2020 Boulder Generative Workshop Short Short Contest

In the spirit of generating new work in the new year, Writing By Writers held our 7th annual Short Short Writing Contest in 2020 to win discounted tuition to the WxW Generative Workshop in Boulder. The rules were simple. The piece could be fiction, non fiction or memoir but it had to contain a non human animal, one of your public lands (National Park, Monument, Forest, Seashore etc.), a word or phrase in a foreign language, the title of a book of poetry (used however you would like), and your favorite comfort food. (Since some of our winners are publishing these pieces elsewhere we have not included all winning shorts.)

Winners: Jessica Barksdale, Alex Carr Johnson, Thea Chacamaty, Denise Clemen, Natalie Dawson and Reid Gómez.

Finalists: Amy Braziller, Burnett Burnett, Lauren Merz, Grace Powell, Jean-Marie Saporito and Ann Marie Swan

Palms Up, by Jessica Barksdale


The dog was running around the expanse of lawn at Fort Vancouver, scaring crows and cowbirds and flushing out humans.

Of course it was raining. What else would it do? Water swirled overheard, whipped up off the Columbia River.

“Mon dieu,” James said.

“Shut up,” I said and then wished it back.

“Whose dog is that?” James asked, kicking at fallen pear leaves.

“Does it matter?” I asked, yanking his arm. I was hungry, wanting a bowl of mac and cheese. I wanted to eat every single one of my feelings, even the good ones. I wanted to eat James’ feelings, too.

If James had his way, we’d recline under a wrecked eave of the fort’s fake trading post and read poetry. The Collected Poems of Sylvia Plath.

“Have you seen a dog?” a breathless man wearing a Mackintosh ran by, missing, impossibly, the dog in front of him.

James pointed at the lab, and it was a lab, red tongue dangling.

“That’s not my dog,” the Mackintosh man said, running off.

Earlier today, I hadn’t saved our friend, who wasn’t with us now, though he should have been. I turned to James, watched him stare past the dog into the hours before this one. I let go of his arm, walked toward the panting animal, hands held out, palms up.

I was wet, our friend was gone, but the dog stopped running. He wagged his tail. He came toward me. I fell to my knees, reached out. Held on.

Sounds and Visions, by Thea Chacamaty

Just before sunrise, we sat in John’s van. The sky was bruised; the parking lot ghost quiet.

“You gotta eat.” John pushed the cold pasta at me.
“Noodles are slimy.” They were, congealed with fatty ground lamb. Poor little dears. Baby-eyed, skipping through a pasture on their way to slaughter. “Wash it down.”

Whiskey burned my throat. Didn’t exactly complement lamb.

Fed, we walked on the sand, past the bone-bleached driftwood village. When John and I were kids, we crawled beneath the branched structures and played Peasants. Why we played poor when we already were poor, I don’t know. Dad told us we should make them palaces. Fils! On-y- vas! he’d shout. He was usually a half-pint deep on those Sundays. Dancing. We boys hungry, playing poor.

We couldn’t see that far then, at Limontour Beach, on the Point Reyes National Seashore, in the silver gloom of a foggy afternoon. Just as we can’t see it now, twenty years later, as we scatter our father’s ashes, hoping we don’t get busted by park rangers.

Early morning was the right time. Just one lady walking far ahead, black lab in tow.
“Got the book?” asked John. Illuminations. Rimbaud. Dad had wacky instructions for the final party.
Barefoot, the water was so cold I thought my bones might break.

John read. “Known enough. Life’s halts.—O, Sounds and Visions!”

I shook the cornflake box of grainy ashes, filled my palm. It felt like the poem. Good to hold. Good to let go.

Counting Chickens, by Denise Clemen


            Diving into the wreck of my marriage, the bear comes back to me. “There are no grizzlies in Grand Teton National Park,” he’d said. This wouldn’t be his last lie, but for years it would be the only one I recognized as such.

            “There’ve been half a dozen attacks,” I said.

            “Not grizzlies,” he said, “black bears. Drop your backpack. They’ll eat your trail mix. They especially love Peanut M&Ms.” He patted my ass and gave it a squeeze—a little too hard to be affectionate. You especially love my ass when it’s not too fat, I wanted to say, but I could only fight about one thing at a time.

            “Someone was mauled near Jenny Lake last year,” I said. “By a grizzly with three cubs. She bit him in the ass. Twice.”

            “Black bear,” he said.

            I’d read the damn story, but was sick of debating.  I’d left France for the wide open American West and this stupid but gorgeous Marlboro man. When we weren’t arguing, I dissolved every time our eyes met.

            The elk carcass was around the next bend.  As the grizzly bounded toward us, I thought about my mother. “Clint will give me handsome sons,” I’d said at our engagement party, trying to assuage her misgivings.

            “Il ne faut pas vendre la peau de l’ours avant de l’avoir tué, she said.  You can’t sell the bearskin until you’ve killed it.  So very true, maman, so very true.

La Tierra Encantada, by Natalie Dawson


The drought broke with spring rains that filled the burrows of desert snakes. It made puddles in dry arroyos so the tadpoles could finally emerge as frogs. In the heart of the Gila Wilderness desert, a mama curled around her nursing pups, listening to the rain on the tidy mud roof of her den.

In the Catron bar, locals listen to the torrent reverberate on the metal roof over steaming bowls of Mackey’s beef chili, named for the cow, not the waitress. One man turns to another and sighs, la tierra encantada, where drought is a haggard old wife and the rains are passionate love affairs that end much too soon. Talk of rain turns to talk of her, female 43. She had been seen near a cow carcass, suspected of murder, and in Catron county, three strikes equals death penalty. She is beautiful, they admit, with an affirmative shot of whiskey. A real looker, full-figured, grey hair turns silver by moonlight. The waitress wonders, why are the wild and feminine ones always terrifying to small men in large country? They would hunt for her tomorrow, when the rains stopped and the arroyo floods receded.

Female 43 uncurled her aching body from her sleeping pups. She felt the absence of her mate in the pit of her empty stomach. Tomorrow she would chase while being hunted, making certain it goes on for the few of her kind that remain. La tierra encantada may still have magic left for her.

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