On Blogging, On Writing

Harold’s Hat

Our hero.
Our hero.

The charming Susanna Leonard Hill is holding a blog contest, and I’m giving it a go.

The rules, in Susanna’s own words: “Write a children’s story, in poetry or prose, maximum 400 words about the Fourth of July in which a secret is revealed or a mystery is solved!”

Fourth of July? Mystery? My first idea was The Mystery of the Missing Fingers.

But better judgment prevailed.


UPDATE: I am delighted to report that Harold’s Hat was the winner of the 2014 Highlights for Children Fiction Contest!

Please be aware, however, that the winning story is quite different from the one posted below.  If you want to read the winning story, you’re gonna have to get a copy of Highlights. (You should do this, by the way. That mag is awesome.)

AN UPDATE TO THE UPDATE: It’s official: Harold’s Hat will appear in the July 2015 issue of Highlights for Children. Feel free to camp out next to your newsstand now!



By Mike Allegra

The day was here! Finally!


Hot dogs!



Oh, and there was also The Hat.

Harold could hardly think of The Hat without saying, “Mwah-ha-ha!”

He’ll show that Betsy Lominzer, that’s for sure.

Last year Betsy wore a special Fourth of July hat to the town parade – a nice one that had flashing lights and a cup holder for her lemonade.

Harold asked if he could try it on and she said no. Not even for one teeny, tiny little milisecond.

“Fine,” thought Harold. “I’ll show you next year.”

And, well…Mwah-ha-ha!

The Hat took Harold six months to build. He kept it out of harm’s way in his closet.

At least he thought he did.

It must be out of harm’s way in his toy box.


Out of harm’s way in his dresser?


Under the bed? Behind the hamper? In the closet again, just to make sure?


“Whaaaat?” Mom was trying to light the barbecue.

“Have you seen My Hat? The one with the red, white and blue glitter, and the flashing lights, and the siren, and the cup holder?”

“No,” she replied. “Where on earth did you get…? ”


“Too loud!” Dad was pouring chlorine in the pool.

“Have you seen My Hat? The one with the battery powered waving flag action and the cannons that shoot sparks?”

“You have a hat that shoots sparks?” Dad asked. “That could be a fire haz­–”


“Ba!” Billy was sucking on his foot.

“Have you seen My Hat? The one with the megaphone and the solar powered jukebox that plays a medley of Sinatra songs when you push a red button on the brim?”

“Do-be-do-be-do,” Billy said.

Wait. That wasn’t Billy.

Harold followed the do-bes to Sparky’s doghouse and found him swooning to Sinatra’s crooning.

The hat was safe and sound.

“Good boy.”

Off to the parade! Off to find Betsy Lominzer! Mwah-ha-ha!

But…well…Betsy’s hat had improved a bit since last year.

It had improved quite a lot, actually.

“Wow! Can I try on your hat for just one teeny, tiny, little millisecond?” Harold asked.

“No,” Betsy Lominzer replied.

“Fine!” thought Harold. “I’ll show you next year.”

In an instant, Harold’s mind filled with new and exciting ideas. A bigger hat. A better hat. The Best Hat Ever.

His lips curled into a smile.

“Mwah-ha-ha!” he said.

On Blogging, On Writing

Zombies. Sure, why not?

Yep. I did a "Plants vs. Zombies"  stamp for my son.
Yep. I did a “Plants vs. Zombies” stamp for my son.

If one year ago you sat me down in my living room and told me that I would soon be noodling around with a young adult zombie novel, I would’ve told you two things:

  1. “It’s not gonna happen. I don’t like the genre.”
  2. “How did you get into my house?”

But it turns out you would’ve been right! I am noodling around with a young adult zombie novel!

That said, you still had no right to burst into my house unannounced. Call first.

One of the many things I love about the blogging world is how it pushes my brain in new and exciting directions. The bloggers I follow all see the world a bit differently than I. Being in the company of such people always gets my creative juices flowing.

My sudden interest in zombies can be traced to an old flash fiction contest over at Writerlious’s place. The rules, as I remember them, were to write a story in fewer than 150 words that contains the words “zombie” and “serenity.”

So here’s what I came up with:

Carpet slippers are not very good at negotiating asphalt shingles. Not that Ethan had much time to consider his footwear – or much else for that matter – as he scrambled up his downspout in a groggy panic.

What was worse was that he had no one to blame but himself. He heard the warnings that accompanied the weather forecast on the evening news but was too lazy to pull an all-nighter. “I’ll board up my windows first thing in the morning,” he thought. But he overslept, and now his house was full of loitering zombies who were leaving trails of blood and pus all over his hardwood floors.

The weather was beautiful, however. The sun calmed him, and Ethan soon discovered that, despite the dozens of undead squatters on the floors below, he could still find a little serenity on this most unusual spring day.

It was a fun exercise and I found the result promising.

Over the next few months I began to think about Ethan and wonder what his life was like before he found himself stranded on his roof.  So, when I wasn’t writing at my day job, or writing picture book manuscripts at night, or doing the husband and father thing (which is rewarding beyond measure, but keeps my word counts alarmingly low), I scribbled a few notes and banged out a few scenes.

So, without further ado, take a peek at a very, very rough except:

The first report took up no more than four column inches of the Dogwood Dispatch and could be found on page A17, wedged between a story about the township’s scuttled plans for a roundabout and the particulars of a newly-approved pooper scooper law.

An unconfirmed report relayed by an unnamed orderly at the Sunnyville Eldercare facility spoke of an unnamed old woman leaping from her deathbed to attack an unnamed night nurse by gumming her forehead. The police were called. The woman was taken away. No one was hurt. And, as far as anyone knew, the old woman was never seen again. 

That was all the news Silas Johannes needed to read. Silas was a remarkable man for two reasons: First he was able to read the Dogwood Dispatch all the way to page A17 without falling into a deep, drooly sleep. Second, he was adept at reading between the lines. Where everyone else would’ve read nothing more than an unconfirmed story about a toothless old lady attacking a nurse – if everyone else read up to page A17, that is, which they most certainly never did – Silas saw an origin story, the beginning of what would become a national crisis. There was no time to peruse page A18. There was work to be done.

Even though Silas had been up since 5 AM and was exhausted beyond measure, even though the streetlight had just winked on and he had difficulty driving at night, he didn’t hesitate. He hoisted his ample frame up from his La-Z-Boy and fumbled for his keys. He then eased into the family hearse and headed straight for the Home Depot. 

Since you fine folks know what a comments section is for, feel free to critique until the cows come home.