Clarence had a thief in the invasive way that some people had ants or termites or roaches. Little, forgotten things had started disappearing, right under his nose, soon after he was abandoned by his longtime girlfriend, Vernice.
“Vernice, what you done with my shirt?” he cried out to his empty house. He stomped through his bedroom and across the breezeway to the clothesline. Ghostly silhouettes rippled in the light evening breeze, but his blue shirt wasn’t there. Gone as if he’d never hung it up that morning.
Call her, he thought. Just ask if she got the Coming to America DVD. But as soon as he heard her curt “hello”, he blurted out: “Vernie, you know my blue shirt, the one you got me that time in Miami?”
“You calling me ‘bout your shirt?”
“I can’t find it.”
“What you expecting me to do? Fly to Eleuthera and find your shirt that you got in a ball on the floor?”
“I keeping the place nice for when you come home.”
“Don’t call me when you find it.” She hung up.
Clarence sank down in Vernice’s chair and threw one of the cushions across the room. You fool, he thought. You can’t even ask how she doing? More…
When we launched the Online Writing Tips Short Fiction Competition, we didn’t think much about how we would judge the entries. We didn’t decide in advance on any particular process, and we didn’t discuss the values that would inform our judgements. We wrote in the submissions guidelines that we wanted the stories that would move us – stories that would make us laugh or cry or both. That seemed to pretty much cover it. Had someone pushed us for a further explanation we would probably have mumbled about fairness and objectivity, without realising how problematic – even impossible – those concepts are.
So we’ve made the process up as we’ve gone along, and we’re still unsure about the values that inform it. We’ve moved to a multi-judge system, employing four judges, two of whom read the stories ‘blind’, without access to the authors’ names or cover letters. The stories should stand on their own merit, right? Reputation and previous success – or, in the case of two of the longlisted authors, knowing the competition organisers – shouldn’t make any difference. And we’ve started using a points system: the judges rank the stories in order of preference, and then we add up the scores and put forward the stories with the lowest totals (no, we won’t reveal the scores). Such a quantitative process gives an impression of objectivity, and it stops me and Phil arguing indefinitely, but what if it’s a process that favours safe and competent stories over high-risk works of art? What if a story wins because everyone thought it was pretty good, while the pieces that most thrilled and excited each judge alienated the others? More…