Tag Archives: Peanut Butter and Brains

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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Guest Blogger Joe McGee: 10 Things I Learned on the Journey to Publication OR Yodeled Snippets of Insight from a Metaphoric Beard

imgresConsider this a postcard from the cloud-covered peak of Dream Mountain.

Now, don’t be fooled – it’s the first summit in a whole range of goals, aspirations and career dreams. But here I am, playing my ukulele, watching the llamas frolic, eating berries that I picked on the trail and hid away in the kind of beard one grows on long, epic journeys fraught with trials and challenges, pitfalls and moments of derring-do.

It’s a metaphoric beard. An epic, metaphoric beard in which I have collected the experiences of my journey to date. 32 years ago, a 10-year-old boy promised himself that he was going to be a published author. He stood at the bottom of the mountain, in his feathered cap and leiderhosen, and said “One day…one day, I will get there.”

He did.

(And leiderhosen are out of style)

PBB Cover          PEANUT BUTTER & BRAINS (Abrams), my debut picture book, will be published Tuesday, August 11th. I am beyond excited. I am ecstatic. I am so excited that I want to yodel from the mountain some of the things I have learned in my journey to this point. Consider them the yodeled snippets of insight I have gleaned along the way:

  1. You must WANT to do this so badly that you will accept no other alternative. You must be determined, you must crave it. You must have an insatiable appetite to be published that rivals a zombie’s craving for brains.
  2. Forget the odds. You can read a thousand articles a day about how hard it is to break in or break through, but why? Odds are meant to be beaten. They may not be “ever in your favor,” but why let that stop you?
  3. Seize opportunity. Cat Stevens sang “life is like a maze of doors and they all open from the side you’re on.” You will constantly be presented with doors, but you must recognize the opportunities and then open them. Do not hesitate. Do not think they might come again. Do not fool yourself into thinking that someone will open them for you.
  4. Take risks. Don’t be afraid to write that thing that might make people whisper about you in the grocery store. Tell the story you want to tell. Don’t be afraid to query that agent, or submit that story. Don’t be afraid to write in a new style or genre. Don’t be afraid to fail.
  5. Work hard. There are SO MANY talented writers out there, but consider this a marathon: everyone can run, but how many people will train hard enough, put the work in, to actually make it to the finish line? Stephen King said “What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.”
  6. Sacrifice. Learn how to say “no.” Guard your time. Stop watching TV. Get up earlier. No more video games. Give up your position as the treasurer for the community pudding club. Stop watching baby goat videos on YouTube (it’s difficult, I know) and stop playing around on Facebook.
  7. Be resilient. Rejection is a big part of this game. It hurts, yes. Every rejection is like a paper cut on our soul. Don’t keep poking your finger in the wound, slap a bandage on it and be tough. You have to be tough, or else you will eventually crumble.
  8. Keep moving forward. I have this quote tattooed on my arm and part of it reads: “Yesterday is history…tomorrow is a mystery…” Got rejected? Bad review? No answers to the first 92 queries you sent out? It’s easy to wallow in despair. Don’t. Be sad, or mad, or aggravated, but move forward, like a shark…always swimming forward.
  9. Believe. Believe in yourself. Believe in your dreams. You may be fortunate enough to have some people around you who truly believe in you too, but there will be many people who will see your dreams as just that…wishful hopes and dreams. Believe you can prove them wrong.
  10. Enjoy it. As grueling and exhausting and painstaking as the process is, it is also absolutely beautiful. Each stage has its own nuances to love, so many firsts. Enjoy every step of the journey, every climbing spike you hammer into the mountain, every single handhold from which you dangle, and have dangled, over the valley from which you began on your journey.

_Zombies_for_web These things I have yodeled are not new, they are not words of magic carrying promises or absolutes. They are merely words of encouragement, a bit of insight, a dash of experience, from someone who is, and has been, on the same journey as you, my fellow writers.

Sure, I’m enjoying the view from this peak, celebrating the release of my new book. But the journey has just begun. There are more stories to write and much more work to be done. Time to shoulder my pack, gather my strength and continue on towards the next mountain.

I’ll see you on the trail and listen for your yodel.

~ THIS GIVE-AWAY IS NOW CLOSED~

I’d like to give away a copy of PEANUT BUTTER & BRAINS to one lucky reader. Here’s what you need to do: Since PB&B is all about being true to yourself, tell me something in the comments below that makes you unique, something you are really proud of, something that defines you, or a moment when you followed your heart. I want to celebrate your individuality with you. I want to hear your stories. I’ll randomly draw a winner from all of the people who comment by Tuesday, August 11th at 9pm EST. 

Wow, so many awesome comments, stories, and identities! Thank you all for reading and sharing a piece of yourself with me & the interwebs. Choosing the winner was based on a complicated quantum algorithm applied to a midnight toad race. Once  the toads narrowed the field to three, I traveled to the dusty streets of the island of Zan-zarinia to consult with a snake charmer. I reached into the snake basket and drew forth a palm frond. It had the name of the winner written upon it. The winner is……Diana Lynn Gibson! Congratulations, Diana! (I’m emailing you for your mailing address.)

IMG_5757Joe McGee is the author of PEANUT BUTTER & BRAINS (Abrams, 2015). He is a graduate of the Rowan University Master of Arts in Writing program, where he received the Medallion Award Scholarship for excellence as the outstanding graduate writer, and the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program, with an additional VCF certification in picture book writing. Joe is a former airborne Army platoon leader, the father of three boys, and a writing professor at Rowan University. He writes picture books and middle grade novels. You can find him online at joemcgeeauthor.com and @mcgeejp

 

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Book Expo Recap: Books in the wild, a squee, and a T

Happy June! I’m just about recovered from going to the Book Expo last week. I had a great time, sneaking out of the Javits Center to have a quick lunch with my rockstar client Bill Konigsberg. Bill gave me a present! Check it out…

CGIromNUQAAbvZ6It’s a PORCUPINE OF TRUTH t-shirt! I know, I know. You wish you were as lucky as me. In case you didn’t know, THE PORCUPINE OF TRUTH came out last week and is already garnering starred reviews (School Library Journal and Booklist). Check out some of the places you might see Bill in the next few weeks and through the end of the year, where he will be reading and signing and you can get a copy of the book. Or, order one here.

CGLcgNiWYAAnn-LWhile at BEA I also got to hold an actual copy of Joe McGee‘s debut picture book, PEANUT BUTTER AND BRAINS: A ZOMBIE CULINARY TALE (Abrams, 2015) for the very first time! I loved seeing PB&B out in the wild! We’re eagerly looking forward to its publication on August 11th. You might even want to preorder it.

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Nicole Frail (editor), Natasha & me

I was lucky enough to be trudging around the Javits Center all day on Friday with my lovely client Natasha Sinel. Natasha’s book, THE FIX (Sky Pony, 2015) comes out September 1st and we were so excited to hold the first advance reader’s copies that I actually squeed. Literally made a “squee” noise. Loudly. Seriously. You can preorder THE FIX here.

I also nabbed a bunch of great ARCs, some of which I’ve already dipped into. Brian Selznick’s THE MARVELS doesn’t disappoint. What a talented man and a lovely story. I just started GEORGE by Alex Gino, and am liking it very well. And I’m packing A.S. King’s I CRAWL THROUGH IT and Ali Benjamin’s THE THING ABOUT JELLYFISH, to take on my vacation next week!

For now, that’s all I’ve got for you good folks… Anybody else go to BEA?

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