Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Join the FOOD FIGHT!

Only 5 days left until the First Annual Write Routine's FOOD FIGHT! 

You are going to want to join in.  In fact, today I am proud to announce that one lucky winner will receive FREE registration in the Picture Book Academy's self-paced e-course "Writing Wonderful Character-Driven Picture Books". 
Thank you, Dr. Mira for your generous donation. 

So what are you waiting for? 


1) Today. Make sure you are a Follower of this blog. And grab the uber nifty Participant Badge. By the way, this badge was designed by Julie Rowan-Zoch. Make sure to tell her how awesome you think it is. So, grab the badge. Display it proudly on your social media and blogs. Spread the word. Link back to this post. Let's get the word out. Because the more people slinging peas and flinging Jell-o the better. Trust me.

2) On March 4th, if you have a blog ~ Create a post in which you start a story. This story should have a clear setting and at least one clear character. Set the scene. Be creative. It can be anywhere. But remember, I am a kidlit let's keep it clean (until we start throwing food, of course). Write the story up to the moment when a food fight breaks out. And then stop. Publish your post, stop at the Write Routine to link up your story...and then sit back. If you don't have a blog, relax...your participation will be needed to. See step #3. 

3) March 4th til March 8th (midnight EST) ~ Comment on as many of the Food Fight stories as possible. Your comment needs to grow the story.

Read the posted story and all of the comments that precede you. Then, post your comment. Be sure to build on and further the existing story. Your comment should flow. The story should read as if it was written by one person when read from beginning to end.

ALSO, your comment needs to include at least one word of onomatopoeia and one thrown item of food. Your onomatopoeia must be a word that has not been used already in that story, as well. That's right. Be creative.

We are creating community here. Anyone can participate. Comment on as many stories throughout the week as possible.

You can comment more than once on a story, however, you cannot fight with yourself...meaning, you cannot follow one of your own comments...someone else needs to comment before you can comment again. Have fun.

4) Over the weekend (March 9th and 10th) blog owners need to wrap up their story with one last comment. Make sure the ending is satisfying. It should feel like the story is defnitely concluded. Flex those creative writing chops.

5) There will be 2 prizes. One prize will go to the "Most Food Flung", meaning the person who commented/participated the most. Another prize will be given to the owner of the blog with "Best Story Overall" to be decided on by our judges. Prizes to be announced on March 4th. You MUST be a Follower of this Blog to be eligible for prizes.

See you on the battlefield! 

Monday, February 25, 2013

"Creative Habit": #11 Failure and the Validation Squad

Well, we are nearing the end of Twyla Tharp's "The Creative Habit: Learn it and Use it for Life".  And in my opinion, no book on creativity is complete without a chapter on failure.

Let's face it, we are all going to fail at times.  Its par for the course.  However. what Twyla is talking about in Chapter 11 is not simply failure, its the difference between private and public failure. 

"The best failures are the private ones you commit in the confines of your room, alone, with no strangeres watching.  I encourage you to fail as much as you want in private.  It will cost you little.  Private failures are the first drafts..."

She goes on to states that the more you fail in private, the less you will fail in public.  It's editing.  It's exercising your judgement.  It's setting the bar high for yourself.  "If you forget this--if you let down your guard or lower your strandards or compromise too quickly or leave sometihng in that should have been rejected--you'll have to deal with the other, more painful kind of failure, the public kind."

So, how can you ensure you have more private than public failings?  One way is to make criticism part of the process.  As Twyla says, "build your own validation squad."

Frequent readers of this blog have heard me say over and over again, "JOIN A CRITIQUE GROUP!"  And I am going to say it again.

What is a Validation Squad?  Its a small group of people that you invite to see your works in progress.  You trust them to look at your crudest, clumsiest noodlings and reward you with their candor. And yes, these people are as easy to find as a soul mate.  Take time and be selected.

