Wednesday, November 24, 2010

WRITING ADVICE FROM DOWN UNDER: Bumbled Verse, Nothing's Worse!

I've reached across the globe to Australia to introduce you to my long-time cyber crit friend Jackie Hosking. She's always proved a great help with rhyme, rhythm and meter when members of our little group needed it. I'm pleased to  share her fun and helpful advice here today.

“Rhyme & Meter; nothing’s sweeter
Bumbled Verse; nothing’s worse.”
by Jackie Hosking

As a children’s writer and editor of rhyming stories and poetry I spend much of my time de-bumbling verse. If you think of your readers as passengers you’ll find that most feel comfortable when they can trust that their journey will be a smooth one. So the question is what are the factors that make for a bumpy ride?

Dori Chaconas, in an early post, told us about the importance of story, rhythm and rhyme (in that order) so I won’t go into that so much here. Instead I would like to expand on what it is we mean by the word ‘rhythm’.

Rhythm or meter, is the smoothinator. It takes the speed humps and the pot holes off the road. Novice rhymers, in my experience, tend to focus on the end rhymes and rush over the rhythm often forcing words into spaces where they do not fit. When reread, by the writer, we can liken it to a driver who is driving along a very familiar piece of road, they can pretty much do it with their eyes closed. When a new reader is put into the driver’s seat, they will not know to dodge the hidden pot holes and will inevitably fall into them. So how do we avoid this? Well like all good drivers, we must follow the rules.

My 12 page booklet, ‘How to Write in Rhyme Like the Experts’ illustrates the rules in a very simple fashion. It takes you back to basics explaining the role of syllables, stressed and non-stressed, the common types of meter used in the English language, the iamb, the trochee, the spondee, the anapest and the dactyl and what it is we mean by the word ‘foot’.

Dr Seuss, for example was a keen user of the anapest. An anapest is a type of meter. It is made up of three syllables, two unstressed syllables followed by one stressed syllable. Each group of these 3 syllables is called a foot and Dr Seuss liked to have 4 feet per line.

From ‘Horton Hears a Who’...

|On the fif|teenth of May| in the Jun|gle of Nool|

        1                  2                3              4

|In the heat| of the day| in the cool| of the pool|

        1                  2                3               4

As you can see each |foot| is made up of two unstressed syllables followed by one stressed syllable and there are four |feet| to each line. You’ll note that there are also 4 stressed syllables. The story then, is written in anapaestic tetrameter, where tetrameter = four. Monometer = one, Dimeter = two, Trimeter = three etc.

Seuss is a brilliant metrical poet and I would recommend that you read as much of him as you can.

To finish up I would like to highlight what I’ve been talking about by bumbling Seuss’s verse.

On the twelfth of May deep in the Jungle of Nool

In the sweltering heat of the day inside the cool of the pool

Sorry Dr Seuss...

So what’s gone wrong? When I bold the stressed syllables you’ll see that the pattern of stressed to non-stressed syllables is no longer consistent. The meter is muddled, the verse is varied, the beat is bumbled and it just doesn’t make for a smooth ride.

On the twelfth of May deep in the Jungle of Nool

In the sweltering heat of the day inside the cool of the pool

If you write in rhyme and you are interested in learning a bit more about meter then you might like to get a hold of a copy of my booklet. For more information please visit my blog at

Thursday, November 18, 2010

WRITING ADVICE: Finding Your Way "Om" with Kelly DiPucchio

I recently discovered Kelly DiPucchio's books during a run of reading books about pigs (Bed Hogs). I just adored those pigs, and returned to check out more of her books. Next, I met the delightful "Mrs. McBloom," the admirable "Grace" and the traveling "Liberty." I went out to buy my own Grace so that she could live with us! I'm working on getting Mrs. McBloom to come stay, too. I can't wait to discover more of the characters between the covers of Kelly DiPucchio's picture books. I'm  very excited to have her here to share her insight with you today.

Writing Advice from Kelly DiPucchio/There’s No Place Like Om

My advice is to writers is simply this: Do Nothing!  More importantly, think nothing.  I realize that telling a writer not to think is kind of like telling a fish not to swim.  We are wired to think and create.  But what if there were a way to boost your thinking and creativity to a whole new level just by doing nothing? I’m talking about meditation.  In some conservative circles of society, admitting that you practice meditation is kind of like admitting that you have a crystal ball and you practice levitation. At some point in our history, meditation became associated with the “New Age” movement. But there is nothing new about mediation.  It has been practiced for thousands of years and with good reason. It works.
Most writers don’t have any trouble bringing their attention inward. In fact, we’re pretty much stuck in our heads all the time.  And that’s the problem. For most of us, our chatty minds just won’t shut up.  In addition to our real world mind chatter, we’re also bombarded by the chatter that comes from our make-believe worlds. We’re constantly plotting and planning while loud, impatient characters compete for our attention.  It can be very hard to cultivate creativity when your mind is so cluttered and noisy.
Meditation quiets the monkey mind.  Have you ever stopped to listen to silence? As strange as that sounds, silence has a frequency. When we can attune ourselves to that frequency; when we can leave our expectations, our anxieties, and our egos aside, we create a gap in our consciousness. This gap allows us to become aligned with the creative forces of the universe and we literally become a channel through which information can flow. When this exchange of energy occurs, some really interesting things begin to happen:  Inspiration.  Clarity. Wonderment. Unexpected opportunities.  It’s pretty amazing.  If you don’t believe me, give it a try. Namaste!
Kelly DiPucchio is the award-winning author of several picture books, including New York Times bestseller, Grace For President.  Her most recent children’s book, The Sandwich Swap, was co-authored with Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdullah, and was featured on The Oprah Show and Good Morning America.  Kelly lives with her family in southeastern Michigan. You can visit her on the web at:

Kelly’s picture books:
Bed Hogs (Disney-Hyperion, 2004)
Liberty’s Journey (Disney-Hyperion, 2004)
What’s the Magic Word? (HarperCollins, 2005)
Dinosnores (HarperCollins,  2005)
Mrs. McBloom, Clean Up Your Classroom! (Disney-Hyperion, 2005)
Sipping Spiders Through A Straw (Scholastic, 2008)
Grace For President (Disney-Hyperion, 2008)
How To Potty Train Your Monster (Disney-Hyperion, 2009)
Alfred Zector, Book Collector (HarperCollins, 2010)
The Sandwich Swap (Disney-Hyperion, 2010)

Coming Soon!
Clink (HarperCollins, 2011)
Gilbert Goldfish Wants A Pet (Dial Books for Young Readers, 2011)
                                                                     Zombie In Love (Simon & Schuster, 2011)

Monday, November 15, 2010

WRITING TIP No. 5: S'witching It Up With Author Wendy Wax

I always love a good story. So it's always a treat when I get to hear the story behind the story, too!

Today fellow LICWI (Long Island Children's Writers and Illustrators) Member Wendy Wax has stopped by the Playground to share her real life inspiration that would become  CITY WITCH, COUNTRY SWITCH!

Wendy Wax’s Writing Tip

I do my best to keep the writing process fun for ME. When I feel stuck, I know it’s time to inject the story with something quirky, magic, or unexpected. Something to re-inspire me.

I wrote City Witch, Country Switch after I had moved from NYC to Eastern Long Island. I had enjoyed going back and forth between the two places, but the thought of living in the country full-time horrified me. I made my situation more fun by writing my own version of Aesop’s classic The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse.   

I personally couldn’t turn my country backyard into Central Park, but I wanted my characters to be free to whip up whatever their hearts’ desired. So I made them witches. When Mitzi, the city witch, is grossed out by swimming in a muddy pond, she magically turns it into a bubble bath. When Muffletump, the country witch, feels claustrophobic on a city bus, she casts a spell that turns the bus into a hayride.

I made lists of all things related to city and country, and came up with lots of magical spells. If I got bored with one, I’d grab another—or come up with a new one. I did the same with the rhyme stanzas—writing many different versions until I found the one with the most magic.


Wendy Wax has written many books for children including City Witch, Country Switch (Marshall Cavendish), Even Firefighters Go to the Potty (Little Simon), Arlo Makes a Friend, Arlo Gets Lost (both Sterling), Clara the Klutz (InnovativeKids), Empire Dreams (Silver Moon Press), Bus to Booville, You Can’t Scare Me (both Grosset & Dunlap), A Very Mice Christmas (HarperFestival), and Renoir and the Boy with the Long Hair (Barron's).

