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Pittsboro writer wins third place in literary magazine writing contest

Posted Sunday, July 11, 2010

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Hillsborough, NC - A unique new writing contest organized by a local writer and a Chapel Hill-based literary magazine has named the winners of the inaugural competition.

The Laine Cunningham Novel Awards are given for unpublished novels in any genre. The prizes include cash and signed books donated by various authors.

The award offers support, recognition and financial assistance to authors on the long road to publication.

This first year, the contest received manuscripts from California and Alaska to North Carolina.

The contest accepts any kind of book-length fiction, and submissions ranged from crime thrillers to prosaic literary works.

"The breadth of the submissions was fantastic," said Laine Cunningham, the contest's sponsor and namesake.

The first-place winner, E.G. Willy of Walnut Creek, Calif., will receive a $500 cash prized and a "library" of books signed by different authors. Willy submitted a story about a man who sets off across South Dakota on horseback in the mid-1960s. The manuscript, "Wakan," immediately rose to the top of the entries for its spare style and realistic descriptions.

Second place goes to Steve Swatt of Sacramento, Calif.. Swatt will receive $125 and a library for "Fair, Balanced ... and Dead," a compelling piece of political fiction that maintains a wry sense of humor.

The third place prize, a library, is being awarded to Ruth Moose of Pittsboro. Her entry, titled "Going to Graceland," is a collection of linked stories that brings magical realism to America's highways and byways. The thought-provoking work was called "truly original" by Cunningham, who was the final judge.

All winners will also receive certificates of achievement from the magazine.

Cunningham, an author and publishing consultant, had wanted to launch a contest for a number of years.

The administrative effort was beyond her ability to handle alone, and she asked Garrison Somers, senior editor of The Blotter, whether the magazine could help organize the contest.

Somers took the idea to Martin Smith, the magazine's publisher. Smith offered to set aside at least one edition of the magazine's print version to publish excerpts from the winning manuscripts.

He also dedicated at least one Web edition to the winners and is considering ways to publish the finalists.

The timing couldn't have been better. The economic downturn has affected publishers, shrinking the already small market for new authors.

"The contest is a great way to support novelists," Somers said, "who work for years before anyone sees their work."

Cunningham is dedicated to providing more money for these prizes in coming years and will add cash prizes for third place and honorable mention.

"It's important that novelists are encouraged to continue along what is a very difficult path," she says.

Cunningham knows firsthand how important winning a contest can be. After receiving the James Jones Literary Society's fellowship for her first novel, "Message Stick," agents from the U.S. and overseas began calling her. She signed with an agent who represented Norman Mailer and Carl Sagan.

When "Message Stick" later won the national Hackney Literary Award, the same pattern repeated itself.

Entries to the next Laine Cunningham Novel Award contest will be accepted between October 2010 and January 2011. Any book-length work of fiction is eligible, including novellas.

Submission details will be available in October at The Blotter's Web site, Entry fees are used by The Blotter to offset administrative costs of the contest and to support the nonprofit magazine.

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Pittsboro writer wins third place in literary magazine writing contest