Unfinished Business

The 23rd annual Austin Chronicle Short Story Contest

Unfinished Business

So a storyteller, two playwrights, and two novelists walk into a bistro.

By all rights, that ought to be the opening to the shaggiest of shaggy dog stories, one in which narrative piles on narrative as the assorted authors jostle for control of the dinner-table dialogue, wielding all the weapons in their respective yarn-spinning arsenals. I'd certainly steeled myself for that possibility, having heard accounts of previous Short Story Contest judges' dinners that lasted deep into the night as the professional writers selecting the winners debated the merits of the 10 finalists at length.

But such was not the case with my first time running the contest. Call it beginner's luck (or me stacking the deck with the most congenial literary types I could think of), but these judges sailed through the selection process, taking little more than an hour to determine the top stories and honorable mentions, and that was with some substantive discussion on our way from the escargot to the crème brûlée.

The finalists were all over the map, literally as well as figuratively. But whether they dealt with hipsters in south Florida, a couple of jailbirds in downtown L.A., giant grackles invading Big D, two people passing magical objects through a fence at a desert border crossing, or Medusa – yes, that Medusa – gardening on her Greek isle, almost all the tales turned on some aspect of the past that needed to be laid to rest: a dead father, a missing girl, an abusive ex, a miscarriage. And they addressed this unfinished business, the judges felt, with images that were striking, writing that had music in it, pain that stayed with them long after the final page. Curiously, though, their choice for first place had its gaze on the future more than the past, but that's something for you to discover yourself.

I bow most humbly to the judges for their generosity and good nature in helping with the contest. The meal was exceeded only by your company. And I honor the squadron of first-readers who ensured that each of the 347 submissions was read twice and ranked. My heartfelt gratitude to: Nick Barbaro, Wayne Alan Brenner, Jessi Cape, Anne Harris, Nina Hernandez, Kimberley Jones, Amy Kamp, Josh Kupecki, Kat McNevins, Susan Moffat, James Renovitch, R.U. Steinberg, Jason Stout, Kristine Tofte, Brandon Watson, and Danielle White. (FYI: Proof that the contest is known far beyond Austin's city limits: More than one-third of the entries came from outside Texas, with submissions from 35 different states and nine locales outside the U.S.) Thanks also to our marketing gurus Dan Hardick, Lia Crockett, and Sarah Wolf; our co-sponsors KGSR and BookPeople; and, of course, you, dear readers and writers: This contest literally couldn't exist without you.

The Winners

FIRST PLACE: "What Happens to Us"
Jessica Rutland was born in Dallas and graduated from the University of Texas. She still isn't sure what she'd like to be when she grows up, which she's told people no longer find charming.

SECOND PLACE: "Key Biscayne"
Remy Barnes Klein lives and works in Austin, Texas.

THIRD PLACE: "The Dead Climb on Top of You"
P. Tyson Midkiff is a native Texan who has lived in Austin a while now. He does whatever he can to avoid writing, things like drinking and sleeping in. He is working really hard on contentment.

HONORABLE MENTION: "It Falls Gently All Around"
Ramona Reeves has short fiction forthcoming in The Southampton Review, Steel Toe Review, and Gris-Gris: An Online Journal of Literature, Culture, and the Arts. She is also the 2013 recipient of the Marg Chandler Fellowship from A Room of Her Own. A native of Alabama, she currently lives in Austin, Texas.

HONORABLE MENTION: "The Design of One's Day"
Hunter Liguore is an American writer who holds degrees in history and writing. Her published work has appeared in a variety of venues internationally. She revels in old myths and legends.

OTHER FINALISTS (In alphabetical order by author):
George Bronner, "The Fisher"
Jared Goza, "A Plague"
Monet Lessner, "Based on Reality"
R.M. Malone, "Shake You Down"
Adam Martínez, "Rendezvous"

The Judges

RAUL GARZA won first place in the 22nd annual Austin Chronicle Short Story Contest with his story "In the Room." He has also authored the plays Confessions of a Mexpatriate; "MyHEB," a Best of the Fest selection in the 2015 FronteraFest Short Fringe; and Fantasmaville, which won the National Latino Playwriting Award. He is also co-founder and creative director of TKO Advertising.

ANNIE LA GANGA is the author of Stoners and Self-Appointed Saints, A Memoir and creator-performer of four solo shows, including Surprise Annie, produced by Rubber Repertory, and The Major Arcana, produced in collaboration with Portland Story Theater. She and fellow writer Rebecca Beegle run the Grownup Lady Story Company, an enterprise for storytelling performance and coaching.

STEVE MOORE co-founded Physical Plant Theater in 1994 and has written most of its shows. Among his plays are Nightswim and The Kindermann Depiction, both recipients of the Austin Critics Table's David Mark Cohen New Play Award; Adam Sultan; and the text play Computer Simulation of the Ocean. He holds an MFA in playwriting from the Michener Center for Writers.

MARY HELEN SPECHT is a past Fulbright Scholar to Nigeria and Dobie-Paisano Writing Fellow whose first novel, Migratory Animals, was just published. Her writing has been nominated for multiple Pushcart prizes and has appeared in numerous publications, including The New York Times and Night Train, where she won the Richard Yates Short Story Award. She teaches creative writing at St. Edward's University.

AMANDA EYRE WARD is the author of five novels, including the bestseller How to Be Lost and Close Your Eyes, which was named in Kirkus' Best Books of 2011 and won the Elle magazine Fiction Book of the Year. Her new novel, The Same Sky, was inspired by meeting immigrant children in shelters in Texas and California, and hearing their stories.

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Austin Chronicle Short Story Contest, short stories, fiction, Jessica Rutland, Remy Barnes Klein, P. Tyson Midkiff, Ramona Reeves, Hunter Liguore, Raul Garza, Annie La Ganga, Steve Moore, Mary Helen Specht, Amanda Eyre Ward

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