Friday, December 9, 2016

SCBWI 2016 Magazine Merit Award Winner: an Interview with Neal Levin by Charlie Barshaw

Neal Levin is a freelance children's writer and illustrator in Michigan. As a writer he specializes in poetry and short stories (mostly for magazines and anthologies), and as an illustrator he specializes in cartooning. He has had over 250 stories, poems, articles, puzzles, and cartoons published in a variety of places, ranging from Highlights For Children to The Saturday Evening Post.

Question in rhyme (limerick-style):
There once was a poet named Neal
His limericks were the real deal
He’s published the most
In The Sat. Evening Post
Now tell me, Neal, how does it feel?

Thanks for asking, Charlie. It's a lot of fun! For those who don't know, The Saturday Evening Post has a limerick contest in every issue (six times a year) where you have to write a limerick to go along with a certain picture. I think I won about 15 times so far, although only four were official "winners" and the rest were runners-up. Although this is not actually a children's publication, it's still good writing practice. Anyone who wants to try it can find the contest online: www.saturdayeveningpost.com/limerick-contest


And, a follow up: do you have a special affinity for limericks?

Not necessarily. I love writing children's poems, but I don't write a lot of limericks, apart from that contest.

Okay, on to normal questions:
Who were your favorite poets when you were young?

Shel Silverstein, of course! But to be honest, I didn't read a lot of poetry as a kid. I did write poems starting at a young age, however.

Tell us more about the SCBWI awards. You won a Merit Plaque for poetry for your poem Cavemanners, which appeared in Spider. You also won (the only name to appear twice in the announcement, congrats!) an Honor Certificate for Messy Messages a poem appearing in Highlights.

SCBWI gives out an annual Merit Award and Honor Award in five different categories for magazine work published during the previous year. The categories are fiction, nonfiction, illustration, poetry, and YA. They also give out a few Letters of Merit. In 2015, I received a Letter of Merit for poetry (and coincidentally, the poem that won the Merit Award that year was one I had illustrated, but didn’t write). Then in 2016, I received the two awards you mentioned above. Any SCBWI member who publishes original magazine work is eligible, and again you can find information online: www.scbwi.org/awards/magazine-merit-award/

Aside from originating from the mind of Neal Levin, how are your cartoons and your poetry related?

That's a good question, because they often aren't. Most of the poems I've had published were illustrated by other people, as assigned by the editors. I always enjoy seeing how other illustrators interpret my writing -- sometimes in ways I didn't anticipate. I also enjoy seeing how different illustrators interpret the same poem when it's republished in more than one place. There have even been times that I've been assigned to illustrate poems other people wrote. I hope to get around to illustrating more of my own poetry one day.


In a Debbie Diesen interview, you mentioned doing cartooning workshops after school for kids. What do kids gain when they learn to cartoon?

The cartooning workshops I teach are usually one-day classes, so they serve as an introduction to drawing and hopefully inspire kids to practice more on their own, which is how I learned to draw. Since many of the students have never drawn cartoons before, I think the biggest thing kids gain is the discovery that cartooning is actually not that difficult to learn, as well as the confidence that they can create finished drawings on their own by the time they leave the class.


You’ve been published in a number of poetry anthologies, especially ones edited by Bruce Lansky. Can you tell us about your working relationship with Bruce?

I have to give credit to Bruce Lansky (and his former poetry editor Angela) for starting my professional poetry career, as they were the first ones to publish my poems and encourage me to keep writing them. This was about 10-15 years ago, when Bruce's company Meadowbrook Press was putting out a number of anthologies and eventually included around 18 of my poems in eight different collections. Some of those poems were also resold through Meadowbrook Press, and through their agreement I retain copyright and also get royalties from resales. Since then I've had poems published in anthologies from other companies, including Disney/Hyperion, Little Brown, Scholastic, Pomelo Books, and Chicken Soup For the Soul.

Have you considered publishing an anthology of your poetry? Possibly interspersed with your cartoons?

I would love to do that! However, selling a poetry collection is a lot harder than selling individual poems.

Tell us about being published in Mad Magazine For Kids. Was it a lifetime dream, or just another magazine sale?

Mad Kids was a short-lived magazine that only put out a few issues around 2007-2008. It was a younger kids' version of Mad Magazine with the same style of humor. This was one of those instances where other people illustrated my work. I had three poems published in three different issues and then was assigned a special feature: a whole set of funny poems about food to satirize the movie Ratatouille. It's unfortunate that the magazine folded, although the regular Mad is alive and well.

You were published in the anthology, Poems to Learn by Heart, apparently edited by Caroline Kennedy. The Caroline Kennedy? Did you get to meet her or talk to her?

You're right, that book was edited by President Kennedy's daughter, although I did not get to meet her. Apparently she had discovered my poem Baby Ate a Microchip and eventually decided to include it in her book.

Last, your website mentions that you retreat Up North all summer to work on a daily newspaper at Camp Walden. Can you tell us more?

It's true! I won't say how many years I've been going there -- okay, it's been 32 -- and yes, I put out a daily "newspaper" for the campers and staff. It's no more than a two-sided sheet of paper run off on a copy machine, but it gives me the chance to write funny stuff, draw pictures, and be creative all summer long. And, of course, the campers and staff help contribute. If you put together all those newspapers over the years, it would amount to over 3,000 pages of material! The majority of it, however, would only make sense to you if you went to that camp.

Read some of Neal's poems here:
Creepy Pizza
Swimming Lessons
Help the World

I began this interview with a question in rhyme, so here's a silly doodle ending:
There once was a group, smart and spry
Who'd create poems and stuff on the fly.
They're writers and drawers
Not ooh-ers and aw-ers
And they're called ess see bee douba you eye.

Charlie Barshaw loves to write posts for The Mitten, and interview people who really do something, like Neal Levin. This gives him an excuse for still struggling to finish the stubborn first draft of his YA novel. Thanks to editor Teresa Crumpton, his SCBWI-LA critique group, and The World's Greatest Critique Group, he's still plinking away at it.







Thanks for all of your hard work, Charlie! Pssst, Charlie has some book news. He has several stories published by Amazon's new children's reading app. Learn more at https://rapids.amazon.com/ or https://www.facebook.com/amazonrapids/.

Have you seen Neal Levin's kidlit inspired cartoons for adults? He has his own special page, Kiddie Litter, right here on the Mitten blog.

We'd also like to extend congrats to SCBWI-MI member Lori McElrath Eslick. She won a 2016 SCBWI Magazine Merit Award for Illustration. Kudos, Lori!

***Important Deadline***
Dec. 15th is the last day to apply for the SCBWI Annual Winter Conference Shutta Crum Scholarship. 
(Michigan members only.)
This scholarship will fund one Michigan SCBWI member's tuition for attendance at the Annual SCBWI Winter Conference at the Grand Hyatt in New York, NY. Dates: February 10-12, 2017. (Info: http://scbwi.org .) Early bird registration starts Oct. 24th. (Full early-bird registration fee only: $430.) Note: MI-SCBWI will fund transportation for the recipient up to $400.


And we have another busy weekend full of SCBWI-MI Merry Mitten Holiday events!

Saturday, December 10th

Book Beat
Lincoln Shopping Center  26010 Greenfield Rd, Oak Park, MI 48237 (248) 968-1190
Saturday, December 10th, 1PM-3PM
Jean Alicia Elster

Bookman
715 Washington Ave, Grand Haven, MI 49417 (616) 846-3520
Saturday, December 10 12PM-2PM
Lori Eslick
Amy Nielander
Kim Childress




Kazoo Books
2413 Parkview Ave, Kalamazoo, MI 49008  (269) 385-2665
Saturday, December 10 11-2pm
Ruth McNally Barshaw
Leslie Helakoski
Deb Pilutti
Kristen Remenar
Matt Faulkner
Heather Smith Meloche
Buffy Silverman

Schuler Books & Music: Grand Rapids 
2660 28th Street SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49512 616.942.2561
Saturday, Dec. 10 2PM-4PM
Erica Chapman
Janet Heller
PJ Lyons

Sunday, December 11th

Book Beat
Lincoln Shopping Center  26010 Greenfield Rd, Oak Park, MI 48237 (248) 968-1190
Sunday, December 11th 1PM-3PM
Patrick Flores-Scott

Schuler Books & Music: Okemos
Meridian Mall 1982 Grand River Ave Okemos, MI 48864 517.349.8840
Sunday, December 11 2PM-4PM
Erica Chapman
Peggy House
Kristin Lenz


Coming up next on the Mitten blog: The final Hugs and Hurrahs of 2016! We want to trumpet your success. Send your writing, illustrating, and book related good news to Patti Richards by Tuesday, December 13th to be included.

Cheers!
Kristin Lenz


Friday, December 2, 2016

On Being a PAL by Dawne Webber

I joined SCBWI in 2014, and it didn’t take long for my writer-self to realize I’d finally found a home and I couldn’t wait to get involved. I joined the MichKids listserv and began attending Shop Talks. When the conversation at one of the meetings revolved around querying, I offered to write a series of articles on SCBWI Michigan's blog, The Mitten. I’d spent a lot of time in the query trenches and hoped to make the process a little less intimidating.

I continued attending the Farmington Shop Talks and at the last meeting before summer break, we all bemoaned the fact we wouldn’t see each other until the fall. Being the social animal that I am, I offered to plan a night out so we could meet over the summer. I contacted Carrie Pearson, one of Michigan’s Co-Regional Advisors, wondering if it was possible to share the invitation to our night out with all the MichKid members. She thought it was a great idea, and the night out was quite a success.

I’d told Carrie that I wanted to get more involved in our chapter and a few months later, I got a call from her and Leslie Helakoski, SCBWI-MI’s other Co-Regional Advisor (they are lovely ladies).

They were looking for someone to communicate with Michigan’s 110 PAL members and share information regarding events, educational and marketing opportunities, as well as organizing PAL events and activities that would benefit them. They ended by asking if I would like to become the Michigan chapter’s first PAL Coordinator. That sounded right up my alley (excuse the cliché) and I enthusiastically accepted the position.

Before I continue, let me give a refresher on SCBWI’s levels of membership which are:
  • Associate members - Open to unpublished writers and illustrators of children’s literature or media, and those with a general enthusiasm for the field. Writers or illustrators who have been published in markets other than children's literature (but not in children's literature), as well as journalists, bloggers, educators, teachers and librarians.
  • Full members - Open to those whose books, articles, poems, stories, illustrations, photographs, films, television or electronic media for children have been published or produced.
  • PAL members - This PAL doesn’t mean friend, although you may have a friend who is a PAL. PAL stands for Published and Listed. In a nutshell, the books of Published and Listed authors/illustrators must be published by traditional publishers that do not charge money to authors or illustrators. For detailed guidelines on PAL membership, click here. For a list of current PAL publishers, click here.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Updating your membership status to PAL:
Once you have been published by an accepted publisher, in order for your status to be PAL, you must go to the SCBWI website, upload the book, article, etc. that qualifies you as a PAL member and click on the publisher in the drop down menu. Your status will then automatically be changed to PAL.




SCBWI’s mission is to support the creation and availability of quality children’s books around the world. That’s a huge undertaking, and, although they offer many types of support to members in general, each type of membership also has specific needs. PAL members are interested in more intensive and advanced level of instruction. For this reason, on a regular basis Michigan SCBWI AdvisoryCommittee (AdCom) plans programming at conferences or a retreat that’s geared toward more experienced SCBWI members, such as the writer/illustrator retreat in Boyne this past October.

Because PALs have books to sell, they also have a vested interest in the marketing, networking, and outreach aspect of the publishing world. As the PAL coordinator, I share resources and advice with PAL members, and relay information about bookfairs, conferences, and events they might want to participate in.

On a national level, PAL members are supported by The Reading List Program which includes books of all genres from PAL authors and illustrators. It’s available on the national website as a resource for educators, librarians, and parents. Also at the national level is the Book Blast Program. It’s a fantastic way to boost a newly published book's outreach. Members design a one-of-a-kind, online page that gives visitors an inside look at them and their book.

This year, SCBWI-MI has been very busy planning the upcoming MERRY MITTEN HOLIDAY. Twenty-eight Michigan SCBWI authors and illustrators are teaming up with six Michigan bookstores for one-of-a-kind signing events that will take place throughout December. We’re all very excited about the program and hope it will become a yearly holiday staple around the state. For more information, dates, times and locations, visit the Merry Mitten website and Like/Share our Facebook page.

Thanks in advance for supporting our PAL members at Merry Mitten Holiday bookstores and beyond!



Dawne Webber has been the PAL coordinator for the SCBWI-MI chapter since 2015. Feel free to email her with PAL related questions. 













Coming up on the Mitten blog: A Michigan author/illustrator wins the SCBWI Magazine Merit Award - twice! And it's time for our final Hugs and Hurrahs of the year. Send your writing/illustrating/book news to Patti Richards by December 12th to be included. You inspire us - let us trumpet your success!

Cheers!
Kristin Lenz

Friday, November 18, 2016

Finding Fresh Perspective from Writers in Different Genres by Melissa Shanker

I’m beginning my first blog post on The Mitten by stating an undeniable truth: SCBWI is the premier association in the world for writers of children’s literature.

(Can I get a heck, yeah?) If you write for children or young adults, and are not a member of SCBWI, you should stop reading this post immediately, go to www.scbwi.org and become one. Enough said.

However, if you have room in your life for more knowledge, more camaraderie, and more fun – and come on, who doesn’t? – I encourage you to check out what’s happening at the Capital City Writer’s Association.

CCWA was founded in 2013 by award winning journalist, Louis Knott Ahern. The organization is unique in that it is open to writers of all genres: romance, sci-fi, suspense, non-fiction, mystery, and literary fiction – just to name a few.



What’s happening at CCWA?

