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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Rise and Shine! It’s 2014 and the Current Reading Period is Halfway Over

A happy New Year to all!

The celebrations have been had. The libations partaken of. Now it’s time to rise and shine (or at least make a noble attempt to shrug off the hangover) and get back to writing.

Ideally some of that writing will result in a submission(s) to the 2014 FoMSSC. This post marks the halfway point of the current reading period, so you still have some time. A month and a half, in point of fact: all entries have to be in by 11:59:59 p.m. EST (UTC-5) on February 15, 2014.

As always, good luck to everyone submitting, and if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask. You can address all queries to Michael Matheson at fomsscontest@gmail.com. Or you can ping us on Twitter @fomcontest.

Here’s hoping that 2014 has been treating you well thus far. And that it will continue to do so. May it be an excellent year for your writing, in whatever capacity.

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!

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.

One Month Before the 2014 FoMSSC Opens

Reminder: One Month to Go Before the Next Reading Period Opens

There’s now just under a month before the reading period for the 2014 FoMSSC gets underway. The coming reading period (for the 2014 FoMSSC) officially opens on November 15th, 2013 and will run through February 15th, 2014.

We’re spending the time before the reading period opens by doing … well … not much right this moment. That’s the advantage of having pretty much everything set up at this point.

Although, there is one thing to share, for those who haven’t already seen it:

In the first year of the contest, we had the opportunity to offer a set of additional prizes to the winners. Specifically, each winner received a limited edition, hand crafted booklet containing the winning stories. The crafting of those booklets saw some setbacks, as hand crafted items sometimes do, and we finally got those mailed out just recently.

Dr, Philip Edward Kaldon, whose entry took third place in our inaugural year, posted some pictures after his copy arrived in the post. The link to his LiveJounal post with pictures of his numbered booklet can be found here. The booklets turned out very nicely, actually, and we’re quite pleased with the end result.

With that last component of the inaugural contest cleared off the table, we’re just making sure everything is in working order for the coming year. Which it certainly seems to be at this point. An ideal state to be in as we’re looking forward to opening up the reading period and seeing what the submissions look like this time round, especially in light of the new prize structure we’re trying out this year.

So, that said, if anyone has any questions, please feel free to address them to Michael Matheson, at fomsscontest@gmail.com. Or you can direct your questions to us on Twitter via @fomcontest.

See you back here in a month.

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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The 2013 Winners and a Look at Where We Go From Here

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Announcing This Year’s Winners

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After much deliberation, we are now ready to announce the winners of the 2012-2013 Friends of the Merril Short Story Contest:

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First Place ($200.00 CDN + critical commentary from Julie Czerneda) goes to:

Ada Hoffmann (The Mother of All Squid Builds a Library)

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Second Place ($100.00 CDN) goes to:

Matt Moore (The Binding)

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Third Place ($50.00 CDN) goes to:

Ursula Pflug (A Room of His Own)

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As discussed previously, we are not purchasing the winning stories this year, merely awarding prize funding (in the belief that winning money for a story, and then still being able to sell its first rights at a later time – and effectively having two primary paydays out of it – is an ideal outcome), so these stories will not be appearing on the website as was the case for the winning stories last year.

And, as promised, the other three stories that made it to the finalist round this year are attributed to their authors below:

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Sarah Ennals (Open the Doors, and See All the People)

Silvia Moreno-Garcia (Snow)

Christina Vasilevski (One Thousand and One Cuts)

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Congratulations to everyone who hit the finalist round, and a huge thank you to everyone who sent in work to this year’s contest. We appreciate all the support, monetary and otherwise.

We’ll be getting in touch with all of the finalists over the next couple of days to discuss the other non-monetary prize that was up for grabs: the option for any of this year’s finalists interested in doing so to pitch a novel to ChiZine Publications while ChiZine is otherwise closed to submissions.

And with that settled, we now move on to a discussion of what’s coming up down the line.

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A Discussion of the Coming Contest Year

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With each year of the contest we have been trying something a little different. Effectively, we’ve been seeing what kind of model works best for this kind of contest, in combination with what best serves our entrants, and, of course, our end goal: fundraising in support of the Merril Collection itself.

Interestingly, this year we, again, came a few dollars shy of breaking even (by about $6.25 CDN as I recall). We kind of thought that might happen again when we lowered the prize funding, even with the additional non-monetary prizes on offer. Still, it was worth seeing what this model produced.

And now that we’ve seen what worked and didn’t work with the last two years’ worth of running the contest, we’re going to reconfigure the contest again in advance of the coming contest, the reading period for which will open November 15, 2013.

Also, just a note that (mostly for collective sanity’s sake) going forward we’re going to be referring to the contests by the year in which the winners are declared and prizes are awarded. So, the coming contest will just be the 2014 Friends of the Merril Short Story Contest, or 2014 FoMSSC.

The plans for the 2014 contest (already being discussed in some quarters but not yet finalized until we can get everything in order) are to move to a model closer to what we did in the first year, while reorganizing several other things from the ground up and offering a higher total prize than we’ve previously managed. Specifically, we’re looking at the following (bear in mind that everything listed under the “What’s Changing” section is still under discussion, so it’s not fixed yet) in order to produce a more competitive environment, while still trying to fundraise effectively:

What’s Staying the Same: The entry fee will remain $5.00. The reading period will again be three months (November 15th, 2013, through February 15th, 2014).

What’s Changing: We’re trying to figure out the financing for offering a single winner a cash prize of $500.00 (CDN). We will not be having a finalists’ pool, and will instead be awarding two (2) Honourable Mentions (we’re looking at $50.00 each right now) in addition to the winning purse. We’re reorganizing some of the internal workings of the contest as well, and seeing about getting some additional non-monetary prizes to offer. There will be more information coming down the road, as we clarify exactly what we’re doing for the next contest.

Ideally, we’re looking to make this contest a truly competitive environment for submitted fiction. Now, that doesn’t mean we’re looking to exclude anyone working early or mid-career. Instead, it means that we want everyone to try to raise the bar on their own work and send their very best in order to have a shot at that purse. Speaking as an editor, ideas are seldom the issue with any story: it’s almost always the execution where things fall apart. Some ideas, too, end up underutilized or not fully enough explored. But, the point is that revision is a writer’s best friend. I, personally, am a strong proponent of the theory that with revision and careful crafting a story at any level can progress to a more advanced state (work that might only be appropriate for a token market can, with the effort, become appropriate for a semi-pro market, and semi-pro work can, with the input of the required effort, be made good enough for a pro market).

And because we want to foster the pursuit of excellent work we’re trying to put a high enough monetary incentive in place to reward it. Quid pro quo, if you will.

This year also saw the first tentative steps toward a more inclusive vein of fiction in the kind of work we were receiving: we had our first few entries featuring or utilising QUILTBAG characters, and some work that also played with or explored gender identity. We’re looking forward to seeing more of that next year.

In any case, things are on the move, as it were, and good things are coming down the pipeline.

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Once again, we’d like to take the opportunity to thank everyone who participated in, aided, or supported the contest this time round. We also want to once more congratulate our winners and finalists, and hope you will do likewise. And if you have any questions, or need to get in touch with us for any reason, you can do so either by e-mailing me, Michael Matheson, at fomsscontest@gmail.com, or you can hit us up on Twitter (@fomcontest).

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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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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.