WomensMemoirs First Paragraph Contest: Grand Prize Winners Revealed!

by Pamela Jane on October 21, 2014

catnav-news-active-3Post #111 – Memoir Writing News – Matilda Butler

memoir writing contest winners

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

Who Would Have Known

Before I turn this post over to Pamela Jane Bell, I want to thank her for the idea of this contest but more importantly for all the work she has put into judging these entries and making comments on each one. It is only in the past few years that I’ve been asked to judge writing contests. I always take on the request thinking,

“How hard can it be? I’ll just read them, assign a score, and move on to the next one. It shouldn’t take too long.”

How quickly I forget. Amnesia takes over and I find myself agreeing to judge another contest. It is only after I have said “Yes.” that I remember how much time it actually takes because each entry has something of value, something that speaks to me, something of interest. So I end up reading, ranking, re-reading, and ranking again. Each entry needs to stand on its on merits but the set of entries has its own persona that needs to be teased out.

So when I thank Pamela for all her effort, it is not an idle, tinkly, air-kiss kind of acknowledgement. It is a full-blown shout-out from someone who understands all that she has done to make this contest rich, informative, successful.

But wait. Pamela is only half of this contest.

I can’t give my appreciation for Pamela without also thanking all the women (and men) who submitted first paragraphs of their ongoing work. We had many more entries (many, many more) than we anticipated. If you won you should feel really great about your effort and the courage it takes to submit to a contest. We understand that “putting yourself out there” isn’t easy. And we know that some of you are disappointed that you did not win an official award. Do not be discouraged. Your work may just need one more rewrite. It may need you to look closely at the way you tried to bring us into your story. It may need you to read it out loud to find the small problems or ambiguous sequences or cliché phrases. And, as I have heard many judges say, “Even a single typo can make me put an entry into the ‘No’ pile.” So polish, polish, polish. And continue to enter contests.

Pamela and I have both learned from these entries and hope that you have also. One rarely has the opportunity to read so many openings. Even though I’ve taught classes on effective first paragraphs, I pull together just a few examples from published memoirs in order to highlight the importance of openings. With these First Paragraph winners, we had the chance to see many admirable ways to begin the development of stories.

So Pamela and I both want to give everyone a big THANKS for making this contest such a success for all of us.

Award Winners

Today we announce our three Grand Prize Winners in the First Paragraph contest winners. Last week, Pamela Jane Bell announced the Gold Winners.  If you didn’t see them, CLICK HERE.

We hope you’ll take the time to read all of the winning first paragraphs — Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Grand Winners. Develop your own takeaways and reflect on how you want to begin your story.

Honorable Mention Winners

Bronze Winners, Part 1

Bronze Winners, Part 2

Silver Winners

Gold Winners

Just starting your memoir? Your first paragraph may change over time. You may find that you want to sound a different tone or you may want to hint at your theme or you may want to be more mysterious, more humorous, or just plain more ‘you.’ You’ll find your voice and the more you write the more you will see what you want to say and how you want to say it.

After reading the first paragraphs we have published, be sure to congratulate all the winners. You can leave a note in the Comments section at the bottom.

Prizes for Today’s Grand Winners

a. Name and book title published 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. Each winner gets to choose which ones.

e. Choice of FREE copy of either Writing Alchemy: How to Write Fast and Deep — OR — The [Essential] Women’s Memoir Writing Workshop: 21 Online Video Lessons

A Word About the Kindle eBooks
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

A note from Pamela

Reading your First Paragraph Contest submissions has been a truly rewarding and revealing experience!  I saw passion and commitment in every entry I read –  the two most important things a writer needs to succeed.  Beyond this, many of your entries were extraordinary, enlightening, and entertaining.  It was a privilege to read them.

In this final post we are publishing three outstanding entries, and they are in good company with all the other winners.  Congratulations to all of you!

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


Commentary by Pamela Jane Bell

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

Gretchen Hachmeister m.

Pamela: Gretchen’s opening is well-focused. Her use of sensory details may explain one of the reasons I was drawn in. Certainly her image of the car splitting in half along its axis, allowing her to head into the future alone with her mother, is intriguing.  I am interested to know why this vivid image occurs to the narrator when she was a little girl, and what splitting off from the family and driving into the future alone with her mother meant to her.  Gretchen has written a colorful and memorable opening and most readers I suspect will want to go along for the ride (as it were).

