Contests for Short-Short Stories and Poetry

Fall seems to be the busy time for writing contests and here are details on two new ones from Writer’s Digest.  How does $3000 for a 1500 word story sound?  Nice work if you can get it, and someone will!

The 12th annual Writer’s Digest Short-Short Story Competition has top prizes of $3000, $1500, and $500, plus prizes of $100 for the next six selections, and $50 WD book credits for those who place 11-25.  Names and story titles of the top 10 winners will be published in the magazine and posted online.  The deadline is is Nov. 15 and you can read the details at

The 7th annual Writer’s Digest Poetry Competition has a similar schedule of prizes though they are less, for the maximum length is 32 lines.  All styles are welcome and names of the top 10 winners will be published in the magazine and published on the WD web site.  The deadline is December, 1 and details are here:

Finally, don’t forget the ongoing WD contest for longer stories in six categories. Entries are due in September and October, with details available here in an earlier post:

Six Writer’s Digest Short Story Competitions

I just received a notice from Writer’s Digest, announcing six short story competitions in six different genres:

In each genre, the first prize is $1000, plus $100 worth of Writer’s Digest books, and the 2012 Novel & Short Story Market.  Second prize is $500, $100 worth of books and the Novel & Short Story Market.  Honorable Mentions receive the Novel & Short Story Market.  The three top entries in each genre will be published in “a Writer’s Digest outlet.”

Stories must be previously unpublished and not accepted by any other publication at the time of submission.  WD retains “one time publication rights” for the “outlet” mentioned above, their website or magazine, I imagine, though they are not specific.  Entries are $20 each, and the maximum length for all genres is 4000 words.  The genre competitions have different deadlines:

Science Fiction/Fantasy – Sept. 15, 2011
Thriller                                – Sept. 15, 2011
Young Adult                       – Oct. 1, 2011
Romance                             – Oct. 15, 2011
Crime                                    – Oct. 22, 2011
Horror                                  – Oct. 31, 2011

Short story competitions pick up in the fall, so here is a chance to explore something off your beaten track.  It was a dark and story night, y’all!

Writer’s Digest Monthly Short-Short Story Contest

In addition to a number of annual contests, Writer’s Digest hosts a monthly short-short fiction challenge.  They provide a prompt, often just an opening sentence.  Interested writers submit a story of 750 words or less.  The WD judges select five finalists, and the winner is chosen by votes of registered members of the Writer’s Digest forum.  You need to register for the forum, but once you do, you can read the current finalists as well as the stories of past winners, which is an education in itself. There is no money involved but winnning entries are posted in the print magazine and on

I had the notion that I could never write this kind of story until last fall, when I really needed a mini-vacation from my major project.  It was mid-October so my thoughts turned to ghosts, and over the next few months I wrote several very short stories.  Now I find them rewarding, like quick sketches, like a way to test ideas or try out another genre.  A chance to visit Mars, or Paris, or Hoboken.

Save the link.  One day it may be just the change or breath of fresh air you’ve been wanting.

Summer Writing Contests

It seems like the “contest scene” picks up steam during the second half of the year.  I know there are round-the-calendar listings, but I tend to jot the URL’s on postIt notes and lose them, so I mostly wait for the listings to come to me.  Here’s one from the Gotham Writer’s workshop: (contest listings near the bottom of the newsletter).

Of note is the Zoetrope All-Story Short Fiction contest:  5000 word limit, all genres, $15 entry fee, multiple entries fine, prizes of $1000, $500, $250, and the top ten entries will be considered for representation by several literary agencies.  The deadline is Oct. 3, 2011.

There is also a contest for train stories between 2,000 and 20,000 words long.  There are two contests for non-fiction, one for screenplays.  In celebration of the 1950’s Sci-Fi Magazine, Galaxy there’s a contest for novellas between 15,000 and 20,000 words in length to be published in ebook format.

Unfortunately, some of the deadlines have passed, and others are only good through July 4, but there will certainly be more opportunities, especially for writers who like short fiction.  I’ve read several articles saying that while some of the print magazines that featured short fiction have folded, others are popping up in online form.  Let’s hope so.  This is something to watch.

Notes on Stories by Amy Tan

In my previous post, I spoke of Stephen King’s editorial intro to the 2007 edition of Best American Short Stories.  Today, while excavating (cleaning is too mild a word) the junk in the back room, I found three volumes I had picked up last fall from the used bookstore up the street.  These were Best American Short Stories from 1999 and 2005 as well as Best Mystery Stories of 2002.  I flipped through the three, looked at the intros, titles of stories, and a a few first pages, and then sat down with a cup of coffee and the 1999 stories, which were edited by Amy Tan.  She truly seems like someone you’d like to have coffee with.

