One Writer’s Journey

May 9, 2017

Inspiration: Some Writer

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:09 am
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When we take our work to critique group, we always hope that they are going to LOVE it.  After all, these are our stories.  Okay, I meant to call them story-babies, but I just can’t do it.  Far too precious for me to do it and survive.  Anyway, these are our stories and we adore them even if they aren’t painfully cute. But our critique groups don’t always share that story love.

Unfortunately, my story is 90% realistic.  All of the characters but one are human.  That one is taking the place of a human but still acting like it’s animal self.  If I can manage to pull this off, it will be hilarious.  Because I said so. But one of my critique buddies rejected the fantasy element outright.

Still, I’m too pig-headed to give up so I’ve got more research to do.  Not about my topic.  This time I need to research existing picture books with both animal and human characters.  If I can work myself up to do it.

Fortunately I just read a highly inspiration biography, Some Writer: The Story of E.B. White by Melissa Sweet.  In the book, we read about the reaction that people had to Stuart Little.  White wrote the book based on stories he told his kids.  Not surprisingly, the stories were a huge hit.  And, no, I don’t say that because your kids love every story you tell them.   I say that because you don’t tend to do “episodes” or “chapters” if your kids hate the story.  You abandon them.

White had had several people, including librarians, ask him to write a children’s book.  But Stuart Little freaked some people out.  They even banned the book.  Banned E.B. White.  Yeah, I’m still trying to wrap my mind around that one.

But I also found it very encouraging.  Except for Stuart Little, the book is very realistic.  Except for Tuck, my story is very realistic.  Same same?  Maybe not.  As much as I’d like to claim kinship, I’ll stick with being inspired.  Realistic stories with strong fantasy elements can work.

Mine may not work yet, but that’s the operative word.  Yet.


May 5, 2017

Fiction vs Nonfiction: The Hybrid

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:14 am
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For the most part, it is fairly easy to categorize children’s books as fiction or nonfiction.  Made up story as in Kelly Barnhill’s The Girl Who Drank the Moon or Linda Sue Park’s Cavern of Secrets?  Fiction, of course.  Just as certainly, books ranging from Stand Up and Sing! Pete Seeger, Folk Music, and the Path to Justice by Susanna Reich to Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler’s Shadow by Susan Campbell Bartoletti that tell factual stories are nonfiction.

But what do you call a story that uses fictional characters to impart information?  Maybe you have a boy and his grandfather plant a garden.  Or a family follows a historic road such as the Nachez Trace.  The only reason these “unreal” people are there is to get something across to the reader whether that something is science, history, ecology or music.

I’ve heard these books called both fiction and nonfiction as well as faction.  Then there is the term “informational.”  More recently I discovered a publisher, The Innovative Press, that refers to ” hybrid texts that blend fiction elements with nonfiction elements.”

One of their books, Zoey and Sassafras: Dragons and Marshmallows by Asia Citro, is the story of a girl who can help magical creatures.  That is, rather obviously, the fiction part of the story.  But there is no veterinary guide on how to do this so she has to use what she knows to ask questions, discover new things, and keep searching for answers in a way that teaches readers about the scientific method.

I have to admit that I like this.  A hybrid.  A mixture of both but neither one or the other.  Of course (sigh), now that I have a name for it, I have an idea that would be perfect for this hybrid form.  After all, the manuscript was inspired by nonfiction research.  With the fictional characters, I can turn the story into something of a reverse scavenger hunt — they have found something that they need to put back but they have to learn beyond their assumptions, observing the natural world, to do so.

I’m still noodling this one over so it isn’t quite ready to draft, but I am looking forward to creating a new-for-me type of manuscript and a fun-for-my-reader story.


March 29, 2017

Inspiration: It Comes from All Over, Whenever

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:43 am
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Inspiration can come from some pretty strange places. I found this cap in an antique store about 10 years ago. I spotted it because of the calcium carbide lamp on the front. I knew this was a mining lamp because my grandad used them in the mercury mines but the cap was so small. It is so small that no one here can wear it. I have it propped up on a mint tin, my salt and pepper shakers and a water-glass.  Yeah, I’m all about high-tech.  
Anyway, a bit of research revealed that this was a child’s cap most likely used in the Illinois coal mines. Yes, a cloth cap on a child in a mine.  Sigh, shake your head and read on.  It is definitely appalling.
The novel that I’ve had to set aside to write about the Dakota Access Pipeline is set in a community where the mines have played out. I just re-found this cap cleaning at my dad’s. I should be noodling over pipelines and water rights and the Army Corp of Engineers but I’m thinking about kids in mines and my novel.  
I have a new twist that will help increase the stakes rattling around in my head.  When I don’t have time to write it.  I sent myself an e-mail as a reminder and I’m hoping that will buy me some time.  If not, and the idea just won’t leave me alone, I’ll try to find fifteen minutes to work this into my “outline.”  It seems kind to call the increasingly chaotic jumble of notes an outline but there you have it.
Thank you, inspiration.  Your timing is just a tiny bit stinko.

February 1, 2017

TED: Learning about Story

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:48 am
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tedMost of you already know that I’m something of a TED Talk fan.  TED talks were originally about Technology, Education and Design.  They have expanded and cover just about every topic you can imagine including story.  Here are some of my favorites that, as fellow writers, you might find interesting.

Sisonke Msimang’s talk on the power (and limitations) of story.  Click here.

Novelist Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie’s talk about the dangers of only hearing a single story about a given place.  Click here.

Eman Mohammed’s talk on telling hidden stories and gender norms.  Click here.

How Tracy Chevalier looked at a painting and wrote an entire novel.  Click here.

Film maker Andrew Stanton on the art of storytelling.  Before you click here, TED warns viewers about graphic language so I shall too.

Director Shekhar Kapur on creative inspiration.  Click here.

Writer and director J.J. Abrams talks about his love of mystery.  Click here.

Novelist Amy Tan on where creativity hides.  Click here.

The next time you need a bit of inspiration, click on one of these talks and see how someone else works.  I always come away ready to write and I get you will too.


January 16, 2017

Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:49 am
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I’m not sure how many of you have the day off to celebrate the works and the impact of Martin Luther King, Jr.  I’m spending the day with my high school senior but here’s a King quote for inspiration.  Keep writing, keep working and keep creating the stories that will inspire young readers today and tomorrow.


January 15, 2016

Inspiration from Life

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:56 am
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snow-landscape-trees-winter-largeIn order to help your readers connect with your writing, it helps to provide an emotion that resonates with them.  Explorers feel excitement and anticipation.  When things go wrong, they may feel dread or frustration.  To write these things realistically, you just need to connect with emotional inspiration in your own life.

Recently, my son and I were in the dining room when he said something about the baby birds in the back yard. Baby birds?  In January?  We’re in the Northern Hemisphere, Meriwether.  I don’t think so.

Sure enough, I looked out the window and they weren’t baby birds.  “Those are junco.”

“They look like babies.”

“They’re still junco.  Your grandmother called them snow birds.”

“Every baby bird I’ve ever seen looks like that.”

Honestly, I’m not sure what baby birds he’s been perusing but as I tried to discuss facts with Mr. Thanks-but-I-don’t-think-so, it hit me.  This must have been what it felt like for Sacagawea.  Having read bits and pieces of the Lewis and Clark journals, I’ve always been amazed by the healthy dose of stupidity that they drug along with them.  Want to intimidate a vastly superior force?  Shoot at them!   Want to convince someone to take us seriously?  Shoot at them!   Never seen anything like that before?  Who cares if our guide has a name for it, we’re going to call it a brarow.*  We’ll probably take a shot at it too.

Have I ever had the frustrations of leading two mighty explorers? Thankfully, no.  But I have tried to reason with my son.  I’m pretty darn sure I can draw on one to illustrate the other.

What emotion does your reader need to connect with in your story?  Remember a time in your own life when you experienced similar joy, frustration or angst and you will be able to bring it to life for both your characters and your readers.



January 7, 2016

Pie for Chuck

Every now and again I come across a book and as I read it I think “I wonder.” Pie for Chuck by Pat Schories is part of Holiday House’s I Like to Read line.  They call them easy-reading picture books.  I would simply call them easy readers or beginning readers.  Tomayto.  Tomahto.

As I read this one, I wondered what the author’s inspiration was.  As several writing conferences, I’ve heard editors ask writers not to submit one particular Institute of Children’s Literature assignment.  Everyone has to work from this particular prompt and way too many of these stories are submitted to publishers.  The prompt is a bunny rabbit sitting beneath a window where a pie is cooling on the window sill.

In Pie for Chuck, we meet a woodchuck named . . . Chuck . . . who loves pie.  Chuck cannot reach the pie that is cooling on the window sill. Neither can Raccoon or Rabbit or the chipmunk or the group of mice.

See, there’s the Rabbit in the middle of the group.  What can I say?  I just wonder if this started out as an ICL story.

If so, good for Schories for creating an assigned story that found, perhaps in a slightly altered form, publication.

Whether or not this was an ICL story, I also appreciate that it successfully breaks rules.  Which rules?  The rules about cute animal names. Granted, Schories didn’t use Bobby Bunny or Walter Woodchuck but the woodchuck is Big Chuck and the chipmunk is Chip.

I suspect that this works in part because it isn’t, strictly speaking, a picture book.  As an early reader, illustrations give the new reader clues to help decipher the text.  In this case, the illustration matches the type of animal matches the name. Big Chuck and Chip actually shake things up a little bit because they aren’t named Woodchuck or Chipmunk whereas other animals are named Rabbit and Raccoon.

Yes, you can break rules but you have to do so in a way that makes your story work for your reader.


November 10, 2015

Finding Inspiration

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:18 am
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fire, street artist, fire-eater

Looking for inspiration doesn’t have to be this scary.

It’s November and you know what that means — once again it is time for Picture Book Idea Month.  The goal of this challenge is to brainstorm 30 picture book ideas in November.  That doesn’t sound too bad.  It’s only ideas.  Not full books.

Then again, November is also the month with Thanksgiving.  And I have a young adult nonfiction book to write and turn in.  We’re rehearsing for the cantata.  Where on earth am I going to find the time to come up with 30 ideas?  The key is to draw my inspiration from what I am working on, what I am reading and where I am.

By November 5th, I had 11 ideas.  Splitting them into rough categories, I have:

Stories based on what I’m working on:
2 on sports/exercise.

Stories based on what I’m reading:
1 on childhood problems (getting left behind)
1 on ghosts
2 on zombies/monsters
1 on Columbus Day
1 on surviving large predators
1 about pets

Stories based on what is going on around me:
2 inspired by the cluelessness of adults

Other places that I turn to for story ideas are photo or image based sites.  I may not be a great artist or photographer, but I am visual.  When I need ideas for crafts, blog posts, or just brainstorming, here are 4 sites that I visit.

Pinterest: Sometimes I search Pinterest for a specific topic (deer) or I look at what is popular under a given topic.
Illustration Friday: This site provides a weekly prompt for illustrators.  I use both the prompt and the illustrations as a basis for brainstorming.
Unsplash: Unsplash is a site where photographers post image that are copyright free for use by other people.  Althoght there are cityscapes and other images, the vast majority center on nature.
Pexel:  Pexel is another Creative Commons 0 site.  Although both Pexel and Unsplash are searchable by topic, you can also just browse the front page and see what people have recently uploaded.

These are a few places that I turn for inspiration.  What works for you?



September 4, 2015

Inspiration: Writing Ideas

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:43 am
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PANDORA-THUMBNAIL-FINAL-with-lineInspiration comes from just about everywhere.  Recently, I came up with a book idea while reading another author’s book, Pandora’s Mirror by Marella Sands.

Normally, when inspiration strikes, I run with it.  The way it works is something like this.  I’ll be reading a book and something in the story grabs my attention.  It might be a detail about the setting or a real person who somehow featured in the story.  It might have something to do with what people at that time or in that place believed.  It is always a tangent only vaguely related to the original so working the project up isn’t a problem.  I’m not copying the original author or piggy-backing on their work in any way.  This isn’t, after all, fan fiction.

But this time is a little different.  This is a book about a young woman who lives in a genuine haunted house.  The book is rich with details on how to hunt for ghosts.  Many of the methods could be adopted or adapted by a young reader.  I remember the ghost crazy phase my own son went through and would love to write a ghost hunting book.

Normally I’d do a market check and then, barring a similar book in print, get to work.  This time, I have a problem.

The author of this book is a close friend.  This means that I’ll tell her about the idea and see if she’s interested in pursuing it.  She’s written some children’s educational nonfiction under another name so it isn’t altogether outside the realm of possibility that she would decide to write such a book. Whether or not I get busy will depend on how she responds.

What about you? Under what circumstances would you run an idea by another writer first?


April 8, 2015

Inspiration: Writing Ideas


Blunder trophy or golden snitch?

Blunder trophy or golden snitch?

Over Spring Break, my family went to the Air Force Museum at Wright Patterson Air Force Base.  Mounted on one wall was a display case full of blunder trophies.  These were the joking awards that the pilots gave each other when somebody goofed up.  There was a flying donkey, a bowler hat and even a pair of underwear (perhaps someone needed a clean pair) hanging on a clothes line. This is a picture of my favorite.  Remind you of anything?  Needless to say, it made me contemplate — where on earth did Rowling get the inspiration for the golden snitch?

Obviously, I haven’t a clue and I’m not likely to get the opportunity to ask but it made me think about the strange places we gather inspiration.  I didn’t expect to come away from this particular museum with too much to write about.  Yes, I’m writing a lot of history but write now I’m doing the modern civil rights movement.  Then I get to write about trench war fare in World War I.  Not a lot of aircraft possibilities in either of these.

But I did find the not-a-snitch which inspired this post.

I also noticed the early helicopters that all looked like folded paper kits — crisp lines and flat plains alongside the curved surfaces of the fixed wing aircraft of the same time.  That may come up in a fantasy some day.  A folded paper helicopter kit.

Then there was the nurse who rescued the orphans from Korea.  Yes, that story was amazingly inspirational in itself but oddly enough the mannequin depicting her was clearly a man.  There were other female mannequins in the museum and they were all clearly women.  Clearly. Women.  But this one — nope.  We have so many stories about women posing as men to serve.  What about the reverse?

The Air Force One hangar included an experimental aircraft shaped like a flying saucer.

Then there was the sixties Air Force One with the nubbly blue upholstered sofas and my kitchen counter in the kitchenette.

So many ideas in four crowded hangars.

Where do your ideas come from?


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