69-Word Contest Finalists
Published: March 23, 2006
|First place winner: Eugenia Lily Yu|
It began when a third viola shrieked and the trumpets mocked and the astonished concertmaster did not understand. It crept up slowly over three months while he fought through Beethoven. At times he caught a glimpse of it and wished he had not and hurried on.
"I love you," his sweetheart said after rehearsal one day, as he was coffining his violin, and he said,
"What did you say?"
Second place winner: Ann Malokas
"Five Brightest Candles"
December 11, 1941 was the birthday Jan remembers. Emotion charged the air, exactly fitting for a fifth birthday. Her parents whispered, the better to keep delicious birthday secrets. Grandest delight of all, her parents hung blankets on the windows and turned out all the lights, the better to see birthday candles.
Years later she learned of Pearl Harbor and blackouts to keep coastal Californians safe from dreaded Japanese submarines.
Third place winner: Pamela D. Toler
Jessica stopped in front of the mirror and adjusted her hat. Middle class, middle age, middle management, middle of the road. She assessed her reflection and her life with bitter distaste every morning. When had she become invisible?
"Sensible!" she hissed in sudden rage. She tore off her hat, put the quilted toaster cover on her head, and stomped to the bus stop.
"Nice hat," the bus driver said.
Comments on the winners
Bruce Holland Rogers, judge
The winning story is a demanding piece. Will all readers know that a "concert master" is the most accomplished violinist in an orchestra? Will they know that deafness often comes on at first with the dropping out of
certain frequencies so that music may sound mysteriously "wrong"?
The best fiction gives us concrete experience and lets us understand the story as the characters come to understand it. "The Silence" does that, and I would say that it is especially brilliant for the word "coffining,"
which provides an appropriate visual image (putting the violin in its case) an emotional color (this small gesture is a sad one) and the story's meaning, in case the reader hadn't already figured it out.
"Five Brightest Candles" may well be based on a true experience. I love this story for vividly evoking a child's sense of enchantment, an enchantment we rarely get to experience once we see the world with adult
In an extremely short story, the title is a relatively large portion of the story. The title can do a lot of work, as it does in "Old Hat." We can read this title in two or three ways. But, of course, a story has to be more than a clever title, and "Old Hat" presents us with a character, a strong motivation, and a memorable gesture.
In all three stories, something changes. A musician loses his hearing. A woman asserts her individuality. An adult's understanding of a special childhood moment is "disenchanted." Successful stories are almost always
about a significant change, even when those stories are only sixty-nine words long.
Finally, I want to say that there were some very fine entries that I was unable to choose. Here's to everyone who tried his or her hand at this brief form!
Bruce Holland Rogers
Subscribe to a year's worth of Bruce's short-short stories for just
$5 USD. Full information at: