Mitten Logo 

Winter 2012 

The Mitten

Dear MichKids,

I think I have used that clip art of the mountain before. And while I try not to repeat the graphics in the newsletter, it seemed to fit this issue. This is my last issue as editor of The Mitten. My husband and I are moving to Switzerland for a three-year assignment for his company. So that little graphic up there? It will be my view for the next few years. 


Which got me thinking about my view the last few years. What have I seen as editor of the newsletter, as the brochure designer, as a former AdCom member, as the previous book sale chair person, and as a new member oh, so many years ago? 


My first conference ever, I was actually asked to pick up Janel Cannon from the airport in Kalamazoo to take her to Gull Lake. I figured the conference organizers were nut jobs who just needed someone with a pulse and a driver's license. But what I saw is that this is a group of people who try to learn who the members are, and ask them to get involved.


When I expressed some concern over something the chapter was doing that bothered me, I was asked to join AdCom so that I could contribute new ideas, and so that the "old guard" could hear what the newer members saw that maybe they had gotten used to. 


When I suggested improvements in the way book sales were run, I was given the thumbs up to overhaul the process, which provided our published members faster payments, in cash, for their work, provided more opportunities to work with independent bookstores, and brought in more revenue for the chapter. 


When I took over the newsletter, with the intent of making it a more useful resource on craft, the RAs supported those changes. I haven't reached my goal completely, but it's on its way to providing more information about our membership, more articles about craft, more author and illustrator interviews, more question-and-answer segments, and more opportunities to promote our local author and illustrator presentations, and more chances to shine the spotlight on our award-winning membership.


Looking back, my view is that we have an immensely dedicated group of people who work incredibly hard to address the needs of the membership, who organize stellar conferences with top-notch professionals, who are professionals themselves, even if they aren't yet published, and who do all this for no money and no expectation of reward. I am proud to have been a part of such a wonderful group.


The new editor has yet to be named, but rest assured that the RAs are searching for someone who not only has the experience to do the job well, but also has vision to continue improving the newsletter while maintaining the best parts of The Mitten


One last thing: I need to thank a whole lotta people for all their help over the past several years. First, Leslie Helakoski and Monica Harris (and the previous RAs, especially Mindy Krasner) for their trust in me from literally day one. Kris Remenar, for being a great role model as an editor, and for giving me a lot to live up to. Linda Dimmer, for her assistant editor skills and suggestions during her tenure (Linda has decided to take advantage of the timing here and step down as well). My two critique groups: Group One (you know who you are), while we are no longer together, you helped me get started and I can never repay you. Group Two (you know who you are), thank you for keeping me moving forward. Lastly, thanks to all of you who have read the newsletter, shared articles and art, made suggestions for improvements, and who continue to pursue your passions in such a lonely business. I hope I have helped you even a teeny bit along your journey.


Farewell and fond wishes,

Jennifer Whistler


Levin Poetic License
Kiddie Litter by Neal Levin Copyrighted 
In This Issue
Member Profile: Rachel Anderson
Clues for the Clueless About the Writing Life
Expand Your Conference Horizons
While We're Waiting: Finding Success Before Your First Book Deal
Author Interview with Kristen Simmons
Book Review: Article 5
12 Things to Do With Rejection Letters
Understanding the Role of Rhyme in Poetry
The Subversive Weaver
Writing in 3-D
Illustrator Spotlight
March Critique Meet
Ask Frida Pennabook
Food For Thought
Hugs and Hurrahs
Quick Links


Regional Co-Advisor: Monica Harris

Regional Co-Advisor:
Leslie Helakoski

Newsletter Editor:   

Jennifer Whistler

"Ask Frida Pennabook"

Volunteer Coordinator:

Monica Harris

From the Desk of co-RA, Monica Harris:


Happy New Year, my fellow SCBWI Michigan members!  Hasn't it been a glorious winter so far?  (Well, if you're not too fond of snow anyway.) I've been using the added sunshine as energy and inspiration. I hope your projects are blooming as well.


Back in January of 2008, Leslie and I took on the positions of co-Regional Advisors for this great state.  Hard to believe it's been just over 3 years, yes? It's been quite a learning curve, but I hope that our hard work has been apparent in such areas as inspirational conferences, effective communications, and efficient recruitment of volunteers. One of the policies that we agreed to change is the transition of co-RAs.  We felt it would be more efficient if one stayed on to mentor the newer incoming co-RA. Once the new recruit felt steady enough, he or she would then recruit a companion co-RA. This serves as a great advantage for the chapter because at no point is Michigan left floundering with two "newbies." (And yes, we did feel like we were floundering at first - heehee.)


So, at this point in time, the time has come for me to step down. My last SCBWI event will be the spring conference on May 12th in Grand Rapids. Your new co-RA will be the wonderful and extremely experienced Rachel Anderson.  Rachel has been a member since 1989 and served on the Advisory Committee for 7 years, so you're in great hands. She is currently learning the RA ropes and helping AdCom for upcoming events. Please take a moment to congratulate her and thank her for her time, efforts, and dedication to this great organization. In order for you to get to know Rachel a bit more, she is our featured member for this newsletter issue. Check it out!


My deepest gratitude for the wonderful 3+ years and the grand adventure working with Leslie. It's been a pleasure serving you and I look forward to Michigan's bright future ~


Monica A. Harris,

co-Regional Advisor

MEMBER PROFILE:  Rachel Anderson

Rachel Anderson
Rachel Anderson

Interviewed by: Monica A. Harris


Editor's Note: This issue, our outgoing co-RA interviewed our incoming co-RA. We hope you have a chance to thank Monica for her time at the helm, and also welcome Rachel as she transitions.


MH: When did you first start writing for children? Was there a catalyst that initiated this process? 


RA: Once upon a time there was a young woman who wanted to write romance. She tried; she failed. She looked at her two girls, who were very young then, and said, "I can write for them and about them." That's when I started writing for children, and I won't say how many (many) years ago that was!


MH: What styles/genres do you write?


RA: Picture books (fiction only right now), MG, and YA.Over the past year I worked on five picture book manuscripts (all fiction) during my mentorship with Crystal Bowman; I've almost finished my MG historical novel for ages 7 - 10; my next project in the wings is a contemporary YA novel. And on the back burner? A YA fantasy adventure novel. I'm all over the place with ideas and challenges. Characters beg to have their story told and I aim to please.


MH: How do you stay motivated as a writer?


RA: I have my ups and downs like everyone else. One day I'm writing like crazy and loving the words on the page, and the next, I review what I wrote and dislike it all. It's best for me to stay connected with my critique group, and others who get what I'm trying to do and who support me. I need a pat on the back, or "chin up" talk to assure me that I'm on the right track. And it really boosts my ego when they tell me I'm a good/great/wonderful writer. 


MH: What are some of the best features of being a member of SCBWI Michigan?


RA: Our listserv is wonderful. We really need each other in this business. I love reading answers to the questions posted by our members. I've learned so much, and our members are so giving of their time and knowledge. And the talent we bring to our conferences is really fantastic. Publishing house doors are opened to us from attending SCBWI-MI conferences. A manuscript just might be picked up by an agent or editor simply by having a critique, or some face-to-face time with an editor/agent/art director who speaks at one of our conferences. I urge people to not miss out on those opportunities.  


MH: What goals do you wish to achieve while in the position of coRA of Michigan? 


RA: I'll have a better idea on what I'd like to see happen now that I'm starting back on the advisory committee (AdCom) prior to taking the co-RA reins. You and Leslie have done a great job at organizing our chapter, and I certainly want to keep that going. I want to continue offering superb conferences, and I like changing things up to meet the needs of the members.


MH: What else do you want the membership to know about you?  


RA: When I was considering taking the co-RA role, a co-worker asked me if I wanted to write stories or help others to write stories. And my answer was, "Both!" So I'm here to help our Michigan members get their work critiqued and sold, and I believe that, in the process, I'll be helped along the way as well. We are the mitten state, and it takes a hand to make a mitten work.


Rachel Anderson lives in Gaylord with a newly built house that was constructed by her and her husband. (Seriously!) She enjoys snowmobiling and spending time with her grown up kids and grandson, Zachary.


Monica Harris lives in Kalamazoo where she writes in her purple office. It matches some of her belly dance costumes. But that's another story.  


Shutta Red jacket
Shutta Crum


by Shutta Crum


1. There is no substitute for good writing (Having "connections" in the publishing world won't help if the writing is not good.) The most useful thing you can do to push your publishing career forward is to hone your craft. That means practice writing-and yes, despite what you might have heard-grammar, syntax and punctuation are important.


2. You need to be a reader in the area in which you wish to write. Read! Compare readings, take notes, and read like a writer. Could you do brain surgery if you did not study the body? ('Nuff said.)


3. No one can do your homework for you. You need to research children's publishing and current award winners. You need to know what is already out there so you won't waste your time, and so it will inform your writing. You'll be building a base of knowledge about your craft. That knowledge cannot reside in the mind of someone else. And remember, these are "current" books you will be studying because you will be writing for the millennial (today's) child, not the child you were fifty years ago.


4. No author will refer you to his/her agent or editor without falling in love with your manuscript. Relationships of this type are built on trust. No author would do damage to his or her agent/editor relationship without first reading and loving your manuscript. (Agents and editors are already inundated by thousands of manuscripts.) See # 5 for more info on this point.


5. Few authors have the time to mentor/read your manuscripts. (Thus they will have no time to fall in love with your writing.) This is because they are squeezing every second they can out of the day to work on their own books, and still retain a bit of a family life, and sanity. And don't forget, many authors must write in the middle of the night, or early in the morning, because they hold down day jobs. (See #9 for how much writing pays.) Teachers/instructors and contest judges will, generally, read your whole manuscript. A few authors offer manuscript critiques for a fee. Also, you can hire an independent editor or book doctor. (Do NOT use a book doctor referred to you by an agent that you are not completely sure is on the up-and-up. There could be kick-backs involved.)


6. Everyone gets rejected. This applies to well-known authors, who may have just gotten a rejection from the same agent/editor to whom you are seeking an introduction. There are many reasons for rejections. Get used to it. A lot of authors had hundreds of rejections before an acceptance. (I did!)


7. No one is interested in your memoir unless you are in the public light already, or did something amazing that few know about. The only exception to this is your immediate family.


8. No one is interested in the family tales your grandchildren love. (The exception to this is #7.) That is, unless you have crafted elegant stories from these through the hard work of plotting and revising. Remember, just because something really happened a certain way is no indication that the story should be written to follow the facts. Unless you're writing non-fiction, most good children's books require shaping through plotting. (See #1.)


9. The majority of authors make very little money. Surprised? Do the math. The basic contract for a novel is 10%. That's $1.50 for a $15 novel. Generally, first or second print runs are only few thousand copies. For picture books, it's worse! 10% must be shared with the illustrator. (No one magically comes up with another 10% for the illustrator.) Thus, 5% of a $16 hard-cover picture book is only 80! So event organizers: most authors will not travel long distances for "the opportunity" to sell a few copies of their books--the price of gas would eat up any royalties made on sales. (Exceptions to this are bookstore signings/conferences when networking is of more importance than selling.)


10. Authors are rewarded in many other ways, however. The best things that happen to authors are often NOT quantifiable. Children write letters to us. These are fun! And sometimes moving. One child collected over $500 to donate to the Blind Babies Foundation in San Francisco after reading my novel, Spitting Image. And you never know the places you'll go because of your books. I've been invited to the White House and to do a month-long tour of Japan. Wow! And of course, there is always the reward of a job well-done and recognition from people you admire. What more could anyone want from life?


I hope this list has given you some insight into a writer's life. It's not all rosy, but it is rewarding.




Write if you have a passion for it. Write if you love how vision and thought combine to shape words on a page.
Write if you want your words to march forth
and change the world in big, or small, ways.

Write if the artist within you says, "I am here. I make a difference."

 Be true to your talent. 

Honor it by giving attention to it.

This article originally appeared in Shutta's blog and is reprinted with permission of the author. Visit her blog at


Copyright by Lucy Ingels


by LuAnn Kern 


I suspect that, like me, many of you have varied writing interests. Mine go beyond children's literature to include women/family magazines and faith-based writing.  I figure the more varied my interests, the more experience I get and the stronger my writing becomes.  Often, what I learn in one arena translates into another. Take for example, this past July when I was one of 700 attendees of the She Speaks conference hosted by Proverbs 31 Ministries.


Don't let the name fool you.  The conference, now in its 10th year, featured an incredibly impressive writing track, powered by more than a dozen established and new Christian authors, such as Mary DeMuth, Susan Meissner, and New York Times best seller, Lysa TerKeurst. They and others generously shared their experiences with the hundreds of writers, like me, trying to find their voice, strengthen their craft, and build their audiences. The sessions covered fiction, magazine writing, memoirs, devotionals, branding, and marketing. While there I had the opportunity to meet with a publisher face to face to pitch my picture book manuscript, bypassing the submission and slush pile process. They passed on it, but said they were interested in hearing from me again (encouraging) and now I have a personal connection at that publishing house--a golden opportunity! And, through a connection I made at the conference, a devotional I wrote was featured on a web site with a substantial national audience. 


Here are just a few of the things I learned during my She Speaks weekend in Concord, NC:


10,000 hours There's a theory (put forth by Malcolm Gladwell) that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to truly master something, be it basketball, piano playing, or writing. So, every minute you spend reading and researching, every blog you read, every minute with your critique group, every conference you attend, it all adds up. Working full time and raising two young daughters, I often get frustrated that I can't find the time I want/need to write. To me this figure isn't daunting, but a reminder that it's a long journey and every moment I can steal away for my writing adds to the whole effort.


Really, really know your characters. Make a list of their flaws and virtues, habits and quirks. Give them a history. Can you give them a two-three word descriptor?  For example, if I say "miserly Christmas hater" you know instantly whom I'm talking about.


The mighty search function.  If you struggle with "show don't tell," try this trick: search for the word "was" in your document, determine if it's passive or past tense, and replace as necessary. Do the same with "it" and replace "it" with something better. Do the same with  "-ly" -- instead of  "the radio played loudly," try "the radio blared."  Ah, much better.    

Keep a writer's notebook. Don't assume you'll remember every brilliant idea you come across, or even have--write it down, along with the source.  Things to include: favorite words, book title ideas, character names, quotes about writing, plot ideas, research, cool lines that beg to be used, dreams, etc. I had notes scattered about, but this challenged me to get them organized and my writing has benefited from the effort.


While I love attending the SCBWI-MI writing conferences and following the blogs of various children's authors, I'm glad I ventured in a different direction by attending She Speaks. The change in perspective and exposure to other writers and other markets was well worth the registration fee and has strengthened ALL of my writing efforts.  And hey, it was a great chance to chip away at my 10,000 hours!


LuAnn and her husband live a busy, pink, furry life in Lansing with their young daughters, annoying cat, and needy dog. She's a "communications analyst" ( fancy for "writer") for the state of Michigan, but steals away every minute she can find to write "fun" stuff: picture books, magazine articles, and posts for her upcoming blog. She's slowly chipping away at her 10,000 hours.


Patti Richards
Patti Richards



By Patti Richards


Let's think of something to do while we're waiting,

While we're waiting for something new to do.

Let's try to think up a song while we're waiting,

That's liberating and will be true to you.


--Mr. Rogers



Who doesn't love Mr. Rogers? With him, even the not-so-fun process of waiting becomes a catchy, sing-it-in-your-head-all-day tune as you trudge through notes, revisions and edits. But what does a hard working writer for children do when the revisions are finished and the envelope is sealed and in the mail (or attached to an email)? We've often heard the best thing to do is move right on to the next project rather than eat way too many peanut M&Ms and check your email every fifteen seconds. But if you're drained of fresh ideas, need a little pocket money, or in my case money to pay the bills, or if you'd like some credits to add to your resume, consider looking outside of kid lit for some boot-camp-style writer's experience.


Write Locally


One of the first places I got my writer's feet wet was through the local newspaper. Local newspapers often look for freelance writers to cover charity events, school news, local heroes and outstanding volunteers. Assignments are not quite as plentiful now due to smaller budgets, but there may still be work available for writers wanting to add credits to their resume by covering a story well for a small amount of money.


Another resource for local writing is regional magazines. Groups like MetroParent Publishing have several print magazines as well as online content. These groups take queries and, if you can establish a relationship with an editor, will put you on a list for future assignments.


In each case, query the managing editor or look for submission guidelines in the fine print. For these types of publications you are an independent contractor and invoice for your work for an agreed-upon price.


Internet and SEO Writing


Another place to cut your publishing teeth is through Internet and SEO writing. Websites are always looking for great content writers, and companies will pay freelance writers to keep their blog content fresh and "green" (not constrained by dates and times). Websites like let you pitch for posted jobs. Writer Access provides writers to companies at per-word prices and gives hired writers an account where jobs are claimed. Complete the work to the style guide in the allotted time and you get paid. Good ratings on Writer Access can get you on client "love" lists for future projects. Bright Hub, Demand Media, and Suite 101 are also good content channels.


Search Engine Optimization writing is incredibly specific, focusing on keywords that drive traffic to a website through search engines. SEO content writers have a list of keywords that must be used a certain number of times in an article. SEO content writing hones skills quickly due to the limited number of words allowed to write a readable, informative piece.


