The February Contest turned out to be as difficult as any other to choose a winner.
As usual, multiple excellent entries vied for the top spot. And I’ll share at least one finalist entry next week. But this week is all about the February winner, Katherine Shaw, and her perfectly tragic ending.
If you have not yet read the full story Katherine and I wrote, please read it here first, as this post contains spoilers.
My Circle of Champions, the name for former winners of my monthly writing contest, and I began working on a series of flash fiction stories set on a single planet, called The Globe. We’ve had a lot of fun creating this new Sci Fi world together and sparking ideas off of each other. So in January, I guess my head was full of The Globe and I struggled to write a fresh, unique story beginning for the February Contest.
When I wrote the three-paragraph outline for The Globe, I wrote this: “Except for the Seven Day War between Whitehall and Finsbury, there has always been peace.” I had also agreed to write the first story set in bucolic, agrarian Finsbury. (It’s almost done now.) So I had the conflict between Whitehall and Finsbury on my mind.
And then I was struck with the idea of a Romeo-and-Juliet, star-crossed-lovers tale with a sophisticate from Whitehall and her country beau from Finsbury. There were many problems here that could easily have messed up the brand new world we were writing together. We had not even released our first story set on The Globe. What if a contest winner introduced some new tech or some other issue that messed up this whole new, beautiful world?
But my deadline to post the contest beginning loomed, and I finally told the Champions that I was throwing caution to the wind and doing it.
As I wrote, I needed names for my female and male leads. If you didn’t notice, The Globe is inspired by Shakespeare and the world and the stories are filled with references to the Bard’s work and to the times in which he lived. So it’s natural that I thought of a Romeo-and-Juliet story. But what could I name my futuristic Romeo and Juliet?
Here’s another wrinkle. I also gave my Champions the rule that all names had to come from Shakespeare plays. See how that came back to bite me? So I shrugged and thought to myself: If everyone on the Globe knows and reveres Shakespeare and they name their children after the Bard’s characters, why not just play into it? Why not just have two modern teenagers named Romeo and Juliet? At least readers will know the roles they are to play.
To avoid messing with the current timeline on the Globe, I set this tale “long before the Night of the Rocket and nearly fifty years before the Seven Day War.” And then I decided to make it a secret war that few on the Globe would ever know about it.
My Champions read the story and blessed it. But one writer gave a cautionary note: this story would be very tough to finish in 500 words. And he was right.
But Katherine and others stepped up to the challenge with gusto, and the results speak for themselves.
I had hoped Romeo and Juliet would have a happy ending. I truly did. And some contestants wrote that happy ending. And, with unceasing optimism, I had hoped the winner would also somehow stop the secret war. I’m a sucker for a happy ending. But that was not fated to be.
Romeo and Juliet are star-crossed-lovers. Theirs is a tragic tale and not one for happiness. And so Katherine did it true justice.
Now, in my mind, Katherine’s Romeo and Juliet succeed in many ways. Juliet kills the leader of the invasion force, her father, Escalus Andronicus. And so I believe that ultimately foils the invasion. I assume that without their fearless leader, the attacking force melts away and returns to Whitehall, taking their secret with them.
Even so, Katherine’s ending shocked me.
Even as Juliet trained the energy pistol on her father, I held out hope. A hope for peace, love, and reconciliation. We could feel Juliet’s hesitation, her trigger finger trembling.
“Her heart hammered against her ribs, but she didn’t move. Her outstretched arm was paralyzed, her white knuckles gripping the butt of the pistol. Her breath caught as the figure moved, and the piercing blue eyes of Escalus Andronicus locked onto her own, his face twisted in confusion.”
But Katherine chose a great ending, a perfect ending, a tragic ending.
And, so, Juliet and Romeo can run away together to Newlondon as Juliet had planned. But in murdering her father, can Juliet ever know lasting peace and happiness? I think not. That is not her fate.
“Juliet would never forget the look of betrayal in her father’s eyes as the realization struck him.”
Katherine gave us a truly powerful Juliet and a truly powerful ending. Whew, that’s some heavy stuff! How about a couple of lighter notes to end by?
As I said, the Globe stories are chock-full of Shakespeare references. I throw in as many as I think I can get away with without completely derailing the story. And the Champions in their stories do the same. I’m loving them, and I’m sure I’m not even catching half of them.
I thought the name of Escalus’s heavy-duty hover would be a great place to sneak in a Shakespeare reference. But what? There’s not a lot of high-tech words or stuff in Shakespeare. But I recalled a lion from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Yes, a lion is a good name for a sleek, new vehicle. But how would just the word “lion” be recognizable as a Shakespeare reference?
In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the story of Pyramus and Thisbe is performed as a play-within-the-play by several village fools. Pyramus and Thisbe are precursors to Romeo and Juliet, also being star-crossed lovers separated by warring families. They elope, agreeing to meet in the night at Ninus’s tomb.
Thisbe arrives first but flees when she sees a lion eating a recent kill. Pyramus then arrives to find the lion, bloody from its meal, chewing on Thisbe’s shawl. Pyramus assumes the worst, that Thisbe had been slain and eaten by the lion. He kills himself with his sword. Thisbe returns to find Pyramus dead and also kills herself with the sword. It’s a tragic tale, but when told by Shakespeare’s fools, it’s quite comedic until the end.
All that to say that the 9NUS Lion is a reference to the lion at Ninus’s tomb. Truly a deadly force and an augur of doom.
Katherine gave Escalus his last name: Andronicus. That would cast Escalus as the victorious Roman general from Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus. That truly is a tale of woe full of betrayal, murder, and even cannibalism.
Titus Andronicus loses nearly all his family and dies at the hand of a rival, but his banished son returns to claim the throne as emperor of Rome. So, Katherine clearly knew her Escalus Andronicus could not live. And, perhaps, Katherine is hinting to us that Juliet may yet return home victorious and even take a station higher than her late father.
Hmmm, food for thought.
If you would like to read some more stories by Katherine and check out her new website, why not start here: www.katherineshawwrites.com/stories. (And make sure to scroll down to see all Katherine’s stories on that page.)