Friday, December 19, 2014

Get Inked! By Kathy Higgs-Coulthard

Imagine a room full of writers—heads bowed, pens gliding across paper. These writers understand the importance of networking and learning from other writers. They have given up an entire Saturday to work on their craft. They are writing poetry, memoir, fiction. Some are beginning novels, others revising them. These writers are committed and skilled. These writers are teenagers.

In South Bend, Indiana (just a hop, skip, and a jump across the Stateline) teen writers assemble each November for the Get Inked! Teen Writing Conference at Saint Mary’s College. An all-day event, Get Inked! exposes young authors to the real work of writing. By attending craft lectures and workshops which are modeled after the high caliber writing conferences available to adult writers, area teens learn that writing is hard work but fun.

This year’s conference featured Michigan author Tracy Bilen. Tracy’s young adult novels mix romance and suspense, elements which appeal to teen audiences and make her an authentic role model. Tracy’s keynote address urged teens to have the courage to keep writing. Following the keynote, local writing teacher and National Writing Project site-coordinator Mary Nicolini issued a challenge that required just such courage: A writer’s marathon.

In a writer’s marathon, prompts are solicited from attendees and collected in a box. The prompts are then drawn at random and the writers free-write on each successive topic for increasingly longer periods of time. Between sprints volunteers share their creations.

The highpoint of the conference is always the breakout sessions, which allow attendees to work in small groups under the tutelage of the visiting author. Tracy’s sessions focused on bringing scenes to life. She guided the teens through this process with an activity on building characterization through the layering of description, dialogue, and action.

You would think that a group of kids would be exhausted after writing from 8 am to 4 pm. Yet, when the last session ended, no one wanted to leave. The teens stuck around to chat with Tracy informally in the lobby.

Tracy brought a lot to this year’s Get Inked! Teen Writing Conference-- signed copies of her book (Y/A thriller, What She Left Behind), autographed bookmarks, and handouts for her talk on bringing scenes to life. The teens appreciated Tracy’s wisdom regarding the publishing process and her helpful tips on establishing a writing routine.

Tracy came armed with everything she needed to make the day a success, but ultimately it was what she left behind that made the biggest impact on the writers who attended. Tracy treated these teens like peers. She saw them the same way they see themselves—as real writers working on real projects. Because Tracy took their work seriously, they know it matters. And hopefully in the not-so-distant future, you’ll find their books on the shelves alongside authors like Tracy.

Kathy Higgs-Coulthard is a writer, a faculty member in the Education Department at Saint Mary's College, and Director of the Michiana Writers' Center. The Teen Writing Conference allows her to combine her passion for teaching with her love of writing. Her work appears in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Reboot Your Life, Cleaver Magazine, and Jack and Jill Magazine

BONUS: Tracy Bilen is one of the participating authors in a huge holiday cheer giveaway through Spencer Hill Press. Find out more at her website.

A huge thanks to Kathy for contributing our final guest post in 2014! Enjoy the holidays, and we'll return in the new year. Nina Goebel is preparing to introduce our new Featured Illustrator, and Patti Richards is gathering good news to share in our New Year's edition of Hugs and Hurrahs.

Kristin Lenz

Friday, December 12, 2014

All about MRA: Michigan Reading Association

MRA isn’t just for Educators…

Have you heard of Great Lakes, Great Books? Kaleidoscope? MRJ? News & ViewsGwen Frostic Award? If these sound familiar, then you are probably a Michigan Reading Association Member.

Michigan Reading Association (MRA) is an affiliate of the International Literacy Association, and an organization whose mission is to promote literacy across Michigan. As an educator, I have been familiar with MRA’s publications and conferences for years. Michigan Reading Journal has been a staple in educational institutions since 1967 and News & Views on Reading has kept members current with trends in the field. I love reading the journal to keep informed of research, learn tips for improving my craft, and to read reviews on newly published books. There is a wide spectrum of topics and issues in reading, language arts, and literature, and preschool - adult levels included in publications. MRA also hosts the Kaleidoscope Writing Contest for K-12 students. Nominated students are honored at MRA’s State Conference with a celebration hosted by Michigan authors and illustrators.

But is wasn’t until I entered the world of children’s book writing myself, that I fully understood the benefit of an MRA membership. While I was conducting an author visit, a teacher asked if my publications were on MRA’s Great Lakes, Great Books list. Great Lakes, Great Books is an opportunity for kids in Michigan to vote on their favorite books and many SBCWI members have been nominated.

Later that same year, I was invited to speak at the MRA’s Summer Literature Conference as a guest author. Not only did my book get in the hands of more teachers, but I also met great authors like Ryan Hipp, who ironically talked me into an SCBWI membership.

Since that summer weekend, I have enjoyed memberships with two powerhouse reading organizations! I not only attend SCBWI conferences and webinars, but I now participate on the MRA Board. I have learned that being a part of both organizations has expanded my circle of book friends and has helped with my goal of supporting literacy in Michigan! 

Click here to see the poster and conference info.
Many other SCBWI members join me in this dual membership. Take Ruth McNally Barshaw and Matt Faulkner, for example, who were invited to create MRA’s 2015 Annual Conference poster. 

They did an incredible job and now their artwork is highlighted in nearly every school and library in our state! 

MRA is humbled by the work of Michigan authors and illustrators. Each year, MRA recognizes one special individual with the Gwen Frostic Award. This honor recognizes the literacy contributions of a Michigan author or illustrator. Past winners include:

 2009 – Shirley Nietzel - author
 2010 - Patricia Polacco – author/ illustrator
2011 - Margaret Willey - author, folklorist, and novelist
2012 - Ryan Hipp – author/illustrator 
2013 - Gary Schmidt - author
2014 - Kelly DiPucchio – author
2015- TBA – Could this be you?

There are countless reasons why I choose to be involved with both organizations. I love to communicate with those in the education field, as well as professional writers and illustrators! Many SCBWI-MI friends will be joining MRA as speakers and guests at future events and conferences. If you are interested in learning more about MRA, please feel free to visit or contact me at

As a Language Arts Consultant for Macomb Intermediate School District, Dr. Lisa Rivard is passionate about literacy in our state and enjoys reading children’s literature. She tries to carve out time for her own writing adventures but is also busy planning MRA’s 59th Annual Conference in March, 2015 and will lead the MRA organization as President in 2016. She loves to spend spare time walking along the St Clair River where she resides and operates a Little Free Library in her front yard.

Friday, December 5, 2014

School Visit Webinar: So You're Not a Juggler?

Would you love to attend a children's book conference without traveling? Webinars offer an inexpensive and flexible format to interact with speakers and other audience members right from your home computer. Or, if you're unavailable at the scheduled time, you can view the webinar at your leisure on another day.

SCBWI-MI offered a series of webinars this year, and the most recent topic was So You're Not a Juggler: Planning Amazing School Visits with Suzanne Morgan Williams. We asked one of our SCBWI-MI members to tell us about her experience.

Here's Sandy Carlson:

An important take-away I learned from Suzanne’s webinar on school visits is that there is always something more you can be doing as a business person. I look on this advice the same way as I see cleaning my house. There are daily tasks. Each day at home there are dirty dishes, laundry, yard work etc. And there are always big ways you could improve these tasks, like buying a snow blower in addition to your handy, decade-old shovel. In home and house work, there’s always something more I could be doing. So it is with being a writer. Suzanne helped bring out both the details and the big things, for being a writer is so much more than just writing. (Now, wouldn’t that be a fun career? Just writing?)

Another take-away for me from the webinar was Suzanne’s encouragement (guide) to creating an author brochure for school visits. I’ve seen many author brochures. In fact, it has been on my to-do list for quite a while now. Other things always took priority, like shoveling the driveway or raking a forest of leaves from our yard. Besides your business cards, a brochure is a concise way
to present what you’ve written and what you are available to present. Being part of this webinar gave me the confident push to get my own author brochure created and done.

Thank you, Suzanne. And thank you SCBWI-MI RA’s and fellow writers for being always so supportive.

Sandy is a 10 year member of SCBWI. She has spoken at three writers conferences and done many school visits for her MG historical fiction books. A former teacher, she lives in Battle  Creek with her husband. Find out more at

That author brochure that Sandy mentioned? Done. Check out her quality work on her website.

Learn more about Suzanne Morgan Williams, her books and presentations, at her website.

 For more information about any of the 5 webinars SCBWI-MI has hosted this year, visit the Webinar Library. You can still register and view the webinar for up to 3 months after the live date. That gives you until Feb. 12th to learn all about school visits with Suzanne Morgan Williams. Hop to it!