I had been conundruming and ruinmenating over choosing the three authors to submit to Jonathan Freedman for his determination of the winner of our contest: The Drinking Fountain.  I made my choice several days ago, informed him who they were, and he responded, having made his choice, known only to me and himself.  ’tis to remain a mystery to all others until the 5th Annual Writers and Creatives Reunion held at Rancho Villasenor (as it has for four years, now) on June 16th, a Saturday, at 4:00 pm extreme-left-side-of-the-pond-time.

I have just communicated with those whose names I did not choose, trying to ass sewage my sense of guilt for disappointing them.  I am made keenly aware of how subjective my choices were, and know that any three that I could have chosen from the six, quite frankly, could have been selected by Pulitzer Prize winner Jonathan Freedman as the best this contest produced.

I made my picks based on my own prejudices, and also on whether I thought the submissions most closely mirrored the intent of this contest, which was to attempt catharsis, a healing, through a close examination of ourselves.

I chose Riley Sampson for the quality of the writing, regardless of the theme. Had I only one word to describe it: intense. His pacing was of high quality, his intuitive use of book-ending even a story of only 300 pages means he takes his craft seriously, and regardless of the outcome of the judging, it is clear that we can all say we knew him when.  In 300 words he created a character we instantly loathe, and simultaneously a champion that we hope ourselves to be. Not a bad feat with such a small expenditure  of cyber-ink.

The first of our finalists: Riley Sampson

I chose Sarah Ahktar because her response–quality of the writing aside, which was excellent–was exactly what I was looking for: the recollection of an incident that festers within you until your sense of remorse makes you reexamine yourself and become a better person, one more capable of empathy. As everyone who has followed the contest knows, Sarah can be quite blunt in her commentary, and she alienated and offended many of you. If you are one who early on took offense to her and prejudiced you against future approval of her, reading her finalist story should cause you to reconsider your opinion of her.  It demonstrates the humility that I have mentioned often is a prerequisite to all healing, within the confines of a one-on-one relationship or to the broader spectrum this contest addressed, healing the divisions that are so brutal and cruel and unnecessary in our society.

I chose Laura Elizabeth for a combination of reasons. First, a few phrases that, as metaphors, spoke volumes more than the 300 word limit I imposed. “My skin was the color of guilt.”  And, unlike Sarah who seemed immediately to know the damage she inflicted upon someone,  Laura was for some time–probably because the event she recounts was as an adolescent–oblivious to the cause of the reaction of her dark-skinned companion and friend.  But she figured it out, and it contributed to her own development as a socially conscious, caring adult.  Writing to the prompt caused her to recall the event, and put it in an adult’s context.  Maturity does have its benefits.

Laura Elizabeth, finalist entry #6



6 thoughts on “Conundruming

  1. Miryam says:

    Kudoz to your selections T.
    Don’t feel guilty… we all make mistakes.. (just kidding….hahaaaaa)
    I celebrate all chosen and am thankful to everyone that submitted, for you have all made me a better writer.

  2. Sarah Crysl Akhtar says:

    Riley, I’ve found your first appearance on this site from half a decade ago, and I’d say you’ve achieved in that short time what many fail to over a lifetime: go from over-enthusiasm for the possibilities of language to a disciplined mastery of craft, and let your characters become real living beings a reader can believe in.

    You didn’t let that early praise from others trap you in amber and what you’ve done here is the proof of it.

  3. Thornton Sully says:

    As a judge, I march to the beat of a different conundrummer. I am very thoreau in that respect. Thank god I am paid for this gig…Oh!…Wait! I loose money with each contest I post, I do it for the love of the written word, to support those who feel the same, and for the admiration of all those archers currently taking aim at my balloon, who would have decided differently than did I.

    • Derek Thompson says:

      It’s true, people – Thorn does lose money every time we have a contest, along with a few sleepless nights. Luckily we’re both a big fan of naps in the daytime – occasionally, when he’s in Europe, we synchronise.

      All credit to you, Thorn – though not in the financial sense, obviously! You have created something out of nothing and built a creative cyber playground.

  4. Jon Tobias says:

    Congrats to the finalists, and a preemptive congratulations to the soon to be announced winner. The chosen three definitely deserved their spots.

    And thank you, Thorn, for continuing to host these contests.

  5. Michael Stang says:

    There are times when I think absolute passion belongs only to the creatives; I still think that.

    We have seen this contest come full circle with an abundance of cottage industry giving. Foremost, a call to arms to make sense and the recognition of that demand. By far this contest produced quality submissions outshining previous efforts. (The golden gems do not hide in the field but are clearly seen.)

    A long arduous road, unforeseen, this has been. Exemplary of Thorn’s abilities at the helm–I wish you good health and future success.

    To the winner, all is deserved.

    The playground is still the best.

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