TL;DR for the impatient: Vocal Media launched a $10k fantasy prologue challenge last month. I’ve entered. You’ll find my submission, “The Adamantime Heist,” on their website.

What’s Vocal? Here’s the backstory

As dragon eyes go, this is a pretty great image for a $10k fantasy challenge, even if I'm halfway certain it's a snake.
As dragon eyes go, this is a pretty great image for a $10k fantasy challenge, even if I’m halfway certain it’s a snake.

Based in New Jersey, Vocal is a competitor to Wattpad in the digital publishing space. Both companies share a similar goal: to build a digital hub where writers attract an audience and get paid.

Ten days ago, I’d never heard of Vocal. You probably haven’t either. But they partnered with Ayman, a breakout BookTok star, to promote their newest contest.

Like many #BookTok people (the hashtag for book people on TikTok), I’ve watched a lot of Ayman’s content. She’s entertaining, well read, and extremely connected to other popular BookTokers.

For example, when the New York Times did a story about how #BookTok is changing the publishing industry in March 2021, she was one of the people they featured. She also happens to read fantasy.

You’ve got to hand it to the Vocal marketing team. Their ads were EVERYWHERE in my feed. I instantly recognized Ayman’s face and was happy to see her getting some sponsorship money. So, I watched her video explainer.

It’s a simple premise. Write the prologue or first chapter to a fantasy story and win anywhere from $10,000 (grand prize) to $50 (25 runners up) for your work. Stories were due by 11:59 p.m. on Monday, June 6.

And, the catch? The story has to start with the sentence, “There weren’t always dragons in the valley.”

Picking a premise for my $10k fantasy prologue

I read and enjoyed Lynch's book last year. Yes, I'm really late to this book party.
I read and enjoyed Lynch’s book last year. Yes, I’m really late to this book party.

Sometimes when I see a contest premise, I draw an immediate blank. My experience was similar with the $10k fantasy prologue. After I’d read the rules and requirements, no inspiration jumped to mind. So, I had a look at many of the existing entrants.

Unsurprisingly, I saw lots of Dungeons & Dragon-style photos and premises. They looked cool, but didn’t spark an immediate idea for me. Annoyed with myself, I went for a walk with Jerry, my husband and long-suffering soundboard.

“I’m not feeling the D&D stuff,” I told him. “It’s not my bag. And I don’t think going there will help me standout. What else could I do?”

“Yeah,” he agreed. “You write action. How about a heist story? I don’t come across so many of those in fantasy.”

It’s true. Scott Lynch pioneered the sub-genre of fantasy heists when he published The Lies of Locke Lamora in 2006. There are other books, but that’s the big series.

And, like the Ocean’s 11 franchise was until Sandra, Cate and Rhianna got in on the action in Ocean’s 8, it’s very male.

We shot some ideas around. I kept coming back to the one D&D character I’d ever made, a dwarf named Kevl. Interesting name, I thought. I’ll start there.

All the fun and no novel-length plot headaches

Only, when I sat down to write, Kevl the dwarf showed up as Kivel. She had a welding torch in hand and a penchant for surfing with her best friend, Jayne.

Cool, I thought. Let’s roll with it.

I had a lot of fun building their friendship and giving you a glimpse of their world, while adding some fun-times complications. Writing something other than The Xenthian Cycle was also a nice break in my writing routine. Particularly when I didn’t actually have to diagram the actual heist plot (yet).

I solicited feedback from my regular beta reading pool and hit the deadline. Thanks to Diana, Jen, Mary, Tanya and Jerry for the quick turnaround.

You can read “The Adamantine Heist” here. Wish me luck!