by Sheri Boggs

Every year we put the word out -- "Send us your short stories, folks" -- and then we sit back and hold our collective breath. But every year, we're delighted not only to see the manuscripts start trickling in, but also to note how many there are and what high-quality writing they exhibit.

This year, our seventh, was no different. We received more than 30 submissions overall, and the crop was downright impressive. In addition to this year's first place winner, "Bliss," by Bruce Holbert, we'd like to congratulate Shann Ray for his second-place short story, "Morning Star," and Brenda L. Velasco, author of the third-place winner, "Garlic Milk to Cure the Soul." We don't have room to print them in this issue as we'd like to, but they are available for reading on our Web site,

And finally, we'd like to thank everyone who entered. The manuscripts were uniformly excellent, and it was hard to select a winner from this year's batch. It's because of you that we're able not only to continue this contest each year, but to see it grow and thrive.

About the Winner... -- When you utter the phrase "Stag Party," most people think of certain boozy, lurid images and leave it at that. "Stag Party" is one of those terms that needs little explanation; sometimes the less said about it, the better. But Bruce Holbert, in his winning short story, Bliss, uses the time-honored tradition of taking the groom out the night before his wedding to explore father-son dynamics, reveal the tenuous bond between brothers and ask "just what is it that constitutes marital bliss, anyway?"

Not surprisingly, the idea for this story came from a wedding Holbert attended several years ago.

"There was this one guy, Bill, who was quite a bit wilder than just about anybody, and something about his energy just kind of lodged in my mind," says Holbert. "This story has seen a lot of different metamorphoses, but when I got to where I could see the two brothers that I've been writing about in this story, it interested me to take it that way and see what happened."

Holbert is a graduate of the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop, where he held a Teaching Writing fellowship, and did his undergraduate work at EWU, where he studied under John Keeble, Kay Boyle and Terry Davis. His stories have appeared in Other Voices, The Antioch Review and The Iowa Review. "Bliss" is part of an unpublished collection of short stories that Holbert says features the two brothers and the father that appear in the short story. Married with three children, Holbert has lived in Spokane for five years -- he lived in the Grand Coulee area, where this story takes place, for part of his childhood -- and had previously taught in the St. John school district for 17 years. He currently teaches English at Rogers High School and is as inspired by his students as they no doubt are by him.

"Some of these kids have incredible stories," he says. "I think my stories are powerful, but I learn about some of the things these kids have seen or experienced, and that's powerful. "

About the Judge... -- Jasmine Paul's debut novel, A Girl, In Parts -- a series of 97 vignettes from the perspective of one unforgettable heroine -- was published earlier this year by Counterpoint Books. Paul grew up around the Grand Coulee area, then moved to L.A. for film school at UCLA. After graduating, she worked on the Judge Judy show during the day and wrote her novel in the evenings. Tired of life in L.A., she moved to Spokane to be closer to her family. A Girl, In Parts has earned positive reviews from Kirkus, The Oregonian and Publishers Weekly, and evokes the hardscrabble resilience of Dorothy Allison's Bastard Out of Carolina. She currently resides in Spokane with her dog, Floyd.

About this year's winner, Paul says, "Bruce Holbert has created an original and winning short story which challenges conventional fiction with both its style and content. Mr. Holbert's attention to detail, his brevity and his ability to capture a moment are uncanny. There is a richness in his use of language, and his dialogue is wicked, exact and refreshing."

About the Artist... -- It's not surprising that the name of Spokane artist Melissa Cole's design business is Sirena Graphics. Cole's work takes her to various undersea locales all over the world, and the Spanish word for "mermaid" also alludes to the fact that she met her husband, a marine photographer, while working with gray whales off the coast of Mexico. The former Peace Corps volunteer has also guided nature trips in the Bahamas, painted manatees in Florida and found herself amid orcas in the San Juan Islands.

Closer to home, Cole works the imagery of the Inland Northwest -- grizzly, cedar, eagles and pine -- into her detailed, vivid paintings. Her work can be seen locally on journal covers (available at the Paper Garden) and on coffee tumblers (Four Seasons). She was also selected as one of 10 artists to design clocks for the MAC auction during First Night. She is the featured artist at the Shop through January and will also have a show at the Kress Gallery in River Park Square in April.

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