Archive for October, 2010

Clothes Make Your Character

October 29, 2010

Furry Boots in Italy

In the large cities of Italy, high fashion is everywhere.  Women wear lots of leather, fur, (No! Say it isn’t true!) many styles of boots, some past their knees and all the way up on their thighs.  Women wear many scarves doubled and tripled around their necks. 

In the area where I live I’m known as the scarf lady.  (No, not because I eat a lot food fast, although that would be what my husband would say . . .)  I wear scarves to keep my neck warm.  Now I’m attached to them and wear them year-round.

I love people-watching in Italy, especially those well-dressed and high-society women who wear such expensive and fashionable clothes.   Who are they?  What do they do to afford such outfits?  Where do they live?  What do their homes look like if their clothes are so fancy? 

Writing Prompts:

1.  What clothes are hanging in your character’s closet.  What is his/her favorite piece to wear?  Why is it his favorite?  Are their memories associated with it?  Where did he get it?  When does he wear it?  Is there anything quirky/funny about it?

2.  Write a story set in a clothing store.

3.  Write a story where an element of mystery has to do with what someone is wearing.

4.  Write a poem about color, lace, or a specific style of clothes.  Remember to be a specific with your word choice and senses as possible. 

5.  How does clothing enhance a character?  Write a scene where clothing helps show the character’s mood and personality.

High School John F. Kennedy Profiles In Courage Essay Contest

October 26, 2010


The contest is open to United States high school students in grades nine through twelve attending public, private, parochial, or home schools; U.S. students under the age of twenty enrolled in a high school correspondence/GED program in any of the fifty states, the District of Columbia, or the U.S. territories; and U.S. citizens attending schools overseas.

Past winners and finalists are not eligible to participate. Employees of John Hancock Financial Services and members of their families are not eligible to participate.


  • Essay submissions for the 2011 contest will be accepted starting September 1, 2010. The contest deadline is Saturday, January 8, 2011.
  • Essays can be no more than 1,000 words. Citations and bibliography are not included in the word count.
  • Essays must be the original work of the student.
  • John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, and Edward M. Kennedy are not eligible subjects for essays.
  • Essays must describe how an elected official demonstrated political courage by addressing an issue at the local, state, or national level. See Contest Information and Writing Tips for more information.
  • Essays about previous Profile in Courage Award recipients will be disqualified unless they describe an act of political courage other than the act for which the award was given.

Source Material

  • Essays with fewer than five listed sources may be disqualified.
  • All participants must cite sources they used to research their topic throughout their essay. Please use parenthetical citations within the text. We can not accept citations in footnote form.
  • Essays must include a bibliography (using any one of the recognized formats). You must use a minimum of five selected sources. Please refer to the Prepare Your Essay section information on Citing Sources and Bibliographies.
  • Essays which rely solely on Internet sources may be disqualified.

Essay Submission

  • Students have the choice of either submitting their essay online (preferred) or of mailing their essay. All students must complete and submit a registration form online for student and school information. For instructions on how to submit your essay, see Submit your Essay.
  • Mailed in essays must be postmarked by January 8, 2011.

Nominating Teachers

  • All students must list the name of their nominating teacher on the registration form. The role of a nominating teacher is to provide students with support and advice during the writing of their essay. Nominating teachers are also asked to read students’ essays to make suggestions for improvement before they are submitted to the essay contest. As part of this review process, the nominating teacher reviews the essay for syntax, grammatical, typographical and spelling errors and ensures the essay meets the contest requirements listed above. The first place winner and his/her nominating teacher, as representatives of their school, will be invited to receive awards at the annual Profile in Courage Award ceremony held each May at the Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston.
  • Nominating teachers can be former or current teachers, but must still be teaching at the same high school as the essay participant. Usually students ask their English or History/Social Studies teachers. In very few cases, we will make an exception if a student is unable to ask a teacher from their high school to be their nominating teacher. The parent or legal guardian responsible for the instruction of home schooled students can also serve as a nominating teacher.


Music in your writing . . . literally

October 24, 2010

We are at a lovely little outdoor Italian Cafe.   Plates of pizza, pasta, and fish are on tables around us.   I enjoy my favorite drink – – water with gas.  (Mineral water)   A woman walks by holding a basket with a bottle of wine and a loaf of bread.  Meanwhile, music drifts out of our restaurant. . .


“It’s fun to stay at the YYYYYYMMMMMCCCCCCAAAA.”

My husband looks like he just swallowed his tongue.  I’m sure I have a similar facial expression.  Talk about horrifying.   We’ve traveled miles to get Italian ambiance and we listen to American music from the seventies?  To make it worse, it’s this music?

I shudder.  Too bad I left my ear plugs from the airplane trip in the hotel. 

Writing Prompts:

1.  Write a scene where music is part of the plot.

2.  Write a scene where a hint of music plays in the background.

3.  In the another story you have written, check to see if adding music will enhance the story or a scene in some way.  Have you included enough sound to put your reader inside your scene?

4.  Write about your favorite music through a poem.  Or your least favorite music!

Relax and Write

October 22, 2010

                                       Rough life, but someone’s gotta do it

In the small towns of Croatia, we enjoyed a laid-back atmosphere.  The guides told us that if you lived in the towns, everyone knew your name.  (And everything about you, of course) 

It wasn’t uncommon for people to take long breaks, similar to siestas, but not to sleep.  They take a noon break for a couple of hours to hang out at a cafe for coffee, gelato, or a cool drink to chat and watch people go by. 

Around 4:00 in the afternoon, they go back for another cafe or quiet time. 

Writing Prompt:

1.  When, in your life, were you the most relaxed ever?  Write about this experience.  How did it feel?  Where were you?  What happened?  What did you do? 

2.   Have you ever been in a situation where everyone knows your name and everything about you?  Ever lived in a small town?  What are the advantages?  Disadvantages?

3.  Write a story where the character is living in a very small town and deals with this type of atmosphere.  Does he or she have a secret she is trying to keep from someone?  This would be hard to do in a small town. 

4.  Write a scene showing people being at ease.  Next, write a scene showing the same people being rushed or very excited and wired. 

5.  Writers need to remember to find time to relax.  This is when we get our best creative ideas and moments.  Make time in your busy life, even if it’s only for 10 minutes a day.  Schedule in at some time so you can reflect and have time to daydream about your creative ideas!

Calling All Students! Write a Novel! Join a Kid-Safe Na-No Club!

October 18, 2010

This entry is written by a California Writers Club student, who has attended our Young Writer Program Workshops through the local libraries.  (She’s terrific!) Thank you Marisa for supporting this national event!

Have you ever wanted to write a novel, but found yourself stuck with writer’s block after the third page? Do you have a plot idea that you’d love to write, but don’t think you have enough time?


Then NaNoWriMo is for you!


Short for National Novel Writing Month, NaNoWriMo is a month-long challenge run from November 1st to November 30th. Thousands of people participate in this challenge every November, and thousands win.


So how can you win?


It’s easy and simple: Write a novel in a month. It can’t be anything you’ve already written for; it has to be a new story. You can plan and plot all you want, but no actual writing before November 1st!


… Well, maybe it isn’t that easy. But it also isn’t as hard as you might think.


I speak from experience: I participated in this last year when I was a freshman in high school and won, despite the fact that I’d never been able to finish a novel before. I actually thought I’d fall flat halfway through November, but somehow I kept writing and ended up with over a hundred pages.


For the young writers 17 and under out there, NaNoWriMo has a special site called the NaNoWriMo Young Writers Program ( You set your own word count goal to reach, and update that count throughout November. It’s a great site and has tons of resources, like a workbook that helps tremendously with developing your plot, writing furiously in November, and figuring out what to do with your novel after the month.  It also has pep talks to keep you going during the month, safe and moderated forums, and a seriously awesome Dare Machine that generates dares for you if you’re stuck (for example: “We dare you to have someone in your novel kidnapped at the end of the next page.”)


