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 2018 Literary Taxidermy Short Story Competition invites writers to stitch together their own stories based on the opening and closing lines of one of three well-known works: The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett; Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll; and "A Telephone Call" by Dorothy Parker.

Who can participate?

The competition is international and open to everyone: professionals, amateurs, students, aspiring writers, non-aspiring writers, hamsters. (OK, not hamsters.) (Well, not unless they can write.)

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, fantasy, suspense, detective, romance, hyper realism, magical realism, plain old realism, speculative fiction, flash fiction, meta-fiction, meta-meta-fiction, poetry, et cetera. If you're able to take one of our opening and closing lines and turn it into a Spenserian sonnet with 3 quatrains and a couplet, go for it!

Sounds cool — How do I participate?

It's simple!

(1) find the three opening and closing lines selected for this year's competition.
(2) Pick the pair of lines you'd like to use.
(3) Make sure you understand all the competition rules.
(4) Write your own story that opens and closes with your chosen lines. Then, when you're satisfied with your work...
(5) Submit your story. That's it!

You might also want to sign up for our mailing list. We'll send you competition updates and reminders (and NO SPAM), so you're always up-to-date.

Can I write a story for each pair of first/last lines?

Yes, each pair of opening and closing lines represents one contest in this year's Literary Taxidermy Competition. You may write a story for one, two, or all three contests. But you may NOT submit more than one story to any contest. Each contest is judged independently.

Do I need to be familiar with the work of Hammett, Carroll, or Parker in order to participate?

No. You don't need to know anything about these authors or stories. Your challenge is to take creative ownership of these 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.

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 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. 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 in the line, or their position in the story.

For example, the opening line from "A Telephone Call" is Please, God, let him telephone me now. If you wanted to start your story with explicit dialogue rather than an interior voice, you could modify the first line like this: "Please, God, let him telephone me now," he said. That's OK. However, a modification like He said, "Please, God, let him telephone me now" is not, since that puts two new words in front of the actual opening line.

Remember, stories will be judged in part on how well they embrace the given opening and 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 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, 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.

Can 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.

Why is there a voluntary $10 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 voluntary 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. But what does "voluntary" mean?

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, you don’t have to pay it. All we ask is that if you end up skipping the entry fee, please consider contributing in some other way: for example, by spreading the word on social media, or directly to those writers you think may like to participate.

Who're the judges?

Glad you've asked! Given the eclectic nature of the opening/closing lines 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 our wonderful judges here: Competition Judges.

How much time do I have to submit my work?

When will I find out that I've won?

Winning entries will be announced 01 September 2018 on the Literary Taxidermy website. Winners and runners-up will be contacted by email.

OK, but what do I get if I win?

The author of the winning story in each Literary Taxidermy Short Story Competition contest (HAMMETT, CARROLL, and PARKER) will receive a USD $500 cash prize. In addition, the winning story will be published in the paperback edition of the 2018 Literary Taxidermy Anthology, and the winning author will receive a free copy of the published anthology.

Can I win more than one contest?

Sure! Each contest is judged independently, and you may submit one entry for each contest. If you are the winner of all three contests, you'd walk away with USD $1500.

What do I get if I'm a runner-up?

The author of a runner-up story will receive a USD $50 cash prize. In addition, runner-up stories will be published in the paperback edition of the 2018 Literary Taxidermy Anthology, and the author of a runner-up story will receive a free copy of the published anthology.

What do I get if I'm an honorable mention?

Those authors whose story received honorable mention will be listed on a special page in the paperback edition of the 2018 Literary Taxidermy Anthology.

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 cook a Japanese cotton cheesecake), then send us an email: questions@literarytaxidermy.com