I’m pleased and excited to announce the winners
of this year’s Unfinished Chapters anthology competition:
KELSEY POE – First Place ( Paris, France)
Kelsey Poe is a writer and counselor residing in Paris, France. She fled the Michigan winters at age 18 and landed in Sarasota, Florida for daily sun-basking. She met her husband at a coffee shop in 2004 knowing within months she wanted to spend the rest of her life with him. They married and moved to Austin, Texas for graduate school and breakfast tacos. Two weeks before commencement, her husband suddenly passed away, leaving a wake of mass confusion and heartbreak. Throughout the journey of surviving the loss of her spouse, Kelsey has learned the fundamental concept of courage: to be brave in getting out of bed each day, in forging a new future, in taking leaps of faith to follow her dreams. Once she learned how to breathe again and the future didn’t seem so scary, she realized that finding authentic happiness required an active pursuit. She began writing about life after loss on her blog www.kelseypoe.com as a means to bring understanding to the world of widowhood and that triumph after tragedy really does exist. She backpacked through Europe alone, fell in love with the City of Lights and moved there one year later. Her hope is to inspire people to seek the happiness they dare to dream.
CATHERINE S. BLAIR – Second Place (Kapolei, Hawaii)
Catherine S. Blair has been a writer for over 10 years, but it is only recently that she has turned her pen from the politics of 19th century historiography, to fiction. Her work translating and transcribing archival literature, such as official court documents or personal letters and correspondence, has led her to a life-long love affair with language. Catherine has also worked in the field of education and curriculum development, crafting college level curricula that focuses on promoting indigenous identity and cultural preservation through history and language. In addition, she has had the honor of traveling across the continental U.S. to speak with educators and students about the importance of celebrating ones own history. Catherine’s career as a historian has laid the foundation for an exciting new foray into creative writing that will culminate in the upcoming publication of her debut novel. A small town girl who grew up gorging herself on “Once Upon a Time’s,” Catherine believes that one good story has the power to change the universe. She writes to breathe life into those tales, and share her passion for words with the world.
TRACY FALENWOLFE – Third Place (Slatington, Pennsylvania)
Tracy Falenwolfe was a stay-at-home mom for fifteen years before resurrecting her career in retail management and promptly deciding she had more fun in the fictional worlds of her own creation than she did at the mall. She lives in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley with her husband and two sons, where she’s currently working on a mystery series featuring a heroine who’s a lot like her, and runs a 1980s-themed motor inn. She also writes short stories and essays which she affectionately dubs her midlife crisis fiction. Tracy is a member of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and the Kiss of Death Chapter of Romance Writers of America. She’s won several writing contests, most recently, The 2014 Bethlehem Writers Roundtable Short Story Award. The winning story, Preserves, is forthcoming in the anthology A Readable Feast: Sweet, Funny, and Strange Tales for Every Taste. You can reach Tracy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here’s the full list of contributors whose work will be appearing in Unfinished Chapters when it debuts in October 2015:
GONE THE EXISTENCE OF THEM
By Kelsey Poe
First Place Winner
By Catherine S. Blair
Second Place Winner
LOVE ME DO
By Tracy Falenwolfe
Third Place Winner
By Terri Elders
By Josephine Harwood
STRANGERS ON A MIDNIGHT BUS
By Charlotte Nystrom
AN UNFORGETTABLE COMBAT MOMENT
By Robert B. Robeson
THOSE WERE THE DAYS, MY FRIEND
By Debbie McClure
By Clifford Protzman
HIT AND RUN
By Chaynna Campbell
UNSHACKLE THE TRUTH
By Tina Jensen
ONE SHORT DAY IN THE EMERALD CITY
By Maeve Corbett
THE STING OF REGRET
By Johanna Baker-Dowdell
BASEBALL AND TREASURE CHESTS
By Rachael Protzman Hardman
LOOK TO THE OTTOMAN
By Marnie Macauley
THIEVES OF TIME
By Rachel McGrath
THE HORSEY SET
By Lisa Romeo
WHERE ARE YOU, O HIGH SCHOOL FRIENDS?
By Anita G. Gorman
LOVE IN THE PAST AND IN OTHER WORLDS
By Danise Malqui
By Cindy Matthews
FEATURE INTERVIEW WITH KELSEY POE
What inspired you to enter the Unfinished Chapters Anthology competition?
I came across the competition details while mining for tips on writing a book and becoming a better writer. The topic aligned perfectly with what I have experienced in my life, and I had little trouble forming the words and shaping the story of Gone the Existence of Them.
How would you describe yourself as a writer?
