Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen Has Nothing to Write About

This post was originally published on November 29, 2010 at Tara Lazar’s blog in honor of PiBoIdMo. We thought those of you participating in this year’s picture book idea month might find it useful.

Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen Has Nothing to Write About

by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen

pirate princessIf you’re like me, writing is work. By this I mean it is my job, my primary source of income (therefore, work) but also that it is just plain HARD. There is nothing so depressing as trying to come up with something new and fresh to write about—and coming up with nothing.

That happens to me a lot.

So what do you do?

Well, I really don’t know the answer. But here are some tricks I use to muddle through those times when I have nothing to write about.

1) Start with character. I truly believe that the most important aspect of a picture book, what drives its popularity the most, is a charismatic main character. The premise, the setting, the cutesy word play and rhyme—all of these are secondary to character. So if you need to brainstorm only one thing, work on that viable character list.

The trick to creating a truly charismatic main character is to blend flaws with flair. Don’t just come up with fifty cute character traits. Give your main character some faults, some defects—he will be infinitely more interesting.

2) Something old into something new. There are so many examples of authors who take an old idea and make it into something modern and fresh. The entire genre of fractured fairy tales is built on the premise that recognizable is always a benefit for marketing, but recognizable AND fresh is money in the bank. Now I’m not at all recommending that all you do is read a collection of Grimm’s fairy tales and add a hippopotamus to each story (don’t do that, because it was my idea first). But if you can take inspiration from something your audience will recognize and then take it to a brand new place, where is the downside?

quackensteinSome examples of this in my own work:
THE HOG PRINCE – we know it’s a frog prince, not a hog prince, but Eldon does not.
QUACKENSTEIN – isn’t every monster story better with a duck?
THE TWELVE WORST DAYS OF CHRISTMAS – believe it or not, in addition to a Christmas song, this is a sibling story

3) Look at your own life. And I mean this as way to eliminate bad ideas. When you’re having a hard time with inspiration, there is the temptation to use your own children or grandchildren as your muses. Trust me, this is a bad idea. Because as cute as their latest antics are to you, they very rarely make for good picture books. Save yourself. Don’t do it.

4) Exercise. Well, do a writing exercise at least. When you’re really stuck you could reinforce your writing ability by taking a book that is perhaps not one of your favorites and then rewriting it the way it should be. Obviously, you can’t then try to publish your version of Dora the Explorer (because Nora the Explorer or even Eleanora the Explorer is simply not going to be fresh enough to merit a whole new franchise!). But the exercise will show you that you are not only able to create a new story but one that is better than something that was actually published (which means there is hope for you yet) and, again, you never know where that road will lead.

Hampire_jacket5) When all else fails, take a breath. Sorry, guys, sometimes the ideas are not going to come. No matter how much you force it. When you are really and truly stuck, stop trying so hard. Instead, work on revising older manuscripts—maybe you can whip one of those into shape. Or perhaps the something old that you will turn into something new will come from your own pile of older ideas.

More Gratitude

Yesterday, we posted some books that librarians are thankful for. The response was so positive that we thought we’d share a few more:

Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

“It’s a book that celebrates differences, quirkiness, and real life.  It’s a bit messy, but life is that way.  The story is funny, yet moving.  I love sharing this book with students and teachers.  It’s “my” book of 2013 and I am so thankful Holly Goldberg Sloan wrote it.  Definitely a book to share!” Sherry from Indiana

No Fits, Nilson by Zack Ohora

“A great book about friendship and fits, and the fits that friendship sometimes send us into.” Allison from California

but not the hippoBut not the Hippopotamus by Sandra Boynton

“Fun for all ages.” Johanna from Ohio

orangutangled coverOrangutangled by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen

“When I asked the kids which one is their favorite book among the ones you read to them.” Noel from Maryland

wild things areWhere the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

“The book let you know that if you did something wrong you were still loved no matter what and that your imagination can take you anywhere!” Linda from New Jersey

Being Thankful

In this season of Thanksgiving, we here at Nerdy Chicks Rule asked librarians a simple question:

What is a book that you are thankful for and why?

Here are some of the fabulous answers we got:

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

“My fifth graders and teachers can’t get enough of this book! It teaches compassion with such humor and grace. We all cheeried for Augie at the end! And we agree, everyone should experience a standing ovation.” Mary from Sayreville, NJ

aliceAlice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll  

“When I was about 8 years old, someone gave me a $1.25 copy.  I read it over and over.  I had to ask grown-ups what some of the words meant, but I loved that story so much.  I would read the book out loud to my little brother and cousin – they would have to act out the story while I was the narrator.  I’ve always loved the magic and the humor in the book, and the fact that Alice is a nasty, mostly unlikable little girl.  That book also helped make me into an anglophile.  When I finally visited England, I bought tons of Alice gear at Harrod’s.  It sits in my library at home, next to a tin of Alice jelly babies from Harrod’s.” Christy from Columbia, MD

11 Experiments That Failed by Jenny Offill

“Fun way to teach the scientific method and hypothesis.” Tom from Franklin Lakes, NJ

The Tale of Despereaux by Kate Dicamillo

“For reminding us all that, indeed, ‘stories are light’, and for playing a role in the story my wife and I now share. We read the story aloud to one another during our courtship, found truth in its words, and have continued to read aloud together every since.” Matthew from Columbia, MD

The Ugly Vegetables by Grace Lin

“It ties into social issues, science, math, and cultural issues.” Dawn from Pittstown, NJ

Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

“It still makes me cry every time I read it.” Meredith from Flemington, NJ

All Elephant and Piggie books by Mo Willems

“I find at my level (k-3) it is a wonderful series that demonstrates friendship, illustrates voice, and is just plain funny.” Meg from Parlin, NJ

What books are you thankful for? Share your answers below!

Are You A Nerd?

Sudipta and I found out we were Google-able as nerds this summer when we were contacted by Huff Post Live for a segment on nerds. We’ll tell you more about that interview that didn’t happen later. For now, I’ll just say that it initiated some entertaining conversations about what it means to be a nerd. Right after that, I found this Geek vs. Nerd Infographic. While I can’t agree with the way everything is shown here, I have to admit that when I got down to the movie category I discovered that this Nerdy Chick is undeniably a nerd.  Not only are the movies in that list some of my favorites, I haven’t seen a single one in the geek category. No, not even Anchorman.

Soon, we’re going to be asking for suggestions for smart women to interview in 2014. If you know a nerd (or a geek) you’d like to see interviewed here, you’ll have a chance to nominate a nerd in December. So which are you, a geek or a nerd? 😉

Geeks vs Nerds


Which are you? Geek or Nerd?


Every Book Is A Mystery By Kami Kinard

Earlier this month, Sudipta was featured on Nerdy Book Club! Our plan was to reblog my NBC post on the same day, but the plan escaped us! Last night Nancy Drew came up on #kidlitchat and reminded me to share this today! Happy Reading.

Nerdy Book Club

I think I was in third grade when I discovered Nancy Drew on a bookshelf at my grandmother’s house. The book, Secret of the Old Clock, had been my mother’s, and it had a solid blue cover beneath a colorful dust jacket.  As soon as I read it, I was hooked.

It was a thrilling moment, a week or so later, when my mother took me to the library and pointed out an entire bookcase FULL of Nancy Drew mysteries… a bookcase FULL of cheerful yellow spines… spines holding pages that would occupy me for hundreds of hours to come. I loved how smart Nancy was, and I loved turning the pages to find out the WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE, WHY and HOW of each mystery.

Before too long, I had finished every book in the series. But at that same library, right next to the shelf of yellow…

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Tips from YALLFest!

If you read yesterday’s post, you know I spent last weekend in Florida, which meant I missed the literary event of the year here in SC, an event I participated in last year. When I realized I’d double booked the weekend, I asked Nerdy Chick Jocelyn Rish to share some of the tips she picked up at YALLFest. Thanks Jocelyn! Here’s Jocelyn’s post:


JocelynWithHighlightsStoryThis past weekend was the third annual YALLFest, and it gets bigger and bigger every year – we’re talking lines down alleyways and wrapped around buildings for the Keynote and Smackdown sessions. Soon they are going to have to bite the bullet and split it into two days because it is just too much awesomeness to be contained in one day.

This year there were 50 YA authors, many of them New York Times bestsellers, speaking at various panels. They shared a mind-melting amount of advice and wisdom about writing and storytelling, and Kami asked me to share five tips from YALLFest. Fair warning, these are horribly paraphrased because I was scribbling notes on a piece of paper resting on my thigh (which, let’s be honest, is not exactly rock hard with muscles) while also trying to absorb what the next panelist was saying.

 1. During the Keynote, Rae Carson and Veronica Roth talked about being frustrated with people always asking them why they write strong female characters because it’s such a limiting term, and several times they referenced this article ( by Sophia McDougall. Two snippets from them that resonated:

Rae Carson: A strong person is not the same as a strongly written character.

Veronica Roth: Strength on the page means a character has agency -> they drive their own narrative. And vulnerability does not equal weakness.

2. Rainbow Rowell: Everything that happens to you is in your head and that becomes your palette, so that you can reach for different details while writing. Writing about real things lets you work through your knots through your characters.

 3. In talking about world building, especially in Fantasy…

Leigh Bardugo: Give the reader a tether, like sign posts similar to our world, so that understanding the world is not a burden on the reader.

Myra McEntire: She wanted to put something magical in the place she lived everyday.

David Macinnis Gill: As a kid he always asked “What if?” so now all his books are born of that same question.

 4. Rachel Cohn: You write what’s in your heart and let it out there without knowing how people are going to interpret it.

 5. Kami Garcia: Don’t try to write a bestseller – write the best story you can write.

YALLFest is always very inspiring, so if you haven’t had the chance to attend, start making plans for next year!

To find out more about Jocelyn, and to read interviews with YALLFest authors, check out her BLOG(For those of you who don’t know, Jocelyn just won the SCBWI Work in Progress Grant!)


Walking Into Words

We authors are world builders, so nothing thrills us more than to see our words come to life in the form of a book. That way, we know that people will enter the worlds we create through our IMG_20131109_123313_504words. A few talented and lucky writers create worlds so vivid that they are recreated in the form of movies, and their worlds then reach millions through words and visuals. That must be an amazing feeling. And even fewer writers have their worlds recreated in three dimensional in places where we, the readers, can actually experience and interact with these word-built words! Butterbeer, anyone?

That’s right, I spent the weekend at the Universal Studios theme park in Orlando, and I was struck over and over again about how much of the park is owed to the power of words – to authors.

Mmmmmm. Honeydukes!

Mmmmmm. Honeydukes!

Now I am not a big fan of theme park rides, those days are gone! But what Harry Potter fan doesn’t want to walk down the streets of Hogsmeade? I know I did! So it wasn’t too hard (we only made her beg for a year) for our daughter to convince us to take her down to Universal for a long weekend. (Let me give you a TIP: the second weekend in November is a GREAT weekend to visit this park. We paid for two nights in the hotel and got the third free, we also paid for two days in the parks and got the third free. Crowds were low, lines were short, and a new super-affordable dining meal card was newly available. )

Anyway, as a reader, and a writer, I have to admit that I fully enjoyed stepping into the world J.K. Rowling created while I shopped at Honeydukes, ate roasted chicken in the Three Broomsticks, drank Butterbeer, and even visited the restrooms where Myrtle moaned. It was fun to see words come alive. And while Hogsmeade was certainly the main attraction for me, it was only one area of the author-inspired park.

Hold on! I am checking my texts.

Hold on! I am checking my texts.

We visited Jurassic Park, the gargantuan creation of author Michael Crichton.

And took a walk through Seuss Landing, a world inspired by the crazy out-of-the-box words of Dr. Seuss. Here I am with the first eligible bachelor to attempt to hold hands with me Universal trip 1429in over 23 years.

I’m sure that my daughter, who spent a lot of time being photographed with many mini minions, and my husband, who rode more roller coasters in those three days than he probably had in a lifetime (due to my wimping out after the Norwegian Horntail experience) took different things away from the Universal experience. But I came away feeling awed by the power of words, and the amazing possibilities before us when we build worlds with them.

As I polish up my current work in progress, I will be asking myself: What changes can I make to insure that readers will want to step off the pages and into this world?


Universal trip 719