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by Jeanette Bradley

Where do ideas come from? Why, from caffeine of course! And books. Books and caffeine are the best combination. Join me for a virtual cup of tea while I read to you from some picture books that have deep insights into the creative process.

“Toad put his head very close to the ground and shouted. ‘NOW SEEDS, START GROWING!’
Frog came running up the path.
‘What’s all this noise?’ he asked.
‘My seeds will not grow,’ said Toad.
‘You are shouting too much,’ said Frog. ‘These poor seeds are afraid to grow.'”


Story ideas are seeds. They are scared of loud noises. They don’t like being told they aren’t good enough to write down, or they are too much like another idea. They tend to flee when criticized, and they take their friends with them.

Don’t scare off your ideas by holding out unrealistic standards. (“You must be polished and ready to publish!” or “You must be absolutely unique!”) Let your ideas grow at their own pace. Treat them all as worthy of being jotted into your notebook, or on the back of receipt, or typed into your phone. Remember they are just seeds, and they might arrive as a single word, or an incomplete image. They will grow.

In Henkes’ Caldecott-winning title, Kitten tries, and tries, and tries to drink the big bowl of milk in the sky, and fails miserably.

“So, she went back home—and there was a great big bowl of milk on the porch, just waiting for her.”


Inspiration can be elusive. If we chase after it, we often fail to catch it. But then, when we’ve exhausted every effort, an idea will be sitting on the porch, just waiting for us. Sometimes the best ideas come when you are sitting in traffic, or shoveling the driveway, or generally not looking for them.

Still stuck? Have a cup of tea with a friend. (Or whatever it is that you like to drink—beer, moonlight, tears of your enemies are all acceptable.)

“Susan liked Fredrick’s ideas, and he liked hers.”

~ Dean Robbins, TWO FRIENDS

Sometimes it’s a simple as that, my friends. Share your ideas. You will both come away with more than you started with, just like Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass do when they share tea and thoughts, in this beautiful book.

“Every tiny atom in your body came from a star that exploded long before you were born.”


Finally, a reminder: It is amazing and magical to be alive and reading blog posts and brainstorming story ideas. Tap into your stardust magic. Pause as you are taking out the trash to look at the sky. Go for a walk in the woods. Take a minute right now and hold your hand up to a sun and watch photons streaming through your fingers from space.

This is also a reminder to not take yourself or your ideas too seriously. You are but a bit of leftover star swirling in a minor galaxy in an expanding universe. No one cares if that idea you just had is stupid, and you shouldn’t either. Write it down.

No one cares if you don’t have an idea right now, and you shouldn’t either. Take a nap or go for a walk. Your ideas will grow while you aren’t paying attention.

When you come back, they may be sitting on the porch.


Jeanette Bradley has been an urban planner, an apprentice pastry chef, and the artist-in-residence for a traveling art museum on a train. Her debut picture book LOVE, MAMA was published by Roaring Brook Press in January 2018. It contains no cities, pastries, or trains, but was made with lots of love. She currently lives in Rhode Island with her wife and kids. Find her online at:, on Twitter @jeanettebradley, and on Instagram @jea_bradley.

Jeanette is giving away a copy of LOVE, MAMA.

Leave ONE COMMENT on this blog post to enter. You are eligible to win if you are a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once below. Prizes will be given away at the conclusion of the event.

Good luck!

by Vivian Kirkfield

It’s an honor to be here! Tara asked if I would talk about how I took SWEET DREAMS, SARAH all the way from idea to published picture book. But I kind of feel like an imposter because although the book was slated to pub in March 2017, I still have no book in hand…and the tentative October 2018 launch date may have to be pushed back again. However, I know it will be worth the wait. Plus, happily, in the last two months of the year, I got THREE new book deals. So I’m also going to share how I got the ideas for those books.

TAKEAWAY #1: You need an infinite amount of patience…and a goodly supply of chocolate…to take an idea all the way to published book.
In 2012, I turned the page to another chapter in my life. Just retired and ready to follow my dream of writing picture books, I joined Julie Hedlund’s newly-formed 12×12 Writing Challenge, dipped my toes into my first-ever critique group, and participated in Tara’s month-long idea-fest.

TAKEAWAY #2: Connecting with fellow travelers on this writing journey will provide you with support, encouragement, and joy!
Several years passed with no sign of a book deal. Determined, I refused to give up. Joined more critique groups. Took picture book writing classes. Attended webinars and conferences. And I wrote, revised, and submitted…over and over again.

TAKEAWAY #3: If you hone your craft, embrace feedback, and are tenacious…you WILL succeed!
I also kept filling those Storystorm notebooks with ideas. But where did those ideas come from?

  • The idea for SWEET DREAMS, SARAH came from an internet search of  “the first woman to…” Why not see if your next story is on this list of inspirational female pioneers?

TAKEAWAY #4: The internet is an unbelievable gold mine for writers and illustrators—a spiderweb that allows you to connect with people, information, and resources all over the world.

  • The idea for VISITORS TO DEEP POOL came from observing animals while fly-fishing with my husband on a pristine mountain stream. It was my Day 3 story idea for Tara’s 2012 challenge and guess what? I signed the contract on Wednesday.

TAKEAWAY #5: Get out into nature—there are many stories waiting there for you!

  • The idea for PIPPA’S PASSOVER PLATE came during Tara’s 2013 challenge when Kar-Ben editor Joni Sussman said she wanted more Jewish holiday stories. She passed on the rhyming story I wrote, but another house bought it…and guess what? I signed that contract last month and the editor is taking the book dummy to the Bologna Book Fair.

TAKEAWAY #6: Listen to editors/parents/teachers/kids—they will tell you what they want to read about!

  • The idea for INVENTING came from a conversation with my sister. She told me about the friend of a friend whose grandfather founded an iconic company in America. I contacted the granddaughter, wrote the story, and an editor loved it. The contract for that book arrived yesterday.

TAKEAWAY #7: Let people know you are a writer and that you write stories for children—you will have an endless supply of new ideas.

  • The idea for BRUSHSTROKES came from a New York Times article (my niece sent me the link last January) about an artist who had just died. An editor did make an offer, but before the contract was signed, another imprint of the same publishing house announced a book on the same person. The editor had to step back and withdraw the offer. But the manuscript is out on submission again and my fingers are crossed for another editor to fall in love with it.

TAKEAWAY #8: Peruse newspapers, magazines, journals—uncover forgotten stories and write them so you can bring history alive for kids.

  • The idea for SCULPTING STORIES: THE MAGIC HANDS OF JOSÉ DE CREEFT came from watching an episode of “American Pickers” on television. I entered the manuscript last month in the NESCBWI Peg Davol Manuscript Critique Scholarship…and won!

TAKEAWAY #9: Kick back and relax—but keep a pencil and paper handy when you watch TV or a movie. You just never know where the next story idea will come from.

In fact, keep a pencil and paper handy ALWAYS! If you are like me, unwritten ideas float back to the Universe from whence they came. But no worries…just kick back and relax…watch TV, read a newspaper, chat with family and friends, take a walk in the woods…grab those ideas and write, revise, and submit so that you can kick butt with book deals in 2018 and beyond.

Vivian Kirkfield constantly takes leaps of faith. She jumped from a perfectly good plane with her son, hiked to the summit of Pikes Peak with her husband, and parasailed over the Pacific Ocean with only seagulls for company.

A former Kindergarten teacher with a Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education, Vivian is passionate about helping kids become lovers of books. A proud member of SCBWI, she presents literacy programs that entertain and engage parents, teachers and kids. When she’s not writing, revising, or critiquing picture book manuscripts, Vivian plays epic games of Monopoly with her nine-year old grandson, shares stories on Skype with her four-year old granddaughter, and takes walks through the idyllic New England village of Amherst, New Hampshire where she currently resides.

Her debut nonfiction picture book, SWEET DREAMS, SARAH, will be published by Creston Books in October 2018. You can find her on Twitter @viviankirkfield and Facebook, or visit her blog at Picture Books Help Kids Soar.

Vivian is giving away a picture book critique.

Leave ONE COMMENT on this blog post to enter. You are eligible to win if you are a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once below. Prizes will be given away at the conclusion of the event.

Good luck!


by Susan Tan

When people talk about writing, they often talk about butts in chairs. This is absolutely true and something I believe. Sometimes, half the battle of writing is just making the time to sit in your chair, and committing to staying there, even on days when your mind is blank and you hate every sentence you produce.

Sometimes, though, I think the vision of the author at their special writing desk, sitting in one place in a large chunk of time dedicated to writing, can set up daunting and maybe even unrealistic expectations. The fact of the matter is that many us have busy lives—raising families, working other jobs, and any number of commitments, which make this kind of ‘butt in chair’ time hard to pin down. I think the same is true for inspiration. Inspiration (unfortunately) doesn’t necessarily strike during the precious desk time you get. In fact, for me at least, it comes most often in motion—in the small flashes of conversation I hear as strangers walk by, in a beautiful view, a bright printed sweater I see on the subway.

So, I thought it would be fun, for this post, spot share my favorite kind of writing (which I find the best for inspiration): writing on the go.

I drafted my first book, CILLA LEE-JENKINS: FUTURE AUTHOR EXTRAORDINAIRE, entirely on the go. I was in graduate school, and at the end of long days when I couldn’t stand the idea of looking at my computer anymore (or thinking about my dissertation anymore), I would get into bed, take out my iPad, and write stories from my childhood, lying down, my iPad above my head, typing with my thumbs.

Admittedly I wasn’t on the go in the literal sense. But I was writing from a place that wasn’t my “official” workspace, and that made all the difference—writing from my bed every night was a joy, a stolen moment when I turned the time before falling asleep into time just for me and the stories I felt compelled to write down.

Cilla started in those initial late night writing sessions, but didn’t stay there for long. Soon, I was writing on the bus on the way to the library, typing on my phone with my thumbs. I wrote waiting for appointments, on park benches, and on one summer trip, during a break from sightseeing on the steps of the Lincoln memorial. In some cases, I’d write chapters from my iPad or phone. In others, I’d jot down quick ideas as they came to me in a notebooks, on a work folder, and once, on a CVS receipt.

This patchwork way of writing made my book possible during an otherwise hectically busy time. What’s more, it made the act of writing fiction a treat. I delighted in finding more and more moments in between my other jobs that I could steal to focus just on the work that made me happy.

Now, out of graduate school, I work full time, and while I’ve certainly found ways to make more time for sustained butt in chair writing, a good deal of my drafting still takes place on the go. If you see me hunched over on my phone in the subway, on my way to work, I’m probably writing (I’m told it looks like I’m playing a REALLY intense game of candy crush). And writing on the go remains one of my biggest sources of inspiration. When I’m stuck, I’ll steal from what I see, and anything from a carousel, to curtains, to the snippets of someone else’s grocery list, have found their way into the Cilla books.

I still write in waiting rooms and on buses, too, and I still love the feel that I’m cheating somehow—making a five minute bus delay something entertaining and productive.* In fact, in the course of writing this blog post I’ve been on a park bench, in a waiting room, on a plane, and in the subway.

There’s no one way to write a book, and what works for one person might not work for another. But if you’re looking for new ways to write, and new sources of inspiration, I’d highly suggest trying to write somewhere different than you usually do. Snatch some time, even five minutes is enough, to write where you normally wouldn’t. Make the three subway stops between your house and the store, the delay at the doctors office, or the minutes you spend parked waiting to pick up someone from work or school, writing time. There’s a wonderful, energizing feel to making your office wherever you happen to be sitting (or standing or lying) at the time. And when you make time to write on the go, you never know what kind of ideas will walk across your page or screen, and into a story.

* Disclaimer: I just want to note that I firmly believe writing on the go should be FUN, not an-other source of ‘I should be writing’ stress. So if you start writing in the go, don’t be hard on yourself if you find there are times you just can’t! We all need some time spent just commuting, or listening to music, podcasts, or actually playing Candy Crush, etc.!

Susan Tan is the author of the middle grade Cilla Lee-Jenkins books, a semi-autobiographical series about a mixed-race, half-Chinese 8 year old who dreams of literary greatness: Cilla Lee-Jenkins: Future Author Extraordinaire (March 28, 2017); Cilla Lee-Jenkins: This Book is a Classic (March 27, 2018); & Cilla Lee-Jenkins: The Epic Saga (March 2019). She received her BA from Williams College, her PhD from the University of Cambridge, and was the 2015 Gish Jen Emerging Writers Fellow at the Writers’ Room of Boston. She currently lives in Somerville, enjoys frequent trips to Chinatown to eat almond cookies, and teaches at UMass Boston.

Visit her online at and Twitter @SusanSMTan.

Susan is giving away a 20-minute Skype visit and a set of special Cilla pins.

Leave ONE COMMENT on this blog post to enter. You are eligible to win if you are a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once below. Prizes will be given away at the conclusion of the event.

Good luck!

by Kerri Kokias

This poster hangs above my living room couch.

It reads, “The things that made you weird as a kid—make you great today.” It was made by artist, designer, and creativity coach, James Victore, and it’s a message I think we can all apply to coming up with story ideas this month. I see it as a more specific way to think about some of the more common mantras you hear as writing advice. Such as, “Write what you know.” Or, “Write the book you wish you had as a kid.” So, if it feels helpful to you, perhaps brainstorm some ways you were weird as a kid and how you might be able to apply these to your story ideas.

I’ll start. The first thing that comes to mind is that I was painfully shy. Like, want-to-be-invisible, freak-out-if-a-teacher-called-on-me shy.

I feel like I can come up with an endless number of story ideas simply by focusing on this one personality trait and tapping into the emotions I remember having around it.

But there is another level that I think we might be able to apply this quote. First, take that thing that made you weird as a kid and look at ways it has already influenced your writing projects.

I can’t think of a single story I’ve written (yet!) that was inspired by my shyness, or prominently features shyness as a theme or dominant character trait. However, in retrospect I do wonder how much my shyness contributes to my writing style. I tend to use understated text and write illustration-driven picture books. For example, my book SNOW SISTERS! is a sparse 58 words and was written to have the illustrations portray much of the plot and character development.

I wouldn’t necessarily consider myself a shy adult, but even today it’s natural for me to observe people more than I interact with them. I’m a writer who thinks visually before using words, and I am perfectly comfortable having the illustrations drive my stories. Knowing this about myself, I can also use these patterns in my writing style to inspire future ideas. For example, I can ask myself what types of stories are best told with sparse, understated text? I bet you have your own patterns in your writing that you can use to spark future ideas.

In summary, here are some questions from this post that you might want to consider:

  • How were you weird as a kid? (Feel free to think of more than one answer!)
  • How can you apply this trait, and the emotions you remember feeling around it, to new story ideas? (I know you can come up with more than one answer here.)
  • Can you recognize ways this trait may already be influencing themes or patterns in your writing?
  • In what ways can you channel these established themes/patterns to come up with new ideas?

Learn more about James Victore, his art, and his thoughts on creativity at I have no doubt he has other quotes that can be used to inspire story ideas.

Kerri Kokias credits most of her story ideas to her “fly on the wall” personality. This means she’s both a keen observer of social interactions and a nosey eavesdropper. Snow Sisters! is her first picture book. She lives in Seattle, Washington with her family. You can learn more about Kerri at or connect with her on Facebook or Twitter @KerriKokias.

Kerri is giving away a copy of her picture book, SNOW SISTERS!

Leave ONE COMMENT on this blog post to enter. You are eligible to win if you are a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once below. Prizes will be given away at the conclusion of the event.

