Friday, July 19, 2024

Writer Spotlight: Jean Alicia Elster

Former attorney, Joe Joe, family history, "Cool Papa " Bell, and Ida B. Wells-Barnett: author Jean Alicia Elster

Charlie Barshaw coordinates our regular Writer Spotlight feature and interviews writers of SCBWI-MI. In this piece, meet Jean Elster, a Detroit writer of a children's book series, as well as historical novels for middle grade and young adult readers.


You graduated from the University of Detroit School of Law. What did you plan to do with a law degree? Why have you listed yourself as a “former” attorney?

My goal from a young age was to be a writer, an author. In fact, I started writing at the age of six, jotting down very short stories in a notebook. Keeping that goal in mind, I attended the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor), graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in English, with distinction. 

However, as I neared the end of my undergraduate studies, my goal shifted a bit to include selecting a graduate program in a field that would allow me to earn a living and continue to write. Of the options that appealed to me, the only course of study that my father was willing to pay for was law school, so law school it was. I planned to practice law as a career while pursuing my goals as a writer.

As to why I refer to myself as a “former” attorney, I practiced law for several years. But when I got married and had a couple of kids, I wanted to work from home. That’s when I fell back on my English degree and became a professional writer (my business name is Write Word LLC). And while I still pay my dues to the State Bar of Michigan and maintain my license to practice law in the state, I am no longer a practicing attorney.

You’ve edited the books, THE DEATH PENALTY and THE OUTBREAK OF THE CIVIL WAR for Greenhaven Press, and two books with intimidatingly long titles for Judson Press. How did you become an editor? What do you see as your editorial job when tackling a manuscript?

My work for Greenhaven Press and Judson Press represents two entirely different tracks in my career as an editor. I connected with Greenhaven Press via a group tour of the facilities of the parent company Thomson Gale. That tour was arranged by an organization of professional writers, then known as Detroit Women Writers, of which I am a long-standing member. 

Thomson Gale was interested in expanding their pool of writers and Detroit Working Writers was doing its part to help its members secure writing gigs and publishing connections. After the tour, I submitted my resume and got a callback. I really believe my law degree and past life as an attorney helped seal the deal.

As an editor for the “Opposing Viewpoints” series at Greenhaven Press, the topics I was assigned required that I use my extensive research skills honed as an attorney to become an “instant expert” in almost every aspect of those topics. 

I not only had to compile an exhaustive and chronological compendium of scholarly articles, historic speeches and legal opinions but I had to write a preface for each one as well as for each chapter and then a forward and introduction for each book. This was not work for the faint of heart!

Regarding my work for Judson Press, let me first clarify that I actually edited a total of six books for them. And the credit (or blame) for those two long titles rests with the Judson Press titling committee! 

Now, my initial connection with Judson Press was a bit more circuitous. One of the early client referrals to Write Word LLC was a Detroit-based pastor who was well-respected nationally. He organized a conference focusing on the African American family. 

The conference was a huge success and Judson Press—which is the publishing arm of that pastor’s church denomination—asked him to prepare a manuscript based upon the conference presentations. He, in turn, asked me to take on that responsibility. The editors at Judson Press loved the manuscript I submitted and over the course of time offered me five other editing opportunities.

My work as an editor for Judson Press required the use of an entirely different set of the skills that I utilized as an attorney. The books I edited for Judson Press were written by church pastors. And while these authors were all outstanding, nationally recognized preachers, their homiletic gifts did not necessarily transfer to the written word. 

So again drawing upon my legal skills, my job as editor was to become their advocate: I had to make the adjustments necessary so that the reader would still hear the distinct and well-known voice of the author but in a way that was more appropriate for a written format.  

You are best known for your novels, but in the early 2000’s you wrote and published a series of JOE JOE books for young readers. You wrote JUST CALL ME JOE JOE in 2001, and said the book was inspired by Negro Leagues baseball star Cool Papa Bell. Please explain.

