Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Batteries Recharging

After thinking about it for a while, I've decided to take this week off from blogging.  I'll see you all next week when we have to get back to be productive members of society again.  This week, I'm going into totally unproductive mode!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas!!

Wishing you all a very merry Christmas!  May your hearts be overflowing with love, your souls nourished with faith, and your kitchens full of cookies!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Whether the Weather is Inspiring

'Tis the year for crazy weather.  The west coast of the US is being totally pounded with rain.  The Heathrow airport was apparently under siege from snow.  Volcanos erupted.  Earthquakes abounded.  Tornados and tsunamis and floods reared their ugly heads.  So what does that have to do with writing picture books?

Well, it could have everything to do with writing picture books if you take inspiration from it.  The weather can make such a wonderful picture book subject because it is one of the mysterious things that happens in a child's life (and all our lives).  And since it is so mysterious, it is easy to play around with.  Think "Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs" or even "The Wizard of Oz".  It is easy to turn weather into something playful or ominous or silly or scary.  Weather can be the hero of a story or the villain.

So, for your inspiration today, take a look out your window!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

What did he just say?

I have a little tip that I often hear, seldom follow, but wish I did more often.  Write down what your kids say.  Time just moves so quickly and you lose those little gems in a heartbeat.  If your children are anything like mine, the stuff that comes out of their mouths is often hysterical, occasionally disturbing, always interesting and all too often it holds a mirror up to you.

I have a family blog that I try to update with these little bits of priceless memory, but I'm oddly terrible at keeping up with it.  Especially since starting this blog, I've ignored my little family blog a lot.  Believe me, I'm totally ashamed of this fact!  I feel terrible because it is not only a connection with far-flung family and friends, it is like a family diary.  I would love to someday use one of those services that turns your blog into a book because it would be a little history of us.

Do you have a place where you keep these memories?  Do you use video?  Stories?  A diary/journal?  Scrap pieces of paper all over the kitchen?  Perhaps a good resolution this year is to be better at recording these memories.  Sounds like a plan!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Weekend Recommendation

Howdy partners!

Hope everyone is getting ready for the holidays and finding time to remain sane too.  This is probably going to be my last recommendation until after the new year just because the holidays fall on the weekends.  I'll still try to get my regular Tuesday-Thursday blogs up though!

Today's recommendation is Dirtball Pete, written and illustrated by Eileen Brennan.  This is just an adorable story and one I can totally relate to, having three little dirtballs of my own.  Ms. Brennan has a unique and fun writing voice.  You'll enjoy it!!

Have a great weekend, everybody!!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Finding Inspiration in the Grumpy

Last night I was feeling grumpy for no particular reason.  This happens to me sometimes.  I just get in a mood and I don't really know why.  I'm just "grrrr."

I mentioned my funk on Twitter and my buddy Juliet suggested I write a grumpy character while I was feeling grumpy.  What a fabulous idea!  It had not occurred to me that I should be taking advantage of a rare mood for myself.  I'm not grumpy very often, so I should Carpe Grumpy!

I've heard writing referred to as "cheap therapy" before, but I've always taken that to mean journaling through your problems.  While that is often productive and helpful, what a great new angle this writing-a-character-to-match-your-mood could be!  How wonderfully powerful you could be - projecting your emotions onto your character for them to carry around and deal with while you sit peacefully at your keyboard.  Oh the possibilities!

Sadly, I did not have the time or opportunity to write last night, but I am stowing away that little bit of inspiration for the next time a un-Megan-like mood strikes.  And as a bonus, my children and husband may be spared the wrath of Megan!  : )

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Parenting Virtue

"Patience is a virtue."  

"You can learn many things from your children.  How much patience you have, for instance." - Franklin P. Jones

Before I had kids, I thought I was the most patient person in the world.  I rarely (if ever) lost my temper.  I didn't really know how loudly I could yell.  I was the very picture of "peacemaker" - the number 9 on the Enneagram.  I was a virtuous person indeed!

Then I had my lovely children.  My darling, sweet, wonderful, creative, happy, delightful children.  My infuriating, wild, whiny, must-be-hearing-impaired, arguing children.  And I lost my cool.

Now I work very hard on being patient.  In fact, I'd say it is the primary thing I work on as a parent.  How to say things without yelling.  How to encourage without being bossy.  How to let them do things for themselves when it would be faster and easier for me to do it myself.  How to convey the importance of our rules without beating them over the head with them (figuratively, of course).

But I have some words of encouragement for myself and for other parents here.  We all struggle with this.  I've discovered that it is a universal theme among parents who give a damn about how they parent.  If you struggle with this, it means you care.  It means you are trying.  It means you have your children's best interest at heart.  Even the coolest and most-easy going of my friends have shared this struggle with me at various times.  So, soldier on, dear parents.  You are not alone in your quest for patience.  Keep fighting the good fight within yourself so that you don't fight the bad fight with your kids.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Weekend Recommendation

Sorry to get this up a little late this weekend!  We had internet trouble this morning, so I have an excuse, really I do!

On to the recommendation though!  I'm going to go with The Cow Loves Cookies written by Karma Wilson (of Bear Snores On fame) and illustrated by Marcellus Hall.  I adore Karma's rhyming schemes and this book does not disappoint.  I find her books a joy to read out loud.  I never trip over words or meter.  The story is adorable as well.  My boys had a great time yelling "COOKIES" every time I would say "but the cow loves...".  All around fun!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Getting Things Done

During the holidays it is so difficult to get things done!  I am in a constant swirl of shopping, planning, running errands, brainstorming present ideas, keeping the kids occupied, going to special events, trying to make the holidays memorable and fun for the kids, remembering choir practices/party dates/to get the giving tree presents to church on the right day, and on and on and on.

So, where can I find time to get any writing stuff done?  I found this quote the other day and it inspired me...

"There are three ways to get something done:  do it yourself, hire someone, or forbid your kids to do it." -Monta Crane

Now, I can't forbid my kids to do my writing and have them do it for me, but I can be inspired by the mischief that seems to come along with the excess energy and excitement of the season for my kids.  A kid waiting for Christmas is like a cat on catnip...insane!  So let the insanity roll and I'll get my notebook! 

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

What the craft?!

I'm kicking off my new we-aim-to-inspire theme here on ye olde blog with some inspiration for things to do with your kids this holiday season.  How do you figure out what to do with your kids?  Especially during those long days of Christmas break before Christmas when they are bouncing off walls?  I have three main sources of inspiration for you.

1. Go old school.  Think back to kindergarten.  Or your kid's kindergarten.  It doesn't matter if they are 12 or 15 or 3.  Kindergarten-type crafts are amusing for all ages when it comes to the holidays.  Make a Santa beard out of cotton balls.  Mix up some salt dough and make some ornaments to paint.  Trace your hands for Rudolph's antlers.   Make "gingerbread" houses out of graham crackers and trees out of ice cream cones.  Or this old standard in my house...

We take two sheets of construction paper and cut out a holiday shape from one of them.  We usually cut out some symmetrical shape so that you can just fold that paper in half to cut it out.  Then glue the paper with the cut-out onto the whole sheet and decorate.  Then you also have a shape that you cut out of the first paper that can be decorated and turned into an ornament or even a gift tag (admittedly a LARGE gift tag).   Here is one my son did last year.  We cut the tree shape out of the red paper, glued it to the green paper and then he colored away.  He especially loved being given a glue stick with the instructions "glue all over!"  I love that he misspelled "Christmas" - let your kids do things themselves - it makes a much cuter keepsake!

2.  Blogs!  Not really mine, but other people's.  I found these two thanks to Twitter and these are just such adorable ideas!
3.  Go! Go! Go! Get out of your house and explore your city.  My local newspaper puts out a holiday booklet thingy each year listing the many holiday happenings.  So many of these are free and, frequently, under-appreciated and under-attended.  Especially pick things that are new that year or out of the ordinary.  Who would have thought our local minor league baseball team had a Christmas event?  Not me!  But they did last year and it was adorable!  Ask your neighbors, search the internet, send out a homing pigeon to your local tourism center.  Try at least one new thing this season!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Weekend Recommendation

Happy weekend, everybody!

I've been on a cleaning rampage all morning and almost forgot to post my weekend recommendation!  The horror!

This week, I'm going with a book we got out from the library, but I'm going to have to add to our Christmas list.  My three year old LOVES it and wants me to read it to him constantly.  I see a renewal in our future!  It is Chicken Big, written and illustrated by Keith Graves.  One thing I totally love about reading this book out loud is that it gives you the opportunity to stretch your acting muscles and get into the characters as you read.  Lots of fun!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Ummm...Now what?

My first blog series is over and I have no idea what to do with my blog!  I'd love to structure my blog posts so I have regular type features (other than my weekend recommendations), but I have no structure to my brain and my thoughts have no regular features.

So, I tried to come up with a more specific theme or reason-for-being for my blog.  I'm thinking of just expanding on my blog series theme and making my blog a place folks can come for a little weekly inspiration.  What do you think?  I could write posts that are meant to trigger ideas.  Since I started off making my blog about parenting and writing, I could have parent inspiration on Tuesdays and writer inspiration on Thursdays?  Ways to awaken your muse, ideas for activities with the kids, exercises to trigger story ideas, cheering the weary parent on tough days, etc.  I'm just typing my thoughts as I have them here.  : )

Does anyone know if there is already a blog devoted to such things?  What do you all think?  "The Write-At-Home-Mom: Inspiration, Motivation & Encouragement for the writer and the parent"?  Do you think it is a broad enough subject that I could keep it going?  Or are you sick of this theme out of me already?

I'd love feedback of any kind!  : )

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

My ABCs of Inspiration: Z is for Zee Winner is...


LadyJai!  My cat, Audi, took forever to finally step on a piece of paper (see it peaking between his paws?), but when he did, I opened it up to find Jai's entry which read:

Z is for the Zingy, Zaney, Zippy words we could all come up with.

Or it could be all the ideas we could ever NOT have: zero, zip, zilch.

Or we could start with the Zodiac or even talk about Zeus.

Or we could just scratch all that, and just go to the Zoo!

I'm not even sure where to start!  Jai had so many ideas in there and I can find inspiration in all of them, actually.

First line of her entry:  I love finding inspiration in word play (which is what her first line implies), as I discussed at various times in this alphabet of inspiration.  And one aspect that I didn't touch on was onomatopoeia.  Find some words that imitate sounds and have fun.  Zip!  Zing!

Next, the idea of nothing.  On the days when zero, zip, zilch is coming together...take a break!  Take a deep breath and walk away from it.  You aren't going to have a lifetime of no ideas!  During this month of PiBoIdMo, I went days with nothing, but then I'd have days with five ideas.  If you put it on the back-burner of your brain, it will eventually work its way to the front.  I promise.

That third line has much more in it, inspiration-wise, than you may first think.  The Zodiac and Greek mythology are great bits of inspiration because they are part of the family of stories that are already out there and you can use them.  Look at the constellations, folk tales, fairy tales, nursery rhymes, myths, legends, tall tales, oral tradition and on and on.  Take your pick!  You can build off of a story that is already out there, you can turn it on its head, you can pick a minor character and explore the story from their perspective.  Play, play, play!  You may find that you start trying to re-write the story of the Great Bear and end up with a story about picking flowers in a field.  Who knows?  They are great jumping off points regardless.

Finally, the Zoo.  I touched on animals in my "G is for Goats" post, so I'm going to go in a different direction with this one.  It is essential to go out and be among children.  Go to a public place where children can be found and observe (NOT in a creepy way please!  I have no bail money for you people).  The Zoo is an awesome choice because inspiration can be found in the visitors and the visited.  And here is an extra challenge to find inspiration:  try hard to not jump to conclusions when watching parents with their children.  It is so easy to write off a "bratty" child or the kid having a fit or the little guy who has a runny nose and keeps wiping it on his sleeve.  As adults we see these zoo-goers as problems.  As writers, we should see them as kids.  As our main characters.  Ask yourself why the child is hitting, the kid is screaming or the little guy is sick.  You'll find inspiration in the "why".

So that brings me to the end of "My ABCs of Inspiration".  I hope you have all had as much fun as I have this month.  I can't thank Tara Lazar enough for PiBoIdMo and all of you for allowing me to indulge in my first blog series to go along with it.   I'll try to create a button at the top of my page this week to have quick links to all the posts in this series in case you find yourself needing some inspiration down the road.

And as a general blogging note, I'm going to cut back on my posting frequency now.  I think I've settled on a Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday schedule.  I need to give myself more time to write some of these ideas I've had for picture books!   So, I'll see you all on Thursday!  : )

Monday, November 29, 2010

My ABCs of Inspiration: Y is for You

You, as in "you can inspire yourself!"  Self awareness is so important in writing.  It is also one of the most difficult things to achieve. 

Do you know yourself well enough to know what style of writing works for you?  I don't yet.
Do you have a distinct writing voice that is "you"?  I don't  yet.
Do you have something uniquely you that you want to convey in your writing?  I don't yet.
What is it you want to say to the world?  Hmmmm...

Once you have answers to these questions, you can use yourself as inspiration!  Use your voice.  Use your motivation.  Use your message.  Use the very reason you started writing in the first place.

Writer, know thyself!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

My ABCs of Inspiration: X is for X marks the spot

Finding a good idea for a picture book is like a treasure hunt.  You can spend a lot of time going down the wrong path.  You can dig and dig and dig and come up empty handed.  You can find clues that start to focus your efforts and attention.  And if you keep at it, you can find the "X" that marks the spot of a great idea.

A lot of us have come up with about 28 ideas so far.  Which of those ideas are just clues along the way to something great?  Which are false paths?  Are there some booby traps in there?  And do you have some that will be golden in the long run?  I bet you have some of each of these.  The real work begins in a few days when we start sorting through them all!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Weekend Recommendation #12

I hesitated to do another book by Mo Willems, but I can't help it!  The guy has quickly become my favorite author.  This one was rather unexpected to me.  City Dog, Country Frog is a beautiful book about friendship and loss and it would be a great book for a child moving away from friends or even those who have experienced loss because of death.  It is subtle and gentle and not overly sad.  The illustrations by Jon J Muth are excellent and a perfect match to both the tone of the story and the text itself (bravo to the art director who matched them up on this one!).  So, go check it out!

Friday, November 26, 2010

My ABCs of Inspiration: W is for Walks

A walk around your block may be just the inspiration you need!  Fresh air!  Exercise!  Critters scurrying!  Children playing!  Neighbors neighboring!  Cars zooming!

Get out!  Clear your head!  Go!  Walk!  Get away from this computer!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

My ABCs of Inspiration: V is for Vegetables

Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone!

In honor of Thanksgiving, I'm making this post about food!  Yummmmm....

Food is not only a necessity in life, it is often a source of great story telling.  Our characters can be on a food quest, they can be trying to avoid those veggies, they can be baking something special, they can be hiding peas behind the TV (my son did this once...ew), they can be trying something new to eat, they can be remembering a loved one because of a food they used to share, they can be making a food sculpture, heck...our characters can BE food!

So on this lovely holiday that we celebrate with food...try to find a little inspiration in your veggies!  : )

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

My ABCs of Inspiration: U is for Uncles

Okay, this one is a little crazy, but some of these letters are HARD!  : )

What I really mean here is extended family.  All family is a great source of inspiration!  And usually we think of our kids or our immediate household as the family that inspiration comes from, but I say...branch out farther on your family tree!  Think about those family gatherings...weddings, birthdays, holidays, etc.  I'm willing to bet everyone has an arsenal of insanity in their family somewhere.  Could a picture book be born from the wacky great-uncle or the grumpy grandfather?  You bet!  You may find inspiration in the people of your extended family or the situations you have found yourself in with them.

So, when you get together with that family tomorrow (USA friends) for Thanksgiving...maybe bring a notebook!

Note:  I will still be posting over the holiday weekend!  Have to finish the alphabet by November 30th, you know!  : )

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

My ABCs of Inspiration: T is for Twitter

During this fabulous month of picture book ideas, I've been more active on Twitter than I was before, and with good reason.  Ideas seem to pop up all over the place from that crazy site.  I've read multiple tweets that people have gotten ideas from other people's tweets!  Who knew?  If you are a stay-at-home-parent like me, you only talk to other adults online during the day.  And while our children are often inspirational, conversations with grown-ups can be inspirational too and Twitter is a good place to have them.  They are quick, (usually) light-hearted, often funny bursts of conversation that can trigger something in your mind.

Aside from general conversation on Twitter, it is also a wealth of links to blogs, articles, pictures, videos, etc. that can trigger your creativity.  I've found so much information this way!

If you aren't on Twitter, you may want to consider it.  Even if you aren't ready to tweet, you may find that just following people is beneficial!

Monday, November 22, 2010

My ABCs of Inspiration: S is for School Standards

One of the questions that Ann Whitford Paul asks you think about your picture book (in her fabulous book Writing Picture Books) is: Can your book be used in the classroom?  In other words, are there concepts in it that may fit in with a curriculum.  You may accidentally have this component in your story, or you can start with the learning concept and build from there.  And starting with the concept may just provide you with some needed inspiration!

So how do you know what they are teaching and at what age?  School standards!  I wanted to write a picture book for the kindergarten set, but I was having trouble coming up with an idea, so I pulled up my state standards, found a math concept that they want kindergartners to know, and built a story around it.  And the nice thing is, you can use the standards from any state.  You are just looking for a general idea to get you going.  I found the Indiana standards to be pretty helpful, so here is that link.  You can pick a subject and then pick a grade level and it will pull up a printable version of the standards.  Explore and generate some new ideas!  A picture book is one of the most valuable tools for any teacher.

Side note:  While I did not win the Storybird contest this weekend, I want to thank all of you who voted for my story!  It was fun to have a short little story out there that people were reading.  My first taste of an audience for my work!  Thank you!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

My ABCs of Inspiration: R is for Resource Books

Yes, I really do mean things like dictionaries and thesauri (did any one know that was the plural of thesaurus?).  Personally, I find my rhyming dictionary to be endlessly inspiring.  I told you earlier that I play around with poetry to find inspiration sometimes and my rhyming dictionary is a big help in that.  But let me explain this in a more broad sense...

The English language is immense.  Our daily language is usually not.  I know a lot of words that I don't think about or use on a regular basis.  When is the last time I used "pipe cleaner" in a sentence?  Or thought about the word "cartographer"?  Sometimes just flipping through a good resource book reminds you of words and sparks ideas.  In fact, as I just flipped randomly through my rhyming dictionary to come up with those two examples in this paragraph, I got my PiBoIdMo idea for today.

Use a resource book as a trigger today.  Open one up, read a few words you don't usually read/see/speak and see what happens.  I bet you'll be surprised where your mind will take you!

And just a reminder...ONE MORE DAY TO VOTE!  Have you been to Storybird.com?  It is this great site where you can create your own story book with the art that is already provided there.  It is a lot of fun and great writing practice.  But more importantly right now, I am a semi-finalist in this week's competition and I need your vote!  My story "Like A Barrel of Monkeys" (under my pen-name "rosencrantz") can be found under the November "Curiosity" challenge.  You can sign up for free and vote for my story.  Voting is only open this weekend!  Please go cast your vote for my book (or someone else's if you are so inclined).  : )

Saturday, November 20, 2010

A Favor & Weekend Recommendation #11

Have you been to Storybird.com?  It is this great site where you can create your own story book with the art that is already provided there.  It is a lot of fun and great writing practice.  But more importantly right now, I am a semi-finalist in this week's competition and I need your vote!  My story "Like A Barrel of Monkeys" (under my pen-name "rosencrantz") can be found under the November "Curiosity" challenge.  You can sign up for free and vote for my story.  Voting is only open this weekend!  Please go cast your vote for my book (or someone else's if you are so inclined).  : )

For the weekend recommendation, I'm going to go with a great "just be yourself" book.  Fair Cow written and illustrated by Leslie Helakoski.  I'm a sucker for a story that involves a state fair in any way.  I really enjoyed this one and so did my kiddos.  Enjoy!

Friday, November 19, 2010

My ABCs of Inspiration: Q is for Quotes

I have never been a collector of quotes.  I dutifully read them at the beginning of novels or in the signature lines of folks on their e-mails.  I occasionally read one that I like, but I never remember it later.  I've just never been a quote person. 

But a few weeks ago my library had a book sale (is there anything better than a library book sale?!) and I picked up a book of quotes published in the 1940s.  And since it was bag sale day (fill a paper grocery bag for $4!!) it came home with me.

Flipping through it in a totally random fashion, I came across two interesting and inspirational quotes.  Now these haven't inspired a picture book idea for me, but they do inspire me to keep working at it, so I thought I'd share them.  First, is a quote I've actually heard for years.  But I only ever heard the END of the quote.  For some reason no one ever mentions the first part.  It is from Emerson:

"If a man can write a better book, preach a better sermon or build a better mouse trap than his neighbor, though he builds his house in the woods, the world will make a beaten path to his door."

And the second one is from Bernard Shaw:

"You have no more right to consume happiness without producing it than to consume wealth without producing it."

What quotes inspire you?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

My ABCs of Inspiration: P is for Poetry

Poetry is tricky.  I've never had a poet's heart.  I love to put together a good rhyme, but meter and accents and all of that elude me.  But that doesn't stop me from loving a good poem.  I may not always pick the most academically correct poem.  I may not pick sophisticated poetry.  But that doesn't matter.  Poetry is in the ear of the beholder.  Or something like that.

Don't be afraid of poetry.  Do your homework if you want to write it to be published someday.  But if you aren't worried about it being published, play around!  You'll be surprised how much fun it is to play with words and where that word play can lead you.  I suggest you hop over and read Kat Apel's guest post on Tara Lazar's blog for PiBoIdMo for a little reminder.  I know poetry can seem intimidating, but use it as a tool.  Don't worry about someone else seeing it today, just play!  See what happens!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

My ABCs of Inspiration: O is for Oops!

I have heard the expression that "In art, there is no such thing as a mistake."  Well, I think this is true for the art of writing too.  And you can get all kinds of inspiration from your mistakes!

When I'm writing sometimes I go off on a fabulous tangent.  And that tangent is way better than my original plot line.  Or I put too many characters in a picture book and one of those characters needs their own book.  Or I come up with some cheeky little plot device that has no business in what I'm currently writing, but could be the basis for its own book.  The breadth and depth of my mistakes are endless!  And so, the possibilities are endless as well.

CONTEST NOTE:  I know you are all having super fun entering my contest, but I want to alert you to another with (dare-I-say-it) a much more awesome prize than my super cool prize pack!  Go visit my dear critique partner Julie Hedlund on her blog for her one year anniversary.  You could win ALL six Harry Potter movies!  And join her blog while you are there, she is super fantastic!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

My ABCs of Inspiration: N is for Never Give Up!

I apologize for yesterday's lack of post.  I hadn't written ahead and this cold came up and knocked me out.  I guess I need to write ahead a little more!

But, to stay on track with my alphabet (to ensure I finish on Nov. 30th), I'm going to go ahead with letter N.

So, N is for Never Give Up!  I have discovered that my creativity goes in cycles.  It ebbs and flows.  And during those "ebb" times, it is easy to think, "I can't do this.  Who am I kidding?"  But I must remind myself that my muse will come knocking again sometime.  Maybe an hour from now, maybe tomorrow, maybe next week.  But it will come.  Don't give up on your muse.

The other part of this is to not give up on a dream.  It has become my dream to get a picture book published.  Admittedly, this is a recent dream.  I would have not have thought this would be my pursuit even a year ago.  However, it has taken hold of me now.  I'm trying hard to learn as much as I can about writing, publishing, the book market and so on.  I'm sending out magazine pieces and starting a lovely collection of rejection letters.  But if it takes five years to finally write a publish-worthy picture book, so be it.  If it takes ten years, I'm in.  If it takes fifteen years, well my kids will out of the house by then, so I'll have more time to devote to it!  The point is to keep learning, keep growing, keep writing.  Never give up.

Monday, November 15, 2010

My ABCs of Inspiration: M is for Megan is sick

I'm not feeling well at all today, so I'm taking the day off.  M was going to be for movies, so talk amongst yourselves.  : )

I'm sure I'll be feeling better soon, so please come back tomorrow!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

My ABCs of Inspiration: L is for Lady Gaga

Or Lady Antebellum.  Or Louis Armstrong.  Or Lionel Ritchie.  Or whoever you listen to when you need to relax or just dance it out.  My point is, music allows us a release.  And sometimes to get the creative juices flowing, you just need to belt out an off-key tune in your kitchen or get down with your bad self in your car.

This is kind of like the journal thing I mentioned on Thursday.  You have to unclog your brain to be able to hear your muse and music is an easy way to unclog.  Personally, I like to throw on all my kick-butt songs and sing as loudly and terribly as I possibly can.  It lets out any frustration, stress, or even joy and exuberance.  And then I'm ready to brainstorm.  The blood is pumping, the synapses are firing, and my children have been struck deaf by my terrible rendition of "Just Dance." (truth-in-reporting-note: I never listen to Lady Gaga with my kids in the car.  So I shake it to Tom Chapin and Harry Connick Jr.'s children's album)

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Weekend Recommendation #10

When I was at my local independent bookstore (Kids Ink) the lovely lady working there recommended I pick up It's A Book by Lane Smith.  Once I read it, I had to buy it.  Now, it does use the word "jackass" twice, so it may not be one you want to share with your kids.  Or you can just leave that word out when you read it out loud.  But it is hysterical!  Grab this one for your own picture book collection, maybe!

Friday, November 12, 2010

My ABCs of Inspiration: THE CONTEST

My ABCs of Inspiration have inspired me to have a contest!

You see, I have the whole alphabet planned out already.  All except the letter Z.  I had a "Z", but I'm not entirely thrilled with it.  And I like a challenge.  So, I'm doing a call out for ideas.  This contest is open for ANYONE to enter.  You don't have to be a writer.  You don't have to be in the US.  You just have to challenge me!

How does it work, Megan?  You ask excitedly.

Like this, dear reader...

1.  Leave a comment with your suggestion of where I can find inspiration that starts with the letter "Z".
2.  Don't worry if someone else has already left your suggestion.  Copy cats are allowed.  Just pick what you really would like to hear about (or think may stump me).
3.  On Sunday, November 28th I'll put all the comments in a bowl and then throw them on the living room floor.  Whichever piece of paper my cat, Audi, steps on first is the winner.
4.  Tune in on November 30th for my last entry in my ABCs of Inspiration and see who won the prize pack.

Did you just say prize pack?

Yes, yes, I did.

Super Awesome Prize Pack Of Total Coolness: 

Softcover edition of "Alphabet City" by Stephen T. Johnson
  (to find more inspiration in the alphabet)
An Indianapolis Motor Speedway CD holder
  (to hold your inspirational music)
Two mini-journals
  (to record your awesome and not-so-awesome ideas)
A "Read" magnet made of Scrabble tiles
  (to inspire you to...well...stick things to your fridge)
A mini gift book called "Believe in Yourself"
  (to make you believe in yourself, of course!)

And while you don't have to be a follower, or tweet about the contest, or mention it in your blog, or put it on your Facebook page, or shout it from the rooftops, or tattoo it to your forehead to enter...I always appreciate all of these.  : )

My ABCs of Inspiration: K is for Knuffle Bunny

If you read my weekend recommendation this past weekend, you would have discovered how painful behind the times I am on my picture book knowledge.  I just discovered the joy that is "Knuffle Bunny" last week!  I quickly realized how my limited picture book knowledge was when I decided to try to write picture books.  I had extensive knowledge of my boys' bookshelves, but that was it.  Unless the boys got a picture book as a gift or it was on the Scholastic order form that came home from school, chances are I hadn't read it.

So I decided to do something about it.

I got to readin'!  I started compiling lists of the books I heard mentioned a lot.  I jotted down notes when someone referenced a book.  I starting turning our 15 minute library dashes into hour long visits.  I started checking out 15-20 books instead of 3-5 books.  I started hanging out at a bookstore and browsing.  I focus on recent releases, but I try to seek out the classics as well.

And I must say that inspiration flows from the work that is already out there.  Isn't that what inspired most of us to start trying to write a picture book in the first place?  Rediscover that inspiration.  Pick up a picture book...or 40.

Blog Note:  I should be getting the last piece of the prize pack for my contest sometime today...so check back later to enter!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

My ABCs of Inspiration: J is for Journals

I've mentioned before that I journal about once every three years.  But even so, I think journals can give you inspiration in a few ways.

First, go back and read what you've written.  I do this more with my writing notebooks than my journals (but then this wouldn't be posted until November 26th when I do "W" in the alphabet!).  Some days I'm just full of ideas and they kind of just pour out in a jumble of notes, phrases, words, doodles, food stains, and quotes that I've made up for famous people ("Eggs do the body good...pass it on" -Betsy Ross).  I don't usually get any real writing done on these days.  My brain is just too scattered.  So, I have to go back later and try to sort through the detritus to find the good ideas and be inspired by them.

Second, sometimes the act of journaling can provide the inspiration.  There are times in our lives when our emotional baggage can get in the way of inspiration and creativity.  Putting your pen to paper and working through those things can open you back up to inspiration.  Unclog your brain and your heart and let creativity flow!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

My ABCs of Inspiration: I is for Indianapolis

I am a Hoosier.  I was born a Hoosier.  I am proud to be a Hoosier.  And I'm certain I will die a Hoosier.  For my out-of-country friends, a Hoosier is a person from the great state of Indiana.  Origins of the term are hotly debated, but it really doesn't matter.  It only matters that I am one.  And my hometown of Indianapolis, Indiana is a great source of inspiration.

I grew up in Indianapolis when it was a city trying to become more than what it was.  The city leaders had great visions and big plans.  My main memory of the downtown of my youth is that it was a huge construction site.  Large pits of mud and block after block of fencing and scaffolding.  And all of that construction and all of those dreams for the future have paid off.  Indianapolis is a thriving city of diversity, change, the arts, sports, education, and family fun.  We have the downtown canal, the Art Museum, the largest Children's Museum in the world, several excellent theater groups, a world-class Symphony, amazing restaurants, shows that come from around the globe, annual festivals that knock your socks off.  We have Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the Indianapolis Colts.  Conseco Fieldhouse, home of the Indiana Pacers.  Victory Field, the often-praised home of the minor league Indianapolis Indians.  Our state fair is not to be missed.  Our "World's Largest Christmas Tree" and downtown light displays are sure to please.  Our Rhythm Discovery Center is a hidden gem downtown.  You can park in the heart of downtown for $1.50 for three hours!  And I haven't yet mentioned the thing we are probably best known for around the world....The Greatest Spectacle In Racing...The Indianapolis 500.

I could go on and on and on.  I love this city.  In fact, I actually now live in a small town completely surround by the city of Indianapolis itself.  I live in Speedway, Indiana where the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is actually located.  And I could go into a lengthy list of attributes just for this small community within a community.

Sure, there are problems.  Yes, there are issues.  There are everywhere.  But if I look on the bright side of my slice of the world, I find plenty.  And there is inspiration in each corner.  What about your home town?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

My ABCs of Inspiration: H is for Holiday

Christmas.  Thanksgiving.  Valentine's Day.  Arbor Day.  Flag Day.  Boxing Day.  Bastille Day.  Yom Kippur.  50th Anniversary.  Talk Like a Pirate Day.  Halloween.  Chanukah.  Kwanza.  5th Birthday.  Chinese New Year.  Veteran's Day.  Picture Book Idea Month!

Okay, some of those are just celebrations and not really holidays, but you get the picture.  As human beings we like to celebrate.  We like to observe.  We like to commemorate.  We like to have a predictable structure to our year.  And the list of what we celebrate/observe/commemorate is ENDLESS.  Seriously!  If you add the religious celebrations to the state/federal/national holidays to the personal milestones to the made up declarations of "national whatever whatever day" you get a nearly infinite number of ways we come together with our friends/families/neighbors/religious communities/fellow citizens/internet acquaintances!

And it is my humble opinion that each and every one of these days can inspire a truck-load of ideas.  Personally, I have a hysterical Thanksgiving story that I want to turn into a picture book someday.  I can think of at least five Christmas memories that could easily be molded into a story.  I'm a little lean on Arbor Day anecdotes, but I'm sure I could come up with something if I put my mind to it.  So close your eyes, point somewhere on a calendar, figure out which holiday it is, and get to writing!  : )

Monday, November 8, 2010

My ABCs of Inspiration: G is for Goats

I know that sounds strange.  Inspired by goats?  Really?

Well, actually, this one is brought to you by my husband.  Because for some strange reason he decided a long time ago that goats are cute and therefore, all children's stories should involve goats.  : ) 

But really, this is actually sound thinking (despite first appearances) for two reasons.  First, because I think it is perfectly fine to find something you love (or think is adorable or want to know more about) and use that as your inspiration.  If you are writing something you love, others are more apt to love it too!

Second, is the idea of writing stories with animals as the main characters.  Personally, I haven't written any of these stories yet.  For some reason I feel like I need to get writing real people down first before I can start venturing off.  But, that isn't stopping me from trying to think of a killer goat-based story idea for PiBoIdMo!  Who knows when I'll feel ready to write my first animal story?  Maybe I'm just waiting for the perfect idea to come along and then I'll dive in!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

My ABCs of Inspiration: F is for Friends

On Friday I decided to treat my youngest son and myself to lunch at McDonald's.  And in a totally uncharacteristic turn, I decided we could go IN the restaurant and sit down.  You see, usually I just go through the drive-thru and we sit in the parking lot with the mini-van TV playing for him and my phone's Twitter app keeping me amused.  Don't judge.  : )

Anyway, to get to my point - some of my mom-friends from my son's preschool came in and joined me for lunch.  Now this is a totally rare experience for me.  Grown-up people to talk to face-to-face!  People I like, no less!  I was so excited!  And inspired.

Just talking about the regular mom-type things of every day life with some of my favorite mom-type people really got my brain going.  We talked about trick-or-treating, cooking meals for the highly picky pallets of our children, my "real" job, one of the schools in the area, and so on.  Doesn't really sound like picture book idea fodder, does it?  But it is.  These things that fill our days and we share with our friends are the kinds of everyday experiences we can start with and build from.  It is a springboard.  And sometimes, we get so caught up in trying to find the "next big idea" that we don't know where to start.  Start with a conversation with a friend.  And build!!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Award & Weekend Recommendation #9

I'm taking a break from "My ABCs of Inspiration" for Picture Book Idea Month (PiBoIdMo) to get my usual weekend recommendation up and also to thank Erica & Christy who have given me two blog awards this week!

First, the weekend recommendation is actually three recommendations.  I finally got around to reading all of the Knuffle Bunny books by Mo Willems.  I'm sure many of you already know these books because they are very popular and now I know why!  I think they are just completely charming.  So if you are seven years behind the times, like me, go find Knuffle Bunny.  And if you are only four years behind, find Knuffle Bunny Too.  And if you are just a few months behind, find Knuffle Bunny Free.  All worth it!

Second, on their blog this week, Erica and Christy passed on the Lovely Blogger Award and the Versatile Blogger Award to me.  The Lovely Blogger Award can be seen down on my sidebar and I'll be adding the Versatile Blogger down there too.  Part of the Versatile Blogger one is to share seven things about yourself, so here goes:
1.  I'm fairly certain that 75% of my caloric intake has been candy-related since Halloween.
2.  I got my hair cut this past Tuesday and I think I got 10 pounds lighter, so the candy thing is all going to balance out in the end.
3.  I make excellent chicken noodle soup in the winter.
4.  I spoke in French once to a docent at the Louvre and thought I was the coolest thing to walk the earth.
5.  I have a fierce love of office supplies.  Is there anything better than brand new folders and highlighters?
6.  I secretly believe I'm going to win the lottery some day.
7.  I never buy lotto tickets, so I'm not sure how this will happen.

And now to pass this award on (I already passed on the Lovely Blogger before, so I'm just passing on the Versatile Blogger award)!  If you get it, you are supposed to reveal seven things about yourself, link back to my blog, and pass it on to a bunch of folks (I think the original number was 15, but I don't have that kind of time!!).  Here are some of the blogs I frequent and enjoy:

Write Wild
Write Up My Life
Wistful Wanderings
Cheekyness
Girl, Unpublished
Have a Marlis Day!
Heather Kephart
StoryMonster
Thing 1 and Thing 2
Writing for Kids (While Raising Them)

Friday, November 5, 2010

My ABCs of Inspiration: E is for Eenie Meanie Miney Mo

This one isn't about putting five story ideas in front of you and randomly picking.  That is my strategy once PiBoIdMo is over and it's time to write!  ; )

This is about the games kids play.  Kids come up with a game for everything.  Even the simple act of choosing who is "it" has about 25 different little rhyme games to accomplish the task.  Thinking about how to make life more fun, is a great way to generate picture book ideas, I think.  Is there a way to make the mundane more kid-friendly?

When I'm in front of a group of kids, I'm always looking for ways to make life a little more playful.  For example, when I was teaching (Sunday school) and times popped up when some kids were finished with a project or reading and were just sitting there waiting for the others, I would give them something to do.  Sometimes it was making silly faces at me (this was mainly for my own amusement).  Sometimes it was hopping on one foot.  Sometimes it was trying to pat their heads while rubbing their bellies.  While this often had the effect of distracting the kids who were trying to finish (and is therefore not terribly practical in a real school setting), it always served to up the fun factor.  And isn't that what a lot of picture books are trying to do?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

My ABCs of Inspiration: D is for Dessert

I know we all joke about chocolate being our motivator/inspiration/reason for being, but I think there really is something to it for me.  I find dessert inspiring because I remember it being a major motivating factor in my childhood!  And if I'm trying to connect with my inner five year old, dessert is the way to go.

Candy can trigger memories for a lot of people.  Think of how nostalgic folks get over those awful candy button things that make you eat more paper than sugar.  Or when people think back fondly on the fear of combining Pop Rocks with Coke in their mouths (certain their heads would explode).  Candy is a strong connector to our childhood.

As a side note, I ate some Nerds this Halloween and those things are just not as good as I remember.

Ice cream is a big thing for me.  When I was younger, we would go visit my grandparents every summer.  Every night after dinner my grandfather would hand some money to one of my aunts and tell us to go get some ice cream.  This was in a suburb of Boston and I'm from Indiana, so the ice cream places were all different to me and seemed way awesome compared to our Dairy Queen and Baskin Robbins options in the midwest.  We got to go to Brighams to get chocolate jimmies on our cones.  And Emack & Bolio's (which we called "We Smack and Blow Your Nose") for the best ice cream ever, in my humble childhood opinion.  And there were others too.

See how I just strolled down memory lane via ice cream there?  Don't let anyone ever tell you dessert isn't a road to inspiration!

And I'd like to thank a new PiBoIdMo friend on Twitter - @KathleenIsaac - for being the inspiration for my inspiration today!  : )  Hope you found that Mars bar!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

My ABCs of Inspiration: B is for Boys and C is for Cats

B is for Boys:

As you can see from my pictures over there (*points to the right*) I have three boys.  What you cannot see over there that they NEVER STOP TALKING.  Seriously.  Never.  They all talk in their sleep.  They talk with their mouths full.  They talk when the others are talking.  They talk during TV shows and movies.  They talk incessantly.

While this results in a lot of, "Please stop talking just for a second" and "For the love of Pete, I'll pay you $5 to just be quiet for 30 seconds," it also provides inspiration.  Listening to children talk (or scream or mumble) is a great way to find a phrase or snippet to launch your imagination.

C is for Cats:

Also in my house are two boy cats.  That's right.  I have a husband, three boys and two boy cats.  I need some girls in my life.

Anyway, the cats (Audi and Alex) are also a source of inspiration.  I like to imagine what they are thinking.  In fact I often supply their voices for them throughout the day.  "Mom, my two-legged-less-hairy brother is pulling my tail again.  Please help."  "I think I need to bite something.  I'll go with Audi's butt."  "I've been awake for like 45 seconds...must...sleep...here...(passes out in middle of doorway or half on my keyboard & half on my desk)"

While this is mainly for my own amusement, it is also just the kind of thing that can lend itself to inspiration.  Putting yourself in someone (or something) else's head is fun!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

My ABCs of Inspiration: A is for Alliteration

I'm going to start a series in honor of PiBoIdMo!  Every day I'll give you a letter or two and match it to a way that I find inspiration.  Hopefully you'll be able to find some too (whether you are NaNoWriMo or PiBoIdMo or just writing or even just searching for a little inspiration in your daily life).

So, A is for alliteration!  I love to play with words to get story ideas and alliteration is a fun and easy way for anyone to play with words.  All you are trying to do is come up with words that have the same starting sound.  Even if the resulting alliteration doesn't end up in my story (because it rarely does), I can play my way to a story idea.  For example, I was at the library yesterday when they were hanging Thanksgiving decorations.  One of the librarians mentioned they didn't have many turkeys to hang up.  Here is my resulting stream of consciousness: turkey...tom turkey...talk turkey...talking turkey...ten talking turkeys...ten talking turkeys from Timbuktu...ten talking turkeys from Timbuktu, call their kooky cousins in Kalamazoo.

Sounds like the start of a picture book idea, doesn't it?

Tune in tomorrow for "B" and "C"!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Happy PiBoIdMo!

Today I give you a very short post because I have to get myself organized for PiBoIdMo (which mainly means reading a lot of other blogs and stuff today and then sitting in a corner and pondering).

As I start this challenge, I have to tell you my biggest problem with picture book ideas...the conflict.  I am very anti-conflict in my real life, so I find it very difficult to insert any conflict in my writing.  I tend to write "slice of life" stories and then I have to go back and insert the conflict.  I have this delightful character in mind and then I have to figure out how to mix up their life.  It is not easy!  I'm a strong proponent of happily-ever-after.  But to get there, they have to have overcome something. I sure wish there was some market for non-conflict boring stories!

Write on!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Weekend Recommendation #8

Hey there!  Today is the day to sign up for PiBoIdMo if you are going to do it!  And really, why wouldn't you?  Click on over and sign right up!

On to my recommendation for the week!

I think this week I'm going to recommend a few that you can probably only find second-hand or at your library.  Earlier this week I mentioned that I collect Parents Magazine Press books and, sadly, they are no long around.  But if you ever come across them my top five Parents Magazine Press (in no particular order) books are:

1.  "Popcorn" by Frank Asch
2.  "Pets I Wouldn't Pick" by Susan A. Schmeltz, illustrated by Ellen Appleby
3.  "The Man Who Cooked For Himself" by Phyllis Krasilovsky, illustrated by Mamoru Funai
4.  "Dirty Feet" by Steven Kroll, illustrated by Toni Hormann
5.  "Miss Mopp's Lucky Day" by Leslie McGuire

This is just a small sampling of the many books I just LOVED as a little girl.  If you find any Parents books, pick them up!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Weekend Business

Two things today (and my weekend recommendation tomorrow).

First, for a little Halloween fun, hop over to Girl, Unpublished and join in Jessica's contest for a great Halloween picture book and some Thriller dancing!  Fun!

Second, sometime today Su will be posting my guest post on her blog, Cheekyness.  So mosey on over there and check it out!

Have a great Saturday everyone!
Time to carve some pumpkins!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Who Wrote This?

A few weeks ago I dusted off my journal and decided to record some of my deep and meaningful thoughts.  But, before I did, I took five minutes to read all of my previously recorded deep and meaningful thoughts (it only took five minutes because I'm terrible at keeping a journal).  And the first thought that came to mind was, "who wrote this stuff?"

This does not just happen in the journal that I remember to write in twice a year.  It happens with my other writing too.  I've come across things I've written in my writing notebooks from just a few months ago and I think, "oh this is good...I don't remember writing it at all" or "what the heck was I thinking...this makes no sense and whoever wrote it may have only recently learned English."

Isn't that amazing?  I mean, the brain I've always had is still a mystery to me.  I don't even recognize it sometimes.  Whenever I feel like I may be running low on ideas, I can reassure myself that my brain will be a totally new creation in a few months, days, or even minutes.  The ideas will come (oh yes, they will come PiBoIdMo!).  I may just have to become someone different than who I am at this second in my history.

P.S.  How cool is it to have a written record of who you are at any given moment?  Totally cool-tastic.

P.P.S. The me at writing this post at the beginning didn't know that the me at the end would invent a lame word like that.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

10 questions for me

Head on over to Su Wilcox's blog Cheekyness today for her interview of me!  I was interviewed as the winner of her "700th Post" contest.  : ) 

I'll be guest blogging over there on Saturday too.  Stop on by!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Where-Oh-Where-Wednesday

First, I wanted to take a minute to thank Christie Wright Wild over at Write Wild for awarding me a "Lovely Blog Award".  Thank you, Christie!  Her blog is quite lovely and really helpful, so please pop on over there if you don't know her already!

Second, thank you for all the solidarity on yesterday's post.  I think we'll have to get a few more couches in the room of self-doubt.  But the nice thing about our community here, is all the words of encouragement to combat that doubt.  Write on, everybody!

Now to today's topic:  Where to write?

If you write, where do you write?  Do you have to be at your computer?  Do you write things out by hand first?  Do you have to get away from your house?  Do need to be somewhere to be inspired?

I find that I do my best brainstorming away from my house.  There is just too much to distract me here.  Even if I am here all alone, I find that I read blogs or do dishes or sneak off to watch Project Runway.  No, if I want to make my brain calm down enough to have original thoughts, I need the library or some other quiet place.

Now if I'm writing, I can be anywhere.  I think I'm engaging my neurons enough when I'm actually writing that I don't get as distracted.  Or, when I am distracted, I'm anxious to get back to what I was doing and I can pick it back up again quickly.

This does not bode well for PiBoIdMo!  I need to be able to get my brain to focus on idea formation anywhere.  I hope that PiBoIdMo helps me tackle this wandering-brain problem!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The I-submitted-too-soon Syndrome

I had a lovely manuscript.  Just lovely.  I had revised it completely about 5 times and made minor (yet extensive) revisions another 10 times.  So I did my research and sent that lovely little piece of writing out to five publishers.

And then regretted it a week later.

I thought of a different way to tell my lovely story.  Wait!  I can do better!   I can do better!  Come back, manuscript.

Much like my cats and children, it didn't come back when I called.

So, I re-wrote my manuscript and now I'm actually holding my breath hoping for rejections to come quickly and the allotted time for "assumed rejection" to pass.  I want to send my new and improved loveliness out into the world.

And then I'll probably regret it a week later.

Welcome to the wonderful world of self-doubt!  Come, have a seat on the sofa of can't-stop-revising!  Rest your feet on the ottoman of my-brain-won't-shut-up-about-it.  I'll be the chick sitting next to you.  : )

Monday, October 25, 2010

Crusade Challenge #2

The second of our crusade challenges is to write a post starting with "You may not know this about me, but..."
 
I collect a lot of stuff.  I have no room for skeletons in my closet, because it is full of all this other stuff!

I collect Parents Magazine Press picture books.  I think I've mentioned before that I have very fond memories of getting books in the mail as a child.  These books were from Parents Magazine Press and I LOVED them (and still do).  Sadly Parent Magazine Press stopped producing picture books, so I scour book sales and Goodwill and garage sales for copies of my favorites.  In fact, one of the first things I did when I found out I was pregnant with my first son was create an eBay account so I could buy a copy of "Popcorn" by Frank Asch, which was my favorite.  Anyone else know and love these?  Like "Miss Mopp's Lucky Day" when she forgets her umbrella on the way to sell her baked goods?  Or "Pets I Wouldn't Pick"?  Or "Septimus Bean and his Flying Machine"?

I collect John Deere tractors (the toys, not the real things).  This all began when my high school band did "Bohemian Rhapsody" as their halftime show at football games.  They would bring the percussion stuff out with a little John Deere and I was so excited for the show I would yell, "Here comes the John Deere!"  My friend took this to mean I loved John Deere and started giving me the little toys.  I've been a John Deere enthusiast ever since.  My dad arranged for me to help with the harvest last fall and drive a real JD Combine (that's me in the pink hat)!




I collect jobs.  Now, these aren't taking up room in my closet, but still.  Jobs I've actually been paid to do just go on and on.  I've worked in a Deli/Bagel Shop. I worked in shop called Natural Wonders.  I was a land surveyors assistant.  I've been a babysitter for anywhere between one and nine children for extended periods of time.  I've worked in a fitness center.  I worked the front desk at residence halls.  I was a secretary.  I was a youth minister.  I did transcription work.   I did research.  I worked in the costume jewelry department of L.S. Ayres.  I once even waitressed a catered event at the Jewish Community Center (I really served people gefilte fish and latkas - that's kartoffelpuffer for you of German-descent).  And I'm sure I could think of more if I wanted to continue down memory lane.  But I'm tired just thinking of all that work!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Weekend Recommendation #7

I have a book that is actually written and illustrated by two DIFFERENT people!  Crazy, right?

I've actually had this book recommended to me for many years, but it was one that I always forgot about until it was staring me right in the face.  It is I Wanna Iguana by Karen Kaufman Orloff and illustrated by David Catrow.  It is not a rhymer, despite the name.  It is a series of notes between mother and son about the addition of an iguana to the family.  It totally reminds me of the little notes my oldest son leaves me!  It is very cute and a clever and unique way to present a book.  Check it out!

Friday, October 22, 2010

A poem: Writing in rhyme takes a lot of time

Have you every tried to write a really good rhyme?
And what should take a second, takes much more time?

The rhythm's wrong, you trip on each word.
Your brain makes up things you thought you heard.

Counting syllables and drumming out a beat.
It makes you want to turn and retreat.

A poem should be easy, a piece of cake!
But each stanza is awful, you're a poetic fake!

Take this rhyme, that I just jotted down.
Yes, it may rhyme, but a poet would frown.

My attempts are clumsy and elementary, my dear.
I just don't have a true poet's ear.

But does that stop me?  Oh, no!  Not I! 
I'll keep plugging away, give it the ol' college try.
And when I get stuck, I'll just give a sigh.
Until all that's left to say is "Bye-bye!"

Thursday, October 21, 2010

50+ Followers! Woot!

Virtual lollipops all around!  And I'll throw in an imaginary cube of modeling clay and a pretend necklace I made of invisible macaroni noodles!  Just imagine what delights await when I get to 100 followers!  : )

Housekeeping Notes

Okay my whole "I don't post on Thursday" thing hasn't really been true the past few weeks, but I'm just overly chatty, I guess!

I wanted to just point out a few things on my site that I've updated recently.

First, I've added buttons at the top.  You will find a button for the Writers Platform-Building Crusade with a message from Rachael Harrie at Rach Writes... about this awesome opportunity.  And right next to it is a button for the list that used to be on my sidebar of all the participants and their websites.  Please click around in there and visit some interesting and wonderful blogs.

I've also added a button that will be a running list of my weekend recommendations so you don't have to go back searching through posts to find what you are looking for when you want to buy me...er...someone a book.

Finally, on the sidebar I have added in a "popular posts" feature that puts my most-visited posts over there for easy access.

Hope you find the new features useful!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Natural Enemy

What is the natural enemy of the mother?  What is the natural enemy of the writer?  Surprisingly they are often the same in my world!

Enemy #1: Corn flakes.  Whenever I pour milk on a bowl of corn flakes, no matter how slowly or carefully, the milk splashes one or more flakes at the perfect angle and causes the milk to shoot from the bowl in a high arc.  The mom in me has to clean it up.  The writer in me is annoyed it splashed on my manuscript I was about to mail out.

Enemy #2:  Phineas & Ferb.  This show is just too hysterical.  It took them days to figure out all the mimes were trapped in real invisible boxes?  Genius.  The mom in me has a hard time saying "no more TV" when this is an option.  The writer in me wants to ditch anything I'm working on to watch it too.

Enemy #3:  Blogs.  I want to read them & write them all the time!  The mom in me wants to ignore the pleas of my children to play board games/get snacks/clean up the mess the cat just made.  The writer in me wants to learn/network/comment to a fault.  Self control is essential here!

Enemy #4:  The Library!  Plain and simple, the library has taken over my life.  I spend all my free time trying to figure out if I have time to go to the library, if the books are due back to the library, if my hold is in at the library, if all of our library books are in our library bag, trying to find my library card so I can renew things on-line, and on and on.  And to make matters worse, the library is having their semi-annual book sale this week and my kids are on fall break!  This means I'm going to have to take them with me and have a knock-down-drag-out fight with my mother self and my writer self about how many books the kids can get and how many books I can get.  Oh, library, you evil den of booky goodness!

Any one care to add to my list?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

PiBoIdMo

That stands for Picture Book Idea Month and I'm going to participate in it come November (hence the snazzy badge on my sidebar)!  If you click on that snazzy badge, you will be taken to the PiBoIdMo home, which is Tara Lazar's blog.  She came up with this plan last year to have picture book writers come up with one picture book idea a day for a month. We aren't writing a book a day, just coming up with a idea a day.  How much fun is that?!  And I understand there will be inspirational posts from all kinds of guests to keep us going and even some prizes of some kind. 

This is a take off on NaNoWiMo, which is National Novel Writing Month where people churn out a first draft of a novel in one month (with daily word count writing goals).  I'm very glad I'm not a novel writer!  But I'm very excited to be a picture book writer and have this structured challenge to get the old creative juices flowing.

So, if you are a picture book writer (aspiring or published) or maybe you are just starting to think about trying to write one - sign up!  Join in the fun and get ready to be blown away by your own awesome ideas for books about the mold on a PB&J or an elephant who wants her toenails painted or a little girl who wants to dig a moat around her house to keep out the purple pickle people of Paraguay!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Oh, look! Almost at 50!

Hey there followers!

I just noticed that I'm almost at 50 followers!  Fun!  Be sure to "follow" on the sidebar over there --> if you don't already.  I'll have to come up with something totally fun for when I reach 50.  Do you all consider virtual lollipops fun?  : )

Do I look lonely?

A very strange phenomenon has been occurring lately.  Wherever I go, strange children come and sit with me and engage me in conversation.  Is this some mysterious side-effect of gearing part of my life toward the entertainment of children?  Does something about my aura tell children that I need interaction with them?  Perhaps this has always happened to me and I never really realized it before?

Beats me!  But it is amusing and delightful, to say the least.

A few weeks ago at the zoo, I was sitting at the side of the playground watching my three boys run rampant up the ramps and ladders and then down the slides and poles.  To my surprise, a four year old girl came and sat next to me.  She started telling me about how nice she is and how un-nice her little brother is most of the time.  Her parents were sitting across the playground and I could see them pointing her out to each other and laughing at their daughter's overt friendliness.  Then, the un-nice little brother came and sat on my other side.  He just sat there smiling at me (I'm guessing he was only about 2) as I smiled at him.  Finally, another sister came and sat down when the little brother left my side.  All told, I spent a good 15 minutes just chatting with the children of some totally random zoo-going people.  When I got up to leave, the parents smiled and waved at me with a chuckle and said, "they sure did have a lot to tell you!"

Another example.  A little boy in my son's Sunday School class came up behind me when I was dropping my son off and said, "do you have other kids?"  I told him I did.  Then about 45 seconds later, I feel a little hand on my shoulder as I lean down to hug my son good-bye.  I turned and found this same little boy with a fake spider.  He grinned up at me and said, "you had this real spider on you!"  I was totally surprised that he would just jump into playing with me on the basis of our simple exchange.

I could go on and on with examples, but you get the idea.  I've seen my own children do this.  It is what gives mothers everywhere fits and launches many "don't talk to strangers" speeches.  But the fact of the matter is, if a person is friendly to them, that is the only invitation a child needs to be friends.  Wouldn't it be nice if friendship was always so simple?

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Weekend Recommendation #6

Hey there!  Well, I survived the preschool garage sale yesterday and I finally have time to sit down for a second to write my weekend recommendation!  This week is another author/illustrator book (maybe someday I'll branch out).  This week it is The Boss Baby by Marla Frazee.  Marla is a two-time Caldecott Honor medalist and it shows!  I think this fun book would be perfect to give as a gift to new parents!

Enjoy the rest of the weekend!

Friday, October 15, 2010

The things we do for love

I'm in a semi-comatose state right now because I just spent 12 hours lifting-hauling-dragging-sorting-moving-arranging stuff for my son's preschool's garage sale.  And I'm about to go do it again today!  And then the actual sale happens on Saturday.  Bring it on (she says while yawning)!

So, my post today is just about what we do for what we love.  This really applies for both the people we love and the things we love doing.  We work ourselves silly.  We try to fit everything into our day.  We push ourselves out of our comfort zones.  We sacrifice.  We put our hearts on the line.  We are vulnerable.  And we often do it with a smile on our faces.  Or we should.

Just something to think about today.  Are some of the hard parts of your life because you are doing something for someone or something you love?  Doesn't that make it a little easier to take?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Oh, you lovely bloggers, you!

Well it seems that the delightful Jessica Stanford, over at Girl, Unpublished has given me another "One Lovely Blog Award"!  And even though I don't usually post on Thursdays, I thought it was high time I passed on the love (like I said I would last week when Alison gave me one). 

Once you receive the award, you are supposed to give it to 15 people, but I'm going to do 11.  First, because I'm lazy.  But second, because I'm trying to give it to folks who haven't gotten it before (though I could be mistaken in some cases).  Third, I'm trying to stick to writing-type blogs (I follow a bunch of IndyCar blogs, but I doubt any of those guys want a pink lacy tea cup award - right George & Roy?)  So, in no particular order, here are my choices for lovely blogs :

Some illustrators:
Jannie Ho at http://chickengirldesign.blogspot.com
Tom Lichtenheld at http://tomlichtenheld.wordpress.com/
Kristi Valiant at http://kristivaliant.blogspot.com/
The team of talent over at http://thesketchables.blogspot.com/

Some writers:
Miles McG at http://milesmcg.blogspot.com/
Kat at http://katswhiskers.wordpress.com/
All those teaching authors at http://www.teachingauthors.com/
Corey Schwartz at http://coreyschwartz.blogspot.com/
Adina West at http://adinawest.blogspot.com/
Stina Lindenblatt at http://www.stinalindenblatt.com/
Karen Collum at http://www.karencollum.com.au/

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Chores vs. Writing

Life is always a balance.  Some of the balancing acts in my life are as follows:
  • A balance between junk food and healthy food.   
  • A balance between the kids having free time and having organized activities.
  • A balance between "I want that purse" and "But college is expensive"...stupid responsible saving
  • A balance between "it's not worth the fight" with my kids and "I'll fight this all day long with you"
But now there is a new balance as well...housework and writing.  Turns out I love sitting down and writing for hours on end and I do not love laundry, dishes, mopping, sweeping, toilet cleaning, toy straightening or litter-box emptying.  Amazing revelation, right?  But even though this is an obvious revelation, it is still an important one.  Because if I don't acknowledge it, I won't be able to balance it.

The weird thing is that my family and I seem to need clean clothes, dishes to eat off of, non-sticky floors, and so on.  Another weird thing is that I NEED to write!  So, I make up schedules.  I love schedules.  I love grabbing an index card and writing it out like, "9-9:15 Dishes, 9:15-9:30 Laundry, 9:30-10:30 Real Job stuff, 10:30-11 Write".  Of course, inevitably the air conditioner stops working at 9:07 and the whole day is shot, but I tried!!

P.S.  I make a cameo appearance in Esther's blog today!  Go see!  Click here!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Esther Hershenhorn!!

First, allow me to gush.  I just adored meeting Esther!  She was funny, full of great information, approachable, wonderfully friendly, and I totally dug her scarf (I am incapable of wearing scarves - since I have no chin they make my nose look connected to my chest - not attractive).

Now I just want to give you some bullet points of her talk, which was entitled "Rx for Children's Book Creators: Getting your Stories Straight".  I can obviously not do it justice in my short-form blog, so I'm just gonna hit some key points/phrases.  She broke down three elements of a story and related it to both the stories we write and our personal writer story that we are living. 

Character: 
  • Plot comes from character
  • Character is everything
  • You have to know the character's heart way before the story starts
  • What the character wants is the physical plot line
  • Why the character wants it is the emotional plot line
  • Why do you write for children?
  • What are your nouns and verbs?
Setting:
  • The setting gives the reader a framework, a reference point
  • What are the settings in your life as a writer?
    • For example:  the world of children's literature, publishing, other writers, etc.
Plot:
  • Plot is when the character is in action - confronting and overcoming obstacles
  • An interconnectedness of events should be present
  • There needs to be action and reaction and the accompanying emotion
  • A chronology is essential to the plot
  • What are the actions, obstacles, emotions in your own story as a writer?
I apologize for the overly simplistic breakdown.  I just knew that I wouldn't be able to capture the vibrancy of the speech, so I went for the bare bones.  She certainly gave me a lot to think about and analyze and work into my writing.  It is a challenge to be more introspective and aware of my own story and how it plays out in my writing.  I can't thank Esther enough for such inspiration!

Monday, October 11, 2010

SCBWI Indiana Event!

On Saturday I attended my first local SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) event at the beautiful Benton House.  I had been eagerly anticipating this event for some time and it fully delivered!  Don't you love when that happens?  I did my patented in-car happy dance moves the whole way home!  I apologize to any other drivers who had to witness them.

First of all, I had been aching to meet some other writers in person.  I've made great connections via the internet, but I was really ready to smile into some faces and shake some hands.  There is definitely something to meeting others who have walked this road before and are walking it with you now.  So, I took the time to straighten my hair, put on some real big-girl makeup and dress like member of the real world (instead of the mom uniform of workout pants & a tee-shirt).  I wanted to grab each one of the attendees and say, "tell me your story!"  Lucky for them, I restrained myself...for now.  Watch out next time!  I won't be as timid!

Second, I was anxious to see how this organization has taken shape in Indiana.  I'm excited to report that it is a vibrant organization that has obviously been on the rise the past few years and there are many plans in the works.  They were saying goodbye to their previous Regional Advisor, Trish Batey, and welcoming the new RA, Kristi Valiant.  After seeing the devotion and excitement of the leadership, I'm ready to hop in and get involved!  They even had one member, Janna (I hope I got that right) get up and play a song on the piano and sing it to us because it is a song that gives her a lot of inspiration.  I was too much in awe to remember to write down the name of the song, but Jenna did a lovely job and I was touched by her willingness to share, her grace, and her talent.

But the biggest highlight of the day was our speaker, Esther Hershenhorn.  I knew of Esther from Teaching Authors, a blog written by six authors who also teach writing.  Esther teaches at the University of Chicago Writer's Studio and at the Newberry Library.  Since I don't have any writing classes under my belt yet, I was itching for this talk!!  It was wonderful and just what I was hoping for when I signed up.

Since I try to keep my posts short (in case you only have 30 seconds of free time in any given hour - like me) I will go into Esther's talk on tomorrow's post.  In the mean time, check out her blog, if you don't already.  And look at her latest book, S is for Story: A Writer's Alphabet.  It's wonderful!

Check back in tomorrow for a run down of the workshop!  Thank you SCBWI Indiana!!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Weekend Recommendation #5

In keeping with yesterday's post, I've got two funny writer/illustrator books for you this week:

First is Pigs To The Rescue written and illustrated by John Himmelman.  These pictures really make the whole story move and work.  Brilliant!

I love this one so much I asked for it for my birthday this past week!  I got it and read it to the whole table (of adults) as soon as I opened it.  So, run out and find Children Make Terrible Pets written and illustrated by Peter Brown.  You get the idea from the title and it is executed perfectly.

Oh!  I just realized today is my blog's one month anniversary!  Yippee!  

Friday, October 8, 2010

Those Wacky Writer/Illustrators

I am noticing a trend in the picture books I really enjoy.  I am finding that I am really drawn to picture books by writer/illustrators.  These overly talented people are churning out some of the funniest and most clever books.  This is upsetting because my drawing talent is limited to proportionally challenged stick figures and this squiggly line thing I used to draw in high school on all my folders.

The writer/illustrator has an awesome humor advantage in my mind.  They can create a book where the pictures and words play off of one another beautifully.  They can be even more sparse in their word count and let the pictures do the talking.  They can be funny in two ways at once.

So far my picture book writing has not been overly funny and that troubles me.  You may have picked up by now that I'm big on the funny.  I am a strong advocate of laughter and laughter shared between child and parent is of special interest to me.  So, writing a picture book that would be funny to both parent and child would be a total dream come true for me.

But as a writer only, I almost feel my hands are a little tied.  I have to hope that an editor can see the potential comedy in just my words and then pray that an illustrator is chosen that also gets it (or has even better funny ideas of their own).  It is really a tremendous leap of faith to put your sense of humor out there with no supporting visual for someone else to build on.

Oh, to be an illustrator!  I lament!  You hysterical talented bums!  : )

P.S. Picture Books Only will be having a chat related to this topic this weekend!  Click here to get the info and join in!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Thursday lull

I don't post new material on Thursdays anymore, so check out some of my previous posts or visit some blogs from my sidebar!  See you all Friday!

Juggling writing & parenting? Use the same strategies!

In an earlier blog post, Erica & Christy commented that they wanted tips for juggling writing and parenting.  They may have been being sarcastic, but it gave me an idea for this post, so I'm taking it seriously (kind of)!

I started ruminating (oh yeah, I totally ruminate) about the similar strategies you can employ for both parenting and writing.  Here they are in no particular order...

1. Illusion - When you feel like you are getting nothing accomplished, make it LOOK like you are!

Parenting:  Kids destroying the house?  Clean just the front room.  Forget the rest of the house.  Only allow visitors to see the front room (no, you may not use my bathroom).

Writing:  Stories going no where?  Create a new file every time you write an opening paragraph.  Just churn those suckers out!  See?  Now it looks like you are working diligently on 20 different stories at once!

2.  Guilt - I'm Irish Catholic, so this strategy works really well for me!  Let other people know what you are doing (or intend to do) and you'll have to stick with it or the guilt will be unbearable.

Parenting:  My kids only watch one hour of TV a day!

Writing:  I'm going to write blog posts every day!

3.  One-handed wonder - Learn to do everything one-handed.  By my third kid, I had this down pat!

Parenting:  I can pour a glass of juice with one hand and make cheese and crackers with the other.  At the same time!

Writing:  I can print a self addresses stamped envelope with one hand and file my letters with another.

4.  Distract your audience - um...

Parenting:  Look, son!  Chocolate!

Writing:  Look, reader!  Chocolate!

5.  Laugh - Some days I totally lose my cool and end up screaming and stomping around like a lunatic.  Other days I laugh at what life throws me.  In either situation, I still end up with all the same stuff waiting to be taken care of/done.  So why not laugh?  That is my new mantra.  Why not laugh?

Housekeeping Day!

I have some housekeeping to do here at The Write-At-Home-Mom!  I thought I was avoiding housekeeping by blogging, but apparently not!

First, I want to thank my lovely new friend and critique partner, Alison Stevens, for giving my blog an award.  It is a nice virtual high-five and I thank her from the bottom of my heart for the acknowledgment.   Part of the award is to bestow it on 15 others that you enjoy.  Stay tuned next week for that list!

Next item on my list is to mention the Dear Editor picture book edit contest that is going on now!  You can win an edit of your picture book from Deborah Halverson, the author "Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies" which will be coming out in 2011.  This is a great opportunity for a professional look at your manuscript!  Trot on over to Dear Editor to check it out!

Next is to give a shout out to my new friend, Quinn, over at his blog, "seeing, dreaming ... writing".  He is having a contest to celebrate his 100 followers.  I have to say that his blog is obviously the result of a lot of hard work, dedication, creativity, and passion.  I've really enjoyed his posts as he delves into the paranormal and supernatural worlds.  He has a unique voice that I think you'll enjoy, so go check him out, follow him, and maybe enter his contest!

And finally, I just wanted to point out my posting schedule that I have in the header.  I'm finding that posting all weekdays except Thursday is fitting in fine with my "real" work schedule, so I'm going to go with that.  I can write at night and post first thing in the morning before I "go" to work (a.k.a. walk into the room next to my bedroom).

I think that is all for now!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Co-Op Shout Out

For five years now I've had a child at a cooperative preschool.  This is a school run by the parents and it requires a lot of parental involvement.  We do employ real teachers, but the parents help in the classroom, pay the bills, fund-raise, fix broken toys, order the paper and paint, plan for the future, set the goals, advertise for new members and on and on.

It is not an option for everyone.  Many work schedules won't allow for the time commitment.  Many parents may not want to be that involved!  But for me, it has been a perfect way to start of my children's education and it has brought me so much more than I could ever list here.

So, what does this little plug for Co-Ops have to do with writing?  A lot!

First of all, I think if you want to write for young children, you need to be around children, and preferably not just your own children.  It is beneficial to be a fly on the wall when kids are just being kids.  You probably don't remember what it is like to be 3 or 4.  I think I have a grand total of 3 memories from that time in my life.  So, you have to be able to tap into that in some other way.  Simple observation and interaction is priceless.

Second, you have to have friends.  Being a stay-at-home-mom can be a lonely enterprise sometimes.  You can lose yourself in just being "mom" and not being "me".  Having other grown-up friends is essential to sanity.  Even just a shared look of sympathy from a friend when your kid trips, screams, and launches a paint-filled paper at your newly-washed car interior helps.  You don't feel alone.  Having friends in similar circumstances as yourself allows you to be yourself.  They support you, cheer you on, pick you back up, and nod knowingly when you whine.  And my Co-Op friends have been very supportive and wonderful as I start this writing journey.

Finally, the Co-Op reminds me why I write.  I am writing for the kids who come and ask me to read them a book during free play time.  I am writing for our awesome teachers who rejoice in finding new books that illustrate their lesson.  I am writing for these dedicated parents who spend a lot of time and energy making sure their kids are off to a good start in their education.  I write for the joyful noise of play, the quiet of story time, the chaos of art work, the cheerful exclamations of discovery and the tears that come sometimes.  I write for childhood.

I love you, Co-Op Mommies (you crazy-amazing women)!

Monday, October 4, 2010

First Crusader Challenge!

As some of you may recall from earlier posts, I'm taking part in the "Writer's Platform Building Crusade" spearheaded by Rachael Harrie.  You can read about (or sign up for) this great blog-sharing-for-the-sake-of-building-followers idea here.  And check out my sidebar for links to all my fellow crusader's blogs!

Anyway, we are being issued a challenge this week.  And it is to write a post that starts with

"I sat down to write the other day and..."

my cat, Alex, jumped into my lap.  He nudged my hand and looked up at me and said, "just who the heck do you think you are?  You aren't a writer!  You are Megan the mom, the wife, the sister, the daughter, the participating parent, the dutiful employee, the friend.  Isn't that good enough?"

"Geez, Alex!  You weight as much as an elephant and you're a buzz kill.  Get off my lap."

"No way.  I need some attention and love and if you are going to be all distracted with this crazy new idea that you can write a picture book or two, I'm going to demand my fair share of your time."

"Look, cat.  I know I can be all of those other things and write too.  It is a juggling act, but I'm good at juggling.  Besides, I need something for me."

"I thought your family and friends and everything else were already for you."

"Well, I suppose they are.  I'm blessed a million times over.  But another one of my blessings is my creative self and it wouldn't it be wrong to deny myself that?"

"Whatever.  What makes you think you can write anyway?  You've never been a person who creates, you interpret.  Theater was just building off of someone else's creative work."

"I don't know for sure that I can create whole worlds.  I mean, I would never come up with a world that involved quidditch, paintings that move and interact, and invisibility cloaks.  But maybe I can tap into my childhood imagination and have something interesting to share.  And maybe encourage other children to tap into their imaginations.

"You have lofty goals for someone who doesn't know what they are doing."

"I'll shoot for the moon and maybe land on Mars, but at least I'm out there!"

"I'm tired of your lap.  I need to go take a lengthy bath in the hallway and then chase an invisible bug."

"I'm changing your name to Freud."

"Meow."
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