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WOW! Winter 2021 Flash Fiction Contest Winners

   
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We had an open prompt this season. Our only guidelines were that the entries be fiction with a minimum of 250 words, and a maximum of 750 words. So, enjoy the creativity and diversity!

   

Thanks to our Guest Judge:

Literary Agent Maria Robers

Literary Agent Maria Rogers

WOW was honored to have guest judge literary agent Maria Rogers choose this season’s top winners. Thank you, Maria, for sharing your time and efforts to make these contestants’ dreams come true!

Maria’s bio:

Originally hailing from St. Louis, Missouri, Maria graduated from Kenyon College before cutting her teeth in publishing as an intern at Writers House. She went on to work as an editorial assistant at W.W. Norton & Co. and later as an editor at Scholastic. Over the course of her publishing tenure she has worked on behalf of Pulitzer Prize winners, National Book Award winners, Guggenheim fellows, PEN/Hemingway Award winners, and New York Times best sellers.

To find out what Maria’s looking for, check out her Tobias Literary Agency Page. Follow her on Twitter @fraudelentmaria.

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Note to Contestants:

We want to thank each and every one of you for sharing your wonderful stories with our guest judges this season. We know it takes a lot to hit the send button! While we’d love to give every contestant a prize, just for your writing efforts, that wouldn’t be much of a competition. One of the hardest things we do after a contest ends is to confirm that someone didn’t place in the winners’ circle. But, believe it when we say that every one of you is a true winner.

Every writer has been a gracious participant through the whole process, from the beginning of one season to the next. We’ve written emails to authors, agents, and publicists who have donated books to our contest, and we’ve shared our delight regarding the true sportsmanship among our contestants. It doesn’t matter if it’s one writer who placed or another who tried but didn’t; all writers are courteous, professional, and wonderful extensions of WOW! Women On Writing’s team. Writers’ stories and e-mails fill us with enthusiasm.

Kudos to all writers who entered, whether you won or not, you’re still a winner for participating.

***

To recap our current process, we have a roundtable of 12+ judges who blindly score equally formatted submissions based on: Subject, Content, Technical, and Overall Impression (Style). That’s the first step of the process. If a contestant scores well on the first round, they receive an e-mail notification that she passed the initial judging phase. The second round judging averages out scores and narrows down the top 20 entries. From this point, our guest judge helps to determine the First, Second, and Third Place Winners, followed by the Runners Up.

As with any contest, judging so many talented writers is not a simple process. With blind judging, all contestants start from the same point, no matter the skill level, experience, or writing credentials. It’s the writer’s story and voice that shines through, along with the originality, powerful and clear writing, and the writer’s heart.

***

We’ve enjoyed reading your stories, each and every one of them. The WOW! Women On Writing judges take time to read them all. We recognize names of previous contestants, writers familiar with our style. We enjoy getting to know you through your writing and e-mailing. Remember that each one of you is a champion in our book. We hope that you continue to enter so we can watch you grow as writers and storytellers, because each season is a rebirth of opportunity.

Now on to the winners!

Drum roll please....

1st Place Winner
1st Place:  Tara Campbell
Washington, DC
Congratulations, Tara!
Tara Campbell

Tara’s Bio:

Tara Campbell is a writer, teacher, Kimbilio Fellow, and fiction editor at Barrelhouse. She received her MFA from American University. Previous publication credits include SmokeLong Quarterly, Masters Review, Wigleaf, Jellyfish Review, Booth, Strange Horizons, and CRAFT Literary. She’s the author of a novel, TreeVolution, and three collections: Circe’s Bicycle, Midnight at the Organporium, and Political AF: A Rage Collection. Her fourth collection, Cabinet of Wrath: A Doll Collection is forthcoming from Aqueduct Press in 2021.

 

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The Kraken in Love

 

In its dreams, the Kraken remembers the touch of tentacles on its skin, of suckers all over, of being held by something other than itself. The Kraken was smaller then, not yet a beast. Back then whales were giants, not the tiny grey trifles they seem now; and the Kraken leapt with dolphins and raced with stingrays until it grew and frightened them, and they fled. Now the ocean is vast and cold and full of creatures that fear the Kraken, leviathan of the deep.

The Kraken is still fearsome to humans, but not as it once was. Now people smile when they hear its name, giggle at ancient terror, print its image on T-shirts and posters and socks. The Kraken has become history, myth, a caricature of itself. But no one would smile if they saw it now, if they spied it dormant on the ocean floor, at the bottom of a trench no human could survive.

