Local songwriter Jennifer Daniels Neal was named Writer of the Year by Serious Writer, INC at an awards ceremony in Nashville on Thursday.
Her submission, a young adult speculative fiction novel (not yet published), was chosen from hundreds of entries, for the strength of its characters, the style of its voice, and the intrigue generated from the very first sentence: "I haven't been allowed to contact my uncle since I was five, when my daddy found him collecting my blood in a jar."
Ms. Daniels is a well-known musical artist in the folk rock genre. She has several appearances at the Riverbend Festival.
Ms. Daniels, who has settled down with her husband and their twins at Hinkle, Ga., said, "Three years ago I had a dream that I woke up to write down, and it couldn't be wrangled into song-length, so by the end of the day I was four chapters into a book I didn't mean to write.
But then I fell so deeply in love with the characters that my husband would often ask, 'Are you going to spend the day with your new friends?'
"During that time, I broke my Achilles Tendon. I couldn't do anything but sit on the couch. My laptop became my best friend. While I was healing - and it took MONTHS = I wrote and lived in my head so that I wouldn't go crazy.
"That was just the first book. Now I have three. The first one comes out next summer.
"So here we are, my husband and I, twenty-two years into a songwriting/performing career, and out pop these stories. I've always been grateful that we get to tour the world and learn about other cultures, and now many of my characters come from those places we've visited.
"The most recent book, the one that won the 'Writer of the Year' award, is about seventeen year old Beam, who is half Irish American, half Native American. She's at a coffeehouse trying to decide whether or not to contact her uncle (which she's forbidden to do), because she needs his help. Her parents have been kidnapped. She journeys to her birthplace in South Dakota, where her blood has the power to open gates between Earth and the afterlife (and demon prisons, but we won't get into that here).
"Oh, and there's a guy who can shift into a mountain lion. He's everything you'd want a mountain lion shifter to be.
"The book, in its essence, is about owning our American heritage, all the broken pieces of it. It's a story of redemption and reconciliation. With kissing. Cause, I mean, what's the point if there's no kissing? One of the characters sums it up when she tells Beam, 'You're writing a bigger story here than your own personal crisis, as large as that is to you. You are always writing a bigger story.' "
For more information, visit JenniferDanielsNeal.blog.