Wendy grew up in Michigan and graduated from The University of Michigan with a BFA in graphic design. She then worked as a children's book editor and a freelance illustrator.

Wendy's, vibrant photo-collages appear in many magazines and books, including three books she wrote and co-illustrated with her photographer husband Jon Holderer

Sunday, November 14, 2010

[WRITING TIP] Overcoming Fears with C. Hope Clark

Long ago, I wrote for practice and hadn't a publication credit to my name.

I wanted to slowly work my way up the ladder of publication success, but found the various Writer's Markets overwhelming. For many of my leads, I turned to a brand new e-newsletter called  Funds for Writers edited by the resourceful and talented C. Hope Clark.  Each week, I was able to peruse a few articles, and consider a handful of markets -- 
more my speed!

Now my resume spans many pages and includes magazine articles, children's magazine article, newspaper articles, book reviews, puzzles, games, poems, poetry and story contests, as well as my upcoming book with Scholastic. Thank you Hope, for helping me to build my resume and become the author I am today!

Eleven years later, Hope is still sharing her knowledge and expertise with other writers. I am honored to have her as my Guest Blogger at the Playground and to share her inspiration, as well as her sensitivity.


If I Wasn’t Afraid
by C. Hope Clark
          When fear strikes, we usually let it lead, keeping it where we can see it, practically letting it grab us by the nose and pull us through out lives. Most people then dodge whatever it was that kindled the fear, thinking avoidance the best policy. That’s why we dodge book signings, presentations and even submissions. If we don’t go there, fear can’t find us.
          The fear hasn’t gone anywhere. Because you drive around the pothole in the road you travel everyday doesn’t mean the hole isn’t there. Inevitably you’ll come back to it again unless you take an entirely different route or a longer way home, inconveniencing yourself.
          But what if you weren’t afraid? Name one of your worries and reword it. For instance: What if I wasn’t afraid of rejection?
          Think of this exercise as if you were placing yourself on the backside of the fear. Imagine stepping over it like a puddle, standing on the other side and describing what it’s like over there.
          What if you weren’t afraid of rejection? You’d submit a story every week to an editor of a publication. Simple. Now look back at the concerns mentioned earlier.
·         What if I wasn’t afraid of someone not liking me? I would smile and not get upset.
·         What if I wasn’t afraid of forgetting what to say? I’d refer to my notes, collect my thoughts and continue speaking.
·         What if I wasn’t afraid of tripping? I’d get up, brush off and keep walking. I’d joke about it with the crowd.
·         What if I wasn’t afraid my voice would crack? I’d keep talking, drinking from a bottle of water as I went.
·         What if I wasn’t afraid someone would walk out? I’d ignore the person leaving and keep presenting.
·         What if I wasn’t afraid of talking too long? I’d have a final wrap-up sentence prepared and offer to speak to individuals once the session was over.
·         What if I wasn’t afraid of low sales? I’d be researching how to make more sales.
        Make a list of five fears. Write “I’m afraid of” before each one. Now come up with three answers for each one using the words “If I wasn’t afraid, I would…” Then the next time you are nervous or scared, mentally challenge yourself to address it in this manner.
          At a conference in Florida, I suddenly learned I would be the after dinner speaker. Teaching small classes was one thing, but this was a room of two hundred writers including a few agents and editors from New York. I have night blindness, and as I stepped on the podium and laid out my notes, the lights went down leaving only a spot on me. I’d practiced the speech well, but not being able to readily read my notes left me rattled. I completed the motivational topic and stepped down feeling completely deflated, recognizing the episode as one of my lesser glories.
          I asked myself, “What is so bad about this moment?” I was still greeted warmly by the crowd. None of these folks disliked me for the speech. I was perfectly fine. I’d stumbled through a presentation and come out in one piece, the world still rotating as usual. Now before I step up to speak, or stand to read an excerpt, I imagine “What if I wasn’t afraid of this moment?” and plow forward.
          Soon you learn as I have that some of your fears are conquerable – as easy as stepping over a mud puddle.
After eleven years of editing, and ten years of Writer's Digest awarding FundsforWriters the 101 Best Websites for Writers recognition, you'd think public appearances prove no obstacle for me. Thirty-six thousand readers each week read my newsletters. Online I'm daring. Otherwise, however, I'm like most writers, nervous to appear in front of a room, anxious about what people think. To this day, I save the personal emails from readers until the end of my day, for fear one of them tells me I suck!
I penned The Shy Writer: An Introvert's Guide to Writing Success as a protest against the standard coaching of the day - speak up, make presentations, and act extraverted. What the general public doesn't realize is that a person fearful of public appearances might be confident in her own skin -smart, talented and amazingly intriguing. So I reached into my bag of personal experiences and drew out all the tools I'd used to cope in a world that misinterprets extraverted as intellectually bright, and I organized them in The Shy Writer, knowing so many writers need assistance to self-promote without coming unglued.
Using the mantra "Sell your words, not your soul," I hammered out this book in 2004 and self-published it through Booklocker. Editor Angela Hoy is a writer and reaches 75,000 writers with her own newsletter, Writers Weekly. The union worked, and the book sold well. In 2007, at the urging of readers, I prepared a second edition of The Shy Writer, and it still continues to sell. Once again, the pleas are coming through to create a sequel. Truth is, self-promotion is hard on the soul, but with groomed gimmicks, suggestions and tools, a writer can manager her way through the fracas and come out on top, looking like the professional she wants to be. Writing is only half the game. Marketing puts food on the table. Finding a way to face the population without sacrificing personality goes a long way to enforce confidence and subsequently make sales.
By the way, purchasing the paperback version of The Shy Writer entitles the buyer to a free year's subscription to TOTAL FundsforWriters, our largest newsletters chocked with 75 contests, grants, markets, jobs, publishers and agents with calls for submissions.

C. Hope Clark
Editor, FundsforWriters,
Writer's Digest 101 Best Web Sites for Writers - 2001-2010
A decade of recognized excellence
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Saturday, November 13, 2010

[Writing Prompt] Mood Swings with Eric Luper

I remember when I first met Eric Luper in 2005 at a writing conference at Vassar.  He was stand-out, unique, insightful (and nice) and had the distinct air of talent and determination.  I had no doubt he would be one of the ones who would make it!

Now, with three young adult novels under his belt (Big Slick 2007 -- nominated for Best Books for Young Adults, Bug Boy 2009, and Seth Baumgartner's Love Manifesto 2010) and a middle grade novel on its way (Jeremy Bender vs. The Cupcake Cadets 2011), I'm thrilled to have this prolific best-selling novelist here to share some tips on using details in your scene to convey emotion.

Mood and It's Effect on Setting
by Eric Luper

Everyone has seen a movie where, after some disappointment or defeat, the very sad protagonist walks alone through the rain. Usually this scene is accompanied by some sort of sad piano music and probably it all happens at night. As viewers, we know the guy is sad. As writers, we roll our eyes. Heavy-handed, yes, but it does get the point across.

So how does a writer convey mood using setting without being over the top or cliche? What we as observers notice is directly dependent upon our emotional state. As writers we can convey this very subtly.

Take a look out your window and pick a spot. I don't care if it's your backyard, a street corner or a park bench. Imagine your main character sitting there and pick an emotional state for him or her to be in. Elation, love, sadness, anger, whatever. Describe the scene with this emotional standpoint in mind (either from a 1st or 3rd person perspective) and try to bring in surrounding physical details that help convey it. You can use weather and time of day, but don't just rely on those things. Does your character notice the slush kicking up on the side of a passing bus? A woman pushing a baby carriage? Litter on the ground? Puffy clouds? Thin wispy ones that reflect the pink sunset?

Now, try doing the exact same thing using a different emotion. Notice what different details you use and the language you use to describe it.

About Eric Luper:

Eric Luper is the author of several young adult novels including Seth Baumgartner's Love Manifesto, Bug Boy and Big Slick. His forthcoming novel, his humorous middle-grade debut, is called Jeremy Bender vs the Cupcake Cadets and is due to hit shelves in Fall 2011.


You can also contact Eric via his website and ask to be signed up for his newsletter. Click the links below to order his fabulous books, available now!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

[PB BOOK STUDY] Thinking Outside of the Toy Box with Shark Vs. Train

In a comment on my last post, Holly asked, "Once you come up with an idea (because I'm constantly coming up with titles), how do you develop it and ensure there will be conflict and a satisfactory ending? It seems many good pbs have catchy endings." Thanks, Holly for the seeds to a wonderful topic and possible further discussion.  

While it only answers the question in part, I thought the following book would prove a helpful example: SHARK vs. TRAIN by Chris Barton and Tom Lichtenheld. <Beware of Plot Spoilers>

Summary: A shark and a train compete in a series of contests on a seesaw, in hot air balloons, bowling, shooting baskets, playing hide-and-seek, and more.

While I do like to consider myself to be somewhat "psychic," I think it was easy to figure out the origin and development of this idea, without the benefit of any psychic ability. 

IDEA/As inferred from the pictures (and the text, and the summary), while digging in a toy box, two little boys each select an object (one a shark and one a train) and have several contests. I think it's easy to see where this idea came from because it so closely resembles the imaginative play I have watched between children, or even a child playing with two objects.

CONFLICT/It's obvious that the author used the tried and true method of "What If?" which really worked in this case. For example, "What if the train had to fight shark underwater?" and "What if shark had to fight train on the railroad tracks?" This is clever because it not only provides conflict, but a fun opportunity for children to easily guess who would win. Other what if scenarios are equally as fun (and you can see the use of opposities, here as well). "What if...they're on a seesaw?" "...or a hot air balloon?" In a see saw, shark would loose and go flying into the air because he is too light, and in the hot air balloon, train would sink and lose because he is too heavy. Other examples are just plan silly, where train wins at running a lemonstand, because the lemonade at Shark's underwater lemonstand is too watery! LOL

You'll have to read the book to see all the other clever examples for yourself. I'm certain you'll agree that it's a simple idea, simply executed, and simply delightful!

ENDING/Like all good endings, this one touches upon the beginning. In this case, literally! Someone calls the boys for lunch and they toss Shark and Train back into the toy box where they began. Also, like good endings, the story doesn't feel ended. Speech bubbles show Shark saying "Next time, you're history, soot-spewer." Train replies, "Next time, you're sunk, squid-slurper." So the battle between Shark and Train and a world of possibilities continues beyond the last page.

Well, that's all for now. I hope this one example at least puts you on the right track.

Monday, November 8, 2010

[PiBoIdMo] November 8th/Where Did They Get Their Ideas?

 So far it's been a very odd month for me. I feel like I got catapulted into November and that I landed in a Wonderland where I'm operating both ahead and behind at the same time!  I've started my Christmas shopping, taken my daughter for her picture with Santa, and even I've had our family holiday portraits taken!

This early seasonal checklist is part of gearing up for a "less is more"  holiday and new year, with a focus on less stress and more output. 

Today, I'm going to serve an important tip in writing (and life): If it doesn't serve a function in the story, get rid of it!  And that's what I'm doing, little by little each day. Using it, or losing it!

So, to that end as I "eat" my way through the towering stack of library books which need to be read and returned, I'm going make them serve as food for my blog this morning.

Whether or not you're participating in Tara Lazar's PiBoIdMo, if you're having trouble coming up with ideas, just take a look at how these published authors may or may not have come up with their ideas (of course, beware of plot spoilers):

WHEN GORILLA GOES WALKING by Nikkie Grimes, Illustrated by Shane Evans
Scholastic/Orchard, 2007
Summary: In this story told in a series of rhyming poems, Gorilla the cat enjoys answering the telephone, eating soul food, and sharing mischevious adventures with her young owner.

My comments: Sounds like the author got her idea by remembering getting a new cat as a child or an adult, or perhaps watching someone with a new cat. I think the unique factor her was that the story was written in poems, and had a soul flavor.

Little Brown, 2001
Summary: A cowgirl loses her five baby bison one by one while on a walk one day, only to discover then were stolen by outlaw Snakey Jake.

My comments:  A clever twist on the five little ducklings story. The outlaw hides the bison in a flour sack which turns them white. When the cowgirl cries, the bison are revealed.

