Thursday, July 30, 2015

Overcoming Fear by Christina Fecher

When I was 13 I knew exactly what I was going to do when I grew up … become a newspaper journalist. At that ridiculously awkward time in my life (overly large glasses, braces and an untamed mop of curly hair), I was so self-conscious and shy that just thinking about talking to those so-called “popular” kids would cause me to break out in a cold sweat.

So how in the world would I pull off that career? It’s laughable to think about the previous dichotomy between my passion and personality.

Despite all the unfortunate characteristics I possessed in those formative years, I was not lacking in the stubborn department. Lord knows I was determined to be a reporter at a major metropolitan newspaper.

There was just something magnetizing about the written word and sharing stories with others. I’d like to believe it was my timid demeanor that helped me take refuge in my writing, perfecting my voice and style.

I’d like to believe it gave me the confidence to achieve my dreams, ultimately earning me accolades as an award-winning reporter with The Detroit News before switching gears into corporate communications and public relations.

You’re probably wondering what this has to do with you: accomplished and aspiring Michigan children’s book authors. Believe it or not, it does.

Like so many of you, I’ve dreamed of writing a book my entire life. Even though I’ve always been a writer, I just wasn’t sure I had the skills to springboard to that next level. How could I compare to Deborah Diesen, Sherri Duskey Rinker or Kathy-jo Wargin?

That dream always felt unreachable.

Besides, as a mother of two active littles with a loving husband and successful professional career, who had the time to chase grand dreams?

That’s the excuse I’d been telling myself for years. That is, until I took the plunge earlier this year and finished my first children’s picture book manuscript. Inspired by my children, it’s a humorous story that I hope to one day physically hold in my hands and share with others.

I haven’t received any offers … yet. But, I feel very accomplished because I finished my first manuscript. It’s half the battle, right? And now that I’ve done that, I feel like I’ve opened a creative floodgate to see ideas at every turn.

Patience isn’t one of my strong suits, but I can truly say that this process is fun and educational. I may not be as awkward as I once was, but I am certainly still stubborn (just ask my husband!) and willing to do what it takes to see this dream to fruition.

Realistically, fear was the biggest reason I hadn’t put the effort in before.

Fear I didn’t have the time. My schedule is already stretched thin, but whose isn’t? Timing will never be perfect. So, I vowed to make the time, because I deserve this for myself. I’m proud that I’ve taken the time to reach for that next goal.

Fear of the boring idea. I never thought that I was truly special, but I do have a lot to say. I regularly jot down family memories or child-rearing issues we’ve overcome to kick-start the creative writing process.

Fear of rejection. I’ve started pitching my first manuscript, and received a handful of pleasantly-worded “thanks, but no thanks” rejections. I know this is to be expected, but it’s still disappointing. My very supportive husband kindly reminds me that I only need one “yes.” It’s exactly what I need to hear.

Fear of the mommy guilt. This is the big one. As a mother who works full-time outside of our home, I love my family time because they are the other half that makes me whole. It’s not easy to divide my time with work let alone make time for myself to write. I feel selfish and guilty. I want to spend what little time I have with them while they still think I’m the coolest person on the planet. I find time while they’re napping or after bedtime. I don’t need to carve out a huge chunk; I feel satisfied when I can touch a project a few times a week. Deep down I know I shouldn’t feel guilty because doing this for me shows them it’s OK – dare I say it, even healthy – to do things for yourself every now and then.

I can’t say that my fears are fully cured. But, I now have a healthy understanding of them and a manageable way to move forward. I’m relieved that my dream of becoming a children’s book author has nagged me over the years.

Here’s to a great journey!

Christina Fecher is a former reporter at The Detroit News, who now handles corporate communications and public relations in West Michigan where she lives with her husband and their two children. She’s a new member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

Thanks, Christina! Coming up on the Mitten blog: Patti Richards is busy preparing another Member Spotlight. Who will it be? Please join us next Friday.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Buffy the Poetry Slayer

Buffy Silverman is a longtime SCBWI member and former assistant Regional Advisor for the Michigan chapter. This spring, she participated in the 2015 March Madness Poetry event through the website Think, Kid, Think and advanced to the sixth and final round. Facebook friends cheered her on and dubbed her, “Buffy the Poetry Slayer.” I asked Buffy to tell us more about the experience.

Here's Buffy:

This is the fourth year of the March Madness Poetry tournament, and my third year participating in it. I was initially drawn to the tournament because it offered what motivates me best in my writing: a deadline!  Every "authlete" in the tournament is given 36 hours to write a poem that uses an assigned word. Then the public, school classes, and fellow authletes vote for their favorite poem. The winner of each match goes on to face another authlete.

I managed to win several matches in past years, but I was quite surprised to find myself competing in and winning the finals this year. The experience was both exhilarating and exhausting--especially since I had some school visits and a trip scheduled during the tournament. There's nothing like returning to your hotel room after a full day of speaking and forcing your brain to get in gear! But I managed to write six poems during March that I would not otherwise have written. A couple of them are probably worth revising at some point. And I greatly appreciated all the enthusiasm and support from my Michigan pals who followed the madness.

How did you get started writing poetry, and how do you continue to improve your craft?

I did not consider myself a poet or think about writing poetry when I began writing for children. Like many moms who read picture books morning, noon, and night, I was drawn to writing fiction picture books. Since I had taught biology and been a naturalist, I eventually found my way to writing nonfiction (and started getting published regularly!) For the past several years my nonfiction writing has led me to writing nature and science-inspired poetry. Twenty-five years after my first attempts to write for children I think I have discovered my writing path (although I would hesitate to call myself a children's poet, and continue to write a lot of nonfiction.)

What has most helped me understand children's poetry and learn to write it is reading a lot of great children's poetry books. I often look at writing a poem as similar to solving a puzzle--when I keep tinkering with a poem, I get closer and closer to writing something that is satisfying. I'm lucky to belong to two critique groups that give wonderful feedback--an in-person group called The World's Greatest Critique Group, and an online group that focuses on children's poetry.  

What advice can you give to a writer who wants to better understand poetry or get started writing poetry?

I think that the best way to learn about children's poetry is to read a lot of it. A few of my favorite children's poets are J. Patrick Lewis, Joyce Sidman, Douglas Florian, Deborah Ruddell, and Barbara Juster Esbensen. Go to the library and discover what children's poets speak to you. Analyze the rhythm and rhyme scheme of poems that you admire and use them as a model for your own poetry. Read a few craft books and experiment with different poetic forms. I've learned a lot from Myra Cohn Livingston's Poem-Making: Ways to Begin Writing Poetry and Ralph Fletcher's Poetry Matters. You can also join a welcoming community of children's poets and poetry lovers by reading Poetry Friday blogposts (the weekly round-up of Poetry Friday blogs can be found at

What's next for you?

I'm working on a new series of poems right now, and I've got several nonfiction books in the works with Lerner Publishing. And I'm still hoping to achieve my original dream of having a picture book out in the world!

Buffy Silverman is the author of more than 70 nonfiction books for children.  Her poems, stories, and articles are featured in poetry anthologies, popular children's magazines, and educational resources. To learn more about her writing please visit:

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Nick Adkins - Winner Of The Conference Logo Contest

The Michigan SCBWI Fall Conference is less than two months away! Earlier this week, we shared the winning logo for the conference on our Facebook page and it definitely sums up the theme of the day.
Congratulations to Nick Adkins for winning our conference logo contest! Please read our spotlight below!

All of our speakers either live here in Michigan or grew up in our great state. So they are all examples of the amazing homegrown talent that Michigan shares with the children’s writing community. We have two editors coming who will also be offering written critiques, four amazing authors, one speaker on literacy and an illustrator sharing his time for portfolio reviews. Here’s a little breakdown:

Kathryn Jacobs
is a Senior Editor at Roaring Brook Press, which is part of the Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group.

Kathleen Merz 
is a Managing Editor for Eerdmans Books for Young Readers which is located in Grand Rapids.

Deborah Diesen 
is the award-winning author of the New York Times bestselling THE POUT-POUT FISH series and other picture books.

Kelly DiPucchio 
is the award-winning author of over twenty picture books, including New York Times bestsellers, GRACE FOR PRESIDENT, and THE SANDWICH SWAP.

Lynne Rae Perkins 
was awarded the Newbery Medal for CRISS CROSS. She has authored other novels and also written and illustrated several picture books.

Ruth McNally Barshaw 
is the author/illustrator of the popular Ellie McDoodle series and her first illustrated picture book, LEOPOLD THE LION, will be released this fall.

Dr. Mary Bigler 
is a Professor at Eastern Michigan University where she teaches courses in reading and language arts. She is a past president of the Michigan Reading Association.

Wong Herbert Yee 
is an award-winning author/illustrator of numerous picture books and early readers. His first picture book, EEK! THERE’S A MOUSE IN THE HOUSE, released in 1992 and is still in print.

It’s an event you won’t want to miss. Mark your calendars for Saturday, October 3 at Thomson-Shore publishing in Dexter. Registration will open on August 1.


Nick Adkins, Author/Illustrator, SCBWI member since 2014

As soon as I heard about the contest the idea of a flower kind of blossoming into an open book popped into my head.  When I originally sketched it out, I wanted the roots to grow into the conference title, but it just wasn’t legible. After some struggle and some consultation with my wife, I decided to go with straight text and add the texture to the grass and dirt. I left the pages blank, because it’s our job to fill them. It took four iterations before I was happy with it. Five before my wife was happy with it.

I’m a lifelong doodler. A favorite birthday present growing up was always a pad of paper and a box of colored pencils or crayons. I loved making things up and drawing them. Eventually that grew into writing stories. I didn’t take any of it seriously until I was part way through college and remembered how much fun it was.
That moment when everything comes together. I often go into the creative process with a pretty
basic idea and trust that it will change and grow into something better. When it does and I can take a step back and take it in—I live for that! And if I can get a classroom full of kids to laugh, that’s pretty good too.

I’m working on a series of early chapter books about a quirky fourth grader. She is trying to navigate the ups and downs in the life of a ten year old, but chaos ensues when a sassy little robot joins the family. My goal is to find an agent to represent me and then get the books into the hands of young readers.
My mission since the start has been getting kids interested in reading. At school visits, I’ve found kids that have already started to bottle up their imaginations and I do my best to inspire them to be super creative.

For writers and illustrators:
Create something that excites you. Find your happy place, turn on your happy music, and just work. And if it stops working, walk away and come back in a day or two. If it’s still not working, change your place or music or project and try again. For me, developing a process has really helped the ideas to flow from mind to hand to paper.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Ask Frida Pennabook: Harried in Hastings

Sometimes it's helpful to tap into the expertise of a fellow writer or artist. Got a question? Need advice? Just ask Frida.

Dear Frida,

I have a chronic condition that makes it difficult for me to write. It’s not physical. I can sit in a chair for long periods of time (which I do all day at work), my wrists and hands work just fine (I can fold laundry, do dishes, wash dirty little faces), my vision is 20/20 (all the better to read bedtime stories or pay bills online), and my mobility is no problem (which is good because I have to run kids to violin lessons later today and pick up dry cleaning, otherwise I may be going to work in pajamas tomorrow).

As you can see, my chronic condition is called “life.” It interferes with my ability to spend time working on my own projects. I started a picture book about a year ago, but I don’t even remember what it’s about. I think it is buried under two years’ worth of unread Writer’s Digest magazines.  

What can I do to reclaim some of my time and focus on my writing and illustration career? Should I quit my job and do nothing but write and paint all day?

Harried in Hastings

Dear Harried,

I’m here for you. Not in the sense that I will clean your house, run errands for you, or manage your calendar, mind you. I’m helpful, but I’m not crazy.

Instead, let me pass along something that one of my mentors shoved down my, um…shared with me insistently long ago. Are you ready? Get a pen, write this down, and stick it on your laptop, your bathroom mirror, or the dash of your car, anywhere that you will see it many times per day. Here it is: Be selfish.

Every single day, be selfish. Of course you must take care of your other responsibilities, but not everything you do during the day is a true responsibility. How much time do you spend on social media, binge watching Netflix, volunteering in your kids’ school, or “helping out” with a work project that technically belongs to the tool in the cubicle three down from yours who will wind up taking all the credit anyway?

Before you quit your job, quit other stuff. Start with half an hour. We all have at least that much time. Sorry, Lena Dunham. No more Girls. No clean skivvies for work tomorrow? Hello, commando! Take 30 minutes of your lunch break and find a conference room or broom closet that no one knows about. Eat while you write or sketch. I actually found the only lockable bathroom in my building. I got some strange looks every day and some suggestions to try a probiotic. But I was productive.

The point is that we all have extra time in our days that we fritter away without realizing it. By taking an honest inventory of how you spend your time, you will discover those moments where you can dare to be selfish.

Let me leave you with one last thought: you deserve to be true to yourself. This is something that parents, and especially mothers, don’t hear often enough. We live in a society of helicopter parents who are bombarded with the message that if you have not created the perfect Frozen bento box for your child’s lunch, you are a failure. But think about this: if you never allow your children the opportunity to see you working to achieve something for you and you alone, will they ever get the message that they are not the center of the known universe, despite society’s misguided insistence that they are? Will they ever learn that sometimes, their needs must wait? Will they ever see you happy and fulfilled because you took the time to nurture yourself and pursue your passions?

Be selfish.


Frida (who is at this moment writing on the deck with some iced tea while simultaneously ignoring the ginormous dust rhinos in her living room)

Thank you, Frida! Frida's advice reminded me of a poem that I've heard recited at a few writing conferences. You can read and listen to the poem, Advice to Myself by Louise Erdrich at Writer's Almanac. Thanks to Jennifer Whistler for helping me find it.

Happy reading,
Kristin Lenz

Friday, July 3, 2015

Featured Illustrator Jennifer Scott


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? 

Anticipation. I have been working for a long time on various projects. I feel that something is about to happen and I hope that it will be soon! 
2. What do you do best?

Currently (and two years ago I never thought I would say this) ... people! I love drawing people. I also enjoy drawing sea monsters. 
3. Where would you like to live?

I would like to continue visiting many exciting and adventurous places, but I enjoy living in Michigan. 
4. Your favorite color?

All tones, hues, and tints of blue.

5. Three of your own illustrations: 

6. Your music?

When I work, I listen to classical guitar or If I am not working, I love top 40 and 90s music! 
7. Your biggest achievement?

Years ago I decided to quit my full time day job, get a bunch of different odd jobs and go back to get my degree in fine art and graphic design. I am not sure how much I slept. I am pretty sure I got more than one injury from various cutting tools and sharp implements. I am positive that was the best choice I could have ever made. I hope to go back again someday. 
8. Your biggest mistake?

Chickening out at portfolio day for art schools at age 17. My portfolio wasn’t fancy, or large compared with everyone else’s. I listened to one pretty positive critique from a Cincinnati Art Academy professor, felt way out of my element, and went directly home.
9. Your favorite children's book when you were a child?

Picture Book: Miss Suzy by Miriam Young, Chapter Book: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis.
10. Your main character trait?

Creative (followed closely by humorous). 
11. What do you appreciate most in a friend?

Loyalty, humor, understanding, and a willingness to forgive.
12. What mistakes are you most willing to forgive?

Forgiveness is essential in life.
13. Your favorite children's book hero?

I’ve always loved the heros of Roald Dahl’s books, in particular, Matilda. I grew up with more than a few Mrs. Trunchbulls while in grade school and finally experienced my own Ms. Honey in fifth grade. She was such an important teacher to me and even came to my wedding! I also identified with Matilda’s strong will, hopeful attitude, and kind heart.
14. What moves you forward?

15. What holds you back?

Real life
16. Your dream of happiness?

Buying and remodeling the run down house at the end of my street into an artists’ studio and gallery. Also reading in a hammock all day.
17. The painter/illustrator you admire most?

Painter: Mary Cassat Illustrator: Jago
18. What super power would you like to have?

To stop and start time just like girl in the late 80s TV series, Out of This World. When I was younger I would have used my power for good. Now, however, I may just use that power to take naps.
19. Your motto?
Dream big and dream often, but don’t stop there. Make a plan and go for it! 

20. Your social media?
Instagram: jennyescott Twitter: @jennyem1 website: