Thursday, November 26, 2020

Jay Whistler Seeks Warmer Climes


Mitten blog co-editor, Charlie Barshaw is here to show our appreciation for a long-time SCBWI-MI member who's in the process of moving out of state. Read on for Charlie's interview with Jennifer (Jay) Whistler, and please join us in wishing her well. Stay in touch, Jay!

Jay Whistler on Thunderstones, Pantsing, Paris and Character Desire

When you were young, which books and authors helped to make you the voracious reader you are today?

 The first book I bought through the Scholastic Book Fair with my own money was Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell.

I remember thinking that if a young girl like that could survive wild dogs and storms and injury, I could do anything. I fell in love with the idea that I could buy my own adventures based on what appealed to me, with no parent, teacher, or librarian telling me what was “required” reading. In fact, until well into college, if a book was required reading, I automatically eschewed it. But anything that I picked up because I wanted to? That to me was the ultimate expression of freedom.


Who or what inspired you to write?

When I was in third grade, we had to write an essay about something in geology that we were intrigued by. My mother had a subscription to Natural History magazine, which contained an article about thunderstones,

pieces of flint that were likely created during the stone age as arrowheads, ax blades, etc. For hundreds of years in Europe, farmers (or anyone who dug one up) thought they were bolts of lightning that had fallen to earth.

So I wrote my essay in the form of a news bulletin about a famous Scandinavian tunderstones (no ‘H’) found in a farmer’s field in the 1800s. I even wrote in a Scandinavian “accent.” While I cringe now at writing in dialect—oh, please do not ever do this!—third-grade me was thrilled when I was the only student to receive an A and for my teacher to ask me to read it aloud.


With an MFA and an MA in your pocket, what have you found to be the challenges and rewards of higher education?

 The MA is in technical writing, which helped me learn how to write lean. I am always on the hunt for filler words in my own and clients’ manuscripts. It also helps me zero in on passages that tell. And after teaching essay and technical writing at the college level for years, I focus on grammar and mechanics like, well, a college professor.

The MFA gave me the skills I needed to take my writing to the next level. I needed to learn more about plot, character development, and how to revise. Even though I have the three letters after my name, I’m still learning. But now I know how to learn, where to go to find the resources that help me continue my education. I will always be learning how to write (and revise and edit) better.

 The biggest challenge with higher education is not allowing myself to fall back into writing habits that I had for 20 years. We are often told to write what we know, but I think that we often mistake that to mean write “how” you know. If you’ve always written in a specific way or believed something an editor or agent or critique partner said you must do from now on, it can be difficult to change how you write.

For me, changing how I write also changed my output. I now write more words and produce cleaner drafts that don’t meander. I used to be a “pantser” (someone who writes by the seat of their pants), but now I am a dedicated “plotter” (someone who does a lot of character development and outlining before drafting). That’s been a game-changer, but it is still a challenge to stay focused and not bang out a draft just because I am excited about my shiny new idea.   


You do freelance editing for everything from rhyming picture books to adult novels. What do you wish aspiring writers understood?

 Never submit a first draft. Terry Pratchett said that the first draft is just you telling yourself the story. He was right. Get it on paper and let it simmer for a few days or weeks. Come back with fresh eyes. You will see so much that needs to be re-visioned. Submitting that first draft to a potential agent, editor, or contest can end your chances with them. Many agents and editors will say, “Thanks, but no thanks,” which is code for, “Never contact us again.” You don’t want to close that door if you can avoid it.

 By the same token, don’t be too eager to send a draft to a freelance editor. I’ve had lots of what I suspect are first drafts that need complete overhauls because the timeline is off, there is no clear concrete goal for the protagonist, plot holes abound, and more. This is a waste of your money. Be patient. Revise thoroughly. Send an agent, editor, or freelance editor the very best version of your writing.


 As an acquisitions reader for a literary agency, what mistakes automatically trigger a “hard pass”?

 One of the biggest for me is when I see a manuscript that has not been proofread or grammar checked. I am always willing to overlook a few typos here and there, but if I am seeing them on every page, or if there is a consistent pattern of sentence-structure errors, this makes me think I am looking at a first draft. Take the time to run the manuscript through good grammar software. There are several free programs available. My current favorite is Grammarly, which has free and paid versions.

 I also need to see a story that has a concrete desire line for the protagonist and includes meaty stakes if the MC doesn’t achieve that desire. It’s not enough for the MC to want something. They must risk losing something else if they don’t get it. If I am reading a submission that shows promise because the writing is beautiful or the story is intriguing, I might suggest a “revise and resubmit” offer, which essentially lets the author know that the agent is willing to look at it again if substantive changes are made.


As Regional Advisor for SCBWI in Switzerland, what are your favorite memories? What challenges did you face as the head of a writing community in Europe?

When I took over the Swiss chapter, we had nine members in the entire country and no money. I mean not one franc. My main goal was to build our membership and create opportunities for members to get together, form critique groups, and network.

I did a few webinars to build our treasury, held in-person gatherings across the country, often traveling from the French region to the German region to host events, and I was fortunate enough to be one of several European RAs who organized the first-ever Europolitan SCBWI conference, which was held in Paris in 2013. This is now a biennial conference every odd year.

When I turned the chapter over to my successor, after only 18 months, we had tripled our membership and built a tidy nest egg. The Swiss chapter now has over 50 members and continues to grow.

You’ve done numerous Shop Talk presentations, and just recently spoke on “Character Desire.” You’ve helped to co-chair writer conferences. Why are you so generous with your time and talent?

I would not be where I am today without SCBWI.

I had never heard of the organization until 2004 when Monica Harris invited me to attend a conference. Her critique group also welcomed me with open arms. Every conference, every critique group meeting, every retreat all served to improve my craft. Our chapter is incredibly generous and so many members are willing to donate their time and expertise to help newbies and “oldbies” alike. So I am paying back this chapter that helped me reach major milestones, but also paying it forward by helping nurture up-and-coming writers and illustrators. 


The Whistlers are moving to warmer climes. Rumor has it you don’t care for Michigan winters. What are your plans for the future?

Rumor is not wrong. Kalamazoo has the distinct disadvantage of gloomy winters with only three days of sun per month, on average, between November and April. (Look it up if you don’t believe me.) That’s six months with only 18 days of sun. By the time Groundhog Day comes along, I’m ready to hurt people. This move to Texas, while ostensibly to be closer to our daughters, is really for the safety of all Michigan residents. You’re welcome.

As for future plans, I continue to do my freelance editing and agency reading. And I may decide to start breeding long-horn Texas steers and do some bronco busting. But first I have to git me some cowboy boots and a lot of plaid.


Which of your own Works in Progress are you most excited about?

 I’m working on a middle-grade historical fiction novel. And that’s all I’m going to say.

Follow Jay here:


Twitter: @JayWhistler




Saturday, November 21, 2020

Book Birthday Blog with Linda Sienkiewicz


 Welcome to SCBWI-MI's Book Birthday Blog! 

Where we celebrate new books by Michigan's children's book authors and illustrators

Congratulations to Linda Sienkiewicz on the release of her new book, Gordy and the Ghost Crab!  
Congratulations on the release of Gordy and the Ghost Crab! What inspired this seaside story?

It began with a little story I wrote for my grandchildren. We were vacationing in the Outer Banks of North Carolina when my grandson, then three, was totally freaked out by a ghost crab that ran across the top of his shoe one evening. The next day, we tried to find a book for him about ghost crabs in the local bookshop, but there wasn’t anything. My daughter said, “You’ll just have to write him one, Mom.” So that’s what I did.
How did writing for a picture book compare to your previous experience of writing for adult fiction, like your award-winning title In The Context of Love?

Writing is a learning process, and the more you learn, the more you find you have yet to learn. Even though you need to rely on good storytelling with a character arc and compelling plot, details such as layout and individual word choice become really important in a picture book.
As both the author and illustrator of Gordy and the Ghost Crab, you had control not only over the narrative, but the visual aspects of the story as well. What did your process for creating this picture book look like? Did you plan to illustrate it from the beginning?

