Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Gifts We Give our Children (and Main Characters)

This Christmas I gave the children lots of stuff.  Sparkly stuff, shiny stuff, shrill sounding stuff, swirling stuff and stuffed stuff.   They are pretty good wonderful kids, and I am lucky to be able to give them these gifts.

Lauri Meyers
by foxumon via sxc.hu
But it got me thinking about the other gifts I can give my children - self esteem, compassion, responsibility to name a few.

I'm a pretty good fantastic Mom.  And sometimes I am spectacular, evoking my days as a 4-H camp counselor.  But when I'm tired, overwhelmed, it's Monday, or any other number of situations, I can be a real lousy lady.  

I'm reading the 10 Greatest Gifts I Give my Children by Steven W. Vannoy and hoping to store some of the tips in my parenting purse for those too-frequently-occurring lousy occasions.

I was struck by how consistent the advice for raising kids is with advice on writing for kids, such as:

Let kids develop their own solutions when problems strike.  Quoting the book: "No more rushing to rescue the younger ones, no more moralizing [to older ones], no imposition of adult solutions to the kids' problems." 

Kids watch what we do, so "modeling" the right behaviors is an important parenting tool.  How effective is "eat your vegetables" if you don't have a mouthful of green beans?   May I have another spoonful of "show don't tell," please?

Valuing kids' feelings is critical - even though they aren't 'adult' problems and even though they don't have as many words to express them.  We need to respect the concerns of our little main characters even if they seem like insignificant issues.  

I shouldn't be surprised by the similarities, really.  Writing rules weren't developed to serve some sort of Literary Emperor.  They exist because understanding how children work is necessary to write great books for children to enjoy.  (Well, and to sell those books...what's Christmas without a little bit of capitalism?)

Happy Holidays everyone!

Monday, December 17, 2012

A Mom to Share Holiday Story

Susanna Leonard Hill is hosting her second annual Holiday Contest where you write a children's holiday story beginning with any version of "Dashing through the snow in a one horse open sleigh" and under 350 words.   In case you were wondering 350 words is not very many, but forces editing practice!  

Happy Holidays everyone!

A Mom to Share
By Lauri Meyers

Photo by N.J. Lee via Flickr
Hopping through the squares in brown leather shoes, Maggie picked up her rock. 
"How come you wear those shoes every day, even with your purple dress?"  Eva asked. 
"They're the only pair I have," Maggie replied and skipped back to 1. 

At home Eva spread her shoes across the floor.  She slid the flowered ones in her backpack. 
"The flowers will match your purple dress," Eva said and handed Maggie the shoes.
"Thank you!"  Maggie gave Eva a high five.

For sharing day, Maggie brought the same pirate book she did every week.  
"Maggie, is that your favorite book?" Eva asked.
"Well, it's the only one I have," Maggie said. 

Eva had hundreds of books.  She even had two Crazy Caterpillar books from her fifth birthday.  She shoved both books in her backpack.
"Maggie, I have a book to share with you," Eva said.
"Awesome!" Maggie said.  They opened their books and giggled at the goofy bug.     

The girls colored pictures of Christmas trees with presents underneath. 
"Who are you making your card for?" Maggie asked. 
"My Mom, of course!" Eva smiled.  "Are you giving yours to your Mom?"
"Oh, I don't have one of those," Maggie said quietly and kept coloring.

Eva knew Mom would be too big to shove into her backpack.  Plus, she still needed her quite a bit.
"Mom, I shared shoes and a book with my friend, but I don't think I could share you," Eva said.
"Hmm, that is a problem," Mom said and pulled a pan of chocolate chip cookies out of the oven.  "She is very lucky to have a friend like you."  Mom broke a gooey cookie in half. 
"Your cookies are so delicious," Eva said as chocolate dripped down her lip. 
"Must be the extra love I add," Mom said.

Eva couldn't wait to see Maggie the next day at lunch. 
"Maggie, I'm sorry I can't give you my Mom, but I brought some of her love," Eva said and handed Maggie a cookie.   Maggie gave Eva a long hug.   Eva thought the cookies tasted even better shared. 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Memory Mining: One Pony or Two?

To be fair he had to use those ties
with the little balls on the ends.
       When I was five I would sit on the bottom step in front of a mirror.  My dad would ask "one pony or two?" and fix my hair in the requested fashion.   Too bad he didn't ask about straight or not, because I always ended up with lopsided ponytails.
      After years of giving him a hard time about his salon skills, I admit defeat at the challenge of chasing a child and inserting decent looking ponytails.  On the rare occasion I find success, those stinkers yank 'em out within minutes.

      What a sweet, if asymmetrical, memory.  Ahh, my memory!  That wonderful place where snow isn't cold and Ramen Noodles taste expensive.  

      Have you been shopping lately in your memory for picture book ideas?   Maybe the memory itself isn't worthy of a book, but the feeling that accompanies the memory is

      Rob Sanders (author of Cowboy Christmas,  which I was lucky enough to win from his blog) had a series of posts in the summer encouraging writers to document those early memories as inspiration.  Check out his charts to help you mine your mind.

Lauri Stories
I didn't really care, as long as
the tree was loaded!
    The holidays are a time of memories, aren't they?  One Christmas morning I remember creeping down that same set of stairs where crooked ponytails were created and spying the presents in front of the tree.  Though many were wrapped in crisp, colorful paper, my breath halted when I saw the Strawberry Shortcake dolls lined up in front of the presents.  There were a million of them! (or maybe eight - but still!)  Though the image is bright and vivid in my mind, I still like to open the box of Strawberry Shortcakes at home to get the fruitastic smell which accompanies the memory.

What is your favorite holiday memory?

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Write Like a Celebrity

PiBoIdMo is over!   I have over 30 lovely picture book ideas just waiting for me to write them. I immensely enjoyed my first Picture Book Idea Month hosted by Tara Lazar at Writing for Kids While Raising Them.    Each day in November a writer or illustrator posted advice, experiences, and inspiration to light a spark for participants gathering story ideas. 

It got me thinking, daydreaming really, about being famous one day (as I sometimes do to gain inspiration).  What would I write in my PiBoIdMo post?   How would I inspire others to develop ideas for children's stories? 

I loved the idea generator posts the most including the idea mash up by Diana Murray and brainstorming in themes by Corey Rosen Schwartz

So, here's my suggestion.  Write a picture book "like (fill in celebrity) would write." 
Some of my friends are anti-celebrity book, so I'm not suggesting celebrities literally writing.  I'm merely saying don a persona of someone interesting and write from his or her perspective.

How would it impact one of your ideas if Oscar the Grouch was writing it?  I bet it would be far more stinky and delightfully trashy.

"I'm Steven Tyler and I'm going to yell/sing this book to youuuuuuu!"  Just how loud and screechy could your book become?

"This here's Aretha Franklin, and you need to get to reading this book now or I'm going to give you something to think about."   You better give your manuscript some respect!

"Mr. T pities the fool who doesn't turn the page.  Bop! I made you turn the page and then I headbutted you.  Alright now turn the next page real slowly.  Bop! I headbutted you again.  Fool!"

Or Lady Gaga.  Ooh.  Wouldn't she push the story a little further into a dark wilderness than you have?  She would search for the perfect word to make you hold your breath; and then do it over and over again.  And the colors.  You can see the pictures can't you?  Bold and vibrant in crisp shapes on black backgrounds.

So which celebrity's voice would you like to try on for a day?  

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Mischievous Elf on the Shelf

    As a new blogger, I completed the "April Platform a Day" Challenge at Robert Lee Brewer's site.   He sprayed firehouse information at me, and I asked questions liked "What's Pinterest?"  Thankfully much of the social media and blogging concepts I learned then seem like second nature now.  A community sprung out of the challenge which now goes by the name "Wordsmith Studio." 
     During December Wordsmith Studio is hosting a weekly writing prompt.  Please stop by to check out the prompts and participate.  I couldn't resist trying my hand at a 700 word story when I saw this photo prompt: 
Photo by Gerry Wilson

The Elf Spy

By Lauri Meyers

     I dropped my backpack where Mom says it’s a major trip hazard.  Whatever, she'd leave it there too, if she had to carry 8 text books every day.  As I walked to the kitchen to snag a snack, I felt the chill of someone staring at me.  My parents weren't home yet, and Addie's bus didn't arrive for another hour.   I couldn't resist the urge to turn around, and I scanned the empty room.  
     Then I saw it.  An elf sat with little green legs crossed on the mantle.  I froze wondering if it had noticed me.  Of course it sat there innocently with a wide smile, but his stare gave his secret away - more than wood hid behind those eyes.  I grabbed my backpack and bounded two steps at a time to my room.  I needed to study anyhow, and my room had a lock. 
     "Hi Honey, I'm home!"  Mom knocked on my door awhile later. 
     "Shhh," I whispered.  "Get in here."  I locked the door behind her.
     "What's with all the secrecy, Evan?  Am I part of a spy mission?"  She smiled.
     "Mom, I haven't played spies since fourth grade," I huffed.  "Did you see it?"
     "See what?" she asked.  I took a deep breath.  My mom could be so clueless.  
     "The elf."
     "Oh, yes!  You saw the elf I got?  Addie is just going to love it.  All of her friends have one."
     "They what?" I asked.  "You can be so naive," I whispered under my breath.
     "What was that mister?"
     "For ... Christmas Eve?" I covered.  "Mom, don't you know how dangerous elves are?  They wake up at night to cause mischief.  You don't want one in the house."
     Mom smiled coyly, probably thinking I still believed in Santa, which of course I don't.  "Well, I'll need someone to keep an eye on that elf then."  She leaned in close, "Do you think you could be in charge of elf surveillance?"
     Clearly Mom was trying to be funny, but she was on to something.  I was the best person for the job.  I nodded and opened the door.
     "Thanks for picking up your backpack today.  I think I stumbled through the door just out of habit!" 
     I started to create a plan to monitor the elf over night, but only got as far as adding "night vision goggles" to my Christmas list.  Rummaging through the closet, I found the old nanny cam Mom used to put out when we had babysitters.   I stuffed the bear in my backpack and headed downstairs.   I set the bag down with the zipper open so the bear's camera eyes could see the fireplace.
      Surveillance planning is exhausting work, so I slept pretty well even with the intruder in the home.   I woke up early to make sure I had time to check the video before school.  Instead I found Dad already up cleaning a spill. 
      "Good morning champ.  Looks like the dishwasher has a leak," he said.   I glanced sideways at the elf of the mantle and grabbed the bear.   I ran into Addie on her way down to breakfast.
      "Mister Bear!  Oh where did you find him?" she squealed.
      "Oh, he was just in my closet," I replied and tried to escape to my room.  
      "Are we having a babysitter tonight?"
      "I'm kinda busy Addie," I said.  She looked so disappointed I added, "You can play with him after school.  Ok?"   She smiled and skipped to the kitchen.   As I headed up the stairs, I heard her yell in certain agony "Daddy, my princess plate melted!"  I needed to watch this video and fast.  
      After locking the door, I rewound the tape and pressed play.  The elf and his perky red hat weren't moving, so I hit fast forward.  Right at 3:03AM I saw his booty move just for a second, then static started.  I fumbled for the fast forward again with sweaty hands.  The footage of the elf on his shelf returned at 4:03AM.
      "Mom, I need to show you something."  I tried to sound casual.  Out of the corner of my eye I saw movement.  The elf wagged his finger at me "no, no, no."

