Christmas, Creativity

STORYSTORM: Thoughts on Christmas Ornaments and Story Sparks!

Right now, I’m “undressing” our Christmas tree. It’s not one of my favorite tasks because by the time I do it the sparkle of Christmas is usually long gone. But this year is different. I’m really enjoying the process this year. And I think the difference is that tonight, as I undress the tree, my mind is whirring with “STORYSTORM” ideas.

For those of you unfamiliar with the word, STORYSTORM is the brainchild of picture book author, Tara Lazar, who wanted to create a month for picture book writers, and now writers in all genres, to focus on brainstorming story ideas for future projects. During STORYSTORM month, which takes place during January of each month, writers are inspired to brainstorm new ideas with daily blog posts by prominent and up-and-coming children’s authors. The posts are inspiring and fun to read and the challenge – to come up with one new story idea each day – is exhilerating! I’ve participated almost  every year and a couple of those story prompts have even resulted in picture books that have been published including, most recently, DIVA DELORES AND THE OPERA HOUSE MOUSE!

And tonight, as I undress the tree, I can hardly keep my imagination in tow because almost every ornament on the tree has some story to tell, and any one of those stories could very well be the spark for my next bestseller! I’m joking, of course, but … not really… I mean it is possible, right?

Take a look at this ornament, for example. I bought it for my son the Christmas after he took his first ride on the Staten Island Ferry, and now my mind is flooded with memories of Staten Island boat rides, and the wonder of seeing the Statue of Liberty for the first time, and the wonderful bounce and rhythm of the waves as we crossed from Staten Island to the southern tip of Manhattan. Is there a story here? Maybe. That’s why I’ve paused from “undressing” to free write in my journal.

And see this cowboy boot ornament? To you it’s just a boot, but I remember that my mom bought these (there are two) for my children the Christmas after we visited them in Colorado and they each got a pair of cowboy boots. Miss A wore hers every single day, and no matter what her attire – be it flouncy dress or blue jeans -those boots made a statement. They said, I’m here and I’m ready to make the most of whatever this day brings. Is there a story here? Maybe. That’s why I’ve paused from “undressing” to free write in my journal.

To you this ornament might seem odd. After all, who hangs baskets filled with blueberries on their tree? My mom purchased this ornament for us in memory of fun summers picking blueberries in New England, and my mind is once again flooded with images of granite rock flanked by scrubby blueberry bushes. And my taste buds are watering at the memory of fresh baked muffins. Is there a story here? Maybe. That’s why I’ve paused from “undressing” to free write in my journal.

Here’s my parting thought for tonight, and then I really need to finish undressing this tree. Is there an ornament on your tree, or perhaps some little trinket or artifact sitting somewhere on a shelf in your house, that is full of meaning and might just be the key to unlocking your next story or poem? Well, why are you just sitting there staring at the screen? Go find it… and write all about it because, maybe just maybe, there’s something there that will be the spark that leads to an amazing new story. Have fun!

And now back to undressing that tree. I have a feeling it’s going to be a long night. =) Happy STORYSTORMING!

Book Launch, Extension Activity, Interview


IMG_0764Thank you, Katey Howes, for interviewing me on your blog today.  Join us as we chat about creating extension activities for picture books.  (Oh, and there’s a giveaway!)

Creativity, Writing

The POWER of LISTS: Getting Your Creative Juices Flowing

IMG_0336I am a list maker and have been all my life. As a child I wrote lists of what I wanted for Christmas and birthdays. I also kept lists of the books I read. I was a proud member member of the “Newbery Award Club” – group of kids dedicated to reading every Newbery to date.

My mother was a list maker too. And so was her mother. I know this because my mother insisted that I make packing lists before traveling and showed me how to do it. And my grandmother kept lists on index cards documenting every single dinner party she ever hosted, who came, what time they arrived, and what she served. I have those index cards and I’ve actually been contemplating resurrecting one of her dinner menus just for fun.

But I digress. Back to lists. Now that I’m in my mid-forties, and somewhat forgetful at times, I keep daily lists to help me remember the things I need to do. I have a list of all the places I have lived. For awhile, I kept a list of every new word I learned.  And I still keep lists of the books I have read and the books I want to read. This post actually is becoming a list of all the kinds of lists I like to make.

