Literary Taxidermy

Literary taxidermy is an experimental writing process. It involves taking the first and last lines of a piece of literature (often a novel, but sometimes a short story) and then using those lines as the beginning and ending of a new, original story or poem. The process is not just to slap someone else's words onto the start and finish of your work, 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 Writing Competition invites writers to stitch together their own stories and poems based on the opening and closing lines of well-known works. The 2022 competition starts May 1st and ends July 11th. For the 2021 Competition—run in association with the Still Life | Wild Places art exhibition in Wellington, New Zealand—writers were given the first and last lines from two works by modernist author Katherine Mansfield. In earlier competitions, writers were given the first and last lines from Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, Beloved by Toni Morrison, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, 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 all four competitions below.

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Available Anthologies

The Art of Death (2021) — From a skeptical bride to a drug-tripping father, from a zoo thief to a sentient potato—you've never read a collection like this one! Every story and poem starts and ends exactly the same way—with the opening and closing line of two works by Katherine Mansfield—and yet no two pieces are alike. Mystery, poetry, suspense, science fiction, humor, metafiction, horror—these literary taxidermy stories and poems are as different from one another as the 20 incredible authors who dreamt them up. Come, meet this year's finalists from around the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia. We're certain you'll enjoy their incredible work! The 2021 competition was run in association with an exhibition called Still Life | Wild Places, housed at the Katherine Mansfield House & Gardens in Wellington, New Zealand.  ☆  “A ringing endorsement of the ability of classic literature to inspire new generations” (Matt Wiseman)   ☆   “Each story is a complete surprise, despite knowing precisely how it starts and ends.” (Cary Hammer)   ☆   “An exciting idea for a writing competition, and with surprisingly exciting results!” (Julian Anchora)   ★  Paperback and Digital download   ★  Available Now.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

34 Stories (2020) — From a boy witch to a parental cyborg, from a woman trapped beneath a building to a lonely empress on a faraway planet—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 Brave New World by Aldous Huxley—and yet the stories themselves are nothing alike. Suspense, romance, science fiction, fantasy, metafiction, historical fiction, and humor—these examples of literary taxidermy are as different from one another as the 10 incredible authors who dreamt them up. Come, meet this year's finalists from around the the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and Sweden. We're certain you'll enjoy their incredible work!   ☆   “Each story is a complete surprise, despite knowing precisely how it starts and ends.” (Cary Hammer)   ☆  “An exciting idea for a writing competition, and with surprisingly exciting results!” (Julian Anchora)   ☆   “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   ★  Available Now.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

124 Beloved (2020) — From a homeless cat to a misunderstood hen, from a surreal visit up the Norwegian fjords to a gritty drive down Route 66—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 Beloved by Toni Morrison—and yet the stories themselves are nothing alike. Mystery, suspense, poetry, science fiction, humor, metafiction, and horror—these examples of literary taxidermy are as different from one another as the 10 incredible authors who dreamt them up. Come, meet this year's finalists from around the United Kingdom, the United States, and Australia. We're certain you'll enjoy their incredible work!   ☆   “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)   ☆   “An exciting idea for a writing competition, and with surprisingly exciting results!” (Julian Anchora)   ☆   “A great example of ‘what-if’ fiction. Makes you wonder what you’d write!" (Lively Fiction)     ★  Paperback   ★  Available Now.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

34 Stories / 124 Beloved (2020) — In celebration of the competition's third anniversary, we've created a special omnibus edition of the 2020 anthology that brings together both collections 34 Stories and 124 Beloved into a single volume. This special edition is an "upside-down" reversible book, also known as tête-bêche (if you'll pardon our French). Each anthology is rotated 180° relative to the other, then bound together. It's a unique collection for a unique competition, and it includes all twenty prize-winning stories from the 2020 competition. Every story starts and ends exactly the same way—with the opening and closing sentence of Brave New World by Aldous Huxley or Beloved by Toni Morrison—and yet the stories themselves are nothing alike.   ☆   “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)   ☆   “An exciting idea for a writing competition, and with surprisingly exciting results!” (Julian Anchora)   ☆   “A great example of ‘what-if’ fiction. Makes you wonder what kind of story you’d write!" (Lively Fiction)   ☆   “Another Winner!” (WordWork)   ★  Paperback and Digital download   ★  Available Now.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

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 Writing 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 Writing 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 Writing 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 Writing 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 Writing 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.