MOLE AND THE BABY BIRD by Marjorie Newman, Illustrated by Patrick Benson
Bloomsbury, 2002
Summary: Mole rescues a baby bird, cares for itand loves it until the day he realizes it is because he loves it that he must set it free.

My comments:  This very well could have been inspired by the quote "If you love something set it free. If it comes back, it's yours. If it doesn't it never was." Or, just from finding a bird that has fallen out of a nest, and wanting to keep it.

I NEED MY MONSTER by Amanda Noll, Illustrated by Howard McWilliam
Flashlight Press, 2009
Summary: When a litte boy's monster under the bed goes fishing, several replacements just will not do!

My comments: This idea was an absolutely innovative twist on a monster under the bed keeping a child from sleeping, to just the right monster being necessary for a kid to go to sleep. Well done!

THE THREE SILLY BILLIES by Margie Palatini, Illustrated by Barry Moser
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2005
Summary: Three billy goats, unable to cross a bridge because they cannot pay the toll, form a car pool with the Three Bears, Little Red Riding Hood, and Jack of beanstalk fame to get past the rude Troll.

My comments: MP went further than the rest when dealing with the Norwegian Fairy Tale of the Billy Goats Gruff and the crossing of the troll bridge by combining several fairy tales and providing a twist. It's obvious where she got the ideas for her additional characters LOL!

Illustrated by Macky Pamintuan
Sterling Publishing Co., Inc., 2006
Summary: Jack, a railroad switchman, frantically tries to save an ant who is heading east on a westbound track, straight into the path of an oncoming freight train.

My comments: Well, I don't have to surmise about where the idea came for this cute book, because on the jacket flap it says: Joshua Prince lives in Wesport, Connecticut, but rides a train daily to his life as an advertising writer in New York. A brief encounter with an ant at his regular station inspired this story, which is his first book.

MOOSETACHE by Margie Palatini, Illustrated by Henry Cole
Hyperion, 2007
Summary: A moose's mustache is too big to control until he meets Ms. Moose who has her own hair problem. They conquer each other's hearts and their problems.

My comments: This is dedicated "To my dear with the five-o-clock shadow" so may have been inspired by an actual person with a long mustache or a lot of facial hair.


I hope you can see from the above random selections that the authors may or may not have been inspired by people, place, events and/or books they have read in their childhood. You can look to these same things and bring them to another level, add a cultural flavor and/or twist them to come up with your next winning idea. Good luck to you!

Friday, November 5, 2010

[Writing Prompt] Equations with Lisa (L.D.) Harkrader

Writing Prompt: Desire + Fear = Story
by Lisa Harkrader
When I first began writing, I kept hearing the old adage, “Plot springs from character.” I understood it on an intellectual level (I think), but I didn’t begin to understand it in my gut until I began asking my characters two things:

1.      What do you want most in the world?
2.      What are you most afraid of?

The answers to those two questions can give you a fine plot, driving the story from the inciting incident to the inevitable final crisis. I’ll use a few of my favorite movies as examples (don’t read this if you haven’t yet seen the movies, especially How to Train Your Dragon, which just came out on DVD; they’re too good for me to spoil for you here):

1.      In Toy Story, Woody wants to keep Andy and all his toys safe and happy. He’s afraid he’ll be replaced as Andy’s favorite. In the end, by saving Buzz and risking the thing he fears most—being replaced—he’s able to restore the safe, happy order of the toys’ lives and claim his own more secure place in it.

2.      In How to Train Your Dragon, Hiccup wants to be a fearless, dragon-slaying Viking so that he can fit in on his island and make his father, the fearless Viking leader, proud. He’s afraid of his father’s disappointment and wrath. In the end, by saving his dragon and, therefore, risking losing his father’s love forever, he becomes a hero on his island, a Viking like no other.

3.      In The Full Monty, each of the six main characters wants something and is afraid of something. The main character, Gaz, a divorced, unemployed steel worker, wants to be the kind of father his son, Nathan, can be proud of. He’s afraid he’ll lose joint custody of Nathan. In the end, by taking the risk of making his ex-wife angry enough to keep Nathan from him for good, he makes Nathan prouder of him than he’s ever been—and shows his wife he’s the kind of man who deserves custody of his son.

This isn’t the only way to construct a story, but I’ve found that when a character must overcome the thing she most fears to get the thing she most wants, I wind up with a plot that springs from character.