Benefits of Different Writing Experiences


Having to find some paying work a few years ago was truly one of the best things that ever happened to me as a writer. Mr. Rogers teaches children there are ways to improve, learn and grow during times of waiting. Here are just a few things I've learned:  

  • Editors--Working with editors before you get a book contract teaches you how to look at your work honestly and grow a thick skin when it comes to making changes. You learn to slash, burn and not look back.
  • Word Count--Writing to a word count makes you choose only the best words. You can't get this anywhere else. I've learned you can write about almost anything in 500 words or less.
  • Publishing Credits--Getting publishing credits for your resume is important. Having a list of places where editors and agents can read your work, even if it's outside of children's literature, lets them know you are a hard-working professional worth a second look.
  • Increased Confidence--To a writer, getting published means everything, even if it's just a short article buried on the Internet. It boosts your self esteem and gives you the courage to keep trying. Getting your name in print, no matter how insignificant it may seem, helps you move forward.

So, if you find yourself in the waiting zone, like Mr. Rogers says, "Think of something to do." You'll probably find that even the smallest writing assignments teach some big writing lessons.


Patti Richards is a freelance writing veteran with over 20 years' experience. She recently signed with TransAtlantic Literary Agency for two picture books, and has just completed her second middle grade novel.
Author Kristen Simmons


by Kristin Lenz 


Article 5, Kristen Simmons' new book, was released on January 31. Kristen is busy with her full-time day job and writing book 3 of Chase and Ember's story, but she graciously took a time-out to answer some questions for me.  


KL: Congratulations on your debut novel, Article 5! Tell us about your path to publication. Who is your agent?


KS: Oh the path to publication! It hasn't been an easy journey, that's for sure. I've had some low points, times when I almost gave up, but also some really wonderful, life-changing moments.


I wrote my first manuscript in 2002. And okay, maybe it was terrible, but at the time I didn't know that. I thought it was pretty good. I mean, it was a book wasn't it? That's all you needed to be a published author, right? Wrong. I wrote a query letter, sent it out feeling hopeful. And then the rejections started rolling in. I was devastated.


But I wrote another book, and then another, and then another. I didn't know anything about writing groups or critique partners. I told no one I wrote. I thought I was doing what everyone was doing, sending out letters to agents, getting the same form rejections back. I kept telling myself that. years.


And then I wrote Article 5, and even though I knew I was setting myself up for heartbreak, I tried one more time. I told myself if this didn't work out, I was done. No more querying.

I got lucky. I met Joanna MacKenzie, from Browne and Miller Literary Agency. She's an editing agent, and helped me shape up the manuscript. (I always love the term "shape up
." They should actually call it "boot camp" or "survival training" or something like that.) Through that process I learned so much: what I was capable of, the importance of good feedback, what I needed from an agent. Someone who was supportive, who never treated me like I was an idiot, who was easily accessible. She is truly one of my favorite people in the world and I'm so, so grateful to have her on my team. There simply would be no Article 5 without her. 


KL: One of the reasons this book resonated with me so much is that I'm a social worker like you, and I recognized many of the issues that we face in our practice.  Your compassion really came through in this story.  In what ways do you think your social work career or values influenced this story?


KS: Thank you! I've learned a lot from a career in social work, but perhaps the most important thing is the incredible tenacity of the human spirit. In our field we often see people at their most difficult moments. Our job is to help them rise up, reclaim their strength. As you know, Kristin, witnessing someone recover after they've stumbled is the kind of thing that makes you believe in almost anything. It changes the way you look at the world.


When I write, I'm aware of the mental health of my characters - they've been through some traumatic things, and as a result, are dealing with some pretty hefty emotional consequences. Things that anyone might feel after experiencing what Chase and Ember have. But they're resilient. Like with anyone struggling with a hardship, there is hope, as long as they can learn to trust and support each other.


KL: Resilience is such a strong theme in your book, and you're right, it has shaped my worldview and inspired me throughout my social work career.  Some of the scenes in Article 5 must have been extremely challenging for you to write.  There were times when I thought, "Oh please no, just let them escape, please don't let anything else awful happen to them!"  But of course, things go from bad to worse, the suspense builds, and the stakes continue to rise.  Tell us about your experience writing these difficult scenes.


KS: You know, it's funny. I didn't mind putting Ember in a bind, but it was really hard making Chase suffer. I hated it. I'd avoid writing those scenes as long as I could, and then when I did, I was constantly apologizing to him in my head. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, we'll get through this together, I'm sorry!" A therapist could have a field day with this discrepancy, I'm sure. 


Also, I'm sort of a fixer, and had a strong inclination to immediately resolve whatever problems they encountered, including in their relationship. But, my agent and editor moved me past that. Apparently suspense isn't so suspenseful if you take out all the tension. Who knew?


KL: What was your favorite scene to write?


KS: I don't want to give too much away...but there's a certain scene involving a farm and a motorcycle and possibly (maybe) a kiss. That was my favorite.


KL: [Sighs] That was one of my favorites, too! Tell us about your revision process with your agent and editor. How is the final version of Article 5 different from the manuscript you originally submitted? How did your novel change or develop further through the editing process?


KS: Let's see, revisions were cake. No problem. Took me ten minutes, tops.


Okay, maybe that's a bit of an understatement. 


I went through revisions with my agent before we signed a contract. Three rounds of revisions, to be precise, in which the entire story was restructured and lost 60,000 pounds. Ahem, words. A lot changed during this time. I mean, Ember was actually dating Tucker Morris in the first draft (I know. Thank goodness for good agents).


Then, after we found my editor (Melissa Frain, Tor Teen), I went through another round of revisions in which an additional fifty pages were cut (Are you getting the feeling Article 5 was loooong? It was. It was 154,000 words when I queried. And to think it took me seven years to find an agent). For those of you who have read Article 5, those fifty pages became flashbacks, but in the original version all those events took place before chapter 1. Then came line edits, where more detailed problems were worked out, like how did she get outside when two sentences ago she was in the bedroom? Then came copy edits, like did you know you use the word "grasp" 64 times in chapter 2? Then came the first page pass, the last chance to make any final corrections. And the rest is history.


Thanks for letting me tell my story, Kristin! And thank you SCBWI! If you have published, I salute you, and if you're on your way there, I wish you all the best. If I can do it, you can. Don't lose hope.


Want a chance to win a copy of Article 5?  Of course you do! SCBWI-MI member Natalie Aguirre is interviewing Kristen Simmons and giving away a copy of her book at the Literary Rambles blog ( on Monday, February 13th. 


For more about Kristen Simmons and her books, visit her website at

Article 5 cover

By Kristin Lenz


Article 5

by Kristen Simmons

Tor Teen, 2012


Kristen Simmons has written a powerful young adult novel about the devastation of war and the resilience of the human spirit. Not just the physical destruction, but the emotional crumbling of a society and its humanity. If that sounds bleak, have no fear. While the story is full of hold-your-breath suspense and horrific threats, there is tenderness, deep love, and a ray of hope guiding you through to the very satisfying ending.


I'm biased, I'll admit it. Kristen Simmons is one of my blog partners at YA Fusion, and she's a social worker like me. To be honest, I might not have picked up this novel otherwise. Realistic contemporary fiction is my preference, and while I loved The Hunger Games, dystopian isn't my thing. Article 5 is set in an imaginary future U.S., but the characters are struggling with very real issues that will make you ponder your worldview. For me, it emphasized that our world is full of choices that are not black and white, but shades of gray, subject to re-evaluation as circumstances change and evolve over time.    


The main characters, Chase and Ember, didn't always behave in the ways I wanted them to, but their actions and reactions were true to the story. It takes time to illuminate those shades of gray, and you'll pray and root for them along their treacherous journey. This book moved me to tears, and I hugged it tightly when finished. 


Kristin Lenz lives in Royal Oak and contributes to the YA Fusion blog, which you can visit here.

12 THINGS TO DO WITH  campfire


by Betty Westra 


Don't you hate when the mail person brings yet another rejection letter or form? You  snatch up the daily mail, maybe right from the startled mail carrier's hand, only to rip it open and read, "Dear Author: Thank you for submitting your manuscript to Never Say Die Books for Young Readers.We apologize for using this form letter [I'll bet], but.... Your work was given careful consideration and we are sorry to say [oh, yeah].... We are grateful to you for thinking of us [sure] and wish you the best of luck..."


After gnashing your teeth, sobbing, or stuffing your face with chocolate, what do you do with the rejection letters? Do you shred them and scatter them over your dog run? There are more creative and interesting things that you can do with rejection letters/forms. Here are 12 things that you can do with them that might help you feel better.   

  1. Use them for kindling to start a healthy fire either in your fireplace or at your campground. While you watch the smoke waft upward, you can imagine it as a signal to the editor about his/her opinion of your work.
  2. Speaking of camping, why not pack them into your backpack to use if you run out of toiler paper? 
  3. Use them to drain your breakfast bacon. While you watch the grease seep into the paper, you can think of the ten other manuscripts out there in the "Writer's Never, Never Land" that still have a chance. Besides, the grease will help fuel your camp fire.
  4. Or, if you have an infant in your house, use them as diaper liners. Some of their wisdom might impart to your baby, but then, he/she is on your side.
  5. If you have a bird or other pet at home, why not line the bird cage or paper train the puppy on them?   
  6. After thinking about these options, you might want some less vindictive or yucky choices for your rejections. So, let your kids make airplanes with them and fly them around the yard, or...
  7. If it happens to be winter, make snowflakes and decorate the house.
  8. If you send a package to someone, use them as packing material, but only after you obliterate any personal information. You wouldn't want anyone to think you get this kind of letter often. Now, you say, isn't there some way I can use them to further my writing career? Of course. 
  9. You can recycle them when printing a manuscript for your critique group, hoping that members won't read the other side. 
  10. Next time you lecture on writing for children, you can use them as proof that this career isn't for the thin skinned or faint hearted.
  11. If you own a shredder, you can also turn them into confetti for your next bowl game.
  12. As a helpful option, do as a friend of mine once did and paper your writing room with rejection letters as a constant incentive to keep working and improving. They will bring laughs when your manuscripts do sell, maybe even to one of the rejecting editors.

Happy writing and have fun with your rejection letter/forms.


Betty writes short stories, poetry, and articles, has had an early reader published, and taught at the Institute of Children's Literature for years. She hopes that she soon runs out of excess rejection letters. 

by Janet Heller 

 Many people think that rhyme is the most important aspect of writing poetry.Actually, the ideas, images, structure, and rhythm are more important. Overemphasizing rhyme can distort the meaning and syntax of poetry. However, rhyme has several advantages.   

  1. Rhyme emphasizes important words or ideas for the readers, and
  2. It helps to structure verse. 
  3. We can memorize poems more easily if they have rhyme.
  4. Adults and children often like repeated sounds. 

Good poets who use rhyme and sometimes write for children include Robert Louis Stevenson, Karla Kuskin, Emily Dickinson, John Ciardi, Vachel Lindsay, Roald Dahl, Judith Nicholls, and Langston Hughes.  


Many famous works of poetic literature do not rhyme. For example, the Psalms in the Bible, originally written in Hebrew, do not rhyme, Homer's Iliad and Odyssey do not rhyme, and most of the lines in the plays of William Shakespeare do not rhyme. Shakespeare uses rhymes to set off songs within his dramas and to indicate the end of a scene. Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth wanted poetry to be closer to speech and thus called some of their unrhymed works "conversation poems." Walt Whitman used parallel clauses and phrases instead of rhyme to structure his poems. Robert Frost's poems often use unrhymed "blank verse." Most contemporary poetry does not rhyme. Jane Yolen writes the picture book Owl Moon in poetry without rhyme. Some good recent books for children use unrhymed poetry, including Katherine Applegate's Home of the Brave (2007), which is a novel in poetic form about an African refugee boy who comes to Minnesota, and Laura Amy Schlitz's Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! (2007), which has dramatic monologues spoken by different people who live in a medieval town.   


Furthermore, English is a difficult language for writers to find rhymes for words. Because English has borrowed vocabulary from Latin, Greek, French, Norse, Spanish, German, Native American and other languages, English words have many different final sound combinations. In contrast, other languages have very similar endings for nouns, verbs, adverbs, and adjectives, so it is relatively easy to create rhymes in Spanish, Italian, German, Hebrew, etc.   


There are different kinds of rhyme in poetry. Most writers know about "perfect rhyme," but many modern writers find "slant rhyme" (also called "imperfect rhyme") more subtle and more practical for English verse. In perfect rhyme, both the final consonant and the final vowel sound are identical. For example, car and bar rhyme perfectly. In slant rhyme, either the final consonant sounds are identical, or the final vowel sounds are identical, but not both. Examples of slant rhyme are back and cat (the vowels rhyme) and spend and wind (the final consonants rhyme). English has many more possibilities for slant rhyme than for perfect rhyme. Most modern poets use slant rhyme because it allows more variety and flexibility in word choice. 


Many writers do not know that for true rhyme, the rhyming words must have the same pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables. When the rhymes are one-syllable words (snow and go) or the final stressed syllables of polysyllabic words (defeat and compete), scholars call this "masculine rhyme," but when the final syllable or syllables of rhymed words lack stress (obsession and digression), scholars use the term "feminine rhyme."  (Note:  I know that these terms are sexist, but they were coined long before I was born.)  Technically, the following is not a good rhyme because the first word has a masculine pattern, while the second word has a feminine pattern: rent and endowment. 


While many writers for children try rhymed couplets, more complex rhyme schemes have a long and proud history in literature written in English. For example, medieval ballads use four-line stanzas that have rhyme only at the ends of even-numbered lines.   Stevenson's "The Swing" uses four-line stanzas in which the odd-numbered lines rhyme, and the even-numbered lines also rhyme; we can diagram this pattern as a-b-a-b.   Sonnets written in the Italian (also called Petrarchan) format begin with an "octave" that contains two a-b-b-a units. Sestets are six-line units, which can rhyme in many different ways, including a-b-c-a-b-c, a-b-c-c-b-a, a-b-a-b-c-c, a-b-a-b-a-b, and a-a-b-c-c-b. 


Remember that prose poetry, a work in prose that demonstrates some aspects of a poem (such as many images, repeated rhythm, repeated sounds, and repeated structural units), is also an option. One example is my picture book for children about bullying, How the Moon Regained Her Shape (Sylvan Dell, 2006). I encourage writers for children to experiment with different poetic formats. 


Janet is president of the Michigan College English Association. Her poetry book Traffic Stop was published in 2011. Her fiction picture book about bullying, How the Moon Regained Her Shape (Sylvan Dell, 2006), has won four national awards. Janet's website is 

Orange orb weaver
Photo Courtesy Flagstaffotos


By Katherine Higgs-Coulthard


Orange Orb Weaver.

With its large body and candy-corn tipped legs, the spider that has taken up residence in the window above my writing desk causes my mind to drift from the novel I'm revising to picture books ideas. Her name could be Charlie, after another more famous spider. She could be the muse for a young poet. Maybe . . .


"Whatcha doin'?"


My hands jerk back to the keyboard.




I nod at the screen which dutifully displays the latest version of my story. Editorial notes pepper pages strewn across my desk. Evidence of a writer at work.


Hannah looks unconvinced. "Wanna play Barbies?"


I consider enlightening her on daydreaming's essential role in the revision process, but then I'd have to introduce her to my orange orb weaving friend. Knowing her terror at confronting even the tiniest ant, I opt for distraction.


"Tell Chris to get you a popsicle."


I grab a pen to jot down my idea about the spider muse but now Laura's at my door holding up her feather-topped pen.  


"I'm ready," she announces.  


I rack my brain for whatever promise I'd made. Laura plops her journal on my desk (sending the pages of my novel into further disarray) and drags over a stool.  


"Our book?" she prompts. "The one you said we could write together?"


"Look! The dreaded spee-i-der!" I cry.


Hannah would have dashed to find Daddy, Conqueror of All Things Scary, but Laura grins.  


"Let's draw it."


After twenty minutes of sketching and writing about spiders, Laura says she's hungry.  


"Go remind Dad to feed the hungry beasts," I tell her.  


She darts upstairs.


I turn to my editor's notes. Inconsistent tone. Emotional whiplash. I stare at the scene in question, sure that I should know how to fix it. But guilt is a dam on the creek of creativity and I can't get past the pile of sticks and muck that represents me, holed up in the basement shuffling words around, while my children go hungry upstairs.


I go back to staring at the spider.


I know it's not blowing off. Not procrastination. This emptying out is as much a part of writing as dragging pen across paper. Watching the spider stretch and pull its silk into slender lines allows me to hold the fine strands of my story between my fingers and draw them out of the tangle. Daydreaming allows my mind to drift out of focus just enough to imagine a new scene, a character's unexpected reaction. What if my character. . .?


Upstairs feet pound, doors slam, and the mower drowns out the girls with their scooters and sidewalk chalk. I wonder what they had for lunch--if they had lunch--and then I pick up the pen and jot a few options for the scene. Halfway down the page, my eyes are drawn back to the window as my son's black Nikes step into view.


"Hi, Mom," Chris mouths, saluting me with the weed whacker.  


I tap my finger against the glass to show him my gorgeous new muse. Chris bends down, momentarily transformed into the little boy we'd called "Bug" because of his devotion to rescuing each stuck-on-its-back beetle. We share a moment of awe at the spider's stunning beauty and complex web, then my gentle son with the poet's soul gets to his feet and weed whacks it to death.


I flinch. My eyes fall on the binders that line one shelf--completed, but not yet published, novels. Seven of them. How many webs had this spider built, only to have them destroyed? And what did she have to show for all that work?


Suddenly, I am exhausted. I trudge up the stairs and give over the rest of my day to laundry and dinner preparation, homework and baths, bedtime stories and prayers. I fall into bed and stare at the ceiling, grieving the loss of one small spider that has somehow become a metaphor of my writing life.  


In the morning I get the kids off to school, brush aside strands of self pity, and trudge back to my writing desk. I can't help glancing at the silver threads dangling in the window. A slight movement in the window's topmost corner catches my eye. Charlie. Alive and well and already at work on her next masterpiece.


The poet Adrienne Rich once suggested that the constant juggling of work, childcare, and household duties prevents many women from attaining the sustained silence necessary to harness the "subversive function of the imagination." I'd often hidden behind that quote, used it as an excuse for entire weeks when I wrote not one single word.


I wonder what Charlie, my orange orb weaving muse, would think of that.


Kathy Higgs-Coulthard is director of Michiana Writers' Center, where she facilitates writing workshops for adults and children. Their website is

Meg Mims
Meg Mims
by Meg Mims


Dragging your feet while writing something new? Can't motivate yourself to open that file and finish that picture book text, poem, novel or short story? Chillax!


It's okay to take a break from writing. Sometimes the brain needs to "sleep on it" or find another outlet for the creative juices to start flowing again. I just finished a novella for a Valentine's Day deadline and knew I'd rushed the ending--but I submitted, sold, inked the contract, and then headed off happy to my art class that night. Dabbled in paint and collage, went home and fell in bed exhausted. I couldn't solve that rushed ending. It would have to do.


But no--my brain had been working while I "played" with watercolor, glue, pearls, and paper. And it didn't sleep while my body was resting. Nope. Brain cells danced like Mexican jumping beans and whizzed along synapses until I woke the next morning. And knew exactly how to fix that ending and jazz it up, make it far more satisfying to the reader.


So one tip I can swear by to other authors is to PLAY. Take time to close your laptop. Read some new book--and pay attention to the rhythm of the words, the images from descriptive passages, the story arc and character development. Pick up your crochet or knitting and relax. While your fingers are moving, your brain will be zipping along without telling you about it, and then nudge you with a new pattern or story element you may need. Go outside for a brisk walk, or putter in the garden (weather permitting, of course). Take your camera and snap pictures of the changing landscape, the weather (clouds, puddles, snow, ice) or small animals like birds, squirrels, your pets, anything that tickles your fancy.


Agatha Christie once said, "The best time to plan a book is while you're doing the dishes." In this day and age, who doesn't have a dishwasher? So for me, I do my best thinking while running the vacuum. No joke! The noise is soothing to me, and I'm always catching myself puzzling over the next phase of a story, or what I missed in describing a setting. Cleaning out a closet or clearing your desk is also great--organizing anything, from a toy box to a drawer might just re-align the story that's gotten you stuck. But don't avoid the writing--get back to it within a few hours, or the next morning. The trick is to alternate and spread your time wisely.


While writing my historical western YA romantic suspense (yes, it has all those elements!), Double Crossing, I had a weekly Monday night class. I found that when I skipped, my writing bogged down around Wednesday. I had to scramble for some other artistic outlet to zap myself back into full steam ahead mode. Do I include those watercolor classes in my tax expenses? You betcha! They're vital to my artistic output. So are writing workshops, lunches with other artists and writers (although I don't throw the receipts into the tax folder unless I'm attending a writers' conference) and strolling through a gallery to see new artwork.


Think outside of your laptop "screen" and engage your brain in some new creation. Grab that paint brush and change the color of your bedroom. Take a cooking class, or stamp a greeting card. Anything to "mix it up" and keep yourself away from the ruts in your writing journey.


Maximize your creativity and enjoy that surge of power!


Meg is an author, artist and amateur photographer. Meg's novella, The Key to Love (a Valentine's Day contemporary romance) will be released this month. Double Crossing is available from Astraea Press, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble. The sequel, Double or Nothing, will be available later this year. Visit Meg's website at and follow her on Twitter @megmims. 

Lori McElrath-Eslick 
Eslick Garden 1
Planting the Seeds 
Reaping the Rewards 

Lori's artwork appeared in the July/August 2011 issue of The Little Christian magazine. Visit Lori's website at 
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. Looking for a Critique Meet in your area? Just contact Anita Pazner here, or check out

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,


I was recently told to stop double spacing after a period. I've been doing it ever since I learned to type, on an actual typewriter. This is a hard habit to break after so long. Why do I need to break it, anyway? 



Forcive Habit  


Dear Habit,


First of all, I need to correct you on something entirely unrelated to the to-double-space-or-not issue. There is no such thing as a "forcive habit." I believe what you meant to say is that your inability to single space after a period is a "force OF habit." Sorry about that digression. The English teacher in me could not let it rest.


Now, onto the real issue: the dreaded double space. Let's look at a little history behind why one double spaces in the first place. It doesn't have anything to do with typesetting (at least not directly), as some people assert. Rather, it is because of typewriters. Typesetters had created the convention for a single space after a period around the end of the 19th century. Before this, there was a tendency to either have ridiculously large spaces (three or four), or none at all, with the first letter of the next sentence directly following the period. Prior to the typewriter, typeset letters all had different widths, depending on the letter. The type for an "I" was much narrower than the type for a "W", for example. So words flowed together nicely. They looked pretty. Once the typewriter was invented, there was a bit of a problem. All the keys had exactly the same width regardless of the letter, which made for awkward looking sentences with uneven spacing, making it difficult to spot the end of a sentence. To create a visual cue, the standard of typewriting became the double-space. The standard of typesetting, however, has always remained the single space.


So, back to the present. Why is it a problem to use the double space when working with a word processor? There are a couple reasons, and in our line of work, they matter. The first reason means more to people who work in desktop publishing, web design, PR, advertising, etc. Those extra spaces wreak havoc on formatting. It creates an uneven spacing in the flow of the text, and the visual is crucial. In addition, every so often, that extra space lands at the beginning of a line of text, forcing the first letter of the line to be indented when it should be justified. For the editor/designer/webmaster, hunting down those extra spaces is like searching for fleas on a black dog--virtually impossible to see.


