In “Muriel,” Wendy Lerner Lym’s 2017 Texas Observer Short Story Contest prize-winning story, the narrator spends full days watching YouTube videos and then, after ordering something called an edible water ball, watches the driveway for several more days, waiting for the UPS driver to arrive.
What makes all of this watching so engaging is the way Lym develops her character merely by describing those videos and that waiting game — the intimacy of Muriel’s solitude makes us read on with great curiosity, despite the seeming lack of forward motion. “The calm [in ‘Muriel’] is almost creepy,” wrote Deb Olin Unferth, last year’s guest judge.
We have a feeling that this year’s guest judge, Natalia Sylvester, would’ve found a lot to like about “Muriel.”
“The stories that grab me and hold onto me — for years sometimes — have a voice that captivates me and transports me in an almost intimate way,” Sylvester tells us. “I never want to feel like I’m ‘watching’ something happen in a story. I want to feel it is so real, it is happening with or without me.”
Keep that in mind as you fine-tune your prose for the 2018 Texas Observer Short Story Contest, our eighth-annual, which is now open. Head over to the submission page for full guidelines and to enter by Monday, August 6.
Although the prize — $1,000 and publication in our October issue — hasn’t changed, the competition grows fiercer every year.
Born in Lima, Peru, Sylvester has lived in Florida, the Rio Grande Valley and now Austin. Her first novel, Chasing the Sun, was named the Best Debut Book of 2014 by Latinidad, and her new one, Everyone Knows You Go Home, is a finalist in the International Latino Book Awards.
As always, Texas settings and themes are welcome, but not necessary: You’re free to transport us to any new place and perspective. The contest is open to writers of all experience levels, Texans and non-Texans alike, writing in all genres.
To get a sense of what she likes, Sylvester urges writers to read “Children of the Sea” from Edwidge Danticat’s story collection Krik? Krak! and “The Upholsterer,” Désirée Zamorano’s story in the current issue of Kenyon Review.
Good short fiction, Sylvester says, is “the difference between reading something written about an experience and reading something written from an experience.”
Let those words be your guide as you enter the 2018 Texas Observer Short Story Contest.