Wednesday, March 18, 2015

It Takes a Community to Raise a Writer (And a writer to shape a nation)

Writing can often be a lonely endeavor -- but it shouldn't be. Today, guest blogger Johnell DeWitt shares her experiences with creating community. 

Moving every two years taught me the importance of community. When we relocated to the States roughly four years ago, I decided to start writing again, this time for children. I had no idea where to begin, so I asked a neighbor whod been recently published. She turned me on to Verla Kays Blueboards (now the SCBWI Blueboards) and told me about SCBWI.

Preferring the anonymity of an online forum, I joined the Blueboards. Poking around the various threads helped me learn the basics, but I also learned that I needed more interaction if I really wanted to progress. Posts about Tara Lazars PiBoIdMo started popping up so I decided to give it a try. I was still too chicken to join SCBWI even though I knew I needed that in-person instruction.

Its funny how a need often heightens ones awareness of possible solutions. As I started interfacing with people on the PiBoIdMo Facebook page, I realized that several of them lived in my area. An incautious thought crept in. Why couldnt we start our own Facebook page to keep each other informed about author events in our neighborhoods? I proposed the idea and received positive responses, unfortunately, no one offered to do it.

The social media scene was foreign territory after living in foreign territory for seven years, so I wasnt sure how to start. After failed attempt after failed attempt, I finally created an operational group page and invited my PiBo friends to join. As members started trickling in, I realized I was surrounded by experienced writers. Another incautious thought crept in. Why couldnt I learn from the writers in my own backyard?

Since my usual cautious nature was already riding the wind, I went ahead and proposed the idea of holding a mini-seminar. Again, the responses were positive. Two talented authors agreed to present to us and we started pulling it together.

Long story short, we hosted our first seminar in a library room we reserved for free. I can barely express the importance of that opportunity. Through this group, I found the courage to join SCBWI, Julie Hedlunds 12x12 and start another writing community, this time in my new home in Central America.

I knew before moving to Central America that there was no SCBWI chapter in the region, but I figured thered be some type of writing community. There sort of was, but not specifically for childrens lit. I was taking a class from Mira Reisberg at the time and she suggested I start an SCBWI chapter in my new home. Excellent advice but how to do it? I started asking questions again. I called SCBWI and then met with expats who knew the local scene. As the names started trickling in, I realized my new writing community would be different.

The country Im in suffers from problems common to emerging economies, not the least of which is a lack of a strong national identity. An under-represented aspect of this problem lies in a dearth of national literature. One of my favorite quotes on this topic comes from Kenyan author, Ngugi Wa Thiongo:

A Russian child grows under the influence of his native imaginative literature: a Chinese, a Frenchman, a German or an Englishman first imbibes his national literature before attempting to take in other worlds. That the central taproot of his cultural nourishment should lie deep in his native soil is taken for granted.

Id lived in various parts of Africa and understood the need for books that spoke the local languagein words and culture. Id also lived in Finland and had studied the significance of Finlands epic, The Kalevala. How a simple piece of literature, and the author who compiled it, changed the course of Finnish history is as epic as the story. Why couldnt we do the same?

The writing group we are forming now is still in the beginning phases, but we are already finding talented artists, authors and others excited about creating a thriving childrens literature community. If we succeed, the impact will be far-reaching.

In the few short years Ive been writing, theres no way I could have attempted a step this big without a writing community to guide me. Ive gained many friends and mentors whove graciously shared their talents and helped me build mine. If the rest of society invested in each other the way childrens lit creators do, wed change the world. For now, you are helping me change mine.

Johnell DeWitt blogs with her writing group at Dew Drops of Ink. She has written other posts about the importance of community for Julie Hedlunds blog and for her own

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

How To Write Your Passion

Today guest blogger Pat Tanumihardja encourages you to follow your passion!

When I was a little girl, there was nothing I loved more than sitting in a corner of my room curled up with a good book. Well, actually there was—hanging out in the kitchen with my mom.

