Did Tom Jenks and Carol Edgarian, Editors of Narrative Magazine, Fix The 2008 First-Person Story Contest for Friend Gina Oschner?

Getting back to the "Arts" in this blog, I was just tipped off about potential fraud in a recent, showboat-and-yahoo contest held online by one of the biggest players in the literary arts biz: Narrative Magazine. Given Narrative's young history, I found it hard to believe that the editors would really be guilty of anything unethical. Usually that only comes after many years of status and power finally add up to an equal measure of hubris and arrogance.

Upon first glance, it appears that Narrative Magazine is more interested in running a lucrative business than anything else. Everything about it feels corporate. Money-making contests abound. The editors, Tom Jenks and Carol Edgarian, look like celebs with their air-brushed faces poking out in sharp digi-color from the slickly designed web pages. Is this "vision" of corporate cut and egoistic self-promotion the future of literary journals on the Internet? ... Well, argh. Let's hope not. Perhaps good news for some, but a lot is potentially bad news.

Tom Jenks and Carol Edgarian recently judged their latest contest, the 2008 First-Person Story Contest. I find it highly irregular that the editors, rather than choose an independent judge or a panel of judges, picked themselves to judge. Egoistic? Foolish? All the above? Regardless, it definitely opens them up to charges of favoritism, and more importantly, fraud, especially if the winner of their expensive, big pay-off contest turns out to be someone they know, e.g., an associate or friend in the literary world.

Writer blogs across the Internet helped Jenks and Edgarian publicize their contest. Narrative Magazine tapped everyone on their huge mail list (mail fraud?) and generally let out all the stops to push this competition.

Years ago, a poet board run by Alan Cordle, Foetry.Com, made it a holy mission to expose fraud in poetry contests. It made everyone realize (despite the overzealousness of some Foetry followers) that favoritism was rampant in the literary world and that closer scrutiny was needed to asssure contest-paying customers got a fair shake.

Now, back to Narrative Magazine's contest. Here is the announcement of the winners broadcast all over the Internet.

First Place ($3,000) Gina Ochsner On Principle
Second Place ($1,750) Heather Brittain Bergstrom Celilo Falls
Third Place ($1,000) Holly Wilson Night Glow

Now, here is where it gets ugly. A simple google search with Edgarian's name and Gina Oschner, the big $3000.00 winner, reveals what appears to be a strong relationship between the two writers before the judging of the contest in question.

As follows:
Gina Ochsner writes with the delight and knowing of a born conjurer. Her world is that liminal space, that disconnect, between nature and our lives-heaven's winking outside the office window, grass pushing up around the casket, umbrellas opening like the great beating of wings. — Carol Edgarian

Okay, so after reading this gushy blurb we are able to place Oshsner and Edgarian close enough in relationship that the Narrative editor agrees to blurb her book.

Next we have this little eye opener right from the pages of Narrative:

Ochsner's story collection The Necessary Grace to Fall won the Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction from the University of Georgia Press. Afterward, Ochsner wrote to Tom Jenks and Carol Edgarian to say, "Many thanks for your superb editing of 'Signs: Markings.' It found a happy home with Image: A Journal of Arts and Religion. Thanks to you, Carol, for your encouragement and excellent teaching.

"Thanks to you, Carol, for your encouragement and excellent teaching."

I believe this proves without doubt that Ochsner had pursued a relationship with the editors of Narrative Magazine and had established that relationship effectively. She personally thanks Carol for "encouragement and excellent teaching."
One can't but wonder if Edgarian also helped edit the winning piece that Ochsner submitted to the contest.
Narrative ... I'll be watching you closely, as I hope will thousands of others.



  1. Tim W. Brown9:14 AM

    Thanks for your post, which I found due to a link from Wet Asphalt. Here's another egregious example of literary corruption, which isn't limited to poetry contests:

    As pointed out in my essay, the principals and board members of Fiction Collective 2 regularly publish their own books using taxpayer money.

