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by Tara Lazar

December 2022 will forever be known to me as “The Month of YouTube.”

In the afternoons, I’d settle into my comfy blue couch and flip on the Smart TV, which now lives and looms above my fireplace mantle. You can’t escape its Black Mirror pull.

At first, I watched videos of dog and cat rescues, my own adopted kitty Phoebe purring upon my lap. But then, the algorithm would serve up other items of interest, like tours of available New York City apartments, reviving the search from when our daughter moved this summer.

Cue the artsy stuff. Maybe NYC brought it forth.

I found videos on pottery throwing and watercolor painting, convinced I could do both with aplomb, but I resisted the urge to purchase a wheel and expensive sable brushes, knowing the experts just make it look easy.

Then I discovered a talented man who sculpts curvaceous, realistic animal figures out of wood and epoxy resin while wielding a chainsaw. He even conjured a majestic eagle out of Styrofoam and old bicycle tires (free from any repair shop, as the shop has to pay to recycle them).

Turning wood on a lathe also became a favorite watched pastime. (Relaxing in time-lapse!) Creators even epoxy colored pencils together to turn the whole kit and caboodle into kaleidoscopic jars and bowls that have leaped onto my wish list.

I’m a fan of mid-century modern design, so furniture restoration videos surfaced. I got a thrill when a battered Lane Acclaim coffee table was purchased at a thrift store for a few dollars, then repaired and refinished into the iconic 1960’s masterpiece it once was.

Thrifting finds is what perhaps led to the treasure-hunting videos. I located a rock hound who filmed the “green sand beach” in Hawaii. The sand is actually tiny gemstones, green peridot, that have eroded from the lava rock and compressed ash surrounding the beach in horizontal striations. Perfect geological conditions formed this fascinating phenomenon.

Photo via @viespinoza Instagram

All the way across the globe, in Scotland, a British mother-daughter team of mudlarks visited a similar beach where red garnets dot the black lava granules. The beach, however, isn’t red sand, for the gemstones are less plentiful and much more evasive. You slide your hand along the top layer of dark stones to spot a tiny crimson glint.

I know what you’re thinking—“what’s a mudlark?” I thought the same, so I visited their channel, Northern Mudlarks, to find out.

Back in the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries, mudlarks scavenged for items of value to resell. These items were embedded along the muddy banks of the River Thames, detritus buried from garbage dumped into the water. Mudlarking was an occupation for the poor and destitute, often orphans who lived in the streets and scrambled into the water whenever a passerby tossed a coin to tease them.

If your face is all screwed up in disgust, I beg you to reconsider. In modern times, mudlarks are amateur historians. The foreshore holds onto a plethora of secrets mudlarks unearth.

In Scotland, not only do mudlarks ramble along river banks, but they roam former bottle dumps that have grown decades of forests atop them, covering pressed glass and spongeware pottery with verdant landscape. With a few scoops of a shovel and a scrape of trowel, cobalt blue poison bottles featuring molded bands and the warning “not to be taken” reveal themselves. Heavy ceramic marmalade jars roll into view along with embossed bottles disclosing names of defunct Victorian companies who peddled strange elixirs and medicinal tinctures lost to time (and scientific sensibility). Metal jewelry like Albert chains, watch bezels, dress clips, brass rings and sterling silver Chatelaines mix within the mud and glass.

But my favorite mudlark find? No, not the gold sovereign. Frozen Charlottes!

Photo via Northern Mudlarks

Photo via Northern Mudlarks

Frozen Charlottes were small, inexpensive bisque porcelain dolls, molded in one piece, without articulated, movable limbs—sometimes referred to as “penny dolls” or “pudding dolls”.  (“Penny dolls” because of their modest cost; “pudding dolls” because they were baked into the Christmas pudding as a holiday treat to “unwrap”.)

They are truly the “needle in the haystack” discovery, some no bigger than a pinky finger. Occasionally a Frozen Charlotte still displays glazed pink cheeks, ruby lips, and raven hair—a glossed beauty starkly contrasting the dirt and rubble in which she was found.

But why is she named “Frozen Charlotte”? The 1843 poem A Corpse Going to a Ball by Seba Smith reveals the morbid (and yet slightly humorous?) answer.

And thus, “Frozen Charlotte” became my final picture book idea of 2022.

I completed a podcast interview with author Mel Rosenberg a few days ago where he mentioned that he doesn’t believe our conscious minds can fully understand from where we get ideas. I try to explain it like the 1980’s pop hit by The Fixx, “One Thing Leads to Another”.

Or, perhaps, one YouTube leads to another.

Some people are rattled by browsing privacy and online algorithms; I, instead, embrace them. They pique my curiosity, which in turn, leads to surprising discoveries and new story ideas. Instead of digging through decades of dirt, I’m digging through dozens of videos.

Today, idea hunters, press play—and play around.


Tara Lazar is giving away a fiction picture book critique to one lucky Storystorm winner.

You’re eligible to win if you’re a registered Storystorm 2023 participant and you have commented only once below.