Photo of Cool Papa Bell  through Baseball Hall of Fame

As background, my “Joe Joe in the City” series was also published by Judson Press, and JUST CALL ME JOE JOE was the first book in a four-volume series. Actually, the ten-year-old protagonist Joe Joe is inspired after reading about the legendary baseball star “Cool Papa” Bell in a library book about the Negro Baseball Leagues.

In each of the four volumes, Joe Joe learns life lessons when he reads about heroes from African American history. I selected historical figures that were outside of the realm of the more widely-known heroes such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks. 

So in addition to the Negro Baseball Leagues and earlier black baseball barrier breakers in volume one, in volumes two through four I featured educator and presidential advisor Mary McLeod Bethune, the Tuskegee Airmen of World War II and Ralph Bunche who, in 1950, became the first African American to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

The books remain in print, and I am still invited to speak at schools and literacy events about the series.                 

WHO’S JIM HINES? was your first published novel. In the middle of the text there are archival photos from your family. Tell us how the photos and the story are intertwined.

The photos are included to represent and support the “historical” portion of the historical fiction narrative. 

In the book’s prologue, I state that WHO’S JIM HINES? is based on a true story. The photos serve as a reminder of that fact, particularly the two photos of my grandfather standing next to his company trucks and of my grandmother and oldest aunt standing next to a towering pile of wood in the wood yard. 

A photo of my grandfather Douglas Ford, Sr.
standing next to one of the trucks he owned in his business,
the Douglas Ford Wood Company.

I also wanted a visual confirmation that the story was indeed true: that my grandfather came up to Detroit as part of the Great Migration of African Americans from the South, yet did not work in one of the auto factories. Instead, he was an entrepreneur and the owner of the Douglas Ford Wood Company. 

I wanted to quiet any naysayers who might dare to question the veracity of my family’s history and of my grandparents’ contribution to the vitality of the city.

In THE COLORED CAR, the protagonist is Jean, also your mother’s name, and yours as well. You’ve presented a program on creating “compelling oral histories.” You’ve said that your books are “historically correct, but the events were fictionalized.” Where does the family history leave off and the fiction begin?

Let me begin by noting that the protagonist in THE COLORED CAR is actually Patsy. Jean can be called a secondary protagonist. 

Now to your question! I take great pains—by conducting library and archival research, by chronicling oral histories, as well as by traveling to family homestead sites—to establish the veracity and timeline of my family’s history. Geographical details that affected the family, such as the 1937 flooding from the Cumberland River in Clarksville, Tennessee, are true as well. 

Yet, I strive to embed the actual family history within the fiction narrative in such a way that the reader is not aware where one ends and the other begins. The fiction embellishes and supports the history. The fiction broadens the reach of the historical context so that the narrative becomes more than my family story but, rather, expands to become a family story. 

When we first met, many years ago, you’d just completed THE COLORED CAR and were attempting to write the book that eventually became HOW IT HAPPENS. Even then you had considered the books a trilogy. What is the connective tissue among the three titles?

Yes, that was, indeed, a few years ago! There are several connecting threads between the three books. 

First, my grandparents’ business, the Douglas Ford Wood Company, provides a consistent and realistic economic backdrop throughout the three narratives. Of course, the Ford children—the son and four daughters—are a central component, to varying degrees, within each book, with Doug Jr., Patsy and Jean becoming protagonists in their own right. 

Another prominent tie throughout the books is May Ford, whose presence increases within each book until she becomes a dominant protagonist in book three. May Ford’s very light—bright as she would call it—complexion is mentioned in the first two books, but the source of that skin tone is the crux of the narrative in the first half of HOW IT HAPPENS.

Tell us about Ida B. Wells-Barnett and how she has influenced you.

As I embarked upon my career as a professional writer, Ida B. Wells-Barnett was my role model. She was an anti-lynching crusader during the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century. 

