MTHS Humanities teacher Stephen Merlino won second place in a fiction short story writing contest called ‘Writers of the Future’. With this contest having the most admissions out of all the years it’s been held, a shocking eight thousand, Merlino said he feels so lucky to have had his story chosen.
“I feel like I won a lottery,” Merlino exclaimed with a smile.
The inspiration of his story started with him lifting the frail pages of a book that he had purchased in Canada years ago. Merlino came across some of his old story ideas, forgotten and stored away. This lead to the beginning of his first and only novel so far: ‘The Jack of Souls’.
Merlino explained his novel as the story of a young man who must break a curse put on his life or die by his nineteenth birthday.
“To do that, he’s gonna need the help of an immortal, the blade of a maiden, and a forbidden magic that may break his curse or cost him the only woman he’s ever loved,” Merlino said.
And to write this book, like all authors, Merlino had a process.
First, he would find somewhere a quiet place where he could think. And then he would write a chapter. Once he would finish that chapter, he took it to a critique group, which he would receive input on how to improve, then he would revise it shortly afterward. Once again, he takes it to a critique group, but different from the first. He takes it home again and revises the chapter, until he feels like it’s as good as it he can make it. This process is repeated for the next chapter and every chapter after.
Now all novels have a beginning, but some also have a a prologue. Which is exactly what his entry into the contest was. He wrote what he called “a chapter zero” to his already published novel.
And like most contests, he had to meet a number of requirements. For one, he couldn’t go over twenty thousand words nor could he sign his name to his work, it had to be anonymous. The format had to be a standard 12 size font, Times New Roman and doubled spaced.
Then once he finished his story, he had to fill out a form that included his name, the genre or category of his story and the title of his story. And after that he had to go to a website and upload his manuscript, which doesn’t include his name. And the process of judging the stories starts with the contest judges, containing previous winners, and ending with the celebrity judges, which are writers, editors, or even agents.
Upon winning, Merlino has received a generous cash prize and will be having his story published in the anthology. Along with these prizes, Merlino and the eleven other winners will be going for all-expense-paid week to Los Angeles in April. During this week, he will be spending the day in workshops and classes taught by professionals, which they will be accompanied by the winners of the ‘Illustrators of the Future’. And by night he will be attending parties, such as a formal-dress, or “embarrassingly fancy” according to Merlino, gala that will have speeches written by the contest winners to thank the judges for the award and photographers around every corner.
Having given out about seventy copies of his book last year to students, several students have already claimed to like or even love his work. Claiming that they aren’t surprised he got second,
Many MTHS students had only great things to say about the novel.
“I thought it was amazing and he deserved first place, seeing as this is my favorite book,” junior Kai Hiar said. “I have read this book about seven times.”
Another aspect of the novel that junior Austin Head enjoys its relatability.
“It really appeals to our society because all of the main characters aren’t super heroic badasses who have some super power,” he said.
But even with this win possibly giving him a boost in the writing industry, Merlino would rather keep his life as it is. To teach by day and write in his free time.
“Would I love to be one of those people who go to a blockbuster? Yeah, of course. But that’s sort of a lottery thing, I’m not banking on it,” he stated, smirking while shaking his head.