Apologies for my couple weeks of absence. The end of the semester and finals sort of took over my life. Now that I’ve returned, why not talk about the next thing taking over my life? That’s the Dell Award for Undergraduate Excellence in Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing. Most of us just call it the Dells to make our lives a little easier.
It’s an annual award for – you guessed it – undergraduate students who write particularly excellent sic-fi and fantasy short stories of 1000-10,000 words. I’ve entered the past two years, and not even cracked the honorable mentions. I know a lot of the writers that have, though, so I’m not surprised. I have really stiff competition.
See, most of them are Alphans. I’ll tell you more about Alpha in another post, but all you need to know right now is that it’s a workshop for young writers of science fiction, fantasy, and horror. Hundreds – maybe thousands – of writers between 14 and 19 apply every year but only 20 are accepted. Then they get to spend a couple weeks learning about the craft from amazing writers like, uh, Tamora Pierce.
What I’m getting at is that Alphans are a talented group, and every year for longer than I’ve been eligible, Alphans have tried to sweep the Dells. It hasn’t happened yet, but it’s hard to find a year where there isn’t an Alphan present in the winners circle. Even before Alpha existed, current staffers were submitting and winning or getting honorable mentions.
The Dell Award is something I’d be interested in even if I wasn’t an Alphan. The winner gets $500, an all-expenses paid trip to the IAFA annual Conference on the Fantastic, and generally gets to be in some really awesome company. But since I’m also an Alphan, it almost feels like it’s my duty to get in there and try to make our dream come true.
I have until midnight on January 8th. I can enter as many stories as I want, but each entry costs $5. They give a brief idea of what they do and don’t like in a story – “Those stories typically are “character oriented”; i.e., the characters, rather than the science, provide the main focus for the reader’s interest. Serious, thoughtful, yet accessible fiction will have the best chance of success.” – and it’s speculated that they seem to especially like stories with long titles, but ultimately it all just comes down to writing a really good story. I have three in the works, and it will be the first time I’ve submitted a science fiction story to them.
Alphans set up a group where we can all talk about writing, critique each others’ work, etc., etc. Come Dell time, it’s all critiquing of Dell stories, worrying that maybe we got our submission in a minute too late or oh god did we forget to take out that one shitty sentence? There’s a lull after the submission deadline, but soon enough, it’s all abuzz again with, “When will the results come out?” Entrants all obsessively refresh the Dell Award Facebook page, where they post announcements. Usually they’ll give an estimate on when the results will be in. Usually their estimate is off by about two weeks, and Alphans are left writhing and wailing on the floor.
And this is how I’m going to spend the next few months. First, the writing – which, wow, I’m running out of time, aren’t I? – and then the waiting. Maybe it will be just like the other years, and I won’t win anything at all. Maybe I’ll somehow get first prize. But whatever happens, I’m just thrilled to be participating in this and I’ll keep trying for as long as I’m eligible.