Fiction Contest

Past Winners: 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009

2015 Leapfrog Fiction Contest winners announced

18 manuscripts have been chosen out of 380 entries.

Click on the titles to see a description of the manuscript and author bio.

First Prize

The Solace of Monsters (novel) by Laurie Blauner (WA)


Alley Stories (stories) by Nona Caspers (CA)
The Devil Between Us (novel) by Sharon Ellis (MA)
Somewhere South of Tokyo (stories) by Holly Thompson (MA)


This Letter Explains Everything (novel) by Jo Gardiner (Australia)
Walter Is Ugly! (stories and a novella) Stephen D. Gutierrez (CA)
Report from a Place of Burning (novel) by George Looney (PA)
mist, mist (novel) by Avi Wrobel (CA)

Honorable Mentions

The Belief in Angels (young adult novel) by J. Dylan Yates (CA)
A Body’s Just as Dead (novel) by Cathy Adams (AL)
The Tiffin Box of Memories (stories) by Bipin Aurora (CA)
The Essential Carl Mahogany (novel) by Zach Boddicker (CO)
The Angel Tree (young adult novel) by Linda Beatrice Brown (NC)
The Bus Tapes (novel) by Brian Dan Christensen (NY)
The Trials of Lorenzo Perez (young adult novel) by Suzanne Hillier (CA)
The Voice of Artland Rising (novel) by Aaron Tillman (MA)
These Are Our Demands (stories) by Matthew Pitt (Texas)
The Veil (novel) by Iraj Isaac Rahmim (Texas)


Laurie Blauner, The Solace of Monsters, novel (Washington State)

Told by Mara F., a young woman whose creation was based on the Frankenstein legend by a grieving scientist and father, this is a story about memory, dreams, obsession, the limitations of the body, and  learning how to continue. The book is divided into her time with her father, the forest, the city, and lastly Mara F. returning home. During her travels, after living a secluded life with her father, she meets people and animals, and is exposed to different ways people survive in the world. The themes include how parts make up a whole, the repercussions of ethical, emotional, and moral issues, and what constitutes solace for different people.

Laurie Blauner is the author of three novels, Infinite Kindness, Somebody, and The Bohemians, all from Black Heron Press, as well as seven books of poetry. A novella called Instructions for Living was published in 2011 from Main Street Rag. Her most recent book of poetry, It Looks Worse than I Am, was published in 2014 as the first Open Reading Period selection from What Books Press. A poetry chapbook was published in 2013 from dancing girl press. She has received a National Endowment of the Arts Fellowship as well as Seattle Arts Commission, King County Arts Commission, 4Culture, and Artist Trust grants and awards. She was a resident at Centrum in Washington State and was in the Jack Straw Writers Program in 2007. Her work has appeared in The New Republic, The Nation, The Georgia Review, American Poetry Review, Mississippi Review, Field, Caketrain, Denver Quarterly, The Colorado Review, The Collagist, and many other magazines. She lives in Seattle, Washington. Her web site is

Nona Caspers, Alley Stories (California)

In "Alley Stories," a young woman travels back to a time in her life after the death of her first lover, Michelle. Beyond and within the everyday and the shifting shapes of grief, these lyrical stories draw on a deeper level of perception and consciousness. The twenty-two shorts and longer narratives unfold like a song cycle, building a tilted, strangely beautiful world of loss and recovery. 

Nona Caspers' Heavier Than Air received the Grace Paley Short Fiction award and was a NYTBR Editors’ Choice. Her fiction also has been honored with an NEA fellowship, Joseph Henry Jackson Literary Award, and an Iowa Review Fiction Award among others. Stories from “Alley Stories” have appeared in Glimmer Train, Cimarron Review, Black Warrior Review, Green Mountain, and Kenyon Review. She’s the author of LITTLE BOOK OF DAYS and in 2014 she co-edited with Joell Hallowell Lawfully Wedded Wives: Rethinking Marriage in the 21st Century. She teaches creative writing at San Francisco State University.

Sharon Ellis, The Devil Between Us, novel (Massachusetts)

Set in Massachusetts against the backdrop of the rise and fall of the twentieth century textile industry, The Devil Between Us is a novel of glimpses into multiple generations of the members of one dysfunctional family. The story explores the role perspective plays in memory and experience, as well as the ripple effects of a legacy of abuse.

