Not too late to start: Late-blooming Amherst writer wins top prize in long-standing sci-fi/fantasy fiction contest


Staff Writer

Published: 01-05-2023 5:03 PM

As Marianne Xenos sees it, you’re never too old to find new ways to be creative.

Xenos, of Amherst, is a longtime visual artist who also received a degree in literature years ago and wrote poetry and short literary fiction for a time. But that writing “didn’t seem to take,” she says, and she ended up getting a second degree, this time in art.

But Xenos never gave up on writing, either, instead shifting her focus to fantasy and speculative fiction. And now, just a few years after she began sending out her stories for publication, she’s come up big.

A new fantasy story by Xenos has won a first-place, $1,000 prize in the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest, a leading forum for science fiction and fantasy fiction for almost 40 years. Xenos’ story is one of three finalists for the organization’s $5,000 grand prize, the Golden Pen Award; her piece will also be published this spring in the group’s yearly anthology, “L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future.”

Not only that: Xenos is slated to be flown to Hollywood in the spring for a week to take part in workshops with leading writers in the industry, an awards event, and other activities.

For Xenos, winning some prize money and having her story published in the L. Ron Hubbard anthology is certainly a thrill. But she says she’s also moved simply by the idea that highly respected writers in the field have read her work and found it worthy.

“To get that kind of validation is really a boost for the work I do,” she said in a recent phone interview. “I’ve gotten feedback from people who are really good at their craft.”

And Xenos, who is 65, says she’d also like to think her success can be a signal to others that “it’s possible late in life to develop a new, creative direction and to come through difficult times.”

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Her last name is actually a pen name that she created for the writing side of her art. She’s been a longtime member of Gallery A3 in Amherst as a visual artist, creating a range of work including photography, collage, mixed media and installation art.

Yet some of that work has also been based around fantasy, such as surrealistic collage pieces she exhibited a few years ago, for which she created various female figures that were based on characters in a fantasy novel she was working on.

“I feel like I’ve found my voice in writing about magic and fantasy and things we don’t quite understand, at least when it comes to day-to-day life,” she said. “And I think using a different name (for writing) helps my creativity.”

Xenos said she’s also drawn on some Greek ancestry in creating her pen name. Her background includes growing up in a blue-collar family outside of Boston, and she says her childhood was “full of immigrants, builders and working-class heroes” that have served as inspiration for many of the characters of her stories.

The title of her story and its plot won’t be revealed until the work is published, but Xenos says the story was built around a prompt given to her by Nina Kiriki Hoffman, a fantasy and science fiction writer in Oregon with whom she’s been taking Zoom-based classes for the last couple of years.

Hoffman won a Writers of the Future Award herself in 1985, and her short story was published in one of the Hubbard organization’s earlier anthologies. In fact, the organization says, the 452 past winners of the writing contest have collectively published 1,150 novels and nearly 4,500 short stories, including 32 New York Times bestsellers.

Hubbard (1911-1986), known in part as the founder of Scientology, was also a prolific writer of science fiction and pulp fiction. After he published his sci-fi novel “Battlefield Earth” in 1982, he created Writers of the Future ( to help aspiring writers of speculative fiction gain entry into the field.

In 1988, the organization created a separate forum, the Illustrators of the Future Contest, to recognize the work of artists who created jacket covers and other art for science fiction and fantasy books.

Xenos says writing became especially important to her in the last few years after she suffered a mild stroke, which has left creating new visual art more challenging. “But in a way I don’t quite understand, it’s made me a better writer,” she said.

She’s published a few other short stories in the past year, and she also won honorable mention for a story in a previous Writers of the Future Contest.

She’s not sure she’ll go to California in the spring as part of her recent win in the Writers of the Future Contest, as she says her health conditions can make traveling a risk as long as COVID-19 persists. But she’s hopeful there will be a Zoom option for attending the writing workshops if she doesn’t make it to Hollywood.

Though she’s read literary fiction in the past, Xenos says she’s much more drawn to fantasy and speculative fiction today. But she also offers praise for noted writers such as the late Toni Morrison, citing Morrison’s use of magical realism in novels such as “Beloved” and “Song of Solomon” to bring about greater understanding of the experience of African Americans.

“I think it’s much easier to tell life stories with magic,” said Xenos.

Visit to learn more about the writer’s work.