Sunday, July 28, 2019

Book Birthday Blog with Kathleen Vincenz

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

Congratulations to Kathleen Vincenz on the release of her new book, GOD'S SPARROWS!

Q#1: Congratulations on your newest book, God's Sparrows! It sounds like a bit of a mystery which I love. What gave you the idea for this book?

Thank you! I’m so happy that God’s Sparrows is out for everyone to enjoy. 

Several years ago, I watched a silent film, Sparrows, late one night. I never watch silent films but I was so taken by the direness of the orphans’ situation and the spunk of the heroine, Mary Pickford. I wanted to create my own version. God’s Sparrowsis fan fiction! 

Like Rose, the main character in God’s Sparrows, I was a terrible babysitter. When I babysat, I’d play piano, read a book, or watch TV instead of watching the kids. The kids never did what I told them to, anyway. And, when I gave in to their demands, they’d tell on me. I couldn’t win! Of course, being a comic, adventure story, more exciting, death-defying things happen to Rose in God’s Sparrowsthan ever happened to me. 

Q#2: I detect a theme of family in both God's Sparrows and your first book, Over the Falls In a Suitcase. How does family inspire your writing? 

I grew up in a large family—I was infamous for having exclaimed 6 kids! when my youngest sister’s arrival was announced. Being part of a large family gives me a lot to draw from, both sad and comic. I also write about the conflict between mothers and daughters—to do what you want versus meet the expectations of your mother.  

Q#3: Can you share a bit of what your writing process looks like? Are you a pantser or a plotter, do you edit while you write, etc.? Any advice for new writers?

I am a total pantser and waste so much time that way but I can’t change. I’ve taken tons of courses on outlining or finding the structure to your story but I never follow the advice. I loved playing with dolls when I was little so I see my characters as being my dolls alive and acting out. I have no control over them than the kids I babysat.

To a new writer, I’d say keep working and don’t make publication the reason you are writing. Write to express yourself and see if publication is what you want later. Attend all the SCBWI functions you can afford! They are all worth it. 

Q#4: As authors we are used to rejection, right? What are ways that you deal with rejection and how do you get back in that seat?

My books are in a niche that traditional publishing companies are not interested in today. That means I get rejections and they knock me out especially when I know there is an audience for my books. I know because I found that audience by publishing my books through my own publishing company, Squirrels at the Door. 

I am blessed to have my son, Danny, who is an artist and illustrates my book covers and bookmarks, and other miscellaneous items, like an avatar of me. 

Q#5: What do the next few months look like for you? Are you working on anything new?

Yes! Being a pantser, I have a new story in every drawer. Right now, I am most focused on a novel about a teen who travels to Paris and is a bit overwhelmed by her experience. That was me! I want to capture the love for a city but also show that everyone is the same, even if they live in the City of Lights. 

In the next weeks and months, I will spend time promoting and selling God’s Sparrows. I’ll be at the Sterlingfest on Saturday, July 27, with other Michigan SCBWI’ers.    

You can find me at and on Twitter @kvincenz100. My publishing company is Squirrels at the Door ( On the website, you can sign up for a fun quarterly newsletter I write about all things squirrels. My books are for sale on Amazon. 

Danny, my son, is also available for freelance work. You can find him on Twitter @dannyvincenz.

Thanks so much for giving me the opportunity to tell you about God’s Sparrows. SCBWI is a wonderful organization and I wouldn’t have two books finished without it. 

A little bit about the book: 
When a winter storm approaches, neighbors ask Rose to babysit their children, six in all, including precocious seven-year old Lily. She is sure she can’t handle the responsibility, especially when Lily’s father arrives and demands he take Lily—is he a distraught parent or the villain he seems to be? To keep the children safe, Rose must shake her fears and find her faith. In doing so, she starts on an adventure that changes her and the children’s lives forever, even gaining Rose a makeshift family.Enjoy Rose’s sparrows as they climb out windows, trek through snowstorms, chase around hotels, and find endless trouble from unexpected villains. Will you ever babysit alone after reading it?

A little bit about the author: 
Kathleen Vincenz is the author of Over the Falls in a Suitcase and God's Sparrows, as well as articles and short stories that have appeared inBoys' LifeAppleseeds, and Boy's Quest. She lives on a hill with her husband and many squirrel friends, who are fed everything from bread to taco chips. She is also a technical writer and explains how to use software to help solve engineering problems.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Featured Illustrator Ruth McNally Barshaw

MEET RUTH (and Charlie)

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

1. Your present state of mind?
After 10 years of constant life-changing stress, things are calm, and so am I.

2. What do you do best?
Draw. And write concisely (given enough time to edit).

3. Where would you like to live?
Right where I live now. (Michigan, this house, these bookshelves, these neighbors, these lakes.)

4. Your favorite color?

5. Three of your own illustrations:

6. Your music?
Detroit Motown. Also Disney hits. And 70s road trip. And intense concentration music. And soft jazz. And Christmas songs in any style. And folk songs. And some country. And whatever I can play on my harmonica.

