Finding Creativity

Connecting the Idea-Spark Dots with Charlotte Offsay

Welcome, Word Wonderers! Today we’re chatting with children’s author, Charlotte Offsay, about her debut picture book that releases in just two weeks, THE BIG BEACH CLEANUP. I am so excited for this book. Growing up on the Gulf Coast and participating in coastal cleanups with my children make this story very relatable, and any story with the many-hands-working-together-as-one theme is sure to make my heart absolutely melt.

Candice: Thank you for being here, Charlotte, and for writing such an accessible book on a global problem. Where did the original spark come from and how did it become the beautiful book we’ll hold in our hands in March?

Charlotte: Thank you so much for having me on your blog and for your kind words about The Big Beach Cleanup! The inspiration for this story stemmed from my desire to write a story about little hands joining together to make big change. I passionately believe that if enough ends join together, we can change the world. The story didn’t come together right away though and I struggled for a long time to find a way in. It wasn’t until a couple of back-to-back events with my two young children collided that The Big Beach Cleanup started to come to life. First my superhero obsessed son looked at me one morning and said, “I don’t feel like being a superhero today.” I jotted this down in my brainstorming journal as something to noodle on later and hurried my kids out the door (agreeing that I didn’t feel like being one either!). I later had a few environmental conversations with my children about some trash on the street on our walks to and from school.

It was these conversations that connected the dots for me and the idea of not needing to be a superhero, little hands joining together, and doing our part to protect our oceans collided. I went home and wrote the first drafts of what is now The Big Beach Cleanup. The manuscript went through extensive revisions and early drafts didn’t even include the sandcastle competition that the manuscript now revolves around! Luckily, my incredibly supportive critique partners were willing to stick with me through my countless drafts and along with an inspiring critique during an Inked Voices Workshop with Albert Whitman editor Christina Pulles, the manuscript was ready for submission. It eventually sold to that very same editor! Christina Pulles shared my vision for the manuscript and selected the perfect illustrator for our book – the talented illustrator and ocean activist, Katie Rewse.

I love the color palette of the illustrations. They’re beachy, bright, & fun–the perfect balance for a children’s book that tackles big issues like plastic pollution.

Candice: I love that the story revolves around a sandcastle competition! Where would we be without our critique partners? And I got goose bumps when you said “if enough join together, we can change the world.” Such a powerful statement. What is your favorite part of the creative process?

Charlotte: Oh! What a great question! I guess the beginning stages of a new manuscript are probably my favorite. I absolutely love the feeling I get when an idea crawls under my skin and won’t let me rest until I’ve gotten it out. I become somewhat obsessive writing and rewriting, pulling every mentor text I can find and pacing my kitchen back and forth searching for the perfect words. I guess it’s that all-consuming feeling that I adore the most – the feeling that I have something that I just have to find a way to share with the world.  

Candice: Do you have other creative outlets or hobbies? If so, do they ever cross into your writing?

Charlotte: Hmm, most of my creativity finds its way onto the written page and regardless of my wishing, my illustration skills are continually outdone by my first grader. In terms of hobbies, I am a big workout enthusiast and can be found in our home gym in the early hours of the morning. I love a good high cardio workout with extremely loud music. None of this has crossed over into my writing yet, but the question is getting my wheels turning!

Candice: Do you have any tips you’d like to share about finding creativity?

Charlotte: I know a lot of people find creativity in different ways, some go for walks in nature, some make lists and mix humorous combinations, others try word associations and see where their minds take them. My story ideas tend to come from the things that I am most passionate about or the things in my life that I am most consumed with at that point in time. For example, I have another book coming out in September with Beaming Books called How to Return a Monster. It is a humorous how-to story about a young girl who tries to return her new baby sibling in the mail. At the time I began dreaming up that story I was consumed with how my daughter would react to her new baby brother being brought home and wanting to embrace/normalize all of her emotions!

My creativity tip is to think about the things in your life that matter most to you or that consume the most space in your mind and think about how you could approach that topic from a child’s perspective.

Candice: That is such great advice! How To Return A Monster sounds adorably child-centric. Can you tell us more about it and any other projects you’re working on that you could give us a hint about?

Charlotte: Yes, thank you for asking! I have two other upcoming picture books. How to Return a Monster which I mentioned above is being illustrated by Rea Zhai and is coming out this September from Beaming Books. A Grandma’s Magic is a picture book celebration of grandmothers and all the ways in which they are “magical.” It is being illustrated by Asa Gilland and publishes with Doubleday Books for Young Readers in Spring 2022.

Candice: Oh, I love anything magical and grandparents truly are! I’m excited for you, Charlotte, and appreciate you being here!

Who wouldn’t want to dive right into this spread?! I can easily envision a child scouring the page, looking for those first, second, and third place ribbons–how fun!

Y’all be sure to request THE BIG BEACH CLEANUP at your local library come March and preorder at your independent bookstore. If you prefer to shop online due to the pandemic, consider purchasing through bookshop.org. You can choose for your money to go to your local indie bookstore, or if you don’t have one in your area, it goes into a pot to be divvied out among indie bookstores.

Charlotte Offsay was born in England, grew up in Boston, and currently lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two small children. Born into a family with a love of travel and adventure, Charlotte enjoys exploring new places and cultures. She is a former corporate finance client specialist who now spends her days caring for her family, volunteering in her local community, traveling, and using her experiences to fuel her true passion: writing. Through her work, Charlotte hopes to make children laugh, to inspire curiosity, and to create a magical world her readers can lose themselves in time and time again. Visit Charlotte on her website at http://www.charlotteoffsay.com and follow her on Twitter @COffsay or Instagram @picturebookrecommendations. Charlotte is represented by Nicole Geiger at Full Circle Literary.

Katie Rewse is an illustrator based on the south coast of the UK, in Bournemouth. She graduated with a master’s degree in illustration at the Arts University Bournemouth in 2017. When Katie is not illustrating from her little home studio by the sea, she enjoys exploring the coast with her husband in their camper van. Visit her website at www.katierewse.com.

Call to Creativity: Do you have a brainstorming journal? Now is the best time to start if you don’t! Write down ideas that capture your wonder and attention, then, like Charlotte suggests, look at it from a child’s perspective. How would eight-year-old you connect the idea-spark dots?

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A Multigenerational Story of Tradition, Renewal, and Hope:

As we all know, in addition to reading for sheer enjoyment, another is to learn about others, their cultures, and traditions. Annette Schottenfeld’s debut picture book, NOT SO FAST, MAX: A Rosh Hashanah Visit With Grandma, illustrated by Jennifer Kirkham, does all of these! Annette shares how the seeds for this piece were planted years ago when her children were young, their Grandma visited, and all of them would go to the apple orchard. We are excited to share her journey of showing a beloved family tradition! In late May, Annette will be back to share her second picture book: Obi’s Mud Bath (Spork – Clear Fork Publishing), illustrated by Folasade Adeshida, which releases this summer!

ME: Annette, thank you for visiting our blog today. NOT SO FAST, MAX: A Rosh Hashanah Visit With Grandma, will be out in the world very soon. We are very excited for you!

AS: Thank you for inviting me on your blog. I love the theme Best in Show

ME: Whether drafting or revising, how do you know when it is necessary to show action, scene, and sensory elements?

AS: When I begin writing a story, I try not to limit myself with too many rules. I start with a base story structure, but I don’t worry about creating magic in the first draft. This rarely happens. Then I go back and start the revision process, stripping down and simplifying the text. I like to see that the bones are solid. 

Next comes the sparkle that brings the story to life. Since I am not an illustrator, I need to leave room for the artist to tell their end of the story as well. This means selecting each word strategically. Picture books have so few words and each one counts. 

Here are some examples from NOT SO FAST, MAX: A Rosh Hashanah Visit With Grandma (Kalaniot Books, March 2021).

Action A sign next to my desk reads: Let Verbs do the Heavy Lifting.

Max followed along. 

This does not tell the reader much about Max.

Let’s try a more active and expressive verb:

Max stomped along.

Now we see there is something that Max is not happy about. 

Scene Unless it matters to the storyline, certain elements of the scene should be left up to the illustrator. If the writer has done their job well, the illustrator will know how to portray the scene.

Each year when the leaves turned colors…

The reader (and illustrator) know it is fall.

Sensory Elements Considering all the senses – sight, smell, sound, taste, touch – when writing helps bring the story alive. 

Thump! Plop!  

Gravel crunched under the tires.

The branches created a cozy space. 

These lines tug at the readers’ senses.

