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.


I am thankful for Laurie Halse Anderson and Matt Faulkner!

August 12, 2013 § Leave a comment

Thank you, Sarah The woman who saved Thanksgiving by Laurie Halse Anderson illustrator Matt Faulkner
Ages 5-10 Biography of Sarah Hale
Simon and Schuster 2002
Love the book flap description in front!
Very well written!
‘To Alyssa Eisner who knows a good idea when she sees one’- the dedication from author.
She asks a question right away but it works.
She has started the conversation with the reader.
Imagine this. It is true! Almost lost Thanksgiving. Humor shows with man in front of tv with remote but announcement reading no football. Way, way back when skirts were long and hats were tall…needed a superhero. No not that of Thanksgiving day possible mascots/superheroes.
Keeps on talkin’. Like I know what you are thinking… Never underestimate dainty little ladies.
Listing her accomplishments and there were many-and what storytelling!  She had a secret weapon. The big reveal-it was a pen!
Love the illustration-she and her children protesting with signs. ‘It’s thanksgiving do you know where your turkey is?’
She wrote letters…articles. Her readers picked up their pens and wrote too!
Great illustrations!!
The large ink bottle.  Women holding a giant quill like a battering ram! The buildings of state houses looking like a person frowning, daring the women. Words around the building which should have names of counties, etc..they read ‘go away, we’re busy’.
Made progress as states got on board but Sarah wanted one day set aside nationally! As she approaches each president they are large and she is small standing on a quill reading her letter. They shut their eyes and plug their ears to ignore her!
Buchanan had other things in his mind graphically seen by people from two camps climbing on top of his head to argue and picket with their signs-North vs South.
“Sarah felt like the stuffing had been kicked out of her”
War! Some states changed their mind about celebrating Thanksgiving!
She contacted Lincoln and waited. “With war, we need it more,” she said. He said YES-all caps and bold and repeated!
It took her 38 years, thousands of letters and countless bottles of ink. She saved it for all of us. Last page with a very large multi cultural spread reads ‘thank you, Sarah!’
Four pages of background information about the history of the day and more about Sarah.
Sarah wrote ‘Mary had a little lamb’.
She did not support the women’s movement but she did want women educated to raise children and to help a husband.
Lengthy list of selected sources.

I had never heard of Jonah Winter!

August 12, 2013 § Leave a comment

But now Jonah is one of my favorite authors.  Read these quick notes I dashed off.

You never heard of Sandy Koufax?
Jonah Winter and illustrator Andre Carrilho
2009 Schwartz and Wade books imprint of Random House
Wow! Only the best biography written for kids I have ever read that was a real page turner.
Love the voice. I hear the Brooklyn accent of the narrator, Jewish too!
And the illustrations are so hard hitting like the opposing teams could hit if Sandy were not on the mound.
Glossary in the back of Baseball terms.
Clever side bars of Baseball statistics.
With a disclaimer at the end about statistics being “interpreted differently by different fans and scholars.”
1500 words

A Nation’s Hope
The Story of Boxing Legend Joe Louis
Matt De La Pena and illustrator Kadir Nelson
2011 Dial books for Young Readers
Division of Penguin Young Readers
Illustrator is a Caldecott winner and it shows!
Oil paintings on wood capture the old timey feel of the 1930’s.
Story telling is perfect to tell of the historic fight between the black American and the German representing the Nazi regime of white supremacy.
And how for a short time it brought Americans together-whether Black of white.
No glossary. A little over 1000 words.

Kinsy McVay and Progressive Rising Phoenix Press

March 6, 2013 § Leave a comment

Another ‘unedited for length’ interview originally in our regional SCBWI newsletter.  This time with Kinsy McVay sharing his new endeavor.  Here’s a bit about this very busy illustrator/author/educator.

Kinsy McVay grew up in small-town Kansas and became enthralled with comic books early on.  He received his illustration degree from the University of Kansas.  His illustration career was derailed after college by his glamorous 7-year job in retail sales (gag).  Luckily, through some great advice from his wife, he was able to break away from sales, and worm his way back toward his chosen field by becoming an elementary art teacher.  As an art teacher, he was inspired to write his first children’s book, Just Line Around, which tells the story of a horizontal line that no longer lies flat.  His most recent work graces the cover of Amanda M. Thrasher’s middle grade novel, The Ghost of Whispering Willow.  He also has two other covers in the works as well as two more children’s books.

As one can see Kinsy has so much going on but for this Q & A we are going to focus on the joint venture, Progressive Rising Phoenix Press.

CK: Progressive Rising Phoenix Press is a great name that one can visualize.  I read on your web site that the authors involved in Rising Phoenix want to make a better experience for authors than you all had when working with publishers in the past. There are three of you who started this venture-you an author/illustrator and two women authors-Amanda M. Thrasher and Jannifer Powelson. Tell us how you all met.  (Especially the one who lives outside of Texas!)

KM:  It’s strange how things work out sometimes.  Even though Amanda and I both live in Fort Worth, we actually met at a book festival in Abilene, TX, about 3 years ago.  Amanda is definitely the more outgoing of the two of us, and if she hadn’t struck up a conversation with me, I’m sure we’d have never met.  What first caught her attention was the fact that we were with the same publisher, and, as we talked, we shared our struggles and successes as new authors.  Since I was an illustrator, she asked for my opinion on her book covers and then suggested a joint picture book project.  What started out as a chance meeting, soon bloomed into a full-fledged partnership.  We have worked together on many occasions since then, including book fairs, books signings, and school visits.  Our picture book is still in the works, but I’ve illustrated covers for three of her other books, and I even managed to pick up some book design and layout work along the way.

Amanda and Jannifer also met through their publisher.  Their relationship started out as one author helping another by sharing tips on having a successful school visit.  Months before Phoenix was even a flutter of a thought, these two had already begun networking and supporting each other – two of the key concepts that Rising Phoenix is built upon.

CK: Tell us the when, where and how Progressive Rising Phoenix Press came into being.

KM:  Have you ever heard the saying “necessity is the mother of invention”?  Well, that’s exactly where all three of us found ourselves this past summer.  Our shared difficulties with our publisher are what inspired us to create something new and different.  We decided rather than just sitting around complaining about it, we would do something about it.  We envisioned a publishing house that protects the authors as well as allows authors more freedom over their work than traditional publishing, but, at the same time, maintains a level of professional standards and expectations.  The idea for Phoenix first sprung to life when Amanda began considering creating her own label.  While discussing possible branding for her label, she hit upon the idea of multiple authors banding together based on unity and support.  Later that summer, we attended a writer’s conference and saw a group of authors working together as a cooperative to promote each other and their works. We decided then and there that if they could do it, we could do it!

Within weeks of that conversation, all of us had taken that very scary, first step and cut all ties with our publisher.  We were all on our own – together. Unfortunately, there isn’t a handbook for starting your own publishing company (if anyone would like to write one, you’ve got one guaranteed sale here!), so it has definitely been a learning experience for all of us. We used our own titles (eight in all) to learn about and refine our knowledge of the publishing process.  The few times we’ve stumbled, we have picked ourselves up, learned from our mistake, and moved forward. As authors ourselves, we are constantly looking at publishing from the author’s perspective.  How would we want it done? How would we want to be treated?  Those are the burning questions that drive everything that we do.

CK: I like the succinctness of your company’s mission statement and philosophy.  Basically this is a ‘three musketeer’ philosophy–“all for one and one for all”. So the three of you are on this adventure and you are inviting others to come along.  We can accomplish more together than alone.

KM: “The Three Musketeers” is exactly what came to mind when the three of us were conceiving Rising Phoenix.  Who wouldn’t rather go out into today’s market knowing that you have a team of fellow authors at your back?  Picture a typical book signing by a big-name author, let’s just say J.K. Rowling.  Do you think at any point during her visit she’s going to mention other books available from her publisher?  Of course not!  And that’s where we’re different.  There may only be one of our authors present at an event, but ALL of our combined works are being represented, everything from picture books to young adult.  This creates all kinds of opportunities for our authors.  Now, when we approach a venue about a possible event, we aren’t just proposing that “Joe Author” who wrote “Book A” for 6th-8th graders comes to visit. Instead, we are proposing that “Joe Author” who wrote “Book A” comes to visit as a representative of our entire label and all of its titles, not just one.  It’s now no longer simply about this one author and his fantasy book about dragons.  Maybe you don’t like dragons.  Great!  Do you or your kids like picture books about creativity or nature?  How about fairy tales or ghost stories?  Well, let me just tell you all about them…  We feel that this twist on the typical author event will be a huge enticement for schools and other venues when looking for authors to bring in for visits.         Additionally, “Jane Author” is now having her books introduced in areas previously unavailable to her.  We currently have authors from California to Illinois, and all of our titles are gaining exposure in those markets!  It’s a win-win for all of the authors.  How else could an author from Texas get his book in front of readers in California?

Of course, we are extremely proud and excited when one of our authors books an event, and we in no way want to take away from their time in the sun.  So, while all authors are required to have information available on all Phoenix titles, to what degree they want to share this information is left up to them.

As far as content is concerned, we are looking for things out of the ordinary that will hopefully stand out in this flooded market.  We review and discuss every submission that we receive and ask ourselves a number of questions about the title.  Is it original/unique?  What separates it from other books in its genre?  Is it marketable?  Will it represent our label well?  How does it add to or complement what we currently offer?  Would we buy it if we saw it on a shelf?  Basically, we are judging someone else’s creation, so it is a responsibility that we take very seriously and decisions are not made lightly.  As authors, we’ve all been on the receiving end of a rejection letter, and we completely empathize with those who may not be a good fit with our company.

CK: Just like the three musketeers had a united purpose, anyone who wants to join you must fit in-i.e. their quality of work must complement your current titles.

KM: Absolutely!  Because our goal is collaboration between our authors, we are always looking for submissions that bring something new to the table.  Our goal is to find a wide-variety of quality work across all children’s genres and reading levels.  This will create the most opportunities for our authors to reach new markets and demographics.

All submissions are reviewed by Amanda, Jannifer and me.  We take a look at the synopsis and basic info, and, following a “majority rules” process, if at least two of us feel that it might be a good fit for our label, we delve deeper into the manuscript.  This is when the discussions really get good, and all of those questions that I mentioned above get asked.  The best part is that all three of us come from such varied backgrounds, that we will all see the same submission from three totally different perspectives!  Jannifer or Amanda may see potential in a piece that I would have never even considered, and vice versa.  It really is very exciting, and I know that all three of us look forward to reading each and every new submission we receive.

Anyone who would like more information on submitting to Rising Phoenix can click on the “Contact” tab on our website.  Submissions are not only open to writers, but to illustrators, editors, and book designers as well.

CK:  Here comes the best part of the adventure story.  Like the musketeers who give their all for the cause, anyone whose work is submitted and accepted will get to keep all of their royalties-minus the production costs.

KM: That is the absolute best part!  We know many authors who only see pennies in royalties for each book sold, and we feel that that is unacceptable considering all of the time and effort that goes into creating a book.  Under our system, however, authors have the opportunity to make up to $4 in royalties per book!  We accomplish this in one simple way:  we don’t touch the authors’ royalties.  The author gets every penny that is left after the printer deducts production fees from the retail price. We do have an up-front fee for joining our label, but that entire fee goes either to the pre-press production of the author’s book or to marketing for the label (press releases, advertising, etc.) In addition, authors pay only production cost for personal copies of their books.  If the printer charges us $3.43 per copy plus shipping, the author pays $3.43 per copy plus shipping and not a penny more.

Of course, following this line of thinking may lead you to ask how Amanda, Jannifer and I are making any profit.  The answer, strange as it may sound, is we’re not.  We’re not cutting into the authors’ royalties, and we’re not paying ourselves from the up-front fee.  We get compensation the same way as every other author under the label, through cross-promotion.  The more authors under our label, the more exposure my book gets in the markets they represent, which builds credibility for my book and the label as a whole, which, ideally, drives more sales for all Phoenix authors.  The entire process relies on authors making an effort to help their fellow authors, which, in turn, helps them.

As far as we know, there is no other publishing model like ours out there.  It is totally author-centered and author-reliant for success.  We are looking for motivated authors, excited to share their work with the world while enjoying the support and encouragement of a network of fellow authors standing with them.  We can’t wait to see where this journey takes us!

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!