As has been noted elsewhere, the deadline for the 2005 free annual Saugus.net Halloween Ghost Story is today. It doesn't seem like a whole year since last year's Ghost Story Contest. It seems even more strange that the contest has been running since 1998 and is now in its eighth year.
As the one who strips off names and identifying characteristics from the entries and then distributes them to the judges, I'm in a pretty good position to reflect on how the contest has evolved. It's seen a lot of changes in its history.
In its first year, the winners were all local; the most remote winner was from Peabody, MA. In fact, all the entries (not just the winners) came from around Massachusetts; we saw entries from Wakefield, Lynn, Nahant, and elsewhere (in addition to Saugus, of course) but there was nothing from out of state.
The total number of entries was also fairly small. There was exactly one elementary school entry (a student from Lynnhurst School), exactly three middle school entries (all from Belmonte), and slightly fewer than a couple dozen adult entries.
By comparison, last year saw two winners from outside the U.S., let alone from out of state. Out of state entries first started appearing pretty early, back in 1999 in fact, but none were winners until 2002. In 2003 all the adult winners were from out of state. There are now far more entries from out of state than there are from within Massachusetts.
Not only are the stories coming from a broader area, but we're receiving a lot more of them. These days it isn't too surprising to have over a hundred entries within just a single age category.
The competition at the adult level was tough from the start and has only gotten tougher. Even in its first year, there were a few entries from published authors, and each year that number has increased.
The competition at the high school level has steadily increased since the first year (when it of course was a non-contest), both in quantity and quality.
The competition in the elementary and middle school age categories has gotten much harder since the first year. Curiously there was a rapid increase in number of middle school and elementary school age entries that peaked in 2001, but which dropped dramatically the following year. Since then these two categories have seen a slower annual increase that have not yet caused them to match their 2001 levels. More than one judge though has remarked that they've seen general improvements in quality.
A couple years ago we also opened the contest up to interactive fiction entries. So far, no one has attempted such an entry, though. The combination of both good writing skills and good computer skills required for it have proved to be a bit daunting. We do receive quite a few poems, though, but since there is no specific category for them they get judged against the prose entries. Occasionally one will win.
With the deadline being today, I'll soon be collecting the last-minute entries and preparing them for the judges (I've been trying to process them as they come in). The ones that are e-mailed as attachments are the easiest for me to prepare; the ones e-mailed inline are the second easiest for me to prepare. The ones dropped off at the Town Hall or mailed are somewhat harder to prepare. The ones FAXed are somewhat of a pain to prepare. In any case, to ensure fairness, the judges don't know how the entries were sent or where or who they were sent from. While I'm (of course) not a judge myself, I do read all of the entries. The next several days will be quite busy (but exciting) as I do get to read them all and try and guess the results. The adult level winners tend to be particularly hard to predict as there tend to be so many superior entries; in fact, I confess that I've never once successfully guessed all three adult level winners.