Friday, March 28, 2014

Trade Secrets

When I started writing for children, I was quick to join the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).

Over the years, I've found the members of this not-so-secret society to be wonderfully kind and helpful.

However, it wasn't long after I became a card carrying “Skibwee”, that a strange “fella” called out to me from a darkened door jamb.

“Pssst, hey you!”


“Yeah. You a children’s writah?”

“Um… yeah.”

“You got any, uh, muddahs you want iced?”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Muddahs! You don’t know about the muddahs? You must be wet behind the eaahs!”

My ears were dry, but they were listening. “You have my attention,” I said as I fingered the pepper spray in my pocket.

“Well, a lotta good children’s book charactahs got a lotta dead muddahs. You know what I’m tawkin’ about — Bambi, Cinderella, Annie, Dorothy, Snow White… Harry Pottah! And, well, I’m the one who does the job."

I rolled my eyes. “Voldemort killed Harry’s mom.”

“Voldemoht gets all the credit, but it was me… It’s ALWAYS me.”

That’s when I noticed the violin case.

He puffed himself up a little and went on. “Let’s just say, it’s a service I provide. So if you got any muddahs in a book that you want swimmin’ wit da fishes, jes’ lemme know.”

“Thanks, but no thanks.” I turned and moved on. Fast. My head was reeling. Good grief, he was right… So many great stories… So many dead moms.

But why?

That’s when it hit me — if an author wants to achieve maximum sympathy for a character in minimum time, a mom’s got to go. And that’s because we all instinctively know that the saddest, most awful event possible in a young child’s life is the loss of a parent.

I shook the thoughts from my head and picked up speed. Then I heard him again.

“Hey! You got a dawg in your book?”

I stopped.

“Ya know what they say — if you’re a dawg in a middle grade novel, your days are numbahd…

Anyways, talk to my cousin, Sal —

The dawgs are his job."

PROMPT: Take a fresh look at great stories with an ice cold eye. What makes them work? What are the parts that hold your attention? Make you laugh? Make you cry? Why?

And by the way, if you want to write or illustrate for children, join SCBWI (but watch out for you-know-who).

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Bozo Alert

Last week, the folks on Staten Island, New York were freaking out.

Apparently, there was a clown on the loose.

Photos of a face-painted bald guy with horrid fashion sense were jammin’ all over Instagram.

And Twitter was… well… all atwitter.

Most people would not leave their houses without the protection of a locked and loaded whipped cream pie or bucket of confetti.

Those with coulrophobia wouldn't leave their homes at all.

Alas, the news this week reveals that the whole thing was a hoax started by four friends who obviously enjoy…

clowning around.

I don’t know about you, but I think these guys might enjoy serving time…

PROMPT: Pick a chapter from one of your favorite tales, and toss in a clown just for chuckles. How would Hermione Granger, Eeyore, or Sherlock Holmes handle this “funny” situation?

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Double Double Toil and…


It’s everywhere…

And isn't that wonderful?

Well, it certainly is if you want to make a living telling tales.

All great stories require a whole heap of it.

For example, I’m pretty sure you could come up with a list of books that involve some of the following:

Trouble with travel

Troublesome home

Trouble with wondering whether to roam

Trouble with truth

Troublesome lies

Trouble with toughies and gangsters and spies.

Trouble with livers

Troublesome dead

Trouble with unwanted thoughts in a head

Trouble with animals

Troublesome plants

Trouble with troublesome tight-fitting pants.

Oh yeah.

Sing it loud and sing it proud —

Nobody knows the trouble I've seen…

But that’s nothing compared to the trouble…

I've made!

PROMPT: What if you created a whole heap of trouble today?

Write on!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

A Tolkien Token

Long, long ago, March 25th was the date that the folks of Middle Earth celebrated the Downfall of Sauron.

Today hobbits, elves, dwarves, and humans all over the globe know it as Tolkien Reading Day.

So break out a Tolkien tale and get inspired by the guy who never gave up his day job, made up languages just for fun, and — to quote the man 
himself — “worked like hell” from 8:30 AM to 2:00 AM each and every day.

And what Tolkien Reading Day would be complete without hearing Tolkien reading

In Elvish, no less!

PROMPT: This year’s theme for Tolkien Reading Day is “Hope,” and every great character certainly needs that. What is your main character hoping for?

Monday, March 24, 2014

If I Only Had a Brain

Did you know that March has been declared Brain Awareness Month?

I sure didn't.

That is, until an email popped into my inbox on March 22nd declaring, “March is Brain Awareness Month!”

I repeat… on March 22nd.

Is anyone else sensing a little irony here?

The email went on to tell me that The Society of Neuroscience has pronounced March 10-16 as “Brain Awareness Week.”

Is anyone “aware” that that was, like, weeks ago?

Here we are rounding the final turn toward April, and NOW they tell us. We could have been celebrating our full brain awareness all month long! Alas... such lost opportunities.

At any rate, let’s take some time out right now to celebrate brains. Don’t you just love ‘em? They’re so dang helpful for things like, well, thinking…creating… breathing…

or having awareness of those important dates on the calendar.

And yet, some of our most memorable characters of film and print are clearly cases of “brains gone rogue.” For example, Dory in Finding Nemo is endearing precisely because her noggin is so defective. And who, besides Dory, could forget Rain Man? Then of course, there’s the scarecrow in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz who claimed to have no brain at all — and yet managed enough “awareness” to notice that his “thinker thingy” had, in fact, gone AWOL.

And while a neuropsychologist could create an entire career out of the cast from Alice in Wonderland, who wouldn't want to have the brains of Hermione Granger for just one day?

Brain, Brains
so wonderfully pink,
the more you use ‘em
the more you think!

Clearly, my brain just had its own rogue moment.

PROMPT: Celebrate your brain today — with awareness! Just think, I could give you an alphabet of only 26 letters, and your brain could use them to write the greatest story ever told. Or, I could hand you just three primary colors, and your brain could mix them to paint a masterpiece. Or…

it could spend the entire day playing Angry Birds. The choice is yours.

What are you and your brain going to do today?