Archived entries for contests

Pushcart Nominees for 2015

PushcartCongrats to this year’s fb Pushcart nominees!

For poetry:

For fiction:

We have a winner! Summer Flash Fiction Contest

Heat Lightning

You had one summer and 350 words to impress us and, ladies and gents, we were impressed!

For the past few months, I’ve had the pleasure of spending time with your spirited flash fiction submissions, engrossed in a genre where whole worlds are created in the smallest of spaces. Having received such a variety of submissions, choosing a winner required serious reflection upon the nature of the genre and how it fits into’s approach to literature.

The genre of flash fiction isn’t a “form” in the same sense as metered verse. But it’s similar in its pressures of confinement – especially when paired with a specific word limit, such as was the case in this contest. In his recent interview with failbetter, Dean Young says that form should inspire “a sense of liberation…[a]nd if a form doesn’t provide liberation, it’s just the display of antiquated handcuffs.”

Although we’re not entirely opposed to handcuffs, we agree with Young that there is no place for repression in form or flash fiction. Flash fiction shouldn’t feel panicked, as though we were trying to cram every possible piece of information into the allotted space. Instead, we should strive to create brief but complete moments that gesture towards the larger universe.

Therefore, when reviewing the entries, we considered which pieces used the conciseness of the genre as a tool of liberation. Still, it was tough to choose a winner. We admired the gutsy, raw reflection of Melysa Martinez’s “Swallowing,” the dreamy intensity of Dan Lewis’s untitled piece and Brooks Doughtery’s delightfully noisy untitled short.

In the end, Ryan Ainsley Scott’s “Until Next Year” resonated with us in the way that makes the most sense for Its precise details and tight dialogue created an insightful “flash” into the characters’ relationships and worldviews, ending with the powerful image of a low and yolky sun, destined to repeat its cycle another day.

Please join us in congratulating Mr. Scott and please check back soon to see his piece published on our site.

Thank you to everyone who entered. We genuinely enjoyed reading each of your submissions and hope you will participate in our next contest.

PS: Got an idea for a contest or social media event? Email me at mglover AT failbetter DOT com, or drop me a tweet @failbettercom !

Summer Flash Fiction Contest

Heat Lightning: Flash Fiction

Having spent most of my life in the Northeast, I usually passed my summer nights on a front porch with a cold drink and a good book. Now that I live in San Francisco, the “front porch” has been replaced by a neighborhood bar stool and the book is usually replaced by my IPhone; there is nothing I love more than catching up on the latest literary happenings on the web, be it on Twitter, Facebook or the blogosphere.

This past April, we asked you to share some spring Haiku over Twitter. Now, in the spirit of summer, we’re asking you to share your best flash fiction with our Facebook community.

Here are the specifics:

  • You must like us on Facebook and post your entry on our Facebook page anytime from now through 11:59pm EST July 31 August 31. (We’ve extended the deadline!) You can enter more than once.
  • Your piece should not exceed 420 characters 350 words (simply post it as a comment to one of our Facebook posts if you have trouble posting it directly on our wall).
  • The winning entry will be announced and published on our site.

And that’s it. Got questions or comments? Email Maggie at Looking forward to reading your work!

Our Favorite Twitter Haikus

National Poetry Month has come to a close and so has our Haiku Contest on Twitter. We received so many great tweets over the past two weeks that it was difficult to choose which lucky few to feature, but we managed to agree on a handful of favorites. Here they are!

@SaadiaOnline made us contemplate the deliciousness of the season with her haiku:

on the interstate
the trees look like broccoli
delectable spring

@haikuclouds made us want to dance among the new growth:

train nasturtiums
through the trellis triangles
dancing to Cheap Trick

@haiku_andy wins the award for our most enthusiastic participant. He tweeted many haikus over the course of the contest. Here’s two:


tenderloin evening
red wine served in hip cafes,
on the sidewalk, too


spring is halfway spent
and what have I got to show?
handful of haiku

@hunterjess’s haiku made us shiver with anticipation for what Spring will bring:

Inspire cold air
Hot sun hidden by water
A rainbow of gray

And @kennynowell made us smile with his failbetter shout-out:

Thank you failbetter
for giving my nervous brain
a task to gnaw on

Thank you, @kennynowell, and all of our participants! We hope you will continue to share with us your inspirations, writing, musings, and whatever else is on your mind. More contests like this are on the way, so be sure to follow us on Twitter and like us on FB to stay in the loop!

Questions or Comments? Email

National Poetry Month Haiku Contest on Twitter

It’s National Poetry Month and, this year, we’re excited to celebrate with our community in an extra-special way – we’re holding a Haiku Contest on Twitter!

Here’s how to enter:

  1. Follow failbettercom on Twitter.
  2. Tweet @failbettercom a haiku, using the hashtag #failbetterhaiku by April 30 at 11:59pm ET.
  3. If you’re interested in checking out the other entries, search Twitter using the hashtag #failbetterhaiku

At the end of the month, we’ll pick our favorite haikus and publish them on our blog.

Allow me to steal from one of the masters to show you an example of how your entry should look:

maggieannglover: @failbettercom  An old silent pond / A frog jumps into the pond, / splash! Silence again. #failbetterhaiku

See how easy that is?

You have all month to enter but, since we’re okay with you submitting multiple entries, we recommend that you start tweeting as soon as the mood strikes you.

If you have any questions about the contest, feel free to email Maggie at .  We’re looking forward to reading your entries.

Need some help getting started with Twitter? Click here!

Lou Mathews, our Tenth Anniversary
Novella Contest winner

Lou Mathews, whose novella The Irish Sextet* won our Tenth Anniversary Novella Contest, and is now live on our site, is a fourth-generation Angeleno. Married at 19, he worked his way through U.C. Santa Cruz as a gas station attendant and mechanic and continued to work as a mechanic until he was 39.

© Rachel Resnick

His first novel, L.A. Breakdown, about illegal street racing, was picked by the Los Angeles Times as a Best Book of 1999. He has received a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Fiction, a California Arts Council Fiction Fellowship, a Pushcart Prize and a Katherine Anne Porter Prize. He has published recent work in New Madrid, Short Story, Harpur Palate, Tin House, and the last three issues of Black Clock. His short story, “The Moon Reaches Down for Me Like the Fist in a Siquieros Painting” is forthcoming in Black Clock #13—The Mix Tape, containing 24 stories from the first 12 issues of the magazine. His short stories have been anthologized in Valley Light, The Pushcart Prize Anthology, Love Stories for the Rest of Us, L.A. Shorts, Portales, and The Gotham Writers’ Workshop Fiction Gallery. His non-fiction has been published in the Los Angeles Times, L.A. Reader, L.A. Weekly, Mother Jones, Tin House, and L.A. Style, where he was a contributing editor for eight years and a restaurant reviewer for forty-three pounds. He has taught fiction writing and literature in the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program since 1989.

His produced short plays include Rancho Alisos, A Curse on Chavez Ravine, You Did Some Good Work Once, Jaws of Life, and a radio play, Captain Manners. His first full-length play, The Duke’s Development, was a second prize winner in the National Repertory Theatre Foundation’s National Playwriting Contest in 2000. San Antonio filmmaker Dora Peña’s Crazy Life, based on his story of the same title, has been released by Vanguard Films in the short film anthology Contra Todo and is available from better DVD stores and on Netflix.

He is married to the poet Alison Turner, and his daughter, Jennifer Mathews, is an Associate Professor of Anthropology and Archaeolgy at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas.

He has previously published two stories in Failbetter. “The Garlic Eater” was featured in Issue 19, and received a 2008 Pushcart Prize Special Mention. “Huevos” was published in Issue 29 and was named a notable story in Dzanc Books – Best of the Web anthology for 2009 . Both “Huevos” and “The Garlic Eater” are from his just-completed manuscript Shaky Town, a collection of stories linked by barrio or neighborhood.

