TEAPOT or PERCOLATOR: What Kind of Writer Are You?

It doesn’t matter if you prefer coffee or tea. That’s really beside the point. I’m guessing, though, that as a writer you are either a percolator, a tea pot or – like me – a bit of both.

Most of the time, I am a percolator. That is, I like to reflect on new stories and poems before writing a first draft. When “percolating” I always keep a pen and notebook handy so I can jot down ideas. I make lists, play with possible plot twists, settings, points-of view etc.  For example, with both Goodnight, Ark and Goodnight, Manger, I filled almost two notebooks with ponderings and word play before I actually sat down and wrote the stories.  Once I was ready to write, I wrote the first drafts of each in one sitting.

I guess you could say at that point, I turned into a teapot!  When I’m in teapot mode, poems and stories just flow, sometimes even overflow out of me. This outpouring often occurs at the most inconvenient times -when I’m cooking, or in the middle of the night. But when it does, I just let my mind shift into story/poem mode and I go with it. Writing in earnest becomes my priority – because once that tea is pouring out of me, it’s impossible to stop. I don’t worry about getting words down perfectly. I just write down the story that’s pouring out as fast as I can. (Occasionally, dinner gets a little overcooked, but don’t worry everyone gets fed.)

But teapot stories are not ready to drink yet. Far from it. Instead, after completing each teapot burst, I turn back into a percolator again, with intermittent bursts of teapot. I repeat this percolator/teapot process again and again until every word and moment pushes the story or poem forward in a fun meaningful way.

Finally it’s time for the finishing touches. At this point, I think rather than teapot or percolator, I become like a fine wine taster- sniffing and swishing – to make sure each sentence, phrase, and plot turn has just the right – je ne sais quoi – so that the story is magnifique – or at least as magnifique as I can make it-before I send it off to my agent to review.

So, dear writing friends, which are you – percolator or teapot?   Happy writing all!

Note: Over the summer, I will be sharing some of my favorite analogies from years past as I stockpile new ones for the fall and beyond. This oldie but goodie was first published in January 2017. I was reminded of it one morning this past week because my husband was percolating coffee while I was steeping tea! I’ve updated the picture with LOVE IS KIND since I love the teapot Miss A made me to celebrate the release of the hardcover and I’m looking forward to the release of the board book in just a few weeks – August 6th!

AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: Writing on Assignment with Children’s Author Shari Barr (and a GIVEAWAY!)

There are many paths to publication. And today, I’m delighted to have children’s author Shari Barr as my guest, sharing her experience writing on assignment. I found her post so encouraging and I hope you will too. Thank you, Shari, for sharing your experience! (And thank you, also, the giveaway opportunity!) Take it away!

My First Big Break—Writing on Assignment

by Shari Barr

Breaking into traditional publishing isn’t always easy, but there are lesser-known ways to get your foot in the door. Many major publishers develop series in-house and then hire authors to write it. I landed my first fiction deal in a work-for-hire agreement.  

Not only was it great fun, I also learned tons about the publishing world and walked away with four books to my credit.

Several years ago I learned about Barbour Publishing’s new Camp Club Girls mystery series through a Christian newsletter I received. After contacting the editor and expressing interest in possibly writing for them, I was invited to submit a sample chapter and subsequently contracted, along with five other authors, to write the 24-book series.

Each writer was assigned one of the six main characters in the series. My books were all written from the viewpoint of McKenzie Phillips, a witty, thirteen-year-old from Montana. Each writer was given a brief synopsis of our assigned books, but we were able to make each one our own. Since I’m a farm girl and saw the need for more farm related stories in children’s literature, I created McKenzie’s character to fit the mold of a modern farm girl. Of course, a few plot elements were inspired by some of my most memorable childhood stunts, except I made her a lot more fun. 

The characters in the series meet while sharing a cabin at church camp. In book one the roomies use their individual skills to solve a mystery they’ve encountered at camp. In each of the following books, two girls meet at various locations around the country to solve a mystery. The remaining four girls help sleuth by using cell phones and computers. Oh, and I must give credit to Biscuit, the wonder dog, who uses his canine detective skills to provide clues.

My first three books of the Camp Club Girls series, McKenzie’s Montana Mystery, McKenzie’s Oregon Operation, and McKenzie’s Branson Brainteaser released in 2010 and 2011. McKenzie’s Montana Mystery was reprinted in Get a Clue! Camp Club Girls, a special 3 stories in one volume, and released in 2012. Camp Club Girls: McKenzie released April 1, 2019, a four-in-one volume containing all McKenzie titles, including my fourth book, McKenzie’s Iowa History Mystery.

I may not be a household name, but when fan mail comes in from little girls, it’s all worthwhile.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Shari Barr always dreamed of being a writer. She was raised on a farm spending many summer days hiding in her treehouse, reading her stack of library books. When her pile dwindled (usually the same day she checked them out,) she made her own adventures, unknowingly creating plot elements for future middle-grade novels. She has published numerous articles and devotions and wrote Sunday school and Vacation Bible School curriculum for David C. Cook. In addition to the Camp Club Girls series, she wrote Memory Maker Bible Crafts for 2nd and 3rd Grades, published by David C. Cook in 2008.

She and her husband live on a farm in in southwest Iowa not far from where she grew up. Since their son and daughter are grown, she spends her free time taking photographs of farm life and spoiling their stupendously handsome and intelligent mutt, Hank.

To view her photography, feel free to follow her Facebook page “Mama Barr’s Farm” at https://www.facebook.com/ShariHarnessBarrAuthor/

NOW FOR THE GIVEAWAY!!!

Shari has kindly offered one copy of her newest book with Barbour, “Camp Club Girls: McKenzie” to one lucky winner. If you’d like a chance to win her book, let me know by leaving a comment below. (NOTE: Must be U.S. resident with a street address (as opposed to a P.O. Box and at least 18 years old to enter.) The giveaway ends Wednesday, 7/17/19 at 12:01 am EST. The winner will be announced that day!

SPIDER WEBS: Thoughts on Weaving Stories

Lately, I’ve been noticing an abundance of spider webs dazzling in the early morning light as the first rays catch their dewy threads. Their strength and structure amaze me. Each spider web I notice follows the same basic pattern. First the spider established her outermost framework and then worked her way inward in concentric spirals until she reached the heart of the web.

There’s no doubt that there is a universality to spider webs.  But look closely and you will see that even though they share many common characteristics, each web is also a unique creation.  Each web’s shape and size varies depending on where it was woven and on the delicate dance the spinning spider performed as she leapt from anchor point to anchor point. One web I saw was spun snuggly between two slender stems of Queen Anne’s lace, stretched oblong by early fall breezes.  Another was hung high among prickly pine boughs, round and tight, so as not to get prickled, yet big enough to capture a passing fly.

As writers, it sometimes seems that every story has already been spun and that there couldn’t possibly be a new way to tell anything. Yes, it’s true, like spider webs, most stories fit into plot types and there are common structures.  There are also universal themes.  And like spiders, who all use liquid silk to build their webs, our stories too, are created using the same building blocks – words.

But does this mean originality is impossible? Not at all. Like webs, the best stories do have a universal quality about them.  But, if we listen to our inner creative spirit, something unique will unfold within that universal framework.  A spider web’s uniqueness emerges as she weaves in response to the specific setting and conditions surrounding that creation.  She also leaps and dances in a way that only she can.  Another spider spinning her web in the same spot would create a different web altogether.

So take heart as you write and listen to your deepest inner voice, the one that expresses itself in a way only you can. If you do, then I am convinced that, like a spider weaving uniquely concentric circles, you’ll weave the story as only you can.

Happy spinning all!

Note: Over the summer, I will be sharing some of my favorite analogies from years past as I stockpile new ones for the fall and beyond. This oldie but goodie was first published in October 2013. I was reminded of it this past week while visiting my dad in Lexington, VA. Each morning my husband and I took a lovely stroll through a long grass meadow on our way into town and what did we see? Hundreds and hundreds of spider webs catching the first morning rays as they shimmered in the tall grass.

PICTURE BOOKS: What Makes A Perennial Favorite?

Summer time reminds me that I LOVE perennials, those wonderful plants that bloom in my garden, season after season, where they are enjoyed by all, again and again. My favorites include my butterfly bush, the daisies, the echinacea, the black-eyed susans and, most especially, my beloved roses – that remind me of my mother who faithfully tended her to her perennials year after year. 

The joy of seeing my perennials bloom more gloriously than ever has gotten me thinking about how picture books – the good ones – are like perennials too, enjoyed by generations of kids and caregivers. 

So, what makes a picture book a perennial favorite?

I’m sure I’m just scratching the surface, but here are FIVE characteristics that I think elevate a picture book to perennial status.  What would you add? 

Characteristic #1: Perennial picture books are fun to read again and again for both kids and caregivers.  Books that have this quality tend to have fresh plot lines, fresh characters and fresh word play. They might incorporate a fun refrain or include fun sound words or rhymes, both of which engage youngest readers.  Many can also be enjoyed on more than one level, thus appealing to littlest ones and their grown up readers.

Characteristic #2: Perennial picture books have charming illustrations that engage the reader and add to the story. Children are incredibly observant and LOVE perusing illustrations for extra story clues. The extra details in perennial favorites are often related to plot or the personality of the protagonist. Sometimes, though, the illustrations engage by offering extra details. These details might be conducive to playing “I spy” as you read, or they could be humorous clues to what will happen next, or offer readers a parallel visual story as they read.  These illustrations can take many forms – but they all result in on thing – creating a magical reading experience that draws readers of all ages to return to their perennial favorites again and again.

Characteristic #3: Perennial picture books tap into universal themes that have and will most likely to continue to stand the test of time.  Perennially favorite themes include friendship, love, discovery, thankfulness, overcoming hardship etc.  However, to stand out, and remain a perennial favorite, the universal theme must be handled in a fresh and fun way. (See characteristic #1.)

Characteristic #4: In contrast to holiday-themed picture books which tend to be read just during their particular season of celebration, perennial favorites can be read and enjoyed anytime of year.  Their settings may be distinct, and usually are, but the plots of perennial favorites typically don’t focus on a particular holiday.  (Christmas picture books may be the exception because, at least in our house, my kids enjoyed several of those all year round.)

Characteristic #5: Perennial favorites often wrap up with a soothing restful ending, conducive to putting little ones to bed.  Many times this takes the form of the characters in the story literally settling down to sleep themselves, but it can also simply be a cozy feel good ending, that’s not set at bedtime, but still has that soothing, “everything’s all right” feel.

Happy reading… and I’d love to hear what you’d add to my list! 

TEA TIME: 5 Tips for Writing TEA-licious Stories!

Last week I rediscovered this antique silver contraption while going through a box of old family items. It was terribly tarnished and took twenty minutes of diligent polishing to restore its shiny charm. Can you guess what it is?  

It’s an antique silver swivel tea strainer and this is how it works:

First, select your loose tea and place desired amount into your favorite tea pot.

IMG_1306

Next, pour freshly boiled water over loose tea leaves and steep for three minutes.  

IMG_1345

If desired, cover your teapot with tea cozy to keep everything nice and toasty while the tea is steeping. (I made this one a few years ago and I use it every day.)

IMG_1541

When the tea is ready, it’s time to pour yourself a cup. Simply tip the strainer so that the tea flows freely into the cup, but the leaves don’t.

IMG_1362

When your cup is full, place the strainer upright on the table so that any remaining tea drips daintily into the tiny reservoir below.  Add milk or lemon and enjoy!

IMG_1365.jpg

Now, in celebration of loose tea and swivel tea strainers, here are five tea-fixing principles that apply to good storytelling as well.

Let steep before serving. Good stories, like tea, take time to steep. In other words, don’t rush to publication too quickly. Take time to develop your idea. Let the story sink in to your very being so that you can write from the heart.  And once that early draft is complete, take time revise and improve your story, until, like a cup of fine tea, your story flows beautifully.

Go light on the sugar.  To my taste at least, like sugar in tea, the best picture book writing is light on sugary adjectives and adverbs. Instead, I prefer to sweeten my writing with carefully chosen nouns and verbs to create tight clean sentences that draw littlest readers in with their immediacy and keep them sipping until the very last drop.

