Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Staying Positive While Fighting Flying Monkeys (Interview with Steven Vannoy & Book Giveaway)

     Staying positive is a big challenge for writers.   Edit 20 times, feel nauseous licking the envelope, and then wait 4 months for a submission response.  A yes means a two year journey of editing, marketing, illustrating, and printing before your book is in your hands.  And then there are all the no's.
     How do you stay positive in the face of so much negativity?  Enter the Energy Map*.  Picture a circle.  The circle is 100% of your time, energy, and potential.   Some amount of your time and energy is spent on the front of the circle (the positive side), and some amount is spent on the back (the negative side).

     The front side of the circle is a beach.  The sun shines brightly on your hammock swinging between two palm trees.  Entertainment is provided by a lizard tasting the sea air with a flick of his tongue. The ocean is calm enough to wade up to your belly button, with just enough waves to keep you jumping.  Life is good - your accomplishments are many, your productivity is high, your energy is strong.   You are learning and growing.   

     The back side of the circle is dark and drizzly with a sky full of flying monkeys trying to steal your hammock and capture your lizard.  Nothing is going right - you are brooding about the last rejection letter, worrying this novel will never be finished, and blaming the laundry for thwarting your editing attempts.    You are floundering in a sea of problems.

     Crummy things happen to good people like you and me.   We can't control the flying monkeys, but we can control our response by focusing on the front side of the Energy Map.   To quote my favorite philosopher Jimmy Buffett: "You only have two choices, having fun or freaking out, that's what it's all about."
Flying monkeys, children's books, Lauri meyers
     I had the opportunity to interview Steven Vannoy- all around positive guy and co-author of Stomp the Elephant in the Office which introduces the Energy Map.  Read the interview and his tips for questions to help you spend more time on the positive side (in blue).

Lauri:  Steven, first to clarify your superhero status, how much of your time is spent on the front side versus the back side?     

Steven:  95% in the neutral/fact zone or on the front side. Over the years I have found that the front side is not always positive.  Eventually I might feel positive as a result of focusing on the front side, yet sometimes I might be feeling quite crummy in a challenging situation whether I’m focusing on the back side or front side.  Yet, when I have the discipline to focus more on the front side I create a momentum that gets me closer to where I need to go; and then it can feel positive.   P.S.  I am surely not a super hero, but I dearly want to be a good man and a good example for my family, friends, teammates, customers and even strangers.   When I live this way, I am emotionally healthy, happy, clear headed and add a lot more value to every conversation and interaction. 

Lauri:  So you are human. How do you identify when you are on the back side of the Energy Map?

Steven:   My Awareness Muscle kicks in and tells me that I’m wasting my time and life.  Over the years, I have become very aware of my thoughts, and I quickly see if they are going in an unproductive direction.

Lauri:  After you flex your Awareness Muscle, how do you find the bridge to the positive side?

Steven: Lauri, this is your best question of all.  As my Awareness Muscle kicks in, I quickly position the facts of the situation in the middle of the map/circle.   This tells me that the event is not good or bad, but that it just is. Then I start asking questions that move me forward in a healthy way.  So let’s say that my manuscript has just been rejected, the questions may be: What can I learn from this?   What can I reap and use from the last time something like this happened?  How can I use this situation to grow stronger?  What are all the things I have done well to get this far already?  How would I like this to turn out, what is my dream?    Why is that so important to me?  What are most important action steps to go forward in a healthy way?  As you already know, with these questions, there’s no room for thoughts on the back side, and every bit of my energy is moving forward.   Instead of digging a big depressing hole for myself, I bolster my knowledge, confidence and roll on. 

Lauri:  I like it on the positive side.  Please don't make me leave!  How do I stay on the positive side?    

Steven: All of the strategies we’ve talked about so far: Awareness Muscle, choices, smart questions, and here are a few more.  As your Awareness Muscle becomes even stronger, notice when you’re on the front side and have lots of quiet little internal celebrations.   You’ll then move even stronger toward that orientation.  Also, make wise choices on what you put in your head, from what books you read to TV programs you watch, to what friends you hang around with, and especially, what you decide to chat about when you’re with that friend. Finally, always remember that you are not your thoughts and that your brain works for you vs. you working for your brain.   Therefore, you and I get to decide what we put into our brains and where we put our focus, and I’m so worth one very healthy focus! Over time, that focus and the resulting choices I make determine my life.  Thank you, Lauri!!!!   sv

Lauri: Steven, thank you so much for the interview and for offering a copy of your book to one of my readers.  

Steven:  Ooh, did that say book giveaway?   Yes!  Please share in the comments how you will use these tips in your life.  One lucky winner will receive a free copy of Stomp the Elephant in the Office.

Lauri:  You heard the man! Get down there and leave a comment for a chance to make a positive change in your life.

*Energy Map © Verus Global Inc. All Rights Reserved. Used with permission.  http://www.verusglobal.com/About-Us/

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

How a Storyboard Saved My Story

Just like my kids don't see anything wrong with marshmallows for breakfast, I couldn't find anything wrong with my picture book manuscript.  Yet, it had been three months since my submission, and it was clearly time to pick up the ms for an edit. But I didn't know how to start.

So I decided to try storyboarding.  A storyboard is simply the layout of all 32 pages of a picture book on one big diagram.  This isn't like an illustrator's storyboard which would be sent to an editor with pretty pictures.  This is my private tool, and no one gets to see it.  Well, no one except you.  

children's books, writing, Lauri Meyers
My First Storyboard
I decided to get crafty by cutting out rectangles of colored paper representing each spread.   I taped all the sheets together and hung them on a door.   On 3x5 cards I wrote the key action for that page.  Once everything was laid out, I took a step back to admire my work.  

Hmm.  The 10 empty pages, um, lacked some interest.   Other problems became transparent too.  There was an exciting page that said "describe the girl."  a. Boring.  b. The illustrator is probably going to beat me to the punch there.    Unsatisfied with my ending, there was the last page where I wrote "some cute ending here."

Mind you, this manuscript was sent already.  I went upstairs to get a brown paper bag so I could hyperventilate in style.   Once I was breathing normally again, I realized this was not in fact the end of the world.   Clearly, I had learned a lot in the months since the submission to identify these issues on my own.  So I put on a smile and got to work.

Here's what I learned:

I don't have to fill 32 pages (phew!).   A picture book has 24 to 30 pages of writing depending on the book layout.    (Briefly, a "Self-Ended" layout has up to 24 pages of writing and a "Colored Ends" layout has up to 30 pages of writing.  The other pages are title, copyright, blank, etc.  Find more info on layouts here and here.)

I was a bad parent- at least a bad parent for my character.   I needed to make sure the reader knew and loved my character by page 3 to keep reading. 

I was capable of imagining how the words and illustrations would fit on a page, even though I am not an illustrator.  I started to see where action was missing or where lines were not adding any value to the story.  New ideas appeared which tightened the story.

I needed to practice "pacing" and "page turns".  So I put gold stars (well, actually glitter mermaid stickers) on my favorite pages.   The strings of boring pages cried "I want a mermaid too!"  

I had to find the sweet spot between leaving room for the illustrator and giving the illustrator something to work with.  On some pages I added more interesting wording, and on others I reduced the specificity of the description. 

After a significant edit, I have a much stronger manuscript.  Now we just have to see if the next publisher agrees.   

children's books, writing, lauri meyers
Story fleshed out more!
Please leave a comment to share your tips for editing picture books and using storyboards!

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Dirty Girls Reach New Heights

It may be a bad idea, but I like to listen to the sounds of the stools moving around upstairs for a few minutes before commencing investigation.  I hope letting the dirty girls practice their independence in somewhat controlled situations will prepare them for the future.  Or maybe this is how I get my thrills without hitting the casino. 

