This weekend concluded the 2018 Fall Fiction Contest, leaving 3 Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) online students and two New Hampshire residents recognized for their creative writing skills. Out of more than 500 short story entries, Mary Wroten placed first for “David’s Cookies,” Christine Alexander came in second for “Little Wonders” and Catherine Pontoriero rounded out the top 3 with “Knots and Chains.” These winners were awarded SNHU scholarships for $3,000, $2,000 and $1,000, respectively, to be applied to any bachelor’s or master’s degree program online or on campus.
Fourth-place winner Michael Horton and 5th-place winner Sue Ellen Snape received writing-themed prize packages for their short stories, “Just the Way It Is Before It Changes” and “Think You Know Me? Hah.”
A 6-person initial review board read all the qualifying stories to determine which would move to the semi-finals. Anna Morrison, one of the reviewers, said that it was challenging to select semi-finalists this year. "The ones I chose featured compelling first lines, plots that the reader could follow, dynamic characterization, clear settings and perhaps a twist or surprise or a compassionate theme," Morrison said. She advises writers to proofread their work carefully before submitting them to contests and to pay special attention to creating a hook for readers.
Four judges then scored each semi-finalist, and the top five made it to an anonymous public voting round. The judges’ scores were close this year, which meant the fate of the finalists was in the hands of the public.
1st Prize Awarded to a Bakery Manager
Wroten’s inspiration for her winning short story, “David’s Cookies,” comes from the customers she meets at the European-style bakery she manages in California. “My imagination goes wild coming up with backstories for them,” Wroten said. “David is an amalgamation of the physical characteristics and personality traits of several regular customers.”
Christopher Sullivan, a semi-finalist judge, commended Wroten’s pacing, exposition and shocking, memorable twist. “Wroten did a wonderful job building suspense and incorporating vivid imagery throughout this eerie – yet touching – story about everlasting love,” Sullivan added.
Though she’s been writing since she was a child, Wroten didn’t start sharing her work until she turned 40 last year and enrolled in SNHU's online BA in Creative Writing and English. She is now in the process of writing 2 novels, with a goal of one day writing fiction full time.
“For years, whatever I wrote ended up on a closet shelf, hiding from the world,” Wroten said. “SNHU has given me confidence. I no longer shelve a piece when I finish it.” In her degree program, she is learning about the publishing industry and how to improve her writing.
She felt honored to be the top-prize recipient. “The finalists were an amazing group of writers, and I was happy to be counted among them,” Wroten said.
Substitute Teacher Claims 2nd Prize
Alexander was at a grocery store when found out she was a Fall Fiction finalist. She was so happy that she cried in the parking lot. “It’s a very encouraging feeling as a new writer,” Alexander said.
She first started writing short stories a few years ago, and this is the second time she’s entered the Fall Fiction Contest. “I entered the contest last year as well,” Alexander said. “I thought it would be a good exercise in submitting a story for consideration and a good opportunity to experience rejection.”
Throughout the year, Alexander has continued to improve her writing through classes and workshops in SNHU’s online BA in Creative Writing and English program. Her hard work certainly did not go unnoticed. Sullivan thought she did an excellent job using juxtaposition and internal conflict in her winning story, “Little Wonders.”
“The author exposes the protagonist’s internal struggles and desires via some wonderful description and dramatic action,” Sullivan said. “Lastly, Alexander utilizes plausible settings and backdrops to create assorted moods.”
Alexander’s nostalgia drove her inspiration for “Little Wonders.”
“I really wanted to capture the anxiety of being a young adult whose life feels somewhat precarious… I ended up with this character who is living kind of a double life and clinging to these little flashes of happiness,” she said.
New Online MFA Student Places 3rd
Pontoriero spends her days as a librarian in New Jersey and her nights writing about other worlds. In between, she’s found time to enroll in SNHU’s online MFA program where she’s done a lot of self-discovery.
“Finding out that I've placed 3rd leaves me feeling humbled and honored,” Pontoriero said. “I'm so thrilled to be able to share my story with so many people. This was the first time I entered the contest, and I'm so grateful to SNHU for the opportunity.”
Her story, “Knots and Chains,” is a personal one about family roots. “It's essentially about both of my grandmothers, both of whom have passed, and their influence on my life,” she said.
