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Second annual fiction contest 

Fresh, homegrown fiction: News stories for a new year

Enough with this navel-gazing nostalgia stuff.

To kick off the new year, Creative Loafing presents a fresh new collection of short stories, the top winners in our second annual Fiction Contest. Although the contest's rules dictate that all entries must be connected to the South, a surprising number of submissions took that to mean the New South. This time around, we saw fewer backward-glancing tales of life on the plantation and more meditations on new beginnings, from immigrant workers starting over in the Bible Belt to Yankee transplants with strange plans for their dream homes.

The three top winners -- who receive prizes of $500, $250 and $100, respectively -- all effectively play past against present, and all end with uncertain futures.

In "Mysterium Tremendum," first-place winner Robin Seidman portrays two women at a tense intersection in their lives, when a harried professional must decide in a flash if she should open her car to a homeless girl in the rain. Contest judge Phillip DePoy calls the story one of the best he's ever read. "It wasn't an easy choice," he writes, "because all three are great stories. 'Mysterium' seems the most -- excuse my language -- important piece, and the most ultimately life-affirming."

"The Kid Who Ate Paste," the second-place winner by Jed Brody, details the flirtatious reunion of two schoolmates -- one a former bully, the other an oddball granola girl. "I like the writer's courage," writes judge Ralph Cheo Thurmon. "[He's] unafraid to take chances with characters, and lets them be real people."

The third-place winner, "Dixie Youth," by Charles Prescott Boring, adopts a different approach to childhood relationships. Essentially a series of vignettes, the story explores the troubled lives of four young baseball players. Says judge Julie Cannon: "There's a nice juxtaposition of characters here. This author seems to know a lot about his subject matter, which gives the story an air of authority."

As if reading these stories were not enough, this year the Loaf gives you a chance to hear them first-hand. We've partnered with the Center for Southern Literature at the Margaret Mitchell House for "An Evening of Short Fiction," featuring readings from the winning stories and remarks from the judges. The event takes place at 7 p.m. Thurs., Jan. 9. And here's the best part: It's free.

Meet the judges

Julie Cannon is a graduate of the University of Georgia's Grady School of Journalism. She has been writing all of her life, but her literary career got a jump-start when she won the 1998 Flagpole Magazine short story contest.

Athens-based Hill Street Press published her first novel, Truelove & Homegrown Tomatoes, in May 2001. Simon & Schuster will publish the paperback edition of Truelove in August 2003 and the sequel, 'Mater Biscuit in 2004. Julie lives in Bishop, Ga., with her husband and three children.

Phillip DePoy is the author of eight published novels, most recently The Devil's Hearth (St. Martin's Minotaur), and two published plays. His novel Too Easy was nominated for a Shamus award; 37 of his theater pieces have seen production throughout the U.S. A former artistic director for Atlanta's Theatrical Outfit, he has directed, composed music, or written plays for many theaters throughout the Southeast. Horizon Theatre recently worked with Phillip to create a play version of his first novel, Easy. Phillip is currently a visiting instructor of theater at Georgia State University.

Ralph Cheo Thurmon is an author, performer, folklorist and educator who has traveled extensively, studying the art, literature and traditions of people from around the world. Cheo is the author of an award-winning collection of fiction, The Future and Other Stories (Third World Press) and an advisory editor for the literary magazine DRUMVOICES. He serves as the literary consultant for the National Black Arts Festival and maintains a workshop, "Writing in the Circle of Life, Love, Creativity and More" at the Auburn Avenue Research Library on African-American History and Culture.

About the illustrator

John Tindel is an Atlanta artist who spends all day painting his ass off. A Rare Combination, a new exhibition of his works, opens Jan. 13 at Apache Cafe, 64 3rd St.

For winning stories, click a title below:

First-place winner: Mysterium tremendum
Second-place winner: The kid who ate paste
Third place winner: Dixie youth
Finalist: The death of the Venus' flytrap
Finalist: Please read!
Finalist: Between brick and drywall
Finalist: Behaving ourselves

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