Two good friends, two good writers


September 18, 1994|By Laura Lippman

This year, more than 5,000 young writers entered Seventeen magazine's annual fiction contest, a short-story competition that can boast previous winners such as Sylvia Plath, Perri Klass and Lorrie Moore. Now add to that list Carlene Bauer and Elizabeth Clementson, both 21, both seniors at Loyola College.

It's unusual for the top finishers to be from the same school. It's unheard of for them to be best friends. "Extraordinary," says the magazine's senior editor, Joe Bargmann.

Such coincidences make for bad fiction, but great fun in real life.

"When he called me, I asked who won first prize," second-place )) winner Elizabeth recalls. "And when he told me, I started screaming, 'She's my best friend! She's my best friend!'"

Over bagels and ice tea, the two share the details of their first meeting, at a bus stop last year. The friendship between the two budding writers blossomed quickly. Carlene, the methodical one, already had decided to enter the contest and planned her schedule accordingly, taking a fiction-writing class so she could polish her entry, "What Isn't There." Elizabeth, more impulsive, put a first draft of "Leonora, the Swimmer" into the mail at Carlene's urging.

The stories have some similarities. Both center on relationships between fathers and daughters -- not unusual in this contest, Mr. Bargmann notes. Yet the voices are strikingly different.

Carlene and Elizabeth say they can edit each other's efforts without hurting the friendship. E. B. White, speaking of the title character in "Charlotte's Web," wrote that it is rare to find someone who is a good friend and a good writer. In each other, Carlene and Elizabeth have found their Charlotte.

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