Turbo Monkey Tales is a group blog focusing on the craft, production, marketing and consumption of Children's Literature. We are illustrators, writers, animators and media mongrels. We are readers! We are published, unpublished and self-published; agented and searching, and 100% dedicated to our Kid Lit journey, no matter where we are on the path. Join our Tribe and grab a vine. The more the merrier!

Monday, March 25, 2013

It's Coming - National Poetry Month!

by Marilyn Hilton

"Spring is sprung,the grass is riz,
I wonder where the flowers is."
(attrib. Ogden Nash)

In 1996, the Academy of American Poets established April as National Poetry Month ® to raise awareness of poetry, poets, and media and organizations that support the heritage and culture of poetry.

April--m'gosh, that's only a week away! Will you be joining the hundreds of thousands of people in celebration? (I will--I'm excited just thinking about it!) If you want to participate but don't know how, here are 30 ideas, one for each day of National Poetry Month, to help you get into the groove.

Bonus before you start: If you can swing it, get tickets for the Poetry & the Creative Mind Gala on April 17 in NYC.

  1. Commit to writing a poem a day in April.
  2. If you're a prose writer, have one of your characters write a poem.
  3. Take 5 cliches and rewrite them as fresh images.
  4. Join a poetry writers group (online or in-person), and begin submitting your poems.
  5. Attend a poetry reading. Or read in a poetry reading.
  6. Sign up for an online or onsite poetry-writing class.
  7. If you are a poet, rewrite one of your poems in a different form.
  8. Try writing a poem in an "invented" poetry form. Shadow Poetry has information about these newer forms.
  9. Start a poem with another writer (or a group of writers), and do a ping-pong/round-robin poem: one person writes the first line or the first stanza, and the next person adds to it, and so on.
  10. Read one poem from a poetry collection each day. For example, The Best American Poetry 2012.
  11. Pull out some poetry that you wrote years ago and revise it.
  12. Retell a scene from your book in progress as a poem.
  13. Submit 1-3 poems to a journal or magazine.
  14. Create a meme of one of your poems and post it on your social media pages.
  15. Tweet one of your poems, one line at a time.
  16. Write a serial poem, and post it piece by piece, day by day on your website.
  17. Set a timer for 5 minutes, and write a free-verse poem of a childhood memory. Then revise it.
  18. Go for a walk, notice three things along the way. When you get home, write a poem about those three things.
  19. Enter a poetry contest.
  20. Organize a public poetry reading of local poets, including yourself.
  21. Subscribe to a poetry journal. Here's a great list to choose from.
  22. Write a 10-line poem that captures the essence of your favorite novel, movie, or artwork.
  23. Join a poets' organization, such as the Haiku Society of America.
  24. Take five lines from one of your poems. From each line, look up one word in a thesaurus. Then replace the word with one of the synonyms. Consider how the synonym changes the meaning of the line.
  25. Write a list of words you love because of the way they sound (for example, lucious, pomegranate, bumbling). Write a poem that includes all the words in your list.
  26. Read or reread a poem you studied in high school or college. Annotate it to pieces. What does it mean to you now that it didn't before?
  27. Write a poem about that poem.
  28. Plan a poet's retreat; attend an organized retreat or make your own.
  29. Assemble a chapbook of your poems.
  30. Plan how and when to publish your chapbook. The Poetry Society of America has a long list of chapbook publishers.

How will you celebrate National Poetry Month? Or how have you celebrated in the past?

30 ways to celebrate National Poetry Month @TurboMonkeys Tweet this
April is National Poetry Month - How will you celebrate? @TurboMonkeys Tweet this
In April, tweet your poem a line at a time @TurboMonkeys Tweet this

National Poetry Month is a registered trademark of the Academy of American Poets.

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Soup Vixen writes of Soup and Such

by Julie

"There ain't a body, be it mouse or man, that ain't made better by a little soup."—Kate DiCamillo, The Tale of Despereaux

At one of Nevada SCBWI’s mentorship retreats, I made some soup—cheesy enchilada chowder. That’s the soup that earned me my monkey moniker of “soup vixen.” Honestly, when I first saw the nickname, I thought, “Oh, no—I’m no soup expert.” I just followed a recipe—no art in that, right? But it’s grown on me, this nickname. I try like heck to make soup, and I’m going to live up to my title. Cue the crackers.

Broccoli cheese? Cioppino, anyone?
A few things I understand now about soup (ahem, here’s where I go all “metaphor for writing”) :

Before trying to make soup myself, I ate a lot of soup. Still do. French onion, gazpacho, crab bisque, mushroom barley... This is good in that I have learned how amazing soup can be. I know what’s possible. And I’ve learned, too, what not so good soup tastes like. Knowing the difference is not much of a comfort when my own soup isn’t working out so great, but I'm glad I can tell the difference anyway. It means I can get it there.

The thing is--make soup anyway. Start with a memory, start with a recipe, or go soup rogue. We need all kinds.

