Finding Creativity, writing prompts

Spying on Inspiration with Kira Bigwood

Summary: Send little spies to sleep with this hilarious, tongue-in-cheek lullaby set to the tune of Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.

Dear Fellow Agents:

Your mission—should you choose to accept it—is to join Secret, Secret Agent Guy on his bedtime assignment, code name: Operation Lollipop. Equipped with night-vision goggles, a jetpack, and grappling hook, he is prepared for every eventuality…or is he?

Will this 007-year-old complete his covert quest, or will he be outsmarted by an adversary he never saw coming?

Welcome, Word Wonderers! We hope everyone had an enjoyable, safe summer as we prepare for Back-To-School! Today’s guest is Kira Bigwood, with her debut picture book, SECRET, SECRET AGENT GUY, out now. And let me tell you, my youngest has been in spy-mode ever since we read her story together!

Candice: Hi, Kira! Thanks for being here today to talk about your creative process. When and where did you get the inspiration for your story?

Kira: Thanks again for having me! I was inspired to write SECRET, SECRET AGENT GUY in 2018 by my own sleuthing children. They got a spy kit for Christmas, complete with night-vision goggles and motion-detecting alarms. After being booby-trapped for like the zillionth time, I knew there was a story in this. Kids love spies! Heck, grown-ups love spies! I wanted to come up with a “sticky” concept that I hadn’t seen before, so I channeled my day job (advertising copywriter) and landed on this lullabies-for-spies idea. Once I had my concept, the story sort of wrote itself (which does not usually happen for me!).

Candice: Oh gosh, yes. I have been snuck up on so many times since my son and I read this book together. Everyone loves spies! And I like that phrase, “lullabies-for-spies.” Clever. What is your favorite part of the creative process?

Kira: My favorite part is what I call the “concepting” phase. Coming up with big ideas…good or bad. It honestly doesn’t matter, because ideas breed ideas breed ideas, and eventually, you’re bound to come up with something cool (a statistical fact!). I’m not an illustrator, but I do enjoy drawing (thanks to my artist mom and architect dad for that gene). So a lot of my initial concepting involves jotting down ideas for titles or themes, and then doodling those out a little. I don’t share my drawings with anyone (and they don’t inform any illustration notes I may include), but they do help me start to visualize the story and figure out where it should go.

I loved the readability the “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” lullaby led to this story! Such a good bedtime–and anytime–book. And the color palette Celia chose is perfect.

Candice: You’re absolutely right. Bad ideas can be just as helpful as good ones to get creativity flowing. Do you have other creative outlets or hobbies? Do they cross into your writing?

Kira: I like to make stuff…cute invites and decorations for parties, clues for scavenger hunts, elaborate Halloween costumes (that was my 2-year-old dressed as Richard Simmons), homemade cards and poems…I’m kinda addicted to making people laugh, or feel loved or just acknowledged, through the written word. I suppose that would be the crossover…making stuff that makes people feel something.

Candice: I can imagine the book-themed parties! And making people feel something is such a great life goal. Do you have any tips you’d like to share about finding creativity?

Kira: Fill the well! The more you experience in life, the more you have to draw from when it comes time to create. This can be going to the movies, walking in nature, people-watching, dog-watching, going to a museum, playing with your kids, taking a much-needed break from your kids…the key is to try to be as present as possible (ditch the phone!), absorb your surroundings, and dump it all in the well.

This is my son’s favorite spread–so much tumbling, sneaking, and lurking has ensued!

Candice: 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?

Kira: Right now I’m putting the finishing touches on a narrative non-fiction science manuscript—fingers crossed it will be my next book! I will say, this past pandemic year really cramped my creativity, and I’m sure I’m not alone in that. So, while I wasn’t nearly as productive as I’d hoped to be (remote schooling, anyone?!), I’ve given myself permission to let it go and not focus on what I didn’t accomplish last year. Here’s to 2021, amirite?!

Candice: For sure! We appreciate you being here, Kira, and best of luck with your non-fiction science manuscript project!

Kira: Thanks so much for having me, Candice, and congratulations on your creative successes!

Be sure to request SECRET, SECRET AGENT GUY at your library or local indie bookstore. You can also find it online at bookshop.org (book-specific link) which also helps support local indies.

Kira Bigwood writes children’s books, TV commercials, and much to her 11-year-old’s dismay, notes for her kids’ lunchboxes. She was once edited out of a My Little Pony ad because she was missing her two front teeth (not that she’s still hanging on to that or anything). Luckily, she has all her teeth now, and a much more positive attitude toward the editing process. Kira is a graduate of the University of North Carolina (go Heels!), and lives in Chicago with her husband and three children. Her debut picture book, Secret, Secret Agent Guy, illustrated by Celia Krampien, has received starred reviews from Kirkus and School Library Journal. Find Kira online at kirabigwood.com, on Twitter and Instagram.

