Happy New Year, friends! 🎉 This past year has felt like a sparse writing year for me, so I almost chose not to write a Year in Review blog. But in looking back over the year, I realized there’s actually a lot to celebrate.
Here’s what happened in 2022:
I had a story accepted and published in Chicken Soup for the Soul.
I had a haiku accepted and published in The Poetry Pea anthology and podcast.
In March, I was selected as a PB Party Finalist for my manuscript TOUCAN TANGO.
I received an Honorable Mention in the #50PreciousWords contest.
I initiated and ran #SaturdayStrides on Twitter for the whole year.
I received a request from an editor at Skyhorse Publishing for my manuscript THE MERRY MELODY FARM.
I received 6 hearts ♥️ from agents in various pitch contests.
I won several book giveaways and one critique giveaway.
My wonderful critique partners and I created and hosted the first annual #KidLitVibes writing contest. We had a stellar group of published authors come on board to donate prizes (critiques, books, etc), and we had a great turnout of writers enter the contest (135!!). It was a huge success, we had a ton of fun, and we only expect #KidLitVibes to continue to grow from here.
But, the most exciting thing to happen in 2022, was that I got to meet two of my critique partners in person. I met Lindsey in March, and I met Molly in August. And seriously, these were two of the biggest highlights of my year. 💕💕
And, because I always say you can’t be a writer without also being a reader, here are some of my favorite reads from the year, along with lots of library books we read too.
I haven’t written much this year, but if there’s one contest that’s going to dig in its claws and drag me back from a writing slump kicking and screaming, it’s Fall Writing Frenzy. 😄 🍁 👻 🎃
This contest is special. Two years ago, in 2020, it was this contest that brought my critique group together and we’re still going strong today. One year ago, in 2021, I was selected as one of the winners in this contest.
I’ll be honest—I didn’t think I would enter this year. It took awhile for any inspiration to strike. But I had a tiny seed of an idea and I couldn’t completely abandon it. Of course, I had to make things difficult and write my entry in limerick (I wrotelast year’s entry in haiku)…why do I do this to myself? 😅 It was a challenge, but I kept opening my laptop and tinkering little by little until, lo and behold, I had a finished story.
So, for this year’s contest, we had to choose one of 14 images provided and write a story about it in 200 words or less. Read more about Fall Writing Frenzy and see the complete rules here.
Here is the image I chose, and my story is below. I hope you enjoy it. 🦴 (One caveat—this story is a nod to the struggling writer, so if you’re not a writer, you may not appreciate it as much. 😉)
By Jessica Hinrichs 198 words
Here lies old Mister Jones, a mysterious sight of unknowns. But how did he get here? A corpse on the frontier, reduced to a bathtub of bones.
I asked all his friends ‘bout his story, expecting to learn something gory. Instead, what I found knocked my boots off the ground. He’d been destined for fortune and glory!
It turns out that Jones liked to write. His future had looked rather bright. But he didn’t know getting published is slooow or that waiting would be such a plight.
His debut had been long awaited. At first, he was feeling elated. But all of the waiting was highly frustrating and left him depressed and deflated.
So he set up his tub in a nook, intending to read a good book. He’d just settled in, was about to begin, and then death slithered in like a crook.
In his youth, he was dignified. Now he’s haggard and hollow-eyed. He’d been waiting so long, (and this part feels wrong) he just keeled over, dried up, and died.
The publishing rigamarole had swooped in and stolen his soul. And now he’s deceased. Mister Jones, rest in peace. Writing had been a worthy goal.
This year has turned out to be a sparse writing year for me. Other things have demanded my attention and, while I have written a few things here and there, my motivation and ideas have been lacking as of late.
Somehow though, some good things have still happened!
Most of you already know that I had a story published in Chicken Soup for the Soul, and the book is available in bookstores TODAY!!
I’ve been reading Chicken Soup since I was a teenager, so I’m honored and proud to have my words in one of their books. This story is extra special to me too because it’s the miraculous story of my son’s birth—how God surprised us and granted the desires of our hearts for a child after 11 years of marriage and infertility, and sustained and protected Samuel in my womb throughout incredible pregnancy complications. Our story sounds nearly impossible, but nothing is impossible with God!
