The Austin Chronicle

10th Annual 'Austin Chronicle' Short Story Contest

By Tommi Ferguson and Clay Smith, October 19, 2001, Books

When we ask writers to be judges for our short story contest, we tell them to think about which stories they would champion and which they would like to see banished. When we joined this year's five judges for dinner last week, there was some initial patter about which of the nine stories (out of nearly 400 submitted) were the most memorable. Then we asked them to lay down their cards by naming the one story they liked more than any other. It was clear we were at an impasse, with almost every one of them voting for a different story. But the persuasions began in their myriad ways: raised eyebrows to question the judgment of your aesthetic opponent, huddles with your neighbor to form a literary junta, impassioned disquisitions on the merits or non-merits of a particular story. Outright pleading is also effective. "Tell me this isn't funny, Carol Dawson," novelist Katherine Tanney finally said to the chief naysayer on the panel about the winning story, "Valium," an account of one woman's therapy for agoraphobia that deftly treads the line between rueful and hilariously satirical. Dawson had her reasons: "Regard me as the Oliver Wendell Holmes of this panel," she said decisively. We did, but "Valium" still won.

Because the economic downturn has hit media companies with particular force, the decision this year was to print the winning story and feature the other four on our Web site, which we encourage you to read because each of the other stories that placed in the contest have something unique about them. "November," the second place story, leads you into thinking it's quite stolidly about one thing when it's actually about something else while being an insightful investigation of the language we use for sickness and death. "The Warmth of Snow" is a clear evocation of what can happen when we get what we ask for. "Lies," which won fourth place, renders a big subject, class, into a minutely observed, graceful narrative, while "Thirsty Dog: A Prague Story," in fifth place, has the sense of several places -- not just one -- down pat. The winners will read their stories at BookPeople on Thursday, October 25, at 7pm, and we invite you to come and listen to them.

Every story gets read by two initial judges; our thanks go to Shawn Badgley, Michael Chamy, Mark Fagan, Denise Hutto, Kimberley Jones, Jennie Kennedy, Eli Kooris, and Kim Mellen for their expert and tireless reads of all the submissions. The contest wouldn't be possible without our co-sponsors BookPeople, Writers' League of Texas, and 107.1 KGSR.

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