Finding Creativity

Planting Creativity with Co-writers

Welcome, Word Wonders to today’s post on inspiration! This time I’m interviewing three authors AND an illustrator at once and it’s because they all worked together on the sweet story of friendship, PLANTING FRIENDSHIP: PEACE, SALAAM, SHALOM by Callie Metler, Shirin Rahman, Melissa Stoller, illustrated by Kate Talbot. I’m eager to learn more about the creativity behind this collaboration so let’s jump right in!

Hi, Ladies! Thanks for joining us on the Wonder of Words blog. What was the inspiration behind this story?

Melissa: First, Candice – thank you so much for inviting me to your blog! I enjoyed answering these questions about creativity!

I am so lucky to be working with Callie Metler and Shirin Rahman on this project! PLANTING FRIENDSHIP: PEACE, SALAAM, SHALOM (illustrated by Kate Talbot, Clear Fork Publishing)  has been an absolute pleasure to work on together. Shirin brought the idea to Callie and me, and I will be forever grateful that she did. I have met them both in person (on separate occasions – we still all need to meet together!) and I knew that we would bond perfectly as a group. The inspiration behind the story is to tell a tale of three girls of different faith traditions that would mirror our faith traditions (Jewish, Christian, and Muslim). We wanted to show that, although the three girls in the story are different, they are more alike than they realize at first, and their differences and cultural heritages should be shared and celebrated. The backdrop of the story is the first day of school, and their teacher, Ms. Blume (obvious nod to Judy Blume!) starts a planting project. As the plants bloomed, the girls’ friendship blossomed. Illustrator Kate Talbot’s artwork is just exquisite and she brought her own unique vision to the story and elevated our words!

Callie: The inspiration for Planting Friendship came from Shirin. She wanted to create a book about three girls coming together and so we worked on it together and brainstormed what the story came to be.

Shirin: I have thought about this story since I became a mother. I strongly believe that if children grow up knowing and respecting different faith traditions- and all differences- our world will be better for it. My children are my inspiration. I did not want them to experience the challenges I faced as a child. I want every child to feel they belong. I want every child to be proud of their identity and heritage, while appreciating all others.

Our world is enriched by all the diverse faiths, cultures and traditions–we are one human family.

It’s an important lesson that children need to learn before they begin school. Picture books are so important. They can play a crucial role in a child’s development. I hope our book has a positive impact in the world.

Kate: Callie approached me in late 2020 to ask if I’d be interested in illustrating Planting Friendship: Peace Salaam, Shalom. Upon reading it, I instantly knew I wanted to be involved. The message and the timing of the book seemed perfect and I was excited by the challenge of creating three unique main characters.

The story opens up by introducing us to the three girls and how they lean on their faith as they prepare for school.

Candice: It’s such a great idea! What is your favorite part of the creative process? And what was your favorite part about working with co-writers? Did you learn anything about your own process?

Melissa: As far as the creative process and writing – I enjoy it all. I love brainstorming ideas and find stories all over, especially by observing nature, strolling through my NYC neighborhood, and mining my family history. Also, I enjoy revising and teasing out the heart and themes of a manuscript. Those are not always evident in the first draft and I rely on my amazing critique partners as I work through the story.

For this project – it was an absolute joy to work with Callie and Shirin. We have an amazing energy together. We met almost weekly to write, revise, and polish the manuscript for PLANTING FRIENDSHIP. And we continue to meet to work on the next book, BUILDING BRIDGES: PEACE, SALAAM, SHALOM, as well as the third picture book to complete the series. My favorite part about working with co-authors is the collaboration itself – bouncing ideas off each other, engaging in meaningful dialogue, and the deep friendship that has resulted. We shared a lot and also had many laughs throughout the process! I learned that I LOVE working with co-authors! When illustrator Kate Talbot joined the project we became a true #DreamTeam and I’m so blessed that our work together is continuing!

Callie: I love the discussions and the partnership. We each added something special to the story, and communicated what was important to us for the story.

Shirin: I love writing stories for children. I’m so grateful to be able to live this dream. Working with Callie and Melissa has been such a joy, that I am so thankful we are continuing this collaboration indefinitely! I could not imagine a better team to work with. We schedule zoom meetings and figure out the story together. I am constantly amazed by the ideas we come up with. After every meeting, we all agree that we accomplished a lot. I have learned that I am much more productive when we talk over plot possibilities. The ideas seem to flow better when we brainstorm together.

