Friday, August 19, 2022

Writer Spotlight: Kathleen E. Clark


Marshmallow the book, sesquicentennial farm, a cat who thought he was a chicken and a dog who raised bunny orphans: the never typical days of Kathleen E. Clark

Charlie Barshaw coordinates our regular Writer Spotlight feature and interviews writers of SCBWI-MI. In this piece, meet writer and farmer Kathleen E, Clark.

You’re building a website. How goes it?

I am not a techy person, so this has been a totally new experience for me– exciting and daunting at the same time. Being able to put this together as an expression of who I am has certainly tested my skills as a writer.  It has also tested my patience!  

I don’t even want to guess where I would be without help. Among those generous with their time, expertise, and suggestions were Charlie and Ruth McNally Barshaw, and also a shout out to my techy daughter, Heather.  Thank you! All in all, it has been fun getting to share my creative side with the rest of the world. 

One of my favorite things about writing is finding just the right words; now I get to choose the pictures too. 

On your website you reminisce about how your “Mom walked you downtown to the library.”  Paint the picture: Downtown where and when? What were some of your favorite books growing up?

Oh, what a fun memory. I grew up on a crazy, “let’s try farming,” thirty acres in the village limits of the quaint railroad town of Holly. 

Downtown Holly's buildings old brick facades, complete with a dime store, pet shop, and hardware. On the corner of the main street, next to the old filling station, was the library. The only daylight was from the shop window out front, and inside, just a narrow floor space with rows of books. 

But I could always find my favorite, even in the dark. Marshmallow, by Clare Turlay Newberry. The best line– “A bunny’s a delightful habit, No home’s complete without a rabbit.” And yes, our home was complete with a rabbit or two. 

You work at a library now. Is that a tribute to your Mom, a genuine love of the library, or both?

Well, for sure I have to say it started with my mom and a love for children’s books. The first in my collection was my own copy of Marshmallow

I homeschooled my kids up through graduation, and the local libraries were a must. Actually, our favorite part of the school week. 

At fifty-five, I found myself searching for job listings, having my daughter help with my resume, and putting myself out there. And look what popped up, a clerk position in my hometown.  No, I didn’t get it. 

After suffering from a bruised ego for a month or so, a position came up at the library where my kids and I went, closer to our farm, but not in the same zip code. Just proof that where one door closes, another one opens. I just love it there.


The “adventurous Dad” trip to find the starting place of the spotlight. Where did it end up coming from? Was there more than one occasion?

Something I will never forget. It was just the two of us, and we ended up at a furniture store having a big sale! No, not that exciting, but the fun was in the journey. Definitely something to be said about enjoying the journey.  

And one Thanksgiving, we ended up at Plymouth Rock because my mom said she didn’t have any plans when my dad asked her. 

How did you meet your “very own farmer”?

The first time I met him, he was with the band group helping recruit middle-schoolers to join the high school band. He was kind of big and scary, at least compared to my almost five-foot self. 

Though quiet and reserved, this tall and strapping farmer had a singing voice to match his size. Any time he was on a tractor, he would sing all the louder. He got asked to sing at church and wondered if I could accompany him. Well, I had a few piano lessons. We practiced. Sat in the front row on Sunday. And they never called on him, but he asked me out after. 

I didn’t even scare him off when I swamped our canoe in one of the farm ponds. In my defense, he did say to look at that fish. He just didn’t know what an enthusiastic looker I was. 

What makes your farm “sesquicentennial”?

Michigan has a great centennial farm program honoring family farms. My husband and I were starting the paperwork for it when he passed suddenly at work. I wasn’t sure about trying to file the paperwork, pay the fees, and get the sign, but his friend, a fellow farmer, wanted to do that in his honor. 

When they contacted me back, they said our time frame was over 150 years, and they would send the added sign at the same time. There was even a write-up in Michigan History Magazine. Definitely an honor to my very own farmer and his heritage.

