Author Archives: Charlotte

Slight Delay!

Delay-trains by artfactotum

Sorry, folks! The judges are still making their decisions, but we’re getting close! We thank you for your patience while we sort through these great stories!


The 2014/2015 Longlist!

Thank you, everybody, for your patience! The semifinal results are now in and the reading team has settled on the finalists in the 2014/2015 Friends of the Merril Short Story Contest!

The 12 longlisted stories are*:

The Korus Coda
Molly Finder
Up, Up, Up
Blanche’s Last Spike
When I’m Old, When I’m Grey
The Book of Far Mountains
The Cellist
Still Life
Root Mother
Luminous Kingdom
Notes on the Magician’s Collection
One, Two, Three

Responses have gone out to all entrants. If you have not heard from us about your submission, please query! The judging panel will now go over the finalists and decide between them who will take home the top three prizes. Good luck to everyone!

* Author names have been omitted to maintain anonymity. Titles provided for entrants to confirm their submission’s status.


Just a reminder and an apology! The submission period closes at midnight on FEBRUARY 15th 2015 and not the 14th. We jumped the gun a little! But the good news is you have a day left to submit! Good luck!

Wrapping Up

Reading Time by sinlaire


Well, folks, you have a little more than one day left to submit your stories. By now, the story is written, probably polished, and you’re basking in the glow of creation. You wrote a thing and soon, other people will read that thing. The gift of story from you to the world.

Who will read it? Once you submit it to the Friends of the Merril Short Story Contest, it will be read by the Contest Administrator, who has no say whatsoever in what happens to your story, but who enjoys reading. Then, it will be passed to one of our first readers, all of whom are experience slush readers from other SF/F/H magazines and publishers.

If they like it? That’s when it will be passed on to our final judging panel. All three of our superstar judge/authors – Leah Bobet, Julie Czerneda, and Caitlin Sweet – will read your story and they between them will decide which three will carry away the prizes.

But what then?

Because the FotMSSC is a contest and not a publication, we do not publish your story. We do not claim any rights. Your story is considered completely unpublished – and you can still publish it elsewhere.

If you have been at the short story game for a while, you probably know where you want to send this story – you might have sent it already. If not? Here are a few resources to get you started. has been listing SFFH markets online now for 18 years. One of the oldest net resources for writers, it remains nevertheless up to date, thorough, and free. You can browse potential homes for your story by pay rate, but just as helpful are the other writing resources Ralan provides. It’s hard to beat the institutional knowledge that has built up here.

The Submission Grinder is another free database of short fiction markets. Though it doesn’t focus on SFFH in particular, the bulk of its listings some from SFFH writers. Submission Grinder also lets you track your submissions, giving you a handy way of keeping track of who you have submitted to, how they replied, and in how much time. Of note: they don’t list contests or poetry markets.

Probably the biggest of the market databases, lists just about everything – poetry, literary, SFF, contests. But to get access to this mother-of-all-databases, you have to pay – $5 US/month. The fee is absolutely worth it to many writers. The data Duotrope has built up over time will give you as complete a picture as you will be able to find of what a market’s response times are like, their acceptance rates, and more. if you’re not sure if that’s worth it – give them a try. They offer a 1-month free trial.

Need something a little more human-scale? There are also Facebook Groups dedicated to listing submission opportunities. OPEN CALL: SCIENCE FICTION, FANTASY & PULP MARKETS and OPEN CALL: HORROR MARKETS are lightly-moderated communities where submissions calls are not only posted, but can be discussed with other writers. These groups aren’t as thorough or easy to search as the database sites, but they give you the opportunity to compare notes with other writers submitting to the same places.

Good luck out there! We look forward to hearing from you in the next 36 hours – and hearing about you after that!

Last Week! Submit!

The Writer by WilloeIsATree

This is it – the final recruitment drive! Submissions for the Friends of the Merril Short Story Contest will close THIS SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 14th 2015 @ MIDNIGHT! Full guidelines are here!

Unsurprisingly, the biggest pocket of Merril-love so far is from the local team, with 35% of our submissions coming from Toronto. 48% come from Southern Ontario more generally, and a whopping 75% are from Canadians.

This is wonderful to see, but it is always incredible to get those submissions from abroad: our neighbours to the south, of course (15%), but also from Ireland, England, Spain, India, and Dubai. In January, we had more visitors from India and Malaysia than from all of Europe combined.

And why not? We welcome entries from all over the world. The Friends of the Merril run local events, but the library is a resource open to researchers, students, and queries from anyone, anywhere. Our newsletter, Sol Rising, is available in pdf form here, and contains great articles on the history of science fiction and fantasy literature, interviews and spotlights on internationally-renown authors, staff recommendations, and the opportunity to pick the brain of the Merril’s Collection Head, Lorna Toolis. You can follow the Friends of the Merril on Facebook and Twitter to keep up with the latest library acquisitions, story-identification mysteries, recordings of readings and panels, and more. The library is, after all, a public good, and we want to share its wealth as widely as possible!

So, no matter where you are or where you are from, we hope you’ll consider participating in the contest or just connecting with us. Submissions, queries, and even just comments can be directed to Charlotte Ashley at

Hope to hear from you soon!

Spit & Polish

Repair by Cuson

Repair by Cuson

There is just a little less than TWO WEEKS left to submit to the Friends of the Merril Short Story Contest! If you’re ready, delay no more and submit now. But if you are still polishing your piece, you might find yourself fretting. Is it ready? How will you know if it is ready? How does anyone ever know?

Well, you don’t ever really know (and, probably, there is no such thing as really ready,) but when you’ve done everything you can in your writing pod, the next step is to test the story. That’s right: you send it to readers.

Beta readers, writing groups, and critique swaps are an invaluable part of the writers’ process. You will never see your story the same way a reader will. They will read things into your story that you never dreamed and they will see the holes that you had subconsciously filled in. They provide feedback, even if it’s not as critical – or too critical – as you’d like.

Even experienced writers can always use new first readers. People move on and grow tired, and you can always use a new perspective. But where do you find these readers?


There are a lot of writing forums on the internet. There’s the Online Writing Workshop for Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror (OWW),‘s writing forum, and Codex for more experienced writers – but Critters is the grandmother of them all. Conceived as a hub for getting your work critiqued in exchange for critiquing the work of others, it now does that and more. With (literally) tens of thousands of members, extensive tools, industry information, and codified participation rules, Critters is easy to drop in to, participate in, and use. You are all but guaranteed to get some useful feedback here.


Wattpad is a platform for posting your work and having it made available for free to millions of readers around the world. These readers can then like, favourite, or comment on your work. While the comment system is not designed for (and is not very good for) thorough critical feedback, it will give you a far more personal idea of whether your story is resonating with your readers. Readers are not shy about cheering when they need to cheer and hating when they need to hate! You can get useful information from the site’s metrics as well: have you got five thousand reads on your first scene, and ten reads on the second? You’re losing readers. Something needs to be changed. NOTE that Wattpad and other sites like it (e.g. BookCountry) are public, and so anything posted there counts as “published” in the eyes of other publishers.

Your Local Convention

Fan-run conventions are a great way to network as a new or established writer. Most cons will have programmed events and workshops for writers, but even when they don’t, attending panels dedicated to craft can be helpful. The other bums in the chairs next to you? Those are probably other writers, and probably eager to swap stories! Don’t be shy about “outing” yourself as a new or emerging writer. Those panels and workshops are for your benefit. Likely, most of the attendees would be happy to help you meet the right people in your local scene.

How did you meet your readers? Everyone has a story. A good reading and critiquing relationship is one of the more engaging ways to know a person!

Don’t forget: the deadline for submissions is February 14th, 2015. Polish those stories and send ’em in! Guidelines, as ever, right here.

FAQ Elaboration: Is My Story Speculative?

If you write science fiction or fantasy, you’re usually confident about where your work would be shelved in a bookstore. Fantasy? That’s dragons. Science fiction? Spaceships. Dragons on spaceships? Now you are “cross-genre”. But if your work does not happen to contain dragons nor spaceships, it isn’t always as clear where it might be shelved. Surely any fiction is “speculative”! What does it mean in the context of the Merril Collection and this contest?

The Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation and Fantasy collects “science fiction, fantasy and speculative fiction, as well as magic realism, experimental writing and some materials in ‘fringe’ areas such as parapsychology, UFOs, Atlantean legends etc.” Broadly, fiction that includes any element which has not yet been found in the real world is speculative. But behind that is a complex history of the fantastic in literature that defies easy classification – all of which can be found in some form in the Merril Collection.

Myth and Legend

From St. George and the Dragon to Fafnir of the Volsungs, the Greek Titans to the Mabinogion’s Bran the Blessed, and unicorns from Pliny to Marco Polo, early literature is full of fantastic things. These original tales are not generally thought of as “fantasy”, however, though contemporary retellings are. The difference? Early dragons, giants, and unicorns were presented in earnest. Even if they were not always meant to be taken literally (the dragon slain by St. George is, probably, an allegory,) they were not invitations to the imagination. The stories and their monsters were to be taken seriously.

What does this mean? Interpretive retellings of myths and legends are definitely speculative – but the inclusion of religious symbols is not. Whatever you think about today’s big religions, they are not considered fantasy from a literary standpoint.

Fairy and Folk Tales

Fairy tales, on the other hand, were and are considered flights of fancy. These “little stories” were always intended to light up the imagination for the purposes, usually, of entertaining us. Despite being muddied from time to time with superstitious folk beliefs, a fairy or folk tale is distinguishable from a legend by an explicit statement that it takes place in another world, be it “once upon a time” or “in a land far, far away”.

What does this mean? Fairy tales, folk tales and retellings of both are definitely speculative!

The Paranormal

We have always been fascinated with the unexplained. There is a great shady area in literature (and life) where unexplained phenomena are hashed out. Ghosts, cryptozoology, near-death experiences, parapsychology and a lot more are still taken quite seriously by some, and lumped happily into “folk tales” by others. Is it real, science fiction, or fantasy?

Because the paranormal is unproved in real life, any fictional accounts are going to necessarily be speculative. What if this ghost were real? What if everyone had ESP? Whether you consider paranormal elements to be true or fantasy, your story will need to invite the imagination to turn it into a narrative. There are holes to fill, and you will fill them.

What does this mean? Unless you are writing a non-fiction manual or treatise, paranormal elements are absolutely speculative. If you believe in them, your account will be science fictional. If you don’t, call it fantasy or horror. Either way, you had to make things up to make it work!

Magical Realism

Magical realism is a term given to stories where something wondrous or fantastic happens in an otherwise mundane setting. It is different from urban fantasy in that even the inhabitants of your world find the magical elements to be out of their world. There tends to be an aesthetic to magical realist novels that is distinct from conventional “fantasy” – an acceptance of magic in every day life without trying to explain or systematize it.

What does this mean? Though magical realist novels are often exempt from the fantasy shelf at the bookstore, they are still considered speculative by us. If your characters consider it magic, so do we!


Weird or slipstream fiction invites the imagination in ways that defy conventional genre categories. The imaginary elements might be more inherent to the world than in a magical realist novel, but they also aren’t presented with nonchalance the way they would be in a secondary-world fantasy. Aesthetically, weird stories can be creepy or off-putting, as strange and unexplainable things appear in order to unsettle us and/or the characters.

What does this mean? Is there something about your characters or the weird phenomena which is mis-matched because it simply isn’t found in the real world? It’s speculative! You don’t even need to be able to put a name or face on the phenomena, as long as it is otherworldly.


Horror is broadly anything which is scary, but that can cover a lot of territory, from war and death to ghosts and monsters. You might be very creative about putting your characters in mortal danger, but that doesn’t always mean it is speculative. Simply being horrifying does not make a story speculative.

What does this mean? If your horror element could happen in the real world – however unlikely – it isn’t speculative. Cannibals, serial killers, extremely creative engineers of death-traps, kidnappers and sadists – these are messed up, but not otherworldly. Monsters, zombies, alien invaders, invented diseases and parasites: these are made up, and therefore considered speculative.

Alternate Histories

Whenever you write history, you are writing an alternate history. You weren’t there, so what you are writing probably didn’t happen the way you are going to tell it. Historical fiction has been a huge genre since Sir Walter Scott and even earlier, but has never really been considered fantasy or speculation.

On the other hand, historical fiction that tracks wildly from the path history is generally understood to have followed becomes more and more speculative. The more your history deviates from what “really happened”, the more speculative it becomes.

What does this mean? If you are at the point where your historical fiction has to invent new technologies, nations, social orders, cultures, or major figures in order to account for the changes you have made to the timeline, you are well into speculative territory. Think of it as historical science fiction!


We can dream up anything. That’s what we do here, that’s what this contest celebrates. The raw imaginative power of dreams is often a theme or device used in speculative fiction – see Neil Gaiman’s Sandman for a case in point. But a story whose speculative elements occur entirely in the context of a dream and have no connection to the story’s “real world” is not a speculative story.

What does this mean? In short, if there is any possibility that the dream world is any more than “just a dream”, it is probably speculative. If a character wakes up at the end of a flight of fantasy and nothing carries over, it probably isn’t.

Anything else?

When in doubt, query! But if after you have read through all of this, you still aren’t sure where your story stands, it is probably speculative enough for us. Submit and see what happens! You have a little less than three weeks left – we hope to hear from you!

One More Month!

Dragon Writer by Andrew Ferez

We have been open to submissions for two months now, with one month to go!

Submissions have been strong so far, but we have a ways to go. Our submission numbers are up 15% – we’re nearly two weeks ahead of where we were last year. Queries and website traffic are up as well, thanks to posts on Gawker, io9, and Jezebel. While most of our submissions are from Canadians, we have representation from the US, the UK, Brazil, and Spain.

But don’t be discouraged – your odds of placing in the Contest are still very high! Our slush pile isn’t as deep as those of most pro ‘zines – and, of course, you can submit to them simultaneously. We would love to see more international submissions, more submissions from women, POC, and members of the QUILTBAG community. We strongly encourage those unique pieces you worry won’t fit anywhere else. We are a open and welcoming Contest with a great love of work that challenges us!

Want to see what your donations are doing? Come on out to some of the Merril Collection’s upcoming events!

Nnedi Okorafor at the Merril Collection
Fri. Mar. 06, 2015
7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.

Award-winning fantasy author Nnedi Okorafor discusses writing and fantasy at the Merril Collection of Science Fiction on Thursday, March 5, in the lower level, Lillian Smith branch, 239 College Street, starting at 7PM.

Music for the 21st Century: the 3rd annual FilkOntario Concert at the Merril
Sat. Mar. 21, 2015
7:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m.

The Friends of the Merril Collection and FilkOntario are co-sponsoring the 3rd Annual Filk Festival, Music for the 21st Century. Music will be created in the lower level of the Lillian Smith Branch on Saturday, March 21, starting at 7:00PM.

19th Fantastic Pulp Show
Sat. May 09, 2015
All Day

The Friends of the Merril Collection are sponsoring the 19th
Fantastic Pulp Show. The event will feature ‘golden age’ pulp magazines from the 1920s – 1960s. A lecture on pulp art will take place in the 3rd floor reading room of the Merril Collection at 1:30. The pulp show will take place in the lower level of the Lillian Smith Branch, between 10:00AM and 4:00PM. Call 416-393-7748 for further information.

So submit soon, and submit often! The contest closes on Sunday, February 15th, 2015. We look forward to reading you!

A Call for Volunteers!

I’m looking for people to help put up posters for the FotM short story contest! Your task, should you choose to accept it, is to take one-or-more posters to your local library branch, bookstore, college/university campus or cafe and ask them very nicely if they would be willing to display them.

Volunteers must be able to pick their posters up from the Bob Miller Book Room at Bloor & Avenue Rd (Toronto.) I also have a limited ability to arrange other pickup points – let me know what might work for you!

A FotM Contest poster in the wild.


If you are interested, drop me an email at Thanks!

One Month Down, Two to Go!

Submissions have been open for one month, but no fear – they are open for two more! Our readers are poised and eager to see what else you have for us.

Want to help the contest in another way? Help spread the word by posting our poster on your webpage, in your local bookstore, or anywhere else writers might see it.

This year’s Merril Contest poster has been illustrated by Toronto artist Jenn Desmarais (as has our new header.) Working in digital as well as paper mediums, her work is influenced by Laurie Lipton and H.R. Giger. Check her out on Facebook!

The poster is available as a digital download by clicking above. Paper copies are also available – contact if you’d like to post one local to you.

And, of course, don’t forget those stories! Full guidelines here. Queries and questions can be directed at the contest administrator, Charlotte Ashley, at