I’ve attempted writing professionally on several levels. It started out first as a blogger, where I wrote about my life. It was (and still is) a very cathartic form of self-expression. Then I’ve been slowly chipping away at writing a memoir about love, loss, and striving for happiness. I’ve written in academia too for research journals and instructional design for educational development. I’ve tried travel writing, but I hate it because I’d rather absorb the moment than document it. I also write copy for a friend’s start-up business. I really believe in the product he’s developing and enjoy helping him build his website. Overall, you could call me a hodgepodge writer.
When did you enter into the profession of writing?
I never identified as a writer by profession until someone told me that I should be a writer. It’s funny how it takes someone from the outside to recognize a part of you that is so naturally evident. It was my 28th birthday, and I decided at the last minute to travel to Los Angeles for the weekend. I wanted to do something solely for myself, something brave. So I arrived at LAX, rented a car, did an hour of yoga, and then walked the Pacific shore from Manhattan Beach to Redondo to Hermosa. On my way back, I wandered into a person who is now an important friend. I look back on our “meet cute” and see that he was trying to hit on me, but since I was having none of that, we ended up talking as friends on the beach and then going to dinner nearby. We sat at the bar at the restaurant; the head chef served us scallops and oysters and wine, and we talked about our lives. At one point in the evening, he said to me, “Kelsey, you’re a writer.” I shrugged it off, describing that I’ve written before while in college, blah, blah. He said it again, “Kels, you are a writer.” So I opened up a little bit more, saying, “I guess I’ve been wanting to start a blog.” And then he repeated it once more, this time more emphatically, “Kelsey, listen to the words coming out of your mouth, the way you talk, you. are. a. writer!” The next day I launched my blog and haven’t looked back. I refer to that moment as how I was “discovered” in LA.
Do you have future writing projects to share?
Over the last several months, I started writing my own book – a memoir about widowhood and the first two years after the death of my husband. What I’ve lived through post-loss is fundamentally human: we all struggle, feel heartbreak, experience loss in some form. I feel that we often succumb to hiding our hardships, which is isolating and counterproductive to leading a fulfilling life. Not everyone knows what it’s like to lose a spouse and even fewer can relate to being widowed at the age of 27, but the point of writing this book is to share how we are all resilient people. We all strive for happiness, and my hope is that people will read about a tremendously difficult period in my life and glean from it that we are all capable of finding triumph after tragedy.
What would be the first sentence of your memoir?
“I should have robbed a bank.”
Stayed tuned to hear more…
What do you like to do for fun?
I used to like to do yoga, Pilates, and the Paleo diet, but since I moved to Paris a few months ago, I’ve had a hard time assimilating those old hobbies to a French lifestyle. So, I gladly retired the healthy interests for sitting among friends at a Paris brasserie drinking wine and trying my hardest to speak a little French. I’ve shamelessly eaten baguette every day, tried the “local” wines from different regions in France, traveled to nearby countries, and basically what I “do for fun” is live my life.
FEATURE INTERVIEW WITH CATHERINE S. BLAIR
What inspires you (besides being surrounded 24/7 by surf, sand and palm trees)?
My family, my faith, my favorite book, and a pan of freshly-baked chocolate chip cookies!
When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?
In all honesty, I don’t remember I time when I didn’t want to be a writer. Writing is something that to me, has been an essential part of my survival from the moment I was able to hold a pen. I believe Ernest Hemingway said it best, “Writing is easy, you just sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”
If you could put your favorite inspirational quote on a tee-shirt, what would it say?
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you.” -Maya Angelou
Who’s your favorite author?
As a child, I never had an imaginary friend. I didn’t spend my time idolizing glamorous celebrities or pop stars, or peppering the wall of my bedroom with posters of boy bands. Instead, I pretended that I was a knight of the realm of Tortall, and fearlessly chased down the neighborhood bullies with my make-shift sword named Lighting. My inspiration was a fictional character from my favorite series, the Song of the Lioness. Alanna was fierce and brave, with a fiery temper and a stubborn streak to rival my own. A midst a library bookshelf full of male protagonists, Alanna was a woman whose code of chivalry I could cling to and emulate from second grade to adulthood.
I owe a deep debt of gratitude to the immeasurably talented Tamora Pierce, author of the celebrated and award-winning Song of the Lioness series. It is Pierce who changed the face of YA Fiction by choosing to write books featuring strong and capable female protagonists instead of damsels in distress. Alanna was the kind of character that I could relate too, not because she was exceptional beyond belief, but because she was inexplicably flawed. The words of Tamora Pierce continue to shape my identity and my writing, and I know that she will continue to remain my favorite author long after I have birthed stubborn little lionesses of my very own.
What are you working on now?
My current project is a YA Fantasy novel entitled, The Speaker of the Bear.
The last living remnant of a once-royal clan does not know that she is next in line for the throne. What Lyriah does know, is that she is willing to do anything to escape the Magicians who imprisoned her for the past fifteen centuries. When her escape leads her to Kiara, daughter of the bear-chief Bromen, and soon-to-be Speaker of the Bear Clan, the resulting friendship fulfills a prophecy that has the power to heal a world on the verge of civil war. Neither is aware that the secret to Lyriah’s true identity rests in Kiara’s ability to see beyond the skin. To restore the kingdom, Lyriah and Kiara must master the magic that binds all peoples, before the Magician Clan can destroy the heart of the land once and for all.
How would you describe your writing style – a plotter or a pantser? (and why does this style work for you?)
In past world building projects, I’ve plotted everything from language dialects and livery colors to the number of bricks in the village square. I’ve explored every possible plot angle and then some, and nearly bored myself to tears when the time came to begin penning the next great fantasy novel.
I’ve since learned that I write more effectively as a pantser. I start the story with a very general idea and allow the characters to drive the direction of the plot through their actions and relationships. I have always wanted to be the kind of writer that has characters constantly bickering in her head, and it took letting my prearranged plots fall out the window to finally get the party started.
Best advice to aspiring writers?
Like any other skill, writing requires discipline, passion, and perseverance. Subsequently, in order to get better at it, you must do it as often as you can, whether you feel like it or not. The best advice I have ever received is the advice that I will pass on to all of you: keep writing. Don’t stop. Write all the time about anything and everything. And never, ever let anyone tell you that you aren’t good enough.
FEATURE INTERVIEW WITH TRACY FALENWOLFE
What’s your personal recipe for creativity?
It’s pretty much the same as my personal recipe for everything else. I start with equal parts chocolate and coffee—Godiva 72% dark, and Dunkin Donuts black—then I obsess for a little while. Once I worry about every little thing that could go wrong, I do something completely unrelated to whatever I’m trying to figure out. It’s usually when I’m grocery shopping or walking the dog that a solution or an idea just comes to me.
If you were a literary character, who would you be?
Oh, I’d be Nancy Drew for sure. She had a cool car, great friends, and plenty of exciting adventures.
The theme of your award-winning essay, Love Me Do, is about words unspoken between a father and daughter. If you had known your own father was about to die the last time you saw him, what would you have said to him?
I would have said don’t go. I guess there is a little part of me that wonders if he had a choice, even though, logically, I know he didn’t. We weren’t the closest father and daughter, but we should have had more time together.
The loss of a loved one can often change the way one looks at the world and one’s own life. Has this been the case for you and was writing about your relationship with your dad a cathartic experience?
Since there was a lot unspoken between us, putting some things down on paper was cathartic, yes. But I think fostering a different kind of relationship with my own children than the kind I had with my father goes farther toward healing. As far as how things have changed, I would say the way I look at my life has intensified more than it has outright changed. I was always a planner. A goal-setter. I still set goals for myself, but now there is a giant stopwatch counting down in the back of my mind, reminding me that if I live to be the same age my father did, I only have so many years left—right now the countdown is at twelve.
What song could be your self-portrait?
Well, keeping in mind that my favorite music is 80s rock, and that publishing is such a tough business to break into, it would have to be Hit Me With Your Best Shot, by Pat Benatar. I get knocked down a lot, but I keep getting back up.
If you could chat with any famous author whose work you admire, what’s the one question you’d most like to ask?
Oddly enough, it’s not even about writing. In 1926, after her mother died and her husband asked her for a divorce, Agatha Christie disappeared for 10 days before police found her checked into a hotel under an assumed name. Explanations ran the gamut from publicity stunt to amnesia. As a mystery writer, I want to know what really happened!
For a sneak peek preview, tell us what your new mystery series is about.
Sure. Lisa Marie Benetton is the live-in manager of a 1980s -themed motor inn which seemed like a great idea when The Pop Culture Museum of the 20th Century was slated to be built across the street and she was still engaged to her business partner, Cal Fox. But since the museum plans were scrapped, and her relationship broke up, The Twin Pines Inn is more storage facility for her 80s memorabilia than bustling, pet-friendly motel, and her part of town is more seedy than revitalized. If she doesn’t turn things around soon, she’ll be homeless and unemployed.
In the first book, a murder is committed at the inn, and Lisa, in trying to save what’s left of The Twin Pines Inn’s reputation, sets out to solve it. She faces a lot of obstacles, including her ex-fiancé’s insistence that they close the inn for good, the police chief’s personal grudge against her, and inadvertently making herself the killer’s next target.
It’s a quirky mystery with fun supporting characters, a bit of humor, and just a hint of romance. Right now I’m still looking for an agent and publisher, so I don’t have any information as to when or where it will be available. In the meantime, I just keep working on the next book.