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Why Picture Books Matter

     You know that feeling of excitement when you open a fresh container of play-doh?  I like to take a whiff of its salty smell first.  Then I plop it out carefully without injury to its perfect cylinder shape.  Finally, when the dough is least expecting it, I smush it with abandon.   Oh so soft and supple, ready to transform into anything I can imagine.   Sloppy spaghetti on a plate. A penguin prince sailing an iceberg to NYC.  Axl Rose.

Some serious smashing is
about to go down. 
     Tara Lazar posted this week on the importance of picture books to children: "Picture books let them know there’s a place without limits. (Psst, it’s called “the imagination”!)"

      Some activities - like playing in the back yard because mommy is digging in the garbage disposal to see if she lost her mind in there- force kids to use their imaginations.  These activities are like rolling pins, dough presses, and cookie cutters shaping and stretching little minds.

     Other activities - like watching the Gangnam style video on youtube repeatedly or playing Angry Birds - harden those kid brains like a misshapen dough meatball lost behind a table leg. 

      I want my kids to have mushy brains!  (Um, well, you know what I mean.)  I want them to see infinite possibilities.  So how do I keep their imaginations fresh and moldable? 

Read. Read. Read. 

      I was reminded of this last night at a Kindergarten Readiness meeting at pre-K.  "The most important thing you can do for your children is to read.  Read them anything.  Read their favorite books over and over again if they ask."  Even if it's SpongeBob Squarepants Slurps Stinky Spaghetti for the seventeeth time.  It doesn't matter what, just keep reading. 

So, I want to know:  what is your record for most picture books read in a day?  I commit to attempting to beat the highest number posted in the comments!  

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Quiet Mind is the Perfect Place for an Idea Attack

     Long drives usually make my eyes glaze over with boredom, but on the way home from the holidays I jumped at the opportunity because it meant a break from being the wet nurse for the back seat drivers.   
     "Mommy I can't find my nugget!" they screamed.
     "Sorry, Mommy's driving," I beamed.   
     Happily, I let my mind go blank.  White.  Empty.
 My New Happy Place!
Eye by Vjeran Lisjak & 
Wheel by Melinda Bylow via sxc.hu
     But the stillness was short-lived, because lots of happy little picture book ideas came to visit.  The unruly fellows yelled out their stories at the same time.  
      My husband was busy combating a barrage of flying crayons, so I fired up my Dragon Dictation app.  I was too excited to recite calmly, and ended up with a garbled mess of story bits.  My husband feeling heroic after winning the crayon battle, took pity on me and wrote down the ideas as they attacked. 

      "Start another page, please!"  I howled.
      "How many of these are there going to be?" he scowled.

     Thankfully the ideas finally formed a line, except for one mischievous dude throwing spit balls at me.  Sorry, I just don't think a book about a kid who's a truck driver makes any sense!  I thought.  Blam-o!  A really wet wad whacked me on the ear.   Fine, fine, I'll write it down.

      "Another page, honey - this whole story is coming out!" I hoped.
      "I'm done after this," he moped.

      Thirty miles later, 13 ideas and a story skeleton were recorded, my quota for PiBoIdMo was complete, and I learned a valuable lesson about the importance of a quiet mind. 

But how do I recreate the experience?  Where do you go to find a quiet place?  

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


    I woke up on the wrong side of the bed today.  Quite literally.  Just like in a fairy tale, the moment my foot stepped out on the right (not left) side of the bed, the Wrong-Side-of-the-Bed-Gnomes conspired to penalize me for insubordination.  

    The first fellow quietly padded in his red felted slippers over to the bathroom and put the toothpaste in the wrong drawer, causing me five minutes of delay and leaving a wake of products strewn across the bathroom. 

    The second green -hatted lad kept hiding my coffee in different rooms.  It was cold when I finally found it, and the morning seemed worse without proper caffeination. 

Lauri's Stories, www.laurimeyers.com
"Has anyone seen any
hot babe Munchkins
around here?"
by Tracy Scott-Murray via sxc.hu
    Finally, a particularly spiteful troll wearing lederhosen had the audacity to make me put my shirt on backwards.  I only discovered as I ran out the door, but I didn't have time to switch it because we needed to acquire a box of donuts for a school party.  

    But we didn't get far before I yelled, "AGH!  Where are my keys?  We are going to be late with the munchkins!"  Hasselhoff Troff must have thought I was talking about the munchkins from the Wizard of Oz, because my keys suddenly appeared in my hand.  Apparently, munchkins and trolls are good friends. 

    Well, we got the munchkin donuts and my munchkin kids to school on time.  And I finally took the time to laugh at myself- the biggest grumpiest gnome of them all.

But I'm still wearing my shirt backwards just to show those gnomes who's boss around here.

Have the gnomes been bothering you lately?  I've heard tell that laughing at yourself scares them away every time. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Mash Up Match Up Game! (A New Story Idea Guaranteed)

Day 10 of PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month) brought a great idea from Diana Murray to try a mash up of ideas to create fresh new picture books.  To add structure to this inspiration, I decided to create the Birthday Mash Up Match Up Game!  

How to Play: 
By Miguel Saavedra
There are two lists below.  Find your birth month in the first listing and grab the corresponding classic golden book.   Find your birth day from the second listing and grab the corresponding movie.  Then select any elements of the stories - characters, plot, key word in title, etc. -  and mash 'em together.  The idea could be for a picture book or for whatever genre you prefer.  

For example, my birthday is December 5.  So I mashed up The Saggy Baggy Elephant and Titanic.  (Oh crapplesauce, how in the world am I going to do that?)   Okay, okay...here goes.

S.B. Elephant is the biggest elephant in the plains.  In fact he is the biggest elephant of all time!  No one and nothing can stop S.B. - until he steps on a teeny tiny needle and has the biggest pain in the plain.  How could something so small stop something so big?

Your turn!  Please share the pitch of your story in the comments so we can all be inspired!

Classic Golden Books (The Month)
1  The Monster at the End of the Book
2  The Little Engine Who Could
3 The Poky Little Puppy
4 The Little Red Hen
5 Scuffy the Tugboat
6 The Little Red Caboose
7 Lasso the Moon
8  Tawny Scrawny Lion
9 The Shy Little Kitten
10 The Sailor Dog
11 The Fire Engine Book
12 The Saggy Baggy Elephant

The Top 25 All Time Grossing Films Adjusted for Inflation (The Day)
1    Gone with the Wind      
2    Star Wars
3    The Sound of Music
4    E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial
5    Titanic  
6    The Ten Commandments
7    Jaws     
8    Doctor Zhivago 
9    The Exorcist
10  Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs         
11  101 Dalmatians 
12  The Empire Strikes Back
13  Ben-Hur
14  Avatar  
15  Return of the Jedi
16  Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace      
17  The Sting
18  The Lion King
19  Raiders of the Lost Ark 
20  Jurassic Park      
21  The Graduate   
22  Fantasia              
23  The Godfather 
24  Forrest Gump   
25  Mary Poppins   
26  Grease
27  Marvel's The Avengers 
28  Thunderball       
29  The Dark Knight               
30  The Jungle Book
31  Sleeping Beauty

Please let someone with a June 9th birthday join the fun so we can see what the Little Red Caboose needs to exorcise.  Or a March 29th Dark Knight meets Little Poky Puppy - Mwahahaha!

***Thanks Laura Sassi for sharing this post - it made the front cover of Opening a Can of Bookworms Daily**

Friday, November 9, 2012

Stop Shunning Your Manuscripts - Edit with Love

I have been shunning one of my manuscripts.

It was my favorite.  I still remember the night I jumped out of bed and began feverishly scrawling the idea for the character.  I had a hard time getting to sleep that night thinking, this is the one!  My first love. 

"And then she said I couldn't edit with her
anymore and now we aren't friends!"
via sxc.hu by Ned Horton
But after it received its second rejection, I tucked it away and stopped even cordially waving when I passed it in my notebook.   Some days I would put "edit Willie" on my to-do list, but I never got to the task.

Why was I being so harsh to my love?  I thought about the happy spring picnics where we would discuss our dreams for the future and the summer days by the beach where it would make me laugh so hard I snorted. 

I forced myself to give it a look the other day, after quietly saying sorry.  The manuscript got some much needed TLC, and I fell back in love again.  After that episode, I realized I had been displaying bad manuscript parenting.  

I needed to be nicer when it came to my editing notes too.  One poor manuscript had "Rework" written across the top, which was as enticing as "hey you, go down in the coal mine with a pick axe for 12 hours, okay?"  I crossed that off and wrote "Tighten up, Buttercup!"  Okay, I want to do that!

I have another story which is cute-ish but a tad blah.  Poor thing was only getting hand-me-down editing and had nothing nice to wear.  Enough was enough.   That one now says "Sis boom bah pow, Give me some Wow!"  I'm pretty sure I caught it standing a little taller with its new notes.

I am heading to the NJ SCBWI Writing Craft Day on Saturday, and I hope to come home with a gift for each manuscript.  Each one is unique, so the gifts will be different, but I’m going to try to be as fair as possible. 

