We’re reading submissions for our Lamar York Prizes for Fiction and Nonfiction, and we asked last year’s winners, Jeremy Collins and Alexander Weinstein, to share a few words of advice with prospective entrants. Winningly, they agreed.
Jeremy Collins, Prize for Nonfiction Winner:
I almost deleted the message. My thumb hovered over the delete button. Through twists of telemarketer voodoo, my cell phone had become a way station for telemarketers far and wide. Interested in a Caribbean vacation? Looking for real estate deals in the area? Congratulations! You qualify for a new credit card. I almost deleted the message, but new questions lingered: why did this caller leave a message, and why was the call from a 404 area code, three digits that used to mean home?
As writers, we spend so much time alone. Alone in our thoughts. Alone at our desks. Alone, all-too-often, even when surrounded by folks we love. Finding readers who catch our visions of the world and recognize our voices make these hours of solitude less lonely and help us fill silence with gratitude. Maybe it was Camus—or was it Sartre?—okay, it was someone smart and probably French, who said that reading literature should be like receiving a letter from a friend. As writers, our sole task is to receive these letters and send them out.
Receiving the call with the news on the Lamar York Prize both humbled me and sent me leaping. Though my vertical leap is not-much and the physical distance I traveled was slight, working with the kind and professional staff at The Chattahoochee Review on “Basic Composition” proved a rewarding and rich latitude for a story that I’d been trying to tell for some time.
Write. Submit. Enter contests. Let the call go to voicemail. Don’t delete. Listen.
Alexander Weinstein, Prize for Fiction Winner:
My advice for entering the contest is really just a chronicling of my process: I try to pour my heart into my work; I realize that the resulting effort is a substandard replica of my heart, so I try again. Then I try again some more. Then I edit out half of it. Then I add more. Then I revise, revise, revise. I feel hopeless. Why did I even start writing in the first place? I sleep. I wake up and revise again. I begin to think, Hey, this is pretty good. I start adding new scenes; my heart starts to reveal itself in my work. I show it around to my writer friends. I get edits and lots of cuts. I despair again. Then I revise again. Eventually, six months or so later, I have a story that I love which reveals something greater than what I originally set out to do.
So my advice: give your strongest work which has been though many edits and which reveals some part of your heart to the world. Don’t rush towards contests. I’ve entered contests with premature work, and it’s always disappointing. That said, also make sure to enter your stories. As a writer, I often tend to doubt my work—including the winning story of last year’s prize, “The Cartographers”—thank goodness I didn’t listen to my internal critic.
Jeremy Collins teaches at the Early College of Arvada in Colorado. In October, his essay “13 Ways of Looking at Greg Maddux,” published in Longform at SBNation.com, was recognized by Kottke.org, Readability.com‘s “Top Reads,” Longform.org, and featured on Gangrey.com. His essay “Shadow Boxing,” originally published in the Georgia Review, was later anthologized in the Pushcart Prize XXXIII: Best of the Small Presses. Collins’s 2012 essay “Songs of My Father,” was selected for The Sycamore Review’s Wabash Nonfiction Award by Mary Karr. You can follow Jeremy on Twitter @JCfromDecatur.
Alexander Weinstein is the Director of the Martha’s Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing. His fiction and translations have appeared in Cream City Review, Notre-Dame Review, Pleiades, Rio Grande Review, Salamander, Sou’Wester, and other journals. His fiction was awarded the Lamar York Prize, The Gail Crump Prize, and appears in the anthology 2013 New Stories from the Midwest. He is a professor of creative writing at Siena Heights University and a lecturer at the University of Michigan.
We encourage early submissions to our Lamar York Prizes, so send us your best soon, and we look forward to reading your work!