It sounds easy—just 101 little words. Simple, right? But now paint a complete and compelling story with those measly 101 words, giving characters depth while drawing readers into your literary world. Not so easy, is it?
Therein lies the challenge and brilliance of the annual Boise Weekly Fiction 101 Contest. Writers must discard their tricks and strip down to raw ability. The winners of the 11th annual contest proved up to the challenge, rising to the top of the more than 100 entries and again showing the depth of talent in the valley.
Now, it's time to appreciate their skill.
Cort Conley: Director of Literature at the Idaho Commission on the Arts
Laura DeLaney: Owner of Rediscovered Bookshop
Alan Heathcock: Professor of English at Boise State University and award-winning author of Volt
Clay Morgan: Adjunct professor of English at Boise State University, author and former Idaho Writer in Residence
Jocelyn Robertson: Director of marketing at The Cabin who helped edit the organization's new anthology of Idaho writers, Rooms: Writers in the Attic
First Place, $400
Dustin Aunan, Boise
For his birthday I sent Genghis Khan my copy of Leaves of Grass. I left the handful of dog-ears folded.
He wrote back, "Wow! What a shot in the arm! My fires had indeed been smouldering. I'll write again soon. All my love, GK"
Some years later, I get a postcard: "Aloha from the Caspian! I'm about to take a dip, couldn't help but think of you. Hope you're well. Ever vigilant, GK"
One step at a time, I suppose. I just hope he one day gets to catch a glimpse of his soul reflected in a well-tended bed of azaleas.
Second Place, $250
Dene Breakfield, Boise
Ted's right leg was numb by the time they landed at O'Hare. He stumbled out of his loafer and caught himself on the luggage carousel's rim; his whole right side began to buzz.
Ted's wife thrust his shoe at him. "Straighten up, people are staring." Her voice sounded like a dog barking underwater.
He slapped his thigh with his good hand to try and get feeling back. When he did, a million atoms broke loose and floated away. He freed a million more with every blow to his body. Ted felt infinite. He struck with a white-knuckled fist, hell-bent on salvation.
Third Place, $150
Sarah Masterson, Boise
There was no report of a struggle, just a shadow at the bottom of the deep end. Nick unbuttoned his work shirt and unclipped the ring of keys that hung on his belt before wading into the warmth. The last of the swimmers had already climbed out, fat and dripping, Now they stood along the edge like steaming loaves of bread.
Nick put in his notice shortly after. Workers were busy preparing for a ball that evening, and he watched as they fitted the last wooden sections of a dance floor across the length of the pool. The water still simmering.
Honorable Mention, $50
Diane Raptosh, Boise
Rugged Western Individualism
A man who's his own wife births his twin through his belly button. For months, he thought it a cyst. Fistula. Fir tree germinating in his spleen. He father-mothers this shriven boy, fine as a walnut ling. With equal parts sweetmeats and firm touch, he bathes this babe in a spoon—wee, webbed blood of living kin. Nights, the man daubs his nipples with tea bags, lays a damp cloth on his eyes. He tugs the left swirl of his mustache and wonders aloud: Is he famished? Is this fullness? When he kisses his own hand, his wife strokes his cheek.
Honorable Mention, $50
Stephen Heleker, Boise
Bernie shrunk a foot when he signed the divorce papers. He crawled into his parents' vast basement and assembled model airplanes while his mother watched Jeopardy upstairs. Planes littered the floor. Bernie built a knee-high airport, runways splaying down the hallway. He slid from one wall to the other perfecting his tiny world, imagined racing down the terminals. Tiny trees grew at the airport's entrance, surrounding a molded plastic statue of a soldier throwing a grenade. Bernie built benches where tiny men and women sit next to each other. They watch the planes come and go but never fall in love.
Honorable Mention, $50
Greg Likins, Nampa
At the drive-thru window, I ordered a salad.
"Today's special is the Bacon Temptation with fries." This girl's offer was so enticing, I ordered the burger instead.
I paid, and when she returned my change, her fingernails scratched my palm like ketchup packets. Instinctively, I squeezed them.
I apologized profusely for my seeming flirtation.
"It's alright." She handed me my dinner. "It's not me you're after. Everything you came for is right here, in the bag."
I parked beneath the Temptation Burger mural of contented cows chewing in an open field. I unwrapped my burger and masticated along with them.
Judge's Pick, Cort Conley, $25
Maria G. Essig, Boise
Language of My Dreams
The new bedsheets. They required an entirely different vocabulary from my dreams. Suddenly, the language of my dreams turned formal—"yes, sir" and "no, ma'am," "I do believe I shall," no slang. Men now wear hats, not caps but real hats with brims. Colors have become darker and less defined—very film noir. More blues and blacks, fewer greens. No pink. I wear dresses (imagine that!) bordered with lace. On a horse, I would probably ride sidesaddle. Fog swirls in at odd times of the day. And I no longer dream of my dog but of a bird I don't have.
Judge's Pick, Laura DeLaney, $25
Mark Perison, Boise
He picks up the last box and stands listening. This now-empty room was once the nursery, then playroom and finally office. The handyman comes tomorrow to patch holes and paint, the buyers move in Thursday.
The echoes—crying, laughter, music—are already fading.
Then he sees it: the earring lost when Katie was eight. A goofy, costume-jewelry cat she'd cried over for days. He studies it carefully. If he sends it, she'll just toss it into some dorm-desk drawer. Widening a hold in the drywall, he drops it in, a faint clack somewhere deep in the wall. Turning, he walks out.
Judge's Pick, Alan Heathcock, $25
Greg Heinzman, Boise
Agustin Arrives Home to Find Gringos in His Kitchen
The gringo missionaries sipped Jamaica in the kitchen, commenting on the drink's lack of sugar. Isis anticipated Agustin at the door and let him in discreetly.
"Why are they here?"
"To see what it means to be poor," she whispered.
"Tell them it's puta mierda."
"No, me amor. We are feliz y contento despite our poverty."
"Feliz y contento? PUTA y MIERDA!"
The gringos didn't know mierda, but they knew puta. They thought he had called her a whore, and they smiled inside to have witnessed machismo firsthand. Another cheap souvenir for the collection.
The translator did not bother to clarify.
Judge's Pick, Clay Morgan, $25
Swarnal Borthakur, Boise
The Ticking Clock
I hear a clock ticking faintly but I cannot find it. I ask my father if he hears it too and he shakes his head. He looks tired and sad.
I think it is in the terrarium and the turtle swallowed it. I was watching him swim lazily around his enclosure yesterday. I had to lean forward in my wheelchair to see his eyes. He knew I was watching him.
Was he wondering why a seven-year-old child was peering at him so wistfully?
He swam toward me and turned his head. I think he understood and I was glad.
Judge's Pick, Jocelyn Robertson, $25
Jennifer Sanders Peterson, Boise
Charlie didn't show for work today. They called. I didn't know where he was beyond this morning when we woke at the same time, facing each other, our feet hooked together beneath the covers. He looked at me through half-crimped eyes, smoothed my hair, said, "How are you still so sexy with your retainer in?" Which made me laugh, made him laugh—and the sun was coming in behind his head, through his eyelashes. He sent one text though, Don't worry Jules. I'm fine. Just done. You understand, right? Love you for whatever it's worth. And I wonder what it is.