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But this spring, when the James River Writers Best Unpublished Novel Contest call for submissions came, the timing was right.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James River Writers and Richmond Magazine have announced the winners in the 2015 Best Unpublished Novel Contest and Nettie’s Books was a finalist.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!