Friday, June 28, 2019

In Praise of Shop Talks by Betsy McKee Williams

Every month, across Michigan, Shop Talks are happening.

SCBWI members are meeting to learn aspects of craft and to connect with other writers and illustrators. Shop Talks are organized by volunteers and are free to SCBWI members. Here’s an overview of some recent Shop Talks in Ann Arbor.


Last fall, author/illustrator Deb Pilutti and middle grade novelist Vicky Lorencen gave a presentation titled: 12 1/2% Funnier: Punching Up the Humor with Words & Pictures

Deb walked us through her recent picture book project and revealed how she made subtle changes to both words and illustrations to ramp up the humor, generously sharing examples from her revision process.

Vicky shared how we can use humor to create a portal to our reader’s hearts (but not literally because, ew, that would be gross). The tips she shared are so great she listed them on her blog and then added 12 1/2 more.

We laughed a lot that morning. We learned a lot, too.

Picture Books

In January, Brianne Farley presented on Writing and Illustrating Picture Books.

Brianne shared stories from her own life and career, along with many useful tips for writers and illustrators.


In February, Michigan SCBWI Mentorship Coordinator, science writer, and novelist Ann Finkelstein presented on Making Voice Rock.

Ann led us in a discussion of what Voice is, then shared great examples and useful techniques. She also guided us through writing exercises to deepen Voice in our own works in progress.   


In April, Michigan SCBWI Webmistress and writer Debbie Gonzales presented on
Book Trailer Basics: A Step-by-Step Process to Construction.

We viewed and discussed several book trailers, and Debbie shared her excellent resource on how to build a book trailer. She described the technical tools she uses, and shared sources of images, music, and sound effects. She also led a discussion of how the steps of creating and storyboarding a book trailer can help us identify structural and other issues in our books.

Where does a book trailer live? Debbie exhorted us all to create our own websites, and to post content on whatever consistent schedule will work for us (twice a week, maybe, or once a month.) For pre-published authors, a book trailer might be a teaser for a topic or a current project, rather than for a finished book with a title. And yes, she says pre-published authors really should create websites now, for interested agents to find.

Heart, Hurt, Hope & Humor

In June, author Shutta Crum gave us a great talk on these 4-H’s. She taught us that every book that matters must have these qualities, and shared vivid examples from picture books, and middle grade and YA novels. Shutta also walked us through specific techniques that authors and illustrators used to enhance these qualities in their books.

This presentation was an expanded version of the talk Shutta gave at the recent SCBWI Marvelous Midwest Conference.

On Shop Talks

All of these presenters are Michigan members of SCBWI, generously giving their time and sharing their knowledge. Ann Arbor also has sessions where we share our work with one another, giving and receiving helpful and kind feedback. We have had debut authors share their stories of their own Road to Publication, and enjoyed a presentation from a local youth librarian. And sometimes we share resources, maybe focused on a topic, maybe not.

Shop Talks let us learn through presentations worthy of a major writing conference. (Some presentations, like Shutta’s, were also given at major conferences.) Shop Talks help us connect. Some of us have found critique partners, beta readers, or critique groups through our local Shop Talk. Carpools also can arise from Shop Talks.

Did I mention that all of these Shop Talks are free of charge?

Ann Arbor area members are very fortunate – and we are not alone. SCBWI Michigan currently offers Shop Talks in Ann Arbor, Farmington Hills, Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Lansing, and Up North in Traverse City. Learn more here, contact a local Shop Talk Coordinator to ask any questions you may have, and come to talk shop at a Shop Talk.

Betsy McKee Williams lives in Ann Arbor, supports college student writing by day, and writes middle grade fiction after hours. A member of SCBWI since 2012, she is currently pursuing an MFA in Writing for Young Readers through the Solstice MFA Program at Pine Manor College. Betsy is delighted to help make Shop Talks happen.

Coming up on the Mitten Blog: 

Vacation! Enjoy the 4th of July weekend, and we'll be back mid-July with a new Featured Illustrator, Hugs and Hurrahs, and more.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Book Birthday Blog with Deborah Aronson

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

Congratulations to Deborah Aronson on the release of her new book, DRAGONS FROM MARS GO TO SCHOOL!

Q#1.  Congratulations on your newest book, DRAGONS FROM MARS GO TO SCHOOL! What can we expect from Molly and Fred in this book?

Thank you so much! In this book, Molly and Fred are attending school, where they have some initial difficulties getting along with the other students. When they display their unique abilities, they are accepted by their classmates with open arms.

Q#2. I'm always so in awe of authors who write in verse. Can you tell us about your process for creating a strong, lyrical story?

I often write the same story many times, each time in a different meter. After reading the story aloud many times to some very patient friends and family members, it usually becomes apparent which rhyme scheme works best. Some parts of the story require a great deal of time to complete...months, sometimes years.

Q#3. What advice would you give to aspiring authors who also want to write in rhyme? Is there anything you wish you would have known when you first started writing.

