October 2016 Judge’s Report
Robert Vaughan

Robert VaughanWhen Jude Higgins asked me to judge her Bath Flash Fiction Award, my initial excitement was checked by schedules. It would be October, my week of potential reading of finalists would follow my already booked trip to New York City to read at the venerable KGB Bar. Not once, but two evenings, Friday and Saturday, for both the ever-exciting F-BOMB series, and also the Best Small Fictions event. It was an incredible trip, but I arrived home depleted, exhausted. And now I had the task of turning to the 50 awaiting stories, the vetted Long List of Bath Flash Fiction semi-finalists.

As I read through them the first time, I was stunned. Not a single story that didn’t fit, that was not rightly placed among the stunning 50. I started sweating, drawn into these unique landscapes, the unusual words, startling sentence fragments, the odd characters. These were highly unique and remarkably crafted stories. I’ve been a judge more than a few times, also have edited for several magazines (and still do). These were not “normal” submissions. So, I got to work. I read them each two more times, separating them with a numerical system. Narrowing down the 50 stories, over the next three days, to an eventual Short List of 20.

One of the main reasons I was so excited to do this was because the entries truly felt international. In general, writers tend to forget that an entire world of literature exists, and that the flash fiction writing scene is not entirely based in any one geographic location: Denver, or San Francisco. As I read the top 20 stories, this international aspect appealed to me. The stories broadened my own scope with their heartfelt prose, the playful poetics, the imagery, and literary risks. I’d lie awake thinking of them at night. I’d read them over and over aloud, mulling the words back through my own imagination.

Above all, the finalists, which were NOT EASY to choose, were the stories that most stopped me: my breathing, my heart, my fingers and toes. It took me the longest to decide among these last five: which would be the top 3? Which were still equally terrific and definitely belong among the commended? I know writing is subjective, that what I find outstanding might not necessarily work for you. Still, I’m proud, humbled, by these stories. By reading them, I was somehow changed. How could I not be? Consider these excerpts:

‘no, it is a flower that has turned in on itself’

‘curve through an apex of a dive like a breaching dolphin’

‘all my life I have been hounded by the gleam of whiteness’

‘you could smell terror on her, metallic and wet like steel pipes’

‘exceeded the reach of my mother’s call, way out in the everdark of the night’

Stirring. Magical. Complex. I’m so honored to represent this unique international competition, and so proud that not just one, but four countries are represented by the winners. Congratulations, and thanks to everyone who entered.

First Place

One in Twenty-Three
This is a universally, sad, tragic story, and balanced so tenderly by the proficient use of poetic prose. That last metaphorical paragraph about the fig as flower, not fruit is brilliant, and the repeat at the end is almost as if the narrator is attempting to believe, as we all are, that there is still internal beauty somehow amidst these global horrors. The simple narrative structure is deceptive, with so much internal conflict ongoing. And, as we already know, it never ends.

Second Place

The Perfect Fall
The spectacular use of second person point of view in the piece allows the reader to identify with the speaker. The use of alliteration and assonance, the momentary suspension in action, broken up with the use of fragments of action: Hush. Hush. So effective to mirror the action of the “perfect fall.” And that ending: the effective use of white space gives the reader complete freedom to use one’s own imagination.

Third Place

White Matter
The most poetic of all the finalists, this piece drew my breath the first time I read it. There is an elegance among word selections, exquisite phrases like “All my life I have been hounded by whiteness.” And the pathos here run deep, the gravitas of the brother’s death experienced through the lens of a child (in hindsight). It also has a cinematic quality to it, and a truly haunting aspect within these words.

Two Commended

Last Dog
Some lovely imagery used in the setting and phrases. The transition from dog to Dad and how their deaths are woven together, as pets often are with family members’ passings. Contains a Universal message about our ultimate demise; all that is living must perish. A brave look at our own wrestling with being alive.

Whale Shark
The almost Gertrude Stein-like unique approach to this piece is dazzling. The repeated phrasing, or words. The fantastical, over-the-top turns of phrases. And again, the ocean poetry. The youthful, boyish zest affirms. So much life! So much to admire!

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