  2. Anonymous2:04 PM

    I want to warn people out there about Tom Jenks. Since I have never directly dealt with Carol Edgarian (Tom's wife) I can only speak of my experience with Tom. I spent a $$ pretty penny in Tom's seminars (which --to be fair--were good..just extremely over-priced) and I later had Tom give me one on one consultation on a novel I had completed some time after attending his class. Tom was extraordinarily$$ expensive.--Charging a hefty few thousand dollars --yet, because I trusted his judgment (which is sound-he is an excellent editor), I consented to the high fee. But this is not all that upset me about the man. Tom plays up his literary circle of influence to exaggerated levels--and it is this that I foolishly fell for. The idea that he would, seeing the merits of my work, be of some real assistance in that exclusive world of the literary elite was the polish on the apple -so to speak. (and he's very good at this.)

    After I acquired a very reputable literary agent, he bluntly told me that the man never bothered to return any of his calls--which is very customary with agents-- as he was merely feeling out any editors who might be looking. Certainly Tom had helped other writers in this way before--it's just that once he turned into this enterprising editor for hire, he dropped any actual assistance where it would truly matter. This could okay if Jenks and Edgarian, his wife & side kick, did not render this illusion of welcoming aspirant writers to the "inner circle"--implying with this 'Narrative Magazine' and their lucrative contests, etc., that you ,too, could be the next lucky writer to be brought into the exclusive literary temple of sorts.

    My advice?

    Stay away from Tom Jenks and his wife. They are definitely in it for the $$money, pure and simple and they will create all the impressive packaging they can drum up to lure writers who are hungry to get into that literary elite set of decision makers.

    Go to conferences. Meet agents and editors on your own. Trust your own eyes and ears in one-on-one encounters. It's a healthier way to get your name out there.

  3. Thank you for the warning!


  4. Dear Ms. Brody:

    To be honest, it’s not difficult to see why you couldn’t make it as a lawyer. You may also have trouble making it as a published author if you continue to posture like this. Publishers have it hard enough as it is. There are so many good writers out there that publishers can pick and choose among them. Why would a publisher choose, therefore, an author who is hostile, contentious, unfair and irresponsible?

    With regard to Tom Jenks, the man is brilliant, super-competent as an editor, and deeply devoted to
    promoting great literature and making it available to everyone who wants to read it.

    Fellow students in my creative writing classes have praised the workshops Mr. Jenks and
    Ms. Edgarian offer, and claim to have benefited enormously from their knowledge and encouragement.

    Mr. Jenks has edited some of my work, and I have been impressed and satisfied with what he did. He did not promise publication or imply that he would find a publisher for me, and that is not what I asked him to do. If he does, however, I’ll be grateful. Like nearly every other writer in America, I need all the help I can get.

    I continue to seek Mr. Jenks’s help and will do so when I can afford it. To criticize him for the fees he charges is absolutely preposterous. Literature is Mr. Jenks’s profession -— his life’s work. We all need to make a living, and all of us are free to charge what the market will bear for us.

    If you were working as a self-employed lawyer, would you expect to provide legal services for free, or for fees so low that you wouldn’t be able to make a decent living? I would doubt that. And if you could make the millions per year that some lawyers make, I bet you would do it.

    With regard to Gina Ochsner, she is one of the best American authors writing today. The world
    of great contemporary literature is a small one, and most of the principals in it know each other.
    There is no point in seeking “outside” judges, because I don’t think they could be found. It would be almost impossible to find a contest judge who had never heard of Gina Ochsner or had not read at least some of her work. So what are we saying here? That Ms. Ochsner should not enter a writing contest? We have to rely on the judges to base their choices on the quality of the writing. This may not be the perfect way, or the most objective way, but it’s the only practical way I can think of.
    The alternative would be to find judges who were less qualified to judge, and I don’t think anyone would want to enter such a contest.

    All this said, I honestly wish all the best for you -— as I wish for all writers -— in an undertaking that is both challenging and beyond worthwhile.

    All best,

    Arlene Sanders

  5. Dearest Arlene Sanders Who Defends Fraudulent Literary Contests,

    Your reasoning is sound. I must admit my terrible mistake. Of course, any independent judge or panel of judges would have chosen Gina's work out of a field of a thousand submissions or more. Of course. They would have recognized her greatness immediately, even though her name wasn't on the ms.

