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Fall 2011


The Mitten

Dear MichKids,

Anyone ever watched that reality show about hoarders, people who somehow let their lives become so overwhelming that they risk literally being buried alive by their belongings, or in some cases, trash?  


I admit, I watch it. A lot. It's an absolute train wreck, yet I can't tear myself away. I'm not sure why I am so fascinated by it. Perhaps because my grandmother, a Depression era child, was a bit of a hoarder, keeping useless things like Styrofoam meat trays or coupons that expired in the '70s. The show gives me a bit of a glimpse inside her psyche.  


But there is another reason I watch it: it keeps me motivated. Every time an episode ends, I launch into purge mode. No way am I going to let this happen to me. Clear out the clutter. Move away the mess.  


Now, some people might think this is merely a distraction from what I should be doing. But it actually helps me to focus while I have Butt In Chair (BIC). My files are organized, so I can find my notes. My desk is organized, so I can spread the notes out. My bookshelf is organized, so I can grab that copy of Self Editing for Fiction Writers without even looking up.  


One of the bits of advice we hear at conferences again and again is that in order to call yourself a writer, you actually have to write. Let the laundry pile up. Let the dishes soak. Let the machine answer the phone. Put that Butt in Chair and do it. And I agree. But I also think you have to be in the moment in order to write your best. And nothing ruins my Zen like disorder.  


Maybe you aren't a neat freak. Maybe you need your cup of green tea and sunlight. Maybe you need classical music that is barely audible in the background. Maybe you need the cat on the desk, her furry tail twitching across the keyboard. Whatever it is, accept that certain rituals help you find your Zen, and then embrace them. Make them big. Make them work for you. Once you start brewing that tea, you are already starting the writing process, even before you get to BIC.  



Zenfully yours,

Jennifer Whistler


Levin Medusa

Kiddie Litter by Neal Levin


In This Issue
Rewards and Talismans: Making Your Efforts Real
How Do You Reward Yourself?
Author Interview with Vicky Alvear Shecter
Book Review: Cleopatra's Moon
Fall Conference Wrap Up
Call for Art and Articles
Winter Conference Scholarship Winner Announced
2012 Novel Mentorship Winner Announced
March Critique Meet
Fall Conference Fundraiser a Success
Ask Frida Pennabook
Spring Conference is Coming!
Hugs and Hurrahs
Quick Links


Regional Co-Advisor: Monica Harris

Regional Co-Advisor:
Leslie Helakoski

Newsletter Editor:   

Jennifer Whistler

Hugs and Hurrahs & Opportunities Columns Editor:

Linda Dimmer

"Ask Frida Pennabook"

Volunteer Coordinator:

Monica Harris

How Our Members Reward Themselves

Wondering what this list is all about? Read this issue's lead article, by Elizabeth McBride, about the need to reward ourselves, and then read the results of the survey Beth took of our chapter. Here's how 
we reward ourselves, in order of popularity:

*Dinner out

*Nature walks/runs

*Chocolate, sundae,  


*Self-care: manicures,  

   pedicures, massage

*New book

*Writing supplies

*Sharing the news

*Family trip

*Begin the next project

*Frame published  

   artwork or check

*Attend a conference

*Buy writing career  


*Spend time with  


*Writing retreat

*TV or movie time

*Breakfast or lunch out


*Home improvements


*Carriage drive with a  


Beth McBride
Beth McBride
Making Your Efforts "Real"

by Elizabeth McBride  


Starving artist? No thanks. I've noticed that life seems to come around once, and despite my love of writing, I prefer to forego needless suffering. My mirror is the best proof of this, but I've also decided that positive motivation, encouragement, and rewards beat threats, anxiety, worn grindstones and battered chairs any day!


As writers and artists, our work is done alone, often after doing everything else with everyone else in order to meet their needs first. We fit our closest held work and dreams into the crevices between our other commitments. Many times we live out our public hours doing and being something other than the artists that we are, in order to make financial ends meet. It is no wonder we feel unrecognized, unsure of ourselves, and discouraged by the world's lack of response to our dreams. They may be so well hidden from view that even we haven't clarified them for ourselves!


