We had an open topic this season. Our only guidelines were that submissions be nonfiction with a minimum of 200 words, and a maximum of 1,000 words.
THANK YOU TO OUR CONTEST SPONSOR:
It is the sincere desire of our sponsor that each writer will keep her focus and never give up. Mari L. McCarthy has kindly donated a prize to each winning contestant. All of the items in her shop are inspiring and can help you reach your writing goals. Write on!
Note to Contestants:
We want to thank each and every one of you for sharing your wonderful essays with our judges this season. We know it takes a lot to hit the send button! While we’d love to give every contestant a prize, just for your writing efforts, that wouldn’t be much of a competition. One of the hardest things we do after a contest ends is to confirm that someone didn’t place in the winners’ circle. But, believe it when we say that every one of you is a true winner for participating.
To recap our current process, we have a roundtable of 8+ judges who score equally formatted submissions based on: Subject, Content, and Technical. If a contestant scores well on the first round, she receives an e-mail notification that she passed the initial judging phase. The second round judging averages out scores and narrows down the top 20 entries. From this point, our final judges help to determine the First, Second, and Third Place Winners, followed by the Runners Up.
As with any contest, judging so many talented writers is not a simple process. With blind judging, all contestants start from the same point, no matter the skill level, experience, or writing credentials. It’s the writer’s essay and voice that shines through, along with the originality, powerful and clear writing, and the writer’s heart.
We hope that you continue to enter so we can watch you grow as writers and essayists, because each season is a rebirth of opportunity!
Now on to the winners!
Drum roll please....
1st Place: Beth Kanter
Beth Kanter’s fiction and creative nonfiction have appeared in dozens of publications. She won a UCLA James Kirkwood Literary Prize for her novel-in-progress, Paved With Gold, and the short story on which it’s based won first prize in the 2020 Lilith magazine fiction contest. She is the author of several books about Washington, DC, including No AccessDC and Great Food Finds DC. When not writing, Beth leads creative nonfiction workshops and works with other writers as a coach and mentor. You can read more of her work or reach out to her at www.bethkanter.com.
The First Ten Days After A Shooting At Your Daughter’s School: Or, what to expect when you are expecting the inevitable
You realize the long, high-pitched wail coming from your dog’s mouth is not a sign of distress. She’s simply mimicking the sound you are making as you watch the news unfold that a man deliberately shot hundreds of rounds of ammunition into your daughter’s school at close range.
You clutch your daughter much in the way one who is about to fall holds on to the edge of a cliff. Soon you will send her back to school, to the scene of the crime. You will have to let go of her again and again and again.
You feel acutely aware in your gut, in your brain, and in your heart that you are lucky compared to others who have been pushed onto this path. You contemplate the notion of luck. You swirl the word around in your mouth. It tastes wrong and is hard to digest. You imagine it boring holes in your belly much the way the carpenter bees attempt to make holes in the old pergola outside your kitchen window. They do not understand the sealant recently applied to protect the wood is keeping them out. You identify with the bees and the pressure-treated wood.
Your appetite becomes strange. You consume things that seem momentarily appealing like a vegan cheeseburger personal pizza, lox on pocketless pita bread, or runny eggs. Your taste for them is intense in the moment and then fleeting. You settle on room temperature Fresca and pretzel nuggets because they will not make you more nauseous than you already are all the time.
Words that never left a mark suddenly grow sharp edges that leave bruises when you casually bump into them. That date is still a moving target. Just send over a few bullet points to start. I like that he is someone who shoots from the hip. We were just shooting the breeze. She spent most of the day trying to troubleshoot that problem. We sure dodged a bullet with that one. It’ll be tough but we need to stick to our guns. Don’t jump the gun. Let’s give it a shot. She is the one calling the shots. It’s a long shot. It’s worth a shot. It’s a shot in the dark. (You hear shots everywhere.)
Phrases you reach for to explain your experience also grow fangs. The news is triggering. We all seem to be sniping at each other. My nervous system is shot. (More shots.)
You take up counting at night when you can’t sleep. First backwards from 200, the number of bullet holes the self-described “AR-15 aficionado” forced into the heart of your daughter’s high school. Then backwards from 800, the number of rounds of ammunition found in the shooter’s sniper nest. (You pause to note that nest once was a pretty word.) Then backwards from the growing number of shootings this year, a number higher than the number of days so far in the year.
You’re still awake. So you try again, this time counting forward to 3 million children, the number of young people in this country traumatized by gun violence each year. You definitely are awake when the sun rises. You are surprised that the sun has decided to come up again. You are not surprised when you hear about more gun violence. Horrified, furious, sickened, depressed, outraged, terrified, yes, but not surprised. You wonder how anyone can be surprised by it anymore.
