We asked Ander Monson, editor of the literary journal DIAGRAM and judge of the magazine's 2010 Innovative Fiction Contest, to weigh in on what he'll be looking for in the submission pile. The competition, which awards one thousand dollars and publication in DIAGRAM, is open to stories of up to ten thousand words until March 8.
Monson says that he usually reads all of the submissions that come in, along with DIAGRAM fiction editors Sarah Blackman and Lauren Slaughter, and then the finalists go on to an outside judge, but this year he'll also make the ultimate pick. Read on for his take on the selection process, beginning with the evaluation of every entry—at least twice.
"We never know what we're looking for in the contest until we see it. Each year we get different stories told in different ways, and the decisions are extremely difficult, and we don't often agree. Almost always, interestingly, my own personal favorites in years past have coincided with the [final] judges' picks, so I think we're on the same page. And this year we are more obviously on the same page.
"As a reader I value a real sense of language textures in a story. Sometimes that manifests itself as an idiosyncratic voice, or in idiosyncratic forms—which for this reader are always welcome. But I also want story—I want to be moved, to be riveted.
"What I want is what I think we all want every time we read stories: We want to be enraptured and entertained. We call it the Innovative Fiction Prize because as an online and, more than occasionally, new media journal, DIAGRAM tries to publish stories that take more risks. So I'd say that what we want is either 1) something really and actually new; or else 2) something old, but told/written/created in such a way that it subverts our expectations of what we think a story can be, and yet it delivers the things that great stories deliver: mystery, beauty, terror, depth, a sense of a living and fully-realized consciousness, revelation, movement, hilarity, even shock, so it reads as new.
"I absolutely want my expectations subverted, and then rewarded with something strange and wonderful. I/we want to be surprised. We don't know how stories are being told, how they are going to be told in the future. Maybe with interactivity. Maybe with images. Maybe via code. Who knows. But we would very much like to see and be shown. Which is why we award the prize, to encourage and reward the most interesting stories/fictions we can find. Because we know there are plenty of somebodies out there writing them, and we want them to think of DIAGRAM as a place for interesting and innovative art. Which I think it is."
DIAGRAM's Chapbook Contest is also under way, open to manuscript submissions of poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, or multi-genre work. Check out the guidelines for that contest and more in our Grants & Awards database.