The rules for the annual Texas Observer Short Story Contest contain a clause that reads “No restriction on genre; entries with a Texas setting or theme are encouraged.” Writers have taken this encouragement to heart. The majority of stories entered in our first three years of contests have boasted Texas settings, and all three winners have been steeped in Texana: Brian Allen Carr’s cowboy myth “The Last Henley,” set in Corpus Christi; the rural Texas of Larina Lavergne’s “Water Birth”; and Ashley Hope Perez’s 2013 winner “3:17,” which takes place in the aftermath of the 1937 New London school explosion.
But each year’s contest has also drawn stories from all over the globe, many featuring exotic (to Texans) settings such as New Zealand, Turkey, Egypt and South Korea. This year we expect more of the same: an inpouring of words from all corners of the world, some offering insight into rarely seen locales, some shedding new light on familiar places, and all of them telling new stories in new ways, old stories in new ways, or new stories in old ways. Hell, even an old story told in an old way can offer a fresh perspective.
This year’s guest judge, Elizabeth McCracken, is no stranger to the short story form, having earlier this year published a story collection, Thunderstruck, to great acclaim. When she’s not writing her own work, she serves as the Fiction Chair at the University of Texas’ Michener Center for Writers, mentoring and teaching tomorrow’s acclaimed storytellers.
Asked what she looks for in a good story, McCracken borrows these words from William Boyd: “The great modern short stories possess a quality of mystery and beguiling resonance about them—a complexity of afterthought—that cannot be pinned down or analyzed.”
“That’s what I want in any short story,” McCracken says, “that complexity of afterthought. When I finish a short story I want to feel as though my brain has been struck like a gong.”
So if you’re cooking up (or sitting on) a story you think may be up that alley, give us a shot. As always, the winner of the Texas Observer Short Story Contest wins $1,000, and will have his or her story published in our annual Books Issue, due out in October. The winning piece will also be published online, as will four finalists. Additionally, 15-25 honorable mentions will be identified by name (which makes great fodder for submission letters).
Go ahead, writers. Strike our brains like a gong.