Friday, June 14, 2019

Painless Self-Promotion: Lessons Learned from a Debut Book Launch

Girls with Guts: The Road to Breaking Barriers and Bashing Records launched on May 14, just a few short weeks ago. Since then, I’ve been out and about celebrating my debut in several public events – and I have enjoyed every minute of the experience. I’ve also learned a few things along the way, three tips that you might find to be helpful, too.

Tip #1 – Just Roll with It:

I’ve learned that presenters have little to no control over the environment established in the venue. For instance, one of the launch events was held in a shopping mall. Not inside a quaint little shop or a quiet corner of the mall, mind you. No. Instead, rows of seats and signing tables were staged smack dab in the middle of a well-trafficked area without mics, to boot.

The original plan was present in an intimate “story time” type of setting. Uh…that just wasn’t going to happen. So, instead, I punted. Rather than performing a word-by-word recitation of the story, I (loudly) summarized each page, all the while moving in and out of the group in an animated fashion, engaging the kids by attempting to pull them into the story. In the end, the event was a rousing success! Kids were happy. Parents were smiling. Tons of books were signed. It was fun!

Tip #2 – Let Opportunity Lead:

One of the bookstore events was scheduled to be held mid-morning on Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, and weather was simply glorious! Bright sunny skies. Warm gentle breezes. The perfect day for a walk in the park, OUTDOORS. Well, as you might guess, the attendance numbers were low. Some things are just not in our control, right?

Rather than being bummed about the crowd size, I used the opportunity to genuinely focus on the terrific folks who chose to come by to support my debut author journey. I studied the color of their eyes as we talked. As a result of being grateful and enjoying the moment, I met a kid blogger who has twice posted about the book and I found out about a cool program for teachers hosted by the store, one in which I can serve as a presenter!

Tip #3 – Be Self-Sufficient: 

I’ve discovered that, though there seems to be a great deal of energetic enthusiasm surrounding the promotion of the launch, the bookstore staff may not share in the buzz. The event coordinator was out of pocket when I first arrived at one of the events. The first person I spoke with worked in the cafe’ and (understandably so) seemed to have little interest in helping me set up. She kindly directed me to podium and then I busied myself making a nest. I pulled out my computer and swag, tidied up the podium, and arranged the stage as best I thought it would function well. After some time, the event coordinator arrived and, together, we cheerfully made things happen. In the end, all went well.

Overall, this book launching experience has left me consumed by a deep sense of gratitude. I’m thankful for the kind souls who have made it priority to attend each event, appreciative for those behind the scenes who have organized all the moving parts and humbled by all the love and support that has come my way. I can’t wait to do more of them!

Debbie Gonzales is a career educator, curriculum consultant, former school administrator, adjunct professor, and once served as a SCBWI RA for the Austin Chapter. Deb currently devotes her time to writing middle grade novels, crafting educator guides with Guides by Deb, producing The Debcast (a podcast dedicated to the empowering spirit of the female athlete) and various freelance projects. She’s the author of six “transitional” readers for New Zealand publisher, Giltedge, and the non-fiction picture book Girls with Guts: The Road to Breaking Barriers and Bashing Records (Charlesbridge, 2019). Deb currently serves as board member for the Michigan Reading Association. She earned her MFA in writing for children and young adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Learn more about Deb by accessing

Did you miss Debbie's previous Painless Self-Promotion posts? Click on the links below to read her entire series:

Want to learn more? KidLit 411 devoted an entire section of their website to resources for marketing and creating a platform:

Coming up on the Mitten blog: 

We're heading into a more relaxed schedule for the summer months, but we still have plenty of posts ahead, including a new Featured Illustrator, Hugs and Hurrahs, and much more. Follow our blog and never miss a post - simply enter your email on the right sidebar.

Happening now: 2019 Summer Art Show

Congrats to the SCBWI-MI illustrators with artwork featured at the Saline District Library! Shutta Crum is the guest speaker for the reception on June 23rd, and the artwork will be on display all summer. Please spread the word and visit if you're in the area:

Friday, June 7, 2019

Book Birthday Blog with Victoria Buursma

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

Congratulations to Victoria Buursma on the release of her new book, TRIPLE THE FUN ON MACKINAC ISLAND!

Q#1: Congrats on your new book! What inspired you to write it?
My entry into motherhood wasn’t quite the normal route. I’m a triplet mom to three year-old toddlers, Josephine, Rosalie and Eleanor who were born three months premature after a very high-risk and complicated pregnancy. Since high school, I’ve always had a dream of writing a children’s book and after becoming a first-time mom, my desire to write one grew even further but my inspiration didn’t stop there.
When my parents moved to Mackinac Island to become innkeepers at the Cottage Inn of Mackinac, we found ourselves visiting frequently and it quickly became Josie, Rosie and Ellie’s favorite place. Adding together my love for my children and my love for Mackinac Island –– my story was clear and Triple the Fun on Mackinac Island was created.

Q#2: Writing can be a real struggle at times. Did you come up against any challenges when writing this book? How did you deal with them?
With being a mother to three toddlers, finding quiet time to focus on my writing was my biggest challenge and my writing sessions were limited to late-evenings after my mommy-duties for the day were complete. Also, many parents would agree that providing equal attention to each child is a necessity, so it was important for me to ensure each child was equally represented in my writing.

Q#3: Who is your author idol? How has that author affected you?
I don’t have one specific author idol, instead I have many. During my daughters long NICU stay, they would each receive a children’s book on a weekly basis, which was a part of C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital’s Giving Library Program. These books provided me with a way to connect with my children when I couldn’t necessarily do so through touch. This experience is what opened my eyes to the all the possibilities of what children’s books offer and I idolized many of the authors I would read.

Q#4: Can you share what you are working on now?
I just finished my first children’s book, Triple the Fun on Mackinac Island which is illustrated by Natalia Wohletz and published by Mackinac Memories LLC. Currently, I am preparing for its launch in mid-June!

I’m also excited to announce that I’m able to donate a copy of Triple the Fun on Mackinac Island to each room at the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital thanks to the contribution made by my sponsors, Mackinac Island resident Bob Benser and the following businesses: Cottage Inn of Mackinac, Good Day CafĂ©, Island Slice Pizzeria, Original Murdick’s Fudge, Pink Pony and The Mackinac House.

Q#5: What are your marketing/promotional plans for your new book? Where can people connect with you?
My book launch signing for Triple the Fun on Mackinac Island is on June 16th at the Island Bookstore on Mackinac Island from 11am-1pm and it will be available online at starting June 17th. During the month of June, Triple the Fun On Mackinac Island will begin popping up in stores on Mackinac Island, in Mackinaw City, St. Ignace and at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Triple the Fun on Mackinac Island will also be featured on local news stations as well as in local newspapers. To stay up to date with its release and future signings, visit @triplethefun on Instagram or Facebook and to learn more, head to

A little bit about the author: Victoria Buursma gave birth to triplet daughters, Josephine, Rosalie and Eleanor, three months premature at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor, Mich. Following their birth, Victoria became an advocate and influencer to help guide new parents through the obstacles of parenting preemies, especially multiples. The stay-at-home mom has a BA in social work from Eastern Michigan University and lives in Gaylord, Mich., with her daughters, husband and two dogs. They often visit Mackinac Island where her parents are innkeepers at The Cottage Inn of Mackinac and The Mackinac House. Keep your eyes peeled; you may see her strolling around the island with her daughters in tow.

A little bit about the book: Join triplet sisters Josie, Rosie and Ellie as they travel to Mackinac Island. It’s three times the fun – and sometimes the trouble – as they adventure on horse-drawn carriages, splash in the Grand Hotel pool, watch butterflies sip nectar and visit soldiers in uniform at Fort Mackinac.
The girls don’t always agree on things such as fudge flavors and who gets to sit on Grandpa’s lap, but they learn that if they take turns, share and problem-solve little obstacles along the way, their Mackinac Island adventures are always triple the fun.
Beautifully illustrated scenes along with the author’s hard-earned tips and fun-filled activity ideas for parents traveling with young children make this book a must for your Mackinac Island children’s library collection.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Book Birthday Blog with Debbie Diesen

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

Congratulations to Debbie Diesen on the release of her newest Pout-Pout Fish book, THE POUT-POUT FISH CLEANS UP THE OCEAN!

Q#1: Congratulations on the release of the newest Pout-Pout Fish book, The Pout-Pout Fish Cleans Up the Ocean! What can we expect from Mr. Fish in this story?

Thank you!  It's been fun accompanying Mr. Fish on his many adventures over the years.  In the newest Pout-Pout Fish book, the eighth in the series, Mr. Fish and his friends encounter a mysterious mess in the ocean. Unsure of what it is, they work together to study it and identify its causes.  Then they join together again in a commitment to cleaning up ocean pollution.  The book ends with a call to action for readers:

"Problems have solutions,
So we learn what we can do.
Together, we're the answer...
Would you like to join us, too?"

Q#2: The Pout-Pout Fish books were a favorite in my house when my son was little. Can you share some of your secrets to creating a series that will keep kids asking for more?

I'm so grateful for the enthusiasm with which the series has been received!  I've enjoyed writing the stories, but the secret to the success of the series is Dan Hanna.  From the very first book, his delightful illustrations brought the characters to life in a fun and full way.  That paved the way for their further adventures.

Q#3: You have quite a few other books out as well, (Click here to see all of Debbie Diesen's books: Books!). What would you say has been the hardest and easiest part of your writing journey?

Every writing journey has its challenges and joys, and they intertwine together in interesting ways.  Spontaneous moments of inspiration are a sheer delight; in contrast, revision can be a discouraging, dispiriting slog.  But you can't really have one without the other.  Keeping that in mind makes the hard parts a little easier.  The occasional dose of dark chocolate doesn't hurt, either.

Q#4: As you know, being an author has its ups and downs. Is there anything in particular that you do to celebrate the "ups" and deal with the "downs"? 

For both the ups and the downs, nothing beats a supportive writing group.  I've been in mine for seventeen years and I can't imagine my life without it.

Q#5: What is one piece of advice you would pass down to aspiring writers?

Bring the whole of yourself to your writing:  your diligence; your playfulness; your confidence; your insecurities; your hopes; your fears; your joys.  You may not always know where you're headed, but if you follow your writing path with openness, authenticity, and trust, your path will take you exactly where you need to be.  (Bonus advice:  Don't forget your rhyming dictionary and a snack.)

A little bit about the author: Deborah Diesen is the author of many children’s picture books, including the NYT-bestselling The Pout-Pout Fish.  She loves playing with words and rhymes and rhythms.  She has worked as a bookseller, a bookkeeper, and a reference librarian.  She and her family live in Michigan.

A little bit about the book: Mr. Fish and his friends have noticed something strange in their ocean―a big, big MESS! How did it get there? What can they do about it? The closer they look, the more they see where the mess came from . . . and they'll have to work together to get rid of it. This newest jacketed hardcover in the New York Times–bestselling Pout-Pout Fish series will teach little guppies how to take responsibility for their actions and for the environment.

Friday, May 31, 2019

Ask the Editor with Katherine Gibson

Welcome to our quarterly Ask the Editor feature! Katherine Gibson is an editor at Zonderkidz and was previously at Eerdmans Books for Young Readers. She's collecting questions from SCBWI-MI members and sharing her answers with our community. Did you miss her first post? Go here. Then come right back and read on for a new batch of questions/answers below.

Here's Katherine:

Hi everyone! A big THANK YOU to everyone who took the time to send me their questions! I hope all of you, whether you submitted a question or not, find this post helpful and informative.

As with my previous Ask the Editor post, I humbly request that you take my comments in the spirit in which they’re intended. The advice here is meant to be friendly and helpful, and I don’t want anyone to finish this post feeling vulnerable or discouraged. We’re all in the process of growing and changing as writers, and that’s a good thing!

And, of course, a general disclaimer that my thoughts are my own; I do not speak on behalf of all publishing. If I say something that you really don’t agree with, or you’ve received comments from an editor or agent that directly conflict with my perspective, you can disregard my comments if you so choose. What you find here is solely one editor’s perspective.

If you have questions about writing or publishing that aren’t addressed here, please feel free to email me. I’m always happy to gather questions for my next post!

Thanks so much, and happy reading (and writing)!

I just attended a conference and had an editor critique, and was asked to revise and resubmit. What steps would you have an author follow before they resubmit?

First of all, congratulations! The fact that an editor invited you to revise and resubmit means that they see some serious potential in the project. The first step an author should follow in this situation is to take the notes they received from the editor and follow them exactly. From the editor’s perspective, the changes they’ve asked for are what the manuscript needs in order to work, so you’ll want to make sure you deliver on all of them.

Once you’ve made the changes the editor has requested, I would recommend sharing your revised manuscript with some reader/writer friends you trust to give you honest feedback. Ask if they feel that the changes you’ve made are working, and if there are any other trouble spots they notice. (Some big things to have them watch for: voice, plot, characterization, pacing, theme.) I wouldn’t go asking a dozen people for this kind of advice (too many chefs and all that), but having 2-5 other people look it over for any issues can help to catch some things you may have missed.

Finally, I’d suggest going through it once or twice by yourself before you resubmit. Read it out loud to yourself, slowly; this is especially great for catching small typos or places where the text gets a little clunky. Once you’ve done that and the text is as clean as possible, you’re ready to resubmit!

What are some things that can cause a good story to be rejected? What causes a story to be accepted?

It’s a sad truth that good stories — even great stories — can get rejected. Sometimes it’s because just one element is a bit off. For instance, it could be a nonfiction book about a really interesting topic, but the voice is a bit too dry. Or maybe a picture book has a fun and refreshing plot, but the ending falls flat compared to the rest of the story. Because agents and editors look at so many manuscripts, a story has to hit all the notes to really gain their attention.

But sometimes even that isn’t enough. Sometimes even a virtually flawless manuscript gets rejected, simply because it’s not the story the publisher is currently looking for. Maybe it’s not one of the genres they typically publish, or maybe they already have a couple books about that topic and are looking to acquire something different. To minimize the chances of this kind of scenario, I recommend doing research on agents and publishers before you submit your manuscript. Sending your manuscript to a small, curated list of agents/publishers that seem like a great fit will give you better results than casting a wide, indiscriminate net.

As for what causes a story to get accepted, I think it’s going to vary based on the agent/editor, but the five big things I tend to focus on (which I alluded to in my answer to the previous question, because I’m sneaky like that) are:
  • voice (Does the writing style grab and maintain my attention? Is it distinctive in some way?)
  • plot (What are the stakes? Does the story flow logically from the character’s motivations?)
  • characterization (Are the characters dynamic and compelling?) 
  • pacing (Does the story move too fast, too slow, or just right?)
  • theme (What’s the point of the story? What can I take away from it?)
If a story handles all of those elements with aplomb, I’d say it stands a good chance of getting accepted!

How long do writers typically try to get published before they finally do or decide call it quits? Have you seen writers pursuing their craft for many years despite not being published?

I don’t know that there’s a typical timeframe for this, like if you’ve been writing for X number of years, you’ll either get published or know it’s time to throw in the towel. Unfortunately, the publishing business just doesn't work that way. Some writers get their very first manuscript published (notice I didn’t say the first draft of their first manuscript). Some authors who already have books on the shelves will struggle for years to get a new manuscript accepted.

I will say that, unless you’re a famous celebrity, you’ll probably need to spend at least a few years studying and honing your craft before you’re ready to be published. A lot of writers give up at this stage, because it’s hard. It’s incredibly difficult to generate words, day after day, study writing manuals and great works of literature, with no guarantee that anything you write will be shared with the world. But you need good writing to get published, and unfortunately, there are no shortcuts when it comes to generating good writing. Studying the craft requires time and patience. (The occasional alcoholic beverage doesn’t hurt either.)

All that to say, my advice to people who want to write books is to try not to focus on getting published, because that lies outside of your control (and, as I mentioned earlier, doesn’t simply involve creating a great manuscript). Instead, focus on what you can control: pursuing your craft and enjoying your progress. If you’re just getting started and looking for ideas on how to hone your craft, I highly recommend reading Welcome to the Writer’s Life by Paulette Perhach. It’s both an encouraging and informative guide to building your writing life.

Some people may disagree with me on this (probably the same people who, upon meeting someone at a party and finding out they like to write, immediately ask if they’ve published anything), but I don’t think a writer needs to be traditionally published in order to be successful. Writers write because they enjoy writing. If you take pleasure in spinning stories in your head and putting words on a page, you’re a writer. If you care enough about writing to study the craft and learn from other writers, if your writing is better than it was a year ago, then you’re successfully making progress. Only you get to decide if/when you give up, but if you love to write, I’d urge you to keep writing.

What is the best way to join a critique group? Is it better to have everyone at different stages of their craft or about the same? 

As I’m sure you’re aware, SCBWI is an incredibly useful tool for connecting with other children’s book writers and illustrators. But if you don’t live in one of the areas that offers monthly shop talks, or you don’t know of anyone else who’s interested in writing or illustrating children’s books in your area, try searching on to find a nearby writing group. Or ask a local librarian if they know of any critique groups in the area. Librarians know everything!

As for the second question, I think the most important thing is making sure that each person in the critique group takes writing seriously. You want to be surrounded by people who are genuinely motivated to study and improve their craft and who offer you thoughtful feedback on your work. I don’t think it much matters whether everyone’s at a different stage in their writing career or at roughly the same level — there’s always something to learn from each other. But you definitely want to find people who match your enthusiasm!

There seems to be a subgenre of picture books emerging called the "infofic," which is a fictional story with nonfiction elements. Can you shed some light on what constitutes good Infofic?

I really haven’t heard the term “infofic” used outside of Twitter (meaning I probably wouldn’t use the term in a query letter, as not all editors/agents may recognize it), but I think you’re right in saying that this type of story is gaining in popularity. An infofic can take a lot of different forms, but here are a couple key things to keep in mind as you write one:

1.  When you’re combining both fiction and nonfiction elements, you should make sure the story takes precedence over the facts. Writers typically do a lot of research for their infofics, which is wonderful, but the facts shouldn’t bog down the book. For an infofic, I’d much rather read a captivating story that had a few nonfiction elements thrown in than a story packed full with info that’s held together by a weak plot.

2.  While they’re gaining in popularity, I think infofics can still be a hard sell sometimes, because they don’t fit neatly into either fiction or nonfiction, and thus booksellers/librarians can be unsure of where to place them. To mitigate this, I think writers should have a very clear reason as to why they’re writing an infofic as opposed to something that’s wholly fiction or nonfiction. For instance, maybe you really want to write a story about a specific historical event, but almost all of the primary sources have been lost to history, so you use fiction to fill in the gaps. If you can explain why your story is best told as an infofic, I think agents and editors will more readily share your vision for the book.

Self-publishing seems to be gaining some positive momentum. Have you read any self-published books, and what are your thoughts on self-publishing?

I’ve read many self-published children’s books through the course of my work (writers often submit self-published titles to traditional publishers, and indeed, sometimes they get picked up), but I don’t typically read them for leisure, mostly because my to-read list is staggering enough as it is.

Of course, working for a publisher, I’m tempted to extol the virtues of traditional publishing (editors are cool, please tell your friends). But the truth is, it can be really tough for writers to follow the path of traditional publishing these days; the odds of finding an agent, securing a publisher, and having a book that earns out its advance and starts delivering royalties are discouragingly slim. With self-publishing, you don’t need to worry about any of that. With the help of a self-publishing service (and there are many good ones to choose from), you can write a book and make it available for other people to read and enjoy. And I do think people are more open to reading self-published books than they were five or ten years ago.

But I think the best part of self-publishing — the fact that you’re in complete control of the book — is also its downside: it’s all on you. There’s a lot of pressure and a lot of things to juggle. The writers who go with a traditional publisher get to benefit from the publisher’s assistance; the people who make up a publishing team are literally paid to know the ins and outs of children’s book world and how to edit, design, and market a book effectively so that it reaches and resonates with as many people as possible. The writers who self-publish are tasked with doing all of that by themselves, which is a tall order. And yet, I know writers who have self-published multiple books who are absolutely thrilled with the results.

All in all, I think publishing a book is challenging regardless of whether you decide to pursue traditional or self-publishing. (Writers are warriors, make no mistake about it.) If you’re wondering which path to pursue, think about your goals (why do you want your story to be published?), then look at the processes and demands of both traditional and self-publishing. Pick the one that best aligns with your goals and values.

Katherine Gibson is an editor for Zonderkidz, having previously worked for Eerdmans Books for Young Readers. She graduated from the University of Denver Publishing Institute in 2013 and has spent the last five years editing and publishing award-winning children’s books, including Sibert Medal and Caldecott Honor book The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus and Plume, which was a New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Book.

Thank you, Katherine!
Ask the Editor is a new quarterly feature on the Mitten blog. Do you have a question about publishing? Email Mitten blog editor Kristin Lenz with "Ask the Editor" in the subject line, and she'll forward your question to Katherine. Or, stay tuned on the SCBWI-MI MichKids listserv – Katherine will ask for questions a few weeks before her next post.

Attention SCBWI-MI picture book writers! 

The submission window opens on Monday June 3rd for the Picture Book Text Mentorship Competition for non-PAL members. Did you miss our interview with mentor, Lisa Wheeler? Find everything you need to know on our SCBWI-MI website.

Congrats to Buffy Silverman who won the PAL mentorship with mentor Kelly DiPuccio!

Friday, May 24, 2019

SCBWI Marvelous Midwest Moments

Our SCBWI-MI listserv has been all abuzz about the recent Marvelous Midwest Multi-Region Conference held in Naperville, Illinois. Our members expressed gratitude and appreciation for the organizers' hard work as well as praise for the thoughtful and motivating key-notes and breakout sessions. Two SCBWI members offered to share their takeaways, and we have lots of photos thanks to Angela Verges and Dave Stricklen.

Lynn Baldwin, an SCBWI-MI member from Ann Arbor, writes:

What a Marvelous Weekend!

SCBWI’s Marvelous Midwest Conference certainly lived up to its name. It was a marvelous weekend of networking, learning and being inspired by a great line-up of authors, illustrators, editors, agents and other kidlit industry experts.

While it would be hard to summarize everything seen, heard and learned, here are some key take-aways:

Community: Our own RAs and conference co-chairs, Leslie Helakoski and Carrie Pearson, kicked off the event with an inspiring presentation that cleverly used the titles of children’s books to convey the idea that we’re on this journey together.

I certainly felt the community as I reconnected with old friends and met some new ones, including some wildly creative people at the Friday evening social who were dressed for the theme of let’s go to the fair (think cows, balloon vendors, baking contest participants and more!) Everyone I spoke with – from newbies to multi-published authors – was kind, engaging and eager to share experiences.

Creativity: Beyond the creativity of the costumes, there was a general sense of creativity in the air that came from being surrounded by so many like-minded people. We were also treated to the visual creativity of the illustrator community whose artwork was on display for all to enjoy.

Today’s children’s book market is open to creativity in terms of book topics and formats, according to librarian and Kirkus reviewer Betsy Bird. In her keynote, she spoke of today as a “new golden age” in children’s literature. She and fellow librarian Travis Jonker expanded on the topic of creativity in their fascinating breakout session on “picture books outside the boundaries.”

Opportunity: Our opportunity as authors and illustrators isn’t just to sell books. We also have the chance to right some ingrained wrongs.  Many speakers, including a diversity panel representing multiple facets of the industry, spoke of the importance of making sure that ALL kids have books in which they can see themselves. We learned that the industry is making strides to better represent diverse voices but that there’s still a long way to go.

Author Jack Cheng gave an inspiring presentation about the role of children’s books in reducing violence against women and girls. He spoke of the need to write books that move beyond stereotypical representations of boys and men and about how important it is for boys to read books starring girls. (Jack made his presentation available online for everyone to read and share. Don't miss this one:

Beauty: In one of the most hopeful breakout sessions I attended, agent Stephen Fraser spoke of our role as writers and illustrators in countering the toxic negativity found in today’s world and bringing beauty and kindness to children. He said that creating books for kids is a “joy and a privilege.” Several other speakers reinforced the idea that children’s books can have a lifelong impact on the reader, certainly a beautiful thought.

Lynn Baldwin is a picture book writer on the path to publication. When not writing, she enjoys traveling, studying/speaking foreign languages and being active outside. Lynn lives with her husband and son in Ann Arbor. Learn more at

MaryAtkinson, an SCBWI New England member from Maine writes:

A New Englander Goes to the Marvelous Midwest

Have you ever thought of attending an SCBWI conference outside of your region? This year, instead of attending my local New England conference, I decided to shake things up and go the Marvelous Midwest. 

I’d looked through the schedule and seen that there were many faculty presenting that I’d never heard before. I could catch up with friends from Vermont College whom I seldom see. And I was super impressed with the wide variety of sessions— from writing from the heart to revision techniques and developing secondary characters; from photoshop tips for illustrators to how to make a pop-up book; panels on diversity, self-publishing, and what agents want; keynotes both inspiring and informative.

I found a direct flight from Portland, Maine (where I live) to Chicago, took a quick ride to Naperville, and there I was. I knew immediately when I entered the hotel and registered that I’d made a good decision. We attendees were well taken care of from the start. The Marvelous Midwest volunteers made the conference run smoothly and efficiently. Thank you!

Everyone was so welcoming and friendly. Conversations popped up on elevators, at the dinner table, in the hallways between sessions. I soon wished I could’ve cloned myself to attend everything and meet more people.

There’s something about leaving home and traveling to a new place that recharges my batteries and makes me see my work as a writer in a new light.

I left with renewed energy and a notebook full of things to do (consider those secondary characters, experiment with a different POV, pump up my social media), and contact information from lots of new friends. I discovered many new-to-me authors and illustrators to follow.

So thank you, Marvelous Midwesterners. I’ll be keeping an eye out for your next conference!

Mary Atkinson is the author or Owl Girl, Tillie Heart and Soul, and Mario’s Notebook. You can learn more about her at

Coming up on the Mitten Blog 

Tips for Painless Self-Promotion, Ask the Editor, Book Birthday celebrations, a new Featured Illustrator, and more!

Do you have an idea for a blog post? We're in need of posts for this summer about any aspect of writing, illustrating, and publishing for children and teens.
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We'd love to hear from you! Read our Submission Guidelines here.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Book Birthday Blog with Dawn Chevoya

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

Congratulations to Dawn Chevoya on the release of her new book, TRAPPER'S GROUNDING!

Q#1     What inspired you to write Trapper's Grounding?
In 2009 my grandsons were young and wanted G’ma to tell them a story on the long drive to Ontario for our annual camping trip. The story I told back then—involving a cabin in the woods—was much simpler than Trapper’s Grounding, about a 13 year old, and inspired by the Williamston middle schoolers where I worked. When the book finished, it struck me that Iwas the inspiration for my main character who struggled with feelings of insignificance.

Q#2     Did you come up against any challenges when writing this book? How did you deal with them?
            Basically I was pretty inept at putting together a clean sentence. I had to read literally dozens of books on the craft of writing by authorities such as James Scott Bell, Les Edgerton, Stephen King and others, even Stunk & White. Also I commissioned my brother, an awesome artist who lives in Colorado, to draw a few illustrations I thought the book needed. He ran into some personal problems and never came through, so a day before my manuscript submission deadline I whisked off six pencil drawings that appear in the book. His would have been much more professional. Artists! Gotta love ‘em, right?

Q#3     Who is your author idol? How has that author affected you?
            E.B. White is way at the top of my author idol list. When I get into a slump, reading anything that E.B. White has written in his wonderful clear, perfect style gets me back on track. He iskinda like an author godto me.

Q#4     Can you share what you are working on now?
            My sequel research file is overflowing with ideas. Brennon Trapper will get into some more hot water when he discovers an opening in the ground of the dried-up creek bed.

Q#5     What are your marketing/promotional plans for your new book? Where can people connect with you?
            Right now, I have someone working on an audiobook version. I am looking to book some school visits for anyone interested! Also, I offer a Classroom Guide created by a veteran 6thgrade teacher available on my website:
Email me at
You Tube channel: om/channel/UCR7EtlTeeiyPgS-Jt-1ywwQ
I try to post regularly on Instagram: dawnchevoya.

Trapper’s Grounding is available on B&N, Amazon, IndiBound, Books.A.Million(BAM), Goodreads and Google Books.

A little bit about the author:
While managing a middle school library (Williamston) for thirteen years, Dawn Chevoya enjoyed bonding during lunch hour with kids on the fringe and with students after school working on yearbook layouts. She has two children and frequently supplies gummy worms to her seven grandchildren. Chevoya was born in Fresno, CA, grew up in Miami, FL, and lives in Lansing where she has not yet retired from 22 years at the Thomas Cooley Law School Library.
A little bit about the book:
A boy sets in motion something big when he buries a tesserapod in the woods of Northern Michigan. Seventh-grader, Brennon Trapper discovers his parents have lied to him, and that his birth father is buried in the cemetery where he hangs out after school. On a family camping trip in the woods, Brennon and his younger brother encounter a beaver with an inexplicable gift who gives them the tesserapod that must be grounded. Already afraid of his father, Brennon  is even more afraid he won’t be able to keep it a secret when it develops into something too big to hide. An epic December blizzard triggers a chain of events that drives Brennon to finally confront his greatest fear and ultimately run away. Too bad he chooses the worse day of the entire year.    

Friday, May 17, 2019

Lit in the Mitten: an Interview with Adam Gac

A few months ago, I visited the Delta College Q-90.1 FM studio to be interviewed by Adam Gac for the Lit in the Mitten podcast. I enjoyed our conversation so much, we're continuing it here on our SCBWI-MI blog. Read on to learn more about Adam, his writing and VCFA/MFA experience, children's literature, and his hopes for the Lit in the Mitten episodes.

Tell us about your Lit in the Mitten radio series at Delta College Q-90.1 FM. How did it start, how long will it continue, and how can we tune in?

My wife and I moved to Bay City after she finished her Master’s degree at University of Michigan and was subsequently hired for her dream job as the Director of Education for BaySail – an organization that teaches history, science and sustainability on the Appledore Tallships. I was fortunate enough to follow my excitement for news to a position as a producer at Q90.1. Lit in the Mitten is my contribution to Q90.1’s selection of Michigan-focused art programs. My colleagues have a variety of shows following their passions, including highlighting local musicians and theater.

Episodes are released bi-weekly on Mondays with on-air clips and full interviews available at I hope to continue the program for the next few years. I’d love to offer Michigan authors the opportunity to talk craft and their latest projects until people get tired of me. One of our local hosts, Rod Bieber, has been producing shows with the station for 25 years and he’s still going strong, so the sky’s the limit.

I was honored that you read my entire novel to prepare for our interview. I thoroughly enjoyed our conversation about children's and young adult literature and was impressed with your thoughtful questions. You're currently working toward your MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults at VCFA. Tell us more about your studies and your own writing.

First and foremost I want to give a shout out to Amy Rose Capetta, Cori McCarthy and Tirzah Price. I met the three of them while I was a reporter in Big Rapids and I wouldn’t be at VCFA if it wasn’t for their guidance and support. Second and middlemost, reading your novel was an absolute pleasure!

The low-residency MFA program at VCFA is well-suited for cultivating the knowledge and discipline necessary for sustainable writing. Twice a year I get to surround myself with people who share my passion for writing for children and young adults. It’s basically like going to Hogwarts. The residencies are filled with great workshops, lectures and so many amazing conversations. In between residencies students work one-on-one with advisors with a TON of experience. I’ve worked on projects from picture book biographies and short stories to full-length novels.

My primary focus is on YA and Middle Grade science fiction and horror, but one of the great parts of the program is advisors who encourage you to work outside of your comfort zone. Challenging yourself with other genres and styles as well as with critical writing can be surprising. There’s a very specific kind of delight that bubbles up when you realize that you’ve increased the size of your comfort zone writing by venturing outside of it.

You've been reading a lot of books for all ages for your MFA program. Are any patterns jumping out at you? What aspects of a story grab your attention at the beginning and keep you engaged throughout?

One pattern that really excites me in the kidlitsphere is the growing demand for graphic novels and traditional novels with other forms of media mixed in. Comic books were a big part of growing up for me and it’s super exciting to see the industry embracing the opportunities that blending words and pictures has to offer.

Another exciting trend is the growing demand for books with diverse characters written by diverse authors. One of the most powerful aspects of kid lit is the opportunity for young people (and grownups for that matter) to grow through the reading process. The more readers can see themselves represented honestly in a story, the more impactful it will be.

Because I come from a journalism background I put a lot of value in truth in storytelling. I’ve read hundreds of books in my journey through VCFA and the unifying factor in the works I’ve really loved is their honesty. When an author is trying to capitalize on an industry trend or use their story to force a reader to a specific conclusion the work is so much less fulfilling than a story that comes from the reality of the writer’s own experience.

During our interview, you asked me about quality literature. I've been thinking more about this, and it's helpful when considering my own writing and what I'm hoping to accomplish. May I direct the question back to you? How do you define quality literature?

Quality literature, to me, is any writing that enriches the life of the reader. The aspect of quality literature that excites me most is its ability to enrich the life of the author through the writing process. Getting at the hard truths of your own existence is the only way to authentically express that process in your characters and their stories.

Anything else you'd like us to know?

Adam interviewing author Nick Adkins
Anyone interested in appearing on Lit in the Mitten can reach out to me at I’d also like to encourage people to support their local independent bookstores. I spent some time working for the Book Industry Charitable Foundation and they are doing tremendous work helping employees of brick-and-mortar bookstores through all sorts of emergencies. Booksellers don’t get into bookselling because they love working in retail, they get into it because they know how important it is to have a strong literary community.

Thanks so much for your time, Adam! To listen to Adam's interviews, go to the Lit in the Mitten podcast here. And stay tuned, he'll continue to add new interviews each month.

Coming up on the SCBWI-MI blog: 

Tips for Painless Self-Promotion (from Debbie Gonzales who is celebrating her Girls with Guts book birthday this week!), a recap and photos from the SCBWI Marvelous Midwest conference, Ask the Editor, and much more.

Have a great weekend!
Kristin Lenz

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Writer Spotlight: Camilla Roper

Charlie Barshaw coordinates our quarterly Writer Spotlight feature and interviews writers of SCBWI-MI. This quarter's writer is Camilla Roper.

Writer Spotlight: Camilla Roper and the Tale of Two Languages

What was your early life like? How did it shape your desire to write and teach?

I wrote and illustrated stories from a young age. I recall in junior high, a friend and I were enamored with the original Avengers series on TV.  We’d watch the show, and then I would write as fast as I could additional episodes for her to read.  I recall both of us being frustrated that I couldn’t write faster…

What were some of your favorite books, and who were some of your favorite authors, growing up?

Rudyard Kipling’s and Helen Bannerman’s stories inflamed an early desire to travel and experience diverse cultures.  Beatrix Potter’s dry wit and hapless yet lovable characters were like family.  P. L. Travers’ Mary Poppins stories fascinated me, and I loved the weird genius of Maurice Sendak.  Being a very serious child, I took to heart every moral in Aesop’s Fables.  The Bible related stories of family drama, bloody battles, natural and supernatural phenomena, gore, and violence. Helen Oxenbury’s The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig is brilliant, and one of the few books I actually own.  I didn’t read Beverly Cleary as a child, but love the way she paces her books.  Polly Horvath knows how to turn a phrase.  Jerry and Ellen Spinelli, and Ellen’s illustrations - these are all gifted writers I still read today.

How did you end up attending the University of Nebraska-Lincoln? And how did you come to pursue the dual majors of Spanish and Education?

I grew up in Lincoln.  I think I chose UNL because I could ride my bike to classes.  In winter, I showered and hopped on my bike and arrived on campus 5½ miles later, with ice crystals in my long blonde braids.  I’d absolutely loved Spanish since finding my dad’s Spanish textbook when I was about four, deciding then and there to study the language.  The decision to become a teacher came suddenly when, as a second-semester junior, I realized I would be graduating soon and needed a job.  

You evidently found teaching compelling early on. Name some of your most influential teachers, and how they affected you.

Camilla working on a watercolor project.
We had half-day kindergarten and first grade.  One group studied in the morning, and a second group came in the afternoon. Mrs. Kane epitomized all my great teachers:  She consolidated the first-grade curriculum into half the time, and a disproportionate number of my classmates not only thrived, but became physicians, scientists, and other accomplished scholars. I studied ridiculously hard all through school and received an exceptional education. At UNL, tuition was cheap, so I took classes every summer, and as many courses as I could each term.  I studied law for one year, but found I was not suited to it.  I did encounter some amazing characters in my professors, in case I ever decided to write horror stories, though.

At Boston U. you pursued a Masters in Bilingual, Multilingual, Multicultural Education. That’s quite a mouthful to say, and a challenge to complete. What does that educational curriculum entail?

It’s a funny story. We only had one car, so I started riding in with my husband to BU, and got a job on campus. BU employees got 100% tuition remission for eight credit hours each term. So we pursued graduate degrees. My curriculum included current issues in bilingual ed, cultural awareness, curriculum development, teaching reading in Spanish, metrics, and narrative and literature. I taught and observed in an elementary and a middle school during my studies.

 At this point in your life you were obviously proficient enough in Spanish and English to pursue bilingual education. What are some of the benefits to be able to speak, write and read in multiple languages?

You gain flexibility in thinking, and become aware of more options in life in general.  It gives you confidence and keeps you on your toes. Traveling is more compelling and fun.  Learning one language facilitates learning others.  Before recent trips to South America, Finland, Iceland, Germany, Poland, the Czech Republic, and France, I studied the languages, and it definitely had a positive impact.

It’s been proven that younger students have more ability to learn additional languages. Would you like to see a greater emphasis on early language education?

Yes! Communicating in other languages changes your perspective, opens up your heart, your mind, and your world.  I think it makes you more cognitively flexible.  Your lexicon at least doubles, and you learn to think, write, and express yourself in different ways.  It teaches you to really listen, and to use language carefully, especially upon entering and exiting foreign countries.  It can also magnify opportunities for employment and earning power later on.  

What led you to Michigan?
My husband’s job brought us to Michigan.  We had a choice between somewhere in Tennessee and a third state, and we chose to live near the Great Lakes.

Are you still a substitute teacher in the Ann Arbor area?
Yes, a couple times weekly, and I sometimes do a long-term stint in Spanish.  I absolutely love being in the classroom.  

 What do you like to read now? Who are your favorite authors today?

Richard Peck passed in May 2018, and I’ve made it my mission to read everything he wrote!  Without a doubt, he was immensely gifted.  He didn’t start writing until he was 37, but continued until his 80’s.  All his books amaze me. In sci-fi, I reread Lois McMaster Bujold.  Alex Kourvo and Harry R. Campion’s four “Detroit Next” novels keep me on the edge. In children’s lit, Aree Chung’s Mixed: A Colorful Story takes on racial/ethnic diversity for the wee lot, and excels.  Eve Bunting’s Smoky Night deals with touchy subjects delicately. I scan the just-published children’s and YA section at the library and end up reading about three new books a week.

When did you start to write? How has your writing changed over the years?

I began to write as a child. Early on, I wrote fiction, adventure, mystery, none of which I submitted for publication. Lately I write nonfiction, and magazine articles about science and technology and historical subjects.  I especially feel an affinity for the mindset of average people during World War II and their sense of mission and being part of something bigger than themselves.

What are you working on now?

I am working on a WWII piece dealing with how real people dealt with the concept of rationing (conceptualized as a picture book).  I am also working on a fantasy piece about an underground society ( a mid-grade novel) sparked by a trip last fall to a subterranean salt mine near Krakow, Poland and unique sewer covers dotting the streets of Copenhagen.  From time to time, I write pieces on subjects like eclipses, self-driving vehicles, and augmented reality (for children's magazines like Highlights).  I also enjoy drawing and painting.

How has being proficient in two languages (and conversant in others) changed your life? 

It’s made me more open to different arguments and perspectives.  I minored in Czech at college, and spent six weeks on a scholarship trip to Prague.  My paternal grandparents emigrated from Bohemia, so I’m a third-generation American.  Now I travel a great deal, and worry about immigration issues often.  

Is there a question you’d wished I asked?

Two, actually:

1) How do you write authentic dialogue?  

       I think it comes with listening more and speaking less.  Great dialogue goes on around us all the time. I take notes - on the bus, in class, at the grocer’s, at religious services, at movies, in restaurants, on campus, and in coffee shops.  You cannot make up stuff this good.  

2) Why is it so hard for some of us to actually submit our writing for publication?  

        For me, at least, I guess it is so personal, I wonder who in the world would want to read it.   But I think it helps to read voraciously and see other writers’ thoughts, and try to make a contribution.

       Camilla Roper has a B.A. in Spanish and Education from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and an EdM in Bilingual, Multilingual, Multicultural Education from Boston University, and education certifications from the College of Charleston, Eastern Michigan University and the University of Nebraska-Omaha. She currently lives in Ann Arbor and works as a substitute teacher.

       Charlie Barshaw (pictured with his good-looking and good-natured son Joe) is a member of the Advisory Committee of SCBWI-MI and part of the editorial staff of The Mitten. He's revising his WIP YA at a glacial pace.