Welcome to the Winner’s Circle where we celebrate the success of our ICL students. Today we’re celebrating Middle Grade Adventure Fiction Winner Melissa Killian!
What contest was your winning entry submitted to?
Middle Grade Adventure Fiction
How many writing contests have you entered?
Too many to count. I’ve actually placed or gotten honorable mentions in a few other contests.
Tell us the title of your entry and a short summary of the story.
A WINTER RESCUE
Rachel’s younger brother is late getting home from school, so she goes searching for him in the snow and discovers that he is trapped in a giant ditch. She has to find a way to rescue him, without falling into the ditch herself, before the sun goes down.
What inspired your winning entry?
This story is based on actual events. A few days after the Blizzard of ’93, my brother didn’t come home from school when he should have and I went looking for him. He climbed into the ditch to get his bag that had fallen in, and then he couldn’t climb back out. It was up to me to rescue him.
When I told my brother recently that I’d written a short story about this experience and it had won first place in the Middle Grade Adventure Contest, his response was: “I’m glad my misfortune has become your fortune.” But he’s been a good sport about it. He even took the lovely photo accompanying this interview.
How has entering this contest helped your writing?
Entering my story in this contest helped me to make it the best possible version it could be. I originally wrote this piece for Assignment 3 in the Writing for Children and Teenagers course and then revised it for Assignment 9. Assignment 3 was about practicing descriptions, so earlier versions of the piece were much longer than the end result. Over the years, I kept cutting large amounts of flowery description until I was left with a more focused piece that came in under the word count and flowed much better than the original version. The word count made me choose my words and sentences more carefully so that each one served a purpose toward furthering the plot.
Are you a full-time writer? If not, what is your “day job”?
I am a preschool teacher and I also work at a center teaching supplemental math and reading programs to preschoolers and elementary students. Between the two jobs, I work six days a week, so Sundays have become my designated writing days. I’m looking forward to summer vacation!
How long have you been writing?
I’ve always been a storyteller, making up characters in my mind. As a child, I’d create a character for myself to play and then imagine who her friends and family might be. As I got older, I started writing down adventures for characters and turned those adventures into actual stories. Even now, I start with characters first and then develop the plot. I spend a lot of time in my own head. Maybe too much!
What will you do with your piece now that it’s been recognized?
I will take into consideration the suggestions made during the critique in the webinar and then possibly submit to a magazine. I was unable to attend the webinar live as I was on lunch duty at the preschool at the time, but I watched the replay and I really appreciated all the comments and kind words.
Any fun plans for the prize money?
The prize money will be going directly towards upgrading my ancient MacBook. My laptop has been good to me for nine years, but I’m afraid it’s dying of old age now.
What do you do when you’re feeling discouraged or blocked? Do you have any tips for your fellow writers?
When a particular story just isn’t working, I will set it aside and work on something else. However, that troublesome story will always be at the back of my mind. I get my best ideas when I am pacing laps around my fenced-in backyard. I will take my dog out there and just walk in a giant circle. It really clears my head and lets me focus on a particular story with limited outside interruption. This works well for lesson planning ideas, too. For any fellow teachers out there!
If you could go to the yard sale of any character in the history of children’s literature, whose would you go to, and what would you buy?
I would go to Hermione Granger’s yard sale. She had lots of fun and useful items throughout the Harry Potter series, but I would say the most valuable item would have to be the Time Turner. If I had the Time Turner, I could find extra writing time while still working both jobs and maybe I could get more than five hours of sleep on a work night. As it is now, I’m a big fan of naps!
Is there anything else you’d like to share about your ICL experience?
I have taken both the Writing for Children and Teenagers course and the Writing & Selling Children’s Books course from ICL. Having the deadlines to get my assignments in forced me to sit down and write. No excuses! I really needed that to stop myself from procrastinating. But the most interesting and perhaps most valuable thing I learned while taking these courses is that I actually enjoy outlining. I always thought I preferred seeing where the story would take me on its own, but I realized that outlining doesn’t stop that from happening. The outline lets me see where a story is going, where things are missing, and where I may be going off on unnecessary tangents. And the outline is not carved in stone. It is actually very fluid and changes as I go. I add things and take things out and move them around. But I always know where I’m going. The outline keeps me focused on the main plot and ultimately helps make my story the best version of itself. I might not have figured that out without taking the ICL courses, so I will always be grateful for that insight.