SETTING THE GEARS IN MOTION: Writerly Thoughts inspired by my Antique Clock

In addition to the little toy train (circa 1906) that was my grandfather’s and the glass box that contains a chunk of the old-fashioned soap I helped make at the local 1740s living history museum where I volunteer, one of my favorite possessions above my fireplace is the pre-civil war mantel clock that I acquired from a dear family friend 15 or so years ago.  

Pre-electric, the clock needs to be “set in motion” each week by a steady winding of the gears using a lovely antique key, followed by a a gentle sideways nudge to the pendulum.  It’s a joy and a responsibility to do this each week, for my deliberate efforts set in motion not only a delightfully soothing tick-tock as the pendulum swings and the hands on the clock move forward second by second, but also a deeply resonant hourly chime,  set in motion by means of a coiled wire that releases a hammer that strikes the chime. 

All this winding, ticking, swinging and chiming is also a weekly reminder to me that “setting the gears in motion” is an important part in the life of a writer.  Nothing happens, writing-wise or clock-wise, if gears aren’t set in motion. In fact, with an antique clock, neglecting to set the gears in motion each week, if prolonged can freeze up the mechanics, thus destroying the lovely old-fashioned tick and gong that I so enjoy. 

Neglecting to set my writerly gears in motion on a weekly, or even daily basis, can have a similar effect. Not that my writing mechanics are destroyed, but I definitely start to feel rusty, and if I don’t do at least something to keep those gears in motion on a regular basis, it takes much longer to get back into a nice writing groove -or productive “tick-tock”, as I like to think of it. 

Now, with the holiday season upon us, it might be hard to find long stretches of time to pursue writerly passions, but not impossible!  With that in mind, and inspired by my antique mantel clock, here are FIVE ways, we can keep our writing gears in motion, even when life gets busy. 

1. If writing daily through the holidays is the goal, “setting the gears in motion” might simply mean getting up 30 minutes earlier to do just that.

2. If  trying a new genre is the goal, “setting the gears in motion”  could mean something as simple as going to the library and checking out several books in that genre and using them as mentor texts so that, either now or in the new year, you will be ready to write that first draft.

3. If getting a manuscript ready for publication is the goal, “setting the gears in motion” might mean taking thirty minutes every few days to revise again… and again… and again.

4. If publication us the goal, “setting the gears in motion” can be something as preliminary and vital as researching possible publishers or agents who might be good fits for your work… and then (when ready) sending that your best pieces off!

5. If  promoting an upcoming release is the goal, “setting the gears in motion” might mean taking daily small, but proactive, steps to set up a blog tour, arrange for book store visits, reach out to your publicist to see what they are doing etc.  

“Setting the gears in motion” doesn’t have to be big and splashy. It just needs to be intentional and weekly, or even better, daily. Take it from my clock – regular devotion to the craft we love best, pays off!  

Keep ticking and have a wonderful week!

CHRISTMAS THOUGHTS: The Inspiration behind GOODNIGHT, MANGER

Last week I had the honor of sharing my writing journey before a delightfully packed hall of residents and guests at Kendal at Lexington, the vibrant continuing care community where my dad lives.  The talk was enjoyed by all (me included, once I got over my butterflies), especially because it was accompanied by a colorful slide show.  The favorite slide by far was this one depicting two tender moments that inspired me to write GOODNIGHT, MANGER.

On the left, my daughter, then two, gently cares for her new baby doll, given to her by my mother on her birthday. It was with the same tenderness, just a couple of months later (and for several Christmases beyond that as well), that she would care for the little Baby Jesus that was part of our nativity set.  She’d carry him around the house saying things like, “Baby Jesus crying. It’s okay, Baby.”  Then she’d gently feed him or rock him and sing a lullaby. Before listening to her tender play, I’d never thought of Baby Jesus as ever crying. But, he was human (and God) and so he must have cried.  (And in GOODNIGHT, MANGER, He does!)

On the right, you can see what a noisy and unhappy participant my sweet daughter was in the Christmas Pageant held at her school when she was three. Moments after this picture was snapped, I scooped Miss A. up and enjoyed snuggling with my little angel while we watched the nativity story unfold together. There were plenty of angels that day, so it was just fine that she sat out, and the NEXT year she was happy to participate. I think, at barely three, she was overwhelmed by the packed chapel – just as Baby Jesus, in my story, was also overwhelmed by the bustling stable.

