As the adage goes, if at first you don’t succeed, try and try again. And then try again … and maybe once more … then repeat.
One Kitsap author knows this maxim all too well. But persistence pays off.
Randy Henderson has won the Writers of the Future contest, a competition aimed at amateur writers of speculative fiction.
“I had submitted to the contest several times previous and received honorable mentions,” Henderson said. “Then I submitted one of my favorite stories, a story I knew in my bones was my best in every way. I knew it was going to win.”
“Shows how much I know,” he added. “That one didn’t even get an honorable mention. I pouted and didn’t submit to them for a while. Then, as I was nearing the point where I would no longer be eligible to submit to Writers of the Future, I decided to give it one last shot. I am still amazed and grateful that I won.”
That last shot was a story titled “Memories Bleed Beneath the Mask,” and it proved to be Henderson’s ticket to Los Angeles to rub elbows with science fiction elite.
Henderson, a Kingston-based science fiction author, is among 12 writers to win the annual Writers of the Future contest. Winners will be honored at an awards ceremony in Los Angeles at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre on April 13.
The contest is judged by sci-fi heavyweight writers, such as Orson Scott Card, many of whom Henderson will have access to during the ceremony.
“The event is amazing,” said Carmen Bartolo of the Writers of the Future contest. “It’s kind of a lavish production. It’s literally an Oscar’s style production.
“Randy and other winners [are] going to be coming to Los Angeles a week before the event and will go through a series of workshops with these professional writers,” Bartolo said. “And they’ll get the inside skinny on the publishing business.”
The contest was founded by sci-fi writer L. Ron Hubbard in 1983 and has since been a premier contest for amateur writers of speculative fiction. Today, the contest is accompanied by the Illustrators of the Future contest, which provides the same honor to amateur artists.
Henderson’s “Memories Bleed Beneath the Mask” will be included in the 30th volume of the Writers of the Future anthology, along with other winning entries.
The story, while speculative, was sourced from the author’s own experiences.
“The idea came from watching watching members of another family hovering around a dying matriarch as they passive-aggressively argued over her valuables and jockeyed for her position in the family hierarchy,” Henderson said.
“I wondered, what if the main thing they were fighting over, the most valuable possession of their dying family member that one of them could actually inherit, was the person’s memories, and the skills and knowledge those memories bestow? That was where I started, and I was a bit surprised at where it went and how it ended.”
Henderson’s experience with the writing scene echoes what other authors relate as the nature of the game: rejection.
“Writing is a brutal venture,” Henderson said. “You write a story, truly believe in it, submit it to magazine after magazine, and get rejected by all. If you are serious about being a writer, you do this a lot. And then, unexpectedly, you get accepted for publication. There is no rhyme or reason to it, no way to predict it. Even the pros still get rejections.”
It was a long road through rejection to publication for Henderson. Writing has been a lifelong passion he carried from his youth in Portland, Ore, through a variety of vocations such as factory boat worker in Alaska, weight loss counselor, and “writing tax sob stories for CPA clients.”
“My first paid fiction,” Henderson jokes.
But he “got serious” about writing in 2008. Henderson formed the Kitsap County Writers Group in Bremerton. In 2009, he attended a workshop at Clarion West, a speculative writers group based in Seattle.
“That was a big turning point for me, if nothing else in terms of how seriously I applied myself on a daily basis to the work and the craft of writing,” he said.
Persistence paid off. Henderson’s first book series is expected to hit book stores in February 2015.
A humorous urban fantasy, the first in the series is titled “Finn Fancy Necromancy.”
“Unlike most urban fantasy that is centered around a major city, my series is centered around Port Townsend, Wash.,” Henderson said. “And since Finn was exiled from our world as a teenager in 1986 and is returning in 2011 as an adult, there is quite a bit of ’80s pop-cultural humor, as well as commentary on what has changed both in the world and himself.
“There’s also some romance, of course, and Sasquatch mercenaries, evil PTA witches, a were-Elvis, and mobster gnomes,” he said. “Because what novel would be complete without those?”
The book series and the award are nice cherries on top of years of effort. They are also a testament to Henderson’s advice to other aspiring writers.
“To all those struggling to be writers, the secret is just to keep writing new stories, edit them, and submit them for publication over and over. And over,” he said. “I have stories that to this day I believe are my best stories, my most emotionally true and conceptually interesting stories, that have been rejected by everyone, and stories that I wrote as a lark that were then published.
“Sometimes it has to do with the quality of the story, or of the story’s ending,” he added. “But just as often it has to do with what stories the magazine has already purchased, or the editor’s personal tastes, or possibly their low blood sugar.”
Henderson’s writing, and other news on his soon-to-be published work, can be found on his website, www.randy-henderson.com.