Today I found this:

children's books, Lauri Meyers, Dirty Girls

People have always said books can take you places; why do my kids have to take everything so literally?   And you thought I was kidding about having dirty girls...

As I opened my mouth to yell, I realized she was making a book spine poem!  How creative.  Unfortunately, mommy is far too lazy to type up such a lengthy poem.    

Still I was inspired to write my own poem using some of her children's books- after removing her from the dangerous situation of course (well, taking a picture and then saving her).  This poem was inspired by a fun nakey run around the house which was disrupted by a pee pee in the corner.    

children's books, Lauri Meyers
One naked baby - Panda-monium!
No, David!
David gets in trouble.
Mad at Mommy.
Mommy, do you love me?
And I love you,
Little Pea.

Book spine poems are a great way to introduce young children to poetry.  Even if they can't yet read, they probably know the names of their books.  Let them teach you how to really be creative.   Please share your book spine poems in the comments!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

7 Things about Me the Versatile Blogger Award Made Me Share

children's books, writing, Lauri Meyers, About me
I was nominated for the Versatile Blogger Award by Gerry Wilson (The Writerly Life).  Thank you Gerry!
Here are the Rules for the Versatile Blogger Award:
  • Thank the person who gave you this award. Include a link to their blog.
  • Nominate 15 bloggers for the Versatile Blogger Award
  • Tell the person who nominated you 7 things about yourself.  Aw, coconuts!

There is always a catch, isn't there?  Sharing is totally not caring- it's daring and scaring and soul-baring!  I really prefer to stay hidden.  In fact, I usually pick hiding spots harder than my children's seeking ability just to catch a little "me time."  I also layer excessively during strip poker, but that's another story entirely.  So against my better judgment:
Seven Things about Lauri Meyers Even Though She Doesn't Like to Share
  1.  I have been known to do a lively demonstration of the proper way to show a guinea pig reliving my reign as Cavy Showmanship Grand Champion. 
  2. I went all the way to Anguilla to see Jimmy Buffett in concert.
  3. I like SciFi B movies.  I actually watched all four Tremors in a row once (well maybe it happened a few times). 
  4.  I have owned 5 houses in 5 different states in 10 years, including one in Scranton where I worked at a Paper Plant (not Dunder-Mifflin.)   
  5. I enjoy making things, and I have to have the right tool for the job (power nailer, air compressor, compound miter saw, meat cleaver...)  
  6. I make my poor children listen to NPR during our jaunts around town, though 4YO reminds me "This is not a kids show, Mom."  
  7. After I had my first child, I was a little verklempt talking to my Mom because I suddenly understood how much she loved me. 

15 Great Children's Books Blogs I am nominating for the Versatile Blogger Award:

Catherine Johnson - http://catherinemjohnson.wordpress.com/
Debbie Johansson - http://debbie-johansson.com/
Joanna Marple - http://joannamarple.com/

Please go check out these blogs and leave me a comment if you have other great Children's Books Blogs to share. 


Thank you also to Lynn Daue for seconding my nomination.  Please check out her site Rhymes with Tao: http://rhymeswithtao.blogspot.com/2012/05/revolution-of-blog.html#.T8UtcrRYu0w

Thank you also to Brooke Ryter for "thirding" my nomination.  Please check out her site So Whatcha Think at: http://swthink.blogspot.com/2012/05/versatile-blogger-award.html

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Dirty Girl Catches the Worm

Writing, Lauri Meyers, Imagination is the Limit, Children's Books

I wished for a great picture for my blog for Mothers Day.  While we were fishing, I asked my 2 year old dirty girl if there were any more worms in the bucket.  Wish granted.  Unfortunately, I was too busy giggling hysterically to catch the one of her kissing a fish.  Probably just as well to avoid the fan mail from PETA and Good Clean Parents.

The sacrificial worms were acquired as I dug up rocks in the yard- a daily activity due to a glacier pausing at our house to enjoy the view.  What do you find when you look under a rock?  Grubs.  Slugs.  Salamanders.  Millipedes.  And Worms.  

