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by Diana Murray

I recently found an old high school journal in my basement. In it are some real gems, such as quotes from my awesome 11th grade Creative Writing teacher, Mr. Zavatsky. He once said, “Don’t wait for flaming asteroids to fly down and sit on your tongue.” I thought that was a delightful way to put it! Basically, you don’t need to sit passively waiting for inspiration. Sure, sometimes inspiration hits out of the blue, but you can also go out there and seek it or actively drum it up. Here are just a few ways to do that, as well as some personal examples.

Recycle by Switching Genres:
A few years ago, I had a pun-filled, garden-themed short poem published in Highlights magazine. It was one of my favorites. I liked it so much, I thought, hey, maybe I can recycle this idea into a picture book. And that’s when I began to write  “Goodnight Veggies.” The new manuscript was also pun-filled and garden-themed, but it had all the elements one commonly finds in a picture book (story arc, take-away message, enough room left for illustrations, etc.). I’m happy to say it will be published by HMH in 2020, and illustrated by the amazing Zachariah OHora. I was recently reviewing rough illustrations and noticed that Zach placed the garden on an urban rooftop. I thought that was brilliant! So I took THAT idea and wrote another short poem about a child planting a garden on his roof. Double recycling! Yet another time, I took a short High Five poem that I wrote (“Four Fun Chicks”) and re-imagined it as a goodnight/counting concept book (FIVE FUZZY CHICKS, Imprint/Macmillan, 2020). Again, this meant starting from scratch and adding things like a climax, and giving thought to page turns and so on. It’s not just a matter of slapping a different label on it. But if you have favorites in one genre, see if you can rework them to fit into another.

Pop Out a Character:
You can take a secondary character in an existing work and give them their own story. What if the cat in my witch story had an adventure on his own? Or what if he had to adjust to a new pet in the household? Or what if the shy turtle in PIZZA PIG had her own story in which she had to overcome her shyness? You don’t have to approach this with “sequel” mentality. You can just pull on character traits that you’re already familiar with and create something completely new and different. When I was first looking at illustrations for my forthcoming book UNICORN DAY (Sourcebooks, June 2019), I was immediately drawn to a particular background character–an edgy, goth unicorn that the illustrator, Luke Flowers, imaginatively included toward the end. My kids commented on their love for the character, as well. I mean, come on. How cool would that be to give the goth-icorn his/her own story?! If only I had a knack for writing novels.

Look for Holes in Your List:
What don’t you have yet? Surely anyone can put their own unique twist on a pirate book or goodnight book or holiday book. Think of all the super common themes that you always see in books. If there’s a theme you haven’t considered yet, consider it! Bring your own perspective to it. While I’m not a knitter, I used to work in the fashion industry and that helped inform my unique take on a pirate book with NED THE KNITTING PIRATE. You can even take an idea you already have and apply one of these second themes to it. What would happen if you turned an existing idea into a goodnight book? Or what if you turned your characters into pirates? Or dinosaurs? How would that change the story?

Have you tried a cumulative tale yet? A mirror tale? A circular story? A concept book? A fractured fairytale? Exhaust all possibilities! Go to the extreme. And don’t let your inner critic get involved at this point. Let your mind roam free, because even a bad idea could lead to a good idea in the end.

Many years ago, before I had an agent or any published books on the horizon, I had a book idea about a chef who was a cow. Her name was “Chef Moodette” and she made perfect dishes for everyone who came into her cafe. I kept wondering what the twist would be. Would a pair of human kids finally walk in? And she wouldn’t be able to figure out what they wanted? Did they want milkshakes? Ewwwww. No! I kept trying to make “Chef Moodette” work (I’m talking, over the course of a few years), but it was just terrible. I couldn’t get the ending right. But my work was not wasted. Years later I began to write PIZZA PIG and “Chef Moodette” jumped back into my mind. But this time, I finally figured out the ending (and lots of other issues)! So keep returning to your old manuscripts, folks. You never know when something will finally click. When you re-read your work, the stories simmer in the back of your brain, just waiting for the right moment to surface.

So don’t sit around waiting for “flaming asteroids” of inspiration. Get out there and wrangle them!

And in case anyone is interested, I’d like to note that I will be leading a detailed, online rhyming picture book workshop for the Highlights Foundation this fall. And here’s some fantastic news: Tara Lazar will be joining me on-site to lend her expertise! 

Diana Murray is the author of over a dozen books for children, including CITY SHAPES (Little, Brown, 2016), GRIMELDA THE VERY MESSY WITCH (Tegen Books/HarperCollins, 2016), NED THE KNITTING PIRATE (Roaring Brook/Macmillan, 2016), PIZZA PIG (Step-into-Reading/Random House, 2018), and UNICORN DAY (Sourcebooks, 2019). Her award-winning poems have appeared in magazines such as Highlights, High Five and Spider. Diana grew up in NYC and still lives nearby with her husband, two very messy children, and a motley crew of pets. Visit her at dianamurray.com.

Diana is giving away an advanced edition of UNICORN DAY (Sourcebooks, June 2019).

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!

 

inspirationTV-Murrayby Diana Murray

Inspiration is everywhere. It’s just a matter of tuning into it. And in order to do that, you need to switch on that part of your brain that reminds you to evaluate funny or interesting or poignant experiences and ask, “Could this be inspiration for a book?” If you don’t stop to notice it, inspiration can pass you by. Of course it’s also helpful to record things right away so you won’t forget. Official PiBoIdMo journal anyone?

Here are a few ways you can tune into inspiration:

1. Look to Yourself

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When I wrote GRIMELDA: THE VERY MESSY WITCH, I started with the character trait of being messy.

Unfortunately, that’s a trait I am intimately familiar with, so I know how frustrating it can be. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked around the house wearing one flip-flop, desperately trying to find the other one. Once I had my inspiration, I cranked it up by making the main character a witch. That made the potential for messiness even bigger and more interesting. If you think about your own traits, maybe even flaws, you can get a lot of ideas that way. For more on this you can read my post from last year: “Brewing Up a Character-Driven Story.” And by the way, I thought up this story during the first ever PiBoIdMo (I think that was in 2009?). It got me a SCBWI grant, an agent, and a two-book deal. Yeah. Tara, can I just give you a big hug right now??

2. Take a Hike

CityShapesCoverSmCITY SHAPES was inspired by the long “hikes” I used to take around the city, back when I lived in midtown Manhattan. I loved the way the neighborhoods changed and discovering surprises around every corner. If you go out and observe your environment, what will you find? Maybe you’ll see a greedy squirrel trying to claim all the birdseed in the feeder? Or a raccoon riding on an alligator? (Seriously. Google it.) Scan your surroundings and see if anything inspires you. For a more specific challenge, you can also take the idea of a concept book (colors, shapes, numbers, seasons, etc.) and put a unique spin on it, perhaps pulling from your environment.

3. Observe Kids

This is a no-brainer. Kids are funny, full of wonder, and often brilliant. Watch them. Take notes. My own kids’ antics are a constant source of inspiration.

4. Admire Art

When I wrote GROGGLE’S MONSTER VALENTINE, I was inspired by an illustration. I was in-between projects at the time and my agent suggested that I look at a particular illustrator’s portfolio and see if anything caught my eye. Well, it did! And that’s when GROGGLE was born. And now that very same illustrator (the fabulous Bats Langley) is illustrating the book. So, if you ever get stuck, try browsing some portfolios online or head to a museum.

5. Watch TV

NedCoverSmDidn’t expect that one, did ya? Yep, literally watching TV can also lead you to inspiration. However, you need to watch actively, not passively. In other words, keep your inspiration sensor clicked on. You never know what might strike you. In fact, NED THE KNITTING PIRATE was inspired by an episode of Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations–a travel and food show with a smart and amusingly snarky host. The episode I saw was filmed in Sweden. There were these extreme snowboarders who were descended from Vikings, and one of their favorite activities was…you guessed it, knitting. They knit their own hats with pompoms on top and gifted one to the show’s host. Bourdain (kind of a tough, black-leather-clad New Yorker) was clearly not comfortable wearing the fuzzy, woolen hat. It was hilarious.

bourdain

I was immediately inspired. Now, of course I’m not implying that you should COPY what you see on TV. I’m just saying, you can get a seed of inspiration and then make it your own. For more about mashing together opposing ideas, you can read my 2012 post, “Idea Mash-Up.”

I hope this helps you tune into inspiration…and RIP THE KNOB OFF! (Sorry, I just had to get that in there.) Now get ready to be introspective, explore your world, laugh with your kids (or someone else’s), browse illustrations, and binge watch your favorite shows on Netflix. And most of all…have fun!


DianaMurrayBioPhotoDiana grew up in New York City and still lives nearby with her husband, two very messy children, and a goldfish named Pickle. Diana is the author of six forthcoming picture books. Her award-winning children’s poems have appeared in many magazines, including Highlights, HighFive, Hello and Spider.

For more information, please visit: DianaMurray.com or follow Diana on Twitter: @DianaMWrites.

PrizeDetails (2)

NedToteDiana is giving away a NED THE KNITTING PIRATE tote bag with grey/white mosaic trim (product details), and special sneak preview editions (unbound F&G’s) of GRIMELDA: THE VERY MESSY WITCH and CITY SHAPES nearly a year before they appear in stores!

Leave a comment below to enter. One comment per person, please.

These prizes will be given away at the conclusion of PiBoIdMo. You will be eligible for these prizes if:

  • You have registered for PiBoIdMo.
  • You have commented ONCE ONLY on today’s post.
  • You have completed the PiBoIdMo challenge.

Good luck, everyone!

DianaMurrayBioPhotoby Diana Murray

Picture books are as varied as the potions in a witch’s cupboard. Some are spicy and bubbly, while others are mellow and sweet. So which kinds of stories are editors and agents clamoring for? Well, their tastes are just as varied. But one thing that seems to be on everyone’s wish list is this: character-driven stories. A few examples include FANCY NANCY by Jane O’Connor, LLAMA LLAMA RED PAJAMA by Anna Dewdney, PINKALICIOUS by Elizabeth Kann, RUSSELL THE SHEEP by Rob Scotton, SKIPPYJON JONES by Judy Schachner, PETE THE CAT by Eric Litwin, LADYBUG GIRL by David Soman and Jacky Davis, MAX AND RUBY by Rosemary Wells, and SCAREDY SQUIRREL by Mélanie Watt. As you can see, character-driven books have great series potential and overall marketing potential. When readers fall in love with a character, they want to read more about him/her, and it’s fun to visualize what other sorts of situations the character may get into.

This doesn’t mean that character-driven stories are the only kinds that sell or do well in the marketplace. Nor does it mean that writers should focus primarily on pleasing editors or following trends. The best writing comes from the heart! But with that in mind, if you want to explore the possibilities of a character-driven story, here is one quick and easy recipe for brewing up a strong concept. Two ingredients are all you need!

  • Personality Trait
  • Conflicting Goal

I recommend you start off with a list of your own personality traits. This will make it easy for you to feel an emotional connection with (and understanding of) the trait.

My list might look something like this:

  • introverted
  • joker
  • nerdy
  • perfectionist
  • quiet
  • creative
  • analytical
  • messy
  • quirky
  • worrier

DianaMurrayBlogArtBG

Pick one trait (or several, if you’re feeling bold!). Next, choose a goal. Not just any goal, but specifically a goal that is in opposition to the trait you selected. When I wrote GRIMELDA, THE VERY MESSY WITCH, I chose the trait of being “messy” and made the goal “to find an item the character desperately wants/needs.” Or let’s say, for example, I choose “quiet”, then perhaps the goal would be to sing on stage, or speak out against something, or win an international yodeling contest. Sprinkle the goal in with your trait and–POOF! Instant conflict. And the conflict is intrinsically related to the essence of the main character. Adding conflict to a story is one way of encouraging readers to keep turning the pages. They’ll want to find out what happens next! Now, how will your character attempt to reach that goal or face that problem in his/her own unique way?

Feel that story bubbling to life? Now all you have to do is write (and revise, and revise) the rest. Of course, that’s the hard part. But a little inspiration magic can go a long way!

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Diana Murray is the author of several forthcoming picture books including, CITY SHAPES (Little, Brown, Spring 2016), NED THE KNITTING PIRATE: A SALTY YARN (Roaring Brook Press, Winter 2016), and GRIMELDA, THE VERY MESSY WITCH, plus a sequel (Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins, Summer 2016, 2017). Diana is the recipient of two SCBWI Magazine Merit Awards (2013 and 2014) and an Honor (2013) for poetry. She also won the 2010 SCBWI Barbara Karlin Work-In-Progress Grant for a picture book text. Diana is represented by Brianne Johnson at Writers House. She was raised in New York City and currently lives in a nearby suburb with her husband, two very messy children, and a goldfish named Pickle. Diana’s character GRIMELDA was brewed up during the first official PiBoIdMo, back in 2009! You can read more about that experience here.

For more information and news, you can visit DianaMurray.com or follow Diana on twitter: @DianaMWrites.

prizedetails2014

Diana is giving away a picture book critique!

This prize will be given away at the conclusion of PiBoIdMo. You are eligible for this prize if:

  1. You have registered for PiBoIdMo.
  2. You have commented ONCE ONLY on today’s post.
  3. You have completed the PiBoIdMo challenge. (You will have to sign the PiBoIdMo Pledge at the end of the event.)

Good luck, everyone!

DianaMurrayBioPhotoIn 2009, I was humming the rejection blues when I spotted Tara’s post on Verla Kay’s Blueboards. PiBoIdMo sounded like just the sort of creative kick in the pants that I needed. And boy, am I glad I took up the challenge, because it started an exciting chain of events.

One of my ideas led to a picture book manuscript for which I was awarded the SCBWI Barbara Karlin Grant in 2010. I’m normally a pretty shy person, but after that, I would often catch myself singing “Zippity doo-da…” in public (much to the dismay of anyone within earshot).

When I emailed Tara to thank her, she invited me to share my story. Another exciting moment! And now, a few years and many revisions later, here I am with a sing-out-loud-worthy update. After signing with Brianne Johnson of Writers House, GRIMELDA, THE VERY MESSY WITCH—the manuscript I based on a 2009 PiBoIdMo idea—sold in a two-book deal to Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins. Plus, another manuscript, NED THE KNITTING PIRATE: A SALTY YARN, sold to Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan. Both are scheduled to be released in 2014. I hope my neighbors have industrial-strength ear plugs.

Speaking of singing, here’s a bit of inspiration to help you begin your own exciting chain of events.

If you’ve ever watched Glee, you’re probably familiar with the concept of the “mash-up”. This is when you take two different songs and smash them together to produce something new.

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Bon Jovi and Usher? Who knew that could work?

And it can work with writing as well. The great thing about mash-ups is that they can give your story an immediate sense of conflict. And when you mix concepts that don’t normally go together, you can potentially create something unexpected and fresh. You can also create something really weird, like “Trucks at the Ballet” or “Pet Rock for President!”. But remember, one person’s weird is another person’s unique, funny, and/or intriguing. It’s all about execution (well, and also personal preference). In order to nail the execution, it helps if the idea is something you relate to. Something you connect with on a personal level. That will give you the passion you need to see it through.

By the way, when I posted on Tara’s blog in 2010, I mentioned one of my “bad” ideas about a do-everything hat. I believe it was called “Mabel’s Amazing Hat”. Well, I ended up giving that idea a sporty twist. The new title is “Automatic Baseball Hat” and I recently sold it as a poem to Highlights magazine. So you can even make your bad ideas work for you! And I’m not so sure there’s such a thing as a bad idea at all.

Now get out there and mash it up!

Diana Murray is a picture book author and poet represented by Brianne Johnson at Writers House. She lives in New York City with her husband, two very messy children, and a goldfish named Pickle. For more information, visit her website or follow her on Twitter @DianaMWrites.

More PiBoIdMo success stories! Many thanks to Mindy Alyse Weiss for pulling these stories together.

I hope when YOU have a success to share, you’ll contact me. I love to hear how your ideas went from pencil-scribble to published! And I don’t define “success” just as being pubbed. Win a grant, a contest, secure an agent–anything goes. So here goes…

1. Amy Dixon

Being married to a relentless distance runner means that every November, there is a marathon on the schedule. Lucky for me, November is also Picture Book Idea Month, and I had long been lamenting the lack of picture books about running. Looking back at my spreadsheet for 2010, the entry for November 5th says, “Marathon Mouse. Story of a mouse who lives in NYC right under the start line (Verrazano bridge)  and decides that it is his life’s dream to particpate in the NYC marathon.” That’s it. The beginnings of a story. Flash forward to August 2011, where I received one of the best e-mails of my life. A lovely editor at Sky Pony Press likes Marathon Mouse and wants to publish it! The story could end there, and would still be a dream-come-true. But I decided to contact an agent I had recently queried with a different story and tell her of my offer. After a flurry of e-mails and phone calls, I signed with Karen Grencik of Red Fox Literary. In the course of one day, I had gone from struggling picture book writer, to agented and soon-to-be-published! So keep your eyes peeled in Fall 2012 for a picture book titled, MARATHON MOUSE. It’s by me. And it happened in part because I took on the challenge of coming up with 30 ideas in 30 days!

I also have a longer version of the story on my blog, but it doesn’t mention PiBoIdMo:

http://writingamillion.tumblr.com/post/10441985218/on-editors-agents-and-contracts-oh-my

2. Diana Murray

Diana Murray was thrilled to receive the 2010 SCBWI Barbara Karlin Grant for her rhyming picture book manuscript about a witch. She came up with a few different versions of the idea during the first PiBoIdMo. You can read more about her experience here:https://taralazar.wordpress.com/2010/07/06/piboidmo-success-story/. Diana will always be grateful to Tara for starting an event that helped her streamline her writing process. And now, she’s ready for another month of fun and inspiration!

Diana’s website: http://www.dianamurray.com

3. Rebecca Colby

This year, Rebecca participated in her third PiBoIdMo. Following a picture book workshop last year that challenged her to alter a well-known fairytale, she decided to generate a few ideas for fractured fairy tales. She found the inspiration she needed from Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen’s guest post on Day 29 that recommended participants do just that–transform “something old into something new.”

The result was an idea for a Cinderella story with monsters entitled MONSTERELLA.

Rebecca says, “I fell in love with the idea of a fairy godmonster who magics a spider into a monster truck.” Rebecca wrote the manuscript soon after and it went on to win the 2011 SCBWI Barbara Karlin grant.

Before writing for children, Rebecca inspected pantyhose,worked for a Russian comedian, taught English in Taiwan, and traveled the world as a tour director. She currently works as a librarian. Born in America, Rebecca now lives in England with her husband and two daughters. More information about Rebecca and her writing can be found at her website: www.rebeccacolbybooks.com.

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Tundra/PRH Canada
June 4, 2019


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Disney*Hyperion
October 15, 2019

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HarperCollins
Spring 2020

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