Friday, June 30, 2023

Ask the Editor by Katherine Gibson Easter

Hi everyone! Big thanks as always to all the people who sent in their publishing questions! I hope everyone, whether you sent in a question or not, finds this post helpful and informative.

As with my previous Ask the Editor posts, I humbly ask that you take my comments in the spirit in which they’re intended. The advice here is meant to be friendly and helpful; I sincerely hope no one finishes this post feeling vulnerable or discouraged.

Also, a general disclaimer that my thoughts are my own; I do not speak on behalf of my publisher or the publishing industry in general. I wouldn’t be surprised at all to learn that you’ve heard an editor or agent say something that directly conflicts with my perspective. Everyone in publishing has their own views and preferences, and I can only be honest about my own.

Finally, if you have any questions about writing or publishing that aren’t addressed here, please feel free to email me. I’m always happy to gather questions for my next post!

Thanks so much, and happy reading!

As my own agent, I send out postcards to art directors and editors, and have to constantly update my contacts list. Is it better to send things to specific individuals, or will a generalized department or position suffice? 

I think it honestly depends on what you want to prioritize. I certainly don’t get offended when I receive submissions that say “Dear Editor” on them rather than my name, but it does make me think that the author is sending out a huge batch of submissions without much research or discernment, instead of purposely selecting me because they think I’ll have a particular interest in their work. 

So in the case of postcards, which I’m assuming are artist samples, if your main focus is just getting the word out about your work, that you’re available, etc., I think it’s probably fine to send them to a general publishing department. (Especially when all the time you spend researching who works there is time you’re not spending on your art.) But if you’re trying to get someone interested in a specific project, or looking to form more of a lasting connection with the agency or publisher, I think the front-end research (finding out who works there, what sort of books they publish, etc.) will lead to better results in the long run. 

I entered an SCBWI-sponsored event last October and received a good critique from the agent I chose. She asked me to work on it and send it in within the 6-month time frame, which I did on Query Tracker this past March. The automated notice said, “I can't get to this for at least three months…” How and when do I follow up with this agent, if I don't hear back from her within a couple more months? Do you have any advice?

In this specific circumstance, I think it’s fine to follow up once the three-month marker has passed; you should explain the situation (that you received a critique, revised and re-sent it in the requested time frame) and ask if she has received the manuscript. I personally wouldn’t advise asking her when you can expect a response; nobody likes getting that question, and her automated response indicates that she’s especially bogged down. But it’s already coming up on a year since you received a critique from her, so it’d be good to double-check that she received your submission and that it’s on her radar. 

If she doesn’t respond within a few weeks when you reach out to her, I’d suggest moving on and submitting the project to other agents, unless part of your arrangement involved keeping it exclusive. There’s always a possibility that you’ll get a delayed response, but ultimately, you want to find someone who’s excited about your work and reaches out to you with enthusiasm. 

Do editors prefer to work with agented or unagented authors/illustrators? Does it make a difference?

There are several publishers out there who only accept agented submissions, but many are willing to consider both agented and unagented authors and illustrators. I’m not sure it makes much of a difference from the editor’s point of view—as long as the quality of work is the same, it’s usually just as easy to work directly with an author as it is to work with an agent. 

I think the difference between having an agent and not is much more keenly felt on the author’s end of things. When you have an agent, they’ll query for you, negotiate for you, and advocate for you. Many agents even go beyond that, helping with marketing and promotion ideas, providing editorial feedback, etc. Of course, it’s no easy task to sign with an agent, and I know a lot of professional writers who manage just fine without one. Ultimately, I think the author or illustrator needs to decide for themselves what would best serve their goals.

How would I go about getting picture books published that have the same main character and are written as a series? I've read articles that say this is a hard lane to get into, because of the rhyming in the storytelling. 

Series are definitely challenging from a publishing perspective. On the one hand, it’s great to have a reliable series on the list—you can get a fairly accurate sales forecast based on the previous books, and they can help to balance a list, so it’s not all stand-alones. That said, launching a series is a gamble; if the first book doesn’t take off, the publisher’s suddenly in a tough spot when it comes to the sequels. And that’s even before getting into the rhyming issue you mention! 

