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SONY DSCby 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.

betsynormanEvery 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.

betsynormanoutsideOpen 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.

betsyjamesmonkeyIn 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, 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:

  1. You have registered for PiBoIdMo.
  2. You have commented ONCE ONLY on this 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!

by guest blogger Julie Falatko

JuliefalatkoIn 2011, after several months of taking picture book writing seriously, I heard about PiBoIdMo and thought, “Sure, why not?”

If I’d realized how much Picture Book Idea Month would change everything, I might not have been so glib about it. But at the time I didn’t realize that the work done during PiBoIdMo would get me an agent and a book deal.

That year, I came up with 48 ideas, one of which was good. I didn’t realize that at the time. At the time I thought they were all good. But as I wrote them up, I learned that sometimes what seems like a good picture book idea…maybe isn’t. Or at least not for me. I thought a story about a stalk of depressed broccoli would be great (spoiler: it wasn’t). A girl who puts on ridiculous clothes every morning? Snore. How about a kid who wants to be a writer? How about I bonk the reader on the head with boring bricks?

But PiBoIdMo 2011 took a wrench to an Idea Faucet that was rusted shut in my head, loosened it up, and oiled it with a big can of Pay Attention.

After that November, the ideas kept coming—drip, drip, drip—slowly, and, in most cases, terribly. But I like my brain. And I trust it enough to listen to it. So when it told me an idea, no matter how ridiculous, I wrote it down.

On November 1, 2012, I started my second year of PiBoIdMo. What I didn’t know was that my brain had gotten a much bigger wrench for the occasion. And instead of opening up the Idea Faucet a little more, my brain clean knocked the whole faucet off—THWACK!—and let the ideas spurt up like a fountain at the park.

November 2012 I got 30 ideas. Four were good. One I wrote up immediately and it was better than anything I’d written before. Something was happening.

And then one night in late November I was making dinner, thinking about how I like books that let kids know we trust them and think they’re smart. And FWOOSH there it was, an idea, but more than an idea, the entire story, not just the plot, but the words, dumped into my head.

I ran. Bolted from the kitchen, so afraid of losing the sentences swimming in my head. I yelled to my husband that he had to finish dinner, and typed up my story as fast as I could. It was exhilarating and maybe a little scary.

When I was done, I had SNAPPSY THE ALLIGATOR (DID NOT ASK TO BE IN THIS BOOK). Snappsy was the story I sent to Danielle Smith at Foreword Literary. She liked it and asked for more—I sent her the story from the one good idea from PiBoIdMo 2011 and the other good one I’d written during PiBoIdMo 2012. She became my agent. And SNAPPSY was my first book deal, on July 16. It’ll be published by Viking Children’s in the summer of 2015.

AccidentalOctopus (1)

Snippets from Julie’s idea notebook

Since November, the ideas have kept coming. None have come out as quickly as SNAPPSY, but some have been close. I keep notebooks and pencils everywhere. And I still write down everything my brain tells me to in my PiBoIdMo notebook. Because while some may seem like a random string of words (“accidental octopus/Georgie, oh Georgie”), or just my brain having fun (what am I supposed to so with “Mr. Codfish is quite pleased with his new trousers,” exactly?) those ideas pave the way for the ones that become good stories.


Well, Julie, hat stories have been very popular lately

Writing is practice. Preparing for writing takes practice too. PiBoIdMo forces you to play. Thirty ideas is a lot of ideas. Not all of them are going to be brilliant or fully formed. Probably very few of them will be. But you write down what you can, and you teach yourself to look for ideas in the world around you and to listen to your brain when it whispers in your ear. PiBoIdMo is fast, but writing well can take time. Keep at it. Don’t give up. Take yourself seriously, and trust in the process.


Highlights submission?

Thanks for sharing your success, Julie, and congratulations on SNAPPSY, which I cannot wait to read!

I hope many of you will join us for the 5th Anniversary of PiBoIdMo this November! 

Julie Falatko lives in Maine, where she works tirelessly trying to bribe her four children into doing housework so she can spend more time writing. In the end, they just bake cookies and call it a day. She blogs at, tweets @JulieFalatko, and reviews picture books for Katie Davis’s Brain Burps About Books podcast. She can often be found transcribing her brain’s random word association games into her PiBoIdMo notebook.

The Picture Book Idea Month success stories just keep pouring in!

The latest news is from lucky Penny Klostermann who was named runner-up for the 2012 SCBWI Barbara Karlin grant! This makes THREE YEARS IN A ROW that a PiBoIdMo story either snatched the grant or was named next in line.

Without further ado, I’ll let Penny tell you all about it!

In the fall of 2011, my wonderful critique group, Picture Bookies, made me aware of Tara’s brilliant concept, PiBoIdMo—30 picture book ideas in 30 days! My very first PiBoIdMo idea was to do a rewrite of THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS. I know….holiday stories are hard to sell. I know….rhyme done right is hard to write! But, it was November…and Christmas was just around the corner…and I love the original. By the end of November, I had three different ideas for rewriting THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS.

From the time I wrote the first line for my 25th idea, MARS NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS, I knew it was my favorite.

Then, in December, Susanna Leonard Hill hosted a competition on her blog for a rewrite of THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS. This brought my idea to the forefront, and I decided to work on it right away. I read every version of the story I could get my hands on. I researched Mars and Space! I got excited as words and phrases from my research enhanced my manuscript.

February 26, 2012, I emailed my manuscript to my critique group. As usual, their comments were incredible. I revised and revised and revised some more. Then on March 12, 2012, I mailed my manuscript to the Barbara Karlin committee…and waited.

I got the call/voicemail at 6:36 p.m. Friday, August 3rd. (Of course I took a picture of my call log!) I didn’t listen to the voicemail until 10:30 p.m. The caller said she was with the Barbara Karlin Grant, and could I give her a call. COULD I GIVE HER A CALL?????? I live in Texas. She was in California. It wasn’t too late! When she told me I was runner up I just couldn’t believe it. Uncontained happiness!!!

I have to say, Tara, that PiBoIdMo is out-of-this-world awesome. As I look through my list of ideas for the next manuscript to tackle, I am amazed. Your organization of the event with inspiring posts and interaction among so many picture book writers took my mind to places it wouldn’t go sitting alone in front of my computer. Thank you.

I just have to brag on my critique group, Picture Bookies. Rebecca Colby was the winner of the 2011 Barbara Karlin Grant. Also, in 2011, Mona Pease received a Letter of Merit. The other members are just as incredible. I am lucky to be a part of this group.

Congratulations, Penny, and thanks so much for sharing your success story! You can visit Penny online at her blog: “A Penny and Her Jots“.

Now folks, you know the old rhyme: “Find a Penny, pick it up, all day long you’ll have good luck!” So let Penny’s story sprinkle some good fortune on you.

PiBoIdMo guest bloggers and badges will be revealed on October 1st, with registration to begin on October 24th right here on this blog. Subscribe via email (← see left column) to make sure you don’t miss PiBoIdMo updates!

If you have suggestions about who you’d like to see guest blogging this year, please leave a name (or two or three) in the comments!

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:

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: 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:

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:

by Tammi Sauer

When Tara asked me to contribute a post to PiBoIdMo 2009 I was honored. And, truth be told, scared. For me, getting a Really Good Idea is hard. Crazy hard. How could I possibly offer idea-getting strategies to others when I felt this was the toughest of all the writing challenges?

Well, that November I wrote the blog post. I also pushed myself to come up with 30 ideas. Whew. Wasn’t easy. It took me every bit of that entire month to get those 30 possibilities on paper. Most of those ideas were tiny snippits. A character. A title. A phrase.

One of those snippits, however, seemed as if it might have potential. Nugget and Fang. I thought the unlikely best friendship between a minnow and a shark might have the makings for a story. I brainstormed. I jotted down a first draft. And a second draft. And a third draft. With each draft the story got a little tighter, the word choice got a little better, and the humor got a little stronger. But I never really got that YES feeling from the manuscript. So…I put it away for a few months. Then I wrote a fourth draft. And a fifth draft. And I put it away for a year.

Then, in March 2011, my week to submit something to my critique group came around. I had recently finished my latest manuscript and I needed SOMETHING to send the oh-so-awesome PBJeebies. So I dug through my files. And found two old friends. Nugget and Fang. I read the most recent version. Then I revised. And revised. And revised some more. I started to get excited.

I sent the manuscript to the PBJeebies, and they pushed me to revise the manuscript a little more. That YES feeling came around. I shared the manuscript with my agent.

These are my favorite three sentences from her response:

“I absolutely love this manuscript! It’s hilarious, original, and wonderfully paced—with totally fun illustration possibilities. Yay!”

Oh, happiness! Oh, time-to-print-out-that-message-and-tape-it-to-my-computer!

The manuscript went Out There.

Months went by. Then I got the call. And I got ANOTHER call.

Two fabulous houses were interested.

After much careful consideration, I decided Nugget and Fang belonged at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Nugget and Fang is scheduled for a Summer 2013 release. I’m hoping it makes a really big splash.

Tammi Sauer, who owes an ocean-sized thanks to Tara Lazar.

Tara’s Note: Aww, shucks. I owe big thanks to you for being such a great role model!

Last November this blog hosted “Picture Book Idea Month,” a daily exercise for picture book writers. The object was to create one new picture book idea a day. (As an added benefit, it kept us from having NaNoWriMo envy.)

When I tried PiBoIdMo on my own the year prior, I came up with the concept for THE MONSTORE, which became my first book to be purchased. It’s set for release with Simon & Schuster in 2012. And, this week, my editor is meeting with the art director to talk about illustrators. Oh yeah, it’s a fun time.

Then this week I got word that Diana Murray won the 2010 SCBWI Barbara Karlin grant with one of her PiBoIdMo 2009 ideas! Wow! So I asked her to tell the story…take it away, Diana!

When Tara announced PiBoIdMo on the blueboards, I was thrilled. One idea per day was something I could handle time-wise and I was looking forward to an excuse to ramp up my picture book writing. It was more challenging than I expected, but the best part was, it helped me figure out my main problem: I’m a compulsive writer. As soon as I think of an idea, I run for my laptop and I can’t stop writing until I get the whole story out of me. I literally find myself waking in the middle of the night to jot things down. In other words, I’m completely nuts. In many ways, this can be a good thing. Motivation has never been an issue for me. But participating in Piboidmo forced me to delay my compulsion to write about anything that popped into my head, and for me, that ended up being more efficient.

I came up with most of my ideas during little “holes” in time throughout the day, like while pushing the stroller or putting my kids to sleep. Some of these ideas were pretty awful, like: “Tabby Moves to Dogtown” and “Mabel’s Amazing Hat,” about a do-everything hat with a remote control. Ha! That one still cracks me up. Some of the ideas were worth investigating and I kept getting tempted to drop everything and start writing. But I held back in the interest of coming up with at least one new idea each day. I knew that if I started writing, I wouldn’t be able to stop and move on to thinking of other ideas. I held off as long as I could.

Finally, on idea #23, I couldn’t take it anymore. The idea of a stubborn, messy witch who keeps losing things resonated with me (Gee, I wonder why?). It’s a very personal experience, of course. An idea that works for one person may not appeal to somebody else. But for me, it just clicked. For a few days, I thought about it and planned it out in my head. Actually, idea #23 had been brewing since idea #1 (to borrow a metaphor from my MC, Grimelda). That’s the good thing about ideas: even the bad ones can ultimately lead to something that inspires you. By the time I started writing, I was overflowing with creative juices and the whole manuscript just poured out.

So, long story short, I’m a PiBoIdMo loser! My compulsion got the best of me, and I didn’t get past idea #23. But the good news is, I won the 2010 SCBWI Barbara Karlin Grant and learned something in the process.

For the record, I announced my participation on the blueboards but not on Tara’s blog. Let’s just say I was a little new to the concept of blogs at the time. Luckily, I was able to read all the inspiring posts after the event.

Congraulations, Diana! I hope you’ll let us know when your manuscript gets purchased!

Do you have a PiBoIdMo success story to share?

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