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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.

Not Far Now: Two Weeks Until the 2014 FoMSSC Opens

Just a (very quick) reminder that the reading period for the 2014 Friends of the Merril Short Story Contest opens in a little less than two weeks, on November 15th. The reading period will run until February 15th, 2014.

As previously mentioned, this year’s prizes include a first place prize of $500.00 (CDN), and two Honourable Mentions of $50.00 (CDN) each.

Please feel free to browse the site for more information. You can find more information about the 2014 Final Panel Judges on the Judges page. And it’s highly advisable that you have a look at both the Contest Rules and FAQ pages (both have been updated for the 2014 FoMSSC) if you’ve never entered the FoMSSC before.

We’re looking forward to seeing this year’s crop of stories. Our preference for the kind of fiction we like to see holds fairly consistent from year to year. But for those of you not already familiar with some of the posts we’ve put up about the kind of content we always hope to see, you might want to have a look at the “It’s Time: The 2012-2013 FoMSSC Reading Period Opens at Midnight” post (scroll down to “That Content Advice I Kept Promising and Am Finally Getting Around To“) from November of last year.

Luck to everyone entering the contest this year. And, as always, everyone is welcome to direct any queries to Michael Matheson at fomsscontest@gmail.com. Or you can find us on Twitter @fomcontest.

Announcing Our 2014 Final Panel Judges

With almost three months to the day to go until the 2014 Friends of the Merril Short Story Contest opens to entries, we’re now ready to announce our 2014 Final Panel Judges:

The winner(s) of the coming contest year will be decided on by Leah Bobet, Julie Czerneda, Sandra Kasturi, Caitlin Sweet, and Chris Szego. We are delighted to welcome back Leah, Sandra, and Chris, and to have the chance to work with Julie and Caitlin this year. For full bios of all this year’s judges, you can visit the Judges page.

We will be using a shortlist structure again this year, and the Final Panel Judges will select the winner of the First Place prize ($500.00 CDN), and decide on the two recipients of the Honourable Mentions ($50.00 CDN each).

And, as always, if you have questions about any aspect of the contest, please feel free to get in touch with Michael Matheson at fomcontest@gmail.com, or you can catch up with us on Twitter (@fomcontest).

Brave New World (The 2014 FoMSSC)

Okay, it’s official:

The 2014 FoMSSC will be awarding a $500.00 (CDN) first place prize and two $50.00 (CDN) honourable mentions to the runners up. There will again be a six person shortlist, from which the contest judges will choose the winner and the the two runners up. Entry fees will be holding steady at $5.00 (CDN) per story, and there is again this year no limit on the number of entries you may submit (provided each entry is accompanied by a separate entry fee).

I haven’t updated the other pages on the site to reflect these changes at the time of this post, and will be doing that page by page. And we’re still confirming all of our judges at this time, so I won’t be posting the names of the Final Panel Judges today. However, most of the information for the FAQ will be the same, despite the fact that we’re revamping the prize structure. And the core of the contest is that we still want to see inclusive, innovative, brilliantly written fiction (and only original, unpublished speculative material please). Them’s the basics.

So, polish the holy hell out of your work before the contest begins, and send it in once the reading period opens on November 15th – as with the two previous years of the contest the reading period is three months, from November 15th, 2013 to February 15th, 2014 (entries will be allowed until 11:59:59 pm, UTC-5, on February 15th).

While we’re still changing everything over on the website, or after, you can address any questions, concerns, or comments to me, Michael Matheson, via e-mail, at “fomsscontest@gmail.com,” via Twitter (@fomcontest), or in the various Comments fields on the website.

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Oh, and Some Nice News

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Ada Hoffmann, who won the first place prize last year for her story, “The Mother of All Squid Builds a Library,” went on to sell that story to Strange Horizons. We are absolutely delighted for her.

Situations like that are, it’s worth mentioning again, why we don’t purchase the winning stories anymore – so that the winners can get a payday (or at least some money from us) and then sell that story again without losing out on the money from the sale of first use rights.

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Further Updates to Come (You Know, Obviously)

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We’ve still got the list of Final Panel Judges to announce once everything is settled, and we’ll post more information and relevant updates as we get closer to the opening of the coming reading period.

That said, we look forward to seeing what everyone submits this year!

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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.

New Wonders to Unveil: Further Updates re the 2012-2013 Contest

In our last post, wherein we detailed the revised guidelines for the 2012-2013 Friends of the Merril Short Story Contest, we announced that there were two parts to the prize we were awarding to the first place winner of the coming contest: a monetary prize, and a critique of the winning work put together by one of Canada’s foremost authors and editors.

Since we had to make sure several things were in place before we could make the announcement as to who the luminary we’re working with is, we’ve had to hold off on doing that. Until now. Our apologies for keeping you waiting so long, and so I’ll make this brief.

The author, editor, and educator who has agreed to provide the critique to our first place winner?

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Julie Czerneda

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Julie Czerneda

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Yes, Julie Czerneda. A gifted writer, a generous editor, and an educator possessed of a wonderfully keen mind, Julie is also one of the nicest people I’ve ever met (an opinion widely held, and with good reason).

And for those rare few of you who are unfamiliar with Julie’s work, in her own words:

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Since 1997, Julie E. Czerneda has turned her love and knowledge of biology into science
fiction novels and short stories that have received international acclaim, multiple awards,
and best-selling status. A popular speaker on scientific literacy and SF, in 2009 Julie was
Guest of Honour for the national conventions of New Zealand and Australia, as well as
Master of Ceremonies for Anticipation, the Montreal Worldcon. She’s busy writing short
stories as well as her next novel, having finished her first really big fantasy, A Turn of
Light, to be published by DAW March 2013. Most recently, Julie was guest speaker at
the U. of South Florida’s symposium on Women Writers of SF, and co-edited Tesseracts
15: A Case of Quite Curious Tales with Susan MacGregor. (No matter how busy, she’ll
be out canoeing too.) For more about Julie’s work, visit http://www.czerneda.com or visit her
on Facebook or Goodreads.

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We’re absolutely delighted to have Julie on board for this year’s contest. And given all the prizes available to be won it’s going to be a fantastic year. The reading period opens November 15th, and we’ll be posting about the kind of stories we want to see from entrants (and offering some advice) between now and then.

But, for now, here’s the short version:

Give us stories that show an inclusive approach to fiction. Give us three-dimensional characters. Give us characters, protagonist and/or secondary, who run the spectrum of the QUILTBAG. Give us unusual and/or experimental structures. Give us stories told through structures or ideas used a thousand times before, and tell them in new and fascinating ways. Give us the stories you want to tell but haven’t found a home for yet; consider this a testing ground where no one is going to tell you not to run too far or too fast. Show us work that blazes like a comet across heavens full to bursting with starlight and wonder.

We’ll be talking more about the contest in the days to come, but in the meantime please feel free to share this news. And if you have questions, or need to reach us for other concerns (I don’t know what that would be right now, I’m just putting it out there), you can either write to Michael Matheson at fomsscontest@gmail.com, or contact us via Twitter at @fomcontest.

And … We’re Back: The Guidelines for the 2012-2013 Contest

Well, all things considered, figuring out exactly how we were going to restructure the 2012-2013 Friends of the Merril Short Story Contest took slightly longer than anticipated. However, the hiatus has given us time to pull together a fantastic slate of prizes, as well as time to streamline the process and work out what we’re actually able to do, and how we’re going to go about doing it this year.

The first thing I want to mention is that all of our excellent final panel judges from the 2011-2012 contest year are returning for the 2012-2013 contest. For those who don’t already know, that means the work of those who reach the finalist stage of the contest will be judged by Leah Bobet, Sandra Kasturi, Michael Kelly, Chris Szego, and myself (Michael Matheson). We should have updated bios up for everyone on the Judges page by the end of the day.

So, we’ll talking about the changes to the contest by doing a quick breakdown of the new guidelines (I’m going to update the Contest Rules page to cover everything in more depth, so this is just some quick information to get your started), then go into what prizes are up for grabs this year.

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The Quick Breakdown of the 2012-2013 Guidelines

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The reading period will be open from November 15th, 2012 through February 15th, 2013. As with last year, you can get your entries to us either via e-mail (fomsscontest@gmail.com), snail mail (see the Contest Rules page for the mailing address), or if you’re in Toronto you’re welcome to drop off your entries in person at the Merril Collection.

The entry fee is still $5.00 (CDN) per story, and we’ve removed the restriction on the number of stories you can enter so there is no limit on the number of entries per person. Now, that being said, the best option for a lot of entrants is still going to be picking one piece to submit and polishing it until it shines. However, for those of you who have a small body of polished work that you’d like to submit you’re more than welcome to; we’re still kind of hoping to be able to offer some kind of feedback on entries that don’t hit the finalist stage of the contest, but that may or may not be feasible due to time constraints and how many entries we get. We’ll have to see what’s possible once things get going.

As announced back at the end of July we are bumping the maximum allowable word count on submissions up to 5,000 words (firm limit) per story. We are still taking only fiction, so no creative non-fiction or poetry please. Also, we’re still taking speculative fiction (SF/F/H, magic realism, fabulism, slipstream, etc.) only so your story must have a fantastical element.

We’re going down to six finalists this year, and while that’s going to make the selection process post reading period somewhat more difficult we’re doing it for a couple of different reasons, one of which has to do with the revised prize structure (finalists now also get a prize for hitting the finalist stage of the contest: see the Finalists section of Prizes below). And from that shortlist we will pick three winners. The prize structure is discussed below.

We are no longer going to publish the winning stories. Though we published the winning 2011-2012 stories on the website, we just can’t offer people the kind of traffic (from this platform, anyway) that their stories deserve. And, frankly, we’d much rather you get your prize money from us and then still be able to sell first publication rights for your story elsewhere for another large (or, hey, larger) payout, and get it some real exposure. Though we’re not abandoning the opportunity to help you get published: see the Finalists section of Prizes below for more on that.

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Prizes

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Finalists

While we do highlight all the finalists here on the website (through listing your names and stories) and we did get a chance to host many of the local finalists at the Chiaroscuro Reading Series earlier in the year, that’s really all we’ve been able to do in the past for those finalists whose stories didn’t win the contest. This year, through the generosity of ChiZine Publications, all the finalists will get the opportunity to pitch a novel to CZP. Now, this may or may not seem as awesome to everyone who hits the finalist stage, but since CZP is otherwise closed to all submissions until July 2014, that’s a hell of an opportunity. Please note, this is for novels only, and this is a chance to wow CZP with your amazing query skills and a sample of your work. It is not a guarantee of publication.

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First, Second, and Third Place Winners

As with last year there will be monetary prizes awarded to the first, second, and third place winners of the contest. We’ve reduced the monetary award for first place (turns out we set the bar slightly too high last year) but we’ve added an additional prize to be awarded to the first place winner to make up for that. The prize structure for this year is as follows:

Third Place: $50.00 (CDN)

Second Place: $100.00 (CDN)

First Place: $200.00 (CDN)

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First Place Winner Only

In addition to the monetary award for first place, this year we have a very special additional prize to award to our first place winner. One of Canada’s foremost authors and editors (you can think I’m engaging hyperbole all you want, but wait until you see who it is) has agreed to review the winning story and offer critical feedback and marketing advice to the first place winner. This is decidedly worthy of its own post (and I’m perfectly happy to be a tease right now) so we’ll be talking about this in detail not too far down the road.

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There’s a great deal more to cover in terms of the specifics of submissions, including what we’d like to see in the coming year, and other concerns related to the contest. But we’ll be covering everything in the runup to the opening of the reading period (and probably talking more about these things once this year’s contest gets underway as well). I’ll be updating the rest of the site to reflect the changes we’re making to the contest over the next day or two. In the meantime, if you have any questions, you can feel free to me e-mail them to me, Michael Matheson, at fomsscontest@gmail.com, or you can ask your questions via Twitter (@fomcontest).

Victory Celebrations! (And You’re All Invited)

It’s been a little while since our last post, but what better way to get back into the flow than with the announcement that we’re having a party!

Well, participating in one while someone else throws the party, but that shouldn’t stop us (or you) from having a good time.

It’s been a long road pulling together the inaugural year of the Friends of the Merril Short Story Contest, and laying the foundations for the next. So to celebrate the truly exceptional results and turnout of the contest’s first outing we’re going to fete the winners and finalists from the 2011-2012 year. Specifically, Sarah Ennals, James Bambury, Suzanne Church, Claire Humphrey, and Kari Maaren are all going to be reading from their contest stories at the July 11th edition of the Chiaroscuro Reading Series here in Toronto. Sandra Kasturi, one of our 2011-2012 contest judges and the co-publisher of ChiZine Publications, who also co-organizes the CRS, has put together a Facebook events page with full details here: http://www.facebook.com/events/397394833658249/.

Several of the judges will be in attendance – possibly all of us if schedulin allows, and Mike Bryant is also slated to put in an appearance, so the evening should be a blast.

If you’re local or feel like coming in to Toronto (or are already going to be in the city on the 11th), you’re cordially invited to drop by and spend an evening in some thoroughly awesome company.

Also, by the time the 11th rolls around, the Chiaroscuro Reading Series will be the only place you’ll be able to read (or, in this case, listen to) Sarah Ennals’ winning story “The Emmet” since the story will no longer be available on the website after July 4th.

Yes, it’s true, all of the the 2011-2012 winning stories are coming off the website EoD July4th (approximately Midnight, UTC -05:00, July 4th). So if you haven’t already read them, now is the time to do so.

We look forward to seeing all of you who can make it out for the celebrations!

Touch the Sky: The 2011-2012 Finalist Shortlist Announced

First things first. There were 102 entries to the 2011-2012 Friends of the Merril Short Story Contest, which, for an inaugural contest, is staggering. We owe everyone who submitted, promoted, and otherwise aided the contest another HUGE vote of thanks.

So, from us to you:

You’re awesome, International Spec Fic Community. We couldn’t have done this without you.

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And now on to what everyone really came for:

The 2011-2012 Friends of the Merril Short Story Contest slush readers have come to their decisions regarding the nine finalist entries. We’ve passed them on to the Final Panel Judges, and we’ll have a decision on the three winning stories on or before April 1st, 2012.

In the meantime, the following stories are the nine finalist entries for the 2011-2012 contest year, sans author names:

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Climbing Boys

Muffy and the Belfry

My Profit On’t Is

Rikidōzan and the San Diego Swerve Job

The Emmet

The Mobius Garden

The Ties That Bind

Weathermakers

Your First Real Rocket Ship

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Once the final winners have been announced we’ll release the names of the authors behind the finalist entries.

We’re still compiling our statistical breakdown of the entries, and that will be posted once the information is available. We’re also in the process of sending out rejections. However, given that we received just over 100 entries that’s going slowly. We’d hoped to get to everyone today, but that’s looking a little, how shall we put it, unrealistic?

So, don’t fret. Everyone will get an update on their submission(s). Thanks for bearing with us, and, again, thank you to everyone who entered.

We’ll have a full submissions breakdown for you soon.

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

Our Judges Panel Embraces the Odd, the Unusual, and the Deliciously Dark

The Friends of the Merril Short Story Contest are delighted to announce our fifth confirmed final panel judge for the 2011-2012 contest year:

Sandra Kasturi

For those of you who are not familiar with Sandra’s work – assuming you’ve been living under several tons of rock – Sandra and her husband Brett Alexander Savory run ChiZine Publications (which they so aptly describe as a “publisher of weird, surreal, subtle, and disturbing dark literary fiction”) and Chiaroscuro: Treatments of Light and Shade in Words. Sandra is known for her pitch dark, lyrical, and highly resonant poetry as well as her exquisitely beautiful short fiction, which is as much prose as her more traditionally poetic work.

Sandra has won numerous prizes, is the long time poetry editor of Chiaroscuro Magazine, has been an anthologist, has consistently produced work that refuses to be classified – working in both Spec and Lit Fic with extraordinary ease – and is a founding member of the Algonquin Square Table poetry workshop. Oh, and she runs her own poetry imprint too: Kelp Queen Press.

And on top of all that she’s one of the nicest people we know. Proving, once again, the delightful adage that horror writers really are some of the most pleasant people you’ll ever meet.

We’ll have a full Bio up for Sandra on our Judges page in the near future.

And with that our 2011-2012 contest year has a full roster of empaneled judges. In a few hours time the 2011-2012 Friends of the Merril Short Story Contest will officially open, and you can begin submitting your stories. If you’re not already following the Contest Blog (through the “Subscribe” widget to your right) or via Twitter (@fomcontest) you can do so at any time to make sure you get up to the minute updates on the Contest, and keep abreast of additions or alterations as they occur.

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