11th Annual 'Austin Chronicle' Short Story Contest

Introduction and Results

Grant me this and what's about to happen won't hurt a bit: The short story is among our trickiest artistic turns. "Not that the story need be long," said Thoreau, "but it will take a long while to make it short." The short story can be as complex as all of one's life experiences condensed or a dream transcribed or both. Or it can be layered with an insurgent mundaneness while set to an inscrutable melody. A short story can take place in a single day. A single minute, even. It is concise without sounding so, an empire on an acre of land, a hard speaker carrying a small stick. It makes things happen. It demands structure or one of structure's cousins. There might be a hundred characters or none at all, and they might die horrible deaths, or they might sit in the car eating takeout, mute. A novel, or a novella, can do all of this, of course, in some sense, but a short story has to think on its stylistic feet, and fast. The form itself has very few masters, with good reason.

The winners of the 11th annual Austin Chronicle Short Story Contest are not masters, but we believe that their efforts have approached the form's demands, and that their voices are distinct enough to be recognized and read by as many as possible. It is our place to make such claims because we solicit entries -- with no entry fee -- and give money to the winners while also publishing their stories. We have since 1992. I'm just saying. We know what we're doing.

Or, our judges know what they're doing. After two and a half hours on Jan. 20, after venison and red wine and rabbit and crème brûlée, they were essentially deadlocked, which I hear has often been the case. Dan Dietz and Scott Blackwood were for Nancy Moser's "Denying Marisol" -- which has an incomparable sense of space and time, as well as a language all its own -- but against Bonnie West's "Song Loon." For some reason, they weren't responding to West's tale of a woman who turns into a fish and swims around Manhattan, and they factioned off. Neal Pollack and Jessa Crispin were pitted against them, with Pollack -- who insisted to disbelieving waitstaff and passersby that he is in fact a published writer when not making eyes at a cowboy poet's wife -- eventually saying that "'Song Loon' ... makes Kate Chopin's The Awakening look like an episode of Judging Amy."

But Dorothy Barnett wasn't buying it, and she wouldn't budge from her favorite of the 14 finalists (from a pool of 400): "Minouli Steals a Kiss." Everyone agreed with her that it seemed the most assured piece of storytelling, and the most "rock-solid." But some simply thought it underwhelming. Finally, after rounds of votes and run-offs, it was decided that "Denying Marisol" and "Song Loon" canceled each other out because "Minouli Steals a Kiss" was such a different kind of story, and one with the most trustworthy narrative arc. If it wasn't exactly riveting, the judges concluded, at least it was on the way to taking the reader to another place. It has ambition.

We announced Wynn Parks' "Minouli Steals a Kiss" as our first-place winner on Wednesday at BookPeople, with "Song Loon" and "Denying Marisol" earning second and third spots, respectively. Our honorable mentions, Rebecca Beegle's "Response to the Number Nine" and Billy Cope's "Cicadas," share a sense of humor and a gift for imagery, as well as the ability to make you think.

Very special thanks to all of our entrants, of course. And very special thanks to Brian Barry, BookPeople, Wayne Alan Brenner, Peggy Capps, Alexis Carroll, Chez Zee, Erin Collier, Demi Epicurious, Harold Eggers-Soo, Jeremy Ellis, Jay Ewing, Mark Fagan, Tommi Ferguson, Liz "Poison" Franklin, Heather Frankovis, Verushka Gray, Sarah Hamlin, Dan Hardick, Anne Harris, Serena Horn, Kimberley Jones, KGSR, Amy LeGrand, Ron Nickell, Laurie Plenge, Steve Raymond, Karen Rheudasil, Michael "On the Principles of Genial Criticism Concerning the Fine Arts, More Especially Those of Statuary and Painting, Deduced From the Laws and Impulses Which Guide the True Artist in the Production of His Works" Robertson, Jen Scoville, Lindsey Simon, Clay Smith, Doug St. Ament, Darcie Stevens, Cathy Vaughan, Erica Watkins, and Cindy Widner.

Without the advice and guidance of Ferguson, Hardick, Scoville, and Smith; the sheer and very nearly shocking driving force that is Collier; the sponsorship effort of BookPeople (led by Ellis), Chez Zee, and KGSR, as well as the wonderful judges' dinner provided by Demi Epicurious; the advanced mathematical formulas and soothing zen rock gardens devised by Eggers-Soo (whose ninth birthday is coming up); and, most importantly, the tireless effort on the part of our initial readers, who together narrowed the 400 submissions down to 100 with an unflinching subjectivity that was only one more piece of evidence proving their instinctual brilliance, this contest would have never happened, let alone succeeded as it has.

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