I have so much to tell you and so many people to thank. First, I’d like to thank Paul Bilger for all the work he did as our art director the last few years. Paul left us in November, and we wish him all the best. To all the interviewers and Michael Czyzniejewski, our interviews editor, thank you so much. A big hug to Helen Rye, who jumped in to create the art for the issue.
Seventeen of our editors from six continents have been busy the last three months reading 1476 entries in The SmokeLong Quarterly Award for Flash Fiction competition. It has been a massive undertaking as usual, and I can’t thank the judges* enough. Each competition entry was assigned to two judges. If one of the judges voted MAYBE, the entry was advanced to the second round of voting with all senior editors commenting and voting.
From entrants, as well as general submitters, we occasionally receive requests for feedback, which with an average of 3000 submissions each quarter is just not possible without compensating the editors (If you are interested in receiving feedback, our editors Sherrie Flick, Shasta Grant, Helen Rye, and Jan Elman Stout offer thorough and thoughtful critiques at a reasonable rate). The answer to the question “Why didn’t you choose my story?” is, almost always, that the writing didn’t slay us. This year we received quite a lot of competition entries from people who had obviously never read SmokeLong Quarterly, which we can see positively: at least we introduced the journal to someone new. In the second round of judging we discussed lots of excellent stories that sagged a bit in the middle or fell flat at the end. We saw perfectly competent writing that simply failed to move us. We spent weeks debating the strengths and weaknesses of stories we might have accepted during the general reading period, when we are able to enter into a substantive editorial process. We sent not a small number of rejections to people who put their names on their stories, one of which probably would have been a finalist. Our policy is strict: entries must be anonymous, and judges who recognize a story must recuse themselves.
A word about SmokeLong workshops: Our policy concerning workshop participants’ submitting work to the journal is clearly explained in each workshop. SmokeLong workshop participants are always allowed to submit work to the journal. If staff members have seen and/or commented on the draft in the workshop, these staff members will recuse themselves and will in no way be involved in the decision to accept or reject the submission/entry.
As with all of our competitions, anyone could have requested a free entry into this competition. No questions asked. We hope in this way to remove barriers, especially for people who live in countries with a crazy exchange rate to the dollar. One hundred and thirteen people took us up on this offer. Around 100 entrants took advantage of our half-price offer.
The ten stories that ended up rising to the top are all singular examples of flash, but all the stories on the long- and shortlist are also memorable and publishable. Decisions this year were especially painful. I can’t speak for the other judges, but I lost sleep over this one. I read a lot of unforgettable stories that needed maybe one or two more drafts.
I hope in the end that we are giving you a well-rounded issue–this is what I worry about the most. Early on in the reading process, a few of our judges commented that the entries were all so sad. There is quite a lot of sad in the world today. There is also a lot of sad in flash. I read around 7000 submissions a year. That’s a lot of sad. I worried this time that we would end up with ten killer stories all about death (and we came close!). As flash editors we’re focused on that fine line where all the layers of the narrative work together to produce that difficult-to-describe sound of flash, so it often happens that we end up with a couple of similar(ly sad) stories by coincidence. We’re mindful of these issues, and this is one reason we introduced our competition to celebrate comedy in flash.
The grand prize winner of the competition this year is Marcus Tan for his story “Emergency Contact”. Second place goes to Oyinkansola Sofela for her story “Remembrance”, third place to Scott Pomfret for “What We Always Carry With US”. Congratulations to Marcus, Oyinkansola, and Scott! Each of these talented writers does something quite different with the form. Congratulations to the seven finalists, who all managed to wow multiple judges–which is rare. You are all stars.
As you dig into The SmokeLong Quarterly Award for Flash Fiction, I wish you a restful holiday season.
*A W Earl (UK), María Alejandra Barrios Vélez (Colombia/NYC), Jiksun Cheung (Hong Kong), Sherrie Flick (Pennsylvania), Hema Nataraju (Singapore), Melissa Llanes Brownlee (Hawaii/Japan), Clarie Gor (Kenya), Shasta Grant (Indiana), Jan Elman Stout (Illinois), Josh Denslow (Texas/Barcelona), Vincent Anioke (Nigeria/Canada), Shreya Vikram (India), Gillian O’Shaughnessy (Australia), Patricia Q. Bidar (California), Daniel DiFranco (Pennsylvania), Helen Rye (UK), and Christopher Allen (Germany).