Spotlight on First Place Winner: Alicia Stankay

Tuesday, October 16, 2007
Join us as we get to know our top winner!

WOW: Alicia, kudos to you for taking 1st Place in our Summer 2007 Contest. How did you feel when you learned? Did you see it online first, or did someone tell you they saw it first?

Alicia: I was incredibly excited when I found out I placed first in the WOW summer contest. I was on the phone with my mother when I checked the website and I nearly screamed in her ear. Nothing compares to scrolling down under the Summer Flash Fiction contest headline and seeing my picture under the 1st Place! Of course, I sent her the link to the contest immediately, so that she could read it for herself.

WOW: So, you shared your success instantly! Now, please tell us what encouraged you to write “Thanks for the Memories." Is there a story behind the story?

Alicia: Strangely, when I first saw the prompt, I immediately thought of the day my family rented a pontoon boat when I was about twelve. I have no idea why that was the first thing that popped into my head, but as soon as it did I could see the possibilities for humor. Our day on the water was probably a little crazier in some ways since I had four siblings younger than myself, but I don’t think any of the story incidents took place. I’ll get back to you on that after I check with my mom. . . .

WOW: That’s fine, either way. You did a fine job creating the incidents. In your bio you said you’ve been bit by the contest bug. Could you elaborate? Also, could you share what makes contests so beneficial for writers?

Alicia: A few years ago I was at a low point trying to get anything published. In the early to mid 80’s I had published some children’s short stories in several magazines, such as Discoveries, Counselor, and Pockets. I even made one sale to Highlights for Children, which was very exciting. Then, I got busy raising my kids and working and didn’t get back to writing until the late 90’s. At that time I discovered many markets had either dried up or accepted less fiction, and I turned to writing young adult mystery books. I did it partly to prove that I could write a longer work, and I was pleased with the results. However, when I tried to interest a publisher, I only managed to get a few nibbles, but no offers.

That’s when I read an article in Writer’s Digest about trying out contests to give a boost to your ego. At first I doubted that would work because if I entered contests and never won, then I’d feel even worse! But I decided to take a chance and ended up entering my first adult short story contest for the Taproot Literary Review and a children’s story for Children’s Writer. I continued writing and sending out to other contests, and then within two weeks in May I was amazed to find out that I had placed second in the Taproot contest and first in the Children’s Writer contest. Since then I have gone on to win several other contests and, honestly, the excitement of winning never diminishes. I believe that the contest categories and deadlines help to give the writer a focus, allowing the mind to open and creativity to flow, all within a limited time frame.

WOW: I agree. Let’s move into your other written works. You’ve written three young adult mystery books, which are in search of a publisher. Our summer Guest Judge, Jennifer DeChiara, is a literary agent. We hope you plan to make contact with her.

I noticed Jennifer DeChiara’s name immediately when I saw she was a guest judge because I had just recently printed out some information on her. It said her agency specialized in children’s literature and that’s what caught my interest. Since I’m thrilled that she was the judge for this contest, I definitely plan on contacting her very soon.

My young adult mysteries grew out of my need to prove I could write a book-length manuscript and my love of mysteries. I attended a writer’s group for several years where I received encouragement in writing a short series of teen novels. I used the seasons and began with Seagull Island Summer with the main character, Leah Wavering, a 15-year-old sent to live with her aunt for the summer while her parents traveled Europe on a photoshoot. Leah’s determined to hate everything because she wanted to stay home and enjoy the summer with her friends. Before she knows it, she’s found a new friend, is involved against her will with a young man who’s always underfoot, and entangled in a surprising number of mysterious incidents. By the book’s end, Leah had not only grown up a little, but used her love of photography to help solve a murder and stop the drug ring that was using the island.

My second book, All-for-One Autumn, has Leah and her friend, Ginny, working at a camp in the mountains for two weeks teaching inner city kids. Leah finds herself challenged because now she has to guide kids not much younger than herself and somehow form her group into a united team. Problems arise when one girl’s brother gets into trouble and hangs around the camp trying to hide. As danger creeps ever closer, Leah has to keep her head and again use her photography skills to bring a killer to justice.

