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SUN! ONE IN A BILLION released last week. I meant to have Stacy on the blog then to talk about her newest book. But the website went down, I had conferences and school visits, and my plans were sunburned to a crisp.

But the SUN rises again another day!

Stacy, I did not realize you had an “Our Universe” series, but it makes total sense since your book EARTH! MY FIRST 4.54 BILLION YEARS was such a hit.

Did you pitch EARTH as a series, or is it something the publisher requested?

EARTH was not pitched as a series. She’s a pretty independent planet and went on submission solo. When we sold the book to Henry Holt, it was a two-book deal but the only requirement for book 2 was that it needed to be funny nonfiction. Once EARTH was a finished book, we knew we had something special, and the publisher wanted to do more. And I wanted to do more! Currently, “Our Universe” consists of EARTH, SUN, MOON (2019), and OCEAN (2020).

That’s out of this world! But no Pluto?

What’s your take on Pluto, by the way? Planet or not?

I just wish scientists would make up their collective mind! I heard Neil deGrasse Tyson speak last year, and he convinced me that Pluto is absolutely not a planet. But I recently read about a new study that wants to change the planet definition again (currently, the IAU—International Astronomical Union—sets the rules) and that would allow Pluto back into the group. For now, I will say Pluto is a dwarf planet and a loyal dog to Mickey.

You know this blog often focuses on how children’s book creators get ideas for stories.

So, what’s the genesis of EARTH? 

And why is SUN the next in the series?

EARTH emerged from the wreckage of a failed project. I’d written a story about a pet rock, who lived with kids from cave times up to modern day. My critique group hated it. But I realized I wasn’t trying to tell a story about a rock. I was trying to tell a story about time and how humans are here for just a blink (in geological terms). So I refocused on telling Earth’s story because she’s been around for a bit.

When I talked to my publisher about doing more books, I pitched Sun, Moon, and Mars—all are extremely interesting. They selected Sun. (I’m glad they picked. I would have had a hard time making that choice.)

If you could be any planet, star or other object in the universe, who would YOU be?

I’d say Mars. I don’t want to be the center of attention—like Sun. Moon is a bit too familiar. Mars is the right balance of mysterious and recognizable. Plus, I think it’ll be the first planet Earthlings visit.

Well, thank you for visiting this blog, Stacy. 

Henry Holt is giving away copy of SUN to a random commenter.

Leave one comment below and a random winner will be selected soon.

GOOD LUCK!

Happy Birthday, SUN!

Is it your 4,603,000,004th birthday? Or the 4,603,000,005th? Well, it’s OK, enjoy, who’s counting anyway?

STACY MCANULTY! She’s counting, that’s who! And she was counting on me to host her on the blog today.

But, you may have noticed, the blog has been DOWN for DAYS…while I co-chaired the RUCCL One-on-One conference this past Saturday and could do nothing about it. So, frantically on Sunday, I renewed the domain (after having mucho problems logging in), but it remained unprocessed. Then I woke up from a nightmare. Yes, this morning, I woke up from an actual nightmare, checked the URL and BAM! It’s back!

But I am also backlogged because I did not work with Stacy to create this wonderful blog about her second book in the Universe series, SUN, releasing TODAY!

So, consider this post a placeholder until I am able to get something worthy of Stacy, Stevie Lewis, and YOU, my dear blog readers, up and running today.

My apologies to SUN!!! Our favorite celestial body deserves better.

by Stacy McAnulty

I’m not a neuroscientist, but I have theories on how the brain works. Allow me to explain.

Your gray matter is full of ideas that are locked away, waiting to be released. These little nuggets can be freed by numerous methods. Here are some of my favorite ways to unlock an idea:

  1. Listen to NPR for an hour. It must be a show that has story segments. (Sorry Terry Gross.) Your world will be expanded and your brain will start asking questions. I listened to a story about de-extinction. It’s kind of like Jurassic Park but really happening with the Wooly Rhino. I ended up drafting a story called WOOLY AND FLEA.
  2. Force yourself to create a list. In seventh grade, my daughter had ten minutes of free writing at the beginning of every language arts class. The only rule, the pencil had to keep moving. Free writing is difficult for me, because I end up wanting to write “All Work and No Play Makes Johnny a Dull Boy” over and over. So, instead I recommend making lists.
    — Jot down a list of characters that would make horrible protagonists.
    — Titles that would make frightening bedtime stories.
    — Plots that would make conservatives (or liberals) really angry.
    — Unlikely friendship pairings.
    — A setting you’ve never seen before in a kid’s book.
  3. Stop twisting fairytales and twist something else. Can we all agree we have enough Goldilocks and the Three Whatevers? Why not twist “The Breakfast Club” into a picture book? Instead of “five high-school students from different walks of life endure a Saturday detention under a power-hungry principal,” how about “five dogs from different walks of life endure a Saturday at the groomers under a power-hungry stylist”? Or ghosts in a haunted house? Or fleas on the back of a wooly rhino?
  4. Play the what-if game with a six year old and then steal her ideas. The what-if game is simple. Just fill in the blank. What if your principal was alien? What if there was one clock that controlled time across the universe? You offer a what-if and then the child offers a what-if. The ideas will get crazier as you play. You can make it more challenging by adding “and”. What if your principal was an alien and you discovered his plot to collect specimens? Note: this game can also be played with a drunk friend if you don’t have a child handy.
  5. The playlist shuffle. Pluck an idea from whatever song comes up. I did this recently and got “Ebony and Ivory.” The result was an idea about a piano-playing t-rex named Wonder. Note: if you only listen to classical music, I don’t know if this will work. Maybe borrow someone else’s iPod.
  6. Go for a walk or take a hot shower. Kidding! Those never work for me.
  7. Head to your local bookstore. This works best on a Tuesday when the shelves are full of new releases. Pick up each book. Imagine what the story is about before you crack the cover. Sometimes you’ll be right. Sometimes you’ll be wrong. Sometimes you’ll have a better idea than what’s been published. Note on karma: do not walk out of this bookstore without buying something. Karma is watching.

If you do all of these things, I know a nugget of an idea will be knocked loose from your skull. Probably more than one. Once you open up the spigot, the ideas will trickle out.

But let’s be honest, most of these ideas probably stink. If you’re lucky, you’ll be blessed with a mediocre one. Unfortunately, when the idea presents itself, you really have no way of knowing if it’s golden or just coated in a golden-like substance.

So now you have to do the real work. You have to write the manuscript. That’s the only way to know. You might realize the nugget is garbage after the first sentence, or after you complete the first draft. If it still has some shine, you revise. Then you might realize it’s crap. Or you keep moving on. Revise. Is there something these? Revise. Has it lost its luster? Revise. Revise. Revise. Have you struck gold?

Now for the unfortunate moment of truth. That golden nugget of an idea—the one that has become a well-polished, beautiful manuscript—might never sell. (That’s a completely different conversation.) Your job is to move to the next idea. And the next. And the next. I promise, your brain is full of them. Just keep turning the key.


Stacy McAnulty is a children’s book author, who used to be a mechanical engineer, who’s also qualified to be a paleontologist (NOT REALLY), a correspondent for The Daily Show (why not), and a Green Bay Packer coach (totally!). She is the 2017 Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Honor Recipient for Excellent Ed, illustrated by Julia Sarcone-Roach. Her other picture books include Earth! My First 4.54 Billion Years, illustrated by David Litchfield; Brave and Beautiful, both illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff; Mr. Fuzzbuster Knows He’s the Favorite, illustrated by Edward Hemingway; and 101 Reasons Why I’m Not Taking a Bath, illustrated by Joy Ang. She’s also authored the chapter book series Goldie Blox, based on the award-winning toys, and The Dino Files. Her debut middle grade novel, The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl, will publish in May 2018. When not writing, Stacy likes to listen to NPR, bake triple-chocolate cupcakes, and eat triple-chocolate cupcakes. Originally from upstate NY, she now lives in Kernersville, NC with her 3 kids, 2 dogs, and 1 husband. Visit her online at StacyMcAnulty.com and Twitter

Stacy is giving away a signed copy of EARTH! MY FIRST 4.54 BILLION YEARS.

