Carolyn Oliver



Fictional writers got more than they bargained for last week. They sparred with disgruntled protagonists, relived their memoirs, and reckoned with that minor character they killed off in Chapter One. Congratulations to the winner of Week Three, Carolyn Oliver, whose poignant “Thanksgiving” reminded us the story is never over. 

Check out this week’s prompt here


Sarah Park appreciated the new dentist’s sensitivity. Unlike Dr. Stewart, who, while Sarah’s mouth was full of metal instruments or toothpaste, loved to ask her the kinds of questions whose answers her publicist sent out with advance copies of her books (“Where did you get the idea for this one?” “How long did it take to write?” “What are you working on now?”), Dr. Williams betrayed not the slightest interest in Sarah’s novels. Instead, she kept up a steady stream of quiet commentary on Cleveland’s resurgence and the weather outlook for Thanksgiving, asking questions that Sarah could answer with a slight tilt of her head.

“You hosting Thanksgiving at your house? Turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce, green beans?”

Sarah nodded, stretching the corners of her mouth into what she hoped was a smile. The dentist’s voice, soothing and somehow familiar, covered her instruments’ scraping sound.

“Now me, I make all that—well, my husband, he helps too, especially with the vegetables—but there’s this one thing I make that no-one else does. Pumpkin pie trifle.” At Sarah’s raised eyebrows, she went on, “It’s an English dessert. Usually cream and jam and custard and cake, but mine has gingerbread for the cake, pumpkin custard, whipped cream with maple syrup, and toffee instead of jam. Gives it a good crunch. Can’t believe I’m carrying on about sweets, but there’s just something about you that makes me want to tell my secrets—you can go ahead and spit now.”

As she turned to rinse her mouth with water from the tiny blue cup, the diamond pattern flexing with the slightest pressure, Sarah’s eye caught Dr. Williams’s left hand. The third finger of the glove was empty, pressed down to her palm with paper tape.

She nearly choked on the faintly medicinal water.

Thirty years earlier, she’d written her first novel about a girl from Cleveland with nine fingers and one abusive English boyfriend. She had never settled on an afterlife for Jasmine, who she’d left in the spring of her first year at CSU, working weekends at Tommy’s and pregnant with the boyfriend’s baby, about to ask her mother for help. She’d wanted the reader to draw her own conclusions.

Dr. Williams was just leaning out the door to ask the secretary for a copy of Sarah’s x-rays. Sarah took her in: just the height she’d imagined, same strong arms. Softer in the middle, but then, so was she.

“Are your kids coming home for Thanksgiving?” she asked before the dentist brought out the tiny mirror to check her work.

“Oh, two of them are here already. My oldest is out in California. She’s almost thirty, and this is the first time she’s bringing her girlfriend home. Lucky it’s not her father’s turn to see her. I can’t wait. Let me fix that bib for you—there. Isn’t it amazing how our children turn out?”

Her eyes above the mask crinkled with the grin Sarah couldn’t see.


Carolyn Oliver lives in Massachusetts with her family. Her work has appeared in or is forthcoming from Slush Pile Magazine, Midway Journal, matchbook, and Free State Review, among others. Links to more of her work can be found at

The prompt that inspired Carolyn’s winning story about the story was: {A}, a novelist, meets personally in real life a fictitious character from one of his stories. 

PLOTTO: THE MASTER BOOK OF ALL PLOTSIn the 1920s, dime store novelist William Wallace Cook painstakingly diagrammed and cataloged his personal writing method—“Purpose, opposed by Obstacle, yields Conflict”—for the instruction and illumination of his fellow authors. His efforts resulted in 1,462 plot scenarios and Plotto: The Master Book of All Plots was born. A how-to manual for plot, Plotto offers endless amalgamations to inspire limitless narratives. Open the book to any page to find plots you may never have known existed, from morose cannibals to gun-wielding preachers to phantom automobiles. Equal parts reference guide and historical oddity, Plotto is sure to amaze and delight writers for another century.