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SmokeLong Quarterly

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Letter from the Editor (84)

Story by Christopher Allen June 17, 2024

I have so much to tell you. I spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about why a journal hosts a competition at all–or conversely why everything isn’t a competition. I might never decide how I feel. The conversation, though, is an important one to have. I’d love to do an AWP panel on competitions: to enter or not to enter. I have my opinions.

We always meet new writers when we run competitions, so there must be a type of person out there who absolutely loves a comp, and this might be someone we wouldn’t meet unless we ran one. There are also writers out there who avoid competitions aggressively–and I get this although I’m one of those writers who loves a a comp. It’s not that I love winning (I do of course); I LOVE seeing people win. I love seeing people win so much that I watch casting shows like America’s Got Talent–but only the golden buzzers–and game shows like The Price is Right and Jeopardy! just to see people’s faces when they win. I have a literal, hormonal reaction. I’ve watched Calum Scott’s golden buzzer on Britain’s Got Talent probably 30 times. I have shed tears on Great American, Canadian, and British Baking Shows. I love seeing people win. I am king of the saps.

The downside of running a competition, though, is that out of 1134 entrants only a very few will be experiencing the elation of winning. I keep telling myself that I can’t keep telling myself this. I have to tell myself that I too have entered competitions that I too did not win. And thanks to the effects of aging, I have forgotten which competitions those were, and life goes on. For those of you who did not wind up in Issue 84, please know that we gave your work the attention it deserved and we wish you lots of success with it. I hope you’ll keep writing what you love, and I will be ecstatic with you when it wins.

The 12 narratives that won this competition—because they are all winners—show as always the breadth of what flash can do. At our launch party on Saturday, I got choked up so many times even though I’d read the stories again and again. Each of these narratives does something unique with the form; each is deserving of multiple reads. Flash can be deceptively simple, mind-bogglingly layered, and razor sharp. I was particularly impressed by how Shayla Frandsen read “Grocery Store Mama” at the launch party. This is exactly the urgency flash aspires to. I had to get ahold of myself at the end of Sandra Carlson Khalil’s reading of “Pompeii” because wow: such a real moment between a mother and son. Caroline Bock’s reading of “Hair on My Chest” is magic. I hope you’ll check out the video with Denise Napoli Long, Brendan Todt, H.J. Shepard, and Latifa Ayad all delivering stellar readings of their winning stories in Issue 84.

The narratives in Issue 84 are not all easy, straightforward reads. I respect how flash can be a snapshot of our current world. We’re not doing great, are we? It’s complicated. My hope is that flash writers will continue to engage with our difficult world, illuminating it for us all. One of the advantages of running a literary journal is that I get to learn from so many great minds. I’m grateful for this. Thank you to everyone who contributed your words to this issue. Thank you to Natalie Warther, Stephanie Yu, Sara Kaplan-Cunningham, SL Syarief, and Jo Withers who weren’t able to join us for the launch party but whose work continues to inspire me every time I reread it.

And thank you to the judges of the competition: Sherrie Flick, Michael Czyzniejewski, Shasta Grant, Helen Rye, Jasmine Sawers, Erin Vachon, Abby Feden, A W Earl, Gillian O’Shaughnessy, Hema Nataraju, Janna Miller, Melissa Llanes Brownlee, Patricia Bidar, Sara Siddiqui Chansarkar, Dawn Miller, Kelly Pedro, Pegah Ouji, and Chey Dugan. And of course me, but it sounds weird to thank myself. It’s a lot of work. All of the judges read with great respect for the work. If you have never read for a journal and you’re a writer, do it. It has been the most fulfilling learning experience of my life.

Before you head off to read Issue 84, please take a moment to read about our community workshop. If you’re a writer out there, writing in isolation as I did many years living in Germany, consider checking out SmokeLong Fitness. We’ve just started A SmokeLong Summer 24, so the next opportunity to join the workshop is August 1. There will be several ways to do this. If you want to be kept up to date on our workshop opportunities and discounts, just send us an email: editor@smokelong.com

Christopher

About the Author

Christopher Allen is the author of the flash fiction collection Other Household Toxins (Matter Press, 2018). His work has appeared in Flash Fiction America (Norton, 2023), The Best Small Fictions 2019 and 2022, Split Lip, Booth, PANK, and Indiana Review, among other very nice places. Allen has been the publisher and editor-in-chief of SmokeLong Quarterly since January 2020 and was the 2023 judge of the Bridport Prize for flash fiction. He and his husband are nomads.

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