WINNERS: Holiday Restraint Contest

Electric Literature is pleased to announce the winners of its Holiday Restraint contest. Below are the winning entries and a few words from the contest judge Mike Edison.

I reckon I was asked to judge this beast as much for my firm grip on the English language as for my reputation for excess (not to mention that I learned to judge battles inside of a steel cage), and without getting too puffed up about it, I was, as Keith Richards might say, positively gob-smacked about the invite.

For those of you coming in naked, the contest rules were deceptively simple: write a short story of 30 to 300 words that used each word only once.

Over 130 entries ran the gamut from failed word jazz, fractured Haikus, stoned prose poems, the worst of William Burroughs’ cut-and-paste experiments, and the stream-of-consciousness ramblings of failed beatniks and first-year English as a Second Language students, to genuine moments of insight rife with rhythm, humor, and what I like to call “zork,” although I am not sure that term has been adopted by the literary world at large.

A quick note on the judging. There was no penalty for honing closer to 30 than 300 words. That being said, longer pieces that made the first cut earned a few extra-credit points for degree of difficulty, but first, and more importantly, was it compelling both in terms of story and language? Choice of subject matter and tone were only important in terms of ambition — was the piece successful at achieving its own goal? And then did it play by the rules, or better, somehow use the rules to its advantage? I tended towards pieces that would have been successful even if they were not written within the confines of this contest.

And so let’s get to it. Thanks to everyone who entered, or even mused on entering, because it was no little feat. It was my great pleasure to read your work. Ya’ll knocked me out.

— Mike

1st Place: Jason Schwalm

My father lived by three rules:

The cleanest part of a man’s body is his cock. Wash your hands first, then piss.
Never leave good-looking women waiting. They’re impatient, and can always find someone better.
Nobody fucking cares about birthdays.

2nd Place: Wyatt Robinette

“Free Speech Sold Here”

Words were expensive.
Most families could barely afford nouns.
During rationed dinners, fathers mouthed, “Salt, please.” Then mothers or whichever child saw his lips move passed both shakers.
Over time communities saved money. A handsome leader promised, “Sentences, paragraphs, whole pages will be ours!”
Hope flourished.
Rich people stockpiled weapons and soiled their pants.
Politicians laughed.
“No worries,” one said. “They’re not paying us to listen.”

3rd Place: Peter Thompson

“Escape Velocity”

Ailing nine-year-old elementary school student Emerson Kittredge suffers from chronic degenerative skeletal arthritis — high fevers mark intensive thralls of searing internal inferno. Excruciatingly feeble bones, made fragile by emaciated fibrous tissue scream tendon-snapping soreness.

But his dreams are cowboy reveries, sitting around campfires, guitars playing singsong trailside tunes under big romantic western-night skies.

Your Lame Child’s Last Best Promised Death Wish Foundation’s executive director, Rev. Dan Levy, visited Piedmont Hospital intensive care ward, hoping to make youngster’s lives more optimistic, if only briefly, before permanent disability brands all voluntary movement insufferable. Resident chief rheumatologist, Dr. Paul Gildersleeve, gifts this pint-sized Pain Ranger a whole new saddle, rope, spurs, chaps, marshall’s badge — everything needed.

Their long day’s journey transverses Dillion, Montana’s historic Circle W ranch, into sparse cheat grass meadows, while clumpy chaparral bushes skitter along hissing like wind snakes. Chilly mountain air, scattering dust, and spicy dinner aromas mix heartily campside. Desperate lil’ dogey goader Crippled Pete cantors through lush green fields until acute twinges become tearful agonies at full gallop.

Kid Cripple pulls up on reigns; aches, vomits. Drops leather lasso, un-holsters six gun, firing one, two, three, four, five bullets heavenward toward constellations. Final shell. He cocks the loaded pistol against perspiring forehead, frowns: Thank you, God, chapped lips brushing fiery barrel.

Sweet relief.


Thank you to everyone who entered Electric Literature’s first holiday contest, and congratulations to the winners! 1st Place received Electric Literature vol. 1 and a signed copy of Mike Edison’s Dirty! Dirty! Dirty!, 2nd Place received a copy of EL vol. 1, and 3rd Place received Raymond Queneau’s Exercises in Style.


— Mike Edison is the former publisher of marijuana magazine High Times, and was the editor-in-chief of the irresponsibly outrageous Screw. Edison has worked as a correspondent for Hustler and a high-paid gun-for hire of the legendary Penthouse letters. In addition he is an internationally known musician and professional wrestler of no small repute. He is the author of 28 pornographic novels and the cult classic memoir I Have Fun Everywhere I Go (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). He speaks frequently on free speech, sex, drugs, and the American counterculture, and is “proof positive that one can be both edgy and erudite, lowbrow and literate, and take joy in the unbridled pleasures of the id without sacrificing the higher mind.”

— Jason Schwalm left Kentucky, and a failed law practice, for a religious community in Philadelphia. He spends his time reworking a novel, The Designated Mourners, after throwing the first draft down a well. Currently he is an EMT student, hoping to learn the mysteries of the heart.

More Like This

Thank You!