Add milk, not cream. This might be my personal issue, but I think cream, even just a splash, is too heavy for tea. Likewise, there’s nothing worse than a picture book with a heavy-handed message.  A message that helps a kid stretch and grow is good, but, done well, it will be as light and fresh as a splash of milk. 

Keep that strainer polished.  When I first rediscovered this tea strainer, it was completely tarnished.  It was hard work polishing it, so now that it’s in tip-top form, I plan to keep it that way through regular use and regular polishing. Likewise, if we want our writing to shine like silver, we need to make the commitment to write regularly so that we don’t get rusty.

A pot of tea serves two or three.  Like sharing a pot of tea, I’ve found that the writing journey just wouldn’t be the same without a nice support system. For me this includes my family and the wonderful network of like-minded children’s writers I’ve connected with over the years, many of whom have become dear friends and trusted critique partners. So, my final tea-inspired writing tip, is to find a writing buddy or two to join you on the journey! 

IMG_1364.jpg

Happy writing all!

Note: Over the summer, I will be sharing some of my favorite analogies from years past as I stockpile new ones for the fall and beyond. This oldie but goodie was first published in January 2016.

And the winner is…

I’m delighted to announce that the two winners of last week’s special giveaway, two two-book bundles of Diane Stortz’s faith-sparking devotionals: STOP AND GO DEVOTIONALS and I AM: 40 REASONS TO TRUST GOD are…

Tiffany and Katie!

Congratulations! I will be in touch so we can the books in the mail to you. Thank you to everyone who entered and to Diane for providing the books.

Blessings all!

FAITH PONDERINGS: Why Author DIANE STORTZ Writes Devotionals (and TWO giveaways!)

When I was homeschooling my sweet Miss A, we were blessed to stumble upon Diane’s I AM: 40 REASONS TO TRUST GOD (Thomas Nelson, 2016) at our local Hobby Lobby. Drawn by the cover, we added it to our cart and for the next forty school days, we began each morning by making ourselves mama/daughter tea, then reading one thought-provoking entry, delving into our bibles to check out each scripture verse she mentioned. And now I’m delighted to learn that the author, Diane Stortz, has two new devotionals out. Better yet, she’s agreed to be my guest blogger today sharing her thoughts on what inspires her to write faith-based devotionals for kids and families. Thank you so much for stopping by, Diane. Now, without further ado, here’s Diane!

THE INSPIRATION BEHIND MY DEVOTIONALS

by Diane Stortz

My five young grandchildren—all boys—live in two different states, Ohio and Georgia. Whenever they’re together, only a time or two each year, we make sure to get at least one group photo with all five. It’s fun to track their growth this way, and I love sharing the pics with other family and friends, especially those who live far away in the Pacific Northwest.

We all love sharing what’s important to us with the important people in our lives, right? We all love sharing good news. We introduce a new friend to our long-time friends because we know they’ll hit it off.

For all these reasons and more, I write devotional books.

How It Began

Nearly 20 years ago, an acquaintance invited me to a women’s group meeting in her home. The idea was to read through the Bible together in a year. The focus was simple: “Let’s get to know God.” Every Monday night we gathered to talk about what we had read the previous week. 

We enjoyed doing this so much, we did it again the next year, and the next. Others joined us.

As we read, as we discussed our questions and our insights, we began to discover what God is like—who He is and what He does. Our lives changed as we began to understand how much He loves us and that we can depend on Him.

Getting to Know God

When I write, my focus is on helping readers get to know God better, just like the focus of those women’s groups. I love walking readers through the Bible’s big story from beginning to end in age-appropriate ways. 

I AM: 40 Reasons to Trust God introduces readers to 40 different Bible stories and names of God found in the Bible, names like God All-Powerful, The Lord My Light, and Bread of Life. Each of the Bible’s names and descriptive titles for God tells us something important and meaningful about His character. 

Stop-and-Go Devotional: 52 Devotions for Busy Families takes readers through some of the Bible’s familiar events, with simple explanations, conversation starters, prayers, and activities for families on the go. (Tip: Use the material in each devotion over the course of one week. This book is truly designed to be used as you go through your busy week.)

Someone has said, “The Bible is the only book whose Author is always present as you read.” My prayer is always that my books will help readers discover the Bible and get to know the Author better on every page.

Diane Stortz is a multipublished author who writes to make God’s wonders known to the next generation. Her newest releases are Stop-and-Go Devotions: 52 Devotions for Busy Parents and God’s Words to Dream On, both from Tommy Nelson. Diane and her husband have two married daughters and five young grandchildren—all boys! Learn more at http://www.DianeStortz.com.

NOW FOR THE GIVEAWAYS!!!

Diane has kindly offered two book bundles containing one copy of her STOP AND GO DEVOTIONAL and one copy of I AM: 40 REASONS TO TRUST GOD for me to giveaway to two lucky winners. If you’d like a chance to win one of these book bundles, let me know in a comment below. (NOTE: Must be U.S. resident with a street address (as opposed to a P.O. Box and at least 18 years old to enter.) The giveaway ends Tuesday, 6/25/19 at 12:01 am EST. The winner will be announced the next day!

SPECIAL TREAT: Inspiring Young Writers… in Australia!

SO SPECIAL! A lovely 3rd grade teacher from Australia reached out to me because her students are writing their own stories and she thought it would be special if they could meet an author and ask questions about writing. We tried to make it “live” but couldn’t get a good connection, so instead I sent them a short video introducing myself and welcoming them to ask me questions via email. On Friday, Ireceived their questions and they are WONDERFUL and I thought you might enjoy reading a few of them. I’m also including a short excerpt from my video chat with them. What a marvelous use of technology and the former teacher in me LOVED sharing my joy of writing with the next adorable generation “down under”!

First, the video clip:

Now a picture from their end along with the sweet thank you notes they penned on the class white board:

Finally, three of their amazing questions, along with my responses. (There were 26 in all.)

How does it feel being an author? (Lauren)

It takes a lot of discipline and you have to have thick skin because it takes a lot of rejections before a story is accepted by a publisher. All that hard work feels good, though. Plus, it’s a chance to see the world through writer’s eyes and that brings me joy.  I love being an author.

 Are any of the characters in your books describe you or a family member? (Ava)

I would say that the characters or, more typically, the events in my stories often describe things that have happened in our family. For example, the scene in LOVE IS KIND where the tooth fairy has forgotten to come was inspired by a very traumatic situation in our house when the tooth fairy forgot to come as well. Don’t worry, though, because in both the story and in real life, it all worked out in the end.

Were you shy about the idea of other people reading your stories and books? (Taleeya)

I was a bit at first – especially when the first reviews of the books came out! Now, though, I treasure the idea of children and their parents enjoying my books at story time. They were a joy to write I hope they bring joy to others who read them.

(And the other 23 questions were just as thoughtful. Well done, girls!)

HAPPY READING AND WRITING, ALL!

And the Winner is…

I’m delighted to announce that the winner of last week’s special giveaway, a brand new copy of Amy Hout’s picture book, GOD’S PROTECTION COVERS ME, published by Beaming Books, and illustrated by David Creighton-Pester is…

Annette!!!!!

Congratulations!  I will be in touch with you so we can get the book to you.

Thanks again, Amy, for stopping by to chat about the book and for providing the winning copy.  Happy reading, all!

THE AGENT SEARCH: SIX Questions for Picture Book Authors

A few weeks ago, I was asked by the organizers of the Write2Ignite Conference to write a post offering tips for seeking an agent. That post is up today. For those of you who are seeking an agent, I hope my thoughts are helpful. You can find them here. And while you are there, you might want to look into their upcoming September conference as well. It looks like a great opportunity, especially for writers with faith-themed stories, to learn more about the world of Christian children’s publishing.

As timing would have it, since penning this post, I find myself between agents, so I will be taking my own advice… at some point.

However, my first goal for the summer is to take stock of where I stand as a writer, set goals as to where I would like to be in five years, and then dedicate the summer to writing, writing, writing, with the primary joy-filling goal of building up my picture portfolio with brand new stories.

Happy Summer, all! May it be filled with the joy of seeing the world through writer’s eyes.

P.S. Remember, this journey as a writer is not to be rushed. That’s one of my core bits of advice and a good reminder for me (and maybe you, too) on this sunny spring day. And if you want to read more of my thoughts on that, read here and here.