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The Shadow – A Halloweensie Story

Be afraid…be very afraid. Halloween is drawing near! That means October is almost over, which (to me) is the scary part. Where is the fall going? To get into the spirit of things for Halloween, I’m posting a teeny-tiny Halloween story. And if you like this one, you can gather a whole sackful by ringing the doorbells of the other writers who have posted their links on Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog for her Halloweensie contest. All the stories must be less than 100 words, and contain the words pumpkin, creak, and broomstick. These are the best kind of Halloween treats because you can enjoy as many as you want and you won’t gain an ounce!

(for the record, mine is 93 words)

The Shadow
By Carrie Finison

Once upon a pumpkin moon
a rocker creaked,
the wind sighed, Soon….
A Shadow stole across the lawn
and stopped upon the stair.

Ghosts and goblins roamed the streets.
They rang each bell
for tricks or treats.
As they approached they didn’t see
the Shadow waiting there.

Through the dark the children stepped,
not knowing where
the Shadow crept.
They stumbled over Shadow and
their screeches pierced the air.

Broomstick tail puffed wide with fright,
poor Shadow fled
into the night.
On Halloween a small black cat
should NOT sit on the stair!

 

 

A Merry Thanksgiving – A Holiday Mishap Story

I’m taking a break in the midst of holiday madness to take part in Susanna Leonard Hill’s holiday mishap contest. The rules – write a children’s story about a holiday mixup, mishap, or mistake in 350 words or less.

Enjoy! And please hop over and check out the other entries.

A Merry Thanksgiving 

By Carrie Finison (334 words)

’Twas Thanksgiving evening, and all through the house

not a creature was hungry…not even a mouse.

The remains of our feast were tucked safely away

in the fridge to make sandwiches for the next day.

A vision of leftovers danced in my head—

sliced turkey and stuffing on warm toasted bread,

when all of a sudden, I heard on the roof

a prancing and pawing that sounded like…hoofs?

Then, from the kitchen, arose such a clatter,

I raced down the stairs to see what was the matter.

And what to my wondering eyes should appear,

as I flipped on the light…but a herd of reindeer!

At the table sat Dasher, with Donder and Vixen,

devouring some leftover turkey-day fixin’s.

Cupid, that devil, perched high on a chair

and gobbled the peas with a satisfied air,

while Dancer and Prancer stood huffing and puffing,

engaged in a tug-of-war over our stuffing.

In the corner old Comet was filling his belly

with all of our leftover cranberry jelly.

And, taking our pumpkin pie down from the shelf,

dressed all in fur, was the big man himself.

I spoke not a word — just what does one say

when Thanksgiving turns into a reindeer buffet?

They looked up, mid-bite, and I watched Mr. Claus

turn exactly the color of Rudolph’s bright schnoz.

I hated to see what was left of our feast

being gulped by that gaggle of gluttonous beasts.

But I thought about Santa — I thought of the years

he’d braved winter snowstorms to spread Christmas cheer

with the presents he left me, and that’s when I knew

there was only one thing I could possibly do.

I took out a knife and I sliced up that pie,

and I said to him, “Santa, I’m glad you dropped by.”

He laughed, and we feasted till late, almost dawn,

and then Santa, our pie, and the reindeer were gone.

But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,

“’Twas the spirit of Christmas on Thanksgiving night!”

Callie’s Prize-Winning Potion – A Halloweensie Story

It’s Halloween! And what better way to celebrate this holiday of bite-size treats than by writing a bite-size story. In fact, Susanna Leonard Hill has an entire bagful of these little tidbits over on her blog for her Halloweensie contest. The rules – write a story for children in 100 words or less, using the words cackle, spooky, and black cat. Yes – it’s spine-chilling. But I conquered my fear and brewed up a story. And I was quite honored to have an up-and-coming illustrator working with me. In between school, soccer practice, and pumpkin carving, he provided me with some drawings to bring this story to life.

So grab a bag of your favorite fun-size treats and enjoy the rest of the contest entries with me.

Callie’s Prize-Winning Potion witch1

By Carrie Finison (91 words)

Callie was a witch,

an unaccomplished witch,

who was never any good at being spooky.

When she cast a spell

she’d choke on smoke and smell…

If she tried a curse

the results would be reversed…

Her black cat thought her batty,

and moved to Cincinnati…

and the other witches called her Callie Kooky.