Some criteria for your Validation Squad should include:
  • people who you admire their talents and therefore trust their judgement.
  • people who have your best interests at heart
  • people who are not competing with you so they have no agenda
  • people who are capable of brutal honesty
Bottomline, you want honesty.  I recently met a wonderful addition to my Validation Squad.  I knew right away she would be a wonderful addition because her response to one of my recent manuscripts was "I didn't find the ending satisfying".  YAY!  Honesty!  And in continuance to show her my work, I have felt stretched to higher heights.  What a great feeling.

Look around you.  Who are the brightest, most talented people you know?  Choose them, "qualify" them and then get them involved. 

It takes time to find these people, but its worth it.  Expect to shop around. 

For those of you in the NYC area, I will be participating on a panel regarding Critique Groups at Book of Wonder on Sunday, March 10th from 4-6pm.  An RSVP is required, as space is limited.  Find out more info at

Friday, February 22, 2013

World Read Aloud Day: Celebrating with a FOOD FIGHT Contest! Join Us!

Wednesday, March 6th is "World Read Aloud" Day.  On LitWorld's website ( they state that, "World Read Aloud Day is about taking action to show the world that the right to read and write belongs to all people. World Read Aloud Day motivates children, teens, and adults worldwide to celebrate the power of words, especially those words that are shared from one person to another, and creates a community of readers advocating for every child’s right to a safe education and access to books and technology."

I am excited to say that here at the Write Routine we are going to mark "World Read Aloud" Day through a week-long celebration of community and language.  That's right.  We are going to have a FOOD FIGHT!!!!!!

What says "read aloud" more than onomatopoeia?  Maybe its because I grew up with Adam West's Batman on tv and would live for the fight scenes when onomatopoeia would cover the screen.  POW! ZING!  WHAP!  But I do have an absolute love for onomatopoeia. What a tool in children's books.  So much fun to read aloud and play with. 

I therefore declare the week of March 4th, 2013, Onomatopoeia Appreciation Week.  Which brings me to our contest.  The Food Fight.  Here's how it is going to work:

The Participant Badge!
1)  Today.  Make sure you are a Follower of this blog.  And grab the uber nifty Participant Badge.  By the way, this badge was designed by Julie Rowan-Zoch.  Make sure to tell her how awesome you think it is.  So, grab the badge.  Display it proudly on your social media and blogs.  Spread the word.  Link back to this post.  Let's get the word out.  Because the more people slinging peas and flinging Jell-o the better.  Trust me. 

2)  On March 4th, if you have a blog ~ Create a post in which you start a story.  This story should have a clear setting and at least one clear character.  Set the scene.  Be creative.  It can be anywhere.  But remember, I am a kidlit let's keep it clean (until we start throwing food, of course).  Write the story up to the moment when a food fight breaks out.  And then stop.  Publish your post, stop at the Write Routine to link up your story...and then sit back.  If you don't have a blog, relax...your participation will be needed to.  See step #3.

3)  March 4th til March 8th (midnight EST) ~ Comment on as many of the Food Fight stories as possible.  Your comment needs to grow the story. 

Read the posted story and all of the comments that precede you.  Then, post your comment.  Be sure to build on and further the existing story.  Your comment should flow.  The story should read as if it was written by one person when read from beginning to end.

ALSO, your comment needs to include at least one word of onomatopoeia and one thrown item of food.  Your onomatopoeia must be a word that has not been used already in that story, as well.  That's right.  Be creative. 

We are creating community here.  Anyone can participate.  Comment on as many stories throughout the week as possible. 

You can comment more than once on a story, however, you cannot fight with yourself...meaning, you cannot follow one of your own comments...someone else needs to comment before you can comment again.  Have fun. 

4)  Over the weekend (March 9th and 10th) blog owners need to wrap up their story with one last comment.  Make sure the ending is satisfying.  It should feel like the story is defnitely concluded.  Flex those creative writing chops.

5)  There will be 2 prizes.  One prize will go to the "Most Food Flung", meaning the person who commented/participated the most.  Another prize will be given to the owner of the blog with "Best Story Overall" to be decided on by our judges.  Prizes to be announced on March 4th.  You MUST be a Follower of this Blog to be eligible for prizes.

