Friday, January 18, 2019

Painless Self-Promotion: Unassuming Authenticity – A Case Study

Recently, I had a fabulous conversation with a long-time author friend about the notion of authenticity and its connection with visibility in the marketplace. We wondered if it were possible for an author or illustrator to be a genuine individual while achieving the notoriety of being a well-respected, highly successful published professional. If so, how is this done? Being that my pal and I share a broad and talented friend base, we explored how several of our colleagues have done it. One individual became the primary focus of our chat, an unassuming and humble writer who has risen to epic prominence in the Kid-Lit industry. This amazing artist, whom we’ll call Mary, once said that she “just lets things come to her.” I dare to disagree with that statement. Good things come to those who have worked for them. Mary is, and always has been, a diligent soldier. Let’s consider how this unassuming celebrity has rightly earned her place in the limelight.

First of all, Mary is a master of the craft. A master, I say. She’s been at this business of writing for a long, long time. Along with enjoying an active and happy life surrounded by family and friends, her writing time is sacred and disciplined. She’s dedicated to crafting thoughtful prose that emotionally resonates with young readers. I know this to true. I’ve witnessed her struggle. Her beautiful words, so effortlessly read on the page, are hard to come by. Knowing Mary, she wouldn’t have it any other way.

Not only does Mary employ the earnest effort required to be one of the finest writers of the industry, she’s incredibly humble about her success. Community matters to Mary. Even though her work is lauded by The Hornbook and Publisher’s Weekly, she’s a regular at local SCBWI meet ups. She mentors fledgling poets and writers online and in formal sessions nationwide. She is fun to be with, supportive, and highly intuitive. A newbie writer would be wise to take heed of Mary’s suggestions. She knows her stuff. Mary’s unassuming dedication to SCBWI and its members has contributed to the authenticity of her visibility in the industry in big, big way. 

So, you see, Mary’s accolades and prominence have not merely “come her way.” She’s worked hard for them. She’s devoted to the craft of writing and faithful to those who have supported her successful journey. In doing so, she’s become known as one of the most talented, prolific writers in the industry today. Mary’s visibility is founded on sincerity and authenticity…something we all should aspire to emulate.

 My key takeaway from my conversation with my dear friend is that the establishment of “unassuming visibility” is a long game. There are no shortcuts to be found. Mary’s diligence proves this. We “pre” or newly published artists should take note that lasting visibility in the marketplace requires a steadfast commitment to the development of one’s craft and obligation to one’s community. This business of starlight celebrity does not happen overnight. Instead, we have to be true to our stories and to supporting one another – always and forever.  

Debbie Gonzales is a career educator, curriculum consultant, former school administrator and adjunct professor, and once served as the SCBWI RA for the Austin Chapter. 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 creates teacher guides for new releases and is the host of The Debcast, a podcast dedicated to the tenacious spirit of the female athlete. Deb earned her MFA in writing for children and young adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Subscribe to her podcast on iTunes and/or stop by or to check out her painlessly promotable content.

Coming up on the SCBWI-MI Blog: Hugs and Hurrahs! We want to trumpet your success! To be included, please email Patti Richards your writing/illustrating/publishing good news no later than January 23rd.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Book Birthday Blog w/ Michael Spradlin

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 Michael Spradlin on the release of 2 books in his new MEDAL OF HONOR series and the upcoming release of the paperback edition of his PARARESCUE series!

Congrats on the release of your amazing non-fiction middle grade series, Medal Of Honor and the Pararescue series! What made you decide to tell these stories?

I’ve always been interested in what defines a hero. Everyday there are people among us who perform heroic acts. I think what it means to be a hero is a theme that has run through all of my novels. With the Medal of Honor books, I found a chance to tell true stories of heroism. I often tell students during school visits that the truth is often a better story than fiction.

Can you take us through a bit of what it was like to research and write these books?

I will use any resource I can when researching. In this case, I had a great deal of primary source material to work with. There is a great amount of material accessible today that didn’t exist even ten years go. I love researching because I’m always learning something new. And I usually will come across ideas for future books during research. 

What do you hope readers will experience or take away from your books?

First and foremost, I hope they are entertained. I hope they will feel that reading the book was a few hours well spent. Then I hope they gain an appreciation of our men and women in uniform and the courage and dedication they possess.

Who is your author idol and how have they influenced your work?

Tough one to answer. But I’d have to go with John Steinbeck. I feel like he could write anything. I feel his love of humanity shows through in his writing. He had real affection for the downtrodden and overlooked in our society. Those on the fringes often were the heroes in his work. 

Do you have any advice for newer writers?