But what drew me to her life story was the fact that she was an African American female writer who published a newspaper in Memphis, Tennessee in the 1880s and early 1890s. One of her editorials questioned one of the most common reasons given by whites for the lynchings of black men—the rape of white women—and suggested that if there had actually been a sexual liaison that the encounter was consensual or at the initiation of the white woman. 

Photo of Ida B. Wells-Barnett through Britannica

After publishing that issue, she went to New York City to visit friends and while she was there, in reaction to that editorial, a white mob destroyed her office and printing press. Friends from Memphis told her of the destruction and advised her not to return home. She moved to Chicago where she continued to write and lecture throughout the U.S. and abroad.

What influenced me most about her life was the fact that she used her skills as a writer not only to earn a living in that profession but to also address issues that were pertinent to her personally as well as to American society as a whole. I have drawn encouragement from her example and strive to do the same with all of my writing projects.

Does your family history have more stories to tell? What’s next for Jean Alicia Elster?

There are many more untold stories within my family history! However, while the trilogy is based upon my maternal family history, my current project is a middle grade manuscript that is based upon my paternal grandfather who was a jazz musician and composer during the 1920s and 1930s in Detroit. 

A couple of summers ago, my husband and I visited many homestead sites of both my grandmother and grandfather in Kentucky, Tennesee and Georgia as well as the genealogical library in Paducah, Kentucky. We also visited the campus of Spelman College where my grandmother was a student in 1921-1922. 

Jean practicing for her grandfather

Because my grandfather played the alto saxophone, I began taking lessons on the alto sax just over a year ago. As anyone who has read my books can surmise, authenticity is crucial to my approach to writing historical fiction. 

The oral histories that I have collected over the years (particularly some goodies my father shared in the last years of his life), the travel and the music lessons all serve as the backbone of what I am crafting now.

Please share any of your social media platforms.

Instagram: @jeanaliciaelster

X: @j_a_elster

Facebook: Jean Alicia ElsterBooks

Pinterest: @jelsterwrites

Monday, July 15, 2024

Book Birthday Blog with Jacqueline Leigh


Welcome to SCBWI-MI's Book Birthday Blog!

Where we celebrate new books from Michigan's authors, illustrators and translators.


Congratulations to Jacqueline Leigh on the release of The Heritage Keeper


How did you come up with the idea for your book?

For decades now, along with living in Michigan I have lived in Sierra Leone, and wherever I am I treasure time alone to wonder. One day a family history question came up in our house about Sierra Leone which sent me foraging online. In the process, I came across a digitized archive of correspondence relating to the mid-19th century colonial period. I spent many hours reading and became familiar with the characters, events and policies in these letters. 

It was exciting but hard. Not the best way for our young ones to learn about our family. They would need a different way to access the information, so I started working on a middle grade nonfiction book.

Then one day as if she had leaped out to hug me, a girl named Fima took shape from a notice I was reading. It provided not only her name but the name colonizers assigned her (it’s rare to have that link), as well as her guy and his vocation! Why him? When did they cross paths? The facts were few, so I began drafting a fiction book to see what more we could learn about Fima. 

What is something you hope your readers will take away from your book?

Diversity is interesting. Neither Sierra Leone nor the Transatlantic Slave Trade is just one story. What we learn about them here may be new to them, but it also is true. I would be happy to correspond with students or classes who have questions or comments after reading the book.

They, too, can write historical fiction, using the elderly as part of their resources. I hope some would increasingly appreciate the fun and value of research. As one who has taught writing to English language learners for many years, I like to see kids experiment with new genres. There will always be more examples to pursue in their school libraries by authors like Linda Sue Park, Elvira Woodruff and Patricia Reilly Giff.

What inspires you to write?

Some stages of writing are inspiration-based. Meeting Fima was like that. I also often jot down comparisons that suddenly occur to me and later work them into poems.

