brainstorming, creativity, imagination, Kathleen Doherty, picture book author, picture book ideas, picture books, story starters, Storystorm, Tara Lazar

The Eye of Storystorm!

It’s the mid-way point of Storystorm 2023! And so far, so good, I’ve been keeping up with this month long picture book brainstorming challenge created by Tara Lazar.

image of a blue insect holding a light bulb symbolizing an idea and standing under a mushroom in order to get out of a rainstorm.

To me, brainstorming is like like taking a journey with a somewhat vague destination in mind, but no set directions for getting there. Since I’m a big LOTR nerd, that idea connects me immediately to Bilbo Baggins’ warning to Frodo about embarking on a journey, “If you don’t keep your feet, there’s no telling where you might be swept off to.”

Storystorm, in order to encourage participants creativity, provides daily blog posts written by a multitude of picture book creators.

One of the posts that captured my attention, this Storystorm, was written by Kathleen Doherty. Her post was about intertextuality. Though I had never heard it called by that title before, I was familiar with its theory which says that whatever you create is influenced by something you’ve heard, seen or read before.

Kathleen wrote about borrowing ideas from another piece of literature and morphing it’s shape into a new and different text. As I’m in the middle of a manuscript in which I’m trying to do something similar, I found her post inspiring. Click here to read her post https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/#inbox/FMfcgzGrbvFGhGCqFDZDxcjsXwFtnMpp.

Kathleen embraced intertextuality in each of her picture books. Her first, Don’t Feed the Bear, came from her memories of watching Yogi Bear and Ranger Smith’s cartoon high jinx.

Image of the Cover of Don't Feed the Bear along side a picture of Yogi Bear wearing a green hat and running from Ranger Smith. The cover of Don't Feed the Bear shows a grumpy bear with a fork and a short Ranger holding up the sign that reads don't feed the bear.

It’s a super fun read that demonstrates the power of written communication and it definitely tickles the funny bone.

Kathleen described her second picture book, THE THiNGiTY-JiG, as a reworked version of The Little Red Hen with a dash of creative BFG word-play added to the mix. I think it’s so much more!

Image of the cover of The Thingity-Jig. On it is a little bear standing in candle light among a bunch of broken bits of furniture and discarded junk. Alongside it is an image of the little red hen picture book which has a hen in a yellow hat and coat holding a shovel
A cover image of the book The BFG. It shows a giant holding a little girl in his palm.

The THiNGiTY-JiG has a pleasant repetitive refrain that gets the story going and keeps its transitions flowing. The prose is active, full of onomatopoeia. Each attempt of the main character to achieve what he has set out to do, cleverly builds upon the one before it. Lastly, it has a very satisfying ending. I’d recommend this book to children, as well as to picture book writers in search of mentor books.

There is more Storystorming left to do in the remaining weeks of January, and I’m up for the challenge. I’ll let you know how my efforts pan out at the start of February.

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amwriting, author interview, books, children's books, children's writing, creativity, Emma Pearl, imagination, Mending the Moon, Page Street Books, picture book author, Roald Dahl, story starters, Storystorm, wip, writing life

An Author’s Insights

On this the first week of 2023, I’m excited to share with you my interview with debut picture book author, Emma Pearl.

The questions I posed Emma, to a one, revolved around the kindling of the imaginative spark. I felt this focus was just the thing to accompany the sense of possibility and new opportunities that the new year brings.

Interview Q&A with author Emma Pearl

Emma, after finishing a project do you ever feel lost as to what project you’ll do next?

No, I don’t really find this a problem. I write for all ages and have far more ideas/projects/WIPs on the go than I could ever hope to complete in a lifetime! I’m usually drawn to the next one naturally when I finish something, but if I’m ever in doubt I just read through my endless files, lists and notes until something shouts ‘WRITE ME!’

I currently have a YA novel about to go out on submission in the new year so I’ve just finished final revisions on that. I’ve also just finished the first draft of my next novel – a YA with similar themes/synergy – so will be tidying that up before sending it to my agent. And I have a sequel for that one planned too, which may or may not be the next one I write. I’d like to get an MG novel out on submission next year too – I have one completed that needs a rewrite and several more that I’m keen to work on – I’ll be discussing with my agent which one to focus on.

I have quite a lot of picture book texts ready to submit and am waiting on my agent to look at them all (I intend to keep her quite busy next year!). I love writing PBs because they require such a different skill set to novels and completion can be achieved in a relatively short space of time, so I often work on them in between novels or when I get stuck in the middle of a novel.

It sounds like you are super busy!

Do you have any brainstorming techniques to get your ideas flowing?

I’ve gathered so many ideas over the years that I don’t actively need to look for them any more. But I do make sure to write them down when I get them – ideas usually come from reading other books, watching movies or conversations. There will be a nugget of something that I find fascinating and then ideas will spin off from that. Also, I constantly mine my childhood memories – what were the things that made me feel the biggest emotions? Even the most ordinary events, habits or people can be turned into amazing stories if you can identify and connect the emotions associated with them.

I also highly recommend taking part in Tara Lazar’s Storystorm in January (https://taralazar.com/storystorm/) – it’s really great for generating not only ideas for stories but also ideas for where to find inspiration. This post from author Brian Gehrlein has some brilliant brainstorming techniques too: https://www.pbspotlight.com/single-post/zombies-brains-brainstorming-oh-my

I agree, Storystorm is a great way to kick off the year with ideas and inspiration!

Emma, Do you have any routines that encourage your writing process?  

Not really. I write as often and as much as I can, which is most days, but there’s not a strict routine (life tends to get in the way of that!), and there’s a lot of time spent on things that are essential to my writing career (which is still very much fledgling) that are not writing per se – admin, marketing and promotion, networking, learning, mentoring, critiquing… etc. I am most productive in the mornings from about 9 to 12 so try to maximize writing time then whenever possible.

What have you found to be the best writing advice you ever received?

I’m not sure which one of these is the best, but all of the following have been invaluable:

– avoid filtering language, i.e. words that draw attention to any of the five senses. This is a quick and concise guide https://writeitsideways.com/are-these-filter-words-weakening-your-fiction/

Abie Longstaff’s picture book 101 free course https://twitter.com/AbieLongstaff/status/1397819681436733444 covers all the basics thoroughly and efficiently. I often find myself referring back to it.

– first drafts are supposed to be rubbish! I spent many years not getting anywhere with my writing because I was scared of writing rubbish. But a very important lesson was learning to write anyway. You can improve a badly written story but a blank page is worth nothing.

– there is no set of rules, no one way of doing anything, no set path to follow. There are a huge number of amazing resources available, and many of them are free. Find whatever works for you and don’t be distracted by anyone else… but also:

connect with other writers whenever possible, they will be your greatest comfort/support/cheerleaders/learning… etc.

Thank you Emma, for sharing your excellent suggestions and links to helpful resources!

There was one last question I asked Emma. It was in regards to her great uncle, Roald Dahl. 

Emma, I read that Roald Dahl dedicated The Twits to you and I wondered if it was your favorite book of his, or was there a different one that was your favorite?

Great question on the Roald Dahl books! Of course I loved The Twits. It was so very exciting to have a book dedicated to me – I was a real bookworm as a kid and it was just about the best thing ever. It’s a wonderful story of oppression, courage and just desserts, and I’ve loved monkeys ever since! But in all honesty, I think I loved reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory more. I read that countless times, over and over from a very young age (well before The Twits was published). I also loved Fantastic Mr Fox and Danny (I used to play in the gypsy caravan that inspired the story). But my favorite now, as an adult, is Matilda. I think I was 13 or 14 when that came out so it wasn’t part of my childhood as such. But I have a suspicion (that might be completely ill-founded) that there is the tiniest part of Matilda that was in some small way inspired by me. Roald was very close to all three of his sisters, one of whom was my grandmother, and I was the first grandchild to be born to any of them, so I was a little bit spoiled and doted on by them all! I was a huge bookworm and reading long before I started school (not War and Peace, mind you!). Also, a little later on I had a very scary teacher who bore a striking resemblance to Miss Trunchbull (my teacher was also an ex-Olympian shot-putter!). So even if just a tenuous link, I’ve always felt a connection with the character of Matilda, who is one of my favorite females in all of children’s literature and always fills me (and countless others) with inspiration.

I’ve attached a link to 10 year old Emma’s (she’s the little girl at the center of the photo) interview of Roald Dahl. It brought a smile to my face and I hope it does the same for you.

Bio/contact

Emma Pearl writes fiction for all ages and is represented by Sera Rivers at Speilburg Literary. Mending the Moon is her debut picture book, and Saving the Sun will be published by Page Street Kids in September 2023. Emma is a picture book mentor for WriteMentor (2021/22) and a freelance editorial consultant for picture books. She lives with her family in New Zealand.

emmapearlauthor.com

Twitter/IG: @emmspearl

Purchase links to Mending the Moon, Emma’s debut picture book:

Barnes and Noble

Bookshop.org US

Indiebound

Amazon US

Waterstones

Bookshop.org UK

Amazon UK

Bear Wants More, early literacy, Karma Wilson, On Revision, paying attention, revision, teaching, William Germano

Revising Attentively

I’ve been reading the book, On Revision by William Germano. My purpose for reading it was to glean some perspectives, or tips to help me revise more efficiently and more effectively. The ironic thing about reading the book was that it made me think more about my teaching than it did about my writing.

“Good teachers, after all, don’t just demand attention. They pay attention.”-William Germano

It’s true, but I had never thought about it that way. When I work with students, it’s most often in a one-to-one situation. I work on the visual skills they need to develop, or the tools they need to use to access visual information, or on the tactile and braille skills they need to learn to gain access to the world around them. The best way to do that is to find out what they like, what motivates them. Once I can do that everything gets easier and more fun for both of us.

In his book, William Germano describes the act of paying attention in this way, “If you write, you’re asking your readers for some of their time, time they could easily spend on anything else. You’re not just providing them with a text; you’re inviting them into the text. Be a good host. Pay attention. Refill glasses. Pass the nibbles.”

This might not be a new perspective for some, but it definitely was for me. It’s so clear and tangible.

In my teaching, I spend a lot of time thinking up ways to capture my students’ imagination, their attention, in order to get them invested in the skills they need to develop. Why hadn’t I thought about that with the stories I write for children? Maybe it’s because the stories are for potential child readers. If I think in terms of actual readers it might give me a better perspective. I’ll have to try it out.

The funny and exciting thing is that I’ve just started a project (a holiday gift for a student) in which I hope to channel the magic that Karma Wilson created with her book Bear Wants More. One of my students absolutely loves this book and will work so hard to get to the reward of having it read to her.

She is able to say few words, “more” being one of them and she has excellent timing when we read the book together.

My hope is to further develop her early literacy skills by personalizing the familiar book’s setup. My student will be the main character and she will want more and more and books read to her.

It’s only in the planing and playing with stages; it’s got a long way to go.

It’s challenge, but I can just imagine my student’s reaction to seeing herself in a book, and maybe that’s just the perspective I need.

I’ll let you know how things are going as the project progresses.

amwriting, author interview, books, children's books, PathBinder Publishing, picture book author, picture books, Ritu Anand, support an author, writing journey

Kara’s Dreams

I have some good news to share in this week’s post. A fellow writer, Ritu Anand, who I had the good fortune to meet online while we were both participating in Renee M LaTulippe’s Lyrical Language Lab course, is welcoming a new book into the world.

Kara’s Dreams is about a little tree, Kara, who dreams of standing as tall and as strong as Utsa, an elder tree, who’d been standing for more than 200 years. Kara fears that she won’t be able to make her dreams come true.

Kara is frightened of wind, of water, of earth, and of night

Kara seeks out Utsa for guidance. The elder tree gives Kara the strength to overcome her fears, and to believe that she will reach her dreams.

Kara’s Dreams is available at Barnes & Nobles.

It will also be available from Amazon on March 15th, at https://www.amazon.com/dp/195508808X

Ritu graciously agreed to share a little bit about herself, and her book journey with us.

About the author:

Ritu Anand started writing when she could hold a pencil, but life kept getting in the way. For the past four years, she has chosen writing as her career. She draws her inspiration from nature and her scripture, Sri Guru Granth Sahibjee.

Ritu lives in Sarasota Florida with her loving husband. Her interests include reading, writing, singing Indian classical music, dancing to Bollywood music, traveling and playing golf.

Interview Questions:

Do you write every day?

Yes, I write every day, before the world starts chatting with me. I jot story ideas while watching kids dig the white sand, on Siesta beach.

When did you start writing? What drew you to writing?

I started writing when I could hold a pencil. As a young girl, I used to write on newspapers, inside old books, new ones, on walls and even furniture. My muse made me do it.

At a very young age, I was drawn to words on a page. Words moved me. They seeped through me, made me happy, sad or thoughtful. Secretly, I thanked authors for giving me the privilege to belong to their world.

What was the first piece you published?

The first piece I published was a literary translation of an excerpt of a speech in Punjabi. My grandfather delivered a riveting message about the concept of Universal Brotherhood of Man. A Sikh Journal published my article and it was distributed to all the Sikh temples.

Do you have a special place where you prefer to write?

My preferred spot at home is the big chair in the corner of my living room.

Do you have a critique group?

Yes, I belong to more than one critique group. When I attended the Mira Reisberg’s Children’s Academy, I befriended Heidi Yates, Lakshmi Thamizhmani, Connie Dow and Adrienne Pankey. They were my first critique group. Their critiquing of Kara’s Dreams was beyond helpful and I gained tremendous strength from their words of encouragement.

Meera Sriram, award winner author of Dumpling Day, A Gift for Amma, The Yellow Suitcase and other books, guided me as a developmental editor. I feel privileged to be able to reach out to her and view her as my mentor.

As I am working on writing a middle grade novel, I joined another group formed by Mindy Weiss of the Florida SCBWI.

Without the help of critique partners, I wouldn’t be able to improve my writing.

How has your writing changed over the years?

I feel passionate about writing and bring my heart to it. I just have to feel my own writing. When I first started writing, I had a hard time recognizing myself in my writing. I didn’t know how to connect with the world through my writing. Once I decided to focus on the immediate, the tangible, I found a way to communicate with the world. I have a broad view of the world we live in. I always see the forest first, then the trees. But once I started seeing, smelling, hearing, touching and tasting the immediate, I started to recognize ‘me’ in my little world and that led me to expand my view to the bigger outer world.

Do you have any writing advice that has helped you?

Read, read and read. In my imagination, I love living in the fictitious world of my characters, talking to them, and riding the waves of enchanting discoveries. Unleash your imaginative power. Observe sounds in nature. Watch an iguana project his tongue forward and retract it inside his body. Compare him to the way humans project their tongues forward to lick dripping ice cream, and slurp it in their mouths.

Thank you, Ritu, for sharing your writing journey and your good news about Kara’s Dreams.

amwriting, books, children's writing, first post, firsts, teacher

First Things First

Firsts are hard, first day of school, first day as the new person anywhere, first time meeting someone, etc. They’re filled with the fear of the unknown and a generalized anxiety. What am I supposed to do? How am I supposed to act? When am I supposed to do whatever it is that is expected? And what is that?

Now that I’ve written my first paragraph, on my first blog post, which is actually not my first ever blog post, just the first in my reinvention of my blog, I feel better. Long sentence short- it’s done. So it’s time to move onto second breakfasts, as Peregrine Took would say.

This blog is a reinvention of a similarly focused blog that I let lapse. Why’d I let it lapse? Truth is I like privacy, and I’m actually a little uncomfortable with social media, so after getting feedback from people reading my blog I got scared. Which must seem strange to anyone reading this. Even though I feel the way I do, kinda sorta not sure I want to share, the world at large does not. Truth be told, in this instance I’m a hypocrite. I don’t mind reading others blogs and tweets, I just mind putting myself out there.

But ,if I want to be a writer, a published known entity type of writer, I’m supposed to have a brand (what is that exactly? It reminds me of a label. And I always thought labels weren’t good . . . ), a platform. So, I started with twitter, not sure I’ve gotten the hang of hashtags, I’ve dabbled a little with instagram and now here I am. Onto another platform . . . Why do I think I’m at the end of a narrow board waiting for the courage or someone behind me to give me the push to make the death defying dive? WHOA!!! I meant a figurative push, not a literal one.

Here’s hoping the water’s deep enough!

Photo by Aleksandr Slobodianyk on Pexels.com