Fellow artists and close friends since first grade. (Left to right) Rachel Heissner and Megen Nelson

Finding the Meaning in Art – My Story

A few weeks before I got the call telling me that I’d won a place in Illustrator’s of the Future, I’d been considering giving up. On college, on my dream, on everything.

Megen-Nelsen-AsapicsmallI am a college student, and I’ve fought a long battle to finish my education. I call my experience a “fight,” because I’ve had so many set-backs, so many sad moments. For instance, out of high school I was accepted to the Ringling College of Art and Design in their Computer Animation program, which only accepts 60 students per semester. I was so excited—I was going to be an Artist! I was going to live The Dream!

And then reality crashed in. Money, of course, is needed to attend a private art college, and while I am a dreamer, I am a practical dreamer. My personal life has also had a huge list of setbacks which affected the money part of the deal. My mother was diagnosed with congestive heart failure in 2010. She underwent extremely invasive surgery to have a metal box attached to her heart. And then the wound got infected, and she had to have the surgery reversed, the box removed. So many hospital stays. I’m sure you can imagine the healthcare bills.

But that wasn’t the end of it. After my mother became stable, my father was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Luckily it was early, but again, it added to my family’s level of medical debt. Since then there have been more complications, more debt, more near-misses. I am so grateful to have my mother and father still with me, when I could easily have lost them both. In that aspect, I feel like my college fight has been worth it. I want to better myself so that I can support them, but do so doing something that I love. And that’s a pretty tall order, when what you love is art.

With so much medical debt over their heads, I didn’t want to put my college woes on my parents’ shoulders. So I decided to pay for college myself. And let me tell you, paying for a college degree on part time minimum wage, without any aid except for my own student loans, requires a lot of hours, and more than one job. At one point I was working three jobs and doing volunteer peer tutoring; volunteering because I wanted to get the most I could out of college, even though I worked so much to afford it.

I won’t lie though, I succumbed to depression for a while. Then I pulled myself up and changed tactics. I couldn’t afford art school. And my second love is writing. So I set my sights on an English degree, which is what I’m finishing as I write this during my lunch break at work (yes, I am that busy!). Only three classes left! Also, thanks to a successful GoFundMe campaign, I was able to pay for this summer’s classes, which I finished yesterday. Old teachers, relatives, friends, so many people helped me raise enough money so that I could finish this degree.

Megen Nelsen book signing

Megen Nelsen book signingd

And now this. Illustrators of the future. After working so hard, and wondering if it was even worth the struggle, getting the call from Joni that I’d won the contest was like nothing I’d ever believed could be real. My artwork was worth something? It wasn’t just some convoluted hobby? Someone… liked it?

In my awards speech at the ceremony in Los Angeles, on a stage in the Wiltshire Ebell Theatre (seriously, what?!), in front of hundreds of people, I said that I hid my artwork in a closet. And that is perfectly true. No one ever saw my artwork unless they were on the internet, or my dad had friends over, and he poked me to drag my paintings out of the darkness to show guests. I would make distressed noises and then sullenly do as he asked. To be honest, those moments were sometimes the only things that kept me going. Seeing someone’s eyes light up when they saw a painting I’d done, seeing that they enjoyed it, that they got something out of it.

I often felt like my work was useless. I just didn’t think that it meant much. Here I was painting pictures of dragons and magical creatures, while life was telling me that art couldn’t do anything but hang there on a wall. Besides, it wasn’t art that had saved my parents lives. Doctors had saved my parents lives.

When I was flown to LA on an all-expense paid trip (again, what?!), and saw the passion that the judges and the staff at Galaxy Press and ASI had for fantasy and science fiction art and writing, my mind was blown. I learned that my love of space animals and fantasy creatures was shared by so many people. My art was enjoyed.

And it was useful. My art was able to bring to life Kary English’s story “Poseidon’s Eyes,” which was inspired by the life of a homeless man that Kary actually knew. When Kary saw my painting, she was reminded of that homeless man. She said that I had portrayed him exactly as she had imagined.

