Thursday, March 23, 2017

Michigan KidLit Advocate: Ed Spicer

SCBWI-MI author Charlie Barshaw is here to present our second Michigan KidLit Advocate interview. (If you missed the first interview in our series, go here.) Introducing southwest Michigan educator, Ed Spicer. Enjoy their funny banter! 

I was tempted to subtitle this “An Improbable Journey”. It’s melodramatic but appropriate. You were a homeless teen, lived secretly in a church, and were on your own by the age of fifteen. What would you care to share about your early years?

ES: Well, I was homeless, lived secretly in a church, and was on my own by age fifteen and still managed to make it to 62! Other than that?

In an interview, you mentioned going to the local Federated Department Store. There you’d lose yourself for hours in the books of Beverly Cleary and the Nancy Drew series. What other books helped to shape the voracious reader and huge reading champion you are today?

I have mentioned A Wrinkle In Time before, but I do not think that I mentioned works by Diane Wakoski. I took a class from Wakoski. It was, perhaps obvious, a poetry writing class, but I learned a deeper appreciation for reading poetry too. This class prompted me to attend poetry readings and I can remember going to listen to Galway Kinnell and many others. It was around this time that I began reading Audre Lorde, Wallace Stevens, Walt Whitman, and many others. I had already fallen in love with Emily Dickenson, Shakespeare, and the romantic poets, going so far as to memorize hundreds of poems, many that I can still recite today more than forty years later.

You own a whole closetful of fish shirts. Can you tell us the significance?

I worked at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in its Aquarium Museum. One of my jobs there was to design clothing. I worked on hundreds of fish shirts, mostly T-shirts and I never gave up collecting them. They make me happy and make me suck my face up into fish faces, which usually gets folks to laugh. I count that as a win.

Tell us about your relationship with Pam Munoz Ryan.

I love Pam! At one time I was even (sort of) her boss. Pam was the director of our Episcopal Church preschool and I was on the Vestry that served as the Board of Directors. Pam did a ton of work to create a preschool that worked closely with the Helen Woodward Senior Center. The State was initially convinced that these small children would infect the seniors with all sorts of diseases and bump them off. When Pam actually documented the health benefit derived from mixing preschoolers and seniors, we were all pleased (but not really surprised). 

One day, however, Pam handed us her resignation because she wanted to go write books. We thought, “Good luck with that.” Pam did not need our luck, it turns out, because she has a ton of talent. It is interesting that it took me sometime to realize that this Pam Munoz Ryan from the Encinitas area is the same Pam Ryan I knew from Church. And when I did confirm the identity, it took me even longer to read Esperanza Rising because I was worried that I might not like my friend’s book (I ADORE IT). Since that title, Pam has written many great books. I was predicting she would win Newbery recognition for at least two books before Echo. Not only is Pam one of the nicest and kindest people I know, she is a great writer!

You left sunny California to reverse-migrate to Michigan. You had an unusual business plan in mind. Care to tell us about it?

This plan very much ties into Pam’s preschool, because I wanted to do something in Allegan very similar to what Pam did in Encinitas. I wanted to open a preschool that mixed seniors and very young children. I knew exactly where I wanted the preschool. Knew who I would have to get to donate the land and more.

You also had a goal: you wanted to be on the Newberry committee. Why, oh why would that be on your bucket list? And what did you do to try to make this goal a reality?

I was sitting on the Seventh floor of the GVSU Library madly trying to finish Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson before children’s lit class began that night. I needed to take this class to get my teachable major so I could enroll in the GVSU teacher education program. And there I was sobbing as I finished that book moments before class. I loved this book and was so happy it was an award winner. Ann, my librarian wife, asked me about class and I told her about Bridge to Terabithia and my new goal to be on the Newbery committee. I have been on the Caldecott Committee, the Printz Committee, the Morris Committee, the Margaret Edwards Committee, the Schneider Family Committee, Best Books for Young Adults, Notable Children’s Books, and others. I have NOT (yet?) been on the Newbery Committee.


Almost by accident you ended up being assigned to the first grade. It’s certainly a role that plays against type. But you excelled at it for how many years?  What did you find so satisfying in teaching the youngest of students?

I have always stated that we make a huge mistake when we argue, say, that early education should have a higher priority than middle school or high school. All are important. All have different needs and different challenges. This argument is like one part of the body feasting on another part—cannibalistic at best. However, it may well be true that we see the most visible academic growth with these young minds, just learning to assume responsibility for themselves. I love that! (See student letter to Ed below in the comments.)

You taught first grade, so you’re obviously familiar with all things picture book. Yet you review YA novels for SLJ, Hornbook, and the Michigan Reading Journal.  How does that jibe?

I have said before that we do not spend all that time working with young children just to see them give up on reading as a teen. A reading life should be a connected life through the grades.

You worked for decades with high school students to produce an annual compilation of writing called “Tiger Tales.” What got you started in that, and what kept you going?

Readers read writing and writers write reading. You cannot extricate the reading from the writing. Writing is thinking. I like first graders who grow up to think. This contest gave cash prizes, published a book with student writing, motivated thousands of students over the years. How could I not be involved?

You have a blog with the unfortunate name of Spicy Reads. Apparently, some visitors expected a different form of entertainment. The latest entries seem to be from 2012. Have you moved on from this format, or might you revive it at some point?

Look for a SpicyReads revision this year! AND the title, I beg your pardon, is JUST FINE! I cannot help what SNL does in response to certain unfortunately named press secretaries.

You are good friends with a huge list of children’s book creators: Gary Schmidt, Candy Fleming and Eric Rhoman, Lynn Rae Perkins, Nikki Grimes… the list goes on.
Each friendship, of course, is unique. But, how did you come to meet all of these kidlit stars?

I love people who care about kindness and care about words and art. My friends care about many of the same things. That, more than anything, explains any friendship. Each one has a uniquely personal story that typically revolves around words, kindness, art, and thinking.

You’ve taught college students at GVSU, presented at TLA about the homeless reader, presented at MRA and the Youth Literature Conference at Kalamazoo. I’m sure there’s a question lurking somewhere in there. 

Yes I have and let me know when you find the question.

Then you appeared at the SCBWI-MI conference at Mackinac Island. You closed the conference with a poignant story about Brycen and Snowman Magic. What was the takeaway for a bunch of children’s writers?

I think the most important take away is to stop working for awards and reviews and continue working for all the Brycens out there. They are more important anyway.

You've worked on the Printz and Caldecott committees, among others. Lots of anonymous donated work for no recognition. What’s the reward?

It is in bringing that magic book, like Snowman Magic, home to all the Brycens and all the Briannas in my area.

You say that your ideal vacation is the annual American Library Association meeting. What’s the attraction?

Smart, kind, funny, talented people and lots of books! What’s not to love!

I interviewed Travis Jonker and didn’t ask this question, and missed the scoop that he had just sold his first picture book. So, what are you working on now?

I am working on this interview!

Finally, tell me about your work on curriculum guides.

I have written curriculum guides for older teens, such as Jay Asher's 13 Reasons Why (soon to be a movie?). I have also written guides for much younger students, such as Il Song Na’s Welcome Home, Bear or the most recent guide I just finished for member, Leslie Helakoski’s Hoot & Honk Just Can’t Fall Asleep. I’ve written guides for The Dark Is Rising and The Grey King by Susan Cooper. I wrote a guide for the American Heritage Illustrated Children’s Dictionary! Most of my guides have been for the phenomenal series by Houghton Mifflin, Scientists In the Field. I have four more coming down the pipe soon. When I submitted Leslie’s that was my 47th or 48th paid guide for me. Soon I will have done more than 50! This both delights and scares me: I love thinking of possibilities for encouraging creativity, but I live in terror of that student with a big stick in hand who finds me late one night in a dark alley and accuses me of ruining his life: “My teacher mades us do every one of your stupid activities and now I hate reading! WHACK!"

Keep up with Ed Spicer's adventures on Facebook and Twitter, and stay tuned for his updated
Spicy Reads website.
https://www.facebook.com/spicyreads
https://twitter.com/spicyreads

Want to learn more? Check out these blog posts/interviews and videos:






Charlie Barshaw has four MG and YA novels-in-progress, three stories published by Amazon Rapids, two dogs and a gifted, supportive and encouraging wife. Ruth and I have traveled to dozens of schools during Reading Month. We are exhausted and fulfilled.














Coming up on the SCBWI-MI blog: Hugs and Hurrahs! We want to trumpet your success. Please send your writing/illustrating/publishing news to Patti Richards by March 28th to be included.



Friday, March 17, 2017

Michigan KidLit Advocate Interview: Colby Sharp

If you've spent any amount of time in the KidLitosphere, you've likely noticed certain bloggers popping up time and again. They're passionate about bringing quality literature to kids and deeply involved in the overlapping communities of writers and illustrators, teachers and librarians. And maybe, like me, you're curious to know more about their lives beyond their blogs, especially the ones that live in Michigan. So, today we have the first of our Michigan KidLit Advocate Interviews. Introducing Colby Sharp!

Tell us a little about yourself and describe a typical day or week.
I teach third grade in Parma, Michigan. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays I go straight from school to my daughters' gymnastics class. On those days we get home around 9:45. I coach a fourth grade Destination Imagination team that meats Thursday after school. I am blessed to have days filled with things I love to do. 

My wife and I had our fifth kid in February, so right now we are just trying to survive.


Yes, dear readers, I've already apologized to Colby for unknowingly asking for an interview as he was expecting his fifth child! He was very gracious. Onward. You're involved in some special projects that have grown and attracted a passionate following. Tell us more about the Nerdy Book Club and Nerd Camp.
The Nerdy Book Club is a blog that I co-founded with Donalyn Miller. We started it because we were hoping to create a list of book awards filled with books that our students would love. People seemed excited, so we decided to keep it going. We asked our community what they wanted on the site, and we developed a weekly schedule around their feedback.

Nerd Camp is an extension of Nerdy Book Club. It is sort of like our annual meeting. Last year we had people from more than 35 states come to Parma for camp.

Authors and illustrators can contribute by writing a post for Nerdy Book Club (You can find a link on the site to sign up). Everyone is welcome to come to Nerd Camp, and we'd love to have anyone that cares about reading and books to join us. 





You also manage your own blog, Sharpread. What are your time management secrets?  How do you keep up with all of this wonderful work on top of full-time teaching?
I try to only do things I enjoy doing. Lately, I've been following the work of The Minimalists. They've helped me see the importance of only having things in your life that bring you joy. Life is too short to do things that don't make you smile. 

What are you looking forward to?
I'm really looking forward to publishing my first book: The Creativity Project (Little Brown, 2018). It is almost done, and I can't wait to hold it in my arms, and share it with kids. 


Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule for us, Colby, and congrats on your two new babies - your first book baby and your fifth child. :)

Coming up on the Mitten Blog: Join us next Friday for another Michigan KidLit Advocate Interview. Who will it be? And then we'll wrap up the month with another dose of inspiration from our quarterly Hugs and Hurrahs. We want to trumpet your success! Please send your writing/illustrating/publishing good news to Patti Richards by March 28th.

Cheers!
Kristin Lenz




Friday, March 10, 2017

The SCBWI Jane Yolen Mid-List Author Grant by Joan Donaldson

In 1992, when Tasha Tudor illustrated my first picture book, it sold well. I believed that with hard work and attention to craft, editors would want my manuscripts, and I would develop a career as a children’s author. But instead, seven years passed before I signed another book contract. Editors often told me that I was a good writer, but they weren’t sure that there was a market for my stories. Like a car sputtering along on low fuel, I decided to invest in a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing so that I could hone my skills.

Earning a MFA at Spalding University was life changing.  I minored in writing for young people and majored in creative nonfiction. Mentors and fellow students encouraged my talents and suggested ways to improve my manuscripts. During the four falls that I attended Spalding, I sold a picture book manuscript, The Secret of the Red Shoes, and my young adult novel, On Viney’s Mountain. At last, my writing career was cruising!

When On Viney’s Mountain won the 2010 Friends of American Writer’s YA Award, became a finalist for the 2011 Bronte Prize for Romantic Literature, appeared on the Bank Street List of the Best Books of 2010, and represented the State of Tennessee at the 2010 National Book Festival. But even after promoting the novel, the book didn’t sell well. The publisher chose not to reprint it and my career at that publishing house ended.

When I read about the Jane Yolen Mid-list Author’s Grant, the description fit my writing career, especially the sentence about not selling a book manuscript in the past five years. Ms. Yolen created the grant not only to provide authors with a monetary sum that could be spent on hiring an editor or perhaps on marking, but also to encourage authors not to cease writing. I filled out an application that included a career summary and brief summary of my latest project, Mooey Bien, a middle grade novel about a friendship between a white girl and a Latino migrant girl.

When SCBWI informed me that Jane Yolen had awarded me an honor prize, I was overwhelmed with gratitude that Jane had affirmed my writing. On the stage with Jane at the New York SCBWI conference, I promised her that no matter what, I will continue to write.

For any Michigan SCBWI member who is discouraged because she or he hasn’t sold a manuscript in several years, consider filling out an application for the 2018 grant. Ponder how you would use the funds to fuel your career, and most of all, keep writing, dreaming and hoping that the next email will state that a publisher wants your book.

Joan Donaldson receives a hug onstage
from Jane Yolen at the SCBWI
Annual Winter Conference
Joan Donaldson writes from her organic blueberry farm near Saugatuck, Michigan. In the past, she has served on the SCBWI-MI board and as a judge for the mentorship contest. After earning her MFA in creative nonfiction, she has facilitated writing workshops at the Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference. Learn more at
http://www.joandonaldson.com/books/.















Congrats again on this wonderful honor, Joan, and thank you for sharing your inspiring story. To learn more about the many SCBWI grants and awards, go here. Writers and illustrators who are looking for an extra dose of inspiration this spring or opportunities to network and grow your craft, check out these upcoming events from SCBWI-MI and more:

March 15th: final deadline for the SCBWI-MI Written Critique Program. Receive feedback on your manuscript from your choice of agents and editors.

March 25th: The Michigan Writing Workshop, Novi, MI. (Not an SCBWI event)

April 1st: Rochester Writer's Spring Conference, Writing for Children and Young Adults, Oakland University, Rochester, MI. (Not an SCBWI event)

April 29th: SCBWI-MI Marketing Bootcamp in East Lansing, more info soon

September 15-16th: SCBWI-MI Fall Retreat, Grand Rapids, more info to come

SCBWI-MI Shop Talks meet monthly. Click here to find a location near you.
Special Opportunity: The Lansing Area Shop Talk will meet at the Charlotte Library, March 25, 11am, to see award-winning Michigan author Gary D. Schmidt.

Happy creating!
Kristin Lenz


Friday, March 3, 2017

The 2017 SCBWI Annual Winter Conference: So Many Feelings by Andrea Donahoe

If my trip to the 2017 SCBWI-NY conference was a movie, it would be “Inside Out” because it was filled to the brim with So. Many. Feelings. Here are just a few…

Anxiety:
Frantically checking for flight updates in advance of the conference as word got around that a big storm was going to hit NYC and flights were being cancelled days in advance.


Happiness:
Boarding the plane and smiling out of the tiny jet window as I zoomed away from my husband, two kids, and three jobs for a weekend full of writing inspiration.


Grief:
Bryan Collier delivered the opening keynote. His passionate exploration of the grief of losing a father felt by the main character in KNOCK KNOCK brought a room of twelve hundred people to silence. I was brought to tears by the power of his words and their echo of my own recent loss of my father.












Delight:
-A panel on picture book types where Andrea Beaty described writing in rhyme to be like hearing music playing in another room and listening closer and closer to hear the words.

-A session on pacing in picture books with Silvie Frank that had me scribbling across the pages of my notebook as she walked through her editorial revision process.

Bravery:
The swirl of energy from the sessions of the day took a pause for the quietly powerful keynote address by Tahereh Mafi on the immense bravery it takes to declare yourself a writer, to keep going in the face of pain or rejection, and to remain vulnerable. She said writers must not develop a thick skin. We need a deep well of feelings in order to write, for “what good is a writer who cannot feel?”

Heidi Sheffield with her artwork
And then...

Portfolio Showcase Honor Awards

Joan Donaldson receives a hug from Jane Yolan
Joy:
-The evening mixer to where I got to visit with our fabulous Co-RAs Carrie and Leslie, other Michiganders, and fun folks from all over the world.

-The Sunday morning awards ceremony where Michigan was well represented by Heidi Sheffield for a Portfolio Showcase Honor Award, and by Joan Donaldson who received a Jane Yolen Midlist Author Honor Award. Woohoo!

- A fabulous session on nonfiction picture books.


And Wonder:
The rousing final keynote was delivered by Sara Pennypacker, who reminded us to surround ourselves with people who respond to the world with positive acts of creation.

And that, truly, was the magic of attending this conference. It was wonderful to be surrounded by so many fellow creators; each one passionate about making the books that will shape the hearts, minds, and lives of children. I have followed the SCBWI conference blogs for years, enjoying the wealth of information, but being there in person was immensely inspirational and encouraging.

I’m grateful to Shutta Crum, for her generosity in providing the scholarship to the conference, and to the SCBWI-MI team, for the additional financial support. Thank you!





Andrea LeGore Donahoe lives in Petoskey, MI, with her husband, two children, a bouncy standard poodle, and far too many stacks of books. Find her at @allegore and www.allegore.com.










Shutta's scholarship to the annual NY conference is one of many SCBWI-MI opportunities. The Written Critique Program is well underway and the deadline is fast approaching. Four editors still have a handful of spots open - 
Alex Arnold
Alison S. Weiss
Kelly Barrales-Saylor
Nikki Garcia 
Don't miss this amazing opportunity to get written feedback on your manuscript, whether it be a picture book, MG or YA; fiction or non-fiction. For more information on all four editors and how to submit, click here.

But wait, there's more! Save the date for the SCBWI-MI Marketing Bootcamp in East Lansing, MI, April 29, 2017.











Coming up on the Mitten Blog: Joan Donaldson writes about winning a Jane Yolan Midlist Author Honor, we have interviews with two well-known kidlit bloggers, and we'll finish the month of March with another round of Hugs and Hurrahs! Send your good news to Patti Richards - the deadline is March 27th.

Happy creating!
Kristin Lenz