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WOW! Q4 2019 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 Salon, Brevity, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, The Normal School, Hobart, The Rumpus, Essay Daily, and Black Warrior Review, among many others. Her third collection of essays, Human Heartbeat Detected, is forthcoming from Red Hen Press. 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 and 2018 notables. She has an MFA in creative nonfiction with distinction from National University. Visit her website at or follow her on Twitter @melgrunow.


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 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:


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 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 Winner
1st Place:  Connally Jae
Springfield, Missouri
Congratulations, Connally!
Connally Jae

Connally’s Bio:

Connally is a five-foot-nothing dreamer with an all encompassing love for stationary supplies and a fascination with ancient mythology and folk lore studies. She’s been writing stories as long as she can remember but has only recently began pursuing her dream of becoming a full-time author.

She resides in the Midwest with her husband and beloved dog, Steve. Besides reading everything under the sun, she spends her free time going on nature hikes with her family, traveling to as many new places as possible, and attempting to learn Korean and American Sign Language.

She is currently editing her debut novel to be released in Summer 2020. Keep up with her writing adventures by following @connallyjae on Instagram.

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You Were Just Driving Home


He got into your car without asking permission.
Moved your bag and smiled kindly, harmlessly.
Asked to take you to lunch.
You said no, politely, you just thought there was something wrong with your car.
Your gut is squirming; this doesn’t feel right.
He keeps smiling, less kindly.
Asks for a kiss.
You lean away, gut screaming, hand fumbling for your phone.
You smile with lips too tight and say, “No, I’m married you see.”
He laughs and it makes you want to run.
He says that he is too, turns to face you directly.
His smile looks dangerous now.
You don’t understand, you just want him out of your car.
You ask him to leave, words choking around the lump in your throat.
He takes his glasses off, places them on the dashboard and says,
“I’m just asking for a kiss and then I’ll leave.”
You’re dialing without thinking, relieved that it’s only three numbers.
You want to look around, to check for others, for help,
but you remember reading somewhere not to take your eyes off the danger.
You don’t look away.
Helpless, just wanting him out of your car.
Why aren’t they picking up?
How long has it been ringing?
He leans forward, assessing and there’s nowhere for you to go and your breath stutters in your chest.
He says he’ll go, and he extends a hand like he’s a friend, like this was perfectly normal.
You don’t want to touch him, the repetitive ringing echoing faintly in your ear.
You just want him to leave.
Cornered, trapped, you gingerly reach to shake his hand.
He tightens his grip and pulls you forward and you jerk back, terror clawing through you.
The phone is still ringing.
He sighs, like you were a disappointing child, and gets out.
You’re shaking, can feel tears burning though they haven’t fallen.
Still alone, line still ringing.
It takes you two attempts before you can put your car into reverse.
A different ringing, your husband’s name on the screen and the dam breaks with a flood.
You’re driving, no destination, just away.
Eyes fixed in the rear view mirror to make sure he isn’t following you.
Yellow lines on asphalt blur and you slow down; your husband is asking if you’re okay, what happened.
At the police station, the lady at reception only has to hear one choked out sentence.
She’s calling an officer, telling you someone will be here soon.
You sit in the hard plastic chair, and try not to let your skin crawl.
All you want is a shower and sleep and to not think about his smile.
But you don’t want him to hurt anyone else.
Even if you feel stupid and embarrassed.
This wasn’t your fault; why do you feel like this?
The cop listens patiently while you get through the story, brief but as many details as you can remember.
You cry at the end, and you hate it, makes you feel weak.
He asks a few questions, but shrugs.
“No crime actually occurred,” he says.
Doesn’t write anything down, doesn’t take your name.
No, no, that’s wrong, you want to protest.
What if he’s doing this to someone else?
To a girl too scared to say no, a girl too young to pull away?
The police man says he’s never heard of this happening before
but he’ll send an email.
Tells you what to do next time: don’t stop, call 911 earlier.
You know he’s just trying to help, but all you hear is
you shouldn’t have stopped.
Your fault.
Your fault,
Beats like a drum in your skull.
You want to scream or hit something, rage against a world that puts this on you.
You never asked him to get into your car.
You said no, you told him to leave, why didn’t he listen?
It’s not my fault he didn’t listen, it’s not my fault.
But you feel it in the pitying eyes of the cop, echoing in the empty hallway on your way out.
Your fault, little girl.
There are people out there who won’t treat you like a human, like an equal,
and it’s up to you to make sure they can’t hurt you.
The weight of it is tugging you down, making your bones heavy and your heart sad.
“Too much,” you cry.
“It’s not my fault,” you whisper.
“Don’t be stupid,” the world tells you.



