Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
What is Literary Taxidermy?
Literary taxidermy is an experimental story- and poetry-writing process. It involves taking the first and last lines of a piece of writing (often a novel, but sometimes a short story or poem) and then using that same sequence of words as the beginning and ending of a new, original work. The process is not just to slap someone else's words onto the start and finish of a standalone story or poem, 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 Writing Competition?
Sponsored by Regulus Press (and offering both monetary and publication prizes), the Literary Taxidermy Writing Competition invites writers to stitch together their own stories and poems based on the opening and closing lines of well-known works. For the 2018 competition, writers were given three choices: The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett; Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll; and "A Telephone Call" by Dorothy Parker. For the 2019 Competition, writers were given the first and last lines from Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. For the 2020 Competition, writers were asked to craft stories from two classic works: the opening and closing lines from Brave New World by Aldous Huxley and Beloved by Toni Morrison. For the 2021 Competition, writers were asked to craft stories and poems from two works by New Zealand author Katherine Mansfield: "The Black Monkey" and "Je ne parle pas français."
In 2022, writers will create stories and poems inspired by the words of Agatha Christie, Langston Hughes, A. A. Milne, and Edgar Allan Poe.
Where can I read some awesome examples of literary taxidermy?
You can go all the way back to the source and read the collection of short stories that inspired the competition: The Gymnasium by Mark Malamud. Or you can explore the anthologies containing the past winners of the Literary Taxidermy Writing Competition. You can find them all here: Anthologies & Events.
What do I get if I win?
The author of a winning story or poem in the Literary Taxidermy Writing Competition will receive a USD $500 cash prize. In addition, the winning story will be published in a forthcoming Literary Taxidermy anthology. The winning author will receive a complimentary copy of the anthology.
Who can participate?
The Literary Taxidermy Writing Competition is international and open to everyone: professionals, amateurs, students, aspiring writers, non-aspiring writers — even hamsters. (OK, not hamsters.) (Well, not unless they can write.) Last year's competition included writers from over twenty-five different countries, including the United States, United Kingdom, New Zealand, Australia, Panama, Canada, India, Zimbabwe, Finland, South Africa, Italy, Belgium, Denmark, Romania, Nigeria, Malaysia, Germany, Switzerland, France, and others.
Who're the judges?
Glad you've asked! Given the eclectic nature of the competition and our desire for stories and poems to span all genres and styles, we've worked hard to assemble a group of professional writers and editors from all walks of the literary life. You may read about the competition judges here: Competition Judges.
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, humor, fantasy, suspense, mystery, romance, hyper realism, magical realism, plain old realism, speculative fiction, flash fiction, meta-fiction, meta-meta-fiction, hamster tales, et cetera.
The Rules say poems can be of any form. Is that true?
Yes. There are NO FORM REQUIREMENTS. Everything's fair game: free verse, acrostic, villanelles, limericks, odes, elegies, et cetera. If you're able to take this year's opening and closing lines and weave them into a Spenserian sonnet with 3 quatrains and a couplet, go for it!
In order to participate, do I need to be familiar with the works from which the first/last lines are taken?
No. You don't need to know anything about the authors or their work. Your challenge is to take creative ownership of the 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 or poem.
A successful work of literary taxidermy should not use or reference the plot, setting, or characters of the source of its first and last lines. Similarly, the first and last lines are chosen to be sufficiently abstract and, within the context of your new work, they shouldn't even be suggestive or reminiscent of their source.
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.
If I am writing a poem, do the opening and closing lines need to be a single line?
No. You can break the opening/closing lines however you'd like. Just make sure they are the first and last words of your poem, and that they are in the proper sequence. For example, the opening line from the short story “Ms. Found in a Bottle” by Edgar Allan Poe is Of my country and of my family I have little to say. You could start your poem this way:
Of my country
And of my family
I have little to say
If I am writing a poem, do I have to use the opening and closing lines of the poems by Milne or Hughes?
No. You can write a poem using any of this year's first/last lines. It doesn't have to be from one of the two poems. (Similarly, you can write a short story using any of this year's first/last lines. It doesn't have to be from one of the two stories.)
May I use the opening line from one work and the closing line from another?
No. You may not mix 'n' match the first and last lines from two different sources.
May I modify the opening/closing lines at all?
The fundamental concept of literary taxidermy is to take someone else's exact words and make them your own, so in that sense the answer is a hard NO. You cannot modify the first and last lines. The words should be the same. You can't even change tenses.
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 themselves, their order, or their position in the story or poem. Or put another way:
You can add words after the opening line, or before the closing line — but you can't add words before the opening line, or after the closing line.
For example, the opening line from Milne's poem "Happiness" is John had great big waterproof boots on. If you wanted to start a story with explicit dialogue rather than an interior voice, you could modify the first line like this: "John had great big waterproof boots on," she said. That's OK. However, a modification like She said, "John had great big waterproof boots on" is not, since that puts two new words in front of the actual opening line. (You could also modify the opening line like this: John had great big waterproof boots on the top of his head. Again, it's OK to add words after the opening line.)
