On Contests

I hope you read my blog previous to this one on writing and reading. This blog lists a handful of 100’s of places where you can enter contests for your writing. I seldom enter thinking I’ll win. I’m superstitious that way. Nor do I tell my friends what contests I’ve entered nor detailed every line of the story. My mother, a writer herself, never so much as gave me a clue to what she was writing, admonishing me with “that’s bad luck.”

Onesuch magazine which is published 4 times a year in paperback form called Glimmer Train is the Harvard of literary contest magazines. I would love to publish there, but I figure after 3 tries over 3 years, I don’t have a chance. Nor do I have a Harvard degree. It’s THAT hard to get your foot in the proverbial door. The last time I read a copy of Glimmer Train, the winning story had been translated from Romania to English. Another time, the story was about an Apocalypse, which is the furthest thing from my mind. I have seen the movies Apocalypse Now, Armegeddan, and The Road.  Believe me, those movies won’t prepare me for the real thing, nor do I want to read about it again and again. Nor will The Walking Dead, which I’m glued to now on TV, make me stockpile canned foods.

In cruising the Internet by typing in writing contests on Google, I came across a press called Haunted Waters. Oh, great, I thought, another vampire series. I never did get in to True Blood or The Vampire Stories, and I almost googled my way along, when off to the side of the page was the words “Flash Fiction Contest”. Recently put off  by flash fiction after reading the winning entry in another magazine, I found out the writer had merely written up a grocery list and won! I was beside myself with “what? what? what?” and put it down to everyone I met, who then immediately disagreed and told me it was the most creative fiction they’d ever heard of. In a few days I swallowed my pride and returned to Haunted Waters Press where the flash fiction contest was being sponsored by Penny Dreadful, an editor there who wanted the magazine to get into the flash fiction craze. The theme of the contest was “Paint a Picture” in 21 words. I swear, paring down a story of 1000 words to 21 was the hardest writing assignment I’d ever done. Yet, I did write, like Ernest Hemingway’s 6 word flash fiction winning publication “Christening dress never worn for sale.” That indeed was a whopper of a story that instantly brought tears to me eyes. I figured that if dead and buried Ernest could write flash fiction, who was I to criticize?

Well, about 6 months later, I got an email that I had won the 21 word flash fiction prize and Miss Penny Dreadful (big bored sigh) was obliged to print it. Plus give me two copies of my artwork. Here is the winning entry for “Paint a Picture”:


Voices echo into the far reaches of high ceilings. When the front door opens, leaves scatter in, as lives scatter out.

It’s either old age creeping into my brain, or I really can write, submit and forget, because this past summer I won Honorable Mention for the first 10 pages of my novel for a finished novel contest. Well, well, well. Not only had I forgotten I’d entered it, but I’m SOOOOO glad I didn’t win first prize. My novel that I started 4 years ago, is not yet finished. I’ve had too many brains in the kitchen mumble it all up, and the whole thing is a mess. I’ve been slowly rewriting it from scratch. Thank heavens for my three favorite keyboard buttons – “Delete” and “Copy,” and “Paste.” But mainly, since I won Honorable Mention, it means my novel is headed in the right direction,  just needs more work. I really would hate to have won for a half assed effort.

Summers are great times to enter contests. I subscribe to the free Hope Clark Foundation monthly newsletter which is always chock full of writing advice, then contests galore (word of advice – always go to the website first in case the contest went kabunk), then writer’s retreats and how to win one, and finally, JOBS. Like real newspapers, sometimes Hope Clark hears about job openings and advertises them in her newsletter. Sometime I’d like to meet Hope and thank her for her admirable advice and networking.

I’m still writing, though. Not much on the novel, if there are contests to be entered, but content for this blog, my I Sleep with Dogs website, pithy things for my own FB site, LinkedIn, and stories that I have yet to place or finish. I need to stay ahead of the game, in case a contest opens up requiring a memoir, or 32 word story about death, due in two days.

Case in point for always checking the website offering an open contest. Is it a fly by night publisher who will keep your story in to eternity? Do you sell your rights to your story via publication – bad idea, as you get nothing in return except publication…some day. Or, do you do what I spent an entire month doing? The contest had to be about a sofa. Yes, that’s right – a sofa. I had a great story already in my novel. I only had to tweak it here and there. Not having checked the website, when it came time to press the SUBMIT button, it was only then that I learned the contest had closed 2 weeks ago, due to lack of participation. I would have won! Surely I could have won! But it was all for naught.

Another near catastrophe was to submit an erotic story, urged on by my professor friend, to a certain erotica site he’d heard about. Well, I went to that site, which wasn’t in need of stories at all. Instead it was a site offering a very long erotic movie about S&M. Right in front of my wandering eyes did appear but a woman, stark naked, tied to a gurney, being whipped 100 times on her buttocks. In between, she was offered water, but nothing else. She never cried, never begged for mercy, never once tried to escape. The owner of the website was the narrator, and he was doing an expose on how long can you whip a woman on her buttocks without really hurting her? I also bet that the narrator watched this movie over and over, doing you know what between his legs, the whole time. Eww

My mother, in her many trials of searching for publication, found an erotica magazine for which she was paid a great fee and asked to write more. Okay, that really creeps me out, good ole mom writing erotica. But, she never wrote another story when my father found out.

Another reason why I pick the places I do to submit involves a reading fee. Everyone charges a reading fee these days, but 20 years ago, no one did. I try to limit myself to paying no more than $25. Novels usually cost $50 and I have yet to decide if I’ll go that way. When I finally finish my book, I might self publish an eBook, or for a while, seek an agent. Or, I might die before finishing my book. Part of it involves the Iraqi War. Maybe when I finished it, we’ll be in another war then, and instead of writing, I’ll be holding a firing missile.

But what ever you decide, don’t forget that since job layoffs, everyone thinks they can write. So your competition is now the unemployed, real writers like Anne Rice and Jodi Picoult, ghost writers to Pat Conroy, yourself, and people from Bosnia, Nairobi, India, the Netherlands, and Sweden. Writing is fun, sometimes, but mostly it’s a job. A very hard job that I wouldn’t take lightly. Otherwise, you’ll put yourself down like David Wallace, and stick your head in endless ovens like Sylvia Plath. WritersQuote



1 thought on “On Contests”

  1. I remember your “home” quote and LOVE it. Congratulations!

    Good advice to would-be writers…it’s not always fun and rarely easy.

    Love the plot twist box.


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