Now we put small stones or pebbles from vacations underneath the sign. Some we took together and new ones too. My daughter just brought back some from Scotland to add to the collection

Describe a typical day for you.

Never typical- it’s a farm!

What kind of menagerie do you have at the Clark Farm?

Young Kathleen, her Mom, and a lamb

Farm animals here consisted of work horses and a long barn of milk cows before my time, Herefords later. In my early married days, they kept one milk cow. 

I only milked when the boys didn’t get home in time. My thanks, a slap in the face with a dirty tail. Ugh. She never did that to them. 

Also, calves, chickens, and barn cats, including one deaf cat who thought he was a chicken. And yes, I am working on a story about that cool cat who took up prime real estate, napping on the only nest in the coop! Needless to say, we figured out why all those squawking noisy hens never bothered him. 

Here are the last two stanzas of my WIP about my "chicken cat."

So don’t get all worried

If things start out slow.

Hang in and make friends

While you blossom and grow.


Turn a challenge around;

Put your strengths to good use.

Make your place in this world

Then just chill and hang loose.”

I’ll bite (because the dog won’t). What’s the story about the rabbits you raised “rescued” by a toothless dog?

Post, pond and wildflowers 

My dad got me a dog for my birthday from the pound. Sweetest dog ever, but it nipped at kids when it played. Maybe something from its past, but still not okay. 

Though my dad was the dentist, it was my grandma who came up with the idea of pulling its teeth to rescue it from a sad fate. The vet checked, and sure enough, pulling just the front ones was a great solution. 

Maybe that’s where my dog got the heart for rescues. By the way, eye-droppers make great bunny bottles. It’s probably a good thing our vet didn’t have caller-ID, we were calling so often to ask vet questions.

What kind of manuscripts do you have resting “in the drawer”?

I have almost a dozen stories that are drawn out of life lessons I learned from the animals. Nature is a great teacher, and I’m working on just how to share those messages of humor and hope with the next generation.

What are you working on now? I should specify “writing,” because you’re always working.

I’m working on the story of a small bantam hen, Josefina. Of the importance of determination and learning to spread your wings in a big people’s world. 

This tiny hen needed a home, and someone thought of us. Here she was thrown into a group of large old biddies, and she escaped out into the feedlot full of cattle with horns! 

 You received a critique from author Lisa Wheeler. What did you learn from her? What other writing and educational challenges have you tackled?

Oh my goodness, she was so gracious and helpful. I learned I needed to get to the heart of the story quicker. To focus on the main point and stick with it. I learned to pay attention to my character’s voice and point of view.  I also learned that it’s okay if my stories come out in rhyming fashion- ha. 

She was just as generous with compliments too. It certainly made a big difference in my manuscript. Such a gifted writer. I love her stories! 

How did you find SCBWI? How did you find LAST?

Swallow and rainbow, captured by Kathleen

When I began to make my stories into picture books, I scoured the internet for helpful information. SCBWI was recommended so many times, I can’t count.   I decided to be brave and paid my money for the first year, but that was it. Oh, the resources I was missing. 

During the shutdown for Covid, there were so many opportunities to connect by Zoom to local groups.  Whether in-person or online, it has been fantastic meeting everyone– learning, sharing, and being encouraged. 

I am so thankful for the LAST group and those in the various regions. Everyone is so welcoming and helpful. It has been extremely informative– and fun. 

At the first in-person at the park during introductions, I said I was a want-to-be writer. Ruth asked me if I write– well yes. She said, “You’re a writer.” I will never forget that. A totally different perspective of myself.

What’s the story with your uncle, who turned a ballroom into a roller rink?

So, during the Covid shutdowns and Michigan ice storms, I decided to make use of the 14-day free trial at Ancestry. Of course, you then get ads for 

Through both sites, I pieced together this family --my family-- of Scottish Hand Loom Weavers (HLW), displaced by the Industrial Revolution I am guessing.  They made their way to Canada and eventually the West Coast, losing their dad at an early age. 

They, along with their mom, were certainly go-getters, making a new life in a new country– lumbermen, railroaders, miners, hotel proprietors, a stagecoach driver, and a township constable.  In the newspaper, their mom is known simply as Grandma Kerr. She must have been quite a woman. 

In changing times and a world throwing them curve balls, it seems my uncle and his brother, my great-great-grandfather, adapted and swung for the fences. I would have loved to have seen the new roller rink back in 1908.

What is “Christmas in Action”? What is your most memorable Christmas interaction?

This organization is such a great gift to the community, benefiting low-income senior or disabled homeowners. 

It's kind of like Christmas in July, but in May. The community comes together. Raises money. The local restaurants provide meals.  We meet that first Saturday and all work together to make this world a better place, and a safer place for the elderly or disabled. 

We do home repairs, yard clean-up, and even plant flowers—all in one day. A lot of hard work, but you meet so many great people. All in all, a win-win, for the homeowner, the community, and the workers.


And speaking of win-win, two kittens

Please include any social media contacts you wish to share.

You can find Kathleen at:  

and on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest at:






Friday, August 12, 2022

Critique Carousel FAQ

Logo by SCBWI-MI member Cathy Gendron

This year’s Critique Carousel is right around the corner, and we know Michigan SCBWI members have questions. Good news! We’ve got answers!

15 amazing kidlit agents are lined up for this year’s carousel and they’re looking forward to reading your work! We hope the FAQs below will help you prepare for the logistics of the event. More details regarding the participating agents will be shared once the registration website goes live in September. Don’t worry; you’ll have plenty of time to review the agents and pick the one best suited to critique your work. 

We hope you’ll consider taking a spin on this year’s Critique Carousel!


Your 2022 Critique Carousel Coordinators, 

Alicia Curley, Wendy BooydeGraaff, and Natalie Aguirre 

Q: What is the Critique Carousel?

The Critique Carousel is a virtual SCBWI-MI event for members to receive a written critique from an acquiring agent. Participants will select a kidlit agent that represents their genre (science fiction, fantasy, etc.) or age category (picture books, middle grade, young adult). Agents will have a month to read submissions and provide the critique on our standard SCBWI Gold Form. After the event and after revising their work, participants will have the opportunity to submit to their critiquing agent for representation consideration even if their agent is closed to submissions to the general public.

Critiques cost $55/each and are a max of 6 pages. Please see more information regarding submission requirements below.

Q: What can I submit to the Critique Carousel?

Agents participating this year are open to critiquing: 

  • Picture books (fiction and nonfiction)

  • Chapter books

  • Middle grade (fiction and nonfiction)

  • YA (fiction and nonfiction)

  • Graphic novels (fiction and nonfiction)

  • Novels in verse 

During registration, you’ll be able to see which agents are open to critiquing what. 

Q: What is the Critique Carousel submission window? 

Registration opens at 7:00 pm September 19th, and it will close at 11:00 pm October 2nd. 

Participants must submit their manuscripts (and meet all submission guidelines) by midnight on October 2nd.

Agents have until November 12th to complete their critiques. We will do our best to have all completed critiques back to participants before the end of November.

Q: Can I sign up for more than one critique?

No; participants can only register for one critique during the registration window. In the event critique spots are still available, we will notify participants via email regarding opportunities to purchase additional critiques. 

Q: How do I format my manuscript for the Critique Carousel?

Submission guidelines for written critiques:

  • At the top of the manuscript or manuscript sample, include your name, email, and title of the manuscript. In successive pages, add your name and manuscript title to the top of each page as a header. These are not counted toward your word limit.

    • Picture Books:

      • Fiction: up to 800 words, 1-inch margins, double spaced (sample here). 

      • Non-fiction: 1,200 words, 1-inch margins, double spaced.

      • Art notes do not count toward word count.

    • Novels: 6 pages, 1-inch margins, double spaced. You may include a synopsis (at the end of your pages), but these will not be critiqued (sample here).

    • Graphic novels: 

      • Art and text: 6 sample page spreads in jpg or pdf format, as well as a summary/synopsis.

      • Text only: 6 pages of script.

      • You may include a synopsis (at the end of your pages), but these will not be critiqued (sample here).

    • Novels in Verse: 6 pages, 1-inch margins, single-spaced, no page breaks at the end of a poem. Run them right up after the one before. You may include a synopsis (at the end of your pages), but these will not be critiqued (sample here). 

  • Please use standard font formatting; Arial or Times New Roman, size 12.

  • If your manuscript is intended to be author/illustrated, you may add the line "author illustrated PB" (or MG or Chapter Book, etc.) in your contact information.

  • Please name your file in this format: YourName_AgentsName_GENRE 

    • For genre, please use: PB, CB, MG, YA, GN, NV

    • Example: JaneDoe_AgentX_PB

  • Preferred file formats: Word doc or PDF

If your manuscript arrives with formatting issues, we’ll let you know and give you a chance to resubmit, but you still need to make the submission window date. We are unable to offer refunds due to formatting errors so please follow carefully!

Q: Will there be more agents who represent picture book writers, not only author/illustrators?

We’ve worked hard to ensure there are plentiful critique opportunities this year for picture book writers. 13 agents are offering picture book critiques, however not every agent offering picture book critiques is open to picture book submissions (or picture book text only submissions). Please read the agent’s MSWL carefully when deciding which agent to select for your critique.

Q: Will the agents in the carousel be open to submissions? If agents are currently closed to submissions, will they accept submissions from the writers they critiqued?

Yes, agents will be open to submissions from Critique Carousel participants for six months after receipt of the completed critique. Agents who are presently closed to submissions to the general public are asked to adhere to this as well. Instructions for submitting to agents will be shared with participants via email, with their completed critique.

Q: I’m submitting a novel, should I include a synopsis?

While it is NOT mandatory, it is highly encouraged that you include a synopsis of your novel or graphic novel with your materials for critique. This way, agents have more information to analyze your submission. Please note, agents are not asked to provide critique on the synopsis itself, but they may use it for more context on your story, in order to provide better feedback on your work.

Note: Please limit your synopsis to one page, single spaced, standard formatting (12pt size font). Include this at the end of your 6 pages.

Q: How do I write a synopsis?

There are a lot of great resources online for synopsis writing. A few that may be helpful: 

Q: For novels and graphic novels, should I submit the first 6 pages? Or can I submit any 6 pages?

There’s no specific requirement here, however, we strongly suggest the first 6 pages. Your first pages are your first impression with an agent or editor, and they’re likely to be the only pages read in a submission package. Those are also the pages that set up the story, and the story may not make sense if you choose pages from the middle of your manuscript. You want those pages to shine! Making these pages as strong as possible can make a big difference in getting an agent or editor to request more work.

Q: I’m submitting a novel and my first chapter ends on page 7 and the limit is 6 pages. Can I just send 7 so you'll have a complete chapter?

No; please limit your manuscript to 6 pages. If your chapter is longer than 6 pages, look for a natural stopping point before that and send the pages up to that point.

Take a look at the manuscript sample for a novel. You may be able to fit in more than you realize by not leaving the typical spacing for a chapter beginning. 

Q: After I submitted my work, I made some changes and I want to replace my original submission with a new one. There is still time before the submission deadline, so can I do that?

No; please upload your manuscript ONLY ONCE. We cannot accept multiple revised uploads. Proof your work carefully and submit when you are absolutely ready.

Q: I would like a refund, or I’d like to cancel my participation. How do I do that?

There are no refunds or cancellations for this event. 

Q: I have a question that’s not addressed here. Who can I contact?

For any questions that are not already addressed in our FAQs, please reach out to We’ll respond as soon as we’re able. 

Meet the 2022 Critique Carousel Coordinators:

Alicia Curley writes picture books, chapter books, and middle grade. Her first published work, “A Lesson in Empathy” was included in the 2019 Chicken Soup for the Soul title, Life Lessons from the Dog. Previously in the tech industry, she received her Bachelor of Arts in marketing from Michigan State University. This is her first volunteer project with SCBWI and it won’t be her last. Visit her at, where she blogs once a quarter at best.

Wendy BooydeGraaff is the author of the picture book Salad Pie (Ripple Grove Press/Chicago Review Press), and her middle grade story will be included in the upcoming Haunted States of America anthology (Henry Holt). Her poetry, fiction, and essays have been included in Popshot Quarterly, X-R-A-Y, The Shore, Taproot Magazine, and elsewhere. Connect on Twitter @BooyTweets.


Natalie Aguirre is the blog host of Literary Rambles. She is an aspiring middle grade and YA author and a member of The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. Natalie's mission at Literary Rambles is to help aspiring writers and authors on their path to publication. She features many debut middle grade and young adult authors who offer advice to writers with an ARC or book giveaway and interviews literary agents with query critique giveaways.  


Thursday, August 11, 2022

Webinar this Sunday

 Sharing an important and affordable webinar by Tara Michener this Sunday, Aug. 14, at 3:00 PM!

This Community-Wide Webinar focuses on the benefits of Multicultural author visits, the opportunities for authors, illustrators, and educators, and the student community at large. Tara Michener will talk about the concept of windows and mirrors from the scope of representation and social-emotional learning. This featured program is designed to help the participants think outside the box and create inclusive and meaningful ways to engage readers and creato

 Join Us for SCBWI MI's School Visit Webinar with Tara Michener
Register today for How To Make Your School Visits More Multicultural

Bio: Tara is the author of six books from early readers to young adult that emphasize social-emotional learning, diversity, and self-esteem. Tara is a TEDx Speaker, Lecturer and has created curriculum, presentations, and content for various organizations, including Library of Michigan, Princeton Prize in Race Relations, and more. Tara is a board-certified licensed professional counselor and is licensed in Michigan, New Jersey, and Wisconsin. She has been awarded Diversity Champion by CORP! Magazine twice and has been deemed Young Alumni of the Year from Oakland University and Madonna University.

Friday, August 5, 2022

Lessons from the Critique Carousel


Having had the opportunity to be part of last year’s Author/Agent Critique Carousel gave us a birds-eye view of what to expect when dealing with agents and critiques.

Logo by Cathy Gendron
First of all, we can’t emphasize enough what a phenomenal opportunity this is for creators to get a one-on-one critique with an agent. It’s why many of us attend in-person conferences. We’ve all heard stories of creators who show up to a conference, manuscript in hand, only to be forced to resort to ridiculous antics like following an agent into the restroom to discretely slip their manuscript under the door while the agent is indisposed. To be clear, neither of us has resorted to that type of behavior and we do not condone it. Signing up for the Critique Carousel is a much more civilized approach to contacting an agent and is less likely to get you kicked out of SCBWI or arrested.

One of the most important bits of advice we can give creators is to make sure you research, research, and then do a little more research when shelling out cold hard cash for an agent critique. Check the agent’s website, their Manuscript Wish List online, and wander over to the Literary Rambles website run by Michigan’s own Natalie Aguirre, who helped us create last year’s agent list. Make sure the agent you choose represents the type of story you want critiqued. There is nothing worse than someone choosing an agent who has zero interest in what the submitter is writing. Yes, they may be great at critiquing whatever you put in front of them, but agents really want to acquire creators that line up with their wish lists. Give yourself the best chance of not only receiving a phenomenal critique, but also connecting with the right agent interested in your work.

In fact, that’s exactly what Kristin Bartley Lenz did after parting ways with her previous agent. Yes, even experienced published authors struggle finding just the right fit. Kristin only entered last year’s Critique Carousel after researching the agents on our star-studded list. According to Kristin, Sera Rivers from Martin Literary Management’s wishlist contained essentially a description of Kristin’s novel. Having already revised the story many times, Kristin sent very polished pages, written in an unusual and experimental style with multiple perspectives.

Sera began her critique by saying, “These beginning pages blew me away! I read through them twice, and I honestly do not have much criticism.” She ended her critique with, “I would LOVE to read this!”

Another agent may not have been quite so into Kristin’s experimental style. It appears Sera and Kristin prove that our match-making Critique Carousel works when you’ve done your research!

There’s one more bit of advice Kristin took to heart from Sera, and it can benefit everyone seeking representation. After you’ve polished your work, flesh out your query letter and include what inspired you to write this book. Are there personal connections? Is there research you’ve done on the topic or the theme? Is your llama book based on the summer you spent on a farm in an obscure part of the world befriending a pack of llamas? Let the agent know!

Connections do happen when you put yourself out there. But for most of us, getting our work in the hands of an agent is mostly about having an actual publishing professional provide their opinion of the story you want to submit and hopefully give you what you need to make that piece stronger and marketable. Once you’ve made the changes suggested, if they ring true to your vision, send the agent your revised version along with an appropriately written cover letter. Being able to submit is one of the perks of being part of this event.

Let’s also keep in mind, agents are human. We know this is a shocker, but they have their own opinions, likes and dislikes. It’s not uncommon for two agents to have opposing opinions. During our time with SCBWI, we’ve both witnessed agents giving advice that have shut people down. DO NOT TAKE THEM TO HEART. Listen to what they have to say. If the comments ring true, then embrace them and apply them to your work-in-progress. If they don’t, try to figure out a way to use their comments to strengthen your work anyway. During last year’s events one of us was told their submitted piece read like a movie script rather than a middle-grade novel. One way to handle this is to throw a temper tantrum. This may or may not have happened. Who’s to say? A far healthier way to look at that comment is to consider your writing style might be a better fit for a graphic novel rather than a traditional book format.

If the agent you researched comes back with ways to improve your already “perfect” manuscript, consider what they have to say. They are deeply involved in the industry so their opinion—we emphasize opinion—should carry a little more weight than a family member who thinks your manuscript is the best thing ever!

Other than connecting with your dream agent, receiving at least one new thing that can be applied to your manuscript from a critique is considered a success. See if you can find that one thing that aligns with your vision and use it to strengthen your manuscript. On the flip side, if you’ve heard the same advice from more than one source, it might be worth adjusting your vision based on those comments. Sometimes the thing we fight against most is the one craft element that might make all the difference.

Good luck to those taking a spin on this year’s Critique Carousel!


 Your Previous Critique Carousel Coordinators, 

Anita Fitch Pazner, MFA and David Stricklen, IMHO

Anita Fitch Pazner is the author of the recently released Topsy-Turvy Bus that takes kids on a journey discovering alternative energy sources and organic gardening, along with ways to help repair the world one fresh new idea at a time. Anita received her master's degree in writing for children and young adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Volunteering for SCBWI has been one of the many ways she stays connected to her writing community and friends across the country. 


In a former life, David Sticklen was the Grand Rapids airport police chief with 30 years experience in law enforcement. After retiring, David went all in on his creative side. He has written a series of middle grade fantasy adventure books: Beneath and Beyond (a Midwest Book Review Bookwatch Selection), Through the Eyes of the Beast and TheHeart of the Swarm. His newest release is a contemporary middle grade fiction entitled Ripley Robinson and the Worm Charmer, which is reviewer recommended by Kirkus Review, featured in their October 2019 magazine and listed as one of the 35 great middle grade books worth discovering. His books and school visits are always filled with magic and creativity.

David’s reverse perspective painting was an ArtPrize (world’s largest attended art competition) 3D 2018 popular vote finalist & a Colors of Community 3D & 2D (ArtPrize category) first place winner. His 2021 reverse perspective painting won 1st prize mixed media in the Colors of Community competition.

Dave has volunteered in many roles with the SCBWI for nine years, assisting with SCBWI conferences as a chair or go-to-guy. He is the former Michigan Shop Talk Liaison and is the current Michigan Indie Coordinator and Grand Rapids Shop Talk Co-coordinator.