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.
Thanks to our Guest Judges:
WOW! was honored to have guest judge author/editor/instructor Chelsey Clammer choose the quarter’s top winners. Thank you, Chelsey, for sharing your time and efforts to make these contestants’ dreams come true!
Chelsey Clammer is the award-winning author of Circadian (Red Hen Press, 2017) and BodyHome (Hopewell Publications, 2015). A Pushcart Prize-nominated essayist, she has been published in Salon, Brevity, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, The Normal School, Hobart, The Rumpus, Essay Daily, and Black Warrior Review, among many others. Her third collection of essays, Human Heartbeat Detected, is forthcoming from Red Hen Press. You can read more of her writing at: www.chelseyclammer.com.
Naomi Kimbell earned her MFA in creative writing from the University of Montana, and her work has appeared in The Rumpus, The Nervous Breakdown, Crazyhorse, Black Warrior Review, Calyx, The Sonder Review, and other literary journals and anthologies. When she’s not writing, she teaches online creative writing classes for WOW! Women on Writing and sometimes wanders in the woods, across hillsides, through ghost towns, taking photographs and shooting video to create impressionistic films with ambient scores using her essays, invented landscapes, and found sounds.
Melissa Grunow is the author of I Don’t Belong Here (New Meridian Arts Press, September 2018) and Realizing River City: A Memoir (Tumbleweed Books, 2016), which won Second Place-Nonfiction in the 2016 Independent Author Network Book of the Year Awards and the Silver Medal in Nonfiction-Memoir from Readers’ Favorite International Book Contest. Her work has appeared in Creative Nonfiction, River Teeth, The Nervous Breakdown, Two Hawks Quarterly, New Plains Review, and Blue Lyra Review, among many others. Her essays have been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net and listed in the Best American Essays 2016 and 2018 notables. She has an MFA in creative nonfiction with distinction from National University. Visit her website at www.melissagrunow.com or follow her on Twitter @melgrunow.
Sarah Broussard Weaver
Sarah Broussard Weaver is currently in her second year of the Rainier Writing Workshop MFA program at PLU. Her work has appeared in Full Grown People, The Nervous Breakdown, The Bitter Southerner, Brevity, Crack the Spine, and Hippocampus, among others. She lives in the hills of Portland, Oregon.
Melanie Faith is a poet, fictionist, photographer, auntie, and professor. Her craft book about how to write flash fiction and nonfiction, entitled In a Flash! was published in April 2018, and a craft book for poets, Poetry Power, was published in late October 2018 (also by Vine Leaves Press). Her historical poetry collection, This Passing Fever, set in the 1918 influenza epidemic, was published by Future Cycle press in early September 2017. Her Jane-Austen style Regency novella was also published in September 2017 by Uncial Press and RONE-award nominated. Her writing has been nominated for three Pushcart Prizes. Her short stories were recently published in Red Coyote and SunLit Fiction. Her poetry most-recently appeared in Prometheus Dreaming (May 2019), Up North Lit, Meniscus, and in Fredericksburg Literary and Art Review. Her photography recently appeared in Barren Magazine, Fourth & Sycamore, Harbor Review, Sum Journal, and And So Yeah. In 2018, two of her craft books were published, and her next book, Photography for Writers, will be available in December 2019 from Vine Leaves Press. Learn more about her latest projects at: www.melaniedfaith.com/blog/.
Thanks to our in-house WOW Judges:
As always, thank you to the WOW! staff for your careful deliberation and attention to detail. Special thanks to Angela Mackintosh for helping out with this contest.
Note to Contestants:
We want to thank each and every one of you for sharing your wonderful essays with our guest 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.
Every writer has been a gracious participant through the whole process, from the beginning of one season to the next. We’ve written emails to authors, agents, and publicists who have donated books to our contest, and we’ve shared our delight regarding the true sportsmanship among our contestants. It doesn’t matter if it’s one writer who placed or another who tried but didn’t; all writers are courteous, professional, and wonderful extensions of WOW! Women On Writing’s team. Writers’ essays and e-mails fill us with enthusiasm.
Kudos to all writers who entered, whether you won or not, you’re still a winner for participating.
To recap our current process, we have a roundtable of 4-7 judges who blindly score equally formatted submissions based on: Subject, Content, Technical, and Overall Impression (Style). That’s the first step of the process. 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 guest judge helps 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’ve enjoyed reading your essays, each and every one of them. The WOW! Women On Writing judges take time to read them all. We recognize names of previous contestants, writers familiar with our style. We enjoy getting to know you through your writing and e-mailing. Remember that each one of you is a champion in our book. 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: Meghan Beaudry
Meghan Beaudry began writing as part of her rehabilitation from brain trauma in 2014 and simply never stopped. Her work has been published in Hippocampus, Ravishly, Folks at Pillpack, and the Bacopa Literary Review. She was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2017. In 2019, Ms. Beaudry was selected as a finalist in the Pen 2 Paper Creative Writing Contest and longlisted for the Master’s Review Short Story Contest. When she’s not writing, Ms. Beaudry can be found cuddling with her rescue dogs, drinking bubble tea, and teaching students ages three to ninety how to play the violin.
Bugs: When I Knew It Was Time
To Leave Him
Fear of roaches runs in my family, like brown eyes and autoimmune disease. My husband learned early on in our marriage that a blood curdling scream from across the house did not, in fact, mean I was being murdered by a machete-wielding bad guy. I shriek for tiny wood roaches, for giant, bloated bugs, and for anything in between. I’ve always hated the way roaches scurry across the floor and their dying crunch under my husband’s shoe. When I see one—and in Texas, you never see just one—adrenaline shoots through my body.
Living with someone you love means having the privilege of picking and choosing the chores you want to do. My husband barely set foot in a grocery store while we were married. A year after our wedding, I was no longer convinced I’d recognize a broom if I saw one. And there’s no way I was killing the roaches if there was another person around to take care of that for me.
Marriage promises protection. Marriage is having someone to cover your eyes during the scary part of the movie. Someone to tell you that you are loved, that you are precious, even if just to them. Someone to guard against the great void of loneliness out there in the big, scary world. Someone to hold your hand and snuggle with you in the dark. Someone to kill the roaches.
When my husband and I first started dating, I wasn’t yet able to admit my fear of roaches. I’m self-reliant, a feminist, strong. Acknowledging such a silly phobia made me feel weak and embarrassed. Needing my husband to rescue me was a truth I wanted to sweep into the trash along with the bug itself.
But somehow, when you love and trust someone deeply, showing vulnerability brings you closer together. Being a grown woman who’s afraid of roaches isn’t pitiful; it was a part of me that my husband loved, along with my smile and my ability to find hope in even the darkest times.
In my rational mind, I know a roach can frighten me or disgust me, but the tiny bug on the floor or wall in front of me can never actually harm me. Towards the end of my marriage, I realized that there are things in my life far more dangerous than an insect-things that have the power to break both my bones and my spirit.
In my second year of marriage, life-threatening brain inflammation confined me to bed for the better part of a year. Pumped full of steroids and immunosuppressants, I eventually recovered. My atrophied legs carried me to the couch, then the kitchen, and finally to my car in the garage. But something in my husband snapped. Before my illness he had nodded when I suggested Mexican food for dinner. Now he flew into a rage and screamed at me for telling him what to do.
I recovered from my illness. My husband never did.
In the first year of my recovery, the garage door hummed open every weekday evening. I sat silently and listened for his footsteps from wherever I was in the house. Light footsteps meant I could relax. But if I heard his feet pounding into the floorboards, I disappeared to the back of the house—past the pantry door he had ripped off its hinges, past the twisted wire of what was once a shelf. I shut the door of my office behind me as quietly as I could.
As time went on, I barely recognized the man I married. He roared and hurled insults where we used to sit and talk calmly. I sat still and silent on the couch, my legs too weak to let me run. By the second month of my husband’s dark mood, a sliver of doubt entered my mind. Maybe this wasn’t a phase, a rage-filled reaction to the unfairness of illness. By the third month, I learned not to breathe too loudly.
In the days that followed each outburst, I spoke only when necessary. I kept my tone neutral and polite. When his empty oatmeal bowl scraped the bottom of the sink, I jumped. His spoon clattered onto the kitchen table and I flinched. I watched him from the living room out of the corner of my eye as he opened the microwave door. The tension had dissipated from his eyebrows and his shoulders. He wasn’t making more noise than anyone else would. But even the tiniest sounds sent jolts of alarm through my body.
The month before I moved out of the house I shared with my husband, I stumbled across a roach lying on its back on the kitchen floor. Its legs waggled as it squirmed, a black mark on the white kitchen tile. I gasped and hopped back, then immediately texted my husband.
“Bug. Please help!!!”
My heart slammed against my ribcage. I reminded myself that the insect in front of me was one thousandth of my size. Then for the first time, I began to consider which is scarier: facing a roach, or being dependent on a man who isn’t able to control his actions.
I looked down at the roach contrasted against the white tile. It had stopped twitching. If I use a broom and a long handled dustbin, I can dump it into the trash while still staying as far away as possible, I thought. As the insect slid into the wastebasket, I realized that this was the first roach, dead or alive, that I’ve ever disposed of on my own.
I knew that roach would be the first of many I handled. To my surprise, hope flickered on like a light in a dark house.
What Meghan Won:
2nd Place: Kelley Allen
Kelley is a nature enthusiast who volunteers at a South Florida preserve and enjoys writing interpretive guides and educational materials. She has a Bachelor of Science degree in Natural Resource Conservation from Cornell University and spends as much time outdoors as possible.
She has been writing since she was thirteen. Her mother tells the story of Kelley, before she could talk, sitting in her crib, pointing at family members in a photo book and babbling about them as if telling stories. She has been a member of The Backroom Writers for 20 years, but has only recently begun sharing her essays with the public. Her work has been published in ReVisions (a college anthology) and The Sun Magazine.
She lives with her husband and son in South Florida.
There is a hole in the wall.
There is a hole in the wall in front of me.
There is a hole in the concrete block wall about shoulder height in front of me.
My mind returns slowly.
I am sitting in bed in the basement of my parent’s house staring at a hole in the wall.
The hole is in the middle of a pale gray cinderblock, far away from the mortar. The hole is small, pencil-sized, and conical. There are grains in various stages of falling out of the hole, but I do not help them stay or fall. I cannot move.
My abdomen hurts, the pain dull and deep. I try to remember why, but my mind skitters away, like a foot placed awkwardly on ice.
I don’t know how long I have been staring at the hole. It’s been hours, I think. No one has come into the basement while I’ve been here.
I need to go to the bathroom, but I do not move. Somehow, my body and brain are disconnected. Something’s happened. I don’t know what.
I want Ronnie to be here, then I don’t. I remember him driving me today. I remember my heart breaking. I only lived with him so I wouldn’t be alone, but now I’m more alone than I’ve ever been before. Something vital is missing. My mind skitters across the ice again.
Now I can turn my head.
I look at the phone squatting on my nightstand. It’s a rotary one. Tan.
Should I call someone? I still can’t move.
I think about the last three months with Ronnie. Being seventeen, he supplied me with alcohol, pills, cocaine and speed, even though I don’t like speed. I remember becoming depressed, alone in his little apartment while he worked. I wanted to die, but I was too tired to try anything.
The pain is strong. The nurse said I’d be sore for a while. She said to take ibuprofen and use a heating pad.
Slowly, slowly, I flex my fingers. Can I move yet? Yes. A little.
I lean to the side and grasp the phone’s handset. I manage to pick it up, but I am so confused I put it back down and stare at the hole again.
I’m glad I’m not with Ronnie anymore. But who else can I talk to? Who else can I tell? I’ve committed a great crime. My mind does not skitter away. I think long about what I’ve done. I think about the hole inside me. There was no other way. There was no one else to help. I did too many drugs. I was too afraid. For me, for it. My face is wet. Tears.
It occurs to me that I can call my friend Tess. She will know how to help.
It takes me a while to remember Tess’s number.
I lift the receiver and dial. First one number: Click, click, click, click, click. Then the next, each click counting out the number until I spin the dial again.
“Hello?” she answers, but I can’t speak. I make a croaking sound.
“Who is this?”
I croak again.
“Kelley? Is this Kelley?”
“Me.” I whisper.
But she hears me. And she understands.
“I’ll be there in ten minutes.”
Tess is my angel.
I stare at the hole some more. She is coming. It’s a start.
I will be okay again.
Despite being stuck between relief and grief.
Despite the abortion.
What Kelley Won:
3rd Place: Julide J. Kroeker
St. Charles, Missouri
Julide J. Kroeker is 4'11 but acts 6'5 and spends her days adoring her three dogs. She is currently a member of the US army reserves and will be studying phlebotomy in the spring. Julide hopes to continue pursuing a writing career, something she's been working at since she was 4'10.
She resides in Missouri with her super supportive father and brother. Reading, writing, and embroidery fill her days.
Julide is currently working on a book of poetry.
Zucchini Bread Keeps Away The Dead
I keep a noose at my house. It’s been there for six months now. I don’t even remember buying it, but I must have. I keep it hidden away from my dad. Oh, if he found my noose, he’d kill me. It’s in my underwear drawer, the usual hiding spot of choice for a teenager’s stolen bottle of vodka, or a borrowed pack of cigarettes. We’re all killing ourselves; some people are just less obvious about it. I’m not a kid anymore though so my angst is misplaced, or so I’m told. You’re supposed to stop feeling that after you turn eighteen. Deny yourself the luxury of despair, that’s for the youth. You are allowed minimal excitement when you have a holiday off work, or when you can stop paying child support.
The silly thing is, if I get around to it, I wouldn’t use the noose. I’ve looked all over the house, and there is just not a good spot to do the thing. The living room wouldn’t work, just look at the name. The kitchen would be unsanitary, obviously. The laundry room? Too dark. I don’t want to die in the dark. I’d like to see some light before I go and all I get to see is the dark. My bedroom would be perfect but there’s nothing there to hang the noose on that would support me. Command strips can only do so much. The tree in the back would work but then the neighbors, Jack and Lola, would have a front-row seat to the ugly relief I was performing, and I wouldn’t want to do it in front of them, that’d be in poor taste I think. Jack’s wife, Lola, makes lovely zucchini bread, and I just couldn’t do that to somebody who makes such lovely zucchini bread. She’ll probably make some for my dad if I ever finally do it. He’d be real nice about it too. He wouldn’t say a word I’m sure, but he’d nod, and they’d nod and hand him the aluminum tin with tiny little smiles and big sad eyes, he’d set it on the counter, and he’d let it go stale because zucchini bread was my favorite.
I wouldn’t use the noose. I wouldn’t slit my wrist either, too messy. I don’t want to leave a mess. A lady I knew once told me before that women don’t like to leave messes when they kill themselves. She said it proudly as if it is admirable to blow your brains out as long as you put a tarp down. I’d like to go as clean as a nun’s conscience though, that is true. Jumping off a bridge or a building is risky. If you don’t land right, you could survive and be a vegetable. Even if you do succeed now some poor guy has to mop you off the sidewalk and I don’t want that. I’d like to think me being gone will clean up a lot more lives than it messes up. So, what is the solution?
Pills. I’d swallow a bunch of pills. Aspirin will do the trick I think if you take a lot. I considered bleach too, but I read that you throw up a lot when you drink bleach, and again, I don’t want to leave a mess. So, aspirin then. I’d swallow a bunch, gulp ’em down quick before I lost my nerve. Then I would wait. I assume the dark would come, nice and steady. And I guess that’d be it. I’d be nothing more than a reason for a neighbor to make zucchini bread.
I want to tell somebody, to tell anybody, so bad. I want to tell someone that I think I’m dead already, the part that matters anyway. She died when she learned “I love you” wasn’t a promise, when she found out not every mother has to love her daughter, and not every girl gets to be pretty. So now I’m stuck here, in this shell, doing my best, making so many messes and I am so sorry I keep making all these messes. I’ll just make one more, then I’ll go, and no one will ever have to clean up after me ever again. Promise. But I can’t tell anybody because the words coming out of my throat hurt more than the noose going around it. My body has an appetite now for the relief, just like hunger or thirst it yearns for the long sleep. I could use a long sleep.
