Nancy's Books

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Writing Contests for Students

Seeing our hard work and creativity published is one of the greatest thrills for writers. Publishing articles and stories written by students is more than thrilling for them. It encourages even the reluctant writers to put pen to paper, builds self-confidence, and promotes a positive attitude in a job well done. In today’s blog, I’m showcasing two contests that publishes work by students.

Contest #1
Olive Garden’s Pasta Tales begins online Oct. 19
Reading, writing and arithmetic — no matter the subject, teachers often leave their mark on students, inspiring them to strive for success and reach their goals. In recognition of teachers across North America, Olive Garden has announced the topic for its 14th-annual Pasta Tales essay writing contest: “Describe a teacher who has inspired you in school and how they have impacted your life.”
From Monday, Oct. 19 through Friday, Dec. 11, 2009, Olive Garden’s Pasta Tales contest will give young writers in first- through 12th-grade in the U.S. and Canada the opportunity to share their stories in essays of 50 to 250 words. Pasta Tales entry forms and complete rules will be available beginning Oct. 19 at and on Oct. 26 at local Olive Garden restaurants.
The contest grand prize is a three-day trip to New York City including dinner at the Olive Garden in Times Square and a $2,500 savings bond. Winners also will be chosen in each grade category and will receive a $500 savings bond and a family dinner at their local Olive Garden restaurant.
Pasta Tales entries must include the writer’s name, complete address, phone number with area code, grade, date of birth including year and a statement that the work is their own. Entries must be submitted either online or postmarked by Dec. 11 and sent to Pasta Tales, PMB 2000, 6278 N. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale, FL, 33308-1916.
Submissions will be judged based on creativity, adherence to theme, organization, grammar, punctuation and spelling by the Quill and Scroll Society of the College of Journalism and Communications at the University of Iowa, with finalists selected by Olive Garden.
Since its inception, Olive Garden’s Pasta Tales has provided young people in the communities it serves a way to creatively express the influences, experiences and stories that have shaped their lives. For more information about Pasta Tales, call Katie Lennon at (954) 776-1999, ext. 240 between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. EST.
List of 2009 Pasta Tales Grade-Category Winners
Please be sure to read the official rules of the contest.

Contest #2
2009-2010 High School Poetry Contests

Sponsored by Gannon University and the Erie County Poet Laureate Initiative

Two contests: one for students in grades 9 through 12 who live outside of Erie
County, Pennsylvania, and one for students in grades 9 through 12 who live in
Erie County, Pennsylvania.


• Each student may enter up to 3 poems, totaling no more than 6 pages.
• Poems may be about any topic and in any form and must be the original work
of the student.
• Poems must be typed.
• The student’s name, address (including county), phone number, and grade in
school must appear in the top left corner of each poem.
• The student’s school, school’s address, school’s phone number, and teacher’s
name must appear in the top right corner.
• Poems will not be returned; students should not send their only copies.
• Poems must be postmarked by February 1, 2010.

Students who live outside of Erie County, Pennsylvania, should mail their poems to:

Berwyn Moore, Associate Professor of English
Attn: Gannon University High School Poetry Contest
Gannon University
109 University Square
Erie, PA 16541

Students who live in Erie County, Pennsylvania, should mail their poems to:

Berwyn Moore, Associate Professor of English
Attn: Erie County High School Poetry Contest
Gannon University
109 University Square
Erie, PA 16541

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Show, Don't Tell interview with Sandi Underwood, Part II

Sandi Underwood, author of the new e-book, THE SECRET OF THE AFRICAN AMULET, (published by Keith Shaw at, is visiting my blog again this week.

NKA: Welcome back, Sandi. In your writing you show rather than tell the action in scenes. What advice do you have for writers in using show, don't tell?

SU: One method that works for me in identifying opportunities to show rather than tell comes during the rewrite. I use a red pen and underline all the verbs, one page at a time. From this, I narrow the search to the most interesting scenes and rewrite using more action.


Rachel looked up toward her bedroom, but was too scared to climb the stairs. Her imagination conjured up all kinds of scary things, but she mustered all her courage and climbed upward.

In this scene, Rachel has come home to an empty house and is worried her wish has come true-that her mom would disappear! The last place Rachel saw the African amulet was in her bedroom. By showing that same information in the paragraph below, we heighten the suspense.

Rachel peered up toward her bedroom. ‘Dust angels’ waltzed in the streaming sunlight. Shadows danced in the corners. The hair on her arms twitched as she placed one shaky hand on the handrail. Mustering all her courage, Rachel raised one timid foot to the first landing and leaned slightly forward to shift her weight. Step-by-step, Rachel climbed the stairs.

Lastly, I’ve been known to utilize a more personal approach. I’ve actually performed a ‘walk-through’ to better visualize a certain scene in order to show rather than tell. Three questions that help pinpoint the action are:
1. What am I doing?
2. How am I doing it?
3. Why am I doing it?

In closing, I once read the description of writing is say what you’re going to say, say it, say what you said. I think a better way would be to do what you’re going to say and be done with it.