Just write. There is no secret. Writing is a craft like any other. The more you do it, the better you will get at it. Don’t worry about getting published. Just write because it’s something you enjoy. There are no shortcuts or gimmicks. You need to put your butt in the chair and write.

A little bit about the author:

New York Times Bestselling author Michael P. Spradlin is the author of over thirty books for children and adults. His books include Into the Killing Seas, The Enemy Above and Prisoner of War. He lives in Lapeer, Michigan. 
Follow him on Twitter @MSpradlinAuthor
Follow him on Instagram mspradlinauthor

A little bit about the books:

The Medal of Honor series focuses on winners of our nation’s highest military honor. Each book provides a profile of a Medal of Honor winner telling their story from primary sources. The books include maps, photos and interesting cross text which appeal to reluctant readers. 

The Pararescue Series is a paperback bind-up edition of the four Pararescue Series novels. These fictional stories follow the U.S. Air Force pararescue troops around the globe as they work to save soldiers and civilians. 

Friday, January 11, 2019

Featured Illustrator Nick Adkins


This questionnaire goes back to a popular parlor game in the early 1900s. Marcel Proust filled it out twice. Some of our questions were altered from the original to gain more insight into the hearts and minds of our illustrators. We hope you enjoy this way of getting to know everybody.

1. Your present state of mind?

2. What do you do best?
Come up with ideas. I have more ideas than I know what to do with and some of them are good.

3. Where would you like to live?
Disney World, but I hear they frown upon that, so a cozy place on the beach would do.

4. Your favorite color?
Green. Like the first little sprout of grass in the spring.

5. Three of your own illustrations:

6. Your music?
When drawing: indie rock/pop. I’m listening to The Shins right now.
When writing: instrumental only. I’m partial to string quartets and video game soundtracks. The Stardew Valley soundtrack gets me in a pretty happy state of mind. And always Rainy Mood playing quietly in the background.

7. Your biggest achievement?
Creatively: I would say sticking with my current project (a middle grade novel) for the last three years. There was a time in my life that I could hardly stick with a project for a week. I can’t wait for it to be out in the world!
In life: my family. My wife (Ashley), and kids (Logan and Eli) are the best!

8. Your biggest mistake?
Not writing my ideas down in the past. I was always so sure I’d remember them. RIP forgotten million dollar ideas.

9. Your favorite children's book when you were a child?
I don’t really have one favorite thing of anything, so here’s a short list:
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
Those Terrible Toy Breakers by David McPhail
The Wild Christmas Reindeer by Jan Brett
Blueberries for Sal by Robert McClosky
The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg
Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume
Say Cheese and Die by R.L. Stine
Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli
Hatchett by Gary Paulsen

10. Your main character trait?
Patience (with others, sometimes not with myself).

11. What do you appreciate most in a friend?
Humor, kindness, and a love of reading. Otherwise you run out of things to talk about.

12. What mistakes are you most willing to forgive?
I often find myself forgiving my kids for spilling something. At some point, it would seem they would stop making that particular mistake, but I haven’t stopped forgiving it yet. Don’t cry over spilt chocolate milk.

13. Your favorite children's book hero?
Maniac Magee, maybe. My cousin and I spent a lot of time one summer trying to run on the rails like him, but never quite got it. I’m a pretty big fan of the Harry Potter trio too.

14. What moves you forward?
Two things:
1.    The thought of finishing a project usually gives me a good push. If it feels like I’m nearing the end, I sometimes work late into the night and early morning trying to wrap things up.
2.    Ashley. She’s really good at keeping me on track and moderately focused.

15. What holds you back?
Procrastination and anxiety. I’ve developed a bad habit of constantly second-guessing my work and being worried about things most people don’t worry about. Public appearances sometimes have me feeling sick for days.

16. Your dream of happiness?
Travel. Lots of travel.

17. The painter/illustrator you admire most?
I really like Scott Campbell. He has some pretty interesting art books out there with lots of pop culture references. Zac Gorman is great too—lots of nostalgic video game art. He adds gifs to his artwork that I think are pretty neat.

18. What super power would you like to have?
I always wanted to be a Wolverine when I was growing up. Now the claws seem less practical. I’ll go with flying or teleportation.

19. Your motto?
I don’t really have a motto, but I do often find myself saying, “Could you guys quiet down?” and, “Shhhh.”

20. Your social media?
Thanks for asking! My website and blog are at Events, articles, and other shenanigans can be found at Ashley is my social media master and keeps it all up to date!

Friday, December 21, 2018

Happy Holiday Hiatus

Photo credit: American Booksellers Association

The Mitten blog team is taking time off for the holidays! Thanks to Nina Goebel for giving us a temporary blog banner for a few weeks. She'll be back to kick off the new year with an interview and a new blog banner created by our new Featured Illustrator on Friday, January 11th.

Our SCBWI-MI chapter has so many authors and illustrators who are talented, hard-working, and generous. Thanks for sharing your knowledge and inspiration with us every week. We appreciate all of your contributions and couldn't do this without you.

We've published 235 posts since the Mitten blog began in August 2014! Here's a look back at a few of our posts with the highest number of page views:

Our collaborative 7-day series on MFA programs was a big hit. Read the first one here:
Or, go here to read the final post to see links to each day in the full series. 

Emma Dryden's post about the Resonant Roar of Quiet Books resonated with many writers.

* We haven't had many posts about writing non-fiction picture books, and this post by April Pulley Sayre shows how much it was needed:

* Promotional events can be nerve-wracking, and these tips were appreciated:

Do you have an idea for a future post? We'd love to hear from you. Find our submission guidelines here.

Thank you to all of the SCBWI-MI chapter volunteers who devote so much time and energy to nurturing our community of writers and illustrators.

With gratitude,

The Mitten Blog Team

Kristin Lenz
Nina Goebel
Patti Richards
Charlie Barshaw
Jodi McKay

Friday, December 14, 2018

Writer Spotlight: Selene Lacayo

Writer Spotlight: Selene Lacayo

Selene and her daughter
in Baalbek, Lebanon 2012

Describe your childhood in Mexico.

I had a very happy childhood filled with traditions and family time. My favorite of such traditions were the Christmas parties called Posadas where we sang carols, had punch and tamales and broke piƱatas.

My family was big in getting to know and love my country, so we traveled quite a bit growing up. Some of my favorite places to explore were Mexico City, Guanajuato, Zacatecas and of course, my native Guadalajara.

Did you learn English in school while you were growing up?

While I had a very basic English class at school (similar to the Spanish ones taught here), I was very lucky to have had a tutor from a young age. My English was conversational and my grammar was OK but when I was in high school my dad transferred to Costa Rica for work where we attended an American International School. That was definitely what challenged my grammar the most. I learned to write papers and English literature there. That is what helped my English the most.

What led to your decision to go to college in the United States?

As I was finishing high school in Costa Rica, my school held a college fair where universities from all over the US and England were represented. Grand Valley State University was there and I really liked listening to what they had to offer. I wanted to study abroad, though I didn’t think of any place in particular until the acceptance letters came. GVSU offered me a great scholarship thus opening a terrific opportunity to me.

You were 19 years old when you arrived on the campus of Grand Valley State University. If your worldly-wise self could have given your naive international student self some tips, what would they have been?

It’s gonna be tougher than you think. Take time to mourn the loss of what you have left behind, but then get ready to embrace all the great things that are coming your way.

When you arrive at a place completely new at such young age, many times you feel that the obstacles and the hardship are endless. In reality, you are just going through a transitional phase after which you will be able to adapt and find things that you love.

What were some of the difficulties you faced as a freshman student from another country?

My fellow students were pretty harsh. They looked down on me because I spoke with an accent and many shied away from doing projects with me thinking that I wasn’t academically fit. I had to prove myself in many classes for people to see that I too was accepted to college because of my grades and capabilities.

It was very tough to connect with most students. Many of them would ask me questions such as: “Do they have Internet in Mexico?”, “Did your family have a car where you are from?” I found them so out of touch with the world.

Learning local etiquette was another hurdle. Luckily for me, I had 3 terrific roommates who were patient and fun. The toughest thing to learn was the personal space barrier. We tend to stand much closer and be more physical in Latin America than in the States. I would stand close to people in line and then wondered why they stepped away from me. I also did not get why they did not greet each other with a kiss on the cheek.

I found shelter in some terrific professors who took an interest in me and in my fellow international students who were also learning how to be in Michigan.

The winter weather was also a shock! Our coldest months resemble the Fall weather so when the snow came and I had to walk from my place to the different classrooms, it felt like I was going on an expedition. That too got much better.

You chose to study for one semester in Guadalajara, closer to family and friends. Were you tempted to stay? What brought you back to Michigan?

Yes, I went back home for a semester for many reasons.

First, I thought that my little brother and my friends were having so much more fun living at home and having the weekends to attend parties and doing some traveling, that I wanted some of that.
Guadalajara, Mexico 2018

Second, though I had a great scholarship, I was running out of money and studying abroad in Guadalajara allowed me to take care of my theme requirements while saving a lot of money.
Third, I had just gotten engaged in Michigan and being back home allowed me to plan the whole wedding in person.

