This illustration contest list is the place to be!
And the winners are:
Aliya Chen from California
Qianjiao Ma from California
Alice Wang from Washington
It is with considerable enthusiasm that we announce Katherine Kurtz as the newest judge in the Writers of the Future Contest.
Katherine, known for her fantasy writings, is the author of sixteen historical fantasy novels in the Deryni series. She is also known for her alternate history Templar series and urban fantasy Adept series.
We were introduced to Katherine at Dragon Con by Writers of the Future judge Jody Lynn Nye and Bill Fawcett. It rapidly became apparent that Katherine would be perfect as a judge as she brings with her a strong desire to help aspiring writers—stating, “I always try to help up and coming writers and am delighted to be able to judge in the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest.”
Also discovering that Katherine was great friends with Anne McCaffrey, who had been a Contest judge until her passing in 2011, even living near Anne in Ireland, made her all the more desirous to have on board.
World Fantasy Award-winning author Tim Powers and longtime Writers of the Future judge was enthusiastic about the prospect of Katherine coming on board and stated, “Katherine Kurtz has written some of the finest fantasies of our time.”
When L. Ron Hubbard created the Writers of the Future Contest, he wanted to provide a “means for new and budding writers to have a chance for their creative efforts to be seen and acknowledged.” So it was important to provide the best possible opportunity for writers to pursue their dream however envisioned. We wanted top brand judges who, combined, specialized in all aspects of speculative fiction.
Katherine sold her first novel, Deryni Rising (actually, the first trilogy, The Chronicles of the Deryni) on her first submission attempt! She completed her second two novels, Deryni Checkmate and High Deryni, while completing her MA in medieval English history at UCLA and writing instructional materials for the Los Angeles Police Department. Her early work built on the popularity of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings Trilogy, but she soon defined and established her own sub-genre of “historical fantasy” set in close parallels to our own medieval period and featuring “magic” that much resembles what some of us might call extrasensory perception.
It was late April 2018. James and I were hiking Little Si, a small mountain near North Bend, WA. We navigated wet dripping branches and slick tree roots as we tried to rouse our minds and spirits from a season of mental fog that had engulfed us while my husband studied fervently for his Structural Engineer licensing exam.
He’d taken the test a few weeks before and would have to wait several weeks for his results. We’d left the kids with my parents and retreated for a one-night stay at a bed and breakfast to heal, spend time together, and catch up on many neglected conversations.
Amongst discussions of our families, hopes, and dreams, James and I also did some goal setting. James’ goal was to pass this SE test. It boasts a statistical 30% pass rate. It might take him more than one try.
My goal was to place among the winner’s ranks in Writers of the Future–a global Sci-Fi and Fantasy short competition. I thought I should give myself five years, vowing to submit one short story for every quarter. If by the end, I still hadn’t won, I’d at least have honed my writing skills with small, specific projects on which I could focus on while our kids are young.
October 4, 2018. I was standing by my front picture window when I got the call.
I dropped into the black IKEA armchair from my grandfather, shaky with anxiety. The woman on the phone informed me that I was a Writers of the Future finalist. I was shocked. I actually thought I’d made no headway in the contest. Now I was being told I’d made it to the top eight stories.
And then? Hurry up and wait. I waited three weeks.
My first week of waiting I was an anxious, sweaty wreck. I slept 3-4 hours a night. The second week, I started to lock down into tight-fisted anxiety. By the beginning of the third week, I heard God say, “I’ve heard your prayers. I know what you want, Elise. Now let me take care of it.” I taped Exodus 14:14 on my bathroom mirror. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still. I transitioned into a place of precarious peace, but it was infinitely better than the sleepless wreck of the first week.
As I waited for the news of whether or not I’d win the contest that I’d made into my all-encompassing writing goal, I imagined myself as Schrodinger’s cat. Both alive with joy and dead with despair. (Yes, I’m dramatic with my analogies. That should come as no surprise by now).
Finally, on the morning of October 26th, I received another call. Poetically, I was standing beside that same, sun-streaming window. And no, I hadn’t been rooted there for three weeks, you smart-ass. It was poetic like I said.
She told me I’d won first place for the quarter. My little story, read by kind critics and harsh critics, read on my laptop screen till my eyes burned, read out loud to my husband until my throat was dry…that little story had turned heads enough to be awarded a prize in an international contest. It didn’t feel real, but there it was, my name displayed for the world to see as if to say:
This girl can write.
A new chapter is opening. You guys, I’m going to be published in a sci-fi and fantasy anthology that hits national bestseller lists each year! I’ll attend a fancy awards gala (I’ll probably trip on my dress and laugh when we’re all supposed to be quiet, but that should make everyone more comfortable, right?)
They’ll give us writer winners a special writing class and fly us down to Los Angeles for everything.
Yes, it feels like a dream. I’m honored by the favor, overwhelmed by its magnitude. Very grateful to my friends who have supported me and read my drafts and encouraged me in so many ways. Thankful to my God who continues to show that he has some great plans that involve my writing.
It’s time for victory dancing, you guys! In April, I’m going to Hollywood!!
Elise Stephens began her career in writing at age six, illustrating her own story books and concocting wild adventures. Stephens counts authors Neil Gaiman, C.S. Lewis, and Margaret Atwood among her literary mentors, and has studied under Orson Scott Card. She dreams often of finding new ways to weave timeless truths into her stories. She is a recipient of the Eugene Van Buren prize for fiction. Her novels include Moonlight and Oranges (2011), and Forecast (2013), and Guardian of the Gold Breathers (2015, INDIEFAB Book of the Year Finalist). She lives in Seattle with her family.
I’m Brittany. I’m a nurse. I’m also a mom. I just had a baby. And I got my fourth quarter entry in for the Writers of the Future Contest while working around giving birth. Crazy? Maybe. But sometimes our dreams make us push a little harder (pun intended) and crazy things make a certain kind of sense.
I first heard about Writers of the Future approximately two years ago, when I took an online writing class and was assigned to research potential markets. A few clicks made it clear this was the contest to enter—but it almost seemed too good to be true. In fact, I remember querying a few writer friends to find out if the contest was indeed legit. It was.
Another assignment involved reaching out to published authors from my target market and asking for an interview. Still intrigued by the contest, I hit up Sharon Joss, a previous Golden Pen winner (she also has eight novels under her belt). She gave me an entire page of writing tips and advice, but perhaps her most far-reaching was this: join the Writers of the Future Forum, a discussion board where members communicate about the contest.
I immediately found friends who wanted to exchange stories, talk craft, and some even seemed to have insider information on how to do well (Coordinating judge, David Farland’s tip emails were foreign to me at the time). They preached producing a fresh story every quarter, not giving up, and maybe (eventually) you would win.
They were right. Even if I didn’t win, my craft would. I would form habits. If I kept writing and then sending my best stories to other markets, I could even pro-out. That would be a win in and of itself. I’ll admit, I haven’t sold anything yet—but with two honorable mentions and a silver honorable mention from this contest, I have hope I’m on the right track. Writing professionally is a marathon, not a sprint.
At the start of Volume 35, one “forumite” set up a challenge—enter every quarter. I had already entered three in a row the previous year, so I committed to do four more. Obviously, at the time, I didn’t know I would deliver a little girl a few days before the end of the final quarter.
When two pink lines did show up a few months later, I determined to plow through all four quarters regardless. What’s a little morning sickness? But I discovered it was much harder producing stories while pregnant. I had three other children, and well, they didn’t exactly slow down when my body did.
Although it got harder to write with each trimester (and Writers of the Future quarter!), the real scrambling didn’t start until the end. For some reason (I blame hormones), I decided the old nursery needed to be completely redone and sanitized. I love my three other kids, but kids can be gross! We scrubbed the walls, painted, caulked, put up wainscoting, rented a carpet cleaner, and even sewed a matching nursery set. Coupling that with other health issues (thanks again, hormones), writing time became slim. Slimmer still as I felt like I couldn’t work on anything non-baby related until the baby came.
As the final quarter drew to a close, my story remained unfinished. With twelve days left in the contest and my baby overdue, I needed a boost. I took to the Forum.
Whenever I tell people my goals, it makes me more accountable. It’s the reason I’ve joined consistent critique groups in the past—friends help friends get things done. The Forum proved to be that and more.
