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In This Issue
Update Your SBWI Profile
Sarah Shumway
2009 Notable Author Tour
Hugs and Hurrahs
Who Are Your Regional Advisers
The Three Flaws that Afflict Most Picture Book Gems
Have You Seen My Muse?
Taking a Leap
Networks Weekend 2010
Website, Weblog, Web What Now?
Kiddie Litter
Quick Links
Join Our Mailing List
Dear MichKids:

Welcome to our first electronic issue of the SCBWI-MI newsletter! You'll find it has all the great articles, photos, and art you've enjoyed in our paper version, but now it's delivered directly to you via email in a "greener" form. If this newsletter looks wonky, try clicking the attachment link in your email.
On behalf of all the volunteers who work to make our chapter so successful, I hope you enjoy the e-newsletter. If you'd like to contribute articles or art, if you have great news to share, or if you have any questions, please email me at

Kris Remenar, editor
By Monica Harris
The international office of SCBWI recently launched its new and improved website ( With it comes the ease of renewing your membership, updating your personal contact information, and logging in your status (Published And Listed, full member, or associate member). We advise everyone at SCBWI Michigan to log into the site and verify this information as this is what we use for sending out our conference brochures, updates, and surveys. If your information is not up to date, then it will be sent to the wrong place and you'll certainly regret missing out on some of our wonderful opportunities.
Steps are easy! Simple:scbwi logo
1. Log onto
2. Click on MEMBER LOGIN.
3. Enter your email and password.
5. Check the contact information, and your status with SCBWI. There's even an area where you can enter a biography and photos!
6. Make sure to click on CONTINUE or SAVE so the system is updated.
Click around the website and you'll find easy access to Michigan regional events as well as surrounding areas. Maybe a conference in the Chicago area sounds interesting! Make sure and check out the new levels of membership - PAL, full, and associate. If you're listed as a PAL member, you can sell your books at our events! So take some time to get reacquainted with SCBWI and all they have to offer. You'll be pleasantly surprised.
Monica Harris is the Co-RA for the Michigan chapter of SCBWI and a long-standing member with an updated profile!
by Gail Flynn
Sarah Shumway Spring 2009 SCBWI-MI Conference
Sarah Shumway, senior editor of Katherine Tegan books, grew up in a beautiful New England town in Maine.  After attending William Smith College in upstate New York, she interned for a year in London. She took her first job after her internship as
assistant aditor to the
president of Dutton and
worked there for seven years. She has now been with the Katherine Tegan imprint of Harper Collins as senior editor for almost a year. Sarah plays
second base in Central Park for the Harper softball team in the Publishing League, sings, speaks Mandarin Chinese, roots on the Red Sox every chance she gets and is a declared "" addict.

While attending the Spring conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Sarah informed attendees of the acquisition process from an editor's standpoint.  She passed out copies of the acquisition form she fills out.  It is a detailed description of the author and book, and it highlights the books selling points.  "A book must be a property which has an edge over other properties in the market," she said.  But she also said that the selling of a book "...starts and ends with the author."  In other words, the author first has to sell the book to the editor and then to the booksellers and the public.

She gave attendees guidelines to follow when 'pitching' a book to an editor.  She listed these guidelines from most important to least important:  1) Distinctive voice, 2) Good writing, 3) Good premise, 4) Community appeal, 5) Good story, and 6) Tie-in to something current.

She also gave guidelines to follow when 'pitching' oneself to an editor and listed those from most to least important:  1) Author contacts, 2) Knowledge of the market, 3) Engaging query letter, 4) Knowledge of publishing houses and what they publish, and 5) Online presence.

Sarah then led the group through an exercise in pitch.  She suggested writing a book description which does give away the ending to include in the cover letter of a manuscript submission.  Then she instructed everyone to write a short blurb which doesn't give away the ending to be used as a sales handle on a book jacket.  These exercises familiarize the author with their product and better enable them to market their book.

Sarah specializes in middle grade/tween fiction.

