Tag Archives: SCBWI


This pandemic life has changed us. We are mostly housebound since Tom’s hospitalization in 2017 for a spinal cord injury. Oh, we can travel, get out, but that is limited. But now, no gym, no lunches, no shopping, no Mass, the lack of socialization is impactful. So, the huge benefit of pandemic life, for me, is the eruption of writing programs moving to virtual. The lack of assembly means scores of authors and illustrators, editors and agents, who are no longer able to do school visits not just because they are at home, but because the students are too!

I am not a copious notetaker. In many programs I find a lot of redundancy, after all, what is really new about writing or storytelling? So, attending these programs is more about what I call ‘the click factor’, someone describing or teaching or focusing on an issue or subject so that at that point in time it ‘clicks’ in your head. You might call this the ‘ah-ha moment’.

To date I have attended a poetry class in Switzerland with Bridget Magee where I learned not only about poetry but how to work on writing my own. Check out Golden Shovel poems. Not a poet here, but a great way to work on your word placement and usage.

When I own something I like to use it all, so a program by Gwen Hernandez on Scrivener was excellent, providing insights into the ways that this writing program can up your ability to focus on the writing and assist in the way to pace, plot and revise. Her book, Scrivener for Dummies is worth the price.

SCBWI Carolinas offered a program on how to ‘Raise the Stakes’ in your writing with Becca Puglisi the co-author of the Emotional Thesaurus,  Writers Helping Writers blog and  One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling.  There were two nuggets in this program. One was identifying the stakes using Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. and using what I think of as a syllogism as we used in logic class all those years ago: wants +then+emotion to create the story goal.

An excellent program with the delightful Joy Bean, senior editor Boyds Mill & Kane , was a discussion of how publishing is handling the pandemic, offering insights into all the remote work for editors, publishers, book sellers and marketers in a time of social distancing.

A free program with Feeding Mind Press a part of the American Farm Bureau, on pictures books with speaker extraordinaire, Emma Dryden , provided two nuggets: one on children’s milestones to keep in mind when pitching your stories toward a particular age group and, two, the way to use screen writing in the formatting of your picture book layout.

Upcoming I have three workshops with Free Expressions Workshops, an SCBWI Nevada program on graphic novels and SinC workshops on forensics and plot twists. And, of course there are the offerings of SCBWI International Digital Programs for members, and the newly opened SCBWI Vault.

As impactful as this time is, there is room to be grateful.

Got a comment? That’s fine. Be nice. No flaming.


So. Four days out from the end of the 18th Annual 2017 SCBWI Winter Conference. I always feel like we are on timers and we have to get to this, move onto the next, then the next. And by the end on Sunday. Whew!

Time to process. I love the keynotes. They are all inspirational in their own way. Each leaves behind a nugget. A tidbit to get me through the writing process. No, not going to share. I’m sure each person who listens hears their own nugget.

The panel on picture books is always fascinating to me. I listen and am still star struck at what they are able to imagine to create a book of 32 pages that has so few words and yet conveys a whole story, emotion, life. A picture book is a wondrous thing.

This year my two picks for Saturday breakouts brought more to my toolbox than I could have imagined. I go to these all the time. I listen. I take notes. I wonder two things: if this is an editor/agent that I could submit to and in the end, I usually say no. And, I pay attention to their presentation skills and if this is someone we could bring to our regional conference. Both were a yes on both–a first.

The first editor used the Newberry Award Committee criteria as a prism through which to view middle grade. The first thing I liked was the discussion about middle grade. The editor stated that middle grade encompassed everything from Captain Underpants to Brown Girl Dreaming. Interesting. Do you know the Newberry Criteria?  If not, and you are writing middle grade, then look it up. Here’s the short version: Interpretation of the theme or concept, Presentation of information including accuracy, clarity, and organization, Development of a plot, Delineation of characters, Delineation of a setting, Appropriateness of style.  I am huge on show and tell, so the editor illustrated each point with a book and why, including short readings, which is cool.

The second editor was unexpected. I had not realized this editor’s involvement in nonfiction. I had always thought in terms of fiction, which is why we hosted the editor at one of our conferences in Carolinas.  I think when I checked that box I was more interested in title than I was in presenter. What did I get? The knowns: nonfiction is powerful, shows how to think, works for curious children and has a reverence for the facts. This house publishes commercial quality nonfiction.  And mentioned was Capstone, Lerner, Rosen, Scholastic, National Geographic. The house like series, not unlike the success of the Magic School Bus, though not from this house. I think the thing that was most exciting about this presentation was that the editor delved into what would be almost Pop Culture nonfiction. And that versus the nonfiction I grew up with, there is now a push to have nonfiction reflect the 21st century.

The Sunday panel on The Current Landscape for Children’s Books was more interesting than I thought it would be. One participant claimed that the ‘role of the gatekeeper’ is outdated. Now there is  independent publishing,  self-publishing, as well as publishing that comes from blogs, serialized graphic novels that form a platform for and a entry into traditional publishing.  Also mentioned was that a large number, 55%, of young adult novels are now considered crossovers. Sheeze, I have been immersed in children’s literature for so long, I’m not sure I even see that, but there you go. 55%!

Some new terms I learned in the publishing business. Editors/Agents are looking for empathy builders. They worry about marginalized readers. And, they use sensitivity readers to ensure that the books they publish that are of a diverse nature are accurate and appropriate.

One very positive note. Ken Geist, VP Publisher [Orchard Books, Scholastic Press Picture Books, Cartwheel Books, Readers, Branches and Little Shepherd] stated that there is no doubt the picture book market is better than it has ever been!

On the publishing side, there was also the note that the NYTimes has changed it list. And because I have not focused on that, I’m not sure I get the change. But one VP/Publisher was very concerned. So need to investigate.

So. Good stuff. Time to review my own submission. Push the ideas that I have into a manuscript format. And of course, time to submit the manuscripts that have been so very vetted and are ready.

Processing is a constant. I think I like that.

Kickstart the Process

I’ve slept in until nine am each morning for no other reason but I can. I am not a late sleeper, I am usually up and about, but I think my mind is processing. There is so much thrown at us at a conference, okay, not thrown, served up in delicious bites and set before us until we are so sated with inspiration, promise, hope, joy, guilt, process and objectives that we can barely move.

From first keynote with Drew Daywalt to last with the extraordinary Richard Peck, the keynotes and breakouts were amazingly full, there was the opportunity to take of at least one nugget from each. From nonfiction/fiction mashups to educational landscape to voice as structure to sourdough starter as a metaphor for creativity to market trends and opportunities. My conference notes are a mish-mash of words, phrases, dictums, adages, recommendations, suggestions, and other writer’s and illustrator’s struggles with exactly what I am going through.

Is this a good idea?  What is the basic premise? Can I find it? Can I sustain this thread/premise/throughline for fifty thousand words?  Is this salable? Really? What makes my story standout? Is my character’s voice believable? Realistic? True?

There you go! True!  Out of all of the presentations and conversations both engaged and overheard, what I heard was we must be true. Unsaid but there is that we exist around so much spin, in the news, in the papers, on blogs, on social media.

SPIN is the explanation what happened by distorting reality.  SPIN is the trying to make what occurred palatable. SPIN is the reality of a ‘little white lie’ or a grievous mortal sin that becomes that dark spot in the middle of your soul. We have come to accept spin as a part of our daily lives. Our children are growing up with spin as a overlay– of life, politics, culture, economics, religion, ethics–EVERYTHING. SPIN cripples fact. SPIN interferes with paradigms. SPIN validates confirmation bias. SPIN distorts our conversations and SPIN devastatingly mars the truth.

The question is can we strip away that SPIN? Are we as creative content providers [yuck, what a term] required to find that center, that place where there is no spin, where there is no lie, where there is only what is?

When I was in college we used to sit around and philosophize about truth. We were young. We thought that our truths were accessible and realistic. We believed in universal truths. It is a different world. And so I wonder about that now. I wonder if truth is a commodity, a perception or another spin.

I think what we need, what we crave, like a perfectly seasoned steak, or wonderfully roasted asparagus, or the delicate sensation of dark chocolate, is the search for TRUTH.  We need to accept that our character’s emotions, wants, needs, desires are nothing but propaganda IF the character is not always searching for the way to come out of the story whole, intact emotionally, not necessarily with their wants/desires satisfied, but accessible to the reader–a good ending, a finish to the story.

It was a great conference. It made me think. It made me worry more about my characters. It made me want to be the best storyteller of truth I could possibly be!


Beta Readers

Sigh. Another three months have gone by. Double Sigh. So. Where were we?

When I write I’m not exactly a pantser. But I’m not a plotter either. I know where the story is going. I know how I want it to end. Maybe I’m too willing to find a new character along the way. Or find a flaw in the main character. Or find out that the main character should be older, wiser–younger, sillier. Or even find a new ending.

