Friday, April 29, 2022

A Day in the Life of an Illustrator by Kristen Uroda

Before I sit down at my desk to do any kind of work in the morning, I drink a hot cup of matcha and do some kind of physical activity like stretching, jump roping, or going for a quick walk. I find that when I skip this step, I feel more easily distracted, less focused, and stiffer at the end of the day. I’m not perfectly consistent, but I’m a big advocate of putting the pencil down regularly and tending to one's physical and mental health.

I’m a decently early riser, maybe more by habit and less by preference, but I enjoy working at times when it feels like the rest of the world is quiet. My most focused working hours span between 7:30AM-12:00PM, but I have periods of deep states of flow between 10PM-3AM. I try to shut off as many distractions as possible and avoid checking emails, text messages, and social media during these times because I can easily go down a rabbit hole.

If I’m working on an editorial project, I'll grab my tablet or a stack of sticky notes and write down some ideas I may have based on the title alone and then I read through the brief several times, looking for key words or paragraphs as “hooks” for the image. If the brief is on a complex topic or about a person, I’ll do supplemental research, looking up other articles and/or biographies to get a deeper sense of the subject. I do more writing than drawing in this initial stage, creating some mind maps or sentences of concepts I’d want to explore further, as ideas come rapidly and sometimes it’s faster to briefly describe in words what I’m thinking before doing a few squiggly thumbnails. The goal is to just get the ideas out as quickly as possible to sift through later.

For the first sketch, I was really intrigued by the idea that, "storytellers shape this world, and our understanding of it." So surrounding a planet within this starburst are various storytellers doing different activities like writing, thinking, speaking, editing, etc. I thought it would still get at the idea of how to craft a story but is more about how storytelling is this dynamic creative event.

This second sketch is a lot more focused on the craft of storytelling. When I think of those two words (craft + storytelling), I think of weaving as the phrase "weaving stories" is familiar and there are a number of cultures that use textiles, like weaving, as a storytelling tradition. So, in front of a large hanging loom sits a woman, weaving a picture and pulling on threads from various places surrounded by butterflies. 

The third one is more simple and straightforward. I was thinking about how the point of storytelling is about connection and how a good story can captivate us, so in the middle of an enthralled crowd is a person energetically sharing a story.

After the initial brain dump, I’ll go on Google and Pinterest for visual inspiration, color palettes, to see what has already been illustrated before, and gather reference photos as needed. Once I feel I have enough information, I’ll start making more detailed sketches and connecting everything I’ve digested up until that point. I try to take this stage as slow as possible while taking frequent breaks to give my brain time to synthesize and make unique connections.

I followed pretty much the same steps when illustrating the picture book I’m currently working on, but took a lot more time thinking about character design and going out to observe and people watch as small details—like the right haircut or polka dots instead of stripes on a shirt—can really impact the feel of the story and how readers connect with the characters.
From there, once I submit the sketches and one is approved by the art director, I’ll go to the final! The process at this point is simple—I just color things in and try to make it look nice.


Kristen Uroda is an artist best known for her vibrant, joyful illustrations. Often softly formed yet boldly colored, her work aims to express beauty in the ordinary moments, celebrate the poetry within diverse faces and figures, and tell stories that inspire reflection and social and civic change. While her career started in editorial illustration, she has most recently moved into narrative illustration with her first picture book coming in 2023. She also works as a design researcher at Civilla, a Detroit-based studio dedicated to changing the way public-serving institutions work using human-centered design thinking and design research.


Tuesday, April 26, 2022

It Starts with Hello with Robin Pizzo

This month’s It Starts with Hello story is authored by Robin Pizzo, a long-time member of SCBWI who attends the Lansing Area Shop Talks (LAST). Our regional Shop Talks are a fabulous way to connect with other kidlit creatives, as are SCBWI-MI workshops and conferences. Don’t walk, run to your nearest Shop Talk!

-- Isabel Estrada O’Hagin, Outreach Coordinator


Sixteen years ago, my third child and first son neared two and would not wean. I know, just stay with me. I was researching how to get my picture books published and found some article about SCBWI. My husband suggested I attend the LA SCBWI Summer Conference and that would wean my little guy, plus I’d learn about the publishing process.


