Kerri Maniscalco Writing Contest Winners

To celebrate the release of Kerri Maniscalco‘s Hunting Prince Dracula and to encourage our community’s young writers, Friends, the Knox County Public Library’s Teen Central, the Center for Children’s and Young Adult Literature at the University of Tennessee, and Union Ave Books  sponsored a writing contest for all students in Knox County in grades 9–12. Students submitted original prose suitable for young adults in the following categories: Gothic, horror, murder, mystery, forensics, or historical fiction.

At a ceremony on December 20 at Lawson McGhee Library, Maggie Carini, Friends president, presented awards to the three winners. Kelsey Craighead, 11th grade, Knoxville Catholic High School, won first place. Kathryn White, 11th grade, Hardin Valley Academy, placed second; and Pierce Gentry, 9th grade, Central High School, won third place.

Follow the links below to read the winning stories, to view conversations with the young authors, to read Kerri Maniscalco’s praise for the contestants, and to see photos from the awards ceremony.

First Place: “The Voyage” by Kelsey Craighead
A Conversation with Kelsey
Second Place: “Superstitions” by Kathryn White
A Conversation With Kathryn
Third Place: “Rigby Manor” by Pierce Gentry
A Conversation With Pierce
A Note to the Contestants From Kerri Maniscalco
Photos From the Awards Ceremony
Media Coverage

First Place

“The Voyage”
Kelsey Craighead
11th Grade, Knoxville Catholic High School

Kelsey Craighead

A young man held his hand up, shielding his eyes from the bright sun as he looked at the open water. His dark hair was tousled from the wind while his tanned face was as clean as he could get it from being out at sea for a little more than a month.

The seventeen-year-old, James, would finally be able to settle in Charles Town. His parents had died in England, and there was nothing left for him there. His aunt told him of how lovely life was in Charles Town, and invited him to live with her until he was old enough to be on his own. James had heard gossip of the flourishing colony in the Province of South Carolina. Knowing that the colony was one of the richest in the New World, he immediately accepted his aunt’s offer, boarding the next ship, The Cawdor, going to Charles Town.

James had left England on the first of April 1718, and now it was the sixth of May. He, along with the rest of the passengers, were told they were lucky the trip across the ocean was this short. The Captain told James trips could take up to three months.  Although the trip across the Atlantic was short and smooth, many people on The Cawdor became sea sick. James was itching to leave the ship, for the smell that had accumulated over the weeks was putrid.

Although the smell was bad, the journey was quite beautiful. James enjoyed being out in the ocean. He was basically in pirate country; there were not many rules which meant having freedom. At times during the journey, James wondered if this is what his father felt like when he was in the Navy. Perhaps it was, perhaps it was not. James would never know what his father’s feelings were about being at sea, though, because the plague had taken him.

Even when James’ father was alive, the retired Naval Officer never went into much detail about his career. James’ mother, on the other hand, grew up in a coastal town before moving to London. She too enjoyed the smell of the salt water—and loathed the smell of the city. A ghost of a smile crossed James’ face as he thought about the story of how his mother and father met.

It was never a mystery how Annabel and William Lewis met. The two found each other in a rather crowded part of a marketplace in Annabel’s home town. The fact that a lady like Annabel was carrying unfinished swords to a blacksmith had intrigued William. Annabel’s father was a blacksmith in the coastal town—the one blacksmith William was set on finding. The pair began seeing each other after their first meeting, slowly falling in love before marrying and having James. James was the spitting image of his late father—messy brown hair with dark eyes. His mother, however, had blonde hair and light blue eyes. The only thing James inherited from his mother was her dimples. From both his parents, he inherited his love for swordsmanship.

A few shouts from across deck brought James out of his thoughts. The teenager furrowed his eyebrows while his brown eyes looked over the water. There were four ships guarding the entrance to the Charles Town Harbor. One ship was considerably larger than the other three with its dark colored sails and even darker colored wood. The blockade ships, however, were flying the English flag, telling the passengers the blockade were friends, not foes.

James felt the ship slow beneath his boot clad feet as the ship slowly crept towards the blockade. His fingers rested gently on his sword, preparing himself for anything. His father always told him to expect the unexpected in an attack—especially if the situation didn’t come off as an attack.

A sinking feeling made its way into the pit of James’ stomach. He watched as the English flag was slowly lowered on all of the ships. James rested his hand on his sword at this point. Something was off… He didn’t quite know what was wrong, but something was definitely wrong.

“Get the women and children below deck! Anyone who can wield a sword I want on deck!” The Captain ordered.

People on deck scrambled, hurrying women and children below decks while a few men shouted things across the deck. James swallowed thickly as the fleet of ships became closer and closer to The Cawdor. The larger ship out of the fleet was menacing as it loomed over the water. Slowly, almost painfully, a black flag rose with a full standing skeleton. The skeleton had an hour glass in its right hand and a spear with three drops of blood in its left.

“Blackbeard,” James whispered in awe as he looked at Blackbeard’s ship. The large ship was once a slave ship; now, it was known as Queen Anne’s Revenge. James’ mother had told him stories of Blackbeard when he was a small child. He thought they were only folklore though. Never in his seventeen years of life did he ever expect to see one of the most notorious pirates that sailed the seas.

“What’d you say, boy?” the first mate asked.

James directed his attention to the first mate and repeated the name.

“Blackbeard? Should’ve known I’d run into him,” the first mate muttered as he shook his head.

James gave the first mate an incredulous look. The first mate shrugged in response and walked to the edge of the ship, muttering curses under his breath as he stood next to the Captain.

“Be careful what you say around this… pirate,” the Captain said. He looked over the crowd of men. The men nodded in response—they just wanted to get on land. “Captain Teach, known as Blackbeard on the water, is known for his cruel temper. I suggest you all stay quiet unless spoken to. Understood?” The men all grumbled a response, most of them fidgeting with their swords.

The Cawdor was soon boarded by some of Blackbeard’s crew. They began barking orders and plundering the ship. James doubted they would find anything of interest, though, because the ship was mostly lower-class citizens wanting a fresh start. An eerie hush fell over the men and crew as a tall large man stepped on deck. James could see smoke rising from the man’s beard while his unruly black hair blew in the wind underneath a large hat.

The teenager watched as the Captain and Blackbeard negotiated terms. The Captain wanted Blackbeard to leave his passengers alone while Blackbeard wanted weapons and medicine from Charles Town.

“I’ll pick someone to fetch me weapons and medicine then,” Blackbeard said. His eyes raked over the male passengers of The Cawdor before they stopped at James. Blackbeard raised an eyebrow at the teenager before slowly walking to him. “And who might you be?”

“James Lewis,” James introduced as he met Blackbeard’s gaze.

A few whispers broke out from Blackbeard’s crew, however, one glare from their captain made them stop talking.

“Lewis?” Blackbeard asked, scrutinizing James with his dark eyes. “Son of William Lewis?”

“Aye,” James replied, holding Blackbeard’s stare. He would not back down—he couldn’t. He was taught never to show an opponent fear. If he showed fear, he would already be in a losing fight.

“Interesting…” Blackbeard trailed off as he looked over James once more. He looked at one of his crew mates and gave an order: “Take him.”

James’ eyes widened as two crewmates flanked his sides, grabbing his arms. James struggled against their hold, but it was no use. The crewmates were stronger than he was. Blackbeard looked at James struggling with a smirk on his face. Blackbeard ignored the Captain of The Cawdor as he walked forward, hitting the handle of his cutlass against James’ head.

James stopped fighting as he tried to stop the world from spinning. Blackbeard muttered something under his breath before hitting James’ head once again. James’ vision blacked out as he slumped in the crewmates’ arms.


James groaned as he blinked open his eyes. The teenager pushed himself into a sitting position while confusion laced itself onto his expression. He found that he was not on a pirate ship, but rather soft sand on a beach most likely in Charles Town. James slowly stood up, trying to find a way to the colony. What confused James the most, though, was the fact that he was not dizzy nor did he have a bump on his head from getting hit twice. He assumed Blackbeard threw him overboard, which was perfectly fine with him, because he did not wish to deal with such a foul man.

“It’s about time you woke up,” a voice said.

James slowly turned around, his hand resting on his sword – which thankfully was still on his person. Standing before James was a girl no older than him with fiery red hair and hazel eyes. A smirk graced her pale complexion while she had her hand on her hip as if she were scolding him.

“You have been unconscious for about an hour. Were you lost at sea or did you decide to take a nap while you were swimming?”

“I ran into pirates,” James replied while a small smile graced his lips at the girl’s wit. “I was on a voyage here to live with my aunt, Anne Colvert. Hopefully you know her?”

“Aye, everyone knows Anne.” The girl replied. “I can take you to her if you wish.”

“I would appreciate that,” James said with a nod as the pair began walking to Charles Town.

The air smelt of the sea but also of the marshland. James didn’t think he’s smelt something so fresh and earthly before. London smelled terrible compared to this, and the smells on The Cawdor were even worse than London.


“James Lewis.” The girl replied as she eyed James.

James suddenly felt self-conscious as if the girl knew more than she was letting on. He ran a nervous hand through his damp hair and kept his eyes on the path. His sword bouncing on his leg was the only familiar thing that comforted him currently.

“I know. Anne talks about you. I’m Eleanor, her… apprentice of sorts.”

James nodded in response. He knew his aunt was an amazing seamstress. The pair continued to talk as they made their way to the main square of Charles Town. Eleanor was telling James of life in the colony while James told her of his life in England. She explained to him how his aunt had taken her in, taught her how to be a seamstress, and cared for her unlike her birth mother.

“Anne is a kind, understanding woman.” Eleanor said. She glared at anyone who looked at her way as she led James through the crowded square towards Anne’s shop. “I believe you will be more than at home here.” “

“From what I remembered, Aunt Anne was usually a happy person,” James said as the pair walked. He glanced around at the colonists, some giving strange looks their way. Perhaps they weren’t used to newcomers, James thought as he furrowed his eyebrows. “She enjoyed jesting with my mother all the time before she moved to the colony.”

“Anne hasn’t changed that much then,” Anne said, glaring at people.

James glanced around at the colonists as an uneasy feeling settled in his stomach. “Why are people looking at you strangely?” James asked Eleanor as he looked down on her. The constant weird looks thrown towards James and Eleanor’s direction finally caught his attention. People were looking at Eleanor as if she were mad.

“Don’t you know?” Eleanor asked, furrowing her eyebrows, ignoring James’ question.

James looked at Eleanor with a questioning look on his face. Didn’t know what?

A cruel smile made its way onto Eleanor’s face as her eyes flashed with an unreadable emotion. “You’re dead.”

A Conversation with Kelsey Craighead

Return to top of page

Second Place

Kathryn White
11th Grade, Hardin Valley Academy

Kathryn White

C H A P T E R 1 — The Wildwood

Leaves, browned and brittle with the relentless frosts and cold, chilling winds from the North, twisted and fluttered through the air as the delicate wing of the breeze bore them aloft. It was mid-day. The sun glimmered indifferently from its golden throne in the sky, but, it was shrouded by a thick veil of smoky clouds. Rain or snow, most likely. The Wildwood could sense it. It felt like an animal of prey, stiff and defenseless in the night, as a predator caught a whiff of its scent. No animals slithered through the swathes of undergrowth. No animals clambered through the thorn bushes, and no animals dashed between the towering trees.

No animals plodded through The Wildwood, then; but humans did.

The trees swayed and creaked as gusts of wind glided effortlessly through the forest. They looked like living skeletons. Their bark was gray, and splinters and cracks dug deep ravines and veins through their once blooming russet trunks. The sight looked even more despondent with the humans’ only company the howling wind, and the sky, pregnant and threatening. Their branches jutted out of the sickly center like twisted and mangled arms and fingers. A number of them had fallen off, leaving dripping, sticky, scarlet sap to run from the wounds. The people were a meager few. There were only twenty of them, astride on thin, bony horses. The ribs of their steeds poked out jarringly against their heaving flanks, and the man at the head of the congregation dismounted his, giving it a moment to breathe.

The only sound then was the rattling of leaves scuffing across the ground, like the last dying breath in an old man’s chest. There was not a whisper from the people who had accompanied him. Creeping across the forest floor, the man reached forward to touch his palm to the trunk of a tree that had spilled quite a copious amount of its blood. A crack danced up its side like a hauntingly beautiful tattoo. It almost seemed to leer at him from its wound, like a broken smile, a smile that ran crimson and a rotted black towards the inside.

The bark felt sickly beneath his rough palms. He held it there for a moment, and his eyes, shadowed by furrowed, bushy eyebrows, darkened. What he had felt-or didn’t, for that matter-upset him. A dismal sigh blew out of his clenched teeth, and he turned to the party to his right, adorning a thunderous expression.

“What is it?” A young man asked, who looked hardly more than 12.

“The Wildwood is dying,” the man announced, miserably. Gasps wrenched themselves free from the humans, and a dawning sense of fear overcame them. It shadowed their faces like the passing of a bird’s wing, and curled itself around them, like serpents of smoke. “What do we do, Sir Wehlming?”

His face, wrinkled and warped by the emotions of the human heart, seemed ashen gray and taut. “We need to go. We need to…we need to tell…t-the King,” he rasped. His eyes closed for a blissful moment, despite the uncertain rolling and writhing of his stomach. The ground seemed to be quivering and spasming beneath his feet but, dejectedly, he realized it was his knees. He had once been a strong man. Now, as time inevitably crept up on him, he had let the King strike fear and doom into his heart as he had threatened him upon setting out for this journey. No sane man would want to bear bad news to His Royal Majesty. If he had any loyalty to the Royal Army, though, Wehlming knew with a dreaded certainty in his heart that he would be the one to announce the horrid death of The Wildwood.

With numb hands and feet, looking as pale as a ghost, Wehlming saddled back up upon his horse. His hands fumbled with the reins for a devastating moment. The group watched in empathetic, but subdued, silence. He had once been a soldier of great prestige but, now, he was only trusted on expeditions that were sure to bring no real news.

Or, had been. His tongue drew over his pale lips like a dog worrying a bite. “Get a move on. Get a move on,” he said, and his voice had the weak, strained quality of a man on his deathbed. The words he had once declared so joyously seemed to die in the ruckus of the wind. His horse’s hooves scraped against the roots and leaf-littered dirt as it followed its master’s command. A heart-beat later, a mirroring, grief-stricken symphony joined the beating of his lone footfalls, and they began the gut-wrenching journey back to the capital, where they would change the course of their country for all the ignorant citizens nestled by their hearths and stoves as winter approached. As they trudged along in dark, miserable silence, the branches of the dying trees clanked and rattled together, in a twisted, deformed harmony of sinister and triumphant laughter.

A Conversation with Kathryn White

Return to top of page

Third Place

“Rigby Manor”
Pierce Gentry
9th Grade, Central High School

Pierce Gentry

Chapter 1

The small Station Wagon rolled its way along the abandoned asphalt road, the wheels smoothly rotating along. The Pecknison family sat in the vehicle, bobbing their heads along to the silly little tune playing on the radio. It was “Red River Rock” by Johnny and the Hurricanes.

The father sat in the driver’s seat, letting his hand fall up and down on the steering wheel to the beat. He wore a pair of black sunglasses, hiding his dark green eyes. He was a chubby man, but not obese. He had dark black hair slicked back, and wore a Hawaiian shirt. The mother sat in the passenger seat, her foot stomping to the tune. She wore a very casual blouse, and had long, flowing auburn hair.

The boy sat in the back, his hands clenched to his knees. There was something disturbing about the electric beats of the keyboard, yet he couldn’t quite place what it was. He had dark brown hair as a combination of his parents, and beheld blue eyes. He wore his favorite red jacket, loosely draped over his shoulders. He looked back in the boot of the station wagon.

“You sure we got everything, dad?” He inquired over the music.

His father turned down the volume dial, and peered at his son over his shades in the rear-view mirror. “Yeah, I’m sure. Don’t worry about it, Pete. We’ll be fine; we have everything we need.” He exclaimed.

The volume went back up. Uncertain, yet trusting of his father, Pete bit his lower lip. Sometimes he just had some sort of feeling about things. Suddenly, their tires hit an old gravel road, and slowed up a bit. The radio went to static.

“Well, looks like that’s the end of civilization, huh?” Asked his father rhetorically.

They drove on a ways, and then the house came into view. It was a beautiful, old, Victorian house. It beheld two towers, and a magnificent front drive that wrapped around a now dry fountain. Suddenly, the dials on the radio turned by themselves, as if by some magnificent force, spinning round and round until finally stopping at an odd channel Pete had never noticed before. Suddenly, “Eleanor Rigby” came on, by the Beatles. Singing of all of the lonely people, it was quite morbid. Pete’s father hurriedly switched off the dial, and they were left in silence.

The car wrapped around the fountain once, and then came to a halt parallel to the front door. The father switched off the engine, and all they were left with was the sound of silence. Pete already didn’t like the place.

“Whelp, here we are!” Exclaimed the enthusiastic Father as he clapped his hands together.

“Oh, Jack, it’s beautiful! I’ve never seen anything like it!” Shouted the mother.

Pete stared up at one of the two towers, and saw a crow perched on the spire. He noticed that there was not a thing wrong with the house. For such an old place, you would think that there would at least be one missing shingle, or one crooked shutter. The paint was fresh and smooth, and the windowpanes bright and clear.

Suddenly, Pete could have sworn that he saw a curtain sway; as if someone had been standing there with it parted and then had suddenly released it and scurried off. He didn’t like this place one bit.

His father stood gazing up at the wondrous house that would be their new home for the week. “Struck a great deal with the renter. A week in this dream home for two hundred bucks? What a steal!” His father boisterously let out.

The house was so far away from anyone else, too. Pete hadn’t seen another car on the road for hours.  His father magically revealed a key ring in one hand, with a single key and an old leather fob that read “Rigby Manor”. Until that moment Peter didn’t know what the house was called. There were no signs or special insignias anywhere. His father stepped up to the front door, and inserted the key, twisting it and throwing open the doors with a flash.

Pete took a step back as something invisible was released from the house. He didn’t know what, but something had just been let loose that had been caged in for decades. He instantly noticed a shift in the atmosphere as the cold settled onto the yard, while it had just been quite warm. Pete was glad he was wearing his jacket. His parents seemed not to notice, however. They simply smiled and entered the house, filled with wondrous excitement. Pete hesitated for a moment, and then stepped in too.

The house was entirely furnished, down to paintings hanging loosely on the walls, and lamps perfectly balanced on end tables. Pete’s father pressed a small switch next to the door, and nothing happened. A frown came to his face. “Well, there’s no electricity. Tell you what; me and Pete go down into the cellar and check the fuses. If one is out, I’ll just pop back into town to grab one. Come on, Petey!” Called his father, starting for the stairs off to the left that presumably led down to the cellar.

His father, undaunted by the darkness and dampness of the cellar, kept forging down the stairs, Pete following close behind. Pete didn’t like the dark. He didn’t like the dark at all. His father pulled out the lighter that he always carried, seeing as how he was an avid smoker. With a flick of his thumb, a flame leapt up into the air, lighting a small circle around the duo. He grimaced at their surroundings. There was an old, beat up furnace lying, as if discarded, in the corner. Not too far away, positioned conveniently in the middle of the far wall, was the huge, rusted fuse box. Pete’s father forged onwards, while Pete hung back.

Out of the corner of his eye he saw a huge, old radio; the kind they used to have when he was a little. It was big and boxy, and paneled with authentic wood. It was the one thing in the whole cellar that looked as if it hadn’t aged. The wood was polished to a sparkling gleam. As his father messed around with the fuses, Pete was somehow drawn to fiddle with the old controls. As he did, he saw that there was an on switch. Unconsciously, as if possessed by some unseen force, Pete flicked the switch; nothing happened.

Suddenly, there was a loud shout of recognition from his father, and then the lights flicked on in the cellar. The top of the boxy radio flew open on its hinges, revealing an equally pristine record player. Blood splurged from the center of the record positioned there, drenching Pete from head to toe and splattering all over the floor. The record slowly begin to turn, faster and faster, until “Get Back” by the Beatles could be heard. However, to Pete, it said “Go back… Go back… Go back to where you once belonged!” Pete screamed, and fainted in his father’s arms…

A Conversation with Pierce Gentry

Return to top of page

A Note to the Contestants from Kerri Maniscalco

Kerri Maniscalco signs a copy of one of her novels at West High School on September 19.

What a talented group of writers! Each story had SO many positive qualities, it was difficult to narrow down the winners. I can only imagine the other entries were equally hard to go through and appreciate all of the work that’s gone into this contest. I sincerely hope each student continues to write and hone their craft, the literary world is lucky to have them!

Reading is such a subjective thing, and this group made my job extra hard. (In a great way!) Everyone captured a fabulous sense of atmosphere — whether traveling through a dying wood, moving to a new house that’s got a life of its own, voyaging on an unforgiving sea with Blackbeard, crafting a detective story as creepy as any Stephen King novel, or sitting in a prison cell, dreaming up more horrific crimes. Knoxville is producing some fantastic creators! I have no doubt that budding talent is nurtured along by wonderful teachers and librarians. A HUGE thank you to every educator who’s helped foster a love of the arts — it’s truly invaluable.

Thank you so much to everyone who participated and to everyone who organized this incredible contest. My year has totally been made and I am in awe of how creeptastic each of these stories was. Cheers to a bright future!

Return to top of page

Photos from the Awards Ceremony

Return to top of page

Media Coverage

The Knoxville Focus: Three Knox Teens Win Kerri Maniscalco Writing Contest

West Knoxville Lifestyle: Knox County Teens Win Writing Contest


Return to top of page