Hook of the Book Illustrators (and Authors) Day

PictureLet’s go!

Our Michigan SCBWI chapter has been busy creating a stellar spring conference for illustrators (and anyone interested in how art influences storytelling). Although I am drawing-challenged, I am particularly excited about the opportunity to learn how art moves story forward.  Here’s a link to the registration and more information. Maybe I’ll see you there? May 16th in Dexter, MI

Drowning in Your To-Do’s? Try This Approach.

It’s not about time management, it’s about energy management.”
                                                                         — Kat Cole, CEO of Cinnabon 

Having just returned from five days away from my busy life at home to attend the extremely busy SCBWI International Conference in NY, I am a bit wacked to spend time posting on my blog this morning. But on my flight last night, I read the brilliant quote above and decided I would heretoforward adopt it as my mantra. I thought you might like it, too. 

Kat says managing our energy means doing more of the activities that fill up our tanks and less of those that deplete it. For me, that means:

  • more writing/less talking about writing
  • more strategizing with others about how to make their dreams come true/less pouting about how hard it seems  
  • more letting go of words and actions that don’t feed my intentions/less hanging on because I might need them some day. Hey! That applies to shoes, too!

Try this re-framing and let me know how it works for you. But only if that fills your tank…

Connection Isn’t Only Social Media


Do you ever have that feeling that something amazing is about to happen? I do. In fact, I’ve been carrying around that feeling for seven days now. Every hour or so, the skin on the back of my neck tingles and I can feel how I’ll feel the moment the amazing thing is revealed. Weird, eh? 

This has happened before and I wish I could correlate it with an actual amazing thing, but alas, that isn’t the case. Most of my amazing things seem to happen out of the blue. Boom!  I open my email and there is the offer for the contract three months after the possibility was dangled. Boom!  There is the “yes” on a research grant although I’d had no confirmation that the application was received. Boom!  There is the invitiation to speak at a great conference I’d never set my sights on. 

But during this current round of feeling like something amazing is about to happen, my view has changed. I’ve realized that events about me are happening without my present knowledge and this could be the cause of the feeling. Really weird, eh?

Maybe a teacher is using A Warm Winter Tail in his classroom and the children enjoy it. Or a conference planner is searching for nonfiction writers and my name pops up (thank you, the wonder of google). Or maybe an editor opened an email with my manuscript that she didn’t know she needed until that moment. Of course, my view is only positive. Because, why not? 

This is happening to you, too. Events are being played out about you without your present knowledge. (Only positive events, though.) Because despite living in a transparent world, we don’t know everything about everything that happens — yet. But, the magic is that we are all connected somehow. After five decades on this wonderful planet, I’m pretty sure about this. And that connection causes ripples like wind across a snowcovered field and it also causes tingles on my neck.  

Amazing, isn’t it?  

Floyd Cooper (and Tara Lazar) Helps me Get It


Remember that PiBoIdMo adventure I posted about recently? I love it because it gives me permission to throw ideas out there without mental-censoring. And the posts Tara Lazar has lined up by creative people are always inspiring. Today’s post, however, did more than inspire. It shifted my thinking on a point that has stuck in my throat since I started writing picture books:

You must leave room for the illustrator” <finger wagging>

In picture book writing speak, this means that we don’t need to AND SHOULD NOT write in details (such as “the cinnamon-haired girl with the polka dot dress”) that can be illustrated. The marriage of art and words are what make a picture book effective. I understand this cerebrally, but have secretly rebeled because who knows my story better than I? Despite my appreciation — okay, slathering jealousy — of artists, I’ve always felt the story started with me and my direction is the right direction so maybe I can and should sneak in few sign posts along the way. 

But the amazing artist, Floyd Cooper wrote today about his Muse and how he lost and found it again. He said he is most inspired by, “a text that sings, that embraces my imagination and injects it with energy.” That makes sense to me, but when he said, 

“Good story inspires great art.”

I finally Got It. It isn’t about leaving room for the illustrator. It’s about writing story good enough to inspire great art. My throat (and intention) is now clear and I’m looking forward to seeing how this impacts my writing. How about you?

I’m Supporting the We Need Diverse Books Campaign. How about you?

Raise your hand if you are aware of the We Need Diverse Books campaign. Many of us don’t realize how few books are either published or marketed with characters that represent diverse communities. Here are some sad stats about this:

Of course we all want to see ourselves in the books we read. But we also need to see others who are NOT US in the books we read so we can expand our view of what is normal, right, and should be valued.

I’m supporting the Indiegogo campaign (click sidebar to the left for more info). I’m hoping the campaign will result in books both written and published for and about all children.

PiBoIdMo? What the heck is that?

Once again, I’m excited to participate in Tara Lazar’s Picture Book Idea Month (PiBoIdMo) extravaganza that kicks off November 1st. She’s pulled together an amazing cast of inspiring people in the world of children’s books and I can’t wait to start my next 30 days with their insights. Plus, during PiBoIdMo I give myself permission to collect at least 30 off-the-wall-and-who-cares-if-they’ll-sell ideas. It’s all about the “ideas” — not the execution — and that is just plain fun. So thanks, Tara, for pulling this together.  

BTW, watch for a Mentorship interview with Tara coming soon!