If you have a picture book series in mind and you’re not yet an established author, I’d suggest making sure the first book can stand perfectly well on its own and pitching that book, rather than a whole series concept. Mention in your query letter that you have other picture book manuscripts featuring this character, but keep the focus on the first one for now. If they publish the book and it does well, their first question will be, “Can we do another one?”, and you’ll already be all set with the sequel.  

Over and over I hear, “Work on being the best writer you can be, and you will get an agent and get published.” The message seems to be that elbow-grease and a great deal of time and energy equals getting published, but much of what is out there to help me build my craft is expensive. Any guidelines for what to spend my time and money on? 

Great question! As a general rule of thumb, I think a cost-effective approach to getting published is to study the craft as cheaply as possible—check out writing books from the library, attend free webinars, listen to podcasts, join critique groups, etc.—and save the splurges for the things that help you connect with industry professionals. 

Whether it’s meeting an agent or editor at an in-person conference or paying to have them read and critique your manuscript, I think the things that bring you closer to the gatekeepers tend to be the best investments. If you form a genuine connection with someone who likes your writing style, they’ll be eager to find a way to work with you!

Katherine Gibson Easter is an acquisitions editor for Zonderkidz, having previously worked for Eerdmans Books for Young Readers. She graduated from the University of Denver Publishing Institute in 2013 and has spent the last ten years editing and publishing award-winning children’s books.

Thank you, Katherine!

To submit a publishing question, email Mitten blog editor Sarah LoCascio with "Ask the Editor" in the subject line, and she'll forward your question to Katherine. Or, stay tuned on the SCBWI-MI MichKids listserv – Katherine will ask for questions a few weeks before her next post.

If you missed any of Katherine's previous Ask the Editor posts, go HERE to browse through all the questions and answers.

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Book Birthday Blog with Shutta Crum and Ruth McNally Barshaw


Welcome to SCBWI-MI's Book Birthday Blog!

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


Congratulations to Shutta Crum and Ruth McNally Barshaw on the release of 

Grandma Heaven and Grandpa Heaven 




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

Shutta: Actually, I wrote Grandma Heaven and Grandpa Heaven about ten/eleven years ago. I had read Cynthia Rylant’s Cat Heaven and Dog Heaven and loved both those books. Then, one day while snuggling with my 4-year-old granddaughter she suddenly asked, “Are you going to die?” I told her not for a long, long time. That seemed to satisfy her, and we went back to snuggling. I’m not sure what precipitated that question, but it got me to thinking about young worriers who might wonder where do dead loved ones go. What happens after they die? It took years and years to sell these companion manuscripts, as they’re not exactly classroom books, nor story-time books. They are books that are needed individually for children who might be worrying, wondering, or who have had an experience of a death in the family.

Ruth: Shutta called me asking if I would illustrate these two books. She had a vision for the art, and she has been an inspiration to our fellow writers and illustrators in Michigan for decades. I learned SO much from her over the years. How could I say no to illustrating these books from her heart?


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

Shutta:  My main hope is that a child will be reassured that grandma and grandpa are going to be all right. Yes, they will be missed, but in the afterlife they are having a good time and shouldn’t be worried about. I also hope that children of all faiths, and from around the world can recognize a family member here. I really wanted the books to be non-religious and multi-cultural. This also made for some difficulty in finding a publisher as the Christian publishers were not interested in books that did not adhere to a strongly Christian view of heaven. Finally, I want readers to enjoy Ruth’s boisterous and lovely illustrations! NOTE: the bio page drawings have sketches of our actual grandparents and family elders! I love that Ruth included those. (Lots of twinkly hearts here!)

Ruth: I hope readers will see that what comes next will be plenty of laughs. I hope when I pass, my grandchildren will believe I am someplace joyous.


Will you walk us through your creative process working together?