Sharon Ellis’s work has appeared in The New Quarterly, The Rejected Quarterly, Meeting House, Chaos Theory, Down in the Dirt, The Storyteller, The Kit-Cat Review, The Northwoods Anthology, and Metal Scratches. She has lived around the world in countries such as Canada, Saudi Arabia, Switzerland, England, and the USA, but she is now settled in suburban Massachusetts with her husband and two children.

Jo Gardiner, This Letter Explains Everything, novel (Australia)

This Letter Explains Everything is a novel about the role of language in a love triangle that unfolds when a young Australian soldier leaves his girlfriend in Australia to join the Occupational Forces in Japan following the Second World War, and in a chance encounter, photographs a beautiful young Japanese woman kneeling in the snow in Tokyo. It ranges from the fire-bombing of Tokyo to a wildfire sweeping towards the exotic Japanese garden the soldier built when he returned to Australia, and ends with the girl he left behind reading the exquisite scroll letter of yearning and despair written by the girl in the snow.

I'm a psychologist and writer of fiction and poetry and live in the Blue Mountains in Australia.

Stephen D. Gutierrez, Walter Is Ugly!, stories and a novella (California)

Walter Is Ugly! eight stories and a novella concerns the horror of being ugly (or perceiving oneself to be ugly) in what for many is the ugliest phase of life—adolescence and the young adult years. The protagonist, Walter C. Ramirez, copes with his trouble by questioning and finding succor in his faith, Catholicism, often blasphemously or vulnerably , and by drinking, partying, isolating himself and engaging as well as he can in the world—by living. And he survives. A working class anti-hero of sorts, Walter is neither redeemed nor saved, but still standing at the end of his trials, grinning sloppily, sadly and victoriously.

Stephen D. Gutierrez published The Mexican Man in His Backyard in 2014. His other books are Elements and Live from Fresno y Los, which won the Nilon Award from FC2 and American Book Award, respectively. He has published prolifically in magazines and anthologies, both fiction and creative nonfiction. Originally from Los Angeles, he teaches at California State University East Bay in the San Francisco Bay Area.

George Looney, Report from a Place of Burning, novel (Pennsylvania)

Report from a Place of Burning is a novel in which six voices each speak three times; thus, I have named it a Triptych in Voices. Each of the six voices is telling its own story, and the one consistent narrative thread is that in this small Midwestern town a series of babies have died under unusual circumstances. The babies have burned in their cribs, though nothing else in the room has burned, including the cribs, no fire detectors have gone off, and no parent has heard anything through a baby monitor. The voices include a mother of one of the burned babies, a detective investigating the deaths, and a religious fanatic who may or may not know what is happening to the babies. There’s also an adulterer, a widow, and a widower. The truth of what has been happening to the babies may or may not be found in the novel. There are a number of possibilities offered up by various voices; it is up to the reader to decide whether any of the possibilities offered up is correct. It is up to the reader to decide just what has been happening.

George Looney’s books include Meditations Before the Windows Fail, forthcoming from Lost Horse Press in the fall of 2015, Structures the Wind Sings Through (a book-length poem from Full/Crescent Press, 2014), Monks Beginning to Waltz (Truman State University Press, 2012), A Short Bestiary of Love and Madness (Stephen F. Austin State University Press, 2011), Open Between Us (Turning Point, 2010), The Precarious Rhetoric of Angels (White Pine Press, 2005), Attendant Ghosts (Cleveland State University Press, 2000), Animals Housed in the Pleasure of Flesh (Bluestem Press, 1995), and the novella Hymn of Ash (Elixir Press, 2008). He founded the BFA in Creative Writing Program at Penn State Erie, serves as editor-in-chief of the international literary journal Lake Effect and translation editor of Mid-American Review, and is the co-founder of the Chautauqua Writers’ Festival.

Holly Thompson, Somewhere South of Tokyo, stories (Massachusetts)

 Somewhere South of Tokyo captures the daily rhythms of cross-cultural life in Japan through stories of insiders and outsiders and those stranded between. Longer stories are threaded together with a series of short shorts about one woman’s struggles to make sense, over the years, of reverberating life moments in her adopted home. Small-town neighborhoods, rural villages and vast urban districts serve as sharply drawn backdrops for tensions arising from intersections and encounters that reveal nuanced and often vexing expectations of a not-always conformist society.

Holly Thompson ( is the author of three verse novels for young people: Falling into the Dragon’s Mouth, The Language Inside,and Orchards, winner of the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature. She is also author of the novel Ash and editor of Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction—An Anthology of Japan Teen Stories. A native of Massachusetts and a longtime resident of Japan, she teaches writing in the U.S., Japan, and places in between.