    How stupid of me!

    Now I must praise your posturing on behalf of Tom Jenks and Carol. I'm sure they are grateful. Will they reward you with prize money like they did Gina?

    Good luck living with yourself, honey.

    By the way, the legal biz is filled with morally confused people, just like you and Tom and Carol. Why don't you consider the legal profession? You'll make a bundle, given your capacity for sound ethical reasoning.


  6. Anonymous11:00 AM

    I will --once again--state that Tom Jenks-though he is good at what he does--banks heavily (pun unintended) on stretching facts about his literary background (which is now old..He was at Scribner 20 years ago!) to justify his high fees. Sorry, but he shapes his credentials in such a way as to give many an eager and struggling writer the impression that he will, by his associations,though many now past, will give some leeway into those very tight, literary enclaves. --Arlene Sanders--whoever this rah-rah cheerleader is, it really sounds like you invested quite a bit of $$ and is really hoping for some pay-off somewhere down the line. Tom is totally out of line, price-wise. Everyone who is anyone in Northern Ca lit (Squaw Valley anyone?)circles knows about this. It has been discussed with humor, at times, but at great length. I am talking about --say--$5,000+ and upward for a mid-size work of fiction that did not include any line editing--just shaping and prose trimming. Jenks is not interested in just being a fine editor, he is interested in keeping his Pacific Heights home and his kids in the better, finer schools.

    Wake up.

  7. Anonymous2:15 PM

    Again, I will state that Tom Jenks-though he is good at what he does--banks heavily (pun unintended) on stretching facts about his literary background (which is now old..He was at Scribner 20 years ago!) to justify his high fees. Sorry, but he shapes his credentials in such a way as to give many an eager and struggling writer the impression that he will, by his associations,though many now past, will give some leeway into those very tight, literary enclaves. --Arlene Sanders--whoever this rah-rah cheerleader is, it really sounds like you invested quite a bit of $$ and is really hoping for some pay-off somewhere down the line. Tom is totally out of line, price-wise. Everyone who is anyone in Northern Ca lit (Squaw Valley Wtrs. Conference anyone?) circles knows about this. It has been discussed with humor, at times, but at great length. I am talking about --say--$5,000+ and upward for a mid-size work of fiction that did not include any line editing--just shaping and prose trimming. Jenks is not interested in just being a fine editor, he is interested in keeping his Pacific Heights home and his kids in the better, finer schools.

    Wake up.

  8. Anonymous1:00 PM

    I don't know a thing about the Jenks, Edgarian, though Oschner's name looks familiar.

    There are two things that set my teeth on edge about this stuff.

    The reason it is a very small community is because the people in charge choose to keep it that way.

    The other point is how simple it is to avoid these sorts of perceived improprieties, and how little Jenks et al did to aovid these problems. For one, simply make all submissions anonymous. Two, have others choose at least the list of 20 or so finalists.

    Of course, if the fix is in, you can get around that sort of thing, but it does smack of at least hubris to choose a good friend as winner out of thousands without these failsafes in place.

  9. It speaks volumes that posters such as yourself must remain anonymous out of fear of Carol Edgarian and Tom Jenks.

    Thank you for your comments.


  10. Anonymous11:38 AM

    To say that they couldn't find a judge who hadn't heard of Gina is making me laugh. I could throw a rock at AWP and find 100 great judges who never heard of Gina. Contests should be run fairly. That's the way it is, but I will remain anonymous in my comments. The literary world is small.

  11. Anonymous5:11 PM

    I am not sure who the other "Anonymous" person is here---I am just responding to Elizabeth Brody who is saying that I might have a fear of Tom and or his wife-sidekick, Carol. Give me a break, Ms. Brody. I am a private person. This man caused me some pain. I'd rather not go into identifying myself. I am not afraid of that literary cheapskate, Tom Jenks or his wife. I did have a painful experience with him and I'd rather keep my identity to myself, thank you. Perhaps by my sharing that experience I could help other unsuspecting people to be wary of this man and what he purports to do for the aspiring writer.

  12. Dear E. Brody and all commenters above... although the fascinating discussion above occurred some time ago, it's quite relevant now and ought to incite a much needed debate.

    The literary world is unique in that we participate primarily by reading, writing, and conversing with one another, most of the time without a fee; eventually we contribute 5 to 30 dollars to our magazine subscription or book, however, it doesn't cost much to participate, in fact, you don't have to pay anything if you use the library, internet, or the doctor's office. While all that's "literary" struggles to sustain itself as a business in a rapidly changing economy, our friends/foes at Narrative Magazine have plugged themselves into the cash cows of the industry: the writers who want to be heard. I'd predict that the Narrative Magazines of the near future will eventually bring in more money via their "contests" than the advertising-laden glossies; or, at the least, the contest money will go neck and neck with advertising dollars. So is this all good in the lit-hood?

    Ethics? Tom Jenks and Carol Edgarian? Air brushed photos, true that. Like a previous commenter suggests, submissions should be made anonymous. Narrative Magazine's mission statement says it's "dedicated to advancing the literary arts in the digital age by supporting the finest writing talent and encouraging readership around the world and across generations." Encouragement and support are most effective when their motives are transparent. You cannot use the technology of the digital age to easily rake in tons of cash and leave question that a writer's submission is sidelined because of internal politics/relationships. That's not encouraging. In fact, questionably fraudulent "contests" probably drive more writers to burn out and make readers jaded skeptics than it does promote a healthy and thriving art form.

    You can't just corral hoards of Hemingway/Faulkner/Shakespeare wannabes to your website and tell them they can potentially have their work recognized for the fee of 20 bucks and then give it to your buddy who you've edited and worked with before. Well, it'd be acceptable if your contests were held like an HIV test, anonymously, that is. Just use a barcode. The literary system needs some doctoring if it wants to thrive. Buyer beware. You pay with your words, not your submission fee.

    Thanks to WebdelSol for linking me to Arts and Palaver. And to Madame Brody, keep keeping it real. You got me fuming now. I like your stuff.

  13. Anonymous1:56 PM

    While we're revisiting this contest, I note that Jenks and Edgarian also run StoryQuarterly, and the runner-up of this Narrative contest was also a runner-up in one of theirs. And how did I find that out? Because famous lit blogger Maud Newton magically happened to come in second in that contest, and wrote about it in her blog. No offense meant to Maud, but still...Anyway, Maud came in second. Coming in first and third were Janet Burroway and Elizabeth Stuckley-French, two writers who two years prior just happened to have edited a revision to Burroway's classic how-to-write textbook (wonder if Jenks uses that in his class.) They teach together at Florida State. How's that for a coincidence? Also among the runners-up is Mermer Blakeslee, the 2006 Narrative Prize winner. Some of their winners are listed as donors, too. I assume the donations came from their winnings.

  14. Anonymous8:30 AM

    The basic issue here is that, as a former student who had a close acquaintance with the editors of Narrative, it was absolutely improper of Ochner to have entered their contest--and absolutely improper of the editors to not have eliminated her once her identity was revealed, even if the contest was judged blindly. Thanks for posting this.

  15. Nepotism isn't really much of a surprise. It's the way human beings have done things for a couple thousand years. Let's face it the literary business isn't much different than the used car business. So it goes.

    The real question to me is: Does anyone actually read Narrative Magazine? Pedestrian Magazine would be more apt of a title. Competent, well-done,and lifeless writing. I remain unimpressed.

  16. Anonymous5:05 PM

    hi there...i've been reading this post with increasing interest and then lo and behold, guess what...burroway wins their most recent contest, announced today....someone has got to investigate this jenks and his wife as frauds and total fucking slimeballs...

  17. Anonymous5:06 PM

    woops...forgot the it is...i'm disgusted with the hubris these two have...don't they think anyone can figure out what they are up to?

  18. Anonymous6:01 AM

    Just to add a little color to the April 7 comment: and by the way, Maud Newton is a valuable ally for Jenks/Edgarian because her literary blog is fairly influential.

  19. Anonymous5:43 PM

    Help me, seriously. I am overwhelmed. I laid down my best story for the Winter 2009 contest since I had received some strong feedback on it, but I never would have participated had I known what was going on. I may not have won in a blind contest anyway. That's what we all face, but when I saw Burroway's name as the winner, I suspected something wasn't right, and this was before I read about the connections discussed here.

    A friend sent me a link to the Rosenfield post which lead me here and low and behold, a former mentor of mine was part of the fray last year. I want to cry, seriously.

    Contests should be blind, and had I known this one wasn't, I never would have entered. There should be enforceable standards. I'm surprised to here there are not, and this is just not sour grapes talking. Writers need protection and fairness. I can't tell you how much wind this has taken out of my sails and I can't tell you how sick I will be if I open up an email tomorrow with that red header "Narrative Magazine." It's someone's narrative, the narrative of a very few.

  20. Anonymous2:37 PM

    I sent a relative a link to this article and she never emailed me back. At one time, she utilized Tom Jenks for an expensive private editing session, and though I can't remember clearly now, I thought she thought it was bullshit and a waste of money. As she hasn't contacted me, I now am thinking that she actually found Jenks to be an invaluable and impartial editor. I guess ultimately it is only the truth that counts, even if it does mean fucking up family relationships. Sucks but I'll tell anyone to avoid Jenks and Edgarian and any other people like these because as writers it is important that it is only our work judged and judged fairly. Jenks and Edgarian are the kind of literary pigs that will be cursed at the cocktail bar immediately following their funerals, probably when they are each 95 and have banked half a million in entry fees to their 'contests.'

  21. ATTENTION EVERYONE: Janet Burroway has just written me and informed me of her connection with Tom Jenks and Carol Edgarian prior to her recent win. I will be making a separate post about it. She not only feels there is nothing improper going on, but she tries to insult me.

    Post upcoming shortly.


  22. Anonymous4:30 PM

    Damn . . . I entered their Story of the Week months ago and never heard a thing. I've won my share of contests, and really poured my heart into this one (wa-wa); but now to know the truth, and that basically my fifteen was scammed during rough times? The last person I cursed lost everything, so now I have a new target for my Irish mojo. Look out, Narrative. We are becoming Legion.

  23. Anonymous3:13 PM

    In the relatively small and cutthroat world of literary writing, it's probably better that I stay anonymous to avoid making enemies, but here's what I can say: I'm pretty widely published in journals with a few books under my belt, although I wouldn't say I've made it big yet. I know what I'm doing, though, and I'm here to say that Narrative Magazine is an unscrupulous pyramid scheme. Like many others who have researched them, I'd like nothing more than to find the editors at AWP and punch them in the nose.

    Friends, Narrative Magazine is the of fiction, period. This has been overwhelmingly demonstrated. Actually, the high cost of the reading fees isn't even the main problem. The reason no one should submit to Narrative Magazine is that they WILL NOT read your manuscript!! Let me say that again... If you send your best stuff to Narrative Magazine, you are paying to have it sent into a black hole. Here's why.

    I have about half a dozen friends who volunteered to be interns for Narrative, mainly as a resume-builder. These friends (and I say this with all due respect) are NOT established fiction writers or poets, or experts in the field. They've explained the process to me and here's what happens: INTERNS, not editors, log in and read what somebody has paid to have considered. If they don't like it, out it goes. The editors do NOT read work unless it has the interns' OK. This is a major problem because it obviously means that "famous" writers will get bumped to the top of the queue while talented but lesser-known writers don't have a prayer. Also, the editors solicit much of their work from "famous" writers, meaning they don't really need and aren't interested in emerging writers at all (although they're VERY interested in your money!).

    Here's the final nail in the coffin: the editors are infamous for giving major prizes to... you guessed it... their friends. This too has been soundly proven and is not in dispute. The only possible justification would be to pretend that the editors just so happen to be friends with all the best writers in the country--which is absurd. In short, send your work (and your donations) to journals that deserve it.