Do you want to spice up your school visits? Better check out this webinar!


Don’t miss this ​90 ​minute ​live ​webinar ​with ​noted ​author, ​former ​teacher, ​and ​school ​visit ​expert, ​Suzanne ​Morgan ​Williams. ​Fees are: ​$25 ​for ​current ​SCBWI ​members, ​$30 ​for ​not-yet-members, ​and ​free ​to ​Michigan ​P.A.L. ​members. ​It will be great ​for ​illustrators, ​pre-published, ​and ​seasoned ​presenters. 

The ​best ​school ​visits ​are ​age ​appropriate, ​energetic, ​engaging, ​and ​add ​value ​to ​the ​curriculum. ​How ​do ​you ​design ​amazing ​presentations? ​Gain ​confidence ​in ​your ​performance, ​teaching, ​and ​negotiations? ​How ​do ​you ​get ​schools ​(or ​more ​schools) ​to ​hire ​you? ​Handouts, ​exercises, ​and ​the ​online ​presentation ​will ​help ​you ​plan ​programs ​based ​on ​your ​strengths, ​your ​books, ​and ​students’ ​needs. ​ 

Suzanne Morgan ​Williams ​will ​share ​her ​best ​tips ​for ​connecting ​with ​schools ​and ​negotiating ​fair ​deals. ​If ​you’re ​serious ​about ​giving ​presentations ​that ​leave ​schools ​buzzing, ​tune ​in. ​The ​webinar ​will ​end ​with ​an ​optional ​online ​question ​and ​answer ​time. ​ ​Homework ​and ​supplemental ​information ​will ​be ​forwarded ​to ​registered ​participants ​prior ​to ​the ​live ​event. ​Your ​link ​to ​the ​webinar ​will ​be ​active ​for ​three ​months ​after ​the ​event. ​Click below to register! Seats are limited and filling quickly…


You Might Not Know This About Punctuation Marks — But You Should 


My current events-junkie hubby brought this short article to my attention (Akira Okrent, The Week online 10/14/14). 

We all know that word meanings morph over time, but I hadn’t thought about how the role of punctuation is changing, too. Poor little comma…  


Mentor Monday is BACK!

PictureAnastasia Suen

I’m excited to share my news that the Mentor Monday series is open for business again! The feedback from this series was always positive and my enthusiasm for the topic has never waned. So…once a mid-month on a Monday, I’ll share an interview with people in the children’s literature community on the topic of mentorship. YAY! is all I can say about that. 

For my inaugural re-invigoration, I virtually sat down with the amazing Anastasia Suen. Her interview follows after two short mentorship promo bits below:

  • Of course I’m partial to the great state of Michigan and our SCBWI-sponsored mentorship program http://michigan.scbwi.org/mentorship-program-2/. However, there are other programs in the SCBWI world. I worked with SCBWI to create a resource page for these programs. The page resides on the main website https://www.scbwi.org/scbwi-mentorship-programs/. (You can only access it if you are a member.) If you wish to be mentored or mentor another, you can start your research here. We will add more programs as they become available.   
  • You can find another SCBWI-member only resource about mentorship in THE BOOK: The Essential Guide to Publishing for Children 2014 (p.37) called Mentoring Matters by moi. This describes the benefits of mentorship for both mentees and mentors. 

Now, on to the important part of this post!!!

Anastasia Suen is the author of 190 books for children and adults, a LibrarySparks and Booklist’s Quick Tips for Schools & Libraries columnist, a literacy blogger, a children’s literature consultant for several publishers, a freelance editor, a former K,1,5, & 6 teacher who visits schools to teach the six traits of writing, and a former Staff Development for Educators, UNT and SMU instructor who teaches writing workshops online.

Have you been a part of a formal mentoring program through SCBWI or any other organization?

I have never been formally mentored, but that hasn’t stopped me. I actively seek out opportunities to keep growing as a writer by attending professional events, such as SCBWI conferences. I also read in the field every day. I read children’s books as well as books and blog posts about craft, the children’s book market, and freelancing.

Do you agree or disagree with distinguished author Margaret Atwood’s statement about writing: “Other people can help you a bit, but essentially you’re on your own?”

I agree and disagree. If you never ask for help, it can take a very long time to learn your craft.  However, at some point, you need find your own voice, and that means not listening to what other people say.

In what ways have you been “helped a bit?”

The SCBWI conferences I have attended over the years have helped quite a bit. Everyone there is actively working on their craft, making it a wonderful day of immersion in the writing life.

If you were a mentor, what strengths would you bring to a struggling author?

I have been teaching the craft of writing to children’s book authors since 1999 and my strength is my focus on reading and structure. From the beginning I have insisted that all of my students read books like the ones they are writing. I teach this way because long ago I heard Judy Blume speak at an SCBWI conference about taking books apart to see how they worked. I followed her advice and it worked for me, too.

If you could be mentored by any writer throughout time, who would it be and why?

When I start writing a new book, I read, read, read, so I always have several mentors for each project. And because I write fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, my writing mentors change with each book. There are so many books and blogs to read, so much to learn and explore. One encounter leads to another in a continuous journey of discovery.

Thank you for your insights, Anastasia!