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MacQueen’s Quinterly: Knock-your-socks-off Art and Literature
Issue 11: 1 January 2022
Commentary: 1134 words
Finalist List: 127 words
By Clare MacQueen,
MacQ Publisher

Results: Triple-Q Writing Challenge


1. Intro

My heartfelt gratitude to everyone who accepted this challenge. You may have raised your eyebrows at its quizzity[1] but decided to embrace it nonetheless. And the splendid stories and poems you created have brightened the dray and grizzly[2] days of encroaching winter and made my quignog[3] a reality. Thank you kindly!

This past year, simmering anxiety over the pandemic and chronic health issues and a frayed-shoestring budget curtailed one of my favorite activities: hosting writing challenges through my literary journal. I ran the previous one in February 2021, not knowing if there’d be another.

Eight months later, Horace’s sage advice was galvanizing: Carpe diem! In other words, enjoy this present moment, since life is short and precious and no one’s assured of waking up tomorrow.

Thus, for Issue 11 of MacQ, I playfully concocted what may be my most challenging writing challenge thus far. Not only for fellow writers but also for myself as editor.

(For reference, guidelines are available at: Triple-Q Writing Challenge.)

In mid-October, I posted calls for “Triple-Q” entries to several submission groups on Facebook. Plus, author and editor Pamelyn Casto announced the contest in her informative monthly newsletter, Flash Fiction Flash—which she’s been publishing for 20 years. Congratulations, Pamelyn, and thanks again!

The Triple-Q submission period was open 14 days, from 22 November through 5 December, and MacQ received 43 pieces, representing 36 contest entries.

2. Selection process

First, I read each piece at my cruising speed of 500 words per minute, just to gauge my initial reactions. Did the piece grab my attention and hold my interest all the way through, to the last line? Did it resonate on one or more levels (e.g., sensory, musical, intuitive, emotional, universal)? Were there any rough spots? Did I want to publish the piece?

Second, during slower and closer re-readings, I noted all words that began with the letter Q, comparing those with the Triple-Q list of prompts for matches, aka qualifying Q words. Did each piece include the required minimum of three?

Just as important, were those qualifying Q words used appropriately as noun, adjective, or verb as per the requirements? If not, then the piece was dead in the water, so to speak, no matter how much I liked it otherwise.

Any additional words beginning with Q that were not on the list of prompts, I took into consideration only if the minimum requirement of three qualifying Q words had been met.

Several entries seemed to include the minimum, except that one Q word was used as a different form of speech than specified by the Triple-Q list of prompts. For instance, “quibble” may have appeared in the piece, but as a noun rather than a verb. Or the adverb “querulously” was used rather than the required adjective “querulous.”

Small differences, but very important when weighing entries against others that had used quibble or querulous as specified on the prompt list, and/or entries that used more than the minimum of three qualifying Q words. The latter case would help entries with a potentially disqualifying word like querulously avoid falling short in early rounds.

Grammar Geek Alert: For those who might be wondering, “quahog chowder” is a qualifying usage. Even though quahog acts as an adjective to describe an attribute of the noun chowder, quahog is still considered a noun there. With a special name: attributive noun. Which I learned while refreshing my knowledge of grammar before this challenge. 😊

3. A tip when entering future MacQ challenges

Might be a useful strategy to think above and beyond, and offer more than the minimum requirement. Such entries might be more competitive, I think, especially if they’re flash fiction.

With the Triple-Q, where fiction entries also competed with poems and hybrids, the longer the story (up to a thousand-word max), the greater the hope that it would include more than the minimum of qualifying Q words. Granting that it’s certainly no picnic in the park, I think it’s a bit less difficult to intersperse seven qualifying Q words into a thousand-word story, than to intertwine the same number within a poetic hybrid one-third that length...

4. Shout-Outs!

... I’m speaking of Marietta McGregor’s timely 335-word haibun “Terror Australis,” among my favorites of the Finalists selected. In addition to seven qualifying Q words, her impressive haibun also includes two extra Q words. Huzzah!

Also a bit trickier, I imagine, than a few flash stories that fell short in early rounds: weaving five qualifying Q words into a comparatively tiny piece only 54 words long—that is, Gabby Gilliam’s “Dinner Suggestion,” a light-hearted poem that sounds unforced to my ear and makes me chuckle and grin. A tip of the hat to Ms. Gilliam.

And I happily highlight a third Finalist that I especially admire, a poem in a more serious vein and for folks like me who also enjoy complex, layered, introspective work: “Le Grand Matin,” a fascinating ekphrastic exploration 203 words long, including five qualifying Q words, by virtuoso Jonathan Yungkans.

5. And the Winner is...

During initial rounds of reading, I chose 22 semi-finalists from the total of 43 pieces received. Next began the tougher challenge, the quavery-mavery[4] process of selecting up to a dozen finalists, and then, only one winner.

Definitely not easy. During final rounds of evaluation, the more closely I perused pieces, the brighter their facets shone, and the greater my admiration and attachment grew. A handful of potential winners had me vacillating.

Still, I kept returning to “Quite,” lyrical micro-prose by Guy Biederman that’s delightful to read aloud. Makes me laugh every time. While this quirky creation may not be a contender for more staid prizes like the Pushcart, I adore its exuberance, and appreciate its whole-hearted incorporation of a cornucopia of words beginning with Q—35 total, including all ten qualifying Q words[5]—in a piece only 284 words long.

One could say (borrowing from “Quite”), the author “simply had no quit in him.” 😀

Just below my footnotes, you’ll find links to a baker’s dozen of Q-licious pieces that I’m delighted and honored to present here in MacQ-11. Again, huge thanks to everyone who participated in this challenge!



  1. Quizzity: strangeness, oddity.

  2. Dray and grizzly: a Spoonerism I coined for gray and drizzly weather in the Puget Sound area, where I lived for 20 years.

  3. Quignog: fanciful hope or plan.

  4. Quavery-mavery: unsure; vacillating over a tough decision.

  5. Four Q words, querulous, quesadilla, queue, and quietly, appear two or three times each in “Quite,” but I only counted them once each in the total (35).

Triple-Q Winner ($200 USD):

Quite [prose poem] by Guy Biederman

12 Finalists (unranked):

Anatomy of an Inspired Chef [prose poem] by Linda Allison

The Ultimate Guide to Exercise, or How I Spend My Weekend [microfiction] by Roberta Beary

Dinner Suggestion [poem, lineated] by Gabby Gilliam *

John Muir Warned You This Could Happen [poem, lineated] by Susan Hayden

Open Wide [flash fiction] by Nancy Ludmerer

Terror Australis [haibun] by Marietta McGregor *

Inquest [ekphrastic poem] by Robbi Nester, after a photograph by Ann Leshy Wood

Aurora [flash fiction] by Kathryn Silver-Hajo

Thumb [flash fiction] by Renée Jessica Tan

Clam Chowder [prose poem] by Anne Marie Wells

Our Years With the Latvians [nonfiction] by Rebekah Wolman

Le Grand Matin [ekphrastic poem] by Jonathan Yungkans, after the painting by René Magritte *


* ICYMI, see “Shout-Outs!” (#4 section in the commentary above).

Contest guidelines are available at “Triple-Q” Writing Challenge.

Details about our previous seven competitions are available via MacQ’s Contest Portal.

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