Finalists' Bios

R. L. Burke - Bedside Betsy

R.L. Burke

R .L. Burke was born in Louisville, Kentucky, where she graduated with a double major in Theatre and English from the University of Louisville. She currently lives and writes in the Atlanta Metro area. Her story, “The Invitation,” was runner-up in the “Set Stories Free” national short-story competition sponsored by the Public Library Association and has now been picked up for international distribution.  She is the winner of the Leo Frank Case national playwriting competition for her play, Monster, and her play, Tempest in the Golden Glow Tea Room, is an Ethel Woolson Recipient. You can read her science fiction fantasy book series, I Am Human, available on Amazon.

Read "Bedside Betty" 

“…I didn’t know why I was arguing.  Betsy saw many steps further ahead than humans. AI saved money because it knew when paying for additional action was a lost cause. Playing doctor against Betsy was like playing chess against a computer. There could still be twenty moves to go, but she’d know the game was already over.  Death had won.”

James Dodds - Bitter Medicine

R.L. Burke

A science-fiction fan since before he could read (thanks to his father for the bedtime stories of ’40s and ’50s SF), James Dodds spent the early part of his career as a technical writer, producing a shelf-full of software user manuals that nobody in their right mind would ever read.

For the last twenty years, he has worked as a system analyst in medical IT. An English major suddenly thrust into the clinical world, he had a rough start. Most of his team members are nurses who enjoyed how he pronounced words such as emesis (“uh-MEE-sis”) and IV parenteral (“Ivy pair-un-TARE-ul”).  He got his feet under himself in time to weather the withering anger of doctors and nurses as they went live with new electronic medical record systems at 2 a.m. (“Where are my orders?”).

Years of working directly with clinical staff on the floor have shown him that technology’s potential to improve patient care has barely been tapped. He is convinced that future advances in medical and computer science will give man tools to vastly improve health and well-being. He remains skeptical that America’s current health coverage system will let those tools be available for all who need them.

From Jules Verne’s submarines and flights to the moon to Arthur C. Clark’s network of satellites providing instant global communication, science fiction has always predicted the future with amazing accuracy. James hopes his story remains just that—a story.

James has been writing fiction for the last few years. He lives near Spokane, WA with his lovely wife Robin and their amazing dog Ginger.

Read "Bitter Medicine"

“The Health Care Riots,” Foster mused. “Those broke out in the mid-60s.  I foresaw them in 2050. You were just starting out. What do you remember?”

Dr. Pembrook placed balled fists on his knees and leaned forward. “I remember rage. Red, seething rage. There was confusion and fear, but mostly just rage. At first, just enraged patients. But, as things truly began to spiral out of control, enraged doctors and nurses too.

“I remember being grateful for every visit that didn’t end in anger or tears. But when patients began shooting their doctors, I decided anger and tears were okay.”

Sally Wiener Grotta - One Widows' Healing

Sally Wiener Grotta

Sally Wiener Grotta is a full-time award-winning freelance writer, photographer and speaker. Among her numerous books are the novels The Winter Boy (a 2015 Locus Award nominee) and Jo Joe (selected as a Jewish Book Council Network book). Her hundreds of stories, columns, essays and reviews have appeared in scores of magazines, newspapers and journals, such as American Heritage, Popular Science, North Atlantic Review, When Women Awaken, Islands, The Robb Report, PC Magazine, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Woman's Day and many others. Her current fine art photography project American Hands, for which she is creating narrative portraits of traditional tradespeople, has received more than three dozen grants, and the exhibits have been seen by over a quarter million people.

Sally has traveled on assignment throughout the world to all the continents (including three trips to Antarctica), plus many exotic islands (such as Papua New Guinea and Madagascar), covering a wide diversity of cultures and traditions. Her far-ranging experiences flavor her stories and presentations with a sense of wonder and otherliness, plus a healthy dose of common sense. A popular speaker who has appeared in venues large and small throughout North America, as well as on radio and TV, Sally has a reputation for stimulating energetic, meaningful discussions about storytelling, the business of writing, photography and how to use creativity to build bridges in our increasingly divisive society. A member of SFWA and The Authors Guild, Sally is co-curator for the Galactic Philadelphia SF&F author reading series and co-chair of The Authors Guild's Philadelphia Area Chapter. 

Read "One Widow's Healing"

Dr. Maria Heilari fidgeted with her avatar’s gown, editing it up to the last minute despite the rental agreement that forbade tampering with the design. Regardless what Gabrielle (Chanel’s virtual saleswoman) had said, the sequins weren't right. Too fussy. Too many. Especially for a simple nanophysician who lived almost entirely in shorts and t-shirts and rarely wore shoes. At least, the avatar's hair emulated her chin-length grey frizz, and the rounded body approximated Maria's, though with more bust, longer legs and unbent back. But it was all too frivolous just when she needed the world to take her seriously.

Why did I let Gabrielle talk me out of renting white tie and tails?

