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.
Sarah Broussard Weaver
Sarah Broussard Weaver is currently in her second year of the Rainier Writing Workshop MFA program at PLU. Her work has appeared in Full Grown People, The Nervous Breakdown, The Bitter Southerner, Brevity, Crack the Spine, and Hippocampus, among others. She lives in the hills of Portland, Oregon.
Melanie Faith is a poet, fictionist, photographer, auntie, and professor. Her craft book about how to write flash fiction and nonfiction, entitled In a Flash! was published in April 2018, and a craft book for poets, Poetry Power, was published in late October 2018 (also by Vine Leaves Press). Her historical poetry collection, This Passing Fever, set in the 1918 influenza epidemic, was published by Future Cycle press in early September 2017. Her Jane-Austen style Regency novella was also published in September 2017 by Uncial Press and RONE-award nominated. Her writing has been nominated for three Pushcart Prizes. Her short stories were recently published in Red Coyote and SunLit Fiction. Her poetry most-recently appeared in Prometheus Dreaming (May 2019), Up North Lit, Meniscus, and in Fredericksburg Literary and Art Review. Her photography recently appeared in Barren Magazine, Fourth & Sycamore, Harbor Review, Sum Journal, and And So Yeah. In 2018, two of her craft books were published, and her next book, Photography for Writers, will be available in December 2019 from Vine Leaves Press. Learn more about her latest projects at: www.melaniedfaith.com/blog/.
Thanks to our in-house WOW Judges:
As always, thank you to the WOW! staff for your careful deliberation and attention to detail. Special thanks to out to Margo L. Dill and Angela Mackintosh for helping out with this contest.
Note to Contestants:
We want to thank each and every one of you for sharing your wonderful essays with our guest judges this season. We know it takes a lot to hit the send button! While we’d love to give every contestant a prize, just for your writing efforts, that wouldn’t be much of a competition. One of the hardest things we do after a contest ends is to confirm that someone didn’t place in the winners’ circle. But, believe it when we say that every one of you is a true winner.
Every writer has been a gracious participant through the whole process, from the beginning of one season to the next. We’ve written emails to authors, agents, and publicists who have donated books to our contest, and we’ve shared our delight regarding the true sportsmanship among our contestants. It doesn’t matter if it’s one writer who placed or another who tried but didn’t; all writers are courteous, professional, and wonderful extensions of WOW! Women On Writing’s team. Writers’ essays and e-mails fill us with enthusiasm.
Kudos to all writers who entered, whether you won or not, you’re still a winner for participating.
To recap our current process, we have a roundtable of 4-7 judges who blindly score equally formatted submissions based on: Subject, Content, Technical, and Overall Impression (Style). That’s the first step of the process. If a contestant scores well on the first round, she receives an e-mail notification that she passed the initial judging phase. The second round judging averages out scores and narrows down the top 20 entries. From this point, our guest judge helps to determine the First, Second, and Third Place Winners, followed by the Runners Up.
As with any contest, judging so many talented writers is not a simple process. With blind judging, all contestants start from the same point, no matter the skill level, experience, or writing credentials. It’s the writer’s essay and voice that shines through, along with the originality, powerful and clear writing, and the writer’s heart.
We’ve enjoyed reading your essays, each and every one of them. The WOW! Women On Writing judges take time to read them all. We recognize names of previous contestants, writers familiar with our style. We enjoy getting to know you through your writing and e-mailing. Remember that each one of you is a champion in our book. We hope that you continue to enter so we can watch you grow as writers and essayists, because each season is a rebirth of opportunity.
Now on to the winners!
Drum roll please....
1st Place: Jennifer Dove Lewis
Jennifer lives in Tucson, AZ with her best friend and greatest supporter, Ryan, two of their children, Auburn and Colton, and their amazingly lazy dog, Sophy. Her oldest son, Jakob, is living the dream as a sophomore at West Virginia University. Go Mountaineers!
Jennifer has her Master’s degree in Professional Counseling from Liberty University, but has spent most of her adult life working in the military, and in the Intel and defense industries, as a security specialist. Her secret love and passion has always been writing, most of which she sneaks in during the wee hours of the morning, quick lunch breaks, and late at night when the world is finally quiet.
Armed with plenty of tea and cookies, Jennifer can bust out a hundred words with the best of them, before becoming distracted by some mundane life task. She is a pro at building Pinterest boards, baking highly caloric foods, attending book (wine) club, and reading everything she can get her hands on. She also has a fairly impressive brown thumb and enjoys growing and killing vegetables in the harsh Arizona desert. Her first novel, A Year in Exile, is in the works and is expected to be complete by Fall 2019!
You can follow Jennifer on her writing, baking, and plant-killing journey at her brand new Instagram @jenydoves.
In the Trenches
It was an unusually beautiful night. I lay perfectly still in the snow, staring up at the black sky, trying not to breathe. Were there stars? I can no longer remember. The twenty-three years between me and the ditch are a testament to my survival, but in the moment my only hope was to die. I wanted to lie there, become numb in the snow, my senses slowly dulling until I could no longer keep my eyes open, and then peacefully drift away. I wasn’t in Alaska, though, or frigid North Dakota. I was in Virginia, and the winter was mild to moderate at most. It would take starving to die in these conditions. In my youthful mind, death romanticized was mere moments away.
I met him in fifth grade. He was in Math, I was in English, and only a partition separated us from one another. He passed me a note that read “Will you be my girlfriend?” I marked the yes box, and forever sealed my fate. He always smelled like Black Suede. The scent coated my nose and throat like tar, but I breathed him in like oxygen. Throughout high school, we were tethered to one another, the way young lovers are, the way he wanted it to be. Small town Appalachia didn’t offer many outs, so when he joined the Army, I followed him. Of course I did.
Under his reign, I grew smaller and smaller and smaller. So small, the real me no longer existed in the outside world. I had disappeared into his world, and it was ugly, and harsh, and dark. Unlike the world I grew up in, where lazy evenings were filled with barbecues and fireflies, his was a world where dinner could be dangerous. A world where corn should be peas, and burnt bread was a sin. Friends and family could no longer reach me. I was so hidden inside my defenses that even I thought he was a great guy. His was a rough childhood, it truly was. He didn’t mean it, and he was sorry, and I could save him. I could heal him. Very polite, a cop once told me as trickles of blood and tears dripped warmly down my cheek. Seemed hard to believe he would hurt me, he said. I nodded. Yes, he was very polite, indeed.
And yet there I was, flat upon my back in a snowy ditch, trying hard not to move as he sped up and down the deserted back road, screaming my name. His voice was hoarse with alcohol, asthma, and adrenaline. He was sorry. I would forgive him. I didn’t know it at the time, because my plan was death. But I would forgive him, and forgive him, and forgive him. I didn’t know I would one day write my memoir and out him to the world. I didn’t know I would endure three more years of his anger, his depression, and his threats of self-harm. And his grip. His strange and persuasive grip that would keep me bound and quiet and staunchly on his side. Until I wasn’t. One day I would wake up on the other side, my side, but that night, I didn’t know this.
All I knew then was the snow and the cold. The comfort of lying in my dark, icy cocoon. Untouchable. Up the road I could see a house with the warm glow of light in one window. I would go there eventually. They would look at me oddly, but their kindness and upbringing would force them to invite me in, no questions asked. Southern hospitality. I would call for help, call friends who barely knew me, but who were always willing to offer shelter. My pride would suffer once again as I lay on their couch. Tears would drift slowly into the fabric, seeping into every fiber, leaving my mark and part of my soul. My soul is spread everywhere.
The ditch was not a turning point. It should have been, but it wasn’t. It was not a wake-up call, or a punch in the gut, or a slap in the face. It wasn’t special, or noteworthy, or life-changing. It was just a moment. As I lay there, it felt like THE moment. The last moment. The moment to end all the other fucked up moments. But in the end, it wasn’t. It was just like all the other moments. So. Many. Moments. I let my mind go blank, sinking into the darkness of the night, barely feeling the gentle snowflakes settling on my cheeks. It really was a beautiful night.
What Jennifer Won:
2nd Place: Beatrix Hawkins
St. Louis, Missouri
Bea Hawkins is a legal assistant by day and closeted creative nonfiction writer by night, who has lived all over St. Louis, Missouri. When she isn’t editing legal documents, you can find her making sarcastic comments to her husband, buried under a heap of their snuggly children and dogs, or daydreaming in her ever-growing garden.
Her first writing gigs began in middle school where she would barter editing and writing tips in exchange for help with her much-dreaded algebra homework. Forever fascinated with the human experience and the secrets we all keep, circumstances led her to try and empathetically rationalize a charmingly dysfunctional upbringing. She has learned so much about the Universe and humanity, and that, we all battle the chaos hurled our way from time-to-time. And, like any other wildflower, it isn’t until you are completely ripped apart from where you once stood firmly, that you are able to see just how strong your own self-made roots truly are. It is always the deepest and darkest parts we bury, that eventually fight their way toward sunlight. Only recently, has she felt brave enough to share these parts with you.
“Nomadic Spell” is her first published work. She is currently working on a collection of essays involving the resiliency of the human spirit and staying afloat in the beautiful, but dark waters of mental illness and unpredictability she experienced throughout childhood... and beyond... She is also working on creating her own website (beahawkins.com). In the meantime, please feel free to reach out to her at beahawk.ink[at]gmail[dot]com.
