Sunday, October 3, 2021

Sandi Underwood, Guest Author of Middle Grade Fiction

What an exciting day for me! The super-talented author of children’s books and adult novels, 
Sandi Underwood, is my guest.

NKA: Welcome, Sandi. You have exciting news—a new book. Congratulations! Tell us about it.

SU: Thank you, Nancy. It’s good to be a published writer again – especially after the past two years we’ve had! The writing industry, like everything else, was hit hard during the Pandemic, but my new book fits right in there as ‘stranger than strange.’

I received an email from a publisher on New Year’s Day 2020 offering a contract. Now here’s where the strange part comes in: I had only submitted a cover letter and the first three chapters of ON A SCALE OF ONE TO TEN, a coming-of-age story with sinister undertones. The editor provided a phone number and asked me to call at my convenience. Lucky me, it was convenient that very next day, and when I asked if she was sure she wanted my book (I don’t recommend that question to a would-be publisher under normal circumstances!), she gave an emphatic, “yes!”

Never one to be outdone, I argued that I had only submitted the first three chapters. She informed me it was exactly what she was looking for. To sum up, I wound up sending the remainder of the story, along with a signed contract. I doubt that will ever happen again; but if it were to, I will never argue with a Publisher over whether they made a mistake in offering a contract—especially in this topsy-turvy world of publishing that we have come to know.

NKA: This book is a story that touches our emotions on a deep level and is a story that needs to be told, and what a cover. It's beautiful. What gave you the idea for the characters and plot?

SU: I would be less than truthful if I said I had a clear-cut answer to that question. I started out writing a story based on an actual situation, but the final product took wings and veered slightly off-course. ON A SCALE OF ONE TO TEN is about the painful period of time known as adolescence—a time when insecurities and peer pressure rule the day. Drawing on my own experience as a ‘PK’ (Preacher’s Kid), I identified with my main character in thinking others were born with that proverbial ‘silver spoon’ in their mouths, while I had less…friends, opportunities…stuff. Of course, looking back I realize what a perfect childhood I had and, to be honest, I never missed out on much. In the book’s dedication, I acknowledge my loving home and parents for raising me in a safe environment. Not all children have that. Certainly not one character in my book!

NKA: You have other books, too. What are their titles and for what age groups are they written?

SU: I love all genres. I love to read them, and I love to write them. My first book was a children’s book, a Sci-fi Mystery of sorts about ‘shapeshifters’, of all things. THE SECRET AT ONE BELMONT LANE, was written for my second grandson. He was of the age that enjoyed all things weird and bizarre, and I wanted to write a book he would read.

Next book to be published was the first in The Baker Manor Series, BLOOD MONEY. It’s a paranormal romance-mystery that tells the story of a kindergarten teacher that led a happy life until she became an heiress of a vast fortune. After that, unexplained accidents and broken trusts turned her happy life upside down until that fatal night when she stared evil in the face. The Baker Series continues with books #2 and #3, unpublished as of yet.

My third book MOUNTAIN LAUREL, is the story of my parents’ first date, and the setting is pure Appalachia. I drew on family tales that were passed down from both Mom and Dad with the hopes of preserving them for my grandchildren. I enjoy reading this book over and over as it conjures up memories of hearing them for the first time.

NKA: You’ve been a busy gal. Any new books on the horizon?

SU: Book #2 of The Baker Manor Series is finished, and I’m smack-dab in the middle of the final one. I say that, but I’ve grown so familiar with the Baker family, I can’t bear to say goodbye to them. Who knows where that story will really end??? I also have a book, ON THE BANKS OF THE NOLICHUCKY, a fictional story about the young Davy Crockett that is under contract, but no publication date has been announced. And finally, I am playing with the idea of combining two unfinished manuscripts into one. That remains to be seen or, in this case, written.

NKA: I love your books. You use a wide variety of writing techniques in creating interesting characters and plots that amp up the tension in your stories and snag readers’ attention. Would you share a couple of writing tips with us?

SU: In a nutshell, when a new storyline pops into my head, I begin with my main character (MC) by asking myself: Who, What, Where, When & Why?

