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Back in 2014, a picture book idea popped into my head. Luckily I jotted it down in my handy, dandy PiBoIdMo notebook. Gradually, the idea grew into a story about a girl named Chana who was miffed that everyone was mangling her name (“Shayna-China-Shawna-Kahana”). “I’m changing my name to Sue!” Chana cried to her grandmother.
“Sue’s a nice name,” said Grandma. “But did you know there was another Chana who came before you?” Grandma proceeded to tell her granddaughter all about Great Grandma Chana, her voyage to America, and her amazing qualities. Guess which name Chana chooses in the end? I titled the book THAT’S NOT MY NAME, and sent a draft to my critique group.
The critiques I received were lukewarm. My writing partners liked that the book drew on my personal experience. (Not a day goes by without someone bungling my name. The “Ch” is a throat clearing kh sound, like Challah bread or Chanukah, + Ah +Nah.) I had a feeling that all the Sibhoans, Seans, Xaviers, and Chiaras, of the world could relate. The book also emphasized the meanings of names and the importance of maintaining family traditions. Some of my critique partners found the story relatable, BUT . . . they didn’t like that Grandma solved Chana’s problem for her, which made the story fall flat as a pancake run over by a Zamboni.
How could Chana solve her own problem? I made about 10 different attempts at revision. In one draft, Chana scrutinized old photographs. In another she studied a family quilt. She even tried on Grandma Chana’s name necklace. But all of these ideas were BORING! I was stuck.
Then, in the summer of 2015, I read a guest post by my agent, John Cusick, on the Kidlit Summer School blog. John offered “Three Ways to Jumpstart Your Draft When the Plot Starts to Sag.” Tip #1 was a field trip. “In life, if you’re in a funk, you might need a change of scenery,” John wrote. “Chances are your characters feel the same way. Try switching up the setting.”
I love field trips. (Anything to get away from my desk.) Around that time, I went hiking on vacation with my husband in the Canadian Rockies. We were trudging two miles up a mountain in the rain to get to the Lake Agnes Tea House when BAM! It hit me.
What if I drop my character into a whole new setting and a whole new era? Inspired by the rocks around me I thought: What if Chana is a cave girl named…
(See how I kept the Ch?) And what if she’s really steamed that her friends Oog, Boog, and Goog keep bungling her name? And what if she can’t find a T-shirt with her name on it? And what if she’s inspired to solve her own problem after looking at cave paintings of her great, great, great grandmother, the Mighty Wakawakaloch?
By placing my character in a whole new time and place, I had a fresh, new story with more action, more layers, and lots of humor. My critique partners gave it a thumbs up. I shared it at last year’s NJ-SCBWI Fall Craft Weekend and got rave reviews. When John read it, he tweeted:
Making your agent cry is a good thing (sometimes). We submitted the book to publishers at the start of 2016 and got the obligatory pile of rejections. And then, sometime during Round 2, the wonderful Kate O’Sullivan at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt said yes! She signed with the hilarious illustrator Mary Sullivan (author/illustrator of BALL, TREAT, and more!).
I’m forever grateful to Tara Lazar & the soon-to-be-renamed PiBoIdMo for giving me the spark to get this story started. Without my handy, dandy PiBoIdMo notebook—and the lessons I’ve learned over the years about freely jotting down ideas & then fine-tuning them—none of this would ever have happened. Stay tuned for WAKAWAKALOCH’s debut in 2019!
Chana Stiefel (back of the throat Ch-ah-nah STEE-ful) is the author of more than 20 non-fiction books for kids on topics like exploding volcanoes and stinky castles. Her debut picture book, DADDY DEPOT, will be published by Feiwel & Friends in May 2017. WAKAWAKALOCH will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2019. Chana is represented by John M. Cusick at Folio Literary. Check out Chana’s work at chanastiefel.com and on her authors’ blog, which she co-writes with her writing partner Donna Cangelosi, at kidlittakeaways.com.
Last year was a little crazy. We brought home a new puppy. We had more guests than we’d had in the previous ten years combined. And, my daughter started a new school. By the end of October, I was desperate for some solid writing time on my new novel!
The problem: November and December looked like they were going to be just as crazy as the rest of the year. Then, my friend Lyn Miller-Lachman posted that she was joining in PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month). I took one look at Tara’s smiley light bulb and knew I had my answer! Even if I didn’t have time to work on my novel, I could brainstorm picture book ideas. What a fabulous and inspiring way to be creative! I could do that while walking the puppy. I could do that while cooking for guests. I could do that driving back and forth to my daughter’s new school. I came straight to this blog and joined the 7th Annual PiBoIdMo. My first ever!
Like many of us, I find picture book ideas almost floating in the air. They seem to be everywhere. Ah, that would make a great story! Oooo, what a delicious picture book that would be! Oh, I’ve got to write that down! And, I did write the ideas down. However, as the month progressed, PiBoIdMo made me more…how do I say this? It made me more inventive. I went from being ‘passively’ inspired by life’s events to actively searching out things that are part of every child’s life. Like what? Like sneezing.
In fact, these ‘part of every child’s life’ ideas became my favorites. When PiBoIdMo came to an end and it was my turn to share with my picture book critique group, I turned to these. My sneezing idea turned into A PROUD FAMILY OF SNEEZERS, and it seemed to be loved by everyone who read it. Oh, it needed to be revised, and revised again and again, like any good story. But, it continued to get such fabulous responses that I started to think, Hmm, could I…dare I submit it for the Katherine Paterson Prize? I mean, it’s not a story about changing the world. It’s a story about a melting-pot American family of World Champion Sneezers whose newest member, baby Snookie, is—have you guessed?—not a sneezer.
Well, I dared. I sent in A PROUD FAMILY OF SNEEZERS. And then, I immediately put it out of my mind and dove into turning another ‘part of every child’s life’ idea into a story. Fast forward a few months. I open my email and surprise—jaw-dropping delight!—A PROUD FAMILY OF SNEEZERS won the picture book category for the Katherine Paterson Prize. So, thank you, Tara. And, thank you PiBoIdMo for inspiring me to be creative in a whole new way. I’ll definitely be joining the 8th Annual PiBoIdMo this November—and I hope to see you all there!
Thanks for sharing your success story, Sandra! Congratulations!
Every year the NJ-SCBWI conference holds a Juried Art Show for illustrators. Back in 2013, the theme was “Down the Rabbit Hole”. I strolled the exhibit and stopped in my tracks at this image:
How marvelous is this? It immediately reminded me of Jill Barklem’s Brambly Hedge series, with field mice living in homes carved into the trees.
These bunnies were so busy in every room of their carrot cave, so much motion and expression and general giggly cuteness. Just delightful. The illustration made me smile. I took note of the illustrator’s name, Jason Kirschner, and vowed to seek him out that weekend.
I’m always looking for talented new illustrators. After all, an illustrator makes my words and characters come alive. They make me look good. I want the best artists to break into the business so that one day I might be able to work with them.
I’d like to think that Jason and I hit it off. We became friends. (Note: I did fall at his feet. Literally. But quite by accident.) He won the Juried Art Show in the unpublished category and became noted as an up-and-comer. He soon landed an agent. And I am so pleased that his debut picture book, MR. PARTICULAR, will be published next month…and that he’s chosen to premiere the trailer right here, right now!
Picky kids everywhere, rejoice! Your choosy champion is swinging into action–as long as there’s nothing sticky or gooey in sight. In Jason’s hilarious debut, this discriminating daredevil wants to save the day, but he’s got a few rules and restrictions to work around first. Any kid who pushes peas around his plate is gonna relate.
The story is funny and soaked to the core with truths about particular kids. We all know them and their demands. Why it took so long to recognize them in a picture book, I’ll never know. But, luckily, MR. PARTICULAR was a 2013 PiBoIdMo idea!
Here’s the proof:
The other interesting thing about Jason, besides being a former Art Director for Late Night with David Letterman, is that he has twins. And those twins provided the voice-overs for the trailer. I decided to ask the talent a few questions…
Mr. Particular is one persnickety person. How did you prepare for this challenging role?
[Abe]: I am already persnickety, so I didn’t have to do any preparing.
Your fans will want to know, as twins, are you anything alike? Who is the more particular of the pair?
[Syd]: Abraham is more particular and some similarities are that we both like to go swimming and we both love pizza and ice cream cake and finally we both LOVE Harry Potter.
Why do you recommend kids and parents read Mr. Particular?
[Syd]: Parents might want to relate Mr. Particular to their kids and kids might want to read Mr. Particular because there are some funny parts and some exciting parts which makes it more fun to read.
[Abe]: The parents might want to read Mr. Particular to their kids so that they can teach them that it is okay to be particular.
Congratulations on MR. PARTICULAR, Jason, and on having such smart and funny kiddos.
Everyone, be on the lookout for this particular picture book on May 10th from Sterling!
by guest blogger Catherine Bailey
You call her Tara Lazar. I call her Dream-Maker-Genius-Lady. And thanks to Dream-Maker-Genius-Lady, and her month-long picture book idea challenge PiBoIdMo, I now have three picture book contracts.
I joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCWBI.org) in 2010. Soon after I joined Verla Kay’s Blueboards, now accessible through the SCWBI website. That is where I heard about PiBoIdMo.
I’ll admit at first I did not understand all the hubbub. Come up with a PB idea per day? Who would check to make sure I did it? What if I didn’t? Was I supposed to call somebody? What else happened during PiBoIdMo? Then it clicked. I had to work on my writing–even if just for a bit–EVERY SINGLE DAY. Plus there were these motivational, insightful daily posts! I felt like I had struck PB gold.
Suddenly I was focused and taking my writing seriously. I made time to write. I made goals. I made lists. Long, gloriously detailed lists–of ideas, agents, publishers, writing techniques, bookstores, dream editors, dream illustrators…
On one of those lists was idea #17: How Do You Move a Monster? It was something my toddler had asked me. That’s it. There was no plot or character or anything–just that title. When I went back to idea #17 over a year later, I had an answer. You ask the monster to move… politely. Then a manuscript sprouted. After months of polishing, I shipped the story off to a few well-researched publishers.
Lo and behold, Sterling Publishing contacted me. I was plucked from the slush and THERE WAS INTEREST. Of course I just about died. I ate donuts and cried. And I contacted an agent who I had pursued earlier, Kathleen Rushall. Within a few days she agreed to represent me and from there INTEREST turned into and OFFER which turned into a CONTRACT which turned into me EATING MORE DONUTS.
The title changed to MIND YOUR MONSTERS and the book debuted this August. Here is the fabulous cover and some interior sketches:
In the meantime, my toddler became an actual kid, we had another baby, and I kept participating in PiBoIdMo. Instead of making a new “Idea” list, I just added to the old one which was (rather optimistically) titled “101 Picture Book Ideas.” Did I have 101 Picture Book Ideas at this point? No. Nope. Nerp. But I knew I would eventually, thanks to Dream-Maker-Genius-Lady and her website of wonders.
Then I turned two more PiBoIdMo ideas into manuscripts. One was simply listed as “Hypnosis/stuck in trance” and the other was “Lucy loves Bobo—maybe Bobo is a lobster?” With time, work, and the input of an amazing critique group, those weird little baby-ideas turned in HYPNOSIS HARRY and LUCY LOVES SHERMAN, both of which sold to Sky Pony Press.
Today my “101 Picture Book Ideas” list includes over 200 entries. And thanks to Tara, I mean Dream-Maker-Genius-Lady, it is pure habit for me to add ideas to this list whenever something pops in my mind. And speaking of lists, here is a very brief recap of what I got out of PiBoIdMo.
- Ideas. Okay, so that one is obvious.
- A concrete starting place I can go to when I am stumped/motivated/annoyed with a current project. Like an anchor on a little boat in a big sea, this is very reassuring and grounding.
- Confirmation that writing is work and deserves the respect and focus of any other job – which for me means planned writing time, specific goals, and occasionally…donuts.
So thank you Dream-Maker-Genius-Lady. Thank you for inspiring and motivating me. And thank you for taking me to what I call Contract-Landia! Now c’mon November–let’s go PiBoIdMo!