Cindy Lefler - Medicine of Frequencies

R.L. Burke

By day, Cindy is a mild-mannered writer for the Office of Institutional Advancement at Thomas Jefferson University/Jefferson Health; by night, she’s a crazed community theatre actor and director, unknown playwright, aspiring novelist, and bathroom Broadway belter.

Although she’s been writing since she was old enough to pick up a pencil, Cindy began her professional journalism career at the age of 18 as an editorial assistant at the now-defunct Philadelphia Bulletin. After graduating from Rutgers University, she moved on to the Bucks County Courier Times in Pennsylvania, where she won several awards, including the Pennsylvania Press Association’s Better Newswriting Award and the Associated Press Managing Editors’ Award. After taking a hiatus to raise her three sons, she returned to the workforce as editor of Hospital & Healthcare News and website content writer for CHOP; she later freelanced for magazines, non-profits, and local companies in need of someone who could turn a phrase. In 2016 she was lucky enough to join the OIA family at Jefferson, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Cindy lives in Haddonfield, NJ, with her husband Don, and enjoys frequent visits from their kids—Daniel (and Shelby), Jake (and Beth), and Ben (and Sabrina).

Read "Medicine of Frequencies"

But something drew Avram to the old ways, when scalpels would pierce the flesh, and blood would rush from veins, and surgeons literally cut disease from the body. He studied the primitive treatment they called chemotherapy—a method that often caused as much misery as it cured. Brutal, he thought. And yet… and yet. “Fascinating,” Avram whispered to himself as he read the text and perused the photos. It was the photos that were most curious to him. Pictures of physicians face to face with patients, arms around them, holding their hands, looking into their eyes. There was something about those photos that haunted him, something that gave him the feeling that he, as a healer, was missing something.

Kyle Rodgers - The Compacts: A Family Building Project

R.L. Burke

Kyle Rodgers, raised in Lancaster, PA, is currently a first-year medical student at Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, PA. He plans to graduate in 2022 as a Doctor of Medicine. When his nose is not buried in dense textbooks, he enjoys volunteering his time and relaxing with more artistic endeavors such as singing, playing piano and writing stories.  

After graduating from the University of Scranton in 2017, Kyle began a yearlong volunteering commitment on the Navajo Nation Native American Reservation. From his university graduation until his medical college matriculation, Kyle supervised the adult day treatment program at St. Michael’s Association for Special Education (SMASE), located in Window Rock, Arizona. There, he served native adults suffering from a wide range of developmental disabilities. He still visits his friends at SMASE.

His experience on the reservation sparked further interest in helping underserved populations. He currently volunteers at JeffHOPE’s weekly medical clinic at Prevention Point, a nonprofit harm-reduction organization in Kensington, Philadelphia. Additionally, he volunteers once a week at Health Careers Academy, where he introduces local high-school students to the field of medicine.

“2100: A Health Odyssey” is the first public writing competition into which Kyle has ever entered. He hopes his entry not only entertains but also serves the community in raising awareness of socioeconomic disparities in healthcare today. 

 Read "The Compacts: A Family Building Project"

“Administered. Monitoring local anesthesia.”

Terika reaches up, grabs the scalpel hologram, and drags it down to the projection of Roberta’s pregnant belly. Simultaneously, the Medic Aid mirrors her movements, selecting the steel blade from its sterile storage drawer, and lowering it down to Roberta.

Over the next 20 minutes, I watch in awe as Dr. Taylor expertly operates on the hologram and the Medic Aid mimics her grace on Roberta.

Then, in one of the most beautiful moments I have ever experienced, a cry cuts through the room. Not a cry that worries me, but rather, a comforting cry. It drowns out the blaring alarm. It soothes my ears.

Jenna Pashley Smith - Sector 612

R.L. Burke

Jenna Pashley Smith is a writer, translator, artist and teacher. After a childhood spent roaming the magical cornfields of Indiana, she moved to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil where she lived for nearly a decade before adopting Texas as her home. Jenna’s poems have been published by the Annals of Internal Medicine, Eastern Iowa Review, The Binnacle, The Texas Poetry Calendar, and many other online and print anthologies. She is currently working on her third novel. She is a member of SCBWI, several poetry societies, a weekly critique group and serves as the Editor for the Poetry Society of Texas. When not writing, Jenna raises chickens and children in the suburbs and dabbles in myriad artistic endeavors.

Read "Sector 612"

“[Mann Bercher] rarely set foot outside the Hospimall complexes. They had everything: state-of-the-art medispas, restaurants, apartment complexes. But the sectors might as well have been located in a different universe. Drone footage on the news made the shantytowns look like war zones. 

Mann knew they weren’t...but just because it wasn’t a war zone didn’t mean it was safe. Mann upped her pace, stepping over broken concrete, walking past graffiti that had never seen the scrubbing power of streetcleaning robots, joining the throngs of people returning to their homes after long days of renting brainpower to bitcoin farmers or voicing holospammers.”