English professor wins best unpublished novel contest

laura longDr. Laura Long, associate professor of English, has won the James River Writers and Richmond Magazine 2013 Best Unpublished Novel Contest for What Will Burn.

The Best Unpublished Novel Contest, held since 2008 in alternating years with the Best Poetry Contest, is at the heart of James River Writers’ mission of connecting and inspiring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, released June 26, as well as a ticket to the annual James River Writers Conference.

“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,” Dr. Long said. 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.