Some huge learning experiences during this, the first annual EWN Short Fiction Contest (more on that annual aspect later today). I learned not to wait and read all the manuscripts at the end, but instead to read them as they trickle in and make good notes. I also learned I need to make sure I've mailed the manuscripts to my judge when I thought I have. Some others.
But all of that digresses from a) thanking, profusely, my guest judge, Charles D'Ambrosio. As many of you have noted in the past via email, it was quite an honor for me to have one of, in my opinion (as well as many others it seems), the very best practitioners of the short story to be the one looking at the twenty finalists. I also know that this past five or six months has been an extremely busy time period for him (did you know he was also judging the O'Henry Prize Stories at the same time?).
I sincerely hope that all of you who passed on Dead Fish Museum because of the hardcover price rush right out today and pick it up as it's come out in paperback with a pretty kick ass cover, again in my opinion. It was absolutely among the top four of five books that I read in 2006 - he truly is a master of the story form.
All of which leads me to the fact that in all of the hub bub that has been his life the past five months, Charles has been able to read, re-read, and winnow down the twenty finalists to a single story. That is, the winner. He has also been kind enough to write a paragraph of commentary as to his methods and what it was about this particular story that has led to it being selected as the winner. Within the following commentary, the winner will be named. We'd like to congratulate the winner and thank everybody else who entered.
Commentary and Decision
"Judging is never much fun, and judging a sheaf of really good short stories is miserable. I don’t have the temperament for it, and the only way I get through the process is by tossing the finished manuscripts in different garbage cans around the city. If I dumped them at home I’d wake up at 3 am, panicked, and fish them back out, brushing off the coffee grounds and wilted lettuce, so that I could look over the sentences one more time. I did my reading for this contest in coffee shops, mostly Albina Press in Portland, leaving behind a manuscript or two every night until one night I rode my bike home with just one story in my pack. It’s called “The Regular.” It’s about a couple of peculiar scenesters in the waning days of their favorite club as it shifts from indie hangout to karaoke bar. I’m not going to tell you anymore about the plot because that’s what reading is for, but I would like to say what grabbed me. There’s something unassuming but very precise about the sentences in this story. That mix of the casual and the controlled is there right at the beginning and it never falters. The rhythms don’t break, the level of detail is constant, and there’s a certain tone in the author’s delivery, almost an indifference, that I couldn’t resist. I guess I mean that this story is so sunk into itself that its reality, for the time it takes me to read it, is always far greater than mine. I don’t look around, I don’t wonder if it was raining, I don’t fuss or fidget –I just read. Sometimes, stories seem unsure, asking you to like them or be impressed, panting for approval, but “The Regular” doesn’t bother, its kind of cool that way, so that in the end I came away admiring the writer’s artistic courage and feeling a little braver about things myself. "
Congratulations to Dave Reidy.