Thursday, May 28, 2020

Writer Spotlight: Kelly J. Baptist

Charlie Barshaw coordinates our quarterly Writer Spotlight feature and interviews writers of SCBWI-MI. In this piece, meet author Kelly J. Baptist

Kelly Baptist is My Hero: How a Contest Entry led to "Overnight Success"

When did you know you wanted to write? Who and what inspired you?
I don’t know if I can pinpoint the exact moment when I knew I wanted to write, but I know my parents reading to me probably had a lot to do with it. I do remember being young and typing out stories on their old-school typewriter (my father still has a lot of these stories and notes in his “Daddy Box”). Also, my sister and I would create newsletters with outrageous articles and stories, and we would do a lot of storytelling via cassette tape recordings. An inspirational moment came when I was around 9 or 10 and my mother took us to see a small-town production of the play, “A Raisin In The Sun”. I came home and wrote my first play after that!

Some may describe your rise as an “Overnight Success.” But us writers know there’s a lot of struggle and heartache before that “Lucky Break.” What was your personal arc?
Yes, I think once you “arrive” on the scene, people think it was overnight and that you came out of nowhere. The truth is that there is a lot of work and a lot of no’s along the way to the yes’s. I like to say that there is a “no” hidden in JOURNEY, but there is also “JOY!” I chose to learn from the “no’s” and focus on the joy! Since I’ve been writing from a very young age, it has always been a part of me, like my skin or breathing. Having kids definitely changed my approach to writing. For a long time, I was kind of martyr-like, in that I felt like I had to give everything to my family even at the expense of my passion for writing.
Thankfully, I’ve grown and matured to realize that my dreams are important, too; having a family doesn’t have to kill those dreams, you just adjust and find other ways to make it work! I’ve also had to be persistent; I entered Lee and Low’s New Voices contest at least five times before being awarded the Honor in 2017. I’ve always entered contests and have won awards/scholarships along the way, but the WNDB and Lee and Low awards really kicked my writing career into high gear. It’s all a result of the years of preparation and dedication to the craft.

You won the Ezra Jack Keats/Kerlan Memorial Scholarship for your YA novel-in-progress Young. How did you come to write this novel? How did it come under consideration for the scholarship?
My grandmother subscribed to Jet Magazine and would always give us her issues once she was done. They had a section where you could send in pictures and one day I saw this family picture with four or five generations of family members all together. I was really intrigued and blown away by that picture, and figured it could only be accomplished with two factors: family members having longevity and also if they all had their kids fairly young. Young is about a sixteen-year-old girl who feels the spotlight on her for all the wrong reasons. In her family, the generational trend has been that the firstborn daughters have a child at age 16. My main character is trying to break that cycle. I submitted an excerpt of this story to the 2008 Ezra Jack Keats/Kerlan Memorial Scholarship, and it won! (Are you noticing a trend with me and persistent contest entries??) I was able to travel to the Kerlan Collection at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis and focused specifically on the dialogue techniques used by Walter Dean Myers. What was so ironic is that a little over five years later, I was living in in the Twin Cities!

You studied the dialogue techniques of Walter Dean Myers. What was it that attracted you to his work? What did you learn in your deep dive of his writing?
I devoured Walter Dean Myers’ work growing up and I loved how the tone of his books were always so realistic-sounding. He always did a great job of capturing the energy of young people and took on a wide-range of topics.
Seeing his drafts and notes was an encouragement to me because it was a reminder that all writers work hard to get their manuscripts right.One particular thing that stood out to me was that his book Slam! originally had a different ending. The fact that he was able to change gears to end differently was a lesson to always keep an open mind during revisions and to really take time to factor in what is best for our readers’ experience.

You were fortunate enough to meet face-to-face with Myers at a literary event in Florida. Can you set the scene for us?
It was the spring of 2013, and my author friend, Donna Gephart, had let me know about the conference. I registered right away, but then received some depressing news the day before the event and didn’t feel up to being around people. I decided not to go…but somehow I pulled myself together at the last minute and attended…man, am I glad I did! I got to hear Walter Dean Myers, Shane W. Evans, and others speak, AND THEN got to meet Mr. Myers and have him sign Slam!, which is my favorite book by him (I guess I should maybe say one of my favorite books). At the time, I had no idea that in a few short years, I’d have a story in an anthology with one of my literary heroes!

Your big break came when you entered your short story, “The Beans and Rice Chronicles of Isaiah Dunn,” in a We Need Diverse Books contest. In a twist of fact and fiction, your short story details the efforts of Isaiah, who enters a short story contest, inspired by entries in his late Dad’s journal. Your own tale of submission is also dramatic. Please share it.
It is indeed a dramatic story! I was putting the finishing touches on my entry on the deadline day, and Murphy’s law was in effect! I had my infant son in one arm, and two girls under age four running around playing and being loud! My computer kept freezing, and it was getting dangerously close to the time I had to pick my oldest two kids up from school! Very stressful! So I decided to give up on entering the contest. For some reason, I also decided to call my husband at work and let him know I wasn’t going to be able to submit the story. He was very calm on the phone (though I know he heard the chaos in the background!) and he encouraged me to breathe, and then troubleshoot the computer. He stayed on the line with me until I clicked “Send” and rushed off (late) to pick up our kids. That action made all the difference in the world. When I got the email a few months later that I had won the contest, I screamed, of course, and dashed into the bathroom where he was showering. I literally turned his shower water off and kept screaming while I tried get out the words that I had won. He was very excited and happy for me…and asked politely if he could finish his shower! J 

Your debut novel, Isaiah Dunn Is My Hero, was a direct result of your short story being published in Flying Lessons & Other Stories. When you were approached, did you have a novel-sized “Isaiah” story in mind?
In the complicated way that things usually work for me, I had started The Beans and Rice Chronicles of Isaiah Dunn back in 2011 as a full-length novel.
I actually extracted from it to create the short story for the contest, only to then morph it back into the novel-sized Isaiah Dunn Is My Hero that is on the way in August. Whew! Don’t try this at home, kids! After Flying Lessons, I felt like Isaiah had more to say, so I let my editor know that I wanted to continue his story.

In your interview with author Chris Barton, you said, “What’s next? I have two projects submitted to my editor right now, and am actually working on two more, one of which is a continuation of the Isaiah Dunn story. Looking forward to writing and writing and writing.”
That interview is from 2017. So, what’s next now?
Well, the Isaiah Dunn story has come to fruition, and my debut picture book, The Electric Slide and Kai will be out in 2021 with Lee and Low books. My next projects are MG novels, one about a boy with a speech impediment who gets swag tips from his crazy great-uncle, and one about a spunky young girl who is set on annihilating the competition in her school’s cookie dough fundraiser. Sprinkle in some picture books, and my Hamline MFA in Creative Writing for Children and Young Adults program, and you’ve got a busy lady!

You’ve also got a picture book due out in 2021, The Electric Slide and Kai. Isaiah seems to be hogging the limelight, but I’m sure you’re excited for Kai, too. What’s her story?
I’m very excited about Kai! The story was inspired by my daughter, Micaiah, so the main character was originally a girl named Cai.
Later, my amazing editor at Lee and Low asked how I felt about changing the main character to a boy, since black boys were not really featured learning a skill such as dancing. I agreed,and Cai became Kai! The Electric Slide and Kai is about a young boy who is trying to learn the electric slide in time for his aunt’s wedding reception. He comes from a family of dancers, but he never gets his steps right. It’s also very important for him to master the dance so his grandfather can give him a dance nickname like everyone else. Shout-out to Darnell Johnson, who illustrates this story!

