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Provided by Galaxy Press
Winning illustrator Kyna Tek, left, and winning author Darci Stone, of the Writers of the Future contest.

SALT LAKE CITY — Award-winning Utah author Darci Stone has never experienced rejection — at least not as a writer.

Stone, a high school physics teacher, is the grand prize winner of the 2018 Writers of the Future contest — not bad considering that was the first writing contest Stone has entered. And even better when one considers that her winning novelette, "Mara's Shadow," is the first story she's ever written.

It helps that she's in Brandon Sanderson's writing group.

Stone's husband, Eric, first introduced her to writing when they were dating. He would take her with him to his writing group, which included Sanderson, and over time, Darci Stone began to consider writing stories of her own. Eric Stone, a computer programmer by day, had published a novel and in 2010, won a Nebula Award for his novelette, "That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made," which was also shortlisted for a Hugo Award.

Provided by Galaxy Press
Darci Stone won the grand prize in the Writers of the Future contest.

No stranger to the Writers of the Future contest — he was a finalist in 2004 — Eric Stone encouraged his wife to enter her story. He assured her it would be a nice, easy place for a first submission — it was just a contest, and if they didn't like her story, they'd be polite about it.

Darci Stone entered the contest, became a finalist, then went on to win the whole thing. Now Stone's story will be featured in the 2018 Writers of the Future anthology alongside the work of major writers such as Sanderson and Orson Scott Card.

"Obviously I hoped my story would be good enough to win," she said, "but to actually hear my name called was still kind of surreal."

Stone describes her winning story, "Mara's Shadow," as a futuristic medical thriller. It follows the tale of a young Vietnamese woman who finds a cure to a dangerous parasite that threatens the future of the human race. Drawing on her science background, Stone used her access to science equipment for research and ideas and also asked other science teachers for help.

Between her science fiction writing and work as a science teacer, Stone is used to being involved in fields and hobbies that are often male-heavy. In college, she was originally a mechanical engineering major, where she said the male-to-female ratio was often 200-to-3.

"I think I had the right personality where I just went into it because I wanted to," she said. "I didn't care if it was for boys only."

Provided by Galaxy Press
Darci Stone with her husband, Eric, and their daughter.

Now as a teacher, she gets frustrated when she sees some of her female students swayed away from math and science because of old cultural stigmas. She has also noticed that some female science fiction writers use their initials, which conceals their gender in an industry that has been traditionally male-dominated.

"I do think it's getting better," Stone said. "This year with Writers of the Future, it was the first year they actually had more female winners than male winners. That had never happened before."

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Knowing that she was a finalist and could win the grand prize, Stone headed to Hollywood this April to attend a weeklong workshop with authors including Kevin J. Anderson and Larry Niven. She later found out she won the grand prize at a gala event.

Stone hopes to expand "Mara's Shadow" into a novel and is also working on a middle grade fantasy book.

"I love the imagination involved in sci-fi and fantasy," she said. "You're always asking the question, 'What if?' and exploring that."