For Thomas Mose Abbott, his spring semester ended with more than just completing finals, getting good grades and enjoying the start of summer.
An assignment that he prepared for his English 101 class, “The Weight of Enduring Freedom,” won him first prize for best short fiction in the Glendale Focus inaugural short fiction contest.
Abbott is a full time student at Glendale, studying to transfer to UCLA to earn a fine arts degree. His “ultimate” goal is to show and sell his paintings to galleries, which he has already done.
While on campus one day during the spring semester, he saw a flyer posted for the contest and quickly acted on it.
“I was interested in the $500 offered for first prize,” Abbott said of his motivation to enter.
He decided, with the encouragement of his English 101 professor, Chris Spradley, to enter a short story he had written as an assignment for class.
“My teacher wanted us to write about an experience that changed our lives in a way that made us realize that the world isn’t okay or perfect,” said Abbott. “That’s what led me in that direction and opened all kinds of stuff for me.”
He based his story on his six and a half years of service in the Marines, which he left in 2003. Abbott worked on reconnaissance missions, gathering intelligence for his unit, and at times, engaging in “firefights.”
“My story was based on a true story,” Abbott said. “I wanted to write the things that I think a lot of people already have on their minds, including what was on my mind.
“I had to change a lot of things because I wanted to talk a lot about technical stuff, how to properly shoot a weapon, and a lot of the things that goes through a well-trained Marine’s mind in very crucial situations. I wanted to have a platform to talk about that.
“My message was that we have a choice about war, what we take from it, and that we are accountable for what we do with it,” he said.
Spradley, two-year adjunct professor of English at Glendale, supported Abbott’s story idea.
“. I thought he should do it because it had a great shot at placing, if not, winning,” Spradley said. “I thought it was well-written.”
Abbott then submitted his work.
Gary Kemper, editor and publisher of the Glendale Focus, has published short fiction in every issue and decided to turn it into a contest for GCC students. He is a strong supporter of the college, which has advertised in his paper since they became aware of it.
“We wanted to support good fiction writers, to give them exposure,” said Kemper, “and because we believe it’s an important aspect of a publication like ours, which says it’s for people who like to read.”
The Downtown Glendale Merchants Association and Carousel Restaurant co-sponsored the contest.
Marjorie Kemper, Gary’s wife, an award-winning short fiction writer and novelist, and Reid Mitchell, also an award-winning novelist and short fiction writer and internationally renowned civil war historian, picked three of 31 works that students entered.
Abbott won first prize for “The Weight of Enduring Freedom,” and took hoom the $500 that he initially set out to win.
“I found out through email [that I won],” said Abbott. “I was surprised and thrilled. It’s very flattering that people are interested in it. It’s really reinforcing and encouraging, and I’m most thankful for that.
“I think of this award as a testament to Mr. Spradley’s teaching. He gets people involved from the heart. The assignments always revolved around the context of world issues.”
Since his class, Abbot has been writing a lot of short stories, about different subjects.
Second prize of $250 went to Tina Tazekand for “Frozen” and third prize of $100 to Robert Cannon for “Rejection.”
Three honorable mentions went to Robert Black for “No Such Thing as Blasphemy;” Jason Lerner for “Northern Lights”; and Susanne Wejp-Olsen for “Cocoon.”
Abbott’s story was published in the Glendale Focus’ June issue. Spradley recognized his former students’ accomplishment.
“I was really proud,” Spradley said. “You don’t get people who, generally, write that well in a 101 class. I was pleased that he went through with it and that it worked out for him.
“I really did think it deserved attention, particularly because of the subject matter.”
Soon after, Kemper held an awards presentation luncheon for the winners at Carousel Restaurant in Glendale.
“The judges found that the winning stories were exceptional, worthy of being published anywhere,” said Kemper. “We were proud to have them entered into the contest and proud to publish them.”
He said the contest will continue annually. For more information about the Glendale Focus call (818) 445-2523.
Editors note: We have reprinted “The Weight of Enduring Freedom,” with permission, in this online issue – please see the features section.