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by Carrie Finison

If you’ve studied story structure, you’re familiar with the classic narrative arc: main character has a problem or wants something, makes several attempts to solve her problem, learns a little something along the way, and finally uses that learning to resolve her problem or get what she wants. Growth and change in the main character is key to many of these stories.

BUT…what if that thing your character wants, or that problem she’s trying to solve, is in direct opposition to an innate character trait—something she CANNOT CHANGE about herself?

What if your character has fabulous hair, but feels uncomfortable when people touch it?

Don’t Touch My Hair by Sharee Miller

What if your character is a bear, but would rather be a bunny? Or is a frog, but would rather be…anything else?

Bunnybear by Andrea J. Loney, illustrated by Carmen Saldaña
I Don’t Want to Be a Frog by Dev Petty, illustrated by Mike Boldt

What if your character is big and mean and grouchy, but is continually followed around by small, adorable creatures?

Big Mean Mike by Michelle Knudsen, illustrated by Scott Magoon
Mother Bruce by Ryan T. Higgins

What if your character needs her personal space, but has waaaay too many siblings?

Charlotte the Scientist is Squished by Camille Andros, illustrated by Brianne Farley

What if a group of carnivores tries to go vegetarian?

Carnivores by Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by Dan Santat

What if your character is a very loud rooster who lives in a very quiet town?

The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet by Carmen Agra Deedy, illustrated by Eugene Yelchin

What if your character is so huggable that everyone wants to give him a squeeze, but he’s not the hugging kind? That’s how the idea for my upcoming picture book DON’T HUG DOUG, illustrated by Daniel Wiseman, came to me.

I knew this was a common problem—we all know kids who have gone through a no-hugs phase, kids who avoid hugs due to sensory issues, and conversely, kids (and—ahem!—adults) who are overenthusiastic huggers. What if, I thought, a kid who doesn’t like hugs is just so puppy-dog-eyes adorable that EVERYONE wants to hug him? Instant conflict!

These books are often about personal boundaries, identity, or personality. They’re humorous and can be fun to read but—writer beware—they can be difficult to write, as I quickly found with my hugging story. Why? Because as I stated at the start of this post, problems that are in opposition to an innate character trait usually cannot be resolved (or at least, can’t be happily resolved) the “old fashioned way”—by the main character changing. Something else has gotta give. Find these books and study their endings to see how the authors handled this dilemma.

In the meantime, have fun making your characters miserable!

Carrie Finison began her literary career at the age of seven with an idea, a box of markers, and her father’s typewriter. She has been writing off and on ever since, though she has (somewhat regretfully) traded in the typewriter for a laptop. Her first picture book, DOZENS OF DOUGHNUTS, was published in July, 2020. Her second book, DON’T HUG DOUG, illustrated by Daniel Wiseman, will hit the shelves this month, on January 26 and has earned a starred review from Kirkus. She lives outside Boston with her husband, son, daughter, and two cats who permit her to write in their cozy attic office. For updates, subscribe to her newsletter, check out her website, or follow on Twitter @CarrieFinison, Facebook, or Instagram @carriefinison.

Carrie is giving away a picture book critique.

Leave one comment below to enter.

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

by Kirsten Pendreigh

I’m loving the inspirational Storystorm posts from successfully published creators! But I also know that the road from shiny new idea to publication is long and winding. There are potholes and wrong turns, dead ends and roadwork delays. So many delays! Sometimes you run out of gas. Sometimes you break down and wonder, should I take the offramp?

When my 2021 picture book debut got cancelled last summer, I had to pull over and refuel. I’d followed all the publishing advice. (Work Hard! Persevere! Be Patient! Toughen Up! Set Clear Goals!) It wasn’t enough. It was time to remind myself why I was on the road at all. Goalposts shift. Years of work can get swept away. Many things are out of our control.

I asked: What is it that sustains me and keeps me trucking along?

My answer? A lesson my son taught me years ago:

Joy in the journey.

Process over [unpredictable] product.

Kids model process over product all the time. My son loved to paint and draw and dig. But he never wanted to keep his paintings or drawings; he didn’t really care what we planted. To him, the joyful process of creating, of digging in, was more important.

What are the things that bring you joy on this writing journey?

For me it’s a long list, that includes:

  • creating funny characters and stories in my unique voice
  • playing with words: finding the perfect line, the perfect rhythmic pattern
  • puzzling out picture books:  page turns, art notes, pacing
  • diving down rabbit holes of research
  • editing and revising
  • sharing stories with critique partners, helping them shape their work
  • being part of a supportive and loving community of writer

But what do I love most? Generating ideas!

For me, Storystorm is the perfect way to rekindle my creative joy. In this tired old world, how magical, how hopeful, to join almost two thousand other people firing up their synapses and finding new stories to share!

This idea stage is free of judgement and full of possibility. Each new idea is a precious, fragile, exciting secret only your unique brain knows about. It could go anywhere!

Today I challenge YOU, fellow traveller on this long and bumpy road, to cherish this stage. Be open to the joyful sparks waiting for you—as you walk, as you eavesdrop on your kids, as you look out the window at birds, as you laugh about something you read. What calls to you? What triggers a faster thumpetty-thump of your pulse? What gives you that warm glow, that AHA moment?

Respond to those sparks. Nurture them!

Jot something down, even if it’s a fragment of a thought, a nonsensical doodle, or a question. And do it without judgement. Brainstorm like no-one’s watching!

Just for today, forget about all the webinars and craft books and agent/editor/author interviews you read. Forget about 3-act structures and hooks and pitches, and marketability. Forget about the destination.

Because if you start with joy, the rest will follow. Joy is contagious. Readers and editors and agents will feel it too. The stories I start with joy always fare better than the ones I try to “engineer” at the beginning. One of them landed my wonderful agent! Soon, I’ll be able to announce good news about another story, of whales who made my heart go thumpetty-thump. And that debut that got cancelled? It’s going out on sub again. If it doesn’t get picked up, that’s okay; I still love it. It still makes people laugh.

