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by Veronica Bartles

When Tara asked me to write a blog post for Storystorm about Inspiration, I knew this would be my Finest Achievement Ever. I’m so excited to share with you my brilliant, awe-inspiring Process for Picking the Perfect Ideas.

Prepare to be Astounded!

Astonished!

Amazed!

Because I’m about to share a technique so Overwhelmingly Fabulous that it’s sure to leave you completely speechless!

Are you ready for this??

Creating new story ideas is just like baking cookies!

*sigh*

Okay … You’ve caught me …

I’m a total inspiration cheater.

Shh … Don’t tell Tara. She’s expecting me to share some brilliant tips with you, and I didn’t have the heart to tell her I’m a con-artist.

The truth is, I’ve never had a truly Original Idea. Instead, I spy, snoop, and steal from the things I read and my real-life experiences … Then I twist, combine, substitute, and reconfigure those ideas until I’ve come up with something sweet that I can call my own.

When I’m not writing, I spend a lot of time in the kitchen. I like to create new and delicious cookie recipes with unexpected flavor combinations to impress my friends and neighbors. But I’ve never created a brand-new cookie recipe entirely from scratch.

Yep. I cheat.

chocolatechipcookieWhen I want a new cookie flavor, I first find a familiar, tried and tested recipe, like this original recipe for Nestle chocolate chip cookies. Then, I start making changes.

I usually put walnuts in my chocolate chip cookies, but what if I only have almonds? What if I’m making cookies for my friend on a gluten-free diet? Or what if I’m out of chocolate chips? Will craisins work? What if I accidentally spill some sage or basil into the batter? What would happen if I threw all of these changes together at once? Suddenly, I have a brand-new cookie recipe that looks totally original. And no one knows that I cheated. (Remember, this is our little secret. If you promise not to tell Tara, I’ll even share my recipe for Cranberry Sage Cookies with Almonds at the end of this post.)

I cheat the same way with my writing.

I’m constantly snooping, sneaking, and spying on my friends, family, and the total strangers I pass on the street. I keep files of my favorite fairy tales, inspirational quotes, and out-of-context bits of conversation.

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For my debut picture book THE PRINCESS AND THE FROGS (Balzer & Bray, November 15, 2016), I totally cheated.

I started with one of my favorite fairy tales, “The Frog Prince.” In the original story, the princess is rather spoiled and selfish, who only wants to marry the perfect prince and live happily ever after in the lap of luxury. And she nearly misses her Happily Ever After when she resists kissing the frog, who can’t transform into a prince without a proper smooch. But I believe that most people are truly good at heart, so I wanted to rewrite her story.

I remembered tromping through the fields behind my house when I was a little girl, searching for toads to play with. I remember catching dozens of toads, and building little houses for them with my friends. I thought about the little girls I know, who love dressing up in fancy, frilly dresses with sparkly jewels and hair clips or tiaras. Most of these part-time princesses will happily lace up their worn-out sneakers with their fancy dresses, so they can be ready for whatever adventure they may find.

And I couldn’t help but wonder: What if there was a princess who just really, really loved frogs? What if she doesn’t want a prince? What if she’d rather have a frog? But what if she kept kissing them anyway (because she loved them so much, she couldn’t resist a little goodnight smooch), and she ended up with a castle full of princes, all proposing marriage?

Starting with familiar characters and stories is like starting with a familiar recipe in baking. I can bend and twist and substitute ingredients until the story is uniquely delicious, and if it flops (as sometimes happens both in baking and in writing), I can go back to the “reset point” (the original story, recipe, or real-life event) and try again.

Cranberry Sage Cookies with Almonds 

cranberrysagecookie

1 c. butter
1 c. brown sugar
½ c. sugar
1 ½ tsp. rubbed sage
1 ½ tsp. basil
2 eggs
½ tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1 ½ tsp. vanilla extract
4 Tbsp. cornstarch
2 1/3 c. Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour (or omit the cornstarch and use 2 ½ c. plain all-purpose flour, if gluten isn’t a concern)
1 c. craisins
½ c. sliced almonds (opt.)

  1. Cream together butter and sugars.
  2. Add eggs, baking soda, salt, sage, basil, vanilla extract, and cornstarch. Beat until light and fluffy.
  3. Mix in flour.
  4. Stir in craisins and almonds. Chill dough 1-2 hours.
  5. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  6. Portion dough into 1-inch balls, and place on parchment-lined baking sheets. Bake 12-15 minutes until lightly browned. Remove to a wire rack to cool.

veronica_1544_square_frogVeronica Bartles, author of THE PRINCESS AND THE FROGS (PB), and TWELVE STEPS (YA), has spent most of her life wondering “What If?” She believes there are many sides to every story, and she’s determined to discover every single one of them. Veronica believes every princess deserves a frog, because princes aren’t pets. And she’s an incurable optimist who loves gray, drizzly days because that’s when rainbows come out to play. Visit her online at vbartles.com, her I Am So Grateful BlogFacebook, Twitter @vbartles, Pinterest, and GoodReads.

prizedetails

Veronica is giving away one signed copy of THE PRINCESS AND THE FROGS plus a set of 5 custom buttons featuring the original artwork from the book … & a TWELVE STEPS postcard that features the recipe for Giant Brownie Sundaes that Andi and Jarod (aka “Prince Charming”) enjoy.

mybookcovers_sm

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

Good luck!

 

Leaves crackle underfoot and the early-morning air smells like an ice cube. It’s autumn. Time for apple picking and jack-o-lanterns. Time for the annual public library pie contest.

My mother did not bake ordinary pies. Creating a pie was a day’s event, begun with two knives cutting butter and shortening into flour until it resembled sand, a forgotten summer sight resurrected with culinary precision. She floated from cupboard to bowl, bowl to counter with a grace befitting a ballerina. She folded. She whipped. She dolloped. She made the house smell better than Willy Wonka’s factory.

And so, when I was nine years old, I thought my mother finally deserved public acknowledgement of her pie prowess. When I saw a poster announcing our library’s fall pie contest, I entered her name. When I returned home and told her, she was more excited than I was.

Which pie shall it be? The apple-cranberry? No, too predictable. The three-berry pie? No, out of season. Ahh, I know. The chocolate-amaretto chiffon pie.

Children aren’t supposed to have a taste for amaretto. I was the exception. The almond-flavored liquor enhanced the chocolate flavor so well, I thought I might faint. Her creation began with homemade chocolate pudding, then a tall dome of fresh whipped cream, onto which she drizzled an amaretto-chocolate reduction. Slivered almonds and chocolate shavings dotted the top evenly, like she had artfully arranged each piece with tweezers. I do not know how we transported the pie unscathed, but we arrived and unveiled the masterpiece to such gasps of amazement, the librarians had to shush us.

The event boasted eight pies, but zero competition. An apple pie with a rustic crust appeared soggy and deflated. Mom’s hand-fluted crust resembled the delicate ripples of a golden pond. My teeth stuck together at the sight of the gummy shoo-fly pie. The chocolate-amaretto pie melted on the tongue.

A librarian instructed three judges to score the pies on a scale of 1 to 3 according to three criteria: appearance, taste and originality. Yes, yes and yes. She would win all three. I would be so proud. She would remember that it was I, her eldest daughter, who launched her pie celebrity.

Then one judge glanced at another’s appearance score for Mom’s pie. “Wow, you’re a tough cookie!” she said. Translation: Mom probably received a 1 from the Russian Judge instead of a well-deserved 3. There would be a contest after all.

Tasting came next. The judges took one bite of each pie. There was tongue swishing, water gulping, and lip pursing. A gentle scribble, scribble on their note cards.

Finally, originality. With pumpkin, pecan, and plain ol’ lemon meringue, Mom’s fusion of almond and chocolate would take that category for certain.

Our entire family waited nervously for the awards to be announced. The whipped cream on Mom’s pie stood high and tall, proud and confident.

“Third place: the shoo-fly pie!” A tiny, elderly woman shuffled to the front of the room and accepted a ribbon and a cookbook. She posed for the town photographer.

If Mom did not take second, then I knew first prize would be hers.

“Second place: the pumpkin pie!”

Hooray! Victory! A pie for the record books! A pie to launch a career! My mother, the world’s best baker! Or, at least the best baker in this town of 20,000! My face warmed with excitement.

“And the winner is…and we have to say, this was a unanimous decision…the apple pie!”

What?! That sorry-looking blob? It’s just APPLE! Anyone can make an apple pie! It takes a creative genius to pair chocolate with amaretto (especially in 1979, before The Food Network)!

The worst part of the defeat was that the woman who won was not even present. Yep, it was a drive-by pie.

First prize remained on the judging table, unwrapped and unclaimed. I could only imagine what it might be–and it was far grander in my mind than in reality, I’m sure. The big fish that got away, growing ever longer over the years.

Once the winners were announced, the pies were cut and plates distributed. And which pie do you think disappeared first? Mom’s chocolate-amaretto chiffon. Our family snubbed the other pies and dug into our favorite.

In the end, I learned that people prefer the familiar and comfortable. That’s what Mom’s pie was to me, a little piece of her. The extraordinary was ordinary in our home, and that’s a family legacy I’m striving to uphold.

Pie, anyone?

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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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Disney*Hyperion
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THREE WAYS TO TRAP A LEPRECHAUN
illus by Vivienne To
HarperCollins
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THE WHIZBANG WORDBOOK
illustrator TBA
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