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 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 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. Chelsey received her MFA in Creative Writing from Rainier Writing Workshop. You can read more of her writing at: www.chelseyclammer.com.
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 received her MFA from 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, was recently published by Vine Leaves Press. Learn more about her latest projects at: www.melaniedfaith.com/blog/.
Ashley Memory lives in rural Randolph County, North Carolina, with her sculptor husband, Johnpaul Harris. When she’s not musing on a new metaphor, she’s trying to learn to drive a skid-steer loader and move earth. Her writing has appeared in many journals, magazines and anthologies, most recently in The Sun, The Phoenix (Issue 61), The Rumpus, County Lines, O.Henry, and Rooted in Rights. Her lyric essay, “A Tale of Two Tumbles,” won first prize in the 2020 Carolina Woman Writing Contest, and her first poetry collection, Waiting for the Wood Thrush, was published by Finishing Line Press in November 2019. She writes a column for the WOW! Women on Writing markets newsletter, and she’s currently at work on a memoir of her life in the Uwharries. Her writing has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and she’s twice won the Doris Betts Prize sponsored by the N.C. Writers' Network. Her first novel, Naked and Hungry, was named a finalist in the 2009 James Jones First Novel Fellowship competition sponsored by Wilkes University and was published in 2011 by Ingalls Publishing Group. For a forkful of the literary life, follow her blog, Cherries and Chekhov.
Kandace Chapple is the editor and publisher of Grand Traverse Magazine, a regional women’s publication in Michigan. She has spent 15 years coaching writers in her publication and helping them polish their personal essays. Her own essays have appeared in Writer’s Digest, Chicken Soup for the Soul, Literary Mama, Motherwell and more. She hosts weekly #Friday500 coaching sessions where writers submit 500 words every Friday (or else!). She is also a well-known freelance writer for publications in Michigan, including Traverse Magazine. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Education with a minor in Journalism and a Bachelor’s degree in Business. She loves to mountain bike on Northern Michigan trails, hike with her dog, Cookie, and spend time with her husband and two sons. Visit her at www.kandacechapple.com.
Thanks to WOW Judges:
As always, thank you to the WOW! staff for your careful deliberation and attention to detail. Special thanks to Margo L. Dill, Mary Horner, and Angela Miyuki 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 8 or more 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: Laura Mahal
Fort Collins, Colorado
Laura Mahal splits her time between writing, copyediting, gardening, and coffee drinking. Her work appears in various places, such as Fish, DoveTales, Veteran’s Voices, Across the Margin, and OyeDrum. A two-time winner of the Hecla Award for Speculative Fiction, 2020 Lit Fest finalist and Book Projecteer, Laura was on the editing team for Rise, recipient of the 2020 Colorado Book Award. You can read a sampling of her edgier stuff at lauramahalwriter.com. This essay is dedicated to Laura’s sister, the six-year-old in the story—who still likes shiny shoes and new dresses, and still gets too close to snapping turtles.
How to Escape from a Cult
1.) Meet a cute boy.
2.) Watch him play chess every day after school, until you can predict his every move.
3.) Raid How to Play Chess from your father’s bookshelf and memorize 362 pages of strategy.
4.) Challenge the boy to a match. Let him know you’ve never played before.
5.) Beat him soundly.
A girl, aged four, grass-green feet horned with summer calluses, splotched with yellow dandelion powder she tracks onto scratched hardwood floors. She can’t find her siblings, who have gone fishing. All except for the sister preening in front of a mirror, experimenting with lipstick and eyeliner to horrible effect, like a dragon in drag. A little girl doesn’t know these things, only that she is missing out on fishing. She sits on the edge of the porch, legs dangling, ignoring horse flies as she eats wedges of salted watermelon, spitting seeds and thinking hard, realizing what she must do. She jumps up, tossing rinds into the woods, then bribes dragon sister by offering the loan of her brand-new dress. Which preening girl takes time to put on along with shiny shoes. This makes no sense since they are going to the lake. To climb aboard a raft they’ve cobbled from roped-together planks, not entirely seaworthy.
6.) Accept when he invites you to youth Bible study.
7.) Do not act surprised about his congregation’s unique beliefs.
A.) Music is the devil’s temptation. Only raised voices will do.
B.) All works besides the Holy Bible divert from the righteous path.
8.) Do not mention the chess book.
9.) Agree to enter the baptismal tank, a re-do of the sprinkling of holy water you received as an infant.
10.) Listen to the pleading inner voice that protests when you are told you must turn your back on anyone who’s not part of this particular congregation.
The girls skip. The four-year-old wears no shirt; why should she? It’s hot. Her shorts are ragged, no doubt sourcing from the brown bag of church cast-offs. They are soft, the denim faded the exact blue of East Coast sky. The six-year-old slows to examine her nails, letting her pole dip to the tops of the tall grass that surrounds the gravel road. She almost drops the pole when the younger girl shrieks. “Look. A turtle!” Indeed, an old fellow lifts his wrinkled head and snaps, his shell visible above the weeds, his head wagging like a dog’s, except he is holding on to the hook end of the pole. The six-year-old leans back, her dress hem touching dust. She starts to reel.
11.) Call your friendly neighborhood minister. Invite him to debate the relative merits of Biblical principles with Cute Boy’s father.
12.) Note how everyone dismisses the intellect of your childhood pastor, a father of three and all-around-nice-guy.
13.) Observe how this sage man never raises his voice, refuses to hurl invectives, even when the communal wasps sting.
14.) Go home to your mother, the most upright woman you know. Ponder whether God intends to burn her in everlasting fires.
15.) Stop going to youth group. To chess club.
The sisters reach the lake, each wishing to tell about the adventure with the snapping turtle. The boys are fishing, their lines not making even tiny concentric circles, until the girls’ squealing causes the boys to lose focus and their raft to wobble dangerously. “Shut up,” shouts the oldest boy. The six-year-old goes quiet. She understands she can play this to her advantage. She can ask for Bazooka Joe bubble gum, or fireballs, or an extra-large Gobstopper. The four-year-old is too carefree to listen to someone currently powerless to tickle her until she wets her pants. The brothers aren’t a threat at this distance. She relays the story in its entirety, forcing the eldest boy to dive from the raft and swim to her. He tries holding his hand over her mouth, a hand that smells like pond water, earthworms, and Velveeta cheese. She bites, hard enough to let him know she will not back down. He had forgotten that distraction was the only thing that worked on this sister, who was fearful of nothing, be it bucking horses or froth-mouthed raccoons. He leads her to the five-gallon pickle bucket and tells her to watch the catfish swim in circles. She dutifully squats, mesmerized, silent as if she too were swimming underwater.
16.) Do not equate the bad things that happen to you with the mumbled threats you hear from this congregation fundamentalist cult.
17.) Do not open notes shoved through the slits of your locker.
18.) Believe that one day, you will once again have faith.
19.) Look for boys who are good-looking on the inside.
“Are catfish good to eat?” the four-year-old asks in an unusually subdued voice, after she declines the offer of a soggy sandwich. The siblings are sitting on shore, their feet dangling in the lake, sipping from a shared jug of lukewarm sweet tea. Except the four-year-old, who continues to examine the trapped catfish, swimming round after round, as if seeking the exit. “Delicious,” the oldest brother says, crumpling his sandwich into a ball he crams into his mouth, opening wide to show the mushed-up remains, Wonder-bread with Jif and boysenberry jam, because boys exist to horrify their younger sisters, especially the one who wears dresses and shined shoes to Arnie’s Lake and scares away the trout, carp, bluegills, and catfish. When he turns to show the four-year-old, he gags, unable to swallow. She has the catfish gripped firmly: tentacles, sucker-mouthed, spine-tinged, with bits of algae still clinging to its tail. She is biting down as thoughtlessly as she had bitten her brother’s hand. The catfish no longer swishes its tail. It has given in to the four-year-old, resolved to be her sushi lunch. She is happy that the catfish is free at last, but delicious? She cannot agree with her oldest brother on this occasion.
20.) Bite the heads off fish whenever necessary.
What Laura Won:
2nd Place: Lisa H. Owens
Growing up, my family moved around—a lot. I attended a total of nine schools-in six cities-in four states before my first year of college. My first attempts at writing became a series of short stories inspired by the antics involved in making those numerous moves—from north to south and east to west—with my oddball family. Two local newspapers picked them up; running one story per month in a humorous memoirs column for a couple of years and that had me hooked.
I continued to write, entering contests and submitting a piece periodically to The New Yorker Magazine and am quite proud of receiving a few rejection emails, which was a step up from the old “If you haven’t heard from us in three months we won’t be using your story...” scenario.
Most recently, I have completed my first book, a compilation of letters to my sister-in-law describing my first year as a new-hire flight attendant in the magical city of Boston called, Dear Melinda, How I Met Your Brother. Now the hard part, finding a publisher.
I have two wonderful children (now in their 30s) and reside in North Texas with three rescue dogs and a WFH job as an environmental compliance manager. I am continuing to write Part-Two of my book, Dear Melinda, How I Married Your Brother. You can read a variety of my pieces (poetry, humorous memoirs, and stories dealing with more serious subject matter) at lisahowens.com.
What You Can Do in 8 Minutes and 46 Seconds
- You can walk 0.44 miles @ 3mph.
- You can run 0.88 miles @ 6mph.
- You can drive 5.11 miles in the city @ 35mph.
- You can drive 8.76 miles on the highway @ 60mph.
- You can swim 8 to 9 freestyle laps in an olympic size pool.
- You can hard-boil an egg.
- You can eat 141 hard-boiled eggs. (World Record in 2013)
- You can do the prep-work for a meal.
- You can bake ten Totino’s Pizza Rolls @ 425°.
- You can ride the Texas Giant roller coaster 2.7 times.
- You can smoke one cigarette.
- You can listen to 60% of Freebird by Lynyrd Skynyrd.
- You can read approximately 2,190 words.
- You can read approximately 8 pages of a novel.
- You can read the Old Testament Book of Ruth.
- You can read the New Testament Book of Philippians.
- You can recite the Hail Mary Prayer six times.
- You can type “I love you.” approximately 219 times.
- You can handwrite “I love you." approximately 105 times.
- It is the exact moment in time the first plane hit Tower I on 9/11/2001.
- You can take somewhere between 105 and 175 breaths.
- You can feel your heart beating somewhere between 526 and 1052 times.
- You can kneel on a man’s neck.
- You can nonchalantly keep one hand in your pocket.
- You can ignore the pleas of bystanders.
- You can ignore a man crying out, “I can’t breathe.”
- You can ignore a man whispering for his Mama.
- You can stop a man’s breath.
- You can take a life.
- You can devastate a family.
- You can incite a Movement.
What Lisa Won:
3rd Place: Keb Filippone
Delray Beach, Florida
This is Keb’s first time entering a WOW contest and her first time trying her hand at creative nonfiction, generally preferring poetry over prose. She is very grateful for the positive response to her essay. Keb has explored writing on and off over the years, but it wasn’t until recently, when she became an empty nester, that she started to focus on it. She is currently at work on a poetry manuscript that addresses some of the challenges of middle age. She has been inspired to attempt more nonfiction as a result of this contest. After spending most of her life in NY, she moved to Florida approximately 6 years ago where she lives with her husband and dog. She is the mother of three lovely and talented children.
Some Things Better Left Unsaid
I don’t tell my husband that I don’t want to have sex every day. I don’t want to acknowledge how I use it, exchange it. Maybe it’s more acceptable to consider it as an offering, a gift, or a thank you. Sex is as much a commodity as anything else in this world. And when you don’t have money or an opportunity to earn it, sex becomes your currency. On occasion, (and by occasion, I mean fairly frequently) I drink too much. Both he and I know this, but he doesn’t complain, doesn’t chastise or criticize me when I do, and for his silence, this ability to overlook, we have sex...almost daily. It is a strange bargain and I’m not sure if he even realizes the dynamic. It is very simple. He wants me to be happy and vice versa. It makes me happy to drink or at least less sad, and it makes him happy to have sex or at least less stressed. If he does recognize the transactional nature of our intercourse, he doesn’t say anything. After all, he is benefitting quite nicely in this arrangement. Sex requires a willing partner, the drinking I do on my own.
Another thing I don’t tell him, is that there are times I picture myself living alone after our children are grown and moved out. One thing I know, I’m not staying in Florida. Florida is a great vacation spot, but it’s lousy as home. No one tells you this before you move—then, all of a sudden you realize there’s no magic here, except maybe at Disney. The lovely resorts you used to frequent when younger, they aren’t really Florida, that idealized image you have, the memories of those wonderful brief interludes, all disappear when you lose the ability to leave. And the people trapped here, the beckoning Sirens, they want you to join them in this overheated phallus of a state. It’s like something out of a Twilight Zone episode. You’re probably thinking of all the people you know that retire down here who seem perfectly happy. But it is only because they can’t live anywhere else anymore. They’re seeking an easier life. I still want my seasons.
So, in my head I’m going to end up somewhere else, sometimes it’s an apartment in NYC, other times an antique house in a sleepy New England town. I stalk real estate sites late at night. It’s become my porn. These days, StreetEasy is almost as satisfying as Pornhub, all the floor plans, photos and video tours, pure erotica for me. And sometimes, I also plot a different life, picturing myself entertaining family and friends, keeping a spare bedroom for my visiting children (who’ll all live within driving distance). I might even have some gentlemen friends squire me around, sharing evenings out. But I won’t have sex with them, I won’t have to, my trading days behind me.
My husband says that he is convinced that I’m going die before him because of the aforementioned drinking, but I’m confident I’ll grow out of my inebriation as I get older. I found it fairly easy to stop smoking when I turned 35, though I still miss it. When I smell that familiar odor, I’m flooded with memories of my bar hopping days, drink in one hand, cigarette in the other. I worry I may have been at my best back then. Most people avoid second-hand smoke, but I revel in it, inhaling deeply. Anyway, I’m fairly convinced that my current drinking is just a phase and needs only run its course. Speaking of running, my husband also doesn’t realize the reason I jog most days is not because I enjoy it—I hate it actually, but I regard it as both a penance and an insurance policy against a premature end.
Don’t get me wrong, I adore my husband much of the time. However, I’m also not one of those magnanimous people who says if one of us has to go first, please let it be me. Of course, I’d be devastated with his demise, but I’d be okay if I was the one who stayed alive a little longer. Anyway, it’s inevitable that one of us will outlive the other unless we die together in some freak accident. I think that is why I like to drive solo. I don’t want the responsibility of managing anyone else’s fate. When I was young my parents never flew together in case the plane went down, they didn’t want to leave behind orphans. However, if we traveled as a family it was fine for us to all go down together. Occasionally when I’m flying, I look out the window and imagine being plunged into the ocean. My eyesight is so poor I always wear my contacts when I’m on a plane on the off chance there is a terrible accident and I somehow end up in the water. I figure my glasses, they’d be the first thing I’d lose in turbulence and then I’d be at a complete loss to save myself, to assist others. To this day, I fixate on the flight attendants’ instructions, identifying the closest exits, counting the rows, feeling for the flotation device.
I’m certain my husband also has many things he keeps to himself. Perhaps he has another life that plays out in his head, his mind wandering as well. I often feel badly for him that he has been duped, that the girl who stood by his side and said vows has all but evaporated into the ether, morphed into just a memory, replaced by a depressed menopausal woman who wrestles with alcohol, wrestles with restlessness. I wonder if he imagines that he’d like to live alone in a NYC apartment or in a country house somewhere in New England. Maybe then, we could live side by side as neighbors, even at times together, enjoying each other’s company and having sex without strings.
What Keb 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:
Postmortem by Sekai K. Ward, Ann Arbor, Michigan
Shining Armour by Carrie Jade Williams, Ireland
Persons Unseen by Hilary Fair, Stratford, Ontario, Canada
A Lover without a Lover by Anne Walsh Donnelly, Mayo, Ireland
Birthing School Dropout by Jennifer “Jay” Palumbo, Brooklyn, New York
What I Remember is This by Susan E Wadds, South-Central Ontario, Canada
Three Times in My Life Jewel was Really Important by Kim Daly, Brooklyn, New York
Congratulations to our Essay Contest Honorable Mentions! Your essays stood out and are excellent in every way.
The Punch by Ann Lehwald, Baltimore, Maryland
Between the Blinds by Cheryl Fitzgerald, Jersey Shore
Hunger Games by Maria Cowie, Ottawa, Canada
Our Binary Bodies by Ali Isaac, Ireland
The Bathtub by Jennifer Santiago, US
Did You Have a Normal Birth? by Rebecca Stretton, Warrington, UK
Filtered by Lynda Allison, Playa Coronado, Panama
Chakras and the Empty Nest by Michelle Dwyer, Cedar Park, Texas
Blame it on Brontë by Tamara Wolff, Evanston, Illinois
I Quit by Kay Butzin, Houghton Lake, Michigan
What the Honorable Mentions Won:
This brings the Q4 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!
Check out the latest Contests: