Amtrak’s new residency application, which will grant a lucky 24 writers a free train trip of 2-5 days duration in which to focus on their projects, has caused a stir in the literary world. One source tells me that nearly 7,000 proposals have swamped the train line; even if the number is half that, however, the chances of being given a ticket to ride (.6%) are slimmer than getting into Harvard (6.3%).
To laypeople, this perhaps sounds crazy. Who competes for the opportunity to take a long-distance train trip, without even a city like Rome or Prague to greet you on the other side? Remember that episode of “Sex and the City“? (Sidenote: God, Carrie is insufferable.) But writers, especially fledglings — and in this economy, we are almost all fledglings — have so little. No funds, no structure, no support. Everyone is always telling us to get a real job. Writers’ residencies, which offer crucial time, space, and community, can be a boon, but most of them have associated costs, making them prohibitive for someone just scraping by. Amtrak is filling a need by offering writers a temporary, mobile Cabin of One’s Own. So why are people so angry?
Get excited: the Financial Times has launched a WORK-RELATED HAIKU CONTEST. (Registration required.) (To read the full article, not to submit to the contest.)
Here’s all the relevant info:
+ The haiku is a powerful poetic form, in three lines of 5, 7 and 5 syllables. David Lanoue, haiku poet and author, defines it as: “A one-breath poem that discovers connection,” and thinks of a senryu as a comic haiku. Keeping this in mind while you write will help you.
+ The deadline for submissions for the first week’s topic is noon GMT September 24. Please send entries to firstname.lastname@example.org
+ The best examples of haiku will be narrowed down by FT editors, with a guest judge picking the winner each week. Judges have been nominated by British Haiku Society, the World Haiku Association, and the Haiku Foundation.
Come on, ‘Folders! This is so totally in our wheelhouse. I want to see you dominate like a squad of tiny, fierce Chinese gymnasts.
Contest fees, usually small amounts that can still add up quickly, are often what keep small, worthy institutions like literary magazines in business. They cover the administrative and overhead costs that are hard to raise money for otherwise, and/or they go to pay for judges; more importantly, they also serve to keep the contest from getting inundated with inappropriate entries. The higher the fee, the more you have to ask yourself, as a aspirant, “Do I really think I have a shot at winning the 27th Annual American Kennel Club Fiction Contest when my story is only nominally about a Rottweiler?”
In a twist on the pay-to-play structure, Gigantic Magazine has announced a Penny-a-Word Flash Fiction Contest, wherein your entry fee depends entirely on the length of your submission:
we will be accepting submissions of one to 1,000 words with a submission fee of one penny per word (title included). For example, if the story is sixty-five words long (including the title), you pay sixty-five cents. If the story is 403 words, you pay $4.03. And who said a penny can’t buy anything these days?*
*Actually, it can’t buy anything here either: due to the PayPal constraints, the minimum amount for payment is ten cents.
An intriguing model! Go for brevity and save; or let your imagination run wild, but get ready to pay for the privilege. Does the penny-a-word gambit make you more or less likely to submit? And how much is too much to pay for the privilege of most likely getting a form letter rejection by email in two months? (I wonder this all the time.) Bear in mind, the Grand Prize is $100, presumably paid out in pennies.