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by Mike Allegra

Eeyore inspired me.

To be clear, the Eeyore that inspired me was not the iconic, morose burro of A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh books. I was inspired by an Eeyore stuffed animal.

My wife, Ellen, had bought the little guy in a Disney Store and he was cute as a button. He was dressed for Christmas in green flannel jammies and held a plate of cookies. Also, he had a Christmas stocking dangling from his mouth.

The genesis of my inspiration began with that stocking. The folks at Disney clearly meant the stocking to represent Eeyore’s humble request for presents, but I preferred to think of it as Eeyore’s weapon. I don’t know why I felt this way, but I did. As far as I was concerned, the stocking dangling from that burro’s maw made him look a little tougher than a typical Eeyore. This Eeyore, I decided, was a take charge kinda guy. This Eeyore, I also decided, wouldn’t tolerate it if my wife overslept her alarm. No way, no how!

“Get up! Get up! Get up!” Stuffed Eeyore scolded as he whapped Ellen on the head with his teensy, mighty stocking. “Or next time I’m gonna hit’cha with a sock full of nickels!”

Ellen (once she was fully awake) found this amusing.

With that whapping, aggressive sock, I had sorta kinda created a new Eeyore. I liked this new Eeyore. I liked him a lot.

A new Eeyore needed a new voice, so I came up with something faster and higher pitched and more malleable than the cartoon. My Eeyore was more childlike, more cantankerous, and slightly mush-mouthed with his “r” sounds. It was a fun voice to use and, from that point on, I used it often.

Eeyore soon became part of a silly nightly ritual. In the moments before Ellen and I would drift to sleep, I (as Eeyore) and Ellen (as Ellen) would chat a bit. Ellen would ask Eeyore questions about his life. And I’d reply with whatever foolishness popped into my brain. In one of these nocturnal Q&A sessions Eeyore declared himself to be a Bed Guardian, whose job was to protect our bed against “Pirates, Ruffians, Scalawags, Nogoodniks, and Counterfeiters.”

“Counterfeiters?” Ellen asked through a yawn.

“Yup,” the burrow nodded. “Counterfeiters are people who sneak into our kitchen and have fits on the counters!”

“Ah,” Ellen replied.

“And then I whack ‘em with my sock full of nickles!”

The ritual continued. Week after week and month after month, Eeyore’s personality and backstory grew. He would start a feud with the yellow stuffed bunny that we put out for Easter. He would develop verbal ticks, saying things like “What the hey, now?” He became a hoarder of Ellen’s hair clips and would decorate his floppy ears with dozens of them. He also developed a habit of telling dubious stories about his childhood in Parsippany (pronounced “Parsnippity”) and how he designed and built the Garden State Parkway’s Driscoll Bridge.

Little did I know that the silliness I spouted would serve as the foundation for a picture book, but it did. Ellen and I had created a pretty cool character—a cuddly, curmudgeonly defender of beds with a sock-whipping violent streak, and a propensity for telling tall tales. How could I not write a story about this guy?

My picture book manuscript, The Bed Guardian, wasn’t easy to write, but it was a joy nonetheless. The Bed Guardian of the story wasn’t all that similar to Stuffed Eeyore (the book’s Bed Guardian had a far mellower personality and was a lion instead of a burro), but the story would never have existed had I not been willing to stay up a few extra minutes each night to be a little silly.

I didn’t find a publisher for The Bed Guardian, but The Bed Guardian got me an agent. That agent went on to sell 16 of my other manuscripts, including the forthcoming picture book SLEEPY HAPPY CAPY CUDDLES (Page Street, September 2022)—another book that benefitted from unleashing a little silliness whenever the mood struck.

So if you need inspiration in these final days of Storystorm, I suggest you give yourself permission to get silly whenever you can. I’m living proof that it works. After all, I owe my writing career to acting—literally and figuratively—like a jackass.

Mike Allegra is the author of the picture books SLEEPY HAPPPY CAPY CUDDLES (Page Street, 2022), SCAMPERS THINKS LIKE A SCIENTIST (Dawn, 2019), EVERYBODY’S FAVORITE BOOK (Macmillan, 2018), and SARAH GIVES THANKS (Albert Whitman and Company, 2012). He wrote the chapter book series KIMMIE TUTTLE (Abdo Books, 2021) and PRINCES NOT-SO CHARMING (Macmillan, 2018-19; pen name: Roy L. Hinuss). SCAMPERS was the winner of Learning Magazine’s 2020 Teacher’s Choice Award and was selected for inclusion in the Literati Kids subscription box. His most recent picture book, PIRATE AND PENGUIN, was recently sold to Page Street and is scheduled for a late 2023 release. Visit Mike at mikeallegra.com. He’s friendly!

