Literary Taxidermy

Literary taxidermy is an experimental story-writing process. It involves taking the first and last lines of a piece of writing (often a novel, but sometimes a short story) and then using those lines as the beginning and ending of a new, original story. The process is not just to slap someone else's words onto the start and finish of your story, but to take full ownership of the borrowed lines, interpreting (or re-interpreting) them in order to find your own narrative within their boundaries. The idea originated in a book of short stories called The Gymnasium by Mark Malamud.

The Literary Taxidermy Short Story Competition invites writers to stitch together their own stories based on the opening and closing lines of well-known works. For the 2019 Competition, writers were given the first and last lines from Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. For the 2018 competition, writers were given three choices: The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett; Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll; and "A Telephone Call" by Dorothy Parker. You can find the winning stories from both these competitions below.

Learn more about literary taxidermy by subscribing to the Literary Taxidermy Short Story Competition mailing list. You'll receive up-to-the-minute news about future contests and publications.

Available Anthologies

Pleasure to Burn (2019) — From a cheerful cannibal to a transhuman plastivore, from a lovesick angel to a text-messaging devil, from a lonely teen with intimacy issues to a sultry virago who literally sets her bed afire — you’ve never read a collection of stories like this one! Every story starts and ends exactly the same way — with the opening and closing sentence of Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury — and yet the stories themselves are nothing alike. mystery, suspense, horror, poetry, romance, crypto-mythology, science fiction, meta-fiction, teen strife, erotica, and humor. They are as different from one another as the twenty-one authors who dreamt them up. Come, meet the finalists from the 2019 Literary Taxidermy Short Story Competition from the United States, the United Kingdom, the Czech Republic, Cyprus, Singapore, Canada, and Australia. You won’t be disappointed!   ☆   “It’s hard to imagine so many different stories lay dormant between the opening and closing of every book. But they do, and you’ll find them here.” (re/ART)   ☆   “A+!” (Tank)   ☆   “A great example of ‘what-if’ fiction. Makes you wonder what kind of story you’d write!" (Lively Fiction)   ★  Paperback and digital download   ★  Available Now.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

Against the Bar (2018) — From hard-boiled detectives to fashion-fail teens, from dissembling mothers to pre-assembled lovers, from advertising AI rodents to time-traveling girlfriends. Every story starts and ends exactly the same way — with the opening and closing sentence of The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett — and yet the stories themselves are nothing alike. Crossing genre, shifting tone, jumping from science fiction to mystery, nostalgia to erotica and humor. They are as different from one another as the sixteen authors who dreamt them up. Come, meet the finalists from the 2018 Literary Taxidermy Short Story Competition from the US, Canada, Taiwan, India, New Zealand, Colombia, and the UK. You won’t be disappointed!   ☆   “Each story is a complete surprise, despite knowing precisely how it starts and ends.” (Cary Hammer)   ☆   “A clever variant of the fiction prompt, bringing to life classic lines of literature in an original way.” (Kathleen Hampshire)   ☆   “A+!” (Tank)   ☆   “'It's all pretty unsatisfactory' — NOT!” (The Readers Review)   ☆   “Two thumbs up!" (Dean Horne)   ★  Paperback and digital download   ★  Available Now.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

One Thing Was Certain (2018) — From nosy neighbors to alien lovers, from examinations of race to explorations of alcoholism, from concrete poetry to Lovecraftian horror — you’ve never read a collection of stories like this one! Every story starts and ends exactly the same way — with the opening and closing sentence of Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll — and yet the stories themselves are nothing alike. Horror, science fiction. political commentary, humor. They are as different from one another as the twenty authors who dreamt them up. Come, meet the finalists from the 2018 Literary Taxidermy Short Story Competition from the US, Canada, Australia, Germany, India, and the UK, who range in age from 14 to 76. You won’t be disappointed!   ☆   “You'll believe twenty impossible things before breakfast.” (New York Readers Club)   ☆   “A+!” (Tank)   ☆   “Be prepared for shock, awe, and plenty of surprises.” (Alyssa Campiari)   ☆   “It’s hard to imagine so many different stories lay dormant between the opening and closing of every book. But they do, and you’ll find them here.” (re/ART)   ★  Paperback and digital download   ★  Available Now.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

Telephone Me Now (2018) — From dog thieves to stock brokers, from fed-up housewives to dangerous boyfriends, from bucolic daydreams to medical nightmares — you’ve never read a collection of stories like this one! Every story in this collection starts and ends exactly the same way — with the opening and closing sentence of “A Telephone Call” by Dorothy Parker — and yet the stories themselves are nothing alike. Suspense, mystery, romance, and science fiction. They are as different from one another as the nineteen authors who dreamt them up. Come, meet the finalists from the 2018 Literary Taxidermy Short Story Competition from the US, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and the UK, who range in age from 18 to 75. You won’t be disappointed!   ☆   “Each of these tales is like taking a literary detour through an alternate-universe.” (Elkin Tat)   ☆   “It’s hard to imagine so many different stories lay dormant between the opening and closing of every book. But they do, and you’ll find them here.” (re/ART)   ☆  “A great example of ‘what-if’ fiction. Makes you wonder what kind of story you’d write!" (Lively Fiction)   ☆   “Please, God, let them run this competition again!” (WA Wordsmiths)   ★  Paperback and digital download   ★  Available Now.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

The Gymnasium (Mark Malamud) — A father who searches for his son in Heaven. A rock band whose music is so bad it paralyzes from the waist down. A black-market vegetable genetically-modified for self-abuse. These are just a few of the stories of melancholy and wonder inside The Gymnasium, an exercise in “literary taxidermy” and the inspiration for the Literary Taxidermy Short Story Competition. By “re-stuffing” what goes in-between the opening and closing lines of classic works by Milan Kundera, Philip K. Dick, Thomas Wolfe, Ian Fleming, and others, the author has crafted 19 new and wholly-original fictions.   ☆  “The Gymnasium demonstrates re-sampling isn’t just for music.” (re/ART)   ☆  “Imagine taking the opening and closing sentences of Lord of the Flies or Casino Royale, and then crafting your own narrative between their unique starting and ending points. The Gymnasium is an exercise in literary what-if, an alternate reality in which the surprisingly original emerges from the hauntingly familiar." (Henry Beecham)   ☆  “A roller-coaster of styles and voices, all anchored to the simple but powerful idea of re-imagining someone else's words as your own.” (Storybook)   ★  Paperback, digital download, and audiobook   ★  Available Now.