Friday, December 30, 2016

2016, the Year of Trying It All

2016 started off with a writer friend encouraging me to try Julie Hedlund's 12x12 program for picture books writers. I had been focusing on a middle-grade novel for so long that I really needed an excuse to take a break from it and write some new things.
I made some new friends along the way and it really jump-started my year of trying everything I could to absorb as much as I could about writing for children. So to get it all straight in my head, I started a list of what I did in 2016 - Trying It All. 

Then... Julie Hedlund, challenged participants of her 12 Days of Christmas for Writers series to post SUCCESSES (rather than resolutions) on our blogs this year. She believes the way New Year's resolutions are traditionally made come from a place of negativity - what DIDN'T get done or achieved in the previous year.  Instead, she suggests we set goals for the New Year that BUILD on our achievements from the previous one. I decided to participate in this Anti-Resolution Revolution! Here is my list for 2016. 
(All of this also helps to explain to my husband where all that money went and to anyone who asks, what I do all day when I'm not at work!)

I signed up for:
Julie Hedlund's 12x12 Challenge
Basically, the goal is to write and revise a picture book each month. I started out strong, got lost in the Spring and Summer, but finished respectably! The community of writers and mentors on the site as well as on Facebook and thru webinars is what makes this program so invaluable.

Road trip to NYC:
KidLit TV
Besides the great party, I got to know KidLit TV which is a great resource I now use in my day job as a Children's Librarian.

With the awesome Julies

Susanna Leonard Hill's Making Picture Book Magic - this is a 4-week online course with about 20 'lessons' that are so helpful when crafting a picture book. This course is great for beginners up thru intermediate writers who want to make sure their manuscripts are complete. I don't know when Susanna finds half the time to do all the great things she does on her blog but I am always inspired.

I also participated in a "Pitch Party" for the first time. These are ways to pitch your manuscripts on Twitter, where agents and editors might read them and indicate that you can send them a query. The one I did was called #PitMatch - where admins match your pitch to an agent or editor they feel might be interested in it. I did manage to get a match, but ultimately never heard back from the agent...

Those whispering pines

Held annually in March on the University of Rhode Island campus, this writer's retreat is listed as one of the best ones in the country. This year I only went for the day, but I had gone for the whole weekend the year before. You'll hear advice and writing exercises from authors, agents and editors while still having time to write or make some new like-minded friends.
Whispering Pines Retreat

This year I heard presentations by agent Jessica Sinsheimer who started #MSWL Manuscript Wish List - one of my favorite sites for writers. Author Jennifer Jacobson gave a great talk on "The Enemy of Fictional Density" which was incredibly helpful. I also got a chance to submit to Editor Mary Lee Donovan who was so lovely in her timely response to me. Well worth the money!

Time for the annual NE-SCBWI Conference in Springfield, MA. I've gone for the day and have also stayed over - get a friend for a roommate and it's much more fun! You never know what you're going to get at this conference. It all depends on the workshops you sign up for and actually get. The keynote addresses are usually amazing and I love to see illustrator's artwork outside the ballroom. In 2016, my favorite takeaways were meeting educator Donalyn Miller and attending an awesome writing workshop with author Jo Knowles (who may be the sweetest teacher in the universe). I had a great critique with an agent who seemed to indicate that with one minor adjustment, my manuscript was ready to go out. Though ultimately I didn't hear back from her - such is my luck.
Awesome critique group ladies!
May & June
were ultimately consumed by my kids' events. I did, however, faithfully go to my Critique Group!


Summer is completely weird for me and writing, mostly because my kids are home and it takes me 2 months just to get use to a new routine!  I did manage a trip with a friend to Jeff Kinney's An Unlikely Story Bookstore to hear a panel of Middle Grade authors talk about their upcoming books. Check out their events calendar and take a trip!

Secondly, I (sort of) participated in Kate Messner's Teachers Write! summer writing camp on her blog. I think it's a great idea filled with writing prompts and great lessons. I wish I spent more time with it but I have gone back and revisited some of the daily activities. Did I mention this one is free? Kate only asks that you purchase books by the mentors if you can.

I entered a writing contest offered by one of the groups I am in, where an editor gave everyone a picture book title prompt and read all the submissions. What I learned with this was that sometimes, what you hear that an editor wants is not really what an editor wants. Almost everyone who entered took his title at face value and probably wrote some great stories. They just weren't the stories he wanted.

I was brave this month and decided to attend the Squam Lake Writer's Retreat offered as part of NE-SCBWI - all by myself! Of course I saw and got to hang out with some familiar friends and faces during the weekend, all beside the picturesque setting of Squam Lake, New Hampshire! You can read about my first time submitting to a First Pages event at Pretty or Pretty Creepy?

October & November
I've combined these months because I took an 8-week online course, Revising and Reshaping Your Novel or Chapter Book, offered by Kid's Book Revisions editors Harold Underdown and Eileen Robinson. It started a little slow so I was getting nervous, but ultimately it picked up and got to the meat of revising a middle grade manuscript. I couldn't attend every webinar but I have a nice file to go back to and some great handouts.

One other fun thing in October was getting to meet the awesome Raina Telegemeier who came to speak at an event sponsored by R.J. Julia Independent Booksellers. All we had to do was sit and listen, but Raina really offered great inspiration to writers, young and old! 
Go Raina! signing for my daughter and friend
Wow, I'm exhausted. But then I saw that Susanna Leonard Hill was offering her annual holiday story contest and I thought, what the heck. I attempted a rough draft, then I thought some more about it (for a few weeks actually) and gave up. Then one day before the deadline, I finally got the story I wanted to tell re-arranged in my head and got it done. I was extremely excited to be one of 12 finalists out of about 80 entries or so! Then I found out I won 4th place! And that was just enough to encourage me to do this whole crazy writer thing for another year...

HAPPY 2017!

Monday, December 12, 2016

Tis' the Season!

2016 has been my year of TRYING EVERYTHING - at least when related to writing children's books. That post will be coming at the end of the month, but before we say hello to 2017, I figured I would try one more thing to also get me in the holiday spirit - a fun contest courtesy of Susanna Leonard Hill!
Check out her amazing blog here: SUSANNAHILL.COM

The 6th Annual Holiday Contest!!!!

So the challenge is to write a children's holiday story using the basic format/concept of The Twelve Days of Christmas, not to exceed 300 words. I thought about it for a week (as is my style), then wrote it yesterday. Here goes:

The Twelve Days Before Christmas
Twelve days before Christmas, mom bought me a sparkly, bright light-up necklace that blinked red, silver and green – just like real holiday lights.

Eleven days before Christmas, Luis said my necklace wasn’t quite as cool as his talking Christmas tie. The new girl, Lucy, said it was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen.

Ten days before Christmas, Mr. Silver said I should put the necklace in my desk until the end of the day.

Nine days before Christmas, mom and I brought cookies to the neighbors who give us coconut cake on Kwanzaa.

Eight days before Christmas, my necklace stopped blinking.

Seven days before Christmas, mom replaced the batteries and told me not to sparkle quite as much.

Six days before Christmas, I asked Lucy what she wanted for Christmas. She looked down at her feet and said snow boots would keep her dry.

Five days before Christmas, we sang in the holiday concert. I wore my necklace for Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree, but not for the Native American Winter Song.

Four days before Christmas, Mr. Silver found five shiny, gold chocolate coins for Hanukkah on his desk.

Three days before Christmas, Ms. Pam had to remind me not to leave my necklace on the bus.

Two days before Christmas, I gave Lucy the necklace. She smiled and twirled and said the colors glowed – like friendship.

On the day before Christmas, I asked Santa to bring Lucy the most sparkly pair of snow boots he could find. And more batteries.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

What Librarians Are Reading, Fall 2016

TAKE NOTE: This is based on a completely unscientific and random occasional poll of the people I work with and other colleagues who may or may not have good taste in books. Check them out at your library!

Fall 2016


The Forgetting Time by Sharon Guskin

The Wicked Boy: The Mystery of a Victorian Child Murderer by Kate Summerscale

The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood

 The Last Days of Jack Sparks by JAson Arnopp

Teen & Child:

The Color of My Words by Lynn Joseph

The Diabolic by S.J. Kincaid

The Inquisitor's Tale by Adam Gidwitz

A Tale of Highly Unusual Magic by Lisa Papaddemetriou

Ghost by Jason Reynolds

Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older

Monday, October 17, 2016

Pretty, or Pretty Creepy?

If there's one thing this election season has reminded us, it's that everyone really does have their own opinion and way of looking at the very same thing.

Take a look at this photo of Squam Lake that I took recently at the NE-SCBWI Squam Lake Writer's Retreat. If you are like me, you see one of the most beautiful things ever - a dock, in the middle of a crisp, clear lake inviting you to jump in. Someone else might wonder what is under the dark water, just waiting for you to emerge from the creepy woods, ala the Shallows.

At the retreat, I was brave and submitted the first page of a middle-grade manuscript to be read and critiqued by a panel consisting of an agent and two editors. The first pages were read by one of the retreat coordinators and the panel raised their hands when they would likely stop reading the manuscript if they received it along with a query. I waited anxiously for my first page to be read and listened as many pages were taken down within seconds.

So how did I fare? It's hard to tell. Like the photo, there were different opinions. The agent and one editor raised their hands fairly soon, commenting that it was "too telly" and "gender-forced". I'm okay with these comments because I can adjust for the first one, and I think the second one is expected when you don't know that the manuscript is historical. But my page got read in its entirety, thanks to the other editor who liked the sinister, yet funny opening scene and said "You can't teach funny - this person (me!) has the chops."

I chose to leave the event feeling excited rather than depressed, because this exercise just reminded me that there is someone who will appreciate what I write, and what you write. Two editors can look at the same thing and have vastly different opinions. So remember, anything is possible. We are poised to have a woman in the White House, and Donald Trump actually ran for President this year. The entire country looked at the same documents, the same scandals, and everyone had wildly different opinions. I don't know what it means for the country, but it gives me hope in my writing!

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Summertime and the Writing Ain't Easy

These two photos can pretty much sum up my summer: (not my dog, though she is my favorite)

Needless to say, I haven't gotten a ton of writing done, but I've done a fair amount of reading (see below) and of course, the writer is constantly thinking and forming ideas (just maybe on the beach.)

Here's my favorite YA book I've read this summer:

I can't say enough of how much I loved it. I gave it 5 stars on Goodreads - that doesn't happen often. If you haven't read it, YOU MUST. 

I did make it to Jeff Kinney's awesome book store in MA - An Unlikely Story
for a Middle Readers Author Panel with Kate Messner, Megan Frazer Blakemore and Carrie Jones.

They have great author events so check it out! Still to come there this summer - authors Ammi-Joan Paquette and Josh Funk!

I got a copy of the new book, THE SEVENTH WISH, signed by Kate Messner for my younger daughter - she read it as part of her summer reading - Verdict: GREAT!

And did I mention I checked out Pokemon Go so I could have some knowledge of it for work, and then got completely addicted? Yep, that happened too. The above photo is taken from my comfy chair at Staples during back-to-school shopping.

Speaking of which, my co-workers and I are completely excited about these two books for this time of year:

Hopefully a more regular writing routine will commence in a few weeks. Then I'm off to the NESCBWI Squam Lake Writing Retreat - can't wait!!!

Thursday, June 2, 2016


All writers know that the publishing industry moves SLOOOOWWWWW. But for some reason, the last two months have been torture for me. Maybe it's because I was terribly excited about a few things I sent out or maybe it's because I HAVEN'T HEARD A DARN THING FOR MONTHS!!!

I've resorted to checking my email ALL THE TIME, and then wondering if my submissions ended up as spam. At least one submission was from someone who requested it, so I figured I'd hear sooner rather than later. That was February. 

 HELLO? Anyone out there? Radio silence.

We all know agents are editors are swamped, but the waiting, to quote Tom Petty, IS the hardest part. So here are a few suggestions, if like me, you are stuck waiting for responses, be they good or bad or indifferent.

Check out From the Mixed Up Files of Middle-Grade Authors to see some great books (that aren't yours) coming out this month.

Search for stupid memes to make you laugh so you won't cry.

Revise. Again.

Read. Preferably out on a deck or patio or beach. Yes, Oprah counts.

Check out the movies based on books that are coming out. This is tricky because I sometimes get excited and I sometimes get agita. 

And lastly, some suggestions from 

Monday, May 2, 2016

Growing Cucumbers, Growing Writers

I had an amazing time this past weekend at the New England Society for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators Conference (NE-SCBWI). One of the highlights was a two-hour writing workshop led by the amazingly talented Jo Knowles. She reminded us about the importance of writing for fun - not because you have a deadline or a project that needs work. Write about a memory from childhood, or use one of the great prompts she has on her website at Jo Knowles Prompts

As Spring blooms and buds here in New England, I am reminded of gardens. Gardening makes me think of my grandfather's garden, which then brings me to cucumbers. My mother's parents were Austrian, and we ate a LOT of cucumber salads for some reason. So here's one of my memories from a conference prompt, and here's to those gardens getting lots of rain here in New England today.

(Note to other teachers and librarians: Jo Knowles is part of a great online writing workshop started by authors Kate Messner and other writer/educators. It's called Teachers Write! and I'm taking part this summer. You can find more info here: Teachers Write 2016! )

Cucumbers in the Pantry

My grandmother would collect vegetables from the garden in her apron as she wore it. Sometimes she would use a dish towel for backup if the apron got full. 
Always cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, squash.
She would let me pluck and collect the bounty, leaving it on the counter in the pantry until it was needed.
I felt helpful, happy, to be with her. She was always so busy cooking, cleaning, washing. Often too busy to play with the after-school latch-key single-child granddaughter who lived with her.
But I could be useful, washing and peeling the cucumbers for the salad.
Always cucumber salad. Sometimes sour cream, sometimes vinegar.
The payoff for this work was getting to stand next to her in this small space, smelling the earthy, fresh vegetables and feeling the apron she always wore as it brushed against me and tickled my arm.
Always yellow pantry, white apron, green cucumbers.

Monday, March 7, 2016

March: A Time for Making Your Own Luck

Things are exciting around my house this time of year - March means St. Patrick's Day! And while I am only a wee bit Irish (my great-great grandmother Nellie Hines married into a long line of Pilgrims), my mother-in-law is 100% Irish so therefore my kids embrace the holiday. My husband helps run the parade contingency for our town when they march in the St. Patrick's Day Parade, and my youngest daughter is a budding Irish step dancer.

And even though I love making soda bread and drinking a pint now and then, there is one thing I don't fully embrace - the luck of the Irish. I certainly think there are days when you may be luckier than others, whether it's due to the stars being aligned or because you're just due. But at least as far as work and writing go, I think you have to make your own luck. So while it would be nice if there were leprechauns to send our your manuscripts, or agents and editors waiting at the end of the rainbow, I truly think you just have to do the work and make your own pot o' gold!

So here's what I've been doing and what is coming up this time of year. It's exciting, and hopefully the work will pay off.

ABC - applying butt to chair.

Critique Group - can't say enough how great it is to have like-minded individuals to bounce ideas off of. Find a good group, and make sure to GO.

Writer (and other) Friends - they may be in your group or not, but they are people you can meet up with for coffee, to ask silly questions of that you may be afraid to do anywhere else. You may only email them or know them from a Facebook group, but they are your people. I say 'and other' because one of my favorite people to bounce ideas off of doesn't even write. But she is an expert in children's literature and I trust her opinion above most.

12x12 Challenge - If picture books are your thing, or you just want to try writing them, this is the place. You can only join in Jan/Feb but the rewards last all year. The community is amazing and what's better than having 12 manuscripts in your pocket come December? (And Julie Hedlund is awesome.)

Making Picture Book Magic - This 4-week course is perfect if you need picture book 101 and then some. Susanna Leonard Hill gives you all the basics to go on your way and create something magic.

SCBWI Conferences - (April) I'm attending in New England but they are all over the country and SO good. This year's theme is (RE)INVENTION. I'm planning on meeting up with friends, volunteering, and getting a manuscript critique with a great agent.

Whispering Pines Writer's Retreat - (March) Whispering Pines was listed by SLJ as one of the great children's writers retreats with good reason. I went last year, and learned so much. SLJ article
But again, there are others around the country that may be closer to you. Find them!

Taking Chances - last month an opportunity came for a fun night at a party in NYC with writerly people. I met up with 2 other writers and we took a drive down. We got to meet some great people and make connections that we might not have made otherwise. And even if that's all we get out of it, we had a great time, and left with some yummy lasagna.

So by the end of April at the very least, I will have 4 new manuscripts, 2 more critiques, a few new writer friends, and a TON of new knowledge. And just maybe, I will be one step closer to the pot o' gold!

Here's hoping you all make March lucky!

Monday, February 8, 2016

In a House by a Pond, She Writes for Children

Some of my favorite people are the ones you meet who leave a lasting impression, though they may never know it. You don't meet them for coffee or exchange Christmas cards, you don't have them in your contacts or message on Facebook. Honestly, they may not even remember you if they saw you, but they somehow inspire you and stay with you.

For me, writer Kathleen (Kay) Kudlinski is one of those people. In 2003, as someone who recently realized they were interested in writing for children, I found my way to SCBWI. Through that, I got in touch with Kay as the leader of a critique group on the Connecticut shoreline. She was warm and welcoming, and as I went sporadically over the next 5 years, I soon learned that she was just the right person to lead a critique group.

I recently found out that she was being honored for running the Once Upon A Shoreline SCBWI group for 30 years. I never lived that close the shore, and after those 5 years I moved even further away, with two small children in tow. But during those years when I would make the trip to Guilford, I found Kay to be full of knowledge and insight, and just motherly enough to not crush our writing souls. She didn't tell the group that they needed to be persistent - she showed us by plugging away, year after year, facing rejections even after she had many books published. She offered great advice to a newbie like myself (who wrote down everything she said) like, "What happened to put your people off-balance, and how did they regain their balance?" She also showed us that even with families and illness and all the things that life hands you, you just keep writing.