I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention the other big news from the past month, which is…I got to meet my critique partner Molly in person!!!
Molly and her family traveled to Disney on vacation, so my family took a few days to head down to Orlando to see them! There was no way I could have my CP this close and not make every effort to go meet her!!
This is the second critique partner I’ve met in person this year!! (I met Lindsey in March!) One of the perks to living in Florida is that people love to come here on vacation…which works out great for me! 😄
These ladies are so special to me. Our critique group has been together since 2020, and we literally chat daily, not only about writing but about every aspect of our lives. They’ve become some of my very best friends. So, to have met TWO of them this year has been two big highlights of my year! 💖💖
May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month. And it just so happens, it’s also when I was diagnosed with melanoma myself, one year ago today.
Which means, I’m officially a ONE YEAR SURVIVOR!!
I know, you may be thinking, what’sthebigdeal? It’sjustskincancer; it’snotREALcancer. And it’s true that I did not have to endure chemo, radiation, or many of the other horrible side effects that so many cancer patients face. For that, I’m thankful. But, let me assure you, when you hear a doctor tell you that you have cancer (no matter what kind), the fear and distress are real. Even with skin cancer.
My diagnosis affected my mental health more than anything. Am I going to die? I can’t leave my son without a mother. Did we catch this soon enough? What if it has already spread? Why is my body turning against me? Does this mean I’ll be more susceptible to other cancers down the road too?
Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer. If it’s not detected and treated early, things can go south quickly. A year ago, I spent many restless nights worrying whether I would even be here today.
But fortunately, my skin cancer was able to be treated. A surgeon performed a wide excision procedure on the back of my left arm to remove the entire melanoma and all surrounding tissue. My pathology afterward showed clear margins. And one year later, here I am.
My scar is huge. (My melanoma was relatively small, by the way. You can read the full story here.) But I’ll gladly take a large scar, if it means I’m cancer free.
I’ve learned a couple things from this experience. Things that I already knew, but they’ve hit home more deeply after going through this.
1. Takethesunseriously. Wear sunscreen. Wear protective clothing. Find shady spots outside. Use hats, umbrellas, tents, etc. And for the love, stay away from tanning beds. While you’re at it, check your skin and see your dermatologist on the regular.
2. Trust God. That doesn’t mean everything will be easy. God didn’t promise a problem-free life. But He will carry us through the tough times. I said it last year and it’s still true today—when I was faced with such fear and panic, I was left with no choice but to surrender my entire life to a loving God who invites us to cast our cares on Him. “Cast all your anxiety on Him, for He cares for you.” -1 Peter 5:7
There’s freedom in that surrender, friends. There’s peace in accepting that God is holding me in the palm of His hand. I can choose to live my life in fear, or I can choose to breathe easy and put my trust in God. “Who of you by worrying, can add a single hour to your life?” -Matthew 6:27
One year post diagnosis, the fear has subsided some, but it still creeps up more than I’d like. I’m a work in progress. But I’m trying to rest in the knowledge that God created my inmost being, He ordained all my days before one of them came to be, and He’s not finished with me yet.
Thanks for the love, prayers, and support, friends. Love y’all! ❤️
A few weeks ago, I entered a manuscript into the annual PB Party contest. This is a highly anticipated and very competitive contest among the kidlit writing community. It only happens once a year and there is stiff competition. This year, nearly 1000 talented authors and/or illustrators entered.
A panel of judges combed through every entry and narrowed the list down to just 50 finalists.
I knew it was a long shot. But I went for it anyway. And, lo and behold—last Thursday evening, I found out that I was a finalist!!
This was my second year entering PB Party. I was not chosen as a finalist last year (although my critique partner Lindsey was!), but I’m so glad I didn’t give up and I tried again this year.
So, this week, I am currently in an agent/editor showcase with the other finalists. Over 60 literary agents and editors signed up to take part and they’ve been reviewing the entries all week. So far, one agent has requested my work. And I’m hopeful there may still be more requests before the week is done. There are no guarantees, of course. But, even if nothing comes of this, I feel honored that my work was recognized and chosen out of such a large pool of incredibly talented creators.
Meanwhile, as I was still basking in the excitement of my PB Party finalist status, winners were announced for the 50 Precious Words contest that I had also entered earlier this month. I found out that I was chosen as an Honorable Mention in that contest! There were nearly 750 amazing entries in that contest, so to get any recognition at all feels wonderful!
To top it all off, my friend and critique partner Lindsey just happens to have come to my area on vacation this week! So we finally got to meet in person for the first time (even though I feel like I’ve known her forever!). 😍😍😍 We enjoyed an oceanfront lunch and an afternoon on the beach together. And it topped my other wins this week by a mile! Seriously, it was absolutely the highlight of my week to meet my dear friend. ❤️
It’s easy to get down trying to make it in this business. There is a lot of rejection and ups and downs. Not to mention, I’ve been in a writing slump lately. So to have this much excitement lately despite it all has been an unexpected blessing. It’s been a great month!
It’s March (how is it March already?!) and that means it’s time for this year’s #50PreciousWords contest, run by author Vivian Kirkfield. I’m super excited to enter this contest for the second year in a row.
You probably guessed that stories entered in this contest cannot exceed 50 words. It sounds easy, right? Well…it can actually be quite a challenge to write a full story with a true story arc in such a limited word count. But, picture book writers know to make every word count, so this contest is great practice at cutting outall the unnecessary fluff.
Read more about the #50PreciousWords contest here.
I hope you enjoy my entry below:
By Jessica Hinrichs
“Mom, where does milk come from?”
“Some milk comes from cows,
and some milk comes from goats,
coconuts or soy,
or sometimes even oats.
Some milk comes from nuts,
like almonds or cashews.
All milk is delish!
Which milk would you choose?”
I’m excited to kick off 2022 with what else, but another kidlit writing contest. This contest is super special because KIDS get to choose the winners. And they’re the ones who matter the most anyway, right?! Read all about the first annual Kids’ Choice Kidlit Writing Contest on Kailei Pew’s blog here. Kailei has put together a panel of around 100 kid judges, and it’s going to be so fun to find out which stories they choose!
Now, admittedly, I didn’t write an entirely new story for this contest. My entry is a (shorter version of a) story I originally wrote for Susanna Leonard Hill’s 2020 Holiday Contest, where it won an Honorable Mention. That story was 250 words, but I shortened this one a bit to fit the word count parameters for this contest. I hope you like it!
THE MERRY MELODY FARM
By Jessica Hinrichs
Genre: PB (199 words)
It was a peaceful Christmas Eve on the farm. The animals were snoring softly when suddenly . . .
THUMP! THUD! CRASH!
“What on earth?!” Duck cried.
The barn door creaked open and in stepped . . .
“HO, HO, HELLO! I’m in a bit of a pickle, friends. Could you lend a helping hand?”
“Would you settle for a helping hoof?” asked Pig.
Santa chuckled. “Ohhh, yes!”
“How can we help, Santa?” Horse asked.
Santa explained, “My sleigh flew into stormy weather and crashed. But music will restore its power so it can fly again. I need the most magical, merry melodies you can muster!”
“We love to sing!” Cow replied.
The animals gathered around Santa’s sleigh.
Cow crooned, “Have yourself a MOOEY little Christmas.”
Horse hummed, “A-NEIGH in a manger.”
Sheep shrilled, “Jingle BAA, Jingle BAA.”
The sleigh sputtered. “It’s working!” Santa shouted. “Keep singing!”
Pig squealed, “OINK to the world.”
Duck bebopped, “QUACKin’ around the Christmas tree.”
A choir of cats harmonized, “We wish you a MEOWY Christmas.”
It was the sweetest serenade Santa had ever heard!
The sleigh REVVED . . . it ROARED . . . it ROCKED . . .
then it lifted off the ground!!
The animals cheered!
“Thank you, friends!” Santa waved. “You’ve saved Christmas!”
Children’s author Julie Hedlund, challenged participants of her 12 Days of Christmas for Writers series to post SUCCESSES (rather than resolutions) on our blogs this year. She believes the way New Year’s resolutions are traditionally made come from a place of negativity – what DIDN’T get done or achieved in the previous year. Instead, she suggests we set goals for the New Year that BUILD on our achievements from the previous one. I decided to participate in this Anti-Resolution Revolution! Here are my lists of successes and surprises from 2021.
