Alphabet Challenge Awards and Wrap-up

What can I say about seventy-eight stories written by three guys in fourteen-and-a-half months? Well, let me speak about what it’s like to commit to writing two short stories a month for thirteen months . . . besides how easily it turns into fourteen months and change.

Most stories came in at around three thousand words, and some people — people who have not tried writing — might look at that and say something like “Three thousand words in two weeks? No problemo!

Let me tell you that despite our talent as writers, it’s not as easy as it sounds. Ideas are easy, but the devil is in the execution. What seems like a brilliant jewel in the perfect environment of one’s mind can suddenly take the form of cheap colored plastic once transferred as words onto digital paper.

Ideas are mainly visual, and the ability to transfer ideas from one’s mind to another person’s mind via words is why good writers make a living at it.

To be clear, we’re doing this for free and none of us make a living from writing. That said, I’ll go out on a limb and say that we can rightly be proud of much of what we wrote. Throughout the challenge, we’ve gotten enough compliments about our efforts so that I feel justified in saying it’s not just our vanity and egos speaking.

I asked Perry and Gary to pen their thoughts about this effort, so here are their thoughta about the challenge.

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Twenty-six original short stories in a year . . . that was the original proposition. Yes, we fell short of the timeline, but the quantity (and hopefully, quality) of the tales never failed.
For those of you who write, you will empathize when I state the obvious: There is nothing more daunting than a blinking cursor on a blank page. In the beginning, this exercise – conceived in the recesses of Hell – was nothing short of torture. Then, six or eight of ten tales in, something clicked. It got easier. Soon, I found myself batting away an excess of ideas like pesky insects. What was a dearth of ideas, became a bounty. The new challenge was to separate the wheat from the chaff.
It’s no secret that Gary and I draw deeply from the dark waters of the horror genre. We love devils and demons and homicidal sewer clowns. And we show little compunction over body counts and global holocausts. This writing challenge . . . ahem . . . challenged those tropes. Let’s face it, slaughtering the whole of humanity gets old, fast. Hence, we adapted. I shouldn’t speak for him. I know I adapted. The change did me good. I feel as if my writing has become more three-dimensional. The proof: my final story, Z-Man. I sensed that it would not be a big vote-getter, but it was a mature story, heartfelt, and honest. Much different than many of my early offerings – stories meant to titillate and shock and sometimes offend.
Sure, I’m the Bronze Boy in this trio of champions. I happily accept my “participation” trophy. I lost, but I’m not a loser. I’ve gained a new appreciation for career authors – writing can be a lonely grind. I’ve learned to moderate and modulate without devolving into a hackneyed populist. I learned to learn – to forfeit ego, to make the pages more important than myself.
Special thanks to Emilio for hosting this challenge. Congratulations to Gary for beating the pants off of us. But most importantly, I extend a wholehearted, full-throated appreciation to our constant readers, without whom we might as well stuff bottles with words and hurl into the ocean. 
Warm regards,
Perry Broxson 
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The End. There is nothing more daunting, saddening, and yet satisfying to a writer. It demands your best even when your characters have hijacked your plot. It’s a time to say goodbye to those unruly characters, and it simultaneously offers a sigh of relief especially after missing the deadline by three days. The end makes us move on.

Real or imagined, the pressure to perform week after week for the Alphabet Challenge was palpable. Most guys our age would have to take a blue pill to satiate this muse, this mistress—this leather-clad vixen of literature. But somehow we girded our loins, we wined her, dined her, courted her, and made one-knee Vows we knew we couldn’t keep. Perry got to second base with her; Emilio slid into third. I didn’t hit many home runs this season, but my doubles earned me a lot of RBIs and I scored enough to win her heart. Her heart, however, is a cold one, and I’m singularly glad to divorce this soul-stealing bitch. I want to watch a Braves’ baseball game, for Chrissakes.

