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Picture Book Writers: Let Your Creativity Loose with PiBoIdMo!

New writers, writers new to picture books, or any writers seeking good advice and encouragement should get themselves quickly over to Tara Lazar’s PiBoIdMo. Picture Book Idea Month is a picture book-centric homage to National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). But rather than writing 50,000 words of a novel in a month, the goal is to come up with at least 30 ideas for picture books. PiBoIdMo includes a daily guest blog from traditionally published picture book authors offering words of wisdom. I had the honor of being one of Tara’s guest bloggers last year.

piboidmo

A common challenge for picture book writers is: how do I come up with good ideas? The trick is to let your creativity loose. Turn off your super-ego. Don’t self-critique initially. Get in touch with your inner child. Give yourself permission to generate fun, outlandish, bizarre ideas. Only afterward, go through the sifting process to see which ideas are gems sparkling with potential to be transformed into a polished story.

Try this exercise: Below are some delightful cardboard silhouette images by John Marshall (posted on Bored Panda). Generate some picture book ideas based on each photo. How can you not!?

Shark

Enough with the begging. This is why you do not feed pets at the table.

Friendship

While I was watching the sunset tonight, I couldn’t stop blinking. “Hey. Do I have something in my eye?” I asked Keith, my chameleon friend.
“Yeah,” Keith said. “It’s a bug.”
“Can you get it out?” I asked.

The Pose

“In the yoga world, we call this the Standing Tree Pose,” I said.
“Oh. In the flamingo world, we call this standing,” the flamingo replied.

What’s That Smell?

Today, I was enjoying a sunset banana down by the lake when the most amazing thing happened. All of a sudden, this warm breeze started blowing across my neck and it smelled just like bananas too.

The Rock Dragon

So I was walking on the rocks tonight, looking for the tiny elephants, when a flash of light caught my eye. Though they are exceedingly rare, especially in Maine this time of year, a baby rock dragon was testing his fire breath right in front of me! Good thing I had a net.

Fish Bouquet

When I finally got up the nerve to approach the beautiful mermaid down on the beach, a friend suggested I bring her a bouquet of roses. But I had a better idea.

Boredom

The problem with Troll Haircut Day is the brutal monotony of it all.
“Tapered to a point?” I asked for the 74th time.

Rhino Ring Toss

I can’t think of a better way to wind down at the end of the day then with a little Rhino Ring Toss. For anyone interested: All you need is a rhinoceros and a ring and you’re good to go.

The Woodchuck

Today I finally answered a tongue twister I learned as a kid. I was just walking on the beach when I heard this little chop chop sound. It was a woodchuck.
“What are you doing?” I asked him.
“Chucking wood,” he answered.
“Really. How much can you do? I’ve always wanted to know.”
“Start counting, big boy,” the woodchuck said with a high-pitched laugh, then lifted his tiny axe and got to work.

Dining With A Bigfoot

I was sitting at the only restaurant on the island tonight when I heard a waitress talking to man at the table next to mine. It was the man’s name that got my attention. I couldn’t see his face, but even from behind I could tell he was around eight feet tall and covered with hair. He ordered two rare steaks and three chicken platters.

When the waitress walked away, I gathered my courage and leaned a little closer to the giant’s back. “Excuse me, sir,” I said. “I’m sorry to bother you but…why DO they call you Bigfoot?”

Jumping Practice

It’s hard enough to earn the trust of a wild baby lake dolphin. But to get one to jump through a hoop on command so close to shore… It makes all the years of patient training seem worth it tonight.

Epic Battle

This may look like just a still picture, but trust me: it was an epic battle, with all kinds of crazy flips and twists that went on and on. Stuff you’ve never seen before; really quality light sabering on both sides. But when it was all over, just when it looked like the bad guy was going to win…I came up with this killer move and saved the day. It was a good sunset.

Special Delivery

When Mars House of Pizza says: WE DELIVER ANYWHERE, they mean it.

My Hero

It’s pretty cool when you get to meet one of your childhood heroes. It’s even better when he agrees to sing “The Rainbow Connection” with you.

Tiny Elephants

What I love about the tiny elephants that you find all over the island is how friendly they are. At sunset, I could see them all over the rocks, and a few of them ran up to me when I approached. Now, granted, I was wearing peanut butter-scented lip gloss at the time, but I doubt that had anything to do with it.

Rock Hopping

Just a word of caution to the kids out there. I know dinosaur riding is becoming more and more popular, but it can be extremely dangerous. Believe me: It’s hard enough to ride one of these beasts on the sand, but rock hopping takes an experienced Dino-Wrangler. So…just be careful.


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Be an Animal to Write a Picture Book

On November 20, 2014, the following guest post by me was featured on Tara Lazar’s Picture Book Idea Month (PiBoIdMo) blog.

Everything I know about writing picture books, I learned from animals.

Animals make great picture book characters. Just ask the Very Hungry Caterpillar. And animals offer authors and illustrators eight B’s of inspiration for creating PBs:

Be a sponge.

sponge

Soak up everything around you. View, listen, sniff, taste, and feel. Watch people (in public, not with a telescope from your house), read books (especially picture books), and watch TV and movies. Take notes. Even the most mundane situations can unexpectedly feed your muse.

Be a sharktopus.

sharktopus

OK, that’s not a real animal, but I’m making a point here, people. Combine elements into unlikely (and therefore hilarious) pairs, as in Doreen Cronin’s Click Clack Moo: Cows That Type. Practice riffing on the things you soak up. I did a classroom reading where this boy had a torn-up sneaker. I thought, picture book title: The Boy With Exploding Sneakers. Let your creativity run free. 

Be a honey badger.

honeybadger

Have no fear. Don’t be scared to put words to paper. Don’t flee from constructive criticism. Don’t be afraid of rejection. They all line the path to traditional publication. Honey badger don’t care, and neither should you! Get outside your comfort zone.

Be a dung beetle.

dungbeetle

Be tenacious, even on crappy days. Becoming published isn’t easy. But it won’t happen if you stop trying. The journey of a thousand miles begins with a one step. Revise, revise, revise. But remember that perfect can be the enemy of good enough. At some point, you need to submit! 

 Be an armadillo.

armadillo

You need to be thick-skinned and learn to roll with the punches. Understand that a publisher’s or agent’s rejection isn’t personal, but it is highly subjective. Many great works of literature were rejected repeatedly before being published, so you’re in good company.  

Be an ant.

ants

No man is an island, and no ant is a bridge. Teamwork is your best friend. Take advantage of critique groups to hone your craft. Join the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) to develop a support network. Leverage social media to connect with fellow writers. You’re not alone.

Be a hagfish.

hagfish

Be flexible enough to incorporate helpful feedback. But feel free to ignore feedback that doesn’t resonate with your gut. Follow the rules, but recognize that they can be broken when the result is a success. Drew Daywalt’s The Day the Crayons Quit is a picture book with over 1,000 words and inanimate characters. But it’s also a New York Times bestseller.

Be a peacock spider.

Male peacock spiders don’t just have stunning colors. They have a delightfully entertaining mating dance (think MC Hammer’s “Can’t Touch This”). They show the ladies some enthusiasm! They wear their passion on their, er, sleeves. Writing is also an act of passion. Write about what you love. Have fun writing. Write the story that is inside you, trying to get out. But hopefully not like a chestburster from Alien, or Ian Ziering in the final scene of Sharknado.

Be a cat.

cat

Cats are lucky. They always land on their feet, and have nine lives.

There’s an expression, “luck favors the prepared.” Working at the other eight B’s is the best way to earn some luck. Good luck to you!


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I am a PiBoIdMo Guest Blogger

I’m delighted to share that I am a guest blogger for Tara Lazar’s Picture Book Idea Month (PiBoIdMo) at http://www.taralazar.com/piboidmo/

Thrilled to be among such accomplished company.

piboidmo2014


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Interview with ‘The Monstore’ kidlit author Tara Lazar

Street magic performer. Hog-calling champion. Award-winning ice sculptor. These are all things Tara Lazar has never been. Instead, she writes quirky, humorous picture books featuring magical places that adults never find. Her debut ‘The Monstore’ released in June 2013, with many more books to follow in the next few years. She also hosts the annual picture book writing idea event, PiBoIdMo.

