One Hat. Two Versions.

Highlights coverSometimes I’ll rewrite a story so many times I’ll forget how much it’s changed.

That was certainly the case with my story Harold’s Hat. As I mentioned on this blog, Harold’s Hat was published in the July issue of Highlights for Children. And because the  folks at Highlights are lovely, wonderful people, they gave me permission to reprint a PDF of the finished story! Here ya go:

Harold’s Hat mag layout PDF

I just adore Harold’s crazy eyes in that last illustration.

This isn’t the only version of Harold’s Hat floating around. An embryonic draft of HH appeared on this blog in June 2013, which I wrote for one of Susanna Leonard Hill’s awesome writing contests. Both versions share many of the same story beats, but otherwise they are two very different animals.

Feel free to compare ’em. It’s fun!


It’s PiBoIdMo Time!

Yay! Woo!

I do love PiBoIdMo (which, by the way, is pronounced Pie Bow Id Moe — I don’t care what anyone else says) and I recommend It to everyone!

Except for me, that is. This year I decided to (unofficially) give the NaNoWriMo thing a go. I gotta middle grade novel in me that’s just bustin’ to get out. I know Tara will be so disappointed. Or, more likely, she won’t notice or care; this is a busy month for her!

But to show my love — and to give myself  a little extra time to focus on said novel. I’m recycling the PiBoIdMo post I wrote for Tara last year. Recycling is good for the environment.




My mom has a habit of mixing bad news with the good.

“Happy anniversary!” she joyously sang into the phone. “Ten years! Congratulations!”

Before I could thank her, Mom followed up her salutation with words that were far less joyous:

“I think it’s high time you got your crap out of my house.”

Ugh. In an instant, my plan to use my parents’ home as a storage locker for the rest of my life was dashed to bits.

It was under these circumstances I found myself alone in my old room facing my childhood closet, mustering up the strength to take a reluctant trip down memory lane.

Inside were stacks of sketch pads filled with primitive drawings; old machines I, once upon a time, had a penchant for hoarding; and lousy souvenirs from equally lousy vacations. Then there were the toys – lots of them.

There was so much stuff to sift through, I was confident the job was gonna be a complete nightmare.

But it wasn’t. Quite the opposite, really.

I both smiled and winced at my homemade comic books. After reading a few, I decided that, with a little bit of tweaking (OK, maybe quite a lot to tweaking), the storylines weren’t a bad jumping off point for a new story.

I marveled at the bigger-than-a-bread-basket adding machine I got from my Great Uncle Bill. By force of habit, I removed the machine’s olive green Bakelite cover to reveal its steampunky guts. It was almost comical just how many moving parts it had. I punched a few numbers and watched the thing spring to life. In that moment, my mind filled with ideas about a kid inventor.

Then I spied my Erector set.

Shortly after this discovery, Mom strolled into the room to check on my progress. What she found was her 30-something-year-old son lying on the floor constructing a racecar of his own design.

She didn’t even blink.

“Good,” Mom said with a sharp nod. “You’re taking that home.”

Indeed I was. The Erector set, the other toys, the machines, and my primitive doodles. I was taking all of it. I had barely begun working on my closet and my brain was already swimming with new ideas.

Toys facilitate play. Play is an essential component of the creative process. There is a reason why social scientists say that The Creative Spirit flourishes in kindergarteners and begins to sputter once those same children head off to middle school. As we grow up, we voluntarily – eagerly – purge the fun stuff from our lives.

That was certainly the case with me. I still remember being a 12-year-old who desperately wanted to be an adult. I gave away most of the stuff that had once given me pleasure and shoved the rest into the far corner of my closet. I thought these actions would speed the growing up process; instead, they just made me a sullen teen with an un-fun room.

With age comes a sort of wisdom, however. Almost in tandem with the launch of my professional writing career, I began to rekindle my interest in toys. I soon noticed that my best ideas occurred when I was horsing around with a hand puppet or had a box of 64 Crayolas within arm’s reach.

I even had a Bert puppet! I was the cool kid.
I even had a Bert puppet when I was a kid! I was so cool.

Unrestrained, unselfconscious play moves my mind in new directions; moving my mind in new directions helps me to discover new ideas.

I am well aware that a lot of grownups don’t feel comfortable playing with an erector set without a grownup reason for doing so. Fortunately, many of us have children – or if we don’t, we can easily borrow some. Kids need Quality Time, and Quality Times gives us the justification we need to build with Legos, squish Play-Doh, and color Snoopy green.

You couldn’t ask for a better situation. You’re being a good parent and you’re mining for inspiration. You’re multitasking! Well done.

That kind of multitasking was exactly what I had in mind when I loaded up the trunk of my car outside of Mom’s house. I’ll bring this stuff home to my young son, I thought. We’ll play with it together. We’ll pretend together. And, in so doing, my little guy will become my unwitting picture book collaborator.

It doesn’t get more inspiring – or wonderful – than that.

My Versatility Responsibility 2.0

I would've preferred congrats from Bert, but it'll do.
I would’ve preferred Bert on my napkins, but I suppose this will have to do.

I don’t usually do blog awards. It’s not that don’t appreciate receiving them – because I do — I just don’t think I update my blog frequently enough to dedicate posts to answering questions about myself. So a big part of me is inclined to thank the nominator and beg off.

But sometimes another part of me — the part who doesn’t have a new post ready this week — is inclined to say, “Hey, why not?”

That “Hey, why not?” inclination is also more likely to surface when some of my favorite people nominate me. Laurel Leigh and Jilanne Hoffman selected me for the Versatile Blogger Award and Tess from Let’s Cut the Crap nominated me for a blog meme.

Versatile Blogger nominees are supposed to write seven tidbits about themselves. The meme-ers are supposed to answer four specific questions about their writing.

Since answering a question about my writing is sort of a tidbit, I answered Tess’s four questions and tacked on three extra tidbits at the end. Done and done!

By the way, if the above didn’t spell it out clearly enough, I think very highly of these folks. Follow their blogs if you don’t already. They’re good people who all have interesting things to say.

Onward with the meme-ing!


What am I working on at the moment?

I have three projects I’m working on right now:

I am revising a picture book manuscript about a science-minded mouse.

I am revising a picture book manuscript about a cow that is not exactly a cow.

And, using my Susanna Hill writing contest entry, Goldilockup, as inspiration, I am writing a middle grade novel about a Great Escape-style jailbreak in Fairy Tale Forest. The story’s hero works the broiler at a Burger King.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Most writers are peculiar, but each peculiar person is peculiar in a unique way. Those unique peculiarities influence the work. For example, Laurie Halse Anderson and I both wrote picture books about Sarah Josepha Hale. Anderson’s book came out long before mine, but I had no knowledge of its existence when I wrote my story. Even though Anderson and I wrote about the same person, our two books could not be more different in both tone and content.

In other words, if you own Anderson’s book but not mine, buy mine, too. It’s different!

Why do I write what I do?

I used to write a lot of plays. I enjoyed writing them, and found some success. The problem was that I was drawn to flawed, cynical and occasionally immoral characters, which made me delve into the darker side of my soul — a sad and musty place in desperate need of a coat of paint a more comfortable place to sit.

I prefer my silly soul. Writing children’s books nurtures my silliness. And school visits bring out my silliness in spades.

How does my writing process work?

My writing schedule is not as regimented as I would like. I do, however, always put aside a good chunk of time every weekend to write. I also find time to write a couple of nights each workweek. Sometimes, if there’s a lull in my day job schedule, I’ll write a little then, too.

But let’s just keep that information between us, OK?

I almost exclusively compose on the computer. I do, however, sometimes write out ideas in longhand. I often doodle for inspiration. Sometimes I doodle during meetings, because meetings are useless.

Ahem. Let’s just keep that information between us, too, OK?

In fact, let’s pretend I never answered this question.

And, as promised, three other tidbits:

1. When my son is disciplined for saying something inappropriate in school, he is almost always repeating something I had said at home. No, he is not swearing; I never use foul language around children. He did, however, called one of his classmates a “sucker.” He announced that a daunting classroom assignment “will drive him to drink.” And, the day before his winter break, he decreed that The Elf on the Shelf story was “horse pucky.”

Despite all the teacher’s phone calls, I’m still not very good at censoring myself. I recently told Alex the story about how Archimedes developed his principle of buoyancy while sitting in the bathtub. I explained that Archimedes was so excited with his discovery that he leapt from the tub and ran through the streets naked, shouting, “Eureka! I’ve got it!”

“And do you know what Archimedes’ neighbors said?” I asked.

“No.” Alex replied.

“Archimedes! I can see your dingle!”

Alex then laughed for the next six hours.

So, yes, I expect to get a call from my son’s teacher sometime this week.

"Whasamatter? Jealous?" -- Archimedes, after being handed a towel
“Hey, I got it, so I flaunt it!”

2. When I was a freshman in college, I was in a drawing class filled with artists who got offended by everything. This was the late 1980s, the dawn of the PC era where short people were described as “vertically challenged” and lazy people were “differently motivated.” I tend not to seek out things that make me angry, so I found their zealous, relentless ire fascinating. I also found it amusing.

I occasionally liked to poke the hornet’s next. For example, one day I decided to sketch a giant, reverential portrait of Richard Nixon. It produced the expected outrage (“How could you draw a portrait of that…that monster!”) and I was amused.

About a year later, I was working in a local bookstore when Nixon’s book, In the Arena, was published. Nixon’s office was located just a few towns away from where I lived, so I was asked to drop off a box of books for the former president to sign. I did as I was told. I  also brought along my portrait bearing a note: “Could you please sign this?” He could and  did.

About 15 years later, Antiques Roadshow came to Atlantic City so I decided to bring along my signed Nixon portrait for an appraisal. In case you’re wondering, a Nixon/Allegra collaboration is worth about a thousand bucks.

Not too shabby.

You think you're so hot, eh? Well, I don't see Mike Allegra drawing a picture of you!
“You think you’re so hot, eh? Well, I don’t see Mike Allegra drawing a picture of you!”

3. My wife, Ellen, is one of the most moral and honest people I know. However, I live in constant fear that one day I’ll come home from work to discover that she has kidnapped a wombat from an area zoo.

Believe me, she loves wombats more than most people love wombats — and I’m worried that this love will someday give her a rap sheet. Pray for us!

Take me home, Ellen! All I need is your looooove!
“Take me home, Ellen! All I need is your looooove!”


So there you have it! Thanks again, Laurel, Jilanne and Tess! And thanks also to all the other people who have nominated me for blog awards in the past. I am very grateful.

So, in the spirit of this post, tell me a tidbit about yourself in the comments! C’mon, be a sport.