Initially I drew up a little book for my grandson with magic marker and colored pencil, but I didn’t plan to illustrate the text for publication until much later. For one thing, I had gone to art school in the seventies long before digital art existed. I had studied figure drawing, but never drew children. Or ocean waves. Or crabs! Then I decided, why not try? I bought myself an iPad and Apple Pen and started playing around on Adobe Sketch, and had a blast. It was a year-long learning process where I honed my skills and developed a style that I thought matched the story.

Of course, then I had to learn about layout and what parts of the story to illustrate. When I found a publisher, I learned that my illustrations were not the optimal size and had to redo them all. Then, after the book was laid out, the editor told me there were three more pages to fill, so I expanded the science facts at the end of the story, and added more drawings. 

Who are some of your favorite or most inspiring writers? How about artists?

My favorite fiction writers are Anne Tyler and fellow Michigander Bonnie Jo Campbell. My very favorite children’s book is Bubble Trouble by Margaret Mahy, illustrated by Polly Dunbar. The language play is wonderful, the illustrations are so unique, and the story has such suspense!
What has your experience of releasing a book in the current times been? Do you have any advice for authors also releasing their book in this time of social distancing and changing school situations?

Get comfortable with Zoom and doing live video on Facebook and Instagram! With Zoom, you can appear all over the country without leaving home—what could be better!

I put together a Pre-K – 8 teacher’s guide for the book that includes language arts, social studies, math, and science so that it can be used in the classroom, with or without Zoom.

I’ve been creating posts for Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. I’ve made a book trailer that I’ve posted everywhere I can think of. Since my book is beach related, I hope to visit bookstores and gift shops along the Atlantic coast next summer, fingers crossed. I plan to run a contest through Rafflecopter to give away a large plush ghost crab, too. 

Always so much to do! 

What’s something you hope your readers take away from Gordy and the Ghost Crab?

For children, what we imagine is often counter to reality. Gordy’s big brother tells him a story about ghost crabs that scares him. Then he has to make a choice about whether or not to protect a little ghost crab from a girl with a net, so there’s a lesson about caring for others and problem solving. You can be afraid and brave at the same time. The book also has lots of fun facts about different kinds of crabs. Learn about the things you’re most afraid of and they won’t be so scary!
What’s coming up, any new ideas in the works? Where can our readers go to learn more about you?

I’m working on my second novel, which also takes place in the Outer Banks, on remote Ocracoke Island.

I blog about books, writing and life at
A little bit about the book:

Gordy is afraid of the crashing ocean waves and a strange creature he sees skittering across the beach. It doesn't help his fears when his big brother tells him it's a ghost crab that will pinch off all his toes. What will Gordy do when he meets a girl intent on capturing a ghost crab? Will he stay away, or will he rescue the little crab?

The story highlights empathy, problem solving and the value of caring for nature. The book also includes fun facts about different types of common crabs and offers a gentle conservation message.
Order it on Amazon or Barnes and Noble!

A little bit about the author:

Linda K. Sienkiewicz’s poetry, short stories and art have been widely published in literary journals and anthologies. Gordy and the Ghost Crab is her first picture book. Her first novel, In the Context of Love, won four finalist awards, including the Hoffer Award and the Sarton Award for Fiction. She also has a poetry chapbook award, three other poetry chapbooks, and a Pushcart Prize Nomination. Her MFA is from Stonecoast at the University of Southern Maine. She volunteers at The Neighborhood House, a nonprofit social services organization.

Friday, November 20, 2020

What’s With the Buzz about Pinterest? By Debbie Gonzales

Pinterest is so, so, SO much more than a quick reference for great recipes or DIY projects. The marketing potential on this dynamic platform is phenomenal! Studies show that Pinterest is the largest website traffic driver in the world. Thoughtfully crafted content has the potential of becoming 80% more viral than on any other social media platform. When it comes to Twitter, Pinterest is 3 times more effective in establishing connections and building relationships. Yet, currently, the Kidlit industry lacks a vibrant representation on the platform. We need to change that. I am eager to show you how. 

To raise visibility on Pinterest, a marketer must nurture three variables – content, consistency, and community.  Like a sturdy three-legged stool, each element supports the other. Fresh, relative, audience-centric content is the foundation of a successful platform – authentic messaging that is unique to your brand and intriguing to your audience. Pinterest users come to the platform looking for something specific in mind. Because of this, literary pinners must shift focus from impressing and entertaining their readers to discovering ways to solve a problem or to meet a need. By consistently showing up with engaging content designed to educate, inspire, and motivate others, a savvy Pinterest marketer is destined to build a loyal following, one that frequents their website on a consistent basis. I know this to be true. I’ve done it. You can, too. 

I discovered the power of Pinterest in early 2018 while working on the pre-publication marketing campaign for my debut nonfiction picture book, GIRLS WITH GUTS: THE ROAD TO BREAKING BARRIERS AND BASHING RECORDS. I wanted to try news ways to promote the book, so I studied the strategic principles and tools of relationship marketing. Along with tons of social media hacks, I learned about the community fostering effects of the e-newsletter, how podcasting exponentially magnifies messaging, and about the robust marketing potential of Pinterest. I figured out to launch the e-newsletter and podcast on my own and hired a professional to manage my Pinterest platform. I’m so glad I did. My Pinterest specialist has now become my mentor. Under her tutelage, I’ve become even more astonished by the platform’s potential than ever before. There is a learning curve involved in establishing and maintaining a Pinterest platform, one that is well worth the effort to master. Especially now, in these uncertain times, when traditional modes of relationship marketing such as school visits and book festival signings are out of reach. 

Author Tami Lewis Brown is new to using Pinterest as a marketing tool and here’s what she has to say about the experience. “Pinterest is a visual encyclopedia of ideas and can offer all kinds of different experiences, depending on your needs and interests. Parents, teachers, and other adults already use Pinterest as a resource for everything from popsicle recipes to anti-bullying techniques to bulletin board ideas. I write non-fiction picture books and I love how Pinterest allows me to tap into that, to offer tie-ins, to build awareness and to promote interest in other books that young readers should know about. I have two new books, PERKIN’S PERFECT PURPLE and ART IS LIFE coming out this fall and it would be challenging (to say the least) to get the word out without Pinterest.” 

Like Tami, I’d like to invite you to consider how you might promote your work on Pinterest. Explore creative ways to connect with your audience. I’ll be sharing a few more posts to help you do just that. Until then, take some time to examine Tami’s Pinterest platform then ask yourself the following questions (Take notes, if you’d like. They could become in useful as you apply the information presented in the upcoming blog posts):

  • Instead of merely showcasing your book cover and purchasing information, are there ways you might encourage more engagement with your topic and, perhaps, yourself? 
  • List ways you might be able to educate your audience about your topic or services you offer.
  • Is there an inspirational way to create content founded on your messaging that might encourage, uplift, or simply brighten someone’s day?

  • Consider ways to keep your branding solid but your message fun and fresh.  

Your response to these statements can become the foundation for the first leg of your Pinterest stool – content! Then, by consistently posting pins crafted with your audience’s needs in mind you, too, can slowly-but-surely build a vibrant community on your engaging Pinterest marketing platform.  

You’re off to a great start!

Debbie Gonzales is an author, a career educator, and a Pinterest marketing specialist. Being passionate about the marketing potential of Pinterest, Deb delights in leading on-line or in-person workshops, managing client platforms, and coaching Pinterest users in one-on-one sessions. She has created and established the Guides by Deb website, a free resource consisting of over 300 standards-aligned teacher guides crafted for some of the finest kidlit books in the industry. Deb is the author of GIRLS WITH GUTS: THE ROAD TO BREAKING BARRIERS AND BASHING RECORDS. She earned her MFA in writing for children and young adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Learn more about Deb by accessing or

*Note: This post is one in a series of three first published on the Cynsations blog. Click the links below to read the other two posts. To take a deeper dive into Pinterest for authors, Deb is hosting an online 3 Day DIY Pinterest Hands-On Workshop on Dec. 9, 2020.


Attention Illustrators!

Next year, SCBWI-MI is offering two illustration mentorships. One is for picture book illustration with mentor Dow Phumiruk. The other is for middle grade or young adult illustration with mentor Brittany Jackson.

To learn more, go to the mentorship page on the SCBWI-MI website.
The submission window opens May 17, 2021. We look forward to hearing from you.
For questions, contact Ann Finkelstein, SCBWI-MI Mentorship coordinator. 

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Book Birthday Blog with Maryann Lawrence


 Welcome to SCBWI-MI's Book Birthday Blog! 

Where we celebrate new books by Michigan's children's book authors and illustrators

Congratulations to Maryann Lawrence on the release of her book, Season of the Great Bird!  

Today we celebrate a book birthday anniversary! It's been one year since the release of Season of the Great Bird in 2019. Today we catch up with Maryann Lawrence to hear about how this book came to be.

Today we’re celebrating the one-year anniversary of the release your children’s book, Season of the Great Bird! Can you tell us a little bit about what inspired this story?

Thank you Lauren, and thanks for featuring my book. Where does inspiration come from? Oh boy! Good question. If I recall correctly, this one came out of a fall walk when the colors were changing and I had the image of this bird leaving its colors behind. Most of my ideas kind of grow organically and subconsciously that way. It's almost like starting with an emotion and letting the narrative flow from it.
What was it like to collaborate with your son to create the illustrations?

Truthfully, we didn't intend a collaboration at all. The watercolors were a gift from Andrew for Christmas in 2018. The six images were the parts of the story that most captivated his imagination.

When I saw his interpretation of the book, I knew I couldn't just enjoy them for myself. I needed to gift it back to Andrew in published form. That meant I had to publish the book myself. There was a time sensitivity about it because finding a publisher might take years. I also knew it would be unlikely that a publisher would accept the book as it was written, and with Andrew's paintings just the way they were. I wanted to preserve that raw symbiosis between words and images, between mother and son. It's truly representative of our relationship. Here I come up with this story and then Andrew comes in and takes it over the top.

Reflecting on the creation process of Season of the Great Bird a year later, is there anything you would go back and change? Anything you’re particularly proud of?
I am not a marketer all. I know that an author is required to toot their own horn, set up readings, and that kind of thing, but I just am not that person. Maybe if I had a big publisher behind me, or maybe if I didn't work full time, but my free time is pretty limited so spending it pushing my own book is time away from my next creative project.

The little bit of “marketing” I did was with the end goal of telling people about Andrew's work in print, so if there is anything I am most proud of it's that my work inspired him to create these really beautiful works of art.

In addition to Season of the Great Bird, your first picture book (congratulations!), you’ve also written essays, poetry, and short stories. How would you say your previous writing experiences compare to the process of writing for a children’s book?

Thanks, it really was a departure. The trickiness of a children's story is to write simultaneously for a child and the adult who is reading to them. That was the genius of Warner Brothers cartoons, right? As a kid, it's all falling anvils and sassy rabbits, but as an adult there is a real darkness about this rabbit who is always being hunted, and a coyote that is always being outsmarted by a bird -- of all things. There's revenge and desire, and sarcasm and abuse. A chicken getting pummeled is kind of funny to a kid, and the sarcasm and blatant sexism goes over their head, but if you watch those cartoons as an adult, it's pretty appalling but also oddly entertaining.

So writing a children's book, you want to entertain the child – through the narrative, or through illustrations, or through poetic writing – but also to captivate the adult who is reading to them. I can't think of how many books that I read once to my kids and then put away forever because it was nauseating to read. I would hate to be that writer.

Who are some authors that inspire you?

There are some phenomenal modern authors, but so much of my writing is inspired by the books I read to my kids when they were young, and even the ones that I had as a kid. The ones that you can't pass on because there are so many rips and stains like Richard Scarry and Tomie dePaola and Shel Silverstein. I think we read Harry and the Lady Next Door at least 20 times and pretty much all of Roald Dahl's books. Silliness was a popular genre in our house.

If I look at my own writing, however, I would say Julia Donaldson (The Gruffalo), Margaret Hodges (Saint George and the Dragon) and Marjorie Flack (The Story About Ping). That's actually the first time I have considered this question. They are all women! More than their gender, however, is their ear for beautiful writing. I really aspire to that. For me, that is writing's highest calling.

I would also be remiss if I didn't mention that the illustrators are very inspiring to me, even as a writer, maybe especially as a writer – Roberto Innocenti and Arthur Rackham have been two of my favorites since my own childhood. I appreciate the dark realism that both of these illustrators capture. They are the reason I started collecting children's books in the first place. I think I was the only teenager in my high school that had a library of children's picture books!

What do you hope your readers take away from Season of the Great Bird?

You know, this story turned out much heavier than I anticipated. I mean, if you read my summary of the book, it's about "hope and redemption,” and certainly the narrative reflects that. But I never really set out to teach anything or to have a message because I really hate preachy children's books. At the same time, I think stories should reflect our inner, emotional life, and often times our lives are heavy. So I hope the story really speaks to a child's inner soul life.

When my mother read it, she applied a religious bent to it, because that is her inner life. But in truth, the narrative for Season of the Great Bird is really just a device I am using to honor nature with words that match its power and poetic beauty. The Great Bird himself is really just a metaphor for all the wisdom of nature. So I hope that the readers will put down the book and turn to nature for answers. That's what I hope they take away. Andrew got it, and that's what his illustrations reflect. But if a reader takes away something else, that's okay, too.

What have you got going on right now? Any new ideas in the works? Where can our readers go to learn more about you and your work?

Oh my, so many ideas. I have titles and outlines. I once proposed the title “The Benevolent Elephant” and now my family has been dogging me to write it, but I haven't gotten past some really bad beginnings. I never get writer's block, though, only writer's remorse. That means I have about a dozen unedited first chapters of various children's and short stories. And, of course, it's National Novel Writing Month – that time of year when I start off with a bang and peter out the first week. Focus is my great downfall; I am really all over the place. I just really need to focus on one project and follow through.

I did manage to update my website at That was my October project. In time, maybe I'll create my own publishing company and get my work in print. For now, however, I just wanted to put some of the older works behind me to free me up to work on new projects, which is really what this is all about anyway. Seeing my work in print, or in a store for sale, is exciting, but only momentarily. The writing is where the fun is.

If you're interested in updates, I have been rolling out new stories regularly. My Facebook page is


Season of the Great Bird tells the story of the butterfly Pathena, the Terrible War, and the fall of the Great Pine. Each of these played a part in the coming of a new age and the end of the Season of Beauty. It is a story of fear and doubt, of jealousy and blame, but also a story of hope and redemption. Purchase online at


Maryann Lawrence is a Michigan native, and writes from her home in South Lyon. Links to her stories, essays, and poetry can be found on her website at


Friday, November 13, 2020

Equity & Inclusion Corner: Donate a Book!

The SCBWI-MI Equity & Inclusion Team is highlighting literacy efforts that support Michigan readers.  

This year’s initiative is Books With Barbers, a program that provides books for young patrons of barber shops in Detroit. The initiative was discovered by SCBWI-MI’s Debbie Gonzales who met Michigan literacy experts and coordinators of the Books With Barbers program, Ashelin Currie and Jerry Jones at a Michigan Reading Association meeting and we are so happy that she connected us!

The Books With Barbers mission is to use the popular community hub to distribute books featuring characters of color that reflect the readers’ experiences, culture and community. Let’s help readers enjoy a great book along with a new haircut. 

You can support this book drive by selecting a book from the Book Wish List and sending it to Books For Barbers from November 15 – December 15, 2020.

Below is the information for the Books With Barbers donation process:

To purchase a book to be donated to Books With Barbers (BWB), please follow these instructions:

1) Visit the Source Booksellers website at and select the book from the Children’s Book section.

2) On the checkout page, find the Comments Section and write BOOKS WITH BARBERS.

3) Make your payment.

4) Your purchase will be sent to the BWB Coordinator.

(If the book is not listed, or if you have challenges making the purchase, simply call the bookstore at (313) 832-1155 and your order will be taken over the phone.)

Learn more about the Books with Barbers literacy initiative in this previous Mitten blog post:

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

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, Dino-Thanksgiving!  
Congratulations on the release of Dino-Thanksgiving! This is the latest in your Dino-Holiday series, right after Dino-Halloween. Could you tell us a little bit about what inspired this series?
Thank you! The Dino-Holiday series was suggested by the team at CarolRhoda/Lerner books. I'd written ten of the Dino-Sports books, and they felt that this would be a terrific new series where kids could see their favorites from the first books, celebrating various holidays.
What’s your favorite thing about writing for a larger series of books? What would you say is the most challenging part?

Writing a series like this allows me to give the characters their own distinctive personalities. For instance, Triceratops and T. Rex are born leaders, while the Pterodactyl twins are always up to some form of mild mischief.

The hardest part is finding some cohesion. In the Dino-Sports series, I basically did a play-by-play of whatever sport the dinos were involved in. But for the Holidays series, this wouldn't work. So for each of the books, I've found that having one or two characters involved in a repeating 'gag' that comes full circle at the end, has helped with cohesion. For instance, in Dino-Thanksgiving, Compsognathus (Compy), a very small dinosaur, keeps saying, "I'm hungry. Is it time to eat?" This plot line comes full circle at the end.
When it comes to day-to-day writing, what does your process look like? Do you have a daily routine or strategy, or is it more unstructured?

While I am a morning person and get more done if I'm up-and-at 'em early, I don't have a writing routine. (I gave up on that once my husband was home all the time.) But I do try to do something 'writing related' every day. Sometimes that might be a school visit or a book signing. These days it's more like puttering on a book of poems I started years ago, revising unsold picture books or answering emails from readers.
What do you like do to stay inspired and fill that creative bucket? Do you have any tricks or tips for when you feel stuck?

I think much better when I'm in motion. When I really need to get my brain juices flowing, I take a walk-- alone! I also have found inspiration while being a passenger in the car on a long trip, cleaning my house, and for my next book, tiling the shower.
What advice would you give to an aspiring author looking to write or plan for a longer series of books?

Truthfully, the Dino-Sport series didn't start out as a series. I wrote Dino-Hockey as a standalone book. When CarolRhoda/Lerner was interested in buying it, they asked me to change the ending. (My original ending had the dinosaurs playing eternal overtime on the ice, like skeletons in a museum.) I didn't want to pick a winner, but I figured if I had to, I'd keep the ending upbeat by having the dinos look forward to soccer season.

This turned out to be a great decision because soon after, my editor asked me to write Dino-Soccer. All the rest of the books were requested.

If I went into this pitching a series, it may have been turned down. Publishers don't always want to take the risk of supporting a series when the first book hasn't proven itself. 

I’m sure this is a question many a kid has had, but I had to ask: what’s your favorite type of dinosaur?

I love Triceratops! I have a thing for woolly mammoths and I think the shape of a triceratops--big and bulky--puts me in mind of what an elephant or mammoth may have looked like in dinosaur form.
What’s on the horizon for you? Any fun projects or new ideas coming up?

I'm very excited about my next book!

On March 23, 2021 Someone Builds the Dream will be released by Dial. The illustrations have been done by Loren Long, who is well known for the Otis the tractor picture books as well as being the artist for Barack Obama's Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters and many other picture books.

Someone Builds the Dream is the book of my heart. It celebrates and pays homage to working class skilled tradesmen and women. I come from a blue collar background and married a blue collar worker. Yes, we need architects, designers, scientists and engineers. But for their dreams to become realities, we need carpenters, masons, electricians and more!

I am so proud to honor the men and woman of our country who are essential to build our dreams. 
Learn more about Lisa's upcoming book here.

A little bit about the book:
It's time to give thanks!

Dinos big and small prepare for their favorite feast.

Join in the laughter as they cook lots of food, watch football, play games, and of!

A little bit about the author:

Award-winning author, Lisa Wheeler has published over 45 books for children. Her newest books include People Share With People, Even Monsters Go to School and Dino-Halloween. Lisa Makes her home in southeast Michigan with her husband and adorable dog, Frankie. Visit Lisa's website at:

Friday, November 6, 2020

Sandy Carlson Continues Her Adventure of Life

Mitten blog co-editor, Charlie Barshaw is here to show our appreciation for a long-time SCBWI-MI member who's in the process of moving out of state. Read on for Charlie's interview with Sandy Carlson, and please join us in wishing her well. Stay in touch, Sandy!

Sandy Carlson Continues Her Adventure of Life by Writing About It

You’re currently living in a donated mobile home while you await your move. What are the joys and challenges you face in this environment?


I am a writer in transition. We sold our Battle Creek house in July, moved into a borrowed RV in the country in August, and will be moving to Wisconsin at the end of October to be near the grandkids.


We had never spent the night in an RV before moving in here. Internet service was advertised at this RV park, but maybe once a week for 15 minutes I can get on the server. The park is 20 minutes from town. We have one vehicle. Husband still works in town. Our  desktop computer is boxed up for the move. My husband transferred his work data to my laptop, which he either takes to work or works on here in the RV. Therefore, no Internet (unless I go to town) and no computer (except my iPhone). This transition from working full-time as a writer to not being able to write for 2 1/2 months (longer if you count the packing, moving, and unpacking) has been very interesting. However, I now have a whole new set of (RV) characters to write into future stories.


Transition. Adapting.  Surviving as a writer.


I still manage to write two blogs a week, my Sandy Carlson one, my shorter S. L. Carlson one, and occasionally for my publisher’s blog. I use the note pad on my iPhone, then cut and paste it when I get get to town with Internet access.



Why does C. S. Lewis‘s work affect you so deeply?


I see him as a Renaissance Man. As a writer, he is generally known for three genres: children’s fantasy, adult science fiction, and Christian theology. He was ever-learning, constantly adapting to circumstances. I, too, write in many genres, including personal essays, aka, blogs.


What is the world you envisioned in the war unicorn chronicles?


In my four war unicorn books (small press),

I envision 12th Century European, with living fantasy creatures and magic. Of course, the political structures, money, and places are made up, but based on places I’ve been. There will be more war unicorn stories coming.


Each of my stories take place in the out-of-doors. We have only tent camped before, and have had many wilderness experiences — all good stuff for future stories.


For instance...

A couple of days after Jeff and I were married, we backpacked into Mark Twain national forest in Arkansas. We’d hiked about four hours before deciding to rest on a fallen log at the a meadow’s edge.  It wasn’t long before we discovered an interesting species of the area: the seed tick. These itty-bitty arachnids fairly covered our bodies including under our underwear. We stripped naked and proceeded to brush, then burn, hundreds of the tiny ticks off of us. 


That night, we slept in the open meadow where we figured there were no ticks. We were correct, but what we hadn’t counted on was Sasquatch.


In our two-man backpacking tent we laid for a couple hours listening to some creature charge down the hill at our tent, snorting and stopping within a foot or two of it before walking to the top of the hill to recharge. Years later, we were talking with an Arkansas farmer who identified the creature we heard as a wild boar. Every year, people are killed by wild boars. I have yet to write about ticks or boars in my stories, but it is more writing fodder.


What inspired you to write Michigan middle grade historical fiction?


An elderly friend related to me of growing up in the Saugatuck area, and as a child, running down the sand dunes to jump into the Kalamazoo River.
Sometimes a rooftop from the old town of Singapore would be visible. Other times it was gone and another had appeared. Fascinating. I spent many hours doing doing paper research in libraries, as well as time at the location itself. I need to visit the sites I write about, and meditate in that area, trying to imagine what life would’ve been like there in an earlier age.


What inspired you to write Time Sisters for an older audience?


This survival story idea came to me decades ago, similar to Hunger Games in content, so more mature than middle grade. One must follow that writing urge and see a story through to the end, whether you like it or not. Although not my writing level of preference, I wrote it out; entered it into contests with very good reviews; revised it so many times; editors nibbled at it, and commented on it; more revisions; and I finally just threw it out as a whole novel to an Amazon.


What advice do you have for writers considering the Indie Publishing route?


If you have the time and endurance to hold out, do not go the Indie route. It takes much time and money to pursue this. I would much rather be writing.


What are your plans for the future?


My future plans are to survive this RV transition; get significantly moved in at our new Wisconsin location; love up my grandkids; contact the WI-SCBWI; and continue writing till I die.

Sandy Carlson Website & Blog:

S. L. Carlson Fantasy Blog:

Twitter: @sandycarl

Pinterest boards:

FaceBook page:!/sandycarl

Email: sandycarl642@yahoo (dot) com

Coming up this weekend: