• “The Children’s Factory” by Michael Stewart; Birkensnake 2


  • “Bad Living” by Z. Z. Boone; decomP, September 2009
  • “Ethics” by Ravi Mangla; PANK, May 2009
  • “Foreword” by John Talbird; Essays & Fictions, Volume V, October 2009
  • “Phantom Energy” by Robert Swartwood; Wigleaf, September 24 2009
  • “Pinot Noir” by Daniel Casebeer; decomP, May 2009
  • “Questionable Facade” by Tara Sim; The First Line, Fall 2009
  • “Waiting Room” by Erin Fitzgerald; PANK, August 2009
  • “Yellowfin Tuna” by Christian Bell; JMWW, Fall 2009
  • Stace Budzko
  • Sherrie Flick
  • Tara L. Masih
  • Robert Laughlin
  • Winner: $100 US
  • Total: 72

The two previous winners of the Micro Award, “Reconstruction Work” and “Let x,” were entirely within the realist tradition. Our latest winner, “The Children’s Factory,” belongs to the opposing tradition—fabulism, magic realism, urban fantasy, call it what you will—that presents an abstracted reality intended to increase our appreciation of the actual. Author Michael Stewart is a newcomer, in print less than two years, but he has a bright future if he can produce writing as original and potent as this.

This year’s Micro Award ballot produced other firsts as well. Birkensnake is the first Micro Award winning print journal, and the first to pay less than professional rates (5 cents a word). In fact, all of this year’s nominees were published in venues that pay less than professional rates or nothing at all. Some time ago on this website, I stated that money attracts talent; this year’s judging panel begged to differ. And the judge’s choice rule was invoked for the first time this year: “Foreword” was not submitted for competition, but one of our judges had read it and chose to enter it as a nominee.

Significantly, no ultra-short fiction made the nominee list this time. Last year, two drabbles were nominated, and there was no shortage this year of drabbles, dribbles and twitters among the story submissions. The judges chose none of them, and one could argue that it was a case of apples vying with oranges. It may be that the shortest short stories require their own award, but someone else will have to run it; Robert Laughlin is busy enough already.

The Micro Award has been around long enough that certain names are starting to recur on the nominee list. Robert Swartwood, author of last year’s nominee, “Between the Keys,” was nominated again for “Phantom Energy”. Even more remarkably, “Questionable Facade” is the second nominee published in The First Line, and the third nominee published by David LaBounty, who also edits Workers Write! and published nominee “Killer Shift” there in 2007. Three stories nominated by three different judging panels in three consecutive years—that is positively spooky.

PANK and decomP managed the feat of each publishing two nominees on this year’s list, but in all fairness to these fine publications, I don’t know if I would read too much into that. Two of this year’s judges have close professional association and, apparently, very similar enthusiasms with regard to flash fiction. Their nominating ballots each had one story from PANK and decomP—no collusion, I am sure, just a case of judges with like-minded preference in publication venues submitting Bobbsey Twin ballots.

At this point I would prefer to sign off, as this moment properly belongs to the winner and the other nominated authors. But there is much else to be said which, in my opinion, cannot wait for the next update. Heading into its fourth year, the Micro Award still lacks the scope necessary to do justice to the breadth of today’s flash fiction. We still have too few stories submitted, too short an honor roll of meritorious stories, and too few judges to avoid the institutional bias that results from an insufficiency of diverse opinion. To rectify this, I have decided to make ambitious changes in how the Micro Award is run.

To begin, email submissions will now be accepted. I have jiggered my office logistics to accommodate email and am finally willing to accept the security risk of opening attachments, if they are sent in Rich Text format and no other; it is too easy for viruses to ride piggyback in Word files. Apart from winning over those miscreants who won’t have anything to do with “snail mail”, I hope to see a great increase in participation from abroad. Only a handful of stories have ever come from foreign countries, presumably because of the high cost of international postage. That obstruction has been removed now, and authors and editors around the world may submit stories free of cost.

There is also an entirely new judging procedure. It was all I could do to find three qualified judges for the first year of the Micro Award, and the situation has not gotten much easier since. The preexisting system required judges to read a division of all of the stories, choose a nominating ballot, read the nominees of the other judges and choose a final ballot. This was too time-consuming and complicated for most potential judges to abide, so I have arrived at a new system that is shortened and simplified. I will read all of the stories and send each judge a ballot with my choice of the best twenty. It will be a “blind taste test”: the stories will be identified only by their titles. The judges will each choose five stories, ranked in order of preference, and a votes-then-points system shall determine the winner and the four non-winning finalists (now called finalists, not nominees). The remaining stories shall be cited for honorable mention—no cash, but a modest amount of glory.