Do you play favorites with your manuscripts? 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Fear and Joy as Inspiration

     While the power was out last week, I suffered a recurring zombie dream.   Being cut off from television and internet lets your imagination loose in the dark streets of your light-deprived mind.  
     One particularly cold night we stayed at a friend's house.  I was lulled to sleep with the sense of security the loud hum of a generator provides.  At 1:30 in the morning the generator cut.  And my body froze in place:        
Oh no, the zombie attack is happening. Saltwater from the hurricane must have made subway rats sick, spreading a virus to humans.  The sound of generators will decrease each day until only silence and zombies remain. 

Lauri Meyers Childrens Writer
copyright H. O'dowd
      Luckily, we got the generator back on without major incident.  And then my friend did something amazing.  Since she couldn't run in the NYC Marathon (cancelled), she organized a local marathon to support a police officer seriously injured during Hurricane Sandy.  In the flash of a day I went from pure fear of the world ending flesh-eating style to lump-in-the-back-of-your-throat joy at seeing her cross the finish line. 
       With my emotions bubbling right at the surface, all sorts of story ideas popped up.  They floated freely because my inner critic was too tired to control the situation.  I could have caught the ideas like fish in a barrel!  Instead I put down my fishing pole and just kept the ideas warm under the blankets rather than risk the cold for a pen and paper.
        And so Picture Book Idea Month started introspectively for me.  I had originally planned a Halloween post last week about using fear as inspiration.  But I think maybe extreme joy may just be better inspiration.

Which is better inspiration - fear or joy? 

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

No Trick or Treat for Jack

Susanna Leonard Hill is sponsoring the Halloweensie Contest!  To play you have to write a children's story less than 100 words long and including the words witchbat, and "trick-or-treat".  Here's my entry: 

No Trick or Treating for Jack O'Lantern

By Greg Jordan via sxc.hu

My costume is ignored,
Because I'm just a gourd.

Can't cackle like a witch,
My lips don't even twitch.

White ghosts can scare with boo-
An orange one wouldn't do.

No flapping like a bat,
You need two arms for that.

It's hard to trick or treat,
I don't have any feet.

Without my belly spark
I would hide in the dark.

What goblins do I see?
The treaters came to me!

It's only 72 words - Won't you please add another verse in the comments? 

Make sure you say Boo to your local Jack O'Lantern this year.  Oh and if I get into the final three, won't you please stop by and give Jack a vote?!  Happy Halloween everyone!  

Monday, October 29, 2012

Tools for Writers and Vampire Slayers

By Emil Bacik via sxc.hu

Finding the right tool can be difficult, especially when you are a new writer.  Or a vampire slayer.

Dressed as a vampire slayer this weekend, I ran to the garage to grab a matching stake.  It was a kid party, so I picked a non-threatening dowel rod.  My husband shook his head no.  I came back with a broomstick.   He yelled, "Short, fat stakes kill vampires better!"  There was a silent "duh," which I found a bit condescending.   I was planning to slay zombie vampires, in which case you would obviously want to keep some space between you and the target.   Duh.

Having a killer stake in hand did not help me avoid the first 4-year-old who asked "What are you Miss Lauri?"  I realized quickly zombie, vampire, and slayer were difficult to explain and the term "blood-sucking" generally should be avoided with the young crowd.  So, I magically turned into a dragon trainer- complete with a perfect stick for playing dragon fetch.    A good stake can really be a multi-purpose tool.

I recently devoured Ann Whitford Paul's Writing Picture Books like a zombie vampire who just discovered the delicacy of brain.   It fed me picture book craft in delicious mouthfuls and offered action steps to strengthen my works in progress.  My favorite multi-use tool has been the sounds of letters.

I am now equipped with hard consonants (B, D, K, P, Q, T, hard C) to invoke action like a pitchfork breaking while attacking Frankenstein or to express the wickedness of a witch's cackle.  I can also express the sorrow of seeing my love moaning in the street with a long, sad sentence with soft vowel sounds (oo, ow, oi, ah, aw...) and a DUM da da dactyl rhythm.  All of my muscles roared wishing to help my sweet love as he slowly staggered on one foot lugging the other along.  

Lucky for him I brought the correct stake today.  J

Happy Halloween week everyone! 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

My Idea By Way of Dragon Dictation

Technology can be pretty cool and stuff.  My recent iPhone purchase is delivering new found connectivity and cheers from the children: "Mommy you didn't get lost today!"  But technology is not perfect, much like my sense of direction.

I use Dragon Dictation sometimes when my hands are full and I can't write my ideas down.  It's an app that types what you say.  More or less.

Here is a picture book idea I had the other day by way of Dragon Dictation:

Why you shouldn't let him go come Darlen with you because I don't like me your socks and let him know may e-mail me toothpaste and mess thanks
All sorts of other thingWhy no goats stay with you.

"Yeah, I got a big thing that's gonna
work out in 3 weeks tops..."
By Nick Holdstock via sxc.hu
Million dollar idea, right?  May have been, but I totally can't remember from this gibberish here.  I believe it was actually about why you shouldn't let a goat stay with you.

I can't remember why it was funny to me at the time, though logically vagrant goats will probably stay longer than they said they would and drink the rest of the milk but not buy a new one.

I don't think the idea had anything to do with the goat e-mailing.  Though that would be pretty crazy if the goat was updating my facebook status with things like, "sheep suck" or "hey sexy lady, we do it Goatherd style." 

Was he a hill goat who actually muttered the phrase "I don't like me your socks?"  Because I think I would find that pretty intimidating.  But then what happens?  Am I trying to turn him into an argyle lover?

Finally, "all sorts of other thing" is probably right.  That is a classic Lauri placeholder when my mind is razzed with the obviously crazy things which a goat roommate would do, but am unable to articulate any.

Oh, lost goat, I hope one day you make your way back into my mind.  But if you drink all the milk when you visit, won't you please buy a new one?

Have you lost an idea lately?  I wonder if they are hiding out together... 
Oh and give Dragon Dictation a try it can be a help as long as you check the accuracy before you forget your idea.

Monday, October 22, 2012

From the Mouths of Babes: Picture Book Ideas

I love when my 4-year-old says something random or annoying or demanding or crazy, and I say "that could be a picture book."  This happens pretty regularly, but every once in a while it really develops into something. 

I expand on the idea a couple sentences, "so the princess turns into a cat who barks. Then, what happens?"  1 out of 3 times my daughter comes up with something great.  The other two times the princess just eats a peanut butter-Nutellla sandwich or lets an echoing fart.  (What she would do in the situation.)

By Ramunas Geciauskas via Flickr
Then I scribble the idea in the medium of crayon on construction paper or marker on hand...whatever is handy.  A solid scrawl of an idea is about 250 words.   Usually it starts with "once upon a time" or something along those lines.  A thing happens.  The story ends.  The middle is a mushy stew of dot-dot-dots. 

The first draft is a story, not a picture book. 

Words are not carefully selected.  There may just be one event rather than the rule of threes (link).  The story is told; it doesn't unfold through action and dialogue.  There is no consideration for page turns and scenes.  It's just a wee little story.

A long journey awaits this idea, doubling in size and quadrupling in complexity, but it has taken an important first step just by getting written down.

I write down every idea and hoard them like a vagrant saving for a feast.  I can't wait for PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month) to start next week so I can add to my collection.  This will be my first year, and I am an enthusiastic beginner.

Will you be PiBoIdMoing in November?  I'll see you there!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Hold That Thought - Placeholders While You Write

I am notorious (well notorious only to myself) for putting placeholders in manuscripts when I can't think of the right words. 

Lauri Meyers Childrens Writer
Maybe I need to schedule a brain massage?
photo by Julia Freeman-Woolpert via sxc.hu
I allow myself thirty seconds to come up with the perfect phrase. If I don't succeed I leave stage directions to follow later. 

Stopping for too long causes a break in my flow which leads to picking my nose, eating a few donuts, changing the laundry, and then remembering I was writing several hours later. 

My current selection of placeholders includes:

"in the hallway something frickin' hilarious ensues"

"name that is sweet and rascally"

"funny sound an orange would make"

"eats something grosser than a caterpillar, but not as gross as a tarantula."

"mom gives her incentive so she has to win"

"The octopus' arm falls off or some other very bad thing happens"

"XXX"  (I am trying not to use this anymore, because I kept inserting kissing scenes which was awkward in a picture book)

Smart writer type people say to write your best idea down in the moment, even if you know it needs to change.  There are times the best I can do is gobbley gook, so the placeholder has to do the job.  (Hey, would you read a story about gobbley gook that took over the world?  Hmm.  Where's the donuts?)

HELP NEEDED!   In the comments won't you please help me replace my placeholders with something better?  What sound would an orange make?  What is something bad which would happen to an octopus? 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Introducing Lauri's Stories!

Ahhh, isn't the new blog header better?  The old one was so...moody.  And I really am not moody, unless I drop my ice cream cone or something.  And even then, I am more mad than moody.   I'm more like a kid on a swing enjoying a lovely fall day.

A new name too!   Your Imagination is the Limit was too ethereal.  And I really am not ethereal, unless I haven't had coffee yet.  And even then, I am more incoherent than ethereal.  I'm more like a clumsy spider not realizing I'm flying on a kite.
The energy goes snap, crackle, pop when I open up my blog now!   Surrounding yourself with inspiring images is important.  

The life of the new writer can be overwhelming - blogging, building a platform, writing picture book manuscripts, being sucked into twitterverse, exploring genres, outlining the plot for a middle grade story, developing the craft, reading constantly.

Sanity requires knowing the action items to reach your goals.  You can't meet every goal tomorrow, but you can get one thing done today.  And something done tomorrow.   And before you know it you have accomplished more than you thought possible.  

This week I accomplished a new blog header!  Who knows what tomorrow will bring?  

P.S.  Thanks to Gail Kushner who suggested the name.  I tried to think of others, but "Lauri's Stories" was too stuck in my head.  I hope it gets stuck in your head too. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Dirty Girls Across the Generations

I'm just a perfectly nice mom of two girls who have turned out very messy.  I have no idea how. 

Well, maybe I have a little idea how... 

Cutest mass murderer ever!
I always loved making magnificent mudpies.   They were chocolate, because mud is chocolate-flavored (obviously.)  I decorated my creations with seeds, berries, and flowers in intricate designs.   In today's terminology they were Artisanal Dirt Delights with whole grains and organic ingredients.

Another day three-year-old me noticed a stream of ants in the garage.  My parents let me stay out there swatting hundreds of them.   It was a fantastic day!  My mom taught me an important parenting lesson: "Peace and quiet is sometimes worth a lapse in hygiene."

My mom may claim dirtygirliness skipped her generation, but she was did teach me how **WARNING- graphic story follows** to pull the tails off lightning bugs and put them on my nails for a glowing manicure.   

If this seems a little barbaric, it's important to note my mom had 9 siblings and a single mom.  They didn't have glowsticks.  So, turn down your nose and respect the fun kids have when there isn't a TV. 

Many wonderfully gross things happen when we are outside.  Today's joys included: running under a dripping gutter at the store over and over and over again, walking through a "rainbow" puddle (um, yeah, that's not naturally occurring), and making eachother smell stinkhorn mushrooms even though they are near-vomit-inducing.    (p.s. I didn't include a picture because these are a tad lot phallic, and I'm pretty sure your childish giggling would have been distracting.)

These dirty girls keep me busy but they also keep my full of inspiration! 

Were you a dirty kid?  Share those memories in the comments!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Book Doctor is "In" & a Little Liebster

The Book Doctor is "In."

Lauri Meyers Childrens WriterNo I'm not talking about fixing your writing, just fixing books.  Literally.  

The wounded had been waiting patiently with missing pages, absent flaps, non-working pulls, and decapitated heads.  It was time for my semi-annual book clinic. 

Tape, glue, and photo splits (those little 2 way sticky squares) were flying while the repairs took place.  The girls flipped through the books and yanked on the pulls, testing my work. 

Then they said, "Thank you for fixing our books!"  

Awesome!  It always feels great to be thanked, especially when it comes from the tiny tyrants who caused the casualties. 

I want to say "thank you" to two great bloggers Jenny Young and Ink in the Book who recently gave me a Liebster Award.  Which also means it is time to share about myself again.  Jenny Young asked some very specific questions, so here goes:

1) What state would you like to live in other than where you live now?  I have lived in 7 states and frankly I would really like to hang out here in New Jersey instead of any more moves for a while.

2) How many items do you carry in your purse or wallet? Are they all necessary?  I keep it slim and carry a small purse - wallet, phone, chapstick (I'm addicted), sunglasses, and writing tools: tiny notebook and tiny pen.  There is also usually a crumbled receipt and 5 or so lost goldfish swimming in there.

3) If you could retake or take any class back in high school or college what would it be?  I would like to retake my high school English class, because I could use a refresher course on writing. I would not retake my college literature class.  That professor wanted dark, moody, weirdness and I'm not in the mood for that.

4) Do you believe in Aliens?  Of course.  Silly question.  That's like "do you believe in gravity."  There may be fairies too, but I'm not positive.

5) What is your most favorite dessert?   My Mom's apple pie.

6) Coffee or tea?  Coffee always, diet soda often, and tea sometimes.

7) Fall or Spring? Tough one. I was always a spring girl, but I might be shifting to a fall gal.  The return of football season, apple pie, and a pair of comfy corduroys.

8) Do you remember your first date? Where did you go?  My first date with my hubby was to Friendly's where we split chicken fingers then went to our dorm's semi-formal dance with the best intentions to go "as friends."  To be fair, we are still friends...

9) If you could live in the past what year/decade/century would you pick?  Can I just rock out the 80's again?  I think I still have some neon pink fingerless gloves here somewhere... *digs in closet*

10) Favorite type of movie? I just love action-y sci-fi movies, even better if they are really bad. 

11) On Thanksgiving what do you put on your plate?  Turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, stuffing, corn, roll, small token piece of canned cranberry and tiny portion of sweet potatoes if the person who made them is watching.  If I can, I slip right into a nap while still at the table.

I would like to nominate some of my wonderful critique partners for a Liebster award. 

Jennifer Dorr is on an amazing journey to explore a myth or folktale a week - Year of Living Mythically 

Tracy Bermeo writes for children and anyone with a belly because she has to throw in a lovely recipe every now and then at A2ZMommy.  (I totally acknowledge she already has a Liebster, but hey you never see actors turning away a second Oscar)

Brinda Banerjee taught me what Steampunk is (you don't want to know what I had imagined).  She posts her writing and other musings at The Modern Scheherzade.  

Leslie Zampetti is working on a middle grade fantasy and it is fun to watch her progress as she gets her Rear in Gear.
Go check out these great blogs!  

And I want to know what you put on your Thanksgiving plate too.  I can't be the only napping pig around here. 

Monday, October 1, 2012

Sarah Gives Thanks - An Interview with Mike Allegra

Mike Allegra
My friend Mike Allegra's first picture book Sarah Gives Thanks (Albert Whitman & Company; illustrated by David Gardner) was released September 1st.   Not only is it his first book, but it is really good.  Just read these reviews if you don't believe me: Kirkus and School Library Journal. I had the opportunity to interview Mike.

