Amanda’s Story 

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I joined the Mash team as a junior judge three competitions ago in an attempt to fill the gaps between my day job with as many reading and writing obligations as possible. Reading inspires writing which leads to reading and so on. But I hadn’t heard much about this competition and I was curious what kind of stories would I be reading.

I got myself set up on Submittable, thrilled to be the one sorting the submissions after a series of my own ill-fated journal and magazine submissions. Propping my laptop on my knees and settling in with a glass of vinho verde, I dove in. The results? Surprising. I hadn’t read many stories by international writers. Surprising how many writers incorporated a keyword like “Alphabet” by having their characters eat alphabet soup, or wrote stories with plane crashes in response to the keyword, “cockpit.”. Then there were stories so good I forgot I was judging a competition, and had to go back and rescan to make sure the keywords were even there.

Two of the stories that will stick with me are Motherland by Gareth Hewitt, winner of Mash Competition 5, and Named by Sossity Chiricuzio, 2nd place in Mash Competition 4.

“Motherland” immediately transports the reader into a whole different world. There was a village in the wilderness, a musket, and made-up words that felt like they belonged in “A Song of Ice and Fire,” not in a story containing references to new-fangled ideas like the keywords “cockpit” and “blow-dryer.” But he did and the story is beautiful.

With “Named”, I read it once and immediately and compulsively read it again before I started thinking about voting or feedback. Unlike “Motherland”, “Named” takes place in a contemporary world and reflects on modern societal and emotional issues—gender identity and bullying. The character Sossity created seems to be at a turning point in their life, and the vulnerability they exhibit is touching. And of course, the keywords fit in seamlessly.

Aside from having to read these incredible stories, Mash will have a lasting effect on me in another way. Part-way through my time at Mash, I was appointed managing editor of a literary journal at my university. Very quickly I decided I wanted to apply one of the Mash philosophies to our own submission process. I wanted to provide feedback when rejecting a story, knowing how much it means to our Mashers that we actually read, think about, and respond to their stories. Doing so not only lets them know there is an actual human on the other side of the screen, but it may also encourage them to keep writing, keep submitting, and maybe even help with their stories.

While I’m moving on in an official capacity, I’ll still be putzing around in all things Mash. The Mash blog is still an invaluable resource. Interviews with writers who’ve been there, done that, tips for publishing, how to deal with rejection, and so on. Maybe I’ll even have the courage to submit my own story to the competition.

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Amanda is a junior judge and a graduate student at the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast MFA program in Creative Writing. Her blog Misadventures in Portland received widespread local acclaim and lead to opportunities writing for the USM’s Office of Public Affairs and the Portland Phoenix. Follow Amanda on her blog:

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