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Penny Warris of Analog Books in Lethbridge, presents a certificate to Sawyer Jones of Pincher Creek who was a finalist for the 2024 Analog Prize.

Pincher Creek girl shines as youngest finalist in inaugural Analog Prize

Pincher Creek’s own Sawyer Jones has emerged as a finalist in the inaugural Analog Prize — a program by a Lethbridge bookstore to celebrate excellence in short story fiction writing. The competition, tailored for high school students across southern Alberta, aims to inspire and uplift young literary voices.

“The story was very delightful with elements of comedy and warmth,” says bookstore co-owner Penny Warris.

Sawyer, a 14-year-old homeschooler from Pincher Creek, was the youngest of the finalists and secured the position for her composition The Best of Intentions. The whimsical tale revolves around a seemingly mundane scenario — an empty tube of toothpaste — that sets off a chain reaction of comedic misadventures within a family. Despite the chaos that ensues, the story ultimately celebrates the bonds of family and the joy found in shared laughter.

Sharing her experience with Shootin’ the Breeze, Sawyer says she thoroughly enjoyed participating in the contest. 

Reflecting on her creative process, Sawyer acknowledges the role of feedback from peers in shaping her final submission.

“I loved the process of refining my story, incorporating suggestions to clarify certain aspects,” she shares.

Sawyer’s affinity for storytelling dates back to her early years. 

“Sawyer has always been captivated by the stories. When she was in fourth grade, her teacher saw her interest in stories and told her that she can paint pictures with her words,” says her mother, Lana.

Table setting of wedding venue — the Cowley Lions Campground Stockade near Pincher Creek in southwestern Alberta.

“The teacher’s words clicked in Sawyer’s mind and since then she has been writing. With time, her writing has developed a lot.”

Asked about her future literary aspirations, Sawyer excitedly says, “I really hope that one day I can get a book published.”

Creating a winning literary entry is a good first step toward that goal.

 

Also read | Sage reopens, emphasizing the importance of child care

 

Penny recounts the genesis of the Analog Prize, tracing its roots back to the success of the Bridge Prize, which is presented by the School of Liberal Education at the University of Lethbridge.

“We have been involved with the Bridge Prize. It’s a short story writing competition for university students across Canada. The competition was initiated by university chancellor and alumnus Terry Whitehead,” says Penny.

“The chancellor suggested we start a similar competition for high school students in southern Alberta. So, we decided to go ahead with that.”

The Analog Prize was launched in November 2023, heralded by a comprehensive outreach campaign. 

“We launched it by sending a package with posters to every high school in southern Alberta with the information and then emailing all the principals. Also, we put out social media posts about the contest,” she states.

“The response to the Analog Prize exceeded our expectations,” she shares, adding that 42 submissions were received from students in grades 9 to 12.

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The contest’s selection process involved a rigorous evaluation by a panel of jurors.

“We had a group of jurors who diligently scrutinized each submission and awarded points to them. This is how we found our four top stories,” Penny says.

Stevie Sander, a student at Catholic Central High School in Lethbridge, won the first prize for her short story Of Hardened Flesh. She will receive $500 in prize money.

Finalists Maxwell Edwards from Chinook High School, Eleah Klassen from Winston Churchill High School, and Sawyer have each won $100 Analog Books gift certificates.

All four will be felicitated at a ceremony June 17 at Analog Books.

Currently engrossed in crafting a murder mystery, Sawyer Jones epitomizes the boundless potential of young literary talent.

Read the story here:

THE BEST OF INTENTIONS

Like all embarrassing things, it happened totally out of the blue. You never know it’s coming, a most annoying habit of these things. Like a death in the family, it was completely unexpected and until it happened the day was completely uneventful.

Julia, like most people in the morning, was brushing her teeth, her husband, Will, flossing beside her. Julia, who some described as OCD, always did a “once over” on her teeth. That included re-pasting her brush and setting the timer on her phone for precisely ten minutes. A number that caused her family no end of amusement.

This was, of course, the moment fate chose to intervene in the form of an empty tube of Clinically Clean Minty Fresh toothpaste, Our Name Isn’t The Only Mouthful!

Will, the more easy going of the pair, made the kind but terribly naive suggestion of skipping the critical routine. This was not taken necessarily as well as it should have been. But can we blame her? Imagine, if you will, that you had a routine. One that you followed so precisely that to not do it felt like spitting in the face of tradition … if you can call over brushing a tradition.