Unfortunately, I missed my flight. My mom lived in Detroit, and I went home to cry on her shoulder. She would not accept my tears but gave me the money to fly out first thing the next morning. I made it just as the keynote was over and the audience had cleared. Again, tears. Then a man started with, “Hello,” and asked me what was going on. That man was Walter Dean Myers, one of my literary rock stars. Tears again. We talked for a while about my journey, and he encouraged me to keep writing.

For the next two days, I met Linda Sue Park, heard Jacqueline Woodson speak, and learned from great editors like Arthur A. Levine. I even roomed with Jennifer D. Chambliss who wrote the amazing Book Scavenger series. From there, I connected at a local bookstore with Lansing’s Regional Shop Talks. Although I’m a member of the SistaLoc Writing Group in Lansing, which is comprised of five professional Black women who write in a variety of genres, I’m the only one writing kidlit. The Regional Shop Talks are great for checking in with writers who focus primarily on children’s literature. This past September I enjoyed the outdoor gathering hosted by Charlie and Ruth Barshaw. It was a perfect mix of social distancing, fall foliage, fresh air, kid lit creators, snacks, writing journey, a Quinceanera, and book talk. 

More about Robin in her own words: I've been a writer since the age of five and my first published piece was a poem for my childhood best friend aka my grandmother printed in her obituary. I fell in love with books in 5th grade and historical fiction is my favorite genre. I still hate that I sold my Shakespeare anthology in college because I was broke and the buyback seemed better than selling plasma. I continue to write all the things but my ambition is to become a traditional children’s author publishing picture books to young adult and everything in between. I'm a Detroit girl, member of the Sistalocks Writing Group, a mom, wife and Education Director at WKAR Public Media where Elmo is my boss, according to my youngest!  

You can also read more about Robin in her interview with Charlie Bradshaw or follow her on Twitter or YouTube

Thank you, Robin, for sharing this uplifting story of perseverance!

 Enjoy reading about other member’s “Hello” stories? I do, and I bet you do, too! We each have a unique story to tell! Send your 300-word or less submission to



Friday, April 22, 2022

Writer Spotlight: Isabel Estrada O'Hagin

Summers with nana and tata, Whoppers, "Gone with the Wind" in one day, Equity and Inclusion, and the Tribute Fund

Charlie Barshaw coordinates our quarterly Writer Spotlight feature and interviews writers of SCBWI-MI. In this piece, meet Isabel Estrada O'Hagin, the SCBWI-MI Outreach Coordinator.

You grew up one of seven children in the barrios of Tucson. Since then, you’ve traveled to 14 countries and relocated to Michigan. Have you been back to Tucson? Has it changed much over the years? Is your childhood neighborhood still intact?

I love Tucson and the surrounding area! Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic I visited my family in the Ole Pueblo yearly. In some ways it’s much the same, but the city continues to growunfortunately, that means more bulldozing of the rapidly disappearing Sonoran desert.

My barrio is still intact, as are most of them. Some families leave, new ones move in. The celebration of Mexican-American culture is visible everywhere: bilingual signs, restaurants, shops, tortillerías, and the architecture. Restaurants there when I was a kid are still open. One great addition is a Latino-based bookstore.

You talk about spending summers in Nogales with your nana and tata. What do you remember about those summers with your grandparents?

I remember the love we shared and the relaxed lifestyle. My tata, Don Alberto, greeted everyone wherever we walked. We would cross the border and do our shopping while my tata chatted and then chatted some more. Mis abuelos lived in a magnificent old house full of intriguing nooks and crannies that I constantly explored. I was a curious child!

I remember running up and down the hilly streets of Nogales. Nana had a chicken coop perched on the side of the hill—we all remember the adventures in the chicken coop. I also remember the picnics we had in Patagonia on our way back to Tucson. The creeks were filled with water back in those days. We often had to jump out of our station wagon and push it out of the mud.

You mention “mud pies, mud people and mud villages.” That suggests your family was dirt poor, but also that you kids had a boundless imagination. What worlds did you construct in your young mind?

Oh, we were poor, but so was everyone else in our barrio. We had a piano, plenty of toys, board games, bikes and so on, but we liked to play outside. In that part of Arizona, you can live outdoors most of the year.

In addition to all kinds of sports, we liked to dig. Once we dug a hole in the backyard for over a month convinced we would find treasure. My kid brother loved to carve dirt roads for his race cars and we played, too. Our soil was always dry so we turned on the hose to carve out race tracks, streets, rivers, mountains and villages encircled by walls. I guess you could think of it as an organic sandy mudbox.

Another favorite pastime was hosting talent shows in the backyard. Our stage was an old wooden table painted red.

You said the family tradition was of telling “sapos” or whoppers. Was oral storytelling an important part of parties or every-day life? Have you ever written any of these tall tales for all to enjoy?

Yes, oral storytelling is still an important part of our family life. We would gather around the piano on Saturday evenings and sing, with stories coming afterward. My dad loved to tell stories of his childhood when he would hike the monte with his buddies and stay out all day. We listened to exciting tales of his mischievous youth, but he liked spinning spooky stories, too. We had a live-in family ghost and told lots of stories about her. I’ve not written any of these stories, but they live in my heart.

You loved to read. Where did you find your books? Was there a person or persons who encouraged your voracious appetite--like reading “Gone With the Wind” in one day!?

We didn’t have any public libraries near our home, but we could check out books from our school library and there was a mobile library that would come to the barrio. I don’t remember any particular teacher, but they all encouraged us to read. I do remember this practice at elementary school: if you finished your class assignments, you could get a pass to the library and hang out there. I learned to complete my assignments in lickety-split time.

Gone with the Wind? I was in eighth grade and bored and thought why not? Hooked immediately, I stayed in my bunkbed until I finished reading the book. I remember my shoulders were stiff and my eyes stung after that experience. I read through the night, so maybe technically the reading rolled over into day two. I only read it that one time, but I’ve seen the movie a couple of times.

You didn’t find many books where you could see yourself, that reflected your experience and identity. Which books came closest? What are you reading now?

Sadly, I didn’t encounter any books or articles where I saw myself on the page in grades K-12. None. I sometimes wonder what my childhood would’ve been like if I could have read books like Esmeralda Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan. I did like books with strong girl characters such as Ramona, Nancy Drew, and Laura in Little House on the Prairie. 

Fortunately, my barrio experiences and the city of Tucson offered many opportunities to affirm my cultural identity. Today, some of my favorite authors include Meg Medina, Donna Barba Higuera, Elizabeth Acevedo, J.C. Cervantes, and Erin Entrada Kelly. I could go on and on: Kate DiCamillo, Katherine Applegate, Grace Lin, Kelly Barnhill. . .

You discovered modern dance and choreography in high school. You also found expression in poetry and creative writing, so much so that you eventually became editor of the journal. Was high school an awakening for you?

Absolutely! My school had a diverse student population of about 2,500people from all walks of life—a real eye-opener for me. We were an open campus with the university and downtown only a few blocks away—a school without walls. My teachers were a super dedicated bunch who pushed us toward excellence. I took summer courses each year so I could fill my schedule with dance, choir/band, and creative writing during the regular semesters. I knew this is what I wanted to do the rest of my life imagine, improvise, create!

Describe your path to teaching music, dance, and drama.

Throughout my childhood, I was passionate about music and dance, loving to perform. I wanted to be a famous opera singer, but I decided being a teacher was a great way to contribute to making the world a better place.

After I graduated with a music degree and a minor in dance, I taught music to elementary school children, and then I took a break to attend grad school. I returned to teaching music, dance, and drama to middle schoolers.

I was invited to start a creative dance program at a newly designated gifted and talented/arts middle school magnet where dance was a required subject for everyone. It was a blast! The school district built us a professional dance studio with an indoor and outdoor stage. Those were the days! 

You grew up in the arid Southwest but moved to Michigan. What, besides the obvious differences in climate, were the adjustments you had to make up North?

Our first “It Starts with Hello” story by Lisa Wheeler related how she sought “her people” and it had a happy ending. I undertook a similar quest when I moved to Michigan, to find my people—other Latinos. It was easier when we lived outside the Lansing area, but it’s been more of a challenge in Kalamazoo.

We’ve only lived here for a little over three years and the pandemic has made it difficult to explore the area and get involved with the Latino community. Hopefully, we’ll be able to return to a new normal soon. I miss the music and community celebrations—the fiestas!

Some of the KAST cast

You found SCBWI, and for years would attend Shop Talks in Lansing. When you moved to the Kalamazoo area, you started your own Shop Talk, and with an ambitious agenda and talented neighbors, you’ve built it into one of the premier regional meetings in the state. How?

You may remember, Charlie, that I was one of the quieter attendees at LAST, but I paid attention to all that you and the various leaders did to make the Shop Talks successful. Thank you for being such great role models!

I moved to Kalamazoo in July 2018 and at one of our state conferences I spoke to Carrie Pearson and Leslie Helakoski about my plans to start a Shop Talk. They suggested I speak to Jay Whistler.

Jay put me in touch with other writers in the area and in January 2019, we held our first informal introductory meeting at this is a bookstore in Kalamazoo. We had about nine people attend and our Shop Talks took off. Throughout that first year, we kept asking our members what topics they wanted to discuss.

Like most of our Shop Talks around the state, we’ve gone mostly virtual the past two years, but Melanie Bryce and I continue to work hard to stay in touch with our local members. We send out an email newsletter to bring our local members up to date.

You were awarded the Tribute Fund Award in 2021. What did that mean for you?

The Tribute Fund is a tremendous honor to receive and I deeply believe it is a shared award. For me, it represents how SCBWI recognizes the importance of volunteers who provide service to the organization. I believe that getting people involved and inviting them to share their expertise with others is one way to keep the organization functioning at the highest level. We can be here to support each other as we strive to become better at what we do as illustrators and writers for children’s literature. In other words, the Tribute Fund is a team award. Toot your horns, everyone! Yay, team SCBWI-MI!

You were one of the founders of the Equality and Inclusion Team.  What were the goals of the group, what has it achieved, and where has it set its sights?

The E and I Team worked diligently to write the mission statement that’s posted on our website: SCBWI-MI includes, engages, and embraces disparate voices. Our E & I Team met the challenge of how to best implement the 2020 initiatives outlined by the SCBWI national office, and we led successful outreach efforts such as the Books With Barbers book drive and the E & I Corner Blog in The Mitten. Doing so in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic meant we had to transition toward online efforts such as hosting a Zoom social hour. I’m glad to see that equity and inclusion issues are at the forefront of our current SCBWI initiatives.

You’ve got a unique cure for “writer’s rut.” What helps get your muse unstuck?

I wonder if you’re referring to my dancing? I’ve always loved to blast music throughout the house and dance freely. Improvisation is my thing! My approach doesn’t include a playlist, but I do find that if I play music that resonates with the core of my story and dance or spin while I write I’m free to embody the setting as its own character—and the story comes to life. Moving through music and imagery frees up my imagination. Or were you referring to the mental calisthenics where I channel a particular master writer and dictate? ; - >

You’ve got two mid-grade novels you’re working on (as well as picture books and a YA).  “Chavela’s Quest” deals with Aztec, Mayan and Inic lore. How extensive is the research required to keep the story authentic?

I’ve done extensive research to ground the story in relation to authentic lore and historical artifacts such as various codices that exist (library sources and purchased copies) and collections of various oral traditions. I have a full-color restoration of The Codex Borgia—it’s fabulous! I’ve traveled through Mexico and Guatemala, toured some of the Aztec and Mayan ruins, and visited several museums known for their Pre-Columbian collections.

Seeing those items first-hand and in some cases purchasing contemporary reproductions brings the history to life. I have a list of research books I’d like to own and study—that’s next on my list. BTW—I created the Inic, magical pre-Columbian, organic beings who live underground. I even made up a language for them that’s a mixture of Uto-Aztecan, Olmec, and Mayan languages steeped in my imagination.

Fun, fun, fun!

What is the WIP closest to your heart and writing brain at present?

I’m taking a break from contemporary settings to write a middle grade manuscript that takes place during the high middle-ages. It’s a story about a girl who escapes from al-Andalus and makes her way north. As a musician, I performed in several early music ensembles and sometimes feel I’m a medievalist born in the wrong century. I also studied and choreographed Renaissance dances and so this manuscript is close to my heart in a myriad of ways.  

 Follow Isabel Estrada O’Hagin here:

Instagram: isabelohagin





Friday, April 15, 2022

Book Birthday Blog with Kinyel Friday


Welcome to SCBWI-MI's Book Birthday Blog!

Where we celebrate new books from Michigan's authors and illustrators. 


Congratulations to Kinyel Friday on the release

 of I Feel You



How did you come up with the idea for your book?  

I wrote this during the first six months of the pandemic. Everyone deals with situations differently and as stressful as this pandemic has been, it’s easy to say that we’re doing “fine” or “good”. Why not truly express how we’re feeling? So that’s what I wrote about. What that would look like if we said how we really felt. 

What is something you hope your readers will take away from your book? 

I want readers to learn new words and use them! I also want readers to express themselves accurately verbally. Even as adults, sometimes we don’t want to bore folks with our drama, so we say we’re “good”, instead of how we really feel, “embarrassed”, “overwhelmed”, or “hopeful”. 

What inspires you to write? 

I’ve loved writing since I was young. This has always been my preferred way of expressing myself. Overall, I want to promote literacy and loving yourself. For children, I write stories Black children can not only relate to, but also so they can see positive images as they’re young. When I was a child, I didn’t see the kind of books that are available now for children who look like me and cover the topics I didn’t know I needed to read about. For adults, I strictly aim to entertain!

What was the most difficult part of writing this book?

Choosing the right feeling words. I use the thesaurus religiously, so I was very strategic in how I chose them in making sure I didn’t have too many a words (for example) and not enough t words.

What are your marketing plans for the book? 

I plan to share my book via social media, festivals, school and/or event readings.

A little bit about the book . . .

There are so many words we can use to express our feelings, so why not use them? This book aims not only to teach children words for their feelings and broaden their vocabulary, but also to teach that feelings are healthy and only become unhealthy when we express them through inappropriate behaviors.

A little bit about the author . . .

Kinyel Friday is the author of children’s books, I Am My Hair and Swim Like the Fishes, Book One and Two of Six of the Believe In Me Series, and short story, Troubled Minds. I Am My Hair Coloring Book and Bookmarks accompanies Book One, and Swim Like the Fishes Activity Book accompanies Book Two. Her new book, I Feel You, aims to increase children's vocabulary, as well as boost self-esteem and confidence as the prior books. Kinyel’s next picture book will debut Fall 2022.

Kinyel earned a B.A. in Psychology, and a Masters in Social Work and in English (with a specialty in Creative Writing). She began her career as a School Social Worker, and later accomplished her dream of becoming a published author. Besides being a Professional Organizer, Kinyel’s an avid reader, who loves to write compelling stories, shop, and watch movies. She braves the unforgiving winters in Michigan with her family.

KinYori Books LLC is a self-publishing company that produces books and other products to empower Black families. The mission is to promote literacy among Black families, while encouraging children to love themselves while they’re young. KinYori Books aims to change the narrative by creating stories that feature Black protagonists in books, as well as on the covers; deliver stories through a social work lens; entertain adults through fiction; and provide positive images for children.




Interview with Novel Mentor, Kelly J. Baptist


SCBWI-MI is holding two novel mentorships this year. The mentors are Kelly J. Baptist and Patrick Flores-Scott. Today, we have an interview with Kelly. Please read our April 8 interview with Patrick. Everything you need to know about these mentorships can be found on the mentorship page of the SCBWI-MI website. The submission window for both mentorships opens on April 25, 2022. 

Kelly J. Baptist was born and raised in the great state of Michigan. She’s lived in Alabama, Florida, and Minnesota, but somehow found herself right back in her home state. Kelly won the 2015 We Need Diverse Books short story contest, and her winning entry is included in the middle grade anthology, Flying Lessons and Other Stories. A follow-up to that story, Isaiah Dunn Is My Hero, is available from Crown Books for Young Readers. Kelly also won the 2017 Lee and Low New Voices Honor Award for her picture book, The Electric Slide and Kai. Kelly is a huge Kobe Bryant fan, and incorporates Mamba Mentality in all aspects of her life, especially writing!


What do you like best about writing novels?

I really enjoy creating characters and situations that are sometimes very different from what is around me. For example, when I was younger (and even now!) I often wrote about boy characters. I think this is because I grew up with only sisters and I really wanted brothers, too! I like the excitement of a fresh new idea and I love that the story takes me on a journey!

What do you like least?

What's hard is when I'm very close to the end, but not quite there yet...especially if there's a deadline looming! Those parts are not as fun!

Describe a typical writing day.

The word "typical" does not exist in my writing days! :-) Because I have a full-time job and am a full-time mom to five, writing often happens in fits and spurts: a few moments in my office after work, in the car pick up line, while waiting for my oldest to get off work, while spaghetti noodles are boiling, etc., etc. Though I do have an official writing space, a lot of times I am writing/editing/responding to email in my car!

When you’re reading for pleasure, what features of a book typically impress you the most?

I love strong family themes! Family can be a lot of different things and the exploration of that is satisfying to see. Since I live in a small town, I love books set in big cities, and since winter can get annoying, I love books set in tropical climates. I'm impressed by books that connect multi-generational characters; I love the rich learning that takes place between grandparents, children, and grandchildren. Any picture book or novel that captures the above features also captures my attention!

What inspires you?

I'm inspired by young people, especially when they are pursuing their passion at a young age. I'm inspired and propelled by my ancestors, known and unknown. I am their wildest dreams and I take that very seriously. In terms of people, Kobe Bryant will probably always be my greatest inspiration. My goal is to approach writing with the same intensity, passion, and relentlessness as he did on the court. 

What aspects of being a novel mentor are you most looking forward to?

I am excited about the opportunity to pass on tips and insights that I've learned to someone else. I gotta throw in one of my favorite Kobe quotes here: "The most important thing is to try and inspire people so that they can be great in whatever they want to do." It's so gratifying passing wisdom on, and being willing to receive some as well!


Can you tell us about any upcoming projects?

The sequel to Isaiah Dunn Is My Hero comes out in August! It's called Isaiah Dunn Saves the Day, and I guess it makes a trilogy if you count The Beans And Rice Chronicles of Isaiah Dunn in Flying Lessons and Other Stories, where it all started. Next year, my first novel-in-verse will be released, as well as another middle grade novel. Hopefully, a picture book will be sprinkled in there as well!


Ann Finkelstein is a former scientist who discovered that writing novels is more fun than wrangling test tubes. She coordinates the mentorship program for SCBWI-MI. For mentorship questions, email Ann.


Friday, April 8, 2022

Interview with Novel Mentor, Patrick Flores-Scott

SCBWI-MI is holding two novel mentorships this year. The mentors are Patrick Flores-Scott and Kelly J. Baptist. Today, we have an interview with Patrick. Please come back on April 15 for an interview with Kelly. Everything you need to know about these mentorships can be found on the mentorship page of the SCBWI-MI website. The submission window for both mentorships opens on April 25, 2022.


Patrick Flores-Scott was a long-time public school teacher in Seattle, Washington. He’s now a reading tutor and early morning writer in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Patrick’s first novel, Jumped In, was named to the 2014 YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults list, a Walden Award finalist, a Washington Book Award winner, an NCSS/CBC Notable Book for the Social Studies, and a Bank Street College Best Books of 2014. His second novel, American Road Trip, ​received multiple starred reviews and is a 2019 Best Fiction for Young Adults pick, and a TAYSHAS Texas reading list selection

1) What do you like best about writing novels?


That moment of inspiration where a fire is lit as you come up with an idea that you think is worth exploring for the length of time it takes to complete a novel. This is it! Later on down the road it gets exciting again when you find that scene or that new character that feels like you’re putting a puzzle piece into the exact right spot. There are moments where you craft a sentence and it just feels right when you’re done. All that stuff is great—but it’s so solitary. I think what I actually like the very best about writing novels is the conversations that happen along the way. Handing a messy draft over to a trusted friend who you know will give feedback that challenges you, and frustrates you, but always leads to better writing--and more interesting conversations. Conversations with your editor about new ideas for that character that just isn’t sitting quite right. Conversations with readers in schools and libraries. Email exchanges with students who are working on their own writing or who identified with the book in some way. It feels like, for me, writing and putting ideas out there is a way to get to those great conversations.


2) What do you like least?

 Worst of all is the waiting. I’m a slow writer to begin with. For me, one book equals a lot of years of work. The publishing industry is slow as well. There is a lot of “waiting to hear back” in the sales process and the editing process. You wait for the book to come out. You wait for reviews. I think I could handle a bad review a lot better than the waiting for reviews part.


3) Describe a typical writing day.


After writing my first book, and the majority of my second book, as a full time school teacher, I am now really lucky to have the role of stay-at-home dad and writer. On a typical day, I get up about 5 in the morning. I make some coffee and do a little reading and then write until about eight. Then I help get my boys ready and take them to school. Lately, there’s been an all-family walk included. After I get back, I try to write a couple more hours and then deal with e-mail/website/whatever until about noon. Afternoon, I’ll turn to family/household stuff. That’s an ideal writing day. The last couple years everything else has been so topsy-turvy so I’ve tried to keep that early morning stretch sacred.


4)  When you’re reading for pleasure, what features of a book typically impress you the most?

I just started Colson Whitehead’s Harlem Shuffle. A page and a half in and I’m immersed in the protagonist’s world—his neighborhood, his job, his ethics—as he goes about a typical day on the job. I love that; learning about a character right off the bat by the way they do things. I like short chapters and great, snappy dialogue. And I love being surprised by plot turns, and when a flawed character stays flawed, but manages some brief moment of bravery or heroism.


5) What inspires you?

I am truly inspired by anyone who is trying their best under difficult circumstances.

As a teacher, I was inspired by students who showed up every day, trying their best, when I knew that, at the time, their families where dealing with the housing crisis, with parents or older siblings who were at war, or coming home from war, or they or someone close to them was struggling with mental illness.

Right now, I’m inspired by the young adult women who are leading with their voices and putting their lives on the line to make difference on all kinds of justice and climate issues. As difficult as these times are, there continue to so many young people displaying resilience and courage, in an attempt to make this place better for all of us.


6) What aspects of being a novel mentor are you most looking forward to?

I’m really excited and grateful for this opportunity.  I’m looking forward to meeting and interacting with a dynamic creative person I’ve never met before. I’m looking forward to reading a cool new novel in its early form. I’m looking forward to engaging in the creative back and forth. And, while thinking I have something to offer an up-and-coming novelist, I anticipate learning a lot about writing and creativity through this process.


7) Can you tell us about any upcoming projects?

I have a book under contract that I’m waiting to hear back on. It’s tentatively titled, No Going Back. It’s about a kid who has been paroled after a year and a half in juvenile prison. Over his first weekend out, we watch him struggle and succeed at putting the pieces of his life back in order under circumstances that make meeting his parole terms nearly impossible.

I’m also in the very early stages of writing a book set in a 2027 USA functioning under an authoritarian regime. It’s about an underground resistance movement at a small-town Michigan high school. The future will determine whether this novel will be considered dystopian, or realistic contemporary fiction.



Ann Finkelstein
is a former scientist who discovered that writing novels is more fun than wrangling test tubes. She coordinates the mentorship program for SCBWI-MI. For mentorship questions, email Ann.