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Every year rolls around and I promise myself that I will get the Storystorm winners post out right away…and yet it always lingers until March or April! Thank you again to Urania Smith for helping when I need it most…and thank you, everyone, for waiting patiently!

Here are all the daily winners! If you’re a winner, expect an email from me this week with details!

Congratulations! Storystorm 2022 is now officially over!

Day 1: Tammi Sauer
Book and PB critique—Jane Baskwill, Leah Moser, and Lindsay Brayden Ellis

Day 2: Tara Lazar
Zoom call—Angie Quantell

Day 3: Lynne Marie
Book and Zoom Consultation—David Filmore

Day 4: Carter Higgins
CIRCLE UNDER BERRY—Genevieve Gorback and Terri Epstein

[Day 5: Benson Shum prize was given to a Grand Prize Winner who relinquished her prize because she was already agented. She was given the option to choose any other prize.]

Day 6: Dawn DeVries
THE POST CARD PROJECT—Annette Bay Pimentel

Day 7: Donna Cangelosi
PB critique—Angie Baker

Day 8: Josh Funk
PB critique or signed copy of any books—Andrea Mack, Rosanna Montanaro, and David McMullin

Day 9: Kirsten Larson
Zoom call—Christine M. Irvin

Day 10: Katie Howes
Marty Bellis

Day 11: Kelly Mangan & Adrea Theodore
PB critique—Aileen Polly Renner
A HISTORY OF ME—Megan McNamara and Karen Lawler

Day 12: Heidi Tyline King
SAVING AMERICAN BEACH—Susan Cabael

Day 13: Melissa Roske
KAT GREENE COMES CLEAN—Gabriella Aldeman
COMING OF AGE: B’NAI MITZVAH STORIES—Sue Heavenrich
Middle grade critique—Aly Kenna

Day 14: Julia Mills
30 minute Zoom chat or art critique—Michelle Dragalin

Day 15: Laura Lavoie
Picture book critique + follow up Zoom chat—Mary Ann Blair

Day 16: Danielle Joseph
30 minute consultation—Jany Campana
I WANT TO RIDE THE TAP TAP—Alexis Ennis

Day 17: Shirin Shamsi
PLANTING FRIENDSHIP—Amie Valore-Caplan

Day 18: Amalia Hoffman
30 minute Zoom—Paul Brassard
Book prize—Rachelle Burk

Day 19: Carrie Tillotson
COUNTING TO BANANAS: A MOSTLY RHYMING FRUIT BOOK—Joanne Roberts

Day 20: Kari Lavelle
30 minute Zoom—Katie Marie
WE MOVE THE WORLD—Kathy Doherty

Day 21: Valerie Bolling
Query critique, goal-setting meeting, or 20-minute phone chat—Laurel Neme

Day 22: Serena Gingold Allen
MOONLIGHT PRANCE—Morgan Lau
SUNRISE DANCE—Dianne Borowski

Day 23: Chana Stiefel
LET LIBERTY RISE! How Schoolchildren Helped Save the Statue of Liberty—Diana Marie Linton

Day 24: Kimberly Wilson
A PENNY’S WORTH—Debbie Austin

Day 25: Alison Marcote
SEEKING BEST FRIEND—Alison McGaule

Day 26: PB Crew 22
Dianne White’s GREEN ON GREEN—Rebecca McMurdie
Dianne White’s WINTER LULLABY—Alia Khaled
PB critique from Brittany Thurman—Elizabeth Muster
PB critique Ellie Peterson—Ally Enz
PB critique Viviane Elbee—Charlene Avery
PB critique Megan Lacera—JoLynne Ricker Whalen
PB critique Jyoti Rajan Gopal—Lucy Staugler
PB critique Lori Alexander—Nancy Rubin Fahmy
PB critique Lisa Tolin—Nadia Salomon

Day 27: Mike Allegra
Zoom call—Gayle Krause

Day 28: Vivian Kirkland
Signed copy of FROM HERE TO THERE, a PB critique, or 30-minute Zoom—Tim McGlen

Day 29: Susie Ghahremani
GROWTH JOURNAL—Ashley Bankhead

Day 30: Dev Petty
Zoom call—Laura N. Clement
DON’T EAT THE BEES—Denise A. Engle, Shaunda Wenger, and Melissa Rotert

Finally, here they are. The Grand Prize Winners of Storystorm!

These stormers registered, completed the challenge, and were randomly selected with the help of Urania Smith of Kidlit Nation.

Each winner has been paired with a kidlit literary agent to receive feedback on their best 5 story ideas, helping them decide which ideas to pursue as manuscripts. I also added one additional prize of an idea consult with yours truly.

If you didn’t win a Grand Prize, please hold on tight. Winners of the individual daily prizes will be announced soon!

Steve Jankousky → Ammi-Joan Paquette of Erin Murphy Literary Agency

Elizabeth W Saba → Tara Gonzalez of Erin Murphy Literary Agency

Jess Burbank → Sean McCarthy of Sean McCarthy Literary Agency

Alison Ferguson → Kelly Sonnack of Andrea Brown Literary Agency

Cristina Ergunay → Charlotte Wenger of Prospect Agency

Midge Smith → Lisa Fleissig &  Ginger Harris-Dontzin of Liza Royce Agency

Jen Anyong → Maeve MacLysaght of Copps Literary Services

Zoraida Rivera → Susan Hawk of Upstart Crow Literary

Candace Spizzirri → Tara Lazar of This Here Blog

These winners should start polishing their ideas and fleshing them out into concise pitches. I’ll be emailing you shortly with details!

