Posts Tagged StoryStorm

Interview and Two 30 Minute Skype Giveaways with Author Tara Lazar

I’d like to welcome Tara Lazar to the Mixed-Up Files blog. She’s an amazing author and has done so much to help the kidlit community as well as teachers, media specialists, and students.

Please tell us all about Storystorm and how you came up with the idea for it. 

Jealousy, that little green monster, is to blame. In November 2008, I saw writing friends post all about the amazing National Novel Writing Month challenge and I came down with a bad case of FOMO. So I thought–what kind of challenge could I create for picture books? Writing one manuscript in a month was not much of a challenge, and writing one every day for a month was pure insanity. So I thought maybe a story idea a day was doable—a challenge, but not an insurmountable one. I called it Picture Book Idea Month or PiBoIdMo, borrowing from the NaNoWriMo nomeclature. That year I did it on my own. The following year I decided to throw it up on my website. What the heck, right? Maybe a dozen people would participate with me. I had no expectations for it whatsoever.

 

I love how this evolved into Storystorm, where writers, illustrators, and students can use this challenge to come up with 30 story ideas in 31 days for any genre each January. You don’t have to write a manuscript (but you can if the mood strikes). You might think of a clever title. Or a name for a character. The object is to heighten your idea-generating senses. Ideas may build upon other ideas. Your list of potential stories will grow stronger as the days pass. On Tara’s blog, daily posts by authors, illustrators, editors and other publishing professionals will help inspire you. By the end of the month, you’ll have a fat file of ideas to spark new stories.

Sign up for this free idea challenge using this link by January 7 if you’d like the chance to win some amazing prizes! 

What are some great ways for teachers, media specialists, and parents to encourage kids to join in your challenge?  

Honestly, the daily posts are so much fun, they could easily spend just five minutes reading it with the students, then give the students five minutes to brainstorm. It’s just that easy and simple.

 

What has surprised you the most about Storystorm?  

How much writers love it. How many books have been created as a result. I had no idea it would resonate this strongly.

 

How has Storystorm helped writers and students?  

I think it helps everyone tune into their creativity. Creativity isn’t something that necessarily comes naturally. You have to make time and space for it, like anything else in life. The little daily motivation it provides is surprisingly powerful. And hopefully after thirty days, it becomes a habit.

 

If you were giving us a Storystorm Skype right now, how would you motivate us to come up with ideas? 

I often tell students that all you need for a story is a character and a problem. I tell them to just look around the room. Anything can be a character. The chair you’re sitting on. I mean, a chair has a lot to complain about, having all those butts on it all the time.

 

LOL! I wonder if we’ll see a chair book in your future. ?

How do participants keep track of their ideas and how detailed do they need to be?  

Whatever makes the most sense for that writer. A notebook. A Microsoft Word document. A note on your phone. The idea can be one word like “mustache” or a title or a sentence or an entire paragraph. These are your ideas, your rules.

 

Once people come up with all these ideas, what should their next steps be?  

They have to decide what idea calls to them the most, what would make an interesting story. I find I get a gut reaction from certain ideas—they just beg to be written. Maybe not immediately, maybe they just simmer in my brain awhile, but I know I want to write that idea. If you do not get a gut reaction, maybe share your ideas with trusted critique partners or writing friends to see what they think. What idea sounds most promising? This isn’t an exact science, either. Maybe you need to build on your existing ideas until you get an AHA moment. Experiment. Try writing something. You never know what will happen. I love the act of discovery as I am writing a story. Some start out one way and then veer off in a different direction. I then step back and refine the story concept.

 

That’s great advice, Tara! Sometimes I find that a few ideas mesh together into an amazing one. Between the inspiring daily blog posts and Storystorm community, the ideas usually flow for me, but I found a few tricks to spark ideas on slower days, thanks to some of your wonderful archived posts. The ones I use most are 500+ Things That Kids Like and 100+ Things Kids Don’t Like. I also scroll back to posts from previous years, for both Storystorm and the original PiBoIdMo. Tammi Sauer’s posts are always a huge help!

What are some of your favorite tools and tricks for coming up with as many unique ideas as possible?

Get out and live life. I have gotten so many ideas from things that happen to me or things I see around me. The difference is being aware that something can be an idea. If you want lightning to strike, you need to hold a lightning rod. (OK, I don’t mean that literally.) But going through a normal day—knowing in the back of your mind that you are seeking inspiration—causes inspiration to visit. You are looking at the world through a different lens.

 

You have been on fire with your amazing picture books. Huge congratulations to you and all your lucky readers! What are some great ways that teachers and media specialists can use picture books with 9 – 11 year-old students?

Can you find the blue eyeball monster?

I find that the older students are so sharp at picking out hidden humor in picture books and noticing small details. Some of my illustrators have included tiny characters in multiple pages of our books. In 7 ATE 9, there is a tiny mouse in the office of the daring Private I. Who is that mouse? He has his own story. What is it? In THE MONSTORE, there is a furry blue eyeball monster that appears on sixteen pages of the book. Who is he? What is he watching for?

Picture books often have extra characters in their pages—ones who never receive a single line of text from the author. This is a technique many picture book artists utilize to lend more depth to a story.

Have students flip through any picture book to find a recurring background character. They can then write a story from that character’s point of view.

 

That’s a great exercise to use with students. First, they put on a detective hat to find the recurring character and then create a new story from another point of view. Brilliant!

Thank you again for stopping by the Mixed-Up Files, Tara. Your challenge has always been amazing for me (I’ve come up with 40 – 90 ideas each year). I’m so grateful for all the work you put into it and everything you do for writers and readers.

Good luck to everyone who is participating in Storystorm! If you haven’t joined the Facebook group yet, hop on over for some cheers plus even more support and inspiration as your ideas multiply in this fun challenge. I hope the ideas flow and that you discover tons of gems that turn into incredible stories in 2019.

 

Tara has generously donated two half hour Skype visits. Thank you so much, Tara! One is open to everyone—you can ask Tara publishing questions or for extra Storystorm inspiration. The second is a thirty minute Skype school visit for teachers and media specialists—the topic will be decided between Tara and the winner. Teachers and media specialists may enter both Rafflecopter widgets.

Winners will be posted on January 10th. Good luck, everyone!  

You can find out more about Tara Lazar on her website, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and Facebook. Don’t forget to join the supportive Storystorm Facebook group and check out the challenge chat on Twitter.

Here is the Skype visit that everyone can enter.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Here is the classroom Skype visit for teachers and media specialists.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Interview & Two Book Giveaway with Fred Koehler and Sarah McGuire

I’m thrilled to interview Fred Koehler and Sarah McGuire—both of them had a middle grade novel released this month. Sarah’s is a fairy tale retelling called The Flight of Swans. Fred wrote and illustrated Garbage Island (The Nearly Always Perilous Adventures of Archibald Shrew).

Sarah McGuire and Fred Koehler were once both awkward teenagers who mostly grew out of it. Each draws on their unfortunate adolescence to write stories for young readers. They met at a writers conference and decided to get married. In common they share: love of travel and adventure, dogs over cats, and sci-fi movies. They most often disagree about Oxford commas, whether or not Florida has hills, and who gets the fuzzy blanket.

Huge congrats to both of you! Can you tell us how you met and how you celebrated two book launches in one month?

Sarah: We met three years ago at one of Lorin Oberweger’s fabulous BONI workshops. Fred lived in Florida. I lived in Virginia. And we met in Hood River, OR. The manuscripts that we were working on then both sold– and they released October 1st and October 9th.

 

Fred: We celebrated in pretty low-key fashion. Dinner out with a little live music. We’ll have a proper celebration with our local community this weekend. A book signing, writing workshops, and other fun shenanigans.

 

 

It’s amazing that you met at a writing workshop! How did each of you come up with the ideas for your middle grade novels—and were there any bumps along the way?

Sarah: I’d known for a while that I wanted to write a retelling of “Six Swans.” In fact, I had a really thin first draft by the time we met at BONI. And while I adored the story I was telling and the characters I’d discovered, most of the novel felt like one big bump. The original tale gave me a mute heroine, a six-year timeline, and not too much action other than the relentless suffering of the heroine. So there was lots of work to do!

Fred: As a lifelong fisherman and outdoorsman, I spend a lot of time on Florida’s coast and I pay attention to stories about water quality and pollution. When I learned about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, my first reaction was disbelief. But the more I researched it the more I could visualize how it formed, and I also decided it would be an intriguing backdrop to an animal adventure.

 

After writing and illustrating so many wonderful picture books, how did you decide to write an illustrated middle grade novel and how did it compare to writing and illustrating a picture book? Can you share a bit of your process, Fred?

Fred: I started with novels, always wanting to write long form fiction. Problem: my stuff was terrible. Picture books became a great learning tool for storytelling, because this format allows 500 words or less to tell a complete, compelling narrative. That word-count limitation permits you to fail fast and try again. Through the process of making picture books, my writerly brain eventually caught up with my artist brain, and I knew that I had the missing pieces to return to novels.

I like to see each chapter or scene as an independent story, the kind you’d pull your friends together and say “Guys you won’t believe what just happened.” Anytime a passage doesn’t grab me with that sort of excitement, I know it’s missing something. Then I’ll go back in and make something explode or someone almost die horribly and the scene improves. 🙂

 

We’d love to hear some tips for writing a great fairy tale retelling, Sarah.

For me, the key to a great retelling is figuring out what you love and what you want to change. Both let you tap into your deepest emotions about that story– and that, in turn, fuels your retelling.

In “Six Swans” (retold as The Flight of Swans) I loved that a girl did the saving. That was so huge to me when I first read it as a child. I loved how all the siblings looked after each other. I also became fascinated by stinging nettles! On the other hand, I didn’t like that the heroine’s main role to was to suffer in silence. I wanted her to push back. And I really didn’t like how her husband just steps aside at the end when her enemies want to burn her at the stake. Knowing what I didn’t like let me “fix” it. I was able to write a heroine who had agency, not just endurance. And I made sure that she ended up with guy who would appreciate such an amazing heroine.

 

What do each of you love about your spouse’s novel? What surprised you the most?

Sarah: This is an awesome question! I love the adventure in Garbage Island–the near misses, and the moments when you wonder whether the characters will make it. And I also love how the characters surprised me. Fred is definitely an explosions and mayhem sort of guy, but his characters also have heart and depth and … how can you not love that?

 

Fred: Anytime I can see the story someone is telling, I know it’s going to be a good one. Sarah paints a world of words that I want to live in. Without any visual art, she inspires the imagination to create gorgeous landscapes filled with intricate detail, characters whose faces I can see in my head, and dynamic lighting that matches the magical mood of her story.

Both of your responses made me smile! I can hear the excitement and appreciation you have for each other’s work.

Can you share a writing exercise?

Fred: Stealing Jon Maberry’s “What’s the Story?” game. It’s brilliant, it works for every genre, and it goes like this: Walk around until you see two things that don’t belong together. A cat in a pizza box. A flip flop on a rooftop. A businessman on a swing set. Then ask yourself, “what’s the story?” By the time your imagination creates a dozen scenarios that could have gotten those two mismatched items together, you’ll have one or two really fun beginnings.

Sarah: I always hear and write dialog first. I can’t help it. I don’t delve much into the physical surroundings or body language until I’m revising. So when I hit dialog-heavy portions of my book, I’ll ask myself what the speaker is holding, touching, or looking at. (This is a variation on advice that Hannah Barnaby once gave me.) What’s in her pocket? What does he hope someone won’t find in his satchel? What’s the one gift she wishes she’d never received? These objects don’t always show up in the story, but they’re a great way to help me understand and develop my characters.

 

Thank you so much! These are fantastic writing exercises that I’m sure writers and teachers will love to use. I’ll definitely play “What’s the Story” to help me come up with a bunch of future book ideas during Storystorm in January. And I also hear and write dialogue first and can’t wait to delve deeper using Sarah’s suggestions.  

What are you working on now?

Fred: The sequel to Garbage Island is due, um, yesterday and I’m about 80% finished. I’m calling it The Sailing City. It’s got the same loveable, flawed, adventurous characters with even more mayhem, misguided inventions, and deadly peril.

Sarah: I’m working on a YA retelling of a Russian fairy tale, “Finist the Bright Falcon,” where a princess in iron shoes and an eagle huntress embark on a quest to save an enchanted prince.

 

Those both sound wonderful! I hope we’ll have the chance to read them soon.

Is there anything else you’d like your readers to know?

Fred: A positive Goodreads or amazon review is always super-helpful and encouraging.

Sarah: I’ll be offering free Skype visits to classes and book clubs- look for information on my website.

 

Thank you both for this wonderful interview and your generous giveaway. The way you two met and have middle grade novels coming out the same month feels magical, and I can’t wait for our readers to learn more about you and your awesome books.

You can find out more about Fred on his website and Twitter.

Learn more about Sarah—including her FREE Skype visits on her website and follow her on Twitter, too.

Enter the Rafflecopter widget below for a chance to win signed copies of The Flight of Swans and Garbage Island (The Nearly Always Perilous Adventures of Archibald Shrew).  One lucky person will win both books on Thursday, November 1. Good luck!

*This giveaway is only available in the United States.

The Flight of Swans

Princess Andaryn’s six older brothers have always been her protectors–until her father takes a new Queen, a frightening, mysterious woman who enchants the men in the royal family. When Ryn’s attempt to break the enchantment fails, she makes a bitter bargain: the Queen will spare her brothers’ lives if Ryn remains silent for six years.

Ryn thinks she freed her brothers, but she never thought the Queen would turn her brothers into swans. She never thought she’d have to discover the secret to undoing the Queen’s spell while eluding the Otherworldly forces that hunt her. And she never thought she’d have to do it alone, without speaking a single word.

As months as years go by, Ryn learns there is more to courage than speech . . . and that she is stronger than the Queen could have ever imagined.

 

Garbage Island

Mr. Popli, the mouse mayor of Garbage Island, is always at odds with Archibald Shrew, a brilliant but reckless inventor. When Garbage Island, their home in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, splits apart, they are trapped together in Mr. Popli’s houseboat, desperate to find their way back home. At first, they only argue, but when they face a perilous thunderstorm and a series of predators, they begin to work together and recognize – in themselves and in each other – strengths they didn’t know they had.

 
a Rafflecopter giveaway

How Many Ideas are Needed to Create a Great MG?

I’ve been participating in StoryStorm by Tara Lazar and absolutely love being challenged to come up with at least one book idea a day in January. The ideas often start slowly then multiply faster than bunnies once I get used to grabbing all the ideas around me before they vanish. The goal is to reach 30 ideas. I’m over 55 ideas and hope to have even more by the end of the challenge. What a fantastic feeling! But…I noticed that only two of those ideas are MG.

It didn’t really hit me until now that I usually come up with tons of picture book ideas before choosing my favorites to turn into manuscripts while I tend to focus on one MG idea, fleshing it out, interviewing the characters, and letting it breathe for a bit before running it through Joyce Sweeney’s Plot Clock and diving into a first draft.

I’ve always had major ‘aha’ moments for my middle grade novels. The idea hits and follows me around, insisting I pay attention. It feels so magical! But I never really thought about attacking a new MG from another angle until I was given a simple interview to fill out at a writing intensive. I felt like I was throwing random things together to create a character, but after writing for so long, I automatically found ways to weave possible issues into the character. We had to write a scene for that character and I think it has potential. Of course, I’ll have to flesh it out first. It’s great to have a new way of coming up with MG ideas in case one isn’t stalking me when I’m ready to plunge into a new project.

I decided to create my own interview questions, in case I need them in the future. If you’re looking for inspiration, I hope filling this in will help you (hint, you don’t have to fill it out in order—hop around as needed):

Name and nickname:

Age/gender:

Physical characteristics that make him/her stand out:

What this character wants most in the world:

Greatest fear:

What his/her friends are like?

What’s his/her home and school situation like?

External flaws:

Internal flaws:

What would this character do if he/she won the lottery?

What would this character miss most if he/she didn’t have any money?

What wouldn’t he/she want anyone else to know?

How would this character describe himself/herself?

How would others describe him/her?

I hope the ideas flow for you! Are there any questions you’d add to this list? I’d also love to know how you come up with the ideas for your manuscripts—or if you’re a teacher, how your students come up with ideas.