When we asked Guest Judge Heather Mackey what she was looking for in a winning entry, she said, “specificity, voice, and the sense that there’s a story there that needs to be told.” And judging by Heather’s commentary on all the entries, it’s safe to say you gave her all of that and more. Heather had an enormous pool of fantastic writing to choose from and after careful consideration, she’s emerged with the winners! Read on to hear what she had to say about the pieces that “gripped” and “delighted” her most.
This was an incredibly tough field to judge! In real life, I’ll give novels hundreds of pages to amble along until they reveal what they’re about. But for this contest, I was confined to snippets and made choices based on what appeared—in a tiny excerpt—to have the ingredients to power a novel. Write the World writers, you are all amazing. Each excerpt I read delighted me with sensory detail, boldness of voice and character, and frissons of suspense. The winning entry, “Ourobouros,” gripped me with the sense that a mysterious character I would like to know better had a difficult journey ahead, one that would challenge her on multiple levels. The runner-up, “A Scent of Marigolds,” awed me with its gorgeous prose and masterful world-building, shuttling back and forth between a comically bureaucratic afterlife and a richly evoked small town in Guatemala. I must mention the quality of the writing from other entrants as well. C.R. writes like someone who’s already won the National Book Award. Topaz effortlessly spins a tale of wonder with the commanding voice of Scheherazade. And Grace Mary Potts offers access to the interior emotional world of characters with an immediacy that rivals the best in young adult fiction. Thank you all for the opportunity to read your work. I am, forever, your fan, Heather.
"Ourobouros" by Duck
“Ourobouros” opens on a scene of immediate tension: "Come on," said Fidda, locking the door to her house where she'd hid them the night before. "We'd best move quickly. Hikmat said the soldiers might return to the site of the shooting."
A novel doesn’t need to have non-stop over-the-top action. But there needs to be something that matters to a character who matters to us. Here, the stakes are life and death. On its own, this threat of violence would not be enough to pull me along if I wasn’t also intensely interested in the characters and world. Place is evoked in beautifully spare but specific details: sandals, dust, “blue sky peppered with clouds,” and skewers of mystery meat. But it’s the character of Amirah who grips my interest and makes me believe she can carry this ambitious story. She’s hiding something, and Duck uses this to complicate Amirah’s interactions with other characters: “Fidda gave her a careful look, as if she were trying to read into her silence, but Amirah had years of practice at making her silences as shallow as possible…”
Amirah is a character moving in stealth through a potentially hostile landscape, deciding whom she can trust, and debating with herself about what she is doing. “Ourobouros” has internal conflict as well as external conflict. More, please!
''A Scent of Marigolds' by deathlyhallows
In “A Scent of Marigolds” Deathlyhallows imagines an otherworldly setting with enviable lyricism and richness. The world-building is dazzling, the details precise—not only for the part of the story that takes place in the afterlife, but also for the portion in which we visit Itzel’s home town in Guatemala. I was immediately enchanted by the utterly intriguing premise—Itzel’s first chance since her death of returning to the land of the living and seeing her family on the Day of the Dead. The gorgeous descriptions are transporting and made the scenes in “A Scent of Marigolds” come vividly to life. Consider this tiny sample: “The white Calavera Catrina skull makeup dusted thickly across my face itches my skin, but I don't dare touch it for fear of ruining the traditional design. Besides, it gives a certain opaqueness to my normally diaphanous ghost body; I almost feel like I'm alive again when I twirl in the mirror.” Just wonderful!
BEST PEER REVIEW
Emily Reeves’ review of Grace Mary Potts’ “Finding the Yellow Sky”
This was also extremely difficult to judge! The peer reviews I read were sincere, helpful, and appreciative. My choice here is Emily Reeves for offering such concrete feedback, whether calling out a phrase she loved because it made her feel what the author was describing, or noting where she wasn’t sure of the author’s intentions. She clearly identifies strengths but also offers respectful, constructive suggestions. Well done!