Friday, November 18, 2022

No More Journals! (Better Gifts for Writers) by Shutta Crum


Don’t get me wrong. Journals are lovely, and I have a drawer-full. But there are other, and often better, ideas for gift giving to a writer. If you have a writer stowed away in a closet, dank basement, cramped garret (No lie! Oxford Languages Dict. defines garret as: a top-floor or attic room, especially a small dismal one traditionally inhabited by an artist), or other suitably tight, dank place please consider some of the following ideas for this holiday season.


1.  Memberships & Conferences:  Writers pay a lot of money to belong to groups that support their blood-letting work. These groups host conferences and bring in editors and agents for your writer to meet. Writers need to network—if for no other reason than to kvetch over how tiny our workspaces are. Some suggestions:  The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (Of course!), The Romance Writers of America, The Science Fiction Writers and Fantasy Writers of America. The list goes on. Take a tremulous journey up to that garret while your writer is passed out from agony and peek at what s/he/they is writing. Then go find a suitable organization to bolster your writer. Create a gift coupon and fund a conference given by that writing organization. Writers need to get out and about! They need vitamin sunshine.

2. Books:  Always, books! Writers not only write books, but they are also voracious readers. Classics in the area they write in are a good bet (but check bookcases first to make sure they don’t already have a particular title). Also, craft books and books of writing inspiration for that 3am slog when your writer is wandering through the kitchen finally having decided that the body needs nourishing. Get your writer something to read while s/he/they has a little nosh. Some recommended titles include: The Poetry Home Repair Manual by Ted Kooser, Story by Robert McKee, The Heroine With a 1001 Faces by Maria Tatar, Picture This by Molly Bang or Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul.


3. Tools of the trade:  Does your writer need new technology? A new laptop? A new printer? Small portable projector for presentations? A sound system? Or, perhaps, with all the Zooming we are doing lately, a better computer camera and ring light? Be a spy. Check out how your writer writes, or does group talks and school visits. Is she still using ocher to write on the walls of the basement? For goodness’ sake, get her updated! Here’s a handy little mobile scanner. I bought one and love it. Or maybe, a nice-sized paper shredder? (NOT to cast any aspersions upon those many drafts, mind you!) And this seems to be a thing—for any writer still wandering in the dark ages before computerization: a typewriter keyboard to use with a tablet. Connect with USB or Bluetooth. It even does nifty things like dropping down a line when the carriage returns. Such nineteenth-century magic!


4. Software:  There are some great programs and online subscriptions that ease the burden for your bleary-eyed writer. Here are a few that many writers feel are necessities: Living Writer (at the top of the best writer apps list for a couple of years), Scrivener, Final Draft, (for writers of screenplays), Storyist (for Mac users). Also, there’s Prezi, a presentation software. And Duotrope, a publisher database and submission manager. In addition, consider video-making software for creating trailers.


5. Subscriptions: This should be thought of in conjunction with books. Are there craft or industry journals you know your writer would love? Or can you continue a subscription? Again, check out the writing closet/garret/basement. Snoop around and see what kinds of magazines your writer is reading. And take a quick peek in the loo. If your writer is using magazine pages in place of TP—I’d recommend not resubscribing to that particular publication. (Unless, of course, you want to save the good stuff for the rest of the family.) Here are some to consider: Writer’s Digest, Publisher’s Weekly, and Poets & Writers.


6.  Book-selling items: If your writer has books out in the world and attends book fairs and festivals, why not provide a box of handy items to help with selling? Easels, sign holders, book holders, markers, card display items, a credit card slide like Square and a handy-dandy cart to tote everything around in. Here’s one like mine, that I love!  Because it’s made for carrying tools, it’s extra sturdy, big wheels, and a taller handle. Also, do throw in a bottle of water and a sandwich—just in case your writer is too weak to stand and talk to hundreds of folks in one day. (And it wouldn’t hurt to include a comb, or some decent clothes.)


