A Breather Before Returning to the Fray: The 2014 Finalist Shortlist

Well, that’s another reading period and rush to get a finalist list compiled done and over with. We had an interesting, and … well … strange year three, actually. This year’s finalist list is compiled from about half of the number of submissions we had in the first year, despite having a significantly larger prize available this year than in either of the first two initial years.

It was an interesting shift in submissions, and not just because of the numbers. From year to year we see slightly different submissions patterns. The first two legs of the three month submission period have been more or less identical all three years running. It was the last third of the contest this year that was odd. And unexpectedly slow. We have a fair bit of number crunching to look at and see what we can shift to amend that. Though I’m inclined to think that part of it relates to the prize structure we used this year.

I’m always interested by the reasoning contests employ for using the significantly larger first prize and a couple of honourable mentions as opposed to offering a scaled three tier (first, second, third place) set of winning placements. I’ve heard differing accounts of how people react to the former, but given the first hand evidence gleaned from trying it this year I think we’re going to go back to a three tier placement system. People seem to feel better about having a larger number of chances to actively place, and to effectively be on the pedestal, as it were; the idea of being a mere honourable mention seems to lower interest–this based on feedback I’ve heard, and the significantly smaller pool of entries themselves this year. We have a small core of dedicated entrants from year to year, but the rest of the submissions we receive are totally reliant on a combination of prizes offered, our outreach (general and specific), and how we talk about the contest. Those, let us call them casual entrants, are the equivalent of people who purchase gratuitous or upsell items while shopping, or who purchase things off the impulse bays in a retail environment (the racks set up with candy, magazines, and other often low-cost per unit/relatively high-margin items near cash registers, for those of you who’ve never worked retail). Those are the people who are going to end up entering because they came across the contest while planning on doing something else. And I suspect that offering fewer placement prizes actively hurt us with that potential pool of entrants this year.

Anyway, the full numeric breakdown is coming after we announce the winners and I’ve had time to look at all the information and organize it. But the numbers are going to be a fair bit different from prior years. And the discussion of what’s going to change from this year to next year will come up then as well. And, of course, that’s one of the excellent things about not being tied to a specific structure from year to year: we can alter how the contest is set up from as we go both in order to experiment and to refine what works for us.

Though a sneak preview would be to say that from conversations had thus far this year and from a preliminary l0ok at the numbers we’re likely going to revert to the three tier prize structure I just mentioned, and will also quite likely be opening the contest up to simultaneous submissions next year.

But all of that is for down the road.

Right now, we’re focusing on the finalist shortlist from the 2014 contest. And to start that off, thank you to everyone who entered this year. Especially given the smaller number of entries, as every one of those that did come in was very much appreciated. And we’ve posted the finalist list below, but we will, as always, be getting back to everyone who entered.

Again this year we ask that all of the finalists please refrain from mentioning which of the stories below is theirs, though they are as always free to mention that they have a story on the 2014 Friends of the Merril Short Story Contest finalist shortlist. We just don’t want to bias the Final Panel Judges before they see the shortlisted stories.

As to the final round of adjudications: The finalist stories will be passed on to the Final Panel Judges over the next few days, and the First Place winner and the Honourable Mentions will be decided upon and announced no later than April 1st, 2014.

In the meantime, the shortlisted finalist stories for the 2014 FoMSSC are presented below, sans author names:

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The One in Green

The Politics of Bird Flight

Unnamed

The Walk

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As was the case last year, once the winner/honourable mentions have been announced, we’ll release the names of all the writers of the remaining shortlisted works as well. And there is a reason there are only four shortlisted stories out of a possible six on that list, and I will discuss why that was the case in the coming numerical breakdown of the 2014 contest.

There are fewer response e-mails to send out this year, so we’ll hopefully be able to get through those in short order, though it will still take us a few days to get to everyone. Also, some of the slush readers this year have attached feedback to their responses, so any feedback earmarked for entrants will be passed along in the response letters.

For the time being, a well-deserved thank you to all of the entrants, our dauntless team of slush readers, everyone who helped promote the contest, and to those of you who have helped in various capacities since the contest’s inception.

And, that being said, any questions or comments you want to send our way? Address them to Michael Matheson at fomsscontest@gmail.com, or hit us up on Twitter (@fomcontest).