A third inspiration experience, not pictured above, was the sweet memory of singing lullabies to Baby Jesus with my kids. Miss A. and I even recorded ourselves doing it once, so we could share the moment with my parents who lived half a country away. You can see it here:

Finally, GOODNIGHT, MANGER was prompted by a personal desire to write a fun Christmas-themed book that would center on Christ, rather than Santa, in what has become a very secularized Christmas season. I wanted to write a Christmas story that would be fun for anyone to read, but which would point them in the direction of Jesus – the real gift of Christmas.

Here’s my closing thought for the day: With only six weeks or so until Christmas, now is the time, before the hustle-bustle of the holiday season sets in, to be thoughtful and intentional about how you will share the story of Christmas with your little ones. 

With this in mind, over the course of the next few weeks, I will be sharing ideas new and old describing different ways families, teachers etc. can share the Christmas story with their children in vibrant and engaging ways. And I, of course, would be honored if GOODNIGHT, MANGER makes your list of Christ-focused stories to share with your children this Advent Season.  Blessings all! 

PUMPKIN TIME: Thoughts to Inspire Your Writing

I have always loved pumpkins. There’s something about their shape, color and flavor that makes me happy.

Here’s the proof:

1. When I was little I requested pumpkin pie instead of cake to serve at my seventh birthday party. (My mother honored the request but wisely also baked a cake because it turns out not all children like pumpkin pie at birthday parties.)

2. I’ve always enjoyed carving jack-o-lanterns, then toasting and eating the seeds.

3. I dressed my children up as jack-o-lanterns when they were babies.

4. I once did a picture book photo shoot in a pumpkin patch!

5. I currently have a pumpkin-themed picture book manuscript that’s out on submission with a handful of publishers.

5. This blog has not just one, but TWO pumpkin-themed posts!

That last bit of evidence (the two blog posts one) also proves that pumpkins don’t just make me happy, they also getting me thinking about writing and how we can make ours better. So, now, without further delay, I’d like to inspire your writing this week with my two pumpkin-themed blog posts. Pick the one that grabs you first, or read both. Either way, have a WONDERFUL pumpkin-inspired writing week!

My first pumpkin post focuses on pumpkin bread, (Yum!) with a writerly takeaway about the importance of conflict in baking good stories. It was inspired by forgetting to stir in a key ingredient. Can you guess what it was? Find out here: Pumpkin Bread: Thoughts on Baking Good Stories.

My second pumpkin post focuses on the pumpkins themselves and how the stories we write are like pumpkins. Curious? Then pop on over and enjoy this post: Pumpkin Time: Thoughts on Carving Stories.

P.S. Final thought: My daughter celebrates her birthday this week can you guess what she’s requested for her birthday breakfast? Pumpkin bread! The apple (I mean pumpkin) doesn’t fall far from the tree (I mean patch) does it? Just saying. =)

AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: Five Fun Facts about WHERE DOES A PIRATE GO POTTY? and WHERE DOES A COWGIRL GO POTTY? with Dawn Prochovnic

Today I am delighted to be hosting children’s author Dawn Babb Prochovnic as we celebrate the release of her darling companion picture books WHERE DOES A PIRATE GO POTTY? and WHERE DOES A COWGIRL GO POTTY? both illustrated by Jacob Souva and both published by West Margin Press. Congratulations! Now, without further fuss, here are FIVE, not just FUN, but truly INSPIRING FACTS about the books from the author herself.

FIVE Fun Facts About Where Does a Pirate Go Potty? & Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty?

By Dawn Prochovnic

FUN FACT #1 Where Does a Pirate Go Potty? was inspired by the antics of my son, then a toddler, now a senior in high school. 

There was a day when my son was being particularly silly, running through the house with a diaper on his bottom, a bandana on his head, and a pirate’s patch over one eye. He looked at me with an ornery twinkle in his uncovered eye, and asked in his best, pirate-y gruff toddler voice, “Where Does a Pirate Go Potty?”  I knew immediately that was the title for a book, and I started drafting a manuscript soon after. It took many years and many revisions to get this story just right, but what I continue to love about it is that each time I read it, I am instantly transported back to that memorable moment shared with my son, when he first posed that silly question to me. 

FUN FACT #2 Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty? emerged out of a writing exercise.

My pirate manuscript was a crowd-pleaser at open mics at writing conferences, and it received several close looks from different editors and publishers, but it had yet to sell. Eventually, I decided to completely reimagine the story with another main character. In 2015, I was invited to contribute a story to a beautiful picture book anthology called Oregon Reads Aloud. The primary submission guideline was that every story in the book needed to relate to Oregon in some fashion. I took a close look at my work-in-progress file, and after some encouragement from one of my critique partners, I decided to “Oregon-ize” a “first-day-of-school” story that had gotten a few editorial nibbles, but that also hadn’t sold. I LOVED the experience of revising within a structured framework. Ideas for clever revisions that fit within the Oregon theme and within my overall plot structure and rhyme pattern came relatively easily. Happily, the story was accepted for inclusion in the anthology, and I had a refreshed publication credit under my belt and a renewed sense of confidence in my writing ability.   


A couple of years later, as a writing exercise, I challenged myself to experiment with westernizing my pirate story. Unfortunately, my attempts fell flat. I eventually came to realize that I was essentially inserting a random cowboy into my pirate’s story. I needed to do some deeper work on character development. Then I had a new idea: What about a cowgirl

I found myself immediately transported back to a time when my college-aged daughter was in grade school, and her wardrobe included a bright pink pair of cowgirl boots. I paged through old photos and found the one I was looking for: A photo of my daughter dressed-up for her western-themed grade school carnival. I finally had the kernel of a new character in my mind’s eye. This character was unique and separate from the pirate character that I couldn’t let go of, and she had her own story to tell. Yee-Haw!

FUN FACT #3 I went from having no contract offers on the table for my “potty books” to having two simultaneous contract offers on the table–one for the pirate story and the other for the cowgirl story. 

Once I finished my cowgirl story, I identified a list of publishers that would be a good fit and started the process of submitting this new story. I had not submitted my pirate story in quite some time, and unbeknownst to me, it was going through the acquisition channels at a New York publishing house. Seemingly suddenly, I had publishing offers from two different publishers on the table, each primarily interested in one of the two books. Soon, both publishers indicated they would like to acquire both books and publish them as companion pieces, so I needed to decide which of the two publishing houses I wanted to work with and begin negotiating a contract. I reached out to a handful of agents on my agent prospect list to see if anyone would help me navigate this opportunity. I only heard back from one, and she graciously declined. I then reached out to a handful of authors, booksellers, and librarians in my personal and professional networks to seek input and advice. Once I decided that West Margin Press (then called Graphic Arts Books) was the best fit for my vision for the books, I turned to the Authors Guild to help me identify the contract terms that were most important to me. 

Although I certainly would have welcomed representation during this process, I learned so much along the way, and I don’t regret how it all turned out. I’m very comfortable with the decisions I made, and I couldn’t be happier with the experience of working with West Margin Press. That said, I continue to have deep admiration for the publisher I didn’t get to work with–and I continue to hold hope that we will land on another project that is a good fit. 

FUN FACT #4 I used a HEAP of sticky notes to help me organize my thoughts and ideas during the editorial process for Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty? and Where Does a Pirate Go Potty? 

Anyone who knows me, knows I am a big fan of sticky notes. I use sticky notes to help me prioritize competing to-do’s and organize larger projects, and I’ve taught many others to do the same in the workshops I teach. I have them plastered near my front door to remind me to bring a particular something with me when I leave the house. I have them in my car to remind me of errands I need to run. I leave them on the kitchen table to let my kids know where I’ve gone and when I’ll be back, and I have them in wild disarray all over my desk with scribbles of story ideas, to-do’s, and phone numbers. Every so often (truthfully, not often enough), I consolidate the notes scattered on my desk to one or two notes, and start anew. 

I heavily leaned on sticky notes during the revision process for Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty? and Where Does a Pirate Go Potty? to help me organize my thoughts and the characters’ dialogue. After the editing process was completed for Cowgirl, I wrote out the text of the story on sticky notes. The story is told in dialogue bubbles, so I used different colors to indicate main character, supporting character, etc. I then did the same for the (yet to be edited) Pirate story, leaving blank sticky notes for dialogue that had not yet been written or that needed to be revised to align with the structure and tone of the Cowgirl story. I find that sticky notes makes it easier to revise/move text, and it creates a visual point of reference to assess the pacing of the story. 

FUN FACT #5 Helping create songs for Where Does a Pirate Go Potty? and Where Does A Cowgirl Go Potty? may just be the most fun I’ve had yet! 

Last year, as a gift to my husband for our 30th wedding anniversary, I wrote the lyrics for a song and worked with a singer/songwriter who wrote the music and recorded the song  (You can listen to the song and read a blog post that tells the story behind the song here. The process reminded me how much I love being a part of “music.” Whenever I see live music, mostly in small, local venues, not only do I enjoy the experience of listening, but I find myself wishing I were on the stage performing with the artists. I’ve long joked with friends that I’d like to be part of a “girl band” (whatever that means), saying I play a mean tambourine and could sing back-up (I played the drums in middle school and can still keep a pretty decent beat… and I regularly lead songs in my parent/child “sing and sign” classes). 

This past January, as I was making goals for the coming year, I realized that I was making this “joke” more and more often, and that I really wasn’t joking–I DID want to be part of something musical.

So …. I started reaching out to my personal and professional networks, (and in some cases perfect strangers), and eventually was introduced to two different singer/songwriter/performers. They each have completely different work styles and musical styles, but what they have in common is that they are both wonderful musicians and sincerely good people, that I now call friends. I collaborated with these musicians to create a companion children’s song for each book. In one case I wrote all the lyrics, in the other I co-wrote the lyrics. In both cases, the musicians wrote the music and performed and recorded the songs, which are works of art in their own right. I couldn’t be any more proud about how the songs turned out. 

The music for the Where Does a Pirate Go Potty? song was written and performed by AnnieBirdd Music, LLC, with Annie Lynn, Walt Wilczewski, and Chris Arms, and starring Red Beard The Pirate, a.k.a. Alexander Wilczewski. 

You can listen to our song by viewing the animated book trailer that illustrator Jacob Souva created for our book:

The song for Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty? was written and performed by Singer/Songwriter/Performing Musician, Marshall Mitchell.

You can listen to our song by viewing the Cowgirl book trailer here: https://youtu.be/VCC90qkNk7I

The song-writing process was SO. MUCH. FUN! … I can’t wait to do it again!

Thank you for inviting me to your blog, Laura! I really enjoyed thinking about and writing about Five Fun Facts related to my new books. 

About the Author: Dawn Babb Prochovnic is the author of Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty?, Where Does a Pirate Go Potty?, and 16 books in the Story Time with Signs & Rhymes Series, including one title that was selected as an Oregon Book Awards finalist, and she is a contributing author to the award-winning book, Oregon Reads Aloud. Dawn is a vocal advocate for school and public libraries and was honored as a 2015 Oregon Library Supporter of the Year by the Oregon Library Association. She is a frequent presenter at schools, libraries and educational conferences, and the founder of SmallTalk Learning, which provides American Sign Language and early literacy education. Dawn loves to travel and has visited thousands of potties across the Pacific Northwest and around the world. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband, two kids, two cats, and a feisty dog. Learn more at www.dawnprochovnic.com

Social Media Links:

Website: http://www.dawnprochovnic.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/DawnProchovnic

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DawnProchovnicAuthor/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/dawnprochovnic

FAITH, HOPE, STRENGTH: Thoughts on BLESSINGS Given and Received

It’s been almost six years since my mother, whose lovely banner still graces this blog, passed away.  And though I no longer mourn her loss in the intense way I did in the months following her death, every so often, something catches me – takes me by surprise- blessing me anew with memories of how faith-filled and strong she was —even the midst of struggle.

The blessing happened again recently as I was sorting through a desk drawer. This particular drawer was stuffed with old journals, letters and photos and, in an effort to thoughtfully thin the contents, I pulled everything out so I could sort into keep and toss piles. That’s when I discovered this: 

I knew what it was immediately – one of my mother’s many sketchbooks, but I wasn’t sure exactly why it was in this drawer, since all the other contents were assorted papers of mine.

I have several sketchbooks of hers and they are all similar – a blend of notes to herself to remember – say – to pick up milk at the store – and sketches she made while sitting in concerts or coffee shops or parks. 

I opened this sketchbook gingerly and it was an instant peek into her soul.  Turning the pages, one by one, my heart filled with love for the hand that had etched each quick sketch and stylized ink creation, for they all reminded me of her. Here are some samples:

Then I turned the page and wow, just wow! Right before my eyes was the answer to a question I’d been longing to confirm for years —and regretting that I had not written down.  It was like an answered prayer —and a renewed blessing to me.

In the spring of 2012, six months before my mother was diagnosed with ALS, but when she was starting to suspect something wasn’t quite right because she was struggling to regain her strength after back surgery, despite intense physical therapy sessions at the gym, she felt overcome by fear and anxiety. So one morning, during her prayer time, she asked God to please grant her faith, hope, and strength for the days ahead. 

When she arrived at the gym she was in for a surprise.  Her regular therapist was not in that day. Instead, a new therapist, one she had never seen before, greeted her. There was nothing particularly different about him. He was just an ordinary guy, but he was kind and sweet with my mom and very soon she noticed three special things about him. First, he had two crosses around his neck (FAITH!).  Second, he had big tattoo on his right bicep that said HOPE!  And, third, as my mom explained to me afterwards, he was very, very strong (STRENGTH!). 

I remember the joy in my mom’s voice as she described this encounter to me, for she immediately saw God in the moment —using that therapist to bring her the promise of FAITH, HOPE and STRENGTH that she so longed for.  And, given my mother’s sense of humor, it arrived in the perfect package.  

It brought her such joy, indeed, that, later that day, she sketched it into her notebook —a soul-nourishing reminder that God hears us when we cry out to Him, and that if we are listening, and waiting expectantly, He will answer. 

Those drawings were primarily for feeding her soul, of course, but my re-discovering them also fed my soul. For me, and I hope for you, too, her sketches are a much needed reminder not to underestimate the power of the still, small voice of God to speak to you in the midst of your struggles – most likely in the way you least suspect – such as through presence of this kind therapist whose appearance, which reflected all three attributes my mother had prayed for that day, was just what she needed.  

Here’s my mind-boggling (at least to me), closing thought.  When that therapist got dressed that day, I’m sure he had no idea that God would use his very presence to bless a worn and discouraged woman who needed a little boost of encouragement.

Think about it. Maybe this very week, or this very day, or this very morning, you might be God’s vehicle —in a way you haven’t even fathomed— to bring Light and Hope to another. I don’t know about you, but that sure motivates me to step out into this day, with all that it brings – in kindness and love.  

May your week be filled with blessings —both received and given!

PAPA WISDOM: Taking “The Long Cut” in Life and Writing

Not only has my dad always been a loving, caring father (and more recently a wonderful champion of my writing endeavors), he’s also been a life long creator of wonderful phrases that make life a little bit funnier. Memorable dad phrases include “I’m going to get my hairs cut”, instead of haircut, “Don’t worry, Daddy-do-it”, and, my favorite, “Okay, kids, we’re taking the long cut”, the opposite of short cut, which translated means, “I took a wrong turn, so now we’re going to explore”. 

On road trips as a child (and we took many), I remember my mother would often sigh and roll her eyes (in a loving way) when Dad announced that we were taking yet another “long cut” because he was a real stickler for doing it himself (i.e. “Daddy-do-it”) and refused to stop and ask for directions, unless the long cut got really, really long, or if it became apparent that we were just going in circles and even then he might not ask for directions.

But though she might roll her eyes, I think secretly she, and certainly my sister and I, came to really love and appreciate Dad’s “long cuts”. After all, without them, we might never have discovered that little out of the way village with the wonderful bed and breakfast run by a little Scottish woman who took us under her wing the time we got lost, I mean “took the long, long cut” through some Scottish countryside. 

And without one of my dad’s “long cuts” we would never have had the amazing fascination of having a picnic in a field in Spain, next to a big, big rock, only to discover the skeleton of a cow on the far side of the rock!  (Actually, my dad discovered that and wouldn’t let us look, which I for a long time I resented, but which actually I now realize he was doing to save us from losing our appetites).

And without my dad’s “long cuts” we most likely would never have found the perfect lunch spot in a meadow overlooking the Chateau de Chantilly, or have sat on a lonesome bench on a twisty mountain road with a view like this!

Looking back on my childhood, some of my favorite memories are of discovering unexpected and wonderful spots while were were taking “the long cut” between destinations.  I see now that those “long cuts” instilled in me an important life principle, for they taught me, in a wonderfully meandering fashion, that life is richer when I’m not rushing from one pre-determined destination to the next.  In fact, in my opinion, the best part of living is being willing to take the long cut and enjoy the wonderful things you discover along the way.  Thank you, Dad, for instilling that in me!

Now for the writing tie-in:  Like many new writers,  when I first started out, I expected immediate results – i.e reaching my destination without any twists or turns. And I’m embarrassed to say that in those first couple of years, as I was exploring the craft, I submitted stories and poems to publishers far too prematurely.  Now, when I look back at my earliest pieces, I’m amazed at how stilted, clumsy and rough they are.  Indeed, it wasn’t until I slowed down and really started to savor the writing process through years of writing daily, reading, studying the craft, attending conferences, and participating in peer critique  (in other words, taking the writerly version of “the long cut”) that I began to develop into the writer I am today (who is still ever-working on improving and expanding her craft). 

So, here is my bit of writerly wisdom for the day:  Writing is not a race to get published. It’s a beautiful “long cut” journey to be savored and enjoyed. So, take heart and be patient. Join a critique group. Attend a conference. Sign up for a writing class. Read a book about writing.  Spend time at the library reading all the picture books you can get your hands on. And, through it all, keep writing, writing, writing! The results may not fit your pre-conceived conceived timeline, but if you keep at it, I think you will find that the “long cut” journey – though not short, to be sure, – is rewarding.

PORCH WRITING: My Little Antique Iron


Are you ready to IRON your story? Join me on the porch today as I share some writerly thoughts inspired by the little antique iron that was handed down to me by my grandmother.  

Check out the original post that inspired the video here. Happy Writing!

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 March 2015.

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.

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.

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

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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.)

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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.

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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!

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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! 

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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.

AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: The Inspiration Behind DADDY, CAN YOU SEE THE MOON? by Gayle Krause

Join me in welcoming fellow rhymer and picture book author, Gayle Krause, whose brand new picture book, DADDY, CAN YOU SEE THE MOON (Clear Fork Publishing), debuts this month! Gayle is the author of several books and a talented poet. She and I met as critique partners years ago in the critique group, The Poets’ Garage. Today, I am honored to have her as my guest sharing the inspiration behind her newest book. Thank you, Gayle!

The Inspiration behind DADDY, CAN YOU SEE THE MOON by Gayle Krause

Some people say children inspire them, some say it’s a feeling, or a dream. For this special picture book, I can’t explain how it came to be. My stories are usually filled with fantastic creatures, magic, or some silly, humorous happening. But not this one! This picture book is serious, and for me that’s a complete 180.

As former Early Childhood Educator, I taught Children’s Literature to prospective teachers as part of their training program for over thirty years. I also directed a Laboratory Pre-K, affiliated with my teaching course. It was there, as I sat on the floor of the nursery school, reading countless picture books to the preschoolers, or acting out fairytales as creative dramatic presentations that I became uniquely attuned to the young child’s mind.

DADDY, CAN YOU SEE THE MOON? was a combination of the memory of one little boy that was having a difficult time accepting the time frame of his dad’s separation from the family (preschoolers do not understand the concept of time) and the military family reunions shown on the news each night when soldiers come home to surprise their children at school, baseball games, or parades.

I will say this. The idea for Daddy, Can You See The Moon? came all at once— the story, the rhyme, and the emotion. Good stories always come fast. Straight from the heart, with no pre-judging or revising before you choose the words. And this story is timeless…

Soldiers will always be deployed and children will always be waiting patiently, counting the days when their Mom or Dad returns from war. But sometimes they don’t come home the same way they left. In Daddy, Can You See the Moon? a young boy and his soldier dad share special moments by looking at the moon each night. But when Dad comes home wounded, his son discovers it’s the power of love that kept them connected all along, and he plays a major part in his father’s recovery. 

We chose April 9, 2019 as the release date to celebrate The Month of The Military Child. So if you know a soldier, who was deployed and came back wounded, this book may help the family heal. And for those of you who aren’t in the military, it’s a universal story about the love of family. 

Thank you, Gayle! I wish you the very best as you launch this very special book.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Gayle C. Krause is a member of SCBWI, and a past member of the Historical Novel Society and the Poet’s Garage. She’s served on the Rhyming Revolution Selection Committee, choosing the “best” rhyming picture book for 2015-2018. A Master educator, she’s taught Children’s Literature to prospective teachers at the secondary and post-secondary levels. Ms. Krause writes fantasy, contemporary, and historical fiction for Young Adult, Middle Grade, and young children. She’s been published in Chicken Soup for the Soul series, Scholastic Book Clubs, and in various Young Adult Anthologies. Her previous work, RATGIRL: Song of the Viper was a 2013 nominee for the Boston Globe/Horn Book and International Reading Awards. Follow Gayle’s writing journey at http://www.gayleckrause.comhttp://www.gayleckrause.com on Facebook and Twitter @GeeCeeK. New books coming in 2019. Daddy, Can You See the Moon? – April, 9, 2019 – #PB #woundedwarriors #military. Once Upon a Twisted Tale, a MG Fractured Fairytale Poetry Collection, Quest of the Ungnome. Clearfork/Spork Publishing.