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by Charise Mericle Harper

charisemericleharperThe other day I was at my son’s book fair, talking with his teacher. A few of my books were included in the event, and she picked one up and flipped through it. All of a sudden she asked, “Where do you get your ideas?” I’m pretty good at answering this question at school talks, but on the spot, I was speechless. I ended up smiling uncomfortably, shrugging my shoulders and saying, “I don’t know,” and then I quickly changed the subject.

On stage and in front of a group, I’m fine with the spotlight, but in a social situation, the last thing I’m comfortable talking about is me. Later that day, I started feeling guilty about how I’d responded. I should have made more of an effort to answer her, because her question was a good one. In fact, it was the exact same question I always want to ask other authors and illustrators. It’s why I’m always excited to meet them. I want to know: How do you do that thing that you do? Where do you get your ideas? And how do you get those ideas to swirl together perfectly so you can use them?

fig 1

Usually I can’t trace a book all the way back to that first glimmer of an idea. It’s too complicated and messy—like trying to unravel wool that you’ve given to a kitten.

fig 2 (1)

But with Bean Dog and Nugget, things are different. I know exactly how, where, and why I got the idea, and it all started five years ago.

My children used to be picky eaters. One of them still is, but I won’t embarrass him by saying his name. When she was six, my daughter Ivy loved chicken nuggets, and my son Luther (three) lived for hot dogs. So that year, as a Christmas present, I made them each a stuffed friend. And so Hot Dog and Chicken Nugget were born. The kids liked them, but not as much as me. I loved these little characters and promptly displayed them in my dining room. The kids didn’t seem to mind them sitting on a shelf out of reach, their other toys were more fun to play with anyway.

fig.3

So Hot Dog and Chicken Nugget sat there for years, watching our little family, until one day I was inspired. At the time I was new to blogging and filled with blogging energy. It’s a great stage for creativity, and I wanted to try something different, so I started a Hot Dog and Chicken Nugget blog. It was a chronicle of unrequited love—a chicken nugget in love with a hot dog.

Fig. 4Working on the blog was fun, rewarding and stimulating, but it was also time consuming! All the drawing, and photographing, and setting up of the characters took forever. If it had been my only job I would’ve been fine, but I had books to write, deadlines to meet, and lunches to make—it was too much. In the end, I couldn’t keep up, and so I stopped—mid-romance. Chicken Nugget and Bean Dog retired from fame, and went back into their old spots on the shelf.

Over the next few years, I tried to fit them into a story, but I could never make it work. I’ve come to realize, that if a book is a struggle from page one, it’s probably wise to give it up. Wanting an idea to be good, and having it be good are two very different things.

But they were there in my head, waiting, and then one day I found my story. I was outside working in my backyard yard, trying to keep my plants alive when I got the glimmer.

Can I do an aside here, just a quick tangent? It’s for the story, to give you perspective on my gardening skills. I’ll be fast, I promise.

This is what my daughter said last week, when I brought home spring plants for my garden.

fig.5

Now, back to the story. So I’m in the yard coaxing and begging things not to die, when I hear my son and his friend engaged in a not-so-friendly exchange. It seems there was a ball, and now the ball is in the bushes, and neither of them wants to retrieve it. The “You get it!” “No, you get it!” makes me smile. It’s one of those I-hope-I-remember-the-kids-like-this moments.

A few days later I was at my son’s school, in the library, looking for an easy comic book for him to read. At the time he was a very reluctant reader, and not at all interested in books. Isn’t that always the way? Author and lover of books has child who hates reading.

This was all happening two years ago, and in the easy comic book genre there weren’t many choices, certainly not like today. The school librarian and I talked about it, and I left with a purpose. I was going to make a comic book for my son to read! I was a mom with a mission. The next day as I was getting ready to start, everything suddenly came together—my tornado of creativity, the right pen, and my favorite paper—it was perfect. I love when that happens. And so BEAN DOG AND NUGGET was born.

Once I got started, it was an easy book to write, but I don’t feel guilty about saying that, because in truth I’d been working on it for over five years.Fig 6 (1)

EPILOGUE

I like epilogues, because it’s always nice to know what happens in the end. I dedicated BEAN DOG AND NUGGET to my son and his friend, and when the first book arrived I made a big deal of it and showed them the dedication. Do you know what happened? I was imagining some kind of payback, perhaps something like, “Oh thank you for putting my name in the book,” but I was wrong. They ignored me completely, and instantly started arguing and pointing to the Nugget character on the cover. “You’re the girl! “No, you’re the girl!” “No, you’re the girl!” “No, you’re the girl!” It wasn’t the response I was expecting, but it was perfect. It was full circle, and the exact kind of scenario that had inspired me in the first place. I listened to them and smiled. Silly boys, I knew something they didn’t. Nugget is the smart one.

Thanks to Charise for sharing Bean Dog and Nugget’s journey from shelf to bookshelf!

Both books release today, and as a special treat, Charise is giving away THREE prize packs which include both signed books and supplies to make your own Bean Dog and Nugget paper puppets.

Just leave a comment about your favorite part of her making-of-the-story story!

Winners will be randomly selected in about a week. Good luck!

In  the meantime, learn about all of Charise’s books at ChariseHarper.com.

I write books and I have children. These things seem to go together, and yet at the same time, they do not.

True, the children are inspiring, they say funny things, they’re occasionally cute, they help me remember my own childhood, but here is the not part—they take up a lot of time.

Because of the above graph I do two things.

1.) Furiously write notes on anything handy so I won’t forget them.

2.) Operate in a constant state of repressed creativity.

This I think is my secret to being productive, because when I finally get to sit down to work—I work. I don’t open emails, I don’t answer the phone, and I don’t shop on Etsy—though I’m very tempted by all those things. My work time is precious and scarce, so I can’t afford to be distracted. On most days I get up at 4:30 a.m. to write. I love my mornings, the house is quiet, dark, and when I start the chore of getting the kids to school, I already have some work done. It feels sneaky and clever, like I’ve cheated the day. It’s not a perfect schedule, but for now it works. And strangely, I’m more productive now, than before I had kids.

I read somewhere that it’s important to take breaks while you’re being creative. I guess I’m lucky—my days are filled with breaks, and each one is a surprise. It could happen mid sentence or mid thought. Suddenly I’m out of my chair and off to deliver a snack, a drink, change the channel on the TV, replace batteries in an electronic game, or play referee. If I can get forty minutes of uninterrupted work done while the kids are home and awake, it’s nothing short of a miracle.

But I’m pretty versatile; I can work in short bursts of twenty minutes, or long luxurious stints of three hours. But I wasn’t always this way, it’s taken years of training, but they did, the kids trained me.

There’s no one secret work pattern that is going to work for everyone, but if you are creative and consistent you can certainly find what’s best for you. If you want to reorganize the way you work, ask yourself some questions, it might help you get started. Here are some questions, and I plugged in my answers.

When am I most creative?
I like my early mornings, and I save these for writing, but I can also work in short bursts when the kids are around. I have illustrated more than one book while listening to SpongeBob and Pokemon cartoons.

Where am I most creative?
Sometimes I like a change of scenery. I’ll go to a coffee shop for a few hours, and then one day a week I really get away—I go into NYC and work at the Bryant Park Library.

Am I motivated by a deadline?
You bet! Nothing motivates me more than a looming deadline, and if I don’t have one, I give myself one.

Am I motivated by rewards?
Yes, who isn’t? In fact there’s a delicious piece of chocolate waiting for me when I finish writing this post. But if I’m not I the mood for sweets, I’ll cuddle with the cat, play with the dog, or go outside for a quick stroll around the yard.

And then at the end of the day, take stock. What worked? What didn’t? And if you had a success, repeat, and if not, try something new.

RECIPE FOR CREATIVITY

  • Think
  • Make notes
  • Think some more
  • Think while doing something completely different
  • Think some more
  • Think some more
  • Write

My kids make fun of me, and they are right.

I am always looking for the next book idea. Eyes open and ears listening—you never know where it is going to come from. About six months ago I was listening to my son and his friend complain about getting their ball stuck in some bushes. They were arguing back and forth about whose fault it was, and who was responsible for getting the ball out. It was cute, and listening to them made me smile. It was just a little moment on a sunny afternoon, but it stuck with me, and later became the basis for a story about two friends. The book is called Bean Dog & Nugget and it comes out this spring.

I want to close with two things. The first is this running tally.

This is how many times my kids interrupted me while I was writing this post.

And this last image is where I end each day, my shower. It’s nothing special, but for some reason I get more ideas in the shower than anywhere else. Maybe it’s because it’s meditative, a calming release from the stress of the day—or it might just be that with the door shut, no one can bug me.

Charise Harper has been making comics and children’s books for many years. She is the creator of FASHION KITTY, the JUST GRACE series, and WEDGIEMAN. Her picture books include CUPCAKE, IMAGINATIVE INVENTIONS, and many others.  If you were to ask her which was her favorite; making the book, or holding the finished book in her hands, she would always have the same answer—making the book. She blogs (with pictures!) at Drawing Mom. Find out more about her books at ChariseHarper.com.

Charise is generously giving away THREE signed books from her JUST GRACE series!

    

JUST GRACE AND THE DOUBLE SURPRISE, JUST GRACE AND THE FLOWER GIRL POWER and JUST GRACE STAR ON STAGE.

Three random winners will be selected in one week. Just leave a comment to enter! Good luck!

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My Picture Books

COMING SOON:


BLOOP
illus by Mike Boldt
HarperCollins
July 2021

ABSURD WORDS
illustrator TBA
Sourcebooks eXplore
November 2021

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

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