Matt Dovey with a cuppa tea

Matt Dovey: Two Years Later

From aspiring writer to writing contest winner to—let’s find out!

It has been nearly two years since Matt Dovey was announced as the Golden Pen Award winner in the L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future writing contest.  As a contest for aspiring writers, we thought we would find out how winning the writing contest has affected Matt. So we asked him.

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As I write this, it’s coming on two years since I attended the 32nd workshop week in LA, which also marks two years since my first publication—WotF was my first sale, but I was published for the first time just a month beforehand, in Flash Fiction Online.

 


Matt Dovey above, accepting the Golden Pen Award from David Farland and Orson Scott Card

It’s honestly strange to realise it’s only been two years. It feels a lifetime ago, as if everything before were a different person, as if LA were a wormhole I travelled through to an alternate life where—suddenly, amazingly—I’m actually a writer.

This is, of course, nonsense. The only act necessary to be a writer is writing, and if you have the courage to sit before the blank screen and summon whole worlds and people and hopes and dreams from nothing more than the spider silk of your imagination, mere publication is an incidental fact in the definition. If you’re reading this, chances are you write and are still chasing that first sale. So I’m telling you now, definitively and authoritatively: you are a writer. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.

But, of course, we’re all only human, and we all seek that validation from others, so it’s hard not to feel like you need the Badge of Approval that comes with publication to confirm that yes, really, it’s true: you are a writer. And for all my high-falutin’ talk above, it’s absolutely a trap I fell into myself. Honestly, most writers I know do. We seem to need more validation than most.

But having had that validation from WotF, my whole outlook on writing has changed. It’s gone from a strange little habit I indulge after work to a fundamental aspect of who I am; my day job is the incidental fact, now, the necessary evil to support my writing. I don’t just write when I feel like it, or when an idea occurs: it’s a given that I’ll be sitting down at my keyboard each evening and working, even if sometimes that “working” is just talking to friends in the community (essential lesson, learned the hard way and given freely here: self-care is as important as word count).

And you know what really gave me that feeling of validation? It wasn’t winning the super-fancy trophy (though that sure is nice! And really, really heavy in your luggage); it wasn’t meeting legendary pros like Tim Powers, Nancy Kress, Todd McCaffrey, so many others; it wasn’t even seeing my name in print, my story in the book, my words in physical form.

Writers of the Future winners, Class of 2016

It was the friends around me, the people in my class who were going through that indescribably surreal week with me. The friends who, it turned out, had the same weird habits and thought patterns and fears and aspirations as I had, the ones I’d thought only I had because writing, inevitably, is a lonely hobby, sat silent at the keyboard with only your own thoughts.

I found out I was a writer that week in LA because I found out I was just like other writers.

And so the last couple of years have been good to me. I’ve got 15 pro sales to my name now, plus semi-pros and reprints and narrations. I’m volunteering as a slush reader over at PodCastle and doing my bit to contribute back to the community there and in other ways. I have strangers send me fan mail and people reviewing my work and stories appearing in Year’s Best anthologies.

But whilst I wouldn’t have managed any of that if I hadn’t done the work, equally I wouldn’t have managed any of that if I didn’t have the friends I have now. I’m still close to all my WotF class; we support each other, not just with feedback but with commiseration and celebration and reminders that, for all the bad days when the rejections pile up and the new draft just isn’t working out, there are good days, too, and reasons to celebrate each other even if it doesn’t always feel like there are reasons to celebrate personally.

You’ll get nowhere in writing if you don’t have friends to walk the path with. And in the same way you don’t need anyone else’s validation to be a writer, you don’t need anyone else’s permission to join in with the community. Find us on Twitter, or on forums (the WotF forums are a great place to start), or at conventions. It’s the best thing you can do, for your career and yourself, I promise.

Just join in.

 


Matt Dovey

Matt Dovey

Matt Dovey is very tall, very English, and most likely drinking a cup of tea right now. His surname rhymes with “Dopey”, but any other similarities to the dwarf are purely coincidental. He lives in a quiet market town in rural England with his wife and three children, and despite being a writer he still can’t express the delight he finds in this wonderful arrangement.  He has fiction out and forthcoming all over the place; you can keep up with it at mattdovey.com, or follow along on Facebook and Twitter both as @mattdoveywriter.

Jake Marley on stage with Dave Farland and Erika Christensen

Jake Marley: One Year Later

From aspiring writer to writing contest winner to – let’s find out!

It has been nearly a year since Jake Marley was announced as the Golden Pen Award winner in the L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future writing contest.  As a contest for aspiring writers, we thought we would find out how winning the writing contest has affected Jake. So we asked him.

So Many New Friends

In 2017, my Writers of the Future workshop was just the start of my opportunities to meet professional writers and editors.

Jake talks about his experience as a writer and with the 24-hour story during the Writer Workshop in an interview here.

I used my winnings from the Golden Pen to go to a few different writing conventions, and met even more of my contemporary heroes and favorite writers and editors, including quite a few bestselling authors. I think a highlight of the year was getting another chance to speak with Nnedi Okorafor while we were both in Providence, and I had another opportunity to thank her for her part of the workshop, which I had really connected with.

I also had a dream come true when Andrew L. Roberts and I were able to sign copies of WotF 33 at SDCC this year. The pro-badge I wore has a place of honor beside my trophies from last year’s awards ceremony.

I Am Selling What I Write

I’ve had two other short stories published since the release of Volume 33. One, “The Fifth Chamber” was in Resist and Refuse, and the other, “The Weight of Her Smile,” was just published last month in Unnerving Magazine #5.

The Post-Apocalyptic Tourist's Guide to Los AngelesI was also lucky enough to take part in the first Season of (fellow Vol. 33 winner) Stephen Lawson’s The Post-Apocalyptic Tourist’s Guide. While my story could stand alone, The Post-Apocalyptic Tourist’s Guide to Los Angeles is also part of a larger narrative featuring quite a few Writers of the Future alumni.

I’m hard at work on my new novel, and it’s coming together really nicely. I’m using quite a few of the tips and techniques I learned from Dave and Tim during our workshop, as well as applying the advice I received from the other judges (again, especially Nnedi Okorafor).

In addition to getting my novel written, I’ve just been given the upcoming Writers of the Future Volume 34 and I’ve begun reading the stories. I’m looking forward to review it!

A Note on Dr. Pournelle

Dr. Jerry Pournelle speaking at the Writers WorkshopI was very sad to hear about the passing of Dr. Pournelle. I think one of the most memorable moments of my experience with Writers of the Future last year was having him tell me that “Acquisition” was “a damned good story.” I only met him briefly, but it has made a lasting impression on my life.

 

How to Find Me

My website is jakemarley.wordpress.com and readers can find me on Facebook or @JakeofEarth2 on Twitter.

And here is the link to my Amazon page.

computer on a desk

Lou J. Berger on Writers of the Future

I want to chat about the Writers and Illustrators of the Future contest.

For many beginning writers (and illustrators, but I’m going to only talk about the writing side), the WoTF contest is a nice way to hurl your creations up against the wall of professional editing to see if, like perfectly cooked spaghetti, they stick.

It’s free to enter, the contest is made up of four quarters per year, each a separate contest, and the competition is worthy.

Although official numbers aren’t ever released, I have heard through the grapevine that three thousand submissions per quarter stream in from over 175 countries around the world.

Of those three thousand, many are simply not up to par. In fact, the vast majority of the entries don’t have more than the first few pages read, and David Farland is the wizard behind the process, culling through the stacks of submissions for those gems.

The better stories are awarded Honorable Mention status, and Joni Labaqui sends out beautiful, artistic certificates with the author’s name, the title of the story, and the words “Honorable Mention” blazoned across the page.

I have one up on my cork board in my office.

The top sixteen best stories are broken into two categories, Semi-Finalist (for stories 9-16) and FINALIST (stories 1-8).

The Semi-Finalist stories are those that rose almost all the way to the top and, for that particular quarter, were considered VERY good, but not quite as good as those top eight Finalist stories.

Joni sends out a different certificate, still artistic, still with the author name and the story title on it, but with the words “Semi-Finalist” instead of “Honorable Mention.”

I have one of THOSE on my cork board, too, from 2011.

Mike Resnick, who is not only the most award-winning author alive, began editing Galaxy’s Edge magazine back in 2013, proving that he’s a damn fine editor as well.

Having taken me under his wing (through my relentless pestering of him, no doubt) as one of his Writer Children, he included one of my stories in his inaugural edition of Galaxy’s Edge, way back in March of 2013.

Since then, I see him at conventions, I took a writing course on a cruise ship with him TWICE, and we remain in contact. He’s published SEVEN stories of mine in Galaxy’s Edge.

Nancy Kress, an award-winning author in her own right, co-taught me in Taos during the 2010 Taos Toolbox workshop, along with Walter Jon Williams. Carrie Vaughn came to talk to us about how her Kitty Norville series had changed her life, and we all left Taos after the workshop was over, inspired to become like our new-found heroes.

Kevin J. Anderson, a prolific author and a man who believes strongly in paying it forward, spearheads his Superstars Writing Seminars in Colorado Springs, and I’ve attended that event THREE times. Kevin has invited me to his home for movie night, for New Year’s Eve, and has never turned down my requests for advice as, slowly, I climb each rung of the ladder to professional authorship.

Mike, Nancy, and Kevin are all WoTF judges. They take their time to pay it forward to the beginner writers (regardless of age), who dare to take a chance with their lovingly crafted prose, and work as judges for the contest.

Kevin’s wife, the insanely intelligent Rebecca Moesta, had a birthday party a few months ago, and I attended that event, once again visiting their lovely home. I remember sitting on the couch next to an elegant woman, but I didn’t recognize her. She wasn’t a frequent attendee of the other gatherings at the Kevin and Rebecca castle.

Somebody called her “Joni,” I think it was Rebecca herself, and I asked her, “You aren’t Joni Labaqui, are you?”

She admitted she was, and I stuck out my hand gleefully. “I’m Lou J Berger!”

See, Joni called me on a cloudy day in 2011 to tell me that I’d made it to the Semi-Finalist level with my story “Immersion,” and I was so unfamiliar with the WoTF processes that I assumed during the call that she had to call over three thousand people.

I may have said something to the effect of “Well, thanks for the call, but you have SO MUCH WORK yet to do!”

There was a moment of awkward silence, and then she said, brightly, “Okay, bye!”

*facepalm*

Anyway, there on the couch at Rebecca’s party, we talked for half an hour or so about the Contest.

“Why haven’t you been submitting any stories?” she asked me directly.

I thought about it for a half second. “Because I’m too pro by now. I sold stories to Mike Resnick, and to a handful of anthologies, and I got paid pro rates for all of them. I’m out, right?”

She beamed. If there is one thing Joni lives for, it’s helping ignorant people (such as myself) learn something new.

“Nope,” she said. “If any of those anthologies or any single issue of that magazine in which your story appeared failed to sell AT LEAST five thousand copies, we don’t count it.”

Stunned, I fell silent. I didn’t KNOW how many copies were sold!

I asked around, and none of the anthologies had moved five thousand copies. One editor refused to divulge whether they had or not, but I’m betting not. That’s one “gray area” story, because I couldn’t get confirmation.

I asked Mike. He didn’t know, and sent me over the publisher, a kind man named Shahid. He laughed at me and said “not yet, but we are working on it!”

One maybe story. The one that the editor wouldn’t confirm numbers on. That’s it!

So I went to the WoTF rules. There it is, in black and white, Rule #5:

“5. The Contest is open only to those who have not professionally published a novel or short novel, or more than one novelette, or more than three short stories, in any medium. Professional publication is deemed to be payment of at least six cents per word, and at least 5,000 copies, or 5,000 hits.”

So, given this NEW information (to me), I began to submit again.

Last night, the phone rang. Caller ID blocked. I answered.

A warm voice came across the line: “Hi, Lou. It’s Joni.”

Memories of our conversation came flooding back. The last time she’d called me directly, it was back in 2011 to tell me I was a Semi-Finalist.

“Hi, Joni!” I said, so pleased to hear her voice. Folks, this woman lives for helping people succeed.

Then, it hit me. Why was she calling ME?

“Wait…Joni, why are you calling me?”

The smile came through the phone: “You’re a Finalist, Lou!”

And….wow.

My story is in the top eight of the fourth quarter submissions for 2017. The top THREE of those top eight are called Winners, and they get an all-expense trip to LA, and the bottom FIVE of those top eight get a nice, artistic certificate, to add to their cork board (we all have cork boards, right?), with the word “FINALIST” on it.

I’m hoping for a Winner determination but, you know what?

Between you and me?

If I get that certificate with the word “Finalist” on it, I’m a happy, happy dude.

More as I hear it.

 


Lou J. BergerLou Berger started writing just shy of his 40th birthday. He lives in Centennial, Colorado with three kids, two Sheltie dogs and a kink-tailed cat.

Roberta and Jerry Pournelle

Jerry Pournelle Leaves a Legacy of Helping New Writers (1933-2017)

It was in 1986 that Jerry Pournelle heard about L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the Future Contest from Algis Budrys, the famed science fiction editor and writer, who assisted L. Ron Hubbard to get the Contest started. Jerry agreed to be a Contest judge in the second year and started judging immediately.

Jerry was chosen for several reasons: he was a legendary figure in both science and science fiction—a truly Renaissance Man. This included his mastery of the épée as well as other deadly weapons, his two PhDs, his master’s degree in statistics and systems engineering, his bachelor’s degree in mathematics, and his chairmanship of the Citizen’s Advisory Council on National Space Policy.

In the world of SF, his contributions included editorship of many anthologies and multiple New York Times bestselling novels, notably with fellow Contest judge Larry Niven—The Mote in Gods Eye, Lucifer’s Hammer, Footfall and Oath of Fealty.

Throughout the years, Contest organizers called upon Jerry to vote for the winning stories, to attend the annual awards event and Writer’s Workshop, and best of all, to impart his wisdom based on years as a successful writer to the newly published winners of the Writers of the Future Contest. In return, Jerry always enthusiastically accepted and presented very informative information.

Jerry will be remembered in his later years of the Contest for his lighthearted sense of humor with the winners on event day. Just ask most any first place winner and they will have a story to tell.

We will miss you Jerry, but your brilliance shines on, and will, way into the future.

Jake Marley being interviewed at LA Festival of Book

Persevere

It’s been nearly a year since I found out I was a finalist for L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the Future contest, and very nearly five months since I was announced as the 2017 Golden Pen Award winner for my story, “Acquisition,” featured in Volume 33 of the annual anthology.

To say my life has changed feels like an understatement. I’ve signed literally hundreds of copies of our bestselling anthology. I’ve made connections and genuine friendships with writers I respect and adore. I’ve had opportunities to sign at the Los Angeles Festival of Books and the daunting and epic San Diego ComicCon.

The Writers of the Future experience has filled me with confidence as a writer. I sit at the computer every day and write, write, write. I’ve left behind all the neurotic behavior I had for years before, knowing now that I have the ability to rewrite it better, stronger, more beautifully. I’ve written the first draft of a novel and a handful of short stories since returning home, and each one teaches me something more about the craft. I smile at the blank page. I dream up worlds and characters and conflicts and grin as I type them into existence. I feel whole. Complete.

