Finding Inspiration

By Gloria Reichert

Lawn mowers buzz the emerging grass. Leaves fill the bare branches of trees. Flowers pop up to add fragrance and color to the world. Birds fill the air with song. All around, we can see signs of spring reflecting the growth this season brings.

As writers and illustrators, we need to be growing too, not only in spring but throughout the year. We can do this by searching out different resources that expose us to new ideas, stretch our thinking, and inspire us to think creatively. Listed below are some resources that can inspire us to grow.

BOOKS 

Writing Picture Books Revised and Expanded Edition by Ann Whitford Paul. This updated book guides readers every step of the way from the early stages of creating a story to publication. The end of every chapter includes exercises to help readers apply the information presented to their own manuscripts. 

Big Magic: How to Live a Creative Life and Let Go of Your Fears by Elizabeth Gilbert. Gilbert is best known for her novel Eat, Pray, Love, but in this nonfiction book, she discusses her ideas about how to deal with that fear that all creatives face, how to act on the ideas a writer notices, and how to have less stress as you go forth to create. Our fears will always be there, so we might as well acknowledge them and get comfortable with them but let our curiosity and creativity reign. She presents a new approach to the creative process.

TED Talk Mac Barnett

In this whimsical talk about “Why a Good Book is a Secret Door,” Barnett focuses on the “art of fiction,” that special place between truth and lies. In addition to sharing information about 826 Valencia, a tutoring center for writing, he discusses art as a doorway to wonder and shares what kids say to a fictional whale. Barnett is a humorous, inspiring speaker who believes kids deserve the best stories we can give to them.

THROUGHOUT THE YEAR

12x12 - This year long writing challenge focuses on helping members write 12 picture book manuscripts – one each month of the year. Also included are opportunities for webinars by industry leaders, critiques, and submitting to agents or editors – depending on the level of membership.

Nonfiction Fest – Held in February for the last two years, daily blogs written by folks involved with nonfiction highlight different aspects of writing nonfiction and share books which exemplify the topics discussed.

Reading for Research Month (ReFoReMo) Each March, daily blogs written by authors, illustrators, agents, or editors discuss topics of interest to picture books creators and present mentor texts as examples of the topic being discussed. Participants analyze the mentor texts to see what makes them successful. 

These suggestions represent only a few of the many resources available to help writers and illustrators. As you peruse these, may you be led to many other resources which inspire you and help you to grow and to hone your craft.

 

Throughlines

By Laurie Knowlton

A fellow critique member recently asked if she had kept to her throughline in a biography she is writing. I have to admit, I was not familiar with that term. I researched THROUGHLINE and found wonderful articles, TED talks, and definitions. This is what I gleaned from my research.

 A throughline is the thread that binds the story together. It is the one thing that motivates the main character to keep moving forward, short-term to long-term, in spite of all the challenges that arise.

This got me thinking about our personal throughlines as authors. Our throughlines are to write something that is good enough to get published. This seldom happens without studying the craft of writing. Attending conferences, workshops, and writing retreats. Reading HOW-TO and mentor texts. Joining critique groups. Poring over the Writer's Market guide. And writing.

Yes, writing. Everyone has their own rhythm for writing. Some people have a set time and place. Some people wait for the muse. Some people go out into the world eavesdropping and writing down bits and pieces of dialogue they hear. Some people stick with one genre. While others write a little bit of everything.

But they write. All hoping for the elusive goal of publication.

What stands in the way of accomplishing the desired outcome? FEAR. Self-defeat. Rejections. Age. Ourselves. This writing business isn't a romantic ideal. It is reality, sometimes a difficult reality.

BUT if you are focused on your throughline, if you hold onto it with tenacity, if you hone your talent, if you can be patient for your time, if you can be generous with your accumulated knowledge and pass it onto others on the same journey, I believe God will bless you with accomplishing your throughline as an author.

I have been blessed to watch many people hold onto their throughlines by focusing on the end goal of getting published, in spite of the struggle. This group of bloggers is a great example. To Gloria Adams, Lisa Amstutz, Kate Carol, Lana Koehler, and Gloria Reichert, you rock! You accomplished your throughlines and continue to do so while helping others to follow their dreams of publication. I am so proud of you all.

Readers, be true to your personal throughlines. Great stories are waiting to be written and published.

Interview with Author/Agent Lisa Amstutz

By Laurie Lazzaro Knowlton

 

Today I have the honor of interviewing one of my dear friends, Lisa Amstutz. I have watched Lisa blossom from an aspiring author to an amazingly successful author of around 150 books, both nonfiction and fiction. Beyond her writing, Lisa recently became an agent with Storm Literary Agency.

I'd like to discuss Lisa's life experiences, becoming an author, an agent, and her two latest titles, Amazing Amphibians (January 2021) and Mammal Mania (coming April 2021). Both of these titles are published by Chicago Review Press.

 

Lisa, you grew up with a passion for nature. Can you tell me something about your childhood that is a good memory of experiencing nature firsthand?

My father was an entomology professor, so he would take us out into fields or the woods to catch insects for his collection. It was fun to see what unusual specimens we could find. We also had good times hiking and camping as a family.

 

What was your favorite book growing up?

I can’t pick just one! But when I was small, I loved The Snowy Day and anything by Richard Scarry. Madeleine L’Engle’s books were favorites in my middle grade years.

 

Your college education revolved around biology and environmental science. How did this help you when you decided to turn your attention to writing?

Well, first of all, I'm really interested in those topics, so it was natural to write about them. My training gave me more confidence in writing about science accurately and may have opened a few doors with editors.

 

What has been the hardest thing for you to overcome as an author?

It took me years to find an agent; in hindsight I think I was focused more on writing whatever inspired me and less on what the market wanted. There needs to be a good balance there.

 

What has been your greatest joy as an author?

Letters and stories from readers who have enjoyed my books or made memories together because of them. The latter happens most often with Applesauce Day, which is about a family making applesauce together.


In your book Amazing Amphibians, you cover a lot of ground: Amphibian anatomy, behavior, hibernation, conservation and more. You also included wonderful activities. How is your writing process in writing Amazing Amphibians different from your process in writing a book like Applesauce Day?

Applesauce Day was based on a family tradition and a spark of inspiration. It flowed out in a stream of consciousness one night. (Followed by many revisions, of course). Amazing Amphibians is a much longer, fact-heavy book, so I researched one topic at a time, wrote about it, then moved on to the next topic.

 

Mammal Mania will be available on April 20, 2021. It is full of so many interesting and fun facts along with 30 activities. What do you hope is your readers’ take-away?

I hope they will gain an appreciation of the amazing diversity of mammals and learn more about how they can help protect them.

 

You recently became a literary agent for Storm Literary Agency. What do you see as an agent that is the most common mistake made by aspiring authors?

Most of the stories I get are pretty good. They just do not stand out. Because I can sign <1% of the submissions I receive, the story needs to really grab me, and I’m sure it is the same for editors.

 

People researching your titles will notice that you have written many books as part of a series. Can you explain just a bit about how one goes about becoming a series author?

Many of my books are written for educational market publishers who focus almost entirely on school and library sales. These publishers do mostly series. However, trade publishers do series as well, and you can write up a proposal with a sample manuscript if you have an idea for one. Amazing Amphibians and Mammal Mania were both pitched as part of an existing series at Chicago Review Press, the Young Naturalists series.

 

Do you have any good advice for someone wanting to break into the field of writing for children? 

Read tons of recently published children’s books to get an idea of what current trends and styles are. Read some books about writing for kids, join Facebook groups, and join SCBWI if you can. It’s a tough market to break into and it takes time to learn the craft. Be patient and keep learning, and celebrate your successes along the way!

 

Thank you, Lisa, for taking time to share your experience and thoughts with our readers. I am sure they will be as inspired by you as I am by your wonderful success. We look forward to reading Mammal Mania in April and to seeing what you have for us in the future.

 

Lisa Amstutz is the author of ~150 science and history books for kids. Her background includes a B.A. in Biology and an M.S. in Environmental Science/Ecology. A former outdoor educator, she specializes in topics related to science, nature, and agriculture. 

Lisa spent eight years as a freelance editor, working with individual authors and publishing companies. She also served as Assistant Regional Advisor for SCBWI: Ohio North and as a volunteer judge for Rate Your Story. Lisa recently joined Storm Literary Agency as an Associate Literary Agent. Learn more at www.LisaAmstutz.com.


ABOUT THE BOOK

How big is a blue whale? Why does a sloth crawl from the safety of a tree to the ground once a week? How does a vampire bat feed?  

Young nature enthusiasts will find answers to these questions and learn all sorts of fascinating facts about mammals in this full-color, interactive book. Mammal Mania explores what makes mammals unique, as well as their anatomy, behavior, and conservation needs.  

Readers will learn to build a squirrel feeder, write a putrid poem, make an animal tracking station, and much more.  

Thirty hands-on activities promote observation and analysis, writing and drawing, math and science, and nature literacy skills.