The Presbyterian Writers Guild is sponsoring a new writing contest. Try your hand at writing a 4,000-word short story, and receive some valuable guidance along the way. Deadline for entering the contest is September 30, 2016.
Winning entries to be published in a book
The winners of the final phase of the Presbyterian Writers Guild three-phase writing contest have been selected.
In the first phase of the contest–inspired by Jesus’ practice of teaching with parables–authors were invited to submit an opening hook for a story. In the second phase, they were asked to compose a flash fiction piece of about 1,000 words. The third phase called for a short story of under 4,000 words.
For the short story phase, the winners are:
- First Place–Melissa Bane Sevier (Versailles, Kentucky), “Awareness”
- Second Place–Lori Herter (Santa Ana, California), “The Outsider”
- Third Place–Henry Brinton (Fairfax, Virginia), “Resolution”
- Fourth Place–Lara MacGregor (Old Mill Creek, Illinois), “The River”
“These modern-day parables addressed a variety of concerns and, like the parables of Jesus, force the reader to think more deeply about the issues,” says PWG board member, Stephen McCutchan, who coordinated the contest on behalf of the Guild. “Issues like spouse abuse, hunger, hospitality to strangers, vampires, and the wisdom of children are fleshed out in these stories.”
The top eight opening hooks, four flash fiction stories, and eight short stories, plus a children’s story and a poem, are being published by the Guild in the book An Experiment in Modern Parables, which will be available for sale at the 222nd General Assembly in Portland, Oregon, and on Amazon. The Guild will celebrate the winners at its GA luncheon on June 23.
“We celebrate the creativity within the Presbyterian community,” McCutchan says.
Practice Thinking Like Jesus
By Stephen McCutchan
Jesus wrote parables that confronted major issues in society. You can too. Submissions are coming in for the second phase of the Presbyterian Writers Guild An Experiment in Modern Parables contest. You are invited to submit Flash Fiction (1000 words or less) that lifts up some of the major issues that confront both the faith community and society. Deadline is November 30.
If you want examples of artful flash fiction, review some of Jesus’ parables. In less than 320 words (English version), Jesus engaged his listeners in probing our response to violence, bigotry, and hypocrisy in the parable of the Good Samaritan. In approximately 200 words, Jesus probed the destructive impact of materialism in the parable of the Rich Fool. In just a little over 100 words, Jesus paints a picture of the effort to which God will go in recovering those who have lost their way in this world (Luke 15:3-7.)
Whether or not you participated in the first phase of the PWG three-phase contest, you are invited to participate in the Flash Fiction phase. Please send your entry by November 30 to email@example.com.
The contest is open to all members of the Presbyterian Writers Guild. Join or renew your membership for $25 at https://presbyterianwritersguild.org/join-the-presbyterian-writers-guild/
The top three winners will be published in future issues of The Writer. Also, the winning stories will be shared with editors of the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation, the Presbyterian Outlook, and the PC(USA) Communications Network. (The editors have no commitment to act on these winners, but it does introduce them to skilled writers within the Presbyterian community.)
If you feel the 1,000-word limit is too restrictive, consider entering the Short Story phase (under 4,000 words, due by February 15). Remember that the Bible takes on the whole issue of nationalism, bigotry, and religious narrowness in around 1,500 words in the book of Jonah. Ruth and Esther are other examples of short stories that examine complex issues.
Those who write the stories will be involved in judging them. We will ask all of you to read the stories and evaluate them according to some suggested criteria: Did the story grab your attention and hold your interest? Can you picture the main characters—how they look, feel, interact with others? Do you know what the tension or conflict was at the center of the story? Did reading the story expand your thinking?
The opening paragraph of the top eight short stories will be published in The Writer. The winner will receive a $100 Amazon gift certificate. Second, third, and fourth place will receive $50. In addition, the winner will be published in subsequent issues of the Presbyterian Outlook in serial form, and the second place story will be published on the PWG web page.
The winners of phase 1 of the Presbyterian Writers Guild writing contest have been announced! Here are the top 10 Opening Hooks, in order of votes received:
#1 Melissa Bane Sevier
The bedroom felt oppressive at 3:30 a.m. His arm around her, though relaxed in sleep, bound her to time and place, to anxiety and despair. She longed for the dim stripes of sunrise to seep through the partially open blinds, bringing the dawn of yet another pretense of normalcy. Then she would slip from his grasp, wearing the night’s fear into the day as if it were an invisible shroud.
#2 Elsie Gilmore
Whoever had that light on in the attic window has it on no more. It was like a beacon, like a dim city set on a hill of household happenings. It guided me from work to home each night. So dependent was I on its steadfastness that I drove past my own gate the first night it was missing. Its absence haunted me like a missing key to my own existence.
#3 Cary Speaker
In the spring of 1963 my best friend, Barry, and I were standing on the toilet in one bathroom stall looking down on our friend Roger who was sitting on the toilet in the other stall, with his pants on. We were all three in the eighth grade. Barry and I had searched all over the school for Roger. We were angry and looking for a fight. When we found him we changed our minds.
#4 Ariel Lenarduzzi
What do you look like in color? Your photo is in black and white.
A picture in the back of the bulletin. Square. Like a picture from a passport for a foreign traveler who has long been forgotten by the passing of time.
The last time you spoke; the last time you preached. I was sitting too far to see you. I heard you. Your voice, your message, your call to action, your forgiveness.
#5 Alan Cutter
I woke up about 0430, buckled up my .45, grabbed a bottle of Johnnie Walker, and went outside to wait. The early air was already hot, a still humid haze hanging on the bay, morning light lifting the darkness, hinting at the tantalizing possibility of a beautiful day in Vietnam. Pouring three fingers, taking the day’s first sip, I said aloud, letting the words challenge the oppressive humidity, “It’s a good day to die.”
# 6 Matthew Rich
“It is fine,” he had said. Last year a few more new members joined the church than saints entered life eternal; steady giving with the expected December bump; a preschool full of laughing toddlers; programs every night of the week; no significant conflict. Yes, everything was “fine.” And yet . . .
Looking out the window, he wondered if fine was faithful, as someone slid behind the green dumpster. Who was she? What was she doing?
#7 Susan Baller-Shepherd
The vicodin settled in nicely as Stephanie pulled into the church parking lot for second service.
“Where in the world could I have put those? Have you seen them, Steph?” Joan asked at home, guessing her Rheumatoid Arthritis meds weren’t actually lost at all.
“Mom, you’re so forgetful, I swear!” Stephanie protested.
Getting out of the car, Stephanie held onto the door for support, nauseous and lightheaded, she felt herself going down for the count.
#8 Andrew Taylor-Troutman
On the morning her preacher promised that God would annihilate the world by fire, she awoke and crept outside, only to watch the pagan squirrels in her backyard scolding one another as they raced headlong around the ancient trees. By the time dust bit into the far horizon, she was unable to pray. But, damn it, could she ever curse!
#9 Lara MacGregor
I turned 40 that summer and I was between churches (an ironic way of saying “unemployed,” since “between” implies something on either side). Turns out, circulating a résumé when you are married with a toddler isn’t the same as looking for a new job when you’re single. Mobility becomes an issue. Money is more of an issue. And then there is your spouse’s job to consider. Where does God’s call fit in all of this?
#10 Deb Hadachek
The day she made three little boys and one mother cry during Sunday school, God made clear she was trying to claim a gift she did not possess.
Three-phase writing contest
PWG path to General Assembly 2016
Inspired by the way Jesus’ taught with parables, the Presbyterian Writers Guild has chosen to offer a three-phase writing contest building towards our luncheon at the 2016 General Assembly. We have chosen the fictional format as a parabolic way to inspire theological reflection on some of the issues that confront the church. Any genre—mystery, romance, fantasy, historical fiction, science fiction, etc.—is acceptable.
The contest is open to all members of the Presbyterian Writers Guild. There are three levels to this contest, and you may participate in any or all of these levels. By entering the contest, you agree to adhere to the timelines identified below and give permission for your work to be used in the manner described. (Join PWG for $25 by going to https://presbyterianwritersguild.org/join-the-presbyterian-writers-guild/. You may pay by check or through PayPal.)
Level 1—The Opening Hook
Participants are invited to submit by October 12, 2015 an opening hook for a fictional story based on a theme of your choice connected to an issue that confronts the church in 2016. It may be a sentence or a small paragraph (no more than 75 words) that will grab the reader’s attention. (You need not have written the story, only created the hook.)
Send your submission by email to Presbwriterscontest@gmail.com by October 12, 2015. All entries will be placed into a single numbered document without names attached. This will be sent to all participants. Within five days of receiving the document, participants will vote for the best single entry apart from his or her personal entry. (We trust in your integrity not to vote for your own entry.) The winners will be announced by November 3 (Election Day). The top 10 winners will be published with names attached in a future issue of The Writer. This exposes your skills to a larger public.