Planning the story is very important. But if there are parts of the story that do not come easily, put the manuscript aside and come back to it with a fresh outlook at a later time. I have found that even the most difficult sections have a way of working themselves out.

Q#4. Who is your favorite author idol and how have they influenced your work.

I was originally inspired to write in rhyme by musical lyrics, particularly those of W.S. Gilbert, of Gilbert and Sullivan. His humor and inventiveness continue to inspire me. I also love the incredible wit in the light verse of Morris Bishop. I enjoy exploring the potential of rhyme to enhance humor.

Q#5. What are you plans for DRAGONS FROM MARS GO TO SCHOOL? Where can we find it and connect with you?

DRAGONS FROM MARS Go TO SCHOOL is available at Book Beat in Oak Park, MI. It is also available at various retailors, including Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

You may connect with me at my website,, or at my email address,

A little bit about the book:
Molly and Fred are two dragons who flew to earth from Mars, and now they are going to their first day of school. Will they be able to face the challenges they meet? After some initial difficulties, they win over their classmates with their kindness and demonstration of the many things dragons can do to help their fellow students.

A little bit about the author:

Deborah Aronson is a writer of stories in rhyme. Her first two books are "Where's my Tushy" (2014) and "Dragons From Mars" (2016). She is a retired social worker and lives with her husband in Bloomfield, MI.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Book Birthday Blog with Sandy Carlson

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

Congratulations to Sandy Carlson on the release of her new book, RESCUE, THE WAR UNICORN CHRONICLES 

Q#1: Congrats on book 3 in your War Unicorn Chronicles! What can we expect from RESCUE and willthere be more?

RESCUE continues the adventures of Aldric (akaRick), a teen magician, and an ancient war unicorn, Neighbor, who run into one or two obstacles in rescuingRick’s family and king. This is actually the 4th of theseries, since I thought the 1st book was a one-off. Silly me to like the characters so. There could be more in theseries, but at the moment I’m writing short stories withthe series characters.

Q#2: As an author of several books and shortstories, what do you find to be the hardest and easiest partof writing? Any advice for new writers?

Hardest: Sharing a computer (and a car – rathernecessary for signings, visits, etc.)

Easiest: TAM (Typing Away Madly); I have no problemgetting words out.

Advice for New Writers: Do not get discouraged. Keep learning! Keep on writing.

Q# 3: Where did you get your inspiration forthis series? 

My love out outdoor adventures in real life.Plus, Unicorn & War seemed opposites.
Opposites =Conflicts = Good story potential

Q#4: I read on your website that C.S. Lewis isyour favorite author. How has his work influenced you or howyou write?

Lewis wrote cross-genre and cross-age — a truerenaissance man. He is also one of only two authors whowhile reading, I became so engrossed in the tale that when I

looked up from the book, it took me a while to figure outwhere and who I was.

Q#5: Can you share what you are working on now?

I have a couple of “finished” novels I’d liketo rescue from my I-may-delete-you files. In the meantime:short stories.

Q#6: What are your marketing/promotional plansfor your new book? Where can people connect with you?

Ugh! I hate marketing/promoting. I’d put that last sentence in scary-bold-48 pt font if I could. That said, I do it. Because I have to. But, ugh!Social media announcements (FB, Twitter,Instagram), working on a book trailer and teacher guides,two blogs. Phone and email Contacting schools, libraries,booksellers, and Girl Scout troops. Bookmarks & business cards. (Used to haveflyers, but they’re outdated.) Ebound

You can find Sandy- Outdoors, or...sandycarl642@yahoo.comhttp://www.sandycarlson (dot)com

A little bit about the book:

How can a 15-year-old magician expect to rescue his family and king when no one else is willing? To do this, Aldric and his unicorn companion, Neighbor, must find and rejoin the remnant of the Farhner army, but to reach them, they need to travel through enemy territory with their only companions a band of thieves.

Are a handful of magicians enough to heal a healing unicorn? And what about the ghosts King Segan told Rick to bring? Worst yet, Rick still must outwit his nemesis, the witch Alyse. Is there any hope for Farhner?

A little bit about the author:

S. L. Carlson loves being outdoors more than in. She has climbed mountains, swum in oceans, and crossed deserts with her husband and two sons. She has rounded up cattle, escaped wildfires, hidden from tornadoes, and has had encounters with bear, rattlesnakes and wild boar.

She helped build houses in Iowa and Michigan, and helped paint an orphanage in Mexico, as well as cleared debris in Louisiana after a hurricane.

S. L. is first a story-teller, with a family-comes-first motto. She is a former teacher, and may or may not have seen mythical creatures while alone in the woods.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Book Birthday Blog with Lisa Wheeler

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

Congratulations to Lisa Wheeler on the release of her new book, EVEN MONSTERS GO TO SCHOOL!

Q#1: The lovable monsters are back, hooray! What can we expect from Even Monsters Go To School? Did you intend to make this a series?

When I wrote Even Monsters Need to Sleep, it was a stand-alone title. But HarperCollins gave me a two-book deal asking for a companion title. In Even Monsters Go to School, the same little lovable monster girl (who I call Roary) is starting school. Her loving dad shows and tells her all about first days. We get to revisit the same monsters--Big Foot, Nessie, Frankenstein, etc--from book #1 and see how they handle the first day of school. My goal was to alleviate any fears kids might have on their first day of school, including the one I had as a child--Where do you go to the bathroom?!

Q#2: You have so many books under your belt and I'm sorry, but I have to ask- which book is your favorite (choose a kid, right?), which one was hardest to write, and which one would you do differently?

Picking just one is extremely difficult. As you said, they're like our children. But there are some books that I had a deep passion for: Mammoths on the MoveSeadogs: An Epic Ocean Operetta and Spinster Goose: Twisted Rhymes for Naughty Children. The reason for these three are my passion for woolly mammoths, my love of musical theater and my collection of Mother Goose books.

I think the hardest to write would be the Dino-Sport series. Those books take lots of research, rhyme, dinosaur names and cramming in lots of sports lingo. To me, they are like a puzzle that is fun to solve.

If I could go back in time, I might tweak a few of my books here there. When I first started out, I felt like I had to do everything editors suggested, even when I felt strongly otherwise. There is nothing major, but when I read these passages aloud, I still tend to read them the way they were originally written.

Q#3: You have more books coming out this year, can you tell us a little bit about them? 

Thanks for asking! Sometime this summer--either July or August--Bubble Gum, Bubble Gum will be re-released with Purple House Press. I haven't been given an exact date but I am so excited that the book will get a second chance at life!

On August 6th, Dino-Halloween is coming out. It is the 12th book in the Dino-Sport series and the 2nd in the series-within-series--Dino-Holidays. This was just so much fun to write. We revisit the same dinosaurs as in the sport series, but we get to see them enjoying all the Halloween activities together. They explore everything from pumpkin carving to making costumes and even a visit to a haunted house.

Then, on Sept. 10, the 2nd book in the "People" series with Atheneum comes out. This one, People Share with People, follows People Don't Bite People very closely in theme. Molly Idle, once again, is the illustrator and those adorable preschoolers she draws are just so perfect for this series.  I've had parents tell me they are looking forward to this book because while not every child has issues with biting, they all have issues with sharing.

Q#4: The path to publication is full of highs and lows. Do you mind sharing some of yours? Any advice on handling both?

As you know, this has been a long journey that I set out on in 1995. So I had to really think about this, as there have been many of both. Once I sold my first book (after 4 years and over 225 rejections!) there was a period of time where I had good success. Much of what I wrote between 1999 and 2005 sold and I also had a string of books regularly being released. That all came to a grinding halt and it seemed like nothing I wrote would ever be acquired again. I wasn't sure if I was in a slump or if the publishing world was being more frugal with what they acquired.
Then I had a dream of dinosaurs playing hockey. I wrote Dino-Hockey (which I originally called Hockeysaurus) and my agent sold it to CarolRhoda imprint of Lerner Books. Finally a sale! Which lead to another and another from Lerner. Best dream I ever had!! 

I wish I had believed in myself more during this time. Instead of looking at it logically--teen books were selling better than picture books, the recession was looming, bookstores were closing--my first instinct was to think I lost my mojo and then to beat myself up over it.  We, as writers, need to be kinder to ourselves (and eachother!).

Q#5: What book would have been helpful for you to have as a kid? Do you ever write for that little Lisa?

I always write for my six year-old self! I have to. If something makes me laugh, chances are it will make the kids laugh. I'm not that complicated! I loved everything i read as a kid, even cereal boxes. So I can't think of a book that I might have found helpful then. I didn't know i would grow up to be a writer. it wasn't on the horizon. But I was always a reader and I loved to devour everything.

Q#6: Any plans for your book launches this year? Where can we find you?

On June 26th, I am having a book launch for Even Monsters Go to School at the Lenawee County Main Branch, 4459 W US Highway 223, Adrian, MI, US, 49221. The time 2:00. My monster puppet. Roary, will make an appearance and yes, there will be cake!

A little bit about the book: In the vein of the bestselling How Do Dinosaurs…? series, this follow-up to Even Monsters Need to Sleep is a fresh and humorous back-to-school picture book.
What’s a school day like for you? 
Bigfoot rides a yellow bus.
Frankenstein shows off his new shoes.
Troll loves playing tag at recess.
And aliens go gaga over school supplies.
Just like you, even monsters go to school! 

A little bit about the author: Lisa Wheeler is the author of several award-winning picture books, including Sixteen Cows and One Dark Night, as well as Mammoths on the Move, which received a Parents' Choice Recommended Award. She is also the author of Abrams Appleseed's Babies Can Sleep Anywhere. Lisa lives near Detroit.

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.