Once I’m into a book, though, writing is a routine. Sometimes I have to force myself to keep to it, but I enjoy resolving ideas into just the right words. Maybe it’s that sense of accomplishment that inspires me to keep writing.

What are your marketing plans for the book and where can we find it?

Please look for The Heritage Keeper, ISBN 979-8-9903397-1-2 on Amazon and Ingram in both paperback and e-book!

I find marketing a self-published book very challenging but SCBWI provides excellent support in its publications, especially The Self-Publishing Guide.

I have sent reading copies of The Heritage Keeper to many libraries and indie bookstores in Michigan, and am advertising it on X and Instagram. I have asked people to review it. It will also be on display at three large conferences or book fairs this year. 

I like talking to groups of children who have read the book; maybe offering to do that is a way of marketing? They always want to know more about the history and how I felt while writing the book. I encourage students to tell me how they would have written certain parts if they had been the author.

What's next for you?

I am a good way through that MG nonfiction book I mentioned, Landing for Good, about the same area and people, covering this period. It could serve as a student or teaching resource where The Heritage Keeper is used in school.

I am also half-way through a second MG historical novel, set in the 1850s in Sierra Leone, also based on the true experience of a teenaged girl.

More about the book . . .

It is the 1830s and Fima has her eyes on the future. While she helps her mother run a wholesale rice shop in the Sherbro Island estuary of West Africa, her mind is on the shape her own business will take one day. Her boyfriend Kai, however, has different ideas for her. One evening, an urgent message comes from their farm upcounty, and her mother must leave. Alone in the estuary for the first time, Fima finds herself not only in charge of their rice but also of a treasured family heirloom. No question: she wants this responsibility and is ready to take it on.

Publisher: Self

ISBN 979-8-9903397-1-2

More about the author . . .

Jackie and her family have divided their time between Sierra Leone and her hometown, Midland, MI, since 1970. She is an ESL teacher and author, and trains facilitators for afterschool process writing clubs. She also serves on an editing team for children’s book development projects with Sierra Leonean authors and illustrators. 

Instagram: @jacquelinejleigh 

X: @Alienflower



Friday, July 12, 2024

Introducing the Critique Carousel Agents and Editors: Chelsea Hensley, Chad Beckerman, Leah Moss

The Critique Carousel will be back this fall for another spin! To prepare our SCBWI-MI members for this fun, asynchronous, virtual event, we are giving a sneak-peek into the faculty for the event. These ten professionals will be profiled here on The Mitten for you to research, learn, and find out as much as possible before registration.


In previous posts, we introduced Sarah Proudman, agent at Galt & Zacker, Jennifer Thompson, Associate Editor at Scholastic, and Laura Gruszka, junior agent at Writers House, and Katie Heit, Senior Editor at Scholastic. We also announced the scholarship for a picture book creator from a demographic, experience, or community who has been historically mis- or under-represented in publishing. Recap details are at the bottom of this post.

Today, we introduce our FIFTH critique faculty member. . . Drumroll. . .

Chelsea Hensley!

Chelsea Hensley is an associate agent at kt literary where she represents a varied list of clients writing across ages and genres and a few who are also illustrating. She began her agenting career in 2020 at kt literary and continues to build a list that reflects her own diverse tastes, from the lushest of fantasies to the tensest thrillers, steamy, hilarious rom-coms to smart sci-fi, lyrical picture books to plucky middle grade, and imaginative, innovative horror to intelligent, deeply researched nonfiction. In all areas, Chelsea enjoys bold work from ambitious creators who share her unrelenting drive to succeed in a challenging industry. Chelsea is a Capricorn from St. Louis, where she lives with a pair of very cute, though very chaotic, dogs. She enjoys D&D, Golden Girls, women’s soccer, chocolate chip cookies, and Airtable. She is a member of the AALA and serves on the board of the 501©3 nonprofit, Literary Agents of Change, which is committed to the diversification of the publishing industry in general and the agenting profession in particular. She also serves as co-director of Communications and Fundraising Committees.

Chelsea’s client list can be found here and her Manuscript Wish List can be found here.

For the 2024 Critique Carousel, Chelsea will be critiquing: 


·        Picture book fiction

·        Picture book nonfiction

·        Middle grade fiction

·        Middle grade nonfiction

·        YA fiction

·        YA nonfiction


But wait! There’s more!

Cue drumroll. . . we have another agent to introduce. . . our SIXTH faculty member...


Chad Beckerman!

Chad Beckerman (he/him), Agent, brings over 20 years of illustration and design experience to the CAT Agency. After studying illustration as an undergrad at RISD, Chad went on to be a Designer at Scholastic, a Senior Designer at Greenwillow Books, and then became the Creative Director at ABRAMS Kids and Comic Arts, where he spent 13 years overseeing the design of 250 books a year – from picture books, to novels, to graphic novels, and art and entertainment books. Chad is behind the aesthetic for over forty New York Times bestselling and award-winning books including the blockbuster Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney, the Caldecott honor and Coretta Scott King Award winning Trombone Story, illustrated by Brian Collier, and the Newbery Medal honor books El Deafo, and Heart of the Samurai. He brings this unique view of children's books to his growing roster of illustrators.

For the 2024 Critique Carousel, Chad Beckerman will be critiquing:

  • Picture book dummy 
  • Graphic novels fiction or nonfiction 
  • Portfolio review

And a special note, Chad will be giving recorded video critiques. Yes, you read that correctly! Chad will be responding not with a written critique, but with a zoom recording of his review of the materials. Again, this is in place of the  written reviews. This way, Chad can also look at your website and socials to see how you are communicating to art directors, editors, and agents with your work selections. 


And Surprise! We have a SEVENTH faculty member to introduce. Trumpet intro. . . (or no, harp music. . . )


Leah Moss!

Leah Nova Moss is an associate literary agent at Steven Literary who strives to bring beautiful and unique stories to market. When she isn't being a professional bookworm, Leah can probably be found playing her harp or tending to her Stardew Valley farm. She lives in the Chicagoland area of Illinois. 

Leah’s Manuscript Wish List can be found here.

 For the 2024 Critique Carousel, Leah will be critiquing:

·        Middle grade fiction 

·        YA fiction

·        Graphic novels fiction or nonfiction 

·        Novels-in-verse


There you are, lovely hard-working SCBWI-Michigan members: three agents ready to receive your work at the 2024 Critique Carousel. Stay tuned for the remaining three faculty members to be introduced in August!




For those that need a recap:


Tuesday, July 9, 2024

Book Birthday Blog With F.P. LaRue


Welcome to SCBWI-MI's Book Birthday Blog!

Where we celebrate new books from Michigan's authors, illustrators and translators.


Congratulations to F.P. LaRue on the release of The Curse of Shadow Park



This book is part of a series. What are some unique challenges of writing a series?

Writing a series has advantages and challenges. In the Scary Shivers Mystery series, there are three main characters. They each have their own strengths and weaknesses. So, when I start to write another book in the series, I already know how the main characters will interact with each other.

One of the most rewarding challenges is the continuous development of these characters, making them fresh, fun, and interesting. I try to build on their strengths and allow them to grow with each book, a process that I hope keeps readers engaged and invested in the series.

Another challenge is finding different mysteries to solve and other twists and turns. While the books are part of a series, I strive to make sure each stands on its own and can be read and enjoyed in any order.

According to your Scary Shivers Mystery website, you've traveled to 54 countries and visited all 50 states. Are any of your stories inspired by your travel, and if so, please share. 

While I can’t point to a specific story inspired by my travels, I am happy that you asked this question. Travel opens up my imagination to the magical world out there. Seeing castles and mist-covered forests and learning about local scary legends has shown me that the unbelievable is possible.

