UPDATE: VOTING IS CLOSED!!
Hey all, if you don’t watch the American version of The Office then this might not make sense. Thanks to Cory Clubb for inspiring the idea.
Greetings. I am Dwight K. Schrute, Assistant Regional Manag… fine, Assistant to the Regional Manager, Dunder Mifflin Scranton.
I have been… you haven’t heard of Dunder Mifflin? Ugh. Hello? It’s only the third largest paper supply company in the Northeast Metro Region. Have you heard of paper? You probably don’t even know the difference between a dagger and a throwing knife.
I have been asked how a human being could read over 2,500 paragraphs in a few days while also having a job.
FACT. I am not a human being. I am the Scranton Volunteer Assistant Deputy Sheriff.
Okay, fine. I’m human. But soon I will officially be a wizard in training. I recently accepted an invitation to attend wizard school, and it was left on my desk by Dumbledore’s apprentice himself. All I have to do is make my own wizard costume and wand and arrive at work to be transported to Hogwart’s for training. The first spell I will learn is demoting Jim to Assistant to the Assistant to the Regional Manager. The second spell I will learn will be to turn my hands into claws.
Choosing these paragraphs was difficult. Very difficult indeed. None of the paragraphs involved Battlestar Gallactica and I was forced to rely on other criteria. Such as: perfection. Or as close to perfection as a paragraph could be if it’s not about the different species of bears and their genetic superiority to humans.
Writing a good paragraph is much like making a lovely beet stew. It must have the right amount of spice. It must not be overcooked or undercooked. Too much blood can overwhelm the natural umami of the beet. It must bode well for the roast rabbit entree and make you hungry for more. It must feel authentic and have a fine consistency. No one likes instant beets or other cheap tricks.
While judging this contest I made a unilateral decision to announce the individuals who made the longlist with their first paragraphs. These individuals win a free night’s stay at Schrute Farms and honorable mention (in chronological order):
L. T. Host
Congratulations. I will spare you the next time Michael lets me fire someone.
The ten individuals below are the finalists. They win a weekend’s stay at Schrute Farm, a year’s supply of beets, and a 90 minute Swedish massage by my cousin Mose. He’s practicing for his massage license.
In order to vote for the winner, please leave a vote in the comments section of this post. You will have until Sunday 6pm Pacific time to vote. Please not e-mail me your vote.
Also: No campaigning for yourself or your favorites out there on the Internet. Don’t make me bring out my nun-chucks.
Because I expanded the number of finalists, I’m afraid only the top four runners up will receive the prize of query critique and signed THE SECRET YEAR bookmark (if you’re in the US). The grand prize winner will receive their choice of a query/partial critique or phone conversation, and a galley of the incredible THE SECRET YEAR. When I read it I cried. Then I captured the tears and dried them to use for Schrute Farm table salt.
Anonymous comments have been closed.
The finalists (in no particular order):
Josin L. McQuein:
Time works different in purgatory. I’m absolutely certain of this. Sure, they call it Geometry and there’s a man in slacks at the front of the room instead of some red guy with a pointed tail and pitchfork, but it’s still torture. And after forty-one minutes of equilateral something-or-others getting mixed up with isosceles what-cha-ma-call-its , I want to strangle myself with a hypotenuse.
You imagine time flowing backward, back upstream. The apartment door swings open and the messenger from the lawyer’s office comes into your living room, loads up the boxes onto a dolly, and leaves with them. The dust falls out of the beam of light from your window and settles back on the scarred wooden floor. The boxes wait again in the corner of the lawyer’s office. In the hospital, long wiry hairs suddenly lift up from the musty pillow, reimplant themselves in your mother’s dented skull. (The abiding image, for some reason, is her hair at its healthiest: dark glossy coils of it. You had a dream recently that you came home and found it winding like a rope around dream-lengthened hallways, and you followed it with the growing sense that what it would ultimately lead to would be unfamiliar, not really your mother at all, some demonic reverse Rapunzel, and yet nevertheless propelled forward, as though someone were tugging at the other end.) Eventually she sits up, combs her long hair, more hairs returning from the brush to her head. Doctors remove the morphine drip. Her flesh puffs back into firmness. She leaves the room, sucking the sick air into herself, drives to the office to retrieve the boxes. At home, she opens one and takes a sheet of paper. Ink flows from cramped cursive on the page into her pen; words into her brain. Her thoughts curl once more inside her, unform themselves into vague image, memory, piled heavily atop each other like drifts of snow. As you back into her house at the end of your visit, she tells you she thinks it will be all right. That you can go.
K and A:
Adelaide walked swiftly along the street, past the pirate who didn’t own a ship, and the Scot who’d never been to Scotland, and the librarian whose home didn’t hold a single book. Contemplating her own strange circumstances, Adelaide realized she was absently twisting the ring on her finger. As she gazed thoughtfully at it, a bright flash of light reflected off the largest diamond. Turning to the source of the illumination, Adelaide watched warily as the light began to fade, and finally blink out, leaving in its place a New Arrival. The young woman, not distant in age from Adelaide, wore a tight body suit of unearthly hues, and clutched a sign that read, “Peace Not Plasma!” But it was the woman’s eyes that captured Adelaide’s full attention, for they were bewildered, confused… and fearful. Adelaide understood; she had worn the same expression herself—the day she’d Arrived.
My name is not Mara Dyer, but my lawyer told me I had to choose something. A pseudonym. A nom de plume, for all of us studying for the SATs. I know that having a fake name is strange but trust me, it’s the most normal thing about my life right now. Even telling you this much isn’t good for my case. But without my big mouth, no one would know that a seventeen-year-old who likes Death Cab for Cutie was responsible for the murders. No one would know that somewhere out there is a B student with a body count. And it’s important that you know, so you’re not next.
The masked girl was back at the screen door. The smooth mahogany full face mask was sculpted to her face, its carved slots allowing her eyes access to witness what sat before her on the other side of the door. Like a small brown-skinned ghost, she had appeared and disappeared throughout the long day, each time pressing her hands and hidden face against the ragged screen straining for a better view, each time stinging her fingers on the sharp shards jutting out around the holes in the sorry screen. She snatched her hand back when pricked, shaking it in a finger-whipping motion, sucking the offended fingers to lessen the sting of the tiny wire splinter, all the while never taking her eyes from the small veiled figure sitting in the middle of the floor.
Her mother told her a bed was for three things: loving, sleeping, and birthing babies. She had not warned her that a bed is also for holding new babies, cold and blue, against an aching breast, moving them from the safeness of the womb to the frigid air they will never learn to breathe. She did not warn her that in her bloodied bed she would witness the worst kind of death – the death of her soul; the loss of her children. But now she knew — for the third time.
Coming-of-age stories are often fraught with symbolism, hidden metaphors, and a heaping mound of other literary devices. Not this one. I came of age while working at a dusty, Texas feedstore. A place where To Kill a Mockingbird involved a twelve-year-old and a BB gun. Of Mice and Men was a problem easily solved with rat poison. And David Copperfield was nothing more than a dude that made shit disappear.
Simon C. Larter:
It was one of those painfully trendy restaurants staffed by skinny hipsters in tight jeans and shirts that left nothing to the imagination, and she had brought me here because she knew there would be many opportunities to make me uncomfortable. We were seated by an effervescent pixie of a girl with long blonde hair and a bright smile who asked if we were from the area or just visiting. Margot said that we lived in the area but had heard nothing but good things about the food here and simply had to try it for ourselves. “My husband likes his food, as you can tell,” she said, and laughed. The pixie’s grin froze on her face. She wished us a good evening then pressed through the crowd of bodies at the bar and headed back to her station by the front door. I didn’t watch her go. Margot was looking at me with a smile on her lips that could have chilled every martini for a three-block radius. Her eyes were bright and very hard, and it had been three days since she found out about my addiction.
Philip had cleaned and put away the wine glass that had her mauve lipstick print. He collected the half used make up jars that littered the bathroom counter and recycled the glass and plastic containers. He donated her clothing to Goodwill and dispersed her jewelry evenly between their two daughters. He even gave her African violets, in their cheery hand painted terracotta pots, to their neighbors. Yes, Phillip had removed nearly all the remnants of his deceased wife from their home. He hoped that the great cleaning, as he referred to it, would ease his depression and overall feelings of despair and hopelessness. Yet there still remained the grocery list on the refrigerator. Her loopy cursive letters in black ink floated on the page like a secret poem he could not decipher. The list had items that Phillip did not recognize. What on earth was she going to make? He needed, more than anything, to find out.
Maya / מיה:
The pomegranate seeds burst between my teeth, releasing tart-sweet juice. The wind licked my eyelids, and the orchard rustled and creaked. I relaxed into the fork of the tree. In that moment, nothing mattered– not marriage, not exile, not my mother’s pursed lips. Persia became smaller than the nub of bark digging into the back of my leg.
Congratulations to the finalists. Almost as impressive as achieving a purple belt in Goju-Ryu karate.
And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to set off some fireworks.
More about the picks and thoughts on first paragraphs on Monday!
Two leapt out at me: M and Josin L. McQuein. Tough choice but Josin gets my vote.
K and A.
(Though I loved Josin's as well. It was tough.)
Barbara Sissel says
I was pleased and surprised when a critique partner alerted me that my paragraph had made the longlist. Thank you very much, Nathan, and thank you, too, for the opportunity. It is sometimes hard in this business to receive recognition for one's work, and your contest is such a fun way to try for it. I think you should win all the beets for your tremendous effort! Short of that, my vote is for miridunn.
K and A. And if it becomes a book I want to read it.
r louis scott says
My vote is for Alanna.
Well done to all of the finalists and those garnering an honorable mention.
Nathan, you must have a very special sort of mind to be able to distill all those entries into a final ten, and I mean that in the nicest way possible.
Alena Thomas says
Congratulations to all the finalists! How exciting! I can't wait to read the winning entry!
My top vote goes to "M." because I think the paragraph has a great hook, the heroinne has a unique voice, and it makes me want to know what happens next.
However, since you will pick 4 to query, I will also say that I enjoyed the following three paragraphs as well: (1) Travis Erwin's paragraph because of the humor & the voice, (2) K. & A.'s paragraph because of the story and the choice of language (and I love sci-fi/fantasy), and (3) Alanna's paragraph because of the detailed description that evoked a clear mental picture in my head.
I vote miridunn.
Josin L. McQuein
Meet Miles says
My vote goes to M, for Mara Dyer. Congrats to all participants.
Tough choice between Travis Erwin and Josin L. McQuein. Both were quite awesome. I vote for Travis Erwin.
Tough choice… but I cast my vote for miridunn!
Ryan and Shelley says
My vote is for M. Their book sounds really good, and definitely something I would read. Two of my favorite genres are YA and mysteries, and it appears that this book combines the two!
Alanna's writing is haunting
My vote goes to Travis Erwin. But they were all excellent! 🙂
Capitol Clio says
I vote for Josin. Maya is a close second.
I had a hard time choosing, but I found Maya's paragraph followed me around after I'd closed the page, so that's my pick.
verification = fablesc: that thing you tell an agent in a Twitter conversation, never realizing you've just revealed your inability to spell.
Erika Parker Price says
I vote for miridunn.
…and David Copperfield was a dude that made shit disappear?
(Maya was a close second for me. BEAUTIFULLY written.)
Mary Lynn says
I go with Simon. Definitely want to read more about that addiction!
Amber Argyle-Smith says
I vote: miridunn
It's beautiful and poignant. All in a few lines!
I vote for Simon C. Larter.
My vote is definitely for "M"!. I'm intrigued by the character and can't wait to read more!
So many good entries. You really had your job cut out for you to choose.
My vote goes to M.
Thanks for another fun contest Nathan.
Dawn Maria says
Okay, where are all the 2,600 people who entered this contest? This comments section should be packed with votes! I wish my paragraph was picked too, but if we want Nathan to do more contests, we have to support them all the way to the end.
Again, good luck to all.
Josin L. McQuein
Hooked and want to read more!
Congrats everyone. Those are amazing paragraphs.
I vote for Lisa Marie.
My vote goes to Travis Erwin.
This was really hard Nathan, I don't envy you because all the finalists are really good. I'd like to thank all the posters who felt my entry was interesting enough to read further, and thanks again Nathan for including it in the long list.
To everyone who made the finals, may you complete your novel and go forward to successful sales and critique.
I'm torn between M and Miridunn, but I guess I have to give the final nod to Miridunn. It wasn't easy!
While I appreciate Josin McQuein's distain for geometry, and miridunn's poignant words, this B student NEEDS to hear "Mara Dyer's" story.
M's paragraph catches my attention and leaves me wanting to read the rest.
The Writing Muse says
My vote is for K and A…
Josin L. McQuein
i like Maya but my vote is 100% for "M"
Re. the voting – many of the contestants entered through anon or name/ID. They can't participate in the voting.
Also 800+ votes isn't too shabby.
But yeah, this contest stirred things up abit. 🙂
Nathan – this is totally off topic, obviously, but I saw a preview yesterday. They're turning the Road into a movie. Looks scary – brrrr. Think I'll skip that one. You can tell us how it was. 🙂
Voting for miridunn
Glenn M. Cashuric Esq. says
Dwight would know that Scranton does not have a sheriff. He is a volunteer deputy for Lackawanna County.
Now that you're going to be published, you have to be held to a higher standard.
Josin L. McQuein
Edward W. Robertson says
Simon C. Larter. There's a lot packed into that paragraph.
My vote goes to M!
Tough call — but I go for Alanna, who made me feel that I was in the hands of a master storyteller. I remember reading miridunn's as I went through the submissions, though, and that arrested me. So much good writing. Congrats to all.
Nathan Bransford says
Voting is closed! I'll leave the thread open so people can discuss the finalists, but votes will no longer be counted.
My vote is for M. Hope I'm getting it in in time!
Clive Martyn says
Blatant bias since he is my most beloved brother. But I do think that his paragraph is the best. Simon Larter's paragraph drew me in and I really do want to read the rest now.
Go ahead brother!
I vote for Travis Erwin.
pattinase (abbott) says
Travis for me!
The Celebrated Author says
Stunning! Congrats to all. I vote forrrrr
I almost voted for Alanna. Very, very close. Both incredibly good.
I wanted to give a shout out to Vanessa in honorable mentions. Loved your simple, yet catchy opening paragraph. 🙂
Amber Hamilton says
Congratulations to all the finalists! It's really hard to choose between them. (I haven't read the other posts, so I hope I'm not too late to vote.) If we can vote for one, I say "Lisa Marie". If we can vote for two, I will add "maridunn". (Hopefully, I spelled that right.)
If anyone wonders, these were the two I'd like to keep reading the most. They stick with me.