Welcome back, and happy August! And what a happy day it is indeed, with the release of Issue IV of Bracken Magazine! In addition to the usual roster of incredible fiction, poetry, and art, this issue also includes the winning stories from the micro-fiction contest held earlier this summer. I was fortunate enough to serve as judge for the contest, a role that was both thrilling and excruciating, because all of the stories were so good, which made my job very, very hard in a very, very good way.
Now that the new issue has made its debut, I figured I’d take a moment to give readers some insight into what the behind-the-scenes process of the contest was like. (Think reading, rereading, and rereading again!)
A bit about me as “judge and jury”: I’d never served as a contest judge before, so it was at once a fun and nerve-wracking experience. Obviously, you always want to do great work with anything you try, but when it’s a magazine as fantastic as Bracken, the pressure was on to do right by all the authors who submitted as well as the wonderful editor, Alina Rios. From the start, I knew I wanted to read all of the submissions blind. Speculative short fiction is a small world after all, so I assumed I would probably know a few of the authors. Hence, reading blind ensured that no byline could even subconsciously affect my decision. I also read every entry in full at least twice. I wanted to give each piece my undivided attention. Likewise, I wanted to give each piece a second chance to catch my attention. Fair or not, so much of the submission process really is dependent on how an editor or judge is feeling at a given moment. So to the best of my ability, I ensured that each and every entry truly got its due.
A bit about those wonderful entries: Now I’ve served as a first reader at publications in the past, but I can honestly say that these submissions were some of the very best slush I’ve ever read. I was stunned at the incredible quality of these stories, which only made the process of picking two winners all the more agonizing. So that being said, if you did submit to the Bracken Flash Fiction Contest, believe me when I say congratulations on a fantastic submission. It was an honor to read your work.
A bit about those winners: After much deliberation, soul searching, reading and rereading, I settled on two beautiful and emotionally compelling pieces: “When Mama Calls” as the winner and “Path of Stones” as the finalist. Once I sent my selections to Alina and she contacted the winning authors, she revealed that these entries were written by Maria Haskins and Kathryn Kulpa respectively. Now anyone who is a reader of this blog already knows that I’ve long admired both Maria’s and Kathryn’s works (I’ve even interviewed them both here and here), so it was quite the pleasant surprise to discover they were the winning authors. (It also proved my initial suspicion very right: it is a small publishing world, and I did know at least two of the authors who entered the contest, which made me extra glad that I read all the submissions blind.)
So now that you know all about those behind-the-scenes goings-on, please check out the latest issue of Bracken! It’s a breathtaking issue, and I’m so excited for readers to check out the winning entries of the contest. They’re both such gorgeous tales. And congrats once again to Maria Haskins and Kathryn Kulpa!