For today’s post, here is a copy of my angsty email to Canadawrites — concerning the CBC’s Short Story Prize:
I am a nobody from nowhere — well, literally, from Jessica Lake in Manitoba — but figuratively, I was right the first time.
As such; an n from n, I have skepticism for writing contests. I have entered quite a few as I prosecute my personal war on anonymity and have formed some impressions. If you care what an n from n believes, read on. If not, hit delete and it will not make any difference to me or the three otters in the lake in front of me.
Unrelated Question: Do three otters make a romp? Another time, perhaps.
Anyway, here in point form, is my romp:
1 – Unless a contest is starved for entries, the slightly better than average need not apply. Even though the bell curve is equally dominant in all writing contests, big contests will only select from two categories: the known (may also be, the “trending”) and the truly remarkable newbie. In that regard, big contests are really good at flushing out exceptional new voices. Way to go, CBC. This is a great thing. Seriously.
2 – Before I rush to my PayPal account and contribute to Mike Duffy’s first publically-funded pension (he has acquired several more since leaving CBC’s employ) I need to believe that (per 1, above) I am known; I am trending; or I am an exceptional but undiscovered new voice. This level of self-assessment is difficult. It is made doubly so, like a Duffy chin, by the need to also understand the field. I have some small idea of how my competitors stack up — I read a lot of stories in Canadian literary journals — but, I read them through my n from n lenses and I don’t read them all.
Being a collector of money, but no longer an efficient earner, I have to think hard about this. Besides, I already pay to support the CBC, but even the otters roll their eyes when I take the grouchy old man approach. So…disregard that last bit.
3 – The cousin factor. Right now, you, the person reading this, knows a “really good writer”. They are cousins, friends or friends of friends. Their blog and Facebook posts are brilliant; they say daring stuff; they are creative and mightily imaginative; they are unafraid. They really have a future. I am such a person to a few within my n from n spheres. But I am not that person to you or, most cogently, I am not that person to the judges. They have their own secret stars and they will remove the bushel basket not from my flame, but from that of their own brightly burning “discovery”.
So, por moi, it is the small, n from n type contests, where I can pay my dues. I’ll work the minors and when in the opinion of my readership I am ready for the big time; when I have a few more two-legged advocates and when I can claim more of a literary platform than having flipped the ball to Bergen in the low post a few times, I’ll give you a try.
Copyright Mitchell Toews ©2016