Writer's Block

Mercantile Library opens the book on their annual short story competition

Emerging writers need an outlet. And I need a way to express my inner Simon Cowell. THE MERCANTILE LIBRARY SHORT STORY COMPETITION serves both purposes. Aspiring authors have their work judged while I explore layer after layer in hopes of finding the jewel of the Nile. In actuality, there aren't that many servings. At least, not since I joined the panel of judges back in 2001 when CityBeat, always eager to support up-and-comers in the arts, signed on as a media sponsor to the contest. Turn-out is relatively low (usually around 50-60 entries annually) which is just out-and-out pathetic. Literary hopefuls are a dime a dozen, but you wouldn't know it from the number of submissions year after year. This is by no means the fault of the Mercantile, which extends a silver platter of an opportunity to writers yearning to get their foot in the door. And I think I'm doing my fair share in this effort.

Instead of weeding through a mixed bag of unproven goodies, I could be whiling away the hours escaping into any of the hundred or so unread books that line the bookcases of my home office. Sure, the promotion of said event could be improved on my end; hence using Writer's Block as a fired-up plea for entries. But from where I'm standing, it's the literary newbies who are either (a) brandishing their marks of apathy, (b) elevating their holier-than-thou attitudes or (c) suffering a paralyzing fear of rejection. Not to go all Dr. Phil on you, but motivation begets success. Sorry for the tough-love diatribe. I just refuse to believe that the local literary talent pool is as shallow as the conservative-minded viewpoints that plague this fair city. Plus, I've been trying my darnedest to quit smoking so I'm more than a little on edge as I write this. Well, enough of my motivational "help me help you" bullying. Now, Vanna, what glorious prizes will our contestants be playing for? First prize is a beauty for the serious-minded writer: tuition and transportation to the 2003 Santa Barbara Writers Conference. Past winners have relished both the experience and the scenery of this prestigious gathering. In addition, first place will also receive a $300 cash award and publication of her or his winning entry in CityBeat's Literary Issue later this year. Cash awards of $250 and $100 will be given respectively to the second and third place winners along with a one-year membership to the Mercantile Library. Simply submit four copies of an original unpublished story, 2,500 words or less in length, to the Mercantile Library, 414 Walnut St., Cincinnati, OH 45202. Contestants are invited to submit more than one entry. Though really, I'd be happy if just everyone who read this column would be confident and dedicated enough to submit one. An entry fee of $20 is to accompany each submission. The cover sheet (and only that sheet) should include the author's name, address, daytime phone and a signed statement pledging to the authorship and originality of the entry. Deadline is high noon on May 23; winners will be announced at the beginning of June. And for those fearful of my Marlboro-deprived wrath, for whatever reason, reading curbs my nic fits so I should be relatively gentle as I pass judgment. For additional information regarding the competition, check CityBeat's Listings section or call the Mercantile at 513-621-0717. ...

For those who like to end the work week on a cerebral note, the University of Cincinnati offers the FRIDAY AFTERNOON READING SERIES throughout May. This collection of local literary artists, recent UC graduates and members of the faculty features Australian poet and fiction writer Nicola Mason on Friday. Subsequent readers include two UC alums Juliana Vice (May 16) and Shawn Sturgeon (May 23) and poet John Kinsella on May 30. All readings take place at 4 p.m. in the Elliston Poetry Room on the sixth floor of Langsam Library. There's a convenient, albeit costly, garage located underneath the library just off of Martin Luther King Drive. Info: 513-556-1570

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