To Ashes by Kat Zantow (3rd place in the FBRSSC)

Over the following three days we will be publishing the three winning entries from our short story competition, which ran from April until November of this year and was kindly sponsored by Swift Publishers.

The winning entries were chosen by bestselling author Frank P Ryan, who said that Kat Zantow’s To Ashes, which placed third, was “a sparkling fantasy thriller, with unremitting tension, and many twists and turns. The writing is devious, pacey and clever. Ashes is actually an eponymous city that has been reduced to rubble. But a deadly menace still lurks there, in an elastic confabulation of time and place. There’s the feeling we are actually somewhere within a much longer story. Indeed To Ashes naturally lends itself to being extended to a full novel.”

An illustration from To Ashes by Zantow, drawn by Mark Salwowski.

You can read this winning entry now, for which the author received an Amazon Kindle, by clicking on this link – To Ashes by Kat Zantow – or by clicking on the images above and below. The magnificent artwork in the PDF template is the work of Mark Salwowski (, the illustrator who worked with Frank P Ryan on his fantasy novel, The Snowmelt River. Read and enjoy.

We also caught up with Kat and asked her about her entry and writing in general:

FBR: Was this your first short story competition?

KZ: Yes. Well, sort of… This is the first short story competition I have intentionally entered. In college, I tied for first in the prose category of a literary magazine – it was all very confusing since they had never mentioned a contest. But I was excited to enter this one. It gave me a reason to write a short story, and a fantasy story, which is always a good thing.

FBR: What was the inspiration for your story?

KZ: A few months ago, I spent three hours driving between cities to visit some friends. As I drove into the fog-white mountains, the rain started. In the softened landscape, where the mist looked like an army of ghosts, the rain made me think of ashes falling slowly. It occurred to me that it would be hard to walk through a ghostly burnt out city. A place where scraps of memories stay lodged in the ashes. What if each time the ashes touch your skin, you find a different impression – a crime, a kiss, a color, a feeling?

Someone would quarantine the area, if they could. But there would be others who would seek to find new ways of interacting with the ashes. Perhaps some would hold dust in the palm of their hand, others might taste it, and the truly dedicated would have it tattooed under their skin. I liked the image. Getting the characters to cooperate was the hard part.

An image of the text of the To Ashes story.

FBR: How long did your short story take to write? Was the writing experience a pleasant one or did you encounter difficulties?

KZ: My first draft mostly consisted of a much longer café dialogue, a brief tattoo scene, and an abrupt end. Due to frustration, this story sat in an unfinished state for something like a month and a half. I spent a couple days working on it at a time, but the story ideas kept branching out into novel-arcs. I realized pretty early on that I could not cram the plot of a novel into 5000 words, but that didn’t stop me from trying.

Fact: I cannot think in short stories. I was bogged down working out the mechanisms of the dust and the histories of the characters. In an effort to get the novel-length idea out of my system, I wrote two outlines for the events of novels that could fit both before and after the story. Shockingly, that did not help me keep the short story short. Only after I vented about the story at my dad, the great sounding board, did I manage to cut down the character histories and limit the story to a contained episode.

FBR: Were you happy with the finished story? Or would you have liked a little more time?

KZ: I am happy with some parts of the story, which is really all I can ever say. I changed things up until the deadline and the editing was not as high gloss as I would have liked. However, I don’t think it would have improved much over a couple extra days. Now, with a month or so to put the story away again, and another week to mull over it, I could probably have made it better. If I tried to work on the story again today, some aspects would fill me with hate, and the red pen might do some good.

Then again, if I had more time to work on it, I would keep working on it. Since I spent the short story writing process trying to fight the urge to write a longer story, I am better off working on the sequel to Shadowing.

I’m very glad that the contest ended and took the story out of my hands.

We would like to congratulate Kat and thank her for her excellent entry and wish her all the best with her future writing. A review of her novella, Shadowing: A Henchman’s Tale, can be read here.

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