My artwork had perpetuated the story of this man, who passed away after Kary finished her story. That man lives on in Kary’s story, and through Kary’s story, my artwork. And through that exchange, I learned that my art does have meaning. Not the same meaning as a doctor saving my parent’s lives, but something perhaps a little similar to it. In a way, Peyton still lives, through our artwork.

And that, I think, is entirely worth the struggle.

Guest Writer post by Megen Nelson
Illustrators of the Future Contest 2015 Winner
Artist for “Poseidon’s Eyes” available in Writers of the Future Volume 31

Sharon signing a copy of her award-winning story for William Pomerantz, VP Special Projects at Virgin Galactic

The Practice of Writing

I first heard about the Writers of the Future contest in 2012, when I went to a writers workshop and two women I met in the class told me about it. I’d been writing about three years at that point (focused exclusively on novels), and had only written two short stories in my life. But these two women were adamant—I had to submit to the contest. Little did I know that those two women, Tina Gower (who would win the Writers of the Future Golden Pen award in 2013), and Kary English (who would join me on the Writers of the Future winners stage in 2015) would provide the inspiration and encouragement I needed to enter and keep on entering.

At the end of 2012, I submitted the first short story I’d ever written. It was a story I’d written two years earlier. I didn’t really understand how the judging worked, but I connected with the Writers of the Future Forum, and discovered an entire community of supportive fellow aspirants. I didn’t win, or even earn an Honorable Mention. I was so certain I was going to win, I was devastated by the news. But I had a lot of company. And everyone on the forum commiserated (winners and loser alike), and with so many people encouraging me to submit again, how could I give up?

 Sharon Joss at a book store with copies of Writers of the Future Vol 31

Sharon Joss at a book store with copies of Writers of the Future Vol 31

And that’s the thing. There’s a new contest every quarter. As the next quarter deadline rolled around, I stuck a stamp on my only other short story (also two years old) and sent it in. It didn’t win, either, and now I was out of stories. Everyone else in the forum was talking about their stories for the next quarter, and there was the wonderful communion that occurred as we all waited for the results. Without a story to submit, I felt left out.

So I started writing short stories. And while I didn’t enter every quarter, I kept working on my craft and submitted the best story I could, whenever I had one ready. The first new story I wrote won an Honorable Mention. Talk about great feeling! After the first two rejections, my family and friends had been hinting that maybe this crazy idea of mine to become a writer wasn’t such a good idea. I got a really nice frame and hung that certificate on the wall right over my desk!

And I realized that writing regularly was every bit as important as taking writing classes. In 2014, one of the stories I wrote earned another Honorable Mention, but the other was quickly rejected. I was, of course, terrified that I’d somehow ‘lost it’. Maybe I’d forgotten how to write. And the more I thought about it, the more convinced I became that those two Honorable Mentions must have been flukes. I was washed up before I ever even started; convinced I had no interesting ideas left to write about.

But I kept writing. I practiced a lot. I practiced by writing 300-word story openings: a character in a setting, with a problem. Over and over. And suddenly, without even trying, a story grabbed hold. I’d written a practice opening based on my childhood memories of looking for baby tortoise hatchlings. We had a number of tortoises as pets when I was a kid, and after the first rains of fall, the eggs would hatch. The babies were very well camouflaged, and difficult to spot. And I thought, what if one of the baby tortoises was something else? What if it was an alien? And that was the the idea that spurred my winning novelette, “Stars That Make Dark Heaven Light.” I finished the whole thing (+16,000 words) in less than two weeks. I cried in several places as I was writing it, and thought it might be a good fit for the contest. I knew it was the best thing I’d ever written.

I submitted it two months before the contest deadline, because it was long, and I was afraid it would get overlooked if I waited until the deadline, when everyone else submitted. I kind of forgot about it, and kept practicing writing stories. When I got notified that I’d won first place for the 4th quarter, I remember laughing and crying at the same time. I never dreamed of winning first place, I just wanted to make the top 3 so I could attend the legendary Workshop, where some of the biggest names in Science Fiction and Fantasy would share their knowledge and experiences with us.