I’ve recently written a lyrical story about nurse logs—fallen trees that nurture new life in the coastal rainforests near my home. Clearly a metaphor for the poet in me! I feel my spirits lift each time I see this regeneration, even on these cold, dark days of isolation and uncertainty. It’s a gift to get to write about things I love. Maybe my log story will end up as firewood. I’ll try to bask in its warm glow. I’ll still be creating with joy. I hope you will too.

Happy Storystorm, fellow travellers!

Kirsten Pendreigh is a children’s author and poet who lives in Vancouver, BC. She is represented by Natalie Lakosil at Bradford Literary. Kirsten writes both humor and lyrical stories for children, in fiction and non-fiction. Her poems are found in multiple literary anthologies and magazines. Kirsten is an active member of 12x12PB and Storystorm and a regular on Twitter. Please connect with her there @kpiependreigh or through her website or Instagram where she posts pictures of things that bring her joy.

Kirsten is giving away two picture book critiques.

Two separate winners will be randomly selected.

Leave one comment below to enter.

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

by Winsome Bingham

So here we are! Another commitment or challenge to be inspired in a new year. Keep in mind, the crazy and chaos of 2020 still lingers, and we’re already nine days into a new year, 2021. But you know what you signed up for. What the commitment is! It’s Storystorm 2021, a commitment to challenge yourself. You are following your passion and finding INSPIRATION.

You signed up for the storm, for the hurricane of pagination and pacing, for the squalls of structures and scenes and superior storytelling. So, what do you do now? What’s the task? Your task is to come up with thirty ideas in thirty-one days. Your task is to find inspiration. Your task is to be creative and write. So, how do you do that? I’ll tell you how I do it. How I choose what to write, when to write, and how. I’ll tell you how I find inspiration.

I never know what I’m going to write or what will inspire me. I tend to approach writing differently. I don’t just sit and create something. I wait! I wait for the idea to hit me. Then I wait for the whole story to form in my head. When I wait for the moment where I can sit in my bed and write that story out in one sitting. This is my process.

The first manuscript I sold was written in twenty minutes and sold in twenty-four hours. True Story! The picture book is called LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL; it will be published in Spring 2022 by Beach Lane Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. The inspiration came from a friend whose daughter’s grandmother died. While conversing with her, it triggered a childhood memory with my great-grandmother who had also died while I was a young girl. But the book wasn’t about death. Yes, death was mentioned. But it wasn’t what drove the story. It was her living and enjoying life. It was how she lived, what she believed, and what she wanted her family to learn and carry on. And the message is clear: LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL, live every day to the fullest.

The story formed in my head in minutes. I sat in my bed (because that’s where I do all my writing. Do not tell my therapist this as she is willing to die on the cliff that your bed should only be used for sleep and grown-up activities.) I wrote the story out. It poured out of me the way you will see it in print, in one shot. Every onomatopoeia. Every alliteration. Every power-of-threes. Every anaphora and epiphora, all came out in one sitting. All came out in twenty minutes. And after it was written and I read it, I cried.

I sent Marla Frazee a message and asked her if she could look at it for me. She said she was working on a project and it would be weeks before she got back to me. I was in no hurry, as I write a lot and have a bunch of manuscripts sitting in drawers, hibernating. In a few minutes after sending it, my phone rang. Marla called and said, “This is so beautiful. I’m crying.”

(If you have not read anything written or illustrated by Marla Frazee, you are missing out. ROLLER COASTER and ALL THE WORLD by Liz Garton Scanlon and illustrated by Marla are my favorites.)

A few months earlier, I met an editor, Allyn Johnston of Beach Lane Books, at the SCBWI Winter Conference. I still had time to submit to her as a conference attendee, so I  decided I’d send this manuscript. Off it went. The next morning, she called. It was a Friday. I was in my weekly PTSD meeting with other veterans at the VA Hospital when she called. “This is Allyn Johnston of Beach Lane Books,” she said. “I’m crying. I love your manuscript. And I want to buy it.”

I screamed so loud, office doors opened. Veterans, nurses, and therapists rushed to see what was happening. (I forgot I was in a hospital.) The book sold and the inspiration came from a conversation.

Another inspiration came from Tara Lazar’s PiBoIdMo (which is now Storystorm). In 2013, while doing the Picture Book Idea Month (PiBoIdMo) Challenge, one of my ideas was SOUL FOOD SUNDAY, a picture book about a child coming of age and learning to cook soul food with her family. I wrote a draft and spent months re-reading and re-writing. Eventually, it was polished. And instead of trying to get an agent with it, I tucked it into a drawer for years until 2018 when I went to Highlights and shared the manuscript for critique with an editor. That editor triggered a bidding war with multiple houses, and Emma Ledbetter at AbramsKids won it in auction. It will be published in September 2021 and it will be illustrated by C. G. Esparanza. (You must check out C. G.’s book coming out this year from HarperCollins.)

The inspiration came three days into this challenge. I was asked to make macaroni and cheese and collard greens for a friend who wanted to take it to her family’s potluck Sunday dinner. (People love my cooking.) Her daughter was grounded and was bored. So, I told her, she was going to be my sous chef. That was a “What if?” moment for me. What if I teach her how to cook soul food. I took her through the steps. And the idea was formed. The book wrote itself. I tucked it away because I had people read it and the consensus was, You will not be published because the character doesn’t try three times and fail.

There are many ways to tell stories, many ways to write picture books. This thought process of only one way to write picture books is antiquated. Different cultures tell stories in different ways. There is no right or wrong way to tell a story. Just make it enjoyable and entertaining. That should be the requirement and the inspiration. We should all want to tell good stories.

Another inspiration for one of my books came from Michelle Obama and her documentary “Becoming” on Netflix. The morning the documentary premiered, I watched with both awe and hurt and left with the inspiration to write THE WALK, which will be published by Abrams in the fall of 2022.

THE WALK is about a grandmother going to vote and taking her granddaughter with her. I wrote this manuscript in less than 40 minutes. It poured out of me. When I was done, I emailed Emma and asked her if I could share it with her. We set up a time the next morning, and I read it to her over the phone. (She loves my reading voice.) When I was done reading it, she said, “I love it. Send it to me. I want to take it to my acquisition meeting.” Two weeks later, she bought it. I remembered her saying, “I wish I could publish this today. It is so needed.” This picture book is about voting and community and responsibilities of its citizens.

The inspiration was the voice of the people, of Michelle Obama talking about her husband, her kids, her community, and CHANGE. Black folks know that for change to happen, we have to go above and beyond the call of duty. We had our first Black family in the White House because a multi-cultural community went out and vote. They showed-up, showed-out, and showed the world that change was necessary. No matter your politics, voting is not an individual act. It is an act of many coming together. This is THE WALK. This book is about a community walking together to the polls, walking for change and hope and progress. The idea of hope was my inspiration.

You can also find inspiration at conferences. I was at a SCBWI Conference when I was having a conversation with Wiley Blevins, Acquisition Editor at ReyCraft Books, and the editor who critiqued SOUL FOOD SUNDAY at Highlights. We were talking about writing and what is missing from the market when he said, “I would love to see a book about military families.” That inspired my chapter book series FORT GOODE which will be published by ReyCraft Books. This book is about military families and children on an Army post called FORT GOODE, hence the name of the series. I love this series. I love writing stories about all kind of things.

Sometimes, I find inspiration in other books, but I never re-write those stories. I just look at the theme and always thinking, how can I write children of color within those themes? Last year, the best book of 2020 for me was ROU [pronounced Roo] AND THE GREAT RACE written by Pam Fong and published by ReyCraft Books.

I was disappointed that this book didn’t make any of the Best of 2020 list. Which is truly a shame. This book is so inspiring. (YOU MUST ORDER IT!!!)

It is a dystopian picture book. DYS-TO-PI-AN! Let that sink in. I loved it because there isn’t a book like it. It is fresh! Evergreen! Nothing in the market like it. But I loved it more because it is an intergenerational story. (These are the stories I write.) It is about a little girl who wants to make her grandmother happy. The girl had to figure out what that would look like. How to accomplish that. It inspires me to think about the process of creating happiness. What do I want my character to achieve? But it is inspiring to create a new domain at this level. How many dystopian picture books are there?

My agent is inspiring as well. I think I have one of the best agents. She is literally a picture book GURU! Her name is Hannah Mann and she’s at Writers House. Hannah can tell me if my manuscript is not working just by looking at it once. She has an ear for rhythm, rhyme, and meter. She listens for cadence and is very hands-on with her clients and projects. I love that she doesn’t tell me what to write, and she gets me and my writing. She lets me tell my own story and do my own thing. That inspires me because I know that I can write what I want.

So how do we get inspired? I listen to music. Beyonce! Nicki Minaj! Elton John! I read books, comics, magazines, short stories, etc.. I watch the world and the people in it. I watch documentaries and movies and Housewives on Bravo. I am always looking for a nugget of something new and different. I’m always asking myself, “Do I think kids will like this?” or “Will they want to learn from this?” or “Do they need to know this?” These are questions that fill my imagination and fuel my inspiration. These questions inspire me to dig deep and explore. So, my advice to you is this:

  1. Speak to folks. Ask questions. Listen.
  2. Pay attention to what is happening around you.
  3. Take advantage of conferences especially now that they are on Zoom and for a fraction of the cost.
  4. Eavesdrop on kids and adults.
  5. Find inspiration and follow your passion to tell stories.

Winsome Bingham writes for kids of all ages. She is a US Army veteran and ex-teacher. She grew up sitting under mango and coconut trees listening to her granny tell stories. Now, Bingham gets to sit down and tell you stories. Many days, she sits on her deck waiting to sight submarines shooting out of the water. Her first four picture books will be released in the coming two years.

Follow her on Twitter @ArmyVet5.

This is a generous giveaway from colleagues of Winsome and the author herself!

Eight (!!!) separate winners will be randomly chosen to receive:

  • One picture book critique from agent Hannah Mann
  • Two picture books courtesy of editor Emma Ledbetter and AbramsKids
  • Four copies of ROU AND THE GREAT RACE courtesy of ReyCraft Books
  • One picture book critique from Winsome Bingham

Leave one comment below to enter.

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

by Ashley Belote

Once upon a slime…I couldn’t resist! Slime! Something so seemingly simple has had a profound effect on my art and outlook on inspiration. When my art director sent me the manuscript for FRANKENSLIME, I was blown away by Joy Keller’s ability to turn the act of making slime into an adventurous, mysterious, and scientific narrative. Using slime as my inspiration, I set out on my own scientific adventure to create a body of artwork inspired by this unique substance categorized as a non-Newtonian fluid (how’s that for some science talk?!).

Inspiration constantly exists around us; we must be willing to recognize it or even create it. When I began thinking about how to illustrate this book, the first step was to completely immerse myself in my inspiration, literally! I made slime! Glitter slime. Fluffy slime. Ghost slime. Butter slime. Crunchy slime. You get it, I made a lot of slime. Being able to touch and feel and observe slime firsthand allowed me to learn about it through play. I had to think of myself as the main character, Victoria Franken, and interact with this substance. A lot of the funny scenes I drew were a result of my Pinterest slime fails and inability to admit defeat. I had a blast! As adults, we tend to look at things analytically and can sometimes forget to have fun.

Now, I realize that not all inspiration can be easily accessed physically, and there are times when we must look inward and rely on our imaginations. But this isn’t always as simple as it sounds; some days we feel like we don’t even have imaginations! No more of that! When I’m stuck, I complete the following drawing exercise to get my mind thinking in a different way. This trick is great for illustrators AND writers, so, if you’re one of those people who say drawing is impossible, now is the slime to put those thoughts away and get ready to play! (Did you like that one?!)

Step 1: Take out some blank paper.
TIP! If you can get your hands on a large-scale piece of paper, like 22” x 16”, DO IT! Trust me, there is something freeing about drawing on a big surface. You feel limitless. I am blessed with a creative mom and when I was a kid, she would bring home pieces of unused billboard paper for me to draw on. They were huge! They took up our entire living room floor, so the whole room was my canvas! Obviously, that isn’t something you can get from Amazon (at least I don’t think so…) but just try to get your hands on something a bit bigger than printer paper. Again, we are focusing on fun!

Step 2: ART SUPPLIES!
You can use pencils, markers, colored pencils…whatever you want! Just find something to draw with that feels good to you.

Step 3: Hold your drawing utensil in your NON-dominant hand.
For me, that is my left hand as I usually draw with my right. Close your eyes, place your pencil to paper, and make a sweeping, continuous mark for 3 seconds.

Step 4: Voila!
Open your eyes and see your masterpiece! Just kidding, haha. It probably will not be a masterpiece quite yet. Look at the shape you have created. What does it look like? Turn your paper to get a look at your shape upside down and keep turning until you see something. A moose? Maybe a river? An elegant three-story Victorian home with a walkway and koi pond? Wonderful! Now, once you “see” something or visualize the potential of your shape, start drawing it out. Add color, details, manipulate it to create what your mind’s eye is seeing.

Step 5: Use your inspiration!
Have you designed a landscape that can act as a setting for a story? Did you create a character? How exciting to be able to take this creation in any direction you’d like.

I love this stuff!! I hope you can use this technique to help find the fun in your inspiration and jumpstart your imagination going forward. Have the slime of your life! I had to sneak in one more 😊 As for me, I am proud to show the cover of FRANKENSLIME, coming to shelves near you on July 13th and followed shortly thereafter by its sequel, VALENSLIME, on November 16th!

Ashley Belote is the illustrator of FRANKENSLIME (2021), VALENSLIME (2021), and the author-illustrator of her solo debut picture book, LISTEN UP, LOUELLA (2022). She studied traditional animation under the direction of Don Bluth. Ashley earned her BA from Alderson Broaddus University and her MA in Arts Administration from the University of Kentucky. Her graduate study included a children’s literature and illustration course through Simmons College. Ashley lives and works in North Carolina where she creates artwork that she hopes brings lots of laughs to others. Visit her at AshleyBelote.com and and follow her on Instagram @AshleyBeloteIllustration and Twitter @AshleyBelote1.

Ashley is giving away a virtual visit—either for a classroom or a writer/illustrator consultation.

Leave one comment below to enter.

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

by Ken Lamug

“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door.
You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet,
there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

~ Gandalf

If there is one thing I have learned in life, it is that things do not always happen the way you expect them to. Like in our creative pursuits, we naturally follow the good paths others have taken and avoid the bad ones. But there are always pebbles, rocks, and hills along the way that slow us down or change our plans.

As a kid growing up in the Philippines, I imagined becoming a cartoonist despite my parent’s disapproval. I found inspiration from Sunday comics, NatGeo magazines, and 80’s video games. That all changed when my whole family moved to America. I had to put aside “childish things” and get a job. It seemed like my dreams were pretty much toast.

Me and my Lola (grandma)

Many years later, when I least expected it, something pulled me back towards creative pursuits. It started with graphics design, then filmmaking and photography, and then back to writing and drawing. I soon learned about picture books, comic books, crowdfunding, and publishing.

A variety of my books from comics to picture books

Many failed attempts and multiple agents later, I finally found my groove illustrating books. But even with these wins, I was still pursuing my unicorn, to be a “picture book author-illustrator.” I had several ideas, a few nibbles, but no bites.

The farthest on the track was my PB dummy for MISCHIEF THE SUPEVILLAIN. It’s about a kind-hearted protagonist on her quest to be a superhero, except she didn’t have superpowers. She gets booted out of superhero school and ends up being a supervillain who saves the city. It is a story about friendship, transcending labels, and finding your own hero voice.

Early Mischief picture book illustrations.

After many submissions and months of waiting, MISCHIEF finally got a thumbs up from a publisher. There was one big caveat though, the picture book MUST be turned into a graphic novel (a long-form comic). This is a huge task that meant converting a 32-page book to 250 pages and no less than 1,000 illustrations (in full color!). And yes, a full story rewrite.

I was filled with both excitement and anxiety. It was a great opportunity and since I was a sucker for challenges, I accepted. Working on a graphic novel meant I had to be disciplined with my time – balancing my day job, freelance projects, and family life.

Over a thousand hours later with aching muscles and twitchy eyes…I have finally finished…book one!  It is not perfect, as nothing ever is, but it is a book that I am proud of. An action-packed, humorous rumpus with a lot of heart. I am sure kids will enjoy it.

Looking back, I am very thankful to those who have shown me the path even though I was paving my own way. We are all travelers on the same journey, with a dream and a destination. And if one of us lags, we should give a helping hand or lend a light to show the way. That is why I love what Tara and many other KidLit communities are doing!

And so, for Storystorm, I challenge you, fellow traveler, to look at your ideas…and maybe just by changing the format (like a graphic novel), you will breathe new life into them. Here are some tips to get you started:

A comic book or graphic novel is just a medium for storytelling like movies and books.
The format has a long history and is recognized all over the world. Comics very often showcase diverse works from diverse storytellers. You can find graphic novels for all age groups and genres: middle-grade, historical, horror, biographical, fantasy, adventure, experimental, you name it. Graphic novel artwork is wide-ranging and can often be surprising. And because of its visual nature, it is easy for non-readers to pick-up and understand… It can make a dry story or something very technical much more interesting. So, when someone says that your story seems more mature or doesn’t fit the PB format, think graphic novels.

You do not need to be an artist to create graphic novels.
Just like with picture books, publishers will pair an artist with a manuscript. But graphic novel artists are difficult to procure because of scheduling issues and limited availability. Publishers understand this and they are more accepting of writer & illustrator paired submissions. So, make friends with artists! If you can add a dash of art, it will help publishers and agents see your vision.

Prepare your pitch packet.
Even though my submission for MISCHIEF was under review, I still had to provide a story outline, a full graphic novel manuscript, and an illustrated chapter (not required if you’re not an artist). Keep in mind that graphic novels do not necessarily need to be a certain page or word count. This gives you the flexibility to tell the story the way it deserves.

Learn the language of comics. Just like with picture books, comics have their own tried and true language of storytelling. There are elements like pacing, scripting, design, paneling that all work together to give the reader a great experience. Take the time to study these.

Comics has a long indie history.
You don’t have to go traditional publishing if you don’t want to. Comics have always had a rebellious streak from grassroots publishing and fandom. Comic creators and fans were outsiders for the longest time, and they support each other. There are many ways to publish either via small press, crowdfunding or print-on-demand.

Start small.
Creating graphic novels can be a daunting task. If you’re not sure where to begin, why not start with its shorter-form sibling? Comic books are around 24 pages and are a great starting point. You can write a full story or even a chapter. My very first comic was a four-pages and it taught me a lot.

There is much more to learn than what can be encapsulated in this post, but I hope that this inspires you to dive into the world of graphic novels. If you have any questions, feel free to connect with me and I will try my best to help out.

Let us make 2021 a fun and creative year. Good luck!

Ken Lamug is an author-illustrator who has created award-winning picture books and graphic novels. Growing up in the Philippines, Ken loved making up stories and drawing on scraps of paper. The grown-ups begged him to stop, but he just kept doodling anyway. Now he lives in Las Vegas, Nevada, where he is a professional dabbler and has tried everything from beekeeping, filmmaking, 3d printing, photography, coding, and race car driving.

Ken’s wordless graphic novel PETRO AND THE FLEA KING was recognized as the 2020 Nevada Featured Book by the Nevada Humanities. His most recent books include the middle-grade graphic novel Mischief & Mayhem #1: Born to be bad, and the picture books THE WHOLE HOLE STORY, and GHASTLY GHOSTS.

He also teaches about graphic novels at Storyteller Academy.

You can find out more at rabbleboy.com or @rabbleboy on Instagram and Facebook.

Ken is giving away a copy of his new picture book THE WHOLE HOLE STORY (Jan 2021) and his MISCHIEF & MAYHEM graphic novel (June 2021).

Leave one comment below to enter.

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

by Samantha Berger

Did I just name this post with a whole bunch of poop and potty puns?

Yes. Yes, I did.

And it’s not just because my latest book is called THE GREAT BIG POOP PARTY!

It’s because ideas, inspiration, and freedom need to…you know…move and flow freely!

Just like certain (…ahem…) other things.

So let’s get right into it.

Here are the TOP TEN WAYS I GET MY BRAIN TO LET IT ALL OUT, RELEASE THE IDEAS, and LAY DOWN SOME FRESH IDEAS!

(poop puns, again)

So…get a load of this:

10. Go play.
Build a sandcastle, bust out the Legos, doodle all over a cardboard box. Play with no stakes, no intended audience, and with nothing precious. Just PLAY. You wanna tell stories and connect with kids – go play like one. Pronto!

9. Make a list of words you love: hassenpfeffer, canoodle, gallop!
Jam out a list of words and rediscover your love of language. Cue the heavenly choir and behold…LANGUAGE!

8. Give yourself a short, fun warmup to do every day.
Again, pick one that’s FUN and not a pain in the butt, and hold yourself to it. Make up a new nail polish color name. Give yourself a new pseudonym: Samantha Berger aka Samdemic, aka Bergé, aka Bergermeister MeisterBerger aka The Impossible Berger, etc. Write a daily Postcard from the Pandemic: “Well, this still sucks. xox, me.” Whatever! Nothing stinks more than having to write something you dread. So write something you LOVE and you’ll be inspired to do it.

7. Shift your perspective. I mean literally. Find a way to look at the room like you never have before. This perspecto-shift does something GOOD to your brain.

6. Pick an inanimate object in your home, personify it, and write a paragraph from its point of view.

5. Pretend there is a five-year-old in the room, and tell them a story.

4. Think about one incident that happened when you were a kid, that helped inform who you are today. Write that down.

3. Pick one song you LOVE to sing, and sing it reeeeeally loudly.
This literally opens up your VOICE and opening your voice, gets you open to your VOICE! Duh.

2. Make up a reeeeeally dramatic telenovela about the squirrels and pigeons you see every day.

1. And the number one way to tap ideas and stay inspired is…

Truthbomb: your Inner Editor is a total bummer.

They second-guess every choice you make, always wondering if things could be better, or if you’re choosing the right word, action, character.

They thoroughly impede the whole storytelling flow, leaving you creatively constipated.

Soooo (and I cannot stress this enough) don’t bring them to your Storystorm Party.

Park them in a corner, lock them in a box, send them out for pizza—whatever it takes to keep them away, so you can let your freak flag fly.

You’re going to have your BEST brainstorms, ideajams, and breakthroughs without them. I promise.

They can always come in later with their red pens and harsh judgements, but not now!

I hope this list helps the ideas flow, helps you GO, and brings you LOADS of brand new ideas. I hope it was engrossing, but you know, not enGROSSing.

I want to thank the beyond kind Tara Lazar, as always, for having me guestblurt, and for doing this entire thing SO generously to help raise funds for Blessings in a Backpack (which helps feed children so profoundly in need). Tara is an angel with a kicktuchas sense of humor—ideal combo. I am also thrilled to give away a signed copy of my latest book THE GREAT BIG POOP PARTY—because if ever there was a time to (ahem) let it out and (ahem) release your inner genius and (ahem) stay regular(ly) writing—it is NOW!

May you have buttloads of brilliant ideas.

All my Bergerly best wishes,
Samantha

Samantha is the award-winning author of over 85 books for young readers, including Crankenstein (illustrated by Dan Santat), What If…(illustrated by Mike Curato) and Rock What Ya Got (illustrated by Kerascoët). She is also a 3-time Emmy-nominated television writer, and just wrote The Sesame Street Podcast with Foley & Friends. Samantha lives in sunny Santa Monica with her dog Polly Pocket.

Visit her online at samanthaberger.com, Twitter @Bergerbooks, Instagram @samanthabergerauthor and Facebook Fans of Samantha Berger.

You read it above, Samantha is giving away a copy of THE GREAT BIG POOP PARTY!

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by Erin Dealey

Happy Day 5, Storystormers! This post is about playing with ideas—as an artist. Yep, I’m talking to all of you. Even if your illustrations are stick figures, what you write is ART. And by now you’ve (hopefully) got at least four picture book possibilities in your Idea Notebook and there are more to come. Hooray!

Wait—you do have an Idea Notebook, don’t you? Here’s mine, made from a repurposed book cover.

erinideanotebook

Many of my ideas stayed right here. Some I’ve gone back to and eventually shaped into manuscripts. A few became books. But having one place to jot ideas down is a huge improvement from my previous method: random scraps of paper + notes in my bullet-ish journal. I also believe that I’m far more creative if I write them down with pencil or pen, instead of going straight to my computer. My Idea notebook is my writer-version of a sketchbook. Do you think Michelangelo headed straight to the scaffolds of the Sistine Chapel or that slab of granite that became David without sketching things out? OK then. Where were we?

The initial idea for my newest picture book DEAR EARTH…FROM YOUR FRIENDS IN ROOM 5 (HarperCollins, illustrated by Luisa Uribe, Dec.1, 2020) is in this notebook. A few years back, I was wowed by a friend’s holiday illustration of a beautiful child-angel holding Earth in her hand. Those you who have read DEAR EARTH know that the main character is not an angel, nor is it a holiday book. So what happened?

Note: If you participated in Storystorm 2019, you’ll remember the fabulous Day 1 post by Cathy Breisacher Pictures Her Ideas and her list of brainstorming questions. As for me, I was so taken with the image of the angel, I wondered: Why is she holding Earth? Is she Earth’s protector? What about Climate Change? Does she take care of the other planets too? How?

That’s when I started playing around in my idea notebook.

I wanted to find a way to show how KIDS could help the angel take care of Earth all year long—not just on Earth Day. Important: Books for kids should be about kids, or kid-centric topics. But how would the angel communicate to the kids? This got me thinking about a format I’ve always wanted to try: a story told only in letters. See my guest post on Lauren Kerstein’s blog for details: 6 Quick-Read Crafty Tips for Writing a Manuscript in Epistolary Format.  (You’ll meet Lauren when she guest blogs for Storystorm later this month!)

Meanwhile, my writing group, the PBJers, made me realize the angel concept might make the book too preachy or worse—a bit morbid (“Aren’t child-angels dead kids?”) Yikes! Their questions and concerns got me thinking—WHAT IF… Room 5 is making New Year’s resolutions and wants to help Earth? What if they write directly to EARTH? And what if EARTH writes back?

What does all of this mean for you, dear Storystormers? On Day 4 of 2020 Storystorm, I hereby challenge you to:

Scroll through the wonderful #kidlitillustration #picturebookillustration examples posted by illustrators on social media. (For other places to find pictures, See Cathy Breisacher: Picture Her Ideas above.) Pick one that resonates with you. Ask it questions. Put the answers in your Idea Notebook so you can play with them and shape them later.

Last but not least, as we work our way through Storystorm 2021, DO NOT STRESS that your ideas are crazy or weird or even morbid or bleh. Instead, let’s think of ourselves as potters. No, not the wand-waving Harry kind. The artist kind. A potter wouldn’t just take some clay, throw a pot, and call it a day. Sometimes we’ll smush our newly thrown pot back into a wad of clay and start over. Sometimes we’ll throw pot after pot and end up with just one that we might glaze and fire. That’s writing, isn’t it? Every one of us is an artist. Storystorm is the start.

Let us resolve to use this month to gather our clay. Then let’s make some art, my friends!

Erin Dealey is the author of 16 picture books & board books (so far), many in rhyme. She is currently revising a middle grade novel which will not go away. And then there were those angsty poems she wrote in college. Dealey’s original career goal was Olympic Gold Medal tetherball player. When that didn’t pan out, she became a teacher, theater director, actor, mom, and author—and welcomes any opportunity to connect kids with words. She lives in northern California with her husband and a very energetic Golden Retriever. You can find her online at erindealey.com and on Twitter @ErinDealey & Instagram @erindealey.

Erin is giving away 1 of your choice–either a picture book critique or a copy of DEAR EARTH…FROM YOUR FRIENDS IN ROOM 5!

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by Carole Lindstrom

The very first thing I want to begin by saying is that NO idea is a bad idea or a ridiculous idea. NONE. So put that thought out of your head immediately. Those ideas are gems and kernels of stories that can become stand-alone stories one day, or bits and smatterings of stories tomorrow. So, promise yourself, and me, before I go any further that you will keep EVERY idea you come up with!! Deal? Deal!!! I’m proud of you already!!

I want to spend some time talking to you about where I get my ideas and perhaps that will give you some thoughts or insights into places that you can mine for your ideas.

I want to add that ideas rarely come to me when I sit down to come up with story ideas, if that makes any sense. My best ideas usually come rushing at me when I’m in the middle of doing other things. But I always make sure I leave my mind open to letting in new ideas. And definitely keep a notebook with you or use your notebook app on your phone to write them down, because I can never remember them when I tell myself that I will. Get in the habit of writing them down as soon as soon as they flow into your brain.

To be honest, most of my ideas with reading the news and/or current events on social media. Seeing what is going on in the world almost always sparks my creative juices to flow.

And then I usually start asking the questions:

WHY? Why is that thing that way? Why did that happen? Why didn’t anyone do anything about it? Why did someone do something?

And/Or

HOW? How did that happen? How could no one have done anything about that? How did that thing do that?

And/Or

WHO? Who was involved? Who did it? Who did something about it? Who could have done something about it but didn’t?

I tend to be drawn to writing stories that deal with environmental or social issues. So, what gets the ideas really popping in my brain is reading the news. Any type of story about environmental or social injustices would certainly be something I would read. If that isn’t your thing, and even if it isn’t, read things that you are interested in. Follow blogs and Facebook people/places that represent things that you find important or interesting. Their posts often spur ideas in me, as well. Oftentimes I find that the articles spark further questions in my mind. Or I want the article to go deeper, ask deeper questions, pick away at the real issues. And that’s where I, or you, come in. With the questions.

My mom always used to tell me that I was always asking “WHY?” as a kid. It seems to have followed me throughout my life and has come in handy as an author. Especially an author for children. Because aren’t they also always asking “WHY?”

I hope you find this helpful in some way. Enjoy the process.

Aapiji go Miigwech, Carole

Carole Lindstrom is an Anishinaabe/Métis author, and an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe Indians. She writes books for children and young adults. Her debut picture book, Girls Dance, Boys Fiddle, was published with Pemmican Publishers in 2013. Drops of Gratitude, is included in the anthology, Thank U: Poems of Gratitude, edited by Miranda Paul and Illustrated by Marlena Myles, (Lerner/Millbrook – Fall 2019). We Are Water Protectors, inspired by Standing Rock, and all Indigenous Peoples’ fight for clean water, illustrated by Michaela Goade, (Roaring Brook Press – March 2020). Circles, is included in the anthology, Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids, edited by Cynthia Leitich Smith, (Heartdrum – Feb 2021). She is represented by Andrea Brown Literary Agency. Carole lives with her family in Maryland. Visit her online at carolelindstrom.com.

Carole is giving away a 30-minute virtual visit.

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by Ashley Franklin

Hello there, writing friends! We’re at the start of a new year, so you know what that means: now is the time to tackle those writing goals with all the optimism you can muster.

Not feeling very inspired? It happens to the best of us. Don’t have a lot of time to commit to writing and need to be able to write on command? Well, that probably applies to many of us. What can you do? Stop waiting for inspiration to come to you and go get it.

Whenever I need to generate ideas, I rely on feelings. No, this doesn’t mean that I only write when I’m feeling good. It doesn’t even mean that I write sad characters when I’m feeling sad. I consider the wide range of feelings and emotions that are out there and pair them with different scenarios.

Want to give it a try? Here’s what you do:

STEP 1: Write down a list of emotions.

(Hack: Google a list instead. There are tons.)

(Fun Hack: I put these in a box and pull one at random.)

STEP 2:  Pick a scenario. (You can come up with as many as you like, but I’ll offer a few to get you started.)

  • A day at the amusement park
  • Learning a new sport
  • First day of _____________
  • New kid at _____________
  • Finding something new
  • Playing an instrument

STEP 3: Pair an emotion with the scenario from Step 2.

Example: Disgusted + A day at the amusement park

STEP 4: Get brainstorming! What could happen during a day at the amusement park that would make a character feel disgusted?

STEP 5: Write down your answer(s) to Step 4.

STEP 6: Repeat.

(Hack: Use the same scenario but pick a different emotion.)

(Fun Hack: Pick two feelings that the character must wrestle with.)

Simple, right? This works best if you don’t do it from your adult perspective. Turn on your childlike wonder and maybe even project how kid you would respond in these scenarios.

Why do I use this as one of my brainstorming techniques? I like to read and write books that have a large emotional pull. For me, it’s easier to already know what type of feeling I want the characters to explore from the very beginning because that will determine the choices that they make. If the character starts off with one emotion, I then think of what type of event must occur to cause a shift away from the original feeling.

Good luck as you try this out for yourself. You may find that once you brainstorm with feelings, it’s easier to get out of a writing slump and move toward completing your writing goals.

Ashley Franklin is the author of NOT QUITE SNOW WHITE (2019), “Creative Fixes” from the anthology ONCE UPON AN EID (2020), “Situationally Broke” from the anthology WHAT WE DIDN’T EXPECT (2020), BETTER TOGETHER, CINDERELLA (2021) and more. Ashley received her master’s degree in English literature from the University of Delaware. She is an adjunct college instructor, freelance writer, and proud mom. Ashley currently resides in Arkansas with her family.  

Ashley is represented by Kathleen Rushall of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency. Visit Ashley’s at ashleyfranklinwrites.com, on Twitter @differentashley, Facebook at Ashley Franklin, or Instagram @ashleyfranklinwrites.

Ashley is giving away a non-rhyming picture book critique.

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by Vivian Kirkfield

Ten years ago, I skirted the shadows of Tara’s 2011 PiBoIdMo (now Storystorm) Challenge. I walked away with a notebook filled with 30 ideas and a thirst for more. Two months later, I hopped aboard the first year of Julie Hedlund’s 12×12 Picture Book Challenge and wrote 12 picture book manuscripts. I got in the habit of gathering ideas from wherever they came and turning them into picture book stories. And that habit came in handy in the fall of 2017. I sold a manuscript to Ann Rider at HMH and she didn’t want just that manuscript—she wanted NINE! She wanted to create a compilation book about inventions that changed the way the world moves. My deadline was May 1, 2018—which gave me nine months to hand in nine submission-ready narrative nonfiction picture book biographies.

The idea for the first story actually came from my sister who had told me about a friend of a friend who was the granddaughter of the founder of the Greyhound Bus Company. It sounded like a fascinating story—my curiosity was piqued—and I dug deep into finding out more. After writing the rough draft and many rounds of revision and critique group feedback, my agent submitted it and we got interest from Ann. But the editor wasn’t sure if Eric and the bus were strong enough/popular enough to be a stand-alone picture book. Ann had an idea…would I be willing to write several more stories, similar in structure and tone, about the invention or creation of other things that move?

My answer, of course, was YES!

The editor wanted all the stories to include:

  • Engaging opening lines.
  • Child main character who has a dream/goal.
  • AH-HA moment.
  • Fun language/great rhythm/excellent pacing.
  • Legacy paragraph that shows how the invention impacts us today.
  • Satisfying ending that echoes the opening lines.

I got down to business. First, I made a list of vehicles, like the car and the train. I already had a manuscript about the invention of the hot-air balloon—maybe I could tweak it to fit this collection. But Ann also wanted me to think outside the box of things that move. Maybe a robot, she suggested. And I wondered, who invented the first robot? Early on, robots were part of science fiction—in the writings of H.G. Wells and Isaac Asimov. I dug deeper. I discovered the story of a young boy of fifteen who rebuilt the transmission of his family’s car—without an instruction manual. When he graduated from high school, he designed the first automatic doors. He engineered the first photoelectric entrance counters which were demonstrated at the 1939 World’s Fair. And he built the first robotic, a mechanical arm used at a General Motors factory in 1961 to weld car parts. His name? George Devol, the Father of Robotics. But I’d never heard of him and perhaps most of you haven’t either. I guess that’s another reason I write these narrative nonfiction biographies—I’m passionate about sharing the lives of these ordinary people who have done extraordinary things. I’m hoping to spark the curiosity of young readers to inspire them to create their own magic.

Another out-of-the-box moving invention was the folding wheelchair that opened doors, both literally and figuratively, for mobility challenged individuals. More digging revealed that this inventor had been a high hurdler in college. But after becoming a mining engineer, Herbert Everest broke his back in a mining accident. Paralyzed, but unwilling to forego his beloved road trips, Herbert and a mechanical engineering buddy, Harry Jennings, brainstormed until they came up with a wheelchair design that would allow the chair to fit in a car. Although there was a lot of information about their wheelchair company, there was almost nothing about Herbert’s early life. Where could I find that information? I consulted the census, I studied the online documents from the Colorado School of Mines where Herbert attended college, and I reached out to the special collections’ librarian at the downtown library in Oklahoma City where Herbert lived for many years. Lisa Bray was unbelievably helpful and I learned enough so that I could craft a credible story of Herbert’s early years.

The last chapter in this compilation book is one of my favorites. I know I wanted at least one water vehicle. But who invented the first boat? Canoes and kayaks have been around since before 8000 BCE. There was no way I would be able to pin down an AH-HA moment or delve into the childhood of those visionaries. So again, I tried to think outside the box. I googled ‘firsts in shipbuilding’ and I was lucky. Up popped the name of Raye Montague, who led the team of naval engineers in 1970 to create the first computer-generated ship design. More luck came my way when I uncovered several taped interviews she had given and I was able to hear her story, from childhood on, in her own voice.

My journey with FROM HERE TO THERE: Inventions That Changed the Way the World Moves, illustrated by the brilliant Gilbert Ford, has definitely been a labor of love—nine months, nine stories—and I think the journey is just beginning. But I’d like to leave you with a quote from Lisa Bray, that amazing Oklahoma City librarian, because it speaks to what the Storystorm Challenge is all about, and to what we, as writers, need to keep close to our hearts as we step into 2021 and craft stories that will engage young readers:

”There are interesting stories everywhere you look, and one doesn’t have to be famous to have a good story to tell.”

Writer for children—reader forever…that’s Vivian Kirkfield in five words. Her bucket list contains many more words—but she’s already checked off skydiving, parasailing,  and visiting kidlit friends all around the world. When she isn’t looking for ways to fall from the sky or sink under the water, she can be found writing picture books in the picturesque town of Bedford, New Hampshire. A retired kindergarten teacher with a masters in Early Childhood Education, Vivian inspires budding writers during classroom visits and shares insights with aspiring authors at conferences and on her blog where she hosts the #50PreciousWords International Writing Contest and the #50PreciousWordsforKids Challenge. Her nonfiction narratives bring history alive for young readers and her picture books have garnered starred reviews and accolades including the Silver Eureka, Social Studies Notable Trade Book, and Junior Library Guild Selection.

To connect with Vivian and learn more about her books:

Website: www.viviankirkfield.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/viviankirkfield
Twitter: www.twitter.com/viviankirkfield
Linkedin: www.linkedin.com/in/viviankirkfield
Instagram: www.instagram.com/viviankirkfield

Vivian is offering a 60-minute Zoom meeting to chat about a specific manuscript or anything else writer-related.

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My Picture Books

COMING SOON:


BLOOP
illus by Mike Boldt
HarperCollins
July 2021

ABSURD WORDS
illustrator TBA
Sourcebooks eXplore
November 2021

"PRIVATE I" SERIES #3
illus by Ross MacDonald
Little, Brown
2022

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