Nancy's Books

Sunday, December 26, 2010

New Ebooks/Writer Guidelines/Contest for Kid Writers

Why in the world is it so hard to keep track of that old felt hat? It's on a flagpole. It's in a tree. That old felt hat is chased away by a bothersome wind. What will Little Lucy and Aunt Iris do to track down that elusive hat?

A bat, a spider, an owl and Wee, Wee Witch do their spooky best to make sad, mad pumpkin a glad, glad pumpkin.

I’ve had the fortunate opportunity to participate in a brand spanking new literacy- technology program called Be There Bedtime Stories. Today, I’m unveiling my new ebook: THE OLD FELT Hat. A couple of months ago THE MOODY PUMPKIN was published as an ebook for the same group. These books can be read as bedtime stories by anyone with a camera and a microphone attached to a computer. The program was designed by a woman who lived a long distance from her nieces, so she developed a way of using a computer to read to the girls and they could listen to her voice as they looked at the pages of a book on the monitor screen. The idea caught on and a new company developed. You can check out my books and look at some of the pages on the company website: Click on “Bookstore” and type in my name or the book title and you can see a few pages of each.

Happy reading…and writing. May 2011 be filled with inspiration, perspiration, and excitation for each of your stories. Throughout the year I'll focus on specific areas of writing with each blog. Stay tuned and stay warm.

Writer Guidelines:

Parents Magazine welcomes new writers and prefers query letters instead of completed manuscripts. The editors suggest that writers look carefully at the magazines. This will provide a good idea as to the kind of stories that are published as well as tone they convey. Stories should be aimed at a wide variety of readers and specific age groups. Human-interest stories are always welcome.
Query letters should be sent to:
Parents Magazine
375 Lexington Avenue
New York, NY 10017

Contest for kids:
. Are you an amazing kid who enjoys whipping up delicious food in the kitchen?
Enter your recipe in our Amazing Kids! Healthy Kids Recipe Contest for the chance to be published in the Amazing Kids! Healthy Kids e-Cookbook, by and for kids! Kids and teens, ages 6-17 can submit an original, healthy recipe that they enjoy and would like to share with other children. High-quality photos of the finished product are not mandatory but are appreciated.
Deadline: January 31, 2011
Email: with Recipe Contest and your last name in the subject line.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Manuscript Ready for Publication/Calls for Submissions

I received an email this week from a writer who asked how to tell when a manuscript is finished and ready to submit to a publisher or agent. That’s a difficult question I could discuss with a variety of answers. I sometime wonder the same thing about my manuscripts. I find it much easier to gauge the quality of manuscripts written by others than to identify the positives and negatives of my own writing.

My suggestion to the writer was to revise again and again, looking for strong opening paragraphs, descriptive language, character and plot development, pacing, voice, and a realistic ending. The list could be longer, but that’s a start.

Our best writing is never the first draft…or the second. Sometimes we don’t catch gaps and holes in the story because we see the narrative as a movie running in our minds and we totally understand the characters, their action and motives. Therefore, we need readers other than friends and family to read the work and provide honest and relevant feedback. I suggested to the writer that joining a critique group would be in her best interest. Of course, the group needs to have some interest in writing and preferably experience in writing in the same genre.

If you’re having trouble deciding if your manuscript is ready, try forming a critique group. You will learn from each other and you’ll gain new perspectives about your writing.

Calls for Submissions:

Bumples Pay: $.20/word. An exciting NEW INTERACTIVE online magazine for children four to ten years of age. Bumples specializes in illustrated fiction about children and animals in mysteries, sports, poems and fantasies with serialized adventures in each issue. Stories are uniquely supplemented with puzzles, question games, and activities, all of which makes Bumples story telling all the more engaging. Interesting information on a topic is always fun to explore after enjoying a great reading experience. Consequently, Bumples adds factual postscripts to complement each story.

Teen Ink is a monthly print magazine, website, and a book series all written by teens for teens." The Young Authors Foundation feels strongly that one of the greatest needs of young people is to preserve their sense of self-worth. Teen Ink's role is to listen to its contributors and provide a forum in which teens can express themselves through poetry, essays, stories, reviews, art and photography.
Details at

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Trends in Children's Literature/Calls for Submissions

Even though editors ask us to write stories we feel compelled to write, it’s nice to keep up with the trends in children’s literature. Here’s a list released last week from Scholastic.

1. The expanding Young Adult (YA) audience
2. The year of dystopian fiction The Hunger Games and The Maze Runner. Dystopian fiction features stories that indicate the future will be worse than the present.
3. Mythology-based fantasy: Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson series set the trend – and now series like The Kane Chronicles, Lost Heroes of Olympus and Goddess Girls are capitalizing.
4. Multimedia series: The 39 Clues, Skeleton Creek and The Search for WondLa are hooking readers with stories that go beyond the printed page and meet kids where they are online or via video.
5. A focus on popular characters – from all media: Kids love to read books about characters they know and recognize from books, movies and television shows. Titles centered around those popular characters (like Fancy Nancy, David Shannon's David, or Toy Story characters) are top sellers.
6. The shift in picture books: Publishers are publishing about 25 to 30 percent fewer picture book titles than they used to as some parents want their kids to read more challenging books at younger ages. The new trend is leading to popular picture book characters such as Pinkalicious, Splat Cat and Brown Bear, Brown Bear showing up in Beginning Reader books.
7. The return to humor: Given the effects of the recession on families, it is nice to see a rise in the humor category, fueled by the success of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, Dav Pilkey's The Adventures of Ook & Gluk: Kung-Fu Cavemen from the Future, and popular media characters like SpongeBob, and Phineas & Ferb.
8. The rise of the diary and journal format: The Diary of a Wimpy Kid series is the most well-know example of this trend, but the success of Wimpy Kid is leading to popular titles such as Dear Dumb Diary, Dork Diaries, The Popularity Papers, and Big Nate.
9. Special-needs protagonists: There is a growing body of literary fiction with main characters who have special needs, particularly Aspergers Syndrome and Autism. Examples: My Brother Charlie, Marcelo in the Real World, Mockingbird, and Rules.
10. Paranormal romance beyond vampires: The success of titles like Shiver, Linger, Beautiful Creatures, Immortal, and Prophesy of the Sisters shows this genre is still uber-popular and continues to expand.

Calls for submissions

Hazard Community & Technical College is hosting their annual Young Appalachian Poets Award. Any poet, high school aged or younger, may submit their original poetry. First prize includes $100 and publication in Kudzu; Second Place is $50 and publication in Kudzu. Up to five original poems may be submitted as attached documents to or Please include a brief biographical statement and put YAPA in the subject line. The deadline is January 30th.

KUDZU, HCTC’s literary magazine, is seeking submissions for its spring 2011 issue. Send your original poetry, short stories, flash fiction, and creative nonfiction. Submissions must be in either Word or as an RTF and emailed as attached documents to No snail mail submissions will be accepted. Please contact Professor Scott Lucero at 1-800-246-7521, ext 73200, or at for more detailed submission guidelines. Deadline is January 15, 2011.

Highlights Magazine is looking for stories.

Rebus Stories (ages 4-6) up to 100 words, Joëlle Dujardin, Senior Editor.
Beginning Readers (ages 6 to 8), up to 500 words, Joëlle Dujardin, Senior Editor. Wants humorous stories, folktales, holiday stories, sports stories.
Fiction for Independent Readers (ages 8 to 12), up to 800 words, Joëlle Dujardin, Senior Editor, Wants mysteries, humorous stories, adventure stories, historical fiction, sports stories.
Details at

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Developing Ideas/Calls for submissions

An idea is the seed of a story. Like a seed, a story needs the right environment to grow. Some ideas grow better in a short story, some are suited for a full-length novel, and some are perfect for a picture book. Since you’ll be living and breathing the idea for a long time, choose it with care. The enthusiasm you have for your idea will need to be strong enough to be worthy of weeks or months of your time.

Borrow ideas from your own life or that of someone who interests you. You don’t have to make up everything in a fictional story. Consider the worst day of your life. Or the time you made a terrible decision. These moments evoke intense emotions and can be used to develop a character. The character doesn’t have to experience the same situations you did, but basing the story on a real event can add authenticity to the story making it seem more real to the reader.

When you get an idea, write it down immediately. Keep a notebook handy for just that purpose. If you overhear an interesting phrase or an unusual use of a word, add it to the notebook and allow a character to think those thoughts or use the phrase in dialog to add distinctive voice to your story.

Look at photos to get an idea of a house or area so when you describe setting, the words will flow much easier. Imagining the layout of an area is more difficult than looking at a picture in which you see trees, stream, and animals roaming around.

Research the subject of the story so interesting facts can add to the realism. Readers enjoy learning something new or being surprised with a tidbit of information.

Create a problem for the character and plot the story so the character must solve the problem on his/her own.

Don’t rush the story. Like seeds, stories take time to bloom.

Calls for submissions:

Accents Publishing, an independent press for brilliant voices seeks poems of up to 50 words for an anthology of very short poems, edited by Katerina Stoykova-Klemer. Previously published work is accepted if credited. Send submissions, along with a short bio, in the body of an e-mail. There is no limit to the number of poems submitted.
Deadline: Dec. 31.

Kentucky Young Writers Connection Blog wants writers/artists for publication on the Kentucky Young Writers Connection Blog. One writer will be featured each week through April. Personal promotion allowed but no stipend. Write a 300-500 word essay addressing 1) how/why you became a writer/artist; 2) how nature, ecology, your environment past and present have shaped or fit into your work.
Deadline: April, 2011.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Creating and Developing Ideas for Books/Contest/Call for Submission

A couple of weeks ago, I was attended the Kentucky Book Fair where I talked with lots of writers. One beginning writer asked a couple of interesting questions: What triggered the idea for my first book? and How did I develop the idea into a story? Sometimes I wonder why that particular manuscript struck a chord with an editor when previous manuscripts landed in the trash heap. Now that I’ve had time to reflect on the question, I think I can answer it, at least partially.

The writing advice “Write about what you know” certainly applies to my first book, Once Upon a Dime. The setting of the book is a small farm. I live on a small farm. The animals are named for famous Americans. For seven years, I taught American history and focused on many famous Americans. At the end of the story, the tree grows books. I became a librarian so I was surrounded by books every day. But the similarities don’t stop there. One day my husband came in from mowing the fields. He walked upstairs to change out of his hot, sweaty clothes. In the meantime, he emptied his pockets of coins and attempted to drop them into a glass jar that served as a piggy bank. Instead, the coins missed the opening of the jar and scattered over the floor with a ting and a ping and a plink. When I heard the noise I looked at my two canine girls and said, “The money tree is ripe and it’s dropping its fruit.” I immediately realized I had just spouted a plot for a book. Of course, the sound of the ting, pling, and plink became the sound of the money as it shimmied in the breeze.

I find that if I write about what I know or a subject I’m interested in, the story is easier to write. When I research, I’m always on the lookout for quirky facts and interesting information. In Once Upon a Dime, I added Chinese money, yuan, to the money crop. The hardest part of writing the story was creating names for the manure—pig squish, sheep biscuits—used to fertilize the crops. That was the most fun, too.

So to answer the questions, I wrote about a subject in which I was passionate and knew well—a small, Appalachian farm.

What subject are you passionate about? When you figure out the answer, you know the subject of the book you can write.

Next week, I’ll discuss more about developing ideas.

Fan Story Contest
Write a short love poem with fifteen words or less. $100 cash prize for the winner of this contest for poets.
Deadline: December 3
Details at

Call for Submissions
Teen Ink is a monthly print magazine, website, and a book series all written by teens for teens.
Details at

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Fear of Rejection, Call for Submissions, Student Contest

It happens to most writers to some degree. It takes hold and nothing pours from our minds to our fingertips to the keyboard. Sometimes it’s expressed as writers’ block. Sometimes it’s conveyed in volumes of pages but nary a word is submitted. Other times it’s demonstrated through procrastination. The “it” I’m referring to is fear. Fear that what we write isn’t good enough. Fear of rejection. Fear of failure
This poem expresses the feeling of fear beautifully.

Don’t Be Afraid to Fail
Author unknown

You’ve failed many times,
although you may not
You fell down
the first time
you tried to walk.
You almost drowned
the first time
you tried to
swim, didn’t you?
Did you hit the
ball the first time
you swung a bat?
Heavy hitters,
the ones who hit the most home runs,
also strike
out a lot.
English novelist
John Creasey got
752 rejection slips
before he published
564 books.
Babe Ruth struck out
1,330 times,
but he also hit 714 home runs.
Don’t worry about failure.
Worry about the
chances you miss
when you don’t
even try.

Fear is part of a writer’s journey. Those who get contracts push past their fears and accept them as nothing more than bumps along the publishing road.

Call for Submissions

TriQuarterly Online has opened for submissions of fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, short drama, and hybrid work. “We also welcome short-short prose pieces. We especially are interested in work that embraces the world and continues, however subtly, the ongoing global conversation about culture and society that *TriQuarterly* pursued from its beginning in 1964. *TQO* pays honoraria for creative work.” NB: Query if you would like to “review books or literary events, interview an author, or propose a craft essay.” Submission manager will remain open through July 15, 2011.
Details at

Student Contest

Merlyn’s Pen
There's an old saying: Laughter is the best medicine. When we laugh, we forget our troubles and our pains. Writing about growing up helps us recall events that challenged, scared, confused or even shocked us. Hmmm, that doesn’t sound like fun. Yet when writing about life-changing events, don't we sometimes find ourselves smiling, even laughing, and acknowledging some “good” that resulted? If they lead to nothing else, these memories can lead to a story -- often a story others will enjoy hearing. Merlyn's Pen and its online readers want to hear your story!

This contest seeks humorous stories -- nonfiction ("true" stories) up to 750 words -- about an event that taught you something important, that changed or shaped your understanding of yourself, your friends, your family, or the world.
Winning entries will be picked from two divisions: High school (grades 9-12 or home-school equivalent) and Middle School (grades 6-8 or home-school equivalent).

Deadline December 31, 2010
Details at

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Guest Author, Ev Christensen/Contest/Call for Submissions

Literature Wordokus, level 1
ISBN :978-1-34358-59-7
For grades 3-6
Literature Wordokus, level 2
ISBN :978-1-34358-58-0
For grades 6-8

Publisher: Pieces of Learning
Publishing Date: 2010

Today, I'm happy to have a special friend, Ev Christensen, as a guest. She is an award-winning author of over 40 puzzle books. Her books are popular with kids, parents, and teachers and are used in classrooms across the nation. I've had the privilege of attending book signings with Ev and seen the positive responses she receives for her books.

Nancy: Ev, you are delightfully creative. Tell us about two of your recent books.

Ev: It’s great to be here with you, Nancy. I’m very excited about a pair of Literature Wordokus which I co-authored with Cathie Brown. The set provides intriguing discussion questions based on classic and award-winning books but which require no previous knowledge of the authors and literature they address. They’re intended to get kids excited about reading the books. Also included are sudoku-style puzzles (based on title, author, theme, setting, or character) which can be used as interest hooks.

Nancy: Can you give us some tips for writing a book of puzzles?

Ev: Try to create a new style of puzzle or give a new twist to a familiar puzzle type. Be aware that although trade publishers may still be producing puzzle books that are of the fun, brain teaser variety, most educational publishers want puzzle books to have a strong curriculum tie-in. With the focus on accountability these days, teachers on limited budgets are restricting their buying to resources that will help boost their test scores. Your chances of getting published are much higher if your puzzle book is not only fun, but is also that kind of resource.

Nancy: You have lots of experience writing and working with editors. What advice can you give writers who are just starting out?

Ev: My best advice to them is to take advantage of the helpful resources available on the web to learn as much as they can about writing and submitting. Sites like your wonderful blog, Verla Kay’s author forum, Institute of Children’s Literature, and Children’s Book Insider are all invaluable resources. If people are writing for the education market and are researching places to submit, my website is also a good resource

Nancy: Thanks, Ev, for visiting with me today. Your advice is excellent and I wish you much success with Literature Wordokus. Ev’s books can be purchased at

Ev: Thank you for inviting me, Nancy!

Next week, I’ll address a topic close to all of our hearts, fear of rejection.


Bevel Summers Prize in the Short Short Story
This new prize from *Shenandoah* "is open to all authors of stories of up to
1,000 words." Winner receives $250 and publication in the journals first online
Deadline: Manuscript must be received by March 31, 2011
Details at

Call for Submissions
New Moon Girls
Objectives of New Moon Girls: New Moon Girls portrays girls and women as powerful, active and in charge of their own lives - not as passive beings who are acted upon by others. New Moon Girls celebrates girls and their accomplishments—we support girls' efforts to hold onto their voices, strengths and dreams as they move from being girls to becoming women. New Moon Girls is a tool for girls to use as they build resilience and resistance to destructive societal messages, moving confidently out into the world, pursuing their unique paths in life.
General Guidelines: All material should be pro-girl and focus on girls, women, or female issues. New Moon Girls was created by girls and women for girls who want their voices heard and their dreams taken seriously. It is edited by and for girls ages 8 and up. New Moon Girls takes girls very seriously; the publication is structured to give girls real power. The final product is a collaboration of girls and adults. An editorial board of girls aged 8-14 makes final decisions on content for the magazine and website.

New Moon Girls Upcoming Themes:May/June 2011 “Beauty Around the World” Deadline: Jan. 1, 2011
July/August 2011 “Do It Yourself” Deadline: March 1, 2011
Sept./Oct. 2011 “Eat to Save the Earth” Deadline: May 1, 2011
Send all electronically by email to
Details at

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Character-Driven Stories, Part III, Calls for submissions

Have you ever read a book and fallen for the character? Do you silently urge the character to keep trying and root for his/her triumph?

Here are a few tips to create likable characters.

