Short Story Contest: Journeys of self discovery | May 24, 2019 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Cover Story - May 24, 2019

Short Story Contest: Journeys of self discovery

First-place winners serendipitously highlight common themes in their unique works

While the first-place winners of this year's Palo Alto Weekly Short Story Contest submitted pieces that were vastly different, one common theme surrounding them is journeys of self discovery. Each story follows a significant moment in the life of a troubled individual, including a 65-year-old cancer patient's surprisingly pleasant encounter with death, a young adult teaching abroad in Japan who is anxious and conflicted about returning home to the United States and a transgender teen at the beginning of his transition starting at a new school where he's adopting his new identity for the first time.

Each writer creatively and tactfully navigated sensitive and complex subjects to tell the hidden stories of fictional and non-fictional protagonists. Notably, the writers drew upon their personal experiences and those of people around them to breathe life into their works.

The writers also eloquently painted pictures of distinct settings from a cold, dark hospital room to the boys' locker room of a high school in London, England, to the quaint, rural town of Minakuchi, Shiga, Japan. In their own ways, each story sheds light on the beauty that can be found in the most unconventional places.

The Palo Alto Weekly thanks all of the writers who submitted stories for this year's contest; the judges for the Adult and Young Adult categories, Tom Parker, Nancy Packer and Debbie Duncan; and the Teen category judges Caryn Huberman Yacowitz, Marjorie Sayer and Nancy Etchemendy. Lastly, the Weekly extends its gratitude to the contest co-sponsors, Bell's Books of Palo Alto, Kepler's Books of Menlo Park and Linden Tree Books of Los Altos.


Teen, 12-14 years old

1st place: "Boy" by Sofia Lucas

2nd place: "Skipping Stones" by Sydney Ling

3rd place: "Thank you, Ms. Natalia" by Abigail Milne

Young Adult, 15-17 years old

1st place: "Dancing with Death" by Isabella Madruga

2nd place: "Finding Ordinary" by Manya Zhao

3rd place: "Foxtrot" by Marvin Lin

Adult, 18 years and older

1st place: "Coffee and Cigarettes" by Tyler Dinneen

2nd place: "The Vow" by Monica McHenney

3rd place: "My Sweet Allele" by A. A. Norton

The stories and biographies of all nine first- through third-place winners can be found at

Judges for Adult and Young Adult categories

Debbie Duncan

Debbie Duncan has been reviewing children's books for the Weekly since 1997. She is the author of the Benjamin Franklin Award-winning picture book "When Molly Was in the Hospital," as well as a book for parents, "Joy of Reading." She also contributes to the "Perspectives" series of commentaries on KQED radio. When she isn't finding the best books to share with Weekly readers, she's writing her own middle-grade novel or hanging out on Twitter @debbieduncan.

Nancy Packer

Nancy Packer is professor emerita of English at Stanford University, where she taught in the Creative Writing Program. Her short stories have appeared in such journals as Harper's Magazine, Yale Review and Sewanee Review and have been included in several O. Henry Prize Stories and Best American Short Stories. Sixty of her stories have been collected and published in five volumes — "Old Ladies" is her most recent collection.

Tom Parker

A well-known, local fiction-writing teacher and coach, memoirist, co-author and developmental editor, Tom Parker is an O. Henry Prize-winning short-story writer and author of the novels, "Anna, Ann, Annie" and "Small Business." His work has appeared in Harper's Magazine and has been reviewed in The New Yorker. He has taught at Stanford University, the University of California, Berkeley, and Foothill and Ca<0x00F1>ada community colleges. His website is

Judges for Teen category

Nancy Etchemendy

Nancy Etchemendy's novels, short fiction and poetry have appeared regularly for the past 40 years, both in the U.S. and abroad. Her work has earned a number of awards, including three Bram Stoker Awards and an International Horror Guild Award. "Cat in Glass and Other Tales of the Unnatural," her collection of short dark fantasy, was named an American Library Association Best Book for Young Adults. She lives and works in Palo Alto, where she leads a somewhat schizophrenic life, alternating between unkempt, introverted writer and gracious (she prays) wife of a Stanford professor.

Caryn Huberman Yacowitz

Caryn Huberman Yacowitz writes fiction and nonfiction books for children and plays for children and adults. Her newest picture book, "I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Dreidel," a Chanukah book with an art history spin, is a Junior Library Guild Selection. "Jeans! The Musical," co-created with Diane Claerbout and Enid Davis, celebrates those famous pants and the pioneers who invented them. Her website is

Marjorie Sayer

Marjorie Sayer writes books with a multicultural and interdisciplinary perspective. Her middle-grade novel, "The Girl Mechanic of Wanzhou," is a winner of the Scholastic Asia Book Award. Her nonfiction for adults has appeared in O'Reilly Media, and her recreational math books have been used in clubs throughout the country. She enjoys bicycle travel, her family and the friendship of her cats. She blogs about her interests at


2 people like this
Posted by Stella Yang
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on May 25, 2019 at 1:01 pm

Regarding "Coffee and Cigarettes", beautiful story and ugly grammar. If the author drives as he writes, Tyler Dinneen must barrel through stop signs and never pay attention to speed limit signs. No rules apply.

13 people like this
Posted by Patty Fewer
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on May 29, 2019 at 2:26 pm

I wish to congratulate all the short story winners this year. Good stories, all. I have been a winner in the past and it is really thrilling!
Every writer appreciates compliments and support and genuine guidance. Every writer uses their own voice and imagination. The individuality of the author Tyler Dinneen should be recognized. He is a winner.

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The 34th Annual Palo Alto Weekly Short Story Contest is now accepting entries for Adult, Young Adult and Teen categories. Send us your short story (2,500 words or less) and entry form by April 10, 2020. First, Second and Third Place prizes awarded in each category. Sponsored by Kepler's Books, Linden Tree Books and Bell's Books.

Contest Details