Lauri: You dedicated your first book to your wife, Ellen, who I know from your blog is disorganized, peppy, sociable, friendly, and a donkey whisperer. Plus, like I do with my husband, she plots your death when you pepper her with ideas late at night. Was the dedication a big decision?

Mike: It might be a big decision, but it wasn’t a difficult one. Dedicating the book to Ellen keeps her from smothering me with a pillow when I finally fall asleep.

Oh, and she is also my soulmate. So there’s that.

If a publisher trusts me enough to give me a second book contract, that book will be dedicated to my son. The third book will be dedicated to my parents. And the fourth book will be dedicated to the person who offers me the largest bribe.

Lauri:  *Hands Mike $5 bill* You have helped me gain perspective on rejection letters with your story of receiving over a hundred.  I aspire to eclipse your record.  What did you learn from rejection?

Mike: Well, good luck with that goal of yours. I have quite a head start on you and, even with a well-received book under my belt, I’m still getting kicked to the curb. It’s the price a person’s gotta pay for wanting to be a storyteller.

The key to handling rejection is to never take it personally – because it isn’t personal; the odds are simply against you. Everybody in the world thinks they can write a book and many of those people are bombarding publishing houses with their efforts. It’s getting harder and harder to get yourself noticed. All you can do is keep writing, keep getting better, and keep sending stuff out.  

used by permission from Mike Allegra
Illustrated by David Gardner
Lauri:  Someone else with perseverance, Sarah Hale,  is the heroine of your book Sarah Gives Thanks.  The book opens with straight up sorrow – the children's sadness, the mother's sadness yet need to be strong for her children, and her immediate concern of supporting her family.  It took me a few tries to get through the first spread, kind of like watching Finding Nemo.  How did you decide on the beginning of the book?

Mike: It felt natural to begin there. I just couldn’t help but imagine what that first Thanksgiving without David Hale – Sarah’s husband and the father to her five young children – must have felt like for that family. David died about six weeks before Thanksgiving, so the family didn’t have much time to grieve; their emotions were still raw. The holiday, a time that was supposed to be joyous, was filled with sorrow and fear about the future.

I also wanted to start there because that moment is when the story of a nationalized Thanksgiving really begins. It was the day Sarah got her life on track. Counting her blessings helped her to get through a very difficult time; Sarah knew that Thanksgiving could also help others in similar ways – and she spent the next 36 years spreading that message.

Lauri:  I understand that tragic first spread was inspired by Sarah's own semi-autobiographical story.  You also found magazines Sarah edited in the 1800s. During research how many times did you come across something where you shouted "Yes!" and everyone in the library turned to stare at you? 

Mike: Most of my “Yes!” moments were in a historical archive – or as I call it, a library on steroids. The people who work at places like that don’t stand for anything. I actually was on the receiving end of a very long, strong lecture because I was taking notes with a ballpoint pen. Only pencils are allowed in the archives, apparently. I had no plans to doodle on the historical documents, but I must’ve looked like the kind of person who might do such a thing, hence the lecture.

When you’re dealing with people that stern and officious, you do not shout “Yes!” under any circumstances.

Lauri:  I hate being places where I can't randomly yell things.  Like "I love Lincoln"- who is my frickin' favorite president.  (I used to smooch $5 bills, a habit that led to me becoming an accountant-type.)  Lincoln made Thanksgiving a national holiday in October 1863 in the midst of the civil war.  My calculator beep boop beep boop says Thanksgiving 2012 will the 150th national celebration. I think all those rejection letters, editor changes, and delays may have been karma. Could the timing be better?

What could I accomplish
with a beard like Lincoln's?
Mike: The timing is pretty perfect, isn’t it?

I, too, am a big, big Lincoln fan, by the way. He was our only great bearded president. We had other bearded presidents of course. Grant springs to mind, but once that guy left the battlefield for the White House he was pretty much useless.

Lincoln is all we have, beard-wise. If you want another great president with facial hair, you have no other place to turn but to Teddy Roosevelt – and he only had a ‘stache.

Lauri:  Thank you so much for sharing Sarah's story with me.  Even as a fully grown woman, the story gave me pause.  I'll quote one page: "A woman was expected to be a housewife and mother.  She didn't need a college education to do those things."  Though I had the privilege of attending college and working a fancy corporate job for a decade, I chose to stay home with my kids two years ago.  Some days I feel silly having the not-currently-in-use-degree. I suppose the beauty is I had the choice.

Mike: The wonderful thing about Sarah is how strong an advocate she was for women’s education. She didn’t care what a woman did with her education – in fact Sarah was very much a traditionalist when it came to a woman’s role in society – but, by God, she wanted every woman to have that education.

Sarah firmly believed that if one was not always learning, one was not really living. And, of course, she was absolutely right.

Lauri:  Yes, she was.  Good luck with the book! 

Stop by Mike's site heylookawriterfellow (btw he should have named it heylookawriterdude because I thought it was "heylookafellowwriter" for months.)  If you want to hear more about Mike's career, check out Susan Rocan's interview  or about how Mike came up with the idea for the book, read Roxie's interview.
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