Shutta: Actually, this was the most collaborative experience I’ve had in my 20+ years of getting books published—and the most fun. Because the manuscripts ended up getting taken by a small publishing company out of Arizona (Lawley), they allowed me input into who should illustrate. And since the action takes place in heaven I felt there needed to be lots of white space.  I could envision Quentin Blake-ish dancy figures against all that white. So, of course, Ruth McNally Barshaw came to mind. I love how she draws peopleall curvy, all oozing with love. As soon as they saw Ruth’s website, it was a resounding YES! So, I was able to work with one of my dearest friends! Also, Lawley has a policy of collaborative work. They wanted, and set up, several zoom meetings with Ruth, the art director, the editor, and me—all together to talk through how we saw the book developing. Believe me, that doesn’t happen with the big NY companies! I know from experience. This was heavenly. (Pun intended.) I got to see Ruth’s artwork at several stages. It was a lot for her to handle—two books at once. But I had faith in her, and I love the results. I’ve also worked closely with the Spanish translator. The Spanish edition will come out next January. The nice thing about working with a small publisher like Lawley is that they kept us informed all along the way. I really enjoyed the making of these two books. Now, I hope, others will enjoy the books.

Ruth:  The manuscript was complete when I was brought on board, so my job was to research ideas for the art and put my best ones on the page in a way that I wouldn’t find disappointing later. I was nervous to share the art with Shutta at every stage – what if she didn’t like it? What if she wanted anything redone? I wasn’t getting paid a ton of money for this, and of course there are opportunity costs for every job. I had to be efficient and creative and pull from deep places. Also, my elderly mother in Detroit needs twice weekly visits from me, and I live 90 minutes away. I figured out early that I could do the art in the car and occasionally at Mom’s house on my iPad if I worked digitally. Otherwise I would have done it all by hand, ink and watercolor.


What inspires you to write/illustrate?

Shutta: Being alive. Living in the moment. And reconnecting with my younger self.

Ruth:  I think I just don’t have a choice. I’ve been a professional illustrator since college, so 40 years. If I didn’t have to do this for money I would do it for fun. Creating books for kids seems to be the best place for me in the world. I tried comic strips, graphic design, advertising, surface art, fine art, paper crafts, and more, and each one appeals to just part of where I want to be. Doing books for kids is the first thing I’ve done that checks every box.

What's next for you? 

Shutta: My third book of poetry for adults will be out sometime next January/February with Kelsay Books. Working title: MEET YOU OUT THERE. I have had an offer on another picture book, but the details are still being worked out so I can’t really comment on that yet. In the meantime, I continue to write poetry and get that published in various journals and online poetry sites. I’ve had a love of poetry since I was a child. It’s second nature now to always be working on a couple of poems.

Ruth: My agent has 3 illustrated manuscripts of mine and I have several more in the works. At some point one of them will sell, and then I will know what I am doing for the next year. ;)

A little bit about the books . . .

GRANDPA HEAVEN is a wonderful place. The grandpas there get sloppy kisses from pets, drive fast cars, show off their bowling trophies, paddle canoes, and find all kinds of wonderful things as they walk about, like bungee cords. They visit with the other grandpas and grandmas. Happily, for the grandpas who like to tinker, something always needs fixing. Heaven is like that.

GRANDMA HEAVEN is a wonderful place. The grandmas play hockey, work on airplanes, zip in on zip-lines, jump rope, and always find ribbon and buttons at jumble sales. They visit with the other grandmas and grandpas. Happily, for the grandmas who like to knit, someone always needs a warm scarf. Heaven is like that.
Best of all, the grandpas and grandmas in Heaven keep a close watch on all their grandchildren. They slap knees and shout Yow-sa! Or Cool beans! when a grandchild does something exciting. Also, they send down the memory of a hug whenever it is needed. Love is like that. It doesn’t die.

Publisher: Lawley Enterprises LLC

There will be a launch event at  Schuler Books in Ann Arbor Thursday, July 13th at 6:30pm.

Grandma Heaven

Grandpa Heaven 


A little bit about the author and illustrator . . . 

Shutta Crum is bi-peninsular, spending half the year in Michigan and half the year in Florida. She is the author of three middle-grade novels and fifteen picture books, as well as many poems, magazine articles, and two poetry chapbooks for adults. Her books have made Bank Street College lists as well as state award lists. THUNDER-BOOMER! was an ALA and a Smithsonian Magazine “Notable Book” of the year. WHEN YOU GET HERE (poems for adults) won a gold Royal Palm Literary Award, (FL). She is also the author of two nearly wordless books MINE! and UH-OH! both published by Knopf. MINE! made the Texas 2X2 list and was a Crystal Kite Award winner for the illustrator Patrice Barton. Of MINE! the N. Y. Times said, “a delightful example of the drama and emotion that a nearly wordless book can convey.” In 2005 she was invited to read at the Easter Egg Roll at the White House. She blogs regularly for the Florida Writers Association, writes a bimonthly column for the Fl State Poetry Association magazine Of Poets & Poetry, and leads the Friday Follies writing group. In addition, she writes and publishes THE WORDSMITH’S PLAYGROUND, a monthly newsletter for writers. For more info: Or

