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WOW! Q2 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:  Carolyn Campbell
Arch Cape, Oregon
Congratulations, Carolyn!
Carolyn Campbell

Carolyn’s Bio:

Carolyn Campbell is a journalist, photographer, nonfiction writer, and award-winning multimedia artist whose work has been featured in galleries, national publications, and statewide initiatives. After living in some of America’s most remote regions for the last six years, her upcoming debut book, Life at the Edge of the World, explores the grit and grace of rural towns struggling to survive. When she’s not in Oregon, Carolyn is following a story in her tiny home on wheels named Missy May.

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Blinking Lessons



  1. When your dad asks you to come back east because your mother has lost her mind in ways it can no longer be found, don’t blink. Pack. Fly. Drive.

  2. When your dad shows you the tangerine-sized cancer growing out the side of his head, you’ll want to blink. Don’t. Hug his frail frame instead.

  3. When your mother asks, “Are you the lady from church coming to take me for a ride?” it’s okay to blink. She’s kind to strangers.

  4. When she asks why you took her car away, do not blink. Watch her hand. Watch the glass. She’s got a good arm.

  5. When the physical therapist comes to help your dad recover from chemo and asks, “Are you strong enough to care for your wife?” look directly at the woman. Blink the S.O.S. Morse Code he taught you as a kid. Three blinks fast, then three slow. End with three fast blinks. Pray the therapist knows distress code. Hope she doesn’t think you’re crazy.

  6. When she asks, “Are you safe with your wife?” and your dad answers “Yes, ma’am,” just like he told your fourth-grade principal, “Yes, ma’am, my daughter’s fine. She’s a tomboy. Tomboy’s fall a lot,” blink slow like a lizard. Your dad is good at getting people to believe him.

  7. When you listen to your dad trying to soothe the mad woman’s howls long past midnight, you’ll want to blink yourself away. But you can’t. Knock softly. Open the door quietly. Touch his shoulder lightly. When his weary eyes look up at you, say calmly, “Dad, it’s time to call for help.”

  8. When your mother is strapped to a gurney in the emergency room, you are now ready for advanced blinking lessons. When she begs you to untie her so she can escape the aliens who’ve come to steal her soul, blink or not blink?

  9. When your mother hisses, “Are you a demon? Your eyelids look like demons,” now what should you do? You’ll wonder, “How does she know what my eyelids look like? Did I blink? Is she trying to make me blink?” You’ll want to shut out the bright lights of this cold, sterile place. You’ll want to imagine a butterfly world of loving childhood kisses. You’ll want to wrap her frail fingers in yours and say, “I forgive you.” You’ll want to lean over and whisper, “I love you.” But do not blink. Do not move. If you do, her Houdini legs will free themselves and thrust into your chest. She’ll kick, spit, and screech. You will be twelve again.

  10. When an angel, disguised as a nurse, flies into the room, slams your mother’s legs to the table, and cinches the straps skin-pinching tight, can you finally blink? You could, but you don’t. When she commands, “Do not kick your children, ever!” you’ll want to hug the woman. But you won’t. Instead, blink through your tears pretending to have dust in your eye.



What Carolyn Won:

2nd Place Winner
2nd Place:  M. M. De Voe
New York, New York
Congratulations, M. M.!
M. M. De Voe

M. M.’s Bio:

M. M. De Voe can be read in various anthologies, literary magazines, poetry collections, horror magazines, sci-fi dailies and on her free weekly Substack called “This is Ridiculous.” All this and the “masterfully conceived” fiction collection A FLASH OF DARKNESS (Borda Books 2024) and first-prize winning productivity guide for creative writers with kids (BOOK & BABY) can be found on her website at (it’s worth it) or just follow her @mmdevoe on Twitter. She is the founder and Executive Director of Pen Parentis, a literary nonprofit for writers who also are parents. She is frequently on Twitter @mmdevoe.

(Photo credit: A. Mathiowetz)

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Gabriel Garcia Marquez didn’t have to do laundry


This might be an essay starting with a safety pin but my kid is writing her Common App college application and it is due in less than 72 hours and she is ranting at the top of her voice about how stupid it is to expect one essay to encompass her entire personality and convince eight colleges, from reach schools to a safety school that she doesn’t even want to attend, that she’s a terrific kid, so I can’t actually focus on the memory of being the eldest daughter—wait, note to self, wasn’t there an article in The Atlantic, yes, there was, and I should probably reference it if I can find it, something about eldest daughters being overburdened with tendencies to be the nurturer while also being pressured to overachieve, I need that reference, I felt so seen in a way I am never seen in real life—anyway, with all this going on, I just can’t concentrate on the taste in my mouth and the cognitive dissonance of the scent of both clean talc and the reek of toddler shit while also tasting the coppery terror of pinning my baby brother’s diapers and how this one weird little item, the safety pin with its freaky plastic duck face head, enabled child labor of a sort in my home of six people in a small town in Texas where the last time I was home I got into an argument about guns with my overly religious mom—no really: she spent a whole month one summer letting God make her choices by flipping coins and another time I went with her to a neighborhood party where the hosts had put a fan of $10 bills on the food table and I was so poor growing up that the glistening sliced meats were more attractive to me than the idea that I might pocket a sawbuck, which, what the fuck, no one called them even back in the seventies, come on, I’m a dinosaur but I’m not old enough to call a ten a sawbuck, and wait, isn’t a sawbuck a twenty anyway?—but the point is we were arguing about guns and my mom was claiming that New York City was unsafe and I said well, how many shootings do you have in your neighborhood, Mom, like one a month? and she looked at me like I was insane and said, are you kidding, more like one a week, and then it was my turn to be appalled and I pressed her and yes, in actual fact there is at least one shooting a week, A WEEK, at my mother’s student housing apartment complex—don’t even ask why a retired woman is living in married student housing near Texas A&M University—which is a good school, by the way, not that my daughter is ever in a million years going to put it on her college app list given the recent abortion laws in Texas, and how did I get on this subject when I was supposed to be concentrating on my memory of being eight years older than my baby brother but still responsible for changing his diaper?—I can’t even focus on whether safety pins are the way to go to start this essay, even though there is this great crossover with the punk styles of the 1990s and the fact that despite my preposterously Catholic upbringing I did wear safety pins as fashion decor (this was back in the day when you actually had to add your own accents like rips in your clothes that were held together by safety pins, no shop would pre-tear your clothing and then pin it back up for you, like they do now with the pre-washed and pre-stained shredded jeans, honestly what is UP with America these days that even rampant consumerism is managing to find a way to add to the infantilization of the whole country, which brings me back to infants which reminds me of changing my baby brother’s diapers again, except my daughter just came out of her room freaking out because she has to write eight supplemental essays and since I’m the writer around here I have to help her, and you people who do not have a seventeen-year-old daughter may never know the tightrope walk that mothers face between our own desires to step aside and let our daughters have their own agency and their incessant nagging that we help them alternating with their banshee-like screeches that we are idiots and need only to step aside and shut up).

Did I actually finish a sentence? That seems like a victory in and of itself. If you were a writer with two kids, you’d know that just finishing a written sentence, however much it sucks, is cause for victory. Oh yes, I have another kid; a 21-year-old boy who is looking for a job. He has nothing to do with safety pins, but if you have a minute, I’d love to tell you about him.



What M. M. Won:

3rd Place Winner
3rd Place: Susan Enzer
New York, New York
Congratulations, Susan!
Susan Enzer

Susan’s Bio:

Susan Enzer is a writer of vignettes and creative nonfiction stories. Named a Top Writer of 2023 by Papers Publishing, her work also appears in Passengers Journal where it was featured in their inaugural Podcast. She studies at The Writers Studio and attends workshops at Westport Writers. Susan is currently working on a memoir. She lives in New York City and can be reached at or on Instagram @susan.enzer1.

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Scents of a Life


Joshua’s first breaths are warm, clean, pure—not a scent of origin or maybe the cosmic presence of all scents. His skin exudes acidic notes of lemon, pepper, and cedar. At play, coppery ringlets drip with sweat, cheeks the color of ripened tomatoes, the sweetness of him bursts through. His energy and power fully invested in ninja-like appearances—here, there, and then nowhere.

At age eight, the age of reason and intellectual innocence, a sudden shift. His breath in ever quickening bursts, the aroma of rotted cherries, peaches, and apricots. In a cloud of ozone, alcohol, starched scrubs, young prayer surrounding him he wanders far from us all—semi-conscious, then in a deliberately induced state of coma—machinery cleansing his blood of toxins as his father and I wait for his return.

And he does. Reborn and freshly aerated, cheeks pale, a newly buzzed cut revealing the precise location of the surgically drilled hole at the right temporal area of his skull. The precise location where the specialist inserted a thin tube to allow the release of fluids surrounding the swollen young brain pushing from inside.

Now he smells of peppermint and isopropyl alcohol that rises from his fingertips after the prick of one or another of them to test the level of sweetness in each salty drop of blood.

Two types of insulin—one clouded, one clear—his perpetual sidekicks. Bitter, acrid and life giving in the morning, at each meal, at bedtime.

My own fingertips, hands, every article of clothing carry the stray, dried droplets of each injection. I exude, like expensive French perfume, the essence of eau de alcohol wipe and insulin droplets. After all, I am the glucometer mistress, tester of blood sugar levels, insulin mixologist, measurer and deliverer of each injection—subcutaneous, short needle to administer and send the appropriate amount into his arm, belly, thigh.

And, like a master sommelier, I develop a nose for the essence and subtleties of sour, acetonic, and fruity notes on his breath. Or traveling from his pores.


The teenage wanderer, traveler in charge of himself, now carries the scent of seasoned gym socks, ripened underwear and armpits with just a slight overlay of Paco Rabanne—his latest choice. He is the source of all things forbidden, edgy, daring. A people collector, especially teenage girls, he is the party.

At eighteen, the age of majority, the youngest of five siblings—he is the last witness to the life in his father. Joshua disappears in a haze of skunky, noxious cannabis and other substances—his own mixologist, lost soul, a drug-filled sack of despair.

Too often there is also the overpowering scent of acetone and I know he is missing his insulin injections, testing the fates. Too many times I reach him just as he teeters on that precipice of thickened blood, kidney failure, death by insulin deprivation.

Too often I am a wordless warrior. I collect the threads and shreds of my terrors. I survive on adrenaline, caffeine, and raw determination.


Intermixed with AXE for men and Gio eau de cologne, there is the cloyingly sweet smell of rotting flesh that is the big toe on his right foot. From his podiatrist’s office, I drive us directly to Beth Israel Hospital. Joshua quotes the doctor’s parting words, “I smell amputation.”

Joshua takes before and after pictures of his big right toe, posts them on Facebook, and later admits to me the cause of it. He has injected some street drugs into the flesh between his toes.

Essence of intravenous antibiotic, rubbing alcohol, hospital-issued Thanksgiving dinner, and a large space in his right sneaker formerly occupied by the now missing toe.

If you asked me about that admission, I’d say, not surprised. I’d say, shocked and disgusted.

I’d say, the threads of terror are knotted and jumbled somewhere inside me. What to make of all of it? That will have to come later. Much later.


There is something magical about the age of 26. It can take you down a path toward hope, possibility, and accomplishment. Or it can jettison you into oblivion. Joshua takes the path of possibility. And while still sporting nicotine-stained fingers, the chronic musty leftover odor of Newport lights, the occasional low hanging cloud of marijuana—nuanced versions now as it approaches legality, he adds ozone, propane, and metallic eddies of molten welding rods.

But the path, marked with hillocks, crags, and boulders, some nearly insurmountable, takes him increasingly closer to places we have visited before. Except now there really is no simple return. And in time for his 30th birthday, he is fully immersed in the machinery of dialysis and the scent of hope, of possibility beginning to systematically and systemically drain from him.

In our apartment, there is the aroma of lavender—tea, soap, shampoo, oils to roll onto the wrist and behind the ears—to comfort and calm. We keep lavender-scented candles lit and sputtering. The small puffs of smoke, a breath of peacefulness.

And in the afternoon, he vacates that rotting vessel, the sharp smells of plastic, alcohol, saline solution, latex left behind as a reminder—not of him but of the shortened journey in that imperfect body, I can remember it all—each and every moment. Frame by frame in technicolor, sometimes sepia tones, sometimes black and white.


His young man’s body readied for burial is perfect. Beautiful heart-shaped face, utterly becalmed, lush lips, slight smile, thick dark eyebrows, cleanly shaven cheeks, chin, and newly spiked hairdo. Lightly, I place the palm of my hand across the top of the spiked mass, rubbing it like a freshly mown lawn. The cosmic presence of all scents surrounding us both.



What Susan Won:


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

Click on the titles to read:

A Collection of Moments Free from Thoughts About You by Elizabeth McCall, Houston, Texas

Little Apocalypses by Liz Ramirez, Fort Collins, Colorado

The day you decided not to kill yourself by Anne Walsh Donnelly, Ireland

Facade by Tess Kelly, Portland, Oregon

Be a Traveler, Not a Tourist by Barbara Y. Phillips, Oxford, Mississippi

Making Peace with Cute by Elizabeth Bird, Tampa, Florida

Being Marketing by Amy DeFlavis, Bucks County, Pennsylvania

What the Runners Up Won:


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

The Last Scrabble Game by Jean Ransom, O’Fallon, Missouri

Nostalgia is a Spent Pen by Cat Melville, Melbourne, Australia

The Chocolate Filled Crumb Cake Quest by Leah Rachel Berkowitz, Elkins Park, Pennsylvania

You Can Always Fly by Lori Posdal, Palm City, Florida

Four Seasons by Ellen Weeren, Harpers Ferry, West Virginia

Jersey Shrimper: A Carolina Love Story by Terri Lynn Ward, Simpsonville, South Carolina

Homeland by Cassandra Tzatzov-Levinson, Long Island, New York

Canadian Chambermaid by Karin Hedetniemi, Victoria, BC, Canada

Carb Addiction by Tina Engelfried, Hillsboro, Oregon

Face It, Mom by May Akabogu, Paris, France


What the Honorable Mentions Won:


This brings the Q2 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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