What do you think?  Ready to flex those onomatopoeic muscles and build some community at the same time?  Grab that badge, display it proudly and spread the word.  Oh, and watch out for the mashed potatoes....SPLAT!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

"Creative Habit": #10 Ruts and Grooves

"It's going to happen sometimes: Despite all the good habits your've developed, the preparation rituals, the organizational tools, the techniques for scratching out pre-ideas and actual ideas, there will come a time when your creativity fails you.  You start at the canvas, the screen, the keyboard, the empty room -- and it refuses to meet your eyes.  It looks away as if it's ashamed of you.  You may as well be painting on shards of broken glass.  Your screen shows nothing but wavy lines.  Your fingers slip off the keyboard, never getting traction.  The room turns dark and cold, and someone is locking the door behind you.  You are in a rut."

Sounds pretty scary, right? But I am sure you can relate. 

Ruts versus grooves.  Its the difference between moving forward and staying in place. 

Twyla goes on to explain that a rut "is not writer's block.  When you're in a rut, at least you know your motor is running.  Writer's block means your engine has shut down and the tank is empty.  Being blocked is most often a failure of nerve, with only one solution: do something -- anything."

"A rut is more like a false start.  The engine's kicked over, your've picked your destination, and you're moving.  A rut is the part of the journey where you're spinning your wheels, spitting out mud behind you and you're going nowhere."

So how do you deal with a rut when you are in one?

1)  First, you have to see the rut.  This is difficult for writers because we primarily work alone.  Therefore, we can be days or months into a project and realize that our manuscript is not going anywhere.  "Make a habit of reviewing your work along the way, seeing where you've been and where you are to make sure you're still heading in the right direction," says Twyla.  One big indicator is when pessimism turns to optimism.  The "I love this story" turns to "this is the worst thing I have ever written".  I can only speak as a picture book writer (as I do not work in the longer forms) but I do share my work with my critique groups often.  I get other eyes on it.  And I check in with myself as to how I feel about the manuscript: is this the story I want to tell?  And if the answer is "no"...

2)  Admit you're in a rut.  It requires an admission that you've made a mistake. Not easy.  But the sooner you admit it, the less you deepen your rut. 

This past summer I was making dinner and I was struck by creative lightning.  I dropped what I was doing and ran for the pad of paper and a pen.  I furiously wrote down the beginnings of a picture book story.  It was euphoric.  To this date, what I wrote in those moments is gold.  I have had many eyes on this piece and everyone says the same thing -- the beginning is sharp and witty and has wonderful rhythm.  But that's where it stops.  I have been struggling with the second half ever since.  I am in a rut -- even after several revisions and brainstorming.  What do I do?

3)  Get out of the rut. This is the hard part.  "Knowing and admitting a problem are not the same as solving it.  But executing a solution is also the fun part, because the solution saves you and gets you moving again," says Twyla.  Some people work their way out of it.  Some people take a rest.  It really depends on you and your rut.  Here are some suggestions:
  • Step away.  Sometimes a momentary stall as you try to get from one part to another during the day's work is what's needed.  Get out of the house.  Stare at the sky.  Go for a walk or run.  Tend your garden.  Grab lunch with a friend.  Take a shower.  "Do something that gets you out of the vehicle with the spinning wheels."
  • Create an agressive goal.  Set the timer and set a goal.  For me, it could be create 5 alternate endings to my story in one hour.  Its a tough goal, but it will help me start to get all of my ideas-- the good, the bad and the ridiculous -- down on paper.  Be your own tough manager. 
  • Shake it up.  Get creative in another way.  A novelist friend of mine recently told me that she is in a rut with her novel.  She is having trouble getting beyond a certain spot.  Therefore she is going to start writing her novel in non-linear episodes -- meaning she will write the scenes that are in her head and not worry about the problem area right now.  I think this is a wonderful way to work through a rut.   There are no rules.
  • Open the drawer.  And sometimes its just better to put the manuscript that is giving you problems into a drawer and move onto to something else.  For me, this not only helps free me from the problem manuscript, but it also allows me to focus on another project and prove to myself that I do have good ideas.  I am not dry.  It breaks the pessimism that ruts create.  Promise yourself that you will come back to it.  Know that this manuscript will always be sauteeing in the back of your mind, but release yourself from toiling over it.  Give it, and yourself, a rest.  And trust that you will know when it is time to open that drawer and try again. 
Which brings us to grooves -- our ultimate goal. 

