Q & A with Rachel Blake, 1st prize winner in our June 2022 Award

It’s just over two weeks until our 22nd Award closes on Sunday October 9th. And here’s a Q & A with Rachel Blake our first prize winner, from the 21st Award. Rachel won with her story ‘Sequelae’. She talks about how she wrote this powerfully impactful piece, which was selected by judge, Tommy Dean, and we have reproduced his comments below, just before her answers to the questions. It’s worth a read of both if you want to look over your own pieces again and submit to the next Award which is judged by Emily Devane. There’s lots of interesting things to think about in Tommy’s comments and the interview with Rachel. At the end she’s offered a visual prompt to inspire you to write a story in the time that is left before the deadline. Read in Full

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21 first prize winning stories from BFFA

Our 22nd Award ends on Sunday, 9th October. And at the end of October, we will announce the winners. I thought it would be interesting to gather all the 21 previous winners together to look at themes. The winners were selected each round, from a longlist of 50, by 21 different judges. Although the stories could be categorised in many ways, I have settled on four themes: Grief and loss; Women’s Lives; Issues from Contemporary Life and Historical. Many could cross-reference between these themes. There are links to each story. And you can gain further insights into these brilliant and varied flash fictions by reading the judges’ reports and my interviews with the authors. The stories are (or will be) included in our year-end antholgies available from adhocfiction.com
In further posts, this week and next, I’ll also be looking at themes from our second and third and commended writers in all 21 of the Awards since 2016. Read in Full

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Ad Hoc Fiction Book News

Our award-winning short short fiction press,Ad Hoc Fiction is publishing eleven more books in 2022. This year, as in 2021, we were able to offer publication to the authors of all the shortlisted novellas-in-flash selected by our judge Michelle Elvy, from the 2022 Bath Novella in Flash Award. Two have already been published, Lessons at the Water’s Edge, the first prize winning NIF by Caroline Greene and All Their Favourite Stories,, the commended NIF by Slawka G Scarso. You can buy both these books directly from Ad Hoc Fiction or in paperback from Amazon.

The other eight novellas by Award runners up, K. S. Dyal from the US and David Swann from the UK; highly commended authors Christopher Drew and Jupiter Jones; commended authors Kristen Loesch from the US and the other shortlisted writers: Finnian Burnett from Canada; Jeanette Lowe from the UK and Sheree Shatsky from the US will be out in the next couple of months. We’re really looking forward to seeing all of them in print. Such wonderful and varied reads. All fabulous

Other books forthcoming from Ad Hoc Fiction this autumn are three anthologies: the Bath Short Story Anthology, 2022 (from their yearly international Award); the fifth Flash Fiction Festival Anthology, and the seventh Bath Flash Fiction Anthology (containing stories from the three Bath Flash Fiction awards in 2022).

Next year, Ad Hoc Fiction has one or two books awaiting confirmation and several books in the pipeline: four guide/workbooks on writing flashfiction and other short forms and an anthology containing short form pieces about chronic illness. More details on all of these will be available soon. As usual, Ad Hoc Fiction will publish the compeition and festival anthologies and the three winners of the 2023 Novella in flash Award (judged in 2023 by John Brantingham).

NB. Although in previous years, Ad Hoc Fiction has been able to offer publication to the shortlisted novellas-in-flash as well as the top three, as an added bonus to the Award, this year, due to rising costs, Ad Hoc will only be publishing the top three novellas in flash, as advertised.

If you want to enter the 2023 Novella in Flash Award, do read the excellent interview with judge, John Brantingham as well as the marvellous guide book on the form by Michael Loveday. Closing date mid-January, 2023.

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Short stories versus flash fiction – a thread from Electra Rhodes

The other day we spotted an excellent thread on short stories versus flash fiction on Twitter from wonderful writer, writing tutor and amazing all-rounder, Electra Rhodes who is teaching an hour-long workshop on Writing Wild Words, at the first of the new series of online flash fiction festival days on Saturday October 8th, the day before our 22nd Award closes at midnight GMT Sunday October 9th. Electra was going to teach this workshop at our face to face festival in July before she had to cancel due to Covid. So we’re delighted to be able to offer it again, online.

Electra’s thoughts below (thank you very much to her for agreeing to share them here) are a follow up to a recent thread she wrote on her Twitter feed on what to consider when submitting to a prose competition or magazine. That thread was picked up by Writing ie, who have added it to their resources. https://www.writing.ie/resources/submitting-to-writing-competitions-a-thread-by-electra-rhodes/

Electra noted the Twitter thread on submitting raised some questions on what might be possible differences between a short story & a flash fiction. There’s plenty to unravel and think about in this second thread. And it’s another great resource for writers.

In introducing the new thread, she says: here’s a highly opinionated thread, written hot & posted cool.

Quick caveat – I’m claiming no literary authority/nor stating rules – I’m suggesting these are trends (for good or ill) that vary across the English speaking world! E.G. I *think* more U.K. comps/mags include short short under flash than in the US. Can’t speak to other languages.

1. Word length- for some comps/mags/folk a flash is any story under 1000 words. That ‘general consensus’ seems to have been ‘agreed’ early on. A flash is a short short story. Hard to write a good one. 1000 words (or lower max count). Done deal.

Yes! But! Things have changed (for some people/comps/mags). It seems length is only 1 of the distinguishing aspects. Now, there are 9 other elements that factor – form, plot, the role of the title, compression, language, *feel*, ‘landing’, imagery/metaphor, & experimentation.

2. Form – for some comps/mags/folk an invite to submit flash positively encourages an unusual shape or form – hermit crab, fractured narrative, meander, single sentence, dialogue only, & so on. There is still a narrative or ‘story’, but it doesn’t read like a short short.

3. Plot – something happens, there’s a shift of some kind but it;s not a (Western) arc with a beginning, middle and end, in this context, a flash is still a story, but a short short story isn’t (necessarily, in this context) a flash. Distinguishes a flash from prose poetry too.

4. The role of the title – long story short? It does lots of the heavy lifting for the piece – it’ll be an invitation, or the setting, the stakes, the shotgun that gets fired in the piece, or the crucial character – if your word count is tight the title needs to work real hard.

5. Compression – under 1000 words or 400 or less everything is compressed – the emotion, the tension (& its release), the # of characters, the # of plot ‘events’, the word choice, the use of dialogue esp. to show not tell, coming in late & leaving early. Basically, it’s intense.

6. Language – feels tight, bright & right. Verbs work harder so that adverbs can be cut. Anything not advancing the story/developing character is out. Rhythm, repetition, balance, & musicality at a word/sentence level matter. All the word choices feel purposeful & full of intent.

7. The Feel – it’s the afterimage from a nightdark photograph using just a flashbulb. Or the smell of petrichor after a storm. Or the memory arising from a particular song or taste. It’s distinct, has an instantaneous effect, & we’ll have different words for how it makes us feel.

Quick caveat – lots of flash bears reading multiple times for the full impact. But, I think the workings of a strong piece get you from the go. This isn’t to say short shorts won’t do the same, but they deliberately use different story ‘mechanics’ to score the same goals.

8. The Landing – the piece might not come to an ending, or a resolution, or a happy ever after, but it will ‘land’. The landing might mirror the opener /echo it. It might twist. It might pull one thread so tight the whole piece thrums. The landing feels both unforced and earned.

9.The use of imagery & metaphor – lots of good writing, long and short makes use of both, but both imagery & metaphor work extra hard in flash – to convey layers of meaning, to explore & reveal depth, and to stitch a piece together so that it is more than the sum of its parts.

10. Experimentation – because it’s so short, flash lends itself to experimentation that might be harder to sustain in a longer piece or which perhaps don’t suit a short short story – language, repetition, ‘borrowed’ form, layout, intensity, POV/tense (e.g. 2nd person future) etc.

Electra also asked for additional thouhts from others. Do read her orginal thread on her twitter account to find another thread in response, from Matt Kendrick and here are a couple of interesting extras from writers Fiona McCay and Tommy Dean.

Fiona McCay says: “For me, flash has to make so much use of white space – the wider arc of story that’s off the page, but there, between the lines. It’s something I’m always looking for when reading for a competition (and always trying to get into my own flash).”

Tommy Dean says: “I would also argue that flash demands that the reader make inferences and judgments b/c flash eschews exposition and explanation as much as possible.”

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Early bird discounts end today.

With the intense heat here in the UK and elsewhere, it might be too hot to write or think about writing. But you can still buy discounted entries, save paypal receipts and submit by the deadline of October 9th. One reduced cost entry is £7.50 and two entries are £12.00.