The Dirty Girls love the worms. 

They nurture the worms like baby dolls, wrapping them up in leaves and offering them milk. The situation caused me to create some rules.   

I started with these three Rules for Worms:
  1.  No worms in the house.   Worms want to sleep in their moist, dark dirt houses.
  2.  No feeding worms milk.  Worms just eat dirt.
  3.  It is hard to tell a worm's lips from his tushie, so don't kiss a worm.

 The worms were suffering some injustices, so I was forced to add:
     4.   No giving worms baths.   Worm mommies like to keep their babies dirty.  Like your mommy.
     5.   No worms camping in your backpack.  They like fresh air.
     6.   Only give the worms gentle hugs.  More gentle, please. Okay, no hugging worms.

Recognizing my Dad had raised a dirty girl, I asked if he would add any rules.  He added:
     7.     Worms are slimy.  Wash your hands when you are done playing.

Gross.  Washing hands did not make my rules list until May (and it has been a long spring).  The Dirty Girls win again. 

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

10 Ways to Get Blog Images for Peanuts (i.e. Free!)

Yes, your words are beautiful, thoughtful, and mesmerizing, but people still like pretty pictures.  Pictures add interest to your blog post and pull in readers from search results.  Pictures help with SEO by letting search engines know you are a real person.  It works because robots do not like pretty things or something like that.

So how do you get images (legally)?  

  1.      Take a picture of something beautiful or interesting or random, like these circus peanuts.   Once you start seeing all the opportunities to snap a pic, just store them until the right post comes along.
  2.      Draw a picture and snap a photo of it.  This one is easy to do while coloring with the kids. Robert Lee Brewer sometimes just writes something on a piece of paper; if not always artistic, it is always relevant.  
  3.      Take a shot of your kids, but blur them out.  Your kids are super cute, but you may not want to share them with the world.  So use the trick of having them hold an object to obscure their face.   
  4.      Make a picture in Powerpoint or Word using basic shapes, colors, and text.  Paste the image into Paint to easily save as a .jpg.   Little skill needed as shown in this post
  5.           Use an app like Drawing Free or Charadium or KidsDoodle that lets you email the picture to yourself or save to your photo stream.  I did this in my teenlit drama.
  6.      Know people who can take pictures for you.  You need to have friends on farms, in the islands, and in the city who can snap a cow or a mango or whatever you need.
  7.      Check out illustrator's sites which may have art fitting your post.  If you are very sweet, they may just let you post it with a link back to their site like I did in writing rut.  Just leave yourself extra time to get the response.
  8.      Mine your old picture albums.  Remember your childhood pet Sebastian the lizard?  He is just right for your post on character development.
  9.           Flickr is a place people upload their pictures and specify the licensing.   Not all of Flick is free use, so make sure you check the restrictions for your image. Usually you need to credit the creator. (Thank you LOLren for Yellow Chicken)
  10.      Google provides the option to search by "usage rights."  Select the "free to use and share" option to keep your search legal.  

Note, if you search "free images", many sites will appear.  In the fine print, the pictures may be royalty free but you need to pay a small amount to use the picture or you need to buy a membership.  I am a cheap accountant type, so when I say free, I mean zero cents. 

Do you have other great sources?  Please share them in the comments. 

Monday, May 7, 2012

Stand Up Comedy for Writers

For creative writing exercise I thought I would try a little stand up comedy.  Then I remembered I am a really terrible joke teller, generally forgetting how the joke starts or ends or both.  I guess the only way to get my funny bone in shape is to work it out. 

In sticking with the writerly blog theme, here are 10 jokes only a writer could love (or hate or both).  If you think these are bad, consider yourself lucky the other 20 got scrapped.  (#11- "Hey folks, I just flew in and boy are my tweeters tired!")

