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NORTH CAROLINA—Final judge Sheri Reynolds, best-selling author of five novels, named Paul Byall of Savannah, Georgia, the winner of the 2010 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize for his story “Sequestered.” Reynolds said of this story, whose main character, Maggie, finds herself sequestered as a jury member at a murder trial, “This writer brilliantly controls the story’s tempo, moving between scene and summary, between details of the murder and the trial itself. The story is controlled, complicated, and graceful.” Byall will receive $1,000 from the NC Writers’ Network and possible publication in the Thomas Wolfe Review.

Paul Byall was raised in Ohio and studied at Miami University (Ohio) and the University of California. He is the 2008 recipient of the New South Short Story Award and has been a finalist for numerous fiction awards. His first published story, written while a student at the University of California, was selected as one of the one hundred distinguished stories of the year by The Best American Short Stories anthology. He currently lives and writes in Savannah, where he has recently completed a novel, Salvation’s Fire.

Reynolds also selected two honorable mentions: “Official Business” by Mark Connelly of Madison, Wisconsin, and “Burial Ground” by Tracy Knight of Raleigh, North Carolina. Of “Official Business” Reynolds wrote, “Set in post-war Poland, this story follows a single day in the life of a doctor and researcher who is relieved of his duties and taken into custody by the government. In prose both spare and vivid, this writer provides a snapshot of place, time, and politics through a very compelling character.”

And of Knight’s story Reynolds said, “In ‘Burial Ground’ an eleven-year-old watches her brother struggle to bury a beloved dead cat. The narrative voice here is lush, poetic, mysterious, insightful—and still believable. I love the visionary quality of the writing.”

Both Connelly and Knight are experienced fiction writers. Connelly has an MA in creative writing and a PhD in English from the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee. His fiction has appeared in numerous journals and his novella, Fifteen Minutes,received the 2004 Clay Reynolds Novella Prize from Texas Review Press. Knight is a native North Carolinian, who lives and works in Raleigh. Two of her stories were selected in 2008 as finalists for the Reynolds Price Short Fiction Award sponsored by the Salem College Center for Women Writers. She has a BA in English from Meredith College and has studied fiction writing at North Carolina State University.

Final judge Sheri Reynolds is the author of five novels, the most famous of which, The Rapture of Canaan,was an Oprah’s Book Club selection and New York Times bestseller in 1997. Her most recent novel is The Sweet In-Between (2008). She is a graduate of Davidson College and Virginia Commonwealth University. She teaches creative writing and literature classes at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, where she won the Outstanding Faculty Award from the State Council for Higher Education of Virginia in 2003.

Preliminary judge, David Radavich of Charlotte, North Carolina, also named six finalists, whose stories were read by Reynolds: “The Changeling” and “Let Us Plough, Let Us Build” both by Mark Connelly; “The Once and Missing Captain of Commerce” by Rodney Nelsestuen of Woodbury, Minnesota; “Rainbow” by Gary Powell of Cornelius, North Carolina; “Brea’s Tale” by Karen Pullen of Pittsboro, North Carolina; and “Lying” by Allen Smith of Alexandria, Virginia.

The nonprofit North Carolina Writers’ Network is our state’s oldest and largest literary arts services organization devoted to writers at all stages of development. For additional information, visit http://www.ncwriters.org.

Maureen A. Sherbondy
www.maureensherbondy.com

At an early age I set four goals for myself: (1) earn a college degree, (2) marry, (3) have three children (yes, three, I have always been very decisive) prior to thirty, and (4) publish a book.

By twenty-nine I had checked the first three items off my life’s to-do list. Item four eluded me. Get a book published. Was I crazy? What was I thinking? I hadn’t even majored in English in college. I had no publishing contacts, yet I continued to write and read and refine my craft. Alone. It was a solitary act, this writing business. I managed to send some poems and stories out and get a few pieces published. But a book! This task seemed impossible.

Then in 1996 I moved to Raleigh, North Carolina. Everywhere I went, someone was either writing or talking about writing—at the local Starbucks, in the YMCA locker room, at temple. For the four years I had lived in Pennsylvania, I had never once bumped into another writer. This state was different, though. Someone told me about the North Carolina Writers’ Network. I was so excited to hear that an active, thriving organization existed for people like me.

Soon, I signed up for my first NCWN conference and felt both excited and terrified. But the other writers, from Tony Abbott to Dave Manning, were so friendly. I remember people wore nametags with their chosen genres scrawled on their tags. This was a great conversation starter. Many friendships took root and blossomed. Writers whose work I admired taught informative, helpful classes. These workshop leaders were enthusiastic and knowledgeable. I took notes, learned how to write better, and discovered local journals. On display tables, workshop leaders and other NCWN authors exhibited their books of poetry, fiction, or essays. I remember drooling over the covers. In my head a little voice whispered, One day my book will be on that table. This tangible goal gave me something to work toward. When my mailbox overflowed with rejection letters, when I lost yet another book contest, I thought about my book displayed on that conference table.

If I had not attended the NCWN conferences, I never would have had my first book published. Every time I attended the Fall Conference, I walked the perimeter of the vendor room, where publishers set up tables and sold their books. There, I met Scott Douglass, owner and editor of Main Street Rag Publishing. Every time I returned to the conference, I talked to him, bought some of his fine books. He was publishing wonderful North Carolina poets and poets from other states.

At the 2006 conference, I once again stopped at his table and spoke with him. By this time, my work had appeared in over a hundred literary journals, and my poetry manuscript had landed on the finalist lists of several book contests. But I was frustrated, still missing that elusive book contract. Would I be sending manuscripts to book contests when I was ninety years old? Was this last goal on my list unattainable?

I will remember this next moment always. Later in the conference, as I was talking to Susan Lefler, a poet friend whom I met years earlier at another conference, Scott Douglass tapped my shoulder and said, “I don’t usually do this, but I am inviting you to submit a book to me for consideration.”

My jaw must have dropped. I could hear my heart pounding. At first, I thought he was talking to someone else. I had been waiting my whole life for someone to say these words. So, the rest is history. I sent the book, and After the Fairy Tale was published in 2007. I was ecstatic.

Until then, I had never thought beyond achieving that book publication goal. After a book is published, actually months before, the author becomes a marketer. Having a new goal of selling my book, I quickly learned that the NCWN was an extremely important promotional resource. I was able to post my Web site link on their Web site, to mention my good news in their Book Buzz, and also to announce my upcoming readings in their calendar. And, of course, I returned to the Fall Conference with my books. Standing over the display table there and seeing my first book was a preeminent life moment. On the outside I was calm and quiet, but on the inside I was jumping up and down yelling, “I did it!”

I strongly recommend joining the NCWN for writers who are interested in improving their craft, meeting a community of supportive writers, learning about the publishing universe, and promoting their books and events. The NCWN has, in Frost’s words, “made all the difference” in my book publication journey.

The heart of the North Carolina Writers’ Network beats in response to the needs and requests of its members. Its members are the poets, novelists, essayists, writers of short stories, flash fiction, nonfiction, novellas—all the vibrantly talented wordsmiths we have, who live and work across our state, from the western tip of our Blue Ridge Mountains to the wide, sandy beaches of our eastern shores.

What does the NCWN mean to me, personally? Let me set the scene …

Timing is just about everything. Well, it certainly was on the day I received the worst critique of my life. I’m sure you know the type: learned author reads your sentences aloud. Shakes his head, disgusted. Your BP ramps up like you’ve just run the mile. You wait for his feedback and pray it won’t slice you to red-ribbon shreds. It shoots out like poison arrows from his lips: “I don’t know, Jan. Maybe you should think about going back to school.” (Insert shower scene from Psycho here; he is killing you.)

Time moved at glacial speeds for me after that day. I did not write for six months. My bruised heart thumped erratically. I cried at the oddest intervals, and I was making my spouse sick. One day, the Hubs said, “Dear, you have got to do something different.”

Of course, I gave him the stink eye because his timing seemed to suck. In truth though, it was perfect. Online, I input my membership data to the NCWN’s user-friendly Web site and rediscovered such delicious entrees as their guide to literary agents, calendar of upcoming events, Hats Off, resource links, and writing competitions. In the dessert section, Submit It, I read the call for submissions by a well-known publisher in Winston-Salem.

The deadline for their Open Awards was a few months off, so I decided to enter. What’d I have to loose? Soon, my computer and I were back on track. I wrote every day for the next six months and submitted everything I’d written to Press 53. One of my pieces earned a spot on the finalist list (2008), and I floated to cloud nine and back. I felt a whole lot smarter about the timing of things, not to mention, clearer on the fundamental definition of who my community needed to be. By the way, my novella, Hard Times and Happenstance, won first place honors in the 2009 Press 53 Open Awards Anthology and will be published this fall.

So, what does the NCWN mean to me personally? It is where my tender fellow writers and poets—the ones who speak in special tongues, the ones who shape-shift the world into a place we can actually bear (or stop putting up with) come together—online or at a conference, at a reading or via phone. It is where we can be counted and a place we can feel at home. The North Carolina Writers’ Network is my community. Together, we make the best of good times better.

So, dear, if you’re not a member already, do something different today. Join. You’ll thank yourself tomorrow for the good timing you had today. See you, Jan.

 
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