Ruth McNally Barshaw received her first sketch-journal from a prescient art teacher at age 15 and has been keeping journals ever since. She wrote and illustrated the six Ellie McDoodle Diaries. And she illustrated the novel There’s No Base Like Home, the picture book Leopold the Lion, and two picture books in 2023 – Grandma Heaven and Grandpa Heaven. She also wrote four short stories for the Amazon Rapids reading app. She and author-husband Charlie travel widely teaching writing workshops at schools and libraries. See her work and author visit information at



Friday, June 23, 2023

Meeting Derrick Barnes by Tara Michener


I had the amazing opportunity to be a featured author at the same event series as Award-Winning Author, Derrick Barnes. Derrick was the keynote speaker for the opening Gala and when he met the podium he met the audience where they were at and then helped them to meet him where he had been.

Derrick gave the room so many important life lessons from his own experience as a father, author and spouse. He talked about his journey and how his own son inspired him to write what he knows and how this was the turning point for him. I watched my own son who was in attendance enamored by his reading of I Am Every Good Thing. His face expressive and empowered as he looked to the man who is now one of his favorite authors.

Derrick Barnes and Tara Michener

Once the room was able to disperse and meet and greet, Derrick had a line of people eager to find out more and to have their books signed, not only because a signed book is awesome, but also as a way to preserve the message that he shared that night. I smiled because my son does not run up to every author...he does not share personal stories with every speaker and at nine years old he has now decided to take his time warming up a bit more than he used to. This was different. He had met someone who he felt understood him. It was obvious that Derrick had this effect on many people in the room that night. His energy was magnetic and people of all ages flocked to him with the same excitement that my child did.

I always talk about Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop's framework of mirrors, windows and sliding glass doors and this was a moment where I got to witness this concept leap off of the pages of the books, onto the stage and back to his table where he kindly joked and talked to me and so many other authors and guests.

That night my son read all of the books that he received from the Gala. The next morning was filled with his thoughts about what he read the night before when he should have been sleeping. 

The author event continued the next day at a Book Festival. Guests purchased written stories of the authors present at the festival as they connected over verbal stories they heard while getting their books signed. I was able to add one more book from Derrick to my collection to gift to a young neighbor. I also got to gain more insight about Derrick’s journey as an author. He was gracious enough to allow me to feature him for this segment and also interview him.

Readers, the conversation was filled with so many nuggets that can help people in many stages of life. I am including some that stood out but I promise you there are many more insights to gain from this talented and inspiring author. Derrick shared that once Crown: Ode to the Fresh Cut was published that his career changed in an incredible way. He wrote for many years but this particular book that showcased his authenticity, his activism and his love for his target audience resonated in a way that opened up the door to a larger stage and more award recognition, opportunities and honors. I enjoyed listening to Derrick talking about the importance of speaking his truth as an author and being free to write what is real, what resonates for his intended audience and what brings about perspective sharing in a way that both educates and acknowledges topics that need to be highlighted. He talked about the need to reach Black people and how his books bring people together.

I asked Derrick:  

What advice would you give to writers who feel underappreciated?

He said that pinpointing your target audience and focusing on them is the way to go. He mentioned that these are the people who will lift you up no matter what. He went on to say that the writing should speak directly to them because they are the ones purchasing your books. He discussed the need for writers to figure out if they want to write books or have a career as a writer and how those things are not exactly the same. He spoke about the need for writers to work on their craft.

I was especially impressed when I asked Derrick about his remedies for writer’s block and he shared that he never has writer’s block. He went on to say that it all comes back to focus. He said he never goes a day without writing and if he has time to write-he writes.

When we talked about legacy he mentioned that he may want to teach as an English Professor. His focus is getting people to think outside of the box and leave behind books that move the needle. He wants people to recognize that he is not like anybody else as they consider his legacy. He wants to continue to put more books into the world that covers social issues and give the readers an opportunity to enjoy more realistic fiction from him. He understands that he will be judged on his catalog and he wants to be remembered as one of the best children’s book authors of his time.

He wants to inspire others to do the same.

This led me to asking him who he is inspired by.

He shared that some of the writers and poets that inspire him include Renee Watson, Erin Entrada Kelly, Jerry Craft, Clint Smith, and Jessica Care Moore.  Please visit Derrick Barnes website at to learn more about his awards, his books and his upcoming events and titles. I promise that you will be inspired.


Tara Michener is the author of six children's books that focus on self-esteem, diversity and anti-bullying. She is a TEDx speaker, therapist and owns her own private practice in Novi, MI. Tara has been recognized in publications such as Prevention Magazine, Essence Magazine, FREEP and more! She is the Committee Chair of E&I at SCBWI-MI. Her favorite days usually include spending time with her hubistrator, Jason, her son Cannon and her favorite snack Twizzlers and Diet Coke. You can follow her on Twitter @Taramichener. 






Friday, June 16, 2023

Authors Marketing Together by Renee Bolla

Collaborate. Connect. Inspire.

Marketing is essential in any business, and the world of literature is no exception. Today authors are expected to not only write but also market their work. I’m sure some of you cringed when I said the word market. I get it. It can be daunting, time-consuming, expensive, overwhelming, and intimidating, especially for newbies. We are writers, and we just want to write! But we also want people to read what we write, and that’s why marketing is a crucial element along the journey.

I only recently began my author journey. At the end of 2020, I resigned from corporate retail after 20 years and followed my dream of becoming a published author. Zero-knowledge or experience, just a passion to share my stories and celebrate literacy. I’ve discovered writing can be a solitary process. It’s just you and your keyboard (or notebook if you’re old-school) with your thoughts. While writing is a solo activity, I realized marketing requires a network and a community.

There are many organizations that helped get me started and continuously support my writing journey: The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, 12x12 Picture Book Challenge, Women in Publishing, Making Picture Book Magic with Susanna Hill, and Highlights Foundation. But it was through the 12x12 Picture Book platform that I found my marketing community.

Leslie Eva Tayloe, Mona Voelkel, Tarja Nevala, and myself, Renee Bolla, a group of strangers, everyday women pursuing our writing dreams, found each other through a post on the 12x12 platform. A simple post from Leslie asked if anyone was interested in forming a marketing group. And just like that, Kidlit at Heart was born. We are a marketing group of women authors who inspire, support, and learn from each other while marketing our picture books, celebrating literacy, and connecting with communities. Each of us brings unique experiences and backgrounds. We are a blend of self-published, traditionally published, and even hybrid authors, but we are all aligned on one common goal…to build our author brand and sell our books!

The initial stages of forming our marketing group were about getting to know one another and asking the right questions. What is your goal as an author? How do you want to make an impact? What are your values? What are your expectations for this marketing group? What do you want your author brand to accomplish? How much time can you dedicate to this group? The only way for your marketing group to succeed is to ensure you are all aligned. We established early that we are NOT a critique group. We are here to market our author brands and our books as well as educate readers and other writers along the way.

In our infancy, we worked together on creating a brand. We knew early we wanted to be more than a group that casually meets. We wanted to be a picture book marketing brand. That means we established a name, logo, mission statement, and vision statement. This didn’t happen overnight. We took our time thinking about who we wanted to be and what we wanted to stand for. We researched other inspirational brands to help guide us. We had fun creating brand names, fonts, colors, and logos. And as writers, we loved writing our mission and vision statement. After some time collaborating, we had a brand, brand kit, and website. I also want to mention the importance of checking that your brand and domain name are available early in the process.

Next, we established meeting dates, times, and frequency. While this may sound basic, aligning calendars can be challenging and a deal breaker for some. Kidlit at Heart meets twice a month for an hour, and we set our dates for all of 2023. We aligned early that this time is prioritized for our marketing group. We do Zoom meetings because we are a group that crosses many time zones. One day we would love to meet in person.

