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Choose three people who you know well and write a detailed character description of each one. Now change the gender, name, and a few physical traits of each one. Begin a story with all three characters standing in the rain outside of a house on fire.

The keepers of Robert Frost's family farm in Derry, New Hampshire, where the poet lived from 1900 to 1911, have opened their inaugural formal poetry contest. Sponsored by the trustees of the Robert Frost Farm and the Hyla Brook Poets, a workshop group that holds a reading series at the historic site, the competition is calling for poems written in meter—any metrical form is welcome.

One winner will receive one thousand dollars and an invitation to read in the Hyla Brook series at the Frost Farm, a program that has hosted poets such as Maxine Kumin, Rhina Espaillat, and Wesley McNair. Serving as judge will be William Baer, former editor of the no-longer-published poetry journal the Formalist.

The entry fee is five dollars a poem, and writers may submit as many works as they like—via snail mail—by April 1. Complete guidelines are posted on the Robert Frost Farm Web site.

In the video below, a short film by Doug Williams interprets Frost's poem "Into My Own," originally published as "Into Mine Own" in New England Magazine during the time Frost lived at the Derry farm, in 1909.

The Story Prize announced today the shortlist for its seventh annual award, an honor worth twenty thousand dollars. The finalists are Anthony Doerr for his fourth book, Memory Wall (Scribner); Yiyun Li for her third book, Gold Boy, Emerald Girl (Random House); and Suzanne Rivecca for her debut, Death Is Not an Option (Norton), all of whom have received support from multiple sources that has bolstered their writing.

Doerr, author of the short story collection The Shell Collector, the novel About Grace, and the memoir Four Seasons in Rome, is a recipient of fellowships from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. He also received the New York Public Library's Young Lions Award in 2003 for The Shell Collector.

Li, who received the MacArthur "Genius" Fellowship last September, is also recipient of a Whiting Writers' Award. From abroad, she has been recognized by the Munster Literature Centre with its Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award and by the Guardian, with its First Book Award, for A Thousand Years of Good Prayers. She is also the author of The Vagrants, a novel.

Currently a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study in Boston, Rivecca has also received a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship and spent time as a Wallace Stegner fellow at Stanford University.

John Freeman, editor of Granta; author Jayne Anne Phillips; and Marie du Vaure, book buyer for California's Vroman's Bookstore will select the winner to be announced live on March 2 at an event (open to the ticket-holding public) in New York City. The runners up will each receive five thousand dollars.

In the video below, Doerr discusses how his grandmother influenced his latest book, radio days, and the best time to write.

Write an erasure poem: Rip out one or two pages from a magazine or newspaper. Read through them, underlining words and phrases that appeal to you and that relate to each other. Using a marker or Wite-Out, begin to delete the words around those you underlined, leaving words and phrases that you might want to use. Keep deleting the extra language, working to construct poetic lines with the words you’ve chosen to keep.

The Center for Fiction is currently accepting applications for a new grant and residency program designed for emerging fiction writers who reside in the five boroughs of New York City. Housed in a 1930s-era building in midtown Manhattan, the organization is offering eight fellowship awards of three thousand dollars each and one year of time to write in its writing studio (beginning on May 15) to non-student writers who have not published and are not under contract to publish a book.

In the studio, accessible seven days a week at all hours, each writing fellow is afforded a desk with the requisite outlets, Wi-Fi capability, and access to a wireless printer, as well as a locker. Writers can also make use of a reference library, lounge area, and kitchenette. The fellows will also be offered a mentorship with a freelance editor, a chance to participate in two readings, and free admission to the center's events and lectures.

Applications, which must be e-mailed, are due on January 31 and should contain a resumé, a work sample of up to ten thousand words, and proof of residency. Full guidelines are posted on the Center for Fiction Web site.

Writing with a specific reader in mind helps clarify a writer's voice—we all know how to tell stories to our friends, and we all intuitively understand the points and details of the story that will interest them the most. Borrowing Jack Kerouac's method from On the Road, write a fictional story in the form of a long letter to a friend. Choose someone you know well, but also be sure to choose a person who has no knowledge of the setting or plot of your story (so you don't take any details for granted).

A consortium of indie outfits—the Journal of Experimental Fiction, the press Civil Coping Mechanisms, and trade publisher Pig Iron Press—are reintroducing the Kenneth Patchen Award, given for a novel that echoes the innovative spirit of the late fiction writer and poet. Created in the 1990s by Pig Iron, the prize offers one thousand dollars, publication of the winning novel manuscript, and twenty author copies to boot.

Submissions opened on January 1 and will be accepted until July 31. Entries should be sent as a Word document or PDF via e-mail, and must be accompanied by a twenty-five-dollar entry fee payable through PayPal; for complete guidelines, e-mail the Journal of Experimental Fiction. The winner, selected by Ukrainian American avant-garde writer Yuriy Tarnawsky, will be announced in September.

In the video below, Patchen reads his poetry amidst images of the writer's New York City. A contemporary of John Cage, T. S. Eliot, and William Carlos Williams, Patchen is the author of more than forty books of poetry, prose, and drama including Before the Brave (1936), Memoirs of a Shy Pornographer (1945), and The Journal of Albion Moonlight (1941).

Check back on Thursday, January 6, for our first fiction writing prompt. We'll post a new fiction prompt or exercise every Thursday to keep you writing all year long!

Choose a favorite poem written by somebody else, type a copy of it, delete every other line from the poem, and write your own lines to replace those you’ve deleted. Next, delete the remaining lines from the old poem so that only your lines remain. Read what you have, and revise it, adding new lines to fill in the gaps.

Two Texas establishments are looking to honor books authored by home state poets and fiction writers. Recently published writers from Texas or who write about Texas themes could be eligible for prizes ranging from twelve hundred dollars to six thousand dollars.

Texas Christian University's biennial TCU Texas Book Award, which offers a prize of five thousand dollars, is open until December 31 to books of prose "about Texas" that were published in 2009 and 2010. The award has recognized one writer of literary fiction or creative nonfiction since the inaugural prize in 2003, Stephen Harrigan's Gates of the Alamo (Knopf, 2000), which was set in nineteenth-century Texas (others have been given to research-based nonfiction writers).

The Texas Institute of Letters is also seeking literary standouts in poetry, short fiction, and the novel for its literary awards. The six-thousand-dollar Jesse H. Jones Award is given for a novel or short story collection, and two one-thousand-dollar awards are given for a first book of fiction and a published short story. One volume of poetry is recognized with the twelve-hundred-dollar Helen C. Smith Memoiral Award, and a writer of nonfiction (including creative nonfiction) will receive the Carr P. Collins Award of five thousand dollars. Eligible titles, published in 2010, should be submitted directly to the judges by January 8, 2011.

And for Texas writers of any publishing stripe longing for time to write? Now might be the time to check out the residency fellowships offered by the University of Texas at J. Frank Dobie's former ranch house west of Austin. The application deadline is January 15, 2011.

Britain-based indie Holland Park Press is holding its first, free competition for a short story, with a prize of one hundred pounds sterling (roughly $150) and publication in the press's online magazine. The King of Tuzla Short Story Competition, named after the press's recently published novel by Dutch poet and fiction writer Arnold Jansen op de Haar, is open to stories set in a conflict zone similar to the one the author creates in his book, set during the civil war in the former Yugoslavia (Tuzla is a city in Bosnia and Herzegovina that witnessed a civilian massacre in 1995).

Eligible stories, limited to one thousand words, should approach a narrative from the point of view of a single main character and must be set in the past or present, but not the future. "Your tale could unfold, for example, during the troubles in Northern Ireland," the press states in its guidelines. "It could just as well describe life in a refugee camp during the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, or take place in the present time inside a remote village in Afghanistan."

The deadline for entries is December 31, and stories must be sent via e-mail. Instructions on how to compile a submission are available on the press's Web site.

In the video below, King of Tuzla author Arnold Jansen op de Haar, also an ex-soldier, gives a tour of his writing space and reads from his published works.

The longlist for the fourth annual Man Asian Literary Prize was announced earlier this week, honoring ten writers hailing from four countries. Among the semifinalists for the thirty-thousand-dollar prize are five novelists whose books are available in English from U.S. publishers, including one independent press. (All eligible titles, by Asian authors, must be written in or translated into English, a reversal of the original rule, which stated that books entered must not have yet been released in English.)

The longlisted titles with editions published in the United States are Three Sisters (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) by Bi Feiyu, Dahanu Road (HarperCollins) by Anosh Irani, Serious Men (Norton) by Manu Joseph, The Changeling (Grove Press) by Nobel laureate Kenzaburo Oe, and Hotel Iris (Picador) by Yoko Ogawa. Tiger Hills by Sarita Mandanna will be published in March by Grand Central Publishing.

Honored works that have yet to make their way to a U.S. house are Way to Go by Upamanyu Chatterjee, The Thing About Thugs by Tabish Khair, Monkey-Man by Usha K. R., and Below the Crying Mountain by Criselda Yabes.

