James River Writers is pleased to announce Laura Long of Charlottesville, for What Will Burn, as the first place winner of the JRW and Richmond Magazine 2013 Best Unpublished Novel Contest. Phyllis Haislip of Williamsburg, for The Viscount’s Daughter, and Derek Kannemeyer of Richmond, for The Memory Addicts, have been selected as finalists.
The Best Unpublished Novel Contest, held since 2008 in alternating years with the Best Poetry Contest, is at the heart of James River Writers’ mission of connecting and inspiring readers and writers.
Seventy-two writers submitted the first fifty pages of their manuscripts to be scored by a cadre of volunteer readers. The process was completely anonymous. A team of second-round judges—Maya Payne Smart, Gigi Amateau, and Douglas Jones—selected the three finalists from the top nine’s complete manuscripts. Head judge Virginia Pye then determined the winner.
“Long’s What Will Burn is written in simple, clear language that shows admirable restraint and even, at times, elegance,” says Pye, author of River of Dust (Unbridled Books, May 2013).
A. B. Westrick, author of Brotherhood (Viking, September 2013), served as volunteer coordinator of the contest. “Every writer who submits receives feedback on what works and what still needs revision, and the volunteer readers glean insights that help them edit their own works-in-progress,” says Westrick.
The first prize winner receives $500, publication of an excerpt in Richmond Magazine, which will be released on June 26, as well as a ticket to the annual James River Writers Conference. The two finalists each receive $200.
“From Edgar Allen Poe and Ellen Glasgow to Tom Robbins and Dean King, Richmond is a city with a rich literary history and presence. Richmond Magazine is proud to continue this legacy by working with James River Writers to recognize up-and-coming literary talent,” says Jessica Haddad of Richmond Magazine.
The winner and finalists share an appreciation for the opportunity to receive feedback on their work, as well as for the motivation the contest provides.
“I’ve worked on my novel for years, and this competition gave me an invaluable deadline–it helped me finish the book,” says first place winner Laura Long. What Will Burn, set in the West Virginia countryside, explores family entanglements and the impact of violent pasts.
“I am encouraged for my novel and for everyone with the dedication to write a novel,” says Long, who teaches at Lynchburg College. She is also the author of a book of poems, Imagine a Door, and a forthcoming chapbook, The Eye of Caroline Herschel, and has just completed a collection of short stories. Her fiction has been awarded various fellowships and her work has been published in magazines such as Shenandoah and Southern Review.
The Memory Addicts, told from the point of view of a group of survivors of a memory loss pandemic, was finalist Derek Kannemeyer’s first attempt at a non-verse novel. “I’m using the impetus of having been a finalist to drive me through the additional drafts,” says Kannemeyer, who has taught at St. Catherine’s School in Richmond since 1981. He writes mostly poetry but has also published a number of fiction and non-fiction short prose pieces. “Honestly, this contest has helped me so much it feels a bit like cheating—like hitching a ride in the middle of a marathon.”
Phyllis Haislip, who wrote The Viscount’s Daughter as the first book in a trilogy, shared that “becoming a finalist has been a tremendous incentive to complete the other books.” Haislip, a retired college history professor, writes full time, and has been working on the trilogy for five years. “I decided I’d finished the first book and if no one liked it or was interested in it, I’d cut my losses and give up on the others.” She has six published historical novels for children 8 to 12, including Lottie’s Courage, which won the Beacon of Freedom Award. The Viscount’s Daughter, Haislip’s first adult novel, was inspired by her first published historical essay about a medieval French noblewoman who escaped from her husband and raised an army to defeat him in battle and win her freedom.
Writing involves self-doubt and long days and often years of researching, writing, and revising. James River Writers commends all of the writers who submitted manuscripts.
— by Sheila Sheppard Lovelady, JRW Program Director
Excerpts from the Winner’s and Finalists’ Novels
“The butterfly dipped and rose in a crooked flight, and floated out of the studio. Twila followed. Now she was completely distracted: two dozen birds were flying in concert in the sky, in a pattern that got broad then narrow, like a lung breathing. How could she capture that sensation in a painting, like a hand closing into a fist and then opening again?”
— from Laura Long‘s What Will Burn
“The curtain wall came to just above her waist and offered little protection from the arrows flying in every direction. She ignored them and stepped from the shelter of the tower. I am Ermengarde. Taking a deep breath, she walked along the curtain wall, head held high, Saure’s red gown bright in the rising sun.”
— from Phyllis Haislip‘s The Viscount’s Daughter
“The psychedelic wall colors darkened. They sat facing each other across the lacquered scarlet table. They sipped coffee from the sky blue mugs.’”Should be soon,’ she said.
‘She toed off her shoes and pushed them away under the table. He kicked off his and undid a second button of his shirt. The lids of his eyes began a slow morse flutter.
‘She pressed his hands between her hands and said, ‘It’s starting.’”
— from Derek Kannemeyer‘s The Memory Addicts