In October I was cleaning and organizing files, preparing to add 30 more inspirational picture book tidbits from Tara Lazar’s PiBoIdMo 2015 Challenge. I discovered a manila folder, stuffed with notes, stuck in a three ring binder. Although I’m not prone to text-speak, I had an O.M.G. moment. But let’s begin at the beginning…
Day 7 of PiBoIdMo 2014 featured this brilliant post from Jen Arena about her George Stanley Idea Generator. Jen said George was known around Golden Books as “Captain Hook because, more than any other author we’d worked with, George had a knack for coming up with books with hooks, books that kids really and truly wanted to read based on the idea alone.” She offered this clever chart and suggested we pick two words from the chart, mash ’em together with a kid-friendly hook and PRESTO! Story inspiration.
In December Tara emailed me with the welcome news that my name had been drawn as the winner of the Day 7 prize, a thirty-minute brainstorming session/Q&A/editorial consult with Jen. Wow – out of 523 comments, somehow I’d gotten very lucky!
I knew I didn’t want to waste this great opportunity. Jen has twenty years of experience as an editor with Putnam, Golden Books, and Random House and has been writing for kids just as long. Her books include Besos for Baby and 100 Snowmen, plus dozens of readers for DK, Penguin Young Readers, and Kane Press.
I sent emails thanking Tara and Jen, promising to be in touch after the holidays to set up the consult. Next I asked my library to reserve every book Jen had written so I could study them. The books trickled in, I made a list of questions, debated which of my PiBoIdMo ideas I could ask her about, and then…forgot to follow up.
Until October! When that manila file fell into my lap, I sent a speedy apologetic email and Jen kindly agreed to chat with me despite the lengthy delay. And it was terrific! Jen shared up-to-the minute information on picture book trends and how editors, authors and illustrators work together to polish manuscripts into books. We had a chance to indulge in some myth-busting about the book industry (i.e. do clown and/or snake books sell?) and she gave me some terrific suggestions for a particularly pesky story idea that I’m trying to nail down.
Write from the perspective of a different character, she suggested, or change the time and place where the story occurs. Write multiple versions and identify the strengths and weaknesses of each. The best advice she gave me? “You’re only limited by the amount of time and effort that you are willing to dedicate in order to write the best book you can write.”
Jen also offers freelance editing services if you wish to contact her via her website. I’m sure you would find that she is a skillful, reflective and talented resource able to help you strengthen and refine your writing skills. I hope sharing a few tidbits of Jen’s wisdom will serve you well as you begin turning PiBoIdMo 2015 ideas into stories, or mashing them up a la the George Stanley Idea Generator. And if you are lucky enough to have your name drawn as a PiBoIdMo prizewinner – I hope you prepare well and follow-up promptly!