You've been so patient as I've dithered, debated, and put off picking a winner. But now, at long last, I'm ready to announce the victor in the Musical Fiction Contest!
First, I'd like to send a heartfelt e-THANKS! to everyone who submitted stories. You should be very proud of yourselves, for three key reasons:
A special thanks to the finalists, whose stories were chosen from among hundreds and hundreds of submissions for publication on the site. Their work can be found here.
Before I announce the winner, I'd delighted to present four honorable mentions.
Honorable Mention, thriller/suspense category: "Mannequins," by leames1701
Many young writers give out information as fast as they can, instead of revealing it in a careful, controlled, planned way. What impresses me most about leames is his/her narrative control. S/he convinces us that Stephen is a paranoid crackpot—and then turns the tables at the last moment, showing us that his wild theories about the prime minister are actually true. "Mannequins" reads less like a self-contained story than like a treatment for a novel, and in this contest, that's a weakness. But leames' dark fictional world is fascinating, and I hope s/he does write a full-length book about a prime minister who actually becomes a doll.
Honorable Mention, also in the thriller/suspense category: "Collection," by DarkWings44
I'm going to turn over the mic to MaxVZ, who had this to say about "Collection": "It displayed the most originality of any of [the stories], it had an effective ending (many didn't), it had an actual framework as opposed to being a steam-of-consciousness style rant, and it avoided taking the first-person, obviously based on the writer's life, pretentious route that the majority of these stories did. Not only did it have a cool ending, it was the only story that had a real, structural, stand-up plot. Many of the other stories, even the good ones...relied heavily on tone and voice to make a point as opposed to Collection, in which things actually happen. Plus, anything with a twist ending that doesn't feel like you're jerking the reader around deserves credit."
"Collection" isn't the winner for me, because the prose style is a bit clunky, and because the plot and the psychopathy of the character can't play out satisfyingly in such a short space. But I agree with every word of Max's praise (and think Max should consider a career as an essayist or book critic).
Honorable Mention, literary fiction category: "Winter," by jahamette
The narrator doesn't change over the course of this brief story, but we hardly mind, because she and her grandpa spring to life thanks to the author's genius for choosing perfect details—old wool jackets, the smell of orange peels on fingernails, eyes like snowflakes, cigarette butts on the cold sidewalk. In just a few paragraphs, jahamette captures the stiff sadness of her bereaved, observant narrator. jahemette may be the most accomplished stylist in the contest. She knows how to write a sentence, and that's about the highest praise I can imagine.
Honorable Mention, YA category: "Young Folks," by crazycrayon
YA fiction is nothing to sneeze at. Prep, Gossip Girl, Catcher in the Rye—they're all YA novels. crazycrayon can write the sort of chatty, funny, familiar first-person narrator who makes YA books fly off the shelves. Give her a few years and she'll be drinking smoothies made of blended platinum and sleeping on a mattress stuffed with unicorn manes, Stephenie Meyer-style. "Young Folks" is funny and it's fun to read—two of the hardest feats for any writer in any genre to pull off.
And now, with no further ado, I give you
"No Child Left Behind" is not perfect—no story is (aside from everything Chekhov wrote). "NCLB"'s major weakness, in my opinion, is that it reads like the first chapter of a novel, which means its ending isn't satisfying. But what I love about this story is its happily inventive spirit. The Public Faces made of rubber, the plastic hair, the boxy body suits—these details delight and surprise us. They're wonderfully creepy, and they tell us everything we need to know about this fictional society that prizes conformity and so-called equality above all else.
The best dystopian fiction (1984, Animal Farm, Fahrenheit 451, The Handmaid's Tale, to name a few of my favorite dystopian novels) is passionately political, but gets it point across through character and plot, instead of bashing us over the head with raw polemical passages. EMDEE_3 does bash at certain points—I'm thinking of the question and answer section, in particular—but for the most part, she puts story before politics, which is a remarkable achievement in this genre. "No Child Left Behind" is the work of a writer who is ambitious, imaginative, and opinionated about the world.
Congratulations, EMDEE_3, and thanks to everyone who participated in the contest by submitting or reading!