The readers shine in our annual short fiction contest
The moral of the story: Be sure to count the number of words in the story.
The four judges had read each of the Fiction 101 entries, and one story stood out as the only one named on each of their Top 20 lists. It was as unanimous as any such contest verdict would ever be.
Then, the editor verified the entries to make sure they were all eligible. He counted the number of words in the first-place story and came up with a disturbing number: 103.
Another judge checked his count, and then another judge checked his count again. The number 103 came up both times.
While it would have been easy for us to cut two words out of the story—as it would have been for the author herself—rules are rules. Since the newspaper started the short fiction contest, the word limit has always, outside of plagiarism, been the most unbreakable of rules.
The story was disqualified.
Fortunately, a number of wonderful entries—all with 101 words or less—were close behind, and they each moved up a slot to fill the winning positions. This domino effect, among other things, allowed for Sheila Gardner to become the first two-time winner of our contest.
Here are the best of the Fiction 101 entries. We hope you enjoy.
Oh, and to the author of that 103-word masterpiece: We recommend you re-submit the piece in 2003.
During the Depression, my Great Aunt Lydia helped support her family performing under the stage name of LuLoo Bamboo, Exotic Queen of the Burley-que. Every September, she would pack up the peach preserves, hand the new baby over to Uncle Henry and work the Ohio county fair circuit. Sharing the tent with the bearded lady and the world’s strongest man, my aunt did things with fans and to farmers you can’t imagine. She thought it was God’s work, and so did Uncle Henry, as long as there was one more dance in LuLoo when Aunt Lydia came home in October.
Gardnerville resident Sheila Gardner has no clue where she came up with the idea for “Women’s Work.” She didn’t have any relatives like Aunt Lydia (although she did grow up in Ohio). And she admits that the idea for “Women’s Work,” wherever it came from, was somewhat unusual.
“I’ve been working nights, and that’s been resulting in some weird ideas,” she said, laughing.
Gardner, formerly a staff member at the Minden/Gardnerville newspaper, The Record-Courier, recently became a night desk editor at the Nevada Appeal in Carson City. Gardner says she only dabbles in fiction for the RN&R’s short fiction contest, although she does read The New Yorker faithfully.
“That’s where I get a lot of ideas from,” she says.
With “Women’s Work,” Gardner made history of sorts by becoming the first two-time winner of the RN&R’s short fiction contest. She won the 99-word contest in 1999 with “Skinny’s Revenge.”
Carrows Late Saturday Night
The third cup of coffee was free, and then my food came. I put down the newspaper to eat; that was my first mistake. The disheveled man on the stool saw his opportunity and struck. “You know what’s wrong with this town?” he asked. “Nobody cares anymore.” I looked at him; that was my second mistake. His two days’ beard had bits of English muffin in it. His breath held the ghost of Jack Daniels. I tried, and decided I couldn’t just ignore him. “Mm hmm,” I said while swallowing my first bite of cheesy eggs; that was my third mistake.
Chris Good wears many feathers in his hat. He works in the city’s community relations department, writing press releases and often serving as the spokesperson for the city and its various officials. He is also a guitar-playing singer/songwriter who often performs his anti-capitalism songs in venues across the area.
Now, he can add another feather: that of an award-winning fiction writer. Good says his Fiction 101 entries were his first attempts at writing fiction “since junior high school.”
“That was fun,” he says. “I want to continue to try. I wrote [all five entries] pretty quickly, sitting at the computer, hammering them out.”
He says the idea for “Carrows Late Saturday Night” comes from being there and doing that.
“I have a long series of experiences of eating breakfast at 3 a.m. at places like that,” he says.
Chopping the Chicken?
Or Something Else …
Every night I must watch him through his kitchen window from the bushes outside. He makes the sign of the cross with a knife and repeats these words three times: “Magical diagonal crosscutting. Holy Jesus, magical diagonal crosscutting.” His eyes close—and the first time I saw it I thought he fell asleep—but after five seconds (I timed it) he opens them again and brings the knife down in a sudden, forceful motion. I can only speculate what he is crosscutting. I talked to my husband about it, and—get this—he thinks I’m just “obsessed” with the whole thing.
Christen Hoffman, a 19-year-old single mother and student at TMCC, wants to be a full-time writer. And it appears she has the potential to get such a gig; this is the second time her work has made the RN&R, after two pieces of hers made it into the Teen Issue in May.
“I’d like to write for a magazine,” says Hoffman, who plans on transferring to the University of Nevada, Reno, next spring to ultimately get a bachelor’s degree. “I want any kind of job where I can write.”
Hoffman says she “just imagined” the scene that became “Chopping the Chicken? Or Something Else …” and doesn’t know where the idea came from. However, she says her neighbors may have something to do with it.
“I have this paranoia, where it seems like my neighbors are always spying on me,” she said, laughing.
Hoffman says she is also interested in helping children. But, of course, the top priority in her life right now is Diana, her 19-month-old daughter.
It was my kid brother, Tommy, who took care of Sis until the cancer finally killed her. He dropped out of college to do it but, nevertheless, she figured he was just scheming to get her money. To spite him, she didn’t leave him a dime.
Now fate has made me an invalid, and Tommy’s looking after me full-time. He doesn’t know I squandered the fortune Sis left me, but he’ll know soon enough. The bank’s taking the house next month.
He’ll have to get himself a good paying job. Our family ain’t the kind that sponges off the state.
My mother says there’s a reason for everything. She would have never met my father, Brooklyn’s fire chief, if Aunt Edna hadn’t fallen asleep while sucking on a Marlboro. Never mind that the entire brownstone burned to the ground along with Edna. And if my brother hadn’t contracted gonorrhea from his ex he never would have left the Health Department, completely dazed, to be nearly run over by a Geo, driven by a woman who eventually became his second wife. “So don’t worry about the dead body found in your garage,” she said. “I’m sure something good will come of it.”