Celia Krampien grew up in a house in the woods in a small town near Owen Sound, Ontario, Canada. She studied illustration at Sheridan College and currently lives in St. Catharines, Ontario, with her partner, a mischievous cat, and a nosy beagle.

Call-To-Creativity: Observe the children in your life to see what they gravitate to. Could that inspire something new? Could you incorporate a favorite lullaby from your childhood? Let the good (and bad!) ideas flow!

Finding Creativity, writing prompts

Stalking Inspiration with Michelle Vattula

Welcome, Wonderers! Today’s guest on finding inspiration is picture book author, Michelle Vattula. Michelle and I met in the New in ’19 debut group, though both of our books were pushed back to 2021. Happily, her book, THE STALKING SEAGULLS, released April 20th. I thoroughly enjoyed how her main character, Alec, uses his creativity and wits, along with sandcastles and beach ball blockades, to eat his sandwich at the beach in peace, though I had a good laugh at how the story ended.

Candice: Thanks for being here, Michelle! Where did you get the inspiration for THE STALKING SEAGULLS?

Michelle: I was on vacation in Florida visiting my parents. We took our boys to the beach. When the snacks came out, so did the seagulls.

Candice: Oh my goodness, yes. I totally felt Alec’s frustration. I had a Dorito snatched from my hand one time at the beach. It was almost IN. MY. MOUTH. Add injury to insult, the seagull’s wing even cuffed me on the back of the head when it stole my snack! They can be very determined. What is your favorite part of the creative process?

Michelle: When I initially get the spark for an idea and run with it. Once the idea pops in my head, I just sit down and write wherever I am. I have more notes on random pieces of paper, lol. The words flow out so much easier when the idea is spontaneous. The feeling of completing the story after dozens of revisions is wonderful too. I adore coming up with book titles. Sometimes I have the name of the book before I have the story. 

Candice: Titles are tough for many of us so that’s great you have that super power! Do you have other creative outlets? Do they cross into your writing?

Michelle: I love to anything with music. I have been playing the piano since I was 5. Playing is extremely cathartic (when I have time to do it). I also love to dance. I do Zumba throughout the week. I have written a few manuscripts that have dancing in them. One funny, lyrical and has dancing cows. The other more serious about a mother/son relationship. 

Candice: Zumba is so much fun though it’s been years (pre-kids!) since I’ve joined a class. Do you have any tips you’d like to share about finding creativity?

Michelle: My creativity usually comes when I’m doing something mindless like walking, cleaning or taking a shower.

I always tell writers to take time away from the craziness of life because it allows your mind to focus on simple concepts without being overwhelmed. I also find that writing using emotion tends to work for me. I like to tap into deep feelings that people are feeling but don’t like to talk about. 

Candice: 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?

Michelle: I have at least 5 more completed manuscripts and many more that are in their revision stage. I love to write about cows, but I have numerous ones that touch upon subjects such as mother/son relationships, aging family members, and participating in different cultural experiences. 

All great and important subjects! Thanks again for being here, Michelle!

Y’all be sure to request THE STALKING SEAGULLS at your library or local independent bookstore. It’s available online at MacLaren-Cochrane Publishing, and bookshop.org to support indie bookstores.

Michelle was born in Boston but grew up most of her life in Erie, PA. After She received her Bachelor degree from Miami University of Ohio, she ventured back to Boston for her Master’s degree in Speech-Language Pathology from Northeastern University. Michelle currently lives in the beautiful rolling hills of North Pittsburgh with her Finnish husband, her two Golden Retrievers (one who is a therapy dog) and her two beautiful boys who are her true inspiration for writing.

Michelle’s debut picture book, THE STALKING SEAGULLS, was released by MacLaren-Cochrane Publishing on April 20, 2021. Michelle is part of the Western Pennsylvania SCBWI leadership team as their New Member and Critique Group Coordinator. She is also a proud member of the twitter group #Newin19. Michelle is represented by T.J Kirsch from JCH Literary. She is open for interviews and virtual visits.

T.L. Derby is a children’s book author and Illustrator. She has turned her love for writing and art into her career. Now she helps others to make their dreams come true as a publisher. She is educated with a BFA in Creative Writing for Entertainment and an MFA in Creative Writing. She is also an autodidact in illustrating, screenwriting, and painting for over 20 years. Her love for children makes what she does a gift from her to the world

Call to Creativity: What frustrates YOU? Use your emotions, like Michelle suggested, and brainstorm a story of your own!

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?

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?

Finding Creativity

Multicultural Inspiration with Meera Sriram

The Wonder of Words Finding creativityWelcome Word Wonderers, as we explore a colorful Indian market today with children’s author, Meera Sriram. Meera and I connected at last year’s Fall Writing Frenzy kidlit contest, so when I saw she would be releasing a gorgeous picture book set in a bustling Indian marketplace, I reached out to her. What better way to escape my own backyard and travel somewhere new to me?

9781646860616_1_69262
“Saffron orange and marigold”–my daughter and I fell in love with the luscious color words as our narrator searches the markets for the perfect gift for her mother.

Candice: Welcome, Meera! When and where did you get the inspiration for A GIFT FOR AMMA?

Meera: When my kids were little, I often searched for multicultural picture books for early learning. They were hard to find but the few we read were enriching in many ways. Since then, a book on colors set in a cultural backdrop was always on my mind. I grew up in India and every time I stepped out to the street, there was so much to take in –  colors, textures, smells, chaos, sounds! But capturing and packing all of that into a picture book manuscript was the challenge. I had tried a few different drafts and given up. In 2017, I pulled out the manuscript and started playing with it, incorporating active as well as sensory elements. Soon, the colors and markets seemed to come alive.

Candice: That’s the hardest part about picture books–packing so much in while not overcrowding the story. You definitely found that balance! What is your favorite part of the creative process? 

Meera: Revisions! A first draft usually makes me happy because I’ve actually acted on an idea. Then, at a certain point down the road you realize that the story has great potential. You start rolling up your sleeves and paying attention to hook, rhythm, imagery, and start to push harder to shape it up into something that’ll stand out. Sometimes, this happens when you get positive feedback or insightful direction from critiques. I love to discover and navigate the possibilities that open up during this process. With every iteration, words grow richer, plot tighter, ending stronger, and a small sprouted idea transforms into a full story arc.

9781646860616_3_b648d
Waves of moving color, soft cotton, chimes, clinks, and lullabies–my kids and I adored all the senses this story invoked.

Candice: Love this! I always say creative people are creative in a lot of different ways. Do you have other outlets or hobbies? How do they cross into your writing?

Meera: I love photography and very often I attempt to communicate through a visual composition. I used to photo blog for a few years, where the writer in me took a back seat and allowed a picture to speak for itself. To me, objects, light, and placement are equivalent to characters, plot, and setting. I also enjoy decorating interior spaces, and again, I try to include things like memorabilia and art to make the space feel lived in and to tell stories.

Candice: Leaving room for the illustrator is something I struggle with so it sounds like your photography interest helps with that–great idea! Do you have any tips you’d like to share about finding creativity? 

Meera: I believe we’re all creative all the time! Like when we cook or garden or hang a picture or play with a kid. Some of us pause longer and invest more because it brings us joy. If we let life happen and engage with the world, we’ll find countless ways to express creatively. I believe the important thing is to take the time to stop, listen, look closer, and soak in the moment.

Candice: Great advice–listen, look closer, and soak it in. 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?

Meera: Yes! Coincidentally, it’s about a very creative person. My next picture book, BETWEEN TWO WORLDS (Spring 2021), is a biography on Amrita Sher-Gil, the Indian-Hungarian artist who was a pioneer of modern Indian art. And I can’t wait to see the creativity Ruchi Bakshi Sharma will bring to the illustrations. I’m also working on edits for another picture book (yet to be announced) and I’m enjoying the collaborative process with my editor and illustrator. I have another idea for a book for which I’m trying to draw from within to find the best way to tell the story.

Candice: That sounds amazing! I love creative coincidences. Thank you for being here with us as we listen, look closer, and wonder at words, Meera. And congrats on A GIFT FOR AMMA’s release!

9781646860616_4_4b2e0
I love backmatter fun facts! The kids thought this was cool but don’t think they’ll be trying stinky tofu or oyster omelets anytime soon! There’s also a spread explaining all the items our narrator discovers in the market, like jasmine, turmeric, vermilion, etc…

Want to travel within this lyrical, colorful story? Be sure to request it from your local library or independent bookstore. They do so much for our communities and need our support during this pandemic. You can find it online at bookshop.org which also supports local indie bookshops (you can pick your own local indie if they’re an affiliate. If not, it goes into a pot to be divided among indie bookstores.)

