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Fall 2012 

The Mitten

Dear MichKids,  


I've been monitoring the progress of this fall as closely as possible, spending anywhere from an hour to two and a half hours each day traversing the woods with my dogs. I watched as the first twinges of yellow on the tips of the leaves slowly consumed whole trees. I marveled when the bright colors overtook the landscape. And now, I'm watching as the final burnt browns and the last of the yellows, reds and oranges give way to the emptiness of bare branches.

I wonder at times how the trees that just days ago were so spectacularly painted can stand to let go of that glory. But it's part of the process and, by letting go, they allow themselves to experience fully the entire cycle of life. By the time this arrives in your inboxes, dearest MichKids, these very same trees could be resting beneath a blanket of snow, so they can emerge again in the spring to bloom and grow and flourish.

I've spent the last month chiding myself for a lack of perceived progress, but I need to take a lesson from the trees and learn to let go. Hanging on to what we've experienced -- good and bad -- is unhealthy and limits our ability to grow. Failing to notice what we do accomplish, even when we're leafless and seemingly dormant, is underselling the process that is creativity.

I've finally gotten to the place where I can look back at those days where the word counts were non-existent and understand that the distance from my computer allowed me hours and hours to discover parts of my story I would never have known if I'd stayed seated at my desk. It provided the time and space to talk to my characters, to delve deeper into their lives and to discover truths I didn't know existed.

So now it's back to the desk. I wish you all a happy and productive holiday season!

Jodie Fletcher 




Dear MichKids,


Shortly after the last issue of the Mitten went out, I hopped on a plane to Los Angeles for my first SCBWI national conference.  I knew the conference would be big, but I didn't quite realize what it would be like to share a space with 1,200 people or the pace that would be required. 

The number of workshops was overwhelming, but I met someone new at each session and some of these moments were especially memorable. At the opening keynote, I sat next to debut author Mike Jung.  He was bursting with excitement, shared his middle grade ARC, his adoration for editor Arthur Levine, and somehow he managed to pay attention and tweet throughout the session. Later, I struck up a conversation with an incognito agent, attending for her own writing, and I shared lunch with a librarian who was a judge for last year's Newbery award.  

By Saturday night, my introverted soul teetered on the edge of a major meltdown, and the last thing I wanted to do was attend the Hippie-Hop ball. My friend Laura wasn't going to let me off the hook. I was hungry; I figured I'd get something to eat, then disappear. But it was fun to see everyone in costume, and once we started dancing, it didn't matter that I hardly knew anyone. There was no need to talk, we were one massive dancing crowd - the perfect stress-relieving end to the day.

Laura Handy, Kristin Lenz, Leslie Helakoski, Rachel Anderson, Diane Telgen, and Lisa Chottiner at the Hippie-Hop Ball.

There were many remarkable keynotes, but Michigan's own Gary Schmidt was the last and the most powerful for me. He spoke about our responsibility as children's writers and the need to give our readers the deepest questions. He spoke about our culture that has ceased to cherish children, and how we are called to cherish our readers. He told us to write the stories that give our readers more to be a human being with.

The LA conference was a worthwhile stretch outside of my comfort zone, but it also made me appreciate our smaller Michigan conferences. I was grateful for our recent fall conference with high caliber speakers (Libba Bray!), comfortable pacing, and local camaraderie. Look for highlights from our fall conference in the next issue, and read on for a recap of our summer SHINE 2 event.

Happy writing,


Kristin Lenz  


In This Issue
SHINE 2: Indescribably Bright
Cyd Moore
Rhonda Gowler Green
Shutta Crum
Getting Kids Excited with SEE Youth Writing Program
How Katie Van Ark Spent Her Summer Vacation
We the Illustration People
Critique Corner
Kickstarting Your Project
Summer Schmoozing
Hugs and Hurrahs
Events and Opportunities
Ask Frida
Quick Links


Regional Co-Advisors:
Leslie Helakoski
Rachel Anderson

Newsletter Co-Editors:
Kristin Lenz
Jodie Fletcher 

 Volunteer Coordinator:

Monica Harris





SCBWI-MI Networking  



Feb. 23, 2013   




Kiddie Litter by Neal Levin
SHINE 2: Indescribably Bright
By Michelle Bradford, Chairperson, SHINE 2

Michelle Bradford
Just for a moment, let's change the acronym for SHINE from Submissions, How-to's, Inspiration, and Notable Essentials -- just for a moment. Why, you ask? Call it post SHINE giddiness. Call it an indescribable knowledge-filled experience of excellence. For now, we will call it a grand play-date on a stage to remember.  
Let's begin with Scene 1 -- the Shuffle scene. It's morning and The Library of Michigan atrium is bursting with light. SCBWI Michigan Adcom is already hard at work with last-minute tasks of helping presenters prepare for the day. The doors open and there is a stirring in the distance, an excitement filling the shadows ... the color of enthusiasm reflects through the atrium glass while attendees are moving toward the sign-in table. 

Scene 2 is immediate -- the Happening. Authors and illustrators are buzzing with laughter and hugs, smiles and chatter. New friends and old embrace; each person prepares for an exciting day of learning. 
Scene 3 fills the entire day -- by means of Ignition. Each presenter comes to the podium with a blast of visuals, wisdom, personality, feedback, and stately presence. Attendees are motivated, inspired, and refined as professionals. 

Scene 4 embarks through Necessity. Note takers move about in the Lake Superior Room and The Forum ... questions, feedback, lunch and yes, restroom breaks. Well-versed presenters display, critique, and relay reality and necessity in the publishing arena. 
Scene 5 builds via Excellence. As the conference winds down there is a cooler happening. The mentorship has been announced and attendees converse sharing notes and "likes" of the day. What did attendees communicate most about SHINE 2?  "Excellence" ... the one word that came up in post-conference feedback the most was, "Excellent!"

We are SCBWI Michigan. A society built on the premise that we support each other, mentor each other-make a difference "individually and together" in our amazing world of children's literature. These scenes describe what we are all about. Together we are indescribably bright -- together we SHINE! 

Thank you so much to our speakers, mentors, Adcom members, and everyone who made SHINE 2 an indescribably bright day of excellence.

Michelle Bradford is an author, speaker and part of SCBWI Michigan Adcom. She is a self-proclaimed ambassador in starting conversation; hopelessly in love with 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:

Cyd Moore's Defining Moment 

By Charlie Barshaw 


Cyd Moore
If you read Cyd Moore's online biographies, you'll get a sense of growing up on a "dusty farm in Georgia." She and her brothers ruled the creek nearby, building frog houses, chasing fireflies, playing  with animals both tame and wild.

The oft-published children's book illustrator, with more than 40 books worth of artwork, comes across as a Southern-style Meg Ryan. Her career includes graphic design stints in television, newspaper and advertising. Her artwork graces greeting cards, album covers, museum walls and even a series of McDonald Happy Meals.

Farm Girl makes good in the Big City, right?

But on the Embracing the Child website, Cyd tells in her own words, the story of her defining moment. Enrolled at the University of Georgia in Fine Arts and Graphic Design, she found that "staying in the art program was sometimes a test for how much abuse my ego could withstand."

One particular art professor required the class to keep a personal sketch journal. Halfway through the term, he asked them to bring the books to class, and when he saw hers, he brought it to the front of the class as an example. Cyd beamed in her seat, expecting the prof to see her vast potential and praise her creative use of line and color.
"Instead he yelled, 'This is not art! I never want to see this again in my classroom!' and with that he threw it on the table."

"I left, went to my dorm, and cried all night. What in the world was a girl from the farm doing in a university art program?

"Well, I had a choice. I could quit and go home, or I could hold up my head, go back to the art department and work hard."

Looking back from the future, her decision seems easy. Believe in yourself, never give up, never stop improving, and let your unique style shine. But in that cramped, hot dorm room, alone, sprawled on her bed and watching the shadows creep in, what thoughts crossed the young artist's mind? Publicly humiliated by a university art professor, unsure of her talent, what did Cyd have to fall back on?

"My granny was a poet and a voracious reader, my mom was an artist and my dad was a farmer, pilot, inventor, builder and doer of anything that someone dared him couldn't be done."

With that kind of family tree, Cyd Moore found strong roots that would bend but not break with adversity.

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.
Patterns, Problems, Rhythm and More: Writing a Picture Book Gem that Sells!  
By Pat Trattles 

Rhonda Gowler Greene
Quoting from a famous author whose name I neglected to write down, Rhonda Gowler Greene informed a captivated SHINE audience that in writing picture books every word only has to be perfect!

She went on to say writing a picture book is more like writing poetry than it is storytelling. It may or may not rhyme, but good picture books will have satisfying patterns, fun rhythms, and use alliteration, onomatopoeia, word plays and other playful poetic techniques. Every word is important.

Rhonda said the best advice she could give us was to read, read, read other picture books. They are the best teachers of all. But read them like a writer. Dissect them and see what works and why. As a handout Rhonda gave us a list of picture books mentioned or shown in her talk and dared us to read all of them. There were 139 in all!

Pat Trattles is the author of two books, FLYING BUTTER and EMPEROR PENGUINS.  When she is not busy procrastinating, she writes from her home in Holland.
Shadowing Shutta   
By Anita Fitch Pazner   

Shutta Crum new preferred
Shutta Crum 
The moment I became an SCBWI-MI member I felt the presence of Shutta Crum everywhere, from the donated handmade quilts at SCBWI auctions, her advice on the list- serve and her annual summer schmooze, but I never experienced her giving-nature firsthand. That changed when I shadowed her this summer during the SHINE 2 conference in Lansing.

During her presentation she seemed to open up her vault of knowledge and let each precious gem tumble out all over the attendees. Being a bit of a cynic, I thought, how could this be? How could one person know so much and answer so many unasked questions? She spoke of rhyme and meter, of plots and sub plots, of story arcs for picture books and she gave example after example. Her lists seemed endless. Shutta even managed to give new meaning to the phrase "economy of words" with her book, entitled, MINE!  She created an entire picture book with only one word. You guessed it. The word is "MINE!." Imagine pitching that story line to your agent or editor.

Shutta's knowledge didn't come from thin air as I originally thought. She spent many years as a youth librarian and finished her career as the sole children's book selector for a large and very busy library system in Ann Arbor. In 2002, she was awarded the Michigan Library Association's Award of Merit as youth librarian of the year. She taught English and creative writing at the community college level and she still does workshops for writers around the country.
Although she considers herself a devout Michigander, she credits her Kentucky origins for giving rise to her storytelling and for her name. She was born Shutta Crum. Growing up she would have preferred to be named Penny or Sandy.  But, as an adult she soon learned that having such a fun name was a blessing especially for a writer. When she got married she chose not to take her husband's last name because it was boring.
That can't be said about Shutta, she is definitely not boring. One of her favorite stories is about the time she was invited to read her book THE BRAVEST OF THE BRAVE at the White House. The event was rained out, so she didn't actually get to read to anyone, but she did have a fabulous time in Washington, D.C.
Lucky for us, she came back to Michigan where she has given so much to our local writing community. She mentored an author through SCBWI-MI that was published this year and she generously offered a scholarship to the SCBWI Winter Conference in New York. To sum her up in one word, I am happy to say Shutta Crum is OURS! 

*See the Events and Opportunities section for information about Shutta's scholarship to the upcoming New York conference.

Anita Fitch Pazner spent many years writing for newspapers and magazines in the Detroit area. She currently writes children's books and expects to be published any day now. At least, that's the plan!  
The SEE Youth Writing Program
By Beth Neff

Beth Neff
The most rewarding aspect of the relatively new hat I'm wearing -- published YA fiction author -- is the opportunity to talk with teenagers in their various haunts: schools, libraries, bookstores, detention centers (yes, some teenagers end up there) and writing workshops. I had hoped, but couldn't be sure, that young people were interested in reading. They are. Very interested. What I didn't realize, though, is how incredibly attracted they are to writing.

I know it may seem like kids gravitate almost exclusively toward junk: junk food, junk television, junky books, and the ever-present "junk" communication of posting and tweeting, texting and chatting. But the truth is that what kids (people of all ages?) want is to be heard -- to be connected, recognized, validated and confirmed. Teenagers are both vulnerable and incredibly wise. They are still connected to the raw emotions of childhood while gradually becoming aware of the realities of a difficult world.

Adolescence can be painful, challenging, frightening and is, without a doubt, absolutely saturated with potential. As authors and educators, parents and concerned citizens, it is our job to help them pursue that potential in "non-junky" ways. Writing is one very powerful way of doing that -- our writing, yes, but mostly theirs.

Thus, the birth of the SEE Youth Writing Program. S.E.E. The "S" stands for sustainability (more on that in a minute). The first "E" is for empowerment and the second "E" is for empathy. These are the goals and writing is the tool for accessing them.

What we really want for our kids is for them to learn to take positive charge of their own lives. That's what we call "Empowerment." People become empowered when they are provided with a broad scope of information. They become empowered when they are encouraged to dig below the surface, see things in an honest -- however messy and complicated -- way. And they are empowered by receiving positive reinforcement for the expression of their own unique character. An empowered person believes that his or her  voice is valid and worthwhile.  

And we also want our young people to provide leadership in making the world a better place, imagining themselves as vehicles of positive change. That's the "Empathy" piece. Empowerment and empathy go hand-in-hand. You can't be sensitive to another unless you have a reliable connection to your own senses (i.e. how does it feel when ...) and you cannot develop the compassion, generosity and, yes, creativity --  reaching beyond oneself -- necessary to self-awareness without sharing experiences, learning to communicate effectively about them. 

Empathy is the reason that SEE is a fiction writing program. Fiction forces you to see the path and then imagine someone other than yourself on it. It takes the writer from being the honored guest at the party to being the host, having to consider the needs of others, imagining what an experience might feel like for someone different from him or herself. When taught with these issues in mind, fiction writing can be a form of communication that absolutely demands the very honesty, trust, compassion and information that teens are most keen to give and receive.

And finally, "Sustainability." I've worked with sustainability issues most of my adult life -- as an organic vegetable farmer, an activist/organizer and community planner. The word (and concept) means different things to different people but I am using it to describe a dialogue of values concerning our care of ourselves, our communities and our planet.

Sustainability asks us to learn all we can, consider the needs of everyone and everything involved and then figure out how we can do our part to leave things better than we found them. In this context, it pertains to the responsibility we have for the future of our youth and the tools we can provide them for taking that responsibility on.

Young people often understand this better than anybody. They are anxious to make sense of the world and to envision what their role might be in it. They recognize fiction, the power of story, as an important tool for doing that. Many love to read and many more love to write, are powerfully drawn to the potential writing provides for self-expression, negotiating the fraught waters of identity and character, and for building bridges between generations, individuals, and cultures. 

They seem to believe, as I do, that we can improve the health and livability of our communities -- social, economic, and ecological -- and invest in the promise of the next generation. They want to help. They want to be part of it. And I love the chance to invite them to do that by providing one of the very best tools available -- writing.  

Beth Neff is the author of the YA novel GETTING SOMEWHERE (Viking/Penguin, 2012) and the director/facilitator of the SEE Youth Writing Program. She can be reached at: Her web address is:
How I Spent My Summer Vacation  
By Katie Van Ark 

With fall in the air and my students back in the classroom with me, I'm remembering oh-too-well the timeless back-to-school assignment. If you didn't already guess from this article's title, yes, I'm referring to the "How I Spent My Summer Vacation" essay. I didn't go to Disneyland or even my grandmother's cottage, but I'm still excited to share my experiences with the rest of the class.

I spent my vacation on the downtown campus of Grand Valley State University, one of several host locations across the state of the Invitational Summer Institute for the National Writing Project. The NWP was founded in 1974 to help teachers teach other teachers how to improve their writing instruction. At the Invitational Summer Institutes, teachers from the kindergarten to college level gather to write, study writing, and share best practices in teaching writing from their own classrooms.

As a summer fellow for the Lake Michigan Writing Project's ISI, I spent my mornings participating in "sacred writing time" and listening to the presentations of fellow participants. Afternoons, we engaged in writing groups and book study groups. Of course, I gave my own presentation as well. If you're interested in seeing how I adapt Robert McKee's principles of Story to the kindergarten level, check out my presentation online at:

Though as a writer I found I easily could have spent much more time writing than we did, I enjoyed the many opportunities to receive peer feedback, both through writing groups and "open mic" style author's chair events. I also enjoyed the camaraderie between colleagues who quickly became friends. But the pencils-down highlight of the experience is something you might try with your own writer's group: the writing marathon. For four hours, we roamed our host city of Grand Rapids on foot, stopping both at predetermined locations and as the mood struck for 20-minute quick writes, after which we would share our work with our group members and travel to the next location. I found the experience led me to try out genres I don't normally use and, in addition to writing a great police department scene for my current novel, I emerged from the experience with two personal narratives.

Sound like fun? If you'd like to participate next summer, you should know the program is only for teachers and you must apply to be a summer fellow. The application process may vary from site to site, but the Lake Michigan Project requires a short application (a few general questions about what you enjoy about writing, writing techniques you have found effective for your students, and a sample of your own writing) and, if selected to advance in the application process, a casual group interview.

Applicants chosen for interviews have a very good chance of being selected as summer fellows. In addition to the less-tangible benefits mentioned above, summer fellows may also receive three graduate credits or a small stipend. Last year's ISI application deadline was in mid-February, so check for information in early winter. To learn more, as well as to find sites near you, visit the website of the National Writing Project at:

Katie Van Ark teaches kindergarten and writes YA because if life is like a box of chocolates, she wants a Whitman's Sampler. Her personal narrative, "Why I Write YA," was chosen for the Lake Michigan ISI anthology. Look for it in the next newsletter. 
Ready to Hibernate With a Good Book?  
Artwork By Lori McElrath-Eslick  

By Lori Taylor

I struggled with my character sketch.


She looked stiff. Why is it that other times, I can hit the sketch book and doodle what I want, have it ooze with energy and look how it oughta look -- creating wild characters at a moments notice? But when someone asks me to do a drawing for a project or "work," I freeze -- I get stuck. It happens to the lot of us illustrators and writers. (It happened to me trying to come up with this article!) 


So what, pray tell, is the cure? Take two pens and call me in the morning? Stay away from the desk and it will be done by overnight by brownies or elves? Alas, those methods, however entertaining, are not very effective. So I turn to play. Who doesn't like play? It's so playful and fun! But with most of us the thought of it sounds so foreign and so non-working. Horrors.


I was chatting online with my illustration pal, "Connie." (Names and photo icons were changed to protect the innocent). We toss art and ideas back and forth in Facebook chats every so often. Like when she wants an art crit and I whine about doing Mitten articles -- like this day in particular , when she sent me her new story idea sketch. 


   i dont know connie. I like the tree guy but the kid... he looks too tight. he needs to loosen up like your other super cool character. maybe try that looser style.       

(I worried that this crit might upset her. Although crits are wonderfully, valuable tools they can sting too.)   


... Connie typing ... 


... Sure. Good advice Lori ... (or something like that) ... Say how is that smushy, cute, cuddly, gorgeous grandbaby of yours? (clearly she is trying to distract me from her art) I'll get right to work on that suggestion and email you something.


OK, so I waited. While I wait, I will tell you about the day she and I went to the Ann Arbor BookFest. After being inspired about the book part, we went to lunch. That's when Connie asked me if I saw her art on Facebook. I squinted into the sun and studied the building architecture.


"Oh, yeah, I did," I said. I hoped she didn't want and honest opinion -- that crit that makes you cringe. But she did.   


"Well, what did you think?" she said holding her fork dangerously close to my hand.


