Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Subversive Picture Books - Nakeyness!

We are talking subversive books this month, and today I want to cover the oh-so-shameful topic of nudity in picture books. GASP!  Since nudity has caused books to be banned, it's appropriate to consider in a subversive light. 

I'm going to start with the blatant books which use NAKED right in the title.
"They brought Wilbur to a giant portrait of Grand-pah, the oldest, greatest, and most naked naked mole rat ever."
(Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed, by Mo Willems)

Please use your best movie commercial voice for the following: "In a world where everyone is naked, one naked mole rat dares to wear clothes." Mo turns the tables on us. He makes us feel uncomfortable not by the nudity, but by the un-nudity. And in doing so he weaves a lovely tale of being yourself.

"and ONE naked baby goes back in the bath!"
 (OneNaked Baby, by Maggie Smith)

This book has been a staple in our house for six years, because it made my kids (who are champion streakers) laugh and it made me feel like a normal mom. I understood what it was like to chase a wet streak down the hall only to have that same baby roll around in a muddy puddle within hours. Plus, it has counting to ten and back, exploring the outdoors, and just enjoying life on every page.   

"The sneaky cat pounced on an unsuspecting group of squirrels and gave them all wedgies -- not an easy thing to do, because generally squirrels do not wear underpants"
(Those Darn Squirrels and the Cat Next Door, by Adam Rubin and illustrated by Daniel Salmieri)

This book could get attacked by a critique group for many reasons.
"The MC is named Mr. Fookwire- have you read that out loud?"
"There's a lot of violence."
"There's only adults and animals."
But I want to focus on the most disturbing part. I have been haunted by the image of squirrel wedgies on page 22. I've found myself asking, "Does the squirrel wedgie move the story line along?" I've also found myself asking, "Why can I not stop staring at these squirrel buttcheeks??" But it is relevant to the story, because a wedgie so perfectly establishes the pain of the squirrels and the character of the mean bully cat Muffins.

"It may help to have on pajamas."
(Stars, by Mary Lyn Ray and Marla Frazee)

Oh you didn't see this one coming! But this gorgeous, thought-provoking, heart-warming picture book holds a secret on page 25.  Yes, there is one boy with his jammies not quite on. My kids can find a butt from a mile away, so this is obviously the best part of the book. Do you need a butt? No. Is a butt-giggle a nice bit of comic relief after thinking about days when you don't feel shiny like a star? Yes, it is. And when it comes to including something relatable, why not a tushie? We all have them.


"I forgot!"
(David Gets in Trouble, by David Shannon)

David Shannon doesn’t wait so long - by page 9, poor David is headed for school in his tighty whities. More pictures of David's wrong-doings fill every page. Even I felt a little unsure reading this to my first child. Do I want her to see cat-tail-pulling and funny-face-at-the-wrong-time-making? And what is wrong with my spawn that she is laughing at every page? But if we didn't go on a naughty ride with David, we wouldn't so appreciate the "I'm Sorry" spread at the end.

Yes, all of these books have a little bit of nudity, but they all make it necessary to the story or the experience of the book. If you have other favorite books which fit here, please share them in the comments.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Subversive Picture Books - While Your Parents Are Out

I have a picture book idea which is a tad subversive - y'know, a little cannibalism, inappropriate toad jokes, poop-eating, etc. I really want to write this book. I'm positive I can decapitate a cute bunny rabbit is a very classy way. (I'm sure I've made this sound worse than it is...or perhaps not wicked enough.)


Approaching the critique group with such a wild beast of a manuscript is a challenge. I'm guilty of critiquing out others subversive attempts too.

"Your protagonist cannot eat the antagonist in a picture book." (It's happened)

"Why was this child alone?" (PBs do it all the time.)

"The deep dark woods seem a little scary for the 4-6 crowd." (Well... that's where the wild things are.)

So I'm becoming a student of the subversive. Today I want to look at the class of books where the parents are missing, but really aren't "missed." A great picture book rule is to get rid of the parents. But as critique partners who are parents, it is really hard to read manuscripts without thinking, where is the mother? 

"A lot of good tricks. I will show them to you. Your mother will not mind at all if I do."
(The Cat in the Hat, by Dr. Seuss)
Critique: As a mother, I would certainly not want my children to think it was okay to let a strange apparently adult Cat and his two Things in the house while I'm out on a very important errand. But if I'm there, they miss this insane experience, and would never learn how well they can handle themselves in a difficult situation.

