Skip to main content

Writer's Digest 90th Annual Competition Memoir/Personal Essay First Place Winner: "Passion’s War"

Congratulations to LC Helms, first place winner in the Memoir/Personal Essay category of the 90th Annual Writer's Digest Writing Competition. Here's the winning essay, "Passion’s War."

Congratulations to LC Helms, firstplace winner in the Memoir/Personal Essay category of the 90th Annual Writer's Digest Writing Competition. Here's the winning essay, "Passion’s War."


[See the complete winner's list]

Passion’s War

My sister had curly black hair, with tints of red waves, reminding me of a dark colored thoroughbred mare as it raced alone across the rocky shore of an ocean; she was free and brazen, full of fire and strength and no regrets. Paula was born out of a dying flame; her existence a glowing ember ready to ignite and wage war for the tiniest spite. I wished her back a million times and ached to see those blue eyes glaring straight through me, hating me till she loved me back once more.

But death gives back none it claims. Memories, both good and bad, are all it leaves behind.

Night was the only way to see her again. Inside the wicked haunts of fuzzy dreams, I embraced sweet moments and brushes with her new kindness; each encounter tormenting my anguished mind. Only from behind the veil of slumber could she be touched or calmed or loved again.

In life, she was intense and dynamic with busy hands flailing through the air; her expressive movements never ceased for fear that within any quiet stillness a reaper would emerge from a fathomless darkness and capture her soul. Her long-buried emotions were still alive, hiding, waiting to erupt then draw her back into isolation, Her temper always claimed the intimacy she never surrendered. An angry steadiness pushed Paula forward, her lips seemingly never stopping once to take in a breath.

Words. Words. Words and fury were all she knew, and this noise kept her from hearing the beat of her own heart. Her eyes, windows with the shades pulled low, blue shadows as cool and haunting as a deep ocean cavern on a frosty winter day, drew me in like a wave then pulled me back into a sea that held no mercy.

She was fierce and powerful and unforgiving like ocean waves, mesmerizing and comforting, yet powerfully dangerous.


No two were ever so different and at odds, and yet, so ever much the same. I was born within the bounds of love. She was formed from the bitter endings of leftover passion, growing resentment, and desperate denial.

Paula was haunted in an eerie, unsettling way. Her countenance was sinister, always yearning for an embrace, though never accepting the kind touch offered by another. No one could tame or lure her in, not even hints of kindness; everything and everyone was suspect, dangerous. From behind her cavernous caerulean eyes, trust became the enemy. Thick stone walls prevented evil, liars, and those who meant harm from imposing further doom, and still, these same walls separated her from goodness, love, and peace.

Conceived out of a strangling love gasping for breath and afraid of dying, she bore the shame. Yes, she was bred and born of two souls unwilling to let desire go or leave to the past. The night allowed for one more kiss, one more embrace, leaving truth behind and allowing selfish needs to arise. This final sword became her peril. Then what was left to give this fire?


She fought, and kicked, and screamed her way into the world. Then through months and years of struggle, within hating and loving, then dying before she could ever know who she really was, her life was taken. Did she die at forty-four when carelessness and metal and glass came out of nowhere and pushed her into the dark forest, or did she really die upon conception, never having had a chance to know the joy and passions of love? Still, she is gone. Who knew which moment really took her, but an instant consumed her passion, and her fiery war was lost.

What did it feel like to live behind the fortified walls of a castle? She knew. Though beautiful beyond brilliance, she feared her own breath. Whatever her rage touched burned to ashes, whatever came close, she destroyed.

Though now at night, while I lie beneath the shadows of sleep, she comes to me. There we walk through dew filled grass under thick low-hanging trees, and I share my heart with her. My voice is soft. She is silent. Then I tell her all I know.

Writer's Digest 90th Annual Competition Memoir/Personal Essay First Place Winner: "Passion’s War"

I dream of you without the fire, your touch gentle and your eyes warm. Your body no longer a fierce flame, but a tiny ember with open arms and a forgiving heart. A heart allowed to love. Dazzling and pure, you are cool enough to touch.

After you left my tears fell and memories resurrected to torment and to soothe all that was and was not said between us. But in the after I dream of you beside me. We walk together through thick foliage and full trees, through the leaf-strewn grounds and grassy fields, endlessly free and vulnerable, your spirit pure and clean and without strife. You hold my hand in silence as we walk, and I feel your steady calm for the first time. I don’t let go and somehow your slender fingers forget to pull away.

I dream of you beside me as we lay upon the ground. The warm sun against our skin as I cry for you for hours.

“Let this feeling go,” you say softly. “I no longer sense the pain and now I understand.”

Still, I cry for all the years you burned hot as fire and waged war with heaven and earth for creating you in a dying love, crippling your heart. And now, to you the pain matters little and you want me to understand.

“Let your dimension be a part of who we used to be,” you say, “and a part of what had stolen our souls for a time; not who we are or where we’re going. Let this place we have together give you all I never was.”

Such words of wisdom—so hard for me to understand.

Tears fall in torrents inside the dreams, rushing away all the hurt and rage, like the washing of sand as the tide comes in. When I wake strong waters tug at my soul and an ache replaces the space where she had laid beside me.


The leftover parts of her given over by the night cause a drumming ache to pound within my chest and I can’t help but want more of this new kindness that I cannot understand.

Can you still hear me?

She was born in a heat of unquenchable night where love had long since ceased, where desire and hurt were all to be gleaned, remaining to torment; her very existence a reminder of what kind of pain the heart could live to feel. Inside of her wrestled both joy and agony, each struggling to survive, the animation distracting and captivating by all who watched her from a distance.

Her rage was crushing. The crude rumblings of her soul left destruction wherever she walked. Her emptiness was laid bare and displayed openly for the creators of her life to reap. But she deserved a depth of love no one could give, yet she alone loved and hated with this same zeal.

And in my dreams you come to me and walk with me through the forest, your hand grasped firmly in mine the way it should have been in life; your voice still and silent as we journey together. Your eyes are gentle, they are kind. There is a keen understanding within you that wasn’t there before. A new wisdom emanates warmth from behind knowing eyes that hate no more. We lie down on the grass once again, our heads together staring into the bluest sky.


Her breath is warm, her manner soft, unlike in life, in birth, in trial. I dream of her beside me always laughing, always good, always kind. Not broken anymore but loved.

Sometimes I see us playing as tiny girls again. Dolls. Toys. Hugs. Then tears. War. Fire. Screams. Rocking on and on and on as though she’d never stop. I saw the hate growing in her and though I begged, no one could stop this fierce battle inside her as she plundered forward with every breath. The danger spread wider, deeper as she grew beside me.

You were strong, Paula, stronger than diamonds. Stronger than the volcanic rock that surrounded your heart.

Go into the night, sweet warrior, and lie in His arms of light. But come back to me in dreams where life is good and winter warm. Where daddies never go away, and mothers always do what’s right. Where kisses flow like waterfalls and hugs are strong and tight. Where castle walls are never high and fires never fierce. And while we walk together, please remind me why the winter took you after silence pricked our bond. Tell me again to let this go and lay your soul to rest, and tempt me to believe, that time will heal the pain that kept you from loving me.

Writer's Digest Competitions

Get recognized for your writing. Find out more about the Writer's Digest family of writing competitions.

Using Beats To Improve Dialogue and Action in Scenes

Using Beats To Improve Dialogue and Action in Scenes

For many writers, dialogue is one of the most difficult things to get right. Here, author and educator Audrey Wick shares how to use beats to improve dialogue and action in scenes.

Olesya Salnikova Gilmore: On Introducing Russian History to Fantasy Readers

Olesya Salnikova Gilmore: On Introducing Russian History to Fantasy Readers

Author Olesya Salnikova Gilmore discusses the changes her manuscript underwent throughout the writing process of her debut historical fantasy novel, The Witch and the Tsar.

Freelance Food Writing: How to Break Into the Industry

Freelance Food Writing: How to Break Into the Industry

Food writer Deanna Martinez-Bey shares her advice on breaking into the freelance food-writing industry, including finding your niche, pitching ideas, and more.

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Red Line Moment

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Red Line Moment

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, have somebody cross your character's red line.

Hafizah Augustus Geter: On Confronting Complicated Questions When Writing Memoir

Hafizah Augustus Geter: On Confronting Complicated Questions When Writing Memoir

Award-winning writer Hafizah Augustus Geter discusses how her experience as a poet helped her take on her new memoir, The Black Period.

6 Ways To Collaborate With Other Writers Ahead of Your Book Launch

6 Ways To Collaborate With Other Writers Ahead of Your Book Launch

Writer Aileen Weintraub shares how to find your writing community in the process of launching your book.

Martha Anne Toll: On the Power of Memory

Martha Anne Toll: On the Power of Memory

Author Martha Anne Toll discusses the mythology that inspired her debut novel, Three Muses.

Poetry Prompt

Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 627

Every Wednesday, Robert Lee Brewer shares a prompt and an example poem to get things started on the Poetic Asides blog. This week, write an autumn poem.

Writer's Digest Presents podcast image

Writer's Digest Presents: Working With Literary Agents (Podcast, Episode 8)

In the eighth episode of the Writer's Digest Presents podcast, we discuss all things literary agents—what to look for in an agent, how to best find an agent, and more! Plus, managing editor Moriah Richard sits down for a chat with Margaret Danko, literary agent with Paper Over Board!