On Blogging, On Writing

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.

 

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.

Enjoy!

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!

***

HAROLD’S HAT

By Mike Allegra

The day was here! Finally!

Parades!

Hot dogs!

Swimming!

Fireworks!

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.

Hm.

Out of harm’s way in his dresser?

Um…

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

“MOOOOOOOM!”

“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…? ”

“DAAAAAAAD!”

“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–”

“BIIIIIIILLY!”

“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.