Fall Writing Frenzy Contest

There are so many things I love about Fall. Cozy sweaters, pumpkin donuts, and the change in seasons. But in world of the writing community, my favorite is the spooky stories that I get to create for the Fall Writing Frenzy contest. This year hosts Kaitlyn Sanchez and Lyida Lukidis did not disappoint with their picture prompts to inspire a 200 word story. Below is my entry…I hope you like it!

Photo credit: Halloween- Credit: Selina Wing for Bing

THE TROPHY WALL
By Kelly Swemba
(191 words)
Hearts pound. 
Shoes clack. 
The crowd rounds the cobblestone corner  
oozing with anticipation  
after traveling miles 
to this quaint town. 

For every Halloween eve,  
Jack-o-lanterns appear overnight - 
carved by an unknown artist  
who adds one new creation each year.  

Applause ignites as flames   
flicker and snap inside 
the hollowed-out-flesh. 

“It’s beautiful,” whispers a little girl. 
Adults nod in silent agreement. 
But they don’t know… 

While they ooh and ahh, 
others weep and moan. 
Wails seep out 
and entangle the visitors  
like overgrown vines.  

They don’t know… 
That October’s first breath  
strangles out someone’s last.   

They don’t know... 
Each gaping-mouthed gourd 
represents a life extinguished 
in the yearly reaping. 
A grotesque showcase of trophies  
disguised as decoration.  

Then… 
A cool wind snakes 
through the streets. 
A dark presence leers. 
Shivers pierce the crowd 
as their internal alarms blare. 

Desperately, 
they grasp onto the belief  
this misery is orchestrated 
to increase  
the town’s mystique. 

But… 
Fear pounds.  
Shoes clack. 
The crowd retreats 
except for 
one. 

He slowly inhales,  
savoring the scent of doubt,  
devouring every seed of fear. 
A snarl slices across his face. 
He’s chosen his next victim  
and the hunt 
begins. 

It’s About Compassion: Mental Health Awareness Month

This month is Mental Health Awareness month, and when thinking about what to write, I realized I needed to break it down into a few posts. I am passionate about mental health and discovered this when I was in nursing school. I remember taking a class and learning about holistic health. How we as nurses should treat the whole patient, not just their medical symptoms. If you’ve ever been in the hospital or are currently battling a disease, you might have first hand experience on how it can effect every part of you. Your health can take a toll on your emotions, your spirit, and your mind. Looking back, I’m so grateful my school introduced me to this concept, because health is so much more than our physical bodies.

After working as a nurse for a few years, I decided to go back and obtain my master’s in psychiatric nursing. Being a middle child, and a person that has always had friends span different groups, I often found myself in the workout role. The one that bridged the gap, mended miscommunications or worked to de-escalate a situation. I found myself comfortable in listening to other people’s situations and trying to help them through them.

What I discovered is that mental health and illness isn’t something in one place, a certain group of people, or only in treatment centers. It’s within all parts of our community because everyone experiences difficult moments or may be actively working on themselves. And that’s ok! There is such a stigma about expressing our emotions, anxieties, or struggles with maintaining mental health. And I hope that can change soon. People who are struggling with internal battles deserve the same love and support that patients with a heart condition, cancer, kidney disease or other physical ailments receive. Everyone deserves to be treated with compassion, and it really can make such a difference in the lives of others.

When Friends Move Away

I still remember when my best friend in second grade told me she was going to go to another school. I was shocked! Who would I twin with, or plan to krimp my hair on the same day with? (For the record, I was an 80s child.)

I remember feeling lost. I no longer had my friend to chat with on the bus. A friend to play with on the playground. Or to giggle endlessly over everything and anything. All of this left me feeling…lost.

I’ve been doing research on children and how to handle the event when a friend moves away. Not everything I’m reading seems to be on the appropriate level for children. As caring adults, we want our children to make new friends, but we need to acknowledge first what they are going through. Feelings are SO important for children, and they can’t always understand or express them properly. Here is where care givers come in. We have to be “okay” with them “not being okay”. We need to recognize they are hurting, on top of a lot of other emotions and sit with that feeling for a while. Rushing in to fix it or try and make them happy isn’t respecting where they’re at. We also shouldn’t jump in to introduce them to new friends. This should be something when they are ready, or done gently without pressure.

I think as adults we are so quick to move past uncomfortable feelings. But teaching a child that these feelings are okay is vital to their health. They will see you being with them through this time, and know you care about them. It isn’t easy seeing your child experience sadness or loss, but by supporting them through this, they will know they can count on you. That they are free to express any feeling and know it’s a safe space filled with love. This will only better your relationship and set a foundation of trust for the future.

The Knock: 50 Precious Words

It’s time again for the wonderful 50 Precious Words contest hosted by Vivian Kirkfield! The goal is to create a story ( beginning, middle, and end) for kids ages 12 and under comprised of only 50 words! For my entry, I was moved to right about the heart. Kids feel the same emotions as adults. They experience joy, happiness, loneliness and heartache. My piece touches on this. Here is my story. Have a great day!

The Knock
By Kelly Swemba

Heart beats
and breathes.
It hopes 
and dreams.

Heart sees
and flutters.
It welcomes
and wonders.

Love enters 
and enchants.
It vows but – 
vanishes.

Heart aches
and shrinks.
It slumbers
and retreats.

Then...

A knock.
A hand.
A hug.
A hold.


Heart wakes
And opens.
It trusts 
and tries – 
again.



Holiday Writing Contest

The holiday season is busy, and I find that I am pulled in so many different directions. And all away from writing. I am thankful to Susanna Leonard Hill for hosting her holiday contest because it's way to stay connected to my writing. This year, she asked that we write a story, no more than 250 words, about a holiday contest. Below is my entry. I hope you like it!


THE GINGER FRIEND HOUSE
Excitement buzzed through class as Mrs. Snickerdoodle announced 
the gingerbread contest was today!
I had planned, prepared, and picked out my favorite toppings.
 
Gumdrops for the roof.
Starbursts for stepping stones, 
and red and white candy for holiday cheer.
 
“Ready?” she asked with twinkling eyes.
“Create!”
 
I slathered the icing and carefully connected my corners. 
Next came the roof, which topped off the house 
like cherries on an ice cream sundae. 

I glanced around the room to check out my competition. 
I’m totally going to win this year!
But that’s when I saw Sam, the new kid. 
He moved to town midway through the year.  

His roof had collapsed.
And the sides of his house kept falling down.
Worse yet, his eyes met mine as he started to cry.
 
I glanced at my gingerbread house. 
Then back at him.
I felt a gentle tug on my heart.

“Would you like some help?” I offered.
Sam nodded. 
We worked together, two builders on one house.
 
He globbed on the icing and laughed at his messy fingers. 
“Here, you try.” he said to me. 
So I tried his way, and found that a little mess was a lot of fun.

The seams weren’t perfect. 
And the house had a lean, 
but it was still magical.
 
We added my candy.
Gumdrops on the roof.
Starbursts steps, and a little holiday cheer to share.
 
Our house wasn’t picked, but I still felt like I won that day.
Because unlike gingerbread houses, 
friendships last forever. 
 

Karachi Kids Update

Hi everyone,

I hope this post finds you and your family well. A few things have happened within Karachi Kids and I wanted to update everyone. 

The team at Karachi Kids is committed to transparency about our progress and challenges that we continue to face. We are grateful to have formed partnerships among writers and kidlit supporters. Through various social media platforms, we raised awareness and started the process of formalizing our efforts to co-create the library in Karachi. Over the summer, we reached out to numerous nonprofits and organizations. Our plan was and still is to partner with an already established organization. This would provide us financial assistance as well as guidance throughout the stages of our initiative.  We have discovered that many of the established groups specifically state that they do not work with Pakistan. This significantly shrunk our list of organizations that we could partner with. Another challenge we faced was the impact of the withdrawal of the military in Afghanistan. The surrounding areas became volatile and filled with uncertainty for their future. Specifically in Pakistan, local leaders that Marzieh had worked with were no longer in their roles. This, in addition to the shipping crisis that is occurring throughout our world, has caused us to pause. 

Even though this storm of unforeseen circumstances has impacted our timeline, Karachi Kids remains committed to bringing books to children that need them. Please know we are grateful for the support of the writing community! We still have our goal in mind, but it will just take longer than anticipated. We appreciate your understanding and patience and look forward to sharing more positive news soon. 

Sincerely,

Karachi Kids

Fall Writing Frenzy 2021

It’s the time of year where the weather turns cooler, the leaves crisper, and my writing turns…creepier!?! I love the Fall Writing Frenzy contest because it’s the one time I dip into a different side of my writing. The challenge is to select a picture from the list and write something inspired by it while staying at 200 words or under. This is the picture I chose, and at exactly 200 words, I hope you enjoy my it.

HIDE AND SEEK

By Kelly Swemba

I was just a girl, nearly 8, when we moved. Mamma was drawn to the fresh start of nobody knowing us. “It’ll be like when we played dress up in the attic. We can be anybody here.”

There, the clothes were like me, laden with a dusty smell of lives past. Here, all I smelled was drenched leaves and chimney smoke. Mamma liked this place.  “We can hide among these hills. We’ll be safe this time.”

The thing about hiding though, there’s always a seeker. And for us, ours was very skilled.

Darkness cloaked our town and blanketed me in false security. That was a mistake. I see that now.

As we slept, a presence crept. It stalked our streets with the focus and hunt of the beast he is.

I awoke, soaked in sweat, eyes wide with fear. 

“He’s here.”

Mama grabbed the bag already packed. Kissed my forehead, fingers locked with mine. Ready for the race.

Dawn rose and spread warmth above. We felt only dampness below. Whispers whirled through town. One spoke about a menacing shadow. Some recalled the moon’s eerie glow. But most described a chill that left them forever cold.

Just like mama and me.

It’s About All Children Being Seen With Vanessa Brantley-Newton

Hi everyone! I am so excited because today I am talking with Vanessa Brantley-Newton! She is the author and illustrator of numerous books including BECOMING VANESSA, (one of my favorites) GRANDMA’S PURSE, as well as the and the illustrator for THE KING OF KINDERGARTEN by Derrick Barnes and MARY HAD A LITTLE GLAM written by Tammi Sauer. I am looking forward to finding out a little bit more about her today!

Hi Vanessa! Thank you for joining us today. What was your first memory as a child where you connected to a book?

As an African American born in the 60’s and raised in the 70’s I didn’t get to see myself in any children’s books. It appeared that only whites got that joy of seeing themselves and stories about them. I thought I was invisible for many years. No real shows on TV that has people that looked like me. Every once in a while Diane Carroll or, Bill Cosby (at the time), Flip Wilson and the Jackson Five. That was about it. One day one of my teachers, Ms. Russell opened up a copy of the Snowy Day, written by Ezra Jack Keats and it changed my life. It would be the very first time that I would ever get to see a beautiful brown child that looked like me. I had pink snow suit, my mom looked like his mom, even the wallpaper in his house looked like the wallpaper in our house and I felt like, for the first time, someone saw me and that I existed. I thank Ezra Jack Keats for the gift of the Snowy Day. One of my favorite books ever.

Vanessa, hearing you say you thought you were invisible breaks my heart. No child should ever have to bear that weight, or how that makes them feel. Children should feel loved and appreciated for who they are. I am so grateful for your teacher and Snowy Day. You express your reaction to the book and I want to highlight your statement… “And I felt like, for the first time, someone saw me and that I existed”. This moment of being acknowledged, of seeing someone just like you in a book is so powerful!

My follow up question then is what ways do you hope your writing will impact the lives of children?

I hope that when children see a book written and illustrated by me that they are seen. Every single one of them. I want them to know that, “I see you. In your beautiful brown skin with your afro puffs, cornrows, or locs. I see you with your beautiful hazel eyes or missing teeth. I see YOU sing your song and doing your dance with leg braces or in your wheelchair. I just want them to know that they are seen and are valuable and precious.

YES! This makes my heart sing, Vanessa! I love that your hope for children is to be seen, and for all children to be seen as they are. It is a validation that they aren’t alone, that they matter, and they are important. Children see the world as it is presented to them, which is another reason why books are so important. They can have a wondrous impact on a child’s view of the world, how the world should be, and realizing the greatness already inside them. Vanessa, thank you so much for chatting with me today. I am so glad you were inspired to write and illustrate books for children because I am such a fan!

And thank you everyone for reading. Take care and have a wonderful day!

It’s About Empathy with Tina Mowrey

Today on Books 4 Karachi Kids we have Tina Mowrey! Tina is the author of WHAT A PRICKLY PEAR and has two other books coming out soon. MY FAMILY TREE HAS ROOTS (which by title alone I’m SOLD!) set to come out in 2022 and BEING BAILEY RAE in August of this year!

Hi Tina and thank you for chatting with me today! I’m excited to learn what your first memory was a child where you connected to a book.

THE GREAT GILLY HOPKINS by Katherine Paterson is one book that sticks in my memory because Gilly was such a colorful character. I hadn’t encountered a character like her in my previous reading material, so it was refreshing. I also remember being introduced to the world of foster care and it impacted me so much that I decided I wanted to foster and/or foster to adopt children as an adult. 

That’s an amazing impact, Tina! I think this again shows us how influential books are. For you, it introduced you to something that would later become part of your life in a truly loving way. How wonderful that you were inspired by this book to grow your family and provide a home to children that needed one.

In what ways do you hope your writing will impact the lives of children?

As far as the impact my writing has on children, I can only hope that they will see themselves in the story or learn to be empathetic toward the characters and their situations. Also, if I write something humorous, I hope they find it funny!

You’ve stated an important point that I want to discuss. Empathy. When children read, they aren’t always going to be in the same situation as the main character. They may not even understand the details surrounding the character’s problem. But through the writing and illustrations, they can begin to see, to understand, to empathize. This is a very important aspect and learning opportunity that children’s books provide. And on the other side, it may be exactly their situation! They may SEE themselves in this storyline, in this book, and finally have found a place where someone understands. I cannot stress how important this is for children. All children need to be represented in books because of the positive impact it will have on them. I’m so glad you stated this, Tina, because it’s definitely needed. And not to overshadow humor, because we ALL could use more laughter these days!

Thank you again, Tina, for being so giving of your time and thoughts. We as a community appreciate it!

I’m offering two critiques. To be entered, please retweet this post and tag a friend on Twitter. The contest ends Saturday July 2, 2021 at 12 pm EST. Thanks everyone for helping spread the word about Karachi Kids!

Writing Journey Speed Bumps and Detours

We’ve all been there. We’ve got our plan, our manuscript, and we’re feeling confident. (Because we all should believe in our stories and art.) We query, apply for a mentorship, or submit it in a contest. And then we wait…which is really hard!

How to pass the time?

  1. Throw yourself into another project
  2. Listen to podcasts
  3. Watch webinars
  4. Critique other’s work
  5. Read a book
  6. Exercise

I’m going to stay with this one for a bit. Though not an easy thing to do, exercise will definitely improve your mood in the long run. This may become something you turn to release frustration. Or get rid of nervous energy when you’ve finished being Monica Geller and already cleaned the entire house or apartment. (Guilty)

 OR

7. Do something completely unrelated to writing. Sometimes we need other distractions and things to put our energy into. (Hobby, craft, fixing something, creating something, cooking ect.)

Okay, the verdict is and it’s a…….pass. Ugh.

Tears stream. Maybe anger even bubbles. Self doubt and sadness come to stay a while. As well as the very uninvited guest known as Imposter Syndrome. And guess what? It’s OK to feel all of these things! You were supposed to get your hopes up because that show you BELIEVE IN YOUSELF! And, since we’re human, we then experience all of the emotions. Once again, it’s okay to feel whatever way you are as long as your safely experiencing it.

What to Do

You can push through this speed bump and continue on your way. Or maybe you slow down and re think your path to getting where you’re going. Do you maybe need to look at joining a critique group or organization to get you headed in the right direction? Perhaps a craft book will help things become clearer or shine a light on a certain place where you’ve found yourself stuck. Another option is to stop. Take time for you and give yourself a break. It may just be the mental fresher you’ve needed all along but didn’t know it. Whatever way you decide, do what’s best for you, at YOUR PACE. Last time I checked, writing and being published doesn’t happen over night. It is a JOURNEY, and I’m happy to be on it with so many wonderful people that I never would have met without writing.

So please take care of yourselves. Listen to what you need, and reach out for support. And when you’re ready, try again. I’ll be rooting for you!!!

Take care writing community!