A Friday Short And Sweet… Because Why Not?

I know.

I’ve been so sporadic in my posting.

But hey, it’s summer 🙂

…and I warned you 🙂

badge created by Loni Edwards

So anyway today, because I saw something really awesome and cute, and because I feel like it. I am posting a Summer Short & Sweet!  (And yes, there’s that outdated badge again… pretend it says 2013.  I keep forgetting to ask Loni if she can fix it!)

Ready for some fun?  Wait til you see this cuteness!  I saw it on Julie’s blog and immediately asked her if I could use it for today’s Short & Sweet.  She is generous and nice and she said yes! 🙂  So we are having a picture prompt today from the talented and incomparable Julie Rowan-Zoch.  If you haven’t visited her blog, you are missing out.  And if you need art done for anything, contact her!  She is awesome!

Illustration copyright Julie Rowan-Zoch 2013 used by permission

The illustration was originally titled “Hybrid” (in case that sparks any ideas for you.)

So here’s our 5 minute task for today:

Think about this little guy.  (For simplicity’s sake I will refer to him as a boy, but of course he could just as easily be a girl.)

Who is he?
Does he have a name?
How old is he?
Are the grown-ups holding his paws his parents? Grandparents? Older siblings? Someone else?
Why does he have that expression on his face?  Is he unhappy?  Confused?  Worried? Thinking up a plan?…?
Where is he? Or where is he going?
What does he wish for?

Now, you have a choice.

1. You can write a couple sentences of character description.
2. You can write the opening sentence of a story featuring this character.
3. You can write a pitch for a picture book about this character.

I’ll do some examples…  (well, I’ll try anyway :))

1.  Felix is 5.  He loves fishing and climbing trees and baseball.  He also loves bugs and dirt and strawberry licorice and his pet lizard, whose name is Not Lunch.  He does not like taking a bath or eating green beans or having to share his train set with his little brother Louis who always takes the track apart.  He worries that he is the shortest boy in his class.  He lives in the blackberry thicket behind Farmer Pumpernickel’s pumpkin patch.

2.  Felix was not at all sure about piano lessons with Miss Sharp.

3.  Felix’s father wants him to learn karate.  Felix’s mother wants him to take music lesson.  Felix doesn’t want to disappoint them, but he longs to do something else.  He wants to learn to ride a horse so he can be a cowboy.  Is there any way to make mom and dad happy and still stay true to himself?

Yeah.  Okay.  Not perfect 🙂  But you get the idea!

Now you go!  Write your Short & Sweet in the comments.  Maybe the exercise will spark a story idea for you.  Or maybe someone else’s character description, opening sentence, or pitch will spark an idea.  Who knows?

Have fun!

And have a great weekend, everyone! 🙂

Would You Read It Wednesday # 56 – Melody Wants A Piano (PB) And A Short And Sweet Wrap-Up

I hope everyone had a terrific Labor Day weekend and that everyone who is a kid or has kids is off to a great start for the new school year!

The Summer Send-Off Contest was tons of fun.  If you haven’t had a chance to read the entries, check them out when you get a minute.  Everyone wrote such original, creative, amazing stories within the constraints of 250 words – which turned out to be REALLY hard (for me anyway!) – and I’m sure you won’t want to miss them.  As of this writing (not yet midnight) there are 15 contestants.  Finalists will be posted Monday September 10 for you to vote on for the winner.  For those of you who weren’t able to participate, don’t worry – The Halloweensie Contest is only 2 months away! 🙂  (In case you want to plan ahead, it will take place on October 31 – Halloween! 🙂

In other news, I still haven’t finished cleaning my office, so there will be no photos and no wrap-up on that… yet!!! 🙂

Before we get to today’s pitch, I just wanted to do a quick wrap-up of Summer Short & Sweets.  By my reckoning, 16 people contributed an entry to all 8 weeks.  A couple even went above and beyond and added additional entries to a couple of weeks – what motivation and dedication!  So, for the Sweet 16 (how well did that work out?!) the promised prizes will be delivered… but I’ll be needing snail mail addresses.  Here is a peek at the prize:

A Short & Sweet Notebook/Journal, Note Pad, and Pen,
and a small pack of Susanna’s Fabulously Fun Story Sparker Cards!

And here are the Sweet 16:

Delores           Tracy C.
Jennifer R.       Cathy
Vivian              Romelle
Erik                 Heather
Renee              Karen L.
Penny              Jarm
Kim Murray       Robyn
Pam                 Laura R.

Please use the handy Email Me button on the right or email me at susanna [at] susannhill [dot] com with your address.  If you think your name should have been on this list and you deserve a prize, please let me know.  It is entirely possible that I made a mistake somewhere in the craziness that was this summer and I will be happy to go back and recheck! 🙂

Now then, onto today’s pitch!  (Don’t forget to rustle up your Something Chocolate – and feel free to share what you’re snacking on in the comments :))  Which reminds me, apropos of nothing, that I’m thinking of changing the way I label Would You Read It days.  I’m thinking about switching to Would You Read It Wednesday #56 – Title (genre)… as I did on today’s post.  Any thoughts about that?  I think it would be more interesting and informative… 🙂  And I may have some free time in 2027 when I could go back and relabel all the old posts 🙂

Anyway, today’s pitch comes to us from Tina, who has pitched for us once before (see The 42nd Pitch)
Tina is an author of 21 guided reading books from Lakeshore Learning and Compass Media, 2 contracted nonfiction books for girls with Legacy Kids Press, and even has a coloring book coming out in 2013 with Warner Press. She is a former elementary teacher who currently homeschools her 5th grade daughter and 2nd grade son. Though she grew up in Iowa, she is now living outside of Seoul, South Korea. She is participating in Julie Hedlund’s 12×12 in 2012 picture book challenge.

And here is her pitch:

Working Title:  Melody Wants A Piano
Age/Genre:  Picture Book
The Pitch:  Melody has a song in her heart until she discovers her best friend has a piano of her own. When the neighbor’s piano is put up for sale, Melody wants to buy it, but her family can’t afford it. She is determined to raise money using her somewhat wonderful singing skills, even participating in a talent show.

So what do you think?  Would You Read It?  YES, MAYBE or NO?

If your answer is YES, please feel free to tell us what you particularly liked and why the pitch piqued your interest.  If your answer is MAYBE or NO, please feel free to tell us what you think could be better in the spirit of helping Tina improve her pitch.  Helpful examples of possible alternate wordings are welcome.  (However, I must ask that comments be constructive and respectful.  I reserve the right not to publish comments that are mean because that is not what this is about.)
Please send YOUR pitches for the coming weeks!  For rules and where to submit, click on this link Would You Read It or on the Would You Read It tab in the bar above.  There are openings in October, which is not very far away!

Tina is looking forward to your thoughts!  (And just know that she lives on the other side of the world and is asleep while some of us are awake, so if she doesn’t respond right away that’s why! :))  I am going to finish cleaning my office.  I really am.  Right after I brush the dogs and take them for a walk, and maybe bake some cranberry bread because fall is in the air… 🙂

Have a great day everyone!

Summer Send-Off Writing Contest!!! – And A Short & Sweet Update

If you’ve arrived in the middle of the adventure, you may start at the beginning by going HERE.

Erik and Josie head for home
Benton and the black horse trotted eagerly side by side toward home and supper.
“So I’m assuming you were responsible for my birthday gift going missing?” Erik asked Lady Josie.  He still had not seen what she carried, but the clues had all led him to believe she had his gift.
“Yes,” admitted Josie.  “It wasn’t perfect, and it has to be perfect.”
“What is it?” Erik asked.
“It’s a surprise,” said Josie primly.
Erik could see he wasn’t going to get any more information out of her.  Lady Josie was maddening that way – if she decided she wasn’t telling something well then by golly she wasn’t telling!
His stomach grumbled, reminding him that he was starving.  He bent over and took a small nibble of the cake he carried.  It was apple-y and delicious, full of cinnamon and topped with a creamy brown sugar-caramel icing.  YUM!
“I saw that,” said Josie.
Erik wiped frosting off his nose and chin and licked his fingers and didn’t care.
Just then, Benton’s steps quickened and when Erik squinted into the deepening twilight he could just see the lights of the castle.  They were nearly home!
They slowed the horses to a walk so that they could catch their breath and not be too hot when they reached the stable.  A few minutes later they crossed the drawbridge.  The horses turned without prompting toward the barn, knowing the way.  A groom took Lady Josie’s black horse, and Erik removed Benton’s saddle and bridle, gave him a quick rub-down, and fed him a measure of grain and a flake of summer-sweet hay.  “Good boy,” he said, giving his pony a fond pat.  Then he headed for the castle with what was left of his cake.
Lady Josie was waiting for him just inside the castle.  “Come with me,” she said, leading him toward the Great Hall.
Erik followed her through the huge doors, thinking about some hearty stew and crusty bread to go with his cake when suddenly…
The Great Hall was decked out with garlands of flowers and streamers and candles, and everyone from the castle was there!  The lords and ladies, most of the guards, the jester, the cook, the knights, even the king!  All dressed in their festive best and waiting for him, wishing him Happy Birthday!
Erik didn’t know what to say.  He’d never had a birthday like this.
“Come forward, young Erik,” said the king, “and tell us of your adventures this day!”
So Erik stood before the king and all the assembled dwellers of the castle and told of the woodcutter, and following the black horse, of the Brownie at the bridge, the tinker at the ford, Berwyn, and Greta, the ogre, the Seer, and everything else, and how eventually he had faced Cuddles the dragon and returned safe and sound after all of it with the Lady Josie.
“Well done,” said the king at the end of Erik’s tale.  “I believe it is time for your present.”
Lady Josie and Sir Lionel stepped forward, holding the box from the long-ago morning between them.  “Happy Birthday, Erik,” said Josie.
Erik opened the box.
And this time, when he looked inside there lay a shining silver sword, its edges honed to perfection, a star-shapped ruby glinting richly from its exquisitely wrought handle.
“Oh…!” Erik breathed, scarcely daring to touch it.
It was the king who reached forward and lifted the sword from it’s resting place.  “Kneel,” he said solemnly.
Unbelieving, Erik sank to his knees before the king and bowed his head.  The king laid the gleaming sword first on Erik’s right shoulder then on his left.  “I dub thee knight,” he said.  “Rise, Sir Erik!”
And Erik stood.  A knight.  At last, a real knight!
The king handed him his sword and Erik took it, feeling the weight of it, and how the hilt fit his hand perfectly.
The Great Hall erupted with applause and cheering.
“And now,” said Erik, who was determined in this venture, “let’s have some CAKE!!!”
And so they did.
And forever after, Erik proclaimed that to be his Best Birthday Ever!

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, ERIK!  And for your actual present which is not a sword or a knighthood but is hopefully still fun, please Email Me!!! 🙂

To start the adventure again and choose different options, go back to the beginning! HERE

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

Well, my friends, somehow or other it’s the last week of August.  When I think of everything I’ve done this summer – life in general, writing, blogging, getting a new washing machine (yes! it’s true! and so pretty :)), applying my black thumb to the butterfly bushes (apparently when they say full sun they mean, like, ALL THE TIME!) and a few Secret Projects (details coming possibly soon… or possibly later… depending how long it takes to get things finished up :)) all stuck in around the edges of 21 college visits in about 14 states and DC – it makes sense that it’s nearly September.  But on the other hand, the start of the new school year always seems to catch me by surprise…. probably what some would chalk up to not being the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree 🙂

In case anyone is feeling a little down about summer drawing to a close, and because thanks to Short & Sweets our writing gears are still finely tuned :), and because we really SHOULD finish Summer Shorts up with a bang, and because we haven’t had a contest since MAY!, I thought this would be a good time for some fun – so let’s have a contest!  (You all know how much I love contests! :))

illustration copyright Heather Newman 2012 used by permission

Contest Rules:
The contest will be for a children’s story of 250 words or less based on the picture above and in which somebody somewhere in your story says, in dialogue, “Did/do you see that?” (you may substitute any of the other senses – “Did/do you hear/feel/taste/smell that?”) and somebody somewhere in your story says, “Goodbye!” (you are allowed to substitute “Farewell!”, “Au revoir!”, “Sayonara!”, “Ciao!”, or “So long!”)

Entries must be posted on your blog (or, if you don’t have a blog but would still like to enter, in the comment section of the official contest post on my blog which will be up on Friday August 31 and stay up through Tuesday September 4) between Friday August 31 and Tuesday September 4 at 11:59 PM EDT.  (I’m giving you an extra day to post, because I realize it’s Labor Day weekend!)

Once your post is up you must add your post-specific link to the linky list that will be up (or, if you don’t have a blog, copy and paste your entry into the comment section as mentioned above.)  Special note:  I know some people have been having trouble commenting on my blog since disqus updated.  If anyone has trouble, please email your entry or your link or whatever you need to me at susanna [at] susannahill [dot] com and I will make sure your link gets linked or your comment gets posted!!!

Finalists – we’ll say 3, but you know me… it’s more likely to be around 6 🙂 – will be chosen by me and my assistant judge and posted for you all to vote on on Monday September 10.  I’m guessing we may not get tons of entries, what with it being Labor Day weekend and all (although I’m hoping I’m giving people enough time to plan ahead that they might still be able to pull it off! :)), so we’ll probably only have one winner.  But if perchance we get lots – more than 20 say 🙂 – we’ll expand out to 1st , 2nd and 3rd places.  Prize choices will be:
1.  A PB manuscript critique by yours truly 🙂
2.  Your choice of 2 picture books.
3.  Your choice of 2 paperback middle grade books.
4.  Your choice of 1 paperback YA book.
5.  Your choice of 1 writing craft book.
and whoever wins will get their first choice of those options, whoever’s second will get second choice, etc….  Hopefully there’s something in there that will appeal to every writer! 🙂

Now, onto the other business at hand.  I wanted to share a little Short & Sweet update, now that the Summer session is officially ending.  Summer Short & Sweets was 8 weeks of fun and games, and to qualify for a prize, you had to provide at least one entry for every week.  As of this writing, we had a total of 51 people enter at least one of the weeks.  The week with the most entries was Week 1, with 36, and the week with the fewest entries was Week 7 with 17.  (Actually, Week 8 is about even with Week 7, but I’m pretty sure a few more entries will be trickling in over the next couple days.)  By my reckoning, 12 people are currently qualified for a prize (Delores, Vivian, Romelle, Heather, Robyn, Laura, Karen, Jennifer, Erik, Cathy, Penny, and Tracy), 2 people are only one entry away (Renee and Jarm), and 1 person is only 2 entries away (Pam).  I realize that a few of you have been having trouble posting comments lately, so feel free to email anything to me that you couldn’t post and I’ll copy and paste it for you in the appropriate spot.  Looks like I’m going to have to part ways with disqus…. but that’s another story 🙂  If you think you posted an entry a week for 8 weeks and should be qualified and don’t see your name here, please let me know!!!  The last day you can post entries on any of the weeks is August 31.

All in all, I think it was a success, and I really hope everyone had fun and got some good ideas out of it!

Short & Sweets will be continuing on alternate Mondays starting September 17 (because I forgot last week when I said September 10 that we need a day to vote on finalists for the Summer Send-Off Contest!) and we’ll see how that goes 🙂

Now fire up those imaginations and get started on those contest stories!  Good luck and have fun!!!

Summer Short And Sweets – Week 8 The Final Week!

I can’t believe it.  Didn’t we just start Summer Short & Sweets?  And here we are, August 24th, purple loosestrife blooming, lots of kids already back in school – although not mine – and this is our last official day of SS&S!

badge created by Loni Edwards
Before you get too sad, though, let me tell you that, due to popular demand, we will be continuing Short & Sweets in some incarnation on alternate Mondays henceforth… or once school starts, anyway 🙂  I’m thinking around September 10…
Meanwhile, we have today.  And today is SO exciting!  I’ve been planning it for 2 whole months and trying to keep it a secret and let me tell you, it’s been excruciating!!!
For today’s Short & Sweet we have a picture prompt, and not just any picture prompt.  This one was painted specially for the occasion by the incredibly talented Heather Newman, whom many of you know from 12×12 and/or her blog, Heather Newman Illustrations.  Heather is an amazing artist, writer, homeschooler, cowherd, and Phyllis hostess.  She also just opened her Etsy Shop and I encourage everyone to go have a look at all her wonderful offerings.  Please also feel free to leave compliments on her painting in the comments once you’ve seen the prompt if you are not left completely speechless with awe 🙂
Are you ready???
Your challenge for today is to take a good look at the picture below.
Image copyright Heather Newman 2012
Woweekazowee!  That is some picture isn’t it?
Now, in the comments, you may write your choice of the following:
1.  A pitch for a children’s story, any level (please specify PB (picture book), ER (early reader), CB (chapter book), MG (middle grade), or YA (young adult)) based on the picture, in the manner of Short & Sweet Week 6
2.  The first 50-100 words (or more or less – whatever gets the creative juices flowing) of a children’s story, any level, (please specify PB, ER, CB, MG, YA) based on the picture.
3.  The last 50-100 words (again, more or less is fine – whatever works for you :)) of a children’s story, any level (please specify PB, ER, CB, MG, YA) based on the picture.
4.  Choose a character (there are at least 10 possibilities!) from the picture and introduce us to him or her – who he/she is, where he/she came from, how he/she got into this situation – a character sketch of sorts.
5.  Choose a character and give us a one paragraph synopsis of the story told by the picture from his/her point of view.
6.  The title of the story told by this picture – give us a good one! 🙂 (and again please specify level)
7.  A poem following the rules from Short & Sweet Week 3 based in some way on this picture.
One added thing for you to think about:  next Friday, August 31, will be our Summer Writing Contest!!!  (I know!  The mind reels at the excitement!!!)  And guess what?  It will be based on this picture!  So any of you who would like to enter the contest can get a head start on your thinking this week by participating in the Short & Sweet.  Just so you know, the contest will be for a children’s story of 250 words or less based on the picture and incorporating the some special key words, but I’m not telling those yet 🙂  Full details of the contest will be posted Monday.
Now then, back to the matter at hand – today’s Short & Sweet.  Pick whichever of the 7 options above inspires you most.  I’m hoping with 7 options and that amazing picture you will find something inspiring 🙂
Here is a small sample from moi (and when I say small, I mean what with all the traveling I totally ran out of time, so talk about off the top of your head! :)):
#1 (a pitch for MG)
Grenadier, who would carry his knight anywhere, must cross the moat to save Cythrigg, the last dragon of Cyfarr, but finds he is unable to penetrate the magical fire surrounding Castlewellyn.
#6  (a possible title for a PB)
Bathtime For Balkazar
#7 (a poem)
I am a raven
Black as moonless night
With powerful secrets
Watching, waiting
For the prophesied moment
Spying on the forbidden castle
Holding the truth close
Keeping safe the golden key until,
As from the mists of Avalon, a new prince rises.
I am a raven.
Happy Writing, everyone!  I can’t wait to see what you all come up with!  As usual I’m sure we’ll all have story ideas coming faster then we can write them down sparked by our own responses to the exercise as well as everyone else’s.

Have a great weekend, and I’ll see you Monday for Oh Susanna and the contest announcement!

Oh Susanna – Is There A Difference Between Scholastic And Regular Editions Of Picture Books?

Happy Monday Everyone!

Where to start today?  Well, how about with the winner of the July Pitch Pick?

I really enjoyed the new format for the pitch pick.  I thought it was great to see how much everyone improved their pitches… although it did make it even harder to choose! 🙂  However, the votes have been cast and the winner is…

dunh duhn duhn duhn

DANA!!!!! with her pitch for CJ’s Tiger!

Congratulations, Dana!  Your pitch has been sent to editor Erin Molta for comments, and we will all be excited to see what she says 🙂

Wow!  That was a lot of excitement for first thing Monday morning.  If you’re feeling a little peaked, feel free to take a short break for a sustaining snack.  I’m offering homemade banana bread this morning, but I’m not even going to try drawing that!

OK.  All refreshed?  Let’s move on to two questions:

#1  A few people have mentioned they’re having trouble commenting on my blog the past few days.  I’m not sure what’s going on, but I tried updating to the new disqus and I’m hoping that will fix the problem.  Will you all kindly let me know if the problem is fixed or if you are still encountering difficulty?  I really want it to be as easy as possible for you to comment – I highly value everything you have to say – and I like disqus because it allows me to reply directly back to you so you know I’ve read your comments and they matter to me.  But if it continues to cause trouble I will axe it!  Thanks in advance for your help with this conundrum 🙂

#2  A few other people (who shall remain nameless but you know who you are! :)) have been plotting behind my back in hopes of getting Short & Sweets to continue past summer’s end.  I am thrilled if it has been fun and helpful to anyone, and I would be happy to continue it in some form if there is sufficient interest.  The idea was to alternate Monday posts – Oh Susanna one week, Short & Sweets the next.  I would be grateful for anyone to leave their thoughts on this matter in the comments so I can get a sense of where people stand on this.  My blog is here for you.  I want to do whatever you most enjoy and find most helpful.  So speak now 🙂  Just be forewarned, I’m not sure I can continue coming up with fun new things you’ll like… I may end up recycling with new twists to some degree…! 🙂

Alrighty!  Last but not least we have an Oh Susanna question for today.  The lovely Stacy says

I picked up some picture books at a weekend yard sale. Several were Scholastic editions. Is there a difference between a Scholastic edition and a regular edition? I’m wondering both as a parent/reader and a writer.

Great question, Stacy!  And one I can luckily answer from my own experience.  Scholastic editions, to my knowledge, have no change to original interior art or text.  The cover may be different from the original and so may the title.  As examples, Punxsutawney Phyllis was sold through Scholastic as Wake Up, Groundhog with a different cover illustration.

original Holiday House version
Scholastic version

Scholastic did a focus group and determined that “Punxsutawney” was a difficult and therefore potentially off-putting word, so they chose to go with an alternate.  Likewise, April Fool, Phyllis was sold through Scholastic as The April Fools’ Treasure Hunt.

original Holiday House version
Scholastic version

There was discussion of changing the background color on the cover to blue, but in the end it stayed pink.  In both cases, however, all the interior illustrations are the same as in the original versions and there is no change to the text.  The only other difference is in the quality of paper and binding used.  Scholastic versions, in an effort to be affordable to as many kids as possible, are mostly (if not completely) produced in paperback and may sometimes be a little less sturdy.

If you’re on a budget but still want to increase your library, Scholastic is a wonderful option!

I hope that answers your question, Stacy!  Please feel free to ask for clarification if you have further queries 🙂

And I will look forward to hearing from you all about whether the comments are working better/properly and what your thoughts are on attempting to continue Short & Sweets!

Have a lovely day 🙂

Summer Short And Sweets – Week 7 – And The Give Away Winner!

I can’t believe it!  We’re up to week 7 of Short & Sweets already!  That means there’s only one more week to go (and boy is next week going to be awesome!!!) but it also means that summer is drawing to an end.  It has flown by so fast!  And I still haven’t updated the backlog of Perfect Picture Books that I was sure to get done with so much time…. Better get cracking! 🙂

But I’ve been hard at work on some other things…. which maybe I’ll tell you about one of these days… 🙂

badge by Loni Edwards 

For today’s Short & Sweet, we’re taking a field trip!  It can be anywhere you want – and anything that fits into what you’re already doing – no special outings necessary.  Going out with your kids to the beach, the zoo, a museum, the playground, the library?    Going shopping at the grocery store?  Washing the car?  You don’t even need to leave the house – the kitchen or the back porch will be just fine!

Your challenge today is to describe a setting – any setting that tickles your fancy.  In 50-100 words (more or less if you like, that’s just a ball park) make us feel like we’re there.  Take a careful look at your surroundings – whatever they are.  What does it look like? sound like? smell like? feel like? taste like?
BUT – here’s the trick 🙂 – you can’t use the actual word of the place!  So if you’re describing the kitchen, you can’t use the word kitchen.  We have to be able to guess!
For an extra challenge, describe it from a kid’s perspective – try to look at it through the eyes of the average 5 year old – the typical picture book age target.  Places can look a lot different to a five year old than they do to an adult.  Different features stand out, and kids’ react to things differently.
Although we don’t devote a lot of words to setting in picture books because that part of the job is done by the illustrator, it is helpful to you as a writer to envision your setting clearly.  Certain select details will be necessary, depending on your story, and this is good practice in focusing on the details that really matter.  If you write for older readers, setting description is very important to make your reader feel like they’re there – but you can’t ramble on indefinitely.  MG and even YA readers are not going to have a lot of patience for long-winded descriptions.  So this is a chance to practice picking out the part you really need to say!
Here’s my example (which, as per Short & Sweet instructions I am writing in 5 minutes off the top of my head because this day is WAY too packed for me to have any more time than that!)

Weathered wood.  Dutch doors.
It smells like summer, warm and sweet, but with a hint of molasses and clean leather.  Dust motes hang in the haze of late afternoon sunshine slanting through the barred windows.  The brass nameplates on the leather halters wink in the golden light – Jasmine, Pennywhistle, Thumbelina.
Clip-clop-clip-clop.  Snowflake’s unshod hooves thud lightly on the aisle as Ginny leads her in from the pasture.  She lowers her muzzle to her bucket and takes long swallows, then lifts her head, dark eyes soft, drops of water bejeweling her whiskers.
A few feet away, Blackjack sneezes into his hay.
Ginny runs a hand over Snowflake’s satin shoulder.  She reaches up and straightens the silver forelock between her ears, smoothing it down.  Snowflake rubs her cheek against Ginny’s arm, almost knocking her down.
“Silly girl!”  Ginny laughs, then steps back into the aisle and rolls the heavy door shut.
It is quiet but for the occasional rustle of a hoof drawn through straw, the rhythmic munching of horses nose deep in alfalfa and timothy.
This is Ginny’s favorite place to be.
(Okay.  So mine is 181 words.  I never claimed to be succinct 🙂  And I hope you didn’t have too much trouble figuring out where Ginny is :))

So, are you ready to give it a try?  I can’t wait to read all your setting descriptions and see if I can guess where you are!  And I have no doubt that many of these descriptions will serve as story sparkers for readers, who feel themselves transported to that time and place and are suddenly inspired by a character who pops into their head and onto the scene! 🙂
OH!  And I almost forgot!  The winner of the giveaway from Monday – a hardcover copy of Puffling Patrol by Ted and Betsy Lewin, courtesy of Lee & Low Books – is PAMELA!!!!  Pamela, please email me and let me know your address so I can mail it out 🙂

Have a fantastic weekend everyone!  There will be a birthday party going on at my house – YUM!  MORE CAKE! 🙂

Summer Short And Sweets – Week 6

In celebration of the Olympics, which are drawing to a close, and of Would You Read It’s birthday this week, let me welcome you to Week 6 of Summer Short & Sweets for The Pitch Olympics!!!!!

badge created by Loni Edwards
Does this look familiar?
[Character] who [a unique, special, or defining characteristic of said character] wants/needs [goal] more than anything but can’t get it because of [obstacle(s)].
Simple.  Classic.  Elegant 🙂
Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to write an awesome pitch (or 2 or 3) for a picture book.  The fun part?  It doesn’t have to be for a book you’ve written.. or even intend to write… 🙂
It can be a pitch for something you think up right here right now this very second!  Or a pitch for a work-in-progress!  Or a pitch for a bit of an idea you’ve been ruminating on since breakfast!  Or a pitch for someone else’s published book – you take the story and boil it down into a pitch!  Or take the idea from someone else’s published book, or a nursery rhyme, or a fairy tale, and change a detail of the plot, setting, character, POV etc. and make it into a new pitch idea!  Anything goes!
Just make it as interesting as you can so we all want to read it!  And if enough people put up pitches, I’m guessing we’ll all get loads of story inspiration ideas!  The great thing?  Even if 14 people wrote a story off the same pitch, it would probably come out 14 different ways!
In case you’re feeling overwhelmed and stymied, here are a few options for each category:  ( you can do the old pick a number from 1-10 and don’t peek routine if you want to be random, or just pick whatever blows your hair back :))
1. Sophie
2. Max
3. Rover
4. Stinky Pete
5. Tiger
6. Isabella
7. Lasso Larry
8. Stegadora
9. Two-Toed Ted
10. Sugar Brown
Defining/Unique Characteristic:
1. is afraid of loud noises
2. hates to get wet
3. is a pirate
4. loves licorice
5. is a princess
6. comes from Venus
7. is a ballerina
8. always has her/his nose in the air
9. is a tightrope walker
10. is impatient
wants a sister
wants to ride a two-wheeler
wants to lose a tooth
wants to live in the jungle
want a best friend
wants to be brave
wants to be first
wants to go to school
wants to be famous
wants to go camping
hmmm…. you may be on your own for this one since it’s hard to think of obstacles that can apply in any situation – they kind of need to be specific… but:
1. natural disaster (forest fire, flood, tornado, volcano, earthquake, hurricane, blizzard etc.)
2. injury (physical)
3. injury (emotional)
4. sibling interference
5. parental control
6. friend betrayal
7. lack of talent or ability
8. rules/laws
(feel free to add anything else generic you can think up in the comments and I’ll edit and add here :))
Here are a couple examples from yours truly to set the mood 🙂
1.  Goldilocks, who is tired of porridge and bears, heads for Paris to open a cafe, but she hasn’t the slightest idea how to cook!
2.  Harold, who is a master of truth-bending, wants a job to earn money for a new baseball glove so he can make the local team, but nobody trusts him.
3.  Stinky Pete, a pirate on the foul ship Treasure Stealer, longs for a kitten but is afraid he’ll be made to walk the plank if he gets one.
So, are you ready?
Just for a change of pace, I am on my way to Vermont as we speak, so I will have to check in on you  from afar, and probably read your awesome posts very late tonight, but I can’t wait to see what you all come up with!  Give it your best shot.  Remember, this is for Pitch Olympic Gold! 🙂 (BTW, I had an awesome graphic I was going to use for this.  I found an Olympic image on google images and Renee personalized it using her amazing photoshopping abilities, but after all the talk about fair use, I’m afraid to put it up!  But, maybe just for a day or two so you can see it… :))
Have a great weekend, everyone, and tune in Monday for a special post and giveaway (assuming I manage to return from my travels and actually write it! :))

Summer Short And Sweets – Week 5

Woo-hoo!  Time for Summer Short & Sweets! 🙂

badge created by Loni Edwards

I am so happy it’s Friday!  Visiting colleges is tons of fun but also tiring and all those donuts that driving is not good for my fitness.  I am learning things, though.  Do you know what the smallest private college in the United States is?  Apparently that distinction belongs to Alaska Bible College with an enrollment of 38 students.  Who knew?  I hope you all feel as enriched by that little tidbit as I do.  We will not be visiting Alaska Bible College (our loss I’m sure) but I cannot possibly put up with Jo-Jilly for that long of a drive!

So let’s have some fun, shall we?  Let’s see what we can think up today…

First, choose an emotion.  Just in case you can’t think of any, here are a few:

Interest, politeness, surprise, anger, annoyance, contempt, disgust, irritation, serenity, relief, relaxation, contentment, calmness, anxiety, embarrassment, fear, helplessness, powerlessness, worry, courage, hope, pride, satisfaction, trust, doubt, envy, frustration, guilt, shame, affection, empathy, friendliness, love, boredom, despair, disappointment, hurt, sadness, amusement, delight, elation, stress, shock, tension, excitement, happiness, joy, pleasure…

Got one?

Second, choose an animal that emotion makes you think of – either similar or opposite – but you can also go random and see what you come up with 🙂  Again, a list for anyone who’s feeling uninspired 🙂

Aardvark, anteater, badger, beaver, camel, cat, chimpanzee, cow, deer, donkey, gazelle, gorilla, hamster, hippo, horse, jaguar, kangaroo, lamb, lion, lynx, mink, moose, monkey, opossum, ox, ocelot, polar bear, porcupine, pony, porpoise, puppy, raccoon, rhinoceros, ram, salamander, squirrel, skunk, tiger, turtle, toad, walrus, warthog, wolf, wombat, yak, zebra…

Got one?

Okay.  Here’s what we’re going to do:

1. Pick an adjective that compares/relates/associates your animal to your emotion (e.g. if you chose angry and cat, you might choose hissing, spitting, or twitchy for your adjective)
2. Write an action filled phrase describing how the animal moves (e.g. if you chose cat you might say slinking, slitted eyes shifting suspiciously)
3. Write a phrase telling where the animal lives (e.g. if you chose monkey you might say in the crown of the rainforest)
4. Write a phrase that either tells readers why the animals acts the way it does, or possibly how others react to it (e.g. if you’re writing about an angry monkey you might say screeching for the baboon’s banana)

Put it all together like this:

is [a/an/the] adjective from #1  animal
action filled phrase from #2
phrase telling where animal lives from #3
phrase telling why animal acts that way or how others react to it from #4

and you have a) a short poem and b) great practice in simile/metaphor!

Here’s mine for satisfaction and cat

is a purring cat
curled warm and soft
on a noontime windowsill,
soaking up sunshine because she can.

Here’s another for bewilderment and penguin

is a tuxedoed penguin
tiptoeing tentatively
at the icy ocean’s edge
wondering where his dinner dove.

How about one for shame and snail?

is a slump-shouldered snail
creeping, head down,
in the shadow of the stone wall
hoping to escape scrutiny.

The fact that I have barely been home for two weeks, I’m cross-eyed from driving, and I’ve been dulled into a creative stupor by innumerable college info sessions and tour guide spiels should make you all feel very brave about attempting this because you can be sure whatever you write will not be the worst thing up here – I have helpfully put my own attempts in that place of dishonor 🙂

Now you try!  Not only will you be sharpening your simile/metaphor skills, perhaps you will inspire a story – for yourself or someone else – or perhaps you’ll read someone else’s and get a great idea!  Do as many as you want – they’re totally fun!  I can’t wait to read what you come up with!!!

Of course, as I will be driving home from Ohio, which is very far away, I will probably not get to read your sterling work until late sniffle sniff…  But that’s just more to look forward to 🙂

Have a great weekend everyone!!! 🙂  And remember, if you want to be eligible for Short & Sweet prizes, you must submit at least one entry for each SS&S week’s prompt.  Please see HERE for full details!  So far, 44 people have done at least one, but only a dedicated 9 have done all 4 to date… in case you were wondering 🙂

Summer Short And Sweets – Week 4

Woo-hoo!  Last day on the road (until next week :)) AND a Summer Short & Sweet Day!

Badge created by Loni Edwards

Did I tell you my GPS’s name is Jill?  I’ve taken to calling her Jo-Jilly thanks to my niece 🙂  But let me tell you, after this week? 1500 plus miles later? she and I need a little time apart!  She gets extremely snippy whenever I depart from the route to refuel (Susanna runs on Dunkin’ – the coffee, not the donuts… most of the time… :), Princess Blue Kitty runs on anything she can get except BP which I am morally opposed to!)  I always promise Jo-Jilly that we’ll get right back on the road, but you know, I don’t think she believes me!  It’s this lack of trust I find hard to live with.  Lucky I get a break for a few days 🙂

ANYway, are you ready to be Short & Sweet?

Alrighty then.

Pick a letter – any letter! – the first letter of your name, a letter you like the shape of, a letter you like the sound of – any letter!

Got one?

Now, pick a name that starts with that letter.  This will be your character.

Now, write us 50 – 100 words (more if you like, but 50 – 100 will do :)) of a story about this character.  But here’s the challenge:  you have to use as many words as possible that start with the letter you chose!  Nouns, verbs, adjectives, people, places, descriptions, actions, and things – see how many words that start with your letter you can work into your story.  It does not have to be a complete story (although it can be if you want), just get started and see where it goes.  You might be surprised at the directions you go trying to use words that begin with your letter!

Here’s my example, using D (which is for dogs because I miss mine!)

Delilah dreamed of dogs.
Dogs were devoted.  Dogs were delightful.  In fact, they were downright dynamite!
“Daddy,” Delilah declared, “I’m desperate for a dog.  Dalmatian or Dachshund, Doberman or Dingo, anything doggy will do.”
“Darling Delilah,” Daddy said, “how about a donkey or a duck? A dragonfly or a dolphin?”
“Don’t you like dogs, Daddy?”
“Dearest, I do!  But I’m dreadfully delicate.  Dogs make me sneeze dangerously.”
Delilah despaired.
But dreams don’t die easily.
Delilah was determined.
She developed a dog dander destruction device.
“Now a dog will be no danger, Daddy!”
Daddy drove Delilah downtown.
Delilah named her dog Daisy.
Daisy is devoted.  Daisy is delightful.  In fact, Daisy is downright dynamite!
Delilah is delirious.
And Daddy dotes on them doubly!
(122 words)

Get the idea?  Mine’s a bit pathetic, I know.  I’m drained from driving 🙂  But now no one should be afraid to give it a shot 🙂

I hope you’ll find this fun!  Perhaps yours or someone else’s will spark a story idea that you can then write normally, without using all the same-letter words.  Either way, it’s a good exercise to make you think very carefully about every word you write.  I think you’ll be surprised at how much stronger nouns and verbs you’ll think up!  And at how your ideas take off in bizarre directions in order to accommodate your letter – I personally would have been unlikely to think up a dog dander destruction device under other circumstances 🙂

Have fun with this!  I can’t wait to see what you come up with – y’all amaze me every week!

Happy writing and happy weekend 🙂

Summer Short And Sweets – Week 3

Hurray!  Hurray!  It’s a Summer Short & Sweet day! 🙂

badge created by Loni Edwards

First off, help yourself to some of these delicious cookies

and a glass of refreshing iced tea

because we can be more creative after a little snack 🙂

Now then, are you ready for today’s Short & Sweet?

I totally wrestled with this one and I hope it’s going to be fun and also work right… I guess we’ll see 🙂

So we have to go on the honor system again – no peeking! 🙂 – and I need you to get a piece of paper and a writing implement of your choice.  Then write down the following things in a list bearing in mind that everything below is supposed to be related so it can hang together:

1.  A noun (you know, a good old person place or thing)
2.  A color that describes that noun or some part of that noun you’d like to highlight (e.g. red, or, lavender, or, cerulean)
3.  A comparison to that color (in the manner of simile or metaphor e.g. summer sunset, or, shadowed snow on a January evening)
4.  Something that belongs to your noun written as adjective, adjective noun (e.g. wide, feathered tail, or, slim, brown limbs, or brass ratcheted gears)
5.  A verb ending in -ing that is something your noun could do (e.g. soaring, or, stretching, or, grappling)
6. Another verb ending in -ing that is something else your noun could do (e.g. sailing, or, reaching, or, frowning)
7. A place written as: preposition [a/an/the] adjective adjective noun (e.g. over [a] broad green valley, or, across [the] shimmering shining stream)
8. A description of something your noun could do in relation to something else, written as:  verb ending in -ing preposition adjective noun (e.g. scouting for silver salmon, or, basking on sun-baked sand, or, digging up acorn jewels) – (yes, I realize “for” is a conjunction, not a preposition, but you can use it if you want.  The reason I didn’t put conjunction is because the others – and, or, nor, but, yet – won’t work.  But use “for” if you want :))
9. Repeat #8 with another description (e.g. plunging toward immovable earth)
10. Repeat #8 with a final description (e.g. hoping for sweet success, or, diving for delicious dinner)
11. A simile for the action in #10 (e.g. like a rocket ship, or, like a bow drawn across singing strings)
12.  Your original noun from #1.

Okay!  Got your list?  What we are accomplishing here is part Madlib, part poetry, and will hopefully result in lots of descriptive poems (haha – like how I tricked you into writing a poem? :)) that will also serve as story sparkers by giving all the devoted readers specific, detailed, poetic descriptions of characters, settings, or objects that they could use in a story!  For those of you who write picture books, there are a lot of similarities between picture books and poetry, so this is good practice 🙂

Wasn’t that totally awesome how I snuck that up on you?

So now, all you have to do is type your poem into the comments using this template and your list:

I am [a/an/the] noun from #1
Color from #2 as [a/an/the] comparison from #3
With [a/an/the] adjective adjective noun from #4
Verb from #5, verb from #6
Prepostition [a/an/the] adjective adjective noun from #7
Description from #8
Description from #9
Description from #10
Like [a/an/the] simile from #11
I am [a/an/the] noun from #1

Here’s my example:

I am a falcon
Gray as a stormy sky
With powerful, peregrine wings
Soaring, sailing
Across the shimmering, shining stream
Scouting for silver salmon
Plummeting toward wavering water
Diving for delicious dinner
Like an arrow sprung from a huntsman’s bow
I am a falcon.

Here’s another one because I think this is fun 🙂

I am a birch
Silver as starlight on snow
With strong, slim limbs
Reaching, stretching
For the faraway, fickle moon
Gazing at kaleidoscope constellations
Soaking in the dewdrop dawn
Standing among my slender sisters
Like a dancer waiting for the music to begin
I am a birch.

And one more:

I am Sarah
Gold and brown like honey on toast
With hidden, heartfelt hopes
Uncurling, unfurling
From their secret silent space
Running with quiet concentration
Leaving behind even the fastest few
Flying on winged feet to finish first
Like fleet Atalanta
I am Sarah.

Ok, I’ll stop now because I’m really not very good at this even though I think it’s tons of fun 🙂

So do you get the idea?  You may of course tweak a bit.  If you need a different verb form or fewer adjectives or an extra word or one less line or two colors, etc. feel free to change it up.  The word prompts and template were just to make the job easier and less intimidating 🙂

I hope you’ll all have fun with this!  I can’t wait to see what you write!  And after my humble examples, I hope everyone will feel very brave about putting theirs up – I know without a doubt you can all do better than I did! 🙂

Have a great weekend, and please join me Monday to welcome Tiffany Haber as she talks about her debut picture book, The Monster Who Lost His Mean (which I just had the pleasure of reading and it is REALLY TERRIFIC and you should all get a copy for the littles in your life, or for yourself as an example of a well-done picture book in verse!!!)

Happy weekend 🙂