Imagine it’s pitch black outside, you’ve found yourself kayaking in the middle of a lake, and you can’t see anything but dark water and trees for miles.
You can’t seem to remember how you ended up here.
You’re not alone either. You are with an old friend from high school… Or so you thought. Your memory slowly returns and you realize you have found yourself with a dangerous creature who took the form of a friend to lure you into this lake.
This was the scene of the winning short story for the Naythan M. Bell Award given by DSU’s literary arts journal The Southern Quill, where people can submit short stories and other works.
The award was created in honor of a creative writing student, Naythan Bell, after he passed away. It was first funded by the Bell family, but the DSU Undergraduate Research Office started sponsoring the award in 2020.
The Undergraduate Research Office took over the funding “because we are supportive of traditional research and creative activity,” said Olga Pilkington, assistant director of undergraduate research. “We support any kind of creative, artistic expression and want to sponsor students who want to do projects in dance and arts and so on.”
The award is given to DSU students selected from the fiction section of The Southern Quill.
When it was first created in 2018, the judges were originally looking for stories that spoke to professional writers, but the focus has shifted to what the general reader would think of the piece, Pilkington said.
“It’s more for broad assessment, just what would the general reader think of these stories instead of what do professional writers think of them,” Pilkington said. “That’s the biggest change in how the award is judged.”
An important aspect of the winning pieces is the emotional response a reader gets from reading the piece, she said.
Abigail Patterson, a sophomore English major from Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, won the first place prize for the 2021 Naythan M. Bell Award for her horror short story “Hair of the Dog.”
The inspiration for this story formed from her love for the horror genre and is based on the lake she grew up next to.
“It was always sort of a fun thing between my friends growing up to make up these really spooky situations, these spooky myths about where we lived,” Patterson said. “It was heavily forested, then you have this murky lake and it was a breeding ground for fear, and I really liked turning that into art.”
After getting a horror short story published in the Southern Quill last year, Patterson felt more motivation because she realized there is a market for this sort of genre.
“It fueled the most authentic creativity I have, which is with the horror genre,” she said.
Patterson said winning an award like this comes down to authenticity. Even with taking criticism and feedback into consideration, it’s important to stay true to the origins of your story, and that’s why she believes she won.
“I feel so honored to have recieved [this award],” Patterson said. “It makes me feel so honored that something in this genre can be taken so seriously and win an award. It speaks to how the arts have progressed.”
The first runner-up for the award is Spencer Soule, a senior English major from Portland, Oregon, for his piece titled “Whatever it Takes.”
His story brings attention toward deep troubles such as alcoholism; he highlights an unorthodox method to dealing with these sorts of issues and what a person does to overcome them.
“The inspiration for it came from seeing people who have started off in a bad position but overcome their struggles,” Soule said. “Then they turn around and see people in similar positions and don’t have that same level of empathy, they don’t have the ability to see themselves in someone else.”
Soule said the work it takes to be published comes down to writing all the time and being willing to make the necessary changes to your piece, even if it means cutting out parts you really liked.
“I [submit to the Southern Quill] because I really enjoy putting out fiction for people to read; I like writing stories that people want to see themselves in or be taken to a different place for a little while,” Soule said.
Second runner-up Brianna McFadden, from Las Vegas and a graduate student from the technical writing and digital rhetoric program, submitted a similar genre piece to Patterson’s, hers titled “An Unfulfilled Craving.”
This horror story follows the perspective of a serial killer, but the twist is he fails to kill his prey.
McFadden said she first wrote the piece when she was 14 years old, but decided to scrap it and rewrite it, keeping the original bones of the story: writing from the killer’s point of view.
“I was really surprised,” McFadden said. “I turned it into Southern Quill and didn’t know I would be eligible for an award.”
McFadden emphasizes that the importance of creative writing is to focus on the visuals and the “showing versus telling” aspect of writing. While it is hard at times, she said this is what she focused on and believes it helped her win third place.
The first place winner won $300, the second place winner won $200 and the third place winner won $100.
“Any time you get published, it’s an accomplishment and it makes you feel like, ‘Hey, I do have a voice and I do have something that people understand … and they vibe with it,” Soule said. “It’s a good feeling to know and makes you more connected in the world.”