"When you're in a groove, you're not spinning your whelles; you're moving forward in a straight and narrow path without pauses or hitches.  You're unwavering, undeviating, and unparalleled in your purpose.  A groove is the best place in the world.  Because when you are in it, you have the freedom to explore, where everything you question leads you to new avenues and new routes."

Some grooves last an hour.  You have that lightning and words just pour out of your pen.  Some last for days, weeks or if we're lucky months.  The key to being creative is not learning to avoid ruts and stay in the grooves.  Ruts are going to happen.  Grooves will too.  The key to the creative life is to be disciplined and passionate to work through them all.

"In the end, ruts and grooves are different sides of the same coin.  The work itself will tell you which side you're looking at.  Does it give you pleasure or pain? 

The call to a creative life is not supposed to be torture.  Yes, it's hard work and you have to make sacrifices.  But it's also supposed to be fun."

So I ask you, where are you today?  Rut or groove?  And whatcha gonna do about it?

Monday, February 18, 2013

This is Marcie Colleen!

Today I launch my new website ( and I have to say I am pretty proud about it.
I would love to hear what you have to say. 
Follow the tab above called "My Website" and have a look around.  Especially check out "My Teacher's Guides"-- a page dedicated to showcase my Common Core Compliant Teacher's Guides. 
And then come back here and leave me a comment.

PS A very very special thank you to Tracey Berglund for the use of her artwork and for her keen artist's eye in this process.  Check her out at

Friday, February 15, 2013

Watch This Space

"Brooklyn Brownstone"
by Tracey Berglund.
Its makeover time and I urge you all to watch this space for some exciting new changes!

As you can see, I have been renovating this blog and I am still waiting on a few items--including a snazzy new banner designed by my fabulous friend, Tracey Berglund.

Also, note the "My Website" tab up top which, starting Monday, will link to my brand-spanking-new website!  That's right, folks!  Monday will see the launch of which will feature my Teacher's Guides--complete with sample lessons from each of th 7 guides I have recently created.  I am very excited to share with you!

In addition to the website launch and a new look for The Write Routine, I will be announcing a fun contest/challenge next Friday.  You are going to want to get involved.  Trust me.

So, have a wonderful weekend.  Let me know what you think of the new design.  And be sure to stop by on Monday to check out

Happy Writing!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Craft: Its What's Important

"In writing you are the 3rd wheel.  No one wants you there. You need to be invisible."  --Mo Willems on "voice", SCBWI Winter Conference, NYC

Have you ever left a workshop or a conference only to look at your notes and realize that there was just too much information and your notes are meager?  Although this is a sign of an excellent, jam-packed can be frustrating to feel like you somehow missed something. 

Over the past month I have been taking the Picture Book Academy's "Writing Wonderful Character-Driven Picture Books" e-course taught by the marvelous Marsha Diane Arnold and Dr. Mira Reisberg.  Yesterday I completed the last session...for the 3rd time!  That's right.  This class is self-paced and lives online and therefore you can "attend" each of the 4 sessions as many times as you like. 

The 4th and final session in "Writing Wonderful Character-Driven Picture Books" is on VOICE in which you learn about character's voice and your own writer's voice, point of view, how to give your character a distinctive voice that reflects his personality, motivation, and idiosyncrasies.   Lot's of info, right?  And guess what?  It delivers on that description!

As Marsha states, "editors (and agents) are looking for strong or fresh voice--but what does that mean?"  Exactly my question.  What does that mean?

The answer lies in learning your craft.  Taking a class such as this is a perfect way to do that.

Sure, we are all wonderful, creative people who can write amazing stories.  But there is something to be said for spending some time working on your craft.  In fact, I took 2012 to focus only on craft and not on getting representation or published.  It can be tedious.  And you can feel like you are hearing the same info over and over again.  But you know what?  It does pay off.

