George Dila Memorial
Flash Fiction Contest
The first ever George Dila Contest concluded on September 1, 2017. Our judge, Phillip Sterling selected three winners and three honorable mentions from over 90 entries. And the winners are:
Cash Prizes and Publication in our contest issue:
First Prize - Jeanie Mortenson of Ludington, Michigan for "Lemon Ice for Dessert"
Second Prize - Jeff Burd of Gurnee, Illinois for "Thirteenth Birthday"
Third Prize - David DeGusta of Castro Valley California for "The Book of Unbelievable Things"
Honorable Mention and Publication in our contest issue:
"How We Are Changed" by Michael Antoinetti of Westfield, Massachusetts
"The Dunbar Overpass" by Joe Cappello of Glen Gardener, New Jersey
"Snapshot" by Rebecca O'Neill of Saranac Lake, New York
Judge’s Statement: George Dila
Memorial Fiction Contest 2017
When asked, as I sometimes am, to
delineate the difference between a work of flash fiction and a prose
poem, I often beg the question. “Let someone else worry about
that,” I might say. “Just concern yourself with the integrity of
the individual work.”
I’m sure the response sounds
dismissive—and perhaps I mean it to be—but not because I don’t
have an answer to the trendy (and tedious) critical bantering among
editors and academics to make the distinction. To me, the difference
Flash fiction, like all good fiction,
utilizes many of literary qualities often associated with poetry,
such as the delight in language, the selectivity of diction, the
reliance on sensory detail, and a certain conciseness (this latter
being the quality that most often causes genre disputation). But
fiction must have narrative qualities as well: characterization,
situation (or setting), complication or conflict (whether explicit or
implied), and resolution. In addition, the story must be complete
in itself—that is, it must be unified in a satisfying way,
often in a way that makes the reader want to go back and visit it
again (yes, like a good poem). It should not leave us wanting, not
read like excerpt from something else.
That’s what I mean by integrity.
A short story that stands out, to me, is one in which its elements,
whether poetic or narrative, work within the constraints and
limitations of its form (primarily one of word count, in the case of
“flash”)—or better, work to serve its unity, so that the
manipulation of its conciseness, its play of language, its
implications of character and plot all work together in a new and
That being said, the easy thing about
judging the George Dila Memorial Fiction Contest was that I didn’t
have to worry about distinguishing poetry from prose. The submitters
did that for me, self-determining that what they entered was indeed
“fiction.” The more difficult aspect of judging was separating
from a large number of very well written stories the few that really
stood out, the ones—I’d like to argue—with the most
“integrity,” which, when it came down to it, were the ones I
simply liked the best.
In my First Place pick, “Lemon Ice
for Dessert,” we meet Marguerite, who, while riding the Green Line
train on her way to her see her grandfather (whose eyebrows at times
“knit together like a pair of wrestling caterpillars”), catalogs
the details of her journey, both actual and imaginative, because “she
couldn’t help herself.” While meant to be a routine trip, this
particular journey becomes one of profound realization, when
Marguerite’s observations turn inward and she must confront the
inception of her emotional awareness.
Second Place I award to “Thirteenth
Birthday” for its breadth of conciseness and understatement. In
just over 100 words, the unnamed main character (“you”) captures
a moment familiar to many of us who look back on adolescence with
both awe and understanding, that combination of fear and pride we
felt as we navigated our way into our teens with all the confidence
of an arrow floating on the surface of (what I imagine is) a Great
The classic epistolary format is
well-served by my Third Place choice, “The Book of Unbelievable
Things.” Letters are especially suited to flash fiction, as they
are similarly limited in size and often focused in intent (we write
most letters purposefully, to make formal demands or requests). In a
letter, character is revealed through the first-person point of view,
by way of what we are told, and how. And the story becomes one of
what we are not told, but must infer from the tone and syntax,
which, in this case, is slightly foreign.
A number of other stories were also “In
Contention,” but space limitations in this Prize Issue only allow
room to print three. So as Honorable Mentions I offer “How We Are Changed,” for the anaphoric syntax and detail that brings to
intense familiarity the pathos of a life lived fully; “Snapshot,”
for the story behind the story, built from what the narrator knows
(or imagines) out of his/her own photographic experience and
conjecture (in a “catalog” frame suitable to the limits of the
short form); and “The Dunbar Overpass,” the best of several
“punch line” stories submitted to the George Dila Memorial
Fiction Contest (in the tradition of Shirley Jackson’s “The
Lottery,” a type of narrative George himself occasionally
appropriated,). I can’t help but think that the small town
characters and politics of “The Dunbar Overpass” would have made
George smile and nod his head . . .
Other stories notable for their
inventiveness in adapting narrative to purposes of a story told
“Under 1000 words” are, in no particular order: “Here’s Your
Stupid Essay,” “The Comma: Concerned About Punctacide,” “A
Real Pull,” and “No Hidden Nightingale.” These—and no doubt
others submitted to the contest—will surely find alternative ways
into the literary world. I wish them well.
Phillip Sterling is the author
of In Which Brief Stories Are Told (Wayne State U Press) and
several collections of poetry. His flash story
“kidnappingtax.blogspot.gov” won the 2015 Monstrosities of the
Midway contest. His story “Registry” was selected for Best
Small Fictions 2017, now available from Braddock Avenue Books and
The editors of Third Wednesday wish to
honor the memory of George
Dila, friend of Third Wednesday and the editor
who guided fiction at TW from infancy to adulthood. We are proud to
have called him friend and colleague. To this end, we proudly
announce the opening of The George Dila Memorial Flash Fiction
Contest. Until August 31, 2017 we will accept entries of
previously unpublished stories of under 1000 words in length
judge for this contest is Phillip Sterling, author of In
Which Brief Stories Are Told (short
fiction, Wayne State University Press 2011), and six collections of
poetry. You can read his qualifications, awards and publication
Formatting your story entry is easy.
We want submissions in size 12 Times New Roman font, single spaced
with one inch margins all around. You may enter as many stories as
you like, but each must be in a separate submission. Save your
document in .doc or .docx format and upload it where prompted by our
Submittable account. You can name files whatever is convenient for you
but the submission title must match the title of your story. Do
not include any identifying information within files or file names.
Our judge will read all submissions blindly.
Winners will be awarded a 1st prize of $150, 2nd prize of $75, and 3rd prize
of $25 along with publication and a copy of the issue in which the
contest winners appear. All submitted entries will also be
considered for regular publication.
Entry fee for this contest is just
$5.00 per story.
You can pay through our Submittable account with a credit card or Pay Pal
Mail a check or money order payable to
Third Wednesday (you may combine
payment for multiple entries) to:
11316 Farley Street
Redford, MI 48239
your entry fee within the same week you upload your entry. We will
not read your story until the entry fee has been received.
Do not include a printed copy of your story but do include the title(s) of your story(s) with your payment so that we
can credit your payment properly. Remember,
no identifying information within the uploaded file.