Professor Max Ludlow has been losing hair for some time, and not being a person oblivious to style —unlike some of his colleagues who groomed their remaining strands into a semblance of a youthful do—he has begun to shave his head. This gives Ludlow a clean, meditative look, cosmopolitan and ageless—his grey hairs now nearly invisible—but it also exposes a star-shaped scar over his right ear, of which he is self-conscious. Or perhaps more accurately, of which he is self-aware—that is, not embarrassed, but cognizant that it is there, though he can only see it when looking in a mirror and turning his head to the left.
When he does see the scar, he often thinks how much it resembles an asterisk, which makes him imagine that in his head is a thought and that the scar is marking an informal footnote, offering a caveat or explanation, there at the bottom of the page—or, in this case, literally at his feet. Sometimes he even glances down at his toes when he thinks this, to see if an explanation might be there. But of course there is never any explanatory note, which he always feels is unfortunate.
Thanks to everyone who entered our short fiction competition this year, and congratulations to everyone who was longlisted. I’m sorry that we have to lose most of the longlisted stories at this stage. In 2016 we wrote about the difficulties involved in judging a competition such as this one, and a year later the process hasn’t got any easier. Different judges, following a different process, would no doubt have selected a different shortlist. So we wish all the longlisted authors success with placing their stories elsewhere. Meanwhile, we’re thrilled to announce that our winners will be selected from the following shortlist:
- Sudha Balagopal
- Jill Campbell Mason
- Darrel Duckworth
- Sleiman El Hajj
- Joe Giordano
- Rinat Harel
- Alaric Lejano
- Nathan Alling Long
- Douglas W. Milliken
- Mike Pearcy
- Krystal Song
- Hannah Whiteoak
Many congratulations to all of you. We will announce the three winners on Wednesday 19th April.
D.D. Johnston discusses James Purdy’s short story “Cutting Edge” as an example of how a seemingly insignificant conflict can make for high drama when it stands for something bigger. In “Cutting Edge” the question of a young man’s beard becomes the symbolic terrain on which an inter-generational battle is fought. The story is about moral values and the future of America, but all of this is left unsaid, lurking below the water – after all, when people argue they rarely refer explicitly to what they’re really arguing about. In this sense, Purdy’s short story can be said to demonstrate Ernest Hemingway’s “Iceberg principle.” You can read the full story here.
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Following on from tip 70, D.D. Johnston makes some distinctions between a story’s subject and its theme, with reference to James Purdy’s “Cutting Edge” and David Foster Wallace’s “Forever Overhead.”
Why should anyone care about your story? After all, they’ve never met the people you’re writing about. In this introduction to the importance of a story’s theme, I’ll make reference to David Foster Wallace’s short story “Forever Overhead.” You can read this story online here.
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