It was decided, after much debate, that Julia would use Will’s toothpaste. A generic tube of average blue paste. Hers, Julia’s, was a tube of toothpaste that would look more at home in a NASA laboratory than in a jar by the sink. It was white, with a red label and neat black letters and it was one of those things that gave you anxiety just looking at it. She had to special order it from a website that even the best hacker would describe as sketchy.

But nonetheless the package arrived at their door once a month, in brown paper wrapping that looked like someone had assembled it with an inordinate amount of tape and hope. Fortunately, Julia had, in fact, thought that something like this might happen, and she had had the foresight to order a new tube. She would only have to use Will’s toothpaste for a day or two. Not so bad.

Oh but it was. It was so much worse than she ever thought. I suppose it started when her son Ben came downstairs later that morning with the air of unfortunate news to follow, trailing him like the wake of some doomed ship. Though like all tragedies it was only looking back on it that it became clear. Anyway, there was no crash of thunder, no faraway sound, nothing to signal the events to follow, but nonetheless it was the beginning and now like the first act of a play in some grand hush theater, we begin.

When Ben marched down that morning, his mom, like most reasonably good mothers, paused what she was doing and turned to face her son. “Good morning,” she smiled. “I have a weird thing on my leg,” Ben replied, brushing his sleep tangled hair out of his eyes. Julia frowned thoughtfully at Ben. “What do you mean weird?” “I don’t know, just …” he shrugged, “weird.” “Weird bad?” she asked carefully “or weird good?”

Ace of spades card on ad for Chase the Ace at the Pincher Creek Legion

Though is anything proclaimed as weird by a recently woken child ever good? She should have known the answer. It is a well known fact amongst mothers that when faced with a situation in which your child has placed you, a situation that you don’t necessarily want to deal with, you call for your husband. This is what Julia did. In doing this, there is also the added benefit of added entertainment for the mother. “Let’s take a look at that leg of yours.” Will said cheerfully as he knelt in front of his son. Ben gingerly extended his leg for inspection, helpfully pointing to the general area in question. Will leaned in closer . . . and his smile dropped. “Jules?” he said, his eyes wide.

It took Julia and Will ten minutes to reassure Ben that it wasn’t skin cancer. “So I’m not dying?” he asked, his face filled with relief. It then took five more minutes of frantic googling to find out that it was worse. Ben had ringworm.

“It will be okay,” Julia said, reassuringly, to herself. “What will be okay?” asked Sofie, (who had appeared in the kitchen with perfect timing as usual) looking from her parents to her brother quizzically. Ben, who was feeling waaay better by now grinned at his sister and waved his leg wildly in her direction. “I have ringworm!” he declared with relish. “Ewwwww!” Sofie leapt away from her brother, shaking her hands like she was trying to take flight. Once she deemed that she was far enough away from her contagious, germ-ridden brother, Sofie leaned in and with all the malice and glee of a triumphant sibling, whispered quietly, “you’re rotting!” Then with a wide, unnecessary berth around Ben she was gone, as quickly and as dramatically as she had come. Ben watched her go silently, then turned slowly and deliberately towards his parents, who were apparently trying to have a silent argument. “Ahem.” They looked at him like people coming out of a trance, dazed and confused. Ben smiled, “should I tell Sofie that she has ringworm too? I saw it on her arm.” He was met with dead silence.

Needless to say, Sofie did not take it well. “It’s all his fault!” she shrieked pointing at Ben, who sat blissfully unaware in a corner of the living room. “He never showers!” She dragged out ‘never’ a bit too much. Even she knew that, but like all good actresses, Sofie played the victim card well. It’s July and I can’t wear t-shirts!” Ben chose that moment to unhelpfully chime in, “you could cut one sleeve off a long sleeve shirt, you know, to cover up your ringworm.” His suggestion was met with a pillow to the head.

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“Do I have to?” Will complained. “Yes,” said Julia firmly. “Can you come? It’s so embarrassing.” Will said, pulling on his shoes. “Get over it.” was her only response. So it was Will who went to the Pharmacy. Will who wandered the isle’s like a ship with no compass. Will who finally found the cream in its white tube and red label, and it was Will who endured the cashier’s snickers at the till. But in the end he was triumphant.