Gretchen Hachmeister for “Memory’s Address”

carThe tan leather upholstery, embossed like a honeycomb, enveloped our family with its sweet familiar scent. I always sat on the right side of the Mercedes’s back seat, behind my mother in the passenger seat.  Whenever all four of us climbed into the car, whether to go to my grandparents’ house, on a Sunday drive, or a long summer journey, I called the right side.  My brother thought I preferred to look out of the window at things along the side of the road, but I held the true reason to myself. I had imagined, forever, that should the car, for whatever unknown and bizarre reason, split in half lengthwise, break apart along its axis and become two separate two-wheeled vehicles, I’d be with my mother.  We’d leave the boys behind and she’d steer me toward the future.

S. E. Thomas f.

Pamela: The opening of S.E. Thomas’s dystopia/science fiction novel weaves a chilling spell, and the author gives us a lot of information upfront without seeming to force it.  Just the mention of “gene charting,” “the Fetal Growth Room,” and the “CC Surgery Center” (though we don’t yet know what that is) creates a menacing mood.  And the irony that the narrator himself may be part of the expendable “Commodity Class” gives the opening its final sinister touch.

Memoir Contest Certificate

S.E. Thomas for “Galaxy” (working title)

I don’t know why Absalom keeps me. I’m not any good at gene charting or chromosomal manipulation. My hands shake whenever I’m in the Fetal Growth Room. I can’t even walk past the CC Surgery Center without feeling panicky and nauseous. There are too many buttons in this place—too many ways to end a life. And it scares me.

Becky Blanton m.

Pamela: I want to sit down and read Becky’s memoir this minute!  The title is compelling, and the first sentence, “It was a grand bed, this bed of mine.” pulls the reader right in.  I loved her imagery of pine trees and red-tailed hawks contrasted with the rattle of shopping carts and slamming of car doors that follows, and how she imagined just for a moment that she was waking up in a mountain cabin.  Becky leaves us in suspense – how did she become homeless, and how will she cope with and hopefully overcome the circumstances she finds herself in?

Becky Blanton  for “When Wal-Mart Was Home”

writing contest winnersIt was a grand bed, this bed of mine. It was all soft with flannel and soft cotton sheets, plump pillows and a view of the largest stand of blue spruce pine trees in the southern end of the Wal-Mart parking lot.  My bed was also in the back of a 1975 Chevy van, home to me and my Rottweiler and cat.  For the first ten minutes of every morning I could look out through the windshield from flat on my back and see pine trees waving in the mountain breeze. I could see red tailed hawks preening among the branches. For just a few minutes I could pretend I was in a mountain cabin.  But then someone would walk by my window and I’d hear the rattle of shopping carts and slamming car doors and the illusion would be broken. I would roll over and see soccer moms and small children staring at me curled up in my blankets, obviously living in my car. The shame would wash over me and I would lie back and pull the sheet up over my head until the sun and the heat of the day forced me out. I was 50 years old and I was newly homeless.


Women’s Memoirs First Paragraph contest has been lots of fun. A final thank you to everyone who participated. We do have one ongoing contest and invite entries. Just CLICK HERE for more information. The final deadline is soon, November 30. But you still have time to polish your memoir vignette and to enter. And while you are polishing, be sure to think about all you have learned from the many first paragraphs that we’ve published.

And most importantly–-even to those who did not enter our contest this time–-keep writing! Your story is important and you are the person to write it.

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’S THOUGHTS:] Recently my first granddaughter celebrated her first birthday. I look forward to years with her and see a long life stretching out in front of her. So many milestones to come — so many have already passed — first tooth (she now has six), first word, first step. I wish many things for her — after all she is named Matilda Lou. But one thing I especially anticipate will be the hours we spend together reading.

Special books for children are such an important aspect of their development. Matilda Lou already has one of Pamela Jane’s children’s books and will soon have a second. If you have a child, grandchild, or great grandchild the right age for Pamela’s books, I urge you to consider getting one. Pamela is a great storyteller.

And be sure to stay tuned for her memoir. She recently completed it and is beginning to look for a publisher.

One of her children’s books makes a super special Halloween gift for any young ones on your list. It’s Little Goblins Ten I’ve provided the link to purchase it through Amazon. Although I’m sure that if you contact Pamela directly through her website that she’d be glad to sell you a personally autographed copy.

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