2018 Finalists


The Guineveres: Four girls, each named Guinevere, are abandoned by their parents at a convent to be raised by nuns. Vere, Gwen, Ginny, and Win, come to the Sisters of the Supreme Adoration convent by different paths. Each has her own complicated, heartbreaking story that she safeguards. And while the girls may share the same name, they couldn’t be more different. Gwen is all Hollywood glamour and swagger; Ginny is a budding artiste with a sentiment to match; Win’s tough bravado isn’t even skin deep; and Vere is the only one who seems to be a believer, grasping at the saint stories the nuns tell and trying to hold on to her faith that her mother will one day return for her. The nuns who raise them teach The Guineveres that faith is about waiting. But The Guineveres grow tired of waiting. And so, when four comatose soldiers arrive at the convent, the girls realize that the men may be their ticket out, while also presenting tests to the very limits of their friendship. The Guineveres is published by Flatiron Books.

About the author: Sarah Domet holds a Ph.D. in literature and creative writing from the University of Cincinnati where she once served as the associate editor of The Cincinnati Review. Her short work has appeared in numerous journals, including Burrow Press Review, Beloit Fiction Journal, Potomac Review, and New Delta Review. Originally from Ohio and still a Midwesterner at heart, Domet now lives in Savannah, Georgia. The Guineveres is her debut novel.

“When I set out to write The Guineveres, I was interested in exploring a coming-of-age story set against the backdrop of Catholicism and war, two really large conceptual ideas that seemed distinct from the idea of girlhood itself. I’ve always been interested in how young girls forge a sense of identity beneath the overshadowing mythos of institutions. . . . I wanted to shine a light on the insularity of The Guineveres’ lives and the claustrophobia of it.”

Over the Plain Houses: It’s 1939, and the Federal Government has sent Virginia Furman—USDA agent and thoroughly modern woman—into the North Carolina mountains to ease hard-living rural homemakers into the twentieth century. It’s here, amongst the bonnets and home-bakes, that Virginia meets Irenie, the shy and shuffling wife of a local preacher. It’s a dangerous friendship for the women to pursue given that Irenie’s husband, Brodis—threatened by modernity—has been acting strangely, his peculiar brand of fundamentalism warping into survivalist hellfire. Convinced that Irenie is consorting with the devil, Brodis brings about an act of violence that shakes his entire community, and stretches his marriage to the point of explosion. Over the Plain Houses is published by Hub City Press.

About the author: Julia Franks has roots in the Appalachian Mountains and has spent years kayaking the rivers and creeks of Tennessee, North Carolina, and West Virginia. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia, where she teaches literature and runs, a Web service that fosters free-choice reading in the classroom.

“I don’t know where the witch idea came from. It was a very early part of the story. If I had to guess, I think it just comes from being a woman in this culture. This is what we do. When women don’t behave the way we want, we demonize them. . . . We might not call a woman a witch, but we find other ways to demonize her. If you’re fearless, your’re demonized. It’s a way of making you not as human. It’s a kind of marginalization.”

The Opposite of Everyone: Born in Alabama, divorce attorney Paula Vauss spent the first decade of her life on the road with her free-spirited young mother, Kai, an itinerant storyteller who blended Hindu mythology with southern oral tradition to reinvent her history as they roved. But everything, including Paula’s birth name, Kali Jai, changed when she told a story of her own—one that landed Kai in prison and Paula in foster care, fracturing the intense bond they once shared. When Kai’s most treasured secret literally lands on Paula’s doorstep, throwing her life into chaos and transforming her from only child to older sister, Paula sets off on two journeys: one to find the mother from whom she’s been estranged for 15 years, and one to rediscover her past and all that lies in the deepest recesses of her heart. The Opposite of Everyone is published by William Morrow.

About the author: Joshilyn Jackson is The New York Times bestselling author of seven novels and a novella: The Opposite of Everyone; Someone Else’s Love Story; gods in Alabama; Between, Georgia; The Girl Who Stopped Swimming; Backseat Saints; A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty, and the novella My Own Miraculous. Her books have been translated into a dozen languages, won the SIBA novel of the year award, three times been a #1 Book Sense Pick, twice won the Georgia Author of the Year Award, and three times been short-listed for the Townsend Prize.

“Never have I written a more contentious narrator. [Paula] eats trouble for breakfast, and then says, ‘Please sir, may I have some more.’ She steps toward conflict with a kindling black joy, and I love her for it. I would not feel [bad] at all about putting Paula into more trouble because she was born for it. She thrives there.”

Lilac Girls: New York socialite Caroline Ferriday has her hands full with her post at the French consulate, but on the eve of a fateful war, her world is forever changed when Hitler’s army invades Poland in September 1939. An ocean away from Caroline, Kasia Kuzmerick, a Polish teenager senses her care-free youth disappearing as she is drawn deeper into her role as a courier for the underground resistance, while in Nazi Germany, doctor Herta Oberheuser, answering an ad for a government position to flee her desolate life, finds herself trapped in a male-dominated realm of Nazi secrets and power.  The lives of these three women are set on a collision course when Kasia is sent to Ravensbrück, the notorious Nazi concentration camp for women. Their stories—inspired by World War II heroine Caroline Ferriday’s real life—cross continents as Caroline and Kasia strive to bring justice to those whom history has forgotten. Lilac Girls is published by Ballantine Books.

About the author: Martha Hall Kelly is a native New Englander now living in Atlanta, Georgia. Lilac Girls is her first novel, acclaimed as a New York Times and Indie bestseller. Hall Kelly is hard at work writing two prequels to Lilac Girls. The first, Gin Lane, takes place during World War I and features the plight of Russian refugees displaced by the revolution in their homeland.

“I loved delving into the world of Ravensbrück. I felt like I was the custodian of these women who suffered so much, and I wanted to get the details right, and transport readers there, to make them feel what the women felt. . . . I never considered soft-pedaling what it was like there. . . .It may be hard feeling what it was like to be in Ravensbrück, but only then can you feel the deep satisfaction of what it was like to come out the other side and finally triumph.” (Photo Credit: Jeffrey Mossier)

The Lemon Jell-O Syndrome: Sometimes Bone King cannot go through doors. His brain and muscles simply can’t seem to recall how to walk him through them. In fact, the only way he can navigate a doorway is to square dance through it. Perhaps this strange affliction has something to do with his being distracted by thinking about grammar and etymology all the time, or maybe it’s anxiety that his wife, Mary, is having an affair with Cash, the yardman. Finally, Bone seeks advice from renowned neurologist Arthur Limongello, who offers a highly peculiar diagnosis along with an even more eccentric cure. After a harrowing ordeal during which he nearly loses his life, Bone wonders if Limongello’s remedy is the product of a deranged imagination or the cure for a modern epidemic threatening the very self.  The Lemon Jell-O Syndrome is published by Unbridled Books.

About the author: Man Martin is a two-time Georgia Author of the Year winner for his previous widely acclaimed novels, Days of the Endless Corvette and Paradise Dogs. His short stories and essays have appeared in The Kenyon Review, The Alaska Quarterly, and elsewhere.  He also is a cartoonist whose daily comic strip Inkwell Forest is available online and through e-mail feed to subscribers. Martin teaches high school English and coaches debate in Atlanta, Georgia, where he lives with his wife Nancy.

“I write literary fiction, but it’s not what people think of when they think of literary fiction. What I really write are love stories. I write the same love story over and over again. It’s boy meets girl, boy gets girl, boy loses girl, boy—and that’s the end—the boy gets the girl back, or not. And that’s where I stop.”

Lightning Men: Officer Denny Rakestraw, “Negro Officers” Lucius Boggs and Tommy Smith, and Sergeant McInnis have their hands full in an overcrowded and rapidly changing Atlanta. It’s 1950, and as color lines shift in the city, racial tensions simmer. Black families—including Smith’s sister and brother-in-law—are moving into Rakestraw’s formerly all-white neighborhood, leading some residents to raise money to buy them out, while others—Rakestraw’s brother-in-law, Dale, in particular—advocate a more violent solution. Across town, Boggs and Smith try to shut down the supply of white lightning and drugs coming into their territory, while contending with personal issues of their own. Battling kith and kin, corrupt cops and ex-cons, Nazi Brownshirts and rogue Klansmen, the officers are each drawn closer to the fires that threaten to consume the city once again. Lightning Men is published by Atria/37 Ink and is the second novel in Thomas Mullen’s Darktown Series.

About the author: Thomas Mullen, is the author of The Last Town on Earth, which was named Best Debut Novel of 2006 by USA Today and was awarded the James Fenimore Cooper Prize for excellence in historical fiction; The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers; winner of the 2012 Townsend Prize for Fiction; The Revisionists; and Darktown, the first novel in the Darktown Series. His works have been named to Year’s Best lists by the Chicago Tribune, USA Today, the Atlanta-Journal Constitution, and several others. Mullen lives in Atlanta, Georgia, with his wife and sons.

“I’m always interested in finding the different fault lines in different communities. So for a book like this, obviously there’s a lot of conflict between African Americans and whites; but I’m also interested in looking into what divides the white community, and what divides the black community. . . .As a novelist, I like finding those tensions and finding ways to exploit them.”

The Half Wives: Over the course of one momentous day, two women who have built their lives around the same man find themselves moving toward an inevitable reckoning. Former Lutheran minister, Henry Plageman, is a master secret-keeper and a man wracked by grief. He and his wife, Marilyn, tragically lost their young son, Jack, many years ago. But he now has another child—a daughter, eight-year-old Blue—with Lucy, the woman he fell in love with after his marriage collapsed. On May, 22, 1879, the anniversary of Jack’s birth, these interconnected characters lives are all drawn to the same destination: the city cemetery on the outskirts of San Francisco, to the grave that means so much to all of them. The collision of lives and secrets that follows will leave no one unaltered. The Half Wives is published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

About the author: Stacia Pelletier is the author of Accidents of Providence, her debut novel that was short-listed for the 2014 Townsend Prize for Fiction. She has earned graduate degrees in religion and historical theology from Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. She lives in Decatur, Georgia.

“I’m a deep lover of the environment and of our natural world, so my exploration of what development meant in San Francisco in the late 19th century is born in part because I know that change has to happen, but I grieve for what we lose when we do that. The opening quotation [of the book] says, ‘Cemeteries, like people, must move onward to make room;’ to me it poses an ethical and moral question: I know we have to move on and progress both in our cities and communities and in our relationships, but what’s the cost of moving on? And what do we trample on or leave behind?”

Among the Living: In late summer 1947, thirty-one-year-old Yitzhak Golda, a Holocaust survivor, arrives in Savannah to live with his only remaining relatives: his cousins, Abe and Pearl Jesler, older, childless, and an integral part of the thriving Jewish community that has been in Georgia since the founding of the colony. There, Yitzhak discovers a fractured world set amidst the complicated backdrop of America’s postwar South and the last gasp of the Jim Crow era, where Reform and Conservative Jews, blacks and whites, live separate lives—distinctions to him that are meaningless given what he has been through. When a woman from his past suddenly appears—one who is more shattered than he is—Yitzhak must choose between a dark and tortured familiarity and the promise of a bright new life. Among the Living is published by Other Press.

About the author: Jonathan Rabb is an American essayist and novelist. He is the author of five novels including, the Berlin Trilogy—Rosa, Shadow and Light, and The Second Son—a critically acclaimed series of historical thrillers. Rosa won the 2006 Director’s Special Prize at Spain’s Semana Negra Festival. Rabb has taught at Columbia University, New York University, and the 92nd Street Y. He is currently a professor in the writing department at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah, Georgia.

“Setting the story during the height of the Jim Crow era made perfect sense to me. If this was all going to be about identity and alienation—all those different moving parts—then I needed Yitzhak to hear echoes of his own recent past in the way the black community was being treated. Of course, he couldn’t know what it was to be a black man living in the South, but he could feel a certain affinity. And he could ask the hard questions.” (Photo Credit: Ashley Waldvogel)

Shadow of the Lions: When Matthias Glass’s best friend, Fritz, vanishes without a trace in the middle of an argument during their senior year at Blackburne, an elite prep school in Virginia, Matthias tries to move on with his life, only to realize that until he discovers what happened to his missing friend, he will be stuck in the past, guilty, responsible, alone. Almost ten years after Fritz’s disappearance, Matthias gets his chance. Offered a job teaching English at Blackburne, he gets swiftly drawn into the mystery. In the shadowy woods of his alma mater, he stumbles into a web of surveillance, dangerous lies, and buried secrets—and discovers the troubled underbelly of a school where the future once always seemed bright. Shadow of the Lions is published by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill.

About the Author: Christopher Swann is the English department chair at Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School in Sandy Springs, Georgia, where he has taught for two decades. He has earned an M.A. in English and creative writing from the University of Missouri-Columbia, and a Ph.D. in creative writing from Georgia State University. He has won awards and recognition from Georgia State University, Washington and Lee University, and the Heekin Group Foundation’s Tara Fellowship for Short Fiction. Swann lives with his wife and two sons in Atlanta, Georgia. Shadow of the Lions is his debut novel.

“The very idea of friendship fascinates me. How and why do we make friends? Why do some friendships last, and some fade. . . . In my novel, I wanted to see how Matthias would react to the disappearance of his best friend and what kind of effect that disappearance would have on Matthias’ life. Imagine your best friend from high school vanishes, and years later you learn you might be able to find out what happened to that friend. What would you do? That’s one of the central questions that drives my novel.” (Photo Credit: Kathy Ferrell Swann)

The Hidden Light of Northern Fires: Mary Willis has always been an outcast, an abolitionist in a town of bounty hunters and anti-Union farmers. After college, she dreams of exploring the country but is obligated to take over the household duties and management of her family’s farm, while her brother, Leander, avoids his own responsibilities. Helping runaways is the only thing that makes her life in Town Line, New York, bearable. When escaped slave Joe Bell collapses in her father’s barn, Mary is determined to help him cross to freedom in Canada. But the wounded fugitive is haunted by his vengeful owner, and his sister, still trapped as a slave in the South. As the countryside is riled by the drumbeat of civil war, rebels and soldiers from both sides bring the intrigue and violence of the brutal war to the town and the farm, and threaten to destroy all that Mary loves. The Hidden Light of Northern Fires is published by St. Martin’s Press.

About the Author: Daren Wang is the founding executive director of the Decatur Book Festival. Before launching the festival, he had a twenty-year career in public radio, both national and local. Wang has written for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Paste Magazine, and Five Points, among others.  He lives in Decatur, Georgia, with his wife. The Hidden Light of Northern Fires is Wang’s first novel.

“I tell people that all of the weird stuff [in the book] is true: secession, [the] Underground Railroad, Leander, [Mary’s brother] joining the army then quitting, Confederate agents on the Canadian border, the Johnson’s Island conspiracy. I felt that stuff had to be rooted in history, or people wouldn’t take the book seriously. The everyday stuff—people falling in love, people dying—that I played fast and loose with.” (Photo Credit: Tom Meyer)