By Heidi Vanderveen (First and Third Place)
I wrote letters to my dad every week, but they always came back unopened. I started when I was five, after I stole a piece of paper from the stack Mom used to roll her joints. Later, I wrote on scraps of construction paper, borrowed sheets of notebook paper with the edges ragged like poor man’s confetti, and ripped out pages from school textbooks that didn’t have much on them. Each time, I folded the paper three times and then once more in half and put it in the envelope. I licked the stamp and pasted it on the corner of the envelope, and I wrote my return address in the corner so he would know where to find me, and then I wrote SIMONE’S DAD in big letters so the postman would know who to give it to.
The judges' comments: Strength of this piece is that the writer "gets" the showing vs. telling. The joint paper, the construction paper, so dad would know where to find her.../Oh, I love this! I love the surprises you pulled over on me, like “the paper was from the stack Mom used to roll her joints.” The description (in detail) of the paper says so much to the reader. We know just how important these letters are. Really wonderful job!
By Ellyn Gibbs (First Place)
The swan rosette embroidered on Ren’s sleeve represented beauty and power, but she felt anything but beautiful and powerful as she scrubbed slime off the underbelly of the Indigo.Beauty and power weren’t necessary for that job, Ren knew. She sat back on her knees and rested her hand on the wooden hull, feeling water rumbling in agreement on the other side. Then, she picked up her scrub brush and went to her hard task again. Captain Ajax insisted on keeping his ship the cleanest of all of the border guard fleet and it cost all of the crew a little extra time.Ren didn’t mind. Even though she had missed breakfast and was down in the hull by herself because she had slept late, she’d follow Captain Ajax to the world’s end if he wanted her as a companion.
The judge's comments: A nice job of setting the stage: In a few sentences, we’re introduced to the protagonist, we’re provided a clear mental image of the first scene, we know this is going to be a seafaring story—an adventure with a bit of romance, and there’s a curious juxtaposition of Ren’s apparent status as an aristocrat with the very unglamorous job she’s doing. It makes me want to read more. That simple gesture of Ren feeling the water through the hull of the ship is pure genius. It shows her profound connection with the sea in a way that is both gentle and sincere.
By Korie Mulholland (First Place)
OBJECT OF THE GAME: Don’t get yelled at by Mom when she gets home from workNUMBER OF PLAYERS: UnlimitedHOW TO PLAY1. Clean up any mess.2. Pause all arguments (but feel free to resume later).3. Make sure all homework is done4. Stay away from other people in case she gets mad at them and wants to keep yelling.5. Smile and answer any questions that she asks.WHO WINS: Mom always wins, but we play anywaysWe play games in my family. Now, if you are imagining four shining faces around a monopoly board, forget it. We don’t play real games like the families on the television commercials, but we always seem to follow some demented set of rules. The kicker? It's set up in some way so that I always, ALWAYS lose.
The judge's comments: I thought the writer used the perfect structure for this piece about family dynamics. Haven't we all, at some point, encountered "THE LIST"?!
By Joshua Hildebrandt (Second Place)
Stockard Cole was tired, tired of this social farce called life. He stared through the windows of his limousine, not really seeing anything.“It’s bothering you isn’t it?” The female voice broke through his thoughts.“What is?” He turned to his companion.“My ultimatum.” Marlee Karev shifted subtly in the seat opposite him, her scarlet silk gown sliding provocatively over her long legs. She wouldn’t meet his gaze.“What if it is?”“Stockard, I want a life. I can’t sit around in your empty house waiting for you to come home all the time. I want to be someone again.”“So be someone.” He turned back to the window. Couldn’t they pretend to be happy for one night? Did she always have to mess things up? Marlee always had big dreams, big plans. Too bad her dreams were as plastic as her smile. Among other things.
The judge's comments: Wow! I’m so into this so fast. Great job. First, I love your names. I can just imagine what a Stockard Cole would look like. J And I love his response, “So be someone.” It says so much with such few words. I also loved the comment on plastic. Great dialog, too.
By Imogen Elvis (Two votes for Second Place)
The wild wind whipped Indigo’s hair into waves, sending its cold fingers into her very core. She gasped at its coldness but couldn’t help smiling. The wind seemed to take her troubles and dance away with them. Up here there were no duties, no bodyguards, no lessons. There was only her and the breeze.She perched herself on the top of the wall and closed her eyes, enjoying her stolen freedom. Suddenly a huge gust of wind bashed into her, pushing her over the edge of the tower.Indigo opened her mouth, a scream ready on the tip of her tongue. This is it, she thought through the rushing of wind in her ears. This time I’m actually going to die.Hands grabbed the back of her dress, halting her fall. As she was dragged back to safety a familiar voice said, “Not again, princess. That’s three times this week.”
The judge's comments: Some pretty imagery in the first paragraph, and it quickly diverges from the conventional “princess in an ivory tower” to something more unusual—what’s drawing Indigo into this dangerous action? She doesn’t seem at all suicidal, but her motivation is powerful enough to pull her to the edge of the wall despite knowing she’ll probably fall. I’m intrigued. I want to find out more about her.
By Katy McCurdy (Third Place)
Trinovia, in the year 685Obscurity means security.Steel lived by those three words. Breathed it. In this occupation, ensuring that he lived to see another day relied on his ability to stay in the background. People couldn’t blame him if they didn’t know he existed—he’d learned that the hard way. Of course, he did have to take a few risks when looking for his next job, but that was unavoidable. Even so, he was always alert. He hadn’t lived this long by being careless.Nor foolish. Steel flicked his gaze to his sword, now in the hands of one of his escorts. Stupid guards. After taking his sword they’d done a pathetic job of checking for other weapons. He wasn’t unarmed. Far from it. The small arsenal of weapons he’d hid on his person that morning would still ensure he was prepared for anything.
The judge's comments: You’re so brave for tackling writing something from the year 685. I love the rhythm of your sentences. Some short—some long. And “flicked” is such a good verb. “Stupid guards” is such a great sentence.
By Rebekah Hart (Third Place)
Saudi Arabia 1804Pounding feet sent a jolt of alarm up Judah's spine. He silently pulled his donkey Kellup into an abandoned side-road. Each creak of the cart's wheels made him cringe. He'd waited too long in setting out for home. After sunset the streets of Durma became dangerous, especially for him.A muffled scream stopped Judah in his tracks.“Keep her quiet!” a voice demanded.Judah followed the sound and barely slipped behind a dilapidated building before two men came into view dragging a struggling girl.“It's a good thing I'm so even-tempered,” one growled, “A lesser man would've killed you by now. But... if your father doesn't follow through, maybe such self-restraint will be unnecessary.” His chuckle died midway when Kellup ambled into the street.Judah held his breath, the sound of crunching stones growing near. A gun cocked and he knew he was dead.
The judge's comments: Plunges immediately into the action, which is a good way to catch and hold the reader’s attention. “Donkey-cart boy discovers kidnapped girl” is a nice setup for an adventure, and the time and place are unusual.