Tuesday, December 22, 2015

A Month of Picture Book Ideas

This past November, I participated in PiBoIdMo or Picture Book Idea Month. The goal of this 30 day writing exercise was to come up with at least one idea per day that might turn out to be the starting point for a new picture book manuscript. A snap, right? Think again. If there were ideas cruising around in my brain, directing them to Creativity Central was a whole other problem. Thank goodness for the tips and tools offered by over 30 fellow authors and illustrators. Their blog posts, hosted by Tara Lazar—master organizer of this event, were a golden GPS system. Brain throwing up at roadblock or riddled with distracting potholes? Create a list of characters, settings, problems, etc.; build word pairs; eavesdrop on your own children or those at the playground or mall; use picture prompts; write down words or phrases that you love the sound of; interview a character. These creative detours, and several more, were invaluable in helping me find the 30 ideas (and more) needed to complete the PiBoIdMo challenge. No, they aren’t all great ideas, but even if I manage to work only 2-3 of them into strong manuscripts, that’s 2-3 stories on my roadmap to publication that I didn’t have before.

 For more information on PiBoIdMo visit:

Monday, November 30, 2015

December Writing Prompt -- Goose In Hiding

Goose In Hiding    Follow the link to the pin on my "Wrote This" board that inspired the following:

[Goose’s side of a conversation that started just before the prompt picture was snapped.]


Poor Turkey. I shall miss him.

A strutting fool who deserved it? What a horrible thing to say.

My turn’s coming?

The next holiday is Christmas.

They eat Christmas what??!!

What am I doing? Not taking chances, that’s what.

Squeal on me? That’s pretty brave for someone named Pork Chops.

Friday, November 6, 2015

SCBWI Insight Write This -- November

A few words before I post my November entry. (Which didn't make the top twelve, but after last month, I shouldn't be greedy, should I?)

Going forward, my plan each month is to continue posting a short piece, 50 words or less in length, that a writing prompt has inspired. What's changing is that I've decided to branch out from the Insight's "Write This" feature. I've been pinning writing prompts, inspiring illustrations, and character galleries at Pinterest for a couple of months now and think it's time to start utilizing this resource.

Want to join in? When I post my piece, I will include a link to the pin that inspired it. If the same prompt inspires you, I'd love to have you share it by posting a link or the piece itself in my piece's comment field. I think it will be quite interesting to see how one prompt can send multiple minds off in totally different directions.

The November prompt was: a stranger enters . . .

Miss Kittycat smelled trouble when the flea-bitten mongrel pushed through the swinging doors.  

Then Marshal Mutt Dillon walked in.  His big body leaned against the bar.

“Buy you a sodie pop, mister?”

A growl twisted the stranger’s lips.

“Drop the pleasantries, Marshal. I’ve got a bone to pick with you.”

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Turning a New Leaf -- SCBWI Oregon's Annual Fall Retreat

Eighty acres of garden. Yummy food. Cushy beds. And four days spent learning, writing, and sharing with fellow writers. This was the SCBWI Oregon Fall Retreat held October 15-18th at the Oregon Garden Resort in Silverton, Oregon.

My retreat began with an unexpected meeting. By some quirk of fate, Sue Ford, former Co-RA of the Oregon region, and two of the Retreat faculty chose the same restaurant in Silverton for lunch as I did. Sue invited me to join them and, shoving my nervousness aside, I did. I even managed to chat and eat with some semblance of decorum (i.e.: I didn’t spill anything or let loose any embarrassing noises.). But then, Heather Alexander of Pippin Properties and Marie Lamba of the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency made it easy. They were so relaxed and friendly, reminding me that the faculty at such events are just as interested in meeting and talking with writers and illustrators as we are with them.

But on with the Retreat. Thursday evening, Susan Blackaby, an Oregon writer with a fetish for narrow-ruled yellow tablets, and Carolyn Conahan, an illustrator with an affinity for hippy vans, opened the retreat with a look back at how this event had played a key role in the success of their collaboration “The Twelve Days of Christmas in Oregon.” On Friday morning, Andrea Welch, senior editor at Beach Lane Books, spoke to the ten essential elements she looks for in picture books. Heart and read aloud ability topped her list. Later that day, Marie cautioned us that nothing kills a reader’s experience faster than overwriting, a problem she sees as a failure to reel in our imagination enough to leave room for the reader’s. Saturday, Tiffany Liao, associate editor at Penguin Random House’s Razorbill imprint, shared some personal experiences that shaped her insights into bringing diverse characters to our work. She gave those of us belonging to the “unmarked state” a lot to think about. For our final workshop, we dissected sample letters as Heather offered liberation from query madness. Her rallying cry? K.I.S.S. Keep It Simple, Stupid. Sunday morning was reserved for faculty-led roundtables arranged by genre. As always, I found this to be not only a great opportunity for feedback, but a chance to learn how a particular agent or editor approaches a manuscript.

Overall, though, I think what really stood out for me at this retreat was the relaxed schedule. Bravo to the organizers who allowed plenty of time to write, get feedback in a critique group, chat with other participants, or, my favorite, take a stroll or tram ride through the Oregon Garden. We even had time to sneak back to our rooms for a nap if so inclined. All in all, not a bad way to spend four days.
For more information on the beautiful Oregon Garden:

Monday, October 5, 2015

Working Out the Bugs

My apologies if you have tried to leave a comment and ran into problems. That should be fixed.

Friday, October 2, 2015

SCBWI Insight Write This -- October

October prompt: in 50 words or less, portray an inopportune time to get a case of hiccups.

My entry made the Top Twenty!!

I am clever, hiding in the savannah grass.
I am patient, watching and waiting.
I am muscles, crouching, coiled and ready.
I am—HIC!
I am—HIC!
I am IT!

Inland Northwest SCBWI Conference Follow-up

We were a packed house for the Inland Northwest SCBWI regional conference, but that's a good thing. Just under 60 of us gathered at the Spokane Club on September 19th to hear John Cusick, agent with Folio Literary Management, caution us to "skip the boring parts" when pacing our stories; author Jennifer K. Mann share how she visually analyzes picture books; and Viking editor Joanna Cardenas encourage us to explore the possibilities of genre bending. The day's events also included a panel of three local debut authors: Kris Dinnison (You, Me, and Him), Dan Gemeinhart (The Honest Truth), and A. L. Sonnichsen (Red Butterfly) who answered questions about their journey to publication. It's always inspiring to hear how perseverance and being open to the continual honing of our craft can payoff.

It's nice to sit with friends at conferences, but this year I was running late and ended up at a table of faces all new to me. You know what? That was another good thing. There were several conference newbies in the group and that gave us old hands a chance to answer their questions and make them feel welcome. It also meant that when my volunteer duty as a "lunch monitor," whose job was to make sure everyone got what they ordered, proved a bit trickier than imagined, I had several new friends telling me to relax, I was doing just fine.

Those of you familiar with conferences know that one of the best good thing these events offer is an opportunity for a professional critique. Your critique group is indispensable in helping you revise and hone a manuscript, but isn't it funny how a fresh set of eyes can have you seeing what you've written  from a totally new perspective? About mid-afternoon, I met with editor Joanna Cardenas to discuss one of my picture book manuscripts.  Joanna was easy to talk to, her comments a thoughtful blend of encouragement and honesty. Plus her typed notes will come in handy as I rethink and revise my story. Always a good thing.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Step Right Up for a Writing Conference

Heading out this weekend to the Inland Northwest SCBWI conference in Spokane, Washington. This is my home region and it will be fun to catch up with old friends. Perhaps I'll even meet a few new ones. I always volunteer to help with this event and this year I got assigned "lunch monitor." Oh does that bring back memories of grade school! Hopefully these adults who write for children will be above acting like children and I won't have to break up any food fights. Then again, the theme is a circus one and there could be some clowns in the crowd.

Click here for more information.

Friday, September 11, 2015

SCBWI Insight Write This -- September

September prompt: It's September, and that means BACK TO SCHOOL!  In 50 words or less, give us a first impression of your character's new teacher.

     Miss Harper, the new music teacher, is perfect. Perfect hair, perfect face, perfect clothes, and, of course, the perfect voice.
     Her heart’s perfect, too. Perfectly evil. With Orpheus hanging in my family tree, I couldn’t miss that. The rest of Emerson High is doomed to find out the hard way.


 (See the July prompt entry for an explanation of this SCBWI Insight feature.)  

SCBWI Insight Write This -- August

August prompt: In 50 words or less, create a narrative description of the weather which sets a mood for suspense, mystery and intrigue.  

At chow they told us Twelvers to expect it to rain cats and dogs today. Yeah, right! Those are saber-tooth tigers and dire wolves. Which makes “Hostile Environments” way more interesting.
            Don’t get me wrong. It still sucks . . . being slotted into McClaren. But this storm’s a point in survival’s favor.

(See the July prompt entry for an explanation of this SCBWI Insight feature.) 

SCBWI Insight Write This -- July

Included in SCBWI's new online newsletter, INSIGHT, is a feature called "Write This." Writers are challenged to submit up to 50 words based on a specific prompt. In the July issue, they published the first 500 submissions and I made the cut. In following months, they will only be publishing their selected "Top Twenty." You will probably want to check here for my attempts.
July prompt: write a character description in fifty words using the word "WART."   
When one old aunty whispered "Poor child, he's as ugly as a wart on a hog," Isaiah Broomfield's brothers laughed and called it payback for his arrival messing up their summer. Unfortunately, Wart was the kind of a nickname that stuck. As did the ugliness that fed on it.