Robin Williams, 1st Place Winner of the Best Unpublished Novel Contest
Robin Traywick Williams

James River Writers is pleased to announce Robin Traywick Williams of Crozier, for The Key to the Quarter Pole, as the first place winner of the JRW and Richmond Magazine 2015 Best Unpublished Novel Contest. Gail Giewont, and Vivian Lawry, both of Richmond, have been selected as finalists for Unguided and Nettie’s Books, respectively.

The Best Unpublished Novel Contest, initially held in 2008 and now offered every other year, is at the heart of James River Writers’ mission of connecting and inspiring readers and writers. In the alternating years, James River Writers offers the Shann Palmer Poetry Contest and Best Self-published Novel Contest, providing exposure and encouragement to a wide range of Virginia’s author talent.

Maya Smart, head judge for the Best Unpublished Novel Contest
Maya Smart

Seventy-five writers submitted the first fifty pages of their manuscripts to be scored by a cadre of more than a dozen volunteer readers. The process was completely anonymous. A team of second-round judges—A. B. Westrick, Kristin Swenson, and Ellen Brown—selected the three finalists from the top nine’s complete manuscripts. Head judge Maya Smart then determined the winner.

“The Key to the Quarter Pole is an excellent read about an independent woman with a weakness for hard knocking racehorses. The author showed strong command of character and setting throughout, mapping the terrain of central Virginia and the motivations of the characters with equal aplomb,” said Maya Smart. “The novel’s structure is sound and engaging.”

Robin Traywick Williams is an award-winning journalist and speaker who writes humorous essays. Her latest collection, “Bush Hogs and Other Swine”, includes a foreword by Earl Hamner. Mystery writer Rita Mae Brown calls Williams “the country Seinfeld.” Robin holds an M.A. in English Writing from Hollins University. She formerly chaired the Virginia (Horse) Racing Commission and wrote for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. She currently serves on the board of Essex Bank. 

Robin Farmer
Robin Farmer

JRW Board Member and contest chairperson, Robin Farmer,gushed, “The Best Unpublished Novel contest is not only a great opportunity for aspiring novelists, but it also allows area book lovers and writers, some published and some not, to serve as judges. I am grateful that Dean King once again hosted a wonderful reading party that allowed judges to start the evaluation process in a warm and festive environment.”

The first prize winner receives $500, publication of an excerpt in Richmond Magazine, which will be released on June 26, as well as a ticket to the annual James River Writers Conference. The two finalists each receive $200.

“It’s always so exciting to see so many people who are willing to take a chance and put their work out there for others to see,” said James River Writers Executive Director, Katharine Herndon. “We have an incredibly strong literary community full of people in all stages of their writing careers, and I love it that JRW can help writers develop confidence.”

Gail Giewont
Gail Giewont



Winner of the 2014 Shann Palmer Poetry Contest, Gail Giewont teaches in the literary arts department at the Appomattox Regional Governor’s School for the Arts and Technology in Petersburg. Her novel, Unguided, greatly benefited from a First Pages session during the 2010 James River Writers Conference. Vulture, her debut collection of poetry, was published by Finishing Line Press in September 2015.


    Viv Lawry
Viv Lawry

Vivian Lawry lives and writes in and around Richmond. She is a past winner of the Sandra Brown Short Fiction Award. Since her first fiction publication in 2003, her short works have appeared in forty-five literary journals and anthologies, from The Alembic to Xavier Review. A selection of these stories, along with others previously unpublished, appear in her most recent book, Different Drummer—a collection of off-beat fiction. She is coauthor with W. Lawrence Gulick of two Chesapeake Bay Mysteries, Dark Harbor and Tiger Heart. Vivian is a collector: dictionaries, carved wooden Santas, food art, Depression glass, and cookbooks, among other things. Follow Vivian Lawry on Facebook and visit her blogs at

Writing involves self-doubt and long days and often years of researching, writing, and revising. James River Writers commends all of the writers who submitted manuscripts.

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