What Connally Won:

2nd Place Winner
2nd Place:  Michelle Dwyer
Cedar Park, Texas
Congratulations, Michelle!
Michelle Dwyer

Michelle’s Bio:

Michelle lives in Cedar Park, Texas, not too far from her eldest son, whom she affectionately refers to as her Aggie graduate. Her youngest son lives at home and is completing his first year of college. She is a single parent, and has often lost her mind. She says her daily life of chaos brings out her best writing.

By day, Michelle works for Sun City’s fitness department in Georgetown, Texas as a certified personal trainer and Parkinson’s group fitness instructor. By night, and by the crack of dawn, she writes after the world has gone to sleep and right before it awakens. She received her MBA from Texas A&M University Central Texas/Tarleton State University, and her MFA in creative writing from National University in La Jolla, California.

Michelle has been writing for twenty years, published a compilation of short stories, and is currently working on the prequel to her breakout novel, Intimate Nightmares. She writes fiction under the pen name Krymzen Hall.

Visit her at

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The E is Silent


Stalking, at its worst, typically centers on a clinically insane freak standing at the ready to kill another human being via a cut to the throat or a shot through the heart. Perhaps the stalker pictures a happy ending in the irrational fixation on a stranger who rejects the maniac’s creepy advances.

But the urge to stalk can also afflict a rational person housing a beautiful yet wounded heart, shattered to its foundation, the result of a lingering ache and a million unanswered questions. This impulse means no harm, the result of somebody leaving another somebody—you—to die on the side of the road in singlehood. Maybe this jilt came after a poor explanation of why he didn’t want you anymore; maybe he cut off all contact, leaving you wondering what you did wrong. The length of time spent together doesn’t matter, whether a month of beautiful evenings or a couple of destructive years. Abandonment can lash any woman, carrying the same pain and destruction as a Cat 5 heading to shore.

You feel lost, wanting answers, wanting closure, but most of all, wanting him. You might wait a day to see if all this equates to nothing more than a bad dream. But it doesn’t. You grasp at anything to see him, to check up on his behaviors, maybe catch a glimpse inside his mind, or a glimpse of his body inside another girl.

Innocently enough, your stalking starts online, on every social media profile you know he indulges. This expands to checking for multiple pages under multiple aliases, staying up all night, wondering the price of facial recognition software.

You send a text only to receive no response. Days pass. You grow more confused and more obsessed. Dare you admit it, but your love has morphed into addiction. He’s no longer your heart; he’s your heroin.

You perform a quick drive-by of his house, moving slow enough to analyze every car in the driveway, every light on, off, or worse, dim, and every movement seen through the window. You don’t think of what happens if he’s outside. Deep down, that’s your wish.

You suffer at work, can barely think, and teeter on losing your job. You look like shit, haven’t practiced self-care in weeks.

Then, when you can’t dip lower, you discover the girlfriend, maybe new, maybe old, but your replacement nonetheless. Your self-esteem plummets below the bottom. You think of ways to look like her, to the point you will erase your own identity to be the lucky girl with the awesome guy who let your ass go.

Months go by until you can’t take it anymore, until you wake up at three a.m. realizing you fell asleep crying on the floor as the corner of the picture frame presses into your clavicle, the frame holding his beloved facial features.

You dry up every love song alive, then switch to every fuck-him anthem known to women, and still find no relief from your sense of rejection and not feeling good enough. You rationalize, once again, what you did wrong, why you aren’t pretty, funny, or fabulous. The cycle worsens, until a judge slaps you into reality while signing a restraining order. Okay, maybe not that extreme. Maybe you confront him at work, and he walks away leaving you crumbling from indignity in front of his coworkers. You find yourself so far below the bottom that you enter the abyss.

But wait. Before getting lost on his path, imagine taking a different road.

Imagine drafting a text, telling him how wonderful, gorgeous, and awesome his existence, then texting these words to yourself, over, and over, and over. Imagine creating the words I miss you; I want you; I love you; and Please don’t leave me, then texting those words to yourself.

Imagine stalking your own social media. Imagine going on your profiles, looking at your beautiful selfies, and your wonderful friends looking back at you, the ones who love your posts, who give you words of encouragement with every status update about a new endeavor.

Imagine picturing your masculine leaver’s solid, fine physique (maybe he’s ugly and has arms like a twelve-year-old-girl, but whatever), then getting a gym membership and working on your own physique.

Imagine cranking your car, ready once again to drive past his house, but instead, you stop and look at your own. Imagine sitting there for thirty-minutes. Maybe you get out of the car and walk around, thinking of shutters to paint, or rosebushes to plant. Imagine walking back inside, and hanging that one picture that brings your living room to life.

Imagine changing the radio station, erasing the sad love songs and fuck-you anthems. Feel-good beats replace the depression, make you dance unapologetically. Imagine recording yourself in the moment, no hate, no grudge, maybe understanding that he too hides demons.

Imagine dating yourself, then stalking the fun pics you post. Imagine feeling jealous before remembering that woman is you.

After all this imagining, imagine the result. Imagine a typical day living a regular life. You work, eat lunch, come home, maybe do laundry, and sleep. But this time, before dozing off, a thought hits you like Chevy Silverado to a plastic recycling bin—not once today did you check for any contact from him, nor think of him, nor pass a given fuck his way. You realize you’ve gotten over a guy who never deserved your time, let alone your addiction.

Imagine you just saved yourself, for he has left but you have returned, a better, stronger, kinder version of yourself before he left you...before you left you.

Now imagine you finally understand the difference between heroine and heroin.



What Michelle Won:

3rd Place Winner
3rd Place: Rachelle Allen
East Rochester, New York
Congratulations, Rachelle!
Rachelle Allen

Rachelle’s Bio:

Rachelle Allen has a life filled with the two best commodities on the planet: music and children. She teaches private voice, flute, and piano lessons to seventy-four students in their homes each week and, twenty-eight years later, still loves every minute of it.

When not teaching, she indulges in the third best commodity on earth: writing. Currently, she is shopping her memoir, Lessons in the Key of Life, vignettes about the lessons she’s learned from the lessons she's taught, to agents and publishers.

On the international writing site, FanStory, Rachelle ranked fifth this year in Novel-writing and seventh for Short Stories and won Book of the Month twice and Story of the Month twice. She also placed first in twenty-five site contests between March and June. In 2012, her story, “A Second Chance With Randall,” was published in The Storyteller magazine, and she placed in the Writer’s Digest Annual Writing Competition that year, as well. In June of 2018, her story, “Leopard,” was among the top ten winners in a WOW contest.

Rachelle is living happily ever after in East Rochester, New York, with Bobby Allen, her husband of fifteen years.

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Knowing When It’s Right


If you looked at her life as if it were a movie with the sound turned off, you’d think that the girl who does my nails was granted the role of Fairy Tale Princess.

Her house is a mansion in our city’s best zip code, her diamond is the size of Yankee Stadium, and she has a killer body, compliments of daily workouts with a personal trainer in her home gym and an obviously gifted plastic surgeon. She owns the bustling salon-and-day-spa where I get a bi-weekly manicure, plays tennis three times a week at the country club, and had a photo spread of her cavernous gourmet kitchen featured in an upscale architectural magazine. Most impressive of all, she owns a shameless number of the most fabulous over-the-knee stiletto boots in existence.

But turn the volume up, and you hear that she drools for men who are actually not men so much as human monoliths, with shoulder-length hair, tattoos, and bulging calf and bicep muscles. Not one of them even vaguely resembles her stout, workaholic husband, twenty years her senior, the man who allegedly stopped courting her once she said, “I do.” She talks about financial security as a trade-off for True Happiness and wonders if she’s suffering from the Seven-Year Itch or an affliction far more deadly. As if there’s a doubt in her mind or anyone else’s.

“This isn’t your first marriage, right?” she asks me with the boldness of a talk show host.

“No,” I confess because Salon Code requires complete disclosure at all times, no exceptions.

“Well, do you think my marriage is salvageable?” she asks as if my marital track record has somehow imbued me with Divining Rights.

I’m old enough to know better than to answer the question directly, but I’m also compassionate enough not to be cavalier to her or tap dance around what she’s asked. She genuinely wants feedback. So I proceed to share with her these diamonds that I unearthed during my Tumultuous Years, jewels so priceless that, when strung together, produced an amulet that enabled me to recognize my own worth. They are why, in fact, that I’m still, fifteen years later, living happily (and gratefully) ever after with a husband who is my perfect fit.

1. Respect

If there isn’t mutual respect, then there is no respect. And without respect, a relationship is toxic. Leave it before it kills you, and don’t question for one moment if you made the right choice. You did.

2. Silence

Not talking is an act of consideration and loving kindness when it’s done with the intention of not unleashing words that would be injurious, unconscionable, or catastrophic. But a silence that is prolonged—i.e. that lasts in excess of an hour or two—is a tool manipulators use to withhold love and affection so that people give in to their demands. Not only is it unproductive and unhealthy, it’s also cruel and extremely disrespectful. (See No. 1)

3. Infidelity

In the words of my father: “There are two kinds of people in this world: Those Who Cheat, and Those Who Wouldn’t Dream Of It.” I’ve learned that mistresses and boyfriends are, very often, like rats in that there are usually so many more of them hovering close by than just the one that originally got your attention. You can opt to stay put after the initial discovery and catharsis, but you’ll spend every subsequent day pretending that you don’t really hear anything scrabbling around in the dark corners of your world.

4. Grievances

There is a vast difference—not a fine line—between “annoying” and “unforgivable.” The first one is not a deal-breaker; the second one is.

5. Secrets

This commodity will destroy a relationship from the inside out, and it’s the precursor to full-blown Deceit. One secret intertwines with another and another and another until they strangle the life out of your bond and replace it with suspicion and the fear of what consequences the truth could hold. But in reality, no truth is more painful than even the most well-intentioned secret, because the truth says, “I know I can trust you with this” while a secret says, “I have no confidence in you whatsoever.”

6. Imbalance of Power/Co-Dependence

If you think you and your mate always agree on everything, someone—deliberately or not—subjugating himself or herself for the sake of keeping the relationship going. The weaker of you is being a mirror so as not to either rile up or be rejected by the dominant partner. But the bad news is that either way, you’re both invested in a mirage.

7. Satisfaction

A good relationship is “work,” but it’s satisfying work, not “a job.” It requires daily attentiveness, but it’s the kind steeped in desire and delight, not obligation. The bottom line is this: If your union isn’t enjoyable, then you’ve totally missed the point of it.

8. Assessment

Your answer to the following question is the ultimate litmus test for determining how successful you consider your relationship to be:

Would you ever want one like it for your child?

If you answered “yes,” then congratulations. With or without mansions, personal trainers, and stiletto boots, you’re the one who’s really living the charmed life of a Fairy Tale Princess (or Prince). But if your answer is “No, my relationship is not one I’d ever want for my child,” then the obvious follow-up question has to be:

So why in the world are you accepting it, then, for yourself?

Because, until you’re dead, you know, you always have the power to change what’s not right about your life.



What Rachelle Won:


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!

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Mari L. McCarthy

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:

Journaling Power COVR Visionary Award

Check out Mari’s award-winning books, Journaling Power: How to Create the Happy, Healthy Life You Want to Live! and Heal Yourself with Journaling Power

“If you’ve ever doubted the therapeutic and transformative benefits of journaling, you need to read Mari L. McCarthy’s Journaling Power. A powerful tool for positive change, this book also contains the inspirational journaling exercises and encouragement that Mari is famous for, so you can embark on your own journey of transformation.” ~ Angela Mackintosh, Publisher, WOW! Women On Writing

Heal Yourself with Journaling Power is a breath of fresh air in today’s stressful world. The idea that all you need is a pen and paper to change your outlook, create a new life story, or even enhance your health and wellbeing is revolutionary. Author Mari L. McCarthy takes readers on a guided journey to a more fulfilled life through motivational wisdom and journaling exercises. What I appreciate most about this book, as with all of Mari's journaling workbooks, is the individual nature and deep soul connection with the journaling work. Everyone will find their own aha moment as they work their way through the journaling exercises, making this book a deeply personal experience for each reader.” ~ Angela Mackintosh, Publisher, WOW! Women On Writing

Thank you, Mari! You continue to inspire.


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

Click on the titles to read:

Dogs and a Pig by Kumi Nelson, Puna, Hawaii

How NOT to Fall in Love with Your Therapist by Anne Walsh Donnelly, Mayo, Ireland

Arsonist Pleads Guilty—Exhibits Zero Remorse by Mary Ann Rojas, Visalia, California

Weightless by Leisa Greene, Missoula, Montana

Vegetarian Scrapple: It’s a Guy Thing by Christine Venzon, Peoria, Illinois

Inventory by Corinne Mahoney, Haverhill, Massachusetts

Why Are You Here? by Cassandra Crossing, Chicagoland, Illinois

What the Runners Up Won:


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

The Beethoven Effect by Seetha Nambiar Dodd, Sydney, Australia

Dad’s Hands by Sarah Rose, Salt Lake City, Utah

Flats or Heels? Tales from Life by Charlotte Bowling Roth, Louisville, Kentucky

Hallucinations by Maria Cowie, Worcester, United Kingdom

The Fish by Kim Diaz, St. Petersburg, Florida

Tsunami by Marianna Marlowe, Ross, California

A Letter to My Mother on the Death of Her Son by Penny-Anne Beaudoin, Ontario, Canada

Transgressions by Christine Ryan, Dublin, Ireland

The Coming Feast by Jessica Argyle, Key West, Florida

He Never Returned by Sue Hatt, Caldicot, United Kingdom


What the Honorable Mentions Won:


This brings the Q4 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!

Check out the latest Contests:


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