Photo © Rachel Resnick

*Wait! you’re saying—isn’t it the Irish Septet? And it was. But things change. So now it’s the Irish Sextet—count the installments, once they’re up.

Lou Mathews wins our
Tenth Anniversary Novella Contest for
The Irish Septet

Lou Mathews has won our Tenth Anniversary Novella Contest for The Irish Septet. Chosen by a team of judges from nearly 900 contest entries, Septet tells the heartrending, poignant, ultimately redemptive story of an L.A. priest whose life is nearly destroyed when he stands up to the Church’s attempts to sweep its pedophilia scandal under the rug.

Mathews receives a $500 prize1 for his winning entry, which we’ll serialize beginning October 12.

A master of understated language and rich characterizations, Mathews is a widely published fiction writer and journalist. His first novel, L.A. Breakdown, was a Los Angeles Times Best Book of 1999. A former contributing editor at L.A. Style, he teaches fiction writing and literature in the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program. Two of his stories have run on our site: “The Garlic Eater,” in early 2006, and “Huevos,” in the fall of 2008. “The Garlic Eater” earned a Pushcart Prize Special Mention.

Thanks to everyone else who sent us a novella – we very much enjoyed reading them! And if you haven’t yet heard from us, in response to your submission, do hold tight for now. We are still considering a number of other entries for publication, and will be in touch with you soon.


1 Wait! you’re saying… We didn’t charge a fee to enter our contest, yet we’re giving our winner a sizable prize? How in the name of holy litmaggery can we do that?

Simple: we’ll use a bit of the revenue we make by selling the ads that appear in the right sidebar of our site. And why don’t other litmags, print and online, do something similar, when they run contests? We’re not sure, but we wish they’d join us in the practice, and start looking at submissions as a way to find great fiction and poetry, rather than as a way to make money off writers. We predict that if they do so, they’ll get far stronger entries to their contests. It’s better, after all, to get submissions from people who don’t have to pay editors to read their work. As a bonus, winning those contests will be far more meaningful than it is now.

Our novella contest – The Finalists

We’re pleased to announce that from among the more than 800 entries to our Tenth Anniversary Novella Contest, we’ve selected a handful of finalists. Each of these works is strong, worthy not just of publication, but appreciation as well:

Lou Mathews, “The Irish Septet”
Liana Scalettar, “The Daughter in Brittany”
Susan Daitch, “Free City”
Ken Brosky, “The Occupation of the Emerald City”
Paul Grussendorf, “Philly Noir”
Nathan Hill, “Venezia”
Joy Laughter, “Black Horse Fever”
Fred McGavran, “Dead Soldiers by Nikolai Gogol”
Jason Rice, Untitled
Michael Spann, “Wake in Heat”
Jim Zervanos, “Gyro”

We had intended to announce the prizewinner tomorrow, July 15. But we’re having an awful time deciding which to pick! So we’ve called in reinforcements – a couple of friends who are experienced writers and editors. We’re asking them to read these novellas, and give us their take.

We’ll announce our winner on September 8. The winner will receive a $500 prize, and we’ll publish the winning entry.

Watch this space for the prize announcement, as well as more news about our site, and forthcoming events.

Coming soon – A novella contest announcement

Have you been wondering what’s going on with our 10th anniversary novella contest? Well, we’re in the homestretch now, with about a dozen manuscripts that have made it to the final reading stage. Some of the names will be familiar to those of you who’ve followed our site over the years, while others are first-time submitters. And we’re having a hard time deciding among them… But decide we must, so stay tuned – we’ve got an announcement coming later this week!

Novella contest, stage two

Thanks to everyone who submitted to our novella contest!  We’ve started reading your “first 5k” excerpts, and will be in touch, to let you know if we’d like to see the rest of your novellas. Stay tuned!

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