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Audrey: Like all picture book origin stories, this one starts years ago. Liz and I knew each other but not well at this point, if I remember correctly.
Liz: I was clinging to you like a kitten because I was trying to learn to write my first novel and I’d chosen you (lucky you!) to teach me!
And one day out of the blue, we received an email from our mutual agent, Erin Murphy, that included a book review of a forthcoming title with a brief description. And Erin wrote that if Liz and I ever had a book baby, it would be something like this particular book. And all I could think, right at that instant was, “I want to have a book baby with Liz!” It was all-consuming.
And I was like, “Squirrel!” Meaning, “We don’t have to write our novels today?!?!”
I believe that at this very time, I had a terrible cold. And sometimes I write like I talk, and I remember writing “aben,” instead of “amen,” in an email to the two of them about our some-day collaboration.
And then we talked about having stuffed up noses and how when you say “Mom” it sounds like Bob and before we’d exhausted the email thread, we were part-way there.
One of the ground rules Liz and I set up at the outset might be responsible for some of the magic of our process. Because there IS magic. It’s so much more fun writing a book with Liz than by myself—and this was the rule: NO “TRACK CHANGES”. We emailed each other updated versions of the file.
We freely cut what we wanted, regardless of which person wrote it. We added stuff. We re-arranged. I never found myself reading for the parts I wrote or the parts she wrote—it was really just about the story. The rules also dictate that if you miss something desperately, you can try make a case for bringing it back. I can only think of one example when I did that. And I don’t remember Liz ever trying it, on account of only one of us being a baby.
Oh, I’m a baby too but I think everything Audrey cut deserved it.
One thing I remember was that Liz started us off with the character Little Louie, and we had about maybe half a page written, and one of the lines I added was “Little Louie wasn’t all that little” and Liz knew, instantly, to move that line to the top. Which is where I NOW understand it belongs, but I didn’t know that then.
And that’s always true—not just for this story, or for our next collaboration (DEAR SUBSTITUTE, illustrated by Chris Raschka, due in 2018) but for all stories—you need to pay attention to what belongs where and to what the story needs. For whatever reason, we found it easier to really listen to the story during this practice of listening to each other. Even though it was all stuffed up. Ta-da! More magic. And more fun.
Speaking of fun, guess what we’re debuting today, right here and now with you all? Our BOB, NOT BOB book trailer! Designed and produced by the boy genius Jacob Vernick. Enjoy.
And then email a friend and write something together. Seriously. Take a load off.
Audrey and Liz are giving away a copy of BOB, NOT BOB.
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.
Recently, while discussing poetry with a bunch of 5th graders, I discovered a word that’s pretty much left our daily vernacular: loafe.
Whitman used it in SONG OF MYSELF…
I loafe and invite my soul
I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass
…but not a single student knew what the word meant. There were jokes about loaves of bread, and one girl thought she had it, but it turns out she’d gotten it mixed up with loathe. Which, you’ll agree, is another thing entirely.
Once I defined the word for them, they loved it. I said, “Pretty great, right? To be given permission–even encouragement–to loafe about?!” and everybody laughed with relief. (Except for one boy who said, “I try to loafe about a LOT, but my mom won’t let me.” 🙂 )
So I stepped away from the session with kind of a two-part reminder to myself, and since it’s fresh on my mind, I’ll remind you, too:
- Loafe about. Seriously. Creativity can’t be rushed. You need to absorb before you can express. You need to walk and garden and bathe and dream and breathe. These things are the stuff that art is made of, the places ideas come from, the source of a sustained head and heart. Really, loafing about isn’t just important when making picture books–it’s important when living life. Professor Omid Safi asked, in a recent column called The Disease of Being Busy, “When did we forget that we are human beings, not human doings?” We know this, right? Right. This is just a reminder.
- And here’s the other one. Let’s not let really great words like loafe go by the by. Let’s use them. I snuck the word kin into my book ALL THE WORLD, and strut into NOODLE & LOU. I used crimp in THE GOOD-PIE PARTY and hue in THINK BIG. These words are evocative and specific and rich and onomatopoeic–they’re too good to let go! And, as writers, it’s our duty to make sure that we’re not just left with a bunch of OMGs and LOLs on judgment day.
How about you make a list of words you used to hear and use, but never do anymore? What if you wrote down all the phrases your granddad used to say? And what if one of them gave you an idea? Picture books aren’t designed to dumb down; they’re meant to open up and out. They’re meant to expand the words and the world that a child has at hand. Lucky us to be a part of all that.