If we are going to take part in making our dreams come true, we need to know what we are waiting for and see where our efforts can most easily make a difference. Make a list. After all, watching and waiting for life to hand out joy just the way you hope it will arrive, is like closing your eyes in the ice cream shop, refusing to point, and hoping you'll get your favorite flavor.


What would it be like to live your dream of an artist's life? What stops us from living as the writers and artists that we want to be? Most of the time, we are our own first hurdles. 


Are you waiting for some outside authorization, the validation of a contract, a certain length of time on the bestseller list, a specific number of titles in print, or illustrations sold? So ask yourself: What stops you from believing in the artist and writer that you already are? 


"How we are limited by the poverty of our dreams!" writes Carolyn See in Making a Literary Life."If you can't really believe you're a writer [artist], why not pretend you're one?...If you were a writer, what would you have?... You're creating a world of icons and talismans. Anything that you can do to pretend to be a writer [artist]--do it," she says. 


I can't live at the beach and listen to the waves while I work, but I did fashion a small fountain out of a big flowerpot outside, and when I sit near the sliding door to write, I can hear the water splashing. And I don't live in a city with charming and aromatic coffee shops offering empty booths to writers for hours on end. I can go to the Starbucks at our grocery store and pick up a cup of cocoa to bring home and enjoy while I work. Why deprive ourselves of the joys that feed our art, while we go about the tasks of making it? 


We cannot keep reaching into our own well without filling it sometimes. The tension that exists between the lives we lead that enable us to work toward the creative lives we desire could use the relief of encouragement and reward along the way! Perhaps we need to work both ends of our dreams in order to live them into fruition.


When we can, why not participate in the circumstances that facilitate our creativity, our energy, and our successes? In this highly invisible business of creating art through words and images, perhaps we have to be more willing to feed ourselves before the world will be inclined to join us. Go toward your goals, and give yourself the mercy, validation and encouragement to help make the journey as pleasant and rewarding as possible along the way. 


Elizabeth McBride writes children's fiction and non-fiction, poetry, essay, and inspirational literature from her home in Grand Ledge. Her favorite rewards are chocolate, new books, going for walks, a waterside setting for writing--and more chocolate.

A MichKids Survey 

by Elizabeth McBride  


The results are in!  In September, 46 of our members gave us a peek into their writing lives and shared how they motivate themselves and celebrate meeting their goals. Any opportunity to understand what helps us do our best work is helpful, and our thanks go out to all who took the time to enter into this conversation-starter among our group. 


In summary, nearly 72% of our respondents said they reward themselves for their accomplishments and/or progress toward reaching their writing goals. Forty-one percent of those who reward themselves for their writing accomplishments or progress reported doing so based upon the size or difficulty of the task, while 38% said their writing rewards were a matter of serendipity, and almost 12% of the group said they make specific plans to fit rewards into all of their writing efforts.


After meeting daily writing goals of pages, word counts, assignments, deadlines, or revisions, many of our members change their activities or add something pleasurable and/or relaxing to their tasks. Examples are: reading, a run or walk outside, new writing supplies, TV time, or chocolate.  (As a group, we are rather fond of including chocolate in the writing process to keep ourselves moving along!) 


Most commonly, our members cited a nice dinner out with their spouse or family was their planned reward for long hours worked toward specific goals. Larger achievements yielded more distinctive and sometimes delayed rewards such as trips, conferences, and writing getaway weekends. Notably, such larger rewards were usually something that brought additional returns to the receiver's writing career. For example, one member responded, "I like the work and so it is self-motivating. However (my rewards) do help me to keep taking steps forward in trying to get published." Another said, "My rewards are mostly small. I go out to dinner when I finish my first draft, or buy myself a book when I finish an edit. When I sold my first book, I set aside some money to go to New York and meet my editor in person, and that was absolutely worth it! It helped me career-wise and was a heckload of fun too!"


Many of our members write in several genres. Twenty members answered the question regarding which genres are most likely to inspire them to reward themselves. Eleven reported young adult novels would do the trick, followed closely by Picture Books for 10 of us, non-fiction for eight respondents, middle grade novels for six (despite my omission of the category!) and four named adult novels, three listed essays and short stories, and two listed mystery and biography. One respondent summed it up like this: "The harder it is for me, the longer it takes, or the more complex it is, the more likely I am to reward myself.  However, putting together a collection of poetry, or doing the horrific work of sending out my manuscripts to publishers' mercies could generate a reward!" Several members wrote that revision is a stage in the writing process that necessitates rewards for them.


Of the 17 respondents who do not provide their own rewards beyond publication, earnings, and/or speaking engagements, 13 said that the feeling of completion is its own reward for them. Four said that rewards from outside sources are the only ones that would feel satisfying to them, while three commented that they do not need rewards along the way to keep them going. Three people also reported that they would feel foolish or unjustified for rewarding themselves for their work. One commented, "Writing is my reward. It's my treat from the other stresses of life. So after working all day on my business, I reward myself by sitting down to "work" on my manuscript--for, of course, that ultimate reward: publication."  Another member states, "The time spent in my quiet office, away from the rest of the world, is a reward to me, whether I'm writing or doing other writer-type business." Still another member comments, "As an unpublished children's writer, I still need some outside verification for my work. Still difficult to judge what sells.  Also, lacking confidence."   


The group expressed varied thoughts about how they fit rewards into their writing experiences. One member says, "I think this would be a really good and sound psychological theory. Which doesn't explain why I fail to do it. Maybe I need to re-think."  Another says, "Since I write mostly books, it takes a long time for a project to come to fruition.  My last book took three years to make it onto the shelf. So my motivation wanes if I don't reward myself for the milestones along the way."  One member exclaims, "I should reward myself more!!"


Other members commented on the power of rewards as validation of their choices to be writers in a culture that does not always respect such career selections. "Because I have felt that I have earned it at last (despite the lack of book manuscripts published), I have rewarded myself with saying aloud, to other people even, that I am a writer. That has been a great reward."  Another member has a similar view: "My rewards have varied from large to small, from practical to utterly frivolous. It's not so much about the reward as a motivator. For's a bit more about validation. For some reason, it seems to me that people who are writers often have a difficult time voicing that out loud and with conviction. It's as if they fear that people think they have "real" jobs or responsibilities and the writing is viewed as a hobby, something nice to dabble in. My rewards system, as sporadic and unpredictable as it may be, goes a long way toward reminding me that I alone can define what I mean by proclaiming myself 'a writer.'"


As a group, we love what we do. We want to do more and do it all better. By and large, we reward ourselves in order to meet our goals rather than escape our work. Our most common rewards are small pleasures that keep us going, and our most expensive rewards are those that feed our writing careers with education, contacts and experiences that support our development.  


What a glimpse into some of the reasons for the many successes of our Michigan SCBWI members! Thank you all!

Vicky Schecter
Author Vicky Alvear Shecter


by Kristin Lenz 


I recently had the opportunity to interview Cleopatra's Moon author Vicky Alvear Shecter, and I asked about her path to publication, and how she made the leap from non-fiction to fiction publishing.


Vicky:  When my kids were little, I often told them wild, action-adventure stories about Alexander the Great. They ate it up, so naturally, in my cluelessness, I thought, "Hey, I should write a kid's book about him!"

So I did. Only to discover that writing it was the easy (okay, easier) part. Finding a publisher was the real challenge. After 30 submissions, Darby Creek Press finally picked it up. I did not have an agent because agents in general don't want to do kids nonfiction (NF) because there's hardly any money in it. We were in the midst of working on the second book in the series--on Cleopatra and other ancient queens--when Darby closed its doors. I had to find another publisher. Talk about disheartening! But, here's where SCBWI really came through. I had attended a conference where Larry Rosler from Boyds Mill Press was the keynote speaker. Boyds Mills Press is one of the few houses that specializes in non-work-for-hire nonfiction. So I submitted the book to him (as well as many others).


