GLEN SPEY, NY — The push of the button on the coffee machine, deep in the quiet of the pre-dawn dark, is where author T.J. Knight begins his writing process. It’s usually about 4:30 a.m., …
GLEN SPEY, NY — The push of the button on the coffee machine, deep in the quiet of the pre-dawn dark, is where author T.J. Knight begins his writing process. It’s usually about 4:30 a.m., before his family has woken up, and before he begins his job as a customs broker.
Dustin Adams, known by pen name T.J. Knight, is one of the most recent winners of the Writers of the Future Award, which is given to 12 short story writers each year. The winning writers are invited to attend a paid-for week-long master class in Los Angeles, CA, where they are taught techniques to refine their writing in areas such as building suspense.
Contest entries must include a “speculative element” in the submitted short story, which is then judged by a panel of established writers, such as Tim Powers (“On Stranger Tides”), Orson Scott Card (“Ender’s Game”) and Kevin J. Anderson and Brian Herbert (the “Dune” prequels).
All winners are unpublished or self-published authors.
Adams has wanted to be a writer since he was a child, and remembers seeing the Writers of the Future anthologies in bookstores during his youth. “You spend enough time in bookstores and you come across one of these volumes,” he said.
Adams hails from Maybrook, NY, but currently resides in Glen Spey, very close to where his ancestors settled 150 years ago. On the Mongaup River Trail off of Route 97, “if you go about a mile down the trail, there’s an old graveyard there, Knight cemetery,” said Adams of the inspiration to forge his pen name from ancestral roots. There’s also a Knight Road nearby. T.J. stands for his middle initials.
In 2010 Adams had “one short story to his name,” and decided to submit it to the contest. Prior to that, he had been writing for a long time, working on screenplays and novels.
“I tried a bunch of different genres to see where I want to spend my time, since there is so much time spent in [the process of writing],” Adams said. The process is what Adams enjoys most.
“I love it, the process of thinking about the story, getting the words just right, coming up with cool sentences or themes or characters,” he said.
Adams’ submission in 2010 about a cybernetic being won an honorable mention, setting Adams into a focused goal for the next 12 years: to win the Writers of the Future award. Last year, in 2022, his hope became a reality, with the story “The Fall of Crodendra M,” a story he had originally submitted to the competition in 2011.
Adams saw several writer friends win the award over the years, and every few years would pull out the story, edit it a bit more, and re-submit it. In 2022 he decided to dust off the story once again. “I shouldn’t say I dusted it off; I should say I rewrote it,” he said. That edit, the fourth submission, was the winner.
The story follows a character, reflecting on loss and compelled by a live connection in a world dominated by bigger and bigger screens. The story bridges humanity and increasing technology, adding as the fantastical element of the setting another planet that has an asteroid headed towards it.
Adams’ story is partly inspired by his wife’s family members and the community they embody. When there is an issue,“they’re like bees, they swarm to whoever’s down for the count,” he said.
“If you are in the hospital and you wake up, they’re all there,” he said, and they gather that way not just for emergencies, but also celebrations.
One of the takeaways of his winning story is that “the theme is, if someone is hurting, don’t call, don’t Facetime, if you can go, then go, be there,” he said.
The Writers of the Future contest was founded by L. Ron Hubbard, known for his science fiction writing and his involvement with Scientology. Adams said that friends who have won the competition and attended the classes reported no mention of Scientology at the writers’ workshops, and that the publishing company, Galaxy Press, works to keep the science fiction writing and religious publications separate.
The week in Hollywood is complete with a gala and acceptance speeches for the winning writers, as well as the 12 winning illustrators for the Illustrators of the Future awards. “It’s like the Oscars of short stories,” Adams said.
The writing contest is in its 40th year, and past winners have published 1,150 novels and nearly 4,500 short stories, including 32 New York Times bestsellers, according to information from Galaxy Press.
Adams is glad his story has finally “found a home” in the anthology and is looking forward to focusing his attention on his novels; he is currently working on a series. He highlighted the process again: how it’s fun to come up with an idea for book two, and then think about how to introduce it in book one, to put a hint of what is to come.
“I would recommend the contest to any aspiring writer, because it has helped me improve tremendously,” said Adams, citing additional benefits like the writing groups and critique partners he’s found.
Having achieved his winning short-story goal, and in addition to the writing workshops and spending time accompanied by his wife, son and in-laws in California at the master class this April, Adams has one more personal ambition to add to his week in Hollywood: “My goal is to run a mile in every state.”
T.J. Knight’s winning short story “The Fall of Crodendra M” can be found in L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future Volume 39, published by Galaxy Press. It will be released on Tuesday, May 2.
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