"Connie, you need to set this project on the back burner for a while," I said, moving my hand behind me. "Just like writing, you can get too close to a project. You should let this simmer and stew." I knew cooking talk would get to her since Connie is a fabulous cook. "Put your piece away for a few months. Take a break. Try something new. Then come back to it with fresh eyes. Play. You rock humor, why not do that for a while. "


"Yeah, sure," she said, then added, poking at her fried green tomato, "and that illustration piece you are stuck on, the color palette needs work. "


Well, Connie took my advice and contacted me days later with a new, totally awesome art piece and a totally awesome manuscript. And I bought a book on color palettes. 


wow, what a difference. this is so you!!! humor is your thing... nearly wet my pants... having a laughing stroke. Yay you (Ah, the joys of author/illustrator. Two chuckles for the price of one.)


Really?! Thanks!! You made my day.

I sent her a short crit on her ms. while she jetted back to her studio to work on the final art.


Ok, here is the finished piece.



ok, (Hmm, main tree guy still loose and cool, but kid had a certain stiffness to the line.) i have to write this mitten article and I don't have a clue on what to write. (whining distraction mode delaying a crit and trying to find the right words)


... Connie typing ... Lori sweating ... 


So? Did you get it? The file?   



yes, trying to put my finger on it. the tree dude is good. but the kid needs to loosen up some. play...  


I sent her to an illustrator name to check out his style and how looseness works for him. Meanwhile, my housemate, Marie, came and got me to go play catch with a football in the yard. My mind was still struggling with writing this article. We played, I had a snack, and then came back to the computer.  


There was Connie typing...


I looked at the styles. Yeah, my two styles are not working well together. There are so many cool brushes and things in painter I haven't tried. Play, play. Thanks.


Yay you, play, play. (sigh relief)


My football play and interaction with Connie had inspired me for this article. I went back to my studio and remembered my character sketch that I had been struggling with. I had gone through my sketchbooks looking for a likeness of who I needed. When that didn't do it for me, I went to the library and picked up picture books. Then I remembered a fun activity to freshen the mind and lighten the pen. Copy.


That afternoon, I copied the other artist's work and drew all over several huge sheets of paper. Then I applied the looseness to my own characters. It worked. I was freed from my stickiness. My new character was kicky, sassy with fresh humor oozing from the art and ready to go. It all had to do with a play day.


I can't wait to see Connie's new work after her play day.


Lori's Recipe for Sacred Play: 

  • Lots of paper, open time and playful music (I prefer dubstep)
  • Lots of old tools: pens, pencils, watercolor pencils close at hand
  • Pinch of new tools to try: water brushes and new pens
  • Library picture books (with art that tickles you and is closest to your current style/technique-or go totally different) 
  1. Layout books and paper on table or floor and copy art.
  2. Draw, draw, draw all over any open space. Fill the page.
  3. Then take out your "problem" character and play with this new style. (Your character is not showing up for work today-he is playing hooky. He is there to have fun and take a day off from struggle.)

Let your character play with your color pencils and new brushes let him -- horrors -- waste your paper, or PC memory or screen. Both of you take a day off. Tell yourself you are not working this is fun stuff.   



Thirty/thirty Challenge (akin to PiBoIdMo-Picture Book Idea Month) 


Fill a page with a new characters each day for 30 days. This is a treasure of images you can turn to and pull ideas from for illustrations.


Lori Taylor is a freelance artist, author/illustrator, grandma in hiking boots 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.
Critique Corner
By Anita Fitch Pazner

Attending Tracy Bilen's book signing at a Barnes and Noble store located in Troy, Michigan this summer confirmed my opinion that having a supportive critique group can make a huge difference in an author's writing life. Not only did Tracy acknowledge her critique group in her book, but members were also present and cheering her on at her book signing.

The two original members of Tracy's critique group met at an SCBWI-MI conference in Ann Arbor a few years ago and created a rather transient group.  They originally met in person once per month, but later emailed manuscripts due to scheduling conflicts.

Tracy Bilen and Shutta Crum at a book signing for Tracy's debut novel, WHAT SHE LEFT BEHIND.
Tracy's big break came when Shutta Crum chose her as an SCBWI mentorship winner. The mentorship benefited all of the critique group members because they got to read each of Tracy's chapters along with Shutta's critiques and comments. 

"Sometimes a small suggestion from a critique partner makes a big difference in your manuscript," said Tracy. "A suggestion to add character detail allowed me to successfully add 10,000 words to my manuscript. They can also help find what is missing."

Once you find a critique group that you mesh with, make sure you phrase your criticisms in a positive way and remember to not take things that someone says personally. Soak in everyone's comments and wait a few days and then take another look at your manuscript to see if your partner's comments make sense.  She also found that a group of about three or four people works best for her.

Tracy recommends finding critique partners that share your genre. She found working with picture book writers not as helpful as working with other YA authors. One exception to that rule was when she took an online Writer's Digest course. She was grouped with seven other writers, all novelists, but not all YA. They each sent in about five submissions of 10,000 words and critiqued each others' work giving valuable insight to each others' manuscripts. The cost of the course was about $400. She also suggests entering writing contests. For about $25 you can enter the Romance Writers of America's contests and receive critiques. The final rounds of these contests are often judged by agents and editors.

If your writing budget doesn't allow for spending $400 for a workshop, then a local group is definitely your best bet.  I recently checked in with an Ann Arbor group to see what has kept them going for over a decade.

"I don't know what I'd do without my critique group," said Katena Presutti. "We've been together for at least 12 years.  If someone does leave because of a relocation, etc. we find a way to continue to include them in our monthly meetings via the 'magic of technology.'" 

What Katena loves most about her group is the trust that exists. "We are honest with our critiques in a kind and constructive way. We root for one another to succeed, and when they do, we celebrate together.  No one is there to 'outshine' or be better than the other.  My group has taught me to be a better writer and has encouraged me to continue writing when I basically thought my writing sucked. For me, this is not just a critique group -- they are my writing family."

Group member Diane Telgen, SCBWI's webmistress, likes being accountable to a critique group because it keeps you writing. "But, the best part of having long-term writing partners is in the kinds of critiques you get. When someone is familiar with your writing style, they know your strengths and weaknesses, and they can offer more concrete, detailed suggestions about why something isn't working. And, of course, in those moments when you think everything you write is total garbage, it's easier to believe them when they say it isn't, because they've seen your best and your worst."

One of Diane's most memorable aspects of being in this group came when she attended her first SCBWI-LA Conference. "The conference itself can be huge and overwhelming and it was great having some of them there with me."

Diane's decade-long relationship with this group is about to change. She will soon be moving to Chicago. "I will have fewer chances for in-person critiques, but I hope to use web conferencing for that in-person feel. In either case, I've developed relationships and I trust these guys to give great feedback no matter what the venue."

Most groups don't stay stagnant. They seem to be an ever-changing organism. In Diane's case, there is only one person that is an original member from when she joined 10 years ago.
Jacqui Robbins (left) helps Laura Ellen Handy with the raffle at a book launch for Laura's debut novel, BLIND SPOT.
Another long-time member of this group is Laura Ellen Handy, author of the recently published YA thriller BLIND SPOT. Laura relocated to Arizona this past summer, but plans on keeping her ties to the critique group she joined six months after she moved to Ann Arbor in 2002. Laura's book launch was recently held at Nicola's Bookstore in Ann Arbor where her critique group meets every two weeks. Like Diane, Laura plans to stay intimately involved with this group of writers.

"The thing I love about our group is that everyone brings something different to the table -- critique-wise. Each of us has strengths in something from big picture organization to situational details to copy edit-type edits, everyone looks at each piece from a different perspective and it makes it work," said Laura. "I went through so many ups and downs in my road to publication and they were all there to bitch and cry and hug and hoorah with me. They are awesome."

Laura is also part of an on-line thriller writer's group that consists of five published authors. "We simply send stuff as we have it and there is no set time and date. " But, that doesn't compare to Laura's family of writers from Ann Arbor.

The Ann Arbor group seems to be heavily vested in YA authors, but that doesn't mean there isn't room for other genres. Jacqui Robbins, author of THE NEW GIRL...AND ME and TWO OF A KIND, writes picture books and poetry. Kim Valice, who drives all the way from Grosse Pointe to Ann Arbor for their meetings, writes non-fiction, mostly about animals.

Kim finds the experience worth the commute because having a critique group keeps her writing. "If I didn't have to submit to the group on a regular basis, it would be difficult to get started on new assignments.  Having a critique group also allows me to get different viewpoints and perspectives on what others see. Comments from the group often help bring my writing to a new level."

Whatever your genre or your location it is well worth finding or creating your own writing family.

The critique corner is an ongoing column dedicated to navigating a successful critique group.  If you have any feedback or questions you would like addressed, please contact Anita Pazner at:

Happy critiquing!
Kickstarting A ROOM WITH A VIEW
By Nick Nortier

Nick Nortier
In this day and age we have everything we need: cell phones, nice cars, the Internet -- everything is at our fingertips. Street lights light the way home, televisions bring us comfort and entertainment and modern amenities are all designed to make our lives easier.

A ROOM WITH A VIEW is a story of a boy who lives in this modern world but has a feeling that something is still inherently missing. He leaves his home and surrounding comfort to try to figure out what our ancestors had that we do not.

After sailing across the ocean and learning lessons from a sea captain, a squid forest, and trees that speak in sign language, the boy comes to find out what he's searching for -- the connection of it all. The sun, the moon, the planets and the stars connect every person on every corner of the globe, no matter where you are. We all come from the same place, are a part of the same universe, and searching for and connecting with this is what this book is about.
The purpose of this book is to reintroduce the simple idea that children (and even some adults) understand -- we are all one.

I recently completed a successful Kickstarter campaign -- a platform dedicated to helping projects get off the ground by allowing the creator to appeal directly to an expansive audience through photos, videos, and rewards for different levels of donation. Each donation is a pledge, which goes towards the project's set goal. If the goal is reached by the end of the campaign, the project is funded and the creator receives the budget needed to make their project a reality.

For my Kickstarter, I raised $2,500 to go towards publishing costs, SCBWI membership fees, and art supplies. If it were not for the Kickstarter, I would not have been able to become a member or attend the highly beneficial spring conference at Calvin or the summer conference in Lansing.

I heard about Kickstarter from a few different people and decided to check it out for myself. After seeing the kinds of projects that receive funding from the website I decided I would take a shot at it. My girlfriend is also a fan of the site, having herself donated to multiple campaigns, she encouraged me to follow through with it. I promoted it almost entirely through Facebook and mostly friends and family donated towards the project with a couple surprise donors from halfway around the world.

Kickstarter is a great way to raise funds towards a specific project and an excellent way to find out about existing projects and see what amazing things people are doing all over the country. The advice that I want to offer to anyone attempting a Kickstarter campaign is to spend some time making and editing together a really nice video. Stagnant images are allowed on the site but those with a video tend to get more attention. Also, try and keep the video short. People are more likely to commit to watching a three-minute video rather than a 10-minute video. Mine ran a little long, but luckily it pulled through.
I am currently a senior at Kendall College of Art and Design in Grand Rapids and am continuing to work on A ROOM WITH A VIEW. As both a writer and an illustrator I have come to find that the kids' book publishing world is a bigger place than I thought and I am still weighing my options between traditional and self-publishing. You can see more of what I'm working on at www.NickDraws.Me. You can also check out my Kickstarter page by visiting and searching for "A Room with a View."
Summer Schmoozing   
By Beth Rayner 

Shutta Crum's Summer Schmooze was held outside on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, Aug. 12. Since she had moved recently to her new residence in Ann Arbor, she wasn't quite ready for the annual event. I volunteered my home in Rochester as a substitute venue.

(Would anyone like to have Shutta and several other amazing Michigan authors and illustrators leaving inspiration and muse-remnants around their place? Yes please! If you'd like your muse bits back, you'll have to contact me after my series is published.) 

There was food, lots of yummy stuff that everyone brought to share -- truly, no shortage of nibbly edibles. There were about 20 attendees, with a fairly even split of new folks and established authors and illustrators. We were treated to a sneak peek of Shutta's new book's f & g, Kris Remenar's new book project.

Matt Faulkner showed us the creative process involved with making his newest graphic novel, and Lori Taylor and Brian Chick introduced the latest books in their series. Congratulations all, and thank you for sharing your creative energy! It was equally inspiring to meet all of the newest folks. We welcome you and hope to see you at many more events to come!

Shutta brought a fun and challenging writing exercise using a sheet of images to choose from, which would then be paired with a flash card, or two, of descriptive words to make a simile or metaphor. It was amazing to see the creative stuff happen on the spot. Since we neglected to get pictures, I'll have to describe in detail, the underwater book signing and the make your favorite book character hat from items on your plate events -- look for this in the next newsletter. In all, it was great fun. 

Beth Rayner writes and illustrates picture books, reworking and resubmitting them whilst gathering grizzly tales of missteps and rejections for future podium entertainment and empathy value, with the understanding that inauthenticity would be spotted immediately and also that brevity is paramount for this genre.



Snuggle up with Sarah Perry's second picture book,
PAJAMA GIRL MEETS BLANKET BOY, published by MeeGenius on Sept. 14.

Nancy Shaw's essay on Nicola's Books (in which her sheep characters go shopping) will appear in the Black Dog & Leventhal anthology/My Bookstore, due out on Nov. 13.

Neal Levin's work has been popping up all around town. His poem, FOLLOW ME was in Dark Eclipse in June 2012. His illustration, START CLOWNIN' AROUND was in Fun For Kidz July/August 2012 issue. Another illustration, ENERGY was in Boys' Quest, August/September 2012. His puzzle, MUMMY DOUBLE was in Hopscotch, August/September 2012. His short story and illustration, HARE FAMILY REUNION, was in Fun For Kidz September/October 2012 issue. AND ... He won the Saturday Evening Post Limericks Laugh contest for the third time!

Crystal Bowman has news aplenty: Two new colorful boardbooks with Standard Publishing, GOD'S BIG PROMISES FOR KIDS and GOD's BIG IDEAS FOR KIDS, and four new titles in the I CAN READ Bible Story Series with Zonderkidz. Also,
MY GRANDMA AND ME -- RHYMING DEVOTIONS FOR YOU AND YOUR GRANDCHILD was published by Tyndale House. Here's the best news of all: She just became a grandma herself!
Monica Harris continues to crank out the books for TunTun Publishers in Korea. Forthcoming titles include: EARTH PATROL (which teaches kids that they can help with environmental conservation measures), BAD DAY? GOOD DAY? (about looking for the positive in everyday occurrences), and MEAT EATING PLANTS: REAL OR FANTASY? for their World Kids series.

Karen Bell-Brege is happy to announce that she will now be teaching writing as an adjunct professor at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit starting in January
Congrats and best of luck in your new position, Karen!

Lori McElrath-Eslick's art is at the gallery at ICCF (Inner City Christian Foundation) in Grand Rapids through Dec. 13, along with other children's book illustrators. The picture in the postcard below is from READ FOR ME, MAMA. More notes and updates can be found at

Way to go, MichKids!  



(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.)

Shutta's Scholarship Solution to the (upcoming) Winter Doldrums is Here Again!
If you are interested in attending the upcoming annual SCBWI Winter Conference in New York City, but feel you can't afford it -- think again! With Shutta's help you might find yourself at the Grand Hyatt in NY on a blustery Groundhog's Day weekend. 
For the third year in row, Shutta is renewing her offer to pay the full early-bird registration fee for a Michigan SCBWI member to attend. The qualifying rules are listed on the application form which will be posted on the MichKids website and at Shutta's site. (Deadline to apply: by midnight, Friday, Nov. 16, 2012.) 

The conference is Feb. 1-3, 2013, and registration is now open. See the national SCBWI site at: 
for details. But start getting your chicks in line, now, to apply. You never know what magical thing might happen to you there!

Kelly Barson, last year's winner said: "Ever since I joined SCBWI, I've wanted to attend a national conference. The timing seemed perfect for 2012, but my bank account disagreed. Shutta's generous scholarship made my dream trip a reality." 
Any questions, feel free to contact Shutta Crum, or coRA Leslie Helakoski, or check out the application from the MichKids webpage

Mark your calendars for the annual SCBWI-MI networking weekend!

Are you aware of the writing and illustrating talent within a short drive of your hometown?

On the weekend of Feb. 23, 2013, during the cabin-feverish waning days of Michigan winter, put out a call to meet like-minded creative types at a free local venue like a library, coffee shop or your living room. 
And meet to share... 
...triumphs and disappointments 
...craft and tips 
...names and phone numbers 
...or just coffee and chocolate. 
If you are interested in hosting a "My Area's Got Talent" event, please email
Charlie Barshaw or call  him at (517) 393-6218 for more information.

What better way to spend a few hours of a wintry weekend than with old neighbors and new friends in the children's writing and illustrating field? Who knows what kind of creative magic will happen? 
So, mark Saturday, Feb. 23 on your 2013 calendar. And strongly consider hosting a meeting in your area. It could be as simple as a meet and greet at a local bookstore or as elaborate as a critique meet lunch at your house. You choose. Just contact Charlie and he'll help set it up.

Your area's got talent. In the frost of February, you can help it grow and flourish. 

Bookfield Creative Minds is an online bookstore that features titles by Michigan authors and illustrators, and all sales help support Michigan student groups and non-profit fundraisers. For more information about Bookfield Creative Minds and how to submit your book to be included in the online bookstore, visit or contact SCBWI-MI member and children's book author, Lisa Osiecki at (313) 437-3452 or


SCBWI-MI member Jody Lamb's debut middle-grade novel,
EASTER ANN PETER'S OPERATION COOL is being released by Royal Oak-based Scribe Publishing Company on Nov. 6, 2012. Jody invites you to attend her celebratory reading and signing event on Sunday, Nov. 11 at 1 p.m. at Barnes & Noble in Brighton. Details about the event and the novel are available at For planning purposes, organizers of the event have asked that if you're planning to attend, please RSVP at Guests are absolutely welcome, and Jody would love to see her fellow SCBWI members.

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 Ms. Pennabook,

I was perusing my morning newsletter, cup of camomile tea in hand, when I noticed your column with the title, "Don't forget Frida." I apologize in advance if this seems forward. But I couldn't help but notice your dress, which is quite exquisite and hardly forgettable. May I ask -- where did you get it? I know a lovely bear that wears a startlingly similar one, (though it is of a lighter hue, a bit more daring in cut, with silk peonies, as she is partial to pink). She is terribly upset, as she's spilled preserved lemons over it and made quite the mess.

Below is an old but beloved picture* of said bear, dress (and her husband) both in equally unmussed state, long before the tragic incident with their favorite citrus fruit.

Thanks for your time reading, as I know your own writing pursuits await you. Any and all information regarding your seamstress, or the procurement of a similar gown would be most appreciated. Or perhaps you could even include it in your newsletter, as I know your loyal readership is incredibly astute when it comes to matters of the heart.

Kindest regards,

* I myself am an old, unknown, somewhat Bohemian artist who sketched what came to be my lovely friends while tromping through their town years ago...

My Dear Ms. Sheffield,

It is so kind of you to notice my frock, and to compliment it so highly. Most people tend to view it as a bit stodgy, but my friend Emily Dickinson wore a similar style, and one could never consider her to be stodgy. Such a trail blazer, that girl!

The two of us shared a dressmaker in common. She was the most accomplished seamstress, and her talent known far and wide. So famous was she that our own government had her on its payroll for a time. Here she is in her atelier, working to meet a deadline (something we can all relate to, no?).

Sadly, my dear friend has passed, but her legend lives on in my garb. Stodgy? No. Timeless? Of course. I always say that if you invest in the classics, and care for them well (I use Woolite), they can last a lifetime. As for your friend, you might suggest to her that she combine one part cream of tartar and one part ground, dried sorrel leaves, mix with enough water to make a good paste, rub it into the stain, and allow it to dry overnight. Brush it off in the morning and voilá!

Book Beat Celebrates 30 Years!

Oak Park's independent bookstore Book Beat celebrated its 30th anniversary on Aug. 19 with live music, eats, and Elmore Leonard. Lots of SCBWI-MI members were on hand signing books and congratulating owners Cary Loren and Colleen Kammer.
Angela Verges gets a copy of CRAFTY CHLOE signed by Kelly DiPucchio.