WomensMemoirs First Paragraph Contest: Announcement of Bronze Winners, Part 1

by Pamela Jane on September 23, 2014

catnav-news-active-3Post #108 – Memoir Writing News – Matilda Butler

Bronze award winners for memoir writing

Pamela Jane Bell Announces the First Bronze Winners in Women’s Memoirs First Paragraph Contest

This Is Exciting
Before I turn this blog over to Pamela, I want to share how excited we have been with this contest. As many of you know, on August 5, Pamela announced a new “First Paragraph” contest for the Women’s Memoirs community.  Although the contest was open for less than a month, the entries poured in every single day. We were intrigued, delighted, and surprised by both the volume and the quality.

Last week we announced the Honorable Mention winners. If you didn’t see them, CLICK HERE. We hope you’ll take the time to congratulate the winners of the Honorable Mentions as well as the Bronzes.

Today we are announcing the first half of the First Paragraph Bronze Winners. In future posts, we will be announcing the other winning entries, as follows:

September 30, 2014:  Announcement of the second half of the Bronze winners including their first paragraphs with a few notes.

October 7, 2014:  Announcement of Silver winners and publication of their first paragraphs with highlighted sentences or notes that readers will especially appreciate.

October 14, 2014:  Announcement of Gold winners and publication of their first paragraphs along with a brief discussion of facets of these entries, facets that helped bring them to the Gold level.

October 21, 2014:  Announcement of Grand-Prize winners and publication of their first paragraphs accompanied with a discussions of what made these entries rise to the top.

We hope that seeing your work and other’s in print, and reading Pamela Jane’s comments will help to inspire you and keep you all glued to your notepads or computers as you write, edit, polish, and finally have the first paragraph that your memoir or novel deserves.

A Reminder about Our Prizes

Each category of winners has its own set of prizes. All the prizes were described last week, but we thought we’d mention what the Bronze winners will receive.

Bronze Winners

a. Author’s name and book title listed on our website

b. First paragraph published and noteworthy sentences bolded and/or a comment by Pamela Jane

c. Bronze Certificate will be emailed to each Bronze winner

d. $40 off coupon for The [Essential] Women’s Memoir Writing Workshop: 21 Online Video Lessons with 8 hours of instruction and more than 40 exercises. The video lessons sell for $109 but we have them on special right now for $79. With the $40 off, the lessons are just $39 or just $1.86 each. (Details for using coupon will be emailed to each Bronze winner.)

I’ll turn this over now to Pamela.


Pamela Jane BellBy Pamela Jane Bell
Regular guest blogger, children’s book author and coach. Pamela is currently seeking an agent for her memoir.

First Paragraph BRONZE WINNERS

(Please note “m” is memoir, “f” is fiction.)

First Paragraph Contest Bronze Certificate

Leah Abrahams m.

Pamela: It’s always challenging for a memorist or novelist to give the reader background information in a way that feels natural and unforced, and I think Leah did this very cleverly.  She definitely captured my attention and made me want to read on!

Leah Abrahams for “Of Course I Can”

Of course I can add!

73 years of a life

30 years as an orphan

29 years of a marriage

46 years of motherhood

16 years of a romance

33 years loving a special-needs son

20 years exploring art

12 years in a third career

49 years in one city now filled with friends

Equal: Time to sell my house, move to Boston for love and start a new count.

Come with me…

Linda Atwell m.

Pamela: We asked for first paragraphs, but I took the liberty of publishing Linda Atwell’s first two paragraphs since her first consisted of only one sentence.  And yet, it was the first sentence that intrigued me; I like its brevity and the conflict and challenge implicit in the reversal ­– “but not the one I got.”  This is what screenwriter Bob McKee calls “opening the gap” between expectation and result, and it’s the heart and soul of story.

Linda Atwell for “Out One Ear: The Joyful and Heart Wrenching Journey of Helping a Daughter With Developmental Delays Achieve Independence”

I always wanted a daughter, but not the one I got.

She started out perfect, with all her fingers and toes. I know because I counted each one. Four times–to make sure.  She had movie star eyelashes. Long. Dark. I didn’t notice them at first. My daughter screeched so loud her nose wrinkled and her eyes scrunched together tight enough for the lashes to completely disappear.

Ellen Barnes m.

Pamela: Ellen’s first sentence (bolded, below) caught my attention; she gives the reader a lot of information very economically, and in language that evokes a vivid visual image.

Ellen Barnes for “Queen for a Day”

Frank pouted, puckering his lips at the image in the mirror while applying shimmering lip color. Touching up blue eye shadow and mascara, he tousled his long blond wig and adjusted the push-up bra eyeing his hormone-enhanced breasts with approval.   If he won the contest, the prize would go a long way towards completing his transformation to Francine.  He was always Francine.  There were just a few technical difficulties.  Smoothing his form-fitting red satin dress and striking a pose, he sashayed into the lobby planting a wet kiss on the horrified manager’s cheek.  “I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille.”

Vicky Bates m.

Pamela: Vicky’s first paragraph is dramatic, and she accomplishes this in only a few words.  Likening fear to burning coffee removes it from a trite expression of the emotion. The title too is both intriging and mysterious.  We’re not sure exactly whose jacket is empty, if it will remain empty, and if so why.  I would certainly want to read on!

Vicky Bates for “Empty Jacket”


I feel the difference. First, the rush of adrenaline pulsing and spiraling through my body, fear going down like burning coffee swallowed too hot. I steady myself against the emergency table that fits my son’s body so perfectly.

Janet  Brantley  f.

Pamela: I was captivated by the mystery implicit in Janet’s first sentence.  The fact that the narrator is drawn to the beach without understanding why presents an intriguing premise.

Janet Brantley for “Murder by Any Other Name”Biloxi Bay Bridge in Biloxi, Mississippi

“Something was coming, but I didn’t know what, and that not knowing had sent me here this evening after work – to the beach in Ocean Springs, where I could watch the balloon of golden sun setting over toward Texas. I had parked Bernice, my little red Beetle, in one of the pull-offs, taken off my sandals, grabbed a quilt, and set out to find the perfect spot to watch another of our glorious sunsets. On this Thursday afternoon, I needed solitude though I wasn’t sure why. My day at work at MEMA had been easy and without controversy. This didn’t feel like it had anything to do with work, anyway. The person on my mind, the one who’d been on my mind all day, was Richie.”

Christine Caldwell m.

Pamela: Christine has achieved a very natural, conversational voice in this opening, which we know is difficult to do. I felt as though I were hearing her story directly from her, one-on-one, and we can probably all relate to trying to talk our way through a fearful situation.

Christine Caldwell for “The Patchwork of My Soul”

Hands white-knuckled on the steering wheel of the old truck and eyes focused on the whoop-di-doos ahead, I muttered my constant mantra of the last thirty minutes: “Please don’t let me meet another vehicle…please don’t let me meet another vehicle….” No sign of dust on the gravel road ahead as it curved toward the dam; maybe my prayer would be answered one last mile.

Brenda de Jong m.

Pamela: I like Brenda’s conversational and unconventional opening where she tells us we will have adventures the narrator herself has not experienced. The lessons to be learned, it appears, are ones the reader and the author will learn together.

Brenda de Jong for “My Name is Elpee”

“Hello and thank you for being here.  I would like to introduce myself and invite you to accompany me on my deliciously deep and whimsical journey.  Hmmm, is it even possible to be delicious, deep, and whimsical all at the same time?  In any event, it is a magical trip that will transport us to both times and places as yet unknown, to people and not-people still unmet, and to adventures unlived and lessons unlearned.”

Patricia Florio m.

Pamela: “Confessions of a Court Reporter” is an intriguing title and premise; the reader feels confident she is in for some fascinating tales! But it is the specificity of detail in this opening that is the compelling invitation to the reader to stand next to the author in the scene and press her thumb on the rotary wheel.

Patricia Florio for “Confessions of a Court Reporter”

As simple as picking up an apple from a dish, I picked up my father’s silver Zippo.  I didn’t have one thought in my head to do something destructive.  I just wanted to see how it worked.  Inside the bathroom, I flipped open the lighter, as I had seen my father do a hundred times. I pressed my thumb on the rotary wheel pushing down as hard as I could.  The first time only produced some sparks.  My second attempt, I pushed harder, and an orange blue flame appeared with the familiar odor of lighter fluid, the same smell I recognized when my father lit up a cigarette. For no reason I can think of I placed the flame under a stream of toilet paper.  Instantly, the flimsy paper roared…

Cindy Fox f.

Pamela: Cindy’s bolded sentence below “she deserved better” caught my attention.  We understand immediately that Charles is sad but wonder why his wife deserved better, and if so why didn’t she get what she deserved?  The opening seems to hang tantalizingly on that question.

Cindy Fox for “Evening Shadows”

Charles stands next to his wife’s open casket. A spray of autumn mums rests on top. Tears sting his nose, pungent, spicy. An entwined ribbon stenciled Husband in glittery gold unravels him, the fancy decoration unbefitting alongside the humble, rust-colored blossoms–the first flowers he has bought her.  She deserved better. She deserved roses that spoke of undying love. His tie cuts into his neck as he bows his head in sorrow, but the tightness in his chest strangles him with shame. He closes his eyes on his blindness and sees a shower of blinking lights burning holes into his eyelids. Hot tears cling to the corners of his eyes. A steady stream of tinged images flicker through his mind. All the special occasions he’d missed seeing her eyes light up with bouquets of flowers while he nearsightedly looked in the wrong direction.

Amy Mull Fremgen m.

Pamela: Amy’s first sentence, bolded below, appears very matter-of-fact.  And yet it’s the facts she presents that set up what promises to be a fascinating narrative.

Amy Mull Fremgen for “An Ordinary Childhood: Growing up Innocent”

It was 1936. My mother was twenty years old, pregnant, unmarried, and Catholic. Her future and mine were headed towards disaster—socially, economically, and spiritually. Unwed motherhood back then was not a cause for celebration as it is today.  Although my parents were in love, there was a marriage barrier. My father was Methodist. Neither religion was hot on mixed marriages. I was the match maker made in heaven. With my imminent arrival, both families agreed a mixed marriage would be a blessing.

Betty Hafner m.

Pamela: Betty’s title, combined with the poignant yet almost slap-stick moment below (see bolded sentences) make the reader feel she is in the hands of a capable and adept storyteller.

Betty Hafner for “Not Exactly Love”

db-vw-pumps“Here goes!” I said aloud and took one last peek in the mirror, relieved to see that my sweat rings didn’t show. The silky sleeves hid a purple bruise too, but that was not on my mind at that moment. I opened the bedroom door and strode along the hall as if I were already in front of the ten people who waited below. I heard a rustling noise, probably one of the young brothers, then a loud “Shhhh.” I paused at the top of the stairs and drew in a breath, heavy with the scent of gardenias. I moved down slowly yet just before the bottom, the heel of my satin pump clipped the carpeted edge, snapped off and my right foot shot out from under me. The flowers flew as I grabbed the banister and collapsed onto a step. The others couldn’t see me behind the wall but they knew. I heard my mother gasp.

Christy Heady  m.

Pamela: Contrasts and reversals are the stuff of good stories, and I like the disparity of hiring a personal chef juxtaposed with the hard-scrabble life of raising a new baby as single mom.  Christy’s opening implies that she is a resourceful person whose solutions to life’s dilemmas will be uniquely her own.