ME: That is a great process and I love the sign about letting the verbs do the heavy lifting! Are there specific strategies, tools, or resources you use to incorporate more showing/descriptive language?

I create a character profile for each character in my story. Examples of things I might note: Do they have a unique hobby? What kind of a friend are they? Are they a morning person?

By getting to know my characters inside out I instinctively understand how they will react to certain situations. Their consistent actions and voice make them real, relatable, and reliable to readers.

placing words intentionally is another way to show what is happening in the story.

Let’s take a look at some examples from OBI’S MUD BATH (Spork Books, Summer 2021).

Once again, the friends 

yanked and yanked,

huffed and puffed,

and little by little

the tire loosened,

until FLUMP it was off.

In the example above, breaking out the words slows the action and sets the pace. You can see the effort that the characters are putting into this.

And then, just when he thought he couldn’t go any further… 

By using an ellipsis, anticipation is created, and readers will want to turn the page to see what happens next.

Another trick is to read the story aloud. I tape myself reading and listen to others reading the story to catch things I wouldn’t have otherwise. Does it sound as I intended? Does it generate emotional reactions? If the answers are yes, it’s a win! 

ME: Would you like to share an example of a before and after where you needed to show more and found the right words to paint the image for the reader?

In OBI’S MUD BATH, I altered my wording to paint a more vivid picture for the reader.

Before:

“Could that be mud?” 

Without warning a snake uncurled, slithering up to Obi.

After:

“Could that be a puddle of mud?” 

But mud didn’t slither and hiss. 

In the first line, adding the word “puddle” made the image more specific in the reader’s mind’s eye. In the second line, I stopped “telling” and instead “showed” that it was a snake.

ME: You make such good points about the revising process, especially reading our manuscripts aloud. Writing is about balance. How do you know you’ve got it just right? What tips or suggestions do you have for writers in terms of striving for that balance of showing versus telling?

Great question! I create a physical dummy after a few rounds of editing my work. This gives me a visual perspective. I see if the problem is stated upfront and if the who-what-when-where-why are all addressed. I get a sense of the flow and pacing of the story. Is there too much copy, dialogue, or detail on certain pages? Does the narrative arc land properly? Does the ending add a twist, and is it satisfying? 

I will then edit again and submit it to my critique group. These are ‘my people’ who know their craft and provide honest feedback. I always find their input helpful. I’ve learned that if everyone is pointing out something similar, there is a reason.

Then, I put the story away. I do not rush to submit. Looking at it with a “fresh eye” is extremely valuable and telling. Rereading after a period of time, I find things jump out at me. Final edits are made. At this stage, I listen to my inner voice and start to submit!

ME: Thank you, you have given us so many tools and examples to help us with our writing!

Annette Schottenfeld’s debut picture book, Not So Fast, Max: A Rosh Hashanah Visit With Grandma (Kalaniot Books), illustrated by Jennifer Kirkham, releases March 2021.Her second picture book, Obi’s Mud Bath (Spork – Clear Fork Publishing), illustrated by Folasade Adeshida, releases in the summer of 2021.

Learn more about Annette:

Photo by Andrew Werner

Annette is passionate about writing for children, hip-hop dance, and environmental issues, believing all have the power to change lives. A registered dietitian and expert baker, she created the decadent Uglie Muffin. Shhh, the recipe is a secret! Annette lives in New York with her husband and two kids.

You can find Annette online on TwitterFacebook, or annetteschottenfeld.com.

A to Z, Uncategorized

Building your writer’s inventory with writing prompts and visual prompts

Over the past few months, while hunkered down due to the pandemic, I finally found the time and inspiration to work on that middle grade novel I knew was hiding in me.  I have to confess though, there were moments, sometimes hours at a time, where I sat at the computer, fingers poised over the keyboard waiting for the words to fall out.  When those hours turned to days, I turned to searching out writing prompts for motivation. 

Writing prompts can jump start your writing, get you out of a slump or just be inspiration for a story. I see them as a way to organize, create even, a scene I can add to my manuscript later. For my current middle grade manuscript, I leaned heavily on random generators I found on the internet.  They covered a wide range of subjects including words, names, worlds, outfits, sentences, and decisions.  There are websites that will send you a word prompt a day. A simple google search will put you in contact with a myriad of choices.