Prizes will be distributed at the conclusion of Storystorm.

taralazarby Tara Lazar

When I was growing up, there was an entire section of my home that was roped off. Like a nightclub, a velvet rope draped across the threshold to the living and dining area, off limits to my grubby little hands. A plush sectional beside the picture window always beckoned me, and I’d sneak there to read a book. Many times I’d crawl into the dining room and sit criss-cross-applesauce under the table, where no one could find me, and where I could get a glimpse of our house the way I rarely saw it. It was wondrous, under the table and dreaming (sorry for the borrow, Dave Matthews). I could pretend I was somewhere else because the perspective I had, under that glass and chrome 70’s behemoth, was unique, unusual. I was at home, but also somewhere else.

So now, every once in a while, I sit underneath my own dining room table. To me, it’s the perfect kid’s perspective. I see the world as a child might, peering only at legs and loafers. You know how you never see an adult’s face in Charlie Brown? How they’re just an unintelligible trumpet waah-wahhh-wah-waaaa? That’s the childlike mystique I’m seeking when I sit beneath the table. I see the world a little differently, but yet it’s still familiar, as it is my own home.

This is an early Peanuts strip. Schulz later said that showing adults, even just their legs, was a mistake.

This is an early Peanuts strip. Schulz later said that showing adults, even just their legs, was a mistake.

Go ahead, take up a spot in your home where you rarely sit to rest: the closet, the corner, the stair landing. Make it your nook, your secret hideaway. Look at everything as if a child might, looming larger above you. Grab a blanket and pillows and make a fort. Steal away. Remember those fantastical childhood moments when you were somewhere else, but yet safe and protected at home. It’s a feeling you can recreate to help you delve deeper into the heart of your tale. You’ll be changing your perspective to that of a child—visually and emotionally.

And, if you’d like, sneak some cookies and milk with you. I won’t tell anyone where you are.


Image via

And now, a special announcement!

This is the final day of PiBoIdMo! I hope you have 30 ideas! (or that you’re very, very close!)

But don’t worry, the event IS NOT OVER. There’s still Post-PiBo to come–a week-long series of posts designed to help you prioritize and organize your ideas.

Tomorrow I will post the PiBoIdMo Pledge. If you have 30 ideas, you sign it and YOU WIN! Don’t worry, you’ll have a few days to sign it.

Top-10-blogs-for-writers-2014-bIn the meantime, if you enjoyed PiBoIdMo, may I ask that you nominate this blog for the Top 10 Blogs for Writers?

Head on over to Write to Done to make the nomination.

Every nomination counts!

And thank you for your support!


by Tara Lazar

I have a daughter who recently turned five and her favorite saying is “Why come?” (She mixes up “how come” and “why”.)

You may have children like this. They want to know about EVERYTHING, even the most mundane.

“Why come we have to take a bath?”

“Why come we sleep with pillows?”

“Why come we eat breakfast first?”

And the perennial favorite, “Why come we have feet and not wheels?”

I dunno, kid, I dunno. Sure would make life easier.

Kids are curious. They want to know WHY. Like WHY they can’t stay up past 8:30. And then WHY they can’t get up for school. WHY they can’t have a banana split for all three squares (“hey ma, it’s got FRUIT in it!”). And then WHY their stomach aches.

Just as Karma Wilson asks herself WHAT IF? as she writes picture books, I constantly ask myself WHY.

Every character reacts to a situation in their own unique, quirky way. If I create a store called THE MONSTORE where you can buy monsters, I have to ask myself WHY a kid would spend his hard-earned leaf-raking cash on one. There has to be a reason other than the monsters just being cool.

(Oh, and if you know a kid who actually rakes leaves for money these days, send them to my house, please. There are no fifth-grade entrepreneurs in this neighborhood.)

Kids cannot be fooled. If you don’t have a good reason behind a character’s actions, or even the entire story’s being, kids will see right through it. You don’t want “Why come?” to be the first thing they ask after closing the book. You haven’t succeeded if you haven’t immersed your reader in a fully believable set of events.

When I create a new picture book premise, I sit in a comfy chair with a notebook and scribble potential answers to WHY. I develop a long list of reasons for the character’s actions.

And my next secret? Those actions are usually tied to an EMOTION.

I can’t tell you how many picture book manuscripts I read which are devoid of emotion. A character MUST be emotionally changed. The way they start the story is not the way they finish the story. They have grown. They have learned. They have been emotionally altered.

It’s important to include an emotion that is universally understood by children.

What it FEELS LIKE to be picked last for the kickball team.

What it FEELS LIKE to have an annoying sibling.

What if FEELS LIKE to lose your favorite stuffed animal.

Heck, I’m an old lady and I still haven’t gotten over the 1979 disappearance of “Yellow Puff.” She was so yellow. So puffy. So stolen by my little brother if you ask me. (Hey, I got TWO emotions in there.)

So if your picture book manuscript doesn’t feel satisfying, ask yourself, “WHY COME?” It might just give you the answer.

Tara Lazar is the creator of PiBoIdMo, the picture book writer’s alternative to NaNoWriMo. Her first two picture books will be released by the Aladdin imprint of Simon & Schuster. THE MONSTORE, illustrated by James Burks, opens in 2013 and I THOUGHT THIS WAS A BEAR BOOK rolls into stores in 2014. She is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency. She prefers cheese over chocolate and chai over coffee. Visit her website for children’s book reviews, writing tips and other fun kidlit diversions. Oh wait, you’re already there!!!

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