Category Archives: Writing contest

What in the World is a Chapbook?

Sometimes we get so used to the jargon of the field we’re in that we forget it’s a specialized language. And that others don’t always  know what in the heck we’re talking about when we use it.

I was thinking the other day that when I say that I wonder if Perry is a feral cat or a stray cat that the nuance between those two types of cats could be lost. A feral cat is so wild that he is not used to humans or civilization and oftentimes cannot be persuaded that we are ok. Unless quite young when the socialization begins, it might not be possible to ever get a feral cat to accept human touch. But I say that with a caveat: every cat must be treated as an individual because you just never know which feral cats can be socialized and which socialized cats will never be lapcats–based on temperament, environment, and so on.

Speaking of Perry, I have been reading him Cindy Rinne’s story in verse Quiet Lantern about a Vietnamese girl named Mai Ly who is on a spiritual quest. The farther I go into the story and the more poetic prowess I discover, the more impressed I am with the book.

Another word I’ve flung around the blog lately is chapbook. Kin Types is a chapbook, rather than a full-length poetry collection like Doll God or like Rinne’s book (which is over 100 pages). But what is a chapbook? Historically, a chapbook was a small pamphlet that was truly around before books as we know them today were invented. The first written fairy tales were chapbooks. They were small. They were a few pages. And they were really roughly printed.

Chapbooks today, though, usually meet these qualifications:

  • Generally poetry, but not always
  • Less than 48 pages in length, generally around 25-30, but even as short as 15 pages (full-length collection is around 55-75)
  • Generally has a sharper focus than a full-length collection
  • Some of the most famous poems were first published in chapbooks–poems by T.S. Eliot, William Blake, Philip Larkin, and Allen Ginsberg
  • Poems can be used in a full-length collection later (or not)
  • There are many chapbook contests and small presses publishing chapbooks
  • There is only one after-publication prize open to chapbooks in the U.S., whereas there are many for full-length books
  • Poets are encouraged to publish chapbooks, as well as full-length books, and many poets first publish a chapbook rather than a book
  • Sometimes the binding is more beautiful than that of a book
  • Sometimes the artistic quality of the binding is poor and the pages look typewritten
  • Sometimes the book is stapled or bound by cord
  • Although modestly expensive, chapbooks are not meant to make money (yup, that’s a fact and probably true of all)
  • Chapbooks are a way to take a risk and strive for art for art’s sake

I did enter Kin Types in a few contests, but they are expensive (entry around $15-25 each) and when the manuscript was accepted by Finishing Line Press for publication, I decided to go with them, rather than spend more money on contests. Still, Kin Types was a semi-finalist in the Concrete Wolf chapbook contest and a Highly Commended title in The Fool for Poetry International Chapbook Competition.

The only writing I’ve been able to do lately is a poem for my son’s wedding. It’s being framed and will be on a table with photographs of the grandparents (of the bride and groom) who have passed on.

Today is the anniversary of my maternal grandmother’s birth in 1912, two days after the Titanic sank. Her birthday was two weeks after that of my paternal grandmother (though they were born 19 years apart). They were both Aries, as is the Gardener.  It’s hard to think of anything that is similar about the three of them, except that they have all been count-on-able.

My maternal grandmother’s name was Lucille Edna, although she was known as Edna. (Luanne is created from Lucille and my mother’s middle name Ann). Edna was Class Historian at graduation (her older sister was Salutatorian the same year) and  always wanted to be a writer. She thought of herself as the “Jo March” of her family (like in Little Women).

When she was elderly and ill, she made me promise I would never give up writing. That comment from Grandma found its way into a Kin Types poem.

from Grandma’s graduation scrapbook

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Filed under #AmWriting, Book contest, Cats and Other Animals, Doll God, Family history, Kin Types, National Poetry Month, Poetry, Poetry book, Poetry Collection, Publishing, Writing, Writing contest

The Dilemma of Writing Competition Protocol

I started reading over the guidelines for a few writing competitions and was once again annoyed by a dilemma that they provoke.

Most of the contests tell you all the wonderful stuff they can think of about the poet/writer who is judging. Then they slam you with this one.

Poets/writers are not eligible to submit a manuscript if they know the judge or the [insert name of press here] personally.

What does this mean regarding the judge? If you’re her father or sister or niece? I get that. If you’re her best friend? If you took three courses in an MFA program from her? That all makes sense.

But what if you took a workshop a zillion years ago and that workshop was a total of less than six hours and she has absolutely no idea who you are?

Does that count?

###

Pear says Hi!

 

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A Truck to Remember

When I was just past thirty,  I wrote a poem about my father. It took an Honorable Mention in a contest sponsored by The MacGuffin literary journal and judged by Diane Wakoski.  I gave him a copy of the journal after it was published, and he acted like he always did when he didn’t know if he was being subtly criticized or if he should be flattered. I told him to be flattered.

“Little old ladies” (his term) always loved my father. And I think that’s how he found some of his treasures. Maybe that is where my trunk came from, now that I think of it!

A Scout Truck Grows Older

 

The only time my father did not bury

himself with obsolete and imperfect things–

rice-paper widows with old iceboxes and documents

to give away to someone who cherished them

for their age–was when he loved a ‘sixty-four

gray-green Scout, still toddler-new and shiny.

I took this as an omen of better times;

not knowing he wanted to see the decay of beauty.

 

My father and I travelled long and alone

in that truck that was not really a truck–

no caked mud flaps, corroded door frames,

three-year-old garbage under cab seats.

In January he cranked its heavy plow,

flexing the biceps of the Scout’s compact body.

It whined and startled from the weight

of Kalamazoo’s heavy winter, my father

pushing it on and on way into dark.

 

That summer he steered us bouncing across

the spongy edge of Long Lake, passing closest

when breath-near the bottomless drop-off.

I imagined the truck tipping and me

with no orange life jacket to endure

the cold whirlpool, those obsidian depths.

But we spun on, tilting, along that damp sand,

crushing the last fishtail-smelly driftwood

and snail shells that lake would ever spew out.

 

The Scout began aging–coughing and slowing.

When it held enough soiled shirts and rusty tools–

things not new, too common to call antiques–

I was too grownup to dress in boy clothes

and pretend to be my father’s son, loving

the feel of destruction beneath our wheels.

The MacGuffin 5.3 (1988): 18

I couldn’t find an old photograph of the truck. I realized I don’t have many photos of those years.

I’m not sure if my dad’s truck was #1 or #3 in the ad. I remember running away and getting out to the garage and seeing the Scout sitting there. The world looked exhausting from the garage, so I hauled my little laundry bag of clothes into the truck and fell asleep.

 

 

 

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Honorable Mention: “The Story of the Water Droplets”

The Story of the Water Droplets

by Enrique Guerra-Pujol

Whenever my wife and I return to Jamaica to visit our family and friends, we like to begin our day by waking up early to see the sunrise and walking on the beach. As the soft sun appears above the horizon, I will wade into the warm tropical waters and perform a peculiar and private ritual. In brief, I lunge into the gentle waves, clasp together the palms of my hands, and splash the ocean waters as high as I possibly can.

This motion produces hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of tiny water droplets, flying every which way. Each airborne droplet sparkles under the rising Caribbean sun, yet the duration of this chaotic ballet of droplets is but short- lived. This transitory constellation of water droplets falls back into ocean in the blink of an eye.

I confess that I never tired of performing this strange aquatic sacrament. But why?

Perhaps the ephemeral droplets are a poetic reminder of my mortality, for on a geological time scale, the life of one man is like the lifespan of a single, fleeting droplet.

In the alternative, maybe I am attracted to the unruly geometry of the airborne droplets, for with each splash of the waters, I produce a unique and inimitable choreography of dancing droplets.

Or perhaps the flying droplets are a collective symbol of the inherent limitations of our knowledge, for just as I am unable to take a precise census of the innumerable droplets, we may never be able to fully understand the unceasing dynamics of human conflict and the role of law in promoting cooperation.

But, often times, knowing our limitations is a good place to start. I may not be able to count the entire constellation of droplets at any one time, but perhaps, by narrowing my gaze to one droplet, I could develop a simple and testable model to find an approximate measure of her trajectory and lifespan.

There is no moral to this story. It’s just about one man’s sense wonderment amid the beauty of the water droplets.

 

 

Enrique Guerra-Pujol is a law professor, an indiscriminate reader, and a struggling writer. His main areas of research are the evolution of conflict and cooperation and the application of Bayes’ Rule and other mathematical ideas to law. In addition, his extracurricular interests include bird-watching, rafting, star-gazing, and the arts, especially literature and the cinema.

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Honorable Mention: “The Relaxation Group”

The Relaxation Group

by Jackie Dinnis   

My arrival at the group will be a minor miracle. Venturing out of my four walls into unfamiliar territory is like asking me to fly to the moon. The past few days have been spent rehearsing in my mind as an actor would walk through a forthcoming scene in a play. Being a glass half-empty type of person I spend my life constantly expecting the worst, but it still came as a slap in the face when the worst actually happened. I won’t bore you with the details because I no longer feel the need to tell everyone about my catastrophic life. Finally things all caught up with me and I am receiving treatment for anxiety. I hope the relaxation group will play a major part.

I am on the number 5 bus, after many hours of pondering, poring over bus timetables, taking practice rides in the car, and walking to the hospital. So many decisions to be made, and I feel incapable of even deciding whether to drink tea or coffee at the moment. My mind tries to think logically; if I walk, I am more in control of things. I know how long it takes me to make the journey, so there is no doubt what time I need to leave the house. The bus trip needs to be taken in two parts and will take just as long as walking, but I will be able to sit on the buses and not get hot. I could drive. I know where to park when I get there and it is only a ten minute drive on major roads with no tricky right hand turns into busy traffic.  Everything is such a worry; there’s no rest for my mind at all. Who would have thought the treatment for anxiety would be so scary? In the end my decision is made for me. Since I find my car boxed in by visitors to the local park, there’s not enough time to walk and the bus is my only option.

I rush to the bus stop and sit by the window, then mentally count off the number of stops as we progress along the tree-lined avenue. No one sits beside me, so I can ignore the worry of having to ask them to move as I get off the bus by the town hall. That was the shorter journey, and I change to the number 5 bus to complete it. There are fewer people on this bus, the sun shines through the windows and I try to remember to keep breathing. As the bus slowly progresses through the town centre to the outskirts, I take the official looking letter out of my handbag, noting again the time of the appointment and where I am to enter the building. Somehow the actual going in is on my mind more than anything else, as once I am inside there will be no turning back. All the time I am still outside, I can decide to turn around and go back to the safety of my home. I have control.

I recognise the road we are on; it leads into the hospital grounds. I prepare to leave the comparative safety of the bus.

Going into the hospital is, in the end, no problem at all. Everywhere is clearly labelled and signposted. I am gently shown into the relaxation room and told where to sit. Did I really think they would make it difficult to gain entrance to a group designed for people suffering from anxiety?

On entering the relaxation room a quiet, steady background sound permeates the interior–the constant low sounds of water flowing and birds gently singing. It comes from a CD player on a shelf by the window. Panic rises along with my temperature. This sound of water might make me need the loo, and I have no idea where it is. I sit there, unsure whether or not to remove my coat, and if I do, where should I put it?

Welcome to my mind, the place of constant turmoil, one decision after another, worry piled on worry until it all topples over like a pile of laundry constantly overfilling the basket.

The sweat trickles down my top lip, and casually my tongue pops out from the corner of my mouth, mopping up the salty liquid. It’s no good, my coat will have to be removed, and I can feel everyone’s eyes on me as I struggle to get my arms out of the sleeves while remaining seated. Standing up would be one step too far at this stage; it would make me fill more space in the room and draw even more attention to myself.

Suddenly I notice a bubbling sound coming from the corner of the room, a kettle is having its own little panic attack on the table as it reaches boiling point. I want to rush over and switch it off, allowing it to calm down, but it automatically stops itself after a while. I wish I had one of those switches inside me.

I risk lifting my eyes, noting with some relief that the other occupants of the room all seem as mad as me. We’re all wearing clothes that could have come from a dressing up box at a nursery or the reject pile at a charity shop.

Worry, worry, worry. When will this group start? Looking around the room out of the corner of my eye, I see: twitching limbs; fingers scratching naked arms; tapping feet; crossed legs flapping uncontrollable; a horrible sense of loss of control.

‘Hello everyone, here we are then, and first it would be good to introduce ourselves–just our first names. I’m Tom.’

I don’t hear anyone else’s name, struggling to remember my own, saying it under my breath again and again until it comes to be my turn to speak. What is my name anyway, and who am I?

Jackie lives with her son in Brighton, England. After leaving school at 16 in 1974, she continued her education recently, studying at the University of Sussex and gaining a degree in Community Development. She now does what she wants to do which includes writing, researching her family history, watching Brighton & Hove Albion and enjoying her life.

Watch for another Honorable Mention story on Friday!

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Honorable Mention: “For Ian”

For Ian

by Regenia Spoerndle         

The sun was shining, the birds were singing, the breeze warm, gentle and perfect. It was a take-your-kids-to-the-park-for-a-picnic kind of day, not a go-to-the-doctor-with-four-children-who-can’t-stand-waiting-rooms-any-more-than-you kind of day.  It was a summer day that begged changing goals, ambitions, and schedules into a book at the park and a nap. It was a perfect day. I didn’t know this was the day my son had died.

We drove to the doctor’s office. I read Doctor Seuss to children and People to me. They called my name. I shared a threatening look of discipline with the children, leaving them behind. I hoped the doctor would move quickly.

###

There’s a problem with the stethoscope. We’ll get the doctor. A distant fear creeping toward me ready to grab my throat and shake every fiber of my being until I no longer recognized life. I didn’t want to know this was the day my son had died.

Sometimes it’s just a game of hide-and-seek. Let’s look again. A grimaced face, furrowed brows, and deep sadness in his eyes–unprofessional, but compassionate. A knock at the door. Your children miss you; here they are. Six people in a room made for one, crowded with dread so thick I wonder if we should slice it and hand out the pieces. It’s unspoken, yet the doctor and I know.

An announcement of an opportunity to check with an image, the innocence of childhood excited to see, a shout of celebration, a hidden painful glance from the doctor pretending to look at his shoes. We begin to walk to the room where it will be confirmed.

A quiet pronouncement, youthful giggling, questioning, not understanding. I’m sorry. My daughter stops, her sensitive spirit catching a shift, she looks at my face, reads it and cautions, What’s wrong Mom? I can’t. I don’t. How do you speak the words?

I say them somehow. I hear those awful, wretched words, and watch the world shift. The faces crumble, the tears form, the arms wrap around. It is the circle of life and death, and the sorrow that chases it. This is the day my son has died.

Regenia credits her love of writing to wonderful children’s literature that filled her childhood, a black metal Underwood typewriter with an unlimited supply of paper, and an inspiring high school English teacher who’s only comment on her essay was, “You really have talent as a writer”. Besides her love affair with the written word, Regenia enjoys adventures with her six children, husband of 25 years, foreign exchange students, and the family dog, Daisy. Regenia is an adjunct faculty member at the University of Akron and Notre Dame College of Ohio, where she teaches undergraduate English, Public Speaking and Newswriting classes. In addition, Regenia serves as a Local Coordinator for Academic Year in America (AYA), matching up high school aged foreign exchange students and host families.  Regenia attempts to chronicle her diverse, and sometimes crazy life, on her two blogs found at regeniaspoerndle.com and ayaexchangestudents.wordpress.com/.

Watch for another Honorable Mention story on Wednesday!

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Third Place Contest Winner

So It Happened Like This

by Mike Durr

  1. Covington

In every generation there is a vitality that did not exist in previous generations. This vitality, this burning heart fire is what makes us great or greedy, good or bad. For me the fire in my heart was not realized until I was in the fourth grade. Growing up in Covington, Kentucky in those days was no different than growing up in any other small town along the muddy brown Ohio River.   Only a mile across the river, Cincinnati was the home of those fantastic Royals, led by Oscar Robertson. And the home of America’s first professional baseball team, the Redlegs. The tall buildings and bright lights were just over the suspension bridge, which most people pointed to with pride, declaring it was the original model for the Brooklyn Bridge. Covington had then and still does a melancholy feeling. As if leftover ghosts from the Underground Railroad still existed in the damp, dark, hand-burrowed passages of the hidden tunnel—a tunnel dug in a desperate effort to gain freedom from slavery by escaping to the North. It was a secret tunnel dug ages ago, but all of us kids knew where it was and we knew the ghosts were there. The ghosts also walked the alleys and quiet places of the town at night. Sometimes in the heat of summer you could hear calliopes from riverboats and see reflections of spectral images gliding north toward precious freedom.

The summer after my tenth birthday I broke into the tunnel and explored. The cool, dripping, moss-covered passage, blanketed in darkness for nearly a century, called to me with a promise of freedom and I answered the call. I walked where no one had since the Civil War. With the mighty river coursing above, I moved fearlessly through the dark. After awhile I could feel the great desperation and fear of those who had dug the tunnel, and they bore into my spirit and stayed with me long and hard as I grew up. To me they seemed to offer a warning: “Look what had to be done for our freedom. Nothing less. What will you do for your freedom? Stay here, like those who were afraid to cross under the water, and you will never have it.” I was just a kid and the message was not quite clear. I was too simple to understand, too unaffected to know. As the years passed I never went back to the tunnel. But I felt the ghosts and their influence was great within me.

By the time I was nineteen I was desperate to get away. The ghosts of freedom had stoked high the fire in my heart. So on Christmas Eve, just two weeks after my birthday, I joined the Navy.  Three days later and for the first time in my life, I was aboard a jet, strapped in, scared and sweating despite the cold December snow outside the window. The plane gathered speed and left the runway, carrying me North above the dirty ice-caked river. Carrying me to freedom? In reality carrying me to the Naval Training Center, Great Lakes, Illinois. I still remember the fear on that freezing, dreary gray afternoon. I was more afraid than at any time in my life. Only the ghosts sustained me. “What are you willing to do for your freedom?”

Late December in Illinois was much the same as in Kentucky. Everything was hard frozen, dirty gray and cold. The Naval Training Center was a collection of sooty, peeling, white wooden buildings, leftover from the Second World War. Old steam-heated buildings, well past their prime, with skins of frost on their warped wood-framed windows. Cracked and peeling paint covered the doors and walls like the dermis of an old leper long since resigned to death. No spit- and-polish Navy Pride, just a winter way station on the road to Vietnam. Oddly enough I felt ghosts here also. Not spirits in desperation but of it. They carried a fear and stink of wars long ago fought. Salt spray and fiery North Atlantic combat. These were spirits of unforgiving conflict and loss. I could sense them, hear them in their anguish, but I was unable to understand the message. I couldn’t yet realize what I would do for my freedom. So I trained with 71 others and grieved the absence of my family and friends. I ate, worked, slept and even breathed Navy. If the training center was not a proud place, I was becoming a proud seaman. Like the ghosts of this place, I was headed for war.

My war was not to be a conflict of cruisers and battleships. No destroyers hunting submarines on the high seas of the North Atlantic. No cobalt-blue shipping lanes of the tropical Pacific. No dolphins riding my bow wave through the vast clear sea. I was headed for the dirty brown water and deep green jungles of Indochina. Headed for the sweltering heat where every insect knew the taste of human blood. A place where the desperation of the oppressed was matched by the desperation of the oppressor. A place where every day spent outside a body bag was counted as a good one. A place where every good day meant 24 hours less to spend in hell. But I did not know these things until later. I could not even have guessed what I would do for my freedom.

###

Sam (the Marine in hat) and Mike in Phu Bai

A little levity before the serious work begins

Mike Durr is originally from Independence, Kentucky. He attended Holmes High School, University of La Verne, and University of Southern Mississippi.  A member of the Department of Defense for 21 years, Mike is also a former High School Science teacher and  Nuclear Security Training Supervisor. Currently, Mike lives as a pirate in either Florida or Bocas Del Toro, Panama.

Watch for the Honorable Mention stories next week!

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Second Place Contest Winner

Waste Not, Want Not

by Lisa Ellison

Four years before my brother ended his life, my grandfather and I held mass in a tiny kitchen in upstate New York. The sweet tang of simmering sauce offered the opening rites. The three-gallon kettle he had commandeered from work held the holy water that would bring forth our salvation in the form of tender white noodles, our Eucharist. When he twisted the knob on the chipped white stove we began.

“Things keep changing in this world. One day I hope they get it right,” he said, stirring the sauce.

“I hope so,” I answered, grating cheese and savoring his service in our hot little cathedral.

“You see, you’ve got to waste not to want not. Your generation . . . you’re always throwing things away so you can buy something new.”

I nodded in agreement. In two months I would start the tenth grade. I carried a scrap of paper in my back pocket with my shopping list—sweaters, jeans, new shoes. Typically I wore mine until they had holes in them. I felt around with my toes and panicked. Maybe later I would get a steak knife and discover a hole above the heel.

“Back when I was a kid, if you didn’t take care of things, you just didn’t have anything.” He sidestepped towards the cupboard. Heaps of mismatched glass bowls tottered precariously on the thin bowing shelves, chiming like church bells when jostled. “It’s that way with everything nowadays. You tell everybody your business. Words are precious, you know.”

I scooped the cheese into the serving jar. It fell like snow from the spoon.

“You say everything that’s on your mind. Everybody’s got to know how you feel.”

“Seriously?” I looked right at him.

He went to check the water. Small whiffs of steam floated up from the pot, apparitions.  “Some words are sacred, like I love you. Those words are for matrimony. You don’t just throw them around anytime you want.”

He stirred the sauce again. You could taste the air as he pulled meatballs from the electric skillet and tapped off excess sauce, bowls chiming in sweet melody.

“What do you mean by that?” I wrinkled my brow. Surely, he couldn’t be serious.

“I haven’t told anyone I loved them, except for your grandmother, in all my years. I love you is for marriage. It’s sacred.” He smiled and stared out the window, thinking of what? His worn, thin wedding suit draped across his neck?

My jaw dropped as the blood rose in my chest. What was going on with my priest? “You mean that’s it?” My voice raised half an octave as I spit out the sentence. “You don’t tell people you love them? It’s wasteful?”

“Actions speak louder than words,” he said, with grim finality. The water began to rumble. “Talk is cheap. If you say the same thing over and over it loses its meaning.” He ripped the top off two boxes of ziti and dumped them into the pot.

As he stirred the wild water, sweat poured off the brow of his ruddy Irish face. He was my father, son, and holy ghost. This was the man who took me dress shopping before recitals, who slept on the floor at age 63 so my brothers and I could share the only bed in the house. He was the man who walked three miles in the summer sun to borrow a car to take us swimming, who bought me a pair of Reebok sneakers when he worked as a dishwasher in a school because he couldn’t afford to retire. He was the man who looked down tearfully and said, “It’s just alcohol,” when we returned, pale and somber, after a meeting with my mother. I caught his gaze and said, “Grandpa, we know the truth. It wasn’t just alcohol.”

I reflected on all our times together—the walks to the store, the pancake breakfasts, the weekly kitchen sermons. He had never once told me he loved me.

He continued to alternate between stirring the pasta and spooning meatballs and sausage into iridescent serving bowls.

“But that’s wrong!” I blurted, fist clenched, pacing. I had never challenged the service before. “You have to tell people how you feel.”

“You’re just a kid,” he said, glaring.

“Well, you’re wrong,” I repeated. “I get all that other stuff about waste not, want not. But you have to tell people you love them. One day you may be sorry and wish you’d said it more.” A shiver ran down my spine as I uttered those prophetic words.

He spooned a noodle out of the water and popped it into his mouth. “One more minute,” he said, stirring the water again. “When you’re my age you can talk about what is and isn’t right. Until then, you just remember what I said—waste not, want not.”

“You remember what I said. One day you’ll be sorry.”

He looked up at the clock then walked over to the sink with the colander. ”Move on out before you get burned.” His tone was gruff and loud.

He always shooed us out of the room whenever he drained the spaghetti, worried he might burn us with the steaming pot. I obeyed and walked to the doorway. We didn’t know right then that we would all be sorry, that four years later we would see how profoundly you can be burned even when you’re not in the kitchen, that we would spend our Sunday mass in a dimly lit funeral home instead of the kitchen, language swallowed whole.

Later that night, as we got ready to leave, I kissed my grandfather on the cheek, peered into his eyes, and said, “I love you.” He patted me on the back and smiled. “Waste not, want not.”

Lisa Ellison lives in Charlottesville, Virginia with her husband, Mark, and two cats, Smokey and Beulah. She has a life long love of writing, and currently co-facilitates a mindfulness based writing group with her wonderfully supportive literary friends. Lisa volunteers as a pro-bono therapist through a local non-profit agency.  Her poem “Furious Houses” was published in the Winter 2012 edition of the journal Blooming in the Noise.

Watch for Third Place Contest Winner Mike Durr’s story, “So It Happened Like This,” on Friday!

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First Place Contest Winner

The Lady’s Coat

by Lynne Nielsen

Slipping the Thrift Store coat over her forearms, easing it onto her shoulders, the woman smiles as she senses the weight settling into place, cloaking her frame. Glancing into the mirror she considers her reflection, graying hair swept into a simple up do, rolled and pinned into place, the simplest of pearl studs gracing her delicate ear lobes. The woman possesses an air of simple grace and beauty, yet the coat she is wearing suggests a different, more opulent story. Enfolded within the coat, the woman recalls someone she once knew, long ago in a younger, more naïve time.

The coat, constructed of the finest Persian lamb’s wool, is exquisite, yet simple. The crossover collar frames her tired face and the sleeves with accompanying wide cuffs adorn her arms and wrists.  Wrapped warmly, as though with a hug that’s luxurious and sensual, she lets her mind go. After all, this isn’t just any Thrift Store coat; this was a lady’s coat. Gazing into the mirror the woman sees reflected back the image of one once so beautiful, so once-upon-a-time naïve.

The woman imagines the stories the coat could share, if only coats could speak. Imagine the daily excursions to town, the dining out, as surely as this was once a lady’s coat.  Imagine the owner, a fine lady, head held high, sashaying to church or to the shops about the city. The local butcher would have paused, eyes focused upon the vision wearing the Persian lamb coat. How may I help you, ma’am? The locals’ whispered comments, Who is this lady? A banker’s wife? Someone’s mistress?

Closing her eyes, the woman recalls distant memories, focusing on a time outside a city café. Through the window, the woman views a younger vision in a Persian lamb coat, seated in a booth at the back of the café. The dark auburn hair in a simple up do rolled and pinned into place. The eyes, cast down, the lashes as noir as the Persian lamb coat she wore. The simplest of pearl studs gracing her delicate ear lobes. The young woman possesses an air of simple grace and beauty, yet the coat she is wearing suggests a different, more opulent story.

Glancing at the watch upon her wrist, the young woman wears an expression of concern, or is it disappointment? Perhaps shame clouds the lovely features. Glancing toward the café door, she waits. Focusing on her coffee cup, slowly, gently, stirring the spirals, gazing as if into a mirror. He loves me, he loves me not, words whispered. What does the young woman see, what is she searching for? She recalls a time when she had felt hopeful, which was more than she felt at that moment, patiently waiting in a café for someone.

Surely this someone would show tonight. After all, he had promised to meet her at 5:00.  Glancing at the watch upon her wrist the young woman notes the time, 5:45. Still, this man is an important man, people steal his time, and meetings run over the scheduled minutes. This fact she understands. How many times has she phoned his desk line, offering up an excuse to exit? Let’s get lost, Shirley, his words luring her further into their web of deceit. Those simple words, provocative, led her deeper into the place where lies entangle, until she became a willing victim of his terms.

The young woman in the booth glances at the watch upon her wrist. Why bother checking? Of course, he is late again. Are you ready to order, ma’am? For the waiter recognizes this woman, how could one avoid noticing such a vision, the lady wearing the exquisite Persian lamb coat? May I refill your cup, ma’am, allowing the lady time to think, to plan the next move.

The older woman can’t help but feel sympathy for this younger woman seated in the back booth, a vision in the Persian lamb coat. For whom does she wait? Is it a man, her husband, perhaps a lover? Is she the mistress? Why does she wait? The younger woman stands up, a careless wave, a slightly forced smile. The man she waits for has arrived, bearing flowers, clutching a briefcase full of excuses and lies. She senses this fact, knows it to be true. Let’s get lost, Shirley!

Shirley slips the Persian lamb coat over her forearms, easing it onto her shoulders, smiling as she feels the coat settling into place, surprised at the weightlessness. Gazing at the café window, the younger woman sees reflected back the image of one so beautiful, so elegant, no longer once-upon-a-time naïve. A fine lady, head held high, Shirley walks out of the café, leaving the past behind.

May I help you, ma’am? The woman returns to the present, glancing back at her image in the Thrift Shop mirror, a vision in the Persian lamb coat. It’s a beautiful coat, a lady’s coat, the employee gushes. The lady who owned this piece must have paid a dear price for it!

Enfolded within the coat, channeling all thoughts luxurious and sensual, the woman allows her mind to wander. After all, this wasn’t just any Thrift Store coat; this was a lady’s coat. The woman hands the ten-dollar bill with change to the cashier. Gently, she slips the Persian lamb over her forearms, easing the weight over her shoulders. She clasps the fastener of the crossover collar, noticing that one fur cuff is worn, slightly tarnishing the vision. In her ear she hears his whispered words, alluring, ensnaring, Let’s get lost, Shirley. A fine lady, head held high, the woman exits the Thrift Store, a vision in Persian lamb.

Lynne Nielsen is an educator and aspiring writer. She blogs at Alice and Molly.

Watch for the Second Place Contest Winner, Lisa Ellison’s “Waste Not Want Not,” on Wednesday!

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Filed under Creative Nonfiction, Essay, Memoir, Nonfiction, WordPress, Writing, Writing contest

The Winners Are . . .

The results of the creative nonfiction contest are in!!!

Thank you so much for your submissions. There were so many wonderful stories that it truly was difficult for the judges. After reading them all, I was so glad that I was not judging!

As you know, we asked for your best work in your best style and had no preconceived ideas of what type of stories would take first, second, and third places.

The judges used a system which ranked them in order.  I then took their ranking and assigned a number to each ranking, added and subtracted by two (judges) to average the scores. This turned out to work very well because their results were so similar.

Amazon.com gift cards will be winging themselves through cyberspace to the three winners!

Here is the list of the winning stories:

  • FIRST PLACE:  “The Lady’s Coat” by Lynne Nielsen
  • SECOND PLACE: “Waste Not Want Not” by Lisa Ellison
  • THIRD PLACE: “So It Happened Like This” by Mike Durr

Here is the list of honorable mentions in no particular order:

  • HONORABLE MENTION: “The Relaxation Group” by Jackie Dinnis
  • HONORABLE MENTION: “For Ian” by Regenia Spoerndle
  • HONORABLE MENTION: “Water Droplets” by Enrique Guerra-Pujol

The judges provided comments about the winning stories:

THE COAT

This essay possesses mystery and imagination. [It] has resonance and a sense of wholeness. The prose is appealingly lyrical with compression of images and feeling.

This story’s use of sensory details and description works well to set the stage for the coat to become a central character of its own – the vehicle that serves to transport the narrator back in time.  The many references to time help the reader to become even more aware of the passing of it.  The overall story premise is very unique and the sense of mystery created draws the reader in immediately.

WASTE NOT WANT NOT

This writing has much to recommend it. There is a sense of a past, present, and future, where lives are blighted as a man refuses to tell his child and grandchildren that he loves them. The irony is that the man clearly loves his family, showing his affection through care and self-sacrifice. Still, he considers saying “I love you” to anyone but a spouse a waste of words. While the reader does not know why the man’s daughter turned to alcohol and, possibly, drugs or why his grandson will eventually kill himself, these acts seem tied to the man’s refusal to “waste” words of love.

The sustained metaphor of the weekly meal as mass is captured well with unique imagery.  The grandfather/granddaughter relationship is demonstrated well by showing the two of them interacting together. The well-crafted dialogue helps to develop these characters on the page. The overall message of love being shown rather than spoken comes through clearly. I particularly like the subtle  example of the young girl having to walk to the edge of the kitchen as a means to protect her from being burned.

SO IT HAPPENED LIKE THIS

Obviously the start of a longer piece, this writing can stand alone. Precious freedom is its focus. The narrator is haunted by the ghosts of slaves who tunneled beneath the Ohio River to flee north. They ask, “What will you do for your freedom?”

This writing is vivid, from the dripping tunnel, to the cracked and peeling Naval Training Center, to the sweltering jungles of Indochina, where “every day spent outside a body bag” is a good one. And always, there’s the heartbeat of What will you do for your freedom?

Wonderful opening line. It hooked me right away.

The use of detail to place the reader in scene is employed well. Many of the descriptions evoke not only a clear image of a place, but also a sense of what it felt like.

The universal theme of seeking freedom is woven throughout the story relative to history and geographic elements that leads the reader on a journey alongside the narrator.

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I wanted to make one other comment about the submissions in general. With the exception of only a couple, the submissions could all have used an outside eye reading for typos and grammar errors. I bring up this point because before you submit to journals, magazines, and agents, find a friend you trust to read over your work and search for missing words, misspellings, and grammar errors. My judges ignored these issues (within reason), but some professional readers will not do so.

THANK YOU FOR YOUR STORIES . . .

It was such a gift to be entrusted with these stories to read. Thank you for allowing the judges to evaluate them and for me to post them on this blog.

I will begin posting the winning stories on Monday!

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Filed under Creative Nonfiction, Essay, Memoir, Nonfiction, Writing, Writing contest, Writing prompt