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 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: 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 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.
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 www.naomikimbell.com.
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 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: www.melaniedfaith.com.
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: Lisa Lucca
Las Cruces, New Mexico
Lisa Lucca has been writing most of her life about love, family and living true to who you are. As an essayist, she was chosen as a contributor to the anthology Water Cooler Diaries, and was a #BlogHer17 Voice of the Year Honoree for her piece Two Roofs, One Home. Lisa is a blogger for the Gay Dad Project, and her work has been published on a variety of online sites including Good Men Project and Midlife Boulevard.
Lisa co-authored You Are Loved...an email memoir, an epistolary story of her lifelong connection to her partner, Mark. She is currently at work on her own memoir, Black Sheep, which centers on the complicated journey to family acceptance.
A former music production roadie, Lisa has made her living for the past 15 years as a life coach. Recently, she and Mark moved from the San Francisco Bay Area to southern New Mexico to be writers in the desert. To follow her on social media, visit lisalucca.com.
The Ashes of a Purple Heart
“I’ll take his brains and heart,” I whispered to my sister when the funeral director presented us with the ashes of our father. One half was enshrined in a plain blue box, the other in a tube resembling a wine bottle gift holder, a photo of a golf club adorning the outside. My father had never golfed a day in his life. His interests were more suited to belting out show tunes or shopping for drapes.
Our share of Dad’s ashes was really a bit less than half each, as a handful of him is forever trapped inside a golden rose his partner, Benny, chose from a catalog at the funeral home. He will keep this on his dresser alongside other mementos from their nine-year relationship. Since Dina and I will both be scattering Dad’s remains, we chose between the two free temporary containers Sax-Tiedeman funeral home had laying around.
I picked the one Dad would hate the least.
Once I returned home, the box sat beside my TV, where an elderly Frankie Valli sang, “Can’t Take My Eyes off of You,” a song that flowed from the stereo in the dining room of my childhood. I’m pretty sure Dad performed that song in a talent show at Nippersink Resort in Wisconsin when I was twelve. Handsome and confident, he sang with gusto while my mom, Gram, my sister, and I applauded from the audience. We were his biggest fans.
That was the summer before I found out my father was gay.
No one actually told me this, my parents having been very careful to keep it a secret. Instead, I sort of figured it out by osmosis. Being gay wasn’t widely called that yet; queer was the term I remember, or fairy or homo or fag. There were a few references on television shows, like All in The Family, but even those were vague or steeped in shame or bigotry. Perhaps there was a dialogue about being gay in the early 1970s in New York or San Francisco; but in the Midwestern suburbs, no one talked about it. And especially not in front of the children.
My suspicion came a year after my parents’ divorce when I noticed Dad wasn’t dating. Instead, he had a constant companion in Terry, a cute, young guy in his early twenties who joined us for Sunday visits and then moved in with Dad. Add that to my father’s pickiness about cleaning, never watching sports or wrenching on cars, and his love of musical theater, and well, it didn’t take much to start asking questions.
For the next several decades, we took turns rejecting each other and longing for one another, each of us wanting something that didn’t come easily. I wanted a “normal” dad, the kind who dropped everything to protect his little girl, who moved her into her first apartment, who comforted her when she was sick. He wanted me to accept the dad he was: an emotionally distant genius who could do my taxes, and who happened to like men.
Tears flowed as it hit me that I would never speak to him again. For someone I spent many years despising because he didn’t love me the way I wanted him to, I was devastated that he had died. Even though there were many signs his health was failing, the reality of his body reduced to ash startled me. He couldn’t really be gone.
Yet, here he was, inside this boring blue box.
A decorating diva, my flamboyant father could barely stand to see a wall with more than twelve inches of blank space. The plain box just would not do until his next birthday when I planned to scatter him across the lagoon behind my house. There, he would rest for eternity, floating beside the Victorian painted ladies he loved during his years living in San Francisco. Until then, he needed something with a bit more flair.
Pouring myself a second glass of wine, I began pulling out magazines. Pictures of hearts and clocks got ripped out along with a tampon ad filled with butterflies. I tore out clichéd words of bereavement and inspiration. Threshold. Serenity. Wisdom. A love that can endure. The things I wanted for him and those he left behind for me. They all landed in a pile on my lap.
Gluing the words and images to the box, a large, colorful Feeling Good took center stage across the top. This was the thing he wanted most, and what had eluded him for the last decade of his life; so many years were focused on numbing his pain, real and imagined. Like a ransom note, I pieced together the words: Remember your family all love you. A message to be deciphered in the afterlife since I’m not sure he really knew this while he was living, at least not all of us at the same time.
By now, the tears and wine were really flowing. I drained the last of the bottle into my glass and sobbed as my memories of my father softened with each stroke of the glue stick. My love for him and who he was were reflected in the quotes chosen for the sides of the box, the things that he may not have directly taught me, yet I learned from him all the same. Things about believing in yourself and doing what you love.
In the last year of his life, I had come to better appreciate the man my father was and accepted that he only wanted what we all did: to love and be loved. That him being gay didn’t hurt me, judging it did.
