No Fee Contest/Cash Prize: Is this for real?

No Fee Contest/Cash Prize: Is this for real?

Two phrases together often catch a writer’s attention.  No Fee and Cash Prize!  That’s exactly what you’ll find at HRW’s 8th Annual Writers Conference. Attendees have the opportunity to submit in three categories: poetry; fiction; and nonfiction. Each category pays cash prizes. And did I mention there is no fee to submit?

Here’s what you’ll receive in each of the three categories when you win:

First Place — $500

Second Place  — $250

Third Place — $100

Honorable Mention — $75 tuition break at HRW’s 2017 Writers Conference

While HRW has created an affordable, information-rich conference that appeals to all levels of writing experience, the no fee, cash prize writing contests reflect HRW’s desire to encourage emerging writers. Attendees are encouraged to submit to all three categories, but in an effort to encourage emerging writers, first place winners of any of HRW’s previous contests are ineligible to enter work into the contest category for which they previously were awarded first prize.

When it comes to submitting here are a couple of suggestions to make the most of your submission:

1) Look at the submission guidelines. Not only do they tell you the format and word count but also the submission deadline. Every competition has guidelines and without exception you must submit accordingly or your submission will be immediately disqualified from the running.

2) Once you have selected your categories, research the particular judges for each section. They have been selected because of their skilled ability to evaluate their category submissions. It is worth your time to see what they write, where their work has been published, and what subjects they’re passionate about.  I’m not sharing this to sway your topic.  However, you will benefit and possibly increase your chances of winning contests anytime you can adapt, remove barriers, and make it as easy as possible for the judges to evaluate your work.

Even if you don’t win any of the cash prizes or the conference credit for an Honorable Mention, each judge is requested to share their observations about your piece. You’ll get valuable feedback from a professional about where and how you can strengthen the writing, something that under normal conditions would require payment.

For more tips on writing competitions visit


Sherrie Pilkington, a co-founder of Hampton Roads Writers, serves on its advisory board. She’s a daughter, sister, wife, mother, grandmother, and writer of nonfiction.


Words of love

To celebrate Valentine’s Day this year, we asked our readers and fans to write a 600-word story to go along with this photo. Here are the entries we received:


Love—Don’t Leave Home Without It

by Tammy Wartell

Lynn felt like she was just background noise to the military. Everything else always came first: the mission, deployments, people her husband worked with, but never her. Her husband Scott got orders, she had to follow. She had sacrificed a career, a lifetime really, to follow and support her husband. This time was different. He took orders; she said no. I am happy here; I will stay, and you may go. It is not a life I want anymore. I am too old; we have children. I want to be settled for our children to have roots. We are all happy here. Her brunette hair fell across her face. He was mad: Why would she not take the family and support the job that had given them a good life?

Twenty-one years ago, she said yes to the military when she said yes to him. Now it was different. He took orders to where he thought she would want to go—a warm place, not cold like Virginia could sometimes get. For Scott, it was very confusing to have been with someone for twenty-one years and now not understand her. He had to go, there was no choice. The orders to the warm place were his alone. She had stood her ground on this one. The next day as she was getting the kids ready for school and getting ready for work. He felt overwhelmed with sadness. All this time he had never noticed her—how pretty she was, how kind and how much she did without complaining. She was always surrounded by a group of friends. This was the first time he really truly saw her sacrifice. She could have married anyone but she chose him, and she stood by her vows and supported him. Scott had orders and this person, his best friend for the first time ever, was not going. No matter what Scott did she said she wanted to stay in Virginia.

Scott worked and missed his family. The three children they had he missed terribly. He had too much time to think. At night sometimes, he would go to the brewpub and talk to the old bartender. Wise old guy would ask what is a fellow like you doing here. One day Scott told him it all just came out.

The bartender told him, “Well have you ever told her you appreciated her sacrifice, how she’s a good mom, what she really means to you?”

Scott had never realized it but he never had. He was too cutting with his words, too much of a tough guy but now it was killing him.

At 6 a.m., he hopped on a flight. He told his wife to meet him at their spot. She left the kids with a friend and met him. When he took her in his arms, he said, “Lynn, I am not sorry for our life the past twenty-one years, but I am sorry I took you for granted. I have to finish my time at my duty station, but I put in my retirement papers. Babe, I am coming home.”

He leaned his head down and kissed her and knew he would never ever let her go again. She smiled and said, “That is the best Valentine’s Day present ever.”

They went home, got the kids dressed up, and all of them went to celebrate at a much fancier diner than the brewpub. She got roses for the first time ever and candy and had never felt more loved.


26bd15c6-c1cd-41ea-95c8-55553b402545 Tammy Wartell, a graduate of Hawaii Pacific University, is a freelance writer and pre-kindergarten teacher. She has been featured in Boating Times and Nextgenmilspouse. She has also been featured in several e-zines . 


V Day
by Star LaBranche

She wanted to run. No, she needed to run. She needed to get as far away from this man as humanly possible and never look back. As she stood stiffly in his arms, he looked down at her with a loving gaze.

“You make me so happy,” he murmured, stroking her hair.

She shuddered at his touch.

“It’s late. I should be getting home,” she said, softly.

“It’s not that late,” he chuckled.

“I have work tomorrow. Bright and early,” she added, trying to leave his encircling arms.

He held her tighter, stopping her egress. “You can stay a bit longer,” he smiled. “We only made love once today, after all.”

“I’m really tired,” she said, yawning for emphasis. “I think I should get home.” He’ll do it again. The thought had popped into her head multiple times in the last hour. I’m in danger, and I need to get away. But her every attempt to leave was being met with resistance. Her brain was screaming at her to get away from him through any means necessary.

She wondered if she should fight him. But as soon as that thought occurred to her, she knew how foolish it sounded. He was much bigger and stronger than she was. Even without the weapons he had lined up in the den where they had just been, he could easily overpower her. Just like he had overpowered her when they were watching a movie on his couch.

Run, her mind urged her. After it was over, she had been so stunned and disoriented by what happened that she had agreed to go on a walk along the lines of his expansive property. She felt as if her brain was processing information at a snail’s pace. She stared off into the distance as he said something she didn’t catch.

“I’ve had a great time,” she lied. “We’ll get together soon, okay?”

“Really? You’re just going to leave me?” he asked, his smile fading. “You should stay for dinner, at least. I make a great pizza.”

“I’d love to, but you know, work,” she said, trying to sound disappointed. She started to extract herself from his arms again.

He caught her before she got very far and pulled her against him. “Well okay, this time,” he said. “But next time, you’re spending the night. I make really great omelets as well.”

“Yeah, that sounds nice,” she said. She had to get away from him. She had to get away now. She was starting to realize exactly what had happened to her and her feeling of unease was replaced with horror.

He took her hand and started leading her toward her truck. “You should really stay,” he informed her. “I know you have work, but when you really want something you work hard to make it happen.”

“Sorry,” she said, fishing her keys out of her small purse. “Next time, I promise.”

“Sure, baby,” he said, once they had arrived at her car. “I can’t wait to see you again,” he said, stroking her face. “You’re so beautiful.”

She made what she thought was a pleased sound. “I’ll send you a text soon,” she promised. She was so close to getting out of there. He gave her another kiss before she was finally able to slip from his grasp and slid into the truck. Shutting the door, he stood back while she started the engine. She waved as she drove off of his property.

He walked back to the house, whistling. He had had a great time.

 IMG_3189Star LaBranche is a writer who dreams of living in the desert with a rescue corgi. She provides copyediting, writing, and proofreading services for individuals or businesses. Contact her at


There’s still time before Christmas


Are you like most Americans with some last minute holiday shopping still to do? Why not get that avid reader loved one of yours one of these fine books. Here’s a list of just a few works penned by Hampton Roads Writers Association authors:

  1. Outpost Gypsy Tree: The North Portal (Volume 1) by Dr. Dottie Graham
    Nestled within a thought form in Earth’s vast realm, Outpost Gypsy Tree becomes home for six adventurous teenagers from various parts of the world. Charged by their own desire for peace and love for humanity, they are assigned to clear the earth’s light portals of the evils of mankind, starting with the North Portal. To do so, the teens must journey back in time to the winter solstice of 3107 BCE to decode an archaic sequence at Ireland’s historic Newgrange that will unlock a Neolithic chamber leading them to the ‘other world’ of the gods of Erin. To prove their worthiness, courage and commitment to battle the darkness, they must journey through the traitorous Cave of Damnation and face an encroaching inferno. At the core of this bizarre journey is the staff of Outpost Gypsy Tree: Eittod of Tulsun Minor, an ancient being with a rainbow-colored body, and Bezen and her son, Mingo, inhabitants of Early Earth.
  1. Woman Wisdom: Female Voice in Bible by Lena Simmons
    The first book of the series is Sarai and Hagar. Hagar evolved from a woman with a slave mentality to a matriarch of the Arab nation. Sarai was the matriarch of the Hebrew nation in spite of being possessive. Bathsheba is in the works. Her books will deal with the challenges of choice, politics, sex, and reproductive freedom. She evolved from a woman of scandal to a Queen mother. Persons of the Jesus Christ belief system will note her place in Jesus Christ’s lineage. She is one of five women. The Bible is just one of Lena’s sources for inspiration and empowerment of women.
    *Check out Lena Simmons’s other written books on Amazon.

  2. Despue’s De Una Tarde De LLuvia: After An Afternoon Rain by Lena Simmons
    This bilingual photography book captures the beauty of life after an afternoon rain.
    * Check out Lena Simmons’s other photography books available through Amazon.
  1. Holiday in Havana – The Adventures Begin (The Martin Culver Series Book 1) by Malcom Massey
    When three American fishermen disappear along the North Carolina coast, their sportfishing yacht is found blown to pieces. While family and friends try to determine what happened, the CIA keeps the details a secret, yet they intensely search for answers themselves.
    * Check out other books in the Martin Culver Series on Amazon.
  1. Shorts of Fiction: A Collection of Female Characters by Nealy Gihan
    They’re wives, girlfriends, mothers, daughters, friends, and so much more. Through these five short stories, female characters are celebrated as heroes, victims and antagonists. From a department store worker who longs for a new pair of shoes to a mother battling cancer and a teenager coming to terms with life after her mother’s death, this collection has it all.
  1. Perception: A New Adult anthology published by Elephantine Publishing
    There comes a defining moment in every young person’s life that irrevocably shifts their point of view. In Perception, produced by Virginia Beach publisher Elephantine Publishing, discover five captivating stories that explore what it means to be a new adult.
  2. The Man Test (The Marin Test Series Book 1) by Amanda Aksel
    In this romantic comedy, Marin Johns is San Francisco’s Pollyanna couples therapist. She’s months away from wedded bliss when she discovers her fiancé is having an affair. After nursing her broken heart with Kleenex and break-up songs, she adopts a new brand of thinking when she uncovers a tell-all book that proves all men are liars and cheaters who will do and say anything so they’re not found out. No exceptions.
    * Check out the next book in the Marin Test Series and other works by Amanda Aksel through Amazon.

Kisses in the rain, a writing prompt

A coupScreen shot 2015-10-12 at 11.30.12 PMle of weeks ago in Hampton Roads, we all thought we were going to get waterlogged by all of the rain we were getting. Instead of letting the gloomy skies get us down, we challenged our readers and writers go come of with a short story that ends with a kiss in the rain. Bena Dam accepted the challenge with this short and beautiful piece:

She’s Here

Overcast and dreary. It was a miserable morning. As all the family members in the house awoke and dressed in their best, the sun still struggled to make an appearance. After choking down a meager breakfast, everyone sat quietly listening to the ticking clock slicing through the silence with every jerk of the second hand.

“She’s here,” a deflated uncle announced. His hunched silhouette lingered in the doorway, briefly frozen in uncertainty. What now? The others filled in his inaction by gathering tubes of incense, boxes of candles, and packets of colorfully muted paper.

As young and old made their way outside, a massive black vehicle greeted them in front of the driveway. Clean, shiny, immaculate, and accompanied by four men dressed in the most proper top hats and tailcoats, it was a most unusual sight to American eyes. The eldest son, donning a white band tied around his forehead, marched forward, clutching a portrait of his mother in his tired arms.

The young watched as the elders quietly performed a traditional ceremony. They did not consciously understand every gesture, but what they saw resonated deep within their bones. The four impeccably dressed men returned to the massive black vehicle and slowly led the way out of the neighborhood. Two roundabouts and four left turns later, they arrived at a peaceful field dotted with fresh flowers. A mildly chilly breeze picked up and plucked a few petals as though the heavens opened up and inhaled deeply.

Everyone gathered in front of white daisy wreaths adorned with pink roses that spelled out Mum. As their eyes overflowed onto their cheeks, so did the sky weep. A cleansing rain swept over three generations, attempting to wash away the sadness. Silent and audible goodbyes were whispered and shouted. Before the final descent, the eldest and only daughter kissed the lid of her mother’s casket one last time.

Bena Dam is a graphic designer and artist. She holds a bachelor’s degree in studio art from the University of Virginia and an associate’s degree in graphic design from Tidewater Community College. Check out some of her work at

It’s not what you know; it’s who you know

Hampton Roads Writers ConferenceWhile this old saw isn’t exactly true for writers—it’s still important to write with authority, no matter how well-connected you are—establishing a network of writers and other industry professionals can be crucial to developing your career. The opportunity for networking at writers’ conferences should not be overlooked.

I met my agent, Jeff Ourvan of the Jennifer Lyons Literary Agency, at the Hampton Roads Writers’ Conference a couple of years ago. I was teaching a few seminars, he was on a panel, and after we’d had a chance to talk briefly about what I was working on, he asked me to send him my manuscript. He liked what he read, and we’ve been working together for a little over a year.

I’ve also rubbed shoulders with some of my favorite writers at conferences and have been fortunate that some of them were willing to write blurbs for my two books and letters of recommendation for fellowship applications.

It’s not a one-way street, I hasten to add. Writers should be willing to give as well as take. As an editor of
I’ve been in a position to publish writers I’ve met at conferences. And two years ago when I was putting together an anthology of short fiction, I reached out to several writers I knew through workshops. I’ve also met critique partners at conferences, writers who are looking for feedback on early drafts of their work.

Conferences can be great learning opportunities. Panel discussions, presentations, and keynote speeches will certainly be edifying. But conferences are also a great way to build a mutually beneficial network.

Clifford Garstang’s award-winning collection of linked short stories, In an Uncharted Country, was published by Press 53 in 2009. Since then, his second book, What the Zhang Boys Know, has been published. His work has appeared in Bellevue Literary Review, Blackbird, Virginia Quarterly Review, Shenandoah, Cream City Review, Tampa Review, Los Angeles Review, and elsewhere and has received Distinguished Mention in the Best American Series. 


From middle school to writers association

Screen shot 2015-09-16 at 10.48.52 PMThere was this girl in my seventh grade English class who was perfect. Her hair was always shiny and perfect, her schoolwork was always perfect, and her outfits were always the coolest items from The Limited Too perfectly paired with accessories from Claire’s Boutique. She could sing; she could act. She knew all of the words to every New Kids on the Block song. She even “went out” with my sixth grade crush, which really equated to nothing more than the occasional hand holding and passing of notes but was still a very big deal back in middle school in my day. I envied her, yet I really liked her. She was too perfect not to like.

More than twenty years later, I still remember the day I saw this perfect girl reading a Sweet Valley High book during our sustained silent reading time. It was the very same book I had read about two books prior in the series. I wondered what her favorite part was. I was convinced she was just as surprised at the plot twist as I had been. Although I may have been steps down from where she was on the pristine pedestal we’d put her atop of, I now knew we were on the same level in some ways as I watched her turn the page.

In that instant and many before it, I knew I wanted to become a writer. I wanted to one day write stories that could inspire, shock, and move the perfect people of this world in the same way they’d relate to the most imperfect souls and everyone in between.

Last year, I attended my first writers conference, the Hampton Roads Writers Association’s conference. In addition to learning a lot about the writing and publishing business, I received great encouragement to keep writing and met a lot of amazing writers with their own stories of why they write and what inspires them. I was in my element. I can’t wait for this year’s conference to begin.

If you didn’t register this year, you are missing out. For everyone attending, I am looking forward to meeting you and hearing your wonderful stories about what you are writing and how you got into writing. See you very soon!

This blog post was written by editor and author Nealy Gihan. Nealy is a former newspaper reporter and copy editor who now labors in coastal Virginia as a corporate copywriter by day and lives as a fiction writer by night. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Hampton University and a master’s in literary writing from DePaul University. Nealy has published short stories and has written a couple of screenplays, which have been performed in Chicago.