The 2012 Free Press/Writers Collective non-fiction contest is over for another year, which means that we can begin to present the top six stories in this space each day, ending on New Year's Eve.
Every contest (and this is my 15th) has its own internal story. This year, I would say the internal story is coincidence.
Take the story above, for instance, written by Elenore Wieler, a retired teacher who, as you will read, lives at Delta Beach on Lake Manitoba and was a victim of man-made flooding of the lake in the spring of 2011.
The theme of the contest this year was A Wild Ride, which pretty much describes what has happened to her life over the last 18 months.
But that's not a coincidence -- that's a disaster.
The coincidence is that when I called her to congratulate her and invite her to the awards night, held Dec. 18, she told me that she knows my wife and couldn't come into the city for the awards because she was hosting friends who, it turned out, were mutual.
On Boxing Day, we present a story written by Richard Hurst, a mostly retired landscape architect who worked for Manitoba parks for 33 years.
His only previous writing experience was for a fly-fishing newsletter.
His story is about a winter wilderness hike by snowshoe to a remote cabin in the Whiteshell. All is idyllic -- the snow is perfect, the silence complete -- until snowmobiles arrive. But that was planned, not coincidental.
What was coincidental was that I once had the same experience and feelings of disappointment when my daughters and I skied in to Fox Lake one perfect pristine winter weekend.
But more, Hurst only entered the contest because his wife was entering it. She wrote about fox-hunting at Headingley. Her story, alas, lost out to his. (They met, by the way, at a fox-hunting ball.)
On Thursday, we present Robert Wood's story about three boys who foolishly row a "boat" into an ice-clogged river during spring breakup.
A retired long-haul bus driver, Wood said he dabbled at writing until three years ago, when he got more serious and joined a writers' group.
He said this was the first time he had submitted "anything to anything," which I joked must mean that he has never submitted a sample at the doctor's office.
He grew up in southern Saskatchewan beside "a little river in a big valley." The town? Oxbow.
On Friday, you can go for a ride with Debbie Strange and her husband in the 1978 Volkswagon van they have had so many adventures in that it has become a part of the Strange family and is called Ludwig. She joked that admirers of Ludwig often refer to his owners as hippies. "As in old and hippy."
A one-time "closet writer," Strange decided two years ago to come out. She has since landed in the winner's circle in each of the four contests sponsored by the Free Press and the Collective -- fiction, non-fiction, poetry and "postcard."
Robert King retired as an outdoor-sign estimator in the last year. I did not know he had retired until I spoke with him about placing second in the competition. But I knew what his occupation was, because he told me last year, when he also placed second.
Both times he has won for stories he collected 40 years ago on an eight-month adventure that took him across Asia and the Pacific to Australia and then home to Winnipeg, where he has since pursued what he calls "an ordinary life." Well, I suppose that's true, at least in comparison to the extraordinary experiences he had back then, as you will learn when his story is published Saturday.
And finally, the first shall be last. The winner of the 2012 non-fiction contest is H. Louise Edwards, a retired bartender who lives in Winnipeg but who grew up at Swan River.
She belongs to a writing group that is putting together an anthology of their favourite stories. Helen said she always seems to get the most positive response to stories she writes about her childhood.
Her harrowing story about her father's rage when he concludes he has been cheated is simply outstanding.
As I said, she won first place. That was no coincidence.
It was an odd year for the contest. Staff turnover at the collective caused some confusion that delayed the contest's launch.
Contestants had about half as much time to prepare this year compared to other years, which likely explains why the number of entries fell to 47, about half of what might be expected.
But the abbreviated time-frame seems to have got juices flowing -- nothing like deadline to focus the mind.
I was astonished to find how many entries were actually in contention at the end.
So if you are one of those who did not win, take heart -- you are in good company. Congratulations all.
And have yourself a merry little Christmas.