Be in the Zone- But Don’t Get Too Comfortable!

August 13, 2013 § Leave a comment

I don’t know about you, but I like things to stay the same.  I find comfort in the familiar. Comfort zone, here I stay!

Yet moving outside my comfort zone is where I really experience life in its fullness.

This spring, I planned and completed a twenty-three day trip to Europe. Except for five days in the early part of the trip when my son joined me, I was traveling solo.

Yes, I was outside my comfort zone on numerous occasions.  And I loved almost every minute of it! I was there to experience life I had only seen in movies or read about in books and magazines.

I relied heavily on my Kindle guidebooks before and during my travels. I have to be honest and say that, sometimes,  I was not myself in Europe so that I could fit in and not look like the “always smiling American.”

The truth is that stepping out and experiencing other cultures sounds great, but we love to have a familiar something to keep us connected to our life at home. So once I knew I was going to Europe, I wondered if there was any way I could meet up with people in SCBWI (Society  of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). The answer was on our international website: A Master Class on Saturday the 13th of April in London.  Perfect timing and the perfect topic for me: nonfiction.

I anticipated being in a room full of people speaking with English accents.  But after checking out our presenter’s bio, I prepared myself for native Californian Michelle Markel speaking ‘American’. It turned out there were four writers originally from different parts of the USA. But the lack of dialect barrier did not diminish my enjoyment.


I hope you enjoy reading the blog post about Michelle’s presentation.  Not only do I include some of her exercises and her suggestions for books to peruse, I open my notebook and share my writing samples.

On that day, I found that London’s SCBWI is in my comfort zone. The culture is different, but we share the same commitment to the pursuit of excellence in children’s literature!

And yes, that is me at King’s Crossing.  Beautiful architecture and it is across the street from the British Library.  See you in the pages of a good book!


In London with Michelle Markel at an SCBWI master class

August 13, 2013 § Leave a comment

Join me in a land faraway,

on a cloudy English day.

I found my words did play

with more yay – than nay!

Okay! Enough of the rhyming!

My desire is to put you in a lively mood so you may feel a bit of what I learned on Saturday, April 13th as I joined the London SCBWI group for a Master Class workshop.  The presenter, Michelle Markel provided opportunities to play with words as she encouraged us to ‘Make Non-Fiction Rock!’

Michelle opened the day by asking us to share authors’ works we enjoy; then she gave us a quick reminder of what all writers have available in their toolbox.  Consider some of the basics: dialogue, setting, point of view, voice, and theme.  In addition, she showed us examples of how authors use the following: sensory imagery and concrete detail, metaphor, personification, repetition of sounds (alliteration, words and phrases) and rhythm.  This quick review proved fruitful as a foundation for the fun to follow!

After lunch Michelle interspersed published authors’ works with writing assignments based on prompts she supplied. Michelle’s power point slides detailed her insights culled from the following authors’ books and many other books as well: Swirl by Swirl by Joyce Sidman; From Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin;  Sara Emma Edmonds was a Great Pretender by Carrie Jones.

Michelle’s first assignment:  Using sensory language and action create a kid friendly description of an animal in action.

(To let you in on some of the frivolity of the day, I am giving you my drafts of what I produced on my handy HP touch pad.  My purpose is so you will be inspired to try these three exercises!)

I created a diva sounding character speaking to another character:

“You appear as a creature of mystery. You strut around making everyone wonder, ‘Who is that?’ Until they get a little closer and then, well…Take it from me at a distance, you could win any forest fashion contest. Your smooth coat is asking to be stroked. I love how your coat is all black like your beady eyes and how you make a fashion statement with the contrasting white. But, oh, honey, we gotta do something about that smell!”

Next Michelle suggested we imagine a force of nature-a season, fire or  water-personified.

My character tells how it feels:

“I am easily held in bondage yet I want to stretch out my arms and legs since I am cramped in here. I feel all confined in the stone surroundings that I did not ask for or create. I long to roam free. To see what awaits me outside the confines of this room. But my captor keeps my greatest enemy close so I am on a short leash. One quick move to escape and I will be doused with the dreaded H2O. Oh, what a world, what a world!”

In this final exercise, Michelle gave us an encyclopedia’s fact sheet on the Naked Mole Rat.  After reading a couple of paragraphs the idea was to share the information in an entertaining way.

I supplied the title and let the character tell all:

Tips on how to go vegan by Naked Mole Rat #84

“So you are considering a vegan diet. As you may know I live in a community of up to 300 others of my own kind. We literally spend all of our time tunneling with our incisor teeth through some very hard dry soil here in Africa to search for roots and tubers to eat. You should have a much easier time finding vegetables to eat than we do since our eyes are so small, we can hardly see. I wish I could tell you more, but the Queen expects us to keep working. No time for anything including time with my girlfriend Naked Mole Rat #87. Thanks for checking out my blog, Eat Naked. I will try to post tips soon on how we Naked mole Rats recycle our food. It puts a not-so-fresh spin on the term ‘leftover’.”

My biggest take away from the day?  When Michelle answered a question about her research for her picture book biographies, I especially like how she described her work.  While she does a lot of research, much of it she does not use of the back matter. Introductions to a subject are not meant to tell everything. They do not need to.  She stated “facts can detract from the emotional impact”.

For instance in her book about Henri Rousseau, her intention is that this book is an introduction to the person. In addition, some non-fiction is meant to be an introduction to a topic.  I like this concept; I can visualize in my mind that we are writing a book for younger students to be introduced to a concept or a person of interest.

Hopefully I have conveyed how entertaining it is to let loose writing non-fiction. Michelle is a founding member of The Children’s Authors Network and teaches classes in writing for young people for UCLA Extension’s Writer’s Program.

Here is our picture.  I am wearing my glasses and a grey sweater on the right side of the photo in the front row . Michelle is two down from me to the left wearing the blue sweater.


Twitter with Karen Harrington

March 6, 2013 § Leave a comment

I had an opportunity to  interview Karen about how she uses Twitter.  Enjoy the full text of our interview originally for NC/NE TX SCBWI regional newsletter.  But first a little bit about Karen.

Karen Harrington was born and raised in Texas, where she still lives with her husband, children and one sneaky dog. Her fiction writing has been recognized by the Hemingway Short Story Competition and the Texas Film Institute.She also wrote There’s A Dog In The Doorway, a children’s book created expressly for the Dr. Laura Schlessinger Foundation’s “My Stuff Bags.” 

Her new book is SURE SIGNS OF CRAZY

Little Brown Books for Young Readers – Summer 2013

Find her at She has a blog page on her website and she has author page on Facebook.  And of course she can be found on Twitter @karenzwriter.

CK:  I met Karen through our fellow member Polly Holyoke.  At a meeting about six months ago, Polly told me about her book coming out.   Once I checked out Polly’s website and started following her on Twitter I asked her if she could write about her Twitter experience for our newsletter. She said,  “I know someone who would be great to give us tips on Twitter”. So with thanks to Polly (who is planning to write an article for the next issue) here is our interview with Karen Harrington.

CK:  Many of us feel we “have to” use social media.  From my observation as one of your Twitter followers, you seem to enjoy tweeting.  But perhaps it was not that way in the beginning. When did you start tweeting and how did you feel about starting a Twitter account?

KH: Thank you for inviting me talk about Twitter.

I joined Twitter about three years ago when I was promoting my first novel for adults. At the time, I hopped on the bandwagon just because everyone else did. After a little while, I really enjoyed it and began using it more than my Facebook account. The brevity was very appealing.

CK: Was it difficult to get used to any of the following:

No more than 140 characters?

Using hashtags?


KH:  This part was a learning curve. For example, I was hashtag illiterate when I first joined. Through trial and error, I found the appropriate writerly hashtags that helped me connect to other writers. Hashtags made it so much easier to drill down to content I wanted to read and game me the ability to share my content with like-minded souls. (These hashtags include: #amwriting, #amediting, #writetip, #pubtip, #amrevising, #write, #novel, #kidlit, #mglit.)