7. Fun stuff:  What about getting items personally made that reflects your writer’s book(s), or interests? A coffee cup with the cover design of her/his/their book on it? A necklace or earrings with something pertinent to the book. Just search on “personalized gifts” at the Etsy site. Or what about a personalized face mask, blankie, pillow? (Surely your writer needs a pillow for when s/he/they collapses?) You can get that done here at Printerpix.  And while your writer is passed out on the floor s/he/they might want to glance up and take a gander at a couple of cool charts available from, such as literary insults or proper English usage. (After all s/he/they might could wake from a delirium mumbling about double modal verbs. You wouldn’t want that!)


8. Writer T-shirts. (This is assuming your writer occasionally comes out of the writing lair to change into something clean.) is a fun place to find some. And there are more at Out of Print (including some pretty nice writer/nerd mugs). Or have a t-shirt personalized. I especially like CafĂ© Press’s create your own page where you can put a message to your writer on a T-shirt (and other things) like: Remember to put your pants on today.


9. Wine and a massage/a new experience: Wine and massages are always in season for writers. But I highly recommend getting someone else to do the massage if your writer is just finishing up NaNoWriMo and hasn’t bathed in a month. On the other hand, you could gift your writer with a new experience related to what s/he/they are writing, like swimming with dolphins at the Dolphin Research Center. (Then you wouldn’t have to mention the dreaded word: bath.)


10. Time:  The best gift of all. Make up a couple of fun time to yourself coupons to be used at the writer’s discretion. A caveat: don’t give this gift if your writer tends to hide away for weeks at a time, anyway. Instead, give yourself a few we/I want you here coupons and pretend it was a gift from your writer to you. Be sure to squeal, “How thoughtful!” as you take them from your stocking. Your pre-occupied writer won’t remember whether s/he/they gifted them, or not.


11.  Space: I must add this last item. If your writer is hunched over in a closet, or is always banging her/his/their head on the roof rafters, consider creating a bigger space where papyrus can be spread out and your writer can really get down to work. Can you afford a redo/enlargement of a writing area? (I think I’ll circle this item and slip it onto the spacious desk in my husband’s HUGE office.)


Finally, if you must, get a journal from one of those dollar bins by the checkout aisle. You can always insert into it that magazine renewal card you’re paying for, a gift card for wine, or a receipt for some online technology. (Just avoid the journals with pink unicorns. No writer needs more than one of those in a lifetime. To my secret admirer: please, no more!)


Now, excuse me while I climb down from my garret to stretch. Ahh!!! Have a happy gift-giving season.




 Shutta Crum is the author of several middle-grade novels and many picture books, poems and magazine articles. THUNDER-BOOMER! was an ALA and a Smithsonian “Notable Book.” MINE! was reviewed by the N.Y. Times as “a delightful example of the drama and emotion that a nearly wordless book can convey.” Her books have made Bank Street College lists as well as state award lists. WHEN YOU GET HERE, a collection of poems for adults, won a gold medal from the Royal Palm Literary Awards, 2020 and 2021 (FL). For more information:




Friday, November 11, 2022

Writer Spotlight: Laura Luptowski Seeley

Horses, "Happy, snappy, juicy apple," MSU publications, and the "Cat Ambassador": Laura Luptowski Seeley

Charlie Barshaw coordinates our regular Writer Spotlight feature and interviews writers of SCBWI-MI. In this piece, meet editor, writer and animal lover Laura Luptowski Seeley.

Tell us where your fascination with horses came from.

My love of horses began with riding the “real ponies” at the pony rings at the county fairs and festivals when I was probably around seven years old. My two sisters and I would beg my mom to let us ride “just one more time!” I specifically remember  falling in love with the ponies at our church festival one year. Once the carnival company pulled out that Sunday night, I missed those ponies so much that I actually prayed for them by name—Scout, Misty, Midnight, Ringo, and Rex—every night for the rest of the summer. It was the only way I could think of to remain “connected” with them.

Laura and Rango, 1967
From there, I advanced to riding at Bay View Stables in Bay City, Mich., the town where I grew up. In the summer of 1967, my mom took us out to ride nearly every Sunday evening during the summer months; I rode a big bay named Rango.

A couple of years later, my parents bought us a horse—a big red chestnut named Fox. When I was about 11 years old, I got my very own horse—Peppy; he was a beautiful palomino (golden, with a white mane and tail). I showed him at the county fair 4-H horse show for the first time in 1970 (see photo).

Laura  and Peppy

We kept our horses at the farm of a family friend (Mr. Whipple), which was just around the corner from our house. My sisters and I were tiny—but mighty little girls! We took full responsibility for the care of our horses—we pitched manure, hauled water buckets, and tossed heavy bales of hay and straw out of the hayloft without complaint.

My first paying job was working for a horse trainer when I was in high school. My sister and I shared the job cleaning stalls, and feeding and grooming horses at a 16-stall facility.

In the early 1990s, Peppy got sick and I had to have him put down, just a month before his 31st birthday. As his veterinarian said, “He was a grand old horse.”

Since that time, I have missed being around horses. Recently, an opportunity came up for me to get back into the horse world. I now work at a farm two days a week, cleaning horses’ stalls, feeding, and grooming. I also help tend to the 16 emus, several peacocks, and 100 chickens! I enjoy working outdoors, summer or winter. I love the physical labor; it’s a nice break from sitting at a computer.

Who influenced your early reading and writing?

My mom, and my creative writing teacher in high school.

Both of my sisters and I knew how to read before entering kindergarten. I remember sitting on my tiny chair in front of the easel with the four-foot-tall flip chart. Ms. Angeline asked the class to read the list of words on each page. I read all of the words to myself while the rest of the kids were still struggling to sound out the first two or three words. I couldn’t believe my little kindergarten ears that many of these kids did not know how to read!

Before my little sister started school, I taught her how to read out of her favorite book—A Good, Good Morning (written and illustrated by Bonnie and Bill Rutherford). We were lying on our tummies on the living room rug as I turned the pages and read the words out loud to Cindy. “Happy, snappy, juicy apple!” Cindy repeated out loud as I turned one of the pages. I recall running down the hall shouting to my mom that Cindy could read!

Several years ago, I had wanted to purchase that book and present it to my sister on her 50th birthday. I could not find it online, because I didn’t know the title or the author. The only thing I remembered about it was the “. . . happy, snappy juicy apple” line. So I  had asked a book seller to help me find it. About a year later, at one of the book shows I attended, the book seller approached me and asked if the book I was looking for was a Whitman Pillow Book; he handed me the book and the cover was unfamiliar to me. I told him I didn’t think that was the book I was looking for . . . until I flipped through the pages and read the words: “Happy, snappy, juicy apple!”

In elementary school, my sisters and I were always reading, writing, and drawing. We even “produced” our own horse magazines—which included articles, drawings of horses, and even made-up “letters to the editor.”

In high school, I took a creative writing class and wrote short stories, poetry, and plays. My teacher wrote a note on one of my poems that if I continued to improve, he thought I could be published one day. Several years ago, I wrote him a note to tell him about my career path, thanking him for encouraging me as a young writer. He wrote back to say he always wondered if he made any difference in his students’ lives, so he appreciated hearing from me. (If you’ve never thanked a teacher for how they’ve influenced your life, I encourage you to take the time to do it today!)

You retired from Michigan State University in 2013 after more than 25 years. What positions at MSU have you held over the years?

I earned my bachelor’s degree in journalism from MSU. I was hired by MSU in 1986, and worked in various departments and capacities. I wrote news releases as well as articles for campus magazines, newsletters, e-newsletters and websites. I managed the scholarly journals program at MSU Press, and was instrumental in launching their new creative nonfiction journal—Fourth Genre: Explorations in Nonfiction—which is still published today, 24 years later. I was the director of publications and media relations at the College of Engineering for 13 years before retiring; one of the accomplishments I am most proud of was overseeing the development of a new alumni publication—Currents Magazine.

Over the years, my work also appeared in several newspapers and magazines outside of MSU—including EQUUS magazine. In addition, I wrote a monthly humor column for the Arabian Horse Express from 1992-1997.

I now work as a freelance writer/editor/proofreader and absolutely love the freedom of setting my own schedule.

Tell us about your latest WIP.

You could say it was a “dream come true.”

Several years ago, I woke up laughing about a dream I’d had about an unusual looking cat. “Where the heck did that come from?” I then realized that the cat in my dream looked like the pattern of my old sofa that I had put out by the dumpster when I’d moved out of my apartment a few months earlier. LOL!

This dream led me to write my first picture book manuscript. I have since attended several writers’ conferences, where I have met with editors and agents who critiqued the manuscript and offered suggestions for improving it. I plan to continue to submit it for publication and hope to see it in print one day.

I also have another picture book manuscript completed, as well as several nonfiction children’s book manuscripts in the works—most of them about animals.

What event do you remember most fondly in SCBWI?

I don’t recall how I first heard about SCBWI, but I knew if I wanted to break into the children’s market I’d need to connect and network with other writers who were writing for children. Soon after I became a member, I attended the 2016 Midwest conference. I attended the pre-conference Picture Book Bootcamp and also submitted a picture book manuscript for critique.

During one of the evening sessions, I met some attendees from the town where I currently live (Haslett, Mich.), and they recommended I join the Lansing Area Shop Talk (LAST) group. Through LAST, three of us branched off and started a writers’ critique group.

SCBWI, LAST, and my writers’ critique group have provided the valuable information and the support I need to continue working on manuscripts for the children’s market.

You are the founder and president of The Cat Ambassador. What is the goal of your organization?

I have always loved animals. I grew up out in the country, and people often dumped off their unwanted pets in front of our house. As an adult, I began to take in stray and sick cats to have them vetted, spayed/neutered, and adopted into loving homes—using my own money.

In 2013, I officially founded my 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, The Cat Ambassador. My aim is to provide assistance for cats—and their people—so pets will not be surrendered to a shelter if their owners cannot afford vet care, food, and litter.

In addition to helping indoor pets, I am getting more and more calls to help feral and stray kitties. We have a “cat crisis” across the country right now. We get several calls daily from people desperate for help with sick and injured cats; pregnant cats; kittens thrown out of moving cars; and cats that were put outside after a relative died and no one wanted to take responsibility for the pets. Shelters, humane societies, and rescue groups are at capacity and out of funds. So we have to say “no” to many of the requests for help, and it’s heartbreaking. That’s why we need more people in every community across the country to step up to foster cats and kittens, volunteer to help with the work we do, and donate money.

Animal shelters and rescue groups are also working to put laws into place that prosecute individuals who neglect, abandon, or abuse animals.

What is your most poignant story from your work as The Cat Ambassador?

There are so many stories I could share. Here are two of my favorites.

Six years ago, we received a call on a scorching hot summer day about some newborn kittens that had been abandoned in the middle of someone’s yard. The umbilical cord of one of the kittens was tangled up around the rear leg of another, and a third kitten was caught up in the bundle. We surmised that the mama cat, not knowing what to do with her tangle of kittens, must have abandoned them, along with her three other kittens that we later found under some shrubbery.

Harley feeding Gabby

One of the kittens did not survive, but my husband and I took in the other five and began bottle feeding them. The kitten who had the umbilical cord wrapped around its leg had to have her leg amputated when she was two days old. Amazingly, she survived surgery and was later adopted by our veterinarian, who named her Trinity. A vet tech adopted one kitten; and my husband and I kept the three orange tigers.

A couple of years ago, I got a call about a feral mama Manx cat and four kittens who were living at a highway rest area. One of the cats appeared to have a broken leg. The employees at the rest area noticed that one of the other kittens would jump up into the trash bins and toss food scraps down to the brown tiger kitten with the injured leg who could no longer get his own meals. Over the next week, with several volunteers and multiple traps, we were able to catch all of the kitties and all were vetted and adopted. The brown tiger kitten, now named Ahsa, had to have his right front leg amputated. He  gets along just fine on three legs, and was adopted by a woman who just happens to have her own medical limitations.

Gabby, Rio and Bolt

Stories like these are why I continue doing cat rescue.


Follow Laura on FaceBook: 



Friday, November 4, 2022

BookSmitten Podcast Enters Season Two

We’re excited for the new season of BookSmitten, the podcast dedicated to children’s books. BookSmitten is hosted by four Michigan SCBWI authors: Kelly J. Baptist, Jack Cheng, Patrick Flores-Scott, and Heather Shumaker. We see a hopeful, human world through children’s literature, and hope you’ll join us.

This season: We’re writing picture books!

We’ve launched the Picture Book Challenge. Listeners can learn along with us as we uncover the craft of picture book writing. As novelists, we’re used to writing much longer works. There’s so much to learn about what actually goes in to writing a child-worthy picture book. We hope you’ll take the #booksmittenchallenge and create your own publishable picture book.

It’s quite a challenge for a novelist to distill a story idea into a picture book. It’s all new territory for us. We’re primarily Middle Grade and YA authors, and only Kelly has published a picture book before. To help us out, we’ve invited some wonderful guests to join the show. Guests like:

          Shutta Crum, author

          Darnell Johnson, illustrator

          Yuyi Morales, author and illustrator

          Betsy Bird, from Fuse 8 ‘N Kate, all-star children’s librarian

          Lisa Wheeler, author (check out her episode on rhyme)


We’re using Ann Whitford Paul’s book “Writing Picture Books” to guide us through the process, and even brought Ann on the show to give us extra insights.

Whatever kind of books your write, you can find fun, friendship, and fellowship here with the BookSmitten crew as we learn together and push our creative boundaries.  

We hope you’ll join us! Or if picture books aren’t your focus, delve into past episodes where we cover a wide range of children’s book topics, including BookSmitten interviews with YA authors Angeline Boulley and Paula Yoo.


Interested? Check out the 5-minute Season 2 teaser.

We hope you become BookSmitten! Listen through Apple podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Google, or Overcast. Find out more at Add a review! Or write to us with ideas for new episodes you’d love to hear

BookSmitten is on Twitter @booksmittenpod. You can use the tag #booksmittenchallenge this season.

Podcast webpage:



Kelly J. Baptist hails from Berrien Springs, MI. She’s the author of three Middle Grade books ISAIAH DUNN IS MY HERO, ISAIAH DUNN SAVES THE DAY, and THE SWAG IS IN THE SOCKS, plus the picture book THE ELECTRIC SLIDE AND KAI. Kelly is also the author of a short story in the Middle Grade collection FLYING LESSONS AND OTHER STORIES.

Jack Cheng lives in Detroit, MI. He’s the author of the Golden Kite award-winning Middle Grade novel SEE YOU IN THE COSMOS and THE MANY MASKS OF ANDY ZHOU, forthcoming in June 2023.

Patrick Flores-Scott is from Ann Arbor, MI. Patrick is the author of two Young Adult novels: JUMPED IN and AMERICAN ROAD TRIP.

Heather Shumaker lives in Traverse City, MI. She’s the author of three books for adults, plus the Middle Grade adventure THE GRIFFINS OF CASTLE CARY.

BookSmitten Producers: 

Josie and Corey Schneider, Kansas City, MO

Music by Duck, Duck Chicken