The point is – I couldn’t survive without lists. Neither could my writing. Flip through any journal of mine and you will see lists. Lists of potential story ideas. Lists of potential character names. Lists of favorite memories. Lists of craft ideas and poem ideas. You name it, I’ve listed it. Indeed, lists have become one of  my go-to strategies for combatting writer’s block. But even after I have an idea and the creative juices are flowing, lists play a crucial role in developing that idea. As I wrote GOODNIGHT, ARK,  for instance, I paused many times to make lists. I wrote lists of fun rhyming pairs and vivid animal sounds. I made lists of cozy bedtime words and fiercesome storm words. And, as I point out to students at school visits, those lists helped immensely! Indeed, many of the words and ideas generated in those lists appear in the final version.

Are you a list maker too? If not, why not give list-making a try this week as a way to get those creative juices flowing! Have fun!

Publishing, Reading

GUEST BLOG: Using Family History to Tell a Story with Middle Grade Author DARLENE BECK JACOBSON

invitation 1Today I’m delighted to have middle-grade author Darlene Beck Jacobson as my guest. Darlene’s debut historical novel, WHEELS OF CHANGE (Creston Books, 2014), was recently named as on of the Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People 2015 by the National Council for Social Studies (NCSS) and the Children’s Book Council (CBC). And just last week it was selected as one of  the 2014  Mighty Girl Books. Darlene’s delightful novel was inspired by a bit of family history and an old family artifact.  Today I have invited her to shed a little first-hand light on finding inspiration very close to home. Take it away, Darlene!

It’s been said that everyone has a story to tell.  I’ll go one step further and say our ancestors have great stories to tell.  Just because our grandparents and great grandparents are no longer with us, or weren’t famous, doesn’t mean their lives weren’t interesting.  I’d be willing to bet that everyone’s family has a person, event or incident that could be the catalyst for a novel or short story.

While researching my own family tree, I discovered two interesting facts.  The first was that my paternal great grandfather worked as a carriage maker in Washington DC at the turn of the Twentieth Century.  He worked on carriages for prominent people in DC such as John Philip Sousa.  The second fact was that his daughter – my grandmother – received an invitation to a reception at the White House and met Theodore Roosevelt.  That invitation is in the family scrapbook.

Think about that.  It’s not every day any of us gets to meet and socialize with a president.  It wasn’t long after discovering these tidbits that I came up with this premise:  What would happen if a girl – who adores her Papa’s carriage business and wants to become a blacksmith – sees the emergence of automobiles as threatening to that business.  What lengths would she go to keep that business from closing down?  Would she go all the way to the President?

With that premise, my middle grade historical novel WHEELS OF CHANGE was born.

ImageThink of the places your ancestors grew up in or originated from.  What is unique about those settings?  What kind of occupations did they have?  It is safe to say there are few carriage makers left today, just as there would be few telegraph operators, stagecoach drivers or telephone switchboard operators.  But you can bet kids would find those occupations interesting and maybe even exciting.  What did grandma eat as a kid?  What games did grandpa play?  All these bits and pieces of our ancestors’ lives have the potential to be a good story for today’s kids.

So, let the skeletons out of the closets.  Dust off grandpa’s war diary; go through that ancient box of trinkets.  Examine the old black and white photos and letters from your family’s past.  Somewhere under the dust of time, is a gem – a gold nugget – waiting to become your next story.

Thank you, Grandma for saving that White House invitation.  I wonder what grandma said to President Roosevelt at that reception.  Maybe that’s another story.

Happy digging!

blog tour photo

To learn more about Darlene Beck Jacobson visit her website . To see the WHEELS OF CHANGE book trailer, find out more about the book including where to purchase it, press here. Darlene is also active on Twitter and Facebook

Creativity, Inspiration, Writing


IMG_2904I love peanut butter, especially slathered on a slice of toasted whole grain bread.  It’s tasty, but even more pertinent to my point today, it’s sticky! That inherent stickiness makes it ideal for securing tasty add-ons like cranberries, dried apricots, and apple chunks. My kids like it too because it turns eating into art! Take a look, for example, at the tasty, yet artistic, peanut butterfly we made using two small slices of sourdough bread, peanut butter, and an assortment of edible delights.

