Wednesday, July 6, 2011

How to Lose a Contest

Today, I write about something I know how to do: losing a contest.  I don't enter very many contests, but as an actuary AND a writer, there's no way I could miss entering the biannual Society of Actuaries' Speculative Fiction Contest.

In 2011, I entered "Actuarial Weeding," an action thriller about an actuary who learns that his math is being used to kill off people.

The winning story was "Second Chances," which was in my top seven list.  The second place story was my number one pick, "Hen House Number Theory."  Another of my top seven, "The What Ifs," made the "Best story emphasizing Futurism methods" prize.

The story "Risk Managing an Investment Portfolio" made the "most creative actuarial career of the future."  It was well written, though I had already heard of that scheme on an episode of Ed and also in an old text from Actuarial Exam #2 (either Landsburg or Brealy/Myers).

The Reader's Choice Award surprisingly went to a non-fiction entry called "Let's Test the Airplane before Selling Tickets," proving that when you award a prize based on popular vote, anything can happen.

Even though I didn't win any recognition, I received encouraging remarks from the judge, Dr. Bob Mielke of Truman State.  He said that he thoroughly enjoyed my story, and he thought I would win until he read the three other stories that he liked better than mine.  I ended up placing 4th out of 23.

It begs the question: why enter any contest when you can just submit to a magazine?  Think about it.  In any contest, there can be only one first place.  There could easily be several equally fine stories in contention, and it would then fall on the judges to pick the "best" based on their own personal preferences.  There may be a second and third place, and possibly a couple of honorable mentions.  Most likely a few perfectly fine stories will receive no recognition.

But submit to a magazine, and they can accept more stories.  There is no first place.  Either your story is accepted, or it's not.  If it's rejected, you can send it somewhere else until it gets published.

Then again, how could I not enter the next Actuarial Speculative Fiction Contest in 2013?  It's just plain fun.  I hate losing, but it's fun to write the stories and shoot for the top.  Even if I have some of my stories published by then, I'm sure I'll still do it.

My earlier contest entries:

2009: "A Turn-screw tlhImqaH."  This was a parody of A Clockwork Orange.  Instead of "nadsat," the protagonist (an actuarial candidate) spoke Klingon.  It was well received on the prominent actuarial forum.  The judge said he enjoyed the story, but using a parody form worked against me, as Burgess and Kubrick (with a little Roddenberry) did all the heavy plot lifting.

2007: "Sam McAtry, Actuarial P. I. and the Case of the Dead People."  This humorous tale recalled the adventures of an actuary who turned detective (against the wishes of his boss).  Laced with actuarial jokes and references, it was a hit on the prominent actuarial forum.  I didn't win a prize, but I got positive comments from both the judge (Dr. Bob Mielke of Truman State) and the coordinator.  It almost inspired them to create a "funniest story" category.

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