COVER- FICTION WINNERS- Winners 2006: Hometown favorites...

After much thoughtful deliberation, our judges have finally chosen the winners of the Hook's 2006 Fiction Contest.

Our thanks to the 100-plus writers who entered this year's contest. In our fast-paced, emailing, blogging, text-messaging world, writing fiction can be a thankless business. The blood, sweat, and toil on the pages we received was evident, which made the selection process difficult.

In the end, a good story is a good story in its own way, and so judging them can become an exercise in hair-splittingkind of like being asked to decide which of your children you like better. On that note, two of this year's winners are a native daughter and son, with the third having lived in Earlysville since the late 1970s.

Anyway, the deed is done, and it's time for our winners to bask in the glory of some well-earned recognition. This week, the Hook presents Virginia Moran's First Place story "Traveling" in its entirety, along with interviews with Second and Third Place winners, Lincoln Michel and Mark Lindensmith.

So, without further ado...

First Place: Ginger Moran

"Sometimes there's just a story telling itself in your head," says 53-year-old Ginger Moran, an associate director at the UVA Women's Center, "...and "Traveling" was one of those. My job was just to catch it."

"Traveling" also caught the attention of our judges, particularly Moran's use of the male voice.

"Wow. 'Traveling' was written by a woman?" exclaimed judge Don Webster, who, like our other judges, read the submissions anonomously. "I didn't know... the voice is so believably male."

Judge David Ronka was struck by the convincing voice as well. "Descriptions like, 'Her hair flashing like a campfire' and 'Here she comes again, as full tilt as any jingling, burning flame can travel' had me pausing, time and again, just to savor them," says Ronka. "This is a story of the heart by a writer who obviously cares deeply for her characters."

Moran, a single working mom with two teenage boys, and a first-time Hook Fiction Contest entrant, also cares deeply about Charlottesville.

"I write about Charlottesville a lot," says Moran, who was born and raised here. In fact, her great aunt was Sarepta Moran, the first principal of the Venable School, and for whom Burnley-Moran Elementary was named. She has also finished a detective novel set in Charlottesville called The Body of Summer.

"I published a story in the Virginia Quarterly Review about Belmont when Belmont was a real working class neighborhood," says Moran. "I love observing the way the pieces of this town fit together and don't fit together."

According to Moran, "Traveling" was influenced by her interest in detective fiction. "Stories are always a kind of mystery," she says, "...some sort of puzzle to be solved– or at least they should be."

Judge Don Webster agrees. "I felt that this story, more than any other in the pack, had something in the plot that was truly at stake," says Webster. "What it does well, I think, is not tell you the whole story, but set up the situation, put the plot's dynamics in motion, and then leave you to do the metaphysical math, whose answer is obvious after a little thought."

Moran also paid close attention to the Hook's advice about showing, not telling. "It was well done," says Webster. "A lot of showing and little telling."

What's next for Moran? "I'm working on a collection of essays about being a single working mom," says Moran. "And my agent is shopping around my detective novel."


Read the winning story: Traveling

Second Place: Lincoln Michel

"I guess you could say I'm a cutter, or townie, as I was born and have lived in Charlottesville my whole life," says 23-year-old Lincoln Michel, whose story "Small Bodies of Water" took second place. "Barring four years at George Washington University, of course."

Besides writing fiction, brash Michel says he likes "bourbon, skinny dipping, and loud music." Not all three at once, we hope!

"This is a story with the flavor of the movie Stand By Me ­ young guys coming of age, with a macabre incident as the catalyst," says judge Janis Jaquith. "As I read it, I kept thinking of all the people I know who would enjoy reading it, too."

Judge Don Webster was equally impressed with the young storyteller. "Original. Thoughtful. With a classic short-story bottom-line message," says Webster.

Presently, Michel is trying to get a little "real world" experience before he heads off to grad school in the fall. He recently was accepted to Columbia University's writing program and is waiting to hear from others schools before making a decision.

"I decided to come back to Charlottesville for a while," he says. "I know so many people here, and it's such a great town."

The genesis of Michel's story was a five-minute writing assignment.

"Our teacher gave us five minutes to come up with a plot outline for a story about driving past a man with a dog waving to you from the side of the road," he says. "I came up with this story, but I didn't actually write it until after the semester ended."

Michel says he likes to let a story "burrow in his brain" for a while before "ejecting" it during a late-night writing session. Then, of course, comes the work of polishing the language.

If "Small Bodies" is any indication, this literary youngster already knows a thing or two about the "real world," about how unfair and comical it can sometimes be, and about how things don't always turn out the way you expect them to.


Third Place: Mark Lindensmith

Long-time Earlysville resident Mark Lindensmith is no stranger to literary accolades. Back in the '90s, the now 52-year-old lawyer and father of six won a Virginia Arts grant for his novel Failing to Close, and just last year he won the 10th annual Chicago Literary Award– and a $1,000 cash prize– for his short story "Mark Twain."

In addition, Southern Methodist University Press published his short story collection, Short-Term Losses, in 1996.

"I always had a vague notion I wanted to be a writer," says Lindensmith, who started writing in the mid-'80s. After a stint as a newspaper reporter, he chose the more lucrative career path of a lawyer, but he couldn't shake the "writing bug." Indeed, that bug is responsible for dozens of short stories and two novels over the years, including a new one in the planning stages.

Lindensmith says his prize-winning story, "My Visions," which tells the painful story of a marriage shattered by the death of a child, was written in a hurry for a reading he gave near Sweet Briar College.

"I don't have too many stories that are that short," says Lindensmith, who ended up patching pieces of a stalled novel together to create the tale in less than two days.

Not that the judges could tell.

"Lindensmith chose to take on a huge subject– a novel's worth of subject, in fact– and was able to cook it down into less than 3,000 words. That's an enormous feat," says judge Don Webster.

"There's a scene in this story that I may never forget," says judge Janis Jaquith. "Just thinking about it now, I have to take a deep breath to get rid of the painful twinge in my heart. When you read the story, you'll know which scene I'm talking about."

A year ago, Lindensmith's brother died in a car accident, and much of the pathos in "My Vision" comes from trying to put himself in his parents' shoes. "That's what you try to do in fiction," he says. "You try to empathize with people. You try to make sense of difficult things. You put pressure on your characters and see what they do."

Mark Lindensmith




How can I read the 2nd & 3rd place stories from 2006? I am the producer of VA Arts & letters Live, and would like to consider these stories for my event. Thanks. IRene Ziegler