“On the thirteenth alligator gizzard she opened with her scalpel, out poured a dazzling array of cabochon-cut star sapphires, mingled with mud, grit, and a rotting human finger.”

Aspiring crime writers take note: That’s your opening line for the 2018 Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance Crime Wave Flash Fiction Contest. The line comes courtesy of writer (and part-time Maine resident) Douglas Preston, whose books – both solo and as part of the writing team Preston and (Lincoln) Child – have been translated into dozens of languages, sold millions of copies and been made into popular movies.

In a press release, the alliance announced it is “thrilled (pun intended)” to invite all Maine residents to finish Preston’s opening line – written for the contest – with their own flash fiction story of no more than 500 words. Each entry must begin with Preston’s line; after that it’s up to you. Submissions are due on April 6.

The winning story will be published in the Maine Sunday Telegram, and the winner will receive a full scholarship to attend the 2018 Maine Crime Wave conference in early June. The judges will consider newspaper standards around cursing and excessive violence in selecting a winner. First and second runners-up also will be announced in the paper and will get 50 percent and a 25 percent scholarships to attend the conference. There, on June 1, Preston will be presented with the 2018 CrimeMaster Award for Distinguished Achievement.

Find contest details at mainewriters.org. Employees of the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance and MaineToday Media, and their families, are not eligible to enter.