Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Hugs, Hurrahs and Happy Holidays!

December is all about celebrating, and here at The Mitten we love a party! It’s hard to believe this is the last issue of Hugs and Hurrah’s for 2015. Just for fun, I’d thought we’d take a moment and reminisce about all the wonderful 2015 writing news from our Michigan SCBWI members. Here are a few facts based on the Hugs and Hurrahs information I’ve collected for this year:

  • YA Contracts - 8
  • Short Stories, Poems, Cartoons, Testing Pieces, etc.- 3
  • Speaking Engagements/Blog Tours- 5 
  • Agent Signings-4 
  • Picture Book Contracts- 13
  • Middle Grade Contracts- 2
  • Magazine Pieces- 2
  • Awards/Degree Completion- 5
  • Illustration Contracts- 7

I definitely think those numbers call for a standing ovation, double Woo Hoo and a hearty Hip Hip Hooray!

And now, let’s end this year with a bang and keep the party going with all of your good news from October through December!

Hats off to member Kathleen Vincenz who recently self-published her middle-grade novel, OVER THE FALLS IN A SUITCASE (Squirrels at the Door November 2015). The book was released in November and is available on Amazon. Congratulations Kathleen!

Janet Heller of Portage has been very busy since our last edition of Hugs and Hurrahs. She received a positive book review for her chapter book, THE PASSOVER SURPRISE (Fictive Press 2015) from the Midwest Book Review in October. Janet also had two of her poems, “Inheritance (For Oma)” and “Policing My Apartment,” in Old Northwest Review’s Fall 2015 issue. Janet spent time autographing her books at the Chanukah Bazaar at the Congregation of Moses in Kalamazoo, the Local Writer’s Expo at the Portage District Library, and at Kazoo Books in Kalamazoo in early December. Congratulations on all your hard work Janet!

Illustrator Kirbi Fagan was recently accepted into the Los Angeles Society of Illustrators 54th Annual Exhibition. Kirbi was also featured in Imagine FX magazine as "Artist of the Month,” and had three works of art included in "Infected By Art Volume 3." Way to go Kirbi!

Lori McElrath-Eslick has her own great illustration news! Her art for a magazine publication has been accepted into the 35th Western Spirit Art Show and Sale, a national juried exhibition. The exhibition dates are March 5- April 17, 2016. Lori also illustrated three new e-books for Schoolwide Publishing. They are: Westward to Oregon, How the Cardinal got his Red Feathers, The Girl Who Would Not Listen to Her Elders all written by Patricia Curtis Pfitsch. Congratulations Lori!

PJ Lyons is happy to announce that her rhyming picture book, THANK YOU LORD FOR EVERYTHING (Zonderkidz 2015), was released September 1 and has received some lovely reviews! We’re so proud of you PJ! 

Three cheers to our Mitten editor-extraordinaire, Kristin Lenz! Kristin is the winner of the 2015 Helen Sheehan YA Book Prize. Her debut YA novel, The Art of Holding On and Letting Go, will be published by Elephant Rock Books, Fall  2016. So excited for you Kristin!

Neal Levin has been at it again! Neal’s poem "Cavemanners" has been published in the November/December issue of Spider Magazine, and his short story "Messy Messages" has been published in the November 2015 issue of Highlights Magazine for Children! Neal’s poem "My Little Porcupine" was published in the Sep/Oct 2015 issue of Fun For Kidz Magzine, and his poem "Baby Ate a Microchip" has been purchased by a nonprofit educational testing agency for use in a standardized testing project. That’s amazing Neal!

Jean Alicia Elster’s middle-grade novel, Who’s Jim Hines (Wayne State University Press), has been placed on the Southfield Public Library’s Middle School Challenge Battle of the Books List for 2016. Congratulations Jean!

Joseph Miller of Livonia is happy to announce that he recently signed with Nicole Resciniti of the Seymour Agency! Joseph participated in Michelle Hauck and Sharon Chriscoe's PBParty contest and had his picture book, TOO TIRED TO TELL A STORY chosen for the agent round. Seven agents and editors requested the full story and of those Joseph had three offers of representation. So happy for you Joseph!

Wendy Booydegraff is excited about her new picture book, SALAD PIE (Ripple Grove Press 2016). Here is a peak at the cover! Congratulations Wendy! 

Barb Rebbeck is thrilled to announce that she has just been chosen to be a featured speaker at the MRA Conference in Detroit in March. We’re so proud of you Barb!

See?! I told you we were ending the year with a BANG! You Michigan kidlit writers are an amazing bunch, and I'm happy we’re on this journey together!

From all of us here at The Mitten- Kristin, Nina and me (Patti)- Happy Holidays and Happy New Year! May your 2016 be filled with bountiful blessing, sweet surprises, peace-a-plenty and loads of love!

Friday, December 11, 2015

PiBoIdMo – Going the Extra Pages by Rachel Anderson

PiBoIdMo is Picture Book Idea Month. The goal is to brainstorm picture book ideas. You sign up in advance to participate, and all you have to do is come up with 30 ideas during the 30 days in November. They don’t even have to be good ideas. Easy peasy!

If you want to be more involved with the challenge, read the daily posts to glean advice and writing tips. If you comment on the blog posts, you’ll have an opportunity to win a prize.

At the end of the 30 days you pledge that you came up with 30 ideas in 30 days. You also promise, to the best of your ability, to turn those ideas into picture book manuscripts over the next year. All this is on the honor system, folks. You don’t have to turn in your ideas or your draft manuscripts. Good thing! Some of my ideas earned titles like: What? Stinky Stink! Trash Me Now. So I came up with an additional 5 ideas to cover up those stinky ones.

For the past two years of PiBoIdMo, I have to admit I minimally tackled the challenge. I read the posts when I could and commented on a few. I came up with ideas - whatever popped in my head – and I wrote them down. But this year, I decided to tackle the challenge with gusto; to thoroughly read every PiBoIdMo blog post to not only glean advice from each writer, but to use what I learned to come up with my idea for that day. I also decided to see if there was more good stuff I could find within each post.

So what happened?
  • After I read each daily post, I wrote down the guest blogger’s name and a line or two about their advice or writing style.
  • I compiled a list of their published and upcoming books.
  • Several interesting websites were viewed; I will continue to view more of them.
  • If agents were mentioned, I wrote them down.
  • I compiled another list of publishing houses.

Great Gusto! This was a whole lot more work, but I learned much by going through this process. From these wonderful PiBoIdMo posts, I found authors I want to follow. I have a new list of agents whom I will research to see if they might be someone I’d love to work with; someone looking to publish the type of picture books I’m writing. I saw different styles of websites, and I duly noted which sites kept me there for awhile to learn more about each person and what they offer to fellow writers or illustrators. I’ve been introduced to publishers I’ve not heard of before. I’m learning more about some established publishers and what they’re looking for. And I have a long list of books I want to read. I have homework, but fun homework because it’s all about books!

Hats off to Tara Lazar and the guest bloggers who gave so much of themselves and their craft, pre-PiBoIdMo, during PiBoIdMo and post-PiBoIdMo (say that fast, three times!).

P.S. I can’t forget about my other homework. Thanks to 30+ days of PiBoIdMo, I have all those ideas (stinky ones included) which I need to turn into potential picture book manuscripts. Anyone want to brainstorm over a cup of coffee?

Rachel Anderson continues to hone her writing at her home in Gaylord. She is a wife, mother and grandmother. She is also a long time SCBWI member who served on the Advisory Committee for SCBWI-MI for several years and served as co-RA for one year. Rachel is currently pre-published. ;-}

Thank you Rachel for sharing your experience with us and for all of the time you've dedicated to our SCBWI-MI chapter over the years. We're cheering for you to turn some of these new ideas into published picture books!