We start each meeting with an agenda sent in advance and wrap up with an email that recaps the meeting and preps us for the next one. In between meetings, we connect via email or our shared Google Drive, where we continuously exchange marketing information, including information about events, classes, writing contests, blogs/newsletters, aspirational authors, interviews, podcasts, and website tips, to name a few. 

The biggest challenges we (and you) may face when trying to coordinate a marketing group can be bucketed into three areas. Scheduling/time commitment, conflicting individual priorities, and different viewpoints or working styles. That’s why it’s crucial to ask the right questions initially. We started Kidlit at Heart with six members but are now a group of four. Along the way, we had two individual members’ priorities/goals change, and they felt they no longer aligned with what we were working toward as Kidlit at Heart. Therefore, they chose to leave the group. We are all still closely connected and continue to support each other’s journey, just not as part of the marketing group.

There are many wonderful benefits of forming a marketing group and this experience has helped me grow as a writer, brand builder, and marketer. I want to highlight a few benefits with you in hopes of helping you along your author journey and potentially helping you form your own marketing group.

1.     Cross-promotion: Authors can cross-promote each other’s work, increasing visibility, including sharing each other’s work on social platforms, websites, or each author’s events, as well as connecting each other to your respective networks.

2.     Sharing resources: Authors share information on writing workshops/events, connections, book SWAG ideas, benefits of teacher guides, and speaking opportunities.

3.     Collaboration: By working collaboratively, authors can leverage each other’s strengths and pool resources to create a more effective marketing plan. A few examples of this: author interviews, giveaways, library placement, virtual events, website presence, brand building, and social media collabs.

4.     Feedback and support: A marketing group is a trusted and safe space, providing a supportive network to share successes and struggles, offer input and advice, and encourage authors to keep going. For example, our latest topic was all about creating press kits. We came together to ideate, set deadlines, and hold one another accountable.

5.     Increased visibility and credibility: By working together, authors can open doors for speaking engagements, media interviews, further reach on social, cross-website exposure, and ultimately higher book sales.

6.     Skill sharing: Each author can teach others what they know about marketing, writing, and publishing, leading to growth for everyone involved. Our group offers a wealth of experience, knowledge, and energy, and we all work together beautifully.

Being a writer can be a lonely and challenging journey, but it doesn’t have to be. Forming a collaborative marketing group with other authors can build a supportive community, increase your book and brand’s visibility, and help you achieve success.

As for Kidlit at Heart, where are we going from here? We have a vision to share our creativity and love of literacy with a broader community and support other writers on their marketing journey. Check out our website and take our “Get to Know You” survey, because we welcome feedback. If you complete the survey, you will receive “30 Tips to Build Your Brand” to get you started on your marketing journey.

Best of luck, and remember, our biggest resource is each other.


Renee Bolla is a former retail executive turned children's picture book author. She has two self-published books, released in 2022, Finding Bunny and Imagine That. Her inspiration for writing comes from her experiences as a mom to her three daughters. Those experiences are woven into each one of her stories. Writing has always been a creative outlet for her. She loves that a book can be a magical door that opens to infinite worlds, igniting imagination and how each page invites you to soar on the wings of its words.

Renee is a writing contributor for Detroit Mom and a member of the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) and Julie Hedlund’s 12x12 Picture Book Challenge. She is also a founding member of Kidlit at Heart, a children’s picture book marketing group. As well as a presenter at the Women in Publishing Summit 2023. You can find her on Instagram & Facebook (@reneebollaauthor), Tik Tok (@reneebolla), and Twitter (@rbollaauthor). To learn more about her journey, visit her author website.

Thursday, June 15, 2023

Book Birthday Blog with Mary Marthey


Welcome to SCBWI-MI's Book Birthday Blog!

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


Congratulations to Mary Marthey on the release of The Captain


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

The idea forThe Captain came to me one day when I was thinking about how important our attitude is toward our overall happiness. I very much admire these sage words by Charles Swindoll, “Life is 10% what happens to you, and 90% how you react to it.” A plot stirred in my mind:  An unhappy boy tries to flee from his problem.  He takes out his sailboat. A storm comes up. He survives it. He is shipwrecked, survives that. Then he’s marooned. But instead of feeling anger and self-pity, he explores and has a grand time. He returns home. The problem is solved. In reality, the problem is not solved, the problem still exists. But he is looking at it differently now. He chooses happiness.