My MC needs someone to feed off. A love interest? A BFF? A stalker? Honestly, my mind goes immediately to the stalker because I like edge-of-seat mysteries. Once decided, I have two individuals that allow me to begin character sketches—one or two descriptive words to get started, but by the time I’m well into the story and added several more characters, these can turn into lengthy bios.
At this point, I carve out a rustic outline–sometimes just a beginning, a middle (a thought or two that will move the story forward), and an ending (not everything all tied up with a bow at this point, just whether the MC lives happily ever after…or not.

All this before I write the first paragraph, which is without a doubt the most re-written paragraph in the entire story. But that’s a whole separate blog post!

I truly think the reason I love writing adult fiction is due to something you once said: Chase your main characters up a tree and throw rocks at them. (I believe you were quoting someone else, so I acknowledge the fact you and I both are plagiarizing!) I get the most joy writing what I enjoy reading and when life becomes predictable and humdrum for my characters, it’s time to shake it up a bit. Plotting is a fun pasttime for me. I tend to create two or three different paths for each character and hang onto the one that interests me most. At that point, I become the reader. If I listed one bit of advice to a new writer it would be: Write what you enjoy reading.
NKA: Great advice. Keeping readers on the edge of their seats is what holds their attention from the first page through the last. I’m sure people would like to know where can we find your books? 

SU: My latest book, ON A SCALE OF ONE TO TEN, is available on Amazon at:
On A Scale Of One To Ten or as with any of my books, to get a signed copy, email me at or check out my website at

NKA: Thanks, Sandi, for telling us about your books and giving us valuable writing tips by sharing your writing process. ON A SCALE OF ONE TO TEN is one of the best middle-grade books I’ve read, so I highly recommend it. I hope you visit again.

SU: Definitely!

Nancy Kelly Allen has written 50 children’s books and a cookbook, SPIRIT OF KENTUCKY. Check out her website at




Thursday, September 16, 2021


I’m baaaaaack with more writing tips.

The pandemic slammed the doors on school classrooms across the country, so I temporarily closed my blog thinking that I would post again when schools reopened, which meant soon. Wrong! Eighteen months later, this blog is resurfacing.

A lot happens in one-and-a-half years, especially if cooped up inside with nowhere to go. As always, I turned to writing, my personal outlet for all things sweet and bitter. Not associating with friends was bitter. Fear of a virus we can’t see, hear, or touch was bitter. The loss of a “normal” lifestyle was bitter. The silver lining of the dark, threatening cloud was more time to kick up my heels—sweet. More time to read—sweeter. More time to write—sweetest.

More time to write gave me the incentive to revise a mystery novel I’d drafted years ago. Month after month, I pounded the keyboard and finished that rascal. Sweet! I’ve been visiting classrooms, virtually. Sweet! I’ve kept up with friends and family via text and phone. Sweet!

During this time, an editor asked me to write a picture book based on an illustration of a spooky old house. So, I accepted the challenge and enjoyed playing with words. Ooooo. Strange characters. Zap! Strange actions. Boom! Strange sounds. A picture book is forthcoming.

The publication of my 50th book, COWBOY JESSE, was another speck of silver lining during this pandemic, a speck I will always cherish.

Let’s have fun with another silver lining often used in writing—The Rule of Three. Play this hunt-and-find activity by identifying examples of the “Rule of Three” in this blog. (Hint: There are several.)


Rule of three: using a word or phrase three times for emphasis.


In my next blog, the talented author, Sandi Underwood, will visit with news of her latest book, ON A SCALE OF ONE TO TEN, a middle-grade novel.

Nancy Kelly Allen has written 50 children’s books and a cookbook, SPIRIT OF KENTUCKY. Check out her blog at



Sunday, April 12, 2020

Writing Picture Books

This week I had a request to blog about writing picture books in rhyme and ideas for books. Here's my take on the subjects.
Think twice about writing in rhyme. Many books are released each year written in rhyme, but they are extremely difficult to write. Cringe-worthy rhyme occurs in many manuscripts, enough to make some editors leery of wanting to read another such piece. A business reason for editors not accepting stories written in rhyme is due to the translation factor. Rhyming words don’t translate well to other languages. A book must tell a good story and rhythm is more important than rhyme.

Not all ideas translate into marketable picture book stories. Sometimes, a topic (princess) has saturated the market. There are so many books on the subject and competition is so stiff, the idea simply can’t find a place. Don’t feel alone. Writers often juggle ideas that can’t grab a foothold. Maybe at some point you’ll figure out a way to make it work. If you can’t move on with another idea. Sometimes an idea works so well, the first draft falls into place and the revision runs smoothly. That happened to me with my first book, Once Upon a Dime. I heard coins dropping and said to my fuzzy-faced canines, “Listen, girls, the money tree is ripe and it’s dropping fruit.” I knew the idea would work. After playing with the words for about six weeks, and with feedback from a reader, I sent it to a publisher. In less than a month later, I had a contract.

In my next blog, I’ll continue with tips for writing picture books

Call for Submissions for Young Writers and Adult Writers:

YARN is an award-winning literary journal that publishes outstanding original short fiction, poetry, and essays for Young Adult readers, written by the writers you know and love, as well as fresh new voices...including teens.

Submission guidelines:

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

Sunday, March 29, 2020


Writers, along with everyone, are experiencing unparalleled times with the onset of COVID-19. If there's a silver lining in all this tragedy, it remains hidden. People cope differently. What works for one may not be appropriate for another. I'm managing stress by staying busy writing and polishing manuscripts. As with all my writing, I spend much more time polishing the text. For those who want to tackle writing a picture book, I'm continuing with tips to help you not only write but polish, as well. 

More tips:

Include an emotional impact, known as the heart of the story. This is writing so the reader will transform in some way, realize something about themselves they hadn’t considered before. Or see something in a new way. Friendship, love, and kindness stories are popular and often have an element of empathy woven into them. Emotions and moods aid in character development, so paint the scenes with feelings, sensations, and reactions. With the world in a virus turmoil, this type of story is likely to become more popular.

Also include sensory details—see, hear, touch, taste, smell—to make the reader feel as if they are along on the journey with the characters. Using the senses triggers memories for the readers back to a time or experience in which they felt the same way: scared, hopeful, anxious, happy, sad…. These shared experiences make the story seem real and builds empathy for the character.

Active verbs are your friends. If you write a statement such as, “Billy walked down the hall.” Rather than walk, which doesn’t paint a specific mental picture, consider, “swagger” if he’s confident, “rushed” if he is in a hurry, or “shuffled” if he doesn’t want to be there. Active verbs create a mood or emotion that helps to place the reader in the midst of the action with the characters. These verbs “show” rather than “tell" the reader what is happening. 

In my next blog, I’ll continue with tips for writing picture books.

Call for Submissions for Adult Writers:
Root & Star. Literary magazine for children ages 4 - 8. Looking for stories that inspire and are kind, strange, powerful, exquisite, and inspired by the sanctity of the everyday. Open to diversity. This magazine doesn't pay, but it can be a nice break in market for writers of very literary work. Also open to creative activities. Check out sample issue online.
Submission guidelines:

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

Sunday, March 8, 2020


Writing tips, continued:

 A picture book story may be simple with a short timeline, such as bedtime, or longer and more complex. Consider the age of the audience. Concept books about colors or numbers intended for the preschoolers are often more simplistic and shorter than books written for those in the K-2 group.

            Text should be child-focused, with the perspective from the child’s point of view. Characters can be people or non-human, but the story should resonate with the child. A child under the age of two probably would not be interested in a school-based setting, because that is not part of their world.

            Keep the text short. A 2,000- word picture book will not get published in today’s market. Most are 500 words or less. This is where thinking visually comes into play. Leave out descriptions that can be shown in illustrations. In fact, if your book is published, you might be surprised at how the illustrations reflect your words but tell the story beyond the text. Picture books are 32 pages, but only about 27 or 28 pages are illustration and text. Title page and end notes take up a few pages.

            Picture books are a series of page spreads. Ten to fourteen double-page spreads complete the book, so there is no room for a ton of text. Make sure every word counts.

            In my next blog, I’ll continue with tips for writing picture books.

Call for Submissions for Young Writers:

Skipping Stones is a multicultural literary magazine that publishes work by writers of all ages.

Call for Submissions for Adult Writers:

FUN FOR KIDZ We are looking for lively writing that involves an activity that is both wholesome and unusual. The Ideal length of a FUN FOR KIDZ nonfiction piece is up to 300-325 words for a one-page magazine article or up to 600-650 words for a two-page magazine article. Articles that are accompanied by strong high-resolution photos are far more likely to be accepted than those requiring illustration.

Submission guidelines:

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

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Picture Book Writing Tips

Writing picture books is similar to that of poetry. Employ an economy of words and lots of rhythm. There are differences, too. In poetry, visual and musical images are vivid, but in picture books, writers should think visually but write musically with a cadence and rhythm so the words leap and dance across the page. Leave the visual images for the illustrator to depict. Write each sentence with the idea that it can be illustrated.

Voice (word choice + rhythm) is necessary for picture books because they are written to be read aloud. Write in a word pattern that sometimes surprises the reader. If readers can anticipate the next line, there’s no surprise, no thrill, no excitement to the word choice.

Humor is universal. Kids of all ages respond positively to funny situations, actions, and words. Hard consonants add tickle appeal. B, C, D, G, P, K, T, blast off the tongue as they are read aloud. Pickle is funny. Underwear is not as funny as underpants. The “P” sound is comical. Try saying these aloud: Pollygoster. Filibuster.

           In my next blog, I’ll continue with tips for writing picture books.

Call for Submissions for Young Writers:

New Moon Girls. Ideas, Articles, Inventions, Fiction, Gardens, Poetry, Music, Opinions, Apps, Global Villages, Recipes, Plays, Buildings, Puzzles, Projects, Jokes, Speeches, Games, Screenplays, Sports, Emotions, Equations, Painting, Art, Experiments, Costumes, Activism, Photos, Rockets, Crafts, Designs, Gadgets, Dances, Solutions, Hats and Everything Else You Imagine and Make.
Call for Submissions for Adult Writers:

Short Edition. ·  Submissions must be short stories and poems of maximum 8,000 characters, spaces included or children's stories of maximum 7,000 characters, spaces included.

·  Works must be previously unpublished in print or online, including on personal blogs.

Submission guidelines:

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

Sunday, February 9, 2020

What’s trending in today’s children’s books

According to the information I've learned in workshops and talking with editors, trends in the book world are:

Board and Picture Books. Magic: Unicorns, dragons, spooky (but not too scary), and new spins on bedtime stories.

Diversity-focused books by writers belonging to historically marginalized groups (always popular)

Interactive children’s books

Books about kindness

Graphic novels

Chapter books

Series novels in Young Adult literature

Realistic fiction (especially those focusing on sensitive issues: illness, death)

Humorous picture books and middle grade novels are always popular

Nonfiction picture books

Call for Submissions for Young Writers:
Bazoof. General submissions are welcome from youth (ages 7-14) or their parents/caregivers. Stories are welcome from youth of any age. Some ideas of what you could send me are:
·         Letter

·         Short story (12 years and younger: 500 words or less; 13-18 years: 800 words or less; Doesn’t include any violence, fighting, not too scary, gruesome, or dark natured. Must be suitable for readers ages 8-12 years).

·         Poem

·         Craft idea

·         Drawings

·         Photo of your pet

·         Photo of you doing an activity you enjoy

·         Picture of a project that you made

·         Recipe

·         Game or puzzle

·         Jokes or riddles

·         Tell me about a sport you enjoy playing or a musical instrument

·         Or any other ideas you have!

Submission guidelines at
Call for Submissions for Adult Writers:
Storgy Kids. Short fiction here means between 1,000 and 5,000 words. A few words either side won’t matter as long as your story is brilliant and well edited.
Submissions guidelines at
Nancy Kelly Allen has written 48 children’s books and a cookbook, SPIRIT OF KENTUCKY: BOURBON COOKBOOK. 
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