Author Archives: Denise Schurr

A Summer of Sequels

As a kindergarten teacher, I am gearing up to go back to school in a couple of weeks. In preparation, one of the items on my to-do list was hit the bookstore to find some good reads. When I arrived, I felt like I struck gold because I found a few of my favorite titles came out with sequels and they did not disappoint. One great thing about reading books from the same author is the ability to compare and contrast. I think my little ones will be entertained and delighted to compare these titles! Caution: spoiler alert!

Mother Bruce/Hotel Bruce

Good ole grumpy Bruce the bear is back with a whole new problem. He returns from migration (with his geese from the original story) only to find mice have transformed his house into a hotel. You gotta love Bruce because in the end, he may just be a giant teddy bear at heart who can find room for a few visitors to stay.

If You Ever Wanted to Bring an Alligator to School DON’T!/ If You Ever Want to Bring a Piano to the Beach DON’T!/ If You Ever Want to Bring a Circus to the Library DON’T!

These stories have an If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, feel. The charming alligator lover is back to show readers why you shouldn’t bring a circus to the library (they are for sitting quiet and reading)! And why its a bad idea to take a piano to the beach (when your mom asks you what you want to bring, she means a frisbee or a shovel)!

What Do You Do with an Idea?/What Do You Do with a Problem?

If you thought ideas made you nervous, wait until a problem comes along. Just like ideas, you can’t ignore problem because they grow (and unlike ideas, you don’t want that to happen). But when you tackle a problem, you may find it really isn’t so scary after all.

I love to get my kindergarten class excited about reading. The best tool in my toolbox for this task is a great book to share. What are some of your favorite picture books?

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Author Interview with Denise Vega

By Denise Schurr

Denise Vega is the award-winning author of seven books from toddler to teen, including her newest picture book, If Your Monster Won’t Go To Bed as well as Build a Burrito: A Counting Book in English and Spanish, illustrated by Caldecott Medal winner David Diaz and Grandmother, Have the Angels Come? illustrated by Erin Eitter Kono (Colorado Book Award winner, Colorado Authors’ League Award, Américas Award Commended Title). Denise is a former co-Regional Advisor for the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the SCBWI, on faculty at Lighthouse Writers Workshop, and a Young Adult Mentor for the Regis University MFA in Creative Writing. She lives in Denver with her family where she loves to hike, walk, swim, read, eat French fries and watch out for monsters. Find out more about Denise, her books, and her idiosyncrasies at www.denisevega.com.

What was your inspiration for the story If Your Monster Won’t Go To Bed?

I can’t remember exactly, but I think it was a combination of things. I had written another monster story and also a “role switching” story with kids putting parents to bed–an idea that I abandoned when I found out it had already been done by a much more skilled author than myself. I think my subconscious started putting these two ideas together at some point and the story began to prod me.

Which came first, the characters or the plot? How did you blend the two?

The plot came first–this idea of an instruction manual for putting your monster to bed. Then I heard the unseen narrator’s voice in my head. I had originally envisioned the story with dialogue bubbles coming in from the sides and then maybe getting a glimpse of the narrator slipping away at the end. But that changed as I continued to hone and revise the story. Because of the second person point of view, the characters are actually the narrator and the listener/reader (represented by the girl in the story) with the narrator taking center stage in terms of voice and the girl coming into her own through the text and a lot through the illustrations. The ending reflects me coming to terms with these two characters. Early versions ended with the child playing after the monster is (supposedly) in bed, but something didn’t feel quite right with that approach. It wasn’t until I circled back to the narrator at the end that I got that “Yes!” feeling and knew I’d found my ending.

What was your favorite part to write and why?

I had so much fun coming up with all the silly things that were the opposite of when you put a kid to bed and loved creating the hyphenated words! It was just a big Wordplay Fun Fest!

Can you share your favorite line?

My favorite line by far is the last line after the narrator tells listeners not to ask their parents for help: “It’s not their fault; they’re just not good at it.” It still makes me smile when I read it.

Were you afraid of monsters when growing up?

Yes! I was convinced there was one in my closet and I often did the popular leaping from afar onto my bed in case there was a monster lurking under the bed–I didn’t want it reaching out and grabbing my foot! Sometimes if I woke up in the middle of the night, I would think my bookcase was one. Oh my gosh. Writing all of
that down makes it sound like I believed there was a whole family of monsters living in my room! Good grief.

OTHER INFO:

Denise will be sharing the story and activities at several locations around Denver and Boulder. Visit her Facebook Fan page to find an event close to you. https://www.facebook.com/pg/denise.vega.books/events

@denisevegabooks

More about the book and purchase options: http://www.denisevega.com/books/if-your-monster/

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Submission Schedule

With the start of a new year, comes resolutions. One of my writing resolutions was to be more consistent with submitting my polished stories. To help me achieve this goal, I decided I needed an organized way to manage submissions. That is when I first developed my submission schedule and broke it down into three parts.

First, I decided that since I had put time and energy into writing my manuscripts, I owed it to myself to set them free into the querying world. I picked a time frame that felt comfortable for me and put it on the calendar. Submission Sunday was born. That is when I either spend an hour researching or writing queries to send out.

Next, I needed a way to track my submissions. There are many resources that writers can use, Query Tracker, spreadsheets, or a simple spiral bound notebook, which is what I decided to use. I’ve tried to maintain tracking on the computer in the past and I haven’t followed through. Using a simple spiral bound notebook that I keep close to my computer is something I will be more diligent in maintaining.

Finally, I set goals. It was important to me to decide on a number of queries I wanted to send out each week which felt attainable. Two weeks in, I am right on track. I know there may be weeks where I won’t be able to send as many or weeks where I may send more.

Do you have a submission process?

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5 Ways to Work Through Writer’s Block

write-800pxStaring at a blank screen or page can evoke a similar response from me, unproductivity. What is the cure for lack of inspiration? For me  it can be different things on different days. Here are a few suggestions to help you work around writer’s block when it strikes.

1. Walk if off

Often times my best ideas come to me when I’m not sitting down to write. Take the dog for walk, go for a run, or hit the gym. The benefits are twofold.

2. Talk it out

Two heads are better than one! If you are a part of a critique group, you can put your creative minds to work and overcome the obstacle. A spouse or trusted friend can provide the same support.

3. Read! Read! Read! 

Take a trip to your favorite bookstore or library and fall into a good book or check out a book on the craft of writing. Browse the web and visit other writing blogs. Hit up the newsstand for something unrelated.

4. Write something else

If you like to journal or keep a diary, write a new entry.  Visit a website for a daily writing prompt. Write the same scene in a different point of view.

5. Change the scenery

Bring your laptop along to a coffee shop, park, or your back porch. Sometimes, seeing new sights, smelling new smells, or tuning your ear to new sounds can help to jump start creativity.

What about you? How do you overcome writer’s block?

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Children’s Literature Throwback

IMG_2902It’s been several years since I enjoyed children’s literature as a child. But, no matter how much time passes, I remember the excitement of reading a beloved story from way back in the day.

The first picture book I made my parents read to me night after night was THE MONSTER AT THE END OF THIS BOOK. I don’t know if it was Grover, a favorite character from Sesame Street, that captured me. Or if it was the plot of Grover begging the audience not to read one more page because of the monster at the end. SPOILER ALERT: Little did Grover know, that he was the monster at the end of the book.

If Grover epitomized my early years, HATCHET embodied my reading during middle school. It was Brian Robeson’s survival story that hooked me. I felt like I was watching a movie, a thriller, and I had to know how it ended. I hadn’t read anything like it up to that point. It was my crossover from sweet and fun books to daring middle grade.

My tastes continued to evolve over the years. While I grew up listening to and reading Judy Blume books, I discovered one of my favorites, FOREVER, in high school. The book and Judy spoke to me about love, the love of your life, and break ups. Something, I didn’t have much knowledge about but was anxious to experience.  In a way, reading these stories helped me comprehend things that weren’t in my world.

While I enjoyed these books when I was young, they have stuck with me and I think of them fondly, like a good friend. What about you? What book memories do carry with you from back in the day?

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To Conference, To Conference

By Denise Schurr

SCBWIOne of my favorite activities at a writing conference is learning about the recently released books. As a teacher, I’m looking for books to add to my classroom library. As a parent I’m looking for books to capture my kids’ interests. As a reader/writer, I’m looking for something inspiring. The last conference I attended, SCBWI Letters and Lines in September 2015, did not disappoint.

I picked up Todd Tuell’s picture book, Ninja, Ninja, Never Stop! I have two pint-sized ninjas at home who I knew would love it! I think they picked up some cool moves after reading. And it’s one I can share with my school kids too. The ninja topic paired with the rhythmic rhyme is a homerun for both sets of kids!

Another treasured find was Sean Ferrell’s picture book, I Don’t Like Koala. While you think you know the whole story, when you get to the end, there is a fun twist. It’s humorous for kids and adults.

And little did I know at the beginning of the school year, when I read The Kissing Hand to my kindergarten class, I would be picking up my very own copy at the conference. Only this one was signed by the very talented illustrator, Ruth E. Harper. When I took it to school my class was in awe. It was inspiring for them to see something autographed from the person who makes stories come to life through illustration.

Finally, I was disappointed when I was unable to pick up my own copy of Tara Dairman’s middle grade novel, All Four Stars because it was all sold out. Lucky for me, one of my critique group member snagged a copy and let me borrow it. Tara has a feel for the flow of a story and I was swept up from the beginning. For the record, that read wasn’t for my school kids or for my own kids, it was a perfect fit for me.

What about you? What is your favorite find from attending conferences?

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Finding Your Niche

Clipart by Moini on Creative Commons.

Clipart by Moini on Creative Commons.

I once laughed at the thought of writing anything but picture books. It was early in my teaching career when I taught first grade and I found myself immersed in them. During my day, I incorporated them into lessons, picked favorites for read alouds, and helped recommend a good story during library times. Finding timeless picture books became like a quest for me.

Naturally, when I sat down to write, the stories I crafted were picture books. The talented authors; Kevin Henke, Jan Brett, Maurice Sendak, Eric Carle, and countless others created stories so rich and lively, it was a joy to read and reread them. How hard could it be to do the same thing?

Unfortunately, I soon found out, you can’t sit down and whip up a children’s book like you would a cake. There is an art to building a character arc, creating relatable characters, and rhythmic dialogue, rhyme, or prose that leaves children begging to hear the story one more time.

While I never gave up on picture books, I decided to try something longer, a chapter book. This stretched beyond what I was familiar with. After spending months drafting my story, I knew I needed help. A writer friend told me about her experience with a writing coach, and I followed in her footsteps.

Working alongside an expert in the field, gave me tools and wisdom I couldn’t gain working alone. When we toiled all the way through my story and finished, I had one more hour of time remaining with her. What can you do with that?

Determined to keep going, I turned to writing a magazine article. Again, I found myself embarking on a new adventure. As it turned out, my coach taught magazine writing. With that one hour of time, she showed me the essentials for writing an eye-catching article.

I submitted my article she coached me through and got a nibble. This sparked an interest in me. I submitted other articles and one day received an email with the response I longed to hear. An editor wanted to acquire my work. Success! And in a place I least expected to find it.

When I first started my writing journey, writing for magazines never crossed my mind. Neither had writing a novel. But never, say never.

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