Pages by Madeleine James, Winner of High School Write-Ahead Poetry

Our final winner from the 2nd Annual TBAWP Youth Writers Conference comes from the High School Write-Ahead Poetry Contest where participants were asked to write about the topic of conformity in a poem that played with form. We called it “Con(form)ity.”


by Madeleine James

A size too small Jolyn,
A large shirt that says some Florida school,
A pair of Nike pros.
All the things I can buy.

Taste in music.
Taste in guys.
Taste in clothes.
All the things I can fake.

Sense of humor.
Sense of style.
Sense of self.
All the things I can hide.

My experience.
My ideals.
My life.
All the things I can’t change.

Throughout life I would put on a cover.
Perfectly composed,
devised based on the life I was in.
Covering up the pages.

For years I hide under my thousands of covers,
piling one on top of another,
creating new ones with the changing groups,
allowing my pages to become unrecognizable.

But eventually the pages unbound.
They fell.
Slipping from their covers,
they landed naked on the floor.

I was forced to decide,
Put the thousands of covers back on,
knowing they’ll eventually come crashing down,
or show people the pages.

I decided to show the pages.

Madeleine James is a 10th Grader at Steinbrenner High School. She is on the staff of her school’s literary magazine, The Echo.

One Bad Nightmare by Cameron Brown, Winner of Middle School Write-Ahead Short Story

For our Middle School Short Story contest, we took a little inspiration from Bon Jovi and asked writers to give us a story that included the words “You’re halfway there…” Our winning story, is far from living on a prayer. It is a haunting tale of halloween, rhymes, and courage.

One Bad Nightmare

by Cameron Brown

“It’s just decorations, it’s not haunted.” Sam told himself as he approached the house with his Trick-or-Treating bag.  

He had never seen the house before, except it wasn’t new.  It was old and rotted. 

As he stepped onto the porch, he could feel the floorboards creaking beneath him.  He looked back up at the house and noticed there were holes all over the wood. The door was covered in splinters, so he decided to find the doorbell instead.  But, instead of making a normal doorbell chime, it made the sound of a scream: high-pitched, loud, and he could feel it echoing through his ears. He turned around to flee when he saw a light turn on inside. 

Curious, Sam turned to look over his shoulder, and his eye was drawn up the five stories of the rickety structure.

There was a light in a high window.  It glowed yellow, the way a normal light would.  But what was looking at him through the window wasn’t normal.

Two huge gray scaly hands with long snakelike fingers that ended in sharp, dirty, uneven fingernails held the curtain open.

A pair of big, yellow eyes with sharp reptilian pupils looked down at him; a large grin of sharp, crooked teeth, blood drooling all the way down to the windowsill.

The most terrifying thing of all was not the creature’s appearance, but the way it sounded inside Sam’s head.  He could hear a raspy voice that sounded like thousands of snakes dragging knives against a chalkboard. Delicioussss, sssavory, sssweet, scrumptiousss, flavorful children.  Oh, so sstupendous. More delectable morselss to add to my spectacular, sstunning ssstew.

Sam wanted to run away, but he felt entranced, as if he couldn’t move; frozen with fear.  Suddenly, the door burst open and a sweet aroma of many different treats wafted through the air and carried Sam into the house.  

The door slammed shut behind him.  Sam paid no attention to this, as the smell guided him to the dining room.   He saw before him an entire table set with an assortment of cakes, cobblers, pies, cookies, candies, and other treats.

Sam reached for a pastry, and was about to take a bite, when he realized that it might not be set for him.  He looked around the house, but saw no one. Then, feeling hungry, he bit down on the treat in his hand. He began filling his Trick-or-Treating bag with candies when he heard a loud noise coming from another room.  It was the sound of a piano.

He crept around the house, until he finally found himself at the door of a music room.  Slowly, he opened the door and saw a piano with keys that were playing by themselves. 

Curious, Sam slinked into the room.   Then he heard a voice. Not in his head like before, but a female voice, out loud, and in song:

Have you come to play?

Do you want to stay?

Melodies can last a while

When there’s nothing else to do.

Now let’s have some fun

Have at you!

As soon as the last line ended, a flute darted right toward Sam.  Sam managed to dodge it just in time, and it ended up hitting the door, and damaging it.  

Look at what you made me do.

I am starting to hate you.

I hope that we can still have fun

Down here where you’ll never see the sun.

Suddenly, a group of trumpets started playing, and a tuba was flung right at Sam’s gut.  It hit him and knocked him back into the door. He was hurt, but not too badly damaged. As soon as he got up, he was bombarded with percussion instruments.  As a snare drum flew past him, another line of the song began:

See, now wasn’t that entertaining?

Wasn’t it very neat?

I don’t want to hear complaining

Now come and take a seat.

In an instant, he was flung into one of the chairs and the notes on the sheet in front of him began to rise from the pages. The music began getting faster, and he felt like the girl was going to begin singing again, so instead, he decided to add his own verse:

“You see, your idea of fun is dull,

and it’s not very entertaining.

Call it whatever you want,

but I am definitely complaining.”

Just then, a discordant sound rang out, and a violin string popped.  A snare drum fell to the ground. One of the keys on the piano fell off, and the room filled with the sound of a little girl throwing a temper tantrum.  The music just kept playing, no matter how out of tune it was. And then, she started singing one final verse:

I’m growing tired of your complaining, 

When will the sound of you start waning?

I am growing very tired.

Is your brain hardwired?

It is very annoying.

So it’s you that I’m destroying!

The music started to go so fast that it sounded more chaotic than carnival.  The room started to glow red, and a skeletal figure began to appear with long black hair and a white dress.  As terrified as Sam was, he knew that he couldn’t give up now, so he sang another verse:

My words that you call complaining,

are what I should be explaining.

It is not a crime or felony 

to express someone’s feelings through a melody.

You of all people should know this 

But you certainly don’t show it.”

The music stopped.  The levitating instruments dropped to the ground with a loud thud, and the room’s lighting returned to normal.  The skeletal figure’s body started to calm down and to fade.  

She said these final verses before disappearing forever:

You may be a jerk, 

and your idea of fun is tainted.

But from everything I’ve learned, 

With you, I’m now acquainted.

The room returned to normal as if nothing had happened, but the instruments stayed on the ground, broken.  On the music sheet in front of Sam, there was a note:

“If you wish to find the secret of this house, and find a way to escape it, 

then you must remember the only way out is through cleansing the tainted.”

Beside the note, there was a strange looking key.

Sam took the note and the key, and went off to the hallway.  As he passed by the dining room, he noticed the food was gone, replaced by the bleeding organs of people who had presumably been in here before.

He spotted a door that looked like the strange key would fit.  He inserted the key into the lock and turned the knob. He opened the door a crack and he felt a chill go down his spine.  For right there, in front of him, was a skeleton with pale silver eyes in its sockets that Sam knew could see right into his very soul.  

Sam tried slamming the door and locking it, but as soon as he turned around, the skeleton was there.  Sam ran, and it chased him throughout the house until Sam was cornered in the dining room. Without thinking, Sam threw one of the organs from the table at the skeleton.  Surprisingly enough, it distracted the skeleton long enough for him to hide in the closet. Much to Sam’s dismay, this proved to be a BAD idea, for whoever had owned this house had many skeletons in their closet…five to be exact. 

Sam ran out of the closet, but he was quickly surrounded by all five of them.  He had no idea what to do, but since throwing stuff worked the first time, he tried it again.  He threw pieces of candy from his treat bag at them until he started running low on the good chocolate ones.  They inhaled the candy, and started growing. They turned toward Sam and started advancing on him.  

Sam was running out of ideas.  He backed toward the stairway door, and opened it.  He bolted in, closed it and locked it behind him. He turned around just to make sure that they hadn’t materialized again.  They were banging on the door still. Sam had made it out of the frying pan, but he would have to venture deeper into the fire.

He crept up the staircase when he saw a familiar pair of yellow eyes staring down at him.  You’re halfway there… it’s a shame you won’t make it any further!  In fact, I’m sssurprised you made it past my minionsss.   Usually they manage to catch any prey that wanders too deep into my territory. 

Sam was about to take a step backwards when he discovered that the wall behind him was starting to close in.  The monster cackled in Sam’s head. You cannot go back…only forward from here. 

Sam kept walking upstairs until he found himself in a strange attic.  In front of him was a giant cauldron with slimy green and blood red liquids swirling around.  The voice of the monster spoke inside Sam’s head once again.  This is the source of my power.  This is the cauldron of Halloween; one of the most powerful items known to man.  So powerful it was abandoned in the depths of the underworld.  

“Why does this matter?” Sam said.  

The creature spoke:  I was one of the greatest sorcerers of all time .  I was so great, that even the gods were frightened by me.  I was accused of using witchcraft and black magic for my own “ssselfish” reasons.  So I was banished to the underworld. But, every millennia or so, my powers return on Hallow’s Eve, and I return to seek revenge on those who banished me. 

What’s your name?” Sam asked.  

I am the spirit of Halloween. I am the one source of fear that no one can destroy.  I am the being that created this entire manor that you see before you. I am fear and fright and everyone’s nightmare.  I am TERROR itself.

Sam felt like all the life had been drained out of him.  He looked at the cauldron holding his source of power. He asked, “How is the cauldron connected to you?”

As I told you, I was one of the greatest magicians ever.  The only way I could have gained such power was to sell my soul to evil forces.  I was banished to the underworld, where I found the cauldron. It’s aura called me to connect myself to it. Now, I cannot be killed unless the cauldron is destroyed, or if someone were to tear my soul from it and bring it back into my body.  And only a skilled magician would know how to do that. 

“So, why don’t you just kill me right now?” Sam asked.  “Why are you telling me this?” 

I am telling you this because you have made it further than anyone before you.  You may think it’s dumb luck, but I believe you have magic in you, magic that I do not possess.  If I were to take your soul, I would have that power for my own, and I would become a god.

Sam got an idea.  He twisted with all of his strength and broke free from the creature’s grip.  

“NO!  WHAT ARE YOU DOING!”  the creature shouted out loud.  

“Getting rid of you once and for all!” yelled Sam. 

And, with all his might, Sam grabbed the cauldron and he started to glow, his hands burned with white flames, and a white light shot from his chest.  The cauldron started melting and the slimy liquids oozed from the cauldron onto the floor where they turned to dust. The cauldron finally disintegrated and the house started to crumble.  A hole burned inside the spirit’s chest and the last thing that Sam heard before passing out was the evil being screeching in pain as it burned.

Cameron Brown is a 6th grader at Rampello Downtown Partnership K-8. He attended I.C.E. Writers Corbett the last several summers.

Nature of the Earth By Lindsay Paulson, Winner of Middle School Write-Ahead Poetry

Below is the winner of our Middle School Poetry Write-Ahead Contest, Nature of the Earth by Lindsay Paulson. This category asked entrants to create a Found Poem.

Nature of the Earth

by Lindsay Paulson

One can see no thing as beautiful as an early spring flower, I realized shortly after sunset, falling in love. Once you experience the aroma and even occurrence to be savored, limitations require a reality check.

Fragile buds were sprouting at the thought. Colorful goldfinch dove into a throng of crazed clouds.

I care to remember a statuesque bright summer bouquet. A fresh floral cascade will be a nice memento.  

Once you have positively fallen in love with the intoxicating future- a most special event- that is a strength so saints be praised!

Source: The Bride’s Guide to Wedding Photography

Lindsay Paulson is a 6th Grader at Coleman Middle School. In 2019, she attended the I.C.E. Writers South Tampa camp.

Yuck! by Muryum Firoz Winner of the Elementary Short Story Write-Ahead Contest

For our Elementary Short Story Write-Ahead competition we asked our youth writers to “write a short story about the grossest thing you ever witnessed (or heard about) at school. Here’s the trick: don’t just gross me out. You have to make me laugh, too.” As you can see, we’re not afraid to embrace our silly side at TBAWP.

Yuck! Oops, no whispering shhhhhhhhhh……….

by Muryum Firoz

“Phhhhhffftttttttt” farted John. “ Someone farted, but who was it?” questioned everyone in class. I turned to my left where the disgusting odor of rotten eggs or maybe a stale banana was coming from. John slid down lower on the rug sheepisly. Robin saw me grimacing and staring at John and whispered  to Ken sitting next to her, “It’s John!” Ann muttered to Katy and Katy purred to Mia and soon the whole class was giggling  and as it was circle time, the last one to be mumbled to was John. “It was John you know! ” said Ravi to John trying to keep a straight face and changing it to “It was you!” as he realized he was talking to John himself. John tried to laugh with the other kids till Miss Kaylee silenced us. “What  exactly is the meaning of this immature behaviour?” she addressed the whole class. “ Why are you ridiculing a child for farting ?” Everyone became quiet for a few seconds till  “Phhhhhffftttttttt”  and the giggling started again as Miss Kaylee had farted too. “What I mean is everyone does it, you cant help it !” she went on trying to ignore the laughter. “ Right Miss Kaylee! ” we chorused and burst into even louder laughter. Miss Kaylee was very mad now and also self-conscious. Her face was turning red with anger and embarrassment. She just rushed out of the room. We all giggled again after someone said “Toot, toot, here comes the choo-choo train.Who’s next?”

Muryum Firoz is a 5th grader at Countryside Montessori Charter School. Muryum has been attending FIRE camp with Ms Abercrombie for 3 years and this year attended EARTH publication camp as well.

Recess Time by Sarah Henderson, Winner of Elementary School Poetry Write-Ahead Contest

Below is the winner of our Elementary Poetry Write-Ahead Contest, Recess Time by Sarah Henderson. The competition prompt asked students to consider how “slides, swings, and monkey bars, literary devices are a writer’s playground. Write a poem about an actual playground using as many literary devices as you can.”

Recess Time
by Sarah Henderson

When the bell beckons for kids
to come outside, Kids run for
the monkey bars
and the spiral slide. 

Kids run around blowing off
their steam, Kids start a
kickball game and they start
picking the team. 

Kids play on the jungle gym
round and round they go,
Kids have fun they even
say so. 

Kids are excited to
escape from school,
When it’s recess time
they make their own rule. 

Recess is the best
part of the day. Kids
enjoy it they go their
own way. 

The field is full, so is
the jungle gym, Balls
are bouncing off the
basketball rim. 

People seek
some people hide,
Darn, it’s time to
come inside!

Sarah Henderson is a 5th Grader at Hammond Elementary. She attended I.C.E. Writers North Tampa camp this past summer. On the day of 2019 TBAWP Youth Writers Conference, she was also the runner-up in the Write-On Poetry competition.

Winners of Write-On Contests

The 2019 TBAWP Youth Writers Conference yesterday was a huge and resounding success! Just look at some of our authors and attendees gushing on twitter!

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There were more, but you get the idea! The day was also a success for those of our young writers who participated in our “Write-On” Contests. These contests are conducted the day of the conference and only open to conference attendees. Youth get the contest prompt at registration and their entries are due by lunch.

For Poetry, writers were asked to write about the feeling of being nervous but they weren’t allowed to use the word “nervous.” As Dr. Pat Daniels pointed out – with a wink – when she was giving the awards, “It’s almost like they had to show instead of tell, huh?”

And the winners are…

Elementary Runner-Up: Sarah Henderson of I.C.E. Writers Corbett

Elementary Winner: Avery Maxwell of I.C.E. Writers South Tampa

Middle School Winner: Inaaya firoz of F.I.R.E. Writers and E.A.R.T.H.

For Fiction, writers were told to set their story in a doctor’s office and that their entry must include the word “fly” (though they could use any of fly’s many meanings or put it in any tense).

And the winners are…

Elementary Runner-Up: Jory Haulton of Trinity Oaks Elementary School

Elementary Winner: Katy Warren of I.C.E. Writers Corbett

Middle School Runner-Up: Ashley Zhang of I.C.E. Writers Corbett

Middle School Winner: Cameron Brown of I.C.E. Writers Corbett

Congrats to all who submitted!

Be following us here on word press or on twitter as we announce the winners of our Write-Ahead Contests in the next few days – as well as publish their winning entries!