So if you need some inspiration, check out Kay's blog and list of her many non-fiction books for children here: Kathleen Kudlinski 

She also has a science page tied into her great "Boy Were We Wrong" series here: Boy, Were We Wrong!

I once had the opportunity to attend a gathering at Kay's lovely house by a pond. I will always remember seeing her desk and shelves full of books, and thinking - this is what the home of a real writer looks like. So thank you, Kay, for being a great role model for children's book authors. 

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Controversy vs. Mediocrity

I wrote this post for my KidLit Library blog (yes, my worlds of writing and children's library-ing are colliding again). But I think it's relevant to both, so read it if you have a minute, and comment too!

It is only January 19, but I feel like it's already been a huge and exciting year for children's literature. Last week we saw picture book Last Stop on Market Street win the Newbery and a Caldecott honor. This book got it RIGHT in so many ways.

This weekend, I spent a lot of time reading commentary in the children's literature world about a controversial picture book called A Cake for George Washington. The short story is this - the book is based on a real slave of Washington's who sets about to make a birthday cake with his daughter, only to find there is no sugar in the kitchen. A simple search will pull up opinions left and right and give you more information about it than I want to rehash here. The problem in simple terms is that the father and daughter are depicted as happy and smiling while they set about their work. Illustrators will say they very well may have been smiling while taking pride in their work. Critics will say this gives children a white-washed view of slavery.
Scholastic pulled the book not long after printing, so we may never get to read it. As a librarian, I want to read it. As a writer, I still wonder how that book made it to print. But I love hearing the different opinions that are coming out of this. The discussion, the texts I exchanged yesterday for an hour with a co-worker about this. Because even though I may not have read it,  here's what I think it is probably not - MEDIOCRE.

The author, Ramin Ganeshram, is a food writer with great writing credentials in other areas. I believe she and the illustrator had good intentions in crafting this story, and I think it's a great idea. It may be a story that should be told, just in a way that wasn't quite As writers and publishers and librarians, we need to get this stuff RIGHT.

So if any good comes out of this, it is that we are talking about it and trying to get it RIGHT. And also GREAT. Coincidentally, I have been reading Wild Things: Acts of Mischief in Children's Literature by three experts in the children's lit world. I recently texted my co-worker a passage from the book, where the authors remind us about the time author Jane Yolen called three popular children's books - (The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein, Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister and Love You Forever by Robert Munsch) the "triumvirate of mediocrity". My co-worker and  I laughed because we've seen these titles get requested many times. We know there's nothing wrong with them, but we also know there are so many wonderful books BEYOND those. We talk about how even though we have a small library where most of what I order is the CREAM of the CROP, we still get new books that come in, get passed around the staff, and get a It's fine. It's okay. Did that author do their BEST?

So let's keep the conversation going. I want to hear what Chris Rock says as the black host of the all-white Oscars this year. I want to order more diverse books for my not-so-diverse library population and I want them to make my patrons take them out so I can justify ordering them. I want more stops on Market Street and more conversations by publishing houses about how to make A Cake for George Washington RIGHT. I also want less mediocrity, because our children deserve it.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

The Motivation of a Jolly Rancher

I don't normally make New Years resolutions, but if I did, I would resolve to have more days like today. At least with regard to my writing life.
So far, 2016 has not been kind. A broken washing machine, a trip to the ER with my mother on New Year's Eve, then a trip back on New Year's Day for myself. My stitched and bandaged hand has not allowed me to un-Christmas the house either.

But today, I got to spend time with writer-people. I even set out some goals for the year, worked on revising the middle-grade novel I can't let go of, and finally, was inspired by my nine-year-old daughter (of course that's where the Jolly Ranchers come in).
She's a lot like me in that we are perfectionist procrastinators who can work wonders when faced with a deadline. Her deadline is tomorrow, and the task was a game board of sorts from her music teacher.  She'd had all of break to complete it, but was determined tonight to complete as many of the boxes that should could. Play a song backwards. Teach someone else how to hold your saxophone. Play with your eyes closed.
And the best part was the difference in completing 10 tasks, or 15. One more Jolly Rancher candy. She could earn one candy for every 5 completed boxes. Yup. Even though there's a bunch of leftover holiday candy in our kitchen, that one Jolly Rancher lit a fire under her like nothing else. So...

I'm going to try to remember to bring a little more 
sweetness to my writing life this year. 

More foamy lattes with writer-people. More sweet words of encouragement to myself. Maybe even a rewards system where I earn peanut butter cups for written pages! (Just occasionally with that last one or I'll have other resolutions that need making.)
Here's to a sweet 2016 for my fellow writers. May the sugar provide the energy for our projects, and may it not be too sticky.