Nancy's Books

Sunday, February 27, 2011

First Paragraph/Call for Submissions/Writing Contests

Whether a story is a picture book, a short story, or a 100,000-word novel, the most important passage is the first paragraph. The beginning paragraph introduces the reader to your writing style. This is where the reader meets the character for the first time, along with the time and place of the story. Voice comes into play early. This introduction should capture the readers' interest, making them want to read on.

The beginning paragraph should start the story at a point where the character’s life will forever be changed. There is no room for backstory in the first paragraph. The story should start with some conflict that makes that day in the character’s life different. Or use intrigue to hook the reader. Make the reader want to find out what is going to happen as you hint at the problem that lies ahead. A strong beginning raises questions in the readers’ minds, questions they want answered.

Study the opening sentences in popular books and in new books you find. Notice how the author introduced the character and set up the story. Identify what the author did to grab you interest immediately. Make a list of different methods used to grab and hold your attention in the first paragraph. Some authors use humor, unusual phrasing, a surprising statement, a mystery, odd facts, and numerous other hooks. What worked for you?

Next week, I’ll discuss types of endings/conclusions.

Call for Submissions/Contest:
*The Threepenny Review* reopens to submissions in January, at which point it
will also begin allowing online submissions through a new submission system. No
simultaneous submissions. Pays: "At present *The Threepenny Review* is paying
$400 per story or article, $200 per poem or Table Talk piece."

National Pet Week Writing Contest for Young Writers
The Auxiliary to The American Veterinary Medical Association is pleased to announce a call for entries to their annual writing and poster contests. The deadline is March 16, 2011. The winning entries will be used to promote the 2012 National Pet Week theme "Healthy Pets Make Happy Homes". Contest winners
will each receive $300. The writing contest is open to third to fifth graders. Entrants are invited to submit poems, essays, or stories 20 to 200 words in length. Entries must be submitted in the body of an e-mail to along with the entrant's name, address, grade in school, phone number and age.
The poster contest is open to artists of any age. The poster may be any size and must be colorful. Do not fold, staple, or send by fax. The use of crayons is discouraged because it does not copy well. Magic markers, dark colored pencils, and watercolor in bright shades, etc. tend to make a more attractive and reproducible entry. Posters with photos, magazine cut-outs, or additional elements of this type are
automatically disqualified. Entries must be postmarked by March 16, 2011 and mailed to:
Jewel Allen, 326 Ranch Road, Grantsville, Utah 84029. Go to the website and click on
"National Pet Week". Inquiries may be sent to
Details at

Sunday, February 20, 2011

First Paragraph/Writing Contests

Ten seconds. That’s the average amount of time editors give to an unsolicited manuscript to determine if they want to keep reading. TEN SECONDS! Yikes! Of course, the time varies from editor to editor, but keep in mind the value of the first impression. In a literary sense, it's the first paragraph.

The first paragraph is the most important paragraph you’ll write, regardless of the type of story. Beginning sentences provide the ten seconds in which the editor decides to quit reading or becomes engaged in the story. Readers often do the same thing. In bookstores and libraries, readers pick up a book, open to the first page and read about ten seconds. As readers, we decide quickly if we like the writing style and if the story grabs us. If not, we move on to another book.

Make the first line of the first paragraph so enticing, the reader is hooked enough to read the second line, then the third. The introductory paragraph is the roadmap for the remainder of the story. Hint at WHAT is going to happen as you establish the setting, introduce the main character, and point of view. That’s an incredible task, but not impossible. [See: previous three blogs for writing literary hooks.]

Next week, I’ll explore writing the first paragraph.

Wherefore a.r.t. though?
This contest is a fun way to stretch your writing muscles. The contest winner will get a literary treasure chest from A Word with You Press, sent to your doorstep, to include signed copies of all their books and a lot more.

Start with a title: “The art of_______________”

You fill in the blank. Could be the art of Picasso, the art of the deal, the art of Thomas Sully, the art of making popcorn, the art of rolling a cigarette. the art of kissing, the art of getting over 500 visitors a day on our website. ANYTHING can go in the blank.

But then it gets a little tricky.

Your first three words have to start with the letters “A” , “R“, and “T“. For example “Arthur relied totally (on the advice of his mother, who….) or Anglophiles ruined Thorn’s (respect for Guinness and the English language) or Another rotten tomato (hit him squarely in the jaw as he recited the lines to Tennessee William’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.) You get the idea.

The story must be no more than 500 words (this does not include the title).

