12th Annual 'Austin Chronicle' Short Story Contest

The winners and the judges

Even when you consider that about a quarter of the 500 submissions The Austin Chronicle received for its 12th annual Short Story Contest were essentially suicide notes – we can only hope that the singer is not the song in those cases, or at least that the notes have indeed been put to a healthier purpose – that still leaves more than 350 stories angling for attention and distinction. Subtract a few more that might find a better a place among letters to the editor or somewhere in a (poorly rendered) alternate reality, and you're down to a more manageable 300. Still. That's a lot of hopes and dreams, a lot of art, a lot of time, and a lot of craft.

The short story is a tough craft, to be sure, and since this contest imposes a 2,000-word limit on submissions, it became an even tougher one. During the judges' dinner on Feb. 4 at Starlite, Sarah Bird, Scott Blackwood, Stephen Harrigan, and Dao Strom considered this as a heavy criterion in deciding the five winners to emerge from the 10 finalists. Who said the most in such a small space? Whose stories were complete, or at least close to complete? Who best blended ambition with authority? "Who of these people are real writers?" Harrigan wondered.

I'm not sure that the judges ever answered that question. I'm not sure that it's answerable by anyone anywhere. But with Harrigan as devil's advocate and constant skeptic, a restrained exchange of favorite stories soon became a spirited debate on writing itself. And we're lucky, in fact, that the judges eventually decided on a winner: After three hours, minds had changed and then changed again, alliances had been shattered, and two stories had a legitimate chance at first place.

One of those stories was "Red, White, and Blue," about trying to save someone who doesn't want to be saved. It's a mournful thing, but in a different way than the other story, "The B-Boys of Beaumont," which examines the feeling of being full of life in a dying place. "Red, White, and Blue" is funny. "B-Boys" is wise. Both have problems, and both redeem themselves in strange ways. Bird, and, to a lesser extent, Blackwood, favored the former, while Harrigan and Strom were for the latter.

"In 2,000 words, he tried something," Bird said of "Red, White, and Blue"'s author (who of course was unknown to her at the time because of the blind judging process). She and Blackwood liked his way with language and his sense of humor. "I give a lot of points for degree of difficulty, for something that's not just a bunch of ambience."

But Harrigan and Strom believed that "B-Boys" was a complex, ambitious story in its own right, and felt that it was both a story that only its author could tell the right way and one that indicated its author could tell many different kinds of stories.

In the end, it could have gone either way, but the judges unanimously approved "The B-Boys of Beaumont" by Linden Dalecki as the first-place winner of the 2003 Austin Chronicle Short Story Contest, while naming Garth Mueller's "Red, White, and Blue" the first runner-up. We announced that on Wednesday, Feb. 11, at BookPeople, where we also called the names of Ameni Rozsa ("Testosterone Rules," third place), Spencer Driggers ("Melvin and Jeanie," honorable mention), and Jill Marquis ("Nut Goody Sets the Record Straight," honorable mention).

Very special thanks to all of our entrants, of course. And very special thanks to Nora Ankrum, BookPeople, Wayne Alan Brenner, Brian Carr, Erin Collier, Laurie Dreesen, Wells Dunbar, Mark Fagan, Liz Franklin, Sarah Hamlin, Anne Harris, Benton Heimsath, KGSR, Amy LeGrand, Moonshine Patio Bar & Grill, James Renovitch, Jordan Smith, Doug St. Ament, Sara Staricha, Starlite, Darcie Stevens, and Diana Welch.

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short story contest, Linden Dalecki, Spencer Driggers, Ameni Rozsa, Garth Mueller, Jill Marquis, Sarah Bird, Scott Blackwood, Stephen Harrigan, Dao Strom

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