With NanoWrimo beginning once again this November, writers everywhere will be immersed in cranking out as much as they can before the end of the month to accomplish the goal of completing a 50,000-word novel.

But there are plenty of other writing contests available for students who aren’t ready to take on the much-hyped November behemoth. Broken Pencil, one of Canada’s leading indie art and zine culture magazines, is hosting their own contest: “Unearth Your Underworld”. Applicants are to submit up to 2,500 words before November 20, and the top prize is $600.

I had the chance to speak with Alison Lang, the editor of Broken Pencil, a little bit about the magazine and the upcoming contest, which she says was founded by Hal Niedzviecki and Hilary Clark in 1995.

“Zine culture was booming at this time, but aside from a couple of smaller publications, there wasn’t a Canadian-based publication covering zine culture and independent arts,” she adds. “BP started with a primary focus on zines and zine reviews, and this is still the case, although our coverage has expanded to look at other mediums.”

This includes everything from indie puppet makers to craftivism to yarn bombing, therapy through noise music, weird films, and internet poetry, Lang says.

The staff of Broken Pencil used to use the equipment at The Varsity at U of T to lay out the magazine, Lang admits. Niedzviecki wrote a timeline for the magazine’s 50th issue and noted that in 1996, “We continue to use the equipment at the University of Toronto’s student newspaper, The Varsity, to lay out the magazine. (Without ever asking, of course.) Layout usually starts at around 2 a.m. on a Monday and continues until late afternoon the next day when the student journalists start wandering in.”

Lang says that what makes their contest stand out from the rest is that it’s one of the only ones tied to an app. “In order to enter, you have to download and start interacting with our app, and along with the $600 prize, our winner will get the opportunity to see what their finished piece looks like on an app,” Lang says. “Also, our theme is pretty twisted—an underworld that includes sewers, catacombs, basements, under the bed, Hell, and whatever other dank, dark places you can imagine.”

Of all the entries she’s seen, one story that stuck with Lang was submitted two years ago in August for their 56th issue. “The first issue I worked on with Broken Pencil featured a story called ‘Dealbreaker’, about a man who grew and gave birth to a tiny version of himself, along with an accompanying tiny couch he could lounge on,” she says. “Then the tiny version of himself seduced the man’s wife. It stuck with me because it was uncompromisingly weird and totally unique, and it quietly challenged a lot of things we think about notions of family in the 21st century.”

Lang encourages writers to get really weird and not be afraid to do so. “Applicants should feel absolutely free with regards to their style and the content of their story. We like originality in all of its forms, and we really reject the idea that good fiction needs to be a certain way,” she says. “We like stories that experiment and challenge established ideas and realities.”

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