Children's & Fantasy/Sci-Fi Books

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San Diego Comic-Con 2021 Panels

I’m thrilled to share that I moderated two San Diego Comic-Con virtual panels.

The first, Young Adult Dark Fantasy, Sci-Fi & Horror, features bestselling authors Kendare Blake (Three Dark Crowns), Mylo Carbia (Violets are Red), Sarah Beth Durst (The Queens of Renthia), Jonathan Maberry (Rot & Ruin), and Seanan McGuire (October Daye). They’ll share their insights into writing dark speculative fiction and the publishing industry, including book to TV/film.
The video stream can be viewed on YouTube.

The second panel is Meet the Creators and Cast of Netflix’s Norsemen. Norsemen is Netflix’s hilarious historical comedy series—think Vikings meets The Office. Participating in this Q&A are actors: Kåre Conradi (Orm), Trond Fausa (Rufus), Nils Jørgen Kaalstad (Arvid), Øystein Martinsen (Kark), Marian Ottesen (Hildur), and series producers/directors/writers Jonas Torgersen and Jon Iver Helgaker.
The video stream can be viewed on YouTube.

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Writing Contests for September 2020

Erica Verillo compiled this list of writing contests at Published To Death. None of the following 29 writing contests charge an entry fee. The prizes vary from being published to $10,000. The contests include various genres and forms.

Helen Schaible Shakespearean/Petrarchan Sonnet ContestGenre: Poetry. Prize: $50, 2nd Prize $35, 3rd Prize $15, three Honorable Mentions, three Special Recognitions. Deadline: September 1, 2020.

AILACT Essay PrizeGenre: Papers related to the teaching or theory of informal logic or critical thinking, and papers on argumentation theory. Prize: $700 top prize. Deadline: September 1, 2020.

The Sator New Works AwardGenre: Debut book-length work of fiction or non-fiction by an author who identifies as trans or nonbinary. Prize: $2,500 advance and publication. Deadline: September 1, 2020.

American-Scandinavian Foundation Translation PrizesGenre: English translations of poetry, fiction, drama, or literary prose originally written in Danish, Finnish, Icelandic, Norwegian, or Swedish by a Scandinavian author born after 1800. Prize: $2,500. Deadline: September 1, 2020.

PEN Prison Writing ContestRestrictions: Anyone incarcerated in a federal, state, or county prison in the year before the September 1 deadline is eligible to enter. Genres: Poetry, fiction, drama, creative nonfiction. Prize: $200 top prize per category. Deadline: September 1, 2020.

Stories Out of SchoolGenre: Flash fiction. The story’s protagonist, or its narrator, must be a K-12 teacher. Stories must be between 6 and 749 words and previously unpublished. Prize: First-prize winners receive $1000; second-prize winners, $500. Deadline: September 1, 2020.

IWSGGenre: Science Fiction. Theme: Dark Matter. Word count: 4500-6000. Prize: The winning stories will be edited and published by Dancing Lemur Press’ imprint Freedom Fox Press next year in the IWSG anthology. Authors will receive royalties on books sold, both print and eBook. The top story will have the honor of giving the anthology its title. Deadline: September 2, 2020.

#PitMad Pitch Party. #PitMad is a pitch party on Twitter where writers tweet a 280-character pitch for their completed, polished, unpublished manuscripts. Agents and editors make requests by liking/favoriting the tweeted pitch. Every unagented writer is welcome to pitch. All genres/categories are welcomed. Deadline: September 3, 2020.

On The Premises Short Story Contest. “For this contest, write a creative, compelling, well-crafted story between 1,000 and 5,000 words long in which either a specific scent, or the sense of smell in general, is important to the story.” Prize: Winners receive between US$60 and US$220, and publication. Deadline: September 4, 2020.

Hubert Butler Essay PrizeRestrictions: Open to European Union citizens aged 18+. Genre: Essay on theme “Communal solidarity and individual freedom: antagonists or allies?” 3,000 words max. Prize: Up to 1,000 pounds. Deadline: September 4, 2020.

