Friday, May 27, 2011

Cynsational News & Giveaways

Congratulations to Libba Bray on the release of Beauty Queens (Scholastic, 2011)! Don't miss the writing contest from Scholastic, in part featured in the video below! Note: it's well worth watching, especially for the ventriloquism/singing.



After the Acceptance: The Editorial Letter by Brian Yansky from Brian's Blog. Peek: "...the approach of the editors I’ve had varies. Some like to mention a problem and then spend some space explaining why they think it’s a problem and then move on. Some like to spin out possible ways to fix a problem."

The Art of the Blurb Request by Agent Kristin from Pub Rants. Peek: "Even with noble intentions, most writers who experience success end up having to put a moratorium on offering blurbs for a couple of reasons."

2011 Américas Award winners are Clemente! by Willie Perdomo, illustrated by Bryan Collier (Holt, 2010), The Dreamer by Pam Muñoz Ryan, illustrated by Peter Sis (Scholastic, 2010), and the Américas Award Honorable Mention went to The Firefly Letters by Margarita Engle (Holt, 2010.) Peek: "The Américas Award is given in recognition of U.S. works of fiction, poetry, folklore, or selected non-fiction (from picture books to works for young adults) published in the previous year in English or Spanish that authentically and engagingly portray Latin America, the Caribbean, or Latinos in the United States." See more information. Source: PaperTigers.

Congratulations to Cheryl Rainfield on the paperback release of Scars (WestSide, 2010, 2011). From the promotional copy: "An edgy, realistic, and hopeful novel about a teen survivor of sexual abuse who uses self-harm to cope." Read a guest post from Cheryl on Writing Bravely.

Beyond Orcs and Elves Part 3: Writing Cross-Culturally by Stacy Whitman from Stacy Whitman's Grimoire. Peek: "...you can’t assume that if someone’s Asian, for example, that they’re from the culture you want to write about (big difference between Chinese/Japanese/Korean/other Asian cultures) or that they’d have any more experience than you do with it if they’ve lived here in the U.S. their whole lives. They might. But they might not." See also part one and two.

Agent Interview: Tracey Adams by Nathalie Mvondo from Multiculturalism Rocks! Peek: "We have many books with characters whose parents are from another culture, books full of diverse characters in our own country, but honestly I would love to see more submissions featuring characters in foreign settings – this is something we don’t see often enough."

Writing Outside Your Experience by J.A. Yang from Diversity in YA Lit. Peek: "If the only authentic stories we could tell were related to our personal experiences, wouldn’t that be horribly limiting?"

Chatty Main Characters by Tabitha from Writer Musings. Peek: "We want our characters to have opinions, and a clever comment here and there, but if we’re getting a comment every other sentence, that’s too much."

Your Truth Isn't Necessarily Someone Else's Truth by Miranda Kenneally from The YA-5. Peek: "The truth is, not everybody comes from the same place, so everyone’s 'reality' is different. So how do you bring readers in so they 'buy' your story?"

6 1/2 Reasons to Love Mother-Daughter (Or Any) Book Clubs by Cindy Hudson from Donna Gephart at Wild About Words. Peek: "Any time communication happens between the generations is a good thing. I know. I have teenagers." Note: Cindy also is giving away a signed copy of Book By Book: The Complete Guide to Creating Mother-Daughter Book Clubs (Seal Press, 2009).

9 Tips for Finishing That Novel by Anna Staniszweski. Peek: "Make sure there are consequences if you don't reach your goal. If you're not good at cracking your own whip, ask a friend to bully you into staying on task. Or better yet, ask an enemy, someone who would like nothing better than to see you fail. How's that for motivation?"

Interview with the Little Introvert Who Could (AKA Allen Zadoff) by R.L. LaFevers from Shrinking Violet Promotions. Peek: "I’m an introvert with a taste for extroversion. I really enjoy people." See also an interview with Allen and Publisher Elizabeth Law of Egmont USA.

Writers Links: On Publishing from Children's & YA Lit Resources. Note: a listing of annotated links to substantive posts on the publishing process. See also links on agents, editors & publishers, and promotion.

Last Call for May Giveaways



Cynsational Screening Room

Uma Krishnaswami's recent post, Reinventing Your Children's Writing Career, is among the most popular of late at Cynsations. Check out what she has to say on the rest of The Grand Plan Blog Tour.

In the video below, Uma reads from the book and then discusses it with Kathi Appelt.

