When the Sun is Eclipsed by the Moon (#50PreciousWords entry)

If you’ve been a member of the children’s writing community, especially the picture book writing community, for any length of time, I’m sure you know about lovely Vivian Kirkfield, a writer who does double-duty as a cheerleader for so many starting out. She is running a writer’s contest right now that she calls “50 Precious Words” (#50PreciousWords).

Here’s what Vivian had to say about why she started the contest:
I thought, wouldn’t that be a great challenge…to write a story for kids with only 50 words or less? With a beginning, a middle, and an end. 

It’s not too late to enter! See the process and all the details and rules on her blog. It runs through midnight on Sunday, March 6, 2022.

Here’s my entry. It’s my first go at this one, and I thought it would be fun to write a non-fiction story with STEM components. I thought of the 2017 Solar Eclipse, which was not my first eclipse but was the first one I’d viewed as a real “occasion.” Our whole family went to the local park with our special glasses, and I remember so well the strange details of that beautiful progression–how the animals reacted, especially. Those memories, tied with some research, formed the basis for this very short text that takes us through a full solar eclipse. I hope you enjoy it.

When the Sun is Eclipsed by the Moon
By Elayne Crain (49 words, STEM, non-fiction)

When the sun fades away
halfway through the day…

The moon approaches.
The birds roost.

The world hushes.
The dark deepens.

The moon haloes.
The people marvel.

The crickets chirp.
The frogs serenade.

The moon passes.
The light builds.

…when the sun’s on display,
it is once again day!

James Marshall, one of my favorites

One of my very favorite illustrations from the wonderful George and Martha books by James Marshall – How could anyone not love these two?? Impossible.

You probably know him for his illustration work on the “Miss Nelson is Missing!” picture book series and on the far more polarizing (though equally popular) “The Stupids” series. However, as much as I love his illustration work, I love James Marshall most for one thing…that “one” thing being 35 stories about two hippos named George and Martha. (Of course, I’m not the only one.)

One of my favorite books of all time.
I never grow tired of it.

George and Martha were not named after the Washingtons, but rather the couple from the Edward Albee play, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? James (let’s call him Jim, as his friend did) purportedly first sketched Martha while laying in a hammock outside his mother’s house, while she was watching the Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton movie of the same name.

As he lived only a few miles from the UCONN Storrs campus, between 1976-1990 Jim gave yearly lectures to students in Francelia Butler’s Children’s Literature course there. The talks were recorded on audiocassette (remember those?), which have since been digitized so you can listen to Jim’s off-the-cuff lectures online. Though there is a lot of repetition, I found it fun to listen in on them as he reads from his books, discusses his process and answers audience questions.

It’s clear that George and Martha are not just my favorites; he talks about them deeply, frequently and always with great affection. If you stick with the entire lecture series (which I realize takes a certain amount of time and neediness), you will hear fascinating stories and details. Even the many repeated stories I found rewarding; I noted over the years how he honed his stories, adding and omitting (in some cases very interesting) details, sometimes in telling ways.

According to his sharing during these sessions, he was something of a prodigy-style viola player in his younger years and planned on being a musician; however, during what he referred to as a “plane accident in Puerto Rico in 1960,” he suffered nerve damage in his hand and his musical career ended. Instead, he took on a job as a high school teacher, which he referred to as “the hardest thing in the world,” teaching French (which he knew) and Spanish (which, by his own admission, he definitely did not). His drawing was a hobby he picked up again as a stress reliever during that time.

Jim’s mother and he had a loving but complicated relationship; she apparently never accepted that he was gay. Though the family claimed in his obituary that he died of a brain tumor in 1992, his sister and Maurice Sendak later said that Jim died of AIDS-related complications, another wonderfully creative life cut tragically short by that epidemic.

Rather than dwelling on the sadness of that, though, let’s celebrate what he did in his 50 mere years on Earth: 92 published books (at least) that he either illustrated or authored (often both) within a span of only 21 years in the business. Isn’t that amazing? And, even more impressively, I think most picture book lovers could spot his work from 100 paces–that’s how distinctive a style he had. It’s remarkable, and so was he.

7 easy steps to improve your author or writer name Google search results

I can’t promise that will be easy for you to make the top page of Google results (depending on how common your name is), but I can promise you will see big improvements if you put even a little work into improving your author or writer’s name search results–because nearly no one ever does. And that includes your competition.

The first step is to Google your first and last name. If a lot of people have your exact name, add the word ‘writer’ after when you search, like an editor or agent would do when trying to find you, to clarify things.

Print the results or take a screenshot to refer to later as you make improvements. (I wish I had done this–it would be great to show how much I improved with so little work!) Don’t freak out if you barely have anything that shows up on the first page or two or if your top results are okay but not your favorites.

Questions to ask of your results

Is there anything potentially confusing or damaging that comes up? In my case, there was a fake Twitter account that was pretending to me at my old employer and was tweeting scam content. It wasn’t really succeeding, but it wasn’t great to have it there (on the first page of search results!), so I’m glad I took the initiative to remove it. That involved contacting my old employer and having them ask Twitter to remove it for copyright violation reasons. Twitter took down the scam account quickly (within a week), but it took a few weeks after that for Google to stop showing the deleted account in my results, even though the link no longer worked. I just had to wait it out. Hopefully, you will just have typical results, but better to get moving on those longer-term battles first before the fun stuff.

What should be on there that isn’t, or that is too far down? This is where you want to think hard because you can change this: adding content to Google, or improving content for Google, is far easier than removing results. So, weirdly, what is not on there is more helpful to consider than what is…like…

Are all the social media accounts you want an editor or agent to see showing up? If not, it could be because your name is not your user handle; if so, consider changing that. It’s ideal to have your social media accounts be your actual name plus a writerly word — especially instead of something random (i.e., ElayneCrainWrites beats pancakelover8909 if you have to get creative — you’ll be easier to identify on both that platform and also by Google).  You can usually change your account handle without starting a new account. Side note: if you are going to bring your middle initial into this, make sure you refer to yourself everywhere that way. For example, don’t call yourself Elayne N. Crain on Twitter and Instagram, but then submit a query from Elayne Crain. Submit the query from Elayne N. Crain, too, then. It’s essential to be consistent if you want Google to start piling things up and recognizing you for whatever the editor or agent will search for. 

You won’t be able to remove legit content from someone who shares your name, but you can outrank them–and probably pretty quickly! The biggest thing is to make sure anything that is yours that does show up is current and echoing the same information (especially your name!). For me, I had to update my bio in many places because some said I lived in Nashville, some Melbourne, some Seattle, etc. Some mentioned I was a writer; others didn’t. That could be confusing to anyone who only knows that I currently live in Seattle and write picture books, let alone Google. Some of the social media places that Google loves are Linkedin, Twitter, and Pinterest. If you have an account there, definitely make sure it talks about you as a writer, in addition to whatever else is on there. Same with the other social media biggies (Instagram, YouTube, etc.)

Consider creating social media accounts for those you don’t have–especially Twitter and LinkedIn. Even if you create a Twitter account and pin a Tweet that says, for example, “I am only on Twitter sporadically; see me on Instagram (or whatever) at @ElayneCrain,” that will help you in Google search results–plus, you’ll have reserved your name if you want to use that account later. And if you don’t have a LinkedIn account or have one for your day job, you can still either create a quick one that explains you are a writer or add it as a hobby or interest to your existing profile. 

Once you have updated all you can, you have to wait for Google to notice what you’ve changed, which can feel frustrating. Set yourself a reminder to re-Google yourself in one week, two weeks, and a month. You will see improvements, as well as weird rearranging of things you may not have expected. It can be like whack-a-mole — you get something great added, but now something else you like is lower on the page. That’s okay and normal. The main thing is to get as many items as you can updated and working together so that if an editor or agent goes to look for you, they find you without much effort–and so they see you at your online best.

#FallWritingFrenzy entry

Agent/author Kaitlyn Sanchez and author Lydia Lukidis cohost an annual writing contest, Fall Writing Frenzy, where #kidlit writers of all genres pair 200-words-or-fewer stories, poems or whatever strikes with preselected images. As they say, “You can write about the picture in a literal or metaphorical way, or focus on a memory or emotion it elicits.”

Here’s the image that I was inspired by this year, which brought back memories of the dinosaur days when costumes were more likely to be homemade–for better…or worse

Halloween trick or treaters
Halloween trick or treaters – Credit: Bing

Halloween costume fail (80 words)
by Elayne Crain

Most homemade costumes are wonderful;
too bad this is not one of those.
Instead, I’m wearing a white trash bag
over Mom’s old pantyhose.

Cardboard hangs from my front and my back,
with a third piece I’ve painted brown.
It’s late so I grab my pumpkin pail
and head to de-candy my town.

But no one can guess just what I am—
each doorbell’s becoming a chore.
It turns out that perhaps I needed
to work on this costume S’more.

Interested in submitting your own? The contest runs through October 3. Click on the badge to be taken to the page for more info.

girl wearing poorly conceived s'more costume
S’more girl illustration
by Elayne Crain

“Spring Fling” Kidlit contest entry

Ciara O’Neal has an annual SpringFling contest where Kidlit writers pair 150-words-or-fewer stories with an animated .gif. In my case, I chose to use a silly poem I had written. Read all about Spring Fling on Ciara’s blog.

Here is my entry for 2021. 🙂

(Band-aid guy gif via Giphy.)

I Think I Need a Band-Aid (111 words)

Remember when I bumped my arm?
I think I need a band-aid.

That summer I stepped on that nail at the farm?
I think I need a band-aid.

My forehead feels quite hot, you see.
I think I need a band-aid.

This paper cut keeps bothering me!
I think I need a band-aid.

My legs are bruised from my scooter crash.
I think I need a band-aid.

My arms are sore from taking out the trash.
I think I need a band-aid.

My brain hurts from spelling ‘weird’ and ‘friend.’
I think I need a band-aid.

And now I bit my tongue at the end,
So…
I thick I neeb a bandhaid.

New book out by Jessica Young and Rafael López

I was delighted to be selected by the talented Jessica Young for a picture book mentorship this year, through SCBWI MidSouth. Of course, the big reason I was so thrilled was because of Jessica herself!

Well, she’s got a new book out this very week–illustrated by the amazing Rafael López–titled, “I’ll Meet You in Your Dreams” (Little, Brown), and I just can’t wait to get my hands on a copy. I pre-ordered it but it’s taking just a minute to get out to me, thanks to living on the other side of the world right now.

While I’m waiting for Mr. Postman to show, I thought I’d share a link to the fabulous book launch they did (virtually, naturally) in conversation with Julie Danielson of the children’s literature blog, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. It was a really fascinating and compelling look into the beautiful stories behind the beautiful story.

You can see their conversation (even if you don’t have a Facebook login) at:

https://www.facebook.com/parnassusbooks1/videos/514397412877961

When a kangaroo goes bad

Kylie, the criminal kangaroo,
pockets some things she oughtn’t to.

A Vegemite sandwich, a kazoo,
mini bottles of hotel shampoo…

Her paws are quick and she knows kung fu.
Don't leave her alone with your pet cockatoo.

She's a burglar full of derring-do.
She fills her pouch 'til it's busting through

with watches she's pilfered in plain view
and wallets she stole, leaving nary a clue.

Careful – her next victim might be you!
Kylie, the criminal kangaroo.

Copyright 2020 - Elayne Crain

Dumbrella

The handle’s cracked; the spokes are askew.
The color’s faded; it smells of mildew.

The fabric’s torn; it gets blown inside-out.
The metal’s rusty; the thread's falling out.

The button won't open; nor will it shut.
The whole thing is dirty; the Velcro's kaput.

But before you toss it, remember this one thing:
when it’s raining hard, it's better than nothing!

Copyright 2020 - Elayne Crain

Shell shock

Annabelle strolled along the beach
until she found a shell.

Its color was a lovely peach;
it was quite large, as well.

She held it right against her head,
to try to hear the sea.

A crab came out, pinched her ear and said:
"Don't you eavesdrop on me!"

Copyright 2020 - Elayne Crain

Soap opera star

As I was singing in the bath,
shampoo got in my eyes

and I hit some high, high notes
much to my surprise!

Whether my song earns your Bravo!
or if it hurts your ears…

singing that soap opera – well,
it moved me to tears!

Copyright 2020 - Elayne Crain