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WOW! Q4 2018 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.


Thanks to our Guest Judges:

Chelsey Clammer

Chelsey Clammer

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 McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, The Normal School, Hobart, The Rumpus, Essay Daily, The Water~Stone Review and Black Warrior Review, among many others. She is the Essays Editor for The Nervous Breakdown and a voluntary reader for Creative Nonfiction magazine. Chelsey received her MFA in Creative Writing from Rainier Writing Workshop. Her forthcoming essay collection, Human Heartbeat Detected, looks at the ways in which we are “human” to one another. Clammer is also currently writing a craft book about lyric essays, Sound It Out. You can read more of her writing at:


Melissa Grunow

Melissa Grunow

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 notables. She has an MFA in creative nonfiction with distinction from National University. Visit her website at or follow her on Twitter @melgrunow.


Naomi Kimbell

Naomi Kimbell

Naomi Kimbell lives and writes in Missoula, MT. She has an MFA in creative nonfiction from the University of Montana, and her work has appeared in The Rumpus, The Nervous Breakdown, Crazyhorse, The Iowa Review, and other literary journals and anthologies. Her essay, “Whistling in the Dark,” was recognized as a Notable Essay in Best American Essays, 2010, and her essay, “Bounty,” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in nonfiction. In addition to writing creative nonfiction, Naomi writes reviews of independent literature for the Atticus Review, has been featured on the Submittable Blog, and is currently working on a novel. When she’s not writing, she likes to wander through the woods, across hillsides, and visit small towns, taking photographs and shooting video to create impressionistic films with ambient scores using her essays, invented landscapes, and found sounds. She lives with her husband and her bird at the base of a mountain that, from a certain angle, looks a little like an elephant in repose. To learn more, view films, and read her work, visit her website at


Sarah Weaver

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

Melanie Faith

Melanie Faith holds an MFA from Queens University of Charlotte, NC. Her writing has been nominated three times for the Pushcart Prize. Her full-length, historical poetry collection set in the 1918 flu epidemic, This Passing Fever, was published by Future Cycle Press in October 2017. Vine Leaves Press published her craft books about writing and editing flash fiction and nonfiction, In a Flash! Writing and Publishing Dynamic Flash Prose, and her craft book about writing poetry, Poetry Power, (both 2018). Most recently, her shorter pieces appeared in After the Pause, Contemporary Haibun Online, The Sandy River Review, The Writer’s Monthly Review Magazine, and Embodied Effigies. Her flash fiction, “The Slades,” placed honorable mention in the 2014 Bevel Summers Prize for the Short Short Story and was published in Shenandoah (Washington and Lee University). Her short pieces are forthcoming from Red Coyote (fall 2018), and her poetry will appear in Up North Lit (October 2018). She’s a monthly flash fiction judge at Sweek. In addition to numerous photography publications, her art made the cover of both OVS Magazine and Chantwood Review in 2017. Her instructional articles about creative writing techniques have appeared in The Writer and Writers' Journal, among others. To learn more about Melanie’s writing, teaching, and photography, please visit:


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 out to Margo L. Dill and Marcia Peterson for helping out with this contest. Excellent job, ladies!



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 Winner
1st Place:  Kay Butzin
Fulton, Texas
Congratulations, Kay!
Kay Butzin

Kay’s Bio:

Tired of sitting behind other people’s desks, Kay Butzin retired early to homeschool herself in creative writing. Although she took several online writing classes, she learned the most from Strunk and White’s rules and exercises in writing books by teachers Julia Cameron, Natalie Goldberg, Phillip Lopate, and Ursula K. Le Guin, among others.

Kay credits feedback from her critique partner and writer’s group for much of her education. She also purchases critiques with her WOW contest entries, and both this essay and her 2013 flash fiction runner up, “Bank Job,” were resubmissions of work revised according to the judges’ suggestions.

A Texas transplant for the past 22 years, Kay is in the process of relocating to her native Michigan. She avoids social media but will respond to email at kaybutzin[at]gmail[dot]com.

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Before and After


August 20, 2017 – Sunday Sunrise

The Texas coast air tastes like shrimp. Ripples lap against the seawall. Overhead the morning star glows like a 100-watt bulb against a blue-black sky. The gulls remain asleep, their red bills tucked under their wings.

I meander along the Fulton Fishing Pier to the wooden bench at its end. The horizon, tinged campfire orange, foreshadows the appearance of the sun hidden not far below it. I locate the brightest spot so I won’t miss its first flash over the water’s edge, a sight which delights me more than the fireworks finale at Fulton Oysterfest.

A fin arcs above the waves. Then another. And another: a pod of bottlenose dolphins swims up the channel to breakfast. Brown pelicans circle and dive bill-first, snaring their morning catch. Purple and pink clouds piped in gold splash across the sky. A breeze ruffles my hair as the fireball rises and dispels the last of night. I pull down my sunglasses from atop my head, finish my coffee, and return to the car to the laughter of the wakened gulls.


August 26, 2017 – Hurricane Harvey

The multi-story boat barn at Cove Harbor looks like an erector set a two-year-old stomped on in a temper tantrum. A television reporter says, “Every building in town is leaning.”

Harvey made landfall in Rockport/Fulton around ten o’clock last night as a Category 4 hurricane, with sustained winds of 130 mph and gusts in excess of 140 mph. The view from my friend’s window, of a wave-less northern Michigan lake, competes with screen images of disaster and devastation.

I planned to fly home today, but Houston and Corpus Christi airports are closed. There is no electricity, no water or sewer, no food. The Rockport mayor says, “DO NOT come back.”

My sister weathered 95 mph winds in an RV parked at a ranch 100 miles inland. She predicts, “There will be nothing to come back to.”


September 9, 2017 – Return home

The trees are naked, like Hiroshima’s after the bomb.

Hurricane Harvey’s eyewall, the zone of strongest winds, passed directly over Rockport/Fulton twice, as the storm approached and again as it departed. It toppled three-hundred-year-old live oaks, roots and all. It blew away highway signs and altered landmarks beyond recognition, causing me to miss the exit to my condo.

My electricity is back on today. My sister will stay with me for a couple days until power company repair crews make it to her neighborhood. Tarps cover our damage, but we have roofs. Many are living in tents.


January 1, 2018 – A New Normal

The Long Term Recovery (LTR) team tells us we are in for “a marathon, not a sprint,” complete recovery to take several years. Things will never be the same, including my regular shopping items’ aisles, relocated during H-E-B supermarket’s restoration.

Every day, a new mound of brush, building materials, ruined appliances and mattresses appear in front of an empty lot where a house or office or store used to stand. The Fulton community center and Crab ‘N’ Seafood Restaurant have been reduced to concrete slabs. Along the old highway, splintered power pole halves remain standing. Tattered tarps flap in the wind. An RV lies overturned on the shoulder.

Broken boats list in the harbor. Waves and storm surge wiped out entire spans of the Fulton Fishing Pier. Even if the bench at its end were not gone, too, I could not walk to it.

Brown pelicans roost on the pier’s skeleton. They used to perch out on the rocks away from human traffic, never on the railing like the great blue heron did. His yellow eye watching me approach, he would hold his position until he could see his presence was not to deter me from my course; and then he would fly away squawking.


February 18, 2018 – Sunday Sunrise

The Texas coast air tastes like shrimp.



What Kay Won:

2nd Place Winner
2nd Place:  Michelle Rene
Dallas, Texas
Congratulations, Michelle!
Michelle Rene

Michelle’s Bio:

Michelle Rene is a creative advocate and a multi-award winning author of a number of published works of science fiction, historical fiction, humor and everything in between.

This year, she released several books. Hour Glass, her touching tale about Calamity Jane, won Chanticleer Review’s Best Book of the Year award. It was released as an audiobook in September. Her experimental novella, Tattoo, has won high acclaim from Foreword Review and Publisher’s Weekly. Recently, she published an anthology of stories and humorous essays from her time growing up in West Texas called Defending Ducks.

When not writing, she is a professional artist and all around odd person. She lives as the only female, writing in her little closet, with her husband, son, and ungrateful cat in Dallas, Texas.

Visit her website at

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Pit of Snakes


The Rattlesnake Roundup is a festival that takes place in Sweetwater, Texas every year. This is all true. People collect as many rattlesnakes as they can and put them in pits. Then, they host a type of celebration around the collecting of venom, skinning, and eating of these snakes. There are vendors, taxidermists, and toys for the kids. You can buy a snake belt buckle, an armadillo beer cooler, and eat a fried snake burger all in the same place.

It tastes like spicy, dark meat chicken if you are curious. There, now you’re not curious anymore.

The truth is that there are way too many snakes in Texas and this tradition keeps their numbers under control while also collecting venom to make anti-venom. It has been going on for decades.

I was six years old when my father took me there for the first time. He had a press pass, so we were able to maneuver our way through the crowd to the main pit where the pit master greeted my dad with a warm smile. My father had photographed him for the newspaper earlier that week.

Let me take a minute to explain the pits. Remember in Indiana Jones where there’s this expansive pit covered in every type of snake imaginable? The one that made your skin crawl? Yeah, there’s that many snakes, but the pit is smaller so you can’t see the floor at all. There are several of these circular pits, like a horrible three ring circus, and in each one walks a man donning rubber pants.

This ringmaster waded through a shallow sea of venomous snakes with a smile on his face like it was a lovely spring day. He shuffled up to us, kicking snakes, and leaving a wave of angry slinkies behind him.

“Hey there! Glad you could come. This yer daughter?”

“Yep,” replied my dad.

I looked up at the man’s grizzled face as he leaned over the pit’s edge grinning at me. Before I knew what was happening, I was being lifted into the air and pulled over the pit’s walls. The pit master swung me around and settled me on his right hip. He then proceeded to wade out into the sea of snakes with me in his arms.

Let me repeat that.

He walked out into a pit of snakes with a six year old on his freaking hip, and no one stopped him. No authority figure drew his gun and threatened to fire if he didn’t release the little girl. My own father happily watched the man cart away his daughter over a writhing pit of snakes.

I looked down into the pissed off, rattling mass of scale slinkies below me and pulled my legs up as high as I could. I was determined to climb this crazy guy like a freaking tree. The old man giggled at my reaction and held me tighter. I was being dangled over an Indian Jones type pit of snakes, and he laughed at me.

“Don’t worry, honey,” he said with a laugh. “They normally can’t jump dis high.”

With that glowing bout of confidence, I looked to my dad for help. Surely, he would insist on having me back. He would be terrified seeing his little girl dangled over a pit of angry snakes, wouldn’t he? To my chagrin, he just waved at me with a goofy grin on his face, seemingly tickled pink I was the center of attention. He then pulled out his camera and started snapping shots.

“Wave to da people, honey,” said the ring master.

What else was there to do? I took a deep breath and slapped a smile on my face. Before I knew it, I was waving at the throngs of people. Everyone cheered and waved back at me. They waved at the girl being held over a pit of snakes.

Yeah, that happened. Indiana Jones ain’t got nothin’ on me.

Eventually, the pit master waded back over to the edge where my dad had finally put his camera away. Never was I so glad to feel hay covered concrete under my feet.

“Tell the nice man thank you,” said my dad, nudging me.

I grabbed Dad’s hand and managed to lead him away, but the rattlesnake roundup would not let me go so easily.

The next pit was where they “cleaned” the snakes. Men extracted them with long, metal pincers, and shoved them in plastic barrels to move them. The following description of “cleaning snakes” has been edited for the faint of heart.

The rattlesnake is placed on a pillow-like table where soothing Kenny G is playing in the background. Men apologize for being so rough-handed and compliment the snake on its rather lovely set of scales and beautiful eyes. After a long, luxurious sponge bath with bubbles, the snake obligingly removes its own skin and its head falls off out of pure happiness.

In the third and final pit, the snake’s meat is battered up, deep fried, and sold. You can have deep fried rattlesnake strips, snake on a bun, or the ever popular snake on a stick. It’s basically like a terrible corny dog. The rattlers from the snake’s tail were given out to overly curious children.

After we finished the full tour, Dad and I sat on a picnic bench eating the most disappointing corny dogs I’d ever had. I held a plastic snake toy in one hand and a rattler that still had a little blood, I mean bubble bath, on it. A smile crept across my face.

“Did you have fun?” Dad asked me.

Looking at him, I recalled our day. I got a toy, acted like Indiana Jones, and ate a snake corny dog. Sure, I had had a near death experience and watched things normally reserved for horror movies. And yes, there was probably snake blood on my shoes, but still, it had been a good day.

I couldn’t wait to go again next year.



What Michelle Won:

3rd Place Winner
3rd Place: Jacqueline Siwicki
Rochester, New York
Congratulations, Jackie!
Jacqueline Siwicki

Jackie’s Bio:

I’m Jackie Siwicki. I live in Rochester, NY. I’ve had non-fiction nature essays published in Adirondac Magazine and Camper’s Monthly, an outdoor enthusiast’s magazine, circulation Northeastern US. I’ve had two personal memoir essays on my experience as a teacher featured in the guest columnist’s section of the Rochester newspaper.

I am currently working on completing a YA novel that is a series of short pieces (chapters) where the characters live in the same town and different characters’ lives reappear in other stories. These stories are inspired by my own experience growing up in upstate New York and also on pieces of the lives of unforgettable children I’ve worked with over my 26 year career as a Middle School English teacher at Thomas C. Armstrong Middle School, in Ontario, NY—children who have touched me deeply and walk with me still in memory, encouraging me to tell their stories of struggle, pain, heartbreak and ultimately redemption and healing. A longer version of “Naked Races,” a pivotal moment in my life, appears in that collection.

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Naked Races


In the dream, I find orange, blue and purple fishes caught in a tidal pool. They’re burning up in the sun, boiling in the salty soup. I dive on my belly and try to scoop up the live ones and free them in the sea, but they dart away. One by one, I watch them go belly up, their black eyes turning grey until they’re all dead.

I open my eyes, gasping, suffocating too.

It’s late August. There’s no air, no AC in my father’s house.

My best friend’s in the other bed. Her breaths are shallow. She’s not sleeping either. The streetlight filters through the sheer curtain hanging limp at the window, illuminating her silhouette, tousled mounds of black hair, dark whorls on her neck. My eyes slide over her shoulder, down the dip of her waist and up her narrow hip. I rest there on that rise.

“We gotta get outta here,” I whisper, touching my toes to the floor, then lowering my heels so there is no sound.

My bedroom is separated from my parents’ by a thin layer of dried out hardwood. On sleepover nights, they listen for creaks in the floorboards, their ceiling, and holler up, “What’re you two girls doing up there? Stop horsin’ around and go to sleep.”

Our horsin’ around requires silence.

They don’t hear us when we creep downstairs and out into the back yard.

Outside in the dew, the silvery moonlight, I touch the soft, thin skin of her wrist. “Let’s run naked races. Dare you.”

It’s the dare game. Play or be cursed. If you refuse the dare, you will live the rest of your days like Joe and Betty, my parents. And the vow. When we leave for college in a few weeks and start our real lives, we will never be them. My Father is a wall of “No’s.” Stone arms, chest, and legs, he stands wringing his rock hands, frozen in fear because disaster waits just over there, so stay here, don’t move. No. Don’t do anything. Joe’s life is a slow suffocation.

Betty bunches her apron in her fists because she’s had “Enough already” of scrubbed floors that never stay clean. Sometimes I catch her off her knees looking out windows she buffs until the glass disappears, looking for things that she can’t see. She looks for things about me, scouring my room for clues. She found a poem I ripped up and threw in the wastebasket. She had to spend hours taping the tiny, jagged shapes together so she could read it. “Is this about a girl?” She waved it in my face like it was on fire. “What does this mean?”

I didn’t have an answer so I didn’t give her one.

Sometimes, I have no words.

I stopped writing things down after that.

“Gotta take everything off,” I say.

She jerks her hand away. “That’s weird.”

I peel away my clothes. “No saying no to a dare.”

“Shit,” she tosses her shirt at me. Warm with her body’s cinnamon scent, it slides down my face, stomach, thighs and curls at my feet. I breathe her and look up. Bathed in crystalline moonlight, her body’s edges and mine blur, no skin of clothes between us. No Joe walls anymore. Nothing holding me down.

“Let’s run,” I say.

I break first, diving into the night. She’s breathing hard, her feet pounding the grass behind me.

When we get to the end of the block, I wade into the pool of light from the street lamp, raise my arms and call out, “Naked races!”

She pulls me into the shadows. “Somebody’s going to call the police.”

“Race ya back,” I say.

We swim through the dark, the deep, find each other in the watery air. We stroke in circles, whirling pools. Finally, the current brings us back, to face each other.

I want nothing between us ever again.

My hands float to her face, her open lips, her tongue on the tip of my finger. We step to each other, into each other and we are lips, soft mouths, tongues touching. Carried away, I cannot get close enough, my hands on the curve of her spine, her hips pressing into mine.

Words, unbelievable words, swim in my head. I am kissing my best friend and she loves it as much as I do.

I smile, pull away, dizzy with the power of what all this means.

“What?” she says.

I don’t have the words again.

“What’s wrong?” she says.

Finally, an answer. “Nothing,” I say. “Nothing is wrong.”

And we kiss, diving into each other over and over again. We finally stop when the first robin sings just before dawn.

I laugh, weep on this first day with our bodies together, open, free.

But she walks away and puts her clothes on.

I go to her, touch her cheek, smooth her hair back and kiss her forehead. “Say something.”

She lets me stay there, our lips close, her breath washing over my mouth. Then, she speaks. “I’m not lez. This will never ever happen again.”

I watch her walk up the backyard, into the house.

Left naked in a sea of grass, I watch her walk up the backyard, into the house and the answers come.

I don’t breathe air and she does. She can’t stay because I’m not horsin’ around.

Enough already.

I will not live slowly dying, boiling away, waiting for some air breather to save me, to change me.

All those times I pretended, it wasn’t my fault, my technique or the wrong guy. All those hims weren’t her, the one who can’t love me back.

But I am an exotic, emerald, cerulean and sapphire fish. Never ever again will I choke my gills shut in a strangle hold so nobody sees my scarlet, half-moon openings that keep me alive.

My fins writhing like silken veils, I dive into a vast and lovely deep.



What Jackie Won:


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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:

Ugly Pumpkins by Amy Bee, Sacramento, California

Angels Catching Frogs by Harriet Parke, Apollo, Pennsylvania

Embracing the Wait by Monica Sackman, Tonasket, Washington

The Passing by Sekai K. Ward, Ann Arbor, Michigan

Do Not Blame the Trees by Sarah Cannon, Edmonds, Washington

A Kind of Bargain by Hege A. Jakobsen Lepri, Toronto, Canada

My Body was a Weapon by Emily Samuelson, PhD, Towson, Maryland

What the Runners Up Won:


Congratulations to our Essay Contest Honorable Mentions! Your essays stood out and are excellent in every way.

Mis(ter)understanding by Leslie Hirst, Pawtucket, Rhode Island

Save the Chocolate Cake by Christine Stewart, Baltimore, Maryland

Home by Micki Berthelot Morency, Hudson, Florida

The Heart of What Matters by Elizabeth Eidlitz, Concord, Massachusetts

Filtered by Lynda Allison, Chame, Panama

Remains, Reminders by Mary Ann Savage, Watsonville, California

With Love Like the Sun by Emily Cool Greener, Glenwood Springs, Colorado

Giant Hotdog by Dawne Richards, Pompano Beach, Florida

Thirty-Two Words for Peace by Linda C. Wisniewski, Doylestown, Pennsylvania

A Shattering by Kathryn Spangler Bailey, Crystal Lake, Illinois


What the Honorable Mentions Won:


This brings the Q4 2018 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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