Tag Archives: Joe McGee

Where do Writers Get Their Ideas? – guest post by Joe McGee

I recently visited a Summer Youth Camp run by the Penn State Lehigh Valley faculty. During my presentation, I shared a bit about my own writing process, to include some ideas about where ideas come from. Where do writers get their ideas? Do they order them from a small, family-owned business in Des Moines, Iowa? No, of course not…or do we? One of the items on my list of “where ideas come from” (not Des Moines – sorry, Iowa) is my favorite question: What if?

What if? What a great and creative question. After my presentation, one of the facilitators mentioned how much that one question resonated with her. As a middle-school teacher, she is constantly trying to find new ways to introduce creative writing approaches to her students. What if?, she said, was a wonderful way to get them writing and thinking about things in a new and exciting way.

What if…when you left this assembly, you found the rest of the building made entirely of Jell-O? Of course, the kids giggle and get excited. What if…when your parents came to pick you up, they weren’t driving their car, but riding on the backs of giant dragonflies? Eyes get wide, kids start oohing and aahing. What if…when you turned on your television later tonight, the screen showed you your future in 10, 20, 30 years? It blows their minds. That question, I tell them, can generate countless stories.

What if? is an absolute gem for creating a story spark. Whether you’re looking for a creative writing exercise prompt, a short story spark, or the idea for your next book. What if apes became hyper-intelligent and fought against captivity? Hello, Planet of the Apes. What if someone were able to genetically recreate dinosaurs from DNA trapped in mosquitoes in amber? Hello, Jurassic Park. What if the U.S. built a giant wall around the entire country…and the zombie apocalypse started in New York? That’s just frightening.

At nErDCampNJ, author Henry Neff mentioned that What if? is a great way to approach world building. Take one or more of the S.P.R.I.T.E. categories (Society, Politics, Religion, Ideas/Culture, Technology, and Economy) and tweak it with What if? For example, What if artificial intelligence grew so smart that it became self aware and considered humanity a virus in need of cleansing? Hello, Terminator. What if, instead of money, we bought, sold, and traded for things with minutes from our life – people give up (or gain) minutes, days, months, years…that car will cost you two years and three months at your current credit score. A gallon of milk costs 26 seconds.

What if? is also good for turning tropes upside down. We’re always looking for fresh ways to spin the norm, right? No, this is not a nod to “alternative facts”. Consider the sweet, elderly librarian; complete with bifocals and a grey bun. But What if she were actually the High Priestess of a cult dedicated to opening a rift that would usher in creatures of unspeakable horror? What if that sword-wielding, muscle-bound barbarian fainted at the sight of blood? What if the werewolf were a vegetarian?

So, you see, there is quite a lot you can do with those two words, that one, simple question. What if?

What if this question was the inspiration for your next big idea? It just might be. Happy writing, friends!

Joe McGee is the author of the picture books Peanut Butter & Brains (Abrams, 2015) and Peanut Butter & Aliens (Abrams, 2017), which comes out August 29thHe earned his Master of Arts in Writing degree at Rowan University and has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Joe teaches creative writing at Rowan University, Glassboro, NJ, and is on the faculty at Sierra Nevada College’s low-residency MFA program, Writing for Children and Young Adults track in Lake Tahoe, NV. Joe is a former airborne Army officer, an avid board and role-playing game gamer, and a consummate daydreamer. You can visit him at http://www.joemcgeeauthor.com or follow him on Twitter @mcgeejp and Instagram at joemcgeeauthor.

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2015: It’s a Wrap!

end title 590.jpgLooking back on 2015 to see what I’ve done on this blog, trying to take stock, assess and reassess…

  • I did a lovely series of interviews with some of the top children’s book editors in the business called Quick Questions, where we heard from Stacey Barney of Penguin/Putnam; Lisa Yoskowitz at Little, Brown; Nancy Mercado at Scholastic; Joy Peskin at Farrar, Straus and Giroux; and Rotem Moscovich at Disney Hyperion. Thank you for your generosity, ladies!
  • When the beautiful, new JDLit website launched, you all were some of the first to see it, because I highlighted it here.
  • I posted a beautiful nugget on writing, by one of my favorite authors, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
  • We did a couple of book giveaways and gave lots of writing and publishing advice, on topics ranging from breaking through writer’s block, to how to write an effective query letter, to the benefit of going to writing conferences.
  • My former intern (hi Kimberly!) wrote a terrific monthly series, Inside Scoop: Dish from a Literary Agent Intern, sharing her experience of interning.
  • Some of my clients stepped up and blogged for me over the summer, giving me a break. Thank you, Jodi McKay, M-E Girard, Jessica Rinker (Cooper), Joe McGee, R.L. Saunders, Katherine Sparrow, Elaine Kiely Kearns, and Natasha Sinel! And then when I was at a loss for words at the end of the year, Jodi, Jessica, Joe and Elaine stepped up again.
  • By far, my most-viewed blog post though, was by the inimitable Chuck Sambuchino of Writer’s Digest. If you’re one of the very few people left on the planet who didn’t read Chuck’s post, check it out here.

What will 2016 hold in store for me? Who knows?! Here are some things I do know though…

  • I’m very much looking forward to seeing the publication of a couple of client books, announcing a few deals that are done but not fully executed, finalizing deals for some other clients, selling a bunch more client manuscripts, and finding and welcoming new clients.
  • I’m starting off the year doing something I love, going to the Miami SCBWI conference. Then in the spring I’ll be at the Pike’s Peak Writer’s Conference. I so enjoy meeting authors and trying to make a bit of a difference for them.
  • I’m making a commitment to finish the first draft of a middle grade manuscript I’ve been writing (by July 1st). I’m outing my writing self here. Hold me to it, friends!

What are you looking forward to in 2016? What are you committed to?

(Scroll down to the comments section. I really want to know!)

 

 

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On Writing: Why Story is Necessary (4)

by Joe McGee

IMG_5757One of the things that can be maddeningly frustrating about the dark marks splashed across the world is that we almost always have little or no control. Bad things happen. Horrible things occur and we get smacked across the face with it through news channels, media bombardment, and social media feeding frenzies. All we can do is try and digest it, swallowing it like a ball of nail-studded tar. We can certainly control our actions and reactions, but we can’t stop the madness that has already occurred; the stain on the canvas of the world.

But that’s where art comes in. As a writer (any artist really), we get to counter the black marks. We get to paint the kinds of images on the world canvas that offer a positive contrast to the grit and grime. Maybe it’s an entertaining story that just allows for a healthy escape, or maybe something that makes the reader smile and find joy. Maybe it’s a story that provides hope, or promotes healing, or helps them make sense of the world. Whatever it is, we, as writers, get to offer a healthy and creative extension of ourselves. We get to extend some semblance of control over the terrible things happening around us – something that is normally not possible.

Essentially, our words, our art, our stories, are our rally cry – ours, not just the writer, but the writer and the readers. It’s our way of counterbalancing the tornadoes of doom. It’s our way of offering a light in the darkness, strength in the face of hopelessness, a smile in the face of adversity, an escape when the world seems too heavy.

Art allows us to express ourselves, to create in the wake of tragedy, and to make sense of the world.

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