As I got older, my love of reading morphed into a love of writing. Stringing words together to make beautiful sentences was pure joy! Along the way, I was helping my mom roll spring rolls and I watched diligently as she cooked my favorite childhood dishes. My biggest triumph came when I baked my first cake solo at 11-years-old.

I knew I wanted to be a writer and I knew I loved food and cooking.

Although I didn’t travel a straight path, I’ve finally found a way to combine my two passions, in essence, a way to write my passion.

Finding Your Passion

For me, finding a passion to write about came very naturally. For others, it may take some soul searching. If you land in the latter camp, here are some ideas to define your passion:

  • Think back to your childhood and make a list of your favorite activities and interests. Revisit some of them, including foods and events. The things we loved as a child are probably still the things we love today.
  •  Connect the dots. Search for clues that might help you discover a long running thread that has been connecting everything in your life: your habits, the games you played, the books you read.
  •   Examine your life and see if you’re already doing something that you love. Think about the things you do that make you happy. Talk to friends about what you’re good at.
  •    Explore new avenues of creativity—pick up a new hobby like pottery or tennis. They just might ignite a newfound passion.

Channeling your Passion
People write for many reasons—to make money, to keep a record of their lives (journaling), as  a form of catharsis, self-satisfaction, etc.  

Twelve years ago, after almost a decade working in the arts, I started writing picture books. Two years and a dozen manuscripts later, and without a contract in sight, I switched gears and started freelancing for magazines. It was a hard decision to make but I had to earn a living.

That’s how I ended up writing about food for print and online publications. Immersing myself in the cross-section of food and writing eventually led to a cookbook and a blog, which I still keep up today.

When my son was born, I felt drawn to children’s writing again and I’ve picked it up again seriously in the last year or so. And for some strange reason, all the stories that I’ve been cooking up seem to have a food-related theme! Like writing, it’s become a part of me.

It could happen with just about any passion whether you love dogs, astronomy, or knitting. Writers today have never been so lucky -- there are so many outlets to choose from if you want to write about your passion.

Let’s take the topic of knitting for example.

  • Blog post: Review a new knitting book that features unique, trendy designs that you never thought you’d be able to knit yourself.
  •  Non-fiction article: Profile the owner of a new knitting store in your town that’s cultivating a new generation of knitters.
  • Children’s picture book: A girl has magic knitting needles that allow her to “knit” anything her heart desires.
  •   Novel: Create a main character who’s so shy and timid and she only finds solace in knitting. 

You get what I mean.

You don’t have to stick to only one platform. Pick two or three or more! The possibilities are endless. For me, my writing portfolio evolved quite naturally and food and cooking remained at the very center of it. And it happened over a decade.

My advice is to just take the plunge without any expectations. Above all, do it for yourself and start writing because you want to share your passion with others. When you write about what you’re passionate about, it shows, and your audience will eventually follow.  

Pat Tanumihardja considers herself lucky to be able to write her passion—as a freelance writer, cookbook author and now, a children’s writer. Pat blogs about food and life at and can be found on Twitter: @ediblewords.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Writing About Minorities, for Non-Minorities.

This week, guest blogger Erik Thurman encourages us to write outside our race while avoiding potential landmines.

The publishing world has always been slow to change, especially in recognizing the growing diversity of our readership. For generations in Western society people of color, LGBTQ, women, religious minorities, individuals with disabilities, and others have been exposed to fables of valiant, pale-skinned men who fight for glory and honor, and bring peace and order to the lands they were destined to save. The hero’s trial takes him through lava-filled caverns, treacherous high seas, and even to the heavens, until he is finally rewarded with the token object of his desire.

Oftentimes, minority readers are brought along for the ride as outsiders looking in, waiting for the chance when they can be more than a sidekick (at best), and actually see a hero that embodies them.

In a 2013 study, the Cooperative Children’sBook Center (CCBC) found that 89.5% of children's books featuring humans were about white people.

We should be careful not to place blame solely on publishers. After all, they aren’t the ones producing the manuscripts; nor can they magically conjure them out of nowhere. Oftentimes it’s the writers-- many of whom come from a certain level of privilege that allows them the time to create a body of work-- who are unable to go beyond "writing what they know" to explore a more diverse narrative.

The fear of ‘getting it wrong’ is strong, but does that mean that writers should avoid creating characters outside of their own background? Of course not! Whatever your background, do not be too afraid to write about experiences that not your own. But do look at your manuscripts critically -- and strengthen your work by avoiding some of these common mistakes that people make in their storytelling.

Beware using descriptive words that invoke thoughts of food to describe a non-white person.

.When was the last time you saw a white person's skin described as powdered sugar or a shortbread cookie? Your beautiful Nigerian queen isn’t made of smooth, milk chocolate; just as the hard-as-nails Columbian network supervisor in your urban fantasy isn’t a coffee-tinting beau.  The ethnic Chinese model from Honolulu is not made of honey, nor is the Egyptian office worker in London as sweet as caramel and cinnamon.

Using descriptive food words to describe the color of a person’s skin subtly fetishizes a race, turning skin tone into something that is to be tried, tasted, and consumed.

Don’t add accents for “flavor.”

Every person has their speech patterns – reflecting their history, family background, educational level, and past travels and experiences. Storytellers who try to fake these accents and speech patterns for the sake of differentiating between the characters demonstrate a lack of understanding of the inhabitants of their world. Take the time to appreciate and capture the actual nuances of language; don’t just write what you expect to hear.

Also note: there is no problem with demonstrating someone’s trouble in speaking a language that is not their native tongue, and representing it accurately in your text, as long as it’s clear that their difficulty with one language does not reflect poorly on their overall intelligence. 

Not everyone fits within their society’s bubble.

What are the first things that come to your mind when you think of a South Korean woman in her early 20s?  Your list might include the following—docile, obedient, cute, small, and dainty.

Yet none of these words quite describe one of my best friends in Seoul, Sung-ae. At the age of 18, Sung-ae traveled throughout Africa and the Middle East alone for fifteen months. She spent considerable time living in Damascus, Syria, picking up Arabic before the civil war broke out, and later worked for a Korean tour company in Egypt while living in Maat’i and Alexandria. Now, she’s back in Korea working as an Elementary school teacher for a Christian organization.

Yes, we all internalize particular characteristics of the culture that we grew up in, but rarely does a person fit perfectly into some compartmentalized stereotype. Make your characters nuanced human beings, instead of cardboard cutouts made of preconceived notions. 

Indigenous peoples do not have some sort of mystic connection to nature or the Earth.

We’ve all heard of the story arc in Western literature where the hero—often a white male from a foreign land—meets an indigenous group of people during his quest. The hero quickly befriends the indigenous people, who are practitioners of a long lost magic, and then undergoes a sacred rite of passage so that he may accomplish his goal.

Yes, people have different cultures, values, and behavioral patterns – and you should embrace those. But the idea of the writer giving indigenous peoples magical powers reeks of unconscious atonement for a history of colonialism/imperialism.

If you write about mental illness, don’t so in a way that overshadows all other character development.

Many writers will offset “disadvantages” caused by a disability – physical, mental, emotional, learning, or otherwise -- by bestowing disabled characters with unnatural abilities that are derived from their impairment. These might include telepathic powers for borderline personality disorder, the power to see the dead for the visually-impaired, or possessing a healing touch for the paraplegic.

This becomes a problem when the disabilities become the main personality trait for these characters, dwarfing the other good and bad aspects about these individuals, and thus marginalizing all other character development. Nobody’s existence can be narrowed down to one single defining trait, and to treat a character that way is to shortchange what it means to be human.

Lastly, look for ways to break “the single story.”

During the Axis of Evil 2008 comedy tour, which featured prominent Arab, Persian, and Middle Eastern comedians from all over the world, comedian Ahmed Ahmed was flooded with tweets from fans and critics alike. During an interview, Ahmed recounted one of those messages from a conservative forum--
‘I didn’t know these people [Muslims] laughed.’

Oftentimes, our readers are subjected to a single story to represent an entire group of people—such as in the case of the film American Sniper’s depiction of Iraqis as inherently vile creatures capable of driving drill bits through people’s skulls. These stories serve no other purpose than to indoctrinate a newer generation into the same stereotypes of the past. Fortunately, novels like Kite Runner, with its portrayal of Afghan youth help combat these narratives.

The majority of stereotypes only arise because we keep hearing the same story, packaged differently, 
over and over again, until we internalize them as the story of a group of people. Even providing just one more narrative goes a long way in helping our readers gain a broader perspective of groups of people that are not our own.

I hope that writers can use some of these points to look critically at their work, and use it as a springboard in order to improve representation from people from all backgrounds.

And maybe, by reflecting a world in which they are accurately represented, we can hope to inspire young readers of all backgrounds to pursue a career in writing.

Erik Thurman is a comics journalist and educator who currently calls South Korea, home.
Born in California, USA, his experience traveling throughout his youth has offered him the opportunity to live in three countries, while acquiring an affinity for languages, politics, and foreign affairs.  His comics have appeared in The Huffington Post, The Nib, The Cartoon Picayune, and Reed Magazine,  among other print and digital publications.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Nailing Your Opening Sentence

Every once in a while, I see a manuscript that hooks me from the first sentence. Yes, one sentence can make my heart beat faster. And then I read the second sentence, and my stomach can . And then I read the next and the next and the next. And that heady feeling I'm getting all started with one superbly crafted first sentence.

Don't worry about writing this holy grail of a sentence until you've reached the end of your story.. First, a perfect beginning is nothing without a great entire manuscript. Second, most people take time to get a true handle on their stories. This means there's no point fussing over the beginning ... at the beginning. Your first start may not be your last.

But once you've written the end and revised the big-picture items of your draft, it's time to obsess, at least a bit. A great first sentence is one that makes the reader ache for the next. You do that by evoking strong emotion. And you do that through:

What that tone is and what unexpected looks like will depend on the age group and genre you are writing for. However, the unexpected usually reverses conventions – by looking at something normal in a new way, putting something normal in a novel context, or putting something novel in a normal context.

Humorous Picture Book
When I bought my rhinoceros, I didn't really know what I was getting into. - Jon Agee, My Rhinoceros  
Why it works: Sets the tone and the unusual problem in a humorously understated way.

Nonfiction Picture Book
Dolores is a teacher, but her students are too hungry to listen. - Sarah Warren, Dolores Huerta: A Hero to Migrant Workers
Why it works: Introduces the main character and gives her an unexpected, yet important and compelling obstacle.

Middle Grade Fantasy
Sophie had waited all her life to be kidnapped. - Soman Chaini, The School for Good and Evil
Why it works: Introduces the main character, sets the tone, and throws convention out the window in nine simple words.

Contemporary Middle Grade
"Tall," I said.
"No,what do you really want to be when you grow up?" said Molly: - Michael Fry, The Odd Squad. Zero Tolerance.
Why it works: It starts revealing the main character (short, sarcastic), and sets the tongue-in-cheek tone.  Also, sometimes you don’t have to aim for the perfect first sentence.  A group of quick sentences can be just as strong.

Some beginning sentences are compelling because they beg questions, and the only way to get answers is to read more:
  • The rabbits were quite unsuspecting. - Dietlof Reich, The Haunting of Freddy (Book 4)
  • 124 was spiteful. - Toni Morison, Beloved.
  • Every summer Lin Kong returned to Goose Village to divorce his wife, Shuyu. - Ha Jin, Waiting
  • In a sense, I am Jacob Horner. - John Barth, The End of the Road.
  • It was the day my grandmother exploded. - Ian Banks, Crow Road

But what if the first scene does not set up anything unexpected?
Ask yourself if your manuscript starts too early – if you are laying down too much unnecessary “road work” before the story really gets going. Just because you, the author, need to understand the characters and their backstory doesn’t mean the readers need all that information at the get-go. Solution: pick a stronger starting point. But what your start is just fine -- what if you need normal and humdrum in order to create the bedlam that follows?

Perhaps the unexpected thing is the point of view, not the events:
The sun shone, having no alternative, on nothing new. – Samuel Beckett, Murphy 

Perhaps the unexpected is merely throwing convention right in the reader’s face:

“If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.” – J.D. Salinger, Catcher in the Rye

Or you can always hook the reader by telling them why they should stick around. Foreshadowing can easily feel trite or heavy-handed if not used with a light touch, but it can also be used to great effect:

“A day and a half ago I killed a man and the thought weighs heavily on my mind.” – Sue Grafton, A is for Alibi (this is a minor cheat: it is the third sentence)

You can also juxtapose the seemingly mundane with what’s about to break loose:

“The terror, which would not end for another twenty-eight years--if it ever did end--began, so far as I know or can tell, with a boat made from a sheet of newspaper floating down a gutter swollen with rain.” – Stephen King, IT

Foreshadowing needn't rest in the realm of thrillers and horror, either. Every story has conflict, this technique could work for any genre.

Hopefully, by now I've convinced you that one little sentence can draw a reader in. Now it’s your turn – take a new look at your manuscript and see whether you could make your beginning stronger. And share in the comments below: What are some of your favorite first sentences? Why do they work for you?

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Fishing for Powerful Beginnings

Today's guest post was written by Kerbie Addis.

For many writers, creating a powerful beginning is a daunting task. Convincing a reader to stick around for the next twenty or thirty chapters seems almost impossible, but luckily there’s advice out there for writers:

While these familiar fishing metaphors act as guides for creating strong beginnings, they are sometimes used incorrectly. A car exploding on page one might be exciting, but we won’t have a reason to care. Opening with a graphic scene might shock the reader into paying attention, but attention wanes after several pages lacking plot. While we’re told to “hook” and “bait” readers, shoving bait in a fish’s face will only scare it away.

To expound on the fishing analogy, I’d like to introduce the technique of reeling in. This relies on a necessary component for novelists - the inciting incident.

The inciting incident, as many writers know, is the crucial moment that begins the story’s conflict. In Harry Potter, for example, the inciting incident is Harry’s acceptance to Hogwarts. In Legally Blonde, the inciting incident is Elle being dumped by her boyfriend. In order to create a powerful beginning for your novel, you first have to identify the inciting incident.

Once you’ve identified the inciting incident, reel it in. But how far back should you reel in? Developing appropriate distance between page one and the inciting incident takes practice and experimentation. However, the reader will need time to establish the world and time to care about the main character.

Establishing the world isn’t just for fantasy and science fiction, where worldbuilding is a must. If the inciting incident shatters your character’s life and changes everything, we have to know what this means for them. For the reader, you must establish the status quo in order to destroy it. If the turning point for your protagonist is finding a dead body, don’t begin with that. Show us a world where this sort of thing shouldn’t happen - or maybe it’s a world where it’s all too common.

What is your protagonist doing beforehand? Give us a character to empathize with so we feel their disgust and horror at stumbling across a stiff. Would this change them? Is this just another day for them? We need a feel for your character’s personality before having them thrown into a horrifying or action-packed scene.

This isn’t to say you should start your novel with a character staring into a cup of coffee, in deep introspection. Once you have a fish on the hook, you must keep tension in the line. In other words, once you draw a reader in, you have to keep things tense and interesting to keep them engaged. Even if you begin with nothing exciting, give us the promise that something exciting will happen very soon.

Hook us with your first few pages. Use the first chapter as bait to draw us in.

These bits of wisdom are good advice - when explained properly. Baited hooks are a game of patience, requiring the fisherman to try different fishing spots and proper technique by reeling in with a tight line. In writing, you may need several attempts to find just the right starting point for your story. But with practice, you can find a proper balance that will leave readers begging for the next page. 

Kerbie Addis writes young adult speculative fiction. She is currently a college student and works as a reference assistant in her university library. In her spare time, she is a freelance editor and amateur video game theorist. 

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Weaving Fact Into Fiction

Writing fiction is fascinating, especially if it is done right. But how can you make it right? How can you convince the reader to go beyond the first chapter? Fiction is mostly about using your rich imagination to create the scenery, the characters, and the story. But it can become something even greater if you conduct a bit of research related to your topic. You should include real facts regarding your primary topic in your book. Why? Because a reader will find it easier to slip into the “reality” you present in the book. Of course, you don’t have to make your manuscript read like documentary. A few well-sprinkled facts, here and there, go a long way to keeping the reader hooked to your story.

When you start with a new project, don’t bother with the title and the names of the chapters, or how many chapters you will have in the end. The first, and most important, is to set the main topic. And then the scene. The main characters’ knowledge base. Remember, you don’t have to just research places, events, and procedural facts. Behavioral research can help you create believably flawed characters with complex motivations. All these aspects and more can benefit from a bit of research. Search legitimate sources and note anything you think it will do you good.

Image by Maria Noordegraaf, Flickr
While some authors skimp over the research aspect of writing, others can go overboard.   Don’t feel like you need to – or should! – use all the information you garner, however. Fragments that can be successfully inserted in the story will be more useful. It will give the story that real touch, that feeling that it is anchored, even for some limited moments, in real life. Instead of dumping all your research into clumpy paragraphs, grab a hold of these notes as you will need them. Sometimes it might be easier – or more important – to get the details right as you write the scene, but other times you can concentrate on capturing your ideas and letting the words flow, then adding those realistic tidbits on your second go-around.               

Revising is a critical part of writing, but be careful not to smother your story with too many details. Details are good for creating the right scenario and giving the correct information about the things going in the story. But only in portions. Too much information hampers both tension and the forward movement of the plot and will make the reader fall asleep while reading your book. So, do give your reader the details that help color your scene or the action – that help complete the picture – but don’t make the mistake of writing like the facts are the picture, because they never are in novels. People read fiction for the story not to find out in three whole pages how the chamber of the library was looking like, or something similar. Your primary task is to make the story catchy, and give details only to complete the experience.

Image by Gin P.H. (Gambargin)
So, what to include? Good research can help you decide the best details. But don’t forget to put yourself in your characters shoes. What would they notice? Care about? What would affect their actions or moods?  The answer is going to be different for every character, and in fact, the details that you choose to convey can not only help to create a more realistic setting and procedures, but also flesh out your character as a distinct entity. And all that helps create those series of moments that make the real world fade away for the reader while the pages keep turning, and that, of course, is your ultimate goal.  

This week's post was written by Raluca Baban with Ella Kennen.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Get Fresh! Breathing New Life into Evergreen Themes

This week, guest blogger Marcie Colleen shows us how to break the mold.

Hang around picture books long enough and you will start to believe that we just keep writing the same stories over and over again: there’s a new baby in the house; some little protagonist wants a pet; life is tough when you don’t fit in.  The list goes on and on because these are universal themes that kids everywhere can relate to.  And we want kids to be able to relate to our books, right?  Right!  So pick up your pencil and write a story about a universal theme and you are golden, right?  Not quite. 

The world does not need another blah story about a little boy who wants a dog, his parents say no, he begs and begs, they finally give in and he gets a dog.  End of story.  Sure, this story might have really happened to a child you know (or even yourself) and it might have been incredibly cute and charming and silly.  AND you might write it with perfect rhythm, pacing, tension, scene-building, etc.  In fact, everything about your manuscript might be technically perfect AND it deals with a story that kids can relate to BUT it’s blah.  It’s boring.  

You see, it’s not just about what you write and how you write it.  Your story needs to be fresh to stand out and take on the competition. 

So how to do you turn an evergreen theme into a fresh concept that editors will want to publish and kids will want to devour?  It takes a little twisting, a little shaking up, and a HUGE bend in in the way you think.

Let’s look at some recent examples of evergreen themes cleverly twisted into something incredibly fresh.

Evergreen Theme: Wanting a Pet
Clever Twist on the Theme:
  • Me Want Pet by Tammi Sauer, illustrated by Bob Shea—a caveboy tries out many prehistoric animals.
  • Children Make Terrible Pets by Peter Brown—Beatrice Bear finds a human child in the woods and brings him home.
  • Backhoe Joe by Lori Alexander, illustrated by Craig Cameron—a little boy finds a stray backhoe and takes it home to be a pet.

Evergreen Theme: Manners or how to behave        
Clever Twist on the Theme:
  •  How Do Dinosaurs series by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Mark Teague—deals with how dinosaurs, and ultimately children should behave in a comical spin.
  • Mustache Baby by Bridget Heos, illustrated by Joy Ang—Billy is born with a mustache, but is it a good guy mustache or a bad guy mustache?

Evergreen Theme: There’s a new baby in the house  
Clever Twist on the Theme:            
  • Won Ton and Chopstick: A Cat and Dog Tale Told in Haiku by Lee Wardlaw, illustrated by Eugene Yelchin—Won Ton’s life requires some adjustment when a new puppy is adopted.
  • There’s an Ouch in My Pouch by Jeanne Willis—what happens when a mommy wallaby has another baby and the pouch gets tight?

I could go on and on with examples, but hopefully you are starting to understand what I am talking about here. I’ll give you one more example from my own writing before I leave you to your own twisting and shaking up. 

Some may already know that I am a former nanny who still babysits two days a week.  The kids that I watch were having a real issue on the playground.  Although they knew how to play with a friend, they had a really tough time playing once a third friend would show up.  The other nannies and I got to talking about our own memories of being a kid and dealing with a trio.  It certainly was something we all could relate to—an evergreen theme, you could say.  But because I didn’t want to write yet another story about kids trying to navigate friendships on the playground, I had to be clever and twist my idea into something fresh. 

I introduce to you, Love, Triangle.
Square and Circle have been friends forever. They just fit, the way best friends do. Then someone new comes along: Triangle. Triangle is different, bold, inspirin. A wedge develops between Circle and Square and before long, they find they no longer fit the way they used to. Can this frienship for two grow to become one for three? Filled with geometry-inspired wordplay, this story resonates with even the youngest readers -- after all, you don't have to understand the Pythagorean Theorem to know what it's like when a friendship gets bent out of shape and needs to be put back together again. 
I am so excited to say that Love, Triangle was sold at auction this past November and will be published by Balzer+Bray/HarperCollins.  Look for it on a future bookshelf.

This is all to say, don’t ever let anyone tell you that a topic or theme of a story is overdone.  Sure there might be many other stories on the shelves that already deal with the underlying evergreen theme, but with your own brand of clever execution you can write a stand out title.

So go ahead!  Tackle that first day of school story.  Don’t shy away from a “visiting Grandma and Grandpa” tale.  Who cares if there are a zillion barnyard stories.  Shake it up.  Twist it around.  And get fresh.

Marcie Colleen’s debut picture book, The Adventure of the Penguinaut sold to Scholastic in fall 2014 and will tentatively be published in 2016.  Additionally, Love, Triangle sold in a five house auction to Balzer+Bray/HarperCollins as part of a two book deal.  Marcie is proud to be represented by Susan Hawk/The Bent Agency.  She lives in Brooklyn, NYC with her husband—Lego artist Jonathan Lopes—and their mischievous sock monkey.  To learn more, visit her at or follow her at @MarcieColleen1.

What are some of your favorite takes on tried-and-true ideas? Share in the comments!