Bio-Pic-MS

Meera Sriram grew up in India and moved to the U.S in 1999. An electrical engineer in the past, she now enjoys writing for children, leading early literacy initiatives, and advocating for diverse bookshelves. Meera is the author of picture books, The Yellow Suitcase (Penny Candy Books, 2019), A Gift For Amma: Market Day in India (Barefoot Books, 2020), and the upcoming title, Between Two Worlds (Penny Candy Books, 2021). She has also co-authored several kids’ books in India. Meera believes in the transformative power of stories and likes to write about people, places, and experiences less visible in children’s literature. For more information, visit meerasriram.com

Mariona Cabassa studied illustration at the Massana Art School and completed her postgraduate degree at the School of Fine Arts in Strasbourg, where she also learned how to speak French. She has illustrated more than 80 books in Spain and other countries. She lives in Barcelona, Spain.

Call to Creativity: is there a subject in children’s literature that you’d like to see more of on bookshelves? Think about ways you could put a new, creative spin on a book of colors.

Finding Creativity

Exploring Inspiration with Lindsay Leslie

Hi, Word Wonderers! Are your kids driving you bananas as we stay safe and stay home? Have they uttered the dreaded, whiney B-word? (Bored–ugh.) Send them outside with this gorgeous new picture book by Lindsay Leslie, DUSK EXPLORERS, out this past Tuesday. It’s an exciting adventure down memory lane for me and a lyrical manual on exploring and discovering how the familiar streets and yards change as night approaches. I’m eager to talk to Lindsay on how this story came to be and how she finds creativity in memories and the world around her. 

9781624148712_f23d4

Candice: Thanks for being here, Lindsay! Tell us about the inspiration for your story.

Lindsay: We’ve all heard folks in the children’s literature world say steer clear of rhyme unless you can do it really well. So, in 2016, I watched Julie Hedlund’s Verse Curse session as part of The Picture Book Summit to see what all the fuss was about. What I took away from the session was a fierce love of free verse–the lyricism and rhythm–rather than the rhyme. I’m not exactly sure what Julie said that sparked my idea for DUSK EXPLORERS during that session, but I think it was to drum up a memory from childhood that would translate to today. The first thought that leapt into my mind was the invigorating and freeing moments I had with my sister and neighborhood friends playing after dinner in the summertime. We played all the games, shared all the secrets, laughed all the laughs until the street lights blinked on and the sun disappeared. Another reason for my writing this story was I desperately want these moments for the children of today, for my children. I want them to have the unbridled freedom of roaming the neighborhood streets, so they can build their autonomy and self-confidence, and enjoy all that’s available to them just outside their front door.

Candice: Admirable goals and your story definitely accomplishes all that. I prefer the lyricism and rhythm of free-verse, too. My critique partners help me come to my senses when I get a random wild hair to write in rhyme. 😉 What is your favorite part of the creative process?

Lindsay: My favorite part is always the beginning and all the possibilities of a new story. Nothing thrills me more than having a cool concept pop into my mind and writing that first draft. I like to let my mind go and just drum up whatever it wants. Then the hard part begins. I think I’m terrible at editing on my own. I get pretty stymied. I work really well with the direction of CPs and my editors, so I know this is an area of improvement for me… to wrangle myself during the editing process.

Dusk Explorer Spread

Candice: Do you have other creative outlets or hobbies? Do they cross into your writing?

Lindsay: Loads! I’m crocheting right now. I love to free draw with my kiddos. I love strength training and cycling. I used to ride a lot before I had children, and now I’m enjoying long rides with them. I also love to bake pies, as I used to own a pie company back in the day. You would think I would have written a story inspired by those times, but nope. The right idea hasn’t come to me yet. I’m waiting, though. I think all creative outlets and hobbies inform one another in some way. I just couldn’t tell you how. I think that work is being done in my subconscious.

Candice: A pie company?! How fun! Do you have any tips you’d like to share about finding creativity?

Lindsay: Truly listen and observe. I don’t think there is any one way to find creativity, but there are lots of ways to increase your chances of your mind being open to the function of thinking creatively. I think listening and observing do just that for me, and then I start asking the “what if” questions. Also, I’m really digging writing workshops right now. I need to take more. I’ve always been a coachable person, so taking a workshop kind of fills that bucket. It gives me a coach for the moment and I can get out of my own way.

Dusk Explorer Spread2

Candice: One of the positive effects of the coronavirus are a plethora of digital workshops and I’m definitely taking advantage of those. Creativity usually seems to lead to more creativity. Do you have another book project you’re working on that you could give us a hint about?

Lindsay: Oh, I have many! I have about four picture books I’m currently writing right now. I also have a middle grade I’m trying to edit. (See above about being a terrible self-editor, because that’s where I am right now with it.) I actually wrote a picture book based on my MG WIP. How’s that for procrastinating on editing? I also have awesome news I wish I could share, but I can’t yet. Soon, I hope!

Can’t wait to hear more! Thanks for answering my questions, Lindsay. And congrats on DUSK EXPLORERS’ release!