Gail Flynn writes science fiction for young adults in the wilds near Kalamazoo.
an experience to remember!
by Jean Alicia Elster

On December 9, 2008, I received an email from my publisher, Wayne State University Press, forwarding a letter from Nancy Robertson, State Librarian, Library of Michigan. My middle grade novel, Who's Jim Hines?, had been one of twenty books selected as a 2009 Michigan Notable Book by the Library of Michigan. Publishers from across the country submitted hundreds of books that had to fit within the following guidelines- a book whose plot or subject matter takes place in Michigan or  that is written by an author who was either born in Michigan or is currently living in the state.Jean Alicia Elster and Governon Granholm

Aside from the obvious promotional benefits, one of the most rewarding aspects of this award was the 2009 Michigan Notable Author Tour that took place during April and May. Libraries from across the state were invited to request a visit from one of the Notable Authors. All author fees were paid by sponsors of the Library of Michigan Foundation. The host libraries only had to provide basic hospitality-lunch or dinner and transportation around the city if the author was required to travel to more than one library within the same city.

My first visit was to the East Lansing Public Library.  The highlight there was the presence of an archivist from Central Michigan University Public Radio who has been traveling across the state making audio recordings of Michigan authors reading their work. This document will be broadcast on CMU Public Radio and then housed in the permanent collection of the Clarke Historical Library. Also my niece, who is a student at Michigan State University, surprised me by joining the audience.

In addition to the invitation from the East Lansing Public Library, I was fortunate to have been invited by the Grand Rapids Public Schools to make presentations at two of their high schools. A very generous benefactor donated the fees and other costs associated with my two presentations. The manager of the school system's Media/Library Services Department, who was also my personal host, purchased copies of Who's Jim Hines? for each of the libraries within the Grand Rapids Public Schools system.

A special treat-that is considered a part of the tour-was the 2009 Night for Notables event in Lansing on April 18.  Librarians, teachers, and book lovers from across the state converged upon the Library of Michigan to purchase 2009 Notable Books and have them signed by the authors. Christopher Paul Curtis, whose book Elijah of Buxton was a 2008 Michigan Notable Book, was the guest speaker. Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm spoke to the gathered authors and our guests at a private "pre-reception." She expressed gratitude at being able to acknowledge and celebrate a part of the Michigan economy that is not associated with the auto industry!

The 2009 Michigan Notable Author Tour-an experience to remember!
Jean Alicia Elster is the proud author of WHO'S JIM HINES? She lives in Detroit.
Woot! Shutta is representing! Shutta Crum's A FAMILY FOR OLD MILL FARM (Clarion, 2007, illustrated by Niki Daly) was chosen to represent Kentucky (her native state) at the National Book Festival in Washington , D.C. this Sept. Each state chooses one book to be listed on a map of the U.S. that is then handed out to young attendees at the festival. Shutta's newest book, THUNDER-BOOMER! (Clarion, 2009, illustrated by Carol Thompson ) has garnered four starred reviews from four major children's reviewing sources: Kirkus Reviews, School Library Journal, Horn Book Magazine, and the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books. Four cheers for Shutta!
 The Sandwich Swap by Kelly DiPucchio
Kelly is a royal success! Kelly DiPucchio teams up with Her Majesty Queen Rania of Jordan and award-winning illustrator Tricia Tusa in THE SANDWICH SWAP (Disney-Hyperion, April 2010), a story inspired by Her Majesty's own childhood. 

Carol A. Grund is happy to announce two projects with Pauline Books & Media. Two of her short stories appear in their middle grade anthology, FRIEND 2 FRIEND (June, 2009). Carol's full-length novel for the same age group, called ANNA MEI, CARTOON GIRL, will be published next June, and a sequel has already been commissioned. From one friend to another, congratulations, Carol!
Kristin Wolden Nitz's novel SAVING THE GRIFFIN is a nominee for both the Kentucky Bluegrass Award  (Grades 3-5) and the Georgia Book Award.  These are both children's choice lists where students will vote for their favorite book next spring. You've got our vote, Kristin! Congratulations!
Hooray for John! John Perry's first book, THE BOOK THAT EATS PEOPLE, will be released October 13 by Tricycle Press, now part of Random House. It's illustrated by Mark Fearing, who lives in Oregon, and edited by Abigail Samoun.
Jacqui's neTWO OF A KIND by Jacqui Robbins and Matt Phelanws is some kind of wonderful! Jacqui Robbins'
second picture book, TWO OF A KIND  (Atheneum, 2009, illustrated by Matt
Phelan) was released this fall.

  Ewe rock, Nancy! Nancy Shaw's
  SHEEP BLAST OFF! will be in the Bank Street College of Education's new edition of THE BEST CHILDREN'S BOOKS OF THE YEAR. SHEEP IN A JEEP is coming out as a "lap book," a large-format board book.
Sue Collins Thoms' book, CESAR TAKES A BREAK, has been nominated for Maryland's Black-Eyed Susan Award. Librarians nominate books, and kids will vote on the winner. Fantastic news, Sue! Hooray for you!
by Kristin Wold Nitz

Publishers have to distill the books in their catalogue down to a single sentence.  You can usually find these summaries on the copyright page.  This is handy for librarians who often include these short descriptions in their online catalogues, but it's also a tool for the people in marketing.  Lisa Matthews, my editor at Peachtree, calls this sentence "the nugget."  Ideally, it should make people think, "Wow! That sounds interesting."  

I learned about the value of having an interesting nugget in early 2002 when Lisa called to explain why she couldn't make an offer on two of my sports novels. While the projects were humorous and well-written, their plots wouldn't stand out enough to catch the attention of reviewers and librarians. "If there was an audience waiting for your next book," she told me, "these would be ready to go." Now that was a compliment that stabbed.  I didn't know what else I could do besides write well. But I found out a few minutes later when Lisa said, "You mentioned that you were writing a novel about a girl playing on a boy's soccer team in Italy.  How's that coming?"  About ten months after that question, the editor made an offer on my first novel, DEFENDING IRENE.  Clearly, my comparatively exotic setting provided some of that "wow" factor for my soccer novel. 

So what happens if you come up with a pretty good idea, but you're not sure that it's enough to attract the interest of reviewers and librarians?  Agent Donald Maass suggests that great premises aren't just discovered. They can be built by bringing together a combination of "plausibility, inherent conflict, originality, and gut emotional appeal." He describes ways to do this in his book, WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL.  He recommends that writers spend time thinking about the premise early in the process instead of only discovering it when writing the query letter.

Originality might seem difficult to come by in a world where Ronald Tobias has written a book called TWENTY MASTER PLOTS AND HOW TO BUILD THEM.  But in the end, even the classic Cinderella story can feel fresh and original when given an interesting twist.  For example, Gail Carson Levine gave the heroine of ELLA ENCHANTED the trait of having to obey every order. This fresh angle brought with it inherent conflict and gut emotional appeal.  

Not every great book will have an interesting nugget.  I took a few identifiers out of the following summary: A ten-year-old girl describes all the good things that happen to her in a new town because of her dog.  This sounds like pretty standard fare, but Kate DiCamillo's BECAUSE OF WINN-DIXIE was a Newbery Honor Book.  So great writing can attract attention for a project some people would dismiss as a dog story. The reverse isn't quite true. Donald Maass wrote the following: "I've received many a dynamite query letter only to be disappointed by the tinny cap-gun pop of a weak manuscript."  You can catch an editor's attention with a great nugget, but you can only keep it with solid writing and great characters.      
Kristin Wolden Nitz does a bad job of keeping up her blog from her home in Western Michigan because she'd rather work on her latest novel.
Who are Your Regional Advisers and What Do They Do?
by Leslie Helakoski

The RAs for the Michigan chapter of SCBWI are Monica Harris and myself, Leslie Helakoski. When we agreed to take on this job last January, we thought we knew what we were getting into. Let's just say that our appreciation of past RAs has grown by leaps and bounds.
Monica has been a Michigan member of SCBWI for 13 years. She has published books in the educational, non-fiction and picture book markets as well as many articles and activities. I've been a member almost as long. I am a writer and illustrator and have published 6 picture books. Both of us have been part of the Michigan Advisory Committee (AdCom) for many years. We are in charge of the chapter's finances, overseeing and/or coordinating conferences, workshops, membership, newsletters, list-serve, and helping our members in many ways. But we could never do it all alone. SCBWI is blessed with AdCom and many volunteers to help with running this chapter.
What is AdCom and what do they do? The Advisory Committee is made up of Michigan volunteers who work with the RAs to run the chapter. These people make the work look easy but are the cogs that keep the wheels turning. They plan conferences, scout out locations, contact speakers, stuff folders, and much more. Their hard work does come with some benefits but they are asked for a 3-year commitment to the chapter. We meet several times a year and communicate continually with the wonder of email. Our members at this time are: Rachel Anderson, Janice Broyles, Randy Bulla, Julie Chase,Gail Flynn, Vicky Lorencen, Kris Remenar, and Jennifer Whistler.

We have several unseen wizards making the magic of Michigan SCBWI occur. Cecily Donnelly has been our newsletter designer. As most of you know, we are moving into electronic newsletters now. Kris Remenar is our newsletter editor, and Susi Walter is the assistant editor and Opportunities queen. Kristin Lenz handles the newsletter subscriptions. Diane Telgen is our Mistress of the Web. And Debbie Diesen and Liza Martz are our list-serve moderators. Monica and I both feel like we are the flying monkeys among these wizards. We are so thankful for their expertise.
If you are interested in volunteering some of your time to our chapter, please notify our volunteer coordinator, who also happens to be Monica Harris. (
Shutta's Schmooze 2009
Hope to see you all at the next conference!

Leslie Helakoski is busy painting cows in Kalamazoo.

                                       Members enjoying Shutta's Schmooze!
Blowing Bubbles by Lori McElrath EslickOctober 8, Lori McElrath-Eslick will be presenting an exhibition of children's book illustrations and personal paintings at the TerryBerry Exhibition Gallery located in the St. Cecilia Music Society in Grand Rapids, MI. for the whole month of October. Opening reception: Oct. 8, 2009, from 5:00 p.m-8:00p.m. The upcoming exhibitions are already on the roster at their site:
October 30-31, Janet Heller will be at the International Reading Association's Great Lakes Regional Conference at the DeVos Place Convention Center in downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan. On Friday evening, Oct. 30, she will be part of a group of Michigan writers and artists presenting songs and shows for the conference participants. On Saturday, Oct. 31, she will be at the Authors and Illustrators Breakfast and will autograph her fiction picture book for children about bullying, HOW THE MOON REGAINED HER SHAPE (Sylvan Dell, 2006). She will also give two presentations titled "Using Stories and Nonfiction for Kids to Combat Bullying" and "Using Poems to Get Kids to Write."
November 8 is the Eleventh Annual Writers on the River Book Fair. The list of authors and illustrators in attendance will be spectacular. The event will take place from 12:00-3:00 p.m. at Ellis Reference & Information center, 3700 South Custer Road
Monroe, MI 48161-9716. Please go to or call 734.241.5277 for more information.
Albert Whitman & Co., 6340 Oakton St., Morton Grove, IL 60053-2723. They are currently accepting unsolicited picture book manuscripts for ages 2-8, novels and chapter books (cover letter and three sample chapters) ages 8-12, nonfiction ages 3-12, and artwork showing children. Please submit via regular mail only. Include a SASE and indicate on the outside of the envelope whether it is a query or a manuscript. Please send to Kathleen Tucker, Editor-in-Chief, to the above address. Research Albert Whitman & Co. at: for details.
Dawn Publications, 12402 Bitney Springs Rd., Nevada City, CA 95959. Dawn Publications seeks nature awareness books for children. They are accepting unsolicited manuscripts and artwork. You may send picture book manuscripts via email or regular mail. Illustrators may send artwork through regular mail only. There are specific guidelines for submitting at Submissions may be emailed to or sent to the above address. Please address to the Attn: Glenn Hovemann.
Cobblestone Publishing is a line of magazines that are looking for illustrations for several of their imprints. Appleseeds, Calliope, Cobblestone, Faces, Dig, and Odyssey all feature nonfiction, recipes, maps, and activities that often need illustration. Go to for complete directions on how to submit. If you would like to send samples of your art (photocopies, tear-sheets, or other non-returnable samples) to be considered, please send to: Ann Dillon, Art Director, Cobblestone Publishing, 30 Grove St., Suite C, Peterborough, NH 03458.
Fun For Kidz Magazine is seeking articles of about 500 words, as well as crafts, projects, cooking, riddles, jokes, puzzles, activities, and more. Please research the website at for additional information. Each issue revolves around a theme. They also accept pen and ink art and photos. Please direct all inquiries and submissions to: The Editor, Fun For Kidz, P.O. Box 227, Bluffton, OH 45817-0227.
Shiny Magazine is an e-zine magazine of speculative fiction (fantasy, science fiction and horror). Shiny is looking for YA stories from 2000-8000 words. Please see their guidelines at Send your submission in rtf attachment to
Imagination-Café is an entertaining online magazine that is looking fora variety of written material for tweens and young children. Their motto is: Feed Your Mind! Please see the website at They pay on acceptance.
The Association of Authors' Representatives database is online and can help you find seasoned agents and their contact information. There is also a FAQs for a breakdown of what an agent can and cannot do for you. Search this database at
SCBWI Work-In-Progress Grants Full grants of $1500 and $500 runner-up grants in each category are awarded each year to full and associate members. There are four categories: 1) General Work-in-Progress 2) Grant for a Contemporary Novel for Young People 3) Nonfiction Research Grant 4) Grant for a Work Whose Author Has Never Had a Book Published. You may request an application beginning October 1, 2009. Completed applications must be sent Feb 15- March 15 of each year. Please visit to read all of the instructions. There is a downloadable application form, under "awards and grants" online or you can request one via regular mail send a request to: SCBWI, 8271 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90048.
Children's Writer Early Reader Folktale or Fantasy Contest Can you retell a folktale, a legend, or write another fantasy story? CW is accepting stories up to 500 words. A seven-year-old child should be able to read it independently. Include the source if the story is a retelling. Entries are judged on creativity, voice, and writing style. The submission must be received by October 31, 2009. First place wins $500 and publication in CW. Entry is free for current CW subscribers, all others pay a $13 entry fee (which includes an eight month subscription to CW). Send to: Children's Writer, Folktale Contest, 93 Long Ridge Road, West Redding, CT 06896. More details on the web at:
Highlights Annual Fiction Contest 2010 theme is your best true story based on an event in your family life. Stories must be postmarked January 1-31. There is no entry form or fee required. Stories may be up to 750 words for ages 8-12. Stories for younger children ages 3-7 must not exceed 475 words. Please research the contest rules at Three prizes will be awarded: $1000 each or tuition to the Highlights Foundation Writers Workshop at Chautauqua. You may also request an application for a scholarship by contacting Kent Brown at


I am collecting short stories about spiritual signs that inspire faith, intended for teens. If your story contribution is chosen for publication, you will receive a publication credit and a byline. The deadline for submissions is December 15, 2009. Please visit my website for details and an example story at I look forward to hearing from you!
If you are interested in starting or joining a critique group, in your area or online, please contact Susi Walter at
By Lisa Wheeler

Over the course of my 15 year career as a children's author, I have critiqued more picture book manuscripts than I can count. I have critiqued for friends and colleagues. I have critiqued for conference and workshop attendees. I even mentored a group of new writers about 7 or 8 years ago. When I recently decided to do paid picture book critiques again, I thought I knew what to expect.
I expected to put a lot of time into each critique - I have. I expected I would stress over hurting someone's feelings - I do. I expected to meet terrific people - they've been wonderful!
What I didn't expect was the rush I feel when I am able to offer up the perfect solution to 'fix' a troubled manuscript. Usually, the answer to the problem is already there, a hidden gem within rocky walls. Like a skilled miner, I find that if I chip away long enough, that jewel is staring me in the face. I love telling an author "Yes! I can help you."
So, what are the three most common flaws I see in picture book manuscripts?
1. Lack of forward movement
Every sentence, every line, every word of a picture book must move the story forward. I often find some interesting scenes-scenes that might make for terrific illustrations-that do not move the story forward and must be cut. It's a pity, but save those for a different story. (I had to cut my favorite scene from SIXTEEN COWS because it stopped the momentum. I'm still in mourning.)
2. Too wordy
Economy of words. Anyone who has taken one of my Picture Book Boot Camps has heard me preach on this topic. Novelist can take their leisurely time getting to the point. But in picture books, we have less than 1000 words to tell a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Oh-and  plot would be nice, too! I would like to challenge folks to cut, cut, cut. White space is your friend. Remember, they are not called 'picture' books for nothing.
3. Rhyming issues
A picture book written in rhyme should be poetry. Not just rhyming end lines. If you have chosen rhyme as the vehicle for your story, you should know why you chose it. If your answer is: "Because children love rhyme." that is just not a good enough reason. Also, if you don't have an 'ear' for meter, write your story in prose. Rhyme is very limiting and I am often left wondering why an author chose it rather than prose where a plethora of words are at your disposal. Basically, if you can't rhyme-don't.
Of course, these are not the only issues that plague picture book manuscripts, but they are the ones I encounter most. So before you send that next picture book manuscript to an editor, ask yourself honestly if your work suffers from any of the imperfections above.

And if you can't fix it, there is a bored miner in Panama City Beach just itching for her next rush.
Lisa Wheeler is missing Michigan in all its Autumn splendor while lying on a Gulf Coast beach. Her newest book, DINO-SOCCER, was released in September by Lerner.
By Janice Broyles

That ol' feisty devil has to be around here somewhere. I've searched under my bed; that's one of his favorite spots. He and the dust bunnies must have secret flings. I've searched my briefcase, packed with student essays and lesson plans. He has been found napping in there a time or two. I've emptied out the cluttered file cabinet with my folders of writing pieces and rejection letters. He's attended a few funerals in there. I'm perplexed. He's not in his usual places, and I'm a lost puppy without him.
Sure, he's a bit bossy. He'll keep hounding me with an idea until I've jotted it down. And sometimes, he won't let me get some shut-eye until I've finished with at least one more chapter. He's a bit untamed, that's true. But he has the ability to unlock the treasure chests of my imagination. And his temper? Phew! Don't get me started. Still, he takes me on an emotional rollercoaster, and the finished outcome is always a work of art.
Without him, my writing is in shambles. It's actually nonexistent. There may have been a time or turn where I ignored him. But somebody had to do the dishes! He tugged at me a few days ago, but hey, "The Bachelor" was on the screen! He even woke me up a while back with an intriguing idea, but sleep is quite the seducer.
Now...all is quiet. I sit with my notebook open, a pen in hand. Nothing. I go back to reread past work, but it filters out my brain like water through a strainer. I walk through my library and run my hand across the cover of picture book after picture book. Yet nothing jars him. I purchase the latest young adult bestseller, but it sits untouched.
Wait a second...what was that? Shhh, quiet.
There it was again! Did you feel that? It's that tug of inspiration. Oh my goodness, I was getting rather desperate. This time, I turn off the television, and I listen. Hee, hee, that's funny. He's telling me a rather humorous anecdote. It might make a great article. Hee, hee, hee, oh my. Yes. I think I've found him. And now it's time to get busy.
Janice Broyles has sat rather uninspired until recently, but don't worry. She found her muse.
By Kristin Lenz
I was turning forty, but had not met my goal of becoming a published author. I had two young adult novels completed and a contract with an agent, but the rejection letters from editors continued. I knew I needed to keep writing, but I also needed a hefty dose of encouragement.
My friends and family wanted to celebrate my birthday with a big bash. I had a different splurge in mind. For years, I had studied writing course guides from MFA programs to the Iowa Writers Workshop to Chautauqua. But the programs were expensive and involved time and travel. Plus, most of the workshops only critiqued one or two chapters of a longer work. I needed feedback on 300 pages!
Then I learned about the Highlights Foundation Whole Novel Workshop with Carolyn Coman and Donna Jo Napoli. I would need to apply and submit samples of my work; they only accepted eight students. I would need to leave my family for an entire week. And I would need to cough up a good chunk of change in a turbulent economy.
It was time to take my writing craft to the next level. Happy Birthday to me! Carolyn Coman sent an email informing me that I had been selected for the workshop, but she wanted to make sure I was prepared to take a leap of faith. She asked me to consider a complete re-visioning of my novel. Gulp!
Carolyn read my entire manuscript and sent me a four page, single-spaced, critique letter a week before the workshop. I mulled over her comments, flew to Pennsylvania, and met my fellow students. Our marked-up manuscripts were returned to us after dinner, and we retired to our private cabins to pour through our stories. I didn't sleep well. (But not because of a mouse in my cabin - that's someone else's story.)
The next morning, I had a meeting with Carolyn to discuss my manuscript. It was more like a therapy session. She knows how to ask questions and draw out answers you hadn't even considered. The personal depth of our discussion moved me to tears.
And the tears flowed all week. Several of us had at least one tearful moment. We were an intimate group sharing our writing and personal experiences. We were vulnerable and opened ourselves up in order to advance our craft, resulting in a tight-knit, supportive group.
Everyone used their time in different ways. Some were ready to hit their keyboards and dive into revisions. Others attempted storyboarding to work on their plots. I had plenty to think about, the re-visioning that Carolyn had recommended. I spent many mornings exploring wooded hiking trails along a roaring river.
Every afternoon, we met for a group workshop - critiquing each other's manuscripts. This was followed by a discussion on various writing topics led by Carolyn Coman, Donna Jo Napoli, or Monika Schroder. Monika is a librarian and MFA student who attended the workshop two years ago. Her first novel was just released, and a second is due out next year.
We discussed how important it is for your story, your plot, to have heart. When you begin writing, follow your character - that's what your reader will be doing - following your character's laughter, tears, blood. Later, you can revise structure.
What is the character's motivation, what do you need to emphasize in each and every chapter? A chapter is not just a scene; it needs to have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Carolyn Coman likes to storyboard during the revision process to help her look at sequencing and emphasis. Map out and examine a character's emotional growth and development, then you can think backward from this emotional blueprint to fill in plot. She identifies what happens in each chapter (briefly, in one sentence) and names the dominant emotion.
The most memorable discussion for me was the last. Donna Jo introduced the topic of autobiography and its place in your book. She felt that her biggest mistake early in her career was writing autobiography. She recited a quote by Katherine Patterson, "Write what only you can write," and asked the group what this meant to us.  Essentially, everyone has their own unique worldview that's shaped by our personal experiences over time, and this is what you bring to your writing. This was our most emotional discussion of the week, cutting to the core of each of us.
Did I mention that these topic discussions were followed by appetizers and wine? Then we gathered around a large table on a screened-in porch for a family-style dinner, dessert, and conversation. The gourmet chef, Marcia, used locally grown, in-season produce to create delicious, healthy meals for us all week. We were a diverse group (vegetarian, kosher, food allergies) and she accommodated all of our special dietary needs. She was happy to share her recipes, so not only did we learn from the writing pros, we received informal cooking lessons too.
Overall, it was a challenging and inspiring week in a beautiful setting with a talented group of writers. I couldn't have asked for a better birthday present. Bring on the next decade!
Kristin Lenz writes from her home in Royal Oak where her family just took another leap of faith - hosting a foreign exchange student for a year. Sounds like a setting for a new YA novel...
Pull out the tie-dyed t-shirts and the love beads, plug in the lava lamp, and celebrate Networks Weekend 60's style!

Networks Weekend is a chance to hang out with groovy folks who love children's books as much as you do! So, March 5-7, turn your home into Wordstock and greet current members as well as newbies in your area. You choose the time, Friday, Saturday, or Sunday. It'll be, like, far out, man, to make connections and share the latest news about the craft of writing children's books.

Interested? Questions? Contact:
Julie Chase, 2010 Networks Day Coordinator   269-323-7646
By Jody Sparks
I've been thinking a lot about web presence these days and what that means for the aspiring author. The thing about technology is that it's transient. It's that time again where folks need to start redefining their terms. Gone are the days of needing to build a "website." Now, we're building web presence. I'm no expert, but I do work in a web design/advertising firm when I'm not writing the novel that may or may not ever be a book.
I recently sent out a survey, you may recall, to the email list. I inquired about how our authors use the web. Well, the findings were scant. I had ten replies. I get it: you all want to write, like, books. And draw. It's cool. The folks that did reply are mostly the folks I see regularly on the email list, on Facebook, and blogging. I'm going to guess that there are several "lurkers" though - the folks that read, click away at all the links, take in the info and then move on. To you all, I'd like to encourage you to join in the web conversation. Because web presence these days is a conversation. And in this group, we're communicators, so really there isn't any excuse. I recommend these three conversations, at least.
Web Conversation #1: Now I know this is going to make some of you wince, but bear with me. Join Facebook. Then, use it. Make yourself learn this tool. Here's my case for Facebook. I am unpublished and need to network because not only do I need readers, but also reviewers. You can read scads of online articles on how to use the site, so here I want to concentrate on why. When I joined Facebook a year ago, I found a few friends, mostly old classmates and cousins. Then I started noticing that people who share my agent were on there. There are author groups, too. Basically they were people who were more established than me, and had librarian contacts and other author contacts. I friended some of those folks, they introduced me to other authors. Also, every time I read a book I liked, I'd friend the author. I still do. These are all folks that I may someday meet at a conference, or that may blurb my book, or that may read my book and recommend it, or that might buy it for their library, or may ask me for an interview on their blog (and vice versa.) And this brings me to my next web conversation. The blog.
Web Conversation #2: After I meet someone on Facebook, I check in on their blog if they have one, and this is important: I make some comments. You don't need to do this on every blog you come across, but sometimes you really connect with a blog author. Supporting other authors and illustrators is important, but make sure you're commenting on reviewers' blogs, too. There are a lot of YA book review blogs out there, in particular. They are people in their teens and twenties who love books. This is my audience and they have connections-readers who will buy my books! And tell their friends! My plan is to create a web relationship so that they may take interest in reviewing my book. It's an investment of time, and I'm not published yet, so we'll see how it pans out. But I'm not the first person to do this and I received this advice from an author before me whose debut book is selling beautifully. She'd be the first to tell you that it has a lot to do with her web presence.
Web Conversation #3: Start a blog. I know this isn't for everyone, but there are a few really good reasons to do so. It will help people find you on the web. If you don't know the difference between website and blog, let me explain. It's actually quite simple. A website is like a billboard: your information sits there but it doesn't change unless you call your design person/firm and ask them to alter something. A blog is a website with fluidity of text and media, which you implement yourself. Again, there are lots of great articles on how to set one up, so here I'll simply say why you want one. It's easy. It's free. It's good publicity. It helps potential readers (or teachers who may be looking for school visits) find you. It gives potential agents and editors a chance to hear your natural voice. I just read an agent's blog article that mentioned he would sometimes look up someone's blog if he were considering his or her manuscript.
And here's to glue that sticks those web conversations together: Because I joined Facebook and had begun visiting and commenting on other blogs, when it was time for me to put together my own blog, I had readers. That's a good feeling. I wish I had begun all these conversations sooner because when I was wooing my agent, it would have been a fantastic selling point for me to have been able to say, "I have a strong web presence and some author and librarian contacts, as well." Agents and editors want to know you're in this thing together.
There are, of course, many other means of gaining a web presence, but I have found these to be the most useful for me so far. And believe me, I've spent hours exploring what's out there. Not only have I increased my web presence, I've learned a lot about the publishing industry. So come on and join in the web conversation. You can start by friending me.
Jody Sparks lives and writes in Chelsea MI, but more importantly lives on the Web at
By Neal Levin
Neal Levin cartoon Wild Things
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