A PiBoIdMo 2014 O.M.G. Moment

piboidmo2015participantIn 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. 100 snowmen

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!


About Cathy Ballou Mealey

Children's book author, repped by Liza Fleissig of the Liza Royce Agency. Wife, mother, daughter, sister, alumna, autism advocate, book reviewer. Reach me via email at cmealey@post.harvard.edu or Twitter @catballoumealey
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26 Responses to A PiBoIdMo 2014 O.M.G. Moment

  1. Your “forgot to follow up” cracked me up because that is exactly something I would do (and do all the time). That’s so great you had a good chat with her and got some great ideas on how to breathe some life into your story!

  2. That’s quite a story. How nice of Jen to spend that time with you. I appreciate the story idea generator. I will be putting that to good use. Thanks for the post.

  3. mariagianferrari says:

    So funny, Cathy! Better late than never! Glad to hear that it was helpful.

  4. Dana Carey says:

    I think I missed that idea generator. It will come in handy during this last week of PiBoIdMo. Thanks for the tips, Cathy!

  5. Love George’s idea generator. Thanks! Enjoyed your comments about chatting with Jen. Very helpful.

  6. Iza Trapani says:

    So glad it worked out, Cathy! I like the story generator. I read that Ray Bradbury did something similar. He would sit with a notebook and jot down whatever words came to his head. Inevitably, a story would result. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

  7. I am so glad I had a few quiet moments to sit down and thoroughly read this post. First congrats for being selected last year, Cathy. Second, congrats for doing a clean out that resulted in your sharing all this marvelous info. Idea generators, changing time and place where story occurred, time + effort = best book. Oh my!!

  8. tinamcho says:

    Great post. I’m glad you remembered about your win, and she was kind to talk with you!

  9. Sue Wang says:

    I’m so glad you got the fabulous consult anyway, and are here to share about Jen’s good work. Her tips are good for all genres, IMHO. Look forward to hearing about your book, Cathy!

  10. LovableLobo says:

    Oh my word, you forgot to follow up? Gasp! Life does get in the way. I absolutely love Jen’s advice that you are only limited by the time and effort you are willing to dedicate. Thanks for sharing, Cathy.

  11. Congrats to you, my friend!

    And that idea generator is pretty nifty. But I think I’m gonna try my hand at more than two selections. I dare you to do seven! (And I’ll do the same.) Dealsies?

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