Stephanie Clement Photography
Consider my introduction to the following Bath Flash Fiction contest results as a kind of Thank You letter. A Thank You to the many contestants who participated, and to the staff who had to create the long list. But mostly this is a Thank You to the writers who listened. In my judge’s interview, I asked entrants to “Try to do something unique. Unique can mean using different subject matter, vocabulary, format, syntax, punctuation. Experiment a bit. Let loose. Find a story that has to be told. Make the judge forget the outside world for a moment.”
This can be a tall order. But I was impressed by how many stories encapsulated one or more of these instructions. Many of you did let loose. The language flowed, but did not meander. It had a destination. And each story that is being called out drew me away from the Real World. I went to places I haven’t been to before. I was shown ordinary objects in a different light. I heard language used in a new way, smelled new smells, felt new feelings. Sorrowful, mostly (lots of war stories, lots of endings), but there were some Laugh Out Loud moments, too.
Judging this contest was difficult. The quality was high. I’m sure with a different judge, any one of my top 10 stories could be rearranged. But because we have to recognize placings and award higher status to 5, I reread my top 10 dozens of times before narrowing down to 7, then 6, then 5. Even within that 5, I moved the placings around a few times. Keep in mind this part is subjective, and a thin line exists between all 5. In the end it came down to what I wanted to recognize most in a flash story. I also wanted to showcase the different forms.
Beyond the top 5, I’d like to give a nod to “Adolescence” (I could not quite figure it all out, which was mostly intriguing); “Bird of Prey” (one of the best last lines in the contest); “Pól” (contained a powerful image of exploding apple trees); “The Gap” (uniquely explores spousal abuse); and “Then I Remember” (some wonderful observations). Finally, “They Huddle and Fang” was deliciously creepy and tantalizing with language that snapped and simmered.
But my top 5… I love each story for different reasons. So, a final Thank You to you winners for introducing me to your artfully rendered, unique mini worlds. Your words and images linger.
Things left and found by the side of the road
To be honest, I’m not a huge fan of list stories. I find they tend to rely more on cleverness than emotional resonance. However, this is one of the best list stories I’ve read in a long time. I’ve often thought of writing about this very topic myself, the detritus on our roads and highways that we pass by every day and notice just outside our peripheral vision, but this author beat me to it and did a better job than I could have. Each image/thing is perfect, strong, arresting, surprising, recognizable, and deep. And the list slowly turns from objects to experiences to the trauma of what can be lost by some and found by others. Not a word out of place, with a strong ending. Read this one out loud. Read it more than once.
When the rubber hits the road
I’m glad to see more authors experimenting with historical flash. This author wove a very tight, complex story, using wind and fire to frame it. A fine example of concision. In one paragraph, we traverse what might be decades in the life of one rubber tree entrepreneur who plants the Amazonian tree seeds in several countries, slashing and burning. Then we flash forward to a bio-warrior, who attempts to bring it all down with his infested Wellingtons. The final lines are especially vivid and powerful (the reader is there with the bio-warrior, feeling stiff leg muscles, watching the latex drop from “spiral scores”) and the author includes just the right details in between to flesh out an intriguing story.
Why Shit Is Still Like This Around Here and Probably Always Will Be
A brilliant micro. There are many stories of wayward mothers and neglected children, but this author tells a poignant story in two stream-of-consciousness paragraphs. We hear the heels, the plastic clatter, and we get this woman in just two spare fragments of speech and a few images. We smell her, and we hear her woven into the wind chimes that excite the adult narrator in one seamless line that takes us from the chimes, to the mother, to the girl he is going home with, till you aren’t sure who he is smelling, the mother or the girl. Then we move on to the smell of another woman who has to rescue a forlorn boy, who has the final word in this little story, as we see him “truck-handed and gob-faced at the plastic glass.” My heart broke for a moment, while my mind admired the carefully chosen words. Another story that’s precise and perfect, in my opinion.
I loved every word in this tightly written allegorical homage to two colorful aunts, who come to life through the discovery of a vintage powder compact. It opens with strong images and tickles your nose with “sweetened pinky-beige topsoil.” The use of the word topsoil made me pay serious attention right away. The writer captured this metaphor so precisely, the reader knows exactly what the narrator is seeing/smelling/touching. The aunts are rendered in condensed descriptions, and just when you might get too much of them, the narrator gently brings you back to her own presence in the junkshop, and reminds you to feel the rusty fastening. We continue to follow her memories till the narrator comes into focus in the compact’s mirror, and the flash ends with a final powerful, dusty simile. I’m not sure I will ever look at a compact again without thinking of this object story.
Satin Nightwear for Women Irregular
This flash broke the mold a bit from the other more traditional ones I selected. An intriguing title, and an intriguing story built from staccato lines full of alliteration and movement. You can easily get caught up in the list of unusual tasks that the “bereaved” partner takes part in to both honor and release the spirit of his or her wife, and miss the underlying grief. “The ground around me is worming, and when I walk away the earth shatters.” This line is one of the strongest in the competition. Learn from it.