Sarah Mattalian is the one on the far left

Mt. Olive Senior Wins First Place In Flash Fiction Contest

By Dawn M. Chiossi

Mt. Olive High School Senior Sarah Mattalian recently won first place in the 2018 Flash Fiction Contest hosted by the Morristown Festival of Books.

The Flash Fiction Contest, held Oct. 12, was just introduced this year to mark the Morristown Festival of Book’s 5th anniversary, serving as a vehicle for New Jersey High School student aspiring writers.

Out of the approximately 60 entries, Mattalian’s original fiction story “Brother” won the first place award of a $300 gift certificate.

Along with the names of the other winners, Mattalian’s name was announced at the Morristown Festival of Books Keynote Presentation held at The Mayo Performing Arts Center to a sold-out crowd due to Keynote Speaker John Kerry.

Rewarding creativity, talent, and originality, the Flash Fiction contest was an ideal opportunity for high schoolers to show off their writing prowess.

With a word limit of 1,000 words “Brother,” is a powerful depiction of a death in the family, and the authentic slice-of life affect that it causes on its characters. Although short, “Brother’s” characters are well-rounded, and multi-layered. There’s a protagonist that the readers will root for, and a story that makes them want more.

 “I was ecstatic to win as I put a huge amount of time and effort into my story,” Mattalian says. “My initial goal was to finalize; I didn’t really expect to win first place.  I was honored to be able to attend and accept the award at the ceremony.”

Both serious and enthusiastic, for this high school senior, writing is a joy and has been ever since grade school.  Mattalian shares that she even started making up and writing stories in the second grade, “Even though they probably weren’t very good,“ she dryly quips.   

In a way, Mattalian has her family to thank for her win. Entering the Flash Fiction Competition after her dad texted her a flyer regarding it suggesting she do so.  In fact, family is a huge inspiration to her.

 “I became interested in writing primarily because my mom used to read to me a lot when I was little,” says Mattalian. “She was the person who instilled a love of reading in me, and school kind of fostered my desire to write.”

The theme of family and its dynamics echoes in “Brother” resonating powerfully for the reader: “Brother” was inspired by a lot of the few recent books I have read. My relationship with my family members also played a huge role on how I constructed the plot and described the characters,” she tells.

 Mattalian gravitates toward fiction, but enjoys writing in all forms: Including journaling and writing poetry. She even writes for MOHS’s on-line school newspaper “Marauder Monthly.”  

According to Mt Olive High School English Teacher Erin Riley Lepo, who attended the ceremony along with Mattalian, “Sarah’s writing can translate to any genre or style, adapting as she goes along. I think it speaks to her confidence as a writer,” Riley-Lepo enthuses. “She can do it all.”

Impressed by her seriousness and curiosity, Riley-Lepo shares that she recognized Mattalian early on as a writer. She observed that she carried a notebook, journaling in it. “Sarah wrote everything down. It was charming, the fact that she followed up everything in it was impressive.”

Mattalian had even asked Riley-Lepo to read a rough draft of “Brother.” Even at that early stage, Riley-Lepo was impressed by the world she had created. “The characters just popped,” she says.

The Keynote Ceremony was exciting for all, and Mattalian asserts that her favorite part was meeting both John and Ann Kerry, people she greatly admires. “Watching their discussion about our nation’s current politics was fascinating.”  

Looking to the future, Mattalian says she hopes to go into journalism as a career while still writing fiction.

     “My favorite kind of writing is realistic fiction, because it allows me to create something new, yet I still know what I write about is possible,” she discloses. “I hope that my writing can grow more powerful; I want to write a book eventually and hope to influence as large of an audience as possible.”

Attending the Keynote Ceremony was exciting and surreal for both teacher and student: Riley-Lepo describes how she was touched by Mattalian’s generosity on the day of the festival, by a simple heartfelt gesture: “When she showed me the program, my name was under her name.  I was so honored. It was such an honor to be considered and recognized as an influence to her.”

Mattalian was just as overwhelmed.

“The moment that stands out to me the most was when I was backstage waiting to be announced,” she says. “When I wasn’t called for 2nd or 3rd place, in that moment I realized I won.” Taking it all in, she asserts, “I truly could not have done this without my family.”                     

Readers can keep an eye out for Mattalian’s story “Brother” on the Morristown Festival of Books Website, as well as the stories from the other finalists.


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