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Everyone has their own notion of what a picture book is. Lots of illustrations, lots of color. And, of course, lots of smiling happy kids reading (usually in front of a fireplace on a snowy winter afternoon, drinking hot chocolate while the chocolate lab snores…ok, maybe that’s just me).
Scary and creepy? Not so much.
But, as today is Halloween, it’s time to look at the darker side of the picture book. Amazon has 369 results for ‘scary picture book’ with 35 of them rated for ages 0-2. Yes, 0-2! Another 169 are for ages 3-5. Picture books! Scary ones! Now, of course, the scares aren’t quite what you’ll find for an older reader but everything from monsters (THE MONSTORE, for example…with a tip of the blogging cap to my host, Tara Lazar) to ghosts (A VERY SCARY GHOST STORY) and even mummies (Yes, mummies: WHERE’S MY MUMMY?) have been appearing in picture books for decades now and it’s long past time to appreciate the scary and creepy!
Hopefully no one is now picturing Twilight For Toddlers (I’d trademark that but…no) but there is, indeed, a market for picture books that may not be as light and fluffy as the rest. With 30 days in the upcoming PiBoIdMo, you might want to spend a day or two brainstorming towards the darker end of the spectrum. The goal of the creepier picture books obviously isn’t to scare a child, but to introduce them to the shadows in a fun, friendly way, making the frightening familiar and, therefore, safe.
Spend a day of PiBoIdMo remembering your own childhood, those nights when the last thing you did at night was to ask your mom or dad to leave the hall light on, or to lay down with you for a moment or two, or to look in the closet or under the bed in a ritual game to drive away the monsters. Those are memories that generations share, we all were children once, wanting that light on…and, as we read to our own children, we share those moments with them so that they’ll have similar memories.
Writing a scary or creepy picture book for children is much like that hall light, scaring away the monsters under the bed or the ghosts in the attic or the witch in the closet with pictures and words. For the next 30 days, as you try to generate ideas for PiBoIdMo, don’t be afraid of the shadows, instead use them to create puppets on the walls of your imagination…the world needs more scary and creepy picture books.
No sparkly vampires, please. Well, actually, now that I think about it…
He has served on the Executive Committee of the Boston and New Orleans chapters of Mensa as the Editor of their monthly newsletters and was also a Judge for the 2006 Savannah Children’s Book Festival Young Writer’s Contest. He is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, the Horror Writers Association and The Authors Guild and is represented by the Erin Murphy Literary Agency. His debut novel, HENRY FRANKS, was published by Flux in September 2012.
Peter lives in Chapel Hill, NC with his wife Anna and their three sons: André Logan, Joshua Kyle and Adin Jeremy.
I started writing for kids over a decade ago and soon started meeting other people who also wrote for kids. When they talked about how they had so many ideas and not enough time to write them all, I secretly wished I could pinch them. A really mean pinch—a tiny bit of skin squeezed and twisted brutally between thumb and forefinger, the kind of pinch my sisters and I used to give each other when we were furious.
Too many ideas was not the kind of problem I had. I didn’t have enough.
A decade later, I’ve learned that picture book ideas come to me when I’m supposed to be working on a novel. I’m proud of my subconscious for being so clever. In the past few months, when I was supposed to be toiling on a middle-grade novel, I’ve written drafts of three picture books.
If you felt like you were moving well beyond your comfort zone when you signed up for PiBoIdMo 2012, please know that you are not alone. I’m not very good at public writing events. I don’t generally participate in such things—my process is more private-feeling and works on its own clock. But last year I decided to give it a try. In the end, I really liked the way PiBoIdMo pushed out the walls to provide a bigger creative space for me.
And if, in the early days of November, you find yourself worrying about how lame your ideas are or how you have no idea how to get from that idea to a finished manuscript, take heart. It took time for my PiBoIdMo ideas to marinate. If I had started writing FIRST GRADE DROPOUT immediately after jotting down the idea last November, it would have been awful. My PiBoIdMo idea was, I now know, more like half an idea. It was what happened in the book. It took nine months of my brain silently working away to figure out how to tell that story. In this particular case, the how was more important than the what. (I’d tell you all right now, but that would be giving away the punch line years ahead of pub date.)
I’m participating again this year, even though I’m supposedly hard at work on finishing up this novel. PiBoIdMo still scares me. I just know that on one (or more) of those days, when I can’t think of anything new, I’m likely to steal from myself to pad out the list—dig up old ideas that didn’t work to give them some new attention. (I did this last year. Shhhh. Don’t tell Tara.)
But on those days when I run into a writer who has so many ideas and not nearly enough time, well, it’ll be nice to think of my overstuffed PiBoIdMo file. I won’t gloat though, as that’s just awful for those suffering through an idea drought. And I really hate being pinched.
Audrey Vernick is the author of six picture books, including IS YOUR BUFFALO READY FOR KINDERGARTEN?; SO YOU WANT TO BE A ROCKSTAR; and BROTHERS AT BAT; as well as the middle-grade novel WATER BALLOON. Her next picture book, out in June, is BOGART AND VINNIE: A Completely Made-Up Story of True Friendship, with EDGAR’S SECOND WORD following after that. A two-time recipient of the New Jersey Council of the Arts Fiction Fellowship, Audrey lives in a house full of inspiration: one husband, one son, one daughter, and two dogs. She blogs about writing buddies at Literary Friendships.
I steal from my kids. That’s right. All day. Every day. I have been blessed with two feist-master, sassafras, wrestlemaniacs for sons. Their shenanigans spark writing ideas constantly. My picture book, YOU’RE MY BOO, which is under contract at Beach Lane Books, was inspired by my second son.
More examples? Sure. I spied on my boys taking turns in a laundry basket:
“This is my racecar, okay?”
“No! It’s my spaceship.”
I wrote Jump In!, which sold to Highlights High Five.
I gave each of my boys a penny to toss into a fountain, but my older son kept the coin instead. I wrote The Collector, which sold to Highlights. Even my publications for adult—essays for newspapers, magazines, and babble.com—are almost always about or inspired by my sons. And all three of my picture book manuscripts out on submission now are thanks to my boys.
A critique group partner said, “You have a way of being present with your boys that gives you endless writing ideas.” Thanks and wow! That’s exactly why I love PiBoIdMo: It will make you more present, too. How do I know? Because I pulled out of our garage before opening the door.
I know. I know. That doesn’t sound exactly present. But I was all about my boys in the back seat. My garage door mishap just helps me explain how needing something can make you focus on it.
Never in my life have I cared about garage doors. But because we needed new ones, my antenna was up. I couldn’t even get the mail without noticing the neighbors’ garage doors. Since you’ll need 30 new picture book ideas, your antenna will be up, too. You’ll notice things in ways you haven’t before. Ta-dah! You’ll have more to write about.
Here’s how the writing process usually works for me*:
- One or both of my boys does or says something that grabs my attention.
- Does the idea make me so excited that I have a hard time focusing on anything else?
- Okay. Fine. Does the idea make me dance?
- I bang out a rough draft.
- I critique the manuscript.
- I read the manuscript out loud. I beg my husband to read it out loud. I bribe my son to read it out loud. I record myself reading it using an app called Recorder Plus on my iPad.
- Do the characters ring true? (When I make one of my boys say sorry, it’s the worst excuse for an apology. It’s the same for my characters so I try not to force them to say or do anything. Characters are strongest when they act and react naturally.)
- Does the story have enough heart? (I should feel something so strongly that I am connected to and routing for the character(s).)
- Is there enough tension? (The main character should want something so badly that I want it for him/her, too, but something HUGE must stand in the way of success.)
- Is the ending a satisfying surprise even though it’s the only resolution that makes sense while serving the story?
- I share it with critique partners. Based on their suggestions, I revise and revise and revise.
- Just like my boys, the manuscript needs a ‘time out’. I don’t let myself read it for at least two days (two weeks would be great, but I can’t ever wait that long).
- I allow myself to go back to the manuscript. If it still makes me dance, then I send it to my agent.
(*This whole shebang might take weeks, months or even years.)
If something I’m writing doesn’t make me dance, then I don’t waste time on it. I have too many ideas to stress over a manuscript that’s not clicking. If I don’t love it, I leave it. Sure, I might come back to it later. But I’m also fine with coming back to it never. I’m confident that I’ll uncover something better—something dance-worthy—to work on. How? Because I live with my feist-master, sassafras, wrestlemaniacs.
While this stealing-from-my-kids gig has proven great for my writing, it doesn’t always translate into being a good mom. I’m pretty sure cheering, “Keep it up! You’re giving me lots to write about” when they fight isn’t recommended in any How-to-Parent guide. But lucky for me, this is a place to celebrate writing, not parenting, so I suggest you go steal from your kids, too. Or someone else’s kids. Plop down at your library’s story hour, grab lunch at a fast food playground, hang out at your Children’s Museum and you’ll have 30 new ideas in no time. Fortunately, kids, and writing ideas inspired by them, are everywhere. Good luck and have FUN!
Kate Dopirak lives with her husband and two feist-master, sassafras, wrestlemaniac sons in Pittsburgh, PA. She will be donating a picture book critique to a PiBoIdMo participant who completes the 30-ideas-in-30-days challenge. A winner will be selected in early December.
IT is almost here! *SQUEE!*
And since you are reading this post… you probably already know what IT is!
IT just happens to be the most fabulicious, wondermous, funkaperfect challenge this side of Gallifrey!
Picture Book Idea Month! (aka PiBoIdMo)
Thirty ideas in thirty days wrapped in unlimited potential!
And did I mention there are prizes, too?
So why, oh why, am I stuffing myself full of gluten and chocolate?
Right now, all I have is:
- A blank PiBoIdMo notebook.
- Two twitching eyes.
- And a bewildered expression as I stare at the aforementioned blank notebook with my two twitching eyes.
I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place!
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about my action plan for PiBoIdMo. And though some of my thinking has been helpful… much of it has been less than positive. Here’s a preview of my sordid thoughts:
How in the world will I come up with 30 different picture book ideas in 30 days and still manage to maintain any reasonable semblance of sanity? AAAHHHH!
How will I get all my homeschool stuffs done?
And what about my endless mound of dirty clothes?
Then there’s that whole clothing and feeding the munchkins gig.
And I definitely, positively have to diffuse the Dustbunny uprising happening in my living room.
But the question I should be asking is this:
How am I going to get rid of this stinky thinkin’ and get back to creative thinkin’??
Pooh Bear had his Thinking Spot.
Henry David Thoreau had Walden Pond.
Doctor Who has the TARDIS.
I have the shower.
That’s right folks. The shower is where I often go for:
- A moment of clarity,
- And ideas!
It’s the one place no one follows me—especially if I’ve missed a shower the day before. (Don’t judge me. I have three kids… it happens.)
Matter of fact, the shower is where the idea for BEING FRANK was born! (Seriously. It was!)
So instead of staring at an empty page with twitching eyes and a blank expression throughout the month of November, I’m gonna do this:
- Jump in the shower.
- Ignore the soap scum crawling up the walls.
- Add water and suds…scrub.
- Pray. Think. Pray. Think.
- Then try and wrangle the new ideas as they slide across my brain.
- Rinse and repeat—until all the stink is gone (inside and out).
- Then, I will hurry to my notebook to jot down the latest idea.
- And by the end of the month, I will have 30 ideas.
Some of the ideas might be the definition of brilliant…
and some might make me yell, “Why in the world did I think that would work?”
But I WILL STILL HAVE 30 NEW IDEAS!!
Yeah, baby! I like this plan!
Visiting my “thinking spot” for 30 days in a row will afford me the chance to do more thinkin’… and less stinkin’. I want my thinkin’ to smell more like a mountainside full of flowers and less like fertilizer.
So is your stinky thinkin’ clouding your vision for PiBoIdMo? What’s your plan for getting rid of it? Whatever it is, get busy! You have 30 ideas waiting to bloom and break down those walls!
“The violets in the mountains have broken the rocks.” ~Tennessee Williams
When Donna isn’t homeschooling or battling the laundry, she’s writing children’s stories, poetry, songs, an mysteries. You might find her fishing the Pee Dee River, hiking in the mountains with her family, or visiting her hometown of Cordova, NC. She lives in Concord, NC, and BEING FRANK is her first picture book. You can find BEING FRANK in B&N, on Amazon, Books-a-million and in most independent bookstores. For more information and reviews, check out Flashlight Press’s website.
Picture Book Idea Month is a blast.
Never done it before? Don’t worry…
“You will get the hang of it, I know it.”
This line is much catchier in this super awesome video of a boy giving other children advice after he successfully rode his bike for the first time.
My favorite part?
When the boy says, “I feel happy of myself.”
Soon-to-be friends, I want you to be happy of yourself too.
In all aspects of life, of course, but I want you to be SUPER HAPPY of yourself during PiBoIdMo.
For that, you’ll need the Three Little P’s:
- Prepare, and
(No, we CANNOT party first…I know…I want to, too!)
What is your process during PiBoIdMo going to be?
Everyone will have a different answer.
Let’s start with the basics.
The challenge is to come up with one idea each day for 30 days.
And each day there is an inspiring blogpost that can, (dare I say WILL?) generate said idea.
You can totally do that…but how do you want to approach it?
Do you want to set aside a certain part of your day for brainstorming ideas?
How will you record your ideas?
Want to read the blogpost at a certain time of day?
And what do you want to do with all the awesome information in the blogposts?
Not sure how to answer?
Figure out what works for you and do the best you can.
Here’s my pretty simple process:
A notebook is a necessity, and I want it with me at ALL times, because I know that my ideas come in weird places…(while driving, while waiting in line at the post office, while playing capoeira…)
I try to read the blog post everyday, but sometimes I can’t, so I set aside time on the weekend to catch up if needed.
Also, I know I’ll return to and use the spectacular advice in the blogposts on a regular basis IF I take quick colorful notes as I go.
These few minutes to set up your process will make things easier as you go.
Ok, now that you know your process, let’s PREPARE.
Schedule in some time to look at that blogpost everyday, and time to reflect on it if you so choose.
Get a notebook if that’s how you want to roll.
Not a notebook person? Use index cards, scraps of napkins, or voice record on your iphone.
I made a notebook last year, because I LOVE making stuff.
Turns out it’s big enough for this year too, so I’m all set.
If you don’t like making stuff, don’t fret.
There are many options for notebooks, including the awesome official journal of PiBoIdMo at the Cafepress shop!
How else can you prepare?
Well, a great way to get into PiBoIdMo (which is this case stands for Picture Book Idea Mode) is to spend some time in PiBoReMo (Picture Book Reading Mode).
Head to the library and grab some children’s books! Not sure what to read? Check out Tara’s list of guest bloggers and grab some of their books; or hop over to my blog where some friends and I have been reading picture books all October long.
You know your process.
We can officially PARTY!
PiBoIdMo is, above all, a fun time.
You are SURROUNDED by a community of creative minds.
Like every party, you need to mingle!
Join the discussion by leaving comments on blogposts, hang out in the PiBoIdMo Facebook group and meet new friends, and don’t be afraid to ask questions!
And, be nice.
I know, that’s obvious; but also make sure you are nice to your ideas.
This means: NO JUDGING!
Have fun with them and don’t be afraid to get goofy.
Just record them and let them be.
You never know when a little idea will turn into a big story, or when two ideas will mingle and mashup into something truly amazing.
You’re officially ready for PiBoIdMo now!
To quote my favorite bike-riding, songify sensation again: “If you keep practicing, you will get better and better as you do it.”
Remember that we’re all here to gather ideas, share advice, grow as writers, and practice our craft.
Don’t be afraid to reach out and have fun!
I hope each and every one of you feels “Happy of Yourself” when the month’s over.
And thanks to Tara for the guest blogging honor! This has been really fun!
Kathy Ellen Davis doesn’t have a middle name, but her first name is two names, so she doesn’t mind. Her sock monkey also has two first names, Singe Singe, which is French for Monkey Monkey. Kathy Ellen spends her days teaching children, reading, writing, and making things. Singe Singe spends his days meeting authors and illustrators. Follow their adventures at kraftyellenwrites.com.