Monday, December 30, 2013

Let's Celebrate (all of the) Holidays!

The Annual Highlights Fiction Contest is coming up! Entries can be up to 800 words and the deadline is 1/31. This year's topic is Holiday.

While Christmas & New Years are top of mind right now, I thought a list of other holidays may be great inspiration for everyone, whether entering the contest or looking for a new idea to start the year.  

Love this photo of a traditional
Midsummer Dance!
(By Totte Jonsson via
Nature Holidays: Earth Day, Arbor Day, Groundhog Day, Summer Solstice, Winter Solstice, May Day, Midsummer Day

Fun Days: New Year's Eve, St. Patrick's Day, April Fools, Halloween, Festivus (for the rest of us), Talk like a Pirate Day, Chinese New Year, Leap Day

Thankful Days: Thanksgiving, Boxing Day

Holidays of Love: Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, Father's Day, Children's Day, Grandparents Day, Sweetest Day

Religious Holidays: Mardi Gras, Ash Wednesday, Palm Sunday, Passover, Good Friday, Easter, Dyngus Day, Christmas, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Hanukkah, Diwali, Ramadan

Culture: Kwanzaa

Patriotic Days: Flag Day, Patriot Day, Election Day, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day & National Day of Service, Presidents Day , Memorial Day, Independence Day, Veterans Day

Worker Days: Boss's Day, Administrative Professional's Day, Labor Day, Take Your Child to Work Day

Women: International Woman's Day, Helen Keller Day, Women's Equality Day

Discovery Days: German-American Day commemorates the first German settlement, Leif Erikson Day honors the Norse Viking explorer, Columbus Day, Indigenous Peoples Day           

Do you have any holidays in your region which I should add?  I'm sure there's an international donut day or other important day I've missed (though there are few things as important as donuts.)

Speaking of holidays - HAPPY NEW YEAR! Here's to high word counts in 2014!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Christmas Past and Present

I found a series of writing prompt responses the other day, probably from early high school, lovingly typed on a very large typewriter. I vaguely remember getting a magazine which offered writing prompts or maybe I found a "Learn How to Write" book at the library.

Relevant to the season was "Describe a street at Christmas:"

      Bright lights line the streets. Sleighbells jingle, hanging from a horse drawn carriage. The horses wear a thin blanket of snow. The driver huddles under his warmest coat.  Little girls in velvet dresses with hands tucked in white muffs flash smiles. The children's red noses clash with the white surroundings. Billows of white breath rise in the chilled air. The sweet smell of baking cookies fills me with warmth, and circles of smoke from Papa's pipe wrap me in comfort.

I recognized the staccato poetry I often fall into without thinking and my propensity to respond very literally to the request: describe. I must have been quite the romantic, opting to describe what could only exist in a Thomas Kincaid painting.  

Well, I ain't romantic anymore.
Ooh, you know that brown stripe will
be chocolate flavored....yum!
(Image by Pam Roth via

Describe a street at Christmas (2013 version): 
Everyone is in such a hurry they are missing the whole thing.
Slam on the brakes.
Exit the Christmas contagion stricken highway
To eat this entire candy cane,
Even if it takes an hour.

Okay, I made the mistake of entering a store to buy snow boots yesterday, and I'm still disgruntled.  But I also had an eye-opening experience watching my 3-year-old eat an entire candy cane. I honestly forgot they were for eating. And even if you did eat them, you only sucked on them until they got thinner, right?  But no, that little candy loving cherub made me realize candy canes are magical when you need life to slow down so you don't miss the whole thing. 

Merry Christmas! 
Now go eat a candy cane, or if you're inspired, add a comment with your description of a street at Christmas.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Christmas Confusion! (A Holiday Story)

Susanna Leonard Hill is hosting a Holiday Contest this week! 

To participate: Write a children's story about a Holiday Mishap, mix-up, miscommunication, mistake, or potential disaster, not to exceed 350 words and posted by Friday December 13th at 11:59 PM EST  Check out the full rules at her site.   Her site has the links to the 700 other entries (plus or minus a few hundred) which are full of holiday cheer and laughs!  Enjoy!
The idea came to me during PiBoIdMo, but the rest of the story had to noodle itself out the past few weeks while I've been shopping, wrapping, cooking and watching the Sound of Music for the 10th time. So on the last day... Here's my 349 word entry: 

Christmas Confusion
By Lauri Meyers

Cries of confusion filled St. Ive's Orphanage on Christmas morning.

"This strange sword has a hook on the end," Bobby complained.

"This nightgown is big enough for Santa," Maggie whimpered.

"Tsk, tsk," Sister Mary warned. "We are always thankful for gifts we receive."

(Image by Amy Burton via
Sammy shook his present and shouted, "Sounds like a puzzle!" But when Sammy held up a tin of pistachios, even Sister Mary raised a surprised eyebrow.

"Time for our morning stroll." Sister Mary gathered hats and scarves. The children grabbed their gifts, happy to have something, no matter how unusual.  

A gray-haired man wobbled along the sidewalk with a plastic sword. 

"Are you a pirate?" Bobby called.

"Bobby! Manners, please," Sister Mary said. "This is Mr. Robert Stone from Ivy's Retirement Home across the street."

"I hoped for a cane, but Santa thought I had one more sword fight in me," Robert said.  "En garde!"
Bobby raised his hooked sword for a duel.

"What a fine cane you have there," Robert said.

"Would you like to trade?" Bobby asked.  Robert nodded and found the cane to be a perfect fit.

"Strange morning we've had," Robert said. "Santa gave Samuel here a puzzle, even though he's been near blind for 20 years."

"Only thing still working is my teeth!" Samuel laughed.

"Santa gave me nuts, and I wasn't even naughty," Sammy sighed. "I'd love a puzzle." They traded with toothy smiles.

"And Margaret has some frilly thing on her head she says is a sleeping cap,"  Bobby chuckled.

"I think your hat is lovely," Maggie said quietly, remembering her manners.

"I'm not really sure it's a sleeping cap," Margaret whispered and held up a tiny nightgown.

"Oh!" Maggie exclaimed. "I hoped for a nightgown that size, but Santa got me one for growing into."

"Perhaps this one would be useful, so you don't have to grow too fast," Margaret said and traded with Maggie. "Now, you must come over for hot chocolate!"  

"Yes, Santa must have known we'd have guests. Our stockings were full of marshmallows," Robert said. 
"What was in yours?"

"Don't ask," said Sister Mary.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Birthday Partying like a Kid

It's my birthday today!

I was having a deep philosophical conversation with my 3-year-old this morning about how cool it would be if I became a kid again on my birthday. 

So when I was asked to play Cootie, I said "No! It's my birthday! And I want to play Cootie AND make puzzles!" (Sidenote: I won Cootie, not that it matters of course...)

I followed that with toast with butter and jelly which is a treat because my adult self usually skips the butter. 

And I showered! (that really wasn't the kid in me so much as the overworked mom who often neglects to care for herself.)
Happy Birthday to me! (Just be thankful
I didn't have any Easy Cheese in the pantry.)

We walked to kindergarten this morning, because I definitely would have done that when I as little. 

I did a happy birthday to me song and dance in the kitchen (does it go without saying that this was a silly dance?) twice, because my daughter said "Again!" and kid me said "of course!"

I suffered some disappointment when I realized I didn't have the ingredients or proper adult supervision to make pizza buns.But I recovered by skipping right to a delightful dessert of a large dollop of Reddi-whip squirted right into my mouth.

I was thirsty by then, so we made some Kool-Aid with 1/2 cup of sugar (because, hey, there's no need to go completely crazy!)

Now, I'm just sitting here with a full Kool-Aid mustache doing my best coloring with crayons.  (Have you colored with crayons recently? It's really hard to stay in the lines with a blunt waxy stick.)

And it's only noon! It's busy being a kid.

How would you spend the rest of your birthday if you were a kid again?  It's kind of rainy here today, so there very well may be some puddle jumping, worm chasing or (gasp!) a trip to Chuck 'e Cheese in my future!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Mentor Text Resources & a Winner!

Thank you to all the participants in the Mentor Text Challenge. Remember mentor texts are an excellent defense against writer's block, lack of inspiration, and all sorts of writer's ailments.

We have a challenge winner (selected by

She has won a 2013 PiBoIdMo Journal and the warm touchy feeling that comes with knowing $3 goes to support Reading is Fundamental!  Marcie grabbed the book A Storm Called Katrina and selected its first person narration style to apply to a WIP.  (Marcie - If I can't find you, email me at laurimeyers (at)!)

If you've been following along on the Mentor Text Posts, you deserve a prize for your commitment to studying craft. So just for you... 

Excellent Resources for KidLit Nerds

RenLearn  Type in the title of a book and get its book level, word count, AR points, etc.

Scholastic  Type in the title of a book and get its grade interest level, grade reading level, and theme/subject area. It also provides biographical information for the author and illustrator.

Readability-Score  Paste the text of a story, and receive a wealth of information, including Fleisch-Kincaid Reading Ease, grade levels from a variety of systems, characters, syllables, word count, sentence count, etc.
This site is great if you have typed up mentor texts (like we talked about here...) And it's perfect for analyzing your own work. 

These resources are also helpful if you have greedy bedtime readers, like mine who says "maybe this many books?" while holding up 5 fingers.  Now you have the data to support your side of the negotiations. 
Fancy Nancy at 418 words and Owl babies at 325 words? Okay, fine.  
Dr. Seuss's Sleep Book at 1763 words? Your eyes better be closed by the end of that, kid!

Thanks again for playing, and sorry about any injuries which may have been incurred.
Good luck finding the rest of your PiBoIdMo ideas and celebrating Picture Book Month!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Mentor Text Challenge (with a PiBo Prize!)

I like to write a "companion" post for PiBoIdMo every year. Last year's Match Up Mash Up game spurred PB ideas faster than a cowboy at a rodeo. This year since we've been talking mentor texts to learn craft, study word counts, and improve read-aloud-ability, I want to highlight another great use for mentor texts:  


No, no, no. Not plagiarism - but as a springboard, a starting point, a puzzle frame, a make-your-own-sundae bar... pick your favorite metaphor.

Does this guy look worried about
stealing a little bread? Heck, no!
Just have a little nibble...
(By Roman Olmezov via
You can try straight substitution. Take Kevin Henkes' Little White Rabbit, where a rabbit wonders what it would be like to be a different color, have different locomotion, or be a different size. Replace the rabbit with another animal or person or thing (we allow personification of inanimate objects in this neck of cyberspace.)

What desires would this new MC have?  Maybe he's a banker who wishes he could skip through the park. Spend money. Go nudie in the vault. Now you have a completely different story!

You can also steal style elements of a mentor text. Is it predominately dialogue? Is it in present tense? Does it have a repeating refrain? Is it rhyming?

To illustrate the idea, I'm throwing a Mentor Text Challenge! Are you ready? OK!

Close your eyes and walk over to your picture book shelf.  Ouch! Who put that wall there? 
Let's start over....

First, go to your picture book shelf.
Now, close your eyes.
Grab a picture book, and open your eyes.  
Study the key style elements of this book - First person? Wordless? Circular plot? Chicken-centric?
Pick one element and apply it to a current draft or on the next draft you start.

Easy, peasy, don't get queasy, this challenge will be a breezy!

And there's a prize! There couldn't be a challenge without a prize.

So if you leave a comment sharing the book you picked and the feature you chose by November 20th, you'll be entered to win a 2013 PiBoIdMo Idea Journal (with added benefit of sending $3 to Reading is Fundamental!)  With 160 pages you can embrace the 2013 PiBo theme and let your "ideas take flight" over the next year.

Let's get ready to read and kick off the Mentor Text Challenge!
P.S. If you have other ideas on how to politely borrow from mentor texts, please share those too!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Ask the Education Consultant - Interview with Marcie Colleen

I adore seeing Marcie Colleen at NJ SCBWI events, because she is a ball of energy and easy to find in a crowd. But it has been fun seeing Marcie everywhere in writing cyberspace the last few weeks, too.

Marcie & Lauri hanging out...
if we look exhausted it's because
Ame Dyckman (in the background)
had us wrestling PBs all day. 
As Education Consultant for Picture Book Month she developed this outstanding teachers' guide Why Picture Books Belong in the Classroom, where she makes a case for both non-fiction and fiction as teaching tools.

She served as housecleaner for PiBoIdMo with her post on preparing your creative idea collection space. 

She was seen rolling up her sleeves and mining childhood memories over at the Picture Book Academy, where she is a graduate and Blogette! 

Did I mention she ran the NYC Marathon last Sunday? Oh yeah. That too. :)  

So it seems totally reasonable she is hosting an Ask the Education Consultant Blog Hop on her site this month! She's hopped over here today to teach us about picture books in the classroom. 

Lauri: Everyone gives teachers little frowny face stickers when they "teach to the test." In the same vein, should writers avoid "writing to the Common Core?"

Marcie: I have been a part of the education world for quite some time.  State and Federal mandated standards have come and gone and quickly as the politicians that championed them.  As writers we are often careful not to write to the trends.  However, educational learning standards are essentially a trend, a buzz word. So, in my humble opinion, writers need to avoid “writing to the Common Core” and instead write what they want to write.  Any good teacher will be able to adapt any book for classroom use.  Teachers need to teach.  Write need to write.  Simple as that.

