Career Highlights

Our hero.
Our hero.

I love to take part in flash fiction contests because they force me to push my mind in new and unexpected directions. So last year, when Susanna Leonard Hill announced a “Fourth of July Mystery” writing competition, I was eager to give it a go.

The timing of the contest also turned out to be excellent. I was in-between projects and was stumbling around trying to figure what to work on next. So, a Fourth of July Mystery it was! Even though I was less than eager to tackle another holiday story, I figured that, at the very least, it would be a fun writing exercise.

My first instinct for a Fourth of July Mystery was, The Mystery of The Missing Fingers (Spoiler Alert: The Cherry Bomb did it!), but I came to my senses. Instead, I submitted a story titled Harold’s Hat. Want an elevator pitch? Here ya go:

“Mwah-ha-ha!” This year the ever-inventive Harold is definitely going to beat Betsy Lominzer in the Fourth of July Patriotic Hat Contest. His creation has it all: flashing lights, a siren, megaphone, music, battery-powered flag waving action and shooting sparks. How could Harold possibly lose with something that awesome? Here’s one way: He could lose his hat! With only minutes before the competition begins, can Harold find his creation and get to the town square in time to square off against his hat-making nemesis?

I was pretty happy with the result, so I decided to revise the story and attempt to sell it somewhere.

About three seconds after finishing said rewrite, I stumbled upon the theme of the 2014 Highlights Fiction Contest: “Holiday Stories.” This, I figured, was too big a coincidence to ignore. So I didn’t.

And I won!

When the Highlights editor wrote to tell me, she said that she was “eager to announce my win to the world.” She followed up this statement with a “Mwah-ha-ha,” which I found pretty hilarious.

Needless to say, I am so very grateful to Susanna — who is the very definition of wonderful. Just one look Susanna’s blog proves it; every post – every single freakin’ post – is designed to help her fellow writers succeed. That was certainly true in my case. If it wasn’t for her contest, I never would have come up with this story.

When I rewrote Harold, I asked several talented bloggers for feedback. Cathy Ballou Mealey, however, deserves to be singled out for special praise. Her thoughtful critiques inspired me to push Harold in new and considerably more exciting directions. I believe that if it wasn’t for Cathy’s comments, Harold’s Hat wouldn’t have won a darn thing.

What I’m trying to say is that my writing is so much richer now that I am a part of a blogging community. This win proves it. Thanks, everybody. I am so very grateful.


68 Replies to “Career Highlights”

      1. Actually, that’s Susanna Hill Contest submission. The story I submitted to Highlights is different (and better!).

        As soon as it’s published in the magazine, I’ll let you know.

  1. You know, as much as I still can’t get a handle on the time I spend following blogs (and still not launching mine lol), I totally agree with you—it’s wonderful what can come from the blogging community of writers and illustrators. As you know, I, too, have had some “specialness” through Susanna and her blog, so COMPLETELY AGREE with everything you said 😀

    Yay for you, Susanna and Cathy and anyone else who helped, and certainly for Highlights having the good sense! Muwahahaaaaa 😉

    One thing I need to ask though—-did YOU do that SPECTACULAR illustration?!!!!

      1. Ah, you sell yourself short, goodwriterfellow! OK, really, NOT kidding—in my opinion, the depiction and characterization here is great! 🙂

  2. Aww – what a nice shout out! Definitely super props to Susanna – it was her very first Halloweensie contest that gave me the boost I needed to pursue writing more seriously. She is a true, bright North Star in the constellation of kid lit writers!

    Congratulations on your wonderful and well-deserved success. May it be the first “Highlight” of many bright, happy events!

  3. Highlights is a great company for a children’s writer. Don’t be put off by them buying all rights. They pay the highest rate I know of, plus if they use your stories elsewhere (test formats) you get a courtesy check. Their workshops are amazing. Congrats on your win! Now that you’re in their system they will look at your submissions more readily.

    1. It’s funny you say that. When I received the Highlights contract, I was reluctant to sign for that very reason. I expressed my concerns to Highlights in an email and, later that day, an editor called me up and explained the courtesy check arrangement among other things.

      It was a lovely conversation. I wouldn’t hesitate to submit to them again.

      1. I truly have enjoyed my experience with Highlights. They are courteous and professional, yet instill a sense of family. I managed to check off one of my B.I.G. List items when I attended a Chautauqua Highlight workshop a few years back. Best week ever! I’m having BBQ with Jerry Spinelli, dinner conversation with publishers, one-on-one conferences with authors and editors. And THE Kent Brown remembered my story when I introduced myself. So doubt no longer, my friend, and welcome to the Highlights family!

  4. Wonderful news. You have great helpers with Cathy and Susanna. (Well, they help us all). Look forward to reading your winning entry in the magazine.

    1. Cathy and Susanna are great people to be sure. But they are just two among dozens of generous blogging souls I have met who are inordinately kind and supportive.

      And, yes, I’m lookin’ right at you, Stacy — you wonderful PPBF selector and Amazon commenter, you!

  5. CONGRATULATIONS!! No Mwah-ha-ha!needed. I would love to read the Highlights story. Which issue will it be in, do you know? I don’t get the magazine (I’m not old enough yet) but my library does and I will be reading that story fer sure!! Love nice surprises like this. So glad you won! ❤

  6. Wait!! What did you win besides publication? You have no requirement to say, I am simply curious (like my cats, a two-year-old, and something that just slipped my mind. Darn!) Congratulations, again! 😀

    1. Thanks, my friend.

      And yes, I also get a generous chunk of prize money. I’ll be classy and not tell you the dollar amount (but a “simply curious” person with a internet connection could get that number in about three seconds).

      1. I don’t need to know the amount unless you are passing the check on to me. I didn’t know if it included any of Highlights workshops. That would be a great prize. Congrats again. I bet your son would love a Toys R Us trip.

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