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My Vocal Awards Submissions

or, the self-justifying ramblings of a madman

By Matthew FrommPublished 7 months ago 6 min read
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My Vocal Awards Submissions
Photo by Allison Saeng on Unsplash

I finally caved and entered the Vocal Awards.

(pause for applause)

thank you, thank you.

Initially, I had not planned on entering them. For whatever reason, my muses weren’t channeling into the rabbit holes in ways I felt like pursuing, so I kept my head down and focused on my other current WIPs.

Then I got the discount codes and thought, “Well, it’s $10, and I think I have some good stuff. Why not submit some stuff already in the portfolio?”

I’m going to assume and project this as a universal thought. I’m also going to project and assume that everyone else also then got hit, near the same time, with the crippling imposter syndrome that always hangs out around the corner from where you type.

If you pick that one, why didn’t it win the challenge you wrote it for? Clearly, it’s not good enough.

That one wasn’t even a top story. Why pick that one?

I’m unsure if there is an established personification of imposter syndrome, but honestly, I’d rather face the Grim Reaper than the Insecurity Harvester (™).

Anyway, I went ahead and hit submit on three of my already published works, one that was for a challenge and two that weren’t and happened to fit into the criteria. Maybe that was the muses sending me inspiration while they hid from the Insecurity Harvest (™, who I’m now imagining as the Shrike from Hyperion for you fellow deep nerds out there).

To keep my now-incarnated enemy at bay, I wanted to dive into the qualities behind my chosen submissions. With any luck, I’ll shed some light on the process and let you, dear reader, revisit them with new eyes. Or you can laugh at me and call me an idiot behind your laptop or phone screen. I can take it. I’m a big boy.

Without further adieu….I present with my self-made positive critiques of each piece!

I’m going to start with my submission to the Microfiction challenge:

I love this little story, dark bits and all. Microfiction stories are great because they force us to cut away the irrelevant bits and focus on the story. Let’s start before we even get into the story and check out the prompt. The Vocal Awards prompt allows for 250 words. Instead, I decided to stick with the 100 that I published. Why? Is it because I’m a genius? Obviously not, but I felt that the original submission was a complete story, and if it could be done in 100 words, any more would just obscure the story.

Let’s look at the story then. First, I had to utilize the title and subtitle to set the stage. Another thing I love about microfiction is that everything matters.

So the title itself, Hallowed Lands. I went with Hallowed as I felt that it combined all the elements I wanted succinctly: a place unholy, shadowed, and mysterious.

The subtitle then continues this motif. Fort D’Exilles is where the mysterious Man in the Iron Mask served time, a captivating story in and of itself. Finally, I capped it with “Date Unknown.” For whatever reason, I find those two simple words unsettling.

Now, what makes this story stand out to me, as its absolutely infallible author, is its promise and payoff. We are promised that the hallowed lands will turn one insane, verified by the informant being locked away. We then experience these strange, hallowed lands, and then are returned with our main character to the priests and a locked cell, and are forced to contemplate the main character's madness as well as our own understanding of the tale and answer the question, if he’s not mad, what happened?

Personally, I find the answers to both to be unsettling.

Most importantly, this was the piece that really brought me back to Vocal after a long break. Since then, I’ve found enough success and made many friends here. If my calculations are correct, by the end of the day after this is published, I’ll have hit the one-thousand-read mark.

And that, my friends, is the real bane of the Insecurity Harvester, The Power of Friendship!

Moving on, I entered the following into the Haiku challenge:

This was the hardest one for me to pick, if I’m being honest. I find Haiku absolutely fascinating since, in many ways, it’s the antithesis of my favorite genre, fantasy. It focuses on simple in principle but complex execution criteria to deliver a fully-rounded scene. It’s the opposite of a six-hundred-page tome that spells out lineage and history and magic and politics, all the things I love. I also hate how it’s taught since true Haiku involves much more than a 5-7-5 syllable scheme. This is a common theme in my ramblings for those who haven’t picked up on it yet.

(stares violently at the Great Gatsby)

(A/N: I'm not an expert, and there are haiku experts on Vocal; go listen to them).

But I went with this one because I liked how I twisted the Kigo from a traditional Kigo for spring in blossoms into a more conventional Kigo for autumn, a diminished blossom or falling leaf. The kireji, to me, in the third line transitions us back to a different stream of consciousness, thus creating a complete haiku. I gave myself a pass on the first two lines rhyming because, truly, most of my education on Haiku comes from James Clavell’s Shogun. Sue me.

Finally, my pièce de résistance, my entry into the fantasy category.

I wrote this piece as a part of my own fantasy challenge (bumper!), but I loved how it turned out:

If you can’t tell, I’m a sucker for a high noon showdown (other examples here, here, and here). It’s a staple scene for a reason. Epicness plays, and a mono a mono struggle is always epic.

I’ll let you progress through the story, dear reader.

There are a few things I was able to fit into this piece that felt like I had made it. First, I felt as if it encompassed the world I hoped to create within the confines of my self-imposed prompt. Thank you to all the comments that helped validate the visceralness I was going for.

Secondly, I sneak in some thematic commentary on the futility of the struggle. Despite our heroic emperor’s perceived success, the war rages on in the background, the antithesis to the initial promise. In this case, there’s personification in the lust for power that drives us, or our antagonist, to do unnatural and illogical things in the name of conquest.

Therefore, it checks all my boxes when it comes to plot, conflict, characters, and themes.

Finally, most importantly, I think it’s a cool story. It’s a great honor for me to walk in the footsteps of the authors who inspire me and come up with something in that same vein. It makes me want to explore that world more, which I am doing now in my two WIP novels, with the hope that one day maybe those same authors will explore it with me on the other side of the page. I don't think I'll win any of these, I hardly think I'm good enough to be more than a gnat on some of the writing giants on Vocal, but I'm proud of them anyway.

Now, there’s some motivation to keep the Insecurity Harvester away!

Anyway, thank you for indulging my ramblings, and I hope you took something away from this, even if it’s just that I’m insane. I would love to see what y'all submit.

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About the Creator

Matthew Fromm

Full-time nerd, history enthusiast, and proprietor of random knowledge. The best way to find your perfect story is to make it yourself.

Here there be dragons, and knights, and castles, and quests for entities not wished to be found.

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Nice work

Very well written. Keep up the good work!

Top insights

  1. Compelling and original writing

    Creative use of language & vocab

  2. Easy to read and follow

    Well-structured & engaging content

  3. Excellent storytelling

    Original narrative & well developed characters

  1. On-point and relevant

    Writing reflected the title & theme

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Comments (10)

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  • Kayleigh Fraser ✨7 months ago

    “Stares violently at the great Gatsby” This made me laugh so much when I read it first (my comment was already long - I didn’t mention it…. !) but given that I’ve now used it in my alien poem and also the word ‘violently’ snuck into today’s haiku… the uncredited guilt crept in 😂 (like, I know I can’t be accused of plagiarising two words but I know I’m using them because of this!) I don’t know why I find these two words together so funny… probably because I can almost picture the imagery (because it’s emotion based) … whatever the reason… I read it here first … hilarious word combination 😂 so thank you

  • Lamar Wiggins7 months ago

    Good luck in the finals. I've got my money on Fallen Empire to make the short list! What is the promotional code you used for the discount. I saw it before a while ago but gave up looking for it yesterday, lol.

  • I've already read your Haiku and Fallen Empire when you published them but I missed your microfiction. I just read and absolutely loved it! I wish you all the best with these entries!

  • Amanda Starks7 months ago

    I loved this look into your thought process!! I entered in a few entries myself a few weeks back and have tried not to think too much about the ones I chose, but now I wonder if it would be a good exercise?? Haha, great article, Matthew!!

  • Mackenzie Davis7 months ago

    This was a brilliant article; I never would have thought to breakdown my choices. Clever you, getting more reads this way, but also valuable input. I really do love your haiku and flash fiction pieces; I'm a dunce when it comes to fantasy, but I can tell you wrote yours very well. I think you chose fantastic stories to enter, and I wish you luck! (Compiling my entries, currently, and attempting a few outside my usual areas. We'll see which I end up submitting, though. 😅) Very relatable, that imposter syndrome. I feel the worries about TS and challenge winners, but I just decided to write new stuff for the awards. I MIGHT enter an old free verse poem rather than write a new one, we'll see. Gonna wait till the last minute to enter, so I can have all the time to publish and get feedback. I'm a last-minute kind of gal, lol.

  • Mark Gagnon7 months ago

    I didn't bother entering. I've entered almost every contest for the last two years and even when I've used stories with a TS designation, I've never received as much as an honorable mention. Whatever it is their looking for, I don't have it. To enter would be throwing good money after bad. Good luck on your entries.

  • Veronica Coldiron7 months ago

    I opened all of these in a new window to review on my lunchbreak today. I'm excited for you entering the challenge. And I'm not going to lie. The "Great Gatsby" part cracked me up out loud in the office by myself. I'm sure my coworkers are in the other room looking around superstitiously at one another. Aside from my music, I'm pretty quiet. LOL! (Nerd curse) ANYway... GREAT to hear you took a leap! I hope you win, since I haven't decided to do it. LOL!

  • I have to comment in sections…. If I keep reading I’ll soon forget whatever word offerings I had for you and end up with the old ‘Great work’ because my brain has gone blank by the end 🙈 I laughed a lot through this introduction! More of this conversational and so relatable writing please 😁 Your first choice is a gem. I laughed when I read back my own comment and I stick by it. Wow. It’s genius and I have no idea what the competition will be like but this is a winning story as I see it!!! I love the short lesson you just gave me in microfiction also… it intrigues me and I really enjoy reading it, but have never attempted writing any. Your breakdown was really interesting - everything seems obvious after you say it, but I hadn’t considered just how vital every part is (Eg. The title / subtitle) and just how much thought goes into this ! It does convey so much - although the first reading I didn’t get the location reference (my lack of knowledge!) - this only heightened the excellence upon reread. It’s a brilliant entry.

  • Atomic Historian7 months ago

    I wasn’t sure about entering the Vocal Awards either. I think you changed my mind. I can at least enter some works that have been selected as Top Story. For me, it’s having to pay an entry fee on top of my Vocal+ subscription feels a bit extractive

  • Alex H Mittelman 7 months ago

    You’re funny! Well written! Thank you!

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