Category: Writing

The Blizzard Came in Fast

Here’s my entry for Susanna Leonard Hill’s Thanksgiving Writing Contest (no relation). The rules are, “250 (or fewer) word kids’ Thanksgiving story, beginning with “They were supposed to go to Grandma’s for Thanksgiving, but the blizzard came in fast…”  – I hope you like it.


They were supposed to go to Grandma’s for Thanksgiving, but the Blizzard came in fast. The Blizzard, you see, is middle-child Amy’s name for the family pet Samoyed, unironically named “Snowball” by her baby sister, Jill, whilst still a pup (the dog, not the girl) who grew into a hyper-active, obedience-school-dropout (again the dog, not the girl).

So when we say, “the Blizzard came in fast”, we mean this dog, this alabaster freight train of kinetic energy, launched itself through the space that should have held a kitchen door, straight away into a family overloaded with side-dishes and desserts intended for the small army of cousins, aunts, uncles and otherwise semi-related celebrants of the annual giving of thanks.

Can you see it in your mind’s eye? Slow the scene down, rotate your point of view, Matrix-like, and observe; the father, twisting sideways to avoid a flying pie while dropping the green bean casserole; the mother, eyes-wide in shock, arms flailing, falling backward, baby gherkins and tiny onions floating in space before her; Amy, slipping on cranberry sauce, sliding on candied carrots, and finally sweet, little Jill, arms wide ready to embrace the barreling, bundle of fur.

Capture that, hold that silent scene in your head like a memory of a the craziest Norman Rockwell Saturday Evening Post cover ever. Now, action!



“Oh, that dog!”

“Blizzard, how could you!”

“I told you to chain him up!”

“I thought Jill did it!”

“Hey, Snowball likes pickles!”

Patience is a Four Letter Word

PiBoIdMo is chugging along and I am loving it. It’s very cool to see so many people engaged in the act of creating picture books. It wasn’t that long ago that I was convinced I only had one or two story ideas in me. Certainly not enough to consider actually jumping into the kidlit world.  And because I thought I had so few, I would hold them close, sheltering them from the world. And other writers. And definitely from editors.

Joining writer challenges like PiBoIdMo, and working intently on my own the other eleven months of the year, has shown me that the ideas will come. Heck, not only that they’ll come, but that I can hardly stop them. Ideas are everywhere, in fact, once you develop the habit it’s kind of hard not to notice them. Yet another reason to always carry a notepad to capture those idea in the wild. Bring them home and worry about taming the wee beasties later.

So, yes, it’s awesome that we’re cranking out ideas, but here’s the thing. Not every idea needs to be submitted. Some of our ideas, while fun at the time, just might not be good enough to see print. I’m not just deflating your balloon; mine’s losing pressure too. Let’s take a shot at re-inflating them a bit.

One of the more exciting sessions I went to at LASCBWI 11 was a panel by Jon Sciezka and Stephen Malk. They covered a lot of ground while talking about a career plan, but the real takeaway was the point that I echoed above. Not everything needs to be submitted. Say it with me, it’ll take the sting off.

Not. Everything. Needs. To. Be. Submitted.

Band-aid off? Ready to go? Great. If the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature (emeritus) doesn’t submit every one of his ideas, maybe we should pay attention to that thought.

You see, at the end of PiBoIdMo you’re going to have a big pile of ideas to weed through. Some are going to sparkle like diamonds. Some are going to stink on ice. A handful will be worth a first draft, revision and development into well-honed manuscripts. You will (rightfully) feel awesome that you stuck with it, found the gems and pursued your craft, turning that brain-burp into a full blown story. This is what we do. We write, we revise. And then, if we’re truly brave, intelligent hardy souls, we think about submitting. And sometimes that answer’s going to be “no.”

Chin up, kid, the process has been worth the effort.

Why wouldn’t you submit your manuscript? I mean, you’ve just worked your proverbial butt off, you’ve got stamps, a well-worn copy of Writer’s Market
chock full of post-it notes and box of envelopes. Let’s go!

Hold on, little chum, let’s look at why we shouldn’t submit. This might hurt a bit, but that’s how we grow. Remember, chin up!

  1. There are too many books like yours out there in the marketplace.
  2. Your idea is preachy. We all want kids to benefit from our books, but being ham-fisted just isn’t the way to go. Take this tip from Seinfeld, “no hugging, no learning.” It worked for them, it’ll work for you. One of the top books of 2011 features a bear that eats the antagonist. Talk about no hugging, no learning!
  3. Your rhyming stinks. This is a tough one to swallow. Editors say they don’t want rhyming books, but we still see a ton of them published every year. And kids love them. “Let me rhyme”, you cry to the heavens! Well, unless you’re rhyming is flawless, unforced and serves the story, step away from the couplets, Joel.
  4. Your writing just isn’t there. Yet. This is probably the hardest one to deal with, and the most difficult to recognize. We have to be brutally honest with ourselves about our brilliant words. Are they really as good as the best picture books you’ve seen? Don’t give yourself an out by citing the books you don’t like that get published (because there are some bad ones out there). Aim high, find the writers that you like best and try to kick their butts. In a friendly, non-competitive way that involves a personal challenge of writing quality and not actual fisticuffs.
  5. If you’re submitting an idea you came up with this month you haven’t worked on it long enough. Write it up, tinker and revise. Then let it sit for a week or two. Even better, bring it to your critique group and let them have at it. Then revise again. Whittle that word count, polish those plot points, and let your manuscript mature like a fine wine.

I know the itch to send it out. I know what it’s like to bask in the glow of accomplishment from hitting “send.” But I also trust that taking a breather between the time you type the final period and the moment you get that teeny-tiny paper cut on your tongue from licking the envelope can mean the difference between “no response means no” and escaping the slush pile.

To paraphrase the immortal words of Johnny Cochran, “If it didn’t sit, you must not submit.”

UPDATE  – If you’re just starting out you might want to read this old post of mine (the same one I linked to in the comments, but I wanted to get it in the post too).


Who’s Poem is That in the SCBWI Bulletin?

Oh, it’s mine! Sweet. Yes, this is a bit of brag, but it’s my first piece in print (and paid!) so I’ll beg your indulgence.

I think of this as a “writer’s poem” because it’s something we all feel at one time or another. Those blank pages hold nightmares, friends, and the only way to banish them is with our words. Good, bad or indifferent. Once they’re on the page we can rework and polish them. Until we write them down all we have is the unblinking eye of blankness staring us down. So, you know, write, write, write. And then revise, revise, revise (like I should have done with this paragraph).

Also, kind of psyched that I’m very likely the first person to have a poem in SCBWI Bulletin that has the words “crappy” and “corpus callosum”. That’s some serious mojo, right?

Draft Dodger, copyright Jim Hill, 2011, all rights reserved
Sound familiar?


Three for Irene

Sunday saw Irene come and go here on Cape Cod. Lucky for us there was not a lot of damage, and almost no rain. With both power and internet access I was busy scanning Twitter while my son watched Netflix on the iPad and the TV showed the New England weather action (hey, I said it wasn’t bad here…).

While on Twitter, I saw Katie Davis tweeting short poems and thought I’d join in with some of my own. Then I saw that Kate Messner was looking for other folks creating during the storm and figured I’d add my little bits to her collection.

Hope you made it through the storm safely. We’re incredibly grateful to have gotten away with a bit of yard work.


Irene is a tease
who tosses the trees
who skirted the coast
and toured the valleys


I watch the trees bend,
I watch them bounce back.
I wonder which ones might break.
One thing’s for sure,
This week will involve,
Quality time with a rake.


Branches bouncing off the roof.
Children bouncing off the wall.
Blustery, blowing, billowing blasts,
This storm’s a pretentious squall.

A Father’s Day Poem

isaac-baby-handOn Father’s Day

On Father’s Day
the sound
of feet
running to
your room
is a wonderful thing.

On Father’s Day
breakfast with your son
squirming in your lap
elbowing you
in the head
and eating your fruit
is a wonderful thing.

On Father’s Day
thinking about your Dad,
wondering about the things
you might’ve shared
if life had been different,
is a troubling thing.

On Father’s Day
being the Dad you
wished you had,
breathing in each moment,
being a Dad at all,
is a wonderful thing.



#NaPiBoWriWee After Party

Just like last year, #NaPiBoWriWee had a “blink and you will miss it vibe”. The daily writing task coupled with Twitter conversations and Paula Yoo’s excellent blog posts made this week blow by. And I don’t want it to end. Do you?

You see, I have these six (yes, six, I fell one short this year) rough drafts that need sharpening. Just like yours (although you have seven, right?). Care to join me in a #NaPiBoWriWee online after party crit group?

I’m looking for a handful of other writers to step up and join me for some crit work. Please comment below if you’re interested and we can begin to get it all sorted out.

I had a interesting run of stories. I usually write very boy-centric stuff, but this year they were all over the place. A fable, daredevil squirrels, rhyme, and one I would characterize as a “gramma story”. That is, gramma’s would it buy for their grandkids. I wonder if you can tell from the working titles:

  1. The Big, Big, Super-Sized, Extra-Large Sweater
  2. Milo McChew & The Donut for Two
  3. Chickadee, Chicka-doo
  4. Squirrels Are Made from Danger
  5. Roz Wellington, Girl Believer
  6. The Glasshopper

Roz Wellington is my favorite. She started as a character sketch a couple of years ago, but I never wrote about her until this week. I like her and her story. She’s got spunk. Don’t you want to meet her? (Wait, am I coming across as too needy? I should totally be cooler about this. I’m just not that cool).

As always, huge thanks to Paula Yoo for making this happen. It’s a real treat to be part of this little picture book community. I’ve made great writer friends and find daily inspiration from many of you (but not all of you – really, you have to step up your game. I kid.) I can’t wait to meet some of you in person in Fitchburg next week or L.A. this summer.

Even if you don’t join my #NaPiBoWriWee After Party.

Poem in Your Pocket Day


by Jim Hill

Of all the noises I can make
the one that always takes the cake,
surprises some, and spooks a few,
is the mating call of the Groo.

Now don’t look shocked it’s not obscene,
The Groo is chaste and most serene.
When he finds he’s in the mood
He strikes a pose and cops a ‘tude.

The music starts, a string quartet,
don’t blush now, they’re almost set.
He clears his throat and with a start
lets loose a ripping, roaring fart.

April is Poetry Month

Today I’m heading to the local high school to help judge a poetry slam. Should be a great day. I wrote this to read there. A little more slam-like than my usual. Hope you enjoy it.

Morpheus Likes It Light with One Sugar

by Jim Hill

My nightly routine includes
setting up the automatic coffee maker,
the one with the programmable setting,
so I can wake up and smell the caffeine.

And it got me thinking
about it’s little brain,
the little cpu in there,
the one that’s probably more
powerful than the computers
used by NASA for the first
moon launches.

Does it wait like C-3PO for the
chance to happily serve my daily brew?
Does it, like Dick’s androids,
dream of electric sheep?
Does it seethe,
ruthlessly plotting it’s revenge
aching for skynet to take over
so it can get bolted to the body
of a T-1000 and hunt me
across a post apocalyptic landscape?

Because we have this
reverse Matrix relationship
It’s enslaved by me and
I use it’s juice to enhance my system.
Every day. No rest. No days off.
The caffeine must flow.

Or maybe it just wants to date my ipod.


Thinking About Japan

I wrote this poem in January during the Queensland, Australia floods. The sentiment remains the same for the people of Japan who are facing unthinkable hardship. Through their courageous acts they, and the world, will find the strength to carry on. 

Want to help? Google has a list of aid relief efforts here, or text redcross to 90999 to make a $10 donation.

Night Falls Like a Mountain.

Night falls like a mountain.

Covered in mud.
Endless sticky mud,
We face horror
and despair.

We will find hope,
and uncover miracles.
to keep us working.
to get us through.

There is mud,
endless, sticky mud.

Shoulder to shoulder,
Hand over hand,
We will work.
When I am weak,
hold me up.
When you falter
lean on me.

We will make progress.
We will mourn.
We will hunger and thirst.
We will cry.
We will laugh.
We will even celebrate,
because life doesn’t stop
when the world falls down.

We will rebuild and recover,
Shoulder to shoulder,
Hand over hand.

There is mud,
endless, sticky mud.

Night falls like a mountain.
The sun rises like a song.

photo credit Save the Children

Surprise, Surprise, Surprise!

I’ll admit it, I gave up on this one. Way back in December I entered this contest on KOrtizzle’s blog. In January I learned I was the winner, and then all kinds of USPS shenanigans intervened. I was sure the gods had consigned this package to postal purgatory. But, lo and behold, it arrived!

The Tor Books Prize Pack!
The Tor Books Prize Pack!

Maybe I ran around like Navin Johnson on phonebook day. Maybe I opened the package, grabbed a snack and started a weekend read-a-thon. Maybe I answered a million questions from a curious three year old wondering about those guys on the cover with swords. Maybe it was a little of all three.

Whatever I did then, what I’m doing now is sending a proper thanks out to Kathleen Ortiz for the prize. Check out her blog, the Never Ending Page Turner (she offers a lot more than contests – although the contests are great), subscribe to her podcast, and maybe, just maybe, send off a query. You do need an agent, right?

The books in this prize pack look great, and two I had come close to buying already.

I’ve become a big Brandon Sanderson fan since he stepped in to wrap up the Wheel of Time series. He doesn’t get enough praise for straightening out that tangled mess o’ plots, if you ask me. The Way of Kings (The Stormlight Archive) has great buzz and I have high hopes for a great new “must-read” series.

The Half-Made World is the other on my “to buy” list. The distinctive cover caught my eye and the jacket copy drew me in (good job, Tor).

The Last Page is not a book I’d heard of, to be honest, but who am I to look a gift horse in the mouth? The online reviews look promising and I’m always looking for new authors to love. And share with friends.

So, thanks again Kathleen!

p.s. Tor, I’ve got Tiassa on pre-order and I’m counting down the days.