Marilyn Bowering has a lot of reading ahead of her.
For the first time the Victoria-based author, poet and former Vancouver Island University writing instructor is taking on judging duties for the Islands Short Fiction Contest.
The competition was originally limited to Nanaimo when it was launched as a joint venture by the Nanaimo Arts Council and VIU’s Creative Writing and Journalism Department in 2006 but is now open to writers across Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands.
Bowering will be reading all the submissions in the Adult (19 and over) division, while Vancouver Island Regional Library librarians Jennifer Seper and Julie Carter judge the Junior (12 and under) and Youth (13 to 18) categories. The submission deadline is March 30. Adult first prize is $400 cash and a bursary for a VIU writing course, winner of the Youth category gets $250 cash and the Junior winner takes home a $75 Chapters gift certificate. There are also awards for second and third-place finishers.
Bowering said she’s looking forward to being “surprised” by the literature that crosses her desk. She said she reads all entries twice, first to gauge her gut reaction as a “well-intentioned reader” before dissecting the work with a critical eye. She calls it “a bit of a culling process.”
“My taste is pretty eclectic so I don’t mind what mood or what style at all the story’s in. I love classically constructed stories but I also like things that are a bit more edgy…” she said.
“I like fiction that isn’t afraid to show what it is, so I’m always looking for memorable characters and really good dialogue and then that thing that happens after you read a story, if it keeps coming back into your mind, there’s usually something there.”
Writers are welcome to submit as many stories as they like to the competition. VIU journalism instructor Frank Moher has been the department’s “point person” on the competition since the very beginning and helps recruit competition judges.
“The judge’s tastes and values in writing are going to be different year after year and what one judge values another may not and vice-versa. So I think that’s always a message to writers is keep at it. Keep plugging, keep hoping, keep submitting,” he said.
Stories are limited to 2,000 words. There is a $20 entry fee for each Adult submission but all Junior and Youth stories may be submitted free of charge. Moher said the competition is particularly interested in nurturing young writers.
“We didn’t want there to be any financial barriers to young people entering. That’s where our next generation of writers will come from,” he said.
“They also have new perspectives to bring to just about anything and thats usually a good thing in writing.”
Bowering said short story writers can’t afford to “go wondering” the same way novel writers can. She advises that competing writers stick closely to what is central to their story in order to have the most impact.
“Write something that you care about and be aware that you’re going to convey most of your story though your central character so be prepared to think about that character’s motivation,” she said.
“Also, the old saying people say, “Write about what you know,” it doesn’t have to be literal all the time… When you can bring things that are below the surface in you, like a store of knowledge, to a story in some way, people are gonna feel that depth in it.”
Islands Short Fiction Contest entry forms can be found at all Vancouver Island Regional Library front desks and online at www.isfc.ca. There is no entry fee for the Junior (12 and under) and Youth (13 to 18) categories. $20 for each Adult (19 and up) entry. Deadline is March 30. the winners will be announced at a reception at Nanaimo Harbourfront Library on April 26 at 6:30 p.m.