The 2011 Million Writers Award

By Henry F. Tonn


This annual award began in 2004 by Jason Sanford and storySouth, and has now become something of an event, given the explosion of online literary magazines in the past couple of years. Editors, readers, and writers submit stories, and a group of judges cull the number down to the Notable Stories. This year that number was one hundred and fifty-eight strong (well, mostly strong). Sanford and two other judges then select what they consider to be the top ten, and the general public has the opportunity to vote for their favorite. This year the winner will receive six hundred dollars and a gift certificate, with the second and third place entries also receiving prizes. I like commenting on this competition each year because I love reading all the stories, and I think the award deserves publicity.

Curiously enough, first place for the journal with the most enjoyable stories, from my perspective, is none other than storySouth itself. “Safe” by M.O. Walsh has this eye-catching beginning:

Our man took a blow to the skull during rough sex play with his wife and this put him in a small coma. That was not the trouble. When he awoke from his slumber (it had been a week in our time, a confusing series of dream years in his), his wife’s head had been replaced by a tree stump.

Another humorous story is “The Naturalists” by B.J. Hollars, about a father who separates from his wife and takes his son to a nudist colony where he finds himself unable to prevent incessant erections—against the rules—in the au naturel environment. Finally is “The Weight of Water” by Michael Chitwood, an old fashion tale of a widow’s struggle with a hyper religious, self-righteous developer who wants her land. This story is highly recommended to beginning writers for its excellent pacing.

Second place, with two excellent stories, is a favorite online journal of mine: ChiZine, which consistently produces some of the most creative and well-written stories on the web. “It Will All Be Carried Away” by Heath Lowrance begins with a protagonist reading in the paper that an old girlfriend has died from an overdose in the back seat of a car, and suddenly he is besieged with an image: “Charon, thin and frail and white, naked. Bound with heavy black cord to a wooden post. People everywhere, strolling past her without even a glance.” The rest of the tale gradually unfolds like a detective story. Another good one is “Year of the Rabbit” by An Owomoyela, about a community where people cannot venture outside at night after the Curfew because they are likely to disappear. Eerie, and told through the interview technique.

I must mention “Liz Phair and the Most Perfect Sentence” by Andrea Uptmor, published by Hot Metal Bridge, as one of the most perfect stories I read in the past year. Uptmor’s submission along with that of the previously mentioned B.J. Hollars were earlier selections of the Chamber Four Fiction Anthology as outstanding short stories over the past two years.

An excellent example of tongue in cheek humor is Sam Martone’s “The Private Eye’s Investigation” in Hobart, about a private eye named The Private Eye who hires himself to do stuff at double the usual pay rate because he is investigating important cases. The Private Eye has an unusual outlook on life:

The first time The Private Eye used this particular magnifying glass, he frightened himself. He looked through the glass at one of his young sons, and his son, magnified, looked suddenly like a man, impossibly tall. For a second, The Private Eye was scared that he had missed his son’s whole childhood.

 “A Sparrow with White Scars” by Nik Korpon published in the now-defunct Cherry Bleeds is an excellent noir story with machine-gun-like narrative and dialogue: “I chalked my cue while Ruben racked. Man-sweat and smoke and synthetic pine from the tree-shaped air-fresheners in the bathroom. The lights over the table flickered, threw epileptic shadows and made the table shimmer like a mirage.” All right! Also, I like the man’s bio: “Nik Korpon writes.” Pithiness at its best.

Account of an Apprentice” by M.T. Fallon in The Collagist is a peculiar and touching story, which I recalled vividly a week after reading it, about a traveling hunger artist in Europe who tours with his apprentice and starves himself so as to collect donations from people who watch him starve as though he were in a carnival.

While the business of selecting “best” stories is in some aspects a subjective one, the following works also had considerable appeal: “The Pragmatist” by Hilary Gan in Jersey Devil Press, “The Coyote” by Brian Baise in Noo Journal, “Same-Day Delivery” by Desmond Warzel in On The Premises, and “Deck Building” by Lawrence Minh Bui Davis in The Pedestal Magazine. By the time this column is published, the final ten submissions will be available for you to vote on. Do so! And remember, print and online journals take a lot of work and considerable money. If you like what you read here, send one of them a donation and/or subscribe. It will be greatly appreciated.

Posted June 20, 2011