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catnav-news-active-3Post #110 – Memoir Writing News – Matilda Butler

First Paragraph Contest Winners

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

And the Gold Winners Are…

Oh, wait a minute. Before we reveal the winners, I want to share with you how excited Pamela Jane Bell and I have been all week about today’s announcement of the First Paragraph Contest Gold Winners. As you probably know, last week we announced the Silver winners. If you didn’t read them, along with Pamela’s comments, CLICK HERE. After you read the entries from these contestants, we urge you to leave them a brief note in the Comments section just below the blog post. There is much to be admired in all of these paragraphs.

Today we are announcing the First Paragraph Gold Winners. And we have one more First Paragraph post, on October 14, 2014, when we will be announcing the Grand Prize winners and publishing their first paragraphs accompanied by a discussion of what made these entries so intriguing. As writers, we’re on a constant learning curve and all of the entries have caused us to dig deeper into effective openings. Do you feel the same way?

We think that examining these paragraphs and reading Pamela Jane’s comments will help to inspire you and keep you all on track 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.  The GOLD winners will receive the following:

a. Name and publication title published

b. First paragraph published and individual comments on the paragraph

c. Gold Certificate (Will be sent email and can be printed by each person — will be personalized with name)


I want to thank Pamela for the skill and insight that she’s brought to these winners’ entries. And as I mentioned last week, Pamela not only describes what she likes about each paragraph, but also suggests improvements that will make them even better. We hope this approach will help you to look at your own writing to make sure that it is both what you want to say and what readers might think.


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


Elena Tajima Creef m.

Pamela: Elena’s first paragraph is riveting.  It has a strong, vivid sense of time and place and you feel this writer knows where she is taking us.  Not only is the writing direct and even hard-hitting; it’s lyrical at the same time.  Elena did a marvelous job in her opening and I’m confident the rest of her story will be just as compelling.

Elena Tajima Creef  for “Notes of a Fragmented Daughter”

buffaloIn the Army, there are some families you keep on living next to your whole life. At least, that’s what it felt like growing up outside Fort Sill, in Lawton, Oklahoma in the 1960s. Fort Sill is that flat place on the American map in Comanche County—at the base of the Wichita Mountains just 47 miles east of the Texas border—where one of the largest herds of buffalo still roam and where the captured Bedonkohe Apache warrior and medicine man Goyathlay, also known as Geronimo, was sent in 1894 to live as a prisoner of war until he fell off his horse and died a retired warrior’s death in 1909.  In the 1960s, Lawton was also a special kind of gathering place for multiracial families like mine that had been unofficially banished to the anonymity of the interior prairie states—out of view from mainstream white America. If you drive through parts of Oklahoma or Kansas today, you can still find the occasional JACL* Picnic and traces of mixed-race Japanese—the great-grandchildren of war brides—who have been folded into invisibility across the white midwestern communities scattered across the Great Plains.

*Japanese American Citizens League

Martha Goudey m.

Pamela: Martha’s first paragraph is full of contradictions and conflicts, both of which draw the reader in and promise an important story. She shares confidences with the reader, which makes us feel sympathetic towards her. There are several ways I could take my comments, but I decided to focus on one small detail that tells much more than three letters ordinarily do. Notice how she says “the stepfather.” At first you might think this is a typo. Surely she means “my stepfather.” After all this is her stepfather not just any old stepfather. So with the simple word “the,” Martha hints at the story she must tell. Then, with your suspicions on the rise, you read about her mother, “righteous in her denial.” We look forward to hearing more from Martha for she has awakened our interest.

Martha Goudey for “The Bitter and the Sweet, A Caregiver’s Chronicle” (Working Title)

August, 1974stained glass

Light filters through the stained glass window, Jesus on the Cross illuminating the altar and flowers arranged there by my mother, an altar guild member. As the priest intones the Episcopal Eucharist, I squirm in my seat next to her. Perhaps to atone for my lapses, I force myself to sit still. I did not attend the stepfather’s funeral, nor did I visit him when he lay sick three months in a hospital bed. I have not explained; no one has asked. Mom directs me to hold the prayer book as she prays, and as she sings her beloved hymns I hold the hymnal just so, like I did as a child. I have never liked the way she moves her mouth when she prays or when she sings the high notes, righteous in her denial. I want to run.

Mary C. Johansen m.

Pamela: I was drawn in by Mary’s evocative and lyrical description of her childhood home, and especially by her last sentence with its reference to the world’s beauty “in all its haphazard shapes and contours.”  Mary might think about cutting the italicized sentence which distracts us from the spell she weaves so skillfully.

Mary C. Johansen for “Standing in Shifting Sand”

When I think back to childhood, I’m sure the summer breezes and the winter winds, the ocean currents and the hill we lived on with its view of rooftops leading to the endless blues of the Atlantic Ocean meeting the sky, conspired, along with my family, to make me who I am.  My mind fills with memories of the beach town we lived in, our apartment, my parents.  […I’m struck by the depth of feelings attached to these long-ago memories.] In my mind’s eye, I see a canvas slowly covered with colors until a picture appears of this past world—my world in all its beauty, in all its haphazard shapes and contours.

memoir contest winner

Melanie Pennington m.

Pamela: Melanie’s opening is impressively chilling.  She skillfully weaves palpable details, such as the dim light and stuffiness in the barn, with the mysterious “she” who beckons the narrator.  She might hold back (delete) the italicized sentence below, and let the reader slowly realize that the smile is maniacal, not friendly, which would add to the suspense.

Melanie Pennington for “Comprehending Chaos”

I’ve been in the sun too long. As I walk into the barn, I am temporarily blinded. The bright sun followed by the sudden shift to the dark barn causes my retinas to temporarily shut down. She is farther back in the barn. Beckoning me. It is cooler in the barn, but stuffy, making it difficult to breathe. I weave my way to the back of the barn where she is waiting for me. She is smiling. I am still unaware of the dangers in that smile. […Later I will come to understand her smile is maniacal, not friendly.] I cannot know that what is about to happen will alter my life and perceptions for years to come. I cannot know that I will tuck these events deep into the recesses of my mind for more than 30 years.

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

COME BACK NEXT WEEK Be sure to return next week for the GRAND PRIZE winners, their first paragraphs, and Pamela’s highlights about what she likes most about each.

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, know that we believe you are all winners whether you got a medal or not. Really? Absolutely. You had the courage and confidence to share your writing with others.  We urge you to enter other contests we’ll be holding. And even more importantly, keep writing! Your life story is valuable.

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.

<br /> 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:] As I mentioned last week, Pamela and I have never met in person. Of course, we’ve gotten to know each other since she’s contributed articles to our website for several years. We now even know a little about each other’s children and my grandchildren.

I’ve read Pamela’s children’s books as well as her first book for adults that is a fun spin on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and know she’s a great storyteller. And of interest to this community of writers, Pamela recently completed her memoir and is beginning to look for a publisher.

One of her children’s books makes a super special Halloween gift for children or grandchildren 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.


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

by Pamela JaneSeptember 23, 2014
WomensMemoirs First Paragraph Contest: Announcement of Bronze Winners, Part 1

Pamela Jane Bell announces the first half of the Bronze winners of our First Paragraph contest. Join us in celebrating these women’s entries and learn from them about writing your own openings.

Read the full article →

News: Memoir Contest Winners: Memories of Winter

by Matilda ButlerApril 16, 2013
News: Memoir Contest Winners: Memories of Winter

Women’s Memories extends our congratulations to the winners of our Memories of Winter contest.

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Memoir Writing Contest Winners Announced, EBook Planned

by Matilda ButlerJuly 30, 2012
Memoir Writing Contest Winners Announced, EBook Planned

Women’s Memoirs is pleased to announce the winners of our summer contest. Be sure to stay tuned for news about their publication in a new ebook.

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December Holiday Memoir Contest Winners Announced

by Matilda ButlerDecember 25, 2011
December Holiday Memoir Contest Winners Announced

Post #164 – Women’s Memoir Writing, ScrapMoir – Matilda Butler and Kendra Bonnett December Holidays: Memoir Contest Winners Announced Merry Christmas. Kendra and I wish you the best for this day and for all of 2012. We hope you have days filled with family, friends, love and hope. A contest featuring December just has to […]

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Memoir Contest Winners Announced: Giving Thanks and Gratitude

by Matilda ButlerNovember 24, 2011
Memoir Contest Winners Announced: Giving Thanks and Gratitude

Women’s Memoirs announces the winners of our November Memoir Writing Contest — Gratitude. As we publish these stories, we hope you will leave the winners your comments.

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Halloween Memoir Contest Winners Announced

by Matilda ButlerOctober 31, 2011
Halloween Memoir Contest Winners Announced

Women’s Memoirs is pleased to announce the the winners of our Halloween Memoir Writing Contest.

Read the full article →
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