Mad Men

The 22nd annual 'Austin Chronicle' Short Story Contest

Mad Men

Austin, we need to talk.

If the old axiom is true, and you guys are all writing about what you know, I'm a little worried. Between all the untimely deaths and terrible jobs and shitty friends and traumatizing childhoods and unsuccessful road trips, I'm torn between wanting to offer you a hug and enrolling us all in some sort of collective therapy (think of the group rates!).

While I'm glad that you've all achieved some sort of cathartic release by getting your tales out on paper, it complicates my job in a weirdly sadistic way: Who has the best worst job? Whose is the most entertaining traumatizing childhood? And if our finalists are any indication, what it ultimately boils down to is the creativity with which you share those terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days – or, better yet, your ability to convey the bizarre little details that make the story stand out. Our top 10 included a sea monster's failed summer camp experience, a centenarian's last birthday, and a kid who spent his formative years in the basement of a funeral parlor.

But ultimately, the judges settled on Raul Garza's "In the Room" to take top honors – a scene from an ad agency that includes a conniving boss, some sea-worthy banter, and one very dissatisfying whiskey. It's a narrative folks in many industries will relate to, noted Lauren Modery at our judges' dinner, but with a touch of humor – "and humor isn't easy to write." The strong dialogue kept Bill Cotter interested, and last year's winner Benjamin Reed said he held this story as the standard to which the other nine had to compete.

We just hope it's not too autobiographical.

My heartfelt thanks go out to the judges for taking the time (on a Friday night, no less) to share their thoughts and their craft. I loved sharing a meal with you guys. Thanks also to our marketing gurus Erin Collier, Dan Hardick, Lia Crockett, and Sarah Wolf; our co-sponsors KGSR and BookPeople; and, of course, our army of first-readers: Wayne Alan Brenner, Jessi Cape, Lawrence Everett Forbes, Liz Franklin, Cassidy Frazier, Claire Gordon, Nina Hernandez, Shelley Hiam, Chase Hoffberger, Darlene Jones, Kimberley Jones, Amy Kamp, Michael King, Josh Kupecki, Matt Oztalay, James Renovitch, Jason Stout, Kristine Tofte, Anna Toon, Derek Van Wagner, Brandon Watson, and Danielle White. And to you, dear readers and writers: This contest literally couldn't exist without you. See you next year.

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