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If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that I recommend kidlit writers secure an agent. Literary agents provide many crucial services that go far beyond selling manuscripts. A good agent guides you through every step of your career—the ups, the downs, the slumps, the triumphs. They are your ever-hopeful cheerleader and your biggest fan (often the smartest one, too). As one literary agent states, “There’s no greater professional joy than championing a book that you believe in and watching the world delight in it.”

Today I’m delighted to interview that agent, Alyssa Eisner Henkin. She serves as Senior Vice President of Trident Media Group. 

Alyssa, why (and how) did you get into representing children’s literature?

When I was a second-semester-senior English major in college, I suddenly found myself finding a way to tie children’s literature into all my term papers. I wrote one called “Tip Me Over and Pour Me Out” about tea in Alice in Wonderland. And for my History of India class I wrote another about the British Raj in India as shown in the works of Hodgson Burnett and Kipling. I took this as a sign that I was meant to work in children’s publishing. And later that summer when I attended the Radcliffe (now Columbia) Publishing Course, I found myself making a bee-line for all the kidlit jobs, although nobody really used the term kidlit back in 1998.

In the spring of 1999 I was hired by S&S Books for Young Readers where I spent over seven years as a children’s book editor. And in year six of those seven years, when I decided I wanted to segue into the more entrepreneurial pursuit of agenting, I only ever considered doing so if I could be a children’s book agent. I’ve heard it said that children’s literature is the body of literature people know the first and the best, and that’s definitely true for me! Luckily for me, Trident specifically sought out a children’s book agent in the Fall of 2006 and they were open to hiring someone with an editorial—rather than an agenting—background.

How did the years spent working as an editor influence your agenting style?

I think my years spent working as an editor taught me a lot about the importance of having an editor who is an advocate, someone who can really sell the publisher’s sales force on an author’s book and make them realize they have something really special on their hands, as opposed to just another book in a sea of many books that will fly under the radar.

I always try to make editors realize that they need to pound their drums about the book and get the jacket just right if they want the book to really shine.

I also learned about the importance and transformative powers of revision. If I fall in love with an author’s voice, I will still take on the project even if it means a year or two of editing until the plot and the story arc are in the shape they need to be in order to sell.

Can you pinpoint a particular quality that makes you fall in love with a voice?

I’m a huge sucker for setting so the ability to conjure a sense of place that feels palpable always goes a long way with me. When I think back on the books I love, both front list titles and those that I still hold dear from my childhood, the #1 thing that stands out to me is how much I love the characters. So, when voice grabs on and makes me care, like really care such that I’m still thinking about the characters after the fact, then I know the voice has done its job. Lyrical lovely language that I want to quote doesn’t hurt anything either, of course!

I know agents get asked this a lot, but is there anything specific you’re dying to see? What’s on your wish list?

With the popularity of graphic and middle grade novels, I’m trying to expand my stable of illustrators and author-illustrators at the moment. I’m also very influenced by my rising-4th-grader son’s love of shorter books, so I’d love to find more fictional manuscripts for middle grade in verse or alternative shorter text formats that still manage to tell a full, high-stakes story. I’m a huge fan of nonfiction and history, and while the category in younger MG has kind of exploded already, I still think the market could really use a series like I SURVIVED, but for upper elementary age and middle school readers; there’s a big hole for kids after they finished many of the I SURVIVED and WHO WAS/IS books. And I’m also keen for books that are laugh-out-loud funny, as I never see enough of those in either MG or YA. And I always gravitate towards books with vividly-drawn settings, bonus points for those regional, cultural, and ethnic flavors that I’ve yet to see much of in kidlit before.

Beyond the writing, what else do you look for in a client?

I tend to look for clients who are hardworking, passionate about their craft, and good at marketing. Again, a sense of humor in life as well as in art is a virtue. And also patience is a big plus.

Speaking of patience, can you explain why it’s an important virtue in authors? What do you advise your clients to do during the wait?

It’s rare that things happen exactly as we expect them to. Sometimes books take a long time to sell and sometimes they sell quickly but the contracts due to various reasons take time to be finalized. Sometimes there’s an auction but bidders are on vacation, so the whole timeframe gets pushed back a month. Everyone has their own “dog ate my homework” story when it comes to waiting and publishing. And once the book is sold and paid for, odds are there will be more waiting, whether it’s for an edit letter, marketing plan, illustration sketches, sales figures etc. I always tell my clients to keep busy when their books are on submission: Try writing or outlining new works. Revise your five year goal plan. Get a lot of exercise. Binge watch a worthy show. Spend time in the company of loved ones and dear friends. A watched pot never boils!

Does a potential client have to have a blog and/or a large social media following for you to sign them?

If it’s celebrity- or news-driven nonfiction, having some social media out of the gate holds value when getting editors to read a proposal. But for fiction and more scholarly nonfiction or picture books, it’s certainly not a prerequisite when I go on submission. It’s nice if by the time of publication authors have a way for readers to reach them online. And I’ve had several clients tell me that booksellers have reached out to them on Twitter pre-publication, so again, it does hold value, but I always put the most stock in the book itself.

When you have a client project ready to submit, what steps do you go through? How do you strategize the submission process?

When a project is ready for submission, I love creating a submission list that includes a variety of different editors. Generally, these include a mix of imprints at larger houses and smaller houses, and includes editors at all different career stages. The common thread is that I know these editors to be hungry for this particular type of book. I usually learn who is looking for what by doing research on PubMarketplace and Manuscript Wishlist. And since I’ve worked with a bunch of editors over a number of years at this point, sometimes I also intuitively just know who might like what. Depending on the type of book, I usually submit to be between 8 and 14 editors at any given time. That way, the list is small enough to make each editor feel special. But the body of editors reading is large enough to have a healthy competitive situation if it goes to auction.

Over the course of your agenting career, what accomplishments are you most proud of?

I love seeing client dreams come true, and quite a lot have in my 12+ years as an agent. I’ve had my hands in numerous long-running bestsellers, a major motion picture and the early stages of a Broadway musical. I’ve seen clients win Caldecott, and Printz Honors and Siebert and Belpre Awards. I’ve helped put in motion author tours, conference appearances, and front-of-store promotions, and have been instrumental in keeping titles in hardcover for years. I’ve negotiated offers that doubled and tripled from where they started. But my greatest achievement is overall is not doing anything by rote, and always trying to think outside the box. Because of this, each new situation becomes a wonderful learning experience that often sheds light on the next book…and the one after that.

What changes and challenges in publishing do you foresee happening over the next few years?

Children’s publishing is incredibly competitive with many more agents and one less big six (now big five) publishers in town now, and I wouldn’t be shocked by further consolidation in the future. Clearly bookselling in the era of amazon.com offers up many challenges for booksellers and authors generally. The fact that B&N, after having been owned by one individual for so long, has been recently purchased by an equity firm is leaving a lot of people wondering about the future of book chain retail in the digital age. That said, there are several new kidlit publishers  as well as Indie bookstores on the rise, and I think audio originals and graphic and illustrated books are growth areas. As long as libraries and schools continue to have book-buying budgets and people continue to have kids, I’m relatively optimistic about the future of kidlit publishing.

And lastly, are you open to submissions?

I am open to submissions, five pages in the body of a query letter for longer works, complete PB texts in the body of a query, and any art or illustrations inserted as links in a query letter, no attachments. Email to ahenkin@tridentmediagroup.com.

Alyssa, thank you for an informative and engaging interview!

Good luck with your queries, kidlit writers!

by Lydia Lukidis

As you all know, the publishing industry works at a snail’s pace. Maybe slower. It takes time to find the right publisher and go through all the steps necessary to publish a book. Writers must be perseverant and patient.

But the actual writing process also takes time. This was the case with my new picture book NO BEARS ALLOWED. Here’s a quick timeline for how things went down, from concept to publication:

2012
Yay! An idea was born. Believe it or not, this book started with an inside joke (but don’t ask me to explain it to you, it makes no sense!). Yet somehow, the phrase “No Bears Allowed” stuck with me. I saw humor in it, and I knew that one day, it would become a children’s book. I tucked it away in my inspiration folder, where it would remain for 3 years.