So this led me to thinking about beta. Second letter of the Greek alphabet. β A pretty cool way to write the letter b. As in not Alpha? hmmm…and a beta reader.

Google says beta readers encompass things such as plot holes, problems with continuity, characterisation or believability; in fiction and non-fiction, the beta might also assist the author with fact-checking. Yes. That they do.

Does my critique group count as beta readers? Nah! I think not. Why? Because they saw too much. Know too much. And, in someways, like me, they are very vested in the story. It was time to send this story to someone. I knew it couldn’t be an agent/editor. Nah, again. Not ready. First off it was too long. Second, it rambled. I got that there was too much writing getting in the way of story. But I liked those vignettes, the way they fell into the storyline, they way they explained with out telling [I hope] a lot about the main character.

Then last year I received an offer I could just not refuse. An offer, by an accomplished writer and teacher of writing, to take my whole story and read it all the way through. New eyes. New attitudes. No clue as to where the story came from. No witness to the struggles. No understanding of the plot beyond the synopsis. Did I trust the person? Yes. Was I nervous. Yes.

And get feedback. Ah. Feedback. This is not the same as critique. Although my critique group is brutal…attacking the page not the person. But still!  So I sent. And I paced. And I paced. And I chewed a couple of fingers. Waited. Anticipated.

Then it came back. With comments. Not–this sentence should be shorter. Or you need to use this description. But something much more helpful. Four letters–E, T & B, C. E and T were good. B and C were bad. Emotional and tense. Boring and confusing. Doesn’t seem like much, does it?

Think about it! What holds you to the story? What takes you out of the story? Yes. Well.

So. Eighteen thousand words now on the cyber floor, a tighter narrative, a more accessible character.  I raise my glass to beta readers–those who are willing to spend the time and energy!







my kind of keynote…


A couple of years back I was advised that reading Alex Rider would be a good thing for my writing. To read like a writer and see an action novel unfold. Because of the source of the recommndation I found the first book, published in 2000, and gobbled it up. To be so cool! Here was a teen James Bond, reluctant, teenage-y, hot, and with a family member in the spy industry. Well, yes, why hadn’t I found these before? I would have killed for a book like this, Geeze, I would have killed for a life like this…apologies to my darling parents and their wonderful upbringing, but damn if I didn’t continually try to make life less sedate.

I had not focused on the conference agenda coming into NYC.I did focus on the two breakout sessions and the intensive [more on those later] and not for a minute on the speakers. So when Anthony, [oh, please can I call you Tony :-)] Horowitz was introduced by Lin Oliver, I sat up straight. I got out my note book [which I don’t do for the inspirational ones] and I was ready.

Mr. Horowitz did not disappoint. In his dapper black suit, skinny tie, and the Brit accent of the upper crust as we have been taught on BBCA, well, perhaps he could have recited the NYC phone book and I would have noted it down, but HE DID NOT.

Yes, he was inspirational. He started writing because maybe that was what he was best at of all the choices. He wanted to be Nero–set the world on fire and in the writing he knew it was a children’s book that would do it. He wrote a lot. He wrote TV shows, screenplays, and children’s books. Then came Alex!  Alex is a reluctant hero who is true to himself. Ah, to be a teenager and be true to your self. That is hard–wicked hard!

Mr. Horowitz asked for gleeful writing. Simple. Fun. And most important-True. And then he remarked that children today only experience real adventure in literature. He’s right! How many parents do let their children out to play from dawn to dusk. There is a cosseting, a cocooning, for their safety, for the parental peace of mind. And yet! What children don’t learn as a result of being tested is huge. According to Mr. Horowitz, there is not enough violence in kids books and children like violence. Life is full of violence and kids know that. That’s part of being true.

If I were in a discussion with Mr. Horowitz I would ask him about video games, and the Marvel Universe and the CGI in movies that take our breath away with their animation and their violence. About all the speculative fiction that is huge in middle grade and young adult. And, I wonder if he might say, ‘but those are not real. And kids know it.’ And he’d be right. Alex Rider is now, present, with some fantastical toys but still, now!

He said that we have a responsibility to treat this writing as an upbeat thing. To that I say, a winning thing; success, extraordinary, yes, even heroic. Write up to children, he said. Not about the ordinary, but to show the POWER OF STORYTELLING. Oh, yes!