Avi Wrobel, mist, mist, novel (California)

mist, mist is the story of a young boy’s struggle to deal with a dissociated mother and volatile father living in times of calamity and impending annihilation. Using whatever means are at his disposal, including a tattered doll collection he culled from neighborhood trash cans, music he hears on the radio and a regular viewing of the sky above, the boy fights off the attempt by an alien environment to strip him of his most precious possession, his ability to feel his natural emotions and sense the glory that exists beyond the threats and dangers of his surroundings.

Avi Wrobel was born in Haifa, Israel, and immigrated with his parents to Alhambra, California, when he was thirteen. He majored in physics and literature at Caltech and worked as an engineer after graduation. After three years in a cubicle, he moved to Big Sur and worked in construction and as a ranch hand while pursuing Henry Miller’s muse. He came back to the city upon his father’s death, had a family, raised two children and became a partner in an electronics firm. On the side he participated in a mineral exploration venture in Virginia City, Nevada, where he sought out Mark Twain’s ghost at the Territorial Enterprise. So far he has managed to match Mark Twain’s success as a miner. He is presently married to a classical pianist and lives in Los Angeles.

J. Dylan Yates, The Belief in Angels, young adult novel (California)

THE BELIEF IN Angels, Dylan's debut novel, was written over the course of many years while she attempted a number of BFA-related jobs, including: waitressing, teaching, corporate training, real estate, nursing, interior design, directing, acting, producing, library science, parenting and reluctant housewifery. Dylan volunteered with Boulder County's Voices for Children program as a C.A.S.A for 15 years and now volunteers with the Girls Rising program as a mentor. 

Jules Finn and Szaja Trautman know that sorrow can sink deeply--so deeply it can drown the soul. Growing up in her parents' crazy hippie household on a tiny island off the coast of Boston, Jules's imaginative sense of humor is the weapon she wields as a defense against the chaos of her family's household. Somewhere between routine discipline with horsewhips, gun-waving gambling debt collectors, and LSD-laced breakfast cereal adventures, tragedy strikes a blow from which Jules may never recover.

Jules's story alternates with that of her grandfather, Szaja, an orthodox Jew who survives the murderous Ukranian pogroms of the 1920s, the Majdanek death camp, and the torpedoing of the Mefkura, a ship carrying refugees to Palestine. Unable to deal with the horrors he endures at the camp, Szaja develops a dissociative disorder and takes on the persona of a dead soldier from a burial ditch, using that man's thoughts to devise a plan to escape to America. 
While Szaja's and Jules's sorrows are different on the surface, adversity requires them both to find the will to live despite the suffering in their lives--and both encounter, in their darkest moments, what could be explained as serendipity or divine intervention. For Jules and Szaja, these experiences offer the hope the need in order to come to the rescue of their own fractured lives.

Cathy Adams, A Body’s Just as Dead, novel (Alabama)

The Hemper family is trying to survive in a world in which that they no longer have a place. In this Alabama town, the once high-paying manufacturing jobs have dried up and been replaced by nail salons, bail bonds, and title pawn shops. Pete-O, a diabetic amputee in a wheelchair, blames everyone around him for trying to take away his country, and, in a fit of misplaced rage, shoots a Walmart store manager after he tells Pete-O his dog isn’t allowed in the store. His nephew, Robert, fired from numerous minimum wage jobs, is headed down the same destructive path. The matriarch of the family, Lilith Ann, struggles to keep everyone intact with her own fits of tough love despite the mental illness, violence, and family squabbles that threaten to tear them apart.

Cathy Adams was recently nominated for a 2015 Pushcart Prize. Her first novel, This Is What It Smells Like, was published by New Libri Press, and she has been published in Utne, A River and Sound Review, Upstreet, and Portland Review, among others. She resides in Xinzheng, China. Read more about her work at:

Bipin Aurora, The Tiffin Box of Memories, stories (California)

Some of the stories are set in India, some in America. However, all of the stories deal, in one way or another, with memories and often memories of home: "the tiffin box of memories" referenced by one of the characters in the collection. 

Bipin Aurora has worked as an economist, an energy analyst, and a systems analyst. His fiction has appeared in Quarterly West, Epiphany, Harpur Palate, Prism Review, Southern Indiana Review, North Atlantic Review, Quiddity, Puerto del Sol, Southern Humanities Review, Rosebud, The Common, Eclipse, Michigan Quarterly Review, Southwest Review, Nimrod, Witness, The Chattahoochee Review, Western Humanities Review, and Crossborder, and is forthcoming in The Carolina Quarterly, South Dakota Review, and Grain Magazine. 