Somewhere you must have a word sequence that is is created from the word “Writer”, just like you did for “Art”, like “William remembered intimate things Evelyn regretted having told him, that night they uncorked the…)

Entries must be received by February 28th, midnight, California Time. Send entries to
Details at

Saroyan Writing Contest for students:
THEME: Which friend or family member has had the greatest impact on your life? Why?
Limit 2-3 pages. First place $100, second place $75, third place $50. Prizes awarded in each age group: Grades 1-2, grades, 3-4, grades 5-6, grades 7-9, grades 10-12, college. Students with special needs are also encouraged to participate.
Must use entry form online.
Details at
Deadline: March 7, 2011.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Fishing for a Contract, Part III, The Pedestal Magazine, Boodle: By Kids, For Kids

Here more ways to cast a hook to catch an editor’s attention:

Humor. Keep them laughing and you’ll keep them reading. Whether you write picture books, chapter books, or children’s novels, humor is in demand. Dav Pilky’s Captain Underpants and Barbara Park’s Junie B. Jones are series that play up the funny from page one, paragraph one, and sentence one.

Strong setting. In Coraline by Neil Gaiman, kids are scared, but not too scared. A haunted house or a dark cave sets the mood for intriguing reading. Thunderstorms and cold, dark basements can immediately conjure up eerie situations.

Foreshadowing. Drop hints of the problems that lie ahead to keep the interest high. Patricia Polacco’s Just Plain Fancy or E. B. White’s Charlotte’s Web provide clues to build reader expectation and create suspense and a sense of wonder.

Surprise ending. Snag a surprise ending with a hook. In my book, On the Banks of the Amazon, two young hunters are on a safari. I saved the biggest hook for the last line, “The wildlife hunters pick up their camera, aim and shoot again.” Eve Bunting did the same with her book, Wednesday Surprise. The surprise is saved for the last page.

Use these hooks or a combination of two or more to develop strong beginnings and endings for your stories. If you cast a hook or two, you’ll give an editor reasons to keep on reading and up your chances of reeling in a contract.

Next week, I’ll discuss story endings.

The Pedestal Magazine.
"Re: fiction for the April 2011 issue (reading cycle February 28-April 14): we will
be accepting flash fiction up to 1,200 words. Theme will be 'Husbands and
Wives.' Writers may submit up to three (3) pieces. Please do not submit work
intended to be considered for the April 2011 issue prior to February 28." Pays:

Boodle: By Kids, For Kids Audience: children ages 6-12. Publishes stories, articles, poems, mazes, puzzles, etc.
P.O. Box 1049, Portland, IN 47371. Ph. (219) 726-8141. Published quarterly. 100% of magazine is written by children.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

“Fishing for a Contract,” part II, Fiction Contest, Scholarship for Mystery Writing

Here are more ways to cast a hook to catch an editor’s attention:

Start with action. Action doesn’t have to be a wild car chase or a boxing match. Action means beginning a story at a point where the main character will forever be changed. M. T. Anderson gets straight to the point at the beginning of Feed, "We went to the moon to have fun…” The beginning is no place for backstory or the history of the character.

Create an active, believable character. In Millicent Min, Girl Genius, author Lisa Yee depicts a young girl who does not understand how to make friends. Strong, active characters are involved in solving their own problems, and that involvement keeps the tension high and the story interesting. Introduce problems early and make life difficult for the character. Give the character flaws and allow the character to make mistakes as in Alexi Sherman’s The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian. Mistakes offer learning experiences in which the character grows.

Curiosity. Kids are naturally curious so writing a dramatic statement peaks their interests. If you add something gross the interest factor soars. In Chasing Redbird, Sharon Creech does both with, "Worms dangled in Aunt Jessie's kitchen." Laura Numeroff poses a curious situation in If You Give a Pig a Pancake.

Next week, I’ll post part III of this three-part series.

Kenyon Review Short Fiction Contest
Submissions: February 1-February 28, 2011

Helen McCloy/Mystery Writers of America Scholarship for Mystery Writing
Deadline: February 28, 2011

"The Helen McCloy/MWA Scholarship for Mystery Writing seeks to nurture talent in
mystery writing - in fiction, nonfiction, playwriting, and screenwriting." Open
to U.S. citizens and permanent residents. Two scholarships up to $500 each will
be presented. "The scholarship may be used to offset tuition and fees for U.S.
writing workshops, writing seminars, or university/ college-level writing
programs. Applicants must select a specific writing class/workshop/seminar to
which scholarship funds would be applied." Check the site for details and the
application form.

Open to writers who are 30 years of age or younger at the time of submission.
Stories must be no more than 1200 words in length. No simultaneous submissions.
The journal will publish the winning story in its Winter 2012 issue, and the
author will win a scholarship to attend the 2011 Writers Workshop (June) in
Gambier, Ohio.