Dec 112023

Dear Suzanne,

I have tried to figure out how to make an interesting story of this, but I have failed. You were kind enough to show interest, so I feel obliged to make an effort. But I just haven’t known what to do.

Sometimes stories can be built up in such a way that two or more narratives are intertwined. Garrison Keilor is good at that. I had observed that he had gone past the standard Alistair Cooke story uniting technique. Garrison will alternate between narratives and use the build up of tension in one of them as an effect when he switches to the other. It works for him.

So: I could interleave bits of my boring story with a story about some bloke in the woods who runs into a bear. I could probably draw out the bear story. Maybe the bear is just about to eat this bloke but then seems to decide not to. Or perhaps he has just decided to not eat the bloke…. just for now.

I used to know a woman named Jeanie. Jeanie was a self proclaimed professional writer. She has at least one published book under her belt, but not an output that would seem to adequately account for her whole career. She decided to enter a short story competition … said that the publicity of the prize would do her good. Next we heard was that she had submitted her story and was on tenter hooks waiting for the result. Then the judges report came out. Jeanie was not mentioned. She was sure that she had only just missed out. She showed me the judges report. The judge went on and on about how there had been quite a number (about 30, I think) entries that were so good that it was almost impossible to pick a winner. As I read the report, I could see that it seemed to be addressing an unsuccessful entrant. Although it didn’t promise the reader that she had only just missed out on the first prize, it was skilfully worded to give that impression to the enthusiastic over hopeful gullible entrant.

I was immune from the trick at the time, as I had not even been an entrant. I tried to point out to Jeanie that that report would be read by all the entrants, and that they couldn’t all have only just missed out being the winner, but she would have nothing of it. It was interesting to see how important it was to her that she find comfort in the illusion that she hadn’t REALLY failed to win the competition. There was just this little technicality.

I think this is about the point where the bear stops and sniffs the air. He seems to be trying to decide whether to amble off to the right where he will surely find the man hiding behind the rock, or go the other way, where he might disappear from the story for ever.

Anyway, that was a long time ago (The Jeanie business: not the bear’s sniff).

Much more recently, when I told you that I had submitted some short stories to the Alan Marshall Short Story Competition, you asked if I would let you know what came of that. Well, I got the judges report.

(The bear sniffs again. He can definitely smell something interesting.)

The report said that there had been about 30 entries that were so good that it was almost impossible to pick a winner. Although it didn’t promise me that I had only just missed out on the first prize, it was worded to give that impression to the enthusiastic over hopeful gullible reader.

This is obviously an established formula. The report that I got was not as well written as the one that Jeanie got all those years ago. This added to the irritation. Not only had I not won, but I was being judged by a person who couldn’t write as well as Jeanie’s judge!

The judge said that one of the entries almost reached a sort of Tim Winton standard of writing. I have not enjoyed the Tim Winton that I have read, and this person… this flibbertigibbet…. thinks that someone who did better than me is not quite up to Tim Winton standards! I didn’t need long to reflect to see how the formulaic judges report had manipulated my feelings in the matter. It was silly of me to allow myself to care so much even if for a fleeting moment. If the judge was good enough to be my judge, she could have at least been good enough to do a good judges report. Perhaps she could have entwined something more interesting in with it.

The bear ambled over to the rock. There was nothing behind it. The man had just vanished. The bear was hungry, and yet this story had nothing in it for him. He wandered off in search of another story to be in.


Post Scriptum.
The bear didn’t have to walk far before he found a meal. A short story competition judge! He gobbled her up.