One can never get tired of receiving the amazing enthusiasm and happy messages from finalists and winners of our writing awards. It what gives us the fuel to continue coming up with new challenges and themes for writing.
As submissions are pouring in now for our eighth edition of the Wild Atlantic Writing Awards on the theme of CHANGE - ENTER NOW - we want to introduce you to four finalists from previous editions and to congratulate them once again for their achievements. Here are their stories for your inspiration and remember, you could be a finalist - or a winner - this time.
Joan Donnelly-Emery, 59, was a finalist in WAWA Hope with story ‘One percent chance, one hundred percent hope’ for the Creative Nonfiction category.
“I'm writing with deep appreciation and excitement to be chosen as one of your finalists for the creative nonfiction category of your "Hope" contest What a THRILL!
My reaction was complete shock! I had to read this email several times before I actually believed it was true. I am originally from Cleveland, Ohio (USA), now residing with my handsome husband (and high school sweetheart) in Franklin, Tennessee along with our terrier mutt, Dottie, and my sweet parrotlets, Carl and Ellie.
I received a BFA in musical theatre from Syracuse University and performed in several regional theatre productions and a national tour after graduation.
Many years later, when we relocated to Orlando, Florida, I was thrilled to perform in many theme park shows until my husband's work brought us to Tennessee. I currently enjoy semi-retirement, working a few hours a week for the before-school childcare program for our public schools. Soooo many good stories from caring for these kids!. My passions include traveling (Ireland was my very favorite trip!), tending my garden, and writing about my family and friends. Life is absolutely grand!
I heard about your contest through your email, to which I subscribe, because I dream about someday being able to attend one of your retreats. They look absolutely spectacular!
Thank you again for this wonderful honor, I'll truly treasure it!”
One Percent Chance, One Hundred Percent Hope
by Joan Donnelly-Emery
I was nine when I saw the ad. “Enter this sweepstakes to win an all-expenses paid trip to Disneyworld! No purchase necessary!” I immediately dipped into my allowance to purchase one hundred 3x5 index cards and corresponding stamps. I spent the next day writing my name, address, and phone number on every card. Then I affixed the stamps, crossed my cramped fingers, and dropped them in the mailbox. All that was left was the waiting.
Laura, my ten-year-old sister, shook her head in condescending disgust.
“They’re going to receive, like, tens of thousands of those cards. Your chances are, like, one percent. You know this, right?”
I knew, but I liked that one percent. I made friends with that one percent, mentally wrapping it in a warm hug and hanging on. I smiled at my sister, shrugged, and replied, “Somebody’s got to win. Why not me?”
I thought about my entries every day over the next few months. I imagined all of them scattered within a big barrel somewhere, then someone spinning the side handle and pulling one of them out. All I needed was one. I imagined my family walking through the Magic Kingdom gates, laughing on the rides, and patting me on the back for making it all possible. It was going to be GREAT!
Then one day Mom picked us up from gymnastics class. As Laura and I climbed into the back seat, Mom handed me a business envelope.
"This arrived for you today,” she casually said, hiding a smile.
I briefly enjoyed my sister’s gaping mouth and stunned silence before I ripped open the flap, unfolded the letter, and read the words out loud: "CONGRATULATIONS! You won first runner-up in our sweepstakes! You will receive your Mickey Mouse watch in the mail shortly! Thanks for entering, enjoy your prize!”I squealed with delight! I won! I WON!!
My concerned mother asked, “You’re not disappointed you didn’t win the trip?”
Silly mom. I patted her arm and showed her the enclosed picture of the high-quality watch I was about to receive. “The trip would’ve been over in a week. This watch is going to last FOREVER!!”
I’m much older now and have spent a great deal of time in the “One Percent Chance Club.” Many others have joined my sister on Team Pessimism. Here are some of my favorites:
“We’re only accepting twenty-five students into the music theater program. Thousands have applied. Good luck.”
“There are eight hundred people auditioning for this one role. Good luck.”
You’re entering a writing contest? But you don’t have the experience or training that the others possess. Aren’t you worried about being embarrassed? You’re way out of your league. Good luck.”
My reply is always the same. I just look down at my wrist, give Mickey a quick wink, and say, “Why not me?”
Caroline Beuley, 27, was finalist in WAWA Beauty with story ‘Debutante’ in the Flash Fiction category.
Originally from North Carolina, Caroline Beuley is a writer and 12th-grade English teacher based in Washington, D.C. She has studied fiction writing at American University in Paris and Oxford. Her first flash fiction story was published in Flash Fiction Magazine, Hysteria 9 Anthology, and Schlock! Webzine. When she's not writing or teaching, she enjoys taking her dachshund, Dumbledore, on long walks and throwing bits of paper around for her cat, Eloise.
“Wow this news made my day! I am so so excited to be a finalist! This is my first time ever being a contest finalist! It feels like it's always longlist or shortlist but never finalist, so I am SO happy. Thank you so much for publishing ‘Debutante!’ I feel like it's all starting to pay off! I've been working on my writing for so long, and being chosen as a finalist makes me feel like someone is finally seeing that effort - like I'm making progress!”
by Caroline Beuley
“Oh! So beautiful!” The bejewelled guests gasped as they entered the ballroom, drawing up short when they saw me. Even the Countess gave me an approving nod as she swept past, jade globes swinging from her ears.
“Gorgeous!” The teetering woman behind the Countess crooned, shrugging off her fur stole. “They get prettier and prettier every year,” she said to her husband. I don’t think she meant me to hear, but I did.
“She’s one of Berthe and Tom’s,” her husband whispered back. “Of course she’s perfect.”
I melted a little, remembering my creator’s proud faces sending me off tonight. “Be careful!” They had said as white-gloved attendants helped me into the car.
I wished they were here now. It was lovely being admired all night, but I longed for someone to talk to. Lovely, lonely, lovely, lonely. I sparkled from the corner.
A boy sauntered up to me, tails dragging like a tiger. He leaned in close. His cologne was sharp and masculine, but something else hung behind it - coppery and acrid. He breathed on me. “You look delicious,” he said, and he swiped a long, pale finger over my body, tracing my curves. Still looking at me, he inserted the finger into his mouth, lips puckering, eyes hungry. I wanted to shudder, but I remained placid, polite. He smirked, walking away. But throughout the night, he looked back at me - always with those devouring eyes.
The party picked up. Drinks sloshed from coupes, lipstick smudged across cheeks, and voices became loud and over-bright. I remained composed, immaculate in my corner. I didn’t want to spoil my appearance.
The party was peaking, my debut approaching. The Countess stood in the spotlight. This was it. “Isn’t she beautiful?” she said, gesturing towards me. They all cheered, and the spotlight turned on me. The light was hot.
The Countess walked towards me, smiling. I shined back at her - sugary sweet - honored by her attention and praise.
So focused was I on her radiant, regal face that I did not see the gleam of the silver serving knife as she stabbed me.
Pain. Searing, unendurable pain. I stared in horror at the Countess, but her demented leer only stretched wider, smudged lips parting to reveal gums wet with saliva. She drove the knife in further, shouting, “Who wants the first slice?”
The boy from before stepped forward. His eyes were now unfocused, but he licked his lips as he took the proffered piece.
The Countess was stabbing me again and again, dividing me up, and the crowd clambered over each other, claiming pieces of me, ravenous with desire. They sucked frosting from their fingertips shouting, “Delicious! Lovely! Beautiful! Can I have that bit in the middle?”
I was no match for their hunger. I crumbled. I tried to scream for help, but no one could hear me over their smacking lips.
Why had no one told me? Why had no one told me it would be like this?
Carolyn Bateman, 55, was finalist in WAWA Hope with story ‘East to the sunrise’ in the Creative Nonfiction category.
Carolyn is a retired nurse and mother to five adult children. Born in a small city in Eastern Ontario, Canada, Carolyn returned to her hometown in 2019, where she still lives and is raising her beloved grandson. Aside from writing, she also enjoys painting in her spare time.
She began writing seriously after the death of her eldest daughter in the summer of 2022. Her poem “Too Many Voices” about the ongoing opioid epidemic has been published on the Healing Hearts Canada website and was read at a rally at the opening of the Alberta Legislature in November 2022.
She is currently working on a book of poetry and personal essays relating to her loss.
“I was honestly shocked at first to see my name in the list of finalists. I kept refreshing the page to make sure it was actually real!
I learned about WAWA competition through an online writing group that I belong to. I thought that it sounded intriguing and would be a great challenge.
I decided to write about the time when, at the age of 32, I took my five children and left an abusive marriage. It was such a pivotal moment in my life. The memory of those early pre-dawn hours have always stayed with me: the terror that I felt, the disbelief that I had actually done it and finally, the kernel of hope for a new future that I felt emerging. Thankfully, I also had my journals to draw from so I was sure that I got the details correct.
I revised my first draft three times over the period of a week, before I was satisfied with result.
I found the most difficult challenge was to keep the word count under 500. There was so much more I wanted to add. And as soon as I wrote the first draft I knew what my title would be.
I am so honoured to have been chosen as a finalist out of hundreds of entries! As someone who has only begun submitting her work, it’s left me feeling proud, excited and hopeful about my future writing endeavours! I really cannot thank you enough!”
East to the Sunrise
by Carolyn Bateman
The frigid air swirled around the van as it hurled through the dark, heading east along the highway. It was hard to hear anything above the sound of the wind blowing through the broken back window and it was much too dark inside the vehicle for me to see the five children behind me. My husband had shown up with the van window smashed in a few days prior with no explanation.
“Are you guys okay back there? Is everyone covered up?” I asked, trying to be heard over the sound of the wind.
“Yes mommy, we’re fine. Everyone is asleep except me and Josh.” My 10-year-old daughter answered.
I took a deep, shaky breath. I was desperately trying not to panic and to keep within the speed limit, despite my urge to go faster.
The kilometres flew by as the headlights brightened the dark road ahead. I couldn’t believe that I had finally done it. Just a few short hours before I was lying in bed with his hands wrapped around my throat as he told me exactly what he would do if I ever dared leave him.
“I will cut you open and pull out your guts and hang you by your intestines. Do you hear me? You will never get away from me.”
His words thundered in my head, matching the rhythm of the tires and the roar of the wind in the van. I barely felt the cold despite this being Thanksgiving Day.
I had lain, still and silent, beside him until he finally passed out. Slowly and carefully, I had crept out of the marriage bed that I loathed. When I reached the door, I whispered a prayer of thanks that he still slept and went through, not looking back. Stopping only long enough to wake and bundle up children in coats and blankets, we were gone in 20 minutes.
We had gotten away and we were safe. I kept repeating those words to myself, willing them to be true. I was praying that my husband hadn’t woken up yet. It was true that I had our only vehicle but he could easily steal or borrow his mother’s, in order to come after us. It wouldn’t be hard for him to figure out that I was on my way to my parents. With five children, ranging in age from 10 to 2, where else would I go? I was trusting that it would be far enough.
I became aware that the darkness outside of the windows was easing and dawn was coming. As I rounded a bend in the road, I found myself greeted by the most glorious sunrise imaginable. The knot in the center of my chest loosened as I took in the magnificent apricot, lilac and rose hues displayed before me. For the first time in a long time, I felt something stirring within me. It felt like freedom. Freedom to hope. Freedom to live. Freedom, finally, from tyranny.
Judith Fetterley, 84, was a finalist in WAWA Hope with the story ‘A positive sort of folk’ in the Creative Nonfiction category.
“I was surprised and delighted to see my name listed as a finalist.
I live in upstate New York, Capital District area. My first profession was as an academic, teaching American literature, Women Studies, and Writing Studies. My second career was as a garden designer, with a small perennial garden design business called Perennial Wisdom. I still consider myself a semi-professional gardener even though I have closed my business. I maintain my own large garden and also co-manage major demonstration gardens for my Master Gardener program in Albany County.
As you can tell from my piece, one of the things I love most about gardening is my community of fellow gardeners who are, among other things, ever hopeful.
I have been writing about the experience of being a gardener for quite awhile now and different thoughts about the process emerge at different times. Of course, the piece went through many revisions, for writing is revising, and one is hardly ever fully satisfied. Even when a piece gets published one can always see things she would do differently if she could have one more go at it. A previous version had another title, ‘Hopeful,’ but for this shorter one ‘A positive sort of folk’ title seemed best.”
A Positive Sort of Folk
by Judith Fetterley
Gardeners are a positive sort of folk. Consider that no matter how bad the weather last year, no matter the unusually warm spring that teased out blossoms only to be killed by an “unprecedented” late frost, no matter that summer brought flood or drought, no matter the winter ravages of bark-eating rabbits or root-gnawing voles, we approach each new season believing that this time summer will be filled with gentle rains and winter will be mild and that spring will be lovely.
Henry Mitchell, who for two decades shared his thoughts on gardening with the readers of the Washington Post, liked to observe, “The kind of innocence that is best lost quickly is the simple-minded belief that spring will be lovely. It will not. It will be dreadful.”
Nevertheless, despite Henry, we believe. In late April we frequent nurseries where we see, we want, we buy. We bring our treasure home and plant it, carefully. We make sure to water it regularly. Then comes a late bitter cold snap that kills our tender treasure. Do we give up? Not a chance. We go back to the nursery and get another just like the one we lost. If it should die from deer browse, we go back and get another.
I bought a rose bush once. It was sickly from the start. I sprayed it and watered it and talked to it. I bemoaned its lack of success and asked anyone who would listen what to do to make it grow. Did I ever consider getting rid of it? Certainly not. And why? Because I know that this year it will finally respond to my love and will take hold and flourish.
I have never known a gardener quit gardening because she or he was discouraged. Of course, we get discouraged. Have I not despaired over the arrival of yet another invasive Asian worm or lost heart when the deer ate to the ground all my lace-cap hydrangeas? Do I not hear, whenever I get together with gardening friends, the tales of insect pests and fatal diseases, of groundhog rampage and too much or too little rain?
But we always rally. Our attitude kicks in like my old two-cylinder motorcycle whose engine never failed to start. If it rains, we say, “This is good for the garden, we need water.” If it fails to rain, we say, “This is good for the garden, we need sun, and besides we can always water. Aren’t we lucky that it isn’t raining!”
We know Henry Mitchell is right. We know the garden is the site of dreadful springs, and summers and falls, that can drive gardeners mad. But we don’t care. Just like an old Brooklyn Dodgers fan, we cry, “Wait until next year.”
For this is what really makes a gardener – not just an interest in plants or a degree in horticulture, not even a green thumb, but rather a hopefulness more deep-rooted than any plant could ever be.