By Irene Waters
During October, the Rodeo, which was the brain child of Charli Mills from Carrot Ranch, gave us a wonderful opportunity to put ourselves outside our comfort zones by writing different forms and genres. Personally, I found it difficult, challenging but always fun and judging by the number of repeat entries, so did many others.
It was a pleasure to lead the fourth contest and come up with a topic and judging criteria. The topic – Scars – was inspired by a quote by Stephen King – whose book on writing should be read, I believe, by all aspiring writers. He wrote “Writers remember everything … especially the hurts. Strip a writer to the buff, point to the scars, and he’ll tell you the story of each small one. From the big ones you get novels. A little talent is a nice thing to have if you want to be a writer, but the only real requirement is the ability to remember the story of every scar.” Entries were to show a remembered scar using any genre the writer chose in 198 words.
I felt honoured to be reading the entries submitted for the Scars competition. I had not anticipated the difficulty I would find in judging different genres in the one competition. It is a little like judging apples against oranges for, as a reader, memoir is read in a different way to fiction and both differ from poetry. All the work submitted had merit and all entrants should be proud of their stories.
For blind judging I devised a scoring sheet, giving us a mark out of 100. The top scorer was our winner — D. Wallace Peach with the entry Galatea.
Judge Angie Oakley said of this piece:
“I really liked the reworking of the mythic tale into a contemporary setting. It was authentic and powerful. I think the language was a cut above… poetic, dense and yet it told the story with clarity. It was a very assured piece of writing that wove a wider message into an intensely personal story. And the mythic underpinning serves to enhance the universality of the piece.”
Galatea by D. Wallace Peach
My father was Pygmalion and I his child chiseled by his scowls and smiles into the woman of his daydreams, a huntress, a poet, a woman who walked barefoot over mountains. In the light of his approving eye, I flourished in the myth of Galatea, a living statue until age cracked my smooth skin. What he thought was carved of marble I revealed as plaster, the child beneath growing beyond the sculptor’s control. I was a betrayal of his art, his vision, a flesh and bone girl with her own daydreams, and he said, “I don’t love you anymore.”
And so, the sculptor became a butcher, his chisel traded for a cleaver, Galatea gone, my myth smashed into rubble on the floor. In pieces, I sought new masters to glue together my shattered heart, unable to accept I was clay, not stone, and the only artist was me. For decades, I fashioned a new myth, molded her with tender fingers and scraped away layers of pain, all the while longing for my maker to undo the original wound. But time cannot be undone or cuts unmade. I forgave and finally became a woman wholly of flesh and bone.
Each judge then gave their personal three favourites:
Angie Oakley: 1. Galatea
Tying at second for her was Tsunami because:
“I liked the tone and voice and certainty of this. And the way the story arced round to the end. Nothing was in that wasn’t needed, and it managed to tell a convincing and relatively complex story in a few deft strokes. Good control, As for the scar, it was implied, and that was OK.”
Tsunami by Bill Engleson
Jilly has this soft laugh. Athletic (or maybe I mean healthy.)
I find it soothing.
“Why the army?” she asks.
Aside from her and her husband, Steve, all my parent’s friends are fifty. Or older.
I am stupid. That’s the truth of it. Failing Grade twelve and in need of a kick in the ass.
But I bullshit.
“To see the world,” I lie.
It is a warm spring day by the Millstream River.
Steve’s gone fishing with my mom and the old man up to the Qualicum.
“You’ll love the world,” she teases.
Good Friday, March 27th, 1964.
Not in Nanaimo, anyways.
Elsewhere, the Alaskan earth cracks open.
The seas swell.
Up Island, a tsunami sweeps down the Alberni Inlet.
“Let’s go have a looksee,” my dad says.
We do just that.
We miss Steve’s call.
Later, my folks get the news, sit me and my sister down, say, “Jill was having a small operation. Something went wrong.”
“So?” we ask.
But we know.
In July, I leave for the army.
I still hear her laugh.
I prove to be a terrible soldier.
Eventually, her laugh fades.
Then, it disappears.
Equal second Angie Oakley chose Linea Nigra by Juliet Nubel because:
“This was a strong story, complete in itself with a very neat way of integrating the scar in without it feeling forced. The language worked well…change of tone managed well, and the story economically told. Once again this person worked all the elements of the story with skill and clarity. And it had an important wider message to communicate.”
Linea Nigra by Juliet Nubel
She slipped out of her school uniform and into the scorching bath. The heat turned her pale skin a bright shade of pink which would have been unbearable a few months earlier. Now she needed that hot water running over her body. It helped the ache in her breasts. But it did nothing to relieve the throbbing pain in her empty heart and abdomen. And even less to remove the dark brown line running from her navel to her pubis – the mark of her mistake, which she scrubbed daily, hard and fast, without success. She was branded for life.
His tongue made its way down that fine brown line to reach more interesting parts of her naked body. Had he never noticed it or perhaps just never mentioned it? As his face came back to hers, he whispered the words he’d been saying for the last five years.
“Let’s keep trying.”
He wanted this more than anything. She did too. But how could she tell him that maybe she had only had the one chance? That any hope of a second chance had been thrown away the day she had given away her baby, all those years ago.
Ellen Stromqvist, our second judge chose as her favourite Not Forgot by Eric Daniel Clarke because:
“A good descriptive narrative that sets the scene well. Portrays on of the possible critical moments in a life when it could have taken an entirely different course. A poignant reflection on a moment in time and perhaps a lost opportunity for happiness. What might have been.”
Not Forgot by Eric Daniel Clarke
He stands a foot from the wall, illuminated by strobe lit blobs and spheres, hand in pocket the other holding a cold beer. 10 pm he’d guess, summer darkness outside lures moths to flight, rhythm finds his feet yet too soon for moves. She takes to the floor perfection slight yet curved, green eyed blonde focal point of his desire. No smile yet kindly declines the handsome or just confident, dancing with her sister or maybe a friend. He buys a second beer, a small one, returns, his space still there a few metres from her presence. 11.30 pm checks his time, no chance better men have tried, he moves. She turns to face his walk towards her, the beat slows, trace of a smile, no words, her fingers behind his neck stroke him closer, his hands on short skirted hips that sway in and not away. Sibling, friend, whispers, “we have to go”, he asks to see her, she puts her finger to her lips then his, says “I fly home to Germany tomorrow” let’s go his hand and disappears. Forty five years on he’s not forgot her touch, likes to believe she’s had a good life.
Her second choice Scars by Deborah Lee because it was a
“good story that clearly articulates the fickle nature of life, who for some is a never-ending struggle against the odds and despite all their best efforts fate ensues to defeat them.”
Scars by Deborah Lee
She hadn’t ended up homeless on purpose. Who does? A simple layoff, when the bubble burst in the two-thousand-oughts. She hadn’t been worried–at first. But it stretched, stuck. Unemployed or underemployed or temporarily employed for the next seven years. Her fault? Really? She’d tallied it one year: half a million applications and resume submissions. Thousands of call-backs, hundreds of referrals, dozens of interviews. But nothing permanent, nothing at her earning level, or simply nothing. A temporary job won’t get you an apartment. She’d felt cursed, marked, by the time she finally landed her present position three years ago.
And after three years, she’s still trying to unpack it. If her login fails on her company’s time card website, her heart pounds. A downward trend in the business for a month leads to sleepless nights about the company going under. FedEx loses her package with $24,000 worth of billable documents, and she’s convinced she’ll be blamed and fired. The slightest hiccup looms in nightmares as a security guard standing over her while she clears out her desk, then showing her the door to the street. Once you’ve landed on the street, you never forget how easy it was.
Her third choice was Teeter Totter by Frank Hubeny because it is
“A story everyone can relate to. Good descriptive language makes it easy to believe, nice reflection of writer’s feelings in cause and guilt of their actions. I liked the moral of the story ‘never get off when you’re at the bottom.’”
Teeter-totter by Frank Hubeny
It was my mistake to get off while I was on the bottom and my brother’s feet dangled above me. My father set up that sawhorse and extra piece of two-by-six board. He nailed small pieces of wood to keep the board from sliding around. He had enough to do building the garage. We wanted to watch or rather find something unusual to play with.
I don’t think my mother thought it was unsafe until afterwards either. Of course afterwards everyone reconstructed the details. My brother caught his fall. The board raced up to my chin and blood flowed.
We lived on a farm. The hospital was twenty miles away. I remember the guilt on my brother’s face, but he wasn’t guilty. My parents probably tried to determine who was guilty or stupid. Even at six years, I knew I was both. At my current age I wish I could give my parents a hug to take away their sense of guilt. Perhaps by surviving I did just that.
My father dismantled the teeter-totter and mom kept us busy away from the construction site. Today I remember the lesson: “Never get off when you are on the bottom.”
There were so many good stories. A couple took me to my passion of dancing, and I commend both writers as I feel they may have researched the judges (a competition tip I have been given but never done myself) – I thoroughly enjoyed your stories. Some of the stories I was uncertain whether they were fiction or memoir as they were first person narratives and I was uncertain how to read them. I have learnt that should I run another competition I would ask for the genre to be specified. My judging was based on a favourite in fiction, memoir and poetry.
Fiction: Hot Shot Holly by Liz H. because it
was a tale of resilience. It hooked the reader from the first line with the vivid visual images drawn of the fire. The narrative flowed smoothly with a good use of dialogue. I liked the manipulation of time starting in the present then looking back. It demonstrated healing and happiness despite an upbringing that caused scars.
Hot Shot Holly (and how she got there) by Liz Huseby Hartmann
Twin-bladed helicopters dumped the bright red slurry (water and fertilizer) on the manically dancing flames, then swooped through the smoky haze to the reservoir, to refill for another drop. Even with no wind, the wildfire gobbled the grassy plain, unsated by the acres of forest and homes already consumed.
On the ground, crews dug trenches, controlled burns, and kept chainsaws roaring, hoping that the scar of a firebreak would choke out the raging fire.
“Someday I’ll be skyborne, fighting fire by helitack,” Justin scanned the sky.
“Not me!” grinned Holly. “I’ve been training for this all of my life.”
“You think you’re such a hotshot, don’t you?” Her father sneered.
“It’s the booze talking,” Holly reminded herself. Unwilling to add fuel to his rage, she swallowed her hurt in silence.
“Don’t you?” he lurched towards her. Pushing the coffee table between them, she grabbed her bag and slipped out the open door.
“You’re nothing, slut. Just like your mother!” He snarled from the floor. “You leave now, don’t ever come back.”
“He won’t remember, when he’s sober. But I’ll never forget.”
Time to cut and run; she patted her pocket with the letter from the Wildland Firefighter Academy.
For memoir my favourite was: The Healing Tree by Karen Newburn because
it told of an ordinary life doing ordinary things that I could relate to. The writer placed me in the scene which was a scene we all know well. It was a tale of a mother’s loss and a son’s bravery but again it was a tale of resilience and healing.
The Healing Tree by Karen Newburn
The music in the garden section of K Mart screeched over-head with the sound of Whitney Houston’s hit I love you belting out its famous melody. I wiped my eyes, knowing that song reopened an old wound. I wanted to buy a Hibiscus Tree for my new garden, but couldn’t see one. I was about to give up as Houston’s song screamed out above me, so I stopped to have another look. The song was important, because we’d played it at our son’s funeral. Then I spotted a medium sized red Hibiscus buried amongst some larger plants. Thank you Luke, I whispered. I dabbed my eyes again as I strode past some inquisitive onlookers. ‘I will talk to you from heaven through those flowers’, I remembered Luke saying. He also asked me to plant it in the black garden at the front of our old house: He didn’t know about the newly formed rain soaked garden that appeared black in the dazzling sunlight. Luke’s sight had been taken from him due to the cancer that raged within him. He died two weeks later. The red Hibiscus representing to all of us Luke’s great enthusiasm and zest for life.
For poetry I chose Cicatrice by Susan Budig because it painted a vivid picture and aroused strong emotions in me as a reader. I could feel the pain, the hate, the love, and the healing.
Cicatrice by Susan Budig
He went to New Orleans on a road trip,
While I sat in a home, not mine, distilling
Our baby. But I named her mine.
And she was. I gave her a heart and eyes.
I gave her teeth and synapses—all that she needed.
I gave her away; he didn’t want her.
I didn’t want him.
I hated him with all my strength.
His abandonment. His cavalier attitude.
This hate eats at me.
Grows inside of me like
A malignant stone.
Now you, my new man,
You turn the stone over and look.
You see blood on the blade
Bright red anger.
You search my heart for a cicatrice.
Your finger traces a line straight
From my heart to my belly button
To discover the rawness of motherhood
Which has not healed.
You lean forward, cupping
The pain, the scarred flesh
Whisper psalms to close
The jagged edges
Stitching with your fingers laced in prayer.
Then with a chamois cloth
You rub on the stone
Until it shines like a diamond,
Which you give me,
Full of promise
That you will never leave me
That when I am ripe again
She will remain.
Well done all those mentioned and those not mentioned as well.
NOTE FROM CARROT RANCH:
Congratulations to all the writers who entered! You dared to stretch your writing and braved the first Rodeo at Carrot Ranch. Each participant has earned the following badge, which you may copy and post on you blog, social media or print out and frame. It’s a badge of honor. And now you can say, you have had your first rodeo! You wrote well.
We want to share all the contest entries in a collection. We’ll be contacting each of our contestants and challengers to seek interest and permission to publish a digital collection in January. Writers retain all copyrights to their work.
We’d appreciate your feedback! We want to make this an annual event that is fun, engaging and supportive of literary art. Please take a a few minutes for a brief 5 question survey. Thank you!