Penticton author wins the 26th annual Okanagan Short Story Contest

26th annual short story contest winners

Left to right: Maylyn Tarves, Tyler Finley, Elenna Hope, Debbra Mikaelsen, Dania Wilson, and Shelley Wood.

The finalists of the 26th annual Okanagan Short Story Contest were announced at a public event by local author Shelley Wood. The event was held on March 27th at the Alternator for Contemporary Art with each of the writers reading a part of their story.

“Each of the shortlisted stories had something special about them and I had a very difficult time whittling my choices down to three. Many submerged me in new predicaments or uncomfortable scenarios and made me feel them deeply, which is what the best fiction does for us—makes us connect,” shays Wood. “I hope every single writer who made this list will keep writing, and keep honing their work.”

The winning author, Debbra Mikaelsen of Penticton, took first place for her short story “Saving Bees from Drowning”.

“I loved the story-ness of this story—it took me somewhere, with someone believable, and did so using all of the options open to the form: simple, striking images, real—and often funny—dialogue, characters that came off the page with just the right, precise details, and deft use of an intimate and self-deprecating third-person point of view. I turn to fiction to be startled and moved and jolted into other lives and perspectives, but I realize I must also turn to it for hope. This story was sweet and sad but ultimately hopeful: I fell for its characters and was rooting for them,” explains Wood.

Tyler Finley placed second with “The Trick to Holding Your Breath for Years”.

Wood says about Finley’s story, “The Trick to Holding Your Breath for Years pulls off several tricks, chief among them its mastery of second-person format that manages to invite readers into the deepest folds of a relationship, while still holding them at a distance. The repetition of the ‘you’ which launches almost every paragraph creates an intimacy that becomes the story’s heartbeat. The glimpse the reader is given here serves as a reminder that loving anyone deeply is its own airless dive, carrying the near constant risk of pain and drowning.

Third place went to Elenna Hope from Nelson for her story, “My Date With a Cowboy”.

My Date With a Cowboy won me over with the confidence of the voice, so increasingly at odds with the narrator’s own flagging sense of self. I laughed and I cringed. We can feel the hot pulse of desire in this writing even as the night starts to turn from bling to blurry. The writing is sharp and funny and visceral, with a tender underbelly. I left this story sweaty and aching with blisters on my heels, and my heart,” says Wood.

Wood noted that she really struggled with choosing among the high school submissions decisions because so many have a powerful story working on multiple levels, “And I love plot, I love motion, even in a short story. Many of the stories, to me, had the makings of novels and my hope is that all of the writers who submitted here will give some thought to spinning some of these action-packed stories into longer pieces, even novel-length works.”

Honourable mention went to Dania Wilson from West Kelowna for her story, “Bradford”.

“This story resonated with me on the level of keen observation and plotting. I enjoyed the scene breaks and the subject matter was close to my eco-cynical heart. What stood out for me here was the great ending, which is hard to pull off–this elevated this story above the other great contenders.”

And finally, the winner of the high school category went to Maylyn Tarves from Nelson BC for her story, “Philosopher King of Clusterf**k Mountain”.

“Ultimately, for the winning story, I went against a lot of what I just said and story, motion, and plot. This was the story that, to me, had the most original images, that painted a mood and an emotion so forcefully that while part of me wanted more to ‘happen’ I also felt I was in the hands of someone who knew how to use words to travel while holding completely still.”

The annual contest, organized by the Creative Writing program in the Faculty of Creative and Critical Studies (FCCS), is a writing competition open to fiction writers in British Columbia’s Southern Interior. Writers submit their stories, which are then read, anonymously, by faculty, and the shortlisted stories are sent to a guest judge to choose the winners in the adult and high school categories.

The first-place writer received $1,000 plus a one-week retreat at The Woodhaven Eco Culture Centre in Kelowna; second-place winner received $400 and third-place received $200. The top high school student received a $200 prize. Co-sponsors of the contest are FCCS and the Central Okanagan Foundation.

View the full short list for this year’s contest.