2017 Montana Prize for Fiction – Author Rick Bass will serve as the judge for this fourth annual $1000 prize.
Once a year, Whitefish Review offers a $1000 prize, winner-takes-all, for the best story submitted to our fiction contest, judged by author Rick Bass.
What Rick looks for in a submission: "I'm so hungry for good stories, I will simply choose the best submission regardless of theme. That said, Shakespeare reported that all literature is about loss....so the odds are that the winning story will look at loss in some way. But who knows? Surprise me. What makes me smile when I read a good story? The basics. Beauty. Attentiveness. Crystalline specificity in an era of great uncertainty. The basics. Hold the adverbs."
Notes from Rick Bass
I'm not telling you anything you don't already know, but reading this year's round of prize story finalists-selected and forward to me by Whitefish Review's distinguished roster of readers (a task that grows ever-more yeoman as WFR continues to establish itself as a journal of national quality), I'm reminded of how the hardest and best work is never really finished. Instead, it proceeds beneath the surface, intricate and enduring, while up above, the rest of us go about our lives with a kind of muted awareness, just living our lives, sometimes small and other times grand, but not really thinking about what's going on below.
What is going on, however, emerges here, now, after six months of sleep. The writers have been writing, every day, and the editors have been editing, and the readers have been reading.
This steadiness of purpose reminds me somehow of what William Faulkner is reputed to have said when someone asked him if he worked with regularity and the iron rigor of discipline, or if, being a genius, he instead just worked when he was inspired and the Muse was speaking to him.
"Oh, I only write when I'm inspired," he is reported to have said. "But I make sure I'm inspired every morning at nine a.m."
This is the work ethic, and ethos, of Brian and Lyndsay Schott, and all the volunteers at WFR. While the community sleeps, they are hard at it-through good days and bad-moving forward to bring us each issue, with the goal of becoming always better. They work in service to us, beneath the surface, and then appear, as if coming up from a hibernation, one that is not hibernation at all, but something like hope eternal, seeking to express itself in the community.
But you probably already know that. The community is doing a fantastic job of nurturing this little national treasure. Mr. Faulkner himself might have said that no work is ever wasted.
There were a bundle of worthy stories in this year's fiction competition-more than usual. In the end, for me, two were left standing, jockeying with their elbows for a place in my heart. "John Duffy" and "Wolves" are in some ways eerily similar, with their ancient themes of innocence diminished, and estrangement. The late John Gardner reminded us that there are really only two stories in the world-a man or woman goes on a journey, or a stranger rides into town-and I'll leave it to you to decide which of these two each story is, or if they are an amalgam of both.
I like to ask myself, as a reader and a writer, What's at stake here? in any story. In "John Duffy," a young woman looks for the first time, it seems, with widening clarity at the world beyond her. In "Wolves," the runner-up, that same new look is directed more within. Both are powerful visions and stories, told with the most delicious technique I know, specificity. "No ideas but in things," William Carlos Williams reminded us.
In the end, I chose the story of betrayal, though again both are moving, technically deft and honest, true, vital, resonant.
Judging is always a crapshoot-no roll of dice was ever less determinant than the whims of any judge. Speaking for "John Duffy," part of my appreciation has to do with the most elemental parts: word choices, sentence rhythms, reaches and ambitions staying within the confines of the story, the situation. In "John Duffy," I love the steady, invisible tenderness the omniscient narrator, and by clean extension then, the reader, has for the girl, the young woman. It's a lovely piece of work.
These are hard times, right now, divided and troubling times, like we haven't seen in a while. Stories and art matter at least as much now as they ever have. In the presence of ugliness, beauty is ever-more important. I'm grateful again for all the stories submitted, and for the staff and community support of Whitefish Review. The team continues to work at all hours, in all seasons, publishing vital stories of fear, desire, celebration, hope: the whole package, really, of the human experience, in seas both calm and turbulent.