FICTION- Stunner: Grisham's shocking short story picks

Christy Strick pockets $700 for her winning story.

Now in its seventh year, the Hook's short story contest should be running very smoothly. For the second year, John Grisham graciously agreed to pick the winning entries, and his choices this year reflect, he notes, "a lot of heartbreak– the top three are about broken romance."

What Grisham had no way of knowing is his selections for the second- and third-place stories were written by the same person– and she's a former contest winner. Even the Hook is speechless; we clearly didn't anticipate this outcome from blind judging.

So, Sally Honenberger, the fiction winner in 2004 and runner-up 2002, walks away with both the $200 second-place prize and $100 for third, retires from the Hook short story contest, and enters into its hall of fame.

Christy Strick takes first place and the $700 grand prize with her story, "Moving." She entered the contest a few years ago, but this is the first time she's won. We don't know if there's any logrolling going on here, but she says, "I'm going to take my winnings and buy the new Grisham book [The Appeal]." Hmmmm.

Christy Strick

First-place winner Christy Strick has been scribbling stories since she was eight years old, but she began submitting them for publication not so long ago. She entered the Hook contest at the last minute on a whim, she says. 

While she's had a couple of stories published in literary magazines, this is the first time her writing will be in print in town where everyone she knows can read it. That's what happens with whims sometimes 

She's taking a hiatus from her life as catering director at Farmington Country Club. "I left to take time to figure out what I want to do" says Strick, 52, who majored in speech pathology in college with a minor in English.

Her story is so good that when it came in, Hook editor Hawes Spencer read the first sentence aloud in the newsroom– "On the day Greg's wife left him, she made pancakes for breakfast–" and predicted that would be the winning story. 

Grisham agreed. "Not your typical way to end a marriage, but a very funny scheme to divide the assets. The next chapter would be fun to read."

Strick is working on a novel, but alas, it's not the continuing saga of Greg getting dumped after eating pancakes floating in Mrs. Butterworth's Maple Syrup. "I wanted to write from a male point of view," explains Strick. "It started with that first line."

When Strick began writing more seriously a few years ago, she took a writing class and got into a writing group. To aspiring Hook short story winners, she highly recommends a writing group. "It was a tremendous boost," she says. 

Breaking up is hard to do, but in Strick's hands, the pain is pretty entertaining.

Sally Honenberger

After entering the Hook fiction contest in February, Sally Honenberger got the heck out of town and has spent the past month lying low in a sailboat anchored in Palmetto, Florida.

"I thought I could get some writing done," she says, acting like she had no idea her two stories would take second and third place.

"There have been years I haven't won," she protests. True, but her 2004 first-place story, "Waltzing Cowboys," is coming out as a novel– her second– at the end of this year. She published White Lies in December 2006. So the lady isn't exactly an amateur.

"Writing is a process," says Honenberger, 55. "You just keep working at it. Some of [the stories] are terrible. Sometimes it depends on the judge."

 She kept working on "Dancing on the Ledge," which she started in 1996. "The ending wasn't right," she says. "I fiddled with it, fiddled with it. That ending came about eight months ago."

Grisham calls it "an oddly erotic story of a near disastrous fling by a frustrated woman," and gave it second place.

The third-place winner, "Lost in the Land of Paradise," was inspired during her book tour last year at a joint in Florida. "I kept saying this could be a story with all these characters," she says.

"The search for love leads men to all the wrong places," observes Grisham.

Honenberger, an attorney like Grisham– coincidence? hmmm– started writing seriously at age 42. She has already suggested the importance of editing: "Put it away for a few days– or a year."

One other tip: "Read it out loud even if in front of the mirror. The places where [you] stumble are the places that don't work for the reader."

With her latest contest bombshell, Honenberger tells the Hook that's enough. "I feel a little like I'm robbing the cradle," she says.

Indeed. Next thing you know, Grisham and George Garrett and Ann Beattie will be trying to enter.

Enjoy Strick's "Moving" in this issue, and look for Honenberger's tales during the lazy days of summer.

Ringer Sally Honenberger walks away with second and third prizes this year, her last Hook short story contest entries.



Man, this write-up seems kinda harsh. It implies that somehow the contest didn't run "smoothly"? And why is the HOOK "speechless" over the fact that someone won both 2nd and 3rd place?

Just seems like a no-brainer to me. The woman can obviously write. It's a writing contest, so what's "ringer" about submitting and winning on a consistent basis? Compliment your winners and your judge for producing and recognizing (respectively,) good writing.

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