Good luck!

by Robin Newman

Psst, Storystorm reader! Are you hungry? I could use a snack. Got anything good in the fridge?

Food is a recurring theme in my books. Although writing about food has its consequences (last I checked it was about 10 pounds of carrot cake consequences), food is a wonderfully rich source of nourishment for a writer. You can steal it, share it, trade it, play with it, cook it, investigate it, idiomize it, dress it, accessorize it, travel to, for, or with it, procrastinate with it, eat it, digest it, and so on.

Food is also extremely flexible. It works equally well in fiction and nonfiction from board books to YA. It can be the conflict of your story where two squirrels are battling it out for the very last acorn on earth or be part of the setting in a brewing coffee shop romance.

By now, you must be thinking this author has gone bananas. I wouldn’t expect anything less.

No surprise my next book is about three feathered foodies. Let me introduce you:

This is Phil.

This is Jim or Harry.

Or Harry or Jim.

Phil, Jim and Harry are residents on the grounds of The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. They are neighborhood celebrities. When I say these birds are celebrities, I mean EVERYBODY knows them. They’ve been written up in The New York Times more times than I count. (I’d like to note that I have never been written about in The New York Times. Sniff.)

For five years my son attended The Cathedral School of St. John the Divine. From the moment I saw the birds, I knew I wanted to write about them. But then there was that small matter of what to say about the birds. Where was my story?

On one extremely fortunate day, I was attending a meeting for the school’s book fair. During the meeting one of the school administrators came into the room asking if anyone had left a sandwich in a stroller because one of the peacocks ate it. And as soon as I heard that, I knew I had my story.

NO PEACOCKS! is about Phil, Jim and Harry’s quest to taste the school’s very famous mac ‘n cheese. It’s a cheesy story of friendship and teamwork, with a mild sprinkling of criminal activity that’s perfect for influencing the impressionable minds of children ages 0 to 1000. It flies onto bookshelves September 2018.

So, I hope I’ve whet your appetite for adding an ingredient or two of food to your writing. It may sound nuttier than fruitcake but it’s sure to spice up your writing. And by golly, it sure is fun! Some food for thought . . .

Raised in New York and Paris, Robin Newman was a practicing attorney and legal editor, but she now prefers to write about witches, mice, pigs, and peacocks. She’s the author of The Case of the Missing Carrot Cake, The Case of the Poached Egg, and Hildie Bitterpickles Needs Her Sleep. She’s a member of the SCBWI, National Writing Project Writers Council, and the Bank Street Writers Lab. She lives in New York with her husband, son, goldfish, and two spoiled English Cocker Spaniels, Cupcake and Madeleine.

Please stop by and say hello! Her website is and you can follow her on Twitter @robinnewmanbook and Facebook.

And let her know about your writing success stories. She loves happy endings!

Robin is giving away The Case of the Missing Carrot Cake, The Cake of the Poached Egg, Hildie Bitterpickles Needs Her Sleep, AND a 15 minute Skype school visit.


Leave ONE COMMENT on this blog post to enter. You are eligible to win if you are a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once below. Prizes will be given away at the conclusion of the event.

Good luck!

by Tara Luebbe

Today I’d like to jump into a time machine and beam forward to February 1. You have followed the brilliant advice of my fellow authors and have some great new ideas. Now let’s talk about that next vital step…

Last fall, Tara (Lazar) and I discussed how we often see writers spending too much time polishing, revising, and perfecting a manuscript that, frankly, is not a good idea to begin with. It doesn’t matter how beautiful your prose is or how much you polish every word. If it is not a marketable or unique idea, it won’t sell. So how do you take your Storystorm ideas and assess them for marketability and selling potential?

I’ve been given a gift like the kid in The Sixth Sense, but instead of dead people, I see marketability. My gift was honed through working retail; from the sales floor to the buying offices of big retailers, to wholesale distribution, and finally to owning a book and toy boutique. Buying and selling picture books gave me an astute understanding of what works…and what doesn’t.

In your eyes, your book is your baby, your masterpiece, your blood, sweat and tears, your soul. And yes, it IS all of those. But to the retail world, your book is a product, a SKU—inventory to be turned. Is your idea strong enough to be crafted into a sellable product? I don’t draft an idea into a manuscript unless I can envision the sales pitch. Not everything I write sells, of course—far from it. But I start with an idea that I am confident has marketability, and that is half the battle.

Not every published book falls into the parameters I suggest below. But, when I was trying so hard to break into the industry, writing marketable picture books was my golden ticket. If it is an approach you’d like to try, here are my recommendations to evaluate your ideas for marketability:

  • One obvious place to start is your topic. Does your book have a topic that kids actually like? You would not design any other product that doesn’t appeal to the target market, and books are no different. Can you imagine Pottery Barn trying to sell plastic lawn ornaments or Chia Pets? But yet, a lot of people write about topics that aren’t very interesting to the target market—kids. Kids like trucks, dinos, outer space, ninjas, princesses, pirates, cupcakes, art, monsters, animals, fairy tales, tutus, dance, etc. Popular topics make a book more marketable. BUT, this also means you need to research to make sure your story is DIFFERENT than existing books on your topic, or this won’t matter at all. (Tara Lazar has a brilliant list of 500+ things kids like in case you need help.

These books were recent favorites and are perfect examples of popular subject matters handled in fresh, new ways.

  • Walk into a children’s toy store or boutique with your manuscript. Look around. If you had to merchandise your product (book) in this store (not on a bookshelf, but with toys and merchandise), where would you put it? Does it have an obvious place? This is a picture from my former store. There were lots of books that I could merchandise in my “pink, fairy, tea party, ballerina” section. My upcoming book, I AM FAMOUS, would have fit in here, right next to Nancy and Bree. If you can’t see an obvious place for Grandma’s Childhood Tales of Eating Vegetables, you might want to rethink it.

  • Think of the changing front table displays at any gift retailer. Does your idea fit one of the themes that rotate throughout the year? The major holidays? The minor holidays? Back to school? Fall? Winter? Spring? Summer? Graduation season? Beach season? Snow season? Your book does not have to be a “holiday book” to be included here. Bunnies and chicks are associated with Easter; monsters, bats, or zombies can fit in with Halloween; love stories for Valentine’s Day, etc. When a retailer needs to create a themed front window or table display, can your “product” be included? Make a list of the holidays and themes that might work.
  • Are there any specialty retail stores you can envision your book fitting into? Does it belong in a zoo gift shop? An aquarium? The National Park gift stores? Pet boutiques? Pregnancy boutiques? Hobby stores? Museum gift shops? Educational or teacher stores? Craft stores? Cat stores? Specialty catalogs? Besides a bookstore, where else would your book fit seamlessly on the shelf? My book SHARK NATE-O is perfect for aquarium gift shops, and, in fact, we added non-fiction backmatter to make it even more attractive to this group. Bookstores are our bread and butter, but adding specialty retailers to your marketability factor is extremely helpful for sales. Make a list and see what you get.
  • Are there any special interest groups that would love this book? Scientists? Bilingual households? Families expecting a sibling? Military families? Pet adoption advocates? Marine biologists? Cryptozoologists? Potty trainers? Sloth aficionados? Flat earthers? Cosplayers? Teachers and librarians? Slot car racers? Grandparents? Yarn bombers? These subsets all are a part of the book’s marketability. I believe my forthcoming book, CONAN THE LIBRARIAN, may really resonate with teachers and librarians because of the literary message. Any marketing plan for your book should include these special interest groups.
  • Are there any special occasions or events that would tie in with your idea? Consider major events like the Olympics, Shark Week, a presidential election and Earth Day. Also think of regional events, like the Indianapolis 500, the Kentucky Derby, the Moose Poop Drop, the Polar Bear Plunge, etc. What about anniversaries of historical events? Black History Month? School celebrations like Poem in Your Pocket Day? The 100th day of School? The first day of school? Make a list. SHARK NATE-O is ready for Shark Week!

  • And the last great piece of marketability: a high-concept title. A high-concept title is one that tells a buyer what the book is about by title alone. A great title allows a book to be placed on a pallet in the middle of Costco, with no pretty merchandising and no sales help, and sell itself. As a retail buyer, I immediately get a sense of a book just by looking at the title and cover in a sales rep’s catalog. Can you give your manuscript a high-concept title?

I hope you find something in this post helpful as you sit down with your list of shiny new Storystorm ideas. While reviewing them, run each through the above checklist. Maybe one idea will jump off the page as an obvious place to start. Or maybe two ideas can be combined into something more marketable for an editor or agent. Oh, and watch Shark Tank if you don’t already—it’s brilliant for understanding marketability.

Tara Luebbe is an ex-retailer turned picture book author. She co-writes with her sister Becky Cattie. They are the authors of the forthcoming I AM FAMOUS, illustrated by Joanne Lew Vreithoff, (Albert Whitman March 1, 2018); SHARK NATE-O, illustrated by Daniel Duncan, (little bee books April 3, 2018); I USED TO BE FAMOUS, illustrated by Joanne Lew Vreithoff (Albert Whitman Spring 2019); and CONAN THE LIBRARIAN (Roaring Brook Press Spring 2019). She is also the founder of Writing with the Stars, a free mentorship program for aspiring picture book writers. You can learn more at and you can find her on Twitter @t_luebbe.

To keep it all about retail, Tara (Luebbe) is donating a $20.00 gift certificate to Chapters, an Indie bookstore in Seward, Nebraska, for one lucky winner to buy whatever they like. The winner will also receive a signed copy of I AM FAMOUS upon release on March 1.

Leave ONE COMMENT on this blog post to enter. You are eligible to win if you are a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once below. Prizes will be given away at the conclusion of the event.

Good luck!

by Kate Dopirak

My husband and I were at dinner when I revved right out of my seat: “TWINKLE, TWINKLE, LITTLE CAR!” I blurted, never so confident about a new book idea. The problem was . . . I didn’t actually have a new book idea. I just had a title that made everyone from my husband to my crit group to my agent to my editor race to read the manuscript. Too bad I stalled out on the promise of the premise!

My first draft of TWINKLE was about a boy looking for his lost toy car. Both of my sons take endless laps around the house in search of missing things, so I thought I was really zooming along. But I failed to focus enough on one of their favorite things: cars. Wouldn’t my sons, and every other car-loving kid, be disappointed to page through the entire book before finally—FINALLY!—seeing only one car on the very last page? And what about the cover? Shouldn’t the cover showcase the title? Would there even be a car on it?!? I’m embarrassed to admit that I hadn’t thought enough about the visual story.

My original draft didn’t work because it only offered scenes of a kid walking around looking for a toy car. That’s no way to fill an illustrator’s tank! The story needed to be about a car. The car needed to be seen on every spread in the book. It felt like miles of drafts before I realized the car should be fun, adventurous, and high-energy. Even better if s/he has four-wheeled friends!

At last, I had hope of attracting the attention of an illustrator as talented and skilled as Mary Peterson.
I didn’t find success with TWINKLE, TWINKLE, LITTLE CAR until I found the story. I didn’t find the story until I considered the art.

by Mary Peterson

I grew up on a farm surrounded by animals and wildlife, rain and snow, and sprouting, growing, blooming things. This is what inspires my art. 18 months ago, if you told me I would fall for a story about a car (one with many four wheeled–not four footed–friends!) I would have laughed. But I did fall for Little Car. S/he has every attribute that attracts me to stories about furry feathery creatures: the toddler energy, curiosity, mischievousness…most of all, the sweetness.

The warmth in Kate’s story inspired both the character and setting. An adorable butter yellow Nash Metropolitan lives at the top of my street. It makes me smile when it goes zipping down the hill. There goes Little Car!

I knew Kate lived in Pittsburgh, so I figured Little Car must live there too. I looked at pictures of Pittsburgh. What an inspiration that was! So much green space and running paths. So many bridges! No wonder Little Car takes the ferry home.

I always thought my inspiration came from animals and landscapes but it turns out they are just tools to tell a particular kind of story. A sleepy little car and a sleepy little rabbit have much in common.

by Kate and Mary

Does your manuscript—especially your main character—have qualities worth illustrating?

Have you thought enough about your visual story?

Give it a try! We’re here, rooting for you to cruise toward success.

Kate loves walking her puppy, watching her sons play sports, and convincing her husband to share a cheese plate instead of wings. She also loves to write for kids. Kate is a certified teacher, a reading specialist, and the Assistant Regional Advisor for Western Pennsylvania SCBWI.

Her books include You’re My Boo (Simon & Schuster, 2016), Snuggle Bunny (Scholastic, 2016), Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Car (Simon & Schuster, 2018), and Hurry Up! (Simon & Schuster, 2020).

Learn more at and follow her on Twitter @katedopirak.

Mary has illustrated many picture books, including DIG IN! and her own SNAIL HAS LUNCH, an easy-to-read chapter book.

She lives in Los Angeles with her husband; their cat, Lucy; and their parakeets, Peety and Pierre. Visit her at and follow her on Twitter @mary_peterson.

Kate and Mary are gearing up to give away a copy of our book, TWINKLE, TWINKLE, LITTLE CAR (Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster). Beep-beep vroom!

Leave ONE COMMENT on this blog post to enter. You are eligible to win if you are a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once below. Prizes will be given away at the conclusion of the event.

Good luck!

by Karen Rostoker-Gruber

Soon after my manuscript FARMER KOBI’S HANUKKAH MATCH was under contract with Apples & Honey Press, the Executive Editor e-mailed me about a book that she wanted me to write for her about mitzvah clowns.

I did a lot of research for this project. I didn’t know much about the topic. I called several organizations to inquire about mitzvah clowning, how one could get involved and what the process entailed. I also interviewed several mitzvah clowns in order to get an insider’s view.

There are several organizations that teach people (and mice, in my case) how to become mitzvah clowns. They teach you how to put on clown make-up, how to make balloon animals and hats, how to sing songs, how to juggle, how to dance, and the most important part of all, how to talk and comfort everyone in senior homes and hospitals. I didn’t realize how much went into the making of a mitzvah clown.

Now, I had the topic. I did the research. I just had to write a great book that wasn’t teachy-preachy. Not so easy.

At 3 am one morning (you can’t rush creativity), I dreamed up a shy mouse named Maddie. But in order to understand my new character Maddie, I had to go back in time to when I was a shy child—so shy, that people used to call me Giggles, because that’s all that I did.

I think that’s also why I became a self-taught ventriloquist at 8 years old. My sister was 5 years younger than I was, so I entertained her by making all of her dolls, stuffed animals, and actually, all of her food, talk. It was fun for me! I used to (and still do) hide behind all of my puppets while they say crazy things that I would never have the guts to say out loud. And I believed then and still believe now, that everything has a voice—a bug, a blanket—even an egg.

Here’s a photo of me and my puppet Maria.

I also remembered that I was hired as a clown for a next door neighbor’s birthday party. And I recalled that once I dressed up and put on clown make-up, I felt like a different person. I called myself Bubbles. So, that got me thinking…what if a shy mouse wanted to become a mitzvah clown? How would that work? What obstacles would she have to overcome? How would she overcome them? And, most of all, how could I get that all into 29 pages (the last page needed to be left for a “Note for Families”) or less?

Then I got to work.

There had to be someone who Maddie (the mouse) could trust and feel comfortable enough to make her do something that she had never done before.

In my book, Maddie is soooo shy, that she can’t talk to Grandma’s friends—until one day a mitzvah clown shows up. His name is Giggles. Giggles the Mitzvah Clown isn’t pushy; he’s very approachable and fun. The more Maddie watches Giggles, the more comfortable she feels. At first, when Giggles asks Maddie if she’d like a balloon hat, all Maddie does is nod. But once Giggles gives Maddie a big red nose, a rainbow wig, and a balloon hat, she no longer looks or feels like herself at all. And that is what dressing up is all about! Once you don’t look or feel like yourself, you can ask or say things that you normally wouldn’t have the guts to say. Also, Giggles’ approachability makes it easy for Maddie to explore her new self. As her new self, Maddie asks Giggles if he could teach her how to be a mitzvah clown.

Giggles teaches Maddie how to put on clown make-up, make balloon hats, sing songs, juggle, dance, and most importantly, how to talk and comfort everyone in senior homes and hospitals—especially Maddie’s grandma and her friends.

By the end of the book, Maddie gains more confidence in herself, and is able to talk and laugh with Grandma and her friends, without wearing wigs, noses, or hats.

Once I had the manuscript ready, I e-mailed it to the Executive Editor. She brought the manuscript to the Art Director/Editor. The Art Director/Editor had a great idea. She wanted the illustrator to take Maddie from black and white (when she is shy) to full color as she gained confidence in herself, which was very clever. The colors, when they do appear, literally “pop” off the page.

It’s always a magical process seeing your characters come to life on paper.

I just did my first live performance (with my puppet) of the book at a JCC with, believe it or not, two real mitzvah clowns–“Big Daddy” and “Professor Z.” It was a blast!

In July 2017, this book became a PJ Library selection and went out to over 21,000 Jewish children in the United States and Canada. MADDIE THE MITZVAH CLOWN was my 14th traditionally published book. But in order to write it, I had to dig down deep, back to when I was shy myself—just like Maddie.

Karen Rostoker-Gruber is an award-winning children’s book author, ventriloquist, and humorist. Karen is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, The Authors Guild, and was on the Rutgers University Council on Children’s Literature. She was a guest on the Ricki Lake Show and has been promoting her books on over 62 radio shows around the country. Visit her at and follow her on Twitter 

Karen is giving away a picture book critique. (As one of Tara’s critique group members, Tara urges you to enter for this prize–Karen is an excellent critiquer.)

Leave ONE COMMENT on this blog post to enter. You are eligible to win if you are a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once below. Prizes will be given away at the conclusion of the event.

Good luck!

by Jarrett Lerner

Without a doubt, the question I get asked the most by kids is this one: “Where do your ideas for stories come from?”

In response, I always say something about how ideas are mysterious, elusive things, and tell them that, if they want to be a story creator someday, they should read lots of other people’s stories, pay attention to the world around them, and make plenty of time in their lives to sit around and just wonder, imagine, and play.

But the truth of the matter is that the question is a bad one. It’s fundamentally flawed. (Don’t worry—I don’t tell the kids any of this.) Because ideas don’t come. They’re not tame, obedient things. It’s not like us writers are diners at some fancy restaurant, sitting around sipping fine wine, confident that a waiter will show up soon with a nice, juicy, perfectly prepared idea on a silver platter. No, an idea is more like a dog who’s just realized he’s about to be taken to the vet. Ideas have to be chased down, wrestled into submission, tricked or bribed with treats.

Over the years, however, I’ve developed some techniques to help generate ideas – and to then at least make the things sit and stay, if not actually come when called for. One of these is a game I like to call . . . WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE! Here’s how it works: you take two things that usually don’t go together—and then you make them go together. It was in this way that I got the idea for ENGINERDS.

Boxes are constantly being delivered to my house. Usually, they have books or cat food or laundry detergent in them. But one day, I did a little world-colliding. I wondered what might happen if a robot—a walking, talking, farting robot—showed up in a box on some kid’s doorstep.

More recently, I played this game on a long drive. I was on the highway, and I told myself that I was going to collide the next two, non-highway-ish things that I happened to pass. Road signs didn’t count. Neither did other cars. I also decided to rule out rest stops, since I’d already visited three that day and was sick of them.

Soon enough, though, I saw a cow, hanging out all by her lonesome in a big, grassy field. And shortly after that, I passed a billboard for a furniture store. Those seemed like two things that didn’t usually go together. Now all that was left to do was make them go to together.

For the next several miles, I asked myself a series of increasingly specific questions, each one helping me pick apart and develop my idea a little more. What is the cow doing at the furniture store? Is she supposed to be there? Does she work there? How and why did she get into this line of work? Does she find it fulfilling? Or does she dream of bigger, better things?

By the time I reached my hotel, I had a whole story worked out in my head about this cow who sold couches. Was it a good story? No. It was not. It was basically just a bunch of flimsy clichés strung together with some groan-inducing “moo” and “udder” puns. I wasn’t about to run up to my hotel room and write the thing down.

But the experience of finding that idea, the practice I got by unpacking it—all of that was time very well spent. It’s like exercise. It’ll make the next idea a little easier to track down and tame.

That’s what Storystorm is all about, and one of the reasons it’s so brilliant. It reminds us that, when it comes to writing, there’s a time for quality and a time for quantity. First drafts, for instance? All about quantity. Just get the story out of your head and down on paper, then go back later and polish those sentences until they’re pretty.

At this point in the month, you’ve no doubt already got yourself a nice pile of story ideas. A couple weeks from now, that pile will be a little bigger. Whether or not any of those ideas turn into a full-fledged story, rest assured that all of the piling and unpacking you do throughout the rest of the year will leave you a stronger, sharper, better-equipped storyteller.

Happy world-colliding! And happy writing!

Jarrett Lerner writes books about farting robots, belching knights, and other serious matters. You can find him online at and on Twitter at @Jarrett_Lerner. You can also often find him hanging out at the, which he cofounded and helps run.

He lives with his wife, his daughter, and a cat in Medford, Massachusetts.

Jarrett is giving away a signed copy of ENGINERDS and some enginerdy swag.

Leave ONE COMMENT on this blog post to enter. You are eligible to win if you are a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once below. Prizes will be given away at the conclusion of the event.

Good luck!



by Michelle Cusolito

I’ve said this in other places, but I think it’s worth repeating here: I reject the idea that authors should write what we know. I believe we should write what we’re curious about. What captures our imaginations. What we’re passionate about or what we want to explore deeply.

I’ve nurtured a sense of wonder since I was a child growing up on a farm building hay bale forts and mucking around in nearby swamps. Once I lived abroad for the first time, my interests expanded to learning about other cultures and ecosystems. I am curious about the world. That curiosity determines the topics I choose to research and to write about. (I write fiction and non-fiction picture books, but I lean mostly toward non-fiction).

My debut, FLYING DEEP, invites young readers to imagine themselves piloting deep-submersible Alvin two miles below the ocean’s surface to explore the unique ecosystem that thrives near hydrothermal vents. I am not an Alvin pilot. I had never been inside Alvin or even seen Alvin up close when I started the book. But I WAS fascinated by the idea of piloting Alvin. I was especially fascinated by the alien-looking animals that live near the vents. How could I not be fascinated by dinner plate-sized clams, six foot tube worms and an octopus with appendages that look like Dumbo’s ears? I knew I wanted to write a picture book on the topic because I was so interested in learning more.

FLYING DEEP was a Storystorm (PiBoIdMo) idea in 2014. At that point, I had no idea how I would write the book or even what kind of book it would be. I only knew I was fascinated by Alvin and hydrothermal vents.

My approach to Storystorm was to list every topic I could think of that I was interested in. I used a printed PiBoIdMo calendar and wrote my ideas in the boxes. I allowed each idea to be as big or small as it came to me. Sometimes it was a topic, or a character or even a kind of book I wanted to try writing. I didn’t put any rules on it except that I had to fill every box in my calendar. Just one tiny box per day. No big deal. And I didn’t actually write one idea per day. Some days I wrote 6 or 7 or 8. Other days I wrote none, but my subconscious was certainly at work. One nugget on that calendar became FLYING DEEP. Another nugget became a manuscript that is now out on submission. That one took me years to research and write. Am I bored by the topic? Nope. I still get excited when I come across new articles about my subject. (The remaining ideas on my 2014 calendar did not see the light of day because, well, they were junk. But that didn’t matter. I got two viable manuscripts out of that list.)

So, today, instead of trying to come up with a fully formed idea, try this:

Sit with your notebook, calendar, or laptop and brainstorm. What are the topics you love? What are your passions? What intrigues you? What fascinates you? Who do you admire? Write quickly. Get everything down.

Maybe you love pickles, or ceramic tiles or the way light streams through tree leaves in the late afternoon sun. Are these fully formed book ideas? Of course not. Are they all book worthy? Maybe not, but I can imagine ways these COULD lead to something interesting, funny, or educational. (There are books about bacon and pasta that came out in recent years. Why not pickles? I’m not going to write that story, but maybe you will). This is where you come in: you craft the book that’s right for you.

How many ideas did you come up with? Guess what? All of them count toward your Storystorm total!

Michelle Cusolito’s debut, Flying Deep, will be published by Charlesbridge in May. Flying Deep won the PEN New England Susan P. Bloom Children’s Book Discovery Award and is a summer 2018 Junior Library Guild selection. Michelle climbed inside deep-submersible Alvin to complete research for Flying Deep. Michelle has lived in the Philippines and in Ireland. When she isn’t mucking around in the world, she’s usually in her home office or local coffee shop weaving these experiences into stories for children. Learn more at

You can connect with Michelle on Instagram @mcusolitoTwitter @MCusolito, and Facebook.

Michelle is also making a special request. Her favorite local Indie, Eight Cousins, suffered a catastrophic flood last week. Eight Cousins is an amazing local business run by true booksellers. The storefront is closed until sometime this spring, but they are open for on-line orders which will be staged out of a temporary location. Last fall, Michelle had already arranged for pre-orders placed through Eight Cousins to be signed by both Michelle and Nicole Wong (the illustrator) before being shipped to purchasers on publication day (May 22, 2018). To sweeten the deal, she’s adding a chance in a special give-away. Learn more here:

Please support independent bookstores. If you plan to pre-order Flying Deep, will you order through Eight Cousins or your own favorite local book store? Thank you for your consideration.

Michelle is offering a critique of a fiction picture book up to 700 words or a non-fiction picture book up to 1200 words.

Leave ONE COMMENT on this blog post to enter. You are eligible to win if you are a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once below. Prizes will be given away at the conclusion of the event.

Good luck!

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illus by Ross MacDonald
Little, Brown
April 26, 2022

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