Congratulations to all!

by Diana Murray, who picks the freshest ideas

Congratulations! You made it through Storystorm. Instead of simply waiting for ideas to come to you, you went out there and actively churned them up, sought them out, and grabbed them! An idea may just be a word or short phrase. It may not seem like much, but really, it’s the beginning of everything! An overwhelming thought. Which idea do you choose? How do you proceed?

First, Marinate!
I urge you to proceed slowly and let your ideas fully develop. While you’re going about your usual business of walking the dog, running errands, or even sleeping, your brain is actually hard at work, with creative juices flowing. Feel free to jot a few notes down to keep track of things, but don’t rush into committing to a story. This marination phase has already been happening all through Storystorm and there’s no need to stop the process quite yet. For example, my book “Unicorn Day” sprouted from the idea of dolphins having a party in the ocean. I got the seed of the idea while observing dolphins down in Florida. But I didn’t start writing as soon as I had the idea. I let the idea sit around in my mind for a few weeks. I kept thinking about how majestic dolphins seemed, as if they were unicorns of the sea. Eventually, “Dolphin Party” evolved into “Unicorn Day”. If I had started writing the story immediately, I may have never made that mental leap.

What’s fresh?
If you had to choose between limp, out-of-season asparagus and crisp zucchini fresh from the farm, which would you choose? Probably the latter. If there have been a million books about a particular idea lately (especially bestsellers), and it seems the topic has been done to death, maybe now is not the time. Maybe you put that idea aside, at least temporarily, and work on a “fresher” one instead. Aside from what other books are out there, it’s also a matter of what feels fresh to YOU. For example, when I was brainstorming “Goodnight” books, I had many ideas that seemed like they had been done quite often, but when I wrote “Goodnight, Veggies” on my list of options, it made me chuckle a bit to myself. I thought it sounded a little odd and unexpected. That’s why it stood out to me. It should be noted that “Goodnight” books in general have been done a million times. So I’m not saying you should rule out everything that’s already been done. I mean, chefs aren’t going to stop making spaghetti with tomato sauce. There’s a reason people like that dish. But chefs who want to get noticed will put a unique twist on this old favorite. And most importantly, choosing something that feels fresh to YOU will help keep YOU interested and having fun. When the writer is having fun, it comes across on the page.

What are you in the mood for?
How do you decide what to make for dinner? Often, it’s just about what you’re in the mood for. Perhaps you’ve been craving tacos all day long. Why fight it? It’s the same with ideas. There is often one idea that is constantly calling to you. If it’s constantly popping in your head, no matter how hard you try to wait or to think about another idea on your list, then that’s it. That’s the one you should go with. Tacos it is! And that’s another good reason to try to wait and marinate in the beginning. It makes it easier to notice which idea is screaming for your attention more than all the others. This also comes down to personal preferences and experiences. No matter how fresh it is, you probably aren’t going to cook with zucchini if zucchini just isn’t your thing. On the other hand…

Try something new
If you’ve been eating nothing but tacos day after day, maybe it’s time to expand your horizons. On cooking shows, the judges always praise the contestants who reach past their comfort zone. And I can see why. Even the best chefs are always growing and learning and trying new things, even if that means they’re taking more risks. Trying something new is another way to keep things fresh and fun for yourself. Do you have a non-fiction idea but that’s not what you usually write? Give it a shot. Never wrote a concept book? Maybe now’s the time. When I wrote HELP MOM WORK FROM HOME!, I specifically wrote it in second person because I had never tried that before and I thought it would be fun. So when you’re choosing an idea from your list, maybe you try something different. Zucchini pizza, anyone?

Once you’ve chosen your well-marinated main ingredient, the idea, it’s time to start cooking! Don’t forget to taste often, add spices as needed, and have some other tasters (i.e., critique partners) on hand, too. Enjoy!

I also want to take a moment to thank Tara. I have been a huge fan of Storystorm since it first began and I’m so grateful for the feast of inspiration!

Diana Murray is the author of over twenty books for children (board books, early readers, and picture books), both published and forthcoming. Her books include the National IndieBound Bestseller UNICORN DAY and its sequels, UNICORN NIGHT and UNICORN CHRISTMAS, as well as HELP MOM WORK FROM HOME!, GOODNIGHT VEGGIES, GROGGLE’S MONSTER VALENTINE, and PIZZA PIG. Diana’s poems have appeared in many children’s magazines and anthologies. She grew up in New York City and still lives nearby with her firefighter husband, two children, and a dancing dog. To learn more, you can visit her website at dianamurray.com or follow her on Facebook, Instagram: @dianamurrayauthor, or Twitter: @DianaMWrites.

The 2022 Storystorm Pledge is now closed.

If you’ve been participating in Storystorm all month, you’ve been generating oodles of ideas!

Luckily you don’t need oodles to “win” the Storystorm challenge. You just need 30 of them!

When you have 30 ideas, you can qualify to win one of the AMAZING Storystorm Grand Prizes—feedback on your best 5 picture book ideas from one of these kidlit agents!

  • Ammi-Joan Paquette, Erin Murphy Literary Agency
  • Tara Gonzalez, Erin Murphy Literary Agency
  • Sean McCarthy, Sean McCarthy Literary Agency
  • Kelly Sonnack, Andrea Brown Literary Agency
  • Charlotte Wenger, Prospect Agency
  • Lisa Fleissig & Ginger Harris-Dontzin, Liza Royce Agency
  • Maeve MacLysaght, Copps Literary Services
  • Susan Hawk, Upstart Crow Literary
  • and a special consult from me!

In order to qualify for a Grand Prize, your name must be on the registration post AND the pledge below.

If you have 30 ideas, put your right hand on a picture book and repeat after me:

I do solemnly swear that I have faithfully executed
the Storystorm 30-ideas-in-January challenge,
and will, to the best of my ability,
parlay my ideas into picture book manuscripts.

Now I’m not saying all 30 ideas have to be good. Some may just be titles, some may be character quirks. Some may be problems and some may create problems when you sit down to write. Some may be high-concept and some barely a concept. But…they’re yours, all yours!

You have until February 7th at 11:59:59PM EST to sign the pledge by leaving a comment on this post.

PLEASE COMMENT ONLY ONCE.

The name you left on the registration post and the name you leave on this winner’s pledge SHOULD MATCH. However, when you comment, WordPress also logs info that allows me to recognize you, so don’t worry if they’re not exact.

Again, please COMMENT ONLY ONCE. If you make a mistake, contact me instead of leaving a second comment.

Remember, this is an honor system pledge. You don’t have to send in your ideas to prove you’ve got 30 of them. If you say so, I’ll believe you! Honestly, it’s that simple. (Wouldn’t it be nice if real life were that straightforward.)

Before you sign, you can also pick up your Winner’s Badge!

There are winner’s mugs and T-shirts you can purchase at cafepress.com/storystorm. All proceeds ($4 per item, if you enter via the link) go to Blessings in a Backpack. If there’s other SWAG you want, I can add it to the shop…just ask!

Now…are you ready to sign?

Then GO FOR IT! Let’s see your name below!

by Samantha Berger

Storystormers, StorystormTroopers, Team Tara—
whatever you choose to call yourself—guess what?
It’s the end of the month and YOU DID IT.
Standing O, big bravo, red roses throw!
Take a bow, because it is January 31st, and YOU ARE HERE.
Insert applause here __________________!
And here____________!

By now, you’ve read a post a day and seen all kinds of ways folks find inspiration. And I’ve read ‘em too – ain’t it $!#?* cool? Inspiration is everywhere. Those posts were filled with all kinds of helpful hints and tricks to try. It was, well, INSPIRING!

And NOW…

(drumroll, please)

it’s *your* turn!

Because wherever you are in your writing journey, your ideas and your process, and the way YOU get inspired, are truly important.

And today, I’d like to shine the light on THAT.

So—I’d like to invite you to play a game I play with my friend Desmond.

We’ve been playing it since he was about five years old, and we STILL play it today, ten years later (even though NOW he’s a teenager with a black belt in Karate and a doctorate in sarcasm).

It helps both of us set our brains to STORM mode, and express ourselves without overthinking.

It’s a game called 21 Questions (so it doesn’t get confused with 20 Questions).

Here’s how you play:

I ask 21 open-ended questions and you say the *very first thing* that comes into your head.

  • There are no stakes.
  • There are no mistakes.
  • There are no right answers.
  • There are no wrong answers.
  • You can change your mind.
  • You can play again tomorrow.
  • You can have totally different answers.

This is just an exercise to let your brain storm, your ideas flow, and see who you are at this particular moment in time (*an awesome writer with great ideas. Shablam!)

Ready? Let’s go.

  1. If they made an action figure of you, what would it be wearing?
  2. What is the BEST Halloween candy?
  3. If you made a time capsule today, what’s one thing you would put inside?
  4. If you could meet anyone, real or fictitious, who would you pick?
  5. If you could get paid to do ANYTHING AT ALL what thing would you pick?
  6. What is your earliest memory?
  7. If you could throw any kind of theme party, which one would you pick?
  8. If you could switch places with another person for one day, who would you pick?
  9. When is it important to tell someone the truth, even if it hurts their feelings?
  10. What was one of your most memorable dreams?
  11. What’s your superhero name?
  12. If you got paid to study anything for four years, what would you most want to learn?
  13. What would you NEVER do on a dare?
  14. If you found a genie in a bottle and got one wish (which couldn’t be for more wishes) what would you wish?
  15. If you woke up and had a friendly pet monster, what would you name them?
  16. If you woke up tomorrow and could be an instant EXPERT at something—what thing would you pick
  17. What thing is totally unfair?
  18. If you could invent anything—what would it be?
  19. What’s the grossest thing you ever did?
  20. When is it time to stand up for someone else?
  21. If you wrote a book that was coming out tomorrow, what would you call it?

GOOD JOB!

Play it again and again, and see where it takes you, and what it inspires within!

Storystormkateers, I have only one thing left to say here—a mantra, if you will—

Yay for YOU in 2022! (*my kinda rhyme)

I’ll be rooting and cheering for you, every day of the year.

Samantha Berger is the award-winning author of over 80 books for young readers, including WHAT IF… (illus by Mike Curato), ROCK WHAT YA GOT (illus by Kerascoet), CRANKENSTEIN, A CRANKENSTEIN VALENTINE, and TRICK OR TREAT, CRANKENSTEIN (illus by Dan Santat).

She is also a three-time Emmy nominated television writer, previous Editorial Director of Nickelodeon for 12 years, and currently writes for many branches of Sesame Street. Samantha lives in sunny Santa Monica with her Dingo-Chihuahua rescue dog Polly Pocket, who is a daily reminder of resilience and the power of love.

Play along online at samanthaberger.com, Twitter @bergerbooks, Instagram @samanthabergerauthor, and Facebook.

Leave a comment with one of your 21 answers, or favorite questions, or basically, anything at all. I will be giving away a signed copy of my book WHAT IF…

…illustrated by Mike Curato, all about the power of creativity to triumph over ANYTHING.

And as always, the deepest of bows (ow, my back) and greatest of gratitudes to the Queen of Kindness, Tara Lazar, for making this happen AGAIN, and for such a stellar charity (Blessings in a Backpack). Mwwwah!

