Interview with Jean Ransom, Runner Up in WOW's Q2 2023 Creative Nonfiction Essay Contest

Sunday, June 18, 2023
I'm thrilled to chat with Jean Ransom about her award-winning essay, "Rude Awakening." You may recognize Jean's name from previous interviews here and here where she placed in WOW's creative nonfiction contests. In today's interview, we chat about writing in second person, revision, entering contests, and Jean's super cute dogs!
Jean Ransom
Jean's bio:
Jean Ransom has been writing for a living since she sold her first story to Seventeen magazine at age seventeen. Over the years, she’s written for radio stations and ad agencies, traveled internationally with a bed-and-breakfast magazine, and published numerous articles in national and regional magazines and newspapers.
The author of nine children’s picture books, Jean became interested in writing flash fiction and micro memoir after participating in workshops at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival. She’s also taken several WOW! Women on Writing classes, and has been a finalist or in the Top Ten in previous WOW contests. 
Jean divides her time between her home in St. Louis, Missouri, and a cottage in northern Michigan. When she’s not writing or reading, she’s birding, rockhounding, kayaking, or hiking.
----- Interview by Angela Mackintosh
WOW: Welcome, Jean, and congratulations on your winning creative nonfiction, “Rude Awakening.” I simply love essays written in second person! Why did you decide to write in this point of view?
Jean: I wrote this essay as a WOW class assignment after instructor Chelsey Clammer talked to my class about point of view. I remember second person being a less-common POV in essays—and more of a challenge to write. We read a couple of examples of second-person essays, but unfortunately I don't recall the titles. Chelsey encouraged us to play around with different POVs to find the one that really felt right for the story we were telling. My initial impulse was to write my essay in first person, but after a few sentences, I switched to second person almost intuitively. "Rude Awakening" is my first and only essay written in second person. Playing around with different POVs is a really great writing exercise! 
WOW: Well, you nailed the POV! It works so well with the pacing of your essay, as you walk the reader through the event and pepper in the backstory. Your beginning and ending are also brilliant—where the narrator stops peeing midstream and in the end finds relief. What was the trickiest part of writing/revising this essay?
Jean: Thank you, Angela! As I mentioned, Chelsey Clammer was the instructor for the WOW class I was taking when I wrote "Rude Awakening," and we were experimenting with using a repeated phrase in our essays. Mine was “Yes, you can stop peeing mid-stream, if you are terrified.” I wasn’t sure about that phrase at first. It seemed a little raw or coarse, not the typical way I'd start an essay. I tried to rewrite it and make it "nicer," more "polite." It was hard for me to accept that there was no other way to write this story without being raw and real. After all, I'm used to writing children's books where nothing bad happens and the endings are neatly tied up with a bow!
WOW: That’s so funny, and I’m glad you chose to be raw and real. Chelsey has a way of bringing out the bravery in writers! I'm still wondering about the dogs not barking. It's an interesting fact that stays with the reader throughout the piece. I'd love to hear more about your dogs. You have a collie and a sheltie—what are their ages, and why do you think they didn’t bark?
Jean: My husband and I were just talking about this! Our theory is that between the habit we had of using a big fan to block out sound at night and the fact that our bedroom was at the other end of the house from where the intruders broke in, no one woke up because no one heard anything. It was the middle of the night, and the only reason I woke up was because I had to pee. (I'm not going to lie, using that word in print still makes me wince a little!)
Sawyer and Sadie
Sawyer (left) and Sadie (right).
After the intruders ran out of the house and I went back to the bedroom to wake up my husband, the dogs woke up, too. When the police arrived, Mac, our Sheltie, ran to the top of the stairs and stood there barking, too scared to go downstairs. Our collie Comet followed my husband downstairs to give the officers a tail-wagging welcome. He may have barked once or twice, but it was more like a friendly "hello!"
Mac and Comet have long since gone over the Rainbow Bridge, but in the years since, we've always had at least one Sheltie or collie, or two. We lost our 12-year-old Sheltie, Nemo, four years ago, but we still have our collie Sadie, who recently turned eight. We added a second collie named Sawyer, two years ago. Sadie and I are a certified therapy team, and we visit an elementary school every week so that students can read to her. Sawyer is big, strong, and full of beans, but very sweet. He does agility, which he loves!
WOW: Aw, I’m sorry to hear about Mac, Comet, and Nemo. I picture them playing together in that magical place beyond the rainbow bridge. Thank you for sharing a photo of Sawyer and Sadie! They are beautiful, and it’s wonderful you and Sadie are a therapy team! I know you enjoy outdoor activities like birding and hiking. What are you up to right now?
Jean: I really need my "outside" time every day, whether it's walking the dogs, going birding, or just sitting on the patio in my backyard. Right now, my husband and I are getting ready to spend the summer at our cottage in Michigan, where we like to hike, kayak, and take our dogs on walks through the woods or on the beach. I also like to rock hunt and go birding, and I'm working on my "Northern Naturalist" certification at the local community college.
WOW: That sounds wonderful! Okay, one last question before I let you go and enjoy the great outdoors. I know you've been successful at placing as a finalist or in the top ten in several of WOW's contests. What are a few tips you can share with our writers for targeting and entering contests?
Jean: I really don’t enter many contests, but I came across WOW’s contests at a time when I was in a bit of a writing slump. I needed a reason to write and a deadline to meet, and contests are great for that! The wonderful feedback, encouragement, and support I received from WOW’s contests have been much-needed validation. Thank you!
As for tips for targeting and entering contests, first of all, I'd recommend that writers research any contest they're thinking of entering, including reading the fine print (especially the part about rights). Who is sponsoring the contest? Are they "legit?" There are a lot of wonderful contests out there, but there are scams, too. If you’re not sure about a contest, you can consult “Writer Beware” or “Alli,” short for "Alliance of Independent Authors,"
Look for free or low-fee contests to enter. If the price to submit is higher than the prize, you may want to pass on that contest. Do you know you can do a search for “legitimate writing contests 2023” and get plenty of qualified hits?
My biggest tip for successfully entering a contest? Follow the contest rules or guidelines to the letter! It should go without saying that you’ve checked your manuscript for grammar, spelling, and typos before you submit your entry. Are there rules about preferred typeface, formatting, etc.? Don’t risk having your submission disqualified before it’s even out of the starting gate!
One last tip! In a contest, there will always be winners, but you may not be one of them. Not the first time, maybe not even the second or the tenth or even the fiftieth time. Don’t give up—not on your story, or your writing, or yourself! If feedback is an option in a contest, you may want to take advantage of it to see if there are ways to make your story even stronger. Then get it back out there!
WOW: Fantastic advice, Jean! I also love Victoria Strauss at Writer Beware and Alli, and especially your inspirational advice: "Don’t give up—not on your story, or your writing, or yourself!" Amen. Thank you so much for chatting with me today, and I wish you much success in all your writing endeavors!
Find out more about WOW's flash fiction and creative nonfiction contests here:


Anonymous said...

Wow, this is an awesome one...

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

Whether you are writing for young readers or adults, your writing always packs a punch. Thank you so much for sharing this!

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