And therefore, I urge you all.  Take a class.  Go to a workshop.  Attend a conference.  Study.  Practice.  There are so many opportunities out there to take advantage of.  Some of them take place right in the comfort of your own home and allow you to re-visit again and again.

I will close with a quote from Marsha, "when you know the rules well, you have permission to break the rules."

The Picture Book Academy's Writing Wonderful Character-Driven Picture Books is self-paced and registration is on-going.  There will also be a new session of "The Craft & Business of Writing Children's Picture Books" starting on March 11th.  All information can be found at 

Monday, February 11, 2013

A Valentine's Special: Music for Merry

With Valentine's Day this week, it seems only fitting to share something that has been filling my heart for some time now.

I have never done this before on my blog, but I am asking for your help.

This spring I will be running in 4 Half Marathons (the NYC Half, the Nike Women's Half in DC, the MORE Magazine Half in NYC and the Brooklyn Half). 

Although I do enjoy running to a certain extent, that is not WHY I run.  I run because I want to end blood cancers.

When I was growing up, I watched a childhood friend lose his battle with leukemia.  I ran the NYC Half with Team in Training (the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society) in 2011 in his memory.

Thanks for the efforts of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, along with Team in Training, childhood Leukemia is no longer a death sentence.  But there is so much that still needs to be done in regards to research, treatment, and patient services.

Today I choose to run for those children who are still fighting and I am running in honor of 4 year old Meredith ("Merry"). 

To help my fundraising efforts, my dear friend Suzi Shelton, kindie rocker extraordinaire, will be having a benefit concert on Wednesday, March 13th at 6:30pm. Tickets are only $10!  Please consider stopping by!

We will be raffling off many amazing prizes throughout the interactive broadcast, including

I would LOVE to have you join us on March 13th.  Show some love.  All proceeds with be donated to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
Can't make it but want to show some love anyway?  Stop by my donation page.  Even $20 helps!

Friday, February 8, 2013

SCBWI Winter Conference Recap (Part 3)

After much deliberation, my girlfriends and I devised a plan to arrive at the hotel on Sunday as early as possible to ensure seats close to the stage.  Afterall, Sunday's line-up packed quite a punch.

So I arrived first and threw my coat and scarf and bag and bagel on about 6 seats in the 4th row center and awaited what promised to be a fangirl's kidlit dream.

We now bring you the conclusion of my recap....

  • Award Presentations  What better way to start out the morning than to recognize those among us who have exemplified the field.  The winners of the Tomie dePaola Award, the Emerging Voices Award, the Art Showcase winners and the Jan Yolen Mid-List Author Grant winners were announced.  (For a full list and to see the winners' work go to the SCBWI Official Conference Blog.)  But, perhaps selfishly, I was awaiting the announcement of the winners of the annual Joke Contest.  For those of you who have never attended conference, each year they pose a scenario and ask us funny people to submit jokes.  This year I was pretty proud of my entry.  The scenario was that you walk into a NYC bar where all of the characters of Children's Literature gather and you approach a character with an opening line/pick up line.  What would you say and to who?  My joke was directed to Charlotte and I would say, "I am so excited to meet you.  I have read everything you have published on the web!"  Needless to say I did not win.  Oh well...there is always next year.

  • Keynote:  "Tell Me a Story"--Margaret Peterson Haddix  "Its the stories that matter much more than the devices kids read them on," says Margaret and therefore we need not worry too much about the changing climate of books, but focus on writing the best stories we can write.  Margaret used to tell her daughter stories, reminiscing, and telling her events from her own childhood. During one rambling story, her daughter became quite angry with her and yelled at her mom to get to, "and then one day."It took Margaret a while to realize what her daughter was screaming for was plot.  When Margaret starts to think she's going on too long in a scene, she asks herself if what she's writing matters, and her internal editor starts telling her to get to the and then one day.  And perhaps the best bit of advice I took away from Margaret's keynote:  "Fail big if you have to, but go down trying."  My theater teacher in high school used to always say this.  "Fail big."  Thank you, Margaret, for the reminder. 