2015
I was leafing through my ideas one day, and I stumbled across the phrase that I had once fallen in love with. That’s the moment I committed to developing this story. I wrote the first draft, and the second, and so on, so on. I kept getting stuck on the ending, so it took about 8 months to write. Then I swiftly sent it off to my critiques partners, who helped me bring the text to the next level. By the end of the year, I had a polished book. Now, I just needed to sell it.

2016
This was a milestone year. I got my first agent! I did my happy dance for days. In my naiveté, I thought I would soon be swimming in contracts from the Big Five. NO BEARS ALLOWED would surely find its home in a few months, right?!

Nope. That’s not how the cookie crumbled. My then-agent did submit it to various publishers, but never followed up because we had decided to part ways. So there I was, agent-less, contract-less, and feeling utterly and completely dejected.

2017
But wait, suddenly there was hope on the horizon! After receiving 3 offers, I landed a new agent at a reputable firm. My dreams were back on track. Except—this agent didn’t want to submit NO BEARS ALLOWED because they felt it was a “quiet” story.

I decided to take matters into my own hands, and with that agent’s blessing, I subbed it on my own. A few months later, I received an R & R (revise & resubmit) request from Alayne Christian, editor at Blue Whale Press. I revised the text, and they acquired it. It went through several rounds of rigorous editing, but it was smooth sailing after that. We found a talented illustrator, Tara J. Hannon, who not only produced quality work, but did so quickly.

2019
Victory! By May of 2019, I was holding the ARC in my own hands. It was definitely worth the wait. I’m ecstatic that my story made its way into the world. Its themes touch on overcoming one’s fears and resisting the urge to judge others and make preliminary assumptions. If everyone could follow this advice, we would be living in a very different world!

NO BEARS ALLOWED will be officially released July 1. It’s now available for pre-sale.

About the book:

Rabbit is afraid of many things, but most of all he’s afraid of gigantic, monstery, BEARS! The very nervous Rabbit is soon confronted by his worst fear who appears to be far more interested in making new friends than causing Rabbit any real harm. Despite his apprehension, Rabbit agrees to join his jovial new acquaintance for dinner, but wait a minute . . . is Bear planning to “have” Rabbit for dinner? In this tender story about a very nervous rabbit and a lovable bear, Rabbit discovers that things aren’t always as scary as they seem, and sometimes you may just have more in common with others than you think.


Lydia Lukidis is a children’s author with a multi-disciplinary background that spans the fields of literature, science and theater. So far, she has over 40 books and eBooks published, as well as a dozen educational books. Her latest STEM books include The Broken Bees’ Nest and The Space Rock Mystery. 

Lydia is also passionate about spreading the love of literacy. She regularly gives writing workshops in elementary schools across Quebec through the Culture in the Schools Program. Her aim is to help children cultivate their imagination, sharpen their writing skills and develop self-confidence. Visit her at lydialukidis.com.

by Tammi Sauer

Back in 2009, Tara first prompted us to join her on her challenge to generate 30 ideas in one month’s time. That year, I wrote a blog post about an idea-getting strategy that worked for me, and I have written about a different approach every year since.

In the spirit of Posts of Storystorm Past, however, I wanted to revisit one of my favorite strategies for brainstorming ideas. It’s something I share at writing conferences and school visits. It’s simple.

Celebrate the weird stuff in life—it’s good material for stories.

Many of my books got their start by some weird thing that happened to me.

One day, for example, I was hard at work and under a deadline. Everything was going well until, in the course of less than 30 minutes, the FedEx guy knocked on my door, the phone rang, the doorbell rang, the dog barked, and someone added me to a group text which included approximately 827 people who suddenly had lots to say.

All of these distractions made it hard for me to concentrate, and I just wanted Calgon circa 1980 to take me away.

 

That evening, I got to thinking I needed to write a book about a character who grew more and more frustrated by distractions. After all, frustration was a relatable experience.

This led to KNOCK KNOCK (Scholastic Press), illustrated by Guy Francis. The story is told almost entirely through knock-knock jokes and the art. It stars a bear named Harry who is all set to hibernate. Then, just after he tucks himself into bed, a friend unexpectedly shows up at his door. Then another. And another. Soon Harry’s house is filled with friends, and, just when he is about to flip his over-exhausted lid, Harry realizes his pals are there for a very good reason. They’re throwing a surprise happy hibernation party for you-know-who.

Another example of a weird thing in my life that led to a book involved the fine art of procrastination. One morning, while I should have been writing but I was aimlessly scrolling through my Facebook feed instead, I clicked on the link to Jama Rattigan’s latest blog post. On that particular day, Jama was featuring the wonderful work of artist James Ward.

See for yourself:

Well! The second I saw that big, hairy bear in those giant red underpants standing in a pile of cake crumbs, inspiration hit. I had to write a story about a character who loved cake as much as this guy did.

The result? That bear became Moose in I LOVE CAKE! (HarperCollins), illustrated by Angie Rozelaar.

So yay for procrastination!

Think about the weird stuff in your life. These things can be big or small. Jot down a few examples.

1.

2.

3.

Later, choose one for a story starting point. Keep in mind that this idea should just serve as the seed for a story rather than a factual recount of every little detail about a particular weird thing.

I say we celebrate annoying times, sightings of big, hairy bears in giant red underpants, and everything else in between. You never know where those weird moments might take you.

Tammi Sauer is a full-time children’s book author who presents at schools and conferences across the nation. Her 25th picture book was recently released. She has many more books on the way as weird stuff seems to happen to her all the time.

Tammi is happy to report that, at long last, she has a real-deal, fancy website courtesy of her very first writing friend, Flora Doone of somethingelseinc.com.

Please check out Tammi’s new site at tammisauer.com and follow her on Twitter at @SauerTammi.

  

Tammi is giving away copies of two of her upcoming books! There will be one winner for each title.

Simply leave ONE COMMENT below to enter.

You’re eligible to win if you’re a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once below. Prizes will be given away at the conclusion of the event.

Good luck!

 

by Katie Davis (from 2013)

KD 30 days FINAL3 (1)

Parsons, Pratt, Rhode Island School of Design.

Katie Davis has walked by all these schools of fine art. She has attended none of them. Katie has always been creative but never thought she could earn a living as an artist. She could write though, so after graduating from college she went into PR and advertising. After getting fired six or seven times, she figured she should work for herself. Besides, she hated wearing panty hose. As an author/illustrator she’s had a stack of picture books published (like Kindergarten Rocks), a middle grade novel, The Curse of Addy McMahon, and a young adult novel, Dancing With the Devil.

Learn more about Katie at KatieDavis.com.

At the conclusion of Storystorm, prize packs will be given away (books, swag, writing tools). Comment once on this blog post to enter into the prize pack drawing.

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

Good luck!

 

by Kelly DiPucchio

For many years I did a school visit presentation on voice.  I’d begin by reading a line or two from popular books that I felt had distinct voices and then I’d ask the students to guess the titles. They always got them right!

So how do you create an unforgettable voice for your manuscript? I suppose the process is a little different for every writer but here are a few things I’ve discovered over the years.

1. Let the voice come to you.

I usually let my ideas percolate for several weeks before writing down a single word. During this waiting period the story is being worked out in my head and in the process, it’s forming its own personality. This personality continues to grow until one day it becomes too large to contain and the story (and its unique voice!) is literally told to me, not by me.

2. Never try to copy someone else’s writing voice.

It just doesn’t work and it’s not very honorable. However, you can (and must!) study other voices. Doing this might cause you to feel annoying pangs of envy. I can’t even begin to tell you how often I swoon and sigh and lament that a particularly charming voice in a book is not my own. The envy eventually turns into admiration and I’m inspired to work even harder at improving my craft.

3. Don’t try too hard.

If you try to force an overly clever voice it’s going to come across sounding disingenuous or convoluted and there’s a good chance you’ll end up ruining your story.

4. Less can definitely be more.

Sometimes writing short, punchy lines without a lot of frills can create the loudest, most memorable voices. A minimalist approach gives the illustrations more room to shine and tell the story.

5. Be flexible.

Personally, I don’t have much luck changing the voice in a story after it initially comes to me. I kind of feel like the story is telling me who it is and who am I to disagree? However, if for whatever reason, the manuscript is missing a spark, you may need to consider a new approach. Many stories that initially came to me in rhyme were eventually rewritten in prose. I almost always despise the non-rhyming version at first, but if I push through and give myself some time to adjust, I usually end up liking it better than the original.

I didn’t set out to write a story about telepathy and the value of listening in my new picture book, POE WON’T GO. I thought I was writing a story about a stubborn elephant. But more often than not, I’m just a passenger when it comes to writing the first draft of any new story. I’m not entirely sure where the omniscient voice in my head is going to take me and I learned a long time ago it’s better to just relax and go along for the ride.

I thought it would be fun to ask Zachariah OHora, the illustrator of POE WON’T GO, for his thoughts behind the creation of the art of our new picture book and this is what he had to say:

First off, I’ve been a huge fan of your work, so I was pinching myself that we actually were doing a book together! After the happy delirium wore off a bit and I had time to think about the story. I started thinking about elephants and pink elephants like those from Dumbo. Delirium Tremens. A symbol of hallucination. And it made me think about how some of our problems can be a collective hallucination and that if we talked it out we could solve it.

At the same time I was sketching it out, the White House was trying to ban people coming in from a seemingly random list of countries. All Muslim countries though, and they were obviously stirring up some racial and ethnic hatred. Which gave me the idea that the main character Marigold would wear a hijab and she would hold the solution for solving the town’s collective hallucination/problem.

And the solution is listening, right? 

Speaking someone else’s language, or stepping into their shoes.

Try to understand what they are struggling with or worried about.

The small town of Prickly Valley then became a stand in for the whole world, which is why they are illustrated as impossibly diverse for a town that has only one light and intersection.

Each group of people tried and failed to solve the problem in how they were trained, usually by some form of force.

I had a lot of fun illustrating these constructions, some of which were in the text but there were plenty of others that were left wide open for anything I could think of. I got to illustrate four pages of text that were just:

“Remarkably, that plan failed as well. 

As did this one. 

And that one. 

Nope. Nothing doing.  

Seriously?”

What a gift for the illustrator! To have the openness to be surprised by the outcome.

That kind of generosity of spirit and trust which leaves room for real collaboration is the solution!

Marigold would approve!

Thank you, Zach! It’s been a true honor for me to work with you on POE WON’T GO. I couldn’t love it more. And thank you, Tara, for generously giving us both a voice here on your blog!

Thanks, Kelly, for teaching us how to speak elephant. And now, the elephant will sound the trumpet because we are giving away a copy of POE WON’T GO to a lucky blog reader who comments below.

One comment per person, please.

A winner will be randomly selected in a couple weeks.

Good luck!


Kelly DiPucchio is the New York Times bestselling author of twenty-eight picture books for kids including Grace For President, Zombie In Love and Gaston. Visit Kelly at kellydipucchio.com or connect with her on Twitter @kellydipucchio.

Zachariah OHora is an award-winning illustrator and author. His work has appeared in numerous publications, including The New York Times, The Atlantic, and Bloomberg Business Week, and on posters and record covers. He lives and works in Narberth, Pennsylvania, with his wife and sons. Visit him at zohora.com or connect with him on Twitter @ZachariahOHora.

 

Thanks to Jarrett Lerner for asking me to kick off his new feature. (And I am happy to talk cheese on Twitter.)

Jarrett Lerner

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My name is… Tara Lazar. Not Tara Laserbeam, but that would be pretty awesome if it were.

I am a… weird person. At least that’s what my kids say.

As a kid, I was… a budding inventor, a neighborhood entrepreneur, a creative writer, a voracious reader, weird and odd, loud and annoying, a fiercely loyal friend.

Writing is… the best way to be me.

Reading is… as necessary as cheese. (I cannot live without either.)

Books are… my favorite friend.

Did you know… I used to be a competitive figure skater? I got married in Hawaii? I have two daughters and a hamster? I have Multiple Sclerosis? I choose cheese over chocolate? I despise coffee? I live in New Jersey? I make the best meatballs in the world? I have a five-foot stuffed purple orangutan named Norman who lives on my stairway?

You can find me… somewhere in my imagination.

View original post 46 more words

Congratulations to…

Katie Engen

for winning a critique from MOUSELING’S WORDS author Shutta Crum!

LeeAnn Rizzuti

for winning a copy of Denise Fleming’s THIS IS THE NEST THAT ROBIN BUILT!

Sheri Radovich

for winning FIRST SNOW signed by Nancy Viau!

Lenora Rougeou Biemans

for winning a copy of TERRIFIC TONGUES by Maria Gianferrari!

Rosie Russels

for winning Lydia Lukidis’s A REAL LIVE PET!

An email will be coming to y’all soon!

by Cate Berry

Bedtime. There’s a word. If you’re like me, at the end of the day, you’re spent. I’ll admit, some nights, if I could “do bedtime” via the latest app I’d gladly press my thumbprint into a device. A quick video would help the kids settle down right? Netflix, PBS, Youtube…

But I write books for children.

D’oh!

There’s a special time at the end of the day when grown-ups and kids come together. After the dog-and-pony-show—the getting into pajamas, the getting teeth brushed, the endless hijinks—that’s when we finally connect.

Research shows that reading bedtime books has a palpable effect on early literacy. Magic happens when a child sits on a grown-up’s lap at the end of the day listening to a story, watching the text interact with the pictures on the page. Comparing and contrasting the drawn page with the pictures in their minds helps a child develop critical thinking. And the literacy “residue” from reading aloud helps kids develop a broader vocabulary at an earlier age. As the Times article states, “… every parent who has read a bedtime story knows, this is all happening in the context of face-time, of skin-to-skin contact, of the hard-to-quantify but essential mix of security and comfort and ritual.”

Learning benefits aside, I also believe it’s good for people to laugh with each other. Sharing a giggle can heal the day’s bumps and bruises. My characters, Penguin and Tiny Shrimp, want to share their laughs and smiles. Ultimately, they care about spreading joy and fun—together.

Teamwork.

That’s what this book is about. My two characters work together—the buddy system!—against a common goal of falling asleep. [Don’t tell them, but much yawning will ensue, almost guaranteed.]

Does bedtime make you wiggly? Grab a buddy—a lovey, a sibling, a book! I was paired with a great “buddy” for the making of this book, illustrator Charles Santoso.

My favorite kind of picture book feels like a duet between the author and the illustrator. On one page the text might drive the story, followed by a wordless spread with just illustrations. It’s give and take. Maybe a graceful dance is a better way to put it.

Charles understood Penguin and Tiny Shrimp so authentically. In our interview for Cynsations he described to me how he listens to an author’s characters, letting them guide his illustrations, which is probably why he’s so versatile. At the same time, his signature warmth and emotion are always threaded throughout his work.

So, books. But there is one video I think you should watch: the one for PENGUIN AND TINY SHRIMP DON’T DO BEDTIME! (Spoiler: look out for Charles’ stealth characters!)

And, watch it with a buddy.

BIG thanks Tara for hosting me today on her wonderful blog!

Up with books, down with bedtime!


Cate Berry is the author of PENGUIN AND TINY SHRIMP DON’T DO BEDTIME! (May 8th, Balzer & Bray/Harper Collins). It was pinned a Junior Library Guild selection and Publisher’s Weekly called it, “A buoyantly subversive antibedtime book. (Picture book. 3-7).” She has forthcoming publications TBA and holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Cate is a faculty member with the Writing Barn in Texas and an active member in the SCBWI and Writers’ League of Texas. She also speaks at schools, libraries and conferences year round on such topics as “Gender Stereotyping and Poetic Devices” and “From Stand Up to Sit Down: Funneling Surprise and Stand-Up Comedy into Humorous Picture Books.” Visit her at cateberry.com to learn more.

Cate is giving away a copy of PENGUIN AND TINY SHRIMP DON’T DO BEDTIME! upon publication in a few weeks.

Leave one comment below to enter.

A random winner will be selected soon.

Good luck!

by Doreen Cronin

Inspiration is a slippery thing, impossible to catch when you’re trying and ironically, easiest to catch when you’re really, really busy doing something else. About a year after CLICK CLACK MOO was published, I decided it was time to take a leap of faith. I was an attorney at the time working long days and plenty of weekends to boot. I wanted to pursue writing as my career, so I finally quit my day job and shortly thereafter, we moved out of the city and out (well, up, actually) to the suburbs. I was going to write all day. All night if I wanted to! I had my own office in the house, I had plenty of writing time. No day job to get in my way! I sat and I sat and I sat—and I thought and I thought and I thought and I waited and waited and waited. You know what never showed up? INSPIRATION. I didn’t write a thing for almost a year. DIDN’T WRITE A THING. I had written so much more when I was working long hours and always pressed for time. Oddly, inspiration struck when I had no time for it back then. WHAT? NOW? A story about a worm?? It’s 1:00 a.m. and I have a brief due tomorrow! But when your brain is working, its working overtime. The harder I worked at my day job, the more my brain was spinning with ideas.

What I learned in The Year of Not Writing (besides that we really should move back to the city), was that more often than not, inspiration shows up in the work. I write every single day. I absolutely do not write well every single day. In fact, I rarely do. Ninety percent of what I write is unusable. Horrible. Hideous. Embarrassingly bad. Boring. Unoriginal. Most of it will never see the light of day. But if I wait for inspiration, they will find my rotting corpse hunched over my desk and a blank screen on my computer. Which came first—the inspiration or the work? Very rarely, for me at least, it’s the inspiration. Usually, the uninspired work comes first and somewhere in the first draft or third draft or 18th draft, something from that work stands out, pops out, screams for attention. That’s the inspiration. Only you have to write it first. So frustrating!!

Where to start? Anywhere. I’m an introvert—so I’m listening way more than I’m talking—which is helpful. If you are chatting on your cell phone, or sitting near me on the F train, or at the next table in a restaurant… I’m eavesdropping. Bits of things, pieces of things are the best. Almost anything taken out of context can be a great story starter, title, or dialogue. I’m also partially deaf, so I mishear things all the time —which also makes for strange word pairings in my brain (and plenty of awkward conversations, which is okay, because of the introvert thing—I’m used to it.). Mistakes are great inspirations. Embarrassment is great inspiration. Fear excels at the art of inspiration. If you are not lucky enough to be a hard-of-hearing introvert, re-write an old idea. Write about a time you were deeply embarrassed or scared to death. Write about what you wished you had said in a recent awkward conversation, instead of what actually came out of your mouth (maybe that’s just me).

In the heart of every story is conflict—or a problem. Find yours. Use yours. Give your problems away to your characters. See what they do with them. If you can’t come up with a character, use a stand-in. Here, squirrel, here’s my problem. I’m afraid of ________. Just start writing the story about the squirrel afraid of public speaking—even though this would seem to fall into the category of a problem with little consequence for a squirrel. Just write it. Ninety percent of it will be unusable, hideous, boring, nonsensical. But it will start you down a path where you don’t know what’s coming. That’s where you want to be. That’s where inspiration likes to hang out.

When I die, some poor soul will come along and have to dig through my office. If I was alive, I’d be mortified at how many bad ideas, bad writing, and manuscripts completely lacking in originality will be unearthed. That’s the work. Maybe it will inspire somebody…


Doreen Cronin grew up in Merrick, New York, with her parents, two brothers and a sister. They lived in a red house with a big backyard and a neighborhood full of kids. Her dad was a police officer and he was very, very funny! Doreen decided that she wanted to be a police officer when she grew up, too. Or maybe even an FBI agent! When she actually did grow up, she realized she wasn’t actually brave enough to do those jobs!

It was her first-grade teacher, Mrs. Cooper, who first told Doreen that she was a writer. Mrs. Cooper gave her extra writing assignments to encourage Doreen. It was extra homework, but she loved it! She also loved the library—it was one of her favorite places to spend time.

Doreen graduated from Pennsylvania State University in 1988 and St. John’s Law School in 1998. After practicing law for a few years in downtown Manhattan, she left my job and decided to write full time. She’s been writing ever since!

Visit her online at DoreenCronin.com.

Doreen is giving away a set of signed CLICK, CLACK, MOO books (Click Clack Moo, Giggle Giggle Quack, Duck for President, Click Clack Boo)!

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

Good luck!

by Heidi E. Y. Stemple

I, like every author on the face of the earth, am always asked where I get my ideas. We all, pretty much, have the same answer. Ideas come from everywhere. It sounds too pat and too vague. But, frankly, it’s the truth. Ideas do come from everywhere.

I’m always surprised when writers say they are worried they’ll never have another idea. How is that possible when they are under every rock, behind every door, in every café… And, the ideas I find are not floating around only in my orbit, they are in yours, too. What’s magical about ideas is that when two people see the same thing, they can spin that same experience into two (or three, or seven) wildly different stories. My idea may be a linear narrative nonfiction picture book and yours may be a fantastical YA romp in fairyland—both sparked from the same word or sight or situation.

An editor saying she was tired of pink princess books sparked the idea for a book about princesses doing active not-particularly-princess-y things. Spotting an enormous young moose in my backyard set me off on a year-long quest to find a plot for my moose character named E. Norm Moose. An online conversation about the publishing business led me to say, “I never count my chickens…” and I immediately thought of a farm-yard counting book. Taking part in a citizen science project for many years led me to a manuscript about its history. I was recently moved by a piece of art created by a friend, to write a story to flesh it out because I needed to know more about the characters. Some of these ideas are now books, some are manuscripts, and some may never get past the idea phase. But, that’s the reason to have more ideas than you think you could use in one lifetime. Ideas are never wasted. You may come back to an idea years from now, or cannibalize it later to fit into a story you have not yet written. Often, an idea I think will be an entire story is just a character, or a small scene in a larger story. Sometimes, the initial idea doesn’t work but is the gateway to an even better story. No idea is worthless. Keep every single one.

So, what is my advice for Storystorm? Open your eyes and ears. Pay attention to the world around you—live in it, not just in front of your computer screen. Eavesdrop on conversations. Let your mind wander. Once you are open to finding ideas, you’ll be surprised how many will appear. The hard part comes after, of course. Crafting a strong story with the perfect voice and creative arc, that is unique and authentic, and that an editor will fall deeply in love with and be able to convince the pub committee that it is sellable, well, that’s another post all together. That citizen science book? It took me 4 years to figure out how I wanted to tell it. NOT ALL PRINCESSES DRESS IS PINK started out about clothing and wound up about more active princess stuff. I’m still working on the moose story. But, all those stories, and every story—every book— begins with an idea. What are you waiting for? Go out and find them.


Heidi didn’t want to be a writer when she grew up. In fact, after she graduated from college, she became a probation officer in Florida. It wasn’t until she was 28 years old that she gave in and joined the family business, publishing her first short story in a book called Famous Writers and Their Kids Write Spooky Stories. The famous writer was her mom, author Jane Yolen. Since then, she has published more than 20 books including You Nest Here With Me, Not All Princesses Dress In Pink, and 2 Fairy Tale Feasts cookbooks, as well as numerous short stories and poems, mostly for children.

Heidi lives on an old tobacco farm in western Massachusetts where she writes, reads, cooks, sews, and once a year, calls and counts owls for the Audubon Christmas Bird Count.

Her website is HeidiEYStemple.com and she’s on Twitter @heidieys.

Heidi is giving away a signed copy of YOU NEST HERE WITH ME.

younesthere

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

Good luck!

 

 

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As a children's book author and mother of two, I'm pushing a stroller along the path to publication. I collect shiny doodads on the journey and share them here. You've found a kidlit treasure box.

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COMING SOON:


illus by Melissa Crowton
Tundra/PRH Canada
June 4, 2019


illus by Ross MacDonald
Disney*Hyperion
October 15, 2019

THREE WAYS TO TRAP A LEPRECHAUN
illus by Vivienne To
HarperCollins
Spring 2020

THE WHIZBANG WORDBOOK
illustrator TBA
Sourcebooks eXplore
August 2020

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