Mike is giving away a Zoom critique.

You’re eligible to win if you’re a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once below.

Prizes will be distributed at the conclusion of Storystorm.

by Mike Allegra

Please forgive me for what I’m about to do. I am going reference a Christmas cartoon while we’re all still trying to recover from the lunacy of the holiday season.

I can’t help it, though. Sometimes inspiration comes from odd places.

My muse is the stop-motion holiday staple Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer—specifically the Island of Misfit Toys. From a narrative standpoint, the Misfit Toys part of the story is a lull in an already overlong cartoon, yet the Charlie-in-the-Box, the square wheeled train, and the doll whose misfitishness is never fully explained, have all aided my creative process.

Behold the Journal of Misfit Ideas! It’s never far from my side. It patiently sits there ready to record any and all of my brainstorms. Much more often, it records my brain drizzles.

Nothing is too stupid for the Journal. Nothing.

Will I ever write a picture book with the title The Sluttiest Mennonite? Nope, but it’s in the Journal.

Will I ever find a home for my parody lyrics of “The Candy Man?” Nuh-uh. (My version, by the way, is called “The Pickle Man” and it’s terrible. First line: “Who can make the sun shiiiine with cucumbers and briiiine.”)

Will any of my characters live in a 1/16th-wide trailer, a home designed only for people who weigh 130 lbs or less? Not likely, no.

And will I ever write a story about a Robo-Dragon Pie, a character who’s part robot, part dragon, and part pirate? No, sir-ee Bob! Never!

Oh, wait. I mean YES! I will write about a Robo-Dragon Pie! Because I did write about a Robo-Dragon Pie! A Robo-Dragon Pie is featured in my new picture book, EVERYBODY’S FAVORITE BOOK!

And that right there is why The Journal of Misfit Ideas is worthwhile.

The Robo-Dragon Pie isn’t the only idea I cribbed from my Journal. It’s not even the only dragon idea I cribbed from my Journal. My PRINCE NOT-SO CHARMING chapter book series features a dragon who knits. The Journal was the genesis of that idea, too.

Sometimes the Journal records things people say. I once overheard my grandmother describe a fretful mother: “She takes those kids to the doctor if they fart crooked.” And here’s how she described Grandpa: “He talks out of his butt so much, he ChapSticks his crack.”

Grandma’s comments are not picture book ready, of course, but they deserve to be remembered, so into the Journal they go. (And you can bet your bottom dollar that both of these quotes will end up in my writing somewhere someday.)

My Journal entries vary in length. Sometimes an entire entry is a single (made-up) word like “underqualidate.” Other Journal entries go on for pages, not only offering a basic book premise or title, but also a detailed synopsis with character details, swatches of dialogue, and cartoons in the margins. It all depends on my mood and, of course, the scope of the Misfit Idea.

I peruse my Journal often. I’ll thumb the pages when I’m looking for an idea or when I’m too tired to write, but still want to be in a writerly frame of mind. Doing so is always good for a chuckle and the Journal never fails to shove my brain in weird and unexpected directions.

The Journal of Misfit Ideas is always there for me. More importantly, The Journal of Misfit Ideas is there for only me. The Journal is a private document that allows me to get a little crazy without fear—and Fearless Crazy is sometimes where the best ideas come from.

I don’t pre-edit my thoughts. I don’t let the Journal decide what’s a bad idea or an inappropriate idea. The goodness and the badness will be sorted out at another time, after I’ve written it all down. The Journal’s only goal is to safely take in every stray without judgment—much like The Island of Misfit Toys does.

And, with a little luck, those ideas might someday find a proper home that will fully appreciate their unique, misfitty charms.

Mike Allegra is the author of the picture books Everybody’s Favorite Book (the home of Corky, the Robo-Dragon Pie), Sarah Gives Thanks, and Scampers Thinks Like a Scientist. He also writes the Prince Not-So Charming chapter book series under the pen name Roy L. Hinuss.

Stop by his blog at mikeallegra.com and say hi! He’s friendly!

princeprank  everybodysfavoritebook

Mike is giving away copies of two of his books! There will be one winner for each title.

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!

 

mikeallegraby Mike Allegra

My mom has a habit of mixing bad news in with the good.

“Happy anniversary,” she joyously sang into the phone. “Ten years! Congratulations!”

Before I could thank her, Mom followed up her salutation with words that were far less joyous:

“I think it’s high time you got your crap out of my house.”

Ugh. In an instant, my plan to use my parents’ home as a storage locker for the rest of my life was dashed to bits.

It was under these circumstances I found myself alone in my old room facing my childhood closet, mustering up the strength to take a reluctant trip down memory lane.

Inside were stacks of sketch pads filled with primitive drawings; old machines I, once upon a time, had a penchant for hoarding; and lousy souvenirs from equally lousy vacations. Then there were the toys—lots of them.

There was so much stuff to sift through, I was confident the job was gonna be a complete nightmare.

But it wasn’t. Quite the opposite, really.

I both smiled and winced at my homemade comic books. After reading a few, I decided that, with a little bit of tweaking (OK, maybe quite a lot to tweaking), the storylines weren’t a bad jumping off point for a new story.

I marveled at the bigger-than-a-bread-basket adding machine I got from my Great Uncle Bill. By force of habit, I removed the machine’s olive green Bakelite cover to reveal its steampunky guts. It was almost comical just how many moving parts it had. I punched a few numbers and watched the thing spring to life. In that moment, my mind filled with ideas about a kid inventor.

Then I spied my Erector set.

erectorset

Shortly after this discovery, Mom strolled into the room to check on my progress. What she found was her 30-something-year-old son lying on the floor constructing a racecar of his own design.

She didn’t even blink.

“Good,” Mom said with a sharp nod. “You’re taking that home.”

Indeed I was. The Erector set, the other toys, the machines, and my primitive doodles. I was taking all of it. I had barely begun working on my closet and my brain was already swimming with new ideas.

Toys facilitate play. Play is an essential component of the creative process. There is a reason why social scientists say that The Creative Spirit flourishes in kindergarteners and begins to sputter once those same children head off to middle school. As we grow up, we voluntarily—eagerly—purge the fun stuff from our lives.

That was certainly the case with me. I still remember being a 12-year-old who desperately wanted to be an adult. I gave away most of the stuff that had once given me pleasure and shoved the rest into the far corner of my closet. I thought these actions would speed the growing up process; instead, they just made me a sullen teen with an un-fun room.

With age comes a sort of wisdom, however. Almost in tandem with the launch of my professional writing career, I began to rekindle my interest in toys. I soon noticed that my best ideas occurred when I was horsing around with a hand puppet or had a box of 64 Crayolas within arm’s reach.

Unrestrained, unselfconscious play moves my mind in new directions; moving my mind in new directions helps me to discover new ideas.

I am well aware that a lot of grownups don’t feel comfortable playing with an erector set without a grownup reason for doing so. Fortunately, many of us have children—or if we don’t, we can easily borrow some. Kids need Quality Time, and Quality Times gives us the justification we need to build with Legos, squish Play-Doh, and color Snoopy green.

mikesnoopystrip

You couldn’t ask for a better situation. You’re being a good parent and you’re mining for inspiration. You’re multitasking! Well done.

That kind of multitasking was exactly what I had in mind when I loaded up the trunk of my car outside of Mom’s house. I’ll bring this stuff home to my young son, I thought. We’ll play with it together. We’ll pretend together. And, in so doing, my little guy will become my unwitting picture book collaborator.

It doesn’t get more inspiring—or wonderful—than that.

guestbio

sarah-gives-thanks-cover1Mike Allegra has earned his living as a writer and editor for the past 17 years. His first picture book, SARAH GIVES THANKS, was released in September 2012 by Albert Whitman & Company. The book has earned a starred review from Kirkus Reviews, is an Amelia Bloomer List selection, and is now in its second printing.

As a playwright, Mike has had his work read and performed around the U.S. and was the recipient of a New Jersey State Council on the Arts Individual Artist Fellowship. He is also the editor of The Lawrentian, the alumni magazine of The Lawrenceville School (Lawrenceville, NJ). During his tenure, The Lawrentian has won a dozen regional and national awards, including Gold and Silver honors from the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE). Mike also likes waffles.

Visit him at MikeAllegra.com.

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My Books

Coming soon:


TIME FLIES
"7 ATE 9/PRIVATE I" BOOK #3
illus by Ross MacDonald
Little, Brown
April 26, 2022

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