Much is made of your ability to type one-handed while cradling a baby with the other. How do you balance a life of writing with a household of five children?
I do not balance. I don’t know what I’m doing or how it happens. That is the whole truth. I guess I should also add that I love Kobe Bryant and apply his Mamba Mentality to my writing craft. I don’t want anything to hold me back from my potential, so I like eliminating excuses, holding myself to a high standard, and pushing myself to achieve greatness the way he did. I don’t wait for the “perfect” moment; it will never happen. I also have conditioned myself to be able to write in utter chaos…I don’t advise it, but it’s just necessary for my writing survival. I have strong faith, and I have amazing parents who give me breaks to experience what it’s like to write in silence.

You won the Lee and Low New Voices Honor in 2017. What was that experience like?
That experience was super special because I had entered the contest so many times, so I was completely shocked to hear the news. I came home and told my kids and was literally in tears. I told them I was living proof that you can never give up on your dreams; hard work and commitment pays off! My heart is always so full when they tell me they’re proud of me!

Kelly J. Baptist is the author of  the short story"The Beans and Rice Chronicles of Isaiah Dunn," published in the anthology Flying Lessons & Other Stories. Her debut middle grade novel, Isaiah Dunn Is My Hero is due out in August 2020. Her picture book, The Electric Slide and Kai is due out next year. Her twitter handle is @kellyiswrite and her website (currently under construction) is

Charlie Barshaw writes MG and YA novels. Check out his new website .

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Book Birthday Blog with Jim Benton

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

Congratulations to Jim Benton on the release of his new book, Attack of the Stuff, The Life and Times of Bill Waddler!

It’s a pleasure to have you back on the blog, and congratulations on the release of Attack of the Stuff! What inspired this story about Bill the duck and his ability to hear the complaints of everyday appliances? 

Thanks very much. I guess it began with a simple cartoon that I posted on Reddit and GoComics and Imgur that had a character that was being picked on by all of the people and things around him. I felt that the funniest part was when the objects picked on him. I started writing a story about a guy who is kind of bullied by stuff. 

Bill Waddler's evolution from the early comic... his appearance as the main character in the final graphic novel!

Graphic novels are known for being quite labor-intensive, both in the writing and the many, many illustrations! What was the process of creating Attack of the Stuff like? What was your favorite and least favorite part?

The only part I don’t like is when I’m done. I hate when projects come to an end. I love everything else.

Do you have advice for anyone looking to write and/or illustrate their own graphic novel?

Dive in. Take note of the proportions of the book you want to make, and sketch with those sizes in mind. It makes the finals easier. There is no good reason to hesitate. Just jump in. You can always erase, rewrite, redraw later. But in order to do that, you have to start. Be reckless and brash. Go. Stop reading what the dumb cartoonist has to say and go start your book. NOW.

Attack of the Stuff is described as “an 8 year old’s fever dream”, and many reviews have made note of how imaginative your narrative is. How did you keep the story cohesive and engaging while using a more surreal premise and fast pace? Do you have any tips for other writers looking to use surreal or absurd humor?

You know how in Looney Toons cartoons, the character doesn’t fall until he looks down and realizes that he’s not standing on anything? My tip is NEVER LOOK DOWN. I really can’t explain how I get where I’m going except I just scribble and scribble and scribble and then I’m done. And sometimes the results are just awful, and sometimes people like them. Then I get another stack of paper and start over.

A few quotes from Kirkus Reviews on Attack of the Stuff

You’ve mentioned liking PG Wodehouse’s writing in your last interview on the blog. Do you have any other favorite writers or artists?

I can honestly say that I have never seen a person’s art in which I did not see flashes of brilliance. This makes me a huge dopey fan of SO many artists and writers that it’s really quite impossible to list.

Is there something you hope your readers take away from Attack of the Stuff?

Well, I know what I see in Bill Waddler. I see a nice guy who is heroic in spite of it all, and even though listening can drag us down, it’s through listening that we prevail. Also, I’d like to believe that they might find it funny.

Can you tell us a little about what’s coming up in the next few months for you?

