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2008 WD Popular Fiction Award Winners

William Rausch’s romantic short story of a college-aged couple in love is the grand-prize winner of WD’s Popular Fiction Awards. by Kara Gebhart Uhl

William Rausch’s first romance stories were love letters to his wife, Joanne. Throughout their 35-year marriage he’s written her poetry and short memoirs of family events as gifts. It was Joanne who inspired Rausch, Writer’s DigestPopular Fiction Awards’ grand-prize winner, to dedicate more time to writing fiction.

“She said, ‘You’ve written me all these wonderful things all our married life and you’ve written all these wonderful stories,’ ” Rausch says. “So she went out and bought me a beginner’s book on how to write stories and how to write a novel.” After working through the exercises in the book, Rausch began to focus more seriously on his fiction writing.

It was that dedication and focus that helped him beat 1,036 entries in a contest that was open to short stories in the horror, science fiction/fantasy, crime/mystery, suspense/thriller and romance genres.

Rausch’s grand-prize-winning romance short story, “Falling Leaves,” is the tale of a couple, Shelly and Benjamin, who, while in their last year of college, decide to move in together. Shelly, fearful of commitment, tells Benjamin the arrangement can only last until the following autumn, when the leaves of a tree they planted together fall to the ground.

After reading the contest rules, Rausch decided he wanted to write a short romance story—he also entered a story in the science-fiction category. “My motivation was just to see if I could do it,” he says. “As I thought about the storyline I knew I wanted to have it in a college setting. The young girl in the story is modeled somewhat after my wife. It’s not true to any type of memoir, but a lot of things [the character Shelly] says and does remind me of when we met in college.”

Rausch says the ending of the story came to him halfway through the piece. “I gave it to my wife after I was finished and she got really misty at the end,” he says. “I knew I really had something.”

While Rausch says he appreciates the creativity science-fiction writing allows, he finds character development in romance writing alluring. “You can get in their head and their heart and their soul, especially when you find a theme or a plot line like in ‘Falling Leaves,’ ” he says. “The characters really speak out to you because there’s so much emotion that can evolve in romance.”

Rausch, who will turn 60 in August, currently works full-time as a regional manager for a telephone company, limiting his writing to nights and weekends. He writes his first draft longhand, in spiral notebooks. “To me, that’s very organic,” he says. “I can be more creative. It just flows better.” After leaving it alone for a couple weeks he inputs his text into a computer and then typically does three rounds of editing. “I’ll spend at least a week fine-tuning it,” he says. “I like to go back and chip away at the dialogue.”

In addition to writing short stories, Rausch is revising a novel he recently completed. Once that’s done he plans to focus on a second novel he conceptualized while on a recent vacation with his wife. He hopes to begin submitting his work soon.

Although he has yet to be published, Rausch’s early poetry and stories to his wife have been carefully preserved. “She’s got them all in the scrapbook,” he says. “It’s kind of amazing to go back and look at them all.” It’s no wonder Rausch has proved successful in writing romance.

The Prizes William Rausch wins $2,500, a manuscript critique and marketing advice, and $100 worth of Writer’s Digest books. Category winners each receive $500, a manuscript critique and marketing advice, and $100 worth of Writer’s Digest books. Read the Winning Entries (COMING SOON) Grand Prize Winner: "Falling Leaves"
Horror Winner: "Look at the Dead Person"
Sci-Fi/Fantasy Winner: "Chosen"
Thriller/Suspense Winner: "Brother's Keeper"
Mystery/Crime Winner: "The Fish Ivory Man"
Romance Winner: "Magic" Call for Entries Click here for information on next year's Popular Fiction competition.

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