For a number of years, publishing has been dominated by commercial fiction. Literary fiction novels and short story collections by small presses or independent authors have little chance of being noticed by reviewers or placed on bookstore shelves. Even the literary fiction written by relatively well-known writers published by big houses has been pushed to the side by pseudo-literary fiction — written and reviewed by those who don’t know the difference between thought and sentimentality, poetry and the use of adjectives — such that the meaning of “literary” is lost. With the way the publishing system is currently organized, books aren’t given much time in front of judges and audiences. Those that don’t make it immediately are tossed in the remaindered bin. A deep pity, as literary fiction is slow-growing and takes time to find its audience. No one in the literary fiction community denies this, and yet there are no awards for the best five-year-old novel; no reviewers interested in what came out last year. To help remedy this situation, Dactyl Foundation has created this review dedicated solely to literary fiction and is offering a $1000 award to eligible authors.
In order for a work to be considered for the award, a published literary fiction author must write a review of the work and submit it to Dactyl Review. (Instructions for submitting reviews can be found here.) Once a review has been submitted and accepted, the author or publisher must write to info (at) dactyl (dot) org to accept the nomination in order to be considered.
All works eligible for the award must be published in some form, whether through a traditional publishing house, self-published, print-on-demand, or e-book. The work must be available for purchase through a bookstore, either as new or as used. No single short stories or collections by multiple authors are eligible for consideration. Short stories must appear in a collection (with a minimum of about 100 pages). There is no entry fee. Authors do not have to send copies of their books to be judged. Dactyl Foundation purchases copies of all books entered in the competition.
In 2016 we had all together ten reviews posted by four reviewers. None of the authors whose books were favorably reviewed replied to Dactyl Review to accept the nomination, and so, unfortunately, we are not able to reward the prize this year.
2015 Sea of Hooks by Lindsay Hill (McPherson & Co, 348 pages)
“The way sections move from multiple perspectives, dreamtime, real-time, then meld together with such cohesive and penetrating storytelling, is a testament to the author’s insightful eye for detail and character…”
2014 Hush Now, Don’t Explain by Dennis Must (Coffeetown Press, 287 pages)
“…a unique American novel, written in the language of the heartland before Jesus became a pawn in the political battle for the American soul. It is written in a subdued, subtle, understated lyrical style.”
2013 The Double Life of Alfred Buber by David Schmahmann (Permanent, 197 pages)
Who is Alfred Buber? In starkest terms, he is a respected Boston lawyer who falls in love with a Thai sex worker named Nok. Not surprisingly, they do not live happily ever after. This is not a book of neat resolutions….
2013 Cocoa Almond Darling by Jeffra Hays (Kindle, 126 pages).
… a rather intense, deliberately-paced story about a tailor Mr. Benton, his assistant Milly, and their daughter Nicky. The main action seems to be set in the 1960s, give or take a decade, and the story is told entirely from Milly’s perspective. The novel’s limited first-person narration is masterfully rendered….
2012 no award given due to lack of entries.
2011 no award given due to insufficient qualifying entries. Pedro Ponce’s Alien Autopsy: Stories, a micro-fiction collection (Cow Heavy Books, 55 pages), received honorable mention.
Lock’s novella is a dense fable, mixing magic realism with self-reflexivity. The entire story is given to us in miniature at the beginning, such that the novella itself is really a constant retelling–a folding and refolding–rather than an unfolding.
The judging process is pretty much decided by the reviewers who nominate works by submitting reviews. The strength of the review is first consideration. (A “good” review really analyzes the language and/or overall vision of the book and is of reasonable length. Also see “how to write a book review” on the site.) The strength of the reviewer’s other contributions is also considered, e.g. if the reviewer consistently writes strong reviews and receives a lot of positive feedback from the community, then his/her nominations are given priority. If the reviewer has previously won the Dactyl Award, his/her nominations are given top priority in the final selection.
This selection process leaves a fairly narrow field, from which Dactyl Review‘s editor, VN Alexander, chooses the winner. In coming years, we hope to get previous award winners to volunteer to make the final judgements. Although it is not a requirement, we ask all winning authors to nominate other authors by submitting at least one review to Dactyl Review. In this way all winners of the award will be participating in the judging process for future competitions.
We do not have a list of criteria, or metric system by which books are judged. Some years we may not give an award if there have not been sufficient qualifying entries. We will only pick one award recipient each year, but all non-winning entries can be reconsidered at any other time. Reconsideration of previously entered works will be an important aspect of the Dactyl Award insofar as it will allow the “best” books to be chosen, not just the best books of a particular year, and it will allow previously entered books to be judged according to different tastes when different final judges are making the decisions. In short, the Dactyl Review award selection process is primarily community based.