Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Where Does a New Writer Start?

I got a question recently from a writer which basically said:
 "I'm new to writing picture books. Where do I start?"

To which I said, "You know I'm not published right?" 

But her questions reminded me of myself just a year ago. So maybe a newbie like me is a great person to lay out those first steps while they are still fresh in my mind.  

There's the short answer of course, which is to write. But wouldn't that be dreadfully snide to say to someone?  So here we go with the long answer which is going to take about 3 blog posts J

"Where do I start?"
Beyond a blank piece of paper and pencil,
joining SCBWI, creating achievable goals,
and reading are great places to start.
(Image by Constantina Dirica via

Join SCBWI, the Society for Children's Books Writers and Illustrators. The first year membership fee of $85 gets you a bimonthly magazine, access to the website full of information, connections for critique groups and events in your region. This is the first step after you say, "I want to be a children's writer." You will feel different after making this commitment.

"I'm really overwhelmed."

Honestly, this is overwhelming, because you want to do something you aren't trained to do. Everything you learn will be new. This will be true for a long time. You're welcome. :D

To transition your emotion from "overwhelmed" to "happily excited," think of this time as nourishing yourself rather than putting yourself on a rocketship to publication planet.  If you get on a rocketship right now, it is more likely to end in a blazing crash than a contract. 

So why put yourself through that turmoil? Give yourself the time and space to learn and enjoy the journey. Set reasonable first year goals.  "Draft three 500 word manuscripts." "Read 200 picture books this year." 

"There is so much information out there."
Yep, there is a lot of information out there, and unfortunately it isn't all good. And you don't have time to read it all. So you need to find the good stuff. It's hard to pick a few, but let's start with:

3 books on writing for children:

It's a Bunny Eat Bunny World, by Olga Litowinsky

Writing Picture Books, By Ann Whitford Paul

3 blogs for beginners:
Harold Underdown's Site, The Purple Crayon (Harold also has the book "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Publishing Children's Books" which is very good. See how I snuck another book in!)

Kathy Temean's Writing & Illustrating.  Kathy posts daily with tidbits on the industry, craft, events, and contests. 

Cynthea Liu's Writing for Children and Teens.  (You can buy her book if you prefer the easy format but most of the information can be found by just reading through her blog). 

Next week we will look at getting organized, setting a schedule and tracking goals & actions!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

On Flying & the Pursuit of Control

I took a flying lesson last weekend. I know I'm amazing, fearless, like Amelia Earhart, blah, blah, blah.
         I did feel pretty fearless ... after getting off the plane at the end.  I did not feel fearless on my third bathroom visit prior to boarding the tiny Cessna as I cursed Groupon for making flying a small plane with my husband seem like a good idea.   
Could my smile be more forced?
The flight instructor was brave to
snap photos while I was at the helm. 
         I had a steady balance of fear and excitement, which probably wasn't surprising. The thing that did surprise me about flying was the relationship to air.
         "Well, duh," you're saying.
         But really, holding the yoke (that's the steering wheel thingy) is not a smooth experience like driving a car on a straight road.  It's more like driving one of those old time cars at an amusement park, where the wheels hit the metal track in the middle and you veer left, then right, then left again. 
         You are both working with and fighting against the wind at all times. That's the thing about air: it just does its own thing. And you need it to do that.  You need it to push down on the wings and also hold them up. 
         But it doesn't know (or care) what you want to do.  If you want to go left, it may push you right, making you fight for the left turn. If you want to climb, it may hold you down, making you pull harder on the yoke to gain the altitude.
For you pareidolia fans:
clouds on the water
         Though I was at the controls, I never really felt in control. Though I tried to grip the wheel into submission, I found I had to loosen up and let go (actually, the instructor had to gently remind me several times that my knuckles were turning white.) This is a hard lesson for a control freak like me.
         In the plane, I could only move the wheel and the pedals.  As a writer, I can't control publishers, readers, agents, fate, luck... I can really only control my pen and paper. (Goodness knows even my computer has a mind of its own too.) 
         Sometimes the wind will push you down, and when the wind is too strong, it may seem impossible to write at all. And sometimes the right character, the right feedback, the right opportunity will push your wings to the sky and you'll soar.  All you have to do is let go.

         So what's the dumbest thing Groupon has made you do?? : )

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

7 Submissions in July Challenge

I have been floating aimlessly through the summer, slightly overwhelmed by all the fun I'm forced to have and having a hard time finding time to write. Actually, the last few weeks the extreme heat has even turned my floating into more of a slow melting. If it was hard to write while busy with fun, it is even worse gooey.

(image by Constantina Dirica via
Has my ability to write ended?  Clearly I don't have what it takes to be a writer, because a little bit of sunshine is enough to undo me!  How can I make progress with sun lotion on my hands, blinking lightning bugs, and the roar of happy laughter?

I even turned my malaise into this delightful poem:

            Ahh, summer-
            You cunning knave,
            Tempting me with warm sun,
            Tricking me into hula hooping,
            Calling me to the beach...
            While quietly, sneakily, devilishly
            Stealing my writing time
            Right from under my nose.
            --By Lauri Meyers, 2013

Then déjà vu swept over me. Perusing last year's blog posts, it seems I felt exactly the same way last July 18th when I challenged myself to send 10 submissions in July.

The power of a tough goal with a deadline spurred me into action, and somehow I was able to meet that challenge (though it seems entirely unreasonable right now.)

The one problem with the goal last year was "10" had no significance.  So this year I'm proclaiming "7 Submissions in July!" Y'know, because July is the seventh month.

What's that?

Well, yes, 7 is less than 10.

No, I'm most certainly not being chicken; 7 has significance.

At least I didn't do "8 in August" to get an extra 4 weeks.  

Now, now, stop that! Your loud clucking is distracting me from finishing this blog post.

So who will join me in making a submission goal this July?

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Picture Books in the Wild

          My family ventured into the great outdoors for a camping weekend recently. The girls had a blast swimming in a too-nice-for-a-campground pool, catching fish who jumped on the hook without much coaxing, and a playground with an old-school merry-go-round (which mom rode for quite awhile only to remember her accelerated age causes dizziness and nausea on spinny things.)
            Even though I wasn't writing on our trip, picture book images kept appearing.
Take for instance this celebrity:

       Yes, the Very Hungry Caterpillar himself!  And my oh my it looks like he has been filling up on hotdogs and s'mores and cheeseballs. The girls, assuming he had a tummy ache, gave him a nice green leaf. 
       After proudly showing him to the boys at the next site (carefully, too - boys squish things,) we placed him in a tree to enjoy a nice green leaf. It has been about two weeks, so he may be becoming a beautiful butterfly very soon. Or actually a beautiful moth - this guy may be a luna moth caterpillar, but I had a hard time identifying him.  
       And this guy dressed to the nines for camping? 

       Why that's Fantastic Mr. Fox. Yes, Roald Dahl's patriarch of patriarchs was out enjoying the splendid weather.  He has found dropped ice cream sandwiches from small children leaving the camp store are almost as delightful as a fat chicken. 

            Now this guy visited us at breakfast. 
        As I moved my hand to shoo him away from the cocoa pebbles he jumped into the air and with a "click" was dead!  Now, I know what you're thinking since there have been bug incidents on this blog before, but I didn't shoo him hard, really I didn't. I didn't even touch the guy, I swear! I am nothing but kind to bugs, except on certain occasions

         I considered that he may have had an allergic reaction to chocolate, the poor fellow.  But after a few minutes he flipped himself over and started moving again.  The little stinker was playing dead!  After all the sorrow I felt, here I was the butt of his joke. This was my first time meeting a click beetle, and I thought maybe he was inspiration for a new picture book. But, alas, I found Mr. Carle has done a nice job with the Very Clumsy Click Beetle
      Have you found picture books coming to life around you, too?

Friday, July 5, 2013

The Monstore Photo Contest

Two of the first children's writers I met in person were Marcie Colleen and Tara Lazar at a NJ SCBWI event last fall.  Tara is the fabulous host of PiBoIdMo, Picture Book Idea Month, which has given me 30 fabulous picture book ideas to work on this year.

So when Marcie throws a party to celebrate the launch of Tara's new book The Monstore, it's time to party!

Marcie asked everyone to pick the monster they would buy at The Monstore, name him, and decide what his talent is. The kids wanted to play too.

