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Midvale Journal

Midvale Literary Festival names winners in fiction and poetry

May 17, 2021 11:30AM ● By Sarah Morton Taggart

Sara Schmachtenberger won awards for two different stories during the first Midvale Literary Festival. (Photo courtesy Sara Schmachtenberger)

By Sarah Morton Taggart | [email protected]

The Midvale Arts Council didn’t let a pandemic stop the first Midvale Literary Festival. 

The virtual festival consisted of two parts: a writing showcase and a Flash Writing Contest. For the main competition, Midvale residents were invited to submit their short stories or poems and a panel of judges awarded the two outstanding entries to Victoria Wetzel’s story “Lagoon Day” and Sara Schmachtenberger’s story, “The Blue Note.”

Schmachtenberger also won first place in the fiction portion of the Flash Writing Contest. More than 50 writers signed up and were given 24 hours to create a brand new story. Contestants were given the prompt of either “hospital and single shoe” or “hotel and broken clock.” The resulting stories had to be 1,000 words or less and ranged from romance to sci-fi. Second place went to Ren Bromiley for “The Grand Sicily,” and Wetzel’s “Time Warp” placed third. Each winner received a trophy and Amazon gift card.

“We wanted to give people a reason to write something new,” said Bob Bedore, vice president of the arts council’s board of directors. “I’m glad we did. It was a lot of fun. We were pretty excited with the quality of the submissions.”

Schmachtenberger has been writing for years, but just recently started to share her work. She won a blue ribbon in the arts council’s Harvest Days Visual and Literary Art Contest a few years ago and posts some of her stories online. 

“Right now, I’m more focused on my 80,000-word book,” Schmachtenberger said. “I write short stories when I get too many ideas jumbled around in my thoughts. I need to get them out or they stay in there and disrupt my writing process. This contest provided an outlet for that.”

Schmachtenberger is currently on the third rewrite of her first novel, which is about a young woman who is learning to cope with loss and taking on a great responsibility. In contrast, Schmachtenberger’s winning short story is about a world-weary ER nurse who contemplates returning to her roots after a traumatic experience.

“With writing, I feel like I have a notepad and a pen, and I just follow these characters around,” Schmachtenberger said. “It plays out and I follow.”

For the Flash Fiction Contest, Schmachtenberger took five or six hours to write her story, “The Doll Hospital.” 

“Initially I thought (the prompt) was a little grim,” Schmachtenberger said. “But then I thought, ‘Nah, we’ll make it fun.’ What a cool idea to have a prompt and a location. It was a really amazing challenge.”

For the Flash Poetry Contest, participants were all given the same “word bank.” All five words (shoulder, nod, attach, wait and enchant) had to be used in a single poem, though the writer could change the tense or plurality.

“We thought it was going to be really hard, but the three winning poems were all very different,” Bedore said. “One poem was about a woman with a newborn child, one believed in a relationship that was more in their head, and one was about someone who couldn’t cry when they wanted to for a play. Three different stories came out of those five words.”

The top poets were Mary Mason of West Jordan for her poem, “Life Renewed,” Grace Meservy of Lehi for “Why Can’t I Make Myself Cry,” and Andrew Walker of Midvale for “Wait.” 

“Poetry really has to follow a pattern, but I don’t do that,” Mason said. “I write what falls out of my head. The five words gave it some shape and form, then it almost wrote itself. When you write, sometimes things just work.” 

Mason doesn’t consider herself to be a poet, but did enjoy taking poetry classes at the University of Utah 40 years ago. She was urged by her daughter to enter the contest for fun.

“I do a lot of things and people are always amazed,” Mason said. “People think, ‘Oh, I could never do that.’ I say, ‘Yes you can!’ People are crippled by the idea that if they don’t do it perfectly the first time they’ve failed. You just need to practice. You can be adventuresome and try things and like it or find it wasn’t as wonderful as you’d hoped. But at least you made the effort.”

The arts council plans to bring the festival back next year, potentially with live readings.

“I saw how excited people were not only to win, but to have something to do,” Bedore said. “Being a part of this really helped them get out of a funk, give them confidence to try something new. For me personally, that was very cool.”

All winning stories and poems can be found on the arts council’s website:

“This provided me an opportunity to be more vulnerable and let my writing see the light of day,” Schmachtenberger said. “Now I have two trophies. They’re good reminders to keep going, keep sharing, get out there.”