The Awesome-Sauce by @JohnClaudeBemis


Ursula Nordstrom was the legendary editor for many children’s book luminaries such as 20160628_003124E.B. White, Shel Silverstein, and Maurice Sendak. Two years before Sendak wrote Where the Wild Things Are, he sent Nordstrom a letter (oh, the days of authors and editors exchanging actual letters!) lamenting that he was no genius like Tolstoy or Melville. In Nordstrom’s typically wry style, she assured him that, indeed, he was no Tolstoy.  Then she added, “But Tolstoy wasn’t Sendak, either.”

I love this advice. We often look with admiration and envy at other writers, when we should set our sights on recognizing the unique perspective only we have to offer in our stories. Sure, I would never have invented Hogwarts or Narnia, but Rowling and Lewis would never have dreamed up the magical America of my Clockwork Dark trilogy or the fantastical Venetian Empire in my latest fantasy-adventure The Wooden Prince.

What is the story only you can write? The story no other author possibly could because they don’t have your singular way of seeing the world?

One simple way of discovering your unique vision is to make a list of 10 – 20 things that fascinate you. Maybe they’re types of characters like 10 year-old con artists or astrophysicists. Or places like Venice or lost tropical islands. They could be video games, dust bunnies, Thai food, or even revenge, unrequited love, or shapeshifting.

Obviously, your list will include things that might fascinate other writers, but how many others will have your list? It’s the combination of things on your list that reveals aspects of your unique storytelling angle.

Wooden princeWhen I began developing The Wooden Prince, I knew I wanted it to be a retelling of Pinocchio. But what could I do with this classic story that hadn’t been done before? I began making lists of what I thought would be. . .well, to put it simply, awesome. Call it your awesome-sauce: the basic ingredients that not only make the story appealing to you, but hopefully to readers as well. I had ingredients like robots and sea monsters, Leonardo Da Vinci and reckless fairy princesses. At first, it didn’t seem like sci-fi elements like robots would go together with a magical Renaissance Italy. But I found a way to make it work organically and to develop a wonderfully strange world that put a new twist on Pinocchio.

The key was making connections between awesome-sauce ingredients that might seem disparate, like Da Vinci-technology with monsters and magic. Some might say all ideas have already been used. But truthfully there are endless new story ideas waiting to be discovered if we only combine things in ways readers have never seen before.

So develop your list of awesome-sauce—your ever-growing list of character-types, places, things, and story elements that ignite your imagination. Then look for unusual and unexpected ways that they might be combined in your story. This could be a first peek into the unique story only you could write, the book readers have never seen before and are going to be ecstatic to discover.

John Claude Bemis author photo 2015John Claude Bemis is the award-winning author of five middle grade novels and one picture book. His latest fantasy-adventure is The Wooden Prince, the first book in Out of Abaton series from Disney-Hyperion. John served as North Carolina’s Piedmont Laureate for Children’s Literature. He lives in Hillsborough, NC. You can find out more about him on his website HERE, or by visiting his FACEBOOK PAGE.



*Note: The pre-registration webinar will be held on Wednesday night. Pre-registered students, don’t forget to check your emails Wednesday.




32 comments on “The Awesome-Sauce by @JohnClaudeBemis

  1. Funny he should mention astrophysicists because that is always on my list, whether I’m writing fiction or nonfiction. 🙂 Thanks for the reassurance, the tip, and the example!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Deborah Allmand says:

    John, wonderful advice on how to use what we know to enhance and create unique books for children. Thanks for the post!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. ptnozell says:

    Wonderful advice to self-reflect & make a list to determine what unique elements only WE can write into a story.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. kathalsey says:

    Seeing the connections of the awesome sauce list – that’s on my to-do-list today! TY, John.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This is a good reminder to value what makes us unique. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. nancydrewit says:

    Thanks for a great post–I was in a “slump mode” lately and this was very inspiring!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Awesome! I have already written a list. Thanks for the idea.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Thanks, John. I’m making those lists. Also asking friends and family to tell me 10 things about me and my interests. (This may backfire. I may wind up living a hermit’s life. And you know what that means. More time to write! 😉 )

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Thank you, John, for the tips, examples, and the idea to create my own sauce with my own ingredients. Fantastic post!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Laura Rackham says:

    What a great recipe! And such a great reminder to write to your strengths (and your passions!)

    Liked by 1 person

  11. emilycolin says:

    Love the idea of creating a list of the things that fascinate me the most, even (or especially) if they seem totally disparate…then combining them to create a unique story. Thanks for sharing…and we’re loving the Out of Abaton audiobook, btw!

    Liked by 2 people

  12. I love, love, love this post! Am saving for those discouraging times. Yes, we are all unique & have a special view of things


  13. Maria Marshall says:

    John, what a great suggestion. Interesting how diverse and eclectic the lists can be. Thanks for making it harder to be self-critical, knowing even Sendak felt the same. Adding that perfect bit of awesome sauce above my computer. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I have a quote taped to my computer that says, “You are the Only You, Be the Best You you can be.” Thank you for posting this, I really enjoyed reading it. I’ll be checking out your website and books!


  15. writersideup says:

    John, I just LOVE the anecdote about Nordstrom and Sendak. How precious and true! The whole post is and it’s exactly the type thing to keep in mind on those days we wonder whether or not our work “measures up.” 🙂


  16. Lori Dubbin says:

    I love what Ursula wrote to Maurice. Time to combine and whisk some awesome sauce.


  17. Traci Bold says:

    I had not thought of writing a list of things that fascinate me. It is completely different than a list of favorite things which I already have as most new writers do. Besides that, I love to write lists so this is stellar for me. Best of luck to you John in all of your future endeavors. #justkeepwriting #justkeepwriting

    p.s. My favorite process is the revising as well. 🙂


  18. Charlene says:

    Great inspiration!


  19. hethfeth says:

    Wow. I’m making my list…and getting his book. Thanks for this inspiring advice.


  20. JEN says:

    Great post! Off to find my awesome-sauce.


  21. JEN says:

    Testing, testing…
    I tried to comment on this post and didn’t see it, so I want to make sure I’m doing it right before the actual event!
    If this post has two comments from me, sorry! I’m hoping not to have that happen again.


  22. Amy Benoit says:

    Awesome sauce — perfect ingredient for creating your own recipe!


  23. Kirsten Bock says:

    What a great idea! Thanks so much~


  24. Marge Gower says:

    What a great way to find your own unique vision. Thank you for the idea. Will work on it right away. 🙂


  25. donnacangelosi says:

    Summer is a great time to sit back, enjoy the sun, and make a list of personal fascinations. I already have an idea for integrating one of mine in my WIP. Thank you for the inspiration.


  26. Sandy Perlic says:

    I definitely need to spend some time thinking about this. I tend to feel I’m not nearly as interesting as some other writers, but your approach seems to focus instead on what we’re interested in. There’s lots of possibility for unique ideas there!


  27. Mary Worley says:

    I have my list. I’m curious to explore how some of these elements might work together…Thanks!


  28. tinamcho says:

    Very encouraging and a nice experiment to try–awesome sauce! Thanks, John!


  29. Juliana Lee says:

    Everyone has their own secret recipe for Awesomesauce. Time to whip up a fresh batch!


  30. Keila Dawson says:

    Oh gee, my Awesomesauce is spicy! Thanks for this tip!


  31. Val McCammon says:

    Perfect inspiration — our own awesome sauce list. Thanks John!


  32. Kristen C.S. says:

    Love this advice… especially for reinventing/reimagining old tropes. Cool! =)


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