Kids in Print

We get a lot of questions from kids who are interested in publishing their work. Here's a great article from MSN Living - Mom's Homeroom by Jolie Stekly. She covers self-publishing, magazines that print young writers' work, a 12-year-old who got a publishing deal, community resources, how to handle rejection, and our own Spilling Ink website! Thanks, Jolie, for including us in this very helpful article for young writers, teachers, parents, and homeschoolers alike.

-- Anne and Ellen



On Creativity, Nonfiction, and Making Dough by Deborah Kops


What does nonfiction have to do with creativity, you may wonder. (We’ll get to the dough later.) A nonfiction writer doesn’t make up her story. She can’t even change the ending. Let’s say you were writing about the Boston Tea Party and in your version the men who were dressed as Native Americans sold the English tea to pirates instead of dumping the tea in Boston Harbor. Your version of the story, with its interesting plot twist, would no longer be considered a nonfiction account of the Boston Tea Party.

Even though you can’t change the arc of history when you’re writing nonfiction, there is still plenty of room for creativity. When I wrote The Great Molasses Flood, I had to decide how to tell my readers about this weird disaster. I knew that I would describe that moment on January 15, 1919, when a giant tank burst open, and more than 2 million gallons of molasses rushed out in a huge wave, flooding a small seaside neighborhood of Boston. And I knew I would talk about lives lost, property damaged, and the big, sticky cleanup. But how could I make my account of the disaster into a good read?

I needed some interesting characters—real people who had experienced the disaster. If I could tell the story of the flood from their points of view, the reader would get pulled in. So I spent weeks in downtown Boston reading the court transcript of the molasses flood hearings. The people who lost loved ones or property during the molasses flood sued the owner of the molasses tank. And they told their stories in court. Every word that anyone said in court was recorded. The transcript was 25,000 pages long!

I decided to focus on a handful of people from the time of the flood until the molasses hearings finally ended. I recounted nine-year-old Antonio DiStasio’s story from his terrifying ride on a sea of molasses to his day in court. I described seventy-eight-year-old Mrs. O’Brien’s experience getting knocked over senseless by the giant wave of molasses, which tore off half of her apartment.  

In addition to finding characters, and writing from their points of view, there was another important element of the book that I had to work out creatively. How was I going to built a strong narrative arc? The most exciting part of my nonfiction tale—the explosion of the molasses tank—occurred at the beginning. I had to introduce enough tension to keep the reader turning the page until he or she reached the end of the book. I decided I would keep returning to one central question that everyone was asking after the disaster. Whose fault was the explosion? Was it the fault of the company that owned the tank, or did someone plant a bomb in it?  (The bomb theory wasn’t as crazy as it sounds. There were people called anarchists who really did set off bombs in Boston at the time of the disaster.) I did not tell the reader the answer to this mystery until the end of the court hearings, when the acting judge decided who was at fault. The result, I hope, is a dramatic nonfiction narrative that makes readers feel as if they have been through the Great Molasses Flood themselves.

Writing nonfiction can be a creative and deeply satisfying process. After you’ve chosen  your subject and done the research, you need to find a quiet space in your home and in your life so the writing magic can happen. (That might mean leaving your phone in another room!) The writing isn’t always magical, of course. You may find yourself with pages of notes and a rough outline, wondering how you’re going to transform them into a book. I think of this as the bread dough stage. When you make bread from scratch, you usually start with flour, water, yeast, and salt. At first, when you stir them together in a bowl, the mixture looks like a hopelessly lumpy mess, which no intelligent person would want to eat. But it’s important to have faith in that mess-in-the-bowl, and keep stirring it, then knead the dough with your hands and knead it some more. Because eventually you will have a lovely round of bread dough that you just know will rise and bake into something delicious. And if you keep at your nonfiction work, rethinking the lumpy chapters and rewriting the sticky sentences, you will have a shapely manuscript that you can be proud of.

About Deborah: She has written more than twenty books for children and young adults, including a biography of Abraham Lincoln and Were Potato Chips Really Invented by an Angry Chef? She lives with her husband and son in Greater Boston and enjoys exploring old towns and neighborhoods on the Atlantic  coast, including the North End, where the Great Molasses Flood occurred. Look for her at her website and on Twitter (@deborahkops). 

Meet Arlo, Deborah's 9-week-old Portuguese Water Dog. He takes nice long naps, so she can write.




Congratulations to our Teen Contest Winners!



Wow! We had a lot of outstanding entries for this contest! In upcoming weeks, we'll try to honor some of the other particpants. But here are our choices for the winners. We were so impressed by their imagination, vision, passion, and just plain writing ability. We hope you'll enjoy them as much as we did! Please give them some love in the comments! Happy reading! Anne and Ellen


Starry Night

By Sharon L., age 13


Too many people passed the old store without a glance. The run-down, rickety shingles were beginning to chip, the windows clouding over with the dust of the decades. Too many people had too much on their minds. Disillusioned by the mantra that life is too short for novelties, too few are staying behind to linger among the ashes of the ages. Yet one old woman spared the poor shack a glimpse. Soft, shimmering bells clinked as the door opened.

I found there to be something missing as I grasped the jade necklace. The jewels were carved from the millennium-old stone of the ancient world, the dragons’ fire from the depths of the heartland. My grandmother gave me a warm smile as I gently placed the string of pendants around my neck. “You are beautiful, my treasure.”

A little girl wanders around the crowded little apartment. Her parents are protective, watching her every movement to ensure that she is safe, though safety should hardly be a concern in the one-floor rented apartment. She toddles and falls, only to continue her ambling towards a shiny green box. It opens to reveal a string of beads, lustrous in the light of the dull floor lamp. A ribbon is intertwined within the package.

The conglomerate of food is hard to distinguish. One platter blends into another, one dish the same hue as those adjacent. The smells, though, overwhelm even the moist glimmer of the sauces mixed together. I try to take a single bite, but somehow another slice ends up on my plate. “Eat, eat!” Fingers pick up chopsticks, hand flitter to and fro, arms nudge other arms. I take a bite of everything.

An old woman lifts up a baby, less than a tenth of her age. She is positioned on a high chair, precariously set above the ground. The baby lifts up a bowl and a chopstick and waves around the odd pair until chicken and broccoli plop into her mouth. She drops all and happily chews. Food is presently on her mind.

We are running outside, the rainbow of paper, glue, and fabric growing ever higher as the breeze lifts. I feel a nostalgic twinge in my chest, but ignore the darkness as my cousins' squeals lift as high as the kites' path. I squeal for a moment myself, lost amidst the flurries of flight.

She sat down while the older woman carried her. Her eyes opened for a moment to allow the sight of beautiful box-shaped kites to cloud her vision. Fish gliding across the clear blue skies, dragons’ tails trailing with the strands of white, yellow squares brighter than the afternoon sun shining down. “Never forget.” She looked up at the woman carrying her and saw a tear trailing down her wrinkled skin.

We sit on the grass at night. The sun has finally set and there is nothing left for us inside. The grown-ups tell us to help out, so we take a stroll to the park and come back. Now lanterns are being hung from tall poles, tents being set out. A gazebo with high crimson arches dots the horizon, firefly lights brightening the darkness of the night. I feel the weight of a soft round pastry in my hand and a smile slips out. Mooncakes are my favorite.

The gazebo was decorated for this occasion. Not a single corner went unlighted. A tall brown table was set up for the occasion, a bowl of oranges resting in the center. The family looked above the rising hill. While their little girl munched on a fresh cake in the shape of the lunar sphere, they noticed the absence of neighboring lights.

My friend had texted me a while ago. “where r u? stop hangin out with those geeks!” Not a thought is wasted on ancient traditions and values, especially not in our bustling age of speed and movement, movement, movement.

There was no one familiar outside. The girl shrank up against her parents as she heard words she did not yet understand. “Go back, you Chino!”

I looked at my family, all settled at the dinner table, the lively chatter overriding all the darkness of the still air outside. Still, I feel that there is something left unsettled. Without another glance, I flipped my cell phone closed, stood up, and planted a gentle kiss on my grandmother’s tender cheek. “I will never forget.”




By Dani B., age 16


And I know how it would happen, too.

        She’d stand there, fumbling with the lipstick cap, and I’d wait for her to get it. I’m courteous. I’d wait until she twists the red up, like a bloody finger pointing at her, and that’s when I’d clear my throat.

        I know I’m awkward.  But sometimes that’s what’s needed.

She’d find me in the mirror, pretend to be concentrating on her eyelashes or whatever, but really she’d be sizing me up. And then, when she thinks she knows me, that’s when I’d speak.

        “You know, your sister’s messed up.”

       She’d turn around. God, I hope this would be important enough to her that she’d whirl around completely and then I’d see her full face. People always look different when you see their whole face.

        She’d look surprised, but she always looks surprised. Maybe that’s why she gets the leads in the school plays. I wanted to go to the last one, but I was tired of her acting.

        That was a week after Joyce switched therapists.

        “Excuse me,” she’d say. No, that’s too prissy. I’d like to think this would catch her off guard enough, take away all her bullshit until all she’d be able to say is, “What?” I think the whole world runs on that word.

        I’d look her straight on. That’s the one thing I know. I’d look at her, right there, so direct that she couldn’t look away. I think she’s one of those people who no one ever looks at, really; they just see what they think they know, and she lives up to it.

        “Joyce has a problem,” I’d say. I think if I worked really hard, I could keep my voice even. I’d swallow, but keep on facing her, trying not to move.

        I love how neat that sounds. A problem. Like it’s all wrapped up in a little package, tied up with string. Like she’s just a dog who did her business on the carpet or something—“Joycie had a little problem today…” or “Joyce had an accident.” That’s another great one: accident. Not the word, but the concept, that it couldn’t possibly be your fault. That you can just say to someone, “It was an accident,” and all will be forgiven. All must be. Because the next time, someone else will be the one who fucked up—not to blame them, of course, totally out of their control. What a joke.

        Joyce had told me it was an accident the first time I caught her. We’d been changing for gym, Joyce in the corner, having to borrow a tank top from the Lost and Found. I saw the red lines, little railroad tracks, and didn’t understand.

        “Joyce,” I said. “What happened?”

       Joyce had slithered into her sweatshirt.  Hadn’t looked up. “It was an accident,” she said finally. Then she walked away.

        I had been thinking of the little accidents—a series of paper cuts, a dropped kitchen knife, scissors gone wrong. The acceptable accidents you can shrug away. I thought that because I wanted to think that. It took me a while to realize how true those words really were.

        Because problems can be accidents too. Especially when you make them for yourself.

        That’s what I’d tell her anyway. And then her mouth would catch on the word—“Problem?” she’d repeat. Maybe she’d tell me I was wrong. Or maybe she’d ask who the heck I was, who I thought I was.

        Either way, she’d piss me off. There’s only one thing I’d want to hear, and that’s that she knows, that she’s doing something about it. Except part of me would be hoping that she wouldn’t say that, because then I couldn’t lash out at her.

        No hesitation. That’s the best and worst way, right? I think it’s worth the risk.

        “Your sister had a problem!” I’d say again, my voice rising. “Joyce is really messed up, and you act like nothing’s wrong! She’s going to die you know, she’s going to, LOOK AT ME, SHE’S GOING TO…” I’d swallow, act like I was trying to hold it in, but really I’d be gathering more. I wouldn’t want to leave anything unsaid. “You’re going to lose her!” I’d say. “Do you know that she cuts herself? Almost daily? Do you know how ashamed she feels of herself, how she had to hide it? Do you know she throws up? DO YOU EVEN KNOW WHO SHE IS?  You can’t act like this is okay! LOOK AT ME, YOU CAN’T DO THIS ANYMORE!”