So Callie made a potion,

a green and gloppy lotion,

and she cackled at the notion she’d be scary.

And much to her surprise

she won the Spooky Prize

when that potion made her very, VERY hairy!

witch2

Craft Book Read-Along: Writing Picture Books – Word Count

writingpicturebookscoverI’m someone who writes “long.” Most of my stories start out about twice as long as they need to be. In some ways, that’s nice because it means I have a lot of material to work with. But it also means that I agonize over every cut. Am I gutting my story of personality? Am I making it so sketchy that it no longer makes sense? Usually, if I put things away for a while, time will help reveal which cuts I can make without sacrificing meaning or voice.

Chapter 15 of WRITING PICTURE BOOKS by Ann Whitford Paul has many excellent suggestions for cutting word count. Sixteen excellent suggestions, to be exact. This is important in today’s picture book market when we hear that many editors want books that are in the 300-500 word range. I won’t share the whole list here, but do take a look at Chapter 15 if you struggle with cutting.

My favorite (and the one I find most effective for me) is number 14 – Characters don’t pee in stories. I find I often go into a level of detail, backstory, and scene-setting that’s not necessary. Below are two drafts of a story I wrote for a contest on Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog. I find contests to be a great way to get motivated to write, and to restrict myself to a specific word count. In this case, the limit was 300 words. My first complete draft was 556 words. Gulp! And yet, by cutting out many of the unnecessary details, I was able to get the text down below 300 words. And  the story really isn’t any different. When I struggle with cutting, I sometimes go back to this story to remind myself that I’ve done it before — and can do it again.

BIRTHDAY AT THE BEACH by Carrie Finison

(FIRST DRAFT – 556 WORDS)

The phone rang just as Kara was finishing dinner.

“Yes?” said Mom. “Now? OK. Yes, I’ll be there.”

Mom hung up.

“Grab your jacket,” she said, grinning.

“Where are we going?” asked Kara, wondering where she had put her jacket among all the unpacked moving boxes. They had lived in this town almost a week, but their boxes and furniture had arrived on the big truck just two days ago.

“To a birthday party,” said Mom.

A birthday party? But we don’t know anyone here, Kara thought.

“Whose birthday?” she asked.

“It’s a surprise,” said Mom.

“Where’s the party?” asked Kara as they hopped in the car.

“At the beach,” said Mom. “I told you it would be great to live near the beach,”

“But it’s almost dark!” said Kara.

Mom smiled.

“Will there be cake?” asked Kara.

“Nope, no cake at this party,” said Mom.

“A birthday party at the beach, in the dark, with no cake? What kind of party is this?” asked Kara. But Mom was tight-lipped. “You’ll see,” she said.

A few other cars dotted the parking lot at the beach, only 5 minutes away from their new house. Kara and Mom jumped out of the car and walked through the lot down onto the sand. In the distance, Kara could see a small crowd of people.

“That must be it,” said Mom.

When they got closer, Kara could see that the crowd was divided into two groups. Down the middle, a sort of path toward the water was marked by ropes tied to sticks poked in the sand, to keep people back. A woman sat in the middle of the path holding a clipboard. At the head of the path was a sunken patch of sand.

“Watch that patch of sand,” whispered Mom. For a birthday party, it sure was quiet, Kara thought.

Kara stared hard at the sand. Nothing happened. Then, she thought she saw the sand move. It was quite dark now, and hard to see. Then the sand moved again, and a quiet murmur rippled through the crowd. Slowly, the sand started to pulse and bubble. To Kara, it looked like a pot of water just beginning to boil. Then a black dot appeared – first one, then another, and another and suddenly the sand boiled over with tiny creatures struggling up through the sand.

“Turtles!” Kara whispered to Mom, and Mom squeezed her hand. As they watched together, the baby turtles scuttled along the path toward the water. The woman with the clipboard counted them. The crowd remained very quiet and still, but every once in a while someone would stoop down and gently guide a wandering baby turtle back to the path.

As Kara watched, the crowd of babies reached the ocean. The waves, though gentle, threw some of them back, but still they struggled forward. Kara thought about how brave the baby turtles were, crawling across the sand into the vast ocean, a place they had never been and could know nothing about. But somehow they trusted the future.

The last of the turtles had reached the water and the crowd started to break up, still careful not to walk on the pathway in case any late-hatching turtles came out.

“I think I’m going to like living near the beach,” said Kara.

BIRTHDAY AT THE BEACH by Carrie Finison

(FINAL DRAFT – 297 WORDS)

Mom hung up the phone just as Kara finished dinner.

“Grab your jacket,” Mom said, grinning. “We’re going to a birthday party.”

“Whose birthday? We don’t know anyone here,” said Kara. She searched for her jacket among the moving boxes that had arrived, like they had, only three days ago.

“It’s a surprise,” said Mom.

“Where’s the party?” asked Kara, climbing into the car.

“At the beach,” said Mom. “I told you it would be great to live near the beach,”

“But it’s almost dark!”

Mom smiled.

“Will there be cake?”

“Nope.”

A birthday party at the beach, in the dark, with no cake?

At the beach, a small crowd had gathered. Coming closer, Kara saw that the crowd surrounded a rope-marked path from the dunes toward the water. For a birthday party, it sure was quiet.

“Watch that patch of sand,” whispered Mom, pointing. Kara stared through the growing darkness. She thought she saw the sand shift. Then it shifted again, slowly, and then more rapidly. To Kara, it looked like a pot of water beginning to simmer. A small black head appeared, then another, then a flipper, and suddenly the sand boiled over with tiny creatures struggling toward the surface.

“Turtles!” Mom whispered, squeezing Kara’s hand. Dozens of baby sea turtles flip-flopped their way across the sand toward the waves. A woman with a clipboard counted them. The crowd remained still, but once in a while someone stooped to gently guide a wandering baby turtle back to the path.

They’re brave, Kara thought, watching the tiny creatures make their way into the vast ocean, a place they had never been and could know nothing about.

“Happy birthday,” Kara whispered, then smiled at Mom.

“I think I’m going to like living near the beach,” she said.

Christmas in Lights

Below is my entry for a holiday story contest hosted by Susanna Leonard Hill. The parameters: the story must be 350 words or less, and must begin with with any version of “Dashing through the snow in a one horse open sleigh.” Read more entries at her website. Enjoy!

Christmas in Lights (350 words)

By Carrie Finison

“Dashing through the snow, in a one-horse open sleigh!” my friend Kayla sang, swooping her bike along the sidewalk.

“That’s about the only Christmas-y thing around here,” said Nick.

That was true. It was 60 degrees with no snow in sight. And no lights on Mrs. Mayfield’s house.

christmashouseIn December, our neighborhood is famous. People drive from miles around to ooh and ahh at Mrs. Mayfield’s holiday decorations. Every shrub is lit. The walk is lined with candy canes. A huge, glowing Santa sits on the roof with a sleigh, eight reindeer, and Rudolph.

“I wonder why Mrs. Mayfield hasn’t decorated yet,” I said.

“My mother said she fell and hurt her ankle,” said Nick.

A car pulled up. Mrs. Mayfield’s son climbed out and waved. He opened the garage and began hauling trash to the curb. We drifted on our bikes. Kayla sang “Deck the Halls.”

Suddenly, I noticed Rudolph’s red nose poking out of a box by the curb.

“Are you putting up the Christmas decorations today?” I asked.

“Actually, we’re getting rid of the decorations. They’re too much trouble now that my mother can’t get around like she used to,” Mr. Mayfield said.

No decorations?

I dropped my bike and sat on our porch.

We couldn’t let those decorations be thrown away. It might not snow, but maybe there was a way to make it feel like Christmas.

“Mr. Mayfield,” I said. “Would you mind if we use the decorations?”

He smiled. “Sure! That’s better than throwing them away. It would cheer up my mom, too.”

“Yippee!” I shouted.

Nick, Kayla, and I spent the afternoon stringing lights. My dad draped icicle lights from our balcony. Rudolph glowed on Nick’s lawn, and Kayla’s mom hoisted Santa onto their garage.

By 5:30, the neighborhood glittered in the growing darkness.

“I’ll get Mom,” said Mr. Mayfield. “She’ll want to see this.”

Quickly, we gathered in front of Mrs. Mayfield’s house. She hobbled outside.

“SURPRISE!” we shouted. Mrs. Mayfield’s face glowed. Then Kayla started to sing.

“Dashing through the snow…”

Everyone joined in. And this time, it felt like Christmas.