7. Your biggest achievement?
My family.
My four kids, ages 36, 33, 30, and 22, are good people and close friends with each other. To me, that’s the pinnacle of success.

8. Your biggest mistake?
Lack of confidence. 
Young friends: build it up and preserve it for when you need it.

9. Your favorite children's book when you were a child?
Age 4: Blueberries for Sal.
Age 5: Sugarplum.
Age 6: Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile.
Age 7: The 5 Chinese Brothers
Age 8: The Mouse and the Motorcycle.
Age 9: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Age 10: Ellen Tebbits.
Age 11: The Little Colonel.
Age 12: Emily San.

10. Your main character trait?
Finding the bright in the dark/creative problem-solving.

11. What do you appreciate most in a friend?

12. What mistakes are you most willing to forgive?
Breaking things.

13. Your favorite children's book hero?
Teachers and librarians.

14. What moves you forward?

15. What holds you back?

16. Your dream of happiness?
Pay all the bills on time without worries and start a free writing camp for kids.

17. The painter/illustrator you admire most?
The children I observe in schools. Such fearlessness and openness!

18. What super power would you like to have? 
Absolute confidence.

19. Your motto?
You can’t always get what you want. 
(I sing it, like the Rolling Stones do.)

20. Your social media?
twitter: @ruthexpress
Instagram & Facebook: Ruth McNally Barshaw

Friday, July 12, 2019

Take Lessons to Heart, and Then DO IT!

My background for what I'm about to share: I've been a member of SCBWI since 2000, so says my homepage. I've read dozens of books and countless articles on the craft of writing, and written a few myself. I've attended dozens of writers conferences and been co-chair of five. I've gone to writing workshops, listened to podcasts and webinars and done on-line classes. I've been in several critique groups over the past twenty years (one of them weekly for the past fifteen years). I've critiqued stories and books which went on to be published and well-received. I've published thirteen books myself, both traditionally and self-pub, as well as many articles and short stories.

So here's the deal: Listen, read, watch videos and connect with fellow writers and artists. Take the teachings and speeches and lessons to heart. But most importantly, do it. Do what? you ask. Say, you take a workshop on revisions or plotting or character development, go home and focus on one of the teachings and practice doing it. It need not be perfect, you know. If you take a course on making a book trailer, don't just store it up for future, sometime-use on that stack of papers or files on your designated craft jump drive. Make a trailer! If you're not published, then make a trailer for a book you've loved forever, or better yet, make a trailer for a published author friend who will love you forever for your time and talents and insights. If you take a class on making a podcast, take good notes, then practice making one. You could even practice doing a *shaking in my boots* Facebook Live post. Or you could be interviewed on someone else's podcast.

Writers, artists, quit hiding. Quit waiting for that day when you are comfortable enough to try something new you learned in a book or at a conference. Listen, read, watch videos and connect with fellow writers and artists. Take the teachings and speeches and lessons to heart, then DO IT!

Sandy Carlson is a former teacher, now full-time writer, with her 13th book, Rescue, The War Unicorn Chronicles, Book 3, published this June. You may contact her via or at

Coming up on the Mitten Blog: 

A new Featured Illustrator, a Writer Spotlight, Book Birthdays, and some summer vacation time scattered in-between. We're saving our next Hugs and Hurrahs post for September, but you can email your good news to Patti Richards anytime.

Attention Illustrators!

Here's a webinar just for you. Wednesday July 17th @ 7pm ---- That's next week!

Learn a simpler alternative to Photoshop. Diversify your knowledge with Procreate as another tool. 

Your presenter, James Anderson, is creator of the webcomic, Ellie On Planet X, as well as an illustrator. He's been a working graphic designer for over thirty years. 

Procreate is a drawing/painting app for the IPad which is similar to Photoshop. The aim of Procreate is to recreate the natural feel of physical drawing, while utilizing the practical advantages of a digital platform. It offers over 130 realistic brushes, multiple layers, blend modes, masks, 4K resolution export of process videos, autosave, and many other classic and original digital art tools. Procreate is designed for multi-touch and the Apple Pencil. It also supports a number of third-party styluses, and import/export to Adobe Photoshop PSD format.

Jim will provide:
1. A "lay of the land" tour of the tools
2. More detailed pros/cons about Procreate
3. A small illustration and/or character demo 
4. Pros/cons of Affinity and Clip and comparisons to Procreate
5. Answers to your questions about Procreate and his webinar content

Want to draw along with Jim during the webinar? Find out more at Then download through the Apple Store. 

Register here:

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Book Birthday Blog with Lori McElrath Eslick

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

Congratulations to Lori McElrath Eslick on the release of her new book, GOODNESS GRACIOUS: A GRATITUDE BOOK FOR CHILDREN!

Q#1: Congratulations on your latest book, Goodness Gracious, A Gratitude Book For Children! Like all of your work, the illustrations are gorgeous and add so much life and movement to the book. Other than the text, what inspired your illustrations?                         

I am a grateful person! And so this was a book for me, waiting to happen. Often I paint for me as a way to be grateful, but this picture book gave me an opportunity to allow kids to get into illustration/paintings in order to enhance the gratefulness story/words of this manuscript. To inspire me, prior to painting, I have a page of 'inspiring paintings' on Pinterest, and this is a go to now prior to painting. It is not current trends in illustration, just masterful paintings. By known to me artists, and unknown to me artists. This jazzes me up to paint look at inspiring paintings.

Q#2: When did you discover your passion for painting? Has is evolved at all?

 I discovered my passion for painting way back in college as an illustration instructor coined it for me, he said, after I did my first painting in oils, "You look to me like a painter." It was one of my last assignments in illustation so I didn't have extra help with learning anything about this painting with oils thing. Of course when an illustration instructor says this, you listen. However, at the time I didn't know the difference: illustration was drawing and then painting, up to this point for me was watercolors. But the juiciness of paint, like oils was contagious (for me). I wasn't formally taught how to paint with oils, just used a set that I found of my Dads which was collecting dust in the basement, unused, he received it as a gift when he was young and I did learn from my dad to never throw anything away. Can you say: packrat?  So I think of myself as self taught with oils. And I am grateful that I found that set, but didn't work in oils until later in life. As my first job out of Kendall College was at Hallmark Cards, as a greeting card artist. When we artists there worked on assignment we didn't have time to work with a slow drying medium such as oils. But I did take that set of paints with me, and found some time to explore painting on my own time. And the paintings of my early after work hours started to grow. 

Q#3: How did you become involved in illustrating children's books? 

My very first book, came as a freelance job while an art student. NISHNAWBE, A STORY OF MICHIGAN INDIANS was a job that illustration professors approached 2 other candidates to interview for this. I did and I got to illustrate this in black and white: Pen and ink, which happened to be what I did a lot in art college. My portfolio was full of this. However when I interviewed with Hallmark I had added watercolors and of course the one or two oils. And my second book came as I'd sent out a Hallmark watercolor cards to publishers. The creative director who approached me received a watercolor Christmas card I'd painted, since Hallmark had the name printed on the backs of Christmas cards, he found me. I have illustrated many books now in watercolor and oils, in fact my latest book was done in oils. Oh, the question was how did I become involved? Oops...I did love working on that first book, so I send my postcards of the books to other publisher's art directors and editors. I still do this. See your illustration co-chairs to participate in 4 out the door!

Q#4: Can you share your process for illustrating a book?     

My typical process is to read and re-read the manuscript often and get an overall sense of the book. And this helps me to size up my 'voice' what I can and should 'add' or 'say' which helps the story. I will use my sketchbook to jot down visual thoughts/sketches. I also Storyboard in this way too. Sometimes the storyboard takes several directions...and this is good. More ideas help rather than zeroing in on one, initially. From there I will photograph or use my existing photos to draw from. The drawings will take some time, as an illustrator wishes to get across the most information in drawings prior to the final art as possible. Once the drawings are finished and approved, I can take more exacting photos. But when kids are involved, I love to be able to let them be themselves and forget about the camera, as this helps me to make the paintings authentic. And fun!   My paintings will begin with a freehand drawing on the gessoed illustration board, or watercolor paper. I wish to make the paintings as esthetically pleasing as I can, if I overwork this part of the process with exacting drawings, I loose some heart in the final paintings. To keep this whole painting process fun for me, helps to make the surprising events that happen in a painting also fun for the viewer. Usually I will start an oil painting with a unifying color... and this color will sometimes peek through the areas that I let it. I paint a rough underpainting as when you paint a plein air work, you work to go from rough shapes to more and more refined. Almost like a scuptor will work to 'find the person who is bound up inside a marble chunk'. See the Bound Slaves of Michelangelo. OMG!!! Please reader don't judge me for putting a reference to Michelangelo in my description of my art process! I am smiling about this, but as a teacher wanna be, I love to also point people towards ART History as much as possible. As we didn't invent the wheel here! Cannot even imagine painting like he did, with the Sistine Chapel, on his back, with no photo reference!!!

Q#5: If you had one piece of advice to give to a new illustrator, what would it be? 

Look at ART History. Not necessarily just current events, or current techniques. What came before is rich with what children and our society needs to be reminded of: Art importance. That said, Degas, O'Keefe, Michelangelo, Monet, Cassatt, vanGogh, Kalo, all teach us so much about voice. What art can say, even thought they are not current trend-ready, they are always relevant. What can we, all illustrators can and should learn from them. Illustration is art, as they are all artists and have illustrated individual points of view. 

A little bit about the book:

Help children cultivate a practice of gratitude and a sense of wonder for the world around them with Goodness Gracious: A Gratitude Book for Children. Meaningful, sweet, and sometimes downright silly, Kathleen A. Green’s “thankful thoughts,” her kid-friendly term for expressions of gratitude, help children say thank you for all aspects of their lives, from the earth and their families to their pets, teachers, and even mac and cheese! Perfect for children ages 3–8.

Check out Lori's bio and work on her website!