NKA: Thanks, Sandi, for your excellent advice and examples. Good luck with your wonderful new book. I look forward to you visiting my blog again.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Show, Don't Tell interview with Sandi Underwood

Today and next week, I’m interviewing, Sandi Underwood, a friend and author. She’ll give us ideas of how she incorporated show, don’t tell into her new book, THE SECRET OF THE AFRICAN AMULET.

NKA: What does show, don't tell means to you as a writer?

SU: Thank you, Nancy, for the opportunity to talk about something near and dear to my heart. My first thought about this crucial writing technique is, as a writer who loves words, telling normally takes more words than showing. And like most writers, I’m guilty of loving my words! However, taking it one step further, as a reader I much prefer the writer who has successfully mastered the art of showing. The difference often determines whether or not I’ll continue to read the book. Editors must surely look at manuscripts in the same manner. A book filled with action is much more captivating that one filled with description.

NKA: How did the use of show, don't tell improve the writing in your book.

SU: In my new e-book, THE SECRET OF THE AFRICAN AMULET, (published by Keith Shaw at my main character gets caught up in magic spells and native tribes in Africa. She dreams about being the ‘guest of honor’ at a human sacrifice. The following two sentences relate the same information, but the second sentence shows the action instead of telling it:
The flames burned closer and closer.
Scorching flames licked at her bare feet.

Another example of showing is to incorporate the actions of sub-characters, in this case, the pet cat:
Primrose, the cat, even seemed to sense the danger as she disappeared into the closet. It was as if she knew more than she was telling.
Consider changing to:
Primrose warily padded over to the partially closed closet doors and peered inside. Her long fluffy tail swished rapidly back and forth, as if the wise cat knew more than she was telling. After a few minutes, Primrose disappeared into the shadowy closet.

By showing the rapidly swishing tail of the cat, the reader understands, without being told, there is more here than meets the eye.

NKA: Thanks, Sandi, for your explanation and great examples. Next week Sandi is going to give us more advice on using show, don’t tell.

If you would like to purchase Sandi's e-book, The Secret of the African Amulet, log on to

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Show, Don’t Tell

Show, don’t tell is advice we often hear at writing conferences, but what does it mean? Think of the phrase this way: don’t just tell me Bobby is angry, show me how he acts and what he says.

When a character shows emotions, the reader gains a better understanding of the character. As readers, we want to know more about a character than what he is saying or his actions. We can do this by showing the character’s sensory reactions, what the character sees hears, touches tastes, and/or smells. Show the readers with words what you want them to see, rather than telling them.

Let’s look at a couple of examples.

When I was writing my picture book, The Munched-Up Flower Garden, I wrote “James ran” in the first draft of my story. That phrase is telling. When I revised the story, I changed “James ran” to “James sure can make the dust fly as he pick them up and puts them down.” The revision shows a more detailed picture of the character’s movements.

Mary was happy is telling.
Mary’s face opened into a wide grin, and a laugh spilled out of her mouth is showing.

Telling Mary’s reaction is an uninteresting way of writing. The reader learns more about the character by showing Mary reaction.

As you read books and articles, notice the different ways authors incorporate show, don’t tell into their writing styles. Give it a try and watch your writing sparkle.

Next week, I’m interviewing, Sandi Underwood, a friend and author. She’ll give us ideas of how she incorporated show, don’t tell into her new book, THE SECRET OF THE AFRICAN AMULET.

For the Younger Writers:

Hand out a sheet of lined paper to each student. Ask students to write their names at the top of the page. Explain that they are in a word race. Each student will look around the room for words. The goal is to write as many words that they see in the classroom on the sheet of paper. Each word must be spelled correctly. Allow about 10 minutes for this activity. When the time is up, ask students to read from their list. Limit reading to about five words each. Collect the papers and count the number of words each student wrote. Add the totals and write the combined number of words and the date on a chart. Play the game again each week or month with an attempt to increase the number of words. Display the chart so the students can see their progress.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Visual Images

One great way to stimulate the imagination and creative process is through a guided visual tour. If you’re a teacher, ask students to close their eyes. If you’re a writer, just close your eyes and become your own tour guide. Ask questions that inspire visual images of a setting, object, or person. Imagine a trip. You are traveling. What is the type of transportation you’re using? Car? Foot power? Plane? Train? Boat? How comfortable is the transportation? How does it sound? What is the color? How fast are you traveling?

Imagine that you have reached your destination. Look around. What do you see? Buildings? Trees? People? What do the buildings look like? Are the trees like those you have seen? How are the people dressed?

Listen to the sounds? Do you hear people talking? Can you understand the language? Do you hear other sounds? Are the sounds familiar?

Reach out and touch something. Does it feel hard? Soft? Rough? Smooth?

Is there something edible? How does it taste?

Take a deep breath. What do you smell? Do you like the odor or aroma? How would you describe it?

Your trip is now over and you are back where you started. The sensory descriptions form mental pictures that help writers describe settings, events, objects, and people. Use words to express the visual images you created on your imaginary journey so readers can see the story the way you see it. Create word pictures using similes and metaphors. Think of your story as a movie. Picture what your characters look like, where they live, what they do, and how they talk.

Do you have a favorite method of developing sensory images? If so, pass it along. I’d love to hear from you.