The Gotham “Manuscript-to-Market” FellowshipRestrictions: Open to people of color who have completed a book manuscript (or nonfiction book proposal) and are ready to go to market with their book. Three fellowships will be offered every year. Prize: Admittance to the Gotham Writers Conference—the panels and presentations as well as a seat at a pitching roundtable with two agents in your genre. The Gotham course How to Get Published or Nonfiction Book Proposal. A one-on-one Agent Evaluation session and a  Query Letter Coaching session, both with a literary agent. Deadline: September 8, 2020.

Young Lions Fiction AwardRestrictions: Open to US citizens 35 years of age or younger. Genre: Novel or a collection of short stories. Each year, five young fiction writers are selected as finalists by a reading committee of Young Lions members, writers, editors, and librarians. Submissions by publisher only. Authors may not submit their own work. Prize: $10,000.00. Deadline: September 11, 2020.

Green Stories Writing CompetitionGenre: Children’s books about building a sustainable society.  Prize: £200 for best pre-school/illustrated book (aimed at age 2-6) and £200 for best novel in young reader’s category. Deadline: September 14, 2020.

Artist Trust: La Salle Storyteller Award. Restrictions: Open to residents of Washington State. Students enrolled in a degree-granting program are ineligible. Genre: Fiction. Grant: $10,000.   Deadline: September 14, 2020.

Toni Beauchamp Prize in Critical Art WritingGenre: Scholarly essay. All work submitted must have been written or published within the last year. Prize: $3,000. Deadline: September 15, 2020.

What’s Your Story? Restrictions: Open to Victorian residents. (Australia) Genre: Poetry, short stories, CNF. Prize: $500. Deadline: September 15, 2020.

Toi Derricotte & Cornelius Eady Chapbook PrizeRestrictions: Open to Black poets. Genre: Chapbook-length poetry manuscript. Prize: $500 and publication. Deadline: September 15, 2020.

The QueryLetter:com Writing ContestGenre: Back cover blurb of 100 words or fewer that sets the stage for a novel, establishes the characters, and raises the stakes in a way that makes readers want to find out more. Prize: $500 top prize. Deadline: September 15, 2020.

Harvill Secker Young Translators’ PrizeRestrictions: Open to anyone between the ages of 18 and 34. Genre: Short story translation from Japanese to English. Entrants will translate ‘Yakyoku’ by Yusho Takiguchi. Prize: £1,000.00. Deadline: September 16, 2020.

Three Cheers and a Tiger. Genre: Science fiction/fantasy short story. Prize: Winning stories are published in the December issue of Toasted Cheese. If 50 or fewer eligible entries are received, first place receives a $35 Amazon gift card & second a $10 Amazon gift card. If 51 or more eligible entries are received, first place receives a $50 Amazon gift card, second a $15 Amazon gift card & third a $10 Amazon gift card. Deadline: September 20, 2020. Opens September 18.

Bodley Head/Financial Times Essay PrizeRestrictions: open to anyone between 18 and 35 years old. Genre: “A dynamic, authoritative and lively essay of no more than 3,500 words in English, on any subject.” Prize: £1,500 cash and an e-publication with The Bodley Head, publication in the FT of their winning essay and a mentoring session with The Bodley Head. Two runners-up will win £500 cash each and an e-publication with The Bodley Head. Deadline: September 24, 2020.

Cullman Center FellowshipsFellowship. The Cullman Center’s Selection Committee awards up to 15 fellowships a year to outstanding scholars and writers—academics, independent scholars, journalists, and creative writers. Foreign nationals conversant in English are welcome to apply. Award: A stipend of up to $70,000, an office, a computer, and full access to the Library’s physical and electronic resources. Deadline: September 25, 2020.

Iowa Short Fiction and John Simmons Short Fiction AwardsGenre: Short story collection. The manuscript must be a collection of short stories in English of at least 150 word-processed, double-spaced pages. Prize: Publication by the University of Iowa Press, royalties. Deadline: September 30, 2020.

Jerry Jazz Musician Fiction ContestGenre: Short fiction. Prize: $100. Deadline: September 30, 2020.

L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the Future Contest is held four times a year. Restrictions: The Contest is open only to those who have not professionally published a novel or short novel, or more than one novelette, or more than three short stories, in any medium. Professional publication is deemed to be payment of at least six cents per word, and at least 5,000 copies, or 5,000 hits. Genre: Short stories or novelettes of science fiction or fantasy. Prizes: $1,000, $750, $500, Annual Grand Prize: $5,000.  Deadline: September 30, 2020.

Victoria Literary Festival Writing CompetitionGenre: Short story: 1500 words, taking into consideration the theme of the 2019 VLF festival: Hats Off. Prize: First prize will receive 350 CDN$ with four runners up receiving 50 CDN$ each. Deadline: September 30, 2020.

Johnson and Amoy Achong Caribbean Writers PrizeRestrictions: Open to writers of Caribbean birth or citizenship, living and working in the Anglophone Caribbean and writing in English, over the age of 18 by 30 September, 2018 and have no previously published a book-length work in the genre in which they are making a submission.Genre: Literary non-fiction work in progress.    Prize: $20,000TT (or the equivalent in US dollars). Deadline: September 30, 2020.

Owl Canyon Press Short Story HackathonGenre: Short story. ” Writers are invited to create and submit a short story consisting of 50 paragraphs. The contest provides the first and last paragraph and the short story writer crafts the rest.” Prize: First prize is $1000, 2nd prize is $500, and 3rd prize is $250 with the winning short story published in an ebook short story anthology for Amazon, as well as an invitation to give a public reading at Inkberry Books in Niwot, CO. Twenty-four (24) Finalists will also have their short stories included in this ebook anthology. Deadline: September 30, 2020.

Michael Marks Awards for Poetry PamphletsRestrictions: Poetry pamphlet. Only pamphlets published in the United Kingdom between September 2018 and this year’s closing date are eligible. Genre: Poetry. Prize: £5,000. Deadline: September 30, 2020.


Interview with children’s book author Ellen Jackson

Ellen is a former child and current member of the fellowship of flawed persons. She has worked as an elementary school teacher and curriculum specialist in L.A. public schools. She’s a freelance writer and author of more than 60 award-winning books for children.


For what age audience do you write?

I write picture books, both fiction and nonfiction, and sometimes books for older children. I’ve written about astronomy, the solstices, animals, tools, earthquakes, law-related education, the U.S. presidents, and described how children lived 1000 years ago. Six of my books are retold folk tales and five are rhyming picture books.

Henry: Impressive! I love rhyming picture books, but they are HARD to write well. I first learned of Ellen via her book BEASTLY BABIES.

Tell us about your latest book.

My latest book, BEASTLY BABIES, was tremendously fun to write. It’s a tongue-in-cheek look at the zany chaos created by babies–animal babies, that is.

Henry: It’s hard to think of a more cute and kid-friendly topic than baby animals.

What do you hope readers will get from reading that book?

I mostly hope they laugh and have a good time–and that they enjoy the illustrations. If there’s a message, it’s probably this: When parents are dealing with a nest or pond or den full of babies, hilarity ensues.

Henry: This is particularly true if the parent is a bear and the babies are goslings (MOTHER BRUCE). Or if the parents are birds and the baby is an alligator (FLAP YOUR WINGS).

What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?

It’s different for every book. In nonfiction, it’s taking a difficult concept or complex event and explaining it in simple words. For fiction, it’s devising the right ending. I’m pretty good at beginnings and middles, but endings are hard. You have to tie up all the loose ends in a satisfying, but original, way.

Henry: I find the beginning, middle, and end difficult to write. Other than that, it’s smooth sailing for me.

What is a powerful lesson you’ve learned from being a writer?

I’ve learned to pay attention to my intuition and try to be as authentic a person as I can be. There’s an inner resonance I’m looking for in my writing. I try to write the book that only I can write.

What has been a memorable experience that you never would have had if you had not been a writer?

1. I had an opportunity to visit the top of the Arecibo Radio Telescope in Puerto Rico and see the sun come up—a truly awe-inspiring sight.  I was there to research my book LOOKING FOR LIFE IN THE UNIVERSE (about SETI).

2. I got to see a professional musical production of CINDER EDNA, one of my picture books, and watched the cast receive a standing ovation.

3. Most importantly, I’ve received many, many letters and emails from children telling me how much they enjoyed one of my books. That touches my heart more than anything.

Henry: Fun! Of course, we can find extraterrestrials in many picture books.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

This is a very discouraging business. You have to persist through good times and bad (and there will be plenty of those).

Here’s some advice for people who want to write specifically for children:

Try to remember what it was like to be a child. Some of my best ideas come from my memories of how children think.  For example, I recently sold a manuscript based on my childhood take of geographical names.  As a child, I thought that Death Valley was full of skeletons and that Orange County was inhabited by lots of orange people.  I took the core of this idea and expanded it into a picture book.

Henry: Fun. Here’s a sequel idea: Skeletons vs. Orange People. You’re welcome.

Do you have any favorite quotes?

Yes, quite a few. Most are posted on my website:

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.” –Philo of Alexandria

“First you jump off the cliff, then you sprout wings.” –Libba Bray

“You don’t have to acquiesce to the commodification of art.” –Lucy Grealy

Do you have any strange rituals that you observe when you write?

You mean like balancing a banana on my nose and reciting the Gettysburg Address backward? No.

Maybe one. I sometimes use my dog as a footrest while I’m writing. She doesn’t seem to mind.

Henry: I am definitely on Team Dog.

If you could have one superpower, what would it be?

I’d like to be a time traveler because I’m really curious about what’s going to happen to this torn, deluded, and confused world.

Henry: Fascinating choice. So, you’re a tear open the edge of the gift wrapping on the night before Christmas kind of person? I’m not sure I’d look ahead, but I’d definitely look behind. Just don’t change anything if you travel back in time!

If you could have three authors over for dinner, who would it be?

Julia Child to do the cooking. Then I’d sit and talk to Will Shakespeare and Virginia Woolf. I’d want to know how they got through the bad times. And how they were able to write such beautiful and insightful works. And I’d want to ask Shakespeare: “Who are you? Really?!”

Henry: No one has ever thought to invite a good cook before. Bravo! They often forget to invite a translator for non-English speaking authors. It would be quite scandalous if Shakespeare said, “You have the wrong man. You should have invited Francis Bacon.”

What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?

Omigosh, too many to choose from.  But the image that stuck in my head tonight was that of a genie. What does a genie do in that bottle, year after year? Borrring!  And what kind of wishes work out for people, and which ones don’t.

Henry: If you’re a genie, then even a bottle can be the ultimate man-cave, since it can contain anything you want. It’s a fun game to ask yourself, if you could have three wishes, what would you choose (knowing that a genie will try to thwart you if your wording isn’t perfect)?

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

I read, play music, and listen to the silence that frames the notes. Tidepool, look for sharks’ egg cases and little octopusses. Sit quietly on the banks of a stream, reading about plants and animals, stars and galaxies. Hike in the redwoods and canoodle with my schnoodle. Oh, and I still climb trees—when nobody’s looking.

Henry: OK, that’s a picture book idea right there: Canoodle With Your Schnoodle. Hug Your Pug? Jolly Collie on a Somali Trolley? See! Rhyming IS fun.

What would you like it to say on your tombstone?

Don’t look for me here. I’ve been cremated!

Henry: Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust. I’m not here. So, don’t be nonplussed.

Where can readers find your work?

In bookstores and libraries, I would hope. My web page is at http://www.ellenjackson.net

This interview is also posted on the San Diego Children’s Books Examiner.


Interview with Middle Grade author Julie Sternberg

Julie Sternberg is the author of LIKE PICKLE JUICE ON A COOKIE, LIKE BUG JUICE ON A BURGER, and LIKE CARROT JUICE ON A CUPCAKE, all young middle-grade novels.  LIKE PICKLE JUICE ON A COOKIE is a Gryphon Award winner and a Texas Bluebonnet Award finalist; LIKE BUG JUICE ON A BURGER is a Gryphon Honor Book, a Pennsylvania Young Reader’s Choice Awards Nominee, and an Illinois Monarch Award Finalist.  Julie’s latest is a middle-grade series called THE TOP-SECRET DIARY OF CELIE VALENTINE.  She received her MFA from the New School in 2009.


For what age audience do you write?

My first series, the JUICE books listed above, is intended for kids aged six to nine or ten.  My next series, THE TOP-SECRET DIARY OF CELIE VALENTINE, is for slightly older kids, ages eight to ten.  All of these books are realistic fiction.

I’ve also written a picture book, BEDTIME AT BESSIE & LIL’S, which is nearing publication.  It’s intended for kids aged three to five or six.

Tell us about your latest book.

