Sunday, January 29, 2012

Blue Ribbon Metaphor

What is metaphor?

According to The Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a metaphor is “a figure of speech in which a word for one idea or thing is used in place of another to suggest a likeness between them” (p. 464, 1997).  In writing classes, and even English classes, students learn about metaphors.  However, it often seems hard to effectively use a metaphor without sounding clichéd.  For example, how often have you heard “his voice was music to my ears” or “her heart was a drum” or “she’s a hungry pig”, and so on.  All hackneyed and overused examples. 

But what’s the key to a good metaphor?

I wanted to use this blog as a way to highlight an example of metaphor that I truly love.  It is from a song called “Stereo Hearts” by Gym Class Heroes.  Here is a prime example of metaphor used effectively and in a fresh and new way.  The choice of metaphors in these lyrics truly captures the feelings or images that the writer is trying to convey.  These artists do a great job grounding the feeling into something understandable and relatable.  AND, it has a great beat too!

Take a second to look up the lyrics and visualize the metaphors as you read.  Type in "Stereo Heart lyrics by Gym Class Heroes" in a search engine, and that should take you to the lyrics.

Well, what do you think?  The writers could have easily said “my heart is a drum”, but instead, they use a metaphor that is creative and relatable to any musician or music lover: a stereo.  Even though rap music is not children’s literature (obviously) I think that any writer can learn from these lyrics and their wonderful use of metaphors.  Remembering to be creative, whimsical, and fresh without losing the grounded feel of a metaphor is, in my opinion, the best way to use metaphors well.
    What’s your favorite song that effectively uses metaphor?

If you want to hear the song, check it out on youtube:

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Great Starts to a New Year

Two bits of happy, happy news.

News #1:

I had the chance to interview the fabulous Marsha Diane Arnold, author of Heart of a Tiger, Roar of a Snore, and many more!  Her interview is informational and quite entertaining, and you can find it on my "Points from the Published" tab above.  She is the second interview I have done, and I am excited to include her on my blog.

Thanks again Marsha Diane Arnold for the interview!

Now for News #2

So...remember how I sent out a bunch of manuscripts out in November?  Well, I got my first response back yesterday!  It was from U.S. Kids Magazine an Award Winning Magazine that publishes Turtle (for ages 3-5), Humpty Dumpty (for ages 5-7), and Jack and Jill (for ages 6-7)

Of course seeing that yellow manila folder always gets my heart going.  Anyway, the letter said that "after careful consideration" they decided to hold on to one of my poems for possible publication.  Of course, that's not a promise to publish, but it isn't a no either.  Thus, this is certainly a success.  They liked it well enough to hold on to it--YAAY!  Hopefully they'll be contacting me soon with a definite "YES WE'LL PUBLISH IT!" 

I guess my mailbox isn't so awful all of the time.

I have to say, though, for the first publisher response of the year, this is a GREAT START!  Hopefully the responses that follow will hold more yeses for me.

You can check out the U.S. Kids website at  Who knows, maybe soon enough you'll see a poem by "JaNay Brown" on their website (here's hoping)!

Moving and Shaking in 2012! 

Keep on swimming!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Revisiting "Old Masters"

My little sister called me earlier this week and asked me which Brothers Grimm stories were my favorite.  She is currently taking a mythology class in college.  Now, I consider myself to be somewhat well-read in children’s literature, at least when it comes to picture books and stories for young listeners.  But when my sister asked me that, I drew a complete blank. 

“Brothers Grimm,” I thought. “Brothers Grimm.  Which ones were those? Did they write Cinderella and Snow White?  No, I think that was Hans Christian Andersen.  Hmmm, which stories belonged to the Brothers Grimm?”
Still, complete blank.  The only thing I could think of was a movie by the same name, starring Matt Damon and Heath Ledger; a movie that I haven’t even seen. 

In other words: Fail. 
Luckily, when I first began this children’s book journey a few years back, my dad gave me three treasuries of children’s literature including 1) Anthology of Children’s Literature, 2) A Treasury of Hans Christian Andersen, 3) The Norton Anthology of Children's Literature, and last but not least 4) Grimm’s Complete Fairytales. I had asked him for these books in order to read up on classic stories for children that have prevailed.   What better way to truly become immersed in children’s literature than to read the “Old Masters.”  Just by skimming through the table of contents, I was able to see The Grimm brothers wrote stories including “Cinderella” (not Hans Christian Anderson),“Rapunzel” and “Sleeping Beauty” just to name a few. 

Obviously, I’m not as well-read as I thought.  Thus, I’ve given myself a new task: read up on the folktales, fables, and fairytales of the past as a way to study storytelling.  That way, the next time I’m asked about the past greats, I’ll have a much more informed answer.

Thank you, little sis, for the reminder.  Back to the books!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

A Little More on Series

Interestingly enough, shortly after I wrote about my questions about series (check out my December 9th blog titled Seriously?  A Series), Children’s Writer, which is a monthly newsletter sent to inform writers about what is going on in the children’s publishing market published an article that covered the very topic I was discussing.  It’s titled The More the Merrier: Fiction, Nonficiton, & Magazine Series by Katherine Swarts (Children’s Writer, January, 2012). 
From the article, I learned a few things about series that I thought I would mention.  Swarts confirms the avid marketability of a good series, but she also says that new “unproven authors” should be reluctant to introduce a story to an editor as a series.  Instead, she believes that the new author should just write a really good story (with an interesting character/s) and let the work, do the “series work” for itself.  In other words, if the story is good enough, and sells well, then it may be the editor who is asking the author to continue the story into a series.  Furthermore, based on some advice from editors discussed in the article, it doesn’t seem as if editors are eager to sign up for a series without the success of a first book.  BUT, as an author gains a bigger reputation, the idea of pitching a series to an editor early may become more likely to pay off once the author has established a track record of being a good (successful and sellable) writer.  

I certainly thought this was informative, and I will definitely keep my ears and eyes open about more information regarding series. 

What do you think about series?  Pitch them early on, or wait them out?

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Book Store Study Sessions

I have read in several "writing for children" books that one of the best things you can do in order to improve your craft is by reading. 

Of course!  That’s not brain surgery! 

So, one of the things I enjoy doing is heading over to my local bookstore, usually B & N, and surrounding myself with books, books, and more books.  When I go to the bookstore, I walk around and grab picture books that I want to read, stack them in my arms (usually 6-15 books per visit), then find a comfy spot and begin my research. 

During my bookstore reading sessions, there are four things that I look for when I am deciding which picture books to pull out and scour.

4 Things I Look For When Selecting Picture Books To Study
  1. Caldecott Medal or Honor Winners
  2. Titles or covers that catch my eye
  3. Favorite authors or illustrators
  4. Current popular books

Caldecott Winners  

The Caldecott Medal and Honor Medal are annual awards given by the Association for Library Services to children’s books with excellent artwork.  These medals are extremely prestigious and are awarded to books with high artistic quality.  If you have ever seen the golden (for winner) or silver (for honor) medal stickers on a picture book, that book has been deemed a Caldecott Winner or Honor book.  When at the bookstore, I like to pick these out because of their award-winning status.  In my opinion, in order to have gained a Caldecott, the artwork must have been creative and noteworthy; furthermore, the words from the author must have truly inspired the beautiful artwork in the illustration, who was able to materialize it into a mesmerizing children’s book (for examples of beautiful artwork, check out David Weisner’s work, or The House in the Night by Susan Marie Swanson, illustrated by Beth Krommes).  I select these books and study the words and pictures to get a good idea of what award-winning work looks like.  Then, I think about how my own work compares. 

If you’d like more information about Caldecott Medals, or an entire list of Winners and Honorees dating back all the way to 1938, check out the website:

Eye-Catching Titles and Covers
I like to run my eyes over the shelves to see if anything seems interesting.  Pictures and titles that intrigue me usually make it into my stack of books to read.  This gives me a chance to go off of my own instinct, and read things that sound interesting to me.  Within this group may be books that I realize, upon reading, that I don’t like at all, or books that become one of my new favorites (read my posting on Interrupting Chicken by David Ezra Stein on my “Books I love” page for an example of this.  It’s also a Caldecott Honor Book.)  However, even if I don’t like a book that I select, I read it and analyze why it didn’t work for me.  I like using “unlikeable books” as learning tools for improving my own storytelling and writing skills.

Favorite Authors and Illustrators
In addition to Caldecotts and eye-catching books, I also like to grab a few newly released books from favorite authors and illustrators of mine.  I like to look at their books in order to scrutinize the range of their stories and characters.  I especially like looking at different books within series that my favorite authors create.  I pay close attention to how even though my favorite authors write about different characters or plotlines, their voices still shine through consistently.  I hope that I’ll be able to master that skill too.  A great example of one of my favorites is the great Mo Willems.  I am a huge fan of Knuffle Bunny One, Too, and Free, I adore Pigeon and all of his adventures, I enjoy Elephant & Piggie, and just recently I met Amanda and Alligator and am a fan of them now two.  Mo Willems has a great website if you are interested:

Popular Books
Last but not least, I like to look at popular books because of course, every author thinks about how to find characters and stories that are marketable and interesting to young readers and their families.  Usually, bookstores have many of their “bestsellers” in one easily accessible section.  Right now, you’d probably see Splat the Cat, Llama Llama, Bad Kitty, No David, Jane Yolen and Mark Teague’s “How Do Dinosaurs...”,  and the loveable Charlie & Lola, to list a few.   I think it’s good to see what children are interested in today as a gage for where my own work may fit in.

Now, in addition to all of this, bookstore reading sessions are all around fun.  These bookstore visits give me a chance to be away from the hubbub of my regular day, and allows me the chance to read engaging and fun books.  AND, I get a chance to see children and their families reading books, talking about  books, as well as playing with the usual train toy set that I always see at B & N.  Additionally, I get the chance to hear the entertaining conversations that children have with each other.  These visits often end up causing instant inspiration.  Luckily, I bring my trusty notebook along each time I do bookstore reading sessions just in case a poem or story pop into my head.

So, if you are having a hard time thinking of what to write, try visiting your local bookstore.  It works for me.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Mailbox Woes

I have come to despise my mailbox.

I tried not to take it personal, but, I have been unsuccessful in that attempt.  Mailbox, how I loathe you.
Some days, it gets pretty bad.  I think about it while I exercise.  I think about it when I’m at work.  I call my fiancé, who gets home before I do, and ask “Did you check the mail today?”  He tells me that if I don’t think about it all the time—or check it each hour of the day (Every. Single. Day).—that it’ll make my response come quicker.   I should take his advice.

But each time I check: Nothing!
And so, I blame my mailbox for the horrid delay.  My insignificant mailbox; the one with the tiny metal door and a number inscribed onto it; the one with many neighboring mailboxes beside it, above it, below it; the one that only opens when I slip the mini golden key into the slot, and turn.


Oh mailbox, why is that every time I look inside you, there is no envelope for me containing the news I so long to hear?  What have I ever done to you?

41 days down and who knows how many to go.  But who’s counting?  Not me. If my mailbox could count, it probably would; and taunt me with the number like a playground bully: nah nah nah nah, naaaah naaah!

But on the bright side, at least no word isn’t the same as “no thank you.”

Patience is definitely a virtue.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Welcome, Twenty-Twelve

 2011 has passed, and 2012 is here. 


I am excited to see what this year will bring.

For my first blog of the year, I thought I’d do a little reflecting.  It’s important for me to look back at my path so I can think of where I’ve been, while keeping in mind the great distance that I still have to go.  I am learning that, with all the rejection and all the time it takes to move forward in this industry, sometimes it feels easier to slip into the negative and give up the hopes of ever publishing a book at all—but of course, I won’t let that happen!  Thus, by reflecting and internalizing the fact that this is how it goes, and that all the “no’s” get me that much closer to the “yes’s”, it helps me to keep pushing on down that path.  Still, overall, I would say that 2011 was a positive year for my writing. 

JaNayB’s 2011 Writing Landmarks (Along her Path to Publishing):
  • I edited and finished two manuscripts that I have been working on for quite some time, and sent them out feeling really good about them (let ‘em sing!).
  • I started a new poetry project with one of my fellow critique group members, Rosi Hollinbeck, and am eager to see how it pans out.
  • I have read, and am in the process of reading, more books about the craft of writing (and more!).
  • I attended several workshops, classes, and events about writing, ultimately expanding my own talent and writing community.
  • I began learning more about the artistic side of picture books.
  • And of course, I sold two poems to Highlights for Kids—which has certainly been the highlight (clichéd, I know, but “highlight” surely encapsulates how I feel about that accomplishment) of 2011 for me and my writing.

Keeping my goal in Mind

Working.  Toward.  Publishing.  Is.  Definitely.  A.  Slow.  Process.  I know!  But, I am learning to embrace the process and beginning to appreciate the motion of what it takes to get there, whether “there” be a finished poem, an edited and completed manuscript, or a ultimately a publication.  Like the words of India Arie’s song A Beautiful Day “Life is a journey, not a destination/ There are no mistakes, just chances we’ve taken”.  So, I look forward to 2012 as another year that will mark more and bigger milestones on my path to publishing.  AND, once it does happen, it’ll make it all feel that much sweeter!

The year is new, but the journey continues!