Fiction Contest

Past Winners: 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009

2017 Leapfrog Fiction Contest winners announced

31 manuscripts have been chosen for awards out of 410 entries.

The finalist manuscripts are being critiqued by this year’s finalist judge, Jeffery Renard Allen.

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

Information that may be of interest:

Entries came from 43 U.S. states and 18 other countries (10% of total entries): UK, Canada, Germany, Ireland, Singapore, South Africa, Bermuda, Monaco, Turkey, Australia, Greece, New Zealand, Czech Republic, Republic of Korea, Israel, Sweden, Thailand, and India.

80% of entries were novels or novellas, 20% story collections; 20% of entries were young adult or middle grade.


Trip Wires, stories by Sandra Hunter (California)
Report from a Place of Burning, a novel by George Looney (Pennsylvania)


Burn with Me, stories by Jordan Farmer (West Virginia)
Hallet House, a young adult novel by Natalie Harnett (New York)


Demonstration of Love, stories by Mahmoud Saeed (Illinois)
Specimens, a novel by Rosanne Daryl Thomas (Massachusetts)
The Visibility of Things Long Submerged, stories by George Looney (Pennsylvania)
Stone Skimmers, stories by Jennifer Kelly (Massachusetts)
Adababa and the Third Wife, a novel by Phyllis Barber (Utah)

Honorable Mention

The World Does Not Know, a novel by Mark Fabiano (Virginia)
Highlandtown, a novel by Miah Jeffra (California)
Guardians & Saints, stories by Diane Josefowicz (Rhode Island)
Magdalena, a novel by Candi Sary (California)
The Excavations, a novel by James Whyle (Johannesburg, South Africa)
Drafts of a Suicide Note, a novel by Mandy-Suzanne Wong (Bermuda)
Come Closer, stories by Patricia Powell (California)
Wolfish, a novella by Marion Woolley (Gloucester, UK/Rwanda, Africa)
No King in Israel, a novel by Anthony Otten (Kentucky)
The Indigo, a young adult novel by Heather Siegel (New York)
Your Own Secret Fallout Shelter, stories by Rachael Swearingen (Illinois)
Wrong Kind of Paper, a novel by Cindy Simmons (Pennsylvania)
Not All Dead Together, stories by Lynn Stansbury (Washington State)
In the Amber Chamber, stories by Carrie Messenger (West Virginia)
Surrendering Appomattox, a novel by Jacob Appel (New York)
Maids and Soldiers, stories by Kathleen Ford (Virginia)
Billy Penn’s Hat, stories by Brian Patrick Heston (Pennsylvania)
Sin Easters and Other Stories by Edward Francisco (Tennessee)
Stripped, stories by Leah Griesmann (North Carolina)
What We Leave Behind Follows, stories by Christopher Shade (New York)
On a Close Reach, a novel by Donald McCullough (California)
Drunk with Fire, a novella by Daniel Turtel (New York)


Trip Wires, stories by Sandra Hunter (California, U.S.)

Trip/Wires presents stories set against turbulent socio-political backdrops from Afghanistan, Syria and Colombia to Paris, Glasgow and Los Angeles, told in the voices of young girls and boys. These young peopleT face the struggle of being without resources, and finding and maintaining relationships. They accept tragedy or just try to survive, retaining hope where none seems possible. Often placed in circumstances beyond their control, they find small moments of grace that remind the reader of the best of humanity.

The author:

Sandra Hunter's fiction received the 2016 Gold Line Press Chapbook Prize, October 2014 Africa Book Club Award, 2014 H.E. Francis Fiction Award, and two Pushcart nominations. She is a 2016 Bridport Prize finalist and a 2017 MacDowell Fellow. Her debut novel, Losing Touch (2014), examines the double loss of identity through immigration and chronic disease. Her fiction chapbook, Small Change, won the 2016 Gold Line Press Chapbook Prize. The stories are set in the Middle East, told through the voices of children. She has finished her second novel, The Geography of Kitchen Tables, set in post-apartheid South Africa, that explores the changing bonds of race, family, and friendship. She is currently working on the sequel, Fissures of Men. Sandra lives in Ventura, California, where she teaches Creative Writing and runs writing workshops. Favorite dessert: rose-flavored macarons.

Report from a Place of Burning, a novel by George Looney (Pennsylvania, U.S.)

Report from a Place of Burning is subtitled A Tryptich in Voices because, like a painting painted in three panels for placement behind and around an altar, there are essentially three panels. There are six characters who speak their “separate” stories in this novel, and each character speaks three chapters. The narrative thread which binds these separate narrators together is the mystery of a series of babies burning to death in their cribs under odd circumstances: nothing else in the rooms burns, there are no cries from the babies, and no evidence that suggests any possible suspects.

The events of the novel take place during a summer in a small, Midwestern city, and the count of the burning babies adds up as the novel progresses. Though there are a number of theories presented in the novel, the truth of just what is going on is elusive, though a careful reader should find enough “evidence” in the text to feel as if he or she knows the truth. Though different readers may well be certain of different truths, which is intended. One of the underlying issues of the text is the difference between knowing and believing. And the movement between each of the six narrators in part is intended to complicate any sort of linear quest to solve the mystery of the burning babies.

There are various types of burning articulated by the six voices, everything from a mother whose baby was one of the victims surrounding herself with her paintings of flames engulfing buildings and bodies to a widow who is dealing with her own passions released by the death of her husband to a widower who deals with the dead in a very personal manner to a detective becoming obsessed with solving the crime of the burned babies to an adulterer burning with a passion for the married woman he has been having an affair with to a prophet who sees everything that happens around him in terms of the book of Revelation. Metaphorical and real burning is a part of the lives of each of the six narrators of this novel.

