LeVar Burton’s Podcast and Writing Contest

Photo of a recording studio with a microphone.
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If you enjoy listening to stories, I highly/strongly/very muchly recommend LeVar Burton Reads podcast.

First: who is this guy? LeVar Burton is an actor: he was Kunta Kinte in the Roots miniseries and Geordi La Forge in Star Trek: The Next Generation (among many other roles). He hosted Reading Rainbow for more than two decades. Also, he has directed episodes of TV series and movies.

In his podcast, Burton reads short stories. As he says in each episode, “the only thing these stories have in common is that I love them.” Typically, the stories have science fiction or fantasy elements. Burton makes for a really entertaining narrator with a smooth voice. To me, his enthusiasm for the stories comes through in his readings. His warmth and thoughtfulness also come through as he introduces the stories, then talks about how each affected him after the story.

It’s difficult to pick a few examples of the stories I’ve heard on the podcast, but here’s a short list: 

The podcast’s website. You can listen to the stories on SpotifyAppleStitcher.

Now on to his writing contest…

Photo of a woman typing on a laptop computer
by Christin Hume/Unsplash

Here’s the chance for a writer’s short story to be read on season 10 of LeVar Burton Reads! How awesome that would be for him to read an indie writer’s story — or writer published by a small press. The contest’s website is here.

According to the website, “Works must include speculative or fantastical elements.” So stories would fit into speculative fiction: science fiction, fantasy, or horror. 

The contest’s theme is Origins and Encounters. That centers on the intersection of different civilizations and the results of that intersection: The website says:

“We are interested in stories that examine the magical joys and tragic pitfalls of blended civilizations and cultural exchanges in all their forms. As our worlds change, what precious things do we carry with us and allow to be altered or demand they remain untouched? What is taken from us and what will we do to get it back? What do we allow ourselves to remember of our histories, our roots, and what do we allow ourselves to forget? What do we leave behind and what do we choose to carry into the future?”

Only the first-place winner’s story will be read on the podcast. But there’s more! Their story will be published on Tor.com, and the winner will get $500. The second- and third-place winners will also be published on Tor.com, as well as receive money: $250 (2nd place) and $100 (3rd place).

The contest starts today (August 1) and ends on August 31. Stories need to be between 2,800 and 5,200 words. For the rules and details, click here.

Furious Fiction

Wanted to let you know about a neat contest for writers of flash fiction. On the first Friday of every month, the Australian Writers’ Centre hosts a contest for writing a very short story.

The contest is called Furious Fiction, and it’s kind of the writing equivalent to a cooking contest, a la The Great British Baking Show. You have 55 hours to craft a story that includes a maximum of 500 words. It can be in any genre. But the stories have to include certain ingredients that change each month. That could be the setting (wedding or funeral, for example). Could be that a character has to do a specific action (make a decision, for example). And a few key words need to be included.

I have entered the contest a few times, and it’s an interesting challenge. I’ve found that prompts poke my creativity in different ways than thinking up a story that could be about anything and be any amount of words. A photo prompt can rattle my brain, causing ideas to pop that wouldn’t have otherwise. Same with the prompts in this contest.

While the contest’s turnaround time added stress to my writing, it also prodded me into finishing the stories. A stronger motivation than thinking, “Maybe I’ll finish this story next month.”

If you’ve never tried to write flash fiction, you may want to start with a weekly prompt that offers more time to put a story together. It’s not a simple thing to try to tell a story in a small amount of space. After you’re comfortable with the format, maybe try this contest.

The winner gets $500 Australian dollars. When the winner is announced, the story is published on the website of the Australian Writers’ Centre — along with the stories that made the short list. The hosts include descriptions of what they liked about those stories. That’s helpful to learn what was successful about the stories, and you could use the lessons when you’re writing new stories.