Want this gorgeous book in your neighborhood? Be sure to request it from your local library or independent bookstore, they do so much for our communities and need our support during this pandemic! You can also find it at www.bookshop.org which also supports local indie bookshops (you can pick your own local indie if they’re an affiliate. If not, it goes into a pot to be divided among indie book stores.)

Lindsay Leslie Headshot

A diary keeper, a journalism major, a public relations executive, now a children’s author—Lindsay Leslie has always operated in a world of written words. She likes to bring her unique outlook on life, quirky humor, and play with words to the page in picture books. Lindsay is the author of THIS BOOK IS SPINELESSNOVA THE STAR EATER, and DUSK EXPLORERS (Page Street Kids). She lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband, two sons, two fur-beasts, a guinea pig, and a tortoise.

Ellen Rooney, who also illustrated Her Fearless Run, loves illustrating and designing nature-related work. She has her BFA from the University of Victoria. A painter, printmaker, and collage artist, she resides in British Columbia, Canada, with her husband.

Call to creativity: sift through your childhood memories for exciting things kids today can do as they’re staying home. Comment with your brainstorms for a chance to win a non-rhyming picture book manuscript critique from me!

Finding Creativity

Finding Inspiration in Nature

Hi, Wonderers! Thanks for being here as we focus on finding creativity, this time from illustrator Lisa Johnston Hancock. Lisa and I met when our kiddos became friends in preschool–they’re both big into bugs and being creative. Her picture book, YELLOW-SPECKLED BLACKBIRD, written by Dylan Pritchett, released February 18th with MacLaren-Cochrane Publishing.

Candice: Welcome to the Wonder of Words (and today Wonder Of Pictures!), Lisa. You know I adore your nature-infused paintings. Where did you get the inspiration for how you wanted to visually tell the story of the Yellow-Speckled Blackbird? LJH 3.14 pic1

Lisa: I get inspiration from many different sources. I like to visit parks, zoos, beaches or anywhere to see actual birds in action. My children are also great sources of inspiration for poses. They love watching me work and get really excited when I ask them to model for me. I keep a folder of reference photos for birds, children and environment that I use as inspiration. I knew that the bird was going to be a Starling and the story would take place in an urban environment to illustrate how we see nature all around us.

We don’t have to be out in “nature” to appreciate the natural world.

I worked on these illustrations almost 2 years ago and at that time, I was working strictly in watercolor and beginning to explore digital media. The majority of this book was created traditionally with a little bit of digital for editing.

Candice: What is your favorite part of the creative process?

Lisa: My favorite part of the creative process is working through color schemes. I find color to be the most challenging part of illustrating a picture book and I like the challenge. The color palette can visually express the mood or tone of a story so it’s important to get it right. I will try out several different color palettes before I settle on one.

Candice: Color palettes do make such a difference! I don’t think I really understood that until I started studying picture books. Do you have other creative outlets or hobbies? How do they cross into your artwork?

Lisa: I love birds, insects, animals, trees and plant life. Basically, exploring nature whenever I have the chance. We recently moved to California and hummingbirds are EVERYWHERE! We have several species that hang around all year because the climate is so mild. Any extra time that I have is spent with my two children. I would say that yes, they definitely cross over into my artwork. LJH 3.14 pic2

Candice: I enjoy seeing all your California creatures come alive on your social media. Do you have any tips you’d like to share about finding creativity?

Lisa: I would say that if you are struggling, go for a walk or pencil in a coffee date with a fellow creative. What I like most about this area is that the people are so friendly. I think it’s because the weather is so nice. The traffic is not great, as you may have heard. Be that as it may, I have found that other illustrators are ready and willing to meet up for a coffee and drawing session or to talk of creative things. It is incredibly inspirational to have an artist community. It doesn’t even have to be local. With social media, you can reach out to other creatives just to say hi, or ask what brush they used. As creatives we tend to be introverts and I’m somewhere in the middle. I try to put myself out there and I recommend that you do the same.

Candice: I agree, social media has definitely helped me as an extroverted introvert. It’s tough to put yourself out there but the payback is so worth it. The critique group behind this shared blog is my case in point! Creativity usually seems to lead to more creativity. Do you have another book project you’re working on that you could give us a hint about?

Lisa: I recently finished illustrations for “Sophie’s New Song” that will be self-published by author and psychologist, Michelle Whitfield, in April. I’m also working on some promotional material for her.

My goal for 2020 is to complete a dummy for a picture book that I wrote, as well as a few finished illustrations that I can share with publishers. In October, I attended a workshop at the Highlights Foundation and received some really helpful, constructive feedback. I will be working on that this summer and possibly attending the SCBWI conference in L.A. I mean, I’m so close now.

Candice: That’s right! No excuse not to go. I cannot wait for your picture book to be submission ready. Having seen a mock-up dummy I know how amazing it is. Thanks so much for being here today!

Y’all be sure to check out Lisa’s artwork on her website and social media links. You can request YELLOW-SPECKLED BLACKBIRD at your local indie bookstore or online at Bookshop.org which also helps support independent booksellers.

LJH march14Lisa Johnston Hancock is an award-winning studio artist, picture book illustrator, and art educator. She enjoys creating work that focuses on environmental education, encouraging a lifelong positive attitude toward the natural world. Lisa recently moved with her husband and two children from sunny Southern Alabama to sunny Southern California.

www.lisajohnstonhancock.com
www.instagram.com/lisajohnstonhancock
www.twitter.com/LisaJHancockArt
www.facebook.com/LisaJohnstonHancockArt

For this month’s Call to Creativity, go for a walk. Observe the nature around you. Comment with an observation that inspires you and a random comment will win a picture book critique!

Uncategorized

Jubilee and Creativity

Hi, Wonder of Words readers! Today’s guest on our Finding Creativity focused post is Alabama author, Karyn Tunks. I’ve been lucky enough to meet her in person a few times and she is one of those helpful, encouraging writers who makes the kidlit world the awesome place it is. I first met her when her picture book, JUBILEE, released.

KWTdec1st
Metro-Mobile Literacy Council’s Young Authors’ Conference

A jubilee is a fascinating, rare phenomenon that occurs when a perfect condition of low oxygenated water drives millions of flounder, crabs, etc to the surface, ripe for the picking. You definitely need to check out her book to find out more. Welcome, Karyn!

Karyn: Thanks for the opportunity to be interviewed for your blog. It was fun to reflect! The photos were taken when the illustrator, Julie Buckner, was visiting Fairhope to plan out her illustrations and there was a jubilee! We tell the story about it on my website: http://www.karyntunks.com/jubilee.html

Candice: That is so neat y’all were able to experience a jubilee on her visit. What are the odds?! Where did you get the inspiration for JUBILEE?

KWT: I have always loved picture books and loved writing but it was never my intention to actually write a book for children! The inspiration for JUBILEE was a newspaper article about this rare occurrence that happens along the Eastern Shore of Mobile Bay. I became so fascinated by it that I began doing research and asking people I met from the area if they had ever experienced a jubilee. The array of stories told by people who grew up along the bay were fascinating. I was reflecting on what I had learned and the stories told to me and POP-the idea came to mind that it would make a great story!

CMC: The POP of an idea is the best. What is your favorite part of the creative process?

KWT: I really enjoy all aspects of the writing process (except for detailed editing). Coming up with ideas has never been a problem. I keep a notebook and jot down ideas for stories, interesting character traits, possible character names, and even overheard conversations that intrigue me or make me laugh. Building the basic premise for a story is always exciting because the possibilities are endless. I also like working out problems such as which direction to take a story or character. This is why I tell people that I do much of my “writing” when I’m out running. It’s a time when I can let my mind wander and that’s when the creativity really happens.

CMC: Great idea on keeping a notebook handy. It’s amazing what a wandering mind can come up with. Do you have other creative outlets or hobbies? If so, do they ever cross into your writing?

KWT: For writers, just about everything we do has potential to find its way into our stories. I enjoy volunteering for issues that are personally important to me. In the summer, I volunteer for Share the Beach, a sea turtle preservation program along the Alabama Gulf Coast. On my early morning patrols looking for turtle tracks, I pick up trash left behind by visitors to our beaches. The amount of trash is staggering! I started out wanting to write about sea turtles but instead I am working on a middle grade novel about trash!

CMC: I cannot wait to read it! The kids and I love volunteering with the Alabama Coastal Cleanup each fall. Do you have any tips you’d like to share about finding creativity?

KWT: Donald Graves, a teacher of writing, reminds us to constantly be on the lookout for ideas. Like artists, inspiration for writers can come from anywhere at anytime. That’s why keeping notes of random occurrences that catch your attention is so important. Plus, the more creative ideas collected, the more you have to choose from when the urge to write hits.

CMC: Great tip. Creativity seems to inspire more creativity. Do you have another book project you’re working on that you could give us a hint about?

KWT: I am always working on another book! My next picture book will be out in Spring 2020. It is a picture book biography about the blind artist, Ricky Trione. It was a challenge to figure out the best way to tell his story but after several weeks and many attempts it all came together on my daily run. I couldn’t get home fast enough to put it on paper. I have another picture book manuscript out for review and two middle grade novels that are at different points of completion. I have far more ideas for stories than I have time to write them!

CMC: Exciting stuff! Good luck and thanks so much for being here today. Y’all check out her website at www.karyntunks.com to see where she’ll be reading and signing next, ordering information, and teaching guides.

Tunks author photoKaryn W. Tunks is Professor of Education at the University of South Alabama. She has more than 30 years of experience teaching learners at every level from preschool through graduate school. Karyn shares her love of children’s literature by writing picture books about her adopted home state of Alabama. Titles include: JUBILEE! (2012), USS ALABAMA: Hooray for the Mighty A! (2015), and Mardi Gras in Alabama! (2019). Her next picture book about the life of Ricky Trione will be released in Spring 2020.

For your Call to Creativity exercise, peruse the paper or news media sites to spark ideas. Do you carry a notebook to jot down things that catch your attention? Now is the time to start if you don’t! Comment with something that sparks inspiration in you, or a picture of your creativity-catching notebook, and one random commenter will receive a picture book critique from me.

Finding Creativity, Uncategorized

It’s A Blog & Book Birthday!

Happy birthday to the Wonder of Words blog! Today marks our one year anniversary and we couldn’t have done it without our readers and our awesome guests. So, thank you all! Happy birthday Wonder of Words!

Speaking of awesome guests, today’s blog post is about a story I first read on a twitter pitch event. As soon as I read Amanda Jackson’s query and first lines, I knew this would be a real-live book one day.
wowAJ1
Welcome to the Wonder of Words, Amanda! I’m so glad we connected during Study Hall and in the debut group, New in Nineteen. I’m excited about your beautiful and important book coming out. When and where did you get the inspiration for your square-who-wants-to-roll-like-a-circle story?

It was late 2016, during the one year my husband and I lived in Northern California. We moved there for his job, and the circumstances were such that I didn’t work. That gave me the time and brain-space to discover my love of writing for kids. So, that’s actually when I started writing picture book stories altogether. That’s one reason I will always be thankful for that crazy year.

I have a deep hope for a more inclusive and understanding society. That hope was what inspired this story. Sam is for anyone who feels they don’t fit, in whatever way.

wowaj4

Such a beautiful hope and your book captures that sentiment perfectly. I love it. And it’s amazing what we can accomplish when we have the brain-space! What is your favorite part of the creative process?

I have two favorites:
– Inspiration. Who doesn’t love being inspired?? There’s nothing like discovering a new idea for a new story. It feels like falling in love.
– Revision. After the initial excitement of inspiration, drafting the story can feel like slogging through mud. But once I get it on the page, and it has every element it needs, I love all the little challenges that come with smoothing it out and making it shine.

Falling in inspiration is the best. Do you have other creative outlets or hobbies? Do they ever cross into your writing?

I do! I enjoy cooking, crocheting, and crafting. I haven’t seen them cross into my writing yet, but they do play an important role. Sometimes my writing muscles need a break, and they offer other creative options.

Love the alliteration, Amanda 😉 Do you have any tips about finding creativity?

My best tip would be to try to pay attention. Because I really think creative inspiration is all around us, and it’s more a matter of recognizing it. I do my best to be aware of the moments I feel that creative spark—moments that makes me laugh, curious, explore, cry, ask questions, get angry. Those are usually the moments that hold that starts to stories.

The act of paying attention is so important. 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?

Sure! When I began writing, I naturally gravitated toward more serious stories. Lately I’ve been playing with punchier, sillier stories that make me laugh as I write them. Such a fun change of pace!

I love silly stories, can’t wait to read ‘em! Thanks so much for being here, Amanda. I have My Shape is Sam preordered and am looking forward to Sam rolling in! wowaj2

Blurb: “In this debut picture book, Sam is a square who lives in a world where everyone has a job to do, depending on their shape. But Sam doesn’t want to stack like the other squares…

He wants to roll like a circle!”

Published by Page Street Kids, wonderful illustrations by Lydia Nichols

Here’s the link to her author website where you can preorder My Shape is Sam, out September 17th: www.AmandaJacksonBooks.com

What is a hope you harbor that could inspire others? Comment by Sept 13th with yours, or mention your latest picture book work-in-progress, and as a special birthday gift to our readers, one lucky random comment will be chosen to get a critique not just from me, but from the whole Wonder of Words team!

Finding Creativity, Uncategorized

Finding Inspiration in Hidden Talents with Erin Le Clerc

We have a super creative author up on the Wonder of Words blog today, Erin Le Clerc, author of the picture book, I’VE GOT A COW CALLED MAUREEN. What a title, right? As soon as my kids saw it, they were clamoring to read it.

WowELC7
Mermaid Girl & Dinosaur Boy practicing their yodeling skills in a tree, of course, just like Maureen!

Thanks so much for being here, Erin. I love the book’s positive message of finding something you’re good at and letting it shine. My kids LOVE the yodeling. What inspired your unique story?

Erin: It’s my pleasure–thank you so much for hosting me! I love that your kids are yodeling.

I’ve Got A Cow Called Maureen is based on the true story of how my Nana Maureen began her journey to becoming Australia’s Champion Swiss Yodeler in the 1940s! WowELC5

A few years ago, I was participating in a picture book writing course with Children’s Book Academy and I was struggling to come up with an idea for a book. I adore my Nana, so when my mum suggested I write about her, I tucked the idea away for further consideration. A few weeks later, she told me that every time my Nana went into her country town, and her mother introduced her to a local farmer, they’d always exclaim “Why, I’ve got a cow called Maureen!” It drove Nana crazy, but it made me laugh, and I knew I’d found an “in” that would let me tell my Nana’s story with a dash of humour!

Candice: Children’s Book Academy is amazing. (Here’s a link for those curious.) And yes, that ‘in’, or hook, is what gives a story life. I love that this is based on your Nana. What a wonderful gift to her and your family. What is your favorite part of the creative process?

Erin: I have two favourites!

I always feel that the first flush of an idea or story inspiration – the part that finds you racing to get everything down on paper – feels a bit like flying! I find this the easiest part of writing, and I love when an idea, title, or some form of concept appears as if by magic.

When it comes to the “hard slog” part of writing, I’m one of those weirdos who ADORES editing. I love tightening sentences, and making sure my stories feel lyrical, colourful, emotional, or truthful. Michelangelo said “Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it”. I feel the same about story ideas and first drafts, and the process of polishing them into a manuscript!

Candice: Fabulous quote. That first flush of inspiration is my favorite. I call it the Divine Spark because you’re right, it does feel like magic. Do you have other creative outlets or hobbies? How do they cross into your writing?

Erin: I do! In addition to writing, I love to crochet, I sing in a choir, I enjoy beading, hand-wowELC6quilting, sewing, and all manner of crafts. I love to decorate my home (it’s like Aladdin’s cave of wonders!), and I’m learning how to draw/paint, which really is an exercise in letting go of my inner critic and perfectionist!!

Candice: Do you have any tips you’d like to share with the Wonder of Words readers about finding creativity?

Erin: I am learning that creativity is something you need to create space for. Sometimes we are “struck with inspiration,” but more regularly, it’s when you sit down and give focused time to a creative project that your brain really starts firing! I also believe in the concept of “Artist Dates” where you go for a walk, go on a fun outing, do something that lifts your spirits, visit a gallery/museum, or even see a movie. When we push ourselves too hard, our body and brain don’t much like it. Rest is an essential part of creativity!

Candice: I’m guessing you’re a fan of Julia Cameron’s “The Artist Way”. I am too. Creativity usually inspires more creativity. Are you working on other book projects that you could give us hints about?

Erin: I have three manuscripts that I am currently submitting to agents. They’re all “gently psychological” stories – about mindfulness, feeling grumpy, and setting body boundaries – but with a whimsical twist! I’m also writing a fantasy adventure middle grade novel that I’m really excited to get out into the world!

Candice: I adore whimsical twists. Middle grade has a special place in my heart so I’m eager to find out more about that. Good luck with your agent hunt. Thanks so much for being here, Erin, and for sharing your creative tips and inspiration!

Erin LeClerc Bio PhotoI knew she’d be the perfect author to feature for the creativity post based on her back-of-the-book bio: Erin Le Clerc grew up with seven siblings, three ghosts, two eccentric parents, and a multitude of farm animals in a crumbling abandoned hospital in the suburbs. This vastly informed her imagination! She’s tremendously proud of her Australian “bush heritage”, which she inherited from her Nana Maureen. She spends her “9 to 5” working as a psychologist, and her “5 to 9” writing adventurous tales.

Here’s how to find her book: by ordering through your local independent bookstore, or on Amazon

And here’s how to find and follow Erin:

Website: www.erinleclerc.com.au

Twitter: https://twitter.com/erinleclerc
Insta: https://www.instagram.com/erinleclercauthor/ & https://www.instagram.com/theresilientcreative (the latter is inspiration and encouragement for fellow writers and creatives!)
Facebook: www.facebook.com/erinleclercauthor
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/18863103.Erin_Le_Clerc

Writing prompt: Ask older family members about their childhood to see if it sparks any inspiration. Leave a comment before the 15th, and I’ll randomly pick someone to win a picture book critique from me.