Flipping through the last magazine, I found the letters RIP on one page in an elegant, curvy script—an exciting find. I cut them out and carefully glued them beside a purple heart.
Rest now, Dad. Your battle is over. I honor you for the wounds you suffered, especially those inflicted by me.
What Lisa Won:
2nd Place: Ilene Haddad
Ilene Haddad is a graphic designer and cartoonist who recently added writer to her titles. Ilene studied graphic design at the University of Texas at Austin and has run her own design studio for the past 20 years. She was a recipient of the Women in Communications’ Anne Durrum Robinson Creative Initiative Award for founding BlogathonATX (a central Texas blogging conference) and was an Austin American-Statesman Social Media Award finalist. Most recently, she was a finalist in the Writers’ League of Texas’ annual manuscript contest for her current project, a humorous, illustrated memoir about her mixed/mixed up marriage. Ilene lives in Austin with her eccentric husband and two useless lapdogs, all of whom feature prominently in her cartoons and book. Ilene spends way too much time on social media. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. It is virtually impossible not to find her.
For Every Season There is a Casserole
When a Catholic marries a Jew, time becomes tectonic. Combine a Catholic wedding with pretty much any Jewish holiday, and you’ve got a good six to eight hours of guilt and boredom. Only Hindus and the American advertising cabal have more holidays than Catholics and Jews. And if you marry a Jew, you’re getting the raw end of a not-so-kosher deal, which is exactly what happened to my Catholic husband, Bill, when he married me.
It isn’t just the number of holidays on the Jewish calendar that makes them so painful—it’s their duration. Catholic Mass is no match for the brutal Bar Mitzvah. Nothing makes you pray harder than spending three hours listening to a prepubescent zit factory sing in Hebrew. Then there are holiday services for Rosh Hashanah (the new year) and Yom Kippur (a fasting day of atonement), which last longer than most Netflix binges.
Prayer marathons aside, some holidays have nothing to do with religious traditions but rather with secular ones such as patriotism and football.
IN THE BEGINNING:
Our new year starts at 10:00 p.m. on December 31st, right before we fall asleep to “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve.” It’s a time to look toward the future and make resolutions, which grow up to be February’s unfulfilled promises. But February is about more than just promises; it’s about expectations, which brings us to Valentine’s Day.
The holiday that’s supposed to represent love and romance has sparked more conflicts in our household than the status of the toilet seat. Early in our relationship, Bill actively fought the notion of forced romance. He boycotted the holiday on principle, which made both of us miserable and had absolutely no effect on Hallmark’s bottom line.
All I wanted was a card with a heart on it or maybe some flowers, but Bill dug in his heels. My silent treatments were no match for his inability to process passive-aggressiveness. The closest he came to recognizing Valentine’s Day was when he hit the candy sales on February 15th. I once went so far as to report him to our therapist, who patiently listened to each of us make our case then told Bill to get over it and give me a Valentine’s Day card. (And they say therapy is hard.)
Springtime brings on two heavyweights. Easter, The Movable Feast, is one of the most important holidays on the Christian calendar. Passover, The Unmovable Feast, is one of the most constipating holidays on the Jewish calendar. Bill’s family celebrates the rebirth of a savior. Mine celebrates insects and murder. Both holidays serve wine and crackers.
On our first Easter together, I put on bunny ears and surprised Bill with an Easter basket. I learned an important lesson that day: Only one thing belongs in an Easter basket, and that thing is candy. Additions of Speed Stick and Dial only serve to give chocolate strange and unappealing undertones.
Passover, like most Jewish holidays, revolves around food. We refer to the traditional Passover meal as the Seder, but to call a Seder a meal is like calling Jell-O dessert. Instead of ham (for obvious reasons) and chocolate bunnies in colorful baskets, we get matzo balls (Jewish dumplings), mandel bread (Jewish biscotti), and gefilte fish (nobody knows). At especially fun Seders, we’re treated to kosher pound cake, which is like swallowing an encyclopedia made of clay.
An important part of the Seder is telling the story of Passover, which my family does in play format. Bill, our token Arab, is just one scepter away from the real deal, so we always choose him to play the role of Pharaoh. He’s an optimistic method actor who tries to bring the role home with him at the end of the night for some post-Seder slave-girl role-play. Unfortunately for poor old Pharaoh, this suggestion is met with my proposing a different game called, “Guess Who’s Sleeping on the Couch Tonight.”
SWEAT AND GRATITUDE:
Summertime is hot by the pool and light on holidays. July 4th is an easy, neutral holiday when we celebrate independence and (kosher) hot dogs. Other neutral holidays include Halloween, New Year’s Eve, National Doughnut Day, and Thanksgiving.
For many years, Bill and I argued over where to overeat for Thanksgiving—Austin with my family or Waco with his. We eventually settled on switching back and forth each year, which was how we became aware of the stark contrast between our family backgrounds.
For example, at Bill’s Thanksgiving, family and friends gather for a day of gratitude. At my Thanksgiving, family and friends gather to discuss their medical conditions. At Bill’s Thanksgiving, it’s customary to serve sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie, whereas its Hebrew cousin serves up mortar and insults. Jewish Thanksgiving is the embarrassing brother-in-law of secular holidays, and he can’t hold his liquor.
