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Bringing the past to life News writing contest invites fiction

Dust off your corsets and waistcoats, primp your parasols, and polish your pocketwatches.

You're invited to step into the past with The Buffalo News this month.

Specifically, into the late summer of 1901, an epoch in Buffalo's history -- the time and place in which an American president was shot, a nation stunned, and a city's innocence stolen.

Yes, it's time once again for the annual writing contest sponsored by The Buffalo News' Book Club.

Last year, you'll remember, we challenged you to write a mini-thriller. This year, we're going a different route.

This time it's historical fiction -- with a uniquely Buffalo twist -- we're interested in.

The contest thus meshes with the spirit of this month's Book Club selection, "Too Close to the Falls," by Lewiston native Catherine Gildiner. Gildiner, who now lives in Toronto, was looking back to a closer period in time in her memoir of growing up in Western New York in the 1950s and 1960s.

We're asking you to transport yourself even further back in local history.

Your challenge is this: to write a piece of short fiction -- totaling no more than 1,600 words -- that involves two characters who are both inside the Temple of Music on the grounds of the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo on Sept. 6, 1901, the day President William McKinley was assassinated by an anarchist's bullets.

Your two main characters are a man and a woman -- Earnest Knight, a young lieutenant in the City of Buffalo's police force; and Hilda Watt, a 22-year-old woman on a day trip to the exposition.

These two characters unexpectedly find themselves, at a few minutes past 4 p.m. -- the moment of McKinley's assassination -- standing in the Temple of Music on the exposition grounds. They both witness the shooting.

But why are they there?

How do they know each other?

And what happens to them next?

We're not telling you any of that. We want you to use your imaginations and writing talents to develop the rest of the story on your own.

Feel free to create other characters in addition to Earnest and Hilda, as long as you keep those two in the story. Also, feel free to interpret "historical fiction" as loosely or restrictively as you like.

Can other genres -- mystery, romance, and so on -- play into your work? Sure. We like innovation and intelligence and passion, so strive for those things.

Keep in mind, please, that the contest does come with some tight mechanical guidelines -- deadlines and submission guides among them -- so read on for those, and follow them to the letter.

And, as you begin thinking about this contest, here are a few prompts to get you started thinking about how to approach historical fiction (use or disregard them as you will; they are merely guides):

What would your characters sound like, in 1901?

What would they be wearing? Thinking about? Savoring, in the sights and smells and sounds around them?

What would their viewpoints be like, as men and women, shaped by the time and culture in which they lived?

Remind yourself that historical fiction benefits by both scrupulous accuracy to a time period and the use of the convincing detail.

Now go on -- get writing, and impress us!

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>The rules of the game

* Short story entries must include the character and thematic elements supplied by The News, as outlined above.

* Authors must title their stories -- we like provocative titles that make you want to jump in and read!

* Stories will be judged on plot, use and development of characters, quality of writing, originality, and creativity.

* All entries must be your original work. The contest is open to teens and adults.

* Only one entry per person.

* Word count maximum: 1,600 words, no exceptions.

* Deadline for entries: 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 23.

* All entries must be double-spaced. No hand-written manuscripts, please.

* Your entry must include your name (NOT a pen name), address and phone number.

* Subject matter of the story -- and language -- must be suitable for publication in a family newspaper.

* The News reserves the right to publish the two winning stories.

* Manuscripts cannot be acknowledged on receipt or returned and, unfortunately, The News cannot offer feedback on individual stories.

* Manuscripts must be submitted only once; please don't try to submit rewrites or amended versions.

* First- and second-place winners will be notified by phone.

* Judging panel composed of reporters, book critics and editors at The Buffalo News.

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>To submit yours

Submit your entry by e-mail to bookclub@buffnews.com.

Submit through the mail to Short Story Contest, Features Dept., The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, N.Y. 14240.

Have questions about the contest rules? Contact Readership Editor Susan LoTempio at 849-4466 or by email at slotempio@buffnews.com.

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>The winners

The two winning stories will be published in The Buffalo News on Feb. 6 in the Life & Arts section.

e-mail: cvogel@buffnews.com

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