Imagine 2200: Cli-fi Short Story Contest

Environmental nonprofit news outlet Grist’s solutions lab, Fix, has launched a new climate-fiction short story contest. Imagine 2200 calls for stories (3,000–5,000 words) that envision the next 180 years of equitable climate progress. What might the world look like in the year 2200, and how did we get there? Conjure your wildest dreams for society — all the sweet, sweet justice, resilience, and abundance we could realize — and put those dreams on paper. Submissions are open now, and will close April 12, 2021.

Literary judges will include authors Adrienne Maree Brown, Kiese Laymon, and Morgan Jerkins. The top three contest winners will be awarded $3000, $2000, and $1000 respectively, and nine additional finalists will each receive a $300 honorarium. Winners and finalists will be published on Fix’s website and will be celebrated in a public-facing virtual event. Writers are invited to join this uprising of imagination, and help turn the page on earth’s next chapter. 

“I’m not really who you think I am.”

On the plane to Newfoundland I watched Captain Marvel. I’d missed it on the big screen and I must say it was quite wonderful seeing a woman taking charge of saving the world. “Buckle up, folks…”

And Brie Larson came through for me, whether she was kick-boxing or coping with memory flashes. I even found myself being faintly nostalgic for the 1990s! It was nice to check out of reality for a while and sink into a world in which female power prevailed, where you could sort of hand over the problems to a really competent superhero and rest assured that all would be well.

Of course, life isn’t that simple, and more to the point, the real heroes aren’t from some other galaxy. They’re right here among us. This is the point of the recent We Need Diverse Books story collection edited by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich, The Hero Next Door. VCFA graduate Suma Subramaniam’s story, “Rescue” won the WNDB short story contest and is included in the book, which is a wonderful collection of stories about all kinds of heroes in worlds real and fantastic. Interestingly, in each of the stories, something is revealed about the character of the hero, and sometimes heroism can be seen in more than one person, so the quote from Captain Marvel seems apt: “I’m not really who you think I am.”

I asked Suma a few questions about her story:

HEROcover.jpg[Uma] What resonated for you in the anthology theme of everyday heroes?

[Suma] This theme resonated for me as conflicts and universal challenges unfold across all families regardless of culture. In tough times, ordinary people step in to help and we see great acts of humanity. Some of these people are not necessarily famous, but they do great things when no one’s noticing them – sometimes at a significant personal cost. I have been helped by many such people and pets in my childhood and adult life. My story in The Hero Next Door is written in honor of those people (and pets).

[Uma] Talk about the intersection of family conflict and the role of the dog in your story. Where did that combination come from for you?

Suma (44 of 153).JPG

Photo courtesy of Suma Subramaniam

[Suma] The inspiration for “Rescue” came from a couple of stories and news articles I had read about domestic abuse. When I researched the subject, I found very little information on how children navigated family separation and domestic abuse in South Asian families. I knew instantly that I had to write a story about it as seen through the eyes of a child. The idea of having a dog in the story came naturally as I could not imagine Sangeetha’s life without a four-legged friend. Children often feel their whole world has turned upside down when they’re facing separation and domestic abuse.


Having lived with several dogs over the years, I have found that dogs bring joy in families and offer a healing path in the gentlest ways. When I immigrated to the United States more than a decade ago, my dog helped me feel less lonely. Dogs have a way of being patient, compassionate, trustworthy, and kind. They teach us valuable life lessons in the short course of their lifetimes that can help children in more ways than one. Sangeetha, therefore, had to have a dog who would be that special friend.

[Uma] Every piece of writing teaches the writer something. What did writing this story teach you?

[Suma] Writing this story taught me to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. I wrote Rescue to practice writing short fiction without the ultimate goal of publication in mind. Putting out the finished product into the ether led Rescue to the right hands – to people who got the heart of Sangeetha’s story and were excited about championing it.

And I am so glad that happened, Suma. Good luck!

The Hero Next Door includes stories by William Alexander, Joseph Bruchac, Lamar Giles, Mike Jung, Hena Khan, Juana Medina, Ellen Oh, R.J. Palacio, Linda Sue Park and Anna Dobbin, Cynthia Leitich Smith, Ronald L. Smith, Suma Subramaniam, and Rita Williams-Garcia.


Sharing Space in Foreshadow


My VCFA colleague and friend Nova Ren Suma is part of an Internet labor of love, Foreshadow, a project of the heart dedicated to offering “a unique new online venue for young adult short stories, with a commitment to showcasing underrepresented voices, boosting emerging writers, and highlighting the beauty and power of YA fiction.”

Years ago, I worked with a student who wrote short stories all semester long. From her very first packet, I knew I’d struck gold with Rachel Hylton. Rachel was one of those intuitive writers with an unerring instinct for revision. I’d send her long letters detailing all my questions and listing all the points at which I’d wondered where she might be taking me. She’d fix a word or two and the entire story would settle into place, with all my bullet points magically addressed.