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!

Stacy_McAnulty_72 webby Stacy McAnulty

When I tell people that I have a mechanical engineering degree and that I’m also a picture book author, they look at me like I’m trying to mate two different species. Like I’m part alligator and part butterfly. (That would be one scary insect/reptile.)

But as an engineer, I relied heavily on my creative gifts and as an author I can use engineering skills to organize and tackle writing projects. November and PiBoIdMo were about the creativity. Now in December, let’s use our engineering skills to tackle the what-is-next problem. (Don’t worry. You DO have engineering skills. You just don’t know it.)

When I worked as an airline seat engineer I had to create a bill of material (called more affectionately a BOM). A BOM was used by purchasing to order all the parts needed to create an airline seat—everything from nuts and bolts to cushions to motors. (These were the awesome first class seats that fully recline and offer in-flight entertainment.) I’m suggesting a BOM could also be used to create a children’s picture book.

Let’s look back at our ideas from November. This is our inventory from which we can create a BOM. I like to use a spreadsheet, but you can do the same thing with paper, pen and a straight edge. Make a list of all the characters that sprung to life in November and put them in column A. Then make a list of other components needed in a book: settings, problems, titles, goals, situations, emotions, other, etc. It’s OK if you have fifty characters listed and only five settings.

mcanultychart

(click to view chart at full size)

Now we have a list of components we can use to build a story. By creating your spreadsheet, you might see that you have a great character and interesting problem that you do not previously consider putting together. Your cookie-loving shark might be the perfect hero to free Mars of aliens.

Or maybe not.

Engineers—like authors—also go through numerous revisions. And every part you need to build your picture book will not be in your inventory list. Your BOM for each story will require the creation of new components. Your goal and your setting may work, but you may need to create a new character (a character not created in November, but in December).

So don’t be afraid to engineer your picture book. In the end, creativity and structure can live happily ever after.

guestbio

santasaurus3x3Stacy was a mechanical engineer for 8 years before becoming a full-time writer. DEAR SANTASAURUS, her first picture book, was released in October from Boyds Mills Press. She has also engineered two other picture books to be published in 2015 by Random House and Knopf. Stacy lives in a messy house in North Carolina with her 3 messy kids, 2 messy dogs, and 1 messy husband. Visit her at StacyMcAnulty.com.

prizeinfo

Stacy is giving away a signed copy of DEAR SANTASAURUS and a picture book critique. Leave a comment to be entered.

You are eligible for this prize if:

  1. You have registered for PiBoIdMo.
  2. You have commented ONCE ONLY on today’s post.
  3. You have completed the PiBoIdMo challenge. (You have signed the PiBoIdMo Winner’s Pledge.)

Good luck, everyone!

7ate9
Winner of the 2018 Irma S. Black Award and the SCBWI Crystal Kite!
black kite

As a children's book author and mother of two, I'm pushing a stroller along the path to publication. I collect shiny doodads on the journey and share them here. You've found a kidlit treasure box.

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My Picture Books

COMING SOON:


illus by Melissa Crowton
Tundra/PRH Canada
June 4, 2019

THE UPPER CASE:
TROUBLE IN CAPITAL CITY
illus by Ross MacDonald
Disney*Hyperion
Fall 2019

FOUR WAYS TO TRAP A LEPRECHAUN
illus by Vivienne To
HarperCollins
Spring 2020

THE WHIZBANG WORDBOOK
illustrator TBA
Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
Spring 2020

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