Sure! I have a new FRANNY K. STEIN book coming out called RECIPE FOR DISASTER, and another CATWAD book. My book CLYDE is now in Spanish, and just went into its second printing, and for Christmas, I have a picture book called COMET, THE UNSTOPPABLE REINDEER. Also, look for an announcement coming soon about me and DC.

A Little Bit About the Book:

Jim's newest title, Attack of the Stuff, The Life and Times of Bill Waddler (112 pages) is a full-color middle grade graphic novel from Papercutz. Bill is a duck who dreams of being smothered by farting snakes. He also has a special gift. He is able to hear appliances complain. Imagine what toilets would complain about. Bill doesn’t need to imagine. While working as a cash-only hay seller (that doesn’t accept credit cards), Bill doesn’t know that he, and a very confused orange juice sales clerk, are about to save the world. If you could hear this book complain, it would be saying “where have you been all my life?”

A Little Bit About the Author:

Jim Benton is the award-winning creator of more than thirty books, including the New York Times best-selling series Dear Dumb Diary, the series Franny K. Stein, the series Catwad as well as the international licensing hit, It’s Happy Bunny. His books have sold more than fifteen million copies worldwide, been translated into more than fifteen languages (and Braille), and have garnered numerous honors (like LIMA awards, Addy awards, Eisner nominations, Reuben divisional awards, an Eleanor Cameron award, and a NAPPA award to name a few). Benton is a member of the Writers Guild of America, the Society of Children's Books Writers and Illustrators, the National Cartoonists Society and The Society of Illustrators. He has also contributed to The Licensing Book, Writer's Digest Magazine, Reader's Digest Magazine, Kidscreen Magazine, Dark Horse Presents, MAD Magazine, and The New Yorker. Learn more about him at

Friday, May 22, 2020

Featured Illustrator Rebecca Howe


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?

Tired, excited, hopeful

2. What do you do best?

Believe in impossible things.

3. Where would you like to live?

A warm place near water with nice people.

4. Your favorite color?

I can’t choose just one. Colors make me feel different things.

5. Three of your own illustrations:

6. Your music?

I’ve been going back to India Arie, Tracy Chapman, May Erlewine, Leon Bridges and Passenger a lot lately when I’m working or trying to be chill. We have a lot of family karaoke and dance parties that involve BeyoncĂ©, Sia, Alessia Cara, Meghan Trainor and musical soundtracks like The Greatest Showman and Small Foot and many more. Also, I really want to try to figure out how to play Love by Cynthia Hopkins on piano. (Please email me if you figure this out!!)

7. Your biggest achievement?

Learning to forgive and accept myself and others.

8. Your biggest mistake?

Judging people.

9. Your favorite children's book when you were a child?

I mostly watched tv as a kid, but when my 5th grade teacher read The BFG (and many other books) to us, a seed was planted. I picked up Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone as a senior in high school and eventually convinced my English teacher (who hated my constant interruptions and challenges to her classics) to teach them.

10. Your main character trait?

Uh...  I’m not sure I have one.

11. What do you appreciate most in a friend?


12. What mistakes are you most willing to forgive?

Those made for the sake of learning and helping.

13. Your favorite children's book hero?

Olivia, Matilda, Penpen and Tilly from The Canning Season, Mia Tang from Front Desk, Snap from Snapdragon

14. What moves you forward?

Dreams and purpose

15. What holds you back?


16. Your dream of happiness?

Physical and emotional ease, however that manifests.

17. The painter/illustrator you admire most?

I can’t pick just one! I love so many illustrators and artists so let me tell you about some of the ones I admire most and have the pleasure of calling friends: Vanessa Brantley Newton, Kirbi Fagan, Amy O’Hanlon, Heidi Woodward Sheffield, Jenn K. Mann, Elizabeth Stanton.

18. What super power would you like to have?

As a kid I spent a lot of time imagining I could fly and had suction cups on my fingers and toes. As an adult I wish I had the power to understand meaning and insight the first time I try or experience things.

19. Your motto?

Choosing just one of anything feels limiting. I love the Poetry and writings of Maya Angelou, Nayyirah Waheed, Robin Wall Kimmerer, and others.

20. Your social media?

Instagram: @rebeccarhowe
Twitter: @rebeccahowe

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Book Birthday Blog with Kristiana Sfirlea

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

Congratulations to Kristiana Sfirlea on the release of her new book, Legend of the Storm Sneezer!

Congratulations on the release of your debut novel, Legend of the Storm Sneezer! Can you talk about what inspired this story?

You know, I’ve been working on this story for so many years, it’s hard to remember how it all started! But one of my favorite exercises I do as a writer is to think up as many clichĂ©s/tropes/stereotypes as I can and find the funniest ways to break them! While I was dreaming up  Legend of the Storm Sneezer, I kept having this image in my head—the old cartoon characters with that storm cloud that follows them around whenever they’re sad or grumpy. And I thought to myself, “What if there was a girl who had a storm cloud over her head…but was happy about it?”

Legend of the Storm Sneezer includes everything from time travel, to haunted forests, to magic storm clouds! Did you set out to include multiple genres like fantasy, science fiction, and mystery in your novel from the beginning, or did that happen along the way? Are there any particular challenges or advantages of blending genres?

I love this question because I get to share a fun fact about Legend of the Storm Sneezer! In the very first draft…there was no time travel! 

Now, to anyone who’s read the book (or even read the back blurb), they’re probably scratching their heads and wondering, “How would that even work?” Um, it didn’t. That’s why I rewrote it! There was a point in my writing journey—before I signed with my agent and just after I turned down two offers of publication from small publishers—when I realized I was holding back. I knew my story had the potential to be so much more, but I was scared. Scared to blend genres, scared to let my imagination off its leash, scared no one would want to read my zany stories.

But then I decided I was either all in or all out, and I’ve never regretted it once. (Even when my brain feels like mush after figuring out a particularly wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey plot point!) I think the key to successfully blending genres is to make sure you have a main character that can handle it. And that means they need to have an endearing voice and a BIG personality! 

Legend of the Storm Sneezer's main character is thirteen-year-old Rose Skylar, who sneezed a magical storm cloud at birth!

Would you say there’s anything about Michigan that has influenced your writing?

Absolutely! I love my state so much, I couldn’t help but let it influence my story. To start with, the beautiful forest parks of Northern Michigan were the blueprints for the forest at the beginning of Legend of the Storm Sneezer. I walk those hiking trails, and I half expect to turn a corner and see my main characters, Rose and Marek, meeting under a maple tree for their next adventure!

Also, I’m a huge fan of Michigan’s dogman lore, which played a HUGE doggone role in one of my character’s magical abilities. And Petoskey stones? Well, let’s just say Petoskey stones have their own special uses in this fantasy world—and it’s awesome!

You mention on your website that you’ve spent some time volunteering as a historical reenactor, and even playing a few spooky characters at a haunted house attraction! Has your experience acting influenced how you write?

Yes! Of both experiences, working at a haunted house attraction has influenced my writing the most. You wouldn’t think it, but there is a delicate science to scaring people in a haunted house. Timing is everything! Scare them too often, and they get bored by your predictability. Don’t scare them enough, and they feel let down. You have to create just the right amount of tension, picking the perfect moment to scream or jump out or howl. 

Those same principles apply when writing spooky scenes in a book—and Legend of the Storm Sneezer has some doozies!

You also provide teacher guides for your novel, including material like discussion questions, vocab lists, and even themed snack ideas! What was the process of creating these guides like?

Very intimidating at times but also a lot of fun! One of the first things I did was ask my mom for advice. My favorite memories from being homeschooled were her incredible Unit Studies and lesson plans based on the books we were reading. She brought out all the old teaching guides and let me sift through them for inspiration.

As I started assembling discussion questions, snack ideas, etc., I tried to put myself back in my preteen self’s shoes and thought about what I would want her to get out of the teaching guides—the fun and the learning and the meaningful discussions. There are so many families experiencing homeschooling for the first time because of quarantine, which really motivated me to make this resource as useful and easily accessible as possible. My sincerest hope is that it will help families experience the same joy of homeschooling that I had all my school years with my own family.

What’s something you hope your readers will take away from Legend of the Storm Sneezer

Oh, wow. There are so many things I’m hoping readers will take away from this book, but one of the main things is this: there are no “Chosen Ones.” Every person is of equal worth and importance, and we need to start viewing and caring about each other as members of the same team. Our differences shouldn’t divide us—they should strengthen us as we work together, letting each person shine in their own role. 

What’s next for you? Do you have any more ideas in the works? How can readers learn more about you and your work?

Legend of the Storm Sneezer is book one of The Stormwatch Diaries, and I am heartily working on its sequel! I can’t share too much just yet, but it may or may not involve a maple syrup festival gone awry, giant, mutant squirrels, and a terrifying bunch of teddy bears. So if you enjoy the delightful absurdity of Legend of the Storm Sneezer—get ready for round two!

You can learn more about me and my work at or you can reach out to me on social media at @KristianasQuill!


A little bit about the book:

Legend Seeker. Part-time Ghost Hunter. Time Traveler.

Thirteen-year-old Rose Skylar sneezed a magical storm cloud at birth, and it’s followed her around ever since. But when “Stormy” causes one too many public disasters, Rose is taken to Heartstone, an asylum for unstable magic. Its location? The heart of a haunted forest whose trees have mysteriously turned to stone.

They say the ghosts are bound to the woods… then why does Rose see them drifting outside the windows at night? And why is there a graveyard on the grounds filled with empty graves? Guided by her future selves via time traveling letters, Rose and Marek—best friend and potential figment of her imagination—must solve the mystery of the specters and the stone trees before the ghosts unleash a legendary enemy that will make their own spooks look like a couple of holey bed sheets and destroy Heartstone Asylum.

Letters from the future are piling up. Rose can’t save Heartstone herself. However, five of herselves, a magical storm cloud, and a guardian angel who might very well be imaginary? Now that’s a silver lining.

But will they find what killed the ghosts before what killed the ghosts finds them?

A little bit about the author:

As an author, Kristiana Sfirlea knows what it means to get in character. She spent five years volunteering as a historical reenactor and trying her best not to catch her skirts on fire as a colonial girl from the 1700s (leading cause of death at the time next to childbirth). Working at a haunted house attraction, she played a jumping werewolf statue, a goblin in a two-way mirror, and a wall-scratcher—so if she’s standing very still, growling, checking her reflection, or filing her nails on your wall, be alarmed. Those are hard habits to break.

Kristiana's speculative flash fiction has been published by Havok, and her debut novel Legend of the Storm Sneezer is a whimsical Middle Grade fantasy involving time travel and things that go bump in the night. She dreams of the day she can run her own mobile bookstore. Or haunted house attraction. Or both. Look out, world—here comes a haunted bookmobile! (And this is precisely why writers should never become Uber drivers.) She loves Jesus, her family, and imaginary life with her characters.

Friday, May 8, 2020

TV Interview Tips for the Timid Writer by A. Kidd

Let me start by saying that the idea of appearing on TV, even local TV, was terrifying to me. I’m an introvert like most writers and prefer to share my thoughts on the page—end of story. But we all know how important marketing is for even the most popular writers out there. So how do you navigate the world of television?

I discovered Pages Promotions which is an organization devoted to helping indie authors like me. They were advertising Indie Reads TV which is broadcast on CMNTV. They have a contact form you can fill out to be a guest. Keep in mind, they are currently taking a break because of the stay-at-home restrictions, but you can still sign up as well as watch episodes on YouTube.

***In general, taking part in writing and book-related listservs and social media groups is the best way to find these opportunities.

How do you prepare? 

  • Ask the interviewer if they can send you a list of their questions ahead of time, but be prepared for them to say no, to keep things natural. Usually they’ll at least provide some basic questions to expect. 

  • Research common questions. Then make a list of questions you’ve been asked in written interviews. *Sometimes they will let you recommend questions you want to be asked. 

  • Make sure you have your book pitch memorized so you can say it with ease and a smile. 

  • Take your smart phone and videotape yourself practicing. Notice if you’re making enough eye contact as well as how you look and sound.

  • Have your timesaver statement ready, in case you get asked a question you weren’t expecting. Something like, “I’ve never been asked that before” or “That’s an interesting question.” *Even a few seconds will buy you some time to come up with an answer. 

What to expect when you arrive? 

When I got to the studio, it actually took me like 10 minutes to make myself get out of the car. I was excited but extremely nervous! Try these tips:

  • Listen to some soothing or upbeat music on your way there. 

  • Practice some deep-breathing if you can, just prior. 

  • Drink some calming tea ahead of time. 

The studio was actually more comforting than I expected, even with all the equipment in my face and surrounding us. *The main thing I recommend is to just focus on your interviewer and pretend you are having a conversation. I know that when I talk about something I’m really passionate about, like books, and when I know my topic well (in this case, myself and my book), then I feel more relaxed. Luckily, my interviewer was quite friendly. She was also very chatty during the interview, which allowed me time to come up with my responses.

Takeaways from my experience:

I think what went well is that I appeared genuine, and I truly enjoyed the interview. When the interviewer said we only had a few more minutes left, I was thinking, wow that went by quickly! The interviewer told me she thought I was a good conversationalist and that I seemed calm, which was great to hear and a huge surprise. She said she really enjoyed my enthusiasm too.

  • Turn those nerves into excitement, if you can. 

  • Try not to get too bogged down with how you answered questions or if you got it just right. The goal is for the general public to see authors as everyday people that they can relate to, not some perfect person on a pedestal. Just like your main character, you want to be authentic and relatable too. 

  • I will say that while I was very excited about my sparkly outfit, since my book is about stars, I discovered afterwards that I blended into the background a little bit. So you might want to consult with the station about what kind of background there will be and what colors they suggest you wear to make yourself stand out. 

  • Remember your ultimate goal is to share excitement about your book and hopefully gain some readership.

*And if all else fails, remember this. I said to my husband beforehand, what if I do something really wacky on TV? He said that was even better, because then more people would watch. More viewers means more potential readers. And who doesn’t want that? Good luck!

Watch A. Kidd's interview here:

A. Kidd is the middle child in a family of three girls. She started making up her own stories at age four. She has a B.S. in Written Communication with a minor in Language, Literature, and Writing from Eastern Michigan University and an MLIS with a specialization in children's librarianship from Wayne State University. Her poetry has been published in literary magazines. She is also an artist and a performance poet. ​​​​​​​

A. Kidd lives with her husband and daughter in a suburb of Detroit, MI. The Healing Star is her debut novel. She often wishes on stars but hasn't caught one yet.​​​​​​​

Learn more at her author page:

Find The Healing Star here:

SCBWI-MI Reminders

Monthly Shop Talks are now virtual and are open to everyone around the state. Go to events on our website to learn more: The best way to stay updated is to subscribe to our chapter listserv and social media channels. Go here to get connected:

The SCBWI-MI Nonfiction Mentorship Competition is already half-full of applicants for picture books. The submission window closes May 26th or when 30 applications are received, so don't delay! Everything you need to know for both mentorships is here:

Schools are closed and SCBWI-MI authors and illustrators are here to help! Go here for numerous free educational activities for all grade levels, K-12.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Book Birthday Blog with Paulette Sharkey

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

Congratulations to Paulette Sharkey on the release of her new book, A Doll For Grandma!

Congratulations on the release of your new book, A Doll for Grandma! What inspired this story?

Thank you! I’m a writer as well as a pianist. About 15 years ago, around the time I retired from my job as a reference librarian, I read that musical memories are held in a part of the brain often left undamaged by Alzheimer’s disease. I decided to see this for myself, and started visiting memory-care homes to play the piano for the residents. 

Their reaction was astounding. Many could no longer recognize family or friends but they could recognize old familiar songs, especially the World War II songs of their younger years. Even those who could no longer speak could often sing along. That’s how I first got interested in Alzheimer’s disease. 

What was the experience of picture book publishing like for you? What was your favorite moment, or your most challenging one?

I had only been working on A Doll for Grandma for about 2 years before I sold it, which is pretty fast! My favorite moment during the process was receiving the email from Naomi Krueger, Acquisitions Editor at Beaming Books, with an offer letter attached. I was in Alaska at the time, awaiting the birth of my first grandchild. Very exciting!

Of course, then came the waiting: about a year and a half from offer letter to publication. And now the challenge of having a book release during the coronavirus pandemic. It’s going to be harder to reach my audience when everyone is distracted by other concerns.

You mention on your website that you have worked as a volunteer pianist with memory-care residents, and cared for family members with dementia. Can you talk a little bit about how those experiences influenced how or why you wrote this story?

My volunteer work with memory-care residents has shown me that even with dementia, people can experience moments of great joy. I wanted to show children that. I also wanted them to see what goes on inside a memory-care home so that they would be less frightened to visit. 

Caring for my uncle and my mother influenced how I wrote the character of Kiera. She models how best to love people with dementia: just as they are, accepting their altered sense of reality without trying to bring them back into our reality. 

You’ve written flash nonfiction, memoirs, and articles for children’s magazines like Highlights and Cricket. How did the writing process for a picture book compare to what you’ve written previously?

I think that writing flash nonfiction—tiny true stories that pack an emotional punch with only a few hundred words—is excellent preparation for writing a picture book. I’ve always loved the minimalism of picture books. Writing flash pieces and picture books both require making every word count. 

When I write an article for a magazine like Cricket, there might be a couple of illustrations, but for the most part, my text has to be complete enough to stand alone. Quite different from writing a picture book, where art and text together tell the story. 

It’s clear to see, both from this picture book and from what you write about on your blog, that you care deeply about supporting those living with Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia. What advice would you give to an author who wants to give back, or support and highlight a specific cause with their books? 

A book that highlights a particular topic, like A Doll for Grandma does, won’t necessarily find its readers in the usual pool of children’s book enthusiasts. 

Look for organizations, magazines, newsletters, websites, blogs, podcasts, social media accounts relevant to your topic and engage with them. I’ve found book promotion opportunities by reaching out to my local Alzheimers Association chapter and to the staff of memory-care facilities. I’m fortunate to be able to donate all my author proceeds to support Alzheimer’s research, giving an additional incentive to book buyers.

What’s something you hope your readers will take away from this story?

Alzheimer’s disease steals memories, but the ability to love remains.

Do you have any new ideas in the works? How can readers find out more about you and your work?

I’m working on a picture book biography of Clara Schumann and a story about a piano recital gone wrong! 

You can find out more about me on my website:

Or connect with me on twitter: @pbsharkey

A Little bit about the book:

Kiera has a special bond with her grandmother. When Grandma develops Alzheimer’s and moves into a memory-care home, Kiera finds that the old ways they played together no longer work. By embracing the changes in Grandma, Kiera figures out a new way to connect and sustain their relationship. She gives Grandma a doll and they enjoy taking care of their “babies” together. 

A Little bit about the author:

Paulette Bochnig Sharkey worked for many years as a librarian, first in her home state of Michigan, and later in Australia, Nevada, and Wisconsin. She has also been an indexer, braille transcriber, developmental editor, proofreader, and ghostwriter. Paulette is the author of two library reference books and dozens of articles for children’s magazines. A Doll for Grandma is her first children’s book.