A Conversation With The 2021 Short Story Contest Winners

Ayanna Desai

“It is satisfying to know that something I love doing and spend a lot of time working on finally paid off."






Recently, some writers were given the chance to share their short stories with the upper school during chapel. I reached out to the winners of the short-story contest to learn more about how they had done it, and what they love about writing short stories. 

Second-place winner Ashley Marshall, a senior, said that she loves writing short stories in her free time. “It is one of the ways I relax,” she said. 

Ashley knew that she wanted to write a short story as soon as she saw Mr. Newman’s email about it. However, Katie Maier, a junior, had gotten a head start on this. “I actually wrote my short story before the contest even started,” she said. “I always know when it’s coming up, so I usually get started before the contest is announced every year.” 

Both Katie, who came in third, and Ashley said that writing is definitely one of their strengths. “There is passion behind anything I write,” Ashley said. “Whether that includes academic papers, monologues, poems, or short stories.” 

However, senior Zach Minetola, who came in first place in the competition, said that writing isn’t really a strength of his and it’s “more just something to do and challenge myself with.”

Katie added to this saying, “I do all types of writing and the short story contest is just another way for me to write.” 

Sometimes there are certain things that you want to keep on the down-low, and the short story contest was one of those things for Ashley and Katie. They both did not tell a soul that they were writing a short story. “I didn’t tell anyone because when you submit you have no idea what will happen to it,” Katie said. If she won, it would just be like a pleasant surprise to everyone. She didn’t even tell her mom. “I’ve told her in years past,” Katie said. “But the story I submitted was a bit more personal.” 

Even though Katie has been a finalist in years past, this is her first year placing in the top three, Zach had never participated in a contest before, and Ashley has been in the winner’s circle for an impressive two years now.

Even though Ashley won last year, she was still surprised to find out that her short story was selected. She had never received conclusive confirmation that her writing was good because as she mentioned previously, she rarely shares her writing with other people. “It is satisfying to know that something I love doing and spend a lot of time working on finally paid off,” she said. 

Both Katie and Ashley took two hours to write their short stories.

They also said that they wrote most of it in a single day, and then after that, they just made some small edits here and there. 

Zach said that he took over two days to write his short story, even though the actual process of writing his short story didn’t take that long. 

There are many benefits to writing a short story as opposed to a longer one. Katie said that “writing it as a short story allowed me to arrange it in a way that tells a more profound story in chronological order, which is what you would do if you wrote a journal; if I did it like I was writing an essay then it would not have come together that way.”

Katie and Ashley’s stories are very different in many ways. Katie’s story was about a teenager reflecting on how her experiences with tragedy overlap with those of her mother. Ashley’s was about a girl who had dreams that predict the future, and one night, she dreamt about something she will come to regret. 

Neither of them found it very difficult to keep their story down to the 500-word limit. “I wrote the story with the contest in mind,” Ashley said. “So I knew I had to get to the point quickly. No time to mince words.” 

However, Zach said that he did have some trouble shortening his story down to 500 words. He spent “an hour editing [it] down to 500 words.” 

Katie’s inspiration for her short story came from a real-life event. She wrote her short story the day after her event happened. Katie said that “because of the nature of this story and the ideas that came to me if I hadn’t written them down, I would’ve forgotten the way that I’d arranged it,” so it is good that she wrote up her story as soon as she could after the event happened. 

Zach didn’t really have a specific inspiration. He just “wanted to go with a theme of grief,” so he decided to “set it in the Wild West.”

Ashley got the inspiration for her topic a bit differently. “I enjoy playing with the concept of a ‘Twilight Zone’ twist ending/altered reality,” she said. “I knew I wanted to go for the shock factor and surprise readers at the end. What better way to do that than introduce a relatable character and alter her reality?”
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