UPDATE: VOTING IS CLOSED!!
Greetings. I am Dwight K. Schrute, Assistant Regional Manag… fine, Assistant to the Regional Manager, Dunder Mifflin Scranton.
I have been… you haven’t heard of Dunder Mifflin? Ugh. Hello? It’s only the third largest paper supply company in the Northeast Metro Region. Have you heard of paper? You probably don’t even know the difference between a dagger and a throwing knife.
I have been asked how a human being could read over 2,500 paragraphs in a few days while also having a job.
FACT. I am not a human being. I am the Scranton Volunteer Assistant Deputy Sheriff.
Okay, fine. I’m human. But soon I will officially be a wizard in training. I recently accepted an invitation to attend wizard school, and it was left on my desk by Dumbledore’s apprentice himself. All I have to do is make my own wizard costume and wand and arrive at work to be transported to Hogwart’s for training. The first spell I will learn is demoting Jim to Assistant to the Assistant to the Regional Manager. The second spell I will learn will be to turn my hands into claws.
Choosing these paragraphs was difficult. Very difficult indeed. None of the paragraphs involved Battlestar Gallactica and I was forced to rely on other criteria. Such as: perfection. Or as close to perfection as a paragraph could be if it’s not about the different species of bears and their genetic superiority to humans.
Writing a good paragraph is much like making a lovely beet stew. It must have the right amount of spice. It must not be overcooked or undercooked. Too much blood can overwhelm the natural umami of the beet. It must bode well for the roast rabbit entree and make you hungry for more. It must feel authentic and have a fine consistency. No one likes instant beets or other cheap tricks.
While judging this contest I made a unilateral decision to announce the individuals who made the longlist with their first paragraphs. These individuals win a free night’s stay at Schrute Farms and honorable mention (in chronological order):
Congratulations. I will spare you the next time Michael lets me fire someone.
The ten individuals below are the finalists. They win a weekend’s stay at Schrute Farm, a year’s supply of beets, and a 90 minute Swedish massage by my cousin Mose. He’s practicing for his massage license.
In order to vote for the winner, please leave a vote in the comments section of this post. You will have until Sunday 6pm Pacific time to vote. Please not e-mail me your vote.
Also: No campaigning for yourself or your favorites out there on the Internet. Don’t make me bring out my nun-chucks.
Because I expanded the number of finalists, I’m afraid only the top four runners up will receive the prize of query critique and signed THE SECRET YEAR bookmark (if you’re in the US). The grand prize winner will receive their choice of a query/partial critique or phone conversation, and a galley of the incredible THE SECRET YEAR. When I read it I cried. Then I captured the tears and dried them to use for Schrute Farm table salt.
Anonymous comments have been closed.
The finalists (in no particular order):
Josin L. McQuein:
Time works different in purgatory. I’m absolutely certain of this. Sure, they call it Geometry and there’s a man in slacks at the front of the room instead of some red guy with a pointed tail and pitchfork, but it’s still torture. And after forty-one minutes of equilateral something-or-others getting mixed up with isosceles what-cha-ma-call-its , I want to strangle myself with a hypotenuse.
You imagine time flowing backward, back upstream. The apartment door swings open and the messenger from the lawyer’s office comes into your living room, loads up the boxes onto a dolly, and leaves with them. The dust falls out of the beam of light from your window and settles back on the scarred wooden floor. The boxes wait again in the corner of the lawyer’s office. In the hospital, long wiry hairs suddenly lift up from the musty pillow, reimplant themselves in your mother’s dented skull. (The abiding image, for some reason, is her hair at its healthiest: dark glossy coils of it. You had a dream recently that you came home and found it winding like a rope around dream-lengthened hallways, and you followed it with the growing sense that what it would ultimately lead to would be unfamiliar, not really your mother at all, some demonic reverse Rapunzel, and yet nevertheless propelled forward, as though someone were tugging at the other end.) Eventually she sits up, combs her long hair, more hairs returning from the brush to her head. Doctors remove the morphine drip. Her flesh puffs back into firmness. She leaves the room, sucking the sick air into herself, drives to the office to retrieve the boxes. At home, she opens one and takes a sheet of paper. Ink flows from cramped cursive on the page into her pen; words into her brain. Her thoughts curl once more inside her, unform themselves into vague image, memory, piled heavily atop each other like drifts of snow. As you back into her house at the end of your visit, she tells you she thinks it will be all right. That you can go.
