Monday, December 6, 2010

Mondays With Mike: Update for the Modern Dickens project

SEVERAL MONTHS AGO (September 6) I asked my friend Kali VanBaale to explain the Modern Dickens project, which was just kicking off. It is a collaborative project with the Iowa Arts Council and is a serial novel designed to feature undiscovered Iowa authors. Starting with an opening chapter written by the project organizers, each month writers are challenged to submit a proposed “next” chapter. The winning writer is paid a cash prize, his or her chapter is published on the project website and a new contest for the next chapter begins. The project continues for twelve months resulting in a thirteen chapter novel. The final product will be published and, of course, all the authors will receive a writing credit for their work in addition to their cash prize.

I asked Kali for an update, and here is her report:

Hi Mike,

Sure! I'd be happy to give an update!

Kali VanBaale
We're currently running our December cycle of the contest for Chapter 4, and the deadline for this one is December 21.

Janet Rowe Pillar won the October contest for Chapter 2, and John O'Donnell won in November for Chapter 3. Janet did a podcast interview for the Modern Dickens website and also a reading of her chapter at DiScala Café in Des Moines. Her author bio is on the site. We're planning the same for John O'Donnell as soon as we get some dates set up. Each winner received $100.

About the story:

John Domini opened the story with a former National Guard Iraq vet murdered with a military issued weapon on the eve of her marriage to another woman near the Iowa State Capital. Emily Dunstadt, the murder victim, is the daughter of a Des Moines insurance magnate, and friend of Stikka, a fellow Iraq vet suffering from PTSD. Stikka and her lawyer boyfriend, Saul, are quickly drawn into the murder mystery. Soon, a suspect emerges, a Bosnian immigrant who vehemently claims innocence.

Janet Pillar's Chapter 2, DOWN THAT LINE, delves further into the Iowa immigration angle, tackles hot Iowa political topics such as gay marriage and illegal immigration, and sends Stikka and Saul out into the Iowa countryside as they follow the trail of clues. But after a car explosion that nearly kills them both, they end up hiding out in a vacation house at Clear Lake, fearing for their lives.

Charles Dickens
John O'Donnell's Chapter 3, THEY KNOW WE ARE HERE, opens the morning after the car explosion. We learn a bit more about Dot, Emily's fiancée, who found Emily's body. Meanwhile, Stikka, Saul and the accused Bosnian refugee, learn that all traces of yesterday's car explosion are gone, as if it never happened. Saul also discovers evidence of tampering with his car while it was parked overnight at the lake. When the group arrives at Saul's friend's farm for help, they're horrified to discover the friend dead, hanging from a rope in the barn. The death toll, it seems, is mounting.

So far, it seems the judges are picking chapters that take the story in an interesting or surprising direction, but don't stray too far from the existing story at the same time. All 3 chapters can be downloaded and read for free on the website: We also accept donations through the site.

Thanks again, Mike!

Thanks, Kali! And now for anyone interested, check out the site and feel free to leave any comment here. And while you are at it, check out my book (at the right); I think you’ll find it is a great murder for Christmas.


  1. Interesting project.

  2. Outstanding project - this has been a fun journey, so far!