A Meadow of Wild & Beautiful Ideas

It’s that time of year again–Storystorm time! I love brainstorming new writing ideas, and Tara Lazar’s event makes it easy with its daily inspiration. There’s something so refreshing about a good brain dump, plus there’s prizes! Jump over to this post to read about when I first discovered Storystorm.

Today, my 9-year-old son snuggled up to me, wanting to know what I was working on. I read him my Storystorm ideas, and he promptly shared his own ideas to add to the list. My 12-year-old overheard us and wanted to add an idea as well, only it was too complicated to tell me, so he took my laptop and typed up a couple of paragraphs, outlining a super cool underwater fantasy world.

And that’s what I love most about creativity–it’s contagious! As soon as we open our minds to new ideas, they’re everywhere. Many people are eager to share “bestselling” book ideas with authors, but what they don’t realize is that that’s the easy part. Most creatives are absolutely inundated with their own ideas. It’s the careful selection, cultivation, and follow-through that’s the tricky part.

But January is the perfect time to set aside the hard finishing parts of writing for a few minutes each day and frolic among my own wild and beautiful ideas. I’ve got the whole year ahead of me, and brand-new, shiny resolutions to get me there. Here’s to 2023!

Digging Back In!

Writers, and all creatives really, are subject to tremendous self-doubt. One minute you’re high as a kite, feeling like your words will delight and inspire the world, and the next minute like they need to be ground to a fine dust and flushed down the toilet.

So it was both validating and humbling to be awarded 5 Beginning of Book Awards at ANWA 2022. ANWA stands for American Night Writer’s Association. It was the first time I’ve attended this organization’s conference, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. Turns out, they welcomed me with open arms, and teased me mercilessly for winning so many awards.

This last year has been one of transition for me personally, involving a big move across the country, and lots of changes in our family. ANWA was like a reset for me on my writing journey, giving me the kick in the butt I needed to dig back in.

While I was at the conference, I pitched my sci-fi novel to an editor of a big publishing house, and she wants to take a look! So, I’m hurrying to polish it up a bit before I send it off. I also received really insightful feedback from the contest judges on my B.O.B. entries. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that there are no limits on improvement. One’s creative work can always get better.

Taking the Leap!

Stick figure standing on What We Are cliff wondering if he should take the Leap of Faith to get to What We Want To Be cliff.

I’ve been so busy this spring doing a major overhaul on my middle grade sci-fi novel. I changed the point of view from 1st to 3rd, fleshed out the characters, fixed overall plot structure, and made the ending so much better. I’ve been getting feedback as well, and doing lots of revision based on that. And I’m SO excited about how this manuscript is shaping up!

My kids have been going nuts wanting to finish reading it. I read the first part to them when I was drafting it during NaNoWriMo, and then stopped because I wanted to wait until it was done. But I’m not sure “done” is a thing in the writing world. It can always be better! Then, a couple days ago my youngest confessed he’d snuck one of the pages out of my office garbage bin and read it on the sly! So, I guess he’s getting desperate! LOL

Anyway, I just sent off queries for it to a few agents. As scary as it is, it’s finally time to see if I can drum up any interest in the publishing world for this project. I know this can take years and 100s of queries, and may never happen, but it for sure won’t if I don’t try! All I can do is keep moving forward, challenging myself, and taking those leaps of faith.

Nonfiction for Kids

Nonfiction: Real books that tell, inform, teach and explain.

More than ever before, kids are choosing to read nonfiction.* This often under-appreciated genre of kidlit has broken away from the straightforward, “textbook” styles of the past, and exploded with compelling structures and engaging tones. I mean, who can resist Melissa Stewart’s book titled Pipsqueaks, Slowpokes, and Stinkers: Celebrating Animal Underdogs, or Steve Sheinkin’s Lincoln’s Grave Robbers that follows the thrilling true story of how counterfeiters tried to steal Lincoln’s coffin in 1875. Another gripping narrative can be found in Christina Soontornvat’s All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys Soccer Team. The biggest draw to these books is that they’re filled with things that are real. Kids like that more than adults realize,** especially given what we’ve all been through. Some people turn to fiction to escape during hard times; others seek refuge in facts and truth. Kids often try to get a better understanding of the world around them.

It’s been just over a year since a writing conference opened my eyes to this dynamic area of kidlit, and I’m still learning so much. In February I participated in Nonfiction Fest. Each day had challenges to develop my research skills, inspire new ideas, and engage with the nonfiction writing community. I loved it, and it gave me some great ideas for future projects! I also won Jennifer Swanson’s Astronaut/Aquanaut: How Space Science and Sea Science Interact–another fabulous MG nonfiction book from an author I’ve come to go a little bit fangirl on. 🙂

It was a lucky month for me as I also won Leslie Bulion’s Spi-Ku: A Clutter of Short Verse on Eight Legs through a Twitter contest. My boys and I have had so much fun reading her lyrical spider poems that are chuck full of cool arachnoid facts. Whether your interest lies in reading or writing, I urge you to invite more nonfiction books into your life. They just might surprise you!

*See this Washington Post article for more on this.

**See this Publisher’s Weekly article for stats that show how juvenile nonfiction experienced 3X the growth in sales in 2020 than juvenile fiction.

Picture Book Party

I LOVE trying new things, especially when it comes to writing. But with all the middle grade projects I’ve been working on, the last thing I needed was a whole new audience to write for. At least that’s what I kept telling myself every time the thought of writing picture books peeked around the corner.

But then I discovered, Storystorm 2021. It’s an annual event where for each day of January, Author Tara Lazar has picture book authors post about generating new story ideas. Their words were so inspiring, it was exhilarating! Lauren Kerstein’s post especially spoke to me. Now picture book writing wasn’t just peeking around the corner, it was sticking its tongue out at me–daring me to give chase!

I couldn’t resist. I immediately put Kerstein’s method to work and came up with a great idea! I couldn’t stop there, so I continued on to draft my first picture book. Picture books are short–500 words or less for fictional stories, so many people think they’re easy to write. But the truth is, this is the very reason they are so challenging. Every word counts, and you have to accomplish a whole lot within that time. Now that picture books had my full attention, I dove headfirst into learning the ropes–taking some online courses, and studying Ann Whitford Paul’s Writing Picture Books.

Another fantastic resource I found is Julie Hedlund’s 12X12 challenge, where the goal is to draft at least one new picture book each month during the year. It has been just the motivation I needed. Not every draft I write works out, but each time I sit down to brainstorm a new one, the anticipation is just like I feel before going to a party. My own little picture book party!

New Year, Same Goals!

I am a goal person. A list person. A write it on the list just so I can check it off person. It keeps me focused and motivated. Without them I ride high on ambition and bottom out on follow-through.

Since I last posted I’ve been busy writing children’s nonfiction. It has been so much fun! I really love the middle grade age group, and it is super handy to have a few kids in that range to give my manuscripts a test run.

My goal from last year was to write and submit, and it’s still the same. That doesn’t dishearten me in the least. The more I write, the better I get. I know it’s a process. In fact, I enjoy the process. I’m like a kid digging in the dirt just for the fun of it. In the end, if I end up with a few mud pies to my name, all the better.

Writer’s Academy – 2nd Place for my Flash Fiction!

On a whim, I signed up for the UVU Writer’s Academy that takes place throughout the month of October. As a part of the program, they have a short story contest that I’ve been having so much fun with. They give you a genre, a setting, and a random object to incorporate and limit you to 1,000 words. There are 4 rounds, with the final two being elimination rounds. You also only have a few days to write each piece!

When the scores were posted last week I was thrilled to see I’d tied for Second Place on the first round! Woohoo! This weekend I had a blast writing the second story. I don’t know if I’ll make it to the Finals, but I’m very grateful for this challenge. I’ve learned so much about storytelling and fiction these last two years, and I can see the progress in my writing. And that is the best prize of all!

Are you an Imposter?

When I first discovered writing conferences, the other attendees were super welcoming, especially at SMIAH in Kansas City. I totally fan-girled over some of the authors, and I loved being around people that had a passion for the written word, like I do. Despite that, I felt like I had a deep dark secret. (I’d never finished a novel!) I didn’t feel like I could call myself an author if I didn’t have a book with my name on it. I was a pretender. An imposter, really.

It wasn’t long before I learned that Imposter Syndrome is a real thing, and that it’s super common among beginning, intermediate and advanced writers. Success is an elusive and nebulous idea. Even authors who have achieved significant financial success often feel like imposters around those with literary awards, and those with the awards don’t feel like real authors without the commercial success.

This year I was asked to serve on the committee for SMIAH. Because of COVID, we were forced to postpone the full conference until 2021, so we opted to host a FREE, virtual one-day writing event for 2020. We called it SMIAH Mini, and if you’re a writer, definitely go sign up for it at www.smiahwritersconference.com. We have almost 30 mini writing classes, 2 live panels, as well as writing contests and fantastic prizes. It takes place this Saturday, September 26th, and the recordings will be available through October 31st!

It’s been a lot of work, but I’ve had a blast working on SMIAH Mini–coordinating the contests, editing video content and helping with publicity. All of us on the committee recorded a mini-class, and I chose to present on Imposter Syndrome. This was my first “YouTube” video, and it is totally disconcerting to watch a video of yourself, but I hope it will be helpful to the hundreds of attendees who have already signed up! The writing world is a close-knit group and nobody needs to waste energy feeling like they don’t belong.

1st Submissions to a Publisher!

Just had to pop on here and say I did it! After receiving feedback from my awesome new mentor, Stephanie Bearce, I polished up my two middle-grade non-fiction book proposals. Then, even though it was scary pushing the send button, I sent them off to a publisher just a few minutes ago!

The publishing industry is really slow, and I know it could be 5 or 6 months before I hear if they are interested, and I know it is very unlikely to get a publishing deal on your very first submission (most authors collect rejections like they’re going out of style–they’re badges of honor, really, for putting themselves out there), but still I can’t help feel a slightly disturbing, but delicious bubble of hope in my gut.

And something else…pride, I guess. I’m really proud of these books, and I hope someday I get to share them with more readers than just my kids.

SCBWI Mentorship Winner

I mentioned in a previous post how I attended my first SCBWI conference right before COVID-19 shut everything down. It happened to be a Nonfiction Children’s Book conference. I’d just joined SCBWI, I didn’t know anyone going, and I knew next to nothing about the nonfiction children’s market, but I came home from that one-day conference on fire with ideas.

As the people who know me know, there’s really no stopping me once I get an idea. I dove in and drafted 2 nonfiction children’s manuscripts during the next two months. I love research and writing and kids, so it’s really a perfect match for me!

Last month I submitted a book proposal for one of my manuscripts to the SCBWI Michigan Nonfiction Mentorship Contest. It’s called Becoming an Inventor: Train Your Brain to Invent & Explore Your Creativity.

I can’t tell you how pleased I am to announce that I was just announced as the Winner for the Middle Grade (ages 8-12) Mentorship! Suzanne Lipshaw, who I happened to have lunch with at that conference, won the Nonfiction Picture Book Mentorship. I am so thrilled for her as well!

For the next year I will be under the mentorship of Stephanie Bearce, whose awesome children’s books are right up my alley with her Twisted True Tales from Science series, and her Top Secret Files series about real spies, secrets, and covert missions. If your kids haven’t read any of her books, give them a try!

I would like to extend a huge thank you to the contest coordinator, Ann Finkelstein, all the judges, and to Stephanie for choosing to work with me!