We’ll see you back here when we announce the winning story/honourable mentions and reveal the writers of all the shortlisted works.

The 2014 Reading Period is Now Closed!

We’ve had our local midnight, and the 2014 Friends of the Merril Short Story Contest reading period is now officially closed. (The PayPal button on the Pay Entry Fee(s) page is gone again and everything–it’ll return with the opening of the 2015 reading period come November.)

And so now the contest staff retreat to our individual lairs, libraries, and other congenial places, to read and reflect on this year’s entries in aid of preparing the coming shortlist.

Indeed, the next two weeks are for slush reading and making sure that any stray physical entries get accounted for. Everything else looks to be in order at the moment. I believe we’ve replied to everyone who sent us an entry (or entries), but if you’ve not heard from us at this point please do give us a shout. You can do so via e-mail (address your query to Michael Matheson at fomsscontest@gmail.com) or via Twitter (@fomcontest).

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And while we focus on getting everything organized and read on this end, I’ll take a moment to thank everyone who has been good enough to help out with the contest in any capacity:

A sincere thank you to those of you who submitted; to those of you who spread word about the contest; and to those who have been generally supportive of our efforts to promote and fundraise for the Merril Collection. This year’s contest was an odd one (no other way to put it really) in terms of the submissions patterns we saw. The first two years were fairly consistent. This one not so much. So everyone’s continued support has been distinctly appreciated.

In any case, there’ll be number crunching in that regard later. And we will, of course, share that breakdown with you once it’s ready.

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In the meantime, keep an eye on the blog for any updates, and in a couple of weeks’ time we’ll have the shortlist up and running.

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And as always, if you have questions, queries, or just need to get in touch for whatever reason, use the fomsscontest@gmail.com e-mail address, or ping us on Twitter (@fomcontest).

See you all again in a couple of weeks.

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Coming Into the Home Stretch – Two Weeks Left In 2014 Reading Period

Well, we’re coming up fast on the end of the 2014 Friends of the Merril Short Story Contest reading period. This year’s reading period will close at 11:59:59 p.m. EST (UTC-5) on February 15, 2014. (Or, put more simply, our local version of midnight on the date thereof.)

If you’re working on a submission (or more than one as we’re still allowing unlimited entries) hopefully things are going well. We’ve been delighted to see all the entries that have come in so far. Though, somewhat unaccountably, we’ve had a slower submissions year than the first two years of the contest. So we’re hoping to see a deluge of work correct that at the close, but we would very much appreciate it if anyone so inclined would go forth and help spread the word that we’re here, still looking for more entries, and we’ve got (really rather excellent) prize money to disperse.

Ideally we’d like to see an uptick in entries because of the contest’s mandate: to provide both exposure and financial support to the Merril Collection of the Toronto Public Library system (incidentally, the number of items listed in the Collection on that link is slightly out of date – the Collection houses closer to 80,000 items at the moment) through the efforts of the Friends of the Merril Collection. The contest has been quite a success in the first respect, and for two years running we’ve come so close to doing the second. (For those who aren’t already aware we’ve come just shy of breaking even on the prize monies every year the contest has run thus far.) Everything we (potentially) raise above the funds needed to cover the prize monies goes directly toward supporting the Merril Collection through Friends activities. The current Events page (for 2013) of the Friends’ website will give you an overview of the kind of things that means. And at the end of the year the Friends also make a direct donation to the Collection to help the Merril purchase special acquisitions.

So, long story short, if we can raise more than we need for the prize pool this year we can finally have something to put directly toward supporting the Merril Collection as well as paying the prize money for this year. Which was one of the major reasons the contest began in the first place. (The others being to offer another venue for people to get paid for their work, and to get writers some more exposure as well.)

Speaking to the prize pool (for those just now coming to the contest website): This year’s First Place Prize is $500.00 (CDN), and we’re awarding two Honourable Mentions (of $50.00 each) as well. Which is the highest we’ve yet offered.

If you have just come to the website and require some  additional information, the quick breakdown is as follows:

  • There is an entry fee of $5.00 (CDN) per entry. Though you may enter an unlimited number of times. (You just have to pay a fee for each story you send.)
  • Entries must be original, previously unpublished speculative fiction (SF/F/H, magic realist, fabulist, slipstream, and so on). The only exception is that you can send us something which was previously published in another language but has never appeared in English (though we need to see the English translation).
  • All entries must be a maximum of 5,000 words in length.

For the complete set of rules see the Contest Rules page and the FAQ page.

And, as always, any questions or queries can be directed to Michael Matheson at fomsscontest@gmail.com, or on Twitter @fomcontest.

That said, we’re looking forward to seeing the rest of the entries that come our way, and announcing the shortlist once the reading period is closed and we’ve had the two weeks it takes to get everything in order for that.

In the meantime, good luck to you all. Also, a hello and welcome to those of you who’ve just come across the contest for the first time. And we’re quite serious about feeling free to contact us. If there’s anything you need addressed, or any questions you have, let us hear from you.

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Clarification on What We Consider a Reprint and Apologies for Any Prior Confusion

(No, the fact that Koyomi is frowning in that image is not a reflection of my mood, it’s just hard to find screenshots where Koyomi isn’t making a weird face.)

So, we’ve been getting some reprint stories submitted. And it’s easy enough for us to just ask people to exchange a story sent (and worst case scenario we’re entirely capable of issuing a refund, which we’ve done in past), so no real worries there. It happens. And we just sort it out when it does.

But as the same reason for the reprints coming in keeps cropping up, I thought I would just take a moment and clarify our position on what the FoMSSC considers a reprint. Because we do allow some, under the right circumstances (and we’re aware that can get a little confusing):

Now, we do allow stories that have been published/appeared publicly in a language other than English, and that have then been translated into English, to be submitted to the contest. However, any story appearing in English and available publicly is considered by us a reprint.

Specifically, if you’ve self-published a story, or have posted it to your own website prior to submitting it, we can’t take it. If the story appears online, but in a non-public/closed environment, say, for example, a members-only critique group accessibly only via login, or a listserve where you’re sharing works in progress, that’s fine. As long as it’s not publicly available, right?

The reasoning for that has to do with the fact that we judge all submissions blind. Our slush readers and the Final Panel Judges all have to be able to read the work without any kind of bias, or indication of the writer’s identity. And if your story is available online, it’s very easy to find it, either by title or by pulling and searching for text. Conceivably, our slush readers and/or judges may even have already come across it if it’s free to read online or you’ve self-published it.

And because this does tend to come up, we do check all submissions to the contest to make sure we can’t find evidence of it being published or posted anywhere prior to assigning a story to a slush reader. Specifically so that anonymity is maintained across the board and we avoid any potential instance of favouritism. The same reason we ask our slush readers and our judges to recuse themselves from reading/evaluating a story if they recognize the text and can identify who wrote it.

We do apologize for any lack of clarity that happens. We’re aware this is not a universal ruling on what will constitute a reprint (there really isn’t a universal constant for that, but still). Nevertheless, we don’t like creating confusion. And, ideally, despite the wealth of text we’re operating under with the Contest Rules and FAQ pages, we’d like things to be as free of frustration, and as clear, as possible.

A contest is supposed to be fun for the entrants, not a headache.

And to that end: we’re always available for consultation. If you’re not sure about how something works given the rules we’ve set up (we’ve covered a lot in the relevant sections, but we’ll not be able to cover everything), or if you just want to make sure that you’ve got everything in order before you submit, that’s totally fine.

By all means, feel free to send us an e-mail at fomsscontest@gmail.com, or you can talk to us on Twitter (@fomcontest).

We’re always happy to hear from you.

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2014 Reading Period Open

Now Awaiting the Crushing Pile of Stories Inbound: The 2014 FoMSSC Reading Period is Open!

Come midnight tonight (according to our local timezone, so UTC-5), the 2014 Friends of the Merril Short Story Contest reading period will open for the third consecutive year. And this year’s reading period will remain open until midnight (again, UTC-5) on February 15th, 2014.

For those of you not already familiar with the contest, follow along for a few minutes:

The Friends of the Merril Collection are running our third annual Speculative Fiction Short Story Contest in order to raise awareness of, and funds for, the Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation and Fantasy through the Friends of the Merril Collection (whose stated objectives, codified in the organization’s constitution, can be found at http://www.friendsofmerril.org).

The annual Friends of the Merril Short Story Contest distributes cash prizes to three entrants, as judged by a panel of authors, editors and other notables in the Canadian Speculative Fiction community. This year we’ve adjusted the prize structure to grant the first place winner a prize of $500.00 (CDN), and are awarding additional prizes of $50.00 (CDN), each, to two honourable mentions.

The contest is open to international entrants without restriction on country of residence, entrant’s publication history (or lack thereof), or any other delimiting factors (though entrants not of age of majority will need a parent or guardian’s permission in order to enter).

Entries must be original, previously unpublished short stories with a maximum length of 5,000 words, and must be submitted as an e-mailed .doc or .rtf attachment (composed in Standard Manuscript Format) to fomsscontest@gmail.com. We welcome, and indeed prefer, inclusive and innovative stories. Entries must contain some speculative element, however slight, but content is not otherwise restricted in any fashion. For a more detailed rundown of the kind of things we want to see in entries, please see last year’s post “It’s Time: The 2012-2013 FoMSSC Reading Period Opens at Midnight” and scroll down to the section titled “That Content Advice I Kept Promising and Am Finally Getting Around To.”

Again, the reading period runs from November 15, 2013 through February 15, 2014, and each entry must be accompanied by an entry fee of $5 (CDN). There is no limit on the number of entries you may submit.

For full rules see either the Contest Rules or FAQ pages. For all other information please use the menus and tabs to navigate the site.

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And Some Final Words Before The Submissions Start Rolling In

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Again, as always, we need to take a moment to acknowledge the work of those who keep helping to make this contest enjoyable on all sides. To those of you who have submitted work over the past two years, who’ve helped us to promote the contest, our past slush readers and those who’ve come onboard for this year’s reading period, and our past and returning Final Panel Judges, as well as everyone else who otherwise helps, aids, and supports the Friends, and by extension the Merril Collection, we offer our sincere thanks.

As ever, we’re looking forward to seeing what comes over the proverbial transom. If there are questions or concerns you would like addressed, please feel free to direct them to me, Michael Matheson, at fomsscontest@gmail.com. And you can either follow the website here or the contest Twitter feed (@fomcontest) for updates.

Good luck to everyone!

Summer Wars © 2009 Madhouse. Licensed by FUNimation. All Rights Reserved.

A Look at What Lies Beneath: A Breakdown of the 2012-2013 Contest Year

All of the notifications – finalist and rejection alike – for the 2012-2013 Friends of the Merril Short Story Contest have now been sent out.

And as we did last year we’re going to share a breakdown of the contest’s internal numbers, operating under the assumptions that transparency is beneficial to this kind of endeavour, that those of you who run similar activities (or might be thinking about doing so in future) might like the benefit of some actual numbers to think about, and that the statistical breakdowns are just interesting in general. You can find last year’s statistical breakdown here if you’d like to compare and contrast the two sets of data.

As we’re not covering all the available statistical information produced by the contest I’ve provided some additional statistics and facts below before launching into the actual (fairly short) breakdown.

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Interesting facts about this contest that aren’t reflected in the quick breakdown below (for those looking for more numbers):

  • 5 people opted to send in multiple submissions this year (compared with 14 last year).
  • The maximum number of multiple submissions sent by a single entrant was 4 (3 was the cap last year, and we removed the cap before this year’s contest began).
  • The most common number of multiple submissions sent by a single entrant this year was 2 (compared with 3 last year).
  • We had 5 (for sure, there might be one more I’m forgetting) entries that were not speculative in nature. This is probably a failure in communication on our end, and I’ll see what I can do to further clarify the definition of speculative fiction next time round.
  • Despite a smaller shortlist this year (down to 6 from last year’s 9), the percentage of entries making the finalist shortlist was, in both years, roughly 11.5% (because the smaller number of finalist slots this year was offset by a smaller number of total entries).

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And, just off the top of my head, several things we’re very happy about:

  • We had far more women enter this year’s contest.
  • We had a handful of QUILTBAG entries this year (counting QUILTBAG characters in any role in the story, protagonist or otherwise). Not many, but it’s a start and we’ll take it.
  • Speaking to the above, all the submissions we saw containing non-cis-gendered protagonists (yes, we actually did have a couple) were extremely well-handled, which was totally awesome to see.
  • The general quality of submissions was high, which is quite gratifying (though it made things harder in the end, of course).
  • Between this year and last we saw several returning writers improve the quality of their writing, which was absolutely wonderful to see. And we expect even better things from them again next year.

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And some other things worth noting:

  • We still have one outstanding payment for a story we never received. We could not get in touch with the entrant despite numerous attempts, so we’re holding that fee in reserve if they want a refund. Hopefully at some point we’ll hear from them.
  • We’re thinking about discontinuing taking .docx files next year (owing to some file compatibility issues). If we do, we will still continue to take .doc and .rtf files.

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For those of you doing a compare and contrast of this year’s and last year’s numbers, please note that this year we opted to lower the monetary prizes on offer because we had initially overreached in the first year (we’re looking at raising the monetary prizes again next year but that’s a different post for down the road). That is reflected in the numbers below:

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Overall Breakdown:

65 Entrants
73 Submissions (3 hard copy, 70 electronic)

Entrant Gender Split: 31 Male / 34 Female

Submissions by Month:

Submissions in November: 9
Submissions in December: 6
Submissions in January: 18
Submissions in February: 40

Submissions by Region/Country:

North America

Canada: 57
US: 11

Europe

United Kingdom: 1
Ireland: 1

Middle East

Israel: 1

South America

Argentina: 1

Oceania

New Zealand: 1

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Finalists Overall Breakdown:

0 hard copies, 6 electronic entries

Finalist Gender Split: 1 Male / 5 Female

Finalist Entries Received By Month:

Finalist Stories in November: 1
Finalist Stories in December: 0
Finalist Stories in January: 0
Finalist Stories in February: 5

Finalist Entries by Region/Country:

North America

Canada: 6

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And that’s the way things fell out this year. Next year’s numbers will, of course, look completely different. It’s part of what comes with trying something a little different every year.

What does not change, however, is the announcement of this year’s winners, which will be going up on or before April 1st, 2013. At that time we will announce the names of all the finalists as well.

In the meantime, if you have any questions, please feel free to contact Michael Matheson at fomsscontest@gmail.com, or you can catch up with us on Twitter (@fomcontest).

Samurai Champloo © 2004 manglobe. Licensed by FUNimation. All Rights Reserved.

A Trail of Stories in Their Wake: The 2012-2013 Finalist Shortlist

As I’ve already noted today, culling down to a six-story finalist list this year has been extremely difficult. Ultimately, it ended up taking far longer than we had anticipated. Although, I take some comfort in the fact that it actually took the same number of days to compile the shortlist this year as it did last year (15, for those of you who are counting), since we posted last year’s finalist list on March 1st, but 2012 was actually a leap year so we had the extra day to read and debate before our self-imposed deadline.

In the end, though, I want to apologize to all those of you who have had to wait longer this year than we originally estimated. I prefer to keep to deadlines myself, and we didn’t quite manage it this year. There’s always next year, though.

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So, we had a spate of excellent work to read through, which is a large part of what made this stage of the contest so difficult and incurred the delay in deciding on our finalists. There was, I think, some concern that the excellent body of work we saw in the first year might have been a fluke, and that we would see a greater variance in quality this time around, especially because we were offering a smaller monetary prize this year, not considering the non-monetary prizes on offer to balance that out. However, the entries that came in for this year’s contest put paid to that fear.

We did see a smaller total number of entries: specifically, 73 entries to last year’s 102. But we were kind of expecting that with the smaller monetary prize. And we were absolutely delighted to see so many entrants from last year submitting work again this year, despite this year’s prize pool. Incidentally, we are looking at reworking the monetary prize structure in the coming year (working on how to manage a higher first place prize, and balance things out better). That will partially involve the sponsorship option we’ve been looking at the past couple of years (if we can swing it that might also lead to some additional non-monetary prizes), and once things get going on that front we’ll talk more about it here.

In the meantime, yes, we had an excellent list of stories to read through, and as with last year I will post a breakdown once I’ve crunched the numbers.

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So, again, a huge thank you to everyone who entered. The finalist list is posted below, and we’ll be getting back to everyone who entered in order to let you know the disposition of your story.

Also, we would please ask that all the finalists refrain from mentioning which story is theirs. You are all more than welcome to say that you are a finalist in the 2012-2013 Friends of the Merril Short Story Contest, but we don’t want to bias the Final Panel Judges before they make their decisions as to the three winners. Thank you.

And speaking to the final round of adjudication: the finalist stories will be passed onto the Final Panel Judges in the next couple of days, and we’ll be announcing the three winning stories on or before April 1st, 2013.

So, without further ado, here are the six stories, sans author names, that made the finalist ballot for the 2012-2013 Friends of the Merril Short Story Contest:

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A Room of His Own

One Thousand and One Cuts

Open the Doors, and See All the People

Snow

The Binding

The Mother of All Squid Builds a Library

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As we did last year, once the three winners have been announced we’ll release the names of the authors behind all of the finalist entries as well.

I will offer my personal apologies that many of the response e-mails are going to be going out slowly over the next couple of days. However, you will get an update on your submission, and hopefully in relatively short order. The contest doesn’t exactly have a lot of staff so we’re working as fast as we can on this.

Thanks for bearing with us, and, again, thank you to all of you who entered, and to those of you who helped us promote the contest as well. It’s all been greatly appreciated.

As always, if you have any questions you can address them to me, Michael Matheson, at fomsscontest@gmail.com.

Death Note TV © 2006 Madhouse Studios. Licensed by Viz Media. All Rights Reserved.

A More Literal Cage Match Than Expected: 2012-2013 Finalist List Delays

A quick update:

If you’ve been following our Twitter account you may have noticed the following statement:

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So, re the FoMSSC: We’re having some trouble pulling our finalist list down to six.

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So much for deadlines …

Now, it’s kind of a fond joke around here that compiling the finalist list for the Friends of the Merril Short Story Contest involves a proverbial cage match. That sentiment is true for a whole host of reasons. It’s partly an issue relating to having quality stories to work with, slush reader tastes, and this year we’re dealing with a somewhat smaller finalist shortlist.

Long story short, we are experiencing delays in compiling the 2012-2013 finalist list, and this year there is a more literal than usual cage match occurring.

So, our apologies. We’re shooting for having a finalist list put together and posted by the end of the day.

In the meantime, if you have any questions or queries you can address them to Michael Matheson at fomsscontest@gmail.com.

Thank you for your patience.

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R.O.D. The TV © 2003 Aniplex. Licensed by GENEON. All Rights Reserved.

The 2012-2013 Reading Period is Officially Closed

The 2012-2013 Friends of the Merril Short Story Contest reading period is now officially closed.

And for the next two weeks while we sort through all the submissions we’ll be … um … reading.

I suppose, ultimately, that was predictable.

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In any case, we’ve acknowledged receipt of all the electronic entries and catalogued them. Well, all save one, whose author we have not yet been able to get in touch with (it looks like the e-mail address tied to their PayPal account may no longer be active). Still working to sort that one out. And if you happen to be the writer who submitted your work and haven’t heard back from us yet, and are reading this now, please do get in touch with us as we don’t yet have an entry to go with your payment.

Speaking to situations like the above, if anyone else has sent us something electronically and not heard back from us please do get in touch with us because we did not receive whatever you sent.

We’ll also be keeping an eye out for any late postmarked hard copy submissions (everything postmarked no later than February 15th is eligible) , but you’re more than welcome to get in touch with us and query as to the status of receipt of a hard copy entry if you sent one and haven’t heard back about it yet.

Please use fomsscontest@gmail.com to get in touch with us, or you can DM us on Twitter (@fomcontest).

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We’ll be sorting through the submissions in hand over the next couple of weeks, and the proverbial cage match to determine who makes the finalist list will be held at the end of February. Consequently, we’ll have the finalist list prepared by March 1st.

There will be six finalists this year (down from nine last year), and we’ll be posting up the titles of the finalist stories (without attendant names) on the website at the same time as we send our Final Panel Judges copies of the finalist entries. Notifications will be sent out to the finalists at that time as well (via e-mail). Finalists may announce that they are finalists in this year’s contest, but we ask that you please not mention which story is yours in order to help preserve impartiality in the final round of judging.

As with last year we’re also going to get in touch with everyone who did not make the finalist list in order to let all entrants know the status of their submission(s). And once all the numbers have been compiled we’ll be posting a statistical breakdown of the contest, following the same format as last year. Both for transparency’s sake, and also because the breakdowns prove to be interesting in general.

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And at this point we would like to thank everyone who has, again this year, been good enough to help us through various means. To all those of you who have taken the time to promote the contest, and to those of you who have offered direct support via submissions, thank you immensely. We appreciate all of you sticking with us while we try different things from year to year, and are grateful for all the input and feedback we receive as well.

And speaking to things done differently, we’ll address more fully this year’s non-monetary prizes and how those will work for the finalists once the finalist list is posted.

Thanks again to everyone who stuck with us for the second year, and thank you as well to those of you who are new to us this year.

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If there are any questions or concerns you would like to raise while waiting for the shortlist to be posted (or, generally, really), please don’t hesitate to contact us. Again, you can reach us either via e-mail at fomsscontest@gmail.com, or get in touch with us via Twitter (@fomcontest).

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Steins;Gate © 2011 5pb./Nitroplus. Licensed by FUNimation. All Rights Reserved.

It’s Time: The 2012-2013 FoMSSC Reading Period Opens at Midnight

Come midnight (UTC-5 for us) tonight the 2012-2013 Friends of the Merril Short Story Contest reading period will begin. It will run until midnight (again, UTC-5) February 15th, 2013.

If you’re new to the site, or have no prior knowledge of the contest (it is only the second year, after all), the boilerplate looks like this:

The Friends of the Merril Collection are running our second annual Speculative Fiction Short Story Contest in order to raise awareness of, and funds for, the Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation and Fantasy through the Friends of the Merril Collection (whose stated objectives, codified in the organization’s constitution, can be found at http://www.friendsofmerril.org [which is technically still being rebuilt and should be back online shortly]).

The annual Friends of the Merril Short Story Contest distributes cash prizes to three winning entrants, as judged by a panel of authors, editors and other notables in the Canadian Speculative Fiction community. The 2012-2013 year has also seen the addition of several non-monetary perks to the prize pool, including possible publication with ChiZine Publications, and a chance to have your work critiqued/evaluated by writer and editor Julie Czerneda.

The contest is open to international entrants without restriction on country of residence, entrant’s publication history (or lack thereof), or any other delimiting factors (though entrants not of age of majority will need a parent or guardian’s permission in order to enter).

Entries must be original, previously unpublished short stories with a maximum length of 5,000 words, and must be submitted as an e-mailed .doc or .rtf attachment (composed in Standard Manuscript Format) to fomsscontest@gmail.com.

Again, the reading period runs from November 15, 2012 through February 15, 2013, and each entry must be accompanied by an entry fee of $5 (CDN). There is no limit on the number of entries you may submit this year (we’re going to try taking the limit off completely and see how that goes).

For full rules see either the Contest Rules or FAQ pages. For all other information please use the menus and tabs to navigate the site.

If you have questions relating to anything about this website or the Friends of the Merril Short Story Contest please address them to Michael Matheson at fomsscontest@gmail.com.

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That Content Advice I Kept Promising and Am Finally Getting Around To:

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For a while now I’ve been meaning to post about the kind of entries we would like to see this year. I’ve been talking about it so long and not actually getting to it that it’s beginning to feel like a running gag. And now that we are all but literally down to the wire on the opening of the reading period, this seems like an excellent time to finally get around to addressing what we would like to see from you, our entrants, in this, the second year, of the FoMSSC:

We want diversity. We want inclusive fiction. We want to see QUILTBAG characters (as protagonists or secondary characters, not as stereotypical homophobic or other phobic depictions of QUILTBAG characters please). Send us your weird stories, your unclassifiable stories, your work that pushes the envelope. Send us your interstitial work, or something that falls neatly into genre lines. Whatever. As long as it has a speculative element (SF/F/H, magic realism, slipstream, fabulism, surrealism, etc.) we’ll read it. Challenge us. Make us pause in awe at the beauty of your craft and your extraordinary prose. Evoke wonder.

And, conversely, there are a couple of things we need you to refrain from doing. We’re not buying and displaying fiction (just awarding monetary and other prizes to jury selected work), but that still means we won’t be able to consider your stories if they don’t have a speculative element or if they use copyrighted characters (unless you own the copyright to that character). And, though it goes without saying, send your own work only please.

And now, to quote myself a couple of times (from this post: In the Green Room: Thoughts on the 2011-2012 Contest Submissions, and Some Advice), here’s some additional advice regarding the kind of things we’d like to see:

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[S]everal pieces of advice.

The first couple, from Julia Rios, from her article “Reaching into the QUILTBAG: the Evolving World of Queer Speculative Fiction“, which appeared in the March 2012 issue of Apex: “write complex characters”, and “actively encourage diversity”. Careful readers will note that that second piece of advice from Julia was intended for editors and publishers, but I think it applies to writers as well. And you’d do well to read the entirety of that article, if you haven’t already.

The next comes from Catherynne Valente, from her stint as editor at Apex, and was the heart of the submissions guidelines page while she was editor (and Lynne Thomas left that section in when she took over as editor last year):

“We do not want hackneyed, cliched plots or neat, tidy stories that take no risks. We do not want Idea Stories without character development or prose style, nor do we want derivative fantasy with Tolkien’s serial numbers filed off.

What we want is sheer, unvarnished awesomeness. We want the stories it scared you to write. We want stories full of marrow and passion, stories that are twisted, strange, and beautiful. We want science fiction, fantasy, horror, and mash-ups of all three—the dark, weird stuff down at the bottom of your little literary heart. This [venue] is not a publication credit, it is a place to put your secret places and dreams on display.”

And we, too, would be interested in seeing the kind of work Stone Telling‘s statement about the kind of diversity they would like to see covers:

“[W]e are especially interested in seeing work that is multi-cultural and boundary-crossing, work that deals with othering and Others, work that considers race, gender, sexuality, identity, and disability issues in nontrivial and evocative ways.”

And, lastly, you should read Expanded Horizons‘ list of what they want and what they don’t want to see, as discussed in the Expanded Horizons submission guidelines. You will write better stories for thinking about what they’re talking about.

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The other thing I’m going to quote myself on was an answer given in the comments of that same post. The question was “[H]ow far can we go in describing sex or violence? What about cursing or political criticism?” And the answer was this:

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A story has X words to work with. Everything that is included in the story which doesn’t move the plot forward or address your themes hinders your story. The overtly sexual isn’t generally an issue if it’s handled well, but sex scenes rarely, if ever, work in a short story because they detract from the time given to something else. The obvious exceptions are the works of Poppy Z. Brite among others, and stories like Kij Johnson’s “Spar“, which is a brilliant exploration of a whole host of themes, using the central pivot of “sexual” interaction as violence and trauma. It’s also one of the most disturbing (and potent) horror stories you’ll ever read. And, yes, if something as explicit as “Spar” came in and finished in the top three, we’d post it on the website with a disclaimer warning people that it contained adult level content.

Violence is trickier. The shorthand is that if it serves the story (and that story isn’t a blatant case of torture porn or revenge/rape fantasy) then it’s admissible. If the violence is just there to shock, offend, or experiment without purpose, take it out and do something more interesting in that part of the story instead. I routinely see stories coming my way in the slush pile at Apex where the violence is unnecessary, painted in loving detail, and falls into that “personal fantasy” category that submissions editors cringe when they see hit the inbox. And worse still it’s almost uniformly directed at women. I don’t really expect anyone entering this contest to be doing that, but it should be on record that we don’t want to see that.

You can feel free to curse in the story – but in most cases it detracts from, rather than strengthens, a story. And you’re welcome to engage in political criticism, but remember that subtle is better, defaming actual people is libel, and polemics don’t make good fiction (well, alright, they can, but it’s pretty rare). Also, Clarkesworld in their submissions guidelines mentions the following as something they’re not interseted in, and it’s true for us as well: “stories where the Republicans, or Democrats, or Libertarians, or the Spartacist League, etc. take over the world and either save or ruin it”.

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Final Notes Before You Head Out and Start Submitting Your Entries

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Before everything gets going we wanted to take a moment to thank everyone who was good enough in the inaugural year of the FoMSSC to submit their work, to help us promote the contest, and to otherwise help us aid and support the Merril Collection. We’ve appreciated the help every step of the way, and we look forward to all the entries we’re going to see over the course of the coming reading period. As always, if you have questions or concerns, please feel free to direct them to me, Michael Matheson, at fomsscontest@gmail.com, and you can either follow the website here, or the contest Twitter feed (@fomcontest) for updates.

Good luck to everyone entering the contest this year.