Lauri: I know teachers aren't supposed to have favorites, but... what's your favorite kind of picture book to write a teacher's guide - a PB that does a lot of things pretty well or a PB that does one thing with excellence? 
Marcie: I love a challenge.  When I first moved to NYC I worked for the Broadway theatre world and created curriculum guides for popular Broadway shows.  I remember thinking at first that the musical CHICAGO had no educational value, until further research turned up topics such as greed, the American Judicial System, celebrity and media, etc.  The same thing happened when I worked on AVENUE Q (a musical known for its language and naughty bits).  When I first take on a pb for a Teacher’s Guide, my favorite moment is sitting down with a pb to give it a good read with pen and paper in hand. By the end of the reading the paper is filled with educational ideas and possibilities…and it only grows from there.  Its like my archeological dig.  That’s what I love.
Lauri: Do humorous books present more difficulty to include in the classroom?
Marcie: As a person, I find it best to connect with people through humor and laughter.  Why not bring that into the classroom? The classroom that laughs together….
Of course, a sense of humor is part of child development.  But laughter in the classroom can help foster this.  Studies have shown that children with a well-developed sense of humor are happier and more optimistic, have higher self-esteem, and are better at handling differences between themselves and their friends.  Here is a great link for some further info:  how does sense of humor develop
However, where an issue might be difficult is when a book appears to be totally silly with no academic value. This is when a Teacher’s Guide tool or other standard-aligned curriculum plans can help an educator validate their book choices to school administrators or parents who might question a teacher’s choice. 
Lauri: Can taboo topics, potty humor (y'know like mice wedgies, fart explosions...) or any other naughtiness impact a book making it into the classroom?
Marcie:  Perhaps we should ask Dav Pilkey this question.  His Captain Underpants series has been both heavily challenged by parents and educators, but also hailed as a brilliant series that reaches even the most reluctant boy readers. 
Obviously parents have strong opinions as to what they want their children “exposed” to.  Teachers must know their audience.  You can’t please all of the people all of the time.  But is the goal to keep the kids in a protective bubble?  Or to get them interested in reading and perhaps begin a lifelong love?  Aye, there’s the rub!  A complicated topic with several equally complicated answers.  But as a writer, fear not.  Write on.  For every nay-sayer, you will have a cheerleader. 
Lauri: Could you share a few resources for PB writers to be introduced to common core standards?
Marcie: Google “Common Core State Standards” and quickly become overwhelmed.  I know I did. 
School Library Journal hosted a 6-part webcast series about the Common Core that I found very helpful. Although they are geared toward professionals in the education world, they will give you a good overview on what the CCSS entail and how educators are “unpacking" the standards for themselves.
Also, Pathways to the Common Core: Accelerating Achievement by Lucy Calkins, Mary Ehrenworth and Christopher Lehman is a great book that really makes sense of the CCSS for its readers.  It’s not the easiest read, but if you truly want to understand the standards, this is how. 
Visit Marcie Colleen at The Write Routine
And of course, reading the actual standards.  They can be found, in detail, at
There is really no shortcut.  They aren't rocket science.  But navigating through it all can be overwhelming. 

My advice to pb writers: get the gist and then move on.  You have books to write.  No need to get into all of the nitty gritty ins and outs.  Leave that to the experienced educators.  There are plenty of us who write curriculum or work in School and Library Markets Departments at publishing houses to assist you with the details when the time comes. 
Lauri: Ahh, after this interview, I'm feeling much less scared about managing the common core in my writing process! Thank you, Marcie! Keep an eye on Marcie's blog for more hop spots this month. 
Mon Nov 11 @ Jean Reidy 

Wed Nov 13 @ Darshana Khiani 

Wed Nov 20 @ Joanne Roberts 

Mon Nov 25 @ Tina Cho 

Wed Dec 4 Julie Hedlund

In previous chapters Marcie Colleen has been a teacher and a theatre educator, but now she splits her days between chasing the Picture Book Writer dream and chasing toddlers on the playground as a nanny. Both are equally glamorous! Her blog, The Write Routine and her Teacher’s Guides, can be found at  She lives with her fiancé and their mischievous sock monkey in Brooklyn, NYC.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Halloween Thank you

I've been meaning to say THANK YOU to Bridget Heos and the Mr. Pig writers at The Little Crooked Cottage for running a giveaway I recently won.  

I received this awesome Mustache Baby prize pack - Signed copy of Mustache Baby by Bridget Heos, mustache playing cards, and mustache binky. I've found sucking on a mustache binky while writing can really drive your creativity, and I'm much less likely to cry during editing.

This week it dawned on me the best way to say thank you is via Jack O'Lantern. So I carved a Bad Mustache pumpkin. He came out quite wicked, wouldn't you say?

If you have not read Mustache Baby, get your hands on it.  For writers, this book will push you to pun-perfection, as in this example when the baby's mustache turns out to be a bad mustache:

Billy's disreputable mustache led him to a life of dreadful crime. 
He became: A cat burglar. A cereal criminal. 
And a train robber so heartless that he even stole the tracks.

Can you guess what illustrator Joy Ang did with those words? It's pun-domonium!

The book is also a great mentor text for how to handle the unusual with everyday ease.  Just because it's highly unlikely for a baby to be born hairy-lipped, doesn't mean you can't write a picture book about it. In fact if your critique group says an idea is "too far-fetched," you better work that idea until no one cares how wacky it is.  

Thank you again to Bridget and Mr. Pig!  Happy Halloween everyone!

Monday, October 28, 2013

White Cat's Halloween - a Halloweensie Poem

It's the time of year to gorge small children with sugar and make them pee their pants! Which also means it's time for Susanna Leaonard Hill's Halloweensie contest. The rules: your Halloween story must be 100 words or less and include the words black cat, cackle, and spooky. 

Last year I wrote about the poor Jack O' Lantern who couldn't go trick or treating. This year I'm tackling the serious issue of feline bullying. This particular entry was inspired by a "Short & Sweet" Susanna also hosts monthly. 

(image by jerca via, with edits)
White Cat's Halloween

By Lauri C. Meyers, 2013

Violet's sad on Halloween.
Teasing black cats treat her mean:

"You can't even cause a fright
(image by orleil via
Wearing fur so milky white!"

Violet narrows bright green eyes,
"I can too cause children's cries!"

Arching back, extended claws
Loudly yowl- expect applause.

Black cats cackle, "What was that?
Sounded like a laughing rat!"
(image by giane via, with edits)

Wilted tail and full of gloom,
Violet mounts her witch's broom.

Fading clouds, one moonlight ray
Makes white fur glow purple gray.

"What was that?" a youngster reels.
"Run! A ghost!" another squeals.
(images by annahe & mzacha via,
with edits)

Violet yowls her kooky mew,
"White cats can be spooky too!"

Thanks for reading and remember, don't forget white cats can be spooky too!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

What Slows Down a Read Aloud

Picture books need to be under 500 words (and that's only when you overshoot 350.)  Pacing and word choice are important. Manuscripts must be read out loud.  I know these things, but a lightbulb clicked on recently:

time my read aloud story to ensure it reads like a low word count story.

So, I timed myself reading aloud the same books as my last post. Not because I'm lazy, because I'm efficient. Very efficient. Kind of like how I'm efficiently working my way through a bag of candy corn right now. Anyhow, here they are:

Kitten's First Full Moon (Henkes, 2004) - 264 words  - 3 minutes to read (1.5 seconds/word)
Children Make Terrible Pets (Brown, 2010) - 372 words - 3' 40" to read (1.7 seconds/word)
The Boy Who Cried Ninja (Latimer, 2011) - 517 words - 4 minutes to read (2.2 seconds/word)

You may be saying "Well, there's some variability each time you read a story." And you are right. I didn't note how many times my 3-year-old tried to pick my nose during each read, nor how long it took her to read all the "squeaks" in Children Make Terrible Pets.

You may also be saying "1 second or 2 seconds per word, you're splitting hairs." To which I say, "I have a hair appointment scheduled, and I'd thank you kindly to not point out my split ends."

What slows down a read aloud?

Ready. Set. Read!
(Stopwatch by Daino 16 via
1. Long, Slow Words. Some words are delicious making you slow down and savor them, like applesauce in the 2 minute read Boy + Bot. Other words are long and twisty on the tongue, like cauliflower, and will slow a story down.  Not all long words are bad, like bulldozer, which has a lovely z in it and is nearly an onomatopoeia- fun to say and worth the time. You can't ban all long, slow words, but you must use them sparingly at appropriate times.

2. Long Sentences/ Complex Structure - The longest sentence in the slower read Ninja is 31 words. The longest sentence in Children is 16 words. Some of those long sentences are wonderfully written, but they do slow the pace. Other dangers lie in long/complicated sentences: confusion and long-windedness, which you never want your reader to suffer through.

3. Alliteration - A little alliteration is sweet, but a lot makes for a giant tongue-twister.  They aren't called tongue twisters because they are easy to read quickly (though we love to try!)

4. Repetition is tricky. Brief, cautiously used repeated phrases can speed up read aloud, because your brain is quickly recognizing those repeated words, as it does in Kitten with "poor kitten" or the repetition of "Squeaker" in Children.  But too much repetition can slow it down - like you're stuck in a never ending version of There was an Old Lady who Swallowed a Fly.

I'm guilty of abusing all of these devices, going too far looking for an interesting word choice, creating complexity where it can be avoided, twisting tongues all day long. As penance, I'm going to force myself to finish this bag of candy corn and then start making better choices.

What do you think slows a read aloud down?

Monday, October 14, 2013

Mentor Texts

I read in several "how to write" books to try typing out picture books you love to see what they looked like as a manuscript.  Well, I dutifully ignored this advice for a year.

I finally tried it with the following books a few weeks ago:
            Kitten's First Full Moon - 264 words (By Kevin Henke, 2004)
            Children Make Terrible Pets - 372 words (By Peter Brown, 2010)
            This Moose Belongs to Me - 397 words (By Oliver Jeffers, 2012)
            The Boy Who Cried Ninja - 517 words (By Alex Latimer, 2011)

Here's what I learned:
Typing the text let's you really absorb it. Like drinking it through a straw.  I also tried drinking it through a straw, but it required so much water to make the pages slurpable that I really got a significant tummy ache and a severe case of belching.
"Look Ma, I learned how to use mentor texts!"
image by Cécile Graat via

Typing it out (if you're a fast keyer) is much better than counting all the words one by one. I can count to 1,000, really I can, but I'm lazy and easily distracted so I often lose count or accidentally start counting sheep.