As far as the limited characters, I really loved this part. I used to work in PR and we were all about boiling things down to a headline. Really good Tweets have a lot in common with a great news headline.

For retweeting, I learned there’s a certain etiquette to this. It’s nice, for instance, if you cut and paste the desired retweet and put your own “Nice article” comment in front of it. It engages the original Tweeter a bit more. Of course, I often just lazily hit the Retweet button, too. I’m also a fan of the “Favorite” button, which allows you to collect/save your favorite tweets in case you want to go back to them at some point. (And it’s always a tiny thrill when you get a message that another Tweep favorited one of your tweets.)

CK:  Did you set goals for your Twitter account:

“I hope to have this many followers”? Did you approach it as ‘who do I want to follow’?  Only authors?  Or only people in the children’s publishing business? Or people interested in children’s literature?

KH:  I definitely wanted to hit the magic 1,000 followers number. As for who to follow, I quickly learned that I got a lot more educational content by following industry professionals like agents, editors and publishing professionals. I also like to follow writers because there is a strong sense of community and support on Twitter. And recently, I’ve enjoyed finding bloggers who like to read middle-grade fiction, which is my current genre. I love to discover the latest MG books and Twitter is a great resource for that.

CK:  As of the end of 2012, I see you have 2035 tweets with 1126 followers to the 1121 people you are following.  So who are those 5 people who are following you that you are not following?  Okay, I am just teasing, but you do have a large network. What has surprised you about tweeting?

KH:  Ha! That is funny. Sometimes I think Twitter is often the social media equivalent of a middle-school girl trying to achieve popularity. There is a belief that you must have more followers than people you are following because of how it “looks.” I say, don’t worry about that. Sure, it’s nice to see your numbers grow, but there’s no need to obsess about it. Let Twitter work for you. Let it be fun and not a chore. The easiest way to do this is to create Twitter lists for yourself. What this means is grouping your Twitter friends in a list.         Here are my lists:

Little, Brown (my publisher)



Industry Peeps


Now, when I first joined Twitter, I knew nothing about lists. Twitter just seemed like this big jumble and I couldn’t figure out how to organize it. Then, lists came into my life and VOILA, I love Twitter now! I can pull up my Little, Brown list and see what’s going on with other LB books and retweet all about them. Or I can look at my agents list and see what kinds of queries they are looking for or the common mistakes they are seeing in their slush piles. Same with Industry Peeps. This is a group of industry professionals who often post articles on writing, new trends, marketing and so on. And of course, I love looking up what my writer friends are doing so I can help support their books.

Creating a list is super easy and helps to make Twitter work for you. Here’s the link to the instructions on Twitter:

CK: Any other tips/advice for the uninitiated?

KH:  When you log in, pretend you are going to a party and know that some people in that corner over there will say something witty you wish YOU’D said. Some guy will talk too much about himself. Some people will over-share and some people will be wallflowers. And some people will share a great thought or story that inspires you and you’ll grab their business card! In the end, it’s a rowdy mix of personalities. Just keep it simple. Be nice to others. Share and be polite. Worry less about what’s on your friends’ Twitter page and more about how you can use this as a tool to benefit and encourage yourself. Promote yourself in small doses and do share your personality a little. (I like knowing what your six-year old said about butter!) Find and follow like-minded people and think of your Twitter page as a community you get to visit after you’ve met your daily writing goals.

Ultimately, we writers obsess about words. But because I’m a voracious reader and want to read your book, I would much rather you obsess about the words in your novel than the words you craft for Twitter.

Oh, and definitely follow actor/comedian Albert Brooks because you will laugh into your computer.

CK:  Author/Comedian Steve Martin has this to say about the promotional value of tweeting: “It is really only good for one thing-tweeting.  It is rewarding, because it’s just its own reward.  It’s sorta like heaven.”   So bottom line, what do you think of Tweeting?  Is it a promotional tool, a networking tool or both? Or as Steve believes- tweeting is its’ own reward?

KH:  Oh, that’s a great Martin-ism! I have to agree with him.  I would say that it’s all three: a promotional tool, a networking tool and its own reward. You have enough chores in your life already like organizing your spice cabinet. (How long has that curry been in there?) So don’t make Twitter another chore, too. Make it fun.

But you don’t have to take my word for it!

June 29, 2012 § 1 Comment

Hopefully, you know this phrase from the PBS program, Reading Rainbow.  I loved that show from the first day I saw it with my then 2 year-old-daughter, Jennifer.  The opening song drew us in as we watched the animated ‘butterfly in the sky’ fly into a world of picture books. Towards the end of each show host LeVar Burton would say the phrase and a couple of children would have the opportunity to speak up for one of their favorite books. These children too would say the words from above as they introduced other children with their book reviews: But you don’t have to take my word for it!

That is how I feel about writing the editor’s column for our regional chapter’s newsletter.  I give you the work of many creative people. And as I have been among the first to see it, I can use this column to point out all the wonders each issue contains.

But you don’t have to take my word for it! 

What is your writing resolution?

June 29, 2012 § Leave a comment

What? You don’t have one?

Well, I am here to suggest one or two for you.”

But, Carolyn, you may say. I make my own resolutions–or not. Thanks anyway…

Ordinarily I would agree with you until I read a newspaper article stating otherwise. Elizabeth Bernstein wrote of the success family members have in making resolutions for one another; someone close to you suggests a habit or personal shortcoming for you to work on and you check back with he or she from time to time.  Read more about how it works in the Wall Street Journal article

The real take away is how people grow together in their relationship. 

Feel free to send me an email or comment at this blog. Tell someone else what you are going to try so you have an accountability partner.

Look at All the Ways One Can Access the Same Story

June 29, 2012 § Leave a comment

On a late January Friday night I went to The Modern Art Museum in Fort Worth to see ten Oscar nominated animated shorts. The academy’s ceremony was still weeks away but already I could have watched all of these films online. But I chose to make the trip out since I wanted the large screen experience with a crowd of fellow movie lovers.

The movies were all great but it would have been worth it if only just to see the eventual winner: The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore.

When I arrived home, I called my college age daughter who writes YA novels and insisted it was worth fifteen minutes of her time to see it on You Tube. After viewing, she agreed it was great and it brought tears to her eyes as well.

Clearly I am fascinated by this beautiful heart-tugging tale that evokes iconic images and fills me with longing for a time long gone.  But in addition I want to point out that this story is increasing its audience size by diverse modes of communicating this story. For instance, there is an app and/or you could down load it on I Tunes. And soon this wonderful film will become a picture book.

If You are a Maven, You are in Good Company!

June 29, 2012 § Leave a comment

Malcolm Gladwell in his book The Tipping Point (subtitled How Little Things Make a Big Difference) speaks of three kinds of people who control word of mouth epidemics. *

One of them is a maven. Maven in Yiddish means one who accumulates knowledge. They are not passive collectors. They are not just obsessed about getting a good deal or finding a great story. They want to tell you about it too. Sound like anyone you know?

Our school librarian helped me find an alphabet book for my grandson’s 4th birthday. LMNOPeas. He and I both love this book.

I returned to the library raving about the alphabet book when the library aide said to me that she has been telling others about a picture book she discovered on the civil rights era, Ruth and the Green Book.

I checked it out since it was an unfamiliar story to me as well.

So I‘d like to think I am a maven-“an information broker sharing and trading what one knows”. I call it not keeping the good stuff just for me.

And those of you who read my last editor’s note may remember I encouraged you to check out The Fantastic Flying Books of Mister Morris Lessmore.  Almost right after the newsletter was posted, I heard from an aunt of one of the artists who works at their animation studio. It is our own Mary Jeter.     And the next time you see Mary, be a maven and ask her about her nephew!

*If you want to read quotes from Gladwell’s books or columns click on the link:

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