What inspires you to write?

I am inspired to write continuously. There isn’t anything that happens that can’t be turned into a story, and a fascinating one at that, no matter how mundane the event may seem at the time. Mainly, I have a desire to share inspiration. I do not have children, so writing books is satisfying in two ways. I can impart some token of information, or encouragement, to help a child. As well, my books are what I have to leave behind.

What was the most difficult part of writing the book?

The most difficult part of writing the book was not the actual writing of it. The Captain is the fastest book I’ve ever written.  It took just a couple of hours. The challenge though, was working with an Italian illustrator who has no knowledge or familiarity with sailboats whatsoever. The time difference was no problem for us, each of us happily discovering the message the other had sent, every morning. But the nautical vocabulary, in addition to the language barrier, proved frustrating. The tiller for example, what is it and where is it? It behooves writers to verify the illustrator’s knowledge of the subject matter before embarking on a project together.

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

It is my sincere hope that the reader will take away the realization that problems exist in life, and we can’t run from them, but we can change our attitude toward them. In The Captain Donald is lost in a storm, problem! However, he fights the storm and comes through it. Then he is marooned, another problem! A huge one. But he is delighted with what he finds on the island. He explores and enjoys himself thoroughly. He has a new mindset. He is no longer a victim to circumstances. Juvenile literature does not have a ‘self-help’ category, so I don’t know how I will label this uplifting adventure tale. Seriously though, I hope it helps kids realize their problems aren’t so big after all.  


You recently released another book. Are your marketing plans similar for your new book or do you have a different approach?


Marketing the book, as well as launching the book, are the true challenges for self-published authors.  I’m proud that I’ve made my own website, using Wix. The website will be linked to my author’s page on Amazon. Also, I’ll try book readings in libraries this summer. Another, indie bookstores might appreciate having a local author’s book in their window. I live close to Lake Michigan, so The Captain will make a great summer read for kids.


A little bit about the book . . .


The title The Captain comes from the poem "Invictus"; ‘I am the captain of my soul.’ In The Captain we have Donald, a young boy who is disappointed by circumstances he can not control. He takes his sailboat out, thinking it will be a pleasure cruise, and a terrible storm appears. After fighting through it, his boat is washed up on shore and he is marooned on an island. He finds himself with three problems, the original one, the storm and now this! However, he explores and enjoys everything he discovers. In fact, he has a marvelous time on the island. Donald was able to concentrate on the good in the situation. He doesn’t realize he’s changed his attitude, but in time he wants to return home, and he’s looking forward to it. He stands at the helm of his boat and steers his life where he wants it to go.


Publisher: Books For Kids Publisher 

A little bit about the author . . .

Originally Mary worked as a travel agent. This career enabled her to both help people plan their trips as well as enjoy her own. She did just that, traveling internationally for twenty years. It was indeed fulfilling, but in time she began to desire more meaningful work. She went back to college and acquired her teaching degree from Wayne State University. Mary then became an elementary teacher, specializing in teaching reading. It was the pleasure of reading picture books to students that inspired her to write them. Sometimes students who enjoyed art, drew pictures to accompany the stories. Today, Mary is a self-published author whose books are illustrated by professionals.





Friday, June 9, 2023

Pride Month 2023


It’s June and that means it’s Pride Month, which makes it a perfect time to take a minute to talk about why we need to protect the rights of children to read about various kinds of children and families, including those similar to and different from their own.

I don’t want to dwell too much on recent discouraging news stories, like the new legislation in many states causing the Human Rights Campaign to declare a state of emergency for LGBTQ+ people in the US, or how attempts to censor books, both in school and public libraries, rose dramatically last year, with a majority of the targeted books by or about LGBTQ+ people or people of color, or the defunding of a few libraries in Michigan because of LGBTQ+ books in their collection. You’ve likely heard about these stories elsewhere.

On the more positive side, you’ve likely also noticed an increase in both fiction and non-fiction children’s literature with LGBTQ+ characters and historical figures. There are many great lists already that you can find if you’re looking for reading recommendations, including lists of new releases for 2023. So, I’m not going to focus on this today either.

Instead, I want to share a couple of incidents from the school playground, which my six-year-old kindergartener Cecilia shared with me.

One day, the subject of daddies came up, and Cecilia said she doesn’t have a dad; she has two moms. Several of her classmates didn’t believe that it was possible. They tried to guess what happened to her daddy or think of ways that she could have another mom (one of the kids suggested she might have a stepmom, which she doesn’t), but didn’t believe that she has two moms who were married to each other.

It has been eight years since the Obergefell v. Hodges decision legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states. While that isn’t a long time, it means that same-sex marriage has been legal longer than any of the kids in this story have been alive. And still they didn’t think it was possible to have two mommies.

It’s been more than 30 years since Lesléa Newman’s HEATHER HAS TWO MOMMIES was published. And still, none of these five- and six-year-olds thought it was possible.

Cecilia and her two mommies and two brothers

Later in the year, Cecilia decided to cut her hair (it seemed easier to her than brushing it). More than one of her classmates said it looked like a boy’s haircut. (It was definitely shorter than the other girls’ hair, but was also longer than the hair of all the boys in her class).

Please don’t misunderstand this as a complaint about her school, which has been very supportive, or her classmates or their families, who are very nice (and the kids stopped commenting on her hair or family structure within a couple of days). These incidents just made me pause and realize that there is so much about the world that kids (and adults!) don’t yet know about and so many ways for them to find out about these things. I wondered how the initial reactions of Cecilia’s classmates might have been different if they had encountered more diversity in characters in the books they were reading.  

The mirror aspect of LGBTQ+ representation in children’s literature remains important. After all, my children deserve to see families like ours in some of the books they read, and children deserve to see themselves represented as well. But the window aspect enables children to learn about how other people live and builds their empathy for the variety of people they’ll encounter in their lives, which is why it’s important that all children have access to diverse books.

Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Book Birthday Blog with Pria Dee



Welcome to SCBWI-MI's Book Birthday Blog!

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


Congratulations to Pria Dee on the release of Sport It! Stay Fit!



This is your second book to release this year and another one is on the way. How do you stay organized with several books scheduled to launch the same year?

It is complex to coordinate multiple books, especially with my second book Sport It! Stay Fit! is self-published, which means I am responsible for getting the edits, illustrations, cover, and interior design for Epub, Print, ISBN, and set up on Amazon KDP, and Ingram and any marketing done.  I credit my awesome editor Sandy Fuller, creative illustrator David Lock and designer Michael Hercock for keeping me on task and schedule.  Couldn’t do it without them.


You seem to generate many story ideas. What method do you use to gather ideas and how do you decide which ones are worth pursuing?


I try to work off my observations.  Many times, things I see or that inspire me, register during the day and will develop into an idea at night.  I keep a notepad handy and write them down. I am strongly inspired by nature and very often a rhyme or story develops during my 4-mile walks in the summer.  I come back and write it down.  I don’t develop them into a book right away, however.  I let the ideas germinate for a few weeks and if I still feel strongly about them, I flesh out the story and develop it into a book.


Your love of animals and children inspire many of your books. Is there a particular author who has inspired you or influenced your craft?


I loved both A.A. Milne and Beatrix Potter growing up and both wrote about nature. I remember reading them to my children and still own copies of their work that I read now and again.

What are your marketing plans for the book and where can we find your books?

I plan to get reviews through Kirkus Reviews and Reedsy Discovery.  I have used Next Step PR once before and may do so if they have availability to do a book launch.  In addition, I plan to do a Goodreads giveaway for Father’s Day to generate reviews.  I may also run Father’s Day ads on Facebook and Amazon as this book is a great one for dads to read to their kids as it’s all about sports. Of course, I will try to spread the word on social media as well.

What's next for you?

I hope to release one more book in the fall about a little gosling who needs to migrate before Winter.  I am working on illustration ideas with a new illustrator for this book and am very excited about it. I am also working on the third book in my Billy and Molly series.
I have a Fantasy Young Adult book in the works, which is progressing very slowly. 

A little bit about the book . . .


A read-aloud rhyming book on all the sports you can play to stay active and fit features very active dinosaurs in action.


Publisher: Boomi LLC


A little bit about the author . . .

Pria Dee is an Indian American author, who lives in Michigan.  She has published several children’s books based on her own experiences and observations.  Her love of animals and children is the focus of many of her books.  Learn more about Pria at: