Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Writing Prompt/Thinking Inside of the Box With Tammi Sauer

On this totally wonderful Tuesday, I am pleased to present Tammi Sauer (and Bernadette) with a fun writing exercise in which Tammi invites you to "think inside the box." If you don't already know Tammi and her fabulous books, I am proud to introduce them to you. "Cowboy Camp" and "Chicken Dance" are two of my family's favorites! And of course we will run out and get "Mostly Monsterly" as Bernadette is making her big picture book debut TODAY!!! I hope that you will too!

Writing Excercise:

Imagine your main character has a top secret box tucked away in the deepest part of her closet...behind the clothes, past the shoes, and underneath a pile of games. What's inside the box? What would your main character do if her mom found the box? What if her little brother found the box and shared it with everyone in the school?
Psst! Some Scoop on Tammi:

Tammi grew up on a farm outside the small town of Victoria, Kansas. While there, she chased pigs, kept tabs on the cows, and occasionally danced with chickens. These days, Tammi lives with her husband, their two children, and way too many pets in Edmond, Oklahoma.

Tammi is a former teacher and library media specialist.

She cannot parallel park.

Tammi's Picture Books:

Cowboy Camp (Sterling, 2005)
Chicken Dance (Sterling, 2009)
Mostly Monsterly (Paula Wiseman/Simon & Schuster, 2010)
Mr. Duck Means Business (Paula Wiseman/Simon & Schuster, 2011)
Bawk and Roll (Sterling, 2011)
Me Want Pet! (Paula Wiseman/Simon & Schuster, 2012)
Princess-in-Training (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, forthcoming)
Oh, Nuts! (Bloomsbury, forthcoming)

Website: www.tammisauer.com
Blog: http://tamarak.livejournal.com/
Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MmqzNJZ11mg

Mostly Monsterly

by Tammi Sauer; illustrated by Scott Magoon
(Paula Wiseman/Simon & Schuster, 2010)

"Bernadette was mostly monsterly.
She lurched.
She growled.
She caused mayhem of all kinds.
But, underneath the fangs and fur, Bernadette had a deep dark secret...."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Coming soon!
Mr. Duck Means Business (Simon & Schuster)

Tammi's latest:
Chicken Dance (Sterling)
2009 NAPPA Gold Medal Award
2010 Winner of the Oklahoma Book Award
2010 Chicago Public Library Best of the Best book
2011 Grand Canyon Reader Award Nominee
2010-2011 Buckaroo Book Award Nominee
Shop at Amazon.com!

For freebies, fun, and much, much more, check out www.elvispoultrybooks.com. It'll have you all shook up.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Article/So You Want to Be a Children's Writer?

So, You Want To Be A Children's Writer? (Introduction to Children's Writing)
(c) 2000 Lynne Remick

You're starting out on a writing career, and don't have any experience. So, why not start with the easiest writing first? Yes,that's it...you'll start off writing for children. That ought to be a cinch! NOT SO FAST.

Contrary to popular belief, writing for children is NOT easy. As a matter of fact, children's writing is one of the toughest genres to crack, whether it be books, magazine articles, or poetry you will be writing.

STILL WANT TO BE A CHILDREN'S WRITER? Yes, you wereonce a child and you remember what it was like to be a child, (vaguely). However, having been a child is not enough. You must have strong connections with children, and that doesn't mean being a parent or grandmother, either. Do you read their books, do you hang out with them? Are you surrounded by them? Do you understand them and talk their lingo? Can you communicate with them without "talking down" to them? Do you feel that there's nothing better in the world than being with children?

If the answers to these questions are yes, then you're ready to move forward. I can assure you, it won't be easy, but it will be rewarding. Children's writers help shape the world, word by word, one child at a time.

YOU'RE STILL INTERESTED? That's great. You better be readyto put in an enormous amount of time, energy and effort. And, you better be able to take constructive criticism and rejection--these are essential conditions of being a writer in any genre.

NOW THAT YOU'VE COME THIS FAR, you're going to write books that all children will love. Right? Again, not so fast. The "writing for children" industry is broken down into several categories. Babies love to see and touch board books, babies and toddlers enjoy wonderful pictures and being read to by their parents, preschoolers have fun learning letters and sounds and reading words themselves. Young readers can read their favourite picture books over and over again. After that, there's "easy readers," chapter books, mid-grade books and young adult books, each geared specifically to a target age group.

SO, NOW WHAT DO YOU DO? There's no time like the present to make a trip to your local library and check out a few books in each of the above categories: Board Books (perhaps try "The Very Hungry Caterpillar Board Book" by Eric Carle or "The Little Engine That Could" by Watty Piper); Picture Books ("Sector 7" by David Wiesner is a great wordless PB -just in case you're interested in illustration, and "Miss Spider's Tea Party" is a favourite of many children); Picture Books for older children (try "Stellaluna" or "Verdi" by Janelle Cannon), Easy Readers (check out "Dinosaurs Before Dark" [First Stepping Stone Books] by Mary Pope Osborne, "The Three Little Pigs [Puffin Easy-To-Read, Level 2] by Harriet Ziefert, or " The Frog Prince [Hello Reader, Level 3] by Edith Tarcov); Chapter Books (look for Flat Stanley [Trophy Chapter Book] by Jeff Brown), a Mid-grade book (Gail Carson Levine's "Ella Enchanted" and the "Harry Potter" Books come to mind) and a Young Adult Book (Lois Lowry's "The Giver" is worth a try).

To get a real sense of the genre, you must try *many* books ineach category. Your local librarian should be helpful in making additional selections. Once you find an "age-group" that you feel comfortable with, try reading as many books of that nature as you can. Even when you begin the writing process, you should continue reading in your genre. I try and read a picture book a day!

What's your book for today?
Mine is "Crazy Day at the Critter Cafe" by Barbara Odanaka!

Enjoy the process!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Writing Prompt/Turning Characters Inside Out

I am pleased to announce my next Guest Blogger, Picture Book Author Sue Fliess, who I met this year at the SCBWI LA Nationals through our mutual friend, Picture Book Author Margaret O'Hair. For those of you who have not attended the four-day LA National Conference, I must warn you that a casual meeting on Thursday (most arrive one day early) can not only foster friendships, but bring out some spectactular "character development" by Saturdary night LOL

(Picture l. to r. Voiceover Artist/Writer Connie Marie Mustang, PB Author Meg O'Hair, YA Author Jay Asher, PB Author Lynne Marie, YA Author Carolyn Mackler, MG/YA Author Rachel Vail and our featured PB Author Sue Fliess)

Know Your Characters From The Inside Out by Sue Fliess

This exercise can work for any genre or age range. I write mostly picture books, but am writing a middle grade right now, and find these types of writing exercises help me not only to discover what is truly motivating both my main character and my antagonist to act and think the way they do or say the things they say, but also help me develop sympathy for my antagonist. To truly know how your character would act or react in any situation, try throwing her into a new one.

Your main character runs into the most popular girl from school at the coffee shop.
Are they friends?
Why or why not?
How does your mc react and why?
Does she wave?
What is the popular girl wearing?
What is your mc wearing?
Where does your MC buy her shoes?
What's going through her head as they talk or go their separate ways?

Now reverse it. Get into the popular girl's head. Yes, you need to know her too. She runs into your main character.
How does she react with her body?
Does she stiffen?
Turn her back?
Open her arms?
What is going through her head?
Is she 'above' your mc?
Secretly jealous of her?
If so, why?
Did they used to be BFFs?
Does she break away from her clique to talk to her? If so, what does she share?

Picture book writer?
Have this meeting take place at the park or playground. What you write may not be so heavy on the verbal communication, but nonverbal communication speaks volumes.
Does the other little girl cross her arms?
Hug your mc?
Is it a boy?
Does he throw sand in her hair?
Take her toy? Why?
What is your mc wearing?
Does the other girl have more sparkly shoes?
More ribbons in her hair?

It may just be an exercise, but perhaps you've just written your coffee shop scene!

Sue Fliess is the author of three forthcoming picture books. The first, Shoes for Me, will be out in March, 2011 with Marshall Cavendish Children's Books. A freelance writer and marketing professional, Sue lives in Mountain View, CA with her husband, two young boys and their guinea pig, Mocha. Visit Sue at http://www.suefliess.com/

Hippo needs new shoes! She and Mom set out to the store and Mom lets her choose her very own pair of shoes. But with so many choices, will Hippo find the perfect pair?
Sue FliessShoes for Me, Marshall Cavendish, March 2011
A Dress for Me, Marshall Cavendish, 2012
Tons of Trucks, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012

Friday, August 27, 2010

Writing Prompt/Finding Drama in Nature

Today we're stepping outside of our cozy little writing nooks with my friend and award-winning science author, Amy S. Hansen. Check out her informative website at:
http://amyshansen.com to learn more about her books and programs.


Finding Drama in Nature

Research a natural cycle and write it out.

For example, Sea turtles: Sea turtle eggs hatch. They move to the ocean. They find the current. They float around and eat and grow. They find a mate. The females return to beaches and lay their own eggs.
[Source: University of North Carolina http://www.unc.edu/depts/oceanweb/turtles/lifecycle.html]

Or Mosquitoes: Mosquito eggs hatch. They grow into larvae. They change into adults. The females bite a mammal, bird or reptile to get blood that they need for the eggs. They lay eggs in water. They die.
[Source: Oklahoma State University http://entoplp.okstate.edu/mosquito/lifecycle.html]

Now take a part your cycle and look for drama. Without making the animals anthropomorphic you can still show the danger pending to an individual sea turtle, or an individual mosquito. Most of the animals that start as eggs do not survive to adulthood. Danger is everywhere.

Go back to your research. See what eats the baby sea turtles. Write out a near miss, showing the turtle’s defensive action — maybe running faster into the ocean.

If you do that for every piece of your cycle, your readers will be cheering for that turtle, or even the mosquito, and the lifecycle itself becomes a story of triumph.

(Please note that I wouldn’t use only one source for any research, but would want at least three reliable sources saying the same thing. Non-fiction writing does not need to be dull. It does need to be accurate.)


Every fall, bugs disappear. And every spring, they return. Where do they go? Bugs and Bugsicles answers the mystery.

Some die, leaving their young safe in an egg sack or crawling along
the bottom of a pond. Others fly distant places. And one even freezes
to thaw out and live another day.

Watch as crickets, ladybugs, dragonflies, and other insects get ready for the killing frosts. Then look again, as spring arrives, snow melts, flowers bloom, and suddenly, the bugs are back.
Shop at Amazon.com!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Writing Advice: Rock Those Picture Books!

Today, I'm honored to feature friend and fellow Scholastic author Gayle C. Krause, pictured together here at the fabulous New Jersey SCBWI Annual Conference. I'm sure this information will help your picture books SING!



What qualifies me to write a picture book? What qualifies you?

If I’ve heard it once I’ve heard it a million times. “I can write a picture book. It’s easy.” People hear about my success with “Rock Star Santa” and say I can do that too. I say, “Try it. It’s not as easy as it looks.

The “Big Picture” in picture books is in the author’s head. It’s our job to put that picture into words:

…without talking down to the child.
…keeping adults interested in the story.
…using a unified tone and style.
…without moralizing.
…and keeping a consistent point of view.

Here are a few helping hints.

Jump right into the story.
First line should set the mood.
Second line should introduce the main character if he/she/it was not introduced in line 1.
Problem or conflict should be in line three, if not included in lines 1 or 2.
a. without a conflict, there is no story.

For all those who still think this is easy, have you got that so far? Okay. Now we need the story to unfold.

Is it organized?
don’t jump from the zoo to a pirate ship to bedtime.

Did you limit the description?
no “silver beams of moonlight shined down upon the green fairy as she flitted through the tall grasses that waved goodbye to the sun in the evening breeze.”
instead > The fairy flew home at night.” Let the illustrator set the scene. In a picture book, it’s 50% their story.

Do you have an effective ending?
are all loose ends tied up?
is the reader satisfied?
does the ending relate back to the beginning? (full circle concept)

Can your story be broken down into 29 pages? Don’t count the end papers and title page as story pages.

Did you vary the length of your sentences? For young picture books they should be no longer than 8 words. For older picture books, no longer than 12.

Does your story center around a child’s interest?

Can children relate to the characters?
a. characters need to be well-rounded, with quirks and personality traits that bring them to life. Create characters that children can relate to, wonder about, and come back to again and again.
And what about your language? Is it lyrical? That means play with sounds. It does NOT mean you must rhyme.

Speaking of rhyme, a fellow rhymer, who was a professional singer in her previous life (before becoming a children’s author) offered me this advice years ago.

“If a person can’t sing on key, they can’t rhyme.” Makes sense doesn’t it? I’ve shared that with other children’s writers at conferences and some of them disagree. But think about it… if you can’t keep the beat or find the meter while you’re singing, how can you hear the scansion when you’re writing rhyme? Now, I’m sure there are some exceptions to the rule. There always are, but my advice is:

If you can’t sing it,
don’t try to wing it.
So I propose,
you write in prose.

Choose effective verbs and nouns.

Limit adjectives and adverbs.


Okay, am I qualified to write picture books? Rock Star Santa thinks I am. Are you? Follow this advice and maybe we’ll see your name on a picture book in the library or bookstore. Oh, and I’d join SCBWI and go to conferences. You’ll meet wonderful picture book authors and learn more about writing.. Good luck!

Gayle C. Krause
Rock Star Santa
Scholastic, Inc.


Children await Santa’s arrival on Christmas Eve only they’re not tucked snuggly in their beds dreaming of sugarplums. They’re stomping and clapping at a Christmas rock concert, where Santa is the “rock star.” ROCK STAR SANTA is an original, modern day retelling of a Christmas classic, but what happens on this night before Christmas is rockin’.
Shop at Amazon.com!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Writing Prompt/The Write Start by Dianne de Las Casas

It's a cool rainy day in New York, so I grabbed a cup of Hazelnut coffee to sit down with this delicious morning writing starter by my very first (((GUEST)))
Storyteller/Author pal Dianne de Las Casas:

Want to write but feel stuck? It’s natural to stare at the “blank page” and blink a few times, not knowing what to write. Sometimes, our creative juices get bottlenecked in a quagmire of over-thinking and over-analyzing. Here are some story prompters to help you “loosen the plug” and get back to your effervescent writer self. Remember the child you once were. Tap into that. Bottom up and pens down! Don’t think. Just write. And don’t limit your recollection. Feel free to stretch your imagination muscle. A lot!

1. The most embarrassing thing that ever happened to me as a child was…
2. The funniest thing that ever happened to me as a child was…
3. Do you want to hear a story of adventure? When I was a kid, I used to…
4. The scariest moment I ever had as a child was when…
5. I have this scar. You’ll never believe how I got it…
6. My favorite place to visit as a kid was _______.
7. When I was a kid, I was quite a trickster. Once, I…
8. I remember the first time I lost my tooth (learned how to ride a bike, got my first shot, any childhood “firsts”).
9. As a child, my favorite pet in the whole world was ________. He was the best ________ ever! We used to….
10. When I was in ________ grade. My best friend was ___________. We did everything together. Once…
11. My favorite teacher was __________. In her class, we…
12. Here’s a story about my Aunt/Uncle ____________? He/she used to get into so much trouble! Once…
13. One of my favorite memories as a kid was when my team won the ________ game! It all started when…
14. When I was a kid, I could never go anywhere without (favorite toy or blanket). One time…
15. When I was a kid, I won a (spelling bee, achievement award, essay contest, etc.). I couldn’t believe it…
16. When we were little, my family used to go camping. Once…
17. My favorite Christmas was when…
18. When we were kids, we used to play… (Name an outdoor game, board game, card game, etc. Recall that experience.)
19. My favorite cartoon as a kid was ________. I love watching it because…
20. One time, when I was little, we had a disaster in the kitchen…

Dianne de Las Casas is an author and award-winning storyteller who tours internationally presenting programs, educator/librarian training, workshops and artist residencies. Her performances, dubbed “revved-up storytelling” are full of energetic audience participation. Her children’s books include The Cajun Cornbread Boy, Madame Poulet & Monsieur Roach, Mama’s Bayou, and The Gigantic Sweet Potato. Dianne’s professional books include Story Fest: Crafting Story Theater Scripts; Kamishibai Story Theater: The Art of Picture Telling; Handmade Tales: Stories to Make and Take; Tangram Tales: Story Theater Using the Ancient Chinese Puzzle, The Story Biz Handbook, Scared Silly: 25 Tales to Tickle and Thrill and Stories on Board: Creating Board Games from Favorite Tales. Visit her website at http://www.storyconnection.net/.

Dianne de Las Casas
Author & Award-Winning Storyteller
The Story Connection
Friend me! http://www.facebook.com/diannedelascasas
Fan me! http://www.facebook.com/fanofdianne
Follow me! http://www.twitter.com/storyconnection

Children's Books:
Dinosaur Mardi Gras (Pelican Publishing; 2011)
The House that Witchy Built (Pelican Publishing; 2011)
There's a Dragon in the Library (Pelican Publishing; 2011)
The Gigantic Sweet Potato (Pelican Publishing; 2010)
Mama's Bayou (Pelican Publishing; 2010)
Madame Poulet and Monsieur Roach (Pelican Publishing; 2009)
The Cajun Cornbread Boy (Pelican Publishing Co., 2009)
Shop at Amazon.com!