The Kraken dreams the touch of tentacles on its skin, the elastic tease of other arms, a hint of warmth in the frigid sea. It has a new source of heat now, simmering up from volcanic fissures, from magma at Earth’s core. The Kraken sleeps among blind, transparent creatures, colorless ghosts drifting in the abyss unaware of the existence of sun, of sky, of birds and clouds, blissfully unaware of man—until now. Now, down in the deepest crevices, the creatures of the sea are being pursued.

Even in its sleep, the Kraken knows the click of machines, the whir of a rotor, the hum of engines. Back before it was a Kraken, it came to know these sounds as the mutter of Death, just before the thunk of harpoon and the crack of a rifle to finish the job, before, in a cloud of blood and ink, its companion slipped away, tentacles thrashing, falling upward, out of ocean into air.

The Kraken remembers the jolt of the last sucker losing its grip.

What could the thing-before-Kraken then do but fill itself up with a school of minnows, with a group of groupers, a run of salmon, a seal? The Kraken grew and grew until it could gulp down a pod of dolphins, a humpback whale. And still it ate and expanded until whole shoals of sea life floated around in its stomach like stars in the sky.

And even when it scraped itself against colonies of coral, scouring the reefs, leaving grey dead deserts in its wake, even then the Kraken remembered the touch of tentacles on its skin. And so, on it ate, feasting on fate, dining on augury. The Kraken opened its mouth to the past, to an age before motors and steam, when men sailed with wind and feared the deep. When monsters were real. The Kraken devoured its ancestors back to life, taking the meat of the ocean into itself until it was reborn. It gorged and slowed and sank and dragged itself along the ocean floor until it found a trench and slipped down into it, sinking, forgetting what or why it was.

The Kraken waited to die.

But it didn’t, and it lies there now, stirring at the whir of a rotor, the click of a machine, the steady hum of man’s disruption. It quickens, remembering the touch of tentacles on its skin, the thunk of harpoon, the return of its companion in pieces, on hooks. Bait.

And now, through fluttering eyelids, it perceives light, a blinding brightness from an unknown machine, and the Kraken recalls the haze of sunlight filtered through froth, remembers the churn of waves at the edge of its world. The Kraken reaches out and taps the new object: metal. Touches it all over: round. Gropes along a tangle of wires and protrusions: too small to hold a man. Pulls it down for a taste: foul.

Man-made.

And now the Kraken remembers its ancestors’ suckers on barnacled wood, the slap of air on their skin, the shock of sky above. The Kraken remembers the might of forebears’ arms around screaming men, pulling them into the sea. The Kraken releases the machine, which spins and stutters before gliding up toward the surface. Now fully awake, the Kraken remembers the touch of tentacles on its skin, follows the machine up out of darkness, swimming toward blue, toward sun, toward churning horizon between past and future, unfurling itself, remembering now how it felt to devour the world.

 

***

“The Kraken in Love” originally appeared in trampset.

What Tara Won:

  • $400.00 Cash Prize
  • $25 Amazon Gift Card
  • Publication of winning story on WOW-WomenOnWriting.com website
  • Interview on WOW!’s blog The Muffin
2nd Place Winner
2nd Place:  Roxane Sloan
Evansville, Indiana
Congratulations, Roxane!
Roxane Sloan

Roxane’s Bio:

Roxane Sloan, a life-long Hoosier, resides in Southern Indiana near the Ohio River and teaches English language learners in kindergarten through sixth grade in the public school system. She was fortunate enough to be awarded two Lilly Endowment Teacher Creativity Fellowships which allowed her to study TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) in England, to experience life in Kyoto, Japan, and to teach English in a remote village in Mongolia.

Roxane is currently putting the finishing touches on one middle-grade novel while revising the second draft of another. She is fascinated by language and the power of words to alter a thought, shift a mood, or change a life.


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The Velvet Jesus

 

The house is a step-up from the duplex I’ve been renting on South Fairlawn. This two-bedroom, single-family dwelling has curb appeal. The moment he opens his car door and sees me, the owner of the rental starts the inquisition. Do you really need a two-bedroom? The rent is a stretch for one person, isn’t it? Tenants are responsible for maintenance such as lawn mowing, fixing leaky faucets, changing furnace filters; can you handle those?

We finally enter the front door and there, facing me, hangs an eye-wrenching painting. On black velvet. A compassionate red-robed Jesus stretches his hand outward to all who enter.

“Isn’t the house unfurnished?” I can’t pull my eyes from the train-wreck of a painting, its velvet faded by the rays that stream through the front door window panes. It resembles a paint-by-numbers whose artist has concept of neither colors nor numbers.

“The house is unfurnished.” The property owner’s lips purse with contempt. “But the painting stays. Here... in this spot. One of the conditions of the lease.” He is arrogant, confident that if the cost, maintenance, and obnoxious landlord do not dissuade me from renting this house, the Velvet Jesus will.

As we tour the premises, I mull over what it is about me that repels the man most. My single status? The spit-shined combat boots? Gender? The prayer beads encircling my wrist? My skin color or accent? He can take his pick; I’ve got them all. Hidden from him are my over-developed sense of fairness and extreme stubbornness. I understand the painting is a ploy, a prop, giving an unscrupulous landlord one more way to drive off undesirables. If not, why insert a line in the rental agreement that decrees the painting must be displayed, at all times, in this exact spot? Why allow the owner the right to cancel the lease should he come, announced or unannounced, and find the painting missing? I have no doubt the phrase is stricken from the contracts of those he considers to be ideal prospective tenants.

Any sensible renter-to-be would turn tail and run from such red flags. How many already have? The aura of prejudice pulses, all but visible. If his overt questioning tactics don’t put off those deemed undeserving, then a controlling-clause requiring a hideous painting to greet all who enter surely will. It doesn’t matter which painting. If I file a complaint on religious grounds, he will replace the Velvet Jesus with a painting of five dogs playing cards.

We finish the tour. I pull a pen from my jacket pocket. “Where do I sign?” Tremendous satisfaction wells in me at his expression of sheer disbelief and dismay.

The man gathers the signed papers and stalks out the front door. I follow, pausing to touch the outstretched fingertips of the Velvet Jesus. “We’ve got this, right?” I ask. A slight warmth from the sun-drenched velvet or Jesus’s fingers assures me we do.

 

***

What Roxane Won:

  • $300.00 Cash Prize
  • $25 Amazon Gift Card
  • Publication of winning story on WOW-WomenOnWriting.com website
  • Interview on WOW!’s blog The Muffin
3rd Place Winner
3rd Place: Annabelle Guihan Larsen
New York, New York
Congratulations, Annabelle!
Annabelle Guihan Larsen

Annabelle’s Bio:

Annabelle Guihan Larsen is a recipient of an Elizabeth George Foundation Grant, and a Whiting Foundation Writers Aid Award. Her short stories include, “San Man” nominated for a Pushcart Prize, 2nd place winner in New Rivers Press, American Fiction Vol 15, The Best Unpublished Stories by New and Emerging Writers. And “Urban Guerrillas” finalist for the Third Coast Magazine Jaimy Gordon Prize in Fiction Judged by: Antonya Nelson. She has an MFA in writing from Columbia University School of the Arts and is currently at work on a novel. Visit her website at https://guihanlarsenwriter.weebly.com

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Messages

 

In a letter dated 1968 from Saigon, traces of orphaned fingertips stain brown around its edges. My brother, Hils, wrote:

“In a post office there are fourteen nonworking telephone booths. The booths are hand carved out of wood and cinnabar lacquer, rosettes embroider the frames. I stepped inside one of them and closed the door. Soundproof, so I couldn’t even hear the copters. Sacred silence!

We bombed out the building where the booths are housed.

Dislocated people journey to this devastated structure with the nonworking phone booths to leave messages for the missing souls of killed loved ones. An air of chance walking around in these stricken sites, uncertain steps this way or that. Little pieces of paper flicker out from between the cracks of the booths or are wedged underneath chipped rosette petals. The people call this place, ‘Diên thoai của những cơn gió’ or Phone of the wind.

I can’t help seeing ghosts of people with phones cradled against their shoulder or twirling a phantom cord around their fingers. These apparitions don’t stand straight in the booths instead they lean. I observe them while they observe me. The slate of disembodied voices isn’t wiped away but gathered and transformed.

I think about all the conversations I had in phone booths back home. The booths back home are metal husks compared to the ones here. The craftsmanship on these are something else, they even come with carpet and little cushions.

You know, it’s not so much what was said in the phone calls, but all the feelings behind them: urgent, intense, lonely, all shoveled out in quarters and dimes. Now where does all that stuff go? I miss familiar voices. Just the voice alone, traveling with nothing but itself.

While we were walking around the ruins of the post office, another soldier told me that some ancient philosopher once said that in northern India circles are inscribed around villages during epidemics to ward off sickness. And in Europe, walls that had surrounded each city were consecrated against sickness and death.

I think these phone booths are the symbols of order during madness. They’ve become our safeguards.”

***

A Polaroid taken days before he left. Hils ’67 written on the back in mother’s scrawl. She sits in her kitchen chair with a checkered apron cinched around the waist, looking exhausted in her blue dress, yet she manages a smile. Dad in a white T-shirt, seated, spent, unshaven. Standing behind, my brother’s hand rests on Ma’s shoulder. He wears a white button-down shirt and black pants. Looking off to the side, eyes cast down, mouth slightly open, unsmiling; the squirrelly look of youth.

That Christmas before he went off to the war, Hils brought home Shoot-the-Moon. The game comprised rolling a big silver ball bearing along an inclined pair of steel rods fixed at one end, maneuvering the free ends together and apart, dropping the ball onto the indentations of the wood base below. I liked the craters the ball dropped into, each named after a planet: Mercury, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn and the closest, Pluto, giving the highest score.

Before he left—a party in the basement. My sister with her pixie-hairdo danced trance-like, her eyes closed. The next morning, my brother appeared in a khaki-colored uniform.

Every month, Mom tied up her auburn hair and brought out the Sunbeam Mixmaster to make brownies. Silence aside from the whirr. Her lips pursed while scraping the batter with a spatula along the inner rim of the bowl. Placed in a tin and wrapped up in brown paper bags from Jewel Grocery, she’d send them off to my brother. I imagined the brownies being flown over his base in Bien Hoa, dropping down, down, down.

***

Mothers have dreams in which the spirit of their boy speaks to them. There are unknown martyrs’ graves in Vietnam containing remains. Hoping to track down where their dead sons are located, in order to give them a proper burial so that their souls may finally rest in peace, they consulted geomancers. Hopeful mothers knelt on straw mats outside until a geomancer sketched out color-coded maps of green whorls on a torn-off length of poster paper indicating a possible location. Tossing handfuls of soil to the ground and interpreting lines and texture brought forth from the earth, the circulating soul would be located.

And our mother still bakes brownies for Hils, even though she can’t find him.

 

***

What Annabelle Won:

  • $200.00 Cash Prize
  • $25 Amazon Gift Card
  • Publication of winning story on WOW-WomenOnWriting.com website
  • Interview on WOW!’s blog The Muffin

RUNNERS UP (In no particular order):

Congratulations to the runners-up! It was very close, and these stories are excellent in every way.

Click on their entries to read:

Even the Jellyfish by Holly Rae Garcia, Texas Coast

Deviled Eggs by Madeleine Pelletier, Montréal, Quebec

Snow Day by Lilith A. Heart, Grand Rapids, Michigan

Boxes We Build by T.C. Kemper, Louisville, Kentucky

Of Silk and Seawater by Jenny Sundstedt, Fort Collins, Colorado

In the Blood by E.M. Walton, Rochester, New York

Endings by Jo Skinner, Brisbane, Austraila

What the Runners Up Won:

  • $25 Amazon Gift Card
  • Publication of winning story on WOW-WomenOnWriting.com website
  • Interview on WOW!’s blog The Muffin

HONORABLE MENTIONS (In no particular order):

Congratulations to our Winter 2021 Contest Honorable Mentions! Your stories stood out and are excellent in every way.

The Colorblind Conspiracy by River Dash, Orange Beach, Alabama

Empathy by Lauryn Daly, Cork, Ireland

Sticky Hands by Jen Knox, Columbus, Ohio

The Hostage by Mayari, Arizona

A Dandelion Wish by Cassandra Blomberg, Stockholm, Sweden

Choices by Kathleen Burnham, Maumee, Ohio

Milk Bag by MK Braddley, Toronto, Canada

Baited Lines by Alexandra Otto, Kodiak, Alaska

Anushka by Gail A. Webber, Boonsboro, Maryland

Exposed by Natalie Beaver, Fort Collins, Colorado

 

What the Honorable Mentions Won:

  • $20 Amazon Gift Card

IN CLOSING:

This brings the Winter 2021 Flash Fiction Contest officially to a close. Although we’re not able to provide a prize to every contestant, we will always give our heartfelt thanks for your participation and contribution, and for your part in making WOW! all that it can be. We hope to read more of your work. Write on!

Check out the latest Contest:

https://www.wow-womenonwriting.com/contest.php


 

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