Don’t Tell Kids Ideas Are Everywhere, a guest post by Dori Hillestad Butler
Everyone wants to know where authors get their ideas. There was a time I dreaded that question because I didn’t feel like I had a good answer. I could trace a few of my story ideas back to the original source, but most of them (especially early on) just popped into my head. Kids who have a hard time coming up with ideas and are looking to you for inspiration really don’t want to hear, “it just popped into my head.”
I don’t think they want to hear “ideas are everywhere!” either. If you say ideas are everywhere and they look around don’t see any, they feel dumb. They shut down. They think they can’t be writers because they don’t have anything to write about.
Everyone has something to write about.
For the last few years, I’ve been telling kids that I get my best story ideas from my dog. It makes them giggle, but it’s also true.
I wouldn’t have written the Buddy Files, King & Kayla or Dear Beast series if not for my dog, Mouse. While I was training him to be a therapy dog, I realized a therapy dog could make a great character in a book or series of books. Therapy dogs meet lots of people who have a variety of problems to solve. Maybe even mysteries to solve. Thus my 7-book Buddy Files series was born.
King & Kayla is a prequel to the Buddy Files. Now that I’m eight books into the King & Kayla series, I think these dog-centered mysteries work better as early readers than they did as chapter books. But I needed to write the Buddy Files to get to King & Kayla. My dog Mouse didn’t just inspire these series. Everything King thinks, says and does is exactly what I imagine Mouse would do in a similar situation. If I dare to anthropomorphize him.
Our daughter was fourteen when we adopted Mouse. He saw her through her teen years, then she moved out and eventually adopted a cat. The first time she came over after she got her cat, Mouse would not leave her alone. I’m pretty sure he smelled the cat on her, and I started to imagine what he might say to the cat if he could talk to him. Or write him a letter. That’s where Dear Beast began.
By the way, my daughter got her cat from my friend and critique buddy, Kevan Atteberry. Yes, the Kevan Atteberry who also illustrates this series! Simon from Dear Beast is not only named after my daughter’s cat, Simon; he is Simon. As Kevan and I imagine him anyway. The real Simon is the most vocal cat you’ll ever meet!
While Baxter (the dog in Dear Beast) has elements of Mouse’s personality, he is not Mouse. I tried hard not to just plop my own dog into a third series. In fact, that’s why I chose to begin the series from Simon’s point of view rather than Baxter’s. I thought the best way to give Baxter a voice that wasn’t Mouse’s was to let him be the newcomer rather than Simon. But Mouse was still the original inspiration for the series.
If you’re counting, that’s 19 books that Mouse inspired! Unfortunately, he died last year.
My King & Kayla editor tells me she’d like to continue publishing a new book in this series each year “until the end of time.” I would like that, too! It’s a way for my beloved friend to live on. But Dear Beast was planned as a four-book series from the beginning. The two “penpals” finally meet in Simon Sleeps Over. Simon has grown. I did what I set out to do with that series, so I’m okay ending it.
But now I need to come up with a new story or series idea. And I no longer have my muse. Where am I going to find a new idea?
I tell kids that I get my ideas from my dog, but I also tell them that they are the source of their own best ideas. I encourage them to make five lists:
1. Ten Things you love
2. Ten Things you don’t love
3. Ten Things that scare you
4. Ten Things that surprise you
5. Ten Things you want to know more about
What do those lists have in common? They’re things that spark PASSION and EMOTION. That’s where ideas come from.
I tell kids to use those lists for inspiration.
I loved dogs, but I love other things, too. For instance: tree houses, secret codes, and islands in the Pacific Northwest. All things you will find in my Treasure Troop series.
In fact, a friend of mine jokingly asked me, “Did you really write the Treasure Troop? There aren’t any dogs in it!”
She’s right. There are four books in that series and not one has a dog in it. That surprised me. But it’s also nice to know that I can write a book without a dog.
Maybe it’s time to take my own advice and make some lists for myself. I’m not sure I’ve ever written about things I don’t love before. But I can see how that might be a good source of story ideas. It could certainly be a source of CONFLICT.
I’m scared of death, drowning, driving on snowy/icy roads. I want to know more about the Pacific Northwest, knitting, ham radio, instruments from the 1700s, dog training, yoga and crime solving. There might be some possibilities there.
But if nothing on my five lists inspires a new story or series, I can turn to my new dog, Bear.
Maybe he’ll be my next muse!
Meet the author
Dori Hillestad Butler is an award-winning author of mysteries and books for all ages, including the King and Kayla series, the Dear Beast series, the Haunted Library series, and the Treasure Troopers series. She is a two-time Geisel Honor recipient, an Edgar Award winner, and has been nominated for children’s choice awards in 19 states. Dori lives in the Seattle area. Visit her online at www.kidswriter.com!
About Dear Beast: Simon Sleeps Over by Dori Hillestad Butler, Kevan Atteberry (Illustrator)
A stuck-up cat and a good-natured dog are pen pals from a distance, until a disastrous sleepover brings them together in this playful illustrated chapter book told in letters.
Andy has two pets and two houses: a cat, Simon, at his mom’s house and adog, Baxter, at his dad’s house. But when Andy’s mom goes on a business trip,Simon must spend a few nights at Andy’s dad’s house. A sleepover with thebeast? Simon says, “No, thank you.”
Baxter, on the other hand, is sooooo excited to play together. He and Simon can go on walks! Stay up late! Eat liver treats! He can’t wait to finally meet hispen pal in person. What could go wrong?
The big introduction does NOT go well for these wildly different pets. Simon is so desperate to get back home to his quiet, clean oasis that he escapes througha basement window. Can Baxter convince him to return before Andy notices his beloved cat is gone?
This funny and heartwarming collaboration between Geisel Honor and Edgar Award–winning author Dori Hillestad Butler and bestselling illustrator Kevan Atteberry is a tribute to the love of a good pet—and the joy found in new friendship. With nine chapters and adorable full-color illustrations on every spread, the series is a perfect read for parents to share with kids.
Publisher: Holiday House
Publication date: 02/08/2022
Series: Dear Beast #4
Age Range: 6 – 9 Years
About King & Kayla and the Case of the Lost Library Book by Dori Hillestad Butler, Nancy Meyers (Illustrator)
Kayla needs to return her library books, but she can’t find one of them. Can King and Jillian help solve the crime? From the Geisel Honor-winning early reader series.
Kayla needs to return her library books so that she can check out new ones. But she can’t find one of them. Where could it be? Can King and Kayla’s friend Jillian help?
With simple, straightforward language and great verbal and visual humor, the King & Kayla series from Geisel Honor Award-winning team Dori Hillestad Butler and Nancy Meyers is perfect for newly independent readers transitioning from easy readers to beginning chapter books. Great for introducing mysteries and the important concepts of fact gathering, list making, clues, and analytical thinking. Also ideal for diverse book collections.
Publisher: Peachtree Publishing Company
Publication date: 02/01/2022
Series: King & Kayla Series #8
Age Range: 7 – 9 Years
Filed under: Uncategorized
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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