As a picture book writer, I found visual prompts to be the most helpful and a big advantage as all I had to do was have my camera always at the ready.  Characters for stories can be found everywhere, whether it is on vacation, in the garden, or your own kitchen, inspiration abounds.  I captured many of them through the lens.

On vacation, a walk on the beach netted me story ideas.  One such walk, I was introduced to a dinosaur that became a short story idea. 

This guy was waiting to greet me as I stepped out the back door one morning.   

After a spring storm, I was delighted to find my irises drinking in the raindrops.

An interesting one was the dinosaur I discovered hiding in my frying pan as I was about to cook dinner.

Another story was inspired by the Spudz Family.  I was so enthralled by them, that I did a complete family photo shoot.  They were cooperative and excited to be in a future picture book.

And the inspiration for my current middle grade work in progress? 

I can only tell you it will be out of this world!

Thanks so much for stopping by!  Write On!

Pitch It to Me, Uncategorized

~ A Pitch Challenge to Remember ~

Thank you to all the authors and author/illustrators who stopped by the Wonder of Words Blog and left your delightful pitches in the latest round of the Pitch it to Me Challenge. It has been great fun reading about your stories! If there is one thing I’ve (re)learned after narrowing down my choices and asking for the input of my lovely critique partners, it is that the task of picking manuscripts that fit an editor’s needs is HIGHLY subjective. We all had different favorites depending on our interests.

But now I’m getting off topic and into left field, so let’s get back to the point. The winner! Actually, there is more than one winner. I made the rules so I can change them. I would love to see manuscripts (and sample art, if you are an illustrator) from:

  • Dedra Davis
  • Sarah Rebecca Hovorka
  • Merrill Woodriff
  • Anita Crawford Clark
  • Abbi Lee

Check out the submissions guidelines at: https://www.gnomeroadpublishing.com/submissions and then send me your work! Easy-peasy!

The Little Gnome imprint will be opening to submissions January 1, 2021. If I didn’t pick your manuscript, or if there is another manuscript you think would be a good fit, please feel free to send it in after that time. And if you haven’t already, sign up for the Gnome Road Publishing newsletter to learn more about the people working behind the scenes and to stay informed of our happenings and wish list changes.

Many thanks to you all. Wishing our WONDERful readers a happy New Year ahead!

Book Reviews

Book Review – Mophead

Selina Tusitala Marsh is an Auckland-based Pasifika poet and scholar of Samoan, Tuvaluan, English, Scottish and French descent. Her first children’s book, Mophead, was published in October this year and won the supreme award in the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. It was also the overall winner in the New Zealand Book Design Awards.

Mophead is the story of a girl who feels she needs to tame her unruly hair to fit in with the world. One day, an event at her school helps her recognise her difference, in all its wild messiness, as a beautiful thing and so she takes a stand. By releasing her hair, she makes a declaration: this is who I am and I will not change how I look to serve someone else’s vision of what I should be.

The tag line is, How your difference makes a difference which encourages all of us to embrace our uniqueness, our special brand of difference, and to celebrate everyone else for doing the same thing.

Mophead is not a picture book or a graphic novel or a memoir – it is none of these things yet it is all of these things. It is for children and it is also for adults. Another key aspect about this book is that Marsh insisted she do the illustrations (she isn’t a professional illustrator) and her publisher said yes! In the world of picture books as we know it, there are so many things about this book that “shouldn’t” work, yet together they produce a remarkable whole. It is “boundary-breaking” and goes against just about every publishing rule in the book except for one – it is a captivating story.

Below is the link to Marsh’s acceptance speech at the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults (an online event this year). She is remarkable. You are remarkable. Take a page from her book and make a difference with your difference.

Pitch It to Me

Introducing . . .

Yes, technically, it’s time for the next Pitch It to Me Challenge. But this is 2020, and if there is anything we’ve learned this year, it is to expect the unexpected. So this time around I have some big news to share with you and decided to skip the last challenge of the year. I hope you will be as excited as I am when you find out why!

But first, let’s name the winner of our last challenge, where Natalie Cohn put her pitch for the story GRAND DUCHESS TANGLED GALORE up against guest star Lisa Rogers and me. It turns out Natalie scored a home run and ran away with the competition. What a lovely way to end the year and prepare that query for submission! Congratulations Natalie! And thank you both for participating in The Pitch It To Me Challenge.

And now for the exciting news . . .

For over a year now, I’ve been working towards a long-time goal of opening a children’s book publishing company. Moving across states (twice!), remote learning with a kindergartner and second grader, and this pesky thing called a global pandemic have thwarted my attempts to finalize those plans. Until now. Beginning in January 2021, GNOME ROAD PUBLISHING will be open for business and accepting submissions.

Head on over to www.gnomeroadpublishing.com to get a sneak peek at what’s to come (and to view the beautiful artwork by phenomenal illustrator, Wendy Leach). If you are a picture book or early chapter book writer, make sure to look at the Little Gnome imprint and submissions “wish list”. And, of course, check out all of the Gnome Road and Gnome Wild! information, too.

Coming Soon!

I want to thank my WONDERful critique partners for agreeing to let me make the first official announcement about Gnome Road Publishing here on this blog. And as a special pitching challenge for you, dear readers, I am giving the first “above-the-slush-pile” submission opportunity to whomever writes my favorite pitch in the comments. Just leave your name, genre of the book you are pitching (PB, CB, MG, or YA), and a brief but enticing pitch of your story after this post. You have until Saturday, December 26th to leave a comment, at which time I will make my choice (probably with a little help from the fabulous ladies here on the Wonder of Words Blog). Good luck!

Until next time . . .

Finding Creativity

Moo-velous Creativity with Kirsti Call

Welcome, Word Wonderers! Today we’re chatting with the co-author of MOOTILDA’S BAD MOOD, Kirsti Call. I hope y’all are ready for some punny wordplay, because this moo-velous masterpiece delivers. Its playful rhyme is so much fun to read aloud.

Hi, Kirsti! How did y’all get the inspiration for your story?

Kirsti: My co-author, Corey Rosen Schwartz and I  wanted to write a story that takes advantage of my background as a therapist.  When we came up with the title MOOTILDA’S BAD MOOD, we knew this was a story we had to write!  And let’s face it, with the 2020 pandemic, we can all stand to read a story about bad moods es-cow-lating and then cow-miserating to feel better!

All the moovement (couldn’t resist!) in the illustrations–stool and spoons flying in the air, moomaw’s glasses–really made this bad mood book funny.

Candice: I love that you have a background as a therapist. I was actually wondering that as I read y’alls story the first time. And I absolutely adored that it was Mootilda’s act of kindness, her “cow-miserating” with the chickens, that got her out of her funk. Thinking of others has definitely helped my moods this crazy year. What is your favorite part of the creative process?

Kirsti: I love getting the spark of a new idea and writing a terrible horrible no good first draft– just writing down everything that comes to mind and allowing it to be THE. WORST.

Candice: Do you have other creative outlets? Do they work their way into your writing?

Kirsti: I make music with my family–we sing together every day. Here are my kids singing a COVID parody the family worked on.  And here’s the MOOTILDA SONG my 14 year old daughter wrote–my 10 year old son is Mootilda’s voice and I’m the one in the cow dress.  I plan to collaborate with my children to write songs for all my books.  And one day, I’d love to write a picture book that has a song as part of the text!

Candice: Dang. I am SO IMPRESSED with your family’s talent and creativity! That is amazing (and hilarious. Totally related to the “introverted so it’s a bliss” line.) Do you have any tips you’d like to share about finding creativity?

Kirsti: For me, creativity comes in the quiet moments.  Letting my mind wander and giving myself permission to stop focusing on solutions allows more space for creativity.  My best  tips? Take a walk, listen to the sounds of nature, take a break from your screen. You’ll find your muse in the quiet moments.

Oof, ouch! Look at that belly flop burn. Poor Mootilda!

Candice: Giving yourself permission seems to be key: to set aside space for creativity–to daydream, to write the ‘worst’ first draft. That permission is so liberating! Great advice. Creativity usually seems to inspire more creativity. Do you have another book project you’re working on that you could give us a hint about?

Kirsti: I’m working on boardbooks, picture books, a chapter book, middle grade and YA. Corey and I just finished a story about a daddy rooster who says Cock a doodle DON’T!  And in March 2021, COW SAYS MEOW is coming out with HMH, and next Fall COLD TURKEY (also co-written with Corey) comes out with Little Brown.

Candice: Exciting things on the horizon! Congrats, Kirsti. Thank you for being here and sharing your creative insights and moo-sical talents!

Y’all be sure to request MOOTILDA’S BAD MOOD at your local library and independent bookstore. If you prefer to shop online during these trying COVID times, consider purchasing books for holiday gift-giving through bookshop.org. You can choose for your money to go to your local independent bookstore, or if you don’t have one in your area, it goes into a pot to be divvied out among independent bookstores.

Kirsti Call co-hosts the PICTURE BOOK LOOK podcast and co-runs ReFoReMo. She reads, reviews, revises and critiques every day as a 12×12 elf, a blogger for Writers’ Rumpus, and a member of critique groups. She’s judged the CYBILS award for fiction picture books since 2015. Kirsti’s picture book, MOOTILDA’S BAD MOOD (Little Bee) debuted September 1st, 2020. COW SAYS MEOW (HMH) and COLD TURKEY (Little Brown) release in 2021. Kirsti is represented by Emma Sector at Prospect Agency. Visit her website at www.kristicall.com.

Co-author Corey Rosen Schwartz is the author of The Three Ninja Pigs and several other rhyming picture books. She lives in Warren, New Jersey, where she’s spent many years eating ice cream and visiting farms with her two moognificent children. Visit her at www.coreyrosenschwartz.com.

Illustrator Claudia Ranucci graduated with a degree in graphic design and illustration at the Istituto Superiore per le Industrie Artisitche in Urbino, Italy. Her books have been published in France, Portugal, China, Japan, Korea, Mexico, and Brazil. She currently lives in Madrid.

Call to Creativity: 2020 has been a trying year for all of us and of course, some more than others. But for this call, let’s look for the silver linings. Have you learned any new skills, new appreciations, or like Mootilda, a new perspective of thinking of her barnyard friends? How can you turn that silver lining into a picture book?

Uncategorized

Covid, Quarantine, Cookies and a Quest

Thanks for stopping by!

The past few months have been history-making and challenging. For more than 9 months, we’ve been living in the midst of a pandemic. Everything has changed. There are no concerts, theater performances or poetry readings – except on zoom. We’re staying apart from friends and family. We need something to cheer us, to take us into a different world – and what’s better than a good book? Between the covers we enter a world where we learn, meet the characters, and empathize with them.

2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment giving women the right to vote. We just had a national election – and chose a woman of color for the Vice Presidential position. With differing perspectives, our United States has become very divisive, making the months of campaigning and debates stressful for many.

One of the most powerful and moving picture books about voting is Lillian’s Right to Vote by Jonah Winter ; illustrated by Shane W. Evans. (Schwartz & Wade, 2015.) Through the eyes of an old woman climbing a hill to vote at her polling place, the reader is introduced to the history of voting in America from the fifteenth amendment that gave African American men the right to vote to the present.

Between the pandemic, the election, and daily troubles of life, we experience waves of fear, waves of disappointment, waves of exhaustion, waves of unease, waves of joy, waves of hope. Books can help us make sense of our changing world.

Walkout by Tina Shepardson; illustrated by Terry Sirrell. (Spork, 2020) shows young readers what it means to take action, to take a stand, to make your voice heard. This important book looks with sensitivity at what it means to stand up for your beliefs.

With all this going on, I have been preoccupied, and found it hard to focus or find time to write. Instead, I’ve turned to cooking healthy meals – and baking cookies. And the pounds pile on…

Healthy food has long been a passion of mine. For many years I’ve written a weekly food column for my local paper, the Adirondack Daily Enterprise that encompasses everything from collards to cookies. And who doesn’t like cookies?

As writers, we try to inspire. In my column, I try to motivate people to prepare healthy meals with products from our local farms. We’re on a quest: we want our words to touch lives. The world needs us to do that.

November is the month of gratitude. December ushers in the winter holidays. Even in times of pandemic, this is the time we think about family connection.

Sadie’s Shabbat Stories by Melissa Stoller; illustrated by Lisa Goldberg (Spork, 2020) is all about family ties and traditions. Telling stories about family heirlooms is a beautiful way to make family connections and learn your family’s history. No matter what our heritage, everyone has stories that are important and inspirational.

Melissa Berger Stoller brings the reader inside the special relationship between Sadie and grandma. Sadie learns to tell her own stories, bringing the past and future together. This book is especially important now, when many children cannot spend time with grandparents due to quarantine restrictions.

After the holidays comes a whole new year. What will it bring?