I submitted work to Chicken Soup for the Soul, Reader’s Digest, and various children’s magazines, including Highlights and Ladybug (a few of my submissions are still outstanding, so fingers crossed 🤞🏻).
I wrote a total of 10 picture book drafts this year.
I started writing a middle-grade novel.
And most exciting, I had two full requests by agents this year.
I received a total of 4 agent hearts ♥️ during various pitch events this year (which is 4 more than I received in 2020!).
I set a goal this year to double my Twitter following from 1K to 2K. Amazingly, through engagement and relationship building, I surpassed that goal and grew to over 2500 followers.
I’m still not published or agented, which feels disappointing. I love writing, and I wish I had something to show for it. But, writing out these lists of positive things that DID happen in 2021, really helps keep things in perspective. I grew and made progress toward my goals this year, even if that progress feels slow.
I also want to recognize that this has been a tough year in a lot of ways. Some of you may remember that I was diagnosed with melanoma in May, which set me back for awhile, as I dealt with the physical and emotional aspects of that.
I also turned 40 this year, I potty-trained my toddler, and transitioned him into preschool for the first time ever. My family traveled out of state twice to visit family, we hosted out-of-town guests four times, and we made four trips to Disney (we are Florida residents with annual passes, so that’s not as extravagant as it sounds, but it made for a lot of overall travel).
When I think back on this year, I’m actually amazed I got anything accomplished at all. We read a LOT of picture books from our own collection, as well as from the library. And I even made time to read a few books for myself, because as I’ve said before, you can’t be a writer without also being a reader.
And I can’t end this blog without giving a shout-out to my wonderful critique partners—Molly, Lindsey, and Gennie. We’ve been together over a year now, and we’ve all said we might’ve given up by now if it wasn’t for the support and camaraderie that we’ve found in each other. I am so proud of everything they are accomplishing in their own journeys, and I’m so glad to call these lovely ladies friends. ♥️
So, that’s a wrap on 2021, folks. See y’all in 2022! Happy New Year!! 🎉
Earlier this year, I wrote and submitted this story to Chicken Soup for the Soul’s 2021 Christmas edition. It was not accepted, but I know there is a LOT of competition, for the Christmas edition especially. So that’s okay. I still wanted to share it with you here, since we are in the Advent season right now. This story is based on real events from my childhood. I hope you enjoy it. Merry Christmas!
The Advent Log
By Jessica Hinrichs
A crisp breeze blew and the autumn leaves crunched beneath our feet, leaving an earthy scent lingering in the air. Dad, my two brothers, and I hiked deep into the woods behind Grandma and Grandpa’s house until a fallen tree came into view. Though I was just eight years old, the beautiful Black Cherry tree had been there as far back as I could remember.
“What’s the plan?” asked my brother Nathan.
“I’ll chop most of this up to use as firewood,” Dad answered, resting his axe on the ground. “But, in the meantime, we need to find the perfect log for a special project I have in mind.”
We shuffled around the fallen tree, searching. My brother Marcus spotted a large log, about three feet long and about as round in diameter as a dessert plate. It appeared to be straight and in good condition. “How’s this, Dad?”
“Great! That’s an exquisite log!” Dad answered.
I raised one eyebrow. Exquisite? It looked like any old ordinary log to me.
Nevertheless, we lugged it home and got to work.
Dad drilled 28 one-inch holes along the length of the log, then coated the rich cherry bark with polyurethane to help preserve it and make it shine. “What are we making?” I asked, perplexed.
Dad smiled. “You’ll see.”
After the log dried, my brothers and I worked together to secure twelve-inch-tall taper candles into the holes Dad had drilled. Most of the candles were white, but one candle in the very center was red. Dad positioned the finished log as the centerpiece on the dining room table. Mom dressed it up by wrapping a fresh pine garland around the length of it as decoration.
Inhaling the sweet pine scent, I stared at this enormous candle holder that now occupied much of the surface area of our table. I furrowed my eyebrows. “What is this?”
Dad stood back and motioned his hands as if to say Ta Da! “This is an Advent Log.”
“What’s Advent?” I asked.
Dad explained, “Simply put, it’s the Christmas season. Advent is the period of four Sundays leading up to Christmas. Christians celebrate this special season of waiting as we anticipate the birth of Baby Jesus. Do you see that red candle in the center?”
“That’s called the Christ candle. It represents Christmas Day. We’re going to light one new candle on our Advent Log each night, as we countdown to Christmas Day.”
I grinned. “Sounds fun!”
The next evening, my whole family gathered around the Advent Log. The soft glow from the Christmas tree illuminated the nearby living room. The smell of gingerbread wafted in from the kitchen.
We dimmed the overhead lights and I lit the first candle. We sat still, listening to Dad’s low soothing voice as he read a Christmas devotional out loud. Then the whole family sang Christmas carols. I sang a solo during “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” and I giggled when my brothers used silly voices during “We Three Kings.” Dad prayed, then Mom let me use the candle snuffer to put out the single candle.
The next night, we lit two candles. The night after that, three. And so on. My brothers and I took turns lighting the candles, alternating sides of the Advent Log each evening. Gradually, the candles on the outer edges melted down shorter than the inner candles, creating a cascading effect as we worked our way toward the center Christ candle.
Night after night, we gathered around the Advent Log. Sometimes my brothers and I fought over whose turn it was to light the candles. Sometimes our silly singing voices overshadowed the sacred carols we sang. Sometimes my brothers wagged their fingers through the flames or picked at the wax dripping down the log. Mom and Dad scolded them. “Boys, don’t touch! That wax is hot!”
Though the Advent Log was sometimes an invitation to this sort of childhood miscreance, it was mostly a tranquil and reverent scene. The daily practice of gathering around the log for this time of reflection instilled in each of us that the true meaning of Christmas was the birth of our Savior. Our hearts felt light with Christmas cheer as we awaited Christmas Day.
Snow fell on Christmas morning, blanketing the ground in idyllic powdery perfection. My brothers and I bounded out of our bedrooms, still cozy in our warm fleece pajamas and thick winter socks. Dad lit the fire and Mom made our favorite Christmas breakfast—savory cheesy sausage balls and warm sticky cinnamon rolls. A few leftover gingerbread cookies made their way onto our plates as well.
My brothers and I were eager to rip into our stuffed stockings and piles of presents under the tree. “Not so fast, kids! We’re going to celebrate the ‘Reason for the Season’ before any of that,” Dad reminded us. So we gathered around the Advent Log one last time. Dad read the Christmas story from the gospel of Luke and we sang carols, my brothers and I sounding extra spirited as we anticipated the Christmas festivities to follow.
The Advent Log, now fully lit, glowed and twinkled like stars in the Bethlehem sky. As I watched the flickering flames, I felt a warmth in my heart, and it all made sense. The Advent Log had transformed from an ordinary log into a bright shining reminder that Jesus is the light of the world.
Year after year, my family used the Advent Log to celebrate the Advent season in this special way. It became a cherished Christmas tradition.
Time passed. My brothers and I grew older. One by one, we each left home to start our own families.
The Advent Log was packed away and forgotten.
Years later, my first nephew was born. As Christmas neared, my brother Nathan held his infant son and fondly recalled the many Christmases from our childhood spent around the Advent Log.
And Nathan had an idea!
He drove over to Mom and Dad’s house. Dad was sitting in his high back chair, a book in his hand and a mug of tea on the side table next to him, when Nathan walked through the front door. “Nathan! How nice to see you, son!”
“Hi, Dad!” Nathan greeted him. “Whatever happened to the old Advent Log?”
Dad tapped his chin. “Let’s go look for it.”
Together, they searched the basement until they found the Advent Log. Remnants of wax drippings were still visible on the outside; the inside still held sweet memories of bygone times with family. Dad and Nathan cleaned up the dusty, old log. Soon, it looked as good as new.
Nathan hauled home the refurbished log. And that year, he began the Advent Log tradition with his own family. One day, he will pass it on to his son too, and our cherished Advent Log will live on.