Thank you to Nancy Stohlman for judging our 13th Award and for all her comments on the longlist, shortlist and winners.
From lush description to plot surprises to current events and complicated relationships of all kinds, every story on the long list had some memorable and intriguing quality. Some looked backwards, some looked forwards. There were themes that were visited and re-visited from various angles and through various doors. There was also a wide variety in everything from subject to style to form — a wonderful cross section of flash fiction. The one commonality was seriousness, a predilection to drama over comedy. But choosing from such high quality work was not an easy endeavor — really great work, flash community!
I wasn’t looking for a particular kind of story, but I noticed in the shortlist of twenty that I chose many stories that were straightforward and active—happening now as opposed to constructed through memory. I was also enjoying language that didn’t call attention to itself, language that felt like more than ornamentation and seemed to perfectly serve the story without breaking tension. Endings were often the deal breaker — if it came down to two stories, it was the one with a powerful ending that would often make the difference. And finally I paid attention to that intangible quality of resonance and memorability: is this a story I’ve heard many times or something new and fresh, an exciting and original window into the old? Every story on this list stayed with me long after I was finished reading it. And each one continues to stay with me.
Comments on the winners:
Wow. This one took my breath away on the first read and haunted me throughout the entire judging process. As with many of my final choices, this one had an extremely powerful ending. The story was deceptively simple at first, distracting us from the impending tension just as the father is distracting his young daughter. The reader, too, is lulled into a calm curiosity, only momentary chinks in the facade giving us insight into not only what is going on but the devastating impact of what is to come. Politics in stories can become too heavy handed, but this author perfectly balanced the political with the personal, giving us a story that is urgent, empathetic, and timely. A necessary story for a haunted world.
‘The Wild West’
The narrative voice explodes in this story—full of energy and confidence and the vibrancy of childhood with the nostalgia of an old television show. The reader eagerly joins the playtime fantasy, sinks into the nostalgia, delights at the imagination of children and the boundless freedom of play, which is why the ending is as devastating for the reader as it is for the characters. An abrupt loss of freedom, a crack that will never be mended, the story juxtaposes the amazement of the imaginary world against the hollow ending of the real one. Like the characters we are so lost in the pretend we don’t see the real world intruding until it’s too late.
‘The Games People Play’
“War-games…those two words don’t belong near each other.” I loved the freshness and originality of this story, culminating in an ending both hopeless and hopeful. I was drawn right into the clean straightforward prose, the subtle ending dangling, evoking a question on so many people’s minds: what can we do? This story is strong in its simplicity and resonates well beyond the page, reminding us of the urgency of those moments when you cross paths with an opportunity—and you take it.
Another story that stopped me cold at the end. The final images recall both a shameful history and a continuing, if perhaps more discreet, present. The last line seems to reach out from the past and ask to be recognized today, now, in this familiar moment. A warning.
‘Mo Bhuachaillin Beag’
The strength of this story came from the narrative voice—both the flippant and the fearful, the youth dragged into the reluctant adult. The prose, like the story, landed in the crossroads of put together and punk rock, a musicality and sense of lyricism that couldn’t be contrived. A reminder that grief stretches across oceans and so, too, does the human spirit of survival.