Reading is very much like travel. The more one reads, the more they open their horizons. It doesn’t matter what you read. Reading increases your knowledge, experience, and thought processes. I write these books to show children that reading can be fun. There are many benefits to having children reading more.

What is something you hope your readers will take away from your book? 

I hope that readers, particularly children readers, will take away from my book that it was a fun read. The National Literary Trust finds that less than half (43%) of children between 8-18 enjoy reading in their free time. Many children only read by assignment. If children enjoy reading my book, I hope they are encouraged to read another book. I want children to read more.

What are your marketing plans for the book and where can we find it? 

I will be promoting it on my websites and, and on my Facebook page F.P. LaRue.

With this being the second book in the Scary Shivers Mystery series, and with the first book, The Weeping House, winning First Place for Juvenile Mysteries and Juvenile Fantasy & Magic in the Spring 2024 BookFest Awards, I am hoping that I will get some opportunities for some interviews in media or podcasts. 

I also participate in craft shows in Southeast Michigan.

 What's next for you?

The third book in the Scary Shivers Mystery series, The Legend of the Serpent Witch, will be released in September 2024. And I am currently working on the fourth book in the series. It should be released in 2025. All of the books are being published by Mascot Books.

More about the book . . . 

A hiker vanishes in Shadow Park. Ollie and his two best friends, Mellie and Scotty, strive to find out what happened to him. As they search for the missing hiker, they must enter the Forbidden Zone of the park. Legend has it that the notorious Captain Jacques LaMal and his vicious crew of pirates buried gold treasure there.  

As they venture deeper into the Forbidden Zone, the three friends find themselves in a series of harrowing encounters. They come face to face with restless spirits, cunning thieves, and horrifying creatures. The air is thick with tension as dark forces, sworn to protect the cursed gold at all costs, close in on them. Together, they must conquer their fears as they confront evil, dark magic, and other terrifying surprises.

Will Ollie, Mellie, and Scotty solve the mystery of the missing hiker and uncover the truth about the curse of Shadow Park?

Publisher: Mascot Books

More about the author . . .  

F.P. LaRue is the award-winning author of the Scary Shivers Mystery series. The Weeping House won First Place Awards for Best Juvenile Mysteries and Best Juvenile Fantasy & Magic. The Curse of Shadow Park will launch on July 9, 2024, and The Legend of the Serpent Witch is scheduled to be released in September 2024.  

These adventure mysteries are written for middle-grade children and are designed to show them that reading is fun! F.P. is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.  

Before writing children’s books, F.P.’s career was in education. She progressed from being a teacher to the dean of academic affairs for a small Michigan college. When not writing, F.P. loves to travel, having visited all fifty states and fifty-four countries worldwide. F.P. hopes her stories inspire children to discover the wondrous adventures reading can bring―no matter their age. 




Book Birthday Blog With Wendy BooydeGraaff


Welcome to SCBWI-MI's Book Birthday Blog!

Where we celebrate new books from Michigan's authors, illustrators and translators.


Congratulations to Wendy BooydeGraaff on the release of The Haunted States of America


You are a contributing author to the book. Tell us about the submission process for the anthology.

SCBWI put out a call for submissions for a middle grade anthology of spooky stories, one from each state in the United States, to be published in collaboration with Henry Holt/Godwin Books. This sounded fun to me—I love both horror and middle grade, and the idea of putting them together—well, I got to work. I wrote, revised, brought the story to my critique group, revised again, had a few more readers look at it, and then I submitted it.
I tried to forget about it. I worked on other things. A year and two months passed before I received the email informing me that my story was chosen to represent Michigan.   

What was the inspiration for your story? 

First, I remember hearing about The Bermuda Triangle as a child, and being completely entranced with the idea of a mysterious place where ships and planes disappear.
Michigan, too, has such a place. The Michigan Triangle is found over the deepest part of Lake Michigan where all sorts of spooky happenings have taken place since the 1800s. Ships have vanished, blocks of ice have fallen from the sky, a flight over the lake disappeared—all without wreckage or evidence. Not until recently have aerial photos and deep-sea dives provided proof of over 1500 shipwrecks in Lake Michigan. I wanted to write about that.
Second, I had gone with my family on a vacation to Ludington, where we visited Big Sable Point Lighthouse, which is said to be haunted by one of its keepers. I knew the story had to be rooted in a specific place and time, and I decided on a summer vacation in Ludington.
Third, I loved Choose Your Own Adventure books as a child, and had been thinking about writing in that style. So the story came to me in second person. I had a lot of fun with it!

Salad Pie, a picture book, was your first published book. You also write short fiction, poetry, and creative non-fiction which has been published in magazines and literary journals. Tell us more about your creative process and if you have a favorite genre.

My creative process is messy! Also, moody. When I sit down to write, I usually have a form in mind, based on the character or setting I intend to explore. I get down whatever it is, fairly quickly. The longer I write, the messier it is, and by that I mean, it’s filled with fragments and placeholder words and dashes. I usually do my first drafts on my laptop.
I try to stay with one project long enough so I can see its final shape in my mind’s eye, because when I pick it up again, I want to remember what I was trying to do initially, while also letting it sit for long enough so that I can revise clearly. The first drafts are a haze, while my revision process is honed and precise.
I really love poetry, fiction, nonfiction, each of them in their own way, and I read widely. If you really pressed me, I’d say fiction is where I’m most at home, with the short story form being one of my favourite spaces to spend time. But I can’t live in one literary world; I crave all of it.

What are your marketing plans for the book and where can we find it?

Because anthologies have more than one author, events usually have a few contributors. There will be several events around the country, and I am in the process of organizing a few bookstore and panel events with contributors in adjacent states. I’ll be joining Shanna Heath, who wrote the Ohio story, in Kalamazoo’s Book Bug on July 9. You can follow @mackidsbooks on Twitter, Instagram, and/or TikTok, and you can check the news and events sections of my website where I post any signings, panels, or readings. We’ve begun a Spotify playlist for the book too.

What's next for you?

I have a few poems coming out in literary journals, and I’m collaborating on a middle grade project with a fellow writer and friend. The Haunted States of America will be out July 9, 2024, but it's available for preorder now!

More about the book . . .

From the publisher: Fifty two different stories. Fifty two different Authors. Endless fright for all ages.

Every state has an urban legend that evokes fear and curiosity in equal parts, and we've chronicled all of these logic-defying horrors here in The Haunted States of America anthology.

From the Jersey Devil to La Llorona, each story included introduces a new chill inducing, stomach churning monster, spectre, or poltergeist certain to keep you up at night. A broad ranging collection of authors, including seasoned veterans and some first timers making a fright-tastic debut, have all united to unearth the scariest lore from each state in the US, as well as D.C. and Puerto Rico. Make sure to strap in for this spooky cross country tour, but be extra careful not to let any of these terrors follow you home. 

Publisher: Godwin Books/Henry Holt

More about the author . . .

Wendy BooydeGraaff is the author of Salad Pie (Chicago Review Press/Ripple Grove Press, 2016), and her middle grade short story will be included in the upcoming SCBWI-edited anthology The Haunted States of America (Henry Holt, 2024). Her short fiction, poems, and essays have been included in Crow Toes Quarterly (a middle grade magazine), Phoebe, The Worcester Review, the Not Very Quiet anthology (Recent Work Press), and the Under Her Eye anthology (Black Spot Books). She is the SCBWI-Michigan Critique Carousel Coordinator for 2024.




Friday, July 5, 2024

Introducing the Critique Carousel Agents and Editors: Katie Heit by Wendy BooydeGraaff

The Critique Carousel will be back this fall for another spin! To prepare our SCBWI-MI members for this fun, asynchronous, virtual event, we are giving a sneak-peek into the faculty for the event. These ten professionals will be profiled, one at a time, for you to research, learn, and find out as much as possible before registration.

What is the Critique Carousel, you ask?

And here’s the answer:

The Critique Carousel is a virtual SCBWI-MI event for members to receive a written* critique from an acquiring agent or editor. Participants will select a kidlit agent or editor that represents their genre (science fiction, fantasy, etc.) or age category (picture books, middle grade, young adult). Agents will have a month to read submissions and provide the critique on our standard SCBWI Gold Form. 


After the event and after revising their work, participants will have the opportunity to submit to their critiquing agent/editor for a period of six months. This does not guarantee representation or acquisition, but presents another opportunity.


*written critique—stay tuned! Most faculty will be providing written critiques. But this year, there will be ONE agent who does things a little differently. You’ll have to wait to find out who!


Dates: Registration will open September 17, 2024, and will close October 1, 2024. Manuscripts and portfolios will be due at midnight on October 1, 2024.


Information on past Critique Carousels can be found here and here. Updated information and the registration website will be posted when we have it. And, this year, we will have a stellar lineup of faculty.

So far, we've introduced Sarah Proudman, agent at Galt & Zacker, Jennifer Thompson, Associate Editor at Scholastic, and Laura Gruszka, junior agent at Writers House.

Today, we introduce our FOURTH critique faculty member. . . Drumroll. . .


Katie Heit!

Katie Heit is a senior editor at Scholastic working on picture books and early readers. She primarily edits nonfiction, with select fiction titles. She works with many amazing authors, including Charles R. Smith Jr., Dean Robbins, Adriana Hernández Bergstrom, Jyoti Rajan Gopal, and Nell Cross Beckerman. She is drawn to books that approach nonfiction in a kid-friendly way, and is especially on the lookout for nature and STEAM topics.

For the 2024 Critique Carousel, Katie will be critiquing: 

  •  Picture book fiction
  • Picture book nonfiction
  • Picture book dummy

To get to know Katie Heit’s wishlist better, check out this interview, and to see some of the books she’s edited, look on her Twitter feed. Look up the authors mentioned in her bio above and find out what books they’ve published. Read them!

But wait! There’s more!

Katie has generously donated one critique to be offered to a picture book creator from a demographic, experience, or community who has been historically mis- or under-represented in publishing.*

This scholarship is open now, via this form!

The rules:

  • You must be a picture book creator with a work-in-progress, either a manuscript of fiction, nonfiction, or a picture book dummy
  • You must be a SCBWI-MI member. If you aren’t, now is a good time to join
  • You can enter only once
  • Entry ends on Thursday, September 12 at 7PM EDT


One scholarship will be awarded via email to the lucky picture book creator, and directions about how to upload your materials will be given then.

But, we are all winners with this wonderful opportunity to have Katie on our faculty. Thank you, Katie! And thank you, SCBWI-Michigan members for your creativity, your imagination, and your persistence on this writing journey.

*We recognize all diverse experiences, including (but not limited to) LGBTQIA, Native, people of color, gender diversity, people with disabilities, and ethnic, cultural, and religious minorities. We subscribe to a broad definition of disability, which includes but is not limited to physical, sensory, cognitive, intellectual, or developmental disabilities, chronic conditions, and mental illnesses (this may also include addiction). Furthermore, we subscribe to a social model of disability, which presents disability as created by barriers in the social environment, due to lack of equal access, stereotyping, and other forms of marginalization (with thanks to We Need Diverse Books for the language used here).



Wendy BooydeGraaff is the Critique Carousel Coordinator for 2024. She is the author of a  picture book, Salad Pie (Ripple Grove Press/Chicago Review Press), and the Michigan story contributor in the forthcoming Haunted States of America anthology, out July 9, 2024 (Godwin Books, pre-order here!). She also writes poetry, short fiction, and creative nonfiction for adults. Find out more at