Parallel structures and repetition become clearer once typed. Let yourself copy and paste when writing!

Word count reduction methods are easier to see - such as by omitting dialogue tags, letting the illustrations work, and avoiding "and," "or", "but."  If you look at some of the typed text without any art notes or illustrations, you could imagine many things happening on that spread. 

Richness and plot can be obtained in very few words. It's magical when it does.

How do you use mentor texts to learn the craft?  

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Latest, Greatest Low Tech Devices

I am device rich. My calendar is always with me to schedule the next dentist appointment or to remind me to pick up a kiddo.  My map tells me where to go when I'm lost (which happens a fair amount.) To see if a store is open, I only need to dial a number. Hmm, that cloud looks app lets me know to grab an umbrella.

But being device rich can mean being quality time poor.

No worries though, because I have the latest in low tech technology!

Clearly this little piggy is an
excellent listener!
(Ben Earwicker via
Arms!  Yes, arms. They are wonderful for turning the wheels on the bus round and round.  These security devices make crossing the street with a kindergartener safe.  They are the perfect utensil for eating baby carrots. You can't beat arms for wrapping up little ones (and big ones) in hugs.

Once you have arms, you really need to get another device...

Mouth! This ultimate multi-functional tool can be used for singing about twinkling little stars, kissing booboos, and saying I love you.  You really can't make a high quality funny face without a mouth- you gotta get one of these!

I've had another device for a long time, but the instructional manual is so confusing.

Ears.  I recently learned you have to clean all the potatoes out of them to improve sound quality. Then, you need to stop cooking, take a break from laundry, and put down all your other devices. Finally, lower the ears to the right level of the person using their mouth device which may require kneeling down to interact with a 3-year-old. Don't forget to turn off your own mouth device!  

Now you can use your ears to really listen to all the very important things happening in the lives of your little people. Ears may be the most important device I have.

What is your favorite low tech device? 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Back to School

Imagine you're walking down the street when a smell tickles your nose. Are you being followed by a young man fresh out of gym class who is not yet wearing deodorant even though it really is prime time to start? Though you try to resist, you take another sniff of the air. You catch a touch of banana peel left in the car for a week with a hint of day old peanut butter and jelly crust.

You start to look around for an overflowing trash can causing the attack on your nasal passages, but instead you find some sort of creature. You quickly snap your eyes forward. Was that Medusa?  No, a pinch on your wrist confirms you have not turned to stone.

You shouldn't turn around; mother always said it wasn't polite to stare. But out of a valid concern Godzilla is following you, you take a quick peek. It appears to have human eyes, though the sunken eyes have dark circles under them. Realizing this is just a vagrant, you sit on a bench and allow yourself a long look.

Sometimes you just know
a kid is going to grow up
(copyright Lauri Meyers)
It's a woman, you decide, with her long hair sticking out wildly on every side. Looks like an odd tattoo on her arm - no, it's just a streak of ink. Her lips are moving, and you hear her mumbling something like, pick up the tap shoes, get a size three soccer ball, smock for class, permission slip...

It's back to school week this week! I have been shuttling both kids, packing enough snacks and lunches for a short voyage, and signing more papers than the president. I didn't follow the advice about getting into the sleep routine before school, and the kids have been up at night all week. And I look like it.

I'm too embarrassed to take a picture of my harried self.  Luckily, I have no problem selling out my five-year-old self! Just age the picture to the right by a few decades and you get the picture. 

I hope we settle into routine soon, so I can actually get a bit of writing done. First, I seriously need to go take a shower. 

How is back to school going in your neck of the woods?

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Summer Hazards

Summer is winding down.

I'm okay to see it go.

It's very dangerous.

Though I managed to avoid serious summer dangers like sunburns and bee stings and flaming marshmallow attacks, I fell victim to some bad events.

As school let out on the last day, I got too confident on my toddler-sized skateboard and fell on my tush. Since we live across from the school, all the cool kids saw it. OMG. So embarrassing. I had to set a good example about failure for my kids, so I bravely attempted another ride, aching backside and all.
Ouchipotatoes! Note the big frowny
face and summer flyaway hair do...

A few days later I unwrapped the first popsicle of summer and raised it to my lips. I must have been out of training, because I got the popsicle stuck to one of lips. If I had been cool-headed (like if I had already had a popsicle,) I would've poured warm water on the popsicle. But it's hard to think rationally when in such grave peril, so I yanked it. One word: OUCH.   

Since I only get to go on spinny rides with my 5yo daddy's girl because Daddy is not a spinny guy, I jumped at the chance to ride the Tilt-A-Whirl with her. The thing about the Tilt-A-Whirl is that it tilts and whirls at unexpected times. The resulting case of Dizzydaloopsies lasted several hours (though the fun memory will last longer.)

I enjoy a good boogy boarding session at the shore, and I don't usually mind the occasional wipe out. But this past weekend I was so splendidly thrashed, saltwater and SAND flushed up my nose.  I don't think I've ever had the joy of spitting sand loogies before. One word: Gross.

Finally, I just recovered from a summer cold. Being sick in summer is just cruel and unusual punishment, right up there with pimples on first dates and eating baked beans before long car rides. When so much fun could be had outside, I was stuck sniffling. (insert sorrowful whining here)

Yes, it has been a perilous summer indeed. I'm ready for climbing apple trees, playing football and jumping in giant piles of leaves - nice, safe Fall activities.

Did you suffer any summer misfortunes?

Thursday, August 22, 2013

As Simple as ABC

An idea popped into my head during a lovely nap on Saturday (though of course once the idea arrived, the nap had to be cut short which was most unfortunate.)

This particular idea indicated it would like to be told as an alphabet book in rhyme. A very demanding idea indeed!

I have not attempted an alphabet book yet. I admit it seemed like a reasonably easy endeavor. One only needs to think of 26 appropriately named items. And weave them in a story arc.  And incorporate them in alphabetical order.  And find a way to tie it in with perfect rhyme.  Easy Peasy!
(by wbd via

As I sat at my desk (having abandoned the napping couch) trying to figure out the perfect word which started with "A," I realized I had been hoodwinked! The alphabet book is a challenging form full of rules. Though some rules can be broken, I fear starting an alphabet book with "A" is one you can't mess with. 

Luckily an "A" word finally appeared and helped to define the narrative even better.  Through the weekend I came up with words to fit 20 letters and a fun story!

But then...I arrived at the point ABC aficionados must have a name for - perhaps "The Dreaded UVWXYZ" or "The Point of Diminishing Options."  I had neglected to create a story involving ukuleles, xylophones, and zebras, causing quite a lot of trouble.

Finally, late last night I had an idea for "Z" which wasn't in the crossword solver list I had scanned repeatedly for days and in a fit of excitement I quite literally tossed my notebook in the air and yelled "that's it!" This is one of those many times the non-writer sleeping next to you gives you a very odd glance and grumbles. (This does happen to everyone, right?)

Now rhyming this story is no small task, and I know from experience it is unwise to invest in perfecting couplets if you may need to completely rewrite all of them. 'Tis a painful editing exercise indeed!  So I'm thinking about writing the story in prose first, offering it to the critique group, and then developing the rhyme. 

What say you rhyming writers out there about this approach?

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Where Does a New Writer Start (part 3)

I'm continuing a series where I respond to a new writer who wanted advice on how to get started  writing picture books. Check out part 1 and part 2 also! 

"I’m not sure which category my voice fits in."
I struggle with this as well. My voice is probably a 12-year-old boy. Yet, I'm not focusing on a MG novel. Why not?  Because I made a choice to focus on picture books, though I play with MG stories on the side. I chose not to write Mom pieces for parenting magazines or nonfiction stories for nature magazines or steamy romance for paperback. I could write in these areas, but there is only so much time and focus is key.

So when you're starting out, write a boat load of different things. If your only idea is for a middle grade novel, then by all means start there.  Otherwise, dabble for a while with short stories aimed at different ages.  Maybe your voice will tell you which it likes best. Or maybe it won't.  Now pick a genre and focus for awhile.  Picture books are a different beast than middle grade short stories or YA trilogies. But, you will learn the craft of writing through any of these as long as you write a lot.
Finding where your voice fits and
your heart belongs can take
some time.
(image by leonardini via

Read a lot so you can learn what's happening in each genre today, not what you were exposed to as a child.  Consider writing what you love to read, because you'll know that market the best. If you don't have children at home or don't work at a school, know that writing picture books will require you to go the library and read a lot of picture books.  Does that interest you?
So that's my post 3 post response to "where do I start?"  
The question wasn't "how do I grow once I get started?" which involves a much longer answer... 

You'll notice I haven't mentioned taking picture book classes, attending conferences, or joining in all the fun of the writing community online (PiBoIdMo, NaPiBoWriWee, Write on Con, Rate Your Story...)

I haven't even suggested joining a critique group. *murmuring erupts across cyberspace*  Why? Because critique groups are a two way street. When you are first starting, you don't have much to contribute back.  Once you have a handful of manuscripts and say 6 months under your belt, look for a critique group. You'll need to have read a few books so you can critique with at least a basic knowledge of what makes a good picture book.

I also didn't say anything about your author platform.  I started blogging shortly after I started writing, though I can't remember how I fell into it. I have grown significantly through it, and it allowed me to connect with writers who have been incredibly supportive. I have enjoyed it, but it can be a distraction or even drudgery if you aren't ready for it. So same advice - just write for awhile, then if blogging appeals to you, go for it. 

So there you have it! The answers (as I see them) to the questions most newbie writers have as they are frantically treading water in sea of words.  

What advice do you have for our new writer?  Please share in the comments so we can all learn!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Where Does a New Writer Start? (part 2)

I'm continuing an earlier post where I respond to a new writer who wanted advice on how to get started  writing picture books. See the first part of the post here. 

"How do you stay organized?"
"What's that now?" I call from under a stack of papers while leaning on a pile of dirty laundry.  First, I'm quite anal-retentive, so I do love organizing. In fact I like it so, it is my first go to when I want to procrastinate.

I have a mirror system, I suppose. Electronically the folder "Writing" (creative, yes?) holds folders for PBs, MG, YA, Publishers, Agents, Craft, Critiquing, Blog.  Then I have a nerdy numbering system to organize stories within there, but we don't need to draw attention to my nerdiness.  I back this up to the cloud and on a little flash drive.

It is super helpful if you can type
this fast.
(image by Hisks via
I like to keep a paper copy too, just in case on e-goblins and so I can grab it to go to the coffee shop.  I use binders with those pocket tabs so I can slide the latest manuscript and it's lovely rejection letters in the pocket together and have room to stick post it notes about pros/cons and submission strategy on it.

"What's your schedule? How do you to keep track of goals & accomplishments?"

I write whenever the kids are out of the house, which is not nearly enough. I write a lot at night after they go to bed, but not every night because my husband likes to talk with me on occasion too. I use a lot of found time - 10 minutes at drop off, 5 minutes in the shower, 15 minutes hiding in the laundry room. 

I have developed ways to be effective with this time - printing a story I need to critique and sticking it in my purse.  Jotting down ideas in Evernote so I can expand them when I have the chance. Carrying printouts of a draft to edit.  With picture books and short stories, you can accomplish a lot with 10 minutes of focus.

Because of my background in finance, I have an extensive spreadsheet that holds all my goals, action plan, daily to dos, manuscript list, publisher information, magazine information, etc.  Must we keep focusing on how nerdy I am?  But a simple list with three goals and three actions under each goal hanging from a bulletin board is a great place to start, especially if you aren't naturally endowed with geekitude. 

Next week we'll look at where to start finding your voice and we'll answer the question that wasn't asked, because I was always trained to answer the question people don't even know they have. 

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Writers Tell All Blog Hop

The amazing PB writer Romelle Broas tagged me in the Writers Tell All Blog Hop, and though it sounds like Oprah should be hosting it, the camaraderie of a good hop is important for solitary writer types.  (Thank you, Romelle!)

Question 1: What are you working on?
·                     Wishing on stars and rubbing rabbit's feet following my 7 Submission in July Challenge.
·                     Polishing 1 PB manuscript which I know will be incredible if only I can fully excavate it.
·                     Revising a NaPiBoWriWee draft, drafting a PB from a PiBoIdMo idea, wondering how to incorporate a meditation chant in a picture book...
·                     Critiquing my fellow writers' manuscripts and marveling at the fun ideas they invent.
·                     Wishing for fall to have more writing time while holding on dearly to summer too.

Question 2: How does your writing process work?
My writing process looks like this:
1.                  Idea ... I jot down a feeling, a quote, an emotion to explore, humorous situations and try to pair them up.
2.                  First draft... claws its way out complete with beginning, middle and end on lucky days. More often, it starts as a disparate collection of sentences, question marks, and "something funny happens here" gaps.    
3.                  Second draft... is the one which actually has a fairly complete story, but for some reason I like to leave the funky partially skeletal draft named draft 1. 
4.                  Critique...draft 2 may go out for critique, if I like the bones but would like feedback on how to wrestle the story out. Or I may wait a few more drafts while I privately wrestle the story in a pool of Jello. It's very private.
5.                  Revise! Critique! Sweat! Revise! Critique! Jello! Revise!
6.                  Submit when I think I've achieved polish and hope I researched a publisher who will agree. (usually repeat steps 5 & 6)

It looks like a linear process, but it's actually blobby. I tend to work in surges where I've given myself a deadline (real or imagined) which causes a flurry of editing or writing or ideating. I rarely focus on one piece but rather keep many pieces wet with ink.

Question 3: Who are the authors you most admire?

Well, I'm embarrassed to admit this question required a trip to the library. I have a lot of favorite picture books, but this question asked about authors.   

I love This Moose Belongs to Me, and now that I have checked out the entire Oliver Jeffers collection from the library I can say he is an author I admire. His stories are simple and quirky and meaningful.

I adore reading Kitten's First Full Moon and Little White Rabbit to my youngest daughter.  I borrowed a bunch of Kevin Henkes, and I'll say I admire "modern Henkes." His last decade or so of books are simple and sweet and thoughtful.

I admire Ame Dyckman both for the simplicity of the unlikely friendship in Boy+Bot and also because she has unlocked the secret spell to create picture book magic with 3 (4 now?) more picture books on the way. One to watch!

Now it's my turn to tag 3 writers:  

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