Friday, December 29, 2023

2024 Is Your Year by Jay Whistler

You may recall that in my 2022 New Year’s post, I mentioned that I am not big on resolutions because they feel…like work. Add in that they rarely succeed because life gets in the way. I also tend to berate myself the first time I mess up, blame my lack of willpower (to exercise, eat better, write every day, etc.) and immediately give up.



It stands to reason, then, that for my 2023 New Year’s post I am not going to suggest you make a resolution to work on your craft. Instead, I’m going to suggest that you set aside time every week, actually scheduled in the calendar like an appointment, to get your portfolio ready for the next SCBWI Mentorship, or finally get that picture book dummy together. Why? Because in 2024, we will have an illustration mentorship in which you can focus on either/both a dummy and/or your portfolio with your mentor’s guidance.



While we aren’t ready to spill the name of our mentor just yet, rest assured it is someone you will want to work with! In addition, there will be some changes to the format of the mentorship. A lot of the mentorship will remain in place, but we are adding some extra bonuses for our top three entrants.



Our goal is to make the mentorship meaningful to everyone who enters, not just to the chosen mentee. Illustrator co-coordinators Katie Eberts and Jen Boehler surveyed our membership. We’ve reached out to other regions with mentorships for their suggestions. We’ve had conversations with co-RAs Jodi McKay and Anita Pazner about our big overhaul plans, and I can tell you that we are all excited about the new and improved mentorship.


In addition, we are in the process of creating a shiny new website page for the mentorship. We had a lovely one for the 2023 mentorship, but then HQ created a whole new website, and whelp, there went all our hard work. But we are rebuilding and will have all the info you need ready to go well before registration opens in June.


So whether you call it a resolution, goal, mission, sense of purpose, or even a cheese sandwich, you now have at least six months to work on your portfolio and prepare for the new and improved 2024 Illustration Mentorship. Make it your year!



Jay Whistler is the mentorship coordinator for SCBWI-MI. She promises that no cheese sandwiches were harmed in the writing of this post.

Friday, December 22, 2023

Writer Spotlight: Deborah Halverson

 #mobileeditingoffice, SO much paper, not THAT Big Mouth, and Dummies: Writer/editor/mom Deborah Halverson

Charlie Barshaw coordinates our regular Writer Spotlight feature and interviews writers of SCBWI-MI. In this piece, meet 2013 Conference co-presenter Deborah Halverson.

Your FB posts seem to indicate that you live in an impossibly sunny and calm part of California, where you often take day-trips to the water to set up a #mobileeditingoffice.

Mobile editing at Hotel del Coronado 

Yet in your website, an FAQ states “you write about extreme places.” Where, besides Michigan, have you found extreme places to visit?

I found Michigan and the SCBWI folks there to be quite welcoming and wonderful, so that doesn’t qualify as extreme. My real interest in “extreme” is really about situations. I am intrigued by the way people react to things and events that push them waaaay beyond the everyday routine, forcing us to find strengths we didn’t know we had. Normal people in extreme circumstances. The difficulties move me, the triumphs inspire me. I like to explore that in my characters.

Your bio on your website starts with your ten-year stint as editor with Harcourt Children’s Books. But tell us about 9-year-old Deborah. What was her family like? What did she love to do then that you still love to do now?

Nine-year-old Deborah was the second oldest in a house of four sisters. It was loud and busy and I liked that. But I also liked the escape of books – of stories. I read voraciously. Usually my parents books, as they had a huge library in the garage of mostly spy novels. I didn’t write for myself then, though I loved writing on assignment as school. It wouldn’t be until several years into that 10-year stint at Harcourt that I tried my hand at writing for myself, a yearning I’d secretly had and finally dared to try and then shared with others.

In the professional arena you’d had some successes. But you had achieved what few people anywhere have: triplet boys. How old were they (they’re off to college now) when you hopped on a jet plane with their greasy hugs leaving prints on the bomber jacket?

The early days with triplets

My sons were six at the time. Just as I loved my busy house growing up, I loved my busy house with triplet boys—but I was glad to have time away, I will admit. Talking to grownups all weekend, about books and writing… yes, that was for work, but it was also Vacation.

You were a West Coast editor for NY-based Harcourt Children’s Books. What was editing like, back in “the day”? Lots of stamps and envelopes and paper, so much paper, I imagine. And cutting-edge technology considered primitive today. Can you take us back a normal day as a children’s book editor back then? What do you remember about your first day?

SO much paper! My first day at Harcourt, someone said to me, “We have this new thing called email. Have you heard of it?” The designers were just learning to do all the book design on the computer. I’ve experienced much change in this industry in the 28 years since. Ebooks. Amazon and online retailers. Social Media. The growth of self-publishing.

But let me tell you about that first day, because it was Everything: There was an “art show” that day. That’s what we called it when finished art arrived for a picture book and the editor laid it all out on the conference table with the book’s text on scraps of paper beneath the corresponding images. Everyone who knew the book as a name on this or that report was invited to “meet” the book – finance people, contracts people, the mail room. 

Of course, the folks who’d worked more deeply with the book were there too, including those of us in the Managing Editorial department, which was my first position. The oohing and ahhing! Such joy. Such camaraderie. Such appreciation of storytelling and creators. I knew I’d found my place and my people.

You are a prolific author in many genres, but you published one, and only one, picture book. (And Letters to Santa, as well as the novel Honk If You Hate Me, qualified you for our bonkers writing retreat in Michigan.) How did Letters come about?

came to me. A book packager was creating it with the US Postal Service to mark the 100th anniversary of their Letters to Santa program. They wanted a story about the process of mailing a letter and about the Christmas spirit and Santa, and it had to have a pop-up at the end! I did my best to give them that, with an emotional element that kids could relate to.

I’m now working on another picture book, from my own head, with my own mission. Perhaps it will join Letters on the shelf someday. Regardless, I believe that writing picture books enriches me as an editor. One needn’t be a writer to edit well, but I feel that writerly connection when I work with authors, which is important to me. 

On your “About” page, you claim you always wanted to write novels. While completing your debut novel, Honk If You Hate Me, you and your spouse agreed that you were “typing,” so as not to put pressure on your actually writing a story. You seem to be a combination of timidity and courage. How do you see yourself?

You said it well. I don’t know why I had that fear with my own writing, but it gives me insight into the courage of writers when they open themselves up to critique in order to improve a particular manuscript or their overall craft.

You’ve written two mid-grade novels, Honk If You Hate Me and Big Mouth. You’ve branched out into so many other writing-related fields: editing, writing coach, columnist, presenter, numbers person. Do you still have some mid-grade stories in you that you’d "want to type"?

I do! I have more ideas and works in progress than time to write them! I know other writers can relate to that.

Big Mouth is about a boy who aspires to become a hot-dog eating champion. You used the title first. How do you feel about the popular animated show by the same name?

I know of the show, but I haven’t watched it. It’s a fun title either way, right? I do love a clever title. In fact, I was known in-house for my ability to come up with titles when a book needed one. Some faves that authors have expressly allowed me to share: Much Ado about Grubstake by Jean Ferris, Once Upon a Marigold by Jean Ferris, and Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez by Kathleen Krull.

You’ve got a long-running post “Dear Editor” that has answered writing and publishing questions for decades. What are the different problems that people write to you about now versus the topics you used to have to cover?

The most common questions I get at are about the submissions process. That hasn’t changed. It’s always felt like a black hole to writers: You do all that hard work, then you send it off, then you… wait. And hope. And second-guess. I do my best to shed light into the black hole and to cut down on second-guessing by helping writers feel confident about the materials they submit. I do get plenty of questions about craft, which are the most fun for me to answer. I get to drop tips that I hope will help writers improve their craft. That’s the best part of my job.

You are a writing coach. A drill sergeant who can help a writer pummel their manuscript into shape. You’ve had clients, famous and less-so. Are there any clients you have permission to talk about?

Some authors have shared testimonials for my website, including Aisha Saeed, Jeff Hirsch, Kathleen Krull, and Jean Ferris. You can check them out if you like at

I love that I work with new writers as well as veterans. Every project is rewarding. If you’d told book-hungry, nine-year-old Deborah that she’d be helping writers shape stories one day as a job, her head would’ve exploded with glee. Imagine that! 

But I’ve learned how to build a story and how to expand and deepen stories through mechanics and creative intuition. I believe I help people with those skills. And I’m still as book-hungry as ever. I did find my place and my people.

“Do, don’t talk.” Explain.

It’s a mantra of mine. I need to goose myself with it right now, actually. It means don’t just talk about writing the book, DO it. Life throws lots of obstacles in the way of getting a book done, including day jobs and family obligations. But our stories are still at work in our heads, brewing and blossoming, and we’ll talk about it with friends and fellow writers. We must get it onto the page. Find your way to make that happen – writing groups, routines, NaNoWriMo. Butt in chair, as the old saying goes. Do.

Do you wish your writing craft books were not “for Dummies”?

Ha! One of the first things the For Dummies editor said to me was that their audience is anything BUT dummies. These are smart, information-gathering people who want to improve. With that in mind, she said, have fun! Then she cut me loose to do what I do, because she knew I knew what I was doing and that what I was doing was my kind of fun. I hope writers feel that playfulness and joy when they work with the book. I want them to feel supported and energized as I arm them with tools, techniques, and strategies to improve their craft.

You must do a ton of research so that every six months you can report on the state of publishing. How do you gather your info? Are you always a numbers person, or do you just play one on the stage of SCBWI NY and LA?

Presenting at the San Diego SCBWI

I’m a words person, through and through, but numbers give me valuable context so I embrace them in those “state of the publishing industry” presentations. I stay up on the industry by reading PublishersWeekly and free daily and weekly newletters: Publishers Lunch by Publishers Marketplace, PW Daily, and PW Children’s Bookshelf. Anyone can sign up for those. 

I follow agents, editors, industry experts, and writers and illustrators on social media to follow the chatter. And my secret ingredient: I interview a bunch of industry insiders before each presentation, from editors to supply chain experts. I do my utmost to make that a useful presentation for creators.

What’s next for Deborah Halverson?

Like every writer: finishing those WIPs!

 Please share any social media contacts:

With social media in flux and so many platforms opening up shop, the easiest thing to do is share my so we can connect on your favorite platform: I post videos, tips, industry news, and fun personal stuff on Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, Twitter/X,, and Threads.

For those wondering about the paradise-like settings Deborah encounters in her #mobileediting workday, here are some examples, provided by Deborah: 

Mobile editing at East Lake

Editing at San Diego Central Library

Mobile editing at Otay Lake

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Book Birthday Blog with Kelly Bixby



Welcome to SCBWI-MI's Book Birthday Blog!

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


Congratulations to Kelly Bixby on the release of Phyllis Floats


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

On South Beach in Miami, Florida, I found a Portuguese man-of-war that had been washed ashore and lay dying in a bed of sargassum. The marine animal fascinated me. As I studied it, my daughter came to look too and tried to help the creature by pouring ocean water over it. She and I watched the animal respond to the stimulation, but sadly, there was no practical way for us to save its life. 
Inspired by that encounter, I wanted to introduce this amazing creature—whose scientific name is Physalia physalis—to children. (Can you see why I named my protagonist Phyllis?) But after writing the story’s text and beginning to work on illustrations for the book, I struggled to create a representation of Phyllis that I thought would appeal to children. So, I made Phyllis a more common and recognizable animal: a jellyfish. She looks much cuter and cuddlier than my original portrayal of a Portuguese man-of-war. But this holds true: NEVER! EVER! touch a jellyfish, unless you have learned to do so safely and have good reason to.



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

I hope readers will view home as a place of safety and recognize that at the heart of a healthy home are the family and friends who love and care for us. We’re not meant to navigate life alone. Even as we pursue independence, adventure, and personal success, we thrive when surrounded by genuine kindness and love.

You wrote and illustrated the book. What was the most difficult part of creating your book?

Illustrating Phyllis Floats was an amazing experience, but because I don’t consider myself an artist, I found illustrating much harder than writing the text. I used an online resource, Canva, and graphically created each page to best represent my vision for the story. Learning to use Canva’s tools and comply with licensing took commitment on my part to get things right, but I could not have gotten the project done before my self-imposed deadline if I had tried to use any other platform. Also, by illustrating the book myself, I had opportunities to identify places in my text where word choice needed to be stronger and more succinct. I found that difficulties in illustrating resulted in better writing.

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

Marketing started with a post to my Facebook author page and sharing that post with friends on my personal page. Most of my sales have originated from that post, which tells me that I have the best friends and family. They’ve been excited and supportive, and I’m extremely grateful.
I’ve also shared on LinkedIn and Twitter, purchased a page in SCBWI’s BookStop, and participated in an author signing event during a holiday sale at my sister’s store. I’m currently trying to get libraries to accept Phyllis Floats and would like to distribute the book to select teachers in local schools. Eventually, I may make the book available on Amazon, Ingram Spark, and Lulu. But first, I’d like to offer the books to gift shops in Florida, where the ocean-themed book may spark interest among beachgoers. Marketing and distribution are extremely time-consuming and since publishing the book, I’ve not had enough time to do all that I would like. I’ll be following up on my plans for quite some time.

Books are available for purchase online through my publishing company Telltale Heart Publishing LLC and in store in Allen, Michigan at my sister's business, Hog Creek Antique Mall.

What's next for you?

I truly feel blessed to have the opportunity to do what I love, but the solitary act of writing takes me away from family and friends for long periods of time. I look forward to a brief hiatus from writing so I can celebrate Christmas with my loved ones and worship and praise God for all He has provided.
As the new year approaches, I’ll continue promoting Phyllis Floats while working on another fictional story that combines my love for golf with my love for nature. The undone manuscript is currently too long for a picture book format, so I would like to break the story into multiple books and create a series. It’s hard to focus on only this one project and see it through to completion. The other ideas I have are vying for my attention, but getting the series off and running is my goal for 2024.

More about the book . . .

Phyllis is a young, adventurous jellyfish who floats away from her ocean home to visit a beach, forbidden to her by her parents. Turtle, Pelican, and Octopus each tell Phyllis, “Don’t go!” but Phyllis ignores all advice and warnings. She is pushed by Wind toward new sounds, sights, and smells and has fun exploring until a lifeguard sees her and alerts beachgoers. People flee from Phyllis. She feels unwelcome and sad and asks Wind to push her home. But Wind is gone, and the ocean current carries Phyllis dangerously close to shore. Phyllis grabs onto seaweed to keep her in place, but the seaweed is not anchored. It is floating toward shore too. Phyllis is in grave trouble, feels lonely and worried, but doesn’t give up. She keeps searching for a way home and stretches toward a sailboat. The boat is too slippery to hold onto, but Phyllis doesn’t give up. She wraps her tentacles around the rudder and steers the boat in the direction of home. Even when hunger tempts her to let go and eat, Phyllis holds tightly to the rudder. She remains determined to hold on and navigate home. When she finds it, she relaxes, floats back among family and friends, and is surrounded by love.

Publisher: Telltale Heart Publishing LLC

More about the author . . . 

Kelly Bixby writes to inspire and entertain generations of readers. She is the author and illustrator of the fictional picture book, Phyllis Floats. Kelly is also cofounder of Remembering Janet—a nonprofit charitable organization; a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators; an entrepreneur; webmaster; blogger; publisher, and a grandma. She and her husband hail from Michigan (Go Blue!) where their four children and many other family members live too. Seasonally, Kelly soaks in the sunshine and blue skies of Florida. Her pastimes include golfing, biking, traveling, snorkeling, and playing Euchre—all of which are sweeter when shared with family and friends. Above all, Kelly loves God, studies His Word, and knows her way home.

Kelly is on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and

Friday, December 15, 2023

Writer Spotlight: Audrey Glassman Vernick

Gross assumptions, The Morning Glory War, why baseball? and teaming up with Liz: MG and PB writer Audrey Vernick

Charlie Barshaw coordinates our regular Writer Spotlight feature and interviews writers of SCBWI-MI. In this piece, meet 2013 Conference co-presenter who's gone on to write amazing things, Audrey Glassman Vernick.

You grew up in Whiteston, NY, with two sisters in the Glassman family. In the bio you take pains to describe a pet as being “a not very bright small white dog”. Surely this intellectually-challenged-but-with-redeeming-qualities canine tunneled into some of your stories?

There are dogs in my books, but none based on him. The most famous example of his intellect: he routinely hid under a glass table.·

Let’s deal with the buffalo in the room: you are height-challenged. Apparently, your school lined up kids by height, and you were always toward the front. What was your childhood like, always being the short one? You’ve absolutely overcome that bump in the road. When and where did you find your “tall” attitude?

Well, Charlie, you have fallen victim to a gross assumption right here. I was not always the short one as a child. In fourth grade, I was just about the height I am now, and in the taller half of girls in my class. Also, I always felt large and awkward because my two older sisters are tiny little dolls.

Audrey Vernick

What influenced young Audrey to write children's books?

There was a dearth of Audrey-aged kids in my neighborhood--my older sisters were blessed with so many on-the-block friends. 

I tended to find my friends in the pages of my books when I was very young. I still think of Louise Fitzhugh's Harriet and Vicky and Martha from Ursula Nordstrom's The Secret Language and Jane Langton's Grace Jones as the kids I grew up with.

What was it like, what were you like, when you first broke into the book writing business?

I was so stubborn. I believed so strongly in my first children's book, co-written with my sister, and was so deeply frustrated by all the rejections (26). 

I had started my writing life with literary short fiction, occasionally published in literary magazines no one had ever heard of, so I knew my way around rejection. 

There's a seven-year learning curve in my publication history--2003, then nothing until 2010. And then at least one book a year--I was frustrated and stubborn as hell while grudgingly admitting I had a lot to learn. 

My hunger for getting my books published was acute--I keenly empathize with writers at that earliest stage, when you feel like you just need that first break to get you going.

What is the story of the book you finished with your sister that started your writing career. Was it something your writer Mom had started?

Halloween 1967
Says Audrey, I'm the littlest one (but currently the tallest
of the three sisters on the right), 

You have conflated two things--but still, what a good memory!

Before she died, my mother had had her first novel, a middle-grade, accepted for publication by Dutton. With my family's help, I did all the revision editing prior to publication of The Morning Glory War.

My sister Ellen Gidaro and I wrote an unrelated-to-that picture book, Bark and Tim: A True Story of Friendship.

Water Balloon was your first mid-grade novel. You had a few picture book titles out then, too, so you were lucky enough to qualify for our 2013 SCBWI-MI writing retreat. (I won a what?) Which books had you published by 2013, and what do you remember about the book-selling process ten years ago?

I had published Brothers at Bat, She Loved Baseball, Is Your Buffalo Ready for Kindergarten?, Teach Your Buffalo to Play Drums, So You Want to be a Rock Star. My sense of the book-selling process is that it’s always hard in different ways. And that luck plays a bigger role than you’d think.

In 2013, were you already doing school visits? Those who’ve done them know the students can be the toughest audience you’ll ever face. Next toughest, 40 hungry children’s book writers? How were your presentation skills in 2013?

I was doing visits then, but I have a feeling that I wasn’t doing great ones—or at least not ones I was confident in. That confidence, and the ability to do it better, has developed over time. I think I still got scared before presenting in 2013 and I rarely do now. One thing I’ve learned—which should have been obvious—is that I’m only a nervous presenter if I don’t fully know/understand the subject matter. When I’m talking about my own process, books, etc.—that’s easy stuff these days.

school visit Audrey in action

School visits, if you’re like us, are a major way for an author to earn money and sell books. Do you travel a lot, or do you take gigs closer to home? Are there busy times and slow? Do you ever turn down appearances? How do you handle the school visit part to being an author?

I was traveling a lot more before the pandemic—visits in more than a dozen states. Thankfully, New Jersey is bigger than it looks and many elementary schools here have long histories of bringing in authors and plan to continue that tradition. These are volatile times and I know author-visit numbers are declining, but I feel lucky to live in a state that, so far, has been less inclined to succumb to the kind of societal pressure that keeps some schools from engaging with authors.

You've written a number of books about baseball: forgotten heroes, women players, even a family of baseball players. But, why baseball?

I've learned that I'm very inarticulate at explaining why I like anything, including pizza, ice cream, soft pretzels, etc. But I can say that there are many reasons, including genetics (my dad played in high school, college and in the Army during the Korean War).

And some legendary stories--my dad was a Yankees fan as a child and his dad rooted for the Cubs. As you can imagine, his dad was baseball-depressed because his team was not a winner, to word it generously. So my dad suggested they switch--my dad would root for the Cubs and his dad could have the Yankees. 

To this day (my dad is 92), he kept up his end of the deal, and one of the greatest things ever is that my sisters and I brought him to a World Series game at Wrigley Field in 2016. That was one spectacular event, even though they lost (it was the last one they lost in that series).

Add to that the fact that baseball is a sport filled with the best kinds of stories...there's really no end to them. And that's about the best explanation I can offer.

Baseball has been very, very good for you, and you for it. You’ve got a library shelf full of books about the lesser-known luminaries of America’s Pastime. Have you ever considered doing a book about writing your baseball books, and what it took to create them? Can you tell us a story behind the story?

I cannot imagine a person who would want to read a book about me writing baseball books, so no. I’ve always loved the stories in baseball, and feel very lucky to have shared some of the lesser-known ones with young readers.

Speaking of baseball, how about them Yankees? As a Tiger’s fan, I know about disappointment, but the Yankees tantalize every spring. And they have, on occasion, wrenched your heart out and then whiffed when trying to hit it out of the infield. So, how about next year?

Audrey and family at a
Yankee's game

Ugh. I keep bragging about all the free time I have now that my team is awful. I don’t watch every game because they make me sad and angry. My husband and son root for the Phillies and I have a lot more free time than they do.

Then you’ve got the picture books with fellow author and agency-mate Liz Garton Scanlon. You two have collaborated on at least four picture books: Bob Not Bob, Dear Substitute, The World’s Best Class Plant, and Five Minutes: (That’s A Lot of Time) (No, It’s Not) (Yes It Is). Ruth and I have tried to collaborate, with no success. How do you and Liz do it, again and again?

I think the key to our success is magic. (And there are two more in the pipeline: Homesick, with Neal Porter Books, and The Family Tree with Beach Lane Books, coming out in a couple of years.)

Audrey and Liz

Actually, we really do believe that the way we stumbled into creating manuscripts together works really well. One of us starts, and at some point—after a few lines, after a page—sends it to the other. We do not track changes. When the manuscript is with me, I can cut anything, add anything—it is mine, until I send it back, and then it is Liz’s. It really does work like magic for us.

And your hilarious book titles, like Take Your Octopus to School Day, and I won a What?, and Is Your Buffalo Ready for Kindergarten?, and Edgar’s Second Word. Humor is your not-so-secret weapon. Asking for a friend, how do you do it, come up with a ton of fun picture books that get published?

Lately I feel like my true talent is coming up with a ton of fun picture books that don’t get published. When I think of my writing life—the challenges, the growth—I am aware that voice was my starting point. I’m often told by writer friends as well as casual readers that when they read my books, they absolutely hear my voice. And I think the humor’s a lucky built-into-voice piece for me.

On top of that, you’ve continued to write middle grade novels, like Water Balloon and (my personal favorite) Screaming at the Ump, Two Naomis and Naomis Too (with Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich) and your latest, After the Worst Thing Happens. How do you pivot from punchy picture book prose to heart-tugging yet humorous mid-grade language?

I don’t think I’m writing middle-grades anymore. They don’t come as naturally—I think I have a picture-book brain that I stubbornly forced to work on longer works. Maybe I exorcized that demon.

What’s next for Audrey Venick?

I have three books in the pipeline—the two with Liz I mentioned, and When I Redraw the World, with Random House Studio. I haven’t had a ton of luck in these pandemic and post-pandemic years—I had three books come out in the pandemic and they sank. And it’s been hard to sell new manuscripts. I’ll keep writing, of course, but it’s frustrating.

So what’s next for Audrey Vernick is more frustration, most likely.

Please share any social media links:

@yourbuffalo on twitter

audrey_vernick on Instagram,

Audrey Glassman Vernick on facebook

Friday, December 8, 2023

Off the Beaten Path Illustrator Retreat by Jen Boehler

October 20th brought unseasonably late peak color to northern Michigan - so perfectly timed, driving through it could be described as delightfully distracting.  This day also brought 8 mostly unacquainted illustrators scattered across the state (plus one Hoosier!) to a charming log cabin tucked in the Tustin woods to connect over art, community, and children’s literature.  As we all arrived, the welcoming nature of a babbling nearby brook, canopied trail, and logs stacked by the wood stove were surpassed only by the warmth of our company.  It was going to be an unforgettable fall retreat.  

After our initial hellos and a stroll down the wooded trail, our kitchen was put to work, with food flowing out almost continuously over the next two days.  We got acquainted with minimal trepidation and lots of laughter (and flannel and knits and slippers) over dinner.  As the next few hours flew by, we ended our first evening on the floor, wood stove blazing, eagerly passing piles of children’s books around to share our favorites.  It only ended because one of us prompted the group with shock to “look at the time.”  We had a busy schedule the next day.

After breakfast, all 8 of us piled into one vehicle to make the 20 minute trek to neighboring Cadillac for a library talk.  The beautiful fall color made an appearance again with clear skies and plenty of oohs and aahs emanating from our packed car.  Our host at the library graciously shared book after book - her favorites, kids’ favorites and parents’ favorites.  It was refreshing to hear what our target audience loves to read, and encouraging to know there is a place for each of us out there in the publishing world.  We all walked out with knowledge, insight, and an “I can do this” spirit.

The second activity of the day introduced us to Sierra LaRose of Bear Earth Herbals, a forager living closely with the land to educate, create products, and keep the ancient tradition of herbalism alive.  Sierra tailored a workshop specifically to our group based on utilizing our senses to view nature through a fresh lens.  We tasted and analyzed an herbal brew, deconstructed overlooked features of a single stem wildflower, and wrote correspondence to a plant (then crafted a response from the plant in return).  We learned about the plethora of medicinal value held by the trees and weeds just outside our cabin door, arming us with an arsenal of plant-powered takeaways to battle a multitude of ailments.

Our second night was much the same as the first, only this time with a portfolio share after dinner.  Gathered around the fire and munching on lemon semolina cake, we learned about each other’s accomplishments, skills, and goals. We asked for advice and offered it as needed, ending the night only, again, because of the time.   

This glorious weekend that brought together illustrators spanning 4 decades in age and a vast range of experience sadly had to come to an end the following day.  Though we left with fresh creative energy and picture book insight, perhaps the most cherished takeaway were the new friendships formed.  As perfectly stated by attendee Nicole Ray, “We started out as strangers but by the end were laughing and teasing and talking over each other in the best possible way.”  Until next time, friends.

