Friday, November 9, 2018

The Kresge Artist Fellowship – A Writer’s Perseverance is Rewarded by Jean Alicia Elster

For the past ten years, Kresge Arts in Detroit, a program of The Kresge Foundation, has provided more than 200 metropolitan Detroit artists with over $5 million of unrestricted funding to be used to support their creative life in any way they see fit. On November 1, Kresge Arts in Detroit once again invited artists in the fields of literary and visual arts who reside in Wayne, Oakland or Macomb County to apply for the latest round of $25,000—no strings attached—fellowships to be awarded in 2019.

The application process can appear daunting and submission does not guarantee selection—the fourth application was the charm in my case—but in 2017, I was honored and thrilled to be selected as a Kresge Artist Fellow in Literary Arts. The rewards of perseverance are tremendous for this prestigious and coveted award, not only for its generous monetary prize but because it also comes with a year of professional development and artistic support opportunities that are unrivaled with any other similar award in the United States.

The literary genres for the 2017 fellows included graphic novels, arts criticism, poetry, creative nonfiction, storytelling and my field of young adult fiction. The visual arts disciplines included painting, architectural/light installation, sculpture, wood-carving, metalwork and fiber art. I gained inspiration and encouragement from this truly diverse and immensely talented group of literary and visual artists who, quite honestly, I probably would not have had the chance to bond with except for the fellowship setting.

An initial weekend retreat where the 18 fellows absorbed an intensive three days of presentations from professional development experts who hailed from across the country was worth more than the monetary prize. Nuts and bolts information on monetizing our respective crafts as well as planning our individual artistic futures in a constructive and fulfilling way was priceless. Later, fellows were encouraged to attend monthly brunches at venues across Detroit. I found these gatherings to be invigorating both personally and professionally as we shared with one another details of our current and anticipated artistic pursuits.

Another benefit is that fellows are given the opportunity, during various events throughout the year, to meet and speak with the panelists who made the award selections. I was the first author of young adult fiction to be awarded a Kresge Fellowship. I learned through a presentation of one of the panelists that she felt my work for young adult readers should be represented with an award to affirm that “young people deserve excellent literature” just as much as other age groups. 

I look forward to using the knowledge and inspiration that I gained as a 2017 Kresge Artist Fellow to continue researching and writing future books as well as maintain my expanded connections with the rich artistic community of metro Detroit. This link will take you to my artist portfolio on the Kresge Arts in Detroit website. There you will find sub-links to the writing samples I submitted with my application as well as my video profile that is part of a larger film on the entire 2017 cohort.

If you have not already done so, I encourage you to study the application guidelines and consider submitting an application for the 2019 literary fellowships. Here is the link:

Jean Alicia Elster is the author of several books of children’s, middle grade and young adult fiction. Her two most recent books, WHO'S JIM HINES? and THE COLORED CAR (both published by Wayne State University Press) were selected as Michigan Notable Books by the Library of Michigan. THE COLORED CAR was awarded the Midwest Book Award in Children’s Fiction. She is currently working with her WSU Press editor to complete final rewrites of BLOOD JOURNEY, the third volume in her Ford family trilogy. Keep up with her at her website, on Facebook and on Twitter @j_a_elster.

Coming up on the Mitten Blog: Painless Self-Promotion, a KidLit Advocate, a Picture Book Success Story, Book Birthdays, and another Writer Spotlight. Plus, stayed tuned for info about the SCBWI-MI 2019-2020 Mentorships for Picture Book Text with Lisa Wheeler and Kelly DiPucchio

Friday, November 2, 2018

Producing a Podcast: the Debcast by Debbie Gonzales

When Deb Gonzales told me about her plans to create a podcast, I was super excited for her. When she asked to interview me for one of her episodes, I was super nervous. I'm a classic introvert: a slow thinker who expresses herself best in writing. Answering questions on the spot while being recorded? No, thank you! But having a conversation with my kind, thoughtful friend Debbie who is always warm and welcoming? Okay, let's do this! I couldn't have asked for a better introduction to the world of podcasting. Here's an interview with Deb to help you learn all about her new project.

Tell me about The Debcast. What’s it all about?
Thanks for asking. The Debcast is a podcast inspired by the premise of my debut picture book, GIRLS WITH GUTS: THE ROAD TO BREAKING BARRIERS AND BASHING RECORDS – the story of the tenacious spirit of the female athlete as demonstrated throughout history. I wanted to find some way to gather a collection of voices of female athletes of all ages, all sports, all walks of life. Voices that mirror those featured in my book. Podcasting seemed like the best way to do it.

Why did you decide to produce a podcast, rather than a blog?
I love podcasts. I love the medium. I can multi-task while listening to them. Cook. Clean. Walk.  Poke around on the web. I enjoy lots of different types of podcasts – educational ones, business and tech related, inspirational, and even those that hold beliefs that differ from mine. I find that, with podcasts that I really connect with, I’m eager to listen to each new episode. Hopefully, folks will respond to The Debcast in the same way.

Is it difficult to produce a podcast?
Not really, once you wrap your head around the tech involved and the content structure you want to employ. Podcasting is actually an affordable medium. Mics and pop filters are inexpensive. Software is fairly cheap. Truthfully though, I’m still knee-deep in my learning curve. There are a number of moving parts to wrangle. But I’m getting it. Each episode gets easier and easier to produce.

What do you hope to gain?
Oh, so many things. In fact, I already have gained so much from the episodes I’ve produced so far. I’ve met some amazing women who are doing remarkable things in the athletic arena. A rock climber. A barrel racer. A woman who has cycled all across our nation. Fascinating, I also desire to explore the effect sport has had on girls and women in their personal and professional lives. Are they more confident because they competed? Are they empowered by their struggles and successes? I’m finding that they are. Lastly, I want to make a connection between the experiences the individuals I interview have had and the premise of my book. I want to know what they think the phrase “play like a girl” means. Podcasting seems like a natural fit to do so.

Tell us about some of your upcoming interviews. What do have to look forward to?
Oh, I’d love to tell you about the upcoming episodes! Get ready for this. A “badass” ten-year-old karate star who has found meaning to her life through sport. A runner, whose legs were broken and was told she’d walk with a limp that, after one just year, has completed a marathon. A twelve-year-old softball player who is suffering a slump at the plate. Two Girl Scout troops. I’ve also interviewed a few authors who have written about female athletic protagonists, too. After I get about ten episodes produced, I going to reach out to the women celebrated in GIRLS WITH GUTS. That should be awesome!

How can we support your podcast endeavor? Tell us how to help get the word out.
Oh, thanks so much for asking. Please consider subscribing to The Debcast on iTunes and Stitcher. Also, if you’d share The Debcast posts on social media, that would be amazing. Also, please consider pre-ordering GIRLS WITH GUTS: THE ROAD TO BREAKING BARRIERS AND BASHING RECORDS on Amazon. Help me create a little buzz about the book. I really appreciate it.

Debbie Gonzales is a career educator, podcaster, curriculum consultant, former school administrator and adjunct professor, and once served as a SCBWI RA for the Austin Chapter. Deb currently devotes her time to writing middle grade novels, crafting teacher guides and various other freelance projects, and is currently serving the SCBWI-MI as the Author Liaison and SCBWI Representative as a board member for the Michigan Reading Association. She's the author of six “transitional” readers for New Zealand publisher, Giltedge, and the forthcoming non-fiction picture book GIRLS WITH GUTS: THE ROAD TO BREAKING BARRIERS AND BASHING RECORDS (Charlesbridge, 2019). Deb earned her MFA in writing for children and young adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. To find out more about Deb and her projects access,, or subscribe to The Debcast: Books, Buzz, and Girls with Guts.

Coming up on the Mitten Blog: A Picture Book Success Story, Painless Self-Promotion, Book Birthdays, a KidLit Advocate, and another Writer Spotlight. See you next Friday! Until then, check out the SCBWI Book Stop where you'll find hundreds of books published by SCBWI members in 2018.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Book Birthday Blog

Welcome to SCBWI-MI's Book Birthday Blog! 
Where we celebrate new books by Michigan's children's book authors and illustrators

BIG congratulations to Tevah Platt and Willa Thiel on the release of their new book, 

Q#1: How did you come up with the idea for SNAIL, I LOVE YOU?
When my daughter was little she liked to express her love in similes. She'd say, "I love you as curly as a snail," or "as giant as Jupiter," or "as endless as numbers," and I wrote these all down. "Snail, I Love You," which I co-authored with my daughter who is now 7, is a series of poems written around those similes, capturing our love as well as the ideas that we were exploring together during her preschool years.

Q#2: What was the most difficult part of writing this book?
The illustrations for "Snail, I Love You" were sewn, quilted, and photographed-- and then, later, pieced together to form an actual quilt. In some ways the writing of this book was "quilted" as well, in that it gathered together existing material, using additions and subtractions to pull it into one coherent piece. I found it challenging to decide what to add and cut along the way. 

Q#3: What do you hope readers will experience or take away from your book?
I think this book could inspire young readers to do their own sewing and poetry-making, but what I really hope is that readers close this book feeling love and feeling loved. 

Q#4: What are your marketing plans for your book? Where can we find it?
The 'love' theme of this book and even an open dedication page ("To _____, I love you as ____ as _____") make this book especially gift-able, and we're also creating a sewing kit that can be sold along with the book. We're marketing the book to local shops, libraries and community bookstores, as well as to sewing stores and the quilting market.  You can order our book online at or on Amazon, and it's available through national wholesalers like Ingram & B&T. 

Q#5: Who is your author idol and how have they influenced your work?
Man, it would be impossible for me to single out just one author idol. I'm in awe of Julia Donaldson's rhyming game, David Macauley and Steve Jenkins for pitch-perfect non-fiction, and Cynthia Rylant, Patrick McDonnell and Mary Murphy-- to name a few-- for giving me the bedtime read-aloud feels. Children's literature in general has influenced the way that I write and the way that I understand the world. Since my daughter is co-author I'll also mention that I notice the influence of Dav Pilkey most in her latest writing. It's so meta!

