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by Nancy Churnin

Don’t turn out the lights, the Storystorm party is not over!

Yes, now that your notepads and brains are bubbling like cauldrons with ideas, the question Tara has asked me to answer in this post-Storystorm post is WHAT NEXT? In the 11 months between the end of Storystorm 2018 and the start of Storystorm 2019, what should you do with your ideas? How do you know which ones to work on first and which, if any, you may want to toss?

This is an answer you can make with your heart or your head. My advice? Use both.

What does it mean to choose from the heart? There are some ideas that just grab you and won’t let you go until you put them on paper. I keep long, growing lists of ideas, but I circle and focus on the ones that haunt me. I prioritize according to the ideas that demand a chance at life.

THE WILLIAM HOY STORY, HOW A DEAF BASEBALL PLAYER CHANGED THE GAME sprang from a promise I made to a Deaf man, Steve Sandy, to tell the story of this Deaf hero. It was my first book and I had no idea at first how to tell the story.

At the same time, my head knew there was a classic hero’s journey here to tell if I could just break down the steps. With the help of online classes and fearless critique partners, my head was able to figure out how to turn this idea into a story about a boy who grows into a man with a goal that he achieves by learning his challenge—his deafness—is actually his gift.

Three of my other books, while driven by my heart, made equal sense to my head. CHARLIE TAKES HIS SHOT, HOW CHARLIE SIFFORD BROKE THE COLOR BARRIER IN GOLF; IRVING BERLIN, THE IMMIGRANT BOY WHO MADE AMERICA SING (coming out in June) and THE QUEEN AND THE FIRST CHRISTMAS TREE (coming out in September) also required a lot of writing and revising, but ultimately fit into a hero’s journey with a clear beginning, middle and end.

But MANJHI MOVES A MOUNTAIN ran the risk of being heart over head. It defied the classic structure with the story of a young man, not a boy, whose challenge is to find an easier way to navigate across a 300-foot mountain so people in his village can get access to schools and doctors. But I loved this idea and couldn’t let go until I found the way to tell his true story. It was a deeply rewarding experience as I slowly stumbled and felt my way to a narrative with a folk tale feel.

Ultimately, all ideas require you to put your head to work, as you have to solve the problem of creating page-turning suspense that leads to a satisfying conclusion in a story of roughly 800 words or less, preferably one that kids will want to read again and again. While some ideas contain a clear journey, others will prove elusive. Some you may want to toss or postpone. But you may not necessarily want to abandon them. Whether you let them guide you into a story should be a question of how much you love them.

We often talk about books as our babies. Like human or fur babies, they’re living, breathing pieces of you – funny, passionate, silly, kind, wise, a mix of some or all of these qualities or others that you never anticipated. So as we approach Valentine’s Day, sort through your ideas for the ones you love most passionately and give them everything you’ve got. Then when they grow up and move to bookstores far away, they’ll still feel close, beating in rhythm with your heart.

Nancy Churnin is the theater critic for The Dallas Morning News and the author of six picture books: THE WILLIAM HOY STORY, HOW A DEAF BASEBALL PLAYER CHANGED THE GAME (Albert Whitman); MANJHI MOVES A MOUNTAIN (Creston Books); CHARLIE TAKES HIS SHOT, HOW CHARLIE SIFFORD BROKE THE COLOR LINE IN GOLF (Albert Whitman) and the forthcoming IRVING BERLIN, THE IMMIGRANT BOY WHO MADE AMERICA SING (Creston Books, Spring 2018); THE QUEEN AND THE FIRST CHRISTMAS TREE (Albert Whitman, Fall 2018) and MARTIN & ANNE (Creston Books, 2019). Free Teachers Guides and projects for kids are available for all her books. You can learn more at, join her on Facebook at Nancy Churnin Children’s Books and find her on Twitter @nchurnin.

Nancy is giving away a copy of her most recent book, CHARLIE TAKES HIS SHOT: HOW CHARLIE SIFFORD BROKE THE COLOR BARRIER IN GOLF.

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 Nancy Churnin

If I had a nickel for every time someone asked me if I was going to quit my job now that my first book has been published, I’d have…a couple of dollars. Which is not enough to quit my job and write picture books full-time.

But here’s the thing. For me and for many of you who are juggling writing with other obligations, whether they are full-time jobs, part-time jobs or taking care of your family (or any combination or permutation of the above), your other life can be a source of ideas.

I’m the theater critic for The Dallas Morning News. There’s no obvious correlation between that job and writing picture books. And yet, it was in the course of doing my job that I found the first picture book idea that I sold.

williamhoyphotoNow I didn’t realize I had come up with a picture book idea when I decided to write an article about a fascinating play, “The Signal Season of Dummy Hoy,” that was being produced at a local high school in Garland. I was intrigued with the subject of a baseball player who was deaf and taught signals to major league umpires so he could play the game he loved. But once the article was written and published, I moved on to other articles. After all, I write several articles a week and I’ve learned to go go go, so I don’t fall behind.

Then I received a thank you email from a man named Steve Sandy who is a friend of the Hoy family. Steve is deaf and shared with me that his life’s dream is to get William Hoy in the National Baseball Hall of Fame where he would be the first deaf player honored there. We emailed back and forth and I found myself on board with his dream and eager to help.

Suddenly, I had my Storystorm moment: What if I write a children’s book about William Hoy and the kids help Hoy by writing letters for him to the Hall of Fame? I asked Steve if he’d help with the research and he said he would. It took me YEARS to turn that idea into a story, mainly because I had no clue about the craft of picture book writing when I started, but that did become the story that got me my agent (the wonderful Karen Grencik of Red Fox Literary) and became my debut picture book in March 2016 from Albert Whitman. We’ve sold three books since.


It’s not every day that a story idea hits you while you’re working and won’t let you go until you transform it into a manuscript. And yet, consider, that those ideas may be kicking around your office or your home, waiting for you to recognize them for the great possibilities they are.

Maybe someone at the office tells you a story you can’t get out of your head or you are working on a project and your mind starts wandering on an only remotely related line of thought. Perhaps someone asks a question or is frustrated because there’s a person or a subject that should be better known or understood. Maybe you overhear a child, or your own child, with a concern or an anecdote that cradles the seed of something bigger.

In fact, I’m willing to bet you could meet your StoryStorm goal of 30 IN ONE DAY, if you weren’t on the go go go to finish all those important things you have to get done.

lennonJohn Lennon once wrote, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” Yes, you’re busy, but don’t forget that life and ideas are waiting like treasures in plain sight to be discovered and savored while you’re shushing the distractions that, in the end, may turn out to be the best part of your day. Slow down and think twice—or thrice!—about all the off topic observations, off track remarks and the many moments between the boxes you check off on your to-do list. Consider that the busy job you have that steals your writing time may also be a repository of ideas!

Here’s another story I like. Atalanta, the original woman in a hurry, refused to marry anyone that couldn’t beat her in a race. Most suitors didn’t try because the penalty for losing the race meant death, which had a way of dampening the ardor. One young man wasn’t deterred. He was not as fast as Atalanta, but he had an idea. He brought three golden apples to the race and as they ran, he threw one, then two, then the third golden apple just before the finish line. Atalanta veered off the beaten track to get those apples and the young man won.

Personally, I think Atalanta won, too. She got herself a clever and determined young man, three golden apples and a break from all the running and executions. So, I guess what I’m saying, is if life throws you golden apples, chase them and turn them into stories. Or golden cider. Either way, you win.

nancychurninNancy Churnin is the theater critic for The Dallas Morning News and the author of THE WILLIAM HOY STORY, How a Deaf Baseball Player Changed the Game (Albert Whitman & Company, March 1, 2016).

Her next book, MANJHI MOVES A MOUNTAIN, will be published by Creston Books Sept. 1, 2017. Next up: MAKING HIS SHOT, How Charlie Sifford Broke the Color Barrier in Golf and THE PRINCESS AND THE TREE, both from Albert Whitman. Visit her online at and on Twitter @nchurnin.


In lieu of golden apples, Nancy Churnin will toss one winner a signed copy of THE WILLIAM HOY STORY, How a Deaf Baseball Player Changed the Game…and another winner a picture book critique.

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!

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