1.     Did you hear about the blue jay with the contract to write about nest building?  He was so busy tweeting, he forgot to write the book.
2.     How many tweets would a tweeter tweep tweet, if a twittertweep could tweet asleep?
3.  My literary agent asked me to add more nudity, but I told her I write romance novels - not teen lit.
4. Did you hear the one about the guy who walked into the bar with two tan horses?  Me neither, it didn't make it out of the slush pile.
5.     I submitted my 80,000 word manuscript to a literary agent.  She told me her two favorite words in the book were "THE END."
6.     My novel was so boring, even my protagonist fell asleep.
7.     There's more flotsam in my manuscript than around the wreck of the Titanic. (Ooh, too soon?)
8.     I titled my manuscript "The Guy Who Got 100 Rejection Letters," but marketing renamed it "Chump."
9.     I got so many rejection letters, my muse jumped off a skyscraper.
10.  I always appreciate an editor taking the time to write a real rejection letter.  Just Tuesday I received one that read: "Your story is not a good fit for us.  I highly doubt it is a good fit for any publisher.  It showed poor judgment to admit you wrote this manuscript.  My retinas may be permanently scarred.  I recommend burning the ms post haste so no one else is forced to endure it.  If you are out of matches, just send it to Guantanamo for use as a device of torture.  Best of luck!"

<crickets chirping>   There isn't a blog equivalent of throwing tomatoes, is there?  Argh. I can't find my poncho.  

children's books, writing, jokesHere are the tips I found for writing comedy, which I apparently neglected to follow:
1.     End with the funny word (like salami or slush pile).
2.     Words with hard "K" and hard "C" are just funny.  ("turned out it was a pickle!")
3.     Be specific (i.e. say the banana instead of fruit).
4.     Comedy is 98% about the character and 98% about timing.
5.     Be willing to throw out your best joke if it doesn't fit.

Is your funny bone flabby too?  I challenge you to create your best writerly joke and share it below in the comments! 

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

How to Write for Children and Executives

     I sometimes quip about my corporate upbringing, complaining about being forced to boil down extremely complex projects into 1-page recommendations under the glare of fluorescent lights.   Every word was hand-picked.   Every point was succinct.  Every sentence had a vital role.  Some great thoughts were deleted; their lives cut short.

     A picture book usually provides 32 pages for me to fill up.  I have the freedom to be creative and the space to use adjectives.  Wonderful, delightful, awe-inspiring adjectives!    To rewire creativity into my brain, I had to use the thesaurus to find words other than "impact" and "profit."  I aim for about 600 of these delicious words for a picture book draft. 

     As research I looked at a few of my old business recommendations:  1 page, single-spaced, 1 inch margins, about 600 words.  600 words?  What the coincidence?!  Little did I know I was training to write children's books during those years of solitary confinement in my cubicle.  

     (Sidenote:  It is difficult to avoid the obvious conclusion that executives are like children who can only sit through one book before growing bored.  In their defense executives are very busy people who only have a few minutes to review your reco before they go finish their pillow forts. Though I do wonder how many more approvals I may have received if I had included more pretty little pictures.)

George Orwell's writing rules     Picture books challenge authors to bring a character to life, create an emotional bond with readers, and complete an adventure all within a few words.  Writing efficiently is also a survival skill in business.  Corporate training frequently uses George Orwell's writing rules, though of course boiled down to something like:
1. Use simple words.  Never use a long word where a short one will do.
2. Avoid worn out phrases - use fresh figures of speech to invoke strong imagery.
3. Use active voice instead of passive voice.
4. Do not use two words when one will do. If it is possible to cut out a word, always cut it out.

     Efficiency in writing does not mean stripping out all the creativity.  Implementing these rules will only remove the redundancy and inactive words to create more space for Harriet the Hazardous Hen and Reginald the Rambunctious Rooster to run free.  Just remember to finish the fence first; I am still cleaning up the chaos those two caused last time they went free range.  

Don't believe me that picture books are hard to write?  Check out this great NPR story
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