Archive | A Novel Idea RSS feed for this section

writing in the cracks…

13 Jan

OK, OK, OK…I know it’s been FAR too long! But I’m here now…so here goes.

I just got back from an evening spent at the OneBookTwoBook Festival in Iowa City with my dear friend Sara. We listened to twenty 4th through 6th graders read their poems and stories aloud, which was truly inspiring. As we grow older (at least in my case) it becomes increasingly difficult to stand in front of a crowd and read your own work.

Then we got to hear from author and National Book Award winner (for her book Mockingbird) Katheryn Erskine. She said many wonderful things about why we tell stories and how important it is to make sure kids of all ages and abilities feel understood and appreciated.

But the one little nugget that I know I’ll remember for quite some time came when someone asked Erskine what her writing process is. She not only said she isn’t the type of writer that sits down every day to write but she also said she is often “writing in the cracks.” It’s a phrase I’ve heard before that totally hits home for me. And I don’t think you have to have a husband, two young kids, a dog, two part time jobs and a freelance writing career to (not to mention the rest of life) to understand what it means.

The cracks may be all I’ve got at this point in my life, but I walked out of the room where Katheryn Erskine was standing and thought “you can win the National Book Award just writing in the cracks.”

Call me an eternal optimist…I’ll see you when I find the next crack.

inspired by others…

19 Aug

Tonight I ate my dinner quickly and raced on over to my local Barnes and Noble for some truly powerful writing inspiration: talks/readings by authors Anne Ylvisaker and Katherine Hannigan.

Anne went first and talked about her latest book “The Luck of the Buttons” (which I’ve blogged about before.) It is magical to listen to her story of how her story came to be…and what you might discover, or mistakenly remember, while wandering around the Iowa prairies.

Katherine spoke second and talked about her books, including the latest “True…(sort of)”, which I finished reading just last week. It is the type of book filled with characters who pull at your heart-strings and start to influence the way you talk to and think about the world around you.

Please do yourself a favor and read both “The Luck of the Buttons” and “True…(sort of)” in the very near future! (I’ve got both now if you’d like to borrow them ;))

Hearing these gifted writers speak tonight was as inspiring as I hoped it would be. When you sit and listen, their natural storytelling powers make it seem that every word they offer should be written down…that it could all go into a book. And I sit, listen and smile…take it all in…dream about the stories floating around in my head…and secretly hope that some of their magic might rub off on me.

And then I add more books signed by authors to my collection.

15 Apr

Tonight I just finished reading The Boxcar Children. (How many times do I have to tell you? I only read kids books!)

This classic series of mystery stories for kids was a favorite of mine when I was younger. I can’t recall which particular story was my favorite or how many of the series (there are more than 100 of them and they are now making them into graphic novels as well as issuing a prequel to the series!) I actually owned or checked out from the library. But I think of the Alden children fondly.

The interesting thing is, after I flipped to the last page of the first book tonight with a smile on my face, I realized I hardly remembered anything from the storyline. I had forgotten all about grandfather and about their dog Watch. I didn’t remember that Henry worked for Dr. Moore or that Violet got sick. And I’ll just be honest… I didn’t even remember their names! It made me wonder what I loved so much about these books that made me want to pick them back up as a 30-year-old.

Sadly I can’t channel my thoughts as a ten-year-old (wouldn’t that be an insightful blog post?) But as I think about it now, I have a feeling that a story about four siblings (including a very responsible and tidy older sister) probably had some appeal. Plus, who wouldn’t want to live in a cool old train car with no adult supervision!?

So now I am eager to read more of the books I remember reading and loving as a child. Number the Stars (perhaps my most favorite of all), The Phantom Tollbooth, and Bridge to Terabithia are all patiently waiting on my bookshelf.

It will be an interesting journey to see what it was from each story that made me hold on to the sentimental memory of that book.

What about you? Any childhood favorites you should consider revisiting?

I’d be happy to reintroduce you to the children’s section of the library or your local bookstore.

katie = ideas – time

8 Apr

You may have noticed that I’ve been slacking on the regular weekly blog post (it’s not St. Patrick’s Day anymore!)

But I’ll have you  know that doesn’t mean I haven’t been writing….or working…or raising kids for that matter!

In the past few weeks I’ve taken on several new and exciting freelance writing projects that will be keeping me busy for a while. I always say freelancing is feast or famine and I’ve bellied right up to the buffet for the time being.

Perhaps the most exciting thing to write about here is the time I spent last weekend at the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI for short but not much easier to say) Iowa conference. It was an amazingly inspirational weekend…I heard many presentations from experts in the children’s literature field…the likes of Candace Fleming, Eric Rohmann, Gary D. Schmidt, Diane Muldrow (editoral director for Little Golden Books!), and many more.

I also sat down with a real life editor (from one of those big publishing houses in NYC!) and had her critique a picture book manuscript I have been working on. Of course she didn’t offer me a contract on the spot, but she pointed out what she liked about my story and gave me some very insightful suggestions for revision.

I met new friends, had authors sign books for me (one of my most favorite things in the world), and left with new hope that one day I might include “children’s book author” on my list of life’s successes.

So between now and last weekend I haven’t had much time to sit down and just let the creativity flow. But ideas are definitely brewing!

Now if only my super hero power of making more hours in the day (and night…a girl needs her beauty rest) would kick in so I can stir them all up!

just keep running, er, writing

10 Feb

So I am ten days into my Picture Book Marathon and things are going better than I imagined. I have written eight different stories so far. Yes, that does in fact mean that I’ve skipped a few days…and I probably will again before February 28th rolls around. But I am proud that I am sticking to this..even when it means I have to stay up late because I’ve left “write a picture book draft” as the last thing on my to do list for the day.

And of course I am certainly not in love with anything I’ve written so far. But it is fun to sit down every day and just start writing about all the kids book ideas that bump around in my head.

Here’s a little bit of one that I wrote:

Charlie was the kind of kid who liked to pretend.

Not just pretending he didn’t like broccoli (because he didn’t!) or that he and the dog were ferocious lions.

He was serious about pretending (uniforms were often involved.)

Charlie pretended from sun up to sun down.

First thing in the morning, Charlie pretended his bed was an island and he’d have to jump from rock to rock (avoiding the crocs!) to get from pajamas, to clothes, to the hallway.  

During breakfast he devoured his pancakes as quick as he could because he heard the whistle blow out at his construction site.  Charlie pretended to build a skyscraper right in the middle of the backyard (the dog was excited about the new spot of shade.)

By mid-morning that construction zone morphed into a castle and Charlie pretended to fend off fire-breathing dragons (though he wasn’t too interested in rescuing any princesses)…

I didn’t sign up to do this so I’d get a little gold medal at the end of February. But maybe given this new inspiration to actually write and my desire to keep working on it (I have a conference I’m going to in April where I can actually have my work critiqued!)  I’ll get a little golden book out of the deal 😉

So I’ll just keep writing!

And thanks for reading!

a picture book a day…

28 Jan

Have I mentioned here that I love picture books?

Lucky for me I have two little kiddos who love to read them with me every day. Reading a picture book a day sounds like a totally doable task.

Writing a picture book a day…I’m not so sure.

But for some inspired reason I’ve decided to sign up for the Picture Book Marathon.

illustration by Nathan Hale (

The Picture Book Marathon is a challenge designed to get writers working on a new draft of a picture book for 26 days in February (thank goodness they give us two days of rest!) They will of course be VERY rough drafts, but I thought this was the perfect motivation I needed to get some of my ideas rolling out of my head and onto paper.  I’ve got at least a handful rounded up so far that will get the month off to a great start. After that I’ll have to be extra creative (or take suggestions from you!)

You see I’m not really the marathon running type. I’m just not that into running itself, what with the chaffing and all when you run that far for that long. 

However, I have walked a marathon…in Des Moines, Iowa back in 2009. It was long and brutal and there were a few points in the last six miles when I didn’t want to take another step. And then I realized I had walked so far already and I wasn’t going to give up with just a few more miles to go. Sure I could barely move the next day, but I am really proud to say I finished all 26.2 miles.

I am hoping I have that same mental strength come February 20th. Sure I’ll be working with words (kind of my specialty) but a marathon is a marathon.

I’m just glad this one marks miles with picture books.

The writing on the wall…

19 Aug

So I don’t plan to use this blog to tell you endless stories about how funny my kids are (not that I don’t have the content!) But two recent Tom and Lucy episodes got me thinking about writing and being an author…and they might even make you chuckle. So today I just have to share… 

The other night Tom and I were laying in his bed reading before he went to sleep. We have read together every night since he was a toddler and we share a true love of books. (To her credit, Lucy loves books too.) Anyway, on this particular night Tom had picked a nonfiction book about being an astronaut he’d recently selected at Half Price Books using the dollars he’d earned from their summer reading program. Now I will admit I’d rather read a fiction book any day but Tom has always been drawn to nonfiction (especially if is involves emergency vehicles, sharks, dinosaurs and now outer space.) He has an awesome hunger for knowledge. 

OK get to the point already right?! So we read for a few minutes and then Tom stops me and says, “The person who wrote this book must have been an astronaut huh?!” I said well maybe, but that is the wonderful thing about writing. You don’t have to be an astronaut to write about space. You get to do research and become an expert on that topic to help you write. He thought for a second and then said “well I’m going to go to space and write a book.” “Oh, how cool,” I replied like a good mom. “That’s a neat idea to write a book while you are in space.” Tom quickly corrected me. “No mom. I’m not going to write it in space. I’ll need gravity so I can hold on to my pencil.” Of course, what was I thinking! 

Rewind a few weeks to an ordinary afternoon at our house. I was upstairs doing laundry or cleaning up the toy room or some other thankless mom task when I realized that my little friend Lucy was awfully quiet downstairs. That of course always means trouble. So I headed downstairs to check things out. When I turned the corner into my “office” (otherwise known as our living room) there was innocent little Lucy with a black pen in hand and an amazing assortment of artwork/writing all over the wall next to my desk and on the fabric of my desk chair. Busted!

Luckily we got all the pen markings off the chair. But I still haven’t cleaned the pen off the wall yet (it’s just over my shoulder as I type.) Maybe part of me likes the idea that my two-year-old is eager to be creative. 

I can see, in their own ways, that my quest to become a children’s book author is inspiring my own kids. Even if it means I have some touch up painting to do!

The Weather is not making any friends…

11 Aug

We have had some pretty unbelievable weather here in Cedar Rapids over the last few days (again I know!)

The temperatures all week have been at or around 90 degrees. And that’s just the temperature…the heat index adds even a few more degrees, making being or playing outside not so fun. But the real culprit here is the humidity. It is so humid you can actually see it! The humidity is thick and uncomfortable and covers you like another layer of skin as soon as you step outside. 

And every night has produced a major thunderstorm with lots of rain. I’m talking thunder so loud it shakes the whole house (but amazingly enough does not wake up my kids or dog…at least I can be thankful for that!) and lightning so bright it seems for brief seconds like you are in a florescent lighted daytime. Last night it was in fact raining sideways the wind was blowing so hard.  The rain traveled in waves across my backyard. 

This of course has led to flash flooding all across Iowa. As I am typing there is flooding bad enough to shut down major interstates in the Ames, Iowa area. Yikes! I am having flashbacks of Cedar Rapids in the summer of 2008. 

The weather it seems is relentless. 

All of this got me thinking about weather as the villain in “Evelyn’s Drawings Can’t Swim” again. Weather is a powerful force and so many people are not only affected by it but also check its status constantly on the news, The Weather Channel, online or on their phone. I am guessing that right now—or anytime in the last two years for that matter—if you live in Iowa you wouldn’t “Like” the weather on Facebook or any other social networking site. 

You see each day it is becoming easier to write about the villainous weather that takes the form of a flood in my story. 

Just don’t blame me for all this rain!

Home is where my book is…

21 Jul

Last week I stopped in at a lunchtime program at the Cedar Rapids Public Library (CRPL) about becoming a published author. It was wonderful and engaging and I especially enjoyed meeting other local writers. 

At one point during the hour I mentioned that I was working on a young adult novel about a 12-year-old boy who saves an art collection from the flood…the art collection owned by the Cedar Rapids Public Library, in fact. Two CRPL children’s librarians’ eyes lit up in the back of the room. “You’re going to tell us when it’s done, right?” they both asked enthusiastically. 


Ever since I’ve announced that I’ll be writing Evelyn’s Drawings Can’t Swim I’ve been getting nothing but excited feedback. It is truly amazing to have the support of all your family and friends as you embark on an incredible journey like this. And honestly all the people I have talked to about the book—that I am not related to or friends with on Facebook—are so far intrigued by the idea.  (Whether they want to read it is another story I guess.) 

I am proud to be from Cedar Rapids. And I am proud and honored that I get to write a story about my new friend Noah from Cedar Rapids, too. There is a wonderful sense of community here and I am just so touched by the fact that my story has been taken in and supported by that community. I can’t wait until the book is finished and I can go back to the CRPL and do a reading, or visit my son’s school, or meet with local book groups…and show my fellow Cedar Rapidians that we have great stories to tell.

Now part of you can’t help but wonder if anyone else out there…outside the city limits of Cedar Rapids, that is…will care. I have to think so, or believe so. There are important messages in my story for tweens and teens (and anyone else who wants to pick it up) and a pretty excellent adventure.

So I help draw a little attention to Cedar Rapids in the meantime. I’m just doing my part for my hometown.