When I told the “forumites” about my desire to finish, they were super supportive, but also reminded me to be reasonable. Having a baby is kind of a big deal, and they advised me it would be okay to take a pass this round. No judgment. I still wanted to finish, but it was a reality check that health and family came first. I told myself I would only write if I had time and it made sense.
I didn’t touch my story.
Instead, I focused on making my home baby-ready, caring for my other children, and eating as much spicy food and pineapple I could handle (spicy food to start contractions, and pineapple to prep the cervix for delivery). For the record, pineapple core is gross, but not so bad when blended into a smoothie.
When the baby still didn’t come, we scheduled to induce labor on the twenty-fourth. All my other children had come naturally, so medical intervention made me nervous—especially when well-meaning women would tell me their induction horror stories. And what would recovery be like? I didn’t think it would include writing. Still unwilling to admit defeat, I gave my laptop the side eye and packed it into my hospital bag.
Lucky for me, I went into labor on my own a few hours before my scheduled induction and had my little girl in my arms shortly thereafter. It was, perhaps, my easiest labor.
So, I wasn’t exactly giving birth with a typewriter atop my belly, but I was incredibly grateful I had my computer in the delivery room. When the rush of adrenaline came that wouldn’t let me sleep for hours, I had something to do.
While still in the hospital and snuggling my newborn close, I typed out everything but the last scene. I kept my promise to only write while it made sense. If I was tired, I slept, and when my other children came to visit, I visited.
Transitioning to home was difficult. The baby didn’t sleep, I didn’t sleep, and it seemed I had tripped just before the finish line. But my sweet husband knew my goal and offered to take the children on Friday afternoon (the twenty-eighth) so I could finish my story. A few hours later the deed was done.
On the last day of the contest, I edited as much as I could and then hit submit. It was my most rushed entry, I had no time for critiques, but hitting that button felt oh, so good. Four submissions in Volume 35—but by my count, I produced five in 35. I dare you to count differently. I birthed two babies that week!
I think I’ll keep pushing.
Brittany Rainsdon grew up as the only girl in a family with four brothers. She’s reversing that trend with her own children—three girls and one boy. Brittany is a registered nurse and has worked in both medical/surgical and rehabilitation nursing. When she went to her first writing conference in 2017, she wore a new pair of green glasses and several people recognized her during lessons as “that girl in the glasses.” She kept the nickname and uses it as her tag on the Writers of the Future Forum. Brittany wants to eventually publish novels, but is currently focusing on writing short stories.
I think the answer is pretty straight-forward. A writer writes; an author publishes for a paying audience. So while every author is a writer, not every writer has the stuff to be an author.
How do you make the transition (other than the obvious: selling)? You develop and internalize the tools needed to produce material that satisfies both your own inner critic and a publisher’s needs—and use those tools to deliver on-time and according to request (word count, genre, subject matter).
For example, when you see a call for submissions for an anthology of urban fantasy with a deadline in two days, do yourself a favor and figure out what urban fantasy is. I had no idea, so I wrote a nice bit of magic realism involving a miniature horse and a WW1 veteran (based on a real person), then set it in Berlin. Sent it off the next morning so it would arrive before the deadline. Got a lovely rejection that same day from an obviously confused editor who said, “It’s urban … and it’s fantasy. But it’s not urban fantasy. Good luck selling this elsewhere.”
Oops. I hit the deadline just fine, but I didn’t understand the genre or its tropes. Writer, not author.
Sometimes you don’t have time to wait for the muse to provide inspiration for things to write about. So you learn to make anything into a story. I once used an “Empty every night” label on a trash can as a fantasy writing prompt to write a story that I’ve now sold three times by playing the question game.
Empty every night… Empty what? Stories are about characters so it should be a character who is emptied. Emptied of what? Thoughts? Toxins? Hope? Memories. His memories are edited each night. Is he a robot or a person? Editing a person’s memory is both harder and more horrific, so it’s gotta be a person. Who does it? Government agents? Caring family? Himself? I like the idea that he edits his own memories, but I think it’s more horrific if it’s done to him by someone he trusts. Aliens? Yes. Aliens whose only desire is to help, so it hurts them to do this cruel but necessary thing to him.
And so on until you’ve answered enough questions to generate a plot with try/fail cycles, character jeopardy, and meaningful consequences. What to write about—all from a trash can label.
Sometimes when working out how to start a story you start with an idea. I recently sold a piece based on the question, “What makes someone beautiful?” Sometimes you start with a colorful character as I did with the horse/veteran story above. Or an image, as I did with a microchip advertisement that featured a chrome-clad warrior woman standing atop a silicon wafer—who I immediately recognized as The Electric Valkyrie.
So go out into the world and experience new things to generate new images, characters, and questions that you can then transform into a story. You can literally turn anything into a story by playing the question game and exercising a little creative imagination.
In fact, this post is based on exactly that. I wrote an odd, quirky little experimental story that ended up winning a prize in the Writers of the Future Contest. (Read “Purposes Made for Alien Minds” in L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future Volume 31.) At the award ceremony, I noticed that the announcer always referred to the winners as either author or artist, and that set me to wondering why. And of course, I already knew the answer—an answer that had been reinforced time and again during the week-long workshop before the awards.
Authors are those who can turn anything into a story that’s well-written and interesting enough to be published. All you have to do is work hard and compellingly answer a few simple questions.
Scott Parkin after his book signing at FanX Salt Lake City 2018.
Scott R. Parkin is an author, essayist, podcaster, and pop critic who’s sold more than fifty short stories to a wide variety of markets from literary-academic to romance to military SF. He is also a proud winner in the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest.
I have always known that I am a writer. With the kind of knowing you feel deep in your bones and emanates from the very core of your being. And as writers must do, I write. Although that wasn’t always the case. How to start writing…
About eight years ago my Mom returned from a trip to Los Angeles with a couple of books she had gotten for me. One was the coffee table book, L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future—The First 25 Years, which she had even gotten signed by someone. The other book was the contest’s most recent anthology at the time, Volume 27. My Mom encouraged me to read about the writing contest and send in a story. Somehow she knew it too, before I had ever written a purposeful word of fiction, that I was a writer, and I just needed a nudge in the right direction. I appreciated the gift, thanked her, and promptly tucked the book away on a shelf. I don’t think I even cracked the binding.
Three years later my Mom passed away, and it took another two years for the haze of grief to thin enough for me to realize, it was time to begin writing. But where to start? As if in answer, a writer showed up in my life and took me under his wing. He introduced me to the world of writing, showed me where to begin, and even took me to my very first Sci-Fi/Fantasy convention. Now, I had heard about the contest from those books my Mom had given me, but at the convention something happened that was going to change the direction of my entire life. I met a previous winner of the Writers of the Future writing contest who was kind enough to share her experience with me, and that, as the old saying goes, was all she wrote. I decided right then and there I was going to start writing, enter the contest, and win! This meant that I, who had never written a short story before in my life, now had a month to write one and get it submitted before that quarter’s deadline.
The first thing I did when I got home from the convention was to dig out those books my Mom had gotten me, and I began to pour over every word. I learned everything I could about the contest itself, and began to read and study the stories written by previous winners. I even studied the contest judges, previous and current, reading at least one book or story from each of them.
I managed to get a story written and submitted by the end of that quarter. Two months later I was rewarded for my efforts with an Honorable Mention. I haven’t missed a quarter since.
Twelve quarters and many stories later, I have attended other conventions and met other Writers of the Future winners, all of them kind enough to offer a word of encouragement or sign their story in one of the volumes I have collected. I also attended one of David Farland’s wonderful writing workshops, where he taught us how to bring our stories to life and immerse the reader into our worlds. A few of my short stories have even given way to novel ideas (pun intended), and I’m working on those now. Of course, I always make sure to get a story entered into each quarter of the contest as well.
I am beyond grateful. This contest started me writing and it has kept me writing. It gives me a deadline, and a goal worth achieving. Plus, there are those cool certificates that show up in my mailbox and keep me encouraged—nine Honorable and Silver Honorable Mentions to date—such a treat! The contest also pushes me to continue to improve my writing, and not only my writing, but in my life too. I had to come out of my shell to learn how to network. I’ve found other writers to talk to, I’ve made new friends, and I’ve become part of an awesome writing group. All of these things I have reached for because there was a need for it—because I want to be a better writer, and because I am going to win this contest. To do that, I need to write a story worthy of those who have come before me, and whose words grace the pages of each new Writers of the Future volume.
Oh, and that signature in the Writers of the Future book that my Mom gave me? Turns out she got Kevin J. Anderson, one of the contest judges, to sign it for me. So yeah, Kevin got to meet my Mom. Lucky guy.
Alicia Cay has had a loyal love affair with books since she could read, collects quotes, and suffers from wanderlust. She currently writes short fiction, has had two of her stories published in SF/F anthologies, and is working on her first novel. Alicia lives in Denver with a corgi, a cat, and a lot of fur. Follow her writing and traveling adventures at: aliciacay.com.
David Farland with Algis Budrys at the Writers of the Future workshop in 1991
When L. Ron Hubbard initiated the Writers of the Future contest, he knew that there would be awards and publications for the winners. As Algis Budry, the first contest administrator put it to me, “He wanted to make sure that this helped launch new writers. That it gives them publication and some notoriety, along with enough prize money from winnings and publication so that a new writer could invest in his or her career by purchasing a new computer, doing research, and so on.”
But he wanted more for the new writers. He wanted them to meet and mingle with real professionals, people who had struggled and made their mark on the field, and he wanted to do that in the context of a writing workshop.
So a different kind of workshop was envisioned. They knew that the authors who won would already be good writers—maybe even incredibly gifted and talented writers. So a decision was made early on: We’re not going to go back over the basics. We aren’t going to teach the writers yet once again how to polish a sentence.
It was reasoned that each of these writers would have learned to write, at the very least, a professionally sellable story, and probably a great story. So what do you teach a writer who already knows the basics of how to write?
The answer was to teach them “How to become writers.” In other words, teach them how to move from being an armchair quarterback and to get into the game.
You see, people have a lot of odd ideas about what writers do. They imagine that we go to scenic mountain resorts and type out a manuscript, then deliver it to an editor to great applause. What most people don’t know about writing is this: Writing can and should be hard work.
So a workshop was created to give advice that would be perfect for taking budding new writers into the professional arena.
Algis put the lesser amount into the workshop, and so I will cover his offerings briefly. He suggested that in the mid-1980s, most new authors weren’t being taught how to plot a novel or short story. He was right.
Throughout the 1930s to the 1980s, many in the mainstream were rejecting the idea of literature that they felt “relied upon plot.” Such literature—which included things like romance, mysteries, and science fiction—were called “genre literature,” and were not considered worthy of study. Certainly, in many creative writing programs, plotting was something that was never taught. In my school, Brigham Young University, several professors refused not only to teach how to write genre literature but demanded that students not even read or study it, since it was unworthy of emulation.
Now, it didn’t matter that the most popular stories in the world were well plotted, or that “genre authors” very often outsold literary authors a thousand copies to one. Nor did my teachers realize that their notions were antiquated and had been proven wrong in other mediums. For example, in poetry when many of the beat poets were suggesting that poets ought to revolt against form in writing, Robert Frost famously silenced them by saying that “Writing poetry without rhyme is like playing tennis without a net.” In short, it makes the artist weak and sloppy. His real answer to them, though, came in his own magnificent poems that used rhyme and near-rhyme so effectively that the rhyme schemes became invisible, so that you could read one of his poems in a natural voice and not discover until after you stopped and studied the poem that it was a perfect sonnet.
In short, Algis’s argument in favor of form is simple: A formed story can be more powerful than one that has no form. So he decided to talk about form in the workshop. How do you write a plotted story? He chose a simple adventure plot, and advised writers on how to handle it. As he put it, “This isn’t the only way to write a formed story, but if you use it, you can make an entire career using this basic plot line.”
So he taught authors how to write a simple story. You can learn about his structure in an article called “Writing to the Point,” which is available from Wordfire Press. It is one of the most insightful little books on plotting you’ll ever find.
When Algis wrote it, I don’t recall ever seeing any other book on plotting—and I looked. I was researching the craft heavily, and I really wanted to know. Eventually, I became an expert on plotting myself, and you can read some of my insights into it in my book Million Dollar Outlines, where I teach not only how to create a plot, but also teach enough advanced audience analysis so that a writer can figure out how to write a bestseller.
Of course, in the past thirty years, I’ve seen a number of other fine books on plotting come out, and they are readily available now.
L. Ron Hubbard wanted to talk about more than just plotting, though. He wanted to talk about a lot more. He wanted to talk about where ideas for stories come from, and how to generate them off-the-cuff, so that if an editor calls you looking for a story or a novel, you can compose the tale in a matter of a few hours, rather than agonizing over them for years.
So Ron contributed articles like “The Manuscript Factory,” where he emphasizes that an author is a factory that produces manuscripts for a living. If you aren’t producing, you’re like a factory that has shut down.
He also contributed articles like “Magic Out of a Hat,” where writers learn to draw upon their broad experience in travel and in learning various vocations so that they can “write what they know.”
Most writers are insular people—folks who make their friends in books, so that they have little in the way of first-hand experience to draw upon. But the most successful writers in science fiction have been people who have studied engineering, worked in the military, become doctors or researchers.
In short, his advice can be boiled down to “live a large life.” As a teen, Ron left home to travel the world, becoming a photographer in China, joining the Explorer’s Club, learning to fly a plane and pilot a ship, and eventually joining the military. All of his experiences became fuel for his stories.
So he designed exercises to help writers identify some of their own unique experiences. Maybe the author has worked as a cop or a prison guard? Maybe she’s been through an ugly divorce? Maybe he was abused as a child? All of that can add details and realism to a story.
And of course, he suggested that we keep learning. Ron designed exercises to help people learn how to go start up conversations with strangers, or how to research information at libraries.
In short, I think that he would say that the person who refuses to live life, to go out and experience it, to examine it, is probably not going to go very far.
Oh, yeah, and there is that productivity thing. I remember in college hearing a quote from an ancient Greek philosopher who said that if he could go out and come up with a perfect sentence in a single day, he felt gratified. It was enough.
But that’s foolish. One sentence a day won’t do it. Instead of writing one perfect sentence in a day, I’d rather write twenty pages of damned-fine scenes, and with some jobs, it might take more. A real writer sometimes has to roll up his sleeves and get to work. If a producer needs a hundred-page screenplay in two weeks, you write it in two weeks. I recall writing a Star Wars book at 3 a.m. and feeling exhausted, so I put in another two and a half hours before I caught some sleep.
All of that “Sitting around and waiting for the muse” is tripe. Real writers become their own muses.
So Ron suggested that we have our winners compose a story in a day. For many writers, that seems undoable. But most of our writers discover that not only is it doable, it becomes an essential skill.
Last of all, L. Ron Hubbard wanted to expose the winners to some of the wisdom of the best current writers in the field, so on the last couple of days of the workshop, the authors get to hear from and hobnob with our contest judges, where they learn the industry secrets and gossip that you won’t find in any writing books.
The entire workshop is a big and exhausting event, and it is sometimes hard on some of our winners. For example, early on, Algis and I had to decide how to start the workshop. We might have people flying in from all over the world on a Monday. Some of our winners might have flown in from places like Australia, or London, or South Africa. They’d have terrible jetlag. So we considered giving them that first night off, but when we talked to students, most of them were excited to get started.
So we decided to introduce them to the workshop that first night in part so that our winners would be able to get some work done.
But we felt that there was something far more important that happened: When we introduce the students to one another on that first night, they always get together and begin to talk, to compare notes, and to socialize. They bond, and in effect, they often begin to become best friends for life. We’ve even had couples marry.
So if you win the contest, and you’re jet-lagged that first night, and I call you in so that we can all introduce ourselves, blame me. Sorry, you might lose a little sleep, but you’ll gain something more.
Really, what I want to emphasize is this. The point of the Writers of the Future workshop was never to “teach you how to write.” Instead, the goal was to teach you some more important skills, like “How to succeed as a working writer.”
Guest Blogger, David Farland, Coordinating Judge of the Writers of the Future Contest.
David Farland is an award-winning, international bestselling author with over 50 novels in print. He has won the Philip K. Dick Memorial Special Award for “Best Novel in the English Language” for his science fiction novel On My Way to Paradise, the Whitney Award for “Best Novel of the Year” for his historical novel In the Company of Angels, and many more awards for his work. He is best known for his New York Times bestselling fantasy series The Runelords.