I challenge you, however, to try and get apple bits or cranberries to stay put on plain old bread. It doesn’t work! Without the peanut butter they just roll off.

As a writer, I firmly believe that peanut butter is to bread what the pen is to paper. That’s why, as a writer, I always bring  my peanut butter, a.k.a. pen,  and a nice compact loaf of bread, a.k.a. notebook, wherever I go. I usually stuff these essentials in a pocket or stash them in my purse. Actually, it really doesn’t matter how I carry them, as long they are easily accessible, so that when cranberries, a.k.a tasty bits of inspiration, hit me, I can quickly, take out my peanut butter and capture the goodness onto the bread before it rolls away and disappears forever.

Anyone else like to carry peanut butter and bread around?

Happy slathering, er writing, all!

Inspiration, Writing

FAIRY WASH: Thoughts on Capturing Ideas

IMG_2224My daughter, age eight, is convinced there are fairies living in our neighbor’s yard. For one thing, the dense flower beds and towering trees are perfect spots for fairy houses. We’ve even had a couple of unconfirmed sightings of dainty creatures with wings flying near the daisies. They may have been dragonflies, but you never know. The clincher, though, is that early the other morning, while walking the dog, I spotted fairy wash out to dry on our neighbor’s lawn.  I’m talking sheets and towels, blankets and pilllow cases. How do I know it was fairy wash? Well, I recognized it immediately from my own childhood, when my grandmother showed me fairy wash on her front lawn.  Fairy wash is distinctive because  it sparkles.

Skeptics think fairy linens are simply dew-dazzled spider webs, but my daughter and I know better. That’s why  when I returned from my walk, I grabbed my daughter (and camera) and hurried back so we could prove conclusively that fairies do indeed live in our neighborhood.

We were too late.  The fairy wash was no where insight.  It had evaporated, or rather, already been taken in by those elusive fairies. The next morning, intent on succeeding my daughter joined me on my early morning walk. Lo and behold, the fairies had again been busy with their wash and we now offer you our proof that they do indeed exist (see picture above).

As writers, there is a lesson to be learned here.  Ideas, after all, are kind of like fairy wash. If we don’t capture them right away, they might evaporate. That’s why I try to always carry not only my camera (so I can snap shots of those elusive fairies) but also my trusty tiny notebook.  It’s so small, there’s no excuse not to have it along at all times.  How about you?  Have you got that notebook ready so you can capture your next dazzling idea before it evaporates?

Happy writing, all!

Creativity, Inspiration

The BOWLING BALL: Finding Creativity in the Crud

IMG_0344Lately, my 12 year old and I have been taking after-dinner walks together.  The excuse, not that we need one, is that our sweet dog prefers walking in a little pack.  She clips along faster and sniffs with greater joy when my son is along.  Maybe that’s because he, too, loves exploring. Whereas, I skirt fallen trees or babbling creeks, my son and dog see those as opportunities to investigate.

It was on one of these  back-woods adventures that my son spotted his latest “must-have” treasure. I don’t even know how it caught his eye, for it was almost completely buried beneath spring grass and old decaying leaves at the base of a tall oak.  “Yuck, don’t touch it!” I started to say, but it was too late. He was already holding the cruddy old bowling ball snug against his shirt with two hands. It was so worn, it didn’t even have paint on it. In fact, it looked rather prehistoric, a stony rain-pitted sphere with three finger holes.

Of course, he wanted to keep it. But, you have to understand our basement and back yard are already full of found-treasures. There’s the old shutter my son turned into a ramp and the old lawnmower wheels that, with an old discarded crate, became a wagon. Then up in his room, we have more “upcycled” creations including a space vehicle made from straws, clay, and old juice cartons.

So, in a selfish attempt to preserve some aura of serenity and beauty at home, I said, “No, honey, it’s just more clutter.”

Then, bless his freckles, he sighed, “Come on, Mom. Please? I’m a creative kid. I’ll invent a new lawn game or something.”

And, you guessed it, I caved (pun intended). But I’m actually glad we took that ball home. Not only has it inspired lots of fun outdoor play, it has also reminded me that inspiration can be found everywhere, even in the seeming grit and crud of daily life. Arguably, the best ideas are the ones that seem a little messy at first.  They’re the ones that end up gripping the reader with their unexpected freshness.

This week, don’t overlook that messy bit of inspiration that comes your way. Instead, lug it home. Roll it around, wrestle with it, let it sit in the living room, grit and all, and maybe, just maybe it’ll inspire your creative side in new and unexpected ways.

Happy Writing!

Guest Blog, Inspiration, Writing

GUEST BLOG: How Nature Inspires Writing with Michelle Lord

Mockingbird Chicks
Mockingbird Chicks

Today I am delighted to have talented children’s book author, and trusted critique partner, Michelle Lord as my guest.  Join me in celebrating the launch of  her latest picture book, NATURE RECYCLES, HOW ABOUT YOU?  Take it away, Michelle!

I am a writer. I collect scraps of ideas and create. With patience and nurturing, ideas become stories.

A few springs ago, I noticed an interesting nest in my yard. A pair of House Finches had built their home from yard scraps, twigs, twine and leaves. I looked closely and saw white curls. They had woven my dog’s fur into their nest! This got me to thinking about recycling and reuse. The birds had reused the discarded fur in a new way. Recycling had already been on my mind from research I’d done on carbon footprints and the three R’s: reduce, reuse and recycle. These inspirations led to my latest picture book, Nature Recycles, How About You?Recycle copy

First drafts can feel like weeds, ugly and sparse. Mine usually do. Poet Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “And what is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered…” I like this point of view.

Next comes the honeymoon phase. The writer thinks, this the most wonderful story–ever. This reminds me of a friend. Recently, she took a quiet moment to appreciate nature and admire a butterfly. Later, after cleaning the window she discovered her butterfly to be nothing more than debris caught in a spider web. This is what critique groups are for, pointing out the debris.

I share my manuscripts with trusted critique partners. They help me discover the virtues in my stories. They may not bloom right away, but with lots of thought and revision, they might.

And then there are the times when no ideas come… But I need not look further than my backyard for ideas and inspiration.

I look forward to other springs with countless inspirations: a family of killdeer nesting in my rock garden or a colony of bees resting on its way to a new hive. Just this week, fragile, new leaves emerged from the pear tree buds in my yard. How does nature inspire you?

Michelle Lord HeadshotMichelle Lord wrote her first stories in elementary school. Her latest book Nature Recycles comes out with Sylvan Dell this month. Her other books include Tide Pool Trouble, Little Sap and Monsieur Rodin, and the award-winning A Song for Cambodia. Besides writing, Michelle also enjoys reading, photography and spending time with her family. She finds inspiration in her backyard in Texas.

Inspiration, Writing

TILES: Hidden Treasures, Found!

Two years ago, after standing for almost 90 years, one of our town’s old brick schools was torn down. Though I never stepped inside the school, I always admired its gracious steps, tall windows and the bow-windowed kindergarten room that poked out the side. I didn’t know this at the time, but at the heart of the old kindergarten room stood a fireplace.

In the weeks before demolition, former teachers and students stopped by the school to say their final goodbyes. Some took pictures. Others just looked and remembered. But one group did more. Our town’s Historic Preservation Advisory Board not only remembered that the kindergarten class contained a grand and beautifully tiled fireplace, they took steps to preserve it. And, in the process of dismantling the fireplace tile by tile, they discovered some small tiles, long-forgotten and covered with thick paint.

Now free of paint, the re-discovered tiles each depict a different animal, colorfully rendered in thick hand-glazed strokes. This week, I discovered those tiles on display in a modest little case at our public library. And to my delight, in addition to celebrating the story of their preservation, the exhibit included reproduction tiles available for purchase! I purchased several which now hang in my kitchen.

Like that old school, our lives, too, are full of forgotten treasures. And from a writer’s perspective, those tiles are a good reminder that the best ideas often require digging a little deeper into ourselves, scratching beneath the surface of first impressions to find memories worth exploring and sharing. May this week be full of forgotten treasures – found!