I’m more than happy to be sharing space with Rachel Hylton in the current issue of Foreshadow. Her story, Risk, was selected by none other than Laurie Halse Anderson. You have to read it. It is one of those pieces that needs every one of its words to express its essence. You couldn’t sum it up. It’s Kafkaesque in the manner of David Cerny’s sculpture.

Right away we find out–this:

We were there for Marnie Vega long before she became a lobster.

And then there’s this line:

Marnie was different—she wasn’t fake, she was authentic.

That’s Rachel. Each word perfectly laid out, crafted with loving care. Authentic to the bone. I hope some editors are paying attention.

There are two other stories in this issue: Pact by Mark Oshiro, and my story, Affinity.

Thank you, Nova Ren SumaEmily X.R. Pan, managing editor Diane Telgen and all the wonderful writers and editors who help give life to this project.


The Juvenilia of Katherine Mansfield

Back in the last century, when I was a teenager devouring whatever literature I could lay my hands on, I read a short story by New Zealand writer Katherine Mansfield. It was called The Life of  Ma Parker, and it was about sadness and regret and the aging of parents, things that I, at fourteen or fifteen, couldn’t even begin to wrap my mind around but they made me cry anyway. I loved it so much I looked for Katherine Mansfield’s work and some years later I read a couple more of her books: The Garden Party, Bliss and Other Stories.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_7861.jpgI haven’t thought about that story in a long time, but here is what I came across last year on Lambton Quay in Wellington, New Zealand.  The tall and elegant figure by sculptor Virginia King, Woman of Words, features lines from Mansfield’s short stories, diaries and journals carved into her clothes. Alas, we couldn’t stay to see the statue lit up at night from within, but I can feel those words winging their way through the decades.

It turns out that Mansfield was a child writer, and her first published story was discovered in 2017  in Wellington City Libraries’ archives. “His Little Friend” is reprinted in full in Redmer Yska’s new book, A Strange Beautiful Excitement: Katherine Mansfield’s Wellington 1888–1903. It is an odd little tale, its voice carrying that strange precocity characteristic of so many young writers. She was 11 years old at the time, writing under her given name, Kathleen M. Beauchamp. Here’s how the story begins:

In a quiet little village in S- there dwelt an aged couple whose names were John and Mary Long. They had a small cottage standing far back from the road, with a large garden in front, both of which were scrupulously neat and tidy. Mary had married John when she was nineteen, and they had lived in the same little cottage ever since. Now she was past sixty, and he was seventy-three. Mary took in sewing while John sold fruit and vegetables to the villagers.

The voice is confident, taking joy in its ability to establish a place, people, circumstances, to reel out a story, play with its possibilities, and then bring it all to a tragic finish. What’s remarkable, as the story progresses, is the child writer’s ability to conjure up a decaying marriage, the fading of youth and memory and a friendship across generations. Even the dabs of sentimentality are charming because they are from an 11-year-old. In these words, I can almost hear the writer this child would grow to be–a writer who would die too young, whose bohemian life would whirl through many scandals, but whose startling clarity and careful use of detail would be considered to have revolutionized the English short story.

A 15-year-old Book and Menstrual Hygiene Day 2018

Yesterday was Menstrual Hygiene Day.

In among all the royal wedding hoopla, few remember that before she married into royalty, Meghan Markle wrote this piece for Time magazine on the need to combat the stigma of periods. Excerpt:

Imagine a world where the female leaders we revere never achieved their full potential because they dropped out of school at the age of thirteen. In the Western world this is challenging to fathom, but for millions of young women globally, this remains their harsh reality for a staggering reason. From sub-Saharan Africa to India, Iran, and several other countries, the stigma surrounding menstruation and lack of access to proper sanitation directly inhibit young women from pursuing an education.

Puberty is universal, and embarrassment is no reason for a girl to quit on herself.

periodpiecesOn my shelf is a middle grade short story collection titled Period Pieces: Stories for Girls. The stories were selected by Erzsi Deak and Kristin Embry Litchman. There are thirteen in all, among them “White Pants” by Linda Sue Park, “The Gentleman Cowboy” by Cynthia Leitich Smith, “A Family Sandwich” by Jane Kurtz, and my  own story, “The Gift.” I haven’t looked at this book in many years. Here’s an excerpt from Kris Litchman’s piece:

“All girls bleed. You can’t stop it.” Madeline certainly sounds positive.

“Don’t the boys have to bleed?”


“That’s not fair!”

“That’s the way it is.”

Fifteen years later, this rather surreal short Hindi film from India poses that very  question: What if boys had periods? How would society handle them then?

If it’s uncomfortable viewing, that’s intentional. At long last, the world is being forced to deal with the inequities surrounding what should be a normal developmental life event.