Music and art are recurring elements throughout the novel which operate as threads to bind these lives together, as is the strange miraculous behavior of memory, and how memory can reshape the world as well as haunt us and devastate us and, now and then, save us. As music and art can haunt us and destroy us and save us. How sometimes the best we can do is get up and, with or without music, dance.

The author:

George Looney’s recent books include Hermits in Our Own Flesh: The Epistles of an Anonymous Monk, Meditations Before the Windows Fail, the book-length poem Structures the Wind Sings Through, Monks Beginning to Waltz, and A Short Bestiary of Love and Madness. He founded the BFA in Creative Writing Program at Penn State Erie, where he is Distinguished Professor of Literature and Creative Writing and editor of the international literary journal Lake Effect. He is also translation editor of Mid-American Review, and co-founder of the Chautauqua Writers’ Festival.


Hallet House, a young adult novel by Natalie Harnett (New York State, U.S.)

Set in 1954 Queens, New York, Hallet House is narrated by young Dee Vanderkoop, whose down-on-their luck family resides with her imperious Dutch grandmother and her beleaguered servant Adelaide in the famed Hallett House, a mansion dating back to the 17th century. 

In the wake of Adelaide’s attempt at self-harm in the face of Grandmother’s abuse, the family’s--and the house’s—many dark secrets begin to emerge. How did the Vanderkoops, once prominent Amsterdam diamond merchants, end up in New York with a housekeeper in tow, one willing to work for decades without pay or a voice of her own? What information does the elderly Mr. Levy, the longtime caretaker of Grandmother’s prized dogs, have over Grandmother when his nephew appears after a decade-long absence? What prompted Adelaide to take a pair of sewing shears to her own ear that fateful Christmas? And why does Dee’s mother withhold the love for which her daughter so desperately yearns? 

Drawing inspiration from a real colonial-era mass murder and the lives of the author's Dutch great grandmother and her indentured servant, Hallet House is a moving coming-of-age tale, a ghost story, and a family drama told through a young girl’s indelible voice. 

The author:

Natalie S. Harnett has an MFA from Columbia and has been awarded an Edward Albee Fellowship, a Summer Literary Seminars Fellowship, and a Vermont Studio Center Writer’s Grant. Her fiction has been a finalist for the Mary McCarthy Prize, the Mid-List Press First Series Award for the Novel, the Glimmer Train’s Short Story Award for New Writers, and The Ray Bradbury Short Story Fellowship. Her work has appeared in the Chicago Quarterly Review, The Irish Echo, The MacGuffin, The New York Times and elsewhere. Her debut novel, THE HOLLOW GROUND, won the 2015 John Gardner Fiction Book Award and the 2014 Appalachian Book of the Year Award, and was longlisted for the 2016 International Dublin Literary Award. Her website is

Burn with Me, stories by Jordan Farmer (West Virginia, U.S.)

The stories in Burn with Me are set in the fictional community of Coopersville County, West Virginia. Similar to Sherwood Anderson’s Winnesburg, Ohio or Donald Ray Pollock’s Knockemstiff, each narrative weaves a kaleidoscopic view of the residents, chronicling their struggles and accumulated grief caused by the strangeness of country life. Young Zachary works at his family’s funeral home and traps snakes for the last of the serpent handling flocks. Russell, a coyote hunting security guard, buys secondhand lingerie to present to a friend’s wife. Alison, a girl contending with strange spells, decides to play amateur detective when her father, a man obsessed with proving aliens once visited ancient societies, goes missing.  Each of these stories threads through the mountain community, weaving together in a collage where every individual becomes a miner excavating rare moments of beauty from the rubble of their harshest days. 

Originally from West Virginia, Jordan Farmer received a PhD from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. His work has appeared in The Southwest Review, Southern Humanities Review, Day One Magazine and many other publications.


Demonstration of Love, stories by Mahmoud Saeed (Illinois, U.S.)

“‘Everything has a price,’ but how do you put a price tag on the human condition? In Mahmoud Saeed’s unflinching story of abjection and brutality, the moral cost of war is calculated on the balance sheet of a single human life.” —World Literature Today

The sixteen stories in this collection describe the situation of Iraqis under conditions of turmoil in the shadow of wars and siege. All have been published in Arabic magazines and newspapers. Two were published in the Brooklyn Rail; the story of the Soldier and the Pigs was praised in the New Yorker (see below). “Warriors of the Sky” was written in 2009 for the collection Freedom: Short stories Celebrating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, published by Amnesty International.

 The author

Mahmoud Saeed has published more than 20 novels and short stories collections, and hundreds of articles. He has received many awards for his writing, but was prohibited from publishing inside his native Iraq and another seven Arabic countries; all of his original works have been published outside of Iraq. He was imprisoned for political charges for a year, followed by three years of suspension from employment. The detentions continued until a sixth and final incarceration in 1980. In 1999, he was given political asylum in the U.S. His novel “Saddam City” has been published in English and Italian, his novel “The World through the Eyes of Angels” was published in New York in 2011, his novel “Ben Barka Lane” was published in English in May 2013, and his novel “A Portal in Space” was published by Texas University Press in 2015. He was featured in the New Yorker in 2010, in an article about the contemporary Arabic novel (

SPECIMENS: True and Un-Altered Notes on an Inadvertent Adventure of an Unusual Nature, the Which Contains Sorrow, Death, Danger, Art and Great Happiness a novel by Rosanne Daryl Thomas (Massachusetts, U.S.)

1842. With her daughter newly married, Mrs. Rosamunde Thoroughgood resolves to fulfill a long-held dream and join her beloved husband, the captain of a small merchant vessel, at sea.  Things go terribly wrong.  With weeks, she is a widow faced with a mutinous crew.  She, her tabby cat, and the body of her dead husband are marooned on the shore of a rocky cove on a remote Azorean island.  After failing to find any signs of settlement inland, she returns to the cove and finds a large man bent over her late husband’s corpse.  She aims her pistol, but doesn’t shoot.  Instead, they make a deal born of necessity.  She is in possession of a corpse, and, if she is rescued at all, will probably be taken for a murderess.  He is an “antiquitist” who happens to have an ancient sarcophagus in need of a plausible mummy.

When Mrs. Thoroughgood and the antiquitist set out to sell the “ancient” mummy of her husband, the adventure leads them from the Azorean islands to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, as they confront kidnappers and bandits. Forced to start over with little money and less time, they must forge a magnificent mythic artifact - or face ruin.

Illustrated with real 19th century algae pressings, SPECIMENS is Mrs. Rosamunde Thoroughgood’s diaristic account of her inadvertent adventure as she lives through it. 

The author:

Rosanne Daryl Thomas is the author of five books.  Her novel The Angel Carver (Random House/Warner Books), was named a New York Times “Notable Book”, and featured by Barnes and Noble in “Discover Great New Writers.” It was also a finalist for the IAFA William L. Crawford Fantasy Award and was optioned for film by Mick Jagger. She is the author of the novel Awaiting Grace (Picador US) and the memoir Beeing: Life, Motherhood and 180,000 Honeybees (Lyons Press/ Globe Pequot). She both wrote and illustrated the graphic novella Coffee: The Bean of My Existence (An Owl Book/Holt) and, pseudonymously, a satirical novel called Complications. Thomas was the recipient of a 2015 Hawthornden International Writers Fellowship in the UK.

The Visibility of Things Long Submerged, stories by George Looney

The Visibility of Things Long Submerged is a gathering of nine related stories which at least in part explores the role of faith in a world in which no doctrine is accepted without struggle. The characters in these stories come to recognize they live surrounded by mystery and therefore by the miraculous. Faith doesn’t rest easy in these stories that are witness to violence and madness and suffering and sorrow, but throughout this collection there is one thing the characters and narrators try to hold on to in the face of all that might be called despair. That one thing they all cling to in their own ways, that they all struggle to believe is still possible despite the evidence of things falling apart that surrounds them, that one thing is love. As one of the several narrators of the opening story “What Gives Us Voice” puts it, “If God is love, surely that kiss was a burning illumination in this world of swallowing and darkness and breaking and suffering.  No mystery to it.  Just love, is all.”

The author:

George Looney’s recent books include Hermits in Our Own Flesh: The Epistles of an Anonymous Monk, Meditations Before the Windows Fail, the book-length poem Structures the Wind Sings Through, Monks Beginning to Waltz, and A Short Bestiary of Love and Madness. He founded the BFA in Creative Writing Program at Penn State Erie, where he is Distinguished Professor of Literature and Creative Writing and editor of the international literary journal Lake Effect. He is also translation editor of Mid-American Review, and co-founder of the Chautauqua Writers’ Festival.

Stone Skimmers, stories by Jennifer Kelly (Massachusetts, U.S.)

In pristine Old Stonington, Connecticut, a peculiar fifteen-year-old girl swims for hours each day across the town reservoir, lost to her own obsessions. The popular crowd spies from shore, mocking her strangeness, cozy in their camaraderie, until one betrays the group by befriending the outsider.

The remaining six stories in Stone Skimmers follow this splintered clique into adulthoods rife with isolation and loss, exploring the lives of those who stayed in the sheltered world of their childhoods and the challenges faced by those who chose to leave. During a cave dive in Mexico, a jealous young woman sacrifices her sister in a desperate attempt to appease the gods of fertility. An overwhelmed mother forms an intimate connection with a wild fox after her husband abandons both his family and his utopian farming fantasy. A troubled son sent to an agricultural reform school becomes captivated by a friend who purports to commune with Jesus. A young widow must institutionalize her elderly aunt, a society lady stripped of decorum and reason by dementia, perpetually reliving her life’s one great disaster.

The author:

Jennifer Wisner Kelly’s stories have appeared in Salamander, Massachusetts Review, Greensboro Review, Beloit Fiction Journal, and elsewhere. She received artist residencies at the Ucross Foundation, the Jentel Foundation, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts. She is a Book Review Editor for the Colorado Review, where she frequently contributes her own reviews. She lives in Concord, Massachusetts.

Adababa and the Third Wife, a novel by Phyllis Barber (Utah, U.S.)

ADABABA AND THE THIRD WIFE is historical fiction written about the years 1858-1870 in the Southwest. An abolitionist from Kansas, murdered by Border Ruffians, is the mother of Geoffrey Scott, who leaves Kansas to become a road builder of the first road across the 35th Parallel (later to become Route 66). Scott becomes enamored of the camels brought from the Middle East to help build the road, one in particular named Adababa, and has adventures that lead him on the first and last camel charge in North America (near the Colorado River) and to a friendship with Kwanyumai, a Mojave Indian. Together, after the road has been built, the two men travel north where Scott meets Sophia Hughes, the third wife of a Mormon polygamist. Charles Hughes delivers mail to outlying settlements and is often absent from St. Thomas, Nevada, where he has been “called” by Brigham Young, the Mormon Prophet, to help build a settlement that will be part of the chain to Callville, a proposed steamship port on the Colorado River. What happens next — love, intrigue, secrecy, guilt, resolve — is the stuff of the novel’s imagination.

The author:

PHYLLIS BARBER is the author of eight published books—a novel, two books of short stories, a trilogy of memoir (including HOW I GOT CULTURED, which won the AWP Prize for Creative Nonfiction), and two children’s books. She has published stories and essays in many literary journals including AGNI, THE MISSOURI REVIEW, FICTION INTERNATIONAL, WEBER: THE CONTEMPORARY WEST, among others; has been inducted into the Nevada Writers Hall of Fame; has won the Utah Fine Arts Literary Prize twice; and recently received an award for Outstanding Contribution to Mormon Letters from the Smith-Pettit Foundation/Association for Mormon Letters. She taught fiction and creative nonfiction in the Vermont College of Fine Arts Writing Program for nineteen years, currently critiques and edits the writing of others, and is the mother of four fabulous sons.  



The World Does Not Know, a novel by Mark Fabiano (Virginia, U.S.)

1984. The Sri Lankan Civil War between the Sinhalese and Tamils wreaks havoc across the island nation. Vigilantes and government troops clash with separatists in the North and East. Communists begin rising in the south.  The World Does Not Know is about what happens when four Sri Lankans intersect on the crossroads of war and political intrigue, romance and violence, even as their chances for liberation, nearly inseparable from their varied ethnic roots, become intimately mired in the fate of the country. 

Two Sinhalese brothers, Sunil, 19, and Vimal, 17, both fall for Heleen, 22, who tutors them in English.  At first it appears like a simple rivalry, for as they go on an illegal boar hunt in a protected rainforest with a Tamil, Arjuna, 16, they argue over who will win her over.  Heleen, of Burgher descent, and the daughter of an ex-minister from the upper crust of Colombo society, wants nothing more than to belong to her country. When she flirts with the brothers, and then sleeps with one of them, she hopes it may help her feel connected. Realizing her error, and witnessing the police murder of a protester, she flees her teaching post to take over her dying father's business, hoping the past will stay buried. But all of it follows her to Colombo, whereupon also learning that her father's tea business is a front for arms dealing to both sides in the war, she is overcome by a desire to exonerate herself and her father’s reputation by revealing damaging information to Amnesty International. 

Sunil is wounded and labelled a war hero, then loses sight of any hope for his future and plunges into alcoholic despair for only he knows his wound was self-inflicted.  After insulting Heleen at her father’s funeral, and getting into a fist fight with his brother, Sunil seeks the help of their village monk to gain sobriety. When Vimal, rejected by Heleen, witnesses the Tamil bombing of innocent civilians in Colombo, he drops out of university and joins the army to avenge his brother’s wounding. Vimal realizes his mistake all too late. Arjuna, tea-estate worker and budding astronomer, tracks the progress of Halley’s Comet even as his uncle keeps him grounded. After witnessing collusion between vigilantes and the Sri Lankan Army’s killing of innocent Tamils, Arjuna decides to join the Tamil Tigers and avenge the death of his uncle.  

The author

Mark Fabiano’s work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in The Atlantic Monthly, The Saturday Evening Post, Poets & Writers, Confrontation, The Long Story and other publications. His fiction awards include runner-up in The Great American Fiction Contest and an Ohio Arts Council Award for Individual Excellence. His novel, The World Does Not Know, was a Finalist for the 2017 Washington Writers' Publishing House fiction contest. A condensed version of Chapter 1, "Vishnu, The Boar" won an Editor's Choice Award and was published in Best New Writing, 2017. Fabiano received his MFA from George Mason University and served for the United States Peace Corps in Sri Lanka.

Highlandtown, a novel by Miah Jeffra (California, U.S.)

A low-income Baltimore neighborhood is targeted for a controversial urban renewal project—a theme park in the theme of Baltimore itself—that forces its residents to reckon with racism, displacement, and their futures. Peter Cryer, an intelligent, biracial, queer teenager, wants to leave Baltimore and the instability of his home life, but also obsesses over his classmate, Jude. Ruth Anne, his prickly mother, is terrorized by her estranged husband and poverty. Thomas, a cleric and History teacher at Peter's school, questions his vocation in the face of the neighborhood's destruction. These three first-person POVs braid together a portrait of a neighborhood in flux, the role of community and violence in our time, and the struggles of a very real and oft misunderstood city. 

The author  

Miah Jeffra is from Baltimore. Their essay chapbook, The First Church of What's Happening, is forthcoming from Nomadic Press, fall 2017. Miah has been awarded the New Millennium Prize for fiction, the Sidney Lanier Prize for fiction, and the Clark-Gross Award for their novel manuscript, and was a 2016 finalist for both the New Letters Fiction Prize and the Arcadia Press Chapbook Prize in Nonfiction, and a Lambda Literary Fellow for nonfiction. They are the 2017 Hub City Writers Project Writer-in-Residence. Miah is editor of queer literary collaborative Foglifter Press.

Guardians & Saints, stories by Diane Josefowicz (Rhode Island, U.S.)

We're born unfinished, in need of everything—love, food, attention, care. Idealizations of family conceal the truth that incompetent parents all too often render childhood a state of singular emergency. GUARDIANS & SAINTS, a collection of loosely linked stories, explores the ways in which modern orphans fail to thrive. A young man accidentally discovers fatherhood by way of finger puppets and Kierkegaard. A group of friends spins helplessly around the death of a beloved teacher when his selfless pedagogy is called into question. A girl loses her mother only to re-find her, in altered form, in a grim institutional afterlife. Faced with the incapacity of those they depend on, the characters in these stories appeal, with varying success, to stand-ins: teachers, mentors, therapists, guardians, and occasionally saints.

The author:

Diane Josefowicz's fiction, essays, and reviews have appeared in Conjunctions, Fence, Dame Magazine, The Saint Ann's Review, Poets & Writers Magazine, and Necessary Fiction. She is the author, with Jed Z. Buchwald, of THE ZODIAC OF PARIS (Princeton, 2010), an account of the fortunes of an ancient bas-relief ceiling stolen from Egypt and removed to Paris where, in 1821, it became the center of a controversy over science and religion. She holds an MFA in fiction from Columbia University and a PhD in the history of science from MIT; and she lives in Providence, RI with her family. 

Magdalena, a novel by Candi Sary (California, U.S.)

In a small, secluded town that thrives on gossip and superstition, Dottie offers plenty of both when the scandal breaks about the missing girl, the ghost, and the affair that started it all. The townspeople think Dottie, an outcast and a loner, is somehow guilty of the young Magdalena’s disappearance. In an effort to prove her innocence, she sets out to write down what really happened to Magdalena. Fantasy merges with reality in this peculiar tale of how Dottie finds her truth deep in her imagination.

The author:

Candi Sary has been in the finals of several writing competitions, including the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, William Faulkner-William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition, and the Santa Fe Writers Project Literary Awards. Her novel Black Crow White Lie won first place in the Dante Rossetti Awards, and was named first runner-up in the Eric Hoffer Book Award for fiction. Publishers Weekly called it, “… a praiseworthy, poignant work.” Sary lives in coastal Southern California with her husband now that her two children are grown. 

The Excavations, a novel by James Whyle (Johannesburg, South Africa)

"A biblical comedy, a millennial carnival, a strange dispatch from beyond the rapture."

"A crazy-ass futuristic book."

Jack Delfan is an unwitting Noah who has turned his back on the world of men. He lives in an oil tanker in a sea of sand. He believes in digging. When a son, Hob, is delivered to him, Delfan teaches the boy how to use a spade and read the book. Delfan is a difficult father and refuses to tell Hob who his mother is. Then the Gcwi come. Hob and the Gcwi set out on a quest to find Hob's mother. It is a journey that is destined to break Hob's heart. There are times when a broken heart is what it takes.

The Excavations is a savage, explicit, coming-of-age tale. It delves into the history of the world, and into its future. It is a prophecy of what will come if we fail to confront the results of climate change and imploding capitalism.

The author:

James Whyle grew up in the Amatole Mountains of the Eastern Cape region of South Africa. Conscripted into the apartheid army, he was discharged on the grounds of insanity. He did everything in his power to assist the authorities in arriving at this diagnosis. His story “The Story” was chosen by JM Coetzee as winner of the 2011 Pen/Studzinski competition. “The Book of War,” a novel, won the M-Net Lit Prize for best debut in 2012.

Drafts of a Suicide Note, a novel by Mandy-Suzanne Wong (Bermuda)

When Aetna Simmons disappears from her lonely Bermuda cottage, she leaves ten suicide notes.  Ten different suicide notes. 

Ten different suicides.  Ten different lives. 

Or ten masks and one face, which no one’s ever seen.

Who was Aetna Simmons?  What has she done?

Where is her corpse?

Shortlisted for the Santa Fe Writers’ Project Literary Award and the Conium Review Book Prize, Drafts of a Suicide Note is the tendentious love letter of Kenji Okada-Caines, a scholar-turned-petty-criminal who nurtures an obsession with Aetna’s fractured writings.  He weaves her image from fantastic speculations, stumbling at every turn into his own cracked effigy, marred by his failures as a son, lover, and drug addict – and the memory of the Japanese mother who abandoned him.  As he struggles to understand the urge (or is it courage?) to self-destruct, Kenji’s love for a living woman warps into infatuation with Aetna’s ghost.  And ten voices from beyond the grave lead Kenji to discover that even in Bermuda – a jewel of a community which loves God and fears otherness – the unspeakable wish for death may be twisted into a lucrative charade.

This Mid-Atlantic noir is the un-love story of disillusioned multiracial exiles in their own land; of misunderstood urges and dark paradises; of the redemptive promise of relentless curiosity.

The author

Mandy-Suzanne Wong is an Afro-Chino-Cuban native of Bermuda.  Her fiction appears or is forthcoming in The Island Review, Conclave, The Hypocrite Reader, Dark Matter, Five on the Fifth, and elsewhere.  She has also published creative nonfiction and scholarship in Volume!, Evental Aesthetics, and several anthologies.  She holds a BA from Wellesley College, an MM from New England Conservatory, and a PhD from the University of California, Los Angeles.

Come Closer, stories by Patricia Powell (California, U.S.)

The stories in Come Closer are of women’s transformation. They mirror women’s desire for alternative ways of living and loving; they offer the possibility of new narratives.  

In these stories a woman recently married escapes every night to journey into alternate realms; a guardian angel shows up at a church one morning to show a man and his wife the way; a woman is visited by a boy who is a lost part of herself; an old crone tells a woman about to marry the man of her dreams that the marriage cannot save her; a couple about to renew their vows discovers a new heart; at a ceremony for the earth, a man inducts his new girlfriend into the mysteries of love; a woman traveling the labyrinth of her life finds new meaning. Come Closer brings awareness to hidden aspects of our unconscious motivations. It retrieves split off parts of the personality due to trauma. It shows us the choices we make to stay safe from the pain of loving and losing. It collapses rigid boundaries between the masculine and feminine in ourselves and in relationships. It does this through stories that I sometimes call fairy tales, other times modern ancient myths and other times still, magic realism.

The author:

Patricia Powell is the author of the novels Me Dying Trial, A Small Gathering of Bones, The Pagoda, and The Fullness of Everything. The recipient of a Lila Wallace Reader’s Digest Writers Award, and a Ferro-Grumley Award for LGBT Fiction, Powell teaches in the MFA program at Mills College in Oakland, CA. 

Wolfish, a novella by Marion Woolley (Gloucester, UK/Rwanda, Africa)

On a dark and stormy night, a little girl sees a face at the window. A silent boy is brought into the house, with all the manners of a wolf. But it is not the wolf you should fear in the deep, dark forest. This is a fairytale for adults. A journey through the haunted forest where the Soul Singers warn of danger, and the path you most want to walk winds back on itself, returning you each time to the place where you started. There’s a woman in the woods, a witch, with red hair and a ridding potion. There’s a woodcutter and his son, as twisted as the trees they fell. Then there’s the mystery of a man who walked out one winter and never returned. The way through the woods is never clear, but sometimes it’s good to get lost there.

The author:

Marion Grace Woolley is an author of historical fiction and dark fantasy. She currently lives in Rwanda, Africa, where she teaches creative writing and attempts to build pianos.

No King in Israel, a novel by Anthony Otten (Kentucky, U.S.)

Set in the 1940s South, No King in Israel follows Oba Greene as he attempts to extort his prominent father, Glenndell, who is running for county judge. Threatening to reveal himself publicly as Glenndell’s illegitimate son, Oba hopes to claim the court’s power over estates and punish the rich families for whom his mother toiled as a housekeeper. But his scheme is endangered when he meets another of Glenndell’s abandoned children—a guileless half-sister whose objection to the blackmail forces him to choose between attaining power and protecting the only kin he has ever known.

The author:

Anthony Otten’s short fiction and essays have appeared in Jabberwock Review, Hot Metal Bridge, Grasslimb Journal, Coal Hill Review, Wind, and The Columbia Review. An excerpt from the manuscript for No King in Israel was published in Still: The Journal in 2016. One of his stories was recently named a finalist for the Nancy D. Hargrove Editors’ Prize in Fiction at Mississippi State University. He earned his undergraduate degree from Thomas More College. Find him and his work at

The Indigo, a young adult novel by Heather Siegel (New York State, U.S.)

15-year-old Jett does not believe the neurosurgeons that her comatose mother is brain dead. She believes instead that her mother has separated from her body and is lost and floating in a place Jett calls The Indigo. Jett believes this because of a bike crash she had when she was a kid, and in the split second before she hit the pavement, her own soul, or spirit, or whatever you want to call it, separated from her body and she found herself floating in that deep blue, starry space.

 As the family threatens to pull the life support plug on her mother, Jett’s race begins to find this mysterious starry place again, locate her mother, and bring her home to her body before it’s too late. With the help of her best friend-- and sometimes, confusingly, her romantic interest-- Farold, a quantum physics student from Trinidad, Jett is forced to reckon with reality versus alternate reality, quantum entanglement versus coincidence, selfishness versus selflessness, and ultimately, whether trusting in one’s own instincts is always a smart choice.

The author:

Heather Siegel is the author of the memoir OUT FROM THE UNDERWORLD (Greenpoint Press, 2015), which placed as a finalist in the Foreword Reviews 2016 INDIEFAB Book of The Year Award. She holds and MFA from The New School, and her writing has appeared on, in online magazines and blogs, and most recently in BLACK LIVES HAVE ALWAYS MATTERED; A Collection of Essays, Poems and Personal Narratives (2LeafPress, 2017). When she was 16 years old, Heather tried to astrally project to find her deceased mother. THE INDIGO is very loosely based on the question of whether her face did or did not touch her bedroom ceiling that afternoon.

Your Own Secret Fallout Shelter, stories by Rachael Swearingen (Illinois, U.S.)

The characters in Your Own Secret Fallout Shelter long for both novelty and safety. Two lovers turn an apartment full of a former owner’s possessions into a clandestine hideout. A tabloid reporter returns home to cover the murder trial of a childhood friend. A ne’er-do-well son moves in with his elderly mother, the survivor of a horrific crime. An ex-con helps his sister kidnap and baptize her grandson in the woods. Many of the stories are inspired by works of art and film, and revolve around a sense of aftermath and shared history. A college art student documents events leading to the disappearance of her roommate through a series of life drawings. An au pair turns her mundane life into a scene from Key Largo and endangers the child in her care. An investment executive falls in love with an eccentric artist who turns her rundown flat into installation sets.

The author:

Rachel Swearingen’s stories have appeared in VICE, the Missouri Review, Kenyon Review, Agni, American Short Fiction, New Stories from the Midwest, and elsewhere. Her work has garnered several awards, including the Missouri Review Jeffrey E. Smith Editors’ Prize in Fiction, a MacDowell Colony fellowship, a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writer’s Award, and the Mississippi Review Prize in Fiction. She lives in Chicago.

Wrong Kind of Paper, a novel by Cindy Simmons (Pennsylvania, U.S.)

Wrong Kind of Paper is a first-person reporter narrative set in 1989. Hallie Linden wants to write for the New York Times, but she’s stuck reporting for a chain paper in a tiny town in Indiana. Everyone keeps telling Hallie that nothing ever happens in Green Meadow, but she finds police corruption at every turn. Hallie’s efforts to get the story out are complicated by her editor’s cozy relationship with the police chief and her own fear that she may be permanently silenced.

The author:

Cindy Simmons is a former reporter who teaches journalism at Penn State University. Simmons grew up near Cleveland, Ohio. She earned a BA in cultural anthropology from Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, an MA in journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a JD from the University of Washington. Simmons’ essays and short stories have appeared in city magazines and The Licton Springs Review. She is a co-author of The Jury and Democracy from Oxford University Press.

Not All Dead Together, stories by Lynn Stansbury (Washington State, U.S.)

Not All Dead Together and Other Stories traces the intertwined lives and friendship of two families, one Guatemalan and one American, across 60 years of war and betrayal, and in particular of the two daughters, one with a family so safe and a country so dangerous, the other with a country so safe and a family so dangerous.

The author:

Lynn Stansbury is a fiction writer and editor for The Baltimore Review and a community medicine physician, medical writer, and editor who has lived and worked all over the world and the US. (Two of her mystery novels published by iUniverse Editor's Choice, The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea and A Bird in the Hand, are set in American Samoa, and the third, Loose Cannon, in southeastern Colorado.) Central to her life and her writing, she served in the Peace Corps in Guatemala in the early years of the Guatemalan Thirty Years War. That experience, the experience of a local family to whom she became and remains very close, and her ongoing fury over US foreign policy are the heart of Not All Dead Together and Other Stories. She lives now in Seattle where she writes, tutors at Seattle Central College, maintains a research relationship with Maryland Shock Trauma (the pink scrubs on The Wire), and is poised between grandchildren in New Zealand and Wisconsin.   

In the Amber Chamber, stories by Carrie Messenger (West Virginia, U.S.)

In the Amber Chamber is a story collection where fairy tales and speculative fiction intersect with the hard facts of history. In settings that include Eastern Europe, Kansas, and other planets, characters go through transformations as the world around them changes. Characters include Peace Corps Volunteers, childless parents, Hansel and Gretel, former rural farmworkers, Dust Bowl survivors, and immigrants in Chicago.

The author:

Carrie Messenger’s work has appeared in such publications as Ecotone, Fairy Tale Review, Literary Review, Pleiades, and Witness. She teaches English at Shepherd University and lives in Shepherdstown, WV.

Maids and Soldiers, stories by Kathleen Ford (Virginia, U.S.)

My family history is filled with Irish nationalists who took secret oaths to overthrow British rule and win Irish freedom. This rich material helps explain why my story collection, MAIDS AND SOLDIERS, is populated with soldiers - particularly the Irish soldiers of World War I - who “took the King’s shilling” and were serving in the British Army when Ireland rebelled during the Easter Rising of 1916. I’m also interested in the Irish women who came to America to work as domestic servants and found joy and heartbreak in their new homes. My characters are plagued with divided loyalties, and with the guilt and shame that come from shifts in ethnic and religious identities.

The author

My stories have been published in commercial magazines such as Redbook, Yankee, and Ladies Home Journal, and in quarterlies such as The Virginia Quarterly, The Southern Review, The North American Review, The Sewanee Review and elsewhere. “Man on the Run,” which was first published in The New England Review, was included in Best American Mystery Stories 2012. My first novel was published by St. Martin’s Press and two of my stories have won PEN awards for syndicated fiction. I have received a Christopher Isherwood Fellowship and a Hackney Literary Award.

Billy Penn’s Hat, stories by Brian Patrick Heston (Pennsylvania, U.S.)

The gritty tales of Brian Patrick Heston’s Billy Penn’s Hat include the story of a mother whose son is killed in a random act of violence on a subway train, a wounded marine coming home to a neighborhood crushed by economic degradation, and a young white boy and black girl trying to experience first love in the face of racial hatred and poverty. Connecting these seemingly disparate stories is Shawn O’Connor, a William Penn impersonator with a drinking problem, who searches desperately for a way to overcome trauma and addiction. These 12 stories stray from the avenues and boulevards onto the side streets of urban life, where the marginalized and hopeless seek “something like happiness” in an America where happiness is so hard to come by. 

The author

Brian Patrick Heston grew up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His first book of poetry, If You Find Yourself, won the Main Street Rag Poetry Book Award and is available from Main Street Rag Publishing. He is also the author of the chapbook Latchkey Kids, which is available from Finishing Line Press. His poetry and fiction has appeared in such publications as North American Review, Prairie Schooner, Missouri Review, Rosebud, Red Rock Review, Tupelo Quarterly, and River Styx, and are upcoming in Ghost Fishing, an anthology of eco-poetry to be published by University of Georgia Press.  Presently, he is a Ph.D. candidate in Literature and Creative Writing at Georgia State University. He can be found at

Sin Eaters and Other Stories by Edward Francisco (Tennessee, U.S.)

"Sin Eater and Other Stories" is a manuscript of short fiction situated largely in the company of villains. The collection features a rogue's gallery of despicables: an Appalachian mountain woman who poisons her husband, a serpent-handling Pentecostal preacher; a notorious assassin offering a chilling death-bed confession; a monstrous inquisitor who enjoys torturing young women accused of witchcraft; and a voluptuous, dark woman who bedevils the greatest writer in the history of the English speaking world. "Sin Eater and Other Stories" reminds the reader that a person doesn't have to be the Devil to know how the Devil thinks.

The author:

Edward Francisco's poetry and fiction have appeared in more than one hundred magazines and journals. He is the author of two novels, "Till Shadows Flee” and "The Dealmaker." His poetry collections include "(Lie)fe Boat," "Death, Child, and Love ," "The Alchemy of Words," and "Only the Word Gives Us Being." He most recently co-authored a children's book titled "Mallory's World." He is writer in residence at Pellissippi College in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Stripped, stories by Leah Griesmann (Seoul, South Korea)

In this linked short story collection, Las Vegas is seen through the eyes of new residents who have moved west in search of a restless variety of the American dream. Though the unique aesthetic of Las Vegas with its faux pyramids and Eiffel tower, multi-million-dollar palaces, and colorful entertainment industry provides a backdrop to these stories, the city's true nature is revealed by people who live and work there, and is brush stroked neither for glamour nor kitsch.

The author

Leah Griesmann has received a 2017 Fiction Scholarship to the Key West Writers' Workshops, a 2016 Fiction Residency at Seoul Art Space Yeonhui, a 2015-2016 Fiction Residency at the Swatch Art Peace Hotel in Shanghai, a 2015 Elizabeth George Foundation Grant in Fiction, a MacDowell Colony Fellowship in Fiction, a DAAD Grant in Fiction (Berlin), and a Steinbeck Fellowship in Fiction. Her stories have recently appeared in PEN Center USA's The Rattling Wall, The Boiler, and Burrow Press Review, and have been performed at the Shanghai American Center, Sacramento Stories on Stage, Lit Crawl San Francisco, and The New Short Fiction Series in North Hollywood. She currently teaches writing at Seoul National University.

Drunk with Fire, a novella by Daniel Turtel (New York State, U.S.)

Felix Weilberg’s grandiose aspirations are at odds with his role as a stage violinist who plays for tourists at Berlin’s Charlottenburg Palace. When Maximillian Bell, an up-and-coming classical violinist, takes over Charlottenburg’s stage as a publicity stunt, it sets into motion a tirade of jealousy and madness, which ends in the young star’s murder. Drunk with Fire inspects the crime from the office of a psychiatrist, tasked with deciding whether or not Weilberg’s plea of insanity is meritorious. Is it?

 The author

Daniel Turtel graduated from Duke University in 2013 with a degree in mathematics. His three unpublished novels have been short-listed in competitions such as Del Sol Press First Novel Competition, Pirate's Alley Faulkner Society's annual Words & Music competition, and the James Jones Literary Society's First Novel Fellowship. In last year's Words & Music competition, a short story of his was selected as runner-up by judge Adam Johnson (Pulitzer Prize winner for his novel The Orphan Master's Son), while a novella was selected as runner-up by judge Julia Glass (National Book Award winner for her novel Three Junes).

What We Leave Behind Follows, stories by Christopher Shade (New York State, U.S.)

In this collection, What We Leave Behind Follows, the stories are vividly set in the rural South, urban New York City, suburban Colorado, and even Egypt. These Americans are displaced at home and abroad, and often in other ways as well, having left behind personal histories which remain, often desperately so, in the present. These characters contend with recovery, growing old, and the loss of loved ones, often while struggling to come to terms with how they fit into this world. How fragile, our snowglobes? A bird hits the picture window of a Colorado home, and ruptures the snowglobe of marriage. A drag queen transforms herself from choir singer to street activist for Reverend Billy. A creepy anesthesiologist obsesses gloomily over a woman he found unconscious in Central Park. In a darkly funny story, the ghost of a doctor from the 1800s warns a man that his wife is conspiring to poison him, and she does. In Mobile, Alabama, after a lightweight aircraft crash during a terrible storm, an airplane mechanic leaves behind all that he has left. What will follow?

The author:

Christopher X. Shade was raised in the South and now lives in NYC. He’s a writer, book reviewer, and editor. He’s an editor of Epiphany, a print literary journal founded in 2001. He has had over twenty stories appear in publications, and has won a few story awards including two Pushcart nominations for this year’s award. He is a member of the NBCC, and his book reviews have been widely published. He also teaches writing at The Writers Studio in NYC's West Village.

Surrendering Appomattox, a novel by Jacob Appel (New York State, U.S.)

This novel is now under contract with a small press.

Twenty-eight year old Horace Edgecomb, a mild-mannered and popular high school history teacher in suburban Laurendale, New Jersey, prides himself on his ability to connect with students of all backgrounds and ideologies.   Yet when one of those students, Sally Royster, turns out to be the daughter of the nation’s most prominent Civil War denier, Edgecomb finds himself pressured by both Royster’s organization, Surrender Appomattox, and his own unscrupulous principal to teach the American Civil War as a theory, rather than as fact.  Needless to say, he refuses.   But after he outmaneuvers Royster’s father at a Board of Education meeting, Horace finds himself recruited by an old flame, Vicky Vann, now employed as a special investigator at the Treasury Department, to convert publicly to Royster’s cause and to infiltrate his organization.  Surrender Appomattox’s goal, he soon discovers, is to conduct DNA testing on Abraham Lincoln’s bloody cloak to prove that the man allegedly assassinated at Ford’s Theatre was a hired actor. 

Horace’s plunge into conspiracy theory brings chaos to the lives of those who surround him:  his sister, Jillian, who fears his notoriety may prevent her from adopting a child; his roommate, Sebastian, who hijacks Horace’s first press conference to market his own line of blasphemous coloring books depicting the prophet Mohammed; Sebastian’s “inamorata,” Esperanza, who studies normative prosopography—the art of reading the truth from people’s facial musculature; and Sebastian’s friend, Albion, a schizophrenic poet who pens obscene limericks and haiku in Horace’s living room.  Yet as Horace becomes increasingly steeped in Surrender Appomattox’s plans, he also finds himself attracted to eighteen-year-old Sally, an interest that clouds his judgment and leads him to a crisis of historical faith.  Ultimately, he must choose between Vicky Vann and Sally Royster, and in doing so, between those who revere the Civil War as a hallowed and unifying moment in our nation’s past, and those who believe the conflict to be nothing more than a hoax concocted to serve a political agenda.

The author:

JACOB M. APPEL is a physician, attorney and bioethicist based in New York City.  He is the author of six collections of short fiction, two novels and a collection of essays.  His short stories have been published in more than two hundred journals and have been short-listed for the O. Henry Award, Best American Short Stories, Best American Mystery Stories, Best American Nonrequired Reading and the Pushcart Prize anthology.  His commentary on law, medicine and ethics has appeared in the New York TimesNew York PostNew York Daily News, Chicago TribuneSan Francisco ChronicleDetroit Free Press and many other major newspapers.   He taught for many years at Brown University and currently teaches at the Gotham Writers' Workshop and the Mount Sinai School of Medicine.

On a Close Reach, a novel by Donald McCullough (California, U.S.)

On a Close Reach is the story of a painter in search of a beauty he partially glimpses through art, nature, and romantic love.

The author:

Donald McCullough is the author of seven non-fiction books.  He lives with his wife and dog near San Diego. In addition to writing, he spends his time reading, walking, sailing, and creating black-and-white photographs for a fine art gallery.


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