"It was midnight when the dancing and the howling began."
(The Boy and The Moon, by James Christopher Carroll)

Critique: You can't have a small child running around climbing to the top of an apple tree at midnight! But one can't be scared of nighttime, and every child should get to experience it. And if I was there, he wouldn't have come up with such a wonderful solution to get the moon unstuck from the tree.

"A pancake here, a pancake there. One in the pan, and three in the air."
(Hey, Pancakes!, By Tamson Weston and illustrated by Stephen Gammell.)

Critique: A hot stove? Rickety stool? Syrup everywhere? Danger, danger, danger! But...we've all made pancakes. We don't know how old big sister at the stove is, but we know if mom and dad had been awake, these siblings wouldn't have had the challenge of finding something to eat to overcome and show their parents how responsible they can be (cleaning up) while still being kids (hiding pancakes in the basement for later.)

"Then the sun came out and we swam together. We rode the waves as if they were horses."
(The Sea Serpent and Me, by Dashka Slater and illustrated by Catia Chien)

Critique: So...there's a sea serpent in the bathroom and Mom hasn't noticed? What. Are there any rules in this house? You can just go the beach by yourself carrying a giant sea serpent? That's not how we roll in my house.  But I've read this book 100 times, and I don't recall ever missing the parents. They don't really matter. This isn't their story; it's the story of a brief and extraordinary friendship.

Red marker in hand a lonely girl creates a boat, flies on a carpet, and saves a magical bird.
(Journey, by Aaron Becker)

Critique: A little girls shouldn't be running around in a fantasy world, nearly falling off waterfalls, and battling knights. But, in this beautiful wordless PB, the parents sort of choose not to be in the story. They are cooking dinner and working, and there isn't enough time. I think that's very relatable. Then little children have a lot of responsibility for making their own fun, and that's an awesome responsibility to have.

What are some of your favorite PBs, new or old, which you would classify as "subversive?"  I'm planning a post on "Slightly Scary" and "Nakeyness," but I'm sure there are other subversive genres I haven't considered yet. 

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Cruel Summer

I do really love summer, but WOW does it get busy and go fast!

I have had some great things happen in these last few weeks of summer:

1. Hugged a Dinger and a Honker at the same time. (see picture if you are unfamiliar with these characters!)

2. Realized my irrational optimism is genetic when my dad lost his prescription glasses in a wave and my mom and I searched the ocean floor like crazy people. We found a grocery bag, a pair of underwear, 4 pairs of sunglasses, a stingray barb, and eventually... his glasses.

3. Had a red postman butterfly lay a tiny orange egg on my head at the butterfly museum. I'm pretty sure this was a message of love from my grandparents.

4. Have a pumpkin growing from last year's jack o'lantern seeds.

5. Received a magazine acceptance from Stinkwaves for the January 2015 issue!

6. Took the bus into the city all by my big girl self to attend the Children's Book Writing Intensive class at Gotham Writers' Workshop.

7. Won Vesper Stamper's Cruel Summer Contest with my poem Allergic to Fun. The poem was inspired by her NJSCBWI conference winning illustration of a goth child at the beach under her black lace umbrella.

Why not celebrate Labor Day Weekend with an ode to the dangers of summer? Hope you have a great rest of summer.

Allergic to Fun

By Lauri Meyers

Annabelle hated the summer.
Maintaining her cool was a chore-
In a velveteen gown,
With a serious frown
Vacationing down at the shore.

Mom nagged her beneath the umbrella:
"Oh, Annabelle, go have some fun!"
"I better lie low,
'Cause wouldn't you know?
I break out in hives from the sun."

Her sister was sculpting a fortress.
She shoveled the sand from a ditch.
"Come help with this pail?" 
"I'm afraid I must bail.
Your sandcastle's making me itch."

"A-Goo-ba-ba-Goo?" Her bro babbled.
He toddled and sprinkled her knees.
"Be careful li'l man
With that watering can-
The saltwater's making me sneeze!"

The heat was becoming excessive,
And sweat saturated her hair.
She looked to the sea.
How cool it must be...
No way was she going out there.

A triangle poked through the water.
"A shark would be brilliantly bleak."
She left her sweet shade,
Not even afraid,
And walked to the shore for a peek.

She watched the gray fin as it glided.
Excitement arose like a flame.
A dolphin then breeched,
And Annabelle screeched.
"Those beautiful things are so lame."

She stuck out her tongue at the dolphin
And wished it was something to dread.
She turned without pause,
Not looking, and was
Surprised by a wave on her head!

Her family came for assistance. 
She shook and was feeling undone.
"She's having an attack!"
"Try rubbing her back!"
"She's deathly allergic to fun!"

Annabelle's skin was so clammy,
Her mother soon started to fret,
But was shocked to see
The girl grinning with glee:
"It feels really good to be wet!"

Annabelle ran to the ocean.
She'd learned about keeping her cool.
But after a dive,
She noticed a hive-
And sneezed out a salty Achoo!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Writing Process Blog Hop

I was tagged to the Writing Process Blog Hop by Telaina Muir who shared her writing process last Monday. Thank you for tagging me, Telaina! 

1. What am I working on right now?
Mainly I'm focused on maintaining my sanity until summer comes to an end and the kids go back to school. Oh, you mean what am I writing?

My three best picture book manuscripts are in the freezer right now after significant revisions in July.
I'm working on a nonfiction biography picture book, but I keep finding new research that is throwing off my story. Ugh, the risks of research!

I have two PBs I want to try as Easy Readers. I have a feeling they may spark in that format, it's just a matter of trying something new.

I'm indulging my dark YA side with a story about a particularly wicked water witch. I was planning to submit this to Spellbound for their Elementals theme, but I just read they are closing. Bummers. 

My back log of critiques-received-not-yet-edited pieces needs to be addressed...but I have a few new ideas which are drawing my attention away. No sense fighting the muse, so I'm starting two new projects this month.

I'm going to a Gotham Writers Workshop Children's Books Intensive in two weeks using a Christmas gift certificate. Christmas in August!

2. How does my work differ from others in the genre?
I'm trying to create a few boy-friendly characters in a pink-saturated market. (Even though my mom keeps saying, "you should write something like Pinkalicious!" Yes, thank you, Mom.)

3. Why do I write what I do?
(a) I'm a concise writer from years of business writing, so the picture book format is comfortable.
(b) My little gremlins tend to inspire age-appropriate stories.
(c) I must be a tad lazy, because once I figured out I could have an amazing intellectual experience and my heart warmed in 500 words, it does seem unnecessary to write more than that.
(d) I suspect my brain is not quite wired correctly giving me a bizarre sense of humor which is best displayed in picture books.

4. How does my writing process work?
I wouldn't mind being stuck
in a creme egg instead of
(image by chidsey via freeimages)
I make a lot of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, both literally and figuratively. Most of my ideas come together like that: My kids do something ridiculous which provides a relatable situation. Someone says a funny thing which gives me a refrain or character. I have a deep adult thought which provides the emotional current. Then I mash them together with a poop joke. Delicious!

My process is 10% writing, 90% revising. It has occurred to me it would be much more efficient to write better first drafts, but ideas just don't come out that way. I spend a lot of time being stuck, which happens when you are dealing with so much jelly and poo
. When I'm stuck I:
(a) Storyboard on the back of a door
(b) Draw plot arcs with a rainbow of colors
(c) Write the action on index cards and move them around
(d) Highlight manuscripts in various ways- dialog of a character, passive verbs, each action to check for build, etc.
(e) Field trip to nature or other appropriate setting.
(f) Stick it in the freezer.
(g) Ship it off to my critique group to help.
(h) Read or reread a writing book until the problem becomes clear.
(h) Play with my kids so my muse can think without all the pressure.

At some point (around revision 14) the story starts to get polished.

I’m tagging Shar Mohr. We are both members of the Yellow Brick Road Critique Group. Check out Shar's Writing Process  on August 18th.  Then hop over to another YBR member Joy Moore's site on August 25th. Thank you both for hopping and for being such helpful critique partners. 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Song Warp

I flew around time yesterday. The wild journey began with a radio station playing all the hits of my life - those key songs that spark a memory. Songs which are inextricably intertwined with a memory cause instant transportation to that moment any time the rhythm starts.

