Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
What is Literary Taxidermy?
Literary taxidermy is an experimental story-writing process. It involves taking the first and last lines of a piece of writing (often a novel, but sometimes a short story) and then using those lines as the beginning and ending of a new, original story. The process is not just to slap someone else's words onto the start and finish of your story, but to take full ownership of the borrowed lines, interpreting (or re-interpreting) them in order to find your own narrative within their boundaries. The idea originated in a book of short stories called The Gymnasium by Mark Malamud.
What is the Literary Taxidermy Short Story Competition?
Sponsored by Regulus Press (and offering both monetary and publication prizes), the Literary Taxidermy Short Story Competition invites writers to stitch together their own stories based on the opening and closing lines of well-known works. For the 2018 competition, writers were given three choices: The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett; Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll; and "A Telephone Call" by Dorothy Parker. For the 2019 Competition, writers were given the first and last lines from Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. For the 2020 Competition, writers were asked to craft stories from two classic works: the opening and closing lines from Brave New World by Aldous Huxley and Beloved by Toni Morrison.
Where can I read some awesome examples of literary taxidermy?
You can go all the way back to the source and read the collection of short stories that inspired the competition: The Gymnasium by Mark Malamud. Or you can explore the anthologies containing the past winners of the Literary Taxidermy Short Story Competition. You can find them all here: Anthologies & Events.
What do I get if I win?
The author of a winning story in the Literary Taxidermy Short Story Competition will receive a USD $500 cash prize. In addition, the winning story will be published in a forthcoming Literary Taxidermy anthology. The winning author will receive a complimentary copy of the anthology.
Who can participate?
The Literary Taxidermy Short Story Competition is international and open to everyone: professionals, amateurs, students, aspiring writers, non-aspiring writers — even hamsters. (OK, not hamsters.) (Well, not unless they can write.) Last year's competition included writers from the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, China, India, France, Belgium, and Germany.
Who're the judges?
Glad you've asked! Given the eclectic nature of the competition and our desire for stories to span all genres, we've worked hard to assemble a group of professional writers and editors from all walks of the literary life. You may read about the competition judges here: Competition Judges.
The Rules say no genre requirements. Are there really no genre requirements?
There are NO GENRE REQUIREMENTS. Everything's fair game: satire, tragedy, science fiction, humor, fantasy, suspense, mystery, romance, hyper realism, magical realism, plain old realism, speculative fiction, flash fiction, meta-fiction, meta-meta-fiction, hamster tales, poetry, et cetera. If you're able to take this year's opening and closing lines and weave them into a Spenserian sonnet with 3 quatrains and a couplet, go for it!
In order to participate, do I need to be familiar with the works from which the first/last lines are taken?
No. You don't need to know anything about the authors or their work. Your challenge is to take creative ownership of the opening and closing lines, and then to fashion your own dazzling fiction between them. In some ways, the less you know about the source material, the easier it might be to find your own story.
A successful work of literary taxidermy should not use or reference the plot, setting, or characters of the source of its first and last lines. Similarly, the first and last lines are chosen to be sufficiently abstract and, within the context of your new work, they shouldn't even be suggestive or reminiscent of their source.
Do the opening and closing lines need to be in their own paragraph?
No. Just treat them as the first and last words of your story. What follows the opening line in your first paragraph or precedes the closing line in your last is up to you.
May I use the opening line from one story and the closing line from another?
No. Each contest is separate. You may not mix 'n' match the first and last lines from two different sources.
May I modify the opening/closing lines at all?
The fundamental concept of literary taxidermy is to use someone else's first and last lines as if they are you own, so in that sense the answer is a hard NO. You cannot modify the first and last lines. The words should be the same. You can't even change tenses.
That being said, we're not total sticklers, and we're open to certain creative modifications so long as they do NOT change the words themselves, their order, or their position in the story. Or put another way:
You can add words after the opening line, or before the closing line — but you can't add words before the opening line, or after the closing line.
For example, the opening line from Brave New World is A squat grey building of only thirty-four stories. If you wanted to start your story with explicit dialogue rather than an interior voice, you could modify the first line like this: "A squat grey building of only thirty-four stories," she said. That's OK. However, a modification like She said, "a squat grey building of only thirty-four stories" is not, since that puts two new words in front of the actual opening line. (You could also modify the opening line like this: A squat grey building of only thirty-four stories is taller than it looks. Again, it's OK to add words after the opening line.)
