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Authors, friends, family and community members gather at The Bookstore in Chico on Oct. 25 for a live reading in conjunction with the Chico News & Review’s Fiction 59 contest. Plumas Charter School English teacher Johnny Stafford, who entered the contest along with his students, chaperoned a group to attend the reading as a voluntary field trip. Photo by Taletha Washburn

Plumas Charter School students place in Chico short fiction contest

Students from Plumas Charter School’s Quincy Learning Center — along with their teacher — got to see their work in print recently, when the Oct. 24 edition of the Chico News & Review newspaper published the winning stories in its Fiction 59 contest.

The Chico paper hosts the short-fiction contest annually; entries must be exactly 59 words long and are judged in four age categories — kids,  junior high, high school and adult. Winning entries are printed in the CN&R, along with biographies and photos of the top winners.

This year three PCS students placed: eighth-grader Lilah Washburn took first in the junior high division, ninth-grader Cruz Anderson placed third in the high school division, and 11th-grader Kylie Anderson received honorable mention in the high school category. In addition, the students’ English teacher, Johnny Stafford, placed third in the adult category.

“I really like this assignment and do it every year,” said Stafford. “I think it is important for students to send their work out into the world. It is part of them seeing themselves as writers.”

In its introductory article, the CN&R said judges were “impressed with both the volume and the quality of micro-fiction this year.” Stafford pointed out that with a reported 1,000-plus entries this year, “there is real competition” in the Fiction 59 contest. But the exercise is also meaningful for students whose stories aren’t selected: “It makes it real for everyone when someone they know is published,” said Stafford.

He said the process of writing a 59-word story “is a great confluence of pieces that help student writing. Clarity is really important. Students need to carefully consider word choice and what parts of their stories are most important to tell the story they want to tell.”

Short fiction is also a valuable exercise in editing, said Stafford, “particularly cutting the superfluous. It is not unusual for students to have 80- to 100-word stories that they then have to trim 40 percent from and that is great practice.”

The exact word count required by this contest adds another challenging layer, creating a “word puzzle” that Stafford said engages many of his students.

On Oct. 25, 18 PCS students traveled to Chico to participate in a live Fiction 59 reading at The Bookstore on Main Street. Washburn and Stafford read their stories aloud, and Stafford shared how he uses the contest as an assignment for his students. Stafford reported positive feedback from CN&R and Bookstore staff: “They thought it was great we encouraged the students to take part in the reading.”

To read all of this year’s Fiction 59 winners, follow the links at newsreview.com/chico/2019-10-24/archive . To view and download the entire Oct. 24 CN&R issue, visit issuu.com/news_review/docs/c-2019-10-24 . To learn more about Plumas Charter School, visit plumascharterschool.org or call 283-3851.

Ingrid Burke is the public relations specialist for Plumas Charter School.

Winning entries

A Longing for the Past

I don’t remember what life was like when there was an environment, but I have heard stories. They say the Earth was vibrant. I am sometimes filled with a sense of longing. I want to smell the damp earth after it rains, and see the beautiful hues of bright green on the trees. Do other people feel this way?

Lilah Washburn, age 13

first place, junior high

Good Pasta

Steaming and boiling on water. Spaghetti or linguine, penne or ravioli. Cook it up and serve it with sauce. Tomato or alfredo, pesto or fettuccine. The taste so good with so much seasoning. Olive oil and garlic, cheese and salt. All are good. “Is it good?’’ she said. “It’s delicious,” I said. “Good!” she said. “Because I poisoned it.”

Cruz Anderson, age 14

third place, high school

Attempts at Comfort

I was sitting by the fireplace, eating a peach with the grim news playing on the radio. I remember feeling the heat of the fire piercing though my shirt; the sweet peach juice on my fingers. I found myself focusing on the peach and warmth, rather than the words I had been hearing. They were talking about the Earth.

Kylie Anderson, age 16

honorable mention

high school

I Feel Like Coleslaw

Our new body wash smells like pulled pork. I don’t have the heart to tell my wife. She likes it and once she knows she won’t be able to not smell it. I love the smell, but not in the morning when the steamy water is waking me up. It’s confusing, smelling Fourth of July and looking at mildew.

Johnny Stafford

third place, adult

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