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PiBoIdMoJournal2We’re halfway through November. For some writers, you are feverishly striving to complete your 50,000 words in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writers’ Month). I have to say, while I need a swift kick in the butt to get writing as much as anyone from time to time, 50,000 words in one month is more of a kick than I’d ever want.

I much prefer PiBoIdMo, the picture book writer’s alternative for November – Picture Book Idea Month – created by Tara Lazar and in which we are challenged to come up with an idea a day for a picture book. (Though really, this could just as easily apply to ideas for novels, short stories, songs, etc.)  I find that the one idea per day happens most of the time, but sometimes the creative juices seem to produce two ideas today, brain too work-slogged for an idea tomorrow, two PB ideas the day following and so on. I just do my best to have a minimum of 30 ideas by the end of the month.

If you are doing PiBoIdMo, I suspect, like me, come Nov. 30 you find some of your ideas are laughably useless, some have a certain amount of potential, and some are actually quite promising. Where do you get your ideas from? Personal experiences past and present can inspire ideas, as well as family, friends, and pets, but also what’s going on in the world – news of all kinds, music, stuff you read. Sometimes, even an old story we’ve already written gives birth to a brand new – and better – idea.

Here’s the best idea – have fun doing it. And if this is the first you’ve heard of PiBoIdMo, join in and challenge yourself!

 

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I can hardly believe t’s been a week already since I’ve returned from the 2-day children’s book conference in Princeton. I know I’m not alone when I say I come home exhausted, exhilarated, optimistic, grateful, exhausted, happy, enriched, hopeful, challenged, and oh .. did I mention exhausted?

ExhaustedWoman-AntonioGuillem2

Jumping into my standard 40+ hour work week the very next day does not leave a lot of time for reflecting on all that transpired, reviewing materials, notes from critiques, etc. But numerous thoughts and conclusions were ribboning through my mind on and off all week long, even while I looked forward to this weekend to catch up on some rest and start seriously considering where I was going with children’s books.

And a direction became clear. One of the big attractions of the New Jersey SCBWI Conference is that we offer “one-on-ones” to both writers and illustrators. This is often the focal point of the weekend for those writers who wish a detailed critique from agents and/or editors on their children’s books and illustrators who can have art directors review their portfolios. This year, I went full steam ahead and booked two agent critiques for my middle grade novel and one editor critique for a picture book I’m working on. Of the three critiques, one was so incredibly helpful, I was just thrilled.

In the past I have submitted manuscripts that were as finished and polished as I could get them. They’d been looked at by my critique partners, gone through numerous revisions, and perhaps even been seen at previous conferences. This year was different. The picture book is in the very early stages of development and I sought some insight  and direction. The novel had once been a picture book, and through a number of professional critiques had moved through the chapter book phase to its true calling, middle grade. But I had questions, and I wanted to hear an agent’s opinion.

ADogsPurpose-WBruceCameron2The good news is that one agent confirmed my story is unique and not on the market, and she really liked the concept. The not-surprising news is I have a lot of work ahead of me, as in, now I have to write the rest of the book! This agent really paid attention when looking at my synopsis and the first 15 pages of my manuscript, and offered solid advice. I also came armed with lots of questions, and the ensuing discussion helped to highlight areas I need to focus on, existing concepts I might change to improve it, etc. So for that critique alone, the conference was worth it.

Am I writing today? Not yet. But I am making a plan on how I’m going to get this book written. One aspect of the plan is what I read. You know how you sometimes buy a book but when you get it, you know it’s not the time to read it and temporarily shelve it? The book I need to read right now is pictured here, A Dog’s Purpose.  It was recommended to me at least 4 years ago by the CSR of one of the major printers I work with in my capacity as a graphic designer. As little time as she and I had to chat beyond the work-related, she highly recommended this book for me, and said she knew I’d love it on every level. I know the timing is now perfect and reading it will also enrich the story I’m writing.

More on the conference here …

 

 

 

 

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“If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings.”

― Henry David Thoreau, Walden

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With the annual New Jersey Society of Children’s Books Writers and illustrators (NJ SCBWI) June Conference on the horizon one has to think – there is something so amazing about so many individuals all streaming into one location from all over the country for a single purpose – to share, to learn and to grow in the one thing that unites us all – children’s books. We meet old friends and make some new, share and see amazing illustration, and have the opportunity to sit in workshops and at lunch tables, not just with our peers, but with editors and agents from some of the finest publishing companies and agencies in the U.S. Cheers to us all!

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Ada-TitlePage2Welcome and thanks for stopping by. Visiting today is debut author and friend, Laurie Wallmark. Accompanying her – at least in spirit – is the brilliant young scientist, Ada Byron Lovelace.

Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine is a picture-book biography of the world’s first computer programmer. Ada was born two hundred years ago, long before the invention of the modern electronic computer. At a time when girls and women had few options outside the home, Ada followed her dreams and studied mathematics. This book, by Laurie Wallmark and April Chu, tells the story of a remarkable woman and her work. Kirkus Reviews describes the book as a “splendidly inspiring introduction to an unjustly overlooked woman.” [starred review]

Laurie’s blog tour hosts had some options in our presentations, so I offered some interview questions that will hopefully show us a different side of Ada. I’ve also included some of the book’s stunning artwork by April Chu.

Still A Dreamer: Having read as much as you have about Ada, what do you imagine Ada would make of social media? If alive today, would she tweet? Have a blog? Be on Facebook? How would she use them?

Laurie: Ada would most definitely use social media as a method of communication with her fellow scientists and mathematicians. She often attended evening salons at Charles Babbage’s house to connect and exchange information. Social media would have allowed her to do this more easily and frequently. Through Facebook and Twitter, she could hear about the many marvels of the Industrial Revolution without waiting for them to be published in scientific journals. With a blog, she could share her many scientific theories and receive feedback from her peers.

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SAD: Although Ada might have laughed at the term, she was a visionary. There have been so many technological discoveries since her own, what advances/inventions might Ada make use of were she alive today? How would she have used them to advance her own knowledge?

L: The greatest technological boon to Ada’s studies would be, without doubt, the Internet. As discussed above, social media could provide her with a wealth of information. More than that, websites of organizations like the Royal Society (the UK national academy of science) and individuals like the polymath Mary Somerville would be invaluable. Even seemingly minor inventions, like e-readers, would be useful since Ada was so often ill and confined to bed. With an e-reader, she could easily keep up with her studies.

SAD: Lord Byron the poet was Ada’s father, but had little to do with her upbringing, correct? At any point, to your knowledge, did either acknowledge/praise the wonderful accomplishments of the other?

L: Ada’s mother separated her from Lord Byron when Ada was only one month old. She was never allowed to see or interact with her father after that. Lord Byron, though, lovingly wrote of Ada in his poem, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage:

Is thy face like thy mother’s, my fair child!
Ada! sole daughter of my house and heart?
When last I saw thy young blue eyes they smiled,
And then we parted—not as now we part—
But with a hope—*

He died when Ada was only nine years old.

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SAD: The $54,000 question – How can Ada’s work, which began as a child, reach girls today, (other than buying your book, of course), and inspire them?

L: Several organizations have used Ada’s name as a rallying point for their cause. The Ada Initiative (recently shut down) supported women in open-source technology and culture. One of their major achievements was to formulate a code of conduct signed by most major tech companies for appropriate behavior at technical conferences,. And of course there’s Ada Lovelace Day, a celebration of the achievements of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). On this day, people throughout the world blog about girls and women involved in technical activities. In 2015, October 13 is Ada Lovelace Day. Not coincidentally, this is also the release date of Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine.

Join Laurie as she travels from blog to blog to introduce her debut picture book, Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine. All stops are listed at: http://lauriewallmark.com/blogtour.php.

Laurie writes exclusively for children of all ages and has a lifetime love of, and involvement in, math and science as well. Learn more about Laurie at her
Website –  http://www.lauriewallmark.com,
on Facebook –  https://www.facebook.com/lauriewallmarkauthor
on Twitter – https://twitter.com/lauriewallmark

Better yet, come meet Laurie in person at her book launch on Sunday, Oct. 25th from 1 to 4 p.m. at The Book Garden in Frenchtown, NJ!

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Cover-Ada-4Blog2What I’ve learned from my friends who’ve been published is that there is no end to the things one can – and sometimes must – do to promote one’s own books. What I learned of not too long ago is what’s called a blog tour. My friend Laurie – or perhaps her main character, Ada – is on one now, and next week, I’ll be a stop on the tour. Who knew?

Laurie Wallmark‘s debut picture book, Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine is set for release October 13th, but her blog tour began on September 12th and continues through early November. Each week Laurie does interviews, writes about her book, writing in general, and more. It’s a job in and of itself!

She and Ada will be stopping by Still A Dreamer on Friday, October 2nd, so I hope you’ll pop in for a very interesting interview, and some additional information about this fascinating young woman who created the first computer program.

Artwork for the picture book was done by the very talented April Chu, and is phenomenal. I might be able to give you a peek at that, too.

See you soon!

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PiBoIdMoJournal2Are you a picture book writer? Aspiring or published, you will enjoy this challenge!

The idea was developed a few years ago by children’s book author, Tara Lazar, in response to the popularity of NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writers’ Month. Participating in NaNoWriMo meant that you committed to writing 50,000 words in the month of November. That was great for those who write novels, but what about those of us who were writing for the youngest readers … picture books?

Tara developed the idea of PiBoIdMo, Picture Book Idea Month, (which has developed quite a bit since it’s introduction, and now includes visiting bloggers on children’s writing and more), where your challenge is to write down one idea for a picture book each day in the month of November. Needless to say, you can jot down more if your creativity is jumping, but one is the challenge. At the end of November, you’ll have 30 ideas to pick and choose from and can develop your best into stories.

Whether you do this alone or participate in the event online, or with your writing buddies or friends, it’s a fun challenge and gets your juices flowing. I have my own little PiBoIdMo notebook, and will be starting my challenge this Saturday. Join me?

 

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This started out to be about three aspects of writing what we know, but I see that it would be a ridiculously long post. So I’ll divvy it up and start with a fairly recent example. I received a lovely personal response from an editor at one of the publishing houses represented at an NJ SCBWI event. I am very appreciative to receive such a thoughtful and detailed reply, although, of course, I wish it were better news. She complimented me on tackling a difficult subject, but found it a bit melancholy and added that quiet stories were not selling much in the picture book market these days. Happily, she was also very encouraging about my writing and my pursuing it.

Simon's Secret Illustration by JeanneBalsamThis is where writing what we know comes in. What I know – one of the things, anyway – is about animals and their ability to affect us profoundly, both personally and through literature and imagery. This particular picture book story has a wonderful magical element to it and healing on several levels. While I don’t see it as melancholy, it still behooves me to pay attention to the perception and opinion of one who lives and breathes children’s books. But what stops me is the “quiet story” part.

I like quiet stories. I like funny stories, too, but I also like something that touches the heart and soul in some way, something that’s real, that’s a reflection of what children go through in their young lives. I get that kids like funny and action-filled, but what about the other aspects of a child? Are we no longer looking to feed that as well? Are our increasingly fast-paced and digital lives crushing the inner lives of picture-book age kids? (OK, maybe that’s extreme, but then again …)

As writers, we certainly need to be aware of the trends in the industry and what the market is looking for, otherwise we can be twirling about in our own stew of ideas that will never get published. At the same time, we need to consider what “writing what we know,” (the advice we are always given by editors and agents), actually means and where it fits in what’s being published.  It’s a challenge to all of us. So I look at the body of work I have to date. Maybe it’s time to let some of my stories go; maybe I haven’t sent them out often enough and/or to the right publisher/agent who will appreciate a particular “quiet story.”

So where does the rubber hit the road? Where do writing what we know and what’s being published intersect?

 

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That may sound like a contradiction in terms, but actually, it’s two different subjects.

Coming home? That would be coming home to cooking and trying something new.

VeganPancakes2

Here you find my first effort at scratch vegan pancakes. They look pretty yummy, but in fact, were only okay. Granted, that is because the ingredients are quite different than what I’m used to. There are no eggs, instead Ener-G Egg Replacer; almond milk instead of real milk, and the least problematic, Earth Balance instead of real butter. We are very used to our fats and dairy, and eggs and butter do make a difference in taste. For a first effort, I’m okay with them, because I know what I have to do is learn how to adjust the recipe, as I always have, to make something taste better. Maybe soy milk instead of almond, maybe a touch of vanilla. I’m not giving up yet. And the texture was perfect.

I only regret I don’t have more time to cook and noodle around with things, but sooner or later, I’ll find it.

(Re)finding my path? That would be getting back on track in children’s books – setting new goals and timelines for illustrating, dummying and re-working specific stories; finding publishing houses and agents who are a good match for my work. It’s a lot of work, but it’s good work. Being on our path is always a good thing.

Jazzy-WorkDesk2

So after a stimulating breakfast with one of my children’s book buddies, I returned home and cleared off and cleaned both my work/art desks, sorted out where I’d left off on my projects, and yup, made a new plan, Stan! I wasn’t the only one who had plans for my studio chair … one kitty named Jazzy wanted in on the action. OK by me. Well, OK until Mama needs the chair and then there’s that lovely patch of sun by the window.

 

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November is PiBoIdMo – Picture Book Idea Month! It’s the perfect time for aspiring, (or published), picture book writers to challenge themselves by coming up with an idea a day for the 30 days in November.

Established by children’s book author Tara Lazar, PiBoIdMo is a great way of really getting those creative juices flowing, and while you can certainly do it on your own, you can sign up for PiBoIdMo on Tara’s web site. It’s free, of course, but registering gives you the opportunity of winning some cool prizes including a critique of your ideas by an agent or editor in the children’s book field. There’s still time! Registration closes Nov.4th.

You can still follow along after that date, and check out the relevant daily posts on Tara’s site, but to be eligible for prizes you must register by Nov. 4th. Check here for complete details and to sign up.

I participated in 2010 – that’s a photo of my PiBoIdMo journal which has plenty of room left for my 2012 ideas – and was amazed at how many good ones I came up with! Some were less than brilliant, I admit, but quite a few were pretty interesting. I really enjoyed my own little PiBoIdMo kick-off which included reviewing some of those ideas. Just makes me want to write!

If you aspire to write children’s picture books, why not give it a go and watch your own creativity bloom?

 

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You might think I was a fundraiser for the Hunterdon County Library, (which I am not), but I can’t help but share this wonderful annual opportunity to purchase books at ridiculously low prices! The annual Hunterdon County Library Book Sale is an event not to be missed if you like to read. And that goes for all age groups, fiction and non-fiction.

The sale is held in the National Guard Armory on Rt. 12 in Flemington, New Jersey on Saturday, April 21 and Sunday, April 22nd. In general, hard bound books are $2 and paperbacks, $1, and both are half-price on Sunday. How can you lose? Fiction is in the main armory with a special room for children’s books, and non-fiction in a separate building just across the parking lot. In that section are lots of cookbooks, biographies, history, self-help, etc.

The only problem I see in waiting til Sunday is that last year almost all the YA novels were already gone, certainly the most desirable ones. Bring cloth grocery bags or something to collect and carry your books in while you shop. There is a room where you can “park” what you’ve gathered while you continue to peruse the titles, no charge. But be aware, people come in and buy CARTONS of books – just in case you really want something special.

Parking is free and when the armory lot is full, you can park in the County Complex, (location of the main library), and jitneys run back and forth all day long. Here is all you need to know about the book sale.

Just a note – in 2010, there were 120,000 titles to choose from … I suggest you bring more than one bag.

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It’s Ame Dyckman! Boy + Bot is Ame’s first picture book, published by Alfred A. Knopf and illustrated by well known children’s book illustrator, Dan Yaccarino! It’s being released Tuesday, April 10th, and Ame has been beyond busy getting ready for the launch. She and her husband just finished creating her first book trailer – and it’s appearing on the Watch. Connect. Read blog, along with Ame and Dan Yaccarino interviewing one another, or you can view the trailer alone below.

When I asked Ame why it wasn’t on her own web site or blog, she told me she had been inundated with over 200 tweets in the last 24 hours and was just trying to keep up!  She has already appeared on a couple other blogs and will be on another tomorrow, plus she is in the process of setting up a Facebook page for herself AND another for Boy + Bot. Wow. Go, Ame!! (So … is this what we aspiring-to-be-published authors and illustrators have to look forward to? I’m exhausted already!)

As for Boy + Bot, it’s bound to be a hit with very young readers, and is a story of friendship between a boy and his red robot, the discovery of how they’re alike and how they’re different, and can they make their  friendship work when it hits a snag? You’ll have to buy the book and find out, but in the meantime, you can check out the trailer right here.

Congratulations, Ame!

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One of the things I love talking about with friends is what books we are reading and what we are writing. The two topics are often in the same conversation.

One friend is working very hard on her middle grade novel. I am generally working on picture books; however, a middle grade novel is slowly writing itself in my head. I’m asked if I’m not writing this down. I am not. But little by little I am getting to know my characters and I have a fair idea of where they’ve come from, what is shaping their dilemmas and where they are going. When the time is right, and when I know them better, I will begin the writing process.

Meanwhile, I read.  In talking with my friend, we discussed the 3 books I have just finished. She had not read two, but was interested in doing so for the reasons I’ll describe. She was reading, but lost interest in and abandoned, the third.

The first is The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares. I had seen the movie – it was light, probably a “chick flick” – but I liked it.
Advantage to Writer? Observing and understanding realistic  dialogue and relationships between teenage girls.

The second is The Divide by Nicholas Evans, probably best known as the author of The Horse Whisperer. I also read The Loop by him. What a way Evans has of engaging you in a story, building up suspense, then taking a sharp turn away to another character, leaving you wanting more. I only hope, whenever I write my novel, that I can hold a reader’s interest like he does.
Advantage to Writer? Learning how to pace a novel for maximum effect.

The third, (and unfinished by my friend), is The Lovely Bones by Alice Siebold. This was a daring first novel, told from the first person POV of a 12 year old girl who is raped and murdered, and is now in heaven. This could have been really strange, quirky or sappy. It was none of these, and it had my attention through to the end.
Advantage to Writer? Learning to trust in your own unique story ideas, that writing from the deepest and most real place within is where the best stories will always come from.

I trust that all I’m learning is soaking into my unconscious and always making me a better writer. And so the enjoyment of wonderful books continues. What is your reading bringing to you?

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