K and A:
Adelaide walked swiftly along the street, past the pirate who didn’t own a ship, and the Scot who’d never been to Scotland, and the librarian whose home didn’t hold a single book. Contemplating her own strange circumstances, Adelaide realized she was absently twisting the ring on her finger. As she gazed thoughtfully at it, a bright flash of light reflected off the largest diamond. Turning to the source of the illumination, Adelaide watched warily as the light began to fade, and finally blink out, leaving in its place a New Arrival. The young woman, not distant in age from Adelaide, wore a tight body suit of unearthly hues, and clutched a sign that read, “Peace Not Plasma!” But it was the woman’s eyes that captured Adelaide’s full attention, for they were bewildered, confused… and fearful. Adelaide understood; she had worn the same expression herself—the day she’d Arrived.
My name is not Mara Dyer, but my lawyer told me I had to choose something. A pseudonym. A nom de plume, for all of us studying for the SATs. I know that having a fake name is strange but trust me, it’s the most normal thing about my life right now. Even telling you this much isn’t good for my case. But without my big mouth, no one would know that a seventeen-year-old who likes Death Cab for Cutie was responsible for the murders. No one would know that somewhere out there is a B student with a body count. And it’s important that you know, so you’re not next.
The masked girl was back at the screen door. The smooth mahogany full face mask was sculpted to her face, its carved slots allowing her eyes access to witness what sat before her on the other side of the door. Like a small brown-skinned ghost, she had appeared and disappeared throughout the long day, each time pressing her hands and hidden face against the ragged screen straining for a better view, each time stinging her fingers on the sharp shards jutting out around the holes in the sorry screen. She snatched her hand back when pricked, shaking it in a finger-whipping motion, sucking the offended fingers to lessen the sting of the tiny wire splinter, all the while never taking her eyes from the small veiled figure sitting in the middle of the floor.
Her mother told her a bed was for three things: loving, sleeping, and birthing babies. She had not warned her that a bed is also for holding new babies, cold and blue, against an aching breast, moving them from the safeness of the womb to the frigid air they will never learn to breathe. She did not warn her that in her bloodied bed she would witness the worst kind of death – the death of her soul; the loss of her children. But now she knew — for the third time.
Coming-of-age stories are often fraught with symbolism, hidden metaphors, and a heaping mound of other literary devices. Not this one. I came of age while working at a dusty, Texas feedstore. A place where To Kill a Mockingbird involved a twelve-year-old and a BB gun. Of Mice and Men was a problem easily solved with rat poison. And David Copperfield was nothing more than a dude that made shit disappear.
Simon C. Larter:
It was one of those painfully trendy restaurants staffed by skinny hipsters in tight jeans and shirts that left nothing to the imagination, and she had brought me here because she knew there would be many opportunities to make me uncomfortable. We were seated by an effervescent pixie of a girl with long blonde hair and a bright smile who asked if we were from the area or just visiting. Margot said that we lived in the area but had heard nothing but good things about the food here and simply had to try it for ourselves. “My husband likes his food, as you can tell,” she said, and laughed. The pixie’s grin froze on her face. She wished us a good evening then pressed through the crowd of bodies at the bar and headed back to her station by the front door. I didn’t watch her go. Margot was looking at me with a smile on her lips that could have chilled every martini for a three-block radius. Her eyes were bright and very hard, and it had been three days since she found out about my addiction.
Philip had cleaned and put away the wine glass that had her mauve lipstick print. He collected the half used make up jars that littered the bathroom counter and recycled the glass and plastic containers. He donated her clothing to Goodwill and dispersed her jewelry evenly between their two daughters. He even gave her African violets, in their cheery hand painted terracotta pots, to their neighbors. Yes, Phillip had removed nearly all the remnants of his deceased wife from their home. He hoped that the great cleaning, as he referred to it, would ease his depression and overall feelings of despair and hopelessness. Yet there still remained the grocery list on the refrigerator. Her loopy cursive letters in black ink floated on the page like a secret poem he could not decipher. The list had items that Phillip did not recognize. What on earth was she going to make? He needed, more than anything, to find out.
Maya / מיה:
The pomegranate seeds burst between my teeth, releasing tart-sweet juice. The wind licked my eyelids, and the orchard rustled and creaked. I relaxed into the fork of the tree. In that moment, nothing mattered– not marriage, not exile, not my mother’s pursed lips. Persia became smaller than the nub of bark digging into the back of my leg.
Congratulations to the finalists. Almost as impressive as achieving a purple belt in Goju-Ryu karate.
And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to set off some fireworks.
More about the picks and thoughts on first paragraphs on Monday!