Christy Heady for “Parenting with Grace, Gratitude … and Guts! My Journey Through the Wilderness of Single Motherhood”

One of the lowest points into my initiation to motherhood was the day I hired a personal chef to come to my house and cook for me.  Some new mothers may think this a luxury; after I reflected upon my circumstances at being abandoned by my ex and raising a five-month-old baby by myself, I waddled in a pool of self-pity and reached for my checkbook.

We congratulate each of these authors and we hope you’ll post your best wishes and thoughts to them in the comment section below.

Be sure to return next week for the remainder of the Bronze winners, their first paragraphs, and Pamela’s highlights about what she likes most about each.

Please Note Future Prizes as follows:

1.  BRONZE WINNERS (second half, see above).

a. Name and book title listed on our website.

b. First paragraph published and noteworthy sentences bolded and/or a comment by Pamela Jane.

c. Silver Certificate will be emailed to each Silver winner.

d. Free Kindle version of one of the four ten-time award-winning anthologies in the SEASONS OF OUR LIVES (Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter) series

a. Name and book title listed on our website.

b. First paragraph published and individual comments by Pamela Jane.

c. Gold Certificate will be emailed to each Gold winner.

d. Choice of free copy of either Writing Alchemy: How to Write Fast and Deep — or — The [Essential] Women’s Mention Writing Workshop: 21 Online Video Lessons

a. Name and book title listed on our website.

b. First paragraph published and individual comments by Pamela Jane on the paragraph.

c. Grand Winner Certificate will be emailed to each Grand Winner.

d. Free Kindle version of one of the four anthologies in the SEASONS OF OUR LIVES (Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter) series?e. Choice of free copy of either Writing Alchemy: How to Write Fast and Deep — or — The [Essential] Women’s Mention Writing Workshop: 21 Online Video Lessons

A Word About the Kindle eBooks Silver and Grand Winners will receive one of our four award-winning, best-selling Kindle ebooks: Seasons of Our Lives: Spring Seasons of Our Lives: Summer Seasons of Our Lives: Autumn Seasons of Our Lives: Winter


Every First Paragraph entry was read and rated when we received it.  In addition, all first paragraphs were read and scored a second time, and cutoff scores were established for the Honorable Mentions, Bronzes, Silvers, Golds, and Grand Winners.

As always, think you are all winners because you had the courage and confidence to share your writing with others.  We urge you to enter other contests we’ll be holding.   And most importantly, keep writing!

Womens Memoirs Logo, memoir writing

Pamela Jane is the author of thirty children’s books published by Houghton Mifflin, Atheneum, Simon & Schuster, Penguin-Putnam, Harper, and others. Her newest book for adults, Pride and Prejudice and Kitties: A Cat-Lover’s Romp through Jane Austen’s Classic was featured in The Wall Street JournalThe Huffington Post, and BBC America, among other places. She recently finished her memoir Shout!  How I Lost Everything and Found My Voice: A Writer’s Journey.

Just in time for Halloween! Pamela’s recent Halloween picture book, Little Goblins Ten, illustrated by NY Times best-selling llustrator, Jane Manning, is based on the old country rhyme, “Over in the Meadow.” Here’s what’s being said about it:

“…trust the team of Jane and Manning to conjure up an impressive new vision in time for Halloween —Kirkus starred review

The classic counting rhyme ‘Over in the Meadow’ goes spooky in this Halloween riff, which should endure well past Oct. 31 —New York Times Book Review

Jane has fun playing within the nursery rhyme’s parameters…Manning’s quirky and expressive monster families are 10 kinds of cute.” —Publishers Weekly

[MATILDA SAYS:] If you have young children or grandchildren or even great grandchildren, I hope you will consider Pamela’s Little Goblins Ten as a Halloween gift to them. What fun to imagine sparking their interest in stories and storytelling. Maybe they will grow up to become writers. Besides books are much better than candy.

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