Wordstock Short Fiction competition comes of age: "The Creek" by Joshua Michael Riedel

In the end, I was lucky; but I wondered from the start what I’d think of the outcome. I signed on to help judge the Wordstock Short Fiction competition in its inaugural year. An unknown fiction competition could very easily, I suppose, have a rough time of it. Submissions may not be first-rate. You may end up announcing finalists and winners, knowing deep down that you are working with—let’s just say it—thin material.

Nope. Not this competition, not this time. We have ended up with a tremendous collection here, with The Wordstock Ten, and it seems therefore quite appropriate that the story selected as the overall “Best in Show” is a coming-of-age piece, Joshua Michael Riedel’s “The Creek.”

As with all great coming-of-age stories, you’ll read this and recognize your own youth in it. No, I didn’t grow up with a creek behind my house, much less a haunted creek. And my parents were not divorced or even separated. The staid ease of my childhood compared against this protagonist’s may seem enviable.

But this is effective story-telling, and the details of the hero’s life don’t bog down the big-picture, big-humanity effect of the events. The invitation to wander beneath the surface comes out early and strong—the first paragraph introduces the creek as an out-the-backdoor, through-the-window feature of the narrator’s home. In your mind’s eye you want to capitalize the main elements right away: Door, Window, Creek, Home. The Creek is a place where the kids in this neighborhood gather to socialize, make rules, create ritual. The events that unfold are a reminder that the surface has a spirit; the soul is the true wanderer in this world, occasionally trapped in its skin.

Congratulations to Josh Riedel as the first overall winner of the first Wordstock Short Fiction competition. “The Creek” will appear in the December issue of Portland Monthly magazine. It appears now as the first story in The Wordstock Ten, leading off a stellar collection.

When the competition was over and the winners selected, I got to put together the book. The finalists’ names were then revealed to me, and I got to go through this collection with each of the writers represented, fixing straggling typos or other last-minute gilding-the-lily activities. I’ll be writing more about these pieces in the days ahead, but for now I encourage you to go read “The Creek,” and read the other nine stories here (Hey, we outdid Salinger by one—not bad). I’d like to know readers’ other favorite stories in the collection—let me know in the comments or at tsumner at fbeedle dot com.

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