Tag: writing

Mister Bug, the Musical

Here’s the demo track of Mister Bug recorded today with Andy Rapo. It’s a bit rough, but not bad considering how quickly we did it. Andy is a whiz in the home studio and has a pretty nice set up. That’s me singing and playing ukulele (in case you were wondering).

Mister Bug started out as a poem (trivia – my first rhyming poem) based on a comment from my three-and-half-foot muse about a bug he saw on the ceiling. After some great comments from my crit group, I expanded it to fit a picture book format. Then, last year I started thinking about song writing and this version kind of came together.

I still think it’s got pretty good picture book potential *cough* agents, editors *cough*

I “debuted” it in January at my first VCFA residency by coercing a room full of children’s writers to sing along on the chorus. It didn’t take a whole lot of arm-twisting, they’re a game bunch. Now this version is going out to a local songwriting contest, and I’m living the not-quite-a-Wiggle-dream.

I wonder if Laurie Berkner would like it?

Imminent Growth Spurt – Poetry Friday

I had a different poem on deck for this week’s Poetry Friday, but then my four year old decided to eat everything for dinner. Seriously, everything. I expect he’ll wake up tomorrow and tell us that his legs hurt again. Good thing it’s almost shorts season.

I hope you’ll come back next week for The Empty Juice Box Blues.

Imminent Growth Spurt

by Jim Hill

Rotini and red sauce,
Two meatballs and cheese,
One glass of milk,
May I have more please?

Watermelon slices.
Yogurt that’s drinkable.
Honey graham bar.
This kid is unsinkable.

Still hungry, Daddy.
A cheese stick will do,
And peanut butter toast
When that is gone too.

He ate for an hour,
slept an hour times ten,
And when he woke up
He was bigger again.

It’s a pattern repeating,
We’ve learned to adjust,
He just might keep growing,
Six-foot-seven or bust.

Poem In Your Pocket Day

What has it got in its pocketses?*

If you’re following along with poetry month you know today is “Poem In Your Pocket Day” so you’re packing some serious (or not so serious) verse. In case you’re not, feel free to print out this one and carry it around.

Recess Vigilante

by Jim Hill

King Kong scaled a skyscraper.
Gamara could fly.
Godzilla had atomic breath.
What makes me the bad guy?

Did I do a bad-bad thing?
No, I’m not that kinda kid.
I socked a bully in the nose,
and then that tough guy hid.

When they finally found him
The coward up and lied.
Said I’m the recess monster
And they’re all petrified.

Would you do what I did do,
If you saw what I did see?
That punk made threats to kinderkids,
Then stole their milk money.

Vice-Principalasaurous
Will pass judgement on me soon.
I’m assembling witnesses
That saw me stop that goon.

Recess Vigilante
Says the poster on the wall
Now I’m wanted alive or dead
Inside detention hall.

King Kong had his good side.
Gamara did too.
Godzilla was misunderstood.
Guess that will see me though.

With a month of punishment,
I’ll do my time for doing good,
I won’t back down from bullies
And no one ever should.


*Poor Gollum. Perhaps if he cared more for poetry he could have avoided his fate.

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!

“Amy!”

“Dad!”

“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).

 

#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.

There’s a Cardinal

Yesterday was the last day of Kat Apel’s Month of Poetry challenge. Here’s my last pass, image above, words below. I think just about everyone in the U.S. is with my sentiments on our Winter season. Of course, with today’s new snow storms I may have to amend this with a wish for March to start. We can skip February all together. Right?

There’s a Cardinal

There’s a cardinal in the holly
looking like the King of Winter
and I’m so very ready
for January to end

One more thing…
I guess the month of poetry had me revved up for more. When I saw Mike Jung tweet about a haiku contest on Ellen Oh’s blog for Cindy Pon’s books, Fury of the Phoenix and Silver Phoenix, I was ready. I’m still under the influence of red birds apparently. Can you guess what this is about?

fury of red birds
anger rising over pigs
phoenix save the eggs

OK, last thing. I promise.
The picture above is a quick sketch using Art Rage. I’ve been experimenting with Manga Studio too. I like Manga Studio for initial sketching and drawing, but I need to give Sketchbook Pro a real test before fully committing. Any opinions out them?

Robots, Rockets and Trains

Today my son is three, and I’m participating in a month long poetry writing challenge. So, that explains this. Enjoy.

robots, rockets and trains

tomorrow you’re three
and it feels like both an eternity
and only moments ago
that you came out
and unfolded
and unfolded again
so long and slimy and squirmy
so wonderful and beautiful
so life changing
so life affirming

we battle
already a clash of wills at 6 am
with tantrums and tears
over the right cereal bowl
(the orange one)
and whether the oatmeal
is any good
(it is)

by six-oh-five
we’ve rediscovered teamwork
and hugs and smiles and whispers
and all the drama that just happened
is forgotten –
“that’s silly, Daddy”

“What Do You Want To Do?”

C3PO: Sir, the possibility of successfully navigating an asteroid field is approximately 3,720 to 1.”
Han Solo: Never tell me the odds.”

Need a kick-in-the-pants to yourself moving on that book? You know the one that’s gathering dust on your desk, or growing stale on your laptop. Read my friend Beth’s most excellent post. You will come away feeling newly impassioned. Guaranteed.

I swear, this post is worth a handful of your favorite writing books. So go read it already. And then finish the damn book!


So You Want To Be a Children’s Book Writer?

I’m often asked how to get started with children’s book writing and what resources are available. Here’s the list I send out. It covers the basics and will guide you to more resources.

I find my status as “expert” pretty laughable, but expertise is relative. I might not be Jon Sciekza, but I have picked up a few things. I’m also very clear that I’m just starting out, and I know what I don’t know. Best of all, I’m not afraid to ask.

Groups

  1. Join the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators and…
  2. Lean on your regional chapter for writing groups, local events and conferences. Here’s mine, New England SCBWI

Books

I picked up several books to help me learn the ropes and understand the basics of the business and the craft.

  1. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Publishing Children’s Books, 3rd Edition by Harold D. Underdown
  2. Writing with Pictures: How to Write and Illustrate Children’s Books by Uri Shulevitz
  3. The Encyclopedia of Writing and Illustrating Children’s Books by Desdemona McCannon, Sue Thornton, Yadzia Williams
  4. 2009 Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market by Alice Pope

There’s Always More

This is by no means a comprehensive list, but these are a good start. I’ll be back with more, especially online resources, soon.