Coming up on the Mitten blog: Everyone's favorite feature - Hugs and Hurrahs! Patti Richards is busy compiling the good news. Email her at by Monday, December 14th to be included.

See you next Friday,

Kristin Lenz

Friday, December 4, 2015

The Value of Mentorships, Three Experiences

SCBWI-MI offers an annual yearlong mentorship program, which varies to include picture book manuscripts, novels, and illustration. In an effort to increase the number of children's books with diverse themes and/or characters, this year's mentorship competition focused on entries that included multicultural characters and/or topics. 

We caught up with a few of our recent mentorship winners to learn more about their experiences. Wendy Sherrill won the novel mentorship with Edie Hemingway in 2014-2015.
Dan Burns was the most recent mentorship winner for a multicultural project, 2015-2016, with mentor Patricia Hruby Powell. And Jeff Morrissey was the lucky winner of a bonus opportunity: a 16 week mentorship with illustrator E.B. Lewis.

Here's more from our mentees, in their own words:

Tell us about your story or illustration that won the mentorship competition.

Wendy: My middle grade novel, Playing Dead, is about Erin, a reclusive, 12-year-old whose favorite part of summer is avoiding everyone else, especially school bullies. When she starts spending time with a quirky new neighbor named Ginny, she meets her biggest intimidator yet, a young horse that desperately needs a rider. While friendships with Ginny and the horse grow, Erin discovers self-confidence, an invaluable back-to-school supply.

Dan: Set in 1970, Out of the Shadows is a story about Kyle, an eleven year old boy, who is befriended by William, the only African-American boy in his school. The two are drawn together through books, music, and the unstoppable passion with which William lives. Together they learn that friendship is a whole lot more important than the color of their skin.

What made you decide to enter the competition?

Wendy: I try to take advantage of all the great opportunities and resources that SCBWI-MI provides for members. I had just attended a whole novel writing workshop at Highlights with this manuscript and felt it was in good enough shape to submit. I was thrilled to get the news that I had been chosen!

Dan:  I was encouraged to enter the contest by members of my critique group. That encouragement, along with a strong desire to constantly improve my writing, motivated me to enter.

Jeff: While I did win a 16 week mentorship with EB Lewis, it wasn’t based upon my ability as an artist. Back in May, I attended my first SCBWI event, The Hook of the Book. The seminar was wonderful! But the visual mentor program was a prize, not an award. I happened to be the lucky one whose name was drawn.

Tell us about your mentorship experience. What did you learn or how did it help your career? What was challenging or surprising?

Wendy: Edie Hemingway has been wonderful to work with, providing very timely feedback on my bimonthly submissions and concrete suggestions of how to strengthen, expand and revise my manuscript. Her encouragement has been motivating and uplifting. The most challenging aspect has been devoting the time needed to do the work on a consistent basis.

Dan: I'm excited to work with Patricia Hurby Powell, a gifted writer. Under her mentorship, I hope to grow as a writer, to improve my story, and to share this experience with my fifth grade students.

Jeff: My last session with EB is coming up and I wish it didn’t have to end. To watch an idea evolve under the guidance of an award winning illustrator has been remarkable. EB’s sense of composition is so keen, he can immediately identify what’s missing or out of place. But it’s more than just balancing visual elements, there’s character and setting. EB’s most profound advice to me has been this, “Stop illustrating, start storytelling!”

Here's a work in progress that EB's been helping me with...

What's next for you?

Jeff: Start storytelling!

Wendy: I plan on submitting this novel to agents and editors.

Dan: I'll keep working on my writing, listening to my mentor's advice, and encouraging others to become the best writers they can be.

Thank you for sharing your experiences, and best of luck to each of you!

Coming up on the Mitten blog: 30 Days of Picture Book Ideas and Hugs and Hurrahs! Have you sent your good news to Patti Richards? Email her at by Monday, December 14th. We're looking forward to celebrating with you.

Have a great weekend!

Kristin Lenz