As always, I would like to thank this year’s judges for their participation. To anyone reading this who has credentials as a writer, editor, teacher or critic: please volunteer your services as a judge for the 4th Annual Micro Award. It would take only an hour of your time to do the reading and make out a ballot. I also repeat my request for donations to the Micro Award prize fund, as they will encourage greater participation in the award. And for those authors and editors who failed to make the cut this time, don’t abandon hope. Follow the example of every coach after the last game of a losing season has been played—shake your fist at the sky and shout, “Just wait until next year!”

Robert Laughlin, Administrator
January 28, 2010
What a lot there is to report in this update. To begin with, our submission volume is finally moving, and in the right direction. We accepted seventy-two stories for competition, more than in our first two years combined.
There were many contributing factors to this upswing. The increased cash prize and new submission rules certainly brought in additional stories. Gay Degani of Flash Fiction Chronicles helped get out the word about the Micro Award, and this year’s judges have more celebrity with flash fiction readers than did their predecessors. But no factor, I’m certain, mattered more than my own buttonholing of magazine editors.
Last year I put off work on my second novel to write scores of short stories and poems. I ended up on a first-name basis with those editors who bought from me, and was able to pitch the Micro Award much more effectively than before. As a result, editors went from being a token presence in last year’s submissions to near-parity with authors this year.
Here is where the seventy-two stories came from:
Three: Boston Literary Magazine, Nanoism, Pank.
Two: Birkensnake, BURST, decomP, The First Line, Flash Me, Gigantic, Grey Sparrow Journal, mudluscious, Mung Being, Pearl, self-publication, Seven By Twenty.
One: AlienSkin, Apollo’s Lyre, Art Times, Atomjack, Bartleby Snopes, The Bicycle Review, ChiZine, The Drabbler, Emprise Review, Every Day Fiction, Feathertale, Flash Fiction Online, Florilegium, Ghoti, GlassFire, Heron, JMWW, Leaf Books, The Lifted Brow, Micro Horror, Mobius, Niteblade, Paradox, The Pedestal, PicFic, Portland Monthly, Subtropics, Tales of the Moonlit Path, Tattoo Highway, 365 Tomorrows, A Twist of Noir, Underground Voices, The Vocabula Review, Wigleaf, Woman’s World, WOW!, Writer’s Eye, Writers Weekly.
As you can see, these publications are as devoid of a dominating theme as Churchill’s pudding. Online magazines outnumber print magazines, but not overwhelmingly so. All pay grades are represented, from 4-the-luv to 4-digits-per-sale. We have flash fiction specialist magazines, general literary magazines, genre magazines and a few anthologies and collections. To my surprise, only two self-published stories were sent; I can only speculate that the sort of writer who doesn’t care if his work passes an impartial gatekeeper also doesn’t care if it wins an award.
One sad aspect of the Micro Award’s growing popularity is that some contestants now care enough about winning to engage in crass gamesmanship. A woman author sent us a suite of three stories published on one page of a magazine. The stories had no common narrative, theme, setting or characters, and it was obvious that the author hoped to fudge the one-story-per-author rule. Her submission was rejected.
Even further up the crassness scale was a male author’s abuse of reader submissions. I allowed the general public to submit stories as of the 2nd Micro Award, hoping for a flood of disinterested participation by the much-vaunted Common Reader, but this noble experiment has turned out badly. There were only two reader submissions last year; this year there were two “honest” reader submissions, and six from a single metropolitan area, all for different stories of a single author. This sort of thing violates the spirit of the Micro Award, so I am changing the rules to forbid reader submissions effective this year. So much for the noble experiment.
A major item of new business: the Micro Award should pay a much bigger cash prize than it does now, and so I have decided to establish a donation fund. (I could sell advertising space on this website, but my mother didn’t raise me to be a billboard.) Anyone who believes in the purpose of this award is encouraged to mail a check to our submission address or wire a Paypal deposit to my email correspondence address. No amount is too small, and I shall contribute $100 myself.
None of this money will be used to defray the operating expenses of the Micro Award. I accept that I must keep doing that myself; every penny contributed will go to the donation fund. Monies received through December 31 will be paid out in the 4th Annual Micro Award. I plan to give half of the purse to the winner, and half to the non-winning nominees. All contributors to the donation fund will be named on this website, so persons wishing to donate anonymously must do so by mail, with appropriate mention in the cover letter.
I would like to give special thanks to Stace Budzko, who agreed to fill in when judge Len Fulton was indisposed at the last minute. And I should mention Wigleaf once again. In addition to being one of the very best places to look for flash fiction on the Web, Wigleaf also compiles an annual listing of the 50 best flash stories published elsewhere. Wouldn’t you know it: “Let x,” the winner of the last Micro Award, was on the Top 50 list. Great minds really do operate alike.
Robert Laughlin, Administrator
January 9, 2010
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