The online home of Jessica Morrell, because stories matter

Poets & Writers 100 Writing Contests That Want Your Work

Written By: jessicap - May• 21•15
100 Writing Contests That Want Your Work
Whether you write short stories or translate Icelandic nonfiction, Poets & Writers has got you covered with our Writing Contests database, which lists over 100 contests with upcoming deadlines. What are you waiting for?

Gival Press Novel Award — A prize of $3,000, publication by Gival Press, and 20 author copies is given annually for a novel. Deadline: May 30.

Short Story Award for New Writers — A prize of $1,500 and publication in Glimmer Train Stories is given quarterly for a short story by a writer whose fiction has not appeared in a print publication with a circulation over 5,000. Deadline: May 31.

American-Scandinavian Foundation Translation Prizes — A prize of $2,500 and publication in Scandinavian Review is given annually for an English translation of a Danish, Finnish, Icelandic, Norwegian, or Swedish work of poetry, fiction, or creative nonfiction. Deadline: June 1.

Boulevard Emerging Poets Contest — A prize of $1,000 and publication in Boulevard is given annually for a group of poems by a poet who has not published a poetry collection with a nationally distributed press. Deadline: June 1.

Research more contests online in our Writing Contests database, or pick up the current Writing Contests issue of

Poets & Writers Magazine, on newsstands now.

Go to the Database

Cathy Lamb:How To Create Compelling Settings In Your Books.

Written By: jessicap - May• 20•15

Cathy-Lamb-092Cathy Lamb

Old Homes With Secrets, Car Living, and Scottish Men in Kilts. How To Create Compelling Settings In Your Books.

I don’t like boring words.

I like scintillating words. Words that are skippy and delicious, or long with multiple syllables that roll like literary candy out of your mouth. Words that make you think, words that sound like what they are, words that dance and tease and have hidden meanings.

I do not like this word: Setting.


So boring.  Lifeless. No romance to it. No high jinks. No dynamite.

And yet.

As a writer, the setting is so important in a book.  The setting can increase the tension and the conflict, transport the reader to paradise or to terror, and ratchet up the odds, the mystery, the romance or the thrill ride.

Here are a few thoughts on setting, from my fried writer brain to yours. I apologize for using my books as examples all the way through, but hey.  I know my books best and I know why I used that setting as I did, so hopefully it will be helpful.

  1. Use setting to heighten a difficult personal struggle and make life even more challenging for your character.

New What I Remember MostIn my latest book, What I Remember Most, the primary setting is a small, western style town in central Oregon surrounded by snow capped mountains. You can almost taste the snowflakes on your tongue and see sexy cowboys galloping by on horses.

But within that setting, my protagonist, Grenadine Scotch Wild, is living in her car. Yes, her car. On the run, away from a husband who has been arrested for embezzlement, fraud, and money laundering and will not tell the officials she’s innocent unless she returns to him. Grenadine’s accounts have been frozen by the government, she’s dead broke, therefore, car living.

Do you have a vision of car living? If not, go and park in your car in a parking lot and sit there for three hours.  Stuffy. Hot. Uncomfortable. How do you sleep? Dangerous. Where do you pee? Yes, that. What a problem.

The setting worked because no one wants to live in a car and the readers were rooting for Grenadine to escape it. She was a sympathetic character, a woman who had lost everything, a woman who was fighting to get out of car living, a woman who was working hard, had no help, and was on her own. And oh, a jail sentence hanging over her head.

Use setting to toss your character into chaos.

  1. Make your reader shudder. Your setting can be used for tension, horror, angst, crimes. Take them to a place they DON’T want to go. Ever.  Make them uncomfortable. Make them catch their breath.

I put Grenadine in jail for the weekend. I went to jail for three hours on a tour so I could get it right.  Think: Suffocating. Bars. Scary people. Violence. Group showers. Horrible food and who looks good in a blue jumpsuit?

In The First Day Of The Rest Of My Life, I created a small, dusty, cramped house in the middle of nowhere for a crime to take place.  The setting scared me, and I wrote it.

I had an insane asylum in Such A Pretty Face, briefly, where the such-a-pretty-face-hi-res-1-1mother was committed.

Settings can illuminate the plight of your characters, their internal hell and their external challenges.

  1. Make your reader gleeful. Let your reader live vicariously through your characters in their setting.

 Later, after working as a bartender and as an assistant to a furniture maker, two exhausting jobs, Grenadine finally got enough money together to rent a place.

So what setting did I put her in next?

A cozy remodeled apartment above a red barn in the country.

I described the two decks overlooking the farmland, the magnificent sunset and sunrise views, the animals she sees, the peace and tranquility.

Why this setting?

I would love to live atop a barn, horses below, in the country.  Many of my readers would, too.

In the book I just finished, My Very Best Friend, which almost made me want to go and live in a cabin, alone, in Montana, and mutter to myself, but that is another story, I set it in Scotland.

Imagine: Hot Scotsmen in kilts. Bagpipes. Green rolling hills. Charming villages.

Who wouldn’t want to go to Scotland?

I’ve also set stories on quaint islands, Oregon beach towns, a town along a river, a schoolhouse transformed into a home, Cape Cod, a lavender farm, a tree house, and a Queen Anne house.

Take your reader on a trip with you. They want to go. Their bags are packed and ready.

  1. Tap your readers’ inner most imaginations.

 In Julia’s Chocolates, Lara is a closet painter. I gave her an attic, then described all the wild, free wheeling paintings in there.

the-first-day-of-thea9e6c4-1     In Such A Pretty Face, Stevie had a  garage where she built and painted  chairs – huge chairs, with feet and  wings and stripes and polka dots.

Grenadine is a collage artist and  painter. I gave her a studio on the top  floor of her little green house. I  described the colorful tables and  cheers, the jars full of paints, sequins,  fabrics, brushes, lace, etc. The books on  art, the plants, the windows.  Being an  artist appeals to readers, to their dreams.

Build settings that encourage your readers to think, to be inspired, to dream.  What if…what if I started painting again? Building again? Writing? Making a collage? What if I changed my life? What if I became a new me?

  1. Relate to your readers’ real lives with your setting.

 In A Different Kind Of Normal I created a home that belonged to my character’s ancestors. There was history in that house.  Jaden was walking up the same stairs as her ancestors, looking out the same windows, crying at her kitchen table, which her ancestors had probably cried at, too.

Your readers have homes they love and miss, homes that have prickly memories. They have grandparents, crazy aunts, beloved dead fathers, too. They have Godzilla – type ex spouses and distracted boyfriends.  They have funny pets. They have jobs and bosses they hate in the corporate world. They go to family reunions at the lake and take tranquilizers while they’re there.

They have failing businesses and cliques they have to deal with in the suburbs.

Link your readers’ personal lives to the setting in your story, which will make your book more relatable, and personal, to them.

  1. Know your readers. What do many of them like? Use it.

I think my women readers like lingerie. It’s frilly. Pretty. It inspires passion. So in If You Could See What I See, Meggie had a lingerie company, filled with silk and lace.

In The Last Time I Was Me, Jeanne Stewart gutted and remodeled a dilapidated house. I think my readers like reading about remodeling and décor, new kitchens and paint colors.  They have homes, too.

Henry's Sisters           In Henry’s Sisters, the sisters  were running a bakery.  Giant  cupcakes, wedding cakes, delicious  treats. Yes, I think my readers like  bakeries and sweets.

Appeal to your reader via your setting.

  1.      Make your setting something  that readers can laugh about.

In Julia’s Chocolates, Julia is out on her Aunt Lydia’s farm.  Aunt Lydia has tons of chickens. Chickens in brightly painted chicken coops, chickens who chase each other, chickens who have quirky personalities. And the roosters, those dandy fellows!

Aunt Lydia also has a wooden rainbow bridge in her front yard, toilets overflowing with flowers, and four foot tall ceramic pigs who each have a name tag.  The pigs are named after men Aunt Lydia doesn’t like.

Her front door is painted black to “ward off seedy men.”

Funny, right? Good. Readers like to laugh.Julia's Chocolates

To sum up this huge essay, which I did not intend to be quite so long, write your settings to evoke memories, emotions, thoughts, tears, laughter, etc. from your readers.  You want them to feel. You want them to think. You want them to block everything else out of their life and dive head first into your story.

Use the setting in your books to help them do so.

There is so much more to say about setting, how to use weather, charging rivers, frothing oceans, seasons, evocative or dangerous landscapes, bleak neighborhoods and destitute countries, etc.  but that is enough for today. I have to start writing my new book now, if I can get my brain to work.

I do know the setting, though. It’s a tugboat on a river, complete with ducks who lay eggs in pots on the deck, a blue heron, geese, sailboats, and odd ball neighbors. Including a secretive man who lives two houseboats down…

You can find more Cathy Lamb here and follow her on facebook.  






















Ted Hughes on the power of words

Written By: jessicap - May• 13•15

keys, upright“Because it is occasionally possible, just for brief moments, to find the words that will unlock the doors of all those many mansions inside the head and express something – perhaps not much, just something – of the crush of information that presses in on us, from the way a crow flies over and the way a man walks and the look of a street and from what we did one day a dozen years ago. Words that will express something of the deep complexity that makes us precisely the way we are, from the momentary effect of the barometer to the force that created men distinct from trees. Something of the inaudible music that moves us along in our bodies from moment to moment like water in a river. Something of the spirit of the snowflake in the water of the river. Something of the duplicity and the relativity and the merely fleeting quality of all this. Something of the almighty importance of it and something of the utter meaninglessness. And when words can manage something of this, and manage it in a moment of time, and in that same moment, make out of it all the vital signature of a human being – not of an atom, or of a geometrical diagram, or of a heap of lenses – but a human being, we call it poetry.”
– Ted Hughes

Cristi Corbett interview

Written By: jessicap - May• 12•15


CC Tainted DreamsI’m happy to say that I’m adding new interviews to the site. Here’s the latest one with Christi Corbett talking about her writing process and her new novel Tainted Dreams. You can find more about Christi here. 


Keep writing, keep dreaming, have  heart

Quick tip: one trick to creating backstory

Written By: jessicap - May• 04•15

sidewalk drawingQuick Take: Every protagonist comes into a story with emotional baggage and justifications for their behaviors. These qualities and foibles, acquired over a lifetime, are also called back story. And these emotional needs, blind spots and hungers motivate the protagonist to behave the way he or she behaves. Because these behaviors are also coping mechanisms. Coping mechanisms—denial, projection, suppression, acting out and the like are used to stifle or hide from problems just as in real life. If your protagonist fully realized the cause of  his or her problems, he would solve them and your story would lack inner conflict. Characters are often (but not always) blind to why they do what they do, or powerless to stop using their coping mechanisms, but acquire more self- knowledge and strength as the story progresses. The storyline exists to deliver insights.

By the way, your antagonist or villain has his or her own set of justifications and coping mechanisms. Which ones do your characters use?

Keep dreaming, keep writing, have heart


Here’s helpful list of coping mechanisms. Which ones fit your character?


In case you missed it: How Stephen King teaches writing

Written By: jessicap - Apr• 29•15

A terrific interview at The Atlantic. Thanks Mr. King for speaking out against adverbs and lazy writing. My favorite line:  Reading good fiction is like making the jump from masturbation to sex.

Stephen King joyful


Keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart

Reminder: I’ll be teaching at the Pennwriter’s Conference

Written By: jessicap - Apr• 28•15

Pennwriters Conference

Dates are May 14-17

Pittsburgh, PA

On Thursday May 14 I’ll be teaching an all-day intensive The Anchor Scenes of Fiction that will clarify what happens next (and why)in a novel. Friday and Saturday I’ll be teaching  Whispers: Theme and Premise in Fiction and What Writers Can Learn from Downton Abbey.  You can find the details here.

Thought for the day

Written By: jessicap - Apr• 23•15

tomb carving“Human vocabulary is still not capable, and probably never will be, of knowing, recognizing, and communicating everything that can be humanly experienced and felt. Some say that the main cause of this very serious difficulty lies in the fact that human beings are basically made of clay, which, as the encyclopedias helpfully explain, is a detrital sedimentary rock made up of tiny mineral fragments measuring one two hundred and fifty-sixths of a millimeter. Until now, despite long linguistic study, no one has managed to come up with a name for this.”
– José Saramago

Needed: Milestones that Create Change

Written By: jessicap - Apr• 22•15

As your story moves along, each milestone the protagonist milestoneencounters will test, stress, and shape him or her in a new  way. It will force a reconsideration or recalibration of who he is. A milestone can be an emotionally-charged event or life passage such as a wedding, funeral, a harrowing childbirth, or death bed scene. A milestone can involve a decision or moral dilemma. A series of milestones are the basis for the story’s structure. Milestones are a way to measure the protagonist’s progress toward his or her goal and highlight key events.

They can also be set pieces such as a battle or fight or chase. Set pieces require a buildup, provide a lot of drama, emotional intensity, and change the direction of the story. Think the burning of Atlanta in Gone With the Wind.

Atticus Finch in courtroomOften the set piece scene will show the character’s new realization as the scene progresses.

Milestones, no matter their size or scope should force change and growth in the main character.

In To Kill a Mockingbird, a coming-of-age story,  the trial of Tom Robinson is the milestone and set piece the whole story evolves around. Once Atticus Finch decides to defend Robinson and the trial unfolds, nothing will ever be the same in Maycomb and the Finch family will be forever tied to and changed by the events.

Tom Robinsin, a black man is wrongly accused of raping a white woman. The case is based on the false testimony of Mayella  and Bob Ewell. Robinson seals his own doom by telling the court that he felt sorry for Mayella—something unheard of from a black man. The arrest and trial reveals all the simmering racism, hatred, and injustice in a small Southern town. A game changer. After a milestone no one is left unscathed.

What are the milestones in your story?

keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart

Resource for writers:

Written By: jessicap - Apr• 21•15

winningwriters logIn case you’re not familiar with it’s a boon to writers trying to break in or break out. You’ll find all the latest contests, deadlines, and literary journalists to submit to along with tips and bits and pieces about the writing life.  Some of the contests offer real money, it’s just plain inspirational, and was again voted as one of Best 101 Sites for Writers by Writers Digest. You can sign up for their newsletter here.

Keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart