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by Charise Mericle Harper

charisemericleharperThe other day I was at my son’s book fair, talking with his teacher. A few of my books were included in the event, and she picked one up and flipped through it. All of a sudden she asked, “Where do you get your ideas?” I’m pretty good at answering this question at school talks, but on the spot, I was speechless. I ended up smiling uncomfortably, shrugging my shoulders and saying, “I don’t know,” and then I quickly changed the subject.

On stage and in front of a group, I’m fine with the spotlight, but in a social situation, the last thing I’m comfortable talking about is me. Later that day, I started feeling guilty about how I’d responded. I should have made more of an effort to answer her, because her question was a good one. In fact, it was the exact same question I always want to ask other authors and illustrators. It’s why I’m always excited to meet them. I want to know: How do you do that thing that you do? Where do you get your ideas? And how do you get those ideas to swirl together perfectly so you can use them?

fig 1

Usually I can’t trace a book all the way back to that first glimmer of an idea. It’s too complicated and messy—like trying to unravel wool that you’ve given to a kitten.

fig 2 (1)

But with Bean Dog and Nugget, things are different. I know exactly how, where, and why I got the idea, and it all started five years ago.

My children used to be picky eaters. One of them still is, but I won’t embarrass him by saying his name. When she was six, my daughter Ivy loved chicken nuggets, and my son Luther (three) lived for hot dogs. So that year, as a Christmas present, I made them each a stuffed friend. And so Hot Dog and Chicken Nugget were born. The kids liked them, but not as much as me. I loved these little characters and promptly displayed them in my dining room. The kids didn’t seem to mind them sitting on a shelf out of reach, their other toys were more fun to play with anyway.


So Hot Dog and Chicken Nugget sat there for years, watching our little family, until one day I was inspired. At the time I was new to blogging and filled with blogging energy. It’s a great stage for creativity, and I wanted to try something different, so I started a Hot Dog and Chicken Nugget blog. It was a chronicle of unrequited love—a chicken nugget in love with a hot dog.

Fig. 4Working on the blog was fun, rewarding and stimulating, but it was also time consuming! All the drawing, and photographing, and setting up of the characters took forever. If it had been my only job I would’ve been fine, but I had books to write, deadlines to meet, and lunches to make—it was too much. In the end, I couldn’t keep up, and so I stopped—mid-romance. Chicken Nugget and Bean Dog retired from fame, and went back into their old spots on the shelf.

Over the next few years, I tried to fit them into a story, but I could never make it work. I’ve come to realize, that if a book is a struggle from page one, it’s probably wise to give it up. Wanting an idea to be good, and having it be good are two very different things.

But they were there in my head, waiting, and then one day I found my story. I was outside working in my backyard yard, trying to keep my plants alive when I got the glimmer.

Can I do an aside here, just a quick tangent? It’s for the story, to give you perspective on my gardening skills. I’ll be fast, I promise.

This is what my daughter said last week, when I brought home spring plants for my garden.


Now, back to the story. So I’m in the yard coaxing and begging things not to die, when I hear my son and his friend engaged in a not-so-friendly exchange. It seems there was a ball, and now the ball is in the bushes, and neither of them wants to retrieve it. The “You get it!” “No, you get it!” makes me smile. It’s one of those I-hope-I-remember-the-kids-like-this moments.

A few days later I was at my son’s school, in the library, looking for an easy comic book for him to read. At the time he was a very reluctant reader, and not at all interested in books. Isn’t that always the way? Author and lover of books has child who hates reading.

This was all happening two years ago, and in the easy comic book genre there weren’t many choices, certainly not like today. The school librarian and I talked about it, and I left with a purpose. I was going to make a comic book for my son to read! I was a mom with a mission. The next day as I was getting ready to start, everything suddenly came together—my tornado of creativity, the right pen, and my favorite paper—it was perfect. I love when that happens. And so BEAN DOG AND NUGGET was born.

Once I got started, it was an easy book to write, but I don’t feel guilty about saying that, because in truth I’d been working on it for over five years.Fig 6 (1)


I like epilogues, because it’s always nice to know what happens in the end. I dedicated BEAN DOG AND NUGGET to my son and his friend, and when the first book arrived I made a big deal of it and showed them the dedication. Do you know what happened? I was imagining some kind of payback, perhaps something like, “Oh thank you for putting my name in the book,” but I was wrong. They ignored me completely, and instantly started arguing and pointing to the Nugget character on the cover. “You’re the girl! “No, you’re the girl!” “No, you’re the girl!” “No, you’re the girl!” It wasn’t the response I was expecting, but it was perfect. It was full circle, and the exact kind of scenario that had inspired me in the first place. I listened to them and smiled. Silly boys, I knew something they didn’t. Nugget is the smart one.

Thanks to Charise for sharing Bean Dog and Nugget’s journey from shelf to bookshelf!

Both books release today, and as a special treat, Charise is giving away THREE prize packs which include both signed books and supplies to make your own Bean Dog and Nugget paper puppets.

Just leave a comment about your favorite part of her making-of-the-story story!

Winners will be randomly selected in about a week. Good luck!

In  the meantime, learn about all of Charise’s books at

by Aaaron Reynolds & Neil Numberman

(Interior. Aaron Reynolds, a writer of children’s books and graphic novels, is sitting at his writing desk. He’s typing, but suddenly stops when a shadow falls over his screen. It’s a kid, about ten or eleven.)

Aaron: (looking up) Hey.

Kid:     Hey. Whatcha doin’?

Aaron: Um…writing. Who are you? What are you doing in my writing room?

Kid:     I’m just some random kid.

Aaron: Ah. A random kid in my writing room. Okay.

Kid:     Yeah. Act like I’m not here. (pause…Aaron starts to get back to work, but is interrupted) Aren’t you an author?

Aaron: (turning back around) Ignore you, huh? That’s gonna be tricky. Yeah. I write kid’s books and graphic novels.

Kid:     Graphic novels? Like comic books?

Aaron: Kinda.

Kid:     Whatcha writing now?

Aaron: An article about how a graphic novel gets made, but I wanted to write it LIKE a graphic novel, so that’s what I’m doing.

Kid:     But…there’s no pictures. A graphic novel has lots of pictures.

Aaron: Not at first. Not mine anyway.

Kid:     What?

Aaron: Seriously. I don’t draw.

Kid:     I must have the wrong house then. I thought the dude that lives here makes graphic novels.

Aaron: I do. But I don’t draw them….I write them.

(Kid pauses while he thinks about this, then…)

Kid:     That’s messed up.

Aaron: No, it’s not.

Kid:     You can’t make a graphic novel without being able to draw.

Aaron: Well, I do. Like my new graphic novel…it’s called Joey Fly, Private Eye

Kid:     Way to work that in there. Nice plug. Smooth.

Aaron: Yeah, thanks. Well, Joey Fly starts out like this. A script, just like this one.

Kid:     Just the stuff people say?

Aaron: Mostly. I also write in what I see happening in each scene.

(Kid flops into a big cushy chair and puts his feet on Aaron’s writing desk, makes himself at home. He looks at Aaron like he’s lost his mind.)

Aaron: See? Like that. It’s called “stage directions.”

Kid:     Oh cool! Like actions and stuff!

Aaron: Yeah, exactly.

Kid:     Do it again.

(Kid gets up, kind of excited now. He’s putting it all together in his head, but then he notices a fresh sandwich on Aaron’s desk. Goes over, lifts the bread…he’s kinda hungry…but decides he doesn’t like tuna. Flops back down in the chair.)

Kid:     Hey, that’s awesome how you made me do all that stuff! And I do hate tuna.

Aaron: It’s a script. In the graphic novel, I write the story. I come up with the characters. In Joey Fly, Private Eye, I create what happens, what characters are in it, all that stuff. Then I put it into a story…a script like this.

Kid:     But it’s not a graphic novel. No pictures.

Aaron: Not yet. It will be soon. But first, I break it into panels.

Kid:     Panels?

Aaron: Like this. Chunks. How I imagine it will get broken into boxes in the finished graphic novel. This helps me figure out the flow and pacing of the story, helps me cut extra junk that’s not needed, and helps the illustrator figure out how he’s gonna lay out the pictures on the page.

Kid:     Cool. I notice you use lots of words like “gonna” and “whatcha” and stuff. My Language Arts teacher would go nuts on you for that.

Aaron: Yeah, well… I try to write how people really talk. I think that’s important, especially for a graphic novel. It all depends on the character. Like, Joey Fly says some gonnas, but he also uses lots of detective-y phrases…

Joey:    Life in the bug city. It ain’t easy. Crime sticks to this city like a one-winged fly on a fifty-cent swatter.

Aaron: Like that. That’s his opening line in the book.

Kid:     Okay, that’s pretty funny.

Aaron: Well, I try.

Kid:     But it’s still not a graphic novel.

Aaron: Man, for a random kid who shows up in my writing room, you’re seriously pushy.

Kid: Do you know many eleven-year-olds? We’re all like this.

Aaron: That’s right. Not being one, I forget sometimes.

Aaron: Well, now that it’s all broken into panels, I give it to my publisher. And once she’s happy with it, she sends it off to the illustrator and he starts drawing.

Kid:     You tell him what to draw?

Aaron: No.

Kid:     You tell him what the characters should look like?

Aaron: No.

Kid:     What do you tell him?

Aaron: Nothing. Most of the time, we never even meet.

(pause…the kid’s mouth is hanging open.)

Kid:     That is seriously messed up.

Aaron: That’s how it works. Unless you are the writer and the illustrator (which I’m not…I don’t draw, remember?), that’s how it works.

Kid:     So what happens then?

Aaron: The illustrator looks at it and begins to sketch out what he thinks the characters look like.

Aaron: Like, for Joey Fly, Private Eye, the illustrator is a guy named Neil Numberman.

Neil:    Hey kid. What’s up? Hey Aaron.

Aaron: Hey Neil. So, Neil might decide after reading this script that you look like this:


Kid:     That’s me?

Neil:    Yep.

Kid: You made me a bug!

Neil: Well, we’re talking about Joey Fly, Private Eye, so I’m thinking in bugs. It’s my job to use my imagination, to come up with my ideas of what Aaron’s characters and story look like.

Kid:     Cool.

Neil: And as I start drawing and figuring out what it all looks like, Aaron’s story moves away from being a script and I start creating real characters…


Neil:    …and pretty soon, I take Aaron’s written words and begin to put them into the mouths of the characters I’ve created.




Aaron Reynolds is a human, not a bug, but he often writes about bugs. He is the author of Chicks and Salsa, Superhero School, Buffalo Wings, and, of course, the Joey Fly, Private Eye graphic novels.

Neil Numberman is a termite currently residing in New York City. Joey Fly, Private Eye is his first graphic novel, but he is also the author/illustrator of the picture book Do NOT Build a Frankenstein.

Joey Twitter iconSammy Twitter icon

So there you are, folks. That’s how to make a graphic novel. Thanks, Aaron & Neil. (And Joey & Sammy, too.)

PiBoIdMo’ers, maybe you’d like to approach your next picture book idea in graphic terms. Your story doesn’t have to be a novel to fit the format. Author/illustrator Sarah Dillard penned Perfectly Arugula in this style, with perfect results.

So, how’s it going today?

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