About Lisa Harkrader

L.D. Harkrader loved books from the minute she first held one in her hand. She loved bedtime stories and convinced her amazingly accomodating parents to read the same books to her over and over until she had memorized the stories and could recite them out loud even before she knew how to read.

Once she did learn to read, you couldn’t pry books from her hot little hands. In school, her favorite days were library day and the day her teacher passed out the Scholastic Book Club flyers.

In the third grade, she realized that somebody had to write all those books she loved to read, and decided that some day, one of those somebodies would be her. Now, nearly forty years later, she’s making that third-grade dream come true.

Her recent books include Airball: My Life in Briefs, about middle-grade boys who want to win so badly they end up playing basketball in their underwear, and Nocturne, about a foundling who must use her powerful magic to save her adopted uncle and her town from unspeakable evil. Her middle-grade novel, The Adventures of Beanboy, about a boy who loves comic books, will be released in 2011.

Find out more about Lisa at her website:

You can click on these links to check out her books!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

[WRITING TIP] Ways to Avoid the "Been There, Done That" Ideas

If you've been following my blog this month, then you know I'm a proud participant of PiBoIdMo, which is the brain-child of Author Tara Lazar (The Monstore, Aladdin/Simon & Schuster, 2013). If you haven't, you might want to check it out.

The purpose of this fabulous event is to write down a picture book concept a day for each day during the month of November. You may or may not choose to develop any one, some or all of these ideas into manuscripts over the course of the month, but it's not required.

On October 31st, I attended the #pblitchat and participated in a discussion of where to get ideas. I admit I was preoccupied with trick-or-treaters coming to our door, so I've decided to share my thoughts here.

A successful writer whose name escapes me (it may have been Bruce Coville or Bruce Hale, but I don't want to misquote, so please comment if you know who it was) said one usually must sift through at least 20 ideas to get to a really good one.  That's why I love this event. It forces us to plow past the first idea and get them all out before settling on one. We must consider other options, other possibilities, and not fall in love with and marry our FIRST idea, because it may not be our best. No love at first sight allowed here. Which, incidentally, is NOT usually a good idea.

So, let's say you've skipped ahead and already written down twenty ideas. You want to start working on one. They all sound great. After all, it's only day 4.

1. You pick your favorite to work on in the meantime and just let the rest stew. The good ideas will float to the top of the pot, the bad ideas will sink to the bottom.
2.  You can join a critique group. A funny thing about critique group is that after a while you begin to see that often, people write strikingly similar stories about the same things. Then you can cross those off your list. Yikes!
3. You can do online searches and read editor interviews about topics that they feel are overdone or to be avoided. Okay, so I admit, I have a few farm animal pieces I have to keep putting to the bottom of my submission pile (grin).

Now, I must say that, over time, there have been new books published on overdone topics. But there is usually a reason. The book is absolutely outstanding, or the author has a following (and/or is a celebrity).  Since you may or may not have any of those factors, you have to work on your best ideas and your best writing so an editor will pick up your idea and help you with the rest.

One way that I try to find books that will find a niche in the market is to cross-reference my topic in a library search (for example, fiction hedgehog books and school bus books), and to take out anything and everything to do with those topics in the entire county system and see if there is anything remotely like the book I am writing/want to write published. I write a list of all the books, the publishers and the publication dates. After a while I can see which publishers have similar books and which do not. I can also see if the is a "recently published" book similar to mine, that might be available in a book store that would present a potential problem.

Of course, this method isn't fool proof. It has worked, and then sometimes, the timing's bad, like when I submitted Palace Rat to Bloomsbury, and the editor wrote back to say that she loved the manuscript but  had just accepted a book about a dog in Versailles. Still, I got a nice personal rejection, and knew I was in the ballpark!

I hope that these tips will give you some ideas as to what ideas to choose. You can also put your ideas on slips of paper and put them in a fishbowl. Then shake them up and pull two at a time. Combine them. Do the ideas sound any better, any fresher? If so, take the best parts. Good luck!


Lynne Marie is a Columnist for The Writer's Journal and
Author of Hedgehog Goes to Kindergarten, Scholastic, May 2011
Illustrated by Anne Kennedy