In the third book in the series, Winter Whispers, Leah and her friends find themselves at the Victorian Inn and Playhouse during a snowstorm. Not only is the inn populated with an odd group of characters, but the play is dogged by a series of accidents. This time, not only does Leah have to save herself from a murderer, but she also has to free a young woman who was accused of murder and suicide over a hundred years ago.

WOW: Leah’s world sounds exciting in all three books. Congratulations on finishing three! What about other books you enjoy? Could you recommend authors who encourage you to write?

Alicia: Since I’m a mystery writer who loves history, some of my favorite writers are Anne Perry, especially the Thomas Pitt and Monk books, Ellis Peters, her Cadfael series, Elizabeth Peters, her Amelia Peabody series, and a recent writer I’ve discovered, Lauren Belfer. They all provide excellent blueprints on how to write a mystery, build suspense, draw interesting characters and capture a reader’s imagination. I also love the Alfred Hitchcock idea of the surprise endings, so I occasionally read the Alfred Hitchcock Magazine and recommend anthologies such as the World’s Finest Mystery & Crime Stories, published annually, which includes mystery and suspense short stories from around the world.

WOW: Thanks for recommendations. I’m sure our mystery lovers will check them out, if they haven’t already. Getting back to your writing careers, do you have any other long-term goals?

Alicia: My ultimate goal is still to publish a book, possibly one of my young adult mysteries or maybe even an anthology of all the mystery or ghost stories I’ve written so far. One of my favorite stories I’ve published is “Twin Paradox,” a ghost story that won first place in a Writers’ Journal contest last year. I’ve also considered publishing a nonfiction book about the bed and breakfasts my husband and I have stayed in the past few years. Each one of them has a unique background, description, and location. Instead of staying at your typical bland two-bed with dresser, table and chairs, Holiday Inn room, why not set out on a new and exciting adventure every time you travel?

WOW: The B & B’s sound like they have stories within stories, too. I bet there would be a few mysteries among them, too. In terms of writing as a craft, which books do you find the most helpful?

Alicia: For children’s writing, one of the best helps for markets, ideas, and careers is the Children’s Writer Guide, published yearly. It also includes information on conferences and contests. Some of the other books I have on my shelves are 20 Master Plots and How to Build Them by Ronald B. Tobias; Writing Mysteries: A Handbook by the Mystery Writers of America, edited by Sue Grafton; Writing to Sell by Scott Meredith; and The Art of Compelling Fiction (How to Write a Page-Turner) by Christopher T. Leland.

WOW: That book about plots sounds like a big help for the upcoming NaNo Competition! Thanks for sharing your favorites. Before we go, could you end on a little wisdom for our readers?

Alicia: I guess it all boils down to the fact that a writer writes because she has to. It’s there inside ready to boil up at a moment’s notice. I sometimes compare it to giving birth--you might want to ignore it or pretend the need’s not there or even hope it will go away, but just like that baby in the womb, eventually it’s got to come out.

I was once asked in a writer’s group, what was the one word that described my writing? After I thought a moment, I came up with liberating. Writing gives me the freedom to put down my deepest thoughts, or entertain with humor, or frighten with ghost tales, or any other possibility that enters my mind. It’s exhilarating when it all comes together, and characters speak to me or plot points appear out of some deep recesses of my mind. I don’t even mind editing myself and paring down to word counts because it gives me a thrill when I know I’ve strengthened and honed my story to the best that it can be. As commercial wisdom proclaims--Just do it!

WOW: You’ve been an absolute inspiration, Alicia! Thanks for sharing your thoughts and tips.

If you haven’t read Alicia’s top entry, go here. Do you have any feedback for Alicia? Feel free to write to her at: Thanks!


Chynna said...

This was a great story too.

CONGRATS Alicia. =oD


Angela Mackintosh said...


I enjoyed reading about all the contests you've entered and won! How inspiring. Your winning story is truly great and touched our hearts. :-)

Also, you're quite prolific! Since you've written a series, you are definitely going to love our November Agents issue. Your novels sound amazing and I'm sure you're soon to be published! Please do give us updates for our announcements on all your progress. We wish you the best.

Thanks for this wonderful interview!

Big Hugs,


Powered by Blogger.
Back to Top