For this, the 22nd round, we are very happy to have award winning writer, teacher and editor, Emily Devane judging our Award. Emily who writes longer short fiction, as well as flash fiction, recently won second prize in the Bath Short Story Award and you will be able to read her story in the 2022 Bath Short Story Anthology, out at the end of the year. Read her interview with us here for writing advice and tips.

And we also very pleased that Emily is offering an hour long workshop on Saturday October 8th, the day before our October deadline and the first of our new trio of online festival days. The Great Festival Flash-Off, Series Two. Bookings open for those days shortly. A chance to get last minute ideas and do final tweaks and polishes to any story you might want to submit. More details will be posted at flashfictionfestival.com shortly. You could use any of the photographs here for initial story inspiration too. For example, who is taking the path through the harvested field and why has the hotair balloon landed near the tiny thatched house? Is the ancient oak of any significance to the story?

Results will be announced for the October Award by the end of October. All the fifty longlisted stories are offered publication. And our seventh Bath Flash Fiction Award Anthology, containing stories from all three of the 2022 will be published by the end of the year. There are already some great stories from the first two awards. And after the October announcement it is an exciting time adding the final stories and deciding the title and the cover for the book. We always nominate our prize winners for Best Small Fictions, Best of the Net and Pushcart prizes and the title story, Snow Crow, from the 2021 anthology, by Doug Ramspeck was selected for Best Small Fictions 2022 this year.

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Flashy News

We’ve been having a rest since the flash fiction festival Bath Flash Fiction sponsors, in Bristol in July , and thanks again to all who came. it was so wonderful to meet people face to face after a three year break. And there were so many inspirational flash fiction workshops and readings. You can see photographs gathered from Twitter and elsewhere here on the festival blog

Despite a lull in activities Jude’s been organising a trio of online flash fiction festival days to carry on festive fun in the autumn and the winter.
Dates: Saturday October 8th, Saturday November 19th and Saturday January 7th from 11.00 to 6.30 pm each day. . The usual mixture of workshops/talks/book launches/readings/ mini contests. The first day on October 8th features a 90 min workshop with Kathy Fish on writing ghost stories, a 60 min workshop with Electra Rhodes on Writing Words of Wild Wonder and a 60 min workshop with our 22nd Award Judge, Emily Devane (subject announced soon) £30 for everything. This online day comes the day before our deadline for the £1460 prize fund Bath Flash Fiction October Award. So it’s your chance to get last minute ideas. More details and booking for all three days open soon.

We also have a date for the next face to face Flash Fiction Festival. 14th-16th July, 2023 again in Trinity College, Bristol. Bath Flash Fiction and Ad Hoc Fiction are happy to sponsor this again! Hope you can come.

And to remind you the Earlybird discounts for the October Award end this Sunday, 14th August. Buy one entry for £7.50 or two for £12.00. Save your paypal receipts if you haven’t got a story ready yet and send by October 9th. Results out at the end of October. And our year-end anthology containing winning, shortlisted and longlisted stories from all three of the 2022 Awards will be published by Ad Hoc Fiction in late November/December.

In other news, you can look forward to a whole bunch of sparkling new novellas in flash from the 2022 Novella in Flash Award to be published by our small press Ad Hoc Fiction. The winner, Lessons At The Water’s Edge, (recently chosen as one of six indybooks of the month selected by Martin Chilton for the Independent Newspaper!) by Caroline Green was launched at the Festival as was one of the commended novellas, All Their Favourite Stories‘ by Slawka G Scarso. Both marvellous reads. And both available worldwide in paperback from Amazon and directly from Ad Hoc Fiction.

Our 2023 NIF award is open now too, and do read the really interesting interview with our 2023 judge John Brantingham which will also inspire you to write something along with the new guide on the subject, Unlocking the Novella in Flash by Michael Loveday.

More updates soon!

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Q & A with Emily Devane, 22nd Award, Judge

    We’re delighted that award winning writer, editor and teacher Emily Devane is judging our 22nd Award, open now and closing on Sunday 9th October.
    Read her bio and her really interesting answers on what she considers when she writes and reads flash.
    Emily Devane is a writer, editor and teacher based in Ilkley, West Yorkshire. She has taught workshops and courses for Comma Press, Dahlia Press, London Writers’ Café and Northern Writers’ Studio. She has won the Bath Flash Fiction Award, a Northern Writers’ Award and a Word Factory Apprenticeship. Emily’s work has been published in Smokelong Quarterly (third place, Grand Micro Contest 2021), Best Microfictions Anthology (2021), Bath Short Story Award Anthology (2015, 2017 and 2021), New Flash Fiction Review, Lost Balloon, Ellipsis, New Flash Fiction Review, Janus, Ambit and others. She is a founding editor at FlashBack Fiction. Emily co-hosts Word Factory’s Strike! Short Story Club and runs a monthly social writing group at The Grove Bookshop, Ilkley. She was recently shortlisted for the prestigious Mogford Prize for Food and Drink Writing. Find her on Twitter @DevaneEmily and @WordsMoor.
    Q & A
    That’s a great question. Instinctively, I’ve come to know if an idea is better suited to the flash or short story form. I tend to write a first draft, or sometimes notes, and then take a long, hard look at what’s in front of me. There’s a balance to be struck between clarity and depth. For some stories, distilling them down to one intense moment is the best way to tell them –anything else feels like padding. But while I’m all for efficiency in storytelling, there are times when a story is crying out for more space in which to breathe. Perhaps it would be better told in a sequence of scenes, or maybe there are several layers to explore, and a shorter version just isn’t doing the job.
    Usually, I have an idea what sort of length I’m aiming for before I start, but it’s not set in stone. I think of writing as a process of excavation – what I want to end up with is something that feels true, and complete. For a long time, ‘Too Long Under Water’ (which won third prize in the Smokelong Quarterly Grand Micro Competition, 2021) was just two paragraphs of a child queuing in a reptile house. It began with a coin clutched in a child’s hand, and that metallic
    smell left behind on the skin. I kept going back to it, knowing there was something powerful in that scene, if only I could find it. When Uncle Billy arrived in a later draft, the story finally took shape. And it’s happened the other way around, too. ‘Maria Belfiore’s Shoes’ (published at TSS) had to be pruned right down – in sacrificing a secondary plot, I was able to sharpen the story’s focus.
  • One thing I have noticed about your writing, which makes it very powerful in its resonance is that you include great sensory details. Is that something you always payattention to carefully in your writing?
    Thank you. In truth, I’ve always been keenly aware of my senses – sensory details are woven into the fabric of my memories. For me, including them in my writing feels quite natural, I don’t have to think too much about the process. But those details serve a purpose, too.Something that transformed my writing was being taught, early on, to consider the reader’s experience. Writing is all about getting the reader to feel something. The right details can seta tone, create tension, establish character and even suggest narrative – I’ve talked before about how, in flash, description can do ‘double duty’. That said, those details need to be the right details
    If sensory details seem forced, or confusing, then they don’t work. They need to feel right for the story. Describing a character’s toes pressing through wet, gritty sand, or the rough bark of a tree, or the high screech of a kettle, or the particular metallic smell of a coin,brings the reader into the story – he or she has to dig into their own sensory memory bank,and with that comes a whole raft of emotions, all of which add depth to the reading experience. These details are like emotional hot keys. With them, we can make the reader feel fear, disgust, warmth, compassion. When editing a story, I’m mindful of how it works on different sensory levels, from the rhythm of the sentences to the images, sensations, smells and tastes it evokes.
  • You teach flash fiction and short story writing online and in person for Moor Words and Comma Press. Can you tell us a little more about this enterprise and what you have coming up soon?
    Teaching is in my bones – I love it! Over the last few years, I’ve taught workshops and courses for various organisations, including Comma Press, London Writers’ Café, Retreat West and Word Factory. I trained as a teacher, and there’s nothing quite like the buzz of being in the classroom – though, admittedly, story acceptances are hard to beat. I set up Moor Words and started teaching local classes in Ilkley before the pandemic. When lockdown began, I was midway through a short fiction course and had to quickly adapt to online teaching. It was a steep learning curve!
    I’m especially grateful to Farhana Shaikh of Dahlia Press. Back in 2021, she invited me to deliver a masterclass on her A Brief Pause programme, along with a wonderful group of teachers and writers. Through the excellent training she provided, I discovered that online learning can be warm, engaging, fun and inclusive. For many, online workshops have opened up new possibilities: writers in varied time zones can participate asynchronously, and those unable to travel can tune in from home. It’s not perfect, because not everyone has online access, but it’s a step in the right direction. During lockdown, especially, those regular human interactions became so important.
    I have lots going on at the moment. I’m currently teaching a 6-month short story course in Leeds for Comma Press. It’s great to be teaching in person again. I’ll be co-leading a workshop with Sharon Telfer at the Flash Fiction Festival. I also co-host Word Factory’s Strike! Short Story Club, and I recently set up a monthly social writing group at Ilkley’s Grove Bookshop, where I work part time. I’m taking a few weeks over the summer to focus on my own writing projects, but I have new online workshops and courses brewing for the autumn,so keep an eye out for those.
  • What do you like about teaching flash fiction in particular?
    Flash fiction is an incredibly versatile form. It’s a great introduction to writing short fiction –although that’s not to say it’s easy. The form is perfect for workshops, because a first draft can be written in a few minutes. Once that first draft is written, editing and polishing it seems do-able. It’s so rewarding to hear when writers have come away from a workshop brimming with new ideas – even if all they have is one phrase that pulls at them to write more, it’s a start. Because of the short word count, a wide range of flash stories can be shared in their entirety, which makes it perfect for teaching different aspects of craft. There’s so much fun to
    be had trying out various ways of presenting a story – experimenting with structure, exploring voice, setting and tense. I recently introduced a group of young writers to the form. It was so exciting seeing what they made of it – to say to them: don’t worry about grammar rules for awhile, just play.
  • There are very many astonishingly good flash fictions we can read these days, published online and in print. Which flash fiction stories have made a strong impact on you recently?
    Oh goodness, yes. Where to begin? It’s sometimes hard to keep up with all the amazing work being published. I adored Angela Readman’s collection, The Girls Are Pretty Crocodiles, which includes a number of flash fictions. She writes in a way that is so particular to her; her descriptions are often surprising, and yet perfect. I also loved Nora Nadjarian’s gorgeous ‘Baby, be mine’ in the Flash Flood – she has such an ear for rhythm. It’s at the short story end of flash fiction, but I so enjoyed Nod Ghosh’s ‘The Mouthfeel of Another Accent’ at Fictive Dream – who couldn’t resist a stammering cat? We recently published a beautiful micro by Struan Gow at FlashBack Fiction, called ‘RRS Discovery’, which made brilliant use of perspective. I also recommend reading the latest issue of Smokelong Quarterly – it’s packed with great stuff. ‘My Americanah’ by Vincent Anioke was especially powerful. I can’t stop thinking about it.
  • You are also an editor for Flashback Fiction, an online magazine that publishes historical flash fiction. And with Sharon Telfer, you are running a workshop at the 2022 Flash Fiction Festival.What have you learned about writing historical pieces from being an editor of the magazine?
    Editing at FlashBack Fiction has been a joy and a privilege – I’ve worked with some great writers, and I’ve learned so much from my fellow editors. It’s all about setting the scene,weaving in historical details in a way that feels natural, and allowing the story to shine through. As a former history teacher, I have to avoid the urge to explain the history – I often get stuck in the ‘head’ stage of writing rather than allowing the ‘heart’ part to take over. With historical detail, it’s usually a case of less is more, although I admire writers who pay attention to those things. We tend to think history should be told in a grave tone of voice, but I am
    always delighted to see stories with a playful take on the past, like Salena Casha’s ‘This is not a story about my grandfather’, which takes the perspective of a suitcase lost at sea.
  • Any tips for writers who might be considering writing a flash of 300 words or under for our Award?
    It might help writers to know that I almost didn’t send my BFFA-winning story, ‘The Hand that Wields the Priest’. My husband read it and urged me to send it in. I assumed it was too quiet,too unexciting. I submitted the story, along with a piece I thought stood a much better chance in the competition, but I suspect I’d edited the life out of the other story. So, the moral of the tale? Have a go. Send in the piece that feels like you’ve put a piece of your heart on the page,
    the piece where you took a risk, the piece that makes you feel a little bit scared to share. I’m so excited to read your words.
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June 2022 Award Round Up

    Thanks to everyone from around the world who entered our 21st Award. We received 1081 entries from 34 countries listed below.

    Australia, Austria, Barbados, Belgium, Canada, Cyprus, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Jersey, Mexico, Morocco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Philippines, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States, Vietnam.

    As usual, the last few weeks and the last weekend in particular saw a great flood of submissions. And we appreciate everyone who entered at any time during the contest and the final day writers who received a (virtual) Last Minute Club badge (this time in pink and silver pastel party colours). we hold a guess-the-colour-of-the-badge contest on Twitter the day before the badge is revealed. One person guessed the right shade of pink, and the other, chose a silvery grey. So they both received a book anthology prize.

    There were very many excellent stories of 300 words or less among the submissions and it’s always hard to find the fifty stories for the final longlist. Thanks to the reading team for their work on making these choices. We like to include a mix of different styles and subject matters and if there are a lot on the same sorts of themes, it is even harder to choose. Everyone who reached the longlist has been offered publication in our seventh anthology which will be published at the end of this year after the October Award is completed. Many writers from this round have already said yes to publication and again it will be a fantastic read. Snow Crow, our 6th anthology, was shortlisted in the 2022 Saboteur Awards Best Anthology category and we thank everyone from the flash fiction community and elsewhere who voted for it.
    Our big thanks to Tommy Dean, writer, editor and teacher from the US for selecting the short list and winners for the 21st Award in our very fast turnaround time.
    We mentioned different styles and themes above, and it is so interesting that Tommy commented on the different ways the winners had approached their stories. Do read his report about what he loved about the winning stories here.

This time, four different countries were represented among the winners. Many congratulations to all authors. Their stories are linked to their names here. The first prize winner Rachel Blake from the US wrote ‘Sequelae’, second prize winner Madeline Bryne from Australia wrote ‘Between’, third prize winner Abigail Williams from the UK wrote ‘Don’t mistake me for your crabapple’, Sudha Balagopal from the US wrote ‘On our daughter’s wedding day’ and Olwen Wilson from Canada wrote ‘The Shape of the Situation in Apartment 23C on a Sunday in September.

Our next award opens on July 1st and is judged by Emily Devane from the UK who, among other awards, won the Bath Flash Fiction Award in February, 2017..Our interview with her will be on the website tomorrow. The 22nd Award closes on Sunday 9th October. We’re looking forward to reading more wonderful stories. We love flash fiction!

Jude Higgins
June 2022

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Judge’s Report By Tommy Dean

    A big thank you to US based writer, editor and teacher, Tommy Dean for being our 21st Award judge and for selecting a wonderful short list and winners from our fifty fantastic longlisted stories for the June Award, 2022. Read all his interesting comments below and read the winning stories by clicking the titles.

    Tommy’s Comments

    I was thrilled to be chosen by Jude Higgins to judge this round of the micro contest. What I love about micro fiction is that there’s no set way to write such short stories! There are a million ways to open a story and gain a reader’s attention, and the writers on the longlist provided excellent examples of how stories can start and how they can grip a reader through conflict, through character, through precise and beautiful language. The writers here trusted me as a reader leaving much of the story out, compressing the details into specific gems, and asking me to trust them as they took me into worlds that were familiar, unknown, and at their best a bit of both!

    Micro fiction is a livewire act of balancing so many craft elements all with the design of telling a great story, of allowing the reader to invade the stage of the story and put themselves deeply into the narrative at hand. These writer’s compressed until the brevity sparkled with gritty realism, with fantastic fantasy, and showed me the joys and horrors of being human.
    Specific, concrete and surprising details dominated these stories, and helped me inhabit the “hot spots” of their character’s lives. So many unforgettable stories that I have no doubt will find great homes in literary magazines big and small. Every story touched me in a way. Stories have always been a balm, an escape, but also a way of reckoning with the world around me, and I thank these writers for bringing their souls to the page, for filling it with truth and beauty, and sorrow, and humor, for giving me a chance to enter their worlds, to live so many lives, to commune with their wit and perspective.
    No matter where you finished in this round, please be proud of the work that you’ve accomplished that your stories matter, that it’s only a matter of time before they find readers hungry for your words, your moments of distilled truth and beauty

1st Place:
I’m a sucker for a long winding sentence that does its best to cram in as much pertinent information as possible. I love how the first sentence winds around like the neighbors’ cars taking them to work. I love a story that has such a fierce desire, the truth of waiting for others to leave, to have this private moment. I love that we as the reader are privy to this private moment, one that resonates in its pain, its search for relief. I love how we are on this search for the best place to exert our emotion alongside the character, how specific the details are here, how specific the places of retreat are, how they help me see the character’s desperation, to feel it, to won it. How really screaming isn’t enough, how art isn’t helpful, how frustration is somehow sentient, an antagonist. A masterful portrayal of unmet desire.

    2nd Place:

    I love a story that feels somehow commonplace, but because of its character takes us to a new place of understanding, of truth, of beauty in our human desire to be more than we are. I connected with this idea that we leave something of ourselves behind, that our jobs take something from us, that we don’t always know we’re losing something. How Juliet is more than this job, but she can’t quite see that, feel that, that she often disappears, but this story creates this delicious tension of the opposite of that, this story makes her live on the page! I love the fantastic details here, how the writer is so confident in their use of minimalism, how they refrain of telling us how to feel, how that image of Juliet at the end is murky with sadness, but for us, she has become visible!
    3rd Place:
    Don’t mistake me for your crabapple

    I love a writer who takes the risk of using the 2nd person point of view. It can be so intimate, like a cover of a great song that makes you pay closer attention to the lyrics. Another story that made me trust the writer from opening sentence. Another story that made me sit up a little straighter, to pay a bit more attention. And who wouldn’t with these great details and images, the way the narrator demands my attention. And that masterful use of dialogue! Just a few sentences but they create unique and specific characters who are talking past each other, occupying the same space, but not quite on the same page! A glimpse of a specific and unique relationship, one that I wish I could know more about! And that ending image!
    Highly Recommended:
    On Our Daughter’s Wedding Day

    I love a story that starts i the negative, that tells us something they didn’t do or in this case didn’t miss. The negative creates a ghost of two stories that creates so much tension just by using this device! The character is in conflict, but they’re not quite acting, and yet I’m pulled in! On the other side of the negative is the things the character did do or in this case did miss, and that shift from the negative does so much work to reveal this character in a specific and unique way! This is at the heart of any great story! There’s something quite lovely about a character choosing to do something they don’t want to do!
    Highly Recommended:
    The Shape of the Situation in Apartment 23C on a Sunday in September

    Oh, the specificity and intrigue of this long title! I love a story that uses the title to ground me in the setting before I read the first word of the story. There’s so much tension in moving from the title to the opening sentence! Titles like this jumpstart a story, and intrigue a reader, and this story had a high bar to cross to live up to this title, and it did it in spades! I loved the sense of play, the creation of this allegory, how it takes something commonplace, and twists it enough to delight and intrigue the reader! It’s fun, sure, but it also hits hard with resonance!
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Rachel Blake June 2022 First Prize


by Rachel Blake

She waited for the neighbours to leave for work or driving out along the twisty roads by Minnehaha Falls to a lay-by with wooden chips where girls were dragged, sat in the car, bent her head down into the coat on her lap and screamed. It was never long enough, lips never wide enough to peel the skin from the bones where it itched her skull. The car wasn’t soundproof, it would raise an alarm. People were everywhere, except when you needed them. She’d tried roller coasters, pitching her voice with others down rattling tracks, flung into the side feeling beaten, left, and a kind woman, a mother, asking afterwards: are you alright? Beside railroad tracks when the train shuttled past, screaming with the screeching wheels, the electrical breath hot in her tangled hair, but people were in the windows, perhaps, where she couldn’t see. You could cry anywhere, and tears were there somewhere, but how to get to them, smothered in her plastic wrap voice, eyes of glass and waxwork teeth. She walked through galleries, but art was for the artists, grew the scream if it wasn’t yours, added to it. She painted root-like flesh, faces with smeared, watercolour features, a glance out of the corner of an eye, a smirk and, on the other side of the paper—trees, shifting in patterns of light. She wanted to lie on the ground and stare into those leaves and scream into that light. But they were gone and she couldn’t look, didn’t want to know—not until she could find somewhere private to bleed.

About the Author

Rachel Blake was born in New Delhi, raised in Minneapolis, and has lived in San Francisco, Paris, New Orleans, most recently in the UK and is now in transit to New York. She is always looking for adventure and has worked as a dance teacher and therapist. Her undergraduate degree was in Women’s Studies, and she has an MSW from NYU. One of her short stories was published in Open City, and she has recently completed a novel. She lives with her husband and twelve year old son.

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