The greatest thing about this challenge is that everybody wins. Even if you only manage to write 2,000 words, you still win. Why? Because most likely, those 2,000 words are 2,000 words more than you would have written in a month. You have a novel (or the beginnings of one) that you wrote with your blood, sweat, and cramped fingers. That is the greatest prize you win out of this challenge. (Of course, there are tons of other great goodies you win through the website upon reaching the goal you set!) 


You might be wondering why one would want to spend a whole month staying up late, typing feverishly away at a keyboard, writing as fast and as superfluously as possible. Didn’t all of our teachers tell us that writing fast is writing sloppily? Wouldn’t that encourage people to write messily?


That’s fine.


The NaNoWriMo website says, “By forcing yourself to write so intensely, you are giving yourself permission to make mistakes. To forgo the endless tweaking and editing and just create. To build without tearing down.” It’s true; so often writers become so bogged down with the endless rants and critiques of the Inner Editor. Sometimes it’s hard to even write one page without stopping to scroll back up to make sure every single sentence is perfect. I know I’ve done that. But NaNoWriMo gives you a chance to silence that inner editor and let your ideas run free.


You will be writing an extremely sloppy first draft, but that’s all it is: a first draft. Like any type of writing, one has to write a first draft before a second and third, and each time it becomes more polished. Of course, none of that will happen if you don’t write the first draft.


Last year, I gained so much. I wrote a novel, something I did not think was possible, and I learned how to silence my inner editor and get my ideas down on paper. Though I only just became acquainted with this challenge last year, I’ve fallen in love with it. I had a fantastic, amazing experience, and will never look at novel writing or November in the same way again.


So from a participant to a potential participant, I’d like to invite you to join me in this challenge.



Though you’re certainly allowed to compete independently of the site, I’d recommend creating an account (one for each participant) because you’ll be able to pose in the forums (it’s insanely useful sometimes; only if your parents allow you to) and receive the prizes you’ll win if… or when… you win.


  1. If you’re 17 or under, go to the YWP site here:  … Or if you’re 18 or above, go to the NaNoWriMo site here:
I should probably clarify that if you’re 13 or above, you can sign up for the NaNoWriMo site, but it is an adult site and may have some “adult” content, and you will have to reach the set goal of 50,000 words in order to win. However, it does have larger forums, which can be very useful during November. The YWP site is good for beginners, especially as you’re allowed to set your own word goal. Discuss which site to join with your parents.


  1. Click on “Sign up!” in the upper right-hand corner. Fill out the information—remember, no using your real name in your username!
  2. For the official NaNoWriMo site only (and those 18 or older): Check your email and activate your account using the email they send you. 
  3. You’re set! Now feel free to fill out your author’s info, novel’s info, etcetera with as much or as little information as you like!
  4. For the YWP site only (and those 17 or younger): Set your word goal by going to My NaNoWriMo à Edit Novel Info (in the left column) and in the box at the top labeled “Word Count goal,” type in your word count goal. Remember, don’t set it so low that you can reach it easily, but don’t set it so high that you won’t be able to reach it. A guideline: 1000 words is roughly about 3 ½ pages (double-spaced).
  5. When the challenge starts on November 1st, you’ll be able to enter your word count in the upper right-hand corner after you log in, and watch as a graph on your profile records your total word count each day!



The Young Writers Program site is very safe. The forums on the site are monitored and can only be accessed by registered users. There are also individual sections for Elementary, Middle, and High School students. 


I advise parents to explore the site themselves ( You also may want to read the About page ( and the FAQ ( before allowing your child to sign up.




I’d also like to form an informal group of participants independent of NaNoWriMo and YWP to inspire, help, and encourage each other. This would be a kid-friendly group (though parents are welcome to join).




WHO: Teens and kids who would like to join a friendly, kid-safe NaNo club. (Parents, too, if they’d like to do it as well!)

WHAT: A kid-friendly, safe club to discuss ideas and plots and encourage one another.

WHEN: I’d like to have one pre-NaNo kickoff meeting in October, two NaNo meetings during November, and one post-NaNo party in December. Times: Saturday afternoons (or a mutually convenient time for the majority), with each meeting about an hour. However, the meetings are not mandatory; if you cannot make a meeting, or any of the meetings, that’s fine. I’ll be creating a Google Group so that all of us can stay in touch and encourage each other. 

