I’m still excited after winning the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future competition
When I got the call that I won 2nd place in the Writers of the Future Contest, I screamed, I cried, I laughed, I did my happy dance. I had entered 47 times. I finally did it!
From 1988–1992, I did my best to become a sci-fi writer. But I couldn’t do it. All the magazines, and of course, the Writers of the Future Contest, rejected my stories. I gave up on my dream. Then, starting in 2009, I decided to give it another try. I had wandered the desolate plains of total rejection before, and I was terrified. Could I do it?
I began getting lots of rejections, including four from the WOTF Contest. Then I got my first honorable mention, followed by another. Soon I earned more, but I just couldn’t get past the honorable mention status. I wanted a silver HM, or a semi-finalist, or finalist! I started to get discouraged.
Meet Topanga Canyon
But I didn’t give up. Especially when I found out that I had a secret identity. Some of you may have heard of “Topanga Canyon,” the subject of a cautionary tale taught by Dean Wesley Smith, who appeared in Volume 1 of the WOTF volumes and is today one of the judges. In his workshop, Dean talked about a promising young writer who the editors were excited about. Everyone was wondering who was going to be the first to publish his stories. Even book editors showed interest. Then suddenly, he disappeared, never to be seen again.
Well, allow me to introduce myself. I’m Topanga Canyon, and I’m not giving up again. I discovered my secret identity on the WOTF forum. If you want to win this Contest, you are making a huge mistake if you don’t check out the forum! It was there that I got the encouragement, knowledge, and advice to keep entering.
Interview with Preston Dennett & Dean Wesley Smith, The Topanga Canyon Never Give Up Story
Getting that call from Joni Labaqui will forever be one of the best moments of my life. I had read all the WOTF volumes several times. I loved all the stories in them. And now, mine was one of them! I was so excited, I couldn’t contain myself. So, I did what I always do, I decided to write about it. I quickly discovered that there were 24 things that I was stupidly, insanely, and obsessively excited about. I wrote each thing down and braced myself for all of them to happen.
I was also able to talk about the realization of my dream on the first day of the workshop.
My 24 Things
Fast-forward several months later, and now that I’ve experienced all of them, I can say that I was right to be excited about every single one of them. Here they are, in some inexplicable order:
- Seeing my name on the WOTF website blog showing the list of winners. Amazing! Must stop clicking on it! I admit it’s been over a year since it appeared, and I occasionally still take a peek at it, just to make sure I’m not dreaming.
- Reading my story (and the others, of course) in the book. I’ve read all the volumes. Now my story will be in there. Wow! Now that I have read the new volume, I’m once again delighted. The stories are amazing. They’ve all got that quirky, original and creative twist that makes the WOTF stories so unique.
- The weeklong workshop taught by the best in the field. I bow humbly and am ready to learn. This turned out to be so much more than I expected. Having lunch with Dean Wesley Smith at the local burger joint, having a cocktail with Tim Powers at the hotel bar, a long list of guest speakers, all powerhouses in the field. I could go on! My notebook is filled, and my brain is trying to contain it all.
- The generous prize money. Always nice. So nice. (PS: Got it! It was nice.) And then I got paid pro-rates for the story itself too. Wow!
- The trophy. I seriously can’t wait. So, I’ve got my trophy now. It sits in the center of my dining room table, at least for now! You should see how it bends the sunlight.
- Meeting the judges. Very nervous, many questions. Okay, I’ve met them. All the judges were incredibly humble and welcoming. They were very knowledgeable and answered all your questions, and others you didn’t even think of asking.
- Meeting fellow winners. Always room for more lifelong friends. OMG, this was perhaps my favorite part! Hanging out in the hotel room, going to the local bar, lounging by the pool, talking about our speeches, trying to find a place in Hollywood to eat lunch, I will remember them always. What a great group of friends!
- Reading the stories in my quarter. I got second place. What story beat mine? What story got third place? So, fast-forward again. I’ve read the story that beat mine. And I can see why it won first place. And I’ve read the story that placed third in my quarter, and I have to admit, it’s one of my favorites of the entire volume. I loved it.
- Seeing the artwork for my story. Please have tissues ready. Lots of tissues. This turned out to be sooo amazing. And yes, I needed the tissues. I’ll just leave it at that.
- Giving my speech on stage. I’ve spent years on this one … not even kidding. I attended the WOTF awards nine times, always in the audience. Now I walked on stage as a winner. I was nervous, but I couldn’t have been happier. My main problem was, I was one of the last to give their speech, and all the other speeches before mine were starting to make me cry.
- Reading my bio. Yeah, I already know about me, but this is different. Seeing my bio in the WOTF, wow! I’ve always loved that the WOTF books include not only stories but bios and essays from the judges. It’s so amazing to be a part of a contest that has helped launch so many monumental careers.
- Seeing the cover of Volume 35. Haven’t seen it yet. Pretty darn excited about it. Saw it. Love it!
- Meeting Joni Labaqui, the long-time Contest Director. I couldn’t believe it when she called me telling me I had won second place. Still can’t believe it. I had met her briefly attending the ceremonies before, but now as a winner, it was different. All the people who run the Contest were truly incredible. They made me feel like a real writer, in a good way!
- The autograph session after the ceremony. So many times, I’ve gotten the autographs. Now I shall be giving Surreal! And ***coughs*** just the beginning. So, yeah, this happened. There were so many people, I actually got cramps in my hand. And who do I see before me, smiling, and holding a book for me to sign? Tim Powers! No kidding. I have the photo.
- Staying in a hotel in … wait for it! Hollywood! Hollywood! ***Cue the singing!*** So yeah, this was truly amazing. What a contest!
- Reading reviews of the book. Already bracing myself. So, the reviews are coming in. And they are quite favorable, thank you, humbly. I’m not sure why, but my favorite review is from an Amazon reader who said that my story was their favorite! And I didn’t even have to pay them! (Much … just kidding!)
- Being able to put “I won the Writers of the Future Contest” on my resume and cover letters. Slush pile? What slush pile? So yeah, this actually works. I even got a personal congratulation from the editor of a long enduring, pro-level magazine.
- Recognition! By winning the Contest, I got an invitation-only opportunity to submit to a pro-level publication. It happened! And my story has been accepted! Fourth pro-level story!
- Telling my family, friends and co-workers and fellow writers that I won. This was so much fun. Get ready for some hugs and congratulations! And do not tell them what your story is about. Let them read it in the book. Stay strong, do not give in!
- Reading the blurb for my story in the front of the book. I’ve read them for other stories. What will they say about mine? I know, it seems like a little thing, but when I saw it, I felt those tears again. It’s just one small sentence, but it captures my story perfectly. I won’t give it away here. Buy the book. You won’t be disappointed.
- Finding out what order my story is in the book. A weird thing to wonder, I admit, but what can I say? I’m weird. I might be first, yeah! I might be last? Yeah! Anywhere in the middle, which is fine with me. I don’t know why I even think of this, but I’m looking forward to seeing it. So, now I’ve got the book. My story is last! And I’m so happy! My words will the last words that the reader sees.
- Seeing how many pages my story takes up in the actual book. I already have a rough idea, of course, but I want to know exactly. So, my story occupies thirteen pages — really a very small section of the entire book. There are shorter stories, and some much longer. It’s one of the things I love about the WOTF volumes, they take all different lengths.
- I just know there’s something I haven’t thought of yet, and it’s gonna be amazing. The award dinner? The tuxedo? The book offers … I just know there’s something! Fast-forward and yes, there is, and I’m not saying what they are. There are too many, and frankly, it’s better a surprise.
- The confidence. Out of the thousands of anonymous entries, my story was chosen. Now I know for sure, I can do this. And that alone is the best prize of all!
So, there you go! Those are the 24 things that I’m still excited about after winning the Writers of the Future Contest. And I hope that they are also 24 reasons to inspire you why you should enter the Writers of the Future Contest, and win! As someone who entered 47 times, I can tell you, it was sooo worth it! Don’t give up!
Preston Dennett has worked as a carpet cleaner, fast-food worker, data entry clerk, bookkeeper, landscaper, singer, actor, writer, radio host, television consultant, teacher, UFO researcher, ghost hunter and more. He has written 22 non-fiction books and more than 100 articles about UFOs and the paranormal. But his true love has always been speculative fiction. After a long hiatus, he started writing again in 2009. He has sold 37 stories to various venues including Allegory, Andromeda Spaceways, Bards & Sages, Black Treacle, Cast of Wonders, The Colored Lens, Grievous Angel, Kzine, Perihelion, Sci Phi Journal, Stupefying Stories, T. Gene Davis’ Speculative Blog, and more, including several anthologies. He earned twelve honorable mentions in the L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the Future Contest before winning 2nd place for Quarter 1, 2018, (Volume 35), his third professional sale. He currently resides in southern California where he spends his days looking for new ways to pay his bills and his nights exploring the farthest edges of the universe.