We hadn’t made it one city block before we heard the screaming and slamming doors, sounds I intuitively knew were for me. I distracted Winks, trying to make her laugh. My internal Doppler radar instinctively sensing the storm brewing, igniting all of my senses to immediately sharpen. Get her inside, now. No normal, 11 year old girl needs to see this. I told Winks to go ahead in, despite her concerned and curious eyes begging to come see.
“Don’t worry about that.”
I looked at her with an intensity that captured her for a moment.
“Seriously, I’ll be fine, Winks. Oh, and I forgot to tell you – Got you last!” With a quick slug to her arm, I dodged her attempted return and darted back down the steps. Sixth grade snickers quickly sent prank-filled endorphins pulsing through me. Momentary happiness frozen in time.
Victoriously walking backwards, I gave a gloated smirk to Winks. My mouthful of glistening metal tracks glued to crooked teeth, made the sting of her temporary defeat that much more painful. I waved to her grandmother waiting by the door and boasted, “Better get in there! It’s rude to keep your grandma waiting.”
More screaming, more slamming. From my view, I could see my mother hurling stuffed black trash bags into the street, my heart now thumping in my throat.
“Are you sure?”
“You just worry about having Serial Mom loaded in the VCR, OK? I’ll see you after dinner.”
Rubbing her arm in an attempt to soothe her bruised ego she said, “You’re lucky this time. I’ll get you back good tonight.”
“Doubt it, lady!” I yelled back to her as I ran the three doors down to my grandma’s. Home.
In August I found myself unpacking boxes in our new apartment, constantly checking the phone for a dial tone and asking my mother when, if ever, the phone company would turn it on. A day that had kept me going had arrived. I had to call Winks and tell her I was alive and had not vanished into thin air.
“Lady of the house, could I interest you in updating your cahhhrpet?”
“Yeah, it’s just me.”
“Where in the hell have you been? I’ve been worried sick. You just disappeared. I called and went over to your grandma’s every day for months and she had no idea where you were. I was ready to put your face on milk cartons.”
I laughed and sarcastically said, “Please tell me you didn’t.”
I was frozen in humiliation. “We moved, is all.”
“Moved? I’ve never done it, but it doesn’t take 3 months to move, right?”
She planted a summer’s worth of questions, memories, and gossip in my ear while I struggled to unlock shackled words buried in my own storage unit of shame.
I couldn’t tell her that my mom’s red ’86 Ford Escort had been my home that summer.
I couldn’t tell her that we’d drive all night for reasons I’d never understand. My lost eyes and heavy heart kept my mother company, while I searched for answers somewhere in the stars. Hot air, dust, and exhaust rusted in my lungs while I revisited familiar landscapes of my former lives. Red lights offered literal daydreams about the lives of paused strangers. I caught myself wondering, had it all been a dream, tucked inside me on my grandma’s bed?
I couldn’t tell her that we desperately drove for miles—through hours and countless lifetimes, passing everywhere, landing nowhere. Seated with my feet on the dash, I read entire newspapers, want-ads, and apartment and job listings. I circled impossible futures. I felt like a weary traveler in my own city, now twelve, aged and ragged from the road. Blinking back hot tears today, I watched myself “bathe” over gas station sinks, seeing the Neapolitan ice cream tan lines and pleather seat patterns imprinted on my skin.
I couldn’t tell her that I was only one block away from her home, and in a motel on the nights we caught a break. The nights my mother had made empty promises to former lovers in exchange for a one-bed motel room near the buzzing of the highway. The nights I felt a spiritual experience and immense gratitude when washing the dust and grime off my body and slipping into cold sheets. The nights I knelt before the motel window, watching the sunset and hearing the whoosh of the cars speeding somewhere beyond me, leaving me behind again... and again... and again. The nights I wondered where they were going and if I could ever be happy there? Most of all, I wondered, were there other girls like me? And I would cry for them.
In the daylight, I would turn dark. No roots, I’d think to myself. Trees with weak roots, rot ... I had never felt solid to the earth. No roots. I floated like a wildflower seed. Always a drifting weed, left to feel unwelcome in any stable garden. Blown wherever the wind took me, never enough time to fully settle into the earth once more. Always uprooted. Returned to fragility and unpredictable winds.
Near the end of our rummage, I had lost parts of myself. And, I didn’t care much. I felt them float away, no strength or reason to hang on to them. I would hang all of my weight against that shitty red door, hoping to tumble out and into the street where we belonged. I would lie there, broken and scarred. My body matched with spirit. I’d pray that no one would notice I was even gone. Red tail lights leaving me behind for good. Finally free to float with the wind, rather than against it.
A new road to walk alone.
Moonlit eyes wished to be at peace, while the crickets sang for me.
Turn after turn.
Loop after loop.
Seed by seed, floating away.
What Bea Won:
3rd Place: Jessica Pace
Saint Paul, Minnesota
Although Jessica was born in Japan, she was raised all over the United States. Adopted into a military family, she saw different places and experienced life in California, Texas, Alaska, and Montana. When she was in grade school, Jessica thought she would become a neurologist, because she was fascinated by the human brain. Many years later, she graduated from Western Washington University with an English degree. At that point, she thought she might become a graduate student and publish a collection of poetry. As life would have it, five years later she began her graduate studies at Hamline University where she earned her MFA with a creative nonfiction emphasis.
When she’s not busy slinging denim and sizing dress shirts at her retain job as a back-of-house merchandising specialist, she tutors students online. She does her best to give feedback and provide personalized writing lessons to a variety of writers. This is the first time her nonfiction writing has been selected for publication.
You’re a new girl in elementary school and feel smothered by the white outside. You hate how dark and cold Alaska makes you feel. Your first day involves the teacher making you stand to introduce yourself. Twelve pairs of eyes lock on. You blurt out that you were adopted from Japan.
Sift the sugar and flour together with an unnecessary amount of force; notice how seamlessly the two ingredients blend into one finely ground powder. Whisk eggs until light and frothy, either with an electric mixer or by hand. Whisk until you feel your shoulder will detach itself from your body. Separation. Detachment.
Sit at the back of the bus and watch a plume of exhaust dissipate. A tap on your shoulder. Wiggle your way around to face a boy in thick glasses. He swipes at his dripping nose with the palm of his hand and grins. “Why are your eyes like this?” He tugs at the outer corners of his eyes, pulling them into thin slits. His loose, crooked teeth make you sick.
Puncture the top of a banana with your thumbnail, and tug the peel back to reveal the strange off-white fruit. Slice each banana into the bowl, and mash them with a fork. Add bananas and a half cup of milk to the sugar and egg. Gradually stir in flour mixture, beating just until smooth. Turn batter into prepared loaf pan and bake one hour.
Rest your chin on the forest green vinyl of the seat back. “No, my eyes are like this!” You scream at him as you open your eyes wide. You can’t escape your own face, so once you’re home you tell Mom about the kid in glasses. You cry because you don’t understand why he would ask such a question. You cry harder because you don’t know why you’re upset.
Slice a piece of banana bread and let the warmth slowly build. Take that warmth to work and share a slice of bread with your friend. Explain this interesting concept you’re coming to terms with, the fact that you are a banana: yellow on the outside, but white on the inside. She scrunches her nose, grimaces, shakes her head. That’s awful! What a terribly racist thing to call somebody!
In Japan and other Southeast Asian countries, tan or dark skin was often frowned upon because it meant those people labored in the fields. White or light skin became a sign of wealth, because those with pale skin could afford to avoid the perceived lower class field work. Today, some facial creams and lotions still contain bleaching or whitening agents to go beyond mere sunscreen protection.
The traditional, often most recognizable white makeup mask worn by geisha was originally lead-based, but toward the end of the Meiji Era it was replaced with rice powder makeup. Geisha apprentices, or maiko, often wear the full makeup, which gives the illusion of a white mask.
As you continue eating, visualize absorbing these concepts into your body. Gnaw on the memory of the boy who pulled and contorted his face to make you question your own. Nibble at the grey, muddled concepts of whiteness, perceived beauty, and social standing. Take in the truth of your identity with slow, meticulous bites. Swallow these down; let them fuel your desire for more.
What Jessica 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 the runners-up! It was very close, and these essays are excellent in every way.
Click on the titles to read:
Wishing Tree by Ellie Golder, Basel, Switzerland
Morning After Text by Natalie Beisner, Los Angeles, California
A Quiet Man by Wayne Scheer, Atlanta, Georgia
Gifts by Taprina Milburn, Edmond, Oklahoma
Waking Up by Brigitte Watson, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
04/2019 by Persephone Pilibossian, Arizona
Paralysis by Stephanie Austin, Phoenix, Arizona
Congratulations to our Essay Contest Honorable Mentions! Your essays stood out and are excellent in every way.
Death, a Million Times Over by Erin Navaro, Cincinnati, Ohio
Congratulations! You’re 40 and Finally Managing Your Mental Illness! What Shall You Do First? by Amy Bee, Sacramento, California
Angels in Windows by Sharon Frame Gay, Sammamish, Washington
After the Fire 01-07-19 by Dina Andre, Valencia, California
Where Are We Going? by Phyllis Reilly, Croton on Hudson, New York
My First Camel Ride by E. Izabelle Cassandra Alexander, Des Plaines, Illinois
Turning Fifteen by Claire Megan Montgomery, Asturias, Spain
I Can Tell by Looking by Dana Starr, Ransom Canyon, Texas
Reruns by Harriet Parke, Apollo, Pennsylvania
Someone’s Mother by Jennifer Callinan, West Chester, Pennsylvania
What the Honorable Mentions Won:
This brings the Q3 2019 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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