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by Susie Ghahremani

People sometimes talk about inspiration as if it’s something that only strikes at random. I find that inspiration is more like the graphic I created for this year’s Storystorm: seeds that might bloom into something beautiful and luminous.

My illustration for Storystorm 2022!

Our published books are the result of a million tiny adjustments and years of persistence. My guided journal: GROWTH: A JOURNAL TO WELCOME PERSONAL CHANGE (Roost Books) took seven years from my initial concept to publication, and I know a lot of us have similar stories of our long haul efforts.

However, inspiration seems like almost the opposite: It’s the whimsy and spontaneity that propels us to get us started in the first place.

Early sketches of GROWTH, and the final journal published 7 years later.

You can get a Storystorm Idea Book from Cafepress! Proceeds go to Blessings in a Backpack.

I’ve participated in Storystorm for *years* (with many thanks to our brilliant host Tara)! Spontaneity plays a big role in what I love about Storystorm: I love how accessible and quick the prompts are. I also love the time constraint of the month of January!

It’s easy and fun to commit to a daily practice that takes just minutes each day but gives our creativity momentum with 30 ideas right at the start of the year.

So, let’s talk about how time constraints and spontaneity work well together to inspire

I write in my journal, draw in my sketchbook, and take a walk every day. The artwork and stories I make are created with ideas generated during these practices. Think doing this kind of thing is a massive time commitment you don’t have time for? I used to think that! (Even though hours can get sucked into social media or TV without my noticing the passage of time…)

One day, I set a timer and discovered it only took 15 minutes for me to loosely fill a page with drawings.

It took only 15 minutes to walk around the block.

A lot can happen in 15 minutes!

Do you have a timer in your home? Grab it for this prompt!

(Even Googling “set a timer for 5 minutes” will start a timer in your browser!)

I use this timer that startles me to push myself to draw or write 15 minutes at a time.

We’re going to go on a quest for inspiration that will take you 15 minutes total.

Prepare to set that timer three times, 5 minutes for each round.

Round one:

Go on a scavenger hunt around your home. Look for any object that feels like it sparks a feeling of curiosity in you. Bonus points if you step outside! Gather up these objects and bring them back to your writing space. Take every part of 5 minutes to do this!

Round two:

Draft a list of the possible ways these objects might be a part of a story you’d tell. Take all 5 minutes to do this. 5 minutes might feel longer than you think, but stay with it and generate as many ideas as you can until the timer goes off.

Round three:

Set a timer for 5 minutes and draft one of those ideas into something legible: something you can build upon – something someone else might be able to read. If you feel adrift, focus on writing a short poem or haiku.

When you have a sliver of time in your day, spontaneously set a timer with a goal to get creative and see what’s possible!

Susie Ghahremani is an award-winning illustrator, author, and a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design. Susie’s author-illustrator debut picture book STACK THE CATS (Abrams), was named a Kirkus Best Picture Book of the Year and Amazon Best Children’s Book of the Year. Susie is also the author-illustrator of BALANCE THE BIRDS (Abrams), and illustrator of picture books WHAT WILL HATCH? and WHAT WILL GROW? by Jennifer Ward (Bloomsbury) which received three starred reviews, was named a Bank Street book of the year, and appears on many state reading lists. She also illustrated SHE WANTED TO BE HAUNTED by Marcus Ewert (Bloomsbury); and LITTLE MUIR’S SONG and LITTLE MUIR’S NIGHT with words by John Muir (Yosemite Conservancy), which benefit Yosemite National Park. Susie also creates stationery, apparel, and gift items including the recently released GROWTH: A JOURNAL TO WELCOME PERSONAL CHANGE published by Roost Books. Her shop, Boygirlparty, is ranked among the top 25 bestsellers in Art on Etsy.

Follow her on Twitter @boygirlparty and instagram @boygirlparty, or on Facebook. Visit Susie’s website at

Susie is giving away a copy of her GROWTH JOURNAL published by Roost Books.

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.

It’s almost time to dress in costume and eat tons of candy! (No, not Tuesday!)


There are spooky stories about monsters, ghosts and goblins, even pale green pants with nobody inside them…but when have you ever seen a haunted Halloween tale about a HOUSE?

Sure, there’s plenty of movies and books that make you scream DON’T GO IN THERE! But there’s never been one where the house itself was the main character. This story by Marcus Ewert puts a unique twist on the haunting trope.

And the vibrant illustrations by Susie Ghahremani are like nothing you’ve ever seen. How did she make a mix of sweet and spooky work together? I asked her!

The main character Clarissa is an (unfortunately) cheerful pink house—and I wanted to be sure that her “world” felt colorful and friendly to contrast the muted, darker worlds of her scary parents, so there is some exaggerated color.

The color really pops! What’s your secret?

I painted the book on black boards so a little bit of black pokes through the paint, to hint at how inside she’s a little sinister—but it also allows the colors to really come forward and create contrast.

This book is *funny*, not scary, so I definitely wanted readers to be able to feel that from the moment they look at the images rather than to play up traditional Halloween motifs!

What other considerations did you have, besides color, in order to bring Clarissa to life?

Marcus (the author) gave me so many wonderful verbal details to work with, like her windows that “seemed to wink.”

I used to live in a pink house in New England that looked a lot like Clarissa, so I was able to draw from those memories— particularly the decorative trim and shingles!

I also use the tree on Clarissa’s side as an extension of her to assist her expressiveness.

I love that about the tree–it’s droopy and sad on one spread, all abloom on another.

Clarissa’s parents are a vampire’s castle and a witch’s hut–which is hilarious. Both are inherently creepy, but other creatures in the story, besides Clarissa, are adorable. How did you create such diverse characters but still keep the overall style of the book uniform?

There’s also a character that transitions for cute to truly monstrous!  I tried to create characters that can express emotional range in general—animals that frolic sweetly but then become worried or monstrous; a mother who is tough and fearsome but also can be tender. Using the same materials and process visually unified them, but so does giving them a little emotional range, too. No character in the book stays one fixed way throughout! Even the vampire has a campy moment in a family photo!

This story’s charm comes not only from the illustrations, but the playful rhyme and a surprise character at the end. 

When editors and agents say they want a story to truly stand out, SHE WANTED TO BE HAUNTED is what they mean.

Thanks, Susie, for introducing us to your new book.

Blog readers, we’re giving away a copy!

Leave one comment below to enter.

A random winner will be selected on Halloween.

Good luck!

Susie Ghahremani is an award-winning illustrator, an internationally exhibiting artist, a designer, and an educator. She is a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design where she has also taught. She is the recipient of awards and honors from the SCBWI, American Illustration, the Society of Illustrators New York, and the Society of Illustrators Los Angeles, and has been profiled in several publications, including The New York Times. She served on the board of ICON the Illustration Conference. Ghahremani lives and creates art in San Diego, CA. Follow her on Instagram @boygirlparty.


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