My latest book is the first in my new series, THE TOP-SECRET DIARY OF CELIE VALENTINE. Celie is ten and hates change.  But everything around her is changing.  Her best friend has stopped talking to her, and she has no idea why.  Her older sister is now in middle school, with all of the changes that brings.  And her beloved grandmother has started acting very strangely.  Celie deals with this turmoil by writing in her diary and taping in everything from emails to spy reports.

What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?

Sitting down to draft a brand-new book can be agony.  First, I’m paralyzed by the blank page.  Eventually I’ll force myself to write something–anything.  But I never manage to move beyond the first twenty or so pages until I’ve gotten the voice and the format just right.  That can take ages.

Henry: I agree. The first draft is the hardest.

What has been a memorable experience that you never would have had if you had not been a writer?

When I was a little girl, my best friend was my elementary school librarian, Vivian Hurst.  She recommended books for me to check out each week and let me open the boxes of new books that had just arrived in her office. She was the first person who ever told me I should write children’s books; and we stayed in contact even after I’d moved away, for college.  I always mailed her letters to the library of my old school.

But eventually she retired, and the school wouldn’t give out her forwarding address, and I couldn’t find her contact information in phone books or online.  I thought I’d never see or hear from her again.

Years later, when I finally followed her advice and became a writer, I was interviewed by a local television station.  During the interview I mentioned Ms. Hurst.  Her niece saw the piece; she told Ms. Hurst about it; and Ms. Hurst emailed me using the contact information on my author website.  We’ve been in touch ever since.

There are many reasons I’m glad I became a writer.  Finding Ms. Hurst is at the top of the list.

Henry: That is beautiful. I still remember reading WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE (over and over) in my elementary school library.

Do you have any strange rituals that you observe when you write?

I drink unsweetened iced tea, glass after glass, until I need a change.  Then I switch to mugs of hot tea.  Eventually I switch back.

Henry: Unsweetened tea!? Oh, the humanity! You are so gansta’!

If you could have one superpower, what would it be?

Mind-reading.  I want an open window into the thoughts of a wide range of personalities.

But I only want to be a mind-reader if I can (1) turn my power on and off as I wish; (2) target one subject at a time; and (3) use my powers from afar (more specifically, from the comfort of my own home while drinking extraordinary quantities of tea).

Henry: Kudos to you tor adding those qualifiers, without which mind-reading could be very problematic. I love a person that takes their imaginary powers seriously.

If you could have three authors over for dinner, who would it be?

First, I’d invite Amy Hest, author of many marvelous children’s books, whom I know and love and who wouldn’t want to miss this.

Second, I’d invite Willa Cather.  I’ve loved her writing my whole life; I’m interested in her prairie childhood; and I want to know what it was like to be a woman who dressed as a man in the late 1800s.

Third, I’d invite Larry McMurtry, because LONESOME DOVE was one of my favorite books when I was a kid and LEAVING CHEYENNE is one of my favorite books now.  Also, I like his essays.  And he’s a book collector and bookseller in addition to being a prolific author. That gives all of us plenty to discuss.

Henry: Wikipedia helpfully adds, “Willa Sibert Cather (1873 – 1947) was an American author who achieved recognition for her novels of frontier life on the Great Plains, in works such as O Pioneers!, My Ántonia, and The Song of the Lark. In 1923 she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for One of Ours (1922), a novel set during World War I.”

Per Amy Hest’s website (amyhest.com), she writes picture books and chapter books, is a three-time winner of the Christopher Medal and a winner of the Boston Glob-Horn Book Award. Plus, she likes coffee ice cream.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

I like to read, swim, eat cinnamon coffee cake muffins, go to the movies, go to the theatre, sing along to classic rock on the radio, sing along to current pop on the radio, listen to podcasts of stories about real people, wonder what my daughters are up to right this second (why, oh why must they insist on going off to places like sleepaway camp?), and fantasize about becoming a producer on This American Life.

Henry: Now you combine cinnamon coffee cake muffins with Amy Hest’s coffee ice cream, and we see why you two are friends.

Where can readers find your work?

In addition to brick-and-mortar bookstores and libraries, you can find my books at IndieBound, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon.

Click to Tweet: Interview with Middle Grade author Julie Sternberg at http://wp.me/p31Xf4-O1 via @Nimpentoad

This interview is also on the San Diego Children’s Books Examiner.