Scene: Year 2019, morning, woman in 50’s is in her living room, dressed in a long pajama shirt. She is jumping up and down, doing mid-air twirls in front of the picture window. Through the window, she spots neighbors outside staring at her. She continues to jump, swirl, and pump fist in air.
Many Writers of the Future winners would say their most happy and shocking moment was when they received the phone call from Joni, WotF Contest Director, telling them the fantastic news, “You are a finalist.” But the scene above happened a few years before I received that magical call. No, my fist pumping and jumping about was the result of earning an “Honorable Mention” for the first story I submitted to WotF. What did the HM mean to me? I may be in my fifties, I may not have any professional publications, but I can do this. I Can Do This.
When I first submitted to WotF, I was in my second year of retirement after a thirty-year career as a community college professor and administrator. A life-long fan of sci-fi, I always had an interest in writing it, attempting my first book at age eight (about the first kid astronaut for NASA—coincidentally named Elaine). There were creative writing classes in high school and college. But then came life and the need to make a living and meet family obligations. I wrote some here and there, but my creative juices—and eye strain allotment time for staring at computer screens—mostly went to my job. Still, the idea of writing always remained.
Then, a few months before retiring, I learned about the Writers of the Future Contest. Really? I could write a sci-fi story, and it would be judged blind, based solely on its quality? The judges wouldn’t know anything about me or the other writers? (Soooo … I could produce a story fit only for a garbage can, and no one would know it was me?) And, as for the judges? Names I actually recognized, writers I had read.
Did I start right away? Nope. First had to retire, then found a writing group at a local library, then began producing short-short works (two flash pieces accepted by online magazines!) But Writers of the Future was still on my mind. So, I started taking free writing workshops (thank you, public library—and, later, WotF too, for producing a high-quality and free online writing workshop). Began to “lurk” on the WotF Forum. Found a supportive group, lots of good tips, even opportunities for story exchanges for critique purposes.
Finally, it was time to write the great sci-fi story. Wrote brilliant first ten pages. I can claim brilliance because those ten pages disappeared in a computer glitch, and there’s no proof left to contradict me. Cursed … started over … finally finished story … reminded self, WotF is basically anonymous, okay to submit stink-o … crossed fingers … and earned an Honorable Mention. Danced in pajamas, shocking neighbors.
Forward a few years. By this time, the genius set-up of WotF had me producing a sci-fi story about once every three months so that I could enter the Contest every quarter. I still lurked on the WotF Forum, learning more, and was still taking writing workshops (WotF free online one is GREAT!!—I recommend it to my writing friends, even if they don’t write sci-fi or fantasy—it’s good just as a writing course in and of itself.) Joy! A historical fiction short story I wrote was accepted by an online literary journal. And then … Volume 37: Published Finalist!!
Unexpected Volume 37 moment: Joni’s “You are a Finalist” phone calls are unforgettable. My guess is that most finalists probably ask Joni the same question I did, “Who were the judges this quarter?” When Joni gave me the names, I said of one of the judges, “Oh, I’ve read him.” And Joni replied, “And now he’s read you.” Still floors me when I think about it.
Forward two more years. Wow. Three more sci-fi stories accepted, two by magazines, one by an anthology. And I win the 2022 Jim Baen Memorial Short Story Award for my tale, “Man on the Moon”! All great news, but I realized that once these stories were published, I would pro-out of WotF. I had time for one more submission, Volume 39, 3rd Quarter … Result: 3rd Place Winner.
What’s next? Will I write the great sci-fi novel? Not in the immediate future. I enjoy the short story format. Of course, writer fame doesn’t usually happen if you write only short stories. But that’s fine with me.
Dean Wesley Smith, a prolific and terrific author who served as editor of Volume 39 along with Jodi Lynn Nye, sent me an email (another thrill—I got an email from Dean Wesley Smith—and no, I won’t sell you his email address). Of course, it was about my Volume 39 story. But here’s how he closed his email: “Keep the writing fun.”
I love that and consider it key advice. I write the stories that I enjoy and don’t attempt to decipher current trends or marketability. True incident: While I was writing my Volume 39 winner, I participated in an online workshop led by a successful, often-published sci-fi author. The topic was writing time travel stories. Her final tip, emphasized with a wagging finger and firm voice, was “absolutely no way, under no circumstances” should you use a specific plot line. What she warned about was exactly what I was doing in my story! It’s a good thing I was muted because I started laughing. Fortunately, her advice did not deter me. I had already learned that the best practice for an author is to write the stories you want to tell. Sometimes a story I write will succeed—or win WotF!—or sometimes a story will be rejected left and right, never to find love except in my desk file drawer. Both are okay because I’m keeping the writing fun. You should too.
Elaine Midcoh (a pen name) lives in South Florida and is an award-winning author of short stories and science fiction. Her stories have twice appeared in “Writers of the Future,” once as a published finalist (“The Battle of Donasi” in Volume 37) and, most recently, as a winner (“A Trickle in History” in Volume 39). Her story, “Man on the Moon,” won the 2022 Jim Baen Memorial Short Story Award. Her stories have also been published in the anthology, “Compelling Science Fiction Short Stories” (Flame Tree Press, Oct. 2022) and in the magazines/literary journals Galaxy’s Edge, Daily Science Fiction, Jewish Fiction.net, Flash Fiction Magazine, and The Sunlight Press. Before jumping into writing, she worked as an attorney and college professor, where she spent many happy years teaching criminal justice and law courses. You can see a list of her publications on her web page: www.elainemidcoh.wordpress.com and connect with her on Facebook: “Elaine Midcoh.”