Similarly, the closing line from Beloved is Beloved. If you wanted to end your story with a complete sentence rather than Morrison's fragment, you could modify the last line like this: The ship was called Beloved. That's OK. However, a modification like Beloved, that's me is not, since that puts new words after Morrison's final word.
May I insert extra words into the opening/closing lines?
May I change punctuation in the opening/closing lines?
Yes! Changing punctuation is allowed. So changing A squat grey building of only thirty-four stories. to A squat grey building—of only! thirty-four! stories!!! is fine.
May I change capitalization in the opening/closing lines?
Yes! For example, you could modify the last line of Beloved like this: He was beloved. That's OK.
May I italicize, boldface, or underline words in the opening/closing lines?
May I title my own story whatever I want?
Yes! The title is all yours. In fact, it should NOT be the title of the source of the opening and closing lines.
Should the story have anything to do with the source of the opening and closing lines?
No. You're not trying to copy, rewrite, or re-inerpret the source material. In fact, feel free to forget about the source. The story should be new and orignal.
May I re-interpret the opening and closing lines in ways that might not have been intended by the original author?
Absolutely. The idea of literary taxidermy is to treat those opening and closing lines as if they are yours. So you're free to interpret them any way you wish.
Remember, stories will be judged in part on how well they embrace the opening and closing lines. Part of that is how well — how creatively, how cleverly — you bend those lines to your own purpose.
It says my story must be in English. Does that mean I can't use foreign words?
Your story should be written for an English-reading audience. You may of course use foreign words. Where would we be, after all, without cognoscenti, blitzkrieg, bon voyage, hamsterkauf, ad nauseum...?
It says my story must be in English. Does that mean American English, English English, or something else?
Hmm. We're not sure what you mean by "something else," but we're agnostic when it comes to color v. colour, curb v. kerb, biscuit v. cookie, fry v. chip, chip v. crisp, et cetera.
If I'm a winner or runner-up and don't want my [parents, partner, spouse, family, friends, co-workers, or pets] to know about my literary success, may I publish with a pseudonym?
May a story have more than one author?
Yes. Collaborative efforts are fine, at least if we're talking about two authors. (We're less keen on stories written by, say, your entire rugby team.) When you submit your story, just include the names of both authors in your email.
May I submit more than one story to the competition?
Yes. You may submit as many stories as you'd like. A USD $10 entry fee is required for each story submitted to the competition, and each story must be sent in a separate email.
Why is there an entry fee?
We're a small press, we love writers and writing, but running a contest, even a small contest such as this one, is neither easy nor inexpensive. The entry fee for the competition covers some of the administrative costs of running the competition. While it will never cover all our costs, collecting the fee will increase the likelihood that we will be able to run this, or a similar, competition again. That’s our goal.
OK, That's fair. What if I'm totally destitute?
We do not want the entry fee to prevent anyone from being able to submit a story. If you have a significant financial hardship that makes paying the entry fee too burdensome, or even if there’s some other reason that would make the fee unreasonable, send us email. We'll consider waiving the fee. Of course, we've tried to keep the fee as low as possible. And $10 is about the cost of two cups of coffee. We think it's a pretty fair deal.
What do I get if I'm a runner-up but not the winner?
A runner-up author of a finalist story in the Literary Taxidermy Short Story Competition will receive a USD $50 cash prize. In addition, the finalist story will be published in a forthcoming Literary Taxidermy anthology.
What do I get if I'm an honorable mention?
Those authors whose story received honorable mention in the Literary Taxidermy Short Story Competition will be listed on a special page in the anthology.
Can I support this worthy competition with a donation?
Yes! If you've enjoyed the competition in the past and/or would like to see it continue into the future, please consider making a donation to the Literary Taxidermy Short Story Competition — any amount helps! It is only through the generous support of sponsors and friends like you that we are able to continue. You can make a donation on the Sponsors & Friends page. We'll also add your name to our Recognition Board!
What if I have questions that aren't answered on this website?
If the questions are about the Literary Taxidermy Short Story Competition (and not, for example, about the best way to teach your hamster to write), then send us an email: firstname.lastname@example.org