Pen Parentis Fellowship Now Open

This is a photo of me in New York City with antlers, not horns. That’s significant, if you’ve had a chance to read my story “Cernunnos and Me.” The story is about being a hunter, about going after what you want. The day I took this photo was the day I attended my first Pen Parentis salon and received my fellowship award.

antlers

Antlers, not horns.

 

Writers are hunters. We chase after our prey – the elusive story – consume it, and crave more.

Sharpen your weapons, writers, because the Pen Parentis Fellowship is now open to submissions. From now until mid-April, Pen Parentis wants your new, never published stories. One skilled writer will be selected as the 2017-2018 Fellow and have their story published in Brain, Child and receive a $1,000 stipend to continue their craft.

pen parentis fellowship

I still remember the day I received the call from M. at Pen Parentis. I was smack in the middle of parenting. It was summer and I was picking the boys up from art camp and they were telling me three different stories at once and I had my hands full of art projects and was trying to thank the teacher and my phone rang with an out of state number. I don’t often pick those up, but this time I did.

As I answered the phone I said, “Boys, can you just give me one moment to take this call?”

M. laughed and laughed and told me she knew she had the right person and told me I had won the fellowship. I was in shock. I sat down. My kids stared at me and then broke out in cheers when I explained what was going on. It was one of the most special moments of my life as a writer and as a mom, and honestly, I’m glad they were there with me.

Pen Parentis Salons

The Pen Parentis award night was in September, my birthday month, and I was so lucky that my mother-in-law could stay with the boys while my husband and I spent three fun days exploring the city and attending a literary salon in Manhattan. I’m not really a shy person, but I felt surprisingly nervous about reading my story aloud. It’s quite different to share my stories at critique group, or have people read them quite a distance away from me. But reading aloud at a salon meant the reactions were immediate and quite visible.

I met other wonderful writers who offered support and some very kind compliments on my story. My favorite, most thrilling part, was when the audience laughed at just the right moments.

My children do inspire my writing, but it also seems like sometimes they conspire against it. It’s a balancing act, but groups like Pen Parentis know that and want to support us. I look forward so much to returning to New York this fall and meeting the next fellow. When I won, I was passed an invisible crown. I am thinking I might pass on something more personal, something inspired by my story.

I wish you a bountiful hunt.

March Madness and the Healthy Food Challenge

It’s the perfect time of year for a healthy food challenge! March is National Nutrition Month and it’s also March Madness. So on a run, a time when I often get my best ideas, I decided it would be really cool to combine these two great activities into a Healthy Food Challenge!

healthy food

Healthy Food Challenge Bracket

Luckily our elementary school has a principal who supports healthy eating, I have a great working relationship with our PTO and the new Kids of STEEL club is a hit, and our new Food Services Director is setting a tone of cooperation with parents. So many factors came together just right for this activity.

Healthy Food Challenge:

I worked with food services to determine which eight fruits and vegetables would be available every day in the cafeteria. Then I created the match-ups, randomly setting up eight fruit opponents on one side and eight veggie opponents on the other.

vegetables for kids

The Veggie Conference

fruit for kids

The Fruit Conference

We sent the brackets home in advance so kids could fill them out and turn them in. I entered all the picks into a spreadsheet to track the winners. This took a lot of time! Over 200 kids turned in brackets, that’s about 1/3 of our school population.

The first round happened today. I walked around the cafeteria for each of our three lunch periods and asked kids what fruit or veggie they wanted to vote for. They could only vote for fruits or veggies they had tasted that day at lunch.

I must admit, I was surprised how many kids claimed they had not eaten any fruits or veggies for lunch that day. Some tried to claim fruit snacks were a fruit. Not a chance. One kid tried to tell me pistachios were a fruit. As much as I love pistachios and prefer them to fruit snacks, I still had to tell her no. But I told her to keep eating pistachios.

That’s why the title Healthy Food Challenge is perfect. We are challenging the kids to get more healthy foods into their daily diets.

Winners will be chosen from the most accurate brackets. We’re also pulling a few brackets from all the entries to give away some small random prizes.

My motivation to try some fun, healthy activities at school came from listening to a webinar hosted for parents by Action for Healthy Kids. I was really excited to learn tips and techniques for working with schools to increase nutritious foods and more physical activity in the school day, especially after some unfortunately negative experiences with a “wellness committee” that didn’t do much in our district when my oldest son was in kindergarten and first grade.

We have a great district and a great school. I think there’s a lot of potential here. And our principal really supports our Kids of STEEL running program. Unfortunately I’ve also received an automated call from him asking families to support a school fundraiser where teachers work behind the counter at a local McDonald’s. That activity drives me nuts.

I still have a lot to learn about increasing wellness at our school. Luckily there are more webinars from Action for Healthy Kids coming up. I have a dream of the school having a community garden before my youngest, who isn’t even in kindergarten yet, graduates sixth grade. I’m excited to learn more about why taking away recess time as punishment is bad for academic achievement.

 

 

Writing Contests

I am a sucker for a writing contest. I have a writing friend who thinks they can be a real waste of time and money, and I acknowledge that she is very right most of the time. But after a recent meeting of my SCBWI critique group, and after the experience I gained from one contest, I have identified some intangible benefits.

But to be fair, I will outline some of the negative aspects of writing contests, too. This is hard because I’m not good at seeing the downside of things.

Cons of Writing Contests

  • There is usually a fee.
  • The word count may not lend itself to the best telling of your story.
  • Winning an award doesn’t always mean publication of your writing.
  • It could be a scam.

Pros of Writing Contests

  • The fees for some are very small.
  • Some offer prize money.
  • Word count limits can force you to revise.
  • Winning could mean publication.
  • It’s good practice to have to meet a deadline.
  • Some contests promise feedback that you don’t get on regular submissions.

I’ve been writing for a long time, all the way back to when I started my elementary school’s first literary journal. Yes, as editor several of my more painful pieces of poetry were chosen for the first issue. But since then my fiction success has been pretty low. In college and as an adult I wrote for several newspapers. But my short stories only earned rejections. It hurt but I kept writing.

Then last year, as I continued my habit of entering writing contests, something changed. I earned an honorable mention for a poem, a finalist position for a flash fiction piece, and an honorable mention for another flash fiction story.

These were my first writing awards, ever. And that last honorable mention includes publication in a respected sci-fi/fantasy magazine! My first fiction publication. Ever.

Of course I think it couldn’t be better. But to be fair I’ll list some cons:

  • There is no prize money.

I’m sorry, I can’t think of any more cons for entering this writing contest! I tried. But I’m just too much of an optimist. Here are some pros:

  • The editors asked me to revise my story slightly. That was good practice.
  • The editors asked me to review and sign a contract. I was excited to learn what was in the contract and research the meaning of the rights.
  • The editors asked me to review their copyedits. This was good learning, too.
  • I’m following the magazine on Facebook and learning about how they tagline the stories in each issue.
  • My ego is boosted.
  • This story was originally written before I had children, and I had pulled it out and re-worked it. I have lots more of those and feel like I am a better writer than I was then. I can make them, better, faster, stronger.

If you want to enter a writing contest, I would say go for it. But go for it in a smart way.

  • Do your research. I picked journals that printed things I loved to read. So find a literary magazine or journal that you respect. I have two favorites that have contests on right now and I saved up some of my best work for their contests!
  • Do not just enter any old contest. I often look for contests with unique angles like ‘Best Starts’ or with themes and prompts.
  • Pick the right writing. Chose stories or poems you have written that you think they would love.
  • Don’t enter contests with excessive fees. I consider anything above $20 excessive.
  • Think small. Lots of really big magazines like Writer’s Digest and Poets & Writers offer contests. But smaller journals and magazines host them, too. Sign up for alerts from places like WOW! Women on Writing, Writer Advice, FreelanceWriting and AllIndieWriters.

 

Fiction Writing Contests

fiction writing contests are a great place to get feedback

Many of my stories begin as handwritten entries in my journal.

Fiction writing contests are a great way for me to work under pressure of a deadline and to learn about new fiction publications. While many literary journals and publications will pay writers when their work is accepted, fiction writing contests come with a fee. This fee goes toward the prize money for the winners and frequently to produce a special publication of winning entries.

Some fiction writing contests also offer the opportunity to receive feedback from the judges in the form of a detailed critique. These critiques can require an extra fee but it’s usually not exorbitant. I try to enter a contest each month. I’ve never had any wins, until this year!

Recent Awards

Recently, I learned I was a finalist in a contest from Writer Advice for my short fiction story “After Cake.” While I didn’t win an award, it was great to hear from the contest host that my story “stayed with her.”

I’m also pleased to announce that I was awarded an Honorable Mention in poetry from Spark! A Creative Anthology in their second contest. I typically do not write poetry. But my entry, “Protagonist,” was a story that had a very poetic soul. It just would not be forced into a traditional prose format. So I took a risk and told the story in the form of a poem. The gamble paid off and I garnered my first award recognition for fiction writing!

Online Critique Groups

Spark has strong ties to an excellent writing and critique website called Scribophile. I love Scribophile. I have received incredible feedback on work I’ve posted and read some incredible things posted by other writers. If you have stories you want to tell – fiction or not – I highly suggest joining the site. Post something that you might want to enter in a contest and get it proofread and polished.

Even if you only consider yourself a fiction writer as a hobby, take a risk this year and enter a fiction writing contest. But don’t get discouraged if you get tough feedback or no awards. I’ve been entering contests for a long time, several years in fact. And this year I feel I have finally developed the skills to draft, revise, seek feedback, revise again and finally find the right contest for the story I’ve nurtured.

So put your work out there. And don’t forget to come back and tell me if you win!

Customers Love Customization (& Contests)

boy eating white rice

A very happy customer.

Customers love when a product or service can be tailored to their needs. One great way to attract more customers or clients is to be flexible and provide exactly what your client needs without driving yourself crazy. Right from the start, plan how much you can customize your products and services, and keep an open mind when someone asks for a slight modification.

This lesson is especially useful when dealing with picky eaters in your family, like I do. That’s why I loved this meal suggestion for individual pot pies from Debbie Koenig, also a mom of a picky eater. It’s easy to prepare and easy to customize – two components that I try to incorporate into my professional writing services and my personal family services!

It’s a great suggestion worthy of the contest I’m hosting to win a free copy of My Food Notebook.

To be entered to win your copy, make a comment here about a food you are surprised your picky eater loves before February 28, 2013.

 

 

Contest! Win a Free Copy of My Food Notebook

I shouldn't be that surprised he loves ramen

I shouldn’t be that surprised he loves ramen

About a month ago, a great blog hosted a giveaway contest of My Food Notebook. Gina, the voice behind Totally Full of It, was looking for creative ways parents handle their picky eaters. I’m so grateful for her support and was happy to partner with her! If you visit her blog, I highly recommend this hilarious video of her little guy laughing hysterically and my kids loved this Imagination Moves video she shared.

I wanted to spread the love (it is February) and give away 2 free copies of My Food Notebook. To be entered to win your copy, make a comment below about a food you are surprised your picky eater loves. In our house, I’m always surprised my picky eater loves smoked salmon. Definitely not something I would have ever guessed!

Tell me the most surprising food your picky eater loves by February 28, 2013 and you’re entered to win a free copy of My Food Notebook!