One Writer’s Journey

September 12, 2017

Folk and Fairy Tales: Inspiration for All Ages

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:56 am
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Have you ever written a story inspired by a folk or fairy tale?  It is something I’ve been noodling over a lot lately in part because I ran across this blog post – #5onFri: Five Myths to Plunder for Ideas and Inspiration.   These age-old stories can be great sources for story ideas whether you do a fairly vanilla rewrite or use the tale only as a jumping off place.  Just how you use the story may depend on the story itself.

For example, the Celtic story about Brigid and Bres (see the above post) is all about a peace treaty secured through marriage.  Eventually the greed of the bridegroom, King Bres, gets the better of him and everyone ends up fighting once again.  There are deaths and grieving mothers — it is actually a pourquoi tale about funeral customs so you know it is a bummer story.

Picture book potential, no.  MIddle grade?  I don’t think so.  But there are a group of “sons” who have to go to battle because of greedy Dad.  Make one or more of these sons a teen character and you’d have a young adult idea on your hands.

Any story that can be retold for an elementary audience can inspire a picture book.  Just look at the numerous versions of the Gingerbread Man or The Three Pigs.  But retell it from another point of view, with a new setting, or some other twist and you can still have a great picture book such as LIttle Red Gliding Hood or Little Red Riding Hoodie.

But these tales can also make strong middle grade novels as I recently discovered when I read Rump. This novel by Liesl Shurtliff tells the story of a young boy whose mother died shortly after giving birth.  She tried to name him before she lost conscious but all she got out was Rump and the partial name stuck.  The reader journeys along with Rump as he seeks for his true, complete name as well as some clues to who his mother really was and why he can spin straw into gold.  Rump’s best friend is a girl but there’s no heated romance.  He falls out of a tower window and hurts himself but the violence is actually pretty non-violent by fairy tale standards.

Whether you are a fiction or nonfiction writer or someone who writes for the picture book crew or young adult or middle graders, look to folk and fairy tales for inspiration.  You may very well find gold.

For more on traditional tales, check out Fairy Tales: Fracture them to come up with something new or Science Fiction vs Fantasy.

–SueBE

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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.

–SueBE

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.

–SueBE

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.
–SueBE

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.

–SueBE

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.

king

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.

–SueBE

 

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.

–SueBE

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?

–SueBE

 

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?

–SueBE

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