So go ahead, make that list.
And then, what the heck, loafe about for a bit.
Liz Garton Scanlon is the author of the highly-acclaimed Caldecott-honored children’s book All the World, illustrated by Marla Frazee, as well as this year’s The Good-Pie Party, illustrated by Kady McDonald Denton. Other books include Happy Birthday, Bunny; Think Big, A Sock is a Pocket for Your Toes, and more. Her next picture book (called In The Canyon) and her first novel for young readers, The Great Good Summer, are both due in 2015. Ms. Scanlon is also a poet, teacher and a frequent and popular presenter at schools, libraries and conferences. To learn more, visit her web site at LizGartonScanlon.com.
Liz is giving away two copies of her latest picture book, THE GOOD-PIE PARTY! (YUMMY!)
These prizes will be given away at the conclusion of PiBoIdMo. You are 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. (You will have to sign the PiBoIdMo Pledge at the end of the event.)
Good luck, everyone!
Thirty picture book ideas is a lot.
A Costco-size lot.
Plenty to wrap up this year with satisfaction and kick off the new year with energy, inspiration and confidence.
But, why stop at plenty?
Go ahead and multiply that 30 by at least three.
Because here’s a best kept secret: Ideas are expansive, not limited.
Each idea you spun over the month of November is now fodder for a story told in 1st person or a story told in 3rd, a story told in past tense or a story told in present. Each idea might play out in a story told in rhyme or a story told in prose, a fictionalized piece or one that is God’s honest truth through and through.
Our picture book ideas don’t come with a set of parameters we must follow-or-else. Instead, they come with a set of possibilities that are ours to play with. Sometimes, when a first or second or fourth draft of a manuscript kind of sucks, we make the mistake of thinking the idea sucks. And that’s that. Out it goes with the trash, never to be seen again. But really, it’s entirely possible that it just needs to be told in a different way, poured into a new shape, unwound with new language.
I’ve rescued more than a couple of apparent flops by telling the story from a different point-of-view, or pulling it out of rhyme, or changing the tense. And the beauty of picture book manuscripts? They’re short enough that you can try all of these variations of shape and style without aging yourself by years.
So carry on, you powerhouses with 90-some ideas at hand. They should keep you good and busy for awhile…
Liz Garton Scanlon is the author of the highly-acclaimed, Caldecott-honored picture book ALL THE WORLD, illustrated by Marla Frazee, as well as NOODLE & LOU, illustrated by Arthur Howard, A SOCK IS A POCKET FOR YOUR TOES, illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser, and THINK BIG, illustrated by Vanessa Newton. HAPPY BIRTHDAY, BUNNY, illustrated by Stephanie Graegin, will be released on January 15, 2013. Liz is an assistant professor of creative writing at Austin Community College and the mother of two daughters. To learn more, visit her web site at LizGartonScanlon.com.
by Erin Murphy
So, you’ve got 30 picture book ideas. Now what do you do?
Keep them. All of them. Do you have an idea file of some kind? You should. It’s obvious that you might turn to the idea file when you’re casting about for something new to write, but it also can do wonders for unlocking writers block. You never know when some seemingly unrelated idea will be just the thing to add the missing layer to another piece. Sometimes it’s less direct than that; just reading through ideas is a way of getting you out of a stuck place, much like taking a walk or strolling through a gallery can knock you out of a creative rut.
Sort through them to find the most promising ideas to spend more time with. Laura Purdie Salas had some great suggestions about how to evaluate your ideas last week.
Budget time to work on each of those most promising ideas. Not just once, but two or three times per idea before you decide if they’re worth pursuing further. Even if you schedule 20 minutes of writing time a day, you can spend 10 on a new idea, 10 on an idea you’ve already worked on some, and by the new year, you’ll most likely have a couple of solid ideas that are coming together into a real picture book manuscript.
Some ideas seem to have promise, but they resist any time and attention you give them. This is a sign that they need to sit in your subconscious for awhile. They will most likely kick and scream when they’re ready.
After a concentrated creative period like PiBoIdMo, you’ve got a great opportunity to take stock of where and when you do your most creative thinking. Did you get your best ideas in the car while waiting for your kid to come out of her piano lesson? Well then, perhaps a copy of your promising idea list needs to stay in the car so you can keep using that time for best results.
SORT AND EVALUATE.
I’m not talking about evaluating the idea; you’ve already done that. I’m talking about general trends. Try putting all 30 ideas into categories (character-driven, concept-driven, voice-driven, plot-driven; lyrical, funny, quiet; spontaneous-feeling or intellectual…). Are you heavily weighted towards one type of story? Is that your strength? (Or, conversely, are you limiting yourself unnecessarily?) What research can you do about that type of story to help you grow in your picture book writing craft?
Don’t forget to go back to that full list of ideas now and then. Who knows what discarded idea ends up turning out to have legs! Kathy Duval’s I Think I See a UFO, forthcoming from Disney-Hyperion, to be illustrated by the wonderful Adam McCauley, was a nearly discarded idea that found a home at the first publisher we sent it to!
Erin Murphy was born and raised in Arizona, and founded EMLA in Flagstaff in 1999. She works with publishers of all sizes all over the U.S., and has placed clients’ books with every major children’s house in New York and Boston, but she cut her teeth in regional publishing. She began her career at Northland Publishing/Rising Moon Books for Young Readers (a beloved decades-old Flagstaff company that was bought out in 2007), eventually becoming editor-in-chief, and was a member of the board of directors of PubWest, a professional development organization for small and mid-sized publishers in the West.
Erin represents writers and writer-illustrators of picture books, novels for middle-graders and young adults, and select nonfiction. She is especially drawn to strong characters and heart-centered stories. In her spare time she loves walking, baking, kayaking, knitting, traveling, reading (often audiobooks), and powering through her Netflix queue. You can read more about Erin’s tastes and background in interviews here and here. She now blogs at http://emliterary.com/blog/ and tweets @AgentErinMurphy.
I have to be honest with you.
I think the word “idea” is a little grand.
And by grand, I mean daunting.
An idea is a huge thing, right?
It requires freshness and originality, it encompasses possibility, it is—not to get all god-like here, but—the beginning of everything!
Meanwhile, we’re always being told, “There are no new ideas!”
Poet Audre Lord said, “There are no new ideas. There are only new ways of making them felt.” And there are all those books and lectures that tell us there are only about seven plots available on the whole entire planet. And you guys. There is even a web site called “no new ideas” and it is just a blank page!
So. Phew. That’s out of the way.
No new ideas.
We can’t find what isn’t there.
But, this puts us PiBoIdMo folks in a bit of bind, doesn’t it?
What are we supposed to do for the rest of the month?
Well, personally, I think we should try for something smaller.
Not a whole new idea everyday—just a new perspective.
(And, guess what? The Greek origin of the word idea is idein, which means “to see”! Which means I’ve got support from ancient sages here, so let’s go with it.)
What if all we need is a new way of looking at things?
And what if that way is a child-like way?
A child, said author Olive Schreiner, “sees everything, looks straight at it, examines it, without any preconceived idea.”
Have you ever noticed what kids want to do when they’re riding a down escalator? They want to run up it!
Kids don’t look at things as if they’re static or rule-based or already defined. Surprise and experimentation are everyday affairs. Freshness and originality and possibility—all those things I found so daunting above? Ha. Child’s play.
And children, you’ll remember, are our audience.
So, what if we look straight at life today and examine it?
What if we let our preconceptions slip away and see things as children see things?
What if we imagine that socks are pockets (A Sock is a Pocket for Your Toes) or that the whole wide world could fit in a book (All the World) or that a worm and a bird could be best friends (Noodle & Lou)?
What if look around, each of us, at the animals in our houses and yards, the food on our tables, the books on our bedside tables, and we just plain see them in a new way? That’s all I’m going to do today, and you should join me. We’ll leave the grand and daunting to someone else…
(And now for the party favors!)
And then this fine bit of musing by artist Austin Kleon:
(Scroll and read all the way through it. It’s worth it. Especially that very last section. I think he might’ve stuck it in just for picture book authors, don’t you?)
Liz Garton Scanlon is the author of the highly-acclaimed, Caldecott-honored picture book ALL THE WORLD, illustrated by Marla Frazee, as well as NOODLE & LOU, illustrated by Arthur Howard, and A SOCK IS A POCKET FOR YOUR TOES, illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser. Forthcoming books include THINK BIG, illustrated by Vanessa Newton; HAPPY BIRTHDAY, BUNNY, illustrated by Stephanie Graegin; and others. Liz is an assistant professor of creative writing at Austin Community College and the mother of two daughters. To learn more, visit her web site at LizGartonScanlon.com.
Liz is giving away a signed copy of the award-winning ALL THE WORLD! Leave a comment to enter and a winner will be randomly selected one week from today.