The second reason will probably resonate with you a little more: because that is the way editors and agents want to see your submissions. Those extra spaces will all be stripped away eventually (once your brilliant manuscript has earned you a seven-figure advance and is on its way to be typeset), so what you want to show is that you can change with the times, that you keep up on technological advances, that you are paying attention to trends in the market, that you not only know how to write well, but you also know how to correctly format your writing.


The double space is history. And despite my lovely portrait above, I am all about keeping up with the times. Stay with me, people!


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

by Vicky Lorencen

If you want to write a comedy, eat bananas (and toss the peels on the

If you need to describe a nude scene, eat fig leaves.

If you're aiming for an epic, eat novel oranges.

If you're penning a horror story, eat ugly fruit.

If you're going for a "bodice ripper," eat chocolate-covered


If your story line includes technology, eat an apple.

If your plot involves twins, eat pears.

If you're exploring life in Hollywood, eat star fruit.

If you're writing a tell-all, eat sour grapes.

Want to write historical fiction? Eat dates.

Trying to crank out a real tear jerker? Eat blueberries.

Struggling with writers block? Eat . . . oh, you guessed it already,

didn't you?

Personally, I think the whole idea is nuts.

Vicky Lorencen lives in Jackson where she enjoys sinking her teeth into middle grade novel writing. She sometimes takes a stab at picture books. Right now her plate is full of non-fiction projects. And yes, occasionally, she has to eat her words.
Sat Eve Post



Neal Levin won the "Limerick Laughs" poetry contest in the Saturday Evening Post for the second time! His new poem is in the Jan/Feb 2012 issue and can be viewed online at This is his third poem to be published in that magazine in the last three issues.

Also, Neal's poem "Not Quite Working Out" was published in the Nov/Dec issue of The Saturday Evening Post, in the "Post Scripts" humor section. Everything seems to be working out for you quite nicely, Neal! Congratulations!

Heather Brady's chapter book manuscript, The Victorian with a Secret, won first place in the Children's Picture/Chapter Book category at the Pacific Northwest Writers Association (PNWA) 2011 Literary Conference. See a list of all the winners at 

Congrats, Heather! We won't keep this a secret!


Monica Harris sold four writing pieces to the Michigan MEAP program. That's something positive to be said about the MEAP! Congrats, Monica!


Lori McElrath-Eslick's painting Fly Fishing the Underpass was at the National ARTS Club, New York, NY, for the month of October in the Catherine Lorillard Wolfe Art Club's 115th annual exhibit, juried by Stephen Doherty, Art Director of the American Artist publication Plein Air Magazine. She also had another piece, The Art of Mehndi, appear in the November/December issue of Cricket magazine. You've been busy, Lori. Congratulations on all your accomplishments!  

fortune cookie


(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. )




February 4

Anyone who has dreamed of a writing career won't want to miss this exciting event, featuring four mid-Michigan children's authors. On Saturday, February 4 from 1-2 p.m., the Haslett Branch of the Capital Area District Library is proud to present "The Path to Publication," a panel discussion about how these authors went from aspiring to published: Ruth McNally Barshaw (the Ellie McDoodle middle grade series), Deborah Diesen (New York Times bestselling picture book The Pout-Pout Fish),  Carol A. Grund (the Anna Mei middle grade series) and Amy Huntley (The Everafter, 2009 ALA Morris Award finalist, ages 12 & up). After speaking about their experiences, the authors will take questions and share resources. Books will be available for sale and signing.    


March 10  

Jean Alicia Elster will be a guest speaker at the 56th Annual Michigan Reading Association Conference March 10 - 11, 2012, in Grand Rapids. The title of her presentation is "Transforming the Mundane into Something Special." She will present on Saturday, March 10 at 8:45 a.m. and noon. For more conference information, visit  



Little Pickle Press has a call out for chapter book manuscripts. For more detailed information, go to

MuseItUp Publishing accepts YA manuscripts between March 1 and May 30. Please visit for more details. Check out their "Editors Call for Submissions" as well.



Fun for Kidz, Hopscotch, and Boy's Quest magazines' theme lists can be found at Links for specific submission guidelines for each magazine can also be found at the above link.

Pockets 2012 issue theme list can be found at 



Tarcher/Penguin Novel Contest: Seeking the Next Top Artist Writing Contest
The top prize is $5,000 and a manuscript review by a Penguin editor. Submit an unpublished novel, novella-length fiction, or a work of narrative nonfiction. Limit one entry per person. No entry fee. Deadline is March 2, 2012. Visit for more information and rules. 


5th Annual Amazon Breakthrough Novel Competition  The competition will award two grand prizes: one for General Fiction and one for Young Adult Fiction. The 2012 competition is also open to novels that have previously been self-published. Each winner will receive a publishing contract with Penguin, which includes a $15,000 advance. No entry fee. Deadline is February 5, 2012. Visit for more information and official rules. 


Children's Writer Middle-Grade Mystery Writing Contest 

The contest is for a fictional mystery that will engage readers ages 9 to 12, up to 900 words. The first contest entry is free to Children's Writer subscribers who include their account number on page one of their manuscript.  All others pay an entry fee of $15, which includes an 8-month subscription. Prizes: $500 for first place plus publication in Children's Writer, $250 for second place, and $100 for third, fourth, and fifth places. Entries must be received by April 30, 2012. Visit http://www.thechildrenswriter.comfor more information and rules. 


Pockets Magazine Annual Fiction Contest

There is no set theme and no entry theme. Stories should be 750-1,000 words. Multiple submissions are allowed. Past winners are ineligible. Prize: $500 and publication in the magazine. Entries will be accepted between March 1 and August 15. For more information, scroll to the bottom of the page at



The Creative Penn by Joanna Penn 

Lots of information about writing, publishing, and book marketing. You can sign up for her newletter and a free report, "Author 2.0 Blueprint for Writing, Publishing, and Marketing Your Book."


Adventures in YA & Children's Publishing 

This site offers query letter help for children's writers, first chapter help, signs of an amateur writer, and much more. It's a great resource for writers.