Ideas on File: Where Writers Can Find Inspiration.

Today’s post comes from a fellow writer, Johanna “Jody” Staton about how she finds and keeps ideas for writing. Here’s Jody:

Even when we enjoy writing and want to do it, we always seem to have excuses not to be doing more of it: school, jobs, family plans and obligations.
For me, there was one more excuse: no ideas that grabbed me by fingertips and dragged me to the keyboard.  Until I read a column in a writers’ magazine that suggested keeping an “idea dump.” So I started one.

I’ve always gotten a daily newspaper, a habit learned from my grandfather and reinforced in journalism classes. Skimming the headlines gave me a general idea what was going on in the world. If the headline hooked me and the lead paragraph reeled me in, a whole article gave me insight into people and stories I didn’t know about before.
My mother had frequently clipped articles that she sent to me in college. Off on my own, I rarely cut anything out of the paper, until I read that “idea dump” column.
Space was made in a file cabinet. Out came the manila folders, the scissors. My husband read the newspaper first, because it developed holes once I got hold of it. Magazines were divested of entire pages.   jody idea file

The folders multiplied like rabbits. “Characters” became a bigger hanging box-bottomed folder housing “Children,” “Teens,” etc. “Settings” got geographical divisions. For articles from the writing magazine, genres each had their own folder, as did various aspects of the writing craft.
The following outline is an example of just some of the folders in my “idea dump”:

animal behavior
farm animals
people who work with animals
wild animals
working animals


middle grades books
picture books
science fiction
travel writing
young adult books
housing types
other planets

Specific locations
my home town
my region
my state
other countries
other states
Writing advice
point of view

Can I claim that each of those clippings resulted in a writings project—a story, an essay, an article, a novel? No. But what I do know is that once I followed the column’s advice and started my own “idea dump,” something must have gotten turned on in my brain, so that now I have enough ideas for novels to keep me writing forevermore.       Jody-Web

How do you organize/sort/keep your ideas for possible stories?

Jody Staton first realized she wanted to be a writer when she was twelve, and won an award at summer camp for the best writing of the season, a paragraph titled “God’s Symphony.” She worked for her high school and college newspapers, and was an English major. She has a graduate degree in magazine journalism. Jody was also an editor at Jack and Jill magazine, and had stories and articles published there and elsewhere. She does freelance copy editing, and has written several middle grade and young adult novels, all in various stages of development. None are published yet, but some have gotten favorable comments from agents and editors. She is currently working on a horsey historical for upper middle grades.                 


Something About Mary

A great post from and about my writer friend Mary Zisk.

Nerdy Chicks Rule

I met Mary Zisk at a SCBWI NJ conference two years ago where I critiqued her manuscript. She struck me right away as a rare breed: A writer who truly embraced criticism —  a writer who wanted to hear the worst, and learn from it. I liked her right away. After that, Mary started following Nerdy Chicks Rule, and later Sudipta critiqued her work. Sudipta saw that same quality in Mary, so when we looked to expand our blog by adding a contributing author in September of 2013, we agreed that Mary would be the perfect fit. We knew she’d bring something new and different to the table, and she did!

She gave us new perspectives on Motherhood. 

Mary's mother as a baby, passing with her family through Ellis Island Mary’s mother as a baby, passing with her family through Ellis Island.  From: 99 Years—A Picture of My Mother

Mary's beautiful photography highlighted this post. Mary’s beautiful photography highlighted this post. From:  Mother Nature: The Ultimate Nerdy Chick?

Mary shares her own motherhood journey, which included a special trip to Russia. Mary…

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Thanks for having me, Kathy.

Writing and Illustrating

WoCCover01A few weeks ago I was out with Darlene Beck Jacobson and she started talking about the work she was doing to develop a curriculum and study guide for her debut book that is coming out in September.

I asked her to share what she was doing with all of you, since we can all learn from each other.  Here is part one of the three part series.


Schools are changing. So are the curriculum requirements. With teachers being squeezed for time and tight budgets limiting purchases of “frivolous” things like fiction for the classroom, what can we writers do to give our books a fighting chance on classroom reading lists?

You can develop a CURRICULM GUIDE and STUDY QUESTIONS to tie into the Core Curriculum Content Standards. For my historical middle grade novel WHEELS OF CHANGE, which takes place…

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Celebrate the Start of Summer With…Ice Cream Sandwiches.

Is there any better treat perfect for a summer picnic or backyard barbeque than homemade ice cream sandwiches?  They are a big hit and simple to make.  You can make several ahead and freeze them for anytime you want a special, tasty treat.

Instead of the traditional chocolate chip cookies with vanilla, be adventurous and try peanut butter cookies with strawberry banana frozen yogurt.  Or Mint ice cream sandwiched between chocolate wafers or chocolate chunk cookies.  I don’t think there is a bad combination when it comes to ice cream or frozen yogurt and cookies. 

Two hints:  1. Make sure the cookies will hold up well when frozen.  And, 2. soften the ice cream or frozen yogurt a bit before placing a scoop on one cookie and pressing a second one to close it.  3. You can roll the sandwich in crushed nuts, coconut, mini chocolate chips or toffee bits and then place on a cookie sheet in the freezer until firm.

For more ice cream sandwich ideas visit:    Teaser:  I can’t wait to try the Snicker doodle one! Or how about a Brown sugar bacon?

What’s your favorite recipe for ice cream?  Send it to me and I’ll share it here.

Bring on the Red, White and Blue…Buttons to Make This Bracelet.

Here’s an easy craft for kids to make to celebrate Memorial Day or the 4th of July.  All you need is a piece of stretchy elastic used for jewelry and an assortment of buttons in red, white and blue.  You can find these at any craft store such as A C Moore, Michael’s, or Hobby Lobby.  buttons

Cut a piece of elastic about two -three inches longer than your wrist.

Thread the buttons onto the elastic one at a time, alternating colors as you go.  Don’t be afraid to push the buttons on top of one another.  The elastic will stretch when you wear it, so the buttons will separate then.

You can also add beads in between the buttons if you wish for a different look.  Add buttons until you reach the desired length for a comfortable fit on your wrist.  Then tie off the ends using a double knot as shown below.

braceletCut off the extra elastic close to the knot and you are finished!  For other bracelets and 40 more ideas for Memorial Day crafts and beyond, visit www,

Why not try some red, white and blue food at the picnic as well to get into the patriotic spirit?  Blueberries and strawberries are in season and taste great over vanilla ice cream or yogurt.

Give the bracelets away as prizes for anyone wearing the most red, white and blue clothing.

Happy Memorial Day, and remember all those who gave their lives for our freedom.  Check out this short video that so thoughtfully reminds us of sacrifice.

How do you celebrate Memorial Day?   I’d love to hear from you.  button braceletTo Veterans past and those presently serving our country, Thank You For Your Service.

Make This Beautiful Book For Someone You Love.

Make this simple paper book and enclose some of your favorite pictures and mementos.  Or use it to highlight your poems, stories or other worthy endeavors.  You can add extra pages by inserting plain card stock between each page.  It makes a great home-made gift for mom, grandparents or teachers as well.

1. Cut one piece of 12 x 12 cardstock in half. Fold each piece in half.  book aFor a book with more pages, use TWO pieces of cardstock and proceed as directed.

2. Place each folded half on top of one another and punch two holes through the folded side. Approximately 1 ½” down from the top and 1 ½” up from the bottom.

3. Bed over the folded side about ½” so it creases all four pages together.

4. From the bottom or back side, bring up each end of a ribbon cut 18” long, through each punched hole. Tie it together on front.

This is your book. Continue to decorate in your own personalized way
or follow the guidelines below to make it look like mine.

Front Cover- cut a piece of decorative paper 4 ½” x 5 ½”. Glue on.   book pic 1

Inside front cover- cut a piece of decorative paper 1 ¾” x 4 ¼”. Glue on.

Page 3: -cut a piece of paper 4 ½” x 5 ½”. Notch the top like a file folder. Fold in half. Wrap a 12” piece of colored string around the right side of page, tie, and glue folded paper down.
Additionally, cut a small strip of paper ¾” x 4 ½” and glue.    See photo.  book pic 2

Page 4- Cut two, 2 x 2 “ squares. Cutting on a diagonal, cut each square in half forming four triangles. Place one triangle in each corner of the page.

Page 5- Notch out the right side of page 5 like a file folder. Cut a strip of paper ¾” x 2” to glue inside the file folder notch. With a hole punch, punch three small holes along the right edge and string ribbon through each hole.

book photo 3

Page 6- Cut a small 2” x 2 ½” tag. Punch a hole and run a ribbon through it. Attach a paper clip to the top of the page. Attach another ribbon or bow, to that.

Inside Back Cover– Cut a piece of paper 4 ½” x 5”. Glue on.

Your mini book is complete.bookcover completed

All of the supplies used to make this darling book are from Close To My Heart. The paper products are exclusive and are only available through the month of May 2014.

Visit Shiela’s  website:   If you have any questions, please email her at :

How to win a prize from Shiela:

Sign up to receive updates from Darlene’s blog AND send an email to me telling me you are a new subscriber: You will be entered into a drawing to win the My Reflections Free to be Me paper packet. Winner will be announced June 2, 2014. Contact me for any questions. I periodically send scrapbook workshop emails and a newsletter.


Great MG Books for Summer Reading.

I’ve been reading a lot of great middle grade books lately and want to share some of them with you.  They are perfect for summer days and beyond.

SAVVY by Ingrid Law follows the adventures of Mississippi “Mibs” Beaumont who is about to turn 13. It’s the magical birthday in the Beaumont family when a family member’s Savvy first shows itself. Will Mibs’ savvy be as fierce as her brother Rocket’s – who creates electricity? Or like her brother Fish’s who produces hurricanes? And, will her Savvy be enough to save her Poppa who lies in the hospital in a coma? This is a delightful tale of family, friendship and love, and a ride on a pink bus that changes everything.

DOLL BONES by Holly Black follows the exploits of Poppy, Zac, and Alice who go on a modern day quest to bring the ghost of Eleanor – housed inside a china doll called Queen – to rest. This ghostly tale is also one of friendship, growing up, and having the courage to risk everything.

HOPE IS A FERRIS WHEEL by Robin Herrera is another winner. Star Mackie’s voice rings unique and true in a tale of friendship, love, acceptance, and letting your own star shine, no matter what. Using Emily Dickenson’s poem “Hope is the thing with feathers”, Star and her Poetry Club friends find their own versions of hope.

The Newbery Honor and National Book Award winner INSIDE OUT AND BACK AGAIN by Thanhha Lai, uses poetic form the tell the story of a young Vietnamese girl Ha’ and her family. They are forced to leave their beloved Saigon when it falls during the war in 1975. They board a ship to the US where Ha’ must find her place in a strange and foreign land called Alabama. Beautifully written, heartfelt and tender, it’s an unforgettable story about the people war leaves behind.

WHEN AUDREY MET ALICE by Rebecca Behrens tells the tale of First Daughter (to a woman president) Audrey, who has a hard time adjusting to the strict rules of living at the White House. She finds help and inspiration when she discovers the hidden diary of another First Daughter, Alice Roosevelt. It’s an engaging look at how both girls had to behave in the past as well as the present.

I hope you enjoy reading these wonderful books as much as I did.  What are some of your favorite MG books?

Kudos – Wow!

A big congratulations to all!

Writing and Illustrating


Laurie Wallmark’s book ADA, about a smart little girl who likes science and math was sold to Marissa Moss at Creston Books, by Liza Fleissig at Liza Royce Agency.

Laurie had a critique with Ginger Harris of the Liza Royce Agency at the last NJ SCBWI annual conference. She and Liza Fleissig expressed interest in Ada.

After six revisions based on their and Marissa Moss’s feedback, Creston books made an offer.

marina191Emily Feinberg at Roaring Brook has bought world rights to INN BETWEEN by Marina Cohen, in a two-book deal.

The story follows 12-year-old Quinn, who is driving across country with her best friend’s family when a stopover at a creepy Victorian hotel in middle of the Nevada desert turns terrifying.

Publication is set for winter 2016;

John M. Cusick of Greenhouse Literary was the agent.

Nanciturnerstevesonpic191Nanci Stockton Turner-Steveson has signed a contract for Swing Sideways…

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Happy Mother’s Day! I Just Gave Birth to a Book Cover! (OUCH!)

My writer friend TARA LAZAR just found out about her next PB cover. Looks like another winner for sure. Can’t wait to read this one!

Writing for Kids (While Raising Them)

Happy Mother’s Day to my mama-writer friends. What you do every day is amazing! You created kids…and now you create stories!

And what I just did is amazing, too. I gave birth to a new book cover!

(Well, really, Benji Davies did.)

I THOUGHT THIS WAS A BEAR BOOK releases in August 2015 from Aladdin/Simon & Schuster. But you can catch a glimpse of the alien-bear mayhem right here, right now:

Bear Book final cover

Many thanks to my very cool editor, Alyson Heller, and art director, Karin Paprocki, at Aladdin. And of course, none of this would be possible without über-agent Ammi-Joan Paquette.

More sneak peeks to come soon. I promise you a cute bear tushy.

Have a great day, Mama Bears!

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Enhance Your Picture Book Writing With Poetry.

Picture Book Writer, and workshop presenter extraordinaire, Sudipta Bardhan-Quallan is hosting a web-based workshop on using poetic techniques in Picture Book writing.   This 5 week, interactive and flexible e-Course is unlike anything else for enhancing the art of picture book writing.  The course begins on MAY 19, 2014.  To register and check out the details: Poetry Course Flyer.

Here’s the link to  the website and program:

You can visit Sudipta at her website: