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I Didn't Win an Award

I entered a contest. To be specific, the “25th Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards.” Because I’m in the process of moving and have not been focusing on writing, this is all I have to post for now.

I didn’t win, obviously, but they did provide me with the Judge’s Commentary, which I am posting below.

Someone once told me that a good short story is like a good sandwich; it has to satisfy you on the first bite and make you want to finish it. Many of Harrie’s stories are like that: Spare writing about offbeat characters muddling their way through Raymond Carver-esque situations. I might want to re-title the book "Stories About People on the Edge." If there’s anything all the characters have in common it’s that they’re teetering between being normal and very screwed up, even insane. In the first story, “Mary Is Concerned About the Future,” Mary lives in a studio apartment in New York. Among the things that happen, she brings coffee and a sandwich to a homeless woman, who turns down the food. “People think they’re being nice by bringing me Starbucks food,” says the woman … “but I’d rather eat something I found in the trash.” The woman goes to put Mary’s number on her phone and send Mary a cat video. Mary takes out her old flip-phone. “Shit,” says the woman, “What year is it?” Mary goes home and makes cannabis tea. These stories do not have neatly tied-up, happy endings. They just kind of hang there in a state of irony, reflecting and sometimes parodying the daily lives of New Yorkers — and maybe even of people who live in other places. In “The Old vs. The Young,” two groups of women executives — the financial types and the marketing types — must decide in a kind of dystopian committee meeting which group is to be exiled from the earth: the seniors who have nothing more to offer or the babies that cost too much to raise. Eve is the only one at the table who fights for the rights of both old and young. Three black-suited men come to take her away. She’s guided past … … beautiful buildings, nothing like the factory-cut, boxy monstrosities she’s known all her life. While everyone else at the table keeps on following management’s directives, The men tell Mary that she “passed.” Does that mean she’s being led to her death? The O’Henry-ish ending is that she is the one who will survive, having proven herself “worthy of living in a community of people who share ideas that are meant to further society, not hinder it or take it back to the Dark Ages.” In “Alvin’s Story,” just about everything goes wrong. He’s trying to be a good recovering addict, but finds himself getting thrown out of stores, running down the street naked, getting arrested, senses dulled by different antipsychotics — and then is unable to get a job because he has a criminal record and is a registered sex offender. His feelings are recounted beautifully: His hope scattered, brushed away like the dead leaves on the ground after a chilly fall. In “The Wrong Idea,” Alvin’s problems are juxtaposed against those of Myrna and Tom. Myrna, an actress, dons a Puritan costume and accuses people visiting Times Square of being witches. This piece of performance art doesn’t go over well. Wearing a “Queers are the Hands of the Devil” t-shirt he’s selling online, Tom is trying to crunch numbers on his laptop in a coffee shop. He gets in a fight with another customer who tries to get him thrown out. The guy posts his picture on Facebook, and Tom is beset with 5,000 notifications, including posts suggesting he kill himself. These stories will resonate with (and get some out-loud laughs from) anyone who has ever lived in New York City — and might scare away people who are thinking about moving there.

Cameron Harrie