  • Monthly workshops are held on the first Wednesday of every month at Schuler’s Books and Music. They cover an array of topics and are open to the public.
  • Finish the Damn Book is a motivating and supportive program, laced with fun incentives to help you finish your [fill in your favorite expletive here] book. 
  • Saturday morning write-ins occur the first Saturday of every month.  Tell your family you have an “important meeting”, and join other writers for a three-hour power session. 
  • CCWA’s two-day conference, Write on the Red Cedar, takes place every January at MSU’s Kellogg Center. Their impressive line up of headliners has included Chuck Sambuchino of Writer’s Digest, legendary agent, Donald Maas, and bestselling author and marketing genius, Bob Mayer. This year, famous L.A. writing coach Michael Hauge will bring his Story Mastery to East Lansing and it’s sure to be inspiring. 
Check out all of these events and more at: http://www.capitalcitywriters.org/events-calendar/

Nothing compares to learning firsthand from Newbery award winners, or getting valuable feedback from the veteran children’s authors in my local Shop Talk group, but I have found a way to supplement all that awesomeness right here in Michigan with Capital City Writer’s Association.

In just the last few months, a romance writer helped me beef up my backstory, an author of women’s literary fiction enhanced my editing toolbox, and I developed a new understanding of deep third person POV from a bestselling writer of suspense. Good writers are good writers. The fresh perspective I’ve found from the diverse authors in CCWA has made me a better one.

Melissa Shanker writes middle grade and young adult fiction. She has been a member of SCBWI forever, and sits on the board of the Capital City Writers Association. Melissa lives in Okemos, Michigan with three teenagers who distress and delight her in equal measure, a husband who makes her laugh, and a dog that is often mistaken for a bear.  Her life s swell and she hopes yours is too. Learn more at www.melissashanker.com.












Coming up on the Mitten blog: Have you heard about the SCBWI-MI Merry Mitten events? Visit the Merry Mitten website and Like/Share the Merry Mitten Facebook page. Our hard-working PAL Coordinator, Dawne Webber, will be here on Dec. 2nd to tell us more about the PAL program and the Merry Mitten bookstore events happening in December.

Did you know one of our Michigan members won an SCBWI Magazine Merit Award? We'll share his story on Dec. 9th.

And Patti Richards is gathering your good news for another round of Hugs and Hurrahs. Send her an email by December 12th to be included.

We're taking next Friday off to celebrate Thanksgiving. Time to step away from our computers, enjoy our family and friends, and read a good book.

BUT, if you're venturing out to shop that weekend, don't forget about Small Business Saturday and Indies First on November 26th. Many independent bookstores will have authors on-site to assist with book-selling. I'll be with author Heather Smith Meloche at Pages Bookshop in Detroit from 10:00-12:00. If you'll be at another bookstore in Michigan, let us know in the comments, so we can direct shoppers/visitors your way!

AND, SCBWI is gearing up for the Winter Conference in New York in February. Here's an amazing scholarship opportunity for SCBWI-MI members: https://michigan.scbwi.org/2016/10/29/the-scbwi-annual-winter-conference-shutta-crum-scholarship/

Cheers!
Kristin Lenz


Friday, November 11, 2016

SCBWI-MI Shop Talks and Much, Much More!

Shop Talk – a gathering of writers and illustrators for the purpose of resourcing, sharing and encouraging each other.

Thanks to the dedication of many members in SCBWI-Michigan, we have four very active Shop Talk groups throughout the state:
  •             Lansing Area – LAST – led by Charlie Barshaw and Ann Finklestein
  •             SE-Mitten - Farmington Hills – led by Patti Richards and Jennifer Rumberger
  •             Grand Rapids West – led by David Stricklen
  •             Ann Arbor Area – led by Betsy McKee Williams
Each group has their own schedule and meets regularly every four to six weeks. Everyone is welcome attend. A variety of topics are covered by the groups from speakers on craft, social media, critique sessions, sharing resources, hearing author behind-the-scenes stories, etc. Each group is tailored to fit the needs of their attendees.

If you are interested in attending a Shop Talk near you, please check our Calendar of Events on the SCBWI webpage or contact the coordinators. Contact information can be found here. Also be sure to follow our chapter Facebook page and join the MichKids listserv. Future dates are always posted on both locations.

If your area of the state doesn’t have a Shop Talk, please consider starting a group of your own. All you need is a space to meet (library, park center, coffee shop, book store) and the desire to meet with fellow authors/illustrators. It’s easy! The Shop Talk coordinators share ideas and are a great resource for meeting topics. We can also help you advertise and share you group with your area of Michigan. Please contact Jennifer Rumberger if you would like to discuss leading a new group.

We hope to see you at a Shop Talk this winter!


Jennifer Rumberger is a wife and mom of two very active boys. She is an administrative assistant during the day and a children's writer in her free time. She has been published in a handful of children's magazines and her picture book, DUCKLINGS ON THE MOVE, is available from MeeGenius/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.







Our SCBWI-MI authors will be busy this weekend with a number of events. Take your pick or hop around to several. If only they weren't all happening at the same time!

*  SCBWI-MI Shop Talk, Ann Arbor: Sat, Nov 12 – same place, but different time: 1-4pm
AADL Downtown library, 3rd floor freespace meeting room

This will be an informal meeting. We will start, as always, with introductions. Next we will have a sort of Wisdom Circle. Everyone will be invited to write down questions or problems which they are currently struggling with. We will pull questions from a hat and discuss one at a time, sharing our collective expertise. People can choose whether to claim their question, or to have it remain anonymous.
Questions? Contact Betsy McKee. For Shop Talks later this month in other cities, go here.

*  Picture book author trio at the Book Beat in Oak Park, Sat. Nov. 12, 1-3pm
Lisa Wheeler will be reading from The Christmas Boot, her classic holiday tale newly illustrated by Jerry Pinkney. She will also be giving a “story behind the story” talk. Lisa Rose will be reading from her book, Shmulik Paints the Town. Deborah Aronson will be reading from her book Where’s My Tushy? and her new book, Dragons from Mars.

*  4th Annual Children's Author Meet & Greet. Sat. Nov. 12, 1-3pm. Frenchtown Dixie Branch Library, Monroe. 
Enjoy an Autumn afternoon with 11 amazing authors of books for children of all ages.


Coming up on the Mitten blog: Learn more about Capital City Writers Association, an SCBWI Magazine Merit Award Winner, and the SCBWI PAL program.

*  Our amazing SCBWI-MI PAL leader, Dawne Webber, has been hard at work on the upcoming Merry Mitten Holiday event. More details to come, but for now, here's a peek at the website and Facebook page. They just went live and are ready to "like" and follow and share, but the official logo and artwork is still to come.

Have a wonderful book-ful weekend!
Kristin Lenz

Friday, November 4, 2016

Writer Spotlight!

By
Patti Richards

Michigan writer, Ron Estrada, is a self-proclaimed Navy Brat. Born in Pontiac on December 31,1966, Ron thinks it’s quite cool to have a birthday so close to the holidays. As he put it, “Everyone is still recovering from Christmas and/or prepping for New Years, so you’re never bothered with birthday greetings or cards or gifts or anything like that.” Ron moved back to Michigan after his own 4-year stint in the Navy because he. . .”got tired of sunshine and warm beaches.” Now, if you’re not laughing already, you will be by the time we finish shining the Writer Spotlight in his direction. Welcome to The Mitten Ron!   


Mitten: When did you start writing for children or otherwise, and how did you know it was something you wanted to do?

Ron: Since all of my adult novels, according to certain editors and agents, looked as if they’d been written at a 4th grade level, I figured “why not?” At first I tried simply changing my serial killer from a 40 year-old man to a 4th grade girl. Didn’t work out. So a few years ago I started reading some guy named John Green. He’s not bad. What I liked was that teens and pre-teens don’t have rules like adults. If your character has no job and eats Pop-tarts all day long, he can get away with anything. So I started with YA, because of Katniss, you know. I wrote the first book of my Cherry Hill series. Agents loved it but couldn’t figure out how I’d pull off the plot (I tried telling them that was what writers do…no sale). So I self published four books in that series. The second is my favorite. It’s called Angel ‘n Me and it’s a total rip-off of All Of Me with Steve Martin and Lily Tomlin, but different. My 7 readers loved it.

Mitten: How did you find out about SCBWI and how long have you been a member?

Ron: I think Denise Jaden told me about it. I was beta-reading for her (the token male reader) and told her I wanted to write like John Green, but not quite as good because I didn’t want Hollywood messing up my books. She suggested SCBWI and assured me that I’d never have to fight off Steven Spielberg. So, after two years of considering the $90 hit to my budget, I joined last year.

Mitten: What genres are you most interested in and why? Picture books, middle grade, YA, chapter books, poetry, nonfiction?

Ron: Amish Zombie Romance. But I do seem to find my place with middle grade. I want to write like Gary Schmidt (when I’m not writing like Green). Gary has no movie deals as far as I know, so it might be a better fit for me. Since I’m heavy into cloning successful writers, I wrote my first middle-grade a couple years ago and set it in 1968, like Gary’s Wednesday Wars. I was only 1 1/2 years old in 1968, but I’m sure I remember watching Lost In Space and wondering “why are those girls wearing skirts in deep space?” I’m also seriously considering chapter books. They make me laugh. Laughing is good. Better than having cold legs in deep space.

Mitten: Tell us about your publishing journey. Are you pre-published or published, and if so where?

Ron: I’m trans-published, which here means I’ve self-published and am re-thinking that whole plan. I have acquired an agent who played football for U of M and is from Ohio (I think he’s no longer invited to Thanksgiving dinner). He’s repping me for my Navy Brat middle grade quasi-historicals. The first is called Scorpion Summer, set in 1968 Norfolk, Virginia. I’m working on the second book, set in 1972 Pearl City, Hawaii. The books follow my own Navy brat path through time and space (not deep space…way too cold, definitely wear capris).

Mitten: Many of us have a job other than writing for children. Tell us something about what you do outside of writing.

Ron: I’m a professional napper, which pays crap. So I have to be an engineer, too. I suffer from career ADD, so this may change by the time you post this, but I’m currently a sales engineer for a quality software company. Really, it rocks. I’m responsible for nothing and get to do things like write my author profile requests for small, local SCBWI blogs that will be read by our three members in the U.P. who are snowed in by now and have nothing else to do.

Mitten: How does this occupation inform your writing?

Ron: I like science and math (I know, it drives the ladies wild). So I can sprinkle my books with some fun knowledge. You have to trick kids into learning math. Once they’re onto you, you’re dead meat and they’ll just go watch some horrible John Green movie instead.

Mitten: Where do you get most of your writing ideas? Do you write them down, keep them in a computer file or just store them in your memory?

Ron: I steal them. There’s a lot of movies out there, so why create something new? I think I could re-write All Of Me a few dozen times before anyone caught on. Okay, I do have one or two original ideas. The loss of the USS Scorpion in 1968 has never been turned into a children’s book as far as I know. Nor has anyone ever written about a red-headed Navy brat living in 1972 Hawaii where she builds a traditional surfboard from scratch. I would have stolen another book idea and had her climb rocks, but I kept getting dizzy and nauseous in the first scene, so surfboards it is. I could have her get her arm bitten off by a shark and…

Oh, and I use about 37 different free apps to store my novel ideas. I think I’ve deleted them all. Evernote’s good, too, if I can remember what I named the folder.

Mitten: We all have favorite writers that inspire us. Name two of yours and why you like them.

Ron: Ray Bradbury, because I can’t understand a thing he writes but he still made a fortune. And Stephen King, because he could have his YA characters (before it was called YA) go to battle with scary clowns and vampires and stuff without his readers’ mothers finding out about it (I still have shower curtain issues).

Mitten: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received as a writer for children? Why?

Ron: Don’t give up that killer sales engineer job.

Also, don’t write down to the kids. I have to remember that the kid who couldn’t find his mouth with a spoon five years ago can probably recite the Magna Carta now (I don’t even know what that is…I think I just made it up). Their brains are growing at an alarming rate. My own kids hacked my 401k and bought PS3s by the time they were 12 (now they’re 21 and 22 and losing IQ points quickly).  I also have to remind myself that I, not of above-average intelligence, drifted into the adult novels by the time I was 10 (Flowers in the Attic…really Mom, what were you thinking?).

So that’s me. After plugging away at this thing for nearly 20 years now, I’ve found a home in kidlit. I’m having fun. Oh, by the way, book 2 of my Navy Brat series, Breathe Me Home, is being roughed during NaNoWriMo and posted daily to Wattpad. This is life on edge, kids. Come join me! I have a Nespresso machine (and Baileys).


See, I told you he was funny! Thanks so much for stopping by today Ron. You can learn more about Ron by connecting with him at the following: 

Twitter: @RonEstrada
Facebook: ron.estrada1
Instagram: ron_estrada

And remember, the next Writer Spotlight may be shining on you!  


Friday, October 28, 2016

TURN HERE! (How to Know When Your Work is Ready to Go Out) by Shutta Crum

Recently, I was on a road trip to Maine with family. There were four of us, plus two google-navigating cell phones, one road atlas and a GPS device to “bind them all.” Needless to say, whoever was driving was besieged by three or four opinions about where to turn and which was the best route. (After the GPS led us on a few merry dead-ends, we could only partially count on her expertise.) 

The driver was in the unenviable position of glancing at the GPS map, listening to our arguments about where to turn, and our mutterings about how the way was lost in the gutter—this by the one who kept peering at the printed road atlas. And, of course, there was the voice of unembodied reason who calmly directed us to “turn here,” into a cranberry bog. (We did not. But we sat there for a good while scratching our heads.)

I won’t argue that one should never listen to a wide range of opinions on many things, but sometimes we need to remember that the driver has control of the wheel. Ultimately, the driver will make the decisions. This holds true for creatives who will at some point say, have I turned a corner? Is my work ready to go out into the world? But what a scary point along the trip that can be!

You worry, is my work polished enough? Have I done everything I wanted to? Have I put as much heart into the piece as I am capable of? What if it’s too rough? Or God forbid, what if it’s amateurish?

I have a writer friend who’s been tinkering with his novel for many years. When he reads, critique partners tell him “do this.” “Go this way.” “Back-up.” “Head back the way you were going.” Poor driver, bewildered writer.

Not long ago I got an email saying, he was sending it out. He wasn’t “getting any younger.”  Yes! I was so glad to hear this, for there simply comes a point at which you must trust your gut and go for it. Then it is better to tune out the multiple voices—often conflicting ones, of turn here, no there! And you may need to overrule the calm voice of rote intelligence. After all, you can spend years traveling in circles, following written or online instructions to make your work a pièce de résistance and still end up facing a cranberry bog and scratching your head.

Shutta's new middle grade novel
Having said all this, now it’s time for me to give you my own bit of back-seat advice. However, you’re the driver; you may heed it, or not. Perhaps you need time to ponder the cranberry bog and shut out all the voices. A good rest at a peaceful spot can do wonders. But when you’re ready to carry on and get your creative work out I think there are only a few questions you need to answer for yourself.
  1. Have I spent time “re-envisioning” my work so that it feels complete to me? (Not just noodled with the sentences. That’s editing, not revising.)
  2. Have I spent time re-envisioning my work so that it feels smooth to me?
  3. Have I spent time re-envisioning my work so that it feels alive to me?
  4. Can I tell someone, in one or two sentences, what it’s about? 
These are not easy questions to answer. But answer, you must.
  1. Complete: have I given my audience as much as is needed to arrive at the heart of my work? 
  2. Smooth: Have I paved the way to the heart of my work so my audience won’t get lost traveling there? 
  3. Alive: Have I breathed into my work the emotion necessary so that my audience will be eager to travel there? 
  4. (Question #4 is self-evident.)
Even after many books, I don’t always feel confident answering these questions for myself. But I do. I must. I can’t sit here, lost in front of a bog forever... no matter how beautiful it is. I grip the wheel and make my turn...

Shutta is a long time member of SCBWI, primarily published by Knopf and Clarion. Her latest middle-grade novel is WILLIAM AND THE WITCH’S RIDDLE (2016, Knopf) which came out to glowing reviews “A fast-paced story excellent for adventure lovers.” (Booklist). She’ll have a new picture book out in 2017, MOUSELING’S WORDS (Clarion). Visit: www.shutta.com.






Coming up on the Mitten blog: Learn more about SCBWI-MI Shop Talks, Capital City Writers Association, and an SCBWI Magazine Merit Award Winner, but first, it's time for another Writer's Spotlight. Who will it be? 

See you next Friday!
Kristin Lenz


Friday, October 21, 2016

UP IN THE HEIGHTS: THE SCBWI-MI 2016 FALL RETREAT by Charlie Barshaw, Lisa Healy, and Ruth McNally Barshaw



On the northern tip of the finger of Michigan’s mitten, children’s book creators met in October to follow three sets of tracks. Here are their stories:


THE NOVEL TRACK
by Charlie Barshaw


Logo created by Lindsay Moore
Boyne Highlands is one of the lower peninsula’s premier ski resorts, but in the early fall it proved to be the labyrinthine home for “The Days and Nights of the Round Table” retreat.

For mid-grade and young adult writers, three tables (aptly named Excalibur, Guinevere and Lancelot) anchored the 25 lucky and talented scribes. Almost double that number applied to attend; the competition was fierce.

The Round Table format, perfected at national SCBWI intensives, hosts a table leader and eight writers. Each writer had 15 minutes to read their piece and collect comments from the faculty and other table mates.



Officiating at each table were Senior Editor Kendra Levin from Viking, prolific picture book and mid-grade author Shutta Crum, and twice published YA author Kelly Barson.









A giveaway of Shutta's new novel on Vicky Lorencen's blo

Kendra, also a certified Life Coach, led off each day with a short inspirational nugget. Her new book “The Hero Is You: Sharpen your Focus, Conquer your Demons, and Become the Writer You Were Born to Be” was available before official release at the Bookbug bookstore. The Saturday and Sunday morning sessions opened with Kendra’s “Write Bravely” exercises, including meeting your character face-to-face, and acknowledging your “Rut” and overcoming it.

Kendra Levin
Special thanks to David Stricklen who was co-chair (and did most of the work) for the novel track. Participants raved about the conference, and RAs are already considering hosting another retreat, perhaps this time with two novel tracks.

Charlie Barshaw is pounding out the final chapters of his YA novel “Aunt Agnes’ Boarding House.” That’s a placeholder title, and his real Aunt Agnes has little in common with his fictional creation, but they are both strong, inspiring women who’ve influenced his life.









PICTURE BOOK WRITERS TOOK THEIR SEATS AT THE ROUND TABLE
 by Lisa Healy

It was quite a weekend journey October 7-9, 2016 when picture book writers took their seats amongst the round tables for some intense scrutiny from publishing house editor and author royalty!

Editors Kendra Levin and Brett Duquette

Brett Duquette, senior editor of Sterling Children's Books, held court and captivated attendees with his Voice presentations. "Voice starts on the cover," he noted, adding that a picture book title, such as Caveman: A BC Story, sets the boundaries up for something inside that "sings" but doesn't necessarily have to explode on the first page. "It can be cumulative," he added. "Writing is about choices. The mood of a character determines the details noticed." Some of his favorite books include the Zack Delacruz series by Jeff Anderson, Cici Reno #middleshoolmatchmaker by Kristina Springer, Monster Trouble by Lane Fredrickson, and the Good Question series of nonfiction picture books.

Our local faculty included the amazing talents of picture book author/illustrators Leslie Helakoski (Woolbur; Big Chickens; Big Pigs; Doggone Feet; Hoot and Honk; Ready or Not, Woolbur Goes to School) and Deb Pilutti (Ruby Goes to Ninja School; Ten Rules of Being a Superhero; Bear and Squirrel Are Friends; The City Kid and the Suburb Kid; Idea Jar; Twelve Days of Christmas in Michigan) who wowed the writers with amazing critiques of works in progress. Encouragement reigned supreme!


All were knighted with wisdom and strength to go forth and share their mighty stories in story land.

Lisa Healy with editor Brett Duquette
Lisa Healy "writes" pictures. As a journalist, she's worn many hats, including published author, newspaper columnist, editor, publicist, photographer and on-camera reporter/talent. She feels very fortunate to be part of SCBWI and learn from such talented writers, illustrators and other industry professionals.






OUR TABLES WERE OBLONG: THE ILLUSTRATOR TRACK
by Ruth McNally Barshaw

The illustrators followed a different path. Where the writers shared their work at round tables and then wrote and then came back to share again, the illustrators remained at their tables the entire time. I’m afraid I designed a grueling schedule. We reported for work early in the morning (breakfast started at 7, rewarded with a Tip From Kendra Levin) and we remained working long past dinner. And it paid off! I am seeing improvement in my own art just one week later.



Vanessa Brantley-Newton with Heidi Sheffield
Author-illustrator Vanessa Brantley-Newton (latest book: illustrations for Mary had a Little Glam, written by Tammi Sauer) led us through formal and informal discussions and some powerful motivational-inspirational calls to illustrate that resonated deeply, as did her talk on diversity and how books influence. Vanessa talked about resilience and the leap of faith it takes to soar, and told us what the industry wants to see in book characters today.
Cathy Gendron with Bradley Cooper pondering
I













llustrator-educator Cathy Gendron performed a demonstration the first night on one of her oil glazing techniques. It was thrilling to see Frankenstein’s monster take shape in color. In follow-up discussions Cathy gave us much to think about in style vs. voice and in the mechanics of putting together a book from start to finish. She also talked about resilience and the importance of painting for FUN. And she spoke on how to present ourselves on social media and to editors.

lllustrator-educator Kirbi Fagan instructed us on values structure – theoretical balanced with surprises like using the letters of the alphabet to lead composition choices. She spoke on color, how to add dimension, how to unify the painting, and why this makes sense: “Color gets all the credit but value does all the work.” Probably the biggest surprise of the weekend is how Kirbi looked at images from each of us and showed in real time how to tweak them for improvement.

Kirbi working with Heidi Woodward Sheffield's art sample

It was a fascinating combination of craft and inspiration. I hope everyone got a lot out of it.

Ruth McNally Barshaw writes and illustrates children’s books, travels teaching story workshops, and plays harmonica. See her work at www.ruthexpress.com









Did you miss the illustrator's video? What a fun bunch:

video

Ann Finkelstein with Jennifer Burd



And finally, here's the announcement you've been waiting for. From Ann Finkelstein, SCBWI-MI Mentorship Coordinator:

Please join me in congratulating Jennifer Burd for winning a year-long mentorship with Deborah Diesen. Jennifer's manuscript is called WHEN YOU SIT IN ONE PLACE.

The runners- up are: Sue Agauas with HOW TO WASH YOUR ELEPHANT and Jayne Economos with NAN'S MAGIC CARPET.




Cheers!

Ruth McNally Barshaw, Lisa Healy, and Anita Pazner

Coming up on the Mitten blog: The Craft of Writing: How to Know When Your Work is Ready to Go Out, and another Writer's Spotlight - it could be you!

Have a great weekend!
Kristin Lenz