30 January, 2018

Fiction Contest Frustration

I submitted my short story "Such Misery Moves through the World" to Glimmer Train's New Writers Contest last October. It was my very first time entering a writing contest. As exciting as you'd think this was, I put it out of my mind the moment the envelope went out.

A willed forgetfulness is a crucial skill for all writers who want their work to be published: we send out the submission, we log it in our records, and we move on to the next piece of writing that calls for our attention. Dwelling on the odds of a forthcoming acceptance is a sure-fire way of going insane — and not the good, clever kind of insanity, the checking-your-box-every-ten-minutes-while-pacing-a-furrow-into-your-floor kind. It isn't productive or pretty.

So I waited patiently. A few @Free_Byron_Case followers saw my #ByronSays tweet about the contest and probed for updates, otherwise I might've forgotten it altogether. My writerly anticipations lay mostly in wondering when the essay and poems already accepted elsewhere would be published. Whether this constitutes another kind of madness is debatable, but at least it's based on the written agreement to publish my work, not just wishful thinking.

Three months flew by. Then the envelope arrived. I managed my expectations by thinking, They returned the whole manuscript, but at least they'll have included criticism on the story.

The thirty pages of "Such Misery Moves through the World" were held together by a mini binder clip, my cover letter at the back. A printed announcement of winners had been stuck into the envelope, on top. My name wasn't on it. I read it twice to be sure. Riffling the manuscript pages revealed no footnotes, marginalia, symbols, underlinings, Doritos dust, or dried bodily fluids. I was disappointed.

I hadn't actually expected to win. Glimmer Train attracts a crowd of fiction writers who've yet to publish stories, so the competition is stiff. Also, the story I submitted is pretty fantastical — "Neil Gaiman channeling Garrison Keillor" is how I've described it, and speculative fiction is not the most likely to win over the magazine's editors. For the $18 entry fee, though, I'd think some indication that my manuscript was read by a conscious, literate, human being would've been a given. Other contests' entry fees entitle entrants to one-year subscriptions or copies of the publication they submitted work for. I only got that binder clip.

These things are contraband. Crossroads' mail room should've confiscated it but was apparently in too great a hurry. So, yeah, the one thing my first writing-contest entry got me I had to throw away. That kind of irony is almost good enough to put in a story.

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