Writers write because we have no choice. Muse or no muse. Good, bad, or indifferent.
Maybe their personal engine is powered by a few great and moving experiences, as it was for F. Scott Fitzgerald (The Great Gatsby). “Experiences so great and moving that it doesn’t seem at the time anyone else has been so caught up and so pounded and dazzled and astonished and beaten and broken and rescued and illuminated and rewarded and humbled in just that way ever before.”
Or maybe a plot or a few random lines of an unwritten poem roll around in their head. Stubborn. Persistent. Undeterred by a pressing To Do list.
This year, writers from all over Northern New Mexico offered up their efforts in more than 150 entries in the 2021 Pasatiempo Writing Contest. Many were in the new category, memoir. Poetry entries broke recent records with more than three dozen entries.
Many were quite good, impressive even. Especially the winners, who, with the exception of poetry, were all adults. For whatever reason, youth submissions were down to only one or two in fiction and memoir. (For that reason, we decided not to include youth winners in those categories this year.)
Themes included freedom from conformity, mid-life crises, finding one’s path, and relationships, whether with nature, food, or a spouse.
“One way of approaching memoir is as a tool to work through an experience, even while you are having it,” wrote a judge about the first-place winner in the memoir category. “Amid her observations of the natural world, the author mentions unexplained, undiagnosed pain symptoms in a prose block that is a little more abstract and less imagistic than some of the others, but more psychologically direct, giving the reader an indication of what is propelling the memoir.”
Another judge appreciated the winning poet’s way with metaphor.
“The poet takes a challenging moment in time, shared by two people, and presents it as a metaphor for the trajectory of their relationship. Seeing the same roots and rocks along the road indicates, perhaps, negative patterns that can only be overcome by stepping back and looking at a situation objectively.”
Fiction was a close race. The winners told unexpected, personal stories that felt both familiar and completely new.
“It takes a lot of confidence to tell a story slowly and with restraint,” a judge wrote of the first-place winner. “This one takes its time, building the tale with inner monologue, spare dialogue, and telling details, human details.
“It was a story that stayed with me. That’s just about the best compliment I can give to a writer.”
As always, the work comes to you unedited, with the exception of a few small changes for clarity. I hope you enjoy them as much as we did.
— Tracy Mobley-Martinez, editor of Pasatiempo