And although the entire workshop was amazing, and everything I’d imagined (and more), it was meeting/bonding with the other winners (for both my year and previous winners), and the entire ‘Gala week’ experience that made the whole experience unforgettable.

The four months since ‘Gala week’ have been busier than I ever imagined. I (and my fellow WOTF 31 winners) have worked hard to promote of the Writers of the Future volume 31 anthology. I’ve learned a lot about marketing, and become well-acquainted with press and radio interviews, book signings, and all kinds of promotion. Hard work, but it’s paying off. The anthology has garnered many wonderful reviews, we’ve sold a lot of books, and recently became national bestsellers when Writers of the Future Volume 31 hit number seven on the Publishers Weekly Sci-Fi Bestseller List! I am proud to be part of it, and hope that the lessons we’ve learned with volume 31 will be carried forward for future winners.

In that same four-month period, I completed the final revisions on my sixth novel, and wrote five new short stories. One of those new stories, “The Ides of Nevah-Nevah,” is forthcoming in Galaxy’s Edge Magazine (Sept 1, 2015). And I’m still practicing. Win or lose, writing practice (and the practice of writing) never ends.

Sharon Joss

Sharon Joss

Guest Writer post by Sharon Joss
Writers of the Future Contest 2015 Golden Pen Award Winner
Author of “Stars That Make Dark Heaven Bright”
available in Writers of the Future Volume 31

Auston Habershaw pointing at Illin, the location for his award-winning story.

Dreaming Up Fabulous Places

Picture me: I’m nine years old, lying on my back beneath the skylight in my bedroom, rough carpet biting into my shoulders. I’m reading The Hobbit, enthralled. It’s summer. My mom is somewhere downstairs, yelling for me to get outside and play. I pretend I don’t hear her. I’m not there, you see. I’m in Mirkwood, starving with the dwarves and stumbling after elfish feasts in the dark. The last thing I want to do is go outside and play.

When I was a kid, I started making up imaginary places. Even before I read Tolkien, I was constructing cosmologies for my He-Man figures and establishing a chain of command among my stuffed animals. At the beach, the sand castles I built each had a story to them. They got names: Rampartiste, Gondria, Trudéal. I was the kid who wondered at the economic structure of Candy Land—did they eat it? Was the candy in the landscape distinct from the candy that made up their bodies? Did anybody ever get eaten and, if so, what was the punishment?

I was a weird kid. I know.

Fast-forward to 1991. A friend of mine is telling me about this game called Dungeons and Dragons. “Is it like a video game?” I asked, trying to wrap my head around it.

“No! You just write up your character on a sheet of paper and then somebody is the Dungeon Master.”

That piqued my interest. “What’s the Dungeon Master do?”

“He makes up the world and the monsters and stuff. Then you go and fight them.”

Makes up the world, you say? At that point, I had notebooks full of video games I wanted to create, primarily because those were the only things I knew how to script (level-boss-level-boss—a pretty simple plot). I tossed them away and started writing my own Dungeons and Dragons world. My parents gave me a copy of the 2nd Edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Player’s Handbook for my 13th birthday. That book changed my life.

Dungeons and Dragons carried me along my obsession with building worlds until I got old enough to realize I couldn’t make a living playing D&D (at least, I don’t think so. If anybody has any hot leads, let me know). So, how did a fellow make a living creating stories and worlds? After some trial and error (tried acting, directing, and a bunch of theater stuff), I settled on writing science fiction and fantasy. Mostly fantasy.

I have always thought of myself as more of a novelist. Novels were what I grew up reading, and novels were what I wanted to write. When I got out of college, I rejected the prospect of a stable career teaching high school English and, instead, flung myself into writing novels, figuring I could make a living at it after a few years.

Okay, you can stop laughing now. No, seriously. Cut it out.

Anyway, after getting my MFA in Creative Writing from Emerson College in Boston, I started to figure out that short fiction could give me the ability to hone my craft more effectively. It also could give me the opportunity to submit more work and possibly get some publishing credits that might help me towards my eventual goal of being a novelist. I put the novels on hold for a bit and threw myself into short fiction.

