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August 14, 2020
By Drucilla Shultz
As this year’s BookLife Prize Fiction Contest winds down, we reconnect with last year’s Grand Prize winner and finalists.

Author: John Bragg, Grand Prize Winner

Title: Exit 8

Genre: General Fiction

Description: Construction of the Interstate Highway System is tearing north toward the Vermont hill farm where Roland Tuttle has spent his entire life—plowing with horses, harvesting by hand. Exit 8 is a story of personal choice, nature’s dark beauty, and most of all the story of a man confronted with the loss of everything he knows and loves.

Author Bio: John Bragg, renowned climber and mountaineer, was one of the pioneers in the free climbing revolution in the US in the 1970’s, and the development of modern ice climbing in New Hampshire. He also led several first ascents in the Patagonian Andes. He has written articles for climbing publications including National Geographic, the American Alpine Journal, Climbing, Mountain, and Rock & Ice. His first novel, The Broom of God, was selected as one of five “New Voices” at the 2016 Misty Valley Book Festival in Chester, Vermont, and was short listed for the Mountain Fiction Prize at the 2017 Banff Book and Film Festival. Bragg is a graduate of Harvard University. He currently lives in Atenas, Costa Rica.

What the judge said: "John Bragg's Exit 8 is a poignant and beautifully written novel, a heart-wrenching story of one man's voiceless yet dignified battle against the advances of modern society. With captivating detail, sparse but pitch-perfect dialogue and a rich, evocative prose that's reminiscent of some of the great Southern writers, Bragg shows us the ache of human solitude and a tragically heroic commitment to a past that no longer exists."- Adam Pelzman

What has happened as a result of you being the Grand Prize winner for the 2019 BookLife Prize in Fiction?

I have more confidence in my work as a writer (having been at it only a few years), and more expectations for myself. As for the business side of being an author, I certainly have more readers, more visibility, but remain an independently published writer with modest sales.

What are you working on now?

I am rewriting (and rewriting and rewriting and…Hemlock Flat, a dark, character-driven mystery that takes place in the mountains and hills of New Hampshire.

Any other similar books in your backlist?

It seems that everything I write ends up being very different from what I’ve done before. My next project (if I ever finish Hemlock Flat) is going to be science-fictiony, but is very much in the earliest idea gathering phase.

What’s one tip that you have for other indie authors?

Keep working! Have fun.


Author: Carrie Rubin

Title: Fatal Rounds

Genre: Mystery/Thriller

Description: Stalkee becomes stalker when an asocial pathology resident stops at nothing to expose a duplicitous surgeon with a dangerous secret.

Author Bio: Carrie Rubin is a physician-turned-novelist who writes genre-bending medical thrillers. She is a member of the International Thriller Writers association and lives in Northeast Ohio.

What the judge said: "This strong story starts out as a 'whodunnit' and ends as a 'whydunnit.'…I rooted for Liza, a devoted daughter, a gifted medical resident, and an amateur sleuth committed to finding out the 'why.' A brisk, page-turning read.”- Rachel Howzell Hall

What has happened as a result of you being named a finalist in the 2019 BookLife Prize in Fiction?

I credit the contest and the wonderful Critic’s Report the book received to helping me land an agent. A few months after entering it, I signed with Victoria Skurnick of Levine Greenberg Rostan Literary Agency, and she currently has Fatal Rounds on submission. The pandemic has slowed down publishing acquisitions, but we remain hopeful the unpublished manuscript will find a home.

What are you working on now?

The Bone Hunger, the second book in my medical thriller series about a man of science who gets caught up in otherworldly situations, was just released and I’ve finished the first draft of a new novel I’ll submit to my agent this fall.

Any other similar books in your backlist?

All four of my published novels are thrillers, and like Fatal Rounds, they all have medical themes.

What’s one tip that you have for other indie authors?

I think it would be to recommend that they put their book out there well before the publishing date. It can be scary to have early eyes on our books, whether through programs like NetGalleyor submitting it for industry reviews, but early reviews on sites like Goodreads can help spread the word prior to the book’s release. And definitely take advantage of BookLife! It’s a great resource for independent authors. The opportunity to have two of my books chosen through the program for a Publishers Weekly review has been a wonderful boon to my novels and is greatly appreciated!


Author: Melanie Hooyenga

Title: The Edge Rules

Genre: YA/Middle Grade

Description: Sixteen-year old Brianna had everything she wanted as long as she played by her parent’s rules. But when she’s busted shoplifting and assigned to the Chain Gang, she ditches her shallow ways and realizes being herself is easier than manipulating people. Forced to partner with kids she’d never dream of befriending, including Xavier, a boy who makes her pulse go into hyperdrive, Brianna vows to be a better person. 

Author Bio: Multi-award winning young adult author Melanie Hooyenga writes books about strong girls who learn to navigate life despite its challenges. She first started writing as a teenager and finds she still relates best to that age group. Her award-winning YA sports romance series, The Rules Series, is about girls from Colorado falling in love and learning to stand up on their own. Her YA time travel trilogy, The Flicker Effect, is about a teen who uses sunlight to travel back to yesterday. When not at her day job as Communications Director at a local nonprofit, you can find her wrangling her Miniature Schnauzer Owen and playing every sport imaginable with her husband Jeremy.

What the judge said: “The Edge Rules is a thoroughly enjoyable, fast read, and I found Brianna’s journey as a recovering mean girl to be believable and compelling."— Amanda Hocking

What has happened as a result of you being named a finalist in the 2019 BookLife Prize in Fiction?:

Aside from the excitement of being recognized by such a well-known organization AND getting a review from Amanda Hocking, being named a finalist was the best conclusion to this series I could have asked for. I’ve often been told that my series get better with each book, so having the third book be recognized like this gave a legitimacy to the entire series that I couldn’t have achieved otherwise.

What are you working on now?

The first book in my new series came out August 11! Chasing the Sun is a dual-POV YA contemporary romance about two teens accepting the loss of the past and searching for a better future. It takes place during the 2017 solar eclipse and the energy and excitement that gripped the country leading up to the eclipse sparked an idea for a novel. I thought it would be fun to have a group of kids take a road trip to a place that was in the “path of totality” and have a romance between two of them.

Any other similar books in your backlist?

If readers liked The Edge Rules or are considering checking it out, they MUST read the entire Rules Series because that’s where we first meet Brianna. In The Slope Rules, which is described as Grease meets Mean Girls, freestyle skier Cally accepted her fate as one of the guys—until she meets snowboarder Blake and learns sometimes a crash is just what your heart needs. In The Trail Rules, trail riding is what gives Mike the confidence to figure out what she really wants and go after it, no matter what anyone else thinks. By the end of the book she learns there’s more to life than following the crowd.

What’s one tip that you have for other indie authors?

Keep writing and keep networking! I realize that’s two, but you really cannot focus on just one aspect of this business. Readers are always hungry for more great stories, so writing has to remain the priority, but building a network of authors and readers who will help tell the world about your books is also crucial. Both take time, but both pay off in the end.


Author: B.C.CHASE

Title: Pluto's Ghost

Genre: SciFi/Fantasy/Horror

Description: On August 25th, 2012, the Voyager 1 probe crossed into interstellar space. It contained a "golden record" with sounds, pictures, and greetings from Earth. On March 15th, 2013, NASA received a transmission from the spacecraft that said: "Hello. We received your golden record. Let's meet." Now, internationally bestselling author B.C.CHASE invites you on a daring first contact mission into deep space with five intrepid astronauts, one spunky cosmonaut, and a seventy-five-year-old truck driver.

Author Bio: B.C.CHASE is the internationally bestselling author of the Paradeisia Trilogy, which critics have hailed as one of the greatest franchises of our time. His electrifying talent for combining the latest in scientific breakthroughs with edge-of-your-seat thrills has earned him a reputation as a master of suspense. Amazon has named him among its top 10 sci-fi authors. Visit the official website at for a chance to win free books.

What the judge said: "Pluto's Ghost is a compulsively readable, twisty first-contact tale about a voyage from Earth to the edge of the solar system to meet mysterious aliens…Pluto's Ghost is packed with mysteries and surprises, and filled with enough interesting engineering detail to thrill fans of The Martian.” — Tim Pratt

What has happened as a result of you being named a finalist in the 2019 BookLife Prize in Fiction?

The prize provided legitimacy to the novel and I believe without this stamp of approval it would not have received a nod from Alan Stern, the leader of the Nasa New Horizon’s mission to Pluto.

What are you working on now? 

Two books: Cataton and Deep Mind. Cataton is due for an eminent release and follows Devon Carter, the only man left alive on Earth who’s not in a coma. He knows the aliens will return. What he doesn't know is what to do about it.  Deep Mind will be out in November and shows what happens when an octopus communicates with divers on the sea floor and the most powerful tech mogul on earth launches an expedition to investigate.

Any other similar books in your backlist?

A sequel to Pluto's Ghost in the works.

What’s one tip that you have for other indie authors? 

Connect with your readers through any means possible. They are not nameless numbers; they are living people, and many of them would love to have a relationship with you. It will help you hone your craft in unexpected ways.


Author: Lauren Smith

Title: Never Kiss a Scot

Genre: Romance/Erotica

Description: A brooding Scottish earl steals a kiss from an English lady at midnight in a library which leads to a mad race to Gretna Green to marry her over the anvil before her over-protective brother and his band of devilish rogues can catch up with them.

Author Bio: USA Today Bestselling Author Lauren Smith is an Oklahoma attorney by day, author by night who pens adventurous and edgy romance stories by the light of her smart phone flashlight app. She knew she was destined to be a romance writer when she attempted to re-write the entire Titanic movie just to save Jack from drowning. Connecting with readers by writing emotionally moving, realistic and sexy romances no matter what time period is her passion. She’s won over 30 awards in several romance subgenres including: New England Reader’s Choice Awards, Greater Detroit BookSeller’s Best Awards, and a Semi-Finalist award for the Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley Award. She was a 2018 RITA ® Finalist in the Romance Writers of America Contest. 

What the judge said: "Lauren Smith crafts a fun, sexy historical ride that sucks you in from page one…You can't go wrong with a sexy man in a dark library and marriage on the run.”— Rebekah Weatherspoon

What has happened as a result of you being named a finalist in the 2019 BookLife Prize in Fiction?

I received increase interest on my series, and was also offered a film/tv option on another book. I am hoping to get back into traditional publishing once the market settles down next year and I hope that romance editors will be interested in me.

What are you working on now?

I just finished writing a story called Love in the Wild under another pen name. It’s a modern day Tarzan retelling that has a bit of a literary flair to it yet appeals to the modern day romance reader.

Any other similar books in your backlist?

Yes, my finalist book Never Kiss a Scot is book 10 in my regency historical romance series The League of Rogues. The series is now up to twelve books and is still growing with at least another six books planned. I also have two other historical series in my backlist and several standalones that are in the same genre. All of my historical romances have savvy yet sweet heroines and fun-loving, trouble-making rogues.

What’s one tip that you have for other indie authors?

Find out what you love to write, learn to write it well, and find a way to make it marketable. I do have to also add that a literary attorney is worth their weight in gold much more so than any literary agent if you need someone to review a contract