PiBoIdMo 2015 registration will begin HERE (yes, I mean right here, on this blog, so there’s no link to click) in late October. I hope to see you then!
Another PiBoIdMo success story…from author-illustrator Kevan Atteberry!
Follow the link to the EMU’s Debuts site to read on and enter the BUNNIES!!! giveaway.
The talented Kevan Atteberry, author-illustrator extraordinaire, is joining us today to talk about the evolution of Declan, the exuberant monster in his new picture book, Bunnies!!!
MG: Who came first, Declan, or the bunnies?
KA: The original Declan was not the Declan that lives in the book. For the past few Octobers I’ve challenged myself to create a monster a day for the whole month and post them on Facebook. Completely from scratch. On October 20, 2012, I drew this monster:
KA: I am pretty certain I drew the monster first. But the bunnies were an immediate addition. The comments I got on this monster were split between those who thought the monster was going to eat the bunnies and those who thought the monster was smitten with them. This intrigued me.
MG: In relation to that, did the images come first, or the storyline, or was it…
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A PiBoIdMo “Kind of” Success Story
by Nancy Tandon
After hearing about PiBoIdMo for several years, I decided to play along last November. Actually, the truth is, what I really decided to do was participate in NaNoWriMo, which runs the same month, and write a full novel. But on November 2nd, I got a little freaked out by what I’d bitten off, and turned to the supportive atmosphere of Tara Lazar’s “Writing for Kids (While Raising Them)”, and PiBoIdMo, for some user-friendly structure and guidance.
I told myself, it’s just one idea a day—you can do this! So every morning, I’d poke around in my brain until an idea popped up that (at the time) seemed good enough to write down. Then, on most days, I worked on the novel as well. But it was the act of writing down a picture book idea that got my butt in the chair. Already, the support was working!
The other part of PiBoIdMo that I had not realized would be so helpful was reading all the juicy guest posts. Tips on character, theme, story arc, rules of three, and much more, make PiBoIdMo a kind of month-long conference for PB writers.
One commonality that I noticed across posts, no matter what the topic, was the idea of the importance of story. (I know, duh, right?) But it can be deceptively hard to get all the necessary story elements to line up, particularly in so few words.
Then one morning, I was having trouble coming up with even a bad idea. So, I looked back at earlier entries to see if that might help spark something.
One of these older ideas had been fun to play with, but my sketchy first draft was very episodic. It was missing that narrative arc that makes a story, a story. The premise was a bit like IF YOU GIVE A MOUSE A COOKIE, and was based on the phrase, “which was good…” (Things kept happening, or not happening, which was good because…and on and on).
Then as I was playing with this idea in my mind, and searching for a story framework, the phrase “which was good” flipped in my mind to become “witch was good.” And that’s how the idea for my picture book THE WORST WITCH was born.
The tradition of picture book characters that do not fit the mold society expects of them is as old as Ferdinand himself. I worried this story had been done. But I decided it would be worth it to give this little witch, who just couldn’t help being good, a chance.
Several months and several revisions later, I submitted the manuscript to the New Voices in Children’s Literature: Tassy Walden Awards Competition, which is run by the Shoreline Arts Alliance. The competition “encourages and nurtures the creation of exceptional quality books for children by unpublished Connecticut writers and illustrators.”
A few months after that, I learned that my manuscript, THE WORST WITCH, was a winner in the Picture Book/Text Only category. What a thrill! Recently, I had the pleasure of reading my text aloud at the awards ceremony. The absolute highlight for me was when I was approached afterwards by a young girl named Lucy, who said, “I liked your story a lot. I like witch stories.” Her praise meant as much to me as the award itself.
I don’t know if THE WORST WITCH will ever reach more kids like Lucy, but I hope so! And if it does, I will have to come back and take the words “kind of” out of my success story.
Thank you, Tara, and all the contributors to this year’s PiBoIdMo. I’ll be back next year, and hope you will, too!
Let me take you back to the first year of PiBoIdMo—2009. (For those unindoctrinated, that’s Picture Book Idea Month. Wait, can a picture book writer even use a highfalutin word like unindoctrinated? Or highfalutin?)
Well, it’s 2009 and my good friend Corey Rosen Schwartz is having trouble meeting the 30-ideas-in-30-days challenge. She despises her ideas. Corey takes her frustration out on Facebook, where all passive-aggressive complaints go to get their wings. She shares several titles on her idea list which feature the precocious blondie:
- Goldifox and the Three Hares
- Tawnylocks, Goldi’s Little Known Twin
- Goldi-Rocks and The Three Bear Band
She posts these same titles on her blog under the caption “Goldi on the Brain” (a serious affliction for fractured fairytale writers). And you know what? Everyone on Facebook and the blog LOVES the third idea. (Remember the Rule of Threes?) One person, Beth Coulton, even offers to collaborate. They write it together and it gets bought by Putnam in 2010.
And so, a book is born. Isn’t it adorable? Don’t you just wanna pinch its cheeks?
The concept is clever—the Three Bears form a band but they can’t find a lead singer who can hit the high notes.
They hold Idol-like auditions and the fairytale characters just don’t cut it. Sorry, Little Red, you’re not going to Hollywood. No golden ticket for you.
(I wonder if Papa Bear is supposed to be Simon? But Simon wouldn’t dare don a bandana, right? V-neck tees are much more his style. Maybe Papa is Keith Urban.)
Meanwhile, Goldi wreaks havoc in their studio.
She even drools on their keyboard!
What are the Bears to do? They have to get rid of the golden-haired menace!
Or do they?
Well, you can find out right here. Because I’m giving away a signed copy of GOLDI ROCKS AND THE THREE BEARS to one lucky winner! Just leave a comment below and a winner will be randomly selected in one week. Good luck, music fans!
by Kayleen West
As a child, my mother used to tell everyone, “She’s such a daydreamer (adding a disapproving sigh).” I used to hate it, but she was right; I do dream big—and love it, it’s what creative people do best. You may be the same. When communicating in words or pictures it is the way we bless others. We invite others into our dreams and adventures, make them smile, laugh or indulge a little. I am a dreamer. I do dream of a better world-it can be ugly. I can’t save children from pain and disappointment, but if my books help a child smile, laugh, or feel better about themselves or their situation, I have contributed.
I started living this dream job in late 2010. I began late in life (I’m 48) but threw everything into it. I hope to bring many book babies into the world. There is nothing better than adding positives to a child’s life, and what better way than through picture books.
When Tara asked me to share my success story, I was eager to have the opportunity to publicly thank her. I never forgot PiBoIdMo had been instrumental in the birth of my new book, and had helped me form a good habit. You know, we can be slogging away in this industry, unaware of the impact we can have on others. She may blush at this but Tara should be credited with sowing seeds of success with her creative challenge. It is an unpaid gig but something to be very proud of. So thank you Tara!
I love creative challenges. They motivate me to be brave, step out in the new, learn, and grow as an artist. I tend to throw myself in 200% believing for something great—no loss in trying right?
Participating in the November 2011 PiBoIdMo I made a commitment to find a minimum of 30 picture book ideas. I focussed more on creating the habit daily rather than the quantity. Giving it my usual 200% I finished with almost double my intended goal. I was also left with the motivation to write more often.
Loaded with a smorgasbord of ideas and incredibly inspired, I began developing a few. You’ll never guess which one made it into publication first? Answer: the very last one—my last idea became my first publishing house success. WITHOUT ME, published by Wombat Books, has just been pre-released this month and will be launched in November. Sometimes we give up just before success. I wonder what if I had not completed the 30 days? Okay, let’s not go there.
Thinking up ideas wasn’t difficult as I am often flooded with inspiration if I look for it. My challenge is always deciding which ideas to develop and not all at once. I get pretty enthusiastic. Many of the ideas that presented themselves from PiBoldMo were worth exploring, and so I have worked to develop more of them. Anyone else need an extra lifetime for writing?
I haven’t submitted many at all. After signing with Wombat Books, everything took off like crazy (personally and professionally), including a second, third, and possibly a forth picture book contract in the past 12 months! Do note that two of these I am illustrating only. I only say this to show you that contract work can snowball once you get started. Sometimes publishers want to see you will follow through and are easy to work with.
