4 Places to Look for Ideas

Pixabay Puffin

“Where do you get your ideas?”

For me, the better question is where don’t I go? I once told someone that I’d have to walk aroud with a bucket on my head not to get ideas. Wouldn’t you know, what was the quote she decided to use?

But it is true. The world is a constant source of ideas. That said, I know that statement is so broad that it is useless. Here are four very specific places that you can go for ideas.

The National Day Calendar

One of my favorites is the National Day Calendar. You can find it here. Between June 24 and June 25, you have:

  • National Take Your Dog to Work Day
  • National Leon Day – which marks the point 6 months from Christmas (Noel – Leon, get it?)
  • National Strawberry Parfait Day

Each of these could easily become a nonfiction piece, a picturte book, or an element within a novel. There are so many interesting observances!


Pixabay Macaw

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Pixabay, this site makes photos available for public use. I’ll leave it up to you to read up on how to credit the photos because we are talking about something else entirely.

Sometimes I just go to the home page and look at new photos. As I am writing this, photos on the home page include a puffin (left above) and a macaw (right). Click on one photo and you can quickly access additional photos with the same tag.

If you are visual, this is something of a rabbit hole. There are people, animals, places and even fantasy paintings.

Library of Congress

Another great place to get lost is the Library of Congress site. You can look up things that interest you or, one of my favorites, is to scroll down the front page to trending items.

As I write this, these selections include information on the National Book Festival, the reopening of the Jefferson Building, upcoming in person and online exhibitions and more.

Scroll further down the home pages and you get items that are “Free to Use and Reuse.” At the moment, these are “Historic Sites.” My favorite? Drawings from a survey of the Taos Pueblo.

Nonfiction Ninjas

None of this grabs your attention? Not to worry. Stephanie Bearce wrote a great post on the Nonfiction Ninjas blog. The post is a list of great places to find ideas. It includes Accidental Science (yes!), Forgotten History, Inventors and much more.

If you have internet access, a story idea is never more than a few mouse-clicks away!


Free to Use and Reuse at the LOC

From the Library of Congress
From the Library of Congress

Check out these awesome posters. They are from the Library of Congress and free to use. The library makes a number of images available. You can find them here on the Free to Use and Reuse Sets page.

These posters are both part of the “Libraries” collection and were printed by the WPA during World War II. I have to admit that the yellow poster first caught my eye because of the color. But then I noted what it was advertising. Our local libraries have had curbside pick up for quite some time because of COVID. I for one thought this was new. I should have known that if it was a good idea now it would have been a good idea at some point in the past.

Other images in this particular collection include both historic libraries and modern libraries.

Carnegie Library, Sheldon, Iowa. 1909. Library of Congress

Other collections include Maps of Discovery and Exploration, Posters of World War I, Veterans, Baseball Cards, Cats and Dogs.  Most of these digital offerings are photographs, postcards, posters, maps, and letter. But there is also a section of movies – Public Domain Films from the National Film Registry.

Maybe you are already working on something that might benefit from something that you would find in one of these sets. Or you might be noodling over what to write next. Inspiration could easily be found here.

The Route 9 Library and Innovation Center in New Castle Delaware. 2018. Library of Congress.

For my part, I’m contemplating what I could do that would involve Carnegie Libraries. I visited one with my writing friend Ann when we were in Eureka Springs, Arkansas about two years ago. Excuse me while I go noodle the possibilities.


Celebrate Thanksgiving with Joy Harjo: Poet Laureate

Good news! Joy Harjo, the US poet laureate, has been given a third year to serve in this position. This was just announced by the librarian of congress. The hope is that at some point next year she will be able to once again hold readings at various points throughout the US. Her main duty is to champion poetry.

The project through which she’s chosen to do this is “Living Nations, Living Words,” in which indigenous poets and their work create a map of the US. Says Harjo about this project, “I want this map to counter damaging false assumptions—that indigenous peoples of our country are often invisible or are not seen as human. You will not find us fairly represented, if at all, in the cultural storytelling of America, and nearly nonexistent in the American book of poetry.”

Click through here to see the map. Select a highlighted location and click through to hear the poet from that area read and discuss their work. My favorite? Laura Tohe reading “Within Dinétah the People’s Spirit Remains Strong.” I have to admit that part of what I love about it is that it isn’t written exclusively in English. When we traveled through New Mexico, I loved flipping through the radio stations and catching stations broadcasting in, in addition to English, Spanish, Dine, and other indigenous languages. It was a powerful reminder of our national reality.

I also really liked Layli Long Soldier reading “Resolution 2.” With this piece, it was the cadence that drew me in. It is completely different from Tohe’s piece which is appropriate. The similarities come in that each poem in the collection tells about the realities of indigenous life. The poems come together to form a tapestry of indigenous US peoples.

Take some time to explore.


How-to Attend the National Book Festival

Banner graphic promoting the 2020 National Book Festival

Wow!  This is the 20th birthday for the National Book Festival, put on each year by the Library of Congress.  I didn’t realize the event was this young.

Not surprisingly, given all that is 2020, this year the event will be 100% virtual and there is no cost to attend.  I’m avoiding the F-word because that can alert various filters.

There are 120 authors taking part this year include Tomi Adeyemi, Jerry Craft, Jared Diamond, and more.  It is such an amazing list!  You can see it here.

All you have to do to take part is create a free Book Fest account.  Find that information here.  There are videos that you can watch at any time and also live author discussions and so much more.

If you aren’t familiar with how the festival usually works, the set up is being recreated virtually. There are a variety of stages, featuring different types of writing including but not limited to Children, Teens, Family, Food & Field, Fiction, Genre Fiction, History and Biography.

Among the new features being offered this year are timely topics such as Fearless Women, Hearing Black Voices, and Democracy in the 21st Century.  Another new feature includes offereings for children, teens and schools educating at home.  I have to admit that I’m excited about the Roadmap to Reading, which includes a list of “Great Reads from Great Places.” These 53 books reflect the literary heritage of all 50 states, DC, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

I hope you’ll find the time to explore what the Library of Congress is offering us all this year.  My first stop?  That book list!



Free Maps: Maps of Exploration from the Library of Congress

I can’t tell you why.  All I know is that I have a thing for maps.  Historic, modern, with or without political boundaries.  It doesn’t really matter.  If I see a map, I’m going to take a look.

So it really isn’t very surprising that when I saw this blog post from the Library of Congress, I did a happy dance.  The title of the post? Free to Use and Reuse: Maps of Discovery and Exploration.

For those of you who don’t already know about this page, the library has made various items from their digital collection available for people to download and use for free.  My favorite Map of Discovery and Exploration?  California as an island.  Apparently fake news isn’t a new thing!

Other categories on this page include Posters of World War I, Veterans, Baseball Cards, Cats and Dogs.  For the most part, these digital offerings consist of visuals – photographs, postcards, posters, maps, letters, etc.  But there is one section of movies – Public Domain Films from the National Film Registry.

What are you going to find?  First I spotted a black and white image of two children.  Little did I know that I was clicking on “Duck and Cover,” a piece of Civil Defense . . . media?  Frankly, my first inclination is to call it propaganda.  There’ s also a western with Roy Rogers, an ethnographic film shot in Bali in 1951, and a Popeye cartoon from 1936.

Writing something set in the past?  Whether you are working on fact or fiction, it would be worthwhile to check out the holdings at the Library of Congress.  After all, primary sources can be a window onto past events. You might even be able to find something in this section that you could use to publicize your work.



National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature: Jason Reynolds

Carla Hayden, the Librarian of Congress, announced yesterday that the next National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature will be Jason Reynolds.  He’ll be sworn in on Thursday.

Yesterday, I kept seeing his photo on social media.  Hmm.  Must be some celebrity.  Then I realized that it was my book people sharing this guy’s photo.  I clicked through and saw what the announcement was about and the cover for Long Way Down —

Oh, oh!  I love that book!

What can I say?  I’m a reader more than I am a viewer.  I could have passes Jason Reynolds in the street and never known it.

If you aren’t familiar with Reynolds work, get to the library and check out his books.  Long Way Down is about a fifteen year-old who plans to avenge his brother’s death.  In the elevator, riding down to street level, he meets seven ghosts.  Each of them has something important to tell him, something that just might change his mind.

Awesome book.  If I thought of myself as a fiction writer, I’d be jealous.

And, no, he didn’t get this position by virtue of the fact that he’s written one book I love. He has sold 15 books with his first coming out in 2014.

His focus as National Ambassador will be reaching out to young people in small-town America with a platform he calls “Grab the Mic: Tell Your Story.” Reynolds believes that young people should read more.  But he also knows young people and how they work.  Telling them to read is going to do no good.  In fact, it will encourage them not to read.

Instead, he says, we need to meet them where they are.  Interact with them.  Make a connection and they will want to keep that connection open.

Not exactly what we introverted writers want to hear but clearly Reynolds knows what he is talking about.  15 books since 2014 people.



Copyright Free Photos

Last week, I was reading the Library of Congress (LOC) blog when I came across a post that included a photo of an ice cream vendor in long ago Cuba.  What?  The image was free for public use.  I read the post closely and discovered that the LOC holdings online include a section titled “Free to Use and Reuse Sets.”  These images include photos, posters, drawings and postcards that are copyright free and available for public use.

There are photos to do with ice cream including this Tiffany lamp (see left), Thomas Jefferson’s recipe (hand written), and a link to The Book of Ices…

Not looking for anything this light-hearted?  No worries.  There are also photos of African-American Women Change Makers including images of Fannie Lou Hamer, Sojourner Truth (see right)  and a book of poetry by Phyllis Wheatley.

Other topics inclue World War I posters from various countries, Women’s History Month images, WPA images and presidential portraits.  When I popped open the page of World War I posters, I was surprised to see a poster printed in Hebrew.  The Women’s History Month images include a number of World War II photos of women doing various war time factory job.  I would love to have more of the context of some of these images.  I had to really think about this WPA poster. I mean, I know I lose it when someone folds down a page to mark their place in a book, but the WPA actually had a poster about it.

In addition to using these images in your work, you might also want to look through them when you need inspiration for a story, article or poem.  Take some time and see what the Library of Congress has avialable.




Poet Laureate Named: Joy Harjo

On Wednesday, the US Library of Congress named the next poet laureate of the United States – Joy Harjo.

Joy Harjo is a member of the Muscogee Creek Nation. Read her poetry and you will find elements of her culture but Harjo says she doesn’t do this intentionally. “I don’t think about it … And so it doesn’t necessarily become a self-conscious thing — it’s just there … When you grow up as a person in your culture, you have your culture and you’re in it, but you’re also in this American culture, and that’s another layer,” Harjo said when she was interviewed by NPR’s Lynn Neary.

Harjo will begin her one year term this fall.  What will be her mission?  To humanize and heal, working to overcome divisions between groups of people perhaps through a poetry summit.  Said Harjo, “I really believe if people sit together and hear their deepest feelings and thoughts beyond political divisiveness, it makes connections. There’s connections made that can’t be made with politicized language.”

As soon as I heard of her appointment, I popped over to my library’s online catalogue and requested Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings. She has eight books and I’m hoping to explore her work through out the next year.  Why not join mean?  Click on the video above to hear her poem, “Grace.”

For more on Harjo and her appointment, check out this NPR story.


Rebus: Way Back When

Yesterday, I read a blog post from the Library of Congress on the various free classic children’s books that can help enhance your celebration of Children’s Book Week. Me being me, I had to click through.  Sure John Carter and Anne of Green Gables are great, but what else do they have?  I want to know!

I didn’t go through the whole listing but I did spot a book from 1773, The New England Primer Improved.

I also spotted two rebus books, not that they called them rebus books.  The first one I spotted was Mother (Goose) in Hieroglyphs. As you can see, Goose isn’t a word in the title, instead there is an image of a goose.  The first thing that caught my attention was the word hieroglyphs but I quickly discovered what they meant.

Years ago, I wrote a rebus for Highlights.  To substitute a picture for the word, it had to directly represent the word.  Thus an image of a kite meant kite.  That’s not how it works in good ol’ Mother Goose.  A photo of an eye is substituted for I.  Corner is an ear of corn followed by the letters “er.”  Horner, as in Little Jack Horner, is a  picture of a horn followed by the letters “er.”  I have to admit that I prefer the way modern rebus do it.

Then I spotted a second rebus and this one rocked me back for a second.  Jimmy Crow by Edith Francis Foster.  Admittedly, I don’t remember when the term “Jim Crow” was coined but I wasn’t sure that I wanted to know what this book was about.  And the Library of Congress yet!  I owe them an apology.  Jimmy Crow was an injured fledgling that was recued by a little boy named Jack.

I’ll have to poke around and see if I can find more historic rebus titles online.  Click on through to the Library of Congress and see what they have.


5 Minutes a Day: Explore the Library of Congress

If you aren’t familiar with the Library of Congress, spend some time whenever you have a few minutes and poke around.  There are so many resources available including a wide variety of research materials.

Two of the newest offerings are:

The Theodore Roosevelt Papers.  approximately 276,000 documents, this is the largest collection of Roosevelt documents in the world. The collection includes diary entries, letters and illustrations.

Betty Herndon Maury Maury Papers. Maury kept this two volume diary from June 3, 1861, to February 18, 1863.  It details her experiences during the Civil War and includes information on the part played by women as well as the impact on Confederate soldiers.

Other digital collections include:

Benjamin Franklin Papers. Approximately 8,000 pieces from the 1770s and 1780s. The collection includes both his work in politics and his work in science and although not all of it is online, this is a start.

Alexander Bell Family Papers: The online collection contains about 51,500 images of correspondence, scientific notebooks,  blueprints, and more.

After the Day of Infamy: These man-on-the-street interviews were recorded following the attack on Pearl Harbor.  The collection consists of 12 hours total although I’m not sure how much has been digitized.

Ansel Adam’s Photographs of Japanese-American Internment at Manzanar : I just recently learned about these photos so I was excited to see that they can be found at the Library of Congress.

In addition to the digital collections, you will find the following available online:

Library of Congress Magazine (LCM) which is available online.

Science Research Guides which are themed research guides with lists of resources.

Journeys and Crossings which are webcasts on various topics.

You aren’t going to get through everything that interests you in five minutes, but pop over to the Library of Congress (LOC) when you have tine and you will find a wealth of resources, story ideas, and more.