What are your hopes for the year to come? What brings you joy?

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A story within a story…

Thanks so much for stopping by! Let’s chat about literary devices!

Over the last twelve weeks, I have feverishly written the first draft of my new novel.  Right now, I am pleased to say it is the crappiest first draft I have ever written-but at least it is written!  When all is said and done, I hope to have a best-selling middle grade space opera.  At the very least I will be happy to have a published novel.

As my journey progresses, I have been reading, researching, and learning about a variety of genres and writing styles.  One literary device I want to incorporate is frame story.

Literarydevices.net defines frame story as “a story set within a story, narrative, or movie, told by the main or the supporting character. A character starts telling a story to other characters, or he sits down to write a story, telling the details to the audience. This technique is also called a “frame narrative,” and is employed in storytelling and narration.  It may be referred to as an embedded narrative as well.

A perfect example of this device is the 1986 novel, FORREST GUMP by Winston Groom.  It tells the life story of Gump (the narrator).  With the help of Hollywood, Forest Gump has endeared himself to movie goers when the movie version was released in the United States in 1994.

The Chronicles of Narnia is another example of frame story.  The 7-book series, written by  C. S. Lewis, “narrates the adventures of various children who play central roles in the unfolding history of the Narnian world.”  Titles included in the series are The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Prince Caspian, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, The Silver Chair, The Horse and His Boy, The Magician’s Nephew, and The Last Battle.

This device provides the reader with a main story that leads to further stories.  Chronicles of Narnia begins with siblings moving to the country during the war when London was in danger of being bombed for their safety and survival.  It would have been a different beginning in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe if the children had already gone through the wardrobe to find themselves in Narnia.  This device allows for the writer to give more character information to the reader without it being “an information dump”.

Stephen King’s Dark Tower series is my favorite example of frame story.  The series follows Roland Deschain’s journey as he goes in search of the dark tower.  I can only surmise why he feels he must find it (and I don’t want to research it too much as not to spoil it for myself!).

I am currently enjoying the works in order (and have found a website that suggests all Stephen King’s works that may be intertwined with the Dark Tower series).  Since I am in the middle of the third Dark Tower book, I am going to read  The Stand: Complete and Uncut Edition (1990) and The Talisman (1984) before moving on to  The Dark Tower IV: Wizard and Glass (1997).

For more information on a variety of literary devices, visit https://literarydevices.net/ .

Thanks so much for stopping by.  I hope you enjoyed learning (or revisiting) frame narratives.

One last comment before I sign off.  One of our favorite places is the beach on Chincoteague.  One day, this past summer, I happened upon this, and immediately envisioned The Dark Tower.  It was the inspiration for me to start my own quest (much like Roland) to read the entire Dark Tower series. 

Until next time, Write On!

Until we meet again, Write On!

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Showing Through Heart, Sensory Details, and Wordplay: Featuring Gabi Snyder

When writing for a variety of ages, showing looks different. For younger audiences, often simple language is used while for older audiences more detailed language is selected. The reader’s experience is shaped depending on the topic. Sit back and enjoy this marvelous interview with the very talented and experienced Gabi Snyder who has two beautiful picture books that do just this! Talk about Best In Show! Tails are wagging everywhere over her debut picture book:

TS: We are so thrilled to have you with us today. I really enjoyed your virtual launch with Robin Rosenthal. Your audience had a terrific snapshot into what you both contributed in creating TWO DOGS ON A TRIKE. The story is so clever and the wording so precise. Whether drafting or revising, how do you know when it is necessary to show action, scene, and sensory elements?

GS: Great question! I think the answer depends in large part on what type of story you’re writing and who your intended reader is. When writing picture books for the very young, you may want to keep your text super simple and rely on the illustrations to convey most of the action and imagery. For example, the text in my debut picture book TWO DOGS ON A TRIKE, illustrated by Robin Rosenthal and recently out from Abrams Appleseed, is very simple. The first two spreads read:

One dog stands alone.

Two dogs on a trike.

As we move through the story, a new dog is added with each new form of transportation. A sneaky cat follows the dogs, but the cat is not mentioned in the text. So when reading the story with a child, the child might notice something (the cat following) that the adult (the reader), seems unaware of. That can add a fun twist to reading! 

If I’m writing for an older picture book audience, I might add more imagery and strong active verbs, but it will depend on the story I’m trying to tell. In my second picture book, LISTEN (illustrated by Stephanie Graegin and out in spring 2021 from S&S/Wiseman), the focus is on listening and mindfulness. The story begins with the noise of a busy morning and draws the reader closer as it encourages listening to quieter and quieter sounds. So when drafting and revising LISTEN, choosing the perfect sensory details was vital. At the start of the story, I use sound words like “BEEP! WOOF! ERNT-ERNT! VROOM!” to convey the overwhelming noise the child faces when she steps out into the world. In contrast, later in the story, as we move to quieter sounds, I include the more lyrical lines, “brush-rush-hush/Wind through trees/Listen.”

TS: You raise so many great points. And these examples are priceless. As writers, we have to be so present as to what benefits the topic and reader most. Are there specific strategies, tools, or resources you use to incorporate more showing/descriptive language?    

GS: One strategy I like to use is thinking about how the story can appeal to every sense. Often, with a picture book, the illustrations convey many if not all of the visual details. So, unless it’s central to the plot, I’ll probably leave out visual details like the color of shirt a character is wearing. Instead, I’ll focus my text on appealing to other senses. I’ll consider whether I might incorporate sound words, especially onomatopoeia. And I’ll ask, can I add smells, tastes, and sensations? All of those sensory details paint a more vivid picture for the reader and bring them closer to the action. 

TS: You are right! I share this thought process with my students regularly. Would you like to share an example of a before and after where you needed to show more and found the right words to paint the image for the reader?

GS: Here are a few spreads from the first draft of LISTEN:

Listen…

…to learn.

…to understand.

…to feel.

Listen for new words, new sounds, new songs.

I revised to add more specific, vivid imagery. Here’s how those lines read in the final version:

Listen past the crunch of gravel and the scrape of chalk.

Can you hear new words? Listen to each sound.

Some pop, like quick and snappy, while others stretch, like

looong and leisurely.

Listen.

TS: Wow! The language following your revision is gorgeous. The sensory details take the reader on such a great experience! And this is no easy feat! It takes time to revise even just one section. I can’t wait to read LISTEN!!! Writing is about balance. How do you know you’ve got it just right? What tips or suggestions do you have for writers in terms of striving for that balance of showing versus telling?

GS: I recently attended the SCBWI Summer Spectacular (virtual conference), and listening to all the amazing panels, I was struck by how many creatives mentioned the importance of finding the “heart” or “essential truth” in your manuscript. I also noted that a few creatives mentioned the importance of putting yourself back into your child mind and remembering what’s real and true for a child. I think the balance of show versus tell will often be easier to find if you’ve first zoned in on the heart of your story, a heart that is real and true for a child. Further, if you’re writing a picture book, the text should feel incomplete without the illustrations. In other words, you should leave much of the showing to the illustrator. The illustrator is your co-creator and gets to tell at least half of the story! 

I also find that reading my story aloud helps me get the rhythm and pacing right. It can be even more helpful to have someone else read the story aloud to you so you can hear where they stumble over your words or phrasing. Even having your computer read aloud can help! As you ‘relisten to the complete text, think about the continuity of your imagery and language. If, for example, your manuscript is a humorous story about dogs, maybe you’ve included some silly dog-related puns. If so, you might consider whether there’s a way to push the dog wordplay even further. 

And, of course, it can be extremely helpful to gain feedback from trusted critique partners. Finally, if you’re stuck or uncertain about any aspect of your manuscript, put it away for a week – or even a month. Coming back to your manuscript after time away will allow you to approach it with a fresh perspective. Happy revising! 

Gabi’s Bio:

Gabi’s debut picture book, TWO DOGS ON A TRIKE, illustrated by Robin Rosenthal, released May 19, 2020 from Abrams Appleseed. Her second picture book, LISTEN, illustrated by Stephanie Graegin, is due in spring 2021 from Simon & Schuster/Wiseman.

Gabi studied psychology at the University of Washington and creative writing at The University of Texas and is a member of SCBWI. When she’s not writing, she loves taking nature walks, visiting Little Free Libraries, and baking sweet treats. She lives in Oregon with her family. Learn more at gabisnyder.com.

Learn more about Gabi and her latest books at:

Website: gabisnyder.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Gabi_A_Snyder

IG: https://www.instagram.com/gabi_snyder_writer/