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

Prizes will be distributed at the conclusion of Storystorm.

by Dev Petty

Ideas are funny things. They hang around. They nag. They sit silent and unused, waiting for their moment like that sassy, sequin sweater tank top I got (for a steal!) about eight years ago and look absolutely divine in, which has never, ever been worn. I think about wearing it. I even try it on for special occasions now and again. But I can’t pull the trigger…back into the closet it goes.

We all have a drawer of ideas, some that we’ve worn, at least a little, by writing them into stories which may not have worked out. Others are impossible to even try on, too bright, too weird, too…much. But once in a great while, you get up the nerve and the stars align and you put that sequin sweater on everyone compliments you about it and you feel like a million bucks and now it’s your favorite thing in the world.

So I’ve maybe taken this metaphor too far. So let me tell you about shopping in my own idea closet.

Back in high school, a pal of mine relayed something a pal of his had said (honestly, it was pretty inappropriate) and I thought it was really, deeply funny. It was really just ONE WORD said with spot-on timing. It crept into my general banter over the years. I never forgot it. Over these last years of writing picture books I tried no less than four times to wrap a whole story around just that line, it delighted me so. Nope. Nothing.

I put it aside. For years. But then I was working on my next book: DON’T EAT BEES (Life Lessons From Chip the Dog) which will be out from PRH in May, and I realized that it was the perfect setup for this line, this single word, which teases through the book and creates just the perfect ending (you’ll have to read it to find out what it is). The book nearly wrote itself after that and I couldn’t be more excited about it—Mike Boldt and I are back together again, this time with a dog (not a frog).

Sometimes a story idea is just a line. It’s not a title or a character. It’s not about friendship or bravery or anything specific. It’s a line, a word, a mechanism, a perfect pause in response to a visual gag. It’s a monster at the end of the book, a fish who most definitely didn’t take a hat that he totally, absolutely took, a seagull who was carrying a bucket of paint, though “no one knows why”. Forget plot-ty superhero movies, we’re talking Newhart, Buster Keaton, The Far Side, Jack Handey here. Small, might-be-insignificant-to-others-but-you-write-picture-books, idiosyncratic oddities which shine a light on the human experience.

Sometimes the biggest ideas aren’t elaborate, they’re simple—because those simple things can reflect bigger ideas about how we process the world, our inclinations, our conflicts. They cut down to the core that we all share and remove themselves from more specific experiences like family or school or doctor’s offices. Sometimes these little idea fragments can have whole stories wrapped around them, or become just twists, endings, or story structures. My most successful stories have come from things just like this. Truth? This can take a little more time, or at least “different” time than a more traditional approach. You may not know who your character is, or what their problem is, or any of the usual stuff. But I’m a big believer that boundaries and edges create the best work, and if you DO have a concept you’re trying to work in, you let that lead and you follow.

Now, how do you find these odd little conceptual thingamiggies? Surely, the best ones will come from your own life. They will come from your own vernacular, stories told over dinner about funny happenings, misunderstandings, mistakes. They come from your childhood, your family and your friends. They come from television shows and films, I’m a particular fan of lines from songs and I might be able to retire on my former coworkers’ quirks alone! When you stop looking for whole stories and just start seeing the world as concepts and twists, surprise endings, odd moments, you can turn those things into rich, layered stories with wide appeal because they aren’t so specific to one person or their experience. Even if you have NO idea what to do with one of these little fellas, just write em down. They may even nag you until you try them on.

So go dig around in your life-drawer. You may find your sequin sweater in a forgotten, half-written manuscript, or a childhood story your kids have heard you tell so many times they can tell it themselves. Try it on and look in the mirror. It might just turn into one hell of an outfit!

Dev Petty writes books for kids. Hopefully ones which make you laugh a lot and think a little. She lives in Berkeley with her husband, daughters, two dogs, one mean cat, and a snake named Boots. You can read Dev’s work in two upcoming books this spring, DON’T EAT BEES, Life Lessons From Chip the Dog, illustrated by Mike Boldt (PRH) and HOW OLD IS MR. TORTOISE?, illustrated by Ruth Chan (Abrams). Visit her at devpetty.com and follow on Twitter @devpetty and Instagram @devpetty.

Dev is giving away a half-hour zoom to talk about PBs, plus 3 copies of her new book DON’T EAT BEES (when released).

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

Prizes will be distributed at the conclusion of Storystorm.

by Susie Ghahremani

People sometimes talk about inspiration as if it’s something that only strikes at random. I find that inspiration is more like the graphic I created for this year’s Storystorm: seeds that might bloom into something beautiful and luminous.

My illustration for Storystorm 2022!

Our published books are the result of a million tiny adjustments and years of persistence. My guided journal: GROWTH: A JOURNAL TO WELCOME PERSONAL CHANGE (Roost Books) took seven years from my initial concept to publication, and I know a lot of us have similar stories of our long haul efforts.

However, inspiration seems like almost the opposite: It’s the whimsy and spontaneity that propels us to get us started in the first place.

Early sketches of GROWTH, and the final journal published 7 years later.

You can get a Storystorm Idea Book from Cafepress! Proceeds go to Blessings in a Backpack.

I’ve participated in Storystorm for *years* (with many thanks to our brilliant host Tara)! Spontaneity plays a big role in what I love about Storystorm: I love how accessible and quick the prompts are. I also love the time constraint of the month of January!

It’s easy and fun to commit to a daily practice that takes just minutes each day but gives our creativity momentum with 30 ideas right at the start of the year.

So, let’s talk about how time constraints and spontaneity work well together to inspire

I write in my journal, draw in my sketchbook, and take a walk every day. The artwork and stories I make are created with ideas generated during these practices. Think doing this kind of thing is a massive time commitment you don’t have time for? I used to think that! (Even though hours can get sucked into social media or TV without my noticing the passage of time…)

One day, I set a timer and discovered it only took 15 minutes for me to loosely fill a page with drawings.

It took only 15 minutes to walk around the block.

A lot can happen in 15 minutes!

Do you have a timer in your home? Grab it for this prompt!

(Even Googling “set a timer for 5 minutes” will start a timer in your browser!)

I use this timer that startles me to push myself to draw or write 15 minutes at a time.

We’re going to go on a quest for inspiration that will take you 15 minutes total.

Prepare to set that timer three times, 5 minutes for each round.

Round one:

Go on a scavenger hunt around your home. Look for any object that feels like it sparks a feeling of curiosity in you. Bonus points if you step outside! Gather up these objects and bring them back to your writing space. Take every part of 5 minutes to do this!

Round two:

Draft a list of the possible ways these objects might be a part of a story you’d tell. Take all 5 minutes to do this. 5 minutes might feel longer than you think, but stay with it and generate as many ideas as you can until the timer goes off.

Round three:

Set a timer for 5 minutes and draft one of those ideas into something legible: something you can build upon – something someone else might be able to read. If you feel adrift, focus on writing a short poem or haiku.

When you have a sliver of time in your day, spontaneously set a timer with a goal to get creative and see what’s possible!

Susie Ghahremani is an award-winning illustrator, author, and a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design. Susie’s author-illustrator debut picture book STACK THE CATS (Abrams), was named a Kirkus Best Picture Book of the Year and Amazon Best Children’s Book of the Year. Susie is also the author-illustrator of BALANCE THE BIRDS (Abrams), and illustrator of picture books WHAT WILL HATCH? and WHAT WILL GROW? by Jennifer Ward (Bloomsbury) which received three starred reviews, was named a Bank Street book of the year, and appears on many state reading lists. She also illustrated SHE WANTED TO BE HAUNTED by Marcus Ewert (Bloomsbury); and LITTLE MUIR’S SONG and LITTLE MUIR’S NIGHT with words by John Muir (Yosemite Conservancy), which benefit Yosemite National Park. Susie also creates stationery, apparel, and gift items including the recently released GROWTH: A JOURNAL TO WELCOME PERSONAL CHANGE published by Roost Books. Her shop, Boygirlparty, is ranked among the top 25 bestsellers in Art on Etsy.

Follow her on Twitter @boygirlparty and instagram @boygirlparty, or on Facebook. Visit Susie’s website at boygirlparty.com.

Susie is giving away a copy of her GROWTH JOURNAL published by Roost Books.

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

Prizes will be distributed at the conclusion of Storystorm.

by Vivian Kirkfield

Oh my gosh…just a few more days for Storystorm! The Good Thing about posting on the back end of the challenge is that I had a lot of time to think about what I would write. But the Bad Thing is that 27 creative people already shared their techniques for generating ideas. As day after day of amazing blog posts appeared, the tricks and tips in my Felix-the-Cat magic bag became old news. It’s kind of like when you’ve got a wonderful manuscript sitting in your file/desk/notebook and then someone announces a book deal for that same topic.

And that thought connected some dots and made me realize that since we are blogging about ideas, perhaps I could address the topic of what happens when someone else writes a story about YOUR IDEA—can-more-than-one-book-about-a-person-or-event-or-subject find happiness and success in the publishing world?

I believe the answer is YES! I’ve had experience with this. We sent MAKING THEIR VOICES HEARD: The Inspiring Friendship of Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe to an editor in January 2018. And then, another Ella and Marilyn book hit the bookshelves in February. I was sure Little Bee Books would pass on my manuscript because not only was the book about the same two people, it was about the same moment when their lives intersected. Much to my surprise…and joy…the editor moved ahead with my story and it was published in January 2020.

Another example which also took place in 2018 concerns Nancy Churnin’s IRVING BERLIN: The Immigrant Boy Who Made America Sing launched in May of that year—alongside TWO other books about Irving Berlin. And the editor probably knew that there were other books in the pipeline when she acquired the manuscript. But that didn’t stop Nancy or her publisher—they moved forward—and the book won awards and accolades.

I think what we need to remember is that we each have our own unique voice when we write. The words and style we use imparts a certain flavor to our stories. Do you employ alliteration? Always add a repeating refrain? Are you a rhymer? A lyrical language lover? Do flowery phrases or short staccato sounds pepper your pages?

Also, although the story may be about the same person or topic, your focus can be different. Will you hone in on one specific moment or event in the life of your subject? Will it be a birth to death account? Will you stick to reality in a sibling story or will you create a fantastical tale?

And listen…if you need to reinvent your story in order to snag a book deal, you can do it! An editor asked me for a story about women in the 1890’s– and how bikes helped their fight for suffrage and independence. I wrote a manuscript about three women. The editor didn’t like it and asked for a story about just one of them. I completely rewrote it. The editor didn’t like that either. We sent it to another publishing house—that editor wanted revisions. Three times. I finally decided to study other books that particular editor had worked on, using them as mentor texts to discover how those authors opened their story, set the pacing, created a satisfying ending. When the editor received my newest revision, she acquired the book. PEDAL, BALANCE, STEER: Annie Londonderry, First Woman to Bike Around the World will launch in Spring 2024 from Calkins Creek/Astra.

This month, we’ve heard so many inspiring ways to generate ideas. Whether you use a word list, long walk, or butterfly net, snag yours, start writing, and always be ready to reinvent.

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, A Best Stem Book K-12 for 2022, and Junior Library Guild Selection. To connect with Vivian and learn more about her books, see viviankirkfield.com, Facebook, TwitterLinkedin, & Instagram.

Vivian is giving away a prize of the winner’s choice: a signed copy of FROM HERE TO THERE, a PB critique, or 30-minute Zoom call to chat about anything writerly.

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

Prizes will be distributed at the conclusion of Storystorm.

by Mike Allegra

Eeyore inspired me.

To be clear, the Eeyore that inspired me was not the iconic, morose burro of A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh books. I was inspired by an Eeyore stuffed animal.

My wife, Ellen, had bought the little guy in a Disney Store and he was cute as a button. He was dressed for Christmas in green flannel jammies and held a plate of cookies. Also, he had a Christmas stocking dangling from his mouth.

The genesis of my inspiration began with that stocking. The folks at Disney clearly meant the stocking to represent Eeyore’s humble request for presents, but I preferred to think of it as Eeyore’s weapon. I don’t know why I felt this way, but I did. As far as I was concerned, the stocking dangling from that burro’s maw made him look a little tougher than a typical Eeyore. This Eeyore, I decided, was a take charge kinda guy. This Eeyore, I also decided, wouldn’t tolerate it if my wife overslept her alarm. No way, no how!

“Get up! Get up! Get up!” Stuffed Eeyore scolded as he whapped Ellen on the head with his teensy, mighty stocking. “Or next time I’m gonna hit’cha with a sock full of nickels!”

Ellen (once she was fully awake) found this amusing.

With that whapping, aggressive sock, I had sorta kinda created a new Eeyore. I liked this new Eeyore. I liked him a lot.

A new Eeyore needed a new voice, so I came up with something faster and higher pitched and more malleable than the cartoon. My Eeyore was more childlike, more cantankerous, and slightly mush-mouthed with his “r” sounds. It was a fun voice to use and, from that point on, I used it often.

Eeyore soon became part of a silly nightly ritual. In the moments before Ellen and I would drift to sleep, I (as Eeyore) and Ellen (as Ellen) would chat a bit. Ellen would ask Eeyore questions about his life. And I’d reply with whatever foolishness popped into my brain. In one of these nocturnal Q&A sessions Eeyore declared himself to be a Bed Guardian, whose job was to protect our bed against “Pirates, Ruffians, Scalawags, Nogoodniks, and Counterfeiters.”

“Counterfeiters?” Ellen asked through a yawn.

“Yup,” the burrow nodded. “Counterfeiters are people who sneak into our kitchen and have fits on the counters!”

“Ah,” Ellen replied.

“And then I whack ‘em with my sock full of nickles!”

The ritual continued. Week after week and month after month, Eeyore’s personality and backstory grew. He would start a feud with the yellow stuffed bunny that we put out for Easter. He would develop verbal ticks, saying things like “What the hey, now?” He became a hoarder of Ellen’s hair clips and would decorate his floppy ears with dozens of them. He also developed a habit of telling dubious stories about his childhood in Parsippany (pronounced “Parsnippity”) and how he designed and built the Garden State Parkway’s Driscoll Bridge.

Little did I know that the silliness I spouted would serve as the foundation for a picture book, but it did. Ellen and I had created a pretty cool character—a cuddly, curmudgeonly defender of beds with a sock-whipping violent streak, and a propensity for telling tall tales. How could I not write a story about this guy?

My picture book manuscript, The Bed Guardian, wasn’t easy to write, but it was a joy nonetheless. The Bed Guardian of the story wasn’t all that similar to Stuffed Eeyore (the book’s Bed Guardian had a far mellower personality and was a lion instead of a burro), but the story would never have existed had I not been willing to stay up a few extra minutes each night to be a little silly.

I didn’t find a publisher for The Bed Guardian, but The Bed Guardian got me an agent. That agent went on to sell 16 of my other manuscripts, including the forthcoming picture book SLEEPY HAPPY CAPY CUDDLES (Page Street, September 2022)—another book that benefitted from unleashing a little silliness whenever the mood struck.

So if you need inspiration in these final days of Storystorm, I suggest you give yourself permission to get silly whenever you can. I’m living proof that it works. After all, I owe my writing career to acting—literally and figuratively—like a jackass.

Mike Allegra is the author of the picture books SLEEPY HAPPPY CAPY CUDDLES (Page Street, 2022), SCAMPERS THINKS LIKE A SCIENTIST (Dawn, 2019), EVERYBODY’S FAVORITE BOOK (Macmillan, 2018), and SARAH GIVES THANKS (Albert Whitman and Company, 2012). He wrote the chapter book series KIMMIE TUTTLE (Abdo Books, 2021) and PRINCES NOT-SO CHARMING (Macmillan, 2018-19; pen name: Roy L. Hinuss). SCAMPERS was the winner of Learning Magazine’s 2020 Teacher’s Choice Award and was selected for inclusion in the Literati Kids subscription box. His most recent picture book, PIRATE AND PENGUIN, was recently sold to Page Street and is scheduled for a late 2023 release. Visit Mike at mikeallegra.com. He’s friendly!

Mike is giving away a Zoom critique.

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

Prizes will be distributed at the conclusion of Storystorm.

by PB Crew 22

When you want a great idea, ask your crew! PB Crew 22 is a group of authors and illustrators with picture books releasing this year. We have been so inspired by Storystorm this month and in years past. That’s why we wanted to give you not one, not two, but 19 ways to come up with your own ideas for your next picture book!

Brittany Thurman: Begin with Poetry

As I wrote a free verse about the power that exists when we recognize our full potential, I thought over my childhood. How many times did I let self-doubt inhibit my goals? Too many. What would have happened if I kept going even when I did not know what the outcome would be? With FLY, illustrated by Anna Cunha, published by Caitlyn Dlouhy Books, I show what it feels like to soar through a childhood dream.

Storystorm Idea:

Begin with poetry. Poetry allows for us to encompass emotions associated with heart. Write a sonnet, create a tanka. While you create, think over a goal you wanted to achieve as a child. Rhyme or no rhyme, through poetry, write about the goal and its associated feeling. Now, turn that poem into a picture book.

Jonathan Hillman: Try an Unconventional Point of View

BIG WIG, illustrated by Levi Hastings (Paula Wiseman Books, February 2022) was inspired by the drag phrase “wig flew,” which is a way of saying you’re blown away or astonished by something. For example, if you see a fierce look or a show stopping dance move, you might say, “girl, my wig flew!” As a first time picture book writer, I knew I wanted to explore LGBTQIA+ identities, and I loved the idea of a wig as an unexpected entry point for that exploration.

Storystorm Idea:

If you have a picture book in progress, try rewriting it from a different point of view. The more unexpected the better! If you don’t yet have an idea, pick an overused picture book character and try shifting the perspective. What aspects of the story can only this viewpoint character draw out?

Elizabeth Brown: Find the Little Known Stories Behind Everyday Things 

For LIKE A DIAMOND IN THE SKY: JANE TAYLOR’S BELOVED POEM OF WONDER AND THE STARS, illustrated by Becca Stadtlander (Bloomsbury, February 2022), I wondered about the origins of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” the lullaby most children sing. I discovered it comes from a poem titled “The Star” by Romantic-era writer, Jane Taylor. Her struggle to become a published poet will inspire young readers and writers everywhere.

Storystorm Idea: 

Look for the magical stories behind everyday things. When you discover that spark, plot, write, and revise (a lot!) to make your story shine!

Eija Sumner: Explore Somewhere New and Gather Up Details

CROCODILE HUNGRY, illustrated by John Martz (Tundra, February 2022) was inspired by a trip to the Zoo with my family and my then-toddler asking, “What do Crocodiles eat?” The flamingo pond was conveniently the next attraction at the zoo and well, it was the beginning of a story.

Storystorm Idea: 

Start with an outing or a place you’ve been, something outside your normal routine. What do you see that’s unique? What kinds of conflicts might naturally develop? Can these details form the beginning of a story?

Viviane Elbee: Read Book Reviews About Other Books

I WANT MY BOOK BACK, illustrated by Nicole Miles (Little Bee Books, March 2022) was inspired by a book review in Goodreads. A librarian reviewer mentioned wishing she could find

a book that celebrates the wonder of libraries without resorting to magical, unrealistic events. After a brainstorming session, I imagined a child who wants to keep “his” library book all to himself but ends up discovering the joy of sharing stories.

Storystorm Idea:

Scan reviews of other books to see if anyone makes a comment that inspires you to brainstorm ideas for a different type of story.

Jorge Lacera: Draw on Your Own Experience

PRUETT AND SOO, written by Nancy Viau (Two Lions, March 2022) is about how changing the rules can change the world. This message resonated with me deeply (challenging the status quo is a fundamental building block to change) and as an illustrator, I loved digging into the ways my character designs, shape language, and color choices could expand on this theme. I drew on my experience as an Art Director in video games to create appealing, modern characters with very different shape languages and a color palette that subtly changes from monochromatic to bursting with full color by the end of the book.

Storystorm Idea: 

Artists, think about the theme of your project. How can you draw on your own unique experience and background to create art that deepens and enriches that theme?

Blythe Russo: Characters Are Key!

In early 2016, I made a quick drawing of a sloth in a unicorn onesie and immediately fell in love with the character. Then, after almost four years and multiple failed plotlines, SLOTH SLEEPS OVER (Viking, April 2022) was born.

Storystorm Idea:

Take 15-30 minutes to draw a character (I’m talking to illustrators AND writers). Just let your brain move your hand around a piece of paper and who knows what (or who) may appear to spark some new ideas.

Ellie Peterson: Use your powers of observation!

How does a hug-junkie write HOW TO HUG A PUFFERFISH (Roaring Brook, May 2022), about a Pufferfish who is anything but? Observation! It’s allowed me to notice kids who cringe when clobbered with hugs and who positively BLOW UP when touched repeatedly without consent. I’ve learned about the issues and feelings kids deal with simply by watching them, and you can too.

Storystorm Idea:

Observe kids in a variety of settings: airports, supermarkets, your public library! (Just don’t be creepy.) Note children’s group dynamics, behavior, and body language. Journal about the problems kids encounter, how they solve them, and the issues that arise from their efforts.

Dianne White: Find Inspiration in the “Extraordinary Ordinary” 

A walk around the block and BROWN BEAR, BROWN BEAR inspired LOOK and LISTEN, illustrated by Amy Schimler-Safford (Holiday House, May 2022). I wanted to write a guessing game that was an ode to the extraordinary, ordinary things a child might see/hear on a walk.

Storystorm Idea:  

Find inspiration in ordinary/ extraordinary concepts that spark your imagination. Make a list. Mix your ideas with a bit of inspiration from your favorite books. What structure will you use? Will you have a refrain? Will your story rhyme? Free write until you discover your unique take on familiar concepts.

Laura Lavoie: Consider Inherent Conflict

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I got the idea for VAMPIRE VACATION, illustrated by Micah Player (Viking, May 2022) from a 2019 Storystorm post by Jen Betton. Jen wrote about creating characters with inherent conflict, and the idea of a little vampire who desperately wants to visit a sunshine-y beach came to mind.

Storystom Idea:

Brainstorm a character with an inherent trait that could conflict with the character’s dreams, goals, or desires.

See Laura’s Day 15 Storystorm post about catchy, clever titles!

Valerie Bolling: Think of Activities You Enjoyed as a Child

TOGETHER WE RIDE, illustrated by Kaylani Juanita (Chronicle, April 2022), and RIDE, ROLL, RUN: TIME FOR FUN!, illustrated by Sabrena Khajia (Abrams, Sept. 2022), were both inspired by children and the activities they love to do outside. I enjoyed these same activities as a child — riding my bike, jumping rope, and playing hopscotch.

Storystorm Idea:

What do you see kids doing, saying, or dreaming about that could become a story? What are the events, occasions, and milestones that bring children joy? What stories are there in the communities that children inhabit—family, school, neighborhood?

See Valerie’s Day 21 Storystorm post for more ideas!

Cynthia Harmony: Pair Your Memories with Current Events 

MI CIUDAD SINGS illustrated by Teresa Martinez (Penguin Workshop, June 2022) was inspired by my community in Mexico City coming together in the aftermath of the 2017 quake. Paired with my own memories of living through one of the biggest earthquakes as a child and my love for the city, I found the source for a story I needed to tell.

Storystorm Idea:

While scrolling through current global events, catch those that connect with you. Is it something you lived through, that inspires you, that you love? Write from that personal space so the “heart” of your story can resonate with your readers.

Lisa Tolin: Steal from Your Children

My debut, HOW TO BE A ROCK STAR, illustrated by Daniel Duncan (Putnam, August 2022), is inspired by my own little musicians. My son was obsessed with playing guitar the way other kids are into dinosaurs or trucks. A lot of music-themed books use stage fright as a source of conflict, but my son was too young to know there was anything to fear. When I switched to a how-to format and focused on the fun we had at home, the joy came through.

Storystorm idea: 

Start writing from joyful or funny memories: What were your happiest moments with your children, or as a child? Write down the funny things kids and parents do. (Bonus, you can tweet them.)

Lori Alexander: Think Back and Mash-Up

MINI MIGHTY SWEEPS, illustrated by Jeff Harter (Harper, August 2022), is based on memories of my kids and how much they loved to “help” when they were younger, even when their assistance caused bigger messes. I mashed this idea with vehicles to come up with the story of a little street sweeper who creates some bumps in the road when she tries to help the city trucks do their big jobs.

Storystorm Idea: 

Take a fond feeling, event, or emotion from childhood and assign it to a fun inanimate object. What kind of conflict can you create from your mash-ups?

Jyoti Rajan Gopal: Tell Your Story

My debut AMERICAN DESI, illustrated by Supriya Kelkar (LBYR, Summer 2022), was inspired by my daughters’ experiences navigating being Indian and American and my own experiences straddling multiple cultures. I dipped into those feelings because I wanted to remind young children that it does not have to be an either/or choice between your cultures – it could be a both/and – to embrace it all!

Storystorm idea: 

What is something true about your family/childhood/growing up experience that may have been different from other families? How did that make you feel?

Megan Litwin: Look for Lifelong Magic

The spark for TWINKLE, TWINKLE, WINTER NIGHT, illustrated by Nneka Myers (Clarion, October 2022) came on a dark December drive. One of my then-toddler sons was captivated by all the light, from the snow to the moon to houses dressed for the season. He kept calling out things he noticed, repeating “twinkle lights!” over and over. And when I realized I’ve never outgrown that same feeling of wonder over winter’s bright magic, I knew I needed to write about it.

Storystorm Idea:

Are there things you loved as a child that have never lost their shine? Dig into that magic.

Nicole Chen: Get Specific to What’s in Your Heart

I wanted to write a book celebrating the diversity in families, but hadn’t found that perfect hook yet. There was one line in my drafts that represented my personal experience of familial love as a child. So when I rewrote my story to anchor on how love can be expressed through the things we do for each other, HOW WE SAY I LOVE YOU, illustrated by Lenny Wen (Knopf, Fall 2022), was born.

Storystorm Idea:

Ask yourself why the theme you’re writing about speaks to you. Anchor on it and see if you can structure a whole story around it.

Monique James Duncan: Mommy’s Time

I wanted to write a book paying homage to African American stay-at-home-mothers. TIME, illustrated by Ebony Glenn (Candlewick, fall 2022) is a sweet poem, but is really a resistance against a system that does not allow Black mothers to fully enjoy mothering their offspring free of the knowledge that they can be harmed in a system that is racially biased towards them.

Storystorm Idea:

Think from the perspective of the child. What would they see, say, feel? How would they view an issue? How would they talk about it? Take your thoughts back to when you were a child yourself and adults too will identify.

Megan Lacera: Monsters M.I.A.!

My family is obsessed with monsters. Most of these stories focus on the same monsters over and over again. Sure, Drac and Frank are bloody awesome. But there are OTHER amazing monsters. And as a multi-cultural family with multi-cultural friends, we dreamed of a book that was different than what we already saw on the shelves. And so, Jorge Lacera and I set out to create THE WILD ONES (Lee and Low, Fall 2022)–in which Valentina Gomez and her monster-loving best friends must find a way to save their beloved home from being torn down by greedy real estate developers.

Storystorm Idea:

What kinds of stories are you missing from your bookshelf? There are others out there missing them too. Write ‘em!

PB Crew is offering several prizes: copies of Dianne White’s Green on Green and Winter Lullaby (U.S. only) and critiques of a picture book manuscript from Brittany Thurman, Ellie Peterson, Viviane Elbee, Megan Lacera, Jyoti Rajan Gopal, Lori Alexander, or Lisa Tolin.

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

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TIME FLIES
"7 ATE 9/PRIVATE I" BOOK #3
illus by Ross MacDonald
Little, Brown
April 26, 2022

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