First, I’d like to thank Jude for inviting me to judge this wonderful contest. What a tremendous honor! I’m so impressed with how organized and efficient all of the Bath contests appear to be, especially how quickly the long list is chosen and announced. The production of a beautiful anthology from the contest long list is also very impressive. This all takes hard work and demonstrates huge respect and appreciation for your contestants. Kudos to everyone involved!
I’m also very taken with the spirit of this particular contest. By that I mean the attitude of the contestants. There’s a feeling of camaraderie I picked up on on social media. A spirit of encouragement and high energy. A willingness to go for it and cross your fingers, but if you fail this time, never mind, there is always another great contest coming up. It makes me feel good for the writers involved. Writing is a tough gig! The best way to survive as a writer is to cultivate a sense of lightness, boldness, and playfulness around your work. Not lightness around your material (although that’s okay too), but lightness around the results. If you can keep showing up, keep playing and learning in the face of disappointment and rejection, it gives you a tremendous advantage in the long run. So kudos to everyone who submitted!
The fifty stories sent to me were of a very high standard. I can only imagine how hard it was for Jude and the other readers to narrow it down from over 700 submissions! My task of choosing a short list of twenty was very, very difficult. Judging any kind of artistic effort is so subjective. Every judge has his or her own particular preferences and biases. I realized too, that one of the reasons contests have guest judges is to reflect that variety! Otherwise winning stories may begin to become rather generic in nature, demonstrating the same aesthetic over and over again.
So! With that in mind, I proceeded to choose the stories that best reflected my own sense of what makes great flash fiction. Very important to me are: emotion, evocativeness, a feeling of movement, precision and beauty of the prose, originality, and resonance. All of the twenty stories from the short list were excellent, but I used these parameters to whittle down to the final five.
The top five stories I ultimately chose demonstrate a wide range of subjects and styles, and they are all superb examples of the flash form.
The Hand that Wields the Priest
This is an absolutely gorgeous flash. It accomplishes what the best flash fiction does and that is, it creates from a small moment something universal and deep and resonant. The writing is lovely, clear, and uncluttered. Here is a writer who is confident in his or her storytelling. The images and movement show all we need to know. This writer brings readers so palpably into the scene that we come to feel what the character feels. There is so much love between father and child here, yet, this child narrator comes to a profound realization from a simple action that will stay with him/her forever. This is a quiet, though powerful story and it moved me very deeply.
The Peculiar Trajectory of Space Objects
This flash employs the segmented structure, using white space to tremendous advantage, to advance an emotionally large story that a less skilled writer might need several pages to tell. The individual micros entitled: Voyager 1, Voyager 2, Pioneer 7, and Mariner 9 each stand alone, yet together they form an overarching story that works on both real and metaphorical levels. This is another writer trusting his or her reader to collaborate and make the necessary leaps. Much information is withheld in this story, but it rises, builds, and lands beautifully. I was both impressed and moved.
I loved the freshness and originality of this mostly-dialogue flash. This is no ordinary conversation and no ordinary break-up. Interspersed with stunning and deft descriptions, I felt this writer gave me just enough to get inside this scene without overpowering the true focus of the story. There is a heightened sense of urgency and stark beauty to this piece that’s very hard to accomplish in fewer than 300 words. This story lands hard, on one word, and it resonates beyond the page. Very well done.
I loved the arch and elevated voice of this flash, and the strangeness of the story itself. This very original flash speaks volumes about the subjective and fickle nature of Art and what constitutes success in the arts. It’s very well written, dryly funny, and surprising.
My Thirty-Eight Step Korean Cleansing Routine
This deftly written flash begins slightly odd, then builds and builds to full-on absurdity and surreality, all the while told in this very straightforward voice. It’s dark, funny, and original, and opens up in the end to implicate society, social media, and the deterioration of the self. Quite an accomplishment in fewer than 300 words!