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 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:

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

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:

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!

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!