Thursday, August 20, 2009

Our Short Story Contest

We have just chosen the winner and the runner-ups for the Fifth Annual Warren Adler Short Story Contest. Our submissions have been steadily increasing and the aggregate of submissions in the five years of our experience has been running into the thousands.

My motivation for establishing this contest was to enhance the popularity of the short story which was once a staple of American literary output with numerous magazines offering them to their readers. Indeed, it was once possible for a fiction writer to earn a good living by having his or her stories published in these venues. Sadly, that market has dried up.

Nevertheless, the art form endures and will surely catch on again in the age of electronic reading, which stresses brevity and compactness, although making a living from writing short stories is probably a very dubious possibility.

My observations from reading these submissions is that there is quite an array of literary talent out there and, more importantly, a palpable desire to be read. I have been amazed at the geographical reach of our contest. This year’s winner has come from Tel Aviv and we routinely receive submissions from all corners of the world.

I have found the quality of the writing running the gamut from fair to excellent and the sincerity, passion, discipline and devotion of the writers quite inspiring. I have been somewhat astonished by the number of stories that dwell on some terrible and traumatic circumstance of raging emotional intensity.

It appears to indicate that today’s writers view the world from a dark and gloomy perspective and prefer to explore those life and death issues that we face in our daily lives. It tells us that as we move further into the 21st century we are living on a fault line that might, at any moment erupt and send us all into oblivion. Few of our submissions offered escapist themes that inundate the popular media.

The fictional artist relies on deeply imagined circumstances and characters to create his narratives. He cherry picks from incidents and characters that have populated his or her real life. It takes talent to weave these details and experiences into the tapestry of fiction to create a genuine work of the imagination.

In the end, winners were chosen through the subjective interpretation and eventual collaboration of each judge in the traditional collegial manner. All of our decisions took into account the narrative drive, insight and imagery that underlie the creative process and were expressed in these submissions. We judged every story on the merits and are very happy with our choices. Although we judges came from different backgrounds and perspectives, we were remarkably similar in our tastes and in our selections.

When we started our competition five years ago we were pioneers of sort with a specific agenda. Today there are numerous short story contests as well as contests for novels and plays being mounted via the Internet. The key to the validity of these contests is the integrity and expertise of the judges of these contests. Without revealing who these judges are and merely using a generic term like “a panel of experts” is, in our opinion, worthy of caution for any submitting writer.

Note that the names of our judges Thane Rosenbaum, a respected novelist, and Kirsten Neuhaus, a literary agent, and myself, are freely offered. We are experienced people who understand good writing as well as the realities of the literary market and our judgments have been made based on our experience and very diligent evaluation. As in all such cases, we have made our selections based on how these stories have resonated and the skill by which they have been presented. Others might choose differently, but we stand by our choices.

What we have learned after these five contest ventures is that there is a great appetite for creative writing, which we celebrate. Even as the marketplace shrinks for fiction in every mode, the urge to create stories seems to be expanding exponentially with the ease of dissemination on the Internet. There are voices out there itching to be heard and we are proud to help in some small way to find a venue for these urges.

The next competition will be announced shortly and we thank all those who have submitted their work and will do so in the future.

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