Tan’s introduction reveals the depth of her love of stories, and she gets very personal about early events that made them as important to her as air.  She had lots of things to worry about as a child, events like seeing a playmate in a coffin and hearing her mother say that is what happens to children who disregard their mothers.  Small wonder that Tan was attracted to fairy tales and Bible stories, which she found very similar:  both had “gory images, gut-clenching danger, magical places, and a sense that things are never as they first appear.”   Straw-into-gold sounded very much like turning three  loaves into a thousand, she says.  Amy Tan gives us these personal memories after saying she always wants to know personal details about people who presume to act as critics or decide which stories are good and which are bad:

“What are their tastes based on?  What are their biases?…What movies would they watch twice?  Do they make clever and snide remarks , mostly about people who are doing better than they?…What are their most frequent complaints in life?  What do they tend to exaggerate?…Do they think little dogs are adorable or appetizers for big dogs?…In other words, if you ran into this person at a party, would you even like him or her?”

I had been feeling like taking a break or simply doing a post or two here just for fun, and Amy Tan’s comments gave me an excuse; they sent me daydreaming about some of the stories that fascinated me as a kid, ones I still think about now.  I never felt quite as shell-shocked during my first decade as Amy Tan, though we moved a lot too, and one of my childhood playmates died.  The stories and ballads that captured my attention as a young reader were like koans, or life itself – you could chew on them for decades and still not understand all that is going on.

This will be the subject for my next post – stories and ballads I have never forgotten.  It will have to be another post, since one of the stories is from Wales and I need to go dig up the spellings.  Stay tuned!

Some Notes on Short Stories by Stephen King

Last Sunday, as I walked into the Borders where my SCBWI critique group meets, I spotted a winner in the discount racks near the entrance:  The Best American Short Stories of 2007 was marked down to $3.99.  This was a no brainer with the added bonus of featuring Stephen King as editor.

I bought the book without even checking the contents, so I was delighted when I got home and found a story by John Barth called, “Toga Party,” about a group of sixty and seventy-year-olds in a posh retirement neighborhood who all receive invitations to one of those parties, “like that crazy Animal House movie from whenever.”  The story begins humorously but doesn’t end that way.  In a similar vein, Stephen King’s comments on the state of the American short story begin humorously but don’t end that way.

King wrote about going into a large bookstore in Florida in search of that month’s stories to read.  The first thing he saw was a table upfront with titles by James Patterson, Danielle Steel, and himself.  Disposable stuff, but it pays the rent he says, “because money talks and bullshit walks.”   He continues:  “Bullshit- in this case that would be me – walks past the bestsellers, past trade paperbacks with titles likeWho Stole My Chicken?,’ ‘The Get-Rich Secret,’ and’Be a Big Cheese Now,’ past the mysteries, past the auto repair manuals, past the remaindered coffee-table books.”   He finds the magazine wall, next to the children’s reading area.

King says he found The New Yorker and Harper’s without much effort, but had to search the floor-level racks to find the stash of magazines, like the Kenyon Review, that feature short stories:

“So think of me crawling along the floor of this big chain store’s magazine section with my ass in the air and my nose to the carpet in order to secure that month’s budget of short stories, and then ask yourself what’s wrong with this picture.  A better question – if you’re someone who cares about fiction, that is – what could possibly be right with it?”

With an ever dwindling audience, some writers who still care about short stories keep on working, but too often, King notes, their audience is simply other writers who read,“not to be entertained but to get an idea of what sells…and this kind of reading isn’t real reading, the kind where you just can’t wait to find out what happens next…There’s something yucky about it.”

King then says he read “scores of stories that felt…airless, somehow, and self-referring…show-offy rather than entertaining, self-important rather than interesting, guarded and self conscious rather than gloriously open, and – worst of all – written for editors and teachers rather than for readers (emphasis added).

There we have in a nutshell what I have been trying to put my finger on lately.  The last time I went to a large bookstore to browse for books, I went to the mystery section and found the number of rows had been cut in half.  Tough luck for those who like to read and write mysteries – the marketing department, which is after all, just trying to survive – has decided you are not cost effective.

No need for me to belabor the point anymore, it is what it is, but reading King’s editorial notes made me glance at all I have posted here about ebooks.  I certainly never set out to be their champion, in fact I started out somewhat skeptical.  My ideas have changed 180 degrees.  When half the mysteries and most short stories can disappear for reasons that have nothing to do with quality, who can argue with writers who look at a new way to get their books read?

Last week a writer in London asked me to review her ebook after reading this blog and noting that YA fantasy is “my thing.”  Now that I have finished my blog-break, it’s time for me to get back to her work, and with renewed appreciation for her and all the other authors willing to take a chance with a new way to do what storytellers have always done – tell their stories.

On Shapechangers: Proteus in John Barth’s, The Menelaiad

I’ve been thinking a lot about shapechangers over the last few months.  I’m trying to refine the villain in my current novel, and I really want to give him shapechanging powers, but he needs some restrictions.  Presumably, a villain with an unlimited ability to change his form instantly and at will could never be caught.  That would be a different story than the one I am writing.

The figure of  “The Shapechanger” has fascinated me since I heard John Barth read his story, “The Menelaiad” four decades ago.  I have never forgotten that tale or several related stories which I will discuss in future posts.  “The Menelaiad,” was published in Barth’s collection of short fiction, Lost in the Funhouse, in 1968. English majors love it as “metafiction,” writing about writing, but what really caught me is the “simple” image of a man who wrestles a shapechanger and can never again be certain if his life is really unfolding as it appears, or if he is still engaged in the wrestling match.

Barth was fascinated with “frame tales,” stories within stories.  A classic example is The Arabian Nights.  Scheherazade  tells stories with multiple characters who each tell their own stories, often with people within those stories telling stories.  Barth claimed that in his search of world literature, he never found a story that went deeper than five levels, so he decided to write one with seven.  He began with an episode from the Odyssey, which has plenty of shapechanging and frame tales as it is.

Barth chose the episode where Menelaus, husband of Helen (who launched a thousand ships) relates how he was blown off course, to the Nile delta, after the fall of Troy.  (He tells the tale to Telemachus, son of Odysseus, who was urged by the goddess Athena in the shape of Mentor, an elderly advisor, to seek for news of his missing father – clear enough?)

Luckily for Menelaus, Eidothea, the daughter of Proteus, the Old Man of the Sea, falls in love with him, and relates how he may win sure and certain advice from her father who does not like to dispense such information.

Proteus is herdsman of Poseidon’s seals, so Menelaus must hide himself in a smelly sealskin, jump Proteus when he comes into his cave at noon, and hang on for dear life, for Proteus:  “can foretell the future, but, in a mytheme familiar from several cultures, will change his shape to avoid having to; he will answer only to someone who is capable of capturing him. From this feature of Proteus comes the adjective protean, with the general meaning of “versatile”, “mutable”, “capable of assuming many forms”.

Proteus, The Old Man of the Sea

Barth has a field day letting Menelaus tell the tale of conversations with different people at different times – when someone related what someone else related about what someone else related, he relates.

And yet, for all the tour de force writing, the central image of the tale is like a koan that stays with you.  While holding on to Proteus, Menelaus realizes he can never again be sure that Proteus has not changed into Menelaus holding Proteus, and if so, what or who is he?  All he can know for sure is that he is a voice asking who or what he is.


There is a classic Zen story of a man who dreams he is a butterfly.  When he wakes, he wonders if he is a man who dreamed he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming he is a man.

It’s easy to flip the page and forget about that particular story.  It is harder or even impossible to forget Barth’s “Menelaiad,” once you make the effort to wade through some of his bizarre invented ways to use quotes in ways they were never designed to be used.  “”””This is frustrating!”””” he said, she recounted, he told me, I say.

I’ve always suspected that Proteus predates the Olympian pantheon of classical Greece, for what could be more antithetical to the ideals of clarity, order, and rational philosophy than a shapechanger?  There really is no character in mythology more dangerous to any kind of fixed worldview than one who can plant the seed of doubt at the core of awareness.  “Is this really true?”  “Are things really as they appear to be?”  The moment consciousness really and truly begins to entertain questions like these, the wrestling match has begun.

NEXT:  A ShapeChanger in Faerie.

And then what happened?

What, if anything, do our favorite stories and novels  have in common?  Are there any traits shared by, Lord of the Rings, The DaVinci Code, The Wind in the Willows, Along Came A Spider, A Christmas Carol, Little Women, and Harry Potter?

Some have memorable characters, people we’d rather spend our time with than do most anything else.  We’d follow them anywhere;  Frodo and Gandalf, Ratty and Mole, Harry and Hermione.  Sometimes the plot carries us away, and we put the book down grudgingly at 2:30 am on a work night, only because the alternative is falling asleep in the chair.

In his introduction to the just-published collection of stories, called Stories, co-editor Neil Gaiman gives another answer to the question of what makes a story memorable.  When someone asked him what quote he’d inscribe, if he could, in a public library chidren’s area, he thought about it and said:

I’m not sure I’d put a quote up, if…I had a library wall to deface.  I think I’d just remind people of the power of stories, of why they exist in the first place.  I’d put up the four words that anyone telling a story wants to hear.  The ones that show that it’s working, and that pages will be turned:

“…and then what happened?”

And then what happened? I think of all my favorite stories share this characteristic.  How does an author or storyteller bring it about?  By discipline and magic, no doubt – words that give no hint on how to evoke this special quality.  But as I thought about Gaiman’s four words, I remembered a simple exercise from basic art classes that I think is very relevant.

Draw four dots on a sheet of paper in the shape of a rectangle.   Now draw three  on another sheet of paper.

*          *                                                 *          *

*          *                                                 *

Which is the more interesting figure, the more dynamic?   Why?