Meanwhile, a friend told me that Cheryl Klein had initiated a thread about NF on a discussion board, suggesting that perhaps she was interested in looking at NF manuscripts. So I sent Cleopatra Rules! to her as well. Larry Rosler ended up buying it. Long after the book was into production, I received a letter from Cheryl Klein saying she was interested in seeing more of the manuscript. I found myself in the strange position of having to tell Cheryl Klein (of all people!), "Oops, I'm sorry--the book has already sold."


But by then, I'd been seriously working on Cleopatra's Moon, the young adult, historical fiction novel based on the life of Cleopatra's daughter, Cleopatra Selene (for which the idea came out of the research for the NF book). I knew I could not sell YA fiction without an agent, so I'd gotten one. My agent, Courtney Miller-Callahan at Sanford J. Greenburger Associates, coached me on getting back to Cheryl with a note that basically informed her about the status of the NF book, but at the same time pitched her on the novel I was working on. It turned out she was very interested in the pitch and responded quickly to tell me to be sure to send it to her when the novel was ready.  


Getting an agent, by the way, also wasn't easy. I narrowed my search to those agents that repped YA and were interested in historical fiction (using Thanks to my experience with submitting on my own, I knew it was a matter of doing my homework and sticking it out until I found someone willing to take a risk on me. I'm becoming convinced that those of us who get published do so as much out of pure doggedness as anything else. If you're willing to suffer through the rejections and keep working on your craft, then it can happen!


Thanks, Vicky, for your inspiring and motivational words!Learn more about Vicky and her books at her website and Facebook For tips on nonfiction writing, you can read Vicky's guest post on the Cynsations blog at And be sure read Kristin's review of

Cleopatra's Moon, below. 

BOOK REVIEWCleopatra Moon

By Kristin Lenz


Cleopatra's Moon by Vicky Alvear Schecter. Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic, 2011.


"Get rid of that body now, or my men will mutiny!" the captain yelled from the other side of the door.


A stylus on the floor rolled with the movement of the ship.  The flame from the hanging bronze lamp flickered.  Still, I did not respond. 


Those are the opening lines of Cleopatra's Moon. I had high expectations for this YA historical due to the author's non-fiction books and the stamp of approval from editor Cheryl Klein.  Reviews like this were intriguing, too: 


"[A]n intelligently written and stately meditation on fate, free will, and political power, a worthy challenge for readers up to it." --Horn Book


When I finally got my hands on a copy to read, I was truly blown away.  This gorgeous book is stunning inside and out.


The story of Cleopatra's daughter is fascinating, and the ever-present danger and high-stakes kept me turning the pages. But this isn't a book to race through, you'll want to linger and savor the lovely prose and rich details. As a writer, it's worth studying the author's use of sensory description.Throughout the novel, you will see, taste, smell, and touch the details that draw you into this ancient world.It's also worth studying how the author raises the stakes as the story progresses.Cleopatra Selene faces horrendous circumstances, impossible choices, and she takes action.This story is a perfect example of that elusive blend of character/plot-driven narrative and literary/commercial appeal.

The cast of characters listed in the beginning are a good reference, and the notes at the end help you distinguish the facts within the fiction.Well-researched history, adventure, surprise twists, feminist ideals, characters to root for (and despise), and a love story: what more could you ask for?

Kristin Lenz lives in Royal Oak and contributes to the YA Fusion blog.To read an interview about the author/editor collaboration for Cleopatra's Moon, visit the YA Fusion blog here.

Mackinac Island
Beautiful Mackinac Island
Photo courtesy of Cathy Bieberich

Editor's Note: At every conference, our fabulous SCBWI Advisory Committee members "shadow" our speakers. Part of their job as a shadow is to share a brief nugget they gather from the speaker, whether in a presentation or in the course of the weekend. Intrigued? Be sure to mark your calendars for the Spring Conference so you can find your own inspiration!



By Vicky L. Lorencen


Award-winning children's novelist Kristin Nitz packed enthusiasm to spare for our fall conference on Mackinac Island. During her presentation, "Everything I Ever Needed to Know About Writing Novels, I Learned Through SCBWI," Kristin shared insights she's gleaned from a variety of conference speakers since 1993.


As an aspiring middle grade author, a take away that was especially helpful to me was in regard to suspense.  I came to understand that while it's the author's job to construct scenarios that escalate tension, conflict and suspense, the main character has to have sufficient motivation for putting himself in danger. For example, why would my character (who can't swim) dive into the deep end of the pool to save his friend when there's a lifeguard on duty? The character's actions need to seem inevitable and organic to the plot, not forced simply for drama's sake. Unless, of course, my character is a drama queen!


B Horowitz sketch
Sketch of Beverly Horowitz copyright by Nancy Walker


by Cathy Bieberich


This is one of the many questions Beverly Horowitz, V. P. Publisher, Delacorte Press Books for Young Readers, answered for 2011 SCBWI-MI Fall Conference goers. A veteran of the publishing business for over twenty years, Beverly believes in understanding and embracing new trends. She is savvy enough to realize that change is neither good nor bad. It simply is.


Change is certainly evident in this current era of the iPad, Nook, Kindle, and whatever else is available virtually. But none of these devices or trends can diminish the power of a good story, well told to a hungry audience. I was forced to tamp down my snobbish distaste for all things "e" when Beverly described high schoolers with lower reading levels reading stories on their phones while riding the subway. These readers were probably not consumers before the e-word.  


Finally, Beverly reminded us that we have the unique opportunity to change lives. And, thanks to the new technology, there are even more lives waiting and willing to be changed.

by Randy Bulla

Tamra brought a quiet exuberance of editorship to our conference at Mackinac Island. An editor at Philomel Books, she started her talks a little on the nervous side. But once she got going, she was a little powder keg of valuable information. For instance, in her talk on dialogue, she told us how to bring out the character's emotion as well as POV in our writing. She's going to kill me for telling you this, but I suspect the powder keg connotation came from her year of playing roller derby on a team in her area, where she was a powerful little blocker. You don't want to cross her!



by Michelle Bradford 


Donna Jo Napoli is a gem. Her key note address on Friday evening began a weekend rally full of intense workshop training. Because I had the opportunity to attend all three of Donna Jo's workshops, I tried to hold back my hand (like a kindergartener) in her tension workshop grand finale. What began as her amazing publishing story on Friday continued on through Saturday as we participated in an intense character development workshop and a then another workshop  designed to raise tension within our manuscripts. Her trio of presentations created a series of unforgettable workshops. Thank you, Donna Jo!


by Ryan Hipp 


During the Illustration Nation track of the Fall conference, master picture book illustrator and instructor Matt Faulkner gave his tribe quality time and attention. The attendees walked away with one of Matt's greatest insider secrets--the warm/cool base effect--and every illustrator in the room will never look at color the same way again. Matt also spent a great deal of time challenging his students to improve their techniques and become the best scribblers they can be. A supportive and patient teacher, Matt's valuable lessons will be taken to heart and treasured.

by Jennifer Whistler

I'm feeling low this month. Low on art. Low on articles. Low on contributions. I need more!  


One of my goals when I became editor was to feature a different illustrator each month. Sadly, I haven't had enough submissions to make that happen this month. So you may notice, there is no Member Spotlight on Art.  


Last issue, we featured our very first member profile, with Tracy Bilen, author of the upcoming YA novel Riding Backward. Despite my call for a member profile article, nada.  


You may not have any editors knocking down your door for your perfect manuscript (and we all know it is, by the way). You may not have any agents fighting to represent you (although they really should be). But no matter what, you can still see your words, your art, and your name in print. Best of all, you retain all rights to your work! Okay, we might not pay big sheqels (or any at all), but you have the satisfaction of knowing that you are contributing to your SCBWI chapter and enriching the lives of all our members.  


If you have an idea for an article, just send me a query, like Elizabeth McBride did. Her article on how we reward ourselves was an outgrowth of a conversation we had via email. Do you know a SCBWI member who has a remarkable story to tell and you want to tell it? Send me a note! Got art you want to put out there? Send me a note!  


There's a reason I am called the editor, not the writer, for the newsletter. This is your newsletter. We want it to serve your needs. So let me know--whaddya need? And whaddya got? 


For guidelines on submissions, visit or you can email me here.  

Shutta Red jacket
Winter Conference Scholarship Sponsor Shutta Crum

Kelly Barson recently won the second annual winter conference scholarship. Kelly's name was chosen at random from the eligible applications to receive a $360 scholarship (early-bird registration fee) to allow her to attend the 13th annual SCBWI Winter Conference at the Grand Hyatt in New York City, from January 27th through the 29th. This scholarship is funded by SCBWI-MI author Shutta Crum and her family. The winner must have been a member of SCBWI for at least three years and never attended an annual summer conference in Los Angeles or a winter conference in New York. Current Advisory and Non-advisory Committee members are not eligible to enter. Last year's winner was Amy Nielander. This year's agenda for the conference looks to be promising with a choice of three preconference intensives. For more information on the winter conference and preconference intensives check out the SCWBI site at


Shutta is a long-time member of SCBWI-MI, and is dedicated to giving back to the organization that she says contributed to her success. Visit Shutta's website at

Kristin Nitz 3
2012 Novel Mentor
Kristin Wolden Nitz

by Cathy Bieberich    


The SCBWI-MI Novel Mentorship Award Competition offers one unpublished author the chance to work with a published author. The pair work on the winning manuscript, revising and polishing until it is closer to publishable quality. This year's mentor, Kristin Wolden Nitz, is an award-winning Michigan author. Twenty-five hopefuls entered the 2012 competition, their submissions judged by three anonymous Michigan authors. Numerical scores were tallied and the top three manuscripts were forwarded to Kristin. After careful deliberation, Kristin chose Melissa Shanker's  The Truth about Addie as the winner, and Jennifer Whistler's Bumper Sticker Wisdom as the first runner-up. Melissa begins a year of personal and professional growth with our fantastic mentor. Jennifer received tuition to the spring conference. Everyone who entered comes away with judges' comments to help polish their own submitted pieces.


Cathy was the chair of the 2012 Novel Mentorship Award Competition, and also serves on SCBWI-MI's advisory committee.
When: Weekend of March 10-11, 2012
Where: Anywhere and Everywhere!
Never heard of a Critique Meet? That's because it's new to the SCBWI-Michigan chapter. Instead of our annual Networks Day event, the chapter is organizing Critique Meets, which will occur simultaneously across the state on the weekend of March 10-11. It's an opportunity to meet area writers and illustrators, share your manuscripts and receive short critiques of your work, and have the opportunity to form a critique group of your own. The size of the group will dictate how each location will operate. A large group may have an open-mike type set-up. A smaller group may have each participant read an entire chapter in advance. The options are endless. Best of all it's FREE!

Want to host? We'll provide you with guidance to plan your event. Just contact
Anita Pazner here.


by Michelle Bradford


Once upon a fall conference

On an island

In the middle of a lake-

There grew a village.

It was a strong village;

A village of generosity.


And in this village lived


And bidders,

And book lovers,

From all walks of Main Street.

And the village thrived!


Generosity fashioned

Heart-filled clouds,

Which became nests of books

Departing to another village

On an island-

Across the ocean.


Thank you to everyone who contributed to relief efforts for

SCBWI-Japan. Your banner contributions totaled $1,012.


Fundraiser Village donors include:


Writer & Illustrator Heidi Woodward-Sheffield;Author Carrie Harris;Author Shutta Crum; Author & Illustrator Matt Faulkner; Editor Tamra Tuller, Philomel Books; Professor & Author Donna Jo Napoli; Author & Illustrator Ryan Hipp;

Author Julie Angeli; Illustrator Nancy Walker; Professional Photographer & Author Doris Holick Kelly; Mackinac Island Carriage Tours; Mission Point Gift Shop; and Grand Prize from Mission Point Resort.


Michelle Bradford was this fall's Fundraiser chair, and serves on SCBWI-MI's advisory committee.

Frida Pennabook

Image courtesy of FCIT



The world of children's literature is a lonely one, and sometimes it's helpful to tap into the expertise of a fellow writer or artist. Got a question? Need advice? Just ask Frida.  


Dear Frida,


My writing tends to be short and succint. An agent suggested I "flesh out" my middle grade story. I think I understand generally what this means, but what does this mean specifically? And how can I do this to my WIP?



Queries R. Scary 


Dear Queries,


This is such a great question. But first, it is important to remember that spare, succinct writing doesn't automatically mean that it needs to be fleshed out. It may be that this particular agent is simply not the right person to represent your style. It may be that there is another agent out there who is the perfect match, and that your WIP is actually fleshed out just right. What you need to ask yourself is whether you agree with the agent or not. If you don't, then perhaps you simply need to keep looking.


But if you do agree, then you have quite a challenge on your hands because editors and agents tend to give nebulous feedback when providing critiques.
  • "This story is lovely, but it's too quiet." Really? You mean I just need to have the characters throw a party?
  • "I like the characters, but they don't have enough at stake, do they?" So if I were to throw in a bully, I'd be all set?
  • "The story has promise, but it needs to be fleshed out." You want me to abandon my spare writing style and clutter up the story with a lot of distractions?

Of course, the answers aren't that simplistic, but they underscore how easy it is for an author to struggle with feedback and find useful nuggets that can help with the revision process. Fleshing out a story is something that means different things to different people. The first thing you might consider doing is responding to the agent who shared this comment with you to ask for clarification. You could ask questions like:

  • "Are there passages in particular that you feel need particular attention?"  
  • "Do you think the story needs more action in a certain passage, or more introspection?"  
  • "Do the characters feel well-rounded, or do you want to see more dimension?"  
  • "Is the plot intricate enough, too complicated, or too simplistic for the age group?"
  • "Can you recommend a book in this genre that you feel is a great example of what you're looking for?" 
Ask questions that can help you narrow down what the agent is looking for. But if you aren't able to contact the agent again for some reason, then looking at your own work with a critical eye is the next step. First, take some time away from the WIP so that you can look at it with fresh, editor/agent-like eyes. Ask yourself the questions you couldn't ask the agent. You can also take a book that you particularly like that is similar in scope to yours and then dissect it. How does this author develop characters? How intricate is the plot? What is the level of tension and how is it increased until the climax? Next, dissect your story and compare to your benchmark. Where do you fall short?

Once you know what you need to work on, then it will be much easier for you to focus your energies and research revision strategies that will help with those specific goals.


Need a little expert advice? Send your questions here, and Jennifer will send them on to Frida. 

Henny Penny
by Ryan Hipp

I wanted to echo everyone else's sentiments on how awesome the fall conference was. I know
many of our members who didn't get a chance to go are either sick of reading about how great it was or are bummed they couldn't go. So here is some good news for those folks (and everyone else): It's not too late to plan for spring!

With that said, I would like to let you all know that I am the 2012 SCBWI-MI Spring Conference chairperson, and I am inviting and encouraging
you all to attend. I want to keep some things as a surprise for later, but SAVE THE DATE now:

SCBWI-MI Spring Conference 2012
"The Sky is Falling"
Saturday, May 12, 2012
Grand Rapids, MI

I have a stellar line-up, including Gary Schmidt, Laini Taylor, Jim DiBartolo, Jennifer Mattson, and Hillary Van Dusen. You will not want to miss this full-day of epic epicness.
More news coming soon, but start the ball rolling now to plan ahead. Only Chicken Little would pass this up!


You can reach Ryan via his website at or follow his Twitter feed at  

WD mag cover



Several Michigan SCBWI members were winners in the Children's/Young Adult Fiction category of the 80th Annual Writer's Digest Writing Competition. The top 10 winners in each category will be listed in the December issue of Writer's Digest. All 1,001 winners will be listed at after the December issue is published. Congratulations to the following winners from our illustrious (and authorius??) chapter:


Heather Smith Meloche won first place for her middle grade short story The Emperor's New Crows. She will receive $1,000 cash, $100 towards Writer's Digest Books, a one-year Writer's Digest VIP membership, which includes a one-year subscription to Writer's Digest magazine, and a one-year access to


Nancy Vogl took fifth place for her picture storybook My Idlewild Summer. She will receive a little prize money, $50.00 towards Writer's Digest books, a one-year Writer's Digest VIP membership, which includes a one-year subscription to Writer's Digest magazine, and a one- year access to


Linda Dimmer received an honorable mention with 40th place for her picture book manuscript Giraffe Finds Fabulous. She will receive . . . um . . . a bright, shiny Certificate of Achievement. :)


Heather Smith Meloche also won first place in the Vermont College of Fine Arts' Hunger Mountain Katherine Paterson Prize for her young adult short story "Him." It will be published in the December issue of Hunger Mountain. Congratulations again, Heather!


Neal Levin won the Limerick Laughs Contest in the Sept./Oct. 2011 issue of the Saturday Evening Post. Congrats from the peeps in Nantucket . . . :)


Jennifer Rumberger's article "Acrobatic Insects" was published in the Sept. 2011 issue of Nature Friend magazine. Now that's an achievement worth doing cartwheels for!


Monica Harris' story "Charlie, the Perfect Unwanted Dog" will be published in the Nov./Dec. 2011 issue of Humpty Dumpty. Who wouldn't want that kind of good news?   

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(Note: Events and opportunities are not necessarily sponsored or endorsed by SCBWI-MI. We try our best to list only high-quality notifications through reputable sources. Please confirm all information with the source whenever possible. )




Crescent Moon Press is now accepting Young Adult submissions for their new line. They are looking for fantastic books with strong romantic elements in novel and novella-length submissions. Visit for all the details.


Arbutus Publishing is interested in publishing Michigan literary fiction, creative nonfiction, history, and travel. They also publish children's books with Michigan or nature themes. Go to for the guidelines. 


Sky Pony Press, an imprint of Skyhorse Publishing, publishes picture books, early readers, midgrade novels, novelties, and informational books for all ages. For more information, please click on 



Seventeen is a high paying, highly competitive magazine targeted for teen girls. Direct your pitch to the appropriate


Nature Friend is a "creation-based, monthly nature magazine for children that the whole family will enjoy." The ideal article length is 500 to 800 words. At present, particular needs include:  

  • Science projects for ages 8-12
  • Conversational stories for ages 6-8
  • Photo features: A natural phenomenon shown in pictures with detailed captions. 
Visit for more information.



The 12th Annual Writer's Digest Short Short Story Competition is looking for fiction that's bold and brilliant in 1,500 words or fewer. The deadline is November 15, 2011. For more information, please visit 


WCDR Whispered Words Contest welcomes fiction and non-fiction. They accept prose of all kinds: literary, science fiction, children's, memoir, essay, creative non-fiction. The entry fee is $20 Canadian and $25 for international entries. Every entry receives written feedback. Maximum 1,000 words. Deadline November 30, 2011. For monetary prize details and more, go to




Dear Editor is a writer's advice blog by Deborah Halverson, former editor of Harcourt Children's Books, an award-winning author, and currently a freelance editor. " is the place for writers--published or not--to ask questions about the craft of writing and/or the publishing industry... and get direct answers and actionable suggestions." Visit 


is a blog by two acquisition editors for a publisher of fiction of various lengths. The blog offers wonderful information about writing and editing. Visit them at