CL Fiction 2015: Every picture told a story

Local writers took a look at local art — and made some art of their own.

It’s springtime, just the season for some artistic cross-pollination. That’s what we were hoping for when we asked entrants in this year’s fiction contest to seek inspiration for their stories from artworks in area galleries, museums and public spaces, an idea that was itself inspired by Keep St. Pete Lit’s Fantastic Ekphrastic! in January. That event not only introduced us to a cool new word — from the Greek ekphrasis, which essentially means “writing about art” — it also helped everyone involved (writers, actors, artists, audiences) see art through others’ eyes.

That’s what happened with the fiction contest, too. KSPL founder Maureen McDole was one of the three judges (along with myself and CL contributor David Z. Morris), and she sums up the experience this way:

“The best part about judging the fiction contest was I felt like a tourist in my own city… These stories take place in my own backyard, but the familiar became a foreign country, and I was a traveler who discovers them for the first time.”

That was true for me, too. Thanks to “Janey’s Solstice” by Jeff Kraftchak, one of the top 10 stories as selected by the judges, I will listen for voices next time I pass Charles Owen Perry’s Solstice in downtown Tampa. I won’t be able to look at the Ybor City Museum’s familiar bust of Vicente Martinez Ybor (a popular subject for contest entrants) without remembering the achingly romantic denouement of Samuel Warmack’s “Lost in Ybor.” And I will have second thoughts if I ever consider a job as a security guard at the Dalì Museum. As Kara Wedekind’s “Test Pattern” suggests (along with several other Dalì-inspired submissions), things can get really surreal when you spend a lot of time looking at Dalì paintings, particularly if you’re a bit loopy to begin with.

Cameron Hunt McNabb’s “Dinosaur World,” the story from the top 10 that was voted Readers’ Choice, took as its subject a collection of statuary not ordinarily classified as “art.” But Plant City’s paean to prehistory is definitely a familiar part of our local visual vocabulary, and I guarantee that after reading this story you will never drive by the park without an increased measure of both pity and awe for the creatures therein. As David Z. Morris said in his judge’s comments, McNabb’s story “amps up the bleak weirdness at the edge of Florida with a magical-realist headtrip.”

We read all submissions with no bylines attached, so we were pleasantly surprised to discover that the winner of this year’s Judges’ Prize, Rita Ciresi, also won our fiction contest three years ago for her story “Bag Boy.” The inspiration for “Maybe the Mermaids” seemed elusive at first: the windswept beach scene by famed Florida photographer Clyde Butcher (above), which she saw at a show at the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota, didn’t seem at first to be directly linked to her understated story of a woman taking her husband on a final walk through their neighborhood. But upon rereading, the connection seemed all the more powerful because it was understated — a profound interplay between emotional, aesthetic and geographical landscapes, and a reminder of the shore we’re all approaching.

Thanks to all the writers who entered — and to everyone who takes the time to look at art again and again.

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