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Having judged a number of short story contests, I can attest that those open to anyone with a computer, pen or goose quilll are likely to issue in a deluge of the mediocre, the derivative, the unreadably avant-garde, the soporific, the tediously raucous, the treacly, the admonitory, the indecipherable and the just plain lousy. If you're lucky, there'll be a few gems as well.

So I salute Esquire magazine for boldly going where so may have trod so unwarily, and with such unhappy results. And for doing so in such an interesting way. The twist is that entrants supply everything but the title, which must be one of the following: Twenty-Ten, An Insurrection, and Never, Ever Bring This Up Again. The contest is in conjunction with the magazine's new on-line fiction presence and winning will not only earn you $2,500US but publication in the magazine. And then, who knows? A Stephenie Meyer-sized multi-book deal? Here are the Rules and regs.

Esquire, which has fallen into literary near-irrelevance in recent years, has a glorious history of publishing great writers since its founding in 1932, among them Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Mailer, Richard Ford, Cynthia Ozick, Tim O'Brien, J.D. Salinger and Raymond Carver, whose brilliantly spare style was encouraged by then-fiction editor Gordon Lish (who claimed to have done much more than simply encourage Carver). If a single entrant can ultimately be spoken of in the same breath as these giants, the whole enterprise will have been more than worth the trouble, however many painfully bad stories must be endured. But I can't promise that I'll never, ever bring this up again.

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