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by Melissa Roske

Inspiration is weird. It comes at the strangest times, in the strangest places. The inspiration for my middle-grade novel, KAT GREENE COMES CLEAN, came stuffed inside a fortune cookie. Here’s what it said:

A winsome smile is your sure protection.

I hadn’t a clue what this meant—or how it applied to me—but the fortune had a nice ring to it, so I decided to keep it. Several years later, I was going through my desk drawer when I found the fortune. For reasons I can’t begin to understand or explain, an image of a sassy 11-year-old New Yorker leapfrogged into my brain and I knew I had to write about her.

I wrote and wrote (and wrote), until I had a clearer picture of who this character was, and what mattered to her. I slowly added parents, a best friend, a quirky school in Greenwich Village, a stepmom, a little brother, a crush. Before I knew it, I had created Kat Greene’s world—and a first draft of the novel. I found an agent (not easy), landed a book deal (harder still), and, on August 22, 2017, was finally able to call myself a published author. It was a dream come true!

Unfortunately, the idea for my second middle-grade novel didn’t come as easily. Images of sassy protagonists didn’t leapfrog into my brain, and all the fortune cookies in the world couldn’t help me this time. Clearly, I’d used up all my good ideas in the first book. I was a one-hit wonder, I decided. The kidlit equivalent of Milli Vanilli.

Immobilized by fear and self-loathing, I went into a very dark place. Then the pandemic hit, and the place grew even darker. The more despondent I felt, the more immobilized I became. Was this writer’s block, I wondered—or something more sinister?

As most writers eventually do, I turned to Anne Lamott’s iconic craft book, BIRD BY BIRD, for guidance. I had resisted this book for years because—let’s be honest here—it seemed way too touchy-feely for my cynical New York taste. Too New Age-y. Too Californian. But I was wrong. Sure, Lamott uses words like “abundance” and “self-compassion,” but her book turned out to be hysterically funny and, more important, offered me more than humor. It gave me hope. Hope that I wasn’t a one-hit wonder; that I had the ability to write but had lost my confidence, somewhere between “fear” and “self-loathing.” I’d also forgotten how joyful writing can be, especially when you learn to tune out the judgy-wudgy voice inside your head that says, “You suck!” and “You have no business calling yourself a writer.”

It didn’t happen overnight, but after a while “you suck” gave way to “I can”. I revised two novels and wrote a short story—“Grandma Merle’s Last Wish,” which will appear in COMING OF AGE: 13 B’NAI MITZVAH STORIES, a Jewish MG anthology released on April 18 from Albert Whitman & Co.

I also realized that fear and self-loathing can be kicked to the curb, but only you’re ready and willing to do the work. And if you’re not…?

Crack open a fortune cookie. You never know what’s inside.

Melissa Roske is the author of KAT GREENE COMES CLEAN (Charlesbridge, 2017) and the short story “Grandma Merle’s Last Wish,” which will appear in the forthcoming Jewish middle-grade anthology, COMING OF AGE: 13 B’Nai Mitzvah Stories (Albert Whitman & Company, 4/19/22). A native New Yorker, Melissa is a contributor to the popular MG blog From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle Grade Authors, including this post she wrote about #Storystorm2021. Learn more about Melissa on her website and follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Melissa is giving away three prizes to three separate random winners—a signed copy of KAT GREENE COMES CLEAN, a copy of COMING OF AGE: 13 B’NAI MITZVAH STORIES (when it becomes available on 4/18/22), and a middle-grade query critique!

You’re eligible to win if you’re a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once below.

Prizes will be distributed at the conclusion of Storystorm.

This morning I thought I was still at the NJ-SCBWI Summer Conference because I stumbled downstairs expecting to find fresh-baked coffee cake and a fruit platter. Instead, I found a slumbering adolescent who never got up for middle school and missed the bus. Hence, I was rudely thrust back into the life of a mom. Sigh. So I decided to ignore my life for a while and write this post. Relive the glory days!


This would make a great WHERE’S WALDO? spread.

The weekend was chock full of good friends, like author extraordinaire Tammi Sauer, whom I’ve known for SEVEN YEARS but had never met in person. I wanted to make a good impression upon her, so I picked her up from the airport…and then proceeded to get hopelessly lost in Newark. We did spy a ’57 Chevy during one of our dozen-or-so U-turns, so perhaps all was not lost.


’57 Chevy! Yes, I snapped this while we were stopped.

And then, we got cut off by a rumbling, muffler-roaring Racini. RACINI, PEOPLE! Only in Jersey.

Racini! (Not the full license plate.)

Of course, there were also the usual suspects present: Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen, Kami Kinard, Marcie Colleen, Ame Dyckman, Adam Lehrhaupt, our fearless RA Leeza Hernandez, and newly-signed talents like Jason Kirschner, Colleen Rowan Kosinski and Kelly Calabrese. (For those of you with bets in the pool, Ame’s hair shone bright blue this year, bordering on periwinkle, stylishly accented with a coral red bow.)


Sudipta, Marcie & Kelly. Yes, they can go by first names only.

Katya Szewczuk from KidlitTV let us know that her last name is pronounced “Shove Chuck.” Sadly, Chuck Palahniuk was not in attendance. What a fight club that would have been! (P.S. Isn’t Katya adorable? I call her Ame Dyckman Jr.)


Carrie Charley Brown, Kirsti Call, Lori Degman and Robin Newman were there, too…but the Witherspoon Grill couldn’t get us a table for 10. For shame! But they did get us a bottle of Prosecco. Next time, it should be on the house.


Me, Kelly, Marcie, Kami, Sudipta and Tammi

My editor from Sterling, the smart and lovely Meredith Mundy, made an appearance with a stack of NORMAL NORMAN cover designs from which to choose. Tammi, an author of eight Sterling titles, offered her expert opinion, too. And guess what? We all agreed on two favorites. (Now do we eeny-meeny-miney-mo?)



I only saw critique partners Corey Rosen-Schwartz and Mike Allegra briefly. I waved to Mike from my post at the registration table. Then he promptly dissolved into the crowd. This became a new picture book idea. Thanks, Mike!


Opening Keynote by Denise Fleming

denisefleming15Denise encouraged us to find out what age we really are. No, this isn’t a plug for Go back to your childhood and discover the age of your true voice. Denise never aged past Kindergarten. Me, I’m perpetually 8.

So that’s what you write. Dig down to emerge as a child, forever locked in a state of wonder.

Denise told us an impromptu paper-making class inspired her to choose this art form as her picture book medium. She evolved from precise watercolor paintings to a more loose, bold, colorful style. HER STYLE. Her illustrations set her apart. She asked us to ponder what makes us each unique. You’ve got to offer something different and not be like everyone else. Stand out, don’t blend in.

Oh, by the way, Denise thinks you’re pretty.

tammisauer15Workshop One:
Writing Picture Books that Sell! by Tammi Sauer

With 23 contracts in 10 years, you’ve got to listen to and respect Tammi’s advice. She presented her top 12 tips for picture books, citing from her titles as examples. The quirkiest thing I found out is that she loves to use the name “Louise.”

Tammi recommends reading A LOT of picture books. You will begin to absorb information about their structure and format without even realizing! This knowledge will then seep into your manuscripts.

Tammi also wants us to write titles that POP. Up the tension in your stories and use words that SING.

Me? My name sings. I shall hereforthto be known as Tra-la-la Lazar.


Workshop Two:
Writing Mainstream (BUT COOL!) Picture Books by Ame Dyckman and Adam Lehrhaupt

This dynamic duo demonstrated a lot of energy, pizzazz and “special sauce.” No, we’re not talking about McD’s. Their “cream of creativity” is a mixture of unique elements that add up to writing a hook-y, mainstream winner. Slather on your own writing style, stir in heart and humor, and you will concoct a winning picture book recipe.

But remember, that’s just the sauce—an accent. Your picture book still needs meat! Pick popular subjects, relatable situations and age-appropriate “big picture” messages to make your story its most delish.


jenmalone15Workshop Three:
Thinking Outside the Box to Market Your Book with Jen Malone

I call this presentation “How to Sell Your Book Without Being Creepy.” As natural introverts, we writers don’t like going outside to deal with “people and weather.” We abhor the uncomfortable, used-car-like sales pitch. We don’t want to plaster the interwebs with “BUY MY BOOK!” Ick.

So what’s an author to do? Jen presented unique, creative ways to market by simply being you. Look outside your own book community to find opportunities for connections. Offer others what they want and they might just offer what YOU WANT—an introduction to a new audience. Jen has been doing work with the Girl Scouts and a famous bakery to reach her target audience, tween girls. (And, there are CUPCAKES involved. Win, win, stuff yer face.)

Workshop Four:
7 Revision Tips to Take your PB from WAAH to WOW! by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen and Marcie Colleen

Don’t let the high-heels distract you. These two PB experts offer furlongs of fabulous advice. (Furlongs? I gotta stop the alliteration.)

They emphasized reviewing your picture book to ensure visual variety. This refers to textual elements as well as compositional ones. Think story AND layout. Think page turns. Think scene changes. Dump anything that’s repetitive or passive without purpose.


Workshop Five:
Is Your PB Worthy? by Marie Lamba

marielamba15Oh, how I regret not getting a photo of Marie hugging her presentation easel. Adorbs.

Marie, an author and agent, bubbles with enthusiasm for picture books. She brought some of her all-time favorites to share and exclaimed, “Isn’t that HILARIOUS?” while doubled over in laughter.

We all want that—a reader who loves our book five, ten, even 20 years after first reading it. So how do we get that?

Be different. Don’t just write the first idea that comes to mind. Write five ideas. Then another five. Use the tenth one. Applying this tip from Donald Maass means you’ll arrive upon something no one has done.

Marie also shared the top 10 mistakes she sees in picture book submissions. For example, she doesn’t want to see “just a schtick.” (Don’t you LOVE Yiddish words?)

Your picture book can be ridiculous, but quirky humor isn’t enough. She cited her own manuscript about a girl who wears gloves on her feet and pretends she’s a monkey. It’s cute and funny, but it’s not enough. Marie didn’t have a story, she had a schtick. Your manuscript needs a plot to matter.

Other common errors include rhyming NO MATTER WHAT and writing a slice-of-life vignette—a set-up instead of a story.

hunderdown15Sunday Morning Keynote:
Top 10 Things You Need to Know About the Children’s/YA Market by Harold Underdown

Harold! You have to love him. (You have to follow his Purple Crayon website!) He’s bursting with kidlit experience and wisdom.

First, he told us some great news: the children’s publishing market rose 20% last year!

Hard copy books are not disappearing and ebooks are not replacing them. In fact, the ebook market has hit a plateau and represents only 15% of the children’s market, but that number leans heavily toward YA. Picture books are preffered in hard copy by a wide margin.

Bookstores (both online and brick-and-mortar) are now the biggest sales channel (40%), as opposed to schools and libraries in years past.

Know that diverse books are hot and that writers and publishers are taking this issue seriously.

YA remains a boom area, MG is very healthy and PBs are experiencing renewed interest. Some are even calling this time “the golden age of picture books.”

However, Howard emphasized that you should always do your best work and not focus on what’s hot. This is what will get you published.

Workshop Six:
Marrying the Right Manuscript with the Right Publisher by Steve Meltzer

stevemeltzer15Steve is a welcomed, popular mainstay at NJ-SCBWI. He emphasized doing your research when searching for a publisher. It’s important to seek out comparable titles published within the last three years, those that are of a similar subject and format, but not famous or mega-selling. No one’s gonna believe your series is the next Harry Potter. Query with a reasonable comp, not an outrageous claim.

Workshop Seven:
The Changing Face of Humor in Picture Books by Steve Meltzer

Do I even have to talk about this? Steve and I disagree. I respect his opinion immensely, but I think a popular recent title missed the mark and had opportunity for so much more humor than it presented. He nudged me on the lunch line, “It’s a great book.” I topped my salad with bleu cheese and thought about it.

johncusick15Closing Keynote:
How to Be a Writer Without Losing Your Mind by John Cusick

John Cusick said much about life as a writer and agent, how he uses an Iron Man figurine on his desk to distinguish agent-time from writer-time, and how to balance our life roles.

He reminded us that our job is to “sit down and start.” Don’t worry about writing the whole book. Write a little bit for now. (This resonated with me. I tend to panic about writing AN ENTIRE NOVEL when I should really just put one word in front of the other.)

Also, no one cares if you stop writing. YOU MUST be the motivator.

Have a writing friend you can complain to…and let them know that this is their purpose. (Not their sole purpose, of course. We all need to kvetch and we need a kvetch catcher.)

Bottom line, it’s irrational and childish to make things up for a living. It’s crazy-making. So embrace it. Be crazy. It’s crazy that anything can be this good!

“Don’t worry about being normal because what you do is extraordinary,” John said.

I couldn’t agree more. How about you?

by Hillary Homzie and Mira Reisberg

You have an idea for a book! Yahoo! It’s one of those ideas that hits you so deep in your gut that you immediately scribble it into a little notebook. Your stomach bubbles, not in an indigestion sort of way, but in a nervous-happy–giving-birth-to-a-germ-of-an-idea way. So how do you know if the idea is really picture book idea? What if it’s actually a chapter book or a middle grade novel, how do you know?

Well, you don’t. Not right away.

Of course, there are the obvious tip-offs that your idea is not a picture book. Take your idea through this list and see how it stacks up.

  1. Age of the protagonist.

These days picture books are generally geared for ages 2-7, although there are still picture books geared towards older elementary school, especially in nonfiction. Still, there’s no question that picture books are skewing younger with shorter word counts. If your primary character is in first through third grade (or ages 6-9), and is longer than 700 words, chances are you have a chapter book. And if your character is a fourth or fifth grader, chances are you have a younger middle grade novel (for ages 9-10). Now sometimes, often, older chapter books overlap with middle grade. Is Stuart Little an illustrated chapter book or an early middle grade? There is no hard and fast answer here, especially since the term chapter book has often been used in a general way to indicate a book for elementary school children that has chapters. However, often in publishing when we say chapter book, we often mean an early chapter book. Think Magic Tree House, Junie B. Jones or Geronimo Stilton. Of course, exceptions apply in everything (and really, would it be any fun if there weren’t?). But read on to help you determine where your idea fits best.


  1. Interest of the main character.

Is your main character interested in something that will be appealing to younger children? E.g. If you’re story is about a child who’s excited about writing cursive, this means the main character is probably eight, and chances are it’s a chapter book story. If you’re an author/illustrator who has created lots of charming or edgy black and white illustrations to go with the story, chances are it’s a chapter book. Early middle grade books are also starting to feature illustrations more. This is great news for illustrators.

Page from "Notebook of Doom" chapter book series by Troy Cummings

Page from “Notebook of Doom” chapter book series by Troy Cummings

  1. Period of time.

Does your story occur over a year? Six months? You may have a chapter book or young middle grade on your hands. Now there are exceptions, picture books such as Diary of a Worm, which chronicles a character over a large period of time, or nonfiction picture books that occur over a long time like biographies. The majority of contemporary picture books take place over a brief period of time, while chapter or middle grade books usually have the luxury of taking their time with a story.


  1. Type of protagonist.

Are your main characters animals or personified objects? Chances are it’s either a picture book or an early chapter book. Older kids generally want to look more sophisticated with “grown-up” books, but of course there are always exceptions, like the fresh middle grade graphic novel Low Riders in Space, which features a dog, an octopus, and a mosquito as main characters.


Generally, if you like writing really short manuscripts with simple plots, often with animal characters on topics of interest for very young kids, you’re a picture book person. If you like the luxury of time and space for writing slightly longer books (from 1500 to 15,000 words) that still have pictures for slightly older kids ages 6-9, with or without animal characters, then you’re a chapter book writer (or maybe even an early reader person, but that’s a post for another day). And if you like much more complex plot lines, much longer storytelling, stories for early middle school kids, then you have an older middle grade idea.

So…what kind of ideas do you have?

Bonus info: Mira and Hillary will be co-teaching an outrageously fabulous interactive e-Course, the Chapter Book Alchemist, starting January 12th. Together and with the help of Mandy Yates, they make it ridiculously easy to write a chapter book or early middle grade during the 5 fun-filled weeks. The course features optional critique groups, weekly live webinar critiques, lots of lessons and exercises, the option for critiques with Mira or Hillary (with a free Scrivener course) and Golden Ticket opportunities to submit directly to agents and editors. Click here to find out more about this once-in-a-lifetime adventure with potential life and career changing benefits! Click here to find out more

Hillary Homzie photo by Suzanne Bronk

Hillary Homzie photo by Suzanne Bronk

Hillary Homzie is the author of the chapter book series, Alien Clones From Outer Space as well as the middle grade novels, Things Are Gonna Get Ugly, The Hot List, and Karma Cooper Unplugged (forthcoming). Some of her books are currently being made into an animated television series. Hillary teaches in the graduate M.F.A. program in children’s writing at Hollins University as well as for the Children’s Book Academy. She is also a former stand up comedienne. Visit her at

mirareisbergMira Reisberg is an award-winning children’s book creative, a former kidlit university professor and a former literary agent. She is also the Director of the Children’s Book Academy and has taught many now highly successful authors and illustrators. Visit her at



??????????You know I love lists. I’m a listophile. This blog features t a list of 500+ Things that Kids Like, Things They DON’T Like, and a list of over 200 fun, cool and interesting words. List-o-mania! List-o-rama! The lister! (Pretend I’m talking in Rob Schneider’s SNL “annoying office guy” voice.)

Today I invited debut author Darlene Beck Jacobson to the blog to share the Top 10 Toys and Candies of the early 1900’s, the time when times, well, they were a-changin’. It was also the time during her new middle grade novel, WHEELS OF CHANGE! (Don’t you just LOVE that cover?)

TOP TEN TOYS OF 1900-1920

  1. Teddy Bear (1902)—in honor of President Theodore Roosevelt who, on a hunting trip, had an opportunity to kill a bear and didn’t.
  2. Erector Set—invented by AC Gilbert, a gold medal Olympian in the 1908 Pole Vault.
  3. Lionel Trains (1901)
  4. Lincoln Logs (1916)
  5. Raggedy Ann Doll
  6. Radio Flyer Wagon (1917)
  7. Tinker Toys (1914)
  8. Crayola Crayons 8 pack (1903)
  9. Tin Toys
  10. Tiddlywinks

Other popular toys of the time  included: Baseball Cards (1900), Ping Pong (1901), Jigsaw Puzzle (1909), Snap Card Game, playing cards, marbles, checkers, chess, yo-yos, wooden tops and (of course) dolls.

Let’s see, what would the top 10 toys of today be? I think Teddy Bears might still have a shot at it. Maybe Crayola crayons, too. But I bet no one back then could envision an app being the most popular toy. (An app? they might say. You mean a tiny apple?)

Now let’s devour the top tasty treats of the era!


  1. Candy Corn (1880-s)
  2. Juicy Fruit Gum, Wrigley’s Spearmint Gum (1893)
  3. Tootsie Rolls (1896)
  4. Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bar (1900) with Almonds (1908)
  5. Necco Wafers (1901)
  6. Conversation Hearts (1902)
  7. Brach Wrapped Caramels (1904)
  8. Hershey Milk Chocolate Kisses (1906)
  9. Peppermint Lifesavers (1912)

Hmm, I think Hershey would still rank pretty high today. But my kids love Sour Patch and Fun Dip and AirHeads and all kinds of gross things now. Give me a Hershey’s any day (although make it a Cookies-n-Cream bar).

Last night was back-to-school night at my daughter’s elementary, and I’m astounded every year when the principal says, “Our children will be working in fields  that haven’t even been invented yet.” That’s how fast things are moving. I’m sure in another hundred years the top toys will be time machines and molecular transporters that will bring the catchphrase “Beam me up, Scotty” back in style.

Today’s world is moving fast, and that tempo is paralleled in WHEELS OF CHANGE with racial intolerance, social change and sweeping progress. It is a turbulent time growing up in 1908. For twelve year old EMILY SOPER, life in Papa’s carriage barn is magic. Emily is more at homehearing the symphony of the blacksmith’s hammer, than trying to conform to the proper expectations of females. Many prominent people own Papa’s carriages. He receives an order to make one for President Theodore Roosevelt. Papa’s livelihood becomes threatened by racist neighbors, and horsepower of a different sort. Emily is determined to save Papa’s business even if she has to go all the way to the President.

Sounds exciting, right? IT IS!

And guess what, you have yet another chance to win another book! Leave a comment stating what YOU think the #1 toy and #1 candy is right now, in 2014. You have until the last seconds of September 29th to enter. The winner receives WHEELS OF CHANGE.

To learn more about Darlene Beck Jacobsen and WHEELS OF CHANGE, visit


Tara and Darlene at NJ-SCBWI 2013!


Anna Staniszewskiby Anna Staniszewski

As an author who’s slowly been transitioning from novels to picture books (my first picture book will be out in March 2015), I’ve realized that picture book techniques have started influencing my novel-writing process. Here are a few examples.

1. Brevity and Word Choice
This is probably the most obvious connection. When you’re used to working with 500 words, you tend to get a little pickier about the words you use in longer projects. Even when I have 50k words to work with, for example, I still find myself making sure to cut out unnecessary phrases (particularly unneeded dialogue tags) and using strong verbs and interesting nouns to make each sentence count.

2. Tying the End to the Beginning
This is my favorite picture book technique. In picture books, the ending almost always echoes the beginning of the tale. I love using this approach in novels, reflecting something from the opening chapter in the closing chapter in a different context. This technique shows us that the character has grown and changed, and it also makes the story feel cohesive and satisfying.

3. Repeating for Emphasis
Repetition can be great in picture books, but in novels it can feel like telegraphing. A strong repeated image, however, especially one whose meaning deepens over the course of the story, can work well if it’s revisited throughout the novel. It can help show how the meaning of that image or experience has changed for the character over time.

4. Using the Senses
In picture books, we have to be mindful of not focusing too much on the visual details so that we don’t step on the illustrator’s toes. That means we have to use other senses to give the story depth. I try to use a similar multi-sensory approach in my novels, so I’m not simply describing how things look to the characters, but I’m also thinking about the smells, sounds, and textures around them. I’ve also found myself using a lot of onomatopoeic words—kapow!

For those of you who write in longer and shorter formats, how do you find the two influencing each other? What’s your favorite picture book technique to use in novel-writing? Please comment below and join the conversation!


prank list cover 2Born in Poland and raised in the United States, Anna Staniszewski grew up loving stories in both Polish and English. Currently, she lives outside Boston with her husband and their crazy dog. When she’s not writing, Anna spends her time reading, daydreaming, and challenging unicorns to games of hopscotch. She is the author of the My Very UnFairy Tale Life series and the Dirt Diary series. Her newest novel, The Prank List, released on July 1st from Sourcebooks. You can visit Anna at

kami headshotby Kami Kinard

I’m one of those people who has always known I wanted to be an author. What? You too? It’s pretty common (but not necessary) among we writer types. When I first started out, more than a decade ago, I wasn’t exactly sure what type of writer I wanted to be. So I played around with different genres. It was a lot of fun.

But I wanted to do more than have fun. So I devoured Writer’s Market and Children’s Writers Market. I purchased books of writerly advice, and books featuring quotes from authors.

Whenever I felt inspired, I wrote and wrote and wrote. When I didn’t feel inspired to write, I used my free time to do other things. I took courses in metal working, I learned bead stringing techniques, I started a small jewelry-making business, and I even learned to play the banjo.

Then I purchased the book that changed my methods, and ultimately led to publication success.

You might say I experienced a lifestyle change because of this book. One of the quotes featured in it was just a few words from Jack London. Here, I’ve made a little poster of it for you, so you can print it out and hang in your workspace.


Reading this quote resulted in an important ah-ha moment for me. The reason I wasn’t moving forward with my writing was that I was waiting for inspiration to lead me. When it didn’t, I was wandering off of the trail. I realized that in order to capture my dreams, I needed to focus on my quest for inspiration. I gave my metalworking supplies to a cousin in design school. The banjo went to a friend who’d borrowed it a few times. The jewelry making business was sold. I kept the bead stringing supplies because—hey—everyone needs a hobby! (And if you’re serious about this, writing can’t be your hobby.)

Then, I grabbed my club and started spending my lunch break in libraries. I chased down inspiration between the covers of books, captured ideas, and caged them into poems that were soon published in children’s magazines.

I hunted down the idea for this poem, sold to Jack and Jill, on the “UBA” page of a rhyming dictionary. Scuba and Tuba? What’s not to love?

Tuba Scuba page 1

I stumbled across the idea for this story about gopher tortoises, published in Ladybug, while stalking a story about alligators. (The alligator story escaped me, but at least I didn’t come away from the excursion empty handed.)

Burrow Borrowers pages 1& 2

I tracked down inspiration in unlikely places, like the stroller handle where an inch worm journeyed, and an autumn maple that was reminiscent of a gigantic golden feather. Often, as in these two cases, the inspiration resulted in stories I was able to sell.

Eventually, my club and I apprehended inspiration between the pages of my old middle school diaries, and my trophy looks like this.

the boy project

My first published book!

You can find inspiration almost anywhere. But you have to stalk it. Sniff the air. Listen for it. Be alert to its presence.

Now, when people ask me, “Where do you find inspiration?”

I answer, “Anywhere I have five minutes of free time.” And this is true. I don’t wait for huge blocks of time, for peace and quiet, or for good atmosphere. Give me five minutes, and I’ll find inspiration. After all, I’m never without the tools of my trade. That’s the best thing about working with words: they’re lightweight, omnipresent, and free!

When Tara invited me to post for PiBoIdMo, my first response was, “I haven’t sold a picture book.” True confession. Notice I put this at the end of the post! Years ago, I imagined I would author only picture books and poetry. But pursing inspiration led me in an unexpected direction. My first published book was not the picture book I predicted it would be, but a middle grade novel.

November is filled with inspiration and ideas. As the month draws to a close, I invite you to pick up your club and keep chasing inspiration. Focus on your quarry. Be relentless. You never really know where the chase will lead you, but if you can capture your inspiration with words, the award is magnificent!

Bonus: If you’d like more PiBoIdMo tips, check out my blog for another post about writing.


Author Bio: Kami Kinard’s poetry, articles, and stories have been published in some of the world’s best children’s magazines. Her first middle grade novel, The Boy Project (Scholastic 2012), will soon be followed by a companion novel, The Boy Problem (Scholastic 2014). A former public educator, Kami currently teaches writing for children and adults and leads writing workshops at conferences and retreats. She lives in balmy, buggy, and beautiful Beaufort, SC with her husband, two children, and the world’s smartest dog. You can learn more about her and her books by visiting her website or her blog at


Kami is giving away a critique of up to ten pages of any single children’s manuscript. An experienced critiquer, Kami has critiqued picture books, novels, and poems that have gone on to be published.

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 (as per Annette’s spine-tingling challenge).
  3. You have completed the PiBoIdMo challenge. (You will have to sign the PiBoIdMo Pledge at the end of the event.)

Good luck, everyone!


Flash on over to Flash Fiction Chronicles today and I’ll tell you all about writing micro fiction for children! It’s how I got my start.

Today is a very special day. No, it’s not National Ice Cream for Breakfast Day. It’s the release of Lynne Kelly’s debut novel CHAINED!

Why am I so excited? Well, not only is CHAINED a phenomenal read, but Lynne Kelly is one of the first people I met on Twitter a few years ago. And definitely one of the funniest. I’ve been waiting for CHAINED almost as long as she has!

I interviewed Lynne on the Lucky 13s Blog today. Would you believe this layered tale set in India began as a PICTURE BOOK?! Read how it transformed into the stellar middle-grade novel it is today. Who knows, maybe your picture book will evolve into a novel, too!

Congratulations, Lynne! (I am a proud Auntie.)

If you want to publish a book for children, the first thing you must do is ask yourself why.

Is your motivation to publish a kid’s book one of the following?

  • Your kids/grandkids/nieces/nephews/neighbors/students love a story you’ve written.
  • It would be fun to see your name in print.
  • You want to sign autographs.
  • You want to make money, quickly.
  • You want your artist cousin/sister/friend to illustrate it.

If you answered “yes” to any of the above, please read this post. I write this to save you a lot of time and frustration. Because it’s not an easy business. NOT. EASY. AT. ALL.

New writers often believe they can pen one story in an hour or two, never revise it, yet somehow land an agent and a publishing deal—-as if the simple act of writing begets publication.

Hitting one baseball does not mean the Yankees will draft you. Likewise, writing one story does not mean Random House will offer you a contract. Although, keep hitting that ball, make it go higher and farther…learn about fielding and sliding, too…and play seriously for years, and you just might make it.

Everyone believes the first thing they write will be golden and they’ll never receive a single rejection. We are all HOPEFUL. But, everyone is wrong. (Including me!) Trust me, this will NOT happen. It has NOT happened to ANYONE. (Except for Kevin Henkes.)

The motivation to write a children’s book should be:

  • You love to write. You were born to write. You can’t NOT write.
  • The child inside you is begging to get out and explore.
  • You love children’s literature and want to contribute worthy stories to the genre.
  • You want to inspire children to read, write, create, imagine and dream.
  • You enjoy learning from children. (Yes, your primary goal should not be to teach them. Teachers, parents and guardians teach. Books are meant to be fun.)
  • You want to work hard to establish a career as a kidlit author. You’re in it for the long haul.

Notice fame and fortune have nothing to do with it. That’s something a small percentage of authors achieve. (Yes, authors can have dozens of books in print yet they cannot support themselves through writing alone. Moreover, advance checks can take a long time to arrive, and royalties trail about about 6-9 months behind book sales.)

And even if you become a famous author, most people won’t recognize you by sight or name. It will never get you the window table at The Four Seasons on a busy Saturday night. You’re better off making a reservation as “Doctor Lazar”.

It takes most children’s writers years to land their first book deal. And selling one book does not guarantee future book sales. Selling each subsequent book can get MORE difficult, especially if one (or more) of your titles do not sell as well as the publisher expected.

I don’t mean to be discouraging. I want to be REALISTIC. Children’s literature is a BUSINESS. And this business is like any other—it takes hard work, commitment, talent and a little luck, too. If you’re writing a children’s book on a whim, you might end up being very disappointed when you realize how tough it really is.

In short, I’ve made more money and worked fewer hours in EVERY OTHER JOB I’VE EVER HAD.


There’s no job I’VE LOVED MORE. (Besides being a mom, of course.)

Just because you’re writing for children doesn’t mean it’s easy. In fact, it is more difficult to become a published kidlit author than it is to become any other kind of author. (That’s because there’s a tremendous amount of competition. Everyone believes writing for kids is easy because they’re kids. Not so.)

So do it because you LOVE it. You LOVE it like you CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT IT. Because children don’t deserve anything less than YOUR VERY BEST WORK.

Steps you should take:

  1. Earn a degree in English and/or Creative Writing.
  2. Read hundreds of books in your chosen kidlit genre (picture books, non-fiction, middle grade novels, graphic novels, YA).
  3. Write. Write. And write some more.
  4. Join a critique group specific to the genre in which you wish to publish. YA novelists don’t necessarily know a lot about picture books and vice-versa.
  5. Join SCBWI.
  6. Attend professional kidlit conferences, book fairs and other literary events.
  7. Revise. Revise. And revise some more.
  8. Research agents and editors online.
  9. Establish a social media presence. Make writing friends. Gain a support system.
  10. Consider investing in professional writing books, magazines and services like Publisher’s Marketplace (which will show you what books are selling, which agents are selling them, and to whom), The Horn Book, Publisher’s Weekly and The Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market Guide.
  11. After at least two years of writing, try submitting. Don’t send your work out in huge batches. Research who likes the kind of work you produce and target a few. If only rejections come back, try another small set of subs, revise again or write something else.
  12. Never give up. Keep writing new stories. Those who make it in this business are those who persevere!

Excellent online resources for aspiring children’s authors:

Happy Halloween!

It’s time for ghouls and ghosts, Linus and the Great Pumpkin, Milky Ways and Kit Kats…and speaking of cats, black ones might cross your path today. That’s because The Lucky 13s are here!

The Lucky 13s are debut 2013 kidlit authors in the picture book, middle grade and young adult genres. (It used to be just MG & YA debuts, but I butted in.) They’ve started a kidlit blog, Twitter account, and picked out a spiffy superstition-spoofing logo designed by Wendy Martin.

For PiBoIdMo, I asked some of The Lucky 13s what being creative meant to them…

Rachele Alpine: Making, living and getting lost in a world that is one big game of make believe!

Elsie Chapman: For me, creativity is never a constant. Sometimes it takes a bit of work to get the words to come. Music always works—songs I already know and love and connect with certain memories, new ones that make me sit up and really listen. Amazing lyrics can recreate a moment or emotion that just make me want to write.

Emma PassFor me, creativity means freedom; life in full colour instead of just black and white. Although writing is my main creative outlet, I also love to draw and play the piano, just for myself, and I can’t imagine a world where I couldn’t do those things (well, actually, I can… and it’s a very scary place!).

Kristen KittscherI like to remember that creativity isn’t some rare non-renewable resource that only a select few can access. We’re all imaginative, as long as we stay open-minded. For me, being creative means giving myself permission to be messy, make mistakes, and generate thousands of bad ideas for every clever one.

Jessica Young: I think creativity has to do with curiosity and playfulness—thinking “what if” and then trying it. For me that often means connecting elements or ideas in a new way, or following one small clue and discovering where it leads, but also taking the risk of it not working out, or leading somewhere I didn’t expect.

Liz Coley: I tap into my well of creativity by remaining open to outside courses of inspiration, especially NPR radio interviews and random discussions with strangers. Somehow these cross fertilize in the shower or car, when my mind can wander and free associate. Turning this into something written requires a foamy latter, a comfortable chair, and, seasonally, a fire. Sitting in a noisy Starbucks for four hours and blocking it all out works wonders as well.

Elisabeth Dahl: Creativity means letting your mind off-leash. In the case of writing, this can mean allowing your mind to root around for interesting associations. If you’re telling a story about a widow and you suddenly picture the Venus de Milo, ask yourself why. What’s the connection? Should the statue figure into your story somehow? The unconscious mind is so smart.

Sarah Skilton: Being creative means a fresh piece of blank notebook paper and no expectations, restrictions, or judgment. It means writing whatever happens to pop into my head, without any audience in mind, and without wondering what anyone else will think about it. Being creative means creating just for me, to mark a moment.

Jennifer McGowan: Being Creative to me means giving a dream life—putting ideas into action or thoughts into form. It’s not enough to imagine something; being creative actually involves ensuring that the product of one’s imagination becomes a tangible reality for all the world to see. 

Nicole Maggi: Creativity is feeding my inner Artist and giving her an outlet. It doesn’t matter if that outlet is coloring in a coloring book or writing a story that no one else is going to read. My inner Artist doesn’t care about book contracts or bestseller lists or gallery shows.  She just wants to dance.  

Megan Shepherd: Lately I’ve come to see creativity as an alternate way of navigating the world. In school you learn skills like memorization, critical thinking, and how to provide the “correct” answer. But creating art means seeing the world through a different lens, where there are no rules or guidelines, and, in fact, stepping outside the normal lines of thought are essential. Creativity is both terrifying and freeing.

Steven dos SantosCreativity is like a key to me that unlocks a mental door into worlds I can only dream about, or nightmares I dare not speak of. Being highly imaginative can be a powerful gift, as it allows me to breathe life into blank pages and hopefully fill them with enough emotion, mystery, adventure, suspense, humor, and horror, to spawn a visceral connection with people I’ve never met before.

Brandy Colbert: Creativity allows me to craft a bit of sense from the people, words, and ideas that float around in my head. It assures me that daydreaming is never a waste of time.

That kinda leaves me. If I knew the answer, I wouldn’t have asked the question!

But seriously folks, to me, being creative means being out on the fairway during a thunderstorm and raising your 9-iron to the clouds. Take risks. Go out and seek the lightning. Because it does strike, but only if you’re lucky*.

* Definition of lucky: when preparedness meets opportunity.

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