Semi-finalist judge Joan Smith particularly enjoyed this story. “I was drawn to 'Knots and Chains' for its effective use of sensory details,” she said. “The author manages to trace a lifetime of the protagonist’s most personal events through a series of vignettes, tying them together with a simple, relatable motif.”
The Review and Judging Panel
In addition to teaching creative writing for SNHU, Marcella Prokop writes poetry and nonfiction with a focus on social justice and environmental issues. When she's taking a break from these forms, she dabbles in flash fiction, travels and works with her husband on their produce farm and orchard.
Joan Smith is the lead faculty for Creative Writing and Literature at SNHU. She is a published fiction writer, nonfiction essayist and poet. Her work can be found in literary magazines and online publications such as the Washington Post, Thought Catalog and Bartleby Snopes. Smith holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Emerson College and two BA degrees (English and social science) from Providence College. She lives south of Boston with her husband and children, and teaches dance in her spare time.
Christopher Sullivan, MFA, has worked as an adjunct instructor at SNHU since 2011 and has served as a member of The Penmen Review editorial board since 2012. Sullivan teaches numerous creative writing, screenwriting and English composition courses at SNHU, and he encourages his students to be fearless (and keep an open mind) as they study and sharpen their respective craft. In his spare time, Sullivan enjoys writing, reading and spending time with his beautiful family. He is also an avid Boston sports fan.
Stephen Ulrich has been writing for most of his life. His award-winning plays have been produced in multiple theaters on the West Coast, and he has spent 30 years performing and directing theater endeavors he loves even more than writing. A teacher by day as an online creative writing instructor for many universities, he has taught graduate level creative nonfiction courses at SNHU for more than 6 years, where he works with emerging writers in honing their craft. Stephen holds an MFA (with distinction) from National University. Although he misses the mountains and ocean of the Pacific Northwest, he currently lives in Indiana.
Initial Review Panel
Crystal Curry is the author of two prizewinning poetry books, "But I Have Realized It" and "Our Chrome Arms of Gymnasium." She holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop in creative writing and an Ed.M. in human resource development. Curry has been an adjunct professor of creative writing and English at SNHU since 2012. She lives in the Bronx, New York, with her family.
Pete Davies works on the marketing team at SNHU. In his prior lives, he earned a BA in Creative Writing, sold fireworks in North Dakota, investigated police misconduct in NYC, and taught fiction writing in Wisconsin.
Martin Hyatt, a Louisiana native, is the author of the Lambda Literary Award-nominated novels, "Beautiful Gravity" and "A Scarecrow's Bible." His books focus on working-class life and have both received Stonewall Honor Book Awards from the American Library Association. Martin is also the recipient of the Edmund White Award for Debut Fiction, an Edward F. Albee Fellowship, and he was named a "star of tomorrow" by NY Magazine. He has recently completed a memoir entitled Greyhound Country. Martin currently lives in New York City and teaches writing at various colleges and universities, including SNHU.
Anna C. Morrison is an author of children's books, including "Silly Moments," "Green Gooey Goop" and "Squirrel Superhighway." She is also an adjunct professor for multiple colleges and universities, both face-to-face and online. While she instructs various levels of English composition, she also teaches classes in literature, film, feature writing and technical writing, among others. Morrison received her MFA in Writing from Spalding University in Louisville, Kentucky, and her BA in English, Creative Writing, from California State University, San Bernardino. She is an active member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators and lives in Southern California.
Angelina Oberdan is a writer and instructor, hailing from Charlotte, North Carolina. She received an MFA in Creative Writing (Poetry) and an MA in English from McNeese State University in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Angelina's work has appeared in many journals, including Cold Mountain Review, Louisiana Literature, Mobius, Italian Americana, Southern Indiana Review, and Yemassee, among others. She co-edited a collection of essays by and about Daniela Gioseffi, "Pioneering Italian American Culture: Escaping La Vita Della Cucina," published by Bordighera Press. When Angelina isn’t writing or teaching, she’s hiking with her 3 dogs.
Cyndle Plaisted Rials lives in Maine, between the mountains and the ocean. In addition to teaching creative writing courses for SNHU, she operates a small business designing and creating fiber art and accessories. Cyndle earned her MFA at Vermont College of Fine Arts, and her poems have appeared in such places as Hunger Mountain, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, and Be Wilder: A Word Portland Anthology, among others. She is currently at work on her first novel.
Rebecca LeBoeuf ’18 is a writer and editorial coordinator at Southern New Hampshire University. Connect with her on LinkedIn.