Dear SOLSTICE community,
First of all, heartfelt thanks to Anjali Mitter Duva, distinguished novelist, who for the past two years served as our fiction co-editor. Anjali brought the combination of creativity, dedication and organizational expertise, which she is taking with her since she has co-founded an ambitious, author-oriented publishing venture Galiot Press. We will sincerely miss her even though she is staying on as a Contributing Fiction Editor.
And deep appreciation to our first Visiting Fiction Co-editor Ruth Mukwana, whose stories we have published and who serves as an activist for the literary arts. From Uganda, Ruth brings her dedication to diversity to our Summer Contest Issue.
And gratitude to two of our devoted staff readers who carefully read submissions and helped us editors select the finalists, Jennifer Gentile and Karen Halil.
We also thank all who submitted to our annual contest, more writers than ever in our approximately fifteen years, for their talent and dedication to the craft.
It has been our privilege to serve as co-editors on this timely issue, which serves to show many facets of our complex society. Fiction is engaged, vital, activist. Lee Hope and Ruth Mukwana,
FICTION WINNER AND RUNNER-UP
And now we are thrilled to announce that the Winner of the $1,000 Fiction Prize, chosen by the distinguished author Patricia Engel, is Gayle Wandeka, a Jamaican writer, for her excerpt “Solomon and the Shed” from her novel-in-progress “Sweet Thing.” In clear, polished prose, Gayle adeptly interweaves Jamaican folklore with contemporary issues. “I should have known when the neighbor’s rooster came in our yard one morning and crowed long and loud that nothing was set to go well that day, a sign of trouble like the old heads liked to say.
I had folded and unfolded my father’s letter looking at the few words he had scrawled but unable to bring myself to read it. Anger and frustration were building in me, pressing like a palpable thing across my chest.”
Runner-up is “D-POD” where we take a journey with Nicholas Cormier III’s narrator through Los Angeles County Jail and in a staccato beat feel the tension, hope and disappointment of the characters as they wait for their chance to leave. Here is a tough, empathic insight into life in incarceration. “Loneliness climbs on top of you at night in county jail. Slithers under your sheets. Chokes you. Mind wanders. Reminiscing isn’t the word. Missing is more fitting.”
Christine Neu’s “Where the Beaver be Damned” tells of a dysfunctional family reunion at an aging house told from the ironic point of view of an aging mother and widow involved in a late-in-life love affair. The language is nuanced and graceful, evocative of Alice Munro’s. “On a Tuesday evening in late July, Miriam and her lover Ted watched a storm roll in over the lake. They met at her dock every evening after Ted returned from visiting hours at the memory care unit. There, like a loyal goose, he had shared dinner with his wife, who spoke to him in French, a language he did not understand, because she thought him to be a Belgian prince.”
Chad V. Broughman’s “Countdown to retirement—Random journal entries of a public-school teacher’s final year” portrays a compassionate life spent teaching in a disadvantaged milieu and the complex bonds established between teachers, parents and students. “It’s 5:13 and I’m still at my desk, grading essays old-school, no Grammarly app, just a pencil in my grip and one behind my ear. I’m listening to some random YouTube channel called, “relaxing piano music” and I pause to watch the screen, feathery landscapes fade in and out … The hall is dark, only me and the custodian, Judy, are left. Both she and her mom were former students, pretty solid writers. And I remember when Judy’s mom left her with her grandpa, moved to Ohio because she ‘needed to live for herself.’ Small towns. … And Judy’s really pregnant now. So I empty my own trashcans before she comes in each night. It’s all I can think to do.”
With a strong sense of place and humor, Jan Schmidt’s “Pandora,” explores a friendship sprinkled with tension, conflict, learning, and guilt as the narrator navigates recovery and confronts racism and privilege. “Queens David died just two months ago . . . Sandra and I’d gone to see him in ICU … we didn’t realize he was dying, but David knew … Till recovery I didn’t know how to have a friend. Or how to not hurt people. How to be a true friend still troubles me.”
“Unexploded Ordnances” by Chandreyee Lahiri tells the whimsical, humorous yet poignant tale of an Indian man pining to be an author but frustrated by life. “It started innocently enough—letter here, a word there—and he reasoned that Mrs. Pookutty needed the help, her English-in-retirement simply having acquired some rust since her School-Principal heyday. She probably meant to use the right word all along, the one Prabhakar had just typed.”
The Solstice Editors’ Pick is Anne Falkowski’s “A Decent Dog” in which a young person navigates life and death and love and loss. “A high-pitched sound fills the space between us and Maggie. A wild animal sad sound. I realize it’s coming from me.”
NON-CONTEST WORTHY WORK:
NOTABLE FICTION: “This Earth, That Sky,” is an excerpt from “Clouds are the Mountains of the World” by distinguished author of many novels and editor Alan Davis. The suspenseful piece immerses us in the lives of a grandmother and granddaughter on the run.
EMERGING: “The Poet and the Fisherman” by Ricki Morell tells of a woman writer who finds herself emerging from grief into love through a unique sexual encounter.
FICTION INTERVIEW: Helen Elaine Lee by Lee Hope
Acclaimed author Helen Elaine Lee discusses “Pomegranate,” one of the most significant novels of the last decade, and it was recently chosen by Amazon’s editors as one of the Best Books of the Year So Far, at #6. This novel tells the riveting story of a Black woman just released from prison on drug offenses as she confronts her present and past.