Level 2—Flash Fiction
Participants are invited to submit a piece of flash fiction (maximum of 1,000 words) centering on themes or issues that currently confront the church. (Connection with the opening hooks is not required.) Your submission is to be emailed to Presbwriterscontest@gmail.com by November 30, 2015 (beginning of Lectionary Year C). The top 20 entries (as determined by PWG board members) will be emailed to all participants to vote on the best story. Again, you are on your honor not to vote for your submission but to select the best entry among other submissions and submit your vote within 10 days of receipt of the documents.
The top three winners will be announced January 6, 2016 (Epiphany of the Lord) and published in a future issue of The Writer. In addition, the winning stories will be shared with editors of the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation, the Presbyterian Outlook, and the Communications Network. (The editors have no commitment to act on these winners, but it does introduce them to skilled writers within the Presbyterian community.)
Level 3—Short Story
Level three builds on the first two levels, although additional topics may be introduced. This time, participants are invited to submit a short story (approximately 4,000 words) that will stimulate the readers’ appreciation for an issue confronting the church in a fictional format. The goal is for participants to submit a story that introduces the reader to the ethical and theological challenges before the church (e.g. a contemporary parable). The date for submission is February 15, 2016 (Presidents’ Day). The stories are to be sent via email to Presbwriterscontest@gmail.com. At least 15 of the top stories, as determined by PWG board members, will be returned to all participants. Within 10 days of receipt, participants are asked to send their vote for the best (apart from his or her own) of the stories submitted. If there are sufficient entries to merit this, we may have to send a different set of 15 to two or more groups and then have a second vote by all participants on the best entry.
The opening paragraph of the top eight stories will be published in The Writer. The winner will receive a $100 Amazon gift certificate. Second, third. and fourth will receive $50. In addition, the winner will be published in subsequent issues of the Presbyterian Outlook in serial form, and the second place story will be published on the Outlook Web page.
Winners will be informed by May 20, 2016 (Anticipating Trinity Sunday). While participants in any of the three levels of the contest do not need to be present at the PWG luncheon, we will seek to provide exposure to as many winners as possible. Our current intention is to bind the submission winners of all three levels in one bound copy that can be shared at the luncheon and also with the larger church for a minimal price.
The purpose of the three-level contest is to engage PWG members in creatively reflecting on the issues confronting the church in a fictional format. We want to challenge, in a parabolic manner, the thinking of the whole church. In the process, emerging writers among our membership will gain recognition among those within the Presbyterian media and beyond. Authors retain copyright on their submission but grant PWG permission to make use of their writings in publicity and in the manner identified in the contest. This permission includes having your piece included in a PWG book of all the winners. Our hope is that several participants will be invited to contribute their writing skills at many levels within the church.
If this initial effort is a success, we may offer future contests in areas of nonfiction, poetry, hymn writing, curriculum pieces, etc. We are learning as we go, so we invite your feedback and suggestions to improve our effort to identify and nurture the writing skills that exist within our Presbyterian community. We encourage you to spread the word about all three phases of this contest to your friends on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. We would like to be overwhelmed by participation. Join the Guild today and enter any of the 3 phases: https://presbyterianwritersguild.org/join-the-presbyterian-writers-guild/
The Presbyterian Writers Guild is sponsoring an Opening Hook contest. We are seeking opening hooks that address real-life issues that people confront, not unlike what Jesus did in his parables.
Whether you are at an airport bookstore, browsing the Amazon website, at a yard sale, or thumbing through a book at a friend’s house, what is it that causes you to pause and consider taking the time to read a particular book? If you send your best efforts to an agent or editor, why will that person take a second glance at your work? Unless you are famous or infamous, the most likely answer is what they see in the opening pages. For busy people, you often have an opening paragraph or two to HOOK the reader.
Consider what your opening hook needs to accomplish in order to attract a person to continue reading.
First, it must establish the tone and setting of the book.
Some people like reading 18th-century novels and others don’t.
Some people like the mysterious and the frightening and others prefer history or romance.
The beginning should be a vivid invitation that entices us to commit several hours to read.
Second, people are attracted to a new perspective, the unexpected, or the humorous.
Readers want to be introduced to something fresh, but they don’t want to be fooled into thinking they are reading a mystery and it turns out to be a sci-fi fantasy.
The opening lines should be consistent with the core nature of the book.
Third, a reader should be able to grasp at least the basic quest that your novel is answering.
What is the human yearning that the story seeks to address?
The idea for the story that your hook proposes may deal with an ethical quandary, prejudice, what makes life meaningful, or how humans respond to the challenges of living in a church community. You may only have the germ an idea, but you can capture the essence of the story in a few sentences. Whether you ever write the story or not, our hope is that your first few lines may cause people to urge you to continue because they want to read it.