WOW! Women On Writing Essay Contest Winners!

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WOW! Q1 2024 Creative Nonfiction Essay Contest Winners


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.



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!

CreateWriteNow with Mari L. McCarthy

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 10+ 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 Winner
1st Place:  Ricky Lowes
England, UK
Congratulations, Ricky!
Ricky Lowes

Ricky’s Bio:

Ricky Lowes is a retired English teacher originally from London, UK. She now lives in Plymouth, UK, with her husband, sons and three dogs. She writes a variety of fiction, non-fiction and poetry, and is currently working on a novel about refugees and their experiences. She is drawn to writing in order to make sense of life’s small and great injustices and tragedies, as well as to delight in the beauty and joy of the everyday.

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Recipe for Disaster



Preparation time: 140 years, but ancient seasoning from the Jewish diaspora may be used to add flavour (this can date back 2,000 years). The recipe is not easy, but once momentum has set in, it will move forward of its own accord and there will be no stopping it.


  • A small semi-desert territory
  • Two populations with different backgrounds, religions and worldviews
  • Unequal resources on the two sides
  • Large amounts of self-righteousness and bigotry
  • Larger amounts of fear, pain and anger
  • Copious amounts of interference from interested parties
  • Historical injustices
  • Bad actors (some hidden from sight)
Optional: hope, love, forgiveness (use sparingly, if at all)


  1. Create political instability in the Middle East after First World War and fall of Ottoman Empire.
  2. Introduce bad actors.
  3. Divide territory in a way beneficial to bad actors; ignore the views, wants and needs of local population.
  4. Develop concept of Zionism.
  5. Sign declaration allowing Zionists to settle in Palestine.
  6. Leave briefly to rest while trouble brews in Europe.
  7. Increase Jewish immigration to Palestine.
  8. Declare intention to establish a Palestinian state. Discard.
  9. Bring a sizeable portion of Holocaust survivors to Palestine.
  10. Declare the state of Israel in defiance of the wishes of the Palestinian Arabs.
  11. Create situation for several wars:
  12. Pour resources into Israel to support the expansion of the state.
  13. Introduce small but steady flow of lethal advice and weapons to Palestinians.
  14. Expand the state of Israel with territory gained in the wars.
  15. Increase numbers of settlers, take Palestinian land.
  16. Impose restrictions on movement of Palestinians, increase arbitrary arrests; this will breed resentment, an important ingredient to inflame tensions.
  17. The ensuing chemical reaction should create numerous flashpoints.
  18. Create conditions for resentment and misunderstanding to grow: use love and hatred in a 1:10 ratio, mix with unbridled cruelty and large helpings of terrorist attacks and disproportionate retribution.

Serving suggestions

Innocent civilians:

  • crushed under buildings and covered in dust
  • shot or decapitated
  • incinerated in fires following bomb blasts
  • covered in shrapnel wounds, either large, leaving gaping holes, or small, with an appearance like Spotted Dick. The latter is particularly effective on the smooth skin of babies and small children.
Soldiers and other combatants:
  • shot, crushed, mutilated
  • victorious and elated
Members of either group may be held as hostages and stored for future use.

This recipe can be adapted for regional variations, using local ingredients, following the same principles. Works every time.

Warning: May leave a bad taste in your mouth.



What Ricky Won:

2nd Place Winner
2nd Place:  Jan M. Flynn
Boise, Idaho
Congratulations, Jan!
Jan M. Flynn

Jan’s Bio:

Jan M. Flynn’s short and flash fiction has won First Place and Honorable Mentions in Writer’s Digest annual competitions and appears in literary journals including Midnight Circus, The Binnacle, Noyo River Review, Far Side Review, Grim and Gilded and Bullshit Lit as well as anthologies. Her essays appear in HuffPost Personal and Chicken Soup for the Soul: Lessons Learned From My Dog. Her debut novel, the first in a middle-grade fantasy trilogy, is forthcoming. She is represented by Helen Adams of Zimmermann Literary Agency in New York. Visit her website at

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How to Avoid the Use of Adverbs While Telling You How My Husband Died


My writing teacher says adverbs are a crutch. Stephen King considers them anathema, a sign of bad writing.

Here’s the wisdom: rookie writers use adverbs like teenagers use gum, to discharge insecurity. Adverbs lead to weak sentences, to over-explaining, to disrespecting the reader. When a writer has implied something, there is no need to beat the reader over the head with an adverb, or worse, a string of adverbs, to ensure they get what you’re trying to say. If they haven’t understood you without the adverbs, you’ve already failed. “Already” is an adverb. Perhaps it’s acceptable in that usage.

Certain adverbs are especially (oops, there’s one) objectionable, over-used until they’ve become one-word clichés. Take, for example, the adverb “suddenly.” It’s responsible for countless weak, trite constructions: suddenly the door opened; he turned suddenly; the dog suddenly barked.

Suddenly my husband died.

But he did. He died, suddenly. One minute he was there, alive, right in the middle of life, and then in another minute, he wasn’t.

Certainly, there was something in between, some transition that perhaps I missed. Certainly. Another adverb.

In the interstices between living and not living, he must have traversed some margin, some gray area, until he crossed a line of demarcation and found himself on the other side, with no option for return. Did he embrace what was before him, an expanse of light? Was he glad to shed his body and me and the kids and the malfunctioning water heater and step forward into eternity? Or did he try, at least once, to shuffle backward over the threshold?

I don’t know. I’ll never know. Never is an adverb. An especially (adverb) nasty one. All I saw was his face growing splotchy with unusual colors, purple and yellow and blue, and a stain spreading in the crotch of his jeans. All I heard was the grinding, surreal attempt at breath, violent until it subsided, over my own voice as I jabbered at the 911 operator.

And then the paramedic’s voice over his walkie: “full arrest.” I don’t think I was supposed to hear that.

But I did. Horribly. An adverb.

And, suddenly, life changed utterly. Two adverbs there. I lived in the same house, drove the same car, bought the food I couldn’t eat at the same grocery store.

The world went on turning, relentlessly (an adverb). I learned, eventually (an adverb), to live without him.

It’s been years. I can tell you this story now. But not gracefully.

I regret the adverbs.



“How to Avoid the Use of Adverbs While Telling You How My Husband Died” first appeared in P.S. I Love You.

What Jan Won:

3rd Place Winner
3rd Place: Mhari McCole
Cambridge, England
Congratulations, Mhari!
Mhari McCole

Mhari’s Bio:

Mhari is a theatre-maker and teacher from Cambridge, England, where she lives with her partner and son. She produces, directs and devises plays for the stage, and she won an Offie (Off West End Theatre Award) in 2020. She worked for a number of years with Menagerie Theatre Company in Cambridge, and she has produced work for theatres across the UK, including Cambridge Arts Theatre and Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds. Mhari turned to writing stories and creative non-fiction quite recently, and she has been inspired by the incredible WOW Women on Writing community.

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It is impossible for my father to walk. He broke his neck falling from a window one icy night in the depths of a Canadian winter. He wasn’t full of drink, just bravado, wanting to impress his new wife with his agility. So with keys forgotten on the kitchen table, he climbed up a drainpipe to their fourth floor flat and onto the ledge of an open window. But when a man leaps forward and slips on an invisible patch of ice, 40ft is a long way down.

He had swallowed his tongue and wasn’t breathing, so my mother lifted his chin to clear his airway. She said the back of his head was like porridge.

I think of my father now, of that day when I was just a tiny blob of cells growing in my mother’s womb. Of how my mother found out she was pregnant on the Monday to see her husband fall on the Thursday.

When I was one, my mum taught me to feed myself with a spoon. My father too. Only one small muscle survived in his left arm, but it was enough. He could move the limb up and down, from plate to mouth, a spoon lodged between two fingers that had frozen like a claw. It worked for cigarettes too.

I look at the hands of my little boy, the grasp and spread of each digit as he drags himself up onto the sofa. I see his Superman cape slip off one shoulder as he precariously leaps from a cushion towards the living room chair. And with a big intake of breath, I walk towards him, arms open, aware of the weight of my tread, the placing of my feet, one in front of the other, towards the family I can make. Like my mother.



What Mhari Won:


Congratulations to the runners-up! It was very close, and these essays are excellent in every way.

Click on the titles to read:

Refracted Love by Renee Rockland, Rehoboth Beach, Delaware

The Plum Pie Lady, Paula and Me by Ann Frawley Fiegen, Evanston, Illinois

Back then, at sea by Kathryn Aldridge-Morris, Bristol, UK

To Be a Mixed Race (Black and White) Woman in America Means by Robin Lee Lovelace, Plainfield, Indiana

Where’s Charlie by Rebecca Tiger, New York, New York

A Marriage in Metaphors by Anne Walsh Donnelly, Ireland

And the Trees Shall Hold You by Phyllis Unterschuetz, Lithia Springs, Georgia

What the Runners Up Won:


Congratulations to our essay contest honorable mentions! Your essays stood out and are excellent in every way.

Two Jellyfish by Catherine Shields, Miami, Florida

How to Breathe by Courtney Harler, Las Vegas, Nevada

Hides a Rose by Joanna Tebbs Young, Rutland, Vermont

The Locker Room by Judy Harju Galliher, Reston, Virginia

Pretty Pains by Tasha Bovain, Matthews, North Carolina

The first time I saw him was on a very hot day in August by Shelley Stoehr, West Haven, Connecticut

Polio and Other Family Afflictions by Bella Mahaya Carter, Studio City, California

Emergency Contacts by Isabel Cohen, El Cerrito, California

Fantaisie in Piano in Four Movements by Shelley Kirton, New Zealand

Much More Than Used Lumber and a Doorknob by Kristi Scorcio, Fond du Lac, Wisconsin


What the Honorable Mentions Won:


This brings the Q1 2024 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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