Friday, September 28, 2018

Rejection Remix by Patrick Flores-Scott

My first novel, JUMPED IN, was published in 2013. I had begun writing it in 2005. The most difficult part of the eight years was the stretch where I was waiting for rejection letters from editors.

The best thing an artist can do to deal with rejection and waiting (and success too), is to make more art. So I tried to get going on my next book. But as months turned into years and the process dragged on and the rejection letters stacked up, waiting and rejection combined into a toxic tornado of stress that got in the way of my art-making.

I needed help to get through the waiting—a little something to inflate my sagging confidence and give me some faith in the idea that I belonged in the world of legit writers.

Somewhere along the line, I re-read my rejection letters. In many of these letters, editors took time to point out something worthy about my manuscript. These comments turned out to be freaking gems that I had allowed to get lost in the mountainous rock pile of rejection.

On a silly whim, I decided to cut-and-paste these gems and compile them into a single letter that would add up to an amazing praise-fest of Jumped In. Then I allowed myself to imagine the letter was sent to my agent from one classy editor named Carol Lombardozzi-O’Callaghan. Carol worked in a Manhattan high rise for the teen imprint of a MAJOR publisher. Carol was a real pro. No patience for shoddy work. And she knew a good thing when she saw it. Carol loved my book. Loved it. She loved the exact same stuff about Jumped In as the editors who had rejected it. Only Carol never typed the words but or however or I’m sorry to say in her letter.

Carol’s letter gave me a boost, and I did get to work on my next project. But in the end, what that letter really helped me to see was that I shouldn’t have needed it. I realized that the positive comments those editors wrote in their rejections sounded a lot like comments beta readers had told me about my manuscript years before. They sounded like stuff I had once believed about my manuscript and my writing.

There might be some folks in your life who will tell you your writing is great just to avoid discussing the very real parts of your writing that are not so great. However, most beta readers who give you positive feedback and compliments mean what they’re saying. Listen to that awesomeness. Positive notes are a legitimate part of critical feedback—as legitimate as the negative stuff we find so easy to accept and hold onto.

Use the not-so-positive constructive criticism to improve your manuscript. Then make note of the compliments. Collect those gems. List them. Put them on a poster. Write them into a letter from Carol Lombardozzi-O’Callaghan, if you need to. Use the gems to create a well of positivity to help steel yourself for the waiting that is to come. More importantly, use the well of positivity as inspiration and get moving on that new project. That thing is worth it. And so is all the time and energy you will spend to make it great.

Dear Steven,

Thanks so much for sending Jumped In. I read it this weekend, and I thought that much of it was pretty great. Great concept, good writing.

I have to say, Sam is a relatable, misunderstood protagonist with a very lot of heart, and I was especially impressed by the construction of this novel. I love the idea of the loners/slackers being redeemed through poetry, of course. And I found the story extremely moving.

I cried when Luis died, and I was blown away by his poems.  The humor was terrific too.  I loved Sam’s assessment of Julisa on page 203 (As smart as my friend Julisa Mendez may seem, she has some serious holes in her vocabulary. Somehow she never learned words like, “never,” or “no,” or “I can’t.”). I love the moment when Sam decides to teach the parrot to say, “Hello, Sam.” I loved the scene when he throws his mother’s letter away. And I loved the way this text plays with stereotypes and gives us a view into Luis’s mind that makes life itself—each tiny little moment and detail—seem precious and beautiful. 

I agree that Patrick Flores-Scott has an exciting new voice, and I was certainly glad to read this. I do think this has a great deal of merit. Thanks so much for thinking of me.

All the best,

Carol Lombardozzi-O’Callaghan
Most Executive Senior Editor
Phenomenal Teen Books, an imprint of Seriously Major Publishing, Inc.
1 Broadway, Manhattan, New York, NY 10000

Patrick Flores-Scott is a former public school teacher and current stay-at-home dad and early morning writer in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Patrick’s goal for his first novel, JUMPED IN, was to write a story that would engage struggling readers. JUMPED IN has been named to the 2014 YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults list, a Walden Award finalist, a Washington Book Award winner, an NCSS/CBC Notable Book for the Social Studies, and a Bank Street College Best Books of 2014. Look for his second book, AMERICAN ROAD TRIP (Christy Ottaviano Books/Henry Holt Books for Young Readers) in bookstores now. 

Learn more at
Did you see Patrick's Book Birthday interview?

Coming up on the Mitten Blog: A new fall blog banner created by our new Featured Illustrator and another round of Hugs and Hurrahs! Please send your good news about writing, illustrating, or publishing to Patti Richards by October 8th to be included. Plus, Writer Spotlights, Book Birthdays, and a new ongoing feature: Tips for Painless Self-Promotion. 

See you next Friday!

Kristin Lenz

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Book Birthday Blog w/ Carrie Pearson

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 Carrie Pearson on the upcoming release of her new book,

Q#1: How did you come up with the idea for your book?
Like many things in my life, I owe my mom a big thank you for this book. Knowing what a nature lover I am, she asked me if I had heard about what was going on in the tops of redwood trees. She’d seen a National Geographic documentary on tree researcher, Dr. Steve Sillett climbing the tallest tree ever found and thought it was fascinating. I watched it and totally agreed with her. Until he and a team of researchers (including his scientist-wife) began to climb and measure these monster-sized trees, we didn’t know about the coast redwood canopy so high off the ground. Someone said that coast redwood tree canopies are like a coral reef in the sky and after spending many years learning about this ecosystem, I totally agree. 

Q#2: What was the most difficult part of writing this book? 
Finding the best way to tell the story! Researching takes time but is analytical and straightforward. Figuring out the right narrative structure for this story added a few wrinkles to my forehead. Ultimately, I wanted something that felt fresh and memorable, exciting but not scary, and made use of as few perfect words as possible. 

Q#3: Tell us what you hope readers will experience or learn while reading your book. 
I hope this book nudges children into believing they can be stewards of the natural world. Even very young children can learn to care for plants and animals, the air we breathe and the water we drink. This book could be the door opening into that understanding. Susan Swan’s appealing illustrations bring the text to a completely new level and I couldn’t be happier with how she expanded and made real this special world. 

Q#4: Who is your author idol and how have they influenced your work?
Hard question, Book Birthday Blog! I have many idols. In the children’s book world, I’ll say Steve Jenkins and Caldecott honoree and wife Robin Page for their ability to appreciate something unique in the everyday natural world and share it with young readers in an engaging format. Their picture book WHAT WOULD YOU DO WITH A TAIL LIKE THAT? is a great example. In the adult world, Mary Roach, author of STIFF: THE CURIOUS LIVES OF HUMAN CADAVERS (and other oddball nonfiction) for her bravery to choose a complex and in this case, morbid subject and have the talent to write it with enough humor that I chortled aloud many times while reading. 

Q#5: What are your marketing plans for your book? Where can we find it?
STRETCH TO THE SUN is available for pre-order now through your favorite indie bookstore as well as online through traditional book retailers. It will be on bookstore shelves on October 9. I’m working closely with the publisher, Charlesbridge, to arrange visits with libraries, bookstores, and schools to share the love. My tours in Michigan and San Francisco are shown on my website ( with more visits being added. I can’t wait to see how children respond to this world!

A little bit about the book:
The tallest known tree on earth, a coast redwood, is located in Redwood National Park in northern California. More than twelve hundred years old, it is approximately 380 feet tall--and still growing!
The tree in this book sprouted, flourished, and survived ecological threats for over twelve hundred years before being discovered by tall-tree researchers in 2006. Through careful investigation, researchers have learned coast redwood trees provide a unique ecosystem for many plants and animals in their canopies including the endangered marbled murrelet that nests within. Over the years, many people have worked to save old-growth coast redwood forests and this tree barely survived extensive logging nearby. We now know coast redwoods capture more carbon dioxide from our cars, trucks and power plants than any other tree on earth and transform carbon dioxide into the oxygen we breathe. The tree's location is kept secret to protect it.
Through lush and engaging illustrations and rich vocabulary, readers will learn about the life of this magnificent treeand develop a larger appreciation for the natural world.

A little bit about the author:
Carrie Pearson feels that being a children’s book author represents the best merger of her education, occupations, and passion. She holds a BA in early childhood education, taught at University of Michigan’s preschool and then moved into the business world for 15+ years. From her office in Marquette, she is now a full-time writer for children and owner of a consulting business in the children’s book industry that focuses on preparing writers to connect with the right agent. She is Michigan’s co-regional advisor for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and is represented by Kelly Sonnack at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency. Her first two books were published by Arbordale and are nature nonfiction picture books. Her third, with Charlesbridge, is also a nature nonfiction picture book about the world’s tallest tree. Her next book is a picture book biography about the awesome Dr. Virginia Apgar, the inventor of the most important test ever given, and she has several nonfiction and fiction projects in the works. Carrie would love to connect with you on Twitter- @carrieapearson, Pinterest- carrieapearson, and through her website

Friday, September 21, 2018

The Flying Trunk: An Interview with Joanna Hastings by Cynthia Furlong Reynolds

Children’s writers are renowned for their creativity and ingenuity, but Joanna Hastings of Ann Arbor has added a new twist to her writing career.

In Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tale “The Flying Trunk”, a hapless young man is whisked to an exotic land as a passenger in a flying trunk. There he discovers the power and magic of a good story—and so have generations of children.

Former Summers-Knoll School (Ann Arbor) head Joanna Hastings has created her own 21st-century Ann Arbor version of the flying trunk. Hers holds mysterious treasures that will accompany magical chapter-length stories as they whisk through the postal system and into children’s mailboxes. Hastings writes the stories, selects from an array of fascinating artifacts, and mails them to children.

Last year, she opened this new business and a new phase of her life after she lost a beloved family member, divorced, and watched her last child leave the nest. “I realized how quickly time was passing and that I needed to make my life count.” So, she announced her resignation from a job she loved and set off on her adventures, not quite sure where they would lead her.

“I’d always wanted to be an author and I realized that if that was my goal, I’d better get started on it.” She remembered hearing her mother tell friends, “Joanna was born writing.”

“I just never wrote anything that was published,” she says. “Life got in the way. But suddenly I had the time to write.” So she asked herself, “What would bring a child joy?”

The answer: “Mysterious, inspiring, absorbing, extraordinary, unfathomable, iridescent adventures…to stir serious delight.” Flying Trunk was created.

“Helping children engage with language and ideas is a core part of the person I am,” Hastings says. “When I hit on the Flying Trunk idea, I realized it could stimulate language skills and ideas while engaging children in age-appropriate materials.”

 “Essentially, I’m writing dramatic monologues with themes like courage, honor, and integrity,” she says. “Then I choose artifacts to help readers solve the mystery or challenge: antique gloves (“the gloves of protection”), a vintage book (to contain a clue), a beautiful but broken watch (“the gateway to another time”), silk flower petals (“put them under your pillow to give you courage”), among others. “I love going to garage sales, thrift stores, and estate sales, so I’ve combined that fun with my storytelling,” she says.

Learn more at Joanna's website:

Grownups suggest themes or characters guaranteed to fascinate their children. Hastings creates a persona for herself (a genie, fairy, time-traveler, or storytelling rabbit are among the favorites) and writes an interactive story, using a handwriting font that suits the character. She chooses a treasure, seals each package with an old-fashioned wax seal or a ribbon—“whatever’s right for the story”—and sends them on their way.

“I love what I do,” Joanna Hastings says, sipping on a cup of good English tea. “Wonder fuels inspiration, inspiration drives creation, creation pushes the boundaries of thinking, and provides a sandbox where children can play with skills—writing, storytelling, deep reading, and the sheer joy of language.”

*This post was adapted from a story first published in the Ann Arbor Observer.

Cynthia Furlong Reynolds has written 12 children’s books, a chapter book series, Middle Reader novel, 9 histories (2 of them Michigan Notable Books), a writing manual and workbook, several historical novels, and countless news stories. At an early age, she realized her calling: helping people tell their stories, as GRAMMIE's SECRET CUPBOARD (2008 Mom’s Choice Award) reveals. She is finishing two Michigan-based books, a history and a YA novel. Cindy leads writing workshops, freelances as editor/ghost writer, and loves invitations to schools. A Maine native and Dexter resident, she earned her MFA in creative writing from the University of Maine’s Stonecoast program. Her website:

SCBWI-MI Snapshot: Fall News and Events in our Region

Happy Friday everyone! The weather still feels like summer, but fall activities are in full swing here in Michigan. Our SCBWI-MI chapter is swirling with news and events, so instead of a regular post today, I'm giving you a snapshot of what's in the works for our region.

Our Creative Retreat at Pokagon State Park is in partnership with SCBWI-Indiana, and it's only a few weeks away. The registration deadline is this Sunday, so don't delay! Learn more and register here.

Regional Shop Talks are happening all over the state on a monthly basis. Craft workshops, critiques, the business of publishing, and camaraderie - if you haven't already connected with the group in your area, go here to find the nearest location. Join our MichKids listserv and follow our chapter Facebook page for current agendas and reminders.

Illustrators: the 4 Out the Door Postcard Challenge is still underway! Learn more here and follow along on Instagram.

Save the date! The SCBWI Wild, Wild Midwest multi-region conference is coming back May 3-5, 2019! More info soon.

And finally, congrats to the SCBWI-MI mentorship competition winners and runners-up! I just got my first set of notes from my mentor, Leslie Connor, and WOW am I feeling grateful for this opportunity. Thank you, Ann Finkelstein for all of your time in coordinating the program. Here's the announcement from Ann:

The winner of the 2018-2019 PAL Novel Mentorship with Leslie Connor is Kristin Bartley Lenz for her novel The Door Swings Open. The two runners up are Charlie Barshaw for his novel Aunt Agnes and Margaret Mason for her novel Is My Name.

The winner of the 2018-2019 non-PAL Novel Mentorship with Kelly Barson is Danielle DeFauw for her novel Victory Stumbles.
The two runners up are Isabel O’Hagin for Chavela’s Quest and Susan Santone with The Shape of Change.

If you're looking for a mentorship program, read this KidLit 411 post which includes several options for writers of picture books and middle grade and young adult novels.

What am I forgetting? Oh! Several SCBWI-MI members have artwork on display at ArtPrize in Grand Rapids. Check it out:

Coming up on the Mitten Blog: Jodi McKay continues to celebrate Book Birthdays. We'll have a new fall blog banner in a couple of weeks created by our new Featured Illustrator. Look for Nina Goebel's interview with the artist. And it's almost time for another round of Hugs and Hurrahs. Please email your writing, illustrating, or publishing news to Patti Richards by October 8th to be included.

If you'd like to share any writing or illustrating events, please do so in the comments!

Happy creating!
Kristin Lenz

Book Birthday Blog w/ Patrick Flores-Scott

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

BIG congratulations to Patrick Flores-Scott on his new book
American Road Trip!

1. How did you come up with the idea for your book?
When my agent started trying to sell my first book, Jumped In, in the fall of 2009, he told me to get to work on my next novel. 
I didn’t have an idea for a next novel.
I did, however, have a lot of emotion around what was going on in our country after the 2008 economic collapse. The government planned a big fat bailout for the banks whose greedy policies caused the collapse, while working folks who were the victims of those policies were losing their homes and jobs...and there was no bailout planned for them. At that time, I’d also been listening to a series of stories on NPR about soldiers returning from Afghanistan and Iraq and the problems they were facing reintegrating themselves into life back home. 
I had a lot of questions and I decided to channel them toward a novel. What if one family had to deal with all of those big issues of the time? What might it look like for a teen who is trying as hard as he can to be successful, while his family is crumbling under the stress of the times? What might hope and humor and creativity and romance look like in this situation? As these questions led me toward a story, I knew that I wanted to continue exploring what it means to be from South King County a culturally and economically diverse area near Seattle where I had taught middle school, and where Jumped In was set.But I also wanted to bust out of the confines of Jumped In. For me, that meant that at some point, this book had to get out of school and out of town and hit the road. It meant that both parents would still be in the picture, still fighting to make the best of things. It meant that no one would die. It meant that my protagonist would get the chance to fall in love. 

2. What was the most difficult part of writing this book?
When I started writing Jumped In, I was a total novice. The scope of that book was super small. That was helpful for a first time writer. It still took me a looooong time to finish. After years of work, the book seemed like an artistic success and I was confident I knew how to write a novel. 
So, for the second time around I figured I could go for it. I could add a bunch of strong characters with big conflicting needs. I could add magic-realism interludes that would tell the back-story of the Avila family. I could throw in song lyrics. I could write about current events and mental health and veterans. I could add a road trip with a ticking clock. I could accurately represent communities and geography from the Seattle area to Delano, California, to Hatch, New Mexico.
I felt confident about all of these elements. But, as the years went by, the truth hit hard: Yes, by 2013 I had learned to write Jumped In. But American Road Tripwas a whole other deal. And there was the realization that, for me, maybe there is no “knowing how to write a novel.” There is only research and the trial-and-error writing work it would take to wrestle so many ideas and feelings and multiple languages and cultures and current events (which in the course of this project became historical events) into a clean, coherent and compelling story. 
The most difficult part of writing American Road Trip? There was no way I could write it fast. 

3. In the voice of your main character, tell us what you hope readers will experience or learn while reading your book.
Teodoro “T” Avila:
I don’t have any idea what anyone will learn from the epic tale of me blindly fumbling my way through being a student and a brother and a son and like, an idiot maybe-boyfriend, when trying hard at any of those things seemed to mess up all the other ones. 
What did learn from that? 
I learned that it’s super embarrassing to have it all documented in a book. It’s all just a bunch of drama and it’s crazy that people will spend good money to dig in to my personal business. I don’t want to relive it or read about it, or think about “the reader’s” experience, I’ll tell you that much. 
Okay, okay, I know there’s some good stuff in the book. I mean, I think it depicts my sister fairly, like, her making some good choices for us, even though the mind-bogglingly crazy-ridiculous way she went about trying to do the right thing drove me nuts. It was mixed the way Wendy was portrayed, but mostly she came across sweet and silly and super smart, so I won’t protest too much. My parents and my brother—really good, solid, sweet people—and I were mostly at our worst back then. And you can pretty much guess that “us at our worst” is the stuff the author decided to dwell on in the book. 
(I hear you feeling my pain, saying, “Authors are the worst,” and I’m shaking my head up and down fast, saying, “I know, right?”) 
I’ll admit that the ending didn’t suck, even when everything turned out the best it possibly could, all we were left with was hope. Not a new house. Not a cured, normal, go-back-in-time to-the-way-he-used-to-be brother. None of that. Just hope. And that’s how it is living a not-rich American life during an American recession and an American war. You do your best and fumble through a bunch of impossible choices and hope no smug author decides to take advantage of your very personal experiences and put them in a book. 
Speaking of books, reader, you have many options. So instead of diving in to my sordid saga, maybe pick up To Kill a Mockingbird, or some other important novel? Or, people really seem to like the Hunger Games? Harry Potter? Wendy made me finally read it. I give it 3.5 stars out of 5 even though kid magicians ain’t my thing. And that’s saying a lot. Maybe dive into a nice long sci-fi series (one with ten our more books of 700+ pages each—ask your librarian) that will suck you in and occupy you until this American Road Trip “moment” fades away and we can all just forget about that year and that summer and move on. You do that and I promise, sometime in the not too distant future, I’ll write my memoirs and you can read about how I overcame my humble beginnings and I worked my ass off and made very solid choices, and became a big success and an awesome son and brother and partner...and I promise you reader, that book will lay it all out for you, everything you need to learn to reach your goals and make your dreams come true. Deal?

4. Who is your author idol and how have they influenced your work?
It’s so hard to name one author idol. Every time I read something great, I just add that author to my list of author idols. Currently, however, I’m working on a novel in verse so I finally read Brown Girl, Dreamingby Jacqueline Woodson. I have a tendency to try to give everything this huge emotional impact, so I draft these big, combustible scenes, I have to calibrate later. So many of Woodson’s poems in Brown Girl, Dreaming are quiet moments, quiet complex thoughts, and beautiful lingering images. The poems feel so understated. There’s a confidence in that kind of writing, knowing that In the end it will all add up to something so powerful. What she did in that memoir—I want to work to bring more of that deep and quiet stuff to my fiction writing.
I’m also reading Manuel Muñoz stories (for grownups). His sentences are so short and so sparse, but, again, they add up to something gut wrenching and beautiful. When I finished the first story in his collection, The Faith Healer of Olive Avenue, I just sat at my desk bawling and I couldn’t pick the book up for a week. The story is about the isolation felt by an undocumented mom whose son has died in an accident. The story was published in 2007, but it probably means even more now than it did then. Read it and see what you think. 

5. What are your marketing plans for your book? Where can we find it?
The marketing plan is still evolving. It includes more blog participation. Bolstering the website with American Road Triprelated content to connect to social media. Outreach to educators and librarians. I’m lucky to have a very proactive publicist at MacMillan who is helping to the get the word out. 
American Road Trip will be available wherever books are sold online. If you’re lucky enough to have an independent bookstore where you live, walk in and ask for it there. They’ll be happy to help. 

A little bit about the book: Teodoro “T” Avila—whose family is overwhelmed by the economic recession and his brother Manny’s postwar PTSD—escapes it all by playing video games and failing in school. But when he falls hard for cute, college-bound, Wendy Martinez, he fights to overcome chaos at home and turn his life around. With a summer to prep for a make-or-break senior year, T’s volatile big sister, Xochitl, coerces him and Manny into the road trip that threatens to put an end to his dreams of success and romance. 

A little bit about the author: A Washington state native, Patrick now lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan with his wife Emma and sons, Carlos and Diego. His first book, Jumped In, was a Walden Award finalist and won the Washington State Book Award. 
Visit him at

Friday, September 14, 2018

Writer Spotlight: Fatma Al Lawati

Writer Spotlight: Fatma Al Lawati

How did your early life shape your present-day writing?

Early childhood experiences have a considerable impact in shaping our lives, and I believe my father greatly influenced mine. The education system was officially introduced to Oman in 1970. Most did not have the opportunity to receive a formal education prior to that year. 

However, a few people had the chance to receive a limited education through either private schools in the capital of Oman or Quranic schools across the country. Unlike the fathers of most of my friends, my father was among the few who was educated in a private school. We had a modest library in our house, with books written by well-known authors. I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to explore them from a very early age. 

As we did not have access to any children’s books, my father resorted to telling us stories about history and historical/religious figures. Storytelling played a substantial role in my upbringing. It was the late seventies before there were any bookstores Muttrah (the city I grew up in) and we started receiving children books from Egypt and Lebanon. 

Being the first child, I received a considerable amount of attention from my father. He was always reading to me and encouraging me. All of my books were part of his library. After he passed away, I found out that he was collecting all my published newspaper articles.

What obstacles did you face in the pursuit of your doctorate?

This is a hard question to answer now. Coming to the United States with four children, my husband and I were both looking to earn our higher education degrees. It was really a big challenge. All the obstacles that we faced, either social, cultural, financial and linguistic, are now good memories that we cherish. Weighing the obstacles at that time, many of our friends thought that it was not a wise decision to make this move. But now, we have many stories to tell. We are glad that we all overcame all those obstacles and are also happy that a new member was added to our family! So instead of four children, we now have a fifth child who joined us while I was finishing the first year of my Ph.D. He is now in a college student!

You’ve published a number of educational studies on gifted students in Islamic-American schools. What attracted you to that subject?

My adviser, Dr. Scott Hunsaker, at Utah State University suggested that I explore the field of gifted education in the Islamic-American schools. He was a great help to me, and he told me once that he is now considered an expert in the Islamic Education field and is often approached by colleagues.

There are a limited number of people who specialize in the area of gifted education in the Arab World; as far as I know, I am the only Omani. It is important to have people in this field as there are gifted students in every country and every culture who deserve our attention. Also, the field of gifted education from the Islamic perspective had not been explored much at that time. Despite the limited research in this field, I think I came up with quite unique Islamic theories; however we need to continue focusing on it as it continues to require ongoing research and attention.

Cover art for "Does the Moon Still Play with Children?"

In your blog you’ve also written numerous articles about children’s literature, Oman and cancer (?) How do all of these various topics intersect in you?

I used to write a column on different topics related to social, educational, and national matters in a few Omani and international papers. I recently wrote about children who suffer from cancer. This two-part article was the outcome of my visit to the children’s cancer ward in a governmental hospital in Oman. In the column, I focused on the social and educational needs of children suffering from cancer in Oman. 

To answer your question, I feel I have an obligation to write about hope, and to spread awareness about any matter related to the suffering of children.  My blog contains a collection of my written work and includes the titles of my children’s books, with the exception of recent publications.    

Your first picture book featuring Majid (Majid’s Teeth) was published in 2013. You followed that up with 2015’s Majid Goes to the Beach and 2017’s Majid Doesn’t Like Waiting. What do you find so compelling about your character, Majid?
Cover for "Majid's Teeth"

I chose the name “Majid” because it means “glorious” in Arabic. It is also a name that  is easy for Arab children of different age groups to pronounce. The character Majid in my books enjoys exploring things around him which lead him to learn new things.

In 2016, you started publishing numerous picture books. That year saw the birth of Layan Plants a School, Ola Wonders, and Why Did the Birds Fly Away? In 2017, five new titles were published! What caused the explosion of creativity?

Cover for"Maryam's Journal"

I had stopped writing briefly, then began pursuing my PhD and had no plans of publishing. However, I continued to write on my own periodically. In 2004 I returned to Oman after earning my degree and began writing my first novel, The Call. I noticed then that there was a demand from parents for good children’s books. I also realized that some publishers selected books based on their relationships with the authors rather than the quality of the material.
In 2015, I realized that there was an increasing number of children who were affected by war in our part of the world; the idea of “Project Peace” came to mind. The mission of this project is to provide free books to children with the hopes to plant ideas of peace in their minds through creative, imaginative, and fun ways—ways that bring smiles to those young readers. I found it a challenge to find a publisher who was willing to support this cause as it would result in marginally low profits. 
So, we decided as a family to start our own publishing company- Mayaseen Publishing LLC, in order to create and support “Project Peace”. The company was established in Michigan, USA and all but two of the books were printed in two versions — one for “Project Peace” and the other for sale. The large number of recent books was motivated mainly by this project that enabled me to provide good quality books for children in need and has resulted in continuous efforts to publish books. Recently, we published our first English book written by an American author.

You’ve had a different illustrator for each picture book. Which artists came closest to capturing your vision?
Cover art for "The Bubble"
I believe each book has its own uniqueness. I am also of the opinion that we need to give children opportunities to experience different illustrations. Therefore, I try to involve several illustrators, while making sure that their style flows with the type of story.   

2017’s The Obtuse Angle was edited by Husain Al Lawati. Any relation?

“The Obtuse Angle” is based on the life of my second cousin who suffered from diabetes at a young age. Husain Al-Lawati, my husband, has always been my number one supporter. He is always the first to read and edit any book/chapter/article that I write, and this book is no exception. He always provides me with valuable feedback and has invested greatly in editing this book. We also hired both a professional editor and designer, with whom my husband worked closely, to oversee anything that he may have overlooked. I could not have done all of this without my husband’s support, dedication, and continuous help.

These picture books are published by Mayaseen Publishing and are available on Kindle. What have been the challenges and rewards of publishing on Kindle?

The picture books have all been published on paper in Arabic. However, I wanted these books to reach out to a wider audience. They have since then been translated to English and published on Kindle. This is a completely new experience for me and allows English readers the ability to explore books originally published in Arabic.

Mayaseen Publishing participates in what it calls Project Peace. “Our mission is to provide free books to children who have been affected by war. We wish to provide a sense of hope through these books, a hope that could allow these children to grow up carefree, in a world they deserve to grow up in.” Are you or your books part of this humanitarian action?

Mayaseen Publishing was formed with the idea of “Project Peace”. With the start of wars and instability in the Arab world, I wanted to be able to provide children with creative and educational books. After numerous attempts to work with various publishing companies to make this happen, I realized that I would be charged unreasonable prices. I therefore decided to start Mayaseen Publishing and have since been able to distribute more than 8,000 books to children in affected areas within one year.

You’re featured in a 2016 YouTube video of a conference with photos featuring some of your books. What conference was this, and what part did you play in it?

The You Tube video was created for a 4-day workshop that I conducted through Abjad Center covering the most important elements in writing for children. This workshop was supported by a few local businesses. As a part of this workshop, a total of three children books written during the workshop were selected, edited, and later published. Publication costs were a part of the workshop budget.

In the midst of these multiple picture books is one novel, titled The Call. According to the description, it appears to be a supernatural thriller featuring Ahmad and Lamya, two university students transplanted to the United States with their family, who hear a strange voice which changes their lives.

Published in 2012 by Dar al-Fikr, this seems to be your first published work. Was this a one-and-done, or might you write other novels in the future?

Yes, this is my first and only novel for young adults. I currently have no intention of writing any novels catered for adults. However, I have in mind another novel for teens and plan to begin writing soon.

When and where did you find SCBWI?

I became acquainted with SCBWI in 2009. At the time, I was at the University of Virginia as a Fulbright scholar and had hopes of meeting authors of children’s books. I contacted some and became aware of SCBWI. Unfortunately, this happened only shortly prior to my departure. After a number of attempts to attend SCBWI conferences, I finally joined SCBWI last year and attended the conference in Los Angeles earlier this month. I had a spectacular time and am truly grateful for becoming a part of this community.

What’s next for you?

In addition to writing books for children and youth, I plan on working to increase Mayaseen
Mayaseen logo: Salam in Arabic and Peace in English
Publishing LLC book sales by focusing on our marketing strategies to ensure that we can continue supporting “Project Peace.” Secondly, we are working on expanding outside of the Arab World. We have decided to open our doors to two children or youth stories in English every year through Mayaseen Publishing LLC. 

Fatma Al Lawati has a PhD in  Curriculum and Instruction with a focus on Gifted Education. 

Of Mayaseen Publishing LLC and "Project Peace," she writes:

We do not  accept any direct money, however we welcome any help with distribution of books to children in affected countries, or help with the illustrating, designing, writing, editing of books; and of course the purchase of books is always welcome! All of this will ultimately support Project Peace.

The best way to reach us will be by email: 

Charlie Barshaw is proud to be an editor for The Mitten, a member of the SCBWI-MI Advisory Committee, a PAL, and part of the Michigan Reading Association Board. Yes, he's still revising  the YA novel, "Aunt Agnes."

Friday, September 7, 2018

From Sting to Success: Using Rejection to Improve our Writing by Janice Broyles

We hit the send button, then sit back and wait and fret and wait and check our inbox and wait some more. After weeks or even months of waiting in anticipation of the golden words “Send me more” or “I’d love to talk to you about representation,” we hear the ding of new mail. Unfortunately, more often than not, we open the email to read something along the lines of, “Thanks. It’s not for me.”

Rejection is a part of the publishing world as much as inspiration is a part of writing. There are some of us who write simply for the joy of it and are content to have our close circle of family and friends read our work. Many of us, however, write not only for the joy of the practice, but we write to share our stories with the everyday reader, the stranger, the person whose life will be more complete by reading our work. We write so that many more can share in our worlds and imaginary tales.

Grandiose? Maybe.
Probable? Maybe not.
Worth a shot? You betcha.

The sting of rejection may hurt initially, but with the right mindset and the proper motivation, that sting can lead to success.

Rejection leads to reflection.
Agents and editors oftentimes receive hundreds of queries on a weekly basis. Those boutique agencies or smaller publishing houses may receive hundreds of submissions on a monthly basis. Regardless, most of these professionals, even those on the look-out for the next big thing, will have a narrow window of how many new clients or new books to take on. That means that out of hundreds monthly, maybe one or two will be selected. That’s a lot of submissions left over! Many of these submissions are good, but lacked that “something” the agent or editor was looking for. Being objective can be difficult, especially pertaining to our own work. However, if you have received several rejections in a row, it’s time to consider the strength of your query/synopsis/sample chapter.

Rejection leads to practice. 
I’ve been rejected well over 200 times. I actually stopped counting when I reached 200 because it got depressing. That was years ago. Each of the rejections stung. Even though I’ve endured many rejections, I have to admit that I’ve also gotten better at writing. From start to today is thirteen years. But I never quit. I kept writing, and then I wrote some more. Now I have two traditionally published books: NO LONGER REJECTED (an inspirational nonfiction book) and THE SECRET HEIR (a YA historical fiction book).

Rejection leads to connection. 
Who better to understand writer’s woes than other writers? One thing about rejection is that all writers have experienced it. And, yes, I mean all. Even the heavyweights have been rejected. And if for some crazy reason an author hasn’t ever been rejected, then they haven’t started querying yet. Some of my greatest connections have come through fellow writers. Writers who understood what I was going through. It’s a support network and keeps you going. So, if you have yet to connect with fellow writers, it’s time you do. Attend an SCBWI conference (or another writer’s conference) and start a local writer’s group. Lean on each other. Because this same group of people will also be your biggest supporters when your book sees the light of day (and yes, I’m looking at you, my kindred spirits).

Rejection leads to revision. 
It’s hard to admit this, but our writing is not perfect. Ouch. Sorry. I realize that a finished book is like our baby, and we all know that babies are perfect little angels from on-high (insert eye-roll). In all seriousness, our books need revision. Lots of it. Never, ever send your book to an agent or editor without reworking and revising the entire manuscript. If you feel that it’s ready, yet you keep receiving those pesky rejections, then it’s time to take an honest look at that precious book baby. Revision is in order. I’ve rewritten entire manuscripts. Then rewrote it again.

Rejection leads to growth.
This is so important. We should want to grow as writers. We should want to improve our craft. Even though rejection feels worse than stubbing your toe and stepping on Legos at the same time, it is best used as a refining tool. True growth means tackling writing daily. It means making writing a habit. The best way to grow from rejection is to examine your writing with a fresh perspective and a critical eye. And keep writing because success will never happen if you let rejections get the best of you.
I may have dealt with over 200 rejections, but I am better as a writer because of it. Not only am I better writer, but I am also a published author. And it doesn’t get sweeter than that.

Janice Broyles’ novel, THE SECRET HEIR, was released through Heritage Beacon Press in July of 2018. Her inspirational book, NO LONGER REJECTED, hit shelves in September of 2016. Visit her at

Coming up on the Mitten Blog: Next Friday, Charlie Barshaw is back with our quarterly Writer Spotlight feature where he interviews SCBWI-MI members from around the state - it could be you! In October, Patti Richards will trumpet your success in our quarterly Hugs and Hurrahs feature. Please email Patti your good news about writing, illustrating, and publishing by October 9th to be included. And our blog will soon have a new fall-themed banner. Nina Goebel will interview and introduce our new Featured Illustrator in a few weeks.

Happy back-to-school!
Kristin Lenz