Finishing every crumb, I noticed a lady walking towards me; of course, my dietician. Diet soda was left, and the tray was empty.

“How’s the diet going?” she asked.

“Great,” I said, “I’m really making progress!”

I chuckled to myself, unbuttoning my pants.

By Ali Brubaker, Chico

“Bagging is an art form,” Sam explained. “An excellent bagger is creative and efficient.” Handsome is this crazy? I thought. He adjusted his already-straight nametag on that hideous yellow polo. “Conscious placement of goods equals satisfied customers with happy groceries.” Right. “The key is to stay focused!” he barked, dropping the jug of Rossi onto the eggs. Crazy.

By Dolores Christensen, Ashland, Ore. (originally from Paradise)

Free at Last
Ruben sat resigned as the ancient little woman at the bus stop chattered about her heritage tomatoes. Once again he realized that if he didn’t give off such an irresistible grandson vibe this wouldn’t keep happening. Ending the cycle, he blurted, “I had that problem until they found a body in my garden.” Then, sighing contentedly, enjoyed the silence.

By Jodi Rives, Chico

This Sucks!
I’ve never written anything; I’ve always wanted to, but I also want to be the next Martha Stewart. That words have never flowed from my fingers is made curious when I tell friends I’m entering a writing contest. Every time, I hear, “You’re such a great writer.” I guess now I know why people try out for American Idol.

By Sarah Wilner, Paradise

She opened the textbook with a reckless abandon that caused even the less-studious library dwellers to cringe. She sighed laboriously as her fingers traced over the Sisyphean brutality of algebraic equations. She did not get it—how could she remember all about Lewis and Clark, grammatical corrections and the lines from Metalocalypse episodes, but forget all numbers elsewhere?

By Amanda Speicher, Paradise

The Set-up
Cheryl wore her forty-odd years around her middle. She smoothed her dress—Oprah’s Best Life Week had begun. He sat alone, ablaze in a yellow turtleneck, bald head speckled as a bird’s egg, and wearing a pin: “McCain/Palin.” Cheryl turned around, concluding that, though desperate, all of her illusions were not yet lost; they were merely misplaced.

By Neesa Sonoquie, Chico

Ah, lasting memories … like the time the man next door died of self-inflicted gunshot wounds at home. It happened during the first half of our championship football game. The coach, at halftime wanted me to tell my neighbor’s son, who was also our star fullback. I did, and Roy played an inspired second half.

We never talked again.

By Don Lytle, Chico

Maiden Voyage
Planes terrify me. I successfully avoided them—until I got “the news.” I managed my hysteria through take-off, but then we flew straight into a storm. The plane bucked violently and threatened to shake apart. I realized I was out of control. The beatific fat man next to me grabbed my sweaty hand and chuckled, “Isn’t this great?!”

By Steven Elliott, Orland

No More Patience
He watched from the fringe, people announcing themselves, sounding angry, looking happy. He thought about the protest’s opposite, men in hiding, satisfying secret carnal desires behind bushes, masked by night. He listened to beautiful words of love and thought of his beautiful lover, gone for years. The chorus of proud voices hurt, his soul cringed. Too late for him.

By Casey Ratzlaff, Chico

Fingering his rosary, the old monk wept aloud, “My life, completely wasted.” Six decades of searching, prayer, poverty and servitude. Yet, God had not answered, not once. Conclusion: there is no God. A butterfly, iridescent in the sunlight, alighted, and with its antenna gently stroked the mottled skin of the monk’s hand. He smiled. “Well … perhaps not completely wasted.”

By F. Jay Fuller, Forest Ranch