In the last two weeks of April 2009, I hosted a Hint Fiction Contest at my blog. Writers could submit two stories each. They could be either original or reprints. We received over 200 entries, all of which were read blindly. Gay Degani and I narrowed those 200 entries to just 20. Those were sent to best-selling author Stewart O’Nan, who had kindly agreed to act as the final judge. Below are his picks for the three winners and three honorable mentions, as well as the rest of the finalists who will appear in the eventual anthology published by W. W. Norton & Company.

First place winner:

HOUSE HUNTING by Gary A. Braunbeck

The fence is tall. Good. The mother is typical white-trash, too loud. But the kids … they seem frightened and quiet. Good. Easier that way.

Second place winner:

DEPARTURE by Donora Hillard

The terminal is unkind. You watch me go through security. In six months, you’ll say “Tell me about the nightmare,” and I promise I will.

Third place winner:

PROGRESS by Joe Schreiber

After seventeen days she finally broke down and called him “daddy.”

Honorable Mentions:

PEANUT BUTTER by Camille Esses

He was allergic. She pretended not to know.

THE MALL by Robley Wilson

What he liked best about the affair was not the shopping, but parting the tissue wrap to remove the clothing that had first enticed her.

A SNAP DECISION by Jamie Felton

Her finger tapped against her teeth. “I don’t think it’s going to work.” He sank slowly underneath the surface. She could still see his eyelashes.

And the other 14 finalists:

  • PHILIP by Jason Rice
  • WAITING by Brendan O’Brien
  • THE MAN OF TOMORROW OR MAYBE YOU’VE HEARD THIS ONE BEFORE, BUT YOU’VE NEVER HEARD IT LIKE THIS by Will Panzo
  • UNTITLED by Samuel J. Baldwin
  • A DIGNIFIED PURPOSE by Ty Miller
  • MY MOTHER’S KISSES by Lewis Manalo
  • A CORPOREAL SUNRISE by Bill Graffius
  • ASSIMILATION by Frank Byrns
  • TALKING OF MICHELANGELO by Frank Byrns
  • THE EMPTY NEST by Madeline Mora-Summonte
  • PLAYING WITH MATCHES by Kathleen Ryan
  • THE PASSWORD by David Miller
  • BIGGER THAN IT LOOKS by Samuel J. Baldwin
  • PREGNANCY TEST by Jennifer Haddock