Sweet corn, red peppers, onion, and beans! It's a start!
Ingredients matter. Put stuff in that you love—some classic, some fresh—whatever stirs your heart.

Simmer for ages or boil it quick—it gets there both ways if you keep fanning the flames.

Invite cooks into the kitchen--ask your favorite folks to try a sample. Benefit from their expert palates. Nothing beats a potluck.

Be prepared to throw out whole batches, but don’t stop cooking. You're learning.

Don't skimp on the revision. Season, skim, puree—whatever it takes. There’s real art in seeing the promise in what isn’t quite there yet.

This batch is ready for some cheese! Where are the tortilla chips?
Share. It makes it all worth it. Especially if they come back for seconds.

The older I get, the more I appreciate soup. I love that there are so many soups—comforting ones, hearty ones, intriguing ones, spicy ones. There is a soup for everything that ails or aches or itches. And making soup is a worthy pursuit. I'm honored to be in the kitchen with you, honing our recipes.

So, back to the stock pot with you! 

"Obviously any fiction is going to be a combination of what is invented, what is overheard, what is experienced, what is experienced by people close to you, what you are told, what you have read, all mixed together into this kind of soup which, like any good soup, at the end you cannot really distinguish the ingredients." --David Leavitt
And here's a link to that cheesy soup! Make it your own!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

A Life of Pie

by Marilyn Hilton

Today is March 14--which is 3.14, which is short for 3.14159265359..., which is pi. Happy Pi(e) Day, everyone!

To honor the day, I thought it would be fitting to tell a story about pie. It's a story you might have heard before, but I've added visuals and twisted it up a bit. And it's short and sweet, so you can get back to your pie making or pie eating--or pi counting--faster.

Hello! Good morning! 

This is a pie--a whole pie--and it's all yours, the whole pie. All yours.

You have writing to do today. Or some sketches to finish. Remember, this whole pie is all yours.

The kids get up. Your dog needs to go walkies. You check your voice messages. 1 slice is gone.

First thing at work, you open email. Your partner says the bathroom tile is grouty. The garden needs watering. Uh-oh...2 slices vanished. That's okay--there's still almost a whole pie left.

At noontime, your cubicle mate asks if you want to try out the new BBQ down the street. The playdate is at your house. It's time for that oil change. 3 down.

At mid-afternoon you have a teeth-cleaning appointment and read People in the waiting room. It's your turn to carpool and bring snacks to softball practice. Your manager assigns you to lead a new project. Pie = 1/2. Half full or half empty? Hmm...

At dinnertime, you go to a potluck. You play pickup. You meet clients for drinks. Referee a soccer game. 5 slices gone...already?

Then you help with homework, or do homework, or grade homework, or avoid homework. You hop on Facebook for just a few minutes. You watch your marathon recordings of Touch. Pan is winning.

Midnight: Didn't write, didn't sketch. You'll die if you don't sleep.

Nite-nite, pie!


Hey, what happened?

Bye-bye, pie!

Wah! :'(

Everybody wants some of your pie. Be sure to grab your slice first!


Monday, March 11, 2013

So you're going to self publish ... you found yourself an editor. But what about the art?

by Hazel Mitchell

You got options. We all got options, these days. Let's look at the possibility that you're going to self publish your story.

Maybe you're not doing this because you are abandoning traditional publishing. There could be several reasons that you're going down this path.  I'm hoping it's NOT because you are desperate to have a published book in your sticky mitts. Self publishing (and making a success of it) has to be one of the hardest (and most expensive) ways for an author to see their book in print. Maybe you have a niche book .. you know your market, you can sell a lot of copies. Or traditional publishing doesn't appeal to you - you want to keep control of your book and sell it for many years to come. Or you have a good online base and are going to sell online. Or you love marketing and a challenge!

Whatever the reason it's becoming more and more of a requirement for your book to be as PROFESSIONAL as possible to succeed in an over-crowded market place. Whether your project is a physical book or an e-book, there's a whole support team you may need. No, wait, very PROBABLY need!

You've got a great story. Maybe it's a novel, non-fiction or a picture book. For reasons (as above) you are not submitting it to publishing houses. You're going it alone.

Route One - you use an 'all inclusive' publishing house. They do everything from editing to marketing. Read no further.
Route Two - you are going to put this book together yourself and hire all the individuals.

You'll need:

An editor. (Don't skimp on this one - an editor is a damned fine idea. God made them for a reason. OK, they have issues, but they are GOOD issues). You are the creator, not the editor. Publishing has worked good for this long for a reason. Everyone has their own job to do!

An illustrator. (Maybe you are also the illustrator? Fine) Hmm .. let's come back to that one.

An art director. Really? What the hell do they do anyway??

A book designer/graphic designer. (No, you can't just knock up the whole thing in word or similar.)

A proof reader. (Hire a pro, or maybe your editor will offer this service).

A printer. (Shop around.)

A marketing professional. (You, possibly.)

A PR person. (Nice to have.)

An understanding partner. And lots o' stamina. And not a small amount of investment (hence understanding partner.)

That's a lot of people right?

And here's the thing. Unless you are a professional artist/illustrator, most creators will need to hire someone to produce a cover and any internal art. Find the best you can. (That's the best, not the cheapest.) Don't be surprised if your favorite book illustrator isn't interested. They're usually busy working on their own projects. But good illustrators can be found to produce self-published projects. But expect to pay industry prices. Check references and see previous work.

You may be lucky and find an illustrator who can also do the book design. If not, then find a good book designer.

But wait, I was talking about art directors. You understand the need for an editor, but an art director? Hell, you know what looks good, why pay someone to tell you?

Because a professional art director can save you a lot of money in the long run. Without someone to oversee or place a guiding hand on the entire project, then your vision, (and all the money you're investing in it), may come to nothing. 

You CAN get by without an art director. But I'd suggest, (just as any sane person would hire an independent editor), it's as important to have an art director look over the total design BEFORE it's produced or illustrated. Someone who can pull the project together, advise on any design issues and look at the art from an outsider's POV.

It could be the difference between a project booksellers can't wait to get on their shelves, or that festival organizers are begging to have at their events. A poorly produced book, however stellar the writing or art, will NOT get a second glance from a professional buyer. Or hold the attention of a reader. Think about it.

Seeking out these individuals is a bit harder than locating an independent editor. But it can be done. Ask your editor if they know an independent art director that would work on your project. If you hire an illustrator or book designer, they also may be able to refer you. Ask contacts or your local SCBWI chapter for any information they have. Get a copy of the Graphic Designer's Handbook and leaf through the directory. Also of help might be The Graphic Artist's Guild and the Art Director's Guild. And then there is always the internet - but check references! A great website to look at for talented individuals is http://www.creativehotlist.com/.

What I wouldn't suggest you do is call an art director at a publishing house. They are working for someone else!

Don't leave it to chance. It could be the difference between a successful book or the waste of a great story.

(Also ... if you know any, OR are a freelance AD, leave a comment!)


See my latest books at - http://hazelmitchell.com/Hazel%20Mitchell%20Books.htm
I'll be speaking next at the Europolitan SCBWI, Paris, France on 29-30th March.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Concept, Concept, Concept or My Dinner with Bill

by Craig

It’s been a decade now, since I had a fateful dinner with Bill.  I had completed a four-year run with Dreamworks SKG and successfully sold my first feature film, world-wide.  

Bill had recently lost his job of more than 7 years.  I could tell he was uneasy. We had never met and he didn’t know anything about me.  

I had been writing artsy indie scripts, having tired of the studio formulaic blockbusters.  Bill had a similar outlook.  LIke me he was opening his own "indie" film production company.  We started with a quick intro from a mutual friend (MSU Alumni) and eventually got on the subject of story and Bill said something that would change my life.

“Concept, Concept, Concept.  If you have a strong concept and a weak screenplay I can still do something with it.  But if you have a weak concept...even with strong writing it is almost impossible to sell.”

Now, you might be thinking this is not eye opening, especially coming from someone who had recently lost his job and was just starting an “indie” film production company.  But Bill knows something about story.  You probably don’t know his name or recognize his face, but Bill Mechanic KNOWS story.

Bill Mechanic took a doormat studio all the way to number 1...in THE WORLD!  Along his journey he was responsible for films such as X men, Ice Age, Braveheart and a little film called Titanic.  He hired James Cameron, fired James Cameron then hired him back again.  Bill also was responsible for a film starring some guy named Brad Pitt titled Fight Club.  This same film just happened to be largely responsible for Rupert Murdoc firing Bill Mechanic as the CEO and Chariman of Fox Studios.  (even though it garnered $37 million) Since leaving Fox, Bill has produced The Oscars and the animated film Coraline.  

Some of you might be wondering what this has to do with writing a children’s novel or picture book.  I believe everything.

At the time I was dining on chicken cordon bleu with Bill, the film industry was going through a similar constriction as the publishing industry is right now.  The bigger “houses” were reducing their slates, making fewer films.  Agencies were reducing their client lists, keeping only those A listers with proven box office history.

Is this sounding at all familiar?  

The indie film production segment was forced open by the emergence of technological advances like the DVD, Non linear film editing software and Digital Video Cameras which allowed smaller companies to create quality products at a much lower cost.  

Again, a similar change is occurring in our publishing world with Ebooks, Augmented Reality and Smartphone Apps.
But back to Bill and his wise words.  Three short months after our dinner, I penned a Horror screenplay with a focus on concept.  Not only did Script magazine give it an award but it gave me a shot at a three picture deal with Brillstein Entertainment.  

It has been a decade since all of that water passed under this bridge but one thing remains true.  All these events and advances will never take away that story counts.  So, no matter how your story finds its way to the reader, to make your life a bit easier, start with a great concept.