For reasons you cannot explain, you try naming all of the kids on Eight is Enough. It takes you two nights to remember that David is the name of the oldest brother and by night three you can name them off like rapid fire. (Another jagged edged phrase to add to your collection. How many more words now can wound you?) Mary, Joanie, Nancy, Susan, Elizabeth, David, Tommy, Nicholas. You guess that there is meaning in this but are too tired to figure it out.
You cry and scream and howl. Into your pillow. In the shower. In your head in the middle of the night as you sing the Eight is Enough theme song like a lullaby. As you walk the dog. On the phone to your partner in the middle of the day. At the newspaper, which has abruptly stopped reporting about the shooting at your school because it has moved on to another or on to other stories entirely. At the people who do nothing. At the voters who stay home. At the Senate and Congress. At the Court. At the talking heads. At the alerts on your phone. At the understanding that nothing has or will change, yet everything in your world, in your child’s world, has changed forever.
“The First Ten Days After a Shooting at Your Daughter’s School” first appeared in Identity Theory.
What Beth Won:
2nd Place: Julide Kroeker
Saint Charles, Missouri
Julide (Juh-lee-duh) Kroeker is 25 and living in Missouri with her dog Midnight. Julide works in a cold, dark office and spends her days wondering if the sun still exists. Will the sun’s rays ever touch her skin again? And if they do, will they be so foreign to her skin that her flesh will reject the warm light and shrivel up upon contact? Julide is also a big fan of hummus.
An Alpha’s Guide to Apologizing
Hey bro, have you received an email from the dreaded “HR” department about your “inappropriate” contact with one of your female coworkers? Has a female in a social situation demanded you to atone for a harmless joke? Or has a potential mate found you somehow guilty of wrongdoing and wants you on your knees, begging for forgiveness? If you can relate to any of these situations, then this is the guide for you! Listen bro, times have never been tougher for men, real men, alphas, leaders of the pack, and we need to adapt to survive in today’s modern world. But fear not, the steps in this guide are not an admission of beta-hood. Think of it like wearing the sheep’s clothing, only for a little, until us wolves are allowed to rise again.
Method 1: The Sympathy Play
Females possess a biological deficiency called “empathy,” which is one of the many reasons females could never be alphas. This is for you to exploit to your advantage! When a female comes at you, demanding you to apologize, appeal to this. Let’s use this example: What if she says something like, “When you came up to me in the break room and made a sexual comment about my chest, I felt uncomfortable”? You may be thinking, “It’s a compliment! Why is she so upset?” And hey, I hear ya, but remember that females aren’t logical animals, they’re emotional ones. Instead, bring up how your grandmother died three years ago and you’re still dealing with it, or how you and your wife are in marriage counseling so that’s really hard and you’re working on communicating better! Bonus points if you can muster up a few tears during this because this will trigger the female’s maternal instinct and she will instantly pull you into her bosom for comfort! Crisis averted!
Method 2: The Uno Reverse
If Method 1 does not work then abandon the sympathy play all together; this female clearly has no motherly instincts (probably why she’s single!) and will require an entirely different tactic to be dealt with. Turn the tables on this salacious she-beast and explain to her that she owes you an apology. This will confuse the female and she’ll either grant you the apology or become so frustrated she’ll just give up all together. Let’s take the example from above again. If she says your comment about her cleavage made her uncomfortable, tell her, “Actually, it made me uncomfortable with how much cleavage you had exposed. I was actually thinking of reporting you to HR.” Notice that there’s also a threat sprinkled in at the end; work one in if you can, it’ll catch the female’s attention and may increase the likelihood of her abandoning her attack on you all together.
Method 3: The Houdini
If the two above methods have failed you then there’s only one thing left you can do. Tell the female it simply never happened altogether. In recent years the female community has taken to referring to this method as “gaslighting” but they’re crazy and don’t know what they’re talking about. The Houdini is an expert-level skill that requires precision and finesse to pull off. So if a female says your comment made her uncomfortable, simply say, “What comment? I didn’t say anything?” And voila, the female will be thrown for a loop. She may show some resolve and assert that you did in fact say something. Just keep doubling down; maybe ask her if this is some kind of joke or something. You could also say something like, “Hey, are you feeling okay? You know, in the head?” This will make the female question her mental state, which is probably already fragile. Furthermore, if you’re using The Houdini in a workplace then more than likely it is male-dominated. Gather up some alpha allies to aid you in your case, and have them say that they were there too, and they didn’t hear you say anything either. It’ll be all of your words against hers, and at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if she believes you, it just matters that no one believes her.
Memorize these tips and tricks if you’re ever backed into a corner by a female who thinks you owe her anything; they can save your social standing, your relationship, and maybe even your career. The most important thing to remember during these apology methods is to never, ever say the words, “I’m sorry.” It is an admission of guilt and the only thing alphas are guilty of is leading the pack. Keep your head up bro and keep howling!
