TWO WEEKS AGO marked the deadline for the PEN/Amazon.com Short Story Award. This competition, sponsored by the respected literary society and the online hardware/baked goods/used Furby/electronics retailing giant, offers an eye-popping grand prize of $10,000 cash—or about twice what the average author pulls in for publishing a multivolume historical novel. While technically the competition is open only to writers who've never been widely published, the Internet-size award valuation has, not surprisingly, attracted some rather prominent wordsmiths. The first round of judging, conducted by Amazon's staff of editors, is now complete, and Seattle Weekly has obtained this exclusive peek at some of the company's replies.
Dear Mr. Mailer, While we were favorably impressed with The Customer Service Representative's Song, we found its 8,000-page length to be significantly beyond what was specified in the contest rules, as well as likely to give a false picture about the actual career duration of those individuals portrayed. Also, we didn't understand the part about boxing.
Dear Ms. Sontag, We greatly admired your entry, Stickiness and Its Metaphors, particularly its application to content syndication strategy. However, your ultimate equation of e-commerce with "the last parasitic gasps of a toothless patriarchal capitalist order bent on quashing semiotic difference and enforcing the tyranny of binary gender roles" left us cold. Also, what is "diagetic flow"?
Dear Mr. Kozol, We regret to inform you that Clean Up Your Own Pus was not selected as a finalist. Thinly conceived plots, such as those in which a rapacious corporation cuts a sweetheart deal with the city's power brokers in order to boot out a public health hospital and take over its historic view building, read more like wheezy political rants than quality fiction. Old-fashioned bricks-and-mortar liberalism of this kind simply has no place in the new wired economy.
Dear Mr. Kinsley, Thank you for your outstanding submission, The Cyber-Sex Revolution Will Be Webcast, in which you so movingly capture the excitement of this new frontier in human experience. Although we particularly liked your blend of high-tech yarn-spinning and bodice-ripping romance at RedWest, we felt your depiction of sex-starved hacky-sack playing programmers was perhaps too graphic for general readers. Also, it seemed to strain credulity that your pallid, nearsighted central protagonist, Mitchell Kingsley, would become the erotic overlord of a harem of nubile young nymphet junior assistant product managers fresh from the Seven Sisters. Perhaps a more suitable venue for your work would be Penthouse's online forum.
Dear Ms. Godden, We regret to say that your collection of vanity license plate sightings, TAILG8 RDR, does not comprise fiction in any recognizable form.
Dear Mr. Updike, We are grateful for your submission, Bech Goes Public, which we read with great interest. However, after painful consideration, we determined that your self-conscious ruminations upon the historical, mythological, literary, and Biblical hermeneutics distilled, contained, and refracted within the contemporary structure of follow-on offerings, lock-up agreements, vesting periods, and exit strategies would be better suited to The New Yorker. Also, we don't read ancient Greek.
Dear Ms. Oates, Thank you for your fine submission, Because it is Bitter, and Because it is My Bubble Wrap. Our editors found your exquisitely wrought study of bright young middle-management trainees forced to work in a vast, bleak online book distribution warehouse in Reno, NV, alongside menacing toughs, tattooed ex-cons, migrant workers, and doped-up high school drop-outs to be downbeat and depressing. The language was impeccable, of course, but we felt the story did not accurately reflect the reality of this dynamic new wealth-generating sector of the dot-com economy. Also, we didn't understand the part about boxing.
Dear Mr. Guterson, This is just to remind you that while we liked your short story Snow Falling on Alder, as a final-round judge on the PEN/Amazon.com Short Story Award panel you are not eligible to be a contestant. And please stop boasting to fellow judge Sherman Alexie about your superior movie grosses and friendship with Ethan Hawke.
Dear Mr. Foster Wallace, Thank you for your Interminable Jest: A Short Story, which we found to be admirably short, but utterly incomprehensible. Our judges simply couldn't follow your countless digressions, allusions, and erudite citations, and there was nothing in there about e-commerce. Also, your innumerable pop cultural references crashed our server.
Dear Ms. Proulx, We are pleased to inform you that The Interloper is a finalist in the PEN/Amazon.com short story contest. Your tale of a young, balding but not-at-all-unattractive investment banker who abandons the shallow, money-making world of New York City for a deeper and ultimately far more rewarding life as an auctioneer of Pok魯n collectibles is exactly the sort of romantic and life-affirming epic that our contest is designed to encourage. Good luck to you. (Also, have you ever considered writing online toy reviews? We have several lucrative openings.)