Figure out your character’s weakness and proceed with an incredible problem that preys on that weakness. The main character should shoulder the main load. Do not allow the problems to be so overwhelming, the character cannot triumph; instead use the story to play out the character’s struggle and ultimate victory. Let the other characters in the story underestimate the protagonist. This will give him/her a chance to grow and prove them wrong by the end of the story. The protagonist should never realize that s/he will succeed until the very end.

A character’s personality can create a bond with readers on the first page of the book. Spring the personality of your main character onto the page early. Kids love humor. If you make your character funny, kids—and editors—will take notice and keep reading.

It’s not necessary to offer the character’s physical description in detail. Many readers like to draw their own conclusions about a character’s appearance, so leave room to engage the reader’s imagination.

Characters don’t have to be good to be likeable, but they should have likeable traits. A demanding cat can display anything but good behavior but it should have some redeeming qualities.

The character needs a sharp intellect, keen wit, or some quality that will make him/her able to stand up to the challenge and triumph over the obstacles.

Make your character memorable. Memorable characters need realistic problems to face, realistic decisions to make, and follow through with realistic solutions.

Check the character traits in your protagonist. Make “likable” one of the top.

Choice Publishing Group has issued calls for submissions for three anthologies within the Patchwork Path series: "Star Spangled Banner," "Star of Hope," and "Baby's Block." Deadlines vary (the first, for "Star Spangled Banner," which is looking for stories and essays "about living the American Dream," is December 31, 2010). Pays: $50/published story. Visit for more information. (via PayingWriterJobs,

Stone Soup welcomes submissions by children through age 13. If you are over 13 we suggest you search Google for a teen magazine where you can send your work.

Send us stories and poems about the things you feel most strongly about! Whether your work is about imaginary situations or real ones, use your own experiences and observations to give your work depth and a sense of reality. Writing need not be typed, as long as it is legible. Include your name, age, home address, phone number, and e-mail address if you have one. Please do not include a self-addressed stamped envelope.
Details at

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Character-Driven Stories, Part II/Contest/Call for Submissions

Character-driven stories focus on the character's emotions, needs, and flaws. That’s right, flaws. Characters should not be cast as perfect. Let the flaws draw in the reader by building empathy. The actions and decisions of the character drive the story, and some of those decisions might be poor choices. By the end of the story, the character should grow and learn from the conflict/quest/problem.

Create characters you care about. If they seem flat and dull to you, they probably will seem the same to the reader. Allow the character to engage the reader emotionally or intellectually, make the reader chuckle or tingle with goosebumps.

Become a people watcher. Notice what people wear and how they act. Listen to conversations. Eavesdrop. Use these observations in your writing.

As your story progresses, give the character an opportunity to surprise you with actions, thoughts, and dialog. Again, if you’re surprised, the reader is likely to be also. Unanticipated behavior adds interest. Refer to the profile you developed to include the character’s background and personality so the behavior remains credible.
Keep in mind the character’s motives and goals, in addition to the background. Focus on a character as s/he goes through a major change. Thoughts and emotion carry endless possibilities for your unique or quirky character. Have fun creating a character that only you can craft.

Part III will be posted next week.

Delacorte Press Contest for a First Young Adult Novel The prize of a book contract (on the publisher’s standard form) covering world rights for a hardcover and a paperback edition, including an advance and royalties, will be awarded annually to encourage the writing of contemporary young adult fiction. The award consists of $1,500 in cash and a $7,500 advance against royalties.
Deadline: Manuscripts must be postmarked after October 1, 2010, but no later than December 31, 2010.
Details at

Skipping Stones provides a place for writers and artists of all ages and backgrounds to communicate creatively and openly.Writings (essays, stories, letters to the editor, riddles and proverbs, etc.) should be typed or neatly handwritten and limited to 750 words and poems to 30 lines. We encourage writings in all languages with an English translation, if possible. And, we love illustrations! Please send originals of your drawings, paintings, or photos. Include your name, age, and address along with your submission.
Details at

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Character Driven Stories, Part I/Calls for submissions for adult and teen writers

Characters are the driving force behind a story’s depth. As the plot unfolds, the choices a character makes define the story outcome.

Get to know your character before you begin writing. Knowing your character helps you keep the character’s voice, dialog, and actions consistent. A teenage character should sound like a teenager throughout the story and the dialog should reflect that voice. A five-year-old should sound and act his age.

Create a profile of your character through an interview. This short list can be used as a guide.

Character Profile

Family members
Is behavior ruled by emotions or logic?
Type of Personality
Favorite expressions
Odd quirks

Add to this list as needed. You might want to know more about the parents, pet peeves, and attitudes or you may want to skip some items. Develop a list that pertains to your character and story. Experiment to determine what works best for you. As your character grows you may want to add particular personality traits to the list.

Write the answers in the character’s voice. Be as detailed or as brief as you wish. Again, determine what works best for you. The information you write is actually a biography of the character.

Developing a character profile is a good way to organize thoughts about a character, to keep character continuity, and to reveal minute character details to readers. When you know your character as well as you know yourself, you can more easily create a character that is believable, captivating, and unique. Character subtleties affect the way the plot unfolds and the problem is resolved.

In my next post, I’ll focus on character-driven stories.

River Styx. A multicultural journal of poetry, prose and art. River Styx publishes works of both new and established artists significant for their originality, energy and deft of craft. The high quality of its form and content have made it a leader among literary magazines for 30 years. River Styx has been included in many editions of the Best American Poetry, Best New Poets, New Stories from the South, and Pushcart Prize anthologies. We publish poetry, short fiction, essays, interviews, drawings and photographs. If your work is the best that it can be and you deem it fits with the established style and content of our magazine, please send it to River Styx.
Deadline: Until November, so hurry.
Details at

Frodo's Notebook is looking for well-crafted poems, creative essays, and short stories by teens age 13-19 from all around the world.
Details at

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Breathing Life into Characters, Part III/Calls for Submissions

Begin the story at the moment the main character faces change or conflict. At this point ask the character what would happen if he failed to succeed? What consequences would the character suffer? What is the character willing to give up or sacrifice? From these questions, you can determine the character’s motivations. By the end of the story the character should undergo change. The change may be internal or external or both.

Conflict drives the actions of the character. The character should respond in ways that reflect real life. Don’t be afraid to give the character flaws. Flaws provide conflict, and readers empathize and identify with imperfect characters. Allow the character to develop gradually as the plot develops.

Characters are the forces that tell the story. Their thoughts, actions, and dialog make a story memorable. The more believable the character, the more believable the story becomes. Spend time learning the characters before writing the story and you will develop a better understanding of how they will react in the tension-filled situations in which you place them. Your character will become more interesting and life-like and will linger in the minds of the reader long after the book is closed.

In my next post, I’ll discuss how to create a character profile.

CALYX, A Journal of Art and Literature by Women, accepts submissions of poetry, short fiction, visual art, essays, reviews, and interviews. ALL SUBMISSIONS (prose, poetry, art, reviews) should include author's name on each page and be accompanied by a brief (50-word or less) biographical statement, a SASE (self-addressed, stamped envelope with “forever stamp”), phone number, and e-mail address. Even if you indicate that it is unnecessary to return your submission(s), please enclose a SASE for your notification. Prose and poetry should be submitted separately with separate SASEs for each submission category.
Deadline: October 1 - December 31 (postmark dates).
Details at

CICADA MagazineCICADA fiction and nonfiction stories and poems are written by adult authors as well as by teens. CICADA also sponsors "The Slam," an online writing forum for young writer. For ages 14 and up."
Cicada is remaining open to submissions through December 31, 2010.
Details at

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Breathing Life into Characters, Part II, Contest, Calls for Submissions

Let your imagination soar as you try different possibilities for the character. Developing character traits does not mean the traits and everything you know about the character should go into the story. Give the reader only enough information about the character’s physical description to “see” the character. Remember, the reader doesn’t need to know as much about the character as the writer knows. Provide only the parts of the character that are relevant to the story. Glimpses often work better than all-out descriptions. The scar on his cheek was a constant reminder of how his hot temper could lead to danger. Maybe a scar is the only physical trait the reader needs to know about his face. Feed the reader small bits of character information at a time.

Allowing the reader to “see” the character through feelings, thoughts, and reactions to situations is a way to build empathy for the protagonist. Readers need to know the character’s motivation, what makes the character think and act in a particular way. Readers don’t need to know the eye or hair color unless the physical appearance plays a role in the plot. If you’re writing picture books, the illustrations reflect the physical appearance of the characters so the focus should be on the action in each scene.

Another way to breathe life into a character is dialog. Does the character have an unusual way of speaking? Is the character serious or funny, sad or happy, lively or subdued? Good dialog makes the characters practically step off the pages and become real. Give each character a different way of talking, with different speech patterns, so the reader can distinguish between them in a conversation. One could chat in short, snappy sentences and the other could speak in a longer, more detailed manner.

Part III will be posted next week.