A little bit about the bookThis book of quilt-illustrated love poems was co-written by a mother and her daughter, who contributed each I love you sentence when she was 3-6 years old. These words of feeling linked to concepts she was exploring and mastering while she oriented herself in the universe. The parent-authored parts draw from the big and small worlds they joyfully investigated together. In this book about boundlessness, the authors and illustrator quietly celebrate girls as scientists and boundary-breakers, and all people and animals connected by the fundamental force of love.

A little bit about the authors: Tevah Platt is a public health researcher, science writer and former news journalist. Willa Thiel worked on this book between the ages of 3-6 and is a student at Honey Creek Community School. Both authors like social justice, nature and Legos.

Friday, October 26, 2018

TREAT OF RETREAT by Suzette Garvey

Logo by Sara Kendall
Getting away to grow a talent means leaving your busyness and self doubts behind. It means being vulnerable and bold, too. This 2018 SCBWI Michigan and Indiana Writers and Illustrators Retreat recap highlights just how good it can be to treat yourself for a change.


Nearly 100 attendees experienced an immediate sense of welcome through the retreat’s peaceful destination at Potawatomi Inn, nestled within Indiana’s Pokagon State Park. An array of educational sessions and activities rounded out a sense of excitement for what lie ahead.

The evening’s activities were well paced for transitioning creatives into their best rhythms. Hours sauntered forward with a group writing session and countless cozy nooks dotted with individuals immersed in their craft. Energy and contentment of imagination coursed through every hallway. Friendly faces confirmed attendees were among their people. Even if they’d never met until that weekend, they understood one another … coffee addictions and quirky humor, included.

Survey Feedback
"I liked how the flexible time frame allowed us to meet with the presenters and attendees without the mad rush often experienced during conferences and retreats."

Writing with a view

Jay Whistler

Attendees eagerly began their morning workshops with a bustle of conversation and schedule comparisons. Sometimes it worked out to divide and conquer, taking notes for one another. Other times, attendees just had to hear the presentation gems for themselves.

These are some of the "ah-ha" moments from Day Two sessions:
      Get out of the slush pile
      Demonstrate a knowledge of the fiction market by listing comparison titles in your query letter.
      Create a master guide for plot and structure
      Know the strongest source for your idea, your hero’s greatest challenges and his or her outer goal and inner change.
      Uncover your controlling idea and elevator pitch
      Define your theme — the controlling idea or “message from the author.”

Midday creative time, plein air sessions and critique sessions soon blended into the evening. Lisa Wheeler wrapped up the day’s official activities, reminiscing on former childhood fiction favorites and their cultural trends of the day … often in contrast to the rights and principles you may now hold dear. By late evening, friends – old and new – shared workshop revelations, laughs and confessions of their favorite characters and stories prior to resting up for the final day ahead.

Survey Feedback
"Surprised by the quality of speakers. They were excellent."

Jeff Jantz with Story Sculpting supplies

Nick Adkins

Ample, amazing workshops made it easy for attendees to make the most of the final conference day. Presenters shared their challenges, successes and manageable steps toward climbing the mountains you, too, may be facing.

Here’s a sampling of encouragement and expertise from Day Three:
      Utilize book proposals for fiction
      Convey affinity by noting comparison titles from within the last five years and establish authority through endorsements and reader quotes.
      Build your fictional world around its unique peculiarities
      Make your world the best place for your story by walking through “Eight Worldly Requirements” (e.g. natural resources, norms, power brokers, advancements).
      Find and refine the fickle facet of “heart”
      Heart, hurt, hope and humor work together and hurt is most effective when you demonstrate physical space and a sense of being alone for your character(s).

Survey Feedback
I loved the early morning talks to get you revved up for the ample work time. I also was enthralled by the setting. What a beautiful locale."

One last round of paid and peer critiques, networking and creative time added further depth to Day Three. At the end of this rewarding weekend was a shared excitement for one another to succeed and bring more well-crafted stories to life. Hey, and if the added treat of seeing so many lucky door prize winners left you wanting more, you’ll get your chance to treat yourself to the Wild Wild Midwest Conference next May. See you there!

Suzette Garvey is a marketing strategist, copywriter and parent of three. Garvey owns Storybent Creative, a content marketing firm in Grand Rapids, Mich. As a non-published member of SCBWI since 2006, she’s completed one middle grade novel, has two young adult novels in the works and thanks SCBWI for connecting her with an incredible writers' critique group all these years.

Stay tuned for updates about the Wild Wild Midwest Multi-Region Conference, May 3-5, 2019 in Chicago; planning is underway. 

Registration is now open for the SCBWI 20th Annual Winter Conference in New York. And today, Oct. 26th, is the last day for SCBWI-MI members to apply for Shutta's scholarship: