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Bewildering Stories

A Flash Fiction Contest

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A companion piece to Jerry’s editorial “Fame” in issue 159.

Bob Sellers has kindly forwarded a message from the Ligonier Valley Writers announcing a flash fiction contest. It’s too long to reproduce; I’ll just summarize it:

The genre is horror or fantasy, the length limit is 1,000 words, and one entry per author is allowed. The deadline is September 15th. Three prizes: $50, $25 and $15.

Now, aren’t we afraid that our flash fiction contributors might rush off to Scottsdale, Pennsylvania, to seek fame and fortune? Well, if they do, we hope they win. But we’re not worried we’ll lose contributors. In fact we hope that all the entrants — even the winners — eventually send their stories our way.

Something else to consider: the entry fee is $5. Well, okay, but do the Ligonier Valley writers expect only 18 entries at five moose pelts each? I expect the odds will be a lot longer, and that you’d have better luck with an Ontario scratch-off ticket.

Now, if I were running a contest — glad you asked — I’d make the entry fee rock-bottom and give more prizes. Charge $1, and distribute the prize money as a dividend, a percentage of receipts: 40-30-20-5-5. After postage and Pan’s piper fee, of course.

But consider what’s happening here. The literary community is financing itself off its own capital. True, bake sales and lotteries are customary in youth sports organizations and even at schools in desperate need of supplies. But nowadays writers have to rob Peter to pay Paul.

The situation is equally bleak at the national and even continental level. Stephen Henighan has set the cat among the pigeons of Canadian literature with his collection of iconoclastic essays When Words Deny the World. It’s a figurative brick through the plate-glass window of the literary Establishment (disclaimer: Stephen is a colleague of mine).

The essay “Giller Version” exposes the “prestigious” Giller prize. Do I think a $5 entry fee is high? What a laugh: how about $1,500 for each short-listed book? That’s heavy-bread advertising. And now the Giller Prize is hardly Canadian any more; it’s dominated by big foreign publishers. As Stephen says:

“The Giller is the consummate cultural expression of the Hollywoodized, neo-conservative, market-driven, user-fee mentality promoted by most of the country’s newspapers.”

And if it’s that bad in Canada, of all places, what’s it like in the States? No need to guess.

Politicians and the U.S. Supreme Court notwithstanding, money is not free speech, nor is it value: it’s power. When you don’t have money, you create power on your own. And that makes Bewildering Stories counter-cultural with a vengeance: we bring literature to you at a price you can afford. And who knows: the advent of e-books may make that possible while rewarding authors to some extent, as well. That seems like a fair bargain all around.

In the end, though, it’s what you write that counts. May you achieve fame in times as yet unknown.

Copyright © 2005 by Don Webb

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