Crab Orchard Review has announced its next special issue theme: “Crab Orchard Review is seeking work for our Summer/Fall 2011 issue focusing on writing exploring the people, places, history, and new directions that have shaped and are reshaping the American South. All submissions should be original, unpublished poetry, fiction, or literary nonfiction in English or unpublished translations in English (we do run bilingual, facing-page translations whenever possible). Please query before submitting any interview. The submission period for this issue is August 10 through November 1, 2010. We will be reading submissions throughout this period and hope to complete the editorial work on the issue by the end of March 2011. Writers whose work is selected will receive $25 (US) per magazine page ($50 minimum for poetry; $100 minimum for prose) and two copies of the issue”.
Details at

Creative Kids
· We are looking for the very best material by students (ages 8–16). Material may include cartoons, songs, stories between 500 and 1200 words, puzzles, photographs, artwork, games, editorials, poetry, and plays, as well as any other creative work that can fit in the pages of the magazine.
· All work must be original. Upon acceptance of a work, we will request that a legal guardian sign our standard contract granting copyright permission. The contract will be mailed with notification of acceptance.
· Work may be submitted by the author, parent, or teacher. Each piece must be labeled with the child’s name, birthday, grade, school, and home address, and must include a cover letter.
· Each entry should be sent in its own envelope via first class mail. Do not send more than one submission in each envelope. Teachers, please do not send more than 3 submissions in each envelope.
· Include a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a response. Do not seal the SASE. Submissions without a SASE will not be considered. Submissions will not be returned. Teachers, please include a SASE for each piece of work submitted.
· Deadline: November 1, 2010
· Details at

New Voices Young Writers Competition
Eligible Students: This contest is open to students worldwide, attending public, private, or home schools. Students must be in junior high/middle school or high school in the U.S., or the equivalent grade level in their specific international school system.

Categories for entries: Entries may be a story, poem, or essay, written specifically for the contest or as a school assignment for grades 6-8 / ages 11 - 14 (Middle School categories) or grades 9-12 / ages 15 - 18 (High School categories). The sub-categories are Story (fictional Short Story), Poetry, and/or Essay (nonfiction).
Language: All entries must be in English.

Entry Limit: An entrant may enter no more than one (1) entry in each category, equaling a maximum of three (3) entries.

Entry Fee: None.

Deadline: All entries must be received between August 1, 2010 and October 20, 2010.
Judging: Entries will be judged by a panel of judges, including teachers, librarians, published writers, publishers, and editors. All entrants will receive feedback ONLY from the first-round judging panel. Finalists will move to a secondary judging panel.

Details at

Sunday, October 3, 2010

National Book Festival, Characterization, Mad Magazine, Mrs. P's Writing Contest for Kids

The photo is a picture of my books at the National Book Festival in Washington, D.C. Trouble in Troublesome Creek represented the Kentucky booth. Happy Birthday, the Story of the World's Most Popular Song, was showcased because it was released this year and the story focuses on Kentucky.

Breathing Life into Characters, Part I

Believable characters make the world of fiction come alive. A character that does not seem real will not be interesting. So how do writers breathe life into characters? The best way to develop a three-dimensional character is to get to know the character as well as you know yourself.

On paper create a character profile. List the character’s physical traits, including hair color, height, and other features. List the character’s likes and dislikes, family members, and unusual mannerisms, such as winking as he smiles or rubbing his hand through his hair when he is stressed. Ask your character questions about favorite foods, sports activities, and friends. Write the character’s answer in a first person voice as though he is talking with you. What are the character’s strengths and weaknesses? What does the character want and why does the character want it? What drives the character? The writer needs to know why the character makes certain choices throughout the development of the plot.

Characters are more interesting if they are not perfect, but they need to be likeable. The reader should want the character to succeed or the story will fall flatter than the page on which it’s written.

Part II will be posted next week.

Call for submissions/Contest
MAD Magazine
Pay: $500+
We're actively looking to expand our pool of freelance comedy writers and there's more opportunity to join The Usual Gang Of Idiots than ever. If you have a twisted sense of humor, a peculiar way of looking at the world, or are simply eager to express your immature, strange or just plain silly side, then we want to see your stuff!

Open to kids 4-13. Two winners will be chosen, one in age
group 4-8 and one in age group 9-13. Stories may be any topic.
Fiction or nonfiction. 250 to 1,000 words.
Two grand prize winners (one from each age group) will have
their stories read by Mrs. P herself and an artist will
create original illustrations to accompany the story. Each
winner will receive a bound copy of the illustrated story,
as well as having it posted on Both grand prize
winners and up to eight runners-up will also each receive
a $25 gift certificate to Powell's.

Deadline: Submissions will be accepted Sept. 1 through Oct. 15, 2010.
Details at

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Inspiration to write/Jaime Adoff/Kiki Magazine/Contest/Call for submissions

One recurring question I’m asked is “How do you stay inspired to write?” This question has many forms, such as “Don’t you get tired of writing, day after day?” and “How do you find the time to write?”

Inspiration often comes in brilliant flashes like lightning when an idea for a story zigzags into my brain. Other times inspiration seeps over me like cool breeze on a warm day. This happens when I read a story or article that impresses me or meet an author who is compelling in his/her own way or talk with someone who enjoys reading books.

A week or so ago, I attended the Kentucky School Media/ALA Conference in Louisville. Several authors were scattered around a spacious room snuggled comfortably between vendor booths. Nice arrangement for all. I chatted with librarians from around the state. Between signing books and talking with vendors, I introduced myself to the one author who sat in a booth near me. He said his name was Jaime Adoff, and he briefly discussed his books, stating he wrote novels and picture books. I was impressed with his pleasant, sociable personality. Our conversation was cut short when librarians came to our tables with books for us to sign. As I turned to walk to my table, I picked up a brochure from a stack Jaime had on display.

A few minutes later, I began reading Jaime Adoff’s brochure. My mouth dropped, literally, when I read that he was the son of Virginia Hamilton, the Newbery Award-winning author, and Arnold Adoff, the renowned poet. Jaime has collected impressive literary awards of his own, including the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award and the Lee Bennett Hopkins Award.

Between signings, we continued to talk. And laugh. And tell stories.

I met school, public, and academic librarians. We talked. And laughed. And told stories.

I met the editor-in-chief of a notable new magazine, Kiki, for tween girls. We talked. And laughed. And told stories.

When I left Louisville, I felt energized to rev up the story I’m working on and to find the time to write a story that’s been percolating for a while. Meeting authors and librarians and editors and others in the writing community is my way of staying inspired to write.

Students often need to be inspired to write, too. One way is to allow students to choose a topic they’re interested in. Another is to write while students are writing. When students observe a teacher writing, they see value in the experience. One of the best ways of firing up students to place pencil to paper and write is to read books aloud and follow with a discussion of the plot, character or a specific aspect of writing.

Find out what works to inspire you or your students to write. When you do, immerse yourself in that world periodically and leave refreshed and ready to create new worlds of your own.

Contest/Call for submissions

The Competition is open to any writer, regardless of nationality, who has never been the author of a published novel (authors of self-published works may enter, as long as the manuscript submitted is not the self-published work) and is not under contract with a publisher for publication of a novel. Only one manuscript entry is permitted per writer. All manuscripts must be original, previously unpublished works of book length (no less than 220 typewritten pages or 60,000 words) written in the English language by the entrants. Murder or another serious crime or crimes is at the heart of the story. If a winner is selected, Minotaur Books will offer to enter into its standard form author's agreement with the entrant for publication of the winning manuscript. After execution of the standard form author's agreement by both parties, the winner will receive an advance against future royalties of $10,000. Deadline November 13, 2010.

Kiki Magazine
Kiki is a magazine for girls who love life, appreciate creativity, and recognize good ideas. A Kiki reader thinks for herself, has her own look, and is on her way to being a confident, strong, and smart young woman. She's a girl with style and substance! Kiki shows you all the different ways you can be involved in design. Seven different departments blend style and artistry with intelligence and creativity, and design features will inspire you to transform your Kiki into your very own creativity journal!
This magazine accepts submissions from professional writers and from female students. Male writers must be parents of girls.
Details at

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Guest author Cassandra Jade/Building Tension/Contests

Publisher: Lyrical Press

Today, I have Cassandra Jade, author of the fantasy novel, Death’s Daughter, visiting my blog. Cassandra is discussing how to build tension in stories.

Nancy: Welcome, Cassandra. Building tension in stories is the key to creating interest, and interest keeps readers reading. So what can writers do to build tension as we craft our stories?

Cassandra: There is virtually no end to the list of different ways you can add tension to a story. Sometimes those seemingly simplistic moments can become very tense (and not in an overly dramatic way when handled well). As a reader, these are my five favorite ways that authors introduce tension for their characters:

1. A secret is uncovered and the character is trying to prevent the knowledge from spreading. I always like intrigues and character dilemmas. You always wonder just how far is this character going to go to keep this a secret. And when the secret is revealed, how will they react? Admittedly, as a reader I like to be in on the secret and then the fun is seeing if the other characters in the story catch on.

2. Forced waits. I'm going to confess that I love this as a plot device because in real life this is what causes the most tension. You know what is coming, you know what you need to do, everything is progressing and then it all just stalls. You can really relate to the characters as they get frustrated and impatient and desperate to act while others use the time for further preparations and others still simply work themselves into a bundle of nerves.

3. Rivalry. It may be a cliché but I do love rivals when they are both well established characters and their both given a fair showing. The play between the two as they try to one-up the other, while not admitting that they care what the other thinks, can make for an intriguing and interesting story and can also create some really interesting tensions between the other characters as they realize what is happening.

4. RAS (Random Acts of Stupidity). Everybody is stupid at one point or another and when a character has clearly done something incredibly dumb, I like that to be addressed by the other characters, rather than simply ignored because it is convenient to the story. This can create really interesting group dynamics and the tension in the scene where someone confronts the character about their action can be excellently executed.

5. Anticipation. I remember reading a book in high-school (don't remember which one) where a girl was having her thumb chopped off (various political reasons leading up to it). But they announced this at the beginning of the chapter. Guy has hold of the girl, blade drawn. She's crying. Then someone else comes in and there is discussion and another speech and they keep coming back to this girl who has tears streaming down her face. The whole chapter you're wondering - are they actually going to do this? Is she going to get away or be released? If they had made me wait to the next chapter to find out I probably would have given up reading the book because essentially nothing would have happened in the chapter, but this book was brilliantly executed. Just when you couldn't take any more and you had to know, the answer is revealed and then the chapter ended.

Nancy: Thanks, Cassandra. You’ve given me lots of ideas today, and I will be using some of these to up the tension in my own stories. I wish you the best with your book, Death’s Daughter.


Wergle Flomp Humor Poetry Contest - No Fee
Winning Writers invites you to enter the tenth annual Wergle Flomp Humor Poetry Contest. We'll award $3,600, including a top prize of $1,500. Submit one poem online. No length limit. Both published and unpublished poems are welcome.
Deadline: Entries accepted August 15, 2010-April 1, 2011
Details at

For students:

The purpose of our essay contest is to bring recognition to
student writers. Winners share thousands in cash and prizes.
In addition to the winning entries, other entries of high merit
are accepted to be published in our hard-bound anthology. With
the publication being regionally based, students are competing
against their peers in both age and location. Within the guidelines
of accepting less than 50% of the poems and essays that are entered
in each contest, the contest is selective so that it is an honor
to be accepted, yet not so exclusive that it is discouraging to
enter. Unlike many other organizations who sponsor writing contests,
there is no entry fee and no required purchase in order to become
published. We take pride in the fact that our staff is comprised
of teachers, professors and writers.

Fall: October 19, 2010
Spring: Feb 17, 2011
Summer: July 14, 2011
Students: For each contest deadline, the top ten entries in each
grade division (3-6; 7-9; 10-12 for essay) will receive a $50
savings bond, special recognition in the book, and a free copy
of the anthology that is created from the contest.
Teachers: Teachers with 5 or more students who give permission
for publication will receive a free copy of the anthology that
includes their student writers. Teachers also can qualify to
apply for one of fifty $250 grants we award each year.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Dialog Tags/Swifties/Contests

Dialogue tags often consist of only two words, such as “he said.” Said is the recommended verb because the word become invisible to the reader. There’s an interesting dialog tag called Tom Swiftie. Or Swiftie. Or Swifty. A Swiftie is a sentence in which a phrase and the dialog tag become a pun. The name dates back to the early 1900s when author Edward L. Stratemeyer wrote a series of books about a character named Tom Swift. Stratemeyer also created the Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew, and the Hardy Boys. He didn’t actually write the series, but he created the characters and developed the plots for his books. Various writers wrote the stories.

Here are some examples of Swifties:

"The number of people not attending class today really bothers me," said the professor absent-mindedly.
"I like modern painting," said Tom abstractly.
"I find my job painful -- every inch of it," said Lear achingly.
"There's room for one more," Tom admitted.
"Here's your allowance for the next two weeks," Tom advanced.
"Fire!" yelled Tom alarmingly.

Am I suggesting that Swifties are a practice we should strive for in our writing? Hardly. But we should view these as a glaring reminder that a simple dialog tag, such as “he said” is often all that is needed; otherwise, the dialog tag can become a distraction to the reader.


Each issue of Literary Laundry is accompanied by a writing competition. All pieces submitted to us for review will be entered into consideration for our Awards of Distinction. Cash awards are offered for the following:

$500 for best poem
$500 for best short story
$250 for best one-act drama

Deadline December 1, 2010.
Details at

The Angel Animals Network 2010 True Story Contest is now accepting submissions of stories about animals helping children, parents, and families deal with chronically difficult situations and circumstances or temporary tough periods in a child’s life.
Deadline: September 15, 2010
Details at

Birdsong Micropress Winter 2010 Poetry + Prose Contest
New York literary zine Birdsong is now accepting submissions for our Winter 2010 Poetry + Prose Contest. A prize of $50, publication in birdsong #14, 10 complimentary copies of the zine (edition of 200, full color, screenprinted cover), and a featured spot in our Brooklyn reading series in mid-December will be awarded a single person in each category. Submit a 12 pt. standard font .doc file of up to three pages of poetry, or 1500 words of double-spaced prose.
Deadline: 10 October 2010
Details at

For students:

Kids Are Authors is an annual competition open to Grades K-8 and is designed to encourage students to use their reading, writing, and artistic skills to create their own books. Under the guidance of a project coordinator, children work in teams of three or more students to write and illustrate their own book. Two Grand Prize winning books will be published in each of these categories: Fiction and Nonfiction. The winning books
will be published by Scholastic and sold at Book Fairs throughout the country. Each Grand Prize winning team receives:
· $5,000 in merchandise from the Scholastic Book Fairs School
Resource Catalog to be awarded to the public/private school
or non-profit organization of their choice.
· 100 copies of their published book
Other prizes included.
Deadline March 15, 2011
Details at

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Conflict/Contest/Student Publishing

For the next several weeks, I will post publishing opportunities for students in the Contest/Call for Submissions section of this blog.

Conflict, A Writer’s Best Friend

In the writing world, conflict is good. The greater the conflict, the stronger the story. I remember when I first began writing, I read an article that stated we should treat our characters badly, then treat them worse. That was an ah-ha! moment. Characters need goals, but they also need obstacles to those goals. The reward comes at the end of the story when the character shows evidence of growth.

Conflict, internal or external, brings the character to life and adds depth to the story. Without conflict, a character is uninteresting and flat. With conflict, a character is compelled to take action. The characters actions and reactions keep readers engaged in the story.

A character should work at solving the problem. Failure to do so is an integral part of the plot because the character is forced to work harder. Repeated failure requires the character to rethink and retry different avenues to resolving issues. The knowledge gained from failure leads to growth.

A character needs an antagonist, a worthy opponent, to keep the conflict believable and who creates challenges and motivation. The character’s actions and reactions will drive the plot. Allow the character to be torn between two choices and forced to deal with difficult decisions, exposing raw emotions. Readers will want the character to succeed and will hang in there to the last page.

These rules apply to picture books, chapter books, and novels. In fiction, don’t run from conflict, run with it.


Eric Hoffer Award for Short Prose
Each year, outstanding works of short prose deserve wider recognition. The Eric Hoffer Award for short prose recognizes excellence in writing with a $500 prize and various honors and distinctions. Works of short prose must be less than 10,000 words, previously unpublished, or published with a circulation of less than 500. The winning prose and selected nominations are published annually in the anthology
Details at

For Students:
Two age groups (7-10, 11-14).
Grand Prize: One year subscription to Backyard Poultry,
Official Gertrude McCluck plush toy, book choice of Storey's
Illustrated Poultry Breeds or Your Chickens ($60 value)
2nd Prize: One year subscription to Backyard Poultry and
Official Gertrude McCluck canvas bag ($40 value)
3rd Prize: One year subscription to Backyard Poultry and
Gertrude McCluck notecards ($30 value)
Honorable Mention: Backyard Poultry "Have you hugged your
chicken today?" t-shirt
All contestants will receive a Gertrude McCluck sticker
with a letter notifying them of the results. Winners will
be posted in the Dec./Jan. issue of Backyard Poultry and
on the Gertrude McCluck website. Write an original story
that includes Gertrude McCluck. You can write about anything
- what happened when Gertrude discovered an ostrich egg in
the coop? Hitched a ride to the fair? Met the poultry in
your flock? Use your imagination to take her on an adventure.
Type the story using 500 words or less. Good stories have
a beginning, middle and an end. Please use 1" margins,
double-spaced and 12 pt.font. Send story in e-mail or
postal mail by October 15. Include your name, age,
address, phone number and e-mail (if you have one) with
the story (not just on the envelope or in the e-mail).

Details at

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Creative Nonfiction, Contests

Creative nonfiction is becoming more popular with publishers. This writing style incorporates real people and events with factually accurate information in a compelling story. Here’s how I get started writing nonfiction books for kids.

Selecting the topic is my first step. I seldom look for a nonfiction topic; the topics find me. One day I was reading an article in a magazine about two women from Louisville, Kentucky, who wrote the song, “Happy Birthday.” My curiosity was peaked. I wanted to know more. When I find a subject that snags my attention, I dig deep into the research. As I learn more about the subject, I choose bits and pieces of information that offer interest and surprise.

I begin my research at the library by selecting books and other materials, such as magazines and newspapers, on the subject. This is a broad search. When I find information I jot it down on cards and include the source of the information. I also check the bibliographies in the book to get more leads. If primary sources—journals, diaries, photos, letters—are available, I pour over them.

After I gather information, I narrow the topic by asking, What would interest a child about this person? I dig, dig, dig to find information to answer that question. My chapter book biography, Ring the Silver Bell, is the story of Alice Slone, who built one of the last settlement schools in Kentucky. Since I could devote chapters to the book, I wrote the story from her birth. In the picture book, Happy Birthday The Story of the World’s Most Popular Song, I focused the majority of the story on the period of time in which the two sisters wrote the song. I had less space to write, so I narrowed the topic.

As I research, I’m always on the lookout for quirky facts and interesting information to add kid appeal to the books. I like adding juicy details and events of daily life to excite the imaginations of the readers, to make them want to read more, to capture the essence of the person, and offer a reason to know more about the person.


Life Lessons Essay Contest
Finish this sentence: “I never thought I’d. . .”

Have you ever taken a huge, surprising risk? Did you climb a mountain? Go back to school? Get married (again)? Tell us about it: Enter Real Simple’s Third-Annual Life Lessons Essay Contest and you could have your essay published in Real Simple; win round-trip tickets for two to New York City, hotel accommodations for two nights, tickets to a Broadway play, and a lunch with Real Simple editors; and receive a prize of $3,000.

To enter, send your typed, double-spaced submission (1,500 words maximum, preferably in a Microsoft Word document) to
Deadline: September 24, 2010.
Details at

The Last 72
Live life like it matters: Last 72 follows people as they race to turn their lives around for good.

What would you do if you were told you had only 72 hours to live?
Share your real stories and be a part of a life-changing social experiment!
Everest Production Corporation together with The Fountain: A Magazine of Scientific and Spiritual Thought, are searching for 13 winners who will get to appear in a brand-new TV series.
1st Place: $5,000 USD
2nd Place: $2,000 USD
3rd Place: $1000 USD
Selected submissions will also be published in upcoming issues of the Fountain Magazine.
The top 13 essays will earn special prizes as well as the chance to appear on The Last 72 television series.
Deadline: October 30, 2010
Details at

Hint Fiction (n): a story of 25 words or fewer that suggests a larger, more complex story.
Inspired by Ernest Hemingway’s six-word story—"For sale: baby shoes, never worn"—Hint Fiction is not a first sentence, a random thought, or even a sentence or two plucked from a much larger work. Instead Hint Fiction should stand by itself as a complete story, yet also hint at a larger chain of events.
A title is important in Hint Fiction. While the word limit of a story is 25 words, it does not include the title. The title should add another layer of complexity to the story, helping to give the reader a better idea of what is taking place.
Ultimately, Hint Fiction is an exercise in brevity, with the writer trying to affect the reader in as few words as possible.
Here are two examples authored by Mr. Swartwood:

Corrections & Clarifications
It was Fredrick Miller, not his murdered son Matthew, who was executed Monday night at Henshaw Prison.

10 Items or Less
She saw his picture in the paper and remembered waiting on him two days before: the lighter fluid, her quip about barbequing, his vacuous gaze.

Submit your unpublished 25 word story to our competition and you could win:
· 10-week writing workshop
· $100
· One-year subscription to The Writer
· Publication of your winning entry in Gotham's Winter 2011 course catalog
· Bragging rights
Details at

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Author Vickie Alvear Shecter, Writing Nonfiction Hooks, Contests

Today, I have a guest, Vickie Alvear Shecter, author of CLEOPATRA RULES! THE AMAZING LIFE OF THE ORIGINAL TEEN QUEEN. Vickie is giving us the inside scoop on writing nonfiction.

The Secret is the "Hook."

So what happens when the event or person you want to write about has "been done" countless times? Should you drop it and look for another topic less well known? You could, but you may not want to give up so easily.

For example, when I decided to write a kid's biography on Cleopatra, I could have easily talked myself out of it, telling myself that too many books already existed about her. But I didn't. Instead I approached a familiar subject with a fresh twist. In my research, I discovered that serious modern scholars weren't so quick to accept the point of view of the original sources on the great queen, especially since those sources were written by her conquerors, the people who NEEDED to make her look bad in order to justify a war. Today's scholars "tested what the Romans wrote about Cleopatra against the larger picture of international politics, Roman propaganda, ancient Egyptian artifacts, and even what Medieval Arab scholars (who had decoded hieroglyphics way before the West did) wrote about her.

I had my hook. But in approaching an old story in a new way, it became even more important to back up my suppositions with scholarly research. So, for example, when I wrote that a pre-teen Cleopatra accompanied her father on a trip to Rome, I had to acknowledge, in my endnotes, that not everyone is sure about that. However, many Cleopatra experts have good arguments/facts backing up their supposition that she did indeed accompany her father the king. I made sure to cite their arguments and proofs in my endnotes.

Another example: Cleopatra has always been depicted as a "man-eater," which implies that she seduced countless men. But today, modern scholars say there is no proof to support that claim. In fact, there is more proof that she was actually very loyal to her Roman consorts (Julius Caesar and then years after his murder, Mark Antony). So again, I made sure to have plenty of back-up when I make the claim that Cleopatra likely only had two relationships her whole life.

All this, I hope, makes for a fresh take on an old subject. So far, the response to the book has been very good (it didn't hurt that I had four ancient history and/or Cleopatra experts vett the manuscript!). And even if some "old-guard" historians may be uneasy with the colloquial tone and teen "voice" that I use in the book, to a review, they all cite the research as both thorough and impressive.

So don't talk yourself out of writing a book just because it's "been done before." Find your hook, back it up with thorough research, and let your passion for the subject shine through.

Thanks, Vickie, for sharing your ideas on writing hooks. I’m looking forward to reading Cleopatra Rules! and Cleopatra’s Moon. I'm working on a hook for my next book, too.

Vicky Alvear Shecter is the author of the recently released, CLEOPATRA RULES! THE AMAZING LIFE OF THE ORIGINAL TEEN QUEEN (Boyds Mill). Her debut YA historical fiction novel, CLEOPATRA'S MOON, comes out next summer, published by Arthur A Levine Books/Scholastic.


Family Circle Magazine Contest
Submit an original (written by entrant), fiction short story of no more than 2,500 words, typed on 8-1/2x11paper. Entries must be unpublished and may not have won any prize or award. Include your name, address, daytime telephone number and e-mail address (optional) on each page and send to: Family Circle Fiction Contest, c/o Family Circle Magazine, 375 Lexington Avenue, Ninth Floor, New York, NY 10017.
LIMIT: Up to two (2) entries per person will be accepted but each entry must be a unique short story.
Top prize of $750 for short fiction up to 2,500 words. Entrants must be US residents, aged 21+. Family Circle is a women's magazine with articles about parenting, health, cooking, crafts, relationships, and family travel.
Deadline: Postmarked by September 8 and received by September 15.
Details at

Contest for Women
Twice-yearly free contest offers prizes up to $500 and online publication for the best short fiction or creative nonfiction by women. Both published and unpublished work welcome. Entries should be 50-5,000 words. Contest sponsor Beate Sigriddaughter says, "Subject is open, but must be of significance to women. My criterion is passion, excellence, and authenticity in the woman's writing voice." Must be a woman to submit. One submission per contest.
Send manuscript to:

333 East 16th Avenue, #517
Denver, CO 80203
Deadline: September 21, 2010

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Historical Fiction/Call for Submission

Today, I’m showcasing an engaging book, With Purpose and Promise, by Kentucky author, K. Melissa Burton.

Young readers love historical fiction because they can learn about events and people of years gone by in an interesting way. When reading a textbook, they gain facts, but when they read a historical novel, readers become involved in the lives of the characters. As readers make an emotional connection to the characters, they are more likely to remember the facts and historical events.

Historical fiction should be grounded in truth even though the story is made up. The facts need to be accurate and woven into the story with an authentic setting. This is just the case with the latest book, With Purpose and Promise, by K. Melissa Burton.


K. Melissa Burton, Tate Publishing, 2010, $14.99, pb, 239pp, 978-1-61663-434-6

In the early 1900s, Lilly Kate Overstreet’s simple life turns complex when she is introduced to the harsh realities of her father’s death and a move from her farm home to the small town of Lawrenceburg, Kentucky. While she and her mother struggle to create better lives for themselves, Lilly Kate relishes in the joy of attending high school. She excels in classes, becomes a tutor for a classmate, and works on the school newspaper. Lilly Kate’s determination grows stronger with each challenge she encounters. When a teacher introduces the class to a new game called basketball, the girls form teams and create a new alliance with the people of the town, and together they look to a future filled with purpose and promise.

Burton weaves an enchanting and inspiring tale with realistic characterization and historical accuracy. In a setting depicted with vivid details, she explores the turn-of-the-century culture from the lack of educational opportunities for girls and expected obedience of children to the strict social standards of the day. Burton’s skillful blend of fiction and fact takes readers on an uplifting journey they will affectionately remember.

Humpty Dumpty's Magazine, for children ages 5-7 is accepting submissions for poems (4-12) lines; crafts; recipes; activities; rebuses; and simple, picture-oriented fiction and nonfiction of no more than 450 words. All material submitted should reflect good values and healthy living.

The magazine's health and fitness focus includes kids' emotional lives, interests and educational needs. Avoid reference to sugary foods, such as candy, cakes, cookies, and soft drinks. Send seasonal material at least eight months in advance. It's advised that writers study several back issues of the magazine before submitting. Pays up to 35 cents/word for fiction and nonfiction; $25-$50 for poetry; a minimum of $25 for puzzles and games. Buys all rights, including Web, and pays upon publication. One-time book rights will be returned to the author when an interested publisher is found.

Submit entire manuscript with SASE to Phyllis Lybarger, Editor, Humpty Dumpty's Magazine,US Kids, PO Box 567, Indianapolis, IN 46206.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Writing Tight/Contest

We writers often fall in love with our words. We don’t want to change phrases in narrative or dialog because we like the way they sound. We like the characters and the situations we’ve created. If we change the words, we’ve changed the story. Deciding what text to remove is a difficult decision for me, but as hard as it may be, I cut words in every manuscript I write.

In my flower garden I clip, trim, snip, and prune plants. I tug away weeds and deadhead flowers. What remains is a garden that it looks better with healthier plants. I have a clearer view of the flowers because I’m not looking around and between weeds. As with my garden, when I trim the excess from my literary pieces, I present a clearer view of the characters and plot. After cutting words, the writing is tighter and more concise.

So how do we know which words to whack?

Adjectives and adverbs, those sneaky “ly” words. Use strong nouns and verbs so your writing won’t have to depend on adjectives and adverbs. The phrase, “Ran quickly,” uses an adverb. A stronger verb—trot, darted, or dashed—doesn’t need a modifier to paint a vivid picture.

Description. If we describe in grand, sprawling detail, we sometime lose focus of the plot and the reader loses interest in the story. Some description is necessary; too much dulls the story.

Dialog serves two purposes: to develop the characters or push the plot forward. Read the dialog carefully. You’ll probably find words that serve no purpose. Remove them.

Redundancy. Look for sections in which you’ve already given the information to the reader. If it doesn’t need to be repeated, whack it.

Chop away unnecessary sections as you paint your story with words an editor will love. In doing so, you'll sow the seeds for a contract.

Contest This web site features family-friendly read-aloud stories for children and is sponsoring a writing contest. Entries can be fiction or nonfiction of up to 2500 words for children up to age 12 (suggested themes: holiday, inspirational, embarrassing situations, humor, adventure, love, family). Entrants must be at least 18 years old and can submit as many stories as they'd like. No entry fee. All entries must be in English, original, unpublished, and not submitted or accepted elsewhere at the time of submission. Short-Story-Time reserves exclusive electronic rights to publish the submissions on the web site in print, video and audio formats credited to the author. Entrants must submit their stories electronically by filling out the form at
Deadline September 15, 2010.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

I Write Like, Contests

Today, I’m all about having fun so I’m leading you to the Internet site, I Write Like. In a box you paste a short piece of your fiction or nonfiction work and click the analyze button to see which famous writer you write like. The statistical analysis tool evaluates your words and writing style and makes a comparison.

On fictional pieces, my style was like Steven King’s. Not once. Not twice. Three times. I hope this program is spot-on with accuracy. If not, it’s fun to dream.

When I submitted classroom activities based on one of my books, David Foster Wallace’s name appeared. I had to check him out since I’d never heard of him. He wrote a book called Infinite Jest. So far I was in good company, but the fun picked up pace when I pasted a few paragraphs in my fifth piece. J.K. Rowling’s name’s popped up.

Look out Hollywood. I’m on my way.

The I Write Like program was created by Dmitry Chestnykh, a Russian software programmer, who said he wanted it to be educational and to help people become better writers. He has uploaded three books each by about 50 authors.

Since we deal with so much rejection in the publishing world, it’s fun to feed work to the little I Write Like box and dream of what lies ahead. So have a little fun; give this site a try. Feel good about your writing and dream big.

The Pedestrian* Quarterly Essay Contest
Deadline: September 15, 2010

Creative Writers' Circle Short Story Contest
The first paragraph is provided.
Your job is to finish the story, up to 3500 words.
Deadline: August 31, 2010
Details at

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Voice, Contest and Call for Submission

Voice is that illusive ingredient all editors are looking for in a manuscript. I usually approach voice in a story by considering how the writing “sounds” on the page. I experiment with different voices before I decide how I want the character to speak. After I write a few lines, I read it aloud, but not in the presence of company for fear of being committed.

Narrative voice is the way the narrator is telling the story. Many writers struggle to develop a this voice, which is like a fingerprint: it’s unique to each writer. No two people tell a story exactly alike. Narrative voice is not so much what is told but how.

Character voice is the way the character speaks. I played around with different voices when I began writing The Munched-Up Flower Garden. I wanted the main character, Liz, to be a feisty young girl with spunk and determination who was also loud and funny.

An effective method of creating a character voice is to think about the way a child would explain an event or situation. Listen to a child the age of your character explain a rainbow or a roller coaster ride. How would that child describe playing in the rain? Talk with kids and listen carefully to the way they tell a story or explain a situation. What words and comparisons do they make? "Magnificent colors" is the way an adult might explain a rainbow. A child might compare the colors to a box of crayons or spilled paint or the colors of grandma’s apron.

Let the character take over the telling of the story and develop the plot through the character’s senses. Listen to the way kids talk and reflect their language in the voices of the characters. You’ll “hear” the character’s voice bring the story to life.

Contest and Call for Submission:

Iowa Short Fiction Award & John Simmons Short Fiction Award
"Any writer who has not previously published a volume of prose fiction is eligible to enter the competition. Previously entered manuscripts that have been revised may be resubmitted. Writers are still eligible if they have published a volume of poetry or any work in a language other than English or if they have self-published a work in a small print run. Writers are still eligible if they are living abroad or are non-US citizens writing in English. Current University of Iowa students are not eligible." Winning manuscripts are published by the University of Iowa Press under the Press's standard contract.
Submissions: August 1-September 30, 2010 (postmarked)
Details at

Past Loves Day Story Contest "To foster awareness of Past Loves Day, September 17, Spruce Mountain Press sponsors an annual Story Contest. The Contest, and the Day, offer an opportunity to acknowledge a truth that lingers in your heart." True stories sought. Cash prizes of $100, $75, and $50 will be awarded. "Winning stories will be posted (anonymously, if requested by author)" on the website.
Deadline: August 17, 2010 (midnight)
Details at

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Critiquing a Manuscript, Part II, Calls for Submissions

Attend to these details of a manuscript to give it a professional look, feel, and sound.

Punctuation, spelling, grammar. You have only one opportunity to make a great first impression. Don’t destroy that opportunity with a rushed manuscript filled with simple mistakes. Keep these in mind when writing the cover or query letter, also.

Create fresh and appealing similes and metaphors and avoid cliches, worn-out phrases.

Use age appropriate comparsions that match the subject of the text.

Rhyming text. If you write in rhyme, be true to meter and beat. Chances of publication are greater if you write in prose, rather than rhyme, unless you have mastered the art of meter, which is totally foreign to me.

Is the main character active in carrying the plot forward? The main character should be responsible for solving the problem or reaching the goal. Uncle Hamm or an older brother should not step in and save the character that is experiencing the trouble.

Stay consistent with the point of view. If one character has been telling the story, that character should continue to do so. Only change point of view characters with new chapters.

Voice: Is the voice Distinct? Consistent? Appropriate?

Authenticity. Are the facts correct? I strongly suggest including facts when writing fiction to make the story realistic and believable.

Competing books. Are numerous books on this subject available in the marketplace? With manuscripts, the greater the competition, the harder the sell. You will not come up with a unique idea but you need to put a fresh spin on the story to make it different from other books.

As far as rules for critique groups, I recommend the sandwich method of pointing out something positive, followed by something that needs to be fixed, followed by something positive. Writers need to know what works with readers as well as what needs revision.

In my next post, I will discuss voice in greater detail.

Calls for Submissions

2011 Muse Romance Summer Stories
Once Upon A Ghostly Beach
Think summer. Think relaxation, heading on a summer vacation with no thought of a love affair. Now think of the perfect vacation spot/resort/inn/ right up until mixed up reservations saddle you with a roommate. Characters don't have to be the perfect couple. We want the odd couple and how they resolve their relationship. Place it in any era. Give us a twist ending. Give us memorable characters. Hook us into their situation. But, put in an element of paranormal.
Word count: 3,000 - 5,000
Release date: Summer 2011
Deadline: October 30, 2010
Details at http://museituppubl musepub/index. php?option= com_content& view=article&id=5&Itemid= 2

Hopscotch, a children’s magazine seeks nonfiction, fiction, columns/departments, fillers, photos/artwork. Subjects: Of interest to girls from 6 to 13 years. Pays on publication.
Details at

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Critiquing a Manuscript Part I, Contests, Call for Submissions

Writers benefit from new eyes reading their words. Feedback from others provide valuable information, especially if the feedback is from writers who understand what to look for in a manuscript. Those who are critiquing should look at a piece in two ways: the overall story and specific parts, also known as the big picture and the small picture.

Overall story evaluation includes character assessment: Are the characters believable? Does each character have unique traits, such as speaking differently? Feedback I recently received stated that two of my characters were too much alike. This problem can be fixed with revision.

Does the plot have a narrative arc? This means does it have a logical beginning, middle and ending? Does the ending tie up all the loose ends? Did the story come to a logical conclusion? A few days ago, a friend read one of my manuscripts. When she finished, she said, “Ooooh, definitely,” and explained the “Ooooh” was for the surprise element and the “definitely” for the logical conclusion. Revise your manuscript to make your story original by adding an element the reader does not expect, yet is logical.

Story structure. Are the length of the chapters and word choice appropriate for the age level of the intended reader?

Theme. Does the story have a theme? If not, the editor will probably say the piece is too slight. Is the theme didactic, too preachy? If so, lighten up with revision.

How does the story read? Is it engaging and fun or somber and tension-filled. Either works, as long as the story remains interesting.

I’ll discuss the specific parts or small picture critiques in my next blog.

Contests and Call for Submission

The Linda Bruckheimer Series in Kentucky Literature
Sarabande Books, a literary press, presents an opportunity to focus on the fine literature the state of Kentucky has produced, bringing it to the nation’s attention. Poetry, fiction, or essays (all genres compete together) about Kentucky or by Kentucky authors. Winner must agree to travel to readings within the state. You are eligible if you were born in Kentucky or have lived there for at least two years, or your book is set in or about Kentucky. Poetry manuscripts should be 48-100 single-spaced pages, prose manuscripts 150-250 double-spaced pages. No scholarly works, children's literature, or genre fiction.
Manuscripts must be postmarked during the month of July.
Details at

Marie Alexander Poetry Series Contest
A prize of $500 and publication by Marie Alexander Poetry Series, an imprint of White Pine Press, will be given for a collection of prose poems by a U.S. poet. Submit a manuscript of at least 48 pages during the month of July. There is no entry fee. Send an SASE, e-mail, or visit the Web site for complete guidelines.
Marie Alexander Poetry Series, Book Contest, P.O. Box 5686, Louisville, KY 40255. Nickole Brown, Editor.
Deadline: July 31, 2010
Details at

Stone Soup, a magazine for children, pays on acceptance. Seeks nonfiction, fiction, fillers, photos/artwork. Subjects: Stories, poems, book review, art, for children up to age 13.
Details at

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Perseverance, Part II, Zen story, Contest and Call for Submissions

An Old Zen Story:

The Zen master dipped a brush into paint. With swift flicks of the wrist, he trailed dazzling colors across the canvas. A young Zen student stood beside the master and watched.

As the painting grew more beautiful, the Zen student whispered, “Master, how do I learn to paint beautiful pictures?”

The master continued to paint.

Ten years later, the Zen student returned and said, “Thank you, Master.”

The Zen story resonated with me because to be a writer a person must write. Learning to write takes time. As with the Zen story, ten long years passed from the time I began writing professionally to the time I held my first book in my hands.

To adapt the lesson of the Zen master to writers, try the following: Write as often as possible.You may not have the time to devote to a manuscript every day, but write as often as time allows. Get the first draft of the story on paper; then begin revision. Novice writers often have great ideas and develop those ideas in interesting and innovative ways; however, they tend to submit a manuscript before it’s ready for professional publication. Editors state this as the major reason manuscripts are rejected.

When a manuscript is complete, revise, revise, revise. After it is the best you think you can make it, set the story aside for a minimum of one month and begin writing another manuscript. Give yourself time away from your story so you can return to it with less emotional attachment. Writing a new story also takes you mind off the first manuscript so when you reread it after a few weeks, you’re more likely to find elements that don’t work as well as you originally thought. Revise again.

Pass your manuscript to other writers for critiques. Again, revise, revise, revise. At this point select three to five publishers that accept unsolicited manuscripts of the type you have written. Submit the manuscript. I recommend selecting 3-5 because you may get feedback from an editor that will be useful in yet another revision.

Nothing about the process of preparing a manuscript for publication is fast. Remember, perseverance is the key to a successful writing career. As Aesop wrote long ago, “Slow and steady wins the race.”

I’ll discuss the process of critiquing a manuscript in my next post.

Contest and Call for Submissions

Real Simple’s Life Lessons Essay Contest
Finish this sentence: “I never thought I’d. . .”

Have you ever taken a huge, surprising risk? Did you climb a mountain? Go back to school? Get married (again)? Tell us about it: Enter Real Simple’s Third-Annual Life Lessons Essay Contest and you could have your essay published in Real Simple; win round-trip tickets for two to New York City, hotel accommodations for two nights, tickets to a Broadway play, and a lunch with Real Simple editors; and receive a prize of $3,000.
Deadline: September 24, 2010
Details at Life Lessons Essay Contest

Glamour "My Real-Life Story Essay Contest"

"If you have an inspiring story about a life changing event, an obstacle overcome, a relationship of passion that's defined you - then we want to read it! You may see your essay appear in an upcoming issue of Glamour...and you could win $5000 and a meeting with a top literary agent." For legal residents of the 50 United States and the District of Columbia.
Details at
Deadline: September 15, 2010

CICADA (ages 14-23) has opened up submissions again through July 31.
They're wide open to all genres, with a special interest in humor.
Details at Click on Contact Us, then scroll down to Submission Guidelines and go to Cicada.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Perseverance Part 1, Famous Writers' Rejections, Calls for Submissions

Perseverance is that catch-all word that means commitment, hard work, patience, and endurance. These qualities improve the job performance of many workers, and writers are no exception. For most writers no shortcuts exist in the publishing business. A writer has to hone writing skills. The best way to learn to write is to do just that, write. And read other authors’ works. Writing and reading take time, perseverance. Also, a writer needs to learn the market in order to submit the manuscripts. What types of manuscripts do particular publishers want? Spend time figuring out which publishers develop books similar to the manuscript you’ve written. After you ship out one story, begin another. If you keep at this, your writing will improve, you’ll have a good grasp of what books are already in the marketplace, and you’ll learn the editorial needs of various publishers.

Above all, understand that your work will get rejected. Most writers get manuscripts rejected, even those with years of experience and a shelf full of books with their names on the covers. Rejection is part of the growth of a writer.

It’s easy to become discouraged when every story shipped out is shipped back. The following list of books and the number of times they were rejected add perspective to the importance of perseverance.

And To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street by Dr. Seuss, 27 rejections.
Carrie by Stephen King; 30+ rejections.
Chicken Soup for the Soul by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen, 140 rejections. [See what perseverance can do?]
A Time to Kill by John Grisham, 45 rejections.
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, 38 rejections.
Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach, 18 rejections.
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, 26 rejections.
Lord of the Flies by William Golding, 20 rejections.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling, 12 rejections.

David Baldacci received rejections for 15 years.

The reason these famous writers are published is because they persevered.

Check out next week’s blog for part II of this article.

Calls for Submissions

Nashville Review publishes the best in literary fiction, poetry, nonfiction, and comics. Both distinguished and emerging writers are encouraged to submit.
Fiction Guidelines: We welcome flash fiction, short stories, and novel excerpts of up to 8,000 words. No genre or children’s fiction.
Poetry Guidelines:Up to five poems may be submitted at a time.
Nonfiction Guidelines:Creative nonfiction only, please.
Details at

“The Last 72″ Writing Contest

What would you do if you were told you had only 72 hours to live?
Share your real stories and be a part of a life-changing social experiment!
Everest Productions together with The Fountain: Magazine of Scientific and Spiritual Thought, are searching for 13 winners who will get to appear in a brand-new TV series, receive up to $5,000 in cash prizes and more.
Live life like it really matters.
Participants in the writing contest and The Last 72 TV show must be 18 or older.
Your entries must be 1,000-1,500 words written in English.
Express your own experiences and intentions and not the idea from another work of fiction. Move readers with its originality and your unique personality. Describe actions that you could realistically achieve in 3 days.
Send your 1,000-1,500 words entries to
Deadline: JULY 30, 2010.