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Entries must be original, previously unpublished short stories with a maximum length of 5,000 words, and must be submitted as an e-mailed .doc or .rtf attachment (composed in Standard Manuscript Format) to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 email@example.com.
That Content Advice I Kept Promising and Am Finally Getting Around To:
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:
[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.
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:
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”.
Final Notes Before You Head Out and Start Submitting Your Entries
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 firstname.lastname@example.org, 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.