I’ve tried for so long to be who I used to be. I restart myself again, and again but my system is incapable of a reboot. Should I stay or should I go? It makes me nauseous to swallow “what ifs” and choke on possibilities. There is so much of me that wants to put myself to sleep one last time, but there is one thing that keeps me from doing it.
You’d let the zucchini bread go stale.
What Julide Won:
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 phenomenal and can help you reach your writing goals. Write on!
Journaling Power Heals The Issues In Your Tissues
As writers, we know the importance of keeping a journal and committing to Morning Pages. Mari L. McCarthy, The Journaling Guru and founder of CreateWriteNow, also knows this firsthand. Over twenty years ago, she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and lost the feeling and function of the right side of her body. The doctors weren’t helping and neither were the prescription drugs, so she turned to journaling as a way to heal and recapture her quality of life. Her transformation was nothing short of radical. Over the years, she’s helped thousands of people put pen to paper and transform their lives, too. Her self-paced journaling courses are incredible and will inspire your best writing and best self. Journal every day and the possibilities are limitless.
Visit CreateWriteNow and find out more: www.createwritenow.com.
Check out Mari’s award-winning books, Journaling Power: How to Create the Happy, Healthy Life You Want to Live! and Heal Yourself with Journaling Power
“If you’ve ever doubted the therapeutic and transformative benefits of journaling, you need to read Mari L. McCarthy’s Journaling Power. A powerful tool for positive change, this book also contains the inspirational journaling exercises and encouragement that Mari is famous for, so you can embark on your own journey of transformation.” ~ Angela Mackintosh, Publisher, WOW! Women On Writing
“Heal Yourself with Journaling Power is a breath of fresh air in today’s stressful world. The idea that all you need is a pen and paper to change your outlook, create a new life story, or even enhance your health and wellbeing is revolutionary. Author Mari L. McCarthy takes readers on a guided journey to a more fulfilled life through motivational wisdom and journaling exercises. What I appreciate most about this book, as with all of Mari's journaling workbooks, is the individual nature and deep soul connection with the journaling work. Everyone will find their own aha moment as they work their way through the journaling exercises, making this book a deeply personal experience for each reader.” ~ Angela Mackintosh, Publisher, WOW! Women On Writing
Thank you, Mari! You continue to inspire.
Congratulations to the runners-up! It was very close, and these essays are excellent in every way.
Click on the titles to read:
Wonder-Full by Julia Kirby, London, England
Brush with Reality by Mary Roberson Wiygul, Columbus, Mississippi
Do Not Attempt the Following Personal Essays by Ellen Brickley, Dublin, Ireland
Returning by Magdalena Bartkowska, Northampton, Massachusetts
Does My AOL Email Address Make Me Look Fat? by Kim Burnett, Rehoboth Beach, Delaware
My Favorite Chair by Leslie J. Cox, Glendale, Arizona
The Tango Lesson by Diane Scanzaroli, Denver, Colorado
Congratulations to our Essay Contest Honorable Mentions! Your essays stood out and are excellent in every way.
Sock Monkeys, Turkey, and Mustang Sally by Cindy Wilde, Gig Harbor, Washington
What Else? by Lauren McKean, Flagstaff, Arizona
Breathe by Sara Wright Covington, Huntsville, Alabama
Abandonment & Butter by Sarah Simmons, Terryville, Connecticut
Are We Still Friends? Check Yes or No by Michelle Chalkey, Phoenix, Arizona
Crumble to the Sea by Jody Mason, Boulder, Colorado
Letting My Hair Down by Musfira Shaffi, Karachi, Pakistan
Wicked by Caroline Tanner, Washington DC
It’s About Time by Cybele Sieradzki, Cottonwood, Arizona
Shadows by Zandra Carrington, Ireland
What the Honorable Mentions Won:
This brings the Q1 2020 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. We’re looking forward to receiving your entries for our next contest. Best of luck, and write on!
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