       I wonder if she’d hit me. One slap, across the face. That’s what I’d do. The truth’s a bitch. But then she’d think about it, wouldn’t she have to? Wouldn’t she watch out the next time Joyce goes to the bathroom after dinner? Wouldn’t she check the desk for the razor I know she had?

        Wouldn’t she read over Joyce’s shoulder the next time she texts me, “I can’t handle it today”? Wouldn’t she be the one Joyce could talk to, she’d be the one…

       Just not me. Please.

        Not me.

        I know it would happen that way. I know it, and so when she walks in, I finish braiding my hair like it’s nothing. I watch her pull out her lipstick.

        And then she drops it. An accident. I kneel down to help her pick it up, and my body feels like it’s pulsing, and I hand it to her and look her straight in the face. Her whole face.

        And I have to stop because of how much she looks like Joyce. I look down and the sleeves of her dress are loose, and they fall back to expose her wrists when she reaches for it…

       And she knows I’ve seen her. All of her.  She takes it, reddens slightly, nods thanks. Then she teeters out on her high heels, leaving me with the nothing I was going to say, with the trail of accidents down her arms.




To Think of Wednesdays

by Emma S., age 14


When I get up on Wednesdays, I’m either going to school, path A, or I’m staying in bed for a while longer, path B. If I take path A, I’ll be arriving in homeroom promptly one and one half minutes prior to the start bell at eight. If I take path B, I’ll be thinking about how weird the word “Wednesday” is when I cast a questioning glance directed at my calendar. I will think of how the n comes after the d, but we still pronounce the n before the d. Or so it seems. On path A, I will participate in playful banter amongst my friends, making the jokes of perverts and sailors. On path B, I will think about the English language, and how on its transition to America, it’s been somewhat slaughtered or recreated like a phoenix. On path A, I will not raise my hand to answer the question of whether or not this leaf is a dicot or a monocot. I truly have no understanding seeing as I didn’t do my homework because of a feline eating my pencil.

       On path B, I may get up eventually from the warm burrow in my blankets as my body is pressed against the mattress, but I can hear the rodents chattering, which means someone has entered my lair. On path A, I will wait until the bell rings after 35 minutes of drooling trolls. But on either path, I will see the demons, the shadows, and the sons of the light. School is filled with the trolls and the growls and claws of the educational establishment. Home is filled with the demons and the shadows and the haunts of past kinsfolk blotches and storms.

       I will take the torrents of my flaming anger out on the soft fluffy pillow as I turn into the roaring lion raging out of the hurt I feel from poachers hunting down my brethren. And after I calm down, the ice freezing over the flames, although it takes a while, and I will give my cumshaws to the rodents and felines of which I have frightened as I came up clawing and biting, spitting and hissing. And I sit, looking up at the window, calming down. But the burns and the singes of the flames still remain. I look at my feet, which slap across the cement floor of the dungeon as I cross to the window looking out at the moonlight, which may pass through the muddy glass, but I cannot feel through.

       And so, on either path, I cannot feel the cold embrace of the night’s mother. For I have my own mother, and no matter how much I wish it weren’t true sometimes, my mother and my father and my family, are my moonlight.


And so, I wake up Thursday, shooting a questioning glance to the calendar. I wake up from the dreams of my falling back asleep on path B or falling asleep during the lecture on path A. And I am no longer the lion who has iced over and the window is no longer reflecting the moon and humans are humans once again. The trolls have left, and so has Wednesday.




Creativity Blog: A Writer's Notebooks by Nancy Springer

A warm welcome back to the Creativity Blog to one of our favorite writers, Nancy Springer! We were inspired by this wonderful post about the "gutter clutter of daily life" and how notebooks can help a writer to put it all together in just the right way. Excuse us, but we have to go write in our notebooks now.... -- Anne and Ellen

 Photo by Nancy Springer


At a craft fair, I stopped to look at some eye-catching jewelry, each piece way cool, dramatic, one of a kind, and -- I suddenly realized -- not made out of precious metal or gemstones.  These pins and pendants and earrings were put together from bits and snippets of the strangest, most ordinary things: cola cans, Bic pens, golf tees,  push pins, plastic combs, rabies tags, salt shaker lids.  I picked up a pair of earrings made of paper clips and filing cabinet keys,  matchsticks and magic. To the woman behind the jewelery table I blurted, "I do this.  I'm a writer."

Then a rare and lovely thing happened: right away she understood. She said, "Of course.  You use notebooks."

Notice she didn't say "a notebook." She said, "notebooks," plural; intuitively she knew there had to be a lot of them, and even though I try to organize them, actually their contents are a jumble, probably worse than her craft room where she keeps her pot pie pans and diaper pins and Pringles lids and plastic spoons.  She probably tries to organize her collection  into piles the way I try to organize mine into lists.  Bumper stickers: "Proudly marching to the beat of a different kettle of fish." Friendly insults: "You classic yutzhead, you." Descriptions of mental incompetence: "His elevator doesn't go all the way to the top." Colors:  "Kudzu berry blue." Things I have overheard people say:  "So I dressed all in green and strapped a pink flamingo to my back and I went as a lawn."  Place names:  "Cold Bottom." And many more. My lists slop through various notebooks, all spilling together: graffiti, jokes, superstitions, tabloid headlines, nicknames, trivia, slang, fads, things that happen, words I haven't heard before. . . .

Anything that interests me. This is the raw material of my writing, not anything precious or expensive or exotic or imported, but ordinary stuff easy to overlook.  To me it is the gutter clutter of daily life that is wonderful and can be extraordinary if put together in just the right way.  

But first I have to notice it, collect it. So I keep a little notebook in the glove box of my car, and I have been known to pull over to the side of the road and write down something I have just seen (holding mailbox, unidentifiable concrete animal, perhaps a manatee in a tuxedo?). Other little notebooks go with me when I travel, and some larger ones stay at home, one just for quotes , another for poetry, another for newly discovered words if I find them to my liking, others a hodgepodge (there's a word) of things in lists and things I've seen and things that happen.

Now that I have met the ordinary-looking woman who makes extraordinary jewelry, I understand better what I do when I'm writing.  She has tools and glue; I have a computer keyboard with which I put together people and courage and  pizza toppings, dental hygiene and deviled eggs and loyalty and toy horses, lawn ornaments and true love and on and on, combining textures and passions, details and colors with heroes both male and female until somehow I create a unity that coheres into a story.  If I am skillful and lucky, what I have written will come together, like my new friend's jewelry, into a work that is more than just the sum of its parts.

What's frustrating yet wonderful is that I can never fit it all in, everything that's in my notebooks, my mind, my life.  I will always have to write another book, and another.  Another gleaming dream with which to pin my scarf, another resplendent  pendant to wear over my heart.  And of course, I will always need more notebooks.

-- Nancy Springer

Nancy Springer is a two-time Edgar Award–winning author. Her mysteries include the popular Enola Holmes series. Her thriller Blood Trail named an International Reading Association (IRA) Young Adults’ Choice Book, A VOYA Top Shelf Fiction Book, and an ALA Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers. She lives in the Florida panhandle. Be sure to check out her brand new book: My Sister's Stalker!



Spilling Ink Teen Contest!  

Yes! It's here again! The Spilling Ink Teen Short Story Contest! Send us your best short story of any length up to 1,000 words. One entry per person, please. And by the way, you don’t have to write 1,000 words. Unless you want to, of course. Your story can be much shorter. Here's all the info:

Who can enter:

Teens ages 13-16 in the US or Canada


1st Prize $25 gift certificate to Barnes & Noble

2nd Prize $15 gift certificate to Barnes & Noble

3rd Prize $10 gift certificate to Barnes & Noble

All winning stories will be published on the Spilling Ink Creativity Blog

Deadline: May 31, 2012

How to Enter Paste your story into the Message section of the Contact page e-mail. Remember to include your name, age, and story title. Also, write "Story Contest" in the Subject line.

Here's the Contact page link:

Good luck! Love, Ellen and Anne