  24. Anonymous2:48 PM

    We are all, at times, victims of our own illusions. Who doesn't want to win the big contest? How hard is it to resist the image of literary majesty that Tom and Carol cultivate?

    Unfortunately, their life's work does not consist of daily toil at the feet of the muse. They are both average writers with a special gift for.....self-promotion. Don't give 'em a single buck for their contests, workshops, or faux-editing. I did that once in a naive moment. But if there is any justice in this world, all the money they've leeched out of hopeful writers will be magically sucked into Bernie Madoff's pocket. He played a very similar game and lost.

  25. Anonymous2:44 AM

    I'd like to comment on a similar issue - tho maybe it's not quite so black and white. Some time ago I came across a series of book contests all organized by the same outfit in different cities round the world -- billed as the London, Paris, NYC, Hollywood, SF book festivals. the contests/festivals were publicized in a reputable writers newsletter I subscribe to. Entry fee was $50 per book, per festival, which is actually a standard fee for contests like the IPPY or the ForeWord, or the Hoffer.
    A friend was entered by his publisher and won honorable mention and told me he thought it was on the up and up. When I googled the contests -- books came up as winners which were published by both major publishers and self publishing --and in publications like the Authors Guild quarterly, and others, winning authors mentioned placing in these contests in their list of recent accomplishments.

    The funny thing, tho, was that this contest had a really late deadline -- you could enter up until a month before the ceremony.
    One of them even allowed you to enter books published within the last five years. So I entered a book and to my amazement, I placed runner up in a category for which no prize money was given. But I wasn't informed about winning, I found my name listed among the winners on the internet a month after the festival was supposedly held. I was disappointed at not being told, as I would have gladly gone to attend the ceremony, which did indeed take place --( I checked with the place where it was supposed to be held and was told that 40 people attended) but information about it was scanty and not precise. So now I am wondering -- I need to prepare new publicity material for my agent ---and I don't know whether or not to cite winning in this contest or not. How reputable is it, does anyone know ?

  26. Anonymous2:35 PM

    You are all missing Tom Jenks' history from which he can never escape. He was eased out of Charles Scribner's & Sons for unethical behavior, though he was employed as a minor editor for a short while. He had been hired on the strength of his so-called skills as magazine editor at Esquire--but he was especially dreadful at editing book manuscripts as he had no literary experience. I was against hiring him at Scribner's due to having checked his Esquire track history. It was too late and he arrived with tremendous arrogance and no talent. However when his work became fraudulent, and when confronted he lied. Then I had him out of Scribner's within 30 days. It was the New York Review of Books that cited his misconduct, and the New York literary circle tightened so, Tom Jenks had not a colleague left on the east coast. This is why he moved west to start anew, but a leopard does not change his stripes, and Tom Jenks continues to deceive others, now individuals because he will never again be hired by an honorable organization. This is a severe warning not to deal with Jenks or his partner for any other reason except to give them your money for no reason at all. There are better and true charities if you wish to donate. You will get nothing in return. Scribner's barely survived his theft and misrepresentation of himself.

    1. Anonymous2:05 PM

      This is the second post I have read about Tom Jenks and his history at Charles Scribner's and Sons. The first post was on a Medium article. Could you be more specific about what happened?

  27. Anonymous10:53 PM

    I'm confused about the attack on Janet Burroway, seems to me she was answering the questions openly. If some of you commenting are indeed also writers, you would know that paths cross here and there, but that 'friendship' isn't something you would consider yourself to have with everyone you encounter. If Jenks is up to no good then root it out, but I don't see why Burroway, who seems to have taken the time to reply openly when asked, is being demonised?
    Pah! ah well, each to their own, but as a struggling writer myself, I find that if there's corruption on the road to publication it's unlikely to fall at the feet of the actual artist who put in the creative work. Oh and entering competitions and the like is par for the course, as is not winning, there's no place for sour grapes or you're just going to eat yourself up with your envy.

    Labels: Tom Jenks Narrative Magazine Carol Edgarian csharp barcode

  28. Anonymous8:42 PM

    What exactly happened with Jenks and Scribner's? What was so bad that it ran him out of town?