  • Keynote:  "It Takes Two" The Pleasures and Pitfalls of Writing a Series--Julie Andrews and Emma Walton Hamilton  Alright it was time for my inner fangirl to freak out.  All weekend I had joked that Julie Andrews must be some sort of diva to have such strict rules on photographs and autographing.  Our conference bulletin had bolded notes about legality issues such as these.  Howeve, when they announced Julie Andrews and Emma Walton Hamilton and I immediately started to tear up.  As the crowd stood to applaud their entrance, I became that little 6 year old girl who knew every word to Mary Poppins and who spun around in her living room as if on that hilltop in the Sound of Music.  This was Julie Andrews!!! let's not forget that Julie and Emma are also wonderful writers.  They were a delight.  Although I have no inclination at this time to write a series, their talk was informative, touching on the 6 things they pay great attention to when writing their picture book series (Dumpy the Dump Truck and The Very Fairy Princess).  These 6 items were:  character, consistency, flexibility, surprise, satisfaction, and perspective.  For a little more insight into these items, visit  They closed with talking about their mandate: a celebrated sense of wonder.  Wow.  Julie Andrews a diva?  If so, own it Julie.  You are a true inspiration.

  • Closing Keynote: "Writing in 3 Easy Steps, 3 Somewhat Less Easy Steps, 2 Pretty Difficult Steps, and 1 Impossible Step"--Mo Willems  Its not easy to follow Mary Poppins, but Mo was certainly the man for the job.  Of course, digital devices flashed and clicked throughout the ballroom as the iconic writer took the stage, yet Mo yelled "You are writers which means you are filters, not spigots! So turn off the devices!  Live in the moment!"  I loved him already.  His keynote was hilarious and peppered with some fabulous advice as well as timeless questions such as "In Frog & Toad, which one is Frog?  The one with the pants?!  I don't have a biology degree!"  LOL!  Of course, he had a point in saying this...although I was really laughing too hard to pay attention!  But it was something about reading the BEST and then finding the holes.  To him, the hole in Frog & Toad is that they are not different enough and it is confusing, hence Elephant and Piggie.  "No one ever asks which one is Elephant."  If you want a breakdown of his 9 Steps check out  And remember, as picture book writers "We're not trying to make stories that are going to be read, we're trying to make stories that are going to be read a milliondy billiondy times." 
Well, that's all folks!  My heart is full, my brain exploding with ideas.  I headed home that evening with my signed copy of Knufflebunny and a Julie Andrews song in my heart. 
Thank you to my Tribe, SCBWI, and everyone that made this conference an utter blast!  Til August.  Til LA!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

SCBWI Winter Conference Recap (Part 2)

The alarm went off a little earlier than I would have wanted it to for a chilly Saturday, however, the camaraderie the night before at Kid Lit Drink Night (and the countless Gin and Gingers, with one added Guinness) made it all worthwile.  Friendships were discovered, laughter erupted and memories made.

You see, the toughtest thing about having the conference in NYC, for that I don't stay at the hotel.  I have to venture home to Brooklyn on the train.  I much prefer hanging out til all hours, stumbling into the hotel elevator at the break of dawn and then rolling out of bed in the morning, steps from the conference.  But alas, I have to wait til NJ's conference in June for that experience.  AND the LA conference in August, which I am totally planning on attending. recap continues...


  • Welcome and Introduction  The morning was kicked off by the beloved Lin Oliver and Stephen Mooser--who informed us that not only was today Groundhog's Day, BUT it was Lin's birthday!  What a wonderful way to celebrate, surrounded by 999 kidlitters.  I think I will start to send out invites now and maybe they will all celebrate my birthday in April.  :)