What Julide Won:
3rd Place: Myna Chang
Myna Chang is the author of The Potential of Radio and Rain. Her writing has been selected for Flash Fiction America (W. W. Norton) and Best Small Fictions. Awards include the Lascaux Prize in Creative Nonfiction, the New Millennium Award in Flash Fiction, the CutBank Books Chapbook Award, and the CRAFT Creative NonFiction Editor’s Choice Award. She hosts the Electric Sheep speculative fiction reading series, reads and edits for several journals, and judges literary and speculative fiction contests. See more at MynaChang.com or @MynaChang.
We Were the Wild Hunt
We were the Wild Hunt, riding the night streets wrapped in our tight young skin, brave-stupid and untamed, magic bursting from our pores like new stars. We met under the sign of the flying horse, the vacant shell of an old gas station, our tires crushing last week’s beer bottles and cigarette butts. We chased the taillights of our friends, sang with the radio until static took over, then traded cassettes, Van Halen for Journey, Styx for Joan Jett. We traded passengers, too, jumping from rust-bucket car to pickup truck and back again. We flew, racing once by the graveyard, twice through the quarter-mile strip, countless times around the crossroads square where we cheered our reflections in the darkened shop windows. One of us had to go home early. Another had to stop and puke. One of us pined for a midnight burrito, a microwave minute as we crossed the boundary from Friday night into Saturday morning.
We should have known, when the fog stole in, hushing the arid grit of Main Street and parking lot. We should have sensed the warning. Instead, we lifted our faces, shimmered arms-wide in the unlikely charm of desert mist illumined in the aurora of our streetlights. We breathed in every drop of waterborne enchantment before sleep finally took hold. A few of us passed out in our cars, Chevys and Fords tucked inside a fairy ring of gravel. The rest of us slid into our beds, pretending we’d been home for hours when our parents checked on us, before they set off on their own dawn tasks and early shifts.
I’d slept only a heartbeat when the telephone shrilled me awake. Teenage magic fled with the news that a true hunter had slashed his way through our domain, ending a life and then disappearing into the dark fog. My grandfather, a kind man who deserved a kinder end, murdered in his shop near the crossroads, where we’d looped and turned in our middle-of-the-night parade, scant hours before.
I wondered, then, if my wild friends and I could have stopped the attack. Did the murderer hide in the alley, contemplating a solitary old man unlocking his tall glass doors? Did we brush past the killer on our breakneck ride, overlook him in the novelty of a damp night?
Years later, magic is a faded memory that throbs dull, and I still wonder about my grandpa’s last moments. Did he see the red glow of our taillights? Did he sense the warning in the fog? Or did he, too, shimmer in that moment of enchantment, lift his face to the mist, before the killer chose him?
“We Were the Wild Hunt” first appeared in CRAFT.
What Myna Won:
Congratulations to the runners-up! It was very close, and these essays are excellent in every way.
Click on the titles to read:
Flip by Elinor S. Laurier, Phoenix, Arizona
Blessed Be She Who Dwells on Rye by Alece Kaplan, Boulder, Colorado
Field Manual for Waiting by Charity Tahmaseb, Minnetonka, Minnesota
Recipe for Forgiveness by Julie Lockhart, Port Townsend, Washington
Recipe Box Envy by Peggy Rosen, Campton, New Hampshire
Under Pressure by Olivia Brochu, Allentown, Pennsylvania
Chains by Tracy Adrian, Nevada
Congratulations to our essay contest honorable mentions! Your essays stood out and are excellent in every way.
The Failed Wife by Jacqueline Denny, Steamboat Springs, Colorado
The Undoing by Barbara Olsen, Colorado
Unimaginable by Rhonda Zimlich, Bethesda, Maryland
Threshold by Jennifer Braunfels, Litchfield, Maine
Egad—What Are You Wearing? by Lynn H. Powers, Brooklyn, New York
In a Mason Jar by Julia C. Clebsch, Richmond, New Hampshire
Once Upon a Lap by Susie Wilde, Greensboro, North Carolina
Tokyo in Motion by Marilyn Kiku, Bozeman, Montana
Columbia by Casey Liston, Boston, Massachusetts
Divine Intervention by Rhonda Wiley-Jones, Kerrville, Texas
What the Honorable Mentions Won:
This brings the Q3 2023 CNF Essay Contest officially to a close! Although we’re not able to send a special prize to every contestant, we will always give our heartfelt thanks for your participation and contribution, and for your part in making WOW! all that it can be. Each one of you has found the courage to enter, and that is a remarkable accomplishment in itself. Best of luck, and write on!
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