Nancy's Books

Sunday, March 26, 2017

How to Stay Motivated, part 2

The number one way to stay motivated is to fine positivity in writing. For some, that means satisfying feedback from critiques, a compliment from someone who has read your work, or the ultimate: a contract that leads to seeing your work in print. 

My critique partner, the awesome Sandi Underwood, and I are in the fortunate positions of completing revisions for books that will be published next year. Along with editorial notes are the myriad emotions that accompany the task at hand: elation (I’m beyond thrilled.); doubt (Can I actually rewrite this manuscript on a professional level?); fear (What if I fail? I’ve already told people the book is in production.); confidence (Yes, I can. Yes, I will!); and more too numerous to list, plus completing the revision with a deadline looming. Underlying the mixed emotions is this powerful drive called motivation (deadlines will give even the most reluctant writer a huge dose of get-up-and-go).

Sandi and I work together on our manuscripts all the time, but each of us working at the same time on final revisions for forthcoming books is uncharted territory. The big positive here is that we’re more excited than ever. She’s helping me. I’m helping her (I hope). 

Positive moments in a writer’s life create motivation, a yearning to push a little harder, a little farther down the path to publication. 

Nancy Kelly Allen has written 40+ children’s books and a cookbook, SPIRIT OF KENTUCKY: BOURBON COOKBOOK. Check out her blog at 

Call for Submissions for Young Writers:

One Teen Story publishes 4 stories a year and accepts submissions from teen writers ages 13-19.

Submissions are now open. What kind of stories is One Teen Story looking for?

One Teen Story is looking for great short stories written by teens about the teen experience. We seek stories that deal with issues of identity, friendship, family, and coming-of-age. Gratuitous profanity, sex and drug use are best avoided. We’re open to all genres of well-written young adult fiction between 2,000 and 4,500 words. Because of our format, we can only accept stories that are strong enough to stand alone (as opposed to excerpts from novels-in-progress). Proof of the author’s age will be required for all stories accepted for publication.

Call for submissions for Adult Writers:

ASK: Ages 6-9. Nonfiction magazine with a focus on science and the world. Each edition centers around a specific theme. Focus on engaging nonfiction, not dry text. Humor, unusual questions. and unexpected connections are encouraged. All articles are commissioned. Query first with resume and writing samples. Feature articles:  900-1600 words. Humor pieces: 200-400 words.

Submission guidelines at


Sunday, March 19, 2017

How to Stay Motivated



This week I received a request to blog about how I stay motivated after 28 years in the business of writing for children. Sometimes, I can easily answer with quips such as, I have so many ideas rattling around in my head, I need to push some out of there or The process has become a habit so I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t write. Both answers are true; however, what I’m not saying in my answer is that there are days when I write very little for a number of reasons: I don’t feel like writing, I’m giving myself a break following a long revision of a manuscript, or I simply don’t want to. Period.

The don’t-want-to-write attitude doesn’t last long, seldom more than a day or two. Even on the no-write days, I’m usually thinking about a new character or how I can approach a subject in a fun way to introduce facts or a fictional account to young readers. Writing every day doesn’t necessarily mean taking pen to paper. Writers need time to let a story perk cognitively before beginning a manuscript. Some people call this daydreaming. I prefer the word strategizing
Writing a manuscript is a solitary venture. Butt-in-chair is required for long periods of time—days, weeks, months, whatever it takes. The excitement and energy exhibited in the beginning stages of writing the story often evolves into feelings of doubt with a double dose of I’m incompetent by the time we hit the middle of the tale. Excitement tarnishes, energy fades along with interest, and sometimes I abandon the manuscript. Has this every happened to you?
So what’s the pick-me-up?  
Next week, part 2. 
Call for Submissions for Young Writers:
Parallel Ink. This is an e-magazine that publishes writing by students for students around the world aged 12-18.

Submission guidelines at 

Call for Submissions for Adult Writers:
New Moon. Portrays girls and women as powerful, active, and in charge of their own lives – not as passive beings who are acted upon by others. Celebrates girls and their accomplishments and supports girls’ efforts to hold onto their voices, strengths, and dreams as they move from being girls to becoming women. Female contributors only. All material should be pro-girl and focus on girls, women, or female issues. Edited by and for girls ages 8 to 14. Fiction: 900 to 1,200 words, stories in which the main character is a girl ages 8 to 14.

Submission guidelines at

Nancy Kelly Allen has written 40+ children’s books and a cookbook, SPIRIT OF KENTUCKY: BOURBON COOKBOOK. Check out her blog at




Sunday, March 12, 2017

How to Create Memorable Characters in Picture Books, Part 5

A relatable character connects with the reader.  

In HIRAM’S GIFT, I wanted to create a humble, caring, good-natured, hard-working character—easier said than done in the short text of a picture book. So I structured the book over a period of several years to showcase the Christmas gifts Hiram received as opposed to what he had hoped to receive. His reactions SHOWed his emotions and humbled nature, which works better than me TELLing them. He hoped for a fiddle but received a harmonica. He by-passed disappointment and embraced the idea of learning to play a harmonica with joy.
I try to custom build my characters to fit my story world and never base a fiction character on a particular person. If I use real people as a basis, the character is an amalgamation of several.
My goal is to hang a suitable name on the protagonist that fits the story and the time. Page or Armor are more appropriate names for the pet of a knight than Fluffy. Also, use a name the audience can easily read. "Pfogmoregetti" might fit the character, but the difficulty of pronouncing it forces the reader to stop and focus on the name, rather than the action. 

Characters give life to the story. Take time to know the character prior to writing. Focus on his/her uniqueness: hobbies, habits, fears, hopes, goal, temperament, vocal expressions, gestures, etc. A memorable character lives on in the minds of the readers after the book is finished. 

Call for Submissions for Young and Adult Writers:

Pearl S Buck Short Story Writing Contest!

§ Send your original and unpublished manuscript to The Pearl S. Buck Writing Center by April 15, 2017.

§ There are categories for children, teens and adults, and a winner in each will be awarded a $100 prize!

§ Grades 3-6 word count not to exceed 1000 words

§ Grade 7-12 word count not to exceed 1000 words

§ Adult word count not to exceed 2,500 words

§ This contest is open to everyone.

§ The winners will be announced at the 125th birthday celebration of Pearl S. Buck on June 26, 2017.

Submission guidelines at

Nancy Kelly Allen has written 40+ children’s books and a cookbook, SPIRIT OF KENTUCKY: BOURBON COOKBOOK. Check out her blog at

Sunday, March 5, 2017

How to Create Memorable Characters in Picture Books, Part 5

Memorable characters are those that seem real to the reader. Try these tips to bring out the “real” in your characters.

            Give specific details in a character’s development. Maybe he loves pancakes and wants  
pancakes every meal or she wants to wear only polka dots.

What are the character’s physical attributes? A character can be unusually built: extremely tall or short for the age group. How can these traits benefit or hinder the character? In many picture books these are depicted in the illustrations. But if the physical traits impact the problem the character is facing, they should be revealed in the text.

Verbal traits also distinguish the characters. A lisp due to missing front teeth works for a young child. Some kids use catch phrases. Listen to kids talking. “Awesome,” “like,” and “very” are words frequently used.
A character’s special interests should mirror those of the audience at a particular age. Does the character love to ride a bicycle or swim? The little boy in FORTY WINKS loved to read a book that he thought was magical. When the monster living in the closet would not share the book, the boy faced a dilemma: confront the monster or never read the book. What did it take to make the character react the way he did? Motivation + emotions = reactions. Figure out what motivates the character, add a dose of emotions, and let the story evolve.
I am never concerned if my book is more appropriate for a boy or a girl. My preference is to allow the reader to decide what s/he wants to read.
Next week, I’ll discuss more ways of creating memorable characters.
Call for Submissions for Young Writers:

Young Writers Magazine. We actively seek the work of extremely talented teenage writers. Browse the site and see for yourself. 

Call for Submissions for Adult Writers:
Ashland Creek Press is currently accepting submissions of book-length fiction and nonfiction on the themes of the environment, animal protection, ecology, and wildlife — above all, we’re looking for exceptional, well-written, engaging stories.
We are open to many genres (young adult, mystery, literary fiction) as long as the stories are relevant to the themes listed above.
Submission guidelines at

Nancy Kelly Allen has written 40+ children’s books and a cookbook, SPIRIT OF KENTUCKY: BOURBON COOKBOOK. Check out her blog at



Sunday, February 26, 2017

How to Create Memorable Characters in Picture Books, Part 3

           To develop a memorable character, get to know him/her/it before writing. In picture books, the

writer needs to know the character’s motivation and how the character reacts to situations.

A compelling character needs a problem to make his/her life interesting enough to carry the reader’s interest throughout the story. The problem should be large enough to create consequences that can ripple from beginning to end. As the character attempts to control the situation, allow the reader to “see” his/her feelings. Emotions give life to a character and affect actions and reactions. Maybe anger compels him to act in a way he normally would not. Strong emotions can force characters to react to circumstances even when they don’t want to.

When I wrote GONE CUCKOO, I wanted to portray the birth parents (cuckoos) as warm, caring birds, and do the same for the warblers (adoptive parents). The main character is a young cuckoo bird that doesn’t fit into the lifestyle of the warblers, and when he attends Warbler Academy, he fails miserably. Naturally, his frustration and embarrassment levels are high and he feels as if he is a failure.

            Even though the characters are birds, their emotions and behaviors mirror that of children who are placed in a similar, unfamiliar situations in which they are ill-suited. As a result, the characters become relatable.

Call for Submissions for Young Writers

Sarah Mook Poetry Prize for Students. Restrictions: Students in grades K-12. Genre: Poetry. Prize: $100. 

Deadline: March 31, 2017.

Submission guidelines at

Call for Submissions for Adult Writers

Positively Happy! Chicken Soup for the Soul. 101 Stories about Positive Thinking and Living a Happy Life
Deadline: May 31, 2017

Nancy Kelly Allen has written 40+ children’s books and a cookbook, SPIRIT OF KENTUCKY: BOURBON COOKBOOK.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

How to Create Memorable Characters in Picture Books, Part 2

To become memorable, the main character needs not only to do something, but do something unexpected. Surprise the reader and keep the reader wondering what will happen next. The wonderment builds interest in the character. Figure out what motivates the character to behave this way so you can keep the action going. In FORTY WINKS the main character was unwilling to share a book that both he and the monster, who lived in the closet, wanted to read, separately. Refusing to share led to a chain of actions and reactions that created the conflict.

Portray what your character is thinking and feeling. Emotions are powerful and can also motivate actions and reactions. Anger can lead to protectiveness or laughter or combat. Get in touch with the character’s emotions to lead the character into action. 

Allow your character to wander off the path of reaching the goal. Introduce complications that force him to make mistakes while he’s trying to find his way back, but allow him to learn from the mistakes.  

Next week, I’ll discuss more ways of creating memorable characters. 

Call for Submissions for Young Writers:

Teen Ink is a US-based teen magazine, book series and website devoted entirely to teenage writing, art, photos, and forums. Since being first established in 1989, Teen Ink has published more than 55,000 young writers, with the magazine distributed across the country in schools and libraries. To be eligible to submit you must be aged between 13 and 19. Be aware that submissions may be edited and published without the writers’ prior approval.

Submission guidelines at 

Call for Submissions for Adult Writers:

FrostFire Worlds publishes original science fiction and fantasy short stories, poems, art, articles, reviews, and interviews. Preferred are adventure stories, space opera, and magic opera [like space opera, but fantasy]. Also preferred are stories that take place on other worlds. Stories must have the following: characters the reader cares about, plots and subplots, and settings that draw the reader into them. Must have.

Remember, FrostFire Worlds is intended for younger readers, from ages 8-17 and up. Therefore, the magazine will not publish work that has bad language or adult themes in it. Period.

Nancy Kelly Allen has written 40+ children’s books and a cookbook, SPIRIT OF KENTUCKY: BOURBON COOKBOOK. Check out her blog at

Sunday, February 12, 2017

How to Create Memorable Characters in Picture Books, Part 1

Unfortunately, there is no secret formula to creating likable, memorable characters to which we can discover and unveil for all to use. Fortunately, we can create fresh, new characters that will appeal to readers.

The child must closely identify with the way a character thinks, acts, and feels. A young child does not have reasoning ability, so a gator seems as logical a pet as a dog or cat. The opposite is true for picture books for older readers where logic and reasoning can be vital to the story. Either way, children like to see themselves represented in a book and in a way in which their world view is evident. Keep the story child-focused and consider the age of the audience.

Judge your characters by what they do. Sure, witty dialog is great and adds to the appeal of the story, but if all the characters do is spit witty dialog, they will soon become B-O-R-I-N-G. The character needs to do something: interact with others and move the story forward. 

Call for submissions for Young Writers and Adult Writers:

Prize Categories:

Young Poets: 2 Categories

Middle School Students: now know as Dave Drake Literary Prize

Middle schoolers must provide contact email of parent or guardian

High School Students: Students of high school age.

Adult Poets: now known as Spring Robinson/Mahogany Red Lit Prize

Poets between the age of 20 and 60 years old: this category includes college aged students

Senior Poets:  Poets 61years and older

Submission guidelines at

Nancy Kelly Allen has written 40+ children’s books and a cookbook, SPIRIT OF KENTUCKY: BOURBON COOKBOOK.