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Summer 2012 

The Mitten

Dear MichKids,  


By the time you read this, I will be on a plane to California, heading to my first-ever SCBWI national conference.

I'm already nervous just thinking about it. For years, I would scour that conference brochure and leave it sitting out on my desk. I thought, maybe when I have a published novel...

This year, I didn't get a brochure in the mail, it was only online. I studied it for days, checked my airline points, and finally hit send. Almost immediately, I wished I could take it back! Oh why had I neglected to read the cancellation policy!

Spending time and money on a conference of this stature makes a statement. It says, I am a serious writer. And even though I've been working on my craft for many years, it's still hard to call myself a writer. I have no trouble calling myself a social worker; I have the master's degree, licensure, and job history to prove it. What will it take for me to feel competent as a writer?

I know what you're going to say, even authors who have published many books still don't feel competent, they are still learning, and the more you learn, the more you realize how little you know. So, I'll continue on my learning path, devoting time and energy in this pursuit, and immersing myself in the company of other inspiring writers. Even if it scares the heck out of me.

Bon voyage!

Kristin Lenz



Dear MichKids,


Today is Aug. 1 and I am celebrating the completion of the first draft of my YA novel! Fantastic, right?


I'm guessing it feels great and I'm probably having a few cocktails to mark the occasion. But as I write this, it's not actually Aug. 1 yet and I'm about 20,000 words from actually being done so the declaration feels terribly premature. But, I needed to write this column so that Kristin and I could do all the behind-the-scenes stuff that makes this newsletter appear in your inbox.


I'm certain my first draft will be done by the time you get this, though, because I want to have something I'm not embarrassed of in time for the fall conference (see blurb below). And in order for that to happen, I needed to have time to work on a second draft. It's going to be tight (see deadlines in blurb below), but I'm pretty confident I'm going to make it.


As June waned, I found myself more and more often distracted by Facebook, so I took a month-long moratorium. Now, when I feel my focus slipping, I keep working instead of checking to see if anyone has liked the status I posted 3 minutes ago. Do you have things in your life that are taking away from the completion of your goals? It may feel impossible at first, but eliminating these things is easier than it seems. (Don't judge if I have 789 new Facebook posts today. July was a long, long month!)  

The inspiration I gained from the Spring Conference (see blurbs below) couldn't have come at a better time. I left Grand Rapids with a renewed commitment to my goals, especially after Laini Taylor encouraged us to set aside perfectionism and finish the first draft (see specific blurb below).  


Well, better get back to work! See you in Greektown!


Jodie Fletcher


In This Issue
Spring Conference Debrief
Hilary Breed VanDusen
Brett Helquist
Jennifer Mattson
Laini Taylor
Jim DiBartolo
Worst Day of His Life
Illustrator Mentorship Winner Announced
Critique Corner
Steriods for the Middle of Your Novel
We the Illustration People
Fall Conference Details
From Fan Letter to Friendship
Hugs and Hurrahs
Show Don't Tell
Ask Frida
Quick Links


Regional Co-Advisors:
Leslie Helakoski
Rachel Anderson

Newsletter Co-Editors:
Kristin Lenz
Jodie Fletcher 

 Volunteer Coordinator:

Monica Harris





Fall Conference  

Oct. 5-6, 2012



Spring Conference Speakers 


By Lori  



Kiddie Litter by Neal Levin
A Refreshing Day in May

It may or may not have been a lovely May day outside. The MichKids who were in attendance at the Spring Conference on Saturday, May 12 at Calvin College in Grand Rapids didn't have a chance to find out. But they certainly had a refreshing day inside. 
Co-RAs Rachel Anderson (left) and Leslie Helakoski (right) present outgoing co-RA Monica Harris with a framed illustration by Matt Faulkner.

Conference organizer Ryan Hipp and his co-chair Anita Fitch Pazner presented a brilliant lineup that, given the somewhat pragmatic theme of "The Sky is Falling," brought a realistic view of publishing to the room while instilling a lot of hope in attendees. 

Illustrator and author Brett Helquist led things off by talking about the process he uses to illustrate works such as LEMONY SNICKET'S A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS and ROGER THE JOLLY PIRATE.

Hilary Breed Van Dusen, senior editor of Candlewick Press, discussed navigating the changing landscape of publishing, even while the sky seems to be falling, and Jennifer Mattson of Andrea Brown Lite
rary Agency put a whole new perspective on rejections.

Author Laini Taylor and illustrator Jim DiBartolo shared a bit about the journey that led them to each other -- and success! Their collaborative effort, LIPS TOUCH THREE TIMES was a National Book Award finalist. The speakers also gathered for a Q&A panel and critiqued first pages from MichKid authors.

Throughout the day, our Adcom
members shadowed these wonderfully informative folks and share a behind-the-scenes look at the conference below.

The Spring Conference was co-RA Monica Harris' last event before handing the reins over to Rachel Anderson. Anderson and co-RA Leslie Helakoski presented Harris with a framed illustration Matt Faulkner did for her featuring one of her characters and belly dancing. They said a hearty "Thank You"  to Harris for the dedication and leadership she has shown during her years as co-RA. 


By Michelle Bradford 


The Spring Conference panel critiques First Pages submitted by MichKids. Pictured (left to right) are Brett Helquist, Hilary Breed Van Dusen, Jennifer Mattson, Laini Taylor and Jim DiBartolo.
Before navigating down the road toward Calvin College this past spring, I had a bucket list of simple expectations zooming around in my brain. With such a professional lineup of speakers I was more than enthusiastic, I was ecstatic to get there.

Never working in a publishing house, one often wonders about the day-to-day grind; the rumors of slush piles and final decisions made amidst round tables and long tables. My previous days of memorizing 20- to 30-page promotional pieces and meeting advertising and promotion deadlines are like a whole different PR world compared to book publishing. I know this. So how does one find out about the mysterious communications of an editor?

Hilary Breed Van Dusen is a Senior Editor at Candlewick Press and during off hours she rows. Before her days as an editor she piloted the first women's rowing team at her college. So what does this have to do with the fact that she gave a fabulous presentation? For me, it's a representation of her leadership and tenacity. For me, it's a representation of the type of perseverance we need in the publishing arena. The goal of her presentation was to bring us closer to the acceptance and rejection process and communication decisions implemented by an editor. She did this very well. The next time an editor hand writes me a very warm and personal rejection, I'll read it carefully and maybe even frame it.

Longfellow once said, "Great is the art of beginning, but greater is the art of ending." So it is with writing and with illustrating. Completing a manuscript is a very small part of the whole publishing process. It's nice to know what probes an editor's mind when he or she is making the choice to communicate about a submission acceptance (or rejection).

I don't know about you, but after Spring Conference 2012, I'm leaving last year's bucket list on the beach and rowing toward my brand new leap list. What's your post conference leap list?
Row crew, row! Write crew, write! Leap crew, leap!

Michelle Bradford is an author, speaker and part of SCBWI Michigan Adcom. She is a self-proclaimed ambassador in starting conversation; hopelessly excited about all things children (especially books); and writes everyday (all day) until she is too weak to make dinner. Her words can be seen frequenting cyberspace through manuscript submissions, blogging, and tweet, tweet, tweeting. Find her at:
Fortunately For Us 
By Vicky L. Lorencen

Like many us who have not found the path to publication to be straight and narrow, SCBWI-MI spring conference speaker Brett Helquist found his niche in children's publishing through a series of experiences and events. These experiences started in the western United States, which then took him to Taiwan and Hong Kong, then back to his home state of Utah and finally to New York City.

Brett Helquist
After seven years producing illustrations for newspapers and magazines, Brett was asked to create his first illustrations for children -- the cover art for a then unknown author of a yet-to-be-proven series of children's books -- Lemony Snicket's beloved "A Series of Unfortunate Events." What followed was a series of fortunate events for Brett as he found his true calling to bring stories to life with his distinctive style and love of narrative.

Along the way, Brett has learned some valuable lessons, and fortunately for us, he was willing to share some, including:

When you need to get your creative batteries recharged, draw inspiration from artists (or authors) you love. For Brett, those include iconic illustrators N.C. Wyeth and Howard Pyle.

To dispel the potentially paralyzing blank page, fill it -- scribble in a box with circles inside to begin to map out a composition, or for writers, just begin putting any thoughts on paper/screen. Worry about how things look later.
Listen to feedback from others -- including outsiders (aka, non-authors or illustrators). Do they see what you hope they'll see or understand?

Revision is a very necessary part of the process. Learn to listen hard to suggestions and don't resist them.

View examples of Brett's beautiful artwork -- including his own titles, which he both authored and illustrated -- at
Vicky L. Lorencen lives in Jackson where she drafts middle grade novels and is fortunate to live with a 14-year-old who provides her with fresh ideas for authentic dialogue every day.
Why 'No' Isn't As Bad As It Seems  
By Rachel Anderson 

Jennifer Mattson 
Jennifer Mattson, agent with the Andrea Brown Literary Agency, joined us to talk about persevering and maintaining a positive attitude in order to succeed in today's publishing industry. She spoke about how agents walk with us through the current publishing climate and how they help get doors open. She understands all about the "nos" aspiring writers and illustrators face when submitting to editors. Jennifer gave us several reasons why "no" shouldn't freak us out, stating that there is no such thing as a good "no" and that "nos" are completely subjective.
Jennifer talked about how to handle revisions from a prospective editor. Her comment was to always take revisions to heart unless they take you far away from your intent of the story. She gave an example of a manuscript that went through eight revisions before it got to her, three revisions with her, and then more revisions with the prospective editor before the deal was sealed. Now that's perseverance!
What's happening in the industry from Jennifer's point of view? Paranormal romance has plateaued; the industry is coming back to unusual stories based in folklore and fairy tales; dystopian and post-apocalyptic stories are reaching a saturation point; gentler, less dark alternate realities are more common in fantasy.
Jennifer lives and works in Chicago, where she dedicates her time representing authors and author/illustrators; she aims to provide her clients with strong editorial support. Her background includes associate editor with Dutton Children's Books, children's book reviewer with BookList magazine, and she is finishing up her fourth year with the Andrea Brown Literary Agency. Filled with knowledge about the book business, I found her easy to listen to as I gleaned golden nuggets from the information she shared. I'm so glad I was at the Prince Conference Center to hear her presentation, and I certainly appreciate the time she spent with us in Grand Rapids.
Rachel Anderson creates characters and gardens in Gaylord. 
Writing: Turning the Fantasy into Reality
By Catherine K. Bieberich

Shadowing Laini Taylor was one of the most painless and enjoyable shadow experiences I have ever had. Not only was she extremely easy to find in a crowd (thanks to her bright pink hair), she was also one of the nicest women I have ever met. Her sessions were informational and inspirational. It was often difficult to take notes; we were so mesmerized by her tapestry of carefully chosen words.

Laini Taylor
Laini modeled the skill of "clothing your words in language that makes the page disappear" for our readers. She urged us to practice our art, constantly working towards crafting an experience for our audience. She reminded us that the novel is first and foremost a conduit for adventures and mysteries, and that creating a constant journey into these experiences is our responsibility.

Laini, a self-professed perfectionist, urged us to put our own perfectionism on hold while we write "fast first drafts." She explained that perfectionism is paralyzing because it is completely unobtainable. Perfection, by its very nature, is an impossible goal. Laini urged cultivating a habit of completion as opposed to a habit of perfection.

Later, in her session with her husband, Jim Di Bartolo, she talked about her own journey to becoming a published author. Laini's dream of becoming an author was put on hold for several years due to her lack of ... writing! Overall, Laini Taylor inspired me to put as much time into my craft as I put into my other passions. There's only one thing to do if you're serious about writing. You need to write, write, and then you need to take some time to write.

Catherine Bieberich lives in Battle Creek where she writes Young Adult novels and teaches gifted middle schoolers. She loves serving on Adcom and giving her time and energy to SCBWI Michigan.
Illustration: A Crucial Storytelling Element 
By Linda Egeler   

Spend a few minutes with Jim Di Bartolo, and you can't help getting caught up in his high spirits. Whether he is sharing the antics of his 2-year-old daughter, Clementine, singing the praises of his wife, author Laini Taylor, or talking about his latest artistic endeavor, Jim radiates joy.  
He describes himself as a freelance illustrator who works in traditional and digital media on book covers, interiors and comic books. Jim loved comics as a kid, and was inspired by Scooby Doo, Alley Oop and Spider-Man. Sadly, he left comic books behind once he entered high school. Jim graduated from college and then "began a five-year, hate-filled career as an insurance claims adjuster that paid the bills but drained my soul." 

Jim DiBartolo and Laini Taylor
Jim DiBartolo and Laini Taylor
After realizing he was in the midst of his one and only life, Jim returned to art school and met Laini on his second day of class. They got married, and eventually settled down in Portland, Oregon. Since then, the husband-and-wife team have collaborated on three novels and one graphic novel. Their recent book, LIPS TOUCH: THREE TIMES, was a National Book Award finalist.

Jim sees the art in a book as not just an echo of what is already written in the text, but as an interplay between text and illustrations. His work is a crucial storytelling element that the book could not do without, increasing the layers of meaning to the unfolding tale.

Jim calls himself a "process junkie." He believes that focusing on the composition of his illustrations is essential. He carefully considers the placement of everything in the piece, because shifting an angle or viewpoint shifts the story. Jim uses diagonal lines, patterns, angles or a splash of color to create a "hot spot" and lead the viewer's eye to where he wants it to go. He personally likes to shift the eyes to the right, toward the page turn, and tries to create a visual cliffhanger. Jim also experiments with shadows and subtle or intense color to create mood.

Jim often uses photographs as a reference for his drawings. If he can't find one to his liking, he poses himself. He shared several of these photos that were later developed into illustrations, including Jim in a warrior pose wielding a broomstick.

During the conference, Jim noted that it was "so nice to be in a room filled with like-minded people, authors and illustrators." A true compliment indeed, coming from a man of such talent!

Linda Egeler teaches fourth grade in Traverse City and thoroughly enjoys her summer uninterrupted writing time!
The Worst Day of His Life 
By Charlie Barshaw

One of the unexpected perks of working on Adcom was sitting next to illustrator/author Brett Helquist during dinner the evening before the Spring Conference.

Unfortunately, I had not done my homework, so I spent much of the conversation circling around the few facts I had gleaned. I knew that he had written and illustrated picture books, and that he'd done something with middle grade novels.

Brett Helquist, sketched by Lori McElrath-Eslick
What I did find out eventually, was that he had illustrated Lemony Snickett's "Series of Unfortunate Events." That, in fact, his illustrating these books was a result of a "Series of Fortunate Events." That the convergence of a relatively unknown author of adult books taking his first stab at middle grade novels, a novice editor, and Brett's art portfolio on the right desk at the right time, resulted in a startlingly unexpected and long-lived publishing success.

I learned that he lives in New York and bicycles two miles to his studio in all seasons. ("As long as the roads are clear.") That he's currently working on four (!) projects at once, and that he can jump from one piece of artwork to another as his mood and interest level dictate. That his young kids, a son and a daughter, will sometimes visit his studio, and that his daughter is a budding artist herself.

However, it was at the end of a very long, snaking line for his autograph during the conference itself, where I heard Brett's most astonishing anecdote. His "worst day ever" was spent one summer afternoon on the street on New York as he tried out his new profession as an ice cream truck driver.

Where he pictured the job to be a lark, it turned out to be hugely stressful and unpleasant. There were the kids who tried to get their Fudgesicles without the requisite coinage. They were apparently numerous, relentless and vaguely threatening.

But he also caught grief from adults, when some parents faulted him for selling frozen confections to their young ones without approval. That, along with the incessant jingling tune that bored earworms into his brain drove poor Brett to tender his resignation before the day was done. When his boss balked, Brett even walked off without his hard-earned wages.

How fortunate for the reading and viewing public that Mr. Helquist wasn't more suited to the role of peddling ice cream sandwiches.

Charlie Barshaw wrote for newspapers and magazines in the past, but today is best known as the uncomplaining husband of superstar author/illustrator Ruth McNally Barshaw. He hopes to make a name for himself in children's books.
Illustrator Mentorship Announced at SHINE 2 
By Rachel Anderson 

Pictured, left to right are illustrator mentorship runners up Hannah Gregus, Amy Hofacker and winner Bradley Cooper and with illustrator chairperson Ryan Hipp.
Each year, the co-RAs and Advisory Committee for SCBWI-MI put on several events to benefit writers and illustrators. One of the special events we host is the annual mentorship program aimed to bring together one unpublished Michigan member with a published mentor for a one-year program of teaching/learning. This year, the mentorship was for illustrators, and the event took place during the SHINE 2 Conference in downtown Lansing. 
Eleven illustrators bravely put forth their work for the competition, and at the end of the day we were pleased to announce Bradley Cooper as the winner of the Illustrator Mentorship. His award is a one-year mentorship program with published illustrator Wendy Anderson Halperin. 
There was a tie for the runner-up position, and the awards went to Amy Hofacker and Hannah Gregus. Amy receives a phone consultation with Wendy Anderson Halperin and Hannah receives a phone consultation with Cyd Moore (phone consultations are up to one hour in length to discuss artwork presented at the conference or to discuss career advice).   
We are pleased that the Illustration Idol session at the SHINE 2 conference was so well attended; thanks to everyone who participated that day. And congratulations to Bradley, Amy and Hannah. 
Rachel Anderson is the Illustration Mentorship Coordinator and Co-Regional Advisor for SCBWI-MI
Look for a wrap-up of the Shine 2 conference in the fall newsletter! 

Critique Corner - Statewide Success Stories 

By Kurt Hampe 


Anita Pazner has her hands full planning our amazing fall retreat, so we invited a special guest to join us in the Critique Corner. Kurt Hampe's Critique Rules were originally posted on the YA Fusion blog. A big thanks to Kurt for sharing his experience with us.

As Critique Group Coordinator for the SCBWI Midsouth Region, I've gathered a lot of information on how to run a group. Some guidelines are very touchy-feely, others are rigidly Thou Shalt-most have a tone that suggests that the rules are more important than the content you're critiquing. To get away from that, I suggest a simple starting point. Use the Golden Rule. Be honest, be civil, and get on with it. I do, however, have a few more specific suggestions.

Artwork by Nancy Walker
Size Quasi-Matters

Any amount of critique is good. If you have only one partner, that's vastly better than none. Two partners is more than twice as good, and three partners is better still. However, at some point the group gets too big and attention gets divided. I think four to six is a good number.

Offer Suggestions

When you see something you don't like in a story, offer a suggestion for how to fix it. Everyone will learn from that. And if you can't come up with a fix, that's telling too.

Honesty Is The Best Policy

This is really just an extension of my earlier Golden Rule comment, but it's worth repeating. You've got to give and demand honest feedback. Go for tough-love. If someone's writing is touching your buttons, or doesn't interest you, or strikes you as weak, or you're having a bad day, you have to say so. And you have to demand the same from your group.

Talking Is Not Entirely Forbidden

The actual critique is not a conversation, so keep your defensive reactions to yourself. But it's okay to answer the critiquer's questions in real time if you stay on topic. Don't waste time, but by all means, take advantage of the moment. A quick Q&A can lead to wonderful insights.

Have The Talk

Once you've received all your critiques, talk to the group about what does and doesn't work in your story. A group discussion leads to a lot of suggestions that you'll never get in one-on-one conversations.

Get Zen

Learn to separate your needs and habits from the rest of the group. Yes, everyone has to be involved, but not everyone will have or want to dedicate the same amount of time and energy, nor will they apply their skills in the same way. Do what you need to do to feel like you did a good job. If somebody else functions differently, then... they do. It's a personality thing, deal with it.

Agree On File Formats And Names

I tell people this and they laugh-until they try to swap files with anyone who uses a different version of Word, or a different word processor, or a different operating system. Few applications are as compatible as they claim. Not even pdf works across platforms as well as it should.
But the Rich Text Format (rft) works great. And while you're agreeing on a file format, you should also agree on a file naming convention. For example, you could name your file after your story (Fluffy_Bunny.rtf), and append your name to your critiques of other people's stories (Rabid_Rodent_Kurt.rtf).

Get Into The Mix

Having a mix of ages, genders, backgrounds, outlooks, writing styles, and genre interests leads to unexpected comments and better story development. Granted, the group will not have a deep and shared knowledge of a specific genre, but your feedback will not suffer from group-think.

Read Multiple Times

Read the material you are critiquing more than once. The first pass will identify the things that just don't make sense at first blush. The second reading will make more sense because you know what's coming and have had time to think, so you'll be able to focus on broader story issues and solutions to the problems from the first pass.

Stick With It

I've seen groups form, meet a few times, and then fizzle. This happens more with picture book groups, where a couple crits can cover the story and its rewrite. A group gets better with time and experience, so keep meeting and keep sharing.

A reformed (reformatted?) computer consultant and technical writer, Kurt Hampe now writes (and occasionally sells) children's fiction from his home base of Louisville, Kentucky. You can learn more about him on his website and on the blog at
Steroids for the Middle of Your Novel
By Teresa Crumpton

Teresa Crumpton
How will your hero achieve the goal, conquer the villain, find the treasure, save the victim? However Hero does it, when you show how it happened the account must be:
  • fun to read
  • logical in the particular story world
  • believable (Just because it really happened in real life, doesn't make it believable in a story.)
  • surprising (If the reader knows what comes next he's got no reason to keep reading.)
  • increasing in tension or suspense
  • congruent with the beginning and the end
  • easy enough to follow, but complex enough to fascinate the reader
  • consistent with setting and character
At the end of the beginning, Hero has a story problem; thus starts the middle

Your immediate challenge is to:
  • complicate Hero's life
  • throw obstacles in the way of every effort
  • make the problems increase in severity as time and story moves forward
All important events are shown in scene. Transitions and mundane events are told in narrative summary. Narrative summaries are written with insight, verve, specific nouns and active verbs. Even though they summarize action, they are fun to read. 
While you are throwing complications in Hero's way, he is making a plan to achieve his goal. Most of the time, you want to show the plan. Each step of the plan is played out in scene, and (of course) each step of the plan is thwarted, raising the stakes, putting more pressure on Hero, forcing him to plan again. Some story complications can be rumblings within Hero's mind. He could have problems of conscious or confidence. He can worry or second-guess himself or his allies. Other complications can be everyday things like lost keys or the cellphone is not recharged, but things must quickly escalate to attacks (doings) of the antagonist or his pals.

In stories in which two people (Hero and Antagonist) want the same thing, and only one of them can have it, the middle is a galloping move and counter-move, thrilling the reader with smart, creative, unforeseen attacks from both sides.
Even though Hero is frustrated and often overwhelmed by things going wrong, you Author are in charge; you ensure that Hero learns two things from every beating he takes:
  1. Hero gets another insight into the story problem or the antagonist's plan or character. He now has fodder for a better next step.
  2. Hero has taken a punch directly related to his character flaw. By the end of the story, all of these lessons are going to lead to the change that constitutes the character arc.
Ways to Thwart Your Hero's Plans and Help Him Grow

* Coincidental Unfortunate Circumstances
(OK to use, but the weakest form of obstacle)
  • The cellphone dies just before Hero hears the crucial information
  • The car won't start
  • Hero misses the last bus
  • Rain, windstorm, hail, excessive heat -- anything external that will make Hero's task harder
* Story-driven problems
(Good, strong obstacle that lasts the whole story, always in the back of Hero's and Reader's minds)
  • A Ticking Clock -- Hero must achieve his goal by a deadline set up in the beginning of the story -- or Something Terrible happens.
  • The Limitations of the Setting -- Hero must achieve his goal in a place or time that inherently works against him. For example, the missionary who preaches successfully to three towns who have never heard of God goes into a fourth town. Here the people have a fanatical devotion to their ancestral religion, attack the preacher and chase him out of town. This is a setting obstacle. Others could involve the landscape or the culture of a small town or neighborhood where Hero's type aren't welcome. Make it absolutely necessary for Hero to go there to accomplish is goal. You'll get sparks, and be sure Hero learns something related to his character weakness.
* Character-Driven Problems
(Excellent, strong, surprising but believable obstacles)
  • In the beginning of the story, you've identified your character's needs, dreams, fears and the things he enjoys. Now deprive him of what he needs. Make his dreams look as if they will never happen. Keep him away from his video games and stamp collection and force him to do the very thing he fears most. This should usually be done in small, progressive steps as he grows and is able to overcome his fear.
  • Toss him a bone now and then, but don't hesitate to snatch it away (just for the fun of seeing Hero squirm.) Of course, it's much better if the antagonist is the one snatching the bone away.
  • Surprise Hero and your readers near the climax when you reveal that Hero's friend is really an enemy. This should raise the stakes, make Hero doubt himself and everybody else and make it hard for him to focus on the task at hand-all issues over which he takes command, having grown out of his original character flaw. He is now ready to go into the climax and kick butt.
In the middle of the middle, try planting a scene that foretells the ending. For example, if Hero is going to succeed, then this middle-of-the-novel scene shows Hero doing well. He's got a handle on this problem and it's evident he's going to wrap this trouble up, obtain the goal, vanquish the villain, or rescue the victim in just a matter of steps. Of course, this happy scene is immediately followed by the most devastating setback the Hero has yet encountered, and we're off again.

At the end of the middle
is a wonderful scene many writers call the Black Moment. For Hero, all hope is lost. He is defeated, deflated, and disgusted. Why did he ever imagine he could do this?
Of course, this scene is immediately followed by Hero reaching deep into his rich character. Something exterior may happen, too. But somehow he gets the guts to go forward, headlong into ...

The beginning of the end -- the climax, where he realizes the truth about his own character flaw and with renewed hope and strength he battles the bad guy, faces the fear, overcomes the ogre or whatever it takes to win.

Teresa Crumpton holds a Master of Fine Arts in Writing from Spalding University. She has published feature and news articles in major newspapers, more than a dozen technical books and some fiction. She teaches college writing and works with authors of award-winning fiction.

Contact her at:
By Lori Taylor

Ruth McNally-Barshaw poses with fans at the Kids Read Comics event.
The SCBWI-MI 2012 Spring Conference inspired the illustrators in the crowd. Seeing and hearing about Jim Di Bartolo's and Brett Helquist's artwork left us all breathless. If anyone had looked around the room that day they would have found the "drawing kids" with pen and paper in hand mcdoodling, scribbling, sketching, recording and cartooning the entire day. No disrespect to the speakers, but the illustrator's mind and pen are an ever-working instrument -- especially while listening!

Kids Read Comics returned again. This FREE event took place at the Ann Arbor District Library, July 7 and 8. SCBWI-MI's own Ruth McNally-Barshaw and Lori Taylor were there with their books and workshop talents getting kids into reading, comics and fun.

The SCBWI-MI, SE-MI (Southeastern-Michigan Illustrators), is taking a summer break from illustration critiques and meets. We will gather once again after a busy summer, Sept. 15 at 2 p.m., at Nina Goebel's home in Grosse Pointe Farms. Bring a favorite picture book and newest artwork to critique. A dish to pass is optional. For more info e-mail:

August Summer Scribbler Theme:

What I did last summer! (My Favorite Summer Adventure Memory Sketch)

Past Scribbler Themes:
June: Summer reading (design of an ideal summertime kid's book)
July: Amusement park (design a ride or fantasy adventure theme)

Lori Taylor is a freelance artist, author/illustrator, grandmother, living in Pinckney with scaly, finned, furred, feathered and artistic friends. She is often found wandering Michigan wild places in boot and kayak to search for stories.
Beautify Your Writing at the Fall Conference
By Anita Fitch Pazner

Fall Conference
Friday and Saturday, Oct. 5-6
Detroit's Historic Greektown

Now that SHINE 2 has shed so much light on the craft of picture book writing and the illustrators learned so much from Ryan's Illustrator Idol, it's time to gain that competitive edge and beautify your writing with this year's fall conference dedicated to young adult and middle grade novels.
Libba Bray
Libba Bray

Guest speakers Libba Bray and her editor Alvina Ling from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers will be offering writing intensives on Friday evening, Oct. 5. Participants can choose from a two-hour writing intensive with either speaker, stay the night at the Antheneum Hotel and Conference Center where suites are currently reserved for conference attendees at a discounted rate, explore historic Greektown and perhaps even try their luck at the Greektown Casino.
The official one-day conference opens for registration in the morning on Oct. 6 with a light breakfast and a theme based on one of Libba's comical novels.

Just to make things more interesting, Libba is not only being accompanied by her editor, Alvina Ling, but her agent Barry Goldblatt will also join her. Did I mention they were married? Ever wonder what it's like living with your agent? Come to the fall conference and find out.

Also, on the star-studded line-up will be a panel of recently published local authors explaining how they thrived in this ever-changing industry.

Dates to Remember:
  • First Pages and Critique Deadline -- Aug. 29
  • Early Bird Registration Ends -- Sept. 7
  • Regular Registration Ends -- Sept. 21
  • Writing Intensive -- Friday, Oct. 5 from 4 to 6 p.m.
  • 2012 Fall Conference -- Saturday, Oct. 6
The Power of Words  
By Sarah Perry 

It started with a fan letter in 2004.

I had read A CRACK IN THE LINE, book one in the Withern Rise trilogy by Michael Lawrence and I absolutely loved it. (It went on to be nominated for the Printz Award. I have great taste in books.) In fact, something about that book unlocked my brain and brought together all the bits I'd been holding in reserve for the novel I would write "someday." The framework for my own YA novel snapped into place and ideas flowed fast and furious. I had to write to this guy! 


I'd been writing to authors ever since that English assignment in second grade when we all had to choose a book and write the author. That particular author, Christine Pullein-Thompson, wrote me a wonderful letter in reply, and I was hooked on writing authors. I had learned through the years that authors write back. (Unless they're dead, so it's good to confirm that detail before writing.) 


So, I sat at my computer, told Mr. Lawrence how much I admired his book, what I liked most about it, and hit send. Interestingly, his trilogy is all about chance and alternate realities. Funny to look back, knowing that sending that e-mail changed my own reality.

Sarah Perry poses with a copy of the book her friend Michael Lawrence dedicated to her. Their friendship began when Perry sent Lawrence a fan letter. 
Mr. Lawrence promptly replied with a pleasant e-mail, asking a few questions of his own. I answered his questions, then asked some more. Thus began a correspondence that persisted, give or take a few dry spells, through today.  

During those years, I interviewed Mr. Lawrence for a book review website I was working with, and a few years later, for my own blog.  He's sent me signed copies of his books. We've shared our personal publishing triumphs and woes. We've given input on each other's work and ideas. I've assisted with his social media presence and hosted an author chat with him on Facebook. And, along the way, we've become friends.

No longer Mr. Lawrence, Michael has become one of my most cherished friends. We frequently bounce ideas off one another, scheme, complain, tease, encourage, and create together. And we do all this, on opposite sides of an ocean, in a format we both love dearly: written language. 


After a critique at an SCBWI conference that seemed fine at first, but began to frustrate me the more I thought about it, I rewrote the first three paragraphs in a fit of passion. I spoke the words aloud as I wrote, something I don't normally do. I liked how they sounded, so I sent it to Michael for his opinion. My reality shifted again when he had his cousin, Robert Charleston of, do a surprise sound recording of those paragraphs for me. It gave me chills. It's one thing to hear yourself reading your work, quite another to hear someone else, who doesn't know your work, read it. (The delicious English accent didn't hurt anything either.)

It sounded so different to me that I had to go back and check my WIP to make sure Michael hadn't changed some things for me along the way. He hadn't. The lesson to be learned? Everything sounds better with an English accent.

But Michael's biggest surprise came when the final book in his popular middle grade series, Jiggy McCue, came out this May. He had promised to send me some copies of his older books but wanted to wait until he got copies of this new book, MURDER & CHIPS. I waited, impatiently, until that glorious day when I discovered a Royal Mail package on my front porch. I ripped into it and carefully opened the books to see how he'd signed them. Cue the fireworks and trumpets when I discovered MY NAME on the dedication page of Murder & Chips. There may or may not have been a mixture of laughing, screaming, and tears. No one will know for sure. But my reality certainly shifted when I saw my name, in print, in a real book, as I'd been dreaming forever, only not exactly how I'd dreamed. I'd never dared to think I could become friends with an author. Not just any author, but one whose work I hold in such high regard. It is an honor I could never have imagined. One I will hold dear for the rest of my life.

If you'd told me, back in 2004, that sending an e-mail to Michael Lawrence would be the catalyst for a strong trans-Atlantic friendship, I don't think I'd have believed it. Now, I look at my bookcase and smile at the first book Michael sent me, signed with a generic "Best wishes for your future" and shelve it right next to the book he dedicated to me. That's what I call coming a long way, baby.

What's standing between you and the author of the last book so amazing, you wish you'd written it? All it takes is an e-mail.  

Sarah Perry is the author of PAJAMA GIRL (2011) and its sequel, PAJAMA GIRL MEETS BLANKET BOY, forthcoming from MeeGenius this year. She's still working on the YA novel that Michael's book helped inspire. She sends a lot of e-mails.

Visit Sarah's blog: 
Michael Lawrence is the author of more than 40 books for young people, several of which have won awards or been shortlisted for awards in England and America. He has impeccable taste in American pen-pals.  


Visit Michael Lawrence's website: 



Jody Lamb sold her debut middle-grade novel
to Scribe Publishing earlier this month. Jody says, "This is doubly exciting because Scribe was launched in 2011 here in Michigan by author Jennifer Baum. Muy awesome! My novel is one of two novels in the company's first collection slated for launch in late 2012 or early 2013."

Lori Taylor has written and illustrated a new book:
HOLLY WILD: LET SLEEPING BEAR DUNES LIE (Book 2), Bear Track Press, 2012, middle-grade fiction. And there's more: her story and art, GRANDMOTHER ROCKS was published in Crone Magazine in the Generations issue #5, June 2012. (Which is kinda cool since she's going to be a grandma again in August!)

Nancy Shaw has two announcements: 1. Sleeping Bear Press will bring out ELENA'S STORY illustrated by Kristina Rodanas, on Aug. 1, inspired by a trip Nancy took to Guatemala. It shows a girl who struggles to keep up with school and chores, and finds the best chore is reading to her little brother. 2. The Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra will do an encore performance of RACCOON TUNE at a family concert on Nov. 4, with composer Josh Penman acting, singing, and narrating her story.

Rhonda Gowler Greene reports a three-book picture book deal with Walker/Bloomsbury after an auction took place in March/April with three other publishers. After Rhonda's decision to go with Walker/Bloomsbury, the editors there sent her a beautiful bouquet of flowers!

Monica Harris deserves a bouquet of flowers, too! She sold two reading assessment pieces to the Smarter Consortium group and five assessment pieces to the English Language Proficiency Assessment group. And, her third book featuring Sophie and Kyuri, FUN WITH SOPHIE AND KYURI, sold to Tun Tun Publishing in Korea!

Leslie Helakoski just sold a picture book manuscript called BIG PIGS to Boyds Mill Press. Oink you thrilled for her?

Janice Repka's humorous middle grade novel THE STUPENDOUS DODGEBALL FIASCO will be released in paperback in August. THE CLUELESS GIRL'S GUIDE TO BEING A GENIUS is also being released as a paperback, and the Spanish and Catalan rights were just sold to Macmillan (Spain). Felicidades!

Jennifer Rumberger's story SNOWY MOVE was published in Stories for Children Magazine in the Winter (February/March) 2012 issue. Congrats, Jennifer!
Artwork by Heidi Woodward Sheffield

Neal Levin has been busy, too! His recent publishing credits include a poem, IT'S SUMMERTIME (Pockets, June 2012) and three illustrations, CIRCUS TENT (Boys'Quest, April/May 2012); MY PERFECT SMILE (Boys'Quest, June/July 2012);
RUB A DUB DUB (Hopscotch, June/July 2012).

Illustrator and writer Heidi Woodward Sheffield received PAL status via SCBWI for her magazine illustration for The Scrumbler, a British poetry magazine for children. Her artwork MR. TRUE TIME TELLER won Best of Show in West of Center, an exhibition of contemporary artwork, juried by Detroit ŠPOP Contra Artist and Gallery Legend and Tom Thewes.

Watch for a 40-foot replica of the commemorative poster designed by Heidi, featuring Mr. Maximum Voice and a mini Mr. True Time Teller, along with the 29 other artists, to be revealed somewhere in Metro Detroit in full Contra Projects style.

Enjoy a sneak peek of her award-winning art above!

Way to go, MichKids!  

Show, Don't Tell 
By Neal Levin 

We've all heard the advice: Show what happens in your story, don't just tell about it. Thus, the phrase "Show, Don't Tell." But is that advice universally accepted? Let's see what some others say:

"I show, I tell, I conquer." -- Caesar
"Show and tell time, boys and girls." -- Your kindergarten teacher
"Don't show, don't ask, don't tell." -- U.S. Military policy
"Show, tell, or get out of the way." -- Ted Turner
"I show, I show, it's off to work I go." -- The Seven Dwarfs
"To tell is human, to show is divine." -- Famous proverb
"To tell or not to tell, that is the question." -- William Shakespeare
"Read my lips: Show, don't tell." -- George H. W. Bush
"I did not have show and tell relations with that woman." -- Bill Clinton
"There's no business like show business." -- Irving Berlin
"All tell and no show makes Jack a dull boy." -- Jack Nicholson
"When the showing gets tough, the tough start telling." -- Old saying
"Why don't you come up and show me sometime?" -- Mae West
"You'd better watch out, you'd better not tell." -- Santa Claus
"I'm mad as Hell, and I'm not going to tell it anymore!" -- Peter Finch
"As ye show, so shall ye reap." -- The Bible
"God helps those who show, not tell." -- Benjamin Franklin
"If the show fits, write it." -- Famous proverb
"The show must go on." -- Famous quote

Neal Levin would love to show, not tell, you what he does, but to keep it simple, he writes stories and poems for a variety of children's magazines and teaches kids how to draw cartoons.



(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.)

2012 Summer Schmooze in Rochester on Aug. 12.


This year, Shutta's Summer Schmooze will be held at Beth Rayner's house in Rochester. Sunday, Aug. 12 from 2 to 5 p.m.

If you are interested in writing for children, you're invited! (You do not need to be an SCBWI member.) Other things to bring include: a sense of playfulness, a munchie to pass, anything you want to share about your writing/illustrating, any freebies related to kids' books you want to pass on to others, and any LIKE NEW books you'd like to donate to the Martin County Public Library in Kentucky. (Shutta mails these to the library.) Driving directions will be posted on the listserv soon.


Come on and schmooze with us! RSVPs, or for more information, contact Shutta Crum at or Beth Rayner at .

EMU hosting writing symposium

The Creative Writing and Children's Literature Departments at Eastern Michigan University are sponsoring a symposium titled  WRITING AND PUBLISHING FOR CHILDREN AND YOUNG ADULTS featuring Michigan authors Brynne Barnes, Shutta Crum, Laura Ellen, and Shaun Williams. It will be held on Oct. 17 at Eastern Michigan University's Student Center, Room 310A  from 5 to 6:30 p.m
Books will be available to purchase through Nicola's and the event is open to the public.

Introducing debut author Laura Ellen (Laura Handy's nom de plume)

What you can't see might be murder..... So don't miss the launch of Laura Ellen's YA thriller BLIND SPOT at 7 p.m. on Oct. 23 at Nicola's Books in Ann Arbor!

Tu Books holding MG/YA contest 

Tu Books, an imprint of Lee and Low, has announced a contest, the New Visions award, for a middle grade or young adult science fiction, fantasy, or mystery novel by a writer of color. Manuscripts must be submitted by Oct. 30. 


Fall Conference
Friday and Saturday, Oct. 5-6
Detroit's Historic Greektown

The guest speakers for the SCBWI-MI Fall Conference will be author, Libba Bray; editor, Alvina Ling from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers and agent Barry Goldblatt of Barry Goldblatt Literary Agency. Also, on the star-studded line-up will be a panel of local recently published authors explaining how they thrived in this ever-changing industry.

Dates to Remember:
First Pages and Critique Deadline -- Aug. 29
Early Bird Registration Ends -- Sept. 7
Regular Registration Ends -- Sept. 21
2012 Fall Conference -- Saturday, Oct. 6

Writing Intensive -- Friday, Oct. 5 from 4 to 6 p.m.

Look for the conference brochure in your inbox and at during the first week of August.
Ask Frida Pennabook

Frida PennabookThe 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,

Why do agents request partials? And if they request a full following the partial submission, what would you guess they are looking for specifically?

Partially Full

Dear Partially Full,

Agents are pressed for time, as many of us are, and a partial gives them a chance to take a peek at how a writer may work without investing a lot of time. Often, if there is no motivating reason in early pages to read on, an agent will simply stop. What they are looking for are reasons to want to continue and read more. If they are captivated by a "partial," they would ask to see more perhaps to be sure that the promise of the partial has followed through deeper into the book.

Which leads to another often-asked question: "Do I have to write the whole book before I query agents?" Most agents want you to have a completed manuscript when you query.  Non-fiction is a different story, but with fiction, when an agent is reading a promising partial, they expect the rest of the manuscript to be ready and available.