January 13, 2024

The Storystorm Challenge Part of the Writing Life

One of my favorite and most productive creative rituals is participating in author Tara Lazar's annual Storystorm challenge, a 31-day, online brainstorming event. This year I had the opportunity to be one of the guest bloggers (on Day #6 to be precise). My post is about repurposing party favors and piƱata toys as inspiration for your creative writing practice. You can read the full post here.  

Hosted by Tara Lazar, Art by Courtney Pippen-Mathur

It was such a wonderful feeling to be able to give back to a creative community that has inspired me for many years. And if YOU find storystorm helpful for boosting your creativity and generating ideas (and l assure you, you will!), I encourage you to show your support for the host, Tara Lazar, by purchasing one or more of her books. (If you can't possibly add another book to your bookshelf, you can always purchase a book as a gift for a local teacher or a child in need, or you can check out a copy of one of Tara's books at your local library.)

Something that really stood out for me via the experience of participating in storystorm as a guest blogger is realizing that sometimes I forget to put the best tools in my creative toolbox to use in my own creative writing practice--including some of the tools I'm familiar enough with and enthusiastic enough about to incorporate into my writing workshops, author visits, and encouraging blog posts! 

I love the writing exercise I wrote about in my storystorm guest post, and I've seen many good ideas come from it, both for my own work, and for the participants of various writing workshops I've facilitated for all ages and stages over the years. Even so, sometimes this activity is not top of mind when my mind feels like creative mush, (which, coincidentally, is when I typically most need a creative kick-in-the-pants). 

I've come to realize that writing this post was as much for me as it was for the other writers I intended to share it with. The act of drafting and polishing the blog post helped act as a reminder of how useful the exercise can be for me, and  re-reading the post when it was published to Tara's blog got me even more jazzed up about it. It was as if the writing workshop presenter me was directly speaking to the creative writer me

Although it feels a bit strange to admit that I occasionally need to be reminded to heed my own writing advice, what totally blew me away was how much inspiration I got from just reading the comments on the post. Some commenters offered additional resources that aligned with my exercise, and several commenters offered new and fresh variations on my exercise, which generated SEVERAL new story ideas for my own Storystorm idea file, plus new ideas for my future writing workshops and author visits. How cool is that? 

It was another example of give a little, gain a lot (something I recently mentioned experiencing by virtue of following/commenting on a social media post from esteemed literary agent Carly Watters' Instagram account.)

Image Source: https://www.instagram.com/the_shit_about_writing/  

Image Source: https://www.instagram.com/the_shit_about_writing/  

Bonus Tip: If you're not already following Carly's IG account, you should--it's overflowing with helpful, actionable industry info.

But I digress ...

Back to the topic at hand, here is a sampling of some of the variations, additional resources, and idea-stimulating comments shared on my Storystorm post: (Note: I've not provided attributions, as the blog platform's user names aren't necessarily real names, but you can directly access the post and comments here if you'd like to follow-up more comprehensively regarding specific sources on your own.): 

Some of the objects people used for this exercise include: a rock, a collection of Wordle words, and vintage postcards.

Someone googled "vintage toys" and used the images that came up via the search as their "object."

One commenter referred to her cat who happened to be on her lap as she wrote.  

Several people gave inspiring labels for the objects used in the exercise such as, "literary treasures" and "idea generators." Someone said, "My house is filled with objects for inspiration."

Someone did a similar exercise at an assisted living facility, helping the elderly residents use "words from their memories and tactile sensations to write free-verse 'poetry'" then compiled the results into a booklet.

Someone mentioned the exercise would be a great rainy day activity for parent/grandparent and child to do together. One person mentioned that she and her grandchild would do the activity together via WhatApp.

Someone mentioned Rob Walker and the literary experiment chronicled in the book, Significant Objects. (Rob Walker also has a book that I found called, The Art of Noticing.)
And, I learned from one commenter that my little glass bird is a Bluebird of Happiness, lovingly made in Arkansas (and I received comments from MANY other people who have special associations with their own little glass Bluebird of Happiness.  

Image of Lucy's Blooms picture book and Dawn's little glass bird aka, Bluebird of Happiness

Thank you once again to author Tara Lazar, for the opportunity to participate in Storystorm 2024 as a guest blogger. I'll continue to participate as a writer for the rest of the month. I'm well along my way to 30 ideas. Storystorm continues to blow my mind! 

January 11, 2024

Birth Stories for Books: THE MESS MONSTER, by Jessica Marie

Welcome to the New Year dear readers, and welcome to another round of Birth Stories for Books interviews and guest posts. Today's guest, Jessica Marie, shares her experience self-publishing her debut picture book, THE MESS MONSTER, which came out in October of 2023 (illustrated by Nicholas Child). 

by Jessica Marie and Nicholas Child

Dawn Prochovnic: So glad to have you on the blog, Jessica, and I’m really looking forward to learning more about your debut picture book, THE MESS MONSTER.

Reading your bio, it sounds like this story might stem from personal experience. Can you share some details about how the idea came to be and what motivated you to move the idea forward to fruition?

Jessica Marie: It actually stemmed from an experience I had in middle school. We were assigned by our English teacher to write a story associated with a picture we had drawn. I drew a monster that was hidden beneath the bleachers. The story was more of a horror story, but the monster shined through in this book. I also am always motivated by my very active and messy daughter, who gets the messiness from her mom. However, the story of the Mess Monster was inspired by my daughter losing her soccer cleats. This story grew into a mother-daughter story with the messiness added to it.

Photo provided by Jessica Marie

DP: Very fun! 

Can you share with us the process and timeframe between your initial idea and the story that was formulated fully enough to produce as an independently-published book?

JM: The story was formulated enough within 6 months. I got sick of waiting for a publisher or agent, so I took matters into my own hands and self-published my manuscript.

DP: There is definitely a lot of waiting (and waiting...and waiting...) involved in the traditional publishing world! It sounds like you discovered a path that was a better fit for you. 

When you compare one of your earliest drafts of this story to the version in the published book, what stands out for you in terms of what is most different? Likewise, is there anything in particular that stands out that was included in your earliest drafts and survived the revision process?

 JM: It was actually created as a monster that lived in the basement. It didn’t have the elements it does today. There was no messiness or family element to the story.

DP: Oh wow. It sounds like the manuscript changed a lot over time.

Reflecting on the journey from idea to published book, are there any individuals, experiences, or opportunities that you credit with opening the door for you to bring this story to publication?

JM: My editor, Kathy MacMillan. She walked me through the publishing process and the art of book creation.

DP: Kathy MacMillan is wonderful! She and I got to know each other because of our mutual interest in American Sign Language. We've been championing each others' work for a couple of decades now! 

How did you and she connect with each other, and can you share how the editorial process worked?

JM: I found her through SCBWI. I am so grateful for this connection. I watched some of her presentations and reached out to her. I now work with her on a weekly basis with all of my manuscripts. It’s been a real blessing.

DP: It sounds like you and Kathy have a fantastic working relationship.

I’m also interested in hearing how you went about the process of connecting with the illustrator for this project, Nicholas Child.

JM: The illustrator was tricky. I was at the end of my rope and stumbled upon the website Reedsy. There you can view illustrations and illustrators and choose one. I was connected to the illustrator who illustrated my books, Finding my ROAR! and The Mess Monster. However, I have since changed my illustrator and she will be working on my new books.

DP: In addition to Reedsy, were there any specific resources you utilized (for example, software, reference books, online classes or tools, etc.) that were most helpful to you along the way?

JM: I did utilize online classes, online tools, and a person who does all of my marketing. I did appreciate the online classes, but my greatest endeavor is working with a marketing person. She is wonderful. She has helped me set up all of my social accounts and is very helpful.

DP: Have you engaged in any book promotion and/or marketing activities that have been especially effective in terms of growing book sales?

JM: I have engaged in book promotions with book conferences and book fairs. Fairs like Oktoberfest and readings at elementary schools have helped with sales. I have also created a Mess Monster lovey to go along with the book. That seems to be helping switch marketing. However, the biggest promotions are in the pre-sales. I have not had the chance to do that with this book.

Photo provided by Jessica Marie

Photo provided by Jessica Marie

DP: Love the lovey! It's so cute! 

If you could go back in time, what would you tell your pre-published self? Or, said another way, what do you know now, that you wished you would have known a bit earlier and/or are there any lessons you've learned along the way that could help others who would likewise like to write and independently-publish a children’s book?

JM: It is going to take time, so be patient. I never realized until I was in it just how long it would take. It also comes with many, many rejections, and you cannot take that personally.

DP: I couldn't agree more! 

Is there something you wish someone would ask you about your path to publication for THE MESS MONSTER that you haven’t had the opportunity to share yet?

JM: It brings you immense joy to know that someone loves your book!

DP: That is so very, very true! 

Do you have anything you’d like to tell us about what you’re currently working on?

JM: This book is a series. Right now, I am finishing up The Love Monster, and The Mess MOMster.

DP: Those sound like super fun titles, Jessica! 

Thanks so much for sharing your Birth Story for THE MESS MONSTER with us. I wish you much success with this project and the new books down the line!

Jessica Marie's Bio: 

I am a children’s book author, but longtime maker of messes.  

I graduated from the University of Kansas with my master’s degree in Early Childhood Special Education. I taught Kindergarten for several years in Texas. 

I have 3 dogs and a spectacular 8-year-old daughter. I love to do yoga and spend time outdoors. I live in Kansas City, Kansas.  My favorite color is pink and my favorite food is candy.


Birth Stories for Books is an occasional feature of Dawn Babb Prochovnic's blog. Dawn is the author of multiple picture books including, Lucy's Blooms, Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty?, Where Does a Pirate Go Potty?, and 16 books in the Story Time With Signs & Rhymes series. Dawn is a contributing author to the award-winning book, Oregon Reads Aloud, the 2023 Walt Morey Award winner, and a frequent presenter at schools, libraries, and educational conferences. Contact Dawn using the form at the left, or learn more at www.dawnprochovnic.com.