A shortlist will be revealed in February, and judges Monica Ali, Homi K. Bhabha, and Hsu-Ming Teo will select the winner, to be announced in mid-March. Submissions for the 2011 prize open in May.

In the video below, Mandanna reads a passage from her debut Tiger Hills.

Earlier this week, the Center for Fiction in New York City presented its (newly-renamed) Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize to a decorated veteran of the U.S. Marines whose debut novel tells a story informed by his time serving in Vietnam. Author Karl Marlantes received the ten-thousand-dollar award for his book, Matterhorn (Grove/Atlantic), selected by jurors Oscar Hijuelos, Sheila Kohler, John Pipkin, Dawn Raffel, and John Wray.

Also this week, United States Artists announced its 2010 fellows. Honored this year with awards of fifty thousand dollars each are poet Martín Espada, whose collection Trouble Ball is forthcoming in 2011 from Norton; poet and translator Khaled Mattawa, whose most recent book is Tocqueville (New Issues Poetry and Prose); poet Brighde Mullins, also a playwright, author of the chapbook Water Stories (Slapering Hol Press, 2003), and fiction writer Susan Steinberg, whose most recent short story collection is Hydroplane (Fiction Collective Two, 2006).

The awards honor artistic excellence in the field, determined by a panel of writers' peers. Fellowships are also given annually to playwrights, dramatists, filmmakers, visual artists, folk artists, and musicians—thirty in all this year.

In the video below, USA fellow Steinberg performs her story "Powerhouse" at a reading for the Rumpus.

The Spanish Ministry of Culture announced recently that its Cervantes Prize, given annually to a Spanish or Latin American writer for lifetime achievement, will go to for the third time to a woman—Spanish novelist Ana María Matute. The eighty-five-year-old author of The Lost Children (MacMillan, 1965) and Soldiers Cry at Night (Latin American Literary Review Press, 1995) will receive her award of 125,000 euros (approximately $165,000) on the 395th anniversary of the death of Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra on April 23, 2011.

"I am happy, enormously happy," Matute said in response to the announcement of her award. "I take it as a recognition, if not of the quality of my work, then at least of the effort and dedication that I have devoted to writing throughout my life."

Matute joins on the short list of women honorees Cuban-born poet Dulce María Loynaz, whose works have been collected in English translation most recently in Against Heaven (Carcanet Press, 2007) and Woman in Her Garden (White Pine Press, 2002), and Spanish essayist María Zambrano, one of whose books, Delirium and Destiny: A Spaniard in Her Twenties, was published in translation by State University of New York Press in 1999. Other past winners of the Cervantes Prize include Jorge Luis Borges, Carlos Fuentes, José Emilio Pacheco, Octavio Paz, and this year's Nobel Prize winner, Mario Vargas Llosa.

Among Matute's works in English, in addition to the titles above, are Celebration in the Northwest (University of Nebraska Press, 1997), Trap (Latin American Literary Review Press, 1996), and School of the Sun (Pantheon, 1963). According to the Spanish Ministry of Culture, her books have been translated into twenty-three languages.

The first journal tailored exclusively to its eponymous form, Creative Nonfiction is holding a themed contest in anticipation of its Summer 2011 issue. Judged by New Yorker writer and author of The Orchid Thief (Random House, 1998) Susan Orlean, the competition is open to true stories concerning the night. (The contest Web page offers a few ideas: "It was a dark and stormy night; "Strangers in the Night"; the night sky; Friday Night Lights; things that go bump in the night; Take Back the Night; night owls; The Night Before Christmas; The Night Watch; In the Night Kitchen; The Armies of the Night; "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down"; prom night; date night; Good Night, Nurse!")

The writer of the winning essay will receive five thousand dollars, and the winning piece will be published in the magazine. One runner up will receive $2,500 and online publication.

The prize is cosponsored by the Salt Institute, a Portland, Maine, a center for aspiring nonfiction story–telling writers, radio producers, and photographers that offers a range of classes to college and graduate students and awards a certificate in documentary studies (as well as transferable credits). Pending acceptance to the institute, the two top honorees in Creative Nonfiction's "Night" contest have to option to apply their awards funds directly to tuition at Salt.

To find details on how to submit your essay of up to four thousand words (with a twenty dollar entry fee), visit the Creative Nonfiction Web site. The deadline for entry is January 10, 2011.

In the video below, Orlean reveals a bit about her literary predilections—through her desert island book picks.

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