Nothing Like a Contest to Remind Us We’re Aging!

We lucked out this week and got the amazing Claudia Mills to judge this middle grade contest for us.

Here’s her bio:
Claudia Mills is the author of forty-five books for young readers, most recently the Mason Dixon series from Knopf and Fractions = Trouble! from FSG, which was just named one of the “best of the best” books of 2011 by the Chicago Public Library.

Claudia has an amazing mid grade voice. When I first discovered her work, I’d published only Kelly and Me and a few Latter-day Daughter books. Claudia’s voice, her characters and their situations made me laugh till I cried. We met at an SCBWI meeting and I stalked her for only a little while before we became fast friends. I’ve loved her ever since I read one of her Dinah novels. Meeting her only confirmed my undying affection–Claudia is as funny in true life as she is in her writing. Plus also, guess what? I’ll love Claudia Mills till the day I die (and after that, too). We are PTSW and share the same agent.

Here’s what the amazing Claudia Mills had to say about YOUR writing:

Oh, this was hard to do! There was something I liked in every single one of these, from a sparkling detail, to an especially memorable line, to a promising story premise, to a surprising twist. Here’s a few:

The doctor speaking “in that high voice used for littler kids than me”
The scene idea of a boy sent to do his service hours cutting out valentine hearts for the dance committee
The idea of a a clueless character doing inappropriate field research into the science of love
A school project of making a mini city with marshmallow and spaghetti
A girl called Queen Dork because King Dork likes her
An opening line: “No one else believed it was a dragon house, but we knew.”
A vivid sense of place: “I set my suitcase down on the porch, hoping that it wouldn’t put another hole in the rotten boards. A small shower of dust fell from the roof as a truck rumbled by.”
Parents having to sign a permission slip before you can watch a snake eat a mouse
Two girls judging another girl’s curtsey as only a “peasant curtsey”
Feeling like “the gray-blue color of crayon that’s only good for storm clouds and stinky whales”
Another great opening line: “Until I kissed him, I’d thought Trent Lowry was cute.”
Plus a great closing line: “At that moment, I would’ve given anything to be kissing a frog instead of having one hop around in my stomach.’

Okay, no more stalling. I guess I really must choose.


First place: Hugh Greenwood

I’d thought a lot about what Uncle David’s house would be like. The drive to Malone had taken three hours short of forever so there had been plenty of time. Besides, imagining a house I’d never seen was easier than imagining an uncle I’d never met. I came up with hundreds of possibilities: a mansion, a ranch, a log cabin with a bearskin rug, but the run-down, peeling, saggy house that we pulled up to didn’t come close to any of them.
I set my suitcase down on the porch, hoping that it wouldn’t put another hole in the rotten boards. A small shower of dust fell from the roof as a truck rumbled by. I coughed. There had to be some kind of mistake.
“This is it, Sam. No mistake.” Deb followed me up the steps, careful to avoid the gaping hole in the third one up. She always denied it, but I knew she had ESP or something; it was part of her job.
“Don’t give me that look,” she nudged me. I tipped into the railing which groaned and covered my sleeve in dirt and slivers. “I know it may not be– ”
She gave me her shush-up-and-be-nice look.
“–what you expected, but I’m sure it’s perfectly fine.”
I saw her eye the front door which sat crooked in its frame. It looked like it would take some convincing to open.
“Besides,” she straightened her sweater, the envelope thick with my files shifted in her hand, “we talked about this. You’re not old enough to have a say in where you go. You’re lucky to have family to go to at all. At any rate, we are very thorough about these things. We’d never put you with your uncle if he didn’t check out.”
“Maybe you weren’t thorough enough this time,” I muttered as Deb stepped up to press the bell which dangled out of the wall by its wires.
A muted ‘ding-dong’ echoed behind the door.
Footsteps started from somewhere in the house and moved toward the door. The handle turned but the door didn’t budge. There was a brief pause and a muffled curse. Suddenly the door rattled violently, bringing down another shower of dust. After more cursing and one last screeching yank, the door flew open. A man covered in wood shavings and sweat stood in the doorway.
“You must be Sam.”

I loved the vivid sense of place here that put me completely into the scene with every detail. The opening drew me in immediately: “I’d thought a lot about what Uncle David’s house would be like. . . Imagining a house I’d never seen was easier than imagining an uncle I’d never met.” By the end of the short scene, after the beautifully detailed presentation of the house, I couldn’t wait to see what the uncle was like. That last line, “You must be Sam,” made me wild to know more about how the relationship between the two would develop.

Second place (tie) :
Ruby Tuscadero
Very funny young middle-grade voice, with spot-on kidlike perceptions of the cool and uncool teachers.

Emberly Clark
A well-framed scene building to an abrupt wrenching shift from funny to scary, just as would happen in real life.

April Hill, that means you are out. Please move over to the Play at Home side.

Congratulations, everybody, for putting your work out there for all of us to enjoy.

And thank you, Claudia, for helping us out this week.


This week you must write a short, personal essay about you, the writer.
Please don’t think, “Essay? School! Yuck! No creativity there!”
What we want is something that touches our judge in some human way and convinces us of your heart.

You have just 300 words.
That means every word you use, counts.
So tell us why writing matters to you.

Remember to use a new name, and don’t tell anyone until after the judging is over.
The contest closes at five (5) pm on Wednesday, February 29.

You may vote for two (2) people now!
Judging will be on Thursday and Friday and will close midnight.
Follow the rules, exactly!

On your marks, get sets, go!

PS I am apologizing right now for any mistakes I may have made in this post.



Filed under CLW, Project Writeway

16 responses to “Nothing Like a Contest to Remind Us We’re Aging!

  1. rbs

    And the at-home-winner is ……? Or did I miss the announcement in my quick read? I failed to vote for those still contending, but the snippets truly impressed me. Your blog title and what Claudia DIDN’T say made me wonder if she/you thought all the entries still smacked a bit of adult voiceness. Did I correctly read between the lines? Or was that my paranoid imagination working overtime?

    And CLW, I’ll love you until the “day that I day” and beyond. 😉

  2. RME

    Claudia is amazing–I was in her WIFYR class last year and can vouch for that. Congrats to all the winners!

  3. Estee

    Does this essay have to specifically be Why Writing Matters To Me, or can it be something that is rattling around in my head which writing helps me deal with?

  4. Yay, Claudia! And congrats to everyone–you all did a great job.

  5. Amy

    Question: The Play at Homes – is the weekly winner a meritorious winner or a random drawing winner?
    And… still no voting for your self – right? Or wrong 😉

  6. The play at home winner each week is a random drawing. We are, however, keeping track of the highest popular votes for the play at homers each week and the one who gets the most will be the winner at the end of the competition.

  7. Emily

    Out of curiosity, do we get to see why writing is important to you guys?

  8. Wendy Thomas

    I can’t find where to submit a contest entry or read others’ on the blog, so here’s my personal essay about why writing matters.

    I could spend 300 words convincing myself that writing does matter. I could spend them like pennies at a dollar store. They’d be gone before I knew it, and in the end I’d still be asking myself if what I’d bought with them was worth it.
    Let’s just be honest.
    Every writer is a gambler. Every writer is delusional to some extent. Every writer thinks, “The next best-seller could be mine!” while the odds of that are worse than beating cancer.
    Let’s just keep things in perspective.
    Why does writing matter to me when my house floods, and my car dies, and my 5-year-old nephew should be dead too, by all accounts, but isn’t? If anything, I should be writing just to tell the world about him. He’s a real-life miracle.
    But instead I prefer fictional characters and villains. Bad guys that have faces and motives rather than cell walls and chance circumstances.
    “Imagination is the only place free from tyrants and natural disasters,” I once heard an author say on the radio. She should have mentioned disease too, but I obviously liked the quote well enough: I remember it. I don’t remember the author’s name, and I can’t find her on the radio station’s playlist. And lately, despite what she said, my imagination is chock-full of tyrants and disasters, made worse by the fact that they’re unnatural and of my own making. But maybe that’s why writing them down matters. Ironically, maybe it’s a matter of freedom. Or escape.
    I can’t control whether my stories will be the next best-sellers or even the next-best of anything. I can’t control circumstances. But I can control characters.
    I can make their world perfect—or not—when mine isn’t.
    And, somehow, that’s liberating.


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