See also Uma at Through the Tollbooth from Michelle Knudsen, Explorations from Sarah Blake Johnson and Inside the Writer's Studio from Bethany Hegedus at Writer Friendly, Bookshelf Approved.



Austin Scene

Highlights of the week included Saturday brunch with author pal Janet Nolan (above) at Opal Divine's Freehouse, followed by a trip to BookPeople. See Janet Nolan on The Firehouse Light.

The Austin SCBWI monthly meeting speaker was D. Anne Love, talking about the Care and Feeding of Editors and Agents.

The Chills and Thrills Teen Book Tour came to Austin May 15. Here's Jennifer Archer, Tracy Deebs, Sophie Jordan, Mari Mancusi, Jordan Dane, and Tera Lynn Childs (holding Lara Chapman's book). Attention: Houston and Katy, Texas; readers! The tour will stop in your towns this weekend. See schedule for more information.

More Personally

Dear Teen Me from Author Cynthia Leitich Smith from E. Kristin Anderson at Dear Teen Me: Letters to Our Teen Selves. Peek: "Part of me can’t help observing that you’d be a lousy YA novel protagonist. You’ll stay this way through high school without ever stepping up and owning what’s great about you. On the other hand, you are doing a few important things right..."

I Heart YA Books says of Tantalize: Kieren's Story: "The characters and story plot was strong, and with it being in comic book format, made it a fun read. I would recommend this for middle grade to teenagers, or to anyone who loves comic books." Read the whole review. Note: Tantalize: Kieren's Story, illustrated by Ming Doyle, will be released by Candlewick in August.

Kate Hall at Book4Ever says of Blessed: "Beautifully evocative, Blessed combines the ideas of good and evil, heaven and hell in such a way as to make the reader rethink what they know about the world. I hope there will be more in this series." Read the whole review.

Jessica at Reading Inspires says of Blessed: "...when I finally got it I sat down and read for four hours straight. On day three, I finished it already. Because, yes, it was that good. Blessed had all the elements I loved from Eternal and Tantalize combined. It's really amazing to see how much Cynthia has improved as a writer." Read the whole review.

My YA short story "Cat Calls" (Candlewick, 2011) is now available for free as an e-book from Barnes & Noble. "Cat Calls" is set in the Tantalize series universe and features entirely new characters. You can download "Cat Calls" for free from Barnes & Noble. It's also available for free download to Kindle readers from Amazon.com. "Cat Calls" was originally published as a short story in Sideshow: Ten Original Tales of Freaks, Illusionists and Other Matters Odd and Magical, edited by Deborah Noyes (Candlewick, 2009).

From Greg Leitich Smith

Personal Links:

Thursday, May 26, 2011

In Memory: Bridget Zinn

YA author Bridget Zinn has died after a battle with colon cancer.

From author April Henry: "Bridget was funny, smart, and passionate. If I was going to use one word for her, it would be vibrant. Or radiant."

From author E.M. Kokie: "She was a good person, excellent to talk writing and publishing and life with. Someone to laugh with. And celebrate with. Share cake with and smile with."

From agent Michael Stearns: "Sad just doesn’t cut it. No how no way. Doesn’t come anywhere near to capturing the weighty emptiness we feel. And to amp things up with adverbs—well, that sort of lousy writing she wouldn’t stand for."

Bridget's debut novel, Poison, has sold to Disney/Hyperion. Michael says, "You’ll get to read it one of these days.... The story is a fantasy about a girl fugitive who fancies herself tough-as-nails until she finds love, humility, and more through an unexpected partnership with a wee enchanted piglet named Rosie." More on that to come.

New Voice: Erin E. Moulton on Flutter

Erin E. Moulton is the first-time author of Flutter: The Story of Four Sisters and One Incredible Journey (Philomel, 2011). From the promotional copy:

Big things are about the happen at Maple's house. Mama's going to have a baby, which means now there will be four Rittle sisters instead of just three.

But when baby Lily is born too early and can't come home from the hospital, Maple knows it's up to her to save her sister.


So she and Dawn, armed with a map and some leftover dinner, head off down a river and up a mountain to find the Wise Woman who can grant miracles. Now it's not only Lily's survival that they have to worry about, but also their own.


The dangers that Maple and Dawn encounter on their journey makes them realize a thing or two about miracles-and about each other.


How did you discover and get to know your protagonist? How about your secondary characters? Your antagonist?

Well, finding my protagonist, Maple, was a journey in and of itself. Flutter is a Vermont College of Fine Arts baby. I remember starting it in my second semester. Ellen Howard [pictured] was my advisor.

Prior to that, I had worked through a novel my first semester, which shall remain nameless and in a drawer for all time. I sent the nameless novel to Ellen, hoping beyond hope that I could continue working on it for the semester. I was clearly delusional.

Ellen read the story and nicely mentioned that she was “exhausted” from reading the draft. Within the same packet, I had included a biography. She noted in her letter back to me that she liked the biography, that it was a surprise. She thought it had unique voice and seemed more real.

She told me that I was not going to continue the draft of my previous/nameless novel for the time being.

Instead, she wanted me to focus on something that I knew about, something that would show what I knew about life. I was saddened, a bit frustrated and more than a little confused, so I went and stood on my head (against the wall) and thought about my biography.

It seems like my main character, Maple, jogged loose from my heart and fell straight into my head. When I sat up, I walked over to the computer and began typing. Maple was simple, she was heartfelt and she trying to prove herself. She was a very easy protagonist for me to listen to because she was similar to me as a kid. Maybe similar to me, still.

The secondary characters? I took Ellen’s sage advice and considered, for a while, what I knew about life. At the time of writing that first draft, I was 23 years old. I felt as though I didn’t know much at all about life. But I figured I didn’t need many things. I just needed to know about something.

After some mulling, I managed to recognize that I knew about home, about family and about love. So, in my head, I shot myself back to the mountain I grew up on, and I thought good and hard about the different traits each of my sisters had. And I mined their characters for my writing.

Maple is primarily with Dawn throughout the book. Dawn is a “scholar” in Maple’s eyes. The older sister who knows everything. The real-life Dawn, Amber, in fact, has a PhD from Harvard University and is very much a scholar today. Turns out, she knows mostly everything.

There’s also the younger sister, Beetle, whose thinking cap is a war helmet. She loves to lift things and carry them around. Coincidentally, or perhaps not so much, my younger sister, Casey, is a coach and an athlete.

Lastly, there’s little Lily, who everyone is out to save. And we don’t see Lily a whole lot because she’s just barely been born and the kids are all concerned about her premature birth and whether she will make it or not.

My littlest sister, Moie, was born, not prematurely, but with a few little complications along the way, which made me nervous as a kid. I didn’t know the words "Caesarean" and "breech," and it sounded pretty scary. So I mined and amplified those feelings and thoughts for Flutter.

Sisterhood is prevalent in Flutter. Writing them into the story was simple since I have known them my entire life.

And as far as an antagonist? The antagonist took me much longer to tie down. First, there was nature. That one was easy. Since the kids journey out into the mountains a plethora of scenarios could have taken place. It was deciding which scenarios would happen and where those would send the kids next. Along the way, they meet some pretty gruesome poachers, an annoying park ranger and his kid, and the natural elements.

Conflict and these antagonists came last and developed over several drafts.

As a contemporary fiction writer, how did you find the voice of your first person protagonist? Did you do character exercises? Did you make an effort to listen to how young people talk? Did you simply free your inner kid or adolescent? And, if it seemed to come by magic, how would you suggest others tap into that power in their own writing?

Voice is a tricky thing. On one hand, there is voice that flows up as part of the creative process. And that level of voice, for me, is more along those “magic” lines.

I know it’s working only by the feeling in my spine. It’s that feeling you get when you hear your favorite song. Shoulders curl, eyes close, fingertips tingle, and you’re transported.

You’re in a magic little bubble where you can only hear that voice. It has the ability to make my limbs heavy, my heart pound and my stomach flip.

And when I feel that, somehow, my writing has different rhythms and beats than when I am forcing it.

So what is that? And how do we identify and harness it?

It’s almost one of those things I don’t want to examine too closely lest it escape. But that doesn’t make me any less curious about it. Many writers have a signature voice. And you can tell immediately when you are reading their work.

Sometimes I wonder if it is all derived from the dusty archives of the mind. Do the rhythm and beats of certain lullabies, nursery rhymes, poems, storybooks, and novels from life-so-far embed themselves in your subconscious? Only to tangle there until they are strung together into unique threads of voice? Or is it something beyond the veil…woooo, wooo (those are supposed to be ghost sounds.) I could really mull over it all day and never come to a conclusion except that I know it is working when I feel it.

So, how to harness that? Based on what I have previously said in this interview, sadness and headstands while singing a lullaby might get you there, or perhaps getting one of those little dental instruments to dig rhythms out of your brain crinkles also might get you there.

Okay, that last one is definitely not recommended. But in all seriousness, usually, at least for me, a character pops up saying just a few interesting words. And those words stick and won’t settle until I start writing.

For example, Maple begins by saying, “It all starts at home. On the mountain. Three miles up a rutted dirt road, out past Mr. Benny’s apple orchard, and over the hill from Nanny Ann’s farmstand.”

And I say that line over and over again, until a few more lines pop up and those lines match that first line. And, I suppose, if you weren’t “feeling it” you could go ahead and examine those lines to see what makes them tick. I would opt to put on some music, drink some tea and mull over those lines until the rhythm is internalized… and give it time.

Now, that is primarily voice that comes alive during the creative process.

For me, there is also a different level of voice that can flourish during revision. It’s during revision that I can see where the voice is clear and where it lags. And it has much to do with understanding and knowing the heart of the character.

After I had written, and was in the process of revising Flutter, I knew that Maple used lots of nature metaphors. She used short sentences when she was upset. She had a slight mountain accent, and she never had all the answers, but she had a genuine soul that was filled with compassion. I didn’t know those things setting out, but by the time I had let the manuscript marinate for a while, I was able to add and tweak to really fortify her voice throughout the story.

In short (she says after writing several paragraphs), for me, it’s a marriage of the creative and the logical, the left brain balancing the right. Let feelings and the creativity and the wild string of words flow forth, but look at it, scrutinize it, pull it back and expand where necessary.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Guest Post: Lisa Bullard & Laura Purdie Salas on Can I Turn “Children’s Book Writer” Into a Full-Time Job?

By Lisa Bullard
& Laura Purdie Salas

"Can I turn 'children’s book writer' into a full-time job?"


New writers ask us the above question all the time—because we’ve both managed to do just that!

Sure, we’ve had tons of ups and downs, but we’ve each relied on writing and related activities for our full-time incomes for over ten years.

And we’re not high-profile authors who make thousands for every speaking gig; our books win awards and honors, but we haven’t yet made the bestseller lists.

We decided to interview each other about the behind-the-scenes realities for all of you out there who have contemplated this career option.

Lisa: How much time do you spend writing every day?

Laura: I analyzed my time sheets once. I wish I hadn’t. I spend 5 percent of my time writing original work and 12 percent doing educational writing. Overall, less than 20 percent!

But my writing career is a small business, and business tasks eat up much of my time. That 20 percent makes everything else worthwhile.

What about you? What's the best thing about turning “children's book writer” into your full-time job?

Lisa: Three words: writing, which I’ve adored since I penciled my first word (it was “chair”); books—do I have to tell you?; and children, who have the capacity to fall head-over-heels in love with books.

I focus on those rewards because frankly, the monetary rewards are harder to come by.

What about you—do you live big on six-figure advances?

Laura: Whew—sorry, I’m out of breath from laughing! Try $4,000 as my highest advance. But that’s okay. There’s still a chance for royalties.

I think huge advances are overrated—they put great pressure on authors to create enormous sales numbers so publishers aren’t disappointed.

But $4,000 for a book when you’ve poured your heart and countless hours into it—that can be hard to accept, too.

Lisa: I know! There are a lot of days that I wish I could ignore the money side of things and just write for the love of it. But there are other kinds of bonuses to this work, right? Like, most people assume we get to work in our pajamas all day!

Laura: Well, the UPS guy delivers daily, so it’s best for me to at least wear jeans or yoga pants. For conferences and school visits, I wear actual pants—gasp! The ALA Newbery Banquet last year was stressful—my shopping standard was “anything too dressy for lunch at Chipotle.”

How about you—are you a PJs-every-day writer?

Lisa: There aren’t enough PJ days! That’s because a lot of the things I do to help make ends meet involve other people: Skype mentoring sessions with new writers, teaching writing, and book marketing consultations (those draw on my background in the publishing industry).

Speaking of new writers, what’s your best advice for somebody who would love to build a job like ours?

Laura: Write amazing stories—that goes without saying. But don’t overlook your other responsibility: Learn about the industry by talking to writers and editors, reading voraciously, and studying the market.

So—what would you tell someone who is thinking about quitting their day job to become a full-time writer?

Lisa: How about: It will be harder than you expect and more satisfying than you can imagine!

Cynsational Notes

Lisa Bullard and Laura Purdie Salas collaborate on numerous projects, the most recent of which is a coaching and critique service for children’s book writers called “Mentors for Rent.”

If you’d like to explore further questions about the writing life, you can visit their website for more details.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

New Voice: Angela Cerrito on The End of the Line

Angela Cerrito is the first-time author of The End of the Line (Holiday House, 2011)(blog). From the promotional copy:

Robbie is locked in a room with nothing but a desk, a chair, a stack of paper and pencil. No belt, no shoes, no socks. He’s starving, but all they give him is water.

Robbie has reached The End of the Line, AKA Great Oaks School, and at Great Oaks there’s no time off for good behavior.

All good behavior will get you are points. Enough points and you get something to eat, a bed, bathroom privileges.

Thirteen-year-old Robbie’s first-person account of his struggles at the school—at times horrifying, at times hilarious—alternates with flashbacks to the events that led to his incarceration.

If Robbie is to survive The End of the Line, he must confront the truth: He is a murderer.


(Jacket photography by Edward McCain/Workbook Stock Collection/Getty Images.)

Looking back, are you surprised to debut in 2011, or did that seem inevitable? How long was your journey, what were the significant events, and how did you keep the faith?

Debuting in 2011 did not seem inevitable. There were times I wondered if this novel would make it at all and continued to work on other projects as I revised, re-revised and re-re-revised The End of the Line.

My journey started by subbing the first few pages to the (currently inactive) Smartwriters.com WIN contest in 2006. It was unfinished and middle grade, and I worried that it was just too dark. I was thrilled when the submission placed second in the middle grade category.

You were the judge, and you had the most encouraging words for the finalists. This inspired me to continue.

A few weeks later Roxyanne Young at SmartWriters.com wrote with the news that editor requested the full manuscript. I started waking up at 4 a.m. so I would have more time to write.

In addition to the WIN contest, some significant events along the way to publication were:

Reading the first few pages aloud at informal critique group meetings at SCBWI events (NY and Bologna, Italy). It was also significant to me that my friends who heard those early first pages continued to ask me about the project over the years.

An editor being totally honest with me –my setting was not believable and my climax was absent. She was 100 percent correct. I didn’t know much about revising at that point. I thought it happened after the contract and with the editor and author together. My writing was rough. Great Oaks didn’t come alive on the page. And I avoided writing the climax because it was too difficult for me. (This is explained more in the next question.)

An agent was totally honest with me and sent three pages of concerns about the manuscript. It was my first look at what a real revision would require. I actually highlighted the rejection letter and learned a great deal. Before this I’d only revised to chop words, strengthen sentences. I hadn’t ever taken the novel apart and tried to rebuild it. It needed so much work. But, thanks to this agent, I had a road map.

My critique groups – I belonged to an in-person critique group and online critique groups. The heartfelt critiques from these wonderful writers helped me a great deal with this novel and other projects too.

Continuing to learn from SCBWI conferences and workshops and being accepted to the Rutgers University Council on Children’s Literature One-on-one Plus Conference.

Whenever I got discouraged, I thought of the WIN contest, my SCBWI friends who heard the pages, my critique buddies and the encouraging words the first readers who read early drafts. They all wanted The End of the Line to succeed –and so did I!

The most significant step was connecting with Bill Reiss at John Hawkins & Associates. He liked the manuscript, wanted to represent it, and found a perfect home for the novel at Holiday House.

As a contemporary fiction writer, how did you find the voice of your first person protagonist? Did you do character exercises? Did you make an effort to listen to how young people talk? Did you simply free your inner kid or adolescent? And, if it seemed to come by magic, how would you suggest others tap into that power in their own writing?

The voice of Robbie wasn’t something I had to discover, I heard it in my head one day along with his greatest problem – he hated himself for his role in the death of his friend, Ryan.

It took me a lot longer to discover Ryan, and it was a long wait before I came to know him and could start writing the first page.

One day I was part of a conversation about several kids. One eight-year-old boy had been reported at school for not doing his homework. A month later, he was reported to social services for not being clean and for sleeping in school. They discovered the boy was the sole caregiver for his newborn sister. His father was not living at home, and his mom had postpartum depression and literally wasn’t getting out of bed to take care of the baby.

A friend told me about new kids in her neighborhood who were always hanging around her house. She was setting the table for dinner, and their eyes widened. The oldest said excitedly, “Look, she uses plates!” These were children whose meals at home were served in the can that was heated up on the stove. I knew by the end of the day that I had the building blocks for Ryan.

He would be a kid who pushed limits, broke a few rules, acted like he didn’t care. A kid who returned bottles to get money for food and tried (but failed) to take care of his newborn sister. A new kid who didn’t bother to fit in.

After I came to know Ryan, he told me his entire story. There is so much of Ryan’s past that didn’t make it into The End of the Line, an entire prequel. I love this kid as much as I love Robbie. Writing the scene of his death was one of the most difficult scenes I’ve ever written.

(And this showed in the novel for many drafts because I didn’t dig deep enough to write that scene. I kept glossing over Ryan’s death and writing it in a very distant voice.)

I don’t think finding the voices of Robbie and Ryan were freeing my inner child but rather striving to “become” the characters. Even if it wasn’t related to the novel, I often asked myself “what would Robbie / Ryan think about (blank)?” The blank could be anything from a town I was visiting to a news story or a piece of artwork I liked. This never made it into the novel, but it helped me understand the two boys better and helped make their voices distinct.

The final revisions with my amazing editor (Julie Amper at Holiday House) did take me back to my childhood. Julie added so much to the novel. She asked me to clarify if Robbie and Ryan were really friends. Reflecting on fun times spent with my best friend, Jane, when I was Robbie and Ryan’s age helped me answer the question: what does being "friends" mean to Robbie and Ryan?

Cynsational Notes

Follow Angela at Twitter.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Guest Post: Audrey Vernick on Getting to the Funny (Writing Humorous Picture Books)

By Audrey Vernick

If you want to sound as unfunny as humanly possible, start writing about humor. Once you stick that sucker under the microscope, it’s gone. Which is, of course, a pretty good practical joke if you think about it.

There’s an interview with Daniel Handler in Leonard S. Marcus’ book, Funny Business: Conversations with Writers of Comedy (Candlewick, 2009), that I reread with alarming frequency. Handler quotes Edward Gorey’s The Gashlycrumb Tinies (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1997), a book I’ve never read, by the way. But I will. Because this always makes me laugh, and reminds me of the best way to approach humor (Warning: Not for the faint of heart): “Isn’t it awful that all of these children have been killed in such terrible ways—and now let me list them alphabetically for you so you can learn the alphabet.”

Absurd. But funny. Or possibly dark and awful. But still, funny! (Note: It’s fiction.)

There’s something hilarious about a matter-of-fact stating of the absurd.

Make no excuses for your absurd world. If I had written Is Your Buffalo Ready for Kindergarten? (Balzer & Bray/HarperCollins, 2010) five years ago, I’d have ruined it by spending nearly half my words trying to explain how it came to be that there was a cud-chewing ruminant in a kindergarten classroom.

Cut to the chase. Get out of your own way. That’s the main thing I have figured out. Create the world that serves your story and make no apologies or justifications for how that world came to be.

That carries over to character.

There’s something similar going on in the movies and improvisational comedy performances that my children and I enjoy the most. Think about how Will Ferrell approached the character of Buddy the Elf. Or Amy Adams as Giselle in "Enchanted." They may have been over the top but there is no denying: they were all in.


Once you’ve invented a character to inhabit your world, endow her with the riches of a full character or else you might be left with a hollow, one-laugh gag.

As for finding those ideas in the first place, this next bit may be the most trite thing you’ve ever heard, but consider it for a week before you toss it out.

When I sat down recently to update my school-visit presentation, I had one of those scary engine-won’t-start moments. Sputtering. I wanted to talk about where writers find ideas but I couldn’t think up a single idea to explain this in an engaging way. Then I realized something.

Most of my ideas have started as stupid, offhand comments I made that, for whatever reason, echoed in my head after I said them. I do my best thinking, apparently, when I’m not thinking. But now, instead of ignoring myself, as I did for decades, I started to listen, and use those throw-away comments as starting points.

I’ve learned to move fast; I try to slap down a first draft the very day an idea occurs to me. If I don’t capture that essence right away, whatever was funny about the idea in the first place could run away. It’s rarely a good first draft, but it flows from the originating thought.

It’s crucial for me to get that down, and then to let it sit—to let my subconscious do its work. The director Mike Nichols once said something like, “The great thing about your subconscious is it has the same exact sense of humor as you do.” Let it do its work.

Don’t let your funny run away. Capture it, dance with it, and have fun.

Cynsational Notes

Look for Teach Your Buffalo to Play Drums by Audrey Vernick, illustrated by Daniel Jennewein (Balzer & Bray/HarperCollins, summer 2011).

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