(The Monstore illustrations
by James Burks)

My 5yo likes this pink one (um, yeah, probably because it's pink. She's pretty consistent on pinkness) with the big smile. She named it "Nada," which I think is short for Nada Scary Monster!  My daughter can be a little shy, so Nada's special talent is saying "hello" to new people my daughter is too shy to meet on her own. (Awww!)
(The Monstore illustrations
by James Burks)

My 3yo likes this blue unicorn monster who she named Duddlefish. I have no idea why she named him that. Did I mention she is 3? She said he can "fly her over rainbows." Yep, she's a bit of a girly-girl too.

(The Monstore illustrations
by James Burks)
My favorite is this green blob. Green is my favorite color, and it doesn't hurt that he was 1/2 off and I'm a sucker for a deal!

I'm naming him EyeTooted, because his talent is claiming any, um, toots you may accidentally let fly.

(The Monstore illustrations
by James Burks)
Let's say you are up at the board trying to solve an equation. You're trying so hard, you forget to control your bodily functions and a little fart slips out. Your monster says "Sorry, I tooted" saving you from complete and utter public humiliation!

I don't know how anyone could survive middle school without him.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Uncle Alfred's Apple Pie - Susanna Hill Fourth of July Contest

Susanna Hill is hosting the 4th Of July Secret Mystery Writing Contest. I can never resist her short story contests, especially when she gives us plenty of time to allow my procrastination to shine and a word limit which causes the homicide of several characters (my apologies bossy Emma and hungry Kenny.)
ThContest:  Write a children's story, in poetry or prosemaximum 400 words 
about the 4th of July in which a secret is revealed or a mystery is solved!

Uncle Alfred's Apple Pie
By Lauri C. Meyers

            "Happy Fourth!" Uncle Alfred said.
            Jaden jumped up to see what exciting treat her world-traveling uncle brought to the party this year.
            "What did you bring?" she asked.
            "Apple pie," he said.
            "Apple pie?" Jaden said. "Not Tabasco fried crickets? Not squid jello? Not tofu frog legs that taste like chicken?"
            "Your mom asked for apple pie," he said.
            Jaden realized he wasn’t carrying a pie. Maybe it was an apple pie so exotic, he hid it! She peeked through his car windows, but she didn't see an apple pie.
(image by Robert Linder via
    Jaden returned to her flag decorations.
    "Argh, they keep falling over!" she said.
    "Try this," Uncle Alfred said. The ball of dough held the flag up perfectly. It also smelled good, so Jaden tried a nibble. The saltiness reminded her of the hidden apple pie.
     Jaden snuck to the kitchen. She found her bubbles, but no apple pie.

(image by milan6 via
         She tried to blow bubbles.   
         "Ick, bubbles on my lips," she said.
         "Try this," Uncle Alfred said sprinkling something in the bubbles. Jaden blew a bubble which glittered in the sun. She caught a sparkly bubble on her tongue. The sweetness reminded her of the hidden apple pie.
         Jaden checked the dessert table- cake, cookies, and jello (without squid), but no apple pie.

(image by calderilla via
       Boom! Boom! Fireworks popped overhead. But instead of sparks of light, apple slices exploded in the sky. Jaden bit into one slightly roasted apple, which reminded her of the hidden apple pie.
       "Uncle Alfred, where's the apple pie?!" Jaden cried.
       "Sorry, Jaden. I made your mom's pie recipe and put it in a bag," Uncle Alfred said. "But it was so boring, I hid it."  Jaden smiled. It was hidden!

        "What do you mean "in a bag?" Mom asked.  
        "Your recipe," Uncle Alfred pulled out a recipe card. "6 apples (sliced), pie dough, ½ cup sugar and ½ teaspoon cinnamon. I put everything in a bag."
         "How long did you bake it?" Mom asked.
         "Bake it?" Alfred asked.
         Jaden turned the card over. "Place dough in pan. Add apples, cinnamon, and sugar and cover with dough. Bake for 60 minutes"
         "Oh, that doesn't sound boring," Uncle Alfred said.
         "Where is this bag of pie now?" Mom asked.
         "I know!" Jaden said, "He hid dough under the flags, hid cinnamon-sugar in the bubbles, and hid apple slices in the fireworks. It wasn’t a boring apple pie after all, Uncle Alfred!"

Happy 4th of July everyone!
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