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Hal Prize Fiction Screening Judge: Marggie Moertl

We asked the group of local screening judges for the Hal Prize to share with readers and writers what they’re looking for when they go through submissions: Why does one piece of writing make it to the final round, but not another? These columns will illuminate the screeners’ process and help those who want to improve their writing – and are perhaps writing with the intention of submitting their work to the contest. 

What I look for in an author’s submission is a direct reflection of my own life experience and spiritual journey. I am a healer and devote my life to strengthening my connection to the divine energy that pulses through all of creation and flows within each of us.

My years as a hospice nurse showed me that end of life finds people at the cusp of their inner self having voice and dominance in their awareness. When we meditate deeply and then intuitively write, we allow our eternal self, our inner self, to have voice. My passion is allowing our inner self to become the dominant focus for our lives and then making all choices from this place.

When I read Hal Prize submissions, I bring all of this with me. This allows me to feel the author’s authenticity and whether this story is being written for self-exploration and growth. Does the main character show the inner conflict that is inherent in living our lives? Is there a depth of spirit that is being revealed? Can I relate to this character? Are the elements of this story real? Do they resonate with the author’s lived experiences?

I also want a story that I can immediately connect with. Did it grab me from the start? Can I get lost in this story? As a reader, I want to find new realms of possibility that come from the imagination. They can be from any storyline and show the use of the creative spirit in a free form. I want to feel that the time I spent reading it simply melted away – that I was truly absorbed in the story.

I also expect that the story be well written, that appropriate vocabulary is used for the situation and plot. This can be earthy and coarse, or more poetic and philosophical for another. Again, it must be real. Show me – don’t tell me – and our use of words is vital for that.

Grammar is a key element. To win the Hal Prize is a true honor, and the piece must be worthy of this. The submission rules also must be adhered to. Read and reread these rules. It’s a true shame to have to discard an excellent story over a technicality, but the winner must show professionalism in all aspects to be awarded this prize.

Please delight me – offer me a story that will make me lose my awareness of time. One that is infused with your deepest self. Don’t hold back; instead, pour yourself into your characters and the storyline. I look forward to reading it!

Marggie Moertl serves as a life doula for the seriously ill and their families. Her passion for the inner life of each person led to the publication of her two books.