Was I tempted to stay? Sure! But I had a far greater reason to return to Michigan: the love of my life.

You met another international student at GVSU, originally from Lebanon. In early 2007, you married him. What attracted you to him?

Family photo 2017

I could write so much on this topic. He was, and still is, my motor. He drives me to be the very best person I can be. He was full of positivity and achievements. He always had great advice and at the same time, could relate to me when I was homesick or when I was feeling that I was never going to fit in.

We met at the Padnos International Center (the study abroad office) when he was working there. He thought I was Lebanese and started talking to me in Arabic. I thought that was funny.

I ended up working at the PIC alongside with him. Between working together and having  mutual friends, our paths began to cross constantly. I really liked how positive he was, how gently he talked and how caring he was about everyone around him. I also loved learning that he had fought his whole life to achieve the never ending list of goals he had set up for himself and how little, by little he achieved them all.

When we started dating, I knew I was renouncing to going back to Mexico. We were so in love that nothing mattered anymore so long we could be together. We now have three children and are very happy.

You were hired as an Executive Director of the West Michigan Chamber of Commerce, and then an Admissions Coordinator for National Heritage Academies. Then in 2010, you decided to become a stay-at-home Mom. Tough decision?

That’s right. The job at the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce was tough and fun at the same time. I was their first Executive Director and had a somewhat moderate outreach but it allowed me to make great life-long connections in the community. I was able to work on their communication strategy and to make an impact.

I left for NHA because I wanted more stability. I was thinking about going back to school to get a Masters in Retailing at that point. Then we welcomed our first daughter into this world and that rocked me.

It has been a tough decision but one that I will never regret. At the beginning, staying home with a newborn was quite isolating so I became involved with an organization named MOMS Club (Moms Offering Moms Support) designed to break that isolation. It wasn’t too long after I joined that I became the president of the local chapter.

I also started a blog because I felt this great need to write about the big and little things that motherhood brings your way. Additionally, I kept busy in my professional life by becoming a freelance translator and by staying in touch and helping out former colleagues with their events when they needed me.

It’s true that I didn’t imagine that professional life this way, but the profound satisfactions that growing with my children makes up for everything.

Coincidentally or not, 2010 is also when you became a freelance translator. Any kind of freelancing has challenges. Have you been able to find paying gigs?

Yes, definitely. It can be a very interesting field as you are always reading materials from different clients and learning a lot.

You were offered a position as a translator/editor for a respected global company, yet you ultimately turned it down to be present for your three children. Hard to turn it down?

That has been the toughest decision that I have had to make so far. It was my dream job, honestly. But at that point my third child was still a baby and I could not see myself not giving her the same attentions, the same opportunities that I had given her older siblings.

It was a decision that I had to mourn over for a bit but I do not regret in the least. I have been able to travel, to explore, to play, to be my children’s first teacher. That time with them has been the greatest investment and I wouldn’t trade it for any title or career.

Also in 2010 you started your blog “Foreign Mom” You’ve kept it active for eight years and counting. What keeps you writing?

I love to write and will continue to do for as long as I live. The blog started as a way to reach out during those days lacking adult conversation. It was a way to explore through my writing, the feelings and experiences that were shaping motherhood and life for me.

I find so many things worth talking about, but no time to share them in live conversation that my blog becomes this catch-all receptacle for my thoughts and my feelings.

In May of 2017 you became a United States citizen What did the process of becoming a citizen entail?

Becoming a US citizen was a 12 year-old process, I feel. It started when I came here with a student visa that then turn into an OPT (optional practical training) and later into a work visa and a green card.

The process was quite long and cumbersome. After you find a company willing to sponsor your green card, there are so many steps to the application process. We were lucky to finally have gotten approved. After you are a green card holder for 5 years, you are able to apply for your citizenship. We had made the US our home so we wanted to take all the responsibilities and enjoy all the benefits of becoming citizens.

We applied, did our test, got approved and sworn in. It was neat to be able to bring my oldest daughter as a witness of my naturalization ceremony.

You mention often in your blog your commitment to raising a multicultural family. Are your children fluent in Spanish and Lebanese as well as English?

Yes, that is one of the biggest drivers of me staying home. My kids are definitely multicultural; however, they are only bilingual in English and Spanish. As babies, my husband would talk in Arabic to the first two, but as soon as they started talking, we realized that keeping up two languages was challenging enough, adding a third one seemed impossible to attain at that time.

We often talk about sending them to an Arabic tutor when they are older so that they can learn everything from speaking it to reading and writing properly. We shall see how that goes?
Selene and her Mom teaching the kids to make pinatas, Christmas 2016

What is true, is that we do make it a point to teach them about their heritage with food, traditions, music and of course by traveling.

You mention that your oldest daughter is the the most fluent in other languages. What are the challenges in raising your children to appreciate different cultures?

I think she had the advantage of being the first one in the Spanish island that I had created. We only listened to music in Spanish, read in Spanish and I spoke to her 100% in Spanish. As she grew and we enrolled her in different activities such as swimming lessons and library story times, she got more and more exposed to English. By the time she was speaking, her vocabulary was mainly in Spanish but she knew enough English to participate in activities outside of the house. 

Her little brother came around when this transition was happening so he’s exposure to English was far greater. He preferred to speak mainly in English from the get go.

By the time our third child was born, both of her siblings were in preschool and our day was peppered with English-speaking activities. I think she is the one who got the less exposure to Spanish.

It is very challenging to keep up with the language that is not used outside of the home -especially when children don’t have use for it. That is why it is really important to me that we visit family often and that when we do, we fully immerse in the language and culture.

You’ve been back to Mexico several times. One of your blog posts is devoted almost entirely to photos of food. Hard to find authentic Mexican food in the States?

I wouldn’t generalize in the States but it was definitely hard to find 100% authentic Mexican food in West Michigan. There is also the challenge of finding specific regional dishes that are only found in the city or the state that you are from.

Food is a big part of cultural tradition and the second thing, after people, that I miss the most about Mexico.

What else do you miss? What do you love about your adopted country?

I miss not being a part of big celebrations: weddings, birthday parties, baby arrivals of dear friends.

I love so many things about the US, but if I have to pick one it would be Fall.
Meijer Gardens Fall 2017

Fall is my absolute most favorite time of the year. We enjoy picking apples and baking traditional apple pies, carving pumpkins, going on hayrides, Halloween… but one tradition that I would have to continue no matter where I end up is Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving reminds me of the first times I got invited to an American house where I was welcomed, where I took part in the cooking and then partook in the eating of this magnificent feast. I learned and loved its history and I think that through the years, we have shared this holiday with such a variety of friends and people of all kind of cultures, that it continues to symbolize the unity of breaking bread with friendly neighbors.

Your family has been to Lebanon only once. Is it the distance and the political unrest that makes visiting your husband’s family so difficult?

Traveling to Lebanon is very hard with small children. The distance, the cost of the tickets and the political unrest make it a tough choice. My husband is thinking about going with our oldest daughter next year. I think she’s at the perfect age to visit with him and get that one-on-one time with him while getting to know that side of her heritage.

As for the whole family traveling there, we are waiting for our youngest who’s currently 4 to be a little older before we make the trip.

How and when did you find SCBWI?

I have always wanted to write and publish something. After a trip with a dear friend an idea for a children story kept floating in my head. That prompted me to contact a few people who I knew had been published before and a few of them brought up the SCBWI. I joined in 2017.

You entered a short story in the 2017 “Write Michigan” contest, sponsored by Schuler Books and the Kent District Library. Your short story “Tomas Y Otelo, una historia de amistad gatuna” placed second in the competition. What inspired this story?

When I lived in Costa Rica, my best friend’s home became like my second home. I had a strong bond with the whole family.

Later in life, my friend’s mom moved to Chicago. At the beginning she was lonely so I started calling her on the phone regularly to cheer her up. Every time I called, she had these wonderful anecdotes about her cats. I ended up writing a story of friendship between cats based on these tales.

Do you have other stories in you?

I do! And I’m constantly jotting down ideas and working on some more stories.

You moved from West Michigan to Pennsylvania just before Christmas of 2017. How is the family settling in to their new surroundings?
Philadelphia Art Museum April 2018

We are really enjoying West Chester, Pennsylvania. The kids are doing great and have already found a great network of friends. I was a little lost until I found a Masters Program in Creative Writing at West Chester University. I’m loving my first semester there.

What are your personal goals for the future?

I want to publish a series of books on multicultural children and how they navigate the world. I’m hoping to find an agent who shares my interest.

I’m also working with an illustrator to bring the story of Tomas y Otelo to a picture book.

Selene Lacayo grew up in Guadalajara, Mexico. She earned her BA in Advertising/Public Relations at Grand Valley State University. She lived in West Michigan until December of 2018, when the family relocated to West Chester Pennsylvania.
Follow her on her blog "Foreign Mom"  HERE

Charlie Barshaw (pictured here with then-girlfriend Ruth McNally a looooong time ago), interviews fascinating writers for The Mitten, and occasionally revises his YA novel.