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In This Issue
Hugs and Hurrahs
What is Beth Fleisher Looking For?
"Name That Newsletter" Contest
Jay Asher Rocks!
Slow and Steady Wins the Race
12-3/4 Ways to Tickle Young Readers' Funny Bones
Why Do They Get to Break the Rules?
Agent Beth Fleisher: Seeker of Voice and Vision (and Decent Grammar)
Kiddie Litter
Quick Links

Regional Co-Advisor:
Monica Harris

Regional Co-Advisor:
Leslie Helakoski

Newsletter Editor:
Jennifer Whistler

Opportunities Column Editor:
Linda Dimmer

Newsletter Subscriptions:
Kristin Lenz

Volunteer Coordinator:
Monica Harris

To subscribe to the SCBWI-MI Newsletter, contact:

Kristin Lenz
1013 N. Pleasant
Royal Oak, MI 48067

or email her here.

SCBWI-MI newsletter subscriptions are $10 for one calendar year ($15 for non-members). 
Copyright by Dana Atnip
Storytime dragon


In March, The Gotham Writer's Workshop announced that Kathy Higgs Coulthard placed sixth in their YA Novel Discovery Contest with her novel Chicken Soup for the Outcast Soul. I'd say this makes you part of the in-crowd, Kathy!

Pearson Education, Inc., reprinted Neal Levin's "Baby Ate a Microchip" poem (previously published in Rolling in the Aisles, from Meadowbrook) in their "Writing Coach" writing and grammar program in April.  In addition, Neal's short story Slam Dunk! (previously published in My Friend Magazine) was reprinted in a book of short stories called Family Ties (Pauline Books & Media) in May. What a sport, Neal!

Jack and Jill magazine bought Monica Harris's fall-themed deciphering riddle, "Pumpkin Patch Code" for an upcoming issue. Her story Mouse and Creature will appear in a future issue of Humpty Dumpty. Sounds like you'll have a great fall, Monica!


Joan Donaldson's novel On Viney's Mountain was selected for the Banks Street Best Books of 2010. In addition, the state of Tennessee has chosen Viney as its representative in the Pavilion of States at the National Book Festival, sponsored by the Library of Congress. Way to represent, Joan. Word!

Writer's Digest chose Sue Ann Culp's full-length dramatic play The Lies That Bind as one of the top 100 winners of its 2009 Writer's Digest National Writing Competition, in the playwriting category. But it's not a lie to say that this calls for a standing ovation.


Former Michigan member Harry Levine III recently had his biography The Great Explainer: The Story of Richard Feynman published by Morgan Reynolds last November. Need we explain that this is great news?


Janet Heller will have her poem "Picking Raspberries" published in the winter issue of Wisconsin People & Ideas. A delicious achievement, indeed.

(Please note: Events are not necessarily sponsored or endorsed by SCBWI-MI. We try our best to list only high-quality events through reputable sources. Please confirm all information with the event organizers whenever possible.)

August 3

Jean Alicia Elster, author of Who's Jim Hines, will participate in an author/illustrator panel at the combined Wildly Exciting/Celebrate Literacy Conference for teachers and librarians in the Eberhard Center at Grand Valley State University in downtown Grand Rapids, MI. The discussion will be from 2:45-4 p.m., followed by a reception and book signing from 4-5 p.m.
August 7
Jean Alicia Elster, will sell and sign copies of Who's Jim Hines? as well as her Joe Joe in the City series at the 2nd Annual Reading Festival located in downtown Rockford, MI, in the Garden Park at the picturesque Rogue River Dam, from 10 a.m.-3 p.m.
August 15
Shutta Crum invites you to her Ninth Annual Summer Schmooze for writers and illustrators of children's books. You do not have to be an SCBWI member to attend. If you have a friend interested in writing for kids, please bring him or her along. The schmooze will be held in the playhouse from 2-5 p.m.
What to bring: your sense of playfulness, a munchie to pass (beverages provided), anything you want to share (an f & g, art, new book, announcement, etc.), freebies you'd like to pass on to other writers (writing magazines, books, catalogs, etc.), and LIKE NEW books to donate to the Martin County (KY) Library. Shutta's family supports the library through book donations. Please NO yellowed, ripped, or torn books. RSVP appreciated via email (click here) or phone message 734-996-8457. Contact Shutta for directions.
August 18
Debbie Diesen, author of The Pout-Pout Fish and The Pout-Pout Fish in the Big-Big Dark, will be at The Reading Tree Bookstore in Grand Rapids, MI. The 10 a.m. storytime is geared toward toddlers and preschoolers, and includes stories, songs, and a craft activity.

Here's a sneak peak of Debbie's other storytimes coming up. She'd love to see a friendly face or two! Click here for more details regarding times and locations:
August 20
Orion Township Library in Lake Orion, MI.

September 18
Jonesville District Library in Jonesville, MI.
October 2
Literary Life Bookstore in Grand Rapids, MI

October 16
Barnes & Noble in Grandville, MI.

September 12
Eighth Annual Kerrytown Book Fest in Ann Arbor, MI. Some of the speakers include Ruth McNally Barshaw, Mark Crilley, Debbie Diesen, David Small, and Sarah Stewart, just to name a few. For more details, please click here.

September 18
PerryFest in Perry, MI, is an opportunity for authors, illustrators, and artists to set up a free booth space to display and sell their work. If you have questions, or would like to reserve a space, you can send an e-mail by clicking here; you can call the Perry Library at 517-625-3166; or contact Dori Boertman at Perry City Hall 517-625-6155 ext.235, or
e-mail her here.

October 2

Third Annual Rochester Writers' Conference. Most of the sessions may be geared toward writing for adults but may include universal topics, such as blogging, social media, etc. Check out details, soon to be posted, by clicking here.
October 8-10
SCBWI-MI's Fall 2010 Conference: Fantasy to Reality will be held at the Yarrow Golf & Conference Center in Augusta, MI. The magical theme will continue throughout the weekend. Friday night all are welcome to participate in the fantasy-costumed festivities. Speakers include: Patrick Collins, Art Director at Holt; Darcy Pattison, Author; Cinda Chima, Author; Susan Chang, Editor at Tor Books; Crystal Bowman, Author; and Amy Lennex, Sleeping Bear Press Editor. More details are online at If you have any questions, please contact conference coordinators Randy Bulla by clicking here, or Leslie Helakoski by clicking here.
Shenanigan Books (84 River Road, Summit, NJ 07901) is looking for multicultural, fantasy, and humorous books. They focus on producing unique picture, craft, and board books for ages preschool through third grade. Its founder, illustrator/author, Mary Watson, hand selects books that capture the imagination and make bedtime reading a treasured family tradition. Manuscript submissions accepted by email ONLY by clicking here. Please include a brief author biography, book synopsis and contact information with your submission. Illustration Submissions: Artists should send a resume as well as color copies, tear sheets, and/or CD/DVD portfolios (no original art). Send art via snail mail at the above address. Click here to visit their website for more details.

Cobblestone is interested in articles of historical accuracy and lively, original approaches to the subject. The magazine is aimed at children ages 9-14. Please do not send unsolicited manuscripts--queries only! Please click here for more details.
Nature Friend Magazine (4253 Woodcock Lane, Dayton, VA 22821) is a creation-based, monthly nature magazine for children that the whole family will enjoy. Current needs include science projects for ages 8-12, conversational stories for ages 6-8, and photo features of natural phenomenon with detailed captions. Check out their website here.
Bloom Award: Enter the first three chapters of your original YA manuscript by October 31, 2010. Blooming Tree Press will publish the winning manuscript on April 25, 2012. Click here for more details and submission guidelines. Good luck!
Four-year-old agency Folio Literary Management is expanding its presence in the children's book market. Marcy Posner, Emily van Beek, and Molly Jaffa have joined together to launch "Folio Jr.," a list devoted to middle-grade and young adult fiction, as well as selective children's picture books. Click here for more details.
Here's a wonderful blog by Laurie Wallmark called Just the Facts Ma'am: News and Notes for Busy Children's Book Writers. She posts links to conferences, articles, agents' blogs, etc., daily. Check it out here.
Beth Fleisher's genres of choice include:
  • Middle grade and graphic novels
  • Multicultural themes
  • Biographies
  • Mystery
  • Science fiction and fantasy
  • Most of all, non-fiction
Note: Beth has no interest in picture books at this time.

Click here to learn more about Beth's submission guidelines.

Bonus fun facts about Beth: She likes blue nail polish, beads, and helping turtles cross the road. She has twin boys, and her husband writes X Men comics. Yes, really.

"Many people hear voices when no one is there. Some of them are called mad and are shut up in rooms where they stare at the walls all day. Others are called writers and they do pretty much the same thing."

Margaret Chittenden

Copyright by Lori Taylor
Child chickadee
Dear MichKids:

To call this the "Summer" issue of the newsletter is a bit misleading, I admit. After all, you should receive this around August 1, which (for most of us) is only a month away from the absolute worst day of the entire calendar, or the most wonderful time of the year, depending on your perspective: The First Day of School. And as everyone knows, the first day of school signals fall, regardless of what the weather or leaves are doing.

But you actually have seven whole weeks of summer to go, at least according to the calendar. I don't know about you, but I intend to cram in some last minute summer stuff, like a trip to the beach, a trip to Chicago to take an architectural boat tour on the river, a barbecue in my backyard for all the friends we haven't seen because everyone has been too busy, and dead-heading all my flowers (and no, this has nothing to do with Jerry Garcia).

The most important goal, however, is to finish the latest draft of my novel and finally boot it out the door to an agent. I've got lots of names on my "send" list, all of them culled from presenters at previous conferences, or from talking to other writers at previous conferences. Which brings me to one last item on the summer "To Do" list: register for the fall conference!

You can find all the information you need online at It promises to be yet another fabulous line up of talent and wisdom. But space is limited, so register early!

And last, but by no means least, I'd like to welcome our new Opportunities Column editor, Linda Dimmer. She'll introduce herself in the next issue. Welcome, Linda!

Jennifer Whistler, editor

P.S.  If you update your email with the national chapter of SCBWI, please remember to let our subscription mistress Kristin Lenz know. You can reach her through the Quick Links column on the left.  Don't miss a single issue!
Now that SCBWI-MI has graduated to an online newsletter, we'd like a new name for our old friend. So here is a chance to hone one more writing skill: creating titles.

I used to say, "I hate coming up with titles." But I have eliminated that negativity, and now I say, "Titles are a great challenge!" Are they a challenge for you? Or do they just, sort of, download from the heavens unexpectedly? (If they do, I hate you--oops! That was negative. I find you challenging. Is that better?)

Whatever your skill with titles, send a few along. Our fabulous RAs, Monica and Leslie, swear to make it worth your while with a mystery prize.

Send your entries to me by clicking here. Deadline is September 30, 2010. Winner will be announced in the November newsletter. In case of duplicate titles, the winner will be determined by the earliest entry.
by Sarah Perry

Jay Asher really likes Ryan Hipp. Julie Chase just wants in on the action. (Photo courtesy of Monica Harris)
Asher Hipp Chase
Weeks prior to the spring conference, I spent my time floating on a cloud.  Jay Asher had been assigned to critique the first chapter of my YA novel.  The same Jay Asher whose own YA novel was on the New York Times bestseller list. I had hit the critique jackpot, so why did I find myself sweating more heavily as I drove closer to Lansing?

Jay gave an amazing keynote speech to start off the morning.  He talked about his own 12-year journey to publication.  It had taken me five years just to complete my first draft.  At 12 years, he was probably better off than me! 

He told us about the wonderful opportunities he took advantage of by attending SCBWI's annual conference, something I'm going to do for the first time this summer.  I took each word to heart.  He was upbeat, clearly humble, and very cool. And did I mention he had read my first chapter? The sweat began to seep from my pores every time I imagined what comments he had already written on my chapter. But I stayed optimistic.

I found myself in the hallway, 30 minutes early, waiting for my turn in the critique room.  I sincerely hoped I wasn't developing underarm stains from all the nervous sweating, which had begun anew.

When I finally entered the room, Jay smiled and immediately put me at ease.  I saw that my paper had lots of marks on it, but the words Jay spoke were quite complimentary. We talked about where I was heading with my novel, and he seemed genuinely excited about it.  He asked great questions about whether two of my characters should become one and whether I should include just a bit more setting description.  He even told me my idea was very marketable.  I could have danced across the room!  A New York Times bestselling author thinks my novel is marketable! Unless I'd been handed a book deal on the spot, my critique could not have gone better.

I am still buoyed by the energy of the conference and my awesome critique. Even though revision is slow going, and often painful, I know I've got my SCBWI family in my corner, and yes, even Jay Asher.

If you happen to run into Sarah at an upcoming conference, never fear: her underarms are dry once again.

Copyright by Nancy Walker
Koi pond

By Buffy Silverman

Photo Courtesy of Linda Dimmer
Lisa Yoskowitz 2
You can pen a children's picture book, right?  After all, you've met or seen a child.  Or at least you've watched a youngster on the Disney Channel, or on MTV.  Scribble a story in ten minutes before you go to bed at night, and you're good to go.

Not so fast, cautioned Lisa Yoskowitz, Assistant Editor at Dutton Books.  She discussed the long, arduous road to publication in her talk, "Slow and Steady Wins the Race" at SCBWI-MI's Spring Conference.

The first step, of course, is to write a complete and polished manuscript. This is not the time to rush, said Yoskowitz.  Your story should be as strong as you can possibly make it before you send it out.

The vast majority of manuscripts that reach an editor's desk are greeted with a no vote.  A few get a maybe: an editor may offer comments and invite the author to revise. And the rare manuscript gets a yes!

What happens next if an editor says yes?  She shares the story with her coworkers, editorial board, and sales and marketing staff.  If others share her enthusiasm, a contract follows.

But the finished book is a long way in the future.  The first editorial letter that an author receives has "big picture" queries.  This letter can be long and daunting.  After the author revises, a shorter letter usually follows, with more big picture questions.  A third letter addresses specific edits.  A fourth letter contains line edits.  Copy edits follow.

An author tells only half the story in a picture book.  It's the editor's job to hire the right illustrator for a story.  The illustrator's art also goes through many rounds of comments as it is transformed from preliminary sketches to final art.  Along the way, the art is checked for consistency in every detail. It can take from two to five years from the time a manuscript is accepted until a finished book is published.

What makes a picture book sell today?  An irresistible character, according to Yoskowitz.  The main characters of best-selling picture book series like Skippyjon Jones and Fancy Nancy are quirky, spunky, and slightly off-center.  They celebrate being unique, and empower the young reader.  They are unusual and original, but realistic in the world of the story.  Write a story with a winning character, and a reader will return to your story over and over again.

Buffy Silverman knows a thing or two about slow and steady. After all, she is the author of over 25 books. She writes, slowly, at her home in Richland, MI.
by Pat Trattles

Photo Courtesy of Linda Dimmer
Donna Gephart
Donna Gephardt, author of the award winning book As If Being 12 Isn't Bad Enough, My Mother is Running For President and the equally hilarious How To Survive Middle School, which went into its second printing within one week of its release, shared her secrets on how to write humor at the SCBWI-MI Spring Conference.

Donna began by giving us a quick breakdown of age-appropriate humor. For the very young, think opposites. For early elementary, potty humor and word play work well. Middle grade readers can handle complete humor; humor that evolves naturally from characters, quirks, and situations. Finally, the young adult reader finds hilarity in sarcasm, irony, and subtle complexities.   

Now onto the 12 ways:

1. Take risks: Donna illustrated this point by donning a sparkly pair of over-sized sunglasses.

2. Tell human truths: Combine human truths and heartbreak in a funny way. Mixing heartbreak with humor makes the human truth more palatable.

3. Mine your embarrassment: Think of your most embarrassing moments from your school years and see if you can use them somehow in your writing. Always remember, however, embarrassment is funny, humiliation is not.

4. Surprise your reader: Endings should always provide a satisfactory, promised resolution, but in an unexpected way. As an example, Donna used a story about a monster, who at the end of the book turned out to be the reader. Remember to use the rule of three: two things and a zinger. Always strive for the unexpected. Brainstorm a list of possibilities and don't take the first one.

5. Give your character quirks: Quirks helps create empathy, affection, and humor. You can also give your character unusual hobbies, collections, family, friends, etc. Donna used Walter the Farting Dog as an example.

6. Create funny situations: Make the character uncomfortable. Add a couple of difficult or unusual situations or opposite personalities.

7. Use creative formats: This can be either the structure for the whole book, or sprinkled throughout. Diary entries, lists, poems, math problems, a section of the newspaper, all create white space and make the writing more comfortable, especially for emergent readers. Story still comes first. The creative format makes it more fun.

8. Pay attention to the sound of language: This is  especially important in books that will be read aloud repeatedly. Some sounds are funny, like the "K" sound.  Chicken, cookie, and pickle are funny sounding words.  Roast beef, green beans and pie are not. Also, take advantage of alliteration and rhyming, like in Fancy Nancy.

9. Be specific: This is especially important when using details. A "flopping flounder", for example is funnier than "fish," or "12 ways" is funnier than "a lot of ways."  "I hate cherry tomatoes, celery sticks, bean sprouts and the weird frizzy lettuce" is funnier than "I hate salad." In A Crooked Kind of Perfect, the dad didn't just bring home an organ, but he bought a Perfectone D-60. Details make all the difference.

10. Use exaggeration and understatement:  Both are excellent tools in your humor writing toolbox. Tall tales are good examples of exaggeration. Referring to a tropical breeze as a hurricane is another. Or turn it around and refer to a hurricane as a tropical breeze for an example of classic understatement.

11. Don't forget nonsense and silliness: Jon Scieszka is a master at nonsense as evidenced by this line from Math Curse: "Does tuna fish + tuna fish = fourna fish?"

12. Hand out funny names, professions, or hobbies: How about Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle or Joey Pigza? Look in playbills, obituaries, even phone books to get funny names. When you hear of an odd profession, write it down. In How to Survive Middle School, for example, the mother leaves home to live on an organic beet farm. Or how about Orphelia Wren as a great name for an exotic bird watcher?

Finally, 12 : Don't try to be funny: Forced humor is no fun for anyone. Aim to amuse and entertain an audience of one: yourself!

Pat Trattles tries to maintain her sense of humor while she writes. 

by Jennifer Whistler

Rebels Jim Tobin and Dave Coverly (Photo Courtesy of Linda Dimmer)
Tobin Coverly
It never fails. You figure out all the "supposed to's" and "have to's" and "ought to's," and then someone comes along and shatters all the illusions of how real writers and illustrators behave. Jim Tobin and Dave Coverly are two such people, and I have a feeling they confused a lot of audience members at the beginning of their Spring Conference presentation.

You see, the author-illustrator duo admitted that they broke one of the cardinal rules of the picture book world: they submitted the text and illustrations together. [Insert audible GASP!! from audience here.]

But, but...wait! At every conference I attend, someone--an agent, editor, art director--tells us never, ever, in a million years, do such a bone-headed thing. After all, they say, what if the story is perfection, but the illustrations are awful? Or what if the illustrations are truly sublime, and the text beats you over the head like a ball peen hammer? Do you really want to take the risk of being rejected because your "partner" was, shall we say, sucky?

Well, no, of course you don't. So why did Coverly and Tobin do it? And more importantly, why did they get away with it? For one very simple reason: they are professionals.

It really is that simple. They are both successful talents in their field. Jim is an award-winning author, journalist, and university professor. Dave is an award-winning cartoonist who did his undergraduate and graduate work in creative writing. They know editors personally and have the connections necessary to make a project like this work. But  more importantly, they know what they are doing when it comes to writing and illustrating. They have done their homework, toiled over rewrites and artwork, and learned that children's lit is a difficult business.

So while it may seem as if the pair stumbled into a book contract without knowing their elbows from the business end of a quill, don't be fooled. They knew exactly what they were doing.


Jennifer is really good at breaking rules. She hopes that one day, an editor will realize this is actually a good thing.


by Vicky Lorencen

Beth Fleisher has been in "the biz" for 27 years. It's only been within the last year or so, however, that she has applied her wealth of publishing knowledge to the role of agent with Barry Goldblatt Literary, based in Brooklyn, New York.

"I am interested in building an author's career, over the long term, with dedication and commitment," Beth said at our Spring Conference. "I am not interested in the 'flavor of the month,' but in an author who has a unique voice and vision, and who is able to bring that into focus clearly and directly on the page. I am looking for a children's author who can do that very hard thing of making the child come to life through their words, with all the rich emotional life of the child."

In her break out session, "Setting: The Overlooked Component to Great Story Telling," Beth shared, "I feel very strongly that books must be set in a definite time and place, and not in a generic tone, setting, or characters."

Beth likened setting to the soul of the book. "It's the unspoken part that gives a story substance. Setting builds atmosphere and advances the plot while serving the book. To me, it's what makes a book memorable and special. Setting gives your characters a place to start."

A carefully crafted setting can sweep the reader away to another world, she explained, but only if it's told in an authentic voice. "Find your voice, hone your voice," Beth insisted, "and submit material that is true to your voice and vision."

Finally, Beth added some practical advice for authors of all genres: "It does help to use Spell Check and follow common English grammar. Really."

Vicky Lorencen practices very good grammar at her home in Jackson.

Editor's Note: Check out the sidebar in the left column for specifics on what kinds of submissions Beth is accepting.
by Neal Levin
Copyright by Neal Levin
dish spoon spork