by Liza Woodruff

I am currently waiting for the final printing of my first author-illustrator project, EMERSON BARKS, which is due out in August of 2016. What sparked the idea for my story? PiBoIdMo.

Emerson cover

I am always looking for fun story ideas and ideas for new illustration samples. So, when I first heard of PiBoIdMo in 2011, I signed right up. Until that point, I had considered myself an illustrator only. I had been working for years making art for stories written by other people, and had only dreamed of writing something myself. I do love bringing other people’s ideas to life visually, and would wait eagerly for stories that I connected with. The stronger that connection, the more enjoyable and effortless the process was and the more successful the final art. What better way, I thought, to connect with a story than to write it myself?

So, I embarked on a month of writing down picture book ideas to get my creative juices flowing. Looking back through old notebooks I see the same thing has happened each year. My ideas are all over the map. Some are boring, tired and overused, some are ridiculous, and some are terrible. Here is one of my “stinkers” as Denise Fleming calls them:


One other thing happens when I start writing down all of my ideas—I start thinking about picture books ALL THE TIME.

When this happens, I see potential everywhere and my brain starts to reframe everything as a story.

I see my kids and their friends do something interesting, or hear a funny snippet of their conversation. . . .

I watch my dogs’ reactions to one another. What are they thinking? . . .

I watch the newts that cross my walking path in the rain. Where are they going? . . .

I listen to the radio and hear a story or snippet of news that gets me thinking “What if?”. . .

Because my brain has been primed to look for ideas, each of these things can inspire a story, and occasionally one of these ideas shows some promise.

One November PiBoIdMo night (November 12th, 2012, to be exact) I was lying in bed getting ready to sleep when our dog Emerson started to bark. He barked and barked and barked, like he always does. As I lay there, hoping he’d stop a question entered my mind. What would happen if Emerson held in his barks? Was there a funny reason that he was barking? Would the barks fill him up like a balloon that would eventually burst?


I started to wonder, and I wrote all of my questions down. Because I kept thinking about Emerson and his barks, I knew this idea would be a good one to pursue when I sat down to write.

Of course, the journey didn’t end there. There were many drafts and sketches, much help from my critique partners and from my agent, several conferences attended and craft-of-writing books read, and the infinite patience of everyone in my family.

When a dummy was finally ready to share, it went out to multiple editors. Luckily, I found an editor who saw the same promise in the story that I did. Several years and many revisions later, here I am, waiting for the first copies of EMERSON BARKS to come off the press. Thank you, PiBoIdMo, for opening my eyes to inspiration. It was there all along but I just had to learn how to look for it.



newsletter emerson


lwoodruff2-ALiza Woodruff is the illustrator of over twenty books for young readers, including If It’s Snowy and You Know It, Clap Your Paws by Kim Norman and The Biggest Pumpkin Ever by Elizabeth Bennett. She lives in an old farmhouse in Vermont with her family and their two dogs. Emerson Barks is the first book that she has both written and illustrated and will be available in bookstores in August of 2016. To see more of her work, please visit:

PrizeDetails (2)

Liza is giving away a copy of THE TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS IN NEW ENGLAND, written by Toni Buzzeo, Sterling Publishers, October, 2015.


Leave a comment below to enter. One comment per person, please.

This prize will be given away at the conclusion of PiBoIdMo. You are eligible for this prize if:

  1. You have registered for PiBoIdMo.
  2. You have commented ONCE ONLY on today’s post.
  3. You have completed the PiBoIdMo challenge. (You will have to sign the PiBoIdMo Pledge at the end of the event.)

Good luck, everyone!