I’ve wanted to be a writer for 20 years, and this is the first year I’ve been published. It’s not hard to remember that a year ago I’d just about given up my dream. That I was finally going to surrender. To think it was never going to happen.

If you’re struggling, keep going. Find local or online writer groups. Never stop learning, or trying to get better. Submit to the contest, if only because it inspires you to finish something four times a year, and if you meet your goals it’s honestly a great and satisfying feeling to have.

More than anything, though: Persevere.

If you want to be a writer, then here are your steps: Write, rewrite, finish it, submit it. Repeat. Don’t stop. You have stories you have to tell. More over, you have stories that the rest of the world is going to want to read. You owe it to them, and to yourself, to try and to keep trying.

I’m in my dream. Living it. Loving it. I’m not going anywhere. It’s hard work, but an incredible joy, too. I wouldn’t give it up for anything.

I’ve had the chance to speak with a lot of new creators—unpublished writers and artists—and I tell them all the same thing.

You might be only one submission away from your dream.

 


Author Jake Marley

Author Jake Marley

Jake Marley is a writer in Orange County, California, and winner of the Golden Pen Award with his story, “Acquisition,” published in Writers of the Future Volume 33.

Ken Liu, photo by Lisa Tang Liu

Ken Liu on Writing a Star Wars Book

So, the news is out: I’m writing a Star Wars book as part of the Journey to Star Wars: The Last Jedi project. Working with the team at Lucasfilm Publishing has been such a pleasure — they’re the best.

The Legends of Luke Skywalker (cover not final)

The Legends of Luke Skywalker (cover not final)

I can’t tell you much about the book yet, except that it’s called The Legends of Luke Skywalker, it’s going to go on sale on 10/31/2017, it’s got illustrations by J. G. Jones, and it’s going to be awesome.

Permit me to indulge in a bit of geeky self-reflection. Star Wars, especially Star Wars books, holds a special place in my heart. When I was a kid in China (maybe third-grade?), the novelization of The Empire Strikes Back by Donald F. Glut (in Chinese translation) was the very first SF book I ever read.

It was during a free-reading period, when the teacher brought out a box of books for us to each pick one. I had a choice between a biography of Confucius and Empire, and I picked the latter because the cover looked amazing.

My teacher grumbled, disappointed that I was apparently more attracted to laser swords and pew pew pew than the wisdom of the Great Sage.

Mind you, I had never seen any of the Star Wars films at that point, nor had I read any full-length SF novels (I had read Chinese translations of an abridged version of PKD’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep and Lester del Rey’s “Helen O’Loy”). Empire literally blew my mind. I had never seen a world like this: where magic and technology were both vital; where ancient archetypes, some of which I recognized from Chinese myths and legends, pulsed with a futuristic sheen; where hope was not easy, but was always the right choice.

The Star Wars universe was where I wanted to live. It was home.

Louis Menand wrote: “Texts are always packed, by the reader’s prior knowledge and expectations, before they are unpacked.” I love that quote. And it guides me when I write.

I think a writer’s job is to build a strong, welcoming house. Readers then move in and fill the rooms with their individual experience and understanding of the world. And only then, after they’ve settled in and begun to explore, do they discover its little nooks and crannies, its hidden passages and secret staircases, and following these, they find breathtaking vistas of other planets, rogues who prize friendship more than treasure, mystical sages full of wisdom, princesses leading grand armies, and farm boys dreaming of walking among the stars …

The Star Wars universe is grand and beautiful, and it is ever expanding. To be able to build a house in this universe after my fashion, to welcome fellow fans and readers into this house, and to see them get comfortable and discover its secrets … I don’t have the words for my joy.

I’m home; I’m where I belong.

I can’t wait until you come in.

 


Ken Liu

Ken Liu

Ken Liu (http://kenliu.name) is an author and translator of speculative fiction, as well as a lawyer and programmer. A winner of the Nebula, Hugo, and World Fantasy awards, he is the author of The Dandelion Dynasty, a silkpunk epic fantasy series (The Grace of Kings (2015), The Wall of Storms (2016), and a forthcoming third volume) and The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories (2016), a collection.

In addition to his original fiction, Ken also translated numerous works from Chinese to English, including The Three-Body Problem (2014), by Liu Cixin, and “Folding Beijing,” by Hao Jingfang, both Hugo winners.

Ken Liu won the Writers of the Future Contest in 2003 and his story, “Gossamer” appears in Volume 19.

Jeremy TeG

Meet the Winners – Jeremy TeGrotenhuis – 1st Q 2017

Hello there! A couple of years ago I decided to stop blogging in order to focus on improving my fiction, and, well, I just won Writers of the Future, so that seems to have worked. Given that, I figure its time to dust off the old blog and start posting weekly (or biweekly…or monthly…we’ll see…) updates again.

For now I’ve created a page listing all of my published short fiction, which you can visit here: jeremyteg.wordpress.com/stories. I have also uploaded “Her Silver Chains,” the flash fiction piece which was published in Lilac City Fairy Tales, an anthology series of Spokane area writers. There is a link on the “stories” page, for those of you who haven’t read that yet, along with a link to the Scablands Books store where you can buy a copy of that anthology, if you’d like. I finally picked up my contributor’s copy and there’s some great stuff in there!

Carlton dancing On to the big news! I WON WRITERS OF THE FUTURE Q1 2017!

This is a really big deal for me, not just because of the publication, the prize, and the workshop I’ll get to attend next April, but because it represents something of a book-end to the last four years of my writing life.

I first entered the Writers of the Future contest in 2013, during my junior year of college, full of the confidence and arrogance of a young man at the top of his class (I was also convinced, at the time, that I could get into an Ivy League PhD program straight out of undergrad at a regional liberal arts college…HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA). I had read the most recent volume of the anthology, and thought my work stacked up. Of course, my taste at the time was not well developed enough to clearly discern the differences between the work I was doing and the significantly better written, tightly plotted, and well thought-out stories in the anthology.

Nevertheless, I got an Honorable Mention.

Rather than being disappointed, I was thrilled. Since submitting the story, I had learned just what the scope of the contest was. Thousands of writers submitted their work every quarter. Only the top 10-15% received Honorable Mentions. While I was not yet good enough to win the contest, clearly I was on the right track. That HM buoyed me through a hair-rendingly difficult final semester, through a dozen graduate school application rejections, and a dozen more rejected short story submissions. No, everything in my life was not going as well as I had thought, but I was on the right track with my writing, goddmmit!

I did not submit to Writers of the Future again until early 2015. Hannah and I had moved to Taiwan to teach English and were part of a great expat Writing Group. I decided to try sending one of my more recent stories off to Writers of the Future instead of condemning it to inevitable rejection from the slurry of magazines to which I had been making submissions.

It got a rejection. Which was a bit of a blow.

So did the next story I submitted.

How could I have gotten worse at writing over the course of a year and a half? I was in a writing group now! I was getting feedback!

I was pissed off, and determined to keep submitting until I won.

Thus began two years of submitting to WotF every single quarter, eight quarters in a row. It became something of a white whale for me. It also motivated an insane amount of productivity.

The first story I submitted after my two rejections got a Silver Honorable Mention, which, as I understand things, is essentially David Farland patting you on the back and saying “Soooooo close! But nooooooooot quite!” This threw a bucketful of lighter fluid on my already burning desire to win the damn contest. For the next few quarters I would write two or three short stories between quarterly deadlines, choosing my favorite and sending it off to the contest. I earned HMs and SHMs, never breaking into the hallowed ranks of the Semi-Finalists and Finalists, but always confident that I was right on the edge, that I was getting better.

I made my first professional short story sale to Beneath Ceaseless Skies, one of my favorite short fiction venues, in March. My first thought–after jumping up and down and squawking from excitement–was “Oh man, I better win Writers of the Future soon. It would be really annoying to pro-out without winning.” Not that I wouldn’t have been grateful to be disqualified from the contest by losing my amateur status, but winning the contest had become such a defining goal that losing the opportunity to achieve it would have left this whole endeavor feeling incomplete.

And then I won.

I can’t tell you anything about the winning story, though I personally think it’s the best thing I’ve ever written, and the story of its development is an interesting window into my process. Once the anthology comes out next April maybe I will write about that. Until then, you’ll just have to jitter and twitch in anticipation along with me.

For any aspiring SF/F writers out there, I cannot recommend Writers of the Future strongly enough. Not necessarily as a contest to win, at least not yet–I haven’t really experienced winning yet, in terms of the workshop, the networking opportunities, the publication, etc.–but certainly as a goal to strive for while developing your talents. Committing to entering a new story every quarter, or even every other quarter, will force you to produce, and that really is the most important thing you can do to develop your skills. It certainly helped me.

-JeremyTeG

PS: the people over at the Writers of the Future forums, where I lurked for a year and a half while their registration system was defunct, are some of the kindest, most helpful, most supportive writers I have had the pleasure of interacting with–though most of that interaction has been sort of one-sided until recently. I highly recommend paying them a visit if you do decide to try your hand at the contest.

 


Jeremy A. TeGrotenhuis is a writer from Washington State and the First Place winner for Quarter 1 of Writers of the Future 2017. A student of History and Philosophy and a lifelong fan of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Jeremy writes at the intersection of these things. He aspires to someday create a novel as masterful as Ursula K. LeGuin’s “A Wizard of Earthsea.”

Other curious facts of note: Jeremy was home-schooled until the ninth grade, taught English for a year in Taiwan, and ruined his 4.0 college GPA with an A- in a freshman level class which he procrastinated taking until his last semester. He blogs at https://jeremyteg.wordpress.com and tweets at http://twitter.com/jeremyteg. To contact Jeremy, please send an email to jeremyteg@gmail.com.

Jake Marley on stage with the Golden Pen Award

Writing the Future: Thoughts on the Writers of the Future Contest

I can admit that when I first heard about the Writers and Illustrators of the Future contest, I was skeptical. On the surface it seemed too good to be true. It’s a free contest, open to international authors who are still looking to break into the industry. There’s prize money, there’s the promise of publication in an annual anthology, and there’s the absolutely surreal experience of a trip to Hollywood where you can participate in a weeklong writer workshop with bestselling authors, stay in a swanky hotel, and celebrate your win in a black-tie awards ceremony where you’ll stand up in front of an audience of people who are only there to support new authors and illustrators and give a speech, usually thanking your spouse, your writer friends, and maybe all of the darlings you had to kill to get where you are.

Yeah—surreal is absolutely the right word.

Skepticism aside, the more I researched the contest, the more legit it seemed to be. I read widely inside and outside the horror genre, so I recognized a surprising number of names who were mentioned in the same context as the contest. The judges are bestsellers, and many of the winners used their publication with Writers of the Future to springboard into careers in publishing. There was a sense of community among the participants. A camaraderie that was as attractive as the elusive publishing credit that I was seeking at the time.

I decided to enter. The contest is for fantasy and science fiction–which I saw as strangely limiting in my first attempts–but I only needed to read one of the latest volumes of the anthology to see how broad a category that covered. Steampunk, dark fantasy, hard sci-fi, sword and sorcery–there was something for everyone, and all of the stories were by new authors, just getting their first break.

I tried a little of this, a little of that. The contest is quarterly, so there are first-, second-, and third-place winners four times a year. Plenty of opportunities for experimentation. What kind of story did I want to tell? How could I make it better? The twelve winners are published together, usually with another finalist or two, and their stories make up the bulk of the anthology.

Last year, I became a Patreon supporter to the This Is Horror Podcast so I could ask questions of authors I admired and Michael would pass it along in the interview. When he says, ‘We’ve got a question from Jake Marley,’ he’s talking about me. I wanted to learn as much as possible from as many sources because I wanted to make my writing stronger.

I wanted to win Writers of the Future.

I submitted for years, but when you keep writing, you keep getting better. I stopped writing stories to try to win the contest, and wrote a story just for myself. Quite a few guests on This Is Horror talked about writing for themselves, or writing stories they wished were already out in the world. I thought about it, about what I’d love to read that isn’t out there, and I gave it a whirl.

My ghost story, ‘Acquisition’, took first place in the 3rd quarter of the contest. I received the prize money just before Christmas 2016, and signed the publishing contract soon after. I was going to be a published author!

The money was good. Promise of publication was better. I had no idea how enriching and inspiring the workshop would be, though, and honestly, after everything, it still seems like the grand prize the contest has to offer.

Writer winners and instructors walking to the workshop.

Writer winners and instructors walking to the workshop.

I went to Hollywood for the weeklong workshop. The other winners were flown in from around the world, but I drove because I only live about an hour south of there. They put us up in a hotel and after introductions that first night we became fast friends. Writers are funny–we all work quietly, alone and in our heads, so when you get a group of us together in a room we all have something in common. Something to build friendships on.

On the first day of the writer workshop one of our instructors, Tim Powers (The Anubis Gates, Medusa’s Web, Last Call) found out who I was and what story I’d written. He leaned in close and said, ‘You know, there’s a scene in that story I enjoyed so much it makes me want to steal it for one of my books.’ I was flattered. Delighted. No, those are too mild of words. Man, I was so overjoyed I don’t think I stopped grinning that whole day.

David Farland, editor of the anthology and best-selling author of the Runelords series, and Tim took a few days and shared their knowledge about writing and publishing with us. They were succinct, candid, and absolutely encouraging.

“Winning the contest means you’re producing professional work,” they told us. (I’m paraphrasing, but not exaggerating. They went over this point several times.) “You’re professional writers now.”

Armed with their words and instruction, they prepped us for the most notorious part of the Writers of the Future workshop: the 24-hour story. From 4 pm on Wednesday to 4 pm on Thursday we were to write a complete story. Only 24 hours for an entire short story. But you know what? We all did it.

We did interviews, took headshots, and learned from genre legends. At the end of the week, we celebrated our contest win with a black-tie awards show. You can see it on YouTube in its entirety. It’s an incredible event, and when they announced ‘Acquisition’ I went onstage and stuttered over my thank-yous to my wife and daughter. To my family. To my writer friends.

The four 1st place winners were all up for a Grand Prize, too. The Golden Pen Award. It’s the big deal prize, because it’s voted on by all of the judges that year, not just the handful that pick the quarterly prizes. And it comes with a giant award, and a $5,000 prize. The winner is announced at the very end of the ceremony as the grand finale.

Jake Marley on stage with Erika Christensen and Dave Farland

Jake Marley on stage with Erika Christensen and Dave Farland

I’m not ashamed to say that when they announced my story as the winner I kind of lost my shit. It’s a blur now, but I’ve seen the footage (remember I said it’s on YouTube? Go watch the last 11 minutes of the show. It was madness–and YouTube is forever, my friends.) I was laughing and high-fiving the other contest winners and total strangers and I started shaking hands and I hugged actress Erika Christensen who presented the award and I hugged David Farland who I’d once told, a few years before, that I was going to come back and win his contest. (He mentioned this before I got to my second thank-you speech. Again, it’s on YouTube.) My wife was crying and my daughter was crying and if I wasn’t crying then I sure was later, because I’ve been writing in secret for 20 years, and that’s a very long time to try to get good at something.

You know what else the contest taught me? I can still get better. When I came home I started applying the tools and tips all of the incredible instructors gave me. They work. I’m filled with a crazy confidence, and every day I sit down to write is a joy. Our anthology, L. Ron Hubbard presents Writers of the Future Volume 33, became a National Bestseller here in the States, and while my story hasn’t hit the mark with every reviewer, it has connected with quite a few of them.

If you’re an unpublished writer, enter the contest. If you have a credit or two and are interested, go to the Contest Rules page on their website and find out if you’re still eligible. You just might be, in which case you should really enter the contest.

Write the story only you can write. Write something you wish was out in the world, and write it as well as you can. Don’t be afraid to submit, and don’t be afraid of rejection–after all, if you miss out one quarter another one is just around the corner. Even if every story you write gets sent back, it’s okay–because very quickly you’ll have a pretty large body of work you can edit and revise and submit elsewhere! If you keep it up, selling stories as you go, you might just ‘pro out’ (too many professional sales will make you ineligible) which, honestly, would be a pretty cool thing too.

The Writers of the Future Contest has been going strong for 33 years, and any day now the 1st quarter winners for Volume 34 will be announced. There’s still plenty of time this year to submit, and to see if you can get your story in next year’s anthology.

–JAKE MARLEY

This article by Jake Marley originally appeared on ThisIsHorror.co.uk.

Author Jake Marley

Meet the winner – Jake Marley

Next in this year’s Meet the Winners series, please welcome Jake Marley!

Stuart: Welcome Jake!

Jake: Hi Stuart!

Stuart: Introduce yourself. Tell us something that might surprise your friends.

Author Jake Marley

Author Jake Marley

Jake: Well, I’m Jake Marley, and I’m from Orange County, California. While I think that by now my friends and family know I like to write, I don’t believe any of them realize how obsessed with books and stories I am. I’m always reading or writing. Always getting better. I only ever really talk about my stories with my wife, so most people in my life might think it’s a hobby rather than an obsession.

Stuart: What do you like to write?

Jake: I’m drawn to the darker side of fiction, but I read voraciously in all genres. I grew up reading comics and Robert Louis Stephenson and Edgar Allan Poe, but the summer before 7th grade I was wandering through the stacks of the Buena Park Library and pulled a book called Skeleton Crew by Stephen King off the shelf. I sat down and started reading the first story, “The Mist,” and was hooked. The librarian told my grandma that it was inappropriate for me–it was a month or two before my twelfth birthday, so she was probably right–but my grandma told her to mind her own business and checked it out for me anyway.

Stuart: It’s always interesting to see those formative influences. How has that shaped the writer you are now?

Jake: If Stephen King hooked me, living in the same area where most Dean Koontz novels are set really solidified my love of horror and supernatural suspense stories. I could read a Koontz book in an afternoon or a weekend, and then my uncle would drive me around to places where the stories took place in Orange County. It’s about as far a cry from the Maine towns of King as you can get in the continental U.S., but I think California definitely has its own weirdness and monsters. I’ve lived in Orange County my entire life, and I’m still here, writing on my laptop during lunch breaks or when my kid is at school.

Stuart: And you said you drive at night for a living? That sound like spooky territory right there.

Jake: After the bars close it can be terrifying. Just last night, driving through the thick fog on the 405, things cleared up for just the briefest instant and I saw a woman running across all five lanes of the freeway. I slowed and put on my emergency blinkers, but a truck nearly rear-ended me, whipped past on the right, and nearly collided with the woman. If he’d gone left instead of right I think he would’ve killed her. I’ve seen people die on those roads. I’ve seen flipped cars and vehicles on fire and one time there was a party bus on its side with prom kids crawling out of the door and trying to find their way to the ground wearing skirts and heels and rented tuxes.

Stuart: Wow! Sounds like you need a superpower out there!

Jake: (Laughs) Well as a kid, I would’ve said I’d like the Superman package–flight, strength, laser eyes–and as a teenager, I would’ve killed to be Wolverine, relentless and berserk, but as a grown-ass man I think I’d love the ability to heal others. It’s one of the most practical of superpowers, but I think it could do way more good in the world than flight. My wife is a cancer survivor, and I’m the father of a 10-year-old. The knowledge that I could fix their ailments would alleviate so much of my daily stress and worry.

Stuart: Well damn, Jake, that may be the most thoughtful answer I’ve ever gotten to that question. Now, I know you’re up for the Golden Pen, so I won’t ask about your winning story. What else would you like folks to know about you?

Jake: I am a book reviewer for ThisIsHorror.co.uk, and I have a monthly column on their website, The Midnight Mix-Tape, where I compile three stories available online that I love and that all fit the same theme and I get to write a little bit about them. I’ve only had a few up so far, but I don’t think I’ll stop until they make me. I adore short fiction, and even when I’m not writing it I want to pass great stories onto as many people as possible.

Stuart: I know the feeling, Jake. I just did a promotional anthology with some Writers of the Future alumni, and I remember editing Martin Shoemaker’s Nebula Nominated Today I Am Paul and feeling like I was handling Spanish bullion. Well thanks for stopping by Jake, I can’t wait to meet you in person—and I hope not on the 405!

Jake: Thank you so much!

Check out Jake’s column for ThisIsHorror.co.uk at Midnight Mix Tape and follow his other ramblings at jakemarley.wordpress.com/

This interview was written before the awards celebration which Jake went onto win. As the Writers of the Future Contest Golden Pen Award winner 2017, tune in to watch Jake’s acceptance speech on the live awards telecast here (2:42:47 in the video):

 


C Stuart Hardwick

C Stuart Hardwick

Guest blogger C Stuart Hardwick

I’m a real southerner, I’m from South Dakota, where the Wild West and the Space Age rub elbows with relics of the time of the dinosaurs. My teachers thought I’d become an engineer. I wanted to terraform Mars or be an astronaut or a billionaire who hires astronauts to terraform Mars–or something. I grew up roaming prairies and ghost towns, hiking ancient trestle bridges and poking around old dumps and mine claims and hearing family lore like pages from a Steinbeck novel. I made “radio dramas” on reel-to-reel magnetic tape and animated shorts on 8mm film. Then it was on to junkyard robots and ill-conceived flying machines made of lawn furniture and swing set parts.

Naturally, I became a writer.

I write mostly science fiction and am a winner of the prestigious Writers of the Future Contest, and a three-time Jim Baen Award finalist, as well as a finalist for Interzone’s James White Award. I’ve sold stories to Analog Science Fiction and Fact and Galaxy’s Edge, among others and have had non-fiction appear on Forbes.com, Huffington Post, Mental Floss, and many more. Read more from Stuart here on his website: cstuarthardwick.com

Eric James Stone with his novel "Unforgettable"

Focus on Eric James Stone

Eric James Stone is one of the few people who’ve managed to appear in two editions of the Writers of the Future anthology, putting “Memory” into Volume XX in 2004 as a published finalist, and “Betrayer of Trees” into Volume XXI in 2005 as a prizewinner. Since that time, he’s published more than 50 short stories, won the Nebula Award, and been nominated for the Hugo Award. His first book, Unforgettable, was put out by Baen Books in early 2016.

Writer winner Eric James Stone with presenters Kevin J. Anderson and Larry Niven.

Writer winner Eric James Stone with presenters Kevin J. Anderson and Larry Niven.

“The contest is a marvelous opportunity for new writers,” he says now. “I credit it with jump-starting my career as a writer, not only because they were the first to publish my work, but also because I learned a lot about writing and professionalism from the workshop with the contest judges. I was very lucky to attend the workshop and awards ceremony twice.”

He qualifies “career as a writer,” because he’s one of those guys whose background shifts in ways that make you wonder how that happened (I say that, speaking as a guy who started as an engineer, became a Human Resources professional, and then a writer). After collecting degrees from Brigham Young University and Baylor Law School, Stone worked on a congressional campaign and took a job in Washington D.C. When he left that role, he turned into a tech writer and web developer. Now he’s an assistant editor for Intergalactic Medicine Show.

He wrote fiction in college but set it aside to focus on his day-job career. In 2002 he picked it up again and found the experience he gained in his various roles added to his creative work. Writing for his jobs helped him focus on concise prose and gave him a better understanding of how people work their way through life. “I gained a lot of life experience, which allowed me to better understand what motivates people,” he said in an interview he gave SF Site.

Stone is a widely talented author who writes deep characters placed in settings that feel rich and intimate. The fact that he’s as comfortable writing hard Analog science fiction as he is writing fantastical worlds of magic and intrigue is probably testimony to his ideas about fiction itself. It seems to me that he is a storyteller at heart, a man who finds the vein of people inside his stories and then lets the genre fall out as it may.

That understanding of character comes out in stories such as his WotF story “Betrayer of Trees,” which follows a young man as he learns of and understands the true consequences of his actions. It also shows in his Nebula-winning novelette “That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made,” published in Analog Science Fiction & Fact (September 2010), a story that created controversy in its exploration of religion and humankind as set against an alien world.

Looking back on it, perhaps you could have seen this coming from as far away as his process of participating in the workshop. In discussing this profile, Eric pointed me to his blog notes, wherein I found this little gem:

“Today we also did our ‘stranger interviews,’ wherein we were supposed to start up a conversation with someone and find out stuff about them, without letting them know that we were writers looking for material. This sort of exercise is always difficult for me. I did end up talking for a few minutes with a balloon lady. I also let myself be scammed for a couple of bucks by a woman claiming her car had run out of gas, and I talked to a young man who wanted me to donate to his environmental organization.”

So here you have a man who professes to have a hard time with these “cold call” conversations, but who somehow finds a way to have not one, but three separate experiences.

Yes, I think that says something about the way Eric James Stone goes about his work.

I think it says a lot indeed.

 


Ron Collins

Ron Collins

Guest blogger, Ron Collins.
Ron Collins was a Writers of the Future published finalist in 1998 and a prize winner in 1999. He has gone on to publish about 100 short stories in prominent magazines and anthologies. Each volume in his fantasy serial Saga of the God-Touched Mage, hit the top 10 on Amazon’s bestselling Dark Fantasy list in the US, UK, and Australia. His short story, “The White Game” was nominated for the Short Mystery Fiction Society’s 2016 Derringer Award. The first four books of his current SF series, Stealing the Sun, are available now. Find out more about Ron at typosphere.com