Nancy's Books

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