A Time to Read

james river writers conference 2016
The annual James River Writers Conference was held last weekend. It is predominantly geared to writers, with lots of sessions on the craft and business of writing. But it also celebrates good writing—which is another way of saying, it celebrates good reading!


This year’s book contest was for the Best Self-Published Novel. No doubt the winner, Heaven Will Protect The Working Girl by Jo Allison, is a great read. It’s the third in a series of mysteries set in turn-of-the-century St. Louis. But don’t overlook the two finalists, Geoff Camphire and Bonnie Stanard.


james river writers 2016 best self published novel contest
Each year, JRW also includes an opportunity to attend the Library of Virginia’s Literary Awards Luncheon. This year’s Life-Time Achievement Award went to Nikki Giovanni.


nikki giovanni
She is a poet, writer, commentator, activist, and educator. And, BTW, she’s also a very lively and humorous speaker! She’s won numerous other awards, and her publications are too many to mention here, but go online and be impressed—and maybe inspired to pick up one of her books!


Or perhaps you will be taken by the work of one of their Literary Awards Finalists in Poetry: Jon Pineda (winner), Joshua Poteat, and Claudia Emerson.


james river writers 2016 shann palmer poetry contest
JRW also recognizes poetry. Check out this year’s winner (Zoe) and finalists of the Shann Palmer Poetry award.


Rita Dove said, “Poetry is language at its most distilled and most powerful.” Perhaps it’s time to see for yourself.


If, in spite of it all, you aren’t drawn to poetry, the Library of Virginia also makes annual awards in fiction and non-fiction. This year’s Library Award in Fiction was won by Robert Goolrick for his novel The Fall of Princes. Other finalists were Leslie Pietrzyk and Sara Taylor. Goolrick was interviewed for JRW attendees Saturday afternoon. Although he attended Johns Hopkins University, he was born in Virginia and lives here now.


robert goolrick fall of princes
[Photo credit: Algonquin Books]
His novels include  A Reliable Wife, Heading Out of Wonderful, and The End of the World as We Know It—plus several others.
Something Must Be Done About Prince Edward County by Kristen Green
[Photo credit: HarperCollins Publishers]
The Library Awards Finalists in Non-Fiction were Bert Ashe, Mary Sarah Bilder, and Kristen Green. Bilder’s book was Madison’s Hand: Revising the Constitutional Convention; Ashe’s book was Twisted: My Dreadlock Chronicles. Green won for Something Must Be Done About Prince Edward County
bert ashe library of virginia
Ashe spoke at two JRW sessions: “Writing What You Know: Turning Your Personal Experiences into Sellable Books” and “Powerful Articles” were very well-received. (Other panelists were Kurt P. Behm and Jessica Lahey.) He also joined Phaedra Hise and Jason Tessuro for the “What’s Your Story?” presentation on how to make a story that entices readers beyond our own limited sphere of influence.


So pick up a good memoir or two—or three or four! It’s always a good day to read.


UPDATE: This post was corrected to acknowledge Kristen Green won the 2016 Literary Award for Nonfiction.

The Road to the James River Writers Prize

I don’t enter contests. The Sandra Brown Prize for Short Fiction was awarded for “Good Works” based on manuscripts accepted for publication that year in descant.

descant literary journal writing contest

But this spring, when the James River Writers Best Unpublished Novel Contest call for submissions came, the timing was right. I was wrapping up a manuscript I started years ago, and the deadlines were exactly what I needed to finish it off.

James River Writers and Richmond Magazine have announced the winners in the 2015 Best Unpublished Novel Contest and Nettie’s Books was a finalist. Thank you JRW and Richmond Magazine!

One year during my Nimrod writing week, I took an afternoon off to go to Clifton Forge. There was a store there (now gone) that claimed to sell antiques, but it was the sort of place where everything was jumbled together and thick with dust. I found 3 diaries written by a middle-aged local woman, which I snapped up immediately for no reason except that I am enamored of diaries.

three old diaries
Diaries that inspired Nettie’s Books

If you have diaries, journals, or family letters you would be willing to part with, let me know! I have a file cabinet labeled “Other People’s Lives” for just such treasures.

I hesitated before deciding to buy the scrapbook because of its size—15.5 in. x 11 in.—and poor condition, but looking at the sorts of clippings it contained, I couldn’t resist.

scrapbook with sketch of boy and girl and text, "Jumbo Scrap Book"
Scrapbook that inspired Nettie’s Books

My first thought was to write a short story in which the same woman who wrote a diary about the weather, the garden, cooking, and playing bingo also kept a scrapbook about news of the weird and death. The fact that the earliest diary was 1965-1969 and the clippings were decades older was no impediment.

Scrapbook page with newspaper clippings
Click for a closer view of the scrapbook

scrapbook pages with newspaper clippings

And then the story grew. The result is Nettie’s Books, set in Bath and Alleghany Counties, 1930-1935. The book begins when Nettie is thirty years old. My next goal is to get it published. I’m hopeful that winning this prize will help with that!