#Kidlit Fall Writing Contest: The Empty Seat

Kaitlyn Sanchez over at Math is Everywhere (she’d love the picture book featured in our last post) is hosting a Kidlit Fall Writing Contest with some awesome prizes like critiques and children’s books.

The process is straightforward. Pick one of the photographs as a prompt on the contest rules page and write up to 200 words in any children’s genre (picture books to YA).  Then submit at this page by by Oct 11th 11:59 PM PST.

Although the pumpkin and sunflower photographs gave me ideas for nonfiction picture books (my usual genre), I decided to stretch myself with YA based on this autumn scene:

(Photo by Jake Colvin on Pexels.com)


The Empty Seat

by Roberta Gibson

During his break, Torin wandered to the practice field. The chill autumn air blew away the smell of food that clung to him. He sat at his usual bench by the water.

Three boys ran by, their footsteps swishing in the fallen leaves.

Unexpectedly, a girl sat next to him and stretched out her legs. “Do you know them?”

Torin shook his head. “I’m not a trainee. I work in the kitchen.”

“I know. I’ve seen you.”

“You’ve heard about me?” He veiled his disappointment. He knew what came next. They always wanted to know.

“Should I have?”

“No.” The bench was getting uncomfortable. “Of course not.”

She pushed her ginger-colored hair over her shoulder and grinned. “Now I’m curious. What’ve you done?”

“Nothing,” Torin said.

“You can tell me.”

“Okay. My darkest secret is I make a mean cherry cobbler. Would you like some?”

She laughed. At that moment a teacher beckoned her to the practice area.

She jumped up. “Sorry. Got to go.”

She leaned down and whispered in his ear, “I’m Maya. Raincheck?”

He didn’t have a chance to nod before she slipped away.

One seat would be empty tonight.

“Please be her,” he whispered.

#scbwiaz17 SCBWI Arizona Regional Conference Gold

Conferences are so energizing. I went to our Arizona Regional Chapter of SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) conference yesterday in Phoenix and it was a blast!

The day was filled with many golden opportunities, including:

  • Learning about social media and publishing tips from industry insiders
  • Getting writing advice from professional editors
  • Receiving manuscript critiques by children’s book professionals
  • Meeting amazing local children’s book authors and illustrators

Here Suzie Olsen and I are getting ready for the opening address:

(Photograph by Suzie Olsen, used with permission)

The organizers did a wonderful job of keeping all the lectures on time and moving along. If there was down time, they filled in by giving away great door prizes. The giveaways were also an opportunity because even if you didn’t win, you got to see the awesome books — many from local authors —  that they were giving away.

The highlight of my day was when I turned over my name tag and discovered a golden ticket.

The manuscript I submitted had been chosen for a special face-to-face critique with one of the conference faculty, author Bobi Martin. It was a real honor to be one of the seven selected.

Although the meeting was at the end of the day when everyone was beginning to fade from conference overload, Bobi Marten’s critique was thorough and informative. She gave me many tips for taking my manuscript to the next level and suggested places where I could send it to be published. It was wonderful to get live feedback from an author who specializes in children’s nonfiction, plus that she thought my project had merit.

So, now it’s time to process my pages and pages of notes, and polish up my manuscript for submission. I can’t wait to attend the conference next year.

Are you a SCBWI member? Have you attended a conference?

I’m off to Camp #NaNoWriMo

If you are wondering why it is so quiet around here, I have gone off to camp. Camp NaNoWriMo, that is. It’s a great way to challenge yourself to add words to your writing project over the month of April.

Let me know if you are going and maybe we can share a cabin.


Thoughts on Writing Prompts

Yesterday I was lucky enough to catch a webcast of Kate DiCamillo and Jon Scieszka talking about their new books and writing in general. Kate’s new book is Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures, illustrated by K.G. Campbell (published by Candlewick, September 24, 2013). Jon’s new book is Battle Bunny, written with Mac Barnett and illustrated by Matthew Myers (published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers and released today).

flora-and-ulyssesbattle-bunnyAfter the two read excerpts from Kate’s book, a viewer asked how she got the idea for it. Kate revealed that two of the main elements in the book came from real objects and experiences, each with deeper emotional contexts.

The idea for the squirrel in the book came from having a sick squirrel come onto her front porch. She said she called a neighbor for advice about what to do and the neighbor suggested a method for dispatching it, which I will not repeat here. Fortunately the squirrel removed itself from the porch of its own accord. Kate was obviously moved by the event enough to use it as material for her book.

The second item was a vacuum cleaner that was sitting in Kate’s garage. The vacuum cleaner had been her mother’s before her mother had recently passed away. It served as a physical reminder of her mother. Again, it was an object that elicited strong emotions. In the book, the two items come together as a squirrel gets sucked up by a vacuum cleaner, leading to some unexpected consequences.

Jon revealed his idea to convert a sweet story about “Birthday Bunny” into an adventure about Battle Bunny came from doing similar things as a child. Here the physical object was a book that inspires a whole new story, allowing the reader to become an active participant.

Together the insights of these two authors reminded me how important concrete objects can be to generate story ideas. If these well-known authors use them, shouldn’t we consider providing students who are starting out with similar opportunities?

Has a physical object ever inspired a story for you? How do you get your story ideas?


Join us every Tuesday for:


Have a blog post about writing for children? Feel free to leave it in the comments.