Like all returning victors, Will imagined his return with the ringworm cream as one might imagine Heracles returning from slaying the Hydra or Lancealot returning to Camelot. A welcome including fanfare and cheering, maybe even confetti. Instead as he climbed the stairs to his house he was met with the now familiar package of toothpaste looking, as always, like someone had used it for a ball in a particularly intense game of soccer. He scooped it up and opened the front door. Inside, the house was dead quiet.

“Hello!” Will called. Silence. Will then did what anyone would do when faced with a silent house. He called hello again. This time he heard a giggle, Julia’s, and it made him smile to hear her laugh like that. He saw them then, through the screen door of the back porch, sitting in the golden evening glow, golden themselves in that magical light. They were laughing together, the ringworm forgotten, a temporary truce that would remain unspoken, but understood by both sides. His family. How lucky he was to have them.

These moments when we are unseen observers fill us with love. This is how Will felt, overwhelmed by affection, as he went upstairs to put the toothpaste in the jar by the sink, to surprise his wife when she went to brush her teeth that night. Then he went on to the bathroom his children shared, to place the ringworm cream in a prominent location for them to find, imagining their smiles when they did. When he was done, Will went downstairs, and joined his family in that magical evening glow. Toothpaste and cream forgotten. For now.

Two weeks later

Julias teeth had never felt so clean. Her relief at seeing her toothpaste had been surprisingly overwhelming. The restoration of her routine. The foundation of her morning was back. So it was with joy that she got up that morning, bounding out of bed with a spring in her step. She squeezed some toothpaste onto her brush. Julia had noticed one small change. The toothpaste smelled less minty. Probably nothing, a formula change perhaps? A bit more clinical, a bit more clean. Oh well, it was back and that’s all that mattered.

I suppose it is fitting then, that it was Ben who was the final piece of the puzzle. Ben bearer of bad news in the past, would bear it once more.

In a surprising parallel to the fateful morning of the ringworm, Ben came down, arriving in the kitchen with a look in his eyes like he was older than he was and weary of the world. “Good morning.” Julia said, smiling. “It hasn’t gone away, and the cream is making it green.’’ was Ben’s response. “ Green?” Julia asked, incredulously. “Yeah, and it smells minty.” “Minty?” she repeated, thinking uh oh. “ What kind of cream did Dad buy anyway?” asked Ben.  The wrong one.’’ said Julia “Hold on.’’ she called over her shoulder as she ran out of the kitchen. On her way upstairs she ran into Sofie. “How is your ringworm?’’ Julia asked breathlessly “Eww! Why?” “Just tell me, Sofie.’’ “It’s still there. But I’m still waiting for … but Julia was already gone up the stairs … the cream, Sophie finished.

Julia sprinted into the bathroom struggling to recall the last time she’d moved that quickly, and seized her toothpaste. Clinically, Julia breathed a sigh of relief, and then she kept reading. Clinically Proven. “No.” To Reduce. “Oh no.” Ringworm.

Julia drifted into the kitchen and turned to face her children. She cleared her throat. “You’ve both been using toothpaste as ringworm cream, and I …” She trailed off. “I’ve been using … ringworm cream as toothpaste.” Ben looked delighted. “Awesome.” he whispered. Then louder “What did it taste like?” He looked expectantly up at his mother, even Sofie looked curious. “Kind of like … worms.” she admitted, and then she burst into laughter at their delightfully horrified faces. “I’m kidding! Like toothpaste, just without the mint!”

Will had made a mistake the day he brought the cream home and discovered the toothpaste on his front step. One can see it would be easy to mix up the two nearly identical tubes. Nearly identical, but not quite. The only one entirely unaffected by it all was Sofie. Sofie, who had inherited some of her mothers OCD, who always arrived on time, and always read the label and who was still patiently waiting for her Dad to bring home ringworm cream.

It turned out alright in the end. The realization, the discovery, the reveal, all eased into a funny story by those horrified faces. A funny story that would be retold for years after, over dinner or when Julias toothpaste arrived in the mail. When Ben and Sofie grow up it will be a story that brings them back home. Perhaps not literally, but when they remember it, and they will, maybe they will phone home and that conversation will lead to another. That is all we want in life. To be able to share those memories with those we love. The memories we laugh over together, the ones we recall fondly. To live our lives with as many moments as possible.