Storystorm 2018: Idea Generation

Start 2018 with a batch of new story ideas by taking part in Storystorm.  At one point in time, this program, organized by author Tara Lazar, was known as PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month) and took place in November.  But Tara wanted to expand it beyond picture books.

Now all types of children’s writers participate.  Throughout January you keep track of the ideas you generate.  The goal is to have 30 ideas by the end of the month.  There are inspirational posts and prizes for all who complete the program.  You can find out more about it here.

I found Storystorm so inspirational in 2017 that I didn’t quit when January ended.  I kept on adding to my list.  As I write this on 12/28, my list is something like 320 ideas long.  Yeah, I was a little disappointed.  I wanted one per day.

Some people discount this type of idea generation.  Who cares if you collect ideas if you don’t write them all?

  1.  Not all ideas are created equal.  Some simply do not measure up.
  2. By getting into the habit of generating story ideas, you get into the habit of generating ideas.  This my just be my opinion, but in my not-so-humble opinion, generating story ideas leads to generating other ideas.  Your stories become more original.
  3. Your list becomes a handy tool.  I have several projects that I plan to work on next year that came together because of this list.  I also use it when I need to come up with ideas for a query or pitch.  Or a nonfiction publisher puts out a call for proposals.

This paragraph is an update to the original post:  Lazar is now taking registrations.  Comment on the announcment post on her blog (linked here) to register.

This program is amazingly inspirational.  Why not take part and start your writing year in a whirlwind of creativity?

For more on idea generation, see “Idea Generation: Where Do You Get Your Ideas” and “3 Places to Turn for Story Ideas.”


Research: An Opportunity to Set the Record Straight

My not especially accurate nativity.

Tuesday morning I was reading through various articles when I came across a piece on flaws in the traditional nativity narrative.  In short, looking at the original text and knowing a thing or two about the local culture allows contemporary translators and scholars to straighten out a few kinks concerning where the baby would have been born. He would have been born in the family quarters and laid in the manger located in that part of the home.

The article I read appeared here on the Presbyterian Outlook web page. It included research into the culture of that area at that time.  Instead of going back to the Latin text (the Latin Bible from which the King James Bible was created) scholars went back to the original Greek.  This meant that they were one step closer to the story as originally told.

It can be easy to see why you need to use current research when writing about science, but people who write history often wonder why they should look for new scholarship on their topic. Writing a story or article using only older sources means that you will be rehashing what has already been written.  Yes, you may write it better.  And you may write it for a new audience.  But the information will be the same old same old.

If, on the other hand, you look at more recent scholarship, you will have the opportunity to create an updated, more accurate narrative.  This is especially important when the updated account allows for a more complete story that doesn’t malign a particular cultural group, race, or religion. It helps readers, even young readers, move from a story based on preconceptions and misunderstandings to a more complete picture.

For more on research, check out Research: How Much is EnoughResearch: Organizing What You Find, and The Library of Congress: Research and Idea .


Women of NASA

What do you get for Christmas when you’re a good children’s writer?  Fortunately, I live among people who know me well.

My husband gave me the Women of NASA Lego set.  I’ve wanted this one ever since it was first announced.  I wrote about all but one of these women.

My niece gave me bookends that look like antique typewriters. These are going to go in my office as soon as I clean off three more shelves and can hang my new bookshelves.

My friend gave me a pair of leggings that look like a star-filled night sky.  I’ll be wearing them to yoga so that my back is healthy and allows me to spend time at the computer writing.

And my brother-in-law gave me an idea for a new story.  He recently went to a talk on bees and the urban environment and just how unique our own area is where these little flying honey-making wonders are concerned.  I’ve got to look for a book that was recently published but this is pretty timely and hopeful so it is definitely something that I want to look into.

I hope that you’ve all taken a few days to rest, recharge and prepare to write well into 2018.  And, with that in mind, I have a Lego set to assemble.


Merry Christmas!

From my office to yours – Merry Christmas.

I’m going to be taking a few days off for Christmas.  Between his family, my family, and our family, we are celebrating tonight, Sunday and Monday.  And that doesn’t even include get togethers with friends.

Take some time and recharge your creative batteries.  Get out there and interact and gather the inspiration you need for a writing-filled 2018.

Merry Christmas, all!


Fiction or Nonfiction: An Opportunity to Craft the Best Story

Recently, I read a blog post, that I can’t seem to locate today, about a story that was loosely based on the author’s family.  It could have been written as a memoir but she chose to write fiction.  Why?  Because she felt it made a stronger story with greater reader appeal.

That can be a tough call because there are so many marvelous TRUE stories in the world.  We want to write them all.

But if we are going to write them as nonfiction, we have to stick with the facts.  That means that the dialogue has to be verifiable as do the character motivations.  Unfortunately, these are often the hardest facts to confirm when writing nonfiction.

Writing a story as fiction, on the other hand, can make for a stronger story.  For one thing, you get to fill in those blanks as well as purify the main character’s motivation.  Of course, you can also give them a selfish or bigoted motivation if that makes for a stronger story.

Fiction also allows you to dabble with the timeline.  This means that you can compress the story to a shorter time frame to increase tension.  You can create a reason for a delay.  You can also change-up the order in which various events happened.

Nancy Churnin’s Manjhi Moves a Mountain is a fictional picture book based on true events.  In the picture book, two villages are separated by a mountain.  One village is well off.  The other is poor.  Manjhi lives in the poor village and he sees how much better life would be if there was an easier way for the people in the poor village to access the resources in the other village.  One night, the takes a hammer and chisel to the mountain.

In reality, Manjhi’s task began as a love story.  He wanted to make it easier for his wife to get the medical care she needed.  Yes, he eventually came to see how it would benefit the whole village but that was not his initial motivation. Churnin simplified his motivation creating a story that would have stronger picture book appeal.

Nonfiction or fiction.  The question you have to answer as the author is this – which would make a better story for your audience?


Best of Lists: An Opportunity to Learn

Best stem booksWhen you see a recommended books list online, do you check it out?  Or do you scroll on past?  I always make a point of seeing which books are listed, especially if the list overlaps with my own work.

Recently, I read a Children’s Book Council post about the National Science Teachers Association list of the best STEM books for 2018 (published in 2017).  It would be such a thrill to land on this list one year so, of course, I printed it out and will be reading each and every one of the books.  In doing so, I’ll learn what science teachers look for in a STEM book.  I’ll be learning from the best.  Click on a link to the lists for 2017 and 2018 here.

The annual ALA awards, including the Newbery and the Caldecott are chosen by a panel of librarians.  I read those books to see which books Librarians thing are top-notch.

When I see a list, I check out who voted on the titles.  Librarians look for different qualities than do classroom teachers.  Parents look for another set of qualities.  Young readers?  They have yet a different set of criteria.  Each one can teach us something important about what appeals to that audience.

So when you see a list that has been pulled together by members of your audience, take a good luck.  But also be sure to know how each list is chosen.  Some take nominations and those on the list had the greatest number of votes.  Others have to be okayed by everyone on the panel of judges.

Spend some time reviewing the titles and be sure to check out the ones that are similar to your own work.  Perhaps this will mean reading picture books.  Or biographies.  Or STEM titles.  The more you read, the more you will learn about writing a book that appeals to your particular audience.


Titles and Wordplay: An Opportunity to Make Your Own Story

Recently I read a post about how illustrator Jake Parker came up with cover for The 12 Sleighs of ChristmasOh, it’s just like the 12 Days of Christmas.  Funny!   Before long, I too was playing with the title of the carol.

The 12 Brays of Christmas, a Missouri mules picture book.

The 12 Greys of Christmas, a picture book of alien encounters.

Drays, phrase, mays or maize . . .

The 12 Maize of Christmas, colorful corn for Chris Kringle.

Whether you start with a carol or a folk tale, wordplay is a great opportunity to generate story ideas.  My son’s favorite when he was a preschooler was the Three Little Pears.  We had started out with the made up story The Three Little Rocket Ships, which he liked because he was a rocket crazy kid who could tell a Mercury Redstone from an Atlas at a glance.  But the story he loved was the Three Little Pears.

Little Pears.  Little Squares.  Little Mares.

When you get into the habit of playing with words, the possibilities are endless.  Kids love silly.  You just need to find something that you can use to generate a workable story.  You can play around to come up with your title and story idea, your setting (New York, New Pork, New Fork) and character names (see Three Little Pears) and more.

Granted your brain has to be in a playful mood but that’s okay.  When it is take advantage of this opportunity to generate a little of silly story ideas.




Book Covers Revealed

Merry Christmas to me!  Abdo Publishing recently posted my two most recent books with them.

The Dakota Access Pipeline is a January release.  Here is the publisher’s description:  “The Dakota Access Pipeline follows the controversy surrounding the building of the pipeline and the associated month-long protests at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota.”

Advertising Overload was written with Duchess Harris.  It is part of a new Abdo imprint, Duchess Harris, designed around authoritative, scholarly content.  Here is the publisher’s description for this one:  “Media outlets rely on advertising for financial support, but in many cases it’s becoming more difficult to determine where the news ends and advertising begins. Advertising Overload takes a closer look at the encroachment of sponsored content and paid advertisements in areas where consumers might not expect to see them, as well as the ways that companies use collected data to push targeted advertising at consumers.”

While I’m proud of my work on both books, I’m really looking forward to seeing The Dakota Access Pipeline.  This is a topic that is near and dear to my heart.

I’m lucky to get to work on so many books with Abdo.  Their design team is top-notch!  I’ve got several more projects in the works with them so I’ll keep you posted as those move into publication.

Until then?  I’ll be enjoying my two latest.


Happy Book Birthday: An Opportunity to Promote Your Work

Are you a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI)?  If so, SCBWI has a new opportunity for PAL members to promote their books.

Beginning in February 2018, the Happy Book Birthday program offers members the chance to announce new books in the month each is released. This opportunity is available to both traditionally and independently published members. Send an email to This message should include:

Book title
Names of author and/or illustrator
Book cover
Maximum 25-word summary or statement

On the first of each month, a Book Birthday page will go up on the SCBWI web site. This announcement of books “born” that month will be live for two weeks.

The first announcement will be for books published in February 2018.  SCBWI will receive data for this announcement from December 15th through January 10th.  Get it in between those dates if you want to be included.  With so many members and so many member books, no exceptions will be made.

Can’t wait to see all the great books!


RIP Kathleen Karr

I have to admit that I’m a little bummed today.  I was on the treadmill catching up on my e-mail when I came across an obituary in a Publisher’s Weekly newsletter.  Author Kathleen Karr passed away on December 6th.


Although she is best known for her novels The Boxer and The Great Turkey Walk, my all time favorite was Exiled.  Here is the publisher’s summary of the book:

Ali is a young camel in Egypt when he is captured by humans. Determined to “work, but never surrender,” he earns a reputation as a disobedient animal and is sold to an American colonel. The year is 1856 and Ali soon finds himself in Texas as part of the U.S. Camel Corps. Crossing the landscape of 19th century America, Ali learns to balance his pride with the needs of his new companions, and slowly matures into a noble creature.

Compellingly written from the camel’s point of view, this unusual book offers a fresh and unusual perspective on a little-known slice of American history.

I’m not necessarily an enormous fan of books told from the POV of an animal, but Karr really pulled it off.  Ali sounds like a camel — snobby, aloof and just a little surly.

Karr was well-known for her historic fiction and wrote more than 24 novels for young readers.  I can’t remember if I read Exiled as a library book or if there’s a copy around here somewhere.  I don’t see it above my desk so it may be in the basement or in my son’s room.  We have bookshelves in every room except the bathrooms and laundry room.

Although you really do need to read recent books, return to your old favorites every now and then.  They will remind you what inspired you to write in the first place.  Stories.  Amazing stories.