At the time I was working on my very first picture book, ADOPTIVE FATHER (a personal non-profit project) which was very important and a lot was going on, but I decided that PiBoldMo was a good investment of my time—was I right OR WHAT?
I hope this inspires you to throw yourself into PiBoldMo 2013 and see what you come up with. I pray my success story encourages you to sign up, be inspired and birth a publishing winner this November.
Hopefully we will be reading about your book next year.
Although an initial childhood dream was to write and illustrate for children, Kayleen West was encouraged to venture into a career of an exhibiting fine artist and later a graphic designer.
Returning to her original passion, Kayleen is now a published children’s Author and Illustrator working on her forth children’s book. She also writes Christian content for magazines and blogs.
Her work has won many awards and hangs in private and corporate collections in France, United States, Italy, in the Australian Embassy in Ireland and in government collections in Australia.
Kayleen is giving away TWO signed picture books! ADOPTIVE FATHER and WITHOUT ME?.
Both 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 this post.
- You have completed the PiBoIdMo challenge. (You will have to sign the PiBoIdMo Pledge at the end of the event.)
Good luck, everyone!
by Betsy Devany
When Tara approached me to do a guest post, I was thrilled. And then I sat down and thought: Oh, dear. How best can I contribute as a pre-published author, who shares her writing room with a life-sized gorilla named Norman and a slew of beloved stuffies?
So I went back through my own PiBoldMo notes/ideas. While I’d followed prior years’ posts, I didn’t officially commit until 2011. I’d spent months revising a number of novels, and I missed working on picture books. Coming up with a new idea(s) every day was like treating myself to a mango/banana smoothie from Cold Stone. I told myself, at the time, that if I actually did that, maybe while enjoying a Love It smoothie, a picture book idea would come to me. I’d have a sparking new voice before I got back home, acting like I had not just gone to Cold Stone and indulged myself, once again.
So with a self-promise to more vigorously support Cold Stone, I took a leap of faith, and added my name to the 2011 PiBoldMo roster.
Every day, I read the guest post. I studied the advice, soaked in the inspiration, and highlighted what spoke to me. I kept a pen and paper nearby at all times. As ideas came, I stretched some further, adding bits of dialogue or notes about conflict. With other ideas, I described the image or images that led to the “light bulb,” all of which seemed to come when I was driving, walking, or paying with my grandkids, i.e. just being silly. Silly like having tea parties with Norman, my granddaughter and seventeen unicorns. Silly like wearing funny glasses and too-small gowns, riding on stick horses while speaking in a British accent. Silly like doing puppet shows in which you act out picture books gone wild. With all of this, I embraced the child within—with my grandkids along for the fun, of course. I do not hold private tea parties for the gorilla, the unicorns, and myself. (Well, okay, I may have done this once.)
Two words of advice: Have fun.
Open your heart and forget what your neighbors might think when they see you dashing through your yard riding a stick pony and shouting, “Yee-haw! Grandma’s gonna wrestle you wild thing!” Ignore their looks when you’re tossing balls to a giant stuffed gorilla. And if your dress-up outfit suggests you’ve forgotten that you’re now a responsible adult, smile and wave. They might even join you! Enjoying-your-life moments take us to the magical place where ideas shift like cotton-candy clouds, all for the taking. Reach out and grab one!
Or . . . you can dice potatoes, because the act of dicing potatoes can also land you in the Magical and Marketable World of Ideas.
On day twenty-four of PiBoldMo 2011, I was doing exactly that, trying to look like I knew the official ins-and-outs of all things potato. It was Thanksgiving, and my daughters, whose adept cooking skills strongly suggest I did not give birth to them, stood there watching me.
“No, Mom. Smaller chunks,” said my youngest.
“Use the other knife, and hold it this way,” said the eldest. “Are you sure you’re our mother?”
“Yes,” I said. Chop, chop, chop.
“I’m shocked that we didn’t starve as children,” said one sister to the other.
“At least I can write,” I said when the “light bulb” went off. “Lucy!” I shouted.
“Who’s Lucy?” asked the youngest. “It’ll be midnight before we’re sitting at the table eating turkey.”
“Lucy . . . she has dolls, all these dolls, and . . .” I swapped the knife for a pen. “One is really smelly and . . .”
My youngest gave her sister an uneasy look. “You’re the paramedic. I think Mom needs medical attention.”
“I think those potatoes need attention,” my eldest said, right after she forever-fired me from cooking the annual Thanksgiving dinner. In truth, we took a family vote. And when my eldest said, “Raise your hand if you think we should fire Mom from cooking Thanksgiving dinner from here on out.” My arm slapped the ceiling first.
The vote was unanimous.
“Thank you, PiBoldMo!” I said, fleeing the kitchen in pursuit of this new smelly idea.
While SMELLY BABY seemed to rise from a pot of unevenly diced potatoes, it wasn’t that simple. Ideas latch on to us, long before the switch goes on. And the more you write, the more the ideas come. Which is why my father, who was a published author, always said, “Write every day, but also live and enjoy your life. The ideas will come, when you’re not so busy chasing them.”
SMELLY BABY grew in my subconscious, its seed planted from working in an old-fashioned toy store, where electronic toys don’t exist. Lucy quietly evolved after talking to hundreds of children I’ve met at the store, children who’ve shared stories of their dollies and smelly stuffies. I love these stories—every single one of them. So listen. Listen to what kids say. Sincere interest (and delight) in what children have to say has left me with a tub full of notes and bits of dialogue, all scribbled on tiny slips of paper. It’s my Idea Treasure Chest. “You have to think of your writing as an IRA, and make daily deposits,” my father also loved to tell me. If all those slips of paper had monetary value, I would be a millionaire, though what makes my life rich is writing for children.
By November’s end my 2011 calendar was filled with stars—one for every idea I came up with. It was so much fun, I gave no thought to which ideas might blossom into a marketable story.
And then one did.
Smelly Baby’s story bubbled and boiled. It was a joy to work on. Playing with the words. Roaring at the images the words evoked. Living with these characters that became (and remain) real to me. This little spark of a PiBoldMo idea grew and grew until it gathered enough strength and heart to capture the attention of not only Christy Ottaviano at Christy Ottaviano Books/Henry Holt, but also the renowned illustrator, Christopher Denise, who calls it “laugh out loud funny.” Publication is set for Spring 2016.
In 2011, I also won an original painting by James Burks (the illustrator of Tara’s book THE MONSTORE). Little (PiBoldMo) Monkey hangs on my wall, and reminds me to play every day. Reminds me to mount a red tricycle, even if my legs are too long. It reminds me to trust in myself, and that if I lift my bare feet off the pedals, I won’t fall off.
Can you see the steep hill? See all of us on our tricycles, waiting for Tara to lower the flag? Little Monkey can. He’s waiting to shout, “1-2-3, Go! Go write daily. Reach for those ideas on your way down.” Having bare feet works the best, as does shouting ‘Whee!’ as you catch a new idea.
It’s almost November 1st, so get out your tricycle, your stars, your pen and your paper.
You’re in for a fun ride.
I’ll be waving at you as we coast down the PiBoldMo hill together.
Betsy Devany wrote her first picture book, The Cat Who Ate Green Peas, at the age of nine. While she wishes the self-illustrated manuscript were still in her possession, she is certain that elements of it have found their way into her writing today. Today, she writes picture books, chapter books, middle grade and young adult novels. Her picture book featuring Norman the gorilla won the 2011 Barbara Karlin Grant Runner-up. Betsy has been honored nine times since 2007 in the prestigious writing competition, New Voices in Children’s Literature: Tassy Walden Award. She is honored to work with the lovely Emily van Beek at Folio Literary.
Almost eight years to the month of joining SCBWI, Betsy received her first book contract. Smelly Baby, illustrated by Christopher Denise, is forthcoming from Christy Ottaviano Books/Henry Holt with publication set for Spring 2016.
To learn more about Betsy (or Norman), visit her at BetsyDevany.com, follow her on Twitter, or read about Norman’s retirement and how his replacement was found.
Betsy is giving away TWO picture book critiques!
Both 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 this post.
- You have completed the PiBoIdMo challenge. (You will have to sign the PiBoIdMo Pledge at the end of the event.)
Good luck, everyone!