Similarly, the closing line from Poe's "Ms. Found in a Bottle" is Going down! If you wanted to end your story with a longer sentence, you could modify the last line like this: Everyone wondered what the heck is going down! That's OK. However, a modification like Going down to the store again?!? is not, since that puts new words after Poe's final word.
May I insert extra words into the opening/closing lines?
May I change punctuation in the opening/closing lines?
Yes! Changing punctuation is allowed. So changing John had great big waterproof boots on. to John had great! big!! waterproof boots on!!! is fine. Or you could end a poem this way:
Help me to shatter this darkness.
...to smash this night...
...to break this shadow—into a thousand lights of sun
Into a thousand! whirling dreams! of sun!
May I change capitalization in the opening/closing lines?
May I italicize, boldface, or underline words in the opening/closing lines?
May I title my own story or poem 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 copy, rewrite, or re-inerpret the source material. In fact, feel free to forget about the source. The story or poem 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 and poems 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, hamsterkauf, ad nauseum...?
It says my story must be in English. Does that mean American English, English English, New Zealand 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.
If I'm a winner or runner-up and don't want my [parents, partner, spouse, family, friends, co-workers, or pets] to know about my literary success, may I publish with a pseudonym?
If I'm an honorable mention, will I get some feedback on the story or poem I submitted?
Yes! One of our editors will provide feedback on your work. It won't be super long, but it should give you some helpful insight into what we thought of your submission. (This is new this year!)
May a story or poem 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 or poems written by, say, your entire rugby team.) When you submit your work, just include the names of both authors in your email.
May I submit more than one story or poem to the competition?
Yes. You may submit as many stories or poems as you'd like. A USD $10 entry fee is required for each submission to the competition, and each submission must be sent in a separate email.
Why is there an 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 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. What if I'm totally destitute?
We do not want the entry fee to prevent anyone from being able to submit a story or poem. 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, send us email. We'll consider waiving the fee. Of course, we've tried to keep the fee as low as possible. And $10 is about the cost of two vanilla lattes. We think it's a pretty fair deal.
What's all this about donating to Ukraine?
This year we're running the competition as a fundraiser for Ukraine. As we've said, we're a tiny organization, but we think there are times when you can't look away from the larger changes happening around us. Some of our editors also have direct connections to Ukraine, which makes the invasion feel quite personal. Because of this, we've decided to offer our participants the option of having 20% of their entry fee go directly to World Central Kitchen, and Regulus Press will match those donations up to $500. You can opt out of donating, if you like, in which case your entire entry fee will go to Regulus Press to support running this year's competition. That's a good cause, too; but we hope you'll choose to join us in supporting the people of Ukraine.
Does my choosing to donate to Ukraine make my entry fee go up?
No, your entry fee is unchanged. And you don't have to do anything to make the donation happen. At the end of this year's competition, we'll pool 20% of your fee with the contributions of our other participants to make the donation. If you're interested in donating more on your own, you can find a list of organizations we recommend here: fundraiser for Ukraine.
How much time do I have to submit my work?
What do I get if I'm a runner-up but not the winner?
An author of a finalist story or poem in the Literary Taxidermy Writing Competition will receive a USD $50 cash prize. In addition, the finalist story or poem will be published in a forthcoming Literary Taxidermy anthology.
What do I get if I'm an honorable mention?
Those authors whose story or poem received honorable mention in the Literary Taxidermy Writing Competition will be listed on a special page in the anthology. In addition, our editors will provide feedback on your work. It won't be super long, but it should give you some helpful insight into what we thought of your submission. (Feedback is new this year!)
What will the 2022 Literary Taxidermy Anthology be like?
That depends on what kind of amazing stories and poems you submit! If you want to get a feel for the kinds of stories and poems we're looking for, check out the results of our Previous Competitions, including the anthologies One Thing Was Certain, Telephone Me Now, Against the Bar, Pleasure to Burn, 34 Stories / 124 Beloved, and last year's The Art of Death. We think they're all pretty great, and we expect this year's anthology to be even better!
Also, you might want to peruse The Gymnasium, the original collection of stories by Mark Malamud that inspired this competition.
Can I support this worthy competition with a donation?
Yes! If you've enjoyed the competition in the past and/or would like to see it continue into the future, please consider making a donation to the Literary Taxidermy Writing Competition — any amount helps! It is only through the generous support of sponsors and friends like you that we are able to continue. You can make a donation on the Sponsors & Friends page. We'll also add your name to our Recognition Board!
What if I have questions that aren't answered on this website?
If the questions are about the Literary Taxidermy Writing Competition (and not, for example, about the best way to teach your hamster to write), then send us an email: email@example.com