Kate: I adore working in colour, so for me, the final stage of colouring and rendering my art is my favourite part. For me, this is where the magic really happens and bringing these three gorgeous little girls to life left me with a permanent smile on my face.

One of my favorite parts of these spreads (besides the sweet, calm color palette!) are all the nods to the girls’ faiths in the background

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

Melissa: I love being creative and crafty! My kids and I especially enjoy holiday art projects like decorating a menorah for Hanukkah, making a seder plate for Passover, or baking macaroons for Purim. I also love collecting – I collect shells, sea glass, beach rocks, driftwood, and snow globes. During the summer, I’m always painting shells or making found beach object projects. I think that any creative pursuit does cross over into writing – as I’m creating I’m also thinking and mulling over story plots! Creativity involves using your imagination so whether it’s doing a craft or writing a story, the mind is always active and finding new solutions or ways of doing things, and working around any problems that may arise.

Shirin: I love to paint and I’m learning to draw, as it has always been my dream to write and illustrate my own books. I don’t know if it will take another ten years or more, but I’m content with the journey of learning for now. It’s a way to change gears and still be creative, when I am seized by the dreaded writers block 🙂

Callie: I love to play computer games, read, and paint. They often cross over into my writing.

Kate: While I was the illustrator on this project, I am also a writer, so when I’m not at my iPad sketching, I’m busy dreaming up story ideas.

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

Shirin: For me, creativity is sparked by moments of quiet solitude. Mornings are my favorite times, when I watch the sunrise with a cup of tea. Writing morning pages helps clear my mind and prepares me for a good day of creativity

Melissa: I love finding creativity in my life in small ways throughout the day. I have adult coloring books, tiny blank canvases, and markers on my desk, and I use them if I have a few minutes. And by reading kidlit, keeping a writing idea journal, and always trying to add a spark to an existing manuscript, I hope I am keeping my imagination and my creativity alive. And of course, my book, SCARLET’S MAGIC PAINTBRUSH (illustrated by Sandie Sonke, Clear Fork Publishing) is all about creativity! The theme is letting go of perfection and finding your own creativity – whatever form that may take. And for fans of Scarlet, the sequel, RETURN OF THE MAGIC PAINTBRUSH is coming soon. Sandie’s illustrations are just gorgeous! I’m so excited for readers to be immersed in that world surrounding creativity and imagination once again!

Callie: Creativity can come in any form. The trick is to see and accept the magic in the world around you and to capture that to pour into your writing.

Kate: Like all creatives, I struggle with motivation at times. I’ve found, that for me, the best way to counteract this is to have multiple projects going at once. This means that when I hit a seemingly impassable creative wall, I shift focus for a couple of weeks before circling back. I’ve found that while sometimes I need to push myself, other times, the best thing to do is take a break.

Thank y’all for joining us and sharing your thoughts on inspiration and creativity!

Consider adding PLANTING FRIENDSHIPS to your holiday gift-giving list! Support local by requesting at your indie bookstore or purchasing online at bookshop.org (book specific link) to benefit your favorite indie.

Call to Creativity: have you ever thought about co-writing? What strengths of your own could you share with others?

BIOS:

Melissa Stoller is the author of the chapter book series The Enchanted Snow Globe Collection – Return to Coney Island and the picture books Scarlet’s Magic Paintbrush; Ready, Set, GOrilla!; and Sadie’s Shabbat StoriesPlanting Friendship: Peace, Salaam, Shalom (co-written with Callie Metler and Shirin Rahman, illustrated by Kate Talbot), released from Clear Fork Publishing in 2021. Melissa is a Blogger and Course Assistant for the Children’s Book Academy, a Regional Ambassador for The Chapter Book Challenge, a volunteer with SCBWI/MetroNY, and a founding member of The Book Meshuggenahs. In other chapters of her life, Melissa has worked as a lawyer, legal writing instructor, freelance writer and editor, and early childhood educator. She lives in New York City with her family, and enjoys theatre, museums, and long beach walks.

https://www.MelissaStoller.com
https://www.MelissaStoller.com/blog
http://www.facebook.com/MelissaStoller
http://www.twitter.com/melissastoller
www.instagram.com/Melissa_Stoller
www.pinterest.com/melissa_Stoller
https://www.TheBookMeshuggenahs.com

Shirin has lived on three continents and sees herself as a global citizen. Through sharing stories from her heritage, she hopes to inspire an appreciation for all the diversity of our beautiful planet. A member of SCBWI since 2010, Shirin is now represented by Saba Sulaiman of Talcott Notch Literary Agency. http://www.shirinshamsi.com @ShirinsBooks

Callie Metler is the owner of Clear Fork Media, and an author and illustrator of several children’s books. She lives in Stamford, Texas with her two sons, and enjoys looking out her office window at the trees and nature in the local town square. http://www.CallieMetler.com

Kate Talbot is a Children’s Book Author and Illustrator who has a passion for quirky stories, especially when told in rhyme. She has a degree in filmmaking and spent several years as a Film Producer (the highlight of her career was spilling an entire tray of drinks in Russell Crowe’s lap before falling butt-first into a fountain). In 2011, she made the shift to children’s writing and illustration, when she moved to Germany with her Spanish husband. Until recently she lived there with her family, but has now relocated to New Zealand. https://www.katetalbotbooks.com

Best in Show

Vivian Kirkfield on Showing versus Telling Strategies

Happy New Year Everyone! So excited to have Vivian Kirkfield here with us today! She has quite an exciting 2019 lined up with 3 new picture book releases as well as a trip to SCBWI’s Australia conference in February as a guest speaker. She is such an inspiration to us all and I am honored to have her share her strategies for Showing versus Telling in story writing.

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

VK: When I read a book, I want to care about the characters. That’s what keeps me turning the pages. And I think it is no different for kids. We need to make our readers feel something, right? That’s how we know they are connecting to our characters and our stories. So that when they turn to the last page, they utter an AHHH…or an AWWW…or a HAHAHA.

And to get your readers to connect with your character and your story, you need to have action, each scene in which your character is doing something or reacting to something that was done to her…this action moves the story forward. Plus, your story needs to be alive with details, so the reader can visualize what is happening.  Those are the sensory elements…the descriptive words and strong verbs that put the reader in the setting and in the scene.

pippa's passoverIn PIPPA’S PASSOVER PLATE, there is action galore. The story begins with Pippa Mouse getting ready for the holiday. I’ll put the verbs in bold.

“Hurry, scurry, Pippa Mouse,

Washing, scrubbing, cleaning house.”

Even the rhythmic beat of the rhyming text gives us the sense of her movement. And I don’t just say she is busy…the words show very specific actions on her part.

“Hustle, bustle, lots to do.

Pippa stirs a chicken stew.

Sets the table – all looks great.

Where’s the special Seder plate?”

“Pippa searches in a bin,

finds her missing rolling pin.

Pippa opens up a box,

filled with eighteen holey socks.”

And the words provide drama as well:

“Pippa climbs upon a chair,

stretches up – the cupboard’s bare!

Teeter-totter – hold on tight!

Weeble-wobble – what a fright!”

Throughout the rest of the story, Pippa is on the move…searching for her plate and interacting with the other animals.

But in addition to action, we get sensory details to help the readers feel they are in the scene.  Like the refrain, which occurs each time she questions one of the other animals:

“Quiver, quaver, shiver, shake!

Owls make Pippa cringe and quake.”

And when she approaches the Cat, we understand how frightened she is, but she knows she needs to become the Cat’s friend in order to get information:

“Pippa, though afraid to stir,

gently strokes the velvet fur.”

She also questions the Snake who is slither-sliding by the lake. Oooh…slither-sliding…poor Pippa Mouse. And she approaches Owl who sits in leafy shade in a quiet woodland glade…sounds a bit ominous, right? With those small details, the reader gets a sense of the danger that Pippa must face. With those small details, the reader connects with Pippa and cheers her on…and that is what keeps the reader turning the pages.

TS: Are there specific strategies, tools or resources you use to incorporate more   showing/descriptive language?

VK: Whether I am writing my first rough draft or polishing an old manuscript, I keep Thesaurus.com at the ready. We have a gazillion words in the English language, but sometimes, we get stuck on using the same words, over and over. To punch up your story and give it more depth and get away from simply TELLING what is happening, it’s important to use descriptive language and fresh vocabulary.

There are also books that specifically address the Show vs. Tell issue:

The Emotion Thesaurus

Show Don’t Tell

Show Don’t Tell: How to Describe Your Character’s Emotions

There are also books available that contains many examples of simile (comparing two things and using the words like or as) and metaphor (comparing two things WITHOUT using the words like or as) which are two devices that enrich the language of your story:

I Never Metaphor I Didn’t Like

Metaphors Be With You

If you don’t like accumulating books or your bookshelves cannot take one more addition, I think many of these are available in eBook versions.

I also use mentor texts quite a lot. I’ve read hundreds, if not thousands of picture books. But I still go to the library to find ones that use strong descriptive language….and metaphor…and simile.

four otters cover amazonWhen I was writing FOUR OTTERS TOBOGGAN: AN ANIMAL COUNTING BOOK, I wanted to help children connect with the animals and the setting of that pristine mountain river. I wanted to help children identify with the endangered creatures to hopefully create a bond so that they would appreciate the need to preserve and protect them. But a dragonfly? How could I do that?

The book opens with one willow flycatcher whistling as dawn breaks…and then:

“TWO dragonflies dance,

ballerinas above a liquid stage”

Yes, the dragonflies are ballerinas…dancing above the water. (and this was a metaphor because I don’t use the words like or as…similes and metaphor help create pictures in a child’s mind because you are comparing something to something else that they know) Children have a familiarity with ballerinas…many little girls and boys take ballet lessons.

And later when the day is almost over (and check out the verbs that I’ve put in bold – this story also benefits from strong action words)

“A brisk wind pushes the storm clouds,

revealing the setting sun.

NINE yellow mud turtles stretch out their necks,

sunbathers soaking up the last rays

before leaving their log.”

That’s right! The turtles are sunbathers (another metaphor), stretching out their necks to soak up the sun. Kids know what it is like to go to the beach or sit out in the hot sun. They can imagine that scene so much more clearly…so much more personally, I think, just because of the language I used. I also employed alliteration, a favorite technique in picture book writing where the starting sound of the words in a phrase are the same:

Stretch out their necks, sunbathers soaking up the last rays before leaving the log

TS:  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?

sweet dreams cover template revisedVK: In SWEET DREAMS, SARAH, Sarah Goode builds one of the first cabinet beds, a precursor to the Murphy beds that became so popular more than 30 years later. But, when she tries to patent it, her application is denied. Sarah doesn’t give up. I could have said: Sarah filled out a new application and hurried down to the post office to mail it away. But I wanted the reader to understand how important this was to Sarah. Every day that went by meant someone else could steal her idea. And so, I wrote:

“Carefully she changed a word here and a sentence there, explaining more about her unique mechanism, the idea that had come to her so long ago. Slipping the paperwork and a bit of her heart into the envelope, Sarah sealed her fate and sent it off. “

A bit of her heart went into the envelope, right? And she didn’t only seal the envelope…she sealed her fate. Just a few words that create more than a picture in the reader’s mind…they create a feeling and a connection with Sarah. And I think that is what happens when you show vs. tell.

TS: 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?

VK: How do I know when I’ve got the balance between show and tell just right? Honestly, I don’t. I work on the story about it sounds and feels right. And I give it to critique buddies and then revise as per their feedback. And then give it to another set of critique buddies. But these are a few of the things that I do in my process of writing.

  • So What? Years ago, at a conference, I listened to a presentation that made a big impression on me. The speaker said that we have to ask one important question – so what? Why is this a story that children will want to read? In fact, why is it a story that children should read?  Are the stakes high enough that it deserves to be read? That it matters? And, are there universal truths that will strike a chord with the reader? So, I read my story and ask the question: so what? Why should a kid care about my story?
  • Another thing that I do is refine the opening line. For me, the opening line is the key to my manuscript. Like a house key, it opens the door for the readers to walk into the story. I work very hard at capturing the reader’s attention with my opening line.
  • I also enjoy creating a satisfying ending that almost always circles around and echoes the beginning.
  • I read my story aloud. Many times. If possible, I have someone else read it aloud and I listen.  I record myself on my phone or computer and listen. If I can listen to my story dozens of times and still enjoy hearing it, I think I have found a good balance. If I can listen to my story and feel a connection to the characters, I think I have found a good balance. And if I can read my story and get to the end and say AHHH or AWWW or HAHAHA, I am absolutely positively sure I have found a good balance.

And so will you all.

ABOUT VIVIAN:

Writer for children – reader forever…that’s Vivian Kirkfield in five words. She’s got a bucket list that contains many more than five words – but she’s already checked off skydiving, parasailing and banana-boat riding. When she is not looking for ways to fall from the sky or sink under the water, she can be found writing picture books that she hopes will encourage young kids to become lovers of books and reading. She is the author of Pippa’s Passover Plate (Holiday House, Feb 2019); Four Otters Toboggan: An Animal Counting Book (PomegranateKids, March 2019); Sweet Dreams, Sarah (Creston Books, May 2019); Making Their Voices Heard: The Inspiring Friendship of Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe (Little Bee Books, Spring 2020); From Here to There: Inventions That Changed the Way the World Moves (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Fall 2020). She lives in the quaint New Hampshire town of Amherst where the old stone library is her favorite hangout and her young grandson is her favorite board game partner. You can visit Vivian on her website, Picture books Help Kids Soar, where she hosts the #50PreciousWords Writing Challenge every March. Or connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Linkedin, and just about any place people are playing with picture books.

You can connect with Vivian through the following: 

Vivian’s Website: Picture Book Help Kids Soar

Vivian’s Facebook Page: Facebook.com/vivian.kirkfield

Vivian’s Twitter Page: Twitter/viviankirkfield

Vivian’s Pinterest Page: Pinterest/viviankirkfield

Vivian’s Instagram Page: Instagram/viviankirkfield

Vivian’s Linkedin Page:  Linkedin/viviankirkfield

Vivian’s Books and Writing Challenges:

Closing Remarks:

Thank you again Vivian for spending time with us today. We greatly appreciate your knowledge and wish you a fantastic journey this year!

See you all on our next blog post February 2nd !!

Pitch It to Me

~ The “Pitch It to Me” Challenge ~

Hello everyone, and welcome to the first “Pitch It to Me” Challenge! I am excited to bring this interactive learning adventure to our Wonder of Words blog. It’s intended to be fun and engaging, show how creative we can be with our story pitches, and support the hard-working and WONDERful members or our writing community.

Here’s a recap of how it works. I pick one lucky writer’s picture book pitch for the post. I write another for the same story, and have a guest write a third. YOU get to vote on your favorite. The winner gets bragging rights, and the writer ends up with three pitch ideas, feedback, and a complimentary critique of the story.

To start us off, Kari Gonzalez pitches her picture book manuscript, PRINCESS PARTY NINJA. Our guest challenger is author Melissa Stoller. You can learn more about each of these ladies and their work below.

You have two weeks to vote on your favorite pitch. They are in no particular order. Please only vote once, but feel free to tell your friends about us and get them in on the action. Let the challenge begin!

 

About Kari Ann:

Kari is a published poet, but she is most enthralled with her new-found love of writing funny and witty picture book escapades. Her first draft writing process is fast and furious to get stories out of her head, which of course makes room for more! Her three cats are kind enough to share their home with Kari, her husband, and their two little girls.

Connect with Kari at: https://www.karianngonzalez.com

About Melissa Stoller:

Melissa Stoller is the author of the chapter book series The Enchanted Snow Globe Collection – Book One: Return to Coney Island and Book Two: The Liberty Bell Train Ride (Clear Fork Publishing, 2017 and 2019); and the picture books Scarlet’s Magic Paintbrush and Ready, Set, GOrilla! (Clear Fork, Fall 2018). She is also the co-author of The Parent-Child Book Club: Connecting With Your Kids Through Reading (HorizonLine Publishing, 2009). Melissa is an Assistant for the Children’s Book Academy, a Regional Ambassador for The Chapter Book Challenge, an Admin for The Debut Picture Book Study Group, and a volunteer with SCBWI/MetroNY. Melissa has worked as a lawyer, legal writing instructor, freelance writer and editor, and early childhood educator. Melissa lives in New York City with her husband, three daughters, and one puppy. When not writing, she can be found exploring NYC with family and friends, traveling, and adding treasures to her collections.

Connect with Melissa at:

www.MelissaStoller.com

http://www.facebook.com/MelissaStoller

http://www.twitter.com/melissastoller

http://www.instagram.com/Melissa_Stoller

http://www.pinterest.com/melissastoller

Concluding Remarks:

Thank you to Kari and Melissa for participating in the first Pitch It to Me challenge. If you would like to be part of the next challenge, please contact me per the instructions found here. I will see you all again for “Pitch It to Me” on December 15, 2018!