Monday, May 21, 2018

Top Ten Ways to Generate Story Ideas


A question authors get asked more than they can count is: Where do you get your ideas?

For me, the simple answer is that I get them from my brain. But the inspiration for those ideas often comes from outside my brain, and sometimes it takes a lot of effort to get my brain to do that part of its job. My favorite ideas often come to me by accident, but during times of idea drought, I've got to help my brain along. After all, it's not good for an author to have no ideas!

So here are my top ten ways to generate story ideas:

1. Reading. Ideas may strike while reading other people's stories. This is okay as long as your story is unique on its own.

2. Watching movies. Like reading, but more visual. And louder.

3. Lists. Think of a subject and start listing everything that comes to mind. It can be anything. Winter, pets, gross things to eat for lunch!

4. People watching. People are interesting creatures. Everyone around you could potentially spark a story idea if you're really paying attention.

5. Brainstorming. This is similar to writing a list, but instead of a subject, for me this usually begins with a "what if" question.

6. Listening to people. People say funny or inspirational things. They ask questions. They complain. There are story ideas in those words!

7. Observing nature. Nature is fascinating. It's important to slow down and pay attention, and have a notebook handy!

8. Play time.  Climb a jungle gym, get dizzy on a tire swing, or play duck-duck-goose with some kids. Taking the time to play means taking advantage of serious idea-generating power.

9. Other creative pursuits. Sometimes being passive is productive for the writer's brain. Getting out of writing mode to give your brain a chance to shift gears could be just the thing you need to stumble onto surprise inspiration.

10. Writing prompts. I don't use writing prompts often, but they can be a fun way to get your brain going, or get it moving in a different direction.


All of these methods have worked for me over the years. I'd love to hear about idea-generating methods that have worked for you!


Tuesday, May 08, 2018

Crocodile Smile: A Read, Discuss, Do! craft (and a GIVEAWAY)

I WANT YOUR SMILE, CROCODILE by Denette Fretz and illustrated by Jackie Urbanovic is a picture book about a young meerkat who is envious of the other zoo animals' unique traits. But after a jaunt through the zoo (with a harried zoo-keeper following after him), he learns to accept himself just the way God made him! This book is charming, funny, and a pleasure to read aloud. And it's perfect for fostering discussions about self-acceptance.


READ: I WANT YOUR SMILE, CROCODILE by Denette Fretz

DISCUSS: The crocodile has an impressive smile. It may be his best feature! What is your best feature? Have you ever wished you could change something about yourself?

DO: Make your own crocodile smile!

You will need:

  • Paper plate
  • Green and pink tempura paint (or markers)
  • Paint brush
  • Glue
  • Scissors
  • Hole punch
  • Large wiggly eye
  • Brass fastener 


Directions:

Cut the paper plate in half. Cut a curved section out of the round side of each plate half. Cut a simple zig-zag into the straight side of each paper plate half.

Paint (or color) both sides green. While the paint dries, cut triangles out of the cut-out pieces of the
plate for teeth. Glue the teeth onto the white side of the zig-zagged edge, leaving a few inches on the end tooth free! Be sure to put the teeth on the correct end! The best way to be sure you do this right is to lay both pieces white-side-up with their zig-zagged edges facing each other as you glue.


Overlap the jaw and punch a hole through both plate sections. Secure it with a brass fastener. Glue on the eye and give the crocodile a nostril with pink paint or marker! (If you don't have a wiggly eye, you can draw or paint an eye instead!)

Now you have your own crocodile smile! Be careful. Those teeth are sharp!

And now for the GIVEAWAY!

Fill out the Rafflecopter below for a chance to win a copy of I WANT YOUR SMILE, CROCODILE! You must be 18 years or older to enter. U.S. addresses only. This giveaway ends Saturday at midnight, central time. Good luck!


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

Five Verse Novels I Read in April, and What I Thought of Them

National Poetry Month has come to an end.

I didn't do much on the blog for Poetry Month this year, but I did set goals for myself personally. Those goals were: read 5 new verse novels and write 10 new poems.

Did I make it? Yes! Admittedly, I wrote two of the poems today after realizing that I was only up to eight. But that counts!

I'm not prepared to share any of the poems I wrote in the past thirty days, but I'm always happy to share about books I read! Here are the 5 verse novels I read this month, along with some quick thoughts about each one:














TO STAY ALIVE: MARY ANN GRAVES AND THE TRAGIC JOURNEY OF THE DONNER PARTY by Skila Brown

This book was engaging, beautifully written, and a bit horrifying at times. Highly recommended! See my full review here.














RONIT & JAMIL by Pamela L. Laskin

I was disappointed in this book, primarily because it was hard to follow and I felt that the romance was poorly developed. It has some beautiful language and form poetry, but it just didn't work for me as a novel.














I DON'T WANT TO BE CRAZY by Samantha Schutz

This book was a little different in that it was a memoir. I found the verse format to be effective and the writing to be engaging, though the book ended a bit too abruptly.














ONE by Sarah Crossan

This is a beautifully written and heartbreaking story about conjoined twins. Loved it!














YOU CAN FLY: THE TUSKEGEE AIRMEN by Carol Boston Weatherford

This is a quick read that is both engaging and inspiring. It's a bit different in that it is historical, and it's told in 2nd person.


Did you read any verse novels or write any poems this month? I'd love to hear about it!




Saturday, April 21, 2018

Swallowing a Hair: An Author Event Horror Story (in verse)

In honor of National Poetry Month, here is a story in verse form from my first ever author event. This moment makes me cringe a little bit every time I think of it. I can only hope this poem does the same for you.


You know that feeling
when you sense a strand of hair
stuck to your tongue,
a foreign object that makes you want to gag
and spit
like a cat with a hairball
and you can't focus on ANYTHING
besides pulling it off
no matter how many
delicate
desperate
pinches
of your thumb and forefinger
it takes?

It was exactly that.

Except

I was powerless in that moment,
standing with my book in my hands,
smiling back at the small crowd of faces,
some familiar,
some new,
all eager to hear
what I had to say,
all eager to hear me
read my book
publicly
for the first time
EVER.

Perhaps I could have excused myself,
turned around,
pinched at the surface of my tongue,
and it would have been over
and forgotten
in a matter of seconds.

But

I didn't want that image in the minds
of my audience.

It took every bit of fortitude I possessed
but I forged ahead,
pretending that
the invisible, coiled intruder didn't exist
until
at a moment I cannot pinpoint,
it was gone,
washed down my throat
with a trace
of swallowed saliva.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Verse Novel Review: To Stay Alive by Skila Brown

TO STAY ALIVE
by Skila Brown
Candlewick Press

TO STAY ALIVE by Skila Brown is a young adult historical verse novel told from the perspective of Mary Ann Graves, one of the survivors of the Donner party's tragic trek through Sierra Nevada in 1846.

Reading this book is like a journey. The story begins with a sense of anticipation as the Graves family heads west with their wagons full supplies and their hearts full of hope. The narrator, Mary Ann, is looking forward to a new life in California, where they will no longer have to suffer the hardships of winter.

As the journey progresses, anticipation gives in to weariness and tension. Mary Ann's traveling dress, at first crisp and green and new, gradually becomes more faded and filthy--a fitting metaphor for the human body and spirit when subjected to suffering.

Tension builds as the autumn nights grow colder and their supplies run low. Readers familiar with the basic story of the Donner party may find themselves wanting to shout a warning into the pages. When the inevitable happens, and the party becomes stranded due to winter's early arrival, readers' hearts will ache as Mary Ann watches the people around her succumb to hunger and cold, all while doing what she can to help herself and her family stay alive.

The verse in this story is well done. The way the author formats the poems, at times with words that jump jarringly about the page, is as effective as her choice of words at evoking the appropriate emotions.

TO STAY ALIVE is gripping, heartbreaking, and at times horrifying. An excellent, beautifully written story of survival.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Feathered Fan: A Read, Discuss, Do! Craft


DIVA DELORES AND THE OPERA HOUSE MOUSE by Laura Sassi, and illustrated by Rebecca Gerlings, is an adorable rhyming story about a diva who learns to accept help graciously. If you haven't read it yet, head out to your local library or book store and grab a copy! While you're out, stop at the craft store to get some feathers so you can make a fancy feathered fan with your kiddos. Unless you're like me and just happen to have some feathery fun stashed in the craft box!

READ: DIVA DELORES AND THE OPERA HOUSE MOUSE by Laura Sassi

DISCUSS: What does it mean to be a diva? Does being a diva affect Delores's behavior in a negative or positive way? Have you ever acted like a "diva" before?

DO: Make a fan like the one Diva Delores uses in the book.

You will need:

  • paper plate
  • feathers
  • scissors
  • marker or crayon
  • glue 
  • ruler (optional)

Directions: 

Cut the paper plate in half, then cut the curved part of the plate off. You should have a nearly perfect half-circle that lays flat. 

Mark the center of the straight edge (use a ruler if you want to be precise). Cut at a slight angle from the center to the outer edge of the plate to create the fan shape. With a marker or crayon, draw a semi-circle at the edge where the point is. Color that in. 

Draw lines from the center to the outer edge of the fan, using a ruler if necessary to keep the lines straight. 

Flip the fan over. Run a generous line of glue near the curved edge. Glue the feathers on, being sure that the tops of the feathers stick far out past the edge of the plate. Let it dry and--voila!--you have feathered fan, perfect for any diva! 

Use this fan to act out parts of the story, then save it in the dress-up box for a rainy day. Have fun!





Saturday, March 17, 2018

TOP TEN Verse Novels for Middle Grade Readers

With National Poetry Month coming in another two weeks, I thought it would be a good time to write a TOP TEN list of my favorite middle grade verse novels!

Verse novels are one of my favorite things to read. And to write! There's something especially special about verse novels written for middle-graders. They are so honest, often raw. They can be simple in form, yet complicated and/or tragic at their heart.

Narrowing this list down to ten was challenging, as I've read so many truly wonderful books written in this form. But these are the ones that stick in my heart the strongest. If you see any on this list that you haven't read, take National Poetry Month as an excuse to add them to your reading list!



LOVE THAT DOG by Sharon Creech

One of my favorite books of all time. This book is beautifully simple, heartfelt, moving, and a little bit tragic.

HATE THAT CAT by Sharon Creech

The sequel to LOVE THAT DOG (and my son's favorite of the two). Every bit as lovely, with a hopefully and heartwarming story about a boy and a cat.

HEARTBEAT by Sharon Creech

Another by Sharon Creech. What can I say? She's a genius!

FORGET ME NOT by Ellie Terry

A beautiful story about a girl with Tourette's syndrome trying to adjust to a new school, and the friendship she develops with the boy who lives in her apartment building.

GONE FISHING by Tamera Will Kissinger

A wonderful family/sibling story about a boy who is annoyed that his sister is coming along on the father-son fishing trip. Told in a variety of different poetic forms.

OUT OF THE DUST by Karen Hesse

Gut-wrenchingly tragic, yet hopeful at the same time. Gorgeous poems throughout. This is the first verse novel I ever read, and I was instantly in love.

RHYME SCHEMER by K.A. Holt

A bullying story turned on its head! The main character in this story is the bully, and it's fascinating to see what drives him and how he changes. Cool "blackout" poems throughout the book.

THE CROSSOVER by Kwame Alexander

Family, middle school, sibling rivalry, basketball! Kwame's verse is irresistible throughout this un-put-downable book!

BOOKED by Kwame Alexander

Another wonderful sports and family (and school) story told in brilliant verse.

RED BUTTERFLY by A. L. Sonnichsen

Get ready to cry when you read this one. It's the story of a little girl in China, who was abandoned as a baby and is being raised by an elderly American woman.


Do you have a favorite verse novel that didn't make my top ten? I'd love to hear about it!