Christmas and Chanukah get lumped together during the time of year we heathens refer to as “The Holidays.” Christmas is a holy time commemorating the birth of a savior. Chanukah is a less holy time commemorating olive oil and frugality. The only thing remotely similar between the two is the tradition of exchanging gifts, but even that’s not a fair comparison. Contrary to popular belief, eight nights of Chanukah doesn’t translate into eight nights of gifts. It means one night of gifts and seven nights of sweaters and underwear. Chanukah is essentially a festive, candlelit trip to Macy’s.
One year we blew off our holiday obligations entirely and headed to Las Vegas, which was like a trip to the Holy Land but with hookers. We spent a week eating at fancy restaurants, seeing shows and praying over the roulette wheel—and just like any other holiday celebration, we came home poor and nauseated. It was the one and only time we skipped the double trouble of family holidays though. Call us sentimental suckers for punishment, but let’s face it—the holidays are about family, and ours is twice the fun.
What Ilene Won:
3rd Place: Sandra Blair, MD
Sandra Kay Blair fell in love with writing after a failed attempt at the National Novel Writing Month. She writes a variety of pieces from twisted adult flash to lighthearted children’s books. Her adult story placed tenth and her children’s story received an honorable mention in the 2016 Atlantis Short Story Contest. Three of her stories have been finalists in the WOW! Women on Writing Flash Fiction Contest. Her published books include Alphabet Animals: I Spy My ABCs (illustrator and author) and Funny Texas Sayings (illustrator). She’s working on Alphabet Animals Book 2. She lives in Austin with her husband, her son, her daughter, and two dogs. Visit her website at sandrablairproductions.com.
When I shop for fresh chicken, I look for the leanest possible. I’m not counting calories. My preference was rooted years ago in medical school, first year gross anatomy.
Chicken fat is remarkably similar to human fat, yellow and pebbly. After soaking in formaldehyde for months, human flesh also resembles that of a chicken—cold, slightly sticky with a slimy undercoat. Finger pokes leave concave depressions.
Contrary to popular belief and the entertainment industry, medical students do not ridicule our cadavers. All the students I knew were subdued, slightly traumatized by the sight of our first dead body.
My table held a very thin elderly woman. We were lucky. On the next table lay a two-hundred-pound male with a Semper Fi tattoo. We named him Sarge.
The smell of formaldehyde permeated our hair, our clothes, our skin. We no longer noticed it on ourselves, but the upper class pegged us first years in an instant. Laypeople probably thought we had poor hygiene.
Under the skin lies a layer of fat called visceral fat, then the abdominal muscles, then the perineal fat. Strength is needed to grip and pull back the layers, our upper body often within another human. I distanced myself with rote memorization. Words like glossopharyngeal and prepuce became the armor I wore to protect myself against feeling.
Unfortunately, it did not always work. Things would bring me back to reality. At night, in the shower, I would sometimes find dried fat tangled in my long curls. Turning the temperature to scalding, a fog would envelope me. I would scratch at the piece until it dislodged and spiraled down the drain, dancing so not to step on it. Scrubbing furiously, my scalp turned raw, my hands and arms red and stinging painfully.
It was after graduation that the nightmares started. Waking up in a cold sweat, I felt compelled to check all the rooms, the closets, the freezer, especially.
Twenty years later, the nightmares are long gone. All that is left is the revulsion I feel at the touch of raw chicken.
What Sandra 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.
Congratulations to Mari for winning the COVR Visionary Award for her international best-seller, Journaling Power: How to Create the Happy, Healthy Life You Want to Live!
“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
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:
What If by Miranda Keller, Puget Sound, Washington
Just Like Bogie and Bacall by Rose Ann Sinay, New Preston, Connecticut
The Geometry of Grief by Evelyn Krieger, Boston, Massachusetts
My Temporary Complex by Charlotte Hayden, Wales, United Kingdom
The Bathroom Floor by Bethany Hutson, Wales, United Kingdom
Mother Moon and Me by Alicia Ezekiel-Pipkin, Orlando, Florida
Marriage and Other Risks of a One-Night Stand by Ilene Haddad, Austin, Texas
Congratulations to our Essay Contest Honorable Mentions! Your essays stood out and are excellent in every way.
A Seventeen Year Difference by Kristin Gallagher, Miami Beach, Florida
The Six Words You Should Never Say to a Hairstyling Student by Dawne Richards, Pompano Beach, Florida
Look At Me by Caitlyn Silver, Silver Spring, Maryland
Exile by Agata Western, Galway, Ireland
Fear and Falls by Margaret Shafer, Morton, Illinois
For Danni by April Vázquez, León Guanajuato, Mexico
Fleabotomy by Cindy Dayneswood, Gibsons, B.C., Canada
Guarding the Nest by Lori Miller Kase, Simsbury, Connecticut
Driving Home with My Brother on a Thursday Afternoon by Ashley Galura, South Jordan, Utah
Pretty in Pink by Susan M. Cochrane, Minneapolis, Minnesota
What the Honorable Mentions Won:
This brings the Q1 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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