Jen Boehler, Michigan Co-Illustrator Coordinator, is an illustrator, graphic designer and author working on a hobby farm in Saginaw, Michigan. Before pursuing children’s literature, Jen worked as a freelance editorial illustrator, graphic designer, interior/event designer and owned her own line of Michigan travel apparel. She has degrees in both art/graphic design and interior design.

Friday, December 1, 2023

Book Birthday Blog with Rachel Anderson



Welcome to SCBWI-MI's Book Birthday Blog!

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


Congratulations to Rachel Anderson on the release of Lagatha's Curse


Please share a little about the book's journey. How did you come up with the idea?

The idea came to me way back in 1990 or so, and I played around with it. I created a timeline and worked to fill in details of where the story would go and who would be the main players. I picked up the manuscript many times over the years, wrote until I liked that version better than the others, and then put it away again whenever I received a mediocre review or a touchy critique. This year, my editor asked me to pull it out again and work on tightening the story, because she believed in the story and thought it was a great manuscript.

What was the most difficult part of writing the book? 

Pulling together various versions from over the years was the hardest part, and then renaming all my characters so they fit together. I’d been challenged with that in the past. Also, I chose the mountains to be Easth and Westh, even though I know some people may have an issue with that…but I love the names.  And then the revision stage is always challenging, but always makes the book stronger. Sometimes I love revisions; sometimes I don’t, but I know it’s a very important part of writing/finishing the book.

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

I’d like them to know that when things go bad, or people treat you wrong, hold on. You were made for a special purpose in this lifetime. Like Dantel, he didn’t know he was going to fight an evil person and break a curse that had been cast over their village years in the past. But he knew what he was capable of, and he knew that he was picked to do something big, as was Letha. So, I’d like the takeaway to be this: know who you are and seek out the role you were created for.

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

I’m planning to set up a number of book signings between December 1 and May 1, locally and within Michigan’s boundaries. My website is being updated. Lagatha’s Curse is available today in both eBook and paperback on Amazon. It's also available in paperback at and other on-line booksellers. Note: Your local independent booksellers can order the book for you. Ask them! And perhaps they'll add Lagatha's Curse to their inventory.

What's next for you? 

Over the winter, I’ll be brainstorming ideas for my 2nd middle grade novel, A Dog Dilemma. My first MG novel, The Puppy Predicament, was a great hit with kids ages 8 – 12. Some of the kids are asking me when the next book will come out. I also want to work on a couple of picture books which have been on the back burner. I’m hoping to breathe life into them and send out some queries.

More about the book . . .

Summer is ending, and winter will rule the land. In Lagatha’s Curse, an ancient tree, Shashra, separates two cursed tribes by summer and winter. When seventeen-year-old Dantel, of the summer Lagaths, crosses the river to explore the forbidden mountain, he finds a red stone on a woven cord. The stone burns him, which ignites a passion to find out what it is, and who it belongs to. He eventually comes face-to-face with a girl from the winter Lagaths. She comes for the stone, for it is her life force. Dantel is compelled to save her life. Together, they uncover answers about their two tribes and the curse that binds them all. Determined to end the curse and bring their tribes together, the duo venture into the unknown, as they learn of a powerful enchanter who controls Shashra. To free their tribes, they must travel to Shashra and confront Rulyen, the evil enchanter holding the strings. Their mission is difficult, and their options are few. Will they prevail, or will the evil Rulyen have the last word?

Publisher: Late November Literary

More about the author . . .

Rachel Anderson grew up on a farm in rural Michigan and now lives in Gaylord, Michigan. On the farm they had cows, horses, pigs, chickens, a dog named Queenie, and many cats and kittens. And that is one reason she loves to include animals in her stories. She is married to Craig, and they have two daughters, one son-in-law, and one grandson. She enjoys spending time with family and friends. One tradition she holds to dearly is hosting a gingerbread house decorating party in late Nov/early Dec.  Rachel likes to volunteer in the community and at her church. She has been a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators for many years, having served on the advisory committee and a year as co-regional advisor with SCBWI-MI. She writes picture books, middle-grade, and YA. This is her second published novel.