Auston holding up the Publishers Weekly Bestseller list for Writers of the Future Vol 31

Auston holding up the Publishers Weekly Bestseller list for Writers of the Future Vol 31

“A Revolutionary’s Guide to Practical Conjuration” was probably my tenth entry into the Writers of the Future Contest (before my win, I got one Honorable Mention, two Semifinalists, and a Finalist finish). The story is set in a world I’ve been creating for years and is far, far bigger than just the city of Illin. The challenge for me was getting the giant, sweeping landscapes of my imagination to fit into a short story. Abe’s story is part of a larger tapestry, but the story also needs to stand on its own. That took some doing. When I sent it into the contest, I was on the verge of trunking it—I didn’t think it worked. Shows what I know.

Meanwhile, the week before I found out I won the Contest, I was offered a three-book deal through Harper Voyager. The last year has been a whirlwind of writing, deadlines, and learning the publishing industry in a very hands-on, no-holds-barred kind of way. The contest win has been a vital part of what success I have had thus far, and will continue to guide me in the future.

An omnibus of my first two books, called The Oldest Trick, releases on this August 11th (in e-book form). I am currently working on the fourth book in the series and, in the photo, you can see the wall of index cards in my office I used in the final stages of editing the third book. I’m off and rolling and I don’t intend to stop, and the Writers of the Future Contest has given me an edge in the business that is frankly irreplaceable. For that, I am eternally grateful.

Auston Habershaw

Auston Habershaw

Guest Writer post by Auston Habershaw
Writers of the Future Contest Winner
Author of “A Revolutionary’s Guide to Practical Conjuration”
available in Writers of the Future Volume 31

Jessica Tung Chi Lee

The Journey to Win

It was in the late summer of 2011 when I first found Illustrator of the Future Contest. I was in a great stress caused by not being able to find a decent place to live less than a month before my years-long master program started and trying to adapt to a whole new environment and American culture which was the first foreign country I had ever traveled to.

It is an exaggeration, but I felt like an immigrant worker in the Gold Rush era; confused, scared, and hopeful but hopeless. I didn’t submit any work at that moment, because I had nothing. However, the contest was imprinted on my mind.

After a couple years of struggling with my art education in the Academy of Art, I finally had something I felt good enough to submit. Nothing came back.

Same quietness in the next year.

In my last semester, when I felt entirely hopeless with the competition, and honestly convinced that I would never receive anything back from the contest, I submitted my work as my last try. “It doesn’t hurt to just try the last time.” I told myself. I forgot about the contest completely after that submission.

Jessica with her illustration for Writers of the Future Vol 31 and bestseller list

Jessica with her illustration for Writers of the Future Vol 31 and bestseller list

It was after I had started working in the industry for quite a while, I received a phone call from a woman with an energetic yet smooth voice. “Hey Tung Chi! Congratulations! You won the first quarter of the contest!” Joni Labaqui said over the phone, excitedly. I was at a complete lost. “What was that?” I asked uncertainly.

“The Illustrator Of the Future contest! You won the first quarter!” Her cheerful voice resonated in my head.

I was thrilled, but it was not until the request for the final piece came in, did I realize how big a deal this contest was. There were renowned judges who were professionally established experts, and there was even an equally established Art Director (Bob Eggleton) I needed to work with to complete the final piece. It was a truly professional and top-standard competition and commission. I finished an illustration that was an obvious breakthrough in the body of my works.

Then I was flown to Los Angeles to participate in the informative week-long workshops, in which we met legendary artists such Larry Elmore, Dave Dorman, Nathan Fowkes, Cliff Nielsen, Ron and Val Lindahn and Sergey Poyarkov. After the packed yet fulfilling week, for the first time in my life, I was dressed up like a movie star in order to attend a ceremony as grand and formal as the Oscar Award.

Wining this contest not only brought me unforgettable memories, but also feature opportunities on magazines such as ImagineFX and Fantasy Scroll Mag, and tutorial requests from 3DTotal, and online features on DeviantArt groups, and many other exposure opportunities.

Most importantly, it made me one of the contributors of a national bestseller!

The award was not simply an assertion of my artistic ability and a proof of my achievement in the field, but also an incredible booster for the business side of my career. Now I look back, I feel immensely grateful to everyone who has been involved in my art journey so far, and also the young me, discouraged yet resilient, who decided to keep pursuing her passion and goal despite all the road blocks.

Jessica Tung Chi Lee

Jessica Tung Chi Lee

Guest Writer post by Jessica Tung Chi Lee
Illustrators of the Future Contest Winner
Illustrator for “Unrefined,”
Writers of the Future Volume 31

Pepe, the dog and Daniel Davis, bestselling author.

From Stray Dog to Bestseller

Zu’ar is the antagonist in my short story “The God Whisperer.” He’s violent. He’s territorial. He displays aggression towards other gods, and he shows open contempt for the “man” of his house. He’s also a former stray, in desperate need of a caring home.

Daniel with Pepe and their bestseller list.

Daniel with Pepe and their bestseller list.

Confused yet? Welcome to the world of rescuing unwanted gods.

The Zu’ar character—in fact the entire story—was inspired by the Chihuahua mix my wife and I adopted from the Hawaiian Humane Society.

Pepe was a little rough around the edges at first. They told us he was found wandering the streets of Honolulu, underfed and flea infested. He had no collar, tags, or microchip. Nobody ever came in to claim him as “lost.” After the mandatory wait period, the Humane Society put him up for adoption.

When we visited the shelter, Pepe caught our attention right away. Both of us immediately fell in love with the little guy. Before we knew it we were filling out papers, paying an adoption fee, and bringing him home.

It was in 2014, six years later, that I learned about an international contest for aspiring science fiction and fantasy writers. I had an old idea kicking around in my head. I imagined a world in which small, forgotten gods are adopted by humans and brought to loving homes. It was a fantastic concept; one that I felt had a lot of potential. But concepts aren’t stories. I needed a memorable character to bring it to life.

Hey, Pepe, here's the part in the story where it gets really intense!

Hey, Pepe, here’s the part in the story where it gets really intense!

I didn’t have to look far for inspiration. Zu’ar’s personality is an exaggerated version of Pepe’s. All of Pepe’s real-life quirks, including his standoffish attitude and aggressive behavior, were played up for comedic effect. Zu’ar’s constant attempts to dominate his owner and his surroundings mirror Pepe’s endless “alpha dog” moments. Like most so-called “bad” or difficult dogs, Zu’ar is the way he is because the world has kicked him around. Is it any wonder he kicks back?

With the character firmly in my imagination, I wrote and submitted “The God Whisperer.” Much to my surprise, the story won. Along with the rest of my fellow winners, I got a whirlwind experience in Los Angeles, including a writers’ workshop with top professionals in the field and a gala awards ceremony.

Since then, the annual collection has been published. Even better, it’s gone on to be a national bestseller, recently reaching number seven on the Publishers Weekly Science Fiction list. It’s still kind of surreal to think that I’m a part of that.

All in all, it hasn’t been a bad run. Not for a newbie SF writer. And not for a former street dog from Honolulu.

Daniel J. Davis

Daniel J. Davis

Guest Writer post by Daniel Davis
Writers of the Future Winner
author of “The God Whisperer,”
Writers of the Future Volume 31

Now a National Bestseller Writers of the Future Volume 31

Writers of the Future Vol 31 a National Bestseller

Publishers Weekly bestseller list

Publishers Weekly bestseller list

The latest edition in the Writers of the Future anthology hit Publishers Weekly‘s Sci Fi bestseller list at #7 on their w/e July 6, 2015. This officially makes all 13 of our published writer winners and 12 illustration winners national bestsellers!

Congratulations to all our authors and winners here who made this a bestseller! Authors: Martin Shoemaker, Auston Habershaw, Tim Napper, Scott R Parkin, Samantha Murray, Kary English, Michael T. Banker, Amy H Hughes, Daniel Davis, Zach Chapman, Krystal Claxton, Steve Pantazis, Sharon Joss, Orson Scott Card, Larry Niven, Rebecca Moesta, Editor, David Farland and Illustrators: Tung Chi Lee, Michelle Lockamy, Emily Siu, Shuangjian Liu, Taylor Payton, Amit Dutta, Alex Brock, Quinlan Septer, Choong Nyung Yoon, Nyung Yoon, Megen Nelson, Megan Kelchner, Daniel Tyka, Greg Opalinski, Trevor Smith and Bernardo Mota.

Tom Doherty, founder of Tor Books, on stage at the annual Writers & Illustrators of the Future Awards Ceremony accepting the L. Ron Hubbard Lifetime Achievement Award.

Tom Doherty

Few casual readers may know of Tor Books, but almost anyone who has ever read a science fiction or fantasy book will have held one of Tor’s innumerable novels, which have been published since its inception in 1980. And who was the founder of what has become one of the most—if not the most—impressive powerhouse of speculative fiction in the modern world? That would be Tom Doherty!

Tom has deep roots when it comes to books, having been a book salesman through the 1950s and 60s, until he became the publisher at Tempo Books in 1972. A few years later, he also joined Grosset & Dunlap as publisher of their science fiction imprint, Ace Books. After all that time in the trenches of the publishing industry, Tom launched out on his own to create Tor Books and realize his own vision for science fiction and fantasy stories that would go on to inspire countless millions (if not billions) in the years since.

Nowadays, Tom is both president and publisher of Tom Doherty Associates, LLC, which is associated with the Tor, Forge, Orb, Starscape, and Tor Teen imprints. It’s almost as if he can’t get enough of publishing books that embody powerful and life-changing imagination! And his dedication to the industry has certainly shone through with the quality of the tales these imprints tell and the amazing authors they bring to the world.

Tom has been long lauded for his contributions to publishing and speculative fiction. For starters, in 2005, he received the Lifetime Achievement World Fantasy Award at the World Fantasy Convention. Most recently, Tom attended this year’s Writers of the Future celebration week, where he acted as a guest lecturer on the history of publishing and its current role in society. To top that off, he attended the award ceremony where he was honored by the L. Ron Hubbard Lifetime Achievement Award.

Here’s what he had to say on receiving this award: “To be given an award for what I’d do for play, what could be better.”  He concluded by saying, “Thank you again to the Writers of the Future and its late founder, L. Ron Hubbard for having the vision and the foresight to make dreams come true. Together we build new tomorrows.”

Thank you, Tom Doherty, for publishing books that not only act as cornerstones of speculative fiction, but will live on to inspire future generations.

Krystal Claxton, Writers of the Future winner

Krystal Claxton & Amit Dutta Create Together on “Planar Ghosts”

Krystal Claxton is readily willing to admit there are a few things a little … off about her. First of all, while she’s a computer technician, her true passion lies in the realm of word-smithing and storytelling. She claims an odd sense of humor that makes her laugh at things few others find funny, and has an accent that bounces around according to no particular Law of Nature. And even though she tried writing her first novel in the third grade, she kept pushing off her true calling—eventually getting dual Associate of Applied Sciences degrees in Information Systems.

Yet now, with her short story, “Planar Ghosts,” having secured a placed in Writers of the Future Vol 31, her true destiny can no longer be denied (which means writing a lot while on the job and trying to hide this fact from her boss! shh…). Her work continues to flourish, appearing in publications such as Fantastic Stories of the Imagination, Unidentified Funny Objects 3, and Daily Science Fiction. Oh, and beyond all that, she often cosplays at DragonCon and tends to a dog that thinks she’s a cat.

Illustrators of the Future Contest winner, Amit Dutta, on stage accepting his award.

Illustrators of the Future Contest winner, Amit Dutta, on stage accepting his award.

“Planar Ghosts” was illustrated by Amit Dutta, who grew up in the African country of Malawi. Riveted at a young age by science fiction and fantasy stories, he brewed up his own dream of becoming an artist and determined to make a career out of illustrating strange places, times, and people. Unfortunately, everyone around him rained on his youthful dream, saying art could never be a career, and so he eventually moved to Canada and studied astrophysics. Fast-forward twelve years to Amit’s existential crisis, realizing he was nowhere near where his dreams had once called him to be. In a desperate attempt to reclaim them, he moved to New Zealand, developed a nasty caffeine habit, and focused solely on developing his artistic skills—and we’re so glad he did!

In fact, we’re glad both Krystal and Amit woke up to their true dreams, which have brought them together in such an amazing way, as winners of Writers and Illustrators of the Future, each with a story to tell in a unique way.

Illustrators of the Future Contest judge, Gary Meyer

Illustrator Judge – Gary Meyer

While an Illustrators of the Future judge since 2013, Gary Meyer’s legacy goes back to 1960, when he launched on an artistic career spanning mediums such as painting, illustrating, graphical art, and sculpture. When the Stan Reckless Scholarship was established, he became the first recipient and graduated from the Art Center College of Design, augmenting his studies and skills at the Choinard Art Institute. This led to him working for Universal Studios as a motion picture production illustrator for many years, until he founded a personal studio in 1972. To this day, he serves as faculty for the Art Center College of Design and 3kicks Fine Art Studio.

Over the decades, his artistic intellect an imagination has kept him working quite tightly with motion pictures in a variety of roles. For instance, as a designer-illustrator, he worked on Star Wars, 2010, Star Trek the Movie, and The Thing. He’s produced movie poster paintings for Jaws 3, Night Crossing, and The Deep, just to name a few, and has over three decades of continued work with Universal Studios as a design consultant, helping create the Back to the Future Ride and Jurassic Park Ride.

Beyond films and rides, Meyer’s award-winning work has also include every major aircraft company in existence, plus notables such as Readers Digest, Random House, Six Flags Parks, Levis, CBS Records, Electra Asylum Records, A&M Records, New West Magazine, Warner Books and too many others to list here. Oh, and did we mention award winning? That’s right. Meyer is one of only two people to ever receive the honorary title of Master of the College at Art Center, and has been elected by graduating classes to win the Great Teacher Award seventeen times.

Thank you, Gary Meyer, for bringing your unique experience to our panel of illustrative judges!

Amy on stage at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre in Los Angeles at the annual Writers of the Future Awards Celebration.

Author Amy M. Hughes Teams with Artist Taylor Payton

The first sign of Amy M. Hughes’ predilection for storytelling and imagination might’ve come during her childhood in Alberta, Canada. There, while living in the prairie, she constantly envisioned mountains and trees surrounding her in fantastic landscapes beckoning her to explore. Already reading Tolkien by the fourth grade, Amy’s thirst for reading spilled over into writing ones of her own, which she sporadically engaged in for years. Then an attendance to Orson Scott Card’s Literary Bootcamp (at the urging of her husband), Amy realized she had what it took to tell some really great stories.

Amy (left) with artist Taylor Payton (right) seeing the illustration he did for for her story, "The Graver" for the first time.

Amy (left) with artist Taylor Payton (right) seeing the illustration he did for for her story, “The Graver” for the first time.

Her imagination is fueled by a lifetime of varied experiences, including veterinary and factory line work, herbalism, landscape design, surviving a hot air balloon crash, and chowing down on fire (yes, real fire). Still a child at heart, Amy has also been a stay-at-home mom. And throughout it all, her desire to be a writer continued to grow. “The Graver” was Amy’s very first submission to the Writers of the Future Contest, and its extraordinary impact certainly shows her writing dreams are not in vain.

The illustrator for “The Graver,” Taylor Payton, always had what one might call a “doodling life.” Ever since he can remember, Taylor enjoyed sketching figures and scenes from any sort of inspiration he could derive, be it a game, favorite show, or just straight from his brain. He kept doodling in his spare moments until, while majoring in media arts and animation, the goal of becoming an illustrator struck him in a transformative way. While he finished out his degree—even winning Best of Show with his graduate portfolio!—Taylor soon brandished digital paintbrushes for private and commercial clients.

Since that change, Taylor has continued to pursue illustrative ends, developing a style that is in turns fantastical, surreal, and abstract.