Zach Boddicker, The Essential Carl Mahogany, novel (Colorado)

A highly-decorated, currently-exiled Nashville songwriter embarks on what might be his final tour. When a long-forgotten-about girlfriend (now a tenured humanities professor at a private college) becomes persistent about reconnecting with him, he's forced to reconcile with every personal, professional, and artistic decision he's made since she attacked him 20 years before with an aluminum folding lawn chair. Things may or may not get better.

Zach Boddicker is a writer, musician, and truck driver currently based in Denver, Colorado. His most recent publication is a short story in A Decade of Country Hits: Art on the Rural Frontier (Jap Sam Books, 2014). His current situation can be found at:

Linda Beatrice Brown, The Angel Tree, young adult novel (North Carolina)

When 11-year-old Pennyroyal Middleton and her little sister Fernie lose their mother and are separated from their father in 1875, they must find a way to fend for themselves. It is the Reconstruction era, a difficult time for African-Americans. They live on the sea islands of the Carolinas and Penny has been attending the Penn school on St. Helena’s Island, SC, where children of freedmen are educated. Their adventures take them into the minstrel theater scene where they must escape from a vicious would-be murderer, and finally to Charleston where they are kidnapped and taken to a plantation. The desperate journey of Penny’s teacher, Miss Daylily and her friends as they attempt to find the youngsters, will reveal much to readers about life in this time; and we are reminded of the importance of family through the dramatic adventures of the Middleton sisters.

Linda Beatrice Brown is the retired Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at Bennett College, in Greensboro NC. She is the author of three novels, Rainbow ‘Roun Mah Shoulder, Crossing Over Jordan, and Black Angels. She has lectured widely and has poetry in several anthologies. She is the author of three plays, which have been produced in North Carolina. Her novel Black Angels was the Okra Pick the 2009 annual conference of the South Carolina Independent Booksellers, and was named one of the best Books of 2009 by the Chicago Public Library. She has authored two books of non-fiction, and her latest book is a collection of poems focused on Mary the Mother of Jesus, called A Mother Knows Her Child. You can learn more about Linda at

Brian Dan Christensen, The Bus Tapes, novel (New York)

Driving a bus across America, Howard Walker, a former US Marine and jack-of-all-trades from Blue Hill, Tennessee, recounts events from his friendship with the acclaimed singer-songwriter Philip Boothman. Walker’s narrative winds back and forth — from the mid-1980s when he met Boothman in New York, to his Appalachian childhood, to the present where he is talking into a cassette tape recorder hanging from a chain around his neck — often returning to the golden years when his lost love, Delaney, and her daughter, Alberta, lived with him in Alphabet City. When Ida Sangskov, a young Danish singer, approaches Boothman at his annual benefit concert in New York, a link between several stories begin to emerge, pointing to a forgotten event by Wagonwheel Hole, a pond on the outskirts of Portland, Oregon. Though unaware of it, Walker, in his narrative, spins an intricate tale of loss and longing, of confused and mixed, even mirrored, realities, always positioning himself as the observer even if we—the readers, the listeners—know that his story might carry within itself the promise of closure and healing.

Brian Dan Christensen is a novelist, poet, songwriter, and translator. He was born in Denmark, but lives in the United States. He has published poetry and literary criticism in Danish, has translated such diverse writers as Garrison Keillor, Norman Mailer, and David Nicholls, and has appeared on A Prairie Home Companion. His first novel, The Island of Nine Bridges, a mystery, was published in Denmark in 2011 (by Gyldendal). Brian Dan Christensen has an M.A. in comparative literature and has studied classical languages. He lives in Brooklyn.

Suzanne Hillier, The Trials of Lorenzo Perez

Lorenzo, an arrogant but "muy inteligente" Hispanic 12-year-old, achieves maturity -- and humanity -- after his much-loved mother is murdered and he is subpoenaed to court to defend her murderer: his own father. And to make matters worse, he feels somewhat responsible for her death. Located in Indio, in the Southern California Desert, this novella with its themes of spousal abuse, death, love, loyalty, friendship, and yes, revenge, supplies the reader with insight into the California's Hispanic community, and a rare portrait of a young Hispanic protagonist, who's far from perfect, but so endearingly human that you won't ever forget him.

A "Newfie," a politician's daughter, born on the rocky island of Newfoundland, off Canada's east coast, the author always wanted to be a writer, and she appeared to be on her way to achieving this goal: obtaining her MA in English from the University of Toronto, and selling her first novella to Esquire, where she received high praise and predictions of a bright literary future from its then literary editor. Fate, however, intervened, with the early death of her husband and, and the needs of three demanding teenagers, all of which made a more practical approach to a career choice necessary. She became one of the first female lawyers in Canada, established her own law firm, and became a well-known figure in Ontario's legal community. Finally, however, her urge to write prevailed, and handing over her law firm to her daughter, she started: eight novels in eight years, of which "Lorenzo" was the first. Her time is shared between California, where her two American grandchildren reside, and Ontario, Canada, where the other six are located.

Aaron Tillman, The Voice of Artland Rising, novel (Massachusetts)

The Voice of Artland Rising is a funny and fittingly dark novel with a magical-realist edge. The novel features dual narratives--leading toward and away from events at Bean Hollow State Beach, where a supernatural faculty first rears its head--and grapples with issues of cultural and personal identity, as well as familial responsibility and a lustful pursuit of stardom.

Aaron Tillman is an Associate Professor of English at Newbury College. He received a Short Story Award for New Writers from Glimmer Train Stories and won First Prize in the Nancy Potter Short Story Contest at University of Rhode Island. Two pieces of his flash fiction were nominated for inclusion in The Best Small Fictions of 2015 anthology, forthcoming from Queen’s Ferry Press. His fiction has appeared in Arcadia Magazine, The Madison Review, great weather for MEDIA, Crossborder, theNewerYork, Microchondria II, The Carolina Quarterly, Prick of the Spindle, Opium Magazine, Burrow Press Review, The Drum Literary Magazine, The Ocean State Review, Fine Linen Literary Journal, Scrivener Creative Review and Glimmer Train. He has recorded two stories for broadcast on the Words & Music program at Tufts University and another for Functionally Literate Radio. His essays have appeared in Studies in American Humor, Symbolism, The CEA Critic, and The Intersection of Fantasy and Native America (Mythopoeic 2009).

Matthew Pitt, These Are Our Demands, stories (Texas)

My manuscript revolves around characters grasping at opportunities that seem to forever bob away from them, and that they wield little leverage to hold in their grip for long. Their lack of power could be due to age; or because they hail from parts of the nation—such as a triptych of stories in the manuscript’s midsection, set in the Mississippi Delta—where merely getting by passes for rousing success; or due to language and cultural barriers; or shifting family dynamics that leave them lacking security. But being consigned to the margins opens up a different kind of wilderness, just across the border from polite society. 

Matthew Pitt's first collection of stories, ATTENTION PLEASE NOW, won the Autumn House Fiction Prize. It was later a winner of Late Night Library’s Debut-litzer Prize, and finalist for the Writers League of Texas Book Award. His short fiction appears in dozens of journals and anthologies, including BEST NEW AMERICAN VOICES, Oxford American, Conjunctions, BOMB and The Southern Review, and has been cited in several end-of-year anthologies. His work has received honors from the New York Times, Bronx Council of the Arts, Mississippi Arts Commission, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and Bread Loaf and Sewanee Writers’ Conferences. An Assistant Professor at TCU in Fort Worth, he was the English Department 2013-2014 Teacher of the Year, and is a fiction faculty member at the 2015 Taos Summer Writers' Conference.

Iraj Isaac Rahmim, The Veil, novel (Texas)

The Veil, set in Dubai during the recent economic downturn, revolves around Peter, a divorced father of two and fallen San Diego adjunct professor who, teaching an oil exploration and production course, falls for Hanadi. A religious yet educated and restless young woman, Hanadi proposes that Peter also wear the traditional female, full-mask, veil in order to be with her, an idea he recoils from but agrees to, opening up a dangerous invisibility as well as a reversal of the power roles as they navigate their way through Dubai’s clash of glittery wealth and dank poverty and ostentatious faith and hidden joys, surrounded by characters themselves veiled and running from past secrets.

Iraj Isaac Rahmim’s writing has appeared in Antioch Review, Commentary, Commonweal, Guernica, Gulf Coast, The Missouri Review, Reason, Rosebud, and been broadcast by Pacifica. A MacDowell and Yaddo Fellow, Breadloaf Scholar and twice winner of First Prize from Fugue, his writing has been selected six times as Notable Essays by Best American Series, twice nominated for the Pushcart, nominated by Sewanee Writers’ Conference for Best New American Voices, and awarded a Fellowship in Literature by Texas Commission of the Arts. IHe is working on a memoir about his life in Iran and the US. He holds a PhD in biochemical engineering from Columbia University.

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