Many of my Song Warps are clearly YA memories, and I don't kiss and tell. But there are a few more appropriate ones:

Copacabana, by Barry Manilow. Year: 1978. Setting: My Grandpa's living room: imagine dark paneling, those little vintage glass bottles in assorted colors, large floral print couches, and a wooden parrot. My grandpa had hands the size of basketballs from years of working on the railroad, fighting in Normandy, and a long career in construction. But he always held my tiny hands gently when we danced to the Copacabana. *sidenote* It's funny to think we were actually listening to a Top 40 hit and not an oldie as I always thought of it- like me dancing with my girls to Roar

The Warrior, by Scandal. Year: 1984. Setting: Barbie doll house in the basement. For this particular song, Barbie always dressed in her jean jacket, because it made her look tough. I don't recall exactly what Ken had done, but he had messed up real bad and Barbie needed to show him how she felt by belting out the Warrior and stomping around in ridiculously high heels.
(via wikipedia)

All I Need, by Jack Wagner. Year: 1984. Setting: Sitting cross-legged by the record player in my living room.  This was my very first 45 record that was all mine and not shared with my stinky big sister. (if you are "age challenged," here's a helpful link to define record.) It was of critical importance, because when I found out we were moving to a new town, I put this on repeat for HOURS. I probably was leaving behind some sort of third grade boyfriend, but mainly it was a good sorrowful song for crying to.

Grease Mega Mix. Year: 1997. Setting: College formal dance. My date (though we went as 'friends') and I did an electrifying dance. I guess he was the one that I wanted, because I went ahead and married him.  And we are still friendsJ

These songs strike such a specific emotional chord, I can harness the power in my writing by just plugging in a relevant song when I'm writing.

I know you each have awesome song warp songs, so hit me with a good song and memory in the comments. Consider it your writing inspiration for a day. 

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

NJSCBWI Conference - My Experience

After I posted the conference recommended books, Romelle commented she couldn't wait to hear about the rest of my experience. *winces* You see, my plan was to put the book list out there and then not have to actually share anything else about the conference. Without any big news (y'know, like an agent or a contract) I wasn't sure my conference experience was anything other than pretty standard:

- I learned a ton from excellent presentations,
- I met agents and editors which is a million times better than their online bios,
- I saw old writing friends and made new friends,
- I ate a lot of cheesecake.

Yep, pretty standard really.  But I guess I can be brave and share my other experiences.

I had a manuscript critique with an editor. She gave me an excellent critique which was well worth the money.  Then she asked about me (isn't that so nice when people do that?) which of course I wasn't prepared for. (Funny, I'm pretty close with myself, but it's always so hard to talk about me.)  She also asked if I had an agent. Perhaps she was making polite conversation, but I heard "You should get an agent!" So that was nice. But the best part: an actual quote in her critique: "I think poop is funnier than poo." She gets me. She really gets me!

(by Billy Frank Alexander
via freeimages.com)
I pitched to an agent for the first time, which was not nearly as scary as I expected. (It was Jill Corcoran, who is really kind of awesome. She should just put that in her bio.). After the pitch, she asked if I had the manuscript with me (I did!) She read the whole thing right there (it's a pb, so it only took 1 minute of the 4 allotted minutes.) And she offered a helpful suggestion to amp it up. So that was a pretty solid way to spend a few minutes.

Unfortunately, I spent the next minute picking up all the papers I dumped out of a folder while attempting to smoothly extract my manuscript. She didn't seem to mind. Oh and when I got home that night I realized I had worn edgy gold earrings and a dainty silver necklace all day. (NEVER dress before drinking coffee.) And no one told me. (For future reference, if you see something, say something!) I like to think my hair was in front of my ears, or perhaps I just looked like one of those artsy creative types.

Anyhow, those foibles don't really matter - it's the writing first, right?

Hey how about you tell me embarrassing things which have happened to you at conferences to make me feel better? You're such a palJ

Thursday, July 3, 2014

NJ SCBWI Conference Recommended Books, YA & MG (Part 2)

I have finally returned to my normal self after having my brain imploded with amazing information at the NJSCBWI Conference last weekend. I shared Picture Books on Monday. Here were the YA and MG recommendations I noted from agents and editors at the conference.  (Fewer because I mostly hit PB-focused sessions)


The Namesake, by Jhumpa Lahiri

I already ordered this one. I have to admit
I hadn't heard of it before. It is an art-focused
book, but was recommended for
for picture book writers, too!
When Mr. Dog Bites, by Brian Conaghan

We Were Liars, by E. Lockhart

If We Kiss, by Rachel Vail

Secrets of the Book, by Erin Fry

Okay for Now, by Gary Schmidt

The Water Castle, by Megan Blakemore

Zora and Me, by Victoria Bond and T. R. Simon

Three Times Lucky, by Sheila Turnage


Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom, by Ursula Nordstrom, Leonard Marcus (editor), and Maurice Sendak (illustrator) 

Comedy Writing Secrets, by Mel Heltizer

How to Write Funny, by John Kachuba

Please let me know if you wrote down any other recommendations at the conference which I should add!  Enjoy your summer reading.

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