Professional Books:
Tales from the 7,000 Isles: Filipino Folk Stories (Libraries Unlimited; 2011)
Tell Along Tales: Playing with Participation Stories (Libraries Unlimited; 2010)
Stories on Board: Creating Board Games from Favorite Tales (Libraries Unlimited; 2010)
Scared Silly: 25 Tales to Tickle and Thrill (Libraries Unlimited; 2009)
The Story Biz Handbook: How to Manage Your Storytelling Career from the Desk to the Stage (Libraries Unlimited; 2008)
Tangram Tales: Story Theater Using the Ancient Chinese Puzzle (Teacher Ideas Press; 2008)
Handmade Tales: Stories to Make and Take (Libraries Unlimited; 2007)
Kamishibai Story Theater: The Art of Picture Telling (Teacher Ideas Press; 2006)
Story Fest: Crafting Story Theater Scripts (Teacher Ideas Press; 2005)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


As writers, we all recall days when we finally sit down to write and can't find a thing to write about.

When this happens, don't panic or even mention the word "writer's block." Just grab a pen or go to your computer, choose a writing exercise and begin writing. Writing exercises, such as the one featured here, will warm up the imagination, stretch the creative muscle and massage your muse.

"Word Play" is a random word exercise that's quick, challenging, motivating and best of all--fun. Both writers and poets can utilize this form of warm-up to begin their writing sessions or to write their way through a temporary block. You'll be surprised at the results.

To begin this "Word Play" exercise, let your favorite dictionary fall open to any page. Close your eyes and land your pointer finger randomly on that page to choose a word. Write down the word. Repeat the process. Pick ten words and one bonus word in this fashion. Then, challenge yourself to play around with the words and use ten in a story excerpt or poem of no longer than 200 words.

If you write for a specific genre, i.e., children's or medieval romance, you can choose words from pertinent resources as "The Children's Writer's Word Book," or the "Medieval Word Book" rather than the dictionary. You can even apply the exercise directly to your "work-in-progress" by relating it to those characters, if desired.
NOTE: Writing prompts and exercises like this one by me (as well as several fun and fabulous Guest Authors) will be featured here on a regular basis. Please click the Follow button so you don't miss a tip or a trick!

Party of Four

I am a long-time member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (http://www.scbwi.org/) and a huge fan of their conferences, which I have attended on local, state, national and international levels. The knowledge and take-away value that you can get from these conferences is immense, but for me it's even more than that.

Above is a picture of four long-time friends (l. to r., Young Adult Author Linda Joy Singleton, Voice Over Artist/Writer Connie Marie Mustang, Picture Book Author Lynne Marie, Picture Book Author Verla Kay) who have flown in from different parts of the United States to the SCBWI LA Conference this past July/August, coming together to share our thoughts, experiences, laughter and tears while we hone our skills and keep ourselves current in our craft.

We have been rooming together since 2001 and although for varied reasons we have missed a few conferences over the years, but we're still together and going strong. Best yet, the conference (the 40th anniversary of SCBWI) is on all our calendars for next year!

Think about reserving your own table at a future SCBWI conference (start saving pennies, airline miles) and make your own party of two, or four. You will create memories that will last a lifetime, and be in the right place to make your own dreams come true.

My first picture book, "Hedgehog Goes to Kindergarten" illustrated by Anne Kennedy is being released in May, 2001 by Scholastic. See, dreams to come true!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Getting the Blog Rolling!

Just this morning my six-year old daughter asked me, "What number day is today?" I responded that it was August 23rd, but she quickly corrected me and told me that is NOT what she meant. "What day is it in my life? "Today," I said wittily, "is the FIRST day of the rest of your life." Thankfully, she liked that answer. "Well then," she replied, "I think I'd like to get a pedicure. I've never gotten one of those. And maybe go out to dinner."

This got me thinking. There are so many things I've been meaning to do that I haven't done, starting this Children's Author's blog being one of them. And today is the first day of MY life, too! So I went on line, did a blog search for one of those free blog headers (I'll keep up my search for a reasonably-priced Wordpress Skinner but won't let it hold me back) and I've started my blog HERE :).
Now that I've done that, I'm going to take a short break and join Kayla as she pretends to be a Rock Star...

My daughter inspired me. I hope I inspire you. Today is the FIRST day of the rest of YOUR life. what are you going to do TODAY?