“A story’s a story, no matter how small”

HortonWith apologies to Dr. Seuss, his book Horton Hears a Who gave me an idea for today’s blog post. In the book, we are reminded that “a person’s a person, no matter how small” – but as I was thinking about some of the questions people ask me about my two careers, I realized that writing can also be summed up in this way.

Believe it or not, whether it’s a radio commercial script, a poem, or a picture book (or even a novel, for those of you with longer attention spans than Yours Truly), there are many similarities between them…

Let’s start at the beginning

I’ve written about this before, but it bears repeating: the first line is possibly the most important line you will write.

At his seminars and workshops, radio advertising guru Dan O’Day has stated for years that the first line of a commercial is the “commercial for the commercial.” In other words, the first sentence of a commercial needs to garner enough attention and interest to compel the listener to continue listening and not zone out or – worse – change the channel.

The first line of a poem or book acts in much the same way. It sets up a story, it pulls the reader in, it connects on an emotional level. And not only does the opening draw the reader into the story, it is often the deciding factor on whether or not a consumer purchases said book.

There’s a reason we tend to remember the first lines of books (“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”) and poems (“Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary”) even if we don’t recall exactly what comes next.

If the first line isn’t compelling, you won’t get anyone past it. And guess what?

The rest of it needs to be compelling, as well!

And then something happened…

The next step is to develop the story by connecting with the reader (or listener) on that emotional level I mentioned. I don’t mean “emotional” as in tear-jerking, chest-clutching, drop-to-your-knees kind of emotion (although it could be)…I simply mean the story and character need to touch the reader or listener in such a way as to stir empathy.

This can be done through imagery, dialogue, word choice, and even humor. If I’m going to write a commercial for a florist, I may choose to set a scene with a husband who wants to surprise his wife for her birthday. If I’m writing a poem about a child playing at a park, I may decide to not let him/her have any playmates, which – while sad – is completely relatable to both kids and adults.

Whatever I do, I want the reader to not feel disappointed he/she continued listening past the first line!

“So, what’s the problem?”

There needs to be some tension, whether it’s through a problem that has been presented or simply through the imagery being described. Maybe your main character has tried fixing that leak in the bathroom and now it’s flooding. Perhaps two lovers are feeling unsure of the next step in their relationship.

Or maybe the old tree in the backyard needs to be taken down, but its bark still bears the scars of think rope once used for swinging.

And did you notice that any one of these scenarios could be used for any genre of writing? The bathroom leaking could be a plumbing commercial, but it might also be ID-100227497 (tree)a short story. The story of the lovers sounds like a poem, but it could be a commercial for a dating service, a jewelry store, or even a condom manufacturer!

That old tree could be the main character in a commercial for tree-cutting services, a metaphorical poem about old age and memory, or a novel about a family coming to terms with its members’ mortality. A story’s a story, after all.

The only place problems get solved

…is in commercials.

This is where the genres split. While a poem, novel, or picture book can conclude in all sorts of satisfying ways, commercials need a solution; it’s why they exist, isn’t it? The whole point of a commercial is to show how problems can be solved.

Other stories can veer off into strange paths: a problem may get solved, only to present another problem; a problem may get solved in such as way as to leave the reader wondering if it really was solved; or it may not get solved at all!

But commercials that don’t solve problems are few and far between.

Don’t take my word for it…

Test out my theory the next time you hear a radio commercial (TV commercials I find too visual for this exercise). Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is the first line or two compelling? Is it truly the “commercial for the commercial?” Do they draw me in and make me want to continue listening?
  • Is the premise/problem believable? Is the dialogue natural? Does this “feel” real?
  • Can I relate to the character, premise, or problem that has been presented? Do I feel empathetic to these folks’ plights?
  • If I can’t relate, it is reasonable to assume that there are people out there who can relate to it? (I may not smoke, but there are people who do; I may not own a pet snake, but there are people who do; I may not be a woman, but there are plenty out there.)
  • Is the conclusion satisfying? Was a problem solved – believably?
  • Is this compelling? If not, why?

And by the way…those are the same questions you can ask yourself, once you’ve finished writing your poem, picture book, short story, or novel!

A story’s a story, no matter how small.

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Poetry Friday: Visiting with Penny Parker Klostermann!