LazarTara

For what age audience do you write?

I write primarily for the picture book audience, children around 4 to 8 years of age.

Tell us about ‘The Monstore’.

The Monstore is a one-stop shop for all your monsterly needs in this enormously funny story that’s full of friendly, kooky creatures. The Monstore is the place to go for all of your monsterly needs. Which is perfect, since Zack definitely has a monsterly need. The problem? His pesky little sister, Gracie, who never pays attention to that “Keep Out” sign on Zack’s door—the one he has made especially for her. But when Zack’s monsters don’t exactly work as planned, he soon finds out that the Monstore has a few rules: No Refunds. No exchanges. No exceptions.

Henry: Clearly this is a caution to be careful what you wish for. Note to self: never release the Kraken and never get Gremlins wet.

What do you hope readers will get from reading that book?

I hope readers will consider that there’s magical secrets around them, they just have to look more closely for them (like under trap doors). I hope they also realize that having a sibling is way more fun than they thought!

What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?

All of it is challenging–creating a great concept, crafting an intriguing beginning, and carving surprises into the tale. I think the most difficult part is revision, but it’s also the most fun. Revision is when the story really comes together and you feel the excitement brewing with each little fix.

Henry: Personally, I think getting that first draft is harder than revision. And I completely agree that the excitement builds as the story coalesces.

What is a powerful lesson you’ve learned from being a writer?

I’ve learned that our work as writers can touch people’s lives in ways we never could have imagined.

Henry: Yes, even if in little ways. The Nibling characters in my story Nimpentoad like to eat mushrooms. I had a parent tell me that her child now eats mushrooms! One small step…

What has been a memorable experience that you never would have had if you had not been a writer?

I would never have received fan mail. Knowing that your book has brought joy to a child’s life is a warm, fuzzy feeling.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

Read, read, read. Write, write, write. (But there’s so much more! For that, I refer folks to my website at taralazar.com)

Henry: Tara’s website is quite helpful in that regard.

Do you have any favorite quotes?

“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.” ~ Roald Dahl

Henry: Speaking of Dahl, the movie “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” offers some good quotes too:
“Don’t talk to me about contracts, Wonka, I use them myself. They’re strictly for suckers.”
“And the poor little Oompa Loompas were so small and helpless, they would get gobbled up right and left. A Wangdoodle would eat ten of them for breakfast and think nothing of it.”
“So shines a good deed in a weary world.”

Do you have any strange rituals that you observe when you write?

Not really. I’m not a real routine-driven kind of person. In fact, I shun routine as much as possible.

Henry: So, you’re routine is not to have a fixed routine. Wait, what?

If you could have one superpower, what would it be?

Everyone answers this one the same–to be able to fly, right? Well, I don’t like to do what everyone else does, so I’ll be different and say telekinesis, the ability to move things with my mind. That means I could make doughnuts come to me at any time.

Henry: Doughnuts, dollar bills, literary agents. Telekinesis is an excellent choice.

If you could have three authors over for dinner, who would it be?

Roald Dahl, Charles Schulz and Dr. Seuss. I want to listen to them discuss children’s literature. I wouldn’t say a word. I’d let them talk and talk and talk.

Henry: And get them loaded. Excellent choices!

What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?

Monsters! Because the word “monster” can mean just about anything. Monsters can be huge or tiny, kooky or spooky, funny or serious, fuzzy or scaly. Monsters are limitless.

Henry: I see what you did there!

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

I love spending time with my family, getting outdoors and just having fun. I also like creating jewelry. I had an Etsy shop until very recently, when my writing took over and I didn’t have enough time to maintain the shop.

Henry: That’s a good kind of problem to have, being too busy writing.

What would you like it to say on your tombstone?

Here lies Tara. She loved playing with words.

Where can readers find your work?

Any bookstore, offline or online! My website is www.taralazar.com, and my Twitter handle is @taralazar

This interview is also posted to the San Diego Children’s Books Examiner.