The Great Novel Contest 2019: Leigh Ann Ruggiero – Finalist

Leigh Ann Ruggiero won her spot as a finalist in The Great Novel Contest 2019 for her fantastic manuscript, Unfollowers.

The Great Novel Contest 2020 has arrived! Check out the details here.

Unfollowers follows Barb Matheson, who doesn’t fit in: not on the Standing Rock Reservation where her mother was born; not on the Ethiopian mission where she grew up; not at the Midwestern college where she studies literature; and not at the church in Bethel, Pennsylvania, where her husband preaches. While celebrating her fifth anniversary, she stumbles upon Declan, her first love, the one who whispered his dark secret into her ear so many years ago. And now he’s invited her and her husband to visit Ethiopia as missionaries.

Unfollowers is a tale of religious angst, unrequited love, and the upheaval of racial and economic privilege.

Picture of author Leigh Ann Ruggiero
Photo credit: Ali Winberry

Leigh Ann studied under Maud Casey at the University of Maryland where earned an MFA in fiction. She obtained her BA in English from Wheaton College, which is “best known as the school from which Billy Graham graduated and Wes Craven dropped out.”

Now she teaches college courses herself as a professor of literature and writing at a school “smack in the middle of Montana.” Most days, she can be found musing on story structure, music theory, and a variety of fandoms of which she is “alternately proud and embarrassed to be a member.” Whenever she’s not buckling down on grading “which is awful” or writing “which is wonderful,” she often watches theater with her partner.

To Leigh Ann, her partner “is by far the most important cheerleader, not to mention person, in my life.” Several important phrases and terms made it into Unfollowers “only at [my partner’s] suggestion.” Leigh Ann’s parents, friends, and colleagues also support her, sometimes in person and other times through online group chats.

As a writing professor, she has some substantial advice to give for anyone who is struggling to finish a writing project. “You have to give yourself time,” she says. “Time is the difference between half-baked writing and writing from which the toothpick comes out clean.”

Leigh Ann grew up reading adventure books, especially the works of Lloyd Alexander. Now she finds inspiration in Jonathan Franzen, Jonathan Foer, Chelsey Johnson, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and Rainbow Rowell. She also loves the poetry of Tommy Pico and graphic novels by Craig Thompson.

For anyone interested in studying the craft of writing, she recommends several books. For short stories, read the Complete Stories collection of Flannery O’Connor and Amy Hempel’s Collected Stories. For novels, look at the works of Thomas Hardy, especially his underrated book Woodlanders. Regardless of format, Leigh Ann believes everyone should read Claudia Rankine’s Citizen, which is an “exquisitely human” book.

Leigh Ann discovered The Great Novel Contest 2019 through Submittable, a useful website for writers that collates publishing opportunities and organizes them by deadline. After growing up near the Ohio border in Pennsylvania, Leigh Ann had a sense of nostalgia as she looked into the contest.

Leigh Ann believes that ideal publishing involves an honest collaboration between the writer and publisher, and she is happy to see that The Great Novel Contest is “interested in promoting writers, rather than just pitting them against each other.” Leigh Ann won’t give up until she finds the right home for Unfollowers, whether it passes through the hands of an agent or goes straight to a publisher.

Be on the lookout for Unfollowers and more stories by Leigh Ann in the future.  


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Guest Post — Hannah Douglas: The Great Novel Contest Deadline is Near!

Hannah Douglas– freelance writer/journalist, CCC volunteer for The Great Novel The Great Novel Contest 2015Contest— wrote this guest post on defeating deadlines, and the importance of the The Great Novel Contest 2015 deadline. Visit Hannah’s website for the original post: here

Let me just be straight. I don’t like deadlines. What kind of person likes them, really?

When I’m on deadline, I’d much rather make a sandwich. And then do the dishes after eating said sandwich. And then clean the entire house because if the dishes are done, then everything else must be clean, right? Then maybe I’ll call a friend to see if they need their dishes done or their house cleaned. OK. Enough.

Deadlines can put a lot of pressure on the creative process, placing a time stamp on a thought, an idea for a book, can seem so wrong! I’m writing. Don’t rush me.

Regardless of my strong disdain for deadlines, they exist to help move us forward. When it comes to The Great Novel Contest, maybe the deadline is in your favor! Deadlines could just be that inspiration you need to achieve your goals. You can finally polish off that manuscript and turn in a completed work that you love.

Learn more about The Great Novel Contest here.

Sometimes I’ll make my own self-imposed deadlines, and include a twisted rewards system to go along with it, just to make sure I finish a project. I’ll think of an angle for this story by 5p.m. No more coffee until I get this paragraph right. I can have these emails sent by tonight. Those 500 words will be done by Friday, and then I’ll have a big fancy dinner at a big fancy restaurant. And so on. You can judge me, but that’s my own process. You have your own.

I had to make a deadline for myself in order to finish writing this blog post. If not for that fake deadline, you probably wouldn’t be reading this.

It’s also really great when you turn your work in early! Beating the deadline can be a tremendous feeling. And The Great Novel Contest is no exception!

When I really wanted to get something done, I’ve also asked friends or editors to create deadlines for me, so that I can complete the work they’re wanting in time. I hated doing it, and I felt a little weird, but in the end, the story ran on time, and we all lived happily ever after!

But remember, deadlines are only effective if you actually meet them.

Whether you’re imposing your own fake deadlines or asking your friends to give you fake deadlines, let me assure you, the deadline of January 31, 2015 for The Great Novel Contest is very real. So real it’s almost here. So, what are you waiting for? It feels really good when you meet your deadlines! And receiving prizes for the contest feels really good too- just in case you need more of an incentive to make the deadline.

For more details on contest prizes and rules, visit www.greatnovelcontest.com. Or check out the Facebook page, here.