Before I say anything, I have to apologize to someone…

“I lost your comment, and I’m sorry!”

I was scanning through my blog’s “comments” filter and deleted a bunch of spam-type stuff…and just as I hit ‘DELETE’ I realized one of them was a real comment…Aaargh!

So whoever you are…please leave another one! It was a comment on my Tuesday post, when I listed some of the many things my kids and I have learned over the past few years of their existence. The comment made reference to raising 2-year-olds, and that’s all I saw before it vanished…again, I apologize!

Poetry_Friday logoFor today’s post, I’m very excited to share two poems as part of writer Penny Parker Klostermann’s blog series, “A Great Nephew & A Great Aunt.”

Granted, I am neither a great nephew nor a great aunt (nor am I even average), but Penny has been featuring a number of folks over the past several months who are related or connected in some way.

The premise is, one person – usually a child – provides a picture while the other person provides a poem to go along with it. When Penny asked if my kids and I would be interested in participating, I jumped at the opportunity! Both my 6-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter are little artists, and were quick to provide me with some creative material.

I hope you’ll take a look at Penny’s blog and see what my kids and I came up with! And if you’d like, Penny has all the past participants available for viewing, as well.

And if you STILL can’t get enough poetry, Catherine is hosting today’s Poetry Friday Roundup at Reading to the Core, featuring an interview with Irene Latham and a couple of selections from Irene’s new book of children’s poetry, When the Sun Shines on Antarctica (Millbrook Press).

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Did you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it with your friends and followers!
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To keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)Cybils-Logo-2015-Web-Sm
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Parenting: an educational experience like none other

As a writer for children, I am fortunate to be blessed with a non-stop whirlwind of inspiration every day thanks to my two youngest kids.

My two older girls are 23 and 20 and off doing their own thing these days, so taking care of my 6-year-old son and his 2-year-old sister allows me to not only revisit some of the joy, pain, and utter ridiculousness that I enjoyed with the older ones, but to be able to view their development – and mine! – with a fresh perspective.

It’s like watching the video of your wedding and discovering all sorts of things you never realized happened, because you were in the eye of the storm the whole time, and everything was swirling about you. Only when you get a chance to relive it are you able to truly appreciate the event.

That being said, I thought I’d share a few nuggets of wisdom my kids and I have learned over the past few years. Some of these have already spawned poems or picture book ideas; others most likely will, at some point!
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What the kids have learned:

  • If you walk backward without watching where you are going long enough, tragedy is inevitable.
  • A penis is not an appropriate body part when singing the Hokey-Pokey.
  • The punishment for lying is always worse than the punishment for whatever it was you lied about.
  • The cat is not a bean bag, and does not appreciate being part of any game that involves tossing.
  • In addition to creating pretty pictures, magic markers can also be used to paint your nails. And your lips. And pretty much any exposed surface.
  • One must never like the same meal two days in a row. If I loved pizza yesterday, I must despise it today. If we have mac ‘n cheese tonight, I must throw it on the floor tomorrow.

What I have learned:

  • A little girl wearing a Queen Elsa dress with a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle shell on her back is a beautiful thing.
  • Unconsciousness can do wonders.  No matter how loud, rude, impolite, destructive, unruly, or otherwise improper your little hellion was during the day, as soon as he falls asleep…your sweet, angelic Gift from God returns.
  • I may not like loud, banshee-like screaming, but when it’s happy banshee-like screaming…it’s music to my ears.
  • Reading 8 books before bedtime is not as exhausting as reading the same book 8 times in a row. Or is the other way around? Dang, I can’t remember.
  • When your 2-year-old daughter runs through the house shouting, “I laugh in the face of danger!” followed by a psychotic laugh…be prepared for anything.
  • Two-year-olds have only two speeds: asleep and lightning.
  • When feeding a toddler who dumps half her food on the floor, the family dog is an invaluable resource.

Ah, parenting. I have to admit, being a stay-at-home dad has its advantages when it comes to writing! These two are a never-ending source of stress frustration insomnia joy and happiness!

And as I’ve told many folks, I probably wouldn’t be writing for kids right now if it wasn’t for these two young ones. I get to watch them grow, be inspired by them, and then write about it.

What a career!

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Poetry Friday: “January Shoreline”

(click to enlarge)

 

I’d also like to thank Tabatha at The Opposite of Indifference for sharing a poem of mine as part of her series of poetry-song matchups. She finds poems and songs that have some sort of connection and shares them both at her blog. Today’s post features one of my poems paired with one of my favourite songs from Crowded House, along with poems by Liz Steinglass and Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, and you can view it HERE.

Tara Smith at A Teaching Life is hosting poetry Friday today, and is also in a “winter storm frame of mind,” as much of the east coast is expecting a big Nor’easter this weekend. (Thankfully, here in NH, we are not expected to get any snow at all, although our neighbors along the seaboard – Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania – could get 1-2 feet!)

By the way, this past Tuesday night, I played my first game of indoor soccer since being sidelined 2 years ago with a torn ACL…I talk a little bit about the importance of patience in my previous post, if you’d care to check it out!

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Did you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it with your friends and followers!
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Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

Back on the field…finally!

If your memory goes back to a few years ago (and you cared enough to even bother remembering!), I had a major injury on the soccer field two years ago. I tore my right knee apart – the ACL, MCL, and meniscus – while playing on my men’s indoor soccer league and needed surgery to repair the damage.

Well, the injury happened in late November 2013, the arthroscopic ACL reconstruction surgery was late March 2014, rehab took a little over a year, and I spent this past summer and fall continuing to strengthen my leg and hip muscles to ensure the knee would be safe to use in an aggressive setting like indoor soccer.

So after all this time, I’m finally back on the field tonight!

Don’t tell my wife.

Seriously, she supports me, but really doesn’t want to deal with another torn ACL – and I don’t, either, of course. No reason to think it will happen again, as the new ACL (fashioned from a piece of my right hamstring tendon) should be as strong as the original, but I don’t blame her for worrying.

Good things come to those who wait…but waiting only helps so much

Yes, patience is a virtue and the ability to wait patiently is beneficial, but that only gets you so far. One needs to take active steps to achieve certain goals.

For example, after years of writing poetry for adults and getting some published in various journals around the country, I decided in 2009 to make a serious effort to write for children. And not as a hobby; I wanted to make a career out of writing for children, which I knew was neither easy nor, for that matter, lucrative.

Lullabye coverBut I was determined, and set about doing whatever I could to make that happen. I joined an open SCBWI writer’s critique group, then joined SCBWI, started connecting with folks in the business, and learning everything I could. In 2015, I saw the fruits of my labors in the form of EIGHT children’s poems in FIVE children’s books, including my very first children’s publishing credit, Lee Bennett Hopkins’ Lullaby & Kisses Sweet (Abrams Appleseed).

I reached another milestone last year, when Rebecca Davis at Boyd’s Mills Press liked my picture book manuscript, Flashlight Night, enough to purchase it! With a Fall 2017 scheduled release date, it is a true test of patience, believe me.

Patience, patience…

– My new studio won’t be ready until later this year. When we had $20,000 worth of ice dam damage repaired this past December, the contractor volunteered to rip up all the upstairs carpeting – which we were going to need to do – at no charge. We took him up on the offer, but that means there’s no carpeting in my present studio space, so voiceover work is a challenge when it comes to sound dampening. I’ll just have to wait!

– Our 2-year-old daughter, whose nursery is going to be my new studio, no longer takes naps – which means I get no writing, voice, or marketing work done until after the two kids are in bed. She’ll start preschool in another two years, but until then…I’ll just have to wait!

– I currently have 8 or 9 manuscript submissions out there in kidlit land, sitting in the slush piles of various editors and agents. The wheels turn slow, so it’s possible 6 months could go by before I get a response, positive or negative. In some cases, I won’t even get a response unless there is interest! I have some names of people I want to send these manuscripts out to, but until I hear back from these others…I’ll just have to wait.

I could go on and on, but won’t. My point is, trying to have patience in a world of instant gratification is tough – and I’m not perfect at it. Far from it! I hate waiting, just like most people.

I think I’m at the age where I’m young enough to still be a bit impatient and impetuous sometimes, but mature enough to recognize that life is short and tenuous. Who knows what could happen between now and my picture book release date? What if i die before I ever have a chance to see the book in print??

Sorry – there’s that imagination again, coming up with all sorts of circumstances. But seriously, if I DID die before the book came out…there are plenty of things I could have been doing in the interim besides worrying about it! So I’ll try to be patient and wait.

After all, I have a new manuscript I need to work on…

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Did you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it with your friends and followers!
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To keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)Cybils-Logo-2015-Web-Sm
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Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

2015 in review: Thank you!

2015 was another big year for my blog!

I had a visitor from China, one from Afghanistan, and one from Ethiopia…I had 300% more visitors from Thailand than I did from Botswana…and while the majority of my 9400 total visits came from here in the U.S. (7300), I had more from the UK than our neighbor to the north, Canada – in fact, I had almost as many visits from Australia as I did from Canada!

How do I know all this? Well, once again, the folks at WordPress.com have compiled my year-end stats, and I wanted to share them with you today, since I hadn’t had a chance to earlier this month…and because without you, I wouldn’t have ANY stats!

– Three of my most-viewed posts in 2015 were from 2012? Yep! Once again, for the 3rd straight year, the MOST popular post was a poem that had received a lukewarm reception when I first shared it. And yet, more people read that than anything else on my blog! Go figure.

– The most popular post was very special to me: In May 2015, I hosted Poetry Friday, which always attracts a huge crowd – but it was my announcement that I had landed my very first book deal with Boyd’s Mills Press that had me singing that day!

– What’s in a name? A popular search phrase: One of the most popular ways people have found me is by searching the term “rhythm and rhyme” via Google. While I knew this was common phrase (one of the reasons I chose it to use in my blog name), it never occurred to how useful it would be in helping folks find me! You learn something new every day, as they say.

I have to thank two of my perennial top-commenters, Linda Baie and Michelle Heidenrich Barnes, who I can always count on to provide their thoughts to the conversation! Also many thanks to Mary Lee Hahn, Diane Mayr, and Brenda Davis Harsham, who round out the Top 5, for their time and interest.

Three other folks I need to tip my hat to are Renée LaTulippeTabatha Yeats, and Irene Latham, a trio of women who are some of the most wonderful people in the world…one the primary reasons being that they have sent me more visitors from their blogs than anyone else! Thank you so much, ladies!

So please click HERE (or click the graphic) and take a quick gander at some of the other interesting details, and thanks again for taking the time to stop by and visit. I hope the New Year is a happy one, and please keep in touch!

Radio, Rhythm, and Rhyme: 2015 in Review! Click the graphic for all the details.

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Did you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it with your friends and followers!
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To keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)Cybils-Logo-2015-Web-Sm
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Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

Cookies vs. Blog

Christmas time’s a-comin’…

This is going to be a short post because I have a number of pressing issues I need to attend to.

Like cookies.

You see, construction work on our house was finally completed this past Sunday ($20,000 worth of ice dam damage from last winter!), and only now can the family and I dive into all our Christmas traditions that we’ve put on hold.

Like cookies!

Yes, I need to get voiceover work done. I have a new picture book manuscript I need to start sending out. I have CYBILS-nominated books I need to read and judge. And the house – especially the upstairs – is in such a state of disruption that it’s hard to find the floor, much less anything else. But I’m determined not to let the important aspects of the holiday slip by.

Like cookies!

Oh, I have cards to send, stockings to hang, gifts to wrap…and a slew of other responsibilities like taking care of the kids while mom’s at work. A guy needs to have his priorities straight, though.

First, we set up the Nativity scene on top of the dining room bureau. This is, of course, what Christmas is all about. Then the outdoor lights went up. Then the 4-foot-tall fake tree was erected in the sun room, since we had no room for a real tree this year.

Pretty much all of that was done before construction began. Unfortunately, we had to put a hold on everything while walls were ripped open, siding was replaced, roofing was redone, and drywall was plastered.

But construction is complete, finally! (New paint and floors are still to come, but we’ll take care of that next year) So it’s time to rejoice in the spirit of the season! The advent wreath is on the table. The shopping is done. Our Christmas mass plans are nailed down.

There’s just one thing that absolutely, positively, needs to be taken care of at this point.

Cookies!

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Did you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it with your friends and followers!
SCVBWI_Member-badge (5 years)
To keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)Cybils-Logo-2015-Web-Sm
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Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!