Nancy's Books

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Tone vs. Mood

A couple of weeks ago, I taught a class on writing children’s books. An attendee asked about the tone of the story, so here goes my answer.

Tone is the author’s attitude toward the subject or the events in the story. It reflects emotion and is revealed through word choice and narrative. In my book, THE MUNCHED-UP FLOWER GARDEN, the tone was amusing and introspective. Told in first person point of view, Liz reveals her anger in witty ways and dreams of winning a blue ribbon. Since the story has an Appalachian setting, word choice included regional phrases (She could iron nails and spit nails) to express emotions.
When Liz’s mother tells her she cannot speak unkindly to a neighbor girl, she whispers “good riddance” to her cat. My word choice expresses how the character feels about the situation in order to evoke a particular reader response (mood). Illustrations showcased the humorous facial expressions and body gestures, which added to the overall tone and mood of the story.
The more intense the tone, the more the reader is hooked. Set the tone early in the book to establish a pattern the reader will look for and identify. If you begin with humor, the reader will expect bits of humor throughout the text. When writing about Appalachia, the tone in my books is always respectful, focusing on the positive attributes of the region. The tone reflects my attitude, and my attitude toward Appalachia is emotions centered: admiring, hopeful, appreciative, and the list goes on.

Call for submissions for Adult Writers

Pockets Annual Fiction Writing Contest is open until August 15. There is no theme and no entry fee! Word count is 750-1000. Click on the link for more information.

Submission guidelines at

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Writing Nonfiction Picture Books

Many nonfiction books are meant to entertain as well as inform, but the emphasis is on the information. The facts must be accurate. In picture books, facts support the illustrations as opposed to books for older readers in which the illustrations support the facts. The illustrations are large with a small amount of text per page, in most cases. 

In writing fiction, authors ask, “What if…” In nonfiction, authors ask, “Is it true?” The goal is to provide enough information to convey the concept without overwhelming the reader. The amount of information and detail is determined by the target audience. When I wrote BARRELING OVER NIAGARA FALLS, a biography of Annie Edson Taylor, the first person to ride a barrel over the Falls, I focused on her method of preparing for the risky ride. I knew readers would be interested in other daredevils, so I added author notes at the end of the book to inform readers. By adding the notes at the end, I did not overwhelm the text with information that detracted from the biography. 

As with fiction, nonfiction requires a strong narrative voice. Authors have the creative license to use lyrical, upbeat, slow drawl, funny, serious…the list goes on. The narrative style is often based on the subject. Think about the angle, the approach to the telling of the tale. Nonfiction focuses on facts but the facts must not be presented in a tired, boring manner. Use unusual or unexpected word choice, similes, metaphors and other literary devices to breathe life into the work.  Delight the reader as well as inform.  

Call for submissions for Adult Writers

American Cheerleader is published four times a year and is available in both print and digital form. Topics they seek include: biographies, interviews/profiles of sports personalities, cheering how-to, health, beauty, careers, fashion, and sports.  

Submission guidelines: If you have a story idea, email editor at

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Writing Nonfiction Picture Books

Which type of picture book is published in greater numbers, fiction or nonfiction? If you answered nonfiction, you are correct. The demand for nonfiction titles is growing, in part due to their use in elementary classrooms. Today’s nonfiction incorporates dramatic narrative and engaging language and reads with as much appeal as fiction. 

Creative nonfiction uses elements of fiction with nonfiction facts woven into the text. In my book, ON THE BANKS OF THE AMAZON, I used two characters, a boy and a girl, that watched the animals of the Amazon rainforest at the same time the animals watched them. I embedded factual information about the various animals into the story. 

As you develop the structure of the story, think of the way you want to reveal the information. I first began by listing the animals I wanted to use but I did not have a structure that seemed to work. A simple listing of one animal after another at page turns wasn’t creative or engaging to me so I knew it would not be for the reader either. 

I played with different approaches and realized that some of the animals were awake earlier than others and some prowled at night. That was my Ah-ha moment. The structure would be circular and some animals would appear in the morning, some midmorning, afternoon, twilight, night, and back to the next morning. Of course, I had to rethink the animals I used to fit the structure that made the story unfold in a natural, interesting way. 

Call for submissions for Adult Writers

Dagan Books, Ltd. is now reading for the next issue of Lakeside Circus (est. 2013), a speculative fiction magazine published quarterly with selected stories published at its website. The editor curates short spec fiction stories of under 2500 words.The editorial team is open to other subgenres of science fiction, including urban fantasy, magic realism, horror, the weird or the surreal, doomsday themes, mad science, etc. The ideal story is layered with meaning, driven by an odd, dark, stylish or extraordinary plot without the story evolving into something too strange to understand. Stories must have a fully fleshed out beginning, middle and end, regardless of how short the story runs. - See more at:

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Gaps in Literature

Nonfiction picture books have grown in popularity in the last few years. State Standards for schools include the use of nonfiction titles in the curriculum and this had motivated many publishers to increased production of beautifully illustrated picture books with informational text and various types of back matter.   

Talk with teachers and ask what topics have not been covered in picture books or what topics/subjects need more books. When I was a librarian in an elementary school, I read an article about pink dolphins. The next day I searched for books on pink dolphins to order for the students. I was surprised when I could find not one book on the subject. Ah-ha! Inspiration struck and I wrote ON THE BANKS OF THE AMAZON, which included information on pink dolphins.  

On another occasion, I read an article about the two Hill sisters who were from Kentucky and wrote the world’s most popular song, Happy Birthday. So little had been written about their lives, I decided to write a picture book about how they got the idea for the song. My book, HAPPY BIRTHDY: THE WORLD’S MOST POPULAR SONG, was the result of my research. 

If you think of a topic that has not been covered or if you think of a new angle for a topic, research it to see if a large number of books are already in the marketplace. If not, you may have a subject that teachers, parents, and young readers will gravitate toward. Let the editor know you have done your homework by explaining that you’ve researched the market and your book would fill a literature gap.  

Call for submissions for Adult Writers

FutureScapes is an annual writing competition that asks writers to envision a particular sort of world, and tell us a story about it. We could run projections and publish reports, but there’s a reason why Wilde didn’t say, “Life imitates empirical studies.” We want to help writers of excellent potential find their voice while shaping  tomorrow.




DEADLINE: July 15, 2016.

In particular, FutureScapes seeks:

Works of short fiction up to 8,000 words, written in accordance with this year’s prompt: Cities of Empowerment

Compelling stories that explore the nuance of technology, science, politics, and/or policy, without forgetting about plot and character!

-Stories that show us both the positives and negatives of this possible future.

-Stories that can provide a road-map for cities, states, and nations to follow.

-Stories that may be built in a rich and full world, but that manage to show us the reality of a single city, neighborhood, and/or life.

Stories worthy of the $2,000 prize for first place, $1,000 prize for second place, and $500 prize to each of the four runners-up.

-Stories that, when placed in the hands of a mayor or governor, could change the course of the future.

Deadline: July 15, 2016

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Retelling Folktales

Authentic folktales are popular with young readers and their gatekeepers—teachers, librarians, parents, and publishers. Most of these stories have been retold over centuries. If the story is protected by copyright, you must get approval from the copyright holder to retell.

Many literary gatekeepers want the folktale to be retold by a person who represents the culture that is depicted. I retold a Cherokee folktale, First Fire. For years, I had been searching for such a story to pay tribute to my great-great grandmother, who was of Cherokee heritage. 

Editors want the retelling vetted by an authority in the subject. With First Fire, the publisher asked a representative of the Cherokee Nation to vet the story. 

My goal was to stay true to the original story, but retelling is a balancing act. The folklorist in me wanted to retain the flavor of the culture and accurately represent it. At the same time, the author in me wanted to add my voice to the rhythm of the words. Together, the folklorist and author sides partnered to retell a story that is customized to today’s reader. Folktales are meant to be retold and recreated by the next storyteller who passes it along and keeps the story alive. 

Call for submissions for Adult Writers

Flash Fiction Online. We publish stories from 500 to 1,000 words in length. They’re very short, but they are still stories. That means the best ones have strong, interesting characters, plots, and (to some extent, at least) settings.

We welcome submissions from writers of every race, religion, nationality, gender, and sexual orientation.

Regarding Content

We’re not that concerned about genre. Many of us have a fondness for science fiction and fantasy, but we also like literary fiction; and in any case, great flash stories aren’t always easily classified. If you wrote it, and you love it, then submit it.

Submission guidelines at