WHERE: Most likely a library, depending on where people live.  

WHY: I’d like to really do two things: (1) to encourage kids to participate in NaNoWriMo, silence their inner editor, and attempt to write a novel in November; (2) to provide a kid-friendly club of other NaNo-ers around their age, a safe place to share ideas, receive critiques, and share novel ideas. 


Please don’t hesitate to email me at if you have any questions!


Whew. If you read this all the way to the end, I applaud you. And now, I bid you adieu—in hopes of seeing you very soon for the NaNoWriMo challenge.


Thank you!

Marisa Chow

Croatia, Italy and the USA

October 18, 2010

I’ve just arrived home from a trip to Croatia and Italy.  I’ve wanted to go to Croatia since I’ve been a little girl.  Why that country?  My mother’s parents came from Zagreb in 1901 and I know very little about their world or them, both having passed on before I came along. 

Croatia is an interesting mixture of ancient and new.  We began in the northern city of Zagreb and proceeded south where it became warmer.   In the north the language reminded me very much of Russian, and the more south we traveled it felt as though there was an Italian dialect mixed in to their communication as well as the foods. 

We’ve never eaten better fish anywhere.  In Opatija, we sat down at a restaurant and asked what they were known for in their area.  The waiter brought out a platter with a large fish, complete with an interesting head and eyes.  My husband blanched.  I stifled a laugh. 

“Let’s go for it,” I said.  After all, I never met a seafood I never liked.

Our big mistake was forgetting to take a picture of our dinner before it was grilled.  It came later and it was flakey and delicious.  No bones – – only the main one down its back I guess. 

It was a memorable meal.  And since we forgot to take a photo, I found one online for you to see.

Writing Prompts:

1.  Which place in the world would you like to visit?  Read about this place and plan your itinerary. 

2.  Find a map and discover the places I mentioned in my blog.  Research and do a nonfiction piece about the area.

3.  Write about a trip you’ve taken that has left wonderful . . . or not so wonderful impressions upon you. 

4.  Create a short story set in an area that is not a place you are familiar with.  You must read about this place in order to learn about the setting. 

5.  Write a poem inspired by a trip you have taken.  It could be a trip a town away from your home! 

6.  Have you ever gone a long time without sleep?  How did you deal with it?  Write about it in an amusing way.  You can use exaggeration to make it more funny!

7.  Write about the most interesting or different food you have ever eaten.  What was it?  What did it look like?  Taste like?

Publish Your Limerick

October 18, 2010

Autumn Welcome

The Contra Costa Times is calling for limericks inspired by the color orange.  Limericks involve rhymes.  Example: 

There once was a (person) from (place).

Who (add things that lead to disgrace).

They (improbable scene)

With their (dirty or clean)

Summing up (better cut to the chase). 

Then send your orange-themed limerick to by noon Monday, Oct. 25.  They’ll choose some for publication in their print newspaper and many others will be online.

Video of dog and deer playing together

October 16, 2010

Watch the video below.  Next, write about the adventure in the present tense from the voice of the deer or the dog or the person taking the video. 

Or write an essay comparing the element of play between these two very different creatures and another aspect of life.   Enjoy the video.  I did!

High School Essay Contest – Due January 31, 2011

October 15, 2010

High School Essay Contest

DIALOG OF CIVILIZATIONS YOUTH PLATFORM 2011An International High School Essay Contest

All high school students, enrolled in 9th through 12th grades, attending public or private schools from the United States and abroad.

The use of military means as a solution to today’s international and national political issues:Diplomacy or war, democracy or military coup?

Essays must/must be:
•    Written in English
•    Original, unpublished, and written entirely by student
•    Contain student’s original opinions and recommendations based on research
•    At least 1,500 words in length but no more than 2,000 (Citations and bibliography are not included in the word count)
•    Typed, double-spaced with margins: left: 1.5″, right: 1″, top: 1″, bottom: 1″, page-numbered
•    Include a bibliography
•    Comply with standards regarding citations and bibliography

All essays must be submitted online.

•    Go to the event website at
•    Scroll down and fill out the “Registration Form”

•    Click on “Browse” to upload your essay.
•    After uploading your essay, click on “Send” button.

Essays must be submitted as either Microsoft Word (.doc) file or Adobe Reader (.pdf) file.

Essay entries must be received by Monday, January 31st, 2011.

Essay submissions will be judged on:
•    Content
•    Grammar
•    Originality
•    Style and vocabulary

•    Written discussion advances the pieces in response to the topic
The decision of the judges is final as relating to all contest matters.

1st place                   :    4,000 USD + Trip to D.C.
2nd place                 :    2,500 USD + Trip to D.C.
3rd place                  :    1,000 USD + Trip to D.C.
4th – 20th place         :     300 USD  + Trip to D.C.
21st – 30th place        :     Trip to D.C.

All winners will receive a Certificate of Recognition.

Winners will be awarded in a ceremony that will take place in Washington, D.C. in March 2011:

During their 4-day trip to D.C., students will have the opportunity to meet U.S. Congress members, and visit think tank organizations and tourist attractions including museums.

Winning students’ airfare, accommodations, meals, and transportation will be sponsored.

The use of military means as a solution to today’s international and national political issues: Diplomacy or war, democracy or military coup?

Good governance relies upon responsible civic participation, equality, and rule of law. It involves political leadership, bureaucracy, civil society, community leaders and others who play a role in or influence decision-making and the implementation of laws and policies within society. For those who hope to prevent military interventions that lead to the deaths of civilians and the destruction of their country’s political and economic foundation, what are the possible ways to reduce the risk of military interventions, such as military coups, to provide new generations a safer and more democratic world?

•    Choose a case-study topic from a country that has experienced a military intervention in its recent history.

•    What forms of military interventions happened and why? How did military interventions affect the population and civil institutions in the country?      

•    Based on your research provide recommendations for national leaders that would prevent conflict and enhance the democratization process in their countries

The Gülen Institute encourages all high school students from the U.S. and abroad to participate in the Gülen Institute Youth Summit because it:

•    Helps young minds define problems related to stable peace and social harmony, discuss them, and offer possible solutions from their own perspectives

•    Contributes to achieving a positive impact on society by building social skills

•    Helps students improve research and writing skills that are so essential prior to college years.

•    Is a lifetime opportunity for students to exchange ideas with their peers both from national and global levels

Should you have any questions or comments, please do not hesitate to contact us at:

The Gülen Institute
University of Houston –

Social Work Building Room #417

Houston, TX, 77004 U.S.A.
Tel.: +1 (713) 743 8135    Fax: +1 (713) 974 4445 This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

Totem Head’s 2010 Contest for Kids up to age 18

October 7, 2010

What :  “Totem Head’s 2010 Story Contest”

Who :  The contest is open to US residents under 19 years old.
Note to parents :  If your child cannot write yet, you may type their words for them.

Categories :
1. Ages 11 and under
2. Ages 12 to 18

When :  Send your entry before 31 Dec 2010.

Prizes :
One winner from each category will receive the following prizes.
1. Publication on
2. $50 cash
3. Certificate of Achievement

Judging :  Billy O and Colleen will choose one winner from each category based on:
1. Suitability for
2. Entertainment
3. Creativity
4. Spelling and grammar

How to Enter :
1. Finish Totem Head’s Tutorial.
2. Write a story in 1500 words or less.  Make your story appropriate for kids.  The first sentence should start, “So there I was…”.
3. Fill out a Contest Entry Form
4. Scan and email your Contest Entry Form
5. Type your story directly into the body of your email, or attach it to your email as a .txt file.   (That’s a file created using the Notepad program.)
6. Email your submission to:
7. If you cannot email your submission, send it through the mail to:

Adventure Write – Story Contest
P.O. Box 113074
Anchorage AK 99511-3074

Please note :  All submissions become the property of Adventure Write, and we cannot return them.

Winner Notification :  Adventure Write will notify winners via email and snail mail in Feb 2011. We’ll post the winning stories on no later than 28 Feb 2011.

For contest details and entry form visit: