Champions of brevity

Winners of the Mail Tribune's 55 Words Writing Contest
Doug Ness, winner of the Mail Tribune's 55 Words writing contest, contemplates the view from his Trail home.

Childbirth, a homecoming, passing on a legacy, an assassination — these are complicated and broad topics for any storyteller. But entrants in the Mail Tribune's 55 Words Writing Contest accomplished the feat in yarns that can be told in about 20 seconds.

The contest, which ran from Aug. 7 to Sept. 4, asked participants to tell a story in 55 words or fewer. The stories could be fictional or true. No topic was off limits. Entrants submitted 154 blink-and-you'll-miss it entries, all of which can be read at www.mailtribune.com/55words.

Want to read all the entries?

Head to www.mailtribune.com/55words

Here you can read our top three favorites, along with the People's Choice winner, which ended in a tie among online voters.

Storytelling ability, originality and voice were the main considerations.


1st Place: "My Scouting Memory"

By Doug Ness

Armed with Trapper Nelsons, Walnettos and determination, we 12-year-old Boy Scouts were triumphant in reaching Mount Rainier's summit.

Twilight brought an unexpected spectacular light show of skyrockets and fireworks in every direction far below us.

What was happening?

Base Camp gave us the answer. It was September 2, 1945. VJ Day.

* * * * *

Doug Ness's story of a jaunt up Mount Rainier the day of Japan's surrender in World War II is true.

When his Scout troop crested the mountain that night, the boys laid out their sleeping bags on the summit. Then the fireworks began to bloom below them.

"(Of) course 13, 14 years old, you didn't have any idea," said Ness, 81, of Trail. When the troop reached Oregon City after the trip home, the Scouts joined in the festivities. "They were still celebrating the next day."

Ness's story comes complete with period slang, including Trapper Nelsons — a backpack made out of wood and canvas that laced together with leather — and Walnettos — caramel candies. The odd commodities were due to so many types of material being given to the war effort, he said.

The historic event happened 68 years ago, but Ness still remembers it pretty clearly.

"It did sink in," Ness said.


2nd Place: "The Knife"

By Heidi Parro Dalgarno

The knife lay on the red-spattered kitchen floor where she had dropped it. The pungent smell sickened her and she wanted a shower. She escaped through the open door into the garden, but even here there was evidence of what she had done.

"Oh, my god," she murmured, "I will never can tomatoes again."

* * * * *

A love of mystery stories and childhood memories of canning tomatoes drove 57-year-old Heidi Parro Dalgarno to write her story "The Knife."

The Ashland resident, who recently completed a master's degree in interdisciplinary studies at Southern Oregon University, said she wanted to combine suspense and humor.

"I loved the discipline with working with a small number of words," Dalgarno said. "I'm interested in details."

Because of that interest, the 55 Words contest intrigued her, she said.

"I thought, 'I'm going to try it.' I just sat down one morning and started playing with it," Dalgarno said.


3rd Place: "Nobaddah"

By Joseph Suste

"Nobaddah, nobaddah."

The first baseman pounds his mitt. Joey toes the mound, nods a signal. Louisville slugger waits, high up behind my ear. She's watching, Joey's girl, really?

Fast ball; red laces spinning; arms feel the crack. Crowd roars. First, second, I tag third and go.

Lucy's waving — smiling at me — my heart leaps!

* * * * *

Joseph Suste, of Medford, said his story is fiction, adding he thinks the most interesting parts of fiction show interaction between two characters.

Suste, 66, said he got inspired to write after taking a creative writing class at Southern Oregon University three years ago.

"I've been writing ever since I took that class," said Suste, adding he continues to hone his craft at a writers workshop in Ashland.

He sat down to write a family-friendly story, and "Nobaddah" is the result.

"I pictured myself out there when I was a kid playing baseball," Suste said.

* * * * *

NOTE: Two entries tied for the People's Choice honor, with each submission receiving 80 votes from readers. Both entries are printed below.


People's Choice: "The Debate: Cookie or Cake"

By Trent Norris

He had one cookie and a sliver of cake. He asked himself ... "Cookies or Cake?" Well, the cookies need milk, but the cake needs a fork. Never had Tommy thought about the concept of one or the other. After a hour or so, he decided cake; little did he know his older brother decided both.


People's Choice: "Life is Good"

By Donna Tusow

Life is good. Sweet cat. Her pet person. TV together. Cat naps together.

Pain. Fever. 911. Ambulance. Tests. Decisions. Meds. Monitors. Concern. Prayers. Improvement! Hope! One week passes. Going home!

Sweet cat. Her pet person. TV together. Cat naps together. Life is good.


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