Enough metaphoric whining (and winning): looking back, this challenge (probably sparked by one of our trio halfway through a bottle of bourbon) has been a highlight to me in a year darkened by Covid, elections, and riots.

Admittedly, it took its toll. Once the Covid restrictions lifted here in Georgia, we went back to work full, fuller, and over-full time. I work three jobs: my day job as a middle school writing teacher pays the mortgage; my weekend work at the airport pays for vacations, and my night job as a role player for the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center allows me to vent frustrations on unsuspecting trainees; it often involves a simulated shotgun.

Writing roughly two quality short stories a month is hard, no matter how many jobs you work. Try it yourself if you don’t believe me. I found myself scanning every word in the dictionary that started with the word L or Q and jotting down any that sounded intriguing. Then I would marinate on a few words for a few days. Once the seed was planted, something almost always grew.

Admittedly, however, when deadlines were close and ideas far away, I occasionally resorted to plagiarizing myself. Yes, perhaps I deserve an asterisk for this win, in that I repurposed a few older short stories that I had stowed away from days gone by. My comrades generously allowed these exceptions. Some scored well, some not. I simply ran out of time and I beg your pardon if you somehow expected something fresher.

A to Z. That’s it. No Greek alphabet like they do for hurricanes. This is The End. But the end makes us move on, like getting up after a movie and leaving the theater. If you are still sitting here, reading the credits, like I do, you are exceptional. I thank you for making this all worthwhile; without you, it’s just writing. And writers are nothing without readers.

Stay tuned, Hollywood has proven that sometimes The End is only the beginning.  

Thank you,

Gary Broxson

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I should say something about our readers/voters . . . in these days of shortened attention spans and a multitude of visual and audio noise clamoring for people’s attention, we feel honored that so many people chose to spend their time with our offerings. And, we especially appreciated people who chose to vote (for whatever reason, not all did). And, finally, we feel humbled at so many asking us not to stop (more on that later).

But, on to a brief review of the scoring before awarding the prestigious certificates . . .

The race was tight; tighter than the results show. . .

Three-and-a-half points from first to third won’t seem like much when you think about this: changing the results of two rounds would swap first and third-place winners. And, when I say that, readers might still not grasp what I’m saying . . . until they look at this:

Fourteen rounds were decided by two votes or less . . . six rounds were decided by one vote . . . and one round had a tie for first place.

It gets even more interesting when we look at the stats for the rounds . . .

Notice anything interesting? Yup . . . a sort of tortoise-and-the-hare scenario. The winner, Gary, had fewer first-place wins than either me or Perry. BUT . . . he had far fewer last-place rounds and more ties.

Obviously, steady wins the race (he runs, so he knows all about that); consistency proved more important than winning the most rounds or getting the most votes.

To be clear, none of this is meant to detract or diminish or undermine Gary’s win.

On a personal level, I’ll add one more thing . . . while writers can’t (and shouldn’t) second-guess readers, both Perry and Gary took more risks, usually offered more complex and involved stories than what I offered, and there were many rounds where I thought they should have won instead of me (even if I didn’t personally like the stories).

So, what does the result of the voting mean for the writers? As I said for each round, outside of a few bragging rights, not much. We can be — and are — proud of our offerings, but our greatest satisfaction comes from having engaged readers.

. . . still . . . someone earned gold, and they deserve a certificate, so . . .

. . . and someone earned silver . . .

. . . and someone earned bronze . . .

And this brings us to . . . where do we go from here?

Well, we’re thinking about another challenge . . . but a less demanding one.

Here’s what’s being discussed:

The Seven Deadly Sins (a.k.a. the capital sins or cardinal sins). Each of us would write one short story about the individual sins (seven short stories each). We’re thinking about one story per month, for a seven-month timeline. We need to decide on which version of the sins we’ll work with, and when to start.

While tentative, this will likely be the challenge. Stay tuned.

That’s it. This post has ended . . . except for the stuff below.


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