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The Kindergarten

29 Nov

Every imaginator has his/her professional play place. An aspiring writer’s may be a beanbag chair and a laptop while celebrities have constructed notorious landmarks. Elvis’s Graceland, George Lucas’s Skywalker Ranch, and Herman Melville’s Arrowhead (yeah I looked that one up) come to mind.

Writers and artists need to create and thus its important for us to confine ourselves like zoo animals. Much like our furry relatives, the more natural and personalized our habitat, the more comfortable we’ll be.

I decided that I needed a “writing domain.” But all attempts resulted in failure.  Local coffee shops closed to early. And bratty children kept glancing at their watches as I typed atop the slide. I needed to create a space within my small Japanese style apartment.  Luckily, I have a spare bedroom. Unfortunately, central heating is non-existent in Aomori, so in winter even a polar bear would shiver in that room.

I already had a fitting desk, but the surroundings required a facelift. Much like a bachelor needs his pad, I craved something to match the children’s writer within.

With help from artist and friend Lisa Petro, we went shopping. Hoards of knick-knacks, toys, plants, books, paints, and colored index cards later, we were finished.

So proud of my “stylin’ & profilin’” digs, I unveiled my domain to a friend. “Isn’t it groovy?” I asked.

“It’s a kindergarten,” he said.

Dreams of bachelorhood vanished. But he was right, and I wouldn’t have it any other way, except for maybe with a hot tub?

The Kindergarten

The main wall boasts a menagerie of large index cards with the names of works in progress; blinking lights establish a tacky ambiance and exotic masks nod a smile of encouragement. There’s no better place to pen a picture book than “The Kindergarten.” Though when entertaining guests, I preface the evening by confirming I write for kids in order to avoid the inevitable “how old are you?” glances.

Let’s hope I avoid taking a stab at the horror genre. I don’t have enough sweaters to live in a dungeon.

A Store Full of Pictures

28 Nov

When visiting Taiwan, I was ready for Taipei 101, Taroko Gorge, and Sun Moon Lake. But there was something far superior hiding in an alley. Shimarisu Picture Books was discovered by accident. Folks, this is no ordinary book store. It specializes in and exclusively sells picture books from all cultures and in several languages. Sure children’s book stores exist, but after living in rural Japan I convinced myself such a place did not exist.  The mandarin-speaking staff were gracious enough to listen to my butchered English steering me to the local authors section so I can add a Taiwan book to my ‘Melting Shelf.’

Too Many Titles To Choose From

Beautifully Organized Store

If you’re in Taipei, stop by Shimarusa and  browse exotic pieces in Chinese, or get a taste of home with books in English (assuming that’s your native language). They’re open from 11:00am-9:00pm. While I found it by accident, you should take the blue line to Zhongxiao Dunhun station, use exit 8, head straight and make a right on the first street/alleyway with Shimarisu immediately appearing on your left. For more information visit their website (Chinese), call (02)2778-2211, or e-mail

The Purchase

Missing Innocence

22 Nov

‘Minding my business,’ I stumbled upon an enticing entry in writer/editor Andrew Hearst’s Panopticist blog. I giggled at the assumption that the cute animals on the cover of Sophie Schmid and Sabine Praml’s picture book One Two Three Pull! are engaged in an act of bodily sharing.

This is a serious accusation. Obviously a joke, it’s one that makes you wonder if the illustrator, editor, book seller, and even officials at Barnes & Noble ever watched a late night HBO special on the ‘birds and the bees.’ Maybe they’re just that innocent. I’m jealous.

I’ve made it a hobby of looking for a joke in everything. Some people tell me to “grow up,” or “act mature” but that’s just the thing, “I have,”  and “I do.” If I were still a kid, a good innocent kid, I wouldn’t have the life experience to pull from to make such goofy/pervish assumptions.

This is why I love writing for children. They aren’t looking for ulterior motives or innuendo. Kids simply want to be entertained. If I’m writing for adults, I have to worry about double meanings and offending someone. If only children held jobs in the publishing world.

When writing or illustrating for youngsters do so with innocent eyes. No matter what you create, someone has the ability to put a controversial spin on it. And if they do, instead of being defensive, laugh it off and perhaps enjoy the royalties of a boost in sales.

Innocent imaginating everyone!

Children’s Book Fashion

17 Nov

Doctors sport scrubs and a stethoscope. Lawyers adorn a suit and carry a briefcase. The unemployed rock sweatpants and skim the newspaper. With every profession comes a stereotypical look.

But what’s a writer supposed to put on? I suppose we should dress creatively as snobbish outsiders. Perhaps add a whiskey bottle to our ensemble? Even better, howabout we gluestick a writing desk to our hips?

The beauty of being a writer is that can we camouflage ourselves within the thicket of society. This is important for ‘research’ as we observe, question, and create.

Well, I’m not one to blend in. I’m too loud (needy) and eccentric (insecure) to not wear my passion above my skin. So how does a Children’s Book writer dress for their profession? Hmmm…despite how big Clifford is, I don’t think his sneakers come in my size. I dig wizard fashion, but I’m not hailing a cab with a magic wand. Howabout Pigeon earrings or a Magic School Bus sombrero? Should I get a Little Critter tattoo below my belly button?

Thankfully, human beings still wear T-Shirts. Vendors (links listed below) offer Children’s Book themed T-Shirts ranging from the adorably trendy Little Misses to Where the Wild Things Are. If interested there’s also ‘mock’ children’s book shirts such as ‘The Taking Tree.’

I may be a fan of the craft, but I’m more than that. I’m a soon-to-arrive creator and contributor. I require something better.

So what do I wear? Not much. Unfortunately, the inventory is slowly expanding. I was lucky enough to score a Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax tee at an Urban Outfitters. But not just any Lorax shirt. This one is written in Chinese! When I visited Taiwan, I wore that shirt proudly. Of course when someone asked about the shirt in a local bookshop, I didn’t understand what they were saying. Let’s assume  it was a compliment.

"Arrested for having style"

Though the shirt doesn’t have to feature a promiment Children’s book or character. As T-shirts with sayings are still popular, try finding one to match your style or genre. The god(s) of fashion smiled upon me when I walked into a Uniqlo in Shanghai for there was this little diddy below:

"Laughs Per Day: Children 146 / Adults 4" - that's about right

Thankfully in this kingdom, anything is possible. Make your own! Just buy some blank T-shirts, design, print, and press away.  Currentely, I’m tooling around with several concepts. They include “I Write, Do You?” to “I May Just Write About You” to the edgy “I Make Children Smile.”

Why not rock a  T-Shirt symbolizing your love of writing for children, and while you’re wearing it, let it work as a conversation starter.

Happy imaginative shirt wearing everyone!

Children’s Book T-Shirt Vendors:

(aka sites that I quickly googled and pasted below)

Junk Food Children’s Book T-Shirts

Cafe Press



7 Nov

In my sophomore year of high school I joined the cross-country team. Did I need to lose weight? Nope. Did I consider myself a long distance all-star? Nope. “Then why do you want to join the team?” asked Marv, the beloved teddy bear/coach.

“I want to get involved after school,” I said.

“You got skinny legs kid,” he said, “But we’ll turn you into a runner. It’s all about endurance.”

Marv never told a lie. This was a guy who daily sported a track suit only to hit up the Burger King drive thru before threatening to rear end us with his Buick “war wagon.” Though, he knew the importance of endurance.

Though it wasn’t till recently I learned that it also applied to writing. While countless souls may doodle in their notebook and speak about their “novel,” are they writing it? More importantly, how often and for how long?

Though I eventually moved from sporadic attempts to habitual weekly and now daily writing. I was writing often, but I noticed something was lacking. Endurance.

Someone noticed this void back in 1996. It was Marv as he dipped his french-fries in barbeque sauce. It may have something to do with my inability to focus. I’ve conveniently convinced myself I have ADHD. I’m not asking for Ritalin, I’m just labeling the obvious. Luckily, being born in 1981 meant I was a few years shy of being drugged. However, I’m thankful for my hyperactivity as it easily spawns the crazy ideas.

But what are ideas? They’re just a rain less cloud. Some ideas may require only a page or two of scribbling, but when I ready myself to write a novel, I’m doomed.

Writing endurance can be measured by the minute you stop typing, and subconsciously look for a diversion. Maybe you grab a soda, check your e-mail, or cut your friend’s toenails. You’re allowed to blow your nose, that doesn’t count.

Let’s go back to my first practice with endurance when Marv was my master and I his apprentice.

“Go out there and run kid,” he said.

“How long coach?” I asked.

“Just run,” he said, “When you get tired, stop. When you’re ready, run again. I’ll let you know when it’s time to go home.”

I can’t say I pushed myself though I certainly struggled through my elected four half-mile sets. The next day, my Dad had to rent a forklift to get me out of bed. “How can I possibly run anymore?” I thought.

It was possible. Within a month, I was running the gauntlet. Five to 10 miles a day, and every Thursday I’d trek up and down ski slopes. Never once did I stop. No one would noticed as I was always second to last. I will always cherish Marv for allowing anyone to join the squad. I never won a race, but I crossed the finish line.

Now if a writer wants to close the curtains on a screenplay, novel, or even an article. They need to develop their endurance.

Previously, I clocked my endurance at one page. Though recently, including this very piece, I’m nearing page three and I have yet to slow down. This is what it takes to succeed. A writer needs to simply write. The longer you condition yourself to write, not only will you have more to show for, you’re also be naturally transitioning your pieces over complex plot lines. How can an ensemble cast in a short story seamlessly mingle together when you stop after each page? It’s best to just gun it out. After time, writing won’t seem as such an obstacle. And if you push yourself a little further, you may even win something.

I’ve been conditioning myself for just the past three days, and my endurance has already improved to roughly 4 pages, or 1,000 words. Just work on strengthening your ability to write without stopping. No e-mails, no trips to the refrigerator, just keep typing/penning away!

Moving along, most runners look back at the race, and think, “I could have done better.” Which is why I suppose some were happy when they threw up. This was proof they tried hard. Once the race is finished, there’s no going back.

But with writing, we can. This is where editing comes into play. I never can go back to Beaver Island state park and improve my time. But I can revise this piece. Do you think this is the original copy of this piece? Nah. In fact, I only kept these lines to prove the point. This baby has been conditioned to the core.

No one can coach you there. It’s up to you. It’s not like Marv is going to crash the war wagon into your workroom if you decide to watch Hanna-Barbera cartoons on youtube. So be your own coach and build up that endurance.

What should you write? Anything. If possible, just work on a blog entry each day. When do you stop writing? When the piece is finished. You’ll know when to stop.

Don’t even think about editing. Allow your heart to distance itself from the piece. Then when your critical owls can grab each word with their menacing talons, let the editing commence. For now it’s time to celebrate, play the ‘Superman’ theme song, quench your thirst, or go next door to cut Ms. Glasgow’s toes.

In no time, you’ll be churning out manuscripts faster than Harry Potter books out of China. By the way…I wrote this piece while in a warm-up suit rocking some Burger King.

For help with endurance participate in NANOWRIMO or the Picture Book Marathon.


A Writer’s Drink

6 Nov


My Writer's Drink

Liquid is Mother Nature’s gift to our ever-decaying bodies. Over 70% of the planet is water, and over 55% of our bodies are composed of water. We love H20! At least, we did. Sadly, our complicated man made existence has brought forth the invention, mutation and remixing of nature’s purest beverage.

Different drinks for different peeps. A variety of sips for complex needs. Some wake up to a caffeinated cup of coffee. Others fight the urge to sleep off a term paper with a trilogy of Red Bull. While others go “bottoms up” to stir up the nerve to flirt with the girl in the ocean blue glasses. And I can’t help but giggle at the image of a herd of senior citizens drowning in prune juice. We love drinking! Each one of us has an army of liquids to help us to endure this thing called life.

But what should a writer drink? Immediately, Jack, Johnny, and Jameson come to mind. One can’t hide from the stereotype of a writer drunk with ink and alcohol. For me, a specific image flourishes. Ted Cole, played flawlessly by Jeff Bridges in 2004’s “The Door in the Floor,” stares at the surrounding nothingness of his lamp lit bedroom. His right hand jangles the ice cubes in a lake of malt. The moist glass pounds on the wooden desk and his fingers dance on the alphabet. Under the shell of night, his mind releases its creativity on the typewriter. Throughout the duration of this creative ordeal, his favorite drink is by his side.

I used to believe the notion that alcohol aided the writer. After knowing every bartender in town, and emptying my Tylenol bottle on countless mornings, I’m certainly a poster child for the stuff. But with nothing published, let alone a manuscript sent forth, the results are sobering.

Sure alcohol frees our inhibitions, and a writer needs to live fully in order to have something to write about. Though, if he/she is never calm enough to re-enter his/her shell, when will they write?

My search for the opportune writer’s drink continued. What about coffee? Well, personally as an idealistic youngster I swore to never take a sip of those caffeinated beans until the age of 35. I obey my inner child, and have yet to rock a cup. Even if I did I’m certain the results will mirror that of its younger sibling.

Red Bull, Monster, Rockstar are merely sugar filled soda on crack. This new breed of beverage is all the rage, with more brands than farm animals in picture books. The ensuing hyperactivity may keep me productive, but a writer needs to focus on writing. After a triple-sized Monster, I’m only 264 words in and then next thing I know I’m tweeting about my inexperience as a bird watcher, writing “Happy Anniversary of Your Birth” on Facebook walls, and my tongue bears the burden of removing the muddy cheese powder from my fingers. When I wake up the next morning, sure there’s no need to reach for the Tylenol but those 264 words are all alone.

Maybe I don’t need a drink? Nonsense. Everyone has a liquid sidekick, and if I’m ever going to establish myself as a writer, I need to exclusively quench my thirst.

“A cup of tea?” Too boring, and I’m scared of sprouting a gardening hat to join Gladys and Edna in their “Who has the best lawn” discussion.

“How about Prune Juice?” Not funny, my bowels are nowhere close to checking into the retirement home.

“Iced tea? Lemonade?” Intriguing, but a tad lame.

“Hot chocolate?” What if I’m writing on a beach? Plus, the warmed milk inside sends me off on a 5-hour nappy-poo.

“Apple juice? Orange juice? A juice box?” Juice is just too innocent, and acidic.

The truth is there’s simply too much going on in any said beverage to aid me as I pound away on the keyboard. I need something that will ultimately keep me writing. Distractions are the enemy. It’s like I need a chilling glass of nothingness!

“That’s it!” Mother nature was right all along. It’s water, iced water to be exact. After awakening my body with a mid-summer’s run, my mind was still jogging with ideas. Immediately I attacked the keyboard. But wait, I’m thirsty. Hmm…what do I choose? Well, I throw a party of ice cubes in a tall glass and let the faucet do the rest. I return to work. The liquid quenches the thirst, and the ice dulls my senses. Sure water may be a tad on the mundane side, but it isn’t distracting. If the liquid your drinking is more interesting than what you’re writing, one of them needs to go. So 99% of the time (when I’m a good little boy), iced water is my writing sidekick. A trusted companion aiding me down the pages of a Word document. And just like Ted Cole in “Door in the Floor,” the jittering cube filled glass lands on the desk, but most importantly my fingers continue to land on the keys.

Drinking and driving may be a big no-no, but drinking and writing is a win-win if you find your match. Happy writing/drinking everyone!

WANTED: Amateur Expert (A Disclaimer)

29 Mar


Be on the look out. There’s an imposter among us. A so-called expert in the realm of Children’s writing.

I must admit, as of spring 2010, I am not a published author. I’m not a father

“Why do I exist?” asked the blog

24 Mar

Dear Crave Writing,

Right now you’re wondering why you were published. Relax, you have nothing to worry about. In fact, this is a fair question for any blog to ponder, and I’m glad you asked.

Well CW, you exist for two reasons. First, as a writer and aspiring published author of children’s literature, I felt the need to establish myself professionally with a ‘writing friendly’ web portal, in this case you, a writer’s blog with perspectives, opinions, reviews, links, and just plain old goofy junk.

But relax little one, it’s not all about me. I had an ulterior motive. Oddly, my prime objectives are self-serving, while my ulterior reasons are quite altruistic. With my bizarre look at life, mother approved sense of humor, and experiences abroad, I felt you could offer writers something different. Let’s hope you don’t disapoint them! がんばってください, that’s Japanese for “Good luck!”

So CW, please know that you were born from love, and are worthy of life. I hope you breath it creatively each and every day for the world to enjoy, well minus the days I’m too lazy to fall out of bed.

With love and respect,

your penman

Crave Cravak