Launch of The Modern Dickens Project

September 1, 2010

by Kali VanBaale, Literary Advisor

In seemingly perfect harmony with September’s national Be Kind to Editors and Writers Month, I’m proud to announce the launch of the Modern Dickens Project.


Inspired by Charles Dickens’s serial novels of industrial London a century before (OLIVER TWIST, A TALE OF TWO CITIES, you may have heard of them…), The Modern Dickens Project is a serial novel contest designed to showcase untold Iowa stories by undiscovered Iowa writers. The novel itself is being written by a series of one-chapter contests held for 12 consecutive months.


At midnight of Sept. 1, 2010, an opening chapter, written by our guest Iowa author John Domini, was posted on The Modern Dickens Project website. Any writer who is an Iowa resident or has a strong connection to or interest in Iowa, is then challenged to continue the current story. Participants have until midnight of Oct. 21 to write and submit a chapter draft that builds on the previous chapter. (The Editorial Board is allowing extra time for the first contest.)

A winner will be selected and notified on Nov. 1st, and they will receive a $100 honorarium and an author spotlight on the MDP website. A lightly edited version of their winning chapter will be posted to the website on midnight of the same day and the contest will open again for Chapter 3, (with the standard 21 days to write and submit for the remainder of the contest) and so on and so forth, chapter by chapter, month by month, for twelve months, resulting in a collective thirteen chapter novel. Complete submission dates are outlined on the homepage of the website:

 Any winning author who is interested and/or able is invited, but not required, to read portions of their winning chapter at various Des Moines bookstores and coffee shops, scheduled and hosted by the MDP team.

 There is no entry fee. I repeat, NO ENTRY FEE. We wanted this contest to be open to anyone with a vested interest in our state, without financial limitations or constraints.

After the yearlong project concludes, the Modern Dickens editors will work with the winner of each chapter to polish the pieces, with a release date for the completed novel December 2011. The team is currently working with several interested local publishers and also plans to release it first as an e-book.


The MDP is the true brainchild of creator Chris Draper, a Van Meter native and Des Moines businessman. Our editorial board is comprised of a very lovely and brilliant group of ladies who bring a wide-range of experiences and taste to the judging table. (And they work for free! But that’s not why I called them lovely…) First, we have Rachel Vogel, a recent Drake University grad from the journalism/magazines program. She is our Managing Editor and handles our day-to-day correspondences, questions, fires, etc…Tracey Kelley and Murl Pace round out our board, both of whom bring extensive editing and fiction writing backgrounds to the table when selecting a winning submission each month.

Chris will also read submissions and give input throughout the process, and the five of us have worked collectively on our aggressive project timeline, marketing, promotion and other odds and ends. I serve as Editorial Advisor and did most of my work leading up to the open of the contest.

Chris’s end goal of this project all along has been to eliminate the need for anyone to ask the question, “Why Iowa?” He believes that our product is our community’s ability to pull together, and his hope is for us to be one of those projects that embraces re-looking at how we think of things. And I speak from experience here, the man’s enthusiasm and vision is contagious.

THE WHERE: The opening chapter is an all-Iowa flavored whodunit with a mix of current social issues tailored to our state. The story opens in the Iowa State Capitol where a young female Iraq war veteran receives a death threat via text message. She’s in town for a controversial gay wedding of an acquaintance, and carries more than her share of baggage from her past. Right on the heels of the threat, she’s pulled into a murder in the East Village area. Where it goes from there is up to you undiscovered writers out there!

 As John Domini so perfectly said: “This is a mystery, but it’s not just a mystery. One hopes it’s somehow funny and a discovery on a level other than whodunit. The good mysteries all have that.”

 John’s opening chapter and complete submission guidelines can be found at

Email any questions to Rachel Vogel, Managing Editor


                                     Chris Draper, Executive Director

This project supported in part byIowaArtsCouncilLogo


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