  • Keynote:  "So When Are You Going to Write a Real Book, You Know, For Adults?" --Meg Rosoff  I have very little notes from Meg's speech, probably because I was soooo moved and taken by everything she had to say.  But haven't we all been asked this very question?  In fact, I sometimes feel it doubly because I don't even write children's NOVELS.  I write picture books.  Most people think ANYONE can do that.  Ugh.  Anyway, Meg's response "Haven't you ever read the Velveteen Rabbit?" is perfection.
     “Real isn't how you are made,' said the Skin Horse. 'It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.'" - The Velveteen Rabbit
    The official SCBWI Conference blog writes: When asked by students about the best book she's ever read, Meg replies that the best books she's read were read before her twenties. Because as a teenager, she was at the exact right age to have her life changed by books. Meg read from an email that she received from a reader, and it's the reason she writes for teenagers. 
    Some people think of young readers as lesser versions of adults. They don't get it. As an author, you must write truthfully. You shouldn't apologize for writing for teens or children! You're writing about the emerging people your readers will become. And you're changing lives.
    Now I don't know any better validation than that!  Thank you, Meg!  If you ever have a chance to hear this amazing fireball speak, run don't walk!

  • Keynote: Booksellers Panel:  What's Selling  This was an interesting panel, as I know that many of us have been worries about the state of the indie bookstore in these changing times.  Mary Brown (owner Books, Bytes and Beyond in Glen Rock, NJ) says that her market has changed.  There is little foot traffic into the store and the bulk of their sales are now schools and libraries who want paperbacks and titles with Common Core tie-ins for educational use.  Robert Brown (Scholastic Book Fairs) is upbeat about the children's book publishing industry. The biggest challenge is to get kids to read more. The book fairs provide unfettered access for kids to be in direct contact with new books, not only the bestseller listers, but wonderful midlist titles as well. In addition, it's a community event, families come to the fairs and the events continue to be well attended, with robust sales and enthusiasm on all sides. Finally, I thought it was such a wonderful idea to invite Jon Fine (Director of Author & Publisher Relations,  So often in our circles we talk about being the big bully to independent bookstores and writers, alike.  However, he talked about a growing appreciation and understanding of the importance of the community around books and how the digital age features in that through Skype, ebooks and transmedia.  Thank you, Jon for attending this panel and allowing me to see that bottom-line we all want the same thing...for great stories to be told and read by the masses.

  • Breakout Session #1--What Hooks Me: Jennifer Besser, GP Putman's Sons, Penguin Young Readers Group  Now, when it comes to the Breakout Sessions at an SCBWI Conference, I think it is fair to say that one of the bonuses of attendance is being able to make a connection with editors and agents who might not otherwise be open to submissions, but make an exception for attendees.  For that very reason, I am not going to go into great detail about what Jennifer Besser is looking for or how to submit to her (which is what the bulk of her presentation is about).  However, some of the highlights are 1)  make an emotional investment in your work as an author so that you are selling your heart, 2) read often and everything, even if it is not in the genre you write, and 3) when it comes to picture books, understand page turns.

  • Breakout Session #2--What Hooks Me: Kate Fletcher, Candlewick Press  Again, just a few highlights...but I have to say that Candlewick is such an amazing publishing house.  They are independently owned (the employees and authors own the stock shares) and they publish children's books exclusively.  They are definitely a press worth learning more about.  When it comes to picture books, Kate says she is loves text that gives good material for illustrators. A good book, for her, has heart, humor, originality and great writing.  Easy, right?  :)

  • Keynote: "Internal Migrations"--Shaun Tan  There is a really good reason why Shaun's books sold out at the conference bookstore minutes after he concluded his address.  And why he trended on Twitter that evening.  And why he basically was the star of the conference (sorry, Julie Andrews).  The fact is, Shaun is brilliant.  He is funny, poignant, intelligent, humble and indescribable.  I almost did not offer to write a recap of the conference this year because I know that everyone will be wanting to hear all about Shaun's speech...and to tell you the truth, I am unsure I can put it into words and do it justice.  But, according to his own quote, "I know a story is good when I can't entirely explain what it's about" Shaun's story was a brilliant one.  It was captivating.  What I do recommend is to sit down with one of his stories, perhaps "Eric"--the story of a foreign exchange student in a curious world.  Sit, read, explore and you too will be absorbed into Shaun Tan's world of the unknown and the quizzical.  And then walk into your own world and look at the ordinary in an extraordinary way....that is what Shaun gave me through his address.  Thank you, Shaun.
What a packed day!  With equal parts inspiration and exhaustion, I met up with some friends at the Cocktail gala and then headed home with a flutter in my heart and a smile on my face. 

Join me tomorrow, as I recap Sunday's Conference of keynotes from Emma Walton Hamilton and Julie Andrew, Margaret Peterson Haddix and the fabulously funny, Mo Willems.


Wednesday, February 6, 2013

SCBWI Winter Conference Recap (Part 1)

If you have never attended an SCBWI Conference before...what are you waiting for??  Seriously.  I am still blown away by this past weekend and although I am going to try and put my experience into is times like this that words fail me. 

But here ya go...


On a cold blustery morning in NYC, 999 kidlit writers and illustrators gathered at the Hyatt Grand Central for a weekend of celebration, dedication, inspiration and aspiration.

These kidlitters were made up of 796 women, 138 men and 65 undeclared!  Perhaps some of our anthropomorphic friends were there, as well.  :)

They came from the far reaches of Earth:  17 different countries (including Australia, Hong Kong, Japan, South Africa, and Canada--our proud and ruckus neighbors to the North) AND 46 States with the greatest numbers coming from NY, MA, CA, NJ, CT and PA (no show states were WY, ND, MT, HI and MS).

And they were in for the conference of their lives!


I figured that if I was going to attend the conference this year I was going to go all out!  And so I registered for the optional Friday Writers' Roundtable Intensive.  And yes, it was intense.  Here are my take-aways

  • Editor Panel:"Five Traps to Avoid in Your Writing"  Tara Weikum from HarperCollins Children's Books talked about the need for each writer to decipher what is good advice and what is bad advice.  How brilliant is that?  Simply said, but so true.  The ability to both handle opinions and filter feedback is priceless for a writer.  And remembering that critiques are just that--opinions!  Stay true to your heart and write the story that you need to tell. 

  • Critique Session #1  I had the honor of sitting at the table with 8 other kidlitters and the wonderful agent, Jenny Bent of The Bent Agency.  And although Jenny does not handle picture books, she has agents at her agency who do.  I have to admit, I was extremely nervous and anxious.  The process was that each one of us had 15 minutes to read the first 500 words aloud to the table and then receive feedback.  Its like speed-dating for your manuscript.  And yes, 15 minutes is plenty of time...although it doesn't seem like it.  I had read my piece aloud to people before, but somehow this hearkened back to the days of theatre audtioning and I was nervous!  However, I was thankfully the second to last person to go and the nerves had subsided a bit by my turn.  It was actually fun and I received great comments from Jenny and the others at the table.  It felt supportive and not critical...but of course, that is the spirit of SCBWI and one of the reason why I just adore the community!
  • Critique Session #2  After lunch we had yet another critique session, this time of course I felt like a veteran.  I was so confident and excited to share my 486 word Picture Book.  I was sat at the same table as Kate Sullivan, and editor at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.  Again, the comments were helpful.  I felt built up as a writer.  Perhaps, it is this great experience that helped paint the rest of my conference weekend in such amazing light. 

  • Agent Panel: The Market Place and What it Needs Now  With the stress of critiquing behind us, the closing of the day was a panel, scheduled from 4-5pm.  I won't lie...I was tapped.  We had spent the past 7 hours in the same hotel ballroom (not including lunch) and my eyes were getting heavy.  It was hard to focus on the panel and I felt a little sorry for Ed Necarsulmer, Ginger Clark and Jenny Bent.  Looking back on my skimpy notes on the panel, I did however have one takeaway.  Ed Necarsulmer said, "It is a great time to be a picture book author.  Each house is publishing less titles, but they are more focused on the titles they do publish."  Thank you, Ed.  I admit, I perked up at that.  :)
It was off to dinner with 3 of my beloved kidlit girls and then Kid Lit Drink Night to follow.  Yes, it was a long day...but conference is about your Tribe.  Its about breaking out of your solitude and